Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Once upon a time . . .

Would you like an old-fashioned story? A story of friendship . . . loss . . . grief . . . and, finally, a happy reunion?

You would . . .? Then off we go . . .

Throughout her short life, Chloe has been the recipient of my kind friends' generosity.
Toys have been showered upon her. When she was a kitten, it was the small mice that she loved. Now that she is a young cat, her favourites are correspondingly larger.

She has two favourites, her elongated leopard and her pink teddy-bear. Forced to choose between her favourites, I suspect that she would opt for the teddy.

The teddy (or should it be 'tedette', you only have to examine her long, winsome eyelashes to know that she is a girl) is the larger, the more resilient, and definitely the more cuddlesome.

Every night, the bear and Chloe play strenuous games around the flat. Every morning I go in search of the bear's new hiding-place. After a night of being kissed and kicked, and lovingly dragged from room to room, she is slightly dirtier, but really none the worse. I return her to the toy basket to enjoy a well-earned rest before the next bout of excitement.

Such was the regular pattern of our life until the other morning . . . when Teddy was nowhere to be found.

I searched . . . Chloe searched. We searched the living-room . . . the bedroom . . . the hall. We looked behind the chairs . . . down the back of the sofa . . . under the bed. Chloe even opted for the aerial view from the cat tree . . . but no bear could we find.
The elongated leopard had to deputise as Chloe's friend and confidante, but it wasn't the same. As Chloe and I both recognised, the small, pink bear was sorely missed.

Come the evening, I was getting supper in the kitchen when, all at once, I heard an unexpected rustle from behind the door. It came from the corner where I keep a stack of reusable carrier bags.

Carrier bags . . . ? Chloe, I remembered, loved playing with carrier bags. What if . . . ?

I pulled back the door to discover a burrowing Chloe deep inside a bag. And in the bag with her?
Yes . . . there, in a place where I would never have thought of looking, was her missing teddy bear!

By what reasoning, I wondered, had she reckoned that her favourite toy would like to be abandoned in an empty carrier bag behind the kitchen door?

No matter . . . the ecstatic reunion was a joy to behold!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We will remember them

This isn't really a letter, it's more an accompanying line to a photograph. To try to provide any words of explanation would be beyond me.

Suffice to say that my camera captured this picture shortly after the two-minute silence on Remembrance Sunday, ten days ago. Throughout the service I felt that orbs were present. This photo confirmed it.

Why do orbs respond to my camera?
The simple answer is that I don't know. I can only believe that they come in order to be shared. Which is why, rather like the Ancient Mariner, I am left with this compelling need to show the photos to you.

All I would ask is that you let your gaze linger for a few moments on the extraordinary profusion, intensity and size of orbs in this photo . . . remembering the day and time that it was taken.

I wouldn't presume to speak for the orbs . . . they will do that for themselves . . .

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lest we forget

Have you bought your poppy? I'm sure you have.

My annual poppy-selling session took place last Saturday. I don't know how you feel, but I always find it deeply moving to witness the commitment of people of all ages towards buying a poppy. It is as though, at some unconscious level, we are all stirred by the sight of these small,
red emblems.
Memories - our own, or inherited - urge us to participate in this annual ritual.

I did my best to pin each poppy firmly to the buyer's coat or jacket, poppies (the man-made variety) are notorious for working loose from their anchorage. As I did so, I couldn't help wondering just what it is that gives this small, red, flower such potency, such appeal?
Were the emblem a national flag, would it sell in the same numbers?
I rather doubt it. After all, which flag would we choose? It is the universality and innocence of the poppy, the picture it conjures up of fragile survival on muddy, worn-torn fields that gives it its potency. The blood-red poppy reminds us of sacrifice, it also speaks of our common ground . . . of hope, resilience, and basic unity. When we buy our poppy we aren't celebrating war, we are giving gratitude for the survival of hope.

Talking of common ground, I was privileged recently to hear James O'Dea, a former director of Amnesty International, give a thought-provoking talk on the subject of reconciliation.

"We are supposed to move beyond the horrors of the Holocaust, the terrors of Ruwanda and all the conflicts," he said, "and move to an integrated future . . . the most profound results stem from a small step towards reconciliation and forgiveness, towards our common ground that we share."

It's a powerful message, one that was echoed by a ninety-one-year-old war veteran who visited our local comprehensive school. His visit was intended to bring the Second World War alive to the students. It did.
The talk was moving . . . the students were transfixed.

At the end, when questions were invited, an eager hand shot up.
"What happened to the German soldier who tried to shoot you in the desert?" a young boy wanted to know.
"I hope he returned home to live a long and happy life," said the speaker.

Is it too fanciful to imagine that, with each poppy sold, there is sold a seed? A poppy seed of love, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. A seed that will germinate and take root, and whose flowers will never know the crushing boots of greed and aggression.

Will these poppies flourish?
For the sake of those who died, and for the sake of those who mourn . . . we must ensure that they do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Amen!" said Chloe

Please forgive me. After going on at great length about the importance of 'fun', what do I do? Send you two rather bleak 'letters', one after the other.
This one may not make you laugh, but I think it can be guaranteed to make you smile . . . and you're certain to like the photos!

Ever since she was a small kitten, Chloe's love of children, from toddlers to teenagers, has been one of her many endearing characteristics.
Nor is this one-sided, children are equally drawn to her. When I take her for a walk in Holland Park she becomes a veritable Pied Piper.

With this thought in mind, I felt sure she would enjoy following in Rupert's footsteps and attending an Animal Service.
The local Animal Service was an annual treat for Rupert, who always behaved impeccably and invariably proved to be the only cat amongst thirty or more equally well-behaved dogs.

The service this year was to start at eleven, It might be wise, I thought, to arrive early. At a quarter-to-eleven there was still plenty of room on offer and we found ourselves an empty pew near the front of the church. Rising to the spirit of the occasion, Chloe curbed her natural exuberance and seated herself demurely in the corner, a prime position from which she could peer down the aisle and witness each exciting new arrival.

We hadn't been seated for long when a small girl, with eyes only for Chloe, wriggled her way into the pew beside us. Her mother, so she told me, was further back in the church. They had no animal to bring to the service, so could she come and sit beside Chloe?
I assured her that, if her mother was happy with the arrangement, she certainly could.
Chloe, who clearly thought this an excellent idea, moved to a position between the two of us and curled up happily beside this new friend.
"Would you like to hold the lead?" I asked the small girl.
Confidently, she took control . . . everyone was happy.

We stood for the hymns, we knelt for the prayers, we sat and listened to the readings. Throughout this unfamiliar ceremonial, Chloe remained motionless and wide-eyed in the pew.

It was time for the sermon. Chloe, her gaze fixed on the pulpit, sat listening.
As he reached the end the preacher paused for a moment, then, "Amen!" he declared emphatically.
"Miaow!" replied Chloe with equal vehemence!

Heads, both human and canine, turned in surprise to look at this unexpectedly prayerful small cat!

When the service was over, the children gathered to bid Chloe farewell. Beyond any doubt, her baptism into the rites of the church had been an unqualified success.

My only worry? That Chloe may be planning to preach the sermon herself next year!