Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Definitely a Snow Bengal!

Hello . . . it's Chloe, here.
Yes, I know that my Mum likes to write these letters, but you can't always trust her to get her facts right.  On really important matters, such as the art of 'snowman climbing', I'm sure you'd agree that you need the account of an expert . . . in this case, a Bengal expert.

The first point that we need to establish is that there are different kinds of Bengal cats.  I'm what is known as a Snow Bengal.
When I first came to live with my Mum I don't think she fully appreciated this fact.  She was clearly surprised when I politely refused to sit in the sun.  Then she was surprised all over again when I puffed and panted and lost my appetite in the summer heat.

I kept trying to explain that my ancestors came from the snowy mountains of West Bengal, but they don't seem to have taught geography when my Mum was at school . . .  either that or she didn't listen.

When, at last, the the weather turned really cold, everyone realised what it is that a true Snow Bengal really enjoys . . . top of our favourite treats is wonderful, crisp, cat-captivating snow!

Which  brings me back to the skilled art of 'snowman climbing'.

The first essential is to keep a keen eye open for a handy snowman.
Children can usually be relied on to persuade their Dads to build them a snowman.  But, as children are sometimes a little over-enthusiastic where cats are concerned,  you don't offer active help.

Instead, you hover quietly in the background and bide your time.

It can help the deception if, whilst you're waiting, you lean casually on a snowball and look in the other direction .  . pretend you're not in the least bit interested.

Then, when the snowman has been built, and Dad has taken the children indoors for their lunch, all your patience is rewarded and, at last, you can make your move.

You need to be careful, a snowman can prove a little slippery at first, but, if you dig your claws into the ice and grip tight, you soon make good progress.

Not only that, once you've made certain that no-one's looking, what self-respecting cat could possibly ignore the challenge of yanking out that carrot nose . . .  and making a bee-line for those beady, green-grape eyes?

The final stage of the climb, from the shoulders to the top of the head, takes a considerable amount of care . . . you really need to be a sure-pawed Snow Bengal to tackle this successfully.

Then . . . once you've established your balance on the very top of the snowman's head . . . well, you're Queen of all you survey!

But glory can be short-lived.
Guess how my Mum reacted when I achieved this magnificent feat?
"Time to go in," she announced . . . unceremoniously whisking me off the summit. And, before I had time to draw breath and complain, we were back indoors.

However, I must admit that she did have a delicious lunch waiting for me!

Wouldn't you think that something as wonderful as snow would want to linger and be enjoyed . . . would want to spread its many pleasures as widely and generously as possible?

Not on your life!  When I poked my head between the curtains the other morning the snow, all that beautiful snow, had melted.
Where was the snowman?  Where were the snowballs?
All I could see were three patches of grubby slush fast disappearing on the grass.
Oh, I can't tell you how upset I felt!

Is there, I wonder, any possible way that a snow-loving Bengal cat can get her snow back . . . ?
Surely I won't have to wait until next winter for more of that intoxicating, cold and crunchy fun?

Between you and me, and I know it doesn't happen very often, but there are times when a cat's life just doesn't seem fair!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are you listening?

Are you listening carefully?  Are  you concentrating . . . hanging on my every word . . . giving your mind wholly to what I'm saying?

If you are, I can guarantee that you'll be rewarded.  My output, my very thoughts, will be refined and enriched by your attention . . . we'll both benefit.

No, I'm not joking.  I mean that quite seriously.  As any actor will tell you, his or her performance is heightened in direct relation to the involvement of the audience.

Listening isn't a passive activity, listening is an art.  Listening demands a great deal of the listener.  It asks for an open, receptive mind, a steady level of concentration and, above all else, a willing involvement with what the speaker is saying.

A listener is a vital component in what is, in effect, a double-act with the speaker.  What's more, when the listeners are multiplied to form a group or audience, the power of their participation is magnified accordingly.

But we mustn't overlook the skilful tricks of a bad listener, tricks to which I frequently plead guilty.  One of these is to appear interested when, in reality, you are barely hearing what the person is saying.  You are convinced that there's no need to listen, that you know exactly what's being said . . . and you don't agree with it anyway.  What you are waiting for, waiting with a barely concealed impatience, is that moment when a downward inflection indicates that the speaker is going to pause and provide you with the opportunity to interrupt.  You are ready and poised, your arguments are lined up.
"I know exactly what you mean," you burst out untruthfully, "but . . . ".

There is, of course, that other form of bad listener who doesn't even pretend to be listening.
Have you ever tried to make a point to someone whose mind was wandering, and whose attention rarely if ever centred on what you were saying?  If so, you know exactly what I mean . . . it's like trying to shine a light through a thick fog, or struggling to make progress through a sea of treacle.  Your words are bouncing back to you, unaccepted and ignored.  Your voice eventually dies away and you abandon the effort.

What a difference, though, when you are talking to someone who is interested and receptive.  You can feel your thoughts refine in response to the attention.  The precise words come just when you need them, you develop a eloquence you didn't know you possessed.  It's as though the listener is actually feeding you with the material you need and the output is a join effort.

It struck me once that all good verbal communication takes on the nature of a triangle.  You have the speaker and the listener, but, in addition, there's the all-important third point which is formed by the inter-connection.  Not only is this third point one of inter-connection, it can also be fertile.  The listener doesn't need to give voice to a response for the speaker to gain inspiration from the power of that vital link.

Could this, I wonder, be just what our over-heated, noisy world needs?  Not more articulate, committed speakers, but a profusion of equally committed and willing listeners?
Listeners who will enable speakers to hear what it is that they are really saying, listeners who will be the conciliators, the peace-makers, the unifiers.

And the lovely thing about being a good listener is that it's a role we can all play.
How about it . . . ?  Or do we all know exactly what I mean, but . . . ?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Work in progress

Until comparatively recently it must be admitted that I knew very little about football.  Even now, although my knowledge has expanded considerably, there are still deep pools of total ignorance.  But, coming to football later in life has meant that, like a stranger in a strange land, you ask basic questions.

I was taken aback by the fierce loyalties of football team supporters, and by the degree of commitment a supporter gives to his team.  However, I was also puzzled by a more basic question . . . what is it that constitutes a team?

Professional football players are commercial commodities, they frequently find themselves playing against the same team that they represented only the season before.  So, if that's the case, it can't be the players who constitute the team.
In much the same way, the manager of the team is on a slippery slope if his team loses too often.  With a few well-known exceptions, managers come and managers go.
Could it be said that the owners are their team?  I don't think so.  For all their power to hire and fire managers they, too, are no more than a transitory part of the long-term structure.

Then, what is the answer?  What is a football team?

Thinking about this, I was reminded of a story of a famous cricketer.  With great pride he would recount the story of his treasured bat.  It was, he said, an historic bat.  It had been his staunch ally during many Test Matches and yet was still in use.  True, he agreed, it had had four new handles, and, true, the blade had been replaced on several occasions, but there was no denying that his was an historic bat.

If the cricket bat didn't constitute its parts, and a football team doesn't constitute its owner, its manager, or its players . . . how can we make sense of such a conundrum?

It struck me that we human beings fall into this same problematic category.  We are not the food we eat, nor the air we breathe, and our cells are in a constant state of replenishment and renewal.  In physical terms, I am no more the child I once was than that cricket bat could be mistaken for its youthful counterpart.

So what is it . . . what is a football team . . . what is an historic cricket bat . . . what am I?

I don't know how you would answer this question, but I came to the conclusion that it all rests in the name . . .  the essence.

Surely it is the name of the football team that endows it with its unique character?  It doesn't imply anything fixed, but, whilst remaining constant itself, allows ample room for change, growth and improvement.

When a player joins a football club he takes on all that the name of the club implies, he absorbs its essence, he grows with it.
In much the same way, if I cut my finger the cells will rush to repair the damage, repairing it with cells for the finger, not cells for an ear-lobe by mistake.

We are all of us, whether a football team, a cricket bat, or you and I, no more and no less than a work in progress.
We are a work in progress contained within a name . . . and I'm sure that's a concept with which any fervent football fan would whole-heartedly agree!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In need of a New Year

I wonder if you witnessed the sunrise this morning?
Wouldn't you agree that there's something particularly magical about a winter sunrise . . . that moment of stillness when the sky is stained a delicate pink, a moment when the whole world seems to be holding its breath in expectancy, when anything is possible.

Logic may insist that the sun isn't really rising, that it's our planet that's revolving.  But you can feel your heart respond as that small, glowing disc emerges slowly in the east, bringing with it the promise and hope of a pristine, new day.

Watching the sunrise, I was reminded of a talk I heard recently.
The speaker contended that our modern western civilisation is predisposed to look on our life as a linear progression.  We forget, he told his listeners, that, within an evolutionary process, human life, along with that of the rest of creation, is cyclical.

Would you agree?
Reflecting on his words, I found that they made sense.
We expect the economy to grow, the standard of life to rise steadily, organisations to put down roots and become increasingly established.  We don't look upon the various strands of our culture as a cycle, instead we treat them as part of an indefinite, rather monotonous, straight line.

But haven't you noticed how we also long for evidence of an underlying natural cycle?
We don't want an eternal summer, we crave the harvest of autumn, the dormancy of winter, the promise of spring. We don't want endless daylight, we need the sun to set, the night to give us rest, and the morning to bring a new perspective.

Most of all, wouldn't you agree, we need a new year?
We can manage three hundred and sixty five days, we can even cope with an additional day every four years, but, oh, the joy, the relief, of putting the old year to bed and drawing a beautiful, new, unsullied version out of its New Year's Eve wrappings.
The old year may have offered much, may even have fulfilled many of its hopes and dreams, but, inevitably, it limps away exhausted by the effort.
We need a new year . . . we need a new cycle.

Nor is it just the pleasure of having a new year to contemplate, there's all that it represents.  The new diary, new calendar, a new sense of expectation, a fresh opportunity . . . another chance.

Are you like me?  Is the first entry in your new diary written with painstaking care and attention . . . a neat entry that is wholly legible?  Do you open your new diary with a sense of anticipation and, for a few weeks at least, treat it with care?

In point of fact, there is nothing to distinguish the first of January from any other day.  The new year once started in March.
But, psychologically, it arrives with all the hope and potential of this morning's sunrise, of the first primrose pushing through the winter soil, of a baby's first, unbelievable intake of breath.
It signals a start, a rebirth.

2012 is over and done with.
For all its highlights, excitements and revelations, it was also badly scarred by our stupidity.
There's a sense of relief in seeing the chapter come to a close.

So .  . . let's take a deep breath and turn to face the sunrise of 2013.
Re-energised by its promise, may we all enjoy a very happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Four Gifts of Christmas

When the three Wise Men brought their gifts to the stable, little did they think that they were establishing a Christmas tradition.

Nor could they possibly have guessed that, over two thousand years later, the popularity of gold, frankincense and myrrh would be totally eclipsed by that of fish.

Or, if we're to be specific, the popularity of plastic fish that swim to order,  blow bubbles and waggle their golden tails.

We'll let these photos of Chloe's Christmas illustrate my point.

Not that she thought her gift to be very exciting when we first opened the small, net bag.

Falling out of its silver wrapping paper, the fish, although plump and golden, looked a decidedly dull plaything.

However, a slender rod was sticking out of its stomach.
Might this, I wondered, work a miracle?

Very carefully, I took hold of the rod and twisted.  When I could twist no  further, I placed the fish in a bowl of water.

The response was instantaneous . . . not only did the resuscitated fish start to swim, but out of its broad, red mouth rose a steady stream of beautiful bubbles.

Thoroughly intrigued . . . Chloe watched . . . and waited . . . and pounced!
The outcome . . . ?  A sodden paw and an untroubled fish!

Using her left paw this time, Chloe made a second attempt . . .  propelled by the moving water, the fish made a quick circuit of the bowl and, its tail still revolving in a jaunty fashion, easily escaped capture.

This game of cat-and-fish would have continued happily all morning had I not decided that the fish needed a rest!

Do you see what I mean?
Neither gold nor frankincense, not even myrrh, could hold a candle to a small, plastic fish . . . not when it comes to giving a Bengal cat a very exciting Christmas present!