The Giant Lanterns of China

One of my highlights of 2018 was visiting the Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo for Chinese New Year, and I was thrilled when I found out they were putting on another show this year. This time around the theme was Myths and Legends, and I loved the clash of Scottish and Chinese mythology, like the Loch Ness Monster tangling with a Chinese water dragon.

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There were a few lanterns recycled from the previous event but I was impressed by how much thought and effort had been made to ensure it was every bit as original and memorable as the first, and I thought it was even better than the previous year.

Aside from all the fantastical creatures, there was also a section displaying extinct animals alongside currently endangered species, providing a pertinent reminder that we must act now to prevent species from disappearing in our lifetime due to climate change, hunting and loss of habitat.

Living in Scotland, we’re no strangers to inclement weather, but when it started snowing, it only made the experience seem more magical as we meandered between the gorgeous lanterns with cold hands wrapped around hot drinks, and it was a wonderful way to spend a wintry evening in February. Have a lovely week! X

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Review of ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

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I can’t remember when I first heard about the ultra-marathon runner from Edinburgh who bonded with a stray dog he found while competing in a race across the Gobi desert in China, but I was delighted when I found out he’d written a book about their story.

Something that struck me right from the start is that it was the little dog who chose Dion out of a hundred other runners, not the other way around. Mile after mile, the scruffy stray he names Gobi keeps pace with Dion, and little by little he starts to enjoy her company as she gallops along beside him, at times Gobi’s presence helps him push through the pain, exhaustion and boredom of long distance running. A real turning point in their relationship comes when Dion stops to carry Gobi across a river that is too deep and fast flowing for her to cross, even though he knows it will cost him time and probably his position in the race too. By the time he crosses the finish line, seven days and 155 miles later, Dion has resolved to bring her back to the UK with him.

Roughly the first third of Finding Gobi focuses on the ultra-marathon, and the rest describes all the challenges of trying to bring Gobi back to the UK. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story ends happily and their reunion and eventual return to the UK is that much sweeter for all the obstacles and setbacks they faced along the way.

Dion, a bit of a loner by nature with a fair bit of emotional baggage from his childhood and adolescence, is humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support from friends and strangers alike who donate money to the crowd-funding campaign he starts or give up their time to help him directly. It is Dion’s commitment to bringing Gobi home that drives the campaign, but it’s the kindness of people from all over the world who make it possible, and in turn make this story so heart-warming and memorable.

Although my own furry, four-legged companion is of the feline variety, there were so many aspects of this story that resonated with me. Human relationships can often be complex, yet our animal companions offer us their love and trust unconditionally, and no matter how we may see ourselves they accept us just as we are. Yet even more than that, Finding Gobi demonstrates that somehow animals also have the ability to bring out our very best qualities – from commitment and co-operation to kindness and compassion.

Have a lovely week. X

Happy Chinese New Year!

 

As it was Chinese New Year at the weekend, my hubby and I decided to visit the Giant Lanterns of China that have been on display at Edinburgh Zoo over the winter.

As darkness fell over the city, we wandered along the mile long circuit marveling at over 450 handcrafted silk lanterns illuminating the zoo. The beautiful displays featured elements from Chinese culture as well as various animals, birds and insects to be found in the zoo (though all of the real animals were kept inside overnight).

As with any outdoor event in Scotland, we were glad it was a dry evening, especially when we stopped to watch a twenty minute performance by Chinese acrobats who impressed the audience with their feats of strength and balance.

It was a wonderful way to spend a winter evening while learning a little bit about Chinese mythology and some of the conservation work that the zoo does. Have a lovely week. X

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Review of ‘The World According to Bob’ by James Bowen

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A Street Cat Named Bob was the first book I reviewed this year, and it seems fitting that the sequel The World According to Bob should be the last. This picks up where the first book finished, James is a recovering addict, struggling to make ends meet by selling the Big Issue magazine and living in a London tower-block with Bob, the stray cat he adopted in the previous book.

Both books really capture the unconditional love, trust, loyalty and affection that can exist between people and animals, and how healing and transformative those bonds can be. Taking care of Bob gives James a sense of purpose, routine and responsibility, it’s his reason to get out of bed in the morning, to work hard and stay sober.

James isn’t proud of his past, and although he describes his difficult childhood shuttling between divorced parents in England and Australia, and his failed attempts to become a musician that ultimately resulted in him becoming homeless and addicted to heroin in London, he doesn’t blame anyone else for his choices.

James’ humanity comes across throughout the book as he understands the desperation that leads people in a similar situation to his own resorting to intimidation, violence, theft and addiction to numb their pain and shame. When his own fortunes start to change, James sees it as part of his duty and purpose to raise awareness of the harsh realities of those rough-sleeping, battling addictions and trying to eke out a living working on the streets.

James doesn’t have much by most people’s standards, and yet he is grateful for everything he does have, and his gratitude extends to all the people that believed in him and helped him when he needed it most from the Blue Cross vets who treated Bob whenever he was sick or injured to the Big Issue organisation, his parents, friends and the publishers who gave him the opportunity to share his story. Above all, James is grateful to the little cat that changed his life and inspired him to become the very best version of himself. I don’t usually read autobiographies but I found both of James Bowen’s books thoroughly heart-warming and inspiring. Have a lovely week. X

A very special anniversary… ❤️

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Just a quick post to mark that it was two years ago today that we adopted our cat Mara from the SSPCA. As Mara is a rescue cat we don’t know when her birthday is or even how old she is but we like to celebrate the day we adopted her, and this is a very special anniversary as we weren’t sure that she would even still be here to celebrate it at all.

Back in January when our vet diagnosed the lump we’d found on her tail as a mast cell tumour, they had warned us that she might only have six to twelve months left. The vets amputated her tail to give her the best chance of survival, but the next six months were full of blood tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays and fine needle aspirates to ensure the cancer had not originated or spread elsewhere. It was a relief for all of us in July when the oncology department at the small animal hospital finally gave us the all clear, and we’re so grateful to all the vets who have helped us.

We all still miss that fluffy, tabby tail crooked like a question mark when she walked around, thrashing from side to side when she played or curling round our wrists when she was asleep, but nowhere near as much as we’d miss Mara if we hadn’t found the lump in time. Mara has been so brave and resilient throughout it all, she made a full recovery and adapted with no continence issues or loss of balance and mobility, and she is still every bit as affectionate, mischievous and curious as the day we adopted her.

Back then, we were newly-weds just back from our honeymoon, when we visited the rehoming centre to look for a potential new addition to our little family. I still remember seeing the tabby and white cat pressed up against the door of her enclosure and rearing up on her hind legs to let us stroke her when we went in to say hello. Bringing her home, we were almost as nervous as we were excited, as she was the first pet either my husband or I had had since leaving our family homes, and it seemed like such a big responsibility, yet Mara easily settled in with us, quickly becoming the centre of our world and the beating heart of our home. Now, two years later we are happy to have an excuse to spoil her a little more than usual today – even if she steadfastly refuses to let me take a photo of her wearing a party hat. Have a lovely week.

A Postcard from Argyll

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Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.

Review of ‘Close Encounters of the Furred Kind’ by Tom Cox

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Close Encounters of the Furred Kind starts not long after where The Good, The Bad and The Furry (reviewed here) left off, with Tom Cox and his partner contemplating moving their lives and their four cats from Norfolk to rural Devon.

Much like his blog and other books about cats, Close Encounters of the Furred Kind is laugh-out-loud funny in places as Tom describes the upheaval and stress of moving across the country with his four beloved felines, his attempts to domesticate and adopt a local feral cat, taking up dog-walking as a hobby, conversations with his parents and interactions between his feline friends. Yet I find Tom is at his most eloquent when contemplating the ageing and mortality of the cats with whom he shares his home and around which his life revolves, it is perhaps the knowledge that most of us will outlive our pets that makes us love them all the more fiercely.

Sadly since this book was published, two of Tom’s cats, The Bear (a soulful philosopher) and Shipley (a cantankerous chatterbox) have passed away, but they will live on through these books in his vividly captured descriptions of their personalities and mannerisms.

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It was about six months ago that we found a mast cell tumour on our own cat’s tail, and although it was removed before it spread, she is still at a higher risk of developing another tumour than other cats and is currently in a period of monitoring. As grateful as I am to all the vets who have treated Mara, I always feel anxious whenever she goes for check-ups and tests (which are not without risks), and about what the results might reveal, but I’ve drawn comfort from reading books like this from other animal lovers who understand just how much our lives are enriched by the affections and companionship of our pets.

After a busy week I’ve enjoyed spending a lazy weekend at home curled up on the couch with my husband, Mara snoozing across our laps and Close Encounters of the Furred Kind to amuse me. Have a lovely week.