A Visit to the Prinknash Bird and Deer Park, Gloucestershire

What a lovely place the Prinknash Bird and Deer Park is.

I was very impressed with it when we visited on Easter Saturday. The park is beautifully landscaped with some enchanting gypsy caravans and playhouses for young children, and the birds and animals are very tame indeed.  A word of warning – do buy the bird-feed before you go in as all the birds and animals come hurrying towards you at every bend of the path, full of expectancy and anticipation (rather like authors at a writers conference converging on the agents and editors present with their first three chapters and a synopsis….)

I can thoroughly recommend this attraction as a day out for a family. And it’s set in the most beautiful part of the Cotswolds, with deep valleys and steep hills, close to Prinknash Abbey with its delightful cafe and shop.

A Cat Cannot Always Win: After all, It’s Only A Visit to the Vet

It was the moment she heard me take the basket out of the cupboard.

Cat in cat basket
Cat in cat basket

I had under-estimated the acuteness of her hearing skills, and also her memory of past abductions.

But having removed the cat carrier from the hall cupboard, unfastened the straps, and set it  out in the hallway, I was undone.

She was on the alert, hiding behind the sofa.

My plan had been to pick her up first when she was relaxed and unsuspecting.

But too late. the chase was on.

We raced from one end of the room to the other, now dragging the sofa out, then pulling the table forward, reaching to grab her, as she streaked past us, sinewy, slippery and high speed.

Now she was crouched in the small space behind the television amongst the jumble of cables.

Cat amongst Christmas gifts beneath Christmas Tree
Cat amongst Christmas gifts beneath Christmas Tree

I said to my husband “You stand there to cut off her exit, and I’ll grab her from this end.” We both moved into place.

I grabbed, and she shot out the other side past my husband’s flailing fingers.

I snapped, “Stop being so kind and gentle! You have to be tough! You have to grab her by the scruff of the neck.”

Cat on vet's table
Cat on vet’s table

Eventually I caught her in the study. She cringed back from me against the wall, I seized her by the neck, held her tight in my arms, carried her to the hall, and stuffed her in the basket.

It was done. Cat Zero. Human beings – one.

 

………………

For other posts about cats on SC Skillman Author, click here:

https://scskillman.com/2013/12/18/live-christmas-present-under-the-tree-one-kitten/

https://scskillman.com/2012/04/19/the-psyche-of-a-cat/

https://scskillman.com/2013/10/21/mother-and-daughter-relationships-poignant-family-drama-in-the-animal-world/

https://scskillman.com/2013/10/28/friends-at-last-building-trust-in-the-animal-world/

Boxing Day Entertainment by the Kenilworth Lions at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields

The English love to do fun – and some might even think silly – things on Boxing Day.20161226_113145

Perhaps this is a relief from all the stress of preparing for Christmas. It’s also the opportunity for people to gather together in the fresh air and enjoy themselves with traditional English entertainments.

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Here are a few fun things that took place in one of my favourite places, Kenilworth, on Boxing Day – at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields.

The events were organised by Kenilworth Lions who not only give people a lot of fun and enjoyment, but also provide tremendous support to local charities through their fundraising.20161226_111614

The entertainments included Morris dancers, Punch and Judy Show, and the best dressed dog contest at Kenilworth Castle…20161226_112701

 

 

……..and the annual duck race along the brook through Abbey Fields – an event which attracts a huge crowd.  We followed this with another very popular local activity – a walk through the fields behind Kenilworth Castle, through the area once covered by the Great Mere, filled with pleasure boats, out to the former site of Henry V’s “Pleasance in the Marsh” and back again to the Castle….

May I take this opportunity to wish you  a happy New Year and for all of us the chance to play our part in making the world a more compassionate, caring and loving place for us all, one in which people may come together in a spirit of mutual tolerance, acceptance and good will, so in many more countries people may enjoy being together as shown on the pictures in this blog post.

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Signs and Omens at Gloucester for A Passionate Spirit

Many have through the centuries seen signs or omens from the natural world.

A view of Gloucester Cathedral
A view of Gloucester Cathedral

In my article on Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes “How Can Carl Jung’s Theory of Archetypes Help You In Your Creative Writing?” which I wrote for ezine articles in January 2012, I mention the archetype of the animal spirit guide/messenger. This runs as a theme through all mythology, appearing everywhere from aboriginal legend to ancient Greek thought to the Bible to classic literature.

Here’s what I wrote then on the theme of the animal spirit messenger:

“…the Bible of course makes use of this theme too by giving the Dove a key role as a guide; and as a symbol of peace, love, the Holy Spirit. Another example is the Raven. “To have a raven’s knowledge” is an Irish proverb meaning “to have a seer’s supernatural powers”. The Raven was banished from the Ark by Noah – but it returned later on in the Old Testament to feed Elijah in the wilderness.”

The Raven Centre in Gloucester
The Raven Centre in Gloucester

I make use of the theme of the Raven in my new novel A Passionate Spirit.

Yesterday I was in Gloucester where I visited the local branch of Waterstone’s on my Cotswolds bookstore tour.

Gloucester has many historical locations, and so I was tempted to take several photos. When I viewed my photo of Gloucester Cathedral I noticed that my camera had caught a large bird on the wing, flying past the Cathedral.

Bird flies past Gloucester Cathedral
Bird flies past Gloucester Cathedral

Then I turned round and discovered that the  lovely timbered building behind me was called The Raven Centre.

A fanciful coincidence? Or maybe a beautiful sign or good omen?  I choose to hope so!

Friends At Last: Building Trust in the Animal World

Molly has now overcome her resistance  to the idea of an alien cat in the house with her (albeit her mother)

But it took  Willow a little while to overcome her annoyance at her daughter Molly’s initial rejection of her.

Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

She spent a few days expressing her annoyance, and trying to exert some discipline.

She was a strict mother,and we watched her setting the boundaries.

“Behave!” she would say to Molly.

And then she discovered what it’s like to have your young one defying orders.

And later I was reminded of  one of those classic situations which many young mothers bemoan; the toddler who won’t even let her mother go to the toilet alone.

Molly has been pushing at the door of  the litter tray while Willow is in it, trying to jump in with her.

“Can’t I even go to the toilet in peace?” cries Willow.

Now we hear the scampering of feet across the floor as the two play-fight with each other and chase each other from room to room.

Relaxing? No. And sometimes those play-fights look horribly real.

But I reassure myself that the claws are retracted.

Otherwise the squeals and  squeaks and cries that  come from 8 week old Molly would be screams of pain.

Watching a relationship of mutual trust being built in the animal world has made me reflect on how this may apply to us humans too. Suspicion breaks down, the first tentative steps are taken; building trust is a process of experimentation and small moves forward. So we see ourselves and our own characters partially reflected in animal behaviour.

Mother and Daughter Relationships – Poignant Family Drama in the Animal World

Mother and daughter relationships – a popular trope in TV sitcoms/family sagas/romantic fiction/women in jeopardy/social and romantic comedies and many other stories.

And in the last few days my family have been immersed in a poignant drama in our home between a mother and a daughter.

A mother who was separated from her little girl three weeks ago, and  is excited to be together with her, and who longs to come close and look after her again.

And a baby who was separated from her mother, but now they’re reunited, she’s suspicious  and hostile.

She spits, hisses and growls at her mother. And the hurt mother, cross and rejected, growls back – through the glass door that separates them.

The name of the mother: Willow, age 18 months.

Willow investigating the scratching post (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Willow investigating the scratching post (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

And the name of  her little daughter: Molly, age 8 weeks.

Molly age 8 weeks (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Molly age 8 weeks (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Willow is a tortoiseshell/tabby cat and Molly a sparky little dark tortoiseshell.

Ever since Willow and Molly arrived in our home, side by side in their cat-carrier,  courtesy of the Cats Protection League two days ago, I’ve watched this little family drama in the world of felines with a mixture of emotions.

And so has my own teenage daughter.

“It’s your mum! She just wants to be nice to you!”

No, she’s hiding in a hammock of her own creation at  the back of the sofa; a hammock we’d never known was there.

Perhaps next week when I blog  again, mother and daughter will be reconciled and happily curled up together again.

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

Heart of Darkness, Sharing the Darkness, embracing the darkness – the archetypal theme of darkness versus light is ever-present in our lives, through books, movies, media, faith, life experience.

The church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Last week – on the night of the full moon – I was at a Celtic Christian service in the 13th century church at Morton Bagot, Warwickshire.

And the theme: “Sun, Moon and Stars: Finding a Way in the Darkness.”

The Celtic-inspired service was led by Annie Heppenstall, and comes from her book The Healer’s Tree.

Ten of us gathered together in the chancel, where Annie had hung from a central chandelier a large hoop, to which she had tied the feathers of local birds, which she had found in her garden. The hoop represented the circle of the year. During the service we tied ribbons to the hoop to represent ourselves.

This lovely ancient church (which has no electricity) was lit only by candles.

I am one of those who is sensitive to atmospheres, and the feeling I receive from this church is one of deep peace, goodness and harmony.

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)
Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

My sister Julia, on a recent visit to the Uk with her husband, visited this church with me,  and both were conscious of this very special atmosphere. Julia took the photographs that illustrate this post.

During Annie’s Celtic Christian service, we each took two dark pebbles, and considered how these represented different aspects of the darkness for us, then we carried the pebbles to the lighted candle and placed them there.

Annie loves to focus on animal symbolism, rich in Celtic spirituality and in the Bible. The two animals she chose for this service were the bear and the cat, to represent different aspects of the darkness.

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)
Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

I find the incorporation of pre Christian Celtic spirituality into contemporary Christian practice very moving.

Religions and all thought systems assimilate elements of what went before, and then we move on.

To me, the ability of the Christian faith to assimilate aspects of the pagan world – nowhere more evident than in our Western celebration of Christmas – is part of its strength and enduring power.

In all things, we take with us something of what went before, and we move on.

About the Writer

SC Skillman is a British romantic suspense author Her debut novel “Mystical Circles” is available to order at your local bookstores or online. A signed copy may be purchased direct from the author’s website, and the ebook may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle.

The Big Bad Wolf, the Human Capacity to Deceive, and the Case of Jimmy Savile

In recent weeks many of us have been shocked by the case of Jimmy Savile and the BBC, and wondered how someone who did so much good in the world could turn out to have such a dark side.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Gustave Dore
Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Gustave Dore

The case of Jimmy Savile should make us all look with new eyes at the cult of celebrity, at the nature of good and evil, and at the capacity of human beings to appear as Angels of Light and yet to have dark hearts beneath.

Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness explores this, as does Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

This is what celebrity is all about: people who seem to be, who look and sound and do good. And we so much want to believe in them.

So many people were hypnotized for so long by the power of Savile’s Celebrity Personna, and his Good Works.

Today I learned on the Radio 4 Today Programme that Philip Pullman is re-telling 50 Grimms Fairy Stories. Neil Gaiman was also in the studio to discuss the archetypal appeal of fairy stories. Why do fairy stories work? Neil Gaiman gave this as his number one reason:

Fairy stories warn us “There are monsters out there.  Beware of strangers – beware the wolves in the  wood.”

Running through archetypal story structure, we find wolves in sheep’s clothing, fair maidens who turn out to be evil sorceresses, beautiful queens who are power-hungry murderers.

These characters form part of  the “giant glorious background clutter we carry with us into adulthood”, says Neil Gaiman.

In the case of Jimmy Savile, and in other notorious cases in recent years, we have seen cunning people playing with and subverting the English tendency to say something and mean exactly its opposite, conveying this purely through subtle changes in tone of voice.

I’ll never forget somebody I met years ago (working at the BBC)  saying in my presence, “I am a black hole in the spiritual firmament.” We were all sitting in a recording studio, making a programme for religious schools radio about the Iona Community. This colleague was a great character, probably one of my favourite people in the office:  funny, colourful, down-to-earth, with a subversive sense of humour.  “If holy people see me coming in on the radar,” he went on, “they’ll say: ‘Watch out, there’s something alien coming in here’.”

We all laughed, and later I wrote it in my journal, I was so amused and intrigued by his words.

Of course he was probably joking.

But so did many many people persuade themselves Savile was joking. So did Fred West convince neighbours and acquaintances he was joking. So did Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, convince work colleagues he was joking.

Convincing yourself people are joking is an excellent way to avoid responsibility to follow the promptings of your first instinct.

Of course these are exceptional cases, and there is  a very high probability that when my amusing work colleague spoke those words, it could simply have been a theatrical way of saying, “I’m not religious”. Or it could have indicated bad feelings about himself arising from negative messages received in childhood; or it could have meant that he knew he had done – and perhaps continued to do – bad things that we didn’t know about.

Should not reasonable people be able to see “something alien” coming in on their radar?

Many people were blind to that “something alien” in Jimmy Savile.  Human beings have a vast capacity to deceive.

What is your take on this? Please share your thoughts on the case of Jimmy Savile, or any reflections arising from it.

Places of Inspiration Part 7: Memories, Dreams, Reflections Among the Kookaburras on an Australian Mountain Lookout

Margaret Silf wrote a book called Sacred Spaces in which she explored the various stages of our life-journey in terms of geographical locations. Everything has a symbolic meaning – bridge, crossing place, lake, wood, ford, spring, river, well  – in the ancient Celtic view of the world. And I believe many of us find that the value of a special place lies not only in itself but in the extent to which our memories, dreams and reflections are threaded through it.

So it is for me with Jolly’s Lookout – number 7 in my mini-series Places of Inspiration. Halfway up a mountain near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, it’s a place where I’ve meditated, socialised, and reached turning points in my life. Jolly’s Lookout is equally loved by picnickers and kookaburras.   It holds memories and has inhabited my dreams. For me, past and future coalesced here. The view has it all, in terms of “soul space” – a valley, a city, a bay, distant mountains. All these hold a symbolic power, a special symbolism for the life-journey.

 

Tourist Map of Australia
Tourist Map of Australia

You can see where Brisbane is here on this map of Australia.

Jolly’s Lookout  – so named after William Jolly, the first Lord Mayor of Greater Brisbane – is a place of happy times  – lunchtime picnics, night-time barbeques, gatherings of local groups who come to eat together then play games afterwards.  In 2007 I was able to take my 12-year-old daughter there and she has shared my love of this inspiring mountain viewpoint ever since.

My daughter Abigail at Jolly's Lookout
My daughter Abigail at Jolly’s Lookout

This lookout is in open eucalypt forest. If you continue up the road from here to Mount Glorious, you may hear bellbirds, and enjoy walks through subtropical rainforest.

a possum in a tree at night
a possum in a tree at night

At night it is the haunt of possums, their bright eyes shining in the torchlight as  visitors come to hang their storm lanterns from the overhanging branches and prepare their barbecues.

A close up of a goana
A close up of a goana

And often if you come at dusk you will find a visiting goana, also keen to share your picnic.

kookaburra
kookaburra

It is likewise home to numerous kookaburras, who love their opportunity to swoop and snatch from a hapless visitor’s fork perhaps a nice chicken breast or piece of steak, foolishly lifted into the air, and held there for a split second before the mouth of the picnicker can close around it.

The view from Jolly’s Lookout is breathtaking. It takes in the Samford Valley, the city of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, and beyond that, further north, up towards the Sunshine Coast, the bizarre and fascinating shapes of the Glasshouse Mountains, so named by Captain Cook purely from the impression they made on him as he sailed past in 1770. During the time I lived in Australia – four and a half years between 1986 and 1990 – I visited Jolly’s Lookout many times.

picnic table at Jolly's Lookout May 2012
picnic table at Jolly’s Lookout May 2012

Is there a special place where you have happy memories, perhaps of wandering alone, or a place where you were part of a social gathering or party that comes vividly to mind whenever you think of the place? Are your memories, dreams and reflections threaded through it? Please share your thoughts about your special place, in the comments below.

The Psyche of a Cat and Emily Bronte’s School Essay

Hattie in the garden - photo taken by Abigail Robinson
Hattie in the garden – photo taken by Abigail Robinson

Cats both domestic and wild have been worshipped, adored, feared, coveted, persecuted, psychoanalysed, parodied,  wondered over, painted, written about, sculpted, photographed… and there is no sign of this fascination ever abating.

Some of us find cats enchanting; others greatly prefer dogs. Personally, I love both; but admit that I’ve probably spent longer pondering the psyche of a cat, than that of a dog.

When considering the appeal of our own cat, Hattie, I believe that few come closer than Emily Bronte to explaining humankind’s long enthrallment by cats. 

Emily Bronte wrote a French essay called “The Cat” in 1842 – often one of the examples cited in demonstrating her unsentimental attitude towards nature. The cat, she wrote, although it differs in some physical points, is extremely like us in disposition. Then she considers the three charges of hypocrisy, cruelty and ingratitude levelled against the cat by its detractors : detestable vices in our race and equally odious in that of cats… a cat in its own interest sometimes hides its misanthropy under the guise of amiable gentleness… the ingratitude of cats is another name for penetration. They know how to value our favours at their true price, because they guess the motives that prompt us to grant them. 

Emily understood that we see something of ourselves in cats. We recognise their psyches. And of course we are free to interpret that as we like!

For instance, Hattie, among her many intriguing characteristics, never fails to miaow for her biscuits approximately one hour before they are due. And the miaows continue until we cannot possibly resist any longer.  The danger of course is that the biscuits come slightly earlier each day… Her persistence is admirable, and I have often compared it to the way I handle frustration in life. I have even thought that if Hattie had written a novel, and wished to find a literary agent to represent her, she would achieve success much quicker than many thousands of despairing authors of slushpile manuscripts. 

Our cat Hattie - photo by Abigail Robinson
Our cat Hattie – photo by Abigail Robinson

Emily Bronte wrote her cat essay under the tutelage of her French master in Brussels in 1842. Five years later she published Wuthering Heights. In this novel she created the kind of home, occupied as it is by a deeply dysfunctional family, where any cat would lead a high-risk existence –  escaping from the boot of sadistic Hindley when he’s in one of his rages, or the heartbroken revenge of a demented Heathcliffe a generation later. Emily’s perception of human nature is fierce, penetrating and unsentimental; and therein lies her reliability  in discerning the psyche of a cat.

What do you think? Is this a true picture of the cat? Or perhaps you disagree with Emily Bronte? I’d love to have your comments!