Thursday, April 19, 2012

For Philip

Hi Phil

Here it is - another letter into the ether with a vain hope that somewhere you are out there and able to read this.

It's been a strange time. Work is very, very busy and quite challenging. But I am learning a lot, and hopefully contributing too. I like working for a charity - it fits better with my personality I think to do a job with an altruistic purpose.

Oh, I like getting paid of course, but it's still very good to know at the end of the day it's not just the number of widgets you've sold  - that what I've done may, in some small way, be useful.

I'm not sure why I started writing to you tonight - I think I just need to chat to you. You are a great listener.

I've taken our great-great-great-grandfather out of storage and he's ready to put up somewhere in the house. Probably over the stairs, like he was an Athenaeum Road. It's an odd picture, not one really that you would like to sit and look at in the front room, but as he was part of our childhood I'd quite like him back up, standing there in all his regal gear and regarding us in his distant way. I think he's our great-great whatever, but maybe he isn't. I can't remember, can you?

I've got the family histories safe; not sure what to do with them. I'd like to transfer some of the contents onto the web. It's amazing who has contacted me from the Sheppard family blog. I should share more of that for them really. I keep meaning to visit the archivist at Longleat, and maybe contact Gatcombe Park too - but there's always something else to do.

And what does it all mean, really? You are the last of the Sheppards, on our side. Does it matter? I don't know. I think I'll see if there's a museum who want the family histories - I can't see my kids being interested in it really. Sad in a way, but it's just how things are these days. What was very personal to us, will be something anthropoligically interesting for someone else.

I'm in a reflective mood.

Well, I must get to sleep, busy day tomorrow once again. But the day should start well, we are having a 'bacon sandwich morning' (except Oli who is having a 'veggie sausage morning').

I hope you are well, I fear you are not, I wish you the best.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Big cats

Snow leopard (C) Carolyn Sheppard
This amazing animal is a snow leopard, one of the world's endangered big cats. "Snow Leopards are suspected to have declined by at least 20% over the past two generations (16 years) due to habitat and prey base loss, and poaching and persecution. Losses to poaching were most severe in the former Russian republics in the 1990s" (IUCN). So this amazing creature who certainly has a wonderful pelt, is now struggling for survival.

This guy though, didn't seem to be struggling. In fact, although he was in a smallish enclosure, he seemed happy and content. Like most animals bred in captivity, he doesn't know what he's missing I guess (eg being shot at and excoriated or simply starving to death).

I am not a great fan of captive big cats - the best place for these animals is in their natural habitat. But their habitat is receding, there is less and less food, and we could be amongst the last couple of generations to ever even stand a chance of seeing this animal in the wild.

So how did I get not only to see these magnificent animals, but also to hand-feed one (through the bars, not in the cage)? I visited the Cat Survival Trust (CST), which I was introduced to by a friend.  They are not a zoo and not a pet cat rehoming charity, but an organisation who, since 1976, have been working to help the world's rare big cats - especially those kept in captivity.

They have an amazing record of longevity for their cats, which Terry (the Director of CST) attributes to good food and, especially, purified water. He is obviously passionate about the work the charity does and his affection and admiration for the animals shines through.

As well as acting as a 'rescue' home for big cats - some who cannot stay at their zoo of origin or who are taken from unregistered or irresponsible private owners - CST also works in conservation and has purchased a tract of land in Argentina specifically to ensure that the cats in that area are protected. Managing a large reserve in Southern America is admirable, and going to visit animals in the wild would be challenging to say the least, but I was privileged to meet some of these amazing animals at CST in Hertfordshire.

Snow leopards are a particular success story, with a content breeding pair providing additional animals for zoos and collections around the world who are building up the population with a view to release back into the wild. Sounds easy, but my goodness, it isn't. One of the problems with captive breeding isn't just the animals' reluctance (as the Pandas in Scotland have demonstrated) or even enthusiasm, but gene pools and potential homes/relocation/care etc.

They say that a genetically stable group of any animal should have at least 200 individuals. Amur leopards (which you can also see at CST) have about 40 left in the wild. We don't have that many of some species in captivity, and many of them are related and you can't interbreed, or cross-breed, without causing more problems. 

Is captive breeding the answer? Long term, probably no, short term we have little option if we do not want to lose some species all together (which inevitably will happen).  We need to reduce the impact that humans have on wild habitats, change our own habits and reduce consumerism. That's not going to happen short or long-term I fear. Perhaps we can, with a concerted effort, create protected habitats where our endangered species can survive, but with the global pollution of air, sea and river - even there they won't be safe.

Still, as the starfish story goes, we can make a difference even to one, so I for one won't give up my commitment to conservation. 

More photos of my visit to CST here

Monday, April 09, 2012

This single life part three - a bit of psychology

I remember many years ago thinking how difficult it would be to split from your partner. How could you walk around knowing that someone else knew so much about you? All the intimate details you shared, the thoughts, hopes, desires and experiences. All those things, how could you cope, not being connected to that person, knowing they could tell those things to others and have no reason to keep faith with you, once you were split? It was just unthinkable to me at the time.

Little did I imagine then that I would be in that position one day. But interestingly, I now know what you do. Firstly, you don't (in my experience) want to share all those personal things and pollute those memories and experiences. They were your history, and yours to keep and treasure (or forget as appropriate).

And there is a way to protect yourself - at least this is how it's worked for me. You build new memories, experiences and thoughts, hopes, desires - that are not shared with that person. People (and especially the ex) only know what you care to share. It's like a shield, something you have that they do not have access to, cannot expose or share wantonly. I'm not saying that they would want to (though some of the splits I've heard about have been very bitter and cruel in some ways), but it's that re-building of self, of a self that is not totally shared with one person, that happens. And that's how you move on.

I'm learning to rebuild myself and to find a new identity. But I am not actually that different, it's just finding out how I can be me in a new context, a context that is not bound by a relationship. Maybe a tattoo (above) seems a daft self-assertion, but it's just one little thing that I chose to share now, and the decision was mine and the pleasure I take in it is very much mine.

The photo I have shown here is one taken at a make-over day I had with my gorgeous daughter. I enjoyed the day and in my mind I look very different to how the camera tells it (OMG, I'm soooo old!) but with a bit of tweaking (not telling exactly what) this photo came out OK.

Vulnerable still? I guess always. But better able to cope with it now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Happy anniversary

On April 3rd 2006 I started my blog. And - amazingly - I'm still here. Still posting fairly regularly, still telling tales of odd gigs, nice nights out, my friends and pets and other odd adventures.

So it's time to question (why not?) - what is the purpose of my blog? Firstly it is very useful for me. I often have weird dreams, or enjoyable days out, and I want to remember them. I am no good at keeping a diary but I do like story telling.

Secondly I would like to share some of my life. Why? Well, pure ego of course, why else? But before you assume I am someone who thinks rather well of themselves and is perhaps a little smug, think about the word ego. According to one reputable psychology post, it's something in me that stops me murdering a bad driver. According to the dictionary, it is your conscious mind, the part of your identity that you consider your "self." 

There, that's two reasons, but the third is a desire to entertain. I do like to make people laugh, smile, and engage with other people in lots of ways. And a blog is not a bad way of doing it.

So, if you are visiting my blog today for the first time, or you have visited it before, please take a look through the history of posts, or use some of the labels to browse. I hope you will find something in here to touch, or amuse; I would hesitate to say enlighten, it ain't that kinda blog.

Oh, and there is another use I have for my blog. It's the only way I can write to my brother, who I lost touch with over 20 years ago. Hi Phil!