Tag Archives: animals/pets

The Love of A Lion

If I ever need a lift to the spirit, I check out Christian the Lion on Youtube.

His true story is all there on film, a story that many people reading this may already know. It was back in the sixties, when Christian was bought from Harrods by a couple of young Aussies enjoying the swinging London scene. Those were the days when the late John Aspinall walked around town with a tiger on a lead, and girls had snakes coiled rounds their necks instead of scarves. Nowadays I think people realise how unfair this is to animals, and it probably wouldn’t go unchecked.

However, the owners of Christian did their best for the beautiful lion cub, giving him lots of exercise in a walled churchyard in Chelsea, courtesy of a friendly Vicar,  giving him the run of their home and their furniture warehouse, feeding him with all the food and vitamins a lion cub could want! He played ball, turned out chest of drawers, and generally behaved like a kitten, an ingenuous, irresistible, cuddly kitten. He went out to dinner in Chelsea restaurants with them, and travelled in the back seat of their open sports car looking at the people passing on the pavements.

As he grew older his owners realised that life for a full-grown lion on the streets of Chelsea was not going to work. So they explored places they could take him to where he’d be happy. They couldn’t find anywhere in England. Anyone who loves animals wouldn’t want a beloved pet to end up in a zoo.

In one of those blessed synchronicities, a chap wanted a desk and went to buy one at the furniture warehouse, where he was ambushed by a playful lion cub springing out from behind a chest! The chap was Bill Travers, who with his wife Virginia McKenna was devoted to lions, and had run a charity for them ever since they’d made the film’ Born Free’ about Elsa the Lioness.  

He understood Christian’s dilemma, and contacted George Adamson at his Kora Lion Reserve in Kenya, to ask if they could bring Christian to his place, and set him free. Not an easy goal, to acclimatise a domestic pet to the wild, but finally Adamson agreed.  There are wonderful photos of Christian going off in a Bedford van to stay in the country with the Travers and McKenna, and learning to be an animal outside instead of living in a flat. The young men who loved and owned him, built him an enclosure and a hut, and spent hours sitting with him every day. They left a note on the door of their London flat: “Christian is on holiday in the country”.

To watch the film of each one entering Christian’s enclosure and to see the young lion leaping up into their arms, putting his arms round their necks, is to see absolute love. Finally, in a special cage, Christian flew to Africa, accompanied by his doting owners. They were met by Adamson, who was astounded that Christian sat quietly in the back seat of the land-rover, and got out at regular intervals to relieve himself, and then obediently climbed back in.

The frightening scenes of Christian getting to know other lions, and learning to submit to the king of the jungle were harrowing for his owners and we who watch. Eventually, it was felt he was ready to start his new life, and the chaps went back to London.

A year later, they flew back to visit him, hoping they’d be able to find him. The film of Christian, now a large full grown lion, pacing slowly down the hill, then seeing his old friends,  quickening his pace, and then running full pelt, making  lion weeping sounds is heart-stopping. Then he reaches them and springs at the first man, and puts his huge legs and paws around his neck, and hugs him passionately. He does the same to his other owner, and keeps going back and forth between them, beside himself with joy. He is now so big and heavy that they can hardly stay on their feet, and stagger back. It makes me cry each time I watch it. Then we see on the film, a lioness gently sniffing the two men – Christian’s wife, a completely wild lioness, who seeing her mate connecting with these men, does the same herself.

They go back again a few years later, and this time Christian is a magnificent huge maned lion king, who greets them with great dignity and leads them to his cave up in the hills, and the men sit there all day communing with Christian and his lioness wife and his cubs.

They never saw him again. As people encroached on the land, Christian took his family far away from the presence of men. He was now completely wild, his early beginnings in a miserable zoo, and his cage in Harrods not even a memory. But he took with him into the wild a huge capacity to love, which could be seen in his nuzzling of his wife and cubs. Is this the legacy he has handed down to his progeny?

No-one had ever seen such a huge lion before – testament to the fine food and good diet his owners had given him as a cub. And no-one has ever seen such love between a lion and a man before. The tragedy of it all is that if one lion can develop that capacity to love, so can all lions, and probably all creatures. Worse still, in South Africa they are now breeding lions in enclosures, where people can shoot them for fun through the wire, and they are also being sold for medicines to Asian countries. Along with many others, I hope, I’ve just signed a petition to try to stop this cruelty.

And the hope of the story of Christian is that he shows us that the capacity to love, to be faithful, to feel all the emotions that we claim for human beings, is also inbuilt in all living creatures.  We see it in the videos of dogs rescuing other dogs, of the stories of animals rescuing and protecting human beings, even of a rat leading another blind rat with a straw in each of their mouths. Scientists have just discovered the God/Higgs Particle, but I wonder if we will all discover that love matters as much or more than the Higgs Particle. Apparently after this scientific break-through we now Know more about the universe, but does this make us Feel more loving towards our own planet and all beings on it?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is dinner party fodder, for when you need a fancy pudding in a hurry. Lemon cream is the answer. All you need is the same amount of plain yogurt as of thick cream, and the same amount of lemon curd, or lemon butter as it’s sometimes called. Whip the cream until stiff, stir in the yogurt and then the lemon curd, and pour into small glass or parfait dishes. It’s particularly good with some grated orange peel sprinkled on the top. Chill in the fridge, and serve with a shortbread or other crisp biscuit. Looks are everything, so I usually put a tiny hearts-ease or daisy blossom in the middle of each dish.

Food for Thought                                     When we do dote upon the perfections and beauties of some one creature, we do not love that too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this world loved too much, but many things have been loved in a false way; and all in too short a measure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thomas Traherne,  17th century poet and mystic who died at 38. The son of a shoemaker, he went to a Cathedral school and Oxford, and became an Anglican divine.

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Ladies Who Lunch Merrily

This is A Winter’s Tale, and our escape day – from domestic blindness – not ours – from domestic chores – ours – and a chance for another belated birthday lunch (I said before that I spun it out!).

Off we drove to the winery, all flossied up with our little morale-boosters, pearls and rings and scarves and high-heeled boots naturally. We thought we’d missed the turn down a long, winding, muddy, country road, so I did a difficult u-turn and drove back to the main road. We searched for another turning, but finally admitted defeat and turned back to the first muddy road. Three minutes away said the signpost, so I took the second drive, since the first had barred gates. Half a mile from the road, the narrow track ended at a farm gate. Not the winery. I did a three point turn, but alas, the green grass hid a deep muddy ditch.

After grinding deep into the mud, I stripped off my coat, dragged some cardboard and a rug for good measure out of the boot, and tried to spread them in the mud behind the wheels. I’ll push, said my 75 year old Friend. Nothing worked. This felt like a midwinter’s nightmare.  Neither of us had a cell phone, and or could work one anyway. So I tottered down the muddy lane in my high-heeled black leather boots, but there was no tractor, car or person in the vista stretching to a far horizon of olive trees and grape vines, green hills and a few cattle. Finally, I saw a distant car turn into a drive, and called in a ridiculously faint voice, “excuse me,” which cut no ice across the distance. Finally puffing up to the house, I caught the woman as she carried her shopping inside. She wasn’t interested in the slings and arrows of our outrageous misfortune, but said when she’d got her frozen stuff into the deep freeze, she’d let me use her phone.

Ringing the winery, I blackmailed the maitre de shamelessly, saying unless they were able to send a tractor to rescue us, we wouldn’t be turning up for lunch. After a long interval while she searched for someone with a tractor, the chef (who else?) arrived in his four wheel drive. Nice young man, very over-weight, with jeans about fifteen sizes too small, and his builder’s crack positively worrying as he wrestled with a piece of cord between his car and mine. After watching him try fruitlessly to tie a knot that would hold (he was after all, a chef, not a mechanic) I turned away for the sake of my blood pressure, and comforted myself that there was always the AA. As I turned I caught Friend’s eye, the other side of the car, and we both hastily stifled our giggles. After a few more minutes of the increasingly catastrophic builder’s crack and knots that kept unravelling, we were both nearly hysterical with suppressed laughter.

Finally the chef instructed me to sit in the car and put it in neutral. Naturally this didn’t work. Again, my thoughts winged to the AA. Then another car arrived. The woman gardener from the winery. She had the thing sussed in no time. Wearing boots and workman-like trou, she strode into the breach and through the mud, told me to put the car in reverse and rev, while the chef backed his car. The gardener stood in front and lifted the front bumper, mud flew everywhere, and suddenly I was free.

After this comedy of errors, our chef dashed off back to the winery, some miles away, to get back to cooking for the waiting guests, while we followed the gardener in good time, and were escorted into the dining room with much courtesy. Phew.

Lunch was obviously going to be some time, by the time the chef had washed his hands and steadied his nerves, so we comforted our shattered ones with a nice glass of rose. By the time lunch arrived we needed another one, which was one more than our usual allowance. The pudding course was not as we like it, so we had affogato, Friend with cointreau, me with Bailey’s. By now, our liquor quota was about two and a half weeks overdrawn, but our spirits were soothed and mellow.

When we went to pay, the restaurant now empty, we explained to the maitre de who had answered our SOS that neither of our sick and elderly husbands was in a fit state to come to our rescue. This was like a red rag to a bull. “My father is such a burden to my mum, I think he should be pushed over the cliff,” she said fiercely. “He recovered from an operation with all the drugs and now sits around talking of nothing but himself. “ She didn’t seem to realise that she was talking about to be or not to be.

We got ourselves away after I told her that when it was my time, and age had withered me, I intended to grow a garden full of hemlock, and make myself a nice strong cup of hemlock tea, going quietly to sleep like Socrates. She thought this was a good idea.  And in spite of all the excitement and the excess, the merry wives from the winery still managed to drive home in a straight line.

So after much ado about nothing, all’s well that ends well, with apologies to Shakespeare.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A storm has raged, wind and rain lashing the windows – more comfort food is needed. Today it’s thick lentil soup. All you need is two cups of red lentils, two  onions, three or four large carrots and some chicken stock or bouillon cubes. It’s a nourishing protein- rich meal in itself. And cheap too.

I simply fry the onions gently in a little butter till soft, grate the carrots into them and fry for a minute. Add the lentils, which have been well washed, and four cups of stock or hot water and bouillon cubes to taste. Simmer gently till soft, and then whizz to a smooth consistency in the liquidiser. In the old days we would push it through a sieve to get this lovely smooth consistency. Taste for salt. You can add more or less stock, depending how thick you want it.

You can flossie it up with a bacon bone, or a few chopped rashers of bacon, you can add garlic, bay leaves and a dash of curry powder. But I love the sweet simplicity of this recipe with the sweetness of the carrots off-setting the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with salt and pepper, and lots of chopped parsley on top, and with a hot roll and butter you have a filling meal. If you have plenty left over, you’ll find it thickens up over-night, and you might want to dilute it slightly with more stock.

Food for Thought:    Truth has as many skins as an onion.   Old French Proverb


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