Tuesday, 30 December 2008


It's a lovely day - crisp, cold and frosty. The kind of day that makes you glad to be in England, with all the traditions and quirkiness that make us unique as a nation (that's what I think; I don't yet have a flag pole in my garden but give it time!). So me and the hens decide to go for a jog in the park. Mrs Pumphrey got some day-glo pink leggings with matching headband for Christmas and she's rather keen to show them off. So away we go, with the exception of Mrs Miggins who flatly refuses to run anywhere and insists we pull her along behind us on the toboggan. 'I can't run at my age,' she says. 'You're one year old,' I say, as I tuck her into the toboggan and wrap a tartan blanket around her knees.' 'In human years,' says Miggins. 'But in chicken years it's much older.' 'How much older?' asks Mrs Poo, who is thinking she might like to ride in the toboggan too, on account of her bendy toes. 'I don't know exactly,' says Miggins. 'You'll have to ask Andy. He's a vet. He knows about these things.'

We set off in convoy, bouncing along with enthusiasm. Mrs Slocombe has eaten a lot over the last few days and has a very full crop so I suggest she wears a uni-bra to minimise bounce. 'You'll end up heading south in years to come if you don't protect your ligaments whilst you're young,' I warn, hoisting up my own treble re-inforced canvas brassiere with extra wide straps. 'Believe me, I know.' 'Heading south?' yells Miggins from the toboggan. 'Who's heading south?' 'Nobody,' I yell back. 'You just hush your beak. If you want to join in the conversation you'll have to get up and run with us.'

We do three laps of the park before I realise I am pulling a toboggan containing four hens and running on my own. They're chatting away, snuggled under the tartan blanket and there is a distinct smell in the air. I turn to face them. I hope I have a sufficiently cross look on my face. 'What's going on?' I demand. All four hens look at me. Steam is rising from beneath the tartan blanket. 'And where is that steam coming from?' I demand. The hens have the decency to look a bit sheepish. 'It's cocoa,' volunteers Mrs Pumphrey. 'Cocoa?' I say. 'Where did that come from?' 'Thermos, 'says Miggins. 'I'd offer you some only we've drunk it all.'

'Oh that's great,' I say. 'We were all supposed to be having a healthy run in the park, getting some fresh air and sunshine and you've all been sitting in the toboggan drinking cocoa.' There is a crunch and I see the edge of a Kettle crisp disappear into Mrs Slocombe's beak. 'And are those my barbacue Kettle crisps?' I shriek. 'Calm down,' says Miggins. 'And let's face it. Crisps are the last thing you need at the moment. We're doing you a favour by eating them for you.' 'What do you mean?' I splutter. 'Well, let's just say turquoise velour isn't doing your view from the back any favours,' says Miggins. ' 'Meaning?' I ask. 'Meaning you've got a fat arse,' says Poo.

So you see, just when I thought I could abandon one of my three traditional resolutions, the wisdom of hens, it seems, dictates otherwise.

Monday, 29 December 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I never thought deciding on a list of New Year Resolutions would be as brain-taxing as it has been. So complacent have I become wheeling out the same old ones year after year (stop biting nails, lose weight and avoid road rage) that I've had a real job deciding what to attempt in 2009. The hens, back from their Christmas break in Austria have had no such problems. They present me with their list, along with a big bag of washing. 'Didn't they have a washing machine in your luxury chalet?' I ask, knowing full well they did because I saw the brochure. 'Of course' says Mrs Poo. 'You didn't expect us to use it, though, did you? Not with all the other luxury facilities at our disposal. The washing machine was last on our list of priorities.'

I sigh and empty the pile of chicken smalls, lingerie and winter woolies into the machine. 'Delicates wash, please,' says Miggins sternly. 'I know the labels say 'machine washable' but you can't be too certain with silk, cashmere and angora.' 'I suppose not,' I say. 'What have you done with your ski suits? I hope you haven't just rolled them up in balls and stashed them in the attic like you did your sleeping bags after your summer camping trip. I found a whole cow pat in one of them. It wasn't nice.'

'I don't suppose it was,' says Mrs Slocombe, sympathetically. 'Poor you.' I narrow my eyes at her. I suspect it was her sleeping bag that contained the offending cow poop. She's developed some very odd habits since arriving chez nous. Anyway, I unfold the list of Hen Resolutions and read as Mrs Pumphrey whisks up five mugs of hot chocolate using real Austrian chocolate from real Austria.
'What do you think?' asks Miggins when I finally stop choking. 'Well,' I say, 'I think Mrs Slocombe's plan to stop feather eating is an excellent idea.' Betty has persisted with this habit and the other three girls are losing their fluffy bottom cushions at an alarming rate. And let's face it, in this freezing weather, a girl needs all the bum fluffage she can get. 'And I like the idea of Mrs Poo cutting back on her Fascist/Marxist tendencies.' 'I have other irons in the political fire I want to try out,' says Poo. 'For example?' I ask. 'I thought I might give woolly-minded liberalism a go,' says Poo. 'I suppose you'll be wanting to change newspapers?' I ask. Poo nods. 'Guardian, please.' I make a note to call the newsagent. 'You'll miss the Daily Mail,' I warn. 'No,' says Mrs Poo. 'The sudokus are becoming far too easy.'
'What about mine, what about mine?' says Mrs Pumphrey excitedly. 'Hmmm,' I say. 'Are you sure extreme egg-laying is the right thing for you?' 'Of course!' exclaims Pumphrey. 'I have a list of places I intend to lay an egg before 2009 is over.' She hands me a second list. I read out loud - 'Top of a cupboard, on a bus, in Harrods Food Hall and whilst surfing on a ironing board in Cornwall.' 'I'm sooooo excited,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'That will probably help,' I say.

And Miggins? Miggins the Sensible, the Wise, the Intelligent? 'I'm going to stop biting my nails, lose some weight and avoid road rage,' she declares.

Ah, I think. Now there's a hen after my own heart.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A most excellent Christmas

I can officially declare that Christmas 2008 was a most excellent Christmas! In the week leading up to Christmas Day we had many impromptu visitors who dropped by for a cuppa, cake and chat and many people who came to share dinners with us. This meant I had to maintain a cleaning frenzy to make sure the Homestead Towers were kept spickety-span and respectable at all times. A positive aspect of this was that I haven't put on any weight thus rendering my traditional New Year diet void. BUt then I was thinking of being more original with resolutions this year anyway.

Christmas Day itself was good. Andy and I were awake at 6 a.m opening our stockings. Santa brought me a stylophone thus fulfilling a childhood dream, and the noise of me playing a very loud version of 'Silent Night' brought Heather in, bleary eyed. 'Do you know what time it is?' she asked. 'It isn't even daylight.' 'Of course we know what time it is!' we chorused. 'It's opening stockings time.' Anyway, Heather joins us and opens her stocking, then disappears back to bed leaving Andy and I to play with our new toys. Much to his delight, Andy also got a Stylophone from his brother so we are now able to play duets and harmonies. I am keen to book the busker's spot in town. With me and Andy on our stylophones and the hens performing robotic mime I reckon we could be raking it in by 2015.

I cooked a goose for lunch. It was a big goose, bigger than anticipated and just about went into the oven on the diagonal. Admittedly, it overhung the roasting tin by half a leg but was much easier to cook than turkey, provided lots of goose fat for potato roasting until February at least and was DELICIOUS with its apple stuffing. Andy had made a chocolate log for pudding on Christmas Eve which was magnificent in all aspects of size, taste and chocolateness and with our home grown spuds and parsnips, lunch was a gourmet delight. We went for a walk in the park after lunch, then it was home for snuggles on the sofa, reading new books, playing new games, watching Christmas TV and mozzarella and pesto toasted muffins and posh crisps for supper. Marvellous!

I have no idea what the hens did. They hired a chalet in the Austrian Tyrol for their Christmas break, fancying to get in a bit of skiing and apres ski hot chocolate and mulled wine before the start of the New Year. And after their Winter Wonderland Extravaganza show, they deserved it. They are due back in a day or two but continue to send eggs to us on a regular basis - 24 this week - another egg-breaking record (not literally, thanks to copious use of bubble wrap.)

And so my thoughts turn to 2009 and plans to change my life. Out with some things, in with others. My traditional resolutions - stop biting nails, lose weight and give up road rage - were all achieved successfully in 2008 so I have scope to be more original this year. I'll let you know what I decide. In the meantime, here are the resolutions of Phoebe and Tybalt...

Phoebe - be nice to Tybalt, stop spitting and growling, get a face lift

Tybalt - stop winding up Phoebe, stop stropping the stair carpet (especially as he got a posh new, three storey scratching post with retractable mice for Christmas) and stop frying head on radiator

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas draws on...

Christmas draws on - the ones with the sprigs of holly and mistletoe - I set about having a grand old house tidy this morning. What is it about events like Christmas that make you want to give your surroundings a good spit and polish? I woke this morning (obviously, as I wouldn't be writing this - unless I am communicating from beyond the grave which is a distinct possibility as I've had a nasty cough this week and could well have expired in the middle of the night during a hefty hacking fit) and had a HUGE urge to tidy and clean and 'sort out' stuff. I mentioned this to Mrs Slocombe who had popped in for a coffee and chat.
'Perhaps you're going to lay an egg,' she suggests. 'I get the terrible urge to fling straw about when I feel one about to pop.' 'I've noticed,' I say. 'But I think I'm too old to be laying eggs now. I think they've all gone off.' 'Ooh,' says Mrs S, 'be careful. Careless talk costs lives. They'll be around to wring your neck and turn you into pies if you go shouting about things like that.' I reassure her that I am safe from the neck wringing brigade and pour some tea. 'So what can I do for you?' I ask as Mrs Slocombe helps herself to a slice of my special fruit cake which I baked yesterday and am hoping will last me over the festive season.'Well,' says Mrs Slocombe, or Betty as I shall now refer to her because it's quicker to type than 'Mrs Slocombe', 'I've got a bit of a social networking issue going on at the moment.'
Now, I'm very fond of Betty. She is friendly, allows me to stroke her, pick her up and cart her about. She also has a very wobbly comb which causes me much hilarity. But I've noticed she's developed a habit of late that I could see would incur the wrath of the other hens. And that is that she creeps up on them, plucks feathers from their bottoms and eats them. It's a bit like watching a naughty child pinching sweets from other kids in the playground and running off before they can catch her and retrieve their property.
'Is it the feather plucking?' I ask. Betty nods. 'I can't help it,' she says. 'It's like the urge you got this morning to do cleaning. Well. I've got this compulsion to eat feathers. I have no idea why.' 'It can't be good for you,' I say. 'I mean, do feathers have any nutritional value?' Betty shrugs. 'I do worry that I'm going to cough up a huge feather ball,' she says. I know how that feels too. I've felt like I've been going to cough up a whole duvet all week. 'And the others don't like it,' she continues. 'Are you surprised?' I ask. 'Tell you what, I'll get Andy to look on the internet and see if he can find out what's wrong.'
Half an hour later we have a potential solution. Betty, it seems, may be suffering from a protein deficiency. Out of all the hens she is the one least likely to eat the layers pellets, so this might explain her feather eating habit. 'What shall we do?' I ask Andy. 'Tuna!' he declares. 'We'll try giving her tuna.' So out comes the tuna and the cats appear. 'Hmmmm...mmmm...tuna!' says Tybalt. 'Lovely!' 'It's not for you,' I say, scooping it into a bowl. 'Of course it is,' says Tybalt. 'Tuna is always for me.' 'Not this time. We're giving it to Mrs Slocombe to try and stop her eating feathers.' Tybalt huffs loudly. 'I've got a better idea that will have the same effect,' he says. 'Does it involve a rubber band?' I ask. 'It might do,' he says, sniffily. 'No,' I say. 'The rubber band idea is not a viable option.'
So I present the bowl of tuna to Betty who sniffs it suspiciously. 'What is it?' she asks. 'It smells fishy.' 'That's because it's fish,' I say. 'Full of protein. Try it.' Betty takes a half-hearted peck. 'It's not as fun as pulling a feather from Mrs Poo's bottom and running off with it,' she says. 'Maybe not,' I say. 'But at least it will stop you getting your head kicked in.' 'I quite like the thrill of the chase,' says Betty. It is at this point that I begin to think maybe Betty isn't suffering a protein deficiency at all. 'And if I can get one from Pumphrey I can make her jump nearly two feet in the air,' continues Betty. I pick up the bowl of tuna. 'This compulsion of yours,' I say. 'It's nothing but sheer devilment, isn't it?'
Betty Slocombe looks at me. 'It might be,' she says. 'But at least it's more fun than cleaning.'

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Today's news

Generally I find the daily newspaper very weak blog fodder but today it is a veritable cornucopia of treasures on which I can base my social observations. Front page - picture of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and a horse. Lots of teeth and hair. Unfortunately, the caption does not explain who is who in the photo so I'm a bit confused. Plan to carry pic around with me and ask others which one they think is the horse. (Note to Andy - don't buy a lottery ticket this week. By the laws of karma there is no way we will win after this blog.)
Page 3 - Nancy Dell'Olio wearing what looks like a semi-transparent bin bag dipped in latex and glitter. Someone is quoted as saying 'She was turning heads all night.' Yeah, and stomachs, too, I reckon. She's only 3 years older than me and she's starting to look like a sad old strumpet. Come on Nancy - now's the time to draw the line - but not with that lip pencil. You defintely need to stop that now.
Page 7 - apparently it takes a four mile walk to burn off the calories in one mince pie. Is it worth it? But what cheered me more was that the calculations were based on the 'weight of an average woman' who is only 5lbs lighter than I am now! I'm nearly an average woman, folks! My family and friends will be thrilled!! Last week, my mum and aunt who have both commented on my overweightness over the years, both told me not to lose any more weight because I'd 'look awful.' Good grief, I can't win. A part of me wants to lose another 10lbs just to get my own back.
Page 11 - 2 DJs at Birmingham Uni's station Burn FM have been sacked for making lewd comments about Des O'Connor's grand-daughter a la Brand and Ross. This just proves how lacking in originality some of today's youth are and that you can still recycle old ideas and make the headlines. Later today I shall begin writing my new novel 'Harry Potter and the Darth Vaders of the Jurassic Park.' Should be a money spinning blockbuster if my theory is correct.
Page 21 - Katherine Jenkins in stalker hell. Now look here, Elliot. I am glad you've got over your Britney thing and taken my advice to raise your standards of celebrity adoration, but stalking?? Steady on there. Step back from the Jenkins. I offer this advice in the spirit of someone who has forgiven you for pre-empting one of Heather's Christmas presents with your Secret Santa even though I had to go and get her something else and ended up in a shop where I felt obliged to help the owner defend her goods against a gang of slimy, marauding French teen shoplifters. (Don't ask - let's just say they didn't stand a chance against us two feisty old British birds!)
Pages 22/23 - A fabulous picture of a mummy hippo swimming with her baby hippo. It's a rear view shot and I am going to cut it out, laminate it, hang it in my study and never worry about my bum being too big ever again!

And so I could go on. But I shan't because Andy and I are off to town to get his eyes tested and buy some arnica for his bruises where I whalloped him last night after he tried to push me out of bed.

Oooh, and one final mention - page 66 (how almost ironic!) Tony Blair's Christmas card. Him and Cherie. I was transfixed by his teeth. Brushing with Toilet Duck are we, Tone??

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Psycho penguins part 2

The psycho penguins, Kev and Stella, continued their reign of terror well into this week until Mrs Miggins decided to take them in hand. I have confided in the hens about the sleepless nights, the fear of waking to find a deranged penguin standing over us in the small hours wielding a sharp tin opener and the blood curdling random call of 'I love you...Meeeeeeeeeerry Christmas...ding a ling a ling,' and finally, Miggins declared she'd had enough of my pathetic moaning.
'Just throw them out,' she says. 'Pick 'em up and sling 'em out into the snow.' 'There is no snow,' I point out. 'Okay, into the mud then,' says Miggins. 'There's plenty of that.' 'I'll say,' I say. The trouble is, though, once penguins know you're out to get them with an eviction notice, they turn nasty. Don't be fooled by all the cute pictures on Christmas cards. Penguins have no fear and no conscience and there was no way I could get close enough to them to chuck them out as Miggins suggested. I even tried grabbing them with one of those grabber sticks favoured by chair-bound old ladies for prodding their grandchildren with.
'I'll deal with them,' says Miggins this morning, rolling up her sleeves and pushing past me into the living room where Kev and Stella are currently holed up like Swampy the road protester up the Christmas tree (only without the dreadlocks). I cower in the hallway nervously picking a piece of tinsel to shreds. Tybalt sits at my feet surrepticiously eating the bits of tinsel as they fall to the carpet. He then sicks them up very loudly and unsurrepticiously all over my Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer slippers that make an appearance this time of year. 'Thanks, Tybalt,' I say. 'You're welcome,' says Tybalt. 'At least I missed the carpet.' I sigh. I suppose I must be grateful for small mercies.
In the living room, negotiations are hotting up. Occasional bursts of cackling punctuate a tense silence. I then hear sounds of a minor tussle, a burst of 'I love you...Meeeeeeeeerry Christmas! Ding a ling a ling,' then Miggins lets out a huge squawk and bursts through the door looking very pleased with herself.
'Well?' I ask. 'Low self-esteem,' announces Miggins. 'That's their problem. Coupled with a degree of ego-centricity and a mother who ran off with a walrus and left them in the care of their one-legged father when they were still eggs.' 'I see,' I say, not seeing at all. 'So what do we do next?' 'We?' says Miggins, looking at my sodden Rudolph slippers and the pile of cat-vomited tinsel shreddings. 'I think you'll find I did all the work. Don't you go trying to pinch the glory.' 'All right,' I say. 'Keep your comb on. What I meant was, what's next?' 'I've invited them to guest star in the Winter Wonderland Extravaganza next week. That's all they need. A bit of instant stardom. Then we'll take them out for a sardine supper and they'll be on their way.'
'Thank heavens,' I say. 'Thank Miggins,' says Miggins. 'Is the Extravanganza going well?' I ask. 'So so,' says Miggins. 'Tango Pete slipped a disc in the 'Fight of the Iceflow,' scene which is why I had a spare slot for Kev and Stella. He'll be okay for the finale though. It'll all downhill skiing. No bending.'
'So Kev and Stella are going to do the 'Fight of the Iceflow' scene then?' I ask. 'Don't be ridiculous,' says Miggins. 'They're far too short. 'Fight of the Iceflow will have to be replaced by 'Dance of the Walrus.' 'Is that wise?' I ask. 'Considering their..er.. history?'
Mrs Miggins gives me pitying look. 'Just leave the psychoreography to me, will you?' she says.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Things that have annoyed me this week

Considering I don't get out much now that I am a writer and work from home, I have found an enormous amount of things to get annoyed about this week, probably because the Jeremy Vine Show has become regular listening in the mornings as I work and I've slipped back into the habit of becoming a Daily Mail reader. As it's Friday and another weekend looms I feel the urge to vent my spleen now so Andy doesn't find himself on the receiving end of a wild ranting woman for the entirety of his ensuing week's holiday. So here goes - are you ready?? Gin and sedatives to hand? Good - you're going to need them.

1) Pensioners abroad. Apparently the pound is very weak against the euro at the moment and British ex-pats are moaning that their pensions aren't worth very much and the British government should subsidise their income. WHAT???? ARE YOU HAVING A LAUGH??? You chose to move abroad to enjoy the benefits of cheaper living and so-called better weather so GET OVER IT! Talk about wanting your cake and eat it. PAH! And even more PAH! when I discovered that pensioners who got the winter fuel allowance before they moved abroad still get it even though they are no longer in this country. Shame on you...

2) Human rights - this week it was revealed that the bloke who was found guilty of kidnapping and imprisoning Shannon Matthews has had his jaw broken in prison in a so-called 'revenge' attack by other prisoners. Radio 4 had a phone in about this and an ex-convict called and spoke with pride and justification in his voice about some 'revenge' he had exacted on a child abuser when he was in prison 'on behalf of the child victim.' WHAT??? Did you know this child victim or their family? Did you know that they wanted this attack to happen?? He seemed genuinely pleased he was able to perform this revenge attack 'for the family' and that this kind of behaviour is rife in our prisons and should be accepted 'additional' punishment for certain offenders. I think he was missing a salient point which I feel I need to point out to him...YOU WERE IN PRISON FOR A CRIME, YOU MORON. YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. GET OVER YOURSELF. YOU DID WRONG AND DON'T YOU DARE THINK OTHERWISE. PAH!!

3) In the local paper today there was an article about a school who were told they were no longer welcome in a Christmas Celebration concert because the carols they were due to sing were 'too religious.' WHAT?? CHRISTMAS IS A CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL. CAROLS ARE CHRISTIAN HYMNS SUNG TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. YOU DO THE MATHS!

4) And I'm not even going to begin to get started on these stupid teen-gangs that are running riot on council estates in London and Manchester - YOU LOOK LIKE IDIOTS - STOP IT! - or Nigella and wearing a bear fur -SHE WAS JOKING - TAKE IT IN CONTEXT! - or the fact that despite there having been a 3% cut in interest rates in the last 3 months, the Alliance and Leicester have chosen to pass on only 1.3% of that to us reliable mortgage customers even though we have a tracker mortgage (apparently our tracker is tracking the base rate set by the A & L and not the base rate of the Bank of England - oh, I see, that's all right then. Silly me.) Or...

'Oi!' shouts Mrs Miggins. 'Tell them about the record egg week.'

Oh yes. On a more upbeat note, it has been a record week for eggs. So far the girls have laid 18 in the past 6 days!! Laying hasn't finished for today yet and with tomorrow still to count there is potential for 2 dozen. 'Oi!' shouts Mrs Miggins,'steady on.'

What little stars they are! And the house looked enormously pretty this morning, laced as it was with heavily frosted cobwebs. Instant Christmas decorations! In fact, I think the inside decorations may well go up this week. Deck the Halls and all that.

Before I go (I have writing and baking to do today), I have to say I'm a little concerned about one of Heather's house mates whom I met on Saturday. His name is Elliot and despite his trying to set fire to their house barely a month after moving in he seems a very nice young man. No obvious piercings, tattoos or psychotic tendencies which is always a good sign, I think. However, he does like Britney Spears - a little too much if I understand correctly. Elliot, listen to me - stand back from Britney. She's a bit bonkers isn't she? A bit, well, scruffy. She ain't no good, man! Can I suggest that lovely Catherine Jenkins? Now she can hold a tune and she's got lovely hair. A much more sophisticated role model for a performing arts student than someone who sounds like an alcopop. Just a thought.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Hen Party

'Twas the morning after the night before and all through the pen, not a creature was stirring, not even a hen....

Did you see how I did that? A clever pastiche of an old poem in order to link today's witterings with the looming festive season...okay, so the scanning is a bit dubious but it rhymes. What more do you want? Anyway, the reason the hens aren't stirring so briskly this morning is that yesterday was Mrs Miggins first birthday. I don't know how old this makes her in human years, you'll have to ask Andy. He's the vet and has the correct mathematical formula for working out these things. Mind you, by the way she was behaving, my own guess would be at least 18 and nearer to 21 or possible 30.

I drove the stretch limo which was why there was no blog yesterday. The party was an all day affair and believe me, I was in no fit state to write anything after we got home at 1.30 a.m. And I'll bet you anything that all the eggs laid today will taste of Bacardi Breezer. Mrs Miggins wanted to go to London to see the Christmas lights and do some shopping in big department stores just so she could ride the lifts and hear Mrs Slocombe say 'First floor for lingerie, welly boots and jelly moulds. Going up,' as Mrs Slocombe had promised to do for a birthday treat. Mrs Pumphrey suggested we went early and took in the National Portrait Gallery. Apparently there are pictures of some of her relatives in the Turner Collection. And Mrs Poo was keen to go to the Imperial War Museum. Mrs Miggins said there was no way she was going to spend part of her birthday in a place that smelled of mouldy potato sacks looking at rows of German helmets so I suggested I drop Mrs Poo off at the war museum so she could have a look around and buy some additions to her 'famous Communists' postcard collection whilst I took the others to Covent Garden so they could have a look around the market. Mrs Pumphrey was very excited 'Can we go to the National Theatre Museum?' she wanted to know. Sorry, I said, but they moved it to the Victoria and Albert Museum last summer but I could take them there instead if they liked. There was a vote which resulted in Mrs Pumphrey sulking for at least half an hour until Mrs Slocombe plied her with half a bottle of Baileys.

We set off early to avoid traffic, stopping at Clackett services for breakfast at which point I realised I'd missed the right junction so we ended up going nearly all the way around the M25 to get into London via Kew. Minor embarrassment when Mrs Poo asked the girl at the breakfast counter if the eggs were free-range. Unfortunately, the girl laughed which was completely the wrong thing to do. Mrs Poo jumped onto the counter and laid a very free range egg in the baked beans. We were seen off the premises rather quickly.

As we were passing Kew we went in. The hens were thrilled to find some grass and proceeded to dig up as much as they could in as short a time as possible. Once again, we were seen off the premises...

Lunch was at the Ivy. We got a table by all wearing dark glasses and mention Simon Cowell's name very loudly. Unfortunately, half way through pudding, Simon Cowell actually arrived. 'I don't know these people,' he barked. 'Especially him,' he said, pointing at Tango Pete who was with us for the day. And once again, we were seen off the premises. At this point I was beginning to think that Londoners have no sense of humour whatsoever.

Tango Pete was seething at Simon Cowell's denial of their friendship. 'I taught him everything he knows about showbiz,' said Tango Pete. 'Him and Lionel Blair.'

We did a round of the museums and art galleries. In the Tate Modern, Mrs Slocombe kicked over an art installation by Damien Hirst constructed of old milk bottles and liquorice allsorts. 'How was I to know it wasn't stuck together properly?' said Mrs Slocombe as we were being seen off the premises. 'And what was it meant to be anyway?' I shrugged but I understood the urge Mrs Slocombe had felt. I'd had a similar experience in the Tate Modern in Liverpool about 6 years ago. Andy had to do some severe restraining of my behaviour that day, I can tell you.

Christmas lights in Oxford Street, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square was followed stage show - Spamalot - where Mrs Poo objected loudly to the protrayal of the Knights who say 'Ni' but luckily her protests were drowned out by audience laughter so we managed to stay for the whole show this time without being escorted from the premises. Then it was clubbing at Annabelle's (we were kicked out of Stringfellows for laughing at some sad old geezer's disco pants) and then home, stopping off for battered sausage and chips. 'Should you be eating pork?' I ask as the girls tuck into their bangers. 'It isn't real pork,' scoffs Miggins. 'It's pork substitute.' 'Which is?' I ask. 'Sawdust,' they chorus. Given that they all eat newspaper with no ill effect, I felt reassured.

'Twas after the party and all in the garden, the chickens were burping, not even a pardon...'

Okay, I'll give up now....

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Psycho penguin possession

When Andy returned from a two-day training course a couple of weeks ago, he brought back with him a present for me because he's nice like that. The present was a pair of cute fluffy penguins wearing stripy hats and scarves. The penguins are called Kev and Stella and they are joined at the beak in a cute Christmas kiss. When you pull them apart, Stella says 'I love you! Merry Christmas!' and her beak clamps back onto Kev's beak via the magic of a magnet and Kev's hat shakes and trembles, ringing the little bell on top to the amusement of everyone who sees it.

Sometimes, though, Kev and Stella 'perform' without any input from me at all. This freaks me out big time and has convinced me that they are, indeed, possessed by alien forces. I tell people this and they laugh at me, poo-poooing it as the sign of an overactive yet highly talented creative writer's mind. Until they experience it for themselves...

'I'm fed up with this,' says Stella one night in the dark and cold of a kitchen in a house put to bed several hours previously.
'What?' says Kev, who'd been dozing and enjoying a pleasant dream about taking over the world and banning humankind from eating mackerel. (Fine by me - I had a nasty experience with a mackerel when I was a child and haven't touched one since - it was during my mum's 'exotic cookery phase' in the '70's when meat and two veg was no longer deemed good enough for your upwardly mobile family.)
'Bashing beaks together and kissing and you rattling your hat like it's given you some kind of thrill,' says Stella.
'I know,' says Kev, who is always left cold by the experience. He came out of the igloo a long time ago, but this was the only work he could get and even penguins can't afford to be fussy these days. It was a constant bother to him that his agent Svensson Svorgen Svennsvonnsonnighannigen refused to see that he, Kev, was the John Barrowman of the Antarctic.
'It could have been so different,' sighs Stella. 'If only I'd got that skating gig with the BBC for their Christmas trailer.'
Kev agrees. He'd met Stella at the same audition. He'd been rejected for being too short and Stella had been rejected for being too gobby. It didn't help that neither of them could skate either.
'And listen to those cats snoring,' says Stella.
'Yes,' says Kev, although he's been thinking for a couple of days now how cute Tybalt is.
'I've gotta get out of here,' says Stella.
'How?' asks Kev.
Stella smiles and rubs her flippers together in a Dr Evil crossed with Mr Burns kind of way.
'Prepare for 'Nightmare on Penguin Street,' she says, handing Kev a pair of rubber gloves, a razor blade attached to each finger. 'Here, put these on.'
'They look a bit dangerous,' says Kev.
'Just do it!' snaps Stella. 'MWAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!'
Kev glances at the moon. He nods in understanding. It's nearly full. She's got PMT, he thinks. Penguin Madness Tension.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Christmas trees

We started our Christmas properly this weekend by selecting our Christmas tree. It's a technical business, mostly because we have limited space in our living room in which to locate a tree. We are aspiring to live in a house with a massive hallway so we can have a 20 foot tree around which rosy cheeked villagers can gather and sing carols whilst I smile and laugh and hand out homemade mince pies and Andy smiles and laughs because he's been drinking all the punch, but until that time careful measurement is called for if we are to avoid blocking our view of all the Christmas repeats on the telly AGAIN this year.

Basically, we aim for something about four feet high, as it will stand on the coffee table thus rendering it 6 feet high and it can be no wider in diameter than the length of my leg from hip to toe when I raise it at a right angle to my body (my leg, not the tree or the coffee table). Assessment of each tree goes like this: Andy holds up tree for height. If it passes height test then we look for pouffiness; tree must be bushy and round with no ridiculous single spike sticking up too high at the top. The spike must be about 10 inches long because our Christmas tree fairy is Gonzo the Muppet, a soft toy for which I made a tutu, wings and wand for two years ago. Then, with Andy still holding tree and getting a rash from the sap, I lift my leg to aforesaid right angle and providing the width of the tree falls somewhere around my ankle, then we know it will fit in the gap between the telly and the bookcase.

Last year we got our tree after dark so I was able to leg measure in relative anonymity. This year it was sunny broad daylight but hey, I'm a year older and I think that once you've had a couple of babies, all modesty flies out of the window and if people want to stare and comment at me hopping like a loon amongst the Christmas trees, they can. I don't care. Andy whistles and looks the other way pretending he doesn't know me.

We brought the tree home and put it in the greenhouse to dry off. The chickens, who have been using the greenhouse as a spa for dustbathing, immediately leap on it. 'What's this then?' they want to know. 'Can we eat it?' A lot of crazy beak action ensues so they are at once escorted from the greenhouse. We've seen what they can do to a tomato plant in under two minutes and there's no way they are going to be allowed to massacre our tree.

'It's a Christmas tree,' I explain. 'In about a week we'll take it into the house and decorate it with baubles, tinsel and lights and it'll look lovely and magical.'

The hens look at each other. 'The stupidity of the human species never ceases to amaze me,' says Miggins (who is one year old on Wednesday and therefore thinks she knows it all.) 'Clearly the best thing to do with anything green is eat it.'

'Unless it's a Brussell sprout,' says Pumphrey.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Problems with my 'rrrrrrrr's

I've had my laptop for nearly three years now and considering it was a cheap model, it has served me very well. It takes a lot of bashing, especially now I am having a year as a writer. It has occasional 'moments' when it threatens to play up and lose my entire stock of written material. When this happens I have a screaming tantrum, Andy says 'have you made separate copies of your work?' I say 'no, you know I'm a technophobe,' and he says, 'bring me one of your memory sticks,' and I say 'what's a memory stick?' and he says 'get a grip woman,' which I do, then get a memory stick and he saves everything for me on the stick which I then do my best to misplace. By now, my laptop has decided to behave itself and all is well until the next time.

Recently, I've noticed that the 'r' key has become less sensitive to my girly touch. When I ead back my wok, I ealise that sometimes it doesn't make full sense because often the lette 'r' is missing (except that last one of couse, because I made an exta special effot to give the key a good wallop). So now, when I type I have it in the back of my mind that I have to hit the 'r' key with extra pressure and this can interfere with my creative flow. I already have a collection of typing foibles to cope with; I can't cope with another. My current list includes mistyping the words 'teh', 'nad', 'becasue', and 'contarfiburilatitty' with alarming regularity, although I admit the last one doesn't cause me as many moments of editing grief as the others.

Not all writers have these problems. Beatrix Potter for example. She would never have got published if she'd submitted scripts printed from my laptop. Can you imagine? 'Teh Tale of Pete Abbit' and 'Teh Tale of Jeemy Fishe,' by Beatix Potte? She'd have been okay with Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jemima Puddleduck, I suppose. And Tom Kitten. But what if she'd had the genius to write about chickens? (Actually, why didn't she write about chickens? She wrote about pretty much every other animal that lives in the countryside). All her hens would be Ms instead of Mrs and then people would think she was some kind of strident Left-wing, crew cut, bovver booted feminist (heaven forbid!). Even the stories of our hens are at isk...I mean risk. Miggins is okay and Poo and Slocombe. But poor Pumphey... with the abundance of featherage on her derriere, she is the last one who should have to tolerate problems with her 'rrrrrr's'.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Hair today

On Tuesday I took advantage of a 50% off voucher in the local newspaper to have a haircut. I write about it only now because it's taken me a couple of days to get over the shock of the resulting hairdo every time I catch sight of myself in the mirror. Now, before my daughter, Heather, reads this and thinks 'OMIGOD!! What has she done now? Am I going to have to hide her at the back of the audience when she comes to see my fabulous production of The Crucible at the weekend?', I would like to reassure her that no, everything is fine and even if it wasn't, everyone would know I'm her mother even if I turned up with a red mohican so she couldn't get away from it by smuggling me in at the back after the lights have gone down even if she wanted to. (I've just read back that sentence - does it make sense? I think it does, but I can't work out how to make it simpler because I'm suffering from brain freeze having spent a good portion of this morning outside in the pouring, icy rain trying to encourage the hens into the relative dry and warmth of the greenhouse.)

Anyway, back to the hair-do. My 'consultation' was with the salon owner, Damon, who was very earnest and sincere and talked a lot about face shapes. Now, I've tried on occasion to work out my own face shape. To do this, one takes a lipstick and draws around the outline of one's face with it on a mirror. Step back and you discover that your face shape is .....Mrs Potato Head! At least, that's been my experience. So it was a relief to discover, under the professional eye of Damon that I am 'oblong'. Oblong? Hmmm....I was hoping for a 'heart' or 'oval' but no, in order to achieve the perfect 'heart' or 'oval' my hair needs to be cut in a shape to give me more width. Now for someone who has spent many years of her life trying to reduce her general overall width, this was alarming news. I suppose that I should count myself lucky that my face shape didn't turn out to be 'round' (aka fat). I have no idea what to do. Damon runs three ideas past me; one sounds 'safe', one sounds 'maginally risky' and the last is complete madness (it involved the words 'Purdey' and 'The Avengers') So I plump for option 2, marginally risky and away we go.

And it's very good! I'll admit there was a moment of panic when Damon disappeared behind me and the sound of a razor could be heard for a few brief seconds, but yes, it's a very good haircut and I am pleased with it. Well done, Damon! 10/10 - I shall be back!

Of course, I shall have to wash my hair soon and then it could all go pear-shaped as I try to recreate the salon blow dry effect. But M and S have a sale today - if it EVER STOPS RAINING I may pop into town this afternoon and buy a hat. I'll take it with me to Norwich at the weekend. Just in case Heather mentions that there is a 'special entrance to the theatre just for you, Mum. Its round the back. Oh, and can you just put this bag over your head? It's all part of the audience participation.....'

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Here come the girls

Preparations for the Winter Wonderland Extravaganza are gathering apace and this morning I had a flying visit from Mrs Miggins.

'Can't stop,' she said, 'unless you've got hobnobs.' 'No, it's just the way I walk,' I quip. 'Ahahahaha!' Mrs Miggins shoots me a withering stare. 'In that case, I definitely can't stop. 'I'm just dropping off the rough draft for the programme of events. Andy said he would do a mock up for us.' 'Okay,' I say, taking the very rough pieces of paper and casting my eye over them. Mrs Miggins turns to go.

'Hang on a minute,' I say. 'What's all this?' I point to the list of 'Star Entertainers' (i.e the hens and Tango Pete.) 'Well, we thought we'd add a personal touch and use our first names,' explains Miggins. 'You know, to make us sound more warm and approachable.' I express my doubts that this will ever be the case with Mrs Poo as she still hasn't broken the habit of savaging my ankles. 'And I didn't know you had first names,' I continue. 'Of course we do,' says Mrs Miggins. 'What do you think our mothers called us before we got married?'

'So your first name is Laetitia?' I say. 'Yes,' says Mrs Miggins. 'And Mrs Pumphrey is Gloria, Mrs Slocombe is Betty and Mrs Poo is Winnie.' I let out a snort. 'Is her middle name 'The'?' I ask. 'No, I don't think so,' says Miggins without a hint of irony. 'Only Mrs Pumphrey has a middle name and that's Inexcelsis Deo. Two middle names in fact. I think her grandmother was a Jamaican banana baron.'

Mrs Miggins leaves me rolling on the kitchen floor with laughter. 'Did you pass on the programme?' asks Winnie Poo. 'I did,' says Mrs Miggins, 'but I'm not sure how safe it will be in her hands. I think she's finally lost her one remaining marble.'

Coffee schmoffee

I admit I haven't been mown down by a toddler pushing a dolly pushchair lately which is a blessing given how busy town is at the moment with people not buying anything but there seems to be a new 'Extreme High Street' sport on the increase and that is people walking around clutching paper cups of coffee - 'Drink 'n' Shop'.

What's all that about then?

Yesterday, on my way home from sewing class (I have now completed a skirt and am awaiting the first comment of 'Oooh, where did you buy your lovely skirt?' I fear I may be waiting a long time.) I noticed three on-the-jog-coffee drinkers and quite frankly, I'm appalled. That's what coffee shops are there for, you morons! Star 'extort mega' Bucks, Cafe Nerd, Costa Lotta Coffee, the town is full of these places. What you do is go in, buy a coffee, sit and drink it, get up and continue on your journey. Simple pimple!

You know who I'm going to blame, don't you? Yes. America! We're adopting a culture of 'Oooh, look at me I'm so busy I have to drink my coffee on the run,' culture based on what cetain thicko Brits perceive as American life based on their copious viewing of the American Sitcom.

'Hey Bud!'
'Hey Chip! How ya doin?'
'Well, you know. Gotta run. Meeting, ball game, therapist, attorney,cookies, therapist, love ya, gotta go blah, blah, blah.....'
'Coffee to go?'
'You bet. Skinny latte, espresso hot shot, heavy on the rye, light on the mayo.'
'There ya go, Chip! Have a nice day splashing scalding hot liquid over other shoppers in the Yuletide rush!'
'Sure will, Bud!'
'See ya, Chip!'
'Wouldn't want ta be ya, Bud!'

Ha! It isn't necessary to carry boiling hot liquids around whilst you shop. Even with those silly plastic lids on the cups that don't fit, with the stupid little sip holes in the top that EVERYONE knows don't work. And most of all, it isn't English. Mind you, coffee drinking isn't English. Afternoon tea and cake is English. In a nice tea shop with proper tables and chairs and teapots and cups and saucers where you can sit and spend a half an hour with your nearest and dearest, chewing over life and generally being civilised.

So there you go. Coffee drinking on the go - bad. The other day they were discussing on the radio the demise in popularity of the 'traditional Christmas turkey.' Turkey isn't traditional English Christmas fayre - turkey is American. Get a goose if you want tradition at Christmas. Or beef.

Today's blog was brought to you by 'Xenophobics Unanonymous.' I'm off to see my therapist....

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The sign of an unsettled mind

I am sure I read somewhere in one of the many chicken books we have that chickens don't like getting wet. Well, whoever wrote that was WRONG! At least as far as Mrs Slocombe is concerned. Fom Thursday to yesterday it rained almost constantly and Mrs Slocombe spent most of the daylight hours running about in it getting wetter and wetter. Mind you, with her feathers plastered against her body you can truly appreciate what fine muscle structure she has in her shoulders.
'Go inside!' I yell from the back door. 'Or at least under the tree or the garden table where the infinitely more sensible hens are hanging out.'
'I'm Gene Kelly!' shouts Mrs Slocombe.

I give up. I'm not going to enter into any sort of chicken zen conversation with her involving Gene Kelly.

Such was the weather and me being carless and allergic to public transport and so ultimately housebound I decided to change the layout of the furniture in the bedroom. I did various 'lying on the bed stretches' with my arms spread out and toes extended, then replicated these measurements whilst lying on the carpet in order to ascertain whether the bed could face in a different direction and, deciding that it could and and I would be able to move the sofa over there, the big chest of drawers there and the two smaller sets of drawers there and there, I set about my rearrangement.

Well. There comes a point in any grand plan where you wish you hadn't started. I reached this point when I realised I'd managed to trap myself inside the bedroom with little hope of escape other than leaping from the bedroom window and breaking my legs on the path outside. The bed was at diagonals and wedged between the wardrobes and radiator, the sofa was on its end blocking the door after my failure to shift it through the door and onto the landing. All chests had been divested of their drawers which were now scattered throughout the room in no particular order and in amongst it all sat the Dyson which I had been using to clean the carpet and skirting boards as I went of God knows how many years worth of dust bunnies. Luckily I had also had a tin of proper paraffin based furniture polish with me (ask my family - they will tell you about me and firelighters) so I sat on the floor, had a few sniffs and decided that if I had to exit the room by the window at least now I'd be able to fly to the ground.

All turned out well in the end. By a gradual process of moving each item of furniture three inches at a time I managed to rotate everything around itself and settle it into its new home. I worked up a good sweat which justified me having two shortbread fingers with my well-deserved cuppa. And I can still just about get into my wardrobe.

And even if I couldn't there was no way I was putting anything back to its original position.

They say that moving furniture is the sign of an unsettled mind. I should say so.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Winter Wonderland

It is official! We have no grass left in the back garden. The chickens have eaten it all. They have now resorted to attacking what's left of the shrubbery I got rid of during the late summer (well, I thought I'd got rid of it - however, little green shoots are appearing from the stubby remains - we must have persistent shrubbery).

'It's not looking good for our Winter Wonderland Extravaganza,' says Miggins, squelching around in the mud. 'Not very Christmassy looking is it?' I admit it looks more like a rugby pitch out there. 'However, when Mrs Pumphrey was playing pirates by standing on top of the eglu run and going 'aarrrrrrrrr,' she noticed that the front garden is still looking very lush and verdant,' Miggins continues. 'No way,' I say. 'You are not moving into the front garden. And don't go quoting your chicken rights at me either,' I continue, just as Mrs Miggins opens her beak to quote her chicken rights at me. 'I know you're being represented by Barack Obama, but until he challenges me in the Chicken Supreme High Court, I refuse to budge on my stance.'

Mrs Miggins goes off for a sulk and her second in command, Mrs Poo, takes over. 'The thing is,' she says, 'is that we would like to brighten your miserable little life by putting on a show for you.' Ah, clever, I think. Going for the psychological approach. 'Firstly, Mrs Poo,' I say,'I want you to know that my life is far from miserable. In fact, it's probably the happiest time I've experienced so far.' 'Damn,' mutters Poo. 'Okay, well, we bought a load of Lycra costumes. They'd go to waste if we didn't put on the show. And you know how much you hate waste.' This is true, I think.

'All right,' I say. 'This is what we'll do. You can have your Winter Wonderland Extravaganza on the front lawn for one performance only. All rehearsals have to take place in the back garden.' 'We'll need to have a dress rehearsal on the front lawn. And the ice-rink people will need a couple of days to set up the skating area.' 'What ice-rink people?' I ask. 'And the snow machine will be arriving two days beforehand too, to make sure we've got a good layer for the Toboggan and Ski Slides.' 'What?' I screech. 'Good, that's all sorted then,' says Poo, turning to go. 'Oh, by the way. I've put you down for mulled wine and mince pies. Is that okay? Good!'

Yes, it's official. My miserable little life has been taken over by a bunch of pushy, lunatic hens. And I couldn't be happier.

Monday, 24 November 2008

A cold snap

My goodness but it's been chillly around the gorbals these last few days. Actual real snow on Sunday morning which threw everyone into a high old state of excitement. I say 'everyone' - not me, though. I am succumbing to 'fear of slipping over in the winter syndrome', which I know shouldn't be hitting me for another 20 years or so but the sight of a bit of frost or slushy ice sends me into a walking pace of three steps an hour and clinging onto any bit of fence I can get hold of so I don't go tipping base over apex and break my hips.

The arrrival of snow heralds a 'first time ever' experience for the hens. 'Look at me!' shouts Mrs Poo, standing on the frozen water bowl. 'I'm walking on water.' I hate to burst her bubble but I don't want Mrs Poo developing Messianic delusions, especially as she already thinks she's the reincarnation of Napoleon's chicken, Josephen. 'Did Napoleon have a chicken?' I asked when she revealed this fascinating nugget of information to me .'Of course,' she said. 'It's a well known fact that Jospehen virtually ran the country for him.'

Anyway, I peel Mrs Poo from the top of the waterbowl and explain about how, when water molecules freeze, they expand and ice is formed. She looks at me like I'm mad. Andy pours warm water into their bowl which immediately takes Mrs Pumphrey's fancy. 'Any chance of chucking in a bag of Earl Grey with that?' she asks. Mrs Miggins is standing next to Mrs Slocombe (or 'call me Betty' as she now prefers to be called), picking snowflakes off her black feathers as they land. 'What ARE you doing?' asks Betty Slocombe, whose patience extends considerably further than the other hens but not this far. 'Dandruff, dear,' says Miggins. 'Hold still.'

'It's not dandruff,' I explain. 'It's snow.' 'Don't listen to her,' says Poo. 'She's just told me some drivel about water going stiff when it expands.' 'Really?' says Betty Slocombe. 'Well, that just reminds me of...'

'Okay,' I interrupt, sensing a double entrendre appearing on the horizon. 'It's just winter setting in, that's all. It gets cold, wet and icy in this season.' 'Aah,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'now seasons I understand. It's time to go shopping for our winter wardrobes, girls.' And off they go, immediately distracted by the thought of some retail therapy.

They return several hours later, in a taxi, laden with shopping bags. 'We've decided,' says Miggins, after they have done a fashion parade for me to show off their winter fashions (apparently loon pants are very 'in' this year) 'to have a Winter Wonderland Extravaganza.' 'That sounds exciting,' I say. 'It will be,' says Miggins. 'Of course, we have to learn to iceskate first and rig up the lighting and laser system. But you'll love it.' And off she bustles, Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe in tow and chattering excitedly. Mrs Pumphrey loiters. 'Are you okay?' I ask. 'Well,' she says, standing close and whispering. 'I didn't want to say anything in front of the others, but I'm a bit worried about the Lycra.' 'The Lycra?' I ask. 'In our skating costumes,' says Pumphrey. 'I mean, it's all right for Mrs Miggins; she's got hips like a racing snake, but me? Well, you know...'

I nod. I know exactly what she means. To some of us Lycra is a cruel mistress. 'I tell you what you need,' I say. 'What's that?' asks Pumphrey. 'Big pants.' 'Big pants?' 'Big pants,' I confirm. 'Pop on a pair of big pants under your skating outfit and you'll be as sleek as the rest.' 'And you're sure this will work?' asks Pumphrey. 'Oh yes,' I say. 'Trust me, I know.' 'How?' asks Mrs Pumphrey.

I stand back. 'Now that, I'm afraid, is something I cannot reveal,' I say. Mrs Pumphrey studies me carefully. A glint of understanding passes between us. She nods sagely. 'I understand,' she says.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Mother said...

There are many words and phrases you don't expect to hear in conversation with your mother and nipple tassles is one of them. During the post-swim hot chocolate/ shortbread break today, Mum suddenly announces in the middle of our conversation about making buns for last week's Children in Need day, that she was appalled to discover you could buy nipple tassles in British Home Stores.

'I was in the middle of pyjamas and there they were, amidst all the Christmas tat,' she says. 'Ah well, there you go. Christmas tat is your key phrase there, Mum,' I say. 'Even so,' she says. 'There was other stuff there, too, of a personal nature, and I thought why do people need this stuff? And what's more to the point, what has happened to British Home Stores that they would want to stock nipple tassles in the first place?' I prepare to block my ears in case Mum decides to elucidate me on the other 'personal items' available, but luckily she doesn't. I suspect they include chocolate willies and Santa gnomes who drop their trousers. We discuss the menopause instead and then go to HobbyCraft to get some 12mm knitting needles.

HobbyCraft is full of everything you'd ever need to make anything craft related you'd ever want. All Mum wants is gi-normous knitting needles because she wants to knit a bodywarmer in as short a time as possible. The needles she finds are the size of broomstick handles so I expect her to be in possession of her new bodywarmer by 7.30 this evening at the latest. During our trip I find out that she also made some flapjacks for Children in Need, had sold her miniature fibre optic Christmas tree at a boot fair and I am not to waste money on a present for her this year because she knows I am on a budget, poor penniless writer that I am. We have this conversation every year. I say 'What would you like for Christmas, Mum?' and she says 'Oh, don't spend your money on me, love,' and I say 'You may as well give me a few ideas because I'm going to get you something and I'd rather get you something that you would like rather than some old tat from, say, British Home Stores.' And then she gives me a few modest ideas like socks, or jam, or a DVD of the original 'Scrooge', you know the proper one with Alistair Sims and I buy her all the above and something else as well.

However, I've already got her present so her protestations are pointless. Rest assured though, her gift this year is NOT from British Home Stores!

On a hen related note, Mrs Miggins has finished moulting and today started laying again. There was a bit of a queue outside the nest box. Miggins was in first after doing considerable nest building (what's the matter, Miggo - shredded paper not good enough any more?? 'No actually,' says Mrs Miggins. 'And it's Mrs Miggo to you.') Mrs Slocombe was in there straight after and came out yelling and kicking up a fuss. 'What's the matter?' I ask. 'There is an EGG in the nest box and I can't possible lay MY EGG whilst the OTHER EGG is there. Kindly remove it NOW!' So I did and she popped in and laid hers.

I wonder if BHS sell nest boxes........

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The wee small hours

I haven't been sleeping well recently. I don't know why. There aren't any obvious reasons other than hormones which decide to stoke my thermostat at 2 in the morning so I have to fling the duvet off to cool down. I go from blazing inferno to sub-zero in approximately 30 seconds. I'm anticipating a good bout of pneumonia before the year is out. Other than that my mind is clear of worries. But I suddenly wake with the most peculiar thoughts. For example, last night I woke wondering what kind of fabric 'scratch' is. You know, when people say they make something from scratch. Is it like cotton or wool? Or is it synthetic? I worry that's it's like nylon which causes me a lot of static problems. Is it waterproof? Does it require pre-shrinking before you make something from it? Can it be machined or is it best hand sewn? And what colours does it come in? I think it must be quite a high quality material as you often hear people say 'Oh, it didn't come up to scratch,' when comparing other things to it. And it must be durable - scratch proof and scratch resistant are phrases that are bandied about by the people in the know.

And what about gnomes that disappear from gardens and then send postcards to their owners from foreign climes? These gnomes always have names. 'I miss Gerald so much,' cries Mrs Whibble from 23, Bonkerhall Road. 'The place just isn't the same without him.' Meanwhile, Mr Whibble sits in his potting shed bitterly feeding another postcard from Gerald, currently in Hawaii, into the paper shredder and wondering how many more days he'll be there before his wife brings him a cuppa and a Hobnob.

I hope things settle down. I got used to sleeping through the night when I gave up teaching and it's been jolly nice feeling normal after all these years. Perhaps it's just a blip. Perhaps I'm getting excited about Christmas just a tad too early this year. Perhaps I am starting to be haunted by the unleashing of my creative genius?

Perhaps gnomes go abroad to make things from scratch?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Chickens in Need

Today is Children in Need day. And I am reliably informed that there is, in the world of poultry, a parallel day called Chickens in Need.

'Are you sure you really need a 'Chicken in Need' day,' I say, as I am harrassed on my own back door step by four hens clutching sponsor forms. 'You're not really 'in need' are you? Not like battery hens for example, who live on a space the size of a postage stamp and never get to see the light of day in their short, sad lives.' Four pairs of beady eyes look at me. It is Mrs Poo who speaks up first. 'Well, 'she says, 'Mrs Miggins will need a new coat to see her through winter if she keeps moulting at this rate. She's practically bald.' 'She is nowhere near bald,' I say. 'Just thinning in places. ' 'And Mrs Pumphrey will need waterproofs trousers to keep her lovely white feathers clean. She's getting to tall to peck the grass without kneeling down now,' continues Poo. I agree that Mrs Poo has a point. Mrs Pumphrey is becoming quite Amazonian in her proportions. 'And we'll need an indoor dustbath for winter,' interrupts Mrs Slocombe. 'You can't possibly expect us to use the outdoor one in this chilly weather.'

'I still think you do pretty well, ' I say. 'You have a nice home with guest accommodation, a constant supply of good quality food and a maid to do your cleaning.' 'Who's that then?' asks Miggins. She sneezes and a few more feathers go flying into the air. 'Me,' I say. 'Not to mention Andy, your in-house entertainment system.' 'That's true,' concedes Mrs Pumphrey. 'Andy is very entertaining. Especially on his unicycle.' 'I'm not keen on the bedtime stories though,' says Poo. 'There's only so much Doctor Who and HP Lovecraft a hen can stomach. Perhaps you could have a word with him about it?' 'I'll do no such thing,' I say. 'Andy is very stressed at the moment. He doesn't need you lot causing him aggravation, too.' 'Are his feathers falling out?' asks Miggins, who feels she is becoming a bit of an authority on stress- related illnesses since her moult started. 'No, ' I say. 'But the homemade wine is disappearing at a faster rate than usual.'
'That's not a good sign,' says Slocombe. 'So no chance of a bit of bedtime Jeffrey Archer or Enid Bylton, then?' says Poo. 'Absolutely not,' I say. 'And I'll thank you not to mention those two names in the same sentence in future.'

'How about if you sponsor us anyway and we donate the money we raise to this Children in Need thing?' says Mrs Slocombe who, out of all the hens, is the one with the most thoughtful nature.
'Okay,' I say. ' That sounds reasonable. What kind of sponsored event are you planning?' At this point, Mrs Poo becomes almost ecstatic with excitement. 'You know that black and white tom cat that makes an occasional appearance in the garden. The one with the slightly off-centre Hitler moustache?' 'Mr Hilter?' I say. 'That's him,' confirms Poo. 'Well, we've captured him! We're going to tie him to the rotary washing line and spin it around then time him to see how long it takes for him to either fall off or projectile vomit. Person with the nearest guess wins the prize.'

I am shocked. 'You can't do that!' I say. 'That's animal cruelty.' 'He's a cat. We are birds. The cat is the natural enemy of the bird,' says Mrs Poo. 'I don't care,' I say. 'You are to release Mr Hilter IMMEDIATELY.' 'Immediately?' says Poo. 'Immediately,' I say and the four of them trundle off muttering things like 'it was only for charity,'and 'she always spoils our fun.'
I wait until I see Mr Hilter hightailing it from the Eglu and across the garden. I don't expect he'll be back in a hurry, I think. As an afterthought, I call over to the hens. 'What was the prize going to be?' I ask. They all look at me and Mrs Poo marches over like a hen in a strop.

'An egg,' she says. 'Not that you care, you charity thief, you.'

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Mrs Miggins is moulting. There are ginger feathers all over the place. She is sitting in the kitchen on a stool, a tea towel draped around her neck whilst I try and arrange the remainder of her plummage in a decent configuration. Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe are sitting at the kitchen table playing Scrabble and Mrs Pumphrey is in the garden being secretive.

'What am I going to do?' moans Miggins, turning her head first one way, then the other as she surveys herself in the mirror. 'I'm getting so old.' She lets out a deep sigh. 'It's nothing to do with age,' I say. 'Moulting is all part of the annual process of chicken health.' 'Do you mean, they'll grow back?' asks Mrs Miggins, a glint of hope appearing in her eye. 'Undoubtedly,' I say. 'By spring you'll have a whole new coat of feathers and you'll be returned to your former glossy, Rita Heyworth redhead glory.' 'Phew,' says Miggins, 'that's a relief. I thought I was going old and scraggy before my time.' 'No,' I laugh, arranging some rollers in her tail feathers. 'So,' continues Miggins, 'my moulting is nothing like you going grey then?' 'No,' I say. 'Because you'll never have your Rita Heyworth red-head glory days back again, will you?' says Miggins. 'Unless you hit the dye bottle again.' 'All right,' I say. 'No need to rub it in.'

Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe snort. 'Was that a joke?' asks Poo. 'Not intentionally,' I say crossly.
'How did you go grey?' asks Mrs Slocombe. 'Was it a slow process or did it happen over night following some kind of fright?' 'Well,' I say, 'It's been happening over the last twenty odd years.' 'I thought my feather loss might have had something to do with a fright,' says Miggins, taking a sip of her camomile tea. 'Oh yes?' I say. 'Only I had the most dreadful dream a couple of nights ago,' Miggins continues. 'Do tell,' I say, glad the subject has drifted away from my grey tresses, or silver fox blonde as I prefer to call them. 'Well,' says Miggins, 'I went to sleep as usual and then I dreamt that Michael Barrowman, you know, him from Torchwood, leapt into the garden and started doing massive jazz hands at us.' Mrs Slocombe gives a shiver. 'Nasty,' she says. 'I can see why that would make your feathers fall out.' 'And then he started singing songs from Les Miserables,' says Miggins. 'Well, that's just the limit,' says Poo, who isn't normally sympathetic to the suffering of others.

Mrs Pumphrey appears from the garden. She is holding something behind her back and has an excited smile on her beak. 'What have you got there?' I ask. I've managed to arrange a sort of girly comb-over atop Mrs Miggins' head but I'm not sure it's working that well. 'I've made a surprise for Mrs Miggins,' says Pumphrey. 'Ta-da!' And with a flourish she reveals a huge concoction of a hat, and places it on the Scrabble board across the word 'Zyjoqiffm' that Mrs Slocombe has just laid in the hope of persuading Poo it is a rare type of Scandanavian beaver fur. We all stare at the hat. It is woven from all of Mrs Miggins' moulted feathers collected from the garden and henhouse, along with some grass and twigs. There is a huge sprig of eucalyptus sticking from the top at a jaunty angle.

'Well, what do you think?' asks Pumphrey eagerly. 'Try it on, Mrs Miggins,' I suggest. She does so and we do a bit more staring. 'It makes you look like Carmen Verandah,' says Mrs Poo. 'Miranda,' I say. 'Okay, it makes you look like Miranda Verandah,' says Poo, 'whoever she is.'

Mrs Miggins is studying herself in the mirror. Slowly and carefully she removes the hat. She turns to Mrs Pumphrey. 'Thank you,' she says. 'It is a lovely hat. You are very kind. It is far too nice to wear every day. I shall save it for best.' 'Like Christmas?' asks Pumphrey, glowing with happiness. 'Like Christmas,' says Mrs Miggins and she gives Mrs Pumphrey a gentle peck on the cheek.

Age may have brought moulting to Mrs Miggins, but it has also brought a good dose of tact and gratitude. What a girl!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Division of Labour

All three of the new hens have started laying eggs and this morning they sent me a deputation in the form of Mrs Miggins.

'We've created a roster,' says Mrs Miggins, taking off her wellies and shaking her umbrella all over the kitchen floor. It is raining outside, great heavy lumps of rain, being lashed around by even bigger lumps of wind. 'A roster?' I say, taking the sodden piece of A4 from her and spreading it on the table. 'Yes,' says Miggins. 'As I'm not laying at the moment and therefore the most impartial hen on da block, I've been voted to come and discuss it with you.' 'Where are the others?' I ask, looking over her shoulder into the garden which appears devoid of other hens. Mrs Miggins raises her eyes towards heaven. 'They're trying to persuade our house guest to go home,' she sighs. 'All night we've been trying to tell him he's got to face up to his responsibilites but he's not having any of it at the moment. Got any biscuits?'

I fetch the biscuit barrell and wait until Miggins has located a Jammie Dodger. 'Is that wise?' I ask. 'You know how the jam bungs up your beak.' 'I'll be the judge if that,' says Mrs Miggins. 'On your head be it,' I say. 'So who's the house guest?' 'Oh, nice chap. You won't know him. 'Barack,' we keep saying, 'you've got to stop all this crying and go home. You applied for the job and now you've got it you've got to see it through.' But he reckons if he lays low for a bit everyone will have forgotten him by January and he can go back to doing what he did before.' 'What was that?' I ask. 'Paper mache modelling,' say Miggins. 'Anyway, back to the roster.'

I look at the piece of paper that is slowly drying out and sticking itself to the table. 'You'll have to explain this,' I say. 'I don't do maths.' 'Well,' says Mrs M, 'the others say that now they've started laying, they are prepared to take turns in order to lessen the workload.' 'What do you mean?' I ask, already not liking the sound of this idea. 'Well, Mrs Pumphrey will lay eggs on Monday and Thursday, Mrs Poo on Tuesday and Friday and Mrs Slocombe Wednesday and Saturday. It's very simple.' 'And what about Sunday?' I ask. 'Really!' says Mrs Miggins, aghast. 'Sunday is a day of rest. God never ate eggs on a Sunday.' 'Oh yes?' I say, finding this very hard to believe. 'No,' says Mrs M, 'he had crumpets. Or muffins. But definitely not egg.'

'And what if I'm disagreeable to this propostion?' I ask. Mrs Miggins looks at me. She clearly hasn't considered this option. 'I mean,' I continue, 'by my reckoning, in order for you all to earn your keep you need to supply us with, oh, at least a dozen eggs between you each week. That works out at 3 each, or 4 as you aren't laying at the moment.'

'A dozen??' repeats Mrs Miggins. 'That's 12!' 'Indeed it is,' I say. Mrs Miggins puts her Jammie Dodger slowly on top of the roster. She hasn't even reached the jammie bit yet. 'I don't think they're going to like this,' she says slowly. 'It's in the contract,' I say. 'What contract?' asks Miggins. 'The contract that says I do your cleaning and cooking and entertain you with imitations of Ronnie Corbett falling off a running machine in exchange for at least 12 eggs a week between you.' I point to where the said contract is pinned to the wall next to the cuckoo clock.

Mrs Miggins draws herself up to her full height. 'I think I need to warn you,' she says,' that we have the Nearly President of the United States staying with us at the moment. He is a superpower. And he won't let you get away with these unreasonable demands.' And off she stomps into the wind and rain shouting 'Barack! Barack!!'

'Yeah, right,' I think. 'Bring it on.'

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

For Heather - news from the Homeland

My darling daughter, who is currently in her final year at university in Norwich, informs me by e-mail today that she reads my blog on a regular basis as it keeps her in touch with what's happening in Kent. Alarming news, I think, because now she thinks that Kent has become over run with chickens filming perfume commercials and reading Proust whilst her mad grandmother runs around electrical ware shops inserting bread sized bits of cardboard in toasters to check for fit.

So, in order to rectify this gross misrepresentation of Kentish goings on, here is today's news from the 'Garden of England'. (Fact or fiction? Who knows? Who cares??)

Ahem...politics - Barack Obama and John McCain continue to hide out in one of the many Fremlin Walk coffee shops until it's all over bar the shouting in the USA. Whilst able to splash out on a skinny latte each, they go halves on a blueberry muffin due to the current dollar/ pound exchange rate and the fact that McCain has many sub-prime interests in the muffin industry and is expecting a run on the bagel market any moment.

...entertainment - Russell Brand seen working behind the counter in the Body Shop. 'Try my latest range of men's toiletries,' he says. 'It's called Brand Gnu and is based on the aromas of the North American buffalo plains.' Buy One Get One Free? 'Not likely', says Brand, 'I need all the cash I can get.'
- Alan Carr says he will never return to the County Town of his birth following his recent outburst against the good and tolerant townsfolk. 'Good!' shout Maidstone residents. 'We don't want you here anyway, you goofy-toothed, squiffy four-eyed Nancy Jim.'

....food and drink - there is still food and drink in Maidstone. I made a chocolate chip and banana cake this morning and am currently weighing up the moral and ethical dilemmas of ordering one of those birds in a bird in another bird all inside a bird confections for Christmas dinner. Andy has several bottles of homemade wine now and the house smells like a brewery. It's good stuff, apparently. I haven't tried it myself; I'm very keen to preserve my eyesight.

....literature - Ginnungagaps, the latest phenomenon in children's fiction, is complete and hot for publication. Its celebrated author is currently working on her next book, Nearly King Jimbo, and has started mass production of Ginnungagaps merchandise, including soft toy Limonquills with risk assessed fangs. Andy is working on a new sausage recipe called 'Ronnie's Best from Gizzard and Gullet.'
- local schools continue to close their libraries in favour of students downloading books and having them read to them in 'virtual learning stations'. Does this mean they will be learning virtually... but not quite? Will students' eyes gradually sink back into their heads through lack of use? Join us in a debate at the bandstand in Brenchley Gardens. Bring your own drugs. Goth and emo-wear optional.

...the weather - is wet. And grey. And foggy in places. But at least it doesn't smell of cabbage like Norfolk (That last bit is from Andy - nothing to do with me, I like Norfolk, especially the pigs in fields.)

...and finally - some moron in a van has parked across the driveway. Local woman goes mental and causes a scene in the street where people point and stare and say 'She's a literary genius, she's allowed to behave like that. It's her artistic temperament, you know.'

And that is the news. For now.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Mrs Pumphrey's news

A note from Mrs Pumphrey:-

'I've lain an egg, I've lain an egg, I've lain an egg, I've lain an egg!!'

And that's all she has to say on the matter.

'So what?' says Miggins. 'I've lain 151 eggs since May. That's why I'm having a rest for the next couple of months.'

'I think I might lay an egg soon,' says Mrs Slocombe, adopting the 'ready for the cock' pose.

'Eggs? No-one said anything about laying eggs,' says Mrs Poo. 'I thought we were here for the Tequila?'

Denise would like Mrs Pumphrey to know that although she is thrilled that she has lain her first egg, please could the next one have a proper shell on it so it is useable? Thanks. Only what with Mrs M off lay now, and Andy wanting his cake, there is a bit of an egg famine in da house at the moment. Thanks. And if Mrs S and Mrs Poo could join in the 'I've lain an egg' excitement soon, that would also be good. Thanks again.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today it is my birthday. The hens have discovered this - I have no idea how. Perhaps it has something to do with the big, electronic 'BIRTHDAY COUNTDOWN' calendar that had been hanging on the outside of the house since August. Or the fact that every morning, when I step into the garden to feed them I shout 'IT'S MY BIRTHDAY SOON.' And I did mention the day before yesterday when I was cleaning them out that they shouldn't expect me to have to clean them out on SUNDAY which is my BIRTHDAY and perhaps they should consider wielding the shovel themselves for a change.

Anyway, some how they discovered it is my birthday today and it's all very embarrassing when they pitch up on the doorstep bearing gifts.

'So how old are you?' asks Mrs Miggins, going straight for the jugular. I laugh coyly and blush a little. 'Guess,' I say. 'Fifty seven,' says Miggins. 'Guess again,' I suggest through gritted teeth. 'I don't know,' says Miggins. 'I'm a chicken. We only go up to ten.' 'I'm forty three,' I say. 'FORTY THREE?' shrieks Mrs Pumphrey who is given to shrieking a lot since filming her perfume ad. I blame the Russell Brand acting lessons. 'All right, all right,' I say. 'There's no need to shout about it.' 'Even so...forty three???' replies Mrs Pumphrey. 'That's beyond imagination. What's that in chicken years?' 'IT'S STILL FORTY THREE!!' shouts Andy from the kitchen, who gets tetchy about cross-species age comparisons.

'We have brought you gifts,' interrupts Mrs Slocombe who is keen to get back to the Eglu and catch up with last night's Strictly Come Dancing on BBC i-player. 'Yes,' says Mrs Poo. 'Of course, they may not translate well across the chicken/human gift spectrum expectation but it's the thought that counts, isn't it?'

'Yes, it is,' I agree, remembering some of the gifts I have received in past years when I wondered 'what on earth were they thinking?' of the presenter. 'We got most of them from bid-up TV,' says Mrs Poo. 'On account of us not being able to get into town because of all the recent rain.' 'Except the worm and spider cake. We made that ourselves,' says Mrs Miggins proudly. 'Thank you,' I say, without heaving. 'I had to put it in the oven,' continues Mrs Miggins. 'The others are far too young to be in charge of gas.' 'Very wise,' I say, thinking how marvellous it is to have such safety- conscious hens. 'But you could get me some new oven gloves for Christmas if you like,' says Miggins. 'My old ones are getting thin in places. I singed a wing.'

I open the gifts. They include sixteen wash balls, a two carat gold bracelet inset with genuine fake diamantes, a James Bond all-action hero alarm clock with totally non-misogynistic image of a semi-naked woman sprayed in blue ink on the front, a thermal vest and a multi-functional '87 different permutations' ladder.

'Thank you,' I say. Not only do we have safety- conscious hens, we have original- thought hens. I am so proud. 'We tried to get the alarm clock with Hong Kong Phooey on it,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'only Mrs Slocombe got her dialling feather stuck in the key pad.' 'That's her excuse,' says Mrs Poo. 'I think she did it deliberately because she's got a crush on Daniel Craig.' 'Do not,' retorts Mrs Slocombe. 'Do too,' says Mrs Poo. 'I always thought Roger Moore was the definitive Bond,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Anyway, we'll leave you to your birthday now.'

'Thank you for the presents,' I call as they trip off back down the garden. I carry the gifts inside with the exception of the multi-functional ladder which is too big and too multi-functional for me to get my head around at the moment. Especially a head that contains a forty-three year old brain.

'Worm and spider cake?' I ask Andy. 'If I must,' he says.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Proost and Salmon Motions

'I think we should choose a different book to study in our book club,' said Mrs Miggins, throwing 'A La Recherche de Temps Perdu' down in disgust. 'How about 'Ulysses' by James Joyce. 'No good for me,' I say. 'I've never managed to get past page 24 and I refuse to waste any more of my life trying to get to page 25.' 'Anna Karenina?' suggests Mrs Slocombe. 'Read it,' says Mrs Poo. 'Twice.' Several more titles of worthy literary tomes are bandied about and we settle on 'Five Go To Smuggler's Rock.'
'How come some people achieve fame through writing such tripe?' said Mrs Miggins as we by-pass the discussion on 'A La Recherche...' in favour of banana muffins and hot chocolate. 'I mean, take that Salmon Rushdie. You'd think someone named after a fish would come up with something a bit exciting, wouldn't you?' 'It's Salman,' Mrs Pumphrey corrected. 'He gets very cross when people make fish jokes in his presence.' 'Oh yeah?' says Miggins. 'How do you know?' 'I attended a literary luncheon with him once. He said he needed a companion, I wasn't doing anything so said I'd go along. It was very illuminating. The Poet Laureate was guest speaker.' 'Oh yes?' says Miggins, because she likes a bit of poetry. 'Yes. Unfortunately, we had to leave when Salman asked him in the post- talk questions how long it had been before he realised there was poetry in Motion. Andrew jumps up and shouts, 'Shut up, Salmon face,' and it all went down hill from there. We had to be smuggled out through the kitchens under a blanket.'

I am containing a snigger inside my hot chocolate mug. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing of supposed literary giants brawling in public like five-year-olds. 'If only Martin Amis had been there to join in,' I think. 'My joy would have known no bounds.'

'Anyway,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Back to my original question. How do you get to be famous?' 'That wasn't your original question,' I say. 'It's a more pertinent substitute,' says Miggins. 'Okay,'I say. 'In answer to your more pertinent substitute question, I have no idea how one achieves fame.' 'I think infamy is better,' chips in Mrs Slocombe, having recovered from her sulk that followed our rejection of her suggestion of Virginia Woolf's 'Mrs Dalloway.' 'You could be right,' I say. 'After all, there is that saying that well-behaved women rarely make history.' 'Quite,' says Poo. 'Does that apply to chickens?'

I give the matter some thought. 'I should think so,' I say. 'Why? Are you wanting your fifteen minutes of fame?' 'I want more than fifteen minutes,' scoffs Mrs Miggins. 'I want a lifetime of it.'
'And do you have any plans on how to achieve your lifetime of fame?' I ask. 'Absolutely,' says Miggins. 'I'm going to start a burlesque dance group called 'The Chicken and Asparagus Tarts.' Then I'm going to flirt outrageously with, oh, I don't know, a TV presenter maybe - and get myself involved in a slanderous scandal whereby I shall come across as the injured party, get myself some good publicity and jump on the celebrity bandwagon with a series of autobiographies, interviews, tasteful merchandise and public appearances opening supermarkets.' 'We've already got the perfume,' points out Mrs Pumphrey, squirting a dash of 'Poulet' behind her ears and knees.

'Oh, so you're all in it are you?' I ask. 'This burlesque group?' 'Safety in numbers,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And we thought we could release a girl band record. We're quite keen to do a cover of 'Hen Will I See You again.' 'The old Diana Ross and The Supremes song?' I ask. 'That's the one,' says Slocombe. 'We've got the questions. I'm going to be Diana Ross.'

'I don't think so,' says Miggins. 'I'm Diana Ross. ' 'No,' interjects Mrs Poo. 'I'm Diana Ross...'

I slip away quietly, leaving them to it. Suddenly, 'Ulysses,' has become an attactive option to reality. I'll give it another go, I think. Over the salmon we've got for tea.'

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Art of Perfume Part 3

The clocks have gone back meaning that the mornings will be lighter again albeit only for a couple of weeks. This means I have to rise a little earlier to open the hen house. So, up at 6.15 this morning, I stumble downstairs in my overly long dressing gown( note to self: must get a new one before this one kills me. ''It woz 'er dressing gown wot done 'er in'' is not a good epitaph for one's gravestone) and go to let the girls out. On my return I find a handwritten note on the doormat. I open it. It says '8 teas, 9 coffees. Teas all white, 6 with 2 sugars, 1 with 3, and 1 with a sugar substitute if you have it. Coffees - 4 black, 5 white (1 of white just a splash, thanks). No sugar in black except 2 if you have sugar substitute, others 3 with 1 spoon and 2 with 2. 9 bacon sarnies, 4 blueberry muffins, 3 rounds of toast........'and a partridge in a pear tree,' sings Andy, appearing behind me, yawning and scratching in a dressing gown that is way too short.

'What's this?' I demand. I don't do maths at the best of times and certainly not first thing in the morning in response to scruffy notes shoved through my letterbox. 'There appears to be a film crew on the front lawn,' said Andy, opening the door and stretching. A passing makeup girl squeals. 'I told you your dressing gown was too short,' I say. 'And I am not spending my day providing non-stop tea, coffee, sandwiches and muffins.'

The flap to the letterbox lifts and a pair of shifty eyes peers through. It is Mrs Miggins. 'Oi!' she clucks, which is never a good way to begin a conversation with me. 'The crew can't get started on filming until they've had breakfast. So, when you're ready, love.' The letterbox snaps shut. I look at Andy. 'Did one of our chickens just call me 'love?' I say. Andy nods. 'I believe,' he says, 'that she is assuming film crew vernacular.' 'Oh she is, is she?' I say.

I open the front door. Miles of cables are spreading tentacle-like from several lorries that squat like giant octopuses (?)....octopus's(?)....octopi(?)..... octopinium (?)......squid on the only bit of lawn chez nous that still looks half decent. I step outside looking for someone who might be in charge of this chaos. Andy, still yawning and stretching, steps out behind me, the makeup girl squeals again, I shove him back inside until he gets the length of his dressing gown sorted.

Scanning the scene of hustle and bustle, I catch glimpses here and there of four excited chickens in various states of hair/dress/make-up ensemblage. They are being pampered and feted like Hollywood starlets. Mrs Miggins is sharing a Galloise with the director (I am glad to see hers remains unlit). She is clucking coquettishly and twirling a girly toe in the grass. Mrs Pumphrey is being levered into a stunning chiffon and lace ballgown - the dresser is telling her that no, she isn't too fat at all, she is amply curvacious and it is all the rage these days to be amply curvacious. Mrs Slocombe is having her claws painted a ravishing shade of scarlet by a fey young man called Gok who is flirting outrageously with her, causing her to blush furiously and giggle in a most un-Mrs Slocombe-like manner. And Mrs Poo? Mrs Poo is sitting in front of a huge mirror surrounded by lightbulbs. Her eyes are wide open, having just had massive false lashes fitted and the hairdresser is primping her comb whilst discussing the finer points of the Marxist manifesto. Mrs Poo is in heaven. All the hens are in heaven. I feel like a harbinger of doom and go inside without saying a word.

'Put the kettle on,' I say to Andy. 'Have we got any bacon?'

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Something more annoying than pushchairs

A while ago I had a rant about the things that annoy me in my role of innocent pedestrian. You may remember? Anyway, yesterday I went into town to post copies of my masterpiece children's novel to ten carefully selected and lucky agents and publishers and discovered something that annoys me even more than those previously mentioned. And that is mothers pushing pushchairs and allowing their small toddler child to push its own dolly pushchair along beside them.

Now, I use the word 'beside' in the manner of France being beside Australia, in that they both occupy the same planet if not the necessarily the same hemisphere. Yomping along the pavement in my usual brisk and straight as an arrow manner I overtook said mother only to find her small child avec her pushchair swerving into my path because small children cannot and do not walk in straight lines. Now, if the mother had the child in the pushchair instead of a pile of shopping from Wilkos,then I would have negotiated my manoeuvre without problem. But no. The woman might as well have given her child eighteen excitable poodles to hang onto for all the control the child was showing with her dolly pushchair (which at least had a dolly strapped in and not another bag of shopping). The toddler was swerving this way and that, varying her speed between very fast and stop, bashing people's ankles, playing in the traffic, sending old ladies on zimmer frames plunging off the pavement into the paths of speeding doubledeckers...okay, the last two points may be a slight exaggeration but you get the idea.

Why? Why wait until the busiest time of the day and unleash a small child with a dangerous weapon into a crowded shopping centre? Tell you what, next time, give 'em a breadknife, set them up with a camping stove and let them run a hot dog stand whilst you go and get your eyebrows plucked to within an inch of their lives. At least if they are standing still they won't be getting under my feet.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Art of Perfume Part 2

There is a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the garden. 'Oi!' calls Tybalt from his vantage point in the conservatory. 'Come and have a butchers at this.' I reprimand him. 'Firstly, I am not 'oi' and secondly you are not a Cockney cat. You are a Scouse cat. If anything you should be saying 'eh?eh?' I say. 'Whatever,' says Tybalt. 'Just come and have a look, will you?' Right, he's straight off to the Paw Bonne to get his manners polished, I think crossly. Anyway, as it isn't often he shows much interest in what's happening outside, I go to see what has drawn his attention.

Mrs Pumphrey is standing on top of the compost bin wearing six inch stilettoes. They could be Choos, they could be Manolos, I don't know. She is shrouded in chiffon which is being blown around in an artistic manner by means of Mrs Miggins pointing a huge fan in her direction. Mrs Slocombe is sulking by the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a headscarf, looking like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Jones; I can't see Mrs Poo, but there are strains of the 'Red Flag' being played on the harmonica coming from the Eglu so I assuming she is holding one her meetings which would explain her demand for a bottle of retsina and a dozen coconut macaroons earlier this morning.

'What are you doing?' I yell from the back door. Mrs Pumphrey falls off the compost bin in surprise which causes Mrs Slocombe to snigger. 'We're practising the commercial before the film crew arrive,' explains Mrs Miggins, switching off the fan. 'Film crew?' I ask. 'I thought it was going to be me with a camcorder?' 'Oh, the campaign has become much bigger than that,' says Mrs Pumphrey, wading her way across the increasingly muddy lawn and giving Mrs Slocombe a kick as she passes. 'We've decided to hire the professionals.' 'Oh really?' I say. 'And the point of the fan?' 'It's all to do with creating an atmosphere,' says Miggins. 'It's October,' I point out. 'Couldn't you use the natural wind? It'd be cheaper.'

Mrs Pumphrey sniffs. 'Well, yes, we could. If you want us to create a piece of film noire that looks cheap and shoddy.' ' Film noire?' I say. 'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I've been exploring the genre of French existentialism and I think it would create the perfect feel for my perfume advert.'

'Existentialism, smenshialism,' mocks Mrs Slocombe from the greenhouse. 'What's up with her?' I ask. 'She was making far too many demands for an extra,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'You know, things like only being shot in profile from the right, twelve bichon frises dressed as clowns in her dressing room, silk covered roosting perch. I told her it wouldn't matter which profile we shot her from, she'd still look like Gerald Depardieu with his nose caught in a pencil sharpener.'

I make the mistake of laughing. 'This is my career!' shrieks Mrs Slocombe. 'You're going to have to pay for rhinoplasty for me. And therapy.'

'Therapy, schmerapy,' I shriek back. I am very fond of Mrs Slocombe but really, she can be the limit sometimes. I return my attention to Pumphrey. 'Nice shoes, by the way. Choos or Manolos?' 'Pete's,' she says. 'Tango Pete?' I say. Mrs P. nods. 'He does a drag act every other weekend. These are his Mae West shoes.'

I close the back door and let the girls get on with it. Tybalt has curled up in a ball in his basket. He has a very short attention span. He lifts his head and watches me with sleepy eyes. 'Well?' he says. 'They're bonkers,' I say. 'Quite bonkers.'

'Must be catching,' he says.

Monday, 20 October 2008

The art of Perfume - Part 1

With Christmas less than 10 weeks away, and there being an never-ending run of arty perfume commercials on the telly, Mrs Pumphrey has decided to launch her own brand of scent. It is to be called 'Poulet' and is ' a heady combination of grass cuttings and summer corn mixed with a hint of compost bin and warm peat.' 'You've mis-spelt 'peat', says Mrs Pumphrey, peering over my shoulder as I type. I have been employed as copywriter (media and admin) as I am the only one who can type faster than three words a minute. 'It's not 'peat' as in the earthy stuff you grow plants in. It's Pete, as in my tango partner.' 'Is he warm?' I enquire. 'Very,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Especially when he wears Spandex hot pants. I've told him he should go for something cotton because it lets your feathers breathe, but I think he's trying to hang on to his youth a few more years yet.'

Not wishing to hear further information on this subject I ask more about the perfume. 'I've created a mood board,' says Pumphrey, heaving it onto the table in the kitchen (or 'press office' as she now insists on calling it.) I cast an eye over the art work. Given she doesn't have access to many materials she has done a remarkably good job. Bits of leaf and grass are set on a dust bath background; the overall colour theme is mustard yellow and lime green. 'It's not quite finished,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I wondered if I may have a look through your fabric box.' Always keen to encourage enterprise in my hens, I agree. 'Anything you're looking for in particular?' I ask. 'Chiffon,' Mrs P. replies determindly. 'And maybe a bit of lace.'

'And who do you have in mind to be your perfume model?' I ask, anticipating some heated bargaining with the agents of all the top models. 'Kate Winglet? Henda Eggvangilista? Hennifer Lopez? Naomi Henball?'

Mrs Pumphrey looks at me askance. 'Why, me, of course,' she says. 'I don't want some nose- in- the- air skinny bit of stuff who won't get out of bed for less than a bucket full of oats advertising my perfume. My perfume is for proper women, curvaceous women, women who like cakes and biscuits and mashed potato - proper mashed potato with butter, milk and maybe a dollop of pesto.'

'I see,' I say. At least I'll be able to keep within the £10 budget I've been allocated. Mrs Pumphrey gathers up her mood board. 'I've got Mrs Slocombe working on some packaging ideas,' she says. 'She said she'd do it in return for a bit part in the commercial. I thought she could be the one who all the guys stampede in order to get to me because I smell so great and she smells like a chicken.'

'Okay,' I say, sensing trouble further down the line. 'She suggested we develop an aftershave for men,' said Mrs P, pausing in her mission to find my fabric box. 'Had a name for it already.' 'Oh yes?' I say. 'It wouldn't work,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'She suggested 'Big Cock.' Big Cock? Can you imagine what my Pete would have to say about that?'

I don't dare think.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Can you see me?

Mrs Pumphrey is standing very close to the greenhouse, staring intently. 'Morning, Pumphrey,'I say, going out to refill the chicken feeder and water bowl. I give my leg a shake to throw off Mrs Poo who has taken to savaging my ankles every time I step outside the back door. I have told her this is unacceptable behaviour but it is difficult to gauge her response when it is muffled by a beakful of my trousers.
'There's a chicken in the greenhouse,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Oh no,' I think. 'Here we go again.' Mrs Miggins runs over. 'I told you so,' she says, glaring at me. I've been trying to convince her for months that the chicken she has been seeing in the greenhouse is, in fact, her own reflection, but she won't have it. 'Mrs Pumphrey can see the chicken, too,' she says, smug at having her theory proven. 'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'A big white one.' 'Oh it's not white, dear,' says Mrs M. 'I think you'll find it's ginger.' 'It's your reflections,' I yell. 'HowmanytimesdoIhaveto tellyouthis??'
'What's up with her?' asks Mrs Pumphrey. Mrs Miggins shrugs. 'Hormones, I expect.'

'Right,' I say. 'I'm having my eyes tested this afternoon and you two are coming with me.' 'An outing - how exciting,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

At two o'clock we find ourselves sitting in Specsavers. Mrs Miggins is playing with a child's plastic shape sorter on the floor and giving evils to any two year old that happens to wander too close. Mrs Pumphrey has found an old copy of 'Hen and Now' and is copying a pattern for a crocheted bobble hat into her notebook.

'If you'd like to come this way,' says the assisant. 'I'm just going to run a couple of pre-tests before the optician sees you.' 'Pre-tests?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'What are they?' 'One is where they shine light into your eye and you have to click a button every time you see a flash, ' I explain, 'and the other is where they puff air into your eye to test your pressures.' 'That doesn't sound very healthy,' says Miggins, having prised herself away from the toy. 'Have you got a plastic brick under your wing?' I ask, eyeing a suspicious looking bulge. 'No,' says Miggins, defensively. She does a tuneless whistle and stares at the ceiling.

Anyway, we have our eyes tested. Mine are fine -no change to my prescription at all but it transpires that both Miggins and Pumphrey need specs for shortsightedness. They are thrilled at this news and immedately set about choosing frames and driving the assistant mad with their indecision about whether to have anti-scratch coating or not. 'Might be a good idea,' Miggins says. 'You know how Mrs Poo goes for our eyes sometimes.' 'They won't stop us scratching up the lawn will they? Being anti-scratch?' says Pumphrey. Miggins assures her they will still be able to wreck the garden more than adequately.

We arrive home, Mrs Pumphrey looking elegant in her rimless pair and Mrs Miggins tres fashionable in her 'Red or Dead' designer jobbies. They immediately test them out in the garden. 'There is still a chicken in the greenhouse,' Miggins says. 'Yes,' agrees Pumphrey. 'Only now they seem much, much bigger.'