Thursday, 25 September 2008

Ding dong merrily in Autumn/ author pictures

It is still September, isn't it? I mean, I haven't fallen over a cat or chicken, knocked myself unconscious and spent the last 12 weeks in a coma only to wake and find I've got exactly two days to do my Christmas shopping and track down a goose, have I? I ask this only because on my last couple of trips to town 'bits of Christmas' seem to be infiltrating themselves onto shop shelves. I've seen cards and wrapping paper already, along with Advent candles and a vast selection of tree decorations. I admit that when I saw the candles I thought 'Oooh, advent candles!' and I nearly bought one before remembering there was Hallowe'en, Guy Fawkes Night and my birthday to negotiate first before I even begin to think about Christmas. Absolute madness and I refuse to give the subject a moment's more air time. I was just checking, that's all.

My second topic for today is regarding my writing career. It suddenly occured to me that at some point I shall probably need to have some publicity photos done. More and more magazines and competitions are asking for photos of the author and what happens if I get a novel published?? Well, I researched the back of a few books to suss out author blurb and it's amazing how many are pictured with their cats. It has to be said that a lot of the cats appear to be unwilling participants in these photo shoots. They look strained and/or angry, like they are trying to get away from their owner's grip as soon as possible in case the camera steals their soul. Of course, this won't happen when I hug Tybalt to myself and say 'smile for the camera, Tiblobs'. He'll snuggle up under my chin and look cute and won't struggle and leave huge and bloody lacerations across my chest and up my arms. Oh no!

Andy did a few shots of me holding the chickens last week. Mrs B was wrapped in a towel as she had just had her medication for her 'condition'. (Don't tell them about my condition,' boks Mrs B. 'My oviduct is my business and no-one else's') so she was a captive audience. She had also been plied with grapes and sunflower seeds so she was quite happy. Unfortunately, she doesn't look great at the moment, because of her 'condition' ('I've warned you', says Mrs B, 'shut it') so I grabbed Mrs Miggins instead, who did her 'I'm ready for mating, where's the cock?' pose and then pooped down the front of my jeans. So author photo with chickens is no go.

Phoebe would be happy to be photographed only because she objects to walking and would rather be carried everywhere. However, she is the crossest looking cat in the world and I don't want to scare my readership.

Perhaps it should be just me. Or I could borrow my friends black labrador. Or my son's gerbils. 'The author, pictured here with her gerbils.....' Hmmmm, doesn't sound quite right, does it?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Food, glorious fooooood!!!!!!!!!

I like food. I like eating and cooking and looking at pictures of food in cookery magazines. The only food I don't like are rice pudding and pomegranates because they make me vomit. In fact, even thinking about them makes me want to......

.......sorry about that; where was I? Ah yes. I like food. I have devoted a majority of my life to thinking about food and as such you'll be unsurprised to learn I have struggled with my weight since, well, forever. However, I have lost a considerable amount of weight in the last 2 years and have kept it off, too. I am no longer morbidly obese (that's a nice phrase, isn't it?) nor ordinarily obese. I am in the middle of the range of being merely 'overweight' and if I lose another 17lbs I shall be 'normal'. Hurrah for that!! (Excuse me whilst I huff into my Oatiflakes).

Here are my tips for weight watching. They have worked for me over the last 2 years.

1) The following foods have no calorific content - cereal eaten straight from the packet, food tested whilst being cooked, any biscuits that break when you lift them from a baking tray, anything eaten whilst standing up.

2) Meringues weigh the same as air. Air is calorie free. Meringues are calorie free. (I believe this is called a syllogism - use it to impress your friends with your philosophical skills!)

3) Only keep food in your cupboards that make you vomit e.g rice pudding and pomegranates.

4)Wear a pedometer to make sure you do your 10,000 steps a day. If you don't leave the house much you may find yourself running on the spot whilst washing up/ ironing/ brushing your teeth. If this becomes too wearing, take off pedometer and shake up and down whilst watching telly.

5) Take up a hobby that requires you to use both hands such as knitting or cross stitch, thus precluding any twilight munching. (The smudge on my latest cross stitch is DEFINITELY NOT a blob of dried up Jaffa cake,okay?)

I hope these tips help. I have many more if anyone is interested. In the meantime, I shall continue to enjoy food. There is a saying linked with a certain famous weight loss company which declares 'Nothing tastes as good as the feeling of being slim.' They clearly haven't tried my chocolate chip shortbread fresh and warm from the oven....mmmmm...only 200 calories a slice. Unless you eat it standing up.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

JK Rowling - I am appalled

I am appalled. In fact, it has taken me two whole days to sufficiently un-appall myself in order to write about how appalled I am. If there are any breaks in this text it will me having to leave the screen for a few minutes to go and let off steam by punching a wall or binge eat an entire triple pack of Jaffa cakes.

The news that JK Rowling has donated a million pounds to the Labour Party left me with my jaw hanging on the kitchen floor on Friday. Luckily I had just given the tiles a good sweep or else I would have ended up with an unattractive beard of cat hair. What did she think she was doing? I know, I know, it's her money and she can do with it what she will but I think I would have been less appalled if she had put it in a brazier and set fire to it. At least it might have kept someone warm for a while if she had done that. But donate it to the Labour Party? I bet they are rubbing their hands together. 'We'll be all right for the Christmas do then this year, won't we Gordon? Shall I ring Fortnum's now?' 'Yes , Darling (sorry, old Blackadder joke but I am too appalled to be original today) and make sure you get the nice champagne. None of that asti spumante stuff.'

Andy assures me that it is to do with the Labour Party's good record on poverty. Well yes, they are certainly doing their best to introduce that concept to as many British citizens as possible, aren't they? Rising fuel and food costs, the banks and stock exchange dancing a very unco-ordinated tango and trying to justify their spurious practices (which have also appalled me), car tax up, council tax up, is this enough of a Daily Mail viewpoint for you yet??

If JK wants to recognise poverty in her charity giving - and I know she does a HUGE amount for charity all ready for which I admired her enormously (my admiration has taken a tentative step backwards with this Labour Party lunacy) then I am sure there are thousands more worthy causes than the Labour Party. Aren't there??

And this is why I don't like politics. It makes me angry. It makes me argue. And since giving up teaching, I have learned that life is much nicer without anger and argument. And by the way, if I ever make huge amounts of money from my writing I am going to write out a hefty cheque to the Buttercup Goat Santuary near to where I live. You know where you are with a goat. Which is more than can be said for David Milliband, who I am willing to bet will be leader of Labour by Christmas, quaffing that Fortnum champers as Gordon sits on the doorstep of Number 10 selling matchsticks and getting snow kicked in his face.

Now where are those Jaffa cakes?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

There's no eff in swearing

One of my bug bears is the BBC's use of the phrase 'The following programme contains strong language.' What they really mean is 'What you are about to view will be liberally peppered with effing this and effing that so don't say we didn't warn you and your prim and proper moral sensibilities.' Strong language my a**e! Strong language should mean language that is powerful and evocative, that has been used by its creator as an emotive way to convey a message, or relay beauty or a thought provoking issue. Not the message that 'I'm such an uneducated durr-brain that I can't think of anything more intelligent to say so I'll say effing this and effing that.' Therefore, I think the correct message should be 'The following programme conveys poor language, inserted by the (probably aged 40+ ) writing/ editorial team because they want to appear 'wiv da kidz, innit?'

Poor language (poor, do you hear me? POOR!!!!!) is one of the things I haven't missed since leaving teaching to be a writer. (One of a list of many which I shan't bore you with now; suffice it to say my list has already more than half filled a roll of Andrex and it's only been 3 weeks since the start of term). In the old days I would go to school on Monday after a 'poor language' - free weekend and within five minutes I could guarantee hearing effing this and effing that from the students at least four times and thus it would continue all week. This morning, Andy and I venture to town to get things like haircuts, wine filters, belts and books and it was full of youngsters all effing this and effing that. This provoked a particularly violent response in me. (I know - most unlike me, eh?) At one point, walking behind a teen couple who had been having one effing week and a half by all accounts I really had to bite back the strong desire to shout 'Oh for the love of Mike, will you stop with the effing this and effing that? Don't you understand what kind of image you are conveying, you pair of gibbon gibbering morons with the combined IQ of a table mat? Use our language properly. At least try and sound more intelligent than you are. Aaaaaargghhhh!!!!'

It's not necessary, all this effing this and effing that. There is no eff in intelligence, no eff in manners and no eff in art. And now Radio 4 have just announced that 'The following programme contains language.' What's that supposed to mean? That I am not about to listen to half an hour of silence instead of the Armando Ianucci Charm Offensive I was expecting? Well, thank heavens for that. I've always thought radio works best if there is a bit of language in the equation. Or are they really warning me that there will be language of the 'poor' variety? I suppose I shall just have to wait and listen. My finger is hovering over the 'off button'. But so far so good.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Consternation in the hen house

'Mrs Bennett! Mrs Bennett!' calls Mrs Miggins. She finds her friend behind what remains of the old shed, a dead spider hanging from the corner of her beak. Mrs Bennett looks up guilty. She knows how cross Mrs Miggins gets when she finds her binge eating. Mrs Miggins is cross. 'How many have you had this time?' she asks. 'Mmmftty seven,' Mrs Bennett replies, hurriedly shovelling down the last legs of this spider in case Mrs Miggins grabs it from her and stamps it into the ground. 'You know you shouldn't, don't you?' Mrs Miggins reprimands. 'Andy and Denise provide us with a balanced diet to keep us healthy. And there's free ranging and free bingeing. It's not attractive, dear.'

Mrs Bennett hangs her head but secretly she is enjoying the feeling of the spider descending to her crop and the fact she told Mrs Miggins she had eaten mmmftty seven when she had really had mmmftty nine.

'What did you want?' she says, cunningly changing the subject. 'Well,' says Mrs Miggins, putting on her jodhpurs getting ready to climb on her high horse, 'I have heard a most disturbing conversation between Denise and Andy concerning our part in their Christmas celebrations this year.' 'Oh yes?' says Mrs Bennett, and a flash of sage and onion stuffing and a roast potato pass before her eyes, she didn't know why. 'Yes. Apparently they are going to take photos of us and use Paint to superimpose Santa hats and reindeer antlers on us for their Christmas cards. What do you think of that?'

'Well, I'm not sure about the paint. When we helped Andy do the new garden gate it took him ages to get the green off us. I liked the green myself but I'm not sure it was your colour. And you say rain, dear?' 'That's right,' said Mrs Miggins, a bit miffed because she thought green was her colour, 'reindeer.' 'I thought I felt a damp spot on my beak,' said Mrs Bennett. Mrs Miggins looks up to heaven for help in keeping her wings to herself. It wasn't so much that Mrs Bennett was a peabrain, but that she had a line in very bad, very old jokes that she was unaware she was using in every day conversation.

'Anyway, what are we going to do? Should we contact our agent, do you think?' says Mrs Miggins, desperately trying to steer the conversation back to sanity street. ' It is modelling after all. When we did that job for Chunky Chicken it paid for our cruise that year.'

Mrs Bennett spots another spider. 'Well,' she says, trying not to drool and give the game away,' I think it is important to protect the copyright at least. Our solicitor should be able to do that for us, shouldn't he?' 'Good idea,' says Mrs Miggins. 'I'll call him immediately. And leave that spider alone.'

Monday, 15 September 2008

Field trip

Today, I began a course on clothesmaking at the Adult Education centre which is a great novelty as in previous years I have been at work earning a crust whilst these things are going on and my previous ventures into Adult Ed have been after work under the cover of darkness. But now I am a 'kept woman' I can indulge in these activities. It gets me out of the house and prevents me from forgetting how to converse civilly with human beings without descending into a series of random clucks and purrs. Plus I get to learn how to make a frock.

Off I trot, with my shiny new folder, notebook, pencil and pen, a pair of scissors, packet of pins and finally, the instrument of the devil, a tape measure. I find the Adult Ed centre, and successfully locate the room in which the course is being held. The tutor is nice, the class is small and after an hour it is revealed we are being sent on a field trip.

'Please don't let it be Boxley Quarry,' I pray. The last field trip I went on was to Boxley Quarry which might be a geographical wonder but is full of chalk and flint, and has steep slopes with forests of nettles for poor thirteen year old girls to fall into and get muddy and wet. (No laughing at the back, please. It wasn't funny.)

'I'm sending you to C & H Fabrics to buy your patterns,' says the tutor. Phew - not to Boxley Quarry then. Off we trot, all chatting about what we are going to attempt for our first project. I decide on either a dress - it will be nice to have a frock that fits my top half without ballooning into masses of fabric over my bottom half - or a skirt. Something swooshy for the winter to wear with boots. Or if I can find a pattern for a swing coat and I feel brave, a swing coat. Just don't get a pattern for a top I instruct myself. You've got quite enough tops all ready.

You can see the shop assistants thinking 'Oh Lor' here comes the next batch of Adult Ed amateur frock makers', as we chatter our way to the basement floor - ' patterns, wool, fabric and haberdashery'. We swoop on the pattern books, hogging them all at the expense of other shoppers. We are like a new breed of middle age craft hooligans. I find a swing coat; a 'Retro pattern' apparently, and I like it. I take the number to the assistant who marches off to fetch it (I think she is, by now, getting fed up with our giggling, especially over the patterns for Father Christmas outfits). She returns with the pattern but 'Unfortunately, Modom, this one only goes up to a size 14.' Well that's no good, I say. Clearly I am not going to fit a 14. I need a 16. I am sent back, like a naughty child, to have another look. I begin to panic. Everyone else has chosen and purchased their patterns. I am almost seduced by a two piece combo of clown trousers and duvet cover in orange polyester 'especially for the fuller figure' but grabbing a Vogue catalogue I see sense, make my purchase and leave the shop clutching my new pattern.

For another top...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Chicken Palace

The chicken palace looks great on paper. The ground looks flat, the measurements are spot on and there are no tricky corners. Yesterday, we took down the old shed. Well, Andy set about it with a hammer and crowbar whilst I stood on the sidelines being girly and saying things like 'I'm not being much help, am I?' The old shed was full of bugs which Mrs B and Mrs M leapt on with glee. Dead or alive, it didn't matter - down the hatch it went. Beneath the shed we found a single dead rat; not the plague we had anticipated, which was a relief. The chickens helped enormously with shed dismantlement, clucking encouragement and making suggestions like 'Do we have room for a car port? Only we're thinking of getting a Nissan Figaro.' There was only one tricky moment when I was holding one of the shed roof aloft and Andy was holding the other end of the shed roof aloft and the chickens decided to perform a 'ladies excuse me' beneath our feet. But after a couple of comedy trips all was well and we survived intact sans broken ankles, heads, chickens or pantaloons.

So, shed down, a huge triangular gap is revealed at the end of the garden. We stand and stare at it, and then stare at our plans. 'Of course it'll work! It'll look great! Oooh, isn't Strictly Come Dancing on the telly...quick, we'll miss the start.' (I need to say here that it is I who am more interested in SCD than Andy....especially since he had that incident with the sequins, Lycra and hair lacquer.)

Sunday morning we repair to the garden and do some more staring. The chickens do another bug sweep. We go to Wickes and stare at wooden posts, weldmesh and trellis. We go home and stare again. We go inside and have a cup of tea and some shortbread. Andy gets distracted into making another batch of marrow wine. I get distracted into more staring.

It's all going frightfully well...

Friday, 12 September 2008

This can't be right...

Pigs in lipstick? Now, I've been on the planet nearly 43 years give or take an astral planing session or three and I've never heard this phrase before. And I've got an English lit degree AND I'm a writer so I get to tinker around with words quite a lot. I've heard of casting pearls before swine and making a silk purse from a sow's ear but pigs in lipstick? No, that can't be right. I mean, what shade would they wear? Do they go up to the cosmetics counter in Boots and say 'I'm worried this 'Sugar Plum Fairy' is looking a bit dated. What do you think? Does it still suit my skin tone or should I go for something a bit more beige, now I'm older? I'm a bit worried about my eyeshadow too. Can I book a make over?' 'Certainly modom. And if you make three purchases from our top range we'll varnish your hooves for free.' Pah! What next? Dogs in Burberry? Pigeons in pies? Camerons in government? It all sounds a bit far fetched to me.

But wait, of course! Silly me!! I forgot my heroine, my fashion icon, the figure I look at, nay aspire to be, in my quest for perfect femininity - Miss Piggy!! She wears lipstick, of course she does. She wouldn't ever be seen without it. Now there's a style queen AND an excellent candidate for Presidency of America.

Apparently, the meaning of the phrase is that even if you put lipstick on a pig (why would you want to, that's what I need to know - there are clearly some Americans out there with very special needs), it is still, beneath the lipstick, a pig. Well, of course it is, dimbos! If I, Denise, put on lipstick, then under the lipstick, I am still Denise. Lipstick doesn't have a magic transformative power, does it? 'Wear this lipstick and people will think you're an aardvark!' It's not going to catch on is it?

I made up a new simile yesterday in a short story I was writing for a competition. It was 'she was always regular, like a goose on prunes.' It got deleted in the final edit. Sometimes you just know that world isn't ready.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Fuel and Energy Manifesto

Here are the measures announced today by Prime Minister Denise to assist the nation in their energy efficiency this winter:

1) Each household will be issued with eight 50g balls of double knitting wool, appropriate sized needles and patterns for socks, mittens and balaclava helmets.

2) Each household will be able to access a free six week holiday in the Caribbean in exchange for allowing their home to be used for housing the increasing polar bear population which is becoming rife in the current climate change.

3) Each household will be issued with five sheep (any more and the Government will be forced to pay a livestock subsidy and Prime Minister Denise's Pig of Happiness piggy bank doesn't have that big a reserve in it). Using the accompanying leaflet, householders will be encouraged to nuture the wool on their sheep and in the spring, shear the sheep and lag their lofts with the resulting fleeces. If householders are not confident about shearing please call Mr G. Brown of Downing Street and he will pop round and do it for you, no probs. He'll tell you how to make a nice warming soup from the scraps in your fridge, too.

4) Householders will receive assistance with their winter fuel bills i.e someone will come round and bang loudly on your door at 5.30 p.m between November and February and tell you it's time to switch off your heating and go to bed wearing three pairs of trousers, six jumpers and a pair of ski boots. And don't forget, 25% of all body heat is lost through the head, so if you've got a cat, (or a chicken) use it.

5) Householders will be encouraged to think of the future. With fuel bills increasingly on the rise, solicitors will be on hand to add codicils to Wills should householders wish to leave their fuel bill debts to their children. Or, if you wish to bequest a hefty sum to your gas and electricity provider, this can also be arranged.

Prime Minister Denise thinks that'll do for now. It's still quite warm outside, after all, and we might be lucky and get an Indian summer yet. Put an extra cardi on if it gets chilly of an evening. Or snuggle up on the sofa under a duvet with your hubby and watch Jeremy Paxman presenting University Challenge. Bound to make your blood boil.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Life beneath the table

I write from beneath the kitchen table awaiting the end of the world and wishing I'd gone to the loo first. Space is limited - we have a pedestal table in the kitchen and whilst I could have set up camp beneath the desk in my study which in considerably bigger, that space is known as 'Tybalt's Pad' and he takes a very dim view of anyone encroaching on his cushion space. Cats are territorial like that, you know. I could have opened up the kitchen table to its full stretch to give me more space but the last time I tried to do this single handed I trapped three fingers in the extension mechanism and it really hurt. Andy has gone to work and says he will be home in plenty of time to spend quality moments with me before we all get blown to smithereens. I can't help thinking he is being rather blase about this issue.

I made shortbread for my mum and aged aunties who visited for coffee this morning and they swooped on it like locusts so there are only 3 bits left. I've got them under the table with me,(the remaining shortbread, not my mum and aunts although they did seem obsessed with talking about their funeral arrangements as they supped their coffee. I am assuming this was a coincidence), along with some carrots and raspberries harvested from the allotment last night for Vitamin C and fibre, candles for light and warmth, tissues because I seem to be getting a bit of a cold and the address for the letters page at the Daily Mail because if we're all still here tomorrow and I've spent a night on a cold kitchen floor for nothing, I'm going to have some pretty strong words to say about it all.

I've also got a couple of paracetemol. I anticipate the end of the world is going to be quite loud and I can't imagine anything worse than wandering the wastelands of ex-planet earth with a nasty headache.

So far, it's all been rather tedious. I've been half listening to Radio 4 and people (by people I mean men - us women are all hiding under kitchen tables because we are sensible) have been getting far too excited about what's going on under this 27 mile cheese mountain in Switzerland. Not content with putting holes in black socks, the giant tumble dryer seems intent on recreating the dog particle. Apparently, when the universe was created with the first big bang, lots of atoms whacked into each other and many types of dogs were formed. And this is what scientists are trying to recreate. Why we need more dogs is beyond me. Chickens, that's what we need. And a re-run of the original Basil Brush show, not the pale imitation currently on TV.

I might pop out in half an hour if it looks like nothing is going to happen. My left leg's gone dead and I can see from where I'm sitting that the post man has been and delivered the lastest copy of the National Trust magazine. We're members you know. I bet they don't approve of this end of the world malarkey, either.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Inconsiderate, that's what it is

The world is going to end tomorrow and I am not happy about it. There is a big tumble dryer in Switzerland that is going to start spinning and make holes in everyone's black socks. This isn't right on many levels. Firstly, I thought we were supposed to be environmentally friendly these days? Think of the waste of energy drying a few pairs of socks in an over-sized tumble dryer will cause. Hang 'em on the line, I say, and let the air get to them. Secondly, I don't remember being asked about whether I approved of this decision to end the world tomorrow. So much for Western democracy and to be quite frank I'm disappointed with the Swiss. I've only just forgiven them for inventing Toblerone and now they think they can demolish billions of years of hard graft at the flick of a switch? Tut tut! I'm just not ready. For a start, when exactly is this event scheduled? A.m or p.m? My aged mum and mad aunties are coming round tomorrow morning for coffee - should I make shortbread or not? Actually, if the end of the world is nigh I'll make two batches of shortbread tonight, eat the lot and sod the scales in the morning. But there's a dilemma - if it isn't the end of the world and I find out I've put on 5lbs through pigging out on shortbread, I'm going to be more than little annoyed.

And what about all the things I need to do? I've got two counted cross stitch on the go for a start and we're expecting more chickens in three weeks' time. Then there's my dressmaking course that starts next Monday - I've already paid for that. Can I get a refund? To whom do I apply? Which insurance company is underwriting this event?? And I'm three quarters of the way through completing my first children's novel. Should I stay up all night to finish it in the vain hope enough of its charred remains will survive for future generations to read?

You see, I don't think this has been very well thought through. These events need careful planning. You need to get a nice notebook from WH Smiths to make lists in, possibly set up a spreadsheet on the computer. Then you need to notify people, and properly I mean, with little return slips on the bottom of the invitation - 'We can/cannot attend the end of the world on Wednesday 10th September' (delete as applicable) . And who chose Wednesday? Come on, hands up. Wednesday is the most miserable day of the week. Is someone trying to be ironic? Monday would be better. It'd add an extra frisson to that 'back to work' feeling you get on Sunday evening. And whose bringing the cheesey balls? These things all need considering.

All I'm saying is that no-one's thought this one through. And I haven't even got any black socks.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Whoooooo-tiddley dum, tiddley dum, tiddley dum

I know he won't mind me saying this, but Andy is a bit of a Doctor Who fan. We first met on Doctor Who's birthday - 23rd November, if your interested in the date a fictional character will sulk if the postman is late - and one of the courting rituals he impressed me with was the fact he's had a Doctor Who novel published. As our relationship developed, I became more aware he was quite keen on all things Who - there was a mug, a T-shirt, a few dvds, annuals and novels and mild panic attacks each month if he couldn't find the latest issue of DWM (or Doctor Who magazine for those of us who like to use the Queen's English in its complete form), but I wasn't aware of the fullness of his Doctor Who habit until we moved into our first house together after we were married (even Richard, his best man, mentioned Doctor Who in his best man's speech - I have the evidence on video).

'What's in this box?' I ask, heaving a white plastic storage carton from the back of the car. 'Oh' says Andy airily, 'just a few Doctor Who things.' 'And this one,' I say, as another reveals itself. 'Again...Doctor Who stuff...' I gave up asking after the eighth box...

And so it continued. Reader, we have a WHOLE LOFT full of 'just a few bits of Doctor Who stuff. I'm afraid to go up there in case I find an embalmed John Pertwee in a corner covered in cobwebs. And what do I do? I encourage his obsession by buying him Doctor Who toys for Christmas and making birthday cakes on 23rd November.

One thing I have learned is it is important to be very quiet when Doctor Who is on the telly. This wasn't so difficult when it was Eccleston - in fact, I would often wander off to do something more stimulating, like clean the oven or crochet placemats, but now Tennant is the Who man, it is a little more difficult. He does tend to make women squeal, does David Tennant. And I ought to know better at my age.

Anyhow, because Andy has this obsession, he thinks I should have one as well.I keep saying, 'Darling, I'm a woman. We don't get obsessions. And if we do, we have to get them treated with drugs.' He thinks I am missing out on some important sense of belonging with my obsessionless life. There are things I like, such as Shakespeare, nuts, cats and chickens but I'm not obsessed. 'How about collecting something?' he says. 'Like what?' says I. 'I don't know - Shakespeare dvds?' 'You know I'll only watch a dvd once,' I say. 'You watch The Producers a lot,' he says. 'True,' I say, ' but only when I'm ironing and there's nothing else on the telly.'

I've tried to develop an obsession, truly I have, if only to keep Andy company. 'Look, there's a ninth century cheese dish in the turnip style of Baldrick. I must have it!' But no. It'll lead to disaster if I start on that slippery slope. I'll end up with Kim and Aggie knocking on my door and being appalled at my houseful of old newspapers and tin cans. They'll find me sitting in a corner on a spacehopper wearing a lime green tank top and pink bobble hat gibbering 'Don't go in the loft. John Pertwee's asleep up there, you know.'

Sunday, 7 September 2008

How to build a palace fit for chickens

Following our recent decision to increase our chicken flock by 100% i.e from two to four, we spent last night making plans for building a new improved chicken palace to accommodate Mrs Bennett, Mrs Miggins and our soon to be newcomers, (4th October - v. exciting!) Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Polovevich aka Mrs Poo. Large sheets of paper were spread on sitting room floor and, each brandishing a freshly sharpened pencil, we began to design our unique hen house whilst trying to ignore the appalling political voting that was happening at the the Eurovision Dance Contest on TV. (You know, Russia voting for Ukraine, Ukraine voting for Russia, Sweden voting for Denmark, Denmark voting for Sweden, no-one voting for United Kingdom because we were lap dogs to the USA and helped them invade Iraq to look for something that didn't exist except in the weeny pixie brain of President 'My eyes are so close together I can see up both my nostrils' Bush.)

Back to hen palace. We made a list -'Required items in a Hen House.' 1) Sleeping quarters 2) eating station 3) water fountain 4) garden swing 5) roosting areas 6) digging area 7) dust bath 8) lawn area 9) jacuzzi and sauna 10) pool table 11) chaise longue 12) piano forte 13) candelabra 14) hostess trolley....hostess trolley?? It was at this point we realised Misses Bennett and Miggins had infiltrated the camp and were adding their own ideas via the medium of subliminal thought. We sent them into the kitchen to make scones and struck the last six items from the list pausing only to tut in disgust as even Finland only gave us 'un point'. No more holidays there, then.

The plan is to remove the shed from its site at the back of the garden. Our garden is oddly shaped (like a rugby player's balls) and the edges converge to a point at the back. This means there is currently a triangular shape behind the shed of about five feet in depth that is currently unused and could therefore be incorporated into a chicken palace. This morning, Andy sets to (I am in my office rehashing a poem about cremations for a competition and writing a short story about drug addiction for another - it's all laughs being a writer you know) and starts clearing the shed. Out come the garden furniture cushions (barely used this year because of washout summer) , the barbecue (ditto), a bicycle, a unicycle (don't ask), a car tyre for a car we no longer have, the lawnmower (now redundant due to lawn care management system implemented since arrival of Bennett and Miggins and their scratchy chicken feet) and various assorted items which fall loosely under the heading of 'What shall we do with this? Oh, bung it in the shed, it may come in handy some time.'

And that's it for the day. Given that our combined DIY skills are zero, we need to approach this project in tiny doses in order for it to succeed i.e remain standing through a bit of a breeze. But the vision is there, in our minds, of a glorious edifice, architecturally divine and containing all the domestic comforts required by our ladies that lay. Except, maybe , for the hostess trolley. I like the idea of a chandelier, though. Don't you, Andy? Andy??

Friday, 5 September 2008

Just look where you're going, will you?

Today, you will feel the sticky edge of 'Denise's Wrath'. Oh yea, and be verily afraid for the wrath shall be great and the spit shall be spat (sput? sputted??) far and the anger red and fit to burst like Andy when he's had to deal with a particularly idiotic pet owner who won't listen to his advice and who prefers to do things their own way....'What? Give Dinkums drugs? Oh no, I'll just wave a couple of dock leaves over his head. That'll get rid of the constipation/ fleas/ massive tumour.' Anyhow, I digress....

Why, oh, why, oh why, oh why... etc etc... blah, blah, blah... do people insist on not looking where they are walking when out and about in town, especially when they are walking towards / in front of me?? These social pariahs are either texting -"U r n idiot. Dnt eva spk 2 me or ur 'ed will git kikt in by my bruv" - on their mobiles - "Where are you? Me? I'm walking into town. It's ten o'clock. Some cow has nearly walked into me. She wants to bleedin' look where she's going" - or chatting to their companion about the price of Spam - "No more fritters, I told Bernie, we just can't afford 'em. You'll 'ave to go to the chippie again." They have no awareness of anyone around them, no consideration for the other 59.999999 million people who share the country with them. Oh yes, and they also have elbows sticking out, umbrellas, dogs on long leads, small children picking their noses, baby buggies, shopping trolleys or a walking pace of four steps an hour. On a very narrow path. Thereby forcing innocent, considerate and law abiding pedestrians (aka me) into the road and the path of foreign pantechnicons which can't see me because it's a left hand drive and the mirrors are on the wrong side!!!

Get a grip, will you? Watch where you are going. You are not the centre of the universe and no-one wants to hear your loud conversations about Spam/ karate/ body piercings/ how many times you did it round the back of the pub last night or the removal of your mum's ingrowing toenail.

In my dreams I deal with these pavement hoggers thus: I spy someone on their mobile, head down, marching straight towards me, unaware of my existence. I maintain my course, determined that it will not be me who swerves, oh no! At the last second, I stop suddenly and shout "Boo!" The pavement hogger leaps into the air, their mobile phone flinging itself into the road where it gets smashed to tiny pieces by a foreign pantechnicon. Hurrah!! I win!!!!

In my reality I'm afraid I'll get punched in the face. Or they will follow me home and put dog poo through my letterbox.

On the upside, we no longer have rats and Mrs Bennett has a blocked oviduct. Don't ask.

Now, where are those dock leaves?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Digging With Chickens

This is how to dig with chickens. First choose your digging implement - no, not a chicken. You didn't think I meant using a chicken to dig with, did you? Shame on you, if you did. We love chickens at Ginnungagaps. So, choose implement i.e a spade or a fork. I prefer a fork myself as they allow you to do a little twiddley motion that loosens determined roots efficiently. Next, pick your spot....oh dear, are you going to be difficult? Not that spot. Pick that one and you'll be scarred for life. (Also, some things are better done in private and that is one of them.) I mean, pick an area in the garden that requires digging. Got it? Good. Now, release your chickens. If you haven't got chickens then you are scuppered and may as well stop reading this now and go back to whatever it was you were doing before.

For those still with me, begin digging. Make the most of this initial few first minutes as once chickens realise what you are doing your starting speed will be cut by at least 300% as they begin 'helping'. Chickens will see that what you are doing is not turning over the ground in order to plant lovely seeds and young plants (they'll get those later, anyway) but digging up worms, earwigs and other luscious bugs for them to eat. Chickens will stand with their heads approximately 2 inches from the sharpest edge of your digging implement. The anticipation will be palpable. An air of tense excitement will build in the air. You lift a forkful of earth and....IN THEY GO!!! PECK, PECK, PECK, BOK,BOK,BOKKITY,BOK,BOK,BOK!!

Have you ever seen a chicken eat a worm four times the length of its head? Just don't get too close, that's all I can say. I could swear I heard distant screaming.

Chickens will look at you. 'Come on, then. Dig, dig, you tardy human.' After a few more turns of the ground, chickens will now sit on fork for best vantage point. At this point, digging with chickens becomes extreme digging with chickens i.e a bit dodgy. So, choose a second spot in the garden. Distract chickens with newly turned earth at spot one (or point in the air and shout 'Look at that!' This sometimes work.) Then run to second spot and dig like crazy until chickens finish with spot 1, race like velociraptors to spot 2, which you vacate and race back to spot 1 etc etc, do you get the idea? It's a bit like relay only without the baton.

You get a fab work out - actually, this could be a good sport to put forward for 'Limpics 2012. That's 3 I've thought of now. I'd apply for a job on the International Olympic Committee only I don't want people to get the idea that I actually like sport. Heaven forbid.

As you dig with chickens you will accumulate some gardening debris. If you pile it up, chickens will climb on pile and tribal dance until it is scattered across the garden again. This will take 2 chicken approximately 30 seconds to achieve. I prefer to bin bag debris immmediately. Hang bin bag on washing line or chickens will get inside and think you've thoughtfully provided them with a chicken tent.

Digging with chickens is a joy for the heart. Just don't expect to make much progress.

Monday, 1 September 2008


Here we are, back again on the homestead after a short cultural break in Stratford Upon Avon. Every year we hie ourselves across the country for a dose of Shakespeare and this year we out- cultured ourselves, seeing three plays in three days - The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Hamlet was a particularly tempting production, as this year it starred not only Patrick 'Jean-Luc Picard' Stewart as Claudius (and the Ghost of Old Hamlet - who says men can't multi-task?) but Whooooo -ooooooooooo David 'Doctor Who' (tiddly dum, tiddly dum, tiddly dum) Tennant. With seats near the front I managed not to fling myself at the stage. And neither did Number One Doctor Who Fan Andy!! Of the three productions, which were all excellent, my favourite was A Midsummer Night's Dream. According to Andy I laughed a lot and very loudly - I wasn't aware of doing this and no-one turned and stared at me in the manner of 'Why is she laughing? Doesn't she realise this is Shakespeare?' But it was funny and made me think how many very talented stage actors we have and how ironic it is that less talented performers seem to achieve the trappings of fame by appearing on telly and film when perhaps they don't really deserve it.

We stumbled across the Cotswold Chicken Company whilst away and have decided that now is the time to increase our flock by 100% i.e from 2 chickens to 4! Unfortunately, Mrs Bennett seems to have developed a case of egg binding and is booked in for an operation on Wednesday.
'Where have you been, Mrs Bennett?' asks Mrs Miggins, as they wind skeins of wool together; winter drawers on and last year's are looking threadbare so they need to knit new ones toute suite. 'Well,' says Mrs Bennett, 'here's a thing. You know I've been a bit, you know, incapacitated, recently?' (Genteel lady hens always discuss egg matters in euphemisms.) 'Yes, dear, I do,' replies Mrs Miggins who has no trouble popping one out every day but is very empathic towards her companion on matters of blockage. 'I've been for a sauna, warm bath and massage,' Mrs Bennett confides. 'In the house. I know how humans live.' Mrs Miggins is impressed. She's been trying to break in for weeks, making a dash for the door every time it opens and only a couple of times risked having her head slammed in it.'What's it like?' Miggins asks, pausing in her winding. Mrs Bennett sits back and thinks. 'Well, the kitchen is nice - very tasteful pale green. But I'm not sure about the black and white tiles in the bathroom. I can see what they are trying to do - a Victorian pastiche , what with the palms and fancy shower head - but I think the picture of exotic frogs rather misses the mark.'

Mrs Miggins nods in agreement. 'What would Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen say?' she sighs.
'I imagine he would barf in a bucket,' says Mrs Bennett. 'Earwig, Mrs Miggins?'
'Why thank you, Mrs Bennett. Are you worried about your, you know, procedure. On Wednesday.'

'Not as much as Denise,' says Mrs Bennett.