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....