Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Big Blue Beehive or Smurf?

Having been a regular swimmer for well over five monthsnow, I find I have been accepted into the regular 7.30-8.30 swimming gang, and get to say 'Hello' to other members and pass the time of day. This also means I get to tut at people who are not regular 7.30-8.30 members who infiltrate our gang and hog valuable pool space, especially the rather large man who arrive this morning in bright yellow shorts and proceeded to plough up and down without regard for anyone else, fair freaking out poor Margaret by bearing down on her in a Titanic versus the iceberg kind of way.

'He should be over there,' shrieked Margaret after he'd mown her down for the umpteenth time and she waved at the far side of the pool that is roped off for fast lane swimming. We all sympathised and agreed and pumped the water from her lungs. There was an unspoken agreement that should this man reappear and continue his pool hogging ways we would rise up against him like a pod of dolphins, surrounding him and forcing him into the correct swimming area for those who water plough without regard. Ah yes, it's good to be part of a gang.

Anyway, one of the ladies in our gang arrived at the same time as me this morning and we walked through the car park together. Dot is probably well into her seventies, if not older and is a bit vague sometimes, but I bet she makes good jam.

I noticed she was wearing a top identical to one I have myself.
'I have a top identical to that,' I said.
'Do you?' said Dot. 'I bought it because of the flowers.'
'Me, too,' I said. 'I love clothes with flowers on.'
She leaned towards me, conspiratorially.
'Do you find your bosoms rise out of the neckline a little too far sometimes?' she asked.
'Yes, I do,' I said, because it is one of those tops that has a drawstring just under the bust line and if you reach up high, or lean forward, then bosoms can get marginally displaced and you have to do a bit of shovelling to get them back to where they should be.
'Ah, ' said my companion wistfully, 'but at least you youngsters can get away with it.'

I was in the pool first and had done a few lengths before Dot appeared. She was wearing a new swimming hat. It was quite the most magnificent swimming hat I have ever seen. Covered in bobbles, it was bright, bright blue and extended the height of her head by what seemed at least a foot.
'It looks like a Smurf hat,' I thought. And then I thought, 'Oh my goodness, what if she asks me what I think of her new hat? I'm thinking of Smurfs now. I don't want to blurt out that it makes her look like a Smurf. She might not even know what a Smurf is.'

I did a bit of quick thinking and decided that the hat also looked like a magnificent blue beehive, and if asked, that is what I would say. I swam up and down chanting 'Beehive, beehive, beehive,' to myself and trying to expunge all things Smurf-related from my mind.

After my swim I met Dot in the changing rooms.
'What do you think of my new swimming hat?' she asked, as she wrung out her cozzie and rubbed the bright, bright blue hat dry.
'It's like a magnificent blue beehive,' I said.

'Well, thank goodness for that,' said Dot. 'I thought it made me look like a Smurf.'

Monday, 29 June 2009

The Chickens of Oz

'I'm meeeeeeeeellllllting!' came the call from the garden.

Aren't we all, I thought. I'm knocking back ice-cubes like there is no tomorrow and the cats are all lying around the house in various states of spineless collapse in their big furry coats, which are highly unsuitable as hot weather gear. And after a week of cold swimming pool water, this morning it was fair bubbling like the cauldrons of hell. Like swimming through treacle it was. There's no pleasing some people, especially not me.

I drag myself into the back garden to see what all the fuss is about.

'I'm meeeeellllllllting.' There it goes again.
'What's going on?' I call, because I haven't got the energy to shift my over-heated self more than a foot or two across the garden.
'I'm holding auditions,' calls Mrs Miggins. She is wearing a tartan beret and sitting on a canvas chair with the word 'Director' and a gold star printed on the back.
'Auditioning for what?'
'Our pantomime.'

I sigh. Despite the fact I've already had two Christmas catalogues through the post (unsolicited, I hasten to add) and the pubs and restaurants hereabouts are littered with signs shouting 'BOOK NOW FOR XMAS!' I am still a firm believer that thoughts of Christmas should not be entertained for another 5 months at least. And even pantomime rehearsals can wait until late October, surely?

'We're doing 'The Chicken of Oz,' says Miggins. 'I've booked the Wyndham Theatre in London for a four week run. I thought the steep rake in the balcony and circle would make an excellent launch pad for the flying monkeys.'

She has a point. Many years ago, I went to see a production of 'Art' at the Wyndham with some teacher colleagues. We were in the first row of the balcony and, as you step from the staircase into the auditorium, the vertiginous drop to the stage is both unexpected and breath-taking. I sat next to a woman who spent the whole performance leaning back and clinging to her seat, terrified she was going to fall into the stalls. I don't think she followed the plot of the play very well.

'So is 'The Chicken of Oz' anything like 'The Wizard of Oz?' I ask.

Mrs Miggins shrugs. 'I don't know,' she says. 'You're the one writing the script.'
'I'm writing the script?' I reply. This is news to me. I have written pantomimes before, both for school and the Girls' Brigade company I belonged to years'n'years'n'years'n'years...
'All right,' snaps Miggins. 'Give over will you? What's up? Heat getting to your brain?'
'Something like that,' I say.
'We want the same characters,' she continues. 'You know, Dorothy, the Cowardly Cow, the Tin Can and the Wicca Man...'
'Shall I stop being the Wicked Witch of the West now?' says Mrs Slocombe, for it was she who called my attention to the garden with her 'I'm meeeeellllting' call.' I notice she is lying prone on the ground, draped in a black cloak and with a bent witches hat perched cockily on her head.
'Yes, yes, ' says Miggins impatiently. 'Now go and put on the Yorkshire Terrier costume. You're trying out for Toto next.'
'I don't see why I can't try for Dorothy,' mutters Slocombe.
'I've already told you,' says Miggins. 'You are barking mad and your comb is wonky. You'd be thoroughly unbelievable as Dorothy, the sweet, pretty child from Canvas.'
'Kansas,' I say.
'Really?' says Miggins. 'So she didn't land in Oz via the medium of a flying tent?'
'No,' I say.
'Perhaps you could give it some thought when you're writing the script,' Miggins suggests, meaning 'I expect Dorothy to come from Canvas in the final cut.'

'How long before you need the script,' I say. 'Only I've got a list of rather more pressing engagements of my time at the moment.'

Miggo fixes me with a steely glare. Beneath her tartan beret she looks like a ginger version of Marlene Dietrich.

'I need it as soon as possible,' she says. 'I have a cast of thousands to co-ordinate and direct which is why I am starting rehearsals next week.'

I am distracted by Mrs Pumphrey appearing wearing a blue and white gingham frock, an apron, some shiny red shoes and wig of blonde curly ringlets. She looks more Shirley Temple than Judy Garland.
'Come on Toto,' she calls after Mrs Slocombe ,who is sweating in a dog costume and having trouble walking on four feet because she has only two and no hands to make up the short fall.

'So, script by Friday then,' says Miggins. 'Take it away, Mrs Pumphrey.'

'On the good ship...Lollipop, it's a sweet trip to the candy shop, where the something or others plaaaaaayyyyyy, on the shores of Peppermint Bay,' trills Mrs Pumphrey, whilst Mrs Slocombe tap dances in the background.

'Are they the right words?' I ask, wondering where the rainbows and yellow brick road are going to come into all this.

'You can go and argue with Mrs Poo if you like,' says Miggo. 'She's in charge of the musical score and lyrics. But I'm warning you now, she's in a foul mood.'

'Oh no she isn't,' I rejoin deciding that if you can't beat 'em, it is best to join in the whole pantomime spirit.

Mrs Miggins gives me one last, very serious look.

'No, she really is. Definitely a job for the reinforced gloves. Look, she's behind you.'

And so the sun continues to beat down on my poor overheated brain. They say it's going to last a few more days yet. I suspect it may go on a lot longer than that.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Manly Andy

The allotment this year is being a bit like a watched pot. It might be because I spend more time up there so don't get the sudden impact of things growing like we used to last year on our once weekly visits. This year things seem to have taken AGES to get started and I was beginning to think I'd be lugging veg back from Sainsbugs forever, but no! Look! Today - tiny baby runner beans, tiny baby courgettes. Tiny baby tomatoes and ripe blackberries (And yes they are blackberries. Looked like them, smelt like them, tasted like them so HA! Old Geezer on the plot next door.) Tiny baby rocket, tiny baby carrots, tiny baby beetroot and tiny baby spring onions. Even a tiny baby cauliflower head which excited me enormously. And of course, the new potatoes are ready, as are the radish, shallots and the onions.

The Jerusalem artichokes are nearly five feet tall and I am excited about the flowers that should be appearing soon because Jerusalem artichokes are dual purpose - pretty flowers to cut for the house on top, strange shaped tubers underground for eating. The squash, pumpkins, aubergines, peppers, French beans, leeks and cabbage have all had a sudden growth spurt as have the autumn raspberries. The strawberries, sadly, have finished but fed us well whilst they were growing.

'I am going to level out the inside of the polytunnel,' Andy announced as we arrived this morning. It was clear blue skies and blazing heat and the Big Drippa seemed to be doing its job admirably well.
'And I shall prepare the ground for the planting of broccoli seedlings, sunflower plants that are erring on the side of straggly and the sowing of the seeds of swede, turnip, chard and pak choi,' I said, because, after 3 years, we are finally getting the hang of successional sowing.

And after half an hour of honest toil in the sun, wearing our floppy sun hats and growing pink of face, Andy became manly and TOOK OFF HIS TEE-SHIRT! And went BARE CHESTED! How manly is that???

I thought, I wish I could do that. But bare lady chests are not the done thing at allotments, not if you want your lease renewed next spring anyhow, and besides, having already inspected down the front of my jimjam top that morning and wondered if I really ought to be wearing a supportive garment 24/7, I decided staying lady-like covered was the only proper option. And I was already having a builder's bottom crisis, because every time I squatted down, there was a pleasant waft of air twixt the top of my jeans and the bottom of my vest top. Luckily, I had on a floaty, bohemian overshirt and no-one screamed so I guess it must have been long enough to cover the flesh gap if there was one.

So Andy marched around the plot with the wind blowing through his curly chest hair and I sweltered.

Everything got planted and netted 'gainst the evil that is pigeon except the nasturtiums which I couldn't for the life of me remember what veg they are supposed to companion plant. So they have been popped into the polytunnel whilst I find out and they can be planted out later this week.

The only downside was when we arrived at Plot 87 this morning we found it covered in the remnants of Chinese takeaway and assorted cartons, several Coke cans and a shredded copy of the Sun. Our first experience of vandalism. But oddly, I didn't get angry or even mildly annoyed. I cleared up the mess and got on with allotmenteering.

Weird, that.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue

Well, Michael Jackson has died, God bless him, and my fav TV prog of the mo (Doc Martin) has been cancelled for what I feel is an indecently quick showing of 'A tribute to Michael Jackson'. I mean, let him cool off first, for heaven's sake. What is wrong with people? Why the crazy mad rush to remember such a recently departed soul? Gotta make way for the next unfortunate in the world of the 21st century celeb, eh what?

So I've decided to put 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' on Authonomy. Authonomy, if you didn't know, is a website created by HarperCollins for aspiring authors to post their work and get feedback from site visitors and fellow authors. I've been on it before, back in October, when I posted 'Ginnungagaps' and then 'Nearly King Jimbo.' Both received positive comments but unfortunately I didn't have the stamina, determination and sheer cut throat approach to self-promotion needed if you are to keep your head above water on such a site where everyone is pushing and shoving to get noticed too.

However, now I do. I've received so many rejections for my first two books I can take whatever is thrown at me regarding my writing, especially if it a huge cheque for a three book advance. Andy has created a book cover for me because he is VERY clever at things like that. I edited the first 12 chapters for the umpty-millionth time, did a quick short pitch and a long pitch and BINGO! There she was in a matter of minutes and within the hour I had 2 positive comments and a bookshelving, and am on a couple of watchlists.

I am now suffering a rush of writer's ecstasy, hence the second blog of the day. (Either that or I'm having a hot flush which is possible as they've been getting quite nasty these last couple of months). Or perhaps it is the combination of a muggy thunderstorm on the horizon and a very hot cup of tea.

Anyway, what I want to say is that if anyone fancies having a read of 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue', then please visit http://www.authonomy.com/ and have a look and a read. And maybe leave a comment - good, bad, indifferent, all are welcome.

Thank you for suffering a shameless plug and thank you, Andy, for yet another wonderful book cover. (You should do graphics for a living!)

The Danger Zone

There was danger of random sitting and staring occuring today. After a week of Shakepeare and Stratford, of hops and golf courses, self-build dreams re-ignited and the building of a bistro bar for the Dowager House in the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace, Andy sat in the kitchen this morning looking BORED OUT OF HIS MIND!

Did I tell you about the new Dowager House bistro bar? Honestly, our chickens must have the most up-to-date mod con facilities of any hens North of the Equator. Andy decided that Mrs Miggins and Mrs Pumphrey needed a hanging chicken feeder and a hanging water 'thing'. (Don't know what the technical term is - 'feeder' seems wrong, 'water feature' a bit pretentious), so he purchased said items and we hung them on the bush that refused to be dug up and is now regrowing. First spot of rain and the feeder filled with water, turning the layers pellets into layers mush, and for some odd reason Miggo and Pumphrey preferred their old water bowl aka my shepherds-pie-for-two dish to the new fangled dangley water 'thing'.

'It's too new fangled,' said Mrs Miggins.
'And dangley,' said Pumphrey who at least had tried drinking from it and got head butted for her efforts.

So Andy set about making a tiny little bistro hut to hang the feeder and fangly dangley water thingy from. It is fully recycled from bits of the old fence. I don't know what the rock is for - some kind of retro bar stool I think, but the girls LOVE it.

'It's tres chic but sort of olde worlde rustic in an American Road House kind of way,' says Miggins, ever the cosmopolitan.
'I like it because it stops the layers pellets turning into layers mush when it rains,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Back to Andy being bored. I was making a cake. I thought, I'm not having Andy standing in the kitchen and staring, especially as I have already caught him making contact with work at least once this week. He needs occupying, I thought.

'Get your lap top and sit at the kitchen table and start writing 'Monumental,' I said. 'And I shall ask you questions about plot and character and when I've made the cake I shall get my laptop and sit opposite you and we can be writers together - HURRAH!'

He didn't really have any choice, poor thing, I can be very determined when I get started.

'Monumental' is the title of a novel that Andy is starting to write.
'What's it about?' I asked. And he told me but I'm not telling you because I don't want to spoil the plot when it is published and you buy it in droves.
'Who is the protagonist?' I said.
'I don't know,' said Andy.
'How does it start?' I said.
'I don't know,' said Andy.

We stared at each other, Andy trying to absorb the inspirational waves I was attempting to send in his direction.

'Stop sitting and staring,' I said. 'Sitting and staring is a dangerous waste of time unless you are being confronted by a mongoose in which case sitting and staring will likely save your life.'

Having checked the kitchen and ascertained the complete absence of mongoose/mongeese/mongi/ mongum (must be the 'STOP MONGOOSE!' spray I've been using - it's like Cillit BANG! only quieter), Andy got on with the writing task in hand.

'Best to use stream of consciousness,' I advised. 'It's the only way when you're stuck in your writing. Just let it all spill out, no questions, no editing, no matter how daft it seems.'
'Like you do in your blog every day?' said Andy.

'Shut your face,' I said.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Lost On A Golf Course and the Original Plan 'A'

Today we went to 'The Hop Shop' near Sevenoaks. It was down one of those windy country lanes that grows narrower and narrower until you just KNOW you're going to meet something coming the other way, like a double decker bus or a combine harvester. And you'll be forced to take evasive action to avoid getting the driver's side of the car stove in, by flinging yourself into the hedge and getting the passenger side stove in instead, only to a lesser degree.

Luckily, this did not happen.

The Hop Shop is a very nice farm shop, selling everything from home produced beef from the cows that were paddling in the river as we entered the farmyard, to hop bines, herbs, jams and cakes and quaint chicken ornaments for your quaint country kitchen. We purchased a mint plant, a raspberry pie and some lavender shortbreads and after making the noises of people who were pleased to have discovered such a lovely shop hidden in the depths of a piece of Kent countryside as yet unconcreted by the Government's housing programme, we went on our way to Lullingstone Country Park for a picnic and a bracing walk.

The Park has two walks - a 'white walk' circa 2 miles, and a 'black walk' circa 4 miles. 'Let's do the black walk,' I said with misplaced enthusiasm. Off we trotted like two mad dogs (or Englishmen). And all I have to say on this subject is that there was more going up hill in the beating mid-day sun than coming down hill in dappled woodland shade. That a woman let her enormous alsation poop in the picnic area and didn't clean up after it and her alsation then proceeded to try and eat our picnic. That there were hoards of screaming schoolchildren, well, screaming. That a couple of doddery old bats puffed cigarette smoke all over us and that we got lost on a golf course, which added a considerable distance to the black walk as we tried to avoid golfers, balls and treading on greens in our stilettoes whilst we attempted to get ourselves back on track.

Our last experience on a golf course was when we visited Knole Park, also in Sevenoaks. An elderly lady, dressed in an exciting ensemble of tweedy golfing gear called across to us as we walked around the park.
'Please could you wait,' she shouted. 'I'm going to play a shot and I don't want to hit you.'

Although we were nowhere near the tee she was playing from, we dutifully stopped and even stood back a little. We waited as she addressed her ball, took a couple of practise swings, and then we tried not to laugh when she managed to hit the ball all of three feet and wildly off to one side at that.

Anyway, our trip out today was a partial success. Andy even tried one of the lavender shortbreads.
'They're a bit...'lavendery,' he said.

So that's the rest of the packet for me then, I thought.

The Original Plan 'A' reared its head again today, after being put on hold (or possibly forgotten) for several months. The Original Plan 'A' was to buy a piece of land and build our own house. We were very keen on this idea for quite a while, as a way of getting a decent piece of land for chicken/bee/pig/geese keeping and veg and orchard growing. We even subscribed to 'Home Builders and Renovators' magazine for a year which entitled us to free tickets to the Home Builders and Renovators Show in Excel in London and the 'Property Abroad' Exhibition in the hall next door. All I remember about that trip was that the car parking cost us £12.50 for a couple of hours and that we got scared in the 'Property Abroad' exhibition by orange salesmen called Pedro trying to sell us timeshare in small holiday flats in Malaga.

But today we find ourselves once more fired up by the 'self-build' dream. Out came our copy of 'The New Home Plans Book' which is filled with architectural drawings of everything from one bedroom maisonettes to eight bedroom mansions, all with arty names like 'The Dovecote', 'The Windermere' and 'Locksley Corner.' We are planning a trip to 'Scandia Hus' which is a company that specialises in house kits, so you order your desired des res and build it yourself like a giant lego project. We are excited by being able to set out our piece of land how we want it to be, and build our house how we want it to be and I expect there will be many an evening spent over the next few weeks scribbling one giant sheets of paper, saying things like 'You can't put an orchard there, that would be CRAZY,' and 'How many toilets do two people, three cats and four chickens ACTUALLY need?'

There is only one proviso.

'Don't let me plan the garden,' said Andy, 'or it'll end up like the allotment did last year.'

It's a plan...

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Henceforth I am English

I've just finished reading a book called 'Real England' by Paul Kingsnorth, who is a young but very wise environmental writer. It is sub-titled 'The Battle Against the Bland,' and I finished it at 6 a.m having leapt out of bed at 5.30 because my bedside clock battery had expired which I hadn't noticed last night so I thought it was ten to eight instead. And once I was up and realised it was only 5.30 I was wide awake so thought I'd make the most of the quiet dawn time and some toast 'n' Marmite (Love it!) and finish reading the book.

It's all about how England (not Britain) is losing its identity and becoming a mass of clone towns; about how the big multi-national companies like Stirbugs and Cafe Nerd, and Tezzco and Aitch 'n' Em are stampeding small individual companies and turning our towns and villages into characterless and faceless blobs, all in the pursuit of 'progress' and 'development' and 'profit', or as Paul Kingsnorth calls it, 'The Thing.' The book covers a diverse range of topics from farming and orchards, through to our waterways and canals, to Chinatown in London, and markets and urbanisation. It is the kind of book that gets my dander up and makes me want to DO something about preserving my cultural identity. It is the kind of book that makes me want to shriek 'NO!' at Mr Big and shout 'Hurrah!' for Mr Small. (Not my old RE teacher I hasten to add, who was called Mr Small; ironic really as he was well over 6 feet tall).

It seems to me that you have to apologise for being English these days. That England has come to represent some undesirable pimple on the face of progress. That if you subscribe to nostalgia and tradition, which I do, then you are seen as being resistant to change and progress.

What I want to know is, who says that change and progress are necessarily good things? Take my local leisure centre. They've just introduced a new computer system. The old system of 'showing your membership card at Reception' has been replaced with a new barcoded membership card which has to be swiped and then a small picture of you appears on the computer screen and you are issued with a ticket. I don't really want the ticket. I throw it away immmediately. My old membership card had my picture on it.

The new system seemed to be causing some problem this morning by declaring that everyone was aged 5 years and 5 months, so the receptionist was having to write all the ticket details down on a piece of paper using a pen (you know, like in the old days before computers were invented).

'So what was wrong with the old system?' I asked, when I finally made it through the turnstile.
The receptionist shrugged. 'Nothing,' she said.

Meanwhile, three of the hairdryers in the ladies changing room are broken and the water this morning was freezing because the heating is up the creek. I am suspicious that these things can't be recitified at the moment because of budgetary constraints caused by the installation of a new computer system to replace the perfectly viable old one.

Ah well...

...but it is this 'ah well,' attitude that Paul Kingsnorth is railing against. He wants people to stand up against the bureaucracy that is suffocating the wonderful heritage and traditions of England. He is saying that 'The Thing' the Government want us to have that will (supposedly) bring us happiness and prosperity won't actually work, isn't actually working and that we shouldn't accept that Government (and I am talking national and local here) are right when they spout on about progress and change being important.

But I have thought this for a long, long time. Why can't we happy with the status quo? Why can't we be content with the small nuances of life, rather than the modern-day must-have pressures that turn living into existence? It's all target setting, models for progression, conforming, and being encouraged to want more and more and it is killing individuality and quirkiness.

It isn't good. But this book is. It is a thinker's book. It contains some pretty shocking facts about what really goes on in local government to pander to the whims of companies like Tezzco. Actually, in the old days this kind of behaviour was called bullying, but we mustn't harp on about the old days must we, because the old days were BAD!

And did you know that England is the only British nation without any form of devolution? It is the only European nation without its own government or parliament? I think that is appalling.

I am English. My great-great-great grandfather invented Pimms for heaven's sake! And from now on, whenever I have to fill in a form that requires me to declare my nationality, I shall either cross out the word 'British' and write 'English' or fill in the word 'English' in the space left blank for 'Other.'

And I shan't apolgise either.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A Grand Day Out

We do like Stratford-upon-Avon, we really do. In fact, we like the whole swathe of middle England that stretches between Oxford and Birmingham like a bumpy green blanket. It feels like you are being hugged by gentle hills. It feels like coming home. There is a point along the M40 when the motorway cuts through a hill and the countryside opens up before you and this is the point when Andy and I both go 'Aaaahhhh!' and we know we've arrived and it's only a short distance up the motorway before we can drop off and take the scenic route to Stratford, through Banbury and in and out of a string of little villages that punctuate the lanes like freshwater pearls, each with their own character and charm.

We arrive in Stratford to just-right sunny weather and after checking into the hotel (The Swan's Nest - we always stay here because it is right by the river and a five minute walk from the theatre), we went to find Andy's parents who were just finishing their lunch in a tea-shop in the middle of the town. We hadn't eaten so it was back to the river to the Baguette Barge, which is a canal boat that sells freshly-made baguettes, sandwiches, cakes, crisps and drinks. We like the Baguette Barge. You place your order with the lady on the top deck and then magically, a pair of hands appears from the bottom deck bearing your baguette/sandwich. It got us thinking about other modes of transport one could sell food from. The Toastie Tandem. The Sandwich Cycle. The Bagel Bus. The possibilities were endless. Well almost.

Sitting in the sun by the river at the canal boat yard munching a baguette, watching the many ducks, swans and geese going about their very important business, finishing off with an ice-cream. Marvellous.

And the bear didn't let me down either. I know I wanted a real bear, or failing that a man in bear costume in the performance of A Winter's Tale and neither of those materialised. But the twelve foot high bear puppet which did appear with a bang and a roar and a chaos that made the audience fair squeal with excitement more than compensated.

'GGGGRRRRRAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!' went the bear. 'AAAAAARRGHHHHHH!!!!' went Antigonus as he was dragged to his death. It was very exciting! The whole production was well executed in the brilliantly quirky way that is unique to English theatre. I have to say though, that I think A Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's weaker plays (in my humble opinion, sorry Mr Shakespeare sir, but even you, your great Bardness, must have cringed a bit when you saw the practical realisation of your written word come to life for the first time in this dramatic effort). We've seen RSC productions of nearly half of Shakespeare's plays now, and this one comes in near the bottom of the ratings table for me. But it was theatre, nonetheless, which is always good to experience.

This morning we went for another ramble across the river before making the journey back to Kent. More just-right sunshine. More thinking how great this most English of English towns is, with its massive hanging baskets and window boxes exploding colour everywhere, its embracing of visitors from all over the world who have been drawn to its Tudor streets all for the common cause of loving Shakepeare, its ducks, geese and swans making their own dawn chorus to greet the new day.

Stratford-upon-Avon always brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart.

Yes, we like this place. We like it very much indeed.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Blackberry Rage

I nearly committed a murder last night. I came within a gnat's whisker of creating an Old Geezer sized hole next to the rhubarb patch at the allotment and filling it in with an Old Geezer.

The Old Geezer in question is the one who has an allotment opposite ours and who donated a rhubarb plant earlier in the season when I was in rhubarb crisis. In fact, it was probably only this neighbourly donation that saved his Old Geezer skin.

Andy and I went to the allotment yesterday evening to install the Big Drippa, do some watering, pick whatever crops needed picking (strawberries and radish) and do a bit of weeding.

I started on the strawberries because I am a girly; Andy started on the Big Drippa because he is a man. Old Geezer calls across 'How are your loganberries doing? Or are they tayberries?' He is gesticulating in the direction of our blackberry bush.

'They're blackberries,' I call back. 'And they're doing very well thank you.'
'Are you sure?' says Old Geezer. 'They look like tayberries to me.'

How he could tell I don't know, unless he had a telescope or bionic eyesight.

'No,' I say, ' they are definitely blackberries.'

Old Geezer is having none of it. He comes marching over with a look in his eye that says he intends on having his own way. What he doesn't realise is that I hold the Miss Stubborn Award for Most Stubborn Person in the Entire Universe and have done so since 1974 when I refused to believe that Michelle Lovell's drawing of a golden labrador deserved a higher place in the class drawing competition than my picture of an elephant with no ears.

Old Geezer examines the blackberries on the blackberry bush.
'They're tayberries,' he pronounces and then he LIGHTS a CIGARETTE and puffs it at me in a very defiant way.

WELL! I'm always going to try and win an argument if I am 100% sure I am right which in this case I was, but I am DEFINITELY going to win the argument when someone starts SMOKING ON MY PLOT!

'I'm sorry,' I say, 'but I am NOT backing down on this. It is definitely a blackberry bush with blackberries growing on it.' And I finish with a laugh that could be conceived as subtley menacing.

Subtlety is wasted on Old Geezers. He merely draws hard on his cigarette and then marches into our polytunnel to quiz Andy on the Big Drippa and to offer his infinite wisdom on how best to rig it up.

'What kind of tomatoes are these?' he calls out.
'Plum,' I shout back, when what I really want to do is yell, 'STOP SMOKING YOUR FILTHY CIGARETTE IN OUR POLYTUNNEL AND POISONING OUR PLANTS.'
'Roma?' he calls.
'Yes,' I shout.

There is a pause. 'You want to keeping pinching out the side shoots or they'll get too bushy,' he says.

I ignore him. I know this already. I defy him to examine the tomatoes and find a single side shoot anywhere.

I know about blackberries too. I grew up on a fruit farm, for heaven's sake. Blackberries, damsons, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, red currants, black currants, even white currants, my grandparents grew them and I picked them. In 1973 I earned £4.50 picking blackberries for a month which gave me ample spending money for our holiday in Brixham in Devon. You could buy a lot of tat in 1973 for £4.50.

By now I am scrabbling under the blackberry bush trying to find the plant label. I want to wave it triumphantly in old geezers face and say 'HA! Blackberries!' But it has gone. I think that maybe I took it home and put it in my allotment record book, should I want to purchase further blackberry bushes to add to this one.

Old Geezer had left the polytunnel, gone back to his allotment and returned with a berry that looks nothing like our blackberries.

'Look,' he says. 'A tayberry.'
Hurrah, I think.
'Most blackberries are round,' he says. 'Yours are tapered like my tayberry.'
'Well,' I say, gripping onto my bowl of strawberries because the thought of crushing them wastefully whilst murdering an old geezer is just about holding me back. 'These are definitely blackberries.'

'Hmmm,' says the Old Geezer. 'Must be a variety I've never heard of before then,' and off he goes, taking his tayberry with him.

'Miracles do happen,' I mutter, when I am certain he is out of earshot.

I pick the half a dozen raspberries that have chosen to start ripening. I go into the polytunnel where Andy is suffering the ill-effects of cigarette smoke and unwanted advice. I hold out my hand containing the raspberries.

'Have a melon,' I say.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Diversionary tactics and champagne confessions

We shall not, it transpires, be coming home from Stratford via Lincoln. It seems, after studying the map and inputting details into the lovely AA Routefinder, that they are too far apart to qualify as an bona fide detour. Now, some might say that if we really wanted to move to Lincolnshire because of the cheap(er) houses with big gardens, we would make the effort and do our detour, no matter HOW LONG it took.

And you would be right. And I am not going to argue with you. I shall chastise myself for my rampant Sunday inertia and then have the fish finger sandwich I have been looking forward too all morning.

Yesterday, more bottles of elderflower champagne popped their corks, one in a most spectacular fashion, which I suppose is the purpose of champagne. The best one was when Andy tried to open a bottle that had actually managed to maintain its cork 'n' cage combo. He brought it into the kitchen and somehow the contents managed to spray themselves all over the floor, cupboards and worktops, leaving about half a glass worth's for actual drinking.

'I'll open another but in the garden this time,' said Andy and I rushed after him to record the results with my camera. It was highly entertaining!

'Never mind,' I said to Andy, because he was looking a little sad that the champagne experiment hadn't been a huge success. 'It's all a learning experience. And the elderflowers are turning into berries. You can make some elderflower wine in a few weeks. I think that will be a safer proposition all around, don't you?'
'I don't understand why the champagne developed so much gas,' said Andy. 'I didn't think I put THAT much yeast in.'
'Did you follow the recipe?' I said.
Andy looks a bit sheepish.
'Ish,' he said.
'Meaning?' I said.
'Meaning that the recipe said if the elderflower hadn't started fermenting naturally after two days, then to add 'a bit of yeast.' It didn't exactly specify HOW much yeast, so I just chucked in what I thought.'
'Ah,' I said. 'I think I see now.'

This morning, we gave the car its annual valeting. I say valeting, but what I really mean is squirting a bit of window cleaner around, throwing a bit of polish at it and waving the crevice nozzle between the seats and in the awkward spaces in the boot. And then we nipped to Sainsbugs to get a bit of shopping so Heather doesn't starve whilst we are away for a day. And this afternoon we are going to the allotment to water and install the latest in must-have polytunnel equipment - 'The Big Drippa!'

The Big Drippa arrived yesterday in a disappointingly small parcel, but then you do have to add your own water which is where the 'Big' in the name comes into the equation. The Big Drippa is basically a large bag with reams of tubing attached. You hang your Big Drippa in your polytunnel and fill it with water, and then you arrange your tubing artistically amongst your plants and the Big Drippa will drip water your plants for you over a 24 hour period, thus being ideal should one want to go away for a day or two in a heat wave

My own home made watering equipment i.e the cut off tops of squash bottles inverted into the soil and filled with water, have been working remarkably well as slow watering reservoirs. I was a bit dubious about their effectiveness at first, but given we've had a lovely sunny week, I've had to go to the allotment for watering only twice in five days, which is good as it takes me half an hour to walk to the allotment and half an hour to walk back, so isn't one of my favourite activities. I think my system, coupled with the Big Drippa will provide our polytunnel plants with all their watering needs very nicely indeed.

And this evening, Andy and I are sitting down and planning a timetable for his week's holiday. He doesn't know this yet, but I think it would be a good idea in order to avoid excessive sitting around and staring. He has already expressed a desire to make handmade River Cottage bread this week, and go to Greenwich to the Planetarium. The last time we went to Greenwich, our friend Jean took us in the back of her vintage Rolls Royce which was very showbiz and exciting!
I'd quite like to go to Kew or Hampton Court Palace but anywhere I can pretend I am a Tudor queen would be good.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Entertaining Andy

Today marks the start of Andy's holiday week. Well, it will be when he comes home from doing a Saturday morning shift. It's only his second week's holiday since before Christmas and I intend that he shall not be giving work a second thought.

This morning, he was awake at 5.30. So was I, but during the summer this is the norm for me. I am failing to be fooled by the black-out blind recently installed in the bedroom - all it does is make me think the weather is a bit grim when, in truth, when the curtains are drawn, I am met with blazing sunshine.
'It's no good!' says Andy, suddenly leaping out of bed. 'I've got to look up something that's been bothering me.'
'What's that?' I say. 'Tell me, I might know.'
'What island was Icarus born on?' says Andy, one leg in and one leg out and wobbling perilously with tiredness. (Was it Icarus? Or Odysseus? Why do all Greek myth names sound the same? Why can't they be called Basil and Dave?)
'Ithaka,' I said, which was either an inspired memory recall or a complete shot in the dark, I haven't yet worked out which yet. I, personally, like to think that Odysseus/Icarus founded Ibiza and had a nightclub named Helios filled with hostesses called Athena.
'ITHAKA! That's it!' yells Andy, and flomps back into bed.
'I'll make a cup of tea,' I say. I think, he's worrying about Greek mythology. Should I call a doctor?

Downstairs, whilst waiting for the water jug to do its filtering, I go into the garden and do chicken duties. I think, 'I'll do watering duties whilst I'm out here,' then wish I hadn't because the legs of my jim-jams get soaked through via wild hose pipe shenanagins and I have to dry them with the hair dryer whilst the tea is brewing.
'I need to stop Andy thinking about work this week,' I say out loud.
'Is she talking to us?' says Pandora.
'No, she is talking to herself again,' says Tybalt. 'But she will tell people that she is talking to us. We are what are called 'insanity scapegoats'.
'Ooooooh,' squeals Pandora, 'I've always wanted to be a goat,' and she does some goat-like prancing whilst Tybalt stares resignedly at the ceiling wondering when the tiny weirdo cat is going home.

It was bad enough last night, this worrying about work thing. Andy lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.
'I'm not tired now,' he said, where one hour earlier he had been struggling to stay awake. It can't be the telly, I think. We'd been watching 'Doc Martin' which is hardly high action, brain frizzing stuff. I like it because it is light, entertaining wind-down, feel-good TV like 'The Darling Buds of May'. (I'm also rather fond of Martin Clunes who was my second choice of hubby after Andy.)

'You're thinking about work, aren't you?' I say.
'No,' says Andy.
'Aren't you???' I persist.
'Yes,' says Andy.
'Tell me,' I say. 'And I'll sort it out.'
'I have to write the practice protocols for treating dogs with heart conditions,' says Andy.

Well, as you know I am a writer!
'Simple pimple,' I say. 'Here is my protocol.'

1)If your dog has a slow heartbeat, put it in a cage with a cat and that will liven it up.
2) If your dog has a fast heartbeat...

'...remove the cat from the cage?' interrupts Andy.
'Don't interrupt,' I say. 'I am writing an important veterinary protocol.'
'Soz,' says Andy. 'Do carry on.'

3) If you have to lie on the floor to hear your dog's heartbeat, it is either lying down too, or a chihuahua
4)If you can't hear a heartbeat, your dog is dead.

'There,' I say. 'Job done.' And I smile because I am happy that I've lightened Andy's work load, if only in a small way.
'If you need any more protocols writing, let me know,' I say. 'It's not unlike writing department policies at school. I wrote some GREAT department policies when I was teaching.'
'I'll bet you did,' says Andy.
'My department self-evaluation form, or SEF, as us pros call it, was stuff of legends and fiction,' I say.
'Hush now,' says Andy.

By the time I get back upstairs with the tea and still damp jim-jam bottoms I have made a mental list entitled 'Things I Need To Keep Andy Entertained This Week, Thus Preventing Him From Thinking About Work.' Or TINTKAETWTPHFTAW'. (I might need to work on the title - even the acronym doesn't work very well.)

Here is the list:
1) all food beginning with 'ch' - chocolate, chips, chicken, cheese, chipolatas, chilli
2) DVD box sets of Doctor Who, Hustle, Seinfeld, Buffy the Slapper and The Sky At Night
3) A variety of flour with which to make a myriad selection of bread - Andy has already informed me he is going to work his way through the River Cottage Bread Book this week
4) A pair of clown trousers
5) A funny wig
6) A treadmill for comedy impersonations of Ronnie Corbett falling over in Peter Kaye's version of 'Amarillo'
7) A musical score of the entire works of Oscar and Hammerstein
8) A big sign saying 'STOP WORRYING ABOUT WORK!' writ large in purple crayon

Wish me luck!!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Happy Days and Bottoms Up!

And so it came to pass that last night Andy performed the bottling ceremony for the Much Malarkey Manor Elderflower Champagne 2009 vintage. After the success of the elderflower cordial, we mounted another dawn raid on the local trees last weekend in order to have a go at making champagne. Did you know you have to order special corks for champagne? We didn't until Andy ordered some corks over the interwebbly and the lady who deals with brewing accoutrements at the company he used telephoned him immediately and inquired did he need them for champagne? Yes, he said. Ah, she said, you've ordered the wrong corks. I'll change your order and refund the difference.

You see, another example of the excellent service one gets from small companies.

The champagne corks and their relevant cages duly arrived within three days of ordering, with 9 pence in coins sellotaped to the invoice. A large vat of champagne was fermenting in the downstairs bathroom. It smelled rather lovely. I thought, maybe there is a sideline in champagne air freshener to be developed here. Bet I could sell it to Harrods. Bottles were washed and put in the oven to dry and sterilise. Andy was doing a lot of pacing. There was something on his mind and it wasn't the concern that the new Doctor Who looks like a Mr Potato Head.

'What's up?' I said. I was concentrating on a telly programme called 'My Body Horror' or something like that, which appeared to be about women who were unhappy with different parts of their bodies. I was being entranced by the woman with cankles and comparing my own calf/ ankle ratio for degrees of cankleness. They were doing fat thighs and varicose veins after the break. I justified this viewing of trash TV in that it's all helpful for my anatomy and physionomy revision.

'I'm a bit concerned about explosions,' said Andy.
'Me too,' I said, because I hate loud noises, especially sudden ones.
'From the champagne,' he said, in case I started talking about explosions of a totally irrelevant nature.
'But you've got the right corks and the right cages,' I said.
'I have,' he said, 'but I think the bottles might not be quite the right shape for the cages to grip onto.'

We discussed the best storage options for the champagne, post-bottling, to avoid potential explosion fall-out. Worst case scenarios were played out, like corks flying out of bottle necks at speed and concussing passing cats or breaking windows, or champagne being sprayed around the kitchen leaving a sticky mess that we'd be clearing up for the next five years.

In the end, Andy decided that the best option would be to cork the bottles then place the bottles back inside the brewing bucket and replace the lid and put the whole shebang in the bath. And close the bathroom door. Tightly.

'I'm sure they'll be fine,' I said.

'I'm not so sure,' said Andy.

And he was right to be cautious. This morning, 2 of the 9 bottles had popped their corks and cages and the brewing bucket was filled with much, much gas. But it smelled nice. And I'm sure the other 7 bottles will be fine and as it has to be drunk within the next 3 weeks, perhaps it's best there are only 7 bottles to get through instead of 9.

And today is supposed to be the Happiest Day of the Year. There is some equation involved which I won't go into because in my book Maths has never equalled happiness. So far, today has been quite happy. The sun is shining, I've listened to Round the Horne and laughed. I've played 'fetch' with Pandora Trumper Trousers and laughed, and Andy is having a week's holiday from tomorrow which is always cause for celebration. In half an hour I am going to walk to the allotment to do the watering and pick some strawberries, and then I shall come home and then go out to Sainsbugs to get some weekend shopping . Heather is coming home for a few days to do some lurking now that her lurking skills have been officially recognised. We are going to Stratford on Monday. Mrs Miggins was looking a bit droopy yesterday and I was thinking, 'Oh, oh, what now?' but she is much better today, so I expect it was just wind.

And this afternoon I shall do some writing, bake a cake and watch the final of 'The Biggest Loser.'

Happy Days indeed!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Mother's Pride

Heather has won three awards at the end of year ball at uni. The first was for Best Technical Support (I think - it was something to do with being a sound and lighting tekkie, my apologies, daughter dearest, if I only got the gist rather than the actual facts). The second, and most prestigious as it was the final award of the evening, was the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Minotaur Theatre Company in recognition of all Heather's contributions and hard work over the last three years as producer, director, sound 'n' lighting tekkie and general dogsbody. This, of the three awards, will be the one that is shoved in people's faces by PROUD MUM until everyone is sick to death of hearing about it.

And the third, and more dubious award was the Gollom Award for Person Most Likely to be Found Lurking in the Drama Studio. I am glad Heather has achieved official recognition for being a lurker. It shows that nothing will ever slip past her and she will constantly have her finger on the pulse of life i.e be a constant source of very interesting gossip.

Anyway, I went into town this morning to run a couple of errands and get myself some new flat shoes. I'm not, as you know, a great fan of shoes, preferring to go bare tootsied whenever possible. Ergo, when I buy a pair of shoes, usually of the flat pump variety for summer and the flat knee length boot type for winter, I tend to wear them into the ground. Noticing the other day that my current pair of flat pumps were looking very shabby, and aware that I shall be seeing the in-laws next week, I decided a replacement pair of pumps was in order.

I started the shoe search in the shopping mall, knowing full well I'd end up in Clarkes on Week Street, but a girl has to do the job properly when it comes to searching for comfort coupled with cost in the flat pump market. I glanced across the walk way and thought, 'Oh look, there's Leane. I'll go and say hello.' Leane is Chris's girlfriend.

As I approached, I saw that Chris was with her, too, standing with his back to me. And as he turned around it became very obvious, very quickly that he had got a MASSIVE black eye. The left hand side of his face was all swollen and puffy and turning a nasty shade of purple. I thought, he's either had a bad reaction to some hair dye or he's been in a fight. He better not have been in a fight. I didn't raise my children to indulge in fisticuffs to solve their problems. They know that sarcasm is far more effective.

'Before you say anything,' said Chris, seeing the appalled look on my face, 'I was hit in the face by a cricket ball.'
'Phew,' I said. 'Not a fight then.'
'No,' he said, and then went into great detail about cricket balls and cricket bats and nets and bounces and divots and ruts and speed which all went a bit over my head as most things sporting do.
'I've been to the hospital and they've said my eye is okay and they've given me some very nice painkillers and anti-inflammatories,' he continued. 'But I can't drive, although I am going to play cricket again on Saturday. Is my cricket helmet still in the loft.'
I can't help thinking horse, stable door and bolted at this point.

'I expect so,' I said. 'There's quite a bit of your stuff still in the loft.'

So Chris and Lean trailed home with me and Chris went into the loft and found his cricket helmet which hopefully will stop him getting whalloped in the eye again by another stray ball. I fed them tuna sandwiches for lunch and sent them home.

I like the fact that my children are so different. Aside from one being a boy and the other a girl, I mean. They like different things and do different things and lead very different lives with different priorities, but they are establishing themselves as independent and responsible adults who sort out their own problems and give me very little grief indeed. I find them both very entertaining when they tell me about what they've been up to because they've both got the gift of the gab and a good sense of humour.

Heather is coming home for a few days to house sit for us. I told Chris this, in case he wanted to visit for a bit of sibling bonding/ argument.
'We're going to Stratford,' I said.
'I know,' he said. 'You asked me and Leane to house sit for you.'
'Did I?' I say. 'Are you sure that wasn't for July, for Heather's graduation?'
'No,' he said firmly. 'Definitely for this month.'
I apologise but Chris, being the easy going type, doesn't seem to mind. I expect he is notching it up on the 'Mum is going senile' post.

Am I going mad, I think? Am I turning into my mother and forgetting what I said to whom and then end up telling the same person the same story five times? Did I tell you that Heather won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her magnificent dedication to the Minotaur Theatre Company over the last three years?

Chris got hit in the face by a cricket ball, you know. MASSIVE black eye...

(PS for Heather's Mum-approved friend, Eliot. I saw a photo of Britney Spears in today's paper. She is looking much, much better now and not like a scrubber at all. You have my blessing to see her in concert as she now looks unlikely to lead you astray with her wanton habits. Drool away...)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Moving on up 'n' out

Lincolnshire is the current location of choice for us in the 'search for our cottage in the country with a massive garden' campaign. Location favourites change according to outside influences and what we see on TV programmes like 'A Place in the Country', 'Relocation x3 ditto' and 'Grand Designs.' We've toyed with Norfolk, because we've been popping up and down the past 3 years whilst Heather has been at university in Norwich and we feel a bit familiar with the place now; Suffolk, because I always get excited about seeing the pigs in fields; Wales because it always looks so green and well spread out; France, because Vera and Lester are there with masses of land and they are making a go of their new life and have survived a year; Dorset, because that is where Hugh F-W is and he is our hero; Cornwall/Somerset/Devon because I spent several happy hols there as a child and have seriously romanticised the area; Liverpool, because it is the only city aside from Norwich that I could tolerate living anywhere near and I think Andy has a secret yearning to go back there and Shropshire, can't remember why, probably a telly influence.

And now, Lincolnshire. It is Lincolnshire that is being entered into the search engine of RightMove and various smallholding website. We go in fits and starts with our searches. When life is ticking along happily, not much searching gets done. When life is being stressful and one's hubby is coming home from work every day asking if we can run away once we've had dinner and washed up, then much searching is done. Lincolnshire, we have discovered, has houses with very large pockets of land attached. Not acres and acres, but then we don't want acres and acres. We feel that any more than 2 acres would be too much for our raison d'etre, that we would be swapping one set of complications for another. No, an acre or two would be AMPLE for me and Andy, four chickens, three cats, a couple of pigs, a few more hens, some ducks and geese, a vegetable garden and a partridge in a pear tree.

And Lincolnshire has a wide variety of houses, both in style and history. You can pick up a pair of cottages for renovation for well under £100,000, with a big garden tacked on the side. We could, theoretically, be mortgage free if we went somewhere like Lincolnshire.

So, when we go to Stratford for a spot of Shakespeare next week, we think we shall take a detour on the way home via Lincolnshire. Heather is coming down to house/chicken/cat/kitten sit for us, so we won't have to rush home. A bit of exploration is called for, to get a feel for the place.

I have actually made a property purchase this week. Yesterday, a house arrived for the solitary bees that frequent our garden. Here it is.

A very modern detached property with fashionable galvanised zinc roof, copious bedrooms, all with a south facing aspect (or they will have once I've hung it on the back wall of the house), the ultimate in chic bee accommodation.

Perhaps we should be like solitary bees. They don't worry about where they are going to live. They have a purpose in life, a job to do, and they get on and do it knowing that a house is bound to turn up for them to sleep in somewhere on their travels. Bees have got life sussed.

So on with the search. On with the plans for jobs and work and what shall we do and how shall we do it and can we afford it and what if it all goes wrong, which it probably won't. And we'll talk ourselves into plans and out of them again and go round in circles, sometimes big, sometimes small. And at some point, the Powers That Be shall say 'We are stopping the world in a moment, just for a few seconds and you must be ready to jump off and move on...ready, steady.....

....GO!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Andy versus Pandora - the bets are on

Andy is determined that Pandora will be a 'well-behaved cat' with 'impeccably manners', that she will do as she is told and give us no cause to complain and rue the day she darkened our door mat. The core of this tenet is fixed on two issues -that Pandora will a) NOT sit on the kitchen table whilst we are eating breakfast and b) learn to play fetch with her fluffy ball.

Pandora thinks the 'table ban during brekky' is v. unfair, as Phoebe climbs on the table all the time. Tybalt doesn't climb on the table. He uses it only as a springboard between the top of the kitchen cupboards and the floor, and to do jigsaw puzzles on. Phoebe HAS to sit on Andy's arms whilst he is having breakfast. I think she sees herself as some kind of diet aid, in that three minutes of Phoebe sitting on your arms renders you completely numb from the elbows down and therefore unable to use cutlery. But when Pandora tries to climb on the table at breakfast, she finds herself being put straight back on the floor.

She is learning. She now takes up a position on one of the spare chairs and stares at us over the table top. Occasionally, she will try to gain access to the table through stealth and cunning.

'No, I'm not really sitting on the table,' she will say. 'I am sitting on the newspaper. The fact the newspaper is on the table is neither here nor there.' Or 'Only 0.4% of me is touching the table. The fact that the tip of my paw is in your boiled egg is neither here nor there.'

Sometimes, she will just make a run for it and 'POW!' there she is in the midst of it all. I think she reckons that brazen cheek might be the order of the day, a bit like a shop lifter marching out of a shop with chin-up confidence, a 10 pack of pants and jumbo bag of cashews stuffed up their jumper.

And sometimes she goes for the 'look at me, I'm so cute, I'm a cute likkle ikkle kitten, how can you refuse me my every wish and desire, including the need to finish off your granola?' Andy refuses quite easily via the medium of picking her up and dumping her on the floor.

As for 'fetch the ball,' well, she is learning to do that quite well, too, although Andy has the best results, probably because he is a vet and commands a firmer respect than I. Up and down the hall she goes, retrieving the ball that Andy throws from the kitchen. Admittedly, she doesn't always bring it straight back, being easily distracted by things like racing Tybalt up the stairs or the sudden urge to stick her leg in the air and clean her bottom. And sometimes she just sits and stares from the ball to Andy and back again whilst he calls, 'Fetch the ball, Pandora, fetch the ball,' as if to say, 'Fetch it yourself.' But generally, she does 'fetch' with as much success as, say, an elderly overweight Pekinese.

Yes, Andy is very determined that Pandora shall be a well-behaved and polite puss-cat. He is a very, very stern lord and master, as the picture below admirably demonstrates...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Pumpkin Delivery Time

Apparently, there is a scheduled outage at 12.00 PDT today on Blogger. What does this mean? I'll tell you what it means because it happened to me once before and caught me out. It means that if I write a blog and publish a blog at the wrong moment i.e outage time, it might disappear forever, never to be seen again, which would cause me no end of angst as I hate to see hard work go to waste, especially mine.

Andy says, 'write your blog in Word and then cut and paste it to Blogger, then you won't lose anything.'

Ah, but hubbly has much misplaced faith in my cutting and pasting ability. I can cut and paste, I know I can, but every now and again I have a touch of the idiot mist descend over my IT skills and things go AWOL in the ether. So I prefer to blog straight onto Blogger. Andy reckons it's because I am stubborn. Ridiculous thought!

And now it is 4.23 p.m British Summer Time and I am thinking, 'How does that equate to 12.00 PDT and am I safe to blog? What does PDT stand for anyway? Are we ahead of America or behind America? (I mean in time, not in anything else. Clearly us Brits are streets ahead in terms of historical value, culture, manners and general finesse!) 'T' must stand for 'Time'. But 'P' and 'D'? 'Pumpkin Delivery,' maybe? Americans like pumpkins. But it isn't pumpkin season yet and I know this because my three pumpkin plants have only 4 leaves each, no sign of a pumpkin yet (but I DID find my first two baby tomatoes today whilst on watering and side shoot pinching duties this morning!)

Or maybe it means 'Panda Dancing Time.' Perhaps the pandas are being outed, perhaps their houses need cleaning and the panda keepers have scheduled today at 12 in order to do this? Or perhaps it is 'Pringle Dipping Time!' Oh yes! But I have no Pringles because, well, you know me and Pringles, so they don't even cross the threshold of Much Malarkey Manor.

Last time there was a scheduled outage and I got caught out, I carefully made a note of the time differences and filed the carefully made note away for future reference. Can I remember where I filed the note? Can I heck! I've had about 4 tidy-ups since then.

Anyway, enough burble, what have I done today? I have done some swimming, I have done some writing. I have done some housework, I have done some gardening. I have done some 'I no longer require this material possession' therapy and am thinking maybe a boot fair would be in order to turn these possessions into cash for my 'buy a pair of piggies' fund. I'm not keen on boot fairs. I've only ever done one before and was alarmed at the way people SWOOPED on my boot before I'd even got the trestle table out. If I decide to do a boot fair, a big stick for beating back the crowds will be in order. And I won't be haggled with, either.

Stubborn, you see.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Two Go To Smuggler's Cove...

...well, not Smuggler's Cove exactly. Camber Sands.

Andy knew something was up when I started hard boiling eggs this morning.

'What shall we do today?' he said.
'We're going to the sea-side,' I said, with grim determination. 'I am making a picnic.'
Andy didn't exactly shout 'Hurrah!' but I could tell he was secretly pleased at my taking charge of the arrangements of the day,which included the decision about where to go.

So, picnic packed in picnic basket - pitta breads, salad, eggs, tuna, cheese, yogurts, apples, strawberries and lashings of elderflower cordial - other bags loaded with sun block, hats, towels, baby wipes (in case we came across any babies that needed wiping), bottles of drink, reading material and a couple of folding chairs, off we set for Camber Sands.

I haven't been to Camber for donkey's years. My grandparents used to take us kids there in the 70's when we were little. My Grandad would force feed us Cornettos which we thought was great but was not appreciated by my Mum. Camber has wide open sandy beaches, tacky beach shops that sell buckets, spades, inflatables, windmills and windbreaks, and ice cream/ fish and chip/ candy floss/ winkle stalls which charge exorbitant prices and get away with it because by the time you've walked up the beach to where they are all situated, chances are you are suffering heatstroke and your capacity for reasoned financial thinking had been severely affected.

We went the picturesque route, which created feelings of violent jealousy in us as we passed through pretty little villages dotted with pretty little houses. 'We want one of those,' we said and made wild plans about how we were going to get a little cottage in the countryside, given that we didn't win the lottery last night. The countryside gradually transformed into the wild stretches of the Romney Marsh. There were many sheep. Woolly sheep, shorn sheep, sheep as big as your head. (Or maybe that was perspective). And then the horizon flattened and the coast appeared and we had arrived.

The first change I noticed was that we got charged for parking.
'£5.50 for 2-4 hours???!!' I spluttered. 'You used to be able to park for free!'
We decided to leave the picnic in the car and go for a beach exploration first, then return for the picnic once we'd had a paddle. In order to reach the beach at Camber, you can a) park at the first car park and climb the almost vertical sand-dunes or b) park in the second car park and walk straight onto the beach. We did the first option, mostly because I had forgotten that option b) existed. Well, as I said, it had been donkey's years...

Half way up the dunes, Andy was puffing and we were both grinding to a halt. I was laughing, I don't know why because there isn' t really anything funny about climbing a dune where for every two steps you take forward, you slip one back. I also reminded Andy about the time he took me to Formby Sands in Lancashire which also had vertiginous dunes and he said the sea was only a couple of minutes away but it turned out to be at least a half an hour yomp during which I trod on a dessicated frog and nearly died, so please don't complain about our pathetic southern sand dunes. But we made it to the top and the beach spread before us. It was shoes off and head for the sea.

The tide was way, way out. We strode across the sand, memories of collecting shells and wading through swathes of mud flooding back. We paddled, we walked back, we marched up the dunes again until our lungs burst, we decided to eat lunch in the car park

Okay, okay, we should have returned to the beach and done proper picnicking but at least it wasn't the hard shoulder of the M25. We said, 'we should get a camper van and then we could brew a cuppa and make toast.'

We ate and read our books and then we walked up the other end of Camber and I remembered the other car park which led straight to the beach avoiding the dunes. I bought us 99 ice creams (the one with the chocolate flake, NOT 99 actual ice creams) as recompense and we went for another walk on the beach, admiring the varied and sometimes bizarre houses that line the coast. Then we returned to the car and read a bit more, and Andy snored for a bit and then we came home via the non-scenic route which wasn't as pretty but was quicker.

It was a good 1970's retro-nostalgia-Famous-Five-yomping-up-and-down-sand-dunes day. And having imbibed rather a lot of ozone, I am feeling very, very sleepy, so I'm going for a nap. Night, night!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Dizzy at the Dentist

Time for a dental check-up yesterday. Off I trot into town for an 11.30 appointment. The dentist I attend is a rare breed of NHS and until a couple of years ago Iused to see the same lady dentist. She was very agreeable until she went off to have a baby. She came back briefly, then went off to have another baby and hasn't come back since, but I suppose with two small children, being a dentist comes pretty low on her list of priorities. I remember thinking at the time, 'This is typical. It's just like hairdressers. You just find one you like, then they clear off and you have to start all over again with someone new.'

A man dentist appeared. He was okay. He said, 'Everything is fine, just a bit of calculus at the back of your bottom front teeth to rake out.' I said, 'I do floss,' because I was affronted that I had been infiltrated by calculus given my dental hygiene obsession, and he said, 'It's minimal. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.'

I didn't like his flip attittude. I wanted a sticker saying 'I'm a flosser,' or something of that ilk, like kids these days get for being good about brushing.


My next checkup was cancelled by the surgery via postcard with the note, 'Please contact surgery to rebook your appointment.'

I thought, 'I know what this means. It means that man dentist has been too flip in his attitude towards regular flossers and has been moved on, so they're in the process of getting someone to replace him.' I hoped against hope that the nice lady dentist would return, having got fed up with her small, screaming babies, dried up rusk on her clothes and being woken at 3 am for a 'game of dinosaurs.'


But no. I arrived yesterday to be introduced to another man dentist who looked like Dougie Howser MD, i.e about 12 years old. Immediately, I discovered he was no good at eye contact, delivering his 'Hello, what can I do for you today? at my right shoulder.


We established I was in for a checkup and I sat in the chair. He pressed the recline button and within seconds my head was lower than my feet and the blood was rushing to my ears. No bib either, for catching dribble later. He began his business with the count-down, count-up thing that they do, a kind of role call for teeth.


Now, when I was ten years old, my dentist at the time, a Mr Baker, decided that I needed a brace. He said, 'You have very big teeth in a very small mouth. You can either have a brace or four teeth removed in order to relieve the overcrowding.' Mr Baker was 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. His surgery was full of antiquated equipment that wouldn't have looked out of place in a mediaeval torture chamber, although the room did look out on a lovely garden, which was mildly calming in times of chair gripping panic. Being small I didn't feel I could argue with Mr Baker (and you didn't argue with adults in those days), and being grateful he had at least given me an choice, I opted for having a brace and keeping all my teeth intact.

'Right,' he said. 'We'll book you in for the extractions and I'll refer you to the orthodontist.'


The four teeth (number fours in the dental role call) were removed. So tightly packed were they, that three of them ricocheted from my mouth and across the surgery floor and the gaps they left closed up in a matter of days. I still ended up having braces for 18 months, too. I was the first in my school to have the enormous fixed brace train track style that went all the way around every tooth. They were nothing like the delicate, subtle contraptions every other youngsters gets these days. In my day, when your teeth were being straightened, you knew they were being straightened and then some.


Anyway, back to Dougie Howser. 'Eight, seven, six, five missing, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, five missing,' he began.
'Er, it says on the records that it's the number fours that are missing,' interrupted the nurse.
'Really?' said Dougie.
'Esss,' I tried to say, with a mouth full of dentist probe and fingers. 'Esss. I ad er umber ours essstra'ed en I os en.'
Dougie ignored my ramblings. 'Are you sure?' he said to the nurse.
'Yes,' said the nurse. 'Her records definitely show number fours missing.'
'Ah well,' said Dougie. 'Fours, fives, they're all the same.'


WHAT?????? Excuse me, but they certainly are not. I thought, 'do you know what you are doing?'

Dougie, sounding a bit flustered, tried to regain his professional demeanour by explaining again the sameness of number fours and number fives but only succeeded in sounding a complete idiot. I thought, 'I'm glad there are no drills running.'


He finished his check up and complimented me rather excessively on the pinkness of my gums. 'They are very, very healthy,' he said. 'No work needs to be done.'

I was very glad about this for more than the usual flossing reasons.

The chair was brought up to its sitting position and I got off and wobbled with lightheadedness. Usually at this point, the dentist will say, 'see you in 6/9/12 months,' depending on how appropriate they deem they length between checkups. Dougie said nothing.


'So,' I said, deciding he needed a clue about how to complete the transaction. 'When shall I come back for my next checkup?'


He stared at my right shoulder. 'Er...how often do you usually have checkups?'
Can you read? I thought.
I said, 'Well, either six/nine or twelve months. The dentist usually tells me.'
'Do they?'
'Yes.'
I was beginning to think this wasn't a real dentist. This was a work experience lad from the local comp.


'Oh, well, I can't see you having any problems for at least twelve months,' he said.
Ah, a crystal ball reader! I wanted to get his premonition in writing, because I bet at least that we get some aggro from the chickens at some point in the next year.


I go to reception and pay my £16.50. I remark to the receptionist that I am feeling a bit dizzy.
'Had you upside-down, did he?' she says.
'Yes,' I said.
'It's his back,' she said. 'He's very tall. He'll get awful back problems, I reckon.'

He'll get more than that, I think, if he doesn't get his act together and his number fours and number fives sorted out.

'I like your dress,' said the receptionist.
'Thanks,' I said.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Birthday Teambuilding

I am in the greenhouse watering the plants when Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Miggins appear behind me, startling me somewhat.
'Hello,' I say,' where did you two come from?'
'Well,' says Miggins,' there's a mummy hen and daddy hen who love each other very much and...'
'Not necessarily,' interrupts Pumphrey. 'My grandmother said her husband was a right gad-about. Went through an entire coop of 60 hens in twelve minutes flat then disappeared to go on tour with a musical.'
'Really?' says Miggins. 'What musical was that?'
'Grandmother wasn't sure,' says Pumphrey, 'but she thinks it was called 'Coq au Vin Revisited.'

'That's not what I mean,' I say, trying to regain control of the conversation as I have a dental check-up later this morning and am already feeling a bit ansty about having my molars prodded by a stranger. 'I mean, how did you two escape from the North Wing?'
'Ah,' says Miggins,' that would be telling.'

Actually, what is REALLY telling are the open parachute canopies that are trailing behind both hens and the safety helmets and goggles they are both wearing. Call me suspicious, but I suspect they may have scaled the walls of the Dowager House and flung themselves up and over the fence of Cluckinghen Palace, commando-style. (And I don't mean without their pants.)

'We've come to ask a favour of you, Mrs Suspicious,' says Miggins.
'Oh yes?' I say. 'And I told you not to call me Mrs Suspicious, didn't I?'
'IT'S OUR BIRTHDAY TOMORROW!' shrieks Pumphrey, unable to contain her excitement that in less than twenty four hours she, Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Poo will attain the grand old age of one year.
'Yes,' I say. 'I've made a note in my diary and I've already got a cake in the fridge ready for the tea-party.'
Mrs Miggins and Mrs Pumphrey exchange awkward glances.
'Tea party?' says Miggo.
'Yes,' I say, enthusiastically. 'I thought, as the weather forecast for this weekend is good, that we could have a tea party in the garden. I could bring the radio outside. We could do dancing. Have a game of Twister.'

More awkward glances. I am beginning to suspect that the girls may have already made plans and they are plans that don't include me.

'Er...' begins Mrs Pumphrey, twirling her foot in an embarrassed fashion on the ground, getting it tangled in her parachute and falling over. 'It's just that we've already made plans,' she continues, staring up at me from her tangled heap on the ground.
'Oh,' I say.
'Yes,' says Miggins, who always shoots from the hip in matters of telling it how it is. 'We're going teambuilding. To the army barracks in Folkestone. And we need you to let Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Poo out of the South Wing.'

I look across at the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. Slocombe and Poo are dangling from parachutes in the eucalyptus trees where they appear to have become stuck after a failed escape attempt. Mrs Poo gives me an embarrassed shrug and smile. Mrs Slocombe looks mad, so no change there then.

I sigh. 'If I let you out to go on this teambuilding thing...' I begin.
'There's going to be abseiling, an assault course and soldiers and white water rafting and a barbecue and soldiers and rifle shooting and tank driving and soldiers....' interrupts Mrs Pumphrey,excitedly.
'...then you must PROMISE me that you'll all get along nicely and NONE of you will come back with less feathers than you are leaving with and that your bottoms stay where they should be.'
'I have big pants on,' says Miggins.
'And I've got a toffee apple to curb my pecking urges,' calls Mrs Slocombe from where she is dangling in the tree.'

I look at them all. They all look back at me with large, pleading puppy dog eyes, which is rather scary and disproportionate with the actual sizes of their heads.

'All right,' I concede. 'But you must be nice to each other.'
'That's why we're going teambuilding for a birthday treat,' says Miggins.
'With soldiers,' adds Pumphrey.

Out the front, a car horn toots.
'That'll be our lift,' says Miggins.

I climb the eucalyptus tree using my new climbing gear (hurrah for ebay - £4.49 inc, p&p with free 'total grip' gloves), release Poo and Slocombe from the South Wing and walk them all to the front gate where a large army lorry full of large soldiers awaits them.

Up they hop - Miggins, Poo, Pumphrey and Slocombe.
'SQUARK!!!!' goes Mrs Pumphrey.
'Mrs Slocombe,' I snap. 'I've warned you.'
'What? What??' says Mrs Slocombe turning around and looking at me, all innocent like, a white feather stuck to her toffee apple.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Doing the Rounds

It takes quite a while to perform the home farming duties at Much Malarkey Manor now, what with the various changes to hen accommodation and the addition of Pandora Trumpet Trousers to the equation.

Up at 6, it's open the South Wing, refill Slocombe/Poo water bowl, check status of food and replenish as necessary. Check nest box for eggs and state of straw. Then into the North Wing, open up the Dowager Cottage, refill Pumphrey/Miggins water bowl, check status of food and replenish if necessary. Add extra oyster shell and grit for Miggins. Check nest box for eggs and state of straw. Check hen health - feathers growing, eyes clean and bright, all clucking, all bottoms where they should be. Pick lettuce from Miggins's raised veg bed and add to chicken breakfast.

Water greenhouse plants. Check outdoor plants (Mother Nature is watering them at the moment so that saves me a job.) Pinch out side shoots of tomato plants, pick strawberries from hanging baskets.

Back in doors, it's refill cat water bowl and feed Tybalt and Phoebe. Into my writing room, release Pandora from her sleeping quarters, change litter, feed her kitten food. Chase after Pandora into kitchen as she turns nose up at kitten food in favour of proper grown up cat food. Swap grown up cat food bowl with kitten food bowl. Pandora eats. Phoebe returns for round two breakfast. Swap kitten food bowl for proper grown up cat food bowl. Pandora decides she hasn't had quite enough breakfast so swap grown up cat food bowl for kitten food bowl.

Pause to give back a rub. (Mine, not the cats.)

Tybalt wanders in. He has decided he likes kitten food. Swap kitten food bowl for grown up cat food bowl. Tybalt gives it a sniff and walks off with his nose in the air. Will return later when I've lost track of which bowl is currently available to which cats, in the hope of catching me out and getting the kitten food.

(We play swap the cat food bowls ALL DAY. I'm going to stop describing the whole rigmarole now as I think you've got the gist and are probably getting bored.)

Today was 'stir up the wormery' day. Generally, I find that engaging worms in a discussion about neo-classical art versus the merits of Picasso gets them sufficiently stirred up (the worms' eye view favours Picasso) but thought I ought to do the job properly today. Fetch wormery, don rubber gloves, give it all a good stir to add oxygen, add crushed up egg shells (you should see the size of the teeth on these worms - it's amazing what a bit of added calcium can do) , top off with fresh layer of damp newspaper, chuck in some more waste food (this morning - carrot peelings, a mouldy tomato, broccoli stalk and a couple of tea bags for luck), check sump and replace wormery.

And on top of all this, I am having to plan, very carefully, our meals for the week, nay FOREVER. This is because my brother, who is younger than me, had just been diagnosed with diabetes and has therefore flung me into another dread and fear panic vis a vis my health, Andy's health, everybody's health, we're all going to die, I'll never meet my grandchildren unless our spirits cross in the ether whilst I'm going up to heaven and they are coming down, oh my God, we're all DOOOOOOOOOMED!! I called Heather yesterday who is ill and sounds awful. I said 'Go to the doctor, just so I can be reassured you haven't got dengai fever or however you spell it.' I shall be calling her later today to check she has followed orders and woe betide her if she hasn't.

So I'm trying to make sure Andy and I eat healthy well-balanced meals. I mean, REALLY trying, and not trying for a bit and then giving up and eating cake. Poor Andy. Not only is he highly stressed at work at the moment (I know this because he was on the interwebbly looking at jobs on Monday night and it is a rare thing for him to do this. He also mentioned moving to France again so things must be bad), he can't come home and eat cake for comfort.

'Have a yogurt,' I say, 'or a banana. Bananas are good for potassium which is good for your blood pressure,' but I can see in his eyes that neither yogurt or banana, no matter how much potassium it contains, is no recompense for a slice of chocolate chip and banana cake, or lemon cake, or chocolate fudge cake. It's been like looking at a starving puppy dog.

So here I am at nearly 10 a.m and I haven't even started writing yet. I've been given another book title by the writing genie, which is - 'Merrily, Kissed by An Angel' - which I had to start over the weekend despite 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' being only half complete, because when I get given a title, the writing genie makes me sit down and write, write, write on the back of the new title until I've got at least 3,000 words under the belt, just so I don't lose the idea. (This would make the writing genie tut and sigh and say, 'Am I wasting my breath?') And I must remember to do some more anatomy revision today, too.

My cousin popped in for a visit yesterday. 'Don't you get bored, being at home on your own all day?' she asked.

I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Books are Best!

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California has decided that school pupils do not need books because they can get all the information they need from the interwebbly. He plans to get rid of all books in Californian schools.

Now, I very much admire Arnie for his film work, especially in 'Kindergarten Cop' and 'Twins'. And his portrayal of a pregnant man in 'Junior' has to count amongst one of the greatest comedy perfomances of all time, equalled only by Harold Lloyd dangling from that stupid clock high up on the side of a skyscraper.

I'M JOKING, FOLKS! Way too much sarcasm on the granola this morning.

Get rid of books? Come on, Arnie, or can I call you 'stoopid?'

Unfortunately, this idea of Mr Schwarzenegger's is not new. It is already infiltrating some of the schools in my neck of the woods. The school I used to teach in, for example, closed down its library and turned the space over to an IT suite. As a teacher of English and an ardent reader, it was heartbreaking to see books being turned out and the library become no more. It was like seeing a corner of civilisation become extinct without giving anyone who cared the chance to set up a conservation society and wave a few placards.

More and more, children are being supplied with laptops or 'tablets' as they enter their secondary education. They are encouraged to read books 'on-line', research 'on-line', glean all their information about the world in which they live 'on-line'. I mean, Wikipedia, for heaven's sake??? And let's be real, the only reason most kids want to go on-line is to keep up with their social networking and play games.

The problems associated with working towards a 'paperless society' are many. Some that I encountered as a teacher were:
1) 'my laptop battery has run out' (because I only remembered to plug it in for a recharge 10 minutes before I left home this morning. Look, I'm busy right? I have to watch cartoons for breakfast.)
2) 'my laptop is broken (because my dog sat on it/ I threw it at my little sister coz she annoyed me with her Britney Spears impression)
3) 'I forgot to bring my laptop into school.' (Actually, I did remember it just as I was leaving home but I couldn't be arsed to go back for it. I haven't got a pen or pencil with me either.)
4) 'My dad/mum/ brother/great-aunt Cecily has borrowed my laptop to download obscure rock tunes/shop on ebay/talk on 'Mum's Chat'/play on-line bingo'
5) 'I can't log in' (again, because I can't be arsed and I've got ADHD and can't keep the mouse still long enough)
6) 'I've been banned from the school system for playing games in class/looking at dodgy websites (well, science/maths/ geography/ citizenship are soooooooooooooooo boring, innit?)
7) 'The internet keeps crashing' (and what are you going to do about it, you're the teacher, do something, do something NOW because I'm supposed to be IMing Josh in 8a3 at 10.30)

And they were just the common reasons. (My best excuse was from a lad with VERY special needs who refused to use his laptop because he didn't want to be contacted by UFOs that morning as he was very, very tired. He'd even taken the precaution of wrapping his laptop in aluminium foil. I liked that kid!).

It was expected that students used their laptops in my drama and performing arts lessons. There was no way I was giving over precious practical time to faffing about with laptops so I was secretly pleased when the wireless connection failed to register consistently with my classroom which was at the back of the admin block and I only had two mains plugs in my room.

The interwebbly has its place, of course. But I am in no doubt that BOOKS ARE BEST! They are an important part of our civilisation and the day the last book disappears from the planet, I'm going with it.

And this is why books are best:
1) A new book feels and smells far lovelier than a laptop
2) A book doesn't fry your legs when you read from it for more than 3 minutes
3) You can curl up really small on the sofa and read a book
4) A book never crashes
5) A book never runs out of battery power
6) It takes longer for your eyes to go squiffy reading a book than reading from a computer screen
7) You get to collect some pretty fab bookmarks if you read books
8) You can swat a fly with a book
9) Books live longer than laptops
10) You never get bugged to take out an extended warranty when you buy a book
11) You can press a flower in a book and then find it years later and be reminded of that summer day from years ago
12) Books don't suffer from flashy screens
13) A book is more likely to survive being dropped in the bath than a laptop
14) A book shop is a magical place filled with passionate intelligent people who engage you in civilised conversation; PC World isn't.

And that's all I have to say on the subject.

I am going to e-mail Allison Pearson at the Daily Mail now. She had thoughts about this very subject today and thinks we should start a 'Save Our Books' campaign. I want to lend her my full and bookish support.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Bribery and adoption

Yesterday, Andy came home from work bearing a gift from one of the vet nurses, Sarah. Usually, gifts from the nurses to Andy involve some kind of Doctor Who theme, I can't think why. And to be honest, if they could see the contents of our loft - 5% ginormous teddy bears, 1% my wedding dress, 8% stuff Chris has conveniently 'stored', 7% stuff Heather has conveniently 'stored', 79% Doctor Who stuff - then they might not worry so much that he hasn't got a sample of every bit of Doctor Who tat, er.... I mean merchandise, that has ever been created. Still, it's the thought that counts and I like to think that these gifts show how fond the nurses are of Andy and are occasionally sorry for shutting him in cupboards and drawing on his face when he is having a lunchtime nap.

'Guess what this is,' said Andy, waving a padded envelope at me.
'Something to do with Doctor Who?' I said, hazarding a wild guess.
'Ha!' said Andy. 'NO!'

With some trepidation I put my hand in the envelope and pulled out...

...a 'BEWARE OF THE CHICKENS' plaque!

'That's very entertaining,' I said, because it is. It will make a fine decoration for the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace, the end where psycho Poo and crackers Slocombe live. Actually, the paired living is going very well. Feathers are regrowing, nerves are calming, and yesterday all four hens were standing on one leg (each, not between them. They never did perfect their chicken pyramid act) against the dividing fence having a preen 'n' clean 'n' chat over the fence session.
'I don't know why they had to install the Berlin Wall here,' I heard Mrs Poo say. 'We get on perfectly well together.'
'Quite,' said Mrs Miggins, 'especially now my bottom has stopped making unexpected appearances.'

'Who's the plaque from?' I asked Andy.
'Sarah,' said Andy. 'The one who is always asking if we'll adopt her.'
'Ah yes,' I said. 'Because of the cakes.'
'I think so,' said Andy.

Occasionally, I make a cake or biscuits for Andy to take into work for his colleagues to share. And on those days he generally comes home and says, 'Sarah says, will we adopt her?' or 'They ate all the cake before I could get a bit,' which is my cue to whip the spare one I made from the cake tin and for Andy to say 'Hurrah!'
It seems a funny criteria on which to base a prospective adoption, whether there is suitable cake and biscuit on offer.
'Tell me, Mrs Flangerhanger, can you make a good Victoria sponge?'
'Yes I can. And my French fancies are much discussed throughout the Parish.'
'Your strange underwear collection is of no concern to me Mrs Flangerhanger, but if your sponge is up to scratch, you may adopt as many children as you like.'
'And have them eat all my cake? Not flippin' likely.'

And what if Sarah is 62 years old and has odd habits like collecting 1970s gonks? I mean, she'll be far too old to re-train to our ways. My mum is 69 and I've been trying to train her away from telling me every detail of my brother's life for years now, because I have no interest whatsoever in what he is doing. (And that's another very long, very complicated story which I shall save for telling when I am wealthy enough to employ a good lawyer.)

So there we are. We are now being bribed into the adoption route with gifts of 'Beware of the Chickens' plaques. What a sorry state of affairs the world has come to. What happened to the good old days of cold hard cash, that's what I want to know.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Useful things to do with a kitten including musical theatre

I sometimes stand in the kitchen and look at the fridge. It is a big fridge - one of those tall jobbies with no pointless icebox taking up valuable courgette storage space in the summer and goose storing space at Christmas. It fits very snugly between two pull out larders with a bridging cupboard over the top. I think, 'I ought to pull the fridge out and clean/ dust/ hoover/ sandblast under and behind it.'

But it is a big fridge, which would require much huffing and puffing and heaving to shift it, especially as I am a mere girl, with girly muscles and lacking in any technical-mindedness. And then I would have to avoid dropping it on Phoebe and Tybalt who make it their mission to get under my feet when I'm pulling the freezer out for a clean and defrost and our freezer is only half the size of the enormous fridge so you can imagine the chaos, can't you?

I've tried to get various implements down the tiny gaps either side of the fridge. Mop, broom, hoover crevice nozzle, j-cloth-on-a-stick, cotton bud, but to no effective avail.

What I've never tried is a kitten.

Kittens work very well. Firstly, they are tiny, bendy and stretchy and can make themselves long and thin and get into all awkward spaces. Secondly, they are covered in fur which gathers up all sorts of fluff, dust, cobwebs, dried apple cores, stray cereal and sunflower seeds and other unmentionables that have succumbed to various stages of decay. Thirdly, they think it's a great game to be going places that they shouldn't be going, so the more you say 'Pandora, come out of there IMMEDIATELY,' the more Pandora will not do as she is told and the cleaner your gaps between the enormous fridge and the cupboards will become.

You see, it works on so many levels. All you have to do is catch the kitten as she exits the fridge/cupboard gap before she rushes off to spread detritus around the rest of the house, give her a bit of a shake and a brush and everyone is happy. Pandora has had fun learning more about the world she has lived in for a mere 9 weeks, I've saved my back from having to heave an enormous fridge half-way across the kitchen and Phoebe and Tybalt have escaped Death-by-Fridge Crushing.

'It's cheap labour,' says Tybalt, who is starting to take a bit of a shine to Pandora because a) she is showing 'race-around-the-house-like-a-loon' potential and b) she spends a lot of time following him around and gazing adoringly at him, my hero-like.
'And what's wrong with that?' says Phoebe, who shows turns of speed only when she is being chased by Tybalt or has had a sniff of catnip.
'Well, it's not right, is it?' says Tybalt. 'It's all a bit Victorian sending-the-child-up-the-chimney, isn't it? We're in the 21st century now. We should be valuing our young. Every Kitten Matters, and all that.'

Phoebe eyes the chimney in the living room. 'There's a thought,' she says to herself and gives a quiet chuckle 'MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'

'What's so funny?' says Pandora, returning from her latest game of 'let's play behind the enormous fridge with the dust bunnies.'
'Nothing, nothing,' says Phoebe. 'Tell me, do you like musical theatre?'
'Ooooh yes,' says Pandora. 'I love 'Annie.' THE SUN'LL COME OUT, TOMORRA! BETCHA BOTTOM DOLLAR THAT TOMORRA....'
'Yes, yes,' says Phoebe. 'What about er, 'Mary Poppins', for another example?'
Pandora shrugs. 'Dunno,' she says, 'not heard of that one. I like 'The Sound of Music.' HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE PANDORAAAAAAAAA? HOW DO YOU CATCH A CAT AND PIN HER DOOOOOOOOOWN!!!? HOW DO YOU...'
'You've never heard of Mary Poppins?' says Phoebe, amazed, because it's her very favourite, even more so than Starlight Express. (I bet you thought I was going to say 'Cats'? Come on now, I wouldn't be THAT obvious, would I?)
'No, but I've heard of cows,' says Pandora, 'ahahahahahahaha!'
Phoebe sighs. 'That joke's already been covered at Much Malarkey Manor. I suggest you do a bit of back reading to avoid any more social faux pas.'
'AND NOOOOOOOOW IIIIIIIIIIIIIIT'S..........SPRING-TIME.....FOR HITLER....IN GERRRRMANEEEEEEEEEEE....'sings Pandora. 'I love 'The Producers' too. Especially 'Haben sie gerhert das Deutscher Band? MIT A BOOM, MIT A BANG, MIT A BIM-BAM-BIM-BAM BOOOOOOM!!!!'

Phoebe looks at Tybalt and Tybalt looks at the Phoebe. For the first time in many years, united they stand. Or sit, in Phoebe's case.
'She's going to be hard work, isn't she?' says Phoebe.
Tybalt nods. 'I don't think you should tell Denise you are planning to teach her 'Chim-chimminey, chim-chimminey, chim-chim cheree,' though, ' he says.