Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Pushing Granny Out the Bed

'I need to make an effort to do my Wii Fit Test everyday,' said Andy last night as we were snuggled in bed watching Jamie Oliver cook various bits of pigs in various manners, although according to his American dining partners, with not enough salt.
'I fear,' he continued, 'that I shall otherwise have problems keeping up with you in the fitness stakes.'

This is in response to my swimming 'n' running sessions this week.

'Yes,' I said. 'Or people will point and say, 'Look, he can't even keep up with a Granny.'

At which point Andy pushed me out of bed.

'Now what sort of behaviour is that to show towards a Granny?' I demanded once I'd finished shrieking and laughing and climbed back 'neath the duvet.
'You're not a Granny yet,' said Andy.
'And that makes me fair game for pushing out of bed, does it?' I said.
'Yes,' said Andy.

To be honest I'm not surprised. He has been known to engage me in pillow fights despite the fact I wear glasses and EVERYONE knows you shouldn't hit people who wear glasses, especially girls.
'But I wear glasses, too,' said Andy, because he knows that once engaged in a pillow fight, I'm going to whallop him back.
'I've been wearing mine for longer than you,' I said. 'And mine are for short-sight and yours are for long sight.'
'What's that got to do with anything?' said Andy, and tried to push me out of bed again.

But I clung on, oh yes I did. Thanks to my super-duper swimming sessions I now have biceps like bowling bowls and the ability to grip onto anything with the tenacity of a barnacle during a Spring Tide.

'It's got everything to do with the fairness of pillow fights,' I said. 'I was wearing glasses since nearly before you were born.'
'I was nearly six when you started wearing glasses, specky four-eyes,' said Andy.
'Yeah, well glasses hadn't even been invented up t'North when you were a lad,' I said. 'In fact, I think the science of spectacles crossed the North South divide at the same time as Park and Ride buses, some time in 1993.'

Jamie Oliver was now sitting guard over a large piece of pork that was to cook overnight in a brassiere, I mean brazier.
'Should he be sitting that close to a blazing brazier whilst he's inside a nylon sleeping bag?' I said.
'Probably not,' said Andy, momentarily distracted from his Granny-attack by the possibility of seeing Jamie Oliver disappear in a puff of smoke with his leg of pork.

And then Hugh F-W appeared on telly in 'The Great Food Fight' and did a very entertaining impression of the Smash Potato space creatures. Do you remember them? As a would-be progressive child of the Seventies I was very keen to try 'Smash' but Mum was most insistent on peeling and cooking proper potatoes in a proper manner and not reconstituting them from a dubious dehydrated powder form. And now I am older and wiser, I guess she was correct in her insistence. Odd though, because I remember HER mother stockpiling 'Smash' in preparation, I liked to think, for the impending nuclear war that always scared the beejeezus out of me when I was 10 years old.

There are many things I wanted as a child that I didn't get. The game of Operation, for one, and to stop in a Little Chef for lunch en route to our annual holiday destinations. But since becoming adult I have experienced both these childish desires and can safely say neither of them lived up to my expectations. Operation is a dead easy game (even Mrs Slocombe gets bored playing Operation and normally she's very keen on anything with the potential to give her an electric shock), and my visit to the Little Chef (which followed a hot air ballooning trip) made me feel nauseous for the rest of the day. In fact, I may even have thrown up.

I wondered about the things Baby Bug Grandchild will remember from their childhood? I wondered if my Mum ever got pushed out of bed when she became a Granny? I wondered if Jamie Oliver had to fill out a risk assessment form before getting into that nylon sleeping bag next to the blazing brazier? I wondered, in the absence of nuclear war, if my Grandma ever did eat all that Smash?

Luckily, before I wondered too much, I fell asleep.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

There was the News

Three weeks ago I decided to stop buying a daily newspaper. I was getting fed up of the scare stories, the war stories, the doom and gloom stories, the MP scandal stories and the sex 'n' celebrity stories. I thought, if I want to know what the World has been up to outside the Much Malarkey Manor bubble I can listen to the bulletins on the radio, or catch one of the main news programmes.

All well and good, you might think, except these sources of news have produced exactly the same crop of mental aggravation I'd been seeking to avoid only without the added panacea of multi-level Sudoku and other assorted number and word puzzles to mess with your mind. And I quite missed Garfield, too.

But slowly I have become used to doing without my daily fix of Daily Anger. Experts say it takes three weeks to break a habit. I would question this research when applied to things like cake and watching 'How Clean Is Your House?' 9and whoo-hoo Gok Wah is back on telly tonight telling all us lovely girls how to look even lovelier) but they may be onto something when it comes to cracking potentially destructive or time-wasting habits.

Is it wrong, though, to make a concerted effort to avoid the issues that are affecting our world? Is it socially irresponsible to say 'What concern is this to me?' Is ignoring the news of the day and all its associated politics and social and moral concerns a neglect of our human responsibilities? And am I sounding too much like Gordon Brown?

Of course I care about global warming and the effect it is having on our environment. That is why I recycle and compost, grow my own veg and energy save wherever I can. Of course I care about animal welfare - that is why I keep hens and buy free-range meat from local sources and for half the week I cook vegetarian. Of course I care about people - that is why I became a teacher, and why my friends know I will sit and listen to them for hours on end if it helps them find release from their problems, and that I will be there with practical support to the best of my ability even though I have recently been badly let down by one such friend. And of course I care that half the world seems intent on fighting the other half, hiding behind the name of their God, or their Belief, or their own set of rules and laws and for them I try and find a space in every day for quiet meditation and to send out prayerful thoughts to the innocents caught up in these awful situations.

But sometimes it is good to cushion ourselves from the outside world and take an introspective holiday from war and scandal and immorality. Not for so long that we become disassociated with our environment because that would lead to a sad and lonely isolation which is good for neither body or soul; what I mean is that as long as we know in our hearts that we are doing our best in our own situations, then taking time out is a good thing to do to restore and rebalance ourselves so we can take up the banner of Life with renewed energy and vigour.

I have been waiting all day long for a source of inspiration for today's blog. I'm not sure where this one came from, but it is here now and here I shall let it rest.

I'm glad the inspiration did eventually come, at what is quite late in the blogging day for me. Otherwise you'd have ended up reading some drivel about me wearing my new swimming cap in the pool this morning and looking like a drowning Malteser.

And there but for the Grace of God and a spot of Daily Anger go we all...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Everyone Go 'Aaaaahhhh...'

Yesterday's weekend adventure was to the South East England Alpaca Society Open Day. It was very busy. I had no idea there were so many alpaca farms in the South East of England.

And here is what I learned...

...that alpacas are probably the cutest things on the planet, on a par with bunnies, kittens and chinchillas

...that they can make squeaky noises like dolphins and hum like bees

...that they have pointy toes whose nails need trimming every two months

...that they have funky hair dos

...that they come in a variety of colours (provided you aren't expecting pinks, blues and greens. If you are, you'll be sorely disappointed)

...that they are excellent companions for sheep and poultry because they make very good guard animals against predators

...that they have very expressive faces and curious natures

...that they make hard-wearing socks (well, the sign on the sock stall said they did; I didn't actually see any evidence of an alpaca in the process of knitting)

...that the lady alpacas are pregnant for 11 and a half months and their babies are called 'cria' which must make for some confusion when the mummies call the babies in for dinner

...that if you are going to keep alpaca for their wool you must have at least 3 gelded males - something to do with 2 grazing at any one time whilst one keeps a look out for danger

...that if you want to buy a breeding female you need very deep pockets or a limitless bank account

...that alpacas are great time wasters. Like chickens.

And my one disappointment of the day? That I didn't get to hear an alpaca humming because I would have liked to know what tunes they favoured. Country and western? Songs from the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber? Or a spot of Mika or Marillion maybe? Sadly, I shall never know. Until we get our small holding in the countryside. Because the alpaca has now joined our list of preferred livestock.

And then? Oh, how the winter evenings will fly by once I've mastered the art of spinning alpaca wool!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Christmas Shopping

Now before I drown under a sea of protest, yes I know it's another three months until Christmas, yes I know the sun is shiny and warm like it's mid-July and yes I know any thoughts of Christmas should be banned until at least the middle of November.


...yesterday I was out and about and I saw the perfect gift for my Mum so I bought it. And when I got home I made a list of EXACTLY what I am giving everyone else this year and with the exception of Andy's gift which always requires a lot of cunning planning and fore-thought, I reckon I could go out on Monday at 9 a.m and be back home by 11 a.m Christmas shopping done and dusted, bring on the Easter eggs.

When I was teaching I used to go Christmas shopping during the Autumn half-term. I'd write my list and set off with a fixed determination that I would get it all done by the time I went back to work. And 95% of the time I did. But this year I reckon I could break all records and get it done before October! Which leaves me two and a half months of angst trying to sort out what to get Andy.

On the subject of gifts, as a 'Congratulations! You Are No Longer a Temporary Senior Veterinary Surgeon' present I gave Andy the Wii Sports Resort game. I thought he deserved it after all the hassle he's had these last few months trying to keep everyone happy. He's playing on it now. Can you hear him? All that blipping and puffing? I went and had a go myself earlier and got beaten roundly at sword fighting and canoeing. But I won the table tennis, although I'm not sure that's anything to be shouting about.

'What are you playing now?' I shout.
'Frisbee!' he shouts back.
See - an endless source of quality entertainment!

The only problem with playing such games indoors is that you risk vitamin D deficiency by never venturing out of doors. So as the sun is glorious in Kent today I dragged Andy into town to buy some more wool and a jogging watch. The wool is because I need to work on a different Baby Bug Grandchild outfit as the initial woolly jacket plan in temporarily scuppered as I don't know if Baby Bug is a Boy Bug or a Girl Bug. (Although I am inkling towards Boy Bug.)

'Why do you need to know what it's going to be in order to knit a jacket?' said Andy.
'Button holes,' I said. 'Boys are one side, girls are the other.'
'Do you think a baby is going to be bothered by such etiquette?' said Andy.
'I would be bothered,' I said.
'You're so weird,' said Andy.
'You married me,' I said. I thought, this is rich coming from someone who wants Chris and Leane to call their child 'Doctor Who' so he'll have a chance of remembering its name!)

And the watch is in preparation for Monday when I start my running plan. When I had my pre-running plan run on Thursday I had to count out my 60 second intervals by muttering 'One elephant, two elephants, three elephants etc...' as I jogged along. Which is okay if no one else is in earshot and you can keep up with all the elephants. But it's not a wholly satisfactory or scientific method so we went into Argos to purchase a cheap watch.

Found one. Plastic. Purple. Big dial. Big hands. Perfect if a little unstylish (but then it was very cheap). Went to pay for it at the self-service till 'For quick and easy service' and for a receipt I was issued with a blank slip of blue paper 5cms wide by half a centimetre long.

So when the watch appeared at Collection Point B, I had to explain to the man who was serving that I wasn't issued with a proper receipt. He looked at me and sighed as if it was all too much bother to sort out. Off he wandered, without a word, to fiddle with the self-service machine, then to fetch someone else, then to fiddle with a computer, then to write out a HUGE receipt by hand before returning to hand over the watch.

This took an absolute AGE. I passed the time by muttering loudly about the appalling service in Argos these days.
'It's because Mercury in retrograde,' I said to Andy. 'If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.'
Andy looked at me with his 'you barking mad woman' expression.
'But it's okay,' I said. 'The effect of a retrograde Mercury finishes tomorrow.'
'Good,' said Andy.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Bum Bags and Knitting Patterns

I ventured out yesterday for a practise pre-run prior to beginning my running training properly on Monday (it has to be Monday; it says so in the running book and I'm not going to mess with the running book). What I wanted to do was to make sure my Achilles tendon was really okay and not merely pretending, and that my new running shoes weren't going to nip/ pinch/ chafe/ rub/ blister or any combination thereof.

All was well. The running shoes were good 'n' bouncy, the ShockAbsorber A+ ensured my bosoms remained good 'n' unbouncy, the jogging bottoms remained up, the jogging top remained down and the only problem encountered was getting hit in the face with my front door key. That's because I had no pockets upon my person so had to thread the key onto a chain around my neck. What I really need, I thought, is a bum bag for all my running accoutrements.

The book suggests taking the following with you when you go for a run : keys (obviously), mobile phone, cash for a bus or taxi in case you sustain an injury or go so far you can't run back (very unlikely at this early stage in my training), loo roll (again, in case you get caught short on a long run), spare pants (????), plasters and,if you are a lady, an alarm in case you are attacked. Although I guess if you are a male pacifist and don't fancy fending off an attacker you could carry an alarm too.

Well, it seems rather a lot of baggage to be carting around on a run, especially as in my case I'm not planning on being out for more than half an hour at a time, my modus operandii being to work myself up to spending more of that half an hour jogging than walking. Yesterday's effort yielded a 95:5 percentage ratio in favour of walking so I've still got some way to go. And as such I think all I require to take with me is a door key and a bottle of water and a tissue up my knicker leg in case I get a runny nose. So no bum-bag just yet.

I couldn't find a small water bottle to take with me yesterday so ended up emptying the remains of a one litre bottle of squash into a jug and refilling that bottle with water. It was a might cumbersome I have to say, carting a squash bottle around with me, so today I bought one of those natty bottles-with-a gripping-hole-in-the-middle. They came in two sizes - 500ml and 250 ml. 250 ml is no good to anyone. I'd polish off 250ml in two gulps. I went for the larger option.

And whilst in town I found I could no longer resist the urge to start knitting something cheerful and artisan for Baby Bug Grandchild. Personally, I was very pleased with my choice of pattern and colours of wool. However, when I showed Heather she stepped back and put on her sun glasses. 'Cor Blimey!' she said, or words to that effect, but I don't care. I like the pattern and I like the wool. They are bright and individual and, in the mind of this nearly 44 year old granny-in-waiting, very funky. And if other people react like Heather, then, well, I shall just take Baby Bug Grandchild out myself. We'll go for a jog. In the dark. So no-one can see us in our lovely handcrafted jumpers and bum bags.

Honestly, some people have no sense of style...

Thursday, 24 September 2009


You may remember a few months ago I was all keyed up to start running. Not because I was being pursued by a bear, or the Kelly Gang were after driving me out of town, but because I was having 'the urge' to run.

And that I got as far as purchasing a ShockAbsorber A+ 36F bolster holster and assorted lycra wear and a couple of pairs of rather cute white socks with 'minimal seams to prevent chafing'. And that I'd had a couple of preliminary dashes between the trees in the park, stopping to pick assorted foliage for the chickens along the way. I'd even joined an on-line running group for tips and advice.

Then, just as I was about to get running in earnest, well, the 'run for sixty seconds, walk for three minutes' malarkey, I did a heavy digging session at the allotment and then came home and topped it off with trying to wrestle a particularly stubborn rose bush from the front garden and I tore my Achilles tendon.

Well, it has taken all that time for my tendon to mend itself. I was warned it might take up to six months to repair so I count myself lucky I am mended sooner. I've been pain free for three weeks now and my mind has turned back to learning to run. I bought a book called 'Running Made Easy' (by Susie Whalley and Lisa Jackson from Zest magazine) which is fab - inspirational, practical, entertaining and it's even got a section in which to record progress. I thought, now I need to sort myself out some proper shoes and not a cheapo pair from the bargain shoe shop. I don't want to enflame my Achilles tendon now that it has been rendered an official 'weak spot' in my physique. (How ironic to have one's Achilles tendon as one's Achilles heel!)

So yesterday I researched the interwebbly to find a place that would fit me properly for running shoes. And I found a sports shop that is about a 45 minute walk away from Much Malarkey Manor that had a gait-analysis machine. I thought, I'll drive over at the weekend and get some running shoes sorted. And then I thought, NO! The sun is shining, it's only a 45 minute walk there and a 45 minute walk back. And the book says that you should have running shoes fitted in the afternoon when your feet are at their biggest. GO NOW! CARPE DIEM! SEIZE THE FISH!!

And so I did. I cut across the park, ignoring my instinct to turn left and thereby ending up where I started, and managed to find my way to the main road with the help of some directions from Heather. (Past the first ice cream stand, down to the lake, past the boat house, not as far as the second ice-cream stand, turn left, follow the path, listen for the road traffic getting louder, you'll be fine), and I arrived at the sports shop puffing because a lot of the journey had followed a bit of an uphill.

The assistant in the sports shop was very helpful. I explained my whole situation to him - funny urge to run, allotment digging, Achilles tendon, pain, walking like an old granny, going to be a granny, heat expanded feet, walked 45 minutes at a brisk pace to get here, please don't expect me to spend £100 on running shoes as I don't have that kind of money to spend etc - and to give him his due he didn't flinch once.

'Right,' he said, 'here's a pair of running shoes. Hop on the gait analysis machine and we'll see what you need.'

The gait analysis machine turned out to be a running machine attached to a video camera. Great, I thought, he's going to video me running. But up I hopped, glad it wasn't a Saturday when the shop would no doubt have been full of lithe young running bods who would probably find an overweight, middle-aged red-faced-from-walking woman highly entertaining.

'I'm starting the machine,' said the assistant.
The machine started. I started jogging. The assistant turned up the machine, which ran faster and I ran faster to keep up with it. Visions of Bridget Jones shooting off the end of a running machine flashed through my head.
'A bit faster?' said the assistant.
'Nooooooooo!!!' I said. 'Have...puff, puff, puff...reached....puff, puffpuffpuff....limit....sweat, puff, pouufff!!!!'
'Right,' said the assistant. 'I'll go and start the camera.'

Blimey! I thought the camera, like me, was already running. But no. Joggity run I went (and remember this is on top of my brisk 45 minute yomp.)

Eventually, the assistant returned, slowed down the machine slightly less quickly than I would have liked, and I just about managed to prevent myself being ricocheted off the back and ending up in a slithery puddle on the floor.

We examined my running gait.
'You've got a mainly neutral strike,' said the assistant. 'But with a slight pronation which is more pronounced in your right ankle than your left. Also, you tend to turn out your toes on your right foot. See?'
'Uh-huh,' I said, more transfixed with how fat my calves were looking from the back in running shoes and perhaps I should wear stilettoes instead, to give the appearance of a longer leg.

'I'll get a couple of pairs for you to try on. Ones that will support your arches and prevent later problems with hips and back,' said the assistant. What?? Problems with hips and back? My hips and back are fine.

Anyway, the assistant returned with two pairs of running shoes ideal for my gait. I tried on both pairs. The first pair fitted well and I did some experimental running around the shop (with the emphasis on mental). The second pair felt less bouncy, sort of flat and less supportive.

'I like the first pair,' I said. Well, mostly I liked the first pair. There was one problem. They were silver and green. And whilst I am very keen on silver, I don't and have never worn green. I don't mind looking at green, indeed my kitchen is painted green, but I have a thing about wearing green.

I looked at the assistant. I thought, can I be really girly and ask what other colours they come in? The look in the assistant's eye suggested not; that I should take his advice and buy these shoes because they were the best for my feet. Besides, he'd been very nice and encouraging and had even given me a book about running.

I bought the green running shoes.

And here they are. With my mostly-neutral-slightly-pronating ankles.

Running - here we come!!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Travel Systems a Go-Go

Andy and I have decided that our 'Welcome to the World' gift for Baby Bug Grandchild shall be a pram. Except it isn't that simple, as it turns out. And whilst I am sure that Baby Bug Grandchild would much prefer a games consule, or Wii, or the latest in up-to-date mobile phones/ sound systems/ i-pod/ why-pod/ pea-pod, a pram is what's on offer along with assorted original and zany knitwear crafted by my own fair hands and a wealth of fun and wisdom crafted by my own fair personality.

In my day (oh, here she goes - 'When I were a lass we were lucky to be dragged along behind the donkey by a rope, let alone be pushed along in a mobile chair)...ahem, in my day you had two choices - a pram or a buggy. My babies, Chris and Heather, were transported in a Maclaren Dreamer, a sort of pushchair with horizontal lay back facility which could be used from birth to four years old, or in Chris's case, two years old when he got turfed out to make room for baby Heather. It was grey and yellow - not colours I would choose but the buggy was a gift and for that I was grateful.

But nowadays? Blimey! The choice is, well, there is too much choice. A sign of 21st century living I suppose, but after all the research I've done into prams 'n' pushchairs I reckon I should be awarded a Doctorate in Baby Transport Facility Options.

You can still get prams, of course. The old Silver Cross much adored by the Norland Nanny. They are huge, substantial beasts, (the prams, not the nannies) purchased to be passed from generation to generation because they are a 'design classic' and 'built to last'. They are also built for people with massive houses with massive front doors and massive hallways in which to park them, so not wholly suitable for the rabbit hutch living that so many young couples endure these days. But then you can also get pram/pushchair combinations, strollers. three-wheelers, tandems and double-strollers and, get this, 'travel systems'.

A travel system covers all your Baby Bug Grandchild travel needs. It's a pram/pushchair/ car seat all -in-one configuration with things like 5 point safety harness, side impact protection, flight bag, raincover and apron, removable head-hugger (????????) and bottle holder. They come with futuristic sounding names like 'Luna', 'Mirage', 'City Bug', 'Vivo', 'Epic' and 'Trio Enjoy Evolution'. Gone are the days, it seems, of attaching a wooden apple crate to a set of go-kart wheels and towing a youngster around regardless of potential impact with hard objects and accidents caused from being released from the tops of very steep hills. (Oh we had fun, my twenty plus cousins and I. Luckily I was second eldest in the clan, so never suffered the terror of 'cousin care'.)

Nowadays, it's all health this and safety that. I've been toying with the idea of getting a bicycle, but can't quite get over the fact Andy will probably make me wear a safety helmet. We never wore safety helmets when we were children. We didn't want other kids pointing and laughing at us, for a start. Actually, I'm not sure safety helmets had been invented way back then. But if I were to take up bike riding again it would be sans helmet but avec large basket attached to the front for shopping and the possible toting about of a small terrier. Granny-like.

Back to baby transport systems. I've discounted some models already on the grounds of them having only three wheels. I've seen these pushchairs in action and although they might be more aerodynamic, they look bloomin' unstable to me; besides, if you want to whoosh around town in a busy 'on-a-mission' manner, you don't need to be aerodynamic to gain optimum speed through the crowds. Oh no, all you need do is crash into the backs of a few legs. People soon stop blocking your way if there's a danger of having their varicose veins burst. And I speak from both ends of the buggy experience here.

Strollers are also out on the grounds of them sounding American. As are models with an under-carriage shopping basket that look barely big enough to manage two apples and packet of biscuits let alone a 40 pack of disposable nappies and half-hundred weight of potatoes. Anything with 'sport' or 'executive' in the name has been crossed off the list for sounding too aggressive as has the one with built-in MP3 speakers despite it having a BIG basket. (Children need to be engaged in human conversation to learn good speaking skills and NOT brought up on a diet of 50 Cent, Killa Kella and The Eagles of Death Metal or whatever/ whoever/ what happened to the New Seekers, that's what I want to know.)

So after much deliberation I have made a preliminary choice. Of course, I shall consult the parents-to-be vis a vis my selection and measure the boot of their car to ensure it will fit. (Chris - the boom box base speakers WILL have to go, I'm afraid. 'Tis time to put aside childish things for the things of your child. Never mind - in another 20 years or so you can start getting your own back!!)

And how did I arrive at my choice? Well, by using pretty much the same system I have used in choosing cars for the last 26 years of my motoring career.

I like the colour!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sofits and Fascias and Dalek Supreme

Another fine day dawns over Much Malarkey Manor. Really, it's like Summer is feeling guilty for short-changing us on the weather front during August and has come puffing back shouting 'Sorry about the poor service last month - here, have a freebie Summer extension for a couple of weeks.'

And as the back garden farming community hate to see a day of good weather go to waste (it's pretty much on the same level of sin as wasting food), Mrs Miggins is on the doorstep pretty sharpish this morning, catching me in the act of eating a wholemeal multi-seeded bagel.

'Sofits and fascias?' she says, trying not to stare too hard at my breakfast plate.
'Sofits and fascias,' I agree. 'Would you like some bagel before we start? Save you dribbling on mine?'
'Please,' she says.

After breakfast we head for the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. Mrs Miggins has expressed a desire to repair and repaint the sofits and fascias before Winter sets in and I have agreed to help her in return for her assistance in cleaning the 'conservatory' roof of Much Malarkey Manor whilst we've got the ladders out.

'Wouldn't you rather get a man in to do the work for you?' I asked when Miggins first broached the subject.
'Certainly not,' said Miggins. 'The recession is biting at the coffers of the Palace, too, you know. Besides, if a hen can't managed her own sofits and fascias, what use is she to the rest of the world?'

I wasn't really sure how to answer that one, so we struck our mutual maintenance deal and agreed the work to be done on the next fine day.

Which is today.

Once up the ladders we strike up an easy conversation. We discuss the Liberal Democrat Party Conference which kills a minute and half and then Mrs Miggins agrees that if the Manor freezer becomes over run with passata I can put the over flow in the second chest freezer in the South Wing larder.
'I'll get Mrs Pumphrey to remove her badger,' she says. 'She should have stuffed it ages ago.'
I vaguely remember Pumphrey taking her Level 2 Taxidermy Exam last Winter.
'Wasn't the badger supposed to be her final assessment piece?' I ask
'Yes, it was,' says Miggins, 'until Tango Pete put a wild boar her way. So the badger went into the freezer for future stuffing projects. And then she got distracted into macrame.'
'I can see a wild boar might be a more impressive piece to present to an examiner,' I said.
'It's the tusks,' agrees Miggins.

And then we got onto the subject of Doctor Who. As Miggins and I both enjoy Radio 7 we have both noticed a sudden influx of new Doctor Who malarkey in the evenings. I have to say we don't approve because when Doctor Who starts taking over the airways it generally means something funnier and more entertaining has to give way. Which is a shame.

'What I don't understand,' says Miggins, pausing in her sandpapering, 'is why the Daleks are supposed to be the most fearsome creatures in the Universe. I mean, they're little more than motorised wheelie bins really.'
'I know,' I say. 'In fact I posed the same question to Andy last night.'

I feel my ladder give a shudder as Mrs Slocombe gives it a final kick and mooches off muttering something about how much a broken limb or two would really have brightened up a potential dull-on-the-action-front day.

'And also,' says Miggins, 'I heard a Dalek announcing on the radio yesterday evening that they were a Dalek Supreme. Is that anything like a Chicken Supreme?'
'I imagine you'd have to cook it for longer,' I say. 'What with metal being a bit on the tough side.'
'And if you added three Dalek Supremes to Diana Ross, would they make a Mo-Town singing group?' asks Miggins, her brow wrinkled in deep and complicated thought.
'Ah now,' I say. 'That is a common misconception in the world that isn't fixated on the whole phenomenon that is Doctor Who. It's Davros Ross, not Diana Ross, that worked with the Dalek Supremes.'
'Davros Ross and the Dalek Supremes,' muses Miggins. 'Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, does it?'
'They only had one hit record,' I say.
'Which was?' says Miggo.
'When Will I Exterminate You Again?' I say.
'And that was a hit?' asks Miggins.
'There are Doctor Who fans out there who will buy anything,' I say.

We continue to sandpaper in companiable silence. Occasionally, I whistle and Miggo crows but luckily there are no cocks or men around to hear us.

'And the Dalek standing in the corner of the garden over there?' asks Miggins.
'Is a compost bin,' I say.
'Good,' says Miggins. She seems oddly relieved. 'Just checking.'

Monday, 21 September 2009

Rouster Jouster

Andy and I went jousting on Saturday. Don't worry, we didn't get physically involved in leaping on horses and trying to poke other people off their horses with pointy sharp things like lances and swords. That would have been way too much for the imagination to contemplate. No, our contribution was in the form of audience participation i.e when the commentator announced the arrival of Sir Eugene we all went 'Hurrah!!' because he was the goodie and when the commentator announced Sir Jonquil, we all went 'Booooooo!!!' because he was the baddie. There was a young squire, whose name escapes me (so caught up was I in the frisson and excitement of the joust) who was clearly there as eye candy for the teen girls and another squire called Bob who looked like a girl, was a girl and whose real name was Lucy.

Are you keeping up?

Anyway, Andy and I have decided, what with autumn in the air and the nights drawing in, that we should go out on expeditions for one day every weekend to make it seem like we are actually doing something productive rather than the usual stay-at-home-because-we-are-tired malarkey that we have fallen into of late. We don't want to fall foul of Seasonal Affected Disorder, you see. It is important we make STERLING EFFORTS to bolster our mood through the winter.

So we started last weekend by meeting our chums at Windsor Great Park and picnicking and playing with kites and frisbees and collecting natural history stuff. And this weekend we renewed our annual season tickets to Leeds Castle and inadvertently walked in on a Jousting Competition. The weather was GORGEOUS, we had lunch in the castle restaurant, performed a yompingly good walk and examined the tat in the gift shop. An all-round thoroughly mood bolstering experience.

And next weekend? Oh what a treat we have in store! We are going to the South East Alpaca Open Day. Oh yes! I am typing this in a firm-fingered manner as I didn't feel Andy was wholly sold on the idea when I said yesterday 'Next weekend we are going to the South East Alpaca Open Day.' But alpacas look like an opportunity too cute to miss. They appear to be a cross between a llama and a poodle - all bouffant and choochy-faced. And apparently you can purchase alpaca products inc. jewellery, socks and pictures. I am determined to return with a pair of alpaca socks. A whole alpaca if I can get away with it.

Also, I want to organise some kind of celebratory event for this Friday or Saturday, as it is Andy's last week in the post of temporary Senior Veterinary Surgeon. He will be happily resigning the responsiblity to a new Senior vet, nay flinging at her and running away laughing I suspect, and I shall be happy that he might actually get home from work on time and be able to eat a dinner that hasn't been frazzled to a crisp or dehydrated to the texture of a ship's biscuit.

It'll be all go this week. I'll be preparing to start my stint of part-time tutoring on Wednesday, ploughing on with 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' and trying to get it out of the plot tangle it seems to have developed when I wasn't looking, organising a 'surprise' for Andy for the end of the week (sshhh, don't tell him!) and cookery experimenting with the huge pile of autumnal veg we hauled home from the allotment yesterday.

And this is mostly how I shall be avoiding the onset of S.A.D this week.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

There's No Middle Way With An Aubergine

I was beginning to despair of the aubergines I planted this year. They were sown from seed at the same time as the tomatoes and the peppers. The tomatoes have been prolific, as have the peppers, but the aubergines? Nothing. I didn't know what to expect, really, having never grown aubergines before (mostly as I am ambivalent about eating them). I had certain expectations i.e that the plants themselves would be lush and bushy and that the fruit would appear in the summer some time. Other than that I was easy on the aubergine front.

So, when the plants took an AGE to get to about 10 inches high, and the leaves didn't wander far from the stalks, and nothing much else was happening I thought, the aubergine is going to be my vegetable nemesis, which didn't bother me that much because, as I said, I am not bothered whether they are available to eat or not.

Last week, the status auberginus in the polytunnel was the same as it has been all summer. There were tiny purple flowers, and I mean tiny, and no sign of anything exciting and vegetably happening. I thought, next time I'm here, I'll dig 'em out; I need the space for some winter cabbages.

But then when we went up the allotment this morning, there they were! Real live, fully grown aubergines!! A whole handful size each, just dangling off the plants, looking like they had been there for WEEKS and making me feel like I had been blind to their existence.

So now I am convinced there is an Aubergine Elf. A minxy little creature who lulls you into a false sense of failure vis a vis the growing of the aubergine, and then one night comes along with a wheelbarrow loaded with the fully grown finished product and sticks them to your pathetic little plants for you to find in a most unexpected yet strangely exciting way.

And now we've got them, lots of them, I suppose we'll have to eat them...

Finally, here are some photos of my new hair and my old kitten and sometimes a combination of the two. The hair-do is being remarkably good about being washed and falling into place without too much faffing. The kitten is being remarkably bad at flinging herself at me in order to view her domain from the vantage point of my shoulder which involves, to some extent, the digging in on claws if she feels she is losing her balance or needs to climb higher or dismount.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mind over Magic

Whilst out gathering tomatoes this morning, Mrs Miggins calls me over with all the world-weariness of a chicken who has tolerated sharing her space with two idiot companions for nearly a year now and that year is turning out to be eleven months too long.

'What's up, Mrs M?' I say cheerfully, because I am feeling cheerful; picking tomatoes does that for me, I've no idea why, perhaps it's because they are red which is one of my favourite colours.

'Would you come and see if you can sort out Mrs Slocombe?' says Mrs Miggins. 'Only she watched that Derren Brown 'I'm Going to Paralyse You to Your Sofa using Subliminal Thought Processes' malarkey last night and she appears to be still under the influence.'
'Oh,' I say. 'Which sofa is she stuck to? The Chesterfield or the Linda Barker?'
'Don't be ridiculous,' snaps Miggins. (It is at this point that I realise she is a chicken on the edge.) 'Subliminal thought process doesn't actually work, you know.'

This is true. Andy, Heather and I all played along with the game last night and all three of us managed to rise normally from the sofa at the given 'up-you-jump' moment, although Heather admitted her legs felt 'a bit heavy.' Mind you, I don't think we helped the experiment by getting a fit of the giggles half way through and taking the mickey out of the studio audience who were wrestling to free themselves from their seats as though someone had stapled them to the upholstery when they weren't looking.

'So what is the problem exactly?' I say to Miggins as I open the gate of the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace.
'Oh, you know,' sighs Miggins. She pauses to take some washing off the line as we pass by. 'The usual hypnotism problem.'
'She's stopped smoking?' I say.
'She thinks she's a chicken,' says Miggins.

I stop in my tracks.
'Hang on,' I say. 'What do you mean, 'she thinks she's a chicken?'
'Do I have to explain everything to you?' says Mrs M. 'You know, a hypnotist will get a susceptible volunteer to go onto the stage, put them under the 'fluence, wake them up and then every time the hypnotist clicks their fingers, or says a trigger word or phrase like 'froghopper' or 'would you like a biscuit with that?' the volunteer will start flapping their arms and strutting about making noises like a chicken.'

'But...' I begin.
'So when I did the Saturday early-morning-tea-in-bed-and-Guardian-newspaper duty today, and I said to Mrs Slocombe, 'would you like a biscuit with that?' she leapt out of bed and started behaving like a chicken. It's quite sad really and very embarrassing. I wouldn't want the neighbours to see her in this state.'

And she beckons me to the South Wing and opens the door.

Mrs Slocombe appears and tips her head to one side, giving me a beady-eyed look.

'Morning, Mrs Slocombe,' I say, brightly.
'Bok, bok, bok,' says Mrs S.
'How are you today?' I venture further.
'Bokkity, bok, bok, bok, bokky, bik, bik, bok,' says Mrs S.
'See,' says Miggins. 'Can you understand a word she's saying? I can't.'
'Hmmmm,' I say. 'And this is all from watching Derren Brown on the telly last night?'
'Yes,' sighs Miggins. 'I left the room for five minutes to make hot chocolate. I said, 'DO NOT follow Derren's instructions. You know how mad you are. If anyone is bound to fall for his trickery pokery it'll be you, you crazy bint. And when I stuck my head round the door to ask if she wanted cream on her chocolate she was behaving a farmyard animal.'

I can see this is an upsetting experience for Mrs Miggins. She is a creature of very high standards and won't even entertain having a goldfish in the Palace let alone a mucky thing like a chicken.
'Right,' I say. 'Don't panic. I'll sort it out. You go and put the kettle on and I'll deal with Mrs Slocombe,' and I roll up my sleeves and fix Mrs S with a steely stare. To give her credit, she barely flinches at my look and continues to bok and bik whilst digging up the ground in pursuit of Lord knows what kind of horrendous bug.

As Mrs M disappears, I swoop on Slocombe and hold her firmly by the shoulders, or at least the place where chicken's shoulders would be if they had shoulders.
'Now look here,' I say. 'Stop this ridiculous behaviour IMMEDIATELY or I shall cease your supply of Multi-Cheerios forthwith.' (Mrs S likes her Multi-Cheerios. She enjoys seeing how many she can loop onto her beak at once.)

There is a very brief silence.

'I was only having a laugh,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Well Mrs Miggins is not amused,' I say. 'She's very upset. You should have more respect for your elders.'
'She should get a sense of humour,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Well sometimes, as you get older, you lose your sense of humour,' I explain. 'Especially the peurile part. It's called growing up and being responsible.'

Mrs Slocombe gives a huff, but I can see that the threat of a Multi-Cheerio famine has been enough to bring her to whatever senses she does have.
'I want you to go and apologise to Mrs Miggins now,' I say. 'And then go to the shops and buy her something nice like a bunch of flowers or a lace doily. Where's Mrs Pumphrey by the way?'

'Stuck to the Chesterfield after watching Derren Brown on the telly last night,' says Mrs Slocombe.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Networking and Being Twelve

I have been out networking today. I decided it's no good waiting for things to happen on the job front, I have to make them happen by being out there, networking.

Now, when I mean networking I don't mean getting to the sea-side and flinging my shrimping equipment around with gay abandon. Oh no - although that would be a lovely occupation in today's rather summery weather. And I don't mean networking by being on the interwebbly and living life in 2-D through the medium of the electronic ether. What I mean is the casting of my confidence out into the ocean of life and seeing what I could pull back in or dredge up from my previous travels and travails.

And by networking today I have secured some adult education tutoring up until Christmas and two more contacts who now have me on their lists for more tutoring/ adult education/ course delivery in the future.

And I met up with lots of old colleagues who were really pleased to see me and I spent a good time catching up with gossip and drinking copious cups of tea. So I have achieved my objective of getting some lucrative part-time work which will still allow me to be a writer. Hurrah!!

Looking at my pedometer I have covered 15,826 steps in the last 7 hours. So I've done my exercise for today, too!

Yesterday was hair-do day. I went in long and grey and came out short and brunette.
'Do I look old enough to be a granny?' I said to the hairdresser.
'No,' he said.
'That was the correct answer!' I said. Job done!!

I thought, I'm going to buy a new top to go with my new hair and so I did. It is longish (I could just about get away with wearing it as a dress with my knee high boots), and has a flounce around the bottom. It is covered in purple and pink and blue flowers. And dotted with a sequin or two hither and thither. It is a Bohemian blousey, dressy thing and I skipped about town feeling about 12 years old.

And Andy came home bearing me a huge and lovely bouquet of flowers.

AND Strictly Come Dancing starts again tonight which always makes me and Andy feel like we should take up ballroom dancing.

Sometimes I get down about life. We all do. It's part of the rhythms of being human.

But I can also pick myself up again and move on.

And I have.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I wonder when the word 'chicken' became synonymous with 'cowardice'? Having been a chicken keeper for a year and half now I think I can say with some authority that a chicken would not be top of my list of 'words-used-to-describe-cowardice'. In my opinion through my close observations of the girls and their behaviour I believe them to be inquisitive, sassy, bold and racy.

'That's not how Mrs Pumphrey behaved this morning when you served up those cauliflower leaves,' said Mrs Miggins.
'I thought she was lobbing a hand grenade at us,' said Mrs Pumphrey, defensively.
'That was because the wind was blowing a gale and I mis-judged the trajectory,' I said. 'And Mrs Miggins is right. There was no need to make all that fuss. No-one ever got blown up by a cauliflower. Or any food stuff come that.'
'You are always telling people you don't drink coffee because it blows you up,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Not in a fatally explosive way,' I said. 'Just in a water retentive manner.'

The cauliflower leaves were a present from the chicken's Auntie Jean, who also made me a present of some large kilner jars in which store my passata. I'm becoming a dab hand at passata making, mostly because it is an easy peasy thing to do. Cut tomatoes in half, place cut side up in a roasting tin, drizzle with oil (olive if you like it, sunflower if you don't), sprinkle with sea salt and freshly gound black pepper, roast in oven for 40 minutes until starting to char, then shove through a sieve to extract skin and pips and there you go! Seemples!!

Anyway, the chickens have been brave this week in the face of an interloper in the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. A previously unseen tabby cat made an appearance and seemed to think it could jump over the back fence into Cluckinghen Palace and stalk about a bit like it owned the place. Miggins, Pumphrey and Slocombe told the cat firmly but politely that he was not welcome by a) yelling at the tops of their voices b) running around him in order to instil a sense of confusion and finally c) sending Mrs Pumphrey to charge at him like a lion bowling for vultures (only in this case a reverse of the cat/ bird scenario). The cat came back twice more, received the same treatment on both occasions and hasn't been seen since.

And also, I think you have to be pretty brave to pass an egg through your lady bits on most days. I mean, I've had two babies and that was enough. Last week, Mrs Miggins did three eggs in 24 hours.

'I didn't mean to,' she said. 'The middle one caught me by surprise.'

I know this because I found it lying out in the middle of the grounds of the North Wing.

And Mrs Slocombe is pretty brave when she tries her feather plucking mischief on the other two. Mrs Miggins and Mrs Pumphrey are very much comrades in arms so any act of stealth attempted by Mrs Slocombe is usually fended off by a two beaked retaliation. She keeps trying, of course, but then she is mad. However, I would like to report that the Slocombe is back up to full featherage (hurrah!) so perhaps she is calming down a bit.

(As an aside, I am currently listening to 'La Traviata, Prelude to Act III' and Pandora is sitting on top of the cat scratching post, eyes closed, swaying slightly, in a complete trance. She looks both cute and funny at the same time and I don't want to make any sudden movements in case she falls off. I have a cat that appreciates classical music!)

So in conclusion, m'lud, I believe chickens to be no more chicken than any other creature and demand the association between 'chicken' and 'cowardice' be removed forthwith and attached to the word custard.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Wind and Rain and S**t and Stuff

Suddenly, it has become Autumn. I set off for Sainsbugs yesterday to get milk and other essentials, made it about 200 yards down the road and got beaten back home to retrieve my winter coat to protect me against the sudden onslaught of wind and rain.

As I took my winter coat from the wardrobe where it has been nestling in blissful disuse for the last 6 months, I stared out of the bedroom window at the rain coming down at 45 degree angles and the wind bending the trees and denuding them of their leaves and I thought 'Blimey, I don't think I can be bothered to go to Sainsbugs now. It looks too much like hard work.'

The thought of a twenty minute walk downhill there in the wind and rain and the twenty minute uphill walk back in the wind and rain laden with a couple of heavy shopping bags did not thrill me. Nay, no verily it did not.

And do you know what? I almost, almost gave in to this threat of defeat. Oh how easy it would have been to stay in the warm and dry and read, or sew, or fiddle with some writing. But then I thought, no. You are made of sterner stuff than this. You have had a s****y few weeks, what with one worry after another all piling in on top of each other, none of them even bothering to take a ticket and form a nice orderly queue to be dealt with calmly and sensibly. And you've had to deal with them yourself because when you asked a friend for help, they backed away, did not want to know, like their life, their problems were so much more important than yours.

And you did it. You got your head around things, did a bit of crying and huffing, straightened out a few things in your heart and head and have now achieved a sense of calm and purpose and direction.


So I did.

And whilst I was in Sainsbugs, all wet and windswept and done up in my winter coat which was my old dog walking coat from ten years ago and is now three sizes too big for me so perhaps I did look a bit of a sight, I don't know, I was only out to buy milk, I was turned on in the cereal aisle by a man, a foreign man, who looked straight at me, shouted something loudly in foreign, laughed right in my face and marched off with his pal, both laughing loudly.

At this point I thought, 'So, the President of S***dom is still in office.'

And I wanted to stand in the cereal aisle between the muesli and the Sainsbugs own 'Golden- Nuggets-Rots-Your-Teeth -Unless -They- Break-Them-First' and cry because this verbal assault was totally unwarranted.

But sometimes things happen in life for which there is no rhyme or reason. How do we deal with them? Retaliate? Air our dirty laundry in public and end up participating in an undignified and ugly slanging match? Cry? (This was my favourite option at that time). Or maintain a dignified silence, resisting the urge to decry our detractors and attackers because we knows in our heart that we are justified in our feelings and actions and, like Mary Poppins, do not need to explain ourselves?

So I got to the checkout, tears in check, and paid for my goods. I walked further into town on a mission. The rain and wind had stopped and the sun was coming out. I took off my winter coat and squashed it into my already full shopping bags. One of the shopping bag straps broke. My tears nearly broke too, but I continued on my march and found myself in a hairdressers.

And on Thursday I am going back to that hairdressers for a tint and a re-style.

Enough of grey

Good-bye to grey.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Child's Play

Yesterday we toddled off to Windsor Great Park to meet up with some good friends that we don't see very often as they live over that side of England and we live over this side of England. Windsor Great Park is roughly betwixt and between our respective residencies and as none of us has been there before, it seemed a good place to go.

Andy and I arrived first. The only traffic jams we encountered were 1) in a petrol station and 2) at the entrance of the Black Nest car park where the car in front of us hesitated at the barrier because it had two bicycles strapped to its roof.

'They won't get under the barrier with those bikes on their roof,' I said.
'No, they won't,' said Andy.

The female passenger in the car got out and assessed the bicycle/ barrier clearance potential. She shook her head at her male companion who was driving. But he seemed determined to give it a go, so fed £2.50 into the meter and charged at the barrier.

Of course, men usually have to discover things for themselves before they realise that their female partners are actually right about something, so on discovering that his car plus 2 bicycles on the roof would not indeed fit 'neath the barrier, he had to reverse, get out of the car, remove the bicycles and place them over the car park fence into the car park, then put another £2.50 into the meter before this time gaining successful access through the barrier. We were most admiring of his lady companion that she remained calm in the face of his distrust and dismissing of her original assessment. Still, plenty of woodland in which to bury a body later, when it was dark...

Andy and I played frisbee whilst waiting for our friends to arrive. It brought back memories of playing frisbee at our wedding. We had a frantic call from our friends when they tried to park in the Guard's Polo Club a stone's throw up the road and an officious parking attendant had tried to charge them £20 for the privilege. £20???!!!!!!! How the other half live, eh?

We set off through the park, armed with picnic hampers and kites and blankets and our friends' small daughter who is called Taryn. Taryn is nearly four years old and is probably the most intelligent and verbally accomplished nearly 4 year old I've ever come across. We set about collecting forest treasures, using the inverted frisbee as a collection plate. We gathered acorns and beech nuts, moss and bark, leaves in various states of autumnal colour, sycamore keys, pine cones, an assortment of tiny yellow flowers and tiny purple flowers and then Taryn's mum trumped us all by discovering the skull of a rabbit. In its skeletal form, I hasten to add; we didn't lug a decapitated bunny head around with us on a frisbee for the rest of the day.

We explored trees looking for fairies and overgrown woodland for Herne the Hunter who is supposed to haunt the woodland here and then we found a nice spot for our picnic.

After picnicking, Taryn and I left the grown ups to talk and went for a mini-explore up a hill and around a corner. We found a bench made from a tree trunk and I showed Taryn how to count the rings of bark to determine the age of the tree.
'Let's go and tell Mummy, Daddy and Uncle Andy about the tree bench,' I said.
'We could shout for them to come and look at it,' said Taryn.
'I think it would be better if we went to fetch them,' I said.
'Why?' said Taryn.
'Because it would be nicer to go and tell them rather than yell at them down the hill,' I said.
'Why?' said Taryn.
'It's better manners,' I said. 'Shouting in public is common.'
'I'd rather shout,' said Taryn.
'Well, I think we should go and find them,' I persisted.
'Okay,' said Taryn. 'I'll stay here.'
'No, you have to come with me,' I said.
'Why?' said Taryn.
'Because Mummy and Daddy will be cross with me if I leave you on your own,' I said.
'But what if someone else sits on our bench?' said Taryn.
'They won't,' I said.
'Why?' said Taryn.

I had forgotten the 'why' phase of growing up. Still, it's good to have an inquisitive mind.

We set off back down the hill.


So the picnic was packed away, and we trooped back up the hill with assorted hampers, kites, rugs and a frisbee full of forest treasures and a rabbit skull. Taryn had maintained her hold on the collection of acorns and beech nuts we had gathered clearly not trusting them to my frisbee plate. As we climbed the hill, Taryn sang, 'The Grand Old Duke of York' to us. As we reached the bench, Andy requested she sing 'Pop Goes the Weasel.'
'I don't know that one,' said Taryn, climbing onto the bench and placing her handful of acorns and beech nuts carefully at her side.
'I'll teach you,' said Andy, sitting beside her.

And he began to sing.

'Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle.
That's the way the money goes,
'POP! Goes the weasel.'

Taryn fixed him with a steely glare.

'You're sitting on my nuts,' she said.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Going to the Pictures

Heather and I went to see the film 'Julie and Julia' today. Heather told me off because as we entered the cinema foyer I said, 'Ooh, I haven't been to the pictures in ages.' Which is true, because I haven't. But apparently, no-one calls it 'going to the pictures' these days. I didn't like to ask what the film-going experience is called now in case it was something appalling that offended my English Literature graduate sensibilities, like 'checkin' on da flick house'.

And then I got told off for paying for the de luxe seats.
'Faux pas, Mum,' said Heather.
'Why?' I said. 'I have a wide bottom. I want a wide seat in which to place it.'
'Because there will be no-one else in the screening,' said Heather. 'So we could have started in the ordinary seats and moved into the deluxe seats when the film started.'

Apparently. no-one bothers to check if you are sitting in the right seats at a mid-day showing on a Friday when the schools are in term.

Well, I would have felt guilty if I'd have indulged in this seat-swapping deceit so I decided the extra 50p a seat I paid was money well spent for a clear conscience.

As it was there were 3 other people in the cinema with us. And for all I knew, one of them could have been an undercover cinema seat ticket inspector ready to pounce.
'Your ticket says standard, you are sitting in deluxe,' they might have said. 'Please pay the extra 50p or move.' Which would have been highly embarrassing in front of the other 2 people there.

Anyway, the film was very entertaining. I didn't nod off once, unlike the last time I went 'to the pictures.' I can't even remember what the film was I fell asleep to. I think it had penguins in it. But 'Julie and Julia' proved to be a feel-good film and confirmed my belief that Meryl Streep is my all-time favourite actress. Someone in the writing group I joined reckons I look like Meryl Streep. They don't wear glasses, as far as I am aware. Perhaps they should.

The film, without giving away the plot and subtle nuances of character and friendship analysis, is about an American woman who learned how to cook French food and then taught other American women to cook French food, and then another American woman, forty years later, who wrote a blog about cooking every one of the first woman's recipes in the French cookery book she wrote forty years previously. Inside a year. It was also about being a writer.

In some ways, the whole blogging and getting published subtext was slightly irksome to someone who is a writer who is blogging and trying to get published. But in many, many more ways, the characters were inspirational in their determination, their femininity, their quirkiness, their passion and their individuality. It got me thinking about whether I possessed these qualities myself in large enough doses that I could do something like they did. ('Julie and Julia' is based on a true story with real people.) And then I thought, 'Will I ever experience that happy co-incidence that lands me in the elusive 'right place at the right time?' (It happens in the film, but I don't want to spoil your enjoyment by telling you how if you decide to pay a visit to 'the pictures' yourself.)

Of course, it doesn't matter one way or the other really, because I enjoy writing and won't ever not write. But going to see a film that makes you think in a positive manner is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

All I need to do is discover my Unique Selling Point. To think of something that no-one else has ever done before, that I could do and then write about in a unique voice.

Suggestions, anyone??

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Baby Face

Today I saw the first photos of Baby Bun Grand-child! Scan photos, of course, in glorious monochrome, but photos nevertheless and it was very exciting!

There were four altogether, strung in a line like the ones you have taken in a photobooth for your passport. Head facing towards us, then in profile, bum in the air and then casual recline position. Little hands, little feet, little head. Actually, the face one was a bit scary, being like a shadowy skeleton, but it was fascinating to see the nose, eyes and mouth and the way the skull bones are joining together at the top. I liked the profile one best - it looked like a broad bean with a retrousse nose.

Anyway, all is well and Baby Bun Grand-child is 16.8 cm tall. Quite a handful already.

I was at the allotment at just after 7.30 this morning. Things are starting to die back now but I was surprised to see the runner beans throwing up more flowers so perhaps there will be a secondary bean crop. I did some tidying, some digging and some weeding. And then I noticed I was being pursued by half a dozen wasps. I thought, I wonder what it is that's attracting them and then I realised that I was digging the area next to the raspberry bushes and every now and again I was pausing in my digging to nibble on a raspberry or five and they were being drawn to the scent I was making by picking the fruit. I picked cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, beans, carrots, tomatoes, onions, peppers, chard and spinach and came home with two full bags of produce, the sun in my face and a feeling of oneness with vegetables.

Back home there was a fracas occuring in the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. I went to investigate and found the Misses Miggins, Pumphrey and Slocombe seeing off a tabby cat that had wandered haplessly into their domain.

'And don't come back!' yelled Mrs Miggins, dusting her wings together in a 'Job Well Done,' kind of way.
'Everything all right, ladies?' said I.
'It is now,' said they.

Chris and Leane popped around for lunch hence my viewing of Baby Bun Grand-child photos. At one point during their visit Chris said, 'Why do I feel like I'm being ganged up on when I come round here?' Bless him! He was in the company of his girlfriend, his mother and his sister all at the same time- how else does he expect to feel? But he got a cheese panini and a jam doughnut so it couldn't have been that bad an experience.

Ah doughnuts! I haven't had a proper jam doughnut for well, must be well over a year. When you make your own cakes you don't tend to get involved in the shop bought stuff but as my oven is still out of commission following Sunday's explosion and as I happened to be in Sainsbugs this morning I thought, I'll get some fresh jammy doughnuts as a treat. They were delicious.!

And Andy texted to say the operation he had to do on a cat's willy this morning went well and was only mildly traumatic. He showed me pictures in a text book last night of what he was going to do today and I never realised a cat's willy was such a complex organ. Fiddly, too, with lots of tiny, tiny component parts all flopping and dangling over each other.
'You really need delicate fairy fingers for this kind of malarkey, don't you?' I said.
Andy nodded. 'And patience.'
'Shall I come and mop your brow for you?' I said.
'If you like,' said Andy. 'As long as you promise not to take over.'

I wasn't sure if I could make this promise. It all looked very fascinating and as I pointed out, I am very nimble fingered, what with all the needlepoint I do.
'I bet I could give it a fair shot,' I said. 'You could stand at the side and call out the instructions.'
'Hmmmmm,' said Andy with a barely disguised air of uncertainty.
He's very clever, my husband.

And that's about it for today.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Do It Ourselves

A magazine I purchased recently, mostly because it had recipes for what to do with pumpkins and squash, the vegetables most likely to be taking over storage space chez moi at the moment, also contained an article entitled '12 DIY skills no woman should be without'.

Now, I am all for women getting to grips with DIY. Be independent, be practical and you won't flounder like a useless article should you ever find yourself alone for any length of time (as I did for a few years following my one and only divorce.) During that period of time I discovered I could tile a kitchen, lay flooring, paint, wallpaper, unblock blocked plumbing, go out to buy a wheelbarrow and come home with a new car etc etc. However, the writer of the article seemed to have a very odd idea about what DIY skills a woman needs to master.

Here's the list. See what you think.

1) Wire a Plug - a bit of a redundant skill I think as all new electrical appliances these days come with moulded plugs ready attached. But if you've got an old and particularly favourite appliance, I suppose knowing that blue goes to the left, brown to the right and green up the middle is still useful information to have.

2) Hanging wall paper - the advice starts immediately by mentioning wallpaper with a pattern. Good Lord, why give yourself the grief?? Get plain wallpaper. It's far more user friendly. It also mentions starting to paper from a focal point or 'dominant wall'. Dominant wall? I should like to think all my walls are dominant, in order to keep the roof from falling in.

3) Mend a dripping tap - this is an easy one, especially if you've got a cat. Place cat by dripping tap. It'll keep the cat busy all day and avoid you having to listen to that annoying drip, drip drip sound . If you don't have a cat, and hard though it is to believe there are actually people out there who don't like cats (I know, crazy isn't it?), then a strategically placed dish cloth will absorb drips and muffle sound at the same time. Squeeze out into jug at end of day and use drippings to water houseplants, if you are especially water aware.

4) Fix a toilet that won't flush - the advice here mentions words like 'siphon', 'pliers' and 'wire coat hanger.' Sounds exciting, so am cutting this tip out to keep in bathroom just in case. In fact, I might render a toilet deliberately unflushable just so I can see if the trick they suggest actually works.

5) Painting - I'm sorry, but if you need to be told how to dip a brush or roller in paint and apply it to walls, you shouldn't be allowed out of the asylum in the first place. All successful painting requires is an old shirt if you're messy, a big dollop of confidence and the skills to win an argument with your spouse vis a vis 'Is 'Putting Green' green the right shade for the woodwork in the kitchen, wouldn't 'Sage Leaf' look better?'

6) Grouting - I grouch all the time, but not as much since I stopped reading the Daily Mail. (I am hoping to wean myself off it in the same manner of weaning myself off Eastenders nearly 2 years ago now.) Oops, sorry, grouting, not grouching. Well, grouting is fun. And very satisfying. I enjoy grouting. There is no mystery to it. Just follow the instructions on the packet (use the powered version, not the ready made stuff. I find the powdered stuff is far superior and more workable.) It is a thoroughly absorbing activity, especially if one needs distracting from a problem or general annoyance.

7) Drilling - drilling scares me. Or rather, my drill scares me. It's so, well, LOUD! I don't like LOUD! My dad was a carpenter and I much prefered using the non-electric drills he had in his workshop. You had more control over the speed and depth of what you were drilling. A bit like using a hand turn sewing machine over one with an electric pedal. Slow and steady wins the race and stops you getting carried away through electrical cables and plumbing. We have got one of those metal detector thingies for finding wires and pipes behind plastered walls but it seems to go off at a whim. Perhaps our house is lined with gold??

8) Sealing baths and sinks - now, whilst I can see myself doing this in theory (it's a bit like icing a cake which I can do with sometimes very good results), from a practical point of view it is a job best left to Guy the Builder especially if the task requires removal of old seal first using a Stanley knife. Or any kind of knife come to that. Unless it's a furry seal, you know, the - 'bark, bark, chuck me a fish' type. In which case I could have a go at tackling it myself. I have been at close quarters with many baby seals before. I was warned not to stand too close as they could be vicious little baskets. What? With those HUGE melting eyes, and that cute little whiskery nose?? Nah...

9)Unblock drains - if you've had babies or at least if you've ever changed a poopy nappy, then theoretically you should be able to cope with the contents of a blocked drain. I've got a very effective plunger plus I take the precautionary measure of downing half a packet of soda crystals into the plug holes with a kettle of boiling water once every fortnight or so, and touchwood, that generally keeps things flowing nicely. Failing that, Andy, being a vet, has put his hands in worse places and always seems keen to get up to his armpits in a drain if the opportunity arises.

10) Squeaky doors - excuse me? We need to be told how to deal with a squeaky door? Oil. On the hinges. Durrrr!

11) Replace a broken tile - if you have a broken tile, then the opportunity is ripe for a complete redecorate. Don't be faffing around trying to replace a single tile. You'll never find a replacement one that matches exactly anyway. And you're bound to crack the surrounding tiles as you set to with your hammer and screwdriver as suggested in the article. Redecorating is good for the soul. A change is as a good as as a rest, as they say. Out with the old, in with the new. Get ones with flowers on. Or tiny chickens.

12) Make a perfect cup of tea - WHAT??? The last DIY technique a woman needs to know is how to make a perfect cup of tea????? Well, for a start, the subject of perfection in tea is highly subjective. I know people who like their tea so strong you could stand a spoon up in it and people whose idea of tea perfection is to barely show the hot water the tea bag. I know people who use long-life milk (bleuch), who make tea straight into a mug (I'm a tea-pot girl myself) and who wax lyrical over Earl Grey (I'd rather drink ashes dissolved in dishwater.) So I declare this last 'tip' as null and void on the grounds of its total irrelevance.

So there we go. If us girls can get to grips with these 11 things (or 12 if you insist on keeping the highly tenous tea-making suggestion), then all our DIY demands can be fulfilled.

Of course, the ultimate in female DIY skills is the fluttering of the eye lashes and the invocation of a girly twee voice as you say 'I think the loo is broken/ drain is blocked/ car tyre is flat/ curtain pole needs putting up/ etc, etc etc.'

Works for me every time!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Spending Spree

Andy and I had a date the other day. He had a half day of lieu time so we decided to meet up for lunch followed by some long overdue book shop perusal. The weather was lovely (I think the south-east of England is up for an Indian summer judging by the last week or so) and we ended up in the cafe at the top of C & H Fabrics, somewhere that does lovely lunch time food yet we rarely think about going to eat.

Whilst awaiting our jacket potatoes, Andy suddenly leant across the table and grabbed my hands.
'Hello', I thought, 'what's he up to?'
'I'm worried about you going stir crazy because you are stuck in the house all week,' he said. 'So I want you to have this and go on a spending spree to cheer yourself up.'

And he pressed a very substantial amount of money into my palm.

'And you're to spend it all on yourself,' he said. 'No keeping it to pay bills with. Buy whatever you like.'

I couldn't speak. I was stunned into an emotional silence. This has never happened to me before.
To be honest, we were both a little tearful at the development of this unexpected gesture. Our jacket potatoes arrived, we ate them and stepped out into the sunshine.

'Right,' said Andy. 'Off you go. Spend your money.'

Unfortunately, spontenaity is not my forte. I'm not keen on surprises. Or taking risks. I like to know what's going to happen, to be prepared, to avoid errors of judgement at all costs. (I blame my mother for this. When we were children, she'd say, 'Get into the car, we're going out.' And my brother, sister and I would say, 'Where are we going?' and she would say 'Surprise.' And the surprise destination would invariably turn out to be either the dentist, or the doctor for some kind of vaccination. This definition of 'surprise' has clearly damaged me for life).

Of course, being given money and told to go and spend it by one's uniquely wonderful hubbie is a lovely kind of surprise and I really wanted to go mad in the town and despatch the whole wodge of cash in one mad gallop into the face of the current economic down turn. But deep in my heart I knew I'd end up bringing home a pointless kitchen gadget, a pair of purple leatherette trousers, a rug making kit featuring Eeyore the Donkey and probably some more chickens and bearded collie.

I looked at Andy. His face was shiny with expectation, his feet ready to scuttle after me as I wafted grandly from shop to shop like Lady Bracknell saying, 'I'll have that and that and that and that. Wrap them in expensive paper and ribbons and give them to my chauffeur.'

'I have to plan what I'm going to buy,' I said, apologetically. 'So I make sure I don't buy anything stupid.'

I could see by Andy's face, indeed I knew in my own soul, that I was clearly missing the point of the phrase 'spending spree.' By making a list and giving my potential purchases considered thought, I was negating the potential for thrill and extravagance and impulse.

But he knows me well, my husband. He knows that it is in my blood to be careful with my resources, to be moderate and considered, especially where spending on myself is concerned.
'Well, as long as you have a spree at some point,' he said.
'I shall,' I promise.

It's been a quietly exciting thing for me, planning my spree. The money is sitting safely, waiting for THE BIG MOMENT when it will be unleashed on the retail world.

Here is my list so far:
1) a pair of posh trainers to protect my now official 'weak spot' of an Achilles tendon
2) a proper duffle coat a la Paddington Bear for Winter - in either purple or red
3) an address book as my old one is looking rather tatty now and is full of crossings out where people keep moving
4) one of those big food processors that look like mini concrete mixers
5) a selection of knitwear (the selection of knitwear causes me grief every year for some unkown reason)
6) membership of the BumbleBee Preservation Society
7) a swarm of bees
8) the entire contents of my list of 'Books I would like for my Birthday' currently attached to the notice board in the kitchen
9) a chaise longue
10) a replacement laptop ( I say this because the threat usually makes my current and very faithful laptop behave itself for another few weeks)

Of course, I could go to Canterbury and blow the whole lot in M & S.

Which would be nice.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Breakfast at Kitteny's

Basically, everyone's breakfast will always look better than your own. Especially when you are a kitten and your own breakfast looks like a selection of cardboard shapes. And you get the same breakfast every single day which, co-incidentally, looks and tastes exactly the same as your lunch and dinner.

And despite Andy's resolve that 'The Kitten Shall Not Climb All Over the Breakfast Table' in the mornings, she still manages to climb aboard once in a while in order to snaffle a bit of milk, or muesli, or butter or Marmite.

Actually, I am being a tad unfair to Pandora. Mostly she takes up a position on one of the chairs and STARES at us over the edge of the table. I think she is waiting for the day when we tuck a bib around her neck, place a plate of kippers before and say 'Welcome to the Breakfast Club. Your patience has been rewarded with an Honorary Membership.'

But until that day she sits and waits and stares and sometimes a bout of cereal rage will get the better of her and she will pounce.With admirable persistence.

Currently, her favourite breakfast is cereal and milk. The type of cereal is irrelevant. It's the heady mix of cereal crumbs soaked in ice cold milk that she's after. Here is the Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Breakfast at Kitteny's for those who wish to survive breakfast with their own kitten.

1) Choose your breakfast food carefully. Under no circumstance go for the tuna option. Accept that the tuna option will almost certainly end in defeat. In a fight over tuna, a cat will always come off better than a human. Ditto sausages, bacon, in fact anything that once had a face.

2) Try to distract your kitten. Pandora has a string-on-a-stick of which she is currently very fond. The distraction technique is best used with breakfasts that require only one hand with which to eat as your other hand will be occupied operating the toy of distraction. So -a banana, an apple, a nectarine. Possibly a hard-boiled egg if prepared the previous night and all ready peeled.

3) This morning I went for the fruit and cereal option, the cereal being Bran Flakes, purchased by Andy for Lord knows what reason but now rapidly approaching their best before date and it appears to be up to me to prevent them going to waste.
In the bowl went the cereal, topped off with enough milk to make it edible but not so much as to turn it to mush inside of two minutes. I sit at table. Pandora sits on opposite chair and stares. Her nose quivers. Her whiskers tremble. Within 30 seconds her brain registers cereal rage and so battle commences...
a) Put spoon of cereal in mouth, fend kitten off with back of hand
b) Put another spoon of cereal in mouth, fend kitten off with forearm.
c) Put down spoon, remove kitten from table to floor
d) Pick up spoon
e) Put down spoon, remove kitten from table to floor
f) Pick up spoon.
g) Gobble down three or four spoonfuls in quick succession. Not an easy feat with any Bran related product
h) Raise cereal bowl and spoon above head out of kitten's reach. Kitten will now have her front paws planted firmly on your bosoms, or chest if you are a manly man, and will be staring you in the face.
i) You will receive subliminal message from kitten brain something along the lines of 'Put the bowl on the table and stand well back.'
j) You will now have 2 options - either give in and allow kitten to finish off the cereal or eat remaining cereal with bowl balanced on head (yours, not the kittens). The kitten would like to point out that she is in no way responsible for the dribbles of milk and cereal slush you are bound to get down your front by eating from a bowl balanced on your head. Kittens have meticulous manners, being very dainty eaters. Any mess incurred is down to you, you mucky human piglet.

4) Of course, you could shut the kitten in the hall way whilst you have breakfast. If you can bear the scratching and the plaintive mewing and the little kitten nose pressed up against the glass saying 'Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease let me in.'

5) Try saying 'No!' in a very stern voice. Kitten will look at you and enquire what the word 'no' actually means. You will explain in words of one syllable. You can top it off with the sentence, 'And when I say no, I mean no,' which the kitten all ready knows to be untrue so is, if I am honest, a complete waste of breath.

One day I am going to make a film of Andy and Pandora at breakfast for it is most entertaining. Well, it makes me laugh which can't be a bad way to start the day. It shall be called 'The Battle of Breakfast Big Horn.' Andy shall play the role of strapping man, firm yet kind and in pursuit of defending his breakfast from the paws of the evil breakfast snatcher and Pandora shall play the part of evil breakfast snatcher a.k.a innocent kitten, small and persistent in her pursuit of sustenance that isn't cat food.

Although Pandora had better watch herself. She is 5 months old now. In another month she'll be going into hospital to be spayed (Being the responsible pet owners that we are, there will be none of this ridiculous letting her have one litter malarkey. More than enough spare animals in the world as it is without adding more). And her surgeon shall be???? Well, let's hope he's had a good breakfast that day.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


This morning I was fully intent on making beetroot houmous and flatbread (River Cottage HQ recipe - what else??). I got the beetroot ready to go in the oven and just as I was about to switch on said oven I thought, the oven door is looking a bit grotty, I know I'll give it a clean before I start cooking.

This, it turned out, proved to be 'The Stupid Thought of the Day.'

The inner glass of the oven door slides out for easy cleaning. I filled the sink with hot soapy water, collected up various bottles of cleaner that promised instant de-greasing properties, availed myself of a new and very scratchy scouring pad and set to work. I also thought, whilst I'm about it I'll do the inside of the oven.

Scrubidy scrub and scrapity scrape I went. And soon the glass was shiny, clean and lovely. I left it to dry whilst I dealt with the bottom of the oven using a wooden spatula, kitchen roll and more de-greasing power spray. I was thinking, what a lovely clean oven I have. It will make my beetroot houmous that much more special. (Don't ask why - although I slept extremely well last night, I think the brain is suffering still from the lack of sleep the previous day and thus has impaired thought processes).

And then, just as I was about to replace the inner glass door and get a-cooking I thought, I'll just give the glass a final buffin'. WRONG!

During the buffing process the glass door shattered into a gazzilion trazillion tiny, tiny pieces ALL over the kitchen and bizarrely, half way up the hall way.

It made me jump out of my skin.

And my heart pound. Boom-diddy-boom-diddy-flump!

The cats froze. They had all been in the kitchen with me, helping to do oven cleaning mostly by getting into the oven and trying to eat toxic cleaning products. And then they unfroze and tried to help clean up the glass by skidding around and trying to eat that too.

I was left holding a 3mm square piece of glass and with a surprised look on my face.

So, all in all, the cleaning of the oven and clearing up of the broken glass exercise took an hour and a half out of my life. Result? A clean oven I can't use because a piece of glass is now missing.

Andy found and ordered a replacement on the Interwebbly in less than 20 minutes. Andy is great like that! It should arrive by the end of the week and the oven will once more be functional.

Until then it'll be on-top-of-the-oven cooking. Which is okay. On reading the manufacturer's instruction booklet for the oven to find the make and model number for replacement glass, there was a sentence which said 'Care must be taken when cleaning inner door panel as glass can shatter suddenly without warning.'

You're telling me, I thought.

So, lessons to be learned?
1) Do not be distracted into another task when you've already set your focus on one (especially when it involves making delicious food)
2) A clean oven does not necessarily improve its functionality
3) This would be a good week to cut back on eating homemade cake
4) It's good to have a partner in a crisis
5) Worse things have happened than this
6) Be prepared for sudden surprises but don't be thrown by them.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

The Darkest Hour is Before Dawn...

...or in this case, 3 a.m.

If I nod off half way through this post, give me a nudge, will you? Three o'clock this morning, I am SUDDENLY AWAKE! I'd like to report that it was due to another inspirational writing moment, but it wasn't. There was no reason other than my mind was in overload trying to sort out various ups and downs that occurred this week and it wasn't about to allow me to get my allotted sleepy-byes time.

Also, my tummy was growling, again for no apparent reason.

I lie awake for about half an hour and then, because I am aware I am doing the equivalent of a horizontal River Dance and am in danger of waking Andy, decide to go downstairs for a mug of mint tea and a read. I'm reading Hugh F-Ws book 'Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All,' at the mo and highly recommend it as an informative and highly entertaining little number. I adore Hugh even more now. Andy and I are going to try and adopt him. We think he would make an excellent addition to our household.

In the kitchen, the cats appear, blinking into the sudden fluorescence of the light.
'What's she doing now?' says Pandora.
'Making mint tea,' says Tybalt. 'Which means she will then go into the living room, wrap herself in her Celtic rug and do some reading.'
'Oooh goody!' says Pandora. 'Play time!'

I sip my tea and read for about an hour and then my eyelids start to flutter downwards. I think, am I going to actually sleep? Or am I going to thrash 'n' doze? It is half past four. I have an hour and a half for sleeping before getting up again to let the hens out of Cluckinghen Palace. Hmmmm...I decide to stay downstairs so I won't wake Andy.

Eyes lids very heavy. Droopy droop. Book slides from hands. Head tilts back and over to one side.
'Chomp, chomp chomp.'
The sound is Pandora eating Terwilliger, the big fern that resides atop the faux wood burning stove.
'Will you stop eating Terwilliger,' I hiss into the darkness. The chomping stops. For twenty seconds.
'Chomp, chomp, chomp.'
'I said stop it!'
'It's not me,' says Pandora. 'It's Phoebe.'
'If you two don't leave the plant alone, I'll shut you back in the kitchen,' I threaten.

Eyes close. Head tilts forward so chin is cushioned on jim-jammed bosom.

'Chomp, chomp, chomp...'

'RIGHT! That's it!' I say, leaping up and chasing Phoebe and Pandora into the kitchen. No sign of Tybalt. He is sensible. He knows the best way to maintain freedom from the kitchen is to keep schtumm.

Although heart is pounding at sudden exertion, the eyes are insisting on sleep. I re-snuggle under blanket and try to regain previous comfy cushion position.

Two minutes later...

'Scratch, scratch, scratch...'

'What the f...?' I say. (You're allowed to swear in the darkest hours. God says so.)
'It's Phoebe,' says Tybalt, appearing from the gloom of the hall. 'She's trying to scratch her way out of the kitchen because she knows you are still downstairs. Pandora is egging her on,' he adds as an after-thought.

I crash open the kitchen door.
'What??' I say. Somewhere outside a dog is yapping. Yap, frigging yappity yap. And then a car alarm goes off. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!

'Is it time for breakfast?' says Phoebe.
'No,' I say and return to the sofa, leaving the kitchen door open.

Sleep is calling. My tummy has been comforted and settled by the mint tea.

Ten minutes later my nostrils are assailed by the unmistakable aroma of a wee small hour cat-just-done-a-poop smell.
'Just making room for breakfast!' calls Phoebe cheerfully from the 'conservatory'.

Wearily, I get up and clean out litter tray.

It is a quarter to six. I am almost asleep.

'COWABUNGA!!!!' yells Pandora as she jumps full square onto my head. I wonder how many paracetemol I need to take to achieve that fine balance between deep sleep and coma.

6.15. Get up, release and feed chickens, all the while keeping my eyes closed.

'You look awful,' says Miggins. 'You should get more sleep.'
'I'VE JUST LAID AN EGG!' yells Mrs Slocombe.

And now it is just gone 11. I have been awake for 8 hours. In real sleep time this equates to 2 in the afternoon. At this rate I'll be up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire by 6 p.m.

'Could you keep the noise down?' says Phoebe as my fingers trip clumsily and noisily over the keyboard. 'Only I'm trying to sleep.'
'Me too,' yawns a dozy Pandora Kitten.

Hold me back, folks. Hold me back!

Friday, 4 September 2009

A Study of Hens

'How's back to school going?' I ask.

My writing room has been taken over by hens diligently doing their homework. There's barely any elbow room on my desk, and it's a big desk, having once been the family dining table, seating for eight.

'It's going very well,' says Miggins. 'My Einstein pencil case has been very much admired.'
'I don't see why we have to do so much Maths,' sighs Mrs Slocombe. 'I mean, I can count already and can't possibly see what use the logarithmic function or Cartesian co-ordinates are going to be to me in the future.'
'Now Mrs Slocombe,' I say, 'you know your counting can be a bit random sometimes.'
'I disagree,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'My way of counting suits my purposes exactly. One egg, two eggs, three eggs, another egg, one more egg and then one for luck makes two large sponge cakes.'
'It doesn't exactly expand your mind to the mass enquiry that Mathematics demands, does it though?' I say.
'What's she talking about?' whispers Mrs Slocombe to Mrs Miggins. Mrs Miggins shrugs.
'Beats me,' she says. 'She teaches English. Verbal diarrhoea.'
'Is that how you spell it?' says Slocombe.
'I believe so,' says Miggins.
'And you didn't even need to look it up in the dictionary,' says Slocombe.
'I play a lot of Scrabble,' says Miggins.
'Please don't whisper,' I say. 'It's very bad manners, you know.'

'How's your Geography?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who can sense a fracas brewing and decides to employ diversionary tactics. She bats her globe of the world with her wing.
'Not a strong point, I'm afraid,' I say, 'and neither is Chemistry, but let's not change the subject. Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!!'

Three sets of beady eyes stare at me across the table.

'Anyway,' says Miggins, when the stare has had its desired calming effect and I am once more subdued into knowing my place in this hallowed place of learning, 'it's not all hard work and no play at the Aristotle Plato Hencademy. We've joined several after-school clubs.'
'Really?' I say. 'And what would they be?'
'Well,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I have joined the Drama Group and Dress Design For Awkward Shapes...'
'And I've joined the debating society,' says Miggins. 'This week we debated woodchucks. And how much wood they would chuck if they could chuck wood.'
'And what was the outcome?' I ask
'23 tonnes,' says Miggins. 'And a twig.'
'And what about you, Mrs Slocombe?' I say. 'What extra-curricula activity have you joined?'
'Carpentry,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'The project for this term is Build-a-Garden-Observatory. I thought I'd get a head start on Andy's Christmas present.'
'He'll love it,' I say. 'But I'm not sure where we're going to put it. Unless we've moved house by then.'
'Oh it'll fit easily into our current back garden,' says Mrs S. 'Basically, it's a box with a hole in the top that fits on your head.'
'Which is what you meant by getting a head start?' I say.
'What else?' says Slocombe.

'I see,' I say.
'Well,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'I'm lacking in the Mathematical skills to make the full size version.'
'Any chance of milk and cookies? To aid the learning process.'

'Yours or mine?' I sigh.