Sunday, 31 May 2009

Ahead of my time

My early morning posting today -the Dowager House and Problems Down Below - was too early for Blogger which has registered it as being posted on Saturday! I am clearly ahead of my time. But it feels odd not having a blog dated with today's date, especially as it is the last day of May. So here I am again with ANOTHER post, you lucky, lucky people.

Anyway, we spent half an hour putting Miggo and Pumphrey into their new house and saying 'Lay your eggs in there,' because they were going frantic trying to get through the partition fence to get to the South Wing pod where laying usually occurs. And they spent half an hour getting out of their new house and saying 'but we want to lay them in the old house.'

We reached what is called an impasse - human against chicken, chicken against human. So we went to the allotment and left them to it, hoping they would get the idea before they burst with egg laying energy.

The polytunnel is now complete! I forgot to take my camera so pictures will appear later in the week. The polytunnel now contains 12 tomato plants, three jalapeno peppers and three aubergines. There is space for much more. It was very hot in the polytunnel. There was much perspiration occuring. I lost 10lbs and Andy lost two stones so we had to eat a lot of cake when we got home to recoup our strength. I planted some French beans and rocket, we ate the 4 strawberries that had ripened. Andy made a cunning net frame for the soft fruit and I made a not so cunning net frame to protect the newly planted beans.

At home, Andy checked the North Wing.
'They've laid their eggs!' he shouted with excessive excitement given we've been experiencing home grown eggs for over a year now, but I guess the novelty of this small miracle never wears off! So Miggins and Pumphrey got the message and followed their instinct to find a dark space in which to lay. Hurrah for instinct!

Also, Mrs Miggins's bottom looks fine. Nothing untoward poking out where it shouldn't be.

So there we go. Second post Sunday. The sun is shining, the weather is boiling, I must go and water the greenhouse plants which look on the verge of death if they don't get a dowsing twice a day. The pumpkin and squash plants are growing nicely and I need to decided what to do with my sunflower seedlings - I've got 24 and they are all over 6 inches tall now. Perhaps I could have a little sunflower field in the middle of the front garden. The bees would like that.
And here are Miggo, Tybalt and me basking in the sun! (And not flown into the fence in a freak flying accident in Miggo's case!)

The Dowager House and Problems 'Down Below'

Last night I dreamt of roast chicken, cooked slowly over wood chips at 70 degrees for 9 hours. Two roast chickens, in fact. Mrs Miggins and Mrs Pumphrey, to be precise.

Yesterday, Miggo and Pumphrey moved into their new accommodation in the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. Andy did a marvellous job of converting the rabbit hutch, with nesting box bedroom compartment, roosting bars and shutters on the front door to keep out the light/rats/foxes/pizza delivery boys.
'Have they got enough air?' I said, inspecting the handiwork.
'Yes,' said Andy, firmly pointing to ventilation panels 'A' and 'B' with his screwdriver. 'They have plenty of air.'

I wasn't convinced, hence the dream. It was an irrational train of thought. After all, bunnies sleep in hutches all the time and they wear fur coats. Anyway, we left the door open to see if the girls would take themselves off to bed. Needless to say, because they are chickens and have tiny, tiny brains and are ridiculously suspicious of all new things, they didn't so in the break between 'Britain's Got Talent' and 'Britain's Got Talent - The Final Result' we monitered the going to bed situation and when Miggins and Pumphrey were still loitering about at 9 p.m, we took matters into our own hands and put them to bed ourselves, quickly shutting the door behind them. Andy checked on them after 10 minutes.
'They're okay,' he said. 'Both sitting down and making clucky noises. No beaks pressed against the walls, no squawks of 'let us out, let us out.'

(I am very pleased 'Diversity' won Britain's Got Talent, by the way. They have been my favourites all the way along - entertaining, innovative, professional, and an all around nice bunch of guys. The little one has hair that looks exactly like one of my pot plants. Except it isn't green. And I could never muster any emotion for Susan Boyle other than abject pity and concern for her psychological welfare.)

As the birds started to rev up outside this morning at 4.30, I was awake. An hour later, when I could bear it no longer, I got up and rushed outside. Reassuring clucking was coming from both the North and South wings.
'I can't believe you shut me in here all night on my own with Mrs Poo,' said Slocombe when I opened South Wing. 'You know she's a complete psychopath, don't you?'
'You're a fine one to talk,' I said. 'Besides, you'll be fine. Think of it as a learning curve.'

'I can't believe you shut us in a rabbit hutch all night,' said Miggins and Pumphrey as I opened the South Wing. They both stood and looked at me.
'Well,' I said, 'are you coming out, or what?'
'How do we do that?' said Pumphrey.
'Jump,' I said.
'Jump???' said Miggins, clearly appalled. 'Without a safety net?'
'It's only 4 inches,' I said.

Mrs Pumphrey took the plunge and Miggo followed on.
'I think I may be too old for this,' she said.
'Do you like your new house?' I said, refilling their water bowl and throwing some layers pellets on the ground so they could have a rummage.
'It's okay,' said Miggins. 'I think I shall call it 'The Dowager House. I shall be the Dowager Duchess and Mrs Pumphrey shall be my spinster companion.'
'Okay,' I say. I think there might be another Jane Austen themed weekend on the horizon. Better dig out the poplin dresses and bonnets sprigged with roses.

The next part of my blog is probably best not read over breakfast so if you're on the porridge now, or scambled eggs, you might want to turn away.

I learned a new hen keeping skill yesterday. It is the reverse action of the new party trick Miggins has developed called 'prolapsing her bottom.' It is a bit worrying she is doing this and we are keeping our fingers crossed it remains a small prolapse that will eventually stay put or Miggins is going to become one of those chickens who registers on the lower end of the 'hens live for between 2 and 5 years' scale. (And I shall be very sad and cry a lot because, and don't tell the others, Miggins is my favourite.) It happened whilst Andy was at work. I telephoned him. He issued instructions involving upending Mrs Miggins, a latex glove, and a gentle but firm pushing motion.

I did it. Replaced the prolapse. It stayed put, thank heavens. It's not for the squeamish, but if you're going to keep chickens, you have to learn these things.
'I would say thank you,' said Miggins, ruffling her feathers as I put her down. 'But I need to restore my dignity first.'
'I quite understand,' I said. It's no way to treat a Dowager Duchess.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Local heroes

Today, I went to the Grand Opening of our new local Scout Hut. I had to go on my own as Andy was working but he promised to hot-foot it along as soon as poss. Now you may think it strange I would go to such an event but I went because the hut was being dedicated to the memory of our friend, Ray, who died just over 2 years ago in a truly tragic accident. It is his wife, Jane, who donated the rabbit hutch that is going to save Mrs Poo's bacon and which, as I write, Andy is engaging in carpentry combat with in the garden, magicking it into first class chicken accommodation.

The sun shone and off I trotted. Around the time of Ray's death, the then landlord of the land where the old scout hut stood had given them notice to quit the site and Ray, being scout leader extraordinaire, was engaged in looking for alternative accommodation for his extensive troup. The old landlord is a very wealthy property developer who, to my mind, did very badly by the troup, (and is therefore NOT a local hero) but Ray wouldn't hear a word against him. This was indicative of the kind of person Ray was - a cheerful optimist who believed that one door closes in order to open another that would lead to better things. Ray was a true local hero (he was also an excellent ToastMaster at our wedding on account of a) his genial and organised manner and b) his raucous, attention catching laugh). After his death, the troop were offered an old shed on another piece of land in the village by some truly community-minded business men (more local heroes) and so the next year was spent fund-raising and renovating, with Ray no doubt overseeing from Heaven and making sure that all good was sent the way of those he left behind.

The whole project has been a labour of strong community teamwork. Many people gave their time, energies and materials free of charge. Everyone has pulled together to turn the shed into a magnificent and modern building and there was no doubt that it should be named in memory of Ray.

Masses of villagers turned out for the parade from the old hut to the new, led by the Salvation Army Band. A local dignitary, a happy chappie bedecked in finery, did the honours, there were a few short but succinct speeches and presentations, a little display by the Beavers and then everyone was free to roam the new hut and partake of a rather magnificent luncheon spread.

And as I stood amongst the crowd with a sandwich and a cuppa and watched everyone milling around laughing and chatting and admiring the new Hut, I thought, this is what life is about. It is about ordinary people getting on with their lives on a small scale and improving their communities. All it takes are a few local heroes, like Ray, and the people who built the new hut in their own time, and the business men who said, 'Here - have the shed, have the land for a peppercorn rent, stay as long as you like,' to make the world tick over and move on very nicely, thank you.

And whilst this was going on, my own local hero was at work, doing a Caesarean and saving a puppy's life. And now he is renovating a rabbit hutch for the good of our chickens. And here he is with one of the first strawberries from the hanging baskets in the back garden!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Reclaiming my space

'That's it,' I said. 'I've had enough!'

'PMT?' said Mrs Miggins.
'Quite possibly,' I said, 'but that has little bearing on my task of today which will be to reclaim my writing room.'

Now, I know we've been unfortunate to suffer 2 chicken injuries this month, thus necessitating the conversion of a goodly portion of my writing room into a hen hospital, but when I went to take Miggo her breakfast this morning and discovered she'd changed the curtains for Roman blinds, moved the piano and re-alphabetised my collection of playscripts according to title rather than playwright, I decided enough was enough.

'We collected the rabbit hutch from Jane yesterday,' I said. 'So you and Pumphrey will have a new house all to yourselves. This will allow your feathers to return to their former glory, safe from the sneaky beaks of Poo and Slocombe.'
'I ain't no bunny,' said Miggins, huffily.
'I'm not a rabbit,' I corrected.
'I can see that,' said Miggins, 'besides, I like it in here, especially now I've swapped the curtains for Roman blinds. They're far more chic, don't you think?'

I inform Mrs Miggins I care little for chic and she replies that looking at me she isn't surprised. So I get her in a death grip, I mean, pick her up and deposit her outside in the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace, on her own because Pumphrey is laying her egg and not available for companionable pottering.

And then I set to reclaiming MY SPACE.

I've missed not having my space for the last three weeks or so. It's made me realise how lucky I am to actually have a space of my own. I've had to write in the kitchen and the living room both of which have unnecessary distractions, namely cake and biscuit in the kitchen and 'The Biggest Loser' in the living room. Also, if I write in the living room I have to sit with the laptop on my lap (I know, I know, that's why it's called a laptop, but this arrangement makes one slump appallingly and if I happen to be wearing my woolly rug, then I have to fight to keep Tybalt off my lap as well, because he loves my woolly rug, it's nice for padding on.) And although the kitchen has a table, it is a pedestal table and I have the very bad habit of sitting at it with my toes bent at awkward angles up the pedestal feet, which I realise has probably contributed to my Achilles tendon injury.

So I spent the first post-swim hour this morning hoovering, polishing, sweeping and removing all chicken related accoutrements from my writing room. It made me happy although I suspect I shall still be finding odd wisps of hay and one or two nibbles of layers pellets here and there for a few more days to come.

Have you see 'The Biggest Loser,' by the way. It has, over the last 4 weeks, become my afternoon TV treat, as long as I've completed at least 2,000 words of Indigo Antfarm. It is on every day between 4 and 5 which is good because it is about that time of day I start flagging, and need a spaced out moment before gaining second wind to get dinner ready and prepare for an evening of witty conversation with Andy. It's a competion between overweight people who are trained to within an inch of their lives with the aim of losing as much weight as possible. From the original 16 who started, there are now 9 left. Fridays are especially exciting because Friday is 'weigh-in' day.

The trainers are called Richard and Angie. Richard is good-humoured and believes in lots of praise. Angie comes from the school of what she calls 'tough love' which involves getting as close to the contestants as possible as shouting at them, telling them how useless they are. It is my belief she is trying to murder them all one by one. Angie is a terrifying person.

The contestants are a very mixed bag. Some I like, some I don't. The one who is annoying me particularly at the moment is called Jamie. He is a big lad, and I mean big, starting the competition at pushing 27 stones. But he is also the BIGGEST whinger EVER! He's had so-called injury after injury, the latest being a sprained ankle which, on his return from a hospital visit, he was plainly disappointed that it wasn't actually broken. Any excuse and he'll use it, putting on a 'poor little me' face to get sympathy when I suspect most of the other contestants want to push his head in a puddle and tell him to shut up and get on with it. He is like all the kids I taught who could never accept responsibility for their lack of effort and their behaviour. It was always someone else's fault if coursework wasn't done, they had no pen with which to write or some other kid's face connected with their fist.

And then there's Mark, who is constantly lambasted by the others for being motivated, focused, honest and successful. Accusations of bossiness, showing off and not letting others win the various challenges that are set fly his way. I don't see these faults in him myself. He knows this competition is a golden opportunity for him to lose weight and he is going to make the most of that opportunity. Nothing wrong with that. I know who I want to win the competition.

But listen to me. 'I haven't done as much writing as I wanted to do these last three weeks,' I said to Andy the other day. 'Because the hens have been in my writing room.' Pathetic. If I was motivated to write, I'd have done so sitting up a pole in a force ten gale, wouldn't I? If you want something enough, then nothing will get in your way.

I've set myself a target. 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' will be complete by the end of August. Every day I shall add another 2,000 words. If I want to carry on being a writer I need to also work part-time so will study every day and get a qualification in aromatherapy so I can set up my business within the next year.

Just do it, I say to myself. Life is not a practice run at something bigger to come. No excuses. Don't go to heaven being the biggest loser.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

May babies, the tradition of leaving the housework alone and bless your tiny silver bullets

On doing a bit of early morning research today, I discovered that babies who are born in May are thought to be unlucky because the faeries find them so attractive that they steal them and leave a faerie baby in their place. Now, I know a few people who were born in May - Andy, for example, and my Auntie Pollie. And Andy's best man at our wedding, Richard. And Andy's nephew. (Also, my brother's wife was born in May and the sooner the faeries come and take her away the better, but that's another story and now I am thinking mean thoughts I shan't bother to get a lottery ticket this weekend because karma will prevent me from winning. Ah well).

Apparently, the parents of May babies have to be particularly vigilant to prevent this faerie exchange from happening. The next time I speak to Andy's parents I must remember to quiz them about this just to make sure I haven't married an ethereal being. (Although this would explain the faraway absences and lapses of concentration he experiences - oh no, that'll be the Game Boy I got him for his birthday, stupid me.)

Also, you musn't wash yourself or clean your house in May because it is supposed to wash life and luck away during the month. There's even a rhyme to prove the point. It goes:

You must not wash your blankets in May
Or else you'll wash your soul away.

You're supposed to avoid eating wild garlic, too. Well, I've managed to abide by one of those rules this month so maybe I've got a bit of luck left. And I'm still alive. At least I think I am.

Tomorrow is even more exciting. Depending on where you live, the twenty-ninth day of May is known as either Oak Apple Day, Arbor Tree Day, Pinch-Bum Day or, get this, Shit-Shack Day. Most of these are tied to the Civil War between the Roundheads and Cavaliers. They knew how to have fun in those days, didn't they?

I am particularly looking forward to Saturday as it is St Hubert's Day. I must remember to get my silver bullets blessed by him or they will be completely ineffective in dealing with any passing werewolves.

It's odd, isn't it, how superstitions, myths and eccentricities have survived as part of this country's traditions. I wonder how our lifetime will be remembered in two hundred years' time?

'In the 21st century, May became known as Opportunist MP Month. Parliamentary representatives would hold a competition to see who could extort the highest amount of tax payers' money in the form of expenses claims. The more outrageous the better. The winner would receive an ornamental duck house. '

Or...

'In the last week of May, ordinary members of the public were encouraged to stand on a platform in front of a crowd of people and display their talents, real or imagined. The more dubious the talent, the further the participant would progress in the race to be the next Prime Minister of the Country.'

Even...

'May Fifteenth - Pete'n'Jordan Day. The traditional day for celebrities to announce the end of their shallow fatuous marriages to other celebrities in a last ditch attempt to revive their flagging careers. The ritual must be performed in the pink sequinned glare of publicity from the beaches of Barbados whilst dressed in impossible tiny swimwear. Mascara smudging optional.'

I feel a bit sad that modern day Britain seems devoid of any cultural heritage for future generations to enjoy. I'm trying to do my bit on a domestic level. For example, a couple of years ago I purchased a ridiculously large and highly colourful plate that has now become the 'Birthday Cake Presentation Plate.' I don't know if such a plate is entitled to become a family heirloom, but I think it could become a tradition. Tradition is good. It makes you feel safe, and part of a community. I think I shall declare May twenty-eighth as 'Start Your Own Family Tradition' Day.

And here is a rhyme in celebration:

'Make sure you aren't forgotten
In centuries to come.
Start your own tradition
It could serious, it could be fun
Make sure you do it every year
On Family Tradition Day
And that way when you're dead and gone-
'I remember her,' they'll say.

Or him, if you're a bloke. Or it, if you're a table or other such inanimate object.

It might catch on. Even if it doesn't, at least you can say you tried.

(Today's blog was brought to you today, with sincere apologies, from Taken-Leave-Of-Her-Senses Denise, sponsored by the Useless Thought Company, for all your Pointless Rambling Needs.)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Semi-detached hens

Here is the plan that WILL cure the chicken fracas. It is an organic plan involving no sprays, no purple pants and definitely no anti-peck bits (we tried the bits briefly - they are quite horrid and we do not recommend them.) And for those of you with a nervous disposition, the plan does not involve chicken casserole, chicken fricasee, southern fried chicken, lemon roast chicken or chicken nuggets (our hens, being girls, do not have nuggets.) I realise that my blog of a couple of days ago may have intimated that Mrs Poo was being earmarked for dinner this week but I could no more wring a chicken's neck than drown a mouse. I realise that some of you have probably grown as fond of our hens as we are. Having said that, Mrs Poo is still on probation and if any of you have fallen in love with her that much, she is available to go to a good home and I'll even supply the double reinforced canvas gloves and mini chair and whip you'll need if you want to keep all your fingers intact.

However, there have been developments which have evolved another plan. Our friend, Jane, has kindly donated her old rabbit hutch. It is just the right size to be turned into a maison a deux. This means that Cluckinghen Palace can be made semi-detached and two hens can live up one end and the other two down the other. In preparation for this I spent half an hour yesterday deciding which hen to pair with which. I gave up using my highly complex chicken algebra equations in favour of drawing four little chicken pictures, coloured in appropriate to each hen. I then wrote a list of the pros and cons of each hen and moved the pictures around on the table assessing the various combinations as I went.

There are 6 possible combinations. There is only one safe combination and that is Miggo and Pumphrey. Miggo and Pumphrey get on very well. They are well-behaved hens. They are the kind of hens a cockerel could take home to their mother (provided their mother wasn't like Mrs Poo). The other 5 combinations have varying degrees of risk factor, mostly involving Mrs Slocombe's lunacy and Mrs Poo's aggression. So after much chicken picture shuffling, this is what I, The Sadder but Wiser Hen Keeper, have decided. Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Miggins shall share the new rabbit hutch extension in the North wing of Cluckinghen Palace and Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe shall remain in the pod in the South wing because it is closer to the house and I can keep a better eye on them as I don't trust either of them further than I could launch them in a cannon.

My theory is that these combinations will a) allow Miggo and Pumphrey to regrow their bottom fluffage to its previous glory, away from feather plucker Slocombe. And b)as Mrs Slocombe skirts around Poo, and if she does start getting up to anything minxy Poo will tell her straight away, then peace will reign once more between the 'do-as-you-are-told' and the 'I'm-doing-it-I'm-doing-it.' And finally c) as Mrs Poo will have only one other hen to lord it over, this might stop her being so pushy because having only one other creature to boss around has limited entertainment value.

In preparation for semi-deatched living I have today allowed Pumphrey into the North wing to keep Miggo company on her day release from chicken hospital. I say 'allowed' but what this really involved was me waiting until Mrs Pumphrey had laid her egg, then going into the run where we all flapped about like crazy things as I tried to get Slocombe and Poo separate from Pumphrey so I could close the partition between them.

As I write this I can see Cluckinghen Palace and all seems well. Pumphrey and Miggins are pootling happily together and when I went out earlier to give them all some greens I distinctly heard the words 'civilised', 'tea and crumpet' and 'crotchet club.'

And in the South Wing, Poo and Slocombe are looking calm and pootling together only with a slightly more bewildered air about them than the other two. Neither pair is fractious about getting through to the other pair. They can all see each other but no nerves are being tested. There is no scrapping for position at the food bowl or water bowl. It is all very companionable.

So it seems that two is company and three is a crowd. And four is just asking for trouble.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Night blindness and being a stoooodent

I woke in the middle of the night and had a brief panic attack because I thought I'd lost the power of vision. And then I remembered that Andy had installed a black-out blind in our bedroom the previous day as one of our many attempts to get him a good night's sleep and it seemed to be doing its job rather well. Phew, I thought, because it would be highly inconvenient for my sight to start wavering now, especially as I have dug out my anatomy and physionomy text books and am being a stooooodent in preparation for setting up my alternative therapy business.

I did A LOT of studying yesterday. I was VERY STUDIOUS. I had notebooks, and reference books, highlighter pens and sticky notes that I stuck in RELEVANT PLACES. I committed names of muscle structures and bones and cells to my memory, then stared studiously at the ceiling like real students do in an attempt to remember them. And what these structures did and where they were in the body and what happened if they went wrong. Some I remembered. Some I didn't. Some I did because they sounded vaguely rude. Some I did because they sounded like a gnome in a kitchen making cheese on toast (the gastrocnemius - it's in your calf. I have a particularly fat one but apparently that is a sign of good arteries so that's okay. Does a calf have calf muscles? I'll have to ask the vet. I expect they do; they'd fall over otherwise. The calf, not the vet.)

With the writing habit swinging along nicely and Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue gathering apace (Violet got married to Jensen the other day - they had an Elvis themed wedding and just as I was writing about Jensen dancing in his blue suede shoes, the actual song was played on the radio I was listening to, so I'll take that as pointer I am still heading in the right direction), I've decided I am going to employ myself part-time as an alternative therapist. I am already qualified in therapeutic massage and I intend to add to this by doing a course in aromatherapy. To that I plan to add reflexology and possible diet and nutrition except I'll need to lose a bit more weight as I don't want clients pointing at any errant bulginess twixt hips 'n' thighs and saying things like, 'What do you know about diet and nutrition, Mrs Blobby?' Actually, I know quite a lot about diet and nutrition. It's just a lack of practising what I preach that is a problem. So I really should try and be a walking advert for my business which means, dearest Andy, there maybe a few dietary changes about the hooose, I'll see how I feel later today when I've polished off the rest of the shortbread.

That's my plan, anyway. And yes, I know God laughs in the face of plans but I think us lesser mortals need plans or else we'd wander about without aim or purpose and that way bad habits lie. And possible dragons.

Besides, I like studying. I like learning new stuff. Unless its maths. I like human biology, partly because I want to be one step ahead of any malaise that may befall me and partly because I think the human body is a dangerous mixture of fascinating cleverness and tragic disaster. And I think being a stooooodent in one's forties is a very Bohemian thing to do. It means I can swan around being vague and interesting and slightly scruffy-looking, impressing people with masses of piles of books scattered all over the place. It means I get to buy books with good excuse and I get to write in books which always had a naughty feel to it having been told as a child it was a MORTAL SIN to deface a book with a pen/pencil/ orange wax crayon after I practised pretend writing when I about 4 years old in my favourite book called 'Pookie Puts the World Right' (which was about a rabbit with wings and a little girl called Belinda. I was very keen on rabbits as a child, but looking back Belinda was quite, quite annoying.)

So, the massage couch has been retrieved from the loft and dusted down. I flung myself around on it a bit and it is still solid and stable. I have purchased some sweet almond oil with which to start pummelling Andy. (I could use sunflower oil but I wasn't sure if the stuff you use as a massage medium and the stuff you use to fry onions in are one and the same thing and I didn't think he'd appreciate being dowsed in Flora's polyunsaturated best just in case.) I have researched aromatherapy courses. I am 'All Systems Go.'

We have a nice new blind in the bathroom too. It is a shiny pearlised blue and it does a shimmery thing when you twiddle the knob to open and close it. But mostly today I shall be writing and studying and not playing with the new blinds. I even have a timetable. Just like a proper stoooodent.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Mad, the Bad and the Chicken to Go...

It appears we may have been too hasty in the pointing of the accusatory finger. In fact, if I had gained better insight into the situation, I would have been wise to don protective handwear before pointing the finger in the first place. It seems, dear blog followers, that the ROGUE chicken in the coop, the shi...er, I mean muck stirrer extraordinaire, the true EVIL MINX might not be Mrs Slocombe after all. Oh no, the swing-o-meter of doom is erring very definitely in the direction of....

...MRS POO!

You see, following Mrs Miggins and her scraped bottom and only having one cage to house injured chickens, we had to release Mrs S from her psychotherapy regime in order to free up bed space for Miggo. Back to the coop Mrs S went and was immediately laid into by Mrs Poo.
'That's okay,' we thought as we supervised the fracas. 'They're just sorting out the pecking order that has been re-established since Mrs S was taken from the equation. This, after all, was part of the plan.' But then it became obvious that Mrs Poo was being more than authoritative or dominant. She was being down-right vicious.

As it was early evening, we needed to make a quick decision. We didn't want to risk Mrs S spending the rest of the evening with Mrs Poo who, it seemed, was intent on drawing blood. So we called our friend Jean and asked to borrow her dog cage as a temporary holding bay for either Poo or Slocombe. Only by this point I was happy for Mrs Poo's holding bay to be a casserole dish. She always has been a bit quick with the beak. You have to be firm when handling her and feeding her from your hand can be regarded as a bit of an extreme sport best avoided if you want to keep the skin on your fingers.

Anyway, we collected the dog cage from Jean. Jean lives by the river and Andy and I are both insanely jealous of her fantastic garden and quirky layout house. We stopped for a quick cuppa and told Jean our theory re: Mrs Poo.
'Would you eat her?' said Jean.
'She's a pet,' said Andy.
'Yes I would,' said I. 'But its only a recent thought.'

Furnished with the cage, we went home. We decided that Mrs Poo should be incarcerated for the night given her sudden cannabilistic tendencies and we wanted to see how Slocombe and Pumphrey got on together before bed-time.
My writing room was rapidly becoming a chicken hotel.

And although Mrs Slocombe tried to annoy Pumphrey by making an occasional jump at her, Mrs Pumphrey's elevated status within the pecking order meant she told her off sufficiently to stop the malarkey but without the vicious streak shown by Mrs Poo.

The following morning, Andy made a more substantial partition fence than the quick mock up we had to hurriedly contruct the day before. Pumphrey and Slocombe had survived the night together and were pottering amicably together. Mrs Poo was placed on the other side of the partition and showed no interest in getting through to Slocombe and Pumphrey although they (idiots!) were keen to get to her. In the afternoon, we opened the partition and it became evident that whilst Slocombe is clearly mad as a box of frogs and will, I feel, always be so, it is Mrs Poo who is the true baddie.

So what do we do? Do we carry on with all four of them, mopping up the occasional injury because these things happen in chicken world and need to be accepted and dealt with accordingly? Do we make Cluckinghen Palace semi-detached with equal facilities at both ends and let the hens live in pairs, because pairs seem to work okay? (And then, whom to pair with who?) Or do we say 'goodbye' to one in a 'one-of-you-must-go-for-the-good-of-the-others' kind of way? And if we go for this option, which one do we re-home? The mad, highly strung feather-plucker or the finger ripper dominator?

('Does that mean we are safe, Mrs Miggins?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I think so,' says Miggins. 'Phew!')

This is where chicken keeping has to be practical, not sentimental. This is where we have to be poultry keepers instead of pet owners. Oh dear. The decision wouldn't be so bad if there were 3 who obviously go on together but the only 2 who can really be trusted together are Miggins and Pumphrey. And in hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, when Mrs Bennett died we should have got a single replacement (which, ironically, would have been our Light Sussex, Mrs Pumphrey)and everything would probably have been fine. But lessons have been learned. And we shall know better next time.

Of course, we could convert Cluckinghen Palace into a block of flats, each hen with their own facilities, the only annoyance they could cause each other being banging on each other's ceilings with their walking sticks and holding late night parties. (See, I'm going mad in my desperation for a solution!). Meanwhile, Mrs Miggins is allowed into the fenced off area for daily exercise whilst her scraped bottom heals because Mrs Poo can't get at her. So that's good. And the whole flock have been put on my healing list with special mention for batty Mrs Slocombe. I know I should give special mention to Mrs Poo, too, if the Universal energies are to be used fairly, but I still can't quite forgive her for attacking Miggo.

So the the only list Mrs Poo is currently on is 'My Favourite Chicken Recipes.'

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Polytunnel Countdown Almost Complete!

With stillness in the air, we dashed to the allotment this morning in order to fit the polythene to the frame. The piece of polythene supplied to do the job looked tiny.
'That'll never fit,' I said, looking at the two foot by one foot oblong. I mean, I know I'm not hot on Maths, but even I could see we'd have to do a fair bit of stretching to get that to cover the huge edifice of a frame we have.
'We have to unfold it,' said Andy, and he got in the car and moved it waaaaaaaaaay down the other end of the allotment car park. 'To give us space!' he shouted.
'Ha!' I thought. 'What optimism. We could unfold that on a picnic table.'

Anyway, after much huffing and puffing and some fairly co-ordinated un-origami, we managed to lay the polythene out flat without ripping it to shreds on the gravel.
'Corr!!' I said. 'There's enough to cover a marquee!'

It was a HUGE piece of stuff. In fact, I'm glad our polytunnel is only 10'x12' because if it had been any bigger we'd have needed more people to help and possibly a whole day rather than a morning and then it would turn into a 'cover-the-polytunnel' party and people would want feeding and there would probably be wine and then people would get tipsy and the whole thing could have gone completely pear-shaped. (As opposed to polytunnel shaped.)

We had to make sure the writing on the polythene would end up on the inside of the tunnel because we bought 'anti-fog' polythene in order to minimise condensation and drippage. That wasn't a problem and soon the BIG MOMENT arrived.

'Right,' said Andy. 'What we need to do is haul the polythene over the top of the frame and then use battening to nail it to the tops of the doors. Then we use these, ' and he waved 4 feet bits of plastic coated metal at me,' to attach the polythene to the base frame, whack 'em with a mallet, then fold the edges tightly against the door frames and hammer a few nails in. What you need to know is that EVERYTHING has to be TIGHT.'

'Okay,' I said, remembering the first instruction, totally non-absorbing the rest and thinking, 'I'll pretend I know what I'm doing, like I did when I was teaching.'

The first problem occured because I am 5 foot 6 and Andy is 6 foot, and had a step ladder. And the tunnel is 8 foot high. Despite the fact I have the arm length of an orang-utan, I wasn't tall enough, even standing on tippy-toe to reach the apex of the frame. So, I had to hang onto my side whilst Andy pulled his side as far up as he could without making the whole thing slide to one side and then we had to perform a 'reach-as-far-as-we-can-towards-each-other-then-swap-quickly' movement so Andy could haul my side over too. It worked okay, once Andy realised my orang-utan arms don't actually concertina outwards from my body. We had a bit of a laugh and the polythene was laid to rest across the frame. A quick bit of frantic hammering secured it to both door frames. The anticipated hurricane that sod's law dictated would arrive at this precise moment did not happen - HURRAH!!

For the next two hours we battled on. Whacking and sliding and heaving and tugging, I became a human dead weight, swinging as hard as I could on the edges of the polythene to tighten it against the frame whilst Andy hammered in nails like his life depended on it. It was VERY HOT inside that tunnel. Like a jungle. Like a jungle in a heatwave in a desert.

But we did it! Andy got goosed by a raspberry bush as he squatted down to hammer the battening over the polythene at the bottom of the frame (the early crop raspberries are quite close to one end of the tunnel and may have to be moved once they've fruited this season). Andy lost about a stone in sweat. He swore a bit, too and had problems with a few bendy nails. Inside the tunnel, I continued to get very hot. Excess polythene was trimmed, base rail adjustments were made for improved fit et voila! Polythene on!

All that needs to be done now is to hang the doors. And dig the ground inside. And plant stuff. And weed. And visit the tunnel every day during the summer to open it up and water (did I mention how hot it was inside?) and close it up again.

Oh yes, we also had our first strawberry today. Should have taken a picture of it but we were so excited by the ripening of 'The First Strawberry of 2009', we ate it!

It was delicious!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Fame at last!

I can't remember if I've mentioned Tybalt's sister before. Her name was Lilith and she was black and white, too, and cute as a button. We often had long conversations as she was incredibly vocal. She had some bad habits like sitting in the kitchen sink and then walking around leaving damp kitty buttock prints all over the shop, and perching on top of the kitchen cupboards, then flinging herself down onto the kitchen table - WHALLOP!- when you least expected it (and generally when you'd just rested a cup of tea or other some such liquid or wobbly material on it). Every morning she would sit on my lap whilst I had breakfast and remind me not to eat all the muesli in my bowl as it was her custom to polish off the last teaspoon herself. Sadly, a circulatory problem we knew nothing about led to her sudden and untimely death just over a year ago. I won't go into details, save it was a very traumatic time and Lil is greatly missed.

At the time she died, Andy revealed he had sent photographs of her and Tybalt to a pet artist in order to have a painting done of the two of them for my birthday. Given the circumstances, he asked the artist to go ahead with the painting immediately as a memento of Lily. The painting now hangs in our living room and is much admired by all.

And now, it seems, Lilith and Tybalt are going to achieve fame via the medium of jigsaw puzzle! The artist who painted the picture has contacted us and said that a jigsaw company has expressed an interest in using their portrait as a jigsaw. We have been consulted re: whether we are happy for this to happen and although it won't bring us riches, if the company goes ahead, it may well bring us a free jigsaw puzzle!

'A free jigsaw puzzle?' said Tybalt, when I told him the news. 'What good is that to me with my lack of prehensile thumbs?'
'Aren't you just a teensy bit flattered you are going to appear on a jigsaw puzzle?' I said.
'I suppose I could chew on the puzzle pieces,' said Tybalt, ignoring my attempt to flatter his ego. 'I like chewing bits of cardboard.'
'You won't be allowed to chew it,' I said. 'It's going to be an heirloom.'
'I'd be more impressed if I was asked to play the role of Felix in that cat food ad,' said Tybalt. 'Tis often remarked I look like the cartoon cat what already plays him.'
'Who already plays him,' I correct because I can't stand poor feline grammar.
'Then I'd get free cat food,' said Tybalt.
'You don't like tinned cat food,' I pointed out. 'You'll only eat the dried stuff.'
'This is true,' said Tybalt. 'The vet says it's good for my teeth.'
'Besides,' I said, 'to appear in telly ads you have to do as you're told. And that's not likely to happen is it?'
'I am very well behaved,' said Tybalt.
'When it suits you,' I said. 'You're a bit naughty about sitting in the kitchen sink and drinking from the tap, aren't you?'
Tybalt sniffed. 'I don't know why you get so huffy about it,' he said. 'You never minded when Lily did it.'
'Lily was different,' I said. 'Lily was cute and delicate. You gobble at it like a pig at a trough.'
'Well, that's charming,' said Tybalt. 'The vet also said it was good for me to drink fresh running water because I'll only eat dried cat food and I need to take care of my waterworks, whatever that means.'

Tybalt's waterworks have become a minor bone of contention of late. I have, on occasion, caught him weeing in the semi-squat position as opposed to the full squat, meaning there have been one or four accidents over the top of the litter tray. This necessitated us going to the pet store last weekend to buy the highest sided litter tray we could find. Unfortunately, the highest sided litter tray available was called, inaptly, the Boutique Little Powder Room tray and came in either pink or black. Would have suited Lily down to the ground. Now I know Tybs can be a little camp sometimes, but fortunately he can't read (he can write but not read - it's a rare talent) so he doesn't know that his new loo is really designed for big fluffy Persian type cats who want something that little extra special. And as he 'd need a step ladder to be able to wee over the side of this tray, it serves the purpose for which it was purchased.

I am thrilled my cats are going to be immortalised on a jigsaw puzzle. I'm also thinking 'That's Christmas presents sorted for this year. Hampers all around containing eggs, homemade jam, a bag of root vegetables and a jigsaw puzzle of Lilith and Tybalt. What more could family and friends want?'

Friday, 22 May 2009

Flippin' chicken

And now Mrs Miggins has a scraped bottom. Don't know the whys, hows or wherefores but I do know that Mrs Poo finds it fascinating in a let's keep pecking it kind of way. So this morning, at 6.30, it was into the gardens of Cluckinghen Palace, grab Miggo, upend Miggo, bathe Miggo, anto-biotic Miggo, spray Miggo with gentian violet and anti-peck spray and then rig up a temporary fence to separate her from Poo whilst scraped bottom calms down and no longer looks like a tempting hors d'oevres.

Two purple panted chickens and one stubbly mad chicken. I am beginning to feel like a bad chicken owner.

Anyway, with Mrs Miggins segregated and sunflower seeds and greenery scattered generously on both sides of the partition, Andy went to work and I went swimming. On my return, I find three chickens on one side of the partition and no chickens on the other. Mrs Poo has a purple beak. I have no idea how Miggo got in with the others. There is no sign of fence wreakage or holes dug under fences or suspicious looking ladders.
'You've been pecking Mrs Miggins, haven't you?' I say, crossly.
'How can you tell?' says Poo

So I sit in the garden and observe to see if it is safe to allow them to stay altogether. I start doing chicken algebra.
Take a = Miggo, b=Pumphrey c=Poo and d= Slocombe. Pecking order factor 1=top, 2=bottom 3=minds their own business. Risk mix factor is x= good, y=tolerable z= disaster on a stick. Thus a3+b3= x. c1+d2= y and b3+ d2= z. a3+b3 divided by c1 minus d2 seemed to be working okay until incident bs (bottom scrape) but now carries risk factor y/z potential.

P=partition. So, if p is entered into the equation, potentially d2 could be re-integrated and z adverted if my theory that a3+b3 balances out c1+d2 is correct. 3+3=6. 1+2=3. So z=x divided by 2 (or half or 50%). Or is it double, not half?

Aaaaarrgghhhh!!! These chickens are doing my head in. Mrs Miggins isn't helping matters by presenting her bottom to Mrs Poo.
'Look!' she says. 'I have purple pants, too.'

Luckily, no blood has been drawn.

And I found a dead sparrow by the front door. What's all that about?

Meanwhile, Guy has arrived to do the fence for the courtyard garden as it is now pretentiously known. There is much drilling and banging going on. I'm expecting a call for tea in a moment but am being guided by the hammering and when it starts flagging I'll put the kettle on. I'm not having tea. I've decided, after 43 years, to take up alcohol. And possible smoking, too.

I've started a list of names for our bees when we get them. I thought I'd get a head start because there will be about 50,000 of them. So far I have the following:
1) Bee One, Cos I'm One Too
2)Bee Two Bee Do Bee Do
3)Bee Three, As Three as a Bird
4)Bee Four You Say Goodbye
5) Bee F'ive Got a Crush on You

Pass the gin and in the words of Blackadder, you'll find me standing on a bucket with a frog pinned to my lapel, saying 'bibble' in the Venetian fashion.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Plungers, posers and Pringles

I bought a sink plunger this morning. Occasionally, our kitchen sink is a bit slow to drain away and we always say at these moments 'Where's the sink plunger? Oh, we haven't got one,' but it doesn't happen often enough to be annoying, thereby goading me into buying one in order to avoid bouts of kitchen rage.

But today, as I was in Wilkos intent on buying my wire brush for outdoor furniture scrubbing, along with more rubber gloves and some wood treatment/ preservative/ cleaning up and buffing stuff I passed a selection of plungers (small ones, tall ones, some as big as your head) and thought, 'Aha! I'll get one of those.' I selected one that had what was called a 'hand grip' - a short handle with a knobble on the end for easy plunging and therefore suitable for me to use well into my eighties should I start suffering from weak wrists. It was only £1.69 which was a bit of a bargain, especially as it can double as a Dalek appendage if Andy decides to go fancy-dressing anywhere as a Dalek.

Unloading my purchases at home Tybalt immediately put his head inside the plunger and got stuck.
'Get it off me!' he yelled, running around the kitchen,banging blindly into cupboards, chairs and his deluxe three storey cat scratching post. Well, they say that curiosity kills the cat. Sometimes it makes them look like complete numpties, too.
'You look like a Dalek,' I said, unhooking the rubber lip from behind his ears.
'I don't want to look like a Dalek,' said Tybalt, whose fancy dress costume of choice would be either Casanova or Lord Byron, which ever one wore the biggest frilly shirt. Anyway, I popped him free of the plunger and he ran off to lick his tail in that nonchalant 'I meant for that to happen' kind of way that cats do when they've done something silly.

My poser for the day concerns my daughter Heather who is graduating from university in July. I am in a quandary as to what to get her as a 'Well done, what a fantastic child you are for graduating and remaining mostly sober for the last three years' present. I've already got her something cute and silly which I saw on Saturday when we were in Canterbury. What I'm thinking is something keepsakey or useful (no, sorry Heather, can't stretch to a car - unless the Inland Revenue inadvertently adds a couple of zeros to the end of my tax rebate that is). When I graduated, my Mum gave me a silver locket with the year of my graduation engraved on it. I wear it periodically (not being a great jewellery wearer myself) because it has a photo of Andy in it. I was wearing it at school once. One of the students asked me what was inside so I showed her the picture.
'That's your husband, Miss?' said the student.
'Yes,' I said, smiling because it is a particularly cute photo.
'What does he do?'
'He's a vet.'
The student inspected the photo more closely. 'He looks more like a builder,' she pronounced.
'He will be thrilled to know that,' I said.

I've spent a couple of fruitless hours researching 'Graduation Gifts' on the interwebbly. The trouble is, I quite like my daughter and don't really want to inflict the suggested gifts upon her. So the search is still on for that thoughtful, tasteful, useful yet at the same time attractive and decorative memento of her academic achievement.

And finally, Pringles. In the paper today, there is an article reporting on the outcome of a court case where a judge has ruled that Pringles are subject to VAT as they are potatoey enough to be classed as a crisp.
'Aren't Pringles a brand of posh knitwear?' says Tybalt. 'I'm sure my pink golfing sweater has a Pringles logo on it.'
'In this case, no,' I say. (You see, that's what happens when you get your head wodged in a sink plunger - it sucks out the rational thought part of your brain). 'In this case, they are talking about the very moreish snack which I no longer allow as part of my diet as I'd eat a whole tube in one sitting especially the cheese and chive and the barbecue flavours.'
'Ah,' says Tybalt.
'And they are deemed potatoey enough to be classed as a crisp, thereby subject to VAT at 15%,' I say.
'What about potatoes?' says Tybalt. 'I thought fresh food wasn't VATable.'
'It isn't, as far as I know,' I say.
'But potatoes are potatoey,' says Tybalt. 'In fact, they are 100% potato whereas your non-knitwear Pringle is...' and he leans over my shoulder to read the report for himself, '...only 42% potato.'
'I really don't know,' I say, trying to turn the page and distract him with a story about a Tory MP who claimed a £1,600 duck house on expenses.
'You don't spend that on our housing,' accuse the hens who are in the kitchen stocking up on chocolate digestives and pink wafer biscuits. 'Why don't you spend that on us? Aren't we worth it or something or nothing?'
'I need to know about the potatoes,' says Tybalt.
'Aaaaaaarggghhhhh!!!' I yell, running from the kitchen before the insanity police get me.
'What's up with her?' says Miggins.
'Kitchen rage,' sighs Tybalt. 'It happens sometimes. Mostly after a blockage.'
'What she needs is a sink plunger,' says Poo. 'We'll get her one for her birthday.'

(Here is a P.S for the vet nurses, following on from my blog of 2 days ago when I may have inadvertently given the impression that Andy sits in the corner of an evening making Darth Vader helmets out of stickle bricks. This was an example of creative imagination. He doesn't really use stickle bricks. He uses Lego....)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Getting the jobs done

In anticipation of the tax rebate I secured last week from the Inland Revenue, I have this week set about spending some of it. Unfortunately, the aforesaid rebate hasn't ACTUALLY arrived yet but I am sure it will in the next day or two. It had better. I've got a man coming to relocate a fence on Friday.

You see, there have been a few jobs on our household 'to do' list that have been sitting there so long they are gathering their own dust, which isn't bad for an abstract concept. One of these was to get the top opener of the bathroom window fixed so we can open it when the shower is going, thereby letting the steam out into the big wide world and not trapping it in the bathroom so it can aid mould growth on the walls and ceiling. We had got past the stage of 'the whole window will have to be replaced' to 'it's only the side friction bars that need doing and we can get those for a few quid each and do it ourselves.' So that saved us some money before we even started. Andy research the practicalities of changing these bars. He declared it was a two person job- one on the inside of the window, one on the outside balanced atop a ladder. Apparently, top openers, although small, are VERY HEAVY.

As soon as Andy mentioned 'ladder' and 'very heavy', I had visions of imminent death, or at the least major paralysis, so I thought 'This is a job for Rated People.' Rated People is a website where you register jobs you want doing and then tradespeople with the relevant skills put in bids to do the job. You can then choose your tradesperson based on price, availability and ratings they have received from previous customers. I have used the site twice before and been very pleased with the work done on both occasions.

So I posted the window job and by the end of the day had been contacted by two companies. One of them was from Essex and didn't quote me a price. I thought, it's going to cost me extra for travel costs, so I plumped for the other chap who was only 6 miles away. 'I can come out this afternoon at 4,' he said. 'Great,' I said. 'How much?' 'Twenty five pounds, including parts,' he said. 'Bargain,' I said and the deal was done.

Bolstered by what appeared like another success, I posted another job. We want to move the back fence further down the driveway to create a patio area for our lovely chunky wooden garden furniture (well, it's not very lovely at the moment because when the hens had free range of the garden they rather liked sitting on the backs of the chairs and benches and pooping on them. And walking up and down the table, pooping on that too. But once I set to with a wire brush and a bucket or two of hot soapy water, the furniture will be good as new. And it needed re-staining this year, so was due an overhaul anyway.)

When the furniture first arrived four years ago, (not a random act of appearance, I bought it at a garden show) it was located on a convenient concrete slab and we used it a lot, eating outside nearly every evening during the summer. The following year the greenhouse arrived and needed a concrete base, so the furniture was moved onto the existing (and very wobbly patio) which was okay, although it was a bit close to the drains. Then the Eglu and the hens arrived, and the furniture was squashed even closer to the house and we hardly used it at all last year 1) because of the chicken poop and 2) because last summer it rained and was not conducive to outdoor eating.

But this year, the furniture will have a new home. It will be down the side of the house on the top part of the drive. I have visions of a lovely new fence and gate, painted Mediterranean blue, maybe. The space will be filled with pots and pots of flowers and herbs. The walls on either side will be resplendent with wisteria and clematis which I shall train over a pergola and on summer evenings, Andy and I shall sit al fresco, 'neath the scent of the flowers, eating homegrown organic salad and new potatoes, or homemade sundried tomato and rosemary foccacia, and homegrown strawberries and raspberries feeling throughly smug with our life.

And then I was contacted by a tradesperson to do the fence job. And it turned out to be the same chap who was coming to do the window. The chap arrived promptly at 4. It took him precisely 10 minutes to mend the window with no need for a second person balancing precariously on a ladder outside. He then did me a quote for the fence which I accepted. 'When do you want it done?' he asked. 'Oh, as soon as possible,' I said, eyeing my many tomato plants that are in desperate need of the patio space currently occupied by the furniture. 'Friday be okay?' he said. 'What? This Friday?' I said. 'Yes,' he said.

Now that's what I call service! I made the tradesman, who shall be called Guy, because that's his name, a cup of tea, and he admired the chickens and told me about his mum who lives on a small- holding in Lincolnshire and has just bought three cows.

You see, just when life was starting to feel a bit stodgy, a bit 'wading-through-treacle' like, a little spot of excitement happens. With a Bank Holiday weekend imminent and the promise of lovely weather here in the South, I am very excited about spending time creating our new patio garden area. I spent all day today planting on masses of bee flowers ready to put into borders and pots. And tomorrow, I'm off to buy a wire scrubbing brush!

How exciting is that!!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Slocombe the Savage

It seems that now we have removed Mrs Slocombe from the hen flock in order to stop her bullying the others and hopefully demote her to the bottom of the pecking order, she has taken it upon herself to start bullying her new flock aka me and Andy. Yesterday evening, we both went to visit her in her chicken loonie bin in order to share some circle time and indulge in some useful psychotherapy.

'Let's go around the circle and introduce ourselves,' I said.
'I know who you are,' said Andy.
'Just play the game, will you?' I said. 'For the sake of the chicken.'
'Okay,' said Andy. 'My name is Andy and I am a vet. I don't want to be a vet I want to be a gentleman farmer or Doctor Who. I have weird dreams about being chased across the African savanna by Bruce Willis in a Sinclair C5. My favourite food is cheese and sometimes I like to wrap my head in a...'
'Ahem,' I say, before too much information is revealed. 'We are here to psychotherapise Mrs Slocombe, not you.'
'You started it,' said Andy.
'My name is Denise and I am a writer,' I said, sending Andy to sit in the corner and play with stickle bricks. 'I like reading, making stuff and my favourite telly programme at the moment is the Chelsea Flower Show except Joe Swift because I get this terrible urge to hold his head under water whenever I see him and...'
'Ahem,' said Mrs Slocombe,' we are here to psychotherapise ME!'
'Quite right,' said Andy. 'Look, I've made a stickle brick Tardis.'
'Hush,' I said. 'And take your pills.'
'My name is Mrs Slocombe,' said Mrs S. 'Or Betty to my friends, which doesn't include you two. I am being held in solitary confinement against my will and as soon as I get out of here I am contacting SueYouAtTheDropOfAHat. com for trauma and loss of my chicken privileges.'
'You know why you are here,' I said. 'It's because you aren't very nice to the other girls.'
'Well, they aren't very nice to me,' said Mrs Slocombe.
'For example?' I said.
'Mrs Miggins stole my shower cap and hid it in the freezer. When I found it, the plastic had perished and it crumbled into a hundred thousand pieces. I liked that shower cap. It had sentimental value.'
'With emphasis on the mental?' said Andy.
'You can't speak unless you are in the circle,' I said. 'Holding Mr Pookey, the talking teddy bear.'
'Mr Pookey?' said Andy.
'Yes,' I said. 'Mr Pookey is the talk facilitator. Members of the circle can only speak if they are holding Mr Pookey.'
'And where is Mr Pookey?' said Andy, returning to the circle with a stickle brick Darth Vader helmet on his head.
'Mrs Slocombe had just ripped his head off,' I said, giving Mrs S a bit of a stern look because she isn't playing the game properly.

And thus it continued. There were tears, there were tantrums, there was sitting in the corner and there was head banging. Waterbowls were upset, newspaper was shredded. No eggs were laid. And that was just me and Andy - boom, boom!

Eventually, after I'd tried to offer the hand of friendship to Mrs S in the form of layers pellets and organic lettuce leaves, and she'd had a damn good try at cannibalising my flesh, we called it a day. Top of the pecking order - Mrs Slocombe.

'I'm just glad I haven't got a feathery bottom,' I sighed as we emerged from my writing room, shattered and traumatised from circle time session number one.

'Now, it's funny you should mention that,' said Andy. 'Because I had this dream the other night...'

Monday, 18 May 2009

Rub-a-dub-pummel

Of course, I thought yesterday, when I was considering my part-time earning potential, I could always revive my therapeutic massage skills. I have to write 'therapeutic' because some people get very funny ideas (funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha) when you tell them you are a qualified massage therapist. Talk about getting hold of the wrong end of the malarkey stick.

About eight years ago, I did a year's course in Anatomy and Physionomy and Therapeutic massage therapy, with a view to taking additional qualifications in aromatherapy, reflexology and Indian Head Massage and setting myself up as a highly successful and independent self-employed person. Instead, and I still wonder what possessed me, I did the Graduate Teacher Programme and became a teacher. I think the earning potential in teaching was greater and, being a single parent at the time, I needed to think about practicalities rather than following my Whimsical Idea of the Year.

Anyway, I've got the certificate, I've got the books. I've got my old study notes and I've got the portable table (springy and lilac - v. comfortable). I no longer have my full size 3-D cardboard skeleton called George but never mind. I thought, I could brush up my routine and modesty towel technique and then I could either rent a room in a beauty salon or travel about to people's houses although that would require me getting my own transport. Andy could be a guinea-pig for me to practice on until I am back up to spec. In fact, Andy was one of my case studies that I did for my qualification. And he's used to being pummelled and slapped. (And talking of physical assault, Andy came home from work on Friday with a forearm devoid of hair where one of the nurses had taken it upon themselves to shave it in a total random act of vandalism. So, you vet nurses, I'll thank you kindly to stop manhandling my husband like that. It's bad enough that you write on his face with biro when he's having a lunchtime doze and lock him in cupboards when he is off his guard. I married his hairy forearms and would like them to stay thus. Also, it'll be me he's scratching at in the evenings when the regrowth happens.)

Towel technique is probably the trickiest part of massage therapy to master. One must maintain the modesty of the client at all times even if they prove to be a complete exhibitionist who cares not a jot about stripping off in front of a complete stranger. Towel technique can involve either one, two or three towels, depending on the size of the towels, the size of the client and the extent of the massage. For example, if you had a tiny person requiring a back massage only, you'd probably only need a single standard bath towel. Simple. A layer here, a flip there, et voila! Easy peasy. Problems arise when you are doing a full body massage, front and back on a person of above average measurements either widthwise, heightwise or all round the houses size. Then you need to start juggling. And whilst you are juggling, you need to issue very careful instructions to your client as to exactly what you are doing or it could end in complete chaos as you try to get them from back to front without exposing anything and/or having them fall off your therapy table.

'I need you turn over now, Mrs Smith. NO! Not just yet. I'm just folding the second towel back over you legs. Now, I'm going to ease the towel that is covering your back up a tiny bit so you can roll away from me whilst I avert my eyes. And then you tell me when you are settled and comfortable on your back and I'll tuck you in again. How long have you been on the Atkins diet now, Mrs Smith?Really? That long? Still, sometimes it takes a while for results to show, doesn't it? No, don't worry about the towel that was covering your feet, I'll pick that up in a second. And the one that is rolled up to support your neck, too. That's it, roll carefully. When you're ready. Yes, I've got a firm grip. MIND THE EDGE OF THE TABLE!!!'

It's very tricky, the modesty towel routine...

Animals like massage too. My friend Jane has a black labrador called Harvey and I sometimes give him a back massage until he falls over. Unfortunately, animals aren't very good at paying, probably because they rarely hold down full time employment. So people it will have to be. I'll dig out my books. See if there's an aromatherapy course starting at Adult Ed in the autumn.

And Vera, don't worry. I haven't fallen off the bicycle completely. It's just that one of my feet has come loose from the foot strap and I am merely pedalling with one leg at the moment. Let me work through it. I'll be okay...!!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The impatient patient

'She's very highly strung, isn't she?' says Andy,emerging from my writing room at the sound of my call to lunch. He has been chicken sitting Mrs Slocombe who is now in situ in what was the Pumphrey Wing and is now the equivalent of Chicken Bedlam.

'Yes, she is,' I say, because I know all about Mrs Slocombe and her highly-strunginess. I've been watching her behaviour for many months now. I have spent lots of time with her thinking, 'Just how barking mad can a chicken be, for Heaven's sake?' I've seen the mad look in her eye, the crazy cock of her comb, the way she can't sit still for more than 10 seconds at a time. I am fully aware she is very highly strung.

For the last 24 hours, Mrs Slocombe has been sulking in the corner at her enforced committal to barracks. On being placed in the cage, she was told, very firmly, that this was her home now until 1) she stops eating her feathers and 2) she stops eating other people's feathers, especially those belonging to Mrs Pumphrey Purple Pants.

'You will eat only layers pellets and greens,' I said. 'No treats. Your diet will be supplemented with tuna. I have decided against feeding you cat food as a good source of protein because I don't want to risk you developing mad cow disease, or scrapie, or anything else of that ilk. Not that it will affect your brain, but it might affect mine when I eat your eggs.'
'Pah!' said Mrs Slocombe. 'And ptui!' And she huffed up what was left of her feathers and began her massive sulk-in.

This morning, on rising, I attend to the in-patient. My writing room smells like a chicken shed. Mrs Slocombe eyes me from the corner of the cage with the look of a chicken that has been up all night, pooping.
'I'm not getting up,' she says.
'You'll have to. I need to clean out your cage,' I say.
'Well, I ain't budging,' she insists and sits tight whilst I shuffle clean sheets of newspaper and fresh straw around her. I refill the large water bowl and place her ration of layers pellets before her.
'What's this?' she says, pecking one piece and spitting it out like a truculent child that's been forced to try spinach.
'Breakfast,' I say cheerfully.
'You said tuna,' says Slocombe.
'Not until this afternoon,' I say firmly, and leave her to it.

Andy and I go to the allotment. We weed, plant more seeds, put straw 'neath the strawberry plants. It is too windy to apply polythene to polytunnel so that will have to wait for a calmer day.

On our return I go to check on the patient. She is standing in 3 inches of water.

'Look,' she says with a glimpse of crazed triumph in her eyes. 'I've built a paddling pool. And tiled it with layers pellets.'

'Good grief,' I say. Mrs S has managed, goodness knows how, to unhook her large water bowl from the side of the cage and tip it all over the floor. Everything is sodden. The whole cage will have to go outside to be cleaned up.

Doctor Andy arrives. 'What's up, Nurse Denise?' he says.
'The patient is being difficult,' I say, through gritted teeth because my plan for the rest of the morning was to go into the greenhouse and pot on the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and bee flowers and NOT clean up after a loonie chicken for the second time in 3 hours.
'I'll hold her,' says Doctor Andy. He wraps the patient in a green towel straight jacket and tucks her under his arm. The patient looks at me and smirks because she likes being carted about. Saves wearing outher feet.

I clean out the ward, re-line with fresh paper and straw and fetch a smaller water bowl which, if divested of its contents, won't cause quite so much damage next time.
'I'm thinking of making you a T-shirt,' I say to Mrs S as she is returned to the cage.
'Oh, I don't wear T-shirts,' she says airily. 'I am French. I am far too chic for such a common item.'
'It's not going to be a fashion statement,' I say. 'And if you don't behave and mend your ways quickly, I may make it in yellow.' (Mrs S hates yellow. It clashes with her eyes.)

Anyway, Doctor Andy has decided that Mrs Slocombe's problem is that she is a HIGHLY INTELLIGENT CHICKEN who is easily bored and needs lots of entertainment, so whilst I was indulging in some back garden farming, he provided occupational therapy in the form of playing his GameBoy Advance and reading at her. He has also provided her with a mirror, a sort of pseudo-chicken company for her, as she clearly misses being out and about with the others.

We are going to persist with her treatment for at least a week. Longer than that, and I fear one of us shall crack through sheer lack of patience.

'Not me,' says Slocombe. 'I mad, I am. I can carry on like this FOREVER!!!!! And then some!!!Ahahahahahahahahahahaha - bok!'

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Pumphrey's Purple Pants Palaver



Today was designated release day for Mrs Pumphrey. Her under wing wound has healed over nicely, she is sprouting new bottom feathers and has spent the last two days wrecking her hospital room as a subtle way of saying 'I'M A BORED CHICKEN...GET ME OUT OF HERE!'

There were a couple of things we needed to do before we let her back into the bosom of the flock. One was to cover her in anti-peck spray, and the other was to disguise her still-pink-but-with-little-white-tufty-bits bottom with gentian violet spray. I have learned, you see, that hens adore the colour pink. I guess it's a girl thing. They will go for anything pink -like worms and tuna and other chickens bare bottoms. And with Mrs Pumphrey being white, her pink bum shows up more than say a pink bum on a brown hen does, thus making her an easy and obvious target for, say a loonie like Mrs Slocombe.

Have you ever used gentian violet spray? If you haven't, and you plan to in the future, can I offer a word of advice. ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES. And old clothes. And DO NOT use it in a high wind, like we did this morning. Anyway, the upshot of the Mrs Pumphrey/ Mrs Slocombe swapover is that there is a purple chicken running around Cluckinghen Palace and she ain't doing it for Gay Pride. Cor blimey, what a palaver! Firstly, Andy held Mrs P upside-down and I did the spraying. Purple mist everywhere. We returned Mrs P to the run. Mrs Poo comes over.

'Hello,' she says. 'Back from the wars?'
'Yes,' says Pumphrey. 'The accommodation was nice but room service was terrible. It's good to be home.'
'Nice pants,' says Poo. 'Give us a twirl.'
'They're purple,' says Pumphrey.
'Hang on,' says Poo, 'I think you've got a bit of fluff on them.'

And she pecks off one of Mrs Pumphrey's new feather tufts that's taken her over a week to grow!!

'Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!' I yell.
'What? What??' yells Andy, who's thinking, job done, better get this purple stuff off my hands before we go to Canterbury.
'Poo is going for Pumphrey's new feathers,' I wail. 'This is not what is supposed to happen. This is not part of my happy re-integration plan.'

Pumphrey is recaptured using fresh lettuce from Miggo's raised bed. (She's got wise to the apple trick which is pretty impressive for a chicken with three brain cells). On closer inspection, we discover the gentian violet hasn't been absorbed over the entire pink area and a couple of tiny patches are still undisguised. Andy takes charge. There is to be no more of my girly squirty-squirt handling of the situation. What is needed here is a good dowsing via the determined sprayings of a professional veterinary surgeon. He's got her upside-down and drenchedbefore I can say 'My isn't it blowy out here', finishing with a dose of anti-peck spray for good measure. Everywhere is purple, including most of Mrs Pumphrey.

Back she goes, completely camouflaged.

'Where's Mrs Pumphrey gone?' asks Miggins, who has made a selection of tiny sandwiches and some cream horns and has appeared with them balanced on her best china two-tiered cake stand ready to start the 'Welcome Home Gloria Pumphrey' party.
'I have no idea,' says Poo. 'One minute she was here with her purple pants and now she has disappeared.'
'Here I am,' says Pumphrey, although no-one can see her because of the gentian violet spray.
'I can hear her,' says Poo.
'Me, too,' says Miggo. 'In fact, I can sense her. Like a ghostly presence.'
'Hmmm, I know what you mean,' says Poo. 'There's eyes. Watching us. Spooky.'

And here is Mrs Pumphrey modelling her new purple pants...

Friday, 15 May 2009

Incoming revenue - oh, what to do?

Whilst sorting through some VERY IMPORTANT paperwork yesterday morning (and it WAS very important, and in no way a displacement activity to delay the start of my writing day because I was feeling devoid of any creativity), I found my P45, presented to me when I left teaching. I've never been in permanent possession of a P45 before, having always passed it straight on to my new employer as I've gone from job to job. Anyway, I noticed it said on the P45 that if I was no longer in paid employment or claiming Jobseekers Allowance I should call my local tax enquiry office and ask for a form (P50) in order to see if there was any refund due on income tax paid last year.

Well, I thought, I should do that as my bank account is looking very poorly at the moment and I'm reaching the point where I shall have to sell the children or the cats (not the chickens, they are providing eggs and therefore earning their keep) or Andy's VAST collection of Doctor Who tat...er, ephemera in order to pay the next round of utility bills. So I telephoned my local enquiry office. As it was before 9 a.m I wasn't holding out much hope of getting through to anything other than a recorded message but no, my call was answered promptly by a real human being. I requested the above mentioned form. After I'd been asked a series of 'security questions' - NI number, date of birth, last employer, name of my first pet rabbit, do I still believe in fairies etc - the nice lady said she could arrange the refund over the phone, sans form, using the information on my P45.

Wow, I thought, that's very impressive. And within three minutes, (one of which I was put on hold with some nice classical music) the whole thing was sorted and I was informed by the highly efficient and polite lady that she would e-mail the accounts department and a cheque would be issued and sent forthwith.

'Thank you,' I said. 'You've been very helpful and efficient. Er, you couldn't tell me how much I'm likely to be refunded, could you?'
'Oooh, about 5 or 6 hundred pounds I should think,' said the lady. 'Maybe more.'

I nearly fell off the stairs! Cor! Well worth a bit of important paper sorting, I thought.

Within seconds I was thinking 'What can I buy? What can I buy?' This, I believe, is called the irrational consumer response. It is inherent in most human beings, especially when in receipt of an unexpected windfall. Then I thought, calm down. Think carefully. Don't be frittering it away on a pair of 5 inch high purple satin Jimmy Choos with diamante trim. And then I remembered I don't like shoes so that was okay.

I could buy a polytunnel, I thought. Oh no, already got one of those. Or a fruit cage. Much fruit looks getting ready to appear this year and there's no way the birdies are having it. I have serious jam and icecream making planned. Or a bee-hive. In fact, I could get three or four beehives for that kind of money. Our friend Jean has already confirmed we have use of her garden to bee-keep in. She quizzed me briefly about killer bees and killer bees swarming and I assured her that when we get our first hive we shall be getting the kindest and quietest brand of bees possible because I too had no desire to be stung to death and she said 'That's okay, then.' I think she was marginally worried about her husband being driven into the river at the bottom of their garden by an angry mob of crazed insects.

Or we could go on holiday, I thought. Andy will need a holiday when he's finished his stint as temporary senoir vet. He's not having a very happy time of it. I am trying to teach him how to be hard and ruthless via a series of role plays (useful skills in the teaching world), but he's too nice and doesn't like to think he's upsetting anyone by some of the decisions he is required to make. So a holiday is likely to be needed to aid recovery once the permanent senior vet is installed and Andy is able to return to the relative safety of the ranks of the general masses.

Or I could put the money in our savings account. But where's the fun in that?

How many pigs can one buy for several hundred pounds? Or land? Could I get a small field, maybe? Ahahahhahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaa!!!! Not in Kent, not with the way the Government seems hell-bent on building houses all over the place. We could get a field in Scotland, probably. But my aunt lives there and whenever she visits down south, she always mentions the cold and the rain. And the wind. And the rain. And the darkness. And the rain. So perhaps not.

And then there's my laptop. My basic and slow but ever-so-faithful laptop, now 3 (or is it 4?) years old and prone to severe bouts of screen flickering, curable by me firmly waggling the screen back and forth but not for much longer I fear. Which reminds me, I must commit 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' (30,000+ words and rising) to a memory stick, just in case, only don't tell Andy I haven't done this yet because it will agitate him that my best-selling novel might disappear due to a future failure of my flickering laptop screen revival waggle method.

I ought to wait until the cheque arrives and is in my hot little hand, I suppose. I mean, the nice lady at the enquiry office might have made an error in calculation, for all her efficiency and I'll end up with £2.97. Because yesterday might have been 'Have a Laugh At the Taxpayer's Expense Day,' at the Inland Revenue. Better to be safe.

And now, having amassed 37 eggs this last week and a half, and with Miggo and Pumphrey both at work in their respective nestboxes as I write, I am off to do some egg-related cooking. Sausagemeat and egg pie, cheese and onion flan, sponge cake (s), fritatta, buns and meringues. And before you ask, this is in NO WAY a displacement activity in order to delay today's writing because I am currently devoid of creativity.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The National Trusting Bunch

The National Trust are a trusting bunch. Perhaps that's where they got their name from. Hadn't thought of that before now but it would explain why they have sent us our new membership cards without us having actually renewed our membership for this year. We've had a polite reminder to renew with an offer of a free organiser bag (whatever that is. This household already has an organiser bag - me!) if we pay by Direct Debit, they've even sent us the latest copy of the National Trust magazine.

But sadly, our NT membership is one of the casualties of me being an as yet unsalaried writer. That, and running a second car, having my hair coloured every six weeks and going on long weekends away to watch lovely Shakespeare productions by the RSC (although we are off to Stratford for an overnighter in June to see 'The Winter's Tale.' When I was a teacher I ran a drama club called 'Pursued By A Bear', a nod to the famous direction from the play -Exit, pursued by a bear,' and I am very excited to see how the RSC handle the bear issue. I hope they have a man in a costume rather than try and fob us off with clever use of shadows and sound effects. The play also has a clown and characters called Florizel, Mopsa and Dorcas. And false beards. And satyrs. And clothes swapping to bring confusion to the plot. Who said Shakespeare isn't a laugh???)

Anyway, we decided to let the NT membership lapse because we've 'done' all the properties in our vicinity. We like going to Sissinghurst because they have a nice restaurant, but you don't need membership to go into the restaurant or the gift shop as they are situated outside the gardens. Also, we've been around the gardens many times already and to be quite honest, there is only so much one can take of Vita Sackville-West and her lady-shenanagins with Virginia Woolf and the rest of the morally loose Bloomsbury set before they all start getting on one's nerves.

Of course, we now face a moral dilemma. We are in possession of the new cards. There is no way staff can check the validity of your membership from your card via a bar-code or chip 'n' pin, for example. And to be honest, they never check your cards properly anyway. I have a theory you could wave an old chocolate bar wrapper at them as you sail past and get in, no probs. It would be quite easy to get a year's membership for free.

We won't, of course. We are too honest to do something like defraud a charity. Besides, we'd both look too shifty to get away with it and God would make us choke on our Sissinghurst apple crumble for our sin. And the guilt trips would keep us awake at night. We'd end up doing something like bulk-buying NT advent calendars, bird feeders and collapsible walking stools to make up for not paying our membership fee.

I wonder if an MP would feel the same? Nah. I expect they'd try and claim it back on expenses.

Oooh, yes! My order from the Domestic Fowl Trust arrived yesterday. One bottle of gentian violet spray (very pretty - the girls will LOVE it! Purple pants all round), one pecking post (already installed with Mrs Pumphrey who is giving it a valiant pecking but it's made of solid stuff so should keep mad Mrs Slocombe occupied for her two week confinement) and eight anti-peck bits which look like nose rings. You attach them through the hen's nostrils, a bit like a bull nose ring, and it prevents them from gripping hold of feathers yet allows them to eat and drink normally. Only one ring at a time, I hasten to add, not all eight. Don't want Mrs S looking like a wayward punk rocker.

So come the weekend, Mrs Pumphrey will be released and Mrs Slocombe can begin her intensive psychiatric treatment. Goodness, but I hope it all works. We shall try our best.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Go to sleeeeep, go to sleeeeeep, go to sleee-eeep, my baybeeeeeeee....

Obviously, singing in the style of today's title rarely helps lull Andy to sleep, what with it being common and raucous, but such is the severity of his T.A.T.T syndrome (Tired All The Time - yes, that's what our Dr Chuckles calls it, so it must be a REAL condition) that we'll try anything and everything to get rid of this problem for good.

So last night there was a TV programme on the Beeb called 'Ten Things You Didn't Know About Sleep.'

'We must watch this,' I said to Andy. 'We might learn something useful.'

I use the Royal 'we' as a show of solidarity because, luckily, I rarely have sleep issues. In fact, my response to the question 'How did you sleep last night?' is usually, 'Well, I just shut my eyes and away I went.' Even if I wake up, I generally drop off again quite quickly. My worst sleep time was when I was still teaching and weighed more than 3 stones heavier than I do now. Unfortunately, Andy can't give up teaching. He could give up being a vet, which he is quite keen to do, especially at the moment in his current temporary senior vet role. And he admits that losing weight would probably help him sleep better but we all know you have to be in the 'zone' for losing weight and all the while Andy is being temporary senior vet and needs comfort food therapy to blot out the horrors of the day, he won't get anywhere near the diet zone let alone in it.

'I am in the zone,' Andy insisted this morning when we were discussing this very matter and I was weighing out a portion of my lovely new crunchy breakfast cereal in order to prevent me eating the whole packet in one fell swoop.
'Not THAT zone,' I said. 'The OTHER zone.'

You see, Andy is a multi-zoned character. Sometimes even I don't know which zone he is in, unless it's the one where he wears a blank face with his bottom lip sticking out and then it's definitely the 'playing with my computer game system' zone. If this blank sticky-out lip face is accompanied by the emitence of the occasional 'Ssssshhh!' then it's his 'Doctor Who' zone.

Anyway, back to last night's telly prog.

A couple of the 'Top 10s' were irrelevant. Like the snoring issue and the curing jet-lag idea. Andy rarely snores and if he does I find a good whallop or light smothering with a pillow usually sorts out the snorts (and gets him breathing again). And because I won't fly, then Andy doesn't fly. I have said that he shouldn't not go abroad just because I am plane-phobic, but he insists he doesn't want to be gallivanting in far-flung foreign climes unless he can gallivant with me. The last time he flew, it was to Barcelona on his stag-do, and I don't think jet lag is an issue between here and Spain.

The sleep deprivation idea seemed worthy of a try. Basically, you don't go to bed until 2 a.m, then you stay in bed REGARDLESS of whether the sandman appears, for 6 hours, rising at 8 a.m. This to be repeated for 4 weeks by which time your body has been retrained and should be sleeping for 6 hours solid. They tried it on a very grumpy-looking chap who declared it a miracle-cure for his insomnia and was back to annoying his children with a cheerful nature at breakfast time within the month.

'Trouble is,' said Andy, 'I can't get up at 8 because I'll never get to work on time.'

I refute this statement. Andy is NEVER late for work. In fact, he is always 20-30 minutes early because he is a conscientious employee and pulls more than his weight as far as putting in the hours is concerned. I reckon he could get up at 8, shower, dress and have brekkie and still be at work with time to spare.

Another interesting idea, which Andy tried last night, was muscle clenching. Basically, you lie on your back, and starting with your feet and working your way up, clench and relax your different muscle groups in turn, holding each clench for several seconds before releasing and relaxing.

Trouble was, Andy had reached his buttocks within 15 seconds of starting.
'How long is it supposed to take for me to reach my face?' he asked.
'Twenty minutes,' I said. 'How long have you been holding your clenches for?'
'About 2 seconds each,' said Andy. 'I think I might be going too quick for this to work effectively. And I missed out a couple of muscle groups because I was getting bored.'
'I think you might be right,' I said.

Andy didn't see numbers 9 and 10 on the list on the programme because by this point he'd fallen asleep on the living room floor.
'Are you awake?' I said, poking him with my foot.
'I'M AWAKE!!!' said Andy, jolting up his head to reveal carpet imprint on the side of his sleepy pink face.
'No, you aren't,' I said. 'They've just said about inhaling lavender.'
'We're already doing that,' said Andy, which is true because for the last week I've been using the oilburner upstairs and burning lavender oil before bed (and sometimes the ceramic holder if I drop off/ forget to keep an eye on the water level.)

So the plan of action for tackling Andy's T.A.T.T syndrome seems to be keep on with the lavender (only try not to set fire to house by inadvertently falling asleep whilst the candle is burning), persist in the clench and relax method and make it last longer than half a minute and possibly consider the sleep deprivation experiment and black-out curtains.

I'll keep you posted on progress.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Expenses claim rant (brace yourselves!)

I've started flicking over the first half a dozen or so pages of the Daily Mail every day because I fear that if I read any more about the 'expenses' claims of British MPs I shall burst an important artery in my brain and end up having to be pushed around in a bath chair by Andy for the rest of my expenses free life. Today, I headed straight for the health pages to see what diseases I had instead.

What I don't understand, and forgive me if I'm being very simplistic about this, is how can a person who is paid a very good salary then go on to receive what amounts to an additional salary by claiming various and here I am going to add the word 'extravagant', living expenses? On Saturday, for example, I read that MPs are entitled to claim £400 a month for food. Even when they are in recess. £400?????? I don't even spend half of that a month for Andy and myself (and that's TWO of us, you MPs, TWO! Ask your accountant to verify this as you seem to have a complete inability to grasp basic economic maths). And believe me, we like food and we eat well. I can't get over it. £400???? (See? I am so appalled I keep repeating myself.) FOUR HUNDRED POUNDS!! A MONTH!!!!

And today, claims have been revealed for things like horse dung for a garden. Good grief, if you go to a riding stables, they'll give it to you for NOTHING!! And some Tory bloke charged us tax-payers for cleaning out his moat. His MOAT???? Actually, I'm glad I'm not in paid employment at the moment, because it means I'm not paying income tax and inadvertently funding this bunch of immoral opportunists for their multiple electric appliances and replacement toilet seats. (Our upstairs loo seat is coming to the end of its life. Can I claim for a new one? No. I'll have to buy it out of our earned household income like most normal people have to. It's called managing a budget. Sometimes, MPs and House of Lords, you have to forego these luxuries if you find you can't afford them. I know, shocking isn't it?)

And do you know who annoys me most? Hazel Blears, that's who (although Prescott comes a pretty close second, but he annoys me just by breathing). She was on telly over the weekend saying she understands how angry people are about this situation and something must be done about it, like getting a panel of 'ordinary' people together to decide how the system could be changed. Here's an idea, Hazel, you mad loon - how about getting yourself a moral compass??? They don't cost anything, so no claiming it on expenses, you naughty person. If anyone needs pushing off her motorcycle to wipe that smug little grin from her smug little ginger-topped faced, it's her.

I've been telling myself all week that I wasn't going to sully my blog by commenting on this current issue, but on Saturday a pile of leaflets from various political parties appeared through the letterbox canvassing for my vote for the June elections. I toyed with using them to line the bottom of Mrs Pumphrey's hospital ward facility, but she's making such good progress that I didn't want her to have a set-back so I chucked them straight in the recycle bin. You see, I've never had a politician call on me unless there is an election in the offing. They never come along to ask me how I'm doing. Are there any community issues that are affecting me at the moment? Would I like anything done about, say, all the morons coming out of the nightclubs at 2 in the morning and making a racket as they return home, drunk and swearing? Or about the yobs who park their often untaxed cars on the pavement or even across our driveway so people have to walk into the road to get past and Andy can't get into his own property at the end of a hard day's work.

No, I have come to the conclusion that politicians just don't care. The only time they do care is when their parliamentary position is likely to be affected by the outcome of an election. I suppose I can understand really. Just think of all the expenses and perks they'll miss out on if they lose their seat. I mean, when you've seen a darling pair of curtains in Laura Ashley that'll look super in the dining room of your second home it's obvious the taxpayer must foot the bill. And a second home is imperative when the trains are so awful and sometimes your chauffeur just doesn't want to hang about until after the vote for what colour shall we have the loos in the Commons painted this year, so I can't possible get home and have to stay in the City even though my main residence (for Inland Revenue purposes) is only 15 miles away from the Houses of Parliament (besides staying over will save on travelling back for that dinner at the Ritz tomorrow - got to find some way of shifting that £400 a month food allowance before the expense submission cut-off date.)

I think Andy should be on Ms Blears' panel of 'ordinary people' (even though he is, in fact, an extraordinary person.) He has 2 good ideas of how to solve this problem. Solution 1 is to build a cheap hotel next to Parliament. Each MP and Lord could have their own room (bed, wardrobe, loo, shower and okay, a tv I suppose) and they would stay there after late sessions. There would be a cafe downstairs supplying healthy, nutritiously balanced five-a-day food (no alcohol or cigarettes) and a gym so MPs could maintain a healthy BMI.

The second option is exactly the same only instead of a hotel, MPs and Lords would stay in a ship on the Thames.

Which could then be taken out to sea and sunk...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Happy Birthday Andy, but first a message...

...from her Royal Highness, Queen Gloria Pumphrey of Pumbalonia...

'Greetin's end hair lair to all may loyal subjects. Today, it is Endy's birthday and the spot leight should, of course, be on 'im. But as aye em poorly end aye em therefore more important than what 'e is, aye shall 'ave first say today.

Aye have been 'ugely touched bay the good wishes bestowed upon me during may illness from you, may loyal fens. Therefore, aye would like to say a few thank you's. Firstly, to Olly end the Gemsta, for your kaind words of encouragement. And to Jean, whom arrived yesterday with en epple for myself, which aye ate all in one 'it, so aye ended up with a mono-boob thet would make Jordan green with henvy.

To Endy, for the administration of mind-altering drugs end allowing me to poop on 'is socks. End to Denise, for cleanin' ite may 'ospital wing every mornin', feedin' me extra tit-bits end keepin' me company in may hour of need. Aye just wish she'd stop singin' bleedin' 'Danny Boy' to me. It gives me the willies.

As aye speak to you all from the Music Room of the Pumphrey Wing, aye should like to re-assure you all thet aye am scabbin' over nicely end well on the road to recovery. Thenk you all.'

That was a message from one pampered chicken who is getting ideas above her station.

So, onto Andy's birthday. Bacon sandwiches and many, many pressies for breakfast. Whilst he went to work, complete with a 'Birthday Boy' rosette (a half day only, as he worked Saturday morning) I strung up balloons and banners everywhere, made a big sod off chocolate fudge cake covered in Maltesers and Smarties and created a proper kiddies tea party for lunch with crisps, sausage rolls, sarnies, jelly and chocolate fingers. At work, Andy's surprise present from the hens arrived according to plan. This was a balloon chicken that sings 'You are my sunshine' and it caused much entertainment.

Back home, we had our party, ate too much and then went for a walk in the park to work some of it off. We got a good workout because although the sun was shining, it was also blowing a gale of a wind, which somehow we managed to walk into all the way round.

There is a birthday dinner planned for this evening. Nachos and dips, followed by herby chicken, new potatoes and salad, followed by Eton mess, then cheese and biscuits. But as we lie here, slobbing on the sofa, both of us thinking we need to start that diet TOMORROW it might not get cooked, let alone eaten!