Friday, 31 July 2009

Mrs Faux Poo, Death and Responsibility

Yesterday, I reported on the condition of Mrs Poo and her moult and chill, and the fact she has gone into one of her hunches, facilitating the need for some indoor TLC (Tender Lovin' Chicken).

Olly, who regularly reads this blog when she probably has more constructive things to do with her time, left commiserations and a comment that suggested maybe Mrs Poo was attention-seeking.

And having been on nursing duty for two days now, I am inclined to think Olly may have a point!

Yesterday, Mrs Poo was trying to eat some of her layers pellets and corn. (And sunflower seeds that I'd mixed in, too, as a bribe). She was being a bit half-hearted in her attempts - sort of bash, bash, boink, boink, look I'm trying really hard to eat my food but it's just tooooooooo much effort, poor me, I've got a chill and I'm moulting (cough, cough!)

So I thought (having been a foster mummy to a duckling), I know, I'll mush up some layers pellets with water. It'll be easier for her to eat.

This I did and presented the resultant mush to Mrs Poo in a rather nice cut glass trifle bowl (presentation is half the battle when nursing the ill).

'What's this?' she said.
'It's layers pellets and water,' I said.
'Sugared water?' said Mrs Poo.
'No, plain water,' I said. 'But it's warm. A bit like porridge.'
'Well, ' said Mrs Poo, folding her wings. 'When my grandmother made us porridge, in the days when we all lived in the frozen wastelands of the most northern tip of rain-lashed Scotland, when we were so poor we didn't have shoes and had to eat the grass that even the sheep didn't want, when Gordon Brown was...'
'Get on with it,' I said.
'...Grandma's porridge was laced with lots of brown sugar and honey and syrup and cream,' finished Mrs Poo. And then she looked pointedly at her bowl of brown mush.
'That's an awful lot of sugar,' I said. 'Not good for your teeth.'
'Chickens don't have teeth,' said Mrs Poo.
'I'm not surprised, 'I said, 'if that's how they eat their porridge.'

Anyway, Mrs Poo deigned to give the mush a nibble and then woolfed down half the bowl. I thought I heard her burp, but she denied such unlady-like behaviour.

And this morning, when she was sitting on my lap having her water, she was looking around rather more perkily than yesterday (when she could barely keep her eyes open) AND there was a lot more flicking of the water in the nurse's eye going on, too.

'I'm not going to drip water down your beak if you keep doing that,' I said a little crossly, because although I am genuinely compassionate with the truly sick, if I suspect any lead-swinging, my fuse can shorten very dramatically. And I was getting wet.

When my younger sister, bless her, was in a semi-remission with cancer, she requested one day that I make her some scrambled egg. Okay, I said. And then she proceeded to give me very strict, very precise instructions on exactly how she liked her scrambled eggs. Okay, I said, and off I trotted to make said eggs. I did think that she could probably have made her own scrambled eggs, especially as she was perfectly capable of walking, brandishing a spoon and giving bossy instructions but serious illness and filial responsibility for one's younger siblings plus a guilt complex makes you agree to do things that sometimes you perhaps wouldn't.

Anyway, I made the eggs as per instructions, took them to my sister and sat with her as she ate them.
As she placed the fork on the empty plate, she looked at me and said, 'Well, they were all right, I suppose, but not the same as Mum makes.'

What I really wanted to say was 'well, make your own effing scrambled eggs next time,' but of course, I didn't because that would have been deemed unsympathetic. And we were both very young at the time and lacking in social maturity and patience.

Is Mrs Poo really as ill as she is suggesting? When I leave her for a rest, does she immediately kick back her heels, switch on the telly and reach for a jumbo sized bottle of Tizer and box of Milk Tray?

I don't know. But I'm old enough now to be patient in my care of her until I am a happy she is properly on the mend i.e when she tries to rip the skin off my fingers.

As she sat on my lap this morning being stroked and cossetted, I was struck that her gingery blonde feathers were exactly the same colour as my sister's hair.

No, I thought. She wouldn't have come back as a chicken, would she? I mean, if you're going to be re-incarnated, you'd choose something a bit more glam than a chicken, wouldn't you?

Mrs Poo looked up at me with a bright and sparky eye.

'Yes,' she said. 'Who'd be a chicken in this household?'

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A Nursing Career

'It's a good job,' I say, 'that I'm not in work that requires me to be away from home for nine hours every day.'

I am talking to Mrs Poo. Mrs Poo is sitting on my lap. She is quite comfy. She is even dozing a little. She looks like a little old lady who has fallen asleep on a bus, all hunched up beneath a woolly shawl.

I am nursing Mrs Poo. My equipment is a tiny 1 ml syringe and a dish of sugar water. I am rehydrating a chicken. It is a time consuming business. Can you imagine the calamity if I was in outside employment?

'I've brought my dehydrated chicken to work with me today. I'll be spending 40 minutes of each hour drip feeding her, and the other twenty minutes working. That's okay, isn't it?'

Cor, she doesn't like moulting, does Mrs Poo. Also, she has caught a chill. From standing out in the rain on Monday. Stupid thing. I kept yelling out of the back door, 'Mrs Poo, get under the tree. Go into the pod. For heaven's sake, do something to get out of the rain.' The other three girls were sheltering. But I suppose the nature of Poo is that she will buck a trend every which way she can, even if it means dicing with potential death (or a nasty chill at least).

So coupled with a sudden drop in featherage, the chill has meant Mrs Poo is undergoing indoor convalescence in the cage that was the Pumphrey Wing aka the Miggins Ward aka the Slocombe psychiatric unit aka the Pandora Kitten quarantine bay aka the Rubba Duck Foster Home.

'What shall we call it now?' I say to Mrs Poo, as I set up the nest and food and water.
'How about the Mrs Polovitska Memorial Nursing Home?' she says.
'Oh come on,' I say, 'it's only a chill and a moult.'
'You can put that on my gravestone when I'm dead,' says Poo.

And then I spend all night worrying I'm going to find a dead chicken in my writing room come the morning.

Luckily, Mrs Poo is alive when I can finally bear the suspense no longer and venture downstairs. She has eaten a bit of lettuce but my main concern is making sure she gets enough fluids. I am very keen on fluids. Ask Andy or Chris or Heather. If they are ever ill, my cure-all is 'Drink lots of water.'

'I've got a really bad cold, Mum.'
'Drink lots of water! Lots and lots.'

'I've got a headache, Denise.'
'That's because you aren't drinking enough water. Have a glass every hour.'

'Mum, my leg's just dropped off.'
'Have a drink of water. You'll soon grow a new one.'

Anyway, trying to get a chicken to drink water when they have beaks like vices requires the use of cunning trickery. After much loitering about chicken chat forums I discovered such a trick, which I employed very well the last time Mrs Poo has hospitalised, just as she was coming into lay and going all moody.

What you do is drop water at the top of your ailing hen's beak. The water will slide down the beak and gather at the tip, hanging off the end in a droplet (much like a dewdrop hanging off an old geezer's nose on a cold winter's day).

And the hen, sensing the drop of water, will open their beak and suck it in!

Magic!

Sometimes they flick their beak and you'll get a splat of water in the eye, but mostly, they'll drink what's hanging from the end of their beak. I hope old geezers don't do this with their dew drops.

I need to get 50 of these water filled syringes down her every day. So every couple of hours, I'm hoiking her out of the cage and doing the squirt, drip, drop, suck technique at least 10 times.

Of course, I am worried about Mrs Poo dying. Although she doesn't feel so hot this morning, chickens are untimately fragile creatures who can go from peak of health to dead in a matter of hours.

And whilst Mrs Poo is a vicious, recalcitrant, bossy thug, she is our vicious, recalcitrant, bossy thug and we love her.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Feather coat, no knickers, butterflies and the cucumber airer

Mrs Poo is having a moult. I've been expecting the three newer chickens to go through this process for a while now, as they passed their first birthday a while ago. Ironically, Mrs Slocombe has been growing feathers instead of losing them, but given she was a bit sparse with feathers due to her feather eating habit, I suppose one can only applaud her determination to buck the moulting trend. Mrs Pumphrey has lost 6 or possible 7 feathers and is sprouting a rather nice new set of trousers. (White feather trousers are in this Autumn - remember, you heard it here first).

But poor Mrs Poo. She was looking a bit hunchy yesterday. Now I know she can go hunchy when it rains a lot but this was extra specially hunchy with a side order of hunch and hunch sprinkles, so I popped into the South Wing to give her a medical check in my capacity as non-veterinary qualified yet ever so caring member of the chicken keeping team.

Nostrils clear, eyes bright, bottom clean, legs smooth. So far, so good. I thought, I'll check for parasites. What with all the rain recently, dust bathing has been a sparse activity. And when I lifted her feathers, well! There's her problem. It was like she was wearing an over coat with no clothes on underneath!

I'd already read that hens can drop a huge amount of feathers in a very short space of time when they have their moult. Not experienced it before, though. But then my chicken moult reference barometer has been limited to Mrs Miggins and the dear departed Mrs Bennett who, when they first moulted, shed a few feathers from their necks and managed to cover up the thinning with a nice floaty scarf each.

No wonder Mrs Poo was hunched. She was probably cold. Beneath her top feathers she was pretty much bald. A few new pin feathers were starting to sprout so I am hoping she'll feel better soon.

I wondered where all her old feathers could be. No sign of them in the run or the pod.

Behind me, Mrs Feather Plucker Slocombe licked her lips and smiled.

Now, because we are environmentally friendly, we do not have a tumble drier. Actually, we did have a tumble drier. It was very old when we inherited it and it struggled on bravely through three or four winters before its door fell off. And because I didn't have time to sit in front of it, keeping it closed with my foot to make it work and because the feeling of hot air breezing up my skirt was quite unpleasant, we got rid of it and reverted to the trusty clothes airer.

Until the clothes airer started to disintegrate as well.

Since we've become eco-warriors, I am loathe to throw anything away (aside from tumble driers with knackered doors). So the clothes airer is now positioned in the greenhouse and is providing a nice climbing frame for the cucumbers. We have three cucumbers growing at the moment. Not big enough to make a sandwich yet, but I am keen for them to dangle this year, rather than trail across the ground.

And whilst I was in the greenhouse this morning watering the cucumber, I rescued two butterflies. They were a bit of a bugger to catch but I managed to get them both and fling them into the sky outside.

'Well,' said Clive, as he and Maureen flew away. 'We shan't be going there again for our holidays.'
'I quite agree,' said Maureen. 'We hadn't even unpacked our bags.'
'And given that the Eden Project has so much publicity, I thought it was highly over-rated, don't you?' said Clive.
'Undoubtedly,' said Maureen. 'Call one cucumber plant an Amazonian biosphere experience? I think not. I'm writing to the Guardian as soon as we get home.'
'Which way is home?' said Clive.
'I don't know,' said Maureen. 'You're reading the map.'

And finally, here are some pictures of our patio. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and many flowers ready to be planted into the borders.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Anniversary thoughts

In less than two weeks it shall be mine and Andy's fifth wedding anniversary. We are going to River Cottage for an anniversary treat. I thought, I'd better start looking for a suitable gift for Andy, especially as he has been so nice this year by letting me off work to faff about with writing.

The fifth wedding anniversary is represented by wood, apparently. Well, that's exciting isn't it? A bit of creative thinking is called for, methinks.

Right, what comes to mind when you think of 'wood?'

Trees. Sticks. Garden fences. Tables. Hardly inspirational so far.

'Here darling, I got you a stick for an anniversary present.'
'Thanks, dearest. And I got you a trip to River Cottage for a four-course meal.'

Think out of the box. Wood=trees=leaves=paper=books. Hmmm, potential there. Books always go down well. But a book on what? Something wood related maybe? Carpentry. Would Andy be safe with carpentry equipment? Well, he uses operating equipment at work and it's only once or twice a week he comes home with some surgery related injury. And it's been ages since he stapled himself to a rabbit.

Or a book on whittling. Andy has often mentioned he fancies a whittle. And you need a stick for whittling, so that would tie in nicely with the wood theme.

What about a wooden toy? Andy likes toys. Whatever he tells you he would like for Christmas, what he really means is that he wants toys. I try and get him something juvenile for Christmas but I don't like to encourage any potential regression into childhood.It's bad enough there's all that Doctor Who and Star Wars stuff from the 70's clogging up the attic without adding plastic crap from the 21st century into the equation.

I did toy with the idea of buying Andy a piece of woodland. I was assured (wrongly it turned out) that small pockets of woodland can purchased quite cheaply. Not for under £50 they can't. Unless you go to Bulgaria. Or Croatia. But it would be nice to have a bit of woodland, wouldn't it? Somewhere to encourage wildlife to flourish, to go for walks amongst the bluebells on sunny spring days, to build a little camp fire in winter and sit around it toasting muffins and singing 'Ging-gang-gooley.' One day, maybe. One day...

We have a ginormous piece of wood in the back garden in the form of our eucalyptus tree. Sometimes I stare up at it and think, how tall exactly do eucalyptus trees grow? Do they stop before they reach the moon, for example? We've had it cut back once in the five years we've lived here, and it just shot away into the sky within 6 months. It's an expensive thing, having a tree lopped back, and not something we can afford to have done again at the moment. But it serves as a useful shelter for the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe are 'neath it as I write, because it is raining, has been raining all night and looks like it will continue to do so for the next week.

And I'm hoping that once a tree reaches a certain height it becomes impervious to force ten gales and thus will not go crashing into Heather's bedroom window during a high storm (especially as Heather is coming home on Thursday and something like a crashing tree might make her jump.)

So I'm still stuck for an original anniversary present idea. I think the person who decided how anniversaries should be represented had a distinct lack of imagination when they thought, 'Five years? Wood. That'll do. People like a nice stick.'

I may have to invent my own anniversary list. Five years?

Nintendo DS!!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Content Herein

More building on the Manor website yesterday. More running up and down stairs to check progress and give opinions. More 'ooohhhhing' and 'aaaahhhhing' at the sheer capacity of Andre's talent. I thought, I'd better make a list of stuff that I want included on the site, and then I won't lose track of my updating schedule.

Oh yes, I have an updating schedule! There are going to be seven areas on the site and I plan to update one area every day. Of course, I may need to give up other activities in order to make the time to do this. Ironing may remain crumpled, carpets unhoovered, surfaces undusted. Dinners may remain raw, homemade cakes may become a distant memory of the past. And just as I was starting to feel guilty about the potential neglect of my household duties I thought, Heather's coming home this week, having completed her university career. She can do all the cooking and housework until she finds more gainful employment, so that solved that problem!

The Kitchen is sorted - Recipe of the Week, Experimental Recipe of the Week, and a spot from the Much Malarkey Manor Guide To...

So I turned my attention to The Study. Now, I am a firm believer in life-long learning. I think that once you stop being interested in learning new stuff, you might as well climb in the coffin and nail down the lid. The only attitude worse than this is when you think you know it all and there is nothing else to learn. When I was teaching I saw enough of this from over-confident (and ironically dim) teenagers. And no matter how much I tried to tell them, they had a stubborn and worrying belief that learning stops the minute the clock ticks past the last minute of the last GCSE exam and you get to run out of the exam room and block up the sinks in the school loos with paper towels and leave the taps running for a highly hilarious end-of-school jape.

The Study, therefore, will be a space for life-long learning. I'm a fully qualified teacher, for heaven's sake. I ought to do something with my qualification. So I am going to a) post creative writing activities for those who want to do creative writing and b) do a guided reading of 'Book of the Month,' whereby visitors to the site can read-along-a-book-with-me, and we can have discussions about it in a Reading Group kind of way.

Of course, I need to give some thought to what the first 'Book of the Month' might be. Do I go for something I haven't read yet, and so come to the text with fresh eyes? Or do I plump for something that I know well and have enjoyed so I can impart enthusiasm and confident wisdom to those who join me?

Actually, I am half-way through Patrick Gale's 'The Whole Day Through' which is very manageable in that it hasn't got 600 pages, so I might use that.

Today I am continuing my list of Much Malarkey Manor content. Andre is upstairs as I write, working on The Belfry. A man has just arrived with a delivery of bats. The bats are demanding fruit. Pandora is having a life-long learning lesson in the difference between a bat (protected species) and a mouse (eat-all-you-can-for-a-fiver).

And Phoebe Flanbottom is asleep, having created and eaten all the Recipes of the Week for the next six months.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen

I thought it was rather ironic that Vera en France at Labartere had a bonfire moment in her caravan kitchen on the very day that building work started on the Kitchen at Much Malarkey Manor. I must say my heart was in my mouth as I read her post, because I had visions of the caravan being burned to a cinder by the end of her report. I also thought it was a bit of an extreme move to make in order to make the builders get a shift on and have the barn habitable by winter.
'We can't stay in the caravan for another winter,' says Vera. 'Because it is now, unfortunately, toast.'
Still, needs must...

Having completed the Grand Hall, Andre decided to start work on one of the main rooms.

'The kitchen,' he declared. 'I shall start in the room that is the hub of every household.'

I thought back to the first kitchen I had after leaving home nearly 25 years ago. If you stretched your arms out thus, you could touch all four walls. And forget about opening a window to release the cooking smells of forgotten toast, overly-done bacon, or boiled-over milk for there was no window. It was like cooking in a tiny cave. Hub of the home it certainly was not.

However, the Kitchen at Much Malarkey Manor is a much grander affair. This is mostly because the Head Cook, Mrs Phoebe Flanbottom, has the figure of a watermelon and needs room to shift her ample bottom around the table whilst wielding her pots, pans and trivets. She literally does need room to swing a cat. Beings as she is a cat.

Now I don't want you to worry about cat hair getting into the food. Andy and I have been eating our meals with cat hair for years and neither of us has yet coughed up a fur ball. And cats are very clean animals. They're always grooming themselves and each other. Their fur is immaculate. (Just don't get involved in thoughts vis a vis cat spittle.)

So whilst Andre beavered away on the building work, I beavered away on the content. Recipe of the Week, Culinary Experiment of the Week, Mrs Flanbottom's introductory guide.

'I should be writing that,' said Phoebe.
'I want to include some Shakespeare,' I said.
'Carry on,' said Phoebe, 'only run the final copy by me first.'

The Kitchen is almost finished. I think my first Recipe of the Week will be Chocolate Chip and Banana Cake. It's an old favourite of ours and Vera's, too.

'Oi,' said Phoebe. 'The Kitchen is my domain. I decide what the first Recipe of the Week will be.'
'Did you have anything in mind?' I said.
'Yes,' said Phoebe, 'chocolate catnip and pilchard cake.'

I said, 'Mrs Flanbottom, we might have some problems here. I may have to pull rank. And weight.'

Mrs Phoebe Flanbottom laughed a hollow laugh and flexed her substantial watermelon form.
'You'll be lucky,' she said.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Faced up to Book

First, a joke.

A man goes into an electrical repair shop with his telly. He says to the assistant, 'My TV only shows pictures of grass, trees and earth.'
'That's funny,' said the assistant. 'It's supposed to pick up sky.'

So the day before yesterday I signed up to FaceBook. I thought it would be a good way of networking, of getting people to read my writing and say, 'She's jolly entertaining, let's pay her lots of money to write entertaining stuff for us. In fact, let's give her a three book deal whilst we're about it and a massive advance so she can scoot off and buy a smallholding in the countryside. The peace and quiet will undoubtedly improve her work. She could probably claim the peace and quiet back as a tax deduction.'

Of course, this would rely on the person reading my stuff to be a publisher. Or someone who knows a publisher and has influence over them in some manner, like a series of dodgy photos taken at a Christmas party three years ago involving a photocopier and a bag of satsumas.

But publishers and agents are bound to be FaceBook people too, aren't they? I mean, it's such a time wasting pursuit, this social networking malarkey, that it can be the only reason I can think of as to why the manuscripts I send off take months and months to be returned with, generally, a bog standard rejection slip.

'We can't offer constructive cristicism because we get so many manuscripts a week,' they say.

Yeah, right! More like they're sitting in the office faffing about on FaceBook and Uhoo-Tube and Beebopaloola.

I may have just scuppered my chances of ever being published. But then a good publisher would know I am being ironic!!

I managed to set up the account myself. I got lost several times whilst navigating the site and trying to add on bits to make me seem an interesting writely-type person. The getting lost was due to me having dominant muscles in my right leg which means I have the urge to turn left all the time when coming out of doorways and internet pages. And then Vera and Chris both popped up to hold on-line conversations, and then Heather did too, so I was the multi-tasking queen for an hour or so.

I was quite pleased that by the end of my session I had acquired 6 friends. Until I looked at Heather's page and saw she had 367.

367?? I don't even know that many people, let alone count them as friends!!

But I consoled myself with the fact that I am very selective about my friends and it's better to concentrate on quality than be a media tart to the masses. Until I become a media tart of course.

And finally, today's Words of Wisdom:

'Never wear anything that panics a cat.'

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Temporary site page and French lessons

If you go to www.much-malarkey-manor.co.uk now, you will find a temporary home page! Isn't it great? Of course, you can't go anywhere from it. As the sign says, construction is still under way (with apologies from the Lady of the Manor. 'That'll be me,' says Mrs Poo. 'Get back in your box,' says I.') But it's a start and will give you an idea of the style of the site.

Andy is worried about its lack of sophistication. Andre, on the other sparkly-gloved hand, isn't.

'It has its own in-house style,' says Andre. 'There will be nothing else like it on the whole internettlywebbly. Trust me. I have a pet chihuahua.'

I think this is true. And who wants to be like everyone else anyway? I want people to see the site and say, 'Aha! That's Much Malarkey Manor!' I want it to be recognisable, and original and different. In fact, I feel very inclined to explore making Much Malarkey Manor my trademark. Or copyrighting it. Or both. It'll be 'our brand'.

We've already decided that when we get our small holding it will be called Much Malarkey Manor.
'What if we get that place in Normandy French France that we like?' says Andy. 'We'll have to call it 'Le Manoir de Beaucoup Malarkey.'
'It doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?' I say.

Yesterday evening, I did an on-line test to discover how competent my French is. I did better than I thought I would, considering I did my 'O' level 27 years ago. I got a 'B' grade and my teacher was keen for me to carry on studying it at 'A' level, but I had other ideas at the time like leaving school and earning some money, so the 'A' level stayed on the shelf. But I've been toying with taking French evening classes. And the on-line test suggested I could go in somewhere around the top end of Level 2. This was most encouraging.

However, my new keeness pour la francais took a knock ce matin when I read the report in the Daily Mail about French people shouting at some British students who'd come down with swine flu on an exchange trip to 'Go back to your disease-ridden country.'

Excuse me, but what's to say they didn't catch swine flu en France? Disease-ridden country indeed! Pah! Et ptui!!

Anyway, this got my back up in true Daily Mail fashion so en ce moment je deteste toute la France.

So I might to advanced crotchet instead.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

On Being a Granny-In-Waiting

I had a bit of a stare in the mirror yesterday. Do I look old enough to be a granny, I thought. Of course, it didn't help that I was looking at myself in the changing room mirror at the swimming pool having just completed an hour's swim. Swimming, I've discovered, doesn't bring me out in a rosy glow - it brings me out in blotchy hives. And my hair was wet and straggly and my face was purple with exertion. My legs and shoulders were covered with scratches and puncture marks courtesy of Pandora Kitten and her flinging herself at me in an 'I love you so much Mum I have to cling on really tight,' way. And my eyes were a bit bloodshot. I thought, I must get around to doing something about my post-baby tummy, but then trying to sort that out 21 years after my last pregnancy might prove a bit tricksy plus I'd lose the shelf for resting my cup of tea on in the evenings so the sit ups can go take a hike.

I have been giving some thought about what I shall be called after the baby arrives. I don't want to be 'Nan' or 'Nanna' because that always reminds me of that stupid St Bernard in Peter Pan and I'd never be able to carry off wearing a mop cap. I toyed with 'Percival' or 'Dave' but certain people considered these options too ridiculous for words. My own grandmothers were 'Gran' and 'Grandma'. Grandma was very distant and we never had much to do with her. I don't think she liked being a grandmother despite having 6 children of her own and 16 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren when she died. Gran, on the other hand, was great and I spent a lot of time in her company whilst growing up. She is my guardian angel. In honour of her I would like to be a Gran.

Then I thought, I could be a 'Grandmama!' That would be fun! Grandmama's are elegant and wear bloomers and corsets. They take their grandchildren to gymkhanas and afternoon tea at Claridges. 'Grandmama's' have specific standards, and believe in etiquette and manners and doing things properly. And most importantly, because Grandmama's do all these things, they can also get away with being eccentric.

'Oh, take no notice of Grandmama,' they'll say. 'It's just her eccentric way.'

And people will know it is perfectly normal that I have a collection of wallabies in my back garden.

But I really like 'Granny.' It makes me laugh to think a small person will shout 'Granneeeeeeeeey' at me across a park when we are out playing frisbee or desperately trying to fly a kite and I fall over, flashing my bloomers at the world. So 'Granny' is the favourite at the moment.

So do I look old enough to be a granny? Should I start colouring my hair again, maybe dabble in Botox, or pay a small fortune for magical potions that promise the return of dewy youth?

Of course not! Once I'd got home, slapped on a bit of moisturiser, dried my hair and had a bit of a sing-a-long to Classic Gold on the Radio I decided my age was, well, ageless. My mind feels the same it did in my twenties and I can put my hands on the floor whilst keeping my legs straight. I can swim a length of the pool in 35 seconds and I am blessed with the genetics of a good skin. Okay, certain bits are heading south, but only as far as maybe the middle of France and certainly nowhere near the equator. My hormones may be running low but I am fully conversant in 'gettin' on down wiv da kidz' speak, although my grandchild, of course, will speak properly. Andy and I do some pretty funky dancing sometimes and I think my grey hair adds a certain enigma to the Granny equation. Besides, I really can't be bothered to waste hours of my life being a slave to the dye bottle again.

I think I'll do.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A Deputation on the Doorstep

A deputation appeared on the doorstep of Much Malarkey Manor this morning, the size and shape of one cat flanked either side by a chicken. They each bore a demanding look of their faces. I thought, I bet they haven't come to discuss curtain material for the Oriental Salon.

'We've come to ask about our employment in the Manor once it is built and ready to go,' said Mrs Poo, who'd been elected spokeshen by the other two because, I assume, she looks the most menacing. (It certainly wouldn't have been for her diplomatic skills.)

'Employment?' I said. 'I assumed you were going to lounge around doing nothing and cluttering up the place much as you do now. Ahahahahahahahahahahaha....ouch! Was that entirely necessary?'
'I find a sharp peck to the knee cap excellent at bringing a halt to hysterical laughter,' said Mrs Poo, wiping her beak on the bottom of my skirt.'
'We just wanted to know why Mrs Miggins, Mrs Pumphrey, Phoebe and Pandora have all got jobs lined up and we haven't,' said Tybalt.
'They volunteered,' I said. 'They are motivated. They want to be involved.'
'So do we,' said Mrs Slocombe. She looked slightly hurt in the way only a bonkers mad chicken can look.
'Well,' I said, 'Andy and I are more than happy for you to have jobs in the Manor. The more hands, paws and claws to the wheel the better.'
'You're going to have to help us out a bit here,' said Mrs Poo. 'What kind of things could we do?'

I thought for a moment. I could do without thinking. What I really wanted was a glass of water and a lie-down. I'd just finished making and decorating Leane's birthday cake which involved much chocolate of the Maltesers, chocolate buttons, chocolate flake and Smarties variety and there was quite a bit leftover which I felt obliged to eat. And I now felt decidedly ikky.

'Okay,' I said, 'I'm planning to start a reading group and a writers' workshop and I need a roving reporter to go into the field at Titbury von Streudelheim and Down-In-The-Dumps to report on events there. Oh, and a butler.'
'What's a butler?' asked Tybalt.
'Someone who buttles,' I said. 'Actually, you'd make a good butler, Tybs. You've got the right uniform for it.'

Tybalt looked down at his black and white fur, the markings of which gave the appearance of black trousers and jacket and a white shirt.
'What do you mean?' he said.
'Well, you know, the black and white livery suit effect,' I said.
'Are you saying,' said Tybalt, 'that I look like a penguin?'
'Heaven forbid,' I said, 'but now you've mentioned it...'

'I could be a roving reporter,' interrupted Mrs Slocombe before claws were drawn and nasty scrapping ensued. 'I have a wild and roving eye.'
'You certainly do,' I said. 'How's your shorthand?'
'Probably not as short as it could be,' said Mrs Slocombe,' but I could practise.'
'That's the spirit!' I said. 'Now, just Mrs Poo to sort out.'
'I ain't butteling,' said Tybalt, but I merely smiled at him and patted his little furry head. His fate was already sealed.
'I was hoping for something a bit more high profile,' said Mrs Poo. It was then that I noticed she was wearing a double rope of very large pearls and mink stole.
'Is that real fur?' I said, in what I hoped was a disapproving tone.
'Listen,' said Mrs Poo, pulling the fur closer to her neck (and shoulders, if chickens had shoulders), 'if a mink tries to sneak into Cluckinghen Palace and steal our eggs, then I think it gets what it deserves, don't you?'

I sighed. She was right, of course. An English hen's coop is her castle after all.

'So I'd like to apply for the role of Lady of the Manor,' said Mrs Poo.
'I am sorry but that position is already filled,' I said.
'By whom?' said Poo.
'By me,' I said and I closed the Manor door, because the builders had just poured new concrete in the Main Hall and I didn't want cat fur and chicken feathers mussing it up.

Do you know, I could have sworn I heard raucous laughter as I walked away.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Building continues apace

The construction of Much Malarkey Manor (virtual world) continued apace yesterday. We had a brief respite to nip to the allotment to get blackberries, courgettes, french beans, runner beans and potatoes, but other than that, Sunday was all go all day web site building.

Having shared many a telephone moment of the re-building of Vera and Lester's Labartere en France, all I can say is that virtual building is a lot less messy than real building. No mud, no dust, no noise, no swearing (well, a little bit maybe), in fact the only similarities are that I need to keep the builder supplied with tea, coffee and edible sustenance. And Andre's more a creative designer than your actual builder which means there is less sweat to mop up from the floor at break times.

So yesterday, the front page aka the grand entrance hall was created. There is wood pannelling, staff bells (not that I think the staff are likely to respond to a bell any more than I would, but I thought they added to the ambience), a visitor's book and a pot plant. There are going to be seven areas in the Manor open to the public, including the gardens. Much Malarkey Manor, if you weren't aware (very likely as I only decided this myself yesterday) is situated in the village of Olden Glish, which is twinned with Titbury von Streudelheim, the home of Nearly King Jimbo. The next door village is called Down-In-The-Dumps and all these places can be accessed from various sections of the Manor and each will offer its own features.

At one point in yesterday's proceedings I felt as if the site was getting too big and potentially unmanageable, but then I had a look at all the material I've accumulated over the past year and decided what the heck, in for a penny, in for a publishing deal, and that I could sustain the site for at least six months from the onset without it completely doing my head in. (Okay, maybe two weeks, but I'm feeling particularly optimistic today!)

Work has also started on the attic. I thought, 'the attic' sounded a bit dull and dusty, so it's been converted into 'The Belfry'. We're hoping to install some bats (you know, bats in the Belfry, crackers in the Kitchen, nuts in the Salon) and from the window you can see the mountains of Titbury von Streudelheim. Of course, the cellar could no longer remain the cellar after that so was renamed 'The Undercroft.' I think Andre has an eye on this area for storing his wine.

Mrs Pumphrey has offered her services as fashion tipster, so she will be installed in the Salon along with the resident agony aunt, Pandora Kitten, to answer all your fashion and lifestyle problems (you may want to think twice about accepting advice from a chicken with a pink bottom and a kitten with a brain the size of a pea though.)

Mrs Phoebe Flanbottom will be in charge of the kitchen. Phoebe is very excited about being able to share some of her more innovational recipes and culinary tips with you; she is less excited about being given the surname of Flanbottom.

'It's not very dignified,' she complained, when I broke the news.
'True,' I said. 'But it is topical and funny.'

Miggins is Head Gardener, a post she earned after her experimental raised bed gardening methods proved to be very successful. Okay, you have to delve amongst the lettuce to find the carrots and the parsnips are very random, but as she pointed out, 'It's all edible, isn't it?'

So that's the latest update. More to follow!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Planning and Foundations

It was a busy day yesterday. Very purposeful, I felt. Firstly, I had a meeting with my web site consultant. His name is Andre. He is very flamboyant. Like a cross between Liberace and Freddy Mercury only without the tan and teeth. (He was wearing sequinned trousers though, droppings of which I am still hoovering from the carpet this morning.)

'What I neeeeeeeeeeeed,' says Andre,' is an ideeeeea of what you would like on your weeeeeeb site. Designs, text, colours, layout, pages....everytheeeeeeeeeeeng!'

I think, hang on matey, this is what I'm paying you to do. I don't have ideas, for heaven's sake. You're supposed to be the creative one if that shirt you're wearing is anything to go by.

'Can't you just build the site and then I'll add the writing?' I say hopefully.
Andre is picking through the biscuit barrel. He is looking disdainful of my selection. He is thinking, too right, not an ounce of inspiration in sight.
'No Duchy Originals?' he says.
'No,' I say. 'Although once the web-site is up and running I may add a shop that sells 'Much Malarkey Manor You've Never Seen Anything Like 'Em Crunchies.'

Andre sniffs. 'So,' he says, 'I will go now and purchase you the domain name.'

Already he's lost me, but Andre exudes a gentle, yet slightly edgy air that makes me feel I can let him get on with the project and no major disasters will ensue.

'Well?' he says.
'Well what?'
He sighs. There will be a lot of sighing today. 'What do you want your website to be called?'
'Much Malarkey Manor,' I say. I think, we've already established this, haven't we?

'I know! I KNOW!' says Andre. 'But do you want muchmalarkeymanor, or much-malarkey-manor, or much_malarkey_manor, or MMM, or...'

We decide on www.much-malarkey-manor.co.uk which is available thank goodness, as there would have been tears before bedtime if it wasn't. (And if you're thinking of clicking on the link now, I'd suggest you don't. You'll only be disappointed as all the work achieved yesterday is very much behind the scenes/ under the ground/ foundation level. I'll let you know when it all kicks off. We'll have a launch party or something, okay? Canapes, a jazz band maybe. Release a couple of emus into the wild.)

Andre disappears to the web site construction hub aka the back bedroom, muttering something about pay and conditions as he passes by so I keep him regularly furnished with coffee, tea and cake and try to avoid appearing at his side every five minutes saying 'Is it done yet?' Periodically, I am summoned to view the latest cartoon, or magic window idea. The more that appears, the more excited I become. I repair to my writing room and spread myself out on the floor with myriad sheets of paper, coming up with ideas for web content.

'I want bells in the hallway!' I shout. 'And an attic room which will be the link to Nearly King Jimbo. It has to be the attic room because there's going to be a telescope trained on Titbury von Streudelheim which is twinned with the village of Olden Glish where Much Malarkey Manor is situated. Mrs Pumphrey is going to be in charge of fashion tips and Pandora is going to manage the problem page. It's going to be called 'Dear Pandora...'

Andre appears at the door. 'You need to calm down,' he says. 'You need to understand there could be certain limitations on your vision.'
'No, no!' I say. 'No limitations. Everything is possible. The only limitation is my imagination.'
'Quite,' says Andre.

So it's coming together slowly, bit by bit. Andre and I are working our way through some delicate negotiations i.e I say things like, 'Can I have a plant pot with a little ladybird or spider appearing and tipping a wink at the visitor?' and he says, 'No,' and I quiver my bottom lip and pretend not to be shot through with disappointment at the crushing of my creativity and then he says, 'Well, I'll try and see what I can do,' and I give him a sweet.

The building work has begun. Until then, I'll blog on and keep you all informed of progress.
And work on my range of Much Malarkey Manor biscuits.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Graduation Day!




Our plan to set off for Norwich at 11 a.m was scuppered by Pandora deciding to sit in the water bowl and scud around the kitchen floor in it a la sinking boat style. But after I'd swabbed the decks and refilled the water bowl we were only 15 minutes off-schedule and duly made up time on the free-flowing A11.

Next stop was Elveden Village Estate for some lovely lunch. Except Elveden was closed. The car-park was empty save for the occasional confused souls like ourselves who pitched up expecting lunch and were confronted with a deserted shop, and restaurant doors that were barred with locked gates. The automatic doors behind the gates bravely tried to open when Andy loomed up on them, but they too were locked. All was empty, all was quiet. No signs saying 'Sorry, closed due to unforeseen circumstance/ death of our cart horse/ not being arsed to get up this morning.'

Our carefully planned lunch break ruined, we decided we didn't like Elveden any more and moved on...

...to the next roundabout where there is a Sainsbugs, for the purchase of a £2 'Meal Deal' - sarnie, crisps and a drink of our choice (though sadly not hot chocolate, which was my drink of choice. Sainsbugs may want to rethink their advertisement. They might be on sticky legal ground with their wild assertions.)

I texted Heather. 'I am sitting on a bench in Sainsbugs car park with a prawn sandwich,' I said. I was not referring to Andy. She, for some reason, found this image highly entertaining and returned a laugh-by-text. I thought, the child would do well to remember who is taking her shopping for a graduation outfit this afternoon when we arrive. Then she might not be so free with her guffawing at our lunch-time crisis.

We arrived in Norwich. Thursday is late night shopping which is just as well because Heather's idea of 'two minutes in the changing room trying something on,' is another person's (ie me) half an hour wandering the aisles of Next and M & S trying to avoid attracting the attentions of the security guard. Still, I was fortified by an arrival in Norwich tea-shop experiment of trying to assess the comparative calorific values of a chocolate Brownie (small but dense) against a Belgian bun (large but light) so was high on sugar and ready to take on any jumped up official who might question my loitering-without-intent -to purchase.

Dinner at Pizza Express, served by a bubbly type called Clover who got a tip for that very reason. Arranged to meet Heather at the university at 8.30 the following morning.

Slept badly. Wild thunderstorm woke me, very hard bed kept me awake, small child in next door room made sure I was wide awake at 5 a.m with its loud rendition of the 'I'm a small child who can't tell the time but it's getting light so must be time to get up' song.

The tea that the hotel served with breakfast had the taste and consistency of a beverage that had been brewing all night and was made from reconstituted mud 'n' cement. It is the first time in 43 years I can remember leaving a cup of tea undrunk, it was that bad.

Text from Heather, who was by now fully capped and gowned, declaring she 'looked like an idiot.' I texted back saying Andy and I looked gorgeous so she'd better sort herself out as we didn't want her showing us up.

And then the sun arrived! The university was full of the hope of tomorrow flapping around in their wild cloakage. Never had student posture been so rigid as they balanced mortar boards atop degree filled heads. Never had so many cameras taken so many pictures - group pictures, family pictures, pictures of friendships formed over the last three years. Never had hands got so pink with all the clapping, never had a proud Mum whooped so much as her daughter walked across the stage to shake hands with the university top-bod. The speeches were poignant yet entertaining. The Honorary Degree was awarded to the actor Alun Armstrong who sought out the drama graduates after the ceremony and spent a giggly twenty minutes in their midst.

The official mortar board throwing ceremony was recorded in the main quad. The unofficial drama graduate mortar board throwing ceremony was recorded outside the drama studio, where we immediately got told off by some officious man who lectured us about Health and Safety and people suing the university for getting whacked in the face by a rapidly descending and quite sharp hat. Us parents gave him short-shrift though. We weren't having our childrens' important day ruined. Officious Man made rapid exit.

More pictures then off for celebration lunch in town.

We left Heather getting ready for the Graduation Ball. This was to take the shape of a fun-fair in the grounds of the university, with candy-floss, hot dogs, hog roast and, bizarrely, paella. There were to be fireworks and bacon sandwiches for the 'Survivors Breakfast' at 4.30 a.m. Various 'famous' people were attending (I say 'famous' but in the tenuous 'Radio 1 DJ' sense of the word.)

A thunderstorm was gathering overhead but I doubt even the heaviest, wettest of downpours would put a dampener on the energy and spirit we left behind.

HAPPY GRADUATION, CLASS OF 2009!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Duvet Day

How to Make a Bed - The Pandora Kitten Way

Firstly you'll need a human. Make sure she's worn out after a session at the swimming pool and is wanting to get jobs done quickly because she's off to Norwich for her daughter's graduation.

Sit on landing and act all nonchalant. Whistle if you can. It adds to the atmosphere.

Wait until your human goes into the bedroom with pile of freshly ironed sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers. As soon as she places them on bed, leap onto pile, roll and kick. Fresh laundry provides excellent rollage and a bed is nothing without a few kitten hairs scattered hither and thither.

Bounce on all available pillows. If you somehow end up inside a pillowcase don't worry. A bit of judicious shredding using your best claws will soon get you out again.

Lie in wait on top of mattress. Ignores requests to 'Get off the mattress, Pandora, or you'll end up underneath the sheet.' Humans are stupid and don't realise this is the whole point of lying in wait.

At this point, the human might feign disinterest in finishing bed making task and wander off to clean the toilet or collect eggs or something. This is a ruse (unlike a roux sauce) because she is getting mightily fed-up with prancing kittens getting into pillow cases and under sheets and thinks if she does something else the kitten will get distracted/ lose interest/ go and make a puzzle or something and then she can sneakily return to the bedmaking task. Follow her. Don't let her out of your sight. But be surreptitious. Blend into the background. Become as one with the fabric of the house.

If you find yourself getting accidentally shut in the bathroom because your camouflage skills are A+ big tick, have a gold star standard, yowl very loudly until released. Yowling does the trick because it'll get on the one nerve your human has left. You'll know this when she says, 'Oh, for goodness' sake, Pandora!'

As duvet cover is being filled with duvet, get inside duvet cover yourself. It's fantastic fun! Like bouncing around in the middle of a huge cloud, or going for a ride at Alton Towers (but try not to be sick or you may find yourself wandering the streets with a red and white spotted hanky tied to a stick and containing all your belongings by nightfall.)

Leap from duvet just as buttons are being fastened. Remember Health and Safety at all times. Bounce around on top of duvet as duvet is being shaken out to fit across bed properly. This is the best fun of all. Just remember to cling on tight. If you can look a bit wild eyed and pin your ears back so you look like a torpedo head during this process, so much the better.

And if you want the maths and science:

Bedmaking time the human way = 5 minutes tops and easy as blinking

Bedmaking time the Pandora Kitten way = 20 minutes + lots of fun but about a tricky as going through revolving doors with a pair of skis over your shoulder.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Just one Courgetto!

Following the success of the Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Ducklings, here is...

'The Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Courgettes (Growing, picking and eating)'

1) Never, EVER think you can't have too many courgettes, Trust me, you can. If there are two of you in your household, then two plants will provide ample courgettage for the year. If there are four of you in your household, two plants will still provide ample courgettage for the year.

2) Courgette seeds have excellent hearing and recalcitrant characters. There are usual six seeds in a packet. The seeds will hear you muttering about how many bloomin' courgettes you had last year because all six seeds germinated and you didn't have the heart to chuck out the excess plants. Courgette seeds will think, 'Right, we'll teach her a lesson this year,' and they will all refuse to germinate.

3) Go and purchase a second packet of seeds. Or, if you're lucky, you'll get a free packet with your gardening magazine. This time, keep schtumm whilst planting seeds. If you must speak, say things like, 'Gosh, we didn't have nearly as many courgettes last year as we wanted. You can never have too many courgettes you know.' This, of course, is a double bluff. By process of natural selection the law says that two seeds will be intelligent and realise the double bluff and not germinate because 'you ain't catching us out that easily,' two will be of average intelligence and not know what to do so will miss critical germination point by sitting on the fence, and two will be too stupid to catch onto the cunning-as-a-weasel game you are playing and will germinate. Thus, you have your two plants.

4) Immediately upon planting out your courgette seedlings into the desired growing positions, they will appear to die. DO NOT BE FOOLED. Wilting is a plant's equivalent of a teenager having their duvet whipped from them at 11.30 in the morning by an irate mother and a bucket of cold water dumped on their heads. Ignore any plaintive crying, dowse liberally with water, pat the earth down tightly and say 'There, there, you'll feel better in the morning,' and then walk smartly away. Within twenty-four hours, your plants will have grown eighteen inches.

5) As soon as the first tiny, weeny, baby courgette appears - PICK IT! No, gone on, pick it. It maybe the size of a tooth pick now but if you leave it until the weekend it'll be the size of an inner tube. And so will its eleven mates.

6) It is important that courgettes are picked regularly. Pick and eat, pick and eat, pick and eat. That will be your mantra for the next four months. DO NOT entertain going away on holiday. DO NOT think, 'Oh, I picked them yesterday, they'll be okay to leave for a day or two.' And DO NOT, under ANY circumstance be tempted to feed plants with any form of fertiliser. I have only one word to say to you regarding giving a courgette plant a helping hand and that is 'TRIFFID.'

7) As your plants expand you will need to go underneath them occasionally to have a jolly good clear out. No weeds will grow near your courgettes - weeds, like plants, need water and sun in order to grow, and a courgette plant soon puts a stop to that kind of malarkey. But you will need to clear away old dead leaves. This is to keep air flowing around the centre of the plant in an attempt to prevent, or at least minimise, the occurence of powdery mildew. Don't be fooled by the soft fresh growth of new courgette leaf occuring atop your plants. The old leaves below are rough, scratchy and unpleasant on the skin (a bit like that jumper your Auntie Hilda knitted for you when you five). Wear industrial strength rubber gloves and an overcoat for the task and you should escape unscathed and skin intact.

8) Courgette plants are incredibly resilient. Try this experiment. Aim a flame thrower at a courgette plant for twenty seconds. You might THINK you have destroyed the plant, but when you return the next day, there will be courgettes for tea, you mark my words.

9) You will have nightmares about courgettes. There is nothing you can do about this. Even if you don't grow any courgettes this year, you'll still have nightmares about the ones you grew last year. It'll take years of therapy to expunge the memory that is 'courgette.'

10) You will become adept and cunning in your use of courgettes. Don't restrict yourself to eating them. They can be made into wine. They make excellent short-range missiles for knocking small boys off your garden wall. You can stand on the larger ones and peer over fences to see what the neighbours are up to. Line them up to form a boundary fence between you and your allotment neighbour thus saving on string. Carve them into amusing ornaments for your front garden. 'Gnome on a Courgette' is a good one to start with.

And finally...

11) DO NOT feed them to your chickens. A) they don't like courgettes and B) if they do accidentally try some, they will almost certainly ingest the seeds which will travel through the chicken's digestive system and reappear in a nice dollop of highly nutritious chicken poop, to be buried amidst much scratching and digging and reappear next summer as a fully-fledged, raring to go courgette plant. And if you listen very carefully, you'll probably hear it laughing.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

A bargain skirt and the Post Office's cunning plan.

I have an outfit for Heather's graduation! Oh yes, and the fashion god does exist. When we were in Canterbury on Sunday I did actually find a blue skirt that would have gone beautifully with my new top. But it was way over what I'd normally pay for a skirt, so sadly, I hung it back on the rack and moved on.

But today, I went into town and found the exact same skirt in the same shop only this branch was having a sale and I got it in MY size for...(roll of drums)...dum-diddy-dum-dum-DUM....HALF PRICE!!

I did a secret victory jiggle at the 'Pay Here' desk. Don't worry, no-one noticed because the shop was heaving with people all looking for similar bargains. And because I'd saved money on the skirt, I got a new bag and a new pashmina, too. So now I have an outfit in lovely tonal shades of blues 'n' greens ranging from azure through to aqua, through to turquoise and lime. (I know the lime bit sounds yuk, but it's only in small doses and works very well!)

Whilst I was in town I went to the Post Office to get a new tax disc for the car. I don't know why I bother actually, as half the cars up our road have out-of-date tax discs. It infuriates me beyond belief that they manage to get way with it. To me, no current tax disc = probably no MOT or insurance either, but I breathe deeply and try to work my way through the irritation. Actually, I do know why I get a tax disc for our car - because we'd be the blighters who'd get caught and fined if I didn't. Anyway, I digress...

The Post Office has installed a NEW SYSTEM. They have also done away with the queueing barriers and fitted red leather seating banquettes instead. When you go into the Post Office now, you have to take a ticket, like you'd do at the cheese or fish counter in Sainsbugs for example. As the ticket machine is small and unnoticeable, the Post Office have stationed a lady next to it who shrieks 'Have you got a ticket? You need a ticket! Then you can go and sit down because there will be no queue jumping in our Post Office.'

When I went to the Post Office last week, there were three options available on the machine - 1) counter services 2) foreign currency and 3) tax discs. I thought good, I shan't have to wait long as I am in the potentially shorter waiting area for a tax disc. WRONG! Today there were only options 1) and 2). Bum. So I had to take a ticket for counter services. The ticket informed me there were 14 people ahead of me waiting to be served. So no change from the old system then.

I stood waiting for my number to pop up on one of the many newly installed digital information boards. I was drawn into a discussion with an old chap next to me regarding the current exchange rate for the euro (he advised me to use M & S, they're the best. I agreed and said they sell nice tops too, but only if you go to Canterbury), and savings rates (apparently the Chelsea Building Society are the ones to put your cash with.) Since I do not travel abroad, and I can't be bothered with the fuss of moving our savings from one place to another, the information was useless, but I feigned an interest in his wise fiscal advice and we both agreed it was shocking that petrol was still going up when everyone knows you can buy a barrel of oil for a fiver these days.

The ticket machine lady was determined to get everyone sitting down on the newly installed red leather banquettes. 'There are three seats available to the back of the rows and eight near the front,' she yelled. 'If you've got a ticket you can go and sit down. You won't miss your place if you've got a ticket. Have you got a ticket??'

I didn't want to sit down. I thought, why is she hell-bent on getting people to sit down? And then she said it, and the new Post Office queueing system suddenly made sense. The ticket lady said, 'Come along, please take a seat if there is one available. We don't want you cluttering up the place by standing. AHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!'

That's it then. The Post Office know they will never get rid of their interminable queues (although employing an extra cashier or two and opening a couple more service points might do the trick. Just a thought...), so they are spreading people out by removing the potential to queue out of the door (which gives people the chance to whinge), and making them sit down, and thus appear smaller! You still spend exactly the same time waiting to be served as before, but it seems less because you are sitting down in nice little communal groups reading multiple information screens so you don't miss your number being called! It's like occupational therapy. Plus you get to make tiny origami models with your ticket!!

It's a cheap trick, Post Office. A cheap and dirty trick. But it gave me fodder for blogging today and I did eventually get the tax disc. And a nice outfit for Friday!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Wishing to Fly A Kite

Ever since I was a young girl, I played the silver ball. From Soho down to China, I must have played them all...oh no, hang on. That wasn't me. That was the Pinball Wizard. Rewind...

Ahem...

Ever since I was a young girl I wanted to fly a kite. Properly, you know, from the top of a gusty hill. I tried very hard to fly a kite. I grew up on my grand parents fruit farm and straight down the middle of the main field was a long, grassy track. On days the track wasn't being guarded by two highly vicious geese who terrified the living daylights out of us children, I would sometimes take my kite (a traditional diamond in red, blue and yellow canvas, later to be replaced by a plastic Womble effort which wasn't as nearly substantial), and stand at the end of the grass track. I would lick my finger and hold it into the air to test for wind direction. However, because the track only ran one way, this assessment of best available air current was generally pointless. But it seemed the proper thing to do at the time and I have since learned in growing up that I am person who likes to do things properly (or at least be seen trying to do things properly).

I would then hold my kite where the vertical and horizontal struts crossed in the centre of the fabric, gather up the tail, unravel enough string to facilitate a goodly kite height at the point of release and then I would run like the devil (or a goose) was after me until I felt I was going fast enough to release the kite into the air for take off.

In my mind the kite would then soar into the air behind me, achieving magnificent heights and I would be able to stop running, and turn and marvel at it as it swooped and dived across the sky. I would be able to stand and guide its movements with my string, giving masterful tugs until it rose higher and higher and became a hazy splash of colour amongst the scudding clouds.

In reality, the released kite would always lift to about 6 feet high, shudder, twist and then plunge to the ground with a thud, sometimes breaking in two for additional effect. I spent more time re-attaching the fabric to the struts, unravelling the tail and re-winding the string of that kite than it spent in the air dancing for me.

Why didn't it go my way? Why didn't reality match up with what I imagined in my mind's eye?

And then along came Mary Poppins and the kite-flying sequence at the end of the film where many, many kites are seen flying very, very high on strings that are taut and with tails that are perky, without so much as a puff of breeze in the air. From then on, life seemed very unfair in the kite-flying stakes.

I suppose to fly a kite you need more than vision and perseverance. It takes more than a wanting it to happen for it to actually happen. You need to have the right conditions, the right space. You have to experience that lucky moment when the right puff of air is passing by and then you have to GO FOR IT!NOW! QUICKLY...! Before it vanishes forever.

Ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to fly a kite...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A dress for graduation

Heather is graduating this week. She got a 2:1 which we are all very pleased with and on Friday Andy and I are going up to Norwich to see her get her handshake and certificate.

Well, we are going up on Thursday because her ceremony is at the highly unsociable hour of 9.30 on Friday morning which means we'd have to rise at 5, leave by 6, probably get caught in all sorts of annoying rush hour traffic and arrive five minutes late, bursting into the auditorium all red, flustered and cursing and embarrass Heather into the ground. So we're travelling up Thursday and staying in an hotel to avoid this scenario. I suspect the university are in league with the Norwich Tourist Board and get a cut for every hotel room booked by the parents of those who are graduating.

Also, Andy is keen to have lunch at the Elveden Forest Estate. We stopped there once before. It has a nice restaurant/coffee shop/bistro which serves proper food, a lot of it raised and grown on the estate itself. It has a courtyard of bijou independent shops selling the sort of stuff you never realised you wanted until you saw it, and it has a food hall selling everything from posh oils to frozen rabbit. Last time we went to Norwich we planned a stop at Elveden but I somehow managed to doze off for about two minutes and in that time Andy made a wrong turn where the A11 and the A14 turn into each other and back again and we ended up heading for Cambridge or somewhere. By the time we got back on track we'd missed the estate completely. This time I shall be staying awake 'coz I want my lunch.

So I was thinking about Heather's graduation and I had a sudden crisis about what to wear. I mean, are graduations posh dos? Does one wear a hat? It's okay for Heather - she's sorted. Long black swoopy robe, funny hat with a salmon pink tassle, she's sorted. I rifled through the wardrobe to assess suitablity of current available clothing. Nothing leapt out and screamed 'GRADUATION' at me, so whilst I was in town on an errand, I popped into a couple of shops to see if I could pick up either a nice top, or skirt or frock. Nothing doing.

And then yesterday Andy made the mistake of asking me what I'd like to do on Sunday and I said, 'I'd like to go to Canterbury, please, to find something to wear to Heather's graduation,' so we did.

We had lunch at a tiny cafe called 'Bohos' which professed to be bohemian in style but I reckoned leaned a little too closely to Goth. Anyway, the food was nice and I eventually found a top in M & S. It wasn't my first choice. I have realised I have to be wary of my first choice of clothing these days as I tend to swoop on colour first, giving scant regard for style and practicality. In this case I swooped on a skirt which was white with masses of huge red, pink and orange flowers all over it. There was a dress in a similar fabric but unfortunately it had a side zip and I can't cope with side zips. I think it is something to do with my rib cage which is wide, or possibly fat. If I'd have got the size to fit my rib cage, the boob and hip size would have been too big.

So I carted this skirt around for a while. The more I carried it around, the louder it became. I thought, I can't wear this, it is way to ostentatious. So I did another circuit of the shop and this time found a top which again was mainly white, and again had flowers, but this time the flowers were tiny and in various shades of blue and green. 'This is pretty.' I thought. ' Far more suitable.' So I bought the top instead.

And now I've got home and checked the wardrobe again, and realised my clothes are predominantly loud pinks, reds and purples, so I have nothing to go with my new top. I possess nothing green and the only blue skirt I have is a heavy winter one. So sometime this week I'll have to go back into town for another forage.

It's all very tiresome. But I don't want to show my girl up on her day. I don't want her friends to look at me and say 'Blimey, where did your mum escape from?' I know she will thump them if they do, but even so, I intend to do my best and not embarrass her with my over-flamboyant colour sense.

Now all I need to go with my top are a pair of lime green silk palazzo pants and I'll be sorted...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Pens and grease and bread and jem

Pandora has three favourite things. Until last night, she had only two (and I am leaving aside all food related items as they would be far too many to list - she has very eclectic tastes for a cat.)
Her first favourite things are:-

1) Pens. Pandora is quite kleptomanic when it comes to pens. I reckon she must have a collection of at least two dozen under the fridge already. She likes hunting pens, juggling with pens, killing pens, rolling around on the floor with pens and chewing pens. In fact, should you ever come to Much Malarkey Manor and ask to borrow a pen, I should advise you VERY strongly to avoid chewing the pen top as you think about what you are writing (if you are wont to indulge in this habit.) I know where all those pen tops have been and unless you are partial to kitten spit, you should keep your mouth tightly clamped.

2) Wrestling with Tybalt. This is how it goes. Pandora meets Tybalt in the hall (they like wrestling on the hall rug for some reason). Tybalt will adopt a superior stance and try and ignore the presence of irritating kitten. Pandora will, very slowly, reach out a paw and place it carefully slap bang in the middle of Tybalt's forehead, like she is bestowing some kind of kitten blessing. Tybalt will stare at Pandora and then wrap both his paws around her neck, whence Pandora will tip herself upside down and attach herself via her teeth to Tybalt's neck. Tybalt will then engage Pandora's head in a half-Nelson and body slam her onto the rug where Pandora will paddle her back feet against Tybalt, bashing his head with quick little kicks until they both fall onto the rug in a big cat/kitten ball. All achieved in perfect silence and without an unsheathed claw.

And then yesterday afternoon, as I was lolloping on the sofa, succumbing to my inner turmoil and channel hopping, I happened upon the film 'Grease.' A bit of nostalgia is a good way to cure inner turmoil, or at least dull the effect, so I thought I'd watch the rest of the film. At this point, Sandie was letting down the entire female race by singing 'Hopelessly Devoted to You,' and dropping a love letter in a paddling pool and had yet to reach the point where she has to dress as a tart to get her man. (Andy pointed out it seemed unfair that the only compromise Danny makes to get his girl is to don a cardie. I'd never thought of this before, but Andy is quite right! Shame on you, John Travolta!) And then Pandora happened to walk past the telly. And she stopped, stared at the screen and was totally transfixed for the rest of the film! Totally weird! She sat on the table where the telly is and kept patting the screen. She got VERY excited during 'You're the One That I Want,' then wandered off only when Sandy and Danny were flying off in their car a la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

'It's my favourite film' said Pandora. 'You might have told me it was on.'

This morning I did a big downstairs housework session. And then I made some jem. (Which is the kind of jam the Queen would have). It was blackberry and apple jem. I followed the instructions carefully and after the 10-12 minute rolling boil I tested for set, having placed a saucer in the fridge a couple of hours earlier for that very purpose. However, the jem wasn't setting. Andy was home from work by this point.

'The jam smells great,' he said.
'It's not setting!' I screeched. 'And it's not jam. It's posh. It's jem.'
'It doesn't matter if it doesn't set,' said Andy. 'I'll eat it in a hollowed out bread roll if I have to.'

Well, it mattered to me, so I returned the jem to the boil and let it bubble away to within an inch of its life. And eventually it set.

I also made some bread which had no trouble setting. Like a rock.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Bad idea food

Who thought pitta breads were a good idea? Somebody who'd clearly never tried to fill one for their husband's lunch box, that's who. On the plus side they are flat, so easy to pack in a small space, but that's about as far as their virtues extend. Trying to cut them open without shredding the edges, then filling them with salad/tuna/ cheese/ whatever without shredding them further is nigh on impossible. I just about managed to get them into a sandwich bag but Lord knows what state they'll be in by the time Andy gets around to eating them at lunch time. I just hope he closes his eyes to the inevitable carnage.

Same as brandy snaps. Do you remember brandy snaps? They were very de rigeur at posh 1970's dinner parties. But try filling one without a piping bag and you might as well give up before you start for all the mess they cause. (Unlike profiteroles, of course). And I always think piping bags are more aggravation than they're worth, with their two modes of operation being zero-squirt-no-matter-how-hard-you-squeeze and explode-filling-all-over-the-place-except-where-you-actually-want-it-to-go.

And I am going to add those individual cheese 'single' slices to my list of bad idea food. Last week we had a barbecue and a request was made for some of these cheese things as a burger is apparently incomplete without one. Well, I've never brought them before, but I duly purchased a pack because I am agreeable like that. Andy was delighted. He used to live on these at one point in his student youth. I was just appalled at the whole concept. For a start, they don't actually contain cheese. Well, if you count 11% as a suitable percentage, then I suppose I must concede they have some kind of cheese content therein. But mostly they are additives and plastic. Wrapped individually in more plastic. I tried one, in the spirit of always trying something you've never tried before before you say you don't like it. It was horrid. It tasted like additives and plastic. No cheese detectable.

My next award goes to the new pots of baked beans you can get from a certain well-known baked bean company. They come in packs of 4. The packs are plastic like the pots you purchase yogurt in. They are very convenient for popping in a microwave for a quick and easy snack. What, quicker than, say, pulling a ring pull off a tin of beans, putting them in a pan and heating them on a hob? Nope...I just don't get it.

And finally, I am sad to say, my last award for bad idea food goes to the Happy Egg Company. I like The Happy Egg Company. They are dedicated to free-range hens for egg production and they also have a very entertaining web site with chickens on motorbikes and stuff. However, I am sad to report they have started selling packets of two hard-boiled eggs for 89 pence, ready peeled for an instant snack. They're reasoning is that these days lots of people don't know how to hard-boil an egg or don't have the time hard-boil an egg themselves.

It was with great sadness I greeted this news. It brought to mind a poem I learned at primary school some 25 years ago which I still remember now. It is called 'Leisure'.

What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Search is On

Now, Vera, before you read this and start tutting at me I want you to remember the long chat we had yesterday and bear in mind that I did listen to your advice and I shall act on your advice, but at the moment I am facing inner turmoil and need to get it out of my system as I am sure you understand, as you are a best bud 'n' pal and have faced numerous inner turmoilium yourself.

And before anyone else reads this i.e Heather, Chris or Leane and you start thinking you have in some way contributed to my current inner turmoil, then think again girls and boys. I am MORE than capable of creating my own inner turmoil without any external influences chipping in, thank you very much and I am happy about the granny thing and the coming home after uni thing (provided you don't take up permanent residence at my end of the sofa or start stock-piling shoes at the bottom of the stairs. NB -I didn't mention toilet rolls!)

No, it's more to do with the age old torment of not feeling worthy unless I am earning some money. My writing year is almost up, and it has been a very, very good year. My writing has improved and so has the allotment although these two things are totally unrelated. And of course I shall carry on writing, because it is my favourite thing, but I think now is the time I need to start hunting for some kind of part-time paid employment (in the middle of a recession, when the economic climate is grim and hundreds of thousands of school leavers and graduates are chasing jobs too - great timing, Denise!) With no income imminent from my writing, I need (as they say in America) to GET REAL.

There is the massage therapy thing, the making cakes thing and I've also sent my details to Kent Education Authority who are setting up a central register for schools to access when they want a one-to-one tutor to come into school and work with pupils who are falling behind with English and/or Maths. And then I was reading the Daily Mail yesterday and there was an article for a most interesting job that is currently on offer in Dorset.

'I could do that,' I said to Andy.
'What?' he said.
'Be a witch!,' I said. 'Look, Wookey Hole want a witch - 'Must be able to cackle and not be allergic to cats.'

Andy looked at me over the top of the book he was reading. 'If you like,' he said, and I could tell by the tone of his voice and the arch of his eyebrow that he was either a) humouring me or b) a tiny bit scared that I might actually apply and relocate us to Dorset.

'And what does your wife do, Andy?' said the new neighours.
'Well, sometimes she's a writer, but mostly she's a witch,' said Andy.

Difficult one to explain, that one.

I practiced a bit of cackling.
'Mwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!'
'Sounds more like an evil despot than a witch,' said Andy.
'Ahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahha!!!!!'
'Better...bit more high-pitched, maybe...'
'Ahahhhahahahahahahahahahahhahahhaa......aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhahahahahahahahaha!!!!'

And then I coughed and had to stop as one should never try cackling when in the middle of toast and marmalade.

'And I've got three cats,' I said. 'Granted, Phoebe and Tybalt aren't totally black but it's nothing a spot of Grecian 2000 wouldn't put right. And I'd be in the caves with them. No-body would notice.'

'I wonder what happened to the previous witch,' said Andy.
'It says here that she has been moved to another part of the Wookey Hole Tourist Attraction,' I said. 'But it doesn't say why.'
'Perhaps she wasn't scary enough,' said Andy.
'Perhaps she was too scary,' I said.
'One has to strike the right balance of scariness when playing the role of a witch,' Andy agreed.
'Absolutely,' I agreed, and having been a drama teacher I feel I could strike that balance perfectly.

The only problem I could see was that the witch would be required to work at night sometimes. And although I know there is nothing there in the night-time that isn't there during the day (with the exception of bats, maybe. And burglars), I do get spooked in dark places, especially underground caves that are drippy and cold and full of dark ominous shadows and potential hobgoblins, werewolves, vampires and possibly the previous witch waiting to push her successor off a slippery rock in a fit of wild jealousy.

Still, it's a thought. A potential maybe.

I wonder how it would look on my CV?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Scrappy news

For lack of something intelligent/ controversial/ funny/ angry to write today, I've plumped for snippets of drivel...

Corr but it rained yesterday! It thundered and lightninged, too, so I'm not expecting many eggs today what with oviducts being easily startled by sudden bangs. Or at least I am bracing myself for eggs with funny bumps in the shells. I thought, all that rain, the courgettes will be the size of marrows, so I went to the allotment first thing and discovered the courgettes were the size of small courgettes. Ah well. There were some runner beans to pick and I got a big old Tupperware box of blackberries, too, so the journey wasn't entirely wasted (although the large courgette/marrow carry-bag was.)

Back home I gave Pandora her first taste of catnip chocolates. She and Tybalt shared a healthy scattering between them and then lay on the kitchen floor, totally spaced out and batting their paws at each other, only they kept missing. Whilst Tybalt is a big hefty Tom cat and can handle his catnip,Pandora is still a delicate (although rapidly growing) kitten and she is now reposing on the top of the scratching post tower looking like she has the cat equivalent of a heavy hang-over. Still, all the while she is doing that she isn't launching herself at my legs and adding to the scars that are already there!

I've spent a couple of hours on Authonomy, trying to avoid aggressive Americans marketing their books and people deliberately trying to wind each other up on the Forums. Another nine chapters of Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue were added at the weekend by my publicist (i.e Andy) and the book is chugging its way nicely up the ratings. I'm doing my best to read five other books a day (not whole books, you understand - that would be CRAZY -but the synopsis and three chapters) and to comment as constructively as possible. I can't think I'm ever going to get to the Editor's Desk but it's not my modus operandi. A top 100 place would be nice.

Er...what else? Oh yes, doing some planning to start a web-site! This seems to be the next obvious step for Much Malarkey Manor. I've also started another blog (currently Top Secret as I want to see how it goes before I reveal its whereabouts and whyabouts) which is giving me practice in doing IT stuff for myself instead of looking pitifully at Andy and saying 'Andeeeeeeeeeeee....I can't dooooooo this....can you heeeeeeeeeeeeelp me.....pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze,' which is what I usually do re: interwebbly techno-stuff and is very, very pathetic of me. (But I am a girl).

And finally, my Achilles tendon is playing up again. This is my own stupid fault. On Sunday, after we'd done three hours at the allotment, I said to Andy, 'I'll go and unlock the top gate' (our usual gate being blocked by a lorry) and he said, 'Okay, but stop faffing, I want to go home,' and I said, 'I'm not faffing,' and he said, 'You are. I'll get to the top gate before you at this rate.' So I said, 'No you won't,' and I RAN to the gate which is quite a way away, and Andy chased after me in the car.

I won, of course, despite being on foot. I won because I zig-zagged in his path with my arms outstretched and he didn't feel he could run me over because I had Sunday lunch to cook when we got home which included the promise of a blackberry and apple crumble. And I had the gate key, so even if he had overtaken me which he says he could have done easily (yeah, right!) he'd have had to wait for me to undo the padlock.

And the upshot is that I've done my lower left leg in again.

Will I ever learn?

Unlikely.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Duckling Fostering

With Rubba safely on her way to her new home and the bathroom at Much Malarkey strangely quiet, I should like to impart a few tips for those of you who may find yourselves in the happy position of duckling foster parent in the future.

1) Duckling are inversely proportional to the size of mess they can make. Therefore, do not be concerned if the temporary foster accommodation you provide looks overly big -you're gonna need it.

2) Ducklings do tiny poos which can be overlooked if you are not fully poo-alert. Being fully poo-alert avoids any 'Eugh, yuk,' moments.

3) Ducklings get very excited at meal-times, to the point where they become unable to maintain their balance. They then do entertaining things like falling over backwards into water.

4) Ducklings must be 'wet-fed' i.e everything they eat needs to be mushed up with water because a) they do this funny wibbly-wobbly thing with their bill which tickles and b) they don't have teeth with which to chew. So remember - pellets+water= acceptable duck mush, bread +water= acceptable duck mush, corn +water= wet corn therefore unacceptable duck non-mush, and water+water= wet duck+wet human

5) Ducklings like green stuff e.g lettuce and grass but they are not very successful at eating it because their bills have not as yet achieved razor-like edges. Best to hang on to one end of any green stuff that is offered so duckling has something to tug against and therefore stand a better chance of getting it down their throats. (WARNING: It is not funny or clever to let go of greenery mid-tug and watch duckling fall over).

6) Ducklings can run at a speed that is disproportionate to their size.

7) Ducklings can peep at a sound level that is disproportionate to their size.

8) At bath-time it is wise to employ wet-weather gear - wellies, sou'wester, mackintosh, waders,umbrella, one of those fold-up plastic rain hats your gran used to wear. (For yourself, not the duckling).

9) Do not be tempted to wring out a duckling no matter how wet it appears after bath-time. Merely clip to washing line with wooden peg and allow to drip-dry.

10) DO NOT attempt to handle a duckling unless there is another creature with prehensile thumbs in the vicinity. Lone duckling handling can result in duckling running up your arm, onto your shoulder, across your neck and finishing up on your back, leaving you bent at a funny angle, your antics being watched with interest by three cats licking their lips. If you must indulge in lone duckling handling, use both hands at the same time and keep kicking cushions at the cats.

There. I think that just about covers all bases. Keep it wet, keep on your toes and you'll find that duckling fostering is a very worthwhile and entertaining experience!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Vis a Vis Exciting News...

...it appears I am going to be a granny!


I'm going for a little lie-down now...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Rubba Dub Duck 'n' Pumpkin

It seemed a bit unfair to keep our duckling lodger in the bathroom all weekend, what with ducks being used to living in and around ponds and lakes and stuff, so yesterday, with the weather still glorious, we built a duck lido in the back garden. This was constructed from the cage that was the Pumphrey Wing a.k.a the Slocombe Psychiatric Ward a.k.a the Miggins Convalescence Unit a.k.a the Pandora Kitten Isolation Play Pen. (I am soooooooooo glad we're getting our money's worth out of this purchase!) AND an old cat litter tray lined with left over polythene from the polytunnel that I was planning to grow watercress in (and still might).

A brick was placed in one end of the litter tray as a faux river bank and Andy and I spent a very entertaining two hours sitting on the garden swing seat reading, having lunch and watching Rubba diving in and out the water, sunning herself on the brick, drying out, preening, falling in the water and getting wet again (ducklings, we have discovered, have dubious balance skills), and running around the grass peeping. She sat on my lap and had a snuggle and a swing and then she went back into her lido for another swim.

All the while the hens were watching her with beady eyes. They looked like they hadn't had duck a l'orange for a very long time.

When we were all 'cute ducklinged' out, we went indoors - Andy to do some computery stuff and me to make a marmalade cake. I thought, I can keep an eye on Rubba from the window.

Within two minutes, Rubba had escaped her lido and was running up and down the outside of Cluckinghen Palace sending the hens into a complete frenzy. Mrs Poo had a meat cleaver between her teeth and Mrs Slocombe was juggling oranges and shouting 'They'll never fit!'

We shot back into the garden, rounded Rubba up and took her back to solitary confinement i.e the bathroom.

So this morning, I said to Rubba, 'I am taking you for a supervised swim in your lido but you must behave yourself' and she said, 'Okay,' and then tried to escape immediately, so ended up having her morning dip and dabble in the bathroom sink instead.

I make no apologies for the cute duckling pictures. Rubba has been a highly entertaining addition to our weekend and I've tried to prevent her imprinting on me by wearing a bag on my head when handling her. She is going to her permanent home tomorrow and the lido will be redundant until the next stray creature comes along.

And what about this?? Our first ever pumpkin which we discovered at the allotment this morning. It's gonna be a WHOPPER!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Guess what now?

We've got the chickens and the allotment. We've got a duck (temporarily). We're anticipacting bees, we've got a greenhouse, a polytunnel, a propagator, a vast array of jam making and brewing equipment. We've even got a sausage maker and pasta machine. So guess what the next thing is?

No.

No. (Be sensible. Where are we going to keep one of those??)

Nope.

Not that either.

Give in?

FISHING!

Oh yes. Andy announces the other day that he is 'interested in fishing.'

I think it was just another excuse to buy books because we've only got about 3,000 books which is never enough, and we can always squeeze in a few more (I have bought 5 books in the last ten days - I've read 2, am half-way through the third, have dibbled in the fourth because it's a dibble in and out of book, and I made a passing start at the fifth today only it's a literary type that requires concentration and when you're being distracted by a duckling swimming in a specially made lido in the back garden, it's probably not wise to start reading a literary tome.)

So the fishing book arrived the day before yesterday. It's an interesting little read, full of pictures of throat-ripping barbs, hooks and weights, terrified maggots who just know they are about to meet their doom in the form of a 26lb pike, of men standing in rivers/ lakes/ the sea looking very butch with their legs akimbo in the latest must-have essential fishing trousers, of rods, nets and curious little knick-knacks that make wise old fishermen say 'Didn't need those in my day.'

And there are intriguing chapter titles like 'Being an all-round angler,' 'Additional terminal tackle', 'Classic lake ledgering' (as opposed to your 'Free-lining and touch ledgering', I suppose), 'Classic River Trotting,' and 'Carrying your equipment', which basically implied 'Buy a wheelbarrow. Put equipment in wheelbarrow. Push.'

Andy looks confused. 'I was planning on using a bamboo cane and a bit of string,' he said.
'You can fling them over your shoulder,' I say. 'Won't need a wheelbarrow for that little lot, will you? You can be like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Hound, and skip around in shorts and bare feet with worms in your pocket.'

'Finn,' says Andy.

'Okay,' I say, wondering why he's gone all French on me. Usually he just says 'Hush.'

I am a bit worried about the chapter entitled 'Beach Fishing for Sharks,' which is swiftly followed by 'Boat Fishing for Sharks.' These chapters are in the same section as 'Vertical Jigging,' which is what I think I'll be doing if Andy gets anywhere near a shark. There is also a section on fish identification. They all look the same to me. All gasping for breath, blood dripping from their lips, flapping their little fins in a feeble attempt to escape and go home to Mummy Fish and all the little Baby Fish. There is one though, that looks like it deserves to be fried. The Shortfin Mako Shark. Short fin, yes. But bloomin' great black eyes, also, that look like they've seen things in Hades that no shark in their right mind should have seen and lived to tell the tale. They weigh up to 1,120 lbs, so you'd get your money's worth in fish fingers I suppose, but the eye would always be there, following you around the room...da dum. Da dum. Da da da DA DA DA DA DA......DUM!!

'There are trout lakes on the farm where Auntie Pollie lives,' I say. 'You could go fishing with your bamboo stick, string and jam jar and I could have a cuppa and biscuit with Pollie.'

Andy is giving this idea some considerable thought. I hope he sees sense and goes for this option for his first fishing trip. It's nicely inland. The fish are nicely small. And we'd both be safely away from sharks.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Second Motherhood

The 'cor-blimey-look-at-that-whopper' egg laid by Mrs Pumphrey on Wednesday has been proudly on display in the kitchen to be thrust upon various visitors for 'Oooohing' and 'Aaaahing' over, and other such general voicings of amazement and admiration. And then, last night, it suddenly disappeared.

'Who's eaten the giant Pumphrey egg?' I demanded.
Everyone in the house at the time (Andy, my mum, Chris and Leane) all denied any illicit egg consumption. Tybalt said he wouldn't touch an egg if it was the last food on earth, Pandora said, what egg? where? can I have some cheese? aren't I cute? and Phoebe, as usual, was asleep and didn't say anything.

Up early this morning, after a fretful night worrying about egg-knapping, and wondering how long this stifling weather was going to continue I appeared in the kitchen to find Phoebe wide awake and with her paw over her lips.

'Sssssshhhhh!' she whispered. 'The baby's asleep.'
'Baby?' I said. 'What baby?' (I thought, she can't be referring to Pandora because as far as Phoebe is concerned, Pandora is the delinquent teenage wild-child spawn of the Devil Cat of Hell.)
'My baby,' said Phoebe, proudly.

Now, I know Phoebe is always quite keen to get outside, being the only one of our cats who has previously experienced the Great Outdoors, but her modus operandi is usually to find the first piece of long grass which she will gobble down quickly and then return to the house to vomit it up on the kitchen floor. I wasn't aware she'd had any untoward assignations and besides, when she arrived at Andy's surgery many years ago as a scraggly stray with two new-born kittens, she was cleaned up and spayed immediately because there are already enough cats in the world without encouraging multiple-litters.

'Phoebe, ' I said, kindly and gentle, 'you can't have any more babies.'
'I hatched the Giant Pumphrey egg,' said Phoebe, proudly. 'And look what came out!'

'Good Lord!' I said.
'Isn't she lovely?' said Phoebe proudly. 'I think she looks like me.'
'In the manner she is black and furry, yes,' I said. 'But in the manner of the bill and the webbed feet, then no, this is a duckling and not a kitten.'
'Well, you think what you like,' said Phoebe, dipping her elbow into the water she was running for her baby's bath. 'But Rubba is my baby. I hatched her and I am going to look after her. And now if you'll excuse us, it is baby bath-time.'

And she hustled me from the bathroom and slammed the door.

'Can cats develop mental illness?' I asked Andy.
'All the time,' said Andy. 'Especially those that reside at Much Malarkey Manor.'