Monday, 31 May 2010

Bee video

Here are the Malarkey Bees, hard at work, putting their furry bodies in, their furry bodies out, in , out, in, out, shaking the pollen about!

Panic Me Not!

They've only been in residence for a day, and already the Malarkey Bees are causing me sleepless nights. Not, I hasten to say, because of anything they have done, because they spent yesterday doing what bees do best which is minding their own business and getting on with their work. Oh no, they have caused me angst because I thought, as a new bee-keeper, I should join a bee-keeping forum, which I did, and then I proceeded to read many threads about all the scary things that can happen with bees.

Especially alarming were the posts which mentioned things like ' deadly killing machines', 'anaphylaxis', 'feral swarms' and 'stupid-people-who-tried-to-keep-bees-without-going-on-a-course-first.'

'But we have been on a course,' said Andy, who has also joined the forum, but only to dig out the dirt about Mr Bee Man who supplied our nuc, and who has been banned from most bee forums for spamming and being obnoxious.
'I know,' I said. 'But did you read about the woman who left her hive uninspected for nine months, and then when another keeper went in to sort out the mess, he found between 30 and 40 queen cells and nearly got stung to death?'
'We are not going to leave our hive uninspected for nine months,' said Andy. 'Good grief, we're having enough trouble keeping away from it for one week.'
'But what if we miss a queen cell?' I wail.
'Well, we might, but we'll try not to because we know what we are looking for, and if we do, then we know how to perform an artificial swarm,' said Andy. 'Don't worry. We are not going to be in the position where we end up with a feral colony with over thirty unspotted queen cells.'

Of course, I was being irrational. We have done a proper one-to-one course. We've had proper theory sessions and proper practical sessions. Our mentors are happy for us to be in charge of bees. But, like any new experience, one can't help but worry about the tiny details, until one has gained experience and ergo confidence. I suppose it was like looking after chickens for the first time. But, over two years down the line I can handle a chicken, medicate a chicken, nurse a chicken back to health, and replace a chicken prolapse.

('Do we have to mention my prolapse?' says Miggins. 'It was over a year ago now, and I'm still alive and laying.'
'Yes, you are,' I say, proudly. For not many chickens survive a prolapse. Was it my nursing skills, I wonder, or Mrs Miggins' resilience?
'I think we both know the answer to that one,' says Mrs M, my best, beloved and tough old bird.)

So we shall approach our journey with the bees one step at a time, dealing with things as they happen, calling for assistance from our mentors if we need re-assurance, learning more and more as we go, and doing our best not to panic.

And maybe avoiding the bee-keeping forums for a while. Sometimes, ignorance can be a blessed bliss.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Oh, Bee-hive!

Feeling marginally unsettled because we couldn't hive our new bee colony last night, we were up early, deciding just to go for it today, regardless of whatever weather conditions might be presenting themselves from beyond the net curtains.

Luckily, (for hiving bees in a raging storm would be a very foolish act indeed) the weather was calmer than yesterday. At least, it was dry, if overcast, and warmer, if still a tad breezy.

'Let's go fot it!' I declared, wriggling into my bee suit.
'Already ahead of you,' said Andy, at the stove making 1:1 sugar syrup as a 'Welcome to the Manor' breakfast treat.

We gathered the required accoutrements - hive, smoker, bee brush, hive tool, fresh foundation and frames, contact feeder filled with syrup, old duvet cover to spread on the ground in case we dropped the Queen. I say 'we', but it was going to be me who did the re-hiving, as Andy's bee-suit still hasn't arrived, so he would be standing at a distance, shouting instructions and taking photos and getting ready to rush indoors and grab the Piriton and anti-histamine cream should I get stung.

Andy went out to light the smoker (another excuse to play with the blow-torch, methinks), whilst I donned wellies and gloves and set about arranging the duvet cover on the ground and the hive on the duvet cover.

'Ready?' I said.
'Ready,' said Andy.

So much to remember. There were already a few bees venturing into the skies, and one managed to donk me on the back of my head because I was standing in its flight path. But once I got going, and with Andy shouting encouragement from the sidelines, I managed to shift the five frames from the nuc into the hive, in the right order, spotting a queen cell in the process. And some larva. I squished the cell, as it was close to being capped, and we didn't want our colony absconding with a new Queen within a week of arriving. The bees were fine, needing very little smoke, which was just as well because there was very little smoke to be had, what with us needing a lot of practise with the smoker still, to get goodly amounts of smoke happening.

Job done! We sat in the greenhouse (a handy and safe vantage point) and watched for a while - a few bees popped out, a few bees popped in. We'd narrowed the hive entrance to half its size, in order to give the small colony a chance to defend itself against invaders, and then we went off to Bee Keeping Part 8.

And when we returned at lunchtime - my goodness, it was bee chaos! Organised chaos, of course, but there were masses of bees around the hive, coming and going, and many of them with laden pollen sacs shimmering yellow, orange and white from their hind legs. They were focused on the job of being bees, and I was enthralled. I'd spent hours last night fretting about how they would settle in, and they just got on and did it, as bees are wont to do!

So now we have to wait until next weekend before we do our first inspection to see how life is progressing in the hive. But so far, so good.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Much Malarkey Bees

I was rather looking forward to collecting our bees from Gloucestershire today, if only to tell our bee supplier what appalling customer service skills he's got. But I thought I'd wait until we'd got the bees safely in our possession, and then tell him loudly from the car window as Andy was putting his pedal to the metal, and Mr Bee Man had no chance of catching us.

Off we set, at 6.15 a.m. We arrived in Gloucester just two hours and twenty minutes later which was pretty good going, we thought, and bang in the centre of the time slot we had been given by Mr Bee Man to take collection of our 5 frame nuc. (Nuc is short for nucleus - you see, we've started to talk like bee-keepers already. It's only a matter of time before we shorten our speech to a series of buzzzz 'n' bizzz.)

Anyway, it was raining when we arrived at Mr Bee Man's farm bungalow. Cold, wet rain. No sign of anyone on the farmstead, so I scuttled down the drive to find a very complex series of instructions tacked to the bungalow door detailing where to go next. Which meant I had to scuttle back up the drive (Andy was waiting in the road, as the drive was littered with many, many vehicles) to get my notebook as there was no way I was going to remember everything that had been written.

And just as I was returning, someone who I presumed was Mrs Bee Man appeared at the bungalow door, in a full set of curlers and a dressing gown, and stood and stared at me.

'Mrs Bee Man?' I enquired. (This is not their real name. I shall refrain from real names as I cannot afford to be sued for what is going to become a potentially libellous blog entry.)

She nodded.

'We've come from Kent. To collect a nuc,' I continued. My hair was getting drippy wet by now.

' 'E's just come back from up there. 'E's 'avin' a sandwich. 'E'll be out in a minute,' said Mrs Bee Man. 'Go up to the end of the road, turn round, and wait.'

And off she went.

Come back from where? I thought. Anyway, I returned to Andy, we followed instructions and sat and waited on the road.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr Bee Man, sandwich-fresh, appeared, leapt into his truck and shot out of the driveway, performing a gesticulation from the truck window which we took to mean, 'Follow me,' and not, 'Sod off back to Kent, you foreigners.'

He drove like a maniac, a stuffed toy monkey flailing wildly from where it was impaled atop his windscreen. At least I hope it was a toy monkey. We raced after him as he swerved his way along the road, and then suddenly, he pulled into a turning and slammed on his brakes. We stopped also, and watched as he leapt from his truck, ducked beneath it and picked up what looked like a half-full plastic container of sweet and sour chicken. He waved it at us triumphantly, threw it into his truck and gesticulated for us to continue the chase.

'Waste not, want not,' I said.
Andy didn't say a word. He was thinking, ye gods, what kind of a parallel universe have we slipped into here?

Down a farm track we went, until we stopped at a five bar gate. Mr Bee Man leapt from his truck. Andy wound down his window.
'And what's your name?' said Mr Bee Man.
'Andy, 'said Andy. 'And this is Denise.'

We all shook hands. Except me and Andy, because we know each other already.

'Gate's locked,' said Mr Bee Man. 'Holidaymakers, see. That hill over there, that's where they do the cheese-rolling. Cars everywhere. You've never seen nothing like it!' And he waved his arms expansively. 'Got to go back and fetch the key. You park there. Won't be long.'

And off he went.

'But Mrs Bee Man said he'd already been up here this morning,' I said. 'You'd think he'd have the key with him.'
'Perhaps it's an excuse to get another sandwich,' said Andy.

We waited another twenty minutes, and ate an apple each. I made notes in my notebook about impaled toy monkeys, cheese rolling and discarded Chinese takeaway. A writer is always on the look-out for potential material. In retrospect, I don't think this was it.

Mr Bee Man duly re-appeared. He opened the gate by firstly turning the key and then bashing the padlock with a hefty rock. Back in the truck, he sped along the farm track, us in pursuit, until we arrived at what I presumed was his place of business. Well, it was a shed.

Out we got.
'And where are you going, young lady?' he said, looking at me. 'This isn't a picnic party you know.'
I wasn't sure what to say to this. By now I was thinking it best to say as little as possible.
'I'll take the big guy with me,' said Mr Bee Man. 'You go and explore.'

The big guy? It took me a moment to realise he was referring to Andy. Clearly, collecting bees was man's work, not for the little lady. Mr Bee Man whisked Andy away in his truck. I was left standing at the shed, wondering if I would ever see Andy alive again.

But, thank goodness, they reappeared ten minutes later, Andy clutching a nuc box and looking a little pale.

'But that's another story,' I heard Mr Bee Man say, as they a-lighted from the truck.
'Follow me,' he said, and hustled us back into the shed. 'Now listen,' he continued, 'when you get back, you're looking for one of these, ' and he waved a queen cage at us. 'If she ain't there, then she's chewed 'er way out. Take the frames out of the box and put in the hive facing exactly the same way. Don't be changing 'em round. If you do, you might squash the Queen.'
'Is she marked?' I asked.
'No, didn't have time to mark any of 'em,' said Mr Bee Man. 'And then put your feeder in...'
'And where does the queen come from?' I persisted, because I knew I had to ask these questions and wasn't going to let him get away without answering them.
'Australia,' said Mr Bee Man. 'I got papers,' he added, rather defensively. 'Where 'ave you come from?'
'Kent,' I said.
' 'Ave you got papers?' he said.
'I've got a passport,' I said, because 1) I didn't know what else to say and it was the first thing that came into my head and 2) I wanted to humour him and get away as quickly as possible.
'Passport ain't papers,' said Mr Bee Man, triumphantly. We started edging towards the door.
'Let me know how you get on,' said Mr Bee Man.
Yeah, right, we both thought.
'Thank you!' we said, loading our bees into the car boot. Thankfully, at that moment, another customer arrived and Mr Bee Man's attention was diverted. We escaped Gloucester sanity intact and 10,000 bees heavier.

And here is moi, dressed a la bee-keeper, opening the nuc entrance to let the bees orientate themselves about their new environment. They were a bit cross by the time we got home because, typically, we got stuck in traffic. And it proved too wet, cold and windy to re-hive them this evening, so we thought we'd let them unstress in their nuc and make re-hiving a job for tomorrow.

Bees at the Manor! I wonder what will be next?

Friday, 28 May 2010

If you can't beat 'em, give in.

Today was the last proper school day before Year 11 went on study leave. I use the words 'study' and 'leave' in the true teenager's meaning of the words in that Year 11 will not be using their school leave in order to study, they will, instead, be following the literal instruction i.e leaving their study. Are they going to pick up any form of revision tool over the half term? Are they cocoa!

Anyway, we were given strict instructions by our Head in briefing this morning that it was to be 'lessons as usual' for Year 11; there was to be no autograph book signing, no shirt signing, no photos, no eating chocolate in class, no malarkey WHATSOEVER. Any miscreants would be removed from class and sent home IMMEDIATELY.

You'll be lucky, I thought. My Year 11 set gave up the will to revise anything about a fortnight ago. Anyway, I didn' t think I'd have a problem; most of my group were sitting an exam when I was due to have them, and I was expecting a mere eight students to pitch up. I thought we could have a nice scholarly discussion about current affairs. Or sumfing, or nuffing, or sumfing.

Ha! My eight strays did duly arrive, and then another member of staff arrived with the dregs of her class - a total of six - and said, 'you don't mind having this lot, do you?' and dumped them with me whilst she went off to do I don't know what.

So I had a gang of fourteen. Who proceeded to get out autograph books, food, cameras, shirts to be signed and kissed with copious amount of cheap lipstick. I said, 'The Headteacher doesn't want you to do that. It's lessons as usual.' They looked at me like I was Attila the Hun turned up at a family picnic with a severed horse's head. And carried on regardless.

What to do? Complain? Insist they did some work? Risk being shouted down and end up sobbing in a corner because no-one was listening to me?

No. I tell you what is to be done in such circumstances. A Sing-a-Long-a-Michael-Buble 'n' Westlife' session, that's what's to be done. Which went down remarkably well, especially when I taught them the rude version of 'Seasons in the Sun'. You know - the original Brian Hyland one, not the wishy-washy version that Westlife massacred so shamefully with their squeaky-eeky voices. As the exam came to an end, more and more Year 11 drifted into my classroom, and I ended up with about 43 of them, all swaying and singing and having a right old time.

'You're a ledge, Ma'am,' declared one of the boys.
'No, Joe,' said I. 'I am a schmuck and a fool.'
'No, definitely a ledge,' said he.

(And when when they say 'ledge' they mean 'legend', not a wooden perch outside a window sill, because that would be stupid.)

So there we go. I am a character of dubious existence, possibly real, potentially not.

It explains a lot.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Mid-week up-date, one day late

Firstly, a big welcome to Ruth, who has finally declared herself publically as an official 'follower', having dallied with the blog from behind the scenes for a while now. I can only think that she has finally got over the embarrassment of being seen lingering at the Manor gates wearing a mysterious cloak and even more mysterious hat pulled down over her eyes, and thought, 'What the hell! I shall declare myself with the rest of the loons!' This is lovely for me, of course, because it's always nice to add to the photos on the right of the blog, if only in terms of competition with fellow bloggers who may have less, but generally have more, followers than me.

Welcome Ruth! It was good to see your picture appear today!

Secondly, I keep thinking it's Wednesday. So I'm really looking forward to tomorrow when I'll be thinking it's Thursday and then realise it's really Friday and half term is upon me a day earlier than I anticipated. And ye Gods, could I do with a half-term. I texted Andy today at lunch-time with 'Remind me why I'm doing this job again?' and he responded with, 'Cold hard cash?' and I think he might be nearer the truth than he thinks.

Thirdly, job up-date. A part-time job has appeared, teaching, but only three days a week. Or 0.6 as they say in teacher-speak. It's at a Pupil Referral Unit, which is where they send all the naughty kids that aren't wanted in mainstream school for various reasons - rudeness, violence, swearing, arson - and I figure that a) I've taught in a PRU before and b) it's part-time and c) lots of the kids I work with now are rude, stroppy, potty-mouths, so I might as well apply and see what happens. Or failing that, there's always the pet crematorium idea.

'What?' I hear you say. 'Pet crematorium? What's all that about then?'

I shall tell you.

Earlier this week, a special friend of ours lost one of her pets, a much-loved cat. Andy and I offered tea and sympathy, for we both know how upsetting and traumatic it is to part with a creature that has shared a goodly part of your life and love. And our friend told us about taking her departed cat to a lovely man who ran a pet crematorium, and how nice he was, and then she looked at us and said, 'I thought I'd tell you about this because it could be a business idea for you two.'

Well, I looked at Andy, and he looked at me. 'I couldn't do that,' said Andy. 'You know how upset I get when I have to put an animal to sleep.'
'And that's why you'd be good at this,' said our friend. 'Owners want someone who understands their loss, and who is sympathetic.'

I don't think Andy was convinced, but the thought has been put to simmer on the back-burner of my mind.

Fourthly, I am thinking of starting up a weight-loss club. Well, a healthy eating club. Well, a get-fit 'n' possibly-slimmer-in-the-process club. Because recently I have come across several people who've mentioned that they are 'going on a diet' and I think I can motivate people better than Weightwatchers, Slimmer's World, Lighter Life, All You Can Eat in a Day as Long As It's Only a Water Biscuit, mostly because my meetings will culminate in the ceremonial eating of cake. I realise I may have to increase my repertoire of reasonably low calorie cakes, but I think that the best time to eat cake when you are on a diet is straight after your weigh-in, because 1) you've got time to lose any cake-eating weight gain during the following week 2) you should be rewarded for losing weight in the first place and 3) I'm not giving up cake for anyone and eating it with other yo-yo dieters will make me feel a whole heap better about my lack of self-control. It's purely mercenary.

Meanwhile, my grand-daughter is growing increasingly lovely, Phoebe is becoming a grand mistress of the Buddha grooming position, Tybalt fell off the back of the sofa whilst we were watching the Chelsea Flower Show together, Pandora nearly made a dash out of the front door today causing me much stress but not as much as when she nearly made me fall down the stairs by making a sudden leap in front of me, the hens are enjoying the sun because it's dried out the gardens of Cluckinghen Palace and they get to thrash about in dustbaths, and Andy had a scary encounter today with a Bulgarian Barber and a Blow Torch.

But that's another story altogether.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bees are Coming Home

Apparently, our phone isn't working. Neither is our e-mail.

This was the response from our bee supplier, after I'd e-mailed to make polite enquiry as to when we could expect to collect the Malarkey Manor Colony One.

That's odd, I thought, after picking up the e-mail, which said, 'Your bees have been ready for ages. Come and get them as soon as possible,' followed by a rather rude phone message informing us that our phone didn't work, and neither did our e-mail, because both seemed to be working now.

Had I been hormonal, I might have got a tad stroppy re: the tone of the phone message, but instead I sat on the stairs and laughed and thought what a cantankerous old git this bee supplier must be. Clearly he had forgotten about our bee order, and decided to blame our inward bound technology rather than 'fess up to his error.

Still, I remained calm, kept the sarcasm in its box, and e-mailed a polite response apologising for the inconvenience that our crap phone and e-mail had caused and please could we collect our bees on Saturday morning, sir, if that's convenient to you, sir, doff cap, curtsey, curtsey, doff, doff.

The response, via my miraculously working-once-again e-mail said, yes, we could indeed, just let him know when we would be arriving. So I did. So on Saturday we shall be collecting our bees from the depths of Gloucestershire and setting forth on what I think will be a long and lustrous career in keeping bees.

The last couple of days have been filled reading up about hiving bees once we get them home, and making sure we've got all the necessary equipment, including digging out an old sheet to place on the floor so we can spot the Queen should we inadvertently drop her. And really important stuff like thinking about what we are going to call our first hive. Well, the hens' home is called Cluckinghen Palace, so I think the hive should be called something, too, instead of merely 'Number 1'.

You have to keep records, you see. And I already know that we aren't going to be guardians of a single hive. And calling them '1', '2', '3', '4' etc is, for us artistic types, very boring. The trouble is, coming up with witty bee-home names is proving a darn sight harder than coming up with hen-related ones. Andy's offerings are 'The Appropolis' - a very tenous link to one of the Seven Wonders, and 'The Pollen Nation.' Mine are probably even worse - 'Pollen Nesia' and 'Nect Arena'. We've tried out puns with 'bee', 'honey', 'nectar', 'pollen', 'buzz', 'hum', 'propolis' and 'sting' and nothing seems to click.

And then there's the matter of what to call our first queen. Apparently, lots of keepers name their queens. I don't want to go down the predicatable route of Elizabeth, or Ann, or Victoria. I quite like the idea of Priscilla, as in Queen of the Desert, or possibly Roger or Carmen after either of the camp characters in 'The Producers', my favourite musical. But again, I think I'll need to see her first. She might not look like a Priscilla, or a Carmen.

Anyway, very soon the gardens of Much Malarkey Manor will be alive to the gentle hum of our first bees. Or angry buzz depending on whether I manage to hive them without whipping them up into a wild bee frenzy.

Either way, it's all very exciting!

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Well, not quite a swarm, but almost. Sneaky things, bees. Last week, at Bee Keeping Part Six, you will remember we got involved in transfering a newly arrived full colony into its new home, with added loft apartment to prevent them swarming due to lack of space. We pinched out the few queen play cups that were apparent, and left the bees to their new extended accommodation.

This week, at Bee Keeping Part Seven, Scott handed over the equipment and said, 'There you go. You inspect the hive, and we'll watch.'

So, somewhat tentatively, I set about opening and checking the hive, with Andy in close attendance. So much to see, so much to remember. The bees had already, in the space of one week, moved into the new brood box and drawn out seven frames of comb. They were also starting to build their own free-form brace comb. There were balls of bees, and danglings of bees. The half brood box seemed fine; as fine as this newbie keeper could tell anyway, so we moved onto the main brood box, where we hoped to be able to locate the Queen.

And there, on the third frame in, was a MASSIVE Queen cell. Fully developed. Capped. Huge. As big as a thimble.

'Right,' said Scott. 'We must have missed that one last week. Now we have no option but to perform an artificial swarm, because if we don't, these bees will be off and away.

It was all very exciting! We had to find the Queen, who, it transpired, was unmarked. And just at the point of us finding her, Scott got stung. I was well impressed at how he managed to hang onto the frame he was holding, AND keep sight of the Queen whilst Geraldine grabbed the queen marking kit and cage. I mean, he hardly swore at all.

And then it was, 'Move this hive there, put that one there, put those frames in there, that excluder under there, those supers on there,' all systems go action packed bee-keeping, with me and Andy trying to be helpful, mostly by staying out of the way and holding things when instructed to do so. Thousands of bees were flying around, getting quite narky now because what was supposed to be a standard twenty minute hive inspection was turning into a marathon hour long artificial swarm malarkey.

But we did it! One hive became two, with the possibility of a third splitting next week as it was decided to leave a couple of new uncapped queen cells intact, as insurance against the capped cell not hatching, or being dud in some manner. It was quite thrilling to be in thick of it.

There is still no news of our own bee order being ready to collect. And now we've been offered the chance to buy a nucleus from Kent as early as next week. So I've e-mailed the guy we ordered our original nucleus from to see if they are ready for imminent collection. If not, we may buy this colony we've been offered, and then get another hive to take the original order as and when it's ready.

And that's not to mention the top-bar hive we've decided to build. But more of that later. That's a whole different kettle

PS Andy says that his work colleagues are very excited to hear about his first experience of being stung. I say, 'Naughty colleagues, bad colleagues, no honey for YOU!'

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Vegetarian Ham

Grace from Year 8 popped her head around my classroom door yesterday. It was lunchtime, and as usual I was eating 'n' marking at the same time, and trying to scrape the pips of a particularly exuberant tomato from an essay on 'Of Mice and Men.'

'Eeurgh!' said Grace, looking at my lunch box. 'You on a diet, or sumfin'?'

I looked at my lunch. A multi-seed bagel with cream cheese, some cucumber, salad leaves, tomato and celery, a few nuts and a banana.
'No,' I said. 'This is what I usually eat.'
'You should to eat junk,' said Grace. 'I do.'
'Right,' I said.
'So, don't you eat burgers?' said Grace. 'And what's that?'
'It's a Brazil nut,' I said. 'And no, I don't eat burgers. I don't eat meat. I'm vegetarian.'
'Is burger meat?' said Grace, genuinely surprised.
'Yes,' I said. 'It's cow.'
'God,' said Grace. 'Did you see that programme about India, and chopping up cows and turning them inside out and scraping their skins and making them into handbags. Eugh, it was disgusting. All blood and fat and cows with no heads.'

I stopped chewing my bagel. 'No, I didn't,' I said. 'But it sounds like the kind of programme that put me off eating meat.'
'Yeh. Poor cows,' said Grace. 'We was eating take-away at the time and I thought, 'I ain't eating any more of this. But then I did. What about chicken? Is chicken meat?'
'Yes,' I said. 'And I have chickens in my garden.'
'Do they give you eggs?' said Grace.
'They do,' I said.
'So what if you eat an egg and it's really a chick?' said Grace.
'That won't happen,' I said.
'Why not?' said Grace.

Oh blimey, I thought. Here we go.

'Well, to get chicks, the eggs have to be fertile. And for that you need a boy chicken. A cockerel. And all my chickens are girls.'
'Are you sure?' demanded Grace.
'Positive,' I said.
'I like bacon,' said Grace. And she paused in a whistful bacon-sandwich dream moment. 'Do you eat bacon?'
'No, it's meat. From a pig,' I said.
'Blimey,' said Grace. 'What about ham? That's good for you.'
'Again, it's pig. And full of salt. Not good for your blood pressure,' I said.
'I told my mum I was fed up of being fat,' said Grace, who, I have to admit, is a tad tubby, but not that I would worry about.
'And she said, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?' Grace continued. 'And I said 'Eat salad and do trampolining.'
'It's an idea,' I agreed. 'You could try growing some salad. It's really easy.'
'Trampolining is okay,' said Grace. 'But it gets boring after a while. Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down...' And then her face lit up.
'What about sausage rolls?' she said triumphantly. 'I bet they haven't got any meat in them!'

And I guess in some cheap brand, cost-cutting way, she could well be right.

'Sorry, Grace,' I said. 'But sausage rolls come from pigs, too.'
'Bugger,' she said. 'Is it time for lessons yet?'
'Yes,' said I.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


It's been nearly two weeks since I handed in my resignation. And has my resignation been acknowledged? Have any members of senior management spoken to me about it? Said, 'we know you've been here only a short time, but thanks for putting up with all the crap.'

No, they haven't. And whilst I am not that bothered, I can't help but think that some general courtesy has been missed somewhere along the way.

When I resigned from my previous teaching post, to embark on my 'Year As A Writer', I got a letter back from the Headteacher, thanking me for my service and wishing me well with my writing.

But this time...nothing. Not a whisper, not a word, not a straggle of tumbleweed whistling its way across the canteen between my classroom and the Head's office. It's just not on. Or perhaps it is, in this day and age. Perhaps it's just me, being too old-fashioned in expecting at least a cursory nod that my letter had been received. (And just in case you are thinking, what if the letter hadn't been received, and I'm going off on one unnecessarily, it was received - I checked.)

Ah well. Onwards and upwards.

Have you seen the new series on telly called 'Three in a Bed?' It's hilarious, if only as a casual observation into the human ego. It's about couples who take turns to spend a night in each other's B and B's, and then pay what they think the value of the experience is worth. I watch it because I think Andy and I would be good at running our own B and B, and I'm looking for inspiration. The series is starting to take on a rather cut-throat approach to the competition, and tonight was no exception. One bloke took exception to being paid £8 less than the market value for his room, because his guest objected to the proliferation of Health and Safety notices that were slapped around the bathroom, warning of 'Slippery Floors' and 'Hot Water.' (In a bathroom?? You don't say.)

In a fit of pique, realising his B and B wasn't going to win, and determined not to let his guest with the laissez-faire attitude to her safety take the award, he vastly overpaid the third couple for his stay in their bizarre Manor house, where there were cases of stuffed squirrels and a collection of family heirlooms stored in the wardrobes.

I have to say that I liked the people who objected to the unnecessary safety notices. I mean, if I was them I'd probably make the comment that there should be a safety notice warning about the safety notices. And their B and B was far superior to the others in terms of style and personal touches, like tea and homemade cake on arrival, and using local produce, and everything looking very pretty and comfy. They also ran courses from their establishment.

'That's what we should do!' I said to Andy, excitedly prodding him in an attempt to distract him from his new best friend, the i-Phone.
'Mmmmmmm...' said Andy.

I don't know. Ignored by senior management. Second place to apps. Where will it all end?

Who said that?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Country Chic

If we can't go to the countryside, I have decided, then the countryside will come to us. It seems a logical step.

In other words, the redecorating bug is upon me. I've been mooching around the Manor, casting a critical eye over the Malarkey decor. It's been at least 4 years since any major painting 'n' papering was done, and this time I've decided we need a change of style. I say 'we', but really I mean 'me' because Andy shows about as much interest in decorating, and colour charts and wallpaper as say, Mrs Miggins shows in Applied Physics.
'You know my brain is more wired to an appreciation of the arts,' says Miggins.
'I do,' I say.
'Then I guess you'll be consulting me about your imminent interior design project,' says Miggins.
'You guess wrong,' I say.
'Huff,' huffs Mrs Miggins.

So, given the free reign I have vis a vis decorating decisions, I have decided to go for the countryside chic look. Lots of flowers and pretty stuff. And pictures of bees and chickens. And more flowers. And hand-crafted-by-me things like quilts and cushions and tapestry and cross stitch. I'm thinking 50s nostalgia meets Laura Ashley meets Country Living magazine meets lying-in-a-meadow-of-wild-flowers-watching- bees-whilst-a-nightingale-sings-overhead-and-a-cute-bunny-sitting-nearby-washing-its-ears.

I said to Andy, 'Is it all right if I do a bit of decorating?'
'Yes,' he said. 'Just don't ask me about colours and stuff.'

So yesterday he caught me looking at wallpaper on the interwebbly.
'Where are you thinking of putting wallpaper?' said he.
'Up the stairs,' said I. I have big plans for the hall, stairs and landing. Plans involving paint, wallpaper, dado rails, wood flooring and a candleabra.
Andy went a bit pale. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking high ceiling, long walls, stairs, dodgy ladder 'n' chair combos, wobbles, broken legs. He wasn't thinking comedy wallpapering moments.

Today, I said, 'I've contacted a proper malarkey painter and decorator. To do the stairs.' And Andy looked suitably reassured.

I've started a notebook entitled 'To Countrify a Manor.' Well, it'll keep me out of mischief for a while. You see, I'm already living in this environment inside my head. And, as it looks like we're going to be staying in this house for while yet, I might as well start projecting my imaginings onto the walls. Turning a semi into a Manor? There might be a blog in there somewhere...

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Joy of Pointless Stuff

One of the joys of being a Granny is that you get to by silly stuff for your grand-daughter; the kind of stuff which you couldn't afford to buy for your own children when they were small. (However, I must say that I shall never buy Kayleigh anything as bizarre as the hat she turned up in yesterday - it made her look like a small, pink Shrek. Leane said it was the only hat she's got and that she will buy her another, more appropriate one immediately. Hurrah, said I - dodgy baby fashion should be rectified asap, and I'm just glad the child doesn't recognise herself in the mirror yet, because the therapy bills in the future would be too horrendous to contemplate.)

Anyway, today I got sidetracked into Mothercare on my way to Wilkos to buy a plunger, and ended up purchasing a Happy Safari Sit Me Up Cosy doo-dah, for Kayleigh to use when she comes a-visiting. Basically, its a happy-yet-slighty-scary looking monkey head attached to a giant inflatable tyre-effect thing that can be folded in half to make a prop up seat, or laid out flat to make a scoopy cradle thing in which babies who haven't yet mastered the art of sitting upright can flounder about without getting carpet scuff marks on their delicate little scalps.

Grandad Andy and I nearly died inflating the tyre bit. My lungs are still hurting. And then we realised we should have put the deflated tyre bits inside the attractively subtle, bright tangerine cover BEFORE we inflated the tyre, so we had to DEFLATE the tyre, put it INSIDE the cover and then RE-INFLATE it which was quite fun as there were two inflating nozzles and we ended up almost nose to nose across the cover like Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti.

To add interest to the tangerine monkey head tyre, there are three detachable safari animals i.e a rattley tiger, a rattley giraffe and an elephant with a squeaky bottom. I should like to point out that the tiger and giraffe are not rattley because they have asthma or dodgy knees. Added to the animals and the tangerine inflatable monkey tyre there is a huge green leafy thing for baby to lie and/or sit upon depending on their degree of muscle control.

Heather took one look at the fully assembled Happy Safari Sit Me Up Cosy and said, 'You don't half buy some rubbish,' thereby completely missing the point. Fat Phoebe cat, meanwhile, has taken up residence in the monkey tyre. I only hope she keeps her claws sheathed. If she doesn't there could be one almighty BANG any moment...

A couple of quick extras...

1) Amidst much sweat and stress, Andy built a complete bee hive stand last night. It looks good, and the fits the hive beautifully. This has got him thinking about building a top-bar hive. Keeping bees in a top-bar hive is becoming a very attractive proposition, and no doubt will be the focus of a blog in the new future, but not tonight because my eyes are stinging because...

2)...we had a practise lighting the smoker this evening. Lighting the smoker involved the purchase of a blow torch which means I shall probably have to start making creme brulee just to justify the expense. I thought perhaps a box of matches would have been adequate for smoker lighting, but I am assured that a blow torch is DEFINTELY called for; I can only think this is a man-thing. And I suppose the blow torch will be needed for hive cleansing next season.

Unfortunately, the smoke we produced this evening proved to be hot smoke, and not the prefered cool smoke. Hot smoke will fry the bees which would be a bad thing.

More smoker lighting practise needed, methinks.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Covered in Bees

Bee-keeping Part Six today. We've done all the theory - well, all the theory we need to do to take the BBKA first exam - and we've now moved onto learning sessions that are all practical.

And didn't we get a practical today!

Our bee mentors had, earlier this week, bought a colony that was full to bursting and needed to be re-hived with an extra half-brood box on top. A bit like adding a loft extension, to give the growing family a bit more space to store their expanding brood, with, no doubt, their DVD/ soft toy/Lego collections, too. The bees, because space was cramped, were telling anyone who cared to listent that they needed a new home NOW!

Duly togged up in suits and gloves and wellies and veils, Andy and I followed our mentors into their apiary, and the Valley of Bees. The noise was palpable. The bees were growing antsy because of their lack of space.

'We'll inspect the brood frames for queen cells,' said Scott. 'I suspect this colony might be on the verge of swarming.'

In we went with the smoker. Off came the roof and the crown board. Tens of thousands of bees stared up at us. Never had I seen such a mass of bees close up. The gentle hum became, within seconds, a much louder, more persistent 'back-off-our-hive' buzz. The foraging bees, and the ones designated to guard the hive, started their defensive. Immediately, I got an itch in my ear. I thought, I checked my suit; there are no gaps. Do I have a bee in here with me, or is it just a stray hair? I stood very still. Nothing stung me. Hair it was then.

A few brave bees tried banging into the front of my veil. But I found that by staying still and calm, they soon went away.

And then, sure enough, as we inspected each frame and transfered it into its new hive with des res loft extension, we started to find queen cells. Three or four of them were charged with an egg and Royal Jelly. Luckily, they were uncapped. If they had reached capping stage, within a day or so, there would be little to be done to stop a swarm. The old queen would have been on her way, taking half the colony with her.

It was truly fascinating stuff. We saw all the bees that make a colony - workers, drones and queen - drones cells, stores of honey and pollen, baby bees being born, some eggs, some larva, a wax moth (which got squished PDQ), and some propolis and brace comb.

The more time we spend discovering bees, the more we are realising what a responsibilty we are going to be taking on when we collect our first colony, hopefully in a couple of weeks' time. On the way home from Bee-Keeping Part Six, we bought the wood we needed to make the hive stand. (When I say 'we', I mean Andy. He's hammering and sawing as I write.) We're starting to scan the interwebbly for additional equipment - more brood boxes and supers, a skep in case we are called upon in the future to collect a swarm. We are reading everything to do with bee-keeping we can lay our hands on. Andy is collecting bee pod-casts on his i-Phone. It's all becoming rather big.

Which is good.

Friday, 14 May 2010


When we first got chickens (two years and one month ago now; my how the time flies when you're anthropomorphising), people warned us of 1) rats and 2) foxes.

'We don't get foxes around here,' we said. Or rather I said, because Andy is always more ready to believe in the existence of all sorts of creatures in our close vicinity, mostly because he watches Doctor Who and seems to think it's real.

And yes, people were right. We've had two rats, both dealt with swiftly by a heady combination of poison-laden traps and me rushing out into the garden whenever I saw one, shrieking like a banshee and waving my broom in the air until the head came off. (The broom, not mine). But foxes? NO. Not in our suburb. Way too busy on the roads. No handy hidey holes. AND we haev wheely bins.

However, this non-sighting of fox has not stopped Andy fretting about our hens, and fox-proofing Cluckinghen Palace 'just in case.'

Which is just as well, because this year we have been plagued with foxes outside our bedroom window. It started about a month ago. Woken in the middle of the night we were, by a screaming so horrendous it made our collective blood run cold. Once I'd got over the initial shock of being woken suddenly and with heart-pounding, skin flushing terror, I got out of bed and looked out onto the street. Three foxes sitting on the pavement, shrieking at each other. Shortly joined by a fourth.

'Shut up!' I yelled, or would have yelled if I had been in full possession of my voice at the time, which I wasn't. Instead, I made do with a strangulated rasping sound, but it seemed to do the trick because they all stopped and sat and stared up at me instead. I did not like this sudden vulpine attention - it reminded me of an advert I saw when I was about 8 years old, of a red sports car being pursued by a pack of wolves, brimstone-yellow eyes gleaming in the dark. Gave me nightmares for ages, that advert.

Anyway, since that night, the foxes have appeared periodically, to shriek and scream and wake me up. They did it last night. Well, one did. But the point is, is that it's enough to wake me from a deep sleep, and by the time my heart has stopped racing, my blood pressure come down and I've managed to convince myself I will not suffer some shock/ adrenaline induced heart attack, I am wide awake and can't get back to sleep. Hence going to work today on 4 hours of sleep, and getting home only to fall asleep and Andy arriving home from work before I woke up to cook dinner, thereby forcing him back out to hunt for chips.

But what do I do about these here foxes? The hens are safe. To get into the back garden, the foxes would have to climb a 7 foot fence, or dig under concrete. And then they would have to scale another 7 foot fence, and then work out how to undo the pod. It's me that's in danger. Me and my sleep-deprived sanity.

The noise is muffled and more bearable if the bedroom window is shut. But I like to sleep window open, because somehow it stops me waking up with a sore throat and bunged up nose, plus it helps with the old hot flushes. And sleeping with a window open makes me feel somehow better connected with the world, but that's probably to do with some weird psycholigical defect I have.

So do I keep a selection of objects to throw from the window? Do I shout/ swear/ join in the screaming? Do I make some random weird no-too-loud noise to attract their attention in a subtle, yet shriek-stopping way? Do I march downstairs and have it out with them, woman to fox, and risk getting my arms ripped off a la being chased by wolves in a red sports car mode? Or do I get ear plugs? I've tried ear plugs, though. And I can't cope with anything being in my ears, because of my highly inflexible ear cartilage.

It's difficult to know what to do.


Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Too Old For Mobile Phones

I quite like going into shops that sell gadgets and pretending I'm a techno-idiot. Granted, I don't have to pretend that much, but I like to think I have a certain level of understanding that means I will be able to keep up with what the shop assistants are saying.

I see these trips as an observation window into human society; I am more observer than consumer. But sometimes I do buy something.

Like at the weekend I bought Andy an i-Phone for his birthday. Stupidly, I thought I could just go into a shop, say, 'I want an i-phone, please,' and I would be provided with one there and then. I'd done my research first, which involved flitting in and out of the numerous mobile phone shops that make up about of a third of the retail outlets in our town. I even went into the Apple store, thinking they might sell them. Apparently not. 'We don't sell them here,' said one of the two gorillas who were guarding the door. 'I'll clear off, then, ' said I, thinking, shall I ask if they sell apples, just to see if I could get them under the trade description act.

'So what's the difference between an i-phone and a Blackberry?' I said to one twelve year old spotty oik. (He wasn't twelve, but might just as well have been for all the attention he gave me.)
'Well,' said Spotty Oik (missing the obvious joke of 'You can't make a crumble from an i-pod), 'basically they're the same.'
That's helpful, I thought.
'Oh,' I said.
'Alicia Keyes and Christina Aguilera have got Blackberries,' he continued.
Is that a selling point, I thought. I wasn't quite sure where he was going with his sales patter (if you can call it such), but I was willing to loiter about and tolerate him conversing with me whilst staring over my shoulder for a while longer.
'Business people have Blackberries,' Spotty Oik said. Now he was multi-tasking - conversing with me whilst looking over my shoulder AND doodling on a scrap of paper.

Gradually I got the idea that what he was trying to say was that girls have Blackberries and boys have i-phones 'coz of the apps.'

The apps? I looked confused although I secretly knew that 'app' was short for 'application'. I was enjoying my game too much to let Spotty Oik get away too easily.

'You can get them from 57p,' Spotty Oik said.
'Each, or per kilo?' I said.
He looked confused, so I left.

In the next shop I learned that touch screens are easier to use than keyboards, that I could bolt on a dolphin, a monkey, a canary and a tiger (or was it a puma?). That the new i-phone was not much better than the old model and certainly not worth the extra money, and that one can purchase a multitude of different, and sometimes exotically coloured cases to protect your i-phone from droppage, ploppage, sittage and smashage.

All the people I spoke with were keen to get me to sign up to a contract. For two years, if youb please. I mean, okay if you're obviously a spring chicken, but I could be dead by then. All lost interest when I insisted I wanted a pay-as-you-go, especially when I discovered that there was a year of free wi-fi interwebbly access thrown in already. And most of the contracts involved 600 texts a month which is way too excessive to my way of thinking and would just give Andy stiff thumbs.

So I chose my purchase-from shop based on the fact it was a lady assistant I spoke to and she didn't mention the word 'contract' once, and off she trotted to get me a phone from the stock room.

The phone had to be ordered. I collected it on Saturday. I had to stand in a queue for AGES. But Andy was pleased.

Except that there appears to be a setting up problem. It is causing angst. Andy keeps saying, 'Should I do this? ' and 'Should I do that?' and I have to keep saying things like, 'I don't know. I am a techno-idiot. Phone the helpline.'

Meanwhile, since I embraced phone ownership in 2001, I have owned a mere 3 phones. The first was a Motorola that looked like a brick, the second was an old Nokia of Andy's that I decorated with a cover of Ermintrude from the Magic Roundabout, and the third is my current one which is like a tiny pink pebble and is used for speaking into and texting from, and sometimes checking my biorhythmns. It does a lot more, apparently, but I can't be fussed to use it to its full capacity.

For I am too old to be mucking about with phones.

(Today's post was brought to you by - 'Too Tired to Be Creative? Write a Blog About Any Old Mobile Phone Tosh. com for all your desperate blogging needs.)


Sunday, 9 May 2010

Make Your Mind Up Time

It's a bit unsettling, all this election/ government/ have we got a new Prime Minister yet malarkey, isn't it? Fascinating stuff, of course, despite the maths, but I can't help thinking that the longer the main parties are taking to sort themselves out, the more their 'cordial discussions' could be disintegrating into petty squabbling.

'I know,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who is true Prime Minister, but no-one of any intelligence ('cept me and Andy) has yet recognised her as such. 'I keep telling them. I keep saying, 'Dave, Nicky, calm down. I'm sorting it out, okay? And Gordon - get back in your box and count your fingers. But will they listen? Will they cocoa.'

This morning, when still no news was to be had, I thought, I bet they're arguing over billing rights. You know, the tricky negotiation that theatre stars undergo when deciding whose name goes at the top of the poster when it comes to joint appearances. It used to be that the biggest crowd pulling star would go first. The Royal Shakespeare Company list everyone alphabetically, no matter the star status.

And thus, I think, goes the current conversation behind closed cabinet doors.

Nick: So, Dave, with both our surnames beginning with 'C', whose going to get top billing on the posters at the joint party conference in the Autumn?
David: Well, Nick, I am more famous than you, so I really ought to be on top.
Nick : But I am a fresh young thing, and also slightly taller than you, so I think I should go near the top.
David: This is true. And I understand your argument completely. But, I should also like to point out that the letter 'D' for David comes before the letter 'N' for Nicholas in the alphabet, so I have double the right to be top of the poster.
Nick: Actually, Davey, my real first name is Aardvark Alfonso. And Clegg is an Anglicanisation of my true surname...'
David : Which is?
Nick: No, let me finish...
David: ...I am...
Nick: Oh, right. Er....yes, Clegg. Anglicanisation of 'a la Clegge,' from the French you know. With a soft, elongated 'g'.
David: Whilst I don't doubt for one moment that your true name is Aardvark Alphonso a la Clegge, I would wish for you to provide sustantial proof. Until the evidence if proven, I would like you to consider also that the second letter of my name is 'a', whilst yours is 'i'.
Nick: Now you're being petty.
David: I think not. I think you started it by being completely incapable of accepting that I am more famous than you. Before the first leaders debate, it was 'Nick? Nick who?'
Mrs Pumphrey: Bok, bok!
Nick : Who let that chicken in here?
David: Don't change the subject.

Well, it's either that or they're arguing about what biscuits to have during tea-break.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Big Bangs and Invisibility

A couple of nights ago there was a loud bang, somewhere in or around the vicinity of Much Malarkey Manor. And because I was being entranced by the smiles my grand-daughter was directing directly at me, yes me, her Granny, like she was saying 'Hello Granny! I know who you, smile!', and Andy was being entranced by a jammy flapjack, the bang went uninvestigated. I think we both figured that as no car/bus/lorry/ yob in low slung joggy bottoms had come bursting through the front wall of the house, then we were, as a little family community, safe for the time being.

Later, after grand-daughter had gone home and jammy flapjack had been consumed, Andy went to investigate the source of the bang.
'It's okay,' he said. 'It was the lid blowing off the dandelion wine brew. I've cleaned the resultant mushed raisin concoction from the bathroom walls as best I can.'

Yes, it's that time of year again, when the bath is decommissioned as a place of private ablution and becomes a place for storing barrels of fermenting alcoholic beverage. Dandelion wine this year. Andy is also keeping an eye on the imminent emergence of local elderflower as he is determined to have another shot at elderflower champagne, only this time he says he won't add extra yeast.

Meanwhile, I've been infected by a touch of invisibility this week. Twice I have nearly been runover. Five times, adults at work have asked me a question, or engaged me in conversation and then walked off mid-response or mid-sentence, leaving me open-mouthed and looking a bit idiotic, like I'm Cary Grant talking to Harvey, the Invisible Rabbit. Hundreds of times I've been ignored in the class whilst I am trying to teach, by children who have far more important things to discuss, like what's on telly tonight, or who said what about whom (the bitch).

Which got me a bit worried. Not about the who said what about whom, because teenagers these days always seem more interested in interfering in business that doesn't concern them, rather than interfering in business that does concern them like gaining good skills in the English language. I wasn't even concerned about my near-death pedestrian versus maniac-in-a-car experiences because God knows I am way to busy to be summoned to Heaven just as this moment. No, it was the invisibility to adults thing that bothered me. I mean, do I need to work on my personality? Am I that boring that people have to wander off mid-conversation for fear of falling into a Denise-induced coma?

I thought, but they started the conversations. They asked me a question. Surely, SURELY, they should finish what they started? But no. Apparently not. One of the worst experiences was when I was dumped, and yes I do mean dumped, with five interviewees one break time. I avoided showing my displeasure at having my lesson prep time disrupted (break times don't mean tea and a biscuit to me - they mean trying to get ahead for the next lesson), and became hostess with the mostest, sorting out coffee, and asking how their interview day had gone so far. And in the middle of me talking to one of the younger applicants about the lesson she had just taught as part of the interview process, she actually GOT OUT HER MOBILE PHONE AND STARTED TEXTING!!!

I thought, I'll just stop talking then, shall I? I'd hate to interrupt your texting frenzy with my clearly banal interest in your fledgling teaching career. But what I really wanted to do was slap the mobile from her hand (and probably stomp on it for good measure) and tell her how rude she was being.

Ah well. It's all down to manners, I suppose. I was taught to listen to someone when they were talking to me, to show interest no matter how boring or irrelevant the subject matter might be. If I was reading, I was to put down my book and pay attention. One did not interrupt, especially if the person you were talking to was older. Oh, what was it called? Ah, that's right - social interaction!

Mind you, they teach social skills in schools these days. Which is sad in some ways. But not so surprising in many others.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A New Prime Minister

'The exit polls have suggested that I am the new Prime Minister,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'So I'm going to bed now. Lots to do tomorrow - running the country and all that.'
'Oh really?' I say. 'And what exit poll would that be?'
'The one where Mrs Miggins agrees I'd be a good Prime Minister and then pecks Mrs Slocombe until she agrees, too,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And of course I voted for myself, which means I have received one hundred percent of the electoral goat.'
'Surely you mean vote?' I say.
'No, I mean goat,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'His name is Percy and he's in the back garden tied to the washing line. He's all right for now because we got him a vegetable dhansak and pilau rice from the takeaway, but you might want to consider moving him before you hang out your next lot of smalls.'
I know I ought to look in the garden, to check on the goat status of Much Malarkey Manor, but it has been a long day and I don't think I have the courage or the strength.

'So,' I say, changing the subject, 'what will be your first act as Prime Minister Pumphrey?'
Mrs Pumphrey leans against the fridge where she is currently rooting for a Dairy Lea Cheese Dipper.
'I thought I'd get a new cabinet for the dining room,' she says. 'Something in oak. And then I was going to have a holiday. It's been quite exhausting, this campaigning lark.'
'Nothing more global, then?' I say.
'Like what?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Well, like sorting out the economy?' I say.
'All ready sorted,' says Mrs P. 'We've printed more money.'
'I'm not sure it works like that...' I begin.
'Of course it works like that,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'If you need something because you haven't got enough, then you make more. Like you making shortbread,' she added.

Ah, I think. I can understand an analogy that ends in biscuits.

'And what about education?' I say.
'Wasted on the young,' declares Mrs Pumphrey. 'So I'm banning it for people under twenty one. Keep children in boxes until they show an inclination to learn, then release them into schools. '
'Health care?' I venture.
'Go to work on an egg,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Make me a mug of cocoa, will you? I'd do it myself only I'm Prime Minister now, and I'm going to claim your services on expenses.'
'You can't do that,' I say. 'It's immmoral.'

Mrs Pumphrey fixes me with a beady eye.
'You are assuming that chickens have morals,' she says. 'And that is a very dangerous thing to do.'

So I make Mrs P a mug of cocoa because I don't want to go to bed with holes in my knee caps.

And there we go. No need to sit up all night waiting for the results to come in. Mrs Pumphrey is the new Prime Minister and it sounds like she's already on top of things. And however you voted today (you did vote, didn't you?) , just be thankful you won't wake up in the morning with a goat called Percy tethered to your washing line.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

One Hundred Thousand Big Ones

Andy came home from work yesterday (like he does) and he said, 'I HAVE A PLAN!' (I write his words in capital letters not because Andy was shouting, well, he was a bit, but because he was excited and I want to convey his excitement without resorting to 'Excitivision TV -for all your exciting television needs.)

'What is your plan?' said I. I thought, we need a plan, because I've had a bit of a narky, aimless day.

'Right,' said Andy. 'Here is the plan. It is a business plan.' He would have done well at my previous school of employment, I thought, where we were Business and Enterprise status, which led to some very tenuous links on the old lesson plans I can tell you. (Once, when I was teaching 'Romeo and Juliet' (the play, not two students called the aforesaid names), it was suggested by the member of senior management who was observing me, that I could link my lesson to business and enterprise by telling the students they could get a package holiday to Verona to see Juliet's balcony. Hmmm...needless to say I didn't heed his advice, nor did I say that actually, Dave, (coz that was his name) no balcony was mentioned in the original script by W.Shakespeare esq., merely a garden. I didn't want him to think I was a pretentious know-it-all.)

'Are you paying attention?' said Andy.
'Yes,' I said, laying aside my washing up gloves, for I was washing up at the time.
'It's a great plan,' said Andy. 'I'm very excited about it.'
'Continue, mon brave,' I said.

'We go to a bank and say we want some money because we are going to buy a bed and breakfast property from which we can run courses in self-sufficiency slash arts and crafts skills slash chicken slash bee keeping and other stuff like that,' said Andy. 'And we can provide conference facilities for outside speakers and you can run educational courses and creative writing retreats and bake cakes...'
'And you will be...' I interjected
'Mine host!' said Andy. 'And running the make a sausage slash hedgerow wine slash elementary carpentry courses.' To his credit, mine host did not mention running sci-fi conferences but I suspect they hover somewhere on the periphery of his keen business mind.

Now, I have to say I, too, was very excited about this business plan. So much so that I have spent a lot of today mulling ideas over in my mind and, more importantly, trying to work out how much extra money we shall need to acquire slash borrow slash steal. I reckon one hundred thousand should do it. Which sounds daunting in some ways, yet oddly achievable in others because I think that once you become driven by a plan, anything is achievable. Also, we have some savings already so we are, actually just over ten per cent of our way towards the target. Plus the two five pound notes I found last week. Minus the thirty pounds I spent yesterday on buying two of the cutest little dresses you've ever seen for Granddaughter Kayleigh who is now 7 weeks and two days old and weighing 11lbs 4 oz.

I said to Andy when he came home from work this evening (like he does) and whilst he was eyeing the vegetarian chilli sans carne with a modicum of suspicion, 'I reckon we'll need one hundred thousand pounds.'
'For what?' said he.

Oh, how quickly they forget, these mine hosts.

'For our business plan,' I said.
'Ah, yes!' said Andy. 'So how are we going to get this money?'
'Well, ' I said, 'if we stop buying newspapers, that'll save £5.50 a week. Which is £286 a year.'
'That'll take us a smidge under 350 years, then,' said Andy, who is sometimes a little too quick in the Maths department for his own safety.

'Obviously we'll have to work out additional savings plans,' I said.

Which is what I'm working on now.

For there must be a way. There must.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bank Holiday Malarkey

I am glad it is a bank holiday today, because no way was I going to work when I woke this morning. I had far more important things to do than educate the young, who, quite frankly, often don't realise how lucky they are to have a free education.

For a start, Andy and I had to get the back garden ready for Bee-Hive Number One (the hive will be given a witty and topical name once I can think of one). The back garden has been looking a right old tip, so some heavy duty tidying was called for, so that once our hive is sited we won't do any unnecessary bee enraging by having to move it once the colony is settled. Also, I had a pile of summer bulbs to put in - gladioli and irises. The chickens came and helped dig the bulb bed; Mrs Miggins indulging in the sport of extreme digging i.e clambering atop the fork for prime worm viewing position.

It's surprising what can be achieved in three hours. The weather threatened to spoil our fun a couple of times, but we held out and managed to create the illusion of more space than we've actually got by the time lunch started calling.

'It looks okay now, doesn't it?' said Andy, standing back to admire our handy work.
'Indeed,' I agreed. 'But now I am pooped so am going inside for a Bank Holiday afternoon slump.'

And so far this afternoon I have caught up with some letter writing, nearly finished another book by my new favourite writer, Marina Lewycka, read a bit more about bees, and drawn a plan of how I imagine our dream-house-and-garden-smallholding-combo to look. I have tidied out my knicker drawer, and am about to continue sewing the picture I started when Kayleigh was born which is for her nursery and if I carry on at the rate I am going with it so far, she'll be able to hang it on her wall when she is about 13 years old and drooling over some vacuous, floppy-haired boy-band.

And then I am going to scour my cookery books for some good vegetarian recipes that in no way, shape or form involve tofu. Have you ever eaten tofu? Can I suggest you don't? You might just as well eat slivers of bath sponge dipped in a soapy water solution. Yuk! I believe tofu is derived from soya bean curd, and to be honest, the words 'soya' and 'curd' in the same sentence should be enough to put anyone off trying this poor excuse for a meat substitute. It's supposed to be tasteless and will therefore take on the flavour of whatever else you soak it in or cook it with. Well, all I can say is that the stuff we had last night in our Chinese takeway must have been soaked in molten playdough. Double yuk!

And this evening I am off out with Mrs Pumphrey to do some last minute canvassing before the election on Thursday. She wants to kiss some babies and I have to be on hand with the beak muffler. The latest polls suggest she is in with a good chance of becoming Prime Minister, thank goodness, because she can't do any more harm than the current shower, can she?

Although she did call Tango Pete a fascist gigolo the other day. And abusing your electorate is never a good idea. Is it, Gordon?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Stairway to Henven

So Andy spent yesterday after crafting a genuine artisan, rustic- type ladder for the new chicken penthouse.

'There,' he said, placing it against the platform upon which the Eglu pod is now perched, I mean, securely attached. 'Now all we need to do is get the girls used to going up and down it. What does Hugh F-W say about the issue of enticing chickens up ladders?'

'He says,' I said, because I have consulted Hugh's book upon the matter, 'that it might take them a week to get used to using the ladder, that we might need to physically place them up on the platform each night for a few days and that food is a good bribery tool. And that Mrs Miggins said that appropriate food will be hors d'oeuvres or those little French fancy cakes.'

'Mrs Miggins can think again,' said Andy, and he scattered some layers pellets up the ladder. He looked around the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. 'Now, what I need is a decoy.'

He spied Mrs Miggins. 'Come on, Miggo,' he said, 'you can be the pioneer ladder climber.'

So he caught Miggins, who is the tamest and most catcheable, and placed her on top of the platform. Mrs Miggins stood there, looking down. Then she looked at the Eglu. Then she went inside the Eglu. Clucked a bit. Realised she wasn't going to suffer from altitude sickness (nose bleeds, dizziness, oxygen deprivation etc), and came out again to admire the view.

By this time, Mrs Pumphrey had appeared at the bottom of the ladder.
'What are you doing up there?' she called.
'He put me up here,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Him. Over there. The one with handfuls of splinters gleaned from crafting a chicken ladder.'
'Waste of time if you ask me,' said Mrs Pumphrey, and in one vertical take-off leap, jumped straight onto the platform, by-passing the ladder. She stood and admired the view.
'It's taller up here, isn't it?' she said.
'Yes,' said Miggins.
'And Mrs Slocombe looks somehow smaller,' said Pumphrey.
'That'll be perspective,' said Mrs Miggins, who did GCSE Art at evening school.

Within twenty minutes all three hens had jumped up and down from the platform several times. The ladder was roundly ignored. Miggins and Pumphrey had both made one attempt each to walk down the ladder, but when that attempt had resulted in something akin to the extreme sport of ladder skidding/ surfing they went back to jumping.

'I think they'll be okay going to bed tonight,' I said. 'We clearly have highly intelligent hens.'
'Hmmmm...' said Andy.

So, as night fell, we ventured into the garden to check that the hens were safely installed in the pod. The hens were safely installed under the platform against what remained of the eucalyptus stump.

'Good grief,' said Andy. He went into the run, picked up Miggins and put her on the platform. Into the pod she went. Mrs Pumphrey soon followed. Mrs Slocombe looked confused, but then she is mad. Then she flung herself onto the platform and she, too, retired for the evening.

And today they jumped down from the platform, and at some point all three of them jumped back up to lay eggs because there were three eggs in the nest box when we checked on our return from Bee-Keeping Part 4.

A week to get used to the change? Ha! What does Hugh know? Week-smeek!

Additional news 1)- Bee-Keeping Part 4 went very well today. No bee handling, because it was hissing it down with rain, but much interesting learning took place.
Additional news 2) Grand-daughter Kayleigh pooped on my trouser leg last night and it went right through the fabric and turned my leg a funny shade of yellow. Pretty impressive for a not-quite seven week old, I reckon. She is also doing little smiles which is enough to make a Granny's heart melt.
Additional news 3) - I continue to be 100% vegetarian; Andy is running at about 80% on account of a full-English breakfast times two when he was on a course in Swindon at the beginning of the week. And some sweet and sour chicken balls. But that could just be the way he is sitting.
Additional news 4) - The author would like to know if there is ANYONE OUT THERE? PLEASE??? She is beginning to worry, due to lack of comments for ages, that she is losing her entertaining writing touch. Just wave your hand if you are still reading...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Lucky Stars?

Now here's a funny thing. You know how spontaneous acts of luck rarely pass my way? I'm not complaining, you understand, because I know how fortunate my life is in many, many other ways - I am blessed with a happy, healthy family, a nice home, a job, a good brain and the capacity to enjoy my life in lots of fulfilling ways. (And chickens, says Mrs Miggins. Don't forget the chickens. As if, I say.) No, I'm talking about little spots of unexpected good fortune. Like finding a five pound note on the pavement. And then finding ANOTHER five pound note the next day on a different pavement. And then being gifted a huge sack of onions by a kindly neighbour.

You may have gathered that these three spots of fortune have all happened to me in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, on my walk home from work, I found a fiver. No-one around, looking like they were searching for a lost fiver. And then, this morning, when Andy and I were on a first thing in the morning dash to town to run some errands, I found another fiver on the pavement, again with no-one else in sight.

And then, on popping out to the recycle bin with some recyclables just after lunch, our neighbour across the road dashed over and said, 'Do you use onions? Only I've got two sacks and we'll never get through them all.' So, because I do use a lot of onions, especially now we are being vegetarian, I accepted the gift with a grateful smile.

I can't help thinking how odd is this sequence of events? There must be a reason for it. The only thing I can think is that I've been given the title of an international best seller - 'Two Lost Fivers and a Sack of Spare Onions.' So if I do NaNoWriMo again this year, that's the title sorted.

Anyway, the rest of the morning has been filled with running errands and buying bee-suits and cot beds.

Here is me in my bee suit. It's very comfy. Light-weight, many pockets, many zips, much velcro. I did start to write this blog whilst wearing my bee suit, but the gloves kept getting in the way of the keyboard. We've had to order Andy's bee suit as his size was out of stock. Norman of the bee farm phoned to say that Andy's suit would be three weeks in arriving. 'That's okay,' I said. 'We're not collecting our bees until the end of this month, so we've got a few weeks to spare. And I've got my bee suit, so I can always wade in as the Lone Bee Keeper, and Andy can watch from the safety of the kitchen window.'

'Or he can just run very fast,' said Norman. And we had a bit of a fellow beekeeper jolly laugh moment.
And after the purchase of bee suit and bee gloves, we zipped across the countryside to the retail park and Grandad Andy bought Baby Kayleigh a cot bed. It's a very nice cot bed a la sleigh bed style. And after it has been used as a cot, then a junior bed, it can be converted into a little sofa! With underneath storage space. AND the brochure declared it to be 'a lovely piece of furniture that will become an heirloom for generations to come.' So I suspect, that once I start shrinking in height (as ladies are wont to do when they grow more aged) the cot bed will come back my way for use in my dotage when my children consign me to a shed at the bottom of the garden. Good job we got a foam mattress, then. I understand they are easy to wash.

Now I was under the impression that this here cot bed would need to be ordered for home delivery a couple of weeks later, given that it is a hefty piece of furniture. But no. Andy paid, and the cashier said, 'Just wait over there and the cot and mattress will be brought out for you.' Andy said, 'I'd better go and rearrange the car then,' on account of the fact that not only had we been and bought a bee suit and gloves, we had also done a dash around Wilkos for a bag of bits and bobs and another dash round Sainsbugs for four more bags of bits and bobs, and Andy had done a dash around Pets at Home for cat litter the day before, sacks of which were still in the car and therefore space was at a premium.

The cot and mattress were huge. But we got them in the car, along with all the other stuff we'd amassed. Hurrah for the people carrier, I thought as we trundled home. And the cot and mattress are even larger now they are stacked in our hallway, preventing access to the stairs.

So there we are. Another busy Saturday morning. This afternoon Andy is out in the garden putting the finishing touches to the newly revised Cluckinghen Palace penthouse suite, I am faffing around in a bee suit but I shall be making jammy flapjacks any moment now. The chickens are still arguing about the whole ladder leading up to their pod thing. But I reckon they'll be okay when they feel the blunt end of my welly boot nudging up their derriere.