Monday, 28 June 2010

Desperately Seeking George

When I studied for my anatomy and physiology qualification I had to learn all the names of the skeletal and muscle structures in the human body which was a fairly mammoth task. And in order to help me get the names and positions into my head, I enlisted the help of George.

George was a strange creature; half bone, half muscle, he hung on the back of my dining room door in all his five feet ten 3-D cardboard glory, and every time I passed him by I would prod him, shouting things like 'Trapezius!' or 'Phalanges' or 'Sterno-cleido mastoid!' at him, which, bless him, he took no offence to and never punched me back once.

If I shut my eyes I can still see his rictus grin, and the way his right femur dangled awkwardly after a particularly nasty altercation with my then cat, Moose. And there came a time when George could stand the prodding and poking, the flexing and stretching no longer. His cardboard started to thin and shred, his rigid 3-D structure to droop and sag, and his general posture clung to the door in an ever-desperate attempt to stay upright. Like most blokes do with age, I suppose.

And so I passed my exam and poor George was consigned to the great rubbish bin in the sky.

But now I have a career purpose (not a porpoise, that would be silly), and I need to brush up on my anatomy, can I find a George II? Can I heck! I've trawled the interwebbly, Amazon and E-bay in search of a George II. And you have to be VERY careful what you type into search engines in order to track down a half-skeleton, half-muscle 3-D cardboard anatomy model, believe me. One can find oneself heading towards some very suspect websites if one isn't very, very conscientious of one's vocabulary.

I can find full-sized skeletons (mostly from Germany which is rather odd), bitsof skeleton, small skeletons, toy skeletons, skeletons in the form of fabric suits which you wear on Hallowe'en and jump out of cupboards and scare people with. I can find models of hearts, eyes, knees, feet and, very alarmingly, willies. I can find books and posters by the score. But I've got loads of anatomy books, and pictures galore.

It's a George I want.

Will I ever find one? I wish I could remember where I found George I. I know he came flat-packed and I had to put him together which was a challenge in itself, because some of those tabs were very tricky to manipulate. Perhaps he came from IKEA? Oh stop it, Denise, you idiot. You see, that's what happens when you spend all day standing in a classroom with no ventilation feeling resentful at having to teach children who are all using the excuse at the moment that 'it's too hot to work.'

Ha! They never needed excessive heat to stop 'em working before!

I could make my own George II, I suppose. Cut up some posters, stick them to cardboard and then assemble into a a 3-D marvel of all that is beautiful in the human body. And up in the loft I have a set of Victorian anatomy books. They are very detailed AND have pop-up sections which I understand was quite risque in Victoria's day. I'm sure I read somewhere she frowned on all things pop-up unless they popped up in private, of course.

Right, I'm off to rest my poor over-heated brain before I do any more damage to my blog. We're nearly at post 500! Don't want to spoil things before we get there, do we??


I am up early this morning. Well, I'm up early most mornings because if I dawdle, the hens kick off and stamp on any eggs they may have inadvertently laid over night, and then I have sticky- egg-mess clearing duties to add to all the other first-thing-in-the-morning malarkey that goes on here.

But the reason I am up really early this morning is because I got about three hours sleep last night because some people in our road decided to have a slanging match in the wee small hours, and because it was stifling hot we had all the upstairs windows open so heard every effing word.

And yes there was a lot of swearing. One man's girlfriend wouldn't let him back into the flat (the house I am talking about has been divided into two 'flatlets' which is ridiculous because if you ask me, that couple need as much space to get away from each other as possible) because he was effing drunk. Then his effing interfering neighbour, who lives in the other flatlet, came out and said the reason his effing girlfriend wasn't letting him in was because he was behaving like an effing c*** and if he was to shut the eff up she'd let him effing in and they'd all be able to get some effing sleep. Oh, and if he didn't effing shut up, he'd make him effing shut up because he'd got to go to effing work in the morning, unlike some effing people.

Well quite, I thought. And as it was all getting louder and more heated and phrases like' beat you up', ' knock your effing lights out' and 'shut up you b******, you know nothing about my effing life' were making their way into the equation, I dragged myself, bleary eyed to the phone and called the police.

Well, I can only think the police had put on extra patrols to cope with the wild celebrations of England getting through to the next round of the World Cup (ahahahahahahahahahahaaaa!!!) because, I kid you not, within three minutes of my call, two squad cars arrived, one from either end of the street, as thought they had been having a competition to see who could get there first.

Of course, about a minute after I'd made the call, everything went quiet on the effing front. Typical, I thought, so I hung around downstairs in my jimjams in case the police wanted to arrest me for wasting their time. Luckily, the police knew exactly which house to go to, and there was a lengthy discussion with much flashing of torches about 'what's been going on here then?' and 'it's okay, officer. Bit of a contretemps, don't you know, but we're all hunky dory now.'

After fifteen minutes, everyone went away. Needless to say, I couldn't get back to sleep and now have huge bags under my eyes to show for it.

Yesterday, Andy and I were out and about in the bottom end of the county of Kent, We travelled through some very pretty villages and surrounding areas, untouched by the concrete hand of John Prescott. So, of course, when we got home, we were on the interwebbly looking at property prices in those areas and being pleasantly surprised that we could make a move there if we so wanted to.

Now what I want to know is this - do you get effing ruckuses/ ruckusi in the middle of the night in these lovely little villages? And if you do, do the police get there within 3 minutes to sort them out?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Bits and Pieces

Today, we added a super to the hive. After a week of hot weather, where the bees have been busy from six in the morning to gone nine at night, I had my suspicions that when we did our hive inspection today, we would find the brood box full to bursting and indeed we did!

From 10,000 bees four weeks ago, I reckon we are nearly up to complete capacity, nearing 40-50,000 bees. So we added a super and will be agog with anticipation until next weekend when we can have a peep at how productive the ladies have been with the super. They are certainly working very hard indeed. Oh, and we saw a baby bee being born today, which is just the most exciting thing and weirdly cute, too.

On another stingy insect note, Pandora and Phoebe both managed to get stung by the same wasp this afternoon. I was in the garden hanging out washing, when I heard a nasty buzzing. I thought, hang on, that can't be a Malarkey bee pestering me, surely? I'm far away from their hive, and even in this heat they are being remarkably placid - we managed to do the hive inspection sans smoker today, which is just as well because it went out within 5 minutes of being lit. The buzzing didn't stop, so I thought I'd step inside a while until the wasp, for that's what it was, buzzed off.

Unfortunately, said wasp persisted in following me into the house, then out of the house, then back into the house as I leapt in and out of the back door like a loon trying to maintain an air of calm so as to avoid being stung. And even more unfortunately, Pandora decided to help by pouncing on the wasp, catching it between her paws where it promptly stung her on her kitten cheek. And then, as she rushed off not quite knowing what to do with herself, Phoebe wandered into the fray and got stung on the paw. Tybalt came to have a go, too, but lucky for him he isn't hard enough. By now, my inner calm had given way to outer shrieking which brought Leane and Kayleigh, who were visiting, into the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about.

'Into my writing room,' I yelled, which is where all the cats had dashed towards in varying amounts of pain, and I bundled them both, and me, into safety, slamming the door behind us and leaving Andy in the kitchen to deal with the intruder.

There was a bit of shouting, and then the shouting stopped so I opened the door a crack.
'Has it gone?' I called.
'No!' Andy resumed the shouting. I felt I ought to go and assist so I dashed through the door and between us, we managed to manouevre the wasp behind the kitchen blind and out of the window.

Phew! Andy then had to nip to his surgery to get some medication for Pandora and Phoebe, and my dislike of wasps grew even more, because now I am fretting there is a renegade mob of them holding out in a nest somewhere waiting to rob the Malarkey bees of their honey stores in the Autumn.

But I shall be there, ready to defend our bees in whatever way I can. Although I suspect the cats will be way, way behind me.

Meanwhile, beans and tomatoes are growing flowers, as are the potatoes. I think we'll be having a lettuce glut in a couple of weeks' time. And Mrs Slocombe's lady-bits are now where they should be and she's been welcomed back into the flock by Mrs Pumphrey towering over her, wings akimbo, and saying, 'Just watch it, you!'

On the 'Denise's New Career Plan' front, I have purchased two pairs of uniform trousers (wide leg linen jobbies to allow for comfort and felxibility), and three relaxation CDs. I listened to one of them this morning, and it went okay until someone started singing, or rather chanting in a 'umm, diddle, ummmmmmm, ummmmm,' way. Which I wasn't keen on, because personally, if I was having an aromatherapy massage, or reflexology treatment, any ummmm diddle umming would tick me off something chronic. I hope the other two CDs prove devoid of the human voice.

I have been reading a 'How to Set Up An Holistic Therapy Business' book, which is fascinating, exciting and a little bit scary. I have found three courses to sign up to, and it seems I can register with the Federation of Holistic Therapists because of the qualifications I have already.

And now I am trying to think of a name for my business. I have three so far - The Poppy Field, Forget-Me-Not and Daisy Daisy. There's a bit of theme happening here vis a vis one of my favourite things of all time (flowers, people; come on keep up!), but I'll bide a while for some divine inspiration before I get the business cards and leaflets printed.

Busy weekend so far. Hope yours is busy too, in the most satisfying, productive and non-waspy knid of way.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Grace came bursting into my classroom at lunchtime today, in floods of tears. I'd already had a lot of lunchtimes interruptions, mainly Year 10's wanting to dump their bags and mobile phones with me to look after whilst they went to one of their GCSE Science module exams. Oh yes, and to borrow pens/pencils/rulers etc.

A thousand times I said, 'So you knew you had an exam today and it didn't occur to you to bring a pen/pencil/ruler into school with you?'
And a thousand times I was met with a blank stare, a shrug and a 'So have you got a biro I could borrow, or what?'

And 'borrow' is a word that is used in the loosest possible sense of the word, because of all the writing implements I've lent out, not one has been returned. WH Smiths is making a fortune out of me.

Hey ho, back to Grace.

'Grab a chair, and come and tell me what's happened,' I said.
'NO ONE BELIEVES ME,' wailed Grace. She clutched her bag to her chest and slumped into the chair.
'Tell me what happened,' I said.


'Hang on,' I said. 'Slow up and take the volume down a notch.'

Grace took a deep breath and wiped her nose up her sleeve.

'We were in PE and we were doing a timed relay thing,' she said. I nodded, because I know exactly what a timed relay thing is, don't I?
'And I was timing my friend Sadie, only she's not my friend any more. And I said 'GO!' and then I noticed that my stopwatch wasn't working, so I shouted 'STOP!STOP! but she didn't stop, she kept running, so I shouted after her, 'Are you f**king deaf or something, and now she's slagging me off to everyone saying I was horrid to her.'

I took a deep breath. I know Sadie. She is in my form.
'Grace,' I began, 'you know that Sadie does have a hearing problem, don't you? And that she's waiting for an operation on her ear.'
'Yeah, course I do. She's my friend,' said Grace. 'And I was right, wasn't I? She is f**king deaf.'

What could I do? What could I say? There were merits to both sides of this story, and besides, I know full well that Year 8 girls who fall out with each other one day, are best buddies the next.

'Okay,' I said, deciding on damage limitation. 'Tell me something good that's happened this week.'

Grace, tears still trickling down her face, thought for a moment and then said, 'I took a dog for a walk.'

Not exactly the response I was expecting.

'That's nice,' I said. 'Is it your dog or someone else's?'
'It's a neighbours. I'm walking it for her because she's on holiday,' said Grace.
'For extra pocket money?' I said, because I am becoming increasingly aware that many young people will only do something for someone else if there is something in it for them i.e cold hard cash.
'No,' said Grace, 'I'm doing it because I want to. I don't want the money.'

With my heart feeling slightly warmer, I said, 'So what kind of dog is it?'
'One of those labradors,' said Grace. 'You know, the black and white spotty ones.'
'I think you'll find that's a dalmation,' I said.
'Yes,' said Grace.

So I gave Grace two stars on her star chart, for being a kind person, and she left my classroom feeling a lot happier than when she entered.

A gang of Year 10 girls appeared. 'Can we leave our bags in your room whilst we do our exam?' they said. Feeling the warm glow of benevolence I said they could.
As the last girl left, and I wished her luck, she paused at the doorway.

'Have you got a pen I could borrow?' she said.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Chicken's Bottoms

Mrs Slocombe has been confined in a solitary way to the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace (The Garden Room aka the revamped bunny hutch) because she has what Mrs Miggins had last year, which is a bit of a prolapse of her lady-bits.

Luckily, her lady-bits problem isn't as severe as was Mrs Miggins', which, as you know, required the donning of the latex glove and the sticking of the finger where, quite frankly, a human being shouldn't have to stick a finger, ever.

'You should have been on the other end,' says Miggins.
'I think not,' says I.

Anyway, having cleaned up and sorted out Mrs S on the Sunday, when I thought with a sinking heart, 'Oh, oh, here we go again,' we thought it best to keep her separate from Miggo and Pumphrey, especially as the sight of a bit of fresh blood brought out the vampire in Pumphrey. So Mrs Slocombe has been recouperating in her own accommodation, and her lady-bits have shown a gradual but pleasing improvement.

'How is Mrs Slocombe today?' Andy asks each morning, as 'tis me who goes out on chicken duties first thing.
'She savaged me,' I say.
'Ah, good,' says the Vet.
'Not for me,' I say. But I've got used to chickens and their excitable breakfast beaks of a morning. And as long as Mrs Slocombe is being over-enthusiastic with the pecking, it means she's not on death's door.

Today, I get home and pop into the garden to do a livestock check aka chat to a chicken and admire the bees. I take out some apple for my girls; Mrs Slocombe is nowhere to be seen.

Immediately, I think I am going to find a deceased chicken, feet up to heaven at the back of the garden.

But no! Mrs Slocombe is on the job, so to speak. She's in the bunny hutch and she gives me a bit of a look when I open the door. She bucks the advice of the hen keeping books which states that hens lay their eggs before 11 a.m. 95% of Mrs Slocombe's eggs are laid in the afternoon. I put this down to her being mad.

'I've brought you some apple,' I say.
'Leave it there,' says Slocombe. 'I'll eat it whilst I'm waiting for the egg to pop.'
'Won't it give you hiccups?' I say. I mean, I know what happens to me when I bolt down a peanut butter and cucumber wrap whilst running around trying to write a cohesive lesson objective on the whiteboard for the Year 8's.
'Possibly,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'But you won't mind a figure-of-eight egg, will you?'
'Oh no,' I say. 'I'm just glad you are feeling better.'
'Did I say I was feeling better?' says Slocombe. 'Just because I am wolfing down this apple, doesn't mean I am feeling better.'
'Right,' I say. I take this as my queue to leave her to it.

So there you go. More chicken angst. But that's what happens when you are responsible for animals. If it's not the cats, it's the chickens and if it's not the chickens, it's the bees.

Except the bees are still being very good at the mo. And I'm guessing by the activity on the front of the hive today that we have a darn sight more bees than the 10,000 we started off with three weeks ago. Queen Mildred has been very busy.

And heaven help me if SHE ever gets a problem with her lady-bits.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Today's blog is brought to you by 'A Heavy Dose of Irony', sponsored by 'Sarcasm can be Good for the Soul in Certain Circumstances.'

You will be thrilled to know that today I was observed teaching my horrid Year 10's and declared to be an outstanding teacher.

How comforting, indeed, to know that I have risen from the grade of 'Unsatisfactory' to 'Outstanding' in the space of barely six months! Oh, but if it wasn't for the tireless ministrations of certain members of the SMT and certain 'educational consultants' I would never have hoped to achieve such dizzying success in such a short space of time.

('Scuse me whilst I choke on my insincerity. Note to self: DO NOT buy a lottery ticket this weekend.)

Oh yes, there was much gushing! Such a difficult group! Such focus! Such energy! Such dedication to treating each and every one of those little treasures with the individuality they deserved! Every Child Matters, and all that jazz.

They are so motivated to improve their work, aren't they? What amazing respect those students have for you! What a wonderful atmosphere of learning you have created! Well done! Congratulations! Have a large some of money! (The last bit was brought to you by 'A Large Dose of Wishful Thinking.)

Ah well. Too little, too late. There comes a point in one's life where one refuses to be treated in certain ways any longer. And this time is it. Au revoir teaching.

And...I have made a decision about my future. I am going to continue my training as an alternative therapist and start my own business. That's it. After a mini-epiphanal moment at the weekend where I scared Andy half to death by finding a farm project in Wales costing a mere £600,000 and insisting that we should 'go for it!' sanity prevailed and I am going to focus on gaining qualifications in reflexology, aromatherapy, Indian Head Massage and diet and nutrition to add to my anatomy and physionomy and therapeutic massage qualifications, and set myself up as a self-employed bod, trying to do my bit to ease fellow human beings from the stress of modern day living.

And as my own boss, rest assured I shall be a harder task master on myself than ANY one in education has been. But at least I shall be human enough to give credit where it's due.

And if I don't I shall sack myself!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Andy Bee-keeper

Andy has AT LAST got his bee-suit. This means he can now join me in the weekly bee inspection, thereby increasing the risk of sting by 100%.

The weather was looking a bit iffy, yesterday. Iffy and bloomin' cold, so we decided against opening the hive, waiting with fingers crossed, hoping there would be a window of better weather today.

And there was! So we donned our bee-suits and stepped into the garden looking like a pair of urban spacemen. We didn't need the smoker. The bees were happy and humming and in and out of the hive with mucho pollen including the most vibrant orangey-red I have ever seen. Lord knows where they are gathering that from, so I think a pollen chart might be in order to satisfy my ever-increasing bee curiosity.

Inside the hive, the bees had drawn out another 2 frames of stores. We've been giving them extra feed this week 1) because the weather has been very chilly 2) we are in the middle of the June gap and 3) it's good to help a new nucleus build themselves up, which they are doing very nicely, thank you.

We saw larva, eggs and baby bees. We saw Queen Mildred, waddling around, and being attended to by her retinue. We saw drones and capped brood, stores and pollen. We saw bees cleaning out cells in the middle frames ready for Queen M to do her egg laying thing again. Next week I reckon we'll be able to take out the dummy board and add the last frame of foundation and then we'll be keeping an eye open on progress to make sure we add a super at the right time.

Andy was especially pleased to have seen eggs. In the final week or so of our bee-keeping course, he was having trouble seeing the larva. I know what he means when he says you have to see something for yourself in order to know exactly what it is you are supposed to be looking for.

'Look!' I kept saying. 'There's some larvae.'
'Where?' said Andy.
'There! Those pearly white, curly 'C' shaped things,' said I.

It took Andy a while to spot some. It turned out they were a lot bigger than he was expecting them to be.
'You mean those big, fat maggot things?' said Andy.
'Yes, the big fat maggot things,' I said.
'Ooooh...I see!' said Andy. 'And the eggs?'
'Like little threads of cotton standing bolt upright in the bottom of the cell,' I said.

It took Andy a while to see what he wasn't expecting to see. But eventually he did! And so now we are two bee-keepers who have a gentle, if slightly insane grip on what we are supposed to be doing.

And now we are waiting for some varroa mesh to arrive in order to complete the top-bar hive.

So, any bees out there requiring a low maintenance des-res please apply to: Much Malarkey Manor. Available soon.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

In Which The Writer Ponders More Ideas For Her Post-Teaching Career

I can't remember which day it was this week when I came home pooped and had to lie prone on the living room carpet for half an hour and stare at the ceiling just to get over the day, but whatever day it was I caught the tail end of 'The Hairy Bikers' on TV.

Now, I like the Hairy Bikers. I like their joie de vivre when it comes to food; I like the way they will cook anything and try anything, and bake cakes in odd places like half way up a mountain on a camping stove. And I like the fact they have scant regard for the Healthy Eating Police. As such, I suspect they will both live until they are ninety something, and around the time of their demise, scientists will discover that, actually, butter has health giving properties to arteries because the fat keeps them supply and smooth-running. Or something.

Anyway, I caught the tail-end of the programme. They were in Wales. I'm still drawn to Wales when it comes to finding a final settling place for the Manor. I recently had a flirt with Suffolk, because my friend Janet found a sweet little cottage there with a fair old dollop of garden, which she forwarded me the details for.

But the Hairy Bikers were in Wales - Camarthenshire, to be precise, which is where we have been centering our searches. And they visited a goat farmer, who kept a herd especially for the purpose of making cheese. I like goat cheese. I don't like sheep cheese. I tried some sheep cheese when we were on holiday and, quite frankly, I'd rather eat washing up liquid. But goat cheese is good. And this lady and her husband had moved from Kent because 'there's more grass in Wales.'

'I'm not surprised,' I said to the TV, because I am prone to talk to it when there's no-one else in the house. 'After John Prescott's attempts to concrete over the entire green belt of Kent, I'm amazed we've got even a tussock left here to share amongst ourselves.'

But the verdant pasture in Wales is due, of course, to the ample rain. In fact, most of my memories of Wales are rain-sodden, but I don't mind that because at least it's warm rain, unlike say Scotland, which is rain-sodden but cold. I can do wet and warm, but not wet and cold.

And, as every potential self-sufficiencee knows, the most important element you need if you are going to keep chickens and goats and sheep and cows and the such-like, is grass. And plenty of it. And, of course, the rain helps with the veggie growing, even more important when one is a vegetarian.

I've been vegetarian for over two months now! Which brings me to a potential problem vis a vis keeping goats for making cheese. Because in order to produce milk to make cheese, mummy goats need to have baby goats. Which is okay if the baby goats are baby girl goats because then they can go on to produce milk themselves. But what about the boy goats? Well, you keep two or three for breeding purposes (hence the phrase 'You old goat'), but the rest of the baby boy goats are surplus to requirements and what happens to them? They often get destroyed within minutes of being born. What a life. No life...

...unless you have an outlet for turning them into goat meat. Which is very good, so I've heard. Lean, tasty and versatile. But this is irrelevant information for us vegetarian types. You see, I stand by my feeling that, no matter how good a life you give an animal before you slaughter it for food, no matter how you dress the notion up with words like 'compassion' and 'respect', you are still going to finish off a life by electrocuting it, and then slitting its throat.

Where's the respect in that?

Maybe I've been reading too much about the art of Zen Buddhism recently? I don't know...

Anyway, the boy goat thing could be a potential problem.

But I like goats. There is something endearing about them. And this is where part of my Post-Teaching Career Plan comes into play. A few miles up the road, on the outskirts of the village where I grew up, there is a palce called the Buttercup Goat Sanctuary, a registered charity where they take in abandoned goats of any age, shape or size. And sometimes they have opwn days, and they ask for people to volunteer to look after the goats, because what started several years ago as a small concern has turned into some goatopolis with many, many, MANY residents.

I am going to see if they want a hand from me. I'll have time to spare. And I can learn about the intricacies of goat keeping at the same time.

Just to see if I like them as much as I think I do!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Never Be Beaten by a Naan Bread

Yesterday, as you know, I left the house after my football rant and dashed to Sainsbugs to gather the weekly fodder and catch a lift home with Andy, en route from work. I texted Heather and said that if she wanted a lift home from work, then we would be at Sainsbugs in the next half hour or so etc etc...

I arrived at the supermarket about thirty paces behind Heather, but because I am English and have standards that are far removed from those of the common fish wife, I didn't feel I could yell 'HEATHER!' across the car park in order to attract her attention, so I played wavy arm chase around the supermarket after her instead.

Anyway, I finally caught her in the potted herb section, and we began a leisurely pootle with a trolley, having a bit of a girly gossip as we went. Andy arrived as we were trying to dash through the biscuit section without succumbing to the charms of the chocolate hobnobs. The trolley was pretty full by then because I didn't want to make a return trip for a least a week if I could help it.

And even though we had mucho stuffo, I optimistically said, 'Let's go through the self check-out. Even though the stacking room on the self checkouts is minimal (no conveyor belt, you see) we can pile stuff up on top of each other.'
'Are you sure?' said Andy.
'Yes!' I said. 'We'll get through much quicker than waiting for a cashier.'

Oh famous last words, how they haunt me still.

Firstly, the checkout took a while to accept that we were 'using our own bags.'

But then we got going - Andy unloading the trolley and handing stuff to me, the blipper, and I blipped and handed stuff to Heather who stacked it into our bags.

'Make sure you bang things into the bag firmly,' I said. 'Or the weight checker will play up and not recognise I've blipped something. This I have learned from previous experience. You have to slam dunk your shopping if you want to avoid having to stop, start, stop, start all the time.

'What, even the trifle?' said Heather.
'Even the trifle,' I said firmly. 'After all, what harm can you do to a trifle if you slam dunk it? It's pretty mushy already.'

We were making good progress until the man on the checkout next to us placed his coat in our bagging area.
'Unexpected item in bagging area,' said the checkout.
I glared at the man with the stray coat. He was oblivious to the fact he'd stopped our shopping.
I tapped my foot and grumbled a bit. The man moved on, taking his coat with him. The Sainsbugs lady got our shopping rolling again.

And then we had a problem with a naan bread. It was a reduced naan bread - pack of four, with coriander, reduced to less than half price. Handy for the freezer, I thought.

I swiped the bar code. No blip. I swiped again. And again. And againandagainandagainandagain.
Blipless. Okay. I can always enter the barcode, I thought.
But Andy wanted to have a blip first. He was convinced he could make it blip. I still had a few bits to put through so carried on, whilst Andy leapt in occasionally to try and take the naan bread by surprise. But eventually all that remained was the naan.

'I'll enter the barcode,' said Andy, who by now was feeling quite proprietorial over said naan.

The bar code was about 600 digits long. And you have to enter it within a certain amount of time or you get timed out. We tried about 8 times to get this bloomin' naan through the checkout. At least. And sometimes, just to add an extra frisson of tension, something would shift on our overloaded bagging area and the checkout voice would say, 'please wait for assistance. Unexpected item in bagging area.'

By now I was at screaming pitch. 'No there isn't!' I was nearly yelling, completely forgetting I wasn't a common fish wife. 'You know exactly what's in the bagging area. There is nothing new. Pay attention to the naan bread.'

We had attracted the attention of a checkout helper.
'Isn't there a rule that says once we've tried to enter a barcode three times, we get the item for free?' I asked, a tad hysterically.
'Ahahahahahahaha!' said checkout helper.
'Let's leave it,' said Andy. Heather nodded in agreement. Both were hungry for dinner. But I was hungry for victory.
'Nooooooooooo!' said I. 'I refuse to be beaten by a naan bread.' (I may have sworn a little bit at this point.'

I flexed my fingers. I almost knew the barcode by heart. I had a time limit to beat. I was ready. Here I go...


'YES!!!!!' we all shouted, as the naan blipped. It was ours!! We did a celebratory dance. Quite a few people stared. I didn't care.

So the moral of this story? The value of a naan bread lies not in its monetary value, but in the amount of human tenacity it takes to get the flippin' thing to go through a supermarket self checkout.

It's a well known Zen Buddist philosophy. Honest!


There's a certain amount of blagging that goes on during Parents' Evenings. Take today, for example. Time to tell the Year 7 mums and dads what I thought of their various off-spring and the progress they are making in English.

Big smiles! Chirpy cheerful demeanour. Handshakes! How are you? Lovely to meet you!

Etc, etc...

And part of the blagging involves, unfortunately, the bending of the truth. In the case of this evening...

'Will you be teaching Carly/Jake/ Molly/ Katie/Tamara/ Ben next year?' asked many parents. 'Only they like you. They think you are a good teacher. They are making progress with you.'

Ah, I'm thinking. Because I haven't told my students I am leaving. It pays not to, because then they stop bothering about their work because they feel you can't be bothered with them. And trying to explain to them that it isn't them you can't be bothered with, it's the stupid red-tape, bureaucracy, educational advisors who know nothing about today's students in the classroom, senior management who chip away at your confidence - well, it just doesn't work. Best just to slip away in the summer and let them pick up a fresh start in the fresh year with a fresh teacher, no tears.

So I said, 'Oh, the timetable hasn't been settled yet.' Which is true, because it hasn't. No lies.

And thus I survived the evening - two and a half hours of non-stop chat, ploughing my way through 21 sets of parents. And just as I was about to leave, another parent stopped me.

'It is you!' she said. And it was, because I am.

The parent was the mother of a boy whom I taught at my last school, a boy who had been in my tutor group for 5 years, so I knew the parent pretty well. And her youngest son goes to my current school.

'So, you work here now!' she continued. 'That's encouraging!'

So I blagged a bit more, asked after my ex-student, who, by all accounts, still needs a rocket up his backside to get him motivated to do anything.

And then I came home. Pooped. But happy that, despite what my Headteacher says, and despite what the witch queen of a so-called education advisor says in their random lessons observations, I am a good teacher because my students say so, and their parents are happy with the service I am providing. And they are the ones who really matter.

And now I'm going to have a hot shower to wash away the day, and come back and tell you about the struggle I had yesterday with a naan bread.

Which will be far more entertaining.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The 'F' Word

Well, I suppose I had to mention at it some point. Football. Bl***y football, with all its tacky polythene bunting and flags and hooligans and vuvuzazooma horns or whatever those noisy monstrosities are called that are affecting the delicate sensitivities of mine ear.

Honestly, as I was tromping my way home through a particularly undesirable area yesterday, you'd think the Queen was having another Jubilee. Flags of Saint George flapping from upstair windows, plastic bunting strung from door to door to lamp-post to gate-post. I have no objection to shows of patriotism generally - indeed, I am as proud of England as the next woman, and can get quite narky when people slate our country - but as I walked through this ostentatious show of 'Look At Us - Aren't We Great?' I couldn't help but think it was a bit sad that these same people couldn't get the bunting out for Saint George's Day, or during the Olympics, or Wimbledon, or any other event that celebrates what a great country our England is.

No, it takes football to get people excited. Shame.

But not me! Oh no! I don't watch football. I couldn't even tell you, for example, who won any of the many matches that dominated the TV airtime today. And I don't care, either. I know nothing about football except that it is played by teams of 11 over-paid men, who spit a lot and roll around on the grass like toddlers when they think they've been treated unfairly or they are trying to exploit the off-side rule. Is that right? The off-side rule? Something to do with scoring whilst someone else is in the wrong place? Sounds typical footballer behaviour to me; why they should need a special rule about it is beyond my comprehension. Proper manners and a sense of social propriety, that's all they need.

(You may have gathered by now that I am having a rant! It might not be good for the blood pressure, but it don't half make me type quick. I can knock out a blog in twice the normal time when I'm ranting, which is just as well because, if I want a lift home from Andy on his way home from work, I need to high-tail it to the shops PDQ to gather provisions.)

Where was I? Ah yes. Football. I don't get it. I don't get why thousands of people want to buy cheap beer, crisps, pizza and icecream, and sit in front of their tellies watching gane after game of something which, let's face it, looks pretty much the same whoever is playing. Kick, kick, kick, tackle, fall over, roll about, whistle, kick, wave a flag, blow a doo-dah horn, game over....DULL!

AND...can you tell me this? On BBC this evening, the football starts at 7 p.m and finishes at 10 p.m. Three hours. One hundred and eighty minutes. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but each half of a football match is 45 minutes. 45 x 2 = 90. Plus 15 minutes when they all get to go into the changing rooms and suck oranges. Which equals 105 minutes. What are the BBC doing with the other 75 minutes, that's what I want to know? Have they got a deal with Walkers Crisps in that if the viewers spend enough time staring at Gary Lineker they will suddenly think, 'Cor, I could really do with a packet of crisps' ?

Ha! And don't give me that 'extra time' malarkey for an excuse. If these teams are the so-called 'best in the world' they should achieve a definitive win during their allotted playing time, shouldn't they? Get it sorted out quickly and efficiently, and certainly none of this 'going to a penalty shoot-out.' What rubbish!! In fact, they might just as well save another hour or so and just line up a load of balls and get them to kick them into the goal at the start. First one to ten wins. No, make that first one to five and then the BEEB could fill in with an episode of 'The Darling Buds of May' or 'Jam and Jerusalem' to appease the long-suffering football phobics amongst us.

Anyway, I'm not really bothered about the TV being packed with football. I gave up watching Eastenders two and a half years ago now, so am no longer enraged when episodes are moved to make way for pointless sporting tournaments.

And besides, if I can find the right sort of wool in the loft later, I am planning to knit a rabbit this evening.

Who needs to watch football when you can be more gainfully employed knitting rabbits?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


I have, in recent weeks, purchased various craft books including one about knitting fairytale characters, one about fabric painting in various guises (batik, silk screen, marbling...oh, do you remember marbling? One of those magical primary school experiences where you get to blob oil paints in water, add a dash of washing up liquid and then, after a gentle swirl, swoop a sheet of blotting paper across the surface and get all excited, turning the paper over to see what pattern you've ended up with), one about tea cosies and one about quilting. And now, because the Year 11's have left school, and I'm back in the swing of teaching (just in time to leave, oh the irony!), I've got a bit of evening time back again to indulge in doing some arty-crafty stuff.

The thing is, where to start? And what to do with my arty-crafty creations? I thought, I could make Christmas presents. There's a lovely idea for padded silk photo frames in one of the books. But do people like, nay appreciate, home-crafted Christmas pressies? My friend, Sarah, always pitches up at Christmas time with some sort of cakey creation. Always well-received. And we made our own Christmas cards last year which were also well-received; either that, or we've got some very polite friends and family who know how sensitive Andy and I are, and that rejection of our hand-crafted stationery would cause huge emotional distress. (And just in case anyone who received one of our chicken Chrsitmas cards feels like now would be a good time to complain about the shoddy workmanship, be warned - Andy is already drafting out Much Malarkey Manor Christmas 2010 cards, this time with a bee theme - 'Stingle Bells' and 'Ding Dong Merrily on Hive' amongst the current favourites.)

I could book up a stall at a Christmas Craft Fayre. When my sister was in remission from her cancer, just a few months before she died, we had a craft stall at a fayre where we sold toys and other arty-crafty stuff we had made (she was a talented artist with a gift for ceramics) to raise money for the hospital unit in London where she was being treated. We had a great time! We also sold out. And raised a nice bit of cash, too.

And given that I am going to be officially unemployed (again!) at the end of August, utilising my craft talent mightn't be a bad idea.

You see, I've come to the conclusion that teaching, for all its aggravations and annoyances, and stressiness and angst, is relatively easy money. From a personal point of view, because it hasn't been my vocation since I left school, it's made me lazy and complacent and because of the current state of the education system in Kent where I am no longer a teacher but a 'learning facilitator', it has stopped me from caring about the art of teaching because you are no longer allowed to be creative. It's knocked the instinct for survival from me, too. The instinct for survival I had to employ when I became a single parent, and EVERY single penny DID count, and I gained a certain pride for being able to budget, and make do and mend and be creative with what I had to make it go further.

There's nothing like sailing close to the wind financially to make you more alive to living.

So, knitting needles out, sewing machine at the ready. I can feel a craft surge coming on!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Top Bar, Top Guy!

Look at this!! LOOK AT THIS!!!! No, it's not a coffin...there have been no murders at Much Malarkey Manor. It's a top bar hive! Andy made it. This weekend. Once he got going, he was like a craftsman possessed. He made it properly. From wood 'n' stuff. With your actually measuring and cutting and planing and swearing like a real carpenter.

And here is Andy, brow furrowed in concentration. I took this photo surrepticiously through the kitchen window whilst he wasn't looking, because if I'd said, 'Andy, pose like you're really, REALLY concentrating on your work,' he'd have pulled a face like Rik Mayall, or done a bizarre impression of Ronnie Corbett.

And here are the Malarkey Bees, headed by Queen Mildred herself, busy bee-ing in and busy bee-ing out at 3.30 on Sunday afternoon. 3.30 seems to be an optimum time for bee returns on a sunny day. I think it's because the sun is shining fully on the hive at this time, and the extra warmth gets 'em going big time.
It was late yesterday evening before I realised I hadn't watched any TV at the weekend. We were so busy! Building hives, gardening, planting up the pots at the front of the Manor with more bee friendly plants, starting off more herbs, giving the hens a good clean out. And then we had a friend to dinner on Saturday, and family to dinner on Sunday, so there was much baking and entertaining to be done on both days. Including a very nice lemon tart, if I do say so myself.
It was great! But then there was nothing on TV over the weekend anyway. Football, did I hear you say? Really? What football would that be then?
Around fifteen children said to me today, 'Did you see the football on Saturday, ma'am?'
'No,' I said. 'I have no interest in football whatsoever. In fact, I didn't watch TV at all this weekend.'
Children stared at me, agog.
'What were you doing then?' they wanted to know.
'Living my life,' I said.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Hives, pianos and another strange dream

Andy is making excellent progress in the building, or should I say 'artisan crafting' of our top bar hive. He is also making excellent progress in retaining all limbs and digits whilst adapting to the workings of his new toy, I mean, circular saw. At this rate, methinks I'll soon be purchasing some lemon grass to entice some swarm of itinerant bees into stopping off and thinking, 'Hmmm, this'll be a good place to live. Smells nice, anyway. Like a fruity Queen Bee.'

And one of them might say, 'It hasn't been furnished very well.'
And another might say, 'That's okay. You know how we like a bit of DIY.'

Anyway, Andy's just gone into the garden now, to do some more sawing after having waited thoughtfully until nearly ten in morning so he doesn't upset the neighbours with his noise. It's very considerate of him, I think, given that the neighbours don't seem to give a sod about keeping their own noise down, lighting barbecues left, right and centre, and having loud out-door parties involving loud drinking, loud screaming from their horrid children, loud barking from their insane dogs and loud swearing from their idiot potty mouths...

Am I ranting? Sorry, I'll stop. Where was I? Ah yes...

I had another weird dream last night. I dreamt we were living in the house we live in now only it had an extension off the back the size of a ballroom. (I know it was a ballroom because it had a very nice wooden floor.) And although we lived in this house, I'd never explored this room before and it was full of all sorts of junk belonging to the previous owner. Who looked a bit like the actor Christopher Casanove. Or possibly Simon Williams. Also, it was one of those rooms that although you know it's inside, it seems outside as well.

The room had what I thought was a massive tree in it. I thought, if I chop that tree down, it'll let more light into the room. I thought, I could get the tree surgeon out who came to get rid of the eucalyptus. And then, when I went to touch the tree, I found it was a giant inflatable Mr Blobby-type figure with seven or eight huge inflatable Barbie heads piled on top. So all I had to do to get rid of this light-blocking monstrosity was deflate it! Simples!! I did it myself there and then, probably saving myself a hypothetical £200.

And along one wall was a series of cupboards, all full of stuff that was of no use to me, but plenty of use to people I knew, so I could give it away and clear out the space. (I already had in mind to turn this extra space into a super-large kitchen.) And then, probably most weirdly, there was a massive (at least 15 feet by 12 feet) limited edition painting of Rupert Bear sailing a midnight-blue ocean in an upturned umbrella. The water looked a bit choppy but I wasn't bothered because I was never much of a Rupert Bear fan. Even as an eight year old I remember thinking what an irritating, precocious ball of bear fur he was. And that he didn't treat his friends very nicely. I always felt he looked down his nose at them. A tag on the picture suggested it would sell for at least £7,000 at auction. That's good, I thought. The money will come in handy for renovations.

So, what to be learned from the weird dream? I hadn't taken any mind altering drugs yesterday, save from the anti-histamine Andy insists I take before doing a hive inspection in case I get stung. (All is well on the hive front; many eggs, many larva, many baby bees, drawing out comb nicely, everyone good tempered, no need to use smoker.)

Well, I think it means that although I have many plans in my head for what to do in the future, I musn't talk myself out of them because I am thinking they will be too difficult to implement. Because it will be easier to move forward with them than I am thinking; I just need to GIVE 'EM A GO!

And that I need to give my current environment a good tidy and redecorate because if you can't love the space you are already in, how are you supposed to love the space you hope to spend the rest of your life in? Contentedness has to come with the present day, not with a dreamed approximation of the future.

And the piano? Well, at breakfast this morning Andy was muttering a tad about the instructions he is following for the top bar hive, stuff about their unnecessary complexity, and occasional confusion.
'You could jot down a more simplified construction method based on your own experience,' I suggested.
'Yes,' said Andy. 'That's what we need to do. Invent our own version of a top bar hive.'
'Very well, ' I said. 'Here is a plan for my own simple top bar hive... gut the deceased piano, put the shell in the garden, invite bees to move in. They'd love it!'

'I bet they would,' said Andy.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Le piano est l'electric keyboard!

Oh dear. The piano tuner visited today. I had to power walk home from school to be back in time for his visit. Half way home I stopped suddenly in my tracks, and thought, 'I shouldn't be power walking. I'm a grandmother, for heaven's sake!'

And I still can't get used to the idea that I'm a granny.

Anyway, got home a few minutes ahead of the piano tuner. He arrived ten minutes early so I barely had time to scrape several months of dust from the keyboard. I gave the keys an experimental bang, in case the threat of being tinkered with by a professional was enough to cure them of their ills, a bit like making a dental appointment suddenly cures a toothache, but no. We were still okay at the bottom end, still okay at the top end, but a deathly thud still emanated from the middle which is, let's face it, where most of the good stuff happens.

I made the piano tuner a cup of tea whilst he dismantled the piano with impressive speed. And when I returned he was squatting before the bowels of the instrument looking puzzled.

'I've never seen anything like this before,' said he.

I peered in the piano. Had something slipped inside inadvertently? A festering cheese sandwich? A dried up fur ball - after all, the cats are very keen on piano sitting. A chicken, maybe? Or a bee?

But no. What he'd never seen before was such a shonky key bed.

'It's warped,' he said. 'Look.' And he dived back into the piano, took some photos on his mobile phone, and reappeared to show me the damage.

Warped wasn't the word. A life on a force ten gale ocean wave was more like it. He went on to explain that keybeds are usually solid wood, but this one was some kind of shonky, flimsy chipboard malarkey. It had sagged in the middle. The centre keys, therefore, had nothing to bounce off but thin air.

'It's a pity,' said Piano Tuner Man, ' because its in very good nick otherwise.'

I bit the bullet. 'How much to get it repaired?' I asked. 'If it's repairable, of course?'

Piano Tuner Man did that sucking-air-through-teeth-thing mechanics and builders do when they are about to drop a financial bombshell.

'Oh, it's repairable,' he said. 'About £500.'

There was a pause.

'Which, to be honest with you,' he continued, 'isn't financially viable. Unless your piano has sentimental value.'

If it did, then suddenly it didn't.
'No,' I said. 'No sentimental value.'

Anyway, Piano Tuner Man was very nice and helpful, offering various options which culminated in a suggestion that I put the piano on e-bay, stating aforesaid damage. 'You might get a hundred quid or so for it,' he said.

And then he left me his card, because not only did he tune and repair pianos, he sold them, too.

I reported the death of the piano to Andy, who, to give him credit, did not blench at the mention of the £500.
'What about an electric keyboard?' he suggested.
'Oh, it's okay,' I said. 'It's a lot of money to spend on the whim of trying to learn the piano properly.'
'Well, maybe if you put your hands together, close your eyes very tightly and say a prayer to the birthday fairy, your whim might be granted in November,' said Andy.

And then he disappeared to start the creation of the top bar hive, which is probably the best thing to do when one's wife is in one of her whim modes.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Top Bee, Top Bar

The best way to keep bees is, we have discovered, via what is called a top bar hive. We have come to this conclusion by progressing through our intensive bee tuition over the last few weeks, and finding out more and more about bees and how they function.

And top bar hives seems the way to go. In fact, if we had known weeks ago what we know now, we would likely have by-passed our National Hive in favour of a top bar. But, as they say, you live and learn. So we have decided Hive Number Two shall be a top bar hive, and Andy is going to handcraft it in his day-off-during-the week time.

Top bar hives look like pig troughs on stilts. They don't need frames, or pre-made wax sheets. They have bars. Along the top. On which bees build their own natural comb in any darn way they like. Ergo they create what suits them best and keeps them happiest. And happy bees are calm bees and healthy bees. And that is what we want in our garden. Honey, if we get it, will be our bonus and not our right.

Obtaining the wood for the top bar has proved rather stressful for Andy. It's at times like this I wish my Dad was still alive, because he was a master carpenter and would be able to sort out what we needed in a flash. But then, as we weave through life and the people we once relied on to ease our path become no more, we have to stand on our own two feet, and make our own decisions. And that is a good thing because it teaches us independence and self-reliance and that we CAN actually do these things ourselves if we try.

So, after a failed mission to one wood merchant, who proved vague and unhelpful, Andy set off for another merchant which, oddly enough, was the one my Dad had his account with for many, many years. And said wood was procured. The wood man was very interested in what Andy was aiming to build, and he wanted to know all about hives. And I think it helps keep the fire of momentum and enthusiasm burning if someone shows an interest in your endeavours.

The next issue is 'to window or not to window.' Because top bar hives are minumum interference, you can fit them with a window that runs along one full side, so you can keep an eye on what's occuring inside without poking about in the intrusive way other styles of hive require.
The trouble is, fitting glass into wood requires 'special equipment' in the form of saws 'n' stuff. To wit, Andy has bought a circular saw, which will give me endless sleepless nights whenever he mentions he's about to use it. Oh, I'm sure he'll be careful, but I'm wondering - should I get some extra large bandages for the first aid kit, just in case?

We want to get the top bar hive sorted pretty quickly in case a swarm comes our way via a 'we- hear-you-are-a-bee-keeper-can-you-come-and-get-a- swarm?' method. The other option is to use it as a 'bait' hive, lacing the entrance with lemon grass, which smells the same as Queen Bee pheremone, apparently. How scientists find out these things I shudder to think. I mean, how ethical, or safe for that matter, is it to go around sniffing bees?

Anyway, Andy now has a project on the go. And my next project? Well, it's going to be learning to play the piano properly. I've got a piano tuner coming out to see if he can save our piano tomorrow afternoon. It might be beyond repair, due wholly to its very neglectful owner i.e me. But I hope not. And you never know - one day I might be able to bang out 'The Flight of the Bumblebee' !

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in a Bush

I'm not sure what this saying means. I think it might mean something along the lines of 'If you've got hold of a bird e.g. a chicken, then potentially, if you are starving, then dinner isn't very far away...

'Oi!' says Miggins. 'Less of that talk, if you please.'

Whereas if you've got birds in a bush, you've got to catch the blighters first if they are to be of any edible assistance to you, and your woes will be compounded if the bush is, for example, of the holly variety and you don't happen to have your best up-to-the-elbow gardening gauntlets with you.

This is all hypothetical to us vegetarian varieties of course, who wouldn't dream of eating a bird. And given that I grasped completely the wrong of the plot stick of last Saturday's Doctor Who, I am probably way off with the Bird in the Hand theory, too.

'I should say so,' says Miggins. 'Is there a chance of some bed-time cocoa and a crumpet?'
'No,' I say. 'I am tucked onto the sofa for the evening, and I'm not providing a supper service for anyone.'

Anyway, the reason I mention the bird in the bush thing it that it appears we have residents in the laurel tree.

Now, the laurel tree used to reside 'neath the now defunct eucalyptus tree. In the shade it remained compact and bijou, certainly no more than about three feet high. But now it has been thrust into full sun, and become the Number One Dominant tree in the garden, it has gone a bit wild vis a vis putting on some hefty growth. Chris reliably informs me that said laurel will put out runners side by side, year after year until I have a laurel hedge. Which will be nice. Depending on how long I have to wait, of course.

The laurel tree (nay, no longer bush) is now about twelve feet high, despite my best ministrations with the lethal shears Mum gave me for Christmas. But it is a lovely thing to look at - all dense and glossy leaved. And then, a couple of weeks ago...

'I can hear humming outside the back door,' said Andy.
'Do you know, I've heard humming outside the back door, too,' said I, because I had.
'I hope it's not wasps,' said Andy, and I agreed because we were about to install our bees and the last thing you want when you've got bees in your back garden is wasps. And bears. And raccoons.

I had a bit of a rummage in the tree. I did don my bee-suit in case I stumbled across a wasp nest, but I couldn't see anything untoward.

And then we noticed, over the ensuing days, that several bumblebees were in and out of the laurel foliage, flying, I must say, with determined purpose.

'Perhaps we've got a bumble nest in there?' I suggested. We were quite pleased at the thought. And there have been masses of bumblebees in the garden this year. (I think I can say my planting of the bee garden last year has been a minor success.)

Then today, I stood and watched as a lady blackbird carted beakful after beakful of straw/ hay/ paper and other nest-building type malarkey into the laurel tree.

'I think we have a pair of blackbirds taking up residence in the laurel tree,' I said to Andy, when he returned home to find me ensconsed in the 'conservatory', bee and birdie watching.

'Look at us! Look at us!!' shouted the chickens, jumping up and down and waving their bonnets in the air. 'We're birds, too! Look at us!!' (Honestly, they are such attention seekers.)

'Perhaps they are up to something with the bumblebees,' said Andy, although what he meant by that I wasn't quite sure.

But I like that we have more residents in the Manor gardens. That some wild creatures have passed by and thought, 'This looks like a good place to make a home. Shall we stay? Yes, let's!'

Blackbirds AND bumbles in the bush. How much that is worth, I wonder?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

I just love it...

... when I arrive home from work, walk up the path, and see bees from our hive spiralling up and over the back gate as they disappear on another foraging adventure.

...when I stand awhile and watch as bees from our hive plunge from the skies back towards their hive, their little back legs shining with pollen bags like over-filled thimbles.

...when I head to the front door and pause a while at the lavender shrub I planted last year, in full bloom now and peppered with (this afternoon) seven bumblebees and a honey bee, bouncing and feasting and having a high old pollen-gathering time.

...when I open the front door, and three cats are sitting on the mat, awaiting my arrival. With a ball for me to throw.

...when I go into the back garden, and the beans and tomatoes have grown another inch since this morning, and the hops have grown another foot since this morning, and the apple tree has put up many baby apples this year, far more than last.

...when I see the hens sitting side by side on their roosting bar, eyes half closed, feathers loose and puffed towards the sun.

...when I open the pent-house suite and find three eggs waiting - one speckled, one brown and one a pearlescent white, and I know exactly which hen laid which.

...when I check the lettuce I planted only four days ago, and see little specks of green emerging like emerald dots in a brown earth sky.

...when I glance at the newly planted bulb border, with shoots already several inches high, and think forward to the time when gladioli and iris jostle their colours for position.

...when I settle down with a cup of tea and remember, with a smile, of the magical time this afternoon when the Headteacher marched into my Year 8 class with an important visitor, just at the point when one of the students responded to my question of 'So why do you think the character we've just read about behaved like that?' with 'Because he's pissed off and he's a twat.'

...when it's all quiet now, no TV, a new book (or two) by my side, and a whole evening of companiable R and R ahead of me, with my hubbie at my side.

May you have moments this week that you just love too!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Atten - tion!

First hive inspection today! Very excited-yet-trying-to-maintain-an-air-of-calm-in-the-face-of many-many- bees.

Weather - check. Hot, sunny and calm.
Equipment - check. Hive tool, smoker, bee brush.
Me -check. Suited, booted and gloved.
Andy - check. Camcorder at the ready.

I do as I am told, and at Andy's request, pop an anti-histamine 'just in case.'

And then off I go. All is calm. Very little smoke needed, which I am pleased about because I want to avoid using the smoker as much as possible. I mean, I don't like having smoke blown in my face, and I bet the bees don't like it either.

Frame one - nothing to be seen. It is a new frame and the bees haven't reached the end of the hive yet.
Frame 2 - a bit of drawn comb on one side, mostly drawn comb on the other.
Frame 3 - mostly drawn out. Eggs! I saw eggs! That means the Queen has been there in the last three days and is laying.
Frame 4 - stores and drone cells. A little bit of brace comb dangling off the bottom. Am I sure it isn't a queen cell? Positive.
Frame 5 - stores, capped cells and - THE QUEEN! I see her! There she is! Waddling across the bottom of the frame, unmistakable. I am sooooooooo glad I've seen her!
Frame 6 - stores and drone cells
Frame 7 - stores, some larva and, I think, more eggs
Frame 8 - the starting of some drawn comb
Frame 9 - Empty
Frame 10 - Empty
Frame 11 - Empty - save for the occasional bee wandering across going, 'Hmmm, this looks nice and empty. Lots of building to be done here.'

Job done, all seems well. I re-assemble the hive. The bees have been doing their stuff well over the past week. Nothing to panic about, although they have almost gone through the contents of the contact feeder, and my instinct is to give them another bucket full, especially as we are in what is called the 'June Gap' where nectar sources tail off momentarily before revving up for summer proper. The nucleus needs a bit of additional help to get it going. But I am happy, and impressed with what they have done so far.

And they seem happy, too!

Meanwhile, Andy had been filming the inspection, giving a running commentary and, bless him, trying not to make an obvious suggestions as I went through the hive, in case I threw a frame full of bees at him.

Indoors, we watched the footage, getting all excited because it managed to catch a brief glimpse of the Queen again. The Queen, in passing, happened to mention her name was Mildred. So Queen Mildred of the Appropolis it is! Very grand, as befitting her Royal status. (I did wonder, as she is an Australian Queen, whether we should call her Edna, but, as Andy pointed out, if she said her name was Mildred, then Mildred it should be.)

And does my bum look big in a bee-suit?

Yes, it does!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Free Cycle Re-Cycle

Have you ever used Free-Cycle? It's amazing! You post what you don't want onto a website, and if someone else wants it, then all they have to do is come and fetch it. No money changes hands, but warm glowy feelings are experienced because you have been frugal and at one with the recycling universe. Less than two days ago, Andy posted the old sofa and an old bike on the Free-Cycle website, and by 8.45 this morning, both of them had been whisked away to new lives, where they will no doubt be made more use of than chez the Manor.

This made Andy feel better about the possibility of taking something from Free-Cycle for ourselves. We are currently on the look-out for some old paving slabs with which to surround the polytunnel. I have grand ideas about filling the paved area up with a variety of pots all stuffed with herbs. But I have to admit that my main raison d'etre is to squish the weeds that really like growing around the polytunnel edges, probably because they love the huge amount of horse poo we dug in earlier in the season.

'It doesn't seem right taking something without donating something in the first place,' said Andy, 'but now we've donated two items, I feel we can have something back,' and because I believe in karma, I agreed with him.

And, of course, it's great to be re-cycling, rather than hoiking stuff down the council tip, which is where the sofa and the bike would have ended their days had they not been snapped up so eagerly-beaverly.

The only danger is that once you enter the world of free-cycling, you start thinking you could use things that you wouldn't have previously given a second glance. It's a bit like e-bay. I had an e-bay evening last night, after several e-bay free months, mostly to look for extra bits of beekeeping equipment. This is because I am convinced I'm going to open our hive for its first inspection this weekend and find umpty-numty queen cells, a potential swarm or two and will need to take evasive action in re-homing the gazzillions of bees that are BOUND to have developed in the last 7 days.

And whilst I was looking for extra supers and other such malarkey, I found a skep.
'Oooh,' I thought. 'That'll be handy for collecting a swarm.'

And then I had a quick look at pretty china plates with flowers on them, novelty egg cups, pictures of bees, pictures of poppies, Pimms jugs (glass only - none to be had), and books in general.

You'll be glad to know my hard-earned cash stayed in my bank account.

'Can you put livestock on Free-Cycle?' asked Mrs Miggins. 'Only I'd like to Free-Cycle Mrs Slocombe.'
'I'm not sure,' I said. 'But I am sure that however annoying you find Mrs S, she is staying put, because I find her wild-eyed lunacy strangely entertaining.'
'But she's had all my bottom fluffage again,' moaned Mrs M.
'Maybe it would help if you didn't sit on her head at night,' I said, having found both Miggo and Pumphrey nesting on top of Mrs Slocombe when I closed up the Penthouse suite yesterday evening. They may have been trying to suffocate her, I don't know for certain, but I am certain I could some feather munching going on.

Well, after a morning sorting out the gardens here at the Manor, (where I saw the Malarkey bees scooting about amongst the bee plant flowers I put in last year - hurrah!) I'm going to sofa slump this afternoon and refresh my memory about how to conduct a hive inspection, in preparation for this weekend. Andy's bee-suit still hasn't arrived so I'll be the lone bee-keeper, with Andy braced on the sidelines with Piriton and camcorder.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Smile, Bees!

Not that I'm becoming obsessed by bees, of course, but on a rather lovely visit to RHS Wisley today, Andy and I spent quite a bit of time amongst the flora stalking bees and trying to get decent photos so we can practise identifying as many different species as possible.
Does this mean we shall soon be wearing matching jumpers a la Harold and Hilda, and finishing each other's sentences?Probably.
Anyway, enjoy our attempt at arty-farty bee photography. There were several that got away.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Universal Confusion

So I thought, I'll pull a Tarot card and see what the Universe says about me applying for this part-time teaching job. And then I thought, I'll just pop on the website and check that I still kind of vaguely want to apply for it in the first place. So I did. And the web-site wanted me to register first before I could apply on-line, so I did, even though I know it's all part of the Big Brother Is Watching You And Collecting Personal Information to Charge You More Tax Government Scam Thing.


I thought, the computer is shouting at me! The computer is DEMANDING I should apply NOW! I am scared!! What if the world does end in 90 minutes? I mean, we've only just got the bees settled in. And what will the chickens say?

'I'll tell you what we'd say,' says Mrs Miggins. 'We'd say we'd be flipping annoyed, because we've got tickets to go and see Michael Buble in concert and Mrs Pumphrey wants to throw her frilly flannelettes in his direction.'
'Surely Bubble?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Buble,' says Mrs Miggins, 'get back to your Sudoku.'

Well, no time to argue, no time to find important information. I had to go for it. Could I remember the exact dates of my employment history? Vaguely. Did I know what my OAN was? Are you mad? I didn't even know what OAN meant. Oranges and 'nanas? Ordinary And Nice? In a 90-minute-and-you're-out-panic I guessed N stood for number, because the job is with the same employer as I am currently with i.e KCC, so I looked on my last salary slip and punched in a number which looked like it might be official. The computer didn't say 'no' so I carried on.

The trickiest bit was 'explain why you are applying for this job.'

Hmmm. Well, 'because I want to earn decent money whilst working as few hours as possible because I want to get back to more writing, growing carrots and communing with bees 'n' hens' didn't sound quite like the kind of things a future employer would be want to hearing. So, because I am a creative writer, I wrote what I knew they WOULD want to hear (it's all political, this job application malarkey), and managed to mention hens and bees at the same time!!

And then, with literally minutes to spare (you can thank me later for preventing the world meeting a sudden and violent end) I sent off the application, but I did remember to check my spelling and grammar first, so that was good.

And then I went to pull a Tarot card.

I pulled 'The Dreamer.'

'Oh great,' I said, to any Ethereal Beings that might have been in the vicinity. 'Now look; if you want me to follow 'The Dreamer' then you are going to have work with me on it. I need to work, as Andy is going part-time from this month. We are going to try and manage on part-time salaries so we can spend more time growing stuff and looking after bees and hens and any other livestock we can squeeze into our available space without the neighbours getting narky. We are trying to move away from the materialistic; I, for example, am going to restrict any future clothes-buying to shoes and pants, and only when I've worn out any previous pairs. But we still have bills to pay, a mortgage to upkeep, savings to squirrel away, so it's all going to be a bit of a fine work/ life balance unless a great wodge of cash-to-buy-a-small-holding/tea-shop/B&B appears...'

I paused at this point, in case the Ethereal Beings chipped in with, 'Yes, yes! Go to the end of the road and you will find a bag of money in the post box/ under the tree in the park/ floating mid-air, just grab it,'.......

...but they didn't.

I sighed. 'Just bear with us unconfident, procrastinating human fools, will you?' I finished. And went to move the sofa from the 'conservatory' because I got Andy an armchair to replace it , as it doesn't take up quite so much room and will be better for his back when he's in slump mode.

'What's up with her?' said one Ethereal Being. Because whatever I might think, they are always listening.
'Life, I expect,' said another.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Half Term Hive Activity

And I'm not talking about bee-hive activity, because rain is tipping down at the moment and bees don't do rain, so the hive is still and quiet, apart from the occasional brave soul who emerges for a peek, and then reverses back in, probably thinking, 'Hmmm, not today thanks. Hurrah for the lovely contact feeder full of sugar solution provided by mine hosts, Lord and Lady Malarkey.'

Bees are very polite, and infinitely sensible when it comes to rain, unlike me who has been trooping in and out to the bin because I am having a spring clean.

Yes, I know it's June, so theoretically Summer, but as us gardeners know, the seasons are three weeks behind themselves this year and so I am still in Spring and that is my excuse. And having been up the allotment for the best part of all yesterday morning, and also being a weirdo keeper of diaries and records, I can confirm that the beans and strawberries are all behind on last year, and the sweetcorn is a WHOLE year and a bit late - because I forgot to plant sweetcorn last year! Aha!

My spring cleaning has been, so far, mostly related to my erstwhile writing room, which has seen little activity in the writing department since I went back to teaching full time in January. This is bad. But given that I am planning to be working only part-time, and the summer hols are a gnat's whisker away, I wanted to spruce up the room and get it ready for action come the third week in July. This is good. Especially as I have started another writing project, a witty tome about being a newbie lady bee-keeper, oddly enough.

Poor writing room has become home to hive building, and as such has accumulated assorted wood-working equipment including a massive work bench which I bang my toes on with alarming frequency every time I try and squeeze past it. So, in a cunning shifty around of various objects, the emptying of cupboards and shelves, the ruthless hoiking out of stuff I forgot I had, ergo don't really need, I have managed to find a hidey hole for the bench, and now all that remains is the fun of seeing if Andy can find it.

Also, I have been up in the loft and done a shifty around of things up there, but only because I am on the look out for some cushion pads, and my aged suitcase of fabrics I have collected across the years, because I am of the urge to be all arty-crafty, and one must go with urges or else run the risk of being nagged by the Ethereal Beings who are trying their darndest to guide you through life, because invariably urges are part of the Universe trying to tell you something of Great Importance.

(I apologise for the length and dodgy grammar of that last sentence - it was very unwieldy, but I'm not going to edit it, as I feel it conveys the sense of fairly organised mayhem, and boundless energy that surrounds me today.)

And talking of Ethereal Beings, I'm now off to do a quick Tarot reading for myself, because I am umming and ahhing about applying for that part-time teaching job. And the deadline is tomorrow, at noon. (Which in itself sounds rather ominous.)

Do I, don't I? Shall I, shan't I?

Lord only knows.