Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Honours

Mrs Pumphrey, when in full throttle, can cover a fair bit of ground in a very short space of time. And sometimes she can go through doors without opening them. Which is what happened this morning.

There I was, in the kitchen, cooking the last piece of meat I shall ever cook in my life(more of this later), when Mrs P comes crashing through the back door, full of end of year excitement.

'She's got it!!' she shouts. 'Mrs Miggins has got it!!!'

'Got what?' I say. I am thinking, how long do I boil this piece of poor dead gammonny piglet for? Do I really care?? God bless its little piggy soul.

'Oooh, it's so exciting,' continues Mrs Pumphrey. 'I knew she'd get it one day and she has.'

'Well,' I say, thinking of all the flu that is doing the rounds at the moment, 'if she will go outside in little more than a flimsy cardi and no tights, she'd bound to get it, isn't she?'

'What are you talking about?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Bird flu,' I say. 'What are YOU talking about?' I say.
'This!' says Mrs Pumphrey. And she waves a newspaper at me.

I squint, mostly because I've had to remove my specs because they keep misting up with the steam from the boiling poor dead gammonny piglet.

'What is it?' I say.
'This week's copy of 'Cocks and Hens,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Look at page 3.'
'Do I have to?' I say, because the last time I looked at page 3 of 'Cocks and Hens' mine eyes were assaulted by a full-frontal shot of Tango Pete wearing little more than a big beaky smile and a feather duster. At least, I think it was a feather duster.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Read the New Year's Honours List.'

I sit at the kitchen table and open the paper. And there, on page 3, under the list entitled CBE , is the name -'Mrs Laetitia Miggins, for services to egg-laying and comedy, sometimes both at the same time.'

'Mrs Miggins has been made a CBE!' I say.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'A Chicken of the British Empire!'

So, back to the poor dead gammony piglet. I've made a decision following something Andy said over Christmas which, in hindsight, he made regret. We were watching an episode of 'Celebrity Come Dine With Me,' where one of the celebs, don't ask me who coz I've never heard of her, cooked some lamb for her guests despite being a vegetarian herself. Andy thought this was a no-no. He said that if she was a proper vegetarian she should make her guests eat veggie food; she certainly shouldn't be cooking meat for them.

I, having an unusually liberal moment, suggested perhaps she was merely being a good hostess and accommodating her guests' as a good hostess should i.e by putting them first. No, said Andy. If you're a veggie, you don't even cook meat.

And I thought, he's right. Up to now I have still cooked meat for my family (including a rather spectacular goose, God rest its soul, on Christmas Day) because I thought I shouldn't inflict my personal ethics on them, but now I am thinking, no more cooking meat. So if anyone chez the Manor wants dead animal to eat, from here on in they are going to have to cook it themselves.

Including sausages.

And finally, a warm welcome to the Much Malarkey Manor blog to Deanna. Lovely to see in the New Year with a Smiley New Face.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Book of Days

I do like a diary. As you know, because blogging is a type of diary. But this year I have gone for a 'Book of Days', rather than my usual pretty-cover-but-blank-notebook-to-fill-in-randomly-but-sometimes-forget-especially-when-I've-had-a-rubbish-day effort.

A Book of Days is more like an inspirational journal, with ideas about how to make changes in your world, achieve your dreams, and live a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling life. Nowhere in the Book of Days will it say, 'Go on an extravagant shopping spree', or 'Get together with your mates for a good gossip session about your weird neighbours,' or 'Run five miles before breakfast, then treat yourself to half a grapefruit and a glass of wheatgrass. ' (Thank goodness!!)

So yesterday I turned to January. At the start of each month there is a page split into four headings - a mantra, a 'set your intention', something to practice and a project.

Thus for January the mantra is 'Follow Your Passion'. Well, that'd be writing then. And getting my holistic therapy practice up and running. Can I have two passions? Does cake count? What will people think if I start following cake? 'There she goes - the inevitable had to happen at some point. This time next year she'll look like Jabba the Hut.' Best not follow the passion of cake then...

Set your intention is: 'I'm uncovering the talents and desires that will make 2011 my most memorable year. Book of Days will keep me pointed in the direction of my passion.' Coo. My most memorable year, eh? There's a double edged sword if ever I saw one. And a cliche. Still, I think it means I need to keep my Book of Days to hand and make sure I refer to it every day to stop me being distracted from my passions towards more mundane things like ironing and watching DIY SOS.

My something to practice is 'The Passion Quiz.' This is where I came a tad unstuck, and I'm glad I've given myself a couple of day's head start, because if this was January 1st I'd be in a wild panic by now. The quiz required me to complete the following:
1) I'm proudest of...
2) I most value...
3) My ideal day is...
4) My greatest strengths are...
5) Not many people know I...
6) I feel destined to...
7) If I had £5 million I would...

Well, I didn't have any trouble completing numbers 1,2,3,4 and 7. But numbers 5 and 6 remain blank, and those answers, plus a rush of hot flushes, kept me awake most of last night. Is it because I really know the answers but I don't want to commit them to paper? Possibly, with regard to number 5. I mean, would you admit to people you've got piles? But my destiny? Oo-err. Really stuck on that one. Suggestions on a postcard please. (If I was 14, I'd say my destiny was to marry Adam Ant; or if I was being anagrammatic I'd say my density was a lettuce.)

The rest of the quiz involved making three columns entitled a) '20 things I want to be' b)20 things I want to do' and c)'20 things I want to have'. I managed 2 things for a), 1 thing for b) and 2 things for c). So a bit of work to do there then.

And the January project it to 'Assemble a Bliss-o-rama'. To surround myself with sensory input that inspires me - images, sounds, objects, flowers etc etc. Well, that's do-able, because I like our home to be aesthetically pleasing anyway. Unlike my father who, typically builder-like, covered everything with woodchip and magnolia and got narky if anyone stuck picture pins into his fresh plaster work. But I could work on my writing/ therapy room as it currently looks like a post Christmas bomb site at the mo. With an electronic piano sitting pride of place in the middle.

Oh yes! With the demise of the traditional piano, lovely hubbie Andy got me a full-sized piano keyboard for Christmas. So one thing I want to do see b) above, is learn to play the piano properly this year.

So there we are. The Book of Days. A big, slightly scary but ultimately exciting project for 2011.

('Is that anything like our Bok of Days?' says Mrs Miggins.
'Probably,' I say. 'Only slightly less noisy.')

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Into the Fog and Mist

Snow and ice replaced by freezing fog today. We took ourselves off into town to foist more books on the charity shops and play a spot of 'is there anything worth buying in the sales?' And get a hair-do. Me, not Andy. For some reason, my hair has been especially speedy in its growth this last month and a half and, on reviewing the Christmas Day video clips, I was appalled at the way my roots were sparkling in the light of the fluorescent kitchen light. So they needed sorting tout de suite.

As it was, there were plenty of bargains to be had in the sales, namely posh toiletries and titivating fripperies that I wouldn't normally splash the cash on because the splash would be too big. But many half price bargains to be had, so had them I did! I shall be beautifully smooth, soft and scented until June at least.

In the main shopping centre I overheard this conversation outside Hotel Chocolat, the chocolate shop that sells chocolate (the clue is in the name):

Man: Do you think they do coffee in there?
Woman: Well, it's a chocolate shop innit?
Man: Is it?
Woman: I think they do just chocolate...
Man: Really?
Woman: Yeah.
Man: Oh.

I took myself off to Waterstones for some immediate cerebral respite.

Heather has declared all sale shoppers to be the sub-scum plebs of an unevolved human race. Rude, demanding and unreasonable has been the general gist of her post-work reports these last three days where the queues have been long and the tempers have been short. Luckily, my girl is made of stern and resilient stuff. She also has sharp elbows and an equally sharp tongue when required. Even so, she has vowed that tomorrow, her day off, shall be spent in bed doing nothing but watching films and eating Ben and Jerry's. Sounds good to me.

In an attempt to regain his pre-Christmas figure, Andy has decided to move more and sit less. This means that in the evenings every half an hour or so he leaps from the sofa and performs a series of bends and stretches, leaps and bounds around the living room. It is infinitely more entertaining than anything TV can provide.

Two days before Christmas we went to see 'The Phaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantom of the Operaaaaaaaaaaaaaa' which was very good, especially as one of Heather's uni friends works backstage, so we got a backstage tour after the show. There was a lot of fog and mist in performance, to add atmosphere and possibly hide the workings of the boat on the stage, and I thought the Phantom would have done better wooing Christine if he hadn't revealed the life-size dummy of her wearing a wedding dress that he was keeping in a cage in his underground cave. From that point he was little more than a stalker. But he sang a good song.

And I really liked the way that, in the scene when the chandelier crashes to the ground, two stage-hands rush forward to catch it. Something to do with Health and Safety regulations in British theatre.

But all in all a good night, given more snow was threatened and we could have ended up being stranded in London, or worse, on a train twixt London and home. As it was, the only delay was caused by someone pulling the emergency cord when they got themselves locked in the train's loo.

A case of into the bog and missed? (Dear Lord, that was laboured...)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Good Day

You know when people ask you how your Christmas Day was, and you generally reply 'Fine thanks,' because it generally was, but really it was like most other days only with presents and excessive food?

Well, this year I can definitely say that Christmas 2010 was one of the best Christmas Days EVER, and this is why...

... there was very much laughter - an important ingredient for any day of the year
...we didn't wake until 7.30 a.m which is previously unheard of in the history of my Christmas experiences, but a far more civilised start to the day which meant I didn't doze off half way through the evening when all the decent TV has started

...Chris and Leane spent the day with us, with baby Kayleigh celebrating her first Christmas by doing sustained 'look-I'm-standing-all-on-my-own' performances in the kitchen
...Kayleigh ate three profiteroles without with the aid of any cutlery - it was messy, it was funny, it was a moment of joyous foodie extravagance and she got away with it because she is a baby!

...we also discovered that Yorkshire puddings are as big as a baby's face

...we made lunch last well over two hours because we stopped between goose and chocolate bombe for a board game. Pudding was enjoyed much more because of this interlude
...I did not succumb to goose, even though it looked bloomin' marvellous. Instead I made a veggie Christmas pie with squash, stilton, cranberries, walnuts and herbs and oooooohhhhh it was delicious and so I don't mind being a vegetarian at Christmas!

... Kayleigh very obligingly took a one hour nap lasting from the start of the Doctor Who Christmas Special to the end of the Doctor Christmas Special - Andy was very relieved

And so I hope that your Christmas Day contained magic moments such as these and was just that little bit more special than a 'Fine, thanks' day.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Slocombe of the Antarctic

'It's no good...I can't stand it any more!! I have to get out...' shouts Captain Bingo Slocombe.
'Don't be stupid, Bingo!' says General Beakslapper Miggins. 'Listen, old chap, it's treacherous out there. I know we've been trapped for four days now, but we've got to sit it out.'
'But I can't breathe! Oh, the claustrophobia!!' yells Cpt Slocombe.
'Would a slap around the beak help you breathe better, Bingo?' says General Miggins.
'Rather unnecessary, don't you think, Captain?' says Corporal Chuffer Pumphrey, ever the peacemaker.
'Too late!' shouts General Miggins, and delivers a swift slap to the twitchy beak of Bingo Slocombe, who responded thusly -'Ouch! Bloomin' ouch, sir!!'

General Miggins sighs and leaves Corporal Pumphrey to administer a bread poultice to Captain Slocombe's slightly pink beak. She turns back to her diary and records the events of the last few days.

'General's Log, 21st December, the Year of Our Lord 1910. Minus 11 here last night, this being the lowest temperature recorded since 1823, so Granny says. Four days trapped in the tent, blizzards raging outside. We've taken in a moose for extra warmth, but food is running short and not a Harrod's delivery boy in sight.
Bingo's starting losing it. Snow blindness and signs of mental incapacity are obvious, which cannot bode well for future generations of her line. Stupid fool stuck her beak through the tent flap this morning and thought she spotted a patch of fresh greenery. The Corporal and I had to pin her down before she did something stupid. Well, more stupid than usual.'

General Miggins looks up. Bingo seems calmer now; she's eaten most of the bread poultice. After tucking Bingo safely into the moose's armpit for extra warmth, Corporal Pumphrey approaches.

'How much longer do you think, sir?' she says.
'Who knows, Corporal, who knows?' says the General. 'Could be days, could be weeks.'
'Unlikely to be back in Blighty for Crimbo then,' says Corporal Pumphrey.
'Doesn't look like it, Chuffer,' says General Miggins. 'But we'll get through this, I know we will. Even though we've only got half a tin of pilchards and three Jacob's crackers left for rations.'
'Share a pipe and a waffle?' says Chuffer.
'Don't mind if I do,' says General Miggins.

A companionable silence falls across the tent; an uncompanionable fug settles in the air as Beakslapper and Chuffer share a companionable pipe of Old Harry's Rough But Smooth.

They don't see Captain Bingo Slocombe emerge from the moose's armpit and look around. They don't hear her commando crawl along the side of the tent and open the flap a smidge to look out into the blinding white landscape that has surrounded them for over a week now.

'There!' whispers Bingo to herself. 'I was right. There is a patch of greenery out there. Grass and moss if I'm not mistaken. If I could get over to it, I could bring it back, share it with the other chaps. A spot of salad to go with the pilchards...'

She looks around. The General and the Corporal are deep in conversation, something about hanging tin foil balls from the moose's antlers as a substitute Christmas tree. She edges closer to the tent flap and recces the scene. Slip through the flap, jump onto the wheelbarrow handle, then fling herself across the patch of snow and under the garden table to that temptingly delicious patch of green.

'I may be gone some time,' she whispers, though none hear her. And she is gone.

But not for long, as it was. I saw this black feathery object fling itself across the snow from the door of the greenhouse in one graceless bound, having launched itself from the wheelbarrow handle which was parked conveniently just outside the greenhouse, and I saw the black feathery object land under the garden table where it spent five minutes smugly eating some ratty looking grass, before realising it was flipping cold and she'd rather be back inside the greenhouse with the other girls but her path was barred by a snow drift and no way was she strutting herself through that.

So Andy went outside and after a little to and fro dodging game, rugby-tackled Mrs S and deposited her back in the greenhouse.

I wonder what Bingo would have thought of that.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Fat Hens Part Two

'We, the aforementioned 'fat hens', wish it to be known that we are NOT fat, merely fluffy. Furthermore, we should like to distance ourselves from this ridiculous letter writing malarkey. Finally, we should like to finish by saying, 'Fat hen? Ha! Look who's talking? Pot, kettle and black we think. Other than that, Happy Christmas, One and All.'

July - We wrote and illustrated our first book. Three major publishing houses entered a bidding war for the right to publish but we declined their kind offers - we write for the love of the craft, not for material gain or world-wide recognition of our literary talents.

By August, the pineapples were ready for harvesting. What a successful experiment! Of course, the addition of the palm house to the back garden may have helped them on their way. Next year we're thinking coconuts. Our allotment venture continues apace and we're glad to say the minor issue with our allotment neighbour about the positioning of a compost tumbler and support wire for the grapevine, which resulted in the summoning of the police, ended in a verbal warning and the surrender of two kilos of pink fir apple potatoes, a bunch of cornflowers and a lollo rosso. Our grand-daughter proves herself genius material by passing her Maths GCSE with a 'B' grade.

With Christmas just around the corner, we set about preparing for the festivities with gusto. The end of September saw presents brought and wrapped, cards made (yes, busy though we are, we craft our own Christmas greetings - makes you wanna be sick, doesn't it??), goose ordered, and decorations down from the attic, dusted and ready to deck the halls. Well, it pays to be organised, doesn't it? Just in case of snow...

A busy October for Andy, this being his month for Autumn foraging. We can barely get near the kitchen for all the fruits, berries, greenery and dubious looking fungi he brings home to pickle, bottle, preserve, or brew. What larks! Only one bottle of wine exploded this year; luckily we whizzed through casualty in under five hours and the doctor said the damage to Andy's hearing should be minimal.

Decided to host a combined Hallowe'en/ Bonfire Night Extravaganza which went very well despite the gate-crashers from the local primary school. Good news arrived from NetWork South East informing us that the next part of the high speed rail link will not, after all, be passing within six feet of our front door...phew!

And so, here we are, in December with Christmas once more on the door step. It hardly seems 365 days since last Christmas. But don't worry - we're already stocking up on news to fill next year's fat hen letter! Andy is booked up an evening class called 'The Philosophy of the Trumpet' and I'm in training for the Rome to Home Skateboard Challenge. Looks like 2011 will be just as busy as 2010.

Until next year - Happy Christmas and All That Crazy New Year Jazz!!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Round Robin, Fat Chicken

What do you think of round robin letters? You know, the kind of newsy 'this-is-what-we've-been-up-to-this-year-it's-so-fascinating' additions to Christmas cards you receive from people you don't see from one end of the year to the other, or in one case, one decade to another.

Well, we've had a couple this year. I've been threatening for the last three or four years to do one for us, but Andy always stops me, citing madness and boredom as two reasons I shouldn't inflict our tedious little lives on our innocent friends, relatives and passing acquaintances. But I figure that as I've been writing a blog for nearly two and a half years which has done EXACTLY that, he can't really stop me now. So here is my effort, tongue-in-cheek of course, for 2010.

Dear All,

Due to a lack of round robins in our garden this December, I've had to re-format this letter as a 'fat chicken' as we have plenty of those kicking about. I've had to buy larger envelopes but I'm sure you won't mind coughing up the extra postage if needs be.

Firstly, I hope you are all well, and 2010 has been kind to you. Of course, you won't have had HALF the excitement that Andy and myself have experienced this year, but I guess we can't all be thusly blessed, can we?

In January, we entered the Winter Luge Championships in Flangerhangerinnustribrucht, Finland. There was an awkward moment when neither of us found we could fit into our Lycra/ Elastine mix all-in-one bodysuits, due to over indulgence at Christmas (who'd have thought it???!!), but the officials were very good and allowed us to enter attired in bin bags. Despite the extra wind drag caused by flapping plastic, we still managed to knock 8.7 seconds off the World Record, beating Cameroon into second place, which annoyed them greatly.

February brought snow and litter of piglets to the Manor. Andy was all for eating them, especially when he found that if he squinted they looked like a string of chipolata sausages, but being vegetarian I refused to have anything to do with his dastardly plan, and suggested instead we train them as a porcine husky team for the 2011 Winter Sledge Championships in Flangerhangerinnustribrucht, Finland. Andy agreed, but I still count the piggies every day to make sure every single sixteen of them is safe and sound.

In March we became grandparents! Yes, hard to believe I know, unbetrayed as we are by our youthful good looks, but a delightful grand-daughter is now part of our lives. She's growing so fast! Quicker than a Jerusalem artichoke, and that's saying something. The sleepless nights, colicky screaming and indiscrimate farting are now over, and Andy is almost as well-behaved as the baby! If only the persistent dribbling on my new sofa throws would stop...

April. Quite frankly, the least said about April, especially the 1st, and the so-called 'practical joke' involving a potato, an exhaust pipe and an extremely rare 1923 accordian, the better. Suffice to say that Andy is now on four types of medication for his blood pressure and I have early onset middle age piles.

Auntie Carole came to stay in May. It was almost two weeks before Andy and I realised that neither of us has an Auntie Carole, by which time she'd redecorated the spare bedroom in a nautical theme and installed a parrot with personal body space issues. Bribing the local magistrate with a dozen jars of chilli jam has hastened the issue of an eviction notice and I'm looking forward to getting to work on scraping parrot poop from the skirting boards very soon.

June was warm enough for Andy and I to take a holiday in the Upper Nadgers. It's something we've been promising ourselves having always been confined to the Lower Nadgers in previous years, and a small win on the Lottery allowed our dream to come true. The day with the Old Arkle of Pipe Abroad was very enlightening, almost spiritual; an experience we shall remember for ever. Or a couple of months at least...

...Part Two of the Fat Chicken Letter tomorrow. Because I don't know about you, but this is doing my head in!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Dress Rehearsal

The time to make mistakes in a dramatic performance is during dress rehearsal. That's the point of a dress rehearsal, and having produced numerous pantomimes and a couple of musicals and plays, I have always encouraged the performers to cock-up big time during this final run rather than cock-up in front of a ticket-paying audience and making me look a complete nurk because we all know the buck stops with the producer.

It is with trepidation then, that I am asked to sit in on the hens' dress rehearsal for their Nativity play. My sense of trepidation increases when I notice the funny look haunting the eyes of the three camels who've been hired to carry the Three Kings, or, as I have since discovered, the Two Kings plus a Grand Vizier.

'What's up with the camels?' I ask Mrs Miggins, as I nestle my nadgers on a bale of straw.
'Oh, some triviality to do with their contract,' says Miggins. 'They maintain they were hired to carry kings, not Grand Viziers and they're kicking off big-time about extra dates.'
'Performance?' I say. I think, I'm not sure I can cope with more than one performance of this Nativity.
'To eat,' says Miggins. 'Mrs Pumphrey says we shoudn't capitulate because dates give them wind.'
'And you say?' I say.
'Leave it to the lawyers,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Personally, I can't see the difference between a king and a Grand Vizier except the head gear. maybe, and a slightly bigger moustache.'

I nod in agreement.
'Vizier schmizier,' I say.

'Anyway,' says Mrs Miggins, 'what I would like you to do is tick off the items on this list as the dress rehearsal proceeds.' And she hands me a clipboard, topped with a festive piece of holly.
'Okay,' I say.
'And if you could keep an eye on the donkey I'd be grateful,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Only he has a habit of wandering off after he's deposited the Virgin Mary, and leaving enormous poops right next to the manger. And somehow it doesn't seem right to have the Baby Cheeses emerging from a cloud of dung-related steam.'
'Don't you mean Baby Jesus?' I say.
'What did I say?' says Miggins.
'Baby Cheeses,' I say.
'Are you sure?' says Miggins. 'Only that's a very old joke.'
'I know,' I say.

I can only assume the pressure of performance is getting to Mrs Miggins and making her forgetful. I know how she feels. Three years ago, during the dress rehearsal for 'We Will Rock You', I found myself having to leg it to the local builders' merchant to procure half-a-dozen yellow safety helmets for a dance routine because I'd forgotten to get them sooner. I nearly died running up a very steep hill back to school. And were the students grateful? Were they chocolate aardvark.

I digress. From the moment Mrs Pumphrey emerged from the wheelie bin, resplendent in white chiffon, tulle and organza, I was transfixed by the entire performance. Even the camels behaved.

Unfortunately, nothing went wrong. All was perfect. Which leaves me somewhat anxious for the actual, real and proper performance next week. I am almost tempted to suggest to Mrs M that they do another dress rehearsal, just to make sure all cock-ups are dragged out from their hiding places and banished forever and for good.

But I shan't spoil the fun for you by giving away the plot. (What am I saying????)

Maybe say a little prayer to the Baby Cheeses for next week? Just in case?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Pandora Tree

Pandora is doing her darndest to do a daily de-nude of the Christmas Tree, which is now installed in the newly minimalistic living room. In a cunning plan to thwart her de-nuding efforts, I have covered the tree with tinkly sleigh bells, which act like a festive alarm if the kitten goes anywhere near them. Unfortunately, in an equally cunning double bluff, it is these very jingle bells that she finds the most attractive.

Now last year, when Pandora was merely a kitten of 8 months old, if she wanted something from the Christmas Tree she would fling herself at it with wild abandon, and execute a totally brazen grab and run assault, with not an ounce of finesse. But then that's youngsters for you.

But this year, now she is a teen kitten of 20 months old, she has develop a certain feline wile. Or guile.

(I have to say at this moment that I had a brain-dead moment about how to spell 'wile' so I asked Andy, who confirmed my w...i...l...e suspicions. Unfortunately, I chose to enhance my question with a gesture - I gesture a lot when I am talking - and now Heather and Andy are taking the very unseasonal mick out of me because they said I looked like a squid.)

Anyway, ignoring the lower life forms in the room, back to the wily kitten. She now sits on the back of the sofa just out of swiping distance of the tree. And then she does a series of extravagant padding motions a la 'I'm going to settle down now for sleepy-bye-byes.' But, and here is the cunning wile part, she gradually pads her way towards the tree and then stretches out her paw in a sleepy yawny kind of way and hey presto!! 'Oh look, I have accidentally got a jingle bell stuck to my paw; I shall now run off to the kitchen with it and bat it around until it disappears 'neath the freezer, and you won't find it until, oh, this time next year when you pull the freezer out to defrost it for Christmas goodies.'

And then she might add,' And I'll shove half a dozen biros and some dried pasta shapes under there as well.'

So I am attempting to train Pandora to stay away from the tree, mainly for the good of her own health in that I won't feel so murderous towards her if she keeps her distance.

My training involves:
1) shouting 'Pandora! Leave that b****y tree alone before I throttle you!'
2) aiming cushions in her direction with the aim of startling her away from the tree and not into it, whereby she looks at me with glee and says, 'Ha! That idea backfired, didn't it?'
3) saying plaintively, 'Andeeeeeeeeey, can you make Pandora move away from the tree pleeeeeeeezeeeeeeeeeeeeeee??????????????'
4) shutting the living room door so she can't get at the tree at all, whereby she rewards me by scratching the paint off the newly decorated door
5) reasoning with her by saying, 'Pandora, you are not a teeny kitten any more. You are a grown, sensible puss cat, like Tybalt and Phoebe. If Tybalt and Phoebe can leave the tree alone, so can you. To wit she replies, 'That's only because Phoebe is too old to hoist herself into the tree, and Tybalt does de-nude the tree, only he's very good at re-decorating it before you notice his wanton act of vandalism.'
6) sighing loudly, and saying in a resigned voice - 'Well, don't come running to me if you eat too many pine needles and end up perforating your oesophagus.'

Blimey, I hope she's calmed down for next Christmas. And don't even get me started on the baby who's worked out how to lift the carpet bar between the living room and the hall, and prefers this activity to playing with the myraid of toys I've bought her.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Artistic Differences

I have called a conference because I am having a mini Christmas crisis vis a vis what to have as a table decoration this year. There aren't many things that phase me about Christmas but the things that generally cause me angst every year are 1) Christmas cards 2) wrapping paper and 3) how to dress the dinner table. Number 1 is now solved in that we make our own cards, Number 2 was solved for this year because I found a load of paper left over from last year and thought, 'Hmmmm, this is okay, but 3) the dinner table is still there, haunting me in the wee small hours and changing colour scheme every time I think I'm drifting off to nighty bye-bye land.

Time for some assistance.

'What's the problem and what food are you going to give us to help you solve it?' asks Mrs Miggins, ever the practical one. It is her third birthday today and she is looking pretty fabulous now her feathers have grown back after her November moult. She looks like a cross between Rita Hayworth and that hen that Gonzo Muppet always used to hang around with.

'I have waffles from the Christmas Market,' I say, 'and honey roasted cashews and a yard of Jaffa cakes.'
'Well, there's your answer,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Put the yard of Jaffa cakes down the middle of the table. Should reach from one end to the other without a problem. Balance a row of conkers on top for extra effect.'
'I was hoping for more foliage,' I say.
'Tinsel,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'That's what you need. Tinsel and candles and shiny balls.'
'I did that a couple of years ago,' I say.
'Diggers,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Put a line of diggers in the middle of the table...'
'Are diggers particularly festive?' I ask.
'...or better still,' continues Mrs Slocombe, 'arrange the diggers in a circle, with their buckets raised. You can put a gift in each bucket for each guest.'
'Okay,' I say, 'I'm getting an image now...'
'Like a teabag,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Or a snail. Snails make good presents.'
'Again, not very Christmassy,' I say.

'I think something simple and classic is called for,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Exactly,' I say. I balance a Dutch waffle on top of each mug of tea. 'Now leave these to steam for a few minutes,' I say, handing the mugs around the table, ' and then the caramel will go all soft and melty.'
'Like a snowman,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Probably not as cold,' I say.
'I mean the simple and classic idea,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Oh, right,' I say.

'Or a model of the skyline of Manhattan crafted from marshmallow and plaster of Paris,' says Mrs Slocombe, who ignores my advice about the waffle and wolfs it down in one.
'No,' I say. 'You're just being silly now.'
'A spacehopper?' says Mrs S hopefully.
'No. Stop it. Have another waffle,' I say.

'I know,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'How about a pyramid of Maltesers studded with nuts and covered in spun sugar?'
'Croquembouche,' I say.
'It was only a suggestion,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I mean the idea sounds like a croquembouche,' I say. 'I made a croquembouche once. It looked spectacular but the spinning sugar can be a bit tricky.'
'I think a single pillar candle in the middle of a circle of oasis that is packed full of greenery like eucalyptus, fir and holly and punctuated by white chrysanthemums and roses would look good,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Yes,' I say. 'I like it. Simple, yet elegant.'
'Like Jumbo from London Zoo,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Elegant, not elephant,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Or an elephant,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'An elephant would look fab in the middle of a Christmas dinner table. Especially if it had an meerkat balanced on the end of its trunk.'

I decide to call an end to the crisis conference and send the girls back into the garden with the yard of Jaffa cakes.

Sometimes it is best to solve a crisis under one's own steam.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Busy Bees!

This morning Andy and I were up with the lark because we, or rather I, had decided yesterday to do some furniture re-arranging. It's a woman thing, apparently, and I know Andy would rather I left the furniture where it is, but once I get an urge to shift stuff around there's no stopping me.

My reasons were: we need to find space for the Christmas tree. And, er...

Well, that was about it.

Anyway, we moved the small bookshelf and the tall bookshelf from the living room into my writing room. We moved the TV unit from my writing room into the living room where the small bookshelf had been and the coffee table into the space where the tall bookcase had been. Then we moved the other small bookcase from my writing room up to Andy's study and the tall corner unit in my writing room to the greenhouse where it will be used to grow seedlings upon.

With me so far? Good!

We also moved a lot of dust, cobwebs and cat fur, and Andy hasn't stopped sneezing yet. We hoovered and dusted and downsized our book and DVD collection during a very ruthless ten minutes which involved throwing aforesaid items into either binbags or boxes and shouting 'OUT!OUT!OUT!!!!!!!' before we changed our minds.

And then, during a break, I happened to wander into the 'conservatory.' And lo! what did I behold?? A gazzilion bees darting in and out and around the hive in a dizzy state of excitement because the weather is now mild and the sun was out and it was positively balmy in their corner of the garden. I called Andy; we rushed outside and stood by the hive. Oh the noise of buzzing! Oh the busyness of the bees!

The Malarkey Bees have made it through the worst period of cold weather we've had for years and are still going strong!!!! Allow me a 'Hurrah!' if you will...


So Andy suited up and went to get the feeder. I made more feed - they hadn't quite got through the last lot. And we stood and watched our girls with a mixed sense of pride and relief at their resilience.

Maybe, just maybe, this means they'll get through to next Spring?

And we've got space for the Christmas tree!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Faux Pier

Today, due to a combination of wild enthusiasm and an out of control pencil, I inadvertently explained the concept of a pier to a Year 7 student by drawing what looked like a set of male genitals. I don't think she noticed; if she did, she was far too polite to snigger.

I didn't realise the full impact of my artwork until lunchtime when I was having desk tidy-up. And whilst I blushed a little, and laughed a little, my faux pier drawing reminded me of a teacher I had at secondary school who used to illustrate poetry with his own dubious drawings. This was in the days of blackboard and chalk and the teacher's name was Mr Cauldwell. He must be very, very old now - he seemed old when he taught me, and that was over 35 years ago. I remember quaking in trepidation when the whole of the First Year (as we were called then - none of this Year 7 malarkey) we called together to be setted. Mr Cauldwell took the top set for English and because English was and always has been my most favourite subject, I desperately wanted to be in the top set.

However, my desperation to further my literary career was tempered by fear from the tales that abounded around the school about Mr Cauldwell and his, well, how can we say...peculiarities.

And so very mixed were my feelings when my name was called to join Mr Cauldwell in Room 14.

As it was, he wasn't that peculiar. Many of the tales were unfounded, and I count him as one of my earliest academic inspirations. He inspired hard work, he enthused passionately about his subject, he gave praise where it was due whilst making you feel you had the ability to push yourself that little bit further.

And yes, he did have a range of interesting chalk drawings which nowadays would probably have him hauled up in front of a humourless Senior Management team to be given a formal warning for use of inappropriate teaching aids, and yes, he did spend the first ten minutes or so of every Monday morning lesson telling us about his latest weekend escapades at the naturist camps he and his wife used to frequent, but we had laugh in his class and we learnt a lot and I can still recall the poem 'Oh tender under her breast, sleep at the waterfall.' And the drawing that went with it.

The same school produced teachers who were actually mad. One taught Religious Education with the clear intent of debunking the entire content of the Bible whilst extolling the virtues of the blue whale. Another was reknowned for locking students in his store cupboard and was eventually dismissed for pushing a boy down the stairs. And the lads in my form used to wind up our form tutor to such an extent that he would turn from his usual shade of pink to a violent, luminous puce so quickly I was convinced he was having a heart attack.

Ironically, my old PE teacher ended up being my classroom assistant when I qualified as a teacher myself. Oh what sweet karma that was!

Eventually, at 13, I moved on to a girls' grammar school where my English teacher proved to be nice, but wishy washy, colourless and well, just 'nice'. Ne'er was a naughty sketch in danger of soiling her chalk stick, that was for sure.

But two years with Mr Cauldwell had secured my future as a devotee of the English language and I didn't meet anyone like him until I found myself being taught by a brusque git of a tutor at the OU for two years on the trot who clearly relished our verbal telephone spars, called one of my essays on Borges 'perverse but brilliant' and, on meeting me at a Summer School for the first time declared, 'Oh, I thought you'd be a blonde,' and had the cheek to look disappointed.

And so I come full circle. I tore up my drawing of a pier and consigned it to the bin. I don't know what sort of a teacher my students will remember me as, but I'd rather they spoke of me in terms of a good English teacher than a teacher who couldn't draw for toffee.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Christmas Cards

The other day I received my first ever e-Christmas card. It was very engaging in an interactive-build-a-snowman kind of way. Kept me entertained for at least five minutes. But although they are deemed environmentally friendly, and save on postage and the angst of getting lost/ delayed in the post, you can't hang up an e-Christmas card as a decoration, can you? So for this year Andy and I shall send out the old-fashioned type.

Well, Andy has spent ages drawing a bee-themed card, hasn't he? 'Ding Dong Merrily On Hive' it's called. The design has been printed in tasteful monochrome (okay, the coloured ink has run out of the printer) and decorated with some not-so-tasteful red and green glitter ribbon. Our Much Malarkey Manor logo - Mrs Miggins in semi-profile wearing her Dame Edna specs to add a bit of gravitas - is printed on the back along with the monniker 'Much Malarkey Manor Cards 2010'.

We finished putting them together this afternoon, having spent a morning in Rochester at the Dickensian Christmas Fayre. And stopping off on the way home to buy the Christmas tree. We didn't need to use the traditional cock-a-leg measuring guide for the tree this year because we've re-arranged the living room and so had to go for a smaller tree to stand on a coffee table in the window. We went for a living one planted in a pot. We've got the wild idea of trying to keep it alive for next year. It's a nice little tree - about three and a half feet tall, evenly spaced branches and it sort of chose us so we bought it. And from the Dickensian Christmas Fayre we brought home a truckle of deliciously strong Cheddar cheese, some Dutch waffles, a wreath made from dried oranges and cinnamon sticks which smells divine, and a duck. Not real. A toy push-along variety with entertaining flippety-flop feet. For Kayleigh. But don't tell her. And a new board game for family larks on Christmas Day. Oh, and some mistletoe. For snogging.

'Let's put on some Christmas music and finish our Christmas cards,' I said, because it seemed a cosy coupley thing to do. Out came the double sided sticky tape, the ribbon cutting scissors, the address book. Andy got over-excited and made a complete ribbon-cutting pig's ear of the first card.

'Put it down,' I shrieked, immediately over-taken by control-freakery urge I develop during such activities. (Thank heavens Andy is a Taurean - so stoical and forgiving when I have these irrational issues). 'I'll do ribbons, you do writing.'

And so we did! I also had to do quality control and stamp sticking, Andy was in charge of printing extra cards and addressing envelopes. We sung along to Christmas songs, sometimes making up our own unsavoury lyrics, and we created a rather nifty cottage industry production line. Sometimes we had to put extra P.S's in the cards to explain the bee theme to people who wouldn't know that 2010 has been the Year of the Malarkey Manor Bee-Keeper.

'I wonder what our card theme will be next year?' I said. 'Last year, chickens, this year bees...'
'I don't know,' said Andy. 'I suppose it depends on what we get up to in 2011.'
'We've got the cats to fall back on if 2011 is a damp squib in the new venture stakes,' I said.
'I'm not sure they'll appreciate that,' said Andy.
'Ahahahahahahaha!' I said.

Then ducks, maybe?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Worry Bee Not

We've been a little taddly concerned for our Malarkey bees, being new beekeepers as it were and this our first Winter, harsh and snowy, cold and icy, as such it were etc et al (Sorry about the verbosity - I am currently engaged in Stephen Fry's latest tome and he don't half go on and it don't half rub off, entertaining though he is).

You see, we think we've done all we can to get them safely through to next Spring - healthy young queen, plenty of freshly hatched brood, a hive almost full with honey stores, a couple of buckets of top-up sugar feed, a sheltered spot which catches what there is of a Winter's sun. A closed floor for warmth, enough ventilation so they don't drown in bee-breath condensation. And every now and then I go and press my ear hopefully against the side of the hive and listen for humming.

But because it's been soooooooooo cold of late, there hasn't been a sound. Not a beep, nor a hum, nor a buzzette. We are trying not to think that they are all inside, well, you know...freezing to the 'd' word. We are hoping they are all snuggled together in an enormous bee ball, keeping warm, looking after their truly magnificent Queen Philibert, so when the time comes next year and the sun is more over the yard arm than 'neath it, she'll burst forth in all her majestic glory, soar into the sky and shout, 'Hear I am, boys, drone me up,' or words to that effect, and the whole glorious process of making baby bees can start again and hopefully be so successful we can make an artificial swarm to pop in our top-bar hive (current residents - 2 dead spiders and half a fly). Of course, the frustrating thing is that we can't take the hive lid off because that would let all the cold in and our bees would definitely be done for.

Good grief, bringing up bees causes more worry than bringing up children. But then they make more honey and less mess than children, so I suppose there are pros and cons to either and/or.

And then...last the snow...there appeared overnight... the dead bodies of about a dozen bees. They were fresh, because they were balanced on the new-fallen snow. We could see them. Plain as anything.

Well, you'd think this would be cause for sadness, and yes, for those bees it was, and I said a little bee blessing in thanks for their busy, useful and fulfilled lives.

But it was also cause for celebration! Because it meant that those poor dead bees had been cleaned from the hive by the bees inside the hive. Which means the colony is still alive and doing housework!! Well, I suppose there's not much else to do in this weather, is there? Not for a bee, anyway.

I took courage from this sign. Our colony appears to have made it through this really cold snap.

Fingers crossed for next Spring.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Easy come, easy snow...

It was like living in a waterfall yesterday. As quickly and as thickly as the snow had fallen over the previous three days, it all but disappeared in the space of twelve hours when higher temperatures and a goodly dollop of rain took over.

And now all that remains of snow is the odd plop here and there. Roads are clear, pavements are, at the worst, slushy, and people are appearing in their droves to catch up on all the retail therapy they missed in the three days they were housebound.

It's a bit sad, really. But such is the focus of our economy these days.

Yesterday I started knitting a frog. Like you do. It was a bit awkward on account of the fact that Kayleigh was visiting and it is a well-known fact that newly mobile babies, like cats, are irresistibly drawn to things that are of no concern to them whatsoever. And knitting with a Kayleigh baby hanging off the end of your needles and a Pandora cat determined to kidnap your ball of wool, would try the patience of the most saintliest of knitters.

I am thinking I ought to knit myself a hat. I don't normally allow my head to frequent a hat - I find hats strangely disturbing; they seem to awaken strange memories from a distant past. But with the weather having been VERY cold this last week, and my only head covering being a rainhood on my gardening coat, I found myself trying on hats in BHS and thinking perhaps a hat would be a good idea.

'They don't half heat your head up quickly, don't they?' I said to Andy, who was trying not to laugh as I performed my bizarre hat shuffle under the beady eye of a shop assistant who clearly thought I was on a middle-aged muckabout and had no intention of purchasing a hat at all.
'Yes,' said Andy, who is an ardent hat 'n' balaclava wearer and has spent much of this week in the guise of a mysterious Ninja-type.

Anyway, I overheated very quickly and thus abandoned my hat flirtation, but not before I had ascertained that I quite like the big-round-pouffe-of-fur-look-of-Lara-from-Doctor-Zhivago. I think it's because the roundness balances out my long face, and the lack of cling means the odd bumpiness of my skull remains hidden.

Have I told you about my head bump? I think I have. On the left hand side of my head about two inches above my ear, I have a bump the size of, oh, a walnut maybe? It isn't noticeable 'neath my fortunate accumulation of thick hair, but it is noticeable when I wear a skin tight swimming hat, for example, or when I say 'Feel my bump' to people. (Which, rest assured, doesn't happen very often.) As far as I know I've had this bump all my life. It's been checked by a doctor who declared it to be 'part of your head' and I like to think, that in phrenology terms, it indicates my highly intellectual disposition. Actually, I think it hovers half-way between the intelligence area and the empathy area; either way, I remain unfussed.

So I am now on the hunt for a pouffey furry hat. Faux fur, of course. Unless I can persuade one of the cats to balance on my head.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Reach For the...Stars?

Of course, it's been rather nice having some unexpected time off work thanks to the snow, not least because I've been able to catch up with housework and get on with more writing. I've started a new Nearly King Jimbo story today and managed to whip out 1500 words before I could say 'writer's block -what writer's block?' I was thinking as I wrote that this year I have become a writer. My ambition has been realised.

And it's been good standing at the living room window, staring out at the stillness of the world and wondering what 2011 will bring. According to a magazine I bought last week, 2011 sees a return of Venus to my star sign which is good (apparently) and a recurrence of the kind of good fortune I last experienced in 1983.

1983?? I can barely remember what happened last year sometimes, let alone 1983. I tried to think. I was 17, 18 years old. I had left school. I had passed my driving test. I didn't have a clue what to do with my life but was considering a career in psychiatric nursing (I started the course but it was short-lived as I soon decided that crazy people had enough to cope with without me being foisted into their lives). But then I remember thinking that 1983 was a time I thought I should work for myself, maybe start up a business. So perhaps 2011 will be a good time to set myself up as a limited company, something I have been considering for a couple of months now.

I have the urge for another ambition, another goal. Luckily, I managed to talk myself out of applying to run in the London Marathon after having spent the previous few hours thinking what a great idea it would be. Oooh, I have to be careful of my impulsive behaviour sometimes. Cor, can you imagine it? Me pounding 26 point whatever it is miles?? Perish the thought!

Some amibitions, like the writing one, I feel I've achieved. I am happy with what I've done and I know wherever it goes, my writing will continue apace. But it is time to accept that other ambitions, I think, are likely to remain unfulfilled. Like being a size twelve. (HA!) And living on a small-holding. After all, we've got the allotment, the hens and the bees. We like what we've got and we manage it within the parameters of our lives. It is good. It is enough.

But what next? Ooooh, it's like waiting for an exciting guest to arrive!

The Things I Do

So the camels for the chickens' Nativity have arrived and are taking up a not inconsiderable space on the front drive. Also, being a desert animal, they are not liking the snow.

'Ere,' they said last night, when I went to wrap them up in blankets for the night. 'Wot is this stuff, innit?'
'It's snow,' I said. 'And can I just say that if you have any issues regarding the accommodation, you should speak with the hens. They are currently ensconsed in the greenhouse, and are entirely responsible for your being here. Especially the ginger one.'

And I stomped back indoors. Indoors contained more problems of a Nativity nature. Mrs Pumphrey has commandeered my sewing machine in order to make costumes for the Angel Gabriel and her attendant cherubs.
'Wasn't the Angel Gabriel a chap angel?' I said.
'Normally, yes,' said Mrs Pumphrey. Actually she said, 'Mmmppfhh, mppphhh, esssss,' but she had a beakful of pins. 'But I am playing the Angel Gabriel and I am a girl and I intend to look as glamorous and girly as possible.'
'Hence the yards of cream silk and pink sequins,' I said.
'Indeed,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And I want bridesmaids, I mean, attendant cherubs.'

I can't help but think Mrs P hasn't quite got over the engagement of Prince William.

And then there is the ox in the conservatory. And the lambs. Well, not lambs, because it's completely the wrong time of year for lambs, but Mrs Slocombe assures me that if you shear a fully grown sheep before the performance and squint a bit from the back of the audience they look like lambs. The oxen has taken a fancy to Andy's man chair by the radiator. Andy is not pleased.
'There's an ox in my man chair,' he said when he got home from work the other day.
'It arrived today,' I said. 'It's appearing in the hens' Nativity.'
'Can't it stay outside with the camels?' said Andy.
'Apparently not,' I said. 'Something to do with Equity rules.'
'Well, at least make him get out of my man chair,' said Andy.
I look at Andy like he's mad.
'You move him,' I said. 'I've been arguing with camels all day. There's no way I'm picking a fight with an ox.'

The sheep arrived the next day. I don't mind sheep. I find sheep rather endearing. Except when they decide to alphabetise the contents of my kitchen cupboards. I arrived home from a snowy walk to find my organised cupboard space totally awry because the sheep decided that everything beginning with 's' should be stored in the same space.
'But I don't want all the saucepans and spoons in the same space,' I said.

'What did she say?' said the chief sheep.
'I have no idea,' said the second in command.
'I think she said she is pleased we've sorted out her cupboards for her,' said a third.
'Good,' said chief sheep.

I went to the greenhouse.
'Mrs Miggins,' I said, as crossly as I could given I am very fond of her. 'Is any more livestock likely to arrive at the Manor only I'm running out of space and Andy is a bit narked that there is an ox in his man chair.'
Mrs Miggins consulted a list that was hanging from the greenhouses ventilation handle.
'A donkey,' she said. 'And three armadilloes.'
'Armadilloes?' I said. 'There were armadilloes at the Nativity?'
'Don't be ridiculous,' said Mrs Miggins, 'it's just the Donkey won't perform without them.'
'Of course not,' I said. 'Silly me.'

And so I wait with nervous anticipation for the arrival of the Donkey and its performance support armadilloes. I bet you do, too.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Three Toasty Hens

'Well, this is more like it,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Far more Orangery than the Orangery.'

With the snow still falling non-stop 48 hours after it started, Andy and I made the executive decision this morning to move the hens into the greenhouse. They were refusing to leave their pod and we were growing concerned about their little legs getting all stiff, and the fact they didn't seem to be eating much.

So we removed edible stuff like our new strawberry plants, and spread a load of straw over the floor. We transfered the pod and now the hens are having a whale of a time in the greenhouse, eating spiders and digging up a flower trough that has been retired for the Winter but is still full of potting compost thus making it into a lovely dust bath.

With the chickens now warm and draft-free, able to stretch their legs, dust-bath and eat and drink properly, we set off into town for a spot of exercise.

And what a lovely morning we had! The snow fell non-stop but town was very empty. Lots of shops were closed, but the important ones like Waterstone's with their coffee shop were open. We popped in to see Heather who was at work being bored because there were no customers, so I bought a pair of red and white jim jams decorated with polar bears just to give her something to do and probably doubling the morning's profits in one fell swoop. Then into the virtually deserted coffee shop where we had a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a chocolate muffin sitting by the window watching the world go by. A quick visit to Sainsbugs, a quick visit to BHS to try on hats and then a slow walk home through the snow.

And still it snows. The sky is the same colour as the snow-covered roof tops. Although the forecasts suggest it should be stopping, the sky doesn't seem to be taking any notice. Andy and I are snuggled by the fire watching 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' and wondering when would be the best time to go and clear the driveway in anticipation of going back to work tomorrow. I'm just thinking about knitting a frog. Like you do.

Wherever you are I hope the snow isn't causing you too much grief. And even though it is cold outside I hope you are with people who are making you feel warm and loved.

And that your chickens (and other assorted livestock/ pets) are toasty and realise how lucky they are to have you as an owner!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Blowing a Blizzard

In an attempt to be nice to the birdies during this bleak, blizzardy weather, I managed to grate my thumb on the grater whilst grating some bread. It still hasn't stopped bleeding, so now I'm worried I've got some kind of clotting disorder as I'm well past the bleeding time for this kind of scrape. Actually, it reminds me of that moment in one of the Doctor in the House films when Sir Lancelet Spratt says to a medical student, 'You, boy. What's the bleeding time?' to wit the student replies, 'Five past eleven, Sir Lancelot,' or some such witty malarkey.

Normally I wouldn't grate bread. I'd just do a finger crumble or a whizz in the blender, but 1) the blender jug is the fridge as I've just cooked and squished up the last if this year's tomatoes into passata, and 2) the bread I used was the leftover of a particularly full-bodied and chewy wholemeal soda bread I made at the weekend which even my fingers were having trouble crumbling. My fault - I think I added too much black treacle just to finish up the tin, and the bread came out more biscuity.

Anyway, school is closed because we are breeding a generation of wimps who can't get to school for whatever pathetic reason they deem fit to offer, and I find myself with an unexpected day at home. This is okay, because it means I can get on with odds and sods of stuff and sit in the warm listening to the county chaos unfolding on local radio. It's bitter outside - wind, snow, wind, ice, wind, get the idea. Andy has gone to work because he is good like that and has a high sense of moral duty. The journey was twice as long as usual, but he texted that he'd arrived safely and was now on gritting duty. Did he mean 'gritting'? Yes, I'm sure he did...

So, I've passata-ed, I've baked. I've wrapped up Christmas presents, I've tried to entice the hens from their pod. They're staying put, so I've concocted a complicated food 'n' water station which means they can eat and drink without having to step outside their cosy little house. But if the weather continues in this blizzardy vein, I shall have to de-camp them to the greenhouse just so they can stretch their legs properly.

'We should have a small-holding with a barn,' I said to Andy. 'A barn would be ideal for chickens in this blizzardy kind of weather.'

And then we sighed at the impossible dream...

Meanwhile, the cats are squishing up together on the sofa, or squishing up against me which is impeding elbow room for typing. One of them has wind; I think it might be Pandora. Phoebe is squished up in an empty shoe box. Radio Kent is awash with people moaning about the appalling train services and the appalling council gritting services. It is also awash with people offering help to vulnerable people - for example there is an eleven year old girl talking at the moment offering to help elderly people near to where she lives by clearing paths and driveways or taking them dinners of stew that she and her mum have been cooking all morning. Awwwww.......

I am glad I am at home. I have knitting and sewing and telly watching planned for this afternoon. It's cold, it's Winter, it's Advent. I can feel 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' coming on.

It's all good.