Saturday, 28 May 2016

England in late May 2016

As ever the weather is variable – warm sunshine one day, heavy rain and hail the next. Despite the uncertainty Mother Nature continues unperturbed, showing off her wondrous beauties to those who care to look.

The bird feeders need constant replenishment as myriads of starlings descend, whistling and shrieking and squabbling, each trying to garner the greatest amount of food. The young starlings, milk chocolate in colour with dark eyes, clamour to be fed though they are entirely capable of feeding themselves. 

It is rare to see a solitary starling – they are social creatures and there is definitely safety in numbers though one fell foul of a magpie recently and was dispatched in masterly fashion.

Its cries were piteous to hear but all wild creatures have young to feed. The sparrowhawk, whose diet consists almost exclusively of small birds, watches from a safe distance, choosing its moment to swoop down and capture a meal.

The collared doves share the feeder with the starlings but see them off if they approach too closely. Wood pigeons balance precariously, spreading their wings to compensate for their unwieldiness. At this time of year even robins and blackbirds and thrushes come to the feeders though they prefer to eat on the ground. 

A black cap darts in and away again . . .

. . . and the titmice seize their opportunities when the starlings vacate the fat cakes. 

Magpies are opportunistic and feed where they can. They wait and watch until the pond fish are fed then fly down to enjoy an alternative feast of floating fish sticks.

Meanwhile a red kite soars gracefully overhead.

The fish have been spawning for some time and expend considerable energy trying to ensure their genes are passed on. Hopefully some of the eggs will survive and develop.
The early spring flowers are fading now – there are still a few bluebells and violets and forget-me-nots. Herb robert grows in abundance and flowers throughout spring and summer and well into autumn. It is a weed but so cheerful and pretty that it seems harsh to treat it as an unwelcome intruder and root out every sign of it.

The fruit blossom has set and it looks as if there will be a good harvest of apples, pears, cherries and blueberries, if the birds (or Frankie) don’t get to them first.
Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom) has bloomed beautifully and as it begins to wane the ceanothus is ready to burst into flower.

In gardens and woods rhododendrons are aflame with colour. 

Though they can be a bit of a woodland thug and have to be restrained it is good to see the purple glowing in the sunshine.

May is also the mating month for ladybirds. 

Judging by the number in our garden I’m wondering if there will be a glut of aphids this year. In similar vein I have noticed a great deal of blossom on pyracantha and holly – does this mean a hard winter ahead? I think that’s probably myth . . .

Another kind of ladybird . . . last year, 2015 . . .

 . . . and this year, 2016 . . . faded but still smiling.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A Boy and His Dog . . .

Last Sunday was a gloriously sunny day, a day for little boys and young Labradors to play together . . .

I'll paddle . . . you drink . . .
High speed Roxy . . .
Boy with boat

Monday, 2 May 2016

Second hand car salescat.

Would you buy a second hand car from this cat?

I don't think Frankie would be very pleased to see Herschel on his 'road'.

He's asleep on the job, too . . . Disgraceful!

Sunday, 1 May 2016


I am snatching a few moments to reacquaint myself with my sadly neglected blog. The first thing I had to do was find my way around Word again – it’s been such a long time since I put fingers to keyboard.

So, what has been happening in my neck of the woods? Actually, not a lot, at least not a lot that has been earth-shattering – just as well, really.

Last August my eldest granddaughter got married. You may know that it is traditional for the bride to be late. Well, Marnie took the tradition to new heights, keeping her nervous groom waiting for forty-five minutes. The enforced wait in the old church gave the guests time to chat to each other and listen to some stirring bagpipe music. In fact it was so rousing that poor Frankie, innocently playing with a car, got the shock of his little life and burst into loud sobs. He still talks about it . . .

It was a lovely wedding and we all enjoyed our day.


Four days before the wedding my youngest daughter had her first baby, Charlie. He is, naturally, delightful J


Susannah nearly bought a house but the transaction fell through and the search continues. I don’t think any of us thought she and Frankie would still be living with us two years after they first moved in. We enjoy them being here – it’s good to have young life around us.

At the beginning of January Frankie started pre-school. He loves it, particularly Spanish and Mandarin. Now, I can recognise Spanish when I hear it but Mandarin . . . ??

In February Barry had a total knee replacement. For the first time in decades his left leg is straight. He is conscientious about doing his exercises and is making very good progress. Yesterday he and I went for a walk in the woods with the dogs. 

It was good to have company again – human company, that is. He will have his right knee operated on in August. None of us had fully appreciated how much the parlous state of his knees was affecting all our lives.

My son phoned the other day. He told me he had pests in his loft. ‘Moths?’ said I, thinking he would have said if it were mice. ‘No, glis.’

I had never heard of glis so looked them up. Myoxus glis (Glis glis) the edible or fat dormouse, was a delicacy in Roman times and bred by them for their delectation. They look very pretty, like little silver squirrels, but can do much damage in houses and are very difficult to eradicate. As with so much of our wild life they were imported to be part of a private collection but some escaped and made their homes in the wider countryside in Buckinghamshire. You can read more about them here and here.

So, that is what has been happening in my life. One thing I know for sure, if I had ever doubted it, is that I could never be a nurse!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Snack time

Snack time!

Why do dogs always manage to look half-starved whenever food is in the offing?

Jenna and Roxy are always the first to show interest but Roxy is the only counter-surfing Labrador we have had. All the Dalmatians were inveterate thieves and we are tempted to give some credence to the theory of transference of souls as Roxy was born just three days before Frodo the Faller died.

To be fair, the dogs were called over by Susannah to be tempted at close quarters by peanut butter on toast.

Isambard, one of our Ocicats, is always to be found near one or other of the dogs. He does not like peanut butter but joined his friends anyway.

As the smallest – even Roxy, at not quite eight months old, is taller than her - Jenna is often to be found on hind legs, greying muzzle and questing nose searching for the hint of a sniff of a smell of food.

Eventually patience and perseverance were rewarded when the plate ‘fell’ to the floor – I believe it may have been after a nudge from Jenna’s nose.

Footnote: did you know that peanut butter is believed to promote shiny coats in dogs? Just the thought of peanut butter seems to have had the desired effect on our dogs!

Sunday, 8 November 2015



House-training is defined in dictionaries as, among other things, Taming, Training, Disciplining, Domesticating, Schooling. I am immersed in the process and have been for some while as there are two young animals in the house. They are both at similar stages but I would suggest that the younger of the two is generally more reliable though still prone to occasional ‘accidents’.

‘Two young animals?’ I imagine you asking. ‘Why, yes,’ I reply, ‘Frankie and Roxy.’
Frankie with a favourite 'rocket' ice lolly
Roxy, Lolly (Bethan's dog) and Frankie last week
They are two young animals, just not of the same species. Frankie is a human animal and we will be celebrating his third birthday in three weeks’ time. Roxy is a chocolate Labrador and she will be eight months old in two weeks’ time.

There are advantages and disadvantages in the training of each of these animals. A young puppy, a ‘baby’ puppy, must be taken out to relieve itself after every meal and every time it wakes from its frequent sleeps. This includes the wee, small hours, a particularly inviting time to stumble from the comfort of one’s bed in the chilly pre-dawn or post-midnight to carry the warm, cuddly, licking, squeaky bundle of soft fur downstairs and outside. Small puppies need reassurance, encouragement and company and must be accompanied in all weathers. It is advisable to have them safely secured by a slip lead in case they disappear into the usually damp gloom of a shrubbery or a dark corner in an inaccessible part of the garden.

Even if you opt to confine your puppy to the ground floor, usually the kitchen, you will still have to get up in the middle of the night to let it out. If you don’t you will be greeted in the morning with a task that cannot be delayed, especially if the puppy has, shall we say, spread it around a bit . . .

When Roxy was a baby, not so very long ago, her night-time ventures coincided with the nocturnal visitations of our local rat population. These rodents, sleek, bold and well-fed (on fish food and bird cake), orchestrated the evening air with shrill squeaks and squeals. Our adult dogs would have had no truck with them but Roxy was simply curious, her head tilting from side to side as she attempted to catch sight of the creatures making such interesting noises.

However, a human baby is rather easier in that it can be enfolded in a nappy, at least the bits that leak so haphazardly. Certainly it must be kept as dry and comfortable as possible and when very new it requires food at irregular intervals throughout the day and predominantly, or so it seems to the sleep-deprived parents, through the night, As it grows, the intervals between feeds and nappy changes lengthen and parental dreams of periods of sleep longer than two hours may be realised. When it has entered toddlerhood the challenge of ‘potty-training’ arises. Talk at toddler groups centres on the relative success or failure of these still young and innocent human animals to master the whole messy business – and it can be very messy. Gone are the days of lifting your charge into the air to sniff its behind to ascertain whether a change is optional (wet) or essential (more than wet). Now the focus is on the manner of the toddler’s fidgeting punctuated with, ‘Do you want a pee/ poo? Oh, too late, never mind,’ as the third or fourth set of clothes of the morning are removed and replaced.

Now, there are certain problems that arise when toddlers and animals live together that may not present themselves in solely human homes. Roxy piddles on the floor, an accident that would have been avoided if we had only been paying attention. Frankie piddles on the floor – another accident that would have been avoided et cetera, et cetera.

It is not just in the matter of ‘hygiene training’ (how euphemistic can you get?) that toddlers copy pets. Frankie kneels on the floor and drinks from the cats’ and dogs’ communal two-gallon bucket of water – it’s fun and he enjoys it and the water is clean . . . isn’t it? On other occasions he climbs into Roxy’s indoor kennel (crate) to lie down on her bedding. It’s cosy, it’s comfortable and it’s got some really interesting toys in it and he can carry them in his mouth, just like she does. Out for a walk in the forest he copies Roxy and picks up a stick - and puts it in his mouth.

More worryingly, and this is why toddlers and animals should never be left unsupervised together, he gets down on all fours and pushes his head against hers. She’s a puppy, she loves it and responds like a puppy but puppies play roughly and have sharp teeth and so we intervene, Frankie is learning – and so is Roxy.

So, in the matter of house-training, Roxy and Frankie are making progress but it’s easier with puppies than humans, I think.  Nonetheless, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I sit Roxy on the loo and put Frankie outside to relieve himself.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Twenty-First Blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke (Gus)

The Twenty-First Blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke (Gus)

Hello everyone!

I see it has been more than a year since I last blogged and such a lot has happened in that time. Susannah and Frankie have settled in nicely and it’s good to have them here with us – more people to make a fuss of us J

The Humans tried to introduce Pats to the other cats but it didn’t work – Herschel and Isambard were fine but Jellicoe bullied her, the naughty boy. Us dogs like her well enough but I don’t think she’s all that keen on us – she likes a quiet life. Then Susannah brought in two Somali kittens and they really like the other cats and us. They’re brothers and they’re called Leonard and Solomon. (Editor’s note: Somalis are semi-long-haired Abyssinians. Leonard looks like a little lion and Solomon is like an Arctic fox) They spend a lot of time downstairs with everyone.

Leonard and Solomon

Soon after that Frodo had to leave us and we were all really sad. It felt strange not to have him around and we all still miss him. He was my hero.
A little while later some people came to sort out the garden and make it safe for Frankie to play in. Now there’s a fence all round the pond so he can’t fall in it. 
Today some other people are in the garden putting up a cat fence so that the cats can enjoy going outside like we do. They won’t be able to get out of the garden and other cats won’t be able to get in.

Lolly came to stay with us while Bethan and Robert went on holiday. It’s nice having her here to play with and she really likes going out for runs with us. She had been here a few days when something unexpected happened. On her birthday Susannah stayed at home with us while Mr and Mrs H went out all day. I was a bit unhappy ‘cos I don’t like them going out without me. I was really pleased when they came back – we all were – but we were surprised to see Mrs H carrying a little chocolate puppy.
She’s called Roxy and Jenna and Bertie and I thought she was just going to stay with us for a little while like Lolly. 

Lolly started playing with her but Roxy was a bit cheeky and Lolly had to tell her off. She screamed so loudly but there was nothing wrong with her. Then Bethan and Robert came back to collect Lolly. She was very happy to see them but we were sorry to see her go.

We expected that soon Roxy’s holiday would be over and she would be going home but she’s still here so I think she’s here for good. I had to reprimand her the other day ‘cos she got in my personal space. I wish the cats would tell her off ‘cos she chases them when she has the chance but they’ve never scratched or bitten anyone so I s’pose they never will. None of us have played with Roxy yet but we all like to sniff her when she’s asleep ‘cos really we’re very interested.

These days Mr H takes us out in the morning. He goes slowly on his bike and we run alongside. Mrs H walks us in the evening. We’re all pretty tired by the time we go to bed but it’s a good sort of tired.

What else is happening? Bethan’s coming home one day next week so that we can all see Lolly, especially Roxy. She’s going to have a baby soon – Bethan, that is, not Roxy (Editor’s note: in August) and Marnie is getting married soon (Editor’s note: in August)

I don’t think there’s anything else to report. Maybe things will be a little quieter round here for a while.

Be good.

Hwyl fawr am nawr! (That’s Welsh for ‘Goodbye for now!’)

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Berkshire, United Kingdom
Wife, mother, grandmother, Always curious, good listener, interested in people. I'm on Twitter @jabblog