Thursday 30 April 2009

A rat a day makes the rifle pay

I took my camera upstairs last night, left it on the bedroom windowsill and waited for morning. I didn't sit up all night of course, though I didn't sleep particularly well, listening from pre-dawn for a heron. Naturally, since I was prepared, no herons deigned to grace our garden.
About half-past six Barry glanced out of the window and spotted a rat. Quietly, he readied his rifle, took aim, fired and fired and fired until the magazine was empty and the rat, killed by the first shot, lay motionless under the lilac. We both watched then for the rat remover but it didn't appear so we went to drink our morning tea. The next time we looked out the rat was in a different location, some yards from where it had met its end. Then down flew a crow and proceeded to tuck into the corpse, which was probably still warm.

At half-past eight, when I hung out the first laundry load, the now mangled body was still on the ground. It was headless but its little paws were still attached, looking rather pathetic. Only two of the dogs took any notice of the fatality. Frodo the Faller approached it cautiously and sniffed while Jenna-the-Labrador, remembering she was a retriever, looked puzzled and wondered if she should pick up. I was pleased that she didn't make any attempt at it.

By ten o'clock the cadaver had disappeared.

Barry wondered why the crow hadn't taken the rat away but chosen to eat at least part of it in the garden, where he was vulnerable; remember, crows are shot at, too! (but not in our garden.) The answer was obvious to me – the body had so much lead in it that it was too heavy to remove until parts of it had been consumed on the killing field. Crows are big strong birds but there's a limit to how much they can carry. Crows would have had to work in tandem to carry it off intact on a stretcher.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

How now! a rat?

'How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!' (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

We have had a visitation of rats. A house not far from us has been overrun with rats, the elderly lady living there unaware that she was sharing her quarters with them until her usually absent sons decided that refurbishment was in order – an eye to the future, maybe? There is a stream that runs at the end of the gardens and nearly every house has at least one compost bin and one bird-feeding station so there are rich pickings to be found in this middle-class, middle England, mildly affluent suburban community.

We have taken advice and regularly refill the locked rat traps with rat poison, keep an eye on the rat electrocutor, make sure the sonar deterrent is plugged in but still they come, not in droves but sadly, rather endearingly, in all sizes from fully adult to wide-eyed juvenile. Understanding that it is the youngest and the elderly that are forced to emerge in daylight hours, we realise that we are not seeing the full range of rodents. I imagine a King and Queen Rat presiding over their court, sending out their minions to ascertain the whereabouts of the most toothsome of treats. I have to admire rats; they are intelligent, resourceful, loyal, cunning and the carriers of disease, just like people really, though I don't believe they've caught on to the possibilities of air travel. (I don't think people are always loyal or compassionate, either . . . look at the Milgram experiment!)

Nonetheless, knowing that we cannot continue to host these clever creatures Barry bought an air rifle and is to be found on many a late afternoon honing his marksmanship. To date he has killed two dozen or so rats in varying stages of growth and poisoning but the remarkable thing – apart from his obvious skill (cough,cough) - is that the last half-dozen have disappeared within an hour of being shot.

At first he thought they must have been injured, severely but not sufficiently to prevent them dragging themselves off to a quiet place of death. Thus he ensured that he pumped enough rounds into them that they were almost minced (I exaggerate, of course!). Today he killed a young rat and before I had a chance to go out and verify the kill the corpse had disappeared.

We have a lot of crows in the area – they feature in the name of our village - they are clever, opportunistic birds. We think they have realised there is free food to be had, not only from the feeders on which they balance so precariously, not only from the pond, full of fish food, tadpoles and frogs but also when the thwack of lead against flesh advertises fresh meat for the taking. I just hope they're not susceptible to lead poisoning.

Winston’s late April blog

Winston here . . . p'rrrrr, p'rrrrr . . .

Just thought I'd let you all know how we're getting on. We got over our loss of appetite and are back to normal now. One of the things we like doing is catching flies. It's fun and it exercises all sorts of things –claw extension and retraction, paw-eye coordination, hunting skills like stalking and tracking and the muscles we use for leaping.
This is a photo of me, Winston, blogging. I have to get my human to type but the words are all mine.
Did you know we're an accidental sort of breed? All coz of humans messing around changing colours don'tcha know. I'm going to get my human to write the next bit coz there's words there I don't understand.

Mrs Virginia Daly of Dalai Cattery in Michigan bred Siamese cats and wanted to try and breed an 'Aby (Abyssinian) pointed' cat; in the second Siamese-Abyssinian mating a golden spotted kitten appeared. Her daughter thought he looked like an Ocelot and said 'Why don't we call him an Ocicat?' He was called Tonga and was never used for breeding but his brother, a tawny coloured cat from a later litter started the breeding programme. Then American Shorthair blood was introduced to give substance and bring in the silver colour gene. More than twenty years passed before the Ocicat was given official recognition in the USA in 1986. Ocicats can still be outcrossed to Abyssinians, thus widening the gene pool. It is possible for litters to contain spotted kittens, classic tabby-patterned kittens and 'mountain lions' – solid-coloured kittens looking like Abyssinians. There are twelve colours available.
Ocicats are strong, lithe, athletic cats with wonderful temperaments.
Winston here again . . . p'rrrrr, p'rrrrr . . . Blimey, she do go on a bit, don't she? It's enough to make a cat laugh!

She is right, though, we are gorgeous. Think I told you before – I'm chocolate and Monty is chocolate silver and we are very handsome, so we're told. I was the only chocolate in my litter. I had two tawny sisters, a lilac silver sister and a cinnamon brother.
Supper time – chicken wings, yum!

PS: You know, Monty slept all the time I was blogging! He was soaking up the sun in the conservatory while I was exercising the old brain cells, don'tcha know.

This is me and Monty sleeping together. Monty's very pretty and all, but just look at my rich chocolate!

Two days - one week in April

Though the skies threatened storms the clouds passed . . .

Why not have a look at skies from around the world? Visit Skywatch Friday here

Better than an alarm clock

Round about 5:00 yesterday morning and again this morning I became aware of a creaky croaking outside our bedroom. I had assumed it was one of the crows standing bowing as they're wont to do but it didn't sound quite right so I got up to look out. I carefully, slowly opened the wooden slats of the shutters and there, standing in the pond, was a huge, magnificent heron. It caught the movement and took off, circling the garden before being pursued off the premises, so to speak by a crow (I think). No wonder the fish in our pond have been keeping a low profile recently. Luckily there is plenty of cover for them, the water hyacinths being more than usually rampant this year.

I have never been able to photograph a heron – they are very wary and don't visit on a regular basis or I might be prepared to spend an entire day motionless with camera at the ready. I don't quite know what I'd do with the dogs and cats though! Taking into account the problems to be overcome maybe Barry can devise a method of remote photography. Watch this space – but don't hold your breath!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Mice can’t burp

Someone I know of had a rodent problem - there was a mouse in her car and she couldn't get it out. She tried a humane trap and the mouse escaped. She tried an inhumane trap and the mouse triggered the mechanism but escaped capture. She tried laying a trail of tasty treats out of and away from the vehicle – the mouse didn't bite.

Then someone else sent her some advice about a tried and tested solution which had worked in their tool shed. Assuming the car is not required for any journeys for a couple of days, a bowl of Coca-Cola is left inside. The mouse drinks it and is filled with gas; because it cannot burp to relieve the pressure it seeks the outside for air and eventually explodes, hopefully well away from anything you don't want covered in shreds of mouse. I presume Pepsi-Cola or any other carbonated drink would work just as efficiently or maybe it's the 'special ingredients' in Coca-Cola that are necessary. (It's also supposed to be very good at removing grime!)

I can't imagine Coca-Cola will be advertising their product's unique property in an effort to boost sales but you never know.

Mouse Coke – it's the real thing to solve your vermin problem!

'I'd like to teach the mice to drink

A bowl of Coke for me,

I'd like to see them try to burp

Exploding messily.

It's the cruel thing!'
I don't think I could use this remedy but maybe I'm not desperate enough.

Monday 27 April 2009

Too busy to think?

English is a wonderful language, full of words gleaned from other cultures and continents. It can be eloquent and emotive, wry and witty, rich with dialect; even expletives, when used sparingly, are shockingly expressive. From our first days at school we are helped to extend our vocabulary through Nursery rhymes, picture books and traditional songs. As we progress we are gradually introduced to more sophisticated texts, our teachers simultaneously persuading us to express ourselves through diverse activities which might include PE, history, music or science. We are also encouraged to write and speak in a variety of styles – persuasive, assertive, factual and fictional, imaginative, narrative, informative, formal and informal. We study the works of novelists, playwrights, poets and songwriters. By the time we leave school we have experienced a wide diversity of literature and language in the same way that our parents and grandparents did.

Why then do we become so lazy in our use of language? Why do we resort to the tired old clichés and the tiresome new ones? 'Text-speak' is not something I care for but I think I understand why people use it as a swift way of communicating. When time is pressing it's quicker and easier to write 'how r u?' and 'c u l8ter'. Surely, though, we are not so over-worked that we cannot think of a more inventive and expressive way of telling our friends how busy we are than '24/7' or, worse, '24/7/365' – they have become meaningless because they have been used too often. There is, I think, a difference between 'old saws' or proverbs which are appropriate for particular circumstances and the new, slick, quick phrases which trip off so many tongues with never a thought preceding them. Of course we must have vernacular; slang can be very apt and it would be tedious and probably humourless to speak or write formally all the time but I would hate our glorious language to be reduced to a word list of stock phrases.

We must 'step up to the plate and give 110% so that, by the end of the day, lessons will have been learned' . . . 'and the reason why is because, obviously, we are literally petrified that we will not otherwise be singing from the same hymn sheet.'

And our word for today is . . .

OPERATIONALISING – otherwise known as initiating a plan.

Sunday 26 April 2009

To walk or not to walk?

Bethan is back in London having done sterling dog-sitting (and cat-company-keeping) duties while Barry and I had a really enjoyable evening out. We weren't too late getting home as the place we went to was only a few miles away. Buddy Liver Spots and Frodo the Faller had whinged a bit but Dominie and Jenna-the-Labrador were as good as gold. Monty Ocicat beat up Winston Ocicat for no apparent reason – Winston was actually asleep when the assault started. Monty wanted some action – any action – sometimes he behaves like a bored teenager agitating just for the sake of getting a reaction. Peace was soon restored as Winston avoids conflict at all costs and Monty can be distracted from his evil intentions with a toy or a treat.

All was quiet through the night with no repetition of middle-of-the-night carpet cleaning but today Buddy was very restless. I thought it might be because Bethan was at home; he is her dog, she is his person – though he's not usually unsettled when she's here. However, it seems that he was suffering from an attack of discospondylitis and was in some pain. I gave him some Metacam and he became a little calmer. He was really keen to go out, rushing to the front door every time one of us set foot near it but we were not sure if walking would be good for him this evening. We couldn't possibly go out and leave him behind - he would have noticed!

Ultimately we decided to take all the hounds out for some air and they all really enjoyed it, as they always do. Buddy is still fussing, maybe still uncomfortable, but I'm sure a good night's sleep on our bed, between the two of us like a thermal bolster, will set him up for whatever tomorrow may bring. Of course that may include a visit to our vet – we shall see!

Saturday 25 April 2009

What were you doing at 3:00 a.m?

I'm going to meet Number Three daughter shortly – she's coming to dog-sit while Barry and I go out for the evening. Our daughters are very accommodating and while they may think we're being a little neurotic about our dogs they're always ready and willing to help out. (Our son would, too, but it's a long trek from New York.)

We cannot leave Gentle Dominie for any length of time as she has difficulty getting to her feet and needs help to 'go potty' as the Americans say. (I go potty some days too, but in an entirely different sense.) Last night she had a stomach problem which soon evidenced itself all over my side of the bedroom at 3:00 a.m. While Barry bathed her and then went downstairs to make a pot of tea I shampooed the carpet. We have a very efficient machine, a Hoover 'Brush 'n' Wash' which makes a horrible job quite acceptable though still not pleasurable. Clean and fresh once more Dominie went back to her bed and for the next couple of hours we listened anxiously to the gurgling coming from her insides and wondered if the whole cycle would be repeated. We had given her a dose of 'Diarsanyl' which is effective usually in soothing a troubled gut so we hoped cautiously that she would be all right. Eventually she was comfortable enough to go back to sleep and after a while we too fell asleep.

We had a late start this morning and though I would normally starve a dog for twenty-four hours after a stomach upset I knew Dominie would not settle without breakfast so I scrambled eggs for her. Very binding, eggs!

Friday 24 April 2009

Susannah and Sid the Spider

I dislike spiders – they make me shudder and I avoid them if I can. I never kill them! After all, as my mother used to quote to me when I was small, 'If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive'. Much later I discovered that she, too, hated spiders and my father, who usually had the job of removing them, didn't much care for them either. In his case, it was probably a well-founded dislike for he had travelled all over the world in the Royal Navy and encountered many an unpleasant beastie. From him I learnt that I should knock my shoes or boots out before putting them on in the Tropics.

Attempting to ensure that my arachnophobia did not transfer to my children, I made a special effort with them, particularly with the then youngest. I bought a book about Spiders and read it with them in an eager, 'Aren't they wonderful?' tone. I managed to keep the distaste out of my voice when I saw an arachnid, pointing it out with an 'Ooh, look!' and following up with homilies about the good that spiders do. It was all completely wasted on Susannah's siblings, by then five and seven years old. They had already seen through me. The thin veneer of enthusiasm by which Susannah was taken in was insufficient to convince them that spiders were 'a good thing'.

Susannah, though, just three years old, with her ash blonde hair and constant smile trusted me, believed me and adopted a spider. She called him Sid and though she didn't bring him indoors, she spent many a long hour chatting to him and watching him. I'm not sure if it was even the same spider she saw each time and he was probably female, but let's not split hairs.

I relaxed. I felt I had succeeded in encouraging positive attitudes to arachnids in my youngest child. My pleasurable glow of achievement was not destined to last. Brother and sister combined forces to tease Susannah. Egged on by each other they told their little sister nasty things about spiders – they bite, you'll die, they walk all over you in bed when you're asleep, they get into your mouth and ears and nose. They pushed pictures of big ugly spiders under her bedroom door and rattled on the bathroom door. Finally Susannah was more arachnophobic than me and I could have throttled her siblings, the little blighters.

Well, that was all a long time ago. The strange thing is that Susannah has always retained an interest in spiders. She has travelled extensively to places where there are some really venomous spiders and every so often she will tell me an interesting fact. Take tarantulas, for instance. (No, please, take them . . . as far away from me as possible.) Many children are encouraged to handle exotic creatures in the course of their education but they are always told to take particular care with tarantulas. I thought it was because the wretched things might sink their fangs into tender flesh if mishandled but it appears that, if dropped, they shatter like thin-shelled eggs. Somehow that makes me shudder more than a whole one!

Keeping the new car clean(-ish)

We decided we would try and keep the new car as free from mud and dog-hair as possible and so we bought seat covers. They are strictly utilitarian – serviceable, dull, slightly stiff and moisture-resistant. They are not very attractive but they do the job. The back seats are folded down to give the dogs more room and we put rubber mats and dog bedding in the now very capacious boot to absorb the worst of the wear and to make cleaning up more efficient.
It didn't seem to be enough; Buddy Liver Spots was as fond of resting his chin on the front headrests as he had been in The Heap while Frodo the Faller was still able to ruffle my hair with his nose and nudge my left ear. Jenna-the-Labrador could leap easily from back to front and back again as the fancy took her. Gentle Dominie just lay where she was placed, hoping the other dogs wouldn't tread all over her.
So we thought something more substantial was called for, something that would more effectively contain the dogs. Barry, with his usual acumen, sought out the best solution for us and it was serendipity that it was called the Boot Buddy! When it arrived a couple of days later we didn't unpack it immediately as we were in the throes of garden activities nor did we remove it from the hall. Buddy Liver Spots had got very excited when he thought we were going walking and, unable to open the porch door, he took out his frustration on the parcel. I saw what he had done as I passed through to collect some plants; I gasped and cleared away the chewed up corrugated paper and the bits of rubber and put the now rather chewed package in the dining room. Later, when Barry breezily suggested we set about constructing the Boot Buddy I had to tell him that Buddy Liver Spots had been at it. He was not happy! I showed him the fragments of rubber and to my amazement he shrugged off my concern and said that it was just the mat and didn't really matter. He was right. Buddy had torn bits off it but it was just along one edge. Great was my relief!
Eventually we built the boot liner and put it in the car. The rubber mats went in, the frayed edge hidden under a pristine mat, a pink candlewick cover (a bed covering from a previous era and now doing duty as dog bedding) went on top. It was time to take the dogs out. Frodo leapt up, Buddy clambered in, Jenna jumped up and over into the front and we lifted Dominie in. Her wheels went in last. It was great – no more slobber on our head rests – or our heads. The Dalmatians were safely contained and Jenna, being a working Labrador, is small enough to fit neatly in the passenger foot well.
We are pleased. Now we can quickly convert the dog carriage back into a people carrier should the need arise and we won't have to worry unduly about mud and hairs transferring from vehicle to humans.

Thursday 23 April 2009

The Further Adventures of Frodo the Faller – problem

Frodo has more than justified our expenditure on his veterinary insurance so it wasn't really necessary for him to show us again how relieved we should be to keep paying the premiums. Nonetheless, a couple of months ago it seemed it was time for a sharp reminder. Suddenly the underside of Frodo's lower jaw had swollen into a large, amorphous mass. It wasn't causing any pain but he was behaving a little strangely, rather worried and somewhat ataxic. Barry duly took him to the vet who took an aspiration biopsy. Our vet felt it was possibly an abscess in the salivary gland.

During the next few days the lump shrank, hardened and moved to one side but when the results came back they were inconclusive so we were told he would need surgery to take a larger biopsy sample . . . £££! A date was fixed but later the same day - Friday 13th! - Frodo suddenly became very much more ataxic and hardly able to keep on his feet so he went straight in as an emergency case. The vet suspected that he had a tumour, possibly Lymphosarcoma.

We passed an anxious week, swinging between thinking Frodo's days were severely numbered and persuading ourselves that there couldn't be much wrong with our big, naughty boy. Mainly, we were preparing for the worst news but when it came it was quite amazing. The lump appeared to have been caused by an infection and our vet was astonished that it was not a malignant tumour.

Just to keep us on our toes, Frodo then had fits on two consecutive days; they were short-lived and he recovered very quickly.

SkyWatch Friday

On the outward leg of our late afternoon walk . . .
On the homeward leg . . .

Please visit the Skywatch Site to see some wonderful sky photographs from around the world.

The Endless Saga of the Endless Pool – pumps, various

Pinnacle swimming pool pump and Universal electric spa heater are shown combined on a base plate in the photograph below. It will take the strength of ten to move this to the Pool Room - or the skill and intelligence of three!The hydraulic fluid pump provides hydraulic power to the water flow motor.

Wednesday 22 April 2009


Why are plasters so difficult to unwrap? When one of my digits is pouring blood it requires rapid enclosure in something that will absorb the flow even if it won't staunch it. A firm covering will also stop a cut or graze hurting so much. Struggling to extricate a plaster from its packing is difficult when one digit, usually an index finger, is wrapped in tissue to stop blood dripping everywhere. If more fingers have been damaged it is nearly impossible to withdraw the dressings from their protective envelopes without wasting half the plasters in the box and covering the rest in blood, not to mention the mess created in the surrounding local area – destroyed plasters, bits of wrapping, dollops of unguent, tissues.

Savlon and plasters are very efficient overnight healers of split thumbs but extracting a plaster with split thumbs is agonising. Such small but deep fissures are extraordinarily painful and tussling with intractable wrappings only makes them hurt more.
I know that the plasters are sealed to keep them sterile but I sometimes think the manufacturers are thumbing their noses at me and telling me I should have been more careful (and they're probably right!) I've tried many different brands and modes of sticking plaster but all of them, for me at least, are equally challenging. It's adding insult to injury when I end up almost weeping with frustration and pain – okay, not life-threatening, insurmountable pain so maybe discomfort would be a better description – because I can't plaster my poor hurting thumbs.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Flowers and bracelets

My mother-in-law always sends flowers for my birthday and this year was no exception. The flowers, beautifully scented Longiflorum lilies, arrived two days after my birthday looking a little limp. With some hesitation I told her this while I was thanking her for them and she was most indignant for she had ordered them to be delivered on the due date. She is in her nineties but still fully aware of what she has ordered and when, and so she contacted the company to make a gentle but insistent complaint. It transpired that the company was not at fault – they had dispatched the flowers in good time. In fact, because the local Royal Mail depot is being closed down, everything is being sent to Swindon and there is chaos. The flower company 'Bunches' is ill served by this change but today, by way of apology, a further delivery of wonderful Longiflorum lilies arrived, with a complimentary box of chocolates. Delightful – though I did think the floral apology should have been delivered to my mother-in-law. Now I have a vase full of these gorgeous blooms – thank you, Dorothy – thank you, Bunches.

For this birthday my husband had taken enormous pains to design a beautiful bracelet in the process of which he was given tremendous help and advice from 'mememe jewellery and accessories'. The bracelet was destined to arrive by 1:00 p.m. on the day before my birthday and of course it had to be signed for, so the entire day was spent waiting for it to be delivered. Many phone calls were made between Berkshire and Newcastle upon Tyne and eventually a very nice South African, JJ, drove from Swindon to hand it to my relieved husband, just after 5:00 p.m. The next day our local postie told us that JJ is the best boss he's ever had.

There are so many helpful, pleasant people 'out there' doing their very best to provide excellent service. How sad it is that they are let down so often by the apparently unnecessary reorganisation of services.

Flying ants

There are winged ants by one of the garden arches. They are common garden ants, the sort that get everywhere and which can be a pest in the house.

When I was a child in Kent the advent of large flying ants always seemed to coincide with childhood ailments involving high temperature, headache and sore throat. For years I associated the nuptial flight of the ants with nightmarish restless days in my hot sickbed.

I still don't like seeing the large winged wood ants. The small ants today merely evoked curiosity and a slight revulsion, much as I admire their communal organisation, particularly in the face of danger to the colony.

Monday 20 April 2009

In the garden . . .

I'm not an expert gardener but I do enjoy our garden. It is alive with birds and bees and butterflies and later in the year the dragonflies and damselflies will hawk and hunt and mate around the pond. I sometimes buy on impulse from garden centres and think later where I'll put new plants. Consequently there is little plan or pattern to our small plot. It is not tidy and everything grows abundantly in glorious disarray. Somehow, though, it seems to work. It is pretty and scented and colourful.

I enjoy seeing the faithful perennials come back to life. Kerria Japonica flowers brightly and bravely for many weeks, its sunny yellow brightening up dark corners and darker days. Lily of the Valley and Aquilegia, which disappear completely in winter, emerge in April. Mint, growing by the pond, is tall and strong and has a wonderful, mouth-watering scent when bruised. Forget-me-nots, pink and blue, bloom much more shrinkingly than the violets, which I love to see, though I have never planted them, and which glow in the sunshine and happily spread further every year.
There are moments of pure joy, caught out of the corner of my eye – the green of Choisya Ternata's older leaves gracefully complementing the slightly darker hue of the Laurel. Last week I noticed the purple flowers of Honesty blooming next to the bright lime green (or is it lemon yellow?) of our Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) 'Dart's Gold'.


We are becoming adept at harnessing Dominie to her Doggon' Wheels (she doesn't use them indoors) and when she is detached from Barry, who helps her up inclines, she enjoys the freedom of stopping where she chooses or of joining the rest of the pack at a particularly enticing sniff. She picks up speed going downhill and positively skips along.
In the last couple of days we have gone to a different wood to walk and the going has been softer and easier for her. Decades of fallen leaves have mulched into a sweet-smelling carpet and there are many routes to be taken through the trees. It's always a pleasure to walk with the dogs and even more so when the location is fresh to them. The smells are new and the terrain unfamiliar. When we let the dogs out of the car on the first day they were like small children set free in a toy shop, not knowing which way to turn or what to try first. The woods were full of birdsong last evening towards sunset and we suddenly realised that neither of us has heard a cuckoo this year. We know that cuckoo numbers are declining; apparently the population has decreased by 37% in the last fifteen years. What a shame it would be if the cuckoo no longer visited these shores. Those two pure notes of the cuckoo's song lift the spirit and declare that Summer is truly on the way.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Crab apples

This year the crab apple trees have bounteous blossoms on them which means I will be able to make crab apple jelly in the Autumn. There won't be many jars filled but it will be an improvement on last year when the dozen or so fruits that matured were left on the trees. Our weeping crab apple, Malus x scheideckeri 'Red Jade' (in the photograph) flowers a little earlier than Malus x zumi 'Golden Hornet'. The deep pink buds open to faintly scented single white flowers, some with a rosy flush. The subsequent fruits are red while those of 'Golden Hornet' are yellow.

Sumer is icumen in

I could shut my eyes and still know that summer is well on its way. On this sunny April Sunday my ears are under assault from an army of lawnmowers;

Mowers to left of me,
Mowers to right of me,
Mowers in front of me,
Roared and thundered
Mine not to make reply,
Mine not to reason why,
Mine but to sit and sigh,
While green grass is sundered.
(Apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

. . . but oh! the peace, the calm, the lovely silence when the mowers cease and the ear drums stop ringing and the birds can once more make themselves heard.

'Sumer Is Icumen In' is a traditional English folk canon and a six-part polyphonic song which was composed around 1260, at a time when 'modern' music was commonly in two or three-part polyphony.

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!

Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth aft-er lamb,
Calf loweth after cow,
Bullock starteth, buck farteth,
Merry sing cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well singest thou cuckoo,
Nor cease thou never now!
Sing cuckoo now, Sing cuckoo!

Foot (or Bass)

Sing cuckoo, Sing cuckoo now!

The manuscript containing performance instructions was found in Reading Abbey though it may not have been written there. It is now housed at the British Library. The language is Middle English (Wessex dialect).

Friday 17 April 2009

Sweating like a pig?

Do pigs sweat? It seems that pigs or rather swine (because 'pig' is actually a young animal) do have sweat glands but they are so few that they are not efficient temperature controllers and so they cool down by wallowing in cool water or mud, which has the same effect as sweat evaporating on human skin.

Perhaps we should adjust our idioms.

When I was young(er) I was told 'Ladies glow, gentlemen perspire and horses sweat' at the same time as I learnt that Officers marry Ladies, NCOs have wives and other ranks consort with women.

Class-ridden Great Britain?? Never!

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Everything is busy in the garden. The birds are exhausting themselves – in some cases the bright courting colours are fading and feathers are looking ragged as parent birds use every daylight hour to feed their demanding young. The Great Spotted Woodpeckers are an exception – they are still drumming from dawn to dusk and remain paintbox fresh.

The last couple of days have been mercurial here in the soft South of the country. The fruit trees blossom bravely in the face of wind and rain and plantlets put outside to benefit from warmth have had to be taken quickly under cover to prevent them being flattened.

Hugh Jackman abseils for Help for Heroes

The Australian star of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' yesterday showed his support for Help for Heroes by abseiling down the eight storeys of the Sun's building, a height of more than 100 feet. His sister served in British Intelligence in Iraq.

The team he abseiled with, including Royal Marines and Sun newspaper staff, raised £25000 for the charity. They were joined by a chicken or at least someone dressed in a chicken outfit – the Sun's Defence Editor, Tom Newton Dunn.

Help for Heroes is aiming to raise £20 million to fund seven rehabilitation centres for wounded troops to recover, retrain and adjust to a different way of living.

April shower clouds in Berkshire UK

Please visit Skywatch Friday to see stunning photographs from around the world.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Goodbye old car, hello new . . .

On Wednesday we said goodbye to our tried and trusty, old not rusty red and battered Citroën. It was quickly loaded onto a transporter and carried away out of our lives forever and not a tear was shed at our parting. On Thursday we took ownership of our new silver looks-like-a-van-but-is-actually-a-car, also a Citroën.
The dogs were intrigued by this different vehicle but no doubt will soon have it smelling just the way they want it. I am relieved that it can be locked and hope we have experienced the last of strange vehicular incidents.

It is pleasant to sit up high and be able to look over hedges. It gives a sense, probably quite false, of added safety and if it lasts as long as the old Citroën we shall be pleased indeed.

Growing up

The other day we were discussing growing up and wondering when or if we ever would. Our first child – a daughter - gave us the justification for acquiring a train set but whereas I favoured wooden engines and carriages painted in bright primary colours running in an endless circle round a wooden track or more interestingly a figure of eight, my husband, though he indulged my whim for a while, had his sights set on a far more elaborate creation.

Over the years of subsequent children and grandchildren he has designed two railway layouts. The first one was founded on N gauge, tiny perfect engines and carriages having the advantage of presenting a sophisticated layout in a relatively small area. They operated on electrical contacts and relays and it was not possible at the time to computerise them.

The second design is based on OO gauge and the attention to detail in the model reproductions is stunning. As each engine can be individually programmed it is possible to organise a complex railway system, incorporating turntables and track switching, signalling, sounds and steam – and more than one person can play at a time! The layout is still evolving.

Monday 13 April 2009

Easter Monday

This is the first year since we've been married that we have spent Easter on our own, just the two of us together (there's a song in there somewhere). It has felt strange but pleasant.

Today the sun has struggled out and is gaining confidence with every passing minute. It makes the fresh new leaves look ever brighter and there is a sense of burgeoning life waiting just below the surface to spring forth.

Every Spring there are trees covered in white blossom in the forest. Many times I've picked a sprig and brought it home to identify. I've always forgotten its name by the next year! This year I wondered if photographing it would help me to memorise it.
It is (I think) the Common Wild Cherry or Gean.
It is a good furniture timber and is valued as a turnery wood for items like bowls.
Foresters like to see it growing on the edges of plantations as it suckers freely and coppices when cut.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Dominie and her wheeled carriage

Dominie is managing extraordinarily well with her wheels. Today she stuttered out to the kitchen for her customary pre-walk drink of water – wise animal! It would be impossible to leave the house without her knowledge for she is extremely alert and very sure she does not want to be denied any outings with the humans and the rest of the canines.
On occasions when she is left solitary in the sitting room and unable to get to her feet to join the rest of the pack in the kitchen, she cries piteously. It is not always thus. Often she can manoeuvre herself off her bed and onto her feet and then she delights us by coming to meet us.
She has been strong today and it was a pleasure to see her in the forest trucking along. She fell over only once. We know she is getting ready to travel on but for the moment she is happy and willing to stay with us. Her appetite is good, she is not in pain and she maintains her position as head of the pack. She greets all her friends, human and otherwise, with considerable grace and pleasure. She will know, as we will know, when it is time for her to take the next step. It's in the eyes . . .

The Endless Saga of the Endless Pool – lights, cement, action!

Cement contributes to five per cent of current global warming because of the heat needed to produce it. Now investigations are under way to find a means of manufacturing cement more efficiently. More importantly, investigators are looking at new products for use in construction that will absorb CO2. Until that time, cement will continue to be used and that is what P put down to screed the floor of the Endless Pool.

It was necessary to do this to smooth over the rough concrete surfaces before the pool liner could be ordered and fitted. Having finished the screeding, P turned his attention to installing lights and a dehumidifier. He also put the coping in place around the top edge of the pool and fitted the retractable cover on its roller. Every new achievement brought the pool closer to completion. We started imagining ourselves swimming.
Barry and P measured carefully several times to be absolutely sure of the size of the pool liner required. The dimensions were phoned through to the States, payment made and we settled in for a wait of possibly six weeks. A fortnight later the liner was delivered and Barry had several anxious moments checking that it was the correct size. It was! It is!

Cats and spiders

Occasionally our cats can be seen concentrating intently on a scuttling spider. They sniff and pat and jump back having been bitten on the nose then return to the hunt. As we don't have extremely venomous arachnids in Great Britain, the cats are usually victorious. Generally, they don't eat spiders, just chew them up and spit them out.

Several times a day I tidy up the cat litter box. It keeps it clean, for cats are fastidious creatures and, more importantly, it stops the dogs sampling what they seem to think are tasty snacks. (I've heard them referred to as 'kitty croquettes') Even though our cats are fed a mainly raw diet, with only occasional commercial 'treats' so that there is very little waste, I still prefer to keep temptation at bay by removing potential tit-bits.

Every time I've removed clumps during the last two or three days a medium-sized spider has hurried under the retaining rim of the litter tray. The cats don't appear to have seen it or maybe they've had more pressing demands on their attention. I don't like spiders, although I know they're a force for good – they make me shudder. I wonder if I'd find them less repellent if they were pastel-coloured and moved gracefully. Notwithstanding, I must respect any creature that will spend its time in a cat litter tray, facing danger every time a feline paw comes near. I'm sure it remains there through choice – perhaps it is making its own contribution to the cleanliness of the litter, eating microbes, since there are no flies within shouting distance.


Acronyms are a way of referring to an organisation or item without repeating the whole title and they have a useful purpose when universally understood. I suppose that every adult in the English-speaking world knows that NATO is the short form of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and UFO means Unidentified Flying Object. BBC can trip up some people as can NASA but we have a general idea what they mean.

Sometimes, though, acronyms are a means of excluding people from conversation or perhaps of discovering those who may share an interest. SLRs are significant for photographers and LEDs are important to those of an electronic bent, while SENCO is used in educational circles. Just occasionally acronyms are used to baffle, to prove superiority of knowledge or experience, or perhaps are an indication of the user's inability to appreciate the exclusivity of the initials he is using.

The CEO of HFC had arranged to meet the MD in the bar of a pub in WGC. They needed to reach agreement ASAP on the MO they were planning for the introduction of PAYE for the new company. The PM had told the MPs that HMG had a vested interest in the venture and assured them that HRH was also paying close attention.

I recently attempted to read a true story of derring-do which was littered with acronyms. The book had a glossary of terms but after a few pages I was thoroughly tired of referring to it and had lost all patience with the narrative. What had started as an interesting if not very well-written tale had quickly become a source of irritation and I could no longer force myself to persevere with it.

Happy Easter

My first ever Easter tree should carry the label 'could do better' and perhaps next year I will.

I decided to take a photograph of the golden Easter bunnies before they are despoiled. I can resist until I start, if that makes sense. I cannot do things in moderation – when I used to jog I would always end up racing. When swimming I had to beat my previous record number of laps. That won't be a problem in the Endless Pool, particularly if it remains empty of water!! If I pickle onions or make marmalade I produce great quantities which are then given away to the family (another thing I couldn't undertake in moderation).
Anyway, my Easter bunnies remain intact for now and I shall have to think about the bells and ribbons – they can't be wasted.

Saturday 11 April 2009

The Endless Saga of the Endless Pool – painting the Pool Room

The Pool Room is built of untreated wood and so the paint had to be chosen accordingly. It was an interesting voyage of discovery seeking a paint that would be subject to humidity and condensation and that could be used indoors. Barry had a few amusing conversations when he and the people he was phoning were at cross purposes over the meaning of a Pool Room. While they were envisaging green baize and cue balls he was talking about dampness!

Most paints recommended for wood protection can only be used outside since they contain chemicals harmful to people. Alarmingly, Barry learnt that many recommendations for indoor paint from suppliers of wooden buildings were considered dangerous to health by paint suppliers when used in situations where humidity would be a factor.

There was a substantial area to be covered, including a large expanse of ceiling, needing six to seven coats so it was also important that it could be applied by roller as well as brush. Eventually, on advice, particularly regarding health, he opted for Mylands Danish Oil which would provide adequate wood preservation and be safe for humans in a humid internal environment.

There followed days of fume-induced head-aching painting but finally the interior was finished. Now it was time to tackle the outside.

Barry decided to use Cuprinol Total Garden Wood Treatment because it was sprayable, making the work much easier for large areas, in particular those not easily reached. The coverage was impressively swift, especially of Barry. He looked like a leprechaun, his clothes a shade of green not often seen. The back of his neck had been sprayed to match and his face resembled a differently coloured reverse panda.

It has been breezy since the first treatment so he has been unable to apply a further coat.

Friday 10 April 2009

Easter trees

Today is Good Friday – always a quiet day for me and one on which I feel I should be spending some time in church, though I never do. Out walking with the dogs I found myself singing a hymn from my childhood – 'There is a green hill, far away . . . ' I never understood until I was grown up what 'without a city wall' meant. Why should a hill have a city wall? It was strange how quickly the words came back to me. I must have sung it a few times as a teacher though I cannot recall doing so, since most of my career was spent with younger children.

I had never heard of Easter trees until I saw them mentioned on a blog and then, when I did some cursory research I discovered that, like Christmas trees (thank you, Prince Albert) the custom comes from Germany. I thought it was such a pretty idea that I had to try it out, though it's rather too close to Easter – I should have started with a bare twig or two six weeks ago. I went shopping for decorations and though I really wanted fluffy chicks I ended up with painted eggs, pig (!) paper clips and a rabbit that more resembles a hare appropriately enough for the British Isles. Nonetheless they are all symbols of renewal - not quite sure about the pigs; I think they represent Easter Sunday lunch more than anything! Similarly, I'm not sure where a duck on eggs fits in; maybe it's another European custom, though I can see where the Easter poisson of France comes in as Ichthus is an early Christian symbol and is often to be seen in lapels, on car stickers, as brooches for believers.

The Easter tree has proved to be a source of fascination for the cats but I think I'll continue the custom next year.

The Further Adventures of Frodo the Faller - Partners in Crime

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just let the animals sort out their own food. They receive a varied and balanced diet but still cannot resist breaking in wherever they can and helping themselves. Poor Dominie would miss out, of course.

This morning after breakfast they settled down but a short while later I heard a knocking; it sounded as though one of the cats had found his way into a kitchen cupboard and was now trapped and trying unsuccessfully to escape. I had been engrossed in what I was doing but suddenly noticed that three of the dogs and both the cats had disappeared. Time to investigate! On the tiled floor next to the larder cupboard lay a punctured carton of orange juice, leaking its contents in an ever-spreading puddle. Winston was looking puzzled.

In the conservatory a pouch of cat food was being consumed. The meat and juices inside were resisting extraction so a great deal of energetic licking was taking place; in the course of this the vertical blind cords had become entangled and, being covered in delicious food, had been sucked up by Frodo the Faller. I was able to withdraw it from his mouth and throat with no problem but while I was clearing up the remains of the pouch Jenna-the-Labrador surreptitiously swallowed the cord and was rather surprised by the texture of the 'food'. She was as relieved as Frodo had been to have it removed. It was then that I discovered that the pouch had been divided into neat halves and Buddy Liver Spots was busily slurping at the remaining half.

Having tidied and cleaned I realised that Winston and Monty obviously had not eaten enough of their raw chicken wings before Buddy barged in on them at breakfast and Winston had decided to make good the deficit. Normally there would not have been any commercial cat food available but as both the cats had been a little under the weather I had bought some foil packets to try and encourage them to eat, deciding in any case that it would be a good idea to have a stand-by in the cupboard. Ready-prepared cat food smells strongly and my mistake was to leave it within Ocicat reach. Winston yelled at me at full volume until I opened a fresh packet and left him and Monty in peace to eat it.

The rest of the pouches are now on a high shelf where none of the animals, apart from the humans, can reach them. Granddaughter Marnie, take note! She and Nadia were sampling cat food last week – I was pleased to hear that a vet would do this, but as feline medicine is Nadia's particular interest I wasn't overly surprised.

Winston blogging again

Winston here . . . p'rrrrr, p'rrrrr . . .

The rain is hissing down here but it hasn't stopped the birds being busy so me and Monty can do a spot of bird-watching. I've just seen an enormous crow on the fat cake. Yesterday he was eating the grass seed – the wood pigeons haven't eaten quite all of it.

Me and Monty are feeling much better now, thank you kindly for asking. We enjoyed our morning treats from Mr Human and yowled excessively for breakfast from Mrs.

I got the 'Hand-off' from Monty – you know, like the rugby players do. I'm not so keen on rugby meself but Monty likes it. Monty does a 'Hand-off' when he's very hungry and wants first go at the food. I always give in – don't like trouble, me – and he don't eat it all anyway so there's plenty left for me. Buddy Liver Spots nosed the door open and pinched our chicken but we'd had enough and there'll be supper later.

Me and Monty are great pals but every so often he picks a fight with me. I don't like that – I'm a peaceable sort of chap – but I forgive him for it. He was so ill when we were kittens – he had osteomyelitis (had to ask Mrs what it was called) and nearly died so it's good in a way that he's top cat. He is a month older than me, too, so it's only fair.

Nothing much going on outside and all the dogs are asleep inside so I think I'll have a snooze too.


Thursday 9 April 2009

Dog cars

We have a vehicle we fondly call 'the dog car' for we use it to transport four dogs (sometimes six) to the forest for their exercise. It was brand new in 1992 and even though it has done sterling service it still has only 58000 miles on the clock; that makes an average of just over 3400 miles per annum.

It has one or two strange quirks. Even though it is a French car, built primarily for use, one imagines, in the greater European land mass across La Manche, it takes an inordinately long time to heat up in the winter. It also requires more 'choke' for a longer period than would be expected. Most definitely it is Francophobe, intensely disliking French petrol and on the only two occasions it was filled with such, no alternative being immediately available, it did a passable imitation of a dying kangaroo – 'cough, cough, judder, cough, cough, splutter'.

Preparing to go to work one day I got into the driving seat and discovered the passenger foot well was full of water. Perhaps 'full' is a slight exaggeration but there were a good two inches of water sloshing about. It had rained heavily the previous night but all the windows were tightly shut and the car securely locked. Youngest daughter and I bailed out the water and were both late for school that day. The problem never arose again.

Another day I went out of the house to discover the car almost on the footpath. I had parked it at the top of the drive, which is twenty feet long, it was locked and the handbrake was engaged but somehow it had rolled back. Again, this event was unique mainly because thereafter it was 'belt and braces' – that is, handbrake and first gear were applied.

It has been broken into more than once, the windscreen smashed a couple of times, the door lock rendered useless. For the past few years we have been unable to lock it and haven't worried since we thought no-one would steal what had become such a heap of a car. Incidentally, a car can pass its M.O.T. without lockable doors but requires a petrol cap that is secure. So it seems that a car may be open to theft but its petrol should be made safe. We were proved wrong in our confidence a few days ago; when I loaded the dogs in the car I saw that the contents of the glove box were strewn across the passenger floor. I supposed that Barry had been looking for something but was surprised when he declared that he hadn't. Then we discovered that the petrol cap key was missing. We deduced that a person or persons unknown had attempted to steal the car and been thwarted because the key they found did not fit the ignition. Piqued by this glitch they had taken the key with them or thrown it away. The petrol cap was locked as required for M.O.T. so we had to call on the services of the AA to release it.

On several occasions men, young and older, have knocked at the door to enquire if we wanted to get rid of the car and we've always laughed and explained its purpose. Recently, the coal merchant looked at it and asked if it belonged to our son as it has a bike rack on the back. Our son would be mortified to be associated with this vehicle – it's growing lichen on the window frames and bumpers and looks a sorry sight. In fact, none of our children would lay claim to it and shortly, neither shall we. I opened the passenger door last week and saw a cigarette end on the floor. No-one in this family smokes. I have become increasingly uneasy at the vulnerability of this car and so we are taking advantage of Citroën's scrappage offer and replacing it with a Berlingo Multispace – lots of room for the dogs and more importantly, low carbon emission and central locking.

The Further Adventures of Frodo the Faller – chicken soup

A few days after the bird cake incident Frodo the Faller attempted to swipe a pan of chicken soup from the hob, spilling much of it in the process which he was then able to ingest at speed. For those who may not be aware, Dalmatians are almost as adept and certainly as speedy at siphoning food as Labradors. Anyway, suffice it to say that the cooker was awash with well-seasoned soup, onions and bones – and onions are not a recommended food for dogs, being potentially toxic. I quickly cleared up most of the mess, leaving the cleaning of the hob burners until later because one of our daughters was visiting briefly and I wanted to spend some time with her.

Later that evening I finished cleaning the cooker but then noticed that one of the burners was missing. It wasn't very big, about one and a half inches (three centimetres) across. I hunted everywhere, sifted through the rubbish twice (ugh!) shone torches into areas possibly big enough for it to have spun under - no joy! I was forced to the conclusion that Frodo had swallowed it, along with the soup. My husband was not pleased, either with Frodo or me (though he was the unnamed one who had left the porch door open, allowing Jenna-the-Labrador and Frodo the Faller access to the bird cakes previously. People in glass houses and all that . . . !) Our Britannia range was a smart and recent installation in our kitchen.

Frodo slept soundly that night and the following morning he sucked down his breakfast, scanned all the work-tops for potential snacks, bumbled around glued to my leg and finally settled down to sleep. He seemed perfectly well and I assumed nature would take its course - the burner was brass so would have been easy to spot!! Though I watched carefully for the next few days, nothing remotely resembling a brass burner came to light; eventually I convinced myself that I must have picked it up in the wads of kitchen towel I had used to soak up the soup.

Claire at the Britannia service centre was most helpful and managed not to laugh when I told her the sorry tale. In fact, as the range was still under guarantee, I received a free replacement burner within a couple of days of contacting her.

I haven't made chicken soup since!