Thursday 29 October 2009

SkyWatch Friday Season 4 Episode 16 Above our house

Barry took these photos of the sky above our house on Wednesday. It was a beautiful day, warm and bright and dry - gorgeous walking and cycling weather.

Thank you to the SkyWatch team for creating and hosting this meme.
Click here to see more sky scenes around the world.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Careers advice for seven-year-olds

Ed Balls has been the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families since June 2007.

Mr Balls (and you have to feel a smidgen of sympathy for someone who has to go through life with that surname – how he must have been teased/bullied at school. Now he's married and it's obvious who wears the trousers – Mrs Balls! Ta-da!!) in his infinite wisdom or otherwise misguided by one or several advisors, has decided that careers advice should be available for seven-to-eleven-year-olds. The scheme is being piloted (don't you just love that verb? It smacks of large ships being guided into small harbours or pilot whales corralling shoals of cod when squid are scarce) in several primary schools. One inner-city school in Norfolk has been trialling (another verb rich in meaning, bringing to mind horse and motor-bike trials, sea trials, television series) the scheme for two terms. Listening to someone involved in it I was not impressed by the lack of clarity exposed during the interview.

Where has Ed been during the last few years? Surely it cannot have escaped his notice that many seven-year-old children can barely manage to speak in sentences, let alone read or reason. How can career advice help them? As they are monosyllabic 'career' is a word too advanced for them. They will have had little experience of the world of work even at second hand since disgracefully there are growing numbers of families whose members have not worked for several generations. For these children, growing up and leaving school means 'going on the dole' with no hope or expectation of ever earning money through employment. Even worse, a significant number of eleven-year-olds enter secondary school unable to read or write fluently or coherently or express themselves articulately. Surely the emphasis should be on helping these children to learn the basics needed for everyday life and the extra funding earmarked for this absurd initiative should be spent on employing teachers gifted in teaching reluctant or slower learners.

Slowly, silently, now the moon . . .

This is the October full moon from 2006. October full moon is known as the Harvest Moon, the Hunter's Moon or the Falling Leaves Moon.


Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees;

One by one the casements catch

Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;

Couched in his kennel, like a log,

With paws of silver sleeps the dog;

From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep

Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;

A harvest mouse goes scampering by,

With silver claws and silver eye;

And moveless fish in the water gleam,

By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare

I learnt these words as a schoolgirl but can only ever recall the first two lines. I like the poem better than I did when I was young but perhaps that is because I was tasked then to learn it without first discussing it.

For many years I disliked the moon, found it cold and somehow frightening, too remote, in no measure romantic. In recent times I have learnt to appreciate its distant beauty, to wonder at the mysteries it might hold and eventually unfold. It is almost unbelievable that men have set foot on its surface – how extraordinary that mere humans have found a way to explore such far-flung satellites and still find that there is yet more to discover.

Now I gaze at the moon in its regular phases, try to capture it in photographs and marvel at the varying hues at various times of the year or in diverse weather conditions.

ABC Wednesday Round 5 - O is for Ocicats

Winston and Monty as kittens, still growing into their ears
O is for Ocicats. The Ocicat is a 'man-made' breed, the result of an American breeder trying to create an Aby-pointed Siamese. She crossed an Abyssinian with a Siamese and one of the kittens was spotted, looking rather like an Ocelot. Her daughter remarked on this and so the kitten was called an Ocicat. He was never bred from - in fact he was neutered - but spotty kittens from subsequent litters were kept and bred. Outcrosses were made to American Shorthair cats to introduce the silver gene and greater body substance. Consequently there is a fairly large and diverse gene pool and Ocicats are not subject to the inherited problems of more selectively-bred cat breeds. It is permissible to breed them with Abssinians and this again increases the gene pool. Monty curls up with Frodo

Winston relaxes with Jenna

Monty with his favourite dog

Winston about to join Monty in Dominie's bed
A litter of Ocicat kittens can contain kittens of Abyssinian appearance, referred to as 'mountain lions', the expected spotted striped kittens and those with a classic tabby marking.
Ocicats are strong athletic cats and are heavier than they look.
Our two, not related, are neutered chaps. Winston is chocolate and Monty is chocolate silver.They are very dog-like in their interaction with humans and are extremely affectionate. They live very happily with our dogs and can often be found curled up with one. Monty particularly likes Jenna and frequently seeks her out.
Gillian's Foxy enjoying Monty's company. Foxy's own cat in Dorset won't tolerate such behaviour!
They don't always sleep together and sometimes squabble but usually they are the best of friends.
Thank you to Mrs Nesbitt for hosting this meme. Why not visit her here for other interpretations of the letter 'O'.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Today's Flowers #63 Clematis tangutica

I love the little lanterns of clematis tangutica and the bright yellow that lightens up a dull day.The leaves are a fresh hopeful green.

It makes a brave show with the orange pyracantha berries.

Thank you to the Today's Flowers team for hosting this meme.
Click here to see more delightful photographs.

Winston’s late October blog, Camera Critters #81, Pet Pride

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

I told you about the conservatory, didn't I? Well, the men came back but there's still a leak so they've got to come back again. They're never done a roof with a flue going through it before so they're learning new skills. Monty and me really like the new roof – we can watch the birds and planes through it. It was ever so nice of the humans to put it up for us.

Anyway, the conservatory's all freshly deckerated and clean now and the furniture's back, only not so much and Mrs Human put some new throws on the chairs and stools. Trouble is me and Monty keep getting our claws caught in them – oops! She took our cat tree outside to clean it and left it out in the rain. Then she discovered the poles were only cardboard and they went all soggy and bendy. She said it was like a towel of pizza but me and Monty didn't mind – it was fun trying to balance. She said it was looking a bit very shabby anyway so she threw it out and me and Monty lost our look-out post. We was a bit miffed by that don'tcha know.

On Thursday a big box arrived and it was ever so heavy. We knew thought it was for us and we enjoyed sniffing it and sitting on it. I was the first one to check it out. Monty joined me and we posed prettily for our photos.

Then Mr H opened the box and that was even more fun. This was one of the things in the box - I don't think we would have fitted in anything smaller. Monty just had to get in the box - it's a cat thing, don'tcha know. Never known a cat yet that could resist a box.
He and Mrs H took all the bits in the conservatory and soon – well, not all that soon – he'd built us a brand new cat tree. He didn't start very early and it was dark by the time he finished so the photographs Mrs H took have got all sorts of reflections in them. Quite interesting, she thought. I think she should clean the windows again don'tcha know. This is the basket I was in earlier. Monty don't know whether he's coming or going! Everything had to be explored. It all smelt very strange but we think we like it, specially when the humans put our nice prawn treats in the different bits.

Still don't know what this GUS thing is though . . .

Thank you to the hosts of Camera Critters and Pet Pride for organising these memes.
To admire more stunners please click on the underlined names.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Six Word Saturday

The clocks go back this weekend . . .
. . . then it will feel really autumnal - a reminder that the year is turning and after the harvest festivals in schools and churches there will be an onward rush to Christmas. The shops have been touting Christmas goods for months and the charity catalogues are coming in thick and fast.
It's half-term in the coming week and after that in primary schools up and down the country the children will be practising Christmas carols and concerts, miniature Marys and Josephs will be chosen and angels will be nagged into holding their 'wings' aloft, shepherds' tea-towel headdresses will refuse to stay in place and kings/wise men will trip over their cloaks while their crowns slip down over their eyes. No matter how hackneyed it may all seem, nor how many times the Nativity has been acted out, when the lights catch the tinsel and silver on the angels' heads and the 'precious gifts' and the children sing 'Away in a manger' the audience and teachers alike will catch their breath and swallow hard while their eyes mist over, caught up once more in the essential innocence and trust of small children. Do I miss this? Of course I do!
To see what other people are thinking about please click here and at the same time say 'thank you' to Cate from 'Show My Face' for organising and hosting this meme.

Friday 23 October 2009

Watch where you’re going!

Two US airline pilots were having such a heated discussion that they forgot to land the plane they were flying and 144 passengers were flown 150 miles beyond their anticipated destination. The flight lost contact with air traffic controllers for over an hour by which time fears were being expressed that a hijack might be taking place. Fighter jets had been put on stand-by.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said that such an event was unlikely to happen in Britain since if an aircraft overflew its destination for 80 minutes it would have entered another country's airspace. Persistent calls from such a country would alert the CAA.

Suspicions have been voiced that rather than quarrelling the pilots actually fell asleep!

Friday 55 Flash Fiction Smiles

It was a beautiful morning so she decided to walk. Everyone seemed happy. She noticed many people, particularly men, turning to smile as they passed. When she reached her work her friend pulled her to one side and whispered something. Her smile faded. She had walked to work with her skirt tucked into her knickers.

Thank you to G-man-Mr Knowitall for creating and hosting this meme.To read more contributions please click here

Thursday 22 October 2009

Manners maketh man – take two

Strictly speaking school uniform might not come under the heading of manners but perhaps it does in the sense that it implies dressing correctly. The requirement for school uniform is frequently a subject for debate. Those who consider it an infringement of personal liberty speak about individuality and choice, not to mention a drain on the domestic purse. Others who think it is probably a good idea – and I freely admit I belong in that camp – try to persuade the dissenters of its value.

School uniforms ensure that all students dress alike with no outrageous, expensive fashions-of-the-moment being flaunted by the most materially fortunate. Parents struggling to keep body and soul together are spared at least one of the status battles fought with their offspring. Uniforms also identify the schools from which students hail thus ensuring that misbehaving young people can be traced to their place of learning, there to be dealt with by those in charge. The idea is that scholars will look smart, feel part of a community and develop a spirit of kinship.

There are flaws to the arguments however.

School uniforms are usually adapted by the wearers and not always in the most attractive ways.

There is a distinct difference in the uniforms worn in state schools and those adopted by fee-paying establishments. State schools usually choose colours that are easily found in chain stores and do not always insist on a particular style so long as the clothes are 'respectable'. Thus parents can dress their children relatively cheaply in the required colours. Independent schools generally opt for unusual colour combinations in hues only produced in small quantities. Thus the materials are more expensive to buy. The clothes are cut to one pattern and the children they are modelled on are yet to be seen, being apparently square with short bodies and attenuated limbs. Slightly-built children can move around inside their clothes easily, much like a hamster in its skin. There is often only one supplier for a school so there is no competition for custom and prices are extortionate for workmanship that is seldom good – seams split, buttons fall off, hems drop down, colours fade. Frequently the sales staff are condescending and unhelpful.

Because of the expense parents sometimes buy uniforms 'to last' so unfortunate small children can be observed struggling uncomfortably to walk in their over-sized blazers, thickly turned-up trousers or ankle-length skirts and tunics. By the time they have 'grown into' them their school clothes look decidedly shabby. Some schools run 'thrift shops' periodically where outgrown but not worn out items can be purchased for a fraction of the price of new.

I don't know who designs school uniforms but they should be shot – or at least invited to assist at any lessons where small children have to divest themselves of their clothes in order to don special kit for the ensuing session and then repeat the procedure in reverse after the period is over. Undressing is perhaps not quite as difficult as dressing. Buttons are awkward, zips are easier unless in a side seam over the ribs, tunics or gym slips are struggled over heads, threatening to suffocate children in the process. Elasticated ties are easier than traditional ties though not without their hazards while socks, tights and vests are stripped off easily, ending up inside out on the floor, which presents a particular problem in a wet swimming pool changing room.

Having undressed the children have to put on special clothes for their activity lesson. This may involve leotards for the girls with all sorts of possible methods of wearing – legs through sleeves, back-to-front, two legs in one leg hole. Shorts and tee shirts can also go on upside down. A PE lesson with small children may consist entirely of undressing and dressing with no perceivable physical benefit but a lot of frustration for infants and teachers.

When the time comes to step out of games kit and back into everyday wear the fun really starts, particularly at the swimming pool. Some children attempt to dress without first having dried themselves thoroughly so that shirts and blouses, often inside out and upside down, stick unrelentingly to small damp bodies, socks refuse to pass the toes, jumpers grow too tight and other clothes twist uncomfortably. Who knew that underpants and knickers could be so difficult? Watch a small child tussle with them and then sympathise when she realises the waist aperture is round one leg and the leg hole is too small for her waist. Others take an age to dry every inch of themselves and then proceed agonisingly slowly to put on their clothes. A 'no talking' rule is essential since small children cannot talk and dress simultaneously. At least one child will lose his own clothes and may appropriate someone else's. It is not at all uncommon to discover odd socks, a vest, knickers unclaimed after everyone is apparently fully clothed. Some children may be found to be wearing three or more socks while the clothes that have dropped onto the floor are too wet to be put on and have to be hung on radiators or window sills to dry out.

Adults wish to encourage children to become independent and children enjoy doing things for themselves and while there is little that can be done to make undergarments easier there are many ways in which uniforms can be made more child-friendly. Pull-on clothing in lightweight, breathable materials can be smart and comfortable. One state school in which I taught had a fairly simple uniform but the children were assigned to 'houses' and wore waterproof smocks over their clothes in the colour of their team. Certainly the smocks kept the clothes clean but they were an unnecessary layer in warm weather and rustled constantly. I was not popular when I allowed the children to stop wearing them.

Shoe manufacturers have already provided alternatives to laces and buckles with Velcro strips. It's time for the uniform providers to consider alternatives to the traditional styles and fastenings of clothes.

Of course, some schools revere tradition and steadfastly refuse to move forward. I suspect the Board of Governors of such schools are really the individuals who consider only the look of the uniform and never think about children's comfort.

My six-year-old grandson has to wear short trousers and a striped blazer with a handkerchief in the breast pocket. The boys are met at the door by the head teacher to shake hands and the salutation is, 'Where's your hand?', a somewhat aggressive greeting, I feel. Parents are almost physically barred from entering the school to talk to class teachers so they find alternative entrances. I'm almost willing to bet they have to wear straw boaters in the summer! As the children approach the school door they can be heard anxiously asking, 'Is my handkerchief straight?' Poor little souls – they are still relatively new arrivals on this earth and they are expected to dress and behave like civil servants in the City. Isn't there enough in their lives for them to worry about – things like remembering games kit, thinking about reading and number work, not to mention friends. Really – what nonsense – such attitudes belong in the 1920s.

My eight-year-old granddaughter is attending a girls' school and is finding the sheer bitchiness of some of her peers hard to take. She will survive, of course – she's a strong character, but she and her little brother are finding it hard to adjust from their friendly co-educational school in New York City (BISNY) At the end of the day the headmistress bids them good day and they curtsey to her!! Very sweet if a little old-fashioned – after all, there are no Debutantes presented to the Queen these days, and in any case a curtsey is quickly learned.

Elliot, their elder brother, is very happy in his co-educational school. The children are welcoming and he has made many friends quickly. So, how can we define good manners? Surely they are a means of ensuring that the people with whom you are dealing are put at their ease and allowed to discourse and interact freely. I think Charles Kingsley expressed it well in two of the characters he created in 'The Water Babies' – Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby.

Question Time

The BBC's Question Time has invited the leader of the BNP (British National Party) onto the panel for tonight's show. There has been a great deal of debate about the wisdom of so doing and there was an appeal to the BBC Trust to prevent the leader appearing but it was rejected. In this country there is a tradition of free speech. Anyone may declare their views and listeners are free to agree or otherwise.

Anti-Fascists are expected to protest outside BBC Television Centre. There will undoubtedly be scuffles and there is bound to be a good deal of heckling inside the studio.

I dislike the BNP's attitudes, policies, beliefs but they have a right to express them. What I strongly object to is their appropriation of the Union Flag as a symbol for their party. It implies respectability and representation of the majority of Britons. I would hate the rest of the world to associate our national flag with a Fascist party and I wish, without much hope, that the news channels would blot out the flag in pictures of the BNP leader. I suppose that would be considered a form of censorship.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

ABC Wednesday Round 5 - N

N is for Nuthatch . . . . . . and Nasturtiums

Thank you to Mrs Nesbitt for hosting this meme.
To see what others are thinking of please click here

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Dog Days of My Life: #13 - Jenna

Foxy in July 2005
In 2005 Gillian and Paul bought a fox red working Labrador puppy. Their old rescue dog, Jake, a fantastic, gentle boy, had died and their black Labrador Tia missed him. She would leave the house, something she had never done before, and go off apparently looking for him.

Foxy was due to be picked up just before they went on holiday. When Gillian and the children and I arrived in Powys the puppies were playing in an enclosure on the grass and they were adorable. They were all fox red, perfect little miniature dogs, identical to the untrained eye though Charlotte and Ali, having handled and played with them from birth, knew them as individuals. Foxy had proved quite a leader, digging a tunnel from the pen and leading her siblings on a journey of discovery. They didn't get far before the escape was discovered and they were safely enclosed once more.

Our dogs greeted her with interest and enthusiasm and she was not in the least fazed by their size and coats – she'd never seen spotted dogs before! The next day Gillian and the children returned to Dorset to pack and then came back to Berkshire to deposit Tia and Foxy for the duration of their holiday.

Foxy 2005

Foxy was a delight. We hadn't had a baby puppy since Buddy and had forgotten the sheer joy of watching such a young animal explore and play and respond. As the time neared for Gillian and Paul's return we knew we were really going to miss this little character. After a long discussion but in reality within a very short time we decided to ask Charlotte if she would allow us a puppy. She agreed and in due course Jenna was born.

When we collected Jenna she came with us without a whimper or a backward glance – faithless bitch! Indeed, she responds to all comers, human, dog, cat with enthusiasm and friendship. She is a hard-working, eager little dog, ever willing to please unless she is following a scent and then her nose is busier than her ears – she is much better than she used to be though. We keep her occupied and try to avoid times when deer are more likely to be around. Until Jenna taught us otherwise we had never realised there were pheasant in the forest but she puts them up all over the place even though she's not supposed to be a Springer!

As a small puppy she was curious, responsive and not easily spooked and it was obvious that she had been well socialised. When she met adult dogs she was impeccably behaved, submitting to their inspection and doing everything a good puppy should to show that she knew her place at the bottom of the pecking order. With our dogs she had great fun, particularly with Frodo who could get her head in his mouth and who really enjoyed rough and tumble with her. It is delightful to see adult dogs playing so carefully with young pups.
Jenna and Frodo playing, January 2006

Jenna is now almost four years old and a confident, wonderful companion. There is not an ounce of nastiness in her though she would stand her ground if required. Surrounded by three boisterous unruly collies last week we thought she might tell them what she thought but fortunately they bounded away on some other pursuit.
She is an avid television watcher and barks at animals on the screen. She also purports to be a guard dog, making loud 'go away' noises only to meet incomers with great joy. She shows her true working credentials when Tia and Foxy come to stay. She and Tia work together, tails waving like flags, the one waiting for the other when the 'bag' has been picked up. (Foxy is more interested in retrieving biscuits!) The tails are a great indicator of progress. As they quarter the ground and near the objective the wagging gets faster. When the 'bag' has been spotted and is about to be taken the tails wag very fast, the shoulders lift and the front paws hit the ground in a pouncing movement. Even alone Jenna works tirelessly and energetically and we have to be careful that we don't exhaust her. The most stimulating exercises for her are those where she has to sit and watch and wait before being sent out to fetch. If the 'catch' is in water she ducks her head under the surface in her quest to find it. It is fascinating to watch her.
Jenna is deferential and gentle with Dominie and will take her a toy if she senses that Dominie is frustrated or unhappy. Along with Frodo she carefully cleans her mouth stopping the instant Dominie tells her to. She is respectful to Buddy and seems to understand that he cannot see very well but licks his muzzle when he is relaxed.

Jenna and Dominie play, watched by Frodo, January 2006
She thinks she is a lap dog and clambers up but cannot settle, fidgeting this way and that until she has found a comfortable position which inevitably is most uncomfortable for the human she has favoured. Like most Labradors she is very interested in food and would always appreciate at least twice the amount she is given. It would be very easy to give in to the pleading expression in her pretty eyes. Frodo and Jenna play-fighting, 2006
Every dog we have known intimately has been so very special and unique and Jenna is no exception. We have never reached the point where we cease to be amused and amazed, taught and humbled by these wonderful animals.

Monday 19 October 2009

Seek and ye (I) shall find . . .

The phrase most often uttered by my beloved husband has never lost its ability to send a thrill through me. Even after all these years – too many to register – those oh-so-familiar words cause my heart to turn over and my pulse to race. It's quite amazing that their power to excite has increased through the decades when one might have expected them to lose their potency. No matter what the season or the time of day – and often I hear them late in the day as we prepare for bed – they alert my brain and sharpen my responses, my whole being tenses and adrenaline flows freely. All thoughts of other pursuits are banished as my mind fills with the need to respond to his words. Just what is it about them that causes the blood to surge through my veins, the pounding palpable and deafening? Is there anything comparable? A ride on a roller-coaster perhaps or a voyage in a hot-air balloon high above the hills or a rapid bike descent down a steep and narrow track might effect the same reaction.

Familiarity does not breed contempt in this respect; indeed my reflexes have quickened as time has passed. Are these words of love that set my heart a-flutter? Sadly, no – it is the phrase, 'Have you seen . . . ?' These words are etched on my heart, much as Mary I, Queen of England, declared that Calais would be engraved on hers.

I first heard this well-exercised expression shortly after Barry and I were married. I had embarked on what was to prove a life-long and ultimately fruitless quest to organise him his papers. He was an enthusiastic sailor of many years' experience but much relevant information was scribbled noted on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, till receipts. Frequently he wrote on the back of his hand but I couldn't do anything about that. I threw away all these notes, not realising they were of any importance. Fortunately my misdemeanour mistake was discovered before they were lost forever to a far-flung rubbish tip. I should have realised then that my mission was hopeless but I persevered. Still 'Have you seen . . . ?' echoed in my ears several times a day. As our family increased the problem worsened. Any sense of order disappeared and many things were mislaid, some never to be seen again. The children tried to help by 'tidying up' but this only made matters worse. At least if the heaps and piles of paper, books, bags, coats remained in situ there was some hope of finding what was missing as there remained a general sense of location. 'I remember it being over there,' he would say waving a hand in the general direction of London or Southampton and I would scurry over to search.

Eventually I we composed a mantra to be chanted prior to Barry leaving the house – 'Glasses, passes, iPAQ, wallet, keys, phone' we would intone and then he would go to work where Elaine, his long-suffering serving right-hand woman would take over my role of organising helping him. One day, getting cross, he informed me that his desk at work was always tidy and he didn't lose things there. Later, a little shame-facedly, he admitted that he swept everything into the drawers at the end of the day so that it looked ordered.

I became adept at finding things though it always helped to know the colour and approximate size of whatever was lost. Since Barry retired matters have deteriorated. It's true we've had a fair amount of upheaval one way and another with many different people coming and going, some to stay overnight, others just attending for the day. What really worries me, though, is that I seem to be am getting just as forgetful as Barry. Hopefully, that will resolve if when all the work in the house is finished and relative calm is restored.

He's only lost three a few things today – one of his trainers, the orthotic inserts for same, his glasses, his wallet. The first thing he lost this morning was a sock. He'd put one sock on and was looking for the other, becoming quite irritated in the process before he realised it was on his foot. In the past he has lost his glasses while wearing them and a hat on his head. He has been known to demand where a piece of paper has gone while holding it.

I've frequently said he lives on another planet – his mind is certainly constantly occupied with a myriad thoughts and schemes. He absorbs knowledge easily and seeks information constantly – it's just the mundane minutiae of life that escape him, like the whereabouts of his keys and I suppose that's what I'm here for. I think in another life he must have been a rich patron of the arts and sciences and had many minions to look after the small, boring but important matters of life.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Camera Critters #80, Pet Pride, Callum and Dominie when younger

Callum has always adored Dominie. Here he is as a little boy having a cuddle before bedtime.
Thank you to the organisers and hosts of Camera Critters and Pet Pride.
To see more captures please click on the names.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Six Word Saturday

I can't believe it's Saturday again!

Where does the time go? I mean, it's not as if I go out to work any more! I know that seems to imply that I work at home but I don't. I do the bare minimum.
I'm not a slob - I'd be houseproud if I weren't so lazy - but there are more interesting things to do and ponder. For instance, I often ponder doing some gardening. In my imagination I have a gorgeous plot bursting with beautiful blooms and graceful trees, my fish swim around their pond with fishy smiles on their fishy lips, the frogs croak greetings to me, the birds thank me as they gratefully partake of the food I have so generously provided for them. Even the squirrels pause long enough in their tree planting to express gratitude for the food they share with the birds. The patio is clear of leaves, the path is swept, the tree trunks brushed and polished, the plants dead-head themselves and the spiders do their work outside and never dream of stepping foot (or feet) indoors. (I think I've seen too many cartoons!) Sigh . . . In reality, everything in the garden is fighting for supremacy, the flowers have run riot, the fish are invisible beneath the rampaging pond plants, the ground is so soggy it's like a giant mud sponge and I feel I am fighting a losing battle. Then, suddenly, everything will be barren again, sunk below the surface to plot fresh attacks in the Spring. of course, if I were a proper gardener, I would be working all year round, whatever the weather, to keep my little piece of England neat and tidy, productive and profitable - but when it's cold - or hot - or wet - or windy - I stay indoors and gaze out at the wilderness. Actually I love my garden - it's natural (well, that's one way of putting it) It attracts an abundance of wild life and the flowers and shrubs yield their beauty and scent freely to whoever passes.
Thank you to Cate from 'Show My Face' for hosting this meme.
To satisfy your curiosity why not visit other participants here?

Thursday 15 October 2009

SkyWatch Friday Season 4 Episode 14 Red sky at night . . .

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight . . .
Berkshire shepherds must have been thrilled when they saw these skies on Monday evening.

Thank you to the Skywatch team for organising and hosting this meme.
To see more skies around the globe please click here

Wednesday 14 October 2009

A special package!

A special package was delivered yesterday in a sturdy cardboard envelope.

The address was written on a hand-painted address panel - how beautiful!

Inside was a carefully wrapped green tissue packet with a note on the front. The note was written on the back of more art work.

It contained a set of stamps with a brief history of post boxes.

In case the photographs cannot be enlarged this is what is printed above the post boxes:-

'The earliest known surviving posting slot was placed in the wall of Wakefield Post Office in 1809. Britain's first roadside pillar boxes appeared in the early 1850s but, in more remote and less populated areas, a cheaper and more practical alternative was needed, resulting in the development of smaller post boxes. Initially, they were installed in walls, buildings or brick pillars; later designs were also attached to lamp posts.'

From left to right the post boxes are from the reign of George V, Type B wall box; Edward VII, Ludlow box; Victorian lamp box; Elizabeth II, Type A wall box.
(These stamps are too pretty to be used so I shall frame them. There is such a lot of artistry in stamp design, as in coins - what a shame we don't look at them more carefully and appreciate their perfect detail.)

Also in the envelope was this photograph - another piece of art work.

My sincere thanks go to Sarah from 'Circles of Rain' for this pretty gift. Why not visit her blog and see what other lovely works she has to show you?

ABC Wednesday Round 5 - M

M is for Many-times cooked Marmalade to transform it from Marmalade Metal to a spreadable conserve. Why not? Honey is twice-digested by bees before it reaches your toast (yours, not Mine - I don't like honey)

M is also for Monty, one of our Ocicats . . . . . . and Moon to which Man appears to be flying! Thank you to Mrs Nesbitt for this Marvellous Meme.
To see more magnificent mementoes please click here.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

I can see through you . . .

. . . or at least I can see through your clothes.
Manchester Airport in the UK is conducting trials of a very powerful x-ray machine in its efforts to counteract terrorism.
The machine is a full body scanner which 'sees' through clothes to the body beneath, showing clear images of piercings, prostheses and private parts as well as more dangerous hidden items.
No good wearing flattering cover-all clothes - all your lumps and bumps will be on display in clear black and white. The images will only be seen by one person in a remote location and will then be deleted. I foresee a new crime - selling images to interested parties!
Passengers may still opt for the more traditional check-in, preferring to remove shoes, belts, coats rather than revealing all.

Monday 12 October 2009

Beware the moon - unseen dangers!

A German man mooned at a departing train - very original! However, his trousers were caught in a carriage door resulting in him being dragged off the plattform and onto the tracks. He was pulled for about 200 metres all the while struggling to keep his legs free of the wheels of the train.
Eventually a passenger realised what was happening and pulled the emergency brake. This resulted in 23 trains being delayed on the line between Bremen and Hamburg.
The man suffered cuts and bruises and faces charges including interference in rail transport and insulting behaviour.
A spokesman said, ' . . . he advised others not to try the same thing'.
Well, at least one journalism student has learnt a valuable lesson.
I suspect his dreams will be haunted for the foreseeable future!

Help for Heroes

We have just heard that Help4Heroes has raised an incredibly impressive £30 million since it was launched in 2007.
This is a marvellous achievement but we feel it is extremely sad that the injured and damaged young people - some still only in their teens - who obey orders and go to war at the Government's behest have to rely on CHARITY to ease the burden of their suffering.
We hope, without much faith, that the trained killers so thoroughly rehearsed in methods of dispatch will be cared for by the Government (of whatever determination) and not condemned to despairing and possibly aggressive lives on the streets.
How far can charity stretch?


When Bethan was at school we enjoyed going to the musical events. (Bethan was a singer, like all our girls, and a very good violinist and so we were frequently in the audience supporting her.) On one occasion a drum quartet performed and we were most impressed at the musicality of the players. I searched YouTube for something comparable and found this link.
Her school also had a very strong jazz tradition and I often wonder how many of the players are still playing. I do know that one of the students, Laura Marling, the youngest sister of her one of her best friends, is currently building a career as a folk/pop singer/songwriter. I think she has a lovely voice whether singing or speaking.

Cockney Alphabet

This form of punning Comic or Cockney Alphabet was popular in the 1920s. Here is the most common version with some variations. It needs to be read aloud to capture the meaning.

A for 'orses; A for Gardner

B for mutton

C forth Highlanders; C for miles

D for dumb; D for mation; D for ential

E for brick; E for Peron

F for vescence; F for been had; F for lump

G for police

H for retirement; H for consent

I for Novello; I for lutin'; I for the girls; I for the engine

J for oranges ; J for nice time

K fer teria; K for restaurant

L for leather

M for sis

N for a penny; N for lope; N for a dig

O for the garden wall; O for the rainbow; O for the wings of a dove

P for a penny; P for ming fleas

Q for a bus; Q for a song

R for mo

S for you

T for two; T for gums

U for instance; U for me; U for mism

V for la France; V for la difference; V for Espana

W for a quid; W for the winnings

X for breakfast

Y for husband; Y for mistress; Y for crying out loud

Z for breezes

More information on this topic may be found in 'Comic Alphabets' by Eric Partridge, first published in 1961

Sunday 11 October 2009

Call me by my name, please

Call me by my name, please,

Call me by my name.

I'm someone else's mother,

Someone else's wife,

Someone else's daughter -
Is this someone else's life?

I mirror others' glory,
Rejoice in all their deeds,
I linger in the background,
Anticipate their needs.

Look beyond the labels
And see the steadfast soul;
The woman that I once was
Is still there, strong and whole.

Call me by my name, please,
Call me by my name.

Healthy Heart Seed Mix

This is an appetising way of making sure you have some essential fatty acids in your diet.

Mix equal amounts of the following:

Brown linseed

Golden linseed

Hemp seed

Pine nuts

Poppy seed

Pumpkin seed

Sesame seed

Sunflower seed

Think that's all!

Sprinkle on yoghourt topping cereals or fruit then spend the rest of the day picking the smaller seeds out of your teeth. I make up a goodly amount of this and store it in an airtight container.

Filling up with fuel can be exciting

One Saturday evening a few years ago after a very busy day I was feeling weary but in the back of my mind was the thought that I had to cook supper and that there wasn't a lot to eat in either the fridge or the freezer. Barry said we could manage but I felt that I must go shopping so eventually pulled myself together and prepared to go out. It was 5:40 p.m., not my favourite time for shopping (actually, I don't really enjoy shopping, so have no favoured time) As I was leaving Barry asked if I could put some fuel in the car as the tank was nearly empty.

I duly pulled into the garage, filled up and was soon on my way again. A little voice in the back of my mind was whispering something to me but I wasn't listening. However, about half a mile along the road I became aware that all was not well! The engine was hunting and surging and with a sudden rush of horrified realisation I knew what the voice had been trying to tell me . . . 'That's the wrong pump, it's wrong, don't do it . . . ' I had filled Barry's diesel-driven car with petrol!

Panicking, cursing myself for my stupidity, remembering all the jokes we had made about 'wrong fuel' and the serious talk we had had about how much damage it could do, I drove carefully back to the garage in this now strangely-behaving, alien vehicle. The young man at the garage was helpful.

'Do you belong to the AA? (Automobile Association) Give them a ring.'

I have a bad habit of leaving the house without all but the bare essentials but this time I had remembered my mobile phone and my wallet with all the plastic cards.

The young woman who took my call was calm and efficient and promised that an AA patrol would be with me within half an hour. If the AA knows that the driver is a lone woman they make a great effort to reach her quickly. When the patrolman arrived, sooner than expected, he explained that the car would be towed to the nearest authorised garage to drain the tank. 'Are you all right with that?'

I nodded dumbly, thankful that something was being done. Then to my horror I realised that I was still going to be in the driving seat. I normally drive two to three car lengths behind the car in front but now I was at the end of a tow bar, far too close for comfort and unable to see beyond the yellow back of the patrol vehicle. Fortunately, I knew where we were going – it was near the refuse tip - so I could gauge how long the journey would take.

It was now getting dark and the industrial estate looked a soulless, forbidding place. The AA man said he would stay with me to allay any fears I might have and to make sure the car would function properly at the end of the procedure. When I asked how long it would take to drain the engine I was told it would be 'within the hour'. I had filled it as full as it could be!

At that time our youngest daughter was still living at home and was going to her friend's house for the night. Knowing that she was expecting me to take her (I'm the chief taxi-driver in the family, a habit born out of Barry's frequent absences from home on business) I phoned her, made up some lie about the shop being much busier than I had expected and declined to talk to her father. One of us panicking was quite enough!

Eventually, the engine was clear of the contaminated fuel and my next bit of anxiety began. I'm a very orderly worrier, fretting afresh at each stage . . . it's the only way I can cope! A gallon of diesel was poured into the tank and the engine turned over. The garage mechanic was holding a rag and doing something that looked decidedly dangerous. The AA man revved, the mechanic ragged, I prayed. Now the car had a tracker, so that if it were stolen it could be . . . tracked! To avoid being tracked – in other words, to communicate that the car was being driven legitimately, one had to apply a card with a large press-stud to the female part on the car. If the tracker were activated a phone call would be made to the owner to check that all was well. Obviously I didn't want Barry alerted to the state of his car. The AA man was starting and stopping the engine, the mechanic was ragging and I was diving forward to 'pop' the press-stud . . . and still it wouldn't start. In my imagination, the car was being returned to the main dealer in the area, the engine was being replaced, the £ signs were mounting up. The AA man said that in his experience, some cars needed more than a gallon of fuel to start pumping or whatever they do (bit sketchy on the technical details . . . and I was panicking!) so he suggested we drive to the nearest garage and pick up some more fuel . . . 'and that should work'. We did and it did and I breathed again and thanked the Lord most fervently.

By now it was quite dark, I had been away from home for about three and a half hours, and any thought of shopping had long since left my mind. I drove home glumly, well into the final stage of worrying, which was what to tell Barry. I had no shopping, couldn't keep Bethan waiting any longer, still had supper to prepare . . . When I reached home, Bethan was ready to go but completely unflustered. I delivered her to her friend's house and returned home. I told Barry what had happened, cooked supper (we did manage, after all) and we went to bed. By the next morning, he was talking to me again. (Whatever happened to the advice to never go to bed on an argument? Well, we hadn't quarrelled – there had just been a stony silence!) I always forget on such occasions that although I've had plenty of time to get used to the event it's a shock for him and he has to go through the various stages of incredulity, irritation and relief.

I always used to check carefully – I am now paranoid about it!! My car uses petrol, Barry's car uses diesel.

Apparently filling up with the wrong fuel is a common occurrence. It's nice to know I'm not the only idiot in the world!

Saturday 10 October 2009

A tangle of hangers

I think there's a hanger thief in our neighbourhood. We never have enough of them even though our clothes are purchased complete with hangers. I case Barry's car every now and then as he tends to accumulate them but even allowing for that – and I make lots of allowances for him – there is always a dearth of decent hangers in our house. I emphasise 'decent' for we do have some horrible hangers.

I rarely take clothes to the cleaner's as most of our clothes are washable even if sometimes they don't claim to be. Nevertheless we seem to have accumulated a number of those unpleasant wire hangers so freely provided by dry-cleaners. My suspicion is that the wretched things are reproducing – hangers that is, not dry-cleaners. What the dry-cleaners get up to is their own business and I wouldn't dream of commenting.

Picture the scene – I am having a tidying-up session, interesting in itself for its rarity value. Clothes are being sorted, folded, put carefully away. Barry's socks are folded back on themselves ready for ease of donning. Sorting washing actually goes on all the time, but sometimes it tips over into 'clearing up.' Many and various trainers, boots, shoes, slippers are tidily paired and set side by side in a cupboard. Now that I can see the floor again and move about the room with relative ease and safety I can begin the task of 'hanging up'. Jackets and coats worn by Barry in the course of several weeks and heaped on his chest of drawers are removed and placed on hangers in his wardrobe – or at least they would be but all the wooden hangers have been used and all that's left are the hideous wire contraptions that look like a giant's retainers. Sigh!! Muttering that they'll have to do I attempt to release one from its mates. It won't let go. Now, I've had long experience of unknotting knitting wool, embroidery silks, skipping ropes, hair, but wire hangers have the better of me. They clatter and cling together like malevolent fairies, laughing at my efforts. Eventually I lose all patience – and the will to live – and fling the knotted mass to the floor where it glares up at me, Medusa reincarnated.

So that is how we always know where to find our jackets – not in the wardrobe, hanging rigidly to attention, but piled comfortably on a horizontal surface in our bedroom.

One of these days I'll design a house with no horizontals . . . promise!

Trees – the lungs of the earth

We have a number of trees around our house. As well as being the lungs of the earth they provide food and shelter for a variety of living creatures but of course they have to be kept in check or they become overwhelming. A few years ago, in a moment of weakness, we responded to a flyer posted through our front door.

The trees had grown too tall to be easily managed by Barry, so we decided to have them cut. Barry duly contacted Mr S, who had posted his flyer some days before. I was out when Mr S called, but was pleased to hear that he would be returning the next day to start the work.
Came the day, came the man! Two men actually and one young lad. Mr S was short and round and his eyes worked independently of each other. Had I been there at the original meeting I would have advised looking for another operative. My initial concern that he would be climbing the trees was alleviated, though only briefly, when he indicated that The Lad would be doing the work. I say 'only briefly' because when I looked properly at The Lad, it was obvious he was Mr S's son, for his eyes had the same disconcerting tendency to gaze, chameleon-like, in different directions at the same time. Accompanying them was a short, tough-looking man who looked as though he might find pleasure in selling his own children. I've seen some hard faces in my time, but this one was as pickled hard as a conker. I grinned nervously at them, as is my wont in times of anxiety, and scuttled indoors to other pursuits.
I was upstairs when the noise began. The loudest, most brain-numbing chain saw in the history of chain saws produced a banshee wail that ripped through my head, inducing an instant headache. It was a very warm day and I had to choose between deafness and suffocation. I decided that breathing was superior to hearing and left the windows open. I looked out to see The Lad wearing trainers, without aid of harness, gauntlets, hard hat, goggles, standing among the tree tops, wildly wielding the screaming chain saw. Hurriedly, I phoned Barry, asking where we stood should The Lad have an accident. Laconically, he replied, 'Their problem.' Such a comfort to me, he is!
After a while, it became apparent that all was not well. Mr S and Hard Man were shouting at The Lad, who was lowering the saw on the end of its swinging cable. It seemed that no one was quite sure how to turn the thing off. Hard Man spent a considerable time on his mobile phone, threatening who knows what to whom . . . or maybe he was just organising the next job! Eventually, the saw was stopped, my headache disappeared and relative peace reigned . . . for a short while!
Perhaps the three of them had spent too long working with machines and were immune or even literally deafened to vocal nuances. Whatever, their conversation was conducted at a high decibel level so that I expected at any minute that they would come to blows, but no, they were just . . . talking!
A short while later, there was a ring at the door. I quietened the dogs, and opened the door to The Lad. I've lived in Berkshire for many years, but had never yet heard a delivery quite like his.
'Cooweeavedreecohdring?' he said.
I smiled politely and said, 'Sorry?'
'Cooweeavedreecohdring?' he repeated.
I grinned like a frightened chimpanzee and said, 'Ermm . . . ?' then, suddenly inspired, realised that he was asking for three cold drinks. Relieved that I had decoded the request, I sprinted into the kitchen, mixed a jugful of squash, threw in all the ice cubes I could find and took a tray out to the men, who were freely perspiring by now, as was I, though my sweat had more to do with nerves than anything else!
I kept them liberally supplied with drinks all day, and heaved a sigh of relief when they finally left, promising to return the next day to complete the job.
By three o'clock the following afternoon, I was beginning to think they weren't going to turn up. However, no money had changed hands, so I knew they must come back some time. In due course, I heard the saw and realised they had returned. I rushed out with drinks, averting my eyes from Mr S's impressive gut, over which, gentleman that he was, he quickly drew down his tee shirt. Hard Man was still looking fearsome, The Lad was still taking his life in his hands, and Mr Smith apologised for the lateness of their arrival.
'I forgot I had to go to court this morning,' he said. I felt the smile on my face transform into a grimace and hoped he hadn't noticed.
'Yes,' he went on, 'I thought I was going to get fined for cutting down this lady's tree. It had a preservation order on it, but she told me otherwise.'
Finally, the job was done, the trees were much shorter, most of the rubbish had been removed . . . just the odd branch here and there, and a few still trapped among the remaining limbs.
We had a lot more light in our house and it only took Barry and me a few hours to sort out the more obvious oversights.
The next day a lad came to the door. 'I see you've had your trees lopped, but they're a bit uneven. Would you like me to tidy them up for you?'
I declined, gracefully, I hope.

These days we hire professionals with generous insurance cover. The prevention of anxiety is worth the extra cost.

The mating dance . . .

Exciting photographs of a ritual never before captured on camera in captivity!
Today in the conservatory we witnessed a remarkable phenomenon. As we attempted to fold the ladders to put them away we noticed they were inextricably tangled. Looking closer we realised we had chanced upon the mating dance of the step-ladders. The ladder on the left - the female - is a five step step-ladder. The male on the right has seven steps and is taller and broader than his mate. Note the black straps - a secondary sexual characteristic of the male.

The photograph below gives a closer view of the male's technique. See how closely he embraces his mate. Can you see the black feet of the female?

We were delighted to have the privilege of seeing this and anxiously anticipate baby ladders in the near future. We hope they will be six-steppers but of course we won't mind if they're not, just so long as they're sturdy and strong.
Thank you for sharing our joy.

Camera Critters #79, Pet Pride, Straight from the camera . . .

It's blurred, out of focus, not a good photograph - but I like it. There are few cats who can resist an open cupboard or drawer. Monty is on housekeeping duty here, checking on groceries in the larder cupboard, making a mental note of what needs to be replenished.
Thank you to the organisers and hosts of Camera Critters and Pet Pride.
To see more Critters and Pets please click on the underlined labels.

Fly me to the moon

Yesterday NASA's mission to the moon was successfully accomplished. We eagerly watched the footage from the lunar surface, anxious to catch the first glimpse of the anticipated huge plume of dust. Unfortunately, particularly for live television, nothing materialised.

Doubtless there will be a satisfying amount of valuable information to keep the scientists busy. We shall find out in due course but as a live event it was a bit of a damp squib.

Today Barry caught an interesting lunar image of his own. 'Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars'