Monday 31 October 2011

In Tandem #16 A Nursery Tale for Grown-Up Children

Graphic copyright Jinksy

Peter Penguin had been hatched with a disability. It was immediately discernible when he entered the water. All his friends and relations bobbed about on the surface or dived deep but Peter sank like a stone. His parents and aunts and uncles shook their heads. 

‘Negative buoyancy,’ they muttered. ‘What can we do?’

They went to consult the Principal Penguin, a wise old bird, who nodded as they told him Peter’s problem. From beneath his throne he brought out a box. Unlocking it, he withdrew five flat striped articles. ‘These are water wings,’ he intoned solemnly.

Peter’s parents glanced warily at each other. ‘Peter has wings,’ they said. ‘We all have and we use them in water so are they not water wings? Peter’s water wings do not work properly.’

Principal Penguin regarded them gravely. ‘These are inflatable and will help Peter with his little problem.’ He proceeded to blow air into them and showed Peter how to wear them, one on each wing, one on each foot and one on his tail.

Peter Penguin felt very self-conscious as he waddled to the water’s edge but to his joy found that he was able to swim like the rest of the chicks. Diving was a little more difficult but as he practised he discovered that he could overcome his disability. Soon he was able to dispense with his swimming aids and everyone forgot he had ever had an impediment. 

When he returned the water wings to Principal Penguin he looked shyly at him and said, ‘Thank you, sir.’

Principal Penguin smiled kindly at the young bird and patted him on the shoulder. ‘I had the same disorder as you when I was little.’

Peter Penguin gasped.

‘One day, you may be Principal Penguin like me. Principals are always chosen from those who have had to overcome adversity. Be happy, young man, and be kind.’

Peter Penguin pattered home with a smile on his bill and a song in his heart. Sure enough, many years later, he became Principal Penguin and was revered for his compassion and wisdom.

The End
Go here to ride more tandems

Sunday 30 October 2011

Real Toads mini-challenge

Imaginary Garden with Real Toads offers a mini-challenge, to use the Waltz Wave Form in response to the prompt.

The Waltz Wave Form requires 38 syllables over 19 lines, in the following configuration:-


Below is the picture prompt (by one of my favourite painters) followed by my attempt
'The Singing Butler' by Jack Vettriano

With me,
With me –
Let us whirl
And twirl,
As one
‘Til music ends
We’ll dream,
For always
We shall
This joy

Magpie Tales #89 Ink Blot

Image found here
Ink Blot stared, appalled, at the new-fangled machine on the table next to him. He had seen the man tapping on it and creating words on paper that curled magically as he worked so he knew the thing must have ink, but where? Ink Blot himself had been created from a bottle of ink that the man had dropped. He had cursed mightily but Ink Blot was happy. Being a permanent mark on the wall seemed more important and certainly more immediately noticeable than contributing to words on a page.

He looked again at the machine. Coronet – was the man expecting ennoblement? Ink Blot could read but he didn’t understand the context of the words unless they were read out. The man frequently read aloud what he had produced and sometimes he smiled. More often he swore and crumpled the paper and threw it across the room. The floor was littered with cast-off pages.

Ink Blot didn’t like the machine. He disliked the awkward tapping and displeasing lack of rhythm of the keys. The gentle sound of a pen nib scratching was soothing and the man didn’t have to use so much energy, either in the writing or the scrunching of the paper. The machine clung on to the pages so that they had to be wrenched forcefully from its grasp with a snatching sound.

Ink Blot noticed that the man had attached the machine to the wall with a lead. Was that because it would wander away if it wasn’t fastened? Might it be dangerous if it were allowed its freedom? Ink Blot didn’t know but he was glad that it had been made to stay in one place. He didn’t like the way it hummed, either. Still, he was content. He had made his mark. He felt he would be here long after the machine had had its day. He smiled.

The man had gone away. He had been gone for a long time and Ink Blot was relieved when he saw him return. He wondered what the man was carrying. What did it say?


 Ink Blot didn’t know what that meant. The machine whined maliciously. Ink Blot glared and then there was oblivion.

Clickhere to thank Tess Kincaid and to read more tales.

On this day . . .

On 30th October in 1938 Orson Welles, in a bid to attract more listeners to his programme, broadcast a special Halloween show designed to startle. It led to hysteria.

I wonder if we are now too ‘sophisticated’ to be taken in by such a ploy. Certainly, my first thoughts on seeing the first plane crash into the World Trade Centre were that it was a hoax. I was quickly and shockingly disabused of that.

Are we now more cynical, or at least sceptical? When I am about to accept that we are, I then remember those sincere but misguided souls who declare that the world was created in six days, that dinosaurs never walked the earth, that evolution is impossible and to believe in it is sinful and wrong-minded. I am sure there are still many who believe the world is flat and that man has never set foot on the moon.

A Day in the Life of Bertie - Bertie and the Bike

Bertie is a confident puppy and very anxious to prove to the big dogs that he is just as capable as them. Thus he gallops after them and follows the progress of the Kong. He hasn’t yet acquired the speed to keep up with them and attempt to retrieve it. 
That’s acceptable, though, as Frodo the Faller never retrieves so Bertie always has the company of a big dog no matter what is going on.
He is nearly as tall as Jenna – not difficult as she is a fairly short Labrador but with a terrific turn of speed. He is keen to join his friends and relations in the back of the dog car and can easily jump into the boot but sits in the passenger well at my feet for the time being. He climbs up and downstairs, though not as frequently as he wishes because he is still  growing and jarring the joints can damage them. He barks at people who approach too close without being invited. He is doing his duty as a guardian of his humans. All in all, he is quite a grown-up pup and very little fazes him.

However, one day last week we had just commenced our walk in the forest when a bike appeared on the horizon, coming down the hill. We called the dogs to us, as usual, but for some reason didn’t manage to catch hold of Bertie. The cyclist slowed and steered past carefully. He was now behind Bertie who took fright at the strange apparition – a crouching figure with a huge head and bug eyes on a wheeled frame, a veritable ogre. Have you noticed the sound that bicycle wheels make? It’s a sort of ticking and there’s nothing quite like it.

Bertie fled, tail between his legs, ears pinned back, the fiend following and gaining slightly. No amount of calling was going to persuade him to turn round and face the  monster or brave a path that took him near it. The cyclist obligingly halted and Barry was able to reach Bertie and reassure him while the cyclist slowly rode past.

Suddenly our brave puppy was once more just a little chap out in the wide, worrying world. He stayed close for a while then gradually regained his confidence and became again the courageous canine we usually see.
I am linking this post to 'I Saw Sunday', 'Camera Critters' and 'Pet Pride'

Friday 28 October 2011

Of dogs and children . . .

There’s nothing preferential in the order of subjects in the title – it just trips off the tongue better that way.

You may have registered my absence from the blog world, apart from a few comments here and there. I have taken up bed and breakfast duties - at least that’s what it has felt like for a few days.

It’s half-term in UK, a time when teachers sigh wearily with relief at the thought of a few days away from the demands of their students. The schools close for a week and the streets and shops are thronged with happy children and their sometimes fraught parents.
Gareth was scheduled to go to New York on business and as the trip fell in half-term Nina seized the opportunity to accompany him and visit friends in the city. Accordingly they asked if their children might come and stay with us for a few days. Naturally, we were delighted and so I drove to Buckinghamshire to collect them last Thursday. The car was filled with excited chatter as we returned to Berkshire, a lot of it being speculation about how much Bertie would have grown since they last saw him.

The dogs, Gus in particular, were delighted to see the children and made a big fuss of them. In their turn they greeted the dogs and were amazed at Bertie’s size.
On Friday, Eve and I went to the garden centre where she chose violas and cyclamens for our tubs. We intended to plant them but just didn’t find the time. Elliot and I went to the bottle bank to deposit glass bottles and jars.

In the evening Gillian and her children arrived. Paul was still working on their central heating – it’s an intricate affair with what seems like miles of copper pipes, comprising a solid fuel burner with a back boiler to provide hot water, heated radiators and under floor heating in their conservatory. It’s complicated and time-consuming simply because Paul can only work on it when he’s finished his day job working on other people’s replacement kitchens, bathrooms, boilers. It’s a busman’s holiday for him, poor man!

The cousins were very happy to see each other. The last time they were all together was in August when we went camping.  The boys slept together and Kiri and Eve shared a bed. Marnie found their giggling too much and invaded Gillian’s bed.
The next three days passed in a blur of children of varying shapes and sizes and dogs of different ages with Winston alternately cuddled by young humans or chased by puppies. The children swam in the pool – sometimes twice a day - and we walked in the forest each day. 
That was always a protracted affair with several people and dogs but the weather was beautiful, with warm sun and clear skies.
On Sunday evening we had a birthday supper for Marnie as it was to be her eighteenth birthday on Tuesday and she was going home on Monday. Despite Gillian’s best endeavours to leave early it was evening by the time they set off, having walked and swum and eaten together once more. We gave Marnie her present – a satnav to ensure she need never get lost in her car - and she used it in tandem with Gillian’s device on their journey back to Dorset.

After Gillian and her family had left, the house felt strangely quiet, although there were still two adults, three children, three dogs, one puppy and a cat. The dogs felt it, too. Bertie seemed quite bereft, having spent all his time with Buster, even sleeping with him at night in the puppy pen in our room. He made up for it by chasing Winston even more exuberantly than ever. Gus had missed playing with Bertie who had been completely absorbed in frolicking with Buster, so he was happy to have his playmate back.
On Tuesday, we walked to the village and played ‘guide dogs’ on the way. This game involves one person pretending to be blind and being guided by the others. I was amazed by the children’s wholehearted participation.  Louis was the first to play blind, and he shut his eyes and trusted his safety completely to his siblings. Elliot and Eve were the same in their turn.

After lunch the children and I took the dogs out. We left Bertie at home as he was very tired after the weekend’s exertions. The sun was shining in a blue sky when we began our afternoon walk but soon the heavens opened and we felt the full force of Nature’s power shower. Eve and Louis had hoods on their tops so were partially protected. Elliot and I had no head covering and were soon drenched. Fortunately there was no wind or we would have been chilled very quickly. We all had hot showers and a change of clothes when we got home.

The children knew that Nina was due to land on Wednesday and were up and packed very early in the morning. In the way that children approach these things they had forgotten about the clothes I had washed! They were so pleased to see their mum again and to be back in their own surroundings. Nina had had a wonderful time catching up with old friends but she had missed her children just as they had missed her. I know they enjoyed staying with us and spending a lot of time with the animals and we loved having them but there really is no place like home. 

Gareth flies into UK on the 'red eye' on Saturday and I know he will be relieved to be home once more.

I had forgotten just how much time is spent preparing food, clearing up after meals, washing, tidying, overseeing children. To think I used to do it automatically and go out to work full-time! Now my daughter and daughter-in-law execute the same tasks without even thinking about them. 

So now it’s just Barry and me and the animals again. Our house never feels completely empty but it was lovely to have young ones with us again for a while. Children fill a home in a way that no other beings can J 

Thursday 27 October 2011

ABC Wednesday O is for Oak and Oregano

Blackbird in summer oak tree
There are many oaks (Quercus) growing in our neighbourhood – one of our local primary schools is called Oaklands and the name of its accompanying nursery school is Acorns. 

Wood pigeon in spring oak tree
The acorn harvest has been remarkable this year and the squirrels will not go hungry. A year of abundant harvest is called a mast year. From late August acorns begin to rain from the trees, hitting shed and summer house roofs and any other hard surface with a resounding clatter. The resulting litter of nuts begin to germinate, seeking any crevice in which they may root. Our garden hosts many saplings each year – sometimes they have been buried by squirrels or jays as part of a winter cache.
Oregano coming to the end of its useful life. Already the leaves are dying back.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial herb closely related to Marjoram (Origanum majorana or sweet marjoram) and is sometimes known as wild marjoram. Its name means ‘mountain joy’ from the Greek ‘oros’ for mountain and ‘ganos’ for joy or happiness. In the Mediterranean it grows all year round but in our temperate climate it is perennial, dying away after the first frosts in winter to emerge with fresh growth in spring. It belongs to the Mint family (Lamiaceae) and has a stronger, more robust flavour than marjoram.

Oregano is used widely in cooking and its pungency is particularly good with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb. It is best added towards the end of cooking so that its piquancy is retained. It is often sprinkled liberally over pizza and gives added zest to fresh salads.

When left to flower it produces spikes of pretty pink or white flowers in July which attract insects. Once the flowers have set seed the taste of the leaves becomes more bitter. To avoid this the flower heads can be removed – this lengthens the growing season to late October/early November. 

Click here for more Os.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Ninth Family Birthday of the Year

Marnie is our eldest grandchild and today is her eighteenth birthday. She passed her driving test a few days ago – possibly the best present she could receive. Now she can – and does – drive herself and her younger sister to College in Weymouth.
Marnie has decided on Midwifery as her chosen career – I can’t think of anyone better qualified to attend a woman in labour. She is calm, practical, aware, unflappable – a great person to have around in a crisis. She has a strong, earthy sense of humour and is frequently reduced to fits of laughter but is also sensitive and empathetic.

As the ‘oldest cousin’ of six in our family(so far) she has presence and authority but, still young, occasionally clashes with her younger siblings, who are treading close on her heels. We have watched her grow from a small, strong-minded baby to an active toddler, a sometimes trying schoolgirl and now a blossoming adult, confident and fun to be with. It is difficult to spend time with her and not be drawn into her world. She is very lively in the mornings, like her mother (Gillian) and grandfather(Barry) is enthusiastic  and irrepressible(ditto)  but sometimes overreaches herself and falls prey to exhaustion (ditto)
Marnie is a natural athlete, performing well in all fields but sadly constrained by osteochondritis or osteochondrosis of the shoulder which frustrates her. She had an operation to remove a non-malignant bone tumour a few years ago but faces another because further bone growth has occurred, causing her pain and frequent dislocation. This condition has limited her ability to participate in the activities she loves – water sports, gymnastics, dance. Most of the time Marnie copes well with this condition but when she’s over-tired the pain it causes can get the better of her. She dreads the thought of another long operation but knows it is inevitable.
Eighteen, with a loving family and good friends, in love (as 18-year-olds often are) full of plans for the future, Marnie is happy, effervescent, irrepressible. Gillian and Paul should be very proud of their elder daughter and oldest child, though she is a young adultJ, no longer quite a child (though all parents understand that children are always children, no matter their age) - they have done a good job and continue to do so.

Happy Birthday, Marnie – we love youJ

Wednesday 19 October 2011

A Day in the Life of Bertie - Bertie and the Mud

Bertie loves going out with the big dogs and observes closely as Jenna and Gus plunge into water or leap over ditches and into dense undergrowth in their eagerness to retrieve the Kong. He chases after them excitedly, stopping at the water’s edge – despite a couple of unexpected dips he’s still at the ‘toes in the water’ stage. He watches as Frodo strides in to bathe but is not tempted to follow. His time will come.
He is not such a little puppy any more. Now sixteen weeks old, he has grown in all directions and is a leggy small dog, more than half the height of Jenna. He has a good turn of speed, short-lived but impressive, and doesn’t have the rocking horse gait that so many pups display.
On Sunday Bertie was galloping after Jenna and Gus near the edge of the first forest pond – that’s not its official name, but one we’ve given it to clarify where we’re going or where we’ve been. We’ve numbered only the ponds in the forest that are most easily accessible to us, the lumbering humans. The dogs can reach all the bodies of water, wherever they are.
The ground surrounding Number One Pond is very wet and as Gus and Jenna charged past, Gus caught Bertie a glancing blow and knocked him into the mud. He gave a little yelp, more of surprise than pain, and came back to us. He had been transformed from a golden puppy to a black and tan dog. There was no lasting damage. 
When we reached home the mud soon dried to powder that dropped off his coat to garnish the floors and furnishings of our house. 
I don't think our home will ever feature in a glossy magazine unless as a warning to othersJ 

Tuesday 18 October 2011

ABC Wednesday N is for . . .

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are still flowering vibrantly in the garden though not for much longer.  As the days grow colder and the nights colder still we shall soon have the first frosts to stop these pretty annuals in their tracks. They have clambered and scrambled and climbed through other plants and opened their colourful blooms to the insect population for several months. Often the undersides of their leaves are populated with aphids which means that the rest of the garden may escape infestation.
Nasturtiums’ needs are minimal – earth and water and sun. If they are looked after too well they will produce huge leaves and fewer flowers. As well as looking cheerful and brightening the sometimes dull, damp days of a British summer, all parts of this member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) are edible. 

I have only ever used them in salads and pickled the seeds as Poor Man’s Capers but there are some interesting recipes here. The following video clip is interesting, too.

The leaves are as pretty as the flowers and may be plain or variegated.
Nemesia is a fragrant, pretty flower that is usually treated as an annual though sometimes ours have survived for two or three years. They rapidly fill a tub or trough with masses of flowers, the perfume wafting on warm summer air to delight someone walking in the garden or standing at an open door or window. They bloom from June to October.
Nepeta cataria, often called catmint or catnip, is a rather straggly plant with furry leaves and spikes of white and blue-purple flowers. It attracts bees and butterflies as well as cats. Winston, however, is unimpressed by it, whether growing or dried!

Catmint can be used as a herbal medicine to relieve colic in children, as an antipyretic in cough mixtures and to treat haemorrhoids. It is believed to deter rats – it should be tied in bunches and hung in places where they are not wanted. As rats are generally not welcome anywhere I wonder if there is enough catmint in the world to carry out this job!
Preying on sticklebacks!
There are common or smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) in our pond. 

We rarely see them but occasionally have watched them stalking small sticklebacks. I have written about them here.
The annual Nigella damascena, often called love-in-a-mist, has been grown since Elizabethan times and is an old cottage garden favourite. It is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) The flowers are attractive at all stages. The spherical buds open to delicate flowers commonly in a range of blues, though they may also be white or pink.

After flowering the balloon-like seed heads can be used in dried flower arrangements. Left in situ they will eventually disperse their seeds thus ensuring a pretty show the following year. The ‘mist’ of the common name is created by the delicate greenery surrounding each flower – from a distance the flowers appear to be surrounded by a green haze. 

Some gardeners call this flower ‘Devil-in-the-bush’ – and maybe it is a nuisance if it grows where it’s not been invited. Not for me, though – anything that succeeds in growing in our garden is welcome – well, nearly anything.
Night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala) has not grown well in our garden. I have just discovered that it prefers a light soil and ours is heavy with some clay. It’s a shame because it has a lovely scent, particularly noticeable in the evening.
Nuthatches (Sitta europaea) can often be seen walking headfirst down tree trunks. They look rather like small woodpeckers and are welcome visitors to our garden feeders. They eat a varied diet of insects, seeds and nuts and may live for eleven years – quite a long span for a small bird, about the size of a Great Tit.
Ripening hazel nuts in June

Finally, Nuthatches may care to feed on the Nuts from our corkscrew hazel, though I think the squirrels are probably the prime recipients of this year’s bounteous harvest.

Click here for more Ns.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Succinctly Yours Week 30

Grandma's Goulash at Succinctly Yours hosts this microfiction meme.J

Each week she posts a photographic prompt for inspiration and the challenge is to write a story using no more than 140 characters or words. 

Below is this week's photo followed by my offering. As an extra challenge, a word is offered for inclusion and this week’s word is toil.
Earning pocket money was important. Was there no other way to crack crab shells? It seemed too much toil for so little reward – and it hurt!

(140 characters)

Magpie Tales #87 Freeze-dried dinosaurs

Thanks go to Tess Kincaid who organises and hosts this meme J To read more Magpies please click here.

Image courtesy of http://www.ursuhlas

Freeze-dried dinosaurs

You’ve tried fugu? You’ve lived to tell the tale? So look now at the latest addition to our menu - something you’ve never seen before, let alone tasted!

Discovered in the permafrost by research scientists, these heretofore unknown dinosaurs have proved to be extraordinarily toothsome. Deep-fried in a mixture of herbs and spices, patrons declare this delicacy unsurpassed.

These herbivores, the size of pterosaurs, (strictly not dinosaurs, but who’s worrying?) provide protein-rich, low-calorific meals for the discerning gastronome. A dry white up-market wine is recommended as an accompaniment to this most unusual fare. A word of warning, though – this dish is not cheap. Supplies are limited and the prices reflect this. 

So, for that very special night out, indulge, if you dare, in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (. . . and it may be your last lifetime experience!!) 

Sunday Trees Experimental Tree Plantation

Isabel from ‘Written in Exile’ extends an invitation to respond to her ‘Sunday Trees.’ 

Image copyright Isabel Doyle

I saw the face on the tree trunk and it spoke to me, resulting in the following doggerel.

‘Are you an Ent?’ says the child,
‘From the Lord of the Rings?’ 
And the tree smiles kindly
While the blackbird sings.
The trees of the forest
Wave their branches with joy
For the innocent faith
Of one small boy.

Thursday 13 October 2011

ABC Wednesday M is for More Ms in My Garden

Magpie (Pica pica) This striking, handsome, noisy crow is believed to be among the most intelligent of all animals. It is omnivorous, a scavenger, a thief stealing eggs and young nestlings and bright, shiny objects. Though it is often described as a black and white bird, closer observation reveals iridescent blue, green and purple in its wing and tail feathers.  An adult magpie’s tail is more than half the bird’s total length and indicates its social standing. Juveniles have much shorter tails. Magpies mate for life.
Known simply as a pie until the late 16th century, the prefix ‘mag’ was added – mag meaning female or chatterer. Magpies are renowned mimics and will learn other birds’ songs, telephone ring calls, door-bells.

One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

Superstitious folk believe that a single magpie signals bad luck. To allay misfortune one should salute the bird or say, ‘Good morning, Mr Magpie, I hope your family is well.’ If the magpie looks directly into your eyes it is showing respect for you and thus the formalities need not be observed.  
Malus (Crab-apple)
We have two Malus trees. The weeping crab-apple, Malus x scheideckeri ‘Red Jade’ bears red fruits.
Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ flowers slightly later and has yellow apples. Red Jade has no fruits this year but Golden Hornet has produced a number of crab-apples . . .
. . . enough to make a small jar or two of crab-apple jelly?
The cheerful orange or yellow faces of Marigold (Calendula officinalis) brighten the sometimes dismal days of summer. In temperate climates it is an annual plant but self-seeds successfully. The petals can be used fresh in salads. When dried they are a substitute for the more expensive saffron and have been used to colour cheese.
As a herbal remedy Calendula can be applied externally as a salve or taken internally as an infusion. In its varying guises it is claimed to treat many ills from acne to conjunctivitis to warts.
Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata)
This evergreen aromatic shrub belongs to the rue family (Rutaceae) and will tolerate full sun, partial shade or shade in alkaline or lightly acidic soil but needs to be sheltered from cold winds. In spring it produces a profusion of sweetly perfumed flowers which attract bees and other pollinating insects. After flowering the stems should be cut back by 10-12” (25-30 cms) which encourages a second flush in August/September. Propagation is by cuttings taken between April and July. The leaves also release a fragrance when cut. 
Apple mint
Mint grows rampantly if not checked but disappears underground in winter to emerge afresh in spring. We have three varieties – Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) with large soft furry leaves, black peppermint with purple stems and leaves (Mentha x piperita), and spearmint (Mentha spicata) The leaves are excellent in leafy and fruit salads or cooked with new potatoes or stir fry. I have yet to make mint sauce!

Click here to find more Ms.