Monday 30 January 2012

Bird dogs?

Our World Tuesday Graphic
Bird dog is not a term commonly used in UK. Dogs used for hunting are generally known as gun dogs, a term which brings to (my) mind a vision of a retriever holding a shot gun. A bird dog, particularly in the Southern USA, is a dog trained to flush, hunt or retrieve game that has been shot.

However, we may have discovered a different type of bird dog. Strictly speaking, it shares few of the physical characteristics of canines but can be trained encouraged to retrieve.
Master of Hounds?
 We usually carry dog biscuits – as rewards or distractions or for training – and the bird dogs have observed this. For many years we have noticed them watching closely, particularly near water, and collecting treats that our own dogs have omitted to pick up.

In recent months a pair of bird dogs has been following us soon after we begin our walk. They have excellent eyesight and keep us in view from a safe distance. They are not domesticated and are wary of humans and dogs but associate them – or, at least, us – with food. It may not be the food that you or I would choose to consume (although as a child I enjoyed the smell and taste of dog biscuits) but the wild bird dogs are less discerning in their habits and will eat almost anything, alive, dead, fresh or decomposing. They are omnivores – one might even call them obligate omnivores – and they look well on their diet, bright-eyed and wearing glossy coats.

Today, the bird dogs, a mating pair – they mate for life – met us early in our walk and followed us up the hill, past three ponds to the big pond at the top. They waited patiently, calling to each other, as we watched a couple of deer, well camouflaged in the sere grasses and leafless saplings of winter.
 Can you see the deer in this photo? In fact, I've just realised there are two.
Any clearer now? There's one dead centre and  
another smaller one bottom right.
In this photo there are three deer, left, right and centre.

Eventually they were rewarded. The dogs plunged into the water, Jenna and Gus chasing the Aqua Kong and Frodo and Bertie retrieving biscuits. When they emerged the bird dogs stood at the edge furthest from us, watching and biding their time. Then they swooped over the water, because of course they’re birds, not dogs, and snatched the biscuits in their beaks, one at a time.
Waiting, maybe admiring their reflections
This one has successfully grabbed a biscuit
Its mate has also succeeded
We dub them bird dogs because they follow us and ‘fetch’ biscuits. We suspect that other people have observed their characteristics and, equally fascinated, have taken to throwing titbits for them to pick up. They followed us at a discreet distance all the way back, almost to the car, sometimes flying up to perch on branches, sometimes waddling along behind us on the track, watching and hoping for more treats. 
Following us back to the car
Striding out
Carrion crows are very intelligent and my admiration for them grows. The following video clips demonstrate their determination and their ability to solve problems. The first clip will not endear them, I’m afraid, but the second is impressive.

I'm linking to Our World Tuesday where you can find out more about other people's worlds.

Magpie Tales #102 Just three colours

Red Spot II   Wallisy Kandinsky

The teacher told her class to use just three colours in their paintings. She was very pleased with their efforts until she reached Michael. His was a blaze of colour and she remonstrated with him.

He protested that he had chosen to work with red, yellow and blue. ‘You didn’t say we couldn’t mix them,’ he said and she sighed and agreed with him. Next time she must make her instructions clearer.

Read more tales here


A to Z April Challenge - part two

Why do I always rush into things without planning them? My excuse is that I haven't the time to stop and think but then I spend a great deal more time ironing out the kinks and creases in my projects. 'Twas ever thus and hardly likely to change now.

Anyway, what I should have said in my previous post is that the A-Z Challenge is a blog hop and if I add the nifty code I think a list will appear . . . I think . . . sometimes I'm remarkably dense, you know.

Well, here goes. Actually, composing this post is quite trying as Blogger seems to be on a Go Slow and words do not appear until five more words have been added - and that's okay if you're a brilliant touch typist - not so good if your fingers are a bit hit and miss, like mine so that what you think you've written appears as a strante languste like tyhat! 

A to Z April Challenge 2012

I’ve just signed up to Arlee Bird's A to Z April Challenge. Guided by the letters of the alphabet the challenge is to write a post every day apart from Sundays in April. Some people choose a theme, others write randomly while still others limit themselves to fifty words a day.

It's a good way to exercise your writing muscle and to reach and read other blogs. Last year more than 1000 bloggers took part and there are 75 who have signed up today already.

Oh, and it's Lee's birthday today, so go and wish him a Happy Day:-)

Sunday 29 January 2012

I saw a mouse - where? Not on the stair . . .

Mice - by Rose Fyleman 

I think mice
are rather nice.
Their tails are long,
Their faces small,
They haven't any
Chins at all.

Their ears are pink,
Their teeth are white.
They run around
The house at night.

They nibble things
They shouldn't touch
And no one seems
To like them much.

But I think mice
are nice.

I agree with Rose Fyleman that mice are nice though I prefer them out of the house rather than in it. 

Yesterday Barry was in the conservatory photographing birds and making short videos of them. As I watched the on-going display a movement caught the corner of my eye and there it was – a field mouse. 
We were pleased to see it because rats kill mice and its presence means that there are probably no rats in the vicinity (they’ve all travelled to London to visit Bethan and Robert)

It moved very quickly – speed is of the essence when you’re a tiny being, around 18 centimetres long from tip of nose to end of tail. The hose pipe gives some perspective. We think it was a Yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) but cannot be absolutely sure since it didn’t stand on its hind legs and display its chest. It didn’t stay long for its photo shoot and we were lucky to see it at all as it is largely nocturnal, the prey of owls and cats.

Meanwhile the birds carried on feeding, oblivious to the tiny mammal beneath them dining on the crumbs of fat cast off by their probing beaks. 

Most of the birds wanted to display their nether regions, the newly repainted plumage glowing to attract a mate.

Some, like this starling, with his winter spots giving way to the glorious iridescence of spring finery . . . 
 . . . appeared to spot the little mouse and wonder what it was up to. 
The female blackbird feasted on holly berries while her would-be mate gorged pyracantha.

Coal tit watched warily from the Nectarine – often chased away by blue tits, his chance would come.
 Long-tailed tits swooped and dipped their way to the feeders . . .
. . . and a great spotted woodpecker, fresh from the beauty salon, displayed her scarlet underside but forbore to show her face.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Filling in the tax form

It’s quicker and easier to complete tasks online, isn’t it? I can shop, renew car tax, shift money around (mostly robbing Peter to pay Paul) read reviews, carry out research, keep in touch, make appointments – the list is almost endless.

In addition, it’s simpler. Yes? Not always.

Barry had to fill in a Self Assessment income tax return. He logged in to the site and began to answer the questions. When he came to the section about pension providers he duly typed in the information whereupon the process came to a halt. ‘Contact us’ or ‘Help’, however it was named, provided a telephone number and he phoned it to join a long, looonnnnnggg queue – I believe it took around half an hour to travel from the bottom of the line to the top. 

That was all right though because he was able to listen to soothing music, interspersed with messages reminding him, ‘You are in a queue.’ When he eventually reached a human and explained the problem, that he had put in the required data and then been ‘frozen’ he was told they knew about the glitch. The information had to be entered with no spaces between the words and if he cared to repeat the exercise all would be well.

Unfortunately, he had been logged out because he had been ‘inactive’ for a long period. When he logged on again he found that all the data had been wiped and he had to start again. I don’t know how many help desks there are at HM Revenue and Customs but much frustration and time would be saved if a note could be inserted on the site to the effect that data should be entered without spaces. No matter that it’s gobbledygook, the computer has been (badly) programmed to read it.

It’s also quite difficult to write without leaving spaces, just as it is to speak without taking breath. Computers are clever beasts but they do take a lot of the blame for mistakes, oversights, errors, losses in data. At least that’s the case with those in public service. ‘It’s a new system,’ ‘the computer’s gone down,’ ‘we’re changing to a new computer system’ are three of the excuses most frequently heard.

Don’t blame the computers – blame the outfits that accept the lowest bids for systems that then don’t work because the people who write the programmes have not been properly briefed.



Servicing the car

Barry took his car to be serviced this morning. When he booked it in the Receptionist asked him if he would be leaving it at the garage. It’s difficult to fathom how it might be serviced if he didn’t.

Someone has just phoned from the garage to tell Barry that the turbo seal (??) needs to be replaced. It must be done or expensive damage will ensue. So what was expected to be a relatively inexpensive bill has now doubled.

What fun! Shanks's pony will only take us so far . . .

It may be just a plastic bottle to you . . .

Next time you empty a plastic bottle consider what you might do with it. It could be used as a cheap way to water your plants, or as a wasp trap or a mole deterrent.

However, someone in Sitio Malagaya in the Phillippines has found a really useful 
way to recycle them.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Thirteenth Blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke - Gus

Hello everyone!

Well, it’s a New Ear again and it’s cold at last after so much wet and warm. Frodo’s pleased ‘cos now the ground is hard he doesn’t have to have his paws washed every time he comes in from the garden. (I really like Frodo!) Jenna and Bertie and me don’t sink in the mud like him. I think that’s ‘cos we’ve got webby paws.

Our Humans didn’t go out for New Ear’s Eve – they stayed at home with us and watched the fireworks from London on the television. They said they were wonderful and there will be more later on. They said there will be fireworks for the Queen’s cold an jubilee and for the Oh! lim picks. I don’t know what those are but lots of people are getting excited about them.

I wondered if the ears were getting shorter - well, the Humans keep saying they don’t know where the time goes. I don’t think it goes anywhere, not like water down the drain. Maybe the garden needs drains ‘cos the water there doesn’t go anywhere – it just sits on the top like dirty puddles.

Mrs H was saying they need to get a dog sitter. I don’t want one. I don’t want a big person sitting on me – I’m not a bean bag. Mostly Mr and Mrs H don’t go out without us and if they have to be away for a long time then Gillian comes. That’s good ‘cos then Tia and Foxy and Buster come, too, but one day this year everyone’s going out together for a long day and we can’t go with them. Winston’s all right – he’s a cat and he’s got everything he needs indoors. Bertie knows how to use Winston’s litter tray but he’s a bit big for it now and me and Frodo are definitely too big, so you see we’ll have to have a dog sitter. It’s all Bethan’s fault – she’s getting mad – I think that’s what they said. Everyone’s happy about it apart from us dogs. Still, Tia and Foxy and Buster will probably come and stay with us that day. I hope the Humans can find someone to look after seven dogs.
Bertie’s grown such a lot. He’s much taller than Jenna now and he’s nearly as tall as me. I’m still growing muscles but I look like a proper dog. Bertie’s a puppy, with long gangly legs and his snout is longer than ever mine was. He smiles with wrinkles all over his nose, specially when he’s done something he shouldn’t. We play together a lot but sometimes he’s too rough and I have to nip him. Then he squeaks and goes to one of the Humans for a cuddle. Foxy never tells Buster off so he’s a bit surprised when he’s here and I scold him.

Bertie can jump on the Humans’ bed now. It gets a bit crowded on there ‘cos Winston likes to join us but he doesn’t take up much room. The Humans don’t seem to mind so long as we don’t start playing. Usually I get off after a while and find a dog bed to sleep in but Jenna and Winston stay all night and Bertie often does, too. Frodo never gets on the bed. He used to but he’s not allowed now ‘cos of his drugs. It’s true – no good comes of drugs.
Time for a snooze. Be good!

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

pee ess:Bethan’s coming home tonight ‘cos they found a dead rat in their sitting room this morning. They don’t know if it’s the one they saw in the kitchen or another one. Robert’s gone to the States for a few days and she doesn’t want to find another one while he’s away – or at all! I bet me and Jenna could see them off. Grrrr . . .

Sunday 15 January 2012

Book Blurb Friday #46 Alexis in the World

Lisa asks contributors to write a book blurb inspired by an illustration. The challenge is to write an enticing blurb in 150 words or less that will encourage potential readers to buy the book.

Here is this week's illustration followed by my contribution.
Photo copyright Joseph Claro

Alexis in the World
The Biggins children walk home by the canal every day. One day they hear a voice calling to them from the water. Looking down they find a strange female creature beseeching them to help her onto dry land. Taken in by her laments they pull her from the canal whereupon she begs food and shelter. Feeling sorry for her they take her to their house and hide her in the attic. They name her Alexis.

What follows is a series of increasingly bizarre misadventures that lead to problems in the entire neighbourhood as the children try to cope with Alexis’ inquisitive spirit.  Will Alexis learn to conform or is she destined always to be a troublesome outsider? Will she ever return to her watery home?

(129 words including title)

The Bee's Knees

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum) on veronica longifolia
‘They think they’re the bee’s knees’ is an expression used rather disparagingly to describe people who think they have achieved something that sets them above others. Avid followers of fashion, otherwise known as fashion victims, may consider themselves the bee’s knees because they are up to the minute, following the latest trends.
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on ceanothus
Where did the expression originate? Do bees have knees? They must have feet because they have inbuilt crampons. If they have knees do they have ankles as well?
Bombus lucorum on nasturtium
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable informs me that it is ‘said of something or someone outstanding.’ It is believed that a US columnist, T.A. (Tad) Dorgan first coined the phrase in the early 1920s. It may refer to ‘the pollen containers on a bee’s legs (the process of removing the pollen involves much bending of the bee’s knees and is performed with great precision), or maybe it is simply surreal (as with such contemporary synonyms as ‘ant’s pants’ and ‘cat’s pyjamas.’
Bombus lucorum on pyracantha
With my anthropomorphic turn of mind I can imagine boy bees eyeing up girl bees and judging them by the relative merits of their limbs.

Boy bee 1: ‘Nice turn of ankle, but her pollen baskets are a bit thin.’

Boy bee 2: ‘She’s got nice knees. Nice eyes, too.’

Boy bee 1: ‘Slender waist – almost a wasp waist.’

Boy bee 2: ‘I couldn’t fancy a wasp, though. They’re quick to anger and then you really feel the sting.’

Boy bee 1: ‘What do you think of her antennae?’

Boy bee 2: ‘Not bad. I’ve seen better on a moth.’

Boy bee 1: ‘Given the choice, which would you go for – bumble bee or honey bee?’

Boy bee 2: ‘Bumble bee every time. I like a bit of substance.’

Boy bee 1: ‘Honey bee for me. Hard-working, nice smooth skin – you’d never go hungry with a honey bee.'
Apis mellifera on ceanothus
Boy bee 2: 'Look at the knees on that!'

Friday 13 January 2012

Triskaidekaphobia and Paraskavedekatriaphobia or Friggatriskaidekaphobia

Is fear of the number 13 more troubling than fear of Friday 13th? After all there is a 13 in every month.

In any year there will be at least one Friday 13th but never more than three. If the month starts on a Sunday the thirteenth day will be a Friday. This year’s Friday 13ths fall in January, April and July.

However, there is little evidence that Friday 13th was considered unlucky before the 19th century. The superstition seems to be a combination of two older ones, namely Friday is an unlucky day and 13 is an unlucky number. Friday was the day for executions in ancient Rome. Christ was crucified on a Friday. In Britain hangings were carried out on Fridays.

On Friday 13th October, 1066, William of Normandy demanded that King Harold II relinquish his throne.  Harold refused and the Battle of Hastings took place the next day, Harold’s troops falling to William the Conqueror’s army. Life for the Anglo-Saxons was never the same again!

In recent times, stock market crashes have occurred on Fridays, spawning the phrase ‘Black Friday.’

The ancient Egyptians believed that people passed through twelve stages of life on earth and the thirteenth stage was the happy afterlife. When this belief was adopted by other cultures the association with happiness after death was lost and thirteen related simply to bad luck or death.

Witches’ covens are thought to have thirteen members and thirteen guests at a table presages disaster. In an Old Norse myth the god Odin invited eleven of the gods to a banquet. He did not invite the mischievous Loki to the feast but he heard about it and attended anyway. Loki caused an argument which resulted in the death of one of the gods.

Jesus sat down to the Last Supper with his twelve disciples. Judas Iscariot was one of the party of thirteen. He betrayed his master and killed himself.

Some hosts will seat a teddy bear or doll at a table where only thirteen people will gather. Towns often omit thirteen when numbering their streets, as do some hotels and airlines. Many high-rise blocks do not have a thirteenth floor. Italy’s national lottery doesn’t have a number thirteen.

So perhaps Friggatriskaidekaphobia is greater – it seems that the combination of an unlucky day with an unlucky number is just too terrifying to ignore.
However, in Spanish-speaking countries and in Greece it is Tuesday 13th that is considered unlucky.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Chewing gum art

Now this is something I never expected to see. I like it when people find opportunities to develop a skill in unusual ways and places.

The Literary Cat

Hurry up and turn the page - I've finished!
Winston enjoys reading in bed. The first photo shows what a quick reader he is.
He was reading Margaret Atwood’s ‘Good Bones.’ 

He and I enjoyed this book. We agreed that this collection of thoughts and observations perfectly displayed her talents and the breadth of her knowledge and understanding. 

From ‘The Little Red Hen Tells All’ through ‘Stump Hunting’ to ‘My Life as a Bat’ and ‘Dance  of the Lepers’, the humour and intelligence shine through each of these small tales.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

ABC Wednesday Z is for . . .

Z├ęphirine Drouhin
This beautiful old Bourbon rose is a constant reminder of my parents. It was one of their favourite roses and they gave Barry and me our first plant.
It is a good rose for beginners as it is easy to grow, is virtually thornless and has a sweet, mouth-watering fragrance. It will also grow in poor soils. It likes to climb but is not rampant, not growing much beyond 10’. Since its introduction in 1868 it has become a firm favourite both with ‘proper’ gardeners and those who dabble. It’s a rewarding rose and when it’s regularly dead-headed will flower continuously until November. It’s fully hardy so needs no special winter coddling. It is prone to mildew unless there is plenty of air circulating around it and is also a favourite with aphids – what isn’t?
The last photo could be called ‘The A-Z of Gardening’ – Aphids on Z├ęphirine Drouhin.
Zonal pelargonium  (Pelargonium x hortorum)
The Free Dictionary gives this definition: zonal pelargonium - an upright geranium having scalloped leaves with a broad colour zone inside the margin and white or pink or red flowers.
Pelargoniums are often erroneously called geraniums. Geraniums are hardy, herbaceous perennials. Pelargoniums are evergreen perennials native to southern Africa and are tolerant of heat and drought. In temperate climates they are grown as tender annuals, a favourite in summer gardens.

To see more Zs please click here.

Poetry Jam Laugh in the Face of Everything

The photo shows a Polish farming couple in Connecticut, 1940

Photo credit:
Public Domain Photograph from the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection in the Library of Congress; Jack Delano, photographer.

The challenge from Poetry Jam is to respond to this photo of a Polish farmer and his wife in Connecticut in 1940. Times were hard but they found something to laugh about.

He wasn’t much to look at but
She’d loved him all her life,
He was a caring husband
And she a doting wife.

When people asked the secret
That kept their love alive
They smiled and said that hard work
And laughter made it thrive.

So when the days seem darkest
And things are at their worst
Remember this old couple
And put each other first.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Every little helps!

I had my first Tesco delivery of 2012 today.  Normally I have the items delivered in bags that I recycle.

The driver told me that Tesco had run out of carrier bags. That’s not a big problem for me but for the customer who had fourteen trays of groceries delivered and no time to unpack each tray individually it was a headache as she had an appointment to keep. The driver was running behind time too so he left the trays with her. He was not a happy man.

An employee was despatched to another store six miles away but that store was also facing a problem and couldn’t spare many bags. I have a mental image of customers throughout Berkshire reaching the checkouts with overflowing trolleys to discover that there are no bags for their groceries. Some, of course, will have taken their own bags with them. Others will have forgotten as I do, frequently.

Is it a desperate ploy by Tesco to force customers to carry their own bags - or was it an ‘oversight’ on someone’s behalf? Heads will roll, I fear, almost as many as other spherical objects that customers will be attempting to stuff into pockets. 

The following clip is of Tesco in happier times, just before Christmas. Kerching!

For music-loving dogs and dog-loving musicians everywhere!

Susannah just sent this clip to us. I love the way the dog pants and nods its head in time to the music!

Monday 9 January 2012

Could I be a one-woman band?

As I tossed and turned last night, sleepless and hot, I wondered whether I should get up and go downstairs or turn on the light and read for another hour or two. All the animals were asleep, including Barry, and I could identify each one by the sounds they made.

Winston Ocicat, curled up next to me was wheeze-grunting, on my other side Barry was snoring and next to him Gus was breathing deeply and evenly in his bed on the floor. In her bed Jenna was whimpering as she followed dream deer and Bertie was rattling his claws on the chest of drawers as he stretched. Frodo was puffing out his cheeks as he slept, pfffffrrrrh, pfffffrrrrh. Somebody’s stomach was gurgling quite musically. How could I encourage sleep to come to me?

Suddenly I recalled the video clip of KT Tunstall that I had watched earlier in the day. I love her voice and the way she builds up sounds into a backing chorus for her singing. Why could I not do the same using the noises in my bedroom? Granted, it would not have the mesmeric power of KT’s music but the more I thought about it and tried to fit the different ‘notes’ in my bedroom into a harmony the greater became my enthusiasm. I could do this! I even started to incorporate other sounds from the night-time house, the noises that are always there but only heard in the wee, small hours – the hum of the freezer, the creaking of the stairs, the settling of the floors.

It was as I was listening for the wild scream of a lovelorn fox and a tawny owl’s soft, haunting call, and finally hoping for the guttural ‘kaark’ of a visiting grey heron in the early light of dawn that I fell asleep. It wouldn’t have been as good KT, though.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Washing my hands

I used to joke that my hands were twenty years older than the rest of me because I washed them so often. Now I think they’re more like fifty years older. 

Apart from the usual handwashing rituals following ‘comfort breaks’ or ‘bathroom visits’ (quaint expressions, eh?) I’ve always washed my hands after handling animals, including small children. Working with young humans sharpens one’s observational acuity and it’s hard to avoid noticing where their fingers are going and what they’re doing. You can’t see dirt, right? Well, obviously, sometimes you can but you know what I mean.

I wash my hands before preparing food and again afterwards. I wash my hands after blowing my nose (I wish doctors would!) and I’m doing a lot of that now since Barry kindly shared his cold with me. After I’ve loaded washing in the washing machine or filled the dishwasher I wash my hands. Just put out the rubbish? Wash your hands! If I handle money (filthy lucre!) time to wash. Travelling on public transport or opening doors to public buildings – shops, for example – causes an outbreak of hand-washing. Naturally I can’t always access soap and water so I carry hand wipes for those occasions. Sometimes I avoid the problem by using my elbows.

In the last couple of months I’ve developed a worrying habit. Since we do most of our shopping online we have a lot of deliveries. When I go to the door to accept the parcel, frequently I’m asked to ‘sign for it’. This makes me think I should be performing some elaborate ritual mimicry involving fingers in unusual combinations but actually involves grasping a pen attached to a clipboard or more usually a miniature screen display and scrawling an unintelligible signature. Then I have to wash my hands. I know it’s illogical but I can’t stop myself.

When I was teaching I used to encourage the children to wash their hands at appropriate intervals. Then I would remind them to ‘wash the soap.’ Some of them understood immediately the reason for that – maybe their mothers had the same rule. The rest looked incredulous but obeyed anyway. (Oh, the power!)

More tales from the Land of Clean can be found here and here

What foibles or compulsions do you have and are you willing to share them?