Monday 25 November 2013

Mag 195 Messing about on the river

Thanks to Tess Kincaid who organises and hosts this meme J To read more Magpies please click here.
Messing about on the river
Autumn om the River, 1889, by John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925)

‘Would you like to come out on my boat?’ he asked. I accepted, excited at the prospect and thrilled he had invited me. ‘We’ll go on Wednesday,’ he promised. ‘I’ll bring a picnic. There’s nothing like fresh air for stimulating the appetite.’

He had told me little about his boat. That he was very proud of her could not be denied. The more I probed the less he said about her, just simply, ‘I know you’ll love her as much as I do. I can see you now, reclining as we navigate the river.’

My imagination took flight. In my mind’s eye I was leaning back against comfortable cushions in the cockpit, a glass of wine in my hand, as he stood at the wheel, the captain of his vessel. I wondered fleetingly if he would wear a blazer and yachting cap, a cravat knotted stylishly at his neck. I thought it unlikely – he was more of a jeans and tee shirt man.

It took ages to decide what to wear. It was October and the weather unpredictable. Wednesday might be very warm but could just as easily be chilly and damp. It could even change throughout the day. No matter, I could always go below if things became too uncomfortable on board.

Tuesday was bright and cold and the weather forecast predicted more of the same for the following day. Accordingly, I dressed in warm trousers and navy waterproof jacket, a spotted scarf providing just the correct jaunty air. I admired my new boat shoes, bought specially for the occasion – I knew how particular boat owners were and I didn’t want to be accused of leaving nasty black scuff marks on deck.

He picked me up in his snazzy sports car and we proceeded at speed to his mooring. We would be there in about thirty minutes, he told me, and as the minutes ticked by my anticipation grew. He handed me out of the car and put a proprietorial hand under my elbow, leading me along the tow path. I craned my neck for the first glimpse of his boat and when I finally caught sight of her I stopped in my tracks and gasped. She was beautiful – not huge, but a lovingly maintained clinker-built yacht, the autumn sun glancing off her brass rails and enhancing the rich mellow colour of her sides.

He squeezed my hand and smiled his wonderful smile. ‘You like her, don’t you? I knew you would. Shall we go aboard?’

I nodded, eager to explore his lovely craft. I was surprised when he stopped next to a scruffy skiff tied up just in front of the wonderful yacht. I was alarmed when he clambered onto it, flinging his arms out to counterbalance the dangerous yawing of the flimsy boat.

‘Come on, hop aboard,’ he said cheerily and held out his hand. As I stepped forward a cloud passed over the sun. I tried to match his enthusiasm as he sat opposite and pulled on the oars but I was uncomfortably aware of the proximity of the grey water and the sharp wind that had sprung up. Soon the rain came and as there was nowhere to go to escape it I had to sit tight, my hair streaming with water and my feet turning blue, not just with the cold but also with the dye from my new shoes. The picnic sandwiches sagged and disintegrated and I would happily have exchanged the chilled wine for a thermos flask of hot coffee.  

He turned for home – that is, the mooring – his mood undaunted. ‘Not quite a baptism of fire,’ he joked and I grimaced, shivering. I thought that at least I would thaw out in his car but it turned out that he couldn’t put up the soft top so our return journey was glacial. The car heater was inadequate against the rain and wind. I was never gladder to reach home and immerse my aching bones in blessedly steaming water.

The next time he rang – and the time after that – and the third time – I declined his invitation. In any case, I had such a streaming cold that I wished to do nothing more than shut out the world and huddle under cosy blankets.

We didn’t go out together again. The last I heard, he had sold his skiff and bought an old houseboat.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Relaxing . . .

Limbs entangled, bearing each other's weight, we sink into sleep.
Limp with warmth, not a twitch of a whisker or paw, nor any sound to accompany our dreams.
Soon The Maid will replace the throw and after their walk Jenna or Gus will muddy the clean cover with their damp fur. Until then we sleep, oblivious, together as we have always been. 

Tuesday 19 November 2013

A love poem

Thanks toJosie of ‘Two Shoes Tuesday’ who hosts this writing meme. Her prompts this week are ‘Fast’ or ‘Smile’. Participants may choose one or other or both of the prompt words. My response is a short love poem.

And unwavering,
Faithful, loving and resolute,
Your smile gladdens my heart and life.

Monday 18 November 2013

Mag 194 Penny Black

Thanks go to Tess Kincaid who hosts this writing meme.
To: Messrs Lea and Gibbs


I am indebted to you for your correspondence of 9- M- 1840 and am honoured to be the recipient of the first adhesive postage stamp in the world (or one thereof)

I beg to suggest that the stamp hereafter referred to as the ‘Penny Black’ should be conserved with care. It is unfortunate that some have already been ‘cancelled’ though I understand the red ink used in the cancellation may be easily removed, allowing them to be re-used, thus permitting some economising.

As an amateur philatelist I would be interested to know if there are any sheets of six or more available.

I remain, Sirs, Your Servant,

Daniel Cooper

There follows his (supposed) correspondence with a young lady.
My Dear,
I am currently engaged in communication with Messrs Lea and Gibbs with a view to acquiring a sheet of ‘Penny Blacks’ which I surmise may be of considerable value in years to come.
Philately is an interesting pursuit and I am convinced it could become lucrative.
I remain, etc, etc

From Wikipedia: The Penny Black is not a rare stamp. The total print run was 286,700 sheets with 68,808,000 stamps and a substantial number of these have survived, largely because envelopes were not normally used: letters in the form of letter sheets were folded and sealed, with the stamp and the address on the
obverse. If the letter was kept, the stamp survived. However, the only known complete sheets of the Penny Black are owned by the British Postal Museum. Though not rare a Penny Black in mint condition might fetch £3 – 4,000.
From Wikipedia: Cooper was a founder and the first president (1869–78) of the Philatelic Society of London, the predecessor of today's Royal Philatelic Society London. His Australian postage stamps, sold to Judge Frederick Philbrick in 1878 for £3000 (the first four-figure price for a collection), became part of Ferrary's celebrated collection. The Sir Daniel Cooper Lectures, sponsored by the Royal Philatelic Society, are in his honour.
He was knighted in 1857, created a baronet in 1863, KCMG in 1880 and GCMG in 1888.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Words for Wednesday - 13.11.2013

Words for Wednesday – 13.11.2013

Delores from ‘Under The Porch Light’ offers six words as a writing prompt – glittering, nasal, super, venting, spurious, chain – or a sentence – Faster than a lie from a cheating husband. Why not visit her and see what other writing has been prompted?

It had been a superb meal, a celebration to mark their ninth wedding anniversary.  When her husband’s phone rang she sighed. It would be something to do with work she guessed. Couldn’t they have an uninterrupted evening together for once? He was too conscientious she told him as he smiled apologetically and called two cabs, one to take her home, the other to drive him back to the office. He kissed her lightly on the lips and as she was about to clamber into the cab she heard the nasal tones of his boss. ‘Celebrating something, are we?’ he grinned, winking at her. Her husband laughed and ushered Tillie into the dark interior, shutting the door firmly behind her. She fingered the fine gold chain at her neck, a nervous habit, and stared out at the two men, trying to hear what they were saying as the cab edged away from the kerb into the busy traffic.

It began to rain, puddles on the pavements glittering in the street lights, exhaust fumes venting from stationary vehicles as they waited for the traffic lights to change. Tillie thought back over the evening, pondering how quickly a mood can change. She had been so happy until the phone call. How many times had a phone call affected her life with her husband? How many times had he told her he had to go into work? And this time? Her husband’s words came back to her. ‘That was the boss. He needs me to work on some final details. I’m sorry. I won’t be late home.’

Yet the boss had been there, at the restaurant. Tillie acknowledged what she had suspected for many months. She recognised her husband’s spurious excuses and explanations for the lies they had been. She felt the icy chill of betrayal grip her heart, harder and faster than a lie from a cheating husband.


I thought you might be interested to hear the update to Sergeant Michael Anderson's pension problem. It seems that sometimes the powers that be do listen and take note . . .

I received this email on 7th November.
Janice -
On Monday I started a petition for my husband to receive his full military pension and last night I found out he will.
After months of worry it is a huge relief to finally hear my husband will receive his pension.
I first raised my fears in the media in June but it wasn't until my petition on that the Ministry of Defence said Michael's transfer request will also stall his redundancy.
The response to our petition has been fantastic and somewhat overwhelming. We are so grateful to the 100,000 people who have responded and continue to spread the word, your efforts have not been in vain and we are so grateful to you all. 
We hope that others in similar situations have the courage to ask for help because with the support of Great British public, it is achievable. 
Pension Justice for Troops, a group of former service men and women and their relatives, havestarted a new petition asking the Prime Minister to review the treatment of all soldiers made redundant within a whisper of qualifying for their petition. You can support their petitionhere. 
Thank you all,

Friday 8 November 2013

The Entropy Gang's November 2013 blog

The Entropy Gang’s November 2013 blog (formerly Conservatory Cats’ Chats)
We are one year old today

It is our first birthday and a good time to review our experiences. We were born in Hampshire last November in a litter of four and we three moved from there to our new home in February this year. Our other brother had already been chosen by different Servants – the last choice they would have before they were apprised of their correct status in life. For those who are unfamiliar with us let us acquaint you. We are Thickthorn boys.

Herschel: I am a cinnamon silver Ocicat.  You may be wondering about my name. Sir John Herschel, Ist Baronet, was ahead of his time and was named after me. He was an astronomer so naturally he was interested in Time Warps. Time Travel is nothing new!!
Herschel investigates sweet chestnuts
Isambard: I am named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great Victorian engineer. I am a Tawny Ocicat, quite an appropriate colour for an engineer. On arrival we were shocked to see four enormous beasts in the Palace grounds, staring through the glass and making extraordinary and very loud noises. The Servants placed us in what appeared to be a large cage which we found very strange at first but soon came to appreciate as a safe haven.
When the dreadful, slavering creatures burst into the room and came to sniff us we soon discovered they were interested more in our food than in us but we hissed and growled at them nonetheless. One of them had spots like Herschel and me but he was enormous. We learnt that these fearsome beings were DOGS and they appeared to be the Servants’ servants so of little account to us. We tolerate Servants but their minions are beneath contempt and we emphasise that at every opportunity now that we have allowed them to mix with us (though actually we are very fond of them!)
Isambard inspects the inner workings of the multi-fuel burner
Jellicoe: You may have noticed that Isambard said one of the DOGS had spots like him and Herschel. I have spots too, on my tummy, but I am a Black Silver Ocicat Classic – a superior type of tabby of impeccable breeding. In keeping with my very smart suit and military bearing I am named after Admiral Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe. I have a loud voice, a necessary requirement for issuing orders to other ranks on the poop deck, though in my case I have just my brothers to command. When the Servants are required to attend to us we all shout orders.
Ready, steady . . . leap
At first we spent much time in the Conservatory to which the DOGS were not allowed entry. Our Servants carried us into the Conservatory in the mornings and sat with us to admire our agility and beauty and to play with us. The DOGS stood at the glass door and stared at our food while the Servants talked to us and took photographs and moving images (video) of us. We may be able to include some video on one of our blog posts one day if the Servants can find time to upload it. They are simple souls and learn slowly.

Herschel: Our Servants have different duties and it is fair to say they perform them adequately. There is room for improvement in certain areas but in general we are pleased with them. We refer to The Servant commonly known as BARRY as The THINKER. He does a lot of thinking, planning, researching and speaking on the telephone. His head is full of ideas. He is the one who takes video and photographs of us though sometimes the Servant known as JANICE takes a turn with the camera.

Isambard: We call JANICE The HOUSEKEEPER or more usually The MAID. She is the one who makes sure our living quarters are clean and our food and water bowls are filled. We like spending time with The THINKER and The MAID because we know they are flattered by our attention. Servants are easily pleased by a show of affection. It doesn’t take much effort – a miaou, a purr, a rub of the head. They even like us using them as stepping stones.

Jellicoe: Our Servants have what they call FAMILY. Some of the FAMILY have very small Servants who have to be carried around and spend much time on the floor. Others of the FAMILY have DOGS who are friends and relatives of the Servants’ DOGS. We take to the heights until they have finished jumping all over each other. On balance, although the DOGS are silly creatures, we rather like them. They seem to like us cleaning their ears and noses and they’re very good about not disturbing us when we've taken their beds.
Jellicoe and Herschel study a very small Servant
Herschel: One phenomenon we have all noticed since February is that things appear to be getting smaller. The DOGS have shrunk, though of course they are still enormous, particularly the spotted one. Mostly it’s the furniture that has reduced in size. We can no longer fit under the table in the Conservatory and the STAIRS, which at first seemed mountainous, have contracted. Our cat tree is not as big, either. We can still all fit in one basket but it’s a bit of a squeeze. At the same time my brothers have grown larger and they tell me I have too.  It’s odd because I don’t feel any different and they say they don’t either.
It's a bit squashed . . .
. . . not like it used to be!
Isambard: I just hope things don’t keep on getting smaller or we shall be crawling around on our knees. That wouldn’t be much fun. Maybe we’ll end up being larger than the DOGS – that would be so good! I wonder if the Servants will shrink. They mustn’t get so small they can’t carry our food and water bowls – and who would change the cat litter?

Jellicoe: They haven’t shrunk so far so I think we’ll be all right.

Herschel: We used to call ourselves the Conservatory Cats before we were integrated with the DOGS and given the run of the house. The THINKER has renamed us The ENTROPY GANG. We thought that sounded rather complimentary and quite superior until The MAID told us the definition of ENTROPY.

Isambard: We were surprised to learn that it means ‘a state of disorder; a lack of pattern or organisation.’ Then we didn’t know whether we should be flattered or insulted but we decided it was a tribute to our presence. After all, it is better to be noticed than ignored.

Jellicoe: It is certainly true that we have made an impact. When we are engaged in what The MAID calls our ‘‘Wall of Death’ moments we have noticed that objects are displaced and fall to the floor. At such times, usually once or twice a day, we are invited to spend time in the HALL and on the STAIRS. We can hurtle around to our hearts’ content without fear of harm or injury to ourselves or others.

Herschel: Most of the time we’re quite quiet, watching the birds and chittering at them. The Servants like watching the birds, too. The MAID puts food out for them. Perhaps she is fattening them up for us.

Isambard: What else has happened? Oh yes, we all go up to bed together now. We three Ocicats stretch out on the bed – we take up quite a lot of room – and one or two, sometimes three, of the DOGS join us, oh, and The THINKER and The MAID are there, too. It’s very comfortable.

Jellicoe: We all went to the Vet Servants. We can’t remember much but we went to sleep and when we woke up we felt that something was missing but really we think we had to go there so that big transparent collars could be put on us. We were pleased when The Thinker and The Maid came to take us home. They thought we were going to be quiet. I don’t know why.
The little boys model their buster collars
Herschel: We were so pleased to be out of the little pens we had been kept in at the Vets that we charged all over the house.

Isambard: The collars made screeching noises when they scraped along the floor – our Servants are poor and can’t afford carpets. It was difficult to groom ourselves and the collars scooped up rather a lot of food, too. We tried very hard to take them off but we were unsuccessful.

Jellicoe: We had to go back to the Vets to be checked and then at last The Thinker and The Maid took the collars off and we were free again.

Herschel: We can climb very high now. We’ve all been on top of the kitchen cupboards . . . and the grandfather clock . . . and we like climbing the wire mesh door that allows fresh air into the sitting room but doesn’t let us out.
Jellicoe and Herschel demonstrate their mountaineering prowess
Herschel on the grandfather clock - note the curtain is still in place!
 Isambard: We’ve discovered a new game. One of us hides, one of us stays with The THINKER and The MAID and one of us goes upstairs. I usually stay downstairs with the Servants and Jellicoe goes upstairs while Herschel hides.

Jellicoe: After a while I start to cry and that alarms the Servants. They’re always relieved when I return to them so then I go upstairs again and miaou.

Herschel: That’s when the Servants freak out. They know where Jellicoe and Isambard are but realise they haven’t seen me. They hunt everywhere for me. Then one of them sees me in the cat tree. I’m usually asleep by the time they find me.

Isambard: We are still creating entropy. The other day we knocked a casserole dish off the top of the cupboard and broke it. The bits went everywhere.

Jellicoe: We’ve pulled the curtain down in the sitting room. We were using it to climb up to the grandfather clock. Now we have to take a flying leap onto it from our cat tree.

Herschel: We opened the fridge door today – well, we were hungry.

Isambard: Everything that comes into the house must be inspected by us and passed fit for purpose.

Jellicoe: We particularly like boxes . . .

Herschel: We like wool, too. We try to help The MAID with her knitting - you know, breaking off the thread and batting the needles.  

Isambard: We love helping with her writing. Keyboards are such fun. They make a lovely tippy-tappy noise but sometimes the computer stops working properly. I don’t think we’re responsible but we keep a low profile until The THINKER has solved the problem.

Jellicoe: All in all, we are content with our lot. The accommodation is good – warm and comfortable with plenty of room for us to play and the food is excellent and plentiful.

Herschel: The Servants have learnt our likes and dislikes – we WILL NOT eat tripe - but tomato soup and cheese and butter are favourite treats, particularly when stolen.
Isambard: We love the big warm dogs and we adore being reminded how stunning and elegant we are.
Bertie is probably our favourite - he's the youngest.
Jellicoe: We repay in kind by keeping spiders and flies at bay – well, actually, by eating them. We understand that something called Christmas will be here soon. We hope it is something we will like and that you will enjoy it, too.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Resettling . . .

Resettling . . .

I have had a few busy weeks most enjoyably spent looking after Frankie. It’s strange how unsettling two or three days away from home every week can be.

Add to that the worry we had over Isla who contracted an e.coli infection and spent a few traumatic days in hospital. She is much better now but seems prone to infection. Having said that, Frankie has had a cold for several weeks and a sickness bug that comes and goes . . . and comes again. Who’d be a baby?

However, I have managed to knit rather a lot – two tank tops, a cardigan, two hats and two pairs of mittens for Frankie, a scarf for Susannah with a hat and mittens to follow (nearly finished the mittens) a cardigan, hat and mittens for my great granddaughter Isla, and wool to make another tank top for Frankie (anybody would think the poor child didn’t have any clothes!) a scarf and crocheted hat for Bethan, a tank top for Barry and I’ve still got a tapestry half-finished – more than one, if I’m painfully honest. I’ve also got a book to edit, and two more to complete and an article to write for the Ocicat Muse to feature the Brothers Three.

No wonder we sometimes don’t get out for our walk until it’s nearly dark!

I’m a great starter – not such a great finisher. Maybe I should get up in the wee small hours when I can’t sleep and try to accomplish something then . . . oh, hang on, I couldn’t possibly do that – it would disturb the cats!

Bureaucracy gone mad?

Bureaucracy gone mad or a cynical way to save money?
PM David Cameron (@David_Cameron): Keep your promise to our military & let my husband have his pension
Sergeant and Mrs Michael Anderson
Image courtesy of Jolene Anderson
The British Army considers itself a caring, sharing family – a band of brothers and sisters – which places loyalty and support among its top priorities. This, at least, is what we are led to believe but is there a limit to the loyalty and support a serving soldier should expect? Apparently so. Consider the case of Sergeant Michael Anderson. He joined the army as a boy of sixteen and served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Iraq. Subsequently he became involved in welfare, supporting the bereaved and the maimed.
It was his expectation that the Military Covenant would ensure that at the end of his military service he would receive a full military pension. The pension is the major financial promise in the recruitment, retention and promotion of personnel and is a resettlement payment to help soldiers make the move from service life to civilian life. For some it provides the wherewithal to secure a mortgage.

In June 2013 Sergeant Anderson was informed that he was to be made redundant – his redundancy will be effective three days before the end of his 22-year engagement, meaning that he will not qualify for his expected full military pension. Consequently, he will lose almost half of his promised pension.

So, at 38, with a wife and two young children, he must think again about his future in the civilian world, a future blighted by a broken promise for the sake of three days.

It is to be hoped that David Cameron will read and act favourably upon the petition Mrs Anderson has promoted and that Michael Anderson, and others like him, will be treated fairly. 

Three days – a long weekend – that’s all, but it’s everything when a promise has been broken and long-cherished plans and dreams have been shattered.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!
Watching and waiting
Jenna is eight years old today. We should have called her Slippers because she sounds as though she’s shuffling in the house. 
Dominie with Jenna
She was the first Labrador we had had since Whisky, many decades before. 
Whisky - that was her name when she came to us at 3 years old - we were going to change it but didn't.
Dalmatians are as greedy as Labradors and will do anything for food . . . particularly steal it . . .
  Dominie encourages her nephew, Buddy
Jenna was eight weeks old when we brought her home and was not in the least fazed to find herself in the company of three large, unfamiliar spotted dogs. In the following years she has seen the Dalmatians reduced through natural causes to one (Frodo) and welcomed the introduction of her half-brother Gus and another Labrador, Bertie, from the same kennels, as well as five Ocicats, the first two dying far too young, at three and six years of age.
Jenna with Monty
She left her breeders and her litter-mates without a backward glance and has remained an exceptionally friendly dog. She actively enjoys visiting the vets and is always rewarded by the receptionists and the vets with treats which she consumes quickly, unlike her Labrador companions who won’t eat anything while there. She approaches all people and dogs with a wagging tail and a smiling face, completely trusting everyone she meets and, strange as it may sound, that is quite worrying for not everyone is moved by the kindest motives and there have been cases of dog-napping in the forest. In her younger days Jenna was apt to disappear for lengthy periods, following interesting trails, and so we acquired a tracker for her in order to trace where she was. It transpired that she was never far from us and since she has had Labrador pals she has been less inclined to wander. Nonetheless we maintain a vigilant eye on all our dogs and keep them close to us.  
A pocketful of biscuits is invaluable in holding their attention.
Jenna loves to work and a good walk involves lots of water, thick cover and much retrieving, the best sort being that which engages her Labrador friends and relatives and their brains, noses and tails - the wagging accelerates as the quarry (usually a tennis ball and occasionally a biscuit!) is located.
Searching - the tails aren't wagging yet . . .
Jenna is a delightful little dog - she never did grow into her big feet – and an affectionate and willing member of the pack we are privileged to lead.
 The expression says it all - engaged, willing, happy.

Happy Birthday, Jenna!