Friday, 31 August 2007

A tank of evidence

Way back in June, you may remember that we went back up to the Lake District in search of giant eels. A few days before we left, Graham collected a fish tank that was still back in Exeter. As you can see from the picture, this is a large tank by normal standards, and upon its arrival here, was put on the gravel outside the office window, basically in readiness for any eels that we may be lucky enough to catch as specimens for our on-going investigation into the size of eels in our lakes.

There it has sat since it arrived. No, no that is not a moan (me? moan? I merely make constructive observations and would never dream of moaning). I am purely mentioning it here in my blog, as it came to my notice recently that it is now almost full of water – rainwater to be precise - so I thought it would be interesting to log how much rainfall we have, in fact, had since 15th June in this part of Devon. No, not as much as some unfortunate people in certain areas in the July floods, but even so I reckon that 12¾ inches in just over two months is a pretty substantial amount. Only 5 inches to go and it will be overflowing. Yes, I still work in feet and inches – I refuse to succumb to metric measurements and find it a hopeless task trying to visualise centimetres – for example say 6 inches to me and I know in my mind immediately how big that is, but say 6 centimetres and I have not got a clue!

Anyway, I am going to keep an eye on the tank and see how long it takes to fill to the brim in the coming weeks. But, of course, you know what will happen don’t you? Some bright spark will decide to empty the darn thing and put it away, and my scientific experiment will be down the drain - literally.

Weird Weekend speakers part three

And finally:
Adam Davies:

Special mystery guest, Nick Redfern:

Grigoriy Panchenko:

And last, but by no means least, Ronan Coghlan:

Weird Weekend 2007 speakers part two

And some more:
Special mystery guest, Dr. Karl Shuker:
Dr. Darren Naish:

Paul Vella:




Peter Robbins and Larry Warren:

Weird Weekend 2007 speakers part one

At last, what you have been waiting for - some photos from the Weird Weekend! Here are some pictures of our speakers doing their thing:

Jon McGowan:
Matthew Williams in his wonderful shirt:


Oll Lewis:
Dr. Charles Paxton:

Mike Hallowell:



Thursday, 30 August 2007

Back-tracking

Yes, I have a grasshopper mind, but I thought you would like to see some of us earning our Blue Peter badges:

This year, we made several items for the Weird Weekend - Mokele Mbembe, a dragon and a bigfoot. Below are some photos of the work as it progressed. Firstly Mokele Mbembe started out like this:

and then, after a few days progressed to this:




then this:


to the end product:

After a lot of head-scratching and thought processes, the dragon finished up like this:


and opened up the weekend fantastically:


For a few days, Bigfoot lurked in our shed as one of these:


then got stitched up:

Before being unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd:


Saturday, 25 August 2007

Spoon menace

I found a spoon yesterday. A teaspoon to be exact. This may not be much of a ‘stop the press’ kind of announcement, but I thought the fact that this teaspoon was found on the wall outside the front of the cottage warranted a mention. Perhaps it was the same spoon that I espied whilst sitting in the back of the car three days ago? Perhaps it was the spoon that the dish ran away with, and then dropped for a younger, curvier model – who knows? I shall never find out the true reason for its location, as everyone here will deny all knowledge of it, but I am intrigued to know why it was on the wall.

Well readers, I spent Thursday in bed. No, I was not being lazy – I merely felt extremely unwell. Since yesterday though, I have been up and about, suffering from a sore chest and aching joints, but my temperature has returned to within acceptable limits, and I will survive I am sure. I am still trying to catch up with some paperwork and yesterday afternoon I found myself in the position of trying not to scream obscenities at the wall, or indeed, whoever may be in earshot. It is quite simple to explain - my printer was playing up and so was the internet connection, and they both seemed to be vying for the ‘let’s see who can irritate Corinna the most’ prize. For about half an hour they were both level-pegging in the ratings, but the prize went to the internet connection in the end. I frightened the cat at least once by yelling vociferously at the printer, before ripping out yet another piece of chewed up paper. Poor Spider (aka that darn cat) was innocently curled up asleep on the floor under my desk, when a screaming harridan rudely awoke him from his slumbers, as she swooped down upon the printer, with evil intent in her eyes. The expression on his face was priceless as he, probably quite sensibly, leapt from his position and vacated the room rapidly, only stopping to look in my direction once he was safely out of the line of fire.

Here at CFZHQ, things have a habit of getting misplaced. The spoon above is an example in point. Yesterday, it was the turn of Richard’s briefcase. It could be found nowhere. This could well have proved a very disastrous affair for poor Richard as it contained some important documents. Chairs were pulled out, and cupboards were searched - all to no avail. All breathed a sigh of relief though, when it was discovered that the missing article was still in Exeter. I wonder whether the sigh was more to do with its discovery, or more to do with the fact that the only other place to look would have been under the beds – our bed in particular. The dark recesses of the ‘underbed world’ are not particularly nice places to search for lost items at the best of times, but the ‘underbed world’ of Jon’s side of the bed would have been one to approach with extreme caution.

I shall not go into the tawdry details, but will just mention that when bedrooms were switched a few months ago, around ten bin bags were filled to capacity with detritus from beneath the bed frame in Jon’s old room. Many a lost article of cutlery and crockery saw the light of day, along with six lighters, an old sock (especially odd as he never wears any), a cornucopia of food wrappers, and enough empty soft drink bottles to float a battleship. You can understand, perhaps, why the thought of such an expedition would scare even the most intrepid of those at the CFZ.

But back to the briefcase - you may be thinking that Richard must have lost his mind not to have remembered where he had left it in the first place, but in his defence I shall add that it was supposed to have been brought over to Woolsery by car last week, along with t-shirts, Ronan Coghlan and various other bits and pieces, ready for the Weird Weekend. Richard had arrived here a couple of days previously by train so was not to be blamed in the slightest. I am not one to mention names, but there are three drivers at the CFZ, and Jon and I were both here at Woolsery the whole time. Not guilty m’lord.

Shosh returned to Hatfield yesterday after the two week stint of her EMS (extra mural studies) at nearby Holsworthy finished. It has been lovely having her here again and I shall really miss her. Her friend, Aurelia, stayed with us last week whilst on her own EMS, but she left on Sunday after the Weird Weekend. Both the girls, and Gav, helped out a lot at the event and we are very grateful for their assistance.

Dear Aurelia. On the Saturday night of Weird Weekend, whilst we were spending a jolly couple of hours with those who were staying with us at the cottage, the subject of music came up (as it does). The discussion turned, somehow, to Hawkwind and we all groaned when Aurelia enquired quietly and innocently, ‘what is Hawkwind?’ Anyone who knows Graham will also know that Hawkwind are his favourite band – and anyone who has stayed here may well have heard him listening to them at a volume reminiscent of a Live Aid concert, with the accompaniment of glasses rattling in the downstairs cabinet as the bass beats out its thumping groove. Now, after this innocent enquiry you can obviously appreciate that Graham immediately leapt at the chance, and bounded eagerly up the stairs to let Aurelia know exactly ‘what Hawkwind is’. I never did ask Mark whether he was bounced out of his bed that night (he had retired an hour or so earlier).

I think Aurelia will probably say she has heard of absolutely everybody next time, just in case.

Poor Richard is in the wars – a few days before the Weird Weekend we had a panic with one of the tanks in the conservatory. The soft-shelled turtle’s tank split at the top and in the madness that followed trying to stem the flow of water, Richard slipped and twisted his ankle. It took a couple of days, but by the end of the festivities, it was basically back to normal. However, yesterday he twisted the other ankle and now is hobbling around again. On top of that, he has caught Oll’s cold.

Jon and I are going to settle down today to work on Exotic Pets – I have been proofing lots of interesting articles in the last few weeks/days and it is now time to collate them all together and produce the next issue. I think it is going to be a busy afternoon and evening …. again.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Happy Birthday

Happy Burpday to you
Happy Burpday to you
Happy Burpday, Happy Burpday
Happy Burpday to you

Yes folks, the Director of the CFZ has been roaming this planet for 48 years today! So I am sure there will be lashings and lashings of ginger beer (diet), chocolate (not diet) and cake (again not diet - as if) today at CFZHQ.

Tell me, why do I do it? It has become a tradition for me to buy him a musical instrument of some description for his birthday – I should really know better shouldn’t I? This year it is a bodhran – I repeat, why DO I do it? I must be a glutton for punishment that is all I can say LOL. But then again, it is his birthday, he loves his music and I love him … so he can bang on his drum as much as he likes.

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Weird Weekend 2007 - the final curtain

I know this entry is a tad tardy, and I should have written this on Monday, but I am still stumbling around with my eyes being kept open with matchsticks!

However, before you all throw rotten vegetables at me for being so remiss, this is a brief account of Sunday’s activities to round up the daily bulletins of the Weird Weekend.

Sunday morning saw everyone up and out in good time for the start of the programme. Well I say everyone – I was the last out, but my excuse was that I had to finish my blog and make sure that there was no-one in the house who could accidentally be locked in all day. In my defence also, it took three attempts at leaving the cottage – the last occasion culminating in me partaking in some kind of weird ballet with the CFZ dog, Tessie. This can be easily explained. I was in such a rush that it was not until I had closed the garden gate behind me that I realised that I had, in fact, passed her on my way out – I hate to admit it, but I did actually have to step over her. I had registered her presence, but my brain had not reminded me, as quickly as it should have done, that she should, in truth, have been on the inside of the back door and not standing by the back gate. Oh well, it is an age thing I guess.

Other than that, all went extremely well at the Community Centre and at the end of the last talk we were only around 10 minutes behind schedule – which, as I am sure you will agree – was not ‘alf bad, considering.

Nick Redfern gave a talk about the subject matter of his new book, Man-Monkey, which was then officially launched. Unfortunately, as we had not expected him to be there, we only had a small stock of his book available, but those who bought it were thrilled to go away with a freshly signed copy.

The other speakers on Sunday were Paul Vella, Larry Warren and Peter Robbins, Darren Naish and Ronan Coghlan, with Jon giving his keynote speech to end the proceedings.

There was a hive of activity clearing up, a refreshing diet coke at the bar and then we were off to the local pub, The Farmer’s Arms, for the traditional end of event dinner.

This was only my third Weird Weekend and by all accounts from the veterans, it was the best yet. Hopefully next year’s will be even bigger and better and, as I wrote a few entries ago, we have already booked several speakers for it.

Watch this space for photos and more detailed information.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Did you done that?

Saturday at the Weird Weekend is, by nature, the busiest day of the event. Doors open at 10.30 and close around midnight.

This year, it was no different. The household was all up and ready to go very much like a regiment of soldiers on parade – Jon acting out his much-loved role of Sergeant Major with rather too much relish. This year, though, he played his part from the bed, as, after a night’s (or, rather, half a night’s) sleep, his foot was giving him gyp again. To this end, he had decided to let it wake up a bit before trying to put weight on it, and hobble downstairs himself.

Young David was up and down the stairs plying us both with coffee and toast, whilst I attempted to write Friday’s blog and whilst Jon’s aforementioned appendage recovered its equilibrium.

Once at the Community Centre, all was in full swing and the lectures commenced as scheduled and all went smoothly. The children had their Mad Hatter’s tea party followed by a UFO talk with Peter Robbins. They all sat, full of cake - and goggled eyed - and seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

Dr. Karl Shuker had been billed as attending to launch his new book that we have just published - Extraordinary Animals Revisited. He had warned us, however, that he may not be able to come as he had just returned from a holiday in Brazil the day before and was not certain whether he would be able to make the long journey down here from the West Midlands. But he did – and all the copies of his book that we had in stock were soon signed and sold to eager fans.

Nick Redfern had also been down originally to give a lecture, but had had to pull out at the last minute due to travel from Texas suddenly becoming impossible for him. In the last few days before the Weird Weekend kicked off, this situation changed, but it was not until Thursday evening that we knew that he would definitely be able to make it. So, after around 29 hours of no sleep and having to drive himself from Gatwick Airport, he finally arrived at the Community Centre to be ushered into the auditorium as our surprise guest.

As happens every year, the timings ran slightly over time, and the schedule was tweaked a bit, but this did not really matter and at 11.00 pm the talks finished, leaving everyone somewhat exhausted, but pleased with how the day had transpired. After a convivial hour in the bar, refreshing parched throats with a cooling drink, we all dispersed to our relevant board and lodgings.

Once back at the cottage, it was time for the traditional Saturday night Weird Weekend banter with those who were staying here. We eventually got to bed at 3.30 am!

As I blundered downstairs this morning in my usual desperation to locate the kettle, I found - upon the dining room floor - what appeared to be two very large pupae. Would these split open and produce two giant butterflies of astounding beauty? Nah – it was Jon McGowan and Darren Naish asleep in their sleeping bags.

So folks, it is now Sunday morning and we are nearly all ready to get down to the Community Centre for our last day of this year’s event.

PS: We also appear to have someone sleeping in our shed – we have no idea who it is, but upon trying to locate Richard’s top hat yesterday, I found a sleeping bag and some clothing strewn around. All very peculiar!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Weird Weekend - and now this happens

At 3.30 am I looked at the clock and thought to myself, ‘hmm I am supposed to be up tomorrow to write a blog entry, send an important text, make sure the cakes get to the hall, find my ‘dressing-up’ frock for the Mad Hatter’s Teaparty, and locate some plastic bags.’

Here it is now – 9.30 Saturday morning and I have at least managed item two on the list! Please forgive the rather hurried entry, therefore.

Yesterday was one of those days that you just wish could start again so you could go at it in a different way! Everything was going reasonably well until one of our guests took a turn for the worse. He should not really have come, but had brought a friend with him to look after him whilst he was here and thought it would be OK.

I will not go into details – it is not really something one talks about freely – but he became very ill and was sick several times whilst in our kitchen. Unfortunately, this was on the day that we had people drifting in and out of the house for our Open Day – children included. Eventually, we had to call an ambulance to the poor chap, but he refused to go with them. It was all very distressing – he is a dear friend and we only wished to do what was best for him. After some deep thinking and lots of phone calls, in the end it was arranged that one of his friends would pick them both up and take them home.

Aside from this, visitors were coming and going, together with various speakers and other guests arriving at Barnstaple station, facilitating pick-ups.

At last it was time for everyone to make his or her way down to the Community Centre. For a short period of time, there was quiet in the cottage. Time to savour a cup of coffee at last.

By the way, Jon’s foot improved through the day thank goodness, so, come the evening, he was able to ‘do his thing’ without too much trouble.

The lights went down, Jon made his introduction and the show began - it is not very often you see a dragon in Woolsery, but this is exactly what greeted those present …

We have pictures folks, and we will of course, be putting these up as soon as we can.

Today promises to be very exciting and I will post again tomorrow – probably with eyes even less open than they are today!

Right, now where is that list again?

Friday, 17 August 2007

Weird Weekend – and so it continues apace

We now have the wonderful Ronan Coghlan with us – he arrived yesterday afternoon from Ireland – and, throughout the day today, we are expecting several more people to be with us.

Last night, of course, we held the CFZ cocktail party, which is held on the Thursday evening every year to officially launch the Weird Weekend. We all had a great time, met some new friends and are all present and correct this morning – sans headaches! No hangovers here folks!

I was up at 7.30 am as usual (blowing my own trumpet again there folks) and made a start on clearing up. Matt Osbourne and his friend Pixi were the first of ‘the crew’ to arrive and immediately got their sleeves rolled up and got stuck in. By 10.00 am, with the added help of Mark, Oll and Peter Channon, the place was spick and span again. Thanks guys!

However, the evening was not without its spills. Poor Jon hurt his foot last night – no he was not under the influence (and I mean that most sincerely folks) - in fact, Mark did exactly the same thing, at exactly the same spot, but escaped injury. Our garden is not the best lit of its kind in the dark, and Jon tripped over one of the guy ropes to the gazebo and landed awkwardly on the lawn, twisting his ankle. However, he has now had some first aid administered (from our resident first aider – Matt Osbourne), who confirmed that bones were all as they should be, a tubigrip applied, and has been told to rest the foot as much as possible.

Now, anyone who knows Mr. Downes – especially at this time of the year – will soon realise that the last instruction was not going to be adhered to for very long. As I write this he is in the office, checking his emails and sorting out what needs to be done by whom, and when. He is under strict instructions from ‘er upstairs to put as little weight on it as possible, and has been threatened with pointy sticks if he ignores her. (Well – he was the one who insisted on adding the ‘obey’ bit in his vows as well so he is jolly well going to adhere to them lol – aha hoisted by his own petard.)

As is normal for the Friday of this event, it is Open Day at CFZHQ today so Graham is busy making preparations for the barbeque. We are all looking forward to welcoming visitors here to show them around our collection of animals and have a friendly chat. The sun has not exactly got his hat on, but looks to be making a valiant effort at trying to poke through the clouds, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for a rain-free afternoon.

At 6.00 pm tonight, the doors at the Community Centre open. There is still much to do – those last minute things that seem to be the most time consuming – along with people to meet from trains at Barnstaple.

It looks to be a very busy afternoon.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Weird Weekend - and so it begins

Over the coming few days, I am going to attempt to keep you all updated on the thrills and spills of the Weird Weekend. For us, day one of the event was yesterday – Wednesday.

We were expecting the arrival of one of our star speakers – Grigoriy Panchenko from the Ukraine. He was flying from Hannover to Zurich and then from Zurich to Birmingham – due to arrive at just gone 1.00 pm. Lisa had offered to pick him up from the airport on the way down from Manchester.

That morning, Jon, Richard and I were due in Barnstaple to give a radio interview for BBC Radio Devon at 11.00 am before going off to do various bits of last minute shopping – including some food for the evening – before the arrival of our guest.

We were just eating a hurried lunch in the car, before attempting to negotiate the crush around Morrison’s for our last shopping task of the day, when Lisa telephoned to say that there was still no sight of Grigoriy. This was very worrying, especially as it was now around one and a half hours since his flight had landed. Lisa had put a call out for him – but with no success. Also – due to the stringent data protection laws – try as she might, Lisa could get no information out of any of the airport staff as to whether our guest was indeed on British soil yet.

The trip to Morrisons was abandoned – and we rushed back to base, whereupon we set about trying to ascertain what, if any, information we could find out by telephoning various airlines, airports etc etc.

My allotted task was to phone Birmingham and see if I could persuade them to let us have information that they would not normally divulge. This, I knew, to basically be an impossible task as they have the laws to uphold, and although Jon was expecting me to put on my worried, concerned wife-at-home, voice I didn’t, in the end, actually have to. The lady I spoke to was, in truth, most helpful – she understood the situation and asked me to ring back in ten minutes whilst she contacted Immigration to see if our visitor was being held up there. I was extremely grateful for her helpfulness, as I am no actor – yes I have performed to an audience – but that was many years ago and I am not sure that dancing on point whilst wearing a tutu would actually get me very far down the telephone anyway.

Time went by and I duly telephoned again – but, unfortunately, she confirmed that Grigoriy was not there. Now this posed a big problem – there seemed to be four possibilities: he had changed his mind, he had suffered an accident, he had missed his connecting flight or he had missed Lisa and had wandered off into the bowels of Birmingham Airport – perhaps even to find a taxi to bring him all the way down to North Devon!

What on earth were we going to do?

The Data Protection Act is there to protect people like you and me from the weirdos wandering around out there, but in situations like this it can work against you – big time.

Poor Lisa was still stuck at Birmingham Airport – she had been there since 11.30 that morning don’t forget – and was getting no luck at all with bureaucracy on site.

This, however, is where it all changed. I suppose if I was poetic I would write something along the lines of – ‘the dark clouds lifted and the sun sent its warming rays upon our aching heads’.

The very helpful lady at Birmingham Airport gave us a number for the Swiss airline on the off chance that they may be able to help shed a little more light on the problem. She warned us that they would probably not be able to divulge names etc., but it was another number to contact.

I explained the situation again, this time to the lady down the other end of the telephone at the airline. She asked me the flight details, times, name of passenger etc and, believe it or not – and I had to check this with her a couple of times as I could not believe it myself – she actually confirmed that Grigoriy had missed his connecting flight (for ‘whatever reason’) and was on the next one – due to arrive at Birmingham at 18.15 that evening. It was so easy! If only we had had access to this particular number in the first place! As I say, they were so helpful, I had to check again that she was really confirming that he was on the next flight.

Lisa was informed – poor lass would have to remain at the Airport for another three hours or so – but at least we had located our missing Ukrainian! Our thanks go to Swiss Airlines!

At 9.45 yesterday evening, Lisa and Grigoriy arrived at CFZHQ to a resounding cheer of relief, and heartfelt thanks to Lisa.

It transpired that Grigoriy had missed his connecting flight at Zurich because he had set off a security alert! Now, Mr. Panchenko is a quiet, unassuming man – and not one you would think would set off such an alarm. However, he was carrying, in his pockets, a pair of metal hand exercisers (I am not sure what the correct technical term is) and these had set off the alarm at the airport. Poor soul.

Our other star speaker, Peter Robbins, and our old friend, Larry Warren, had said that they would arrive early this morning – however, we were not expecting early to mean 5.00 am! LOL - yikes!

There really is never a dull moment at the CFZ!

We all stand together

What is involved in organising a Weird Weekend?

Copious cups of tea or coffee for starters.

As soon as the doors close for the last time on each year’s event, preparations are already under way for next year – speakers have already been booked for 2008 and ideas that are too late for this year are already noted down in readiness. Lessons are always being learnt – procrastination and tardiness are not good. Not only do speakers need to be booked in plenty of time in order to fit in with their own busy schedules, but travel arrangements and accommodation need to be booked as far in advance as is possible. Stock needs to be re-ordered and props need to be made - sound checks need carrying out, and rehearsals need to be undertaken.

Interspersed with all this, the normal everyday functioning of the CFZ needs to carry on, which means that book orders still need to be checked daily and dispatched as soon as possible, membership subscriptions to both Animals & Men and Exotic Pets need to be kept updated, with magazines sent as, and when, is necessary. Apart from this, there is the ongoing work on the next issues of both magazines that needs to keep churning over. There are always books waiting in line to be proof read, and there are those in line still waiting to be finished.

Added to all this, the animals all need their daily requirements adhered to, the men (and woman) of the CFZ need feeding with a crust of bread - at least - on those occasions when there is no time to prepare and cook a proper meal - or when there is no proper food as we have not had time to organise any shopping. (sympathy here, please – come on ‘awwwww’). There are still personal appointments to be kept, a garden that needs tending, and washing that needs doing, and so it goes on.

The cottage can get overcrowded at times, and to be perfectly honest, yes this can be very hard – you must remember that I came from a house that consisted of basically just me once the girls had left home. Any peaceful ideas of a quiet cottage in the country, although only ever really just an idyllic thought, have all but gone, along with those days when you could saunter across the landing in the nude on the way to the shower, because there was no-one else there to see you!

However, since being involved with this rum lot, and during these last few months since I have been at the cottage permanently, I have seen that, in times of pressure, every single one of its occupants pulls together and gets things done. There is a dogged silence as people go about their allotted task. As in everything, there are tasks we are given that we may not particularly want to undertake, but we do them, and if we do complain we mutter it under our breath – well most of the time. Blimey, that was all a bit cheesy wasn’t it? I don’t do cheesy. Excuse me while I vomit into my waste paper bin.

Enough of that.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Flying Low

The Weird Weekend is nearly upon us – this time next week it will be in full flow – this time in two weeks it will done and dusted for another year. Amongst all the preparations though, the highlight of this week for me is that my eldest, Shosh, is coming down again as she has another stint of EMS (extra mural studies) for her vet. med. degree - this time in relation to all things equine. Her fiancĂ©, Gav, will be joining her at the weekend too. It is always lovely to see my girls and they also give me some much welcome, and very rare, female company in a house full of blokes. Olivia, though, is doing some holiday work in the next few weeks so will not be able to make the WW this year, so that is a shame. Anyway, as both Shosh and Gav will be here for the event, and the hectic planning beforehand, I hope it doesn’t frighten them off! The comings and goings at CFZHQ don’t seem to have yet, so here’s hoping!

You may remember me mentioning that Mrs Miggins, my Vietnamese praying mantis, had died a few weeks back. I now have to report that, during the past week, despite him tucking into his victuals and looking quite happy and content (in a praying mantis kind of way) Mr. Miggins has now joined her in the great insect-infested forest in the sky. Oh well, these things happen, but are sad all the same.

To update you all on my last entry, I have had to come to the miserable conclusion that as my car, Pru, will need nearly three times as much money spent on her -to get her sorted for another year - than she is worth in real terms, the time has come for me to have to let her go. She is riddled with that bane of most cars – rust – and I fear it will be a losing battle in years to come. Hey ho - sniff.

Let me finish on a brighter and rather funnier note.

Yesterday found Jon and I having to make a quick visit to Barnstaple. I shall not go into the details of why or where exactly, as these facts are of no particular interest or relevance. Nevertheless, whether it was because it was a quick exit from the house - and Jon had left it to the last minute before getting changed - or whether it was the physical movement of sitting down on a stool at our destination I am not sure, but I found myself having to place myself discreetly in front of him. As he sat down I had caught a glimpse of flesh that would not normally be seen unless on a beach. Gasping with shock (and some amusement) I realised that his lower garments were not as they should be!

I can only hope the reason for this was the latter, as we had walked some distance from the car park to our destination in Green Lanes Shopping Centre, and I shudder to think that he may have been walking along in this state of embarrassing undress. On the other hand though, thinking about it more deeply, it may explain the frightened looks from various children, and the actions of the little old lady who swung her handbag at him before running, whilst screaming hysterically, towards the nearest exit - with her hands waving above her head - as the reflection of flashing blue lights in the nearby shop windows announced the arrival of the ‘boys in blue’.

Yes, of course I exaggerate – but to what extent I shall leave you to ponder on … oh I love it, I love it – writing can be SO much fun.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Is this goodbye, old friend?

Does anybody else out there feel the same as me? Or is it just a girl thing? We make the mistake of becoming too emotionally attached to our car, and even give them names. I can still remember the registration number of my first ever vehicle way back in the late 70s. Now, he could be a bit contrary really – he adopted the charm of stalling when it rained and would then only allow me to go in second gear until it stopped and he dried out again. He used to break down in the most awkward places too (for example as I tried to cross the opposite lane of busy dual-carriageway traffic just as the traffic lights down the road went from red to green) – many a time I used to be pushing him to the side of the road at gone midnight on the way back from my boyfriend’s house. Everyone used to just stare – not stop to help mind you – just stare. A white knuckle ride on many an occasion with him I can tell you! (Woody, the Mini Clubman - not the boyfriend, but then again).

There were others in between – all loved of course, with their own little idiosyncrasies that I grew accustomed to over the period I had them, and although these may have been annoying at the time, I soon forgot and was sorry when they had to leave.

What is it, then, about your own car?

Over the years, Pru is that little bit of independence that I have come to rely upon when I have just needed to get away from everybody. She has shared the road trips with me (obviously!) with all their excitement and trepidation. She never complains when I listen to Slipknot at full belt along the motorway. A car becomes an indescribable part of you in a way that nothing else can, especially when it has served you well after travelling upon miles and miles of tarmac, with no real complaint. Perhaps, in those years long since past, it would have been your horse that took you everywhere, and, if you were a kindly owner, you treated it like a member of the family. You patted it when it did well, and you cursed it when it behaved like an ass – so it is with a car.

I have made many long journeys on my own in my little Rover Metro – she never let me down. Yes, of course, she played up on cold mornings sometimes, and most recently has suffered from eternal flat battery syndrome, but then she is an old lady now. She has sprung leaks where she really shouldn’t (petrol tank) and other things have gone 'ping'. But ... on those long, lonely journeys to and from Devon on the A14, M6, M42 and M5 she never let me down. She has become a dear friend and something of an agony aunt – she has listened to me ranting about things that have upset me as I have driven along, she has suffered me screaming in rage at those times that I do let it all out. She has kept my confidence – what personal thoughts are divulged in the confines of her five doors are between her and me alone.

Yeah, yeah – it is only a car but … it was MOT day today and now I have a hard decision to make.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Oh Happy Day

To my mind, the simple things in life are always the most satisfying. Firstly, I cannot quite put into words how lovely it is to have a fully functioning washing machine, and secondly how great it is to have a brand new rotary washing line fitted and ready to go in the garden. I have always told Jon that I am easy to please – give me the basic luxuries of life and I am as happy as a sand-boy (or should that be sand-person?)

Before the rotary was fixed up, the garden at the beginning of the week resembled something of an open-air swimming pool – chairs were lined up, all facing the same way, each being used as a makeshift mechanism for drying towels and t-shirts that would not fit on the airer that was being used as a temporary ‘washing line’. It was as if everyone had gone into the pool and left their things across the back of the chairs in readiness for their return. It looked very odd to say the least.

To CFZ news. Man-Monkey - In Search of the British Bigfoot is now available for purchase. This is, of course, written by our good friend in the good old US of A, Nick Redfern. He investigates the story originally recorded by Charlotte S. Burne in her book Shropshire Folklore in 1883, which is an account of a weird encounter with an animal ghost on 21st January 1879. A man was returning to Woodcock in Shropshire, when his horse was set upon by a strange black creature and upon trying to push it off with his whip, the man found that his weapon went straight through the thing. Written in his own indomitable style, Nick presents his notes, files and discoveries that were collected between 1986 and 2001, thus compiling them into a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Since I have been involved with the CFZ, I have come to learn that life here has always been hectic, with numerous deadlines to be met at once, dinners to prepare, shopping to do etc etc. Not much seems to have changed, other than it appears to be busier than ever at the moment. Add to this the fact that August is the busiest month of our year and that preparations are well under way for the annual Weird Weekend and you will be able to imagine, perhaps, that the term ‘running around like headless chickens’ is not too far from the truth.

The Weird Weekend is one of those times when the cottage is full to bursting. The kitchen becomes something akin to a field of battle, or a visit from a particularly over-enthusiastic poltergeist, and the morning queue for the bathroom winds it wiggly, merry, way down the stairs, with those standing in line hopping from one leg to the other in their urgency to reach their goal, trying to make polite conversation whilst suffering their discomfort. Woe betide you if you are stuck between two people who are ‘not morning persons’, for then you have the choice of having any attempt at conversation being replied to with a grunt, or having to wiggle uncomfortably by yourself in silence, trying to think of anything but water, rivers, or even that morning cup of tea, in case such thoughts urge the urge to more urgency.

I don’t think I have ever really explained where, as Administrative Director, my ‘desk’ is located within the confines of CFZHQ have I? I wonder, where did you imagine it would be? In the corner of a spacious office perhaps, with a vase of fresh flowers decoratively placed upon its surface? A sweeping teak affair with plenty of drawer space and elbow room perhaps? With a swivel chair to enable ease of movement from keyboard to desk-space to sign those letters that churn from the printer daily?

Hmmm … well … one of Jon’s ideas when I first arrived was to have my office … wait for it …. in the bathroom next to our bedroom! Oh yes, my chair would have been the loo I suppose eh? And what of the already established members of said room, who, if you remember, are the rodents? I cannot clearly remember my exact response to this suggestion, but I seem to recall that Jon dropped the idea very quickly at my reply. I don’t think violence accompanied my retort, but I think, under the circumstances, I could well have been forgiven if it did.

No, my desk is, in fact, placed in the corner of our bedroom. It was the only reasonable place it could go and so I find myself wedged between the window and the chest of drawers, with filing trays precariously balanced on the end of said piece of furniture, and the computer tower alternating between the window sill and the floor, depending on the internet signal. Not an ideal place, but I am slowly trying to make it more habitable.

With being upstairs comes the advantage of being able to work in relative peace, but it is also a long way from the kitchen, which means making a cup of tea is more of a well-planned expedition down that (still) cluttered corridor, than a spur of the moment thing. It also means that if I am cooking I have to lay down tools for a bit, which can be irritating if in the middle of something. However, it does help to keep me fit, as I am forever running up and down the stairs to and from the ‘real’ office. The disadvantage is, alas, that if Jon shouts loud enough, I can hear him from up here so cannot use the ‘sorry I did not hear you’ excuse for not leaving my game – sorry, what game? I don’t play games – that was a slip of the fingers. No, no I never play games during working hours. Not like some other people I could mention. Dum-di-dum-di dum.

Anyway, my desk is tidied up once a week, with everything neatly to hand, but usually, after a couple of days of frantically trying to find something - with the mandatory ‘papers tossed in the air’ action, the area soon becomes a bit of a muddle - and so the process begins again. I have never been one for a desk that has all the pens lined up in neat rows, and have always preferred to work in what I call ‘organised chaos’, but sometimes it would be nice to immediately find the joystick when I need it – darn – there I go again. Pritt stick I mean.

Oh, go on then. I admit it. Of course I play games – but only after hours. (goody goody aren’t I?) My favourite at the moment is the online Lord of the Rings game – Shadows of Angmar. It is great fun. If any of you out there play it as well, let me know and we can perhaps team up on line and help each other out.

Now, which world shall I enter tonight?