Saturday, 11 December 2010

Tit for tat

Whilst kneeling on the floor busily wrapping up Christmas presents one would not expect to receive a phone call to say that ‘We bought you the boa and will send it in a day or two’. Thoughts of battling possible constriction whilst attempting to peel off one of those annoying tabs on a glittery bow may quite reasonably prove a tad disturbing, and throw one into a state of confusion and alarm. Hence when I interrupted Olivia last night in the throes of her festive activities with just such an announcement , it prompted a rather tremulous ‘You what?’ in reply. Still not realising the double meaning of my statement, I explained that I had been into Asda and found the feather boa that we had briefly discussed when she was visiting us on Tuesday to which there was a slightly relieved 'Ah' in reply. It was not until laying in bed many hours later that I realised that the poor girl – busy in her own world of Christmas wrapping - had probably wondered briefly what on earth her dear old mother was on about – had she really bought a snake?

Ah well this dear old mother has had one of those odd weeks.

I was convinced that Thursday was Wednesday and found it hard to accept the real truth, even when pointed out by several people in the know. And that was after the peculiar visit to the village shop on the real Wednesday of the week.

I do have to add here that I was wandering around in a pair of rather odd leggings all that day due to the fact that, although I was in dire need of clean clothing I dare not switch on the washing machine for fear of repercussions of the burst pipe variety. To elaborate on the latter part of that sentence, the washing machine is situated in a part of the house which is left to its own devices in the cold weather, and the lack of heating - and slightly open window to allow the drainage pipe to expel its necessary load into the drain outside - does not do it any favours at this time of year.

To explain the leggings in more detail, these originated from the 1990s and are adorned with Native American hieroglyphs and probably look a bit like pyjama bottoms to those not in the know of past fashions. The fleecy top that went with them disappeared long ago (thank goodness as it was a rather shapeless over-large affair that looked rather more like a tepee than a piece of clothing).

However, let us return to the visit to the village shop. And this does involve Olivia again in a small way even though she was nowhere to be seen. And, come to think of it, it involves the washing machine again too. It was a grey, cold day and my mood somewhat matched the climate, but up I toddled to the shop in several layers of clothes plus my coat, boots, gloves and hat – a small expanse of snazzy leggings cheekily showing between boots and coat. Posting done, purchases made and it was time to return to the relative warmth of the kitchen where it was then time to remove the cold-weather protection. It was when I placed the hat on the table that I burst out laughing. There, nestled in the upturned crown of my titfer, was a pair of Olivia’s unmentionables. I had actually gone out with underwear on top of my head.

I then remembered that I had found this item of laundered underwear the night before where it had fallen from the washing basket a week or so ago when Olivia and Ivan had visited and dear old mum had done some washing for them. It had somehow tangled itself in the wiring at the back of the dog crate where it had lain unseen under a box. When I found it, it had seemed a good idea at the time to put it in my hat for safe-keeping. (The mind of a slightly crazy 54-year-old does make you do strange things sometimes). Anyway, because the kitchen had been gloomy when I went out, I had not noticed the offending article when I donned my hat. I can only hope that it was not dangling behind me like some weird sort of Davy Crockett hat! Oh well, even if it did, it must have brightened someone else’s day up as well as mine.

And then, to add insult to injury and top off the peculiar week, I had a nose bleed whilst driving to the chemist to pick up Jon’s medicine. Just as well I was wearing jeans then instead of the leggings – spots of red would have clashed terribly with the hieroglyphs.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Happy Birthday Olivia!

December 1st 1987 and along came Olivia.


The poor girl is suffering at the moment and has had to cancel her birthday party, but I hope she can enjoy her day as best she can. She is at present staying with her sister up in Staffordshire, along with Ivan, and all three of them are laid low with flu-like symptoms. I hope you all feel better soon, poor things.

And although you are feeling rotten, it is still the 1st December - So...

Happy Birthday Olivia, with lots of love - Mum xx

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Invasion of the cane toads


Apparently there are four collective nouns for toads: a knot, a nest, a knob or a lump. Looking at the above photo I think I shall plump for a lump.

And why I have I posted a photo of a flower pot containing a lump of toads? The answer is really quite simple. Thanks to Ross Braund-Phillips, who had seen them advertised in the paper, today (Saturday) I received an early Christmas present from Jon in the form of a pair of cane toads that were residing in Barnstaple, but were looking for a new home. Upon arrival here they immediately squeezed themselves into the flowerpot where they and Mog seemed to happily introduce themselves to each other, albeit in a rather non-genteel lumpy kind of way. I think toads must have been on the wrong side of the door when basic manners and the ideas of personal space were given out.

The new inhabitants have no names yet, but I am sure that will soon be rectified. One point though. Methinks a bigger lounge pool is in order - with all three of them in there at once it will become as cramped as Brighton beach on the first sunny Sunday afternoon of summer.

Once again - thanks to Ross for his eagle-eyes and for telephoning the chap selling them. You are a dear.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dear Santa

There is something special about being awoken from a night’s slumber by the twittering and callings of the dawn chorus. You can either yawn, turn over, and wrap yourself in the soft warm quilt knowing that you have a few hours yet before having to get up, or you can have a good stretch and stick one leg out tentatively in preparation for encouraging the rest of your body to follow suit - until you find yourself in a rather shocked standing position.

Neither of those applied to me when I woke up yesterday morning. I was greeted by the very contented sounds of the duo next to me, and there I lay - somewhat dazed - as my very own dawn chorus built to a crescendo with one of those involuntary whistles from the bearded one (I can only liken the sound to a whistling kettle when it alerts you that it has reached boiling point). Then slowly – and quietly at first - the puffings, snortings and snores of the man and his dog increased in volume until they snortled in a plethora of harmonies that put even The Beach Boys to shame.

We all know that Pru cannot really help it due to her harshly bred facial features. And the bearded one’s quick excuse? “Not my fault – the dog had me pinned down in the wrong position.”

Item one on my Christmas wish list: one pair of heavy-duty ear plugs.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Dear Prudence

Pru had apparently been found in a ‘puppy farm’, and after much negotiation the woman who had taken pity on her managed to extract her from the awful predicament Pru was in, but not before having to part with £300. Unfortunately, though (and after around eight months of trying) it became painfully clear to her new carers that Pru could not stay with her new family due to a combination of there being lack of space, an elderly collie and two small children sharing the house with her. The collie found her too boisterous and Pru (being a rather stocky individual) had a tendency to flatten the children with her lovable greetings. The woman who had rescued her could not find anyone else to take Pru on and eventually came to the decision that she would have to ask the vet to administer the final injection. However, the vet felt that she was just too lovely a dog to be destroyed, and contacted the North Devon Animal Ambulance to see if they could take her. And, of course, they did.

However, the organisation also found that it was difficult to re-home her due to her mixed breed. Perhaps prospective adoptees were confusing one half of the mix with the more infamous English bull terrier or just thought her appearance was intimidating. Who knows? But no-one was interested.

Anyway, Jon, Graham and I were all immediately taken with her when we went to see her on Tuesday and all at CFZ HQ were really pleased when Myrtle Cottage was given the all clear after the necessary NDAA inspection. So we are now fostering her for a couple of weeks to see how we all get along.



Our main concern was how she would get on with the cats as there was no way of knowing how she would react in their company. It became perfectly clear from the start, however, that she was completely uninterested in Helios, Spider and Poppy, although they were all suitably wary of her appearance. Since Wednesday evening’s sudden disruption to their relaxed routines, Helios and Poppy ignore her by giving her a wide berth. But Spider has been rather more forthcoming. Over the last few weeks he has adopted a rather alarming chauvinistic attitude towards the female of his kind and gives the impression that he thinks Pru is a rather large female cat. He has stalked her twice and deliberately tried to pick a fight on each occasion, but much to his mortification, she has completely ignored his show of misplaced machismo.

Pru is extremely loving, is as soft as butter, and adores human company. She has taken to following me everywhere and bumbles along peacefully on her walks. She enjoys nothing more than to go for a walk and then sprawl herself on the chair to snore contentedly and very loudly. And today she even smells a little better than when she arrived on Wednesday evening - she had the suspicious aroma of old, dirty socks or, to put it another way, was rather ripe. Oll volunteered to give her a shower and although she didn't seem particularly thrilled at the prospect, she made no fuss at all. I had visions of poor Oll being left prostrate on the wet, slippery bathroom floor while she made a dash for freedom at the first opportunity trailing a cloud of bubbles behind her.



She does not seem to have been taught the basics like sit, down and stay and does not even seem to know what a toy is, bless her, but hopefully all of these can be taught. All of us here hope that we can adopt her and give her a happy and peaceful life.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

A cautionary tale for Hallowe'en

Young Katherine – or Kat as her parents affectionately called her - crept bare-foot down the dark corridor, her candle held aloft in front of her. As she delicately made her way on tiptoes down the carpeted passageway, the darkness ahead opened up in the flickering light that cast eerie shadows over the portraits that hung on the wood panelled walls. The faces of her paternal ancestors stared down at her as she made her way; the men with expressions of a past arrogance with some holding books displaying a scholarly air, and others with one hand proudly wrapped around the decorative hilt of a rapier, and some with faithful hounds at their feet. The women beheld expressions of gentle self-assuredness with tiny smiles upon their lips, as they sat with their graceful long-fingers resting upon the heads of their lap dogs, or standing with one hand gently resting upon a desk or other such portrait painter’s prop.

Kat stopped briefly to look at her favourite of these portraits that had dwelt in this corridor for as long as she had a memory of such things. Lady Margarite had been the first wife of the second owner of the house, Lord Perceval, since their marriage in 1658. There remained no exact details on her death, but it was said that she disappeared one night in early 1660 leaving no trace of her whereabouts, nor reasons for her leaving. The story was told that she had wandered off into the night and had fallen prey to some wild animal or even, perhaps, had fallen foul of a group of marauding Parliamentarians.

It was not so much the delicate oil-painted figure that attracted Kat, but the large carved wooden box that sat upon the delicately worked lace cloth that covered the surface of the beautifully inlaid mahogany chest of drawers on which the richly dressed Margarite rested her left hand. In the background stood the grandfather clock that now resided in the hall downstairs – its clunking mechanism still bravely beating out the hours, albeit slightly slower than it should facilitating a once weekly alteration of the minute hand to bring it back into correct time. In the picture, the time was forever immortalised as twenty minutes to twelve and Kat marvelled that, together with the faded date of 1659 painted in the bottom right hand corner that was scribbled under the undecipherable name of the artist, this particular portrait gave up the exact timing of at least some stage of its origin.

Kat shone the candle upwards to reveal the face of her distant ancestor. Margarite stared out with a thin smile in her delicately formed face. Her hair hung in auburn ringlets over each of her temples with longer curls cascading to her shoulders as was the fashion of the day. A large pearl teardrop earring dangled from each ear and her long, graceful neck was adorned with a delicate pearl necklace. Kat had often wondered whether the smile on Margarite’s face was one of satisfaction in knowing the secret of the box; her hand seemed to rest upon it protectively as if indicating that no-one should open it but her.

Margarite was dressed in a rich, dark burgundy corset, which clung to her bosom and tapered to reveal a tiny waist. Around the neckline, the artist had managed to display the black lace to perfection, its delicate contours shadowed with great skill against the paleness of her flesh. The burgundy skirt that fell to the floor was worked to reveal the softness of the fabric and the one tiny shoe that peaked out from beneath the hem was delicately detailed to show off its embroidery to perfection. While her left hand rested on the box, her right hand hung by her skirt, delicately holding a rosebud – its deep red perfectly complementing the colour of her clothing.

Kat continued her way down the corridor until she reached her desired destination. A large oak door blocked her way into the library, and her hand wrapped itself around the brass doorknob and gave it a tentative turn. She heard the click of the fixings and slowly and gently pushed open the door. Holding her candlestick higher she peered into the room. There it was, the mahogany chest of drawers with its sumptuous inlays and delicate lace runner. And there IT sat just as in the portrait. This is what she had come for.

Katherine had arrived the day before to stay with her Uncle Bartholomew and Aunt Cecily at Barsworthy Manor while her parents sailed off to darkest Africa in search of the unknown. Uncle Bart was the eccentric brother of her father’s father and Aunt Cecily was his lovable, dotty wife, who liked nothing more than to wander around her large garden talking to her cats as they followed her everywhere. There had always been a Manor on the site; the original had burned down in the mid-16th Century before a new, more opulent building was constructed. This rose from the ashes in the early 1600s overseen by the first Lord Perceval, shortly before his death in a hunting accident in 1632.

Kat was ten and had inherited her father’s desire to search for and discover the unknown. Alas she was far too young to accompany her parents on their explorations and had, since she was a small child, come to stay with her uncle and aunt in Kent while her parents went off to foreign lands.

With her childish curiosity and determination, during every stay since she had attained the dexterity in her fingers and the sharpness in her mind, she had tried to open the mysterious box that sat on the chest of drawers. And every year she had managed one step further, but the final puzzle had always eluded her. She had made a secret pact with herself that it was to be on this visit that she would achieve her wish. Her desire could well have been something to do with her Uncle’s insistence that the box should not be tampered with.

No-one knew exactly how old the box really was, nor from where it had originated. Yes, the portrait dated it to 1659, but her Uncle had told her that it had been handed down with each generation – there were even slight burn marks on one corner which suggested that it had survived the fire in 1585. And the box was covered with intricate designs and symbols, some of which seemed to be of Elizabethan, and even earlier origin. It was covered in sliding slivers of wood, and buttons that all had to be pulled, clicked or pushed in a different order to achieve the final prize. She had tried to open it since she was six, and although she had managed to proceed a little further on each visit, she had never achieved the final desired result.

Placing the candlestick on the starched white runner, Kat gently stroked the wood of the box and began to go through the order of puzzles slowly and methodically until she reached the point where she had been beaten on the last visit by its hidden and complicated trickery. With nimble fingers she tried out some of the solutions that her childish mind had thought out in the past year. Several tries proved fruitless and in a typically childish manner she poked her tongue out between her teeth in deep concentration. Her auburn hair that had been ragged for the night to produce soft ringlets the next day, hung over her face as she worked away at the complicated puzzles. Suddenly she was aware of the ornate clock ticking methodically and hypnotically from where it stood on the mantelpiece over the fireplace, where the cooling embers lay waiting to be swept away the next morning by the maid. She held her candle aloft again and noticed that it was twenty minutes to midnight. She shivered in the dampness of the room and watched the pendulum swing from side to side as it ticked the night away.

She returned her attention to the box and stood looking at it as if willing it to reveal its secrets. She began to slide the wooden slats again, backward and forward, before pushing a few jewelled buttons at the front. Kat felt sure that she was nearly there and that just a slightly different combination would do it. She pushed her hair away from her face and bent closer to the box. And then success. Sheheard a click, and her eyes sparkled in the candlelight with the feeling of victory. She had done it. The box was open and it was now time to find out what secret Lady Margarite seemed to be hiding in her smile and what her Uncle was so reticent about being discovered.

Gingerly she opened it and peeked into the dark crack as it widened before her. The lid completely open she stared with disappointment into the emptiness within. Perhaps her Uncle Bart had never been able to work out the puzzle and had made up the story of the unknown within? She stood back and sighed. All that build up over the years, with the sadness of bidding her parents farewell made less so by the excitement of perhaps being able, at last, to open the mysterious box on each visit.

Her disappointment was overwhelming but she decided that she would quiz her uncle the next day. She placed a hand on the lid and began to inch it down slowly when she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, a peculiar movement from deep within the cavernous space. She blinked her eye and looked more closely but could see nothing. She tutted. It was like looking at the night sky on a clear night when all the stars are twinkling down and a cluster of smaller stars can be seen from the corner of one’s eye, but when you turn your gaze to them directly they seem to disappear.

But there it was again. And it was gone.

Kat was concentrating so closely that when the clock began to chime the midnight hour it made her jump with fright. She reverted her gaze to the timepiece and watched the little brass cherub emerge from its panel on the left side of the clock face. As the mechanism jerked unsteadily, the little figure’s arm descended upon the small brass drum that sat dully from years of disregard. With a tiny movement, the cherub beat the drum with a small brass stick. Kat watched as it beat out the hour. On the tenth stroke, out of the corner of her eye she noticed the activity in the box heightening and she looked down again, half expecting to see nothing once more. But this time a thick grey mist was swirling in the base of the box, gradually increasing in volume as it rose towards the lip. And then – just as the cherub hit the drum on the twelfth stroke - a fearsome head emerged from within the mist. It had two small dark eyes, no visible nose, and a large, gaping, toothless mouth. Kat was transfixed by the abominable worm-like creature, and watched as it rose from the mist towards her. Suddenly it opened its jaws wider than could ever be imagined and she screamed when she realised that it was growing in size as it rose. It was nearly the same size as her by the time its gaping, dribbling maw towered over her. This was impossible. How could something so big fit into such a small space that the box provided? For a fleeting second she remembered the character in the book that she had found neatly tied up with a bow on her bed when she had arrived the year before. Her Uncle and Aunt had always given her a book when she came to stay and this had been the best they had ever given. That was it, she felt like Alice, but she had a feeling that this was no wonderland from whence this creature had come forth .

She raised her arms above her head as if in some meagre protection against the beast as it began to descend towards her. No-one heard the last scream as it swallowed her in one move and slowly shrunk back into the mist of the box again. The lid slammed shut and all the viewable and hidden mechanisms clicked, clunked or slid back into place. The cherub withdrew into its panel and the candle by the box flickered out, sending thin wisps of smoke across the room. Save for the ticking of the clock, the library fell into an uneasy silence.

The dawn’s light was beginning to shine through the stained glass window at the top of the stairs. It cast its light down the corridor and slowly and gradually it revealed the portraits one by one. Little Bess, the maid, made her way up the stairs with her brush and bucket to sweep out and lay the fire in the library. She yawned as she went, and shivered in the early morning chill. She did not like the long corridor that led to the library, there was something about the atmosphere down that dim passage that chilled her to the bone, even on the most sunniest of July days. There was always an unexplainable faint scent of perfume that wafted down it, this always stronger near the portrait of Margarite. As usual, there was a noticeable rise of speed in her step as she passed the picture, but this time she stopped suddenly when she noticed something laying on the floor directly under it. Putting down her bucket she bent down to take a closer look. A shrivelling and faded dark red rosebud, its petals crisp and browning, lay on the edge of the fraying carpet. No longer immortalised in oil paint, it lay decaying in front of her eyes. The smell of perfume became stronger than she had ever known and she slowly and nervously looked up at the picture. Her eyes wide with terror she screamed.

Margarite was no longer holding her rosebud in her right hand, but had her arms wrapped around a crying child; a child with rags in her auburn tresses, who had her head buried in her hands as she sobbed. Bess ran down the corridor, kicking over the bucket as she went. Still screaming, she ran down the stairs to alert her master and mistress.

The aged couple stood in front of the portrait, with horrified looks upon their faces, and gazed at the young girl. The painting had changed from how Bess had described it only minutes before, but there was still no rosebud in Margarite’s gentle clasp. Her right arm was still around the shoulders of a young girl, as the maid had told them, but now this girl was dressed in an exquisitely painted white satin corset and skirt. The light that filtered across the oils caught her flowing auburn tresses and revealed her angelic face with its sad dark eyes. There was no gentle smile across her delicate lips, however, but one of melancholy.

They each stroked the image of their niece; the canvas was dry, its surface wrinkled and cracked with time.

It would seem, then, that curiosity does indeed kill the Kat.

Bon voyage




Jon always refers to me as the 'mother of the CFZ'. Apart from making me feel quite ancient and akin to some kind of matriach - a word which I would never in a million years use to describe myself - I am, just this once, donning the mantle and writing this to wish the lads (Adam Davies, Chris Clark, Richard Freeman, Jon McGowan and Dave Archer) all the best on their expedition to India.

I hope you all have a wonderful, interesting, productive and, above all, safe, trip.

I cannot resist just one overtly motherly comment though: I hope you have all packed your clean underwear.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Goodbye Biggles

Thank you everyone for your kind words on the sudden passing of our beloved Biggles. It is not often in your life that someone or something comes along and touches your heart with such power that it rends it apart when they leave. He was such an enigma; he could be a right little sod when he wanted to be, but was also the most loving and faithful dog I have ever known. He was always there shadowing me wherever I went – from one room to the other. It was amusing really that he would walk to heel so well indoors but when on the lead that was usually completely forgotten and he would infuriatingly rush ahead.



My Dearest Biggles,

It is now day two without you and there was no silky head with big chestnut-coloured eyes resting on my chest this morning to wish me a good day and that same head will never rest on my leg again, as it did when you asked to go outside. I miss those times as I do everything else about you.

It was almost a century ago in the pages of fiction that your namesake achieved his flying wings. Yesterday, you gained your own, and are free to run where you wish with no fences to hold you in and no lead to hold you back ever again.

I am sorry I could not be there to comfort you as your last breath came, as you had comforted me so many times while you were here. I hope that you will forgive me and know that that part of me that was yours will forever be yours. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’; sweet in the anticipation of meeting again one day in some far off place, wherever that may be.

Goodbye for now, sweet little boy.




 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Shosh and Gav's wedding






Friday, 17th September 2010

A beautiful day
A beautiful bride
A happy couple


Congratulations to Shosh and Gavin
May you have a wonderful and long life together




Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Kitchen alchemy

OK so everyone who reads the daily CFZ blog will know by now that my eldest daughter, Shoshannah, is getting married this coming Friday to Gavin - the 17th September being the anniversary of the day they first met, which I think is really sweet.

I offered to make the wedding cake – a task that I have thrown myself into with great gusto as I like baking, and it is always nice to satisfy my love for these escapades into flour, egg, sugar and butter alchemy, without having to eat everything I produce. It is the production of, rather than the eating thereof, that I like most about cake. However, the fact that the bottom tier was going to be the biggest cake I have ever tackled was a bit daunting, with the fairly important question coming to mind - will it fit in the oven?

Shosh and Gav decided that they would like a three tier cake made up of three different varieties – fruit, lemon and chocolate. Plus two ‘satellite cakes’. Satellite cakes you make ask? For those of you who don’t know what they are (and I must admit I had not heard the expression before): if it is doubtful that the cake you are making may not serve everyone at the reception - plus the little boxes for those who couldn’t make it - you can get round it by making:

A) a large slab cake which is kept in the kitchen of the venue to be cut into slices behind the scenes, or

B) a satellite cake which sits on the table alongside the wedding cake and is similarly decorated.

So we plumped for two ‘top tier’ tiny fruit cakes as our orbital additions.

Fruit cake – easy peasy – years of making Christmas cakes and I can almost make those with my eyes shut. Lemon cake and chocolate cake however not so easy – the trials I made were fairly successful; taste-wise they were OK, but the lemon was a bit soggy and the chocolate cake exploded when I tried to slice it into layers. The task of cutting a large cake into three different layers in order to fill with buttercream is a tad tricky. Apart from trying to keep the knife as straight as possible as you are cutting, there is the added problem of lifting the layers off without them destroying themselves.

Anyway, as I write this on Monday, the second tier is cooking and the whole lower floor of the house is filled with the aromatic scent of lemon. Later it will be the turn of the bottom tier and the accompanying - somewhat sickly - sight of a large saucepan full of melted chocolate and butter (Homer Simpson would be licking his lips at the thought I would imagine)!

Tomorrow it will be the turn of the lemon buttercream and the chocolate ganache (posh word for buttercream but it sounds very sophisticated!). Then it will be the delicate job of packing them very carefully in cake boxes to transport up and across to Lincolnshire on Wednesday with the aid of a cool bag and ice blocks! Let us hope it is not a really hot day for travelling or all could be lost.

I have warned my mother that I will be taking over her kitchen once Jon and I arrive at her abode on Wednesday. I hope she doesn’t mind too much – I know from experience that a kitchen is the most sacred room in the house for some females – me included.

Well.... that is it from Fanny Cradock (which means Jon must be Johnnie!) for now. I will let you know how my mum, Shosh, Olivia and I get on with our attempts at being florists for the day - we are making a bride bouquet, three bridesmaid bouquets, one flower girl posy and quite a few buttonholes on Thursday!

It all looks so easy on YouTube!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Now I know who ate Nessie!

A catchy headline but not the infamous Nessie of course, merely our very own potato head Nessie, found by me in our vegetable rack and displayed – quite dashingly - by Max as written about earlier on Jon’s blog. Her demise came at the hands – or teeth – of a family of capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) at Paignton Zoo and we have photos to prove it!


David (born Twycross Zoo in March 2008) and Davina (born Chessington Zoo in October 2008) both arrived at Paignton Zoo in 2009. Born on 18th August this year, this youngster is their first offspring and is so far un-sexed. Sometimes known as the giant guinea pig, capybaras are the world’s largest rodent and are found in densely forested areas or grassland near bodies of water in much of South America. They can grow up to 1.3 metres in length and like nothing more than to lounge around in swamps and rivers with only their eyes and nostrils breaking the surface. They have slightly webbed toes which help them to swim – they are excellent swimmers and use their ability to survive underwater for up to five minutes as an escape from predators. They can also sleep underwater, keeping their nostrils just above the waterline.

In the wild one of the main parts of their diet is the water hyacinth and to accommodate their growing family, Paignton Zoo’s Garden Department has been growing plants especially for them to eat this year.

Caught in the act!

An adult capybara can eat 6-8 pounds of grasses per day and chews food by grinding back and forth rather than side to side. Similar to a cud-chewing by a cow, they may also regurgitate their food to masticate it again. They also like to eat their own faeces as a source of bacterial gut flora which helps to digest the cellulose in the grass in order to take out the maximum amount of protein from their food.

In the wild they have a lifespan of 4 – 8 years but on average this is less than four years due to them being the favourite food of various predators such as the jaguar, puma, ocelot, eagle and caiman, as well as being the anaconda’s preferred meal.

Friday, 27 August 2010

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the kitchen

Yesterday, a combination of Jon feeling a lot better and a telephone call in the morning telling me that Olivia’s bridesmaid dress was ready for collection spurred Jon and I into adding a trip to Barnstaple to our already planned food shopping trip to Bideford.

The error of my ways in having a last cup of coffee before we left home dawned on me once we had parked in Barnstaple. I had noticed as we drove in to the car park that there were signs for ladies, disabled etc so once I had picked up the dress I headed towards these signs of personal comfort. Much to my embarrassment, and my bladder’s frustration, I realised that the signs were in fact the usual designated areas for disabled, and mother and child car parking! Somehow, in my mind’s eye, I had substituted the child for a stick man and had assumed the completely wrong thing. What a klutz - my need had completely clouded my vision and whilst excited at the prospect of alleviating my urgency, I had to disappoint my bladder into having to wait longer.

Its selfish demands were complied with at the next stop however, and here I shall finish the tale about my body’s lack of timing.

A few hours later, we returned home and unpacked the car. The first thing I removed from the back seat was the most valuable of all – the dress. It had been packed for transport in a large zip-up bag but I wanted to get it hanging properly as soon as possible so headed for the washing line that hangs over the Raeburn. Old fashioned we are here – the kitchen is reminiscent of a scene from Upstairs Downstairs in some ways.

What occurred next could have been a scene from any slapstick comedy. Jon was just taking off his jacket as I approached from behind – well not so much from behind as I was about level with him. As he swung his left arm to remove it from the sleeve I was just on the point of passing him and I got a slap round the kisser for my trouble. If the sketch had followed as it should have done, I suppose I should have fallen over backwards, lost the grip on the dress and dropped that in the dog’s water bowl whilst flailing around with my other arm and pulling everything off the dresser in a bid to stop my descent, whereupon the vicar would have entered and Jon would have exclaimed “Oo er, it’s the vicar”. However, I was gallant and ignored the ‘assault’ and continued my way to the washing line to hang up the prize.

Poor Jon was distraught at the thought of attacking his wife. I just laughed and poked him with the walking stick in retaliation.

Later on I splattered the kitchen with beetroot juice and made beetroot and coconut soup (a combination that may sound odd, but it is very tasty). And it was after serving that that the kitchen was the scene for another strange occurrence. I had served everything up and had taken Jon his dish of soup, before eating mine. When I returned to the kitchen with the dirty crocks Biggles was staring at the dresser with ears up and head cocked first to one side and then the other. Hmmm I thought. Then there was a rattling from the bottom cupboard and he looked even more alarmed. Had the house poltergeist decided to throw my plates and dishes around now? Biggles seemed convinced that something odd was occurring in the dresser but then I had an idea (up popped that lightbulb). And I opened the right hand cupboard door – nothing. Then I opened the left hand door and eureka. There was the cause of the rattling. None other than....Spider the orange cat. I have no idea how and when he had gone in there to investigate a cosy place to park his bones, but he was ousted pretty darn quick and scolded for his audacity in no uncertain terms.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Trumpets abound, parades are rife....it's..............


Jon’s birthday!

Huzzah!

Happy Birthday!




And here is a picture of birthday boy himself, doing an impression of a gnome on a toadstool, complete with rather dubious looking stain on the wall. I hadn't realised Biggles had sneaked into the village hall last Saturday! What a clever boy to act out the first two lines of the last verse of Lindisfarne's Fog on the Tyne (to spell it out for those who have no idea what I am talking about, if my subtlety was a wee bit too subtle!)

And off we go again.....

Oh my......it seems that our little pussy is spitting fur balls again. It appears that the little puss is not only elusive but arrogant as well. It seems that any time anyone writes anything that does not necessarily support its spluttering, it assumes that they are automatically ‘CFZ supporters’. Has it not the humility to contemplate that a comment made against its fur ball coughing may actually be from a member of the human race who - just simply - does not adhere to its outbursts? They do not have to be ‘CFZ supporters’, you know puss...there is rather a large population out there that does not support the CFZ just like there are those that do not support Bigfoot organisations, the Tory party, banning the hunt, BCIB, and so on and so forth. Believe it or not, pussies are not high on many people’s agendas and likewise neither is cryptozoology.

And by the way – when does sharing discoveries amongst those other researchers that are involved in such matters turn into a ploy for getting them to pay for something? How do the mechanics of that work exactly? These days scientists across the world share information – it does not mean they are being asked to pay for something – and, what is more, it also does not mean that they have to join in on the research either. They have the choice to politely decline for whatever reasons they may have, but they shouldn’t really bad-mouth the people who politely offer to share. But then, I presume that those who were not invited would have puss speaking on their behalf with accusations of exclusion from the research.

Many independant [sic] groups over the years have worked with the CFZ . Very few, if any, continue to do so today.” That is an interesting statement – perhaps puss could name those to whom it refers, along with the reasons for them no longer wishing so to do – I would be very interested to hear these details. And please let us hope that puss does not decline so to do, for that would be a very predictable action to not back up such broad accusations.

I was only aware, by the way, of one person mentioning legal action, but your phrasing tends to imply that more than one has warned of such. But you do seem to enjoy fluffing up your accusations by adding an extra ‘s’ here and there. Does it go towards making your chest puff out perhaps with more of that self-gratifying hot air? Does it bolster your over-inflated ego so you think you are more like the big stripey puss in your name than the little Highland puss?

Pussycat of the Highlands, whilst you sit back with a face that looks as if you have stolen the cream thinking that you are so clever and untouchable, remember that the bigger those fur balls become the more you are in danger of choking yourself.

Now to the rest of this rant.

To Mr Shaun Stevens: “The guy is sadly an eccentric self publicist, who wouldn't have a had single thing published if it wasn't for the wonderful world of vanity presses.” Firstly, you are incorrect in the first part of your statement due to the fact that Jon has had many things published which have not been under the CFZ Press heading. And secondly you really should look up the meaning of ‘vanity press’ before you start accusing people of using such a method of publishing. Or are you trying to be clever with the English language? Ah, times have changed since you, Jon and I sat in the pub at Watchet after the BCIB conference that was hosted at Tropiquaria. A conference that was hosted by Jon (to help BCIB out) when Mr Fraser became ill with a bad back. Which then led on to the fact that Mr Moiser was keen to hold an annual big cat conference there in the future too. Hey presto, that then, of course, was twisted around too wasn’t it, to infer that Jon was trying to take over the BCIB? Why was that? Because it was a relative success where others have not been? Who really cares.
To Mr Mark Fraser: “And the fact of the matter is I cut ties with the CFZ because you allowed the nonsensical attacks on British Big cat researchers, and that’s the truth as you know it. But you cannot admit it.” Erm do you actually confirm that we do not censor our blogs now? Wow! Admit it, you do not like Neil Arnold so anything written by him is subject to hostility by you. You silly little man.

Why we want to get involved in your research is beyond me, you need to pay for this yourself not get others to pay for it.” As mentioned above, since when did Jon ask you to pay for anything? I cannot find any record of that occurring. Please direct me to this request. Or is it a case of: “Truth of the matter is you are twisting things again” as you so ineptly put it in accusing Jon?

BIG CATS IN BRITAIN? OK we could have said it another way I suppose: LARGE FELINES IN THE UK or ENORMOUS FELIDS IN THE SOUTH OF THE UK or ..... well the list goes on undoubtedly, but quite simply BIG CATS IN BRITAIN is really the most obvious thing to write and it is purely a coincidence that your organisation’s name has used the most obvious words. But, there you go. You are a bit paranoid Mr. Fraser aren’t you? Now why is that?

Instead of getting annoyed, I am seriously wondering about his health, and beginning to feel sorry for the man.” Gosh that is nice of you Mr Fraser. Jon is actually quite seriously ill but refuses to give up and lie around in bed like some with his illnesses would. Thanks for the show of concern. I am sure it warms the cockles of his heart to hear such sentiments.

Well it is Sunday. So here endeth the first lesson. And it is by no means the last.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

If you go down to the woods today......

After all that preparation and angst, the Weird Weekend is now done and dusted for another year. And, what is more, with the help of that special brand of washing up liquid that is manufactured for those ‘hands that do dishes’, I have a pair that are as soft as my face due to the mammoth washing up operation after the cocktail party on Thursday night so it can’t all be bad.

Old friends were welcomed back and new friendships were made. And, of course, the weekend was fuelled with the excitement of the discovery of leopard hairs in the local woods. Lars Thomas and the Danish TV crew (Margit, Linus and Michael) are still here finishing off their project with Lars and it has been lovely to have them.here doing this.

The ladies who prepared all the meals at the Community Centre did a marvellous job feeding us all again and we thank them all very much for their hard work. Sunday turned out to be a hot day and the kitchens must have been extremely uncomfortable to work in and we much appreciate their efforts.

Anyway, to take the subject away from the last weekend, so much was going on that I never introduced you to the new addition to the ‘family’ that Max brought down with him on Monday – a late birthday present from Jon and him. So here is a picture of Mog the cane toad who loves nothing more than to sit in her flower pot or her own private swimming pool. Not the usual run of the mill creature to share your dining room table with I am sure you will agree. What is more, the ever-present look of wisdom upon her face does seem to infer that a conversation on the writings of Pliny may well be more up her street than a run-down of the shenanigans that took place in the recent episode of Coronation Street.


So... life will soon return to normal here at CFZ HQ - whatever normal is - but preparations are, as usual, already under way for next year's event. And we haven't even put everything away in its proper place yet.

Ah well.......

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Biggles joins the 'Terrible Twos' Club today

Happy Birthday to Biggles!


Today is the day that you can have your cake and eat it
(well it is made for dogs and looks a bit unpalatable to us humans so he has no fear of anyone trying to purloin a slice - apart from the cats maybe)


Here at the CFZ we are certain that he will join the Club with great gusto, and will gain many achievement badges congratulating him for behaviour befitting of such an esteemed Club.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

14th Century Improprieties

I have been following Richard's blogs on the subject of Lincolnshire legends and was wondering whether the infamous Lincoln Imp would feature. I was not to be disappointed and on Friday there he was. I can proudly announce that such a fellow sits upon the kitchen wall here at Myrtle Cottage.

In April last year, I wrote about him and several other interesting features of Lincolnshire:

A Tale of Two Imps

Although I was born and raised in Middlesex, I spent the years from 1985 to 2007 in Lincolnshire. I used to live in Stamford, an old picturesque town that boasts the location of the magnificent Burghley House which has been used in many a TV serial or film. I remember sitting in my car at a set of traffic lights, on my return to work one lunchtime, and - looking in my rearview mirror - was taken aback to see a coach and four pull up behind me as it did it's round-the-block route for a take while Middlemarch was being filmed in the town. Very surreal.


Just down the road from where I used to work lay the remains of Joan, Princess of Wales - also known as the Fair Maid of Kent due to her great beauty - wife of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II. She was laid to rest in January 1386 in the grounds of Friars Minors, according to her wishes that she be buried in her chapel, but has found herself now located in a garden, due to the building of houses on the land!


I love early English history and I know that the following may not stir the ancestral blood of a lot of those who may read this, but I do have a strong fascination about our country's past and thought I would write one of those little slices of history blogs that I do every so often. To think I used to work a two minute - if that - walk away from where the mother of one of our Kings is buried in a leafy garden in a small town in Lincolnshire is kind of odd to say the least. Then there are the Eleanor Crosses. King Edward I had these crosses erected in memory of his wife, Eleanor of Castile, to mark the nightly resting-places along the route taken by her body as it was transported to London. It took twelve stops and at each of these a cross was built, of which three amazingly survive today (Geddington, Hardington and Waltham). The twelve places were Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stoney Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Westcheap (now Cheapside) and Charing (Charing Cross).


In those harsh days there is something so touching about the fact that he thought so much of his wife that he marked her last journey in such a way. And that three of the crosses still stand today in her memory (with pieces of some of the others in museums near the towns they were erected) is nothing short of a miracle.


I am also a sucker for folklore, and Lincolnshire, as every other county, has its fair share. According to legend, way back in the 14th Century, Satan sent two imps to earth with the prime objective of doing mischief. In some versions of the story, they first went to Chesterfield where they set upon the spire of the Cathedral and twisted it – their handiwork still in evidence today. They were then sent to Lincoln Cathedral to cause mayhem there. As the story goes, they set about their work with obvious glee, smashing up tables and chairs and even tripping up the poor Bishop. However, when they started to interfere with the Angel Choir, one of the angels decided that enough was enough and told them to stop. One of the imps was brave and started throwing rocks at the angel, but the other imp cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone and this gave the second imp a chance to escape.


There are a few different variations of the story, one telling that the second imp that escaped did so with the help of a witch, by jumping on to her broomstick. However, she became so fond of the imp that she turned him into a black cat. Not so good for him really then. However, in another version, this escapee was said to have travelled to Grimsby where it entered St James' Church and began repeating its destructive behaviour. The angel then reappeared and gave the imp's backside a good thrashing before turning it to stone like its friend. The Grimsby Imp can still be seen in St James' Church, clinging to its sore bottom. Another legend has the escaped imp turned to stone just outside the cathedral, and sharp-eyed visitors can spot it on a South outside wall.


Other stories tell how only one imp was blown around the country by the wind looking for places to cause mischief, and following his efforts in Lincoln Cathedral the angel turned him to stone after he had gone to the top of the nearest pillar to admire his handywork. Hence he is found there today with his legs crossed sporting an evil grin upon his face.


A more detailed version goes into how he was sent to plague the clergy in the cathedral and how he was blown through the great west door by the west wind and blew out the candles, scattered the hymn sheets and attacked the choristers. He then flew into the angel choir and it was when he threatened to pluck out the angels’ feathers, that the smallest angel turned him to stone.


Whether you believe there were two, or just the one, or - indeed - if you do not believe it at all, measuring 12” in height, he is definitely still sitting there now, grinning down, cross-legged at all who pass below. He has become the symbol of the City of Lincoln, has the local football team named after him and is used on many a company logo. He has become the symbol for good over evil. My late ex-mother-in-law had a tiny model of one in her kitchen – as, indeed, do I.


It is a shame that there are no records kept of who carved such gargoyles and effigies in our massive Cathedrals. It would make an interesting read indeed as to the background of their existence.


Anyway, if any of you find yourself in Lincolnshire at any time, a visit to the Cathedral in the county’s capital is a must – not just for the beauty of the architecture - but to see, also, if you can spot the miscreant for yourself. Apart from that, old Lincoln is a beautiful place to visit, perched on top of a hill, with cobbled stones up the narrow streets and still some old buildings in existence down the lane that leads to the less picturesque modern part of the city. Jousting events are held in the castle grounds each year and it is a marvel to see, and hear, the knights riding through the cobbled old part of Lincoln on their way to the tournament, kitted out in full armour and colours, with a lady’s favour fluttering in the breeze as it hangs from their lance.


As the Visit Lincolnshire website states “As you approach the City of Lincoln, from any direction, you are drawn to the magnificent silhouette of the Cathedral stretching to the skies, brooding over 2000 years of history”.

He may only be two and a quarter inches tall, and certainly not what you would call an attractive chap, but I have grown very fond of his impish features as he poses cross-legged and casts his wickedly gleeful stare over the kitchen.


Representations of two very different imps that reside in Myrtle Cottage:


Monday, 19 July 2010

My absence excuses

I admit that I have been missing from the blogosphere for a bit lately, for no reason other than I have been otherwise engaged with this and that, and that and this.

There was my birthday weekend during which both my darling daughters came to visit. This was a three-pronged event – celebrate mama’s birthday, chief bridesmaid and bride to practice bride’s hair and make-up for the big event in September, and mother to practice the cake-making for the centre piece. To say the kitchen was inundated with cake was an understatement of gross proportions. And that was without the required 30cm chocolate cake (due to the tin not arriving in time) so a 23cm and 7cm duo were prepared instead. And there was birthday cake! Ah a sponge addict’s dream.

Then there was the ill-fated rainy day trip to the supermarket. This was to be no Asda amble, but a stick-to-the-list dash in order to facilitate the exit of the premises as quickly as possible. Although this was accomplished with a certain amount of panache, the whole exercise was somewhat spoilt by the fact that the oaf behind me had reversed into his/her spot and parked almost bumper to bumper with the CFZ vehicle that the opening of the boot was somewhat of a squeeze. I did think of stamping a foot, blowing fire from my nostrils and moving our car with great theatrics in order to enable the boot to swing open to its fullest extent, but came to the conclusion that, as the offending driver was nowhere to be seen, such a potential Oscar-winning performance would be wasted on an otherwise uninterested car park. So I loaded the boot from a strange angle, and just as I was lifting the large package of cat food I felt a ping in my left side and realised that the next few days would be spent in a half-crone position. I would, in other words, be doing a pretty good dramatic impression of the wicked old hag in Hansel and Gretel.

Then came Hopalong Cassidy in the shape of my not-so-often-mentioned tortoiseshell cat Poppy McGregor. She is not mentioned much in the daily goings on around CFZ HQ because she is, and always has been, a wanderer. She goes missing on her jaunts for days on end throughout the year and does not get up to so many antics (at least not for our entertainment – who knows what she gets up to on her travels) as her errant brother Spider McGraw (aka the ginger cat). However, she came in with her left front leg dangling in a most peculiar fashion and was spotted first by Helen, our housekeeper. It became apparent, upon closer investigation, that she (Poppy that is, not Helen) had somehow got her collar caught under her leg and was obviously under much discomfort; a state gleaned from the sounds of her hissing and growling as we tried to remove it. In the end, it was a job for the scissors, but we could not get the collar to move from underneath her leg – it seemed to be stuck, and there was no way we could just pull it off at that particular moment as she was getting extremely agitated with all the attention (she is not one for attention at the best of times – unless on her own terms). I was fearing the worse that she had perhaps got a nasty oozy infection from a cut made by the collar, but it came off shortly afterwards and she was, thank goodness, none the worse for wear, and she is now back to her usual self.

Then came Biggles and his odd turn that Jon wrote about on the blog. That was most peculiar. He had been fine all day and had been curled up asleep until it was time for his night-time visit to the garden before going to bed. It was when he went outside that he became obviously out of sorts – likened to someone who had over-imbibed at the pub, and had suffered that horrid effect of the air hitting them when they left the bar’s cosiness to go home. It was a night of no sleep for me whilst I lay on the floor with Biggles until he went to sleep and then kept a careful eye on him throughout the night to make sure he was OK. By the end of the next day, he was basically back to his normal self. I am assuming that he must have eaten something that he shouldn’t – as Jon wrote, he did have an unhealthy eye on a toad the other night so perhaps whilst under cover of darkness, and while we were not watching, he managed to grab one after all.

Added to all these ‘events’ there have been several peculiar and tiresome episodes such as the leak in the bedroom ceiling dripping annoyingly into a bucket all night and the occasion when Helios 7 came in squeaking and mewling with excited anticipation for instant attention on account of her returning home with a dead mole. I am not too sure why she should feel so proud of herself under such circumstances, but then she is a cat, and they are such odd individuals at the best of times. Looking at the departed creature, I could not help but think of Moley in The Wind in the Willows and became rather melancholic at the thought of the poor little beast’s demise at the jaws and paws of Helios.

And there you have it – a short prĂ©cis of the events that have occurred during the past weeks. It looks to be a busy couple of weeks coming up too, but I shall endeavour to try my best to update my blog a little more regularly than of late.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Biggles is re-surfacing with gusto

Biggles' fans are wondering where he has got to. To let you into a secret, he had been sulking for ages after his operation and has been hesitant to show himself in fear of the girls out there scoffing at his predicament. However, he has now gotten used to the idea and has probably realised this now means that he can mix with members of the opposite sex at will, without fear of them fraternising or getting himself into any awkward paternity suits.

He has been busy in the garden these last weeks, mainly chasing anybody with a watering can and then making a bit of a fool of himself trying to catch the water from it. We must not forget – of course – the frequent infamous rake chases. He has managed to basically destroy four – yes four – Frisbees over these halcyon days of summer, despite the fact that at least two of them were supposed to be indestructible. Perhaps Frisbee makers should hire him to test out their theories. He is actually quite adept at leaping in the air and catching them on the trot - he really should have been in the England goal perhaps. However, the ball would probably not have fared quite so well, methinks. I have to say though that the lawn looks a bit like a disused ufo landing site, with half broken plastic discs dotted reminiscent of those old World War air fields full of the skeletons of disused and rusting aeroplanes that once flew so smoothly. Ah well, it keeps him happy.

He is still attempting a major takeover bid of the bed each night. I am sure his eventual aim is to claim it all for himself and over the past few nights both Jon and I have ended up dangling our posteriors over the edge of the bed, without the comfort of a duvet covering them, as Biggles has somehow managed to gather it around him in the middle of the bed.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Thea has the key of the door

My youngest niece has a special day today
so.....


Happy 21st Birthday
Thea


Hope you have a great day and tea party at the weekend
(and don't forget that sticky bun lark either 'smirk' - I await photos!)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Up the ladder to the roof

Jon has gone – and before that incomplete piece of information gets bandied about and embellished on the crypto bush telegraph – I had better add swiftly that he is, of course, up in Staffordshire with Dave B-P and staying the evening chez Shosh and Gav - so tis only for one night.


Things are oddly quiet here. There is no music bellowing forth from Jon’s inner sanctum and no garbled messages on the intercom which take some translating at the best of times due to the background interference of whistling, crackling and humming. Even Biggles cannot quite make out where he has gone – I think he thought that Jon was hiding in bed, because when Biggles followed me, and the large pile of dry laundry upstairs, he headed straight for Jon’s side of the bed with an expectant look on his face. Or perhaps he was just eyeing up the available space for bedtime tonight – I am sure he will take full advantage of the room to stretch out in.

However, Biggles did have a visit today - Gerald Smith brought his dog Ben to visit and they had a romp in the garden (Ben and Biggles that is). Well, not really a romp as Ben tends to ignore Biggles in favour of his ball and Biggles looks on in a manner of “what am I supposed to do now?” After the obligatory doggy welcomes of sniffing and tail-wagging it was off to play with their respective toys. Ben brought him a present today too – a Frisbee - which seems to be made of a more tooth-resistant plastic than the others Biggles has in his possession, which are now more than a little worse for wear.

It does actually remind me of when I used to take my girls to mother/toddler afternoons – the look on Biggles’ face is remarkably similar and so are his actions. There is that smidgeon of shyness and awkwardness as he plays with his favourite toys, with the occasional look in the direction of Ben and then me as if to question whether that is what he is supposed to do.

Occasionally there is the quiet, slow and almost surreptitious pinching of Ben’s ball which then gets carried to another part of the garden but not played with. Biggles just lies down with it between his front legs and watches as Ben comes up and reclaims it, just like a child takes a toy away from another and goes to sit with mother with it clutched under their arm, only to place it on the mother’s lap and go off and do something else. It is almost a case of eyeing up the opposition before deciding upon the definitive action.

Yesterday I was busy putting together the ‘New and Rediscovered’ and ‘Watcher of the Skies’ pieces for the next issue of Animals & Men, whilst Graham was ‘up the ladder to the roof’ and Oll was working on the ‘Aquatic Monsters Logbook’ for the aforementioned journal. All in all a busy time has been had by us three whilst Jon and Dave have ambled their way up northwards.

As for today, well at least I don't have to be up as early as they will be - the poor souls have to be up at 7 am!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Happy Birthday Mum



Many Happy Returns of the Day
to my dear mother


Love you lots and I hope you have a lovely day

There's nothing like a mama-hug. ~Terri Guillemets

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Max meets his match

To a student reading zoology, it is assumed that a certain attraction to all things of the natural world is an obvious attribute. To an orange cat not reading anything, it is assumed that a nice warm lap is an undeniable attraction. Put them both together at the witching hour and one might expect this combination to come together in some kind of mysterious and magickal trip of delight.

But the student is Max and the orange cat in question is our very own Spider McGraw so that dismisses the latter part of the previous paragraph - it was past Max’s bedtime and Spider is just too old to even think about such things. However, Spider did help Max in some work on the laptop, much to Max’s obvious dismay and chagrin.

It had started out so well:


But then Max realised something odd about his laptop, although Spider denied all knowledge of walking over the keyboard to effect such a splendid affect:


It seemed that Spider had somehow managed to rotate the display on Max's screen by 90 degrees - what a clever cat. He settled down pleased with the result of his assistance.

However, Max was enraged:


And Spider was so disgruntled at this youthful display of temper that he showed Max exactly how much by displaying what he thought of the tantrum in a very cat-like way:


Max was completely speechless at such a show of audacity from Spider:



And to avoid such an anatomical display again - that, after all, would only be appreciated by another cat or a vet - Max decided to let the matter drop and they both formed a tentative truce:



Ah the ups and downs, territorial rights and testosterone levels of the males at the CFZ are always a wonder to behold.

Cheers! A votre sante! Slainte! or even Bottom's Up!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Bats in the belfry

For many years I have had bats in my belfry....the older I get I swear the bigger they become as they flit erratically inside my head.

On Saturday night (or rather during the early hours of Sunday morning) I was sitting writing some of my book, when something caught my eye at the bottom of the stairs. It seemed to come and go rapidly and was dark in colouration, or so it seemed when seen from the light shining from the dining room on to the bottom of the stairs. My immediate thought was that my imagination was getting the better of me – Biggles had been acting a might peculiar earlier on as if he could hear something going on outside (don’t you just hate it when cats and dogs suddenly raise their head and stare into nothing with ears twitching and eyes intent on something you cannot see, accompanied with a low guttural growl?) . Were my belfry bats crossing up the wires in my head as I looked up from my twilight world of fiction and into the bright light of reality? Nope, I could definitely see – and hear – wings, although not the usual delicate sound of feathers, but something more solid. However, my next thought was that maybe one of the cats had caught a roosting bird and, getting up to investigate, I began to mull over whether I would have to awaken the household to help catch it and put it in one of the specially made holding cages that are always prepared to receive a patient if the call is needed.

I had no idea where any of the cats were at that moment nor where Biggles was, as he had been up and down the stairs continuously for a few hours and I had lost track as to whether he was recumbent on the bed or in the sitting room. However, when I turned on the landing light I realised that the unintentional visitor was in fact not a bird at all, but a bat. And quite a largish size bat at that, not one of the usual smaller ones that we see at dusk flittering around the garden after insects. It must have come in through the landing or bathroom window and was clearly having trouble regaining its freedom. The landing window does not open very far and I did not want to risk making an almighty row at that time in the morning trying to force it to go any further. However, this in turn made it a hopeless task for the bat to negotiate and it kept flying back and forth down the corridor that leads to our bedroom, which – as Jon was asleep – was enveloped in complete darkness and then out passed me on to the stairwell and up into the rafters.

Eventually it veered off into the bathroom and I quickly slipped in behind it, turned on the light to see what I was doing and closed the door. I flung the bathroom window as far as open as it would go – which luckily was a darn sight more than the landing window – and stood stock still while the poor bat zoomed in and out of the shower cubicle, around my ankles and around my head. Then it was gone and hopefully is none the worse for wear after its unfortunate predicament.

I have no idea what species it was; the landing was gloomy and the bat moved with incredible speed and to be perfectly honest I would not have known even if it had sat on my hand and struck a pose. But for my part, bats are - quite simply - gorgeous and fascinating creatures and although having one inside the house is supposed to be a bad omen, I look upon it as a very interesting – and completely unexpected – interlude to the solitude and quietness of the wee small hours.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Bedsheets and maggots

Get up in the morning, all the sheets have gone sir
They are all on your side
Ohhhhhh my ears are alight

This morning I awoke to find I was sleeping, not on a crisp white sheet but upon a bare mattress. Somehow Jon had managed to steal the sheets from my side of the bed, as well as the duvet, whilst in the land of nod. I did actually feel some of the sheet thievery happen at one point. I was half-awake when Jon turned over and I felt the material slip unceremoniously from beneath me. Oh charming I thought to myself; that’s nice of him. He of course denied all knowledge of the event in the morning, although the evidence was there for all to see. Today I shall seek out the staple gun and fix the sheets on my side firmly down in case a repetition of such diabolical pilfering occurs.

On a completely different subject, it was Olivia that introduced me to the music of Slipknot quite a few years ago now – the rather loud, screeching, often unmelodic compositions oozing from the firmly closed door of her teenage sanctum, filling the house with the angst of youth. Well rather that than a lovesick teenager mooning over Take That or Boyzone to my mind, but that’s just me. I think I would most likely have screamed “Turn that nauseous racket down!” if it had been. So, as Olivia became a ‘maggot’ (the ‘affectionate’ name given to their followers) I became accustomed to their shouting, and actually rather liked a lot of it.

They are renowned for some odd and grotesque antics on stage and never appear without their trademark masks in public, hence fans know them by which instrument they play or which number they are. (Er.... for those of you who don’t know each one of the band has a number from 1-9). No.2 Paul Gray – bassist and one of the original members of the band – was found dead a couple of days ago and although, looking at the Youtube comments, it seems that seeing the band members sans masks at the press conference has thrown some confusion about whom exactly is whom, it is nevertheless, touching that they left them behind to pay tribute to their former band mate.

The guys are not hard, foul-mouthed creatures but are just normal human beings deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of their friend. My sympathies to his family and friends, and especially his wife who is apparently expecting their first child.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Double, double, toil and trouble

As you may or may not know, I have been absent from the world of emails, blogs et al for a week whilst visiting Shosh and Gav in Staffordshire and I had a lovely time and it was a great break.

Courtesy of National Express I was transported from Bideford to Hanley bus station in relative comfort, apart from the second leg of the journey home on Saturday when the coach did not appear to have air conditioning fitted. Thankfully, though, the coach was not packed to the gills.

On the outward journey Barnstaple station provided an amusing and somewhat intriguing sight – one shoe dangling from a street lamp seemingly tied by its laces and dangling in the slight breeze. I am presuming someone had either a very lucky lob or a very good eye.

Then there was the lady in the seat behind me who was having great fun ringing up her friends on her mobile. “Hello?! Hello?! You up?! I boiled four eggs this morning, ate two of them for breakfast and was going to bring the other two for you but left them behind. “

“Hello?! Helloooooo?! You up?! I will probably ring you again as I get bored on the coach”. Oh lucky me I thought.

One of the prime objectives of my trip was to go out with Shosh on her mission to find a wedding dress - so many fluffy, slinky, puffy concoctions to choose from and so many price labels that burnt your fingers when checking them out. We were both completely amazed and chuffed with the final result on Tuesday though – the fourth dress tried on was ‘the one’. All those horror stories of trying on hundreds and hundreds and tramping from emporium to emporium were allayed on the second establishment visited. And even the shoes were sorted out on Friday! To say that we were pleased with our extreme cleverness is an understatement.

We went t’pictures on Wednesday and saw the new Robin Hood film. After seeing it I can understand the comparisons with Gladiator/Saving Private Ryan but it was a pretty good romp nevertheless. Going back to the subject of having a very good eye – our hero’s shot at the bad guy in the closing stages of the film was pretty efficient I must say and excellently carried out. Letting arrows fly skywards is great fun – I just wish my aim was that good at such a distance. However, with a clever bit of filming, editing and cinemagraphic licence perhaps there is hope yet....

We went to see my mum on Thursday which was lovely - I have not been able to get up to Rutland for ages to see her. Three generations of us females together could conjure a daunting picture but we didn’t sit around our cauldron – it was too hot for one thing and Tesco were fresh out of eye of newt anyway.

And so it is back home, with Biggles complaining that as soon as I had left everyone was rotten to him and took away his boydoggyhood. Hmm perhaps somewhere a different cauldron’s recipe was bubbling?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Nuts, whole hazlenuts....

Whilst waiting for filming to get underway on Saturday, I roamed through the shrubbery with my camera. As any good shrubber knows, there are delightful things to be found lurking just out of sight. However, I am not a very good shrubber and only managed to find a couple of interesting things.

There was the little snail nestling in the moss on a tree trunk:



There was what was once a gateway into either a long destroyed building or pen of some sort (with the hinges still on one of vertical stone slabs), complete with stone path:



And then there was the stone complete with a sprinkling of broken hazelnut shells:



So, had this stone been used as an anvil in much the same way as a thrush does with a snail? Considering how difficult it is to crack a nut even with nut-crackers, I assume not. Was it the remains of a squirrel's lunch? Or even a dormouse's breakfast? Or was it even the remains of a passing back-packer's pack-up who had stopped for a protein-rich snack using up the leftovers of their Christmas nut basket?

Any ideas anyone?