Tuesday 25 December 2007

Season's Greetings

I could not let the day pass without wishing all my friends a very Merry Christmas.

Have a good one everyone xxxxx

Thursday 13 December 2007

Oh for goodness cake!

I am slapping myself round the cheeks as I write this entry for being so tardy in its appearance on my blog. I was reminded today, by a certain young gentleman who shall remain nameless (although the identity of whom can be easily deduced from those sleuths out there), that I have neglected my duties, and in answer to his query I can confirm that my accursed and diabolical husband has, indeed, been keeping me away from my bloggy duties. I have been sewn into my apron and have been threatened with a fate worse than death if I do not make cake, cake, muffins and cake. I have become Cinders, chained to the four walls of the kitchen with only a wooden spoon and mixing bowl for company these past few weeks. My Fairy Godmother seems to have left for warmer climes, and so I have been left up to my elbows in cake mix. Hoisted by my own petard, methinks.

Yes, but seriously folks, my cooker is in full functioning order and I have, at last, managed to make my Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and this year’s mincemeat. My gleaming machine has been thoroughly christened, and is kissed and caressed every morning in true Gollum fashion. But, I have had to threaten those here with the most wretched physical violence if they leave but one greasy mark upon it. So far it is only Richard who is hobbling around on one leg after being suitably chastised. I think the bruise should be gone by Christmas Day (however, in his defence, he is the only other person here who can be bothered to cook).

You should have seen us getting the gas cylinder down to the cottage from the village shop. In true old Ealing comedy fashion, it was trundled down the lane on a trolley borrowed from the shop. Only trouble was, the tyres on said trolley were a bit on the flat side and it kept veering off into the bushes. I am sure you have all been landed with one of those recalcitrant trolleys in the supermarket that keep steering you into the shelving or, even worse, into the pristine cars parked in the car park outside. Well, our adventure was much the same. I do not like to think what it will be like having to push it up the hill to get refilled. You may shout, ‘stick it in the car’, but it is so big and heavy it would take a crane to get it out again.

I decided to take a trip into Barnstaple on Monday to do a bit of Christmas shopping that cannot be catered for on-line. It has become a traditional festive pastime for me – take the bus into the nearest shopping centre and spend, spend, spend. For the past few years I have gone into Peterborough, which was only twelve miles away or so from where I used to live. This year Barnstaple seemed to be the most obvious choice, so armed with a list, I caught the bus from the village shop and spent the day pushing and shoving like the rest of them.

I found myself travelling back on the ‘school run’ bus, which brings me to the question – what happened to the concept of queuing? Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought that if you were first in line for the bus, an orderly queue then formed behind you, allowing you to board first as a reward for your early arrival at the bus stop in the hope of getting the best seat. However, as seems to be usual these days, as soon as the bus doors opened for business, hordes of school-children lurched forward from the shadows and, somehow, managed to get on first – making my second-in-line place suddenly become about the twentieth. Do these children get a special lesson in the first years of secondary school in which they are taught that they should completely ignore such courtesies, or is that they were just not told them in the first place by their parents?

Sitting under a pile of plastic and paper bags, I squeezed myself into an available seat and settled down for the hour-long journey home. I was treated, as were the rest of the passengers, to listening to the dubious music chosen for us by the youth in the back seat. I can just about put up with that, but why I should have to listen to the intricate details of some 16-year-old’s sexual prowess I know not. Perhaps it is the exuberance of youth? Perhaps I am just a little jaded in my ageing years? But I really do not want to know, thank you very much.

The first thing I did when I got home, was put the kettle on and sit and have a smoke. I was just chilling out when my mobile phone went off, but the signal was bad and I only managed a cheery ‘hello?’ before the line went dead. However, I did see that it was CFZHQ that was making the call. Amusing, I thought. I went upstairs to say ‘hello’ to Jon and it appeared that Graham had tried to call to see if I needed a lift back from Barnstaple. And there I was, supping a cup of tea downstairs – ha ha.

Further to the Kartec saga – guess what? It would seem that the letter worked! We had all our belongings returned to us at the end of last week, by special delivery, and on Friday morning I had a delivery from Interflora. Hmm, I thought. ‘Tis not my birthday. Whoa, I have an admirer! Nothing could have prepared me for the two big bunches of flowers accompanied by a card saying ‘Sorry for the inconvenience, from Kartec’. Way hay. Boy oh boy, did Jon and I laugh. We nearly wet ourselves. To think that they think it will all end there ….. oh no sirree not if we have anything to do with it.

We have all been busy preparing Issue 42 of Animals & Men, which will be posted out tomorrow, and will hopefully be with most, if not all, of our members by Christmas. The 2008 Yearbook will also be available next week, and all those who have pre-ordered it will receive their copy as soon as possible, festive post notwithstanding.

I am excited to say that my book, Ethna’s Journal – a diary of my fictional dark-ages alter-ego - will be published in the next couple of days. I have to admit that this is also somewhat of a nerve-wracking prospect, as it is my first effort to have gotten this far. If you are interested in reading it, details of how to buy it will be on the blog soon.

I think that just about covers the comings and goings down here in chilly North Devon. It will soon be the shortest day and we all look forward to the evenings getting a bit lighter for longer. Soon the turkeys will be able to relax again as the snowdrops start to burst forth from the frozen ground, and life will return to ‘normal’ again after the rush that is the Festive season.

As my daughter sings : “Deck the halls with poison ivy, tra la la la la, la la la la”.

Bah humbug.

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Cooking up a storm

Blimey O’Reilly I hadn’t realised that I had not updated my blog for so long! My mother always says that time flies as you get older (along with the fact that policemen begin to look young enough to be your son) and I tend to – correction, firmly - agree with her.

However, enough with the excuses.

The main news from the CFZ is that the expedition to South America is now afoot. As I write this, the intrepid team are battling their way under unbearable conditions and we do wish them all the best. We have had spasmodic contact from them, and you can keep up to date with events as they unfold by checking out the dedicated site Guyana Expedition blog.... so I won't repeat it here. They do seem to be having an awful time with the relentless heat, dryness and lack of shade though - sitting here typing this as it rains outside, it is hard to believe that it can be so hot somewhere else. You quickly forget the discomfort caused by our own muggy summer days, and it has to be said that the conditions they are under are obviously far worse being so near to the Equator.

So to other news, albeit not nearly as important.

It seems that I may have a working cooker before Christmas – I was beginning to despair on this front. I have basically been on strike from cooking these past months – there had been one cake too many burnt in the contraption that calls itself an oven, one roast potato too many that had crisped so much that it threatened to break teeth, and one occasion too many that facilitated having to squeeze a meal for seven into a space that was really designed for two. So … I had donned my ‘Citizen Smith’ beret a month or so ago and became militant and downed tools, apart from anything that could be made in the slow-cooker that is. You can age a year cooking a meal here – the two free standing electric rings take four times as long as they should to boil vegetables and timing simultaneous readiness had become a logistical nightmare. So – enough was enough.

I love cooking, especially baking – it is very therapeutic. I also have the added bonus that living here with all these blokes means that I can bake to my heart’s content and know that it will actually get eaten. I also don’t even have to partake of any myself (oh well, alright maybe a smidgeon to taste it) as I don’t really like sweet things as much as I used to.

Now you may think that this is a cover up for being a shoddy cook – but I never had these problems with my old cooker back in Lincolnshire, or any complaints, and as one of my fridge magnets states: ‘Many people have eaten in this kitchen and gone on to lead normal healthy lives.

However, the cooker is being delivered tomorrow and, barring any unfortunate hidden hiccups, all should be well.

Since last posting, Jon and I have written a letter of complaint to the Chief Superintendent at Welwyn Garden Police Station due to the appalling situation we find ourselves in with the belongings we had to leave in the Jag after the accident a couple of months ago. We had no choice but to leave some possessions in the car and had to bully our way into getting our suitcases, my laptop, and Jon's jacket and wallet from it before we were taken to hospital. Yes, to be fair, it was not exactly the time or place to go rummaging amongst broken glass in the dark, whilst in the middle of the M25, but we had no idea, then, that it would be so difficult to reclaim possession of our belongings. The letter was a ranting four pages long, so I won’t bore you with it all, but here are some prĂ©cised paragraphs from which you will glean the gist of the situation, and I hope you will agree that we have cause for disgruntlement under the circumstances:

‘However, in the meantime, on the Friday after the incident, we telephoned Kartec to arrange pick up of the remaining items that we had no choice but to leave in the vehicle. We were told that it was not worth us going that day, and that they would post on the items and send us an invoice for the carriage costs. This seemed perfectly reasonable to us, and as they are police approved we assumed that all would be in order.

Hence, we sent them a letter under recorded delivery which itemised the items. This was not responded to. We then received a recorded delivery letter from Kartec saying that we needed to pay them £195 + vat, together with £12 per day for removal and storage of the vehicle, and explained that we had until 13th December to pick up our belongings. Upon telephoning them to query this, they then said that they could not post the items on to us. If we had known this, then we would have insisted that we went along to pick them up on the Friday after the incident.

As you can see from the letter heading, we live in North Devon and it is not such an easy journey to make to pick up our things. One of our colleagues was visiting family, near the area, last week and I wrote the required letter of authorisation for him to collect them on our behalf, and he also had the registration document in his possession, plus the original letter from Kartec.

As it has taken so long for us to get hold of insurer’s details, the bill for removal and storage has escalated considerably as you can imagine. The assessment has now been carried out on the vehicle and we are awaiting their decision – they have also said that they will cover the cost of storage from the time we managed to contact them and, hopefully, will be able to pay recovery and earlier storage costs too. Kartec knew this.

Despite this, Kartec demanded that I pay £870.75 before they would release our things. Surely, under the circumstances, this is nothing short of being held to ransom? Our belongings are not connected with the basic insurance claim on the car, and the reason that they have them is due to the fact that we could not get them out at the scene of the accident. This payment could not just be made over the telephone either, and had to be accompanied by a fax authorising the payment on my card.

I then had to rush around to find someone to send this fax for me, as we do not have one (as, indeed, many people do not). Payment was made. You can imagine my horror, therefore, to be told that they would still not release our things as our colleague did not have any photo ID with him.

I can understand that there are rules and regulations in place to protect peoples’ belongings, but surely the fact that he had all the paperwork with him, I had spoken to him in front of them and obviously knew him, and the fact that we live so far away would have enabled them to overlook this one slight formality? Their letter to me, in fact, was poorly written and grammatically incorrect. The paragraph they seemed to enjoy quoting stated: ‘On collection of property Proof of Ownership (V5 Registration Document) or new keeper slip with receipt and Identification (Driving Licence/Passport) must be produced.’ An absence of any correct punctuation lends the paragraph to read that the V5 Registration Document is needed or the slip with identification – not, as they insisted, V5 Registration Document with identification.

I do feel, also, as I am sure you can appreciate from where I stand, that the large amount of money has actually been taken from me under false pretences – Kartec veiling receipt of it as a promise of the release of our property. Is this not tantamount to extortion?

As I have written, my husband is severely disabled, and one of the items in the car that had to be left was his disabled parking permit, which has meant that, ever since the accident, he has not been able to park in designated spots for his disability. I really do not see any reason why these people can withhold our property like this.

They have known that we have been in contact with the insurance company, yet a very rude woman – I believe her name is Tanya – has, on more than one occasion, telephoned in a very bullish manner demanding to know when the car is going to be removed. Are you aware of just how rude this woman is I wonder? In a time of stress, such as a car accident like this can produce, I have been shocked at her bullying and extremely unpleasant manner. I used to work as a Headmaster’s Secretary in a public school, and I can assure you that if I spoke to parents in such a manner, I would have been severely reprimanded. Civility is not too much to ask for is it?

You may like to know, also, that a gentleman at another car recovery company which we contacted with a view of moving the vehicle, to avoid such unsympathetic behaviour, actually groaned when I mentioned Kartec – he said that I was not the first person to have been a victim of such unpleasant people, and he also intimated that they often charge more than the standard recovery price (hiding the excess in some excuse of extra work needed for such action).

I have managed to get to my age abiding by rules and regulations - however petty some are fast becoming. I will no longer, however, tolerate abhorrent behaviour from others. Perhaps Kartec believe they are empowered by having your approval to act this way - I cannot say - but as an organisation that is there to protect the public, I would hope that you may be able to help us reclaim what is rightfully ours, especially due to the circumstances noted above – primarily the distance involved and the underhand treatment we have, and are still, experiencing from one of your approved car recovery centres.’

That was posted at the end of last week, and to date we have heard nothing. I wonder if we ever will? However, if we do not, we shall take the bit firmly between our aged teeth and take it further.

On a sadder note, one of my youngest daughter's degus died last week. We have no idea what caused his demise as he was happily gnawing away at the bars of his cage one day and the next was curled up in his nest, having passed away. We now have one very forlorn looking degu and are wondering what to do next, as they do really need to be kept in pairs or groups.

Thursday 1 November 2007


Or.... as Dr. Frankenstein could well have announced at some time during his dubious career, "The experiment is nearly complete" (well the 'nuts and bolts' of it anyway, I have to add with a wry smile). I am not referring to some experiment of my own with bloodied, dismembered body parts of the lads here at CFZHQ (although that is rather a thought-provoking concept of delicious proportions) - I am referring to the rainfall experiment mentioned in a previous blog. Yes, I can report that the tank is still in situ in front of the office window, smack bang in front of the gate and in full view of any passerby who may turn their head in the garden's direction as they amble down the road. (Well Jon has always said he wanted something big and eye-catching as visitors arrived). Furthermore, no, it has not been emptied. So, after recent rainfall - as you can see - the tank is now almost full! I suppose, on the face of it, this was rather a pointless exercise - little things please little minds -but to conclude - since 15th June the precipitation in these parts measures 17 inches. I have no idea whatsoever whether this is below, above or just average for the period of time in question. Anyone out there know of such facts?

Perhaps, however, it was not such a pointless experiment, for, as Oll pointed out, it will be interesting to see what, if any, lifeforms have taken up residence in the tank's murky waters.

As for an update into things here in North Devon:
It took me a day to fold, stuff, seal and frank all the envelopes, but Issue 41 of Animals & Men was sent out last week to all our members - with only one paper cut inflicted! Don't you just hate those darn things?! However, this was nothing compared to how many days it took valiant Oll to photocopy, collate, staple and guillotine them all in the days beforehand!

Jon has been busy with the second of the new monthly films about what's going on in our world and this has now been uploaded to YouTube. Take a look here: On the Track and let us know what you think. Jon has used some of his own music as an accompaniment this time round. He has just finished recording his new album and I must say that it comprises a pretty darn good selection of tracks. Well done sweetie - I know it has taken you a long time to finish, but it was worth it in the end.

Things have been gathering pace in readiness for the imminent expedition to South America and you can read all about that on the dedicated Guyana Expedition blog.... I guess you could say that it looks like it is going to be an exciting and interesting month.

I have been having fun (did I actually say 'fun'?) with Excel spreadsheets these past couple of days trying to make some sense of our book-keeping. All very complicated and I won't bore you with the details, except to add that by the time I had downed tools on Wednesday night I was seeing double, and my brain felt like it was oozing from out of my ears.

Well I am off now, back to columns A, B, C ............

Saturday 20 October 2007


We had 'ummed' and 'arred' about going to Drusilla's Wildlife Park on the way home on Monday. In the end, we decided to call in as we did have to basically pass the entrance to it on our return journey. We were both astounded by it, and found that it was not at all what we were expecting. It is quite simply a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours - or even a whole day. The residents all looked happy and content and the enclosures were up to date and animal-friendly. The outside cages had the usual wire, but only on the top half, with the area around the bottom half being made up of glass panels so that visitors could see inside. The living quarters were full of well-thought out contents and were well kept and clean.

The whole place is neat and tidy and well cared for - one thing that was very noticeable immediately was the presence of a good compliment of staff who were all very friendly and approachable.

There are little 'Animal Spotter' booklets for the children to stamp - reminiscent of the 'I-Spy' books I had as a child - and a very clever little 'Zoolympics Challenge Record Book' for them to fill in which gives them a chance to compare, for example, how long they can jump in relation to a wallaby. This is achieved by cleverly placing a miniature 'long-jump' area for them to try out. This place really gets the young involved, and the paths around the zoo are well signposted and littered with well-thought out information points, geared up to teaching children and adults alike, about the animals in residence.

There is a huge play area for the children, but this is not reached until after all the animals have been visited. The front cover of the guidebook states 'no ordinary zoo' and they have definitely got that right!

Apart from the tamarinds, which I absolutely adore, my favourites here were the porcupines, and the capybara. The porcupines are usually in bed during the day, but as their room-mates (yellow mongooses) were being fed, they decided to come out and see what was up for grabs. Looking a bit like giant mobile mint humbugs with their stripey spines, they bumbled about collecting as much food as they could. And as for their hairdos, well what can I say?

The capybara, I realised with embarrassed amusement, was actually answering a very long and protracted call of nature, but didn't seem to bat an eyelid as he went about his 'business' while I was taking photos. However, I didn't feel it quite right to continue photographing him, so when I cottoned on I left him to it.

Talking of bats, the fruit bat enclosure was amazing. Once through the heavy plastic blinds that hang across the doorway, we found ourselves right in amongst them, rather than peering through glass or wire. They were just hanging around, minding their own business, with their wings wrapped around their little bodies. I like bats, but I can see why some people think of them as rather malevolent - I suppose they could be described as looking like evil seed pods, twitching every so often as if threatening to open up and release spores of destruction (or is that just my over-active imagination?). One of them was even on the floor by our feet, and at first we wondered whether it was OK, but it then decided to crawl its way across to the other side of the room, and clamber up the wall back to a roosting spot on an overhanging branch.

And there is a bug house too, full the usual spiders, stick insects and millipedes etc, but the vivs are sympathetic to their needs and obviously well tended. There is also a fantastic colony of leaf-cutter ants, which I could just sit and watch for ages as they go about their business, marching back and forth with their booty in neat lines of single lane traffic.

We could not spend as much time as we would have liked at Drusillas as we still had a six hour journey home to face, but we will certainly revisit if we are in the area.

Just a quick game of 'stone-scissors-paper'

On safari

On the Sunday of our weekend away in Sussex, Jon and I went to Port Lympne Wild Animal Park & Gardens near Hythe in Kent. It is set in 600 acres with a mansion and 15 acres of landscaped gardens. It was a beautiful day, so we set off with enthusiasm for a day's exploration and arrived there around lunchtime. It is our plan to travel around all of the country's zoos and wildlife parks over the coming years, and do a spot of photography and filming - Port Lympne was the closest of the two John Aspinall ventures to where we were based (the other being Howletts near Canterbury). Taking in journey time, we plumped for the former. John Aspinall set these two parks up with the aim of breeding protected and endangered species and returning them to safe areas in the wild.

We hopped on the transport that would take us around the park 'on safari', and off we trundled. The trip takes about an hour, with a stop off at the far end of the park, which gives those travelling a chance to stretch their legs, rub their sore bottoms from the bumpy ride, and refresh parched throats at the watering hole there. There is also a 'Discovery Zone' to investigate - basically a tropical area with snakes, an iguana, zebra mice, a chameleon, cockroaches and such like. Jon was very excited to see a tree shrew - the great ancestor of all primates which has hands instead of paws.

We had noticed, upon arrival, that the mansion and garden area were closed to the general public for a private function - but even though I thought that perhaps there was a wedding, I had not been prepared for what I witnessed on our return from the 'safari'.

We were deposited back to the main rest area after our ride, and the place was heaving with wedding guests, which is fair enough. However, it was very weird to see ladies in their sunday best, complete with posh frocks, hats and high heels, and men in morning suits with shiny silk waistcoats hauling themselves, somewhat tipsily, up the steep steps into the army type vehicles for a wedding tour around the park- not one pith helmet in sight lol. The bride climbed aboard too, still in her wedding dress and still holding her bouquet . All very surreal. A very original and interesting theme for a wedding indeed - a safari to Kenya for a honeymoon would be a dream come true, but I suppose a safari on your wedding day around a wildlife park is the next best thing!

It was good to see rhinos, zebras, antelope, giraffes and wildebeest all roaming freely around the large expanse of fields. The only criticism about the tour, though, was that, although there was the usual 'on your right you will see' commentary, this did not really explain anything about the animals - where they were from etc. The vehicle also did not stop very often on route in order for you to observe the animals for any length of time or to allow the odd photograph to be taken.

Apart from seeing my favourite animal - the timber wolf - the other highlight of the afternoon, for me, was seeing the giraffes so close you could have reached out and touched them. The cutest, however, was the baby rhino, who stood with its mum at the edge of the field chomping away on its carrots, seemingly totally oblivious of the attention it was attracting from the humans on the other side of the barrier.

Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but there did not seem to be a great presence of staff pottering about doing maintenance or such like. Some of the animals that were enclosed in cages did not look particularly happy and content, and some seemed agitated - the dholes, for example, displayed the typical boredom trait of pacing up and down their perimeter fencing, whining as they did so. Or perhaps it was just near feeding time, I don't know.

We had a fairly enjoyable day, but were disappointed that there was no guidebook - just a map of the grounds, which was not very clear -or perhaps both of us were being particularly thick that day. The caged enclosures were a bit old-fashioned and reminiscent of zoos in the past where animals were just kept for people to gawp at, but perhaps over time these will be replaced with more up to date, animal-friendly enclosures.

All in all, we were glad we had visited - it had its bad points, but did have some good ones too. We meandered our way back to Hastings across Romney Marshes just as the sun was setting. The mists were rising from the fields, which gave the appearance that we were driving through a film-set for Hallowe'en 21 or whatever the number is up to now - it was really ghostly, yet beautiful at the same time.

I shall skip back a couple of evenings here to when we first arrived at the Hastings Travelodge (well, we have come to like Travelodges) on Friday night. We had been welcomed by a young lad by the name of Toby who, with great embarrassment, informed us that, although we had a room booked, the key for said room had winged itself back to Ireland in the handbag of the previous occupant. Added to this the fact that there was no spare key other than the master, we could not have access to our room without the accompaniment of the master-key holder.

After a seven hour drive, this is something that would normally make one reach across the counter and grab the receptionist firmly by the neck and squeeze the very life out of them until they produced a spare key, but the way in which the information had been delivered just made both Jon and I burst out laughing. From then on, we found that the staff at this particular branch were a little ‘odd’ to say the least. Most of them seemed to be in their twenties and all seemed to possess little idiosyncracies not usually found in staff of such establishments. James, for example, possessed an outlandish ‘gift of the gab’ accompanied by the wildest gesticulations and facial expressions, usually only found in vaudeville halls.

It was as if this particular establishment had been forgotten by the big-wigs at head office, and was running under its own rules and regulations. The staff were all great fun and made our stay there most entertaining.

And no, the key did not arrive on Saturday as promised, so we were moved to another room and treated to a free breakfast for our discomfort.

Thursday 18 October 2007


For Jon's birthday, I bought him a mobile phone to replace the ancient one that he had, which had long since given up the ghost.

Last Monday, on our way back from Hastings, we stopped in at Drusilla's Animal Park where we did a spot of filming. Jon had just undertaken some pieces to camera and was checking that they had come out OK, so while he was doing so, I amused myself by taking some photos of the general vicinity. In the course of doing this, I took these pictures of Jon, which, when I looked at them later, lended themselves perfectly to a bit of wifely playfulness (all in the best possible taste of course) and - with full permission of the victim himself - I present them, with tongue firmly in cheek and a wicked glint in my eye, to you below:

"This is a funny looking phone"

"I can't hear you!"

"I am not so sure this IS a phone you know"

"Hello?! **##**"

"What's that dear? It's a video camera?"

"Hmm, why didn't someone tell me that before. Now I feel like a right dog's dinner ...."

Tuesday 16 October 2007

All day long they stood there and we could not move them

1066. Life was fragile in those dark days and could be easily snuffed out like a candle flame - if you survived infancy, you were lucky to make old bones. On October 14th of that year, many certainly did not. No precise figures are available, but it is thought that each opposing side had between 5,000 and 7,000 men – in those days no mean number - and no records exist on the exact numbers killed.

Upon Senlac Hill, recorded at sometime between 9 and 10 am, began the battle that would change the history of England. The shield wall stood its ground, so tightly packed that it was reported that ‘the dead could scarcely fall and the wounded could not remove themselves from the action’. No matter what your thoughts may be as to whom had the rightful succession to the English throne at that time in history, you cannot but applaud Harold’s efforts. After taking his army up north to Stamford Bridge and defeating King Harald Hardrada, and Harold’s own brother Tostig, and then having to march back down to the south coast to meet this new, somewhat unexpected, threat took a great determination. I say unexpected – Harold had been waiting for an invasion, but had thought that as the autumn gales had begun, making sea journeys unfavourable, it would not arrive until the spring.

It would seem that he was, quite simply, caught out by the weather – something, of course, that still plagues all of us who live in this green and pleasant land to this day. However, the lazy Sunday afternoon cricket match, summer fete or wash day does not quite compare to that ill-fated day in October nearly 950 years ago!

This past weekend saw the annual two-day re-enactment of King Harold’s brave effort to thwart the taking of the English throne by William, Duke of Normandy. Jon and I travelled down to East Sussex on Friday in order that we could witness this major event in the calendar for ourselves on Saturday. It is something I have wanted to experience for many years and the event did not disappoint. It is one of those dates that are drummed into you at primary school, and to stand upon that field is humbling – even emotional. I have great respect for those ‘English’ men who fought and died upon that bloodied field 941 years ago.

Apart from the excitement of the ‘battle’ itself, the day was educational for those watching – there were talks about the falconry of the day, demonstrations of hand to hand fighting, horsemanship and archery. The sheer weight of armour and weaponry is one of those things not easily imagined. My battle-axe and broadsword are pretty hefty, but when I picked up a pair of chainmail gauntlets at one of the encampment market tents, I was astounded as to quite how heavy they were – add to that a helm and shield, and then fight in them for hours! Respect indeed.

I was itching to join the melee - I just wish I had taken my bow, battle-axe and sword with me! Mind you, I am not as fit as I should be, so I would probably have just collapsed under the weight of it all …

Friday 5 October 2007

Please mind the gap

A trip to London always promises to be an exhausting affair – jostling for position on trains, trying to work out which tube to get, and trying to side-step the seething mass of humanity on the crowded tube, stations and pavements.

Last Sunday afternoon, Jon and I travelled to Kings Cross, where we had booked a couple of nights at the local Travelodge. It seemed the most central spot for what we were planning to do, and actually, it proved to be a really quiet place to stay, considering its locale. The train into Paddington was packed to say the least – I think that a lot of the passengers were students starting back at their relevant universities – there were definitely a lot of under-25s alighting at both Bristol and Bath. Old codgers like Jon and I sat in our sardine-squashed positions, not daring – or even able – to move for most of the journey.

King’s Cross was surprisingly quiet – even for a Sunday evening. On my previous jaunts to visit Shosh at the International Halls in Russell Square - where she was billeted during her first year at uni - it was much busier than last Sunday. You could almost accuse it of being civilised this time round. Once we had deposited our baggage in our hotel room, we went off in search of a refreshing drink, a cigarette (or two) and something to eat. The first two were satisfied at O’Neill’s on the corner of Judd Street (a place I had often thought looked inviting on the above mentioned trips to the Halls) where we could sit outside and partake of the evil weed and drink a cooling draught. However, we did not fancy the food on offer and, after listening to the live band – well duo really – we wandered off in the general direction of Euston Station, hoping to find a little bistro or some such place where we could satisfy our jaded palates. It was not to be, however, and we eventually gave up and trundled back towards our hotel, after stopping off at one of the several mini-supermarkets that were still open, to stock up on some provisions.

We had both forgotten that London prices are not the same as Woolsery prices and were quite stunned when it came to paying for our fairly meagre picnic supper. And as for paying £3.00 for a bottle of beer in the Travelodge – well say no more.

Perhaps you would like to know the reason of our visit down to London? Well, it was not to visit the Queen I can assure you. Shosh was to receive a prize for getting the third highest mark in the end of third year exams at the Royal Vet College so we were off to clap like mad - and whoop and whistle - when she did so. She has worked so hard these last three years and it was a very proud moment to see her receive her award – well done sweetie, you thoroughly deserve it. It seems such a long time ago now that her father and I drove her down to London and left her alone in the big city. It was one of the worst moments of my life (doing the same with her sister wasn’t much better either). To leave your child alone in such a place is awful and goes against all motherly instincts. Some youngsters cannot wait to leave home, and throw themselves into university life with great gusto, but equally, there are those who are, by nature, quiet and shy and although they really want to go on to further study, the prospect of doing so is daunting.

Shosh is one of the latter and she had to spend almost a week by herself, before the start of her course, trying to make friends, getting to know her way around London, and learning to cope for the first time by herself. I still don’t know how she did it, but she took herself out on the buses and trains alone, and coped a hell of a lot better than I know I would have done. She grew up a lot in that first year – she had to – and to see her get her award on Monday was fantastic.

We rounded off the evening with a trip to Covent Garden and enjoyed a particularly nice meal at the Palm Court Brasserie – one of those delightful places that cater for pre-theatre dinners or after-performance suppers.

On Tuesday, Jon and I decided to visit London Zoo – neither of us had been there for many years, and both of us did not have fond memories of the place. We were both pleasantly surprised at its turnaround, though, and came away thinking that it was probably one of the best zoos we had ever visited. Unfortunately, we did not manage to see absolutely everything, as we ran out of time before the zoo closed for the day, so we have made a mental note to return there next time we are down in the London area.

Radiated tortoise
(Geochelone radiata)

Green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

Although we were both physically exhausted from being on our feet all day, neither of us really wanted to go back to the hotel room until the last possible moment. We made our way back to Paddington, and decided to stop off for a coffee at the place where we had first met back in March 2005 – awwww, how romantic - apart from the fact that another couple were sitting in ‘our seat’ – tsk. Jon threatened to oust them unceremoniously, but I managed to persaude him that this course of action would probably not endear us to the establishment's staff, and may even result in us being banned from 'our place' for the rest of our lives!

We were both really tired and nearly fell asleep on the comfy sofa, but, in a flash of renewed, and probably over-enthusiastic, vigour, we decided to take advantage of our cheap day travelcards and visit some of the sights. Well why not? The night was young, even if we were not, so we staggered to our feet, and with creaking limbs made our way to do battle with the underground once more.

We visited Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus, and .... well that was it actually. It had reached the stage where we were swinging one leg in front of the other with the aid of a hand on the back of the thigh, so we decided that it was probably a good idea to make our way back to King’s Cross .... and food. This time, we had oodles of noodles in the local noodle-bar.

Come Wednesday, we were still hobbling, and although it had been a great two days, we were relieved to leave the metropolis and return back to the serenity of Woolsery. This time, the train journeys were trouble-free, as neither the tube nor the mainline trains were busy at that time of day. We both had two seats to ourselves from Paddington, and travelled in relative luxury to Tiverton, where we were met by Graham.

We are both now back on bank and car duties - c'est la vie.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Horses for courses

Last Friday afternoon, after we had been to the PratWest to sort out the forced withdrawal of our money, we collected David from school, and made our way down the M5/M4 to the Travelodge at Feltham, for the annual AES show being held at Kempton Park Racecourse the next day. As neither Jon nor I felt up to driving such a distance after our prang the other week, Graham did the honours. Every bump in the road brought back memories and an involuntary jump from both Jon and me, but it was once darkness had fallen that my nerves really started to go ‘ping’. I am sure that the drive must have been just as hard for Graham – he was in the unenviable position of not being able to say anything as he coped with Jon’s, understandable, alarm in the front passenger seat, and my flinching behind the driver’s seat, especially as we were surrounded on all sides by vehicles speeding on their way home for two days off work, or going out for the evening, completely oblivious to the fact that the car they were passing contained two nervous wrecks, whose blood pressure and pulse rates were through the roof!

However, we arrived at our Travelodge safely – I don’t know, around 9.30 pm I think. Ah suburbia – where the youth seem to be programmed to be deliberately awkward to drivers, by stepping out in front of them, or by taking as much time as possible to cross the highway as they meet up with the rest of the gang on the street corner. The girls seem willing to freeze as much exposed flesh as possible to entice the opposite sex and the boys sport trousers that hang down their backsides so low that they defy gravity. Many a time I have followed such a youth and have been so tempted to either pull them up in motherly fashion - tutting matronly - or, with a glint of malicious humour upon my face, pull them down to their ankles and run like hell in the opposite direction.

Hmm, I think I am getting old.

Poor David – he is a country lad, and I think he was a bit overwhelmed by the sights, smells and sounds of suburbia. He had trouble sleeping that night, what with the sounds of aeroplanes, cars, trains and emergency vehicles echoing through the darkness, interspersed with the noise of the youth of the area as they made their Friday-night way to, and from, their usual haunts of entertainment. Growing up in Uxbridge, I am used to such things – I used to live under the flight path of Northolt Airport at one time so am quite accustomed to the roar of aeroplane engines for one thing. On many occasions I would wave at the planes as they came in to land and sometimes I was given a slight dip of the wings in response, which was great fun to a child of around 11 years of age!

However, I digress. It would seem that whilst David had trouble with the noise of life outside, Graham and I were unable to sleep soundly due to the unnecessary heat of the rooms. Why are those places so stuffy? And Jon and I had the window open too, in a vain attempt to encourage some welcome waft of cooling air.

Saturday morning found all four of us up and ready to go at the pre-agreed time of 8.00 am. We met up in reception – too early for us to stop and have breakfast first unfortunately, but decided that, as there must be some food at the show, we would have something to eat there. Upon arrival at the racecourse, the first thing I noticed, as we drove through the gates, was the statue of the great grey, Desert Orchid, whose ashes are buried nearby. I was a bit disappointed with the statue – in life Dessie was a magnificent looking grey, but somehow this was lost in the sculpture. However, I took some photos of him for Shosh, who had ‘met him’ a couple of times, and used to be a member of his fan-club years ago, as I was sure she would like them for her collection.

We met up with Janice and Graham Smith, with whom we were sharing our stall for the day, and settled down to wait for the doors to open to the public at 11.00 am. We had a fairly successful day, selling quite a few copies of issue 2 of Exotic Pets magazine, plus securing some future advertisers.

As they only live about half an hour away, Shosh and Gav popped into the show to have a look around, and – as usual – ended up being roped in to help out! Shosh had been asked to buy some millipedes and land snails for her friend Becky, and Gav bought a couple of dung beetles. Unfortunately, one of these had died by the time they got home, but the hunt is on for a replacement! Not a good start for a first-time beetle collector! I believe Shosh is, this week, going to get some dung from the stables at the veterinary college though, in order to make the remaining beetle feel more at home. That should make their flat smell nice lol.

Oh, and yes - Jon, David and I did make some purchases also, (as if we wouldn’t) but I shall write about those at a later date, once I have some photos to hand.

We came back a different way Saturday night and were just in time to catch Stonehenge at sunset – always a magical sight. The journey home was less stressful, but tinged with the sad prospect that, upon my arrival at Woolsery, my other rat may well have died.

Monday 24 September 2007

Bye Sid

Whilst at the AES show at Kempton Park Racecourse, during a routine call back to base, Richard told me that Sid, my black and white 'rat boy slim', was looking poorly. It came as no real surprise - he had hardly touched his special rat sandwich that I had made him on Thursday night.

On our return home, late Saturday night, my first port of call was the rodent room to see how he was. Much to my sadness, Sid had died. Like Len, I shall miss him.

He is now buried next to Len in the rose bed. They can now get up to rat-mischief together, without the restrictions of cage bars, wherever they may be.

Have fun boys!

Thursday 20 September 2007

A fond farewell

Len and Sid used to have pride of place in my living room back in Lincolnshire, and kept me company when my cats came down to Devon and when the girls both left home. They were brothers and always got on famously with each other, with only one or two minor brotherly spats when they were young.

It is sad to report that today, Len passed away. I shall miss him. The song I used to sing to him when I went into the rodent room seems even more apt now:

Oh Lenny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying'
Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

My other ‘Rat Boy Slim’ is looking fine, and I hope Sid will be OK on his own – he and Len did seem to have a touching relationship. Last week, when Len actually seemed to be picking up, I actually watched as Sid pushed some grapes to him as if to say ‘come on chuck, eat up’.

I think I shall make Sid one of my special rat sandwiches tonight in memory of his brother.
Goodbye dear Len, have a great ratty time wherever you are.


Guess what? A kind of squashed cherry arrived today – well more like a half-chewed sultana actually. I had sent my driving licence off – at last – to get it updated with my new surname and address last week, and my bright spanking new one arrived today. It has now been returned. Why? Well they got the address change right, but my single name was still emblazoned across everything, which is of absolutely no use whatsoever as this seems to be my only valid form of official identification at the moment. Yes, before you ask, I did fill the form in correctly, and, yes, I checked this morning – I took a photocopy (aaah wise girl, those years in an office have paid off). I do wonder, though, why someone with the surname ‘James’ would have signed the documents with the surname ‘Downes’, but hey who am I to question such things?

It will now take about another week before I get it back.

I am beginning to understand why, these days, a lot of women decide to keep their single name after getting married. I always used to assume it was just for professional reasons, but I have come to realise, after trying to update such mundane things as bank accounts, driving licences etc., that it is probably the easiest thing to do.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

My money not good enough eh?

Well, no work today – or rather not much to speak of at any rate. I have managed to sort out some book orders and a couple of personal things, but other than that not a lot. After receiving a letter from Natwest this morning to say that they couldn’t, after all accept me into the bosom of their family, I telephoned them to enquire why a) they had sent the letter to my old address (thank goodness I still have a redirection service) even though the confirmation letter they had sent me last week to welcome me with open, greedy, arms had come to the correct one and b) why they were now tossing me out with the vegetable peelings. I was expecting some tale about the fact that I was not on the electoral roll due my recent move and, therefore, didn’t exist so I was somewhat surprised when I was told that they could not give me a reason. I was even more astounded when they informed me, quite casually, that, in fact, Jon’s account was also cancelled. The rest, as you will read on Jon’s blog, is history.

Perhaps now people will begin to accept that I am quite well founded in following the practice of pessimism. I never look on the bright side of life – sorry Mr. Idle – past experiences have long since thrashed that out of me. In the last few years I have suffered my own divorce, a relationship with a sadistic madman (er .. not Jon .. he’s just mad), a couple of family medical scares, Jon’s father’s death, my parents’ divorce (and related repercussions which you wouldn’t believe even if I told you), selling and moving house, am in the throes of the menopause, had a near-fatal car crash and now this. Hopefully this is, at last, the icing on the cake – unless the cherry is still to come that is.


Tuesday 18 September 2007

Chooks away

As you can see, Maureen’s new abode has arrived. It arrived last Monday to be exact, but I have only just got around to taking a photo of it, which I admit is not very good, but in my defence the area is a bit cramped at the moment(it is the one in the distance if you hadn't realised)! This was supposed to have been delivered the previous Friday, but the person delivering it decided that it was too difficult to open the gate and left a note to say that he/she had called but that no-one was in. This, of course, was a blatant untruth as there were four of us in residence at the time and no-one, but no-one, came through that gate! Nor did anyone even whimper ‘hello?’ for two of us were in the office right beside said entrance, and not a sound was made. We will never know the reason for his/her non-entry, but I suppose it is of no real importance now as Maureen is happily ensconced in her sumptuous surroundings.

The chooks are also now in residence. If you have really good eyesight, you may be able to make out the aerial on top (kind of mid-way) of Cluckberry Mansions in the photo (courtesy of Graham in one of his whimsical moods – and I have heard tell that there may be a satellite dish in the making also – strewth!). The chickens had the luxury of being driven back to Woolsery in my newly purchased car upon the lap of Olivia, who had voiced concern at them having to be stashed in the boot – poor things. However, with them in their box on her lap, she admirably, and heroically - with defiance in her eyes - took the advantage of using the ‘I will open the box and let slip the chickens of chaos, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?’ threat when Jon proceeded to sing one of his many 'home-made' poultry-related songs as he drove along. With the ensuing cacophony, one felt that one had been spirited on to a coach of over-zealous football fans on their return journey after a successful match, but without the swearing and empty beer cans. Goodness alone knows what the poor poultry were thinking. Anyway, poor Olivia’s brave attempt at halting this revelry was thwarted, as her bluff was called, and Jon carried on in his merry way, whilst the chickens stayed safely in their cardboard surroundings for the long journey home around the, by now, dark, sunken lanes of Devon.

That was Wednesday evening of last week, and we all know what occurred the following evening when my poor car ended up facing the wrong way across the middle and third lanes of the M25, with her boot and bonnet mangled after courageously saving our lives. Thank goodness Olivia had already been dropped off at Portsmouth. We were on our way to see Shosh and Gav and our thanks go to them for picking us up from the hospital and ferrying us around. It must have been awful for both girls, but they coped with it magnificently - bless 'em.

We still had things to sort out to do with the accident on Friday, so we stayed put in our Travelodge and kept our appointment with our good friend, Paul (aka Mr. Biffo) Rose. He is such a lovely chap. Jon and he had some business to discuss (gosh that sounds clandestine) and so we arranged to meet him at our board and lodgings in Hatfield. Good old Shosh and Gav came to the rescue again as poor Paul couldn't find the Travelodge and had ended up at the local Tesco superstore (on a Friday night too - eek). He had experienced the same problem with his sat nav as we had done, whereby, although the directions stipulated we entered a certain postcode, the machinery would not recognise it. Way-hay, I am glad that happens to someone else too - I was beginning to think we had a naff system (but then again, he could have the same model as me, but we won't go there). However, as daughter and fiancé live in the area, I asked them to 'phone him and give him directions, but they did one better and went to meet him, so he could follow them. I reckon they should get a CFZ award next year for services rendered beyond the call of duty!

As you may know, Paul is joining the expedition to Guyana in South America in November in search of giant anacondas. You may well have seen on Jon’s blog that this is in conjunction with CAPCOM - one of the world's leading developers and publishers of video games. You can read more about it at the dedicated Guyana Expedition blog....

Amongst other things, Paul heard the gory details of what injections he would need and when the evening's discussions had drawn to a close, he went away unconsciously rubbing his arm in anticipation.

Sunday 16 September 2007

And then a hero comes along

Hello everybody! As Jon has written on his blog – we are back home now, basically in one piece, but still shaken from the events of last Thursday night, with sore necks and limbs, and bruises that seem to multiply overnight. And yes, folks, it was the 13th of the month (did I really write before about liking the word Triskaidekaphobia (phobia of the number 13?) – well hush my mouth. We only got the new car on Tuesday night, but I can at least say that I managed to drive her once – from here to Portsmouth. However, I have not even sent off the registration transfer document yet – oh well.

Whilst sitting in the hospital waiting for a doctor to look us over, and for the police to arrive for our statements, I remembered (as you do) that the sat nav was still in the car – I wonder if it is still instructing us to keep left and leave the motorway? Perhaps they should invent one that warns us to watch our backs for idiots who suddenly decide to cross lanes without thinking whether they do, in fact, have enough room to perform such a manoeuvre? One born every minute! Anyway, accidents happen and at least everyone in the four vehicles concerned all managed to walk away without any bones broken.

The evening was brightened up, however, with a piece of happy news - a woman arrived outside the A & E and promptly gave birth in the car she had travelled in. Not good timing on her part, granted, but, as far as we know, both mother and baby were OK. There definitely is one born every minute – but this time in the best possible way lol!

Thanks to all of you who have sent us your best wishes – Jon and I really appreciate it. I don’t know how he managed to keep control of the car under those horrendous circumstances, but the big guy did good! Thanks Jon – I guess this makes you my knight in shining armour! But then I knew that already....

Friday 14 September 2007

Bad News

The CFZ Press Office released the following statement this afternoon:

CFZ Director Jonathan Downes and his wife Corinna were involved in a serious road traffic accident on the M25 last night, involving four other vehicles. Their Jaguar was a write-off and they were taken to hospital. However, they were discharged in the early hours of this morning.

The police have stated that although a prosecution is likely to take place, it would not be against Mr Downes, who was completely blameless.

Apart from shock, and superficial scratches and bruises, it appears that Mr and Mrs Downes are unhurt. More news when we get it.

Thursday 6 September 2007

As sure as eggs is eggs

A soon-to-be-added addition to the menagerie here at the CFZ is a pair of chooks. David (Phillips) gave them to Jon for his birthday the other week, and they are due to arrive here over the coming weekend. There was a bit of a scramble at the end of last week, therefore, to try and find a suitable abode for them. However, thanks to good old Ebay, a super-duper house and run were purchased, which arrived on Tuesday. These arrived in several packages – all flatpacked, of course. As Graham pointed out, you are supposed to check that all components are present and correct before accepting delivery of such items, but as it was obvious that it would take quite a time to ascertain this (in fact it took nearly an hour to actually sort everything out on the lawn) Graham did not think that the delivery man would be best pleased if we had abided by these rules. An executive decision of excellent foresight lol.

Anyway, Graham has since been building Cluckberry Mansions (yes you did read that correctly – don’t ask), and weather-proofing it, and it has shaped up to be a pretty desirable residence, complete with window and front door – certainly not a paltry affair. All it needs is a chimney, hanging baskets and, perhaps, a satellite dish to finish it off to perfection.

I am a bit cheesed off actually, as I bought, during the Bank Holiday weekend, a new rabbit hutch/run for our other new resident – a dwarf rabbit called Maureen. The main point here is, that although this was purchased a week before the chicken house, it still has not arrived. This is a bit embarrassing really, as Maureen is, at present, in a hutch on loan from the lady who gave her to us, on the promise of this only being for a couple of days. However, this problem has now been chased up and the goods are supposedly being posted today – hmm one wonders if this would have been the case if they had not been chased, but we shall never know eh?

Oll has also been weatherproofing the bat, bird and hedgehog boxes that we received as wedding presents. The hedgehog box is now in place at the bottom of the garden and the other abodes will be placed around the trees in the next day or so. All I want to know is – how do the bats and birds know which is for whom? Yes, if a bird tries to squeeze into the entrance of a bat box it will find it extremely difficult, but how do they know just by looking at them in the first place?

Other news? Well, Exotic Pets has now reached ‘proof two’ stage and Animals & Men No. 41 is at ‘first proof’. It would seem that there may be a lot of posting to undertake in the next week! However, this time there will be no dry mouths from licking stamps. There will be no paper cuts on tongues either from licking down envelopes. Oh no! We have … drum roll … a new stock of self-seal envelopes and … wait for it … a franking machine! Hooray! Yes, the CFZ has come into the 21st Century.

STOP PRESS: Jon’s office has been tidied and cleaned. Poor chap. He is now sitting in the middle of … well, nothing really - just space. He looked a bit lost this afternoon - I think he might be suffering from an overdose of tidiness! He could actually now, if the inclination came upon him I suppose, swing a proverbial cat. Helios 7 has - rather intrepidly I think, and in true CFZ fashion - already volunteered for this experiment and is standing by with goggles and helmet in place. I think someone should tell her, perhaps, that the phrase is actually supposed to have originated from the cat o’nine tails as used on board ships to punish unruly tars. But, she is excited about it, so I don’t think I will tell her – she would be so disappointed.

We love her really.

Sunday 2 September 2007

The clock - tick tock - on the mantlepiece

Just as I was serving up supper tonight, and taking the boss his plate in the office, I suddenly realised that it was only 8.30 pm and already dark. I have no idea when the timing of sunset actually began its annual descent into eventual winter, as I usually do not take much notice of the clock these days. Once upon a time, in a land far away (well actually, further to the east - and up a bit), I was a constant clock-watcher – my life was ruled by it. Up at 6.00 am, out of the house by 8.00 and at my desk by 8.30. From then on it was the long wait for 12.30 and … lunch…hooray. Then came the even longer wait for 5.00, when it was time to down tools for the day and head off into the traffic queues. In bed by 10.00 and then the cycle began again. It has taken me quite a long time to re-adjust to the timings at the CFZ – to be more precise the non-existence of timings at the CFZ, for time does not exist here.

The only being here that does seem to be ruled by the concept of timings (and her stomach) is Helios 7, the original CFZ feline. As soon as you go downstairs in the morning, she appears from out of the shadows and attacks you verbally with a barrage of mewls (and it is certainly not 'good morning, and how are you today?') Then follows the usual ritual - as you take the kettle to the sink, and then from the sink to put the kettle on, she is there right beside you. Then she trots in front of you as you go to the fridge for milk, and then back again. Then she follows you as you go to the office to check if there is any post, and then back again. All this accompanied by the constant meowing. I can honestly say that I have never heard a cat go on quite as much as Helios 7. And then when you do feed her, what does she do? She sticks her head right in the bowl, so you can’t get anything in it! D'oh.

At the end of the day, when she deems it is time for dinner, woe betide you if you venture into the kitchen for an innocent cup of tea. For there she is, lurking, waiting to accost whoever dares enter, with her verbal accusations at being so hungry that she cannot possibly wait another moment. She will whine, and mewl, and trip you up, lest you forget to fill up her dish. You become the chosen one for a while, and she becomes your shadow until she becomes bored, or realises it is a futile mission. This can commence any time from around four in the afternoon until her allotted tea time of 6.00 pm. And she doesn’t stop there. It makes not the slightest difference if she has just been fed, for as soon as she sees a pair of human legs pass by she throws herself at them, utters forth the complaints and starts the whole procedure all over again. For a while it worked, and she often managed to get another bowlful, but these days we have become wise to the mewlings of Helios 7.

Looking at the calendar for the coming month, it seems to be a fairly busy one. Issue two of Exotic Pets is all set for the first proof, and we are off to Kempton Park later in the month to the annual AES (Amateur Entomologist Society) exhibition. After our last sojourn into the world of bug exhibitions, I think we had better take a trailer with us so as to avoid the inevitable lack of space on our return journey! Or, I suppose, we could just leave our debit cards at home - yeah right.

In between that, Olivia (youngest daughter) is coming to stay for a few days to collect some of her things to take back to her new digs in Portsmouth, for the start of her second year at Uni, and Animals & Men is still to be completed. As for October, well we won't even go there - yet!

And what did we have for supper? Stuffed marrow actually – sausagemeat, onion, garlic, tomato puree, and sage all fried together, and then cooked in the slow-cooker for a few hours. Followed by Cumberland apple pudding as I had discovered some manky looking bramleys in the back of the vegetable rack and thought I had better use them up pretty darn quick (this is basically an apple crumble by the way, but with the added ingredient of ginger, which spices it up a treat – and as ginger settles the stomach it is always a good idea to follow any meal with such a thing, then all eventualities are covered!)

Goodness, a couple of recipes in my blog! Everyone will now think I am turning completely girly and that I am going to introduce a recipe section in my spasmodic entries. Never fear, this is completely a one off and I only mention it as I started off with a comment about dinner and wondered if anyone might be deliberating about exactly what the husband had been served up on his plate. Comments like that whet the appetite after all, and at least it wasn’t just beans on toast! But then I wouldn’t have admitted it even it was.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Snakes alive!

Bank Holiday Monday saw Jon, Oll, Richard and me visiting Tropiquaria at Watchford, near Minehead, in Somerset. Jon’s godson, Greg, along with Greg’s brothers (David and Ross) and parents (Roy and Kaye) came along for a day out too, but I am sure Jon will fill you in on the details in his own blog. Anyway, whilst there, I took the opportunity to say hello to one of the snakes – a rather charming boa constrictor who goes by the name of Miss Dynamite. I persuaded Jon to take a picture of me with her so I could put it in my blog, as an accompaniment to my inane scribblings.

I like snakes. However, the photo here is definitely not one to show my mother, as even the word ‘snake’ brings her out in goosebumps! So much so, that we have promised never to keep such creatures here at the cottage, as it would mean that she would never venture so much as to even poke a toe across the threshold ever again.

According to the source I looked at, this particular condition is known as ophidiophobia. Hmm, now that has done it. Having a grasshopper mind, and being easily distracted when something interesting comes along, I have now been sidetracked and have found myself looking into the names of phobias. Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) is my favourite so far, purely because of its name, but there are plenty more to spend many hours investigating. In fact, I was not really aware as to how many there are in existence until about half an hour ago.

There are such things as the fear of knees, the fear of garlic, the fear of infinity and even the fear of peanut butter becoming stuck to the roof of your mouth. I am, by no means, belittling the fact that many people suffer from such things – I tend to suffer from the fear of enclosed spaces and fear of heights – but only occasionally which is weird, but these are pretty routine compared to some I have seen listed. I think my greatest fear is having a gun pointed at me – be it a water-pistol or a real one (not that the latter has ever actually happened as far as I know!) I have my own theory on this particular dread of mine, but I shall not go into it at the moment.

All completely off topic from the one I started with, and I have completely lost the thread of our trip on Bank Holiday Monday, but I am really glad I don’t suffer from zoophobia!

I am sure Mark will not mind if I post a couple of the pictures he took at Tropiquaria a couple of days before we went along, but these definitely have the 'aww cute' factor, so I couldn't really resist.

To the left is a mongoose and to the right is a mara.

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


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!