Friday 25 May 2007

Life is just a bunch of bananas.

Tempus fugit. Oh dear – where do all the weeks go? Is it because there is still so much to do for 21st July and time wishes to scare the pants off me, or is it just that I am getting old? Perhaps, though, it is because I am enjoying myself!

However, much of my tardiness is due to technological difficulties in that my computer – quite simply – gave up the ghost. This, coupled with internet connection difficulties, has caused the non-existence of a blog for well over a week.

What has happened in the innermost recesses of the CFZ since I last wrote?

Jon, Oll, David and I went to Birmingham last Sunday to the annual British Tarantula Society show and we all had a really fun time. The CFZ menagerie has now had its ranks swollen by the arrival of two Peruvian fern stick insects (Oreophoetes peruana); three Peruvian black stick insects (Peruphasma schultei); two Atlas beetles (Chalcosoma atlas), found in southern Asia, especially Malaysia; two sun beetles (Pachnoda marginata), one cobalt blue tarantula (Haplopelma lividum) native to Myanmar and Thailand; a pair of Vietnamese praying mantids which are a newly discovered species; two orchid praying mantids (Hymenopus coronatus) found in Malaysia, another praying mantis, and er… oh wait a minute, that is it.


However, David also bought himself a pair of millipedes, and a pair of sun beetles, as well as a pair of cockroaches for a friend of his.

It was quite interesting packing up for the return journey, as we also bought four glass vivs to house some of these little creatures and the boot of the car was somewhat chocker. My main worry was that we would accidentally unlodge one (or more) of the lids to the many containers and have a jamboree of escaped creatures, and, although I like spiders, I didn’t fancy a tarantula crawling up my trouser leg while I was driving, even if he/she is only a baby.

The two Peruvian fern insects and the three Peruvian black stick insects have taken to Myrtle Cottage very well, and are happily chomping their merry way through the foliage provided for them (mind you it was fun trying to locate some privet for the latter as Jon, bless him, forgot to buy some while he was at the show).

The tarantula is conspicuous by its absence as it hides in the undergrowth, but all the mantids are munching their food contentedly, as are the sun beetles.

We had been told that the male Atlas beetle would leap straight into the procreation lark as soon as he laid eyes on his intended, but we were surprised by the speed in which he did so! As soon as they were put together he jumped to it without even a cursory look around the new abode, never mind a polite “hello dear”. She, however, seemed slightly bored by the whole thing and just continued to eat her chunk of banana. In fact, you could almost imagine her yawning with boredom as she totally ignored her ‘husband’ throughout the whole business. Hmmm is there a message there?

However, she does now seem to have disappeared underground – presumably to lay her eggs - so we will have to wait and see what results. He, however, seems to have totally lost interest now and has taken over the banana duties. Hmmm another message?

Whilst at the show, we made some contacts with regard to the new magazine Exotic Pets and it would definitely seem that this publication has attracted a lot of attention. Jon is busy building a website for it as I am writing this, so keep an eye open for it.

Here at the CFZ it is quite normal for an odd or silly catchphrase to be adopted with lightning speed upon first hearing it, or for lines from an avant-garde film to be often referred to, to the accompaniment of schoolboy giggles and sniggers. I have also often walked in on the end of a conversation to hear the odd weird snippet, but here is a line that you definitely do not hear very often from someone talking on the telephone, whilst sitting at their computer: “I am putting away my lampreys as we speak”. What on earth did that mean?

Oh, yes, and Jon and I have been proofing my book – mainly at the end of the day, whilst tucked up in bed with my laptop. We are about half way through now so it hopefully will not be too long before it is finished and ready to go. I started writing it way back in 2000, doing a bit here and there, but made a huge effort on it last year. I hope one day someone will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

See you soon.

Sunday 13 May 2007

Did Jon get his just desserts?

Sunday is upon us - traditionally a day of rest for those who have been hard at it throughout the other days of the week. At the CFZ, however, this rule does not necessarily apply. By its very nature, the CFZ's doors are never really shut, but don't get me wrong, I am not complaining in the least.

After blatantly ignoring the alarm when it awoke me at 8.30, and hearing the rain as it beat down in torrents outside the bedroom window, I turned over and managed a few hours extra kip this morning. However, it was not long before we were all up and raring to go. After I had spent a short while in the hub of the house planning all important desserts (stressed spelt backwards, interestingly enough) for the next few days, Richard and I did a little more work on the new book that I told you about last time.

Since he got up, Jon has been trying, without much success unfortunately, so far, to upload the Gambia Expedition film, on to You Tube. Tenacious as he is, though, I am sure that, by the time day-break is upon us tomorrow, he will have succeeded in his mission. If nothing else, once he gets his teeth into something it takes something of mammoth importance to shake their grip loose. Not even cake or pie can deter him when set upon his task (however, after reading this he says, of course, his attention can be swayed by cake or pie).

Fuelled by copious cups of tea, plus a comedy argument over whether Jon should be allowed any cheesecake for pudding (considering he had two breakfasts), thus has been spent this Sunday at CFZ headquarters. So far ...

PS: The Battle of the Cheesecake has been fought and won - so guess who had his cake and ate it too?

Thursday 10 May 2007

Supper's Ready

Well, so much for a regular blog entry! The best laid plans eh? But, it has been very busy here at the CFZ headquarters - that is my excuse anyway and I am sticking to it.

My list of 'things to do' is growing daily and it is very satisfying when I manage to actually cross an item off. I am still in the throes of trying to sort out my own bits and pieces regarding my recent move and, as I am sure you can imagine, mixing personal 'to dos' with work 'to dos' does get a bit confusing, but I think I am managing to keep the two separate at the moment.

So..... what's been happening here?

Jon has been putting the finishing touches to a new CFZ film - this time about the 2006 African expedition. It is the most ambitious film yet from CFZtv, clocking in at over an hour. We hope that it will be up in the next week or so.

Graham's main task yesterday was to tinker with the computers and sort out the updated internet connection. It is hoped to be able to eventually get my computer upstairs on to the internet, which will save my having to continually run up and down the stairs, down the corridor - negotiating the previously mentioned mountains of 'things', usually tripping over at least one of the five resident cats, and quite often having to sort out some kind of cat spat of the territorial variety on the way - when the need to send an email occurs.

Amongst other things, Oll was busy parcelling up some book orders - he does make exceedingly good parcels. He is a whizz with Excel and has also been helping Kaye - Jon's sort of stepsister - out with, what sounds like, a very complicated spreadsheet.

Richard dedicated most of the morning to cleaning out, feeding and chatting to the many and varied beasties which share the CFZ residence. After a pleasant hour or so passed giving an informal interview to the North Devon Journal Herald, Jon, Richard and I spent the afternoon and evening working on a new book - a kind of beginner's guide to cryptozoology, which it is hoped will be out in the next month or so. We thought we would try out the method of Jon and Richard dictating to me whilst I typed. This seems to work perfectly and we shall continue this exercise every day for the next week or so until it is finished. It is also giving me a crash course in aspects of cryptozoology that, up to now, have - I am perfectly willing to admit - not settled into these aged brain cells all that well.

I have also been sending out letters to local builders' merchants asking for sponsorship, in the form of any help they can generously give us with materials for building the museum. Phase one now being complete, we are eager to commence with phase two so we are hoping that some of them will be impressed with the venture, and kindly help us out.

Now, it is my turn to cook so what can I do for supper tonight, and more importantly....when do I get around to cooking it?

Sunday 6 May 2007

Come with me to the bug-house

I could not let my first attempts at blog entries pass without mentioning our visit to High Wycombe last Wednesday afternoon. I first met Graham and Janice Smith last year at the British Tarantula Society [BTS] fair in Birmingham. They very kindly gave me my dear Matilda, a praying mantis, who sadly died last month. She was a wonderful creature and, for a praying mantis, a very well-travelled one also! On several occasions she accompanied me on the train, or in my car (seat-belted in of course) on my visits back and forth to Devon and chomped her merry way through various delicious morsels of flies - much to the disgust of my youngest daughter, Olivia, and interest of her elder sister, Shosh (you can tell by that comment, perhaps, which one is studying vet med!).

So.......Graham and Janice live on the outskirts of town in their own peaceful haven of nature. Their back garden is amazing and bursting with trees and shrubs, all inter-twining together and creating a calming oasis away from the hub-bub of modern living.

After sitting in the sun on the patio for a while - chatting and watching a robin frequently coming down to take the food left out for him (and demanding more when that had run out) - we moved to the shady area at the bottom of the garden to cool down a bit and discuss future exciting plans in detail. A red kite flew overhead. Living near Fineshade and Wakerley Woods in Northamptonshire, and driving past them frequently on my way to Devon, I have often seen red kites flying in the skies above, but to see them so near urbanisation was amazing.

Then to their bug-house. Graham describes this as very 'Heath Robinson' and it is absolutely heaving with mantids, beetles, cockroaches, stick insects, spiders and frogs etc. A fascinating collection of beasties of varying shapes and sizes. Graham and Janice are both passionate about what they do and it shows. They also happen to be lovely people.

That evening, whilst digesting a splendid Indian take-away, we all sat on their patio and eagerly awaited the arrival of a special visitor. He did not let us down and sure enough, from out of the darkness, he trundled up the garden to tuck into Janice's specially prepared peanut butter sandwiches. I have, many times, seen unfortunate badgers at the side of our roads, but this was the first time I have seen one in the wild. It was an experience not to be forgotten - such a wonderful creature.

Thanks very much, you two, for a wonderful afternoon and evening.

Hello everyone

Hmmm.... my first blog entry as Administrative Director of the CFZ eh? With a header like the one above I suspect many may wonder what insights I might divulge about the blokies here at the CFZ. Now, whilst it would be tempting to share the varied sights and sounds that occur on a moonlit night in the bowels of Myrtle Cottage, I shall make a personal pledge right here, at the start of my efforts, that I shall not be swayed into letting slip anything untoward (unless, of course,large amounts of cash are deposited into a Swiss bank account).

Most of my packing boxes have been dispersed, but that is not to say that most of my possessions have been spirited away into neat little piles in cupboards and drawers. Not on your life....more like an assault course of untidy, and somewhat precarious, mountains of 'things' in every corridor!!! I will get there - eventually.

Jon and I entered into one of our 'road trips' last week. A few days away in Surrey and Buckinghamshire beckoned and we set off in my trusty little Rover Metro on a sunny Monday afternoon. Yes, before you ask, Jon does fit in it - just!! On Tuesday evening we were meeting Jon's brother, Richard, to discuss our forthcoming nuptials, (which as a high-ranking Army Chaplain, he will conduct), but, even at this late stage, were not too sure where or when!

The journey was peppered with the usual "I said turn left here" and replies of "No you didn't, you said turn right", but we made it to our first stopping point in one piece and still on reasonable speaking terms with each other. What is it about car journeys that brings out the naffness of the map reader tee hee??? Ooops sorry, sexist remark there.

We had a very enjoyable visit to `Birdworld` (and `Underwater World`) in Farnham. Jon did an interview about endangered fish for Tropical World Magazine, and the rest of the day we walked around the aviaries. I do recommend a visit - it is a wonderfully laid out and cared for place, full of beautiful birds. My favourites were the raven - with whom I had a long chat - and a plump little character who followed us, chirruping away, as if proudly showing us around the rooms of its home. As you will see from the photo, the roulroul partridge (Rollulus roulroul) is one of the cutest little birds!

We were also privileged to witness the beginnings of a gosling hatching from its egg, and I was hoping to be able to see the rest of its emergence into the world, but, unfortunately, by the time we had to leave it had still not quite finished its journey.

Since leaving on Monday afternoon, several messages had been left with Jon's brother on his mobile, and at home in Germany, with no luck so Jon decided that it would be a good idea to try and track his brother down. Like looking for a needle in a haystack you may say, but we knew that he was at a conference at Sandhurst Military Academy so off we went.

Upon arriving at said Academy, we managed to gain entry through the barrier, and were ushered into the guardhouse to try and explain what exactly a long-haired bloke in a Crass t-shirt and his girlfriend were up to. The gurkhas in the guardhouse took it all in their stride, and only faltered - ever so briefly - when presented with Jon's only identification - a copy of Tropical World in which was his - rather fetching - photograph. They looked a bit quizzical at being presented with such an unusual piece of identification, but upon hearing that Jon was a journalist, seemed to get ever-so slightly agitated.

Like many people, when finding myself in close proximity with a member of, or in an establishment of, 'authority', I was beginning to feel guilty of absolutely anything that I could possibly be guilty of and was having trouble keeping my gaze from anything in the room in case they thought I was checking it out. Upon two occasions of having to reach into my handbag I did so very slowly, precisely and carefully in case they thought I was going to pull out some kind of weapon of mass destruction.

After about ten minutes of mental discomfort and extreme guilt complexes on my part at least, eventually Jon's brother was located and all was well.

I wonder what I can expect on my next trip out with the leader of the pack?