Thursday 26 July 2007

Rats and rashes

Alas and alack - I have made a rather upsetting discovery. I seem to have become allergic to my two rats. I have had my two boys, Len and Sid, for around two years now and have never had any problems with them at all – apart from a nip here and there, but I like to think of them as playful, loving nips rather than an all-out blood lust on their part. After saying that, however, I think Oll may have other ideas, as one of them did give him a nasty bite a few weeks ago – the air was blue, the floor was daubed with red splodges and the sink was splattered with Oll’s lifeblood (well not quite, but it does sound a lot more dramatic put like that).

Anyway, back to my alarming discovery. I have noticed recently that after I have touched them I come out in a rash on my hands and my eyes start to sting. What shall I do now, for it seems I cannot touch my little rat boys? I suppose I could try some of those rather disturbing-looking disposable gloves, but it won’t be the same. I am sad now :o(. They are getting rather old, but they are good rats.

However, it will not deter me from making them a picnic of cheese sandwiches now and then, or giving them treats of leftover meals – they adore cold pasta! I know lots of people detest rats, but if they knew Len and Sid I am sure they would change their minds – they kept me company after the girls left home and the cats had moved to Devon in that time before I moved down here too. I used to have quite meaningful chats with them in the early hours when I couldn’t sleep and they were always attentive, especially when there was food around! Bless their cotton socks.

The Great Escape and degus in bags

The degus, on the other hand, albeit just as sweet, are little buggers. Taylor and Edgar belong to Olivia really, but as she is away at the moment she cannot have pets, so they live here at the cottage temporarily until she gets somewhere more permanent to house them after leaving university. Taylor is named after the front-man of Slipknot and Stone Sour - Corey Taylor - and Edgar is a pun on the name of the artist Edgar Degas. Odd names I grant you, but I am sure the degus do not mind in the slightest.

Anyone who has kept degus will know that they are quick little so and sos. They are supposed to be quite easy to hand tame but Olivia never had any luck in that department. They are also great gnawers – they have chewed their merry way through two wheels, a wooden ladder and other amusement aids since we have had them. Talking of wheels – it was rather funny when we gave them their first one. Degus are meant to have these in their cages as they are active little creatures and need the exercise. As soon as it had been fitted to their sumptuous three storey abode, one of them jumped in and started to run earnestly round and round. He was getting along marvellously, until the other one decided to join him and started to run in unison. The trouble was, he was running in the opposite direction!

At present they are kept in our makeshift ‘rodent room’ which is, in fact, the other bathroom! The other week I went in to answer a call of nature to see, out of the corner of my eye, something scoot across the floor. I was amazed when I saw it was Edgar. He had somehow managed to get out of the cage and was taking a constitutional around the bathroom floor. Catching the little sod - oops sorry, the little sweetie - was interesting. The bathroom floor is not made up of many square feet, but my actions were somewhat hampered by the obvious fixtures and fittings in place there, so it took me about 10 minutes to get him, and for my trouble he gave me a nip on the finger which hurt like hell.

Smiling ever so sweetly, despite my pain, and clucking ‘sweet’ words to the captured animal (it is all in the tone of voice you know, not what you actually say >wink<) I checked over the degu dwelling, but could not find any obvious escape routes. I had no idea how he had got out but had to assume that it was ‘one of those things’ and left it at that. However … about half an hour later I heard some more scuffling, and gingerly opening the door, put my head round to investigate to find that the little bugger had got out again!

How did he do that?!

Taking heed from my previous scuffles behind the toilet and bidet, this time I enlisted the help of Mark as I thought it may be a little easier to catch the escapee with two pairs of hands. Two fielders are better than one after all. Alas, after bumping our heads together on several occasions in an attempt to catch the offender we looked around for a suitable aid of capture. The only receptacle to hand was an empty food bag so we corralled the little beastie into that. None the worse for wear, Edgar was duly returned – again – to his home.

A closer inspection was clearly needed to ensure that the bid for freedom did not occur again – and it became apparent that they had chewed off one of the metal rings that secured the lid of the cage. Yes, degus chew through metal! Now you can appreciate, perhaps, why having a set of degu teeth plunged into your flesh may hurt – just a tad. Anyway, a ‘Heath Robinson’ repair job was carried out and all was well.


Last Friday - the day that Olivia was due down for the wedding.

It was Peter Channon, this time, who reported that one of the degus had escaped. You may remember that he had been staying with us last week doing some electrical work in the museum, and plumbing for the washing machine.

Groaning, I entered the scene of the crime and noticed that it was Edgar, again, who was doing his born free act on the bathroom floor. Muttering under my breath that the name, Houdini, may have well been more apt, I closed the door and went downstairs to enlist the help of another pair of hands once more.

Once again a plastic bag was used to good effect and he was returned, relatively promptly, to his home. It was then that I espied the escape route and quickly fixed the problem. It was then, also, that I realised that, unlike on the previous occasions, Taylor had not come out to greet his housemate. Oh no! Seemingly, not to be outdone by ‘Houdini’, Taylor had decided it was his turn to prove himself as much of a 'Capt. Hilts' as his companion.

This was when the panic set in. What if he had got out of the bathroom when the door had been opened? What if one of the five cats had espied his little bottom scooting along the floor? Would we ever find him? If he had decided to delve into the darkness of the under-the-bed area that could prove a huge problem. You do not want to know what lies beneath the bed and it is not the easiest place to look for such a small creature with fur almost the colour of the carpet.

Olivia was due to arrive at any minute and it would not have been a very good welcome for her to find out that one of her degus had disappeared into one of the cats. “Hello dear, hope you had a good journey. By the way, Taylor is, as we speak, being digested by Spider” (my orange cat, not the tarantula, who is only about half an inch long).

But, thankfully, after hearing a few scuffles behind some boxes, Taylor was located and we managed to detain him quite easily. The cage is now secured with trip-wire, padlocks, barbed wire, rope, pegs – the lot. If nothing else, for their own safety in a house of five cats, the degus will not make an un-chaperoned great escape again!

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Reader, I married him

If anyone had told me three years ago that I would be getting married again, I would have said “Nah”. If they had added that it would have been in church, in a sleepy Devonshire village, I would have reiterated: “Nah, never.” If they had then filled in a bit more and told me that after the service I would be signing a marriage certificate whilst Syd Barrett crooned his words to Terrapin, I would have looked askance, shaken my head even more, and repeated the denial. As for following a jester down the aisle afterwards to the delightfully archaic tune Hot Ice, I would have said: “Nah, on yer bike”. But, three years ago I had not met Jonathan Downes …

So, here is my first blog as Mrs. Downes (my initials are now CND – which is totally besides the point, but still pretty cool). I shall try not to wax lyrical about 21st July as I am sure you will have seen the pictures on Jon’s blog and I know that hearing about someone else's wedding can get a bit tedious! A bit like those get-togethers with the neighbours to see their holiday videos - say no more.

But, after saying that, I must add that last Saturday will go down in my journal as a magical day to remember – a day which Jon and I shared in the company of our family and friends; a day when the bad weather held off for the most part and one on which we were both extremely humbled by those who endured a night’s sleep in their cars on the M5 as an aftermath of the flooding just so they could be with us for our wedding. For those of you who had to turn back, we, of course, missed you, but are glad that you got home safely in such dreadful conditions.

For my part (and I know Jon feels the same) my heartfelt thanks go to Graham, Richard, Mark, Oll, Lisa and David for their help before, during and after the wedding. Thanks also to David’s parents, Kaye and Roy, and his brothers, Ross and Greg for letting me stay at their place the night before (I hope I didn’t leave a mess everywhere)! Also Gavin and Robert – my daughters’ boyfriends – who got roped in at the last minute. This is beginning to sound like an acceptance speech for an Oscar lol. But, however it sounds, we really couldn’t have done it without you guys.

I told you about Mark’s icing skills last time, and, as promised, here is a picture of the wonderful wedding cake. Didn’t Mark do a great job? It was always going to be difficult cutting into it, as we did not want to spoil it, but we made sure to avoid the serpent’s head! If anyone out there knows a way of preserving it for posterity I would be very happy to hear from you.

Anyway, I think we should take a vote on how many people reckon Mark should take up cake icing as a sideline …

For others, the 21st July will go down in their own personal history as the day the last of the Harry Potter books came out. How I sniggered when I heard that it was to be published on the day of our nuptials. You may well not know, but Jon always used to retire to his bedroom on the first day of publication of the adventures of Master Potter in order to eagerly read it from cover to cover. The timing of this last one meant that it would not be possible for him to do so. What would he do? How would he cope? Never fear, when it came to packing to go away, the tome magicked its way into our luggage. Thus, as I lay me down to sleep in the beautiful wooden four poster bed, I could hear the avid turning of pages beside me as my Hagrid lookalike spent his first night of wedded bliss walking the corridors of Hogwarts. I can’t help thinking that there is something wrong there? Every spare moment after that, out the book came as he desperately tried to finish it before returning home, in order to avoid the possibility of someone letting slip the ending before he had got to it himself.

Despite our literary ‘cuckoo in the nest’, Jon and I spent a lovely couple of days away – we made a return visit to the Eden Project and saw the Pet Shop Boys, supported by Dirty Pretty Things. After our last visit, we went better prepared (with me even remembering to take a hat) and had a great evening. Once again, the audience was made up of all age groups, from children sitting on their parents’ knees to pensioners. This was, I think, the last of the Eden Sessions for this year, but it is definitely something Jon and I will look out for in years to come. I think one of the high points of the evening, apart from seeing the bands of course, was when Jon declared rather loudly that he could not do up his leather jacket as the shape of my camera and his cigarettes in his inside pockets gave the impression the he had breasts and that he did not think it very flattering.

We returned to Woolsery on Monday, and a wild, wet and windy day it was too. The perfect setting, perhaps, for a visit to that magickal place called Tintagel. I cannot remember exactly when I last visited, but I do know that it was way back in the 70s, and I fully expected not to be able to wander around quite as freely as we were allowed to on Monday. Apart from the fact that I nearly got blown off my feet at least once, I thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering around the ruins. I could not help but wonder in awe at the sheer tenacity of those who used to live there when it was first constructed. The weather along that part of the coast is well known for its roughness and it must have been a very remote and wild place back then. OK they had the thick walls, but the wind must have howled relentlessly. Whether or not you believe that it was the home of King Arthur, you still have to admit that Tintagel has a special unknown quality about it that not many other places possess.

Here is something that I use as an example … as I was going up the slippery steps I met someone coming down who gave me a look of slight recognition. I shrugged it off as a pleasant passing of the day and an acknowledgement of giving way to oncoming pedestrian traffic, and thought nothing more of it until, that is, I got back to where I had left my new spouse sipping tea at the little café by the babbling stream. When Jon announced that he had just bumped into someone that he knew – Professor Ron Hutton from Bristol - somehow I instantly knew it was going to be the same chap I had seen earlier. Looking across the tiny café I asked Jon for corroboration of this and he confirmed my suspicions. Hmm – now that is weird eh?

Funnily enough, after writing that, it has reminded me of something else that happened. During the interval at the gig at The Eden Project, my mind started wandering on to work (as it does) and I recalled a matter that I needed to discuss with Jon. Taking the opportunity on our honeymoon might not have been the ideal time, but knowing the failings of my memory, I decided to bring it up there and then before it slid back into the untidy filing system that I call my brain. Now here is the spooky part – apparently he had been thinking about exactly the same thing at the same time! That is creepy.

The sat nav did its indomitable thing on the way back, by taking us down some narrow Cornish lanes and round an impossible corner to negotiate in one go, thus causing a six point turn, backwards up a sharp incline with the ensuing straining of my tiny car’s engine. The little screen on the dashboard took no notice whatsoever of this discomfort, or my fraying nerves, but casually led us straight back into Tintagel, from whence we had come but ten minutes earlier, to take us a different way home from that which we had assumed we would be taking. Sigh.

As we approached Clovelly, a couple of miles from home, the weather closed in and a mist descended upon us. A portentous return perhaps? No, not at all. We returned to Myrtle Cottage to find that ‘the boys’ had been busy tidying up in our absence and all was well.

However … one member of the household was missing. Where had he gone? What had caused him to travel out in such horrid conditions? Oll, where for art thou?

He returned later, clutching a plastic bag. And in this bag? A book. And what book? Yes, you guessed it – Harry Potter. Aaargh.

Thursday 19 July 2007

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

Last Thursday, we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean III, as a sort of late birthday treat. It had been planned to go on Tuesday, but circumstances prevented us from doing so. Anyway, we then planned to go on Friday (still with me?) but I discovered that if we were going to swash our buckles we would have to go Thursday at the latest, as it was the last day the film was being shown. I say ‘we’, by the way, but Jon could not come as he was feeling under the weather, but not wanting to be a party pooper, he insisted that we go ahead without him. So off we went to Barnstaple - Richard, Oll, Shosh, Gav and I.

A great film, although still not as good as the first of the three – well I don’t think so anyway. It seems that it has been left open for a further instalment, but I think they should leave it there or it will lose its charm. Much to the usherette’s (are they still called that?) disgruntlement, we all sat patiently through the credits to wait for the snippet at the end. Poor woman - she pointed out that she wished they wouldn’t put things at the end as it means she has to wait a further 10 minutes before she can ‘shut up shop’. I can see her point I suppose, but it does give a certain thrill of anticipation to try and guess what is coming at the end. I won’t say what does occur just in case any of you have not seen it yet.

An eventful few days have followed since the film – along with the obligatory, not so surprising, threats of people having to walk the plank or being keelhauled for any misdemeanours they have made since we saw it. (Well you just have to, don’t you?)

Firstly: on Sunday, just as I was settling down to watch the spuds laboriously come to the boil on my rather slow electric rings and to listen to the sausages sizzling in the oven, we received a telephone call to say that there had been a big cat sighting in Huddisford Woods – a couple of miles down the road from us. Leaving unsuspecting Oll, Shosh, and Gav in charge of the culinary goings-on in the kitchen, Jon, Richard and I went off to investigate the area in question, and to interview the chap who had seen the creature.

Mr. Harris had been disturbed by the loud squawking of his chickens in a field next to his home. From past experience, he recognised that their sudden loud calls meant there was something amiss, so he went to investigate. He saw a large animal lying under a nearby, low-growing, tree and realised that it was no ordinary dog or cat. It bounded off when it saw him, but not before Mr. Harris identified it as a large black cat. He showed us where it had been laying under the tree – there was a large area of flattened grass. It was obvious, by the tracks left in the long grass, where the animal had taken large strides across the field to escape its discovery.

As it bounded away from him, Mr. Harris lost sight of it from where he was standing, but we followed the tracks and it seemed apparent that it had jumped through a hole in the hedgerow, which led straight into the darkness of the wood behind it. Apparently, this was a well-used passage to and from the wood – there was a distinct gap and by the flattened undergrowth around it, was clearly a well-used route to and from the wood. Mr. Harris told us that he often gets deer in his field that access it from this very gap.

Mr. Harris was a very nice chap, interesting to talk to, and we spent a good half to three quarters of an hour chatting to him and photographing the tracks left by his visitor. Richard also found some hairs on a bramble by the supposed exit route – these we have stored safely away until we can send it off for analysis.

The impression left by the creature was definitely larger than a domestic cat – much larger. Besides this, there have been many sightings over recent years in Huddisford Woods, and most that have been reported seem to come from the same particular area too, so perhaps there is, indeed, one or more of these creatures in the locale.

There is also another place, quite close by, that several people have seen a big cat. We drove through it on our way home - a very eerie place. Nothing much to note about it – it is just a road that dips into a small valley, over a tiny Devonshire bridge, and then up again. However, there is something very unsettling about it. Driving through it, I felt quite anxious – almost to the point of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. A minute or so later, after leaving the area, all felt well again. Very odd – and definitely not a place I would like to walk home by myself late at night – in fact, I would not even fancy driving through it by myself. It oozed a sense of doom - I wonder why that is? Strange how some areas can give you a real sense of dread as you pass through them, for no apparent reason at all.

We got back to the cottage, a little damper around the feet department than when we had left, and I once again settled down to the lazy bubble of the potato water and the sizzling porkers in the oven. I tell you what though, I really enjoyed my dinner that night – my mother always says that a dose of country air builds up the appetite and I have to agree with her.

The second eventful occurrence? Tuesday – 17th July – 2007. An event to be added to the entries in the journal that no-one will ever see, until I have shuffled off this mortal coil that is! ‘That’ll get ‘em worried’, says she with a wink, suppressing a wicked giggle. I shall have to lock it away now unless they try and destroy the evidence.

Intrigued? If I were to say ‘stag night’ perhaps that would explain it all. Perhaps, also, I should end there and leave you all to conjure up your own images of what may, or may not, have occurred? Nah … can’t miss this opportunity chaps!

I could write that lashings and lashings of ginger beer were consumed, but you would not believe me. I, of course, was not there so I can only go by snippets that have been divulged. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I really want to know the complete story in all its sordid glory. However, at 12 ish or thereabouts (to be honest I have no idea, as I was basking in a man-free environment and was paying no attention to the clock whatsoever) Shosh and I were rudely awakened from our ‘mother/daughter’ time together, by the faint dulcet tones of Jon in the near distance. The tones became louder until the familiar squeak of the gate told us that the ‘boys were back in town’. Hmm .. a stag night is a stag night after all, and I was expecting Jon to be merry but I was not prepared for the merry to be quite so merry.

As events took over, and the repercussions of an evening out with the lads began to loom forebodingly, Graham then enquired of me when the ‘best man’ duties finished and the moral duties of me, as soon-to-be-spouse, took over. I calmly, and quite concisely, informed him that this did not occur until at least the altar and that the succour of the nauseous still sat firmly, if not rather unfortunately, with him. After, I think, three attempts at trying to barter on this one, Graham took over his allotted responsibility with, I must admit, a certain aplomb, considering the outcome that awaited him. Yes … nausea developed into the inevitable … say no more.

I slept downstairs.

A certain editor laughed when told of the evening’s events and was happy to learn that, for a change, it was not him having to apologise whilst in his cups. I am sure there may be others out there too that may read into this things that they shouldn’t. They must just remember that this was a stag night and, in Britain at least, there are certain traditions to uphold. Well, male traditions that is.

Well folks, that is all for now. I am sure you will forgive me if I do not write another blog until after the weekend!

Just one more thing though – our Mark has found a new vocation! You should see the way he has decorated the wedding cake. It is absolutely stunning, and I have warned him that he may get orders from far and wide once his talent is unveiled on Saturday. I wanted to have a cake with a difference – and very much in keeping with the CFZ - and asked him for his advice and – well … wow! You will see what I mean when I post a photograph of it next time. Thanks very much, Mark – you are a star!

PS: he is pretty good at catching degus in plastic bags too – but that I shall leave for another time.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

That was the week that was

Moving house, divorce, death and marriage – all well documented occurrences for being the highest sources of stress in one’s life. The experience of two of these little beauties (the first and last) has come upon me this year, so please may I be excused if I scream VERY loudly?!

Ah that is better. Now, what news?

Well - yesterday, it was my birthday, today it is Oll’s, on Friday it is Roy’s (David Phillips’ father) and on Saturday it is Lisa (Dowley)’s, so as you can see, a full week of CFZ celebrations to say the least! In the spirit of anniversaries, and if you will suffer the pun, ‘wrapped’ around these happy events, we: have finished, and posted, the new Exotic Pets magazine; have been working on the next issue of Animals & Men; have been working on the publication of the new books mentioned in my last blog, and - yesterday - found ourselves organising some much-needed electrical/plumbing work around the home and museum with the help of the CFZ's friend of many years, Peter Channon.

As a result of the latter, it has now been organised that my washing machine is due to be plumbed in at the beginning of next week, which will be a huge bonus to the household. Up to now we have had weekly laundry runs to Bideford, so it will be great to be able to do the washing as and when is necessary, rather than having to wait for a visit to town. The cooker, although equally as needed, is going to have to wait until after the wedding (although another necessity, I must say ‘thank goodness’, as I don’t think my nerves would stand the disarray that the installation of such an item would cause at such a critical time in relation to the 21st July).

However, along with eagerly welcomed preparations for the washing machine, comes the disadvantage that the kitchen now looks like a bomb has hit it, and the dining room looks like it is suffering from fall-out from the aforementioned bomb. Let me explain – the problem lies in the fact that the utility room, where the washing machine has been languishing since I moved in, has up to now, been used as something of a holding pen for all sorts of bric-a-brac that has nowhere else to go due to space constraints. Now the fitting is going to take place, all these items have become homeless and have had to be left in any available area possible. I do own up that some of this displaced bric-a-brac is mine by the way!

Stop your moaning, woman. If you want all these mod-cons then you have to put up with the necessary upheaval that ensues.

Yeah, yeah I know. But, and a big but at that, in my defence, I must remind you that in 10 days’ time we will have a house full of guests for our wedding. It is no surprise, therefore, that I am in a state of severe shock, despair and am at present sitting on my elbow, as - to paraphrase - I am now at the point of not knowing whether this part of my anatomy is my bum or not.

However, hip hip hooray, the sun has got his hat on as I write this, so Graham is busy outside trying to catch up on the aviary work, with the help of my eldest daughter’s boyfriend, Gav, who is staying here for a week. Shosh is in the middle of her three week EMS (extra mural studies) at a local veterinary surgery and Gav has taken a week’s holiday to keep her company here and do a spot of sightseeing (with the complete knowledge and acceptance, of course, that he would probably get roped in to help out around the CFZ!). I wonder if the constraints of a 9 – 5 job are now looking positively idyllic? Poor Gav, but good on you, too.

As Jon has intimated in his own blog, there are a hundred and one things to do before our wedding, both for that event and for work. I have resorted to the old ‘sellotape on the ears job’ to keep a smile firmly fixed upon my face in the face of such adversity.

Whoops, am I moaning again? Well, why not? Hmph.

As for other news - last week, the CFZ cat, Helios 7 was in the dog-house (a slightly unenviable place for a cat to be at the best of times). However, on this occasion it was due to her natural instincts kicking in, much to the horror and distaste from us two-leggeds at the cottage.

There she was, running down the garden path with, what seemed to be an extremely oversized blackbird firmly locked in her jaws, hanging like a chicken hangs upon the door before being plucked. Now, I know cats are cats (and I have two) but if there is one thing I do despise about them, it is the taking of birds. Thus, Helios 7 tried to come in through the cat flap with her trophy, but I refused her entry quite firmly (not realising that her victim was still alive at this stage) so she decided to run down the path with it instead, followed by me screaming like a whirling dervish down upon her (when I did realise) ordering her to release the poor creature. I am not sure whether it was the sight of a mad woman brandishing a kitchen knife (only kidding) or the sound of the screeching from said mad woman that made her do so, but she dropped the bird and disappeared, as fast as her little, furry legs could carry her, under the nearest patch of shrubbery that she could find – where, no doubt, she glowered at me, sharpening her claws for some future act of retribution.

I reckon she should have had a word with my two, Spider (left) and Poppy (right) – they know all about my distaste for such things! Mind you, they were probably sitting on the bed smugly smiling to themselves that she had found out the hard way.

The poor bird was obviously stunned and could not stand or fly properly, and it attempted to make good its escape – unfortunately, though, through the back gate. By this time all the other inhabitants of the cottage were in action trying to catch the poor thing and see if there was anything we could do – be it to save it and let it loose back into the wild, or to put it out of its misery.

The hapless victim was identified as a juvenile jackdaw, and, eventually, we managed to catch it a bit further up the road. Jon administered some first aid to its wounds –which on the face of it did not seem to be too bad, considering its ordeal. However, it was obviously in a state of shock, so we left it alone in the dark to recover before force-feeding it some liquid. It began to perk up quite dramatically after being left alone, and when we went to bed, it was sitting at the bottom of the birdcage with its head tucked into its wing and did, on the face of it, look as if it would recover.

We did not hold out much hope though, as we were all well aware that the shock of its ordeal would probably prove fatal, and, indeed, in the morning the sweet little thing had passed away.

I hope we did the right thing by trying to save it, but at least we rescued it from a rather nasty death via the jaws of Helios 7, who, by the way, returned from the shrubbery about an hour later and wandered in through the cat flap, tail held high as if nothing, whatsoever, had occurred that she could, possibly, be accountable for.

Sunday 1 July 2007

Rain, rain, go away

Come back on, say, March 6th 2008. That would give us a welcome break from the continual grey skies, gales and precipitation. I used to shrug off the comments of “Ooo, it rains a lot in North Devon”, when asked where I was moving to. “Well”, I thought. “So what? It rains everywhere from time to time.”

This is getting ridiculous though.

OK, OK, I know, all we Brits ever talk about is the weather, but … can anyone really blame us? Surely our obsession is rightly placed?

The summer solstice came and went, with many of us in raincoats and wellies. The summer clothes are still folded in drawers, perhaps never to see the light of day this year. Washing takes at least three days to dry in the conservatory, but I suppose it does give the turtles something to look at. Row upon row of underwear - drip, drip, dripping like a grandfather clock counting out time.

No need to worry, though, that the flowers, bought to adorn pots on the patio, are in danger of getting dry. Although, of course, this is, somewhat, a double-edged sword for you cannot sit outside to appreciate them in all their midsummer glory.

Richard once said that he wished he could kill the weather. I tend to agree with him and would gladly take up arms at his side and march upon it. Jon will probably blame the Government for the weather’s unchecked malevolence, but then I would gladly take up arms at his side and march upon that too if given half the chance – but that, as they say, is another story.

It does also mean, of course, that the work on the aviary cannot be completed as quickly as had been hoped. Graham does as much as he can, when the weather allows, but the schedule is being put back further and further.

Anyway, enough of that. On a brighter note, the new magazine Exotic Pets has now been completed and, apart from the fact that distribution was held up at the last minute with the untimely demise of our guillotine, this should be posted to all those who have requested it very soon. Boy, does it look good! We have all worked very hard on its birth, from conception to fruition, and are all very proud of our efforts. Plenty of hearty slaps on the back have resounded through the village of Woolsery over the last day or two.

Work on the next issue of Animals & Men is well underway and this should be with our members some time next month. We have also just published three new books (Marcus Matthews’ Big Cats Loose in Britain , Neil Arnold’s Monster! The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena , and Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror by our very own Mark North, and his friend Robert Newland).

In the next few weeks we will also be publishing books from Nick Redfern, Dr. Karl Shuker and Mike Hallowell - so keep your eyes peeled. You can gather, then, that it is, indeed, a very busy time here at the CFZ.

Gosh … it has stopped raining! Oh, no, sorry my mistake – it hasn’t …