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.