Sunday 14 December 2008

Dogfights over Slough

It is often recorded that fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, have a special bond between them. It is not something that can be easily described, but just exists as a silent entity. I guess the relationship with my father and me was just the same, deep down, and he got me out of many a scrape, from boyfriend troubles to the usual money woes, as I was growing up.

However, as many of you may know, on the evening of 23rd/24th December 2007 my father took his own life. A year has nearly gone by and not a day has passed that I don’t think of him. I shall not dwell on the latter part of his troubled life. Through no real fault of his own he caused hurt in our family, there is no denying it, but he was still my father and I thought I would share some of my memories of life in happier times.

It is, perhaps, poignant to say that my first ever memory of childhood involves him. My brother and I were playing in the garden one winter (I do not remember how old we were) and were happily making a snowman. My father was taking photos of us – and I think this is probably why it sticks in my mind – when he sat on a snail. It is that kind of event that still brings a smile to my face when I think of it.

He was a young boy in the war years and often told stories of going outside into the street where he lived in Slough, looking up into the skies and watching the dogfights between our airmen and the Germans. Mosquito fighter-bomber aircraft were made at Slough and so it became a target for our enemy. It is something that you don’t really think about, but he would recall how dangerous it could be outside when these dogfights were occurring, as shrapnel would fall from the skies. Obvious really, I suppose, but not something I had thought of before. It must have been one awesome sight though, and something that will never be seen again.

He was conscripted into National Service after the war and did his stint on Salisbury Plain. He was on guard one night when he heard snuffling and rustling in the darkness. Challenging with the usual “Halt, who goes there”, he was met with no response. Nervously shining a light across the ground in the vicinity he was embarrassed to find that he had been challenging a hedgehog!

Jon and I had been trying to get him to record his earlier life on paper, as he still had a very good memory of those early childhood years, growing up in the war and its aftermath. Unfortunately, though, he never got around to it.

I am not sure when exactly it happened, and I think it was mum that instigated it, but he became known to us as Pogle. There was a childrens’ TV programme called Pogle’s Wood and as dad was always, at that time, to be found pottering in the greenhouse, mum thought it was an apt nickname for him. From that time on, it stuck.

As a family we would go for walking holidays all over southern England. Many happy hours were spent tramping across places like Exmoor and they instilled in me a great fondness of the place. All we would see on our rambles was the occasional hiker amongst the multitude of sheep that roamed freely across the moorland, down into valleys with babbling brooks carrying cool, clear water. We would have fun crossing over stones to get from one bank to the other, trying not to slip on their wet, uneven surfaces. Many a time, also, it would appear that we were lost, but he always got us back to the car after a long day’s hiking around in a huge circle. Other times we went to Brecon Beacons in Wales and would get caught in the rolling mists that suddenly descended upon us.

When my brother was old enough to be left at home on his own and didn’t want to join in on the family holidays, it became my job to be front seat passenger and to stretch myself as far over to the left as possible so I could see what was coming around the corners of the twisty roads dad used to drive us down, with caravan in tow.

He was a talented man and had been an architect with the London Borough of Hillingdon for many years – he was the planner for the Alfred Beck Centre in Hayes, and it was a weird feeling going to see Ralph McTell there one night, sitting in the auditorium that my dad had basically designed. An artist of great talent, he once produced many watercolours, miniatures and sketches in his spare time. In his later years, he had started to dabble into writing music on the computer and produced several of his own symphonies.

Anyway, enough. He has gone. All I have are my memories and photos, and the lasting hope that he has, at last, found peace. Bye dad.

Monday 17 November 2008

Biggles in an adventure with seaweed


The Saturday before last (on the fairly interesting date of 08.11.08) saw Jon, Graham and me out on a filming trip to the old haunt of Mawnan Old Church. We did not encounter the ubiquitous Owlman – not that I had thought we would - but enjoyed our day out in a somewhat rain-lashed Cornwall nevertheless. It was also the first official CFZ trip for Major James Bigglesworth (aka Biggles the pup) who christened the event by being sick in the back of the car halfway through the outward journey. Bless.

Taking a puppy out on a trip is a bit like taking a baby out. The amount of things you have to take with you - just in case – is reminiscent of those trips out with my two girls when they were gurgling bundles of delight (not that they are no longer bundles of delight I hasten to add, but have, I think, stopped gurgling). Items from bottled water to deodorised plastic bags for those necessary moments had been bundled into the boot of the car. However, a puppy throwing up breakfast time Baker’s Original for Puppies cannot really be catered for, but luckily I had had the foresight to take along one of Biggles’ blankets for the back seat so that caught most of it. A visit to a garage shop to obtain a free local newspaper was then made in order to line the Jag’s leather seats just in case of a repeat performance on the way back!

I adore old churches and love wandering around their peaceful confines. It was my first trip to Mawnan and I had been wondering whether I would get ‘bad vibes’ - you know the sort, the hair standing up on the back of your neck etc. However, the only feeling I had was of the serenity of the place. The church is nestled at the end of a lane overshadowed by the autumnal trees. The old graveyard is dotted with angled headstones and, although the walkways are obviously well-tended, the plots themselves are very overgrown, giving it a very ancient feel. The sea winds have done a wonderful job of weathering the headstones and most are covered in lichen or ivy. One of my hobbies when visiting old churches (as macabre as it may seem) is to spend ages wandering around reading the inscriptions on the headstones. I have found some quite amusing ones over the years, as well as those that bring a tear to the eye. I was surprised to notice, however, that considering the church has been there for hundreds of years, the oldest one I could find dated from 1894. There may be some that I missed, but I can only presume that under those plots visible there are older inhabitants at rest in this peaceful overgrown patch of Mawnan.

The fact that Graham found himself having to climb into a tree to take aerial photos of sorts kept the event a typical CFZ one. The tree was not a particularly hefty looking specimen but he managed to keep aloft long enough to take the film that Jon required.

Biggles enjoyed sniffing the undergrowth while Jon and Graham did an interview with some young ramblers and I was quite proud of myself for even managing to cross from one area of the path into the other using the rambler’s traditional method of climbing over a stile! We then gave the pup his first feel of the sand beneath his feet, which he took within his stride. However, I think the exciting smell of stale seaweed detracted to a point. So much so, that when we reached the shoreline he was quite surprised to look up and see the sea. He didn’t take to that at all! Oh well, no surfboard training for him then.

The return journey was hampered by the rain and the fact that the car heaters were not working properly. This meant that the windscreen kept misting up making it rather difficult for the driver to actually see where we were going. Biggles was completely oblivious to it all though – his first adventure out with the CFZ had exhausted him so much that he was fast asleep on the back seat all the way home.


Wednesday 15 October 2008

Puppydog tails

Here is the first picture of the new addition to the CFZ - my border collie puppy, who has been christened Biggles. He is a cute bundle of energy and is settling down here extremely well. It is, of course, a highly fine tuned exercise trying to persuade him that outside is really the most ideal place to empty his bladder and bowels, but we are getting there slowly. He arrived with us last Friday at the grand old age of 9 weeks and is definitely living up to the border collie trait of being very quick to learn basic commands.

It took him about ten minutes to discover the delightful prank of nicking the cat food and about another ten to discover the not so delighful obligatory hissy fit from the cats at his arrival on to their 'patch'. It will be interesting to see how relationships develop there then. I have a sneaky feeling that they will not be too pleased if he tries to round them up like sheep.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Better late than never

Okay, okay - I know that 'tomorrow' has turned in to a 'few days later' but here is a brief update on proceedings on the last day of the Weird Weekend.

Our speakers were: Michael Woodley (In the wake of Bernard Heuvelmans), Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson (Fairies in Art), Mike Hallowell (Invisikids - childhood imaginary friends), Geoff Ward (Spirals - the Pattern of Existence), Ronan Coghlan (The Duncannon incident) and Jon's keynote speech and closing remarks.

Ronan had previously made Jon promise that no fuss would be made of his 60th birthday on the Friday of the Weird Weekend but, as Jon announced before Ronan took the stage on Sunday, he had not promised not to mention it two days later! To this effect, the auditorium was full and we all sang Happy Birthday to the birthday boy, and presented him with a rather tasty looking strawberry gateaux.

As before, Allan and Jennie did us proud with our end-of-weekend dinner at our local - The Farmers Arms, and we all thank them very much for their hospitality and the delicious meal.

In my write-up about Saturday's events, I forgot to mention that, Dr. Karl Shuker spoke briefly about his new book - Dr. Shuker's Casebook - and many people took the opportunity of buying a copy signed by the man himself. Thanks go to him for making the journey to and from Walsall with his mum - all in one day - for the event. They must have both been exhausted on Sunday, after such a long trip!

All in all it was a successful weekend, although tiring and with a few minor hiccups. Myrtle Cottage has been quiet all this week as we catch up on our sleep, but we are sticking our heads up from our covers gradually more each day and will soon be back to normal - whatever normal is.

Thanks go to all our speakers for their interesting talks, and thanks also go to all our crew who all pulled together and helped make the weekend go as smoothly as it did. And for their excellent work in the kitchen, we also give our thanks to those who constantly provided the excellent refreshments and food throughout the three days.

We have videod all the talks this year and Jon has been busy uploading them on to YouTube, so keep an eye out for them.

As for next year - well it will be the 10th of these events and will also mark Jon's 50th birthday so I guess it promises to be interesting to say the least ......

Sunday 17 August 2008

Blimey, I'm tired

But..... I am a bit earlier 'tonight' with this entry, and I am determined, once again, to do this now rather than wait until the morning.

The list of speakers for today's programme were Jon and Richard (An introduction to cryptozoology), Jon (The Owlman and Others), Dr. Mike Dash (In Search of Dr. MacRae (Loch Ness), Matt Salusbury (Water elephants of the Congo), Tim Matthews (Weird Stuff Happens - my part in UFOlogy's downfall) Ronan Coghlan (The theology of extra-terrestrials) Richard et al (Guyana 2007 Expedition Report), Graham Inglis (CFZ Museum - annual report), Jonathan McGowan (the last 12 months in Mystery Cats), Oll Lewis (the last 12 months of lake and sea monster reperts), Chris Moiser (Confessions of a Fortean zookeeper) and Richard et al (Russian 2008 Expedition Report).

I will not go into details of the talks for two reasons - the first being that I only saw Ronan's and a bit of Chris Moiser's, and the second being that notes are again, this year, being taken by Helen Lester of all the talks which will once again be posted at a later stage. Thanks to Helen for offering to do this mammoth task.

The CFZ awards this year went to: Dave and Joanna Curtis (for their stirling input with the children's entertainment - all at their own expense), Simon and Sharon Bennett (for their stirling work with the organisation of meals and children), Mrs. Braund (for being such a good neighbour, supporter and 'second mum' to Jon for so many years), Dr. Karl Shuker (for his superb crypto writings and support), Adam Davies (for his expeditionary services) and Ronan Coghlan (for his endless support of the CFZ and the fact that year after year he still manages to make it over to the Weird Weekend).

There had been a fraught few hours spent whilst we waited for Karl to arrive to promote his new book, Dr Shuker's Casebook, and we were, for a short while, running a horrible hour and a bit late, but we eventually finished not too far from the published time and all breathed a sigh of relief that all went well.

The 'Mad Hatter's Tea-party' spread cake around the bar area much the same as it did last year - I felt sick just at the thought of eating so much cake, but as usual the children proved that they have stomach linings of concrete as the two sides battled it out as to which could finish their cake first. Olivia offered, and was duly appointed by me, to wander around and take photos with my camera throughout the weekend, and the picture below was taken just as the winning team were finishing off their calorie laden task.



Their prize?

Another cake of course......

One of our exhibitors this year is Metamorphosis, run by our good friends Graham and Janice Smith. You will know them from our forays into the Bug Festival world. The praying mantis below was determined to show off as much as she possible could - well I don't really blame her - just look at those wings!


Richard looking somewhat furtive and Graham looking rather pleased with himself - I am not too sure what those stick people are doing on the sign on the front of the desk though.





Anyway, I will post more photos in the next few days - they take ages to load up on my slightly exhausted computer and as it is now 2.00 am I reckon I am going to sign off for today.
More tomorrow.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Things that go bump in the night

It is 2.15 in the morning and I have decided to make the very noble effort of posting my blog now rather than trying to do it first thing in the morning when not really awake and under the pressure of getting to the hall for the 10.00 am door opening. I may as well as I am still wide awake, although my body is screaming at me to lie down. My feet are aching, but are at least free now from the restriction of shoes.

All in all it has been a very successful evening. Matthew Williams kicked off with a talk on Crop Circles (yes he landed safely), followed by Pollyanna Pickering with her Yeti skull in Bhutan talk, then Richard Ingrams on a talk about The Tunguska Event, and lastly Mike Hallowell on The Tyneside Poltergeist. The latter was the only talk I saw tonight, but it certainly sent a chill down the spine. It didn't help when - as Mike's allotted time slot was nearly up - Jon came through the doors and, I have to admit, made me jump out of my skin! When Mike asked if anyone had any questions, I very nearly put my hand up to ask if anyone else had endured the same fate.

We have three extra inmates tonight - Matthew Williams (who could not make his return journey due to the poor weather conditions) and Jon McGowan and Darren Naish (who were due to sleep under canvas but discovered that they would be half-submerged in sodden earth if they attempted so to do). But it is the CFZ, and in such emergencies we are only too happy to come to the rescue so to speak.

There were two incidents of 'will they make it' when one of our speakers and one of our exhibitors were stuck in bad traffic on various motorways but they all made it in the end we are glad to say - safe and well.

Well, I am off to bed now - I should manage at least 6 hours sleep with any luck!

By the way, I found out afterwards that I was not the only one who had jumped in their seats when Jon made his entrance - well, he does do that to people!

Friday 15 August 2008

Life is just like a box of chocolates

Ten hours after posting my blog earlier this morning, I am now attempting to catch up on the daily reports – at the moment there is a refreshing lull in proceedings so I am upstairs in ‘my office’ typing this up, and sorting out the floats, lists etc etc.

Everyone is in fine fettle after last night’s festivities - all the glasses have been washed up, dried and put away and the garden has been tidied up in readiness for the Open Day prior to the doors at the Community Centre officially opening tonight.

Most importantly today, though, is the fact that it is Ronan’s 60th birthday! So Happy Birthday dear Ronan! I am not sure, however, that the morning of such a special day should be spent, tea-towel in hand, helping to dry up over a hundred glasses!

You will pleased to learn that, thankfully in the end, last night went off without any problems – there was no wind, no rain and, apart from being a bit chilly later on, the evening was perfect. The piñata gave up its goodies to the children willingly and all seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.
The champagne flowed, together with an interesting black cocktail called Soul of the Sasquatch - specially concocted for the occasion by Olivia and Robert.

Truly Terrifying Tipple - the 2008 Weird Weekend Cocktail Bar

We also received a call from Matthew Williams last night to say that he would be arriving sometime during this afternoon at a nearby airstrip. This, in itself, is not that amazing in the grand scheme of things, but if I tell you that the dear fellow’s mode of transport is a microlight you may understand why I have given it special mention. What an entrance eh? The well-known catchphrase “And all because the lady loves Milk Tray” comes to mind. We definitely wish him happy landings.

The next two postings will be rushed affairs before heading off to the hall, but I shall do my best to keep you all informed of events as they unfurl.

See you all tomorrow morning then, bright and early.

Olivia and Robert (who is doing a rather dashing impression of Alex from A Clockwork Orange) standing proudly in front of all their hard work!

Sic infit

Yesterday saw the arrival Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson, the first of our speakers to arrive this year. Graham went off to Exeter Airport to collect her and incorporated this trip with the collection of the cakes for the children’s tea-party, and the cash float.

Now Thursday has arrived and brings with it the looming pressure of ‘no more time’. The marquee and gazebo will be re-erected this morning and by this afternoon it will hopefully be ready for Olivia to set up and decorate her ‘cocktail bar’, and for David and his mate Chris to sort out their music deck.

We will also see the arrival of some more guests, including Ronan Coghlan, who is making is annual trip over to the weekend from Ireland. Today is the day, also, that the dining room has to be cleared to make room for those who are sleeping on the floor and for the possible eventuality of having to hold the cocktail party inside if the heavens open up again tonight. The weather forecast has informed us that we should be ok – but I am not convinced we can trust Mr. Weather these days. Oh yes, it’s male – it has to be! Jon will be proud of me for managing to get a sexist comment in at least one of my Weird Weekend blogs.

The handover from Wednesday to Thursday involved a late night – there were pictures to print off and some scanning to do. From 12.30 onwards Oll, Graham, and Richard were able to drift off to their respective beds while Jon came upstairs at around 3.45 to be greeted by a bedroom full of black balloons which I was intermittently blowing up for this evening’s festivities. They looked rather like giant grapes festooned around the floor. Anyhow, Jon went to sleep about three quarters of an hour later, and the last time I looked at the clock it was 5.15 am. Not a good time to suffer from the dreaded insomnia methinks.

And yes, many of you may spot that this has been posted after the party! Hmmm, well I went downstairs in the middle of typing this to do something and never really managed to come back up again until now!

I did try…..honest.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind

Feeling tired and stressed, Jon went to bed early last night, so I stayed downstairs with my laptop and was tinkering around on the internet when, all of a sudden, the lights went out. I had my earphones on listening to some music, but heard a loud bang behind me. Removing the earphones I realised that it was a clap of thunder that I had heard – the loudest I have heard for a long time – and it became obvious that we had endured a power cut due to the promised ‘severe weather’ mentioned yesterday. Being on my laptop, of course, meant that my power had not left me due to the battery, which made it all the more weird - for a few seconds I could not make out why the lights had gone out and not my laptop!

The wind was blowing a veritable gale and the rain was coming down in torrents. Hey ho – here we go again I thought.

A little while later I went into the kitchen to get a drink of water and found Oll, with the vac, on his way outside to the car to do a spot of hoovering. Oh yes, still at work at around 10pm. Complete with plastic bags to protect any power source that was necessary he went out to finish off the Daihatsu’s makeover.

When stressed I cannot get to sleep very well and so I don’t bother to go to bed until I know that I will be able to drift off to dreamland almost instantly. Hence last night I was still wandering around at around 1am. That is actually quite early for me – it has, of late, been 2 or 3 am before I finally get between the sheets. I made my way ‘up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire’ to the sound of howling wind and rain smashing against the windowpanes.

It was of no real surprise, then, to be awoken this morning to the sound of Jon exclaiming that both the marquee and gazebo had been blown down in the wind. On top of that, the sundial had also blown over! Luckily there was no damage to the latter and Graham returned it to its rightful place with no problems. The other two, however, have been left until later as the winds are supposed to be dying down. I am not sure how the poor roses have suffered, though, as they have been a bit battered by the structures.

When Jon had risen earlier, at around 7am, to answer nature’s call all three had been standing – so it must have been a particularly heavy gust that caused the mayhem before he looked out of the bedroom window again at around 10 am and saw them collapsed. Perhaps a final terrifying gust to herald the gale’s waning? A kind of ‘that’ll teach them’ action of spite before it finally moves on to pastures new.

Bloody weather.

I guess it could have been worse – at least Ichabod’s aviary did not blow over too. That would have been quite awful. I do not believe in keeping captive wild birds on a whim, but as he is a rescue and – for his own safety - cannot be released back into the wild, I would not like to think of him wandering around in a world he knows nothing about.

The organisation of the Weird Weekends that I have been involved in have all been stressful for one reason or another – this year’s does seem to have a lot more downs than ups so far – perhaps this all will mean that it will be an especially good one?

I bet the sun don’t shine though.

The day of the car

Today, Tuesday, is the day in the Daihatsu’s diary when she receives her annual spruce up. For one weekend in the year, she gets a clean – well inside at least. Several bin bags of rubbish will be removed to enable any passengers to actually place their feet on the carpeting instead of having to rest them on a pile of empty bottles and sandwich containers. Yes, the carpets inside will be seen again – albeit briefly – I wonder how many items of crockery/cutlery will be found this time?!

Yesterday, we merely had a slalom course through the kitchen, but since last night we have now made a show-jumping course in the dining room with more boxes of essentials for the event. Our very own Olympics are building up nicely it would seem.
David and Ross are erected the small gazebo on the top lawn as I write this and everything else has been ticking along as it basically should – rehearsals at the hall are due tonight.

The worrying thing, however, is that there are severe weather warnings – will the marquee and gazebo stay put?

Monday 11 August 2008

‘Twas on a Monday morning

Not quite up with the lark, but by CFZ standards ‘as near as dammit’ - and it was not raining! Mr. Sunshine did not exactly have his bonnet on either – more of a fetching so’wester just in case – but at least the rhythmic dripping has ceased.

Before anything else can be done, all the mouths around the CFZ menagerie have to be fed. Our new inmate (well mine really) is Ichabod Grimm, the rescued jackdaw. He has been hand-reared, since falling down a chimney in February, by Beth – who runs an animal rescue centre by herself not far from here. Every morning and evening you will find me in his aviary feeding him delicacies by hand as he ruffles his wings and squawks at me for more. His favourite at the moment is a banquet of mealworms – I am amazed as to quite how many of the wriggly little things he can down in one sitting!

But that has absolutely nothing to do with the Weird Weekend.

Neither has the fact that we are still sending out the latest Animals & Men! Is this bad organisation on our part – to be producing both an issue of Exotic Pets and the aforesaid magazine so close to the weekend in question? Probably, but that is a condundrum that you will have to approach Jon about!

Stocks of books arrived today, so the space in the dining room is fast beginning to shrink – add to that the bags of t-shirts - duly counted and neatly folded - and we nearly have a market stall in the making. Almost a true cottage-garden industry, apart from the fact that it is in the house rather than out!

David managed to mow the lawn today and the roses have all been pruned and I am happy to report that, after Olivia’s boyfriend, Robert, and Graham’s work at the weekend, the marquee is still standing majestically in place. However, this year we have been prudent and are not adding the side panels until the last possible moment to avoid the possibility of them being blown too much and torn again like they were last year, due to the high winds. Olivia, Robert, David, Ross and I had the task of repairing the tabs on the roof and panels last weekend, and we are all determined not to have to go through that again next year!

The ‘to-do’ list was getting shorter, but I added two more items today, so that ruined that – d’oh. But as long as the items being shopped for today are successfully purchased it will mean that a good few other things will disappear on the twice-daily check tonight. Hurrah! (until some bright spark thinks of something else that is).

Sunday 10 August 2008

Tempus volat hora fugit

As he did last year, Jon has asked me to post a regular update on the preparations and actual event that is the Weird Weekend. So, this is the first of the, what I plan to be, daily updates that will record the ups and downs through the last week, as seen through my eyes.

In four and a half days, the traditional cocktail party that precedes the annual Weird Weekend will be underway in our back garden. This year it will be the weekend’s 9th birthday so things should be somewhat passé in the organisation stakes by now. So are we ready and waiting? I could say, ‘but of course we are – we have had enough practice at this sort of thing after all. We are so laid-back. We are catching up on a spot of reading, painting our toenails, laying in bed until mid-day, and thoroughly enjoying a spot of pre-weekend relaxation’. As I said, I could say that. However, I may tell a few white lies occasionally, but to state the above would be a blatant whopper of a black one. Of course we are not ready! In truth, I suppose, you can never really be totally ready for an event of this kind, but can only hope that what you have achieved is enough.

The last few weeks have seen us all with frayed tempers, and nerves, and have seen us constantly trying to find our heads as we rush around like the infamous chickens without them. Clumps of hair are dotted around the place to be left where they lay after having been torn out with clenched fists of frustration. For one reason or another, we are also down on ‘man-power’ this year so we have been considering laying traps to press-gang anyone who steps over the threshold to Myrtle Cottage. So, Mr. Postie, I would watch your back if I were you.

The tense atmosphere has also been exacerbated due to the unseasonable (or has it now become more the norm) weather and the added bonus of the roof over the porch and utility room collapsing. Water had seeped in through cracks, the sheer weight of which had caused this inopportune event to take place. These defects could not be attended to before due to the aforementioned weather not allowing essential repairs to be done. Sod’s law at work, I guess, that it should all fall down now.

So buckets to the ready, and tissues to hand to mop up tears of frustration, we are still battling on to ensure that the weekend goes as well as it possibly can. We are all getting good at performing a slalom around the strategically placed buckets and are even thinking of inventing some kind of timed game to see who can get from the dining room to the outside – without slipping over on the wet patches – the fastest. Hey ho.

But, on the up side, we are getting there ….. I think.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Tempus Fugit

Well, as of nearly two weeks ago, I am a year older …. again. Is it my imagination or do the 365 days, between each birthday, rush by quicker each year, the older you get? Are the sands of time trying to tell me something perhaps. Is the hole in life’s hourglass getting bigger or are the grains just getting smaller? What is it about time? When I was small those summer holidays almost seemed to drag along – the autumn term always appeared to be such a long way off as I set about writing the obligatory diary of events as instructed by my primary school headmistress. Mrs. Hempstead (and her spotty dog) used to demand (well no - her spotty dog didn't actually demand anything except perchance a pat on the head) a day by day account of her pupils’ activities during those hazy, summer days away from her beady eyes. Ha those endless scribblings of “My mum and I went shopping today”, or “We went to the park today to fly my kite”. I wonder if she really did read all those diaries on her charges’ return to their desks, smartly dressed in their brand new, clean winter uniforms (no, no not the desks - us children)?

I am sure I would never have written about flying my parachutist as I would probably not have a) known the word or b) been able to spell it. Do any of you remember those plastic chaps? Flimsy plastic moulded men, with ill-fitting and – usually- askew facial features where they had been stuck together slightly off centre, with a transparent plastic parachute affair attached to them by cotton. Skywards you threw them, and – with luck, and no interfering branches - they would fall to the ground with plastic stretched, slightly unconvincingly, out above them. Alarmingly, they did seem to fall to the ground at a rate of speed that I would not like to contemplate if undergoing the real thing; on top of which, they did seem to hit the ground with a resounding thud reminiscent of a few broken leg bones at the least. I think a lot of mine ended up being chewed actually – it was that kind of soft plastic that was comforting to gnaw on when a bit bored! Ah those halcyon days of youth.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent, as usual.

It was also Jon and my 1st wedding anniversary on Monday (paper I believe – hmm you can’t get many presents made of paper). I see from a website that the modern symbol is a clock – why may I ask? And why is that time thing looming its foreboding head again? Now more interesting - it also says that the gems associated with this anniversary are freshwater pearls. Uh hum – I wonder if ‘you know who’ will read this? Or am I supposed to get him some too? No surely not – can you imagine Jon wearing a freshwater pearl earring? Hmmm no – I don’t think so.

Have you seen this man? If you see him, do not approach him - he will scare the living daylights out of you with strange facial expressions.

Saturday 14 June 2008

Don't panic Mr Mainwaring

Well haven’t I been tardy in updating my blog? No excuses really other than that I have had my head down working away at this and that.

With all the news of the tanker strikes yesterday, came a telephone call from Shosh last night to say that she had not been able to get any petrol due to people panic buying in most of the local garages – some of which had shut due to having run out of stocks. She had driven to Walsall to stay with her fiance’s mum and had, in fact, been using public transport for two weeks to and from the PDSA in Wolverhampton.

She has been on two weeks EMS there and was having to get back to London for college on Monday. According to the news you read and hear, there is not supposed to have been much of this panic buying going on, but last night she told me about one particular garage they had been queuing at where a woman filled her car up and then was, together with a friend of hers, running from pump to pump filling up extra cans with the stuff in a great state of agitation. Why? Who did this woman think she was to actually perform such a selfish act? If that had been me, I would have a) taken her registration number and reported her to the police for carrying such a load of hazardous material in a private vehicle and b) would have confronted her to ask what the f*** she thought she was doing? And why did the garage let her do it in the first place? The only fuel left was the expensive variety and Shosh, being a student (who, with her choice of studying to become a vet, has to have a set of wheels in order to travel around the country to spend weeks at a time on EMS and sometimes get to farms if the vet has already gone on ahead), has to count the pennies, and could not afford to fill up with this choice.

Anyway, eventually Gav and her went out again to try and get to the motorway services to see if they could get some fuel there – only having a quarter of a tank left meant they could not go too far. Happily, they passed one of the ‘out of fuel’ garages they had stopped at before, which actually had a tanker delivering so managed to fill up there instead.

Yes, Gav and her could have got the train back from Walsall to London so that they could both get to work and college on Monday respectively. Shosh is starting three weeks rotation (weeks spent on various different aspects ie a week on surgery, a week on radiology etc etc) on Monday – she is on nights for a week. There are no bus services to and from the College. Therefore, my daughter may well have had to walk down country lanes – perhaps even in the dark – whilst people like the woman aforementioned can use her car once and pop to the supermarket (before the strike ends on Tuesday) whilst her stockpile sits in her garage. Hmmm something wrong there. Stupid, selfish cow. Ah well, I am biased I guess in favour of my daughter – but then I would be.

And I am thoroughly sick to death of hearing and reading about sanctimonious people spouting on about how THEY go by public transport, bike or walk. Yes I agree you should if you can - I often get the bus to and from Barnstaple for example and quite often used the train (at over-inflated cost) to come to Devon before Jon and I got married. However, what are those to do who DO rely on their car? Say, for example, that yesterday, Shosh was qualified and was on call. Would she have had to tell the hypothetical farmer – “ok, well there isn’t a bus for another two hours, so I will get there when I can – meantime see if you can perform the emergency caesarean yourself. I think I can just about manage to carry all the equipment from the boot of my car and get it on the bus”.

Ah, I know ….. perhaps she would have had to seek out the selfish cow and see if she would relinquish any of her ill-gotten stockpile.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Have wheels, have sat nav, will travel - and will still get lost

Jon and I made our way, on Saturday 19th April, to the Midlands so that we could attend the Entomological Society show on Sunday being held at Kettering. As I wrote before, we were mixing the trip with a visit to my mother, who lives in Rutland – not many miles from the venue – and were taking her along for a day out.

After an exasperating episode with our satellite navigation system, we eventually found the Leisure Centre in Kettering where the show was being held. However, this was not really the sat nav’s fault. Unfortunately, it would seem that from up in the distant sky the route was seen to be a road, but in reality, it didn’t actually exist anymore, having been cut off with a couple of strategically placed bollards. After a couple of ‘round the houses’ tours, with the sat nav constantly insisting that it take us across this ‘no access’ route, we decided to head on back to the main road and see if it adjusted itself.

We were, by now, already quite late (well not late really, but Jon was hoping to be able to speak to some people before the doors opened for the public). Then came the unfortunate mis-timing of a very loud yell from the venerable Mother Nature and we had to divert again to find the station so that Jon could answer, what was becoming, a rather urgent call of the diabetic variety.

We got there eventually, however, and, most importantly before the doors opened. We did not take long to sort out our stall and soon we had all our Exotic Pet magazines on display. We were pleased that several people took out subscriptions and it was nice to come back with considerably less issues that we had left Woolsery with the day before. It was great to meet some of our subscribers too, along with some of those who have submitted articles for the magazine.

The venue was held in a huge sports hall, which facilitated ease of movement around the many stalls inside. We were sharing our stall with Graham and Janice Smith – Metamorphosis – and it would seem that there was a good ‘turn out’ of the public. Sometimes you can feel quite claustrophobic at these events, but this one being held in such a large area meant that there were no large bunch ups of people around the stalls, or through the walkways between.

Jon bought some more stick insects and some silkmoth caterpillars (which are currently chomping their way through the greenery in the garden and getting bigger and fatter by the day it seems), but I was very good and did not purchase anything. I had been sorely tempted by a couple of things, but was very strict with myself. Readers of my blog will remember that I was going to leave my money behind this time and resist all temptation, and I am proud of myself for doing just that.

My mother seemed to enjoy her day out and was fascinated by some of the creatures on sale, but would not entertain buying any – no matter how much Jon tried to persuade her!

It was interesting, and somewhat amusing, to learn, also, that someone else had endured the same frustrations as us with their own sat nav – but from what I understand, their machine did not fare so well in the survival stakes from its frustrating actions!

Wednesday 16 April 2008

It's only words

Once upon a time I was always reading – every night before I lay me down to sleep, sometimes drifting into the arms of that bloke Morpheus with the book open in my hands, to be sometimes woken up – in the middle of the night - from the wonderful realms of dreamland with the thud of it falling to floor (anyone who has read the likes of the hefty Lord of the Rings or Les Miserables will know what I mean). However, these days I do not partake in much reading at bedtime. I have tried, and what I have managed to digest has been enjoyable. I have mused over why I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to, however, and yesterday the penny dropped. Over the past year since being at CFZHQ, and in the last couple of months in particular, I have spent most of my day at my computer proofreading: CFZ Yearbooks, Exotic Pet magazine articles, Animals & Men articles and assorted books. After doing that for 8 hours or so each day, the last thing I want to do is read any more! And, besides, I now find myself looking for mistakes in everything I do read, which kind of spoils the so-called relaxation properties of such a pastime.

I am a self-confessed book sniffer and can spend hours in book shops flicking through the pages with the odd surreptitious fan of them close to my nostrils. Am I weird? Probably. And if I get to a secondhand bookshop, well I am lost amongst the shelving for ages, happily caressing the old bound copies of someone's writings of days gone by.

I am the same with material - but that is another story!

Spring seems to have definitely sprung down here in Devon at the moment (famous last words). The sky is blue and the air seems to have that certain scent about it that means warmer weather may be on the way. Woollies, thermals and socks may soon be relegated to the bottom drawer perhaps? Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Jon and I are off to the Kettering bug show at the weekend. I am leaving my money behind this time – I am not going to purchase anything! “Oh yeah. Pull the other one”, I hear you cry in unison. Anyhow, I have to behave myself as we are taking my mum along with us for a day out! An odd place to take your mother for a day out? Well, I suppose it is, yes. But she expressed an interest in coming along – so there. I will, no doubt, let you know how it all went upon our return.

For now, it is back to apostrophes, commas and hyphens. Hmm I had better check this blog now, to make sure I have not made any such errors myself. Now that would be embarrassing.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

At the third stroke it will be...

During last week we spent four days out and about in the Midlands and Hertfordshire. Off we, and Olivia and her boyfriend Robert (following on behind in her car) went up the jolly old M5 on Easter Monday afternoon, via Tropiquaria, to stay in Birmingham for one night - near Shirley so that Jon could look around the aquatic shop there. We were basically on the hunt for creatures to add to the zoo’s collection.

Olivia and Robert went off back to Stamford on Tuesday morning while Jon and I visited the shop, and then it was off across to Rutland to visit my mum in Oakham. We took her out to dinner at Barnsdale Lodge and all of us made a mental note to return there during the summer months so that we can take advantage of the view from the restaurant window. Barnsdale is a complex just outside Oakham that sits on a hill overlooking Rutland Water. It is made up of time-share chalets and boasts an indoor swimming pool and gym amongst other modern-day luxuries if you are inclined to be up to that kind of thing! Originally called Empingham Reservoir, Rutland Water was constructed in the 1970s and was originally intended to supply water to the East Midlands. It now offers many activities – sport, leisure and wildlife conservation (Rutland Water Nature Reserve). It has become a well-known bird watchers’ paradise and since around 1999 it has become a successful breeding site of the osprey. I was lucky enough to espy one through my binoculars on a visit there a few year’s back. http://www.rutlandwater.org.uk/

The necessary flooding of the lower land to create Rutland Water in 1976 caused Nether Hambleton (known as the ‘lost village’) to be deserted and left under the water. It has been shown by excavation to have once been a sizeable medieval settlement. The construction of the reservoir left Upper Hambleton and part of Middle Hambleton – now known together just as Hambleton (meaning ‘the settlement’ (tun) ‘on the crooked hill’ (Hamble)), which is situated on the Hambleton Peninsula surrounded on three sides by Rutland Water. Hambleton has a history pre-dating the Domesday Book and is thought to have once been the capital of the Anglo Saxon Kings of Rutland. According to the 1086 entry in the Domesday Book, it boasted a population of 750 – with 3 priests, 3 churches, a mill and 45 ploughs at work!

But enough of the history lesson, which although it may intrigue me, may well not be everyone’s cup of tea.

So ….we took my mum back to her flat and had intended to move on to our digs in the local Travelodge, but after chatting until gone 3.00 am we thought we may as well stay put and slept on her sofa bed instead.

Wednesday it was off down the A1 to Hatfield to visit Shosh with eggs and presents (it had been her birthday on Easter Sunday) and to look around some more fish and reptile establishments. Ameyzoo is an intriguing little place in the small town of Bovingdon, about half an hour away from Hatfield, run by Mark and Siouxsie Amey. They have some wonderful reptiles and amphibians in there and we reserved a pair of Madagascan painted lizards and a white throated monitor that we would pick up on Thursday on our way back home.

On Thursday we went off to Crews Hill to potter about the various stores there and bought some fish for the aquarium at Tropiquaria – 4 baby whale mormyrids, 2 giraffe cichlids, and 2 African pike. Jon also got himself a pair of gambusia, which he is ‘over the moon’ about, but must be a couple of the most ordinary looking fish I have ever seen. The female is about four times as big as the male (poor sod) and there is nothing very out-of-the-ordinary about them at all. But he likes them – bless.

We had a bit of a rush visit with Shosh, and dragged the poor girl around with us whilst on our shopping trip and all too soon it became time to say goodbye to her and to think about the return journey home across country, via the zoo to drop off their new residents. It was a bit disappointing to learn, on our return to Ameyzoo to collect the aforementioned creatures, that we could not take the white throated monitor after all as we, nor they, had a container suitably strong enough to transport it. Hmmm – what is this creature? A baby Godzilla? With the threat of it bursting from its confines as we sped down the motorway, and launching itself at my jugular, you could say I was glad that we didn’t have a suitable box. So we had to leave that one behind on the promise that we would return in the, not too distant, future with a suitable box (and perhaps with us wearing extremely tough protective clothing – you know …. just in case).

It was a bit nerve-wracking driving back with all those live animals under our care on the back seat of the car, but we, and they, all got back to Tropiquaria in one piece, and apart from one of the whale mormyrids (which died a couple of days later) are all still fit and healthy in their new homes.

We got back to CFZHQ at around 3.15 am, slightly exhausted to say the least! And, since then, I have been trying to catch up on work and Jon has been laid low for a few days with a bad cold. He has, since, all but recovered and has managed to finish the seventh On the Track which is now up on YouTube.

Amusingly, altering the clocks caught me out at the weekend – I had no idea it was that time of year again! I went downstairs to get a drink and came back up at 1.05 to notice that my computer said 2.05. Hmm, I thought, my computer is playing silly devils again. Then it clicked. D’oh.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Bears, marmalade sandwiches and cheesey chips

Three years ago today, I met a bloke on Paddington Station who would, in no small way, change the course of my life. As I stood next to the statue of Paddington Bear waiting for the train from Exeter to arrive at its platform on March 6th 2005 - Mother’s Day - I had no idea at all that it would lead me down the road that it has.

We had written to each other by email and had shared in lengthy telephone calls, and it was clear by the time of March 6th that we had a lot in common, but there was still the question of whether we would still be suited ‘in the flesh’ so to speak.

However, as we sat sharing a few beers, and a plate of cheesey chips (alas no marmalade sandwiches to hand) it soon became quite obvious that this bloke – with his long hair and leather jacket – was someone who was going to be around in my life for quite a while.

After that day, I undertook what some described then, as a leap of faith into the unknown. I threw in my shorthand notebook and left my job at a place I had worked at since 1996, sold my house, moved to a completely different part of the country and got married again (something I had vowed I would never do after my first marriage ended). However, my intuition served me well (as it usually does) and that leap proved not to be one that saw me crashing to the bottom of some jagged-edged cliff to end in some bloody messed up pulp at its base! No sirree, it was one that has led to me sharing my life with the larger-than-life Jonathan Downes and his anarchical view on life. Three years down the line I can honestly say that I have no regrets at all in stepping off the precipice.

I now live an idyllic life in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, have made new friends, share my home with a motley crew of creatures (and somewhat untidy and oft gibbon-like blokes) and get to meet some interesting folk in my travels with Jon.

He has introduced me to his world of chaos and has encouraged me in many aspects of my life. One of the things he did was encourage me to get my book, Ethna’s Journal, finished and to publish it. I had no intention of ever publishing my scribblings – they had been something I did to get my feelings out of my head down on to paper. There was always a part of me in Ethna and, strangely, I miss her now it is finished. However, I was chuffed when it was published at the beginning of the year and even more chuffed when dear Nick Redfern interviewed me at the end of last week. You can read all about it at http://monsterusa.blogspot.com/ Thanks Nick.

A piece of self-advertising? Well yes, why not? At 51 years of age I think it is about time I blew my own trumpet.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

I saw something nasty in the woodshed

Well I did the other week, but (and here is the cue for a trumpet fanfare of gigantic proportions) the area up by the aviary is looking rather nice now that all the piles of unwanted bric-a-brac have been removed and deposited in the local municipal tip. Thanks to Graham’s sterling work the aviary is now complete and, apart from the imminent planting of some suitable greenery, is basically ready for its new occupants. What the new residents of it will be, I am not too sure yet, but I am sure they will enjoy the spacious accommodation and pleasant vista of open pasture next to them.

Arabella surpassed herself today and laid not one, not two, but three eggs! Must be the time of year. Also, one of our mice has had babies. Four tiny bundles of stripey sweetness.



You may notice from my ‘whistle while I work’ section that I have been in somewhat of an Amon Amarth mood this last month or so. I simply can’t get enough of the long-haired fellas from Sweden. Yeah OK they may screech out the lyrics in a - probably to some - incomprehensible way, but I can assure you that the words to the songs are well worth listening to. Most are based on Norse mythology, and are powerful, if not a little bloody in places.

In case any of you may be interested in their background, Wikipedia states thus: Amon Amarth is a Viking-themed melodic death metal band from Tumba, Sweden founded in 1992. It is named after a location in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. The name means "Mount Doom" in Sindarin, one of Tolkien's Elvish languages. The band was originally known as Scum, and released a single demo under that name in 1988 before changing their name to Amon Amarth in 1992. And there you have it.

Those of you who may have read my last blog may be wondering whether the absent items have been returned to their respective places. I am happy to report that yes – apart from some mugs – all seem to have made their way back to their cupboards – measuring jug included. I know who the guilty party is and no, I shall not name names – that would be too shameful of me.

This weekend we are off to the Big Cat Conference which is being held this year at Tropiquaria – not too far which is nice - from a driving point of view - and also because it will be in lovely surroundings. It also means that when the need for an occasional rest from our book stall arises, and when there is a lull in the proceedings, I shall be able to seek out the company of Odo (the gibbon), or have a quiet contemplative sit in the Tropical Hall in the company of the sweet roul roul partridge and Stanley the macaw. Heaven.

Sunday would also have been my late father's birthday. That will be a tough one to cope with.





Tuesday 26 February 2008

Bottoms up

Olivia came out with a good line whilst we were wandering around B & Q the other week, looking for a replacement door handle for the sitting room door. When I explained to her that I needed to look for a replacement she said: “I wonder if they have any dinosaur door handles?” to which I replied along the lines of: “Quite possibly, dear, but we are looking for a replacement for the sitting room, not a child’s room”. Her response was somewhat amusing: “Er, yes mum, but are you SURE you are not looking for a child’s room?” From out of the mouths of babes.

We have had three visits to Tropiquaria in the last three weeks – once with Olivia, once with Shosh and Gav, and once on the way back last Saturday from the South West Bugfest, with some giant millipedes whichhad been kindly donated to the zoo by Steve Paine from Tarantula Barn. This was held in Yeovil, and, although the first of its kind to be held there, it brought in over 900 people on the door! I think you could call it a success then!

Anyway, a visit to the zoo is always nice. It is lovely to see Chris and Jane and to wander around talking to the various animals. There is something very satisfying about sitting outside on a wooden bench just before dusk, as the birds call out their evening chorus. Intermingled with the usual squawks and whistles there is the occasional wolf-whistle from one of the loutish African Greys, accompanied by the odd ‘hello’ from one of the other parrots, in a tone reminiscent of Sybil Fawlty doing her ‘oo I know’. Of course, we mustn’t forget the macaw that insists on calling out ‘goodbye’ as you arrive and – yes, you have guessed it – ‘hello’ as you are leaving. Not sure how he got into the habit of that one!

During Saturday’s visit, I espied a joey poking its head out of it's mother’s pouch, which was cute to say the least, and Odo, the gibbon - as usual - decided that it would be an excellent idea to show us his bottom. He is very proud of that part of his anatomy, is our Odo.

It is intimated at the top of this blog page, that I have a unique insight into the folk who spend their lives on the track of unknown animals. I sure do! And it ain’t (to use Jon’s favourite expression) always a bed of roses I can tell you - there are plenty of thorns to make your day a prickly one. So I thought, for a change, I would be more forthcoming about some of them, instead of hiding behind the ‘oh I better not let on about that’.

For example, today, folks, I had a rant! Oh yes, not very common my rants, but today I let rip. I was putting away the groceries that the jolly, congenial man from Tesco had delivered, when - upon opening the freezer door to put away the various frozen goods - I was accosted by a wayward pack of frozen peas. The fact that it jumped out at me for no good reason I could accept, but the fact that somebody had opened the packet and had not made good its security afterwards - thereby ensuring that no spillage would occur from the carefully cut packet top - was just too much to bear. Out it came, upside down, firing little frozen pellets of peadom all over the place. Apart from the waste of half of one of the, much publicised, five-a-day portions, the mere fact that whoever had done it had not thought ahead (and we are not talking about 5-year-olds here) was the straw that broke the unfortunate camel’s back so to speak. So I yelled, swore badly, and loudly voiced the opinion that it was like living with a load of gibbons. (Hmm, yes gibbons again – Odo and his bottom have obviously had a profound effect on my psyche).

Now this, accompanied with the fact that I had just spent half-an-hour or so cleaning down the top of my cooker to rid it of the fat spats (together with those little globules that clung to the wall behind it) found me well on the rocky road in the hunt for blood. I have now written a comprehensive list of items of crockery that are ‘missing’ from the kitchen – a list which includes several bowls, plates, a measuring jug (? who on earth would want that I have no idea - and what for, remains to be seen), at least seven mugs plus several items of cutlery. To my mind, if the blokes here want to act like 5-year-olds (or gibbons) then they shall be treated as such. If these things are not returned, washed up and put away by close of day tomorrow, then I may have to resort to banning food from being eaten anywhere other than in the kitchen or dining room.

I have thrown down the gauntlet, and considering that I have a broadsword, axe, sword, dagger and longbow (and very sharp arrows) in my possession, it will be a very brave (or foolish) man - or gibbon - indeed, that will dare challenge me.

‘er upstairs has spoken.

Thursday 31 January 2008

Ghostly goings-on

As you will have read on Jon’s blog, Arabella has reached that certain age and has started laying eggs. Yesterday, we tried them for the first time and made some scrambled egg on toast. I could not believe the golden colour and the richness! Delicious. All we need now is a cow so that we can make our own cheese – another commodity at the CFZHQ that seems to sprout legs and disappear in a trice as soon as it is put in the fridge.

Since last posting, it has been very busy here in North Devon. On a personal front, I have been busy juggling the proof-reading of Exotic Pets magazine, Mark Fraser’s 2008 Big Cats in Britain Yearbook and Mike Hallowell’s Mystery Animals of Northumberland & Tyneside. I have now got to the stage when I even dream about them! Oh dear …

Graham has been busy putting up shelves in various parts of the house – those in the kitchen are a boon as there is now more space to put items of necessity within easy reach and I don’t have to don my miner’s hat and lamp to delve into the far reaches of the cupboards. It is always a journey into the unknown - who knows what lurks in those dark, dusty places?

Graham has also nearly finished the aviary – literally around a quarter of an hour’s worth of work to go, but that is, as usual, dependent upon the weather.

I witnessed my third Myrtle Cottage apparition last week. Graham, Jon and I were sitting in the office when I heard the back door slam, followed by footsteps on the gravel rushing down past the office door. I was actually sitting facing the door and saw a shape run past. I said to Graham something along the lines of, “Goodness, where is Oll off to at such a speed?” I had assumed that he was maybe checking something out with the chickens. Jon didn’t hear or see anything, but Graham heard it too. However, it was not Oll as he was in his room. Hmmm.

I am not sure that I actually recorded the first and second instances. The first was the year before last, before I had moved down here permanently. I was visiting for the weekend and, one night, saw a glowing orb at the foot of the bed for about half a minute. I was really chuffed, as I had heard so much from Jon and the others about strange noises and visions, and was feeling left out at never having witnessed anything myself. I was beginning to think these ‘residents’ didn’t like me lol.

The second was last year, when Shosh was staying with us for a fortnight on one of her veterinary stints at the local practice. It was around the time that she used to get back – 5.30 ish. Again, I was in the office sitting at the computer in the corner, when I heard the gate open and saw Shosh walk past the office door towards the kitchen. The hair colouring was hers down to a ‘T’ and the shape was so vivid that I got up, and went into the kitchen to make the ‘welcome home’ cup of tea, only to find that there was absolutely no-one in the kitchen. Upon asking, no-one had seen her. Well, they wouldn’t have done, as she didn’t arrive back until about half an hour later!

I had always imagined that it would be a bit scary to witness such things, but it wasn’t at all. Mind you, the last two were in daylight – if it had happened when I was up all night by myself last week I am not so sure! However, as insomnia seems to be plaguing me at the moment, you never know what I will be privileged to witness in the wee small hours.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Mmmmm pie

Last night I made beetroot pie. Hmmm I hear some of you groan with distaste – what a horrid thought. Yes, well beetroot is one of those vegetables that you either love or hate, but I think it is absolutely delicious – especially when mixed with cheese in a tasty, yet extremely soggy, sandwich. However, most of those in residence here at the present decided that it would be well worthy trying out, so bravely I set about preparing it.

As anyone will know, beetroot bleeds – profusely. The recipe demanded the vegetable in its fresh state, so I set about peeling and grating one and a half pounds of the little balls of beetiness. After attempting to grate one with the aid of the normal grater, then tossing this aside in frustration after once again peeling my fingers (slippery little suckers, beetroot) I then tried the mouli. No luck – it refused to even try and grate. I then decided that this was a job for my super-dooper electric mixer – you know the sort – the ones with so many attachments you need a specially devoted cupboard to keep them all in one place. However, even that had trouble! Great lumps of dark pink vegetable thumped and scraped around the grater attachment, refusing to be shredded, but, with gritted teeth, I persevered.

Eventually, all was done, but the mixer, the kitchen surfaces, my hands and everything I accidentally touched became covered in a rather fetching shade of dark pink. The water in the washing up bowl became a darker, richer colour - as if I had tried to clean off the evidence after having committed some macabre act of vengeance upon some unsuspecting visitor, who had unwittingly ventured into the kitchen during my labours. The whole kitchen had become a scene likened to those glorious days of Hammer House of Horrors. If you listened hard enough, you could almost detect the unequalled rich, dulcet tones of Vincent Price in the background.

But, guess what? The pie was delicious. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes beetroot, and who can stomach the trials of trying to grate the little sods.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Pills, postings and puggles

Hmmm 15th January already eh? Well I guess that is one New Year’s resolution gone to pot. Yes, well, I had intended to update my blog in a more timely fashion than of late, but … quite simply, I haven’t. But then again, isn’t that what these ‘ere resolutions were invented for? To ignore?

We have been busy preparing the next issue of Exotic Pets magazine and are pleased to say that Issue 3 should be ready for distribution by the beginning of next week. Then it will be time to resume proofing the first in our list of books due for publication in the coming year. The first book of 2008 is Michael Woodley’s “In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans – a re-examination of the scientific evidence for Sea Serpents”. You will also have read perhaps, on Jon’s blog, that we have three new books out since my last proper blog entry: CFZ Yearbook 2008, Dark Dorset Calendar Customs and my book, Ethna’s Journal.

Jon was feeling a bit under the weather at the end of last week, with a cold and other unexplainable symptoms. However, the latter were explained on Saturday – he had been taking the wrong medicine! Yes, Jon, dependable stalwart of the CFZ, had mistakenly put his evening medicine in the morning section of his pill-box and vice versa with his morning medicine. In short, he was working during the day after taking drugs that were supposed to help him sleep and couldn’t quite work out why he couldn’t sleep in the evening. What a man eh! Hee hee.

Last Thursday was overshadowed by the sadness that it was the morning of my father’s funeral. It was a wet and windy day – the sort of wind that howls around the turrets (if we had any) and forces the rain to smash against the windows like a hail of tiny stones. However, the service went off as well as these things can and the family are now trying to coming to terms with it all, and to remember the good times we had together.

It was also the day of my eldest’s end-of-4th-year examination results. Shosh had convinced herself that she had definitely failed this time, and had resigned herself to retakes in March. The results were due to be posted at 12 noon that day and as the minute hand on the kitchen clock ticked further towards 12.30 I was beginning to think that the poor girl’s fears had been met. Then came a ‘phone call with just one word – merit! Not only had she passed, but also she had passed with flying colours! Good on you, girl – all that hard work, and all those nights surviving on three hours’ sleep, paid off. I am proud of you.

It is now the turn of poor Olivia to face exams – at the end of the month - and I shall now bear the maternal agony of feeling for her as she revises, sits them and awaits the results. It is GREAT being a mother, but at times likes these, when you suffer your children’s stresses with them, boy oh boy, it is agony! Olivia, I wish you all the very best and, as with Shosh, I shall be with you all the way!

The sweetest thing I saw last week was a picture of a baby echidna born at Perth Zoo. I had no idea that a baby echidna was called a puggle – what an adorable name. Needless to say we all want one, even though we know we cannot! Mind you, if we receive a suspicious parcel from Mike and Ruby ‘down under’, we may well know what it might be, and would certainly not ‘return to sender’!





Tuesday 1 January 2008

Plastered again

Happy New Year to you all - I hope you have a really good one.

Discovery of the last few days: brand new Sabatier knives are very sharp!

This, I found out after 'picking' the turkey. And, upon my return to the kitchen after a minute's absence whilst having a plaster administered, I was just in time to witness Helios 7 (oh yes, her again) leaping down from the work surface with a turkey leg clamped firmly in her jaws. Unfortunately for her greedy stomach, the leg was a bit too big to enable her to make a clean escape and she had to abandon her trophy mid-way down the garden path as I, once again, ran screaming after her - this time, however, only being able to brandish a threatening box of plasters at her. I am not sure what I would have done with them if I had caught her, but that will ever remain one of life's tantalising mysteries I suppose.

I cannot close this blog before saying thank you to all of you who have sent messages of condolence after the death of my father on Christmas Eve. Your words have been a great comfort. It will take time to fully come to terms with it, but knowing I have the support of all of you out there really helps.