Thursday 31 December 2009

Pigs, elephants and oxbow lakes

Yesterday I was reading a news story about some pigs on the loose, the wanderings of which caused part of the M11 to close while emergency services attempted to round up the escapees. The vehicle in which they were being transported had overturned allowing some of the little darlings to make a bid for freedom – you can’t really blame them in the circumstances.

When I woke up at around 8.00 this morning it was not really much of a surprise to note then that the dream from which I had just exited had included a few of the porcine fellows. However, dreams being what they are, my pigs were not ordinary pigs.

One of the few things I remember from my geography lessons way back in the 60s – apart from my geography teacher breaking my plastic ruler on a desk when he borrowed it to whack it on the wood to call attention to the class - were oxbow lakes. For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of learning such things, an oxbow is basically a u-shaped body of water which creates a lake when part of a river breaks off. I won’t go into the mechanics of the erosion etc – I can remember silt being mentioned quite a lot – but I will leave it to you to look it up if you feel the need to delve into such things.So, that is where my pigs were – on the piece of land that was surrounded by the oxbow lake in the making.

For some reason Jon and I were in a boat, drifting along the river (there was someone else too but I have no recollection who) when I looked to my left and saw 3 or 4 pink pigs. The strange thing about these pigs was the fact that each of them had a plastic bottle on their backs secured around their girth by a wide white ribbon.In the blink of an eye the scene changed to an office where Jon and I, plus this other mysterious person, were talking to some kind of official about something of which I have no memory. At the time of the changeover I had walked on to the piece of land and picked up one of the pigs, and between this scene switch the animal had shrunk to the size of a domestic cat, and although still pink it had morphed into a miniature baby elephant!

I awoke to the sound of a magpie chattering outside our bedroom window, just as a woman was examining the little creature to make sure it was in good health. She had a relaxed disposition which seemed to indicate that she saw such a thing on a regular basis.

How peculiar...... I have a theory on the bottles around the pigs but it would be interesting to see what anyone else thinks.

Wednesday 30 December 2009


Poor Jon has worked hours on refurbishing the website over the Christmas holidays only to wake up yesterday morning to find that the CFZ Press Releases (which I painstakingly ‘cut and pasted’ on Sunday afternoon) and Newsblog had been taken down due to what was called ‘spamming’. Whether someone had reported us maliciously or whether it was just some spambot doing its ‘1984’ work we are not sure but it is extremely irritating and a bit of a kick in the face for Jon. Considering all these things have been available since the blog started at the beginning of the year, it really does not make sense.

Perhaps we are being a bit oversensitive, but considering all the negativity that has happened since the Killarney Lake monster video on YouTube it does make your suspicions run away with themselves. As you all know, my pictures all disappeared from my blog and although I have received an email to say the problem should now be fixed, absolutely nothing has changed and they are still AWOL.

Let us all hope that the problem will be sorted out as soon as possible and that our suspicions of third party malcontent are proved wrong.

Poor Gavin and Oll must feel particularly deflated after they have put so much into their respective blog entries over the past year to see it all disappear in such a way.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Santa’s little helper and PCS

I think I must be suffering from a soupçon of PCS (post-Christmas stress)! Yesterday morning I found myself pouring apple juice into my coffee instead of milk. Unfortunately, I came to my senses too late and had to start all over again.

Then I had an enthusiastic helper whilst ‘picking’ the turkey. A helper whose eyes never left the carcass as my knife sliced away, and whose nose was ever on the move for anything that may accidentally fall to the floor. I think he thought it must be Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one. Try as I might, of course, I couldn’t help the odd morsel of skin or meat from flying from my knife to the floor – gravity has a lot to answer for at such times.

This morning I awoke to find a turkey bone on the kitchen floor and two cats looking extremely innocent, if not with a modicum of satisfaction upon their faces. Unfortunately, their plans of blaming it on the dog had been foiled for, in case they hadn't noticed in their early hours pig out, the dog was actually upstairs with us. Therefore, it didn't take long to deduce that the ripped open plastic bag on the cooker that held the remains of the poor fowl and the bone on the kitchen floor had both been the victims of the two cats mentioned above, namely Helios 7 and Spider McGraw. Ironically, I had left the bag indoors rather than put it in the rubbish bags outside to avoid such molestation, but - unfortunately - had forgotten to move it somewhere less obvious before I went to bed.

So I shall leave you with a verse from T.S. Eliot that pretty well sums up the antics of the dynamic duo:

Then the family assembled for Sunday dinner
Their minds made up that they wouldn't get thinner on
Argentine joint, potatoes and greens
Then the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow
"I'm afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow
The joint has gone from the oven like that!"

Then the family would say, "It's that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie or Rumpelteazer!"
And most of the time they left it at that

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone
I hope your day is fun

Thursday 24 December 2009

Trolley tantrums

Phew what a day I had yesterday. Jon and I went out in less than ideal road conditions to go to see Noela and then pop into Morrisons. I say ‘pop’, but it was more like wading through treacle with every checkout having a queue that stretched down each and every aisle leading up to them. If you wanted a packet of toilet rolls or some washing powder you had to fight your way to grab them, and then fight your way back to the relative safety of the next row of aisles, then take a deep breath, gird your loins and prepare for the next offensive. I lost count how many times I had to say “Excuse me please”.

Usually at this time of year I turn into something akin to one of Monty Python’s ‘Hell’s Grannies’. When I first embarked upon the fiasco that can only be likened to panic buying in the face of some kind of impending famine or some feeding frenzy of a shiver of sharks, I was the picture of patience and politeness, but after years of bruised ankles I have become hardened to the task. Now it is head down and push that trolley in the manner that one mows the lawn. The most annoying thing though are shoppers who just have to stop in the middle of an aisle to chat. You know the kind of thing: “Hello Mrs Jones, how’s your Bert’s lumbago?” This is bad enough on an ordinary shopping trip but at this time of year it makes my blood boil – or am I just developing psychotic tendencies?

It didn’t help because I knew that I had so much to do when I got back home. It was to be an afternoon in the kitchen for me.

To begin with there was the task of tackling the washing up that had built up while my back was turned. I have no idea where it all comes from. Once that was done I could start on the real job at hand – Christmas baking. First of all there was the annual mince pie production line. Then came an extremely late Christmas cake icing exercise before what has become another festive season family tradition – making mincemeat muffins. I was lazy and did not make any mincemeat this year but had some nicely matured from 2007. The aroma that emanated from the kilner jars was intoxicating in more ways than one! Then it was the turn of the rum truffles. These are pretty easy to make but can be little tykes when it comes to coating them as you have to work like the wind before the melted chocolate hardens up again. Luckily, of course, these days there is the good old microwave, which zaps hard blocks of the sickly stuff into an even more sickly liquid in seconds. After starting at 3.00 pm I eventually hung up my rubber gloves and oven mitts at 9.30 pm. So I felt pretty chuffed with myself for achieving most of the baking with a day in hand – usually I am still at it on Christmas Eve afternoon.

And there was an added bonus to the end of my day. The fact that I found my hot water bottle in the morning meant I could go to bed looking forward to getting into warm sheets rather than ice-cold blocks of cotton polyester. It was with a smidgen of childish glee that I climbed the stairs knowing that my skin would not freeze to the sheets as your tongue does to one of those ice pops. What bliss – the simple things in life are always the best.

Well all of that was a bit girly wasn’t it? And completely off topic again. But then, thinking about it, what is really off topic? In reality, this blog was originally intended as a record of my life sharing the marital home not only with my husband but also with two other CFZ blokes. However, it is the season to be jolly so I shall refrain from any caustic or sexist comments for now. As a gesture of goodwill, I shall let it rest until the New Year dawns upon us. Then it will be “Cry havoc and let slip the tongue of sarcasm”. Moreover, with a slight glint in my eye I am quite looking forward to it.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

A crooner above all others

I was going to post this Saturday morning, but by the time I had decided on which video out of the many available, the snow had all gone!  So while there is still a sprinkling of the festive stuff outside I am posting it before it disappears.  It had to be Dean Martin - no other would do.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Ferry Feline Frolics

Our ginger cat, Spider, has used some pretty extreme ways of trying to get attention. His usual method is to fall off the back of sofas, windowsills or some equally lofty position. He even jumped out of the bedroom window once, scaling the wall on his descent before leaping to the grass below and then wandering off nonchalantly after his impressive display of extreme sport. Let us just hope he doesn’t come across the story of Sandi, the ginger tom from Hampshire, whose recent escapade will make him some kind of urban myth amongst cats in their midnight haunts – the Kit-e-Kat clubs - around the country.

Sandi decided that it would be a good idea to hitch a ride on a ferry to Bilbao, Spain, leaving his ‘owners’ frantic with worry when he went missing for three days. Luckily for Sandi, they had had the foresight to get him microchipped, enabling him to be spared the probable fate of being put down upon his arrival in Spain. As it is, he will now have to spend up to six months in quarantine before being able to return home.

Luckily for us, there is no easy access for such an escapade for Spider. The only thing he could probably do was hitch a ride on a tractor from one field to another and as he is one of the laziest cats I have come across, he probably couldnt' be bothered.

And the cow jumped over the moon

Apparently cows can jump quite high – perhaps that is why one is supposed to jump over the moon in the nursery rhyme. However, if you asked me, I would say it would be impossible for one to jump on to the roof of a house. This is exactly what happened, it seems, in Somerset when a lady of the meadow was seen standing on the roof of a residence – about six feet from the ground.
However, the owner of the property noticed the damage on her roof when she returned home and immediately thought that someone had tried to burgle her. It was not until police had made some enquiries that they discovered a sixth former had spotted the bovine and had even taken a picture of her ‘high rise’ antics.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Pardon me for being so rude, it was not me it was my food

An aquarium at the Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre has had its water level lowered over the festive season in case their green turtle, George, suffers the unfortunate reaction to Brussels sprouts that some of us humans do.

George is treated to the seasonal treat to provide a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and fibre, but last year the gassy bubbles emitted during their turtle’s heavy bouts of flatulence caused splashes that hit overflow sensors.

Staff have removed thousands of litres of water from the 12ft deep turtle tank to reduce the water level by six inches to keep it clear of the sensitive alarms.

Displays supervisor Christine Pitcher said: "Last time an aquarist had to dash to the centre in the middle of the night, so we're not going to take any chances.

"Sprouts are really healthy for green turtles. 'The high levels of calcium in them are great for their shells, the fibre is good for their digestion and they also contain lots of beneficial Vitamin C, sulphur and potassium."

Senior marine biologist Darren Gook added: "We like to treat him to different foods and seeing as it's Christmas we thought Brussels sprouts would be good.

"I haven't noticed too many bubbles coming from George yet but hopefully now the water levels have been adjusted flatulence won't cause problems."

Poor George.

Mmmm pie part 2

Imagine the tenseness in the air on a cold winter’s day in Wigan; the stamp of booted feet on the ground in an attempt to persuade the blood to flow more quickly down to freezing toes, the occasional rubbing of gloved hands on a similar mission and the air rhythmically punctured with cloudy vapours as people chat excitedly to each other.

This could well have been the scene outside Harry’s bar in Wigan earlier this week when the annual World Pie Eating Championships took place. One of those odd annual events that dot the calendar, there was an additional rule to be adhered to this year. Long has gravy been banned to aid those mouth-drying pies to slip easily down the throat, but it seems that some competitors have come up with a replacement lubricant – cough medicine. This year therefore, there were even security spot checks to make sure gravy’s replacement could not be smuggled in and utilised.

Cough medicine was outlawed after tests showed that it could knock two seconds off the time it takes to eat a championship pie. Pints of water are provided and that is all that is allowed.

This year the winner – a first time entrant - took just 43 seconds to finish his pie.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Mmmm pie

A teenage boy is a veritable eating machine; two of them together and it is as if a plague of locusts has descended upon your dining room table. Their stomachs take on the character of a bottomless pit that wails for more food seemingly no matter how much is fed to it. I really wish I knew where they put it all. If I ate the amount they consume I would be bigger than the Michelin Man in around a month.

Anyway, I found myself cooking for seven people last night – two of whom were of the aforementioned sub-species (Max and David) – so I knew right from the start that to merely double up on the ingredients would not be enough. Nope I had to triple everything instead! I am just glad that I have a big cooker. How did Ma Walton do it? And she had Grandma and Grandpa to feed too – I believe, if I remember correctly, that that added up to a whopping eleven mouths to feed! Walton’s Mountain must have shuddered under the sheer weight of all the potatoes she had in her kitchen and the cows must have groaned every time they saw her coming with the milking stool.

Why seven people to supper? The annual CFZ General Army Council meeting that’s why. This is usually held in January each year, but as it would be difficult to get everyone concerned together in January – and they all happened to be here in Woolsery this week – it was decided to hold it this month instead.

At least there was just enough to ensure that the bottomless pits managed a second helping so all was well. And there were chocolate biscuits and mince pies for afters too. Bless ‘em.

“Night Ma”.

“Night Jim-Bob”.

“Night Pa”.

“Night Jim-Bob”.

“I’m hungry Ma”.

“Be quiet Jim-Bob”.

Monday 14 December 2009

Remembering Mrs. Braund

In the summer of 2007 I had a package arrive through the post that could not be unpacked and put on a hanger here in the cottage to let the creases fall out naturally over the next few months. For reasons regularly told by those oft-quoted old wives, it was one of those dresses that had to remain hidden for fear of attracting bad luck if it were to be seen by a groom-to-be. This posed quite a predicament for me at the time as there was nowhere in the cottage that it could go that would enable it to hang naturally. Neither was there anywhere suitable for it to be stored out of sight. So I asked Marjorie Braund if I could store it in her spare wardrobe until the evening before Jon’s and my wedding and she said of course I could. I know she often checked on it for me to make sure it was OK over the following months.

Then there was the time that she knitted a dinosaur for the Weird Weekend and I went round to her house to stuff it and sew up the remaining edges, and add its eyes, mouth and nose. We spent a lovely couple of hours chatting while it took its final shape.

Today we will celebrate her life and say our farewells to one of the most lovely, kindest ladies you could ever wish to know.

It is very sad to see her house now, knowing that she is not there, but she will always be in our hearts. The CFZ will never have such a lovely neighbour again and she is already sorely missed.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Knit one, purl one, drop a stitch

I have just noticed that so far this year I have written 94 blogs. I guess that means that I have no choice but to aim for the century before 31st December, which in theory should not be too difficult to achieve. In practice though, shall I opt for the easy way out and just post 6 different entries consisting entirely of photographs, or would that just be a blatant cop out? It would seem that my OCD tendencies are taunting me with something of a conundrum. What shall I write about?

I could do a girly recipe section I suppose and make up some weird names for some well-known dishes. How about Eton Ness (mashed up meringue with cream and chopped strawberries)? I think that idea is a non-starter – it would be scraping the bottom of the barrel somewhat.

Alternatively, I could go for the wifely prerogative of lovingly poking more fun at my husband, but that is a bit passé now (although I am not saying that I will never do so again – perish the thought. Anyway, I am sure there will be times when it would be an absolute sin not to).

I could discuss the pros and cons of knitting Fair Isle jumpers, but as I have never actually knitted one it would be rather futile of me to try and wax lyrical about such an exercise. Mind you, I did knit myself a pink (yes pink - good gracious) tracksuit once from a pattern in 19 magazine. It started out as a pretty nifty affair! Unfortunately, though, I am a very loose knitter so every time it was washed it stretched and I ended up using it as a rather odd and tatty pair of pyjamas. Whilst quite warm in the winter months I would not have wanted to be seen wearing it by anyone other than my close family, especially after it collected the odd ink stain here and there from my artistic efforts with my sketch pad and drawing pens! Oh my, I AM talking about knitting after all.

Jon will no doubt comment that my blog today is not really on topic. Hmm well, I did vaguely mention one ‘monster’ so hopefully he will let me off on this occasion. For now, I am off to soak some dried fruit with heavy-handed tablespoonfuls of brandy and rum – one for the fruit and two for me. Cook’s perks as I always say.

You can now cease sniggering over the thought of the slighty grubby pink tracksuit. Oh my, what must I have looked like? My cheeks redden with embarrassment. I will write about sewing woollen tassles on the bottom of flared trousers another time - fashion in the 70s was a wondrous thing to behold.

I bet you can't wait.....

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Poetry corner

I was searching through my ‘art’ drawer the other day whilst seeking out my old technical drawing pens when I came across an art pad of my daughter’s. Being nosey (and she didn’t mind by the way – I checked) I flicked through it and found a few sketches she had made of her favourite subject, horses. There was also a beautiful poem; written in 1954 by Ronald Duncan, it was to be read out after the Horse of the Year show:

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England's past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs, he our inheritance.

Although poetry is - in general terms - not really my thing, I have occasionally come across some that make me laugh or make me cry. I do have some favourites; Larkin’s This be the Verse and Auden’s Stop all the Clocks to name a couple. And, like a lot of people, I used to write my own when I was younger – mostly about mystical creatures and the like or those full of teenage angst. If written now I would imagine it would be described as ‘emo’ poetry! I do admit to suffering a cringe or two of embarrassment when I read them now, but when first penned they were a record of my perceived feelings back in the 70s.

I found myself impelled to investigate poetry again this morning. As I was sitting in the office a familiar, annual sight flew overhead, this being a ‘V’ shaped formation team of geese – in fact two waves of them. Being inside I could not hear the haunting calls from the wing, but the yearly sight of these synchronised flights is, for me, one that is forever redolent of the primal call of the wild. It made me wonder as to whether anyone had written about this spectacle and I was not disappointed. The following describes it perfectly:

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered,--"Snow."

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned--"Frost."

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,--
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field(1894-1942)

Saturday 5 December 2009

A Panto Plug from Pugh


Available for hire.

Any pantos out there that need a ‘Blind Pugh’ character?

If so, are you are struggling in your search?

Due to a mishap when a bare foot met with a malicious plug in the early hours of Friday morning, I may have just the man for you. Props are no problem. He has his own stick with metal tip that will create an authentic rhythmic ‘tap, tap, tap’ on the boards, interspersed with the shuffling sound of a foot and occasional roars of expletives (which can be toned down if necessary). He has a beard that can be neatly plaited with beads, bones or even ribbons if desired and a head of hair just begging to be tied back with a bow and topped with a nice tatty tricorn. No parrot unfortunately, but he can supply his own rubber chicken (albeit one dressed as Elvis, but it is panto season so that should not be too much of a problem). This would-be pirate even sports a spot on his chest which could easily be dabbed with kohl for the black spot effect. He is, of course, prepared to drink copious amounts of rum and bellow "yo ho ho me 'earties" if required.

If it is a panto dame you are seeking, please do not reply – believe me, this particular gentleman would NOT look good in a dress!

Interested? Please apply to Corinna via the usual channels. Hourly rates to be agreed.

Of pipes and men

During my recent research on unexpected bird visitors to these shores that I wrote for the upcoming issue of Animals & Men, it reminded me of my fondness for one of this country’s birds that etched its way into my heart after reading a certain book many years ago. My daughters grew up with me oft exclaiming excitedly, “Look, there's Old Nog” when we used to amble across the Stamford Meadows, when they were children, down by the banks of the River Welland. We used to wander down to this area – usually donning our wellies as there were parts that always seemed to be boggy, even during the driest spells – to look for mushrooms (my then mother-in-law would make this variety into a delicious soup) or to just enjoy the quietness. We would often stop at the stone marker erected to signify the ford that allowed Ermine Street to continue its way northward and it was here that the Queen of the Iceni, Boudicea, crossed the river as she and her people chased the remnants of the Roman Ninth Legion in 61 AD.

Occasionally we would be lucky enough to spot one of the shyest of birds, the kingfisher and would spend ages searching the stream that ran parallel to the River Welland for fossils. It was amazing just how many you could find in the muddy bottom, along with many pieces of pottery including stems from old clay (kaolin) pipes – I remember hearing somewhere that these were described as early equivalents of cigarette butts; they were often broken off and discarded when clogged. I used to find loads of them regularly in our garden in Stamford and in my parent’s back garden in Oakham, Rutland. I was even lucky enough to find a perfectly preserved pipe bowl with about three inches of stem still attached in the River Welland near the Town Bridge on one occasion.

We would also scan the river for adult fish and the fry that used to gather in large groups in the shallows near the bank. I believe roach, chub, tench, bream and even some eels are found in the river as it passes through Stamford, although I would not know the difference if they jumped out and bit me on the nose! But there were definitely some whoppers in there sometimes. Well, to be fair, yes I would know an eel if I saw one.

However, back to the bird that opened this blog. As I was writing, before I got sidetracked badly and wandered down the dusty paths of Memory Lane, sometimes we would see this ‘grey old man of the water’ flying slowly across the sky or if we were lucky we would see him standing motionless in the shallows, with his neck hunched into his chest waiting for his next meal. And there were, as described above, quite a few delicacies to be had. Those of you who have read ‘Tarka the Otter’” will know of whom I write, but for those who have not, below is the opening line of Henry Williamson’s book. It is one of those opening lines that stays with you forever, as do those of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Little Women’ and ‘David Copperfield’.

“Twilight over meadow and water, the eve-star shining above the hill, and Old Nog the heron crying kra-a-ark! as his slow dark wings carried him down to the estuary.”

Friday 4 December 2009

What's the ugliest part of your body?

Frank Zappa died on this day in 1993 of prostate cancer.  He was a prolific composer and produced more than 60 albums in his career.  The day could not pass without a small tribute from me so here are a couple of  short musical interludes:


See you later Frank.

Monday 23 November 2009

Birds of a feather will gather together

Life has been busy here for the last few days for a number of reasons. As you know Jon and I have been visiting Marjorie and Noela, and will continue to do so on a daily basis. Work is also well in progress on the next edition of Animals & Men. Interspersed with all this there has been the usual shopping, washing up, washing, cooking etc., (not necessarily in that order).

In the past, I have - from time to time - helped Jon out with the production of the aforementioned journal by typing while he dictates his articles, but from now on it seems that I am going to be a bit more involved on a different level. It has oft been suggested that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. It seems that my excellent piece of culinary ingenuity in taking that fried breakfast into the office the other day must have done some softening rather than hardening of the arteries after all. I now have my own column in which I am going to attempt to present a roundup of some of the more rare visitors to the UK - of the bird variety that is. It has been christened 'Watcher of the Skies' (those of you who know the songs of Genesis (with Peter Garbriel) will ‘get’ the connection) and I must admit that I have been surprised as to quite how many rare 'feathered friends' arrive here, whether on purpose because they wish to visit this green and pleasant land, or just because their onboard sat nav malfunctioned.

No doubt there will be a few jokes of the ‘twitching’ variety, but I do already have a green anorak and even some binoculars (well, somewhere anyway). So there.

PS: With regard to Jon’s little jape on his blog about his visit to the diabetic nurse. We all know the real reason for his closing comment. He just wants one of those old-fashioned bath chairs so he can sit sporting his suitably stiffened white silk scarf, his flying goggles and hat whilst being pushed around the village by someone.

Or , perhaps even a snazzy sedan chair for those more auspicious occasions, sporting the CFZ logo on the gilded doors of course.

The only question is, who has he lined up for this important work? I do have an idea .... and, no, it will certainly not be me before you suggest such a thing (considering I am 3 years older than he is, and my poor body would not cope).

Saturday 21 November 2009

Cruelty beyond belief

This is appalling, disgusting, abhorrent and any other word you can think of to describe something as grotesque as this.

According to a news item on Ananova, a clip has been posted on You Tube of a part-fried fish being eaten alive in a restaurant. The poor creature is seen to be breathing and wriggling on a plate – this Chinese so-called delicacy involves the body of the carp being cooked while its head is wrapped in a wet cloth to keep it breathing. Then they cover it in sauce and serve it on a plate.

I have not watched the video, and will not watch it, but apparently diners can be heard laughing and joking as they prod the still moving fish, before picking it apart with their chopsticks

The animal rights group, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has called the video disgusting and a spokesman said: “Every decent person should be shocked when anyone mocks or abuses a helpless dying animal."

The article carried on:

Stephen Fry recently singled out the Chinese culture as being the biggest threat to some endangered species.

"It is not very pleasant for us to single out a culture, but, if you care about lions and tigers and whales and sharks, it is the Far East and the way they eat, or the way they attempt to cure themselves, that seems to be the biggest threat," he said.

A spokesman at the Chinese embassy responded: "I don't think it is fair to accuse other cultures of having certain negative habits and traditions.

"We have our traditions, as the Spanish have bullfighting, and you, until recently, had foxhunting. We did not criticise you or the Spanish for this. Tiger bones for traditional medicine are now banned, to the suffering of the Chinese industry."

I am lost for words.

Spots before your eyes

There is a cute scene in 101 Dalmatians when all the pups are sitting around the TV and one (Rolly I believe) turns round to Perdita and says 'I'm hungry, mother. I could eat a whole elephant'.

Not so cute, however, was the story recently of an 8-year-old Dalmatian called Barney. If you remember that the average weight for one of these dogs is around 55lb (3st 13lbs) it will shock you to learn that poor Barney was morbidly obese, weighing in at a massive 11st !

When inspectors from the RSCPA raided his owner's home back in June they found Barney's spots had swollen into great blotches and could barely move with so much flab. He had been overfed on a diet of chocolate and crisps and moving left him out of breath almost straight away. As for running or jumping in the air - an impossibility.

His owner has been banned for keeping dogs for ten years and was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work after admitting cruetly, and Barney is now sporting a new slimline figure of around 4st, thanks to regular exercise and a healthy new diet.

The PDSA, earlier this year, claimed that 35 per cent of dogs in Britain were overweight which increases the risk of arthritis, diabetes and an early death.

Sorry Biggles, in answer to Jon's question today as to whether I could cook you a fried breakfast too....the answer has to be a resounding no! (It would have been anyway)

Photo credit: RSPCA, Daily Mail

Saturday 14 November 2009

Picture loss

It seems that some pictures on my blogs have disappeared - I am not sure what has happened to them but I am hoping that it will be sorted out sooner rather than later.

Until then I shall carrying on posting pictures as and when necessary in the hope that they stay in place. This all did start on Friday 13th of course, but I must add that the weekly forecast I referred to earlier this week as a stinker, did not actually indicate this kind of problem!

Baby white rhino

Last month on my blog I introduced you to little Zamba the white rhino born at Colchester Zoo and this entry is to say congratulations to Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Florida who, on Wednesday 11th November, welcomed the birth of this sweet little female white rhino. Her mother, Mlaleni, and father, Tambo, have already reared three other calves at the zoo over the years (Malaika, 2004; Dakari, 2006; Crash, 2008).

Sometimes known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, white rhinoceros is taken from the Afrikaans work describing its mouth “weit” meaning “wide”. Early English settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “weit” for “white”. The animal’s upper lip lacks the prehensile “hook” of some of the other rhino species. It is one of the largest species of land mammal after the elephant, and this new youngster tipped the scales at an estimated 100lbs and may reach around 6,000lbs in adult life.

Busch Gardens debuted as a bird gardens in 1959, but is now Tampa Bay’s top tourist destination, combining – as they write on their website – “a world-class zoo with more than 2,500 exotic and endangered animals and more record-breaking roller coaster rides than any destination in Florida.” It participates in the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (ASA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) to ensure genetic diversification among threatened and endangered animals in zoological facilities. Busch Gardens now has a total of 9 white and 3 black rhinos.

This new calf’s father, Tambo, mother Mlelani and another female were airlifted from Kruger National park in South Africa in 2001 via the efforts of the Rhino Foundation (IRF) which is a non profit organisation dedicated to the protection of rhinos. There are, according to the IRF, just over 14,530 white rhinos remaining in the wild and fewer than 10 live in zoological facilities across North America.

Whilst briefly looking into the species I came across an article from the Daily Telegraph dated July this year that stated: “Hundreds of white rhino from one of the world's most famous game reserves are to be herded up and sold, many of them to private hunters”

Up to 350 of the rare animals will be sold this year alone from the Kruger National Park under fundraising plans drawn up by the South African government.

Steve Smit, spokesman for Animal Rights Africa, said: "The idea of herding up animals from a major wildlife reserve and selling them to private institutions is outrageous.

"We have a duty to protect these rare animals, but the South African government is more interested in making money than conservation.

"Many of these animals will end up being bought by hunters who will simply shoot them. How does that fit with any sensible ecological planning?

"This plan totally undermines any attempts to protect wildlife and leaves the Kruger National Park looking like little more than a private game breeder."

South African National Parks bosses admitted last week they had earmarked up to 350 rhino be sold from Kruger this year to raise money for other projects.”

Is there not something fundamentally wrong here?

Photo credits: Matt Marriott / Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Let's go to the hop

It was funny the first time, and slightly amusing on the second occasion, but by the end of this afternoon it had become a rather stale joke.

I decided that it was time to bring my printer down from its ‘office’ upstairs in the bedroom, and connect it up at my makeshift desk in the dining room. This exercise would, I thought:

a) stop me having to visit the ever-increasing arctic winter conditions upstairs unless it’s bedtime or I need a natural break.
b) save my having to email myself documents, then rush upstairs and turn on my rather slow desktop, and then wait for it to rouse itself just to print something.

Plus, it is a bit sad emailing yourself anyway.

So down it came, and everything was hunky-dory. That is until I used it for the first time. I am not quite sure what Biggles thinks the printer is exactly, but by his frenzied bunny hopping I assume that either he thinks of it as some kind of toy or perhaps that it is some kind of alien entity come to invade his territory. However, as I had to print out around two dozen letters this afternoon - the bunny hopping accompanying each and every one becoming more tiresome with each effort - I am now wondering whether it was such a good idea to bring the printer downstairs. Perhaps a double layer of thermals, woolly hat and mittens would be the best option after all.

Even Spider (aka `Orange Cat`) seemed slightly interested towards the end of the print run, energetically lifting one paw in some kind of support for the daft dog before wandering off in the opposite direction, obviously realising the whole episode was rather boring and that it insulted his superior intelligence after all.

It brings a slightly new meaning to the phrase 'never work with animals or children'.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Painting a picture of happiness in a time of sadness

Pittsburgh Zoo recently gained nine new additions when Vega, their 10-year-old female painted hunting dog (also known as the African wild dog), gave birth to a litter of pups. Unfortunately, Vega died a few days later, leaving her young in great jeopardy. It was discovered that Vega had died of a ruptured uterus, an unborn pup possibly contributing towards the fatal condition. The zoo had to decide whether to try and hand-raise the pups or contact local animal shelters to find a female dog that had recently given birth and was nursing her own pups.

A perfect candidate was found at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society – a mixed-breed named “Honey” had delivered her own six pups several weeks earlier and staff had just started weaning her pups so she was still able to nurse.

Happily, the pups and Honey took to each other almost immediately and the six males and three females are doing well.

Painted hunting dogs are endangered, with only 3,000 to 6,000 remaining in the wild, although there was once around as many as 500,000 individuals. The mortality rate for painted hunting dog pups is 50 percent, even with a healthy mother, and Pittsburgh Zoo is part of a conservation effort to protect them. Almost unheard of among social mammals, the painted hunting dog's social structure is a submission-based hierarchy, meaning whoever begs the most gets the most food instead of whomever is most aggressive.

A salty dog?

How many of you out there read your horoscopes I wonder, and if so, do you read them whilst taking a proverbial pinch of sodium chloride? On Sunday, I happened to see mine for the week ahead and I can tell you that it was a stinker. To note that the tarot reading on the same page gave the same prediction, although put in an entirely different way, made my senses bristle with foreboding I have to admit. I do have to add here that I tend to read these things sometimes, but usually with a firm grip on a salt cellar let alone a two-fingered pinch of the stuff. However, when you see something like that written it still upsets your equilibrium. The ‘what-if’ syndrome kicks in.

Nevertheless, by Saturday night the predicted week will be done and dusted and I dare say that nothing untoward will have occurred. Hmmm, but the 13th does fall on a Friday this month.

Enough of what I tend to think of as superstitious twaddle, well most of the time that is. It is just a matter now of trying to stop my feminine intuition howling like a she-wolf to a full moon!

However, via the clever and extremely contrived connection between Canis lupus and Canis lupus familiaris, here is something that I am not really sure whether to believe or not. The following article comes from Ananova:

A Polish man claims his pet dog revived him after he suffered a heart attack.

Stricken Piotr Wagner, 50, collapsed with agonising chest pains as he watched telly at the family home in Kazimierza Biskupiego.

But as Pearl - a two-year-old Jack Russell cross - turned a heart shaped patch on her flanks towards her master, he told doctors he felt the pain melt away.

A grateful Mr Wagner said: "I want everyone to know about my big-hearted dog."

Doctors say they are baffled by the apparent cure.

"He certainly had a heart attack but it seems to have suddenly stopped and he is now healthy and back to normal," said one.”

Saturday 7 November 2009

Joni is 66 today

Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell

This more recent version presented so differently, and still one of the most beautiful songs ever written:

Friday 6 November 2009

Treehogs – a new British species?

I am one of those people who do not very often remember their dreams, but occasionally I can wake up to the real world and say to myself,“thank goodness that was just a dream” or ask myself, “what on earth was that all about?” There are times when I can awake with feelings of anger, dread or sadness about whatever transpired whilst in the arms of Morpheus, but this morning I opened my eyes and looked out of the window at the tree directly in front of it and instantly recalled that I had done exactly the same thing in the wee small hours.

However, during my sleep the tree I was looking at was skeletal, having lost the last of the glorious golden autumnal leaves that still hang on in real-time. The branches were outlined against a grey sky and there were a few black birds sitting on the higher branches. Nothing odd in that, but the other creatures dotted about the branches were a peculiar sight to say the least. A family of hedgehogs was clinging to the branches – there appeared to be a mother (or what I perceived to be a mother) and four babies. The image, as far as I can recall, only lasted for a fleeting few seconds, but there they sat as bold as brass. They did not seem particularly phased by their lofty situation either.

I know hedgehogs can climb, but surely not up a tree?

Is there anyone out there who is able to interpret the meaning of this dream?

I suppose I could hedge my bets and claim I had seen an out-of-place animal, but I dont think I should go down that road - could be a prickly subject.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Singin' the blues

Thank you Professor Forgas of the University of New South Wales:

“If you're feeling like a sourpuss today, it may not be a reason to frown.

For, according to research, being grumpy makes us better at decision-making and less gullible.

In contrast, those annoying happy types who tell us to cheer up tend to make more mistakes because they'll believe anything they're told.

The revelations come from a psychology expert who has been studying the effects of positive and negative emotions.

Professor Joseph Forgas found those in a bad mood provide more accurate eyewitness accounts of events than those in a good mood.

A series of experiments also backed up his findings that the grumpier we are, the more likely we are to get problems sorted out and make less errors.

'Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, co-operation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,' Professor Forgas writes in this month's Australian Science Journal.

A sad person can cope with more demanding situations than a happy one because of the way the brain 'promotes information processing strategies', he says.

His experiments included asking people to judge the truth of urban myths after putting them into good or bad moods through watching films.

The sad group were less likely to believe the stories.

Professor Forgas, of the University of New South Wales, also found negativity promoted better communication.“

Does this imply, at last, that my once often-used teenage nicknames of ‘grunt-buttock’ or ‘grumpy bum’ hold no shame anymore? Can I now officially wear my grumpiness with pride? It has taken half a century, but it was well worth the wait. Therefore, Corinna’s weekdays shall now officially be known as:

Miserable Monday, Touchy Tuesday, Woebegone Wednesday, Testy Thursday, Forlorn Friday, Snappy Saturday and Sad Sunday

Tuesday 3 November 2009

See you later alligator

It is one of those requests that makes many parents let out a sigh of resigned despair. “Hey mum, it is show and tell next week. What can I take to school with me?”

Apparently, this posed no such despondent response from a wildlife officer in Florida recently when he decided that a recently caught alligator would be top of the exhibits at his daughter’s school. He took along the captured creature, with its mouth taped shut as an obviously safe precaution.

All went well, and the alligator was a hit. I am sure his daughter was suitably chuffed and proud of her dad.

However, unfortunately his efforts left him with a slight amount of egg on his face when the alligator made a dash for it as it was being loaded back on to the truck. Alligators are pretty good jumpers and, although perhaps not matched with Lynford Christie in the sprinting stakes, can give a pretty good spurt of speed when they need to. Clearly, escape was top on the wish list for this particular captive and off it sped, tape still in situ, down to a local pond. It has since evaded recapture.

As long as it does not lose the tape it will be easily recognisable they say. However, surely this also means that the poor creature will not be able to eat anything?

Let us hope they can catch it in time and release it in a more civilised manner.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Itsy bitsy spider

It seems that every home/garden in the UK has around 30 resident spiders, making a total of more than 750 million of the dear little things in the country.

According to the first public survey recorded by hundreds of members of the public, the most common species seems to be the garden cross spider and in Nottingham 150 of these were recorded in one garden alone, whereas, in Norfolk, one house seemed to be the home of 43 common house spiders.

A new world record may also have been set in Lancashire by a spider’s web measuring 15ft across – now that is a formidable piece of weaving.

It is, of course, at this time of year that we become more aware of spiders – large house spiders are just starting the dating game. However, female garden cross spiders - being perhaps a little more promiscuous - are already getting fat with eggs.

The spare bathroom in the CFZ house certainly seems to have a thriving arachnid population – it is not used much as a bathroom these days due to it having been turned into a makeshift ‘rodent’ room a couple of years back. Since then it does not get the same attention from a duster as the other rooms in the house and seems to have become a kind of spider commune in its own right. Each resident seems to be in competition with its neighbours as to which can produce the biggest web and catch the most delicate of meals. Luckily, no-one here has a phobia about such things.

According to Sarah Henshall of Buglife: “Spiders are amazing animals that live fascinating and useful lives”. Hmm try telling that to my youngest daughter who has a distinct and very loud phobia of such creatures.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Paranormal mysteries in The Potteries Urban Area

The next book on my list of reviews is Paranormal Stoke-on-Trent by Matt Hicks and Terri Setterington (£9.99 History Press ISBN 978-0-7524-4885-5).

This contains a few areas of Staffordshire that have become vaguely known to me recently as my eldest daughter and her fiancé have moved into the vicinity, so it was with some interest that I have read of a few sightings and unexplained happenings in her own town, and those adjacent to her.

The village of Alton, with its well-known adventure park Alton Towers, is about 15 miles from Stoke-on-Trent, and this is the first entry in the book. During the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, what had once been a modest hunting lodge had been transformed by two successive Earls of Shrewsbury into a palatial home with spectacular gardens. Alton Towers was supposedly the largest private residence in Europe during the Victorian era and members of the public were occasionally allowed into its confines to wander the glades and grottos. However, a dispute within the Shrewsbury family meant that the estate was eventually sold.

You can now join in ghost tours most weekends around the dark corridors of the ruinous Gothic-revival pile and not surprisingly, there are several different kinds of paranormal activity reported there.

The next time you and your family decide to go for a day out to Alton Towers to take advantage of its stomach churning rides that defy the laws of gravity, take note that you may well have company that you were not expecting sitting beside you.

This is a book that will appeal to those who have an interest in the paranormal – those people living in the area themselves may well have heard of most of the entries, but it would be an informative addition to their bookshelves nevertheless.

Happy Birthday

As you will know, Paul Vella is one of the CFZ's UK Regional Representatives and, guess what, it is his birthday today.


Slightly askew Hallowe'en special

Due to an oversight in changing dates on my blog (if you want something done right, do it yourself as my mother always says - men d'oh) continuity has gone askew and my intended own blog Hallowe'en special has been relegated to the 27th October. My OCD is now screeching in true banshee style and I find myself having to request that you please use these links in a vain attempt to keep the order correct. 

Funnily enough my stars for today warned me that: "You are easy to get riled up even on quiet days, but your temper is legendary on days like today! It's a good time for you to get some time for yourself, if only to calm done between flare-ups." Hmmm, is that after I go on a Freddy Kruger style killing spree?

Five senses of the Moor at Midnight
Monsters Abound

Anyway, Happy Hallowe'en

Friday 30 October 2009

Spoon Menace

I noticed a little news story on Ananova which made me smile.

A normal day in a branch of a bank in Lublin, Poland was shattered when a robber tried to steal the cash. The staff and customers threw themselves to the floor in terror when he pulled out a 'gun' and demanded the money with the immortal phrase "This is a stick up". It was only when they noticed that the 'weapon' the ginger-haired crook was brandishing before them was, in fact, a piece of stainless steel cutlery - namely a spoon - that they relaxed.

He left empty-handed, of course, but presumably a bit red in the cheeks from embarrassment at the laughter that followed him.

Police spokeswoman, Renata Laszczka-Rusek, said: "It's a weird one but he broke the law and we want to find him."

Here are four suggestions for his strange actions:

1. He pulled out the wrong thing from his jacket - the spoon may have been left over from his picnic lunch and the real 'gun' was in his other pocket, or
2. He had recently watched the Monty Python sketch about self-defence against fresh fruit, and having no fruit available (or pointy stick) selected the piece of cutlery instead, or
3. He had lost his fork, or
4. He was a little bit crazy

Tuesday 27 October 2009

The Five Senses of a Moor at Midnight

With your eyes, picture a moor at midnight – the moon affording the only light as it hangs motionless to the human eye in the cloudless, dark autumn sky. The creature that lopes silently through the darkness picks its path carefully over the damp scrub as it makes its solitary journey to its destination, its hot breath spouting forth from flared nostrils in unison with its silent breathing. Its dark form treads purposefully and it knows exactly who will see the terror of its eyes, and feel the fatal grasp of its gaping maw.

With your ears, hear the rhythmic marching of a thousand feet and the sound of low voices singing into the night as figures make their way across the desolate land, shielded by the shadows of the barrows. It soon becomes apparent, as the figures move out of the shadows and into the pale light of the moon, that this is an army of men. Does it march to victory or to death? Banners flutter in silhouette against the dark sky, and the ashen light catches the muddied metal of the helms, the bosses on shields and the cold metal of swords slung across strong, upright backs.

With your nose, smell the ancient scent of wood smoke as it billows across the scrubland from the campfires in the distance, the glow from their hearts slowly growing as they gather heat. Smell the food as it reaches your senses and causes your taste buds to salivate with expectation. Forsooth, an army marches on its stomach, whether to glory or beyond.

With your hands, touch the moss covered stones on the grave that lies in isolation at the crossroads, and trace your fingers across the ancient inscription etched upon them. Feel the cold metal of the gibbet cage as it swings to and fro and creaks in the cool night air, whilst its occupant sits slumped inside its confines, legs hanging lifeless through the bars. Feel the iciness of the taut skin across the feet as they dangle in death, the cloth of the shoes that once protected them hanging in tatters; muddied and faded through time.

With your tongue, taste the salt on the air as the breeze moves inland from the sea. Hear the faint screams carried with it become louder as it brings the sound closer to your ears. Hear the mournful groan of smashing timber and the toll of the ship’s bell as she is taken into her watery grave, her hull and spirit broken by the rocks.

Sunrise will bring tomorrow and tomorrow there will be nothing left of the night before; the moor will return to normal.

This was no trick or treat, this was but the moor living her past through your senses.

This was All Hallows' Eve.

Monsters abound

Giz us a sarnie

On Sunday Jon, Biggles and I set off for a Sunday jaunt into Cornwall which culminated in a walk in the fresh air along the coast. The afternoon was not without one or two brushes with nature of the sort that don’t usually occur in one’s everyday travels.


At one point, while driving through one of those natural arbours where the tree boughs shake hands with each other overhead something appeared from our left and seemed to come straight for the car. At first, I thought it was an owl as it was gliding so low. It was not until it banked sharply upwards to its left that I realised it was a buzzard. It cocked its head and with a stare from its right eye it soared upwards and off through the trees into the fields next to us.

Next came our encounter with a herring gull. Not at all surprising, perhaps, as we were so near the coast. However, at the time of meeting we were just outside the town of Helston and parked in a local store’s supermarket eating our lunch. We were munching away, minding our business, when a herring gull came along and plonked itself on the bonnet of the car. Jon and I had to suffer its stares whilst we consumed our sandwiches, whilst Biggles was too involved in eating his sausages to even notice it was there. It gawped at us as we gawped at it, until something spooked it, and it flew off to join the congregation of other birds that were making their way here, there and everywhere.

Gnarled tree trunks can often form shapes in our minds – quite often faces. On our way home down one of the tree lined lanes I spotted a tree trunk ahead that seemed to take on one of these strange shapes, so much so that I stopped the car. To our advantage, there was a passing place opposite to where I had braked to a sudden halt so we could use the excuse of letting oncoming traffic pass while Jon took a couple of photographs. To us both this tree trunk looks just like a monk standing with his arms crossed, his head veiled by his large cowl. Unfortunately, as so often happens when trying to post photos on the blog, things do not always come out as clear as you would like but if you look on the right side of the road just beyond what looks like the telegraph pole you can- hopefully - make out a figure.

The clocks, of course, changed at the weekend so most of our journey home was in darkness, the car’s headlights picking up the shapes of the autumn leaves as they fluttered downward on to the rain dampened road.

Snakes and Ladders

The 22-year-old Norwegian recently stopped by Customs officials after arriving back in Norway by ferry from Denmark obviously did not suffer from Arachnophobia, Ophidiophobia or even Herpetophobia.
The officials hopefully did not either.

To begin with, they were in for a smallish surprise after discovering a tarantula in his bag. However, it quickly became evident that he was smuggling animals due the fact that his whole body seemed to be in constant motion. They decided to give the young man a full body search, and their suspicions were confirmed when they found 14 stockings taped around his torso – each one containing a royal python. Not only that - when he dropped his pants they found 10 cans strapped to his legs, each of these containing an albino leopard gecko.

The man is in custody and the reptiles have been handed over to a security firm until the Norwegian authorities have decided what to do with them.

This is, of course, a very serious matter – the smuggling of animals is wrong on every level. However, snakes in stockings wriggling about, causing a hole, then a run (the bane of every woman who dons a pair of hose) does perhaps lead into at least one irresistible pun. Hence the title of this blog.

Monday 26 October 2009

Monster travel - 60s style

I see that a man from Taunton has created a 'psychedelic hearse to offer funky funerals to the hippy generation'.  A lot of those folks who were sharing love and peace in the heady days of flower power are getting on a bit now, and - planning ahead - he reckons they wouldn't want their last journey to be taken in the back of a boring black hearse.  He adds that it could also be used for transporting such things as surf boards for the 'beach bum' generation or even for festival goers to use on their annual wet weekends.

But I reckon the CFZ should buy it. Just think of all those tripods and other special filming equipment you could get in the back for those so-called specially staged monster sightings that we have been accused of - we could even fit in a model of Nessie!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Everybody's gone surfin'

I found this while undertaking my daily trawl through the news. This is one clever dog.

Usually, the most excitement dogs get on a beach is to chase a stick into the sea and bring it back again. But golden retriever Ricochet loves nothing more than proving she's a new-wave pet.

Rip Curl Ricki, as she's known, has been teaching a quadriplegic teenager how to tandem surf.

Patrick Ivison suffered a spinal cord injury when he was run over at only 14 months old. But the 15-year-old is now able to surf using an adaptive surfboard which is built for two people.

He said of Ricochet: 'She acts as that second person. She knows how to balance, too. She leans back and turns the board and it's pretty cool to watch.'

They never surf alone and always have a support team of family and friends to keep the teen from getting in trouble in the waters off San Diego.

But if they do end up in the soup, 19-month-old Ricochet never leaves his side, her owner Judy Fridono said. 'It's like she was born to surf with him. She just seems to know what to do and where to stand.'

Ricochet, a Surfin' for Paws-abilities surfer dog, has helped raise £5,000 towards the teenager's physiotherapy costs by being entered in surf dog contests.

'Surfing is the most extreme thing I've ever done and taken to the next level. It's my action sport,' added Patrick, who has some movement in his left side.

OK, Biggles ..... let's try again.....Fetch! Erm, no you are supposed to bring the ball back.

Rodent airways

A tiny stowaway grounded a flight bound for Heathrow at JFK Airport, New York last weekend. After a mouse was seen scampering through the cabin before take-off, the pilot decided that serious problems could be caused by the little rodent gnawing through wires (we all know the little scamps love to do such things). He therefore requested a replacement plane, an action that - in turn - caused the three hundred passengers a wait of around three hours before they could continue their journey.

I wonder how long the little creature had been on the Delta Airways plane, and where it had boarded? It was probably just minding its own business and looking for tiny morsels dropped by passengers after eating their delicious in-flight meals, but you never know it may well have had inside information that in a recent poll, Heathrow - for the second year running - had come out as the worst airport in the world, and was just trying to delay the horrors that awaited the passengers.

On yer bike?

A warm reception awaits?

Friday 23 October 2009

Down in the tube station at midnight

Many people dislike the London Underground and avoid it where possible, while many use it as a means to get to and from work every day. Some people find it scary, and some people have no thoughts one way or the other. I am very fond of it - the smell, the vibration under your feet, the sound of trains rumbling in the distance, and the whoosh of warm air that precedes the oncoming train. The older stations with their Victorian architecture and white tiles hold a fascination of a bygone London never to return. The dark tunnels invite you into their gaping mouths and you can’t help but marvel at the daring of those who used to go in and clean them every night. ‘Fluffers’ or ‘Fluffies’ as they were called were workers who used to clean up the dust, human hair and skin cells that had accumulated over the day - a disgusting notion somewhat and one of those things that you never really think about. Nowadays, the work is carried out by tunnel cleaning trains, but just imagine what it must have been like to walk those subterranean tunnels, especially if you had recently watched a film such as Quatermass and the Pit.

In my youth, I travelled to London often, it being easy access from where I grew up in Uxbridge. Hop on a Metropolitan train and you could go straight to Baker Street, or use one of the tinier sized Piccadilly trains and you could get to Rayner’s Lane and change there.

Many a Friday or Saturday night I was one of the last few passengers on the way out of the capital on the last train, often sitting in a carriage on my lonesome, or perhaps with one other person. My friend used to leave the train at Eastcote where she used to live, a few stops away from the end of the line at Uxbridge. In those days, I never gave travelling on my own so late at night a second thought, and was completely oblivious to anything going on around me as I sat in my solitary splendour with ears ringing from the gig I had just attended, with a purchased poster or t-shirt carefully nestled in my lap. Interspersed with moments of gazing out at the darkness, and probably with my feet (naughtily) up on the seat opposite, I would absent-mindedly twiddle my 70s garb of beads, bells and bangles with one hand and occasionally read, and re-read, the over-priced programme I had forked out for. (These gig souvenirs never really did tell you anything you didn’t already know and, apart from a few new photographs, were usually full of adverts. However, they were a must, and I have kept all of mine, and they are still nice to flick through occasionally even now.) The occasional waft of patchouli that had been dabbed on my wrists, behind my ears (and elsewhere perhaps but I am not letting on) earlier in the evening would occasionally waft towards my nostrils – I love that scent. It is not so easy to find these days in its true pungent, thick form but can be found on-line if you really search it out, but you are apt to be palmed off with some thin, less potent form, which is nowhere as good as the original.

However, my whole point of this really is to lead into the fact that I have been reviewing a book by David Brandon & Alan Brooke called Haunted London Underground (History Press ISBN 978-0-7524-4746-9 £9.99) . There was no entry for Uxbridge, but it did surprise me to note that there was one for Ickenham – one of those stations called at on my oft-weekly excursions. Ickenham is the home of Vyners Grammar School, my old secondary school. A certain drummer I went out with used to live there too, but that is by the by. I am not sure if it would have affected me back then to know that the station was haunted, but probably not. The paranormal has been a subject that has interested me for as long as I can remember and, although I had never seen it myself, my mother had experienced a ‘visit from the past’ when we first moved into our house in Uxbridge.

There are stations mentioned in the book that have experienced mysterious occurrences that cause me no surprise whatsoever. I did not realise until reading the book, however, just how many old burial sites had to be disturbed in order to build the tunnel system that runs under the busy metropolis, so many of these being plague pits into the bargain. The most recent burial ground was excavated between 1991 and 1998 when the Jubilee Line was being extended. Cross Bones Graveyard was once unconsecrated ground used in medieval times for prostitutes or Winchester Geese as they were known. Interestingly this name stems from the fact they used to live and work from dwellings owned by the Bishop of Winchester! By the 18th Century it had become known as a paupers’ burial ground and was closed in 1853. Up to 15,000 people have been buried there.

The first entry in the book is Aldgate. This part of London is well-known in history especially to those who follow the case of the unsolved murders of the notorious Jack the Ripper. His fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, met her gruesome and untimely death near the station. It is also located near the site of one of the biggest plague pits in London - St Botolph’s Church stands next door and it was here that over 1,000 victims of the plague were buried in the space of only 2 weeks. Aldgate, although part of the underground network, is one of those stations that are above ground, but - not surprisingly - unexplained activity has been recorded there.

Marble Arch station stands close to the spot where around 50,000 people met their deaths during the period between the 12th Century and 1783. Tyburn was situated nearby, along with the accompanying burial pits. It has been reported that people living in the residences that overlook Hyde Park, where the notorious scaffold once stood, have heard the sound of cheering and jeering, along with large crowds seen milling around, dressed it would seem in the clothes of the 18th Century. These are usually seen in the morning, vanish quickly, and are followed by mist.

It is a very interesting book and explains the building of the underground system, each station mentioned having a brief history to explain how it came into existence. There are also two short chapters on closed railway stations and defunct underground stations, together with a chapter regarding those used in film, tv and literature.

Some of the stories do cause you to shiver though, especially those involving the train drivers who sit in the tunnels, on their own in their cabs - with the train empty of passengers - waiting for the ‘go’ light, when they hear doors opening and shutting in the carriages behind them. Now that is scary.....

A good read for anyone interested in the subject, with the interesting additional history behind the building of the London Underground itself.

Thursday 22 October 2009

The wonders of a well placed full stop

So do 'Sunday afternoon drivers' according to my mother

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Biggles in an adventure with precipitation

Biggles has placed himself in a rather odd situation. He has yet to go outside for his morning tour around the bushes (to put it delicately) and it is already gone 11.00 am. Remember, this is a border collie we are talking about here - a naturally energetic, outside, go get ‘em kind of dog. So what is the reason for him walking around the house with a slightly desperate look on his face? Simple - it is raining....not men.... not even cats and dogs (although the former of this last pair would usually stir some kind of doggy excitement)...just a continuous downfall of the wet stuff. Yes, the intrepid hero does not want to get his feet wet.

I wonder how long he can hold off the inevitable. And no, I am not going to escort him around the shrubbery with an umbrella before anyone suggests that I do. What would Shep have said? Definitely no Blue Peter badge for Biggles methinks.

Telephone line

I am slightly befuddled this morning. Jon and I had a ‘phone call last night – well on the cusp of last night and this morning really to be more precise. Dear Tony Shiels telephoned to have a chat - a chat which lasted until around 4.30 am! I have to admit that, just before the call ended, I dozed off a bit on the sofa with Biggles curled up beside me, but when it became time to ‘climb the wooden hills to Bedfordshire’ I did not think it worth going to bed so have been up all night ‘surfing the net’ for interesting things. You know how it ends up. One link leads to another, and before you know it you are reading about something completely unrelated to what you started out researching.

I began looking for something witty for this blog which took me to a story about a woman in Australia who, when asked by her husband to choose between him and her pet crocodile, settled for the latter - a decision which culminated in her divorcing her other half. Then there was the chap in Germany who got his trousers caught in a train carriage door after mooning at the train in response to his being thrown off for not having a ticket. Then I found myself reading about Percy the cat who regularly catches the miniature North Bay Railway train to go visit the Sea Life Centre in Scarborough to watch the fish and penguins. And so it went on.....and I never really found anything particularly witty in the end.

What of our chat with Tony? It was four and a half hours very nicely spent thank you.... it is always lovely to speak to him, no matter what time of day or night.

Friday 16 October 2009

Ground control to Major Tom

"A lump of metal which smashed through the roof of a house is believed to have come from space, the RAF has said.

The 4lb object was investigated by the RAF Flight Safety Branch after it landed in the loft of Peter and Mair Welton's home in Forester Way, Hull, in July this year.

The branch has now identified it as space debris and said this was the only incident of its kind investigated by the RAF in the last five years.

The metal was reported to the RAF as it was initially thought it may have fallen off an aircraft.

But the investigation found the debris had not come from a plane and was more likely to have fallen to earth from space - although it is unknown what the metal was from.

An RAF spokeswoman said: "In the last five years the RAF has become involved in only one incident involving suspected space debris.

"If requested the RAF will investigate incidents of space debris but they do not have a standing remit to do so." "

Hmmm – it is unknown from whence the metal originated. To my mind, this does leave a rather pertinent question. What exactly is up there? How does it get to be up there? Is it jettisoned by some passing Challenger or lobbed from here? Surely if it is something that has become unattached from some piece of scientific apparatus then someone, somewhere, should be rather concerned that a part of it has broken free and is floating around? Or has this throwaway society broadened its horizons to such an extent that if one of its expensive pieces of apparatus ‘breaks’ in space then “that’s OK we can build another”?

I would just like to know what may fall from space one day and hit me on the head whilst taking a gentle amble up to the village shop that is all, and whom my dependants can sue for lack of suitable health and safety precautions. Or is space outside the jurisdiction of such things?