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 passĂ© 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.