Friday 30 April 2010


Being a domestic engineer (a profession suggested to me by the man at immigration in Texas to replace the age-old expression "housewife") seems to infer that several everyday tasks may require the need of a hard hat or overalls.

In the case of the poor woman in Victoria, Australia who went out to collect her washing from the line, one or both of these may well have been ideal apparel. She discovered, to her horror, that a swarm of around 20,000 bees had attached themselves to some of her more colourful garments and presumably clung on to the fabric - and themselves - in a cacophony of buzzing and humming in defiance of her laundry day antics.

She telephoned a local bee keeper to come along and clear the offending creatures and her garden became a hive of activity whilst he dealt with the little darlings. He explained that “bees swarm in the spring when their hives become overcrowded, forcing the queen bee to head out with some of her workers. The bees then cluster nearby while scouts head out to find suitable locations for a new hive.”

Bees on their own are sweet little things, but get a group of them together and they instantly become akin to a crowd of football hooligans who cling together in the terraces and threaten all those around purely with the sight of their numbers and noisy chanting. There may be safety in numbers for those concerned, but to the outsider those numbers are terrifying.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

An update from Major James Bigglesworth - aka Biggles - about life at the CFZ and his training programme

I woke up this morning a bit earlier than usual and had a good stretch and yawn to get my body ready for the day ahead. I nuzzled the old dear awake by thrusting my cold nose in her face – I don’t see why anyone else should be asleep if I am awake – and then proceeded to scratch and wash myself in order to annoy the grumpy old git as he tried in vain to return to sleep. It is great fun doing these ablutions on the bed as I can make it bounce up and down when cleaning my privates, which causes utterances of extreme annoyance from the two-leggeds lying under the bedclothes. That is if they have managed to reclaim any of them because I usually try and get as much of them as possible to lay on myself.

A good game is to sniff loudly at the air that comes through the gap at the bottom of the closed door and then try to force open the door with a hefty kick of my front legs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it does then I break out and head for Graham’s door to make sure that he is awake. I never bother with Oll’s door – he doesn’t get up till 11 in the morning and I know it would be wasted energy trying to rouse him.

Then it is off downstairs at a rate of knots, either with Graham or the grumpy old git – no use wasting time walking sedately when there are two cats downstairs to annoy and garden borders to check out. Sometimes the old dear gets up first and lets me outside – she is nice – she is the one who gives me food and I follow her around all day like a shadow making sure that she is not doing anything that I am going to miss. These humans don’t use the garden bushes for emptying their bladders, which is something that I don’t quite understand, but they are peculiar creatures in lots of ways. So when the old dear goes upstairs I sit on her chair to keep it warm for her. I am not sure that she appreciates my warm bottom on her chair from the way she sighs when she returns downstairs, but I am a creature of habit and I accidentally did it once so have to carry on doing so.

From about 8 pm in the evening I incessantly try to round her up to send her to bed so that I can go with her and root around in the bin and reveal the grumpy old git’s disgusting habit of eating pork pies in bed. I like telling tales on him – I pretend that I am a mummy’s boy and that is what it is all about – telling tales. I get told off for dragging wrappers around the bedroom floor and on to the bed, but he gets told off too for eating such things upstairs in the first place.

They tell me I have some disgusting habits too, but I really do not know what they are on about. Drinking out of the lavatory is fun – it is just the right height for me to get my head in and there is a never ending supply of water to lap up. I do not understand why they make weird noises of disgruntlement when I try to kiss them goodnight after having one of these night time drinks.

Ahhh it is a great life being the alpha male in the CFZ household – the training is going quite well and I nearly have my pack exactly where I want them. They keep trying to usurp me but I foil them at every turn because I am a dog and I am cleverer than they are.

Friday 23 April 2010

When the cat's away

Jon and Graham went off to Berkshire yesterday (Thursday) for Jon to give his talk at Reading Library – they were picking up Richard on the way – and left the house at midday. Oll was busy doing scanning upstairs so it meant that I had downstairs all to myself. This was paradise. Then Oll went out to record an interview and I was left completely without human company for four hours! What bliss. The sun was shining and whilst it was very tempting to down tools and go and sit in the garden with a good book and a pot of tea, I was a good girl and pottered around the house doing chores uninterrupted. I tidied my ‘desk’, cleaned up the kitchen and even managed to tidy up in the bedroom and actually put the laundry away. What delights I can get up to when left on my tod. And at midnight it was still tidy - usually spaces that suddenly become empty on tables etc., almost immediately disappear again behind my back if there are others in the house when I am cleaning up. Point in case - Jon comes home and immediately plonks a Morrisons supermarket receipt on a spare area of my 'desk'. Not for long though, for I returned it to him forthwith and scolded him for daring to do so.

Spider, the cat, joined in the chores by knocking the telephone off the dresser in the kitchen - I think he was trying to point out that it was in his way as his favourite loitering place is right on the corner, presumably so that he can take a casual swipe at the dog's head as he wanders passed.

'ere mum - what's that up there?

PS: I am sure there is joke opportunity somewhere about Spider being a mere cat but I am darned if I can think of one right now.

Monday 19 April 2010

All change!

A cockerel called Gianni has swapped his sex after a fox raid that killed all his hens. His owners say that Gianni was definitely a red-blooded rooster until the raid on the farm in Tuscany, when he started to lay eggs and tried to hatch them.

UN scientists are going to study Gianni’s DNA to see if they can establish why he has changed sex. “ It may be a primitive species survival gene. With all the females gone he could only ensure the future of his line by becoming female,” said one expert.

I had heard of chickens changing from female to male before and back in April 2006 the Mail Online reported on an egg-laying hen turning into a cockerel. She had spent 8 months laying dozens of eggs and then crowed like a rooster one morning. She developed a scarlet comb, grew wattles under her chin and tufty tail feathers over the next few weeks.

Her owner had kept chickens for 10 years, but had never heard of this happening before, but animal experts said that the sex change was a 1-in-a-10,000 rarity and happens when a damaged ovary causes the hen’s testosterone levels to soar, turning the remaining ovary into a testicle.

There are other tales of hens turning into cockerels, but it would seem that a rooster changing into a hen is even rarer than 1-in-a-10,000. It will be interesting to see what results the scientists come up with.

Poor Gianni looking confused

Friday 16 April 2010

A night on Bodmin Moor

Some stories tell that it was on April 14th 1844 that Charlotte Dymond and her boyfriend Matthew Weeks went out for a walk across Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. Some stories tell that that was the day her body was found. I am not too sure which is the correct version, but what is clear, however, is that the walk was the last time anyone saw her alive, for a few days later her body was found in a stream near Roughtor Ford, her throat having been cut from ear to ear. Matthew had returned to the farm alone and had said that he had left Charlotte at Higher Down Gate and had not gone further with her out on to the moor. When her body was found Matthew became prime suspect and fled to Plymouth. When he was located, he was arrested for her murder, found guilty and hanged in Bodmin Gaol at noon on 12th August 1844 for the crime. The story goes that Charlotte and he had an argument and that he had lost his temper and killed her, before returning to the farm alone. Since then, though, it has been suggested that he may well have been innocent of her murder and that another jealous lover was guilty of the crime. We will never know.

Charlotte was an 18 year old maidservant who was employed at Penhale Farm on the edge of the moor and Matthew, who was 22 and crippled, was a farmhand on the same farm. Charlotte is buried in nearby St David’s Churchyard, Davidstow and Matthew’s body was laid to rest in the gaol’s coal yard.

There is a monument to Charlotte standing near where she was murdered – it has been relocated slightly due to erosion of the banks, but there have been reports of Charlotte’s ghost - clad in a gown, a red shawl and a silk bonnet - being sighted on the anniversary of her death. So on Wednesday this week, the 14th April, I went to Bodmin Moor with our friends Jools, Dougie and Kai from PPI (Parkin’s Paranormal Investigations) to pay our respects and see if anything occurred.

I was to meet them near the Dairy Crest factory at Davidstow and after a wrong turn and a subsequent ten mile trip round in a circle down one of the narrowest roads I have come across, I eventually caught up with them; in the end down to the wonders of the trusty mobile phone. However, during my lost ten miles I did get to have a small conversation with a herd of cows and their calves who eyed me with great consternation and suspicion, and which seemed glad when I drove off and left them to their ruminating.

Armed with backpack, cameras, coffee flask and sandwiches we reached the monument at about 7.30 pm after traversing some rather dodgy boggy ground and streams. It had been a rather amusing trip from the car park with slips, trips and splashes, but the scenery around us was absolutely stunning – that is when we could look at it, in between navigating the rather uneven ground. Moorland is my favourite landscape and it was the first time I had seen the wild side of Bodmin in all its natural glory. It was Jools’ 8th, Dougie’s 7th and Kai’s third annual visit I think, if I remember correctly, but of course it was my first and I was excited and slightly apprehensive as well. I don’t make the habit of sitting out on the moors in the middle of a cold night when most are snuggled between warm duvets. However, after this first foray I am now bitten by the bug and hope to join the others on some more similar investigations.

As darkness fell the sky revealed an unbroken scene of constellations – there were no street lights to mar the brightness and no clouds to cover the spectacle. The breeze picked up and blew its way freely across the moorland and I was glad that I had donned polo neck sweater and a few other outer garments as well as my hat, scarf and gloves. From the sheer wildness you can understand why Charlotte’s body had lain undiscovered for a couple of days – there is nothing there even now, other than a few sheep and ponies. The bleakness is astounding and beautiful.

Apart from reported sightings of a ghostly apparition dressed as Charlotte had been on the day she was last seen, there have also been reports of the scent of perfume around the monument, but unfortunately on Wednesday there was nothing for us.

Eventually a decision had to be reached and we decided to leave the monument and make our way back to the car park in the darkness, save for a couple of torches. The return trip was even more hilarious than the arrival as the light from the torches only broke up the complete blackness for a few feet. It is surprising how disoriented you become when there is no light and if anyone was watching they would have spent a happy quarter of an hour watching us make our way gingerly over the tufts of grass and desperately attempting to avoid a late night dip in what was probably rather cold water. I freely admit that my sense of direction is nigh on zero and on a couple of occasions I found myself veering off in completely the wrong direction.

The only thing then was for me to find my way back to the A39 – a task which was aided by the others with grateful thanks– and with a toot and a wave we headed off in opposite directions towards our relative homes.

To some, it may have been a rather odd way to spend an evening, but to me and the others, it was a great night spent with friends and we had a lovely time even if that does sound rather a weird way of putting it considering we spent a large amount of it in the darkness near the spot of a murder that was so gruesome that it even reached the pages of The Times.

The true story of Charlotte Dymond and her murder will never be known, but if you would like to read some more about it then the following is a good place to start:

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Some stripes for Shosh

Shosh loves zebras and every birthday and Christmas usually consists of something 'zebra' for her collection (I even managed a packet of zebra cakes (which we brought all the way back from a Walmart in Texas) for her birthday this year, which I was pretty chuffed about) so when I saw this photo of a Grevy's zebra foal born around a week ago at Amersoort Zoo in The Netherlands, I couldn't resist posting it on my blog.
Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) is not only the largest zebra but also the largest wild equine and was named after Jules Grevy, a French president, who was given one in the 1880s by the government of Abysinnia. It is also the only living species of the subgenus Dolichohippus - other zebras belonging to Hippotigris. It is taller, has narrower stripes and larger ears than other zebras and is considered endangered.

If you would like to learn a bit more about Grevy's, here is a link for you:

Pink to make the boys wink

I saw something yesterday that made me wince. I am not sure whether it was a wince of disgust, a wince of anger or merely a wince of embarrassment for the young lass concerned. It had been a lovely balmy spring day and many people were going about their business being able to do so without the need for warm outer wear so it was not surprising to spot naked arms and legs for one of the first times this year. However, whilst in the car at the garage as Graham was filling up with petrol a young girl walked on to the forecourt to purchase something from the garage shop. Her outfit was – at first – non-descript, albeit being a baby pink tracksuit that didn’t quite meet in the middle, revealing a bare midriff (which again is nothing new these days). However, it was upon her exit from the shop that I do admit to sighing with despair. The expression ‘muffin top’ is self-explanatory (I possess more in the line of too small a cake tin in which a large Victoria sponge has oozed over the sides) but it was the slogan splashed across her rear that was the icing on that muffin that made me cringe.

I am not sure how old she was – these days it is very difficult to pigeon hole youngsters into age groups – but if I was pressed I would say somewhere in the 14/15 year bracket. I am not convinced that the word JUICY emblazoned in large letters across her bum was really apt though. Although in saying that, whilst my eldest daughter would probably agree with me, my youngest would probably say I was behind the times and over-reacting.

But to me there is something quite revolting and disturbing about a young girl of that approximate age wandering around in a baby pink tracksuit with such a word placed in such a position. Or am I really just getting old and believing too much in the age of innocence? Does that not exist anymore in the 21st Century?

Friday 9 April 2010

Oh what a tangled web we weave…

Ever been caught out on that one? I have – once - many years ago when working for the Managing Director of the company where I was employed, whilst his secretary was on holiday. He was a funny guy – he used to come in to work at around 11.00 am and poodle about a bit, checking his mail and walking around the offices and factory chatting to folks. Then he would go off for lunch, returning at around 2.30. He would usually start dictating letters an hour or so later, just in time for the post, and more often than not he would then continue to dictate letters for the next day. It was not uncommon for me to be leaving work at around 8 pm at night, and on some occasions he would give me a £10 note for staying behind with the words “Go buy yourself a new hat”. I am not sure what he meant by that, but I always assumed it was one of those old expressions that are said as a thank-you.

My web was woven when he happened to be away out of the country for a week and I was in charge of his mail, i.e. sending the usual “Thank you for your letter. I am writing to inform you that Mr X is out of the country on business, but I will place your letter before him on his return.” One particular letter, however, arrived that caused me a certain amount of ‘do I do this, or do I do that?’ I cannot remember the finer points, but there was some doubt as to whether I should admit my boss was out of the country or not. Anyway, after much cogitation I decided that my plan of action would be to write the letter as above, but to not actually send it! That sounds a wee bit odd now, but there was a perfectly valid reason at the time.

The week passed uneventfully, and I got home on time each evening. Eventually the day came for the boss to return and for me to sit in the chair in front of his desk and present my secretarial skills for the week in absentia. And here is where my person became tangled in my web – I had to sit through half an hour of being told why I should not have sent the letter and was powerless to plead by innocence for fear of admitting my deceit. Oh to be in my 20s again – so young, na├»ve and eager to please. However, it taught me a lesson – do not spin a web unless you are sure you can keep up the deception. And in my case, that was the only time I ventured into such weaving. Too intricate the web and it becomes easy to drop a stitch or for the threads to become taut and easily break. Then the truth seizes its opportunity and begins to weave itself within the web until it searches out the deceit and all is revealed.

But back to the 21st Century and here I am on a quiet Friday evening in the company of gurgling filters in the fish tanks and whirring computers in the office. We are all concerned about poor David B-P and his hospitalisation is taking its toll on our moods. Jon is lying down with a migraine in a darkened room and I am about to try to write a short story about shoes when I have finished this blog. Why you may ask? A competition I can answer by way of a succinct reply. A competition in which first prize is a fancy pair of shoes which would probably end up in youngest daughter’s collection if by some million to one chance I won them. Sorry Olivia, don’t hold your breath.
Before Jon retired to his darkened sanctum upstairs, he confessed very loudly, and very determinedly, that he was suffering from great pangs of hunger. Could I fix him something to eat he asked with one of those looks on his face that children sport when they are out shopping with you and decide that they want you to buy them something.

“Get thee to the kitchen, woman and knock me up some vittles,” his eyes and smile seemed to say before I threatened him with a gentle swipe round the cranium with my oven gloves.

And so the facile princeps looked abashed and denied all intimation of such a singularly sexist thought. “Yeah right,” I retorted as I opened a can of beans and plopped them into a saucepan, before coaxing two slices of slightly out of shape bread into the toaster.

Thursday 8 April 2010

A bird in the tin

I didn’t realise you could still buy Kiwi shoe polish. It is one of those items that were ever present in our cupboard at home when I was little. And when my mum and dad were in charge of such things, my school shoes always received a regular brushing with the gorgeous smelling paste. Perhaps it is telling that as I got older, and was in charge of such things myself, my shoes didn’t get quite so much attention as they used to and the tin was less used, so no wonder then that the little round tin had escaped my memory until I read something today that urged me to look it up.

It is not surprising perhaps that back in those hazy days of childhood that I would not have questioned its trade name – primary school children are rarely bothered with such things other than maybe asking such questions as what is that picture on the tin? However,being interested in the world of nature from a fairly young age the plump little bird after which it is named may well have been fairly familiar to me - I still have my ‘leaving’ book signed by my headmistress in 1967, which we all received upon moving from primary to secondary education , in my possession. We could choose what book we would like and I chose The Wonder Book of Animals, on page 95 of which is a drawing of a kiwi. But with no internet in those days I would not have been able to find out exactly why a shoe polish so common in our shops would have been named after a native bird of New Zealand unless I trawled through a lot of books in the local library. Today, though, all was revealed when I discovered that it was first made in Australia in 1906 and was, in fact, named Kiwi as the wife of the chap who developed it was from New Zealand. The reason it became popular overseas was due, apparently, to the British and American armies adopting it in the First World War.

I like to learn something new every day and the missing link between shoe polish and a plump bird from New Zealand is a welcome addition to the list.

However, what has this to do with anything? Basically, I was looking at a selection of new additions to zoos around the world and came across the plump little character below:

There are five species of kiwi in New Zealand and the brown kiwi is not only named as their national bird, but is also the only one to be seen outside of its native country. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC is one of only four zoos outside of New Zealand to successfully breed them. The egg, belonging to the Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, was laid in January, and at the end of last month the chick hatched at the National which is only the fourth time in the zoo’s 121 year-old history that this has been achieved. The sex of the chick is not normally known until it is two years old, but it is hoped that DNA samples swabbed from the inside of the shell and from the chick’s beak will allow geneticists to decipher its sex in the coming weeks.

The bird is classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Maori consider it as sacred and it plays a large part in their mythology. The kiwi mates for life and the egg is looked after by the male until it hatches, when it receives no further parental care. Fully feathered when born, they have all necessary skills to survive. They are ground-dwelling, nocturnal, flightless birds that have a keen sense of smell.

You can check out more about the care and hatching of the latest chick at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo at:

Saturday 3 April 2010

Jerry and the blackbird

Poor Jon is not very well at the moment. A lot of people have misconceptions of bipolar – they think that it is more or less just a matter of highs and lows, but the truth is that there are several different types of the disease and whilst medication in the main helps, there are times when it doesn’t much. My father was a manic depressive so I knew vaguely what to expect with Jon, but I was taken aback with the severity that can manifest itself upon occasion. He can get so bad that he cannot speak properly and has trouble with the basics like walking and can become clumsy beyond belief. Coupled with diabetes and heart problems it all adds up to a pretty horrendous time for him sometimes.

However, the animals still need to be tended to and yesterday was a special day for Jerry the jackdaw as it was the day he was to be transferred from his winter accommodation in the conservatory back into his large aviary. As you may know, Jerry is the rescue who preferred our company to the big wide world despite our efforts not to imprint ourselves upon him, whereby when we let him free he opted to return to his aviary a day or so later. Ever since yesterday morning though his aviary has been bombarded by a territorial blackbird who seems to think poor Jerry is an interloper and has invaded its territory. I suppose it is plucky of the blackbird and I know they can be quite aggressive towards other creatures when nesting time comes around. I have often watched blackbird attack cats at this time of year – they simply do not have any fear and have to be applauded for such. However, as Jerry has been a stakeholder in the desirable plot in the garden for over a year, this blackbird is just going to have to put up with it.

I was also slightly amused this morning to see that a lady in California has built her three dogs a substantial 11 foot high ‘house’ outside in her yard, which is supposedly a copy of her own - complete with all the extras, including a TV, vaulted ceilings and air conditioning. It has cost her something like £13,000 to build, and boasts a picket fence around a tiny garden. If the building has been constructed out of wood, let us hope that the three dogs in question have outgrown the gnawing stage or the structure could well topple over due to enthusiastic teeth attacking the foundations.

I hope you all have a pleasant Easter Sunday.