Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Duck Patio - the Sequel

HKC2, in disgrace following the episode with the neighbour's duck, was the prime suspect in the latest murder cases in the hamlet.   The big Aylesbury drake vanished a week ago and not a single feather has been found.  The pretty mallard duck has also vanished and not a single feather found.  Everyone looked at HKC2, who looked back and never blinked.

It must have been Mr Fox.

Or maybe a passing tourist fancied duck for dinner.

Because it was the Drake who vanished, the duck eggs are obviously not going to be fertile but the trouble is, there are a dozen eggs and some of them were laid before the disappearance.  So my enterprising neighbours have removed all of them from the duck house and stuck them in the incubator in the hope that some of them will hatch.  They will 'candle' them later this week to see if embryos are present. (That's basically shining a light across the egg to show up airspace and solid non-space within the shell, the solid bits being a duck-in-waiting)

I await the verdict and so, licking his lips, does HKC2.  He could take out an adult Aylesbury but a young one still in duckling fluff is so much easier.

The neighbours will be giving their terrier the run of the place. Even Mr Fox won't tangle with that one.

HKC2, you have been warned.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

An Interval in Sunlight

I rode up onto the Dunkery range this afternoon under leaden grey skies and in a very strong wind. There were no deer up there today and I came across only one heavily pregnant Exmoor pony mare and her yearling foal. The only buzzard I saw was hulked up on an oak branch in the woods, sulking until the wind dropped so that he could get aloft again.

It's nearly the end of May and  I wanted to revisit Bagley Wood before the bluebells die over so that's where I programmed Hoss to go.  Despite the headwind and the drizzle it was flinging in our faces, Hoss was very spritely and by the time he'd trotted me up through Allercombe and Hollowcombe the sun had broken through the clouds. The Moor changes quite dramatically when the sun comes out and I paused to look around at the still-winter-bleached hillside, its heather not ready to purple the slopes for another couple of months and its grasses not yet  verdant. Massive cloud shadows fled across distant fields giving a different picture with every passing second.  Below me, behind a screen of beeches, a wildstone wall marked the boundaries of Bagley.

As I rode on down the rough stony track, it gave way almost exactly at the stone boundary to a worn-grass path that dropped steeply into birch woodland. I could see the distant groundmist of bluebells long before I could identify individual blooms.  Spirals and waterfalls of blue ran down through curling summer ferns and barely-grazed woodgrasses and all around, despite the wind, a faint scent of hyacinth pervaded the air.  I pulled Hoss up and let him stand while I gazed around the wood.

Exmoor is not an easy place for trees to grow into towering giants and most of those in the bluebell wood are birches, holly and smallish oaks.  Past storms have toppled trees into the combe but over the years, determined survivors lying at impossible angles with their canopies lower than their bases, continued growing. Some of the branches on the upper sides of these fallen trees headed for the sky again and the result is an extraordinary sight. Close-growing rows of birch turn out to be branches of the same trunk and all take their strength from the remaining roots of the original tree that the wind failed to pull free of earth.

Sunlight filtered through the overhead canopies and sparked silver off raindrops on a spider's web pinioned among the bluebells.  The wind, still blasting from the south west, shivered the birch leaves and a few of these, shaken loose, startled Hoss into moving off.  Almost at the same moment, the grey clouds won their supremacy battle, the light in the wood changed quality again and the magic faded away.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Swiss Roll

I've just come back from being on a roll out there, in a village overlooking Lac Leman and the miles and miles of vinyards on its northern side. Switzerland is lovely in springtime, not too hot and not too tourist-busy - but the traditionals are all there to be admired: cheeses and chocolate by the tonne, flags flying outside every chalet type house big enough to support a pole in the garden and everywhere cows clanging their bells - wonderful.

I used to work in Lausanne many years ago and my French was once near-fluent but it's rusted somewhat and it always takes several days to get my 'ear in' again. It's fun to be able to eavesdrop on conversations on the train in a foreign language! And as every writer knows, fellow-passenger-watching and eavesdropping are tools of the trade so I didn't even feel guilty about hearing about the recalcitrant children etc ...

The Swiss birds (in and out of the cuckoo clocks) all chitter in French just as loudly as they do in English, and the crickets answer back seemingly for much of the night. There are two churches in the village and both have chiming bells, one dong for the half hour and the correct number of dongs for the hour - but the two towers sound about a minute and a half apart: apparently the later ring gives the real time!

The scents of the open meadows - they're ready to be mown for hay any day now - are divine, so many different grasses and wildflowers and no ragwort or thistles in sight, how DO they do it?  There is no barbed wire in Switzerland (it's actually against the law to fence horses in with it) and the milch cows all graze right up to the lanes and roads with only a thin wire keeping them in their own places.  The wire is plugged in to the national grid though, so I guess yon cows aren't going to argue more than once about the grass being greener on the other side of the wire.

All is not wonderful, however: the lovely old chalet that used to mark the entrance to the village has been pulled down and hideous flats have been built in its place. Even though the whole village population signed a petition to prevent it, the authorities went ahead anyway.  Ghastly. There's a huge amount of building work going on in Switzerland, has been for several years and each time I go it seems another dozen of these horrid concrete block buildings have appeared, either for industrial or domestic purposes. Although the old villages retain their charm, all along the roads between them and crowding around the edges of the villages, wherever another few acres become vacant when someone dies and the heirs don't want to farm or grow vines, some horrible building goes up.  There are protected areas, of course, indeed UNESCO has just designated as 'special' the whole region around Lavaux from Pully to Vevey - thank goodness somebody has seen the problem and is starting to put brakes on.

Vevey is a gracious small town with a lovely lakeside area where I found the most beautiful carousel, dating from 1900.  It looks like a giant toy - it's a fantastically ornate merry go round of enormous proportions, with two tiers of 'rides' on it - separated by carved staircases.  On the lower deck are well-made and exquisitely painted carnival horses which go up and down on some unseen mechanism as the carousel turns.  There are Cinderella rocking carriages, into one of which I saw a delightful Italian couple climb and they spent the whole ride leaning against one another, holding hands and enjoying both their own relationship and maybe also memories the Carousel brought them. Every available surface of the Carousel was decorated - including the ceilings which had paintings of classical legendary scenes and other 'proper' artwork painstakingly set onto them.  The walls and supports were gorgeously decorated - in tasteful and classic pale green and pink and cream, with gilt finishing touches and mirrors everywhere, two-tailed mermaids carved on the uprights - I stood and watched for half an hour and I don't think I saw all there was to be seen even then. I wish I'd had my camera.

Switzerland is riding high as the dollar and the pound are at a low exchange rate - I've never known it to be so expensive and would caution anyone travelling there to be aware of how hideous the prices are - a very mediocre salad plate at lunch for two will set you back about £18 and afternoon tea and a pastry much the same.  Maybe I'm just out of touch, of course, perhaps even in the UK this is the going rate now.  As you know from previous blogs, I am not by nature or inclination a 'lady who lunches' - just as bloomin' well, at those prices!

On the whole though, the sounds and scents and sights of Switzerland continue to delight me and of course seeing old friends and spending time with them is always a pleasure.  But I don't think I'll be visiting again for another year or so. 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

One Way Trip

In 1941 the Swiss passed a law allowing assisted suicide.  It does seem extraordinary that they would be working on such legislation with the maelstrom of a world war raging all around their borders but that's the way things were. In the canton of Zurich only, foreigners are permitted - courtesy of Dignitas - to end their lives legally also.

I'm off to Switzerland this morning.

I do, however, have a return ticket and I'm not visiting Zurich anyway.

I'll be back

Monday, 9 May 2011

Losing one's SatNav virginity

Maps I can read. Courtesy of the delightful (late) Miss Lancaster of Withington Girls' School and the equally delightful and long-suffering Mrs McQueen of ditto, I learned to read a map and navigate hills and moors when I was in my teens. I know what the funny close-set multitudes of lines mean, what the crosses on the creases of the maps are and what a public footpath looks like both in reality and on paper. 

Trouble is, all that is so out of date as to be out of use now, particularly when circumnavigating Warrington on a busy Saturday afternoon from a motorway to a dual carriageway and back to a motorway.

Bugger Warrington.  I finally got out and headed for Liverpool (I'd never been there either before last weekend and to be honest, no offence, I never wish to return) and was feeling a bit (terrified) uneasy when I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be using a borrowed SatNav to get me to the Heart and Chest Hospital. 

Hah!  I stopped at a service station on the M62 and looked at The Instructions.  I finally found the power source (the car's cigarette lighter) plugged this thing called TomTom into it, looked at first postcode I'd been given and tapped it in.
Five circuits of the car park later I realised TomTom was either having an April First Moment or a problem with brick walls (I can't drive through them). The voice of "Jane" kept telling me to turn right. "Fifty yards, turn right." (I tried both Charles (British Male) and John (American Dork) and reverted to the just-tolerable voice of  "Jane" (British Female).  I sat and screamed after the fifth circuit.  I knew perfectly well I needed to be heading West, so I sang loudly ('Hit the Road, Jack') to drown "Jane" out until I'd got back onto the motorway heading west.

"Jane" instructed me to "turn round and go back".


After a panicky few minutes during which time I nearly side-swiped a hundred tons of articulated lorry and scared the tish out of the occupants of a 1978 Ford Capri by swerving across three lanes of mid-afternoon motorway traffic, I realised I'd put in the postcode of the Warrington address I'd left half an hour earlier. I started singing again because I couldn't work out how to shut "Jane" up and her smug instructions were beginning to piss me off. This time my choice of song was the wishful-thinking 'Take me home, country roads'.

Using commonsense and not SatNav I got in close to Liverpool, off the motorway and pulled over again. This time I put in the correct postcode and tried again.  I was at the hospital in about 10 minutes - easy.

Denying any terror or problems, by the time I had finished my business at the hospital I reset the postcode navigation to an address near Tarporley in Cheshire, about a million miles away and managed to get to my destination with no-longer-white-knuckles and a steady heartbeat.  The song had now changed to the old Harry Lauder number "Keep right on to the end of the Road".

On arrival, my knowing brother handed me the largest G and T I've ever seen and removed the SatNav from my custody.  I've lived in the Back of Beyond too long, it seems. Give me the sun, a map, a compass (and another large G and T) and I can orienteer with the best of them, on foot or on hoof, across bog, moor and river. But offer me the latest global positioning navigation technology, the use of an American satellite and a cigarette lighter with attitude and I'll have a nervous breakdown before sunset.

I know where Liverpool is, thank you.  I know where Exmoor is.

Guess which direction I'm headed?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Duck Patio

HKC2, the big Siamese/Maine Coone cross (a Tycoon, really) has disgraced himself again.  After the Pheasant Episode some years ago which resulted in a broken catflap, I thought he'd give up Big Game hunting. Mostly he concentrates on small but tricky prey, such as weasels, rabbits, the odd squirrel and when the wind's in the wrong direction, rats.

At Christmas he'd grown bolder again and nabbed a near-neighbour's guinea fowl, leaving me the feet, a LOT of feathers and some explaining to do.  I couldn't face it: I binned the evidence and let Charlie-the-fox take the blame.

Another near-neighbour has three large Aylesburys and a couple of not-Mallards, Mrs of which is sitting on eggs in the back paddock and Mr of which has taken up with the Aylesburys cos he was bored. I'm sorry to say that HKC2 invited a protesting Mr Not-Mallard in for dinner one evening via the new catflap and wouldn't take no for an answer.

The catflap survived. Mr Not-Mallard, however, although rescued and repatriated, died 48 hours later and as a result, relations are Strained between HKC2 and Mr Not-Mallard's owner.  I offered to pay  of course: blood money, vet's bills, funeral costs, whichever was needed or came first but the neighbours sportingly declined ... and dined on duck themselves.


Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Extended Families

Rode up through Bagley Wood yesterday morning to check on the status of the bluebells there. I counted three stalks with blooms and about ten thousand standing 5 inches tall and green as the surrounding grass.  Should have remembered that the wild bluebells are always late up on that side of the combe.  At this rate they won't be showing until the middle or end of May.

One of the wild ponies - purebred Exmoor, what would you expect - was having a major scrape and scrub against a couple of conveniently close birch trees, one got his bum and the other his neck and Hoss watched him, drop-jawed in envy.  So I got off, loosened the girth and did my best Head Rubbing massage (I draw the line at scratching his bum) and he loved it. As the minutes passed  I noticed more ponies appearing in the wood: mares, last year's youngsters, the little dark stallion and several two and three year olds were all milling around, maybe 15 ponies altogether.  Not quite the whole herd, there were maybe 8 missing but as I remounted and went on up the steep hillside, I came across just one more.

A very dark mare, alone, taking no notice of the herd, grazed on the rough heathered land near Dicky's Path.  She raised her head as Hoss approached and in equine body-language talk she flickered him a warning with her head and swishing tail. Back off, stranger. From behind her protective bulk stepped the reason for her temporary self-imposed separation from her family and the cause of her anxiety at our proximity: a small foal, less than a day old, long-haired and fluffy as a child's toy.  The little filly's underbelly and legs were cream-coloured - they'll darken as she gets older - and as her mother nudged her into action and away from us, she showed me her very straight gait as they trotted off. She'll do well, this little one. She's already tough and game and has strong, well-formed limbs.  She'll run with her dam until next year's foal arrives and in about 3 or 4 years' time, when the stallion has been exchanged for another not related to her, she will herself give birth out here on the wild Moor.

I know the owner of this herd well and on arriving home, rang up to let her know her 2011 crop has started and where the herd is currently to be found.  I couldn't give her the mare's herd number - the brand mark was hidden in the still-present winter coat - but by now she'll have checked the filly out, maybe even named her, and marked her down in the breeding book.  The filly won't become 'official' in the Stud Book until she's been seen and approved by the Exmoor Pony Society at some stage in the future.

This is a lovely time of year and the wild ponies have wintered well, despite the long cold spells they've had to endure.  Soon there will be lots of foals - and by June the red deer calves will be born as well.  Lots to look forward to!

Friday, 22 April 2011

All Present and Correct

Should have waited another 24 hours before mentioning the cuckoos: this morning Hoss took me up to show me a herd of about 40 deer up near the Hows (mounds) on Dunkery and there was the cuckoo music all around, filling the open sky.  How can such a small bird call so penetratingly that he can be heard across the whole Vale? I've never seen him and don't know many people who have, but everyone knows his voice.

Something startled the deer and they elegantly legged it to the far side of the horizon. At the same time the cuckoo stopped for a commercial break and I haven't heard him since.  But I know he and his missis are up there and despite the rain (yes, honestly!) I am now firmly a believer that  summer is on the way.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

I'm Waiting ...

The cuckoos are late this year. Usually I first hear them on or around the 21st April but it's the end of that day now and still neither a cuck nor an oo has popped from the hills around the Vale of Porlock. Tomorrow I'll get Hoss to take me up onto the shoulders of Dunkery and surely from there I'll be lucky. I know cuckoos have some horrible habits but I do love their call.
The gorse is in flower and the scent of coconut is very strong up in the hills where it holds sway. It needs burning off or mowing soon - they've got a new machine over Minehead way which can cut and chew up and dispose of acres of the stuff in one day and a good job too - bring on the GorseGobbler.

Yippee! Two more of my stories are out today: 'Lady in Waiting' is in May's issue of 'PONY' magazine and 'A Castle by the Sea' is in the People's Friend Fiction Special 2011. It still gives me such a kick to see my work out and about and helping to pay my vet's fees.

I need the sales! HKC1 - the ridiculously fluffy one - has been 'overgrooming' (chewing out her fur) and had to go to MrVetMan the other day for a cortisone injection. Those 10 minutes cost me the best part of £40: maybe I should just divert part of my salary straight into the veterinary accounts each month.

I'm still not sure if I'm 'blogging' properly - but I quite enjoy jotting my random thoughts here from time to time, so I think I'll just carry on doing it just the way I do.

Oh yes, and I think HKC2 has just eaten the Easter Bunny ...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Queen Anne's Lace

I told you about Greenfire the other week.  Well the fire is halfway up most of the hawthorn hedges now - if I were any kind of a techie I'd post the geeky photos here so you can also witness the creeping green. I'm not so you can't, you'll have to use your imagination.

There is a wonderful wildflower (weed to the uninitiated) which suffers the name of 'Cow Parsley'.  It's making its presence felt very strongly in the fanning of the Green Fire along the lanes right now, leading the way so to speak: its tips are the highest point of the Green advance in some places.

 If I look closely, I can see that these tips are no longer green, they're turning creamy.  Within a few weeks they'll open out into the glorious frothy lacework of petals that so well deserve the name that should grace them more often: Queen Anne's Lace.  These elegant plants line the lanes like cheering bystanders and in early May it seems they applaud and wave at me as I drive past.  They give me a lovely feeling of well-being.

Oh help, it's not even Sunday yet. I don't normally wax lyrical until Sundays. I'd better stop.

Cherry Blossom rain

I was riding along the lane the other day and got myself rained on by the cherry blossom from the trees in a neighbour's garden. It was a delightful experience. It reminded me that despite the eternal hassles of work and other unmentionables, life often gives wonderful tiny moments of pleasure. These must be must remembered or put on a blog (in case the short term memory kicks in too soon)

So I'm telling you: belt and braces.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Stag Horn Hunt

It's amazing what geeks even normally sane countrymen can be when they're obsessed.  This time of year brings out a competitive streak in several of my near-neighbours who will barely speak to one another until 'The Season' is over, particularly if one is known to have picked up a 'four-atop' or better.  Where one man has walked and found his prize remains secret until the matching 'four-atop' has been found as well.  Stags often drop both antlers quite close to each other.  Maybe they walk round in circles having lost the first because the weight of the remaining one makes straight lines difficult ...

'The Season' has nothing to do with staghunting but everything to do with stag horn hunting. These chaps, and the occasional chapess, wander about their farms - and other people's if nobody is looking - checking anything that looks like a poking-up white twist of branch in case it's really a stag horn.  Before I came here I understood these to be called antlers and the books still tell me this is the correct term but the chaps hereabouts talk resolutely about 'stags' horns'.

The average find might be a couple of feet long with five or six tines coming off the main stem, bit like part of a tree.  Yeah, right, it's a bit of bone innit, what's the attraction?

Once you've held one, marvelled at the weight of it (this was carried - with its partner - on an animal's head?) and let your fingers and thumbs explore the rough parts by the skull attachment and the long smooth grooves along the main stem and the smooth-worn points - you'll understand the attraction. You want to find one too. I know I do - and never have.

The Obsessed know what sort of places are most likely to yield harvest. Deer-leaps, favourite rubbing posts, regular tracks and grazing areas, deer can be creatures of habit their habits have been noted. The searchers know their deer well and can tell you exactly from which stag each horn has come. One chap has got every horn dropped by a particular stag for several years running. I can see how the identification was made - brow, bey, trey (the first three 'tines' off the main bone stem) are the same shape and set as the year before but each year has added another 'atop', branching into the familiar tree shape every child understands as being 'antlers'.

My near-neighbour has probably three hundred stags' horns hanging in singles and pairs, covering wall after wall of his great barn. He never does anything with them, but he knows where each set was found and when - and who has the pair to a single.  His great rival from the next village must have a similar collection but neither will ever give up one single horn to the other so that one of them gets yet another pair.  It's completely beyond reason but they want to go out finding more every year just to add to their collections and they don't care who knows that this madness comes upon them and will afflict them until the day they die.

A visiting American gentleman is reputed to have offered £1000 for a massive pair of horns picked up just over the border in Devon some years ago.  Imagine getting those through check-in at Heath Row.

Every year at Porlock Show there is a stag horn competition and everyone who has picked up an antler or a pair of them, is invited to bring it along and have it judged against all the other findings from that year.  It's taken very seriously and there is always a splendid display - worth going to see if you're in the area on the last weekend of July.

I rode up onto the Moor this evening after work and met up with several groups of deer: none of them sported any antlers - sorry, horns - at all.  Having said that, they were all hinds, so I guess it would've been a surprise if they had.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Things that go Squeak in the Night

Something's been waking me in the night. Waking me with an adrenaline fright and I lie for a fewseconds, alert and afraid and listening very very hard for the cause.

Calls of nature are not the problem, before you start on that line of thought.

Calls from nature are not the problem - living here one gets used to night noises of the natural world.  There are owls and foxes and badgers in the vicinity and  occasionally even the wild ponies patter along the lane in the early hours of the morning.  All these noises I know and understand and they hold no fears for me.

I don't mind the creaking of the ancient timbers - they've held up for 400 years or more, why would they give up on me now? They just squeak and groan away to one another in their timeless communication with other timbers in other parts of the cottage. Nothing to be afraid of there.

The HKCs get out and about at night and are regularly picked on by the ubiquitous Black Tom without which no village is complete.  There are screams and yowls and growls and shrieks periodically and it sounds fearful but I have no fear, just irritation at being woken.  (I keep a selection of old potatoes which I chuck out of the windows in the general direction of the territorial disputes.  I can sort out anything within fifty feet with my unerring potato-aim - and it's not because I can see the combatants.  If I were aiming by sight the fights would go on until

No no, something else keeps waking me up with a jerk every few nights.  It's a high-pitched monosyllabic squeak and although it is getting quieter, it still sounds off four or five times at intervals of several minutes before I fling off the eiderdown and stomp around the place looking for - what?

What am I looking for?  Not a mouse, not an alarm clock ...

It took me a few nights to work it out and now, even though I know exactly what it is, I don't know where to find it so that I can take a hammer to it (never mind the potatoes now, this is out of their league) so that it will either leave me in peace or save my life properly and at the appropriate time: somewhere in this house there is a smoke detector that has never been fixed up but which has live batteries.  As the batteries fail, the alarm gives out these piercing warning squeaks to remind me that it needs setting up properly and with new power units.  I hear a squeak, leap out of bed and wait for the next so that I can locate the thing - and then, of course, there is silence.  I go back to bed and the sodding thing beeps again.  It doesn't seem to squeak in daylight.

I think it must be in a suitcase or under a pile of 'filing' or something but without taking the place apart I will never find it.  I can't just wait for the batteries to wear out, I'll be demented by then (NO COMMENT)
I'm not afraid of wildlife, not even spiders in the bath, but I get a horrible fearful awakening every time one of these alarms decides to protest its low energy, I jerk awake wondering what has woken me ...
I'm going to do some housework this afternoon and find what I'm looking for.  I will either feed it a new battery and put it somewhere it could detect smoke if there were any, or I'm going to take the fifteen-pound swing hammer from Up The Field and I'm going to smithereen the bloody thing.

New verb: To Smithereen. I'll add that to my private lexicon.

At least something useful might come out of my rude awakenings.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

We, the Lidless

Among the many other mysteries of life there is the one about the Missing Dustbin Lids.  It amazes me that I now have five dustbins - four plastic and one galvanised metal - and only two serviceable lids. The metal lid was kidnapped  (lidnapped?) some years ago by someone who shall remain nameless who used it first as a gladiator's shield, then as a giant frying pan and finally as a boomerang - only it failed to return.  It's probably in some nettlebed somewhere, hopefully serving some useful purpose as a rainshield and suntrap for a colony of slow worms.

I don't use dustbins for my rubbish any more, but as storage receptacles for Hoss's rugs/feed/grooming kit. Maybe it amounts to the same thing.

Still, it doesn't explain why there so many dustbins in the world that are lidless.  Can the wind blow all of them off?  Is there a 'lost lid' centre somewhere?  I've bungeed the two lids I do have onto their respective bins but am tired of using large sheets of wood to cover the three Lidless Ones.

So while I was down at the local recycling place the other day I asked about lids, having noted the number of open-to-the-elements bins that were lined up at the Centre, marked 'batteries' 'books' 'shoes' and so on.
"Odd," said the helpful chap there. "I've noticed it, too, this dearth of lids."
"Do you ever have any brought in?"
"Usually trashed ones - pardon the pun - that got blown off in the gales and run over by cars."
"Could you have a look, please, and see if you've got any Untrashed ones?"

Reader, he found me two.  Perfectly serviceable if grubby.  They'd been brought in as strays with no bins attached and they were due to be destroyed.  I couldn't allow that, I'd never put down a healthy lid, so I asked if I could rehome them.
"Shouldn't really."
"But they can do another twenty years! You can't send them to Lid Heaven/Hell when a loving home awaits."
He let me have them both.

Did you know that not all lids fit all bins? It took me twenty minutes of re-organisation to get my collection into some kind of order. Even so I now need some more hooked bungees to train the incoming lids to graft onto their new partners.  But it's looking good and I'm just on the look out for one more lid to complete my set.

If you notice you've a lid missing in the next few days, with nary a storm or gale in sight, you might consider that I've visited and liberated it.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Booting up and polishing off

In a fit of economic forward-thinking last year, I bought three pairs of leather boots from the local farm instead of just one. The first pair is looking very tired now, having been worn every day since last May and the second has just been brought into play. These guys were a bit dusty and unloved-looking so I decided to polish them before letting them start their career underfoot.

Out came the Kiwi Black polish, the application sponge and the buffing brush.  A good old-fashioned boot polishing session followed and though I say it myself, it was a job well done. Lovely shine.  I thought "Perhaps I'll make the first pair go a bit longer after all. Don't want to see these covered in Hoss Deposits, mud and dust, not yet."

It occurred to me to polish the original set, which I did. Seemed a bit of a waste not to do the third pair, so I set to work yet again.  Looked at the time and realised I was late for a meeting with a friend, so I set out my footwear in a row on the washing machine (where else? It was the only free surface) and dashed off.

I just got in from the visit and looked smugly at my handiwork: six boots, all lined up and ready for action.
Two black pairs and one ...

Well, the two boots at the end of the line-up are a sort of black. Trouble is, the boot-leather is actually brown.  That'll teach me to do the job in a decent light.  The effect is quite attractive, however, so I'm not going to try to correct the error.

This could start a new fashion.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Prima Luce

What is it with days off?  Three o'clock in the morning and I'm wide awake and mentally making a list of things that need doing when I get back to work on Thursday.
Go away, I told the List.
It went and was replaced by the thought that maybe I should arrange to see Mrs M next week and bring forward Mr S to this week.
Go away, I told the thought, and turned over in bed with a grumpy thump of the pillows.
It did and its place was filled by a weird scenario in which several types of inhalers presented themselves in my mind, each one telling me what it could do.
Go a-bloody-WAY I said, out loud this time and then told them all what they could do.
It's three in the morning, I'm on a day off and I want to sleep.
By now, of course, the List and the Thought and a group of inhalers were all mixing and mingling and having a ruddy party behind my back so with a HUGE sigh I gave in and got up.
Downstairs I read my e-mails from New Zealand (really funny, needed that laugh) gave the HKCs an early breakfast to shut them up and had the ubiquitous cup of tea.
An hour or so later and my eyelids are getting fond of one another again (the upper and lower ones of each other, not left and right, don't be ridiculous) and my thoughts are beginning to drift.
This is a Good Sign.
It means I can now go back to bed and get some sleep.
Hope I left my electric blanket on
Hope the party that was going on behind my back has now ended and List, Thought and Group have all disappeared.
Hope I miss seeing First Light.
But I'll be up and about later, I've got a very busy Day Off ahead.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Red Spot

The Japanese flag represents a sun; to me it's just a red spot.
Last Friday has been marked in my diary with a black spot. Like the one that marked the Tuesday of the New Zealand earthquake.
Pity Japan. So many thousands dead or missing.  Millions grieve and there is still the Damoclean sword of the damaged nuclear power stations hanging by its thread over the country.
Are prayers any use? Are thoughts and well-wishing? Is sending a cheque really going to help?
No idea.
But I'll try all three.  It might make me feel better, even if it does nothing for anyone Out There.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Uncle Bulgaria

Behind the Times, that's me, just like good old Uncle Bulgaria.

I thought I'd finally caught up with them, back in the late nineties - I had a (borrowed) television, my own (donated) computer and had paid BT nearly a hundred pounds to get a landline pulled in to the flat at Wychanger. I was part of the Real World at last.  Someone had even lent me a television ... pity there was no reception.

Then the clock struck midnight and it all went wrong.  For one thing it was a wind-up alarm clock (my dear little Baby Ben) and it was bloody well slow so I missed the bongs of the incoming Millenium and that seems to have imprinted the waxen seal on the scroll of my life ever since.

The World shot forward into the 21st Century, but somehow I got left behind. In some ways I hadn't even hit the 20th.  I still used a paraffin lamp to light me to the fields at night to check on the horses after a Late Shift in Casualty (at the old Hospital, see below). I still put on More Clothes to keep warm in winter - no central heating - and I still checked the sky for a rough idea of the time of day when Out And About.
Someone told me kindly that my Walkman was an antique. 
Someone else told me that if I wore a watch I might just know what time it was to within two hours of reality.
Someone else again wondered if I'd like a radio in my car. No, it wasn't a Morris Traveller it was a perfectly respectable if ancient Metro.

Well I've moved on since then, so there.  It's 2011 now and I've got a watch.  I never wear it, but I've got one. 

I've had - and now have not, (since I moved house yet again) central heating so I know about that, too. And I wish I didn't cos it's cold here and I now know what I'm missing. Log fires are all very well but they take hours to warm the place.

I've got a mobile phone but it doesn't play ball and keeps telling me I've run out of funds.  (It's lying, I put £10 on the card last year and haven't used it since: when I needed it last Saturday to summon MrVetMan to poor Hoss who had colic again, it bloody wouldn't work and I'll never forgive it).

I've got an Internet Connected computer - back to an old one though, cos the new one is once more at the PutaDoktaMan's shop cos it kept telling me its Input Wasn't Supported.

But all these things are not up to date because as I've stepped forward, so has the World and it's still a long way in front.  I can't keep pace and wonder how everyone else does. I fear it comes of being middle-aged, especially between the ears and below the Empire Line, but some folk a lot older are more technosavvy than I ...

The answer must simply be: I'm just naturally Behind the Times and Out of Step. My drummer beats a different tattoo from the one who marks time for the rest of the world. I blame him. I  reckon he's called Great Uncle Bulgaria.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Caught On Camera

I'm sitting here enjoying the open fire and watching (on-line as I have no working television) the Antiques Roadshow. Quite unexpectedly an ex-neighbour of mine just appeared on the screen being told about a pretty 1770's chiming watch that's been in her family for generations.  I haven't seen Hen for ages but years ago we shared a wall when our farm cottages backed on to one another. We've both moved on since then - from the looks of things she's headed further West (I think TAR is coming from Dartmouth)  whereas I just skipped down the road a couple of miles.

Good to know you're still alive, Hen, and looking so well. I wonder how many others who knew you from round here saw you quite by accident this evening?

I can feel a short story coming on ...

Friday, 4 March 2011

My Pong has Pinged

The short story that has been pingponging back and forth for ages has finally landed on the 'Ping' spot and was sold yesterday. No idea when it'll come out but if I remember to keep you informed, I will.
I have, however, a somewhat civic mind: things just seem to dribble through the sieve of my memory into the Great Mixing Bowl of life which is itself cracked. So don't expect me to pay you back the tenner you lent me last week.
To counteract this civic memory, I have several cunning plans.  One is to e-mail myself with things I might forget. Another is to write little post-it notes all over the kitchen. "Bin Day" "Cans" "Turn the Bloody Fridge Back On" "Hoss to Joanna's" "Ring Ben".  I'm absolutely sure that other people do this too, but I bet they can actually read back their notes or understand their cryptic ones.  I found one recently that said "Superlash Bindy" and by the time I'd interpreted it, Sheelagh's birthday had come and gone.  I nearly missed "Charge tar discover" altogether but was fortunate that it was pinned over "John's Birthday" - the end of the month was the giveaway and as I was writing out the card for the Birthday Boy I realised that I needed to put the car's tax disc into the vehicle before Tuesday 1st March.
I think there might be some cash mileage woven into the vagaries of this civic mind and my coping strategies ... in the short story world. Look out My Weekly and Peeps Amigo (my affectionate title for the People's Friend) - another Pong cometh.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


The first primrose of spring opened up its umbrella and showed itself at the weekend. Just one little yellow flower growing halfway up a laneside bank gave me a real boost - surely we will see GreenFire soon.
GreenFire, to the uninitiated, is what I call the flushing of green that marks the springing of Spring along the banks and hedges running along our Exmoor lanes.
At first there are just the winter-bare washed-out hedgerows, no definite colours, no leaves or sproutings. A week later a passer-by notices there is grass growing in the lane and a week later again he notices that the greenness has crept upwards through the bank and is suddenly flushing and flourishing into the bare hedge, lighting the edges of its buds and setting 'GreenFire'.
By late April the green has taken over and the hedgerows are in full bud, there are primroses and other spring flowers peeping out all up the banks and hedges and all is right with the world.
That poor first primrose, however, isn't even bravely heralding GreenFire now: Hoss saw it at the same time I did and promptly ate it.
But it'll be back and it will be millions.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Old Beginnings and New Endings

The housework has been a little neglected of late.
The Window-Spider has been able to revamp` her WWW (window-wide-web) in the undisturbed few weeks since I last brushed her and her artwork aside. The carpets ... well actually I just lifted the top layer of mats and chucked them out, leaving the original carpet back on display. And the cans have built themselves into a little castle awaiting the time I get round to washing and squashing them for the recycling.

My writing has been a little neglected of late. I've played Ping-pong with a few for my lovely patient editor at People's Friend, written a whole short story, all of 700 words long as my February Submission for MW ... and that's it.  February has been a WWW (WrittenWordWashout) and it's all because of an accidental discovery I made on my computer.

HKCs 1-3 have also been a little neglected of late. Sure, they've had their grub, had their furballs cleaned from their coats before they needed them cleaning off the carpet along with the contents of their stomachs and they've been stroked - but that's been about it.

Back to that accidental discovery on the computer: the 'watch-on-line' discovery. A few weekends ago I idly keyed in 'To Serve Them All my Days' and came up with the entire television series from the 80's in little 10 minute bites, every one of which I watched over one wet weekend when all outdoor activity was doomed because of the rain and the mud and the loss of a shoe.  Brilliant, perfectly cast, I loved it all.

Then, moving sideways across the computer, I found another set of 'watch-on-lines' - the opening sequences for many, many of the children's television programmes I knew and loved from the 70's (and one or two from the 60's).  Thank you, whoever you are, for uploading the beginnings of 'Stingray', 'Thunderbirds', 'The White Horses', 'The Tomorrow People', 'Black Beauty' and about a dozen more.  It was extraordinary to sit there and watch again long-forgotten openings from much-loved programmes.  I never thought about it at the time, that I'd never see them again when I moved away from a place where a television was part of the furniture. So I didn't miss them, but seeing them now I think I have missed them - why else would I be so delighted to find them again and watch over and over as Marineville sinks underground, the Tracy brothers launch their craft, the Lipizzaners gallop and cavort and so on.  The White Horses was definitely my favourite opening, even though I remember almost nothing else about the series.

And then I came across 'The Tripods' - oh how sad is this, I watched the whole of the first series and then went to bed ... and when I tried to re-enter, to see the second series, I was totally unable to find the sites again.  I don't want to 'register' or 'sign in' anywhere thank you very much, I just want to 'stream' the episodes but I failed, over and over again. And then suddenly last night I was in!  Excellent, come on Will and BeanPole, let's see how you make out in the City of Gold ... erk, oops, summat wrong - I could only find it in German.  And my German is sadly limited to asking for a room for the night, a hot chocolate and wondering from which platform I can catch the Zurich train.

So there you have it: Old beginnings and New Endings.  I've no idea what the hell happened at the end of The Tripods and I cannot find my books to recheck.  So I've had to invent what happened.  I'm not a writer for nothing, you know.

In truth, however, this seduction by the Streamers On Line has blocked out everything else and right now I'm not a writer at all - I've found A J Cronin's 'The Citadel' now, also from the 80s and I'm loving it and can't be bothered to struggle with words and verbs and characters of my own when I can spend a few hours with Andrew Manson and Christine in their Welsh valley instead.

'Er-in-the-WindowWideWeb is encouraging my sloth: she's nabbed some cracking insects in her traps while I've been Otherwise Diverted from the dusting.

But the HKCs, particularly numbers 2 and 3, have taken badly to being neglected and have taken to curling up together on the woolly jumper that lies on my desk between the monitor and the keyboard.  They lie there together now, breathing in unison, noses resting on tails and eight paws tucked under various pounds of fur and fluff.  Whenever I move they chirrup that it's tea time, milk time, tummy-tickle time any time at all but not more bloody streaming time.

It's addictive, this nostalgia trip into television of the past.

It's also somewhat ironic: I don't have a working television these days, haven't had for years but have discovered I'm still paying the television licence every month on a standing order I'd long forgotten about. Time I sorted that out.

I've been idle quite long enough.  I should rephrase
 the title and start again.  New Beginnings should be my aim.  After all, I won't earn any money from not writing, will I?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Men o' Paws

I have not been drinking. Just thinking - sort of wordplay.
Paws have claws attached. Paws are the little catkin-soft things the HKCs walk about on.  Claws are the appendages that spring from said paddy-paws to snag passing mice and birds.
Whore Moans.

Yes, I'd leave now if I were you. You can see where this is going, can't you?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Moving - Lock, Stock and Carol

Well, it finally arrived.
Monday February 14th 2011.
Moving Day at the Luttrell Memorial Hospital.
I was scheduled to run my usual Monday Morning clinic in my dear little out-of-the-way corner of the old place, where, because Matron never roams and there isn't a receptionist,  I can accept as many extra patients as walk through the Undertaker's Parking Bay to get to my door. I like being obliging.
By ten past nine my third patient was parking his ride-on-mower type transport in said Undertaker's Parking Bay and popping in to see me.  By twenty-past he had left my room. At twenty two minutes past he was back: "There's a bloomin' great Pickford's lorry blocking the exit. I can't get out."
How they missed the Mower was beyond me, but having done so with such skill, they had also missed the fact that nothing was going to get out of the Parking Bay and back onto the road unless they shifted their lorry.  But they'd scarpered to collect the first of about a thousand boxes packed ready for removal to the new hospital.

My patient mounted the Mower and drove determinedly into the hospital. He hit two doors and because one wheel had pancaked a dog-turd in the road, he left distressing little brown smelly patches at regular intervals long the first chunk of corridor. I expect you could work out the circumference of his wheel from the distance between the patches.
"Never mind," I reassured him as he clunked the fourth doorframe in less than 20 feet. "The place will be closing on Thursday, they won't mind about the chipped paint so much."
I guided him to the next exit: another Pickford's removal lorry was blocking that, too, swallowing up great chunks of nursing and medical kit into its interior.  We fled to the main entrance where yet another lorry was backed right up to the steps.
"Try Outpatients entrance" a colleague suggested having watched us circumnavigate the building.
She was right.  My chap swung wide to line up for the lobby between two final fire doors. But he still managed to get skewed between them.  "Oh for goodness' sake," he huffed and dismounted. He simply picked up the back of The Mower and set it in line for the last door.  He remounted. "That's better," he said.  He knocked one last chunk of varnish off the last door as he sailed away to freedom.

All morning the Pickford Lorries came in and out.  By 1pm the front downstairs of the hospital was a ghost ship.  The patients had gone, the front office had been stripped of all but Sally, nobly manning the remaining desk, telephone and fax machine until the bitter end.  And still the lorries came.  At the back of the building, Casualty was empty and a security man and his microwave had installed themselves in the minute Cas Reception.  "We'll have all the doors except this one locked and boarded up by the end of the week," he assured me. "There will just be a couple of security guys to guard the place until Management feel we're not needed any more."

Outpatients bravely soldiered on alone. Full clinics there, all staff just getting on with their jobs as though the world were not collapsing and vanishing around them.  You gotta admire their spirit.  But they'll be gone by Wednesday too, and on Thursday Sister Outpatients will have all her clinics running at the new hospital as though nothing had ever happened.

It's weird, walking through a place you've known for many years as a busy buzzing hub of patient care ... stopped dead, tipped out, silenced - just like that.  I'm glad I took my memory photos of it all just a week ago.  I wonder if the hospital knows it's about to close.  I wonder if it minds that it won't be a hospital any more. Lady Luttrell commandeered it back in 1918 to receive 'Our Boys' coming back wounded from the First World War, but I'm not sure from whom she commandeered it or from what previous occupation. They won't knock it down, but nobody knows what will become of it.

I wandered across to the Operating Theatre, up in 'The Gods' on the third floor.  The Theatre was donated by Mrs Nicholas Fleming in 1920 in memory of her husband, according to the ancient stone plaque by the entrance. The family shield bears the motto 'Bhear na rich gan'. (That's Gaelic for 'may the king live forever' by the way: pointless sentiment really since he clearly didn't cos we have a Queen now).

The empty Theatre felt very eerie. I turned on the main operating lights one last time.  That seventh bulb hasn't worked for years. Many patients have pointed it out as they lay there having their hernias or whatevers repaired under local anaesthesia.
  "Light's gone, me dears."
  "We'll manage just for today without it," the surgeon would cheerfully say.
  "Ee said that last time, Doctor, and that was nine years ago when ee did hernia on t'other side."
That particular surgeon is operating out in Zambia now, with somewhat fewer lights than even the remaining six here.  Bet he can do a hernia repair in the dark by now.

As to the others, I wonder if they'll be able to operate at the new hospital at all with its full complement of theatre bulbs.  Mightn't they find it a little bright? Perhaps we should knock one out to make them feel at home.

I cleared out my double locker in the Theatre Changing room and packed the contents away, well, OK, shovelled everything into a large plastic sack. I looked round one last time at the empty racks where white clogs and 'theatre scrubs' used to lie ready for our Lists.  As I started to close my locker, a small piece of paper caught my eye. I picked it up.

It was a photograph I'd taken some years ago.  It had been taken as a test-photo by one of the 'scopes' (long thin bendy things with cameras on the end to examine down gullets or in bladders or up bums).  We had to check they worked properly every time they were used but we got bored of just clicking at swabs or fingers. We've got a whole gallery of distorted nostrils and ear 'oles and eyeballs and an absolute cracker of .... no, not in polite company.
This photograph was of a cheerful smiling face, bit distorted by the nature of the camera but still very clearly showing a lovely and much-missed colleague, Carol James, who died a couple of years back. It seems very fitting that I should find her just as I was leaving.  I could almost hear her voice following me down the steep stairs: "Don't forget to close the theatre door and turn the light off when you go."

No, Carol, I won't forget.

I tucked her picture into my pocket, flicked off the light at the bottom of the stairs and clicked down the latch on the Yale lock as I left.  It felt very strange and I didn't look back.  It doesn't do, you know, to look back.

Next stop The New Hospital.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gaffe Faff

The veneer of middle-class civilisation that once covered me has worn very thin - I reckon I scraped most of it off along with the Exmoor mud from my boots over the past 18 years. It was therefore with some trepidation that I accepted an Invitation to Lunch from a local lady and her husband who Do Things Properly. Ten people would be at table, at least four of them already known to me as Upright Churchgoing God-fearing Good People of the Parish.  The very words scare the hell out of me.

And the tenth person was the vicar himself.

I took a bath and washed my hair.  Irrationally I tidied the house and emptied the cat litter tray. I pulled out several pairs of knickers and socks and bras and studied all for the correct number of holes in each and no extras.  I hunted for the ironing board and an iron.  Two pairs of trousers were pulled from my 'clean' cupboard and painstakingly pressed. I wondered why there was steam coming from the garments: mine is not a steam iron:  It does Hot, Warm, Cool and TurnMeOnForGoodnessSake.  My conclusion was that the trousers were damp in the first place. 

Tried on a Laura Ashley blouse (I told you that veneer was old) and looked in the mirror.  Removed said blouse, probably last worn in the late '80s, when I last did being a Lady who Lunches. Times have most definitely moved on. Found a fairly decent combination of blouse and jumper and donned them.  Pulled the first pair of trousers off the ironing board - hell, in a good light they were green, they didn't match. Removed them. Tried the black pair, very smart but a bit tight and ... oh shit, there were holes in the thigh seams.  Checked the clock, running late now.  Snatched third pair of trousers from cupboard and hauled them on instead - bit damp, unironed, they'll bloody well have to do, damn damn damn why did I ever say I'd go?

What on earth does one talk about (getting into the Mode now if not exactly the Mood) with a vicar and flock who might know the words bastard bugger shit and damn but certainly would not use them or expect to hear them at table. MUST remember to tone down usual form of conversation.  Can one discuss dried flowers perhaps? One does remember something about doing genteel gardening and drying the pruning efforts on the Helichrysum and Larkspur. One could talk about horses but the audience couldn't.  One most definitely can NOT talk about one's work.

shit hell damn why did I say I'd go? Slipped into already-polished (slightly) high heeled shoes, felt better being taller but worried about keeping them clean between cottage and car. Removed shoes, put on wellies. Felt instantly short and frumpy again.  Walked to car, got in once safe from mud, put posh shoes back on, lobbed wellies into bag.  Checked time. Definitely running late now.

All the way there, round narrow lanes up and down hills, lectured self: must not drink any alcohol. Must not eat too much - trousers somewhat tight, must lose weight. Best just keep mouth shut. What if the vicar wonders if he'll be seeing me in Church next Sunday (he won't) What if Cauliflower Cheese is on the menu? Or something else one hasn't been made to eat since childhood?  Changed plan. Decided glass of wine GOOD idea. Can always walk home.


Home again now.  Really enjoyed Lunch - turned out I knew everyone and the veneer just plastered itself all over me again. It was somewhat out of practice and I know for a fact at least five Rude Words got out but it didn't seem to matter. My long-unused Table Manners wobbled a bit but held up well considering, ditto clothing. And the vicar turned out to be jolly funny and everyone found at least two laugh-about stories to tell (mine were Almost Clean and Not Coarse) and four hours past extremely pleasantly.

Maybe I'm still fit company for decent human beings after all.  Maybe I haven't completely Gone Native. If I ever get asked to Lunch with Sarah and Malcolm again I'll look forward to it very much indeed - but will remember to wear much looser gear: my outfit really needed a bit more more yardage to let a meal as delicious as that inside it.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Blow the Wind Southerly

It's been rainy and really REALLY windy here today, all the local horses are sulking on the leeward sides of their field hedges.

All except Hoss.  He's hard, he is. He's got a waterproof mac on and doesn't care about the weather. Midwinter, freezing cold, wind coming in strongly from the south west and you'll find him in the middle of his pasture, ridiculously hairy tail to the storm, head down, munching.  Trouble is there's not much goodness in the grass.

I can tell he needs A Little Something Else to go down that long gullet from the presentation of his dumps - don't ask, just take my word for it, he needs more Bulk.  The high octane haylage he's getting must be fed sparingly because he's lost a shoe. He can't be ridden again until MrFarrierMan (dear Ben) comes over next week and  If I gave Hoss any more of this honey-smelling forage called haylage while he's getting no work, he'd be high as a kite somewhere over Dunkery Beacon and I'd never get him down.

Someone gave us a bale of hay to pad out the rations.  I added a thick wadge to his handfuls of haylage and fed it to him over by the hedge so it couldn't blow out of the field while he was trying to eat it.  He snatched a mouthful and the South-Westerly snatched it back and decorated the hedge with it. Somewhat surprised but not deterred, Hoss took another mouthful and the South-Westerly promptly repeated its game.  By the time I realised what was going on, the whole hedgeline was garlanded with stray hay. The haylage smugly stuck to the ground and obediently went into Hoss's voluminous gob to be chewed and swallowed.

I trooped off into the town to the appropriate Shop, which provided me with a neat little red net on a long string.

This evening I crammed said little net full of the recalcitrant hay and some well-behaved haylage and tied it Very Firmly to a gatepost.  Hoss looked at me.  I looked at him.
  'Haynet,' I told him. 'You eat your dinner from this in future.'
  'But I'm a Welsh Cob. That thing's for sissies. I'm hard, I am.'
  'I don't wish to hear about that, thank you. Pick from this or starve.'

Well it was dark and the other horses couldn't see, so his self-image remained intact as Hoss manouevred his enormous teeth onto the edge of the net and tugged at the wisps of forage sticking through the holes.

He clearly wasn't going to starve, but the South-Westerly was furious.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


There have been a few dead foxes around here over the past few months. One or two mangy ones, one bumpercarred one and one so dead that its smell had summoned recycling help from the carrion crows and was identifiable only by its brush.

 It was then with some pleasure that I met Very-Much-Alive-Charlie in one of the fields this evening. He's a youngish chap, probably from last year's cubcrop and he's not in the least bothered about meeting me by the light of my MightyBright Needlework Light. (No of course I can't do proper needlework, but I found this wonderful bendy-stalked light with a clip on it in a handicraft shop sale and it is the perfect handsfree torch for after-dark forays into fields and barns). Charlie looked at me, I looked at him, he flicked away unhurriedly, all but touching noses with Hoss in passing and vanished into the night. 

I've seen him a few times now, always at the same hour.  I think his track runs from the Owl-haunted tree line above the country-house hotel to the deeply-sunken lane below Hoss's field. He seems to have a pretty good routine and from the look of him gets enough to eat.  I wonder if he raids the bins or the henhouses (should that be henhice?) or does for himself by collecting hedgerow takeaways in the form of rabbits?  I know foxes are a pest but I do love to see them about.  

One of my neighbours lost a couple of guinea fowl recently and I bet Charlie Fox got the blame. They roost in trees when they live outdoors and make the hoots from hell if alarmed but no noise was heard, no debris found.  I feel a bit guilty really and I hope my neighbour doesn't read this Blog because I know where at least one of those birds went: HKC2 invited it home for dinner and wouldn't take no for an answer. 

Monday, 31 January 2011

Hey there ...

That was a pun. A slightly sour one. I ran out of hay at the weekend. Fortunately for me the lovely chap at the local Feed Place had set aside some haylage for me in tightly-sealed plastic wrapping and so I've got enough of that to keep Hoss going until Mr Hay Man can deliver.  But the hay is there (probably up country, where they didn't have such a dreadful haymaking year as we had in 2010) and Hoss is here and it seems ne'er the twain shall meet.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


Extraordinary. A soulless pre-dawn with a sky full of sulky clouds too lazy to move was transformed by the sun rising over the distant line of hills. Instantly birds started chittering all along the hedgerows. Snowdrops nodded at me from the banks.  The air smelt fresh and clean.

The beauty was all there moments earlier - but was only noticed when the sun came up to cast a different light over it.

I've known that expression forever but this morning it really meant something.

It must be Sunday: I only ever get like this on Sundays.  Don't worry, I'll be back to normal tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Goodbye Luttrell Memorial Hospital

The old Luttrell Memorial hospital is about to close. Its beautiful - and Listed - facade will soon be locked up and the walking wounded of the town will not be able to roll in for stitches or plastercasts or a quick pee in decent loos. Its slightly down-at-heel but very characterful interior will soon be stripped out and left to its dust and memories. The ridiculously confusing rabbit-warren of squashed- up and squeezed-in departments will soon be silent and empty - bar the occasional drip through the added-on flat roofs round the back. No longer will a patient needing transfer from Theatre to the Ward need to be folded into the too-small-for-the-trolleys lift. No longer will the Casualty staff (sorry, Minor Injuries Unit staff) be able to hear every scratch and sniff of every patient in the miniscule department by just standing in the middle of it. No longer will the secretaries and admins have to twist around up steep narrow stairs into their eyrie  rooms.

The Powers that Be, before this recession kicked in, organised a magic wand and built a New Hospital and recession or no bloody recession, we are about to move a mile away along the coast a bit to Our New Home.

They had an Open Day at the new hospital this morning. It's on the outskirts of the little town (pop 14000 on a good day) instead of right in the middle where the old one is, so the shoppers will have further to go to Casualty (must remember to call it Minor Injuries Unit) when they fall over.  And the inebriated will have further to stagger when they fall over. 

The new hospital is an extraordinary colour - range of colours - and to be honest is not very pretty from the outside.  Looks to me like someone with art deco ideas built a warehouse, changed his mind and lost the plot and then slapped the remains of varying shades of blue paint on the front to make the whole thing look 'arty'. There's a purple bit round the side but fortunately most people won't see that, except for the residents of the houses just beyond the perimeters on that side. They'll have already planted their fast-growing Leylandi in self-defence.

But - there is always a 'but' for better or worse and this is a better: there is parking.  Lots of patient-parking (there was absolutely zero at The Old Luttrell Memorial). And there's a fair amount of Staff parking too (beats the dozen or so spaces at TOLM) although some of these spaces are rather bizarrely marked 'for shared cars only'. I think it's for people who give other people a lift in to work. I give that idea six weeks before it's ignored.  The local bus, when it has detoured into the local Tesco store will then come right up to the glass entrance of the new hospital. So far, so good. You can do your outpatient appointment and your Tesco Trip in the same morning.

Inside, the place gives a visiting patient the feeling that this is a Proper Hospital. Massive reception hall, wide corridors, a children's play area and an airport lounge of a waiting room. There will apparently be a television screen though goodness knows what they will have showing on that. If there are arguments over who has the remote at home there's going to be a riot in there with 50 people waiting. Rather too many of the seats do not have 'arms' to help a person rise from them and the lime green colour is faintly nauseating but no doubt they'll get decorated with blood and sick and chewing gum before very long - this is, after all, not only All Outpatients/X-ray/Physio but also the Casualty (sorry, MIU) waiting area.

Access to the consulting areas will be by staff escort only and the staff are going to have to remember to have with them at all times their 'ID swipe cards' which have to be used to get through all the electronically-secured doors. I ought to have mine tattooed onto me to save hassle.  Everything smells so lovely right now - wood and clean air.  You wait - six weeks in and it'll smell just like any other hospital. 

The corridors are, compared with the Luttrell Memorial site, very wide and light and airy - and extremely long. The poor cleaners are going to be exhausted. There are only two levels for patients - I did find a third but it appears to house the starship Enterprise and is out of bounds except for the maintenance techies. The Ward (politically correct, with Male and Female sides) is wonderful - lots of single rooms, one four-bedder, all kitted out with ceiling-mounted rails for hoists, all with windows (don't laugh but there truly weren't windows in one of TOLM's ward rooms and it housed 9 patients) and all with televisions and telephones by each bed.  People aren't going to want to go home.

The Operating Theatre looks brilliant, can't wait to go and play with those lights and that great big washing machine thing and all the swinging kit that comes down from the ceiling. I think the Powers that Be might like to redesignate the Fire Escape route, however: at present it's marked to go right through Theatre and I'm sure that's not appropriate ...

As for the Rehab - 'Therapy' - department ... Their gym is supplied with everything an olympic-training athlete could want, never mind some post-op knee or hip patient. There's even a trampoline. And there's this dinky little kitchen where the occupational therapists can assess that patients are able to make themselves a meal or a cup of tea back home.  Staff, however, according to Matron, will not be allowed to have tea or biscuits or their lunch anywhere except in the designated area. So if you're really busy and can't leave your station that's tough luck, I suppose. I give that idea about six weeks, too. 

There's a mental health unit on the ground floor and lots of things TOLM didn't have: enough storage space, fancy artwork (to be seen to be believed, whose idea were the balls on sticks in the courtyard?) and a real state of the art alarm system.  Can't wait to push one of those buttons and see if the fire curtain really will drop from the ceiling in reception.

Well, we move in in the week beginning 14th February. Someone's idea of a twee joke, do you think, transferring over on Valentine's Day?  As a nice nod to the old place, the new one's address will be 'Luttrell Way' - a spur off the linkroad from Ellicombe to the sea ... and the local holiday camp.  Wonder if anyone's thought about the congestion there will be twice a week in summer when thousands and thousands of people on their holidays will be completely clogging that linkroad on Changeover Days at said camp?

Friday, 28 January 2011


The Vet's going to be busy next week.  One way or another, the puppy-procreation rate on this edge of the Moor has got to be curtailed. There are two rival culprits for the title 'Daddy Of Them All' at present: WorkingCollie from Farm A and RatterTerrier from Farm B.  So far between them they've been responsible for about fifty puppies, all of which have eventually found homes but most of which were originally unwanted, certainly by their mothers' owners and probably by the bitches themselves.  After an eye-watering nine in one litter I'm surprised that Wagtail hasn't changed her name to TailBetweenLegsAndStayingThereToDenyEntry.

WorkingCollie must've made use of his speed and stamina. He's a good, very fit sheepdog (collie/springer spaniel) and got to Wagtail one just one occasion, we reckon during his lunch hour and he lives three miles away. Yesterday he was seen in his lunch hour chasing the German Pointer bitch at Farm C and we think he must've caught her because Farmer C was grumping about humping as he took her into town to have 'An Injection' at the vet's this morning. He'll be Having Words with Farmer A about WorkingCollie.

RatterTerrier either has more freedom or better escapology techniques and he spends whole days pining outside shut-up-bitch accomodation all over this side of the Moor, only going home for supper. He's in the farmhouse all night, but come the next day he'll be straight back out again until the bitch in question goes out of season and his undying love for her suddenly drops dead and he's off home until another scent comes to him on the wind.

Both CasanovaCanines have lovely natures and the puppies they've produced - mostly of almost recognisable breeding because both dogs are snobs about having only purebred bitches - have been super. But enough is enough. Nemesis, already mentioned on this Blog, is about to strike.  RatterTerrier, unbeknown only to him, is off to the vet next week to Be Done.  He'll meet some old flames there, even though WorkingCollie beat him to the Nine-Puppy-Producing episode, because Wagtail and her purebred Springer Spaniel sister are also off to the vet to 'Be Done' next week.

WorkingCollie is looking very smug. Nobody has threatened him with a (de)bollocking.  However there is an Angry Owner at a certain property not many miles away and if he strays over there again, it won't be a shotgun wedding he'll need to be worrying about.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Meet the Residents

Got in a bit late tonight by the time I'd given Hoss his goodnight hay. Sat in the car and stuck my wellington-shod feet into a Co-op bag-for-life (they won't want this one back, I can tell you) and then removed my feet from said wellies and put my clean shoes on. Parked bag in passenger footwell with dead torch, power-unit for electric fence and a mousetrap. Finished listening to the Archers by which time all three HKCs (HunterKillerCats, I shan't tell you that again, keep up) were on and off the bonnet of the car, all but pointing at their watches and miaowing that the restaurant should've been open twenty minutes ago.  I escorted them to the restaurant, shovelled food into their bowls and sent them to eat in their various corners.

 HKC3, a ginger ex-tom of indeterminate age and breeding, dines in the ancient stairwell on about the sixth rise. Whoever put the stair carpet down had vile taste  (orange brown and white stripes) but it's extraordinary what a good match HKC3 is for it, he could be related. He is solid and very broad and has been known to bring the catflap into the cottage with him if he is on a panic-escape-run from the Black Bastard next door. (Is one allowed to describe the local Tom in these terms on a BlogPage?)

HKC2 is what I call a purebred Tycoon - a first cross between a Siamese and a Maine Coon - and  he eats in the sitting room.  You don't get tabby carpets with white paws and a bib but if you did, HKC2 would be related to them. He's a tall, fit and sleek fifteen pounder and he has to crouch and crawl through the catflap - he might have got through it elegantly when he was about 3 months old but never since.

HKC1 is the Matriarch, all six ridiculously-fluffy pounds of her. She gets to eat with me in the kitchen because she needs protecting from the other two at mealtimes. There isn't the carpet style made that could call her a relative, but it'd definitely be of the shag*-pile variety if there were.

*She's been neutered, as it happens, so there won't be any of that carry on in this cottage. 

And dear HKC1 is the only cat who can comfortably step up to the catflap and simply nose her way through without any contortions at all. Unfortunately she is capable of taking out a full grown buck rabbit or even a pheasant and it is these trophies that have, in the past, trashed the bloody catflap as she's manhandled them indoors for our dinner.

The 'C' Word

Somebody Up There has got it in for me and has chosen the letter 'c' to be my nemesis. My old car quietly died on me at the end of last year and was replaced by a gorgeous 5 year old kingfisher blue Ford KA. (PS how do you pronounce that?) Six weeks, two breakdowns and a flooding later that car was sent to jail without passing go or collecting £200 and was replaced by another, a 4 year old Ford KA (I still can't pronounce it) which has now been back twice. It developed a non-functional door-lock, dodgy dashlight and gearstick top that pings off like the top of a hardboiled egg. The Boys at the garage have been lovely about all my return journeys, we're on first name terms now.
OK, just bad luck.
About the same time my computer became ill with what I am reliably informed is called the 'Blue Screen of Death' - and after a couple of attempted repairs it was decided to replace it.  The new computer is back at the PutaDoktaMan's workbench - for the second time in the 10 days since I collected it - being re-instructed in its new duties. I'm not sure it wants to be owned by me.
On Sunday last, my Cob (a type of horse, for the uninitiated) whom we shall call Hoss went down with colic. Colic for all equines is agony: they have an enormous mileage of gut in there and any distension of it is trouble. MrVetMan came out (twice) to sort poor Hoss out and thank you they have now both recovered from the experience.
So that's Car, Computer and Cob, surely these things only come in threes?
But I'm watching the cats very carefully ...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Theatre Tickets and a Light Sauce

Spent the day in Theatre at the soon to be Ex-Hospital in the local town doing a lot of box ticking.  No, not box office ticketing, more's the pity. Just ticking things off lists - mostly outside the boxes. A large proportion of my life is spent being a bit outside the box so I'm good at that sort of thing.  The Manager's Secretary and I spent HOURS going through lists of wince-makingly expensive equipment that has to be checked, validated, booked in for attention from the electronic people and generally ticked off one list and added to another, ready for The Move to the New Hospital Site next month. By the end of our session there were just two pieces of kit with question marks over them: A superduper new Reprocessor had no serial number attached to its name and an old and nearly obsolete Light Source had two. I was all for just giving the spare number to the Reprocessor but this idea was firmly rebuffed. When I've got time I'll go to the New Theatre and hunt out the missing identification. The twice-serial-numbered item was easily dealt with: we just ran the two sets of figures into each other with a hyphen between, like a double-barrelled name. It's of old and honourable lineage and deserves a posh number.  La Bosse says that it isn't used as a Light Source any more anyway, only as a spare air-leak tester.  Maybe the second number was to go with its second job.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Second Thoughts

Is this a good idea?
Who am I talking to? What should I tell you? 
Here's my plan: let's pretend you're an Old Friend who's been abroad and out of touch for a while, who wants to know about my life since we last met 30 years ago in a clandestine meeting covered by the Official Secrets Act somewhere on Vauxhall Bridge Road. 
That's it!  My Blog Name shall be 'BlogThoughts from A Broad'
I'll start by telling you about where I live now: It's a cottage at the foot of a Moorland slope on a bend in the lane by an ancient well that has never been known to dry up. This cottage is the most idiosyncratic place I've ever lived in: front door key weight, 95 grams, length 13 centimetres, age about 300 years. It won't fit on my keyring and if I lose it I'm stuffed.  'Key QuickCut' in town, who so obligingly made me a new key for the field padlock, took one look at this one and laughed.
I've been very careful not to lose this key. It goes into the lock upside down and turns the wrong way to open the door. Maybe an Australian designed it. Did they have Australians on Exmoor 300 years ago?
Having decided to try my luck in the Blogospheric Etherdom, I've finally landed on this BlogSpot and am wandering around without a SatNav wondering what happens next.  Unlike the Forums (OK, Latino Experto - Fora) I've been on, this site appears to have Only Me on it.  So do I talk to myself then?
I'm good at that. Inanimate objects have a habit of answering me back and the HKCs (there are three of them, get used to it, it stands for HunterKillerCat) are experts at letting me know what their own BlogThoughts are: feed me, why have you fed HIM and not me, why can't I play with this rat in the kitchen?
As I write, there's a big white blob over my script, called New Improved Preview and I'm having to type blindly through it, hoping I've not put anything stupid under it.
Let's have a look and se what this first foray is like