It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

This is the theme running through my head right now, as I make lists, tick lists, write more lists, tick more, find a list written two weeks ago with something on it that I haven’t ticked yet, remember three more things I need to buy.

I love giving presents to people I care about. They are a token of love and appreciation. We take people for granted far too much in the daily run of things, so it’s nice to give something that will bring a smile or a smidge of delight.

At this stage of Advent though, I begin to wonder whether we are barking up the right Christmas tree. With a couple of exceptions I’m giving to people who already have a lot of stuff. Yes my gift will be new but it won’t be a necessity.

The Dean of Gloucester was on the radio the other day being quite political, quite obviously put out that the Government is failing in its duty to the poor and needy. He said that in this day and age, it should not be necessary to have a food collection point in the Cathedral. But he urged people to donate to provide for those who have almost nothing this Christmas.

So while I’m melting the bank card with one hand, I’m going to give some food to the collection. I have bought cards in aid of a local hospice which I know does excellent work. I am giving a load of unwanted stuff to the hospice to sell which will help someone, somewhere but I am still caught right in the centre of a maelstrom of Christmas commercialism.

We have our first grand-child visiting this Christmas so it will be brilliant. A lot of people are asking me “Have you bought her Monty, the John Lewis penguin?”

Well actually no, I haven’t. Because she doesn’t understand or know about Monty and probably never will and because even I am not falling prey to the cuteness of a monstrously over-priced toy penguin.

I can be a bit of a rebel at Christmas. One year, we had cheese and grapes instead of a turkey for Christmas lunch.   It was great but lacked… er… hot turkey and to be honest, Emmenthal is no substitute for pigs in blankets.

Don’t tell the family, but next year I’m going to propose that we all swap presents bought from charity shops.

Jigsaw anyone?

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Soft, gentle and consistent

The tone of voice in dog training is key, according to the woman on the radio this morning who sounded like Joanna Lumley’s slightly less posh sister.

She said “soft, gentle, positive and consistent” and I thought “Hmmm. I suppose I’ve been positive…”

…Positive as in “STOP ITTT!!  GEDDAWAY FROM IT NOW!!!!”

This, bellowed across a very large field loud enough to make the dog in the distance – my Springer Spaniel – stop rolling joyously in a delectable dollop of fox shit.

Rolls would stand briefly, look around to see where the voice was coming from, clock me looking familiar but a lot smaller than usual (far away) and calculate that he could get at least another two good long rubs of fox dirt into his collar before, even running at the speed you run when you are quite cross, I could get to him.

When I got to him, he would dance away with glee, stinking. I could smell it even in the fresh air with a force 5 blowing and knew for certain that would only shift with the deep-cleansing effect of neat Fairy Liquid and a watering can full of warm water.

The other thing I can do with my voice with dogs – always other people’s dogs – is to get them hopelessly over-excited and playful

“Ooooh aren’t you a gorgeous boy/girl!!” usually gets the tail wagging and a pleased look. Some dogs will actually smile back. I knew a dalmatian which smiled properly – well, when I saw properly, she stretched her upper lip over her upper gums, which is cute in a dog but probably quite alarming in a new boyfriend.

Further scruffing and general playing leads to a frenzy of excitement. Friends with dogs generally don’t want me over-exciting their dogs in the home. It leads inescapably to widespread leaping on and off sofas, fetching of glamorous footwear they are not usually allowed to touch and humping cushions. Dogs always start humping things when they get over-excited and dog owners definitely don’t welcome mounting excitement. I didn’t in our house, although I found that male dogs got all Walrus of Lurve with their bedding after dinner without any excitement at all.

My dogs got stupidly and recklessly excited at Christmas over their Christmas stockings (but let’s face it, who doesn’t?) and when we were Doing Training. Springer spaniels make superb police and customs dogs because every day they get to play their favourite game – finding things.

Somehow or other it came naturally to speak in a low steady voice when you were setting them up for something, telling them to stay or wait while I went to hide the object they had to find.

When I walked back into the kitchen Roly, my last springer, would be like a coiled spring, quivering with excitement waiting for the “Go find” command (in a low and pent-up tone… think covert Jack Bauer ) and he’d do a very efficient speedy search, tail wagging faster than you could see, for the hidden toy.

But none of my dogs have been saintly, like my mum’s Pembroke Corgi, St Buster who never peed in the house or otherwise put a saintly paw wrong.

Scamp, my first springer was a born gundog who was never gundog trained and left in the house for far too long, with the result that he ate my kitchen matting, shredded the post – cheques included – and any available plants.

He was the dog that illustrated that dogs really do understand every single thing you say and they can predict your reaction.

I would walk into the kitchen from work to find a plant deconstructed all over the floor and see Scamp in his basket looking the other way, his tail beating hopefully in the most muted kind of “I know this looks bad, but I got carried away” type of greeting.

When I groaned he’d bury his head under his bedding. The guilt was obvious.

On the plus side, he learned to roll over when I encouraged him in a bright positive voice, and got used to leaping over fallen trees in the wood on the command “Over” while I tried to get an action shot with my first digital camera and he was very good at fetching stuff… branches, small trees etc etc. Mostly stuff I hadn’t asked him to fetch, come to think of it..

It’s not just dogs that know what you’re saying to them – cats do too although their reactions are very different. They’re exceptionally good at listening – the twitch of the ears are a dead giveaway – but rarely obey anything and if you want them to do anything much in a hurry they get easily confused.

But there’s one word, uttered in a high-pitched drawn-out tone which is guaranteed to get Fat Lily and Leo coming running…


Posted in Cats, Current Affairs, Dogs | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Apple-bobbing + a pudding joke

I’ve just been amusing myself uploading tonight’s photography class pics to the laptop.

It was the last class of the term and we were in the studio again – this time doing high speed photography.

There was a fishbowl without a fish and an apple. That’s all it took to get some fun shots of the apple splashing and bobbing.

I took a variety of pics using a variety of settings with speeds varying from 1/125 to 1/1400 with varying degrees of success.  But I have to say it is amazing how many times, even using fast shutter mode, I missed the impact of apple on water!

1-IMG_5209 1-IMG_5215 1-IMG_5145Smoke was a better bet but even smoke from a joss stick has to be well lit to show its attractive and random swirls and curls.

It made me think that this Christmas, instead of the usual phone picture of the brandy flames licking all around the steaming Christmas pud, I’m going to fix the camera on the tripod and take some *proper* pictures.

It might take a while but hell, it’s too good an opportunity to miss.  The guests can amuse themselves with cracker jokes while I get my Classic Pudding pic all set up.  After all, a good pudding shot doesn’t need a raison d’être.

And as it’s not long until Christmas, here’s a pudding joke….

A jockey was riding the favourite at a race meeting, and was well ahead of the field.  His horse rounded the final corner, when suddenly the jockey was hit on the head by a turkey and a string of sausages.

He managed to keep control of his mount and raced back into the lead, only to be struck by a box of Christmas crackers and a dozen mince pies as he went over the last fence.
With nevertheless managed to steer the horse to the front of the field once more when, on the run in, he was struck on the head by a bottle of sherry and a Christmas pudding.

Because of the distractions, he had to be satisfied with second place.  Red-faced with fury, the jockey immediately went to the race stewards and complained he had been seriously hampered.






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Restoration and Eastern promise

After a thoroughly busy challenging working week last week, it’s been a restorative relaxing weekend back in the homeland.

I never expect much of Wales in November. They don’t call it “liquid sunshine” like they do in St Lucia, it’s just Welsh rain. It’s why the grass is green and the lamb is wonderful.

We left Gloucestershire with the sun still struggling to penetrate the mist, then somewhere near Cardiff on the M4, the blue revealed itself and it remained blue. It was as though autumn was determined to go out in a blaze of glory. The sun burnished the bracken on the hillsides and lit up the last of the beech leaves and the dried pale oaks.

It was dazzling in Swansea Bay. The tide was retreating in a most refined manner;   flat calm, well-behaved and lapping gently at the freshly washed sand.

The world was out to play. Joggers, cyclist, dog-walkers, beach strollers like us.. picking up shells, playing ducks and drakes with the few flat pebbles available, patting passing friendly spaniels and thinking it must soon be time to have another dog or maybe two.

Singleton Park was hosting a fun run of some sort, so we kept crossing paths with panting Santas and florid elves.  At one point the elves must have got mixed up because they passed each other in opposite directions.

The squirrels were tamer than ever. I used to think that son #1 had tamed one especially for photographs but it was obvious today that they’ll do anything for a couple of peanuts or sunflower seeds.


The other pleasure about staying with son #1 is that when he’s not working very hard, he’s quite musical so there’s always some new audio experience and something interesting to see and try.

This time it was a set of bongo drums then he revealed that he’d just taken delivery of his birthday present – a hawaiian guitar. While I didn’t get to play that, I did get to play yet another new instrument in the house, a beautiful traditional Chinese creation called a Gu Zheng, invented about 2,000 years ago.  It’s a sort of recumbent Chinese harp and creates that distinct sound so familiar in Chinese music. It’s possible to get a tune out of it straight away but as with all instruments, it becomes very technical to play correctly with both hands AND follow the Chinese music notation.

I was happier borrowing son’s black acoustic guitar, which I covet because its lovely tone makes the most ropey guitar player like me sound good. It’s the ultimate relaxation, sitting on the sofa picking out almost-forgotten songs on a nice guitar.

Staying with the Eastern theme, we discovered an excellent Chinese restaurant in the most unlikely location on the edge of Brynmill.  The Favourite Cafe and Restaurant serves superb fresh-cooked traditional dishes from Bejing and Xian.  The kung po chicken was just as good as the one I had in Beijing over a decade ago and the beef and mushroom noodle stew was delish.

If they ever need a Gu Zheng player to entertain the customers, I know just where to find one…






1-IMG_5094That’s Exmoor across the Bristol Channel…






Posted in Coast, Countryside, Current Affairs, Food, Seaside, Sheep, Watery things | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Just a brief post as I’ve been busy galavanting  in the Land Of My Fathers.
Slightly miraculously for this time of year, the sun has been shining!
The misty-moistiness of Gloucestershire and old-knicker grey of Monmouth gave way to clear sparkly blue on the M4 near Cardiff.
There was a big rugby match on at the Millennium Stadium yesterday – Wales v South Africa – so the roof would definitely have been open allowing the Welsh voices   to rise to the heavens.
A few images from the stroll through Singleton Park and Swansea Bay at sundown.






Posted in Seaside, Uncategorized, Watery things | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Quizzers and chips

So I did my swotting for tonight’s Quiz Night by revising the capital of Burkina Faso.

It had been a particularly demanding and full-on day at work, only slightly alleviated by cake, so I decided to make limited African geography my specialist subject.

It’s been several years since I’ve been to a Quiz Night but there was a time when it was a regular event of the week.  Mater was the writer-downer for the team but unfortunately, being a bit deaf, she insisted on repeating every answer at elevated volume so that the teams all around benefitted hugely.

Her specialist subject was soaps but she was almost completely unable to remember any actor names so could only ever name the characters. But all was not lost – her friend was very hot on popes, horse racing and the second world war.

The joy of the quiz wasn’t the winning – because we only did, jointly, once – it was the spotting the team who WOULD win… usually a group of four quiet blokes with manky T shirts and creased old trousers.  They generally won, apart from the week a quartet of strangers arrived, wearing manky sweaters and creased old trousers.  It was like Gunfight at the OK Corral only with pens and paper. It was whispered that the interlopers were in the Premier League of the Gloucester Pub Quiz League. They won, amid much simmering resentment and we never saw them again.

The quiz was run with by a spectacularly grumpy quizmaster who would brook no argument and verbally abused his quizzers. It was excellent.

This evening’s quiz was quite different. Scores were not announced between rounds so you had no idea where your team lay in the big scheme of things, there was a disastrous Song Lyrics round (for us) there was a bit of bingo and bit of raffle and only one African geography question. We were nowhere near winning but we did have laughs and chips and and the quiz did raise a goodly sum for charity.

I’m saving my Ouagadougou for another day.


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Danger! Homely remedies!

Reluctant as I am to put anyone off trying sensible remedies for minor ailments, I admit this can result in doing more harm than good.

Very recently when, due to a frantic flurry of tidying, chucking out and cleaning, I sustained the classic Bad Back. It’s always a crass idea to attempt in one fell swoop a complex task that should ideally be attempted interspersed with cycle rides, over several weekends.

I have two remedies for the dodgy back – the floor-based embryonic curl and some gentle Yoga exercises.   I was going well with the downward-facing dog when I paws’d for thought and segued smoothly into a sunrise salutation.  I was mid-salutation when something went ‘tweak’ in my right thigh which then caused more decrepitness than the Bad Back. Sigh.

It’s nearly gone now and it hasn’t been half as embarrassing as the aftermath of crashing on my bike in the Forest of Dean.  The degree of pain was unexpectedly crippling but I knew roughly what to do with an injury … RICE!  Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.  Ibuprofen first then a good long rest on the sofa  with leg up and something theraputically cold around the knee. What, I thought, could possibly be better than the champagne bottle wrap which sits in the freezer ready for champagne emergencies?

I lay for some time with my pain, my iced knee and some old Tour de France footage on the TV. But when I unwrapped the knee to take a look, it had gone a bit funny. A 4 x 2″ patch of skin had gone out of commission. It was completely numb yellow, as though a block of beeswax had been transplanted into the top of my knee.

At that point, I thought maybe I should limp into A&E and tell them I was in agony because somehow, I’d overcooked the RICE and got a touch of frost-bite.  Several x-rays and an examination later, they let me lurch away with my sprained ligaments and a box full of really good painkillers.

The crash was caused by a dangerous combo of speed, a bend and the Wrong Sort of Acorns. Doing things in a rush is never recommended. Like the time I was dashing off out somewhere and thought I should have a Vitamin C tablet (they definitely prevent colds taking hold, I don’t care what anyone says) before going.

I got a new pack out, chucked a tablet down with some water and, just like a cartoon, went GULP.  I tried another GULP but the tablet wasn’t going anywhere.  It was completely blocking my oesophagus, being a round type of Vit C tablet which was precisely the size of my oesophagus.  It was supposed to fizz in water so it was only fizzing very very slowly in my gullet.  Drinking water was no good – there was nowhere for it to go. Forget the frog in the throat – I felt like a python with a small goat down there.

Being alone and unable to speak, I thought i might have to give myself the Heimlich manoeuver. The theory is – and I haven’t practised this yet but I probably ought to in view of my history – that you run up to a dining chair and throw yourself over the back of it. It is alleged that this will dislodge the unwanted foreign body.

But actually would you rush at it and throw yourself over? Or would you rush at it rather like the long-jump at school, and then suddenly think ‘That is an unfeasibly long way to the sand pit” and simultaneously “Oooh no, this might hurt” and instead of launching yourself into the air, merely stop dead.

The brain does very effectively stop you from embarking on foolhardy things and I suspect the same might happen if I attempted a DIY Heimlich.  I’d probably stop slightly short of the throwing bit with my subconscious screaming “Mind your spleen!” and spoil the whole effect.

Come to think of it,  this kind of massive cock-up with homely remedies is probably familial.

Dad would tell you the story of the time he had a boil on his neck and mater decided to administer a homely remedy – a hot bread poultice. Bread is so wonderfully versatile – food, fishing bait, an eraser AND a medication!

Actually she was a bit too free with the heat and created a first degree burn. He couldn’t wear a collared shirt for a month and carried the scar for the rest of his life so that just shows all this ineptitude is probably in my genes.  Thanks folks.

So I suppose the lesson is just actually just be sensible about homely remedies and always read the instructions before taking anything or applying to your body something that isn’t normally applied to your body.

Don’t do anything in a rush. If your Vitamin C tablet looks weirdly big, it probably isn’t meant to be swallowed whole.  You’re welcome.





Posted in Current Affairs, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments