Terror in the kitchen

Big Ginge is on the warpath again. Last night, he terrorised Leo, Fat Lily AND me.

We were all hanging out in the kitchen, cosy-like. Leo on a chair, Fat Lily sphinx-like on the pew and me tapping away on the laptop and listening to Kurt Elling on You Tube when something crashed against the cat flap.

I was startled because at first I thought it was Lily trying to go through sideways or some other inventive new way but she was standing with her tail up like a poker and there was a blood-curdling “Yeeeeeeeeeeeooooooowwwwwwwww” from outside the flap, which fortunately is a secure cat flap which reads my cats’ microchips.

Jeez it was chilling. Pure evil. We all just stared at the flap and could just see his big ugly mug in the gloom. I thought perhaps I should do something. As I opened the door I heard the clatter of claws on a fence as Ginge made good his escape.

With visitations like that, it wasn’t surprising that Leo did a poop on the kitchen floor while we were away. My cat-sitter Ange, thought perhaps he was scared of going out. Too right.

As their owner and guardian it’s now incumbent on me to take them into the garden and so it came to pass that at 10.15pm I was standing in the dark, wet garden with a fleece over my head against the rain, waiting for my cats to have their last comfort break.

It’s ridiculous. I used to let the dog out last thing and he knew when to do when I hissed the urgent instruction (think Michelle of ze French Resistance in Allo Allo) “On the grass!”

The cats, on the other paw, have not got the faintest clue because I have severely neglected their “toilet on command” training. Now, it seems, that kind of convenient habit will be necessary.

Leo was at the vets again last Saturday because of more infected bites from Big Ginge – this time on his legs. He’s got scabbed wounds on his head too but I can only hope he’s beginning to fight back.

The trouble is Big Ginge is a predatory bruiser. No-one seems to know who he belongs to. Next step is to get Cats Protection to trap him – which shouldn’t be difficult – a big basket outside our back door should do it – and label him with something like “If the owner of this cat doesn’t get him neutered, we’ll remove his balls. Yours truly, Cats Protection” I’d do it myself if only they’d let me.

He was fighting another cat in a neighbouring garden only yesterday. They were having the usual growly whiny stand-off then a spat which the Other Cat actually won. Big Ginge slunk off. Perhaps the only cat he can bully is my Softy-Walter Leo.

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The ups and downs of flying

As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my previous stuff,  I love air travel.

I won’t drivel on Wordworth stylee about the smell of the fuel, Concorde, memories of my dad, the exciting first glimpse of your actual aircraft, the thrill of the gathering speed and take-off, the exhilaration of soaring through cloud to the higher heavens, the singular other-worldliness of being in a metal tube at 37,000 feet over Mongolia, devouring the cute little meals neatly, the first pee in an aircraft loo, the bedsocks, blankets and pillows of the long-haul, the first glimpse of a somewhere completely new, the wonder of landing and the doors opening and the smell and heat of the new country drifting through the aircraft.

I’ve said enough about all that past blogs.

This last return trip to Hong Kong was no exception. We flew Cathay Pacific for the first time. Son #2 treated me to a premium economy seat on his airmiles. Window, natch. An afternoon take-off meant we were flying into the evening sunset later.

Here’s a small chunk of diary..

‘The plane smells new, which is good. The seats are wide and there’s about 12 inches from my knee to the seat in front plus foot rests which move so you can wiggle your toes.

‘I’m having a gin and tonic with ice and lemon 33,000 feet above – now let me see where are we on the moving world map sponsored by Bedat of Genieve which places its adverts on said map. Not far from Denmark. Out of the window the scene is dark blue above graduating down to ice blue above a vast layer of combed white marshmallow cloud. A short bright slash of jetstream in the distance. Another metal cigar flying its cargo of humanity across the heavens. I never get over the miracle of flight and today is no exception.

‘I’m looking out at the vast jet engine just outside my window. It is edged in satin chrome or maybe aluminium and in the shiny pale blue is a reflection of the aircraft. It’s surreal, which is why I’m typing. It needs to be captured. There are touch screens on the backs of seats here. People are watching films with headphones on – big comfy headphones. I’m probably the only one watching the plane forging its wide yellow stripe north-east across the map.

‘It’s just so beautiful out there, the ever-changing character of the clouds, the blue and the way it’s tinged with peach at the edges now at 6.50pm. What is sunset going to look like from up here?”

In spite of all that semi-euphoria, I have to admit that much of the enjoyment of the flight hinges on who you’ve got sitting around you.

On one Virgin Atlantic flight to HK the Australian woman in the seat in front of me went into full recline mode as soon as she could so I spent almost the entire journey (apart from seatbelts-on turbulent bits and meals) with a book against my nose.

On another, mercifully shorter flight, two people sitting behind us had hair that smelled awful.  It was the distinctive odour of unwashed grease that must only emanate from a barnet that hasn’t seen a drop of shampoo for several weeks, if ever.

I remember hissing “WTF?” to Captain Sensible. “How come they can afford £600 return but not a bottle of Head & Shoulders?”

This time, it was on the return journey that we encountered a memorable passenger. I always feel like Eeyore’s deflated balloon on homeward journeys and this was was a bit disappointing as Cathay Pacific technology let me down somewhat.

A glass of chilled champagne made up for the fact that we were 50 minutes late taking off from Hong Kong but then I discovered the live map thing wasn’t working so I only had the iced-up underbelly of the aircraft to look at. This probably wouldn’t matter to most people but when I’m flying half way around the world, I like a map. And stats.

So, I got a couple of hours kip punctuated by sniggering in my sleep.

I should explain here that on the other side of the aisle in a bulkhead seat there was a guy in his late twenties who looks like Kim Jong Il pumped up to 120psi.

He was trendily dressed – if a glorified shellsuit is trendy? – and had the sides of his head shaved artfully, He was very fidgety from the start – he was up and out of his seat and fiddling in his bag as soon as the seatbelt signs were off. His neighbour was a quiet guy.  They didn’t speak.

Anyway, after dinner, the lights go down and most people go sleepy-bobos, including KJI. I was dozing or sleeping – until he let rip a couple of explosive bass snorts like an obstreperous elephant seal.

The powerful curling snorts were random with long silences between them sufficient to make me wonder if that was indeed his last breath but they were inevitably followed by an enormous gasp indicative soft palate flapping like a marquee in a force 9.

He was so loud that he could be heard all over the cabin, joltingly intermittent for hours. Cathay’s huge, comfy, noise-cancelling headphones were a partial solution but even they didn’t guarantee complete peace.  On a scale of 1 – 10, the guy’s his sleep apnoea was 25.

When breakfast was served, KJL woke, blissfully unaware. After wiping dribble from his chin with the back of his hand, he started bustling about in his bag again.

We buckled up for the descent, he settled back into his seat and unfolded a piece of paper which looked like origami for 3 year olds.

He arranged it over his face. It had eyeholes and a breathing space for his mouth. If wore it and loomed at me through the darkness of a dream I would have been quite alarmed but he was less threatening strapped, fatly immobile into his seat.

To be fair, at that stage he could have worn a camel and no-one would have cared. The entire cabin was just grateful for the silence. The quiet guy sat grimly upright, waiting for the crew to open the doors.

Heathrow take-off – Barnes reservoirs

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Yes the sunset was quite something…

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…and five minutes later

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Selfie? You can stick it.

We just haven’t got enough photographs of ourselves, have we?

You may have albums full of yourself with the family, the dogs, the cats, birthday dinners, Christmas around the Trivial Pursuit board (just kidding ok, no-one, ever took that picture) on the beach, in the pool. These were probably taken by other people.

But what about those times when you’re on your own because your friends have gone to the pub or perhaps you actually have no friends?

I mean, who needs to record tedious views of picturesque landscapes or funky architecture when you can make yourself the main feature in photo after photo after photo?

Sound familiar? Nope it doesn’t to me either.

If anyone had ever said to me “Hey I’ve got this great idea! It’s a stick! You attach your camera or your phone to it and take a picture of yourself!” I would have told them where to stick their stick.

This is the reason why I’m not a millionaire or a shrewd person who can recognise a trend and capitalise on it. I will never invent something which will sell all over the world. I am way out of touch with the masses.

If the sample of Chinese tourists at Repulse Bay, Hong Kong was anything to go by, hundreds and thousands of people are using ‘selfie sticks.’ As a nation, it seems they have embraced the selfie stick more than any other.

Sitting on the gently curving beach under a tree after a swim on a warm afternoon, there was nothing to do but observe the constant stream of visitors to the beach – all of them on coach tours of Hong Kong from mainland China.

Coach after coach stopped at the roadside with monotonous regularity disgorging scores of people. They milled around a bit by the side of the buses, extracting hats, umbrellas (to fend off the sun, not the rain) and cameras and extending and attaching their selfie sticks before venturing on to the beach.

There was no wasting precious time with random wanderings – they walked directly across the beach towards the water’s edge. On the way, they stopped at several key photographic opportunity points.

One of these was the tree under which I was sitting. One Chinese girl made it clear by facial expressions and hand movements that she’d like me to move so that her boyfriend could get a photo of her with my tree.

I moved and watched as she threw herself lasciviously around the tree rather as I might have done with given free rein with Hugh Jackman. She kicked one leg out and smiled coquettishly. Her boyfriend wasn’t very quick with the camera but she was in the zone, trying another pose leaning teasingly against the tree and pouting. An old Chinese guy stumbled across the sand behind her so that one had to be reshot.

And then, boyfriend produced a selfie stick and suddenly they were both under my tree, using my shade posing, arms around each other and making happy V signs. Don’t ask me why the Chinese love V signs but it’s pretty obvious no-one ever told them about Agincourt.

I got fed up with waiting, so moved my towel and beachbag bag into shot to indicate the end of the photoshoot.

Meanwhile the phalanx of beachlovers were endlessly strolling down to the sea, looking out at the sea and container ships plying the sea on the horizon, and then turning around and walking back to the coaches. I suppose, on their whistle-stop tours, they were only allowed 15 minutes free time before continuing to the next viewpoint or resort.

Everyone took photographs – and most had selfie sticks. I concede that the selfie sticks were handy for taking pictures of groups with everyone in, looking desperately happy and chummy for the camera.

Selfie sticks were essential for the single people. One guy in a suit with the jacket open checked his shirt was done up, smoothed his hair into place and stuck a knee out at a jaunty “this is me enjoying the beach” angle before taking four pictures of himself from different angles against the hazy blue sea background.

Some threw themselves into fun poses and arranged wide toothpaste advert smiles intended to convince the folks back home that they were having a tremendous fun time with their mates.

In spite of this huge selfie demonstration, I’m still clueless as to the actual appeal of the selfie. The views were rather lovely but surely better without anyone gurning in the foreground. The idea of posing like a B movie starlet is just cringingly embarassing and would cause guffaws of laughter among my friends.

Maybe I just need to go on an Introduction to Selfie Poses course. There must be one. Several girls were adopting what seemed to be a popular simperingly sweet pose with a hand held limply under their chins. Their own hand, not anyone else’s – just to be clear.

They weren’t blinking or yawning or laughing so hard they looked like a mule with a new hat. Hmm, maybe there are some lessons to learn from all this…

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Cats DO care, so there…

I can’t begin to count the things people told me about cats which turn out to be rubbish.

Ok, I can begin but the list is endless..

Cats don’t care

Cats are aloof and don’t need people apart from someone to feed them

Only dogs are mans’ best friend – cats aren’t

All wrong. Just back from nine nights away and Leo and Lily gave me the kind of welcome home I’d only expect from close family or my dog. Oh I lied about the ‘endless’ list. Sorry.

It had been a longer-than expected drive back from Heathrow as a couple of roads were closed due to accidents so when we dumped the suitcases in the hallway at midnight – having had a couple of hours sleep in the previous 25 hours, we were more than ready to crash into oblivion.

Leo came miaowing into the kitchen first, obviously telling me all about what had been happening, how Ange from next door had been feeding them both, how they had no bloody idea if we were even coming back.

It was all delivered in an insistent tone. I felt like I was being lectured but I was REALLY tired, so surely a couple of cuddles and half a dozen Dreamies would sort him out?

Yeah right. He went on and on mewing plaintively on the other side of the bedroom door. There was still loads more to say, apparently and I wasn’t sleeping until he’d said it.

The miaowing turned to raspy protests it was impossible to ignore. They were sandpapering my brain. Leo was most definitely taking exception to being shut out within ten minutes of seeing me after I went absent without leave.

There was nothing for it but to let him in. He jumped on to the bed and nestled into the duvet next to me purring at 50 decibels into my hair. I must have gone to sleep because I was woken by the clatter of the catflap and then the sound of Lily mewing all up the stairs. She’d see the suitcases in the hall.

She continued with her “Eh-oh” miaowing until it was reduced to a hoarse “Ew-ew” outside the bedroom door then she started frantically digging into the carpet. She knows I can’t tolerate that because it makes the carpet all fluffy, so I opened the door and she shot past me. It was too dark to see where she went but I realised she was kneading the duvet and purring her almost-silent purr.

She too had to have significant petting before she shut up. As I dropped off to sleep I could still feel the vibrations of her purring.

Today, the morning after the night before, they are less vocal but Leo has been my shadow, following me from room to room.

Ange, who looked after them, was surprised how vocal they were with her. Although they accepted her cuddles, she said she thought they were missing me.  She also thought Big Ginge had been around because someone did a poo in the kitchen – she thought Leo – and she could only think it was because he was afraid of going out. Maybe that’s why they kept going on and on when we got home “What were you even thinking of – leaving us on our own to face Big Ginge the Merciless?!”

It’s a pity that cats, like dogs, have no concept of their owners actually coming back.

A dog can get used to a daily routine of absence – and so can a cat. Both species know roughly when to expect their owner back on a regular basis if there is a well-established routine.

Longer absences can’t be understood. When you go away, they think you have gone forever. My first springer spaniel used to stay with mumsie on the very rare occasions we didn’t take him on holiday. He spent most of the time sitting with his ear against the front door…. waiting and waiting.

A friend puts his cats into a cat hotel when he’s away. Maybe that’s a better solution because it takes them right out of the familiar surroundings and familiar habits.

I really didn’t expect to be so missed by my cats. The other planned hols are shorter so they should be able to cope. I might have to send them a postcard…

wpid-imag2733.jpgThe happiest cat Leo doing his Star Trek impersonation – the Final Front Ear

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Starfish

I bloody hate Antiques Roadshow. I made this declaration after sitting down and watching – because it was on – the valuation of a particularly esoteric old toy.

Old toys – apart from ancient, abandoned teddy bears who carry an ineffably sad poignancy – can be very dull. A one-eyed grubby plastic doll, for example, is only a treasure to her owner. This old toy was more interesting than most – a stool made by Stieff, the German manufacturers of collectable and very expensive teddy bears.

The stool was made in the shape of a moderately cuddly giant starfish. It was a starfish who looked as though he’d been well worn.

It also – I am refraining from sexing the starfish as they might well be ambiguous – bore the scars of an owner or visitor who fancied themselves with a pair of scissors. I was one of those children; obsessed with giving their toys a good trim, not really realising that the fur wasn’t actually growing.

On the tip of the starfish tentacles, the sewing had come adrift to reveal a bit of stuffing. The well-groomed, well-spoken expert lady was terribly pleased to point out that while it looked like stuffing, this was no ordinary stuffing. No, it was thinly shaved lime wood, which was why the starfishy stool had kept it’s robust shape for so long. She reckoned it was early 1950’s.

The owners, two sisters (I think)  said it was a gift from mummy, who was a career woman before career women existed and a chocolate engineer toboot. She’d bought it in Germany when the exchange rate was good.

I wonder what, as little girls, they thought of it? I could imagine their faces lighting up at the unwrapping of a Stief teddy bear, but an Echinoderm? Really? Let’s face it, a stool – even one with five legs – is a bit of a shit gift.

It wasn’t a very authentic starfish, although it did have a a red circular mouth part, just where bottoms would have been seated. I wondered if mummy explained this was the mouth filled with lots and lots of razor-sharp rasping teeth. Did she ever mention the neat starfish trick of expelling its stomach out through its mouth in order to surround and digest prey before hauling it all back in again? Probably not at tea time.

So hoo-bloody-ray. Jolly good show all around. How much was the worn stuffed starfish worth? I can’t remember to be honest but the value didn’t stir the hearts of all the slack-jawed gawpers who gather round such discussions looking blank.

Takes something like an old medal to animate them. Jaws were dropped, eyes were widened and there was a collective gasp of surprise and pleasure when the medal expert revealed that the WW1 medal was worth £10,000. But what kind of family would sell a medal?  And what sort of people would buy one?

So often The Precious, which is paraded in the public domain to be valued is a family heirloom which surely no-one in their right mind would want to part with?

So what is the point? To inform and advise us about antiques and the craftsmanship of old? To appeal to our prurient interest in Other People’s Stuff? Or is it a platform on which the unbearably smug can show off their old and rare bits and bobs so that the curious plebs can gather around and watch?

Antiques Roadshow. I bloody hate it.

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Not the same starfish stool but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.

Posted in Art, Current Affairs, Seaside | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Happy Easter Weekend!

Bit of a tough week at work last week.

Not so much watching the increasing struggle GPs face to cope with massive and increasing workload, but watching the way we as society and the fragmented NHS, weakened by lack of budget and staff shortages, are no longer very able to cope with the demands of the cognitively impaired.

Families are separated and you can’t assume that next of kin who live 200 miles away or half a world away are even interested when old uncle Bert, who’s been living quietly on his own for donkey’s years, suddenly goes do-lally.

A Care Plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if there are no social care staff to turn out and one district nurse can’t do the work of the four nurses that used to handle the caseload.

GPs are supposed to co-ordinate while they are seeing routine patients who made appointments two weeks ago, seeing urgent on-the-day patients with everything from suspected meningitis to lumpy testicles and dealing with multiple “oh but it’s urgent because the patient forgot to order and is going on holidays for Easter” queries from pharmacies.

It was all an uncomfortable foretaste of the future, as dementia occurs earlier in peoples’ lives and becomes very common indeed. What’s to be done with those in that perilous state somewhere between confusion and lucidity? They are capable of making the choice to live independently one day but the next day they may not recognise their own front door.  The answer is a big fat ‘nothing’ until there is a crisis. This is not satisfactory – for anyone.

But enough of the frustrations and peculiarities of work. Saturday, my second day off, was a lazy day. It was a slow, second mug of tea kind of day. I read about the 17th century Seige of Gloucester – most of those killed got popped off because they put their heads above the parapet to peep at the enemy Royalists. I read about the Life of Colonel Edward Massie, the hero of Gloucester whose name was spelled Massie but in most books and public placards is mis-spelled as Massey. Someone should make a film of his life. It’s got everything – masterminding the defence of Gloucester and paying soldiers with his own money, getting imprisoned in the Tower of London and escaping by climbing out of a chimney and fleeing to the Netherlands – and ending up being given a knighthood and a beautiful estate in Ireland.

The weather was cloudy but fresh. I strolled around the garden followed by Leo and Fat Lily, looking at the red buds bursting on the apple tree and the drops of overnight rain still hanging sparkling from the branches. In the pond, the duckweed proliferates, lime green against the dark murk of the pond. Pretty with irrepressible tendencies. Two frogs sat at the shady end of the pond noses out of the water, covered in duckweed.

At the sunny end of the pond, big blobs of frogspawn had transformed into trembling dark pools of newly hatched tadpoles – hundreds of tiny black streaks. Only a few are advanced enough to be swimming free – the rest are huddling close, absorbing the light and warmth.

I messed about a bit on Twitter catching up with cycling, my favourite punsters and pals and following some interesting links.  It always seems such a treat to have the freedom to read properly at the weekend because there is so little time in the week.

Headed to the theatre in Malvern later to see Jeeves and Wooster starring Robert Webb of Peep Show fame. It wasn’t at all what I expected – in fact it surpassed expectations being  clever, accomplished and hilariously bonkers. I recommend it wholeheartedly – if only for Robert Webb’s newt impression.

Happy Easter weekend!

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

Kew Gardens

Popped into Kew Gardens on a whim recently. Just happened to be saying goodbye to #2 son at Heathrow, needed petrol at Heston Services and before heading West with a heavy heart, checked to see what was going on at Kew.

Haven’t been there for many many years and there was an Orchid Extravaganza or some such irresistibly-titled orchid event, so there was no contest.

Arrived early on a perfect Spring day, the crocuses were out, some people were already sitting having tea and buns outside the Orangery and the sun had his had on.

There was a photography exhibition which was just my thing, as having been to Beginners Photography, I can now tell my ISO from my elbow and have some clue as to what all the settings data actually mean.  While #1 son disapproves of predictable flower photos, this exhibition proved that *good* flower/plant/wild places photos are actually very very lovely!

So I learned that I mustn’t go too mad and make the depth of field too shallow AND you have to set the shutter on Pretty Damn Fast (ie 1/1250 of a second) to catch seagulls in flight!

#1 son wasn’t too impressed with my seagulls although he did concede that I did ok considering they were taken on manual settings.

“But seagulls are wondrous in their own right,” I said.

“They are aerobatic and dynamic and look at the beautiful tail feathers in the sunlight and the way the sun catches the leading edges of their outstretched wings!” I said.

“Yeah..  but they are just seagulls,” he said.

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Mmmm breakfast!

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Posted in Birds, Countryside, Current Affairs, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments