Freedom!

So today, Spiky Norman came home.

There was no bunting or fanfare, which was just as well because, quite frankly, he displayed not a jot of recognition or gratitude.

He remained curled up in a big heavy spiky ball, like a somnolent mediaeval weapon, refusing to come out.

When I held him in my hands when he was maybe 10 weeks old, his spines were softer and his little feet had perfect, sensitive little leathery pads.  Today, he was far too spiky to hold without gloves and no cute little toes were visible.

He may have been sulking. He had been sharing his outdoor quarters at the Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre with a hedgehog lady-friend but like Norm, she was due to go back to her original home this weekend. So he was allocated another pal.

Norman’s new girlfriend hails from Oxfordshire.  She’s one of the Barford St Michael hedgehogs. I’m calling her Tiggy or Tigs for short. You can’t be surprised at my choice of name. She follows a long line of predictability including Woodie the woodlouse, Torty the tortoise, Puss the cat, Bluey the budgie and Scamp the dog. I feel it’s a mistake to devote too much energy and imagination on the names.

Funnily enough, I was just going to pick up the phone to call Vale Wildlife Rescue this morning to enquire about Norm when the phone rang and a voice asked me if I would like to pick up hedgehog number 4351. They were releasing some hedgehogs this weekend as it was milder than of late. Spiky Norm!  Why of course I’d go and get him!

Norm and Tigs the girlfriend, were handed over to me covered in hay in a big box.  Tigs was also an autumn orphan and about the same weight as Norm when she was taken into rescue.  She is now 900gs while Norman has topped one kilo.

I was originally intending to try and overwinter Norm in the dining room in a box with lots of cosy newspaper. I’d seen him and a sibling pottering about on the lawn and munching the food but they were obviously little more than babies. Then it got a lot colder very suddenly.

I saw him motionless on the lawn one night staring at the kitchen window as if it had all got a bit too much for him. He wasn’t worried about me picking him up, bringing him in and weighing him. He was too small to survive the winter outside but he could come in and it would all be fine as long as he didn’t mind the noise of the turbo-trainer in the dining room…

He was an enthusiastic eater and consequently, an enthusiastic pooper.  Like other hedgehogs, he wasn’t worried about the poop. It wasn’t in a particular place. It was everywhere – near the food, in the bedding…  The dining room was beginning to acquire a certain odour in spite of my frequent box clear-ups.

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I couldn’t really see Norm and the family enjoying sharing a dining room on Christmas Day, so I called Vale Wildlife Rescue and they said “Bring him in. We’ve got nearly 300 young hedgehogs already.”

Shortly after checking in at his winter residence, Norm was weighed, checked for ticks and worms and settled into his new des res.

The weight gain was incredible. Between 11 December and 15th January he more than doubled his eight to 804gs. He was 864g when he was transferred to the hog unit where there is less human disturbance and hedgehogs are “hardened off” for the outdoors again. Their hedgehogs are all micro-chipped before release.

Going home, there was some rustling and movement in the hedgehog + hay box, but no-one tried to make a break for it in the car.

When I put the box down on the terrace, in contrast to sleepy Norm,  Tigs was eager to explore. She uncurled and walked around the box, bumping into the spiky lump as if to say “Hey. We’ve arrived somewhere. It smells interesting.”

Her nose was quivering with anticipation at all the new outdoor smells and she sniffed the air through the hole in the side of the box as I prepared the new hedgehog house for the residents.  I pushed a little hay inside the hedgehog home and tipped a good bucketful of dry leaves around and about that they could drag inside their home to get cosy.

Spiky Norman had a sibling of similar weight that I could not locate back in November and I have a theory that the sibling has carried on eating all through the winter and is probably still around, judging from the hedgehog food eaten every night.

I’m pretty sure Norm will like Tigs when he stops sulking. She has a fine skirt of light brown hairs and a cream patch on her nose. She is extremely inquisitive so there is always a chance that she will disappear on a big adventure tonight and we’ll never see her again. but I hope not.

I think Norm will recognise the smells of the lawn, the borders and re-discover the feeding station of his youth.

As instructed, I left them inside the hedgehog house and blocked the entrance for a couple of hours so they could get settled in. At 7pm, I opened up the hedgehog house and gave them their freedom.

There are two dishes of food out for their dinner tonight. The usual dish of dried hedgehog food and bowl of water, but also a dish of beefy cat food, as they’ve been used to eating wet food at the rescue centre.  I stocked up with mealworms too but I’m giving those sparingly as it’s not good for juvenile hedgehogs to have too many at once.

The nice lady at the rescue centre who sold me the new hedgehog house warned me that there was no guarantee that the hedgehogs would stay in the garden.

“Some do stick around but others just disappear and are never seen again,” she said.

Just before writing this, I stood at the back door in the darkness, listening for signs of activity. There was loud chomping from somewhere near the back border. At least one of them is still here at the moment ….

I’ll keep you posted.

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Spiky Norman. Thrilled to be home.

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Tigs up and about and ready to explore…

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So where’s this new house, then?

Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Hedgehogs, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Resist

If 2016 was a year where your natural order was turned upside down, where nothing is as it seemed, where people you respected turned out to be startlingly and disappointingly different, then read on.

If you weren’t much affected by the sea changes of 2016 or you thought it was actually a *really* good year and *really great* things will follow, then, stop reading now. Go for a walk or look at funny goat clips on You Tube. There’s nothing for you here.

So, first off, 2016 was the year the made me doubt the police, their powers, how they can take freedom so easily on the basis of nothing but someone else’s flaky word. Powerful, unjust and uncaring is a particularly toxic combination.

Then there was the realisation that in a referendum or an election for that matter, normal societal rules do not apply.

Unknown to most people until it was too late, it is apparently perfectly legal and acceptable to lie, manipulate, and present fake facts to the populace in order to achieve a desired result.

Perpetrators of misleading statements who “mis-speak” in the run-up to a referendum or election cannot be held legally accountable. So you can sue the garage that claimed you could fly your car to the moon but you can’t sue the party who made up a massive vote-catching lie and then said “Oh that thing on the bus. Well yes, that was probably wrong.”

It was the year I realised that a Prime Minister and his Government could completely cock up the organisation to a referendum so that that Joe Bloggs’ one vote could be the difference between ruining our economy by withdrawing from Europe, thus ignoring the wishes of almost 50% of the population.

It was the year I realised that America isn’t so great. I’d kind of got that impression by the way toddlers keep shoot their mums using the little toddler-friendly guns that mums keep in their handbags but the massive old-school racism that still exists in a modern free multi-cultural nation was a bit of a shocker.

It seems that a sizeable number of Americans who are just about intelligent enough to vote, have managed to hang on to ignorant, greedy, medieval, racist, sexist, small-minded attitudes that curtail freedoms.

It was the year I realised that Theresa May our unelected PM and Jeremy Hunt, the bad joke who is Health Secretary, will indeed allow the NHS and the wonderful doctors still in it, to go to hell. They ignore all the warnings and are watching the NHS break under a million strains. The warnings have grown over the past 2 – 3 years but were ignored.

All of the above did actually result in some people sinking into a funk of depression, of feeling de-stabilised and disenfranchised, of being isolated with their beliefs about equal rights, racial harmony, and the conviction that we are all neighbours on this precious planet that all nations need to care for. It seemed that kindness, caring for your fellow man was not the New Order.

I was one of the people for a while. It’s the first time in my life that I felt shell-shocked by current events. Friends and colleagues felt the same.

“We’ve sleepwalked into this,” one said.

“We didn’t realise. We should have done more.”

It’s true. But in my previous experience the political change has never been so brutal, so wrong, so based on what we now know were mass deceptions.

So, no more sleep walking.

RESIST

I’ve always been opinionated but not a particularly rabid activist apart from donations and small actions supporting causes dear to my heart.

I resigned my National Trust membership in protest at them allowing fox-hunting on their land.

I’ve marched against the badger cull and been on night patrols to try to protect my local badgers from marksmen.

But in the last six months I’ve signed more petitions than the rest of my life.

I’m going on the anti-Brexit march in London at the end of March. I know it’s probably futile but I’m going purely to stand up and be counted; to demonstrate, physically, that I don’t want it.

I’m not going to sleep walk into anything else.

I’ve written three letters to my crappy local Tory MP because he’s the only one I’ve got and I’m going to lobby the crap out of him.

I’ve objected to a local planning application to build houses in the village where I live because it will spoil a nice view and create a precedent for more development in an unsuitable spot. There are plenty of boring places to put houses elsewhere in the village. without ruining the scenic. historic bits for us all.

I’ve written an impassioned plea to every single member of the Planning Committee. It may not make one iota of difference but I have made my feelings known. The decisive meeting is in March.

It’s 2017. Time to stand up for what we believe in and resist where necessary.

Like Germaine Greer said “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”

 

Posted in Badgers, Current Affairs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Gone with the wind

The forecast for Storm Doris,  Blustery Belinda, Slightly Zephyrine Zoe or whatever her name was, turned out to be a little over-blown.

A seafaring cove might have described the wind force in Cheltenham on the day Doris was expected as a “strong breeze.”

True, it was a cheeky kind of breeze; the sort that might make a lady squeal with embarrassment by lifting her skirt at an inopportune moment , dislodging a hat or turning her umbrella inside out.

I went out for a walk in the wind and rain hoping to observe people having umbrella problems but the streets were deserted.

Did people think they would be blown away like the black-clad nannies in Mary Poppins? Perhaps the local radio station had been issuing dire “Stay in your homes” warnings much as they do if there’s an inch of snow on the way.

I thought everyone – including pets and wild creatures – liked a stiff breeze.

While Cheltenham’s very unlikely to experience anything on the tornado scale of the Wizard of Oz, a Winnie-the-Pooh-style Blustery Day livens things up no end.

The air in the Promenade was full of pirouetting leaves, jackdaws doing that rocking and rolling thing over the tops of the plane trees and seagulls showing off their soaring and banking skills (I was going to type ‘doing funny terns’ but terns can be quite serious at times).

Wind drives cats scatty. They go wild-eyed, flatten their ears and run up trees while dogs race in circles or snow-plough their noses tail-waggingly through piles of leaves.

Wind is nearly always comedic, whether it’s flatulence or the sort of weather that results in people in wildly flapping mackintoshes fighting to control their umbrellas.

Trying to subdue an umbrella is nothing, however, compared with mobilising an entire family to stabilise a tent while watching their carefully pegged toilet tent being hoisted aloft and blown across a field into a barbed wire fence. That’s not quite so amusing, particularly if it happens at 5.30am and you are consequently desperate for the loo and there is no loo block.

My own umbrella turned inside out three times on the Quite Windy Day but I was the only person around so the amusement value was wasted.

You’d think that by now, the 21st century, we would have invented a more efficient way of staying protected from the wind and rain than the umbrella.  Umbrellas are just sooo 200 BC.  They’ve been around since Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang was entombed with his concubines and his terracotta army in 200 BC.  Who knows? Maybe James Dyson’s team of young inventors are coming up with some ideas that most of us can’t afford.

Walking back through the office car park, I noticed what from a distance looked like a grubby pink bag carrier bag someone had dropped.

It was the sad wreck of a discarded umbrella, sodden, properly blown inside out and ruined, with disconnected struts jutting out at insane angles.

It looked as though it had been destroyed in the wind and the owner had vented their spleen about its inadequacy by stamping on it. It would never be an umbrella again.

I picked it up by a strut and dropped it into the nearest bin.

Drat and double-drat.  I’d walked around half of Cheltenham and the comedy moment had happened with 20 metres of the window of my office.

 

 

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

Party on

Writing this at 11pm on the 30th of January. All is dark in the garden but I can hear a small chorus of frogs.

These are the first frog songs of 2017. They are heralding the Spring.

This is the earliest I’ve heard the frog voices. For a couple of months now, the pond has been dark and the fish slow.

The duckweed has sunk, the waterlily leaves long since rotted. Only the Canadian pond weed endures.

The fish are torpid. It’s too cold to feed them. They lie in the water as if they are hibernating. The pond has been frozen over several times and their unfocussed slashes of colour – gold, red, yellow – glimmered from beneath the sheet ice.

Valentine’s Day is usually the time when the frogs assemble and are at their most vociferous in the pond. The males arrive, swim, swagger and sing, their pale blue throats pulsating proudly with the effort. There’s a lot of excitement as they wait for the females to appear for the annual party to start.

Last year, they were about ten days late. This year, who knows? They may be on time if the weather remains wet and mild for a week or so.

If we get a cold snap, they will all dive down into the depths and postpone the cavortings until it gets warmer.

February 1st update:  Well, the news just in is that the first arrivals aren’t wasting any time.

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They seem to be enjoying themselves in glorious isolation just now at 11pm but it’s pretty early for party-goers so no doubt others will turn up later.

I just hope they don’t wake me up singing at 3am.

 

Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, frogs, Pondlife, Uncategorized, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to anyone taking the trouble to read this, my first blog of 2017.

That in itself might put you right off as it’s apparently very annoying to be wished Happy New Year after the first week of New Year.

As I got a ‘Happy New Year’ greeting from a patient last Thursday, I refuse to feel guilty. Anyway, it’s generally a good thing  when you work at a doctors’ surgery and don’t see a patient very often. It means they’re doing fine.  Probably.

Right now, there are far bigger things to be annoyed about in the world.  On the Scale of Annoyance, from Minor Niggle to Shaking With Rage, I doubt this blog represents more than an eye-roll.

Anyway, just think yourself lucky that I’m not going to talk about New Year resolutions. I didn’t make any. I just woke up on the first day of 2017 and thought that the best thing to do is take things as they come.

This is based on the fact that I started 2016 with some fine targets, then family life just got in the way in spectacularly awful style so my life wasn’t really my own for several months.

So this year, no targets, so no disappointment about not reaching targets. I’m not doing Dry January, I’m not doing de-toxing, I’m merely doing the stuff I enjoy – cycling as much as poss, running a bit, taking pics, never turning down a glass of fizz, eating carcinogenic toast, having too much gravy and generally appreciating things.

But I did do the important things at New Year – like walking and beachcombing on a couple of Welsh beaches.

Strolling with the family on Rhossili beach on New Year’s Day under mostly leaden skies was even quieter than usual – only about 20 other people on the entire stretch of sand! Maybe it was because it was a bit windy, scuffing the tops of the waves back out to sea and sending the seagulls rocking and rolling on the currents.  My Chinese daughter-in-law and I wrote HAPPY NEW YEAR in English and Chinese characters in the sand but our cheery greetings were all covered up by the time we walked back.

We were expecting to be able to gatecrash the Welsh brunch + fizz shenanigans at Eddie’s at Hill End  but it was all closed and in darkness, so maybe Eddie’s had enough of working on New Year’s Day.

While Rhossili is big and breathtaking viewed from above, my favourite beach, Mewslade, is a bit of a secret treasure. It gets filled up at high tide, but as the tide is retreats beneath blue skies in the low winter sun it’s dazzling and exquisite.

There were a total of eight people evident at different times and if perched between some rocks in the sun, sheltered from the bitter breeze,  it was actually beautiful and warm. At Mewslade, everything around you, apart from the actual limestone rock and grains of sand, is alive and waiting for the incoming tide.

If you pick up any shells on the beach, chances are they will have a sea snail or a hermit crab inside. Erosion has carved the limestone cliffs into innumerable clefts, caves and cups. The cups are home to clusters of teeny navy blue mussels, the rock is covered with living barnacles and the rock pools and rocks – even at eye level – wear shiny blood-red anemones just waiting for the next tide to extend their tentacles.

That day was a good start to January, a month that’s generally way too dark, too dreary, too dull, too wet for me.  The absolute best thing about this January is that the furry magnolia buds are swelling, daff buds are about to burst, the first snowdrops are showing snowy-white in the woods and January is nearly over!

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Rhossili Bay and Worms Head

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Mewslade

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Posted in Coast, Countryside, Current Affairs, Seaside, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Mo-laughing matter

So this guy was talking about his trip to the dentist….

The 45 minutes he spent with the hygienist and the 15 minutes with the dentist and the £95 bill and the buying of the new toothbrush and accessories…

How he’s got to go back in 5 weeks after he’s been cleaning his teeth with the new electric toothbrush and the new teeny in-betweeny orthodontic brushes he’s been told to get…

And have you heard the latest? No, me neither. It’s now recommended not to rinse the toothpaste out of your mouth. Nope, you just LEAVE IT THERE

What ridiculous fresh hell is this?

First Brexit

Then Trump

Now you’ve got to leave the toothpaste in your mouth….

Oh and when you go to bed, just get a little nub of toothpaste and massage your gums with it.  So you go to bed smelling, tasting and no doubt feeling, a bit menthol.

My reaction?

Total Princess Anne. Naff off.

It’s supposed to be all about the teeth but a lot of it is all about the money with private dentists.

Basically this guy’s just spent £120 on a dental maintenance kit because the dentist, who will be charging about £150 to see him twice, deems it necessary.

They are unashamedly making their fortunes squeezing the spondulix out of hapless patients who take everything they say deadly seriously, even though you cannot die of bad teeth. Well, perhaps you can but the simple remedy would just be to remove them.

But no, no-one takes out dodgy teeth these days.

A couple of pals who have had “root canal work” have been relieved of more than £500 for the privilege of keeping that single molar near the back that no-one sees anyway.

One pal, who was quoted £650 for the essential root canal work she needed, actually thought “Wait a cotton-pickin moment… isn’t that a tad expensive?”

She’s from Guildford so no she didn’t think those precise words but stick with me as I attempt to pique your interest.

“My dentist is good” I told her. “I went to him about a year after I got frightened to death by a woman dentist.”

She was supposed to be doing a filling for me but I swear she was going to drill into the bottom of my tooth until she reached the earth’s core.  It was still tooth-hurty  (the traditional Chinese dentist appointment time) three months later.

“£650 sounds a lot for one tooth. I mean, how long can it take?” I said.

“I bet my dentist would give you a quote for a root canal.”

He did. He quoted her nearly £400 for the same work. Still eye-watering but hey, a saving of more than £250.

She rang her dentist and left a message, very fairly and amicably, I thought, to say she was swapping dentists to get the work done at a more reasonable price.

That same evening, her expensive dentist phoned her at 6.30pm and berated and cajoled her for half an hour.

His tactics ran the gamut of “Why on earth are you changing dentists?” to “What’s he actually quoted you for?” to “Well, at that price he can’t be much of a dentist” with dire warnings that she was effectively placing her dodgy but prized molar in the hands of a snake-oil specialist.

Quite remarkable that a professional registered dentist could behave like a double-glazing salesman who lost out on the deal.

I thought she could have reported him to the dentists professional body but she didn’t. She just happily got her molar done and saved £250.  It wasn’t even Black Friday.

 

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

Perky sauntering

I once overheard someone saying ‘When I see a runner smiling, then I’ll run.”

Well, when I’m out for a trot, I do smile but you’d have to say something vaguely amusing, obvs. To be fair though, compared to proper runners in those ridiculously high-cut satin shorts, my trot is not so much a run as a perky saunter.

Sauntering perkily yet smoothly gives you time to see things, to stop and stroke the soft pony noses or pet any puppy that might become available. It’s a comfortable state to be in.

I rarely take a lunch-hour at work but when i do it’s to go for a trot with a work pal and it’s the kind of relaxed pace where we can chat and bitch freely all the way without getting out of breath.

Other runners pass us. They are usually blokes with the kind of legs that do an entire running track in thirty paces. They wouldn’t even know what a perky saunter was.

They don’t acknowledge us. But neither do other runners. Broadly-speaking, runners are not friendly. They are in the zone. They are too important to nod or raise a hand in greeting like cyclists do. They really don’t want to know you and fear that if by mistake you catch their eye, then you will suck all the running energy out of them and they will stumble and collapse in a small pile of dust.

If a woman passes us – and you may be shocked to learn that some occasionally do – we make might an attempt to switch the gas on and catch her up. It’s our dream to catch up and overtake, the two of us running past like gazelles, wind in our hair, ponytails swishing (no neither of us has a pony tail) and powering to victory (or at least round the corner) boobs leading the way like in Chariots of Fire.

This never happens, obvs, but it doesn’t stop us being gloriously ridiculously unrealistically aspirational. Plus, if we can’t catch her, it’s fine. We’ll just bitch about her huge ass.

So we just carry on sauntering perkily around Pittville Park lake in Cheltenham, promising that one day we’ll stop and have an ice-cream at the boating lake. We pick up the pace a bit after the half-way point.

“Seriously, I think this is downhill,” I say. I’m full of encouraging twaddle.

“You think?” she says. “Feels like flat to me.”

“Are you in the zone yet?” my pal will sometimes ask.

“I was for about two minutes back there but the woman with the pushchair got in the way. Are you in the zone?”

“No. I’m still waiting.”

“Have you ever been in the zone, actually?”

“I don’t think so,” she says.

“But we’re doing well. We’re actually running. That’s *really* good,” I say encouragingly – and we laugh ironically.

Anyway, I’ve never wanted to do running properly. When you see people you actually know out running, it puts you off. Their faces look so different; grotesque, even.

For instance, I was out with the dog one day and we were just about to go over a stile when this guy – I’d socialised with him, babysat his kids, had dinner at his house – approached from amongst the trees.

He was a tall gangly guy with shortish blonde slightly wavy hair and steel rimmed thick glasses. Normally, he was smiley, slightly reserved and softly-spoken.

As he thumped towards the stile, he looked like he was in a state of near-fatal collapse. His arms were waving about randomly and sweat was flying off his florid, desperate Munch ‘Scream’ face.

I stood back to let him over the stile. He had no breath to say anything as he climbed over so just nodded recognition as his blood-shot eyes met mine before he staggered on heavily across the field.

You could tell his pleasure in being alive was somewhat dimmed.

I spotted one of my neighbours, really nice woman, quite smart, good taste in clothes, out jogging. She was wearing a lardy-thigh-hugging track suit, clutching a water bottle and stumbling uphill as if she too would be better off dead.

You don’t really look like that when you’re sauntering perkily. It’s running but not as we know it, Jim.

My pal and I warm down about five minutes from the office so that we arrive back looking insouciant rather than vaguely alarming. Oh, that’s apart from the time when we did 5k by mistake on a warm day in July. Then we arrived back at work looking like a pair of freshly skinned plum tomatoes. You can’t win ’em all.

Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Ridiculous Tosh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments