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

Fearful tadpoles!

It’s excellent how an exclamation mark can make such a difference to a statement of fact, which was otherwise pretty unremarkable.

The exclamation has rendered those two words so very Wodehousian. Ok maybe it’s just me. I admit I’m just a tad bally obsessed with Wodehouse and his humour.

But back to the tadpoles. They’re really not that bad. In fact they are totally fascinating and this year are doing better than any other year that I remember.

This morning’s pond watch was interesting because the tadpoles have learned fear. I’m not talking just instinctively reacting to a shadow and swimming from the surface for 30 seconds and then coming back.

I’m talking proper instinctive frog fear… where they disappear into a puff of mud and stay there until they really need to breathe or think the threat is over.

It’s interesting that this fear has manifested itself after the back legs have formed but before the front legs.

The whole metamorphosis thing fascinates me. I have no idea why more people don’t find it miraculous. I mean, here we have a well-known creature that actually starts as a simple blob of cells and completely changes its form without any kind of hibernation or pause in development.

I haven’t yet read anything which indicates that scientists know precisely how or why this happens. Sure they now know about frog DNA and the influence of hormones. I read this morning that they’ve even made sterile transgenic frogs but they can’t replicate metamorphosis. It’s still a mystery.

Somehow or other the cells just change according to the pattern set out in the genes and create a completely different creature which is capable of adapting to its environment.

A lot of the home-grown pond frogs are prettily marked black and yellowish green which suggests they have developed a camouflage from living beneath the variegated ivy, which is yellow and lime green. When frogs gather for the big mating orgy in February, it’s very obvious who the visitors are. One this spring was almost wholly yellowish while another was deep terracotta red.

Not only that but as evidenced now, the brain develops to match the creature and the creatures’ development adapts to the environment. They must have some form of communication or ability to synchronise because, even more weirdly, they tend to make their move from pond to dry land all together on the same day. Cloudy damp days should be the best conditions for them to go over the top and seek damp cool places in long grass or under rocks.

They don’t always get it right. There have been hot June days when their sadly desiccated little bodies have been littering the brick edge of the pond. Rather like the one little black turtle hatchling that was spotted by a little boy on the beach in Mexico as it struggled it’s way through the soft sand while sunbathers read their books and drank their lagers unaware of its presence.

The boy alerted his parents and soon even the readers and sunbathers were on their feet to form a protective guard of honour against potential bird strikes as the turtelinni flapped its way wildly through the sand to the sea. It was a beautiful moment when it paused, exhausted, on the damp sand and the next second was swept up by the Caribbean to begin its new life. Everyone applauded. It was a good example of how, occasionally, tourism actually benefits wildlife.  Without the tourist guard of honour, turtelinni would undoubtedly have been picked off by a sharp-eyed great-tailed grackle.

But back to the tadpoles… This year they are bigger than ever before. They are fatter with longer, massively strong tails. I’ve no idea why this is. A heron cleared the pond of nearly all the fish about three weeks ago, so maybe they have been pigging themselves on fish food, but it’s odd.

It will be interesting to see if they make super-frogs.

Posted in Current Affairs, Pondlife, Watery things | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No raining on my parade

Ok, stand by to be hit by the oddest thing…

But first, picture the scene; the Dara O’Briain comedy gig in the Tata Tent, the biggest venue at Hay Festival.

I was sitting about 10 rows back with a genial and huge rugby-player of a bloke to my right (when I say huge, I mean his armpit was in my eye-line) and a skinny woman with a blonde bob sitting on my left.

I’d exchanged greetings with both when I sat down so we were cool.

The guy was loving Dara, rather like me. The entire audience seemed to love him. He was going down a storm but actually nothing to compete with the thunder claps exploding overhead and what sounded like an apocalyptic rainstorm.

Dara had to shout to be heard over the ferocity of the tumult outside and said he’d never had to deliver his lines Nuremberg rally-style before.

It just got more and more hilarious as the thunder and torrential rain continued, with Dara pitching a vision of us all the only survivors as the storm washed away the rest of the festival. Everyone was in stitches.

But the blonde woman did not react. She didn’t laugh once. At anything. Not even inwardly.

I don’t think she was even laughing inside.

She got increasingly twitchy.

Watching her in my peripheral vision, a small part of me was a little concerned that she had a medical problem. She was about to have a fit, a stroke, explosive diarrhoea or projectile vomiting. I usually try to avoid people will any or all of these things.

She was a bit off-putting, to say the least – especially as she kept turning to look in my direction, but she may have been just looking at the doors. I studiously ignored her and concentrated on Dara and his foul-mouthed but hilarious and intelligent comedy.

But a still small part of my brain was thinking “Is there anything in my bag that could possibly double as a sick bag? No. Only the bag itself. Ewww.”

Meanwhile Blonde Neighbour swished her hair, wrung her hands, smoothed her trousers and seemed entirely ill at ease.

Then at one point in the show, she asked to write something on the notepad I had on my lap.

This was entirely unexpected. If she was about to have a fit or a stroke though, maybe this was going to be her last will and testament… or maybe she was agitated because she’d forgotten to order something from Ocado that was going to be delivered tomorrow.

I looked at her quizzically. I hardly ever let people use my pens, yet it seemed churlish to refuse this weird stranger.

In shorthand, she wrote ” This is so fucking awful.”

She handed back the notebook and pen and looked at me with a terrible desperation.

I wasn’t sure whether she meant my laughter, Dara’s jokes or what. I didn’t much care. It sounds heartless but hey I was at a comedy gig, not about to take on some stranger’s psychiatric case. I just shrugged my shoulders, turned over the page and went on taking in the comedy.

I don’t know why she didn’t just go. I have no idea why she decided to share that with me as I was just sitting there being a normal member of the audience.

It can be a downer sitting next to someone at a concert or comedy show that is just not getting it. But actually, I refuse to take on anyone else’s bad mood. They can stuff it where the sun don’t shine.

I should have written in shorthand back “Kindly do not rain on my parade, you miserable fuck.”

But obvs, I didn’t. I am laughing as I type. I don’t look the kind of woman to say that sort of thing and it might have shocked her into a fit… or even worse, further shorthand conversations!

As Dara O’Briain said at the beginning of the gig “If you’re the kind of person who laughs inwardly, then could you fuck off and stop taking the chair of someone who laughs outwardly?”



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High Tea


Richmal Crompton was big on high teas.

William Brown would poke his grubby visage around the door of the drawing room to find his sister Ethel and boyfriend nibbling cucumber sandwiches and sipping tea from bone china tea cups with Ethel’s little pinkie set at a jaunty angle.

I’m pretty sure the Famous Five had good high teas too. I remember questioning mum closely on why we didn’t have ginger beer or luxury multi-course breakfasts with cream in the porridge or high tea including unheard-of delights including meringues.

“Why don’t we have mer-in-gews?” I whined.

” You do sometimes. We pronounce them mer-angs,” she said. How we laughed.

In the Welsh valleys, it’s still the case that dinner is at dinner time (lunchtime) and you have your tea at tea time – the time that, as a kid, your mam called in to eat the main meal of the day. We didn’t have crusts cut off. You were supposed to eat crusts to make your hair curl. Scones didn’t exist back then. In Wales, even now i suspect, your ability as a cook is judged exclusively on your roast lamb, your gravy, your Welsh cakes and your iced custard tarts.

The Ritz started this high tea thing. Friends who have taken their parents report that you have a set time in which to enjoy your substantially priced dainty treats before you are kicked out for another set of people to leave expensive crumbs.

This kind of top-notch afternoon repas has percolated down to the provinces to the extent that any cafe with a high-rise set of plates will stick a sandwich and a scone on there, call it high tea and charge you three times the price.

But (and it’s a big iced but, sandwiched with jam and perched on the very top of an eye-watering heap of home-made buts) in spite of all that, I found myself seated with two women pals at a Welsh hotel anticipating high tea last Saturday.

The room was full of women stuffing their faces with delectable sweetmeats and nattering. There was only one bloke apart from some of the serving staff.

It was all a bit *prissy* with too many waitresses and waiters and a bewildering array of teas – black teas, green teas, white teas, fruit teas, Chinese teas. You could have as many different sorts as you wanted – but in reality, you only had room for two pots.

If you were catheterised and your bag was attended to regularly, you could have worked your way through at least half a page of teas but as it was, two pots sufficed.

There was an enormous fuss about the high rise calorie stand which was brought to the table and it was explained at length and with some reverence what every dainty morsel consisted of. There were bits of quiche and savoury creamy whirls on toast at the top while the delicate sandwiches were on the bottom tier. In between were the cakes, which didn’t need much explaining. Ane fule can tell a Bakewell from a Manchester Tart.

It all started well, although if I had been on top form, I would have had prosecco or champagne as well as tea.. but as the time went by and we demolished a goodly proportion of Calorie Mountain, we began to flag.

“More tea. Need a break!” gasped one pal.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to get through it all. They give you a doggy bag to take home,” said my other pal, slightly waspishly, I thought.

The idea of taking some of it home was a surprise to me, as I was steadily munching my way through it all plus demolishing the smoked salmon sarnies and the prawns which nobody else liked. I thought I did pretty well considering I’d had a week of being ill.

But hey, even I have my limits. I am totally Woman Versus Food when it comes to spare ribs but with cakes, you do have to be careful because after the massive joyful sugar rush comes the devastating sugar low and the need to nap for a couple of hours.

After the Cage of Calories (Cage Aux Folles would have been appropriate if you were trying to lose weight) was finished with – plus the strawberries and cream – it was time for the final course, the warm scone with butter or cream and jam.

Actually, that was the nicest of all and that, in its simplicity, would have done me but by then we were all too stuffed to appreciate it.

Elegant gluttony with posh shoes, several pots of tea and a really good long natter set us back nearly £30 each.

To be honest, I probably won’t do it again.

Next time, it’ll be warm Welsh cakes. Can’t beat ’em.


Posted in Current Affairs, Food, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Not Fit For Work


I got my first ever sick note this week. Ok, Fit Note if you want the correct terminology but a Fit Note for unfitness never made sense to me.

It’s a novelty. I might copy it and frame it before I give it to the bosses at work on Monday.

Thing is, I usually work through feeling dodgy. Carrying on regardless has always worked before. When you’re self-employed you can’t afford to be ill anyway and since I’ve been an employee, I can isolate myself pretty well, slather my hands in antiseptic gel, take ibuprofen and swig fizzy 1000mgs Vitamin C to help things along a bit. Let’s not forget Dr Wang’s Amazing Pills from Hong Kong. Even if they don’t actually contain any active ingredients – and lacking Mandarin as a first language, I can’t tell – they act as very fine placebos.

This virus came at me straight out of left field and I tried to ignore it. I phoned my surgery, a doctor called me back and triaged me. He basically said “Yeah there’s nothing much we can do about that. If a rash comes out look it up on and if it looks like the rash, yeah, then that’s what it is.”

DermNet turns out to be very useful for making yourself feel nauseous looking at horrendous images of skin conditions from around the world. If I hadn’t been feeling ill already I definitely would have felt bilious (oh my god, doesn’t the word alone make you feel a bit icky?) after looking at that.

So I blundered on with Life. Nice sunny weather so walks (too hurty to run) and.. “….are you sure you’re feeling up to cycling?”

“OF COURSE. I AM ALWAYS UP FOR CYCLING!!!!” …so a lovely dappled bike ride along the Wye on Sunday. A bit tired afterwards but hey, sunshine and pedalling is *always* the best restorative for me.

Turns out it isn’t. After a night of pain – and I can now attest to the accuracy of the phrase ‘racked with pain’ – and only about 2 hours sleep, going to work on Monday was a bit of a struggle.

I looked fit to work. I was dressed correctly, make-up applied, good hair, great nails, my hands worked, it didn’t hurt to sit in a chair and type things looking at a computer screen but I was hurting. Hurting, burning, aching. All those things.

But worst of all was – and this is very unlike me – the fact that I’d ceased to care.

I’m normally a calm, opinionated, bit loud, decisive, friendly, good-humoured, sympathetic, organised, ready-to-change-the-world, seizing the carp (carpe diem) kind of person. I’m never ‘don’t care.’  I might bitch about stuff but that’s because I care!

I care about my job and the service we give to patients and I set an example, expecting – and actually finding – that everyone who works with me feels much the same about their jobs.

I’m only indifferent to you if I don’t know you and even then, I’d probably give you the parking receipt I’ve already paid for or help you out with some change.

There was work that *had* to be done, so I was going to do it. But it was a struggle. I had absolutely zero interest in everything anyone said to me. I had to pretend like crazy. When a doc asked me to fix something for her, I did it but thought “Why does she think this is even important?”

In short, I shouldn’t have been at work. So I went home after 3 hours and slept, and slept, and slept. I saw a doctor, took drugs, slept, slept, felt a bit better, slept, slept and slept some more.

That thing I say to people “Oh yeah I’m saving that to watch/read/listen to when I’m ill!” ( I refer here to major re-run treats like The Wire, Mary Poppins, Top Gun, Lord of the Rings, The Undercover Economist #don’task ) …. Well, it turns out that when you are a bit ill, you don’t do any of that stuff because concentrating on anything just sends you to sleep again.

I’ve tried getting on with writing but as the late, great Norah Ephron said… (she didn’t actually say ‘Don’t write anything which is a well-known phrase’ I think George Orwell said that. You’ve probably missed that tongue-in-cheek thing anyway by now) …as she said (drum-roll) … “The hardest thing about writing is writing.”

That last par went all Ronnie Corbett but I’m leaving it in. So, to sum up, I haven’t achieved much and the other disappointing thing is that my meds haven’t given me brilliantly creative hallucinations or ideas. I was thinking “Hey man… I’m gonna be stoned on the good stuff… writing like a dream… playing guitar like Paul Simon” but nada. I’m probably a 9 on the Woozle Score of Wooziness which only encourages a Corbett-like ability to beat about the bush or curl up on something yielding – the cats have been useful – for a snooze.

But I’m feeling loads better, so there will be more blogs. Working, writing, blogging, cycling, running – I need to get back into shape for all those things. Blimey, that sentence sounds tiring to read, let alone *do*..

But hey, count this as a ‘limbering up….’



*goes for a nap

Posted in Cats, Current Affairs, Cycling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Unexpected visitors

One of the things rats do is appear when you least expect them.

A prime example was the one in Wetherspoons pub in Trowbridge recently.

A bloke was out with his girl when he felt something bump into his leg and found that a “sewer-sized rat” was climbing up his trousers.

Worse was to come.  It seized a chip from his fingers and made off!  Dogs will always want to share chips but at least they have the good grace to sit and look waggy-tailed and appealing until you hand one over. Plus they don’t keep you awake by galloping about in the attic at night.

Rats, I suspect, are beginning to believe that they own the place.


a prettier-than-average rat

I was chatting to a fellow dog walker one summer day when, just across the road, a rat turned up at the bus stop.  He just sat in the sun on the warm concrete enjoying the summer day. Then another rat turned up and sniffed nonchanently around on the grass verge. Rats.. a bit like buses, really.

As the chap in Trowbridge found out though, it’s much more disturbing when they invade your personal space. One Sunday, my family were assembled around the dining table as I was just serving up Sunday dinner.

Mother-in-law was a guest. For some reason she glanced out of the patio doors and gave something a hard stare.

“Is that a rat eating an orange on your lawn?”

Cutlery poised as we were all about to make a start on the roast Welsh lamb, we turned to look at the garden and yes.. there was a large brown rat sitting up on his haunches holding and nibbling half an orange.

His manner was relaxed, as though he was a beloved pet having a little Sunday afternoon romp among the flowers and in no particular rush to return to his cage.

“Oh yes.  It does look like one,” I replied casually, as though we always have a rat-infested garden. I didn’t really enjoyed the lamb.

I spoke to a woman once who had complained to her holiday company about rats that appeared at night when she was leaving the restaurant on an island in the Maldives to walk back to her apartment.

They gave her the creeps, scurrying about in the dark.  They even ran around her feet as she queued for the buffet! The holiday company letter addressing her complaint was hilarious.

They explained that the creatures were not , in fact, rats but Maldavian Palm Hamsters.  She managed to take some snaps of the cute “hamsters” and they did look incredibly similar to rats..

Rats do have their fans, though.  A doctor colleague of mine loves her pet rats and says they are incredibly intelligent, friendly and good company.

Well they must be if they’d run up a man’s leg to get a chip. I dread to think what they might do to secure a cheesy chip.

But *nothing* – and I mean *nothing* –  is as bad as finding a cockroach in your knicker drawer.

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Super Sludge


Sludge must be one of the most mysterious things on earth.

That’s the whole thing about sludge, it can be made of anything at all and you haven’t the faintest clue.

Sludge is at the bottom of the pond… a silent slow conglomeration of dead stuff – animal and vegetable – fish and frog poo (I’ve never seen a frog poo but they must do it)* and general ooze. It stinks.

There’s sludge in the filter of my washing machine. It’s a horrible grey viscous goo which looks like something that could creep up the stairs, into my bedroom and suffocate me in the night.  No idea what it’s made of but it smells a bit.

And now, there’s the sludge I drink every morning. It doesn’t smell too bad but it looks very very sludgy indeed. It’s a kind of super-sludge.

I never meant to drink sludge. That wasn’t in my life plan at all until I bought a Nutribullet machine at Christmas.

I thought the Nutribullet would pep up Capt Sensible’s plain ol’ freshly squeezed orange juice.  It would add fibre and pith (or am I just taking it?). I imagined it would pep up his early morning drinks rather like the arrival of the Xbox transformed our gaming from potting cute ducks on the Wii shooting range to driving extremely fast racing cars around amazingly accurate representations of world-famous racing circuits.

I was wrong. Turns out he doesn’t like smoothie-type things but is now fixated on doing sludge-based experiments on me.

The first one didn’t look exactly appetising – a glass of bile-green liquid with a consistency only slightly runnier than Polyfilla. It had black bits through it and the swirl on the top was so dense that it was raised and three-dimensional.

I tasted it with caution.

“Can guess what it is yet?” he said in a creepy Rolf Harris-kind-of-way.

Hmm. I tasted banana… plus something a bit acidic.. then more banana.

Turned out to be banana, blueberries, grapes and spinach. Yes. I had drunk a green vegetable.

The Nutribullet book is full of sludge recipes including exotically-alien ingredients like kozo and goo-goo berries, Norwegian kumquats and Indonesian star-fruit, which I’ve never heard of **but what’s more never want to buy.

So the experiments continue. Peach, banana, melon and spinach is the best yet.

I’ve been drinking mystery sludges for a month now. I don’t feel any better or different but on the plus side, at least I haven’t turned green.

It hasn’t been a miraculous protection against infection; I caught a streaming cold which annoyingly, I had over a weekend. I can’t even claim my daily sludge shortened its duration as I hit it hard with Lemsip Max.

Some sludges have turned out to taste even more disgusting than they look – which is going some. Avocado, banana and spinach was especially slimy, thick and brown and to be avoided like the plague because was much worse than the plague.

Then there was the glass of blueberry, banana and grape sludge which just tasted of mould. I fertilized the viburnum with it.

A pal at work whose husband is fantatical about avoiding wasted food said “You sure he’s not just using the old stuff at the bottom of the fridge salad drawer?”

I laughed.

He can’t be.  I’d definitely detect Ye Olde Spring Onione and Wrinkly Ginger in my sludge.. er……..       wouldn’t I?


* I looked up frog poo. It’s a big thing. There are disgusting You Tube videos.

** Don’t go looking for them. I made them up.

Posted in Current Affairs, Food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments