Walking with cats

It’s a great pity cats won’t go for a walk.  They might accompany you down the drive but they don’t seem to favour a proper walk, up the path, across the road, around the woods down to the pub and back.

It’s not as though I haven’t tried to persuade them. Lily just looked at me and rolled over on to her back in the compost-scattered unfilled plant trough that she has made her outdoor home.

Leo seemed much more enthusiastic. There was a miaow and a walking along, through the gate, a pause by the car on the drive and then a walk over the lawn and along the road.

He stopped but started again when I said  (with vain hope, I must admit)  “Heel”!

The walk was about 1 mph which is distracted toddler speed – a bit slow for me – but I stopped and waited for him where the path converges. He caught me up looking puzzled but when continued onwards he just remained there, standing covered in pathos.

“Coming?”

Nah. He wasn’t. He gave a high pitched miaow “But don’t go!”

He was about 200 yards from home but that seemed to be the edge of his territory.

I carried on walked, glanced over my shoulder to see if he was following but no, he’d set off down a different path. He’d find his way back home, no doubt.

Returning home from the opposite direction I saw the silhouette of a cat standing at the path ‘crossroads’ in the distance.  I couldn’t quite believe it – this was about an hour later.

“Leo? Is that you?” I shouted.

There was a distant mew in reply – and another one and then another one.

“Have you waited all this time?” I asked him. He kept on miaowing so I took it that he might well have done.

“Come on then, let’s go home,” I said.

I thought we’d have a companionable stroll back over the grass to the path and home, but no, he leapt ahead. When I say leapt, I mean flew in an arc through the air as though I’d just attempted a drop kick making contact with his ample purry posterior. He landed, sprinted ten paces with his ears back then stopped.

When I caught him up he leapt forward again, strolled for a few paces, sniffed a nearby bush then rolled over and wriggled around on the warm tarmac covering himself in dust.

He looked happy. It was a “You carry on. This is nice. I’m staying here” expression.

Some people, I hear, take their cats out on leads.  I’d just like  to know… how?

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Happy Purrthday

Happy Birthday Leo and Fat Lily!

They are five years old. As always with a birthday you ask “Oh where has the time gone?” “It doesn’t seem like five years” and other predictable stuff that people say about every birthday when they are getting older. Like climate change, time is definitely accelerating.

Here they are enjoying riotous partying.

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Yes. I know. Cats just don’t know how to appreciate birthdays. You can give a dog a present, wrapped up in paper. He will rag the paper into tiny pieces all around the room, seize the gift and carry it about triumphantly, eyes gleaming, mouth in a rictus grin, drooling at the edges.

It gladdens your heart to see it. It’s rare that any of your nearest and dearest ever react quite so positively – even at Christmas. I’m not counting the year that Aunty Betty tried vodka for the first time. The drooling wasn’t pretty and she rather lost control of her knees.

In spite of the frankly disappointing gaiety from birthday kitties, I am very pleased to be a cat person now.

They are not generously life enhancing in the same way as dogs but they do enhance life exclusively on their own terms.

Surprisingly, they do come and greet you when you return home. They are curious about what you’re up to and they settle in your general vicinity even if not directly lying near the back of you neck on the sofa, luxuriating on the lap or requesting a tummy tickle upside down in “Max Adorable” position.

I’ve just been wandering around in the garden with the camera accompanied by Fat Lily. She’s one of those curious characters who doesn’t want to appear overtly nosey. She will show interest in your drink but only lick the edge of the glass when she thinks your back is turned.

She’s a pain sometimes. She emits her  “Eh-ow” half miaow repeatedly, indicating she’s ready to take up the restricted position on lap between me and lap top (there’s a coincidence) and I go to lift her up but she trots away and lingers coquettishly in the study doorway.

I know damn well she hasn’t changed her mind because she’ll be back in two minutes asking again. The thing is, she doesn’t want to be lifted. She has to leap to lap of her own accord, when she’s ready – at the precise minute when she’s ready. That entails me ceasing typing and waiting while she decides on the moment. Sigh.

I don’t really know how she’s even wormed her way back into my study taking into account that she quadruple-pawedly destroyed my Dell laptop.

You think you’re going to be as disciplined and stern with cats as you were with dogs. *

They have other ideas. When I arrive back home late after a looong car journey the cats come to say ‘ Hello.’ I give them some Dreamies and some cat cuddles for a minute or two, then it’s time for bed.

They have other ideas. The door closes and there is plaintive miaowing from the landing for several minutes adopting the tone “How could you do this to us? We’ve hardly seen you and you’ve shut us out.”

“Tough” I think, sinking into the blissful bottomless cotton wool of dreams.

Then comes the scritch-scratching… a couple of seconds… a silence… then prolonged scritch-scratching which I realise is the ruination of a recently-laid wool carpet!

I scorch through the dreamy cotton wool like a rocket , fall out of bed and stumble to open the door.  I feel a furry rush around my calves. They have entered the room like fleeting wraiths.

Back in bed, I think I’ve escaped but within moments surprisingly heavy paws are kneading…ow!…my….ow!….thigh….ouch!.. and there’s ingratiating purring going on in my hair.

It’s another skirmish in the ongoing battle for dominance. Okay, puss-cats, you’ve won this one but I live to fight another day. Yeah right. Happy Birthday.

*not very

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Hei Hei Hay!

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It’s Hay Festival again. I won’t go droning on and on with the usual bountiful enthusiams. Suffice to say that it’s worth an annual pilgrimage even if you’re only slightly interested in books, book people, films, culture, hedonism and breathtakingly Welsh countryside.

Unusually, I went up to Hay-on-Wye on Sunday without any pre-booked tickets.  I thought I’d just busk it and take my pick from what was available.

Even if you aren’t attending any of the talks, there is still more than enough to keep you occupied. You can relax in a deckchair in the sun with the paper or a new book (pre-loved) for 50p from the massive and excellent miscellany at the Oxfam bookshop. Or you can treat yourself to something shiny and new or author-signed from the main Festival Bookshop accompanied by a Shepherd’s ice-cream cornet – a double damson perhaps.

You could stroll down the road to Hay town and buy a couple of still-warm Welsh cakes, fresh from the griddle in someone’s front garden. In Hay there is a whole world of bookshops and quite a few pubs, plus the river if you fancy a bit of canoeing. Second thoughts, canoeing options are limited. Basically in Hay you can only canoe if you bring your own but canoes can be hired at Glasbury a mile or two upstream.

But back to the festival. It always helps when the sun is shining. The best view of the site is from the top of the Macmillan car park (raised £200k for Macmillan Cancer over the years) and you can’t help but stand and consider just how perfect everything looks with creamy blobs of sheep seemingly placed perfectly on impossibly verdant fields.

This year they had a ‘returned tickets’ board where, for a goodly donation to charity, you could pick up a ticket that someone else couldn’t use.  I took up a ticket for Ian McMillan’s How to Write A Poem workshop, which was hilarious, inclusive and punctuated by his Barnsley banter.  We were all involved in making up an epic poem featuring a ghostly hairy hare with a hare-dryer but there were also big laughs in creating a whole load of ‘consequences’ style random poems which were ridiculous and surreal. Some are here on the BBC Get Creative website

I busked it again with a ticket for Germaine Greer, the Grande Dame of Feminism. She is always thought provoking and didn’t disappoint again this time.  She might not have the answers but she hits a lot of nails on the head…

“Girls are being lasered until there’s not a hair left on them. They are like newts!”

I had a good snigger at her Jane Fonda diatribe.

“..And there’s poor old Jane Fonda. I mean, it’s cost her a fortune. She’s got a back full of steel, a replaced hip and a replaced something else… I don’t think it’s a brain – I think it’s a knee.

“You just think, Jane, there must have been more to life. Think of the things with her money and clout she could have done. I remember when we thought she was going to save the whale.”

She is certain that women generally have less self-confidence than men.  Boys’ mothers are “convinced that everything they do is fantastic – even if they are obviously dorks!,” she said.

“The girls need re-enforcement from their fathers and that’s much harder to get. It’s harder to get his attention and it’s harder to be taken seriously.”

I stupidly left it too late to get a ticket for the final event with Stephen Fry,  Sandi Toksvig and the director of Oxfam talking freedom. I wasn’t particularly heart-broken. I was cosy enough in the Friends tent with my second Pimms and oodles of time to read.

People-watching is de rigueur at the Festival. Each year there seem to be more Londoners than the last but it’s a change to see the yummy mummies with their impeccably-spoken children. The only Welsh accents I heard were from some of the women working at the Festival, which was a shame but maybe I just wasn’t over-hearing the right conversations.

The one thing I’d like to tell Peter Florence, esteemed Director of the Festival, is to get the message our there that at Hay, we are all of one mind, so don’t be shy or restrained.. ..talk to people!  It’s always interesting to hear what people thought of their last talk, which celebs they have spotted, what they’re currently reading.

Interestingly, the guy at the long table in the food tent had just been to see Andrea Sella, the excellent chemist and communicator that I blogged about when he blew my mind with his massive test tubes and explosive experiments at Cheltenham Science Festival. The guy who saw him at Hay was impressed too, although here was a technical problem with the lighting that meant the experiments weren’t as clear as they could have been.

I had the distinct impression that the Festival has got bigger, better and prettier. I loved the strings of lights over the top of the lawn tent and at the entrance – also loved the new fish café and the option to have crab salad and chips!

Going back for a more limited visit tomorrow (Weds) to see Jack Dee and then the wonderful Alan Bennett…and then there’s next weekend, a bit of H for Hawk, some Lewis Carroll early on Sunday and to close the Festival, my fave virtuoso violinist, our Nige.

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Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep those cheeses rollin’

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Bonkers dare-devils chased Double Gloucester cheeses down the 1 in 4 slope of Cooper’s Hill continuing the ancient Spring Bank Holiday tradition at Brockworth, Gloucestershire on Spring Bank Holiday Monday.

Police closed one of the major roads close to the event for the morning so about 4.5k spectators got there ye olde Brockworth way, by walking up the footpath from the Cross Hands roundabout. It’s a bit of a pull in places but the meadows were looking lovely and the views are excellent – there was even a bit of excitement as a red deer bounded out of the woodland across one of the fields.

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The weather was perfect, the going was good to firm and the hill looked in good condition. The organisers get out and do some scrub-bashing and tidying in advance of the event – which has been officially banned for about five years since it went super-global and about 30k people tried to turn up all at once.

Brockworth people (..and yes, I am one. Welsh first, Brockworth second) tend not to bow to pressure from authority to cease an event – especially when it is on Common Land and more especially when it is a much-loved and ancient local tradition.

The tradition, in spite of dire warnings of the sheer untrammelled dangerousness, in spite of some local landowners chaining and locking gates, in spite of no official attendance by first-aiders or the police, continues untroubled by such details.

I was hoping that some enterprising news agency would have invested in a drone to do some over-the-top and in-your-face footage of the cheese-chasing but there wasn’t one. Instead, a magnificent person in a bi-plane entertained the crowds to some aerial acrobatics and loop-de-looping over the hill.

Fifteen-times cheese-chasing champ Chris Anderson showed his supremacy and style winning two races without a single somersault but thank goodness they didn’t all run as fluently and easily as he did.

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What would cheese chasing be without some descending A over T action,  unexpected power slides, spectacular body bounces and head-planting?

Part of the joy is the entire crowd going “OOOOOoooo” in sympathy/horror at someone’s particularly heavy impact or spontaneous applause for the last man or woman down the hill.  First one down wins a cheese but every single participant is a hero at the cheese rolling.

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Local girl Keavy Morgan won the Ladies Race in fine style – so fine and so chaotic that even my camera on sports setting only captured blurred images of her tumbles so here she is after the presentation…

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The only injuries were a couple of guys with broken or sprained ankles. One of them had come to the event from the Midlands. He was shocked by the gradient.

“It doesn’t look this steep on film!”

He said he was the only one of his pals who’d had the guts to run. The others were celebrating at the top of the hill. He’d foolishly raced sober! Big mistake.  Squiffy people fall softer, as ane fule no… or at least ane fule taking part in the roll of chiz.

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The police did a good job this year too. Instead of wasting money flying a police helicopter pointlessly over the event, as they did last year to cheers and jeers from the happy mob on the hill, they supervised road closures and traffic and enabled the crowds to cross roads safely where they needed to.

Gloucestershire County Council posted notices around the countryside and did their very best to frighten people. Thankfully, upwards of 4,500 spectators took no notice of them at all.

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May Hill

It had been a bit of a bad-shit week, which was why, on a sunny evening straight after work, hardly passing go, last week, I felt like a stroll on May Hill.

The first thing I saw was a red fox with a wily eye streaking across a bank thick with bluebells and hazel just unfolding their lime-green leaves.

Then there were the ponies – a few of them heavily pregnant, some with the most appealing little foals – grazing amongst the trees just before the old stone walls which marks the former Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border.

One of the things I love about May Hill is that you can look over into Herefordshire where the meadows always seem a tad smaller and prettier prettier. It seems to be even greener with more field-corner copses and trees.

Beyond the bluebells was the great swathe of short grass – with more bluebells growing out in the open and largely ignored by the herd of cuddly Belted Galloways which were grazing around the landmark pines at the top of the hill.

The light was quite special. The contours of the ribbed hills before Wales, the Black Mountains, Sugar Loaf and Skirrid all spread out in graduating tonal layers.

Everything was gilded and glowing as we strolled down through the scrubby woodland – and a friendly foal was back-lit by the setting sun.

May Hill

May Hill

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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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