Saturday, 29 December 2007

Daily Wasp Episode 3

Yesterday's wasp appeared on the sofa throw about two feet away from my typing chair. It received the electronic bat treatment. It sparked quite dramatically. I haven't met today's wasp yet. I still haven't a clue where they could be coming from, but an awful thought occurred to me.
WHAT IF THERE'S A NEST ACTUALLY INSIDE THE SOFA?

Christmas present fallout

I have learned a salutory lesson this Christmas. If someone gave you a gift which a) you can't remember who the donor was, and b) you don't like it, DO NOT whisper a word about not liking it to anyone, not even the one person you thought couldn't possibly have given it to you because they know you too well and know your tastes. Especially a family member. Especially your sister.

Now, this was a difficult one because my sister's gifts arrived in two stages. When I was in Liverpool for a week in mid November, Little Sis drove down from her mountainous abode in the North (Cumbria) for lunch and handed me a plastic bag which I promptly stowed in my wheelie suitcase, ready for transporting back home. She said it was just one or two little things and the rest of my Christmas present would follow.

I got home and opened the parcels, which contained boxes of Cumberland toffees and fudge. I must also have unwrapped the other parcel, noticed it wasn't anything perishable, and placed it in the bag in which I was putting all Xmas gifts received in advance, ready for opening on The Day.

On the 25th Dec, six weeks later, I tipped everything out onto the kitchen table and opened them all, being sure to write down who gave me what so that I could give the appropriate thanks. How very efficient, I can hear you thinking. As the glasses of festive wine slipped down, so my writing declined into scribbles, and by the end of it I had one gift left over, sans label, and knew not who had given it to me.

It was a set of matching earrings, bracelet and watch. Very much the kind of demure costume jewellery you would wear to work with a neat white blouse, or wear with your twinset while taking tea with auntie. Not my usual kind of hippie jewellery, chunks of stone or moon-shaped silver on leather thongs, sparkly pendants, bright coloured beads, the type of stuff that goes with velvet, denim and sequins. This, I thought, must have been given by someone who didn't know me well at all, and I started making discreet enquiries, which were prefaced by a call to my sister thanking her for the super fleece top and adding, "I'm trying to find the person who gave me a truly ghastly jewellery set. They even left the price on. $129.99. Either someone bought it in America, or they bought it on eBay."

The discreet enquiries, by phone and email, went thus... "Someone gave me a boxed set of jewellery and I don't know who it was. It wasn't you, was it? I want to make sure I thank the right person."

Up in Cumbria, my sister had regaled her Xmas guests with the story and, after experiencing painful pangs at having her loving gift rejected by her awful sister, had let herself be persuaded never, ever to own up.

By yesterday, the 28th, I had given up. I rang Sis and wailed, "I STILL don't know who gave me the dreadful jewellery. " There was a burst of hysterical laughter, Sis made a curt remark about having cooking to do and the call was cut off. Two hours later, I rang her back. By now, a nasty, niggly worm of suspicion was writhing in my mind. Just say... no, it couldn't be... no, that would be too ghastly for words. (In tiny 6 point letters: it couldn't possibly have been her, could it?)

Under pressure, Sis revealed the truth. It was a present from her and she HAD bought in on eBay. In fact, she had purchased quite a few different sets and mine was one of the best. (Which made me feel even worse, of course.) "I thought you mightn't possess a dress watch and it's always good to have one," she said reproachfully. I do have one. It's the real thing, diamond and sapphires and 14 ct gold and it never comes out of the safe. It was too late to backtrack. All I could do was apologise for my crassness and ingratitude and offer to treat her to a spa day.

Meanwhile there's a nice set of jewellery going begging. Only those with wide wrists need apply. That was the main problem, really. The watch (keeping perfect time owing to the new battery Sis put in) has a bracelet that is much too wide for my wrist, and can't be taken in. The length can be altered but not the shape. It's by Louis Delon and it's not really that horrible. I am just prone to dramatic outbursts. In fact, it's very nice, neat and pretty - not at all like me. And not having any aunties left, I am unlikely to need to wear it to sip a genteel tea.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

My sister's mice


My sister has mice. Bigtime. Not cutesy little pet mice that wiffle their whiskers, run round in toy wheels and emit endearing squeaks when they want to be fed, but horrible invaders from outdoors, that eat all her riding and mountaineering gear that she keeps in every spare cupboard. Sensitive readers, close this blog now. For those who are made of sterner stuff, here is a description of what she has tried so far, and their scores.

Sonic deterrents that make a high-pitched sound that mice supposedly can't bear. Score - 0. The mice kept coming. Either they were deaf or they wore earplugs. (Or earwigs.)
Sticky traps that glue the mouse by feet, tail and anything else that touches the base - 1 mouse trapped then Sis threw out traps because they were so cruel.
So-called 'humane' traps that trap the mice alive so you can throw them out, only to have them come back later. Score - 3, but as she went away for a few days, the rodents died horrible deaths by getting chilled by, and drowning in, their own urine. Ugh!
Old-fashioned baited traps that clang shut and either trap the mouse by some part of its anatomy or poison it. Score - quite a lot, but all horrible demises. One mouse gnawed off its own feet. Sis couldn't bear to kill it and threw it out in the garden where, presumably, it made itself a pair of stilts. Hah. Was dinner for a rat or a falcon, more likely. She lives in the Lake District where I watched a peregrine carry off a blue tit that was innocently dining from Sis's bird feeder.

My friend who used to be a school lab technician once accidentally poisoned a cageful of mice by squirting the room with Raid to kill escaped bluebottles - the very same Raid with which I spray wasps in my study. Note to myself: test my lung function.

Then Mr Grumpy happened to recall the good old Victorian method for killing mice without resorting to traps or poison. Mix one third white plaster of Paris with two thirds icing sugar. Place in bowl in infested area, or near the hole the mice get in by. About a foot away, place a shallow dish of water. A mouse has a very sweet tooth. "This is jolly yummy," they will think, munching on the white powder. Then they'll need a drink. Water sets plaster of Paris solid. Mouse dies when its innards seize up solid, much like yours and mine do after too much festive fare (unless you're lucky - oops, unlucky - enough to have eaten the bit with salmonella). Still not nice, but at least you don't need to see it with awful injuries, or have to bash it on the head to kill it. As a method, it's very environmentally friendly, if not exactly mouse-friendly. Just keep the bowl away from small children, especially those who have been given a furry fancy dress costume for Christmas.

Wasp warfare

8.50 pm. I have just sealed up all the holes in the floor with parcel tape, in case there is a nest under the floorboards. There is only one hole remaining that I know of, and that is the one the phone cable comes through. I have moved the bag that was in front of it and left it in plain view, so that I shall be able to see anything that dares to emerge.

Meanwhile, I am in a state of siege, imagining buzzings all over the place, even though I know they are coming from the boiler and the TV. Wasps in December! There are more around now than there were in August. Perhaps it's my pheremones.

Once, I stayed overnight in a flat, having been given the key by the owner, who had left for his Xmas hols the day before me, and who lived handily close to Euston station. He assured me that his cockcroach problem had been cured, that the fumigator had recently been and he hadn't seen one since. I fell into a blissful sleep, only to be awoken an hour or so later by a stealthy tippy-tapping and there was Daddy Cockroach coming out from under the skirting board, followed by Mummy and several babies. I reached for my trainer and smashed so hard that I blatted them flat. Then I left the corpses on the kitchen worktop so that my friend could see the evidence with his own eyes. He couldn't believe it. He didn't see another one during the next three years that he lived there. He said it must have been my pheremones attracting them. Perhaps (awful thought) it's the same with wasps...

Daily Wasp Episode 2

I didn't get strafed yesterday, probably because the upstairs lights weren't on as we were downstairs being festive. But as I checked my emails at around 4.30 pm today I heard the familiar scary buzz.

I thundered down the stairs yelling for Mr Grumpy. He was the phone. I mouthed 'black and yellow thing' and did an impression of a plane flying sideways. Mr G failed to register the urgency and carried on yakking.

Eventually, he came to my aid. This time he armed himself with a different weapon - a battery operated zapper that looks like a small tennis racquet. Just be sure, he put new batteries in it. He went upstairs, with yours truly following at a safe distance.

"There's no wasp here, you're imagining things," he insisted. He whacked the curtains, the sofa, the heap of jiffy bags in the corner, while I squeaked in fear. He opened the cupboard door, he peered inside the lampshade. No wasp.

Where would be the natural place for a wasp to lurk, I wondered? Near the light, surely? But we had looked inside the shade (an open type, made of woven raffia). But we hadn't looked ON it. There was the beast, waving its antennae at us.The zapper sparked. Down fell the wasp, legs still waving. The zapper was placed upon it and several sparks later, my enemy was electrocuted.

But the question still remains: where in tarnation are they coming from?

What? No hangover?


Here is last night's sunset. Truly a red sky at night. And today is clear, bright and sunny. I am wearing the burgundy coloured Weird Fish fleece top that my sister gave me. It's gorgeously warm. The enormous turkey had its legs donated to the ex-bald fox, now the fattest, furriest fox in West London. The rest had garlic rubbed all over it, honey drizzled onto it and was roasted and accompanied by parsnips, roast potatoes, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and organic cranberry sauce from M&S.

Mr Grumpy and I thought there were just going to be the two of us to guzzle this enormous banquet but luckily three friends turned up. One had a virus so Mr G donned his armpit length pond gloves that I'd given him for Xmas and used the tongs to poke a builder's mask round the door for her to wear. The mask was wrapped in jolly Xmas paper and when she took out the mask, out fell a dead mosquito. At least the fact of its morbidity spared her having an even more Rudolphian nose.

We started with Bucks Fuzz (Mr G doesn't drink and one guest was driving), then a bottle or two of red went quickly down three throats. My main present from Mr G was a karaoke machine. Yes, really. We fixed it up, I grabbed the microphone and launched into Living Next Door to Alice (Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?) and realised I only knew the tune to the chorus. In fact, I found I didn't know any melodies to any verses. Shame on me. Now I'm going to have to listen to lots of songs and learn them all before I can prance around the living room imagining I'm auditioning for X Factor.

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Daily Wasp


Years ago, when I split up with a certain boyfriend, he wished upon me something he called 'the curse of the daily parrot'. For the rest of my life, he vowed, I would see a parrot every day. (This was because when we shared an office, he nicknamed me 'Polly Parrot', not just because I wore colourful clothes, but because of the way that, according to him, I squawked to my friends on the telephone. A wall was promptly devoted to anything parrotic - empty Polyfilla boxes, a photo of me with my head replaced by a parrot's - you get the picture.

For years, it seemed that whenever I opened a magazine or turned on the TV, there was a macaw, an Amazonian grey or, at the very least, a cockatiel. Now my garden is overflown by flocks of parakeets. I have ceased to look out for parrots. Maybe on some magical level he has divined this (he was a lecturer in the occult, after all), for now some rotten bugger is sending me ... the daily wasp.

It's winter, for God's sake. Wasps should be asleep, or dead. But not in this house. I don't know where they're coming from. I've blocked up all the gaps around the door to the under-eaves cupboard with parcel tape. But there I am, tapping away at the keyboard, when suddenly, with a sound like a Lancaster bomber with engine failure, an exceedingly large yellow and black striped beast swoops over my head, so close that I can see its furry shorts and rasping mandibles. I duck, scream and run for cover (or yell for Mr Grumpy to come and deal with it).

Yesterday, Mr Grumpy sprang into action, can of Raid in hand. "Where is it? I can't see it. You're imagining things," he declared, then: "Oh, there it is. I can't squirt it 'cos it's sitting on your laptop screen." Being very brave, he gave it a swift, hard backhander and it fell to the desk, legs still waving. One horrid crunch with the back of his mobile phone and he then threw it down the loo and flushed it away.

You may still be dreaming of a white Christmas, but I'm hoping I don't have a black and yellow one. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

That Pre-Christmas feeling

I've finished the shopping and finished the wrapping, dusted and vacuumed and done a spot of cleaning for the old lady next door. Now, with no work to get on with, I'm at a loose end. But I've had a bright idea. I shall get out my party clothes and try them on. Then I'll know how much weight I've put on since this time last year and how many mince pies I can eat this Christmas.

I've renewed my gym membership even though I haven't been for... er... two months? Once you get out of the habit, you really do get out of it and even the thought of jogging on the treadmill is too much of an effort. But they say that if you imagine yourself exercising, your muscles actually do it, so hey, I'll be on the sofa with a mince pie and a glass of wine while my astral body works out at the gym. Much better!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Christmas at home


For thirty-three years I travelled to Liverpool for Christmas. No matter how desperately I wanted to spend it with the latest boyfriend, no matter how broke I was and how expensive the train ticket, no matter what tempting invitations came my way to spend the festive season on the beach in Goa, or on the Alpine ski slopes, I had to go home. My parents expected little of me overall, but they did expect my company at Christmas. The one Christmas I didn't make the trip, being seven months gone with a secret pregnancy, my mother made such a fuss about how badly I'd let her and my father down ("She has a whole year to do what she wants in, so you'd think she could spare us just this one day..."etc. etc.) that my sister eventually spilled the beans, precipitating such a run of knock-on effects that the course of my life was irredeemably changed.

For the last eleven years, since my mother died in 1996, Christmas has been a blank in my calendar. The first one following her death (Dad had died four years earlier), I drowned my sorrows with friends in Cornwall. The second, and all the subsequent ones have been spent at the home of my current partner. Now that he is recovering from his two strokes (both different types of stroke, both in one day, who says lightning never strikes in the same place twice?), it would seem heartless to abandon him to his solitary turkey and take to the beach or the ski slopes. And anyway, he's jolly good fun.

At heart, most of us are creatures of habit and when fate creates a vacuum we rapidly fill it with another habit, another duty. This makes us feel good and safe, warm and fuzzy and though it may give us a few grumbles, looking back on it can also be a source of laughter and give us a sense of continuity, making us feel that we are still connected to others, even if our immediate family is gone. Here's to you, Mum and Dad. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Foxy encounter


Today I took these photos of the fox I fed the homeopathic remedy in the summer. Having seen him bald with a tail like a rat's (see my other blog, www.hillingdonwildlife.blogspot.com), I feel so proud of his thick fur and magnificent brush. He ate some scraps, watched closely by Flad who was after them himself, then took a long drink from the pond. Then he trotted right up to the patio doors and stared in. He made eye contact with me, then slowly turned and ambled off. I'm sure he was saying, "Thank you."

Monday, 10 December 2007

Catch-up

Open Heart Surgery has been dominating the lawn, hoovering up so many pieces of bread that he now resembles a plump chicken. I wonder if he is feeding himself up for Christmas and saving us the chore of making bread sauce to go with him? (Don't worry, I could never eat OHS, no matter how starving I was. He's too much of a character. But I worry that he might be heading for a fall from the perch due to a heart attack as he's getting so overweight.)

Flad has had a swollen shoulder since his fight with Tabby Bollocks. I was worried he might have an abcess. Our first cat, the lovely ginger and white Sandy, died of blood poisoning due to an abcess caused by a bite on his back during a fight. I shall never forget the way his back legs suddenly went paralysed and he dragged himself, hissing and spitting, to the back of the understairs cupboard. I was about 12 and my sister was 9. Poor Sandy was only 10. The vet could do nothing for him.

I have tried to give his shoulder a reiki treatment every day. I've found reiki works very well on animals as they have no psychological resistance, no conditionining insisting alternative treatments are a load of rubbish. Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Anna who is an animal communicator. I emailed her a photo of Flad and she's going to communicate with him psychically and tell me what's wrong. I think the lump is going down a bit, but I hope she'll be able to give me a proper diagnosis.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Bum Banana



When my sis and I were little, my mum, who had a mischievous sense of humour, used to refer to the cat's bum as his 'slice of banana'. That image has stuck with me for the rest of my life and I have been ticked off by many people (while they were sniggering) for being vulgar.
Yesterday, while watching Flad eat his dinner, I suddenly remembered my mother's expression and there and then I decided to do a photographic comparison. So - do you think she was right? I do.
Feline bum is on left, banana on right. Sorry about blurry pic, I was too busy holding the cat's tail and laughing.

Monday, 3 December 2007

More symptoms...

As you know, I am a walking encyclopaedia of minor medical symptoms. The athlete's foot is currently under control thanks to regular sprinklings of Mycil powder, the fungal toenail is being plastered in Tea Tree Fungal Nail solution and I'm stuffing down the probiotics like there was no tomorrow, imagining all the good little buglets doing battle with the bad ones and my guts somewhat resembling the bloody battlefields of Waterloo or Culloden.

Then this morning... a brand new symptom! I got out of the car in the town centre, on my way to the bank, and as I did so, everything reeled and I felt as if I were going to fall flat on my face. Mindful of the fact that the partner had had a stroke, a friend of mine had mini strokes last week and our cheery postman had also had a suspected mini stroke last week, I instantly thought I was heading for the stroke ward, too and walked very slowly to the bank, WH Smith and all my other ports of call, ending with an appointment with the chiropractor (every six weeks, neck improving no end).

By the time I had decided I wasn't going to keel over and have some stranger call 999 after pinching my handbag, I realised I had a headache, possibly a migraine on the way, that I had earache and a possible ear infection and that, having shifted more boxes into the storage unit, I was tired. I also reminded myself that I'm 62, not 32 (I wish!). Neck problems can cause dizzy spells, too. In fact, I have a whole host of reasons to choose from. But I still feel just a bit uneasy about it.

On Thursday I fly to Newquay to be a pirate. Only at the Falmouth Shout shanty groups annual bash, but nevertheless, I don't want to either keel over or be keel-hauled. I might squash my parrot!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Xmas card

Got my first card yesterday. Nov 30th. This is a personal record. An acquaintance reports having seen Xmas decorations in a store as early as 4th Nov. At this rate, as soon as 12th Night is past, they'll take down this year's decorations and start putting up next year's. It's all gone crazy. If it was the result of some deep piety, it wouldn't seem so bad, but, as we know, it's all about commerce. The longer they can give us to buy presents, the more we'll spend because we'll either have forgotten what we bought Aunty Jane last April, or forgotten where we put it.

Health Bulletin. I have just started a course of probiotics. As I understand it, probotics are healthy little buglets that live in our guts and make our digestive systems work better. With all my stomach problems, I certainly need that. But, after three days of taking them, the only effect I can report is an increase in the frequency and volume of my farts. I saw a ridiculous clip on some late night satellite TV channel featuring a rather pretty young woman who got off on farting down the extension tube of a vacuum cleaner, that amplified the sounds quite scarily. I think I could beat her hands, or rather pants, down.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Flad the impaled

There was a mighty howling on the far side of the hedge last night - the sound of two cats locked in bitter battle. I rushed out, calling Flad's name but the feline challenges and swearing was so loud that my anxious cries were ignored.

In the end, my partner lobbed a chunk of firewood over the hedge in their general direction, not intending to hit them but just to distract them and shortly afterwards, even though the door was open, a black and white cat with a tail like a fox's brush shot through the Portus Felides (cat flap in Latin? I hope so!).

He sank to the rug in the corner of the living room, panting and licking his lips. His paws and fur were covered in dirt. It looked as if he had been held down by his rival, a stripy tom that I call (excuse the language) Tabby Bollocks, because even his male accoutrements look like huge humbugs. Poor Flad has none at all, stripy or otherwise. When he appeared as a half-grown stray in the garden ten years back, they had already been removed - or, we suspect, had never dropped, which would explain the fact that he can't meow but can only issue a high-pitched Eek.

It was soon apparent that he had sore paws, a sore mouth and was feeling very sorry for himself. Today he is still limping and he is also completely silent. Not even the tiniest squeak. I fear his beating-up has traumatised him. Will he ever be the same cat again? The glossy-furred, golden-eyed boss of the household who ousts partner from office chair and bashes me on the leg for the entire hour that leads up to the time he gets fed? I will let you know. Meanwhile, he sleepeth on the sofa, twitching in his slumber and probably giving Tabby Bollocks a poke in the eye.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Nostalgia




It's eleven years since I stopped my regular visits to my old hometown of Liverpool following the death of my mum. On my last couple of short trips there, I was so choked with emotion that I decided that I could never, ever contemplate living there again. The city was down-at-heel, depressed and devoid of the spirit and energy it had back in the mid Sixties when I was a student enjoying all it had to offer.

Now all that has changed. Liverpool has got its buzz back. In the run-up to its year-long line-up of events on being appointed European City of Culture 2008, it's been transformed and is every bit as vibrant as it was in the heyday of the Beatles. In fact (note this in your diaries, folks) Ringo will be appearing there in January and Paul later on in the year. All the details can be found on the website www.liverpool08.com

I have just come back from spending a week there, during which I made my first visit to the city centre in decades, to find it pedestrianised and a complete shoppers' paradise, with cheaper prices than Londoners pay for the same goods. Liverpool humour abounds. Sitting Bull, the googly eyed red bovine above, has appeared on Otterspool promenade. The netting scupture was on the prom, too. (Both photos taken in twilight, so excuse the dim colours.)

Plucking up courage and fighting back the tears, I passed by the old family home. We sold it in 1997 for £41,000. Now it is back on the market, repainted and refurbished, with a slate path and green lawns in place of the old rockeries, at a staggering £225,000. If only we had kept it! But it needed so much work that neither my sister nor I felt up to the job.

For the first time, I realised what an easy city it was to live in for a non-driver like me. The train runs every 15 minutes from Aigburth and gets to the centre in three stops, which beats my commute into London by over an hour. I think I could live there again. In fact, this scouser-in-exile just might return.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Travel Phobia

I have to catch a train to Liverpool at midday tomorrow. This requires a journey of almost two hours from my home to Euston station, and having to obtain my ticket from the fast ticket machine. Last time I tried this, I ended up with half a ticket, the return section having been kept by the machine. Fortunately, as it was a long and expensive journey - especially so if I had had to buy a new ticket on the day to replace the one I had bought in advance at a quarter of the price- I had taken with me the email from thetrainline.com, containing the details of my purchase and with this, I was able to persuade the ticket inspector that he should not either charge me £90 or throw me off the train.

Travelling in the UK is a dodgy business. Once upon a time, you could rely on a single ticket costing exactly half the amount of a return one. Now, it can cost twice as much, which is utterly ridiculous. We are all forced to become on-line hunter-gatherers, searching for good hauls and bargains and, when we find them, letting out the whoops of Neanderthals discovering a stricken dinosaur.

I awoke with a feeling of dread in my stomach, completely connected to the forthcoming journey. I mean, so much could go wrong. This is a journey I must make, as it is to help out a friend who is going into hospital. Nothing, bar World War Three (and certainly not my random collection of ailments) must prevent me making the journey. Yet so much could go wrong. I could wake to find the tube trains aren't working, owing to leaves on the line, or a sudden strike. I could be faced with a fast ticket machine that won't even spit out the ticket for the outward leg of my journey, let alone the return. I could find Virgin Trains have pulled the particular train I am meant to be travelling on, forcing me to take the overcrowded next one and stand for three hours. I could find the trains aren't working at all for some reason. And (hushed tones and trembling limbs) the train might crash! I know I shan't sleep tonight.

If you think this attack of pre-travel nerves is bad, you should see me when faced with a flight, as I shall be in a mere three weeks' time. Waiting around for two or more hours in the Departure Lounge is, in my mind, equivalent to sitting in the dentist's waiting room knowing you have to have root canal work, or a wisdom tooth pulled.

There must be a name for my condition. I call it Morbid Fear of Travelling. I hope I shan't reach the state my mother got into, a kind of agoraphobia that prevented her from going any unfamiliar, including my sister's new house. She never visited me in London once in the 30 years between my moving and her dying. I suppose the only treatment is to get out more - and by that, I mean get out to far-off locations involving more trains and more planes.

If only you could be given a pill, put into a pod and transferred across the world without knowing anything till you woke up the other end, lying in a comfy bed with a bottle of champagne next to you and the blue sea sparkling outside the window. I'd like to be beamed up like Scotty in Star Trek. Come on, scientists. It's cool, it's green, it's stress-free, it's the answer we've all been waiting for.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Still trotting

Although I didn't take any more of those homeopathic sleeping tablets (I'm not THAT daft), I still awoke at 6 am with the stomach gripes. Do the effects of alfalfa last that long? Apparently when the cattle are put out to grass in America, all the alfalfa is cut first, as it's a sure-fire way of giving cattle the runs, and who wants cowpats that stretch from one side of the state of Texas to the other?

I've had lentil soup for lunch the last two days, but that would have kicked in long before 6 am, so it can't be that. A bug? I really don't know, so I'm sticking to one banana and a couple of slices of toast today, plus countless glasses of water.

Which brings me to a silly but appropriate rhyme.

There was a man called Dyer
Who asked to join the choir.
The vicar said, "No fear,
We don't want Dyer 'ere."

Friday, 16 November 2007

I finka eet's de alfalfa

I looked up all the ingredients of Noctura (see last post) and the only one that could have upset my stomach is Alfalfa which, according to one alternative medicines website, can cause 'stomach discomfort, bloating, gas and larger and more frequent stools'. Well, I don't know about 'larger'; I couldn't really say it had any shape or size at all. It would be like trying to define the shape of the contents of a bowl of porridge with an Oxo cube dissolved in it. Er... pass the sickbag, Alice.

Sleeping sickness

My body must have been assembled on a Friday afternoon, from the sweepings and the leftovers from the rest of the week. God's little helpers, eager to go off and cavort amongst the cumulus, stuck on the arms and legs, gave it some red hair that nobody else wanted and stuffed the skin with the correct organs without checking if they all worked properly. I was lucky with the heart (so far, at least) and the brain scores about 6 out of 10, but the stomach! What inconsiderate, sadistic seraphim gave me an ulcer-prone duodenum and a gut that was sensitive to just about anything, according to whether I eat it on a Monday or a Wednesday by a moon that is waxing or waning? And then the aforementioned spirit (damn its harp to hell) made sure that the sins of greed and gluttony were added to the mix that composes my nature.

Yes, my digestive system is impossible to predict and has ruined many a plan, and even the odd foreign holiday, kyboshed before I even set foot in the taxi to take me to the airport.

One of my problems is, of course, that I am curious by nature, as well as greedy, and can never resist trying something new, especially if I think it's something I need. I have mentioned my insomnia before. Having had great results from homeopathy when it comes to nipping colds in the bud (gelsemium for the kind that start with a sore, tickly throat, Nat. Mur. for the type that begins with sneezes and a runny nose), I decided to look round my local health food shop to see if there was any homeopathic remedy for insomnia.

To my delight, I discovered Nelson's Noctura. Knowing that homeopathic remedies contain only tiny doses, I thought there was unlikely to be anything in this remedy to affect me. I took the required two tablets four hours before bedtime. I was meant to take another two 'on retiring' but I fell asleep at midnight before I could take them. So far, so successful. But awaking at 4.30am with awful pains in my stomach was not conducive to a full and restful night's slumber. An hour and a half later, the loo started to see rather a lot of me (sans mobile and sans book, if you read the last two entries).

I felt so grim that I would have cancelled almost any engagement this morning, save the one I staggered out to as I knew it could only do me good. That was a massage from Daphne, the brilliant Malaysian lady with the diagnostic powers and healing hands.

"I feel cold patches here and here," she said, touching left kidney and lower abdomen. (I'd had cystitis a week or so back.) "And here," she added, and I ouched as she pressed my guts on my right-hand side. Very gently, she massaged me with tea tree oil. Since she began this treatment, my daily Zantac intake has been cut to around one per fortnight, a brilliant result.

Now, four hours on, I can still feel a dull pain but nothing like as bad as it was this morning. As for the Noctura, it does send you to sleep, if you don't have sensitive innards. It cures constipation too, take it from me. Anyone want the rest of the packet?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Phoning in the loo

I've been told that I should have mentioned people who take their phones into the toilet in my last post. I don't know about you, but I think talking to people while you're performing a bodily function is beyond the pail - oops, pale. I have been carrying on a normal conversation with someone, have heard a splashing sound, asked what it was and been told, "I'm on the bog having a dump." I ask you! This is too much information. You wouldn't do that if you were talking to someone face to face, so at least be polite enough to excuse yourself - you don't even have to say where you're going - and tell them you'll call them back later.

I wouldn't dream of taking my mobile into the bathroom with me. Think of the accidents that might befall it. Bathrooms are full of receptacles for water. Loos are full of... whatever. You don't want your phone to go there. In fact it reminds me of someone I used to work with. When he was 11, his father gave him a tape recorder for his birthday and, being an 11-year-old schoolboy, he decided to record himself farting. Only he tried a bit too hard and the microphone was being held a bit too close. I never asked what had happened after that. But think: would you want your mobile to suffer the same fate? Though I suppose it depends on whether or not you're one of those people who talks out of their, er, derriere.

So next time you're halfway through a conversation with me and nature calls, have some of what the French call, with exquisite accuracy, delicatesse, and spare my ears and my imagination. Keep your ablutions private or your service provider might suddenly change from 02 to 0-poo.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Loo with a review

The world is divided on the subject of whether one should take any reading matter into the loo or not. Some people have loo libraries, which is where they put those stocking filler books containing jokes, or the history of how Thomas Crapper gave his name to the wc, or back issues of magazines on such esoteric subjects as mountaineering equipment - yes, I suppose a good knowedge of carabiniers and crampons would help if one inadvertently got sucked down the aforementioned crapper by some inverse force equivalent to the output of methane, and then had to clamber back out of the bowels of the bowl to the pungency of the smallest room.

Some people won't have reading material in the lavatory at all, deeming it unhygienic. Yet, unless germs can leap out of the bowl with the velocity of jumping fleas, surely the only likelihood of transfer is when the act of wiping takes place and surely the magazine or book is abandoned by this stage, as one needs two hands to rip off the appropriate pieces of puppy-soft tissue, even if only one is needed for the actual mop-up job? (Though of course, if the toilet paper has run out, the pages of the magazine or newspaper - don't use a book for this, please! It's sacrilege - will never be reading matter again unless you want to give the expression 'brown study' a whole new meaning.)

Personally, I tend to take magazines or newspaper colour supplements in with me, but hereby hangs a problem. This morning, my chosen reading matter was the latest issue of Writing Magazine (absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to get published in anything other than their own blog). On the front it had a large picture of Joanne Harris peering round a door. Now, Joanne is one of my favourite authors but she looked just as if she was peering at ME. Now, I think I'm speaking for all but the most exhibitionistic of folk when I say I do NOT want to be looked at while I perform this most private, smelly and potentially embarrassing of functions. I don't want to think about Joanne Harris being in the bathroom with me , being privy to my privy. I don't want to be looked at when my pants are round my ankles and my backside planted on the throne. So I felt compelled to turn the magazine face-down and count the number of spiders on the ceiling instead. They were probably looking at me, too.

The reason why we take reading matter into the loo is two-fold. One, it helps us relax, ensuring easy passage of whatever we ate yesterday (or last week in some cases, especially after the excesses of Christmas) and two, it's the only time in which the average person has some uninterrupted, unmolested time to do some reading. Doctors say it's bad for us. If we sit for too long with the sphincter open, we are likely to develop piles. (Try telling that to your gay male friends.) Well, speaking as someone who's got them already, probably from the six months it took me to read War and Peace (only kidding; it took me six years, not all in one sitting), I'm never going to break the regular habit of a lifetime.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sneezes again

Actually, this particular sneeze, the explosive one, sounds more like "ErHURRRR". Maybe each different bug has its own sneeze and doctors should look into this. They could work out the strain, and therefore the cure, just by listening to the patient sneeze.

Though, come to think of it, don't doctors' waiting rooms have notices up telling you not to come if you have a cold or 'flu? Damn it, there goes another excellent theory!

Achoo!


The unidentifiable bug has turned into a particularly sneezy, snotty cold which is giving me the chance to get my revenge on those members of society who cough on me on buses and let off fireworks just when I'm trying to get to sleep.

Colds for me necessitate laying in stocks of panty-liners in case a sneeze catches me unwawares in the middle of the street and I have a sudden and unfortunate (though usually minor, I mean 1p sized), attack of stress incontinence. Luckily I haven't reached the Tena Lady stage yet. No doubt I shall, despite all the pelvic floor exercises performed discreetly at the bus stop.

Whilst sneezing my way through today, I remembered how each member of my family had a different sneezing style. My father's sneeze was "AAAAAcher!" My sister's was "Choo!" My mother's sneeze was most distinctive, being a restrained and refined "Ulchoo," the like of which I have never heard before or since. My own is an "aaaaCHOOO!" with an explosion at the end that is no doubt what triggers the aforementioned damp affliction.

Way back in the patchouli-scented mists of time, I used to work with a pretty blonde designer called Clare. As well as her looks and her willowy model's figure, she was distinguished by being the only person I've ever known who had an orgasm each time she sneezed. Maybe this is why her boss, he of the bristly ginger moustache and cavalry twill trousers, took snuff at regular intervals, making sure he blew plenty into the surrounding air.

I wonder what happened to Clare? Did she wear herself out during a 'flu epidemic? If so, I bet she died with a smile on her face. Though I don't think panty-liners had been invented in 1972.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Firework Phobia


I HATE FIREWORKS! Everybody knows it so nobody, thank God, invites me to their bonfire night parties. I've known some dreadful nights when I stayed quaking in a friend's kitchen while the merry band of friends went off to some wretched mortar bomb fest, sparklers in hand.

From around October 28th to November 12th (let's get Diwali well over with as well), I try to stay home after dusk. I mean, how can you stick both fingers in your ears to blot out the bangers while carrying a handbag plus four carriers of supermarket shopping plus your gym gear?

I shall also admit (in hushed tones of shame and feebleness) that I have a mortal fear of Christmas crackers, too. And saints be praised that plastic bags have replaced those paper ones that wretched little boys used to blow up then bang with both hands, having crept up behind you in the hope of hearing you scream. (If anyone's going to do this to me, better bring me a clean pair of knickers, too.)

I once asked my mother if there was any reason why I should be so scared of sudden loud bangs. "When I was six or seven months pregnant with you," she recalled, "I was on a tram and a landmine exploded in the next street." This was 1945. Landmines were extremely loud. She and everyone on that tram must have been terrified for their lives. My theory to explain my phobia is that the sudden explosion and her terror registered with the foetus (me) and the two events were forever coupled in my mind. Loud bangs = fear for one's life.

I don't think I need a psychoanalyst to tell me this makes sense.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Unidentifiable Bugs

I've just recovered from a week of cystitis. Didn't I mention that? No. Too busy talking about toes, bums and pigeons. (Reminds me of George Melly's wonderful, rollicking 1960s memoir, Rum, Bum and Concertina: God alone know what he might have done with a fat, feathery pigeon.)

It began the day after I had drunk the last remaining glass in a bottle of Rose wine - the very same one that had reduced me to hangover hell after I'd drunk 3/4 of it on the Friday. Saturday was liver recovery day. On Sunday I found myself doing that lip-smacking, 'Hmm, just got the taste for a nice glass of something cool and alcoholic' thing and tipped down the pink-tinged remnants. They were not good. In fact, they tasted like something that might have been put to better use as a sink cleaner. Or even for making the lavatory bowl sparkle with the 'ting!' of super cleanliness. Next morning, I was down at the storage unit moving boxes when suddenly, I felt a burning in the lower abdomen and a desperate urge to visit the loo. Which was a Portaloo across the hard about a quarter of a mile away.

"Take me home, please," I whimpered to The Boyfriend. "But I want to go to Staples and buy an external hard drive," he grumbled. "No!" I barked. "You can go there later." Thighs were clenched firmly together and eyes were starting to water. "I. Need. To. Go. Home. Now."

There followed six days of misery of near Biblical proportions, during which my usual remedy, bicarbonate of soda (half a teaspoon in a little hot water or flat Coke) failed me for the first time ever. In desperation, I went to the chemist, who sold me something called Oasis, a misnomer if ever I heard one, for what a cystitis sufferer needs is the desert, rather than needing to pee a lakeful. It tasted of cranberry mixed with something so incredibly bitter that the tastebuds went into revolt and the chunder mechanism nearly followed. But it has worked - so much so that last night, a week after the waterworks problem started, I drank a glass of red wine (purely as as experiment, you understand), so far to no ill effect. So, for this camel, the Oasis hit the spot.

Talking of hitting things, my head was just hitting the pillow last night when I realised there was a nasty tickle in my throat, rather as if some of that desert sand was stuck to my tonsils. Then it began. Cough, streaming eyes, phlegmy throat. I took a swig of Glycerine, Lemon and Honey. That didn't ease it at all. I got up, searched the drawer in which I kept my throat sweets and popped one in my mouth. It was hard and vile - probably two years out of date, too. It didn't work. Next, I popped four Nelsons homeopathic cattarrh and sinus pills. Nope.

By now it was 2.30 am. I had retired three hours earlier. In the gloom, I groped, found a bottle, swug. It was Night Nurse. Surely that would do the trick? Cough, stream. No effect whatever, though perhaps that was because there was more on my jimjams than down my throat. The glands in my neck hurt. I'd shivered with cold all day. It was 3.05 am. I had work to do the following day. Desperate measures were called for. I found the battered box containing the last few illicit Spanish sleeping tablets. Broke one in half. Shuddered at the bitter taste as I swilled it down with mineral water.

And slept. Blissfully. Till 10.10 am. Boyfriend thought I must be dead. He'd just made a cup of tea whilst putting off the awful moment of coming in to check. In fact, when I shambled in looking wan, with green gloops of Night Nurse adhering stickily to my front, he started slightly, as one might do if confronted by a recently dug up and supernaturally animated zombie. Which I am today, as the bug hasn't developed into anything yet. It's still merely a tickly cough, runny eyes and thumping headache. But tomorrow, who knows?

OHS's Harem

Following the pigeon murder (see 'Pigeon Down' post) and those dreadful days that followed, when Open Heart Surgery wasn't seen and we feared the worst, a whole new chapter in his life (as well as his chest) has opened up.

It now transpires that it was OHS's mate, Quasimodo, who was the victim of the pigeon murder, and his withdrawal from the scene was his way of grieving. ?. Perhaps not. He could have been spending the time checking out the talent, for now it appears that he has found not one new mate, but two. Yes, it's Columba Palumbus troilism. (Wood Pigeon, to you). There he is on the left, his scar just visible, guarding his flock as fiercely as any rutting stag in autumn.

No. 1 mate in the centre is young, lithe and slender, whilst No. 2 boasts a pretty pink flush on her breast. Or maybe they'd just indulged in some action which, in OHS's case, as his seduction technique isn't the subtlest, involves him strutting up with his chest and neck inflated, saying, "Coo-coom on, luv, show us your tail feathers!"

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mugger microbes

I have suffered from athlete's foot for as long as I can remember. Regular immersions in seawater is the only thing that keeps it at bay (pun, groan). I get it between my little toe and its next-door neighbour and as long as my feet are dry, it's no bother. But the moment I step out of the bath or shower, if I don't dry my feet within seconds, a crack opens up between them and it gets very sore and flaky.

Antifungal foot creams? Forget it. They keep my feet moist, which is the worst thing for them as those pesky little fungi have a fetish for frolicking in gloop. I think the term is 'sploshing', which covers everything from food fights to baked bean baths. Powder works better, so long as I apply it instantly, and sometimes instantly isn't soon enough.

I read that the reason athlete's foot occurs most often between these particular toes is that they are generally jammed tight together so that the air doesn't circulate between them. (Air? In a sock? Is there a marketing opportunity here for socks with a built-in layer that releases air that puffs between the toes when you tread, in the manner of a woolly whoopee cushion?) With this in mind, when I had a bath last night I jammed one of those toe separators that we ladies use when painting our nails, between the digits in question before I even hopped out and grabbed the towel, in the hope that instant aeration would do the trick. Did it hell! By the time I'd grabbed towel off rail, the Grand Canyon had opened and the microbes were snickering at me: "Ho, ho, we're on your toe."

I sprinkled the buggers with Mycil and pulled on my socks thinking, "Die, you bastards." Half an hour later, I felt the painful sting as the athletes jabbed javelins into the crimson chasm. Which brings me to a terrible joke. I've tried to censor it for the sake of my politer readers, but those of the filth persuasion can read between the lines.

A man goes to the doctors with a horribly swollen and painful big toe. As he peels off his sock and shows it to the doctor, the doc bursts out laughing. "Whoo-hoo. Ha-ha!" he wheezes.
"Okay," says the patient. "It may be funny to you but it's damned painful for me. What is it? Gout? Have I broken it?"
The doctor looks at him candidly and asks, "Have you had sex in any strange positions lately?"
"Why?" asks the patient curtly, angry at this intrusion into his private life.
"Well, you've got syphilis of the big toe," announces the doctor, and bursts out laughing again.
"Syphilis of the big toe? That's not funny!" protests the patient. "How do you know it's syphilis of the big toe?"
"Well," guffaws the doc, "I've just had a woman in here with athlete's ----!"

Monday, 29 October 2007

Tea tree massage for stomach ulcers

I had high hopes of a haemorrhoid-free future when I started taking Goldenseal but, as usual, I found it worked for everybody but me. The label said take one to three per day. For the first
four days I took one. Then I thought, maybe I wasn't taking enough, so I upped the dose to two. That's when I found myself going to the loo more often. Much more often. Maybe five or six times a day. The result was to make the pile problem worse, or course, so now I have stopped taking them altogether. Anyone want a three-quarters full bottle?

For the last few months, I have been having a full body massage every fortnight from Daphne, the Malaysian lady with the magic fingers. Two months ago she had the idea of massaging my stomach with tea tree oil. With closed eyes, she pinpointed exactly where the ulcer is as she can 'see' where physical problems are. Then she began to massage very gently in the direction in which the stomach leads to the intestines, and the intestines wind back from right to left.

Since she has started it, I have had very little trouble with the ulcer. In fact, in two whole months, I have only reached for the ranitidine once. This is a vast improvement on the way I have been for the last few years. Even the irritable bowel hasn't grumbled quite so much - though it did this morning after a couple of glasses of rather acidic wine last night that have also given me a headache. I'm now about to go on the wagon for a week and take lots of probiotic yoghurt. Er... maybe not. I do hate yoghurt. It's like slimy sour milk, unless it's flavoured with strawberry or something, in which case it usually tastes even worse and has bits in it too. The thick Greek yoghurt with lots of calories is OK, though, and M&S do a version which has the 'friendly bacteria' in, too. I think that's the answer. Though a nice trip to Greece itself would be even better.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Goldenseal

I first got piles in 1968 when I was pregnant. They never went. That makes almost 40 continuous years of pain and swelling in the nether regions. A minimum of 6,935 tortuous visits to the loo - probably a lot more when you include over 30 trips to Turkey and the consequences of foreign food and water, not to mention the evil mornings-after following unwise amounts of Turkish brandy and Coke.

Over the years I have applied everything from packs of frozen peas (no, I didn't eat them afterwards) and Germaloids, to Tea Tree suppositories and Proctosedyl. Forget Anusol: I was too embarrassed to ask for it. It's like admitting you were born with Uranus in the ascendant. The ancients also suffered from them and historical cures included mushrooms and chocolate oil, the latter calling all manner of revolting jokes to mind.

In a Sunday paper recently, I read a snippet in a health column recommending the herb Goldenseal. The column, just a small paragraph, probably covering the same area as one of my worse piles, reported that someone had had a massive pile disappear after having taken Goldenseal tablets for just two weeks. (Does this mean that owners of crumbling stately homes can now leave a pill in the porch instead of having to call on Blaster Bates?)

The article sparked a rush on Goldenseal resulting in a nationwide shortage (just how many haemorrhoidal homo sapiens are there?), but my speedy rush to the laptop and my nifty fingers ensured that one bottle was mine. I have now been taking it for ten days and all I can report is a touch of the trots and a derriere that feels even more tender to the Andrex Velvet touch than usual. I am still hoping for a miracle but I'm not holding my breath, or my sphincter. n

Saturday, 20 October 2007

It's Not OHS!

I was so unhappy last night. I ignored the cat, telling him he was a horrible pigeon slayer. He knew something was up. He sat there eyeballing me appealing with his golden orbs, and eventually I let him jump on my lap, but I wouldn't stroke him. I kept telling him was a bad cat. He tried to rub noses but I told him I didn't want him breathing Open Heart Surgery's last dying breath on me.

Yesterday evening I threw out more crumbs but the only pigeons to appear were two spruce newcomers with no distinguishing features other than their impeccable plumage and lack of injuries. This morning I threw out more, hoping against hope that OHS might swoop down from a tree and land with a thump on the lawn. (He's a very overweight pigeon.) There was a near miss when a pigeon with a splodge on its chest appeared, but it wasn't him. My heart was in my boots. Well, that time of morning it was my slippers.

Then, around 11am, I turned to see a familiar and much lamented sight. There was OHS, large as life, waddling down the lawn towards the nearest chunk of very expensive seeded bread. Oh, the relief.

"You spent all evening chastising that poor, innocent cat," my partner said.

"He wasn't innocent. He did eat somebody," I reminded him. (The local butcher had happened to drop by while the carnage was going on. Even he, though used to split and bloody carcases, muttered "Yuk," and averted his eyes from the revolting sight.)

I shall now go and sweep up the fluffy grey feathers, and will never know which of the flock went down the cat's throat yesterday. And the wretched feline still had the cheek to beg for his dinner!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Pigeon down

As I sat down to my lunchtime salad, a trail of fluffy grey feathers caught my eye through the patio doors. There, up the side of the house, was Flad, halfway through devouring a pigeon. I fear Open Heart Surgery has not survived his latest operation. If the sad, bloody corpse with its limp neck and closed eyes does turn out to be that of OHS, I shall bury the remains with full honours and post a picture of his grave. But I shall spare all tender-hearted readers a photo from the murder scene. It really is to bloody and brutal to behold and that cat will not be welcome on my lap tonight.

An Outbreak of Owls

"Wit, wit-wit." It's not a blackbird's alarm call. Too loud for that and not quite the right tone. Too much 'body' to the voice. It sounds more like, "kwik-kwik." Then the sound is followed by a weak, experimental sounding 'whoo'. Aha! That sounds more like an owl. And hey, there's another one, on a different oak tree, answering it. But wait - it's only three in the afternoon. How can it be owls? I run for the binoculars and climb up a ladder. I spot an upheaval on a branch. It looks like a large bird flexing and flapping its wings, preparatory to taking its first flight. I'm thrilled. I feel privileged to watch what may be the debutante flight of an adolescent owl. Then my hopes, together with my interest, are dashed. The flaps I have seen turn out to be nothing more than two randy wood pigeons having it away. Damn! Owls, where art thou?

In the last few days I have found out that they are probably tawny owls, which leave the nest any time from August to November, to establish their own territories. The RSPB have put them under Red Alert because their numbers are declining so rapidly, so I really hope that two Hillingdon owls are off to found new dynasties in the area.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

First autumn mist

Yesterday autumn came to the South-East, inevitably causing a massive pile-up on the M25 but creating nothing but hazy tranquillity in the garden. Twigs hung with tiny jewels. Leaves drifted down and glued themselves to the patio. I started thinking of Bonfire Night. Especially as last night I saw a hedgehog slurping up a slug on the lawn. (Only 63 million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand to go!) As a child, I was told to poke a bonfire before setting it alight in case any hibernating hedgehogs should get baked in their spines. Last week, two newspapers I read carried recipes for baked hedgehog. Not funny! Well, not if you're a hedgehog with a bellyful of slimy slugs to last you through the winter. But, on the other hand...

OHS

At last, at last! A (rather blurry) portrait of the famous Open Heart Surgery in which his 'operation scar', courtesy of Flad, can plainly be seen. He is getting rather fat, owing to my attempts to make it up to him by chucking out at least four slices of bread a day. This morning it was apple and cherry crumble, on which he seems rather too keen. Fortunately, Flad is tucked up on the armchair so the risk of further surgery is quite remote. I think. I haven't been downstairs lately...

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Postal Strike

I earn a very modest income from freelance writing. All my payments come in the form of cheques that (normally) plop through the letterbox at irregular intervals and set me leaping and whooping all the way to the bank, where, if I'm lucky, they clear just in time to pay the direct debits.

I was just due for a couple, amounting to around £600, when the strike began. I was also expecting: an important book from Amazon which will form the basis of a meeting with a publisher and a possible commission; a pair of winter boots ordered online; an 'insomnia cure' in the form of a machine that pumps soothing noises into your stressed lughole and (I hope) cancels out the sound of Mr Boom-Box driving past at 3 am with his car windows open and stereo pumping 10,000 decibels into the owl-flapping, bat-sniping night.

Then there was the First Aid DVD. I ordered that just before the last postal strike and it has never come - and I've forgotten who I ordered it from. There was the £40-worth of anti-ageing skin products (don't laugh); I aged ten years while waiting for them and eventually the firm had to send out another batch and put in a claim against Royal Mail. As did an Irish firm from which I ordered.... no, can't say. Too personal. The embarrassment of phoning to say the goods hadn't arrived was second only to the way the humorous Irishman at the other end of the line gently joshed me as he spoke about the product.

And now it's all happening again and I, along with many other of the self-employed who are flapping gently about at the bottom of the income pool like so many floundering fish, are all washed up for real. I can't take it any more. I am about to shoot myself in the brain with an iced vodka bullet. This could really be my last post.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Mid Spid's fate

The day has come. Having failed to feed Mid Spid last night, despite several attempts including chasing a daddy longlegs with a sieve, as I didn't have a butterfly net, only to chase it straight into another spider's web, I decided the time had arrived to relocate a garden spider... in the garden.

A wine glass and a freebie cd from one of the Sunday papers was all the spider-capturing equipment I needed. I shook him into a bush alongside the path, in the hope that he will spin a catch-all net from bush to privet hedge.

On my return, something drew my eye to an area beneath the worktop where the washing powder, kitchen towel and other such items lurk. There, watching me with great interest, was son or daughter of Big Spid.

Enough of spiders. I must have scared off enough arachnophobic friends and am probably down to one reader - myself. So my next entry will concern the subject this blog was started for - the annoying little ills that beset the human body. Even I don't want to read about those!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Open Heart Surgery

As the postal strikes seem never-ending, The Boyfriend suggested training our friendly local pigeons to carry our mail. I say 'friendly'; I mean plain damned stupid. One day last summer, I was working upstairs when I heard a commotion, bumps and bangs coming from downstairs. When I went to investigate, I saw:
* feathers everywhere
* blood everywhere
* a blood-stained black and white cat (Flad)
* a blood-dripping wood pigeon

I shooed Flad into the kitchen and closed the door, then I rang The Boyfriend, who was in the middle of helping his friend fit a kitchen. With panic in my voice, I informed him, "Help, you've got to come home straight away. There's blood everywhere and there's a half-eaten pigeon sitting on the sofa watching TV."

It was true. With its breast gashed and stripped of feathers, the poor bird was watching Richard and Judy. I don't know which gave it more pain, its injuries or Richard's smug, shiny grin.

Flad wasn't injured. By the time Alan came back, the cat had gone "yum yum" and licked off all the pigeon blood that stained his white front. Alan bundled the pigeon in a towel and carried it gently to the bottom of the garden and let it go. It fluttered feebly off and we shook our heads sadly, never expecting to see it again.

Miraculously, it survived, though with a jagged white scar down its chest feathers, and we christened it Open Heart Surgery. This year it has found a mate - another injured bird, this one having something wrong with its shoulder, which sticks up in an odd hump where the wing joins on. It also walks with a limp. I've named it Quasimodo. Another victim of Flad the Impaler, methinks.

This started as a blog about all my ailments but it seems to have turned into a wildlife blog. There is just so much of it round here, from mutant slugs of a luminous yellow shade, to what appear to be a pair of adolescent Long-Eared Owls, that yell loudly from the oak trees in the field beyond the garden. Yesterday, a pair of green woodpeckers joined Open Heart Surgery and Quasimodo on the lawn.

As for Bald Fox, he is now a fine furry fellow and rarely appears in the daytime. The homoeopathy worked a treat. I still give him the occasional suppertime jam sandwich, for old times' sake. And Mid Spid? He's still in the living room. I haven't had the heart to chuck him out. Especially as it might rain tomorrow.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Mid Spid's restaurant

Mid Spid is a garden spider with stripy legs. He (or she?) should, by rights, have a web stretching across the garden path from bush to hedge, in which to catch all manner of juicy dinners on wings. Instead, he's got me.

The living room's window is rarely opened. It's an internal room which leads on to the kitchen extension. Nothing ever flies in so poor Mid Spid is waiting in vain. Which is where I come in. Last night, I was out with a torch trying to find any sort of insect. They were in very short supply, apart from a mighty wasp, the sight of which made me slam the patio door shut with trembling hands as it crawled its furry way up the glass, regarding me with antagonistic antennae. The only thing I managed to catch, a small moth, escaped from my cupped hands.

Today was Mid Spid's third day without food. I could see him sagging weakly in his web like a fainting soul on a hammock in a striped swimsuit. (How long can a spider go without food? Anybody know?) So this afternoon I went out determined to find the poor arachnid something tasty. Bingo! A moth AND a daddy longlegs. The guilt wasn't as bad as last time. I felt they were being captured for a good cause. I did slightly squash the moth, though. I hope it didn't spoil the flavour.

But tomorrow, I'm afraid Mid Spid is going to be caught in a plastic cup and transferred to the great outdoors. The colder and wetter it gets, the less likely I am to be able to find him the spidery equivalent of steak and chips and and I think his chance of survival will be greater if he can spin an outdoor web and net his own grub.

Upwardly Mobile

The recovering stroke patient, searching for things to do to improve the fine movement in his right hand, decided to gather up all his old cds and dvds and making them intpo a mobile to hang from the apple tree. The other side flashes red, this is the silver and purple side. Poor Flad the cat, who used the space between the apple trees as a potty spot, is now terrified by the flashes when the sun catches the mobile, and has been forced to seek a new loo place elsewhere. Maybe it even gives him a migraine. He hasn't looked in a good mood lately. Curled up, opens a baleful yellow eye when I approach, as if to say, 'Unless you're going to give me an extra dinner, b*****r off!'

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Mid Spid


I think Big Spid must be dead. He or she hasn't been seen for a month now. In his place, in the corner of the living room, we now have Medium Spid. As the windows are closed against the nippy weather, he was in danger of starvation so I broke my Buddist(ish) vow never to harm a living creature and caught him a daddy-longlegs.

I thought it would be a quick death. Inject the fangs, death, munch. But no. I had forgotten about spiders' fetish for mummification. Spindly legs threshing feebly, the creature I had condemned to death was rapidly cocooned in web and immobilised, whereupon the vicious arachnid sucked out its vital juices WHILE IT WAS STILL ALIVE! I can't describe the guilt I suffered.

When I was a toddler, if I stamped on an ant with great relish, or squashed a beetle, my mother would announce, "The king of the ants (or beetles) will get you for that." She would direct her attention to the skies, point to an oddly shaped cloud and declare, "Look, there he is!" and we would cower, convinced that the cumulo-nimbus had sprouted legs, thorax, abdomen and antennae (or even chitin) and was all set to fall on us from above and eat us up. Quite cruel, my mum, looking back now. Fortunately, it's hard for a cloud to form the shape of a daddy-longlegs. Or is it? Still, it's dark now. I'm safe till tomorrow.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Money, money, money

I always thought I was reasonably computer literate. I mean, I can send an email, I can buy stuff on line (and frequently do, though shoes have been a disaster as you can't try them on in cuberspace), I can write a basic blog entry (minus bells, whistles and videos) and I can play online games such as Babble.

But online banking?

Nothing is more terrifying than having one's fingers hovering over the keyboard, knowing that, with one stumble of a trembling fingertip, one could send £2000 not from one's savings to one's bank account, but to a total stranger - AND NEVER GET IT BACK AGAIN! Bank clerks do this all day, presumably without recourse to either tranquillisers or a therapist. But me? I feel like a horse in a show-jumping competition faced with a seven ft wall. Either I take a deep breath, jump off, and soar through the air to land safely on the other side without disturbing a brick, or else I brick it, dig my heels in and refuse.

Today, a huge amount winged its way electronically from my solicitor's account to my own, due to my selling, at long last, the house in East Finchley that I never moved into. Beautiful house, but we never really fell in love. Not, that is, until I was packing up last weekend and suddenly noticed how the plants I'd put into the triangular flower bed had grown and their foliage, which ranged from deep chestnut to stripy yellow, was sparkling beautifully in the sun after a shower of rain. At long last, the place was pleasing to the eye. And then I noticed the quietness, and the fact that my new French bistro net curtains blotted out the eyesore block of flats opposite the front windows, and I thought: I could live here. I told the removal men tearfully, 'I should be moving in now, not moving out.' (Two hunky strapping Poles, O to be 20 years younger. 20? Who am I kidding? 40!!)

So - the huge amount is sitting in my bank account earning nada. My newly set up online savings account awaits. But dare I press the keys? Am I stupid? I'd rather go to the bank on Monday and pay £35 for them to perform the electronic transfer than risk doing it myself. If they cock up, then I have some comeback, but if I make a blunder then it's bye-bye £280,000!!!!! (Thinks: what if I win the Euromillions tonight, too?)

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Lobsters and shanties



I’ve been told that the craftsman in the photo is the last man in Britain who knows how to make lobster pots. I wonder if the reason nobody is learning from him how to do it is because there are very few lobsters left in Britain?

The picture was taken in Newquay, Cornwall, last weekend. I had gone there to sing shanties with the Falmouth Shout group at the Newquay Fish Festival. The microphones that the female singers were using weren’t working so no-one could hear us. Just as well, because the leader decided to perform a completely different bunch of songs to the ones I had rehearsed so all I could do was lurk in the background and mime – apart from one blissful moment when I squawked a piercing top harmony note to a song I DID know, and almost deafened my next-door neighbour.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Electric Kool-aid Antacid Test


This is a Cornish Aromatic apple grown in my boyfriend's back garden. It has nothing to do with Tom Wolfe but plenty to do with acid, the non-druggy variety. Back in the Sixties, I tried uppers and downers at university and smoked my first joint at 16, sitting on a tombstone in Liverpool Cathedral graveyard in my school uniform. My mother was right to be suspicious of that certain schoolfriend of mine with her swarthy Welsh looks, large brown eyes with their slightly hooded lids, soft, singsong voice and wild ways. She was later thrown out of university for living with two men at the same time and not doing any course work. I think it was the lack of work that got her sent down, not the men; this, after all, was the free-love Sixties.

But back to apples. One day recently my ulcerated stomach felt decidely uncomfortable. I had finished my prescription Ranitidine 150ml and all I had on the shelf were 75ml soluble Zantac. I downed one but it had no effect whatsoever.

Then I remembered that about two decades ago I had a painful stomach and my boyfriend of the time, who had grown up in the country, recommended that I ate an apple. I sneered, then scoffed (both verbally, then the apple) and lo and behold, within half an hour the bloated, windy pains had gone. I reached for the fruit bowl, bit into the first apple and promptly spat the mouthful out again. It was unripe and bitter and I knew instinctively that it would do me no good.

Ferretting around at the bottom of the bowl produced an older, riper, slightly wrinkly one. I bit into it and revealed the pink flesh the Cornish Aromatic is famous for. (The first time I bit one, I didn't know what to expect and I thought my gums were bleeding when I saw the deep crimson my bite had revealed.) Fifteen minutes later, the acid in my stomach was calming. An hour later, I was fine again. Yesterday, I had a hideous hangover and the worst acid attack ever. For four hours I moaned and complained, clutching my midriff and feeling nauseous. Then I remembered the apple cure and, whaddya know, it worked again.

I have no idea what it is in an apple that can soothe an acid stomach. I don't even know if it is just the Cornish Aromatic that contains the ingredient, or any sweet, ripe apple, but some enterprising natural cures company should look into it. They could be onto a money-spinner and not only that, they could spark off the survival of an almost vanished apple species.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Wildlife catch-up

Big Spid was last seen above the dresser two days ago. I still haven't broken the habit of looking upwards for the Spider of Damocles every time I go through a doorway.

Bald Fox now has quite a respectable covering of red fur, though its tail still doesn't resemble a brush although it has a faint covering of ginger velvet.

The pond has acquired ten new fish, all called Les after their donator. There's Les 1, Les 2, etc., only distinguishable by their tails, some white, some black and some spotted. The other day, when Summer returned for a few hours, there was fish troilism going on. The three, oddly conjoined, were leaping out of the water, twisting and twining and appeared to be having fun. How do fish do it? I haven't a clue. I'm off to look it up on Google.

Bloody computers

So my laptop died. On the very day I had a received a cheque for £700 that had been owed since last March. I had opened a new savings account specially and the £700 was destined for there, the first penny I had saved all year. But Sod's Law dictated that the computer store was going to get it instead.

Walking past Curry's, I saw an Advent laptop for sale. £499 reduced to £399. 17" wide screen, 120g hard drive, lots of memory. Mmm, it looked good and the sale ended after the Bank Hol weekend, so I bought it.

Now, I am a Windows 2000 and occasionally XP person. However, I soon discovered Microsoft and determined to turn the world into Vista people. I turned on my new machine. For a start, the typesize was so tiny that I needed magnifying glasses to see it. Then I discovered the evil secret of Vista. Everything you've bought in the past and want to carry on using, like Photoshop, won't work with it. Instead, my screen was alive with pop-up windows ticking me off and telling me it had disabled this, that and the other. Bastard!

So, off I went on grovelling hands and knees to my recovering-from-double-stroke boyfriend and asked him, "Please, pretty please, could you take Vista off for me and install my old Windows XP instead."

Off came Vista. On went XP? Oh no. Mr Bill Gates wasn't going to make things that easy, was he? So my new computer is still sitting lifeless, eviscerated, and my old one with the burned out hard drive now does nothing but access the internet. I could cry. In fact, I will. So there!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Slugs have feelings, too

I bet you've never looked at a slug this closely before. Look at that shiny little face. Isn't it adorable? Somehow reminiscent of ET, a wrinkly bloodhound, or the sad old face of a loggerhead turtle. There is something beseeching in those eyes, a 'please don't throw salt on me' appeal. Its lips are parted. Dammit, it's speaking! Now, how could anyone want to squash a cute creature like that?

I read some statistics yesterday. Apparently the wet weather this year has caused the UK slug population to double in size. A rough guesstimate puts it at 60 billion, that's 61 slugs per square metre, all as winsome and slithersome as this one. Let's hear it for the gastropods! Anyone like to join me in starting a slug fan club?

Big Spid's On The Move


Yesterday the Spider of Damocles was on the ceiling above the patio doors (see left).If you look closely, you can see the little hairs on its horrible legs.

Today, I was just placing some washing up in the drainer when I felt something looking at me and there it was, sitting on the edge of the drainer. Boyfriend gave it a prod and it moved down to the cupboard where it dangled from one leg (see right, and more hairy legs). Then it decided to drop onto the floor and chase me across the kitchen. I legged it, spider eight-legged it. I leaped over the door threshold into the lounge and spider dashed behind the fridge where I hope it stays for a very long time, eating stray bits of cheese and crunchy woodlice. If it doesn't choose to stay there, where WILL it be tomorrow... ? (Shudder.)

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The Spider of Damocles


"Take care when you go through the kitchen door," my boyfriend warned. "What do you mean?" said I, a bit crossly as I was about to stomp through in my normal hasty fashion, always in a rush to do something or get somewhere.
"Look up," he said, with a smirk. I did. Clinging to the doorframe was one of the biggest house spiders I have ever seen. Its leg span must have been 10 cms and that wasn't even at full stretch.
Quietly, cautiously and cringingly, I stepped through. Silly really. These spiders don't bite. They can't harm a human. The annoying daddy-longlegs, aka crane fly, apparently contains enough poison to kill a person, but luckily for us it hasn't been equipped with biting mechanism. So what is the point in all that poison? So it can fly into your salad and lurk under a lettuce leaf, chortling as it awaits the chop, the swallow, the gag and the ambulance? Could I have discovered an unusal way to kill someone off? Do I have a Miss Marple-type crime novel waiting in the literary wings? If that spider doesn't move, I shall never get to my computer again!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Parrot fashion


Just returned from four days of cat-sitting in Camden Town. Many years ago – about 23, I think – I spent a week parrot-sitting in Windsor. Whilst there, I rang a radio phone-in prog about transport but the presenter was much more interested in the parrot and asked me to make it talk. Minutes earlier, it had been parroting my singing and guitar playing of the prevous night, but once on air, it got stage fright. Would the damn thing talk? Not on your nelly. I prompted it till I was Amazonian Blue in the face but it refused even to say, “Pretty Polly.” The moment I was off air, it flew out of its cage and soared about the room screaming, “Get your knickers off,” something it must have learned from its rather rampant owner. (Who, incidentally, on his return accused me of turning his parrot into a ‘woofter’, to use his non-pc phrase, as it was now singing soprano rather than baritone.)

Cat-sitting was a doddle until I sat down to a ham salad, when 40 claws and half a million sharp teeth did their best to swipe the ham before I did. Having turned their pretty pink noses up at catfood, they made short work of my ham, even though I lectured them about salt and additives not being good for feline health. I then went to Camden market and found a lovely Turkish lady who makes medieval velvet clothes for her stall. “They fit size 14-16,” she assured me, but when I got back and tried to pull the top over my head, all I could hear was stitches busting and the cackling of a ghostly parrot. The cats can have the ham. I’d better stick to the lettuce if I want to be a medieval maiden that gets some knight errant (I think I might prefer a knight errand to go to the supermarket for me) singing, “Open your drawbridge, I’ll enter your keep!”

Friday, 10 August 2007

Fairies in the Garden


Saw this dragonfly laying eggs in the pond today. Its wings fluttered and irridescence flashed off them and sparked off the vivid green and blue of its body. I think it was the same dragonfly that I rescued in May when I found it newly hatched and trapped beneath the netting. They say that, like frogs, dragonflies return to the pond in which they were born to lay their eggs. I wonder if it was the dragonfly that gave rise to the fairy legend? It would be easy to imagine them as little people flitting through the air - especially after a few pints of strong farm-brewed cider!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Chaos in the Cemetery


The funeral of my friend who died of a stroke two weeks ago will be on August 15th. My pal led a chaotic life and her influence continues after her death, to the effect that nobody knows which of the Great Yarmouth area cemeteries it's at, and we've all booked rail tickets to different stations. Now a splinter group is emerging who want to boycott the service and have a wild party instead - dress in style, the way she always did, light candles, buy beautiful lilies, as elegant as the lady herself, and get rollicking drunk in the way she loved, till we all slide down the wall giggling. A better way of remembering someone and seeing them off, perhaps, than standing in a plain brick room watching a shiny coffin disappear behind a curtain to the accompaniment of a bad tape of organ music.

When I go, I want Shine on, You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, followed by The Sun Has Got His Hat on as the coffin slips away and drops my mortal remains into the fires of Hell, to join my soul which will already be reposing there with the phoenixes and the dragons.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

... and more.

And what about the animals owned by a dead person who lived on their own? My friend who died in Spain a couple of years ago had a dog. It was the animal's frenzied barking that alerted his neighbours. But far from caring for the poor animal, they had it taken away and put down.
My friend had three cats. Her local RSPCA assured us that the police would have 'put arrangements in place' for the pets. No doubt they will end up being put down, too. No, death is a rotten, rotten business and one you never get used to. Like each new love in your life, each new death is different and has different effects and its own distinctive shadows, echoes and pain.

More Thoughts on Death

Death is never convenient. Neither for the one who has just died, for no doubt they were looking forward to a holiday, a pint in the pub, the embrace of their loved one, the birth of a child, or just getting home to bed, nor for those close to the departed. Funerals always seem to occur just when you're having your busiest ever time at work, or about to fly off on the trip you've saved for all year.

Death is never neat and tidy. I have a terror of dying in public, with the shame of losing control of my bodily functions in front of a crowd of strangers on the train. And as for that famous extract from a book that people always pass on to you when you lose someone... You know the one I mean. It tells you that the dead one hasn't vanished but has just gone into another room. Huh! What it fails to mention is that they're not ever going to bloody come back! So much for comfortable cliches.

The Grim Reaper

Just heard the dreadful news that a close friend who lives some distance away dropped dead last Friday. She was a complete original, an artist, sparkling, talented, who'd somehow ended up in a dead end place because her parents left her a house and she was out of a job. I had only spoken to her on the phone the day before. She had just spend five weeks doing the job from hell, dispensing tickets at a theme park and dealing with the worst examples of Joe Public. She walked out last Tuesday and three days later, she was dead of a stroke at 58. What a dreadful waste of one's last few weeks on earth. What with my boyfriend's stroke and the death of another friend at the hand of a hit and run driver a fortnight ago, I feel buffetted by the wings of the Grim Reaper.

We were very close, soul mates in a way. I could tell her things, even the most outrageous thoughts, that I could tell nobody else. I am angry, angry, angry. She always called me her 'bezzie' - her best friend. So why did she not come dancing into my dreams and tell me? Instead, this leaden gap of five days during which I carried on with my life and didn't know her sparkly spirit had passed on. I just don't believe it. My mother died in her sleep and I was 200 miles away, but I knew. She came to tell me. The room filled with warm pink light and I had a feeling I had been swept by the wing of an angel, even though I'm not particularly religious. The room was full of love and I went to bed with raging flu and slept like a baby, but next day got worried that she wasn't answering the phone and rang her gardener, who had a key. I caught a train, still with a high temperature and full of flu, and arrived to an empty house as the police had taken her to the police morgue. They didn't release her body for a week, though I went there every day and begged to see her.

The elephants have it right. When one of their herd dies, they crowd around, visit the corpse, feel it with their trunks, weep, come to terms, lay the relative or friend to rest in their hearts, minds and souls. We need to do this, too. There is an overbearing need to see the body of the loved one, to convince oneself that they really are dead, to see their shell and know their spirit no longer inhabits it. It's a natural part of the grieving process, I think. Hence the dreadful suffering of those whose loved ones have simply disappeared.

Death is an unfinished symphony. A conversation abruptly terminated before the final words have been said. Cymbals are crashing a cacophany in my head.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Boys' Garden Toys

Since the boyfriend's illness, the household chores that used to be his are now down to me. He has 350ft of garden. That means 700ft of hedge. That is an awful lot to prune.

I started off tackling 15ft a day with the shears. I soon realised that by the time I was halfway down one side (that is, if I hadn't fallen in the pond or frazzled myself on next door's electric fence in the process), the first bits I had chopped would have started growing again. I was never going to be able to start on the other side at all.

And so the boyfriend introduced me to the electric hedge trimmer. Now, the EHT somewhat resembles a bright orange tailless shark with its serrated blade and fin-like handles. To work it, you have to squeeze in two places simultaneously. Not only are these positioned for large male hands and need a strong male grip, but the beast also weights half a stone and I am only 5ft 4ins. I have also never used a piece of electric garden equipment in my life, especially one capable of severing limbs and decapitating small animals. Maybe large ones, too. Maybe even me.

Now, I have a phobia about anything with a motor that might run amok and get beyond my control. Sewing machines and cars are out of the question. Electric carving knives? Forget it. My psyche is rooted in the stone age, though I'd probably have had a phobia about the first ever Flintstones-style stone wheel.

Nevertheless, I picked the EHT up and did a sweep of the hedge. "No, no, you're doing it all wrong, the blade must be flat to the hedge. Look, you've gouged a hole in the privet," complained the backseat gardener. I growled at him, climbed the ladder, heaving the EHT after me, then did a sweep of the top. That's when I discovered that puny 5ft 4ins females with undeveloped biceps, arthritic elbows and short arms aren't cut out for cutting hedges. Especially 700ft hedges. What I need is a giraffe which can operate a hedge trimmer with its jaws, or perhaps a carefully trained elephant. Please apply here.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Stroke Progress

It's now 24 days since my boyfriend had his double Type 2 stroke which paralysed his right-hand side. He can now walk very well but he still can't use his right hand much, though yesterday he found he could whistle again and today he could poke his tongue out straight, instead of only to one side.

He is still trying to push himself too far. Today, he walked all the way to the Iceland store, about a mile and a half away, and back. He arrived exhausted, with a backpack full of frozen veg that weighted a ton. He then collapsed onto the sofa looking done-in and is now asleep under a duvet.

I worry about him all the time. I worry in case he has another stroke from which he might not recover. I worry about my own precarious position, with my house sale going through and my belongings having suffered yet another soaking in his shed, and the pressure on me to find another house where I have no mortgage and have the peace and time to write, and the equal pressure to stay and look after him.

My Google horoscope for today (Pisces) tells me to be patient. I guess this is the key to everything. The one good thing that has happened to me in the last few days is finding the ultimate in noise-blocking earplugs. The Boots own label foam ones in the green packet. They cost £1.99 for three pairs and I'm about to clear their shelves. My old earplus only lessened the traffic noise slightly, but these provide perfect peace. After reading the first 50 pages of the latest Harry Potter last night, I lay there, eyes closed, marvelling at the quietness. Though I think, for perfect relaxation, I need medieval head armour and a bullet-proof vest, too.