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.

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,, 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


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.