At last. The Experts have caught up with me!

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I have been saying for decades now  …

Well, I’ve been saying two things: firstly that foods like cakes and biscuits and desserts and drinks continue to get sweeter all the time, and secondly that manufacturers need to start giving us more choice in this.

Actually, I’ve been saying more than that, to as many people who’ll listen to me, and as often as the subject crops up.  I’ve said that the insidious increase in sugar content of so many foods is to blame for more health problems than high fat content, that feeding a sweet tooth seems to make it sweeter, that sugar is addictive, that the food manufacturers are fiendishly clever because they know this and try very hard to hook us young with overly sweet breakfast cereals, desserts, yoghurts etc aimed directly at children, and also that I would not be unhappy to see a tax put on sugar.  Nobody needs it in these quantities, and it’s positively dangerous for some of us.

I do have a sweet tooth, and it’s often my undoing when it comes to trying to keep my weight down, but I do wish I could buy a chilled coffee drink, for instance, with no damn sugar in it!  When I drink coffee at home I never add sugar, so why would I want an iced coffee with about four teaspoons of sugar dissolved in it when I’m out?  If you doubt how much sugar is in those things – and in ice lollies and ice creams – try letting one warm to room temperature and then taking a swig. You’ll be shocked at how sweet they really are.  Fact: the more you cool things, the less you can taste the sugar.

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Let’s think about the things which have sugar added – things which, if we made them at home, would usually contain none at all.    Bread, for instance.  It is not necessary to add sugar to bread.  OK, some recipes call for it but many do not. Those that do add it as a kind of short-cut to ‘feed’ the yeast and get it started more quickly, and it’s actually a lot more healthy to give bread a long fermentation time, which uses the yeast more effectively and more thoroughly and results in an ‘old-fashioned’ loaf instead of the playdough-textured Chorleywood1 type.

Have you ever noticed that the biscuits and fruit pies and cakes you buy are so much sweeter, and yet somehow less satisfying, than those you make at home? They are full of sugar and other refined ingredients, including glucose-fructose sugar which fools your body into thinking that you’re still hungry and encourages you to overindulge2.  Eat them quickly and you’ll feel slightly unwell because your poor body is trying to process  the overload of fat and sugar.  Homemade biscuits and cakes don’t do this – at least, not so quickly or so thoroughly: because there’s no glucose-fructose syrup, because you need to chew them more, and because they are simply more satisfying.

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Processed meats are difficult to find sans sugar.  Ham, pastrami, the so-called deli-meats, meat pies, meat patés, sausages and so on, go take a look at the ingredients lists if you don’t believe me.  Mayonnaise3.  Bottled sauces.  Gravies.  Even frozen chips.  Why the hell would anyone think of putting sugar in chips?

Then there are fruit juices and fruit ‘drinks’, which are often nothing more than flavoured sugar water. I make a drink called ‘ACE’ at home, which I discovered in Italy. ‘ACE’ stands for (vitamins) A, C and E, and it’s easy and quick to make using bottled carrot juice, and chilled, unsweetened, orange and apple juices. The original recipe calls for a dash of lemon, but the apple and carrot juices will have this added already. You do not need sugar for this drink, and it’s simply a matter of getting the proportions as you like them, so just experiment. Our taste runs to around one third carrot juice, and then the proportions of apple and orange depend on which brands I buy, but usually just a tad more orange than apple. If you’re not used to such an intense, pure-fruit juice, try adding sparkling mineral water to taste – or even simply tap water… but please, no sugar!

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Sugar is in all those things to ‘educate’ your tastebuds to keep coming back for more, and to make the food processing easier.  Does it do us any favours at all?  No.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to read this article, in which food experts are calling for a reduction in the amount of sugar allowed in processed foods.  Three bloody cheers!  Never mind vilifying obese people and telling us how we lack self-control, for fuck’s sake, how about beginning to point the finger at those really responsible for the increase in the population’s weight: the food industry?

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I admit it. I have struggled with my weight all my adult life.  I, along with all the rest of you who are unlucky enough to have succumbed to an addiction to sugar (and those who are genetically predisposed to put on weight4), have had to employ more self-restraint than most simply to avoid getting to the point where I can no longer walk due to damaging my joints with the extra avoirdupois.  We, unique among addicts, cannot go cold turkey.  We still have to eat to live, and must therefore suffer the torture of struggling with our addiction on a twice or three-times-daily basis.  It’s a bit like trying to give up smoking while allowing yourself two puffs of a cigarette three times a day – but while smokers are now offered help from their doctors, obese people are still blamed for their lack of self-control.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we are the last remaining group of addicts who are punished for their problem.

It really is about time that the government stopped telling us it’s all our fault and withdrawing vital health services5, and began to help us by bringing in legislation to restore our food supplies to something which does not continually poison us and scupper our best intentions.  We cannot all prepare all our own food from scratch, and that reminds me:

Who suffers most from being fed processed, pre-prepared food?

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Those who cannot help themselves by preparing their own food, that’s who.  Those in institutions of any kind: schools, nursing homes, respite homes, residential facilities for the elderly, prisons …

And hospitals, where we should be fed a diet conducive to regaining health, but far too often are not6.

 

<sup>1</sup> – See link: The shocking truth about bread

<sup>2</sup> – See links:

Effects of fructose on brain may promote overeating

Fructose effect on brain may explain link to obesity

Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

Sugar, not fat, exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic

<sup>3</sup> – Whose ingredients, as all the purists will tell you, should be very simple: a good quality oil, plus egg.

<sup>4</sup> – See link: Genetic mutation causes obesity

<sup>5</sup> – See link: Lose weight, or your operation is cancelled

<sup>6</sup> – See link: Hospital food: what’s the prognosis?

 

 

 

 

 

Pollinator Awareness Week: 13th – 19th July 2015

Bee-Wingbeats

This week is Pollinator Awareness Week!  Yes, you heard it here first1.

‘So what?’ I hear you say. Well, see, the thing is that without pollinators, we’d all be in the shit be in serious trouble, because an awful lot of food crops need to be pollinated somehow, and the way most of them get pollinated is by the transference of pollen from flower to flower by insects.

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Our main pollinators – as I’m sure you all know – are bees. The trouble is, our honeybees are struggling and nobody really seems to know why. Some blame neonicotinoids (‘neonics’) and other pesticides. Some blame pollution. Some blame modern farming practices and/or the horrible tendency government agencies have for ‘tidying up’ our verges and footpaths and parks, etc2. Some blame honeybee diseases spread by mites. Some say it’s a combination of factors.  And some freely admit that they don’t know.

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The result, in America, has been the growth of the practice of renting out colonies which are hawked around the farms to pollinate crops. This has its own problems, apparently, from stressing the bees and laying them open to opportunistic infections to bee-rustling.

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Now, there are also a lot of native bumblebees, but not only are they in trouble too,  it seems that in some countries they are not managing to relocate themselves from areas which have grown too warm for them due to climate change, and are dying out locally.

So what are we left with? Well, there are many, many solitary bees which do a sterling job, and many people don’t even know about them because they tend to be quite small compared to honeybees and bumbles and can easily be overlooked.

And there are hoverflies3.

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You may not know this, but hoverflies are considered by many authorities to be the second most important pollinators after bees, and it’s a sad fact that an awful lot of people don’t know how to tell the difference, and so fear them both equally. This leads to a lot of untimely insect deaths4

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So, dotted throughout this post are some pictures. Some are bees, and some are hoverflies. Some of the hoverflies look quite a lot like bees, but you will notice a difference in their faces, their eye shape and their antennae (and if you’re extra-observant and look closely, their wings). I’m beginning to learn more about hoverflies and how to identify them, and I am by no means an expert, so I reckon if I can do it, so can you.

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What can we do, though, about the pollination problem? Well, unless you want to see an era where thousands of poorly-paid people are put to back-breaking work pollinating flowers with a paintbrush, perhaps it would be a good idea to plant some ‘bee-friendly’ flowers in the garden, for a start, and to go easy on the insecticides?

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After all, what’s more important: preventing a famine or having a pretty lawn?

Okay, so that’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek.  You should all know by now that I don’t really do scaremongering.  But seriously, we would all be in serious trouble without insect pollinators, and we should all take time to think about that.

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For those interested, here are a few links for further reading.  If you do nothing else, please listen to the podcast. It’s very accessible and easy to understand:

Hoverflies are effective pollinators of oilseed rape

The trouble with bee-keeping

The touble with bees (nice podcast on this page)

Almond pollination in 2012

Planting for pollinators – RHS

1 – Or maybe you didn’t, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

2 – For ‘tidying up’ read ‘mowing down everything in sight, including the useful – and pretty – wildflowers and grasses on which our insects depend, and leaving behind a brown stubbly mess.

3 – Well, alright, a considerable number of other insects contribute to pollination, but generally in a smaller or less effective way, according to what I’ve read.

4 – And even fewer pollinators.

A Question of Language

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My dear OH has some endearing habits, and one of them is to regularly impart little bits of random knowledge – he calls them ‘Interesting Facts of the Day’. The latest one of these turned into a rather amusing conversation.

It went like this:

OH: “Did you know that language is handled in a particular part of the brain?”

Me: “Yeah, colloquially known as the ‘language centre'”

OH: “Broca’s .. ”

Me: “Yes, Broca’s Area”

OH: “Well, did you know that if you learn a second language it’s handled in the same area?”

Me: “Yes, go on … ”

OH: “But if you learn a second language as an adult, you grow a new bit of brain in that area, just for the new language?

Me: “Wow .. you do?”

OH: “Yes!

Me: “Wow. I’ve grown a new bit of brain, and you haven’t!!”

OH: “Yeeees. Demoralising, isn’t it?”

Me: “No! No – you should learn! You can do it! You have the brain.”

OH (Musing): “I wonder what happens to those people who learn more than one new language? What if they learn six new languages – do they grow six new bits of brain? Why don’t their heads explode?”

Me: “Hahaha! You probably handle all the new languages in the one new bit”

OH (Getting a bit sidetracked): “Hey, why is the butter still out?”

Me: “Perchè ho ancora fame”

OH (Trying again): “Why is the butter out?”

Me: “Perchè non ho finito la mia colazione!”

OH: “But why is the butter out? It’ll get all hot and miserable!1

Me: “I told you. I’m still hungry and I haven’t finished my breakfast”

*Pause*

OH: “Yes, but you told me with your new bit of brain, and I heard it with my old one!”

Me: “There is a solution to that … ”

1 OH uses some very picturesque language, sometimes. But in fact I forgot to put the butter away and it did indeed get hot and miserable. Positively depressed and tired of life, in fact, judging by the way it had sagged and was sitting huddled at the bottom of the dish.

Aliens! Doing Alien Things!

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Well .. it is at least one explanation, is it not?

Looking out of my bathroom window (the only one on that side of the house high enough to see over the hedge), I spotted these very odd .. well .. crop circles, I suppose. Leaving aside the possibility of aliens dropping in to say hello in a very idiosyncratic manner, I’m thinking that someone1 probably started to spray the wrong field with weedkiller – or maybe the right field with weedkiller instead of insecticide.

Either way, I doubt the farmer is terribly happy about the result. I mean, what happens now? If he harvests the rest of the field, surely he can’t allow any of the affected wheat into the food chain, and how on earth is he to make sure of that?

We rely too much on pesticides of one sort or another, I know that much.

1 Someone who now wishes he were somewhere far, far away, probably. Or that he had decided to become a filing clerk instead of an agricultural worker.

A new definition of ‘dry’

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See, I always thought that ‘dry’ was the opposite of ‘wet’. That is; without moisture, or at least with a very low moisture content.

But I bought a pack of Morrison’s ‘Dry Cure’ ham a few days ago which was anything but dry. It was covered with a sheen of moisture, and there were actually droplets of water1 on the surface of the meat.

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So what on earth is up with that? It says ‘Dry Cure’ quite plainly on the label and yet when I opened it up, there it was practically sitting in a puddle of water!

Dry cure? Pull the other one.

Morrisons, please explain. I’m listening. Meanwhile, the only one who’s going to be eating this crap is Sid2.

1 Well. I say ‘water’, but in fact it is probably a kind of chemical soup composed of preservatives and salts.

2 Which is why there are a couple of slices missing. I didn’t eat them, Sid did – and with every appearance of enjoyment. But then, he can’t read.

So many things …

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You know how it is. There are so many things to do, so many places to go, and so many blog posts you mean to write. The last is particularly true, and I’ve made a lot of notes, and then .. the ‘so many things to do’ and the ‘so many places to go’ went and got in the way.

I really want to start blogging properly again, but it seems I don’t have much time to craft the sort of posts I used to do, so for now, I’m going to be putting up brief snippets of this and that, starting with something I usually get into at this time of year; macro photography of wildlife.

The little creature up at the top is a tiny bee, less than a centimetre in length, which at first I thought was a wasp on account of its tiny waist. It’s called Hylaeus communis, which I’d never have known if it weren’t for the freely offered expertise of a Swedish guy called Göran Holmström, who belongs to the same ‘bee and wasp’ group as I do. Facebook can be a wonderful thing, when used wisely.

This next picture is one of our commonest hoverflies, and one of the most frequently photographed. I adore hoverflies, but these little guys annoy the hell out of me because when I’m trying to get a picture, they hover motionless about half a metre in front of me, poking their tongues out and taunting me, then when I slowly raise the camera to their level, they dart out of sight – only to return seconds later in a slightly different spot!

Episyrphus balteatus (also known as the Marmalade Fly) meet your public.

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While I was out photographing bees and hoverflies a week or so ago, I noticed this day-flying moth on a daisy. It’s called ‘Mother Shipton’ because it has a little witch’s face on each wing.

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Now, you all love ladybirds, right? Can’t get enough of them, I bet. Even people who hate ‘bugs’ and ‘creepy-crawlies’ like ladybirds – I mean, they’re not really beetles are they?1

How about this then?

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That’s the larva of a Seven-Spot Ladybird, in the process of pupating. Only its mother could love it. Well, it’s mother and me, and lots of other insect fans, actually.

Okay, let’s finish with something cute. Here is a Mullein moth caterpillar eating my buddleia. Considering the number of them, and the size of them, it’s amazing there isn’t more damage, but in fact I can hardly see where they’ve been!

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You don’t think that’s cute? Oh, well. Can’t please you all .. but try this.

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That’s the Seven Spot Ladybird that the weird-looking larva you saw up there will one day turn into. Well, one like it, anyway!

If you’re interested in insects, no matter if you know very little, try joining one of the Facebook groups. The people there are lovely and willingly identify things for anyone who asks. I am a member of UK Hoverflies, Insects of Britain and Northern Europe, and UK Bees, Wasps and Ants.

1 Actually, yes. Yes, they are. They are absolutely 100% beetles.

Sad news

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It’s been a while, and that’s because I have been feeling wounded. I guess my way of dealing with emotional wounds is to stop communicating, because I remember doing it when I lost two dogs at once, and also when my mother died. It seems to be my way.

Oh, I function, on a day-to-day level, and fulfill my commitments – those that can’t be avoided – and after a few days I smile and carry on, but when it comes to putting myself out there, I don’t. Not after telling those who are in the know, as it were. Then after a while I peep outside my little shell and do non-personal stuff, like Facebook games and the wildlife pages, and that phase can last quite a while.

This time it was my lovely, sweet old Jeffie – the dog I didn’t want to keep. The dog I tried to send back, but nevertheless fell in love with (as you do) and who became my friend, my clown, my daft old clumsy, barker-at-doorbells and runner-into-things. My lovely Jeffie had to be put to sleep a few weeks ago, just shy of his thirteenth birthday. We’d had him three years.

He was called Ranger, when we met him. And he was smart enough, when we went to visit him in his foster home, to sell himself to OH by play-bowing to him – something no potential dog had ever done for him before, and which charmed the socks off him. He didn’t want a black dog1, but being play-bowed to swept away his prejudice on that score and we brought Ranger home.

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The first thing I noticed was that he was head-shy. When anyone put a hand anywhere close to his head, he growled and leapt into the air as if he’d been burned. There is usually a reason for this, and though it took me a week, I finally got a peek inside his mouth and … yep. There was a reason for it. The poor dog had a huge, red, thumb-sized ulcer where a canine used to be. When he went in to be treated, the vet said he had bits of loose bone left in there, and a fistula nearly through to his nasal cavity, so I can’t imagine how sore the poor old guy was. It was cleaned and debrided under GA, and I cleaned and cared for it at home – with much growling and bronco bucking.

Then he would run into things. He ran into his food stand (solid wood) and broke a metatarsal. He ran into a brick wall in our garden at about 1am and cut himself badly, and unfortunately, one of the things he regularly ran into was Sid, who really didn’t need running into, and this was why I tried to return him. Equally unfortunately, though the convention is that a fosterer does not fill a foster dog’s place until everyone is absolutely sure that he is not going to bounce2, this fosterer did so, and when I rang to ask her to take him back, she said sorry, but there was no room.

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She said, don’t worry, Sharon will take him back. Well, yes, Sharon would certainly have taken him back, but who was going to adopt a ten-year-old black dog who growled at his people, body-slammed the existing dog and kept running into solid objects and injuring himself? He permanently had shaved patches and dressings. He didn’t like his feet touched or his nails clipped and would growl at me for that, too. Let’s face it, he’d have spent the rest of his life in the kennel.

So we kept him.

Once I knew we were kind of stuck with Ranger, I decided to change his name for a fresh start. Nobody quite knows why3, but it often works, and so it did for us. I told him he could stay, and that his name was now Jeffie, and he – miraculously – stopped running into things quite so often. He still body-slammed Sid, and to be frank, he was the reason Sid needed so many pain-killers, but we all got used to having him around, then we got fond of him, and then … the daft old dog and I got very close. In fact during his last illness he didn’t want me out of his sight and if I left the house, he’d mope and whine till I got home. So my lovely pink fringe grew halfway down my nose and the grey crept from the roots and took over two inches or more of the pink from that end, as I became a little bit of a recluse.

The thing was, he had Canine Cognitive Disorder4, degenerative myelopathy, and finally – and disastrously – liver cancer. We were managing the first two quite well, but bless his heart, the liver cancer made him very unwell. He had intractable diarrhoea and simply could not hold it. Sometimes he didn’t even seem to know he was doing anything. Mostly he’d make a mad dash for the back door and try desperately to get himself out, but even when the door was actually open he often couldn’t make it. We’d have a small, but very smelly, trail to clean, often spanning three carpets and sometimes more. We were so very glad we had a new Vax carpet machine for a fairly easy clean-up.

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So. There was a medication routine two or three times a day, cleansing and nursing routines, dry-foam oat baths to ease his itching, and many gallops through the house to the back door in the wee small hours, followed by much carpet cleaning. There were also many snuggles and gentle scritches, and the cooking of tasty titbits to tempt the failing appetite and now that Jeffie’s gone, Sid is wondering if the world has run out of chicken breast5.

Right up to his last day, Jeffie was perky, seemed happy and interested in life and loved a fuss. He ate his tablets wrapped in corned beef or meat paste. His appetite wasn’t great, but he enjoyed his little – his very little – walks, and he was able to go off-lead for his last couple of weeks because if he’d got startled and tried to bolt, he wouldn’t have got far before collapsing. And he did enjoy that.

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I called the vet out twice and said I thought this was it, but we managed to carry on a little longer – mainly because he was so alert and content. But on the last day, though he got up and met the vet at the door to greet her, she looked at him and said ‘I think the time has come’. He had got so thin that he was like a skeleton covered in fur and his medication was no longer working.

And so the deed was done, in his own bed, with Sid next to him. I felt like a murderess and cried for about three days solid, but now I can see that it was the only humane thing to have done. I still cry. I am crying now. But it was time, it really was.

Sid … I think Sid does miss him. But he’s finding it so much easier to jump in and out of the car without a second bed in there, and now that he isn’t being body-slammed life is less painful for him, and he’s OK. He hasn’t pined as previous dogs have pined on losing their companion, and I think it was because he was there when Jeffie left us, and was able to sniff his body. I will never again take a dog into the surgery to be put to sleep, if I can help it. It’s so much more peaceful at home.

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It was time.  Looking back at the photos of that last week, it’s easier to see.

I don’t miss the carpet cleaning, the medication and nursing, or the huge amount of cooking I had to do to get food into my little sick dog. I don’t miss the cost of the drugs and vet visits, or the smell of excrement or the puddles of urine or seeing him fade to almost nothing. But I do miss my silly, funny, loving little old black guy. My companion and friend, who loved me probably even more than I loved him.

1 Black dogs are unpopular in rescues. It’s a combination of a myth that black dogs are more aggressive, and the fact that they don’t show off to advantage in a kennel situation.

2 ‘Bounce’ is a term we use to describe a dog that returns to kennels after being rehomed.

3 The truth is, changing a dog’s name probably helps the owners to change the way they react to the dog, which in turn can change the way the dog responds. I was aware that we’d got off to a bad start, and felt it would help us to turn things around. It did.

4 The dog form of Alzheimer’s Disease.

5 He got lucky the other day. We had a power cut ten minutes after putting four chicken breasts into the oven. No way to finish cooking them, so …

6 Yes, I know there isn’t a six. Congratulations for reading this far!

A Family Thing

I wrote this post last week, but then my poor old Jeffie deteriorated further and on Friday was diagnosed with liver cancer, so I’ve been concentrating on spending time with him, enjoying his company and making sure he is as comfortable as possible in his remaining days or weeks. I wanted to add another photo, but for now I’ll publish and if I find the picture I wanted, I’ll add it later.

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Last week, I cashed in a Christmas gift.

When a couple has been married for thirty-eight years1, it becomes a tad harder for them to find suitable gifts for each other, so in recent years, OH and I have tended to try to find something a little different. There have been concert tickets, for instance, and one time I sent him on a cheese-making course which he thoroughly enjoyed. Often we can make these things a surprise, but sometimes we resort to asking for a list, and this last Christmas I asked to be taken to the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ family history fair at the Birmingham NEC.

However, neither of us could have foreseen that this would be the week that poor Jeffie deteriorated to the point where we both felt it would be unfair to send him to Sharon’s for three days while we swanned off enjoying ourselves2 – even though she’s really great with the dogs and Sid used to live with her anyway – because it’s a small house and it has anywhere between eight and twelve greyhounds living in it at any one time. The poor old guy would have got knocked about and he wouldn’t have eaten, and that would have meant he’d have come home thinner and even less well. So we decided that I would go, and OH would stay home and care for the dogs.

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As it turned out it was a good decision, because he had a crisis and we called the vet out today (Sunday) really thinking that it would be a case of euthanasia, which caused not a few tears. But I’m happy to say that he’s still here, and doing a bit better. He is being given medication and we’ll see how he goes over the next few days. (Please forgive the placement of the copyright notice on that one, by the way. It’s to discourage the more extreme anti-racing activists from stealing it for their propaganda. Trust me, I’ve had this happen in the past and it’s really upsetting).

So anyway, on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the hotel3 armed with the tickets, my laptop, a couple of notebooks, many pencils, and some old family photos to take to the experts for dating to give me a clue as to who the hell was in them. And Thursday morning, bright and early, I was in the door and doing the rounds.

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One of my photos caused some excitement since it appeared to have been taken by a somewhat famous photographer, and while I still haven’t identified everyone who is in it, I know which regiment the man in the centre belonged to, and the approximate year range, and I know that one of the young ladies is my grandmother, and the others are great aunts (her sisters) so I can probably narrow it down. And I have some great information which should help me with some of the others, too. I did get my wrist slapped a bit for taking in a reprint of one instead of the original, because he needed to see the back to be able to tell me where and when it was taken, and of course the back of mine was a nice, clean … blank.

Then it was on to the ‘Ask The Experts’ desk to book a couple of sessions, and I’d hardly got to the front of the queue and made my bookings than it was time to find my seat in the first lecture of the day, after which I managed to look around a few stands and have some lunch before the next one began. I attended a lecture called ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ on how to organise my research, and called simply ‘Parish Records’, the first of which was sobering but incredibly useful, and the second both fascinating and a little disappointing because I wanted to make notes of what was written on the slides but they were whipped away so quickly that I missed a lot.

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As you can tell, it was a very, very busy day. I came away with pages of notes, some great ideas on how to proceed on several different fronts, and a huge amount of enthusiasm. The next day was the same except that I never did get to the ‘Ask The Experts’ desk to book more sessions because I had two lectures booked for the morning and early afternoon and I needed to leave by half past two to get home. I’d only booked two nights at the hotel – and, of course, I wanted to get back to my sick dog. Friday’s lectures were ‘Scottish Parish Records’, which was a much better presentation than the English one, and ‘Copyright & Family History’ which was excellent if a little daunting and I’m not sure I understood it all completely.

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All in all, it was a great event and I was really very surprised not to find it more crowded and busy, though I chose to attend on the Thursday and Friday, and I’m going to assume that probably by the weekend you could barely move in there. I’ve never been to one of these things before, but I’ll go next year if I can, and next time I’ll be a whole lot better prepared. For one thing, I’ll beg or borrow an iPad instead of dragging a laptop around, I’ll sort out more (original) photos to take along, and I’ll plan my time better. Oh, and I’ll book the lectures earlier, too, because the popular ones really do fill up quickly. I never got so much as a glimpse of Tony Robinson, and I know he was giving one. That would have been fun!4

I particularly liked these 1930s tea rooms. Incidentally, you could get a lovely cup of tea and a really good Eccles cake in there!

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1 Yes, I am that old. Old as dirt, as my American friends say. I’m practically an antique.

2 Well, one of us would have been enjoying ourselves. The other one would have been utterly miserable and wishing he was anywhere but the NEC. In fact at one point, I sent him a text which read ‘This is FUN! You’d have hated it’.

3 But not, as it happened, the hotel we’d booked. We arrived at the really nice, luxury hotel OH had booked only to be told that they ‘had a problem with the booking’, which roughly translated almost certainly means ‘Ooops, we double-booked and you’re the unlucky ones’. They booked us a room at another hotel which they assured us would be of comparable quality, but was it heck as like. It was the Novotel at Birmingham Airport. Clean, reasonably comfortable but with toilet paper which appeared to have been made from recycled MacDonald’s drinks trays and about ten inches between the bed and the wall to slide along in order to get into the damn thing. Oh, and peculiar things like windows that opened, but with a notice on them which said in capital letters ‘DO NOT OPEN THIS WINDOW’ and three light switches between the toilet and the bathroom which you would think operated the lights for those rooms plus the little entrance area but which in fact did not. One of them worked the bedroom lights, while the bathroom switch was in the bedroom area. It was nearer to the NEC though, so it wasn’t all bad.

4 Although I’d have sat there grinning and thinking ‘I’m watching Baldrick giving a lecture on family history!’

A Very Blustery Day

Yaris-1

Bet you don’t know what that is.

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s a long streak of paint about fifteen inches long and nearly two inches wide on the outside wall of our house, and it comes from my car. No, I didn’t misjudge the width of the driveway1, nor did I back into it, or anything like that.

See, what happened was this; we took the dogs out this morning for their walk, and since Jeffie is so frail these days and Sid doesn’t want to go too far either, we drove them round to where we can do a nice walk in the countryside without having to walk to get there first. They had a lovely stroll in the sunshine – yes, and the wind – alongside a dyke, then diagonally across an open field and back along the road to the car. Took about 25 minutes, nice and slow. They really loved it, and so did I2.

Back home, OH backed the car neatly into place so that the dogs could jump out right by the front door and turned off the engine. I opened the door … and it was ripped out of my hand and slammed into the wall so hard that it has actually flattened a strip of the edge of the door about .. well, about fifteen inches long and about an inch wide.

Yaris-2

It’s also taken the paint clean off where it creases – if you look again at the photo at the top, you can see that at the point where it first hits the wall it’s a nice deep blue, which gets progressively lighter until it’s white, which I presume is the undercoat. And, incidentally, bruised my fingers, that’s how hard it was torn away from me. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my rings at the time or there might have been blood.

So now I’m extremely pissed. This is my beloved Yaris Verso, which I have had from new and which is a perfect dogmobile. They don’t make them anymore, and I’ve been nursing it because it’s nearly thirteen years old. It was in extremely good nick.

Not anymore.

Yaris-3

I’m hoping that it can be beaten out and resprayed nicely, otherwise it’ll be a new door – and heaven knows how much that will cost.

Oh look! You get a bonus picture of me (disgruntled) taking that picture of the damage. Aren’t you lucky?

1 The driveway is very open to being misjudged. It looks straight, but it isn’t. There is a subtle angle on it, and also, it narrows. It’s not easy to back into, but we’ve both more or less got the hang of it now, after twenty-odd years.

2 Can’t say the same about OH, who moaned continually about the wind, and how cold it was, and how he wished he’d never agreed to come. To be fair, he suffers badly from the cold and has always hated wind.

Photo Blogging Challenge – ‘Two’

Bicycle4TwoWeb

I’m knocking on the door of too late here, but I think I’ll squeeze in. The prompt for A Li’l HooHaa‘s photo blogging challenge for March is ‘Two’ and it must be done by today, or we’re into April and a new theme.

Now, I knew about this one from the start of March because of having joined in with February’s challenge, so I’ve been keeping an eye open for pictures which fit the bill. We’re supposed to avoid posting pictures from the archives, because the whole idea is to encourage us to go out there and work a little on our photography – and that’s what I’ve done. All of these pictures were taken during this month with this challenge in mind.1

As soon as I saw my son and one of his small daughters on the bouncy bike and sidecar, I thought of the old music hall song ‘Daisy, Daisy’.2 DS No 2 (ha! Another ‘two’) is a Stay At Home Dad, so he has a very strong rapport with the twins. Can you tell?3

Here are both girls together. Yep, two of them – identical twins, who happen to be nearly two years old. Very handy, that.

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I think Son No 2 is really very lucky to have this opportunity to be with his young daughters so much.

So then I started to get into the swing of the challenge and thought about some more unusual ‘twos’. Taken on the same day, here’s a picture of the grandparents… or rather, our shadows on the grass as we watch the young family at play. This one took a little post-processing because it wasn’t shot in black & white. It also needed a random bit of stick taken out and the shadows deepening for better contrast.

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The bright spot in the top right was part of the original composition, though.

The next one was the product of a deliberate trawl through my kitchen to find pairs of things to photograph. Believe it or not, this shot was not set up. The lovely glass oil and vinegar bottles were right there, just as they appear, next to the two jugs on the dresser shelf. I have a bit of a thing about jugs!

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This one was shot using the ‘candlelight’ setting on the camera, then converted to black & white. I also made a new layer of the larger jug and added a filter to bring it out a little more. It’s always hard to balance shadows and highlights on a mix of porcelain and glass, but I liked the way the wood back of the dresser came out. Sharpened up the grain nicely, didn’t it?

Lastly … hmm … which of the others shall I use? Let me see …

How about this one? I just loved these stamps when I found them on a piece of wrapping paper in a pile of papers I was sorting. Loved the colours, the 1940s style, and the crumpled perforations and texture of the paper etc. Best of all, it’s SOC!4

TwoStamps-Web

Thanks to A Li’l HooHaa for hosting this photo challenge. I’m looking forward to finding out what April’s theme will be.

1 See? I can stick to the rules if I have to. Aren’t I good?

2 For you youngsters out there, it goes like this:
‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’ll look sweet,
Upon the seat,
Of a bicycle made for two!’

3 Naturally, they’re also really, really keen on Mum when she comes into work. Here she is with the other twin. Consider it a bonus: ‘It takes two, baby’!

4 Which means, just in case there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know, that it is Straight Out of the Camera, with no processing whatsoever. Well, apart from cropping.