The Interesting Fact of the Day

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For some time now, my Other Half and I have had the habit of taking a few minutes at the end of the day to sit down with a drink1 and have a little chat. It’s a good thing to do, because it helps you wind down after whatever you’ve been doing all evening, and it’s especially good if – like us – you spend a lot of time at the computer, because even with F.lux2 it’s pretty bad for you to do that just before sleeping.

Anyway, these little chats have developed into somewhat of a competition, and it began like this; OH would kick off by saying ‘did you know … ?’ or ‘have you heard …?’ and I’d say ‘no, what?’ and he would impart some fragment of knowledge he’d picked up during the day. It could be political (Psychiatrists are saying that Trump really is nuts3) or statistical (one in ten UK households do not contain a single book4) or iconoclastic (the figures for how many units of alcohol you should drink per day was simply plucked out of thin air and has no basis in fact5) or something more obscure. I like the obscure ones best.

One of the most peculiar was the one I found about the little Pom-Pom crab who sticks sea anenomes to his claws. It’s not a useful fact. I can’t imagine ever being able to explain some great conundrum with it, or use it to stay safe while swimming in the Indian Ocean or anything, but it’s fun, isn’t it? You can read more about them – including why they do it – if you like6.

Not that we spend all day looking things up – that would be cheating – and we don’t fret if we don’t have an Interesting Fact to impart, but we have both begun to save these little titbits of information, and there’s one problem with that. You see, since we are both now on the wrong side of sixty, the old memory doesn’t work quite so well as it did and often, by the end of the day, we’ve forgotten what we were going to say – which can be quite amusing!

We’ve often pondered on those people we see who walk along with someone – maybe a husband, wife, partner, or friend – and they are silent. Not talking, not smiling, not even bickering, but totally silent. They usually look morose, and often pass a smiling stranger without a flicker, and we’ve always said we don’t want to get like that. Do you want to get like that? Have you?

If you have, you could do worse than to start the ball rolling with an Interesting Fact of the Day!

1 – Usually a hot drink for me and a glass of rum or whiskey for OH. No – the wine is for dinner!

2F.lux

3“Shrinks Breaks Silence” – New York Times

4No books in 1 in 10 households

5“The Great Alcohol Myth” – The Guardian

6Boxer Crabs and sea anenomes

It’s A Greyhound Thing …

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It is, it really is. Greyhound owners are known for it. You think it won’t happen to you, but … yep. We end up talking about poop. Shh! It happens.

You see, greyhounds are a breed which can have delicate digestive systems. To be fair, there are many greyhounds out there who’ve got a cast iron gut (like Sid), but for the rest, we worry over what might loosely be called ‘output’ – or as OH calls it, ‘product’ – and sadly, the word ‘loosely’ is all too apt at times. For example, when you first adopt a greyhound, you may notice that all is not well in the product department because the stress of leaving the kennels and adapting to home life can cause what is known in some circles as ‘pudding poop’. Pudding poop is somewhat less than pick-up-able. But not to worry, because it settles down fairly quickly once your dog has settled in and you’ve found the diet that works for him1 and stopped trying to feed him too many treats.

There are times, however, during any dog’s life, when he finds himself under the weather and the digestive system can give you clues as to what is going on. So the dedicated owner will Pay Attention to the Output of their Sick Pooch. Because when you get to the vet, Questions will be Asked, and you’d better have an answer or there will be the tiniest hint of an un-heaved sigh in the air while the vet silently wonders why nobody pays attention to these things.

So anyway, on this occasion, it was Jeffie whose product was being noted, because Jeffie wasn’t doing too well. He was not eating properly, he wasn’t drinking much, and he seemed more tired than he should, even for a twelve-year old greyhound with degenerative myelopathy and Dogzheimer’s2.

We often get separated a little bit on our walks because one dog will hang back, or want to go on ahead. You know how they are, and I had stopped to pick up after Sid, and when I caught up, OH was just tying his little green bag having done the same for Jeffie.

OH (discreetly jiggling the bag in my direction): ‘This is very odd!’

Me: ‘Is it orange?’

OH: ‘Yes! Well, part of it is … How did you know?’

Me: ‘Because Sid’s is the same. It’s the food they had for breakfast’.

OH: ‘What did they have?’

Me: ‘Wainwrights tray food. It has a lot of veggies in it’.

OH: ‘Wainwrights .. oh, yes. That’s the one in the orange box. Well, there you go, then.’

There was a pause. And then:

OH: ‘We should get the one in the blue box next time, and see what happens!’

It took me a while before I got it and then the old mind kind of boggled a bit.

Although I have heard stories3….

1 Which usually isn’t the one the kennel told you he was being fed with absolutely no problems.

2 Since writing this (I’ve been busy, OK?) Jeffie has been to the vet and had a thorough examination. He is now on a short course of antibiotics and is looking a lot better. He has his mojo back! Yay!

3 They mostly involve stolen sweets swallowed complete with their wrappers, or Christmas tinsel, but sometime other, more unsuitable things. The funniest of which is always pieces of brightly-coloured, chewed up greyhound basket muzzle, placed on the dog to (yes, you guessed it) stop them chewing things.

Playing With Words

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We really thought we were going to lose Jeffie last night. He’s an old dog, and he’s old in that way that you see with dogs sometimes1, seeming to be physically older than his years. He’s just so skinny all of a sudden, and looks really quite skeletal. Last night he didn’t eat all of his dinner, refused to get up for his bedtime milk, which is pretty much unheard of, and just looked so … dull. But this morning he seems a lot brighter, ate his breakfast (and some of Sid’s) with enthusiasm, enjoyed his foam bath2 and was eager for his walk.

Possibly this contributed to the frivolity which ensued as we approached our house on the way home.

Me: ‘Oh look, there’s the post lady!’

OH: ‘Yes, she’s late today, isn’t she?’

Me: ‘We may have some post, after all.’

OH: ‘It’ll be a bill. Oh, you might get something else. You’re always getting post … but I suppose I don’t really do post like you do.’

Me: ‘Mmm… It might be my new CD!’

OH: ‘What new CD?’

Me: ‘The Great Nef!’3

OH (Sighing): ‘Haven’t you got enough yet?’

Me: ‘I could be facetious and say ‘You can Neffa have enough!”

OH: ‘Ha! That’s a very good pun.’

*Pause*

OH (Muttering disconsolately) ‘And it should have been mine!

And Jeffie? He seems to be back to his usual self, thank goodness!

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1 And with people , too, for that matter. I could name some names … but I won’t.

2 A while ago the vet gave me (Ha! Gave me and charged me for it .. ) a kind of foam shampoo for dogs called Ermidrá. You squirt foam all over them and rub it well into the coat, then a couple of minutes later, brush it out. Their fur comes up so beautifully shiny and clean, and it keeps Jeffie’s dandruff in check. Both Sid and Jeff really love the massage that comes along with it.

3 ‘The Great Nef’ is what OH calls my new favourite Italian singer. His name is really Giovanni Pellino, but he goes by the stage name of ‘Neffa’. Neffa doesn’t seem to have a translation in Italian, but in English a nef is ‘an elaborate table decoration in the shape of a ship for holding such things as table napkins and condiments’ Somehow I don’t think Sr. Pellino meant that.

If you so wish, you can hear one of my favourite Neffa songs here. It’s about the end of a relationship as far as I can tell, and he goes on and on about how he’s not going to miss her. Uh-uh. Not at all. Yah boo sucks to her, and so on.

Anatomy for Shoppers

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Today we went shopping for a few things in town. We visited the new Waitrose, a huge superstore-type supermarket in all its pristine glory. The following conversation took place on the way home:

OH: ‘Trouble with Waitrose is that they don’t make a granary loaf.1

Me: ‘Are you sure? Have you asked them at the bakery? They may call it something else .. ‘

OH: ‘No, they don’t do one. They do artisan bread, though.’

*Pause*

OH: ‘The French bowel is good.’

Me (a tad startled by the change of subject): ‘The French bowel??’

OH: ‘Yes, you know, it’s sort of round and flat.’

Me: ‘What?’

OH: ‘It’s all soft and spongy when it’s fresh, but the next day it begins to go a little more solid and it really lasts well. You might like it.’

Me: ‘Uh … I might?’

OH: ‘Yes – I think it’s long fermentation. You know, it’s like a big crusty roll, sort of thing.’

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Me: ‘Oh, the French boule! Cos, you know, bowels are sort of round and … uh … long, not round and flat.’

OH: ‘I wouldn’t know.’

Me: ‘You don’t know what shape a bowel is?’

OH: ‘No, and I have no wish to know!’

*Pause*

OH: ‘Anyway, I thought you pronounced it ‘boolay‘.’

Me: ‘No, only if there’s an accent on the end. Otherwise it’s ‘bool‘.’

*Pause*

OH: ‘I knew really, you know. I’m just making fun of the pronunciation.’

*Pause*

OH: ‘Their rustic pains are really good, too.’

Me: ‘That’s rustic ‘pan‘ with a kind of soft ‘n’, not … ‘

I caught sight of a suspicion of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.

Me: ‘Oh, never mind!’

And as usual, laughter ensued, which is good for all that ails you. Bowels or not3.

1 The thing about OH and I is that we have totally different tastes in bread. He likes horrible, squishy, doughy stuff made in the Chorleywood manner, and my digestion won’t cope with it and prefers long-fermentation bread made with a lot less yeast. I also can’t deal with malted flour, which makes me itchy. Granary loaves are full of malted flour so I don’t eat them. OH really likes them .. but not the sort which are like wholemeal bread with a few seeds stuck to the outside. Those aren’t ‘real’ granary bread.

2 What supermarkets call ‘long fermentation’ isn’t really very long at all. Anything over one hour is ‘long fermentation’ to them, but true long fermentation is somewhere around 12 hours and can be even longer. This improves digestibility, and raises the bread’s glycaemic index. All good, huh?

3 OK, I concede that in some specialised cases, laughter might not, in fact, be good for the bowels.

The Cocoa Imperative

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OH and I have a habit of exchanging Interesting Facts of the Day.

I suppose it started when we first each had our own laptop, and would sit and read about news, current affairs, scientific breakthroughs, trivia etc in our own little info-tech bubbles. Neither of us is really the silent sort though, and now and then we break out with the need to impart information and beat it to death.

One day recently, OH picked up his laptop, heaved himself out of his comfy chair and brought it to me1.

‘Here, read this,’ he said. ‘This will interest you.’

I took the laptop from him and read an article about how cocoa improves memory in 50-60 year olds and returns their memory to that of 30-40 year olds. Wow.

Me: ‘Wow. That’s great, isn’t it?’

OH: ‘But it has to be cocoa …’

Me: ‘Yes, I imagine that it’s the Dutching process that destroys the flavonols in chocolate.’

OH: ‘What? What’s Dutching?’

Me: ‘Dutching … it’s done with most chocolate to remove the bitterness. The good, dark chocolate is probably OK. People expect that to be bitter.’

OH: ‘Oh, right.’

*Pause*

OH: ‘Have I ever had cocoa?’

Me: ‘What? Yes!’

OH: ‘Have I?’

Me: ‘Yes! I used to make it quite regularly at one time. You have to make it with milk. You don’t remember that?’

OH (in an interested tone): ‘No, I don’t… did you?’

Me: ‘Yes!’

*Pause*

OH: ‘But you have to drink 800ml a day. That’s a lot of cocoa. Almost a litre!’

Me: ‘It is. Although you could make it stronger, and drink less.’

OH: ‘Can you make it stronger?’

Me: ‘Of course you can. You just put more cocoa in it. So, not drinking chocolate, then. You’d have to drink even more of that. It’s so sugary you couldn’t possibly make it strong enough.’

OH: ‘Do you have to make it with milk?’

Me: ‘I think so. I suppose that’s why people use the instant hot chocolate. It’s easier.’

*Pause*

Me: ‘We’d better start drinking cocoa again.’

OH: ‘I’ve had cocoa?’

Me (eyeing him dubiously) ‘We’d definitely better start drinking cocoa again!’

OH: ‘Why do we need to start drinking cocoa?’

I looked at him over my glasses. He was pretty deadpan but there was a suspicious twitch around the corners of his mouth.

Me: ‘OK. I’m going to see if I can make it in the microwave.’

And so I did, but it turns out much better if you do it the traditional way with a milk pan. I also set about improving it slightly. Making it more like the rather wonderful Italian hot chocolate we’ve had when we’ve been in Italy2.

What I do now, is this: I heat the milk in a pan. While it’s heating, I melt a couple of squares of solid, 100% cocoa in little pot in the microwave, and mix a heaped teaspoon of cornflour, a couple of teaspoons of Green & Blacks organic cocoa and a little cold milk in a cup. When the solid cocoa is melted, I stir it into the pan, then slowly add the cornflour/cocoa/milk mixture and whisk it till it’s smooth.

It takes a little bit of care or you’ll end up with lumpy cocoa, which while still tasty3 is less than perfect as a hot drink.

Trouble is, we keep forgetting to make the cocoa.

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1 The laptop, not the chair. Don’t be silly
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2 We also found it in that rather lovely little Italian bar ‘Milano’ in Stamford, Lincs.

3 You can, after all, eat the lumps, and the memory-improving qualities of the cocoa will be unimpaired.

A Conversation with OH

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We were going upstairs.

I was ahead of OH, but we were both struggling with fatigue after a long day doing not very much at all1

Me: ‘Aaaaagghhh! I’m sure there are five more stairs here today. Who’s been adding steps to our staircase?’

OH: ‘I dunno!’

We made it to the top and he paused.

OH: ‘Can you count?’

Me: ‘You want me to count? Why? What do you want me to count?’

OH: ‘Oh, nothing … I just wondered, because I’m sure it was more than five!’

We are in our early sixties. I’m sure we shouldn’t be feeling like this all the time. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been ill for so long, on and off, with this fluey bug thing we picked up back in November? And I do know that interrupted sleep can really do a number on you, and we both wake far too many times in the night …

I know early sixties isn’t old, as such, but we feel it. OH has various disorders, including Type 2 diabetes (though he doesn’t really accept that he’s any more than ‘borderline’) and now has a trapped nerve in his shoulder which is causing his hand to go numb, which means he drops things. I have various disorders, including fibromyalgia, and a cough which has persisted for months. Neither of us has any energy. So we are off to another round of ‘further investigations'; he for physio and an appointment with a orthopaedic consultant, and I for a chest x-ray (for starters). Oh, deep joy.

We know people of around our own age – and some older than us – who do exciting things like cycling around Peru, or climbing mountains, etc. And we want to know how they do it! To me, these days, cooking dinner is an achievement, and I have a huge dog bed in the bath which is waiting to be rinsed because I got halfway through washing it and my neck and shoulders seized up.

Is this the Winter Blues, do you think? I mean, we both did quite a lot of walking – stairs and everything – when we were in Italy last year, and an envelope through the door yesterday reminded me of a day-long dog show trade stand I usually manage to pull off (with help from OH, of course), and which they’d like me to do again this year. Anyway, I don’t feel depressed. Just old and creaky.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to ask when was the last time I used that treadmill, aren’t you? And I’m going to say ‘I can’t remember, but at the moment it’s covered in boxes which I tossed up there when I was tidying up for Christmas’ and then you’re going to say ‘Well, there you are, then!’ in that way that people do, and you’d be right. So let’s take that as read.

Tomorrow morning, I promise. I will at least get those boxes sorted and dust it off, okay?

And then, we’ll see…

1 But which felt like a long day doing a heck of a lot of things on account of the fact that we’ve both been unwell for so long. We’d walked the dogs and been shopping, and made cups of tea, stuff like that.

Vandalism in the Churchyard

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I live in a large-ish village just outside a small city somewhere towards the east of England.  To protect the guilty, let’s call it the village of Glimmer1.  It has the usual features of village life; a pub, a village hall, a Post Office (now complete with a small supermarket), three small housing estates, two schools, a manor house, a playing field, and – of course – a church.  The church has a little churchyard surrounded by a stone wall, and filled with graves and trees and stone angels and so on.

When we walked our two dogs this morning, we noticed some Unusual Activity in the churchyard.  It turned out to be tree felling.  Some safety-helmeted men were blithely chopping down a small row of yews.

I handed Sid’s leash to OH and stomped across the road to find out what the heck they were doing and why.

Me:  ‘What are you DOING??’

1st Man: ‘Cutting down these trees!’

Me: ‘But why?”

1st Man: ‘Give you a better view of the church’

2nd Man: ‘It’ll be looovely!’

Me: ‘It’s vandalism!  Who decided to do that?’

1st Man: ‘The Parish Council … ‘

2nd Man: ‘… and the Church …’

1st Man: ‘.. and me.’

Me: ‘But they’re yews.  This is a churchyard.  You can’t cut … it’s … they’re meant to be here!’

1st Man (with an air of playing the trump): ‘But they’re not Historic‘.

Me: ‘They will be, if you leave them long enough!’

1st Man: ‘They’re damaging the wall!’

I looked at the wall.  It looked fine.  Totally undamaged, from where I stood.

1st Man: ‘And the gravestones!’

I looked over the wall.  I could see some fairly undamaged-looking gravestones about a metre away from the base of one of the trees.  Undamaged, considering their age, that is.

1st Man (tugging feebly at some ivy): ‘Look! We’ve found some gravestones, hidden away in here!’

Me: ‘Well, finding gravestones has some value, to a genealogist, I have to admit.  But it’s still vandalism.’

1st Man (firmly): They found a photograph.  There were soldiers walking past – WW1 soldiers – and the trees were not there then!’

Me (believing that if you give a man enough silence he’ll feel obliged to fill it):  ‘…?’

1st Man (falling neatly into my trap): There was just a hedge.  A yew hedge.  It went all along here.’

Me: ‘And are they going to replace the hedge?  The Historic hedge?’

1st Man: ‘ Uh … ‘

2nd Man: ‘ … No’.

1st Man: ‘But these trees .. these trees are not Historic.  They weren’t in the photo!’

Me: ‘By that logic, neither are the forest of signs up the school road’.

1st Man (and I kid you not): ‘Yeah, but you need a different kind of saw for that’.

So, we are going to be left with a bald churchyard so that people can see the church from the west. This ignores the fact that there are trees on the village green, which is just to the west of the church. You’d have to be practically leaning on the wall to get a view of the church from that side for half the year.  There are still yews on the other side, too, obscuring the view from the east.  These guys had no instructions about those yews, so those yews are going to be allowed to live… for now.

We – the villagers – were naturally not consulted.

English Churchyards traditionally have yews, and they have become havens for wildlife,   partly because they have yews.  Well-maintained yews are amazingly good at both sheltering and feeding wildlife – the pulp of the yew fruit being the only non-poisonous part of the tree.  Birds eat those and poop out the toxic seeds.  Mice nibble at them and leave the seeds.  Foxes, snakes and raptors come after the mice and small birds.  Hedgehogs probably find the thick, dark leafy bases very cosy places in winter – especially if the tree is close to a wall. And in spring, birds nest in them.

But our churchyard has to be ‘tidied’ and ‘cleaned’ to conform to a photograph someone found and thought it would be nice to recreate in the name of ‘remembrance’. Well, colour me pissed.

OH said later that he thought we ought to start a rumour.  He said we should tell the two most noted gossips in the village (who shall be nameless) that we’d found evidence that those trees had been planted as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War.  And we spent a few minutes happily wondering what kind of furore that would cause … until I pointed out that if they’d been planted as a memorial, there would surely be an entry in the Parish Records to that effect.

We wouldn’t have done it anyway of course, but, as they say, ‘it’s better to light a candle than to sit in the darkness and weep’.

Or was that ‘it’s better to light a fire under someone’s backside than suffer in silence’?
 
 
1 Which is not its real name.

It’s never dull with OH

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We are both still suffering with this Hideous Virus, so we are languishing at home, apart from the odd shopping trip and unavoidable outings like walking the dogs and so on.  You’d think, perhaps, that conversation would flag.  You’d be wrong.

Coming out of Morriways the other day with a laden trolley, OH pushing for a change, the following took place:

Me (rushing forward a few paces, but a little too late to stop a large pack of Cushelle plummeting to the ground): ‘Aargh!  Wait, wait!’

OH (looking at me sternly as if it were my fault): ‘Those toilet rolls are Errant!’

Me: Ahahahahahahahahahaha!’

OH: What?

Me:  Errant!  Errant toilet rolls!’

OH: Well … well … well, it’s a good word!  That’s twice they’ve tried to throw themselves off the trolley!’

And it’s true. There are some things that, no matter how carefully you balance them atop your carefully stacked trolley, will always unbalance themselves and try to get lost, or trip someone up.  I wondered briefly what would happen if I took them back inside and tried to exchange them for a better-behaved pack, citing OH’s complaint about their willful nature.  I decided against it on the basis that we’ll probably want to shop there again in the not-too-distant future.

We got them home without further mishaps and I’ve shut them in the spare room, but a part of me still wonders if, next time I look, they’ll have climbed the bookshelf or be found nestling cosily among the empty cardboard boxes and padded envelopes in the ‘Might Come In Handy To Post Things In’ pile.  Or perhaps I’ll meet them halfway down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Maybe that’s why public toilets have theirs locked into special toilet roll prisons and attached securely to the walls.  They’re fed up with the damn things throwing themselves to the floor and going off for a wander.