On disappointment and optimism

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Spring, it appears, is springing rather early this year. I’ve had daffodils and bowls of hyacinths in the house for a couple of weeks, and violets from the garden joined them a week ago1. But I’m a tad disappointed because people on the insect groups have been reporting bee sightings for a couple of weeks, too, and I have seen not one.

True, there was a bee-fly last week, which nearly flew into me (daft thing was not properly awake, I fear) but I couldn’t photograph it to ID it properly because a) I had no camera with me and b) I had a grand-twin by the hand and we were about to cross a road.   So that was a tiny bit disappointing, though it was lovely to see.

However, a couple of days ago, OH and I decided to take Sid to a local nature reserve called Cuckoo’s Hollow, which is small, quite ‘managed’2 and has paved paths for mobility challenged dogs, people in wheelchairs, cyclists, and spouses who do not wish to get their feet muddy.

This was a Bad Decision, because Cuckoo’s Hollow is in the process of being … um … managed.

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Not exactly a beauty spot, is it?

There is a project underway to dredge silt from the lake, which has apparently become more and more silted up over the years, with reeds encroaching into the open water.  It has to be done because the nature reserve is part of the plan to reduce flood risk for the housing area which surrounds it, and I can’t argue with that.  However, they are also digging some of the reed beds out by the roots and they are removing tons of silt which they are dumping here, on the bank.

Now, the reed beds are home to swans, moorhens, coots and ducks and possibly the endangered and protected water vole3.   And I am concerned about the fact that they are removing the reeds from their favourite side of the lake, and they are doing it now, when the birds are beginning to court and think about raising their families.  It was supposed to be done ‘during the month of February’ to avoid disturbing nesting birds, but the work doesn’t look to be half-way finished to me, and as I said, spring is coming early.

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But do you know what the daftest thing is?  This reserve is basically a lake, fed by a brook, with a lot of plain old ordinary grass and some belts of trees.  There was one relatively small area bordering the lake where a good mix of wildflowers grew: geraniums (blue) and cranesbills (pink), big ox-eye daisies, hawkweeds, foamy white cow’s parsley and other umbellifers, ground ivy, speedwell, thistles and knapweeds, etc.  Bees, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles loved them, and so did I.  And yes, I said ‘grew’, because that sea of mud up there is exactly where they used to be.

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They will have seeded, of course, and some will have very stubborn roots, capable of regeneration, but …

This area is also where they plan to dump the silt they’ve dredged out of the lake to leave it to dry, when it will be harrowed and planted with grass.  The silt – I am reliably informed – will be too rich in nutrients for many wildflowers and it could be that grass is the only thing which will grow there.  And not only that, the silt is where many hoverfly, dragonfly and damselfly larvae are overwintering, ready to emerge4 in the mid-to-late spring and early summer.

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The above pictures of insects in this blog were taken on this little wildflower patch last year.  I doubt there’ll be any new ones this coming summer.  The first is of Oedemera nobilis, a flower beetle.  The second, Bombus vestalis and an Apis mellifera (honeybee) foraging for nectar in  the thistles. The third is Osmia caerulescens, a solitary bee, approaching a white clover flower.

This all sounds more disappointing than optimistic, doesn’t it? But nature can surprise us with unexpected regenerative powers, so I’m hopeful that all is not lost.  Maybe not this year, but perhaps the year after we will see some beautiful wildflowers and insect activity at Cuckoo’s Hollow?  And I found my first hoverfly of the year today!  I present to you, Eristalis tenax, feeding on dandelion.

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1 I planted a TON of spring bulbs last autumn.  I have a lot of crocuses, snowdrops and little daffodils!  Yay me!  However, the 150 snakeshead fritillaries which I planted have not deigned to show their pretty little heads so far, and of the 50 or so hyacinths I put in, only those I planted in pots have surfaced.  I think the mice eat them.

2 ‘Managed’ means that the grass is mown, the trees are coppiced and things like dredging the lake are done.  I know, reserves have to be managed.  Some are more managed than others.

3  They did not wait for the survey to be done before they began work on the grounds that there are wooden supports for the bank under water and they ‘did not think the voles would be able to nest there’.  Seeing as the biggest population of water voles in the UK is at the moment living happily on a deprived housing estate in Glasgow, two miles from the nearest water and under decomposing mattresses, I’d respectfully suggest that they are more adaptable than our local environment chappies think!

4 Or not, as the case may be.

So it’s 2016, is it?

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What do you mean, it’s been 2016 for several weeks?  But I’m sure it was Christmas only a couple of days ago!!

Don’t worry. I haven’t really lost my marbles.  The Christmas decorations have been packed away in their boxes and returned to the loft, but it seems that it’s only in the last week that I’ve had a kind of breathing space from being really busy and/or unwell.  You see, it was in the run-up to Christmas that my stupid old neck1 started giving me trouble again and though I did go to the chiropractor, I ended up with visual problems which took me to the hospital A&E because I feared it was a detached retina, and then on to an opthalmologist who said it wasn’t, and to my doctor who said it was a migraine-type disturbance almost certainly due to my neck problems and I should ‘learn to know my limits’.  It lasted a week or so before slowly settling down and then I caught flu.

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Yep, I know, most people who say they have flu only really have a bad cold, but this laid me up for two or three weeks and I was still coughing badly for another week.  Well, that was before Christmas and I still cough now and then.  It seems to have triggered a kind of vicious circle with my asthma, but it is improving, I’m happy to say.

Anyway, this is not going to be a post all about my boring health2.

I’ve decided that I’d like to get back to blogging again and so I’m setting myself the task of writing more consistently with a view to getting a blog book done at the end of the year. It’ll be a bit more like a diary of my life, though still written in the same style as I’ve always done: some factual stuff, some righteous anger, some gentle wit perhaps, and a lot of guff3.   What triggered this decision?  Because after a longish break, I’m back doing the family genealogy again and one of the things which has kept me so busy was a book which I’ve just made using Photobox.  You don’t see the connection, do you?  But if you stick with this, you will.

In case you don’t know, Photobox is a website which helps you to make all kinds of stuff using your own photographs.  I’m really only interested in the photo books, because they’re really versatile and well-suited to making really quite neat and tidy records of all those bits of family history that I have knocking around.  I’ve now made several books: I did one of the family photo albums which my father made when I was a child, I made one each of my two sons’ childhood drawings, and now I’ve made a ‘scrapbook’ of my mother’s life.

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When Mum died in 2011, my brother and I cleared her bungalow, which was packed to the gills with all kinds of stuff she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) throw out. There were bags and bags full of old magazines, catalogues, pamphlets, scraps of paper, greetings cards, letters, bills – you name it – all mixed up together.  There was a whole ottoman full of knitting wool and there were scores of knitting and sewing patterns. There were example of some in those being worn in the old family albums, dating back to the 1960s, that’s how old they were.  Ornaments, clothes, trinkets, gadgets, umpteen pairs of scissors and trays of ancient cutlery, hundreds of (by then) dead houseplants and empty pots and vases.  Single gloves waiting in vain for their partners.  Half empty bottles of alcohol dating back to the year dot.  I can’t tell you how much stuff we found.  It was bloody hard deciding what to bring home4, and it has taken an absolute age to sort through it, but I’ve done it.

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One reason that making the book was so difficult was that, before the migraine and then the flu hit me, I’d bought a 100-page photobook credit with Photobox5 and I had to use it before the end of December.  Since I was only just fit enough to stand in the kitchen and cook the Christmas dinner when it came to it, it was a close-run thing, I can tell you!  I had hundreds of photos and papers to scan and resize and upload, and I also spent some time searching through dust-laden boxes for bits and pieces which I knew I had somewhere, and wanted for the book.  Did I tell you I was still coughing?  Maybe all that dust didn’t  help.

I’ve decided to do another book for my Dad’s life, and I’m also collecting stuff for an eventual book for my own.  I have no idea when I’m going to fit our own family photo albums in!

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Ah, well. It’s all good fun, isn’t it?  One must have one’s hobbies, or one really would go nuts.

1 And I do mean ‘old’.  I got my first senior discount yesterday.  It was a peculiar mixture of a ‘Wow, excellent!’ moment and mild depression.  But anyway, the neck was damaged decades ago carrying No. 1 son on my shoulders, and doesn’t get any better with age.

2 There are quite a few, from myxoedema to fibromyalgia and including things like torn rotator cuffs, sprained ankles, asthma, TMJ, allergies, the neck, and … well, it’s all just boring.

3 Guff = nonsense, rubbish, drivel, waffle or empty talk.  In Norfolk dialect, it would be called ‘squit’, apparently!

4 Not the alcohol, no.  That was an easy decision; we poured it down the loo.

5 The way Photobox works is that you choose what you want to make and buy a credit for it.  You then have a certain amount of time in which to complete your project or you lose your money – which is a bit crap, but that’s the way it goes.  I only buy credits when there’s a special offer, and I pay a little bit extra to get three months to create it instead of the usual one, but when you have a 100-page book to do and no scans done, it’s still a bit tight.

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

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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.

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.

March Winds And April Showers

Violets-Mar2015Web

Last night, we watched the weather forecast and OH said ‘Good heavens! Look at that wind!!1‘ Tightly packed little arrows were sleeting viciously right across the UK chart and swirling across to Europe where presumably they intended to upset a whole lot more people.

And then, not being someone to whom the weather matters hugely, I forgot about it until this morning, when I woke to the merry sound of those little arrows, sleeting away like mad and producing all kinds of vicious windy noises, and incidentally bringing buckets of rain along with them which they were dropping carelessly all over the place.

The dogs didn’t get walked very early. That was just as well, because Sid got up around eight-thirty and pootled into the lounge to sink gratefully into his favourite bed, and Jeffie didn’t put in an appearance until nearly ten – only to do the same thing. I didn’t even have time to take his pyjamas off before he was asleep again by the radiator as if he’d been there all night.

JeffiePyjamas-Mar30-Web

Around 11.30am the rain stopped and the sun came out2. We quickly hustled the dogs to the door, where I put their collars and leads on, and a raincoat on over Jeffie’s pyjamas, and we took them for a very quick walk.

On the way back, OH said:

‘Is that a helicopter? I would have thought it was too dangerous to fly in this wind!’

I listened carefully, and couldn’t hear one. Then a car came out of the village towards us going ‘thrumthrumthrumthrumthrum’ and I turned to him and said:

‘No, not a helicopter. It’s the wind. It’s gusting so hard it’s snatching the sound away.

Not sure I’ve heard that happen before.

For the rest of the day, the dogs stayed close to the radiators, curled up in their beds. It’s true that Jeffie came and poked his nose outside once or twice, but when he felt those little arrows tearing around, he poked it right back inside again and went back to bed, sure that his bladder would hold out just a little bit longer 3.

JeffieSidBed-Mar30-Web

At one point, the parasol over the fish pond broke clean in half, despite the fact that I’d ripped gashes in each section to let the wind through, and we had to go out and fight the wind to get it down safely and into the garage where it couldn’t break any windows or cause a traffic accident. OH then drove to the nearest garden centre for pond netting – without which we’d probably have woken up to a complete absence of fish4 – and we struggled and fought to put that over the water.

We walked the dogs during another lull in the rain. I got grit in my eye twice as we passed the place where they’re demolishing a bungalow (who does this kind of thing in a howling gale?) but we stayed dry. On the way back home, OH turned to me.

OH: ‘This is not very lamb-like! You said it would go out like a lamb!’

Me: ‘Well, these Old Wives Tales aren’t exactly 100% accurate, you know.’

OH: ‘But you promised!’

Me: ‘I’m sorry .. but you know, we have a few days yet. Let me see .. yesterday was the 28th, so … Tuesday. We have until Tuesday.’

OH: ‘But this is ferocious! You think this will calm down by Tuesday? We’re supposed to be getting a bad few days, you know!’

Me: ‘Well, you never know, it might! These are definitely March winds. Maybe we’ll get April showers next.’

Fast forward to the evening, when we were watching an hour of television and eating bacon sandwiches. The rain was lashing down so hard it was managing to go horizontal and bouncing off the windows.

OH: ‘That is NOT an April shower’.

Me: ‘No, that is a ‘Flood The Patio’ shower’.

OH: ‘April showers are supposed to come out of a clear blue sky. They are gentle things!’

*Pause*

OH: ‘Delicate.’

We both stared glumly out of the window to where the wind and rain were joining forces in a kind of vendetta against mankind.

OH: ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s what you said.’

Well, all I can say is that March did indeed come in like a lion, but against all the old-wifely rules, it appears to be going out like one, too.

If it goes on like this, the April showers won’t be bringing us flowers to bloom in May, they’ll be beating those shrinking violets to death and shredding the primroses like confetti. But we do have until Tuesday…

1 This is not exactly what he said. He said a Rude Word. I didn’t want to sully your ears.

2 Those bloody little arrows were still at it, though. And there were millions of them.

3 And amazingly, it did. For an old guy with some issues, he did well. That Vivitonin4 is doing a great job!

4 A drug used for Canine Cognitive Disorder, or as we like to call it, ‘Dogszheimer’s’.

5 We live in the fens where the land is flat and criss-crossed by dykes. The dykes have small fish and frogs and toads and small grass snakes and so on that live in them and therefore it is a great place for herons. Unfortunately for those of us with pond fish, in the winter and early spring, the small fish in the dykes are all hard to find and there is a definite dearth of reptiles and amphibians of all kinds, so the herons like to visit us to take advantage of what they probably think of as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

We’d sunk an old, but extremely sturdy garden parasol deep in the earth by the pond to deter the herons, with air vents so it didn’t take off and it’s done well all bloody winter, right up to now.