Friday, 29 April 2016

Poultry


If you’ve never had a close encounter with a chicken, you’ll find it hard to believe how such a profoundly stupid creature could have survived the evolutionary process. 

My grandfather kept them in his garden, just down the road from my first home in a sedate suburb of Bournemouth, but I can’t honestly admit to having been particularly aware of them; I think they were probably discreetly disposed of by the time I was about nine.  But before that, he must have gone through the learning process I’ve recently embarked on.  Even grandfathers started out as babies, after all.

I’m learning fast, though, and I’m approaching some preliminary judgements about these curious beasts.

For a start, the cocks behave for all the world as if they were immortal, each of them certain in his own superiority to all other cocks, and prepared to fight to the death to prove it.

Secondly, the hens are determined to put themselves in danger.  All right, it’s nice to peck around in a great big grassy open space, but haven’t millennia of evolution taught you about predators yet?  Come home at night, idiots!

And thirdly, they’re all impossibly perverse.  Why, when a clearly superior being like me tries to help guide them in a sensible direction, do they persist in doing the opposite?  I try to chase them away from me, they run towards me; try to cajole them, they recoil.  It’s almost as if they think they know better – or would be, except that implies a thought process.

In a word – teenagers.

 

 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Animal Crackers


Until recently I hadn’t spent all that much of my life around animals.  My parents had two cats, consecutively – Scrap, who was a black adopted stray, evidently much loved, and Sandy.  Scrap died when I was about four, so my memories of him are almost entirely vicarious; and Sandy was a fat ginger neutered tom for whom I can’t remember ever feeling a scrap of affection.  (It was reciprocal, I’m sure.)  Then there were two dogs, again consecutive, both called Trixie, both Pembrokeshire corgis.  Trixie I died after only a few months in the family, and was immediately replaced by Trixie II.  I’d guess this was around 1953, when corgis had suddenly become quite fashionable.  I had to take this dog for walks, which worried me.  My fears were justified, because on one occasion a local male mongrel took advantage on my watch, fortunately without outcome.  I think Trixie II was ‘done’ shortly after this incident, thus becoming as fat and lethargic as Sandy the cat. 

Much later, I had two German shepherds, or Alsatians as the British public were trained to call them during WWII.  Again, these were consecutive.  The first was too friendly for his own good, wanting to socialise boisterously with every dog or human he encountered, which didn’t always work the other way.  He died of a mysterious virus at about two years, and was replaced with his temperamental opposite, a shy, nervous creature who was hard to get to know.  I loved him, but he scared me – not for myself, but for other people.  He was lucky to get away with some transgressions.

So my early experience of  animals wasn’t particularly special.  Recently, though, all that has changed, so over the next few posts I’ll tell you about some of my new friends, acquaintances and, dare I say, potential adversaries.

To kick off  with, then, cattle.  Or bullocks, to be exact – although I’m told that one of the seven is in fact still a bull: I haven’t attempted to verify this yet. As readers of Z's blog will know well, they visit the meadow every summer.   They’re placid creatures, but naturally inquisitive, and they don’t play to human rules, as I found when I incautiously went too close to one, just trying to be friendly, and he decided that my jacket looked like a tasty morsel.

They’re not stupid, though.  The other day, we found that they’d managed to remove the galvanised cover on the header tank of their water trough and hide it somewhere in the field.  This was the first move in a cunning plan.  They then unscrewed the ball from the ballcock, thereby causing the tank to overflow onto the surrounding ground and form a nice muddy lake, from which they were able to drink without having to raise their heads from their other important business, eating grass.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

In which I celebrate A Memorable Lunch


We needed to use up an hour before the clarinet-repair shop woke up from its lunch break, so decided to have lunch ourselves, fetching up at a reasonable-looking pub a few miles outside Norwich.  They had a lunchtime sandwich menu, and I selected (I quote from memory) locally cured honey-roast ham, Dijon mustard and tomato on granary bread, with salad garnish and chips.

What eventually arrived, served by the charming and extremely efficient but overloaded barmaid (who was the only person on public duty, the other member of the bar staff having called in sick and the management clearly not having come across the concept of ‘cover’) consisted of two inch-thick hunks of (admittedly fairly decent) bread, enclosing a single wafer-thin slice of fairly ordinary ham (sourced, I suspect, from the Tesco Express just down the road), a scraping of English mustard and two slices of tomato (probably Dutch to judge by the flavour, if that’s the right word), accompanied by a handful of lamb’s lettuce, one leaf of what might once have been rabbit’s lettuce, two more slices of the same tomato, and exactly three – I counted them - potato crisps.

I mean, really!  There ought to be an EU regulation about that sort of thing, oughtn’t there?

To be fair, the beer was nice.  So were the napkins.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Caravan diaries 2016 #1

The journey down was longer than it should have been, partly due to an entirely inexplicable traffic jam between junctions 16 and 17 of the M4.  The warning signs were lit up right from Reading (junction 12), a good 35 miles earlier.  Sure enough, as soon as we passed Swindon, we slowed down to a near standstill as the signs got more and more alarming.  It took about half an hour to get to about junction 17, when the traffic miraculously cleared and we were back to our normal speed – there was no sign of what had caused the tailback, and I ranted yet again along the lines of “it’s the bleedin’ warning signs that cause it, rant rant rant”.

The caravan had once again survived what was actually a fairly hard winter for Pembrokeshire; in other words, it hadn’t rolled down the hill into the sea, and was only partially covered in green gunge, which will have to be washed off next time – I couldn’t be bothered to do more than the glass door this visit, on the basis that that particular patch of gunge was visible from the inside, and that it was more important to show Z the ropes, and the view.

The other good news is that the lawnmower fairy had called and cut all the grass, even the bits that are usually left for me to delight in.  I can only wax optimistic – has this become a new site policy?  Or a gentle hint about general tidiness expectations?  Time will tell.

On Saturday we went and shopped in Narberth (or Arberth as it’s named in Welsh; couldn’t they agree on at least that minor international difference?  Evidently not.)  It’s still a delightful town, surprisingly thriving for what likes to see itself as a depressed, deprived area.  Staycationing might have had an impact, of course.  Good to see that the best butcher, Andrew Rees, is still vigorously trading, selling local wet fish as well – we bought a turbot, not a beast you see often in the shops these days.  And a local genuinely free range chicken, which we’ve only just consumed the last of, four good meals’ worth.  And the slightly quirky greengrocers’ (or greengrocer’s) cum deli had very new Pembrokeshire new potatoes – easily the match of Jersey Royals, especially for not having been over-marketed and so over-cultivated.  This shop is called Wisebuys, which of course years ago got renamed Wise Boys.

On Sunday the east wind did blow.  The caravan site, unusually for the Welsh coast, faces east (which confused Z slightly until I explained the shape of Carmarthen Bay, without even having to resort to a map – she’s very quick on the uptake…), and when there’s a good blast from that quarter we feel it.  The caravan trembles and strains at its anchors, making for mild excitement and pretend trepidation, always good fun.  And the sea, of course, was churned up beautifully, as these pics show. 





We weren’t as brave as those folks, and didn’t venture onto the beach.  Next time.  Z tells me she loves rock pools, so she has a treat in store, as do I – this particular chunk of my childhood is indelible, but does benefit from the occasional refresh.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Ou sont les pois-nieges d’antan?

Yesterday I decided to show off by cooking my legendary prawn stir-fry with noodles.  It needs green peppers and, ideally, pak choi; but pak choi was an ask too far for Yagnub Co-op, so we settled for mange-tout, or snow peas as they’re sometimes called, and I lobbed a pack into the trolley.  Come evening, they were nowhere to be found.  A certain amount of historical reconstruction, including inspection of the Co-op till receipt,  proved that they had indeed not been purchased.

I’m making a habit of thieving from supermarkets.  Only last year, as (the) dedicated reader(s) of this blog will recall, I nicked a tube of Polos from Waitrose.  So I felt suitably guilty as well as perplexed, and tried to work out what had happened, or not happened.

The best conclusion is that the pack of snow peas had accidentally spilled over the barricade into the next customer’s shopping.  I do hope they were as perplexed as I’d been, and I rather hope they decided to keep them and incorporate them into a delicious prawn stir-fry with noodles, unlikely though that is.  One can always dream.


The main rationale for this post is, of course, its title.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Laws of Sudoku


I was seduced into these puzzles a few months ago, and now I divide my meagre residual leisure time between them and crosswords, which makes me an expert.  I’m sure that no-one who reads this blog is unfamiliar with Sudoku, so I won’t patronise you by spelling out the basic concept or the fundamental techniques.  I can, however, share with you a few tips I’ve registered during my (ahem) several hours’ in-depth experience:

  1. When all the obvious and less obvious connections have been detected, stare at it for at least twenty-five minutes.  Then do the quick crossword.  Then stare some more.  Then go and get a drink.
  2. The drink will have the immediate effect of revealing the bleedingly obvious link your eyes had meticulously swerved around throughout the pre-drink epoch.  Also the fact that you had written ‘4’ twice in the same nine-by-nine box.
  3. I always print it out from the Garduain website, for two reasons: a) there’s just about room on an A4 for the demented aides memoires I need as a memory surrogate; and b) erasers don’t work more than twice on newsprint.  (Actually, my confidence levels have risen to the point where I can start with ink rather than pencil, safe in the knowledge that I can always screw it up, screw it up, and print it again.  It’s surprising how differently take 2 can turn out.) 
  4. When the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains must be, er, equally impossible.  Guesswork should not be resorted to – but occasionally pays off.  Only today, I had to downgrade a ‘hard’ Guranaid Sudoku from ‘impossible’ back to merely ‘hard’ as a result of an inspired guess, which turned out to be wrong but unveiled the (rather subtle) right approach.
  5. As an alternative to breaking down into uncontrollable metaphorical sobs, if it’s at all feasible, ask Z.  This never fails.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Five* Have Fun At The Dentist


*That being approximately the number of nearly intact molars I seem to have left in my mouth, not counting caps.

Ray, my dentist of thirty-odd years, retired at the end of last year, shortly after I’d made my appointment for yesterday’s check-up.  (I’d like to think this was a coincidence.)  So I was a bit nervous when I turned up ten minutes early.  Usually I grit my teeth and let them do the necessary, but a new, unknown dentist is bound to be a challenge.  The fact that the surgery didn’t open for another ten minutes didn’t help either.

I needn’t have worried.  He was charmingly camp, in an eastern European way.  The first thing he said was ‘I won’t ask you how you are, you’re well enough to get here and I’m not a doctor.  So, how are the teeth?’

I told him.  Unlike doctors, dentists can’t be lied to.  The next thing he did, after counting them and explaining very objectively the condition of the five worthy of mention, was ask me if I had time for him to repair the two most urgent.  The other three, he explained, could wait.  I asked how much time.

‘Depends whether you want anaesthetic,’ he replied.  ‘That takes a bit longer, obviously.’

By now I’d got the hang of this guy’s drill-side manner, so I swiftly decided to be equally honest with him.  ‘I’ll take the chance, but if I can’t bear it I’ll let you know.’  He smiled behind his mask.  ‘Shouldn’t be too bad.’

It wasn’t.  A few minutes in, he asked if I was okay: ‘don’t lie to me, now.’  And towards the end, ‘are you still with me?’  When he’d finished practically rebuilding the tooth that, it seemed, had been about to fall to pieces without my noticing, he filed a bit off a back one which had been nagging at my tongue.  The entire process took about half an hour, and was miraculously painless.  I cannot praise this man’s skill highly enough.  Or his entertainment value.    

And the whole performance (for that was what it was) cost me just £51.30.  I couldn’t help wondering what the one pound thirty covered, but thought it best not to ask.