Monday 31 December 2007

Reality bites

I have done something wild and reckless, spontaneous even – I have changed the batteries in the torch before they actually went dead on me.
As I approach the end of the year - the terminus of my hopes and dreams for 2007, I hold up my hands and say: “It has not been quite what I expected”.
For starters I’m no thinner than I was at the beginning, nor richer nor more famous - though why I wanted that heaven only knows, I think I just got carried away with all my wishes last year.
What has happened though possibly not unexpectedly is that financially we are worse off than we were this time last year, I’d like to blame it on the Chancellor, the Credit Crunch, a whole manner of events and circumstance but the truth is it is profligacy…Or owning a Damoclesian house - you know the sword is going to fall you just don’t know when or where.
Despite raising our mortgage to stratospheric heights this year we seem no further on and now every time I walk through the back door I have to search blindly for the kitchen door before I can shed light on where I have been - quite literally, as we have no electrics in the East Wing any longer. In fact we don’t have any plumbing either nor any plaster on the walls nor paint or carpets - nothing really though my ever optimistic helpmeet just hugs me when he looks at it all on his return home and smilingly says: “Isn't it wonderful!”
I’m not quite sure what he is on but BOY do I wish he’d give some to me. He points out all the beautiful oak and I nod dumbly all the while screaming inside my head: “Yep mate, and I know the cost of every square inch of it: a whopping £10,000! Or to put it nicely one fully fitted and functioning bathroom, 10 radiators – working - and all the light I could possibly want with crystal knobs on!”
Dear Charlie hugs me tighter and sighs contentedly surveying the skeleton of the house in all its architectural glory while I make a mental note to call the Bursar as soon as School opens next week to discuss a more flexible way of meeting my obligations.
For before Christmas I waved good bye to the cleaners, dropped the child minder by a day and would have dropped the Gardener too but luckily he owes us some £500 and since we see him so rarely we will manage to spin out his working for us by a few more months through threats and if necessary the small claims court.
By hook or by crook I’ll hold on to Theresa for life will have to be very bad before I do my own ironing. Admittedly there will be less going to her, though Dear Charlie won’t notice. I’ll keep his shirts in the pile but perhaps the boys and I will have to wear our clothes in a more crumpled style not that they mind. Sheets and pillow cases - well having those done was always a luxury, as were dusters and the like. Luckily it’s winter and I’m in polo necks most of the time and maybe by the summer things will have turned.
In a way I’m looking forward to the challenge of a more austere 2008, it is said to be very fashionable at the moment to be careful, prudent and the like. Not that I follow fashion in any way but one must always look on the bright side!

Wednesday 19 December 2007

A romantic gesture….

Romance after years of living together is a bit like the once dizzying wallpaper you’ve become so used to it you wouldn’t notice if it bit you on the bum.
I forgot this important fact until this weekend when I suddenly realised that my father is possibly one of the most romantic men I have ever known. I don’t think Mum would actually agree on this one as the litany of forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and other such important occasions compounded by the purchase of inappropriate gifts stretches back some forty odd years - each forgotten tribute to be cherished in the annals of family folklore.
It was Sunday and Mum had trotted out to the outhouse to rummage in the depths of the freezer for something suitable for lunch before we wended our way to the pantomime at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond.
I was warming myself nicely on the Aga, the Boy was playing being a witch in the other room and Dad was reading the Sunday papers and for the first time that weekend there was peace - oh for at least five minutes!
It was broken by a heartrending shriek from outside and Mum shot into the house screaming: “Oh! It’s terrible, terrible! There’s a rat outside. I can’t stand rats! They’re horrid things, oooohhhh!”
Of course, instead of comforting Mum as she collapsed onto a chair, we all - from the warmth and relative safety of indoors - peered out the windows to see if we could spot the terror of the outhouse. There was nothing to see.
“Honestly, you lot! It’s gone in between the outhouses among all those tiles you won’t find it now; I hate rats nasty, horrid, dirty things…” she went on for some time along this train of thought and as I listened with half an ear I was taken back in time to a trip we did while based in Brunei.
It was the ascension of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah – you know the thing you do as a happy family holiday at Easter time or as Dad would say a bit of team bonding, a character building pastime for all the family to enjoy.
From this you might be able to surmise that over the years I have a developed somewhat cynical view of my parents’ best efforts to engender the spirit of adventure into me, their eldest daughter.
We set off on a bright warm morning from the tourist camp to climb the last few thousand feet to the top. An exercise that Dad said would take about a day to the summit camp. Once there we would have supper and overnight it before the big push to the top at 5 o’clock in the morning returning for breakfast and our descent.
The hut at the summit camp was fairly basic – but luxurious compared to some of the places we had and were to visit with Dad on our travels. It was a bit like a long low bungalow and had slatted windows, which you could open when it got hot. There were lots of bunks and a rudimentary kitchen. Mum was on cooking duty and we, I think were helping ,I can’t remember exactly. But at some point there was a commotion from the kitchen area. I believe - but will no doubt be put right – that Mum had a problem with pests of the whiskered variety who quite literally sat in a row watching her every culinary move. I can understand that this might be quite unnerving as Mum had not even had the advantage of watching the acclaimed Disney movie Ratatouille, which in itself was not even a sparkle in the producer’s eye – in fact perhaps the producer was not even a sparkle in his own father’s eye – I digress.
Having been subjected to such scrutiny Mum was totally unhinged and such was her fear that she actually pushed me from the top bunk in order to sleep as far away from her tormentors as possible.
I lay in the bottom bunk too close to the floor for comfort and zippered up to my chin in an ex-army sleeping bag. I kept as still as I could in the moonlight in order to listen for the soft pitter patter of claws and the swish of long scaly tail on the floor. But it was not from the floor that they came but from outside, up the drainpipe and along the ridge to the bottom of the window at the foot of the bunks, I saw several of the little blighters scramble up the cantilevered window pains to the top where they were able to push their noses in and slither through to jump the short distance to the foot of the top bunk. Then they scrambled down the bed, dropt softly onto the floor and headed off towards the kitchen in search of food and other edible commodities.
It gave me a feeling of great satisfaction that despite my mother’s best efforts she still had rats crawling all over her that night. I, at the then tender age of 16, felt that I should have been on the top bunk and that her maternal feelings should have outweighed her baser instinct of self-preservation.
A movement in the flowerbeds near the bird feeder caught my eye.
“Dad, it’s there!” I whispered.
“Where?” he said craning his head over mine to get a closer look.
“There in the flower bed going towards the feeder…
The young brown rat lifted its nose and quested with its whiskers. It tensed, listening, then relaxed and started to skitter and jump about which I thought quite cute until I realised it was getting rid of the birds so it could eat the scattered corn on the ground. It looked sort of innocent and almost cuddly and I motioned to Mum to look at it. I could feel her shuddering disgust behind my back. I turned towards Dad but he had vanished.
When I looked for the rat again it was gone as well and I decided to get Mum a coffee to help calm her nerves. She continued to shudder for some time.
A deep-throated retort and we all stopped, frozen, trying to work out what was going on. The Boy rushed in from the other room. “That gave me a fright,” he announced. “But I’m not scared,” he continued as he hugged me round my hips and pressed his head into my body.
I passed him to Mum, who looked a bit bewildered, and started to make my way towards the Hall from where I would be able to go upstairs from whence the noise had emanated.
As I reached the foot of the stairs, Dad swooped down them shotgun in hand. He gave me a triumphant look. “There,” he said grinning, “That’s what you get from sniper training!”
And with that cryptic remark he stalked off outside to retrieve his prize from the flowerbed and lay it at his mistress’ feet. Needless to say she was not amused. And from the foot of the stairs, listening to Mum scolding my father to take that revolting thing away and out of her sight, I realised that he had done a most romantic thing.
His Lady had fled in terror from a monster and he without wasting a moment and with no thought of his own comfort had slain it.

Monday 10 December 2007

This is a recorded message….

“As of 12 noon this day Monday 10th of December the requirement for you to house your birds has been lifted….”
I have rushed down the stairs, shot out of the door and run over to Stalag 57 and flung open the gate and told them they are free. And guess what – they stood stock-still and just blinked at me. Then they started to get all startled and there was much clucking and squawking and a flurry of feathers until I realised that in my excitement I hadn’t shut the front door properly and the dogs had followed me outside.
It could have been a tragedy! So within moments of saying: “You’re free!” I bolted the gate and removed the dogs indoors.
Slightly more calmly I re-opened the gate and there they all were at the back of the run in one great big huddle. I could see they were not impressed and to be honest I got the feeling that they were unsure whether or not to believe me.
To show my good intentions I scooped out some corn and started to call them outside. It took some doing I can tell you but it was Stupid who finally plucked up enough courage – it was ever thus with her food will always beat good sense. You could see the others watching but as soon as she started to eat and no one pounced on her the rest quickly followed.
There was such a lot of noise – I had missed it but hadn’t realised. Usually when I let them out in the mornings they are a noisy, cackling bunch shouting about being left behind or that someone is in their way or just chatting to each other as they scrabble around for breakfast.
And while they were incarcerated they had been quiet apart from the occasional chuckle or crow – it was quite a cacophony a few minutes ago and now I am upstairs telling you this and they are running about and jumping up and down and spreading their wings and Ollie is taking some down to the Orchard and Mr Tickle is squabbling with the Burnt brothers as to who is boss, Stupid is looking to go in the barn and see what the builder’s are up to and Stan is among the flower beds and Oh! It is good to see them out!

Wednesday 5 December 2007

There comes a time…

Sometimes a relationship can become too familiar; the boundaries, which we manufacture for our self-preservation, are broken and everything thereafter is unbalanced and nothing we can do will ever make it the same as it once was – I have come to such a pass.
The dog has ‘wuffed’ at me.
My dog has NEVER ‘wuffed’ at me before and our relationship is undergoing a huge modification and all is not well in the household or at least in my bedroom.
Tattie, a silver brindle whippet with a grey velvet nose very similar to a Womble's, only ever “wuffs” at those who are sitting or sleeping where she would like to sit or sleep and until now she has constrained her ‘wuffing’ to the other four-legged ones who share her world.
A ‘wuff’ is preceded by her staring ever so slightly myopically at the cause of her concern. She usually sits very upright for this with her ears laid back and one paw raised. The ‘wuff’ starts quite quietly and builds up from her lungs up her neck and explodes in a short sharp crescendo. This will then continue until the cause gives in and lets her take over whichever space or area she wishes to occupy.
The tension in her body and quivering (not shaking) that frequently accompanies it is I feel merely to show the cause that she is restraining herself admirably and that the cause should be grateful that she is behaving so nicely rather than giving into her baser self which, I imagine, would be explosive. She usually gets what she wants.
But she has never ‘wuffed’ at a human before. I am not quite sure what has got into her but we are now undergoing a psychological battle of wills, which I fear I am losing.
I always thought of myself as top dog in this pack so this event is quite shocking. Where has she got the idea from that I am not in charge? Is it because I am slavishly pandering to my builders’ every whim and serving them tea or coffee up to five times daily to prevent them from disappearing before the job is completed? Is it because I find myself tidying up before the cleaners come so that they won’t sack me for being too messy to clean for – I kid you not they sacked a friend of mine recently. Is it because I am still getting up in the middle of the night to ‘play’ with The Littlest in an effort to placate him before he wakes the rest of the family?
Whatever the reason I was ‘wuffed’ while taking an afternoon siesta in an effort to catch up on the sleep I had missed the night before because The Littlest had been feeling a trifle playful.
A one off you think? Well, no – we have progressed. Now she doesn’t even have to ‘wuff’ I can feel her staring at me even in my sleep. And she gets what she wants … and I have to share my bed with a whippet. Although she does not snore as Dear Charlie does, she has a very nasty habit of lying rigid-legged so that her claws dig into me and I am gently and persisently pushed off the bed. Life is becoming very uncomfortable...not the least cold!

Monday 26 November 2007

Planning the concert party at Stalag 57

It is indeed quiet - almost too quiet I would say...every time I go past they either scramble to the net and follow me round the perimeter the whole group of them keeping pace as I pace step for step and when I stop so do they or they stand there and just follow me with their eyes. It can be most disconcerting.
When they did that the other morning I tried running round the pen to see if they would fall over as they hurriedly twisted their necks to keep up but just as I got to the critical point Dear Charlie bellowed out from the upstairs window: “What the bloody hell do you think you are doing? There’s no time for playing silly buggers with chickens! It’s nearly quarter to nine, you’re still in your nightie, you’re wearing my boots, and I’m going to be late for tennis.”
I wouldn’t have minded the telling off but just at that moment Roger our 65-year old next door neighbour appeared and gave me a rather too appreciative grin remarking that it was mighty chilly now!
I gave him as quelling a look as I could and I gathered my dressing gown close about me but since my husband’s wellies are about five sizes larger than mine I was unable to make a bolt for it and had to retreat at a more dignified pace to the sound of my neighbour chuckling and none to quietly either!
One thing I have noted about the chickens is that sometimes if I stop and take the opportunity to look at them too closely they get all skittery and start running around making it impossible to count to them.
I swear there is something going on inside but the only odd thing I have found on opening the hut to check just what IS going on is seeing one of the Burnt Brothers (I still haven't gotten round to doing the dirty and sending them off for the pot) sitting in one of the broody boxes inside rather than using the perch. In general the cockerels always perch rather than nest.
I think I’ll have a closer inspection of that particular broody box tomorrow….
But seriously I am agreeably surprised how in general they seem to be bearing up well and the good news is that as long as we don’t have another outbreak they could all be allowed to roam free in two weeks time!

Monday 19 November 2007

Stalag 57

They’ve dug their way out, they’ve ram raided their way out and now they are ganging up on me in a surge for freedom…my chickens don’t like being caged.
However as a voluntary registered poultry keeper I have done my bit and my chickens are interned for the duration.
The bio-secure cage took two days to build and during that time I fed and watered the flock indoors – this was quite a tricky job as the hen hut is not exactly commodious and nor does it have a solid floor.
After tripping up and spilling the water all over me and then slipping on it rather painfully across the slatted floor into a heap of outraged feathers I decided it would be appropriate to wear Wellingtons and overalls rather than nightwear and slippers for such a job.
The cage is such that no wild birds can enter and nor can the rats. It is supposed to prevent the chickens from escaping as well – we’ve had to make a few modifications…
There is an outer fence about five and a half feet high and spanning that a roof leading to a mid point about six and a half feet high which in turn leads up to the apex of the hen hut at about eight foot. The fence is chicken wire covered with a plastic fruit cage covering being light enough to create a roof without me having to do major works, which I would have neither the money nor time to complete. A new gate is heavy enough to swing shut when I enter and if I say so myself looks OK.
It was such a relief for all when I could at last let them out. They shot through the door, slithered down the ramp and came to a rather stunned stop. I had tried to disguise the fact that they could not wander around as much as before (30 ft square versus 4 acres) by bringing in a load of windfall apples and putting up roosts and a huge pile of chippings to play in but freedom is after all freedom and however many things you are given to play with just doesn’t match up.
It has been pathetic to see them all hunched and miserable, the cockerels’ tails drooping but it seems they do not give up hope. Within two hours the chicks and several of the bantams had escaped by scratching a hole underneath the gate and it wasn’t until I saw Ollie, (my rather large white cockerel) struggling to squeeze himself rather unsuccessfully underneath that I realised we had had a break out.
It seemed pointless running round the farm trying to catch the escapees and so I let them all out in the hope of feeding them all back in later in the day. In the meantime I amused myself by digging the earth out round the door and struggling to lay a large piece of stone at its base. Mission accomplished and it was time to get them back in three hours later and in the dark I gave up.
Strangely enough the following day I was able to feed all the stragglers back in which goes to prove that either chickens have short memories or that their stomachs are bigger than their brains.
There were no escapees until the afternoon when Ollie and Stanley (Ollie’s glamorous half brother) managed to throw themselves at the gate until it popped open. I repeated the previous day’s performance but gave up much more quickly and surveyed them rather dolefully from my office window as they pranced around in the sunshine in the orchard, scratching vigorously at the earth and chasing each other round the apple trees or else walking sedately behind the proud cockerels. My heart was very heavy watching them. Their last day of freedom…AGAIN.
Now the gate is tied with baler twine and so far no escapees… I deliver scraps from the kitchen and windfall apples and they lay eggs and are resigned: I think…but you never know quite what they will do next….

Wednesday 14 November 2007

H5 N1 - it continues

Thank you everyone for your support I have been blubbing, which is silly, as I don't earn my living from them, but they are basically pets and I know them and all their little foibles...
I have been on the phone to DEFRA and getting very het up with them. They hardly tell you anything and it all seems such a shambles and totally ludicrous... I have a flock of about 40 but it fluctuates to over 50 in the summer and reduces somewhat in the winter - natural wastage I call it. If you have more than 50 birds then you have to register so I registered voluntarily to secure my holding number.
I am in the restricted zone, which covers most of Norfolk and all of Suffolk, and it is advised to bring birds indoors. On my way to school today I saw two commercial flocks out and several privately owned flocks out and about.
There doesn't seem to be any consensus on what people should do and if they don't do it there seems to be no fines etc I am not sure if not bringing in your flock is illegal.
So to be on the safe side the flock are under lock and key and this morning I have been trying to construct bio secure havens for the hens that still allow them outside but restrict wild bird contamination. To be honest its laughable. Technically every poultry owner in the whole of Suffolk and most of Norfolk should be keeping their flocks indoors...right like everyone has been notified! No official warning in the papers, no e-mails to registered owners (they do have them - in fact I got a letter today from DEFRA asking if they could use the information they have on me elsewhere all part of data protection/sharing), no TV or Radio announcements etc without that it's a total farce!!!
The news is contradictory (and I think I am ranting).... I start culling the cockerels tonight - a job I usually put off until the Spring so not too difficult. I feel so much for those who make a living from their poultry - so it would be useful if DEFRA could start getting its act together and ACT!
I'm livid!

Tuesday 13 November 2007

H5N1 - the start of all that....

We are less than 10 miles from Redgrave where the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu has been confirmed and now my chickens are under threat.
I am starting to think the unthinkable and am preparing for a rough couple of weeks.
Although I only have 40 or so birds it is impossible for me to restrict their movements and keep them from contamination by wild birds. My home is surrounded by two moats and we have no way of preventing wild duck from landing here. My hens are free range.
Even getting them inside will not help as wrens, blue tits and sparrows abound here. Although I have laughed about bio-security I have taken it very seriously and created an area where the hens can come indoors – the problem is for how long and do I really want to keep my beautiful birds indoors? They have never been restricted – I almost feel it would be too cruel.
Tomorrow we will keep them in the hut and round up the more feral of the group. We will cull all the surplus cockerels keeping just Goat Shed Boy, Ollie, Stanley and Mr Tickle. We‘ll get the other to areas safe and start to move the birds in….I will call DEFRA and see what advice they give … I am not hopeful.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Lest we forget

Eighty nine years ago the family of this house were blessed: all four sons that went away returned – would that had been the case throughout the land….

Thursday 8 November 2007

More about Chickens….

When we first came here we had chickens; the feral remains of a flock that I fear have been living on the farm almost as long as those wild dogs have in Pompeii, Italy, whose ancestors once graced the villas of some long forgotten Roman.
Well the flock we inherited roosted in the trees and bushes around the farm with a tight knit group residing underneath the Wisteria on what was once a very nice wrought iron arch, the DIY welding, baler twine and chicken wire giving it now a slightly lopsided with defiantly bucolic air. It was the perfect roost being south facing and against a wall; warm in winter, a haven for flies and other winged bugs, and close enough to the bay window to alert the humans residing within that chickens need food – now!
There were many havens for chickens dotted about the garden – another favourite haunt was through a bramble infested bux and in among sharp-leaved witches broom and a completely dishevelled black bamboo – talk about jungle!
Most of the chickens slept in the trees leaping up to their perches along a series of well-worn paths over dilapidated sheds and lean-tos. They would hunker on to the branches and cling grim facedly despite all the efforts of the wind to dislodge them. It is rather nerve wracking to watch a flock of chickens being tossed willy-nilly in to the air during a storm. And it is extremely difficult to make you insurance broker behave and pull himself together when you try to explain that you car has suffered chicken damage during the gale.
I think we inherited about two-dozen chickens and they were semi friendly; however, relations did not get off to a good start owing to the fact that our city-raised Jack Russells decided to hone their inherent hunting skills on them. Suffice to say the flock was decimated.
We tried every trick we knew to stop the dogs from chasing and occasionally killing the chickens but it was not until we fenced off the back garden that we finally succeeded. In the intervening years the game of chicken took on a whole new meaning for us, and the flock.
The chickens themselves were a motley crew with an amazing picture book cockerel in charge. So handsome was he, I named him Brad Pitt - his son, Pitt the Younger, was the feisty bantam who killed off Big Boy the Aracna/Legbar cross.
The hens were compact little creatures in a variety of browns and russets with neat bright yellow legs. I could hardly tell one form the other.
During the winter we started to feed them and as got colder we became ever popular. It was our favourite party trick to call the hens to feed and then watch as they would appear from every corner and crevice high and low and either run or fly straight for us; low flying chickens unable to gauge landing became quite a hazard and I always felt whenever we did this that the Dambusters' theme would be appropriate accompaniment.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

A sad and creepy story…

Imagine if you will that you are with child, or your sister is or even your daughter; in this day and age it is usually a time for great rejoicing whether you are married or not. Now go back some 450 years and imagine yourself living in a small closed community, I’m afraid you are not rich and you are not educated and the father of the child, well he is not available. In fact he is more than likely to be your master.
If the pregnancy goes to term there will be long lasting repercussions; ignominy for the bearer, bastardy for the child and absolute disgrace for the family not just for a few years but for generations until finally the story is forgotten – what lengths would you and/ or your family go to protect yourselves?
Such is the fashion of the day that the fact that you are pregnant can be hidden; you continue to work knowing that should you be found out all will be lost. You can tell no one. It does not matter how tired you are, or if you feel unwell everything must continue as normal. Even at night there is no solace. The future looks so bleak.
Then comes the day of reckoning: is it natural or is it forced. Have you or your family been off to see the wise woman? What potions have you drunk? Has a member of your family taken matters into their own hands and brought about the event?
Everything starts to happen and you have managed to sneak away to your room; it may be at night but whatever time it is, it is more than likely you are on your own. You must make no noise. You must not be caught. Everything depends on secrecy.
The child is born, your child. Your first born.
I pray it is born dead, I am told it was more than likely to have been born dead as forensics say it was most certainly premature. All I know is that you hid the child, your shame and for 450 years it lay undisturbed and deliberately forgotten. And then, it was found, by us.
It was the beginning of 2004 and Charlie was having a week off to help the builders as they wrecked the joint. This involved the removal of the roof on one wing from either side of the massive Tudor chimney which housed two inglenook fireplaces on the ground floor and a third equally impressive fireplace on the first floor in what was once the master’s apartments.
I went off to do something or other and as I pulled away I jokingly said to mind the mummified cats, which I said they were bound to find. Charlie did and a lot more besides.
As Charlie tried to remove some wallpaper from the first floor bedroom on the opposite side of the chimney from the master’s apartments, the plaster came away and within minutes the whole wall, which was made of wattle and daub, disintegrated revealing what is colloquially termed a “Witches’ Midden”
This comprised a mummified cat, some shoes, a witches broom, a winnowing circle and a carved wooden spoon as well as a petrified mouse, a long dead bird and a couple of thatch stakes and a bill hook.
Charlie was so excited! And to be honest so was I. What a find! It was dark on my return so I had no chance of seeing everything in situ that night but the very next morning I took a closer look. What I found literally made my blood run cold.
Charlie and the boys had moved the heaps of dirt - for that is what it all looked like - into another room and were in the process of taking it down the stairs and out onto the bonfire. Charlie mentioned that he thought there was also a mummified dog but it was only partial. I was confused – in all the writings about old houses in the region I had never heard of people using dogs in this way. A sort of dread began to creep up on me and I started to look through the mess. I came across the top of a skull just the dome of it down to the top of the eye sockets – easily mistaken for a dog by it’s size but the eyes were wrong. What I was handling was definitely human.
When this happens there is ONLY one course of action. Call the police.
Within half an hour they were here and although we and they were convinced the remains were hundreds of years old we became a crime scene and all work ceased.
It started to dawn on us what we were dealing with and as I held my own baby close all I could think on was how had this happened? When had it happened? Why had it happened? And across the years my heart went out to the mother of this child.
Forensics were brilliant and within a few days we knew that what we were dealing with was a baby. More than likely born premature because of the way the bones had disintegrated and because of it’s size. They said it would have been unlikely to be put there alive; it was probably born dead then hurriedly hidden.
I still feel uncomfortable about it but I also feel that the house wanted to give up its secrets, the burden that it had carried for so long. We buried the remains in the old Church Yard at St Mary’s with a simple service carried out by our then vicar Rev Robin Jack who had cleared the way with the Diocese. The local funereal director had donated a tiny coffin and I planted snowdrops from the farm on the grave. Perhaps the child’s mother lies in the churchyard as well. I hope she found peace.

Saturday 20 October 2007

Another Country - My Rugby World Cup Final

It’s 8.30pm when I walk in the room, I tread diffidently and my eyes are drawn immediately to the score in black and white in the top left hand corner of the screen: Eng: 3 RSA: 6. Charlie is sitting forward on the sofa, wound up, alert.
“It’s not as bad as you think: South Africa have been lucky.” He says. As way of greeting, I start to say some inanity but something happens on the screen and Charlie twitches in sympathy with his heroes and it quite disconcerts me. I notice he can’t keep his feet still and he runs his hands up and down his thighs as if in preparation to catch the ball. I ask him if he’s like some supper. He glances at me, frowning a little confused – I am disturbing his concentration. He flicks his hand showing me his plate: “I’ve had some.” and there’s a roar from the crowd on the television and his eyes snap back to the screen.
As I walk to the kitchen he calls after me. “I’ve go to get a closer look at the scrum…” then as if remembering what it was he wanted he tersely adds: “put the kettle on!”
I get my supper and listen to his commentary from the sitting room. I am unsure whether it’s for me or for himself. I feel the professionals are making a better job of it but I say nothing. The timing would not be right.
The kettle boils and I call back to him. “What do you want to drink.” There is an almighty long pause and I am just about to shout irritably at him to answer me when he calls: “Lemon & Ginger!”
It crosses my mind that it’s a rather tame drink to be having on such an historic occasion. It should be beer really. However, it’s only him in there. The Boys are too young and in bed while I, well I never think it a good idea to watch. Call me superstitious but if I watch England they’ll lose – you’ll know who to blame then if it all goes pear-shaped.
I am now ensconced upstairs on my computer and trying to work while my ears strain to catch how the match is going.
It’s 8:56 Oh God I can hear the muffled and excited jabbering of the commentator and roar of the crowd from the sitting room downstairs. “OH YES!” Then shouting up at me “Liza! England has scored.” I shout back: “That’s brilliant!” Rather than “I know you berk – I’m listening!”
It’s quiet again – I’ll have to go and watch. I need to know the score. I’ll make myself some tea and sort of loll against the doorpost to catch a glimpse of the action – it’s not really watching….
How can they do that – It’s been disallowed! With half an hour to go England are still in with a chance its’ Eng 6; RSA 9. As I shot through the sitting room not daring to look at the screen I hear the crowd on the telly singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot and I feel that if the team hears that surely their hearts will swell and the at fighting spirit will not be dimmed. Charlie is curled up on the sofas. Tight and small - coiled I’d say. Ready to explode. The tension in the house is beginning to make the cats' uneasy. They’re always the first to vocalise what the rest of us feel.
I’ve get my bar of chocolate and cup of tea. The chocolate as some sort of release. It always calms me and I need a lot of calming. My ears are straining again a whistle has blown nothing much can be going our way as I can hardly hear a thing. Perhaps if I were in South Africa the TV would be alive with something different maybe now their commentators are gabbling in excitement and the crowds are roaring…
No noise, nothing. I can hear them again, no nothing. I will stay where I am though the temptation to dive down the stairs is overwhelming. Have another piece of chocolate. I can hear the commentator reeling off names, the ball is being passed now there’s a scrum and I can see in my minds’ eye a tumult of hard-pressed muscle green and white; thighs and forearms, a squashed English rose.
It’s quiet again from downstairs; the telly warbles in the background but the sound is indistinct. No wait. Oh my god I think they're going to score again! Shite no - its OK I hear them again…do I go down? I’ll have to….
South Africa is leading by 9 points. As I look anxiously across at the telly in the corner Charlie turns to me: “Well, South Africa has had all the luck, England are doing all the running.
“Yeh, but South Africa is winning!” I growl.
“All it will take is one try and that will change everything,” he says – I feel he is just trying to be positive for the sake of it. I don’t feel his heart’s in it. Maybe it’s mine that isn’t. Oh! I so want a fairy tale ending.
I retreat back upstairs…
There’s a build up in tension again – the match seems to have been very close but its looks like South Africa are going to take it. There’s a roar from the crowd, but I can’t hear Charlie. I think, I think it’s all over….
I peer round the corner at the telly and there are the South Africans hugging each other and the English looking sad and tired, stiff upper lips all round. I am proud of them. To come all this way.
“It was a good match?” I ask.
“I think England played much better,” says Charlie meaning much better than South Africa. I love him when he is like this. Proud in defeat. “If we’d been allowed that try it would have been a different game,” he adds
The commentator echoes the sentiment.
I watch the wind down and as I clear up and put the dogs out and I hear Brian Corry being interviewed:
Interviewer: All that heart all that courage…
Brian Corry: Yes, but it’s such a shame that all that heart and all that courage comes to nothing.” His disappointment is palatable.And my last thought is how wrong you are – we was robbed and in another time we’d be celebrating fairy tale ending! I believe in fairy tales…and I can hear the sound of “Another Country” and my heart swells with joy and pride….just you wait next time!

Monday 15 October 2007

48 Questions…and as many answers

I was going to be called Sian but Grandad put a stop to that saying with a surname like Helps I wouldn’t be off to the best of starts!!!!

Last week in frustration over the state of my life and everything that that encompasses.

3. Do you like your handwriting?
Nope it’s awful and I am very aware of that fact. Was publically humiliated by my father-in-law over the state of it too

Roast beef sandwiches with horseradish.

Yes, two edible boys.

Unsure of that. I’m told I have a very sharp tongue and I might scare myself.

I don’t think so.


No way there are plenty of safer ways to scare myself silly – looking at my bank statement springs to mind!.

All of them bar All bran or anything too healthy – currently eating Cheerios in the morning. Sometimes have a run on Porridge. Never been known to refuse Frosties/Cocopops/Frutloops etc.

Very, very rarely although I mean to ‘cos it’s such a fag when you have to put them on again!

Depends what’s facing me. Strong to climb Everest? Then perhaps but very very slowly. Strong to face loneliness? Well not in company but would get on with it on my own.

Not ice cream - sorbet and if that, then lemon every time!



Being fearful. I am such a wimp and always worried about what people think!

Granny Sue.


Dark blue jeans and faded blue Sloppy Joes.

Piece of cake which I promised to save for The Boy but decided to eat ‘cos I thought it would go stale - now have to replace it so he won’t notice, which means buying a whole new cake!

The hum of my computer and the thumping and banging upstairs of the whippet as she rolls ( I think) around on the floor - I have no idea why she’s doing this just a manic Monday I suppose.

Purple - of course!!!!!!

Cut grass – reminds me of summers as a child and being allowed to ride in Granny Sue’s wooden wheelbarrow up and down the garden.

The registrar at school to say I had not found anyone else to replace me as Parent Schools Liaison so I’d be doing it again this year…..


Show jumping

Brunette with natural white highlights.

Hazel but it changes in the light from grey to green to brown - so I’ve been told.

29. Do you wear contacts?

Apart from Sorbet? Proper Chinese food. Husband hates it; so get it oh, so very, very, rarely…

Always happy endings even in horror stories...

Ice Age on TV. Bourne Ultimatum in the Cinema.

Wearing a brown stripey fleece and black padded waistcoat – it’s cold outside!

Both – summer for lazing on the lawn and dozing in the heat; winter for brisk bright mornings and getting a move on!

Cuddles when feeling sad, kisses when feeling … well I leave that to your imaginations!

Lemon sorbet.

Purple people!

My Dad.

39. What book are you reading now?
Atonement by Ian McEwan; Cow by Hannah Velten; Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris and The Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer. I like to have a choice at bedtime/bathtime etc.


Ugly Betty/Argentina vs RSA.


Beatles – I enjoy singing along and anyway Mick Jagger scares me!

In physical time the Magnetic North Pole; in distance (if home is the UK) then Hawaii/Hong Kong and the bit inbetween.

Still looking for it….

Carmarthen in Wales

Anyone’s - I'm nosey.

1402hrs. Monday

Sunday 14 October 2007

Stumbles, trips and blips

Sometimes you just can’t say the right thing in fact you can’t seem to write at all! No matter how hard you try all your thoughts seem to shrivel away in the glare from the computer screen. You trip and stumble and rough your words and it all comes out – well, just awful.
When the words you write are full of import they just seem to die and the clarity you had just moments before cannot be transferred to the page. The frustration!
Then…the doubts.
I write for a living, usually it comes out pretty clean, not too much effort but there again I have been writing about the same specialised subject for years. I was thrown the other day by a simple conversation and I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain. The words I wrote just wouldn’t. They came out messy, convoluted, mean, condescending, arrogant, crap!
And suddenly my whole world went up in the air! If I could not explain the basics of a subject that I have been in the heart of for eight years, what sort of writer was I? Obviously not a good one.
I was trained to believe that a good writer, in a few short sentences, should be able to explain everything - and I mean everything - to his or her reader. It is something that I used to pride myself on – in fact something I used to be employed for. No, I wasn’t your leading columnist. No, I wouldn’t be getting by-lines in the nationals but I have/had a reputation for the clarity of my writing.
I’m not so sure now….
Someone sweetly said loads of working mums feel like I do from time to time and that my confidence will return. Well, least I’m writing this again…

Thursday 4 October 2007

RESPECT your chickens....

I am rapidly revising my ideas about chickens mostly I think of them as dumb clucks, sometimes a feather short of a full wing but in no way do I think of them as cunning, vicious killers.
However, today my blood ran cold. Today I realised that though the velociraptor is extinct its legacy lives on in its feathered descendants far more than may commonly be realised.
I had just been round to check on “Said Chicken” and ascertain if she really was one of my flock – I couldn’t get close enough to work it out so prepped Roger to catch her later in the day - and went to open up the Chicken shed.
I call to the tree chickens first; they roost in the trees at night and are more bantam like than their Chicken Shed cousins. I think that being smaller they need to get a look in before the bigger birds are let out. Then I usually open up the small chick cage to let out the babies and when I think they’ve had a good old go, I nip round the back and open the hatch.
Out they pour, clucking and cackling, a blur of black, brown speckled, white and grey blue feathers. Clacking yellow, pink and black long toed feet on the ramp a few jump and a few fly and whoosh they are round the corner and tucking in – only today something else happened.
There was the most god awful strangulated squawk from behind me and I swivelled on my feet to witness one of the younger cockerels chasing down what I thought was a chick – just as I started to burst into action and chase the bugger away, Blue – my Old English Game hen - joined in from the opposite direction. The “Chick” jinxed and got passed Blue who had made a lunge at it missing it by inches. Having survived that it seemed to falter and I realised that it was a juvenile Moorhen. I must have been slow because I could have grabbed it and rescued it but it dodged round me with both Blue and the young cockerel quite literally on its tail only to run straight into a few other hens. I thought it would be OK and relaxed a bit only to find that all the others turned on it as well.The bird was trapped and then all the hens all started to peck and jump up and down pulverising the unfortunate creature to death. It was all over within seconds and then my blood ran truly cold for with it dead the chickens started to feast. And those who has not taken part started to flock over and it was like out of some horror film – chickens grabbing at bits of gore, fighting, squawking and then it was all over and they were back to normal pecking away in the sunshine at the left over corn or wandering off to check out the garden, drink by the moat or else dust bathe in the sunshine. Just another normal autumn morning…and I am left standing looking about for evidence of this extraordinary goings on. Just a pair of yellow feet and some dusty grey black wing feathers…I am not so sure I will dismiss my chickens in quite the same way as before. RESPECT your chickens.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

One of your chickens is missing….

I’ve just had a call from a lovely lady in the Village who informs me that one of my chickens is missing.
“Really?” Says I, “which one?”
“The brown one.”
“Right, um… do you know which brown one?”
“Well the one that’s missing…”
“Are you sure it’s mine?”
“Well, I asked Annie and she said it was….”
Now I don’t mind holding my hand up to ownership of said chicken it just depends whether the said chicken has been behaving itself. So I tremulously asked what the chicken had been up to. Imagination in overdrive after reading an article which linked Jurassic Park velociraptors to chickens, I imagined said chicken stalking unwary village folk, flying out at head height and scaring toddlers into dropping their sweets, chasing old age pensioners into their sheds then scrabbling away at the dirt outside the doors in an attempt to get in and all the time my said chicken was growing from bantam size into something the magnitude of a small Nissan Micra.
As she started to speak my heart started thudding rather uncomfortably….
“Oh no, the chicken’s just been wandering around for the past few days and we were getting worried about it.”
After recent events in the Village I was mighty relieved to hear those comforting words – all it had been doing was causing people to be worried…phew!
I have now arranged to catch it tomorrow and bring it back to the flock… I’m not sure if it is going to be too pleased about these events as it is obviously enjoying the attentions of several households, which have been feeding it a variety of food from crisps and breadcrumbs to hamster food.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Clarity and confusion

This maybe hard to believe but I rarely if ever am jealous or even envious of others so I find it very difficult to understand why others are - particularly of me.
I will joke that I would prefer to be swimming in the South of France rather than darting from door to door to avoid the rain with the builders’ tea but as Little Britain character Vikki Pollard would say actually: “I’m not bovvered”.
This is a legacy of my peculiar mindset – the fact that I have been clinically depressed since I was eighteen years’ old (at least that was when I was diagnosed). At that time I did not know my mind, I did not know myself and over the years I’ve come to understand a lot about how minds work – especially mine.
Where most people can go with their gut instinct, I cannot trust mine and have to question it constantly. I’ve worked out many methods of doing so. And through trial and error worked out how to gauge others but it is not instinctive. This I fear makes me slightly odd especially on meeting and how I’ve managed to keep friends defies belief! I think the best way to describe it is that I am slightly disconnected.
Because I have had to live with this for such a long time - and believe me a lot of it has been pretty horrendous - I would not wish my life on even those who have caused me great hurt. So I find it surprising when I am the object of either envy or jealousy.
The most extreme example of this caused me to miscarry – or so I believe perhaps it would have happened anyway one will never know for sure.
We had been living at the farm for a little over three years and I was the proud if somewhat incongruous mother of a year old baby boy.
I arrived home from shopping to find that I could not get into the farm because some ditsy girl in a bright yellow Peugeot was turning in the drive. She eventually got herself into gear and I carried on. As I got out of the car I noticed that the girl was pulling up behind me – I thought she was lost and holding the baby in my arms approached the car.
“Can I help?”
“Are you Mrs X?”
“Yes.” I instinctively clutched my baby closer as a huge sense of foreboding descended upon me.
“I’m from Social Services.” She held out her identification – I don’t remember looking at it by this time every muscle in my body was tense. The Boy however, gurgled delightedly and waved his arms about in greeting.
“Can we go inside,” she said, before gently manoeuvring me through the back door and into the Kitchen.
I think natural good manners forced me to go through the banalities of welcome but to be honest I can’t really remember.
“We’ve had a call about your baby and although I can see that everything is absolutely fine we have to check…I can see the call is malicious…”
I don’t think I registered much just the bit about the call about the baby.
As the social worker explained she had had a call concerning the welfare of The Boy and whether I was fit to be looking after him. If I say my world was plunged into darkness I think any of you who have children will immediately emphasise with me. For surely every mother’s worst nightmare will be that someone takes their child from them with no just cause.
I was visibly shaken and the darling girl gave me as much comfort as she could – she tried to make me listen. She tried to make it better. She reiterated that she knew the call was malicious.
She explained that every call logged by Social Services is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and she laid out the charges that had been brought against me. They were long and detailed – very detailed. But all twisted.
The caller had started off saying that I was often heard shouting at the baby; that I had cleaned its pram with bleach, that it went to bed in hat and coat because we could not heat the house, that we had too many pets, that I had depression and was very clever at hiding it that in essence I would try to hide the fact that I was not a fit mother and that the baby was endangered.
I could not get over the incredible detail of our daily lives that was spread before us – for everything against me had in some cases more than an element of truth. Yes I had shouted at the baby – I was a new mother and the lack of sleep and isolation had got to me on occasion usually I’d then call friends and go to them or drift off over to Annie’s for some tea and let her cuddle The Boy until I was OK again.
Yes I had once put him in a hat and coat because I had forgotten to order the oil and we had run out and most important of all I admitted I had clinical depression – my doctor, the midwives and my health visitor all knew about this - there had been no problems. The accusations seemed to cover a period of about a year.
Recovering slightly I asked who had said these things.
“I can’t tell you.”
”Why not? They’re not true!”
“We have to keep confidentiality, if we did not people would be too afraid to call us if they suspected a problem. They are protected by the law.”
“What about the law protecting me and my family. Who would want to do this?”
“I’m sorry I am not at liberty to say.”
My thoughts could only focus on who would hate me so much as to do this. I was so shocked. I at once was disassociated and unconnected and there all at the same time. I was numb and so very cold I could hardly stop shivering.
I can’t remember all that happened suffice to say that Dear Charlie turned up and the discussion was carried on without much input from me. The Social Worker left reiterating that there was no problem that she had sorted everything out as far as she was concerned and that there was no case to answer.
But me my sense of isolation was never more acute – who had done this. I thought I was going out of my mind. I thought it was my husband – how could these intimate details of our life been so exposed if not from someone close to me?
Was it my mother? My sister? My mother-in-law? My sister-in-law? Which of my friends? And I could not say anything to anyone. We had decided that no one was to know what had happened we did not want anyone, least of all the one who had done it, to have the satisfaction of knowing what devastation they had caused. So I scrutinised everyone felt I could trust no one and even in my darkest moments thought it could have been me and that I had blanked it from my own memory.
Several weeks passed and time that great healer dimmed my concerns and lulled me in its passing days.
Then I came home to find my glorious Marian in tears outside the house. She came to warn me that she had been contacted by Social Services following up a report that she had asked a friend to voice her concerns about me and The Boy. She begged me to believe her that she had never said anything to anyone least of all to call the social services on her behalf.
The nightmare started over.
Marian had been asked by Social Services not to report back to me saying that they would get in contact with me themselves. But Marian could not do that – she had spoken with her mother and her mother, sensible lady that she is, had said to go straight to me and tell me exactly what had happened. Marian was shaking. She said she had no idea who had done this and begged me to believe her again and again. I was cold and my brain was having to work over and over going through all the few facts that I knew. The one thing that stood out was that I knew she loved The Boy and would never do anything to jeopardise him or, said the more cynical part of myself, would she jeopardise her job.
Social Services visited again reiterating that they felt it was the actions of a malicious caller.
“Do you know anyone who would do this?”
“No, I can’t think of anyone…” I dared not voice my suspicions for I could point the finger at several who were not fond of me and leading the troupe was my sister-in-law.
They said they would come and assess the situation in two weeks time. So for a further two weeks the strain built up. It was inevitable that I could not keep quiet this time. My overwhelming urge was to find out who and then to get the full force of the law behind me so that they would never ever do this to me or anyone else again.
Ferris, our gorgeous teenage boy of all trades – was devastated when he heard and immediately but unbeknownst to me set about recruiting his mum to find out all she could at the local school gates. Perhaps he had heard things said about me and wanted to make sure. Marian also was trying to hunt down the culprit, as was her mother who suggested that shooting the bugger would be too good.
Dear Charlie was with me as was Marian when Social Services next visited. There were two of them a man and the darling ditsy girl. I was given the all clear and it was explained to me that my record would show that the calls and accusations against me would be labelled as malicious. And it was then that I begged them to tell me everything that they could – I had to know who was doing this.
“We’re sorry but we can’t say.”
“Is it my family?”
“We can’t say but… well…no it’s not.”
“Is it someone within the county?”
“Within the Village?”
“Yes – look we really are not allowed to say.”
I could sense them weakening and pressed the advantage.
“Is it someone involved with us?”
“Look I can’t say but as far as I can say then no…”
I plagued them to report exactly what the caller had said. They read out from the transcript of the telephone call.
“Was it the same person as before?” I asked.
“”We don’t hold those sort of records…”
“But surely you must log every call, surely you must know who calls?”
“We just get a telephone number.”
“But was it the same telephone member as before?”
“Yes, but we can’t say if it was the same person. We’re not allowed to.”
“Can you give us the telephone number for our solicitor?”
“No. The callers are protected.”
“Can you prosecute people for wasting your time if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the call is malicious?”
“No, we can’t. We get a lot of malicious calls usually between parents especially if there is a custody problem over the children – we can’t even prosecute them. It’s very unusual to get a truly malicious call like this one.”
My thoughts raced – the person who called would get away with what they had done, Scott free and there was nothing I could do about it.
But then something sparked in my brain; the phraseology used in the transcript. I asked for it again and something twigged. I remembered the exact same words been spoken and only recently, the problem was I could not remember who had said them. A faint recollection so I asked if it was she. Their faces across the table were inscrutable.
“Look, we are sorry but we cannot say.”
Dear Charlie ploughed in: “Will you log the callers calls? Will you tell the caller that there is no case to answer if they call again? And warn them that we’ll prosecute.”
“All I can say is that the caller is flagged.”
As we escorted the social workers to their cars to say goodbye Dear Charlie asked again: “Is it her? We just want to know. We won’t do anything I promise we won’t”
The guy looked at Dear Charlie full of sympathy and as he started to pull away said: “You’re not far wrong.”
The woman is a supply teacher, the information about our lives gleaned through village gossip from a variety of sources, as she has never set foot in our house. She must have been building her case against me for over a year possibly longer – and the only reason my mother an come up with is that she is jealous.
What of the aftermath – I collapsed; I miscarried but as I said earlier that may have been on the cards despite this episode rather than because of it.
In order to protect my family I enrolled my son at a Nursery and told them all that had happened I asked them to record everything about my son and how they felt he was being treated so that I would have a written independent record on his health and well being. For months after I ensured that I was very rarely alone with my son during the day so that we would be protected. That we would have witnesses to his welfare.
And when I had my second – I employed a Nanny. Not because I wanted to but just in case.
I think that explains why I am reticent, I think that explains why I do the things I do. I think that explains my isolation here in Suffolk and why this site is so important to me – for here I get to know you slowly. Here I can reveal myself slowly here is the comfort of anonymity and of being judged on who you are rather than what you represent.

Sunday 23 September 2007

The Littlest one…

How do I describe the Littlest One? The one who gets forgotten in the hurly burly of life, suddenly remembered and blamed at the same time for just being there?
He never seems to notice the guilt and exasperation, he just laughs as I snatch him up and swing him round onto my hip. He looks on delightedly as I struggle with school bags and shoes and keys and dogs. He’s thrust into the car every morning and largely ignored as The Boy and I chatter nineteen to the dozen about almost anything or else shout and growl at each other then sulk and listen to the radio in uncomfortable silence.
He’s left in the car as I take The Boy into his classroom a fluffy Jack Russell to guard him as some sort of sop to the fact he’s left behind.
He’s all sweetness and light, bubbles and blond curls. The largest blue eyes and SUCH a smile. But his brother is quicksilver, fearless with strangers, long lashed minstrel brown eyes and a puck-like sense of humour and merry laughter – when he wants.
The Littlest snatches his moments with me at bedtime while The Boy has TV privileges keeping him downstairs in the early evening. While we shop he holds out his rounded plump little arms for a crafty cuddle while his mercurial brother is self-importantly hunting down the Rice Krispies. In traffic queues we catch each other’s eyes in the driving mirror.
And everyday the stakes are raised as each grabs a bit of me for themselves. They try to outdo each other and are oblivious to the fact. One insists on eye spy at the table showing off his fledgling knowledge, the other boasts his dexterity look mama I use a spoon! One involves me in complicated jokes with no meaning the other starts to clamber out of his highchair. One helps me clear away the plates; the other makes a beeline for the dog’s water bowl.
We play peepbo at the table as I swap my attention from one to the other and while I am in deep discussion with The Boy I hold the Littlest one ‘s foot under the table just so he knows I love him too.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

The accidental feminist

Married, living in the country, basically barefoot and pregnant, relying on her lord and master to bring in the bread - an unlikely proponent of feminism.
And yet I find myself championing the right for women to retain their surnames after marriage should they wish. It is sort of accidental; I did not mean it to happen. In fact I never really thought about it until the day after I got married.
My father-in-law greeted me with the words: “Aah, here comes Mrs ------ junior!” I was horrified, I had completely forgotten to tell everyone that I would not be taking my husband’s surname. To be honest, I had never thought about changing my name anyway.
What a pickle – I looked about me and everyone was beaming beatifically as if I had achieved a great feat – all I had done was get married and yet everyone looked at me as if I had become something new and exotic. I was exactly the same person as I was the day before.For the rest of the day I was slightly lost for words and the enormity of what had happened with those six silly little words gradually sunk in. Society expected something from me that I was unable to give.
At first, I let it ride. I still had my job where I continued using my own surname – changing it would only cause confusion, and besides my husband’s surname was far too long. It is triple barrelled, totals 15 letters when used fully and is definitely not Anglo Saxon.
But as time went on I did get annoyed about it. However, I did not change my passport, banking details, tax details or any other form of documentation. It was not needed and after a while I found out, quite by accident, that there was no legal requirement for me to do so. It is just custom.
But going against a custom, means taking on society and causes much hurt and heartache. My family and indeed my husband’s family were horrified. They could just about swallow the idea that I needed to keep my own name for ‘professional’ reasons but that I wanted to keep my own name was an anathema.
What shocked me more though was the attitude of friends. Especially girlfriends. Only the other day I was presented to some new people. I had briefly met one of them for a fleeting moment at a drinks do some 10 months previously. I introduced myself using my own name to be immediately contradicted by my hostess who said: “Oh, you will know her better as Mrs ------!”
I was furious and said without hesitation that I did not use my husband’s surname and pointed out that I never had. There was an uncomfortable silence. It was rather drawn out before conversation resumed again with me being studiously ignored. In order to maintain relations I had to apologise and suffer a lecture on how inconvenient I was.
But that just about sums up the problem, society does not like inconvenience. Me keeping and using my own name is inconvenient. I mean how do you introduce people with different surnames? What do you say to ones children? It’s so terribly embarrassing…So now I have to make a stand. I don’t want to, I am not good at it and quite honestly I am rather scared. But all I would like is to be respected for who I am and that does include my right to be called by whatever name I choose. My husband has no trouble with it – so why should society?

Friday 14 September 2007

What would bring you back....

I wish I could have published what I initially wrote but I cannot. This may get read by my family and what I have written would only upset them.
In essence this piece of homework took me down a route which resulted in me writing down a description of my grandmother's last night down to those very last moments. Suffice to say the most important of those dozen scents, sounds and senses would be someone brushing my hair behind my ear as she did that night in the rare moments when she was with me in mind and body.

So what would bring me back?
1: Someone brushing the hair behind my ear
2. The smell of my dad’s hard working army uniform
3. The sound of my children giggling
4. The feel of my dog curled up beside me
5. My husband kissing the nape of my neck
6. The sound of the sea washing up the beach in Wales
7. The smell of my garden just after the rain on a hot day
8. The feel of a just laid egg in the palm of my hand
9. The smell of dark red tea rose in my garden
10. The sound of the Rookery here at Rookyard
11. The smell of Bonfires on an Autumn day
12. Crowded House (Any Album)

Tuesday 11 September 2007

The sad tale of the Goat Shed and Chicken Hut fowl (apologies to the Bard)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Rookyard, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where chicken blood makes chicken feet unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of cross patched cockerels take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous cock crows
Do with their death bury their poor flocks' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd fight,
And the continuance of their harangued flocks' rage,
Which, but their cockerel's end, nought could put to flight,
Is now a moments' traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.…

My flock, as you will no doubt have realised, roosts in two quite separate areas of the farm. Both used to intermingle, pass the time of day, scratch at the same patches and generally get on with each other.
Not so two Summers ago. Due to a gradual reduction in the number of hens caused by illness, old age, crossing the road and Mr Foxy Fowler; there was a great need to cull the cockerels – if just for the sanity of those poor remaining hens who would dart from nest to nest as surreptitiously as possible to avoid the avid attentions of their lustful cousins, brothers, fathers and sons.
Thus dispatched; there remained two cocks to crow. Pitt the Younger – a feisty little but rather beautiful bantam of about four years and Big Boy, an extremely handsome Leg Bar cross cockerel of a somewhat startling stature compared to the majority of the bantams on the farm.
All seemed fine; then one morning there was the most almighty hullabaloo; I dashed down from my study, grabbed a suitable looking weapon - turned out to be an umbrella – and prepared to take on any vulpine enemy.
My neighbour, Roger, also came running and to our amazement we witnessed the most savage and vitriolic fight I have ever encountered. Quite literally feathers, blood and gore flew. The outcome of which, was that as far as we could see, Big Boy had won the day.
All should have been settled. But as the course of that summer wore on, I could not but notice that there was more scuffles and general upheaval than before. The two flocks avoided each other; and from the upstairs window you could watch them taking great pains to ensure that they never met during the day.
The Hen Hut became quite empty and it was then that I realised that despite that seminal fight, Pitt the Younger was winning the war. Big Boy had stopped crowing and was reluctant to even come out of the Hen Hut.
But power or absolute power, has the ability to corrupt – absolutely. And after finding myself stalked as an enemy by my pint sized cockerel, there could only be one outcome. Pitt the Younger, for his overtly aggressive ways, would have to be dispatched to the great farmyard in the sky.
The day dawned, the deed was swift. All done and dusted or was it?
Despite the relief afforded to the hen community; Big Boy was clearly not all right. He still refused to come out of the hut. He was still reluctant to crow. And one balmy August evening, I noticed that his breathing was laboured. A visit to the vet confirmed my worst fears and Big Boy joined Pitt the Younger in the vast beyond. During some fight in the previous weeks the bantam had inflicted a fatal kick to Big Boy causing a rupture from which his decline was to be inevitable. So beyond the grave Pitt the Younger killed my handsome gentle giant. And all at once the farm was cockereless.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of less joy
Than this of Pitt and my Big Boy.

Luckily, in the course of nature there is NEVER a lack of cockerels for long and to fill in the gap Ollie and Stanley came to roost - Arcana/Leg Bar cross brothers. They roam the farm and keep down the uppity youngsters. Culling takes place every Autumn/Early Spring and all is calm - on the surface. But who knows with chickens?

Monday 3 September 2007

Do you want to fall out over a handful of Blackberries?

Have you ever done something totally reprehensible? Something really mean?
I did.
I was coming back from the Village Shop, where I had tried and failed to bribe The Boy into giving up his Bobby’s Chocolate Muffins for a handmade choc chip cake from Palmers our local bakery plus a packet of crisps, when I noticed a woman cross the road from the wood opposite our drive and saunter down our verge. I was a bit unsure what she was doing. She carried with her a large white bag that looked extremely heavy. As I got closer I realised she was picking blackberries – my blackberries.
I approached.
“Excuse me can I help you?”
I tried again: “Excuse me, what do you think you are doing?”
“I’m picking blackberries.”
“I can see that. Did you ask the owner’s permission?”
“Why should I?”
“Because I am the owner.”
“Well then I am asking now. It’s only for a pie.”
“Why don’t you take the ones in the wood?”
“They’re not as good as these.”
“No, I bet they’re not.”
Being encumbered I decided to relieve myself of my appendages and took them home where I plonked them down in front of the TV while I dealt with the pilferer.
She was still there quite unrepentant. I walked right up to her with my arms folded.
“Big pie.” I said looking at her extremely full carrier bag.
“Well it’s for more than one…”
I raised my eyebrows at this and said: “Finished yet?”
“Well you are now.”
“Now you’re not going to fall out over a handful of Blackberries are you?”
“Yes, today I am going to do just that!”
“I’ve been picking Blackberries here for years - I always do it.”
“Well you’re not going to do it now.”
“I’ve been in this Village for 34 years…”
“Well I haven’t…”
“No I can see that…”
“I’ve always picked Blackberries here when the Stearns…”
“The Stearns haven’t owned this place for six years. Now I do and if I want to let all my Blackberries rot where they are that is my right.” I turned and stalked off back up the drive. Seething.
Needless to say she left. Five minutes later I shot back down the drive to make sure and the coast was clear. Boy was she a good picker not a single ripe one left.
Winding myself up right royally I thought that in the six years I had lived here I had NEVER seen this woman before. I had NEVER seen her picking Blackberries.
Pounding up the drive I was muttering: “No common decency! I would never pick someone else’s fruit without asking. I have never done so I’ve been taught to always ask permission. The only time you don’t is when you’re on a Public Footpath or Bridleway. It’s not as if my verge is even in the Village. It's on the main road!”
I saw Roger in the yard and stomped off to see him and tell him what I had done. I warned him that I was probably being cursed in the Village and not to worry about it. Slightly startled he said that most people see Blackberries as a gift from God and therefore free to all and sundry adding that there again most people didn’t feel quite the same about Pheasants. I said I had no defence for what I had done and scowled off inside ignoring the Builders who were looking hopefully for another cup of coffee.
Now it started to dawn on me that my behaviour was bad and then I thought shit that is not the way to win friends and influence people. And suddenly I had the most dreadful image in my head of the whole of the Village WI all storming up here and picking all my Blackberries to make a point and cocking a snook at me. What would I do? I imagined myself slapping a great big fence all along the road, or digging up all the brambles. Splitting my nose to spite my face and I knew that I was more than capable of doing both.
Iwas still fuming and humming and harghing and I shouted at the Boys when I got in. My eldest to placate me started to say there were plenty of other Blackberries and I snapped at him sending him upstairs crying. I behaved like the biggest BITCH and felt ten times worse.
There is no defence for what I did either to the woman or to the boys. I said I was sorry to my eldest and cuddled my youngest. The Boy said that’s alright Mummy and I hugged him even closer – to be forgiven so easily; something I really don’t deserve.

Friday 31 August 2007

Second hand rows….

I am shell-shocked, frazzled and vowing never to return but return I must and virtually every term for the next 12 years.
The Boy is going into Reception next week and must be suitably attired. Now little boys (and girls) grow at an alarming rate and like new cars I feel that new clothes are frankly a waste of space and a drain on the economy. Basically I’m tight.
Luckily the school runs a second hand shop and it is from there that I have returned barley able to believe what I have gone through and all for a four year old. A mother’s love knows no bounds…
On entering the school, deliciously eerie with the echoes of children’s voices embedded in the very walls, I popped my head round the School Secretary’s door and asked for directions.
“Down to the end through the double doors by the kitchens then up the back stairs, you can’t miss it. Just follow the noise.”
Slightly puzzled I followed her instructions and on opening the double doors was knocked backwards by the volume of noise emanating from above. I ventured up the stairs thanking God I had seen fit to leave The Boy safe at home.
Nearly at the top I passed a triumphant looking Mum on her way down with two unusually quiet boys in tow.
“You’re a bit late aren’t you?”
Before I could ask for an explanation regarding this slightly cryptic remark, she had disappeared from view with a swish of skirt and a large hint of satisfaction. I continued upwards.
The sight that met my eyes on reaching the upper landing left me paralysed. It was like some dreadful bombsite with clothes littering the ground like dead bodies, piles of grey shorts higgledy-piggledy reaching almost to the ceiling. Heaps of navy blue boiler suits laid out on trestle tables and scavengers everywhere, lost bewildered looking children. A baby was crying ignored as its mother frantically searched in a pile of dark trousers for a 28-inch waist.
Another mother suddenly pounced pulling a rather wrinkled striped blazer from beneath a pile of art aprons only to find that it was firmly gripped by another. For and instant they glared at each other. There was a sudden hush and I thought for a moment that there was going to be a most unholy catfight. A tall formidable looking woman I recognised as Matron took a step forwards and started to speak. But manners were remembered and the blazer was released. Hungry eyes watched as it fell to the floor. And the two mothers expensively faced each other perfectly groomed, perfectly poised.
“Oh, please take it. I’m sure you had it first.” But the look on her face clearly read: Go on you greedy cow but just wait ‘til next time.
“No, no really it’s quite alright. I’m sure your need is greater than mine.” Said so sweetly that if you didn’t know better you might have completely missed the insult.
Quick as a wink the reply was out: “Honestly, it really isn’t a problem I was just on my way to the Outfitters and stopped by to drop off some second hand uniform to Matron. Saw this on the floor and was just about to put it somewhere safe but if you are quite sure – I DO love a bargain.”
Suddenly Matron was upon me blocking the rest of the exchange from sight: “Class?”
Panic! Why does she want to know that? Er? Now what? um ... Working? Upper? Middle? I thought it only mattered if you could pay the fees these days???!!!
Her: “What class is your child in?”
Me: “Oh, right Reception.” As I strained to check out who had won the coveted blazer.
“How big is your child?”
“Um smallish…”
I was given a quelling look and told where to find the uniform. I was just thinking Thank heavens that The Boy won’t need a Blazer until Year 3 when Matron boomed at my receding back.
“Don’t forget they’ll be starting off in Summer Uniform so you’ll need to get that as well as winter stuff.”
Just what I needed to hear! I would have to buy summer uniform both now and again in the spring as by then he’ll have grown out of it. And with that thought I ventured towards the piles of clothes only to remember I had no clue as to what either uniform looked like and I didn’t have the school list on me.
I sheepishly returned to Matron to ask if she could tell me what I needed. Before the words were out of my mouth she was rattling off the list with well-practised ease and I was diving into my handbag for a piece of paper and a pen to capture it before I forgot.
Needless to say I had to ask again and I was tersely handed a list.
“Please return it when you have finished.”
Like a whipped cur I scuttled away.
For the next hour or so I hunted among the remnants, which suddenly seemed very sparse indeed. I folded them neatly into piles so I would know where I had been. Every time that I thought I had something suitable I would find that it was either too small or too large, too stained or just too worn.
I couldn’t credit it. Even though all the clothes had old nametapes on them identifying whose they had been some mothers couldn’t even be bothered to send them to the Second-hand shop clean. Some clothes were so filthy they didn’t even look the right colour and one trouser pocket still had a snotty hanky in it all dried and crusty looking.
After nearly two hours I came away with two aertex shirts and a seriously faded but clean pair of grey shorts for the princely sum of £10. As I was rummaging in my bag for my purse Matron asked if I would like a coffee.
The landing was quiet now and as I stared about me I realised I was the only one there. I gratefully accepted and sank into the sofa in Matron’s office. She sat beside me shaking her head clearly feeling sorry for me. She patted me on the knee.
“Do you want a few tips?”
“Oh yes please!”
“Best thing is to plan ahead,” she said. “Find a Mum with a boy a few years ahead of yours, make friends and then offer to buy all her grown out of uniform. Mind you choose a neat one, one that cares. You may need to go for two or three Mums. Don’t just go for those wearing expensive clothes themselves or the ones driving smart cars I find they are frequently the worst. Their kids haven’t been taught to respect what they’ve got. Then come to me and I’ll tell you if the boy wears his clothes hard – deal?”
She held out her hand – we shook.
“Deal,” I said.
As I left she called after me: “I’ve made a note to put aside a decent blazer for you in three years time – I never forget.”

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Over shoulder boulder holders (or how to bag your man!)

Despite my somewhat drab exterior, with regulation boot cut jeans and polo shirt and maybe a fitted fleece when it is colder, I pride myself on my undergarments.
I never used to, tending to go for the ubiquitous washing machine grey knickers and mismatched bra of indeterminate age acquired from Marks & Sparks that I force myself and my attributes to squeeze into when required.
Occasionally on high days and holidays and all those times I expected or knew I would be revealing myself to scrutiny I would don a matching, sometimes even risky, rig out.
As my twenties passed me by it dawned on me that my natural vivacity, sparkling wit and charming personality were not getting me what I wanted on the man front and that in order to impress I would have to up the ante.
On this score I went a little crazy and I can honestly say as far as lingerie is concerned I have tried the lot: Wonderbra, Ultimo, strapless, basques, bustier, corsets, push up, minimiser, cross back, back loader, front loader, sports and maternity (tho’ of course this was after I had bagged my man!).
And with those have gone a variety of knicker styles – all matching of course! I’ve worn briefs, bikini, boyshorts, G-strings, Grannies, hi-cut briefs, hipsters, thongs, string bikinis, tangas and even thongboys – some obviously more successful than others. I dread to think how much has been frittered on covering my nether regions and attributes.
But it wasn’t until I actually ventured into that Mecca of lingerie emporiums that I finally snagged my man. By this time I was in my thirties and my attributes were waning: there were younger models on the block.
Taking advice from a buoyant 38GG who had positively bounced down the aisle I entered the hallowed portals of Rigby & Peller.
Seeing my bewildered, nay panic stricken, face on entering the kindly assistants pointed me to the back of the surprisingly bijou shop. There I perched on a circular bench clutching a rather down to earth cheese counter ticket awaiting my turn through the brushed velvet red curtains. Assistants bobbed in and out clutching a variety of garments all rather alarmingly big.
I mentally pictured Joyce Grenfell and started muttering Stately as a Galleon:“Stately as a galleon, I sail across the floor, Doing the Military Two-step, as in the days of yore.”
After 15 minutes of twitching and muttering on my part I started to flick through the myriad of glossy magazines available. Each one encased in a soft leather folder – formidable but eminently sensible – a bit like the brassieres I thought.
Finally my number came up and I was ushered into a cubicle and left there alone. Just as I was about to panic the assistant returned tape round her neck with a variety of packages for my delectation – I hadn’t even said a word.
With just one glance she had done what several boys of my acquaintance always boasted about and always got wrong – she summed up my attributes within an inch of their lives. This was quite a shock but without further ado away went my 36C cup and in romped a 32FF.
Now I know we’ve all scoffed at Trinny & Susannah and really not believed half the hype that is said about a well-fitted bra but girls they are SO right. I literally floated out of that shop. I felt confident, light headed even. I looked taller; I looked slimmer - heck I felt both! But best of all girls – within two months I bagged my man on a road trip to France.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

The man who was afraid of chickens….

I have just found the man from the electricity board in the small barn sitting on top of all the building paraphernalia surrounded by about forty chickens. He’s a gibbering wreck and has obviously been shouting for ages as his voice is quite hoarse.
I can’t understand why I didn’t hear him but there again it could be because I had the radio on very loud in my office so that I wouldn’t be able to hear Dear Charlie throwing up next door. Dear Charlie says he’s a bit of a bell weather when it comes to bad food and glares are me balefully as if it was my fault he’s got food poisoning. I haven’t so it can’t have been anything I cooked. I blame it on all that popcorn he ate when we went to the cinema on Sunday. He was most beastly and ate the majority of it himself so that by the time the Movie started there wasn’t a scrap to be had.
Meanwhile back to the man who came to read the meter. I only discovered him when I noticed out of the corner of my eye Ollie my white cockerel running across the lawn as if the wrath of God were after him.
Obviously I thought something dreadful had happened to the chickens – foxes, Hen Harriers, the dreaded mink! Switching off the radio I could hear a faint: HELP! So dashing outside I was confronted with a gaggle of chickens and a very flustered cockerel all darting in and out of the barn.
I ventured inside and there he was. A man afraid of chickens. I helped him down and shooed the girls away. Ollie was being most annoying and kept flapping at me while the man tried to hide behind me – I got quite cross and was about to tell the silly man off when I noticed that he had gone very, very white! Thinking that he needed to sit down I bundled him into his car and called the chickens to me. Biddable things they followed me to the grain bin for some food.
I was just returning to apologise for my chicken’s behaviour and explain it was because they thought he was one of the builders who always feeds them his sandwiches – he [the builder] hates the way his wife makes them but hasn’t the heart to tell her after 10 years of marriage! He has a standing order at the Village Shop for prawn cocktail ones - when to the screeching of tyres and the grating of gears I saw the meter man leave in a cloud of dust down the drive. I have no idea if he did his job or not but I don’t think he’s coming back again in a hurry.

Thursday 23 August 2007

What makes us grown up?

What makes us grown up? What defines a grown up and do we ever grow up? A recent discussion on the Nanny State sparked by the introduction on a ban on smoking in public places has got me trying to define responsibility, growing up and whether as a society we chase after youth so much that we are actually striving to be childish.
When I remember the adults in my life, usually from the perspective of being a child, they seemed so poised, so in control of their lives, to be frank plain organised and of course pearls of wisdom dropped off their lips like rain drops off the scaffolding outside my window.
Where have all the adults gone? Who can I look to, to show me how to be a grown-up? Is there a grown-up ideal? And if not can I fashion one? Do I have the skills to be a grown up?
But what is by far more scary is: will I be able to pass on what little skill/knowledge I have about being an adult so that my children will have the opportunity to be grown up in turn?
So what is a grown up?
For starters there is a certain selflessness about a true grown up. Less id and ego more super ego. There is an ethical integrity - they are the people we lesser mortals look up to for moral guidance.
Perhaps having two World Wars one after the other killed off too many grown ups and left the remainder with the belief that they must be doing something wrong. The resulting sea change was so strong – playing as it did to the id or child in all – that like a ball rolling down hill the momentum took over until the change was out of control - the problem is no one noticed.
There is so much I wish to explain regarding my theories about grown ups but I am tired and I will not be able to express myself adequately. Perhaps as I expound I may find enlightenment or just plain clarity….

Monday 20 August 2007

I'm not sure what they are doing...

I am not quite sure what my builders are doing; I know what I asked them to do and I am pretty sure they are doing it but HOW they are doing it is beyond me.
Financial constraints being what they are there is only so much that we as the owners/clients can afford. There is no point in me gazing rapturously at Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Period Home or dare I say it Country Living - what has to be sorted out is as far removed from those glossy pages as I am from being the next Kinsella.
The priority list was drawn up: Roof, Render, Chimney, Windows, Doors, interior walls, electrics and plumbing. Not a colour swatch in site, not even flooring! As with any old building – and this one is pushing 500 years - the deeper you delve the more there is to do.
It should be easy to see what there is to do but render has a habit of covering up all sorts of sins: dry rot; death watch beetle, wood worm, the fact that the sole plate has completely disintegrated and how no one, least of all my builder, could believe the house has managed to stand up for this length of time!
The first thing Geoff, the wood stroking hippy builder, did on arrival was to immediately slap in four acro-props across the big room underneath the main beam. He then showed me why. There was no tennon attaching the beam to the main frame of the house and someone in the last 20 years had removed a support on the other side.
I had always laughed about secretly and not so secretly wanting the house to fall down. Geoff showed me how very close we had come. Chopping off the render he revealed the extent to which the house was coming apart. A salutatory lesson for any listed building owner.
Concrete render had led to rising damp and dry rot through the whole sole plate upon which the main frame rests; botched building work had seen the removal of a floor integral to keeping the house from falling down, a lopsided roof with more weight on one side than the other caused more pressure on the sole plate leading to a buckled brick plinth and a rotation on various nodal points. It was no wonder acro-props installed!
“Do you think your husband should move from his room now?”
Blanching at all this information I agreed. The only thing separating Dear Charlie from annihilation had been a rather long and rusty nail and a great deal of cobwebs.
As building work progressed Geoff had revealed to me – with somewhat macabre delight – all the botched jobs, mind-boggling ineptitude of previous incumbents. Suffice to say I blame it on the Georgians.
Many houses in Suffolk have what I call a T-shaped floor plan. The original timber framed building at right angles to the Queen Anne/Georgian/Victorian frontage not many properties have been Georgianified.
Mine was.
This has meant that a Medieval/Tudor L-shaped building has undergone radical surgery to fit the 1830s ideal. Gone are the frumpy and possibly nay bulky oriel windows to south and east and gone are the tapering doors, intricate ceiling carvings and probably ancient mullions. To be replaced with nebulous regularity – albeit glazed.
In order to reach this ideal the frame was forced to fit. So we have windows placed in front of mainframe beams making it impossible to open them let alone look out of them but when has fashion ever played second fiddle to practicality.
What does this leave us with in the C21st century? An extreme muddle. Planning - or listed building regulations - mean that we have to have a slight psychotic renovation. Therefore we add wood - huge great beams - to rectify all the Georgian muddle, yet we have to add windows a la Georgian and put them in front of huge great studs. So externally we remain the Georgian ideal and internally - well we muddle through…So Back to Geoff and what he is doing – I haven’t the foggiest but at least Dear Charlie won’t find himself covered in rubble.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Missing him like mad...

There is an unearthly silence in the house broken only by snapping crack of Blue tarpaulins that swathe half my house from eaves to foundations when they wave in the wind.
The dogs are silent.
The cats sleep.
I can’t even hear the chickens.
In fact I am focussing on the silence and it is so empty.
Because The Boy is not here.
He is not surreptitiously sneaking around his bedroom when he knows he should be in bed then pretending to be asleep when I look in. He’s not saying he needs to go for a wee or a poo or that he needs some water or a banana or in fact that he even needs me.
He’s with Granny and Grandpa.
And the hole a four year old leaves in a home when he’s not there is enormous! A four year old can’t help living, can’t help creating life. There are no toys scattered all over the sitting room; there are no crumbs or ketchuppy smears on the kitchen table, there are no towels littered around the bathroom, there is no trail of clothes leading to his bedroom door. His bed is not slept in.
I am counting the hours until his return and when he does then no doubt I will forget he’s ever been away and get annoyed about the toys not being put away, that all his clothes are everywhere they shouldn’t be, that he won’t go to bed when he’s told, that he’s pestering me when I am working, that he’s exhausting!
But until that time – I’m missing him like mad…..

Monday 13 August 2007

In Memoriam

In memoriam

It is with deep sadness that I report the demise of Dotrice (Dot). She passed away sometime during the night of August 12th 2007 to the accompaniment of a raging rock party in Silver Street possibly around midnight.
Dotrice was born, I believe, to a chicken fancier - now moved towards Thetford - sometime in 1999. To all intents and purposes she was a Light Sussex bantam chicken one of two acquired in 2002 to act as guardians and companions to Castor & Pollux.
Castor & Pollux were the remnants of a family of 11 saved from certain death by starvation by Mattie the builder in 2002. Their mother had wilfully abandon her whole family because they had slipped down between the bales in the barn and she, having secured one chick, was in too much of a hurry to get going to persuade or seek an alternative route to safety for the rest of her family.
The twins, with their brothers and sisters, were hand reared in the big room in a large cardboard box, which was taken out every day at great inconvenience to Dear Charlie. In their formative years they survived two attempts on their lives from Tigger the Jack Russel. The first saw the demise of two of their family, the final assault, leaving them deeply traumatised, saw the death of all the rest of the family and ensuring that Tigger had a kill total of nine on the leader board - a margin that has yet to be narrowed by any of the canine inhabitants of Rookyard Farm.
Dotrice was chosen along with three other hens Ethel, another light Sussex bantam, Blue and Ginger, Old English Game bantams. On arrival they were all shut up with Castor & Pollux in a renovated Chicken shed. The said shed (known as Stalag 57) had taken three weeks to prepare at a cost said Dear Charlie which would have made a Sultan blush.
Within a few weeks the new inhabitants had settled themselves in and were happy to wander aimlessly in their pen occasionally being visited unbeknownst to their owner by the feral cockerels, who could not believe their luck. So it was with some surprise to their owner that Blue and Dot went broody and no eggs were forthcoming for the rest of that year.
It was at this point that Ethel was found legs up in the nest – diagnosis death by overfeeding. From this time on Stalag 57 was no more – the pen was dismantled and the Stalag Six (now five) became a truly free range.
It cannot be said that Dot was a particularly taking hen; where Blue was fierce and proud, Dot was mild and gentle. Where Ginger was fussy and overbearing mothering all in her path, Dot was a more laissez faire mother. In fact she was more of a laying machine than hands on broody. I never saw her with a feather of chicks around her ankles.
Her sheer longevity earned her a place among the favoured coupled with the number of her progeny which survived. However toward the end of her life when she could no longer scamper away form danger her sheer guts and cussedness finally came to the fore. It was not unusual to find her the centre of a cacophony of barking terriers and bombing whippets but these affronts to her dignity barley ruffled a feather and this calm attitude towards life ensured a cessation of interference from the canine fraternity.
Her last day was spent underneath the Greengage tree where the pickings were rolled directly in front of her for her delectation. It must be noted that her eyesight was dwindling and she no longer enjoyed the guided tours round the garden lead by Ollie and Stan the two major cockerels in the flock.
An additional incentive to remain aloof was the persistent attention of some of the younger cockerels – suffice to say their cards have been marked and it won’t be long before the axeman cometh
My last memory is of shooing her off the tray of freshly picked greengages and then selecting the ripest I could find and letting her eat it out of my hand….Dotrice’s body was found on Monday August 13th. She was buried in the wood.

Go on you know you want to...


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