Monday, August 18, 2008

Panto shopping

It's the time of year when our cars/vans etc all seem to be due their annual M.O.T.s (roadworthiness tests, for those not resident in Britain). Today was the turn of the Ford Transit so, having had it checked out by our local garage man, I duly trundled it down to the Kendal industrial estate and sat reading newspapers and doing crosswords for an hour before the hostages (the pass certificate and keys) were returned to me in exchange for my fantastic plastic. £50 quid lighter, but glad I didn't have to arrange for a re-test, I trundled back homewards via the supermarket. Gleefully I occupied four parking bays ... well, two and two quarters, to be precise ... surrendered a pound coin to the release thingy on a trolley and off I went.

I shop only rarely in Kendal (it is 15 miles south and I work 40 miles north of my home) and it seems that every time I go into Morrisons they have moved the things I want to somewhere else. This makes shopping more akin to foraging. I start off with a list, and end up with a headache. Fish and flowers are no trouble as they are always near the entrance. Fruit and veg ditto, except that I get mine from my friend Mr "No-Relation-To-Del-Boy" Trotter, where we conduct our business in civilised fashion over a mug of coffee, a ginger biscuit, and a discussion of the weather, horses and whatever is showing on TV when I call.

It's after bakery that I begin to fall down. What used to be tights and knickers is now toothpaste and baby food. Jams and tinned fruit have turned into household maintenance and car polishes. And what has happened to raspberry yogurt? I haven't seen a raspberry yogurt since January. I've been told that raspberry yogurt costs more to make. I don't understand why this should cause a shortage since here it is, another good raspberry season, and when I finally ran the dairy section to ground there was no lack of strawberry or other soft-fruit flavours.

Worryingly, Red Leicester cheese was also playing hard to get. Foreign cheeses I could find in abundance: Brie, in French or Somerset varieties, Emmenthal, Lierdammer, Gruyere, Camembert, Danish Blue, and plenty of chunks of bulk-buy Cheddars with full fat or reduced fat content; but the local makes, Cheshire, Stilton, Leicester, Double Gloucester, Caerphilly, were doing the equivalent of panto audience interaction: hiding coyly in opaque, one-size-fits-all packaging, or else "be'ind yer!" in the deli section.

By the home baking shelves, a lady was having the same "oh no it isn't" problem; she was looking for syrup and treacle, a reasonable brace of sticky ingredients to expect alongside sugar and flour, dried fruit and marzipan.

"Perhaps they're in the jam section?" I suggested. "I'm looking for cocoa myself."

"Ah no," she said, "dark chocolate and white chocolate and milk chocolate, you'll find them here, but cocoa's over that way, with tea and coffee."

I'd been there. I went and looked again, but I never did find it. Clearly the Genie of the Lamp had been there before me. It can't POSSIBLY be my age.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Born Carers

Naomi, my grand-daughter, has had little option but to become a horsey child. With a mother and grandmother who think equine before speaking human, the odds were always strong that she'd be fluent in Horse before she could read.

Luckily, Ruby the Fell pony seems to have had much the same thought. She carries Naomi around with patient circumspection, something notably lacking when we go out carriage driving, and is careful not to make any untoward moves that might damage the small child. Naomi is not quite three.

Ruby's recent visit to the vet for eye treatment coincided with Jen and Naomi's appearance at the Surgery with Ribena (a necessary additive to Ruby's dinner to get her to eat her medication) Jen met me there to hand over the Ribena and Naomi, having accepted that she wasn't to worry the mare and foal in the paddock by the surgery, wanted to see what the vet did with Ruby, so we all stood in a darkened box while the vet peered at Ruby's eyes with the ophthalmoscope. Next thing we knew Naomi was hugging Ruby's leg really tightly, and kissing her elbow, which was all she could reach, "to make her feel better".

That child can be really spooky - she isn't three till the end of next month and has already decided which friends and relatives she will ask for which presents (I'm down for sticker books, apparently, and her Great Granny's got to buy Iggle Piggle pyjamas - rather her than me!).

As for the rosette which she accepted for being the only Fancy Dress entry at our village show, riding Ruby as The Tooth Fairy: "Please will you put the rosette up really high on my bedroom wall?" When asked why, she explained: "So I can't reach it till I'm a big girl and I can't spoil it." Three going on ninety-three, I'd say.

Nurse! the Screens!

Haven't been posting here for some time, I realise, seeing that the last post was back in April. Blame it on going back to work, and getting various book manuscripts up to scratch. I've also started a writers' group in the village, so have to think of things to do once a month - though that hardly counts as arduous.

At present, I would normally be getting my Fell pony fit and clean for the local shows, but she is taking up a lot of my time for quite another reason - she has an eye problem, and has to live in her stable to stay out of sunshine because it causes her some pain. I imagine it's like cramp in your iris, so it can't be pleasant. I seem to do a lot of application of eye drops (she dislikes them but huffles for the subsequent Polo mint) and am getting fanatical about cleansing my hands with that alcoholic gel stuff. It's amazing how much I rub my OWN eyes too. Probably that's got more to do with being hyper-aware of it than actually doing it more. Mind you the stable has seldom been so well kept, so I suppose there are advantages.

I have to go back to work for a few days next week, and a whole week the week after, so anyone who's not squeamish about a horse with a permanently tearful expression would be welcome to do the midday application of eye drops. Just remember you also need a roll of Polo mints.

Friday, April 25, 2008

You heard it here first

Well, second or third probably. Anyway, some of my collected rustic witterings should be appearing through a reputable publisher sometime later this year: articles, rants, poems and wacky letters to an imaginary local newspaper. It's gone under the working title of "Wellies", but now needs something short, daft and marketable to put on the cover.

Suggestions please!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Knickers, smallclothes, underwear,
things that cover bits down there;
hipsters, Y fronts, passion killers,
big-pants, smalls and crotchless thrillers,
boxers, underpants and panties,
directoires as worn by aunties,

lon-jer-ray and thongs and things,
inexpressibles and strings;
slimmers, hi-legs, trunks and naughties,
tangas, briefs and lacy shorties –
all must fall when nature calls
and we are screened by modest walls:

bathrooms, washrooms, smallest rooms,
loos in cupboards full of brooms,
lavatories, netties, johns,
toilets with sitdownupons;
privies, closets, single-bowlers,
one- and two- and family-holers.
Plastic potty, thing of wonder,
used to be a plain gazunder,
jerry, china pot or po,
brimful with night’s overflow.

Pay a visit, wash your hands,
spend a penny (man just stands)
to plant a sweet pea down the drain,
point Percy at the porcelain,
or sit in state upon the throne
whereon the Pope must go alone
to do his reigning over China
painted by a fine designer.
Shake hands with your oldest friend.
It has to come out in the end.

Aussie Beasts

Aussie Beasts

We are Betcherrigah. Yellow and green we are.
Flocks in the trees we are, you know us well.
We’ll copy anything, whether you laugh or sing.
What Aussie beast are we – can you tell?


I am the Lillipilli, gentle and shy,
I don’t make a fuss, and I never ask why.
My head is fluffy and I hold it high –
I’m an Australian, but what am I?


I am the Kookaburra, I eat snakes.
I don’t like trifle and I don’t like cakes.
With my sharp nose and my laughing cry,
what kind of Australian beast am I?


He is the Boggi, scaly and rough.
He'll flash his tongue to show he's tough.
Don’t pick him up, he'll bite and hiss!
What kind of Aussie beast is this?

I am the Bandicoot, sometimes in stripes.
I have a long nose that nobody wipes.
My favourite call is a trumpeting sound
and I’ll eat just anything I find left around.


He’s a Koala, who looks sweet and dumb.
He eats the fresh leaves of a species of gum,
he has big ears and an opposable thumb,
but his small eyes tell you he’s nobody’s chum.


This is Echidna, with spikes on her back
and a pointy snout for a termite attack.
Her babies drink milk though they hatched out of eggs
and her husband’s penis has got four legs.


We are a singular creature, the Platypus
and Platypod-es is the plural of us.
We swim underwater and wear a soft beak
that makes it extremely hard to speak.


She is the Kangaroo, rusty and red.
She has a pocket for her baby’s bed.
She can jump on enormous feet –
She's the boundingest Aussie beast you’ll meet.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hot and Cold

Greenhouse effect? What greenhouse effect?

It was peeing down with rain and after the monstrous heat of the summer of 95 it was almost a relief to feel cold while I was loading light lambs to go to auction. This time the lambs didn't have to sit panting with heat and travelled comfortably in the horsebox - though after listening to them bleating all night for their mothers I supposed there was still plenty of stress in the simple fact of the separation.

After the auction I smiled to see a farmer in full waterproof kit striding through the rain back to his Land Rover, bearing a brand new hay rake. They say farmers are pessimists, but things like that make me wonder! I once met a neighbour in a narrow road and as is customary we both rolled down our vehicle windows to pass the time of day and comment on the weather.

"I've just been to buy some waterproofs ready for haytime," he announced.

Now, the animals know enough about weather to put Bill Giles / Sue Charlton / Bill Kettley to shame. Fell ponies trek determinedly to the lee side of the mountain when snow is imminent. Or if they expect to be fed hay near the farm during a snowy spell, they will wait Cassandra-like at the fell gate. When the thaw is due, they take themselves off... and then the snow melts.

At the other end of the temperature scale, Chris, a large, fit and extremely physical neighbour given to shepherding in nothing more than shorts and boots during the summer, announced as I passed one steamy afternoon, "Reckon Ah need to tek a skin off."

But there are also more daft sayings about weather than you can shake a stick at. Cause is confused with effect without any attempt at logic. In early spring when the fells are still streaked with snow, it's quite common to hear Cumbrian shoppers remark, shaking knowing heads, "It won't get warmer till them snow patches go." No - the other way about - surely?

"Oak before ash, Only a splash; Ash before oak, In for a soak." So goes the proverb. Must be written in order to rhyme. I've never seen ash trees leaf before oaks. But I have seen summers with both extremes of wetness and dryness!

Likewise, the pundits who have nothing better to do than pester the local paper with repetitive letters announce every September that the heavy crop of hawthorn / rosehip / rowan berries must surely presage a hard winter. I can only say that I must live in a different country. Our hawthorns and rowans flowered profusely in 96 after 95's hot summer ripened their branches, and as a result they berried tremendously in autumn. And the winter of 96/97 was not bad enough to prevent me going to work over Grayrigg Hause with a summit height of around 1300 feet.

Likewise people write to comment on the early return of the robins in their garden, predicting a bad winter again. What the robins would say I do not know. Does anyone think that they all leave England in spring? Ours have been known to nest in the cupped palm of a rhubarb leaf. One summer it was quite normal for them to mug you when you went innocently seeking something for a totally vegetarian pudding. Did that mean winter would be here all year round? I don't think so. Their presence in my garden means that, in summer, robins among the dense foliage have got better things to do than their highly conspicuous bare-branch winter activity of telling all other robins to get the hell out of their territory. So, you don't see them much in summer, but suddenly when the leaves are down they become conspicuous once more. QED.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A steadying thought for St Valentine's Day

She snuggles up to him under the duvet.

"Happiness," she sighs, "is a warm hairy husband."

"Happiness," he replies, "is a chilly wife on her OWN side of the bed."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Football league

I can live without football. Hush! I do not need a weekly fix of 22 men in shorts kicking hell out of a ball. I try to make a point, though, of watching televised footie on Saturday nights because my husband looks forward to it so much. I fire up the laptop and sit checking my e mails, while he snorts and gasps and exclaims, and Messrs Lineker, Hansen, Lawrenson, Shearer et al dissect the finer points of each game. He doesn’t have a favourite team as such, so this is not the agony it might be with a certain other family of my acquaintance, whose rabid allegiance it is not wise to question.

I have detected some partisanship in my mate’s behaviours though. My more mundane tasks around the house have often been lightened by mentally categorising them. Here’s what I’ve constructed so far.

International: We don’t think a lot of the England team, but we want it to win if playing a foreign one.

National: Leagues: We’ll support any northern team that’s playing a southern team. If both teams are northern we’re truly impartial. If both teams are southern, ditto, unless there’s someone obnoxious managing one team, when we’ll hope the other wins. From that point of view, it used to be the highlight of the evening if Chelsea got stuffed and “mean, moody and magnificent” Mourinho had one of his tantrums. I miss him.

National: F A Cup competitions: We’d like to see any small lowly club beat any big one.

Thinking about all this has made me realise that I have other, smaller, fragmentations in my own support. Raised as an Everton fan, I really want to see the “Toffees” win a Merseyside Derby / Premiership / F A Cup, but I have to admit that one of the best things David Moyes did was to sell Rooney to Manchester United. My brother, who has a season ticket to Goodison Park, would never admit that any other club could offer any excitement, but Liverpool’s Gerrard sprinting through the midfield or taking a penalty does it for me just as much as EFC’s Johnson heading for goal or Man U’s Ronaldo dancing contemptuously with the ball round the opposing defence. Like I said, I’m impartial.

A few niggles. One is the group hug that seems mandatory after scoring a goal. It reminds me of my Dad’s school playground game, “Weak Horse” where boys all jumped on top of someone in the hope that he’d collapse. Why can’t they all celebrate with multiple handsprings? perhaps in formation? A second is the sight of fit male footballers (I excuse goalkeepers) wearing gloves, something we schoolgirls were never allowed to do when playing netball, even in freezing rain. Televised games can be too in-your-face: complete turnoffs for me are the managers’ inability to chew gum with their mouths shut, and the frequency with which players spit during a game.

The number one niggle, though, is the quantity of foreign players in the top English teams. At least Liverpool and Everton are captained by self-controlled, gloveless, proper Northern lads.

It’s Everton, though, that has the motto to end all mottoes: Nil Satis Nisi Optimum. Nothing is good enough unless it is the best.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Darts as a sport?

I heard an interview with a high ranked darts player on the radio. I have to say the interviewer did a good job of finding questions to ask, but the replies were possibly the most boring I’ve heard this year – the player hardly able to expand any of his monosyllabic replies. The nearest he got to any kind of reasoning was to say that darts was a sport, and if anyone thought it wasn’t, they had to take into account “all that walking”.

From the oche to the board to collect the darts after each turn. Wow. That’s 7 feet 9¼ inches. AND BACK.

That must be what keeps darts players so lithe and fit, is it?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Thought for the New Year

An ex-actress friend, newly into writing, complained to me yesterday: “it just is not in vogue to have poems that have a regular metre or rhyme.”

I think she’s right - it is a vogue. Depends where you read, I suppose; magazines will sometimes publish the most godawful crap if it more or less scans and happens to have rhymes. It also has to have a commonplace, even saccharine message. (I have submitted poetry that rhymed, scanned, and had a sharp message and had it rejected with a preprinted slip saying that it needed to rhyme, scan and have a message. Duh? But that’s another story and probably The People’s Friend would reject that too.)

“Serious” poetry appears to have lost the skill of writing meaningful, rhymed, metrical work. I don’t include rap because it only (sort-of) works if it has a synthetic beat behind it, and like most doggerel it dies horribly if asked to stand alone. Somewhere along the line, “meaningful” has branched off into free verse, leaving rhyme and metre in the children's section. And that's a shame. It's like creating jewellery, but restricting your materials to chromium and rhinestones. Why not accept all the tools that language has to offer?