Follow that wasp!

Monday:
“Must be 5,000 if not 10,000 wasps in that tree,” the wasp man tells us.
This does not make us feel any better.
We wait as he gazes up into the branches.
“Can’t see a nest…nothing I can do unless we know where the nest is,”
We look at one another, Lisa and I. Isn’t that why we have called him?
“They’re feeding now,”
“Are they?”
The busy buzzing creatures are not bothering us, it is true, they are far too busy.Wasp
“You need to follow them and see where they go,”
That’s helpful. We see a wasp heading off down the garden, just the one. Eagerly, our man follows. We trail behind.
“Didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular,” he decides.
“No,”
There is a lot of standing around, looking up into the trees again.
“Thousands of ‘em,”
“What can we do?” we have to ask the question.
He shrugs, “Not much I can do without knowing where the nest is,” he tells us.
We are no nearer to a solution than we were half an hour ago.
“Your best bet is to put some lager in a jar and they’ll come to it,”
Well, that’s all very well but ten thousand bees in a jar? Is that even possible? Besides, he tells us that the Queen will just keep on laying.
The sun is beginning to set.
“They’ll go home, wherever that is, soon,” he explains, “You just need to watch where they go…”
(BBC Country File where are you when needed?)
Wasp man leaves and we wait for dusk. Armed with a torch we step out again and look upward, downward, anywhere-ward. It is quiet. The wasps are nowhere to be seen but wait—what is that persistent hum? It is coming from the clump of trees and bushes that we are now directly beneath. Surely, the nest must be in the tree?
We fetch a torch, hurriedly charged, which we point in every direction. No wasps to be seen but the continuous hum persists. The torch loses its battle and we are in darkness.
“Have to try again tomorrow,” we tell ourselves.

Early August
A few weeks ago, we had reason to dismantle the pile of plastic garden chairs that were stacked at the side of the house, for cleaning. As we did so, an angry swarm of wasps buzzed around us. It was clear they had emerged from behind the chairs but closer inspection revealed an airbrick into which they were disappearing every few seconds with others emerging to take their place. Evidently, there was a nest behind the airbrick somewhere, possibly in the walls of the house, eek!
Being sensible, we moved the chairs away to complete the cleaning. Satisfied that there must be a nest which would explain the inordinate number of wasps we have seen in the house this summer, I followed the instructions on the relevant page of the Council’s website, completing an enquiry form and explaining the problem. I did not get a response so I tried phoning but after a fifteen minute wait, an automated voice asked me to call back later as all lines were busy (buzzing perhaps?)
The prolonged hot weather has evidently caused a surge in the numbers of these little beasties of late.
Further research suggested I could deal with the problem myself by squirting anti wasp powder into the airbrick, morning and night, for a few days.
Off to the hardware shop went I.
Returning, armed with powder and a spray (just in case), I waited for dusk and puffed clouds of powder into and around the holes in the airbrick. A few disconcerted wasps guarded the brick. As always, I felt a little guilty for doing this but apparently, if one doesn’t, the wasps just make the nest bigger and bigger and the problem exacerbates. I persevered and within the week wasps had ceased to either emerge or disappear into the brick which now looks like a powder puff.

Powdered airbrick

Powdered airbrick


We enjoyed a few wasp free weeks.
Then – horror of horrors! We noticed that the bushes and trees on one side of the garden, in the same corner, were, literally, alive with wasps.
At first, I believed the mass to be the surviving wasps from the nest I had treated, too knowing to be drawn into my trap. Of course, this is not a wasp’s mentality at all. A wasp will try and save his Queen with his dying breath – quite admirable really. Investigation with the proper authorities revealed that this was the case. These are new wasps.

Tuesday:
So, now we find ourselves waiting for dusk again, ready to set up another evening vigil, with a fully charged torch this time perhaps. The wasp man is coming back this evening to see if he can do anything. Lisa and I are considering attaching radio transmitters to some of the wasps in order to track them. The wasps are being very busy in the bushes and must be taking their ill-gotten gains somewhere, if only we could see where. The wasp man fails to appear.

Wednesday:
A lone vigil. I stand in the garden as the sun goes down, my eyes trained on every wasp that leaves the tree. A few seem to go nowhere in particular, a few double back as though they have forgotten something but others…others are heading for the guttering…up, up into the eaves…and what is that I spy in the apex where the tiles meet the roof? I do believe it could be a nest. Well, it could be…

Is it or isn't it?

Is it or isn’t it?


I have looked up wasps on the National Geographic website and found this surprising piece of information:

“Despite the fear they sometimes evoke, wasps are extremely beneficial to humans. Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed upon by a wasp species, either for food or as a host for its parasitic larvae. Wasps are so adept at controlling pest populations that the agriculture industry now regularly deploys them to protect crops.” National Geographic

Apparently, there are more than 30,000 species of wasp, not all of whom sting. The brightly coloured varieties are the more ferocious it seems, wearing their bold livery to warn us away.
None of this makes me feel any easier of course. The variety in our garden is brightly coloured and great in number and will double in number next year if we leave them.
My guilt at destroying their nests is tempered by a natural sense of self preservation.
In short, it’s us or you buzzy wasps!

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One sugar or two?

We are having some building work done at our house. This work has taken the form of an orangery, which is being attached to the kitchen and is to be followed by the fitting of an entirely new kitchen. Exciting stuff if you can stand it.
The work has of course, been a tad disruptive. An exterior wall being knocked down, a patio dug up, nothing has been quiet nor without its share of rubble and dust. My kitchen has been dismantled, My routine shattered. My tactic is to remain calm and carry on.

a calming walk around Bishops Waltham Palace Ruins

A calming walk around Bishops Waltham Palace Ruins


We have taken to visiting local places of interest.
Porchester Castle in the summer rain.

Porchester Castle in the summer rain.


At this juncture, I should say that I was not wholly in favour of this project at the start but have grown to appreciate it, if a little reluctantly.
It is my late sister’s fault of course. She and her husband once bought a ridiculously large, antique table that saw them through many a dinner party over the years. The table is just short of 5’ wide and at its shortest is 8’ long. At its longest, with an additional three leaves inserted, it stretches to more than 15 feet. A beast of a table indeed.
Needless to say, we inherited the table on her untimely death, along with the entire contents of her house and not forgetting, her lovely son, he who has Asperger’s, and who has opened our eyes to another world in more ways than one. (That is an entirely different story of course and one that deserves to be told when I have the strength).
For the past few years, the table has languished in storage. I knew Dave would love to have it in the house but our house was just not large enough.
Ever since the other Christmas, when we brought it back and put it in our living room so that we could seat 20 guests, he has insisted we need it, with our ever growing family.
In the end, we decided to keep it in the kitchen at its shortest length and extend the kitchen by adding an orangery so that we can extend the table when necessary.
Is this the first time anyone has extended their house to accommodate a table? It would have been easier and cheaper to get a smaller table, it is true but now that it is nearing completion, I have to say, it was a good idea.

With such a large project on the go, there have been a succession of workmen arriving since late July. Each arrives with their own peculiar beverage requirements. Hence, I have become accustomed to brewing tea with, tea without, tea with two sugars, tea with one, tea with none, coffee with one and coffee with none…etc. etc. The permutations are now ingrained on my brain along with their names.
Not being particularly keen on providing refreshments for all and sundry, as a rule, I have found myself duty bound to do just that in this case. My kitchen is unrecognisable of course with the old fixtures having been dismantled. The table is covered in protective cloths and the dust hangs heavy in the air.
It is 11.30am. The dogs have been fed. They have had to be kept away from the kitchen area today, while the orangery floor is being screeded. A playpen/room divider, bought for use with the grandchildren, provides an excellent barrier as you can see.

Keep out

Keep out


The dogs have been kept in the house all morning, I will have to let them out in a minute. I check what is happening beyond the kitchen. The screeders have finished and are loading up their large lorry with wheelbarrow and boards. The rear doors are flung wide. Seeing the screeders are leaving, I go outside via the living room patio doors and push the orangery doors to. That’ll keep the dogs off the wet floor.
I then do something most uncharacteristic of me, I do not check the position of the side gate, I open the side door and let the dogs out. Realising my error immediately, I call Flossie back but she has spotted her chance. Charlie hovers uncertainly by my ankles, Flossie tears through the open side gate and heads for the front drive where the lorry has begun a slow roll towards the open gate. Flossie sees the open gate.
“Flossie, No! Stop!” I shriek and with a sprint worthy of a 100 metre professional, I race across the garden in time to see her nip round the corner, heedless of the lorry’s wheels which grind to a halt, and out of sight. One of the young men jumps out of the lorry and asks if he can help.
I tell him I can manage but am amazed to see that Flossie has stopped in the lane to sniff the opposite ditch and most uncharacteristically, allows me to walk right up and grab her collar. I grab said collar and ignoring Charlie who has followed me and is relieving himself on the grassy bank, I march her back into the garden. Thanking the young man who offered to help and pleased that it ended so well, I shut both dogs in the house.
I cannot believe that I did not check that gate. After all these weeks in which we have had builders and electricians, coming and going, I have never once lost a dog. Well, I suppose I didn’t lose one today really but it could have ended in tears that’s for sure.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, is that one sugar or two?

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Over the hedge

Five-year-old William had done the unthinkable and hurled his younger brother’s sunglasses up into the air and over the hedge.
You may remember me doing something similar in a fit of jealousy, with my sister’s silk knickers? Could this be a family trait? I shan’t admit such a thing.
The first I knew of the incident was when William came running in from the garden calling out,
“Grandma, Grandma, you’ve got to help me!”
Of course, I dropped whatever I was doing and followed him down the garden.
Three-year-old Elliott stood with a sorrowful expression, by the hedge.
“William,” (pronounced, Wi’yam) “threw my sunglasses into the hedge,” he told me, in his gruff little voice.
“I didn’t mean to! I just threw them up and they went up, up and into the hedge…” William protested, re-enacting the scene by waving his arms about.
Leaving aside the question of why he had the glasses in the first place and why he had thrown them up and over the hedge, I turned my attention to the problem in hand.
“Can you get them, Grandma?”
This last came from Elliott, looking at me with all the confidence a three-year-old can muster in his grandma.
The Laurel hedge is very thick. It is not quite as thick and as prickly as the hedge in which Flossie became incarcerated recently, but it is thick.
As Elliott was standing by a section of the hedge, I had to assume the glasses had somehow landed in the vicinity.
I peered through the branches. Of course, I couldn’t see much except leaves and thick branches. Maybe the glasses had landed on top of the hedge.
This hedge is an interior hedge that is meant to be kept at a height of three or four feet. However, Laurel grows quickly as any gardener will attest and right now, it was nearing 5 feet high. Reaching over, I swept the upper reaches of the hedge with my hand, receiving a few scrapes and scratches for my trouble. I worked my way along, peering through the branches, to no avail. Are sure you threw the glasses in the hedge?” I asked, as I emerged from a particularly dense patch.
William demonstrated exactly what had happened. Since he was standing some way from the hedge, I was doubtful that the glasses had in fact made it that far.
William assured me they had, though he did not seem able to point to the exact area.
Finally, I stood back and admitted defeat.
‘Please don’t tell my mummy, grandma!”
I studied his earnest little face. Memories of those silk knickers and nightie came back to me. Alas, my own mother had seen exactly what had occurred. No good would come of trying to keep this from Laura of course.
“Well, William,” I said, in my most grandmotherly voice, “Your mummy will have to know or she will wonder where Elliott’s sunglasses are, won’t she? But I think it would be better if you tell her, that would be the best way,”
William looked horrified at the thought but his expression of pure terror soon cleared and he grinned in triumph,
“I know, Grandma, I have a really good idea. I will go and get some shoes on,” (I noticed he was barefoot, Huckleberry Finn style), “I will go into the hedge, find the sunglasses and then it will be all right won’t it?”
He was so certain his plan would work that I hadn’t the heart to dissuade him.
Racing up to the house, he reappeared wearing his shoes a few seconds later and began looking for ways into the hedge. After some little time he had to give up.
His mother, realising something was going on, had appeared in the meantime and was of course, not best pleased, not least because she had just issued both boys with their sunglasses in preparation for going on holiday. Fraught after a day of packing, cleaning and preparing, Laura gathered her brood up and headed for home, with a tearful William in tow.
I did feel for him. I could well remember how one impulsive act can have such devastating consequences for a child.

I am sure there will be other incidents such as this and one day in the future, perhaps when I have finally had enough of this hedge taking up half the garden, I may uproot it and find a small pair of blue framed sunglasses, sitting on a gnarled old branch.

Mind you, if it is anything like the time I buried the shed key beneath the blackcurrant bushes in a game of “hunt the key,” when I was four years old, it could be a good few years before those sunglasses see the light of day again.

No one can be cross for long with such little imps though..

Mischief makers

Mischief makers

The school holidays mean that my house has become a playground again for boundless imagination. Here are two boys flying through space in turbo charged chairs…

Flying through space...

Flying through space…

IMG_3141
While one little girl gives Flossie a haircut…
"How much would you like taken off today?"

“How much would you like taken off today?”


…and another little girl sorts her brothers out on the last day of school…
Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths!

Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths!

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Are you being served?

“Let’s nip out for a coffee,”
The phrase is bandied about at weekends here. It can cover a multitude of things. We could be suggesting going somewhere to discuss a new plan, share some exciting news. The coffee might turn out to be tea, the venue might become a pub but generally, we end up sitting in a quaint little café or tea room or at a ‘Costa Coffee’, to get away from it all for half an hour.
The experience is normally relaxing, often insightful and in most cases, refreshing.
Occasionally, the trip will include lunch but either way, it is one of life’s little treats in the busy world we inhabit.

Just the other weekend, Dave suggested we “nip out for lunch”. Driving round the local countryside, he and I ended up at a pub we had never frequented before. The Tichbourne Arms, tucked away in the countryside, with its thatched roof and delightful garden, was quite idyllic. The landlady welcomed us and we ordered a “Cheese and Ham Ploughman’s” and sat in the sun, just listening to the birdsong and the lack of traffic noise. We both agreed the food and the venue were ‘spot on’.

The Tichbourne Arms

Delightful country pub

Remembering this delightful experience, today, a Saturday when the odd shower does nothing to detract from the general warmth and positive vibes of the day, Dave utters those immortal words again,
“Let’s nip out somewhere for a coffee,”
He has a place in mind. He has seen a sign for a café on his way to somewhere, recently and wants to try it out.
We drive to a delightful village only a few miles from us. We follow the sign to the café. The café is in a shop it appears – oh, it is at the back of the shop to be precise. The girl at the shop counter steps back and ushers us through a doorway,
“Yes, just walk through – it’s out the back,” she smiles but does not follow.
We edge our way past the counter and through a narrow passage to the very back of the shop. We enter a room divided in two. To our left, is a kitchen area where there appears to be a lot of frying going on. To our right are three small tables wearing chequered cloths. We hesitate, where should we sit? Beyond the room there appears to be a small garden but it is hard to see.
An assortment of pretty crafts and hand-made items adorn the shelves and bunting hangs from the ceiling.
A young girl brushes past us and addresses the person doing the frying who we can just see above the screen that divides us. Neither seem to see us.
They look busy. We decide to sit ourselves down although the smell of frying is quite off putting. I joke that someone we know well, who shall remain nameless, would not like this at all. I am already filing the episode in that pot labelled, ‘strange experiences’.
Having found ourselves a couple of chairs at the back of the room which really is not very far from the front of the room, we smile at the girl who is carrying a tray of bacon and eggs into the garden. She does not appear to notice. She cannot have failed to see us. We are the only people in the room.
“Do they want brown or white toast?” calls out the woman who is frying and presumably, now toasting.
The girl returns.
“Danny wants brown toast but the other guy with his son doesn’t want any,” she reports.
“Ok, now take this bread out please,” the toasting woman orders. The girl passes us with a board full to bursting with bread and butter. We can only see three heads in the garden. Who is eating all this food?
We are patient. She will notice us in a moment and perhaps apologise for the wait or maybe even ask us what we would like to drink. We wait.
The girl returns. The woman behind the screen tells her what else she must do. The girl stands there and nods. Perhaps she is new, we tell ourselves. We talk between ourselves for a bit.
The toasting woman seems to have finished toasting and frying and is now busy doing something else. The girl reappears and awaits instruction. She appears to be doing nothing now. Our hopes rise. The phone rings.
“If that is for me, I am not available unless it is Brian or John,” instructs the woman behind the screen, “I’m far too busy for anyone else,”
The girl answers the phone.
“Hello? Yes, we are open from 10am until 6pm. Yes, we do breakfast. Um, I’m not sure…let me read out the entire menu to you…”
She doesn’t actually say that last bit, she just reads the entire menu out to whoever has phoned up, at the speed of a snail.
Maybe that’s what we need to do – phone up! I consider it as an option.
We have sat here quite a long time without anyone acknowledging us – twenty minutes at least, surely not half an hour? Since the girl does not appear to be getting rid of the caller any time soon, we look at one another and make the decision to leave. I’ve a feeling that no one will notice.
We stand up, pushing our chairs in so that they are bound to hear and make our way to the front of the room. Being polite, despite the way we have been treated, or not treated, depending on how you look at it, we smile at the screen and call out,
“Thank you,” as we leave.
In unison, the pair turn and call out breezily,
“Thank you very much, Goodbye!”

We have to laugh. It is so absurd!
Needless to say, we end up in Costa Coffee and agree that today is one to put down to experience.

Fancy a coffee?

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Nights in Pink Satin

As I reached across the gas hob to retrieve a wooden spoon, I felt the heat rush up my arm. Husband had left the gas ring on, ‘simmer’. I hastily withdrew my arm before the flimsy material of my blouse could catch alight.
That single act brought another image to mind, an image of another item of clothing that did not escape the flames and indeed, that can still cause me to squirm and die a little of shame, each time I remember it.
I was 3 years old. The year was 1960.
It should be said that sibling jealousy played a big part in what was about to happen.
It had all started on Christmas morning 1959. My middle sister and I were both handed similarly sized, squashy presents, wrapped in identical Christmas paper.
My 5-year-old sister must have unwrapped her gift first. As the sheet of paper tore apart, a torrent of beautiful, pink satin silk, cascaded onto the floor, landing in soft ripples at my feet. Scooping the garments up, my sister exclaimed over her new satin knickers and nightie. I, watching longingly, coveted them from that moment.
“Open yours,” she urged me. I couldn’t wait. I ripped open my present, expecting the same pink satin garments to drop from its folds. I pulled out the crisp, flowered cotton apron and held it before me.
“What a lovely apron Auntie Jules has given you,” exclaimed my mother, or words to that effect.
I stared at the apron, disappointment clouding my vision. I looked at my sister’s pink silk nightwear and put the apron down. I don’t suppose I actually said I was disappointed. Perhaps they knew as much by my face but nothing was said. Of course, I liked the apron. However, its coarse cotton fibres could never match the delicate fronds that made up the silk knickers.
Every time my sister wore the garments I must have felt that stab of jealousy. More than once I begged to be allowed to wear them for a while, though they would not have fitted me. I was never allowed.
Living in a house bereft of any heating save for the coal fire, burning in the grate, it was inevitable that when laundry had to be dried indoors, the airer was erected close to the fire.
On this particular evening, some time early in 1960, the pink satin knickers and the pink satin slip, had been draped over the wooden clothes horse along side my Winceyette nightie.
My mother was brushing my sister’s newly washed hair. We must have both just had a bath because I was wrapped in a towel.
The fire guard had been moved while my mother poked at the coals to rekindle the flames. Satisfied, she had sat back to resume the brushing.
I reached out, intending to touch the pink satin.
“Don’t touch my things!” blurted my sister.
Now what possessed me, who can say? I really do not know but I remember it clearly. Perhaps her words goaded me, before I knew what was happening, I was reaching out and grabbing the knickers in defiance, while she screamed at me and my mother blinked in amazement. Quick as wink, I had flung the gorgeous pink satin knickers onto the fire.
To my mother’s credit, she reacted quickly and tonged the knickers out again, before they disintegrated in the flames. Alas, she was too late to prevent the scorched hole from appearing in the seat of those pants. They would not be worn again.
My sister squealed and I, almost as shocked by my actions as she was, burst into tears. The smack I received and the reprimand, were nothing in comparison with the feeling of horror I experienced when I saw what I had done.
It was a tough lesson to learn for a three-year-old, “jealousy is a destructive emotion and what is done cannot be undone”.
So, here I am, 56 years later and that moment is etched in my memory still, brought to mind this week, by a gas ring left burning. My sister kept the pink satin nightie until she grew out of it, by which time it was quite washed out and far less appealing. Its whereabouts after that are a mystery, probably delegated to the rag-bag.
Ironically, I still have the cotton apron that Auntie Joules bought me, all those years ago and treasure it beyond any silk or satin.

On the beach

Sisters – pink satin horror forgotten

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Biscuits and kind words …

The waiting room at the Veterinary surgery, is empty. Flossie and I cross the threshold together. Except we don’t. Flossie takes a backward step and I have to give her a gentle tug to coax her into the room.
She twists round on her lead and makes the whole procedure somewhat difficult but, we are in, eventually.
Why are we here? Simple really. If you have read A twist in the Tail, you will know that Flossie recently had a traumatic experience involving a hedge in which she got firmly entangled. Having emerged, apparently unscathed, it transpired that, unbeknown to us, she had sustained a scratch below her ear.
Charlie, being a caring chap, has been licking this scratch for her. I discovered this, this morning and it has now created a sore patch requiring the Vet’s timely intervention.
So, here we are, standing in the waiting room, waiting to see the vet.
“Take a seat,” smiles the receptionist. I cross the floor to the bench under the window but before I can sit down, Flossie has leapt up onto the leather seat, wet muddy paws and all, and is panting wildly at the window.
I haul her down and reprimand her. Can’t she read? The notice clearly states, no animals on the seats please. Flossie doesn’t think she is an animal of course. I take a tissue from my pocket and wipe the paw marks only to find that she has twisted round and leapt right back onto the seat. She is clearly worried.
Having cleaned the seat a second time, I decide to go and wait by the door. Flossie is happier here. She can see through the glass pane and into the street. Apparently, she is happy if she can see an escape route. This makes me wonder, briefly, if she suffers from claustrophobia. This would explain her sudden determination to get out of confined spaces.
I consider the notion but dismiss it. I think she just remembers previous visits to the vet and is anxious to be gone.
We are booked in for 9.50am. At 10 o’clock, we are called.
“Barker,” says an unfamiliar, soft Irish brogue.
I look up and smile, the very good-looking, young Irish Vet beckoning us, smiles.
“Barker?” he asks.
“Well, I am Mrs Barker, this is Flossie,” I explain. Common mistake.
He laughs and makes a fuss of Floss, who is so grateful to be moving, she fairly flies into the surgery.
She is not so happy to have her face looked at.
“Wet eczema,” proclaims kind, Irish vet, “I’ll just shave the area a little to make it easier to treat,”
You will, will you?
Flossie is thinking the same thing.
My mind, and possibly hers, flits back to the last time our usual Vet tried to give her the kennel cough vaccine which is given in the form of nasal drops. Without going into detail, let me say that the entire endeavour ended with me having Floss in a stranglehold in the corner of the room while the vet, squished in with us, tried to squirt the vaccine into her nose as Flossie manfully struggled backwards and careered across the room in a blind panic.
Our usual Vet declined to give her the vaccine this year.
I convey some of this experience to new, young and kindly, Irish Vet.
He nods and smiles and suggests I hold Flossie while he uses the clippers.
I tempt her with biscuits and kind words but she is wise to what’s going on and refuses to sit still. It is at times like this that I think Floss and I are a little mismatched, she so big and me so small.
The Vet steps back and scratches his head, metaphorically speaking.
“I think I’ll take her out of her comfort zone and into the back room. I find dogs are often better away from their owners when doing this kind of thing,” he decides.
I will try anything rather than end up, bruised and battered, in the corner again.
Floss disappears into the nether regions of the practice. I am left waiting. I can hear voices. I can hear laughter but I can’t hear the sound of the clippers buzzing. I wait. I wait some more.
I hear footsteps.
Nice young Irish Vet opens the rear door and pops his head round, his expression rueful, “Had to use the scissors,” he smiles, “just putting the ointment on…and giving her an antibiotic jab, won’t be long,”
He disappears. I wait.
“All done!” a very relieved Vet reappears, with Flossie, obediently following behind.
“If you need her to have the kennel cough vaccine in future, just bring her in and we’ll take her out the back and administer it there,” he says with confidence.
I am not quite as confident as he appears to be but I will be willing to try. I smile and thank him and we make our exit with far less fuss than we entered with.
Flossie, walking sedately along the path to the car, could well be planning her next escape, however, she’ll have a job, we have had the back garden re-fenced since her last attempt.
Watch this space…

All secure!

All secure!

New fencing

New fencing will scupper Flossie’s escape attempts!

A wry look at life

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A Twist in the Tail…

Flossie here. I have to say I am feeling a little embarrassed today. I’d really rather not tell you about my latest escapade at all but if I don’t, the Boss will and she is bound to make far more of it than she needs.
I suppose I should start with the current state of play, since the days of my cunning plan.
For the past few weeks, my freedom has been curtailed. Having blocked up as many holes as she supposed I could escape from, and in between bouts of pulling her hair out, The Boss has ordered new fencing and my outings into the garden have been limited. I am either accompanied by the Boss (give her her due, she is out there in all weathers with her wellies and raincoat) and allowed to have a romp with young Charlie or, should it be dark, taken out on my lead (the indignity of it) to have a wee.
This is not so bad as it sounds as the Boss is quite good company. She doesn’t seem to mind if I forget I am on the lead and suddenly lurch off in the direction of a new smell. She seems to follow quite quickly though she does curse a little. The lead is abandoned during daylight hours for some reason. The Boss is under the delusion that she can keep an eye on me and pre-empt any escape attempts.
On some occasions, the front gate is closed and we are shooed out there though it is not half as interesting as the back garden. Having seen that I have attempted to squeeze through the main hedge in the front garden more than once, the Boss has had the Boss Man strategically place a couple of heavy pallets to thwart my attempts.
This makeshift arrangement has worked for a while without mishap. It has worked too well for my liking. Every time I venture close to the hotchpotch of fencing in the lower garden, she yells at me to stop. I do of course. I am trained you know. However, the other day, I spotted a new hole in the hedge, higher up the garden, and the Boss, evidently not suspecting its existence, was busy elsewhere.
Seizing the opportunity, I wriggled through—oh the joy—the freedom—the sudden panic when I heard the Boss yell. I knew I shouldn’t have done it but try as I might I could not quite make myself go back just yet, just have a sniff here, a snuffle there…
I returned unscathed some few minutes later through the same hole and the Boss let me in the house with a frosty look. I knew I had done wrong.
Charlie of course, goody two shoes as ever, bounced around her ankles and preened under her praise for being a good boy.
That dog will get his comeuppance one day, I thought to myself, he will slip up and she’ll see him in his true colours.
So, back to the present.
I think my misdemeanour in the back garden the other day, influences the Boss’s decision to let me run round the front garden this morning. Charlie, ever ready to join in the fun, grabs his yellow ball and tears ahead of me. The Boss decides not to accompany us. She can see us from her desk and it is a bit chilly.
After a while, I think she has actually forgotten about us because otherwise, how am I able to find the time to inspect that pallet arrangement properly? If she was out there, I might never have known that yesterday’s gale force winds have apparently dislodged one. As it is, there is a gap through which I am sure I can squeeze, just give me a few moments to gather my strength.
The front hedge is particularly dense, I should explain. Had I known just how dense, I might never have embarked on this mode of escape. As things are, I think I can squeeze between those branches and I know the road is on the other side.
Charlie, abandoning his ball, has come to investigate. Thinking to follow me, he begins burrowing further down in the hedgerow and to my chagrin, gets to the other side in record time. I make a concerted effort. My head breaks through a tangle of branches only to encounter more of the same. My body strains against the wood and briar that seem to be pinning it to the spot. This is not so easy as I first supposed. I am about to give up and retreat when I realise — I am stuck.
Oh the indignity of it. I wriggle my shoulders. I attempt to shuffle backwards. My efforts are all to no avail. I am well and truly jammed. To make matters worse, I can hear the Boss calling me.
At this point, I realise the full scale of my predicament. Not only am I wedged firmly deep inside this prickly hedge, but neither can I be seen.
Well, this isn’t so bad, I suppose, who wants to be seen in such an embarrassing situation? I keep quiet and concentrate on wriggling forward again. It is then that the Boss begins staring at the hedge and calling,
“Charlie, is that you?”
No, of course it isn’t Charlie … old goody two shoes has legged it hasn’t he?
I realise I am making a bit of noise with all this scrabbling around. The trouble is, all the boss can apparently see of me is a flash of tail. She soon realises that it does not belong to Charlie of course but when she realises it is little ol’ me encased by all that shrubbery, she doesn’t know whether to laugh or shout at me. Despite her hastily smothered chuckle, I sense she is a little concerned,
“What are you doing in there?” she asks.
Well, what does she think I am doing? Isn’t it obvious? I hope one of her cohorts won’t saunter down the road in a minute, and bear witness to this travesty.
I can see The Boss but she plainly cannot see me very well. She goes round the hedge to the roadside and peers through the branches. There really is not much to see, except a tangle of wood and briar and if she looks very carefully, a rather sorry-looking golden retriever who has by now given up.

Flossie and Charlie under surveillance

Flossie and Charlie under surveillance

The Boss mutters something about there being no way I’ll be able to get out on the road side of the hedge. It is far too dense. (Tell me something I don’t know?)
She stands back and surveys the problem for a second before marching round to the garden side. I cannot see her now of course. She is at my rear end. She calls me. I suppose that is just in case I am pretending to be stuck.

Where am I?

Where am I?

I try to get a foothold so I can push myself backwards but it is no use. I am doomed. I envisage being trapped here forever. Oh, woe is me.
The Boss has other ideas. She pulls back a couple of the thickest and thorniest branches so that I can at least twist round a bit. She frees my head and shoulders. However, even half turned round I am still trapped. This hedge is a jail. The thick wooden stems are its bars.
The Boss assesses the situation for a short while before she grabs the nearest branches and tugs them back a little. With a satisfying crack, the one that was caught round my leg is gone. That’s all I need. As The Boss huffs and puffs and encourages me, I take a deep breath and manage to turn all the way round. She is almost in the hedge herself now. I push myself over the final hurdle. Only the pallet stands in my way now. With an almighty effort, the Boss wrenches it aside and I hurl myself out of the abyss and into daylight.

Where it all went wrong

Where it all went wrong

Thank you Boss! I am overcome with emotion.
The Boss is laughing until she sees the little yellow ball on the driveway. Where is Charlie?
It makes a change for Charlie to be the one who is missing. I trot into the house and begin cleaning the brambles from my coat. The Boss spends the next half an hour, hunting for Charlie, no longer a goody two shoes. He comes home eventually of course.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

What a twist in the tail indeed!

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Does this violin belong to anyone?

“Would you like ballet lessons, Debbie?”
The question was thrown at my 7-year-old self, by my mother who stood chatting to a neighbour, in the street. I was playing hopscotch on the broad paving slabs that lay beyond our gate, at the time and stopped, wide eyed at the prospect set before me.
I had harboured dreams of becoming a ballerina, ever since reading “Laura of the ballet school.”
“Yes please!” I breathed.
They both laughed and turned away.
I threw the pebble with renewed vigour and practically pirouetted across the slabs. I was going to have ballet lessons! I was beyond excitement.
My mother, chatting away to her friend, had no idea of the depth of my desire of course.
I waited all afternoon for her to bring the subject up. She didn’t.
Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I ventured,
“When can I start ballet lessons?”
My mother looked up from whatever it was she had been doing, in surprise.
“Oh, we’ll see,” she replied.
I sensed my excitement had been a little premature.
For the next few days I waited, growing less certain by the minute. Had I misheard? Had she not asked me if I wanted ballet lessons?
My sisters were less than encouraging.
“Ballet? You?” they said, in sisterly amazement, “You’ll be lucky.”
I tried one more time that week. I waited until I thought my mother was in a reasonable mood. This often coincided with her singing in the kitchen (she was an accomplished soprano in her youth – could have gone professional had her mother let her – she was oft heard to say.)
“When can I go to ballet school?”
“Oh don’t be silly, you wouldn’t like it,” my mother told me.
I realised something then. Adults say things they don’t mean. At least, they say things that children can easily misunderstand, especially when talking to another adult.
Later, I realised that my mother and her friend had probably been discussing the cost of ballet lessons, or the fact that Mrs so-and-so up the road was taking her daughter. They had been discussing anything but the thought of me going to lessons. I liken it to me discussing someone climbing Everest and turning to one of my own children, when small, and asking them glibly, if they would like to do the same. It would have been a rhetorical question of course. I would not have meant it to be taken with any seriousness. I would have been most surprised had that child later turned up with an ice pick and demanded to be taken to Everest.
Alas, at that precise moment, the disappointment I felt when I realised the folly of my ways, was deep.
To be fair, my view of ballet was a little romanticised at the time, but it would have been nice to have a go.
By the age of seven and a half, I had turned my attentions to the piano.
The upright piano arrived and took up residence in the dining room where it squashed itself between the sideboard and the fireplace. Police houses were not large and I am surprised it fitted anywhere, looking back. I think it had come from my grandmother’s house but I can’t be sure.
My grandmother was an accomplished piano player. No one in our house played but my parents thought it might be good to have. We children were warned not to thump the keys but we were interested. My elder sister played Chop Sticks and I copied, dreaming of becoming a famous pianist for a while.
I’d recently read a book about a girl who had fought her way, Cinderella-like to the pinnacle of musical stardom.
I didn’t ask if any lessons were coming our way. I now knew better.
Some little time later, the piano disappeared to a Great Aunt’s house. Great Aunt Grace played beautifully. That summer, while staying with this Miss Haversham look-alike, I was treated to a few lessons from her and picked up the scales and the rudiments of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. She had had the piano tuned and it now sounded beautiful.
“Perhaps your parents will get you piano lessons at home,” she encouraged.
I smiled and said nothing. We didn’t even have a piano now.
Sadly, the lessons were sporadic given the distance between us and no more was said about taking lessons at home.
The violin entered my life when I was nine years old. The school had engaged a violin teacher, at great expense apparently, and I was offered the chance to go to his lessons. I was over the moon.
I was handed a violin in its leather case, which was to be mine for the duration. I had to clean it, nurture it and love it. I did all these things. I learnt to play it like a guitar, I mastered, F A C E and E G B D F. I rubbed resin on the bow and drew it across the strings, bringing forth recognisable nursery rhymes, including, Twinkle, Twinkle, little Star. I read music and played the instrument, tucked beneath my chin, with my fellow violinists, at school concerts.
I loved my violin at first but as we progressed, touching on Chopin and Bach, I struggled a little. After two and a half years, I suppose I had doubts about the suitability of this instrument. A natural musician I was not.
At first, I merely moaned about having to go to the lessons. By the age of ten, I was actively seeking to leave.
“I’m afraid she can’t stop the lessons,” my head master told my parents, “It will be good for her to continue,”
I have never liked being told I have to do something, especially when in my eyes, it is not essential.
I began leaving my violin at home.
“I can’t go to the lesson, I’m sorry, I forgot my violin,” I’d try.
I got away with it once or twice.
My parents got a letter home,
“Deborah must remember to bring her violin to lessons,”
I was not allowed to forget it again.
I took to accidentally, ‘losing’ the case on my way to school. I’d rest it by the canteen, half hidden in the long grass and wander, casually, into class. At lesson time, I’d explain that I had ‘lost’ my violin.
Now, although I, the child, thought this a plausible excuse, the adults in the room clearly did not. A search for the violin would always end the same way. It was found.
Sometimes, they didn’t even have to search, the violin would be handed in to my class, having been found somewhere in the playground. (I was not the master of hiding places). The fact that the instrument had my name clearly printed on its case, ensured that it was never lost for long.
It was no use, I would just have to make the best of things. I dragged my violin to all the lessons. I continued to polish it¬—we shared a love/hate relationship. I practised at home, much to the family’s distress, and I performed at school concerts. Although, I do remember, just pretending to play a particularly difficult piece of music at one concert, leaving the actual playing to my fellow violinists. I don’t know if anyone noticed. I was a good mimic. I did think it was lucky that not everyone took this approach.
I endured those lessons for the remainder of my time at Primary school. I don’t think my musical prowess improved much during this period, I suspect my ability had plateaued. Yes, my repertoire now ran far beyond Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and I could read music but I lacked that essential spark.
Aged eleven, I passed the eleven plus and moved up to Grammar School. I was ecstatic, no violin. My violin had been handed back to my old school for the next, unsuspecting pupil. I was only a tiny bit sad to see it go.
My new music teacher asked if anyone had ever played an instrument, I hesitantly raised my hand.
“I used to play the violin,” I told him.
He was encouraged, I think, for a moment but I did not fall into the trap of offering to take up another instrument, I was too recently released from my last experience.
I was vaguely interested in the trumpet but thankfully, I refrained from joining that class, I was still too traumatised by my violin experience. Mr H did not press me.
For the first year, I was one of his star pupils. Several other children played instruments and read music and I easily kept up with them, using my previously learnt skills.
I performed so well in the end of year exams that I came close to the top of the class. My musical knowledge had really helped that year.
However, by the end of the second year, things had changed. My exam results were very different. Like I said, I am not a natural musician. I’d far rather listen o music than play it. The knowledge that had helped me through that first year, simply ran out. It was with some relief that I slipped into anonymity within music class.
Around that time, Great Aunt Grace, died. There were no more sporadic piano lessons. My musical career was finished before it had really got going.
Alas, I was destined never to dance in Swan Lake nor to play strings at the Albert Hall but I have no regrets. I don’t think the world is a poorer place for my failure to make the grade.
After all, I believe the pen is far mightier than the bow…

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Fess up!..

Have you ever listened to Simon Mayo’s, True Confessions, on Radio 2? Have you any of your own that deserve to be aired?
Asking myself that question, I was struck that there is something I really should confess, so here goes…

It was July 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. My boyfriend of 7 months, and I, had no money between us. He was still at University, I was working for the Civil Service. We were 20 years old and looking for a cheap summer holiday.
My father, a sergeant in the police and well liked and respected by his colleagues, knew someone in the force who had a mobile home in Walton-on the-Naze, Essex, that they let to friends and family. We could have it, said my dad’s friends, for a ridiculously small fee.
We jumped at the chance.
The night before we were due to go, as I travelled home from work and waited for the bus for the last leg of the journey, a friend stopped to chat and offered me a lift home in her mini. My bus was late so I accepted. Carol walked me to where she had parked her mini.
The downside of the lift was that the mini needed a jump-start and I would be the one who had to give it that jump-start. So, with larger and taller friend at the wheel, I, 5’ 2” at a pinch, put all my strength into pushing and bumping that heap of metal.
After a few bumps, the engine spluttered into life.
I got in the car, rubbing my shoulder, which felt a little sore.
The next morning, I awoke in a little pain but was hopeful the ache would fade as the day went on.
My father was giving my boyfriend and I a lift to the camp site. A little old fashioned, he mentioned that he had told his friends that Dave and I were engaged. (This was 1977). So, my boyfriend, aka fiancé and I, packed our bags and climbed in his car. Dad dropped us at the camp site where we were introduced to the lovely middle-aged couple, Diane and Terry, who had offered to rent their beautiful mobile home to us, for a pittance. Any guilt I might have felt, at pretending to be engaged, was offset by the pain I was experiencing in my left shoulder, by this time.
The caravan was equipped with a TV but without electricity, it had to be powered by an old car battery, which sat on a plinth on the floor next to it.
“If it runs out, you can recharge it at the local garage,” explained Terry.
Thanking our benefactors and bidding my father goodbye, we prepared for our bargain week in this caravan, aptly named, Terridi.

Caravan

Terridi


By the evening, my neck and shoulder had seized up and Dave had to apply hot flannels to my shoulders to ease the pain.
Each day, I could only walk for a certain amount of time before the pain got too bad and we had to go back to the caravan for the application of hot flannels and a gentle massage. I think Dave enjoyed the massage, more than me. We drank wine, watched television and played cards, enjoying our solitude.
A morning walk

A morning walk


Dave relaxing in the caravan

Dave relaxing in the caravan


This pattern went on for several days. We’d explore in the morning and go back to the caravan for a rest and to watch some TV, in the afternoon, until my shoulder, gradually, improved.
One afternoon, sitting in the Blue Room at The Royal Albion, (out of the blue), Dave proposed. I accepted. We were officially engaged after all. He bought me a budget eternity ring and told me I should keep the news quiet as he didn’t believe in long engagements and he still had two more years at University. I agreed of course.
We couldn’t have been happier.
The Royal Albion Public House

The Royal Albion Public House


The night before we were due to go home, Dave decided that he would take the car battery to be recharged as a gesture of goodwill. Having no car, he had to carry it there and back again.
On his return, he heaved the battery up the steps and into the caravan. Resting it on the fabric bench, he wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans and remarked that it was heavier than he had thought it would be.
At that point, I noticed something seeping out of the battery onto the cushion covers.
‘What’s that?” I squeaked, uneasy now.
“Oh sh**! Battery acid,” Dave swore.
“Move it!,” I cried.
He hoisted the battery into the air and staggered back down the steps, setting it down on the ground. I noticed he was wiping his hands on the front of his jeans now.
I was more concerned with the state of the seat cushions. The battery acid had leaked rather badly. I grabbed a bowl and filled it with soapy water, biting back all the comments that were on the tip of my tongue.
“We’ll have to scrub it, neutralise it,” I exclaimed instead and set to with the scouring pad. The area I had cleaned looked ok. In fact, when I stood back, I could see that it was now far brighter than the rest of the bench. There was nothing for it but to shampoo the entire seat.
Meanwhile, Dave did something with the battery and sat it back on the metal plinth from which it had originated.
Hot, bothered and worried about the consequences of the battery acid eating into the fabric, I stood back to survey my handiwork. The cushions were now gleaming. We could only go to bed and hope for the best.
The next day, we hardly dare look but it was ok, the cushions looked no worse for wear. They did look incredibly clean though.
We wondered whether to leave a note to explain the mishap but decided against it. Instead, we left a thank you card, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine on the coffee table.
By the time my father appeared to take us home, we were more than ready to leave.
Debbie

Getting ready to leave


The cushions as we left them

The cushions as we left them

Later that day, walking round our home town, we had reason to climb a flight of steps. Dave went first. It was as he reached the third step that I noticed a hole appearing below his left buttock. In the era of tatty jeans, this was not in itself unusual but as I watched, another hole appeared and every time he lifted his foot to climb higher, more of the fabric seemed to disintegrate.
“Your jeans!” I hissed,
“EH?” he returned,
“They’re falling apart!” I stuttered between giggles.
Sure enough, by the time he had reached the top step, his underpants were clearly showing through the tattered denim.
Looking down he groaned. We feared that if we didn’t get home soon, his jeans would just disintegrate which made me wonder…
Were those sofa cushions really ok or did the fabric slowly rot away? Was there a time delay? I imagined that lovely couple getting up one morning for breakfast and wondering what on earth had happened to their cushions. Even worse, had the acid eaten into the floorboards and was the caravan, even now, full of holes?
We never did find out and it is only now, Dave and I having been married for 36 years, that I feel I should “’fess up”.
So, Dear Diane and Terry, if you ever wondered how your caravan seats came to disintegrate overnight, I am very sorry, it was us, the young, unengaged, but about to be engaged, couple whose intentions were good and who left you a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, in appreciation of your generosity. We did it.
There, it’s done! I have confessed. Diane and Terry might well still remember the incident. My father died in 1986 so I can’t ask him if they ever got in touch to ask about the calamity. The jeans, by the way, had to be thrown away, what was left of them, and Dave learnt his lesson about handling car batteries.

I should also confess that that was the first time I ever used a four letter word!
Sorry!

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Flying irons

It started as one of those days.

Two of my little grandchildren stayed at our house last night. I would not have been aware of their presence this morning, had I not opened my eyes just as they were leaving our room having, I guessed, been standing by the bed, staring at my sleeping figure for some time.
I should have continued to sleep or to pretend sleep for a few minutes more, at least. However, being Grandma, I did what any grandma might do, I said,
“Hello, you two,”
Now, every grandchild knows that if Grandma says hello, that means she is awake, ready to play/read/cuddle whatever you like.
My fate was sealed. I had an early start.
Some little time later, we were downstairs eating cereal poured from those little individual packets, because it tastes so much better than cereal out of the big boxes, when you are small. Luckily, Grandma always seems to have some in the cupboard.
Separating dogs from children, at feeding time, is always a bit difficult and Flossie managed to lie undetected beneath the table for some time, waiting for any dropped morsels of food. Charlie, a little hesitant, circled the perimeter, sniffing the floor.
‘Ignore them,” I instructed.
“Good boy Charlie,” said William. Charlie wagged his tail and moved closer sensing the promise of something tasty.
I decided to send Charlie and Flossie into the garden.
A little while later, boys having eaten their breakfast, I let Flossie in. There was no sign of Charlie but I decided he could stay out for a while.
The boys were whisked away, at 8.30am, by their nanny while their mum, now very pregnant, went off to work.

grandchildren

William and Elliott ready for pre-school and school


It was then that I noticed Charlie was missing. I could hear him barking but he didn’t come when I whistled.
A quick trip down the garden revealed him to be on the other side of the wire fence. He’d got through the hedge and then through another, now entirely invisible, gap. He could not get back.
So, off I went to call on my neighbour to see if I might go into his garden and rescue Charlie. He, of course, was very obliging and led me through the garden, even though it had started to rain and he was in his shirt sleeves. I did have the presence of mind to say I wouldn’t go through the house, as I was already a bit wed and muddy, (very thoughtful of me).
Making my way down the garden, a very long garden, I spotted Charlie still trying to get through the hedge and home. Seeing me, he went into a frenzy of delight and came galloping up the garden. By now it was beginning to rain quite heavily so I thanked my kind neighbour and hurried back home.
Stepping over the lines of neatly lined up cars that 2-year-old Elliott had left in one room, and clearing away the breakfast things, I decided to do a spot of ironing while I was in the kitchen.
This was probably a mistake as Charlie was sniffing round. However, heedless of danger, I grabbed the iron from the utility room, dislodging a chew bone from the work surface, as I did so. The chew bone rolled down the step and onto the kitchen floor. Naturally, Charlie thought his luck was in and made to get it.
“No, leave, Charlie,” I cried and iron in hand, turned to pick up the treat. Confused, Charlie backtracked, becoming entangled with my feet. In an inelegant, slow motion, cartoon fall, I tripped over Charlie, lunging forward, down the step, realising I had no option but to fall to the ground, since both my feet were now in mid-air. With the iron still in my hand, I was conscious that I must not smash it on the stone tiles.
Somehow, in that split second, as I flew through the air, wielding the iron on high, I managed to avoid landing on the dog and if not gently, then safely brought the iron to the floor, where I crumpled beside it.
I briefly wondered whether this would result in any injury to my person but thankfully, it did not. My pride was bruised it was true, but little else. I had even managed to grab the dog treat on my way through.

All this before 9am.

What will the rest of the day bring?

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