Sunday, February 22, 2009

I predict a diet

Off to the vet's yesterday morning to check out a rather sore eye on Shin. Shock! Not only does she have conjunctivitis, which requires me to squirt viscous grey eye "drops" onto her eyeball twice a day, but he said she was overweight! Not by much; she's not dangerously obese, but definitely too big for her size. We've always known that she eats more than her sister, but it was a bit of a surprise.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

So, being responsible pet owners, we've started to restrict Little Miss Porky's food intake and to encourage plenty of exercise -- rather than her more typical climb up the stairs after a feed, leaping onto the bed, and snoozing there for most of the day. First up, it's the Krypton Factor for cats. She's not so hot on the IQ tests, but she's going great guns on the "Climb the bit of decking propped up against the tree" contest.

Nin didn't want to be left out, so we decided to play boules; she very graciously agreed to act as the jack.

Next week, we'll hang some ropes from the trees and see how they get on with those. Should be entertaining (for us), at least.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Woodn't it be nice?

Spring is definitely in the air. The mornings and evenings are getting lighter, the dawn chorus is up and running (the noisy little swine), and it's warm enough to spend a couple of hours in the garden with risking frostbite. That means, of course, it's time to start gardening again. Last year was all about wreaking death and destruction on the various weeds (and weed-resembling plants) -- and I see no reason to change just yet. Task No. 1 on the list? Get rid of the ENORMOUS tree root that has been squatting malevolently in my border. Just look at it:

And let's zoom in on the tape measure.

That's right -- 31 inches across. This is a sizeable lump of wood.

Our neighbour had advised covering it over to dry out, then setting fire to it. Tempting though that option was, it seemed unlikely to succeed. First up, securing a tarp over all the new saplings, ivy, and fungus around it was no easy task. Secondly, it's actually quite hard to get this sort of lump of wood to burn, as my recent failure with our woodburner demonstrates. No, it was time to call in the experts. Luckily, our local directory had an ad for the Romsey Stump Grinder -- I like the sort of business that is very clear about what it does. No "Bringing visionary technology to apply to your forestry-related challenges" rubbish. Just "stump grinder" -- nice! He arrived with a couple of lads and a large, petrol-driven grinding machine, took off an enormous piece of root with chainsaws, and then proceeded to grind the remainder into oblivion. Or rather, a mountain of wood chips. This was what it looked like at the halfway mark.

Our vain hope was that it would prove to be rotten within, but that was not the case. Tea and these fantastic biscuits were consumed, and grinding resumed. We ended up with this:

Luckily, the lads loaded the vast majority of this heap into a flat-bed truck for disposal elsewhere; I have enough to level off the ground and use as a temporary mulch.

Next stop: clearing the rest of this border. Time to research chainsaws.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

They're lucky they're so cute

The car was filthy. In fact, it was feeelthy. Covered in a mixture of wood dust, gritting salt, and thousands of muddy little kitty paw prints, it looked disreputable and somewhat embarrassed amongst the bigger, brighter, shinier cars in the short-term parking at Terminal 3 yesterday. Time for the car wash. We headed over to Asda, joined the lengthy queue -- other people clean their cars on a Sunday, too? Who knew? -- and shamefacedly slunk through the wash cycle. Hurrah! A lovely clean new car!! Instead of paw prints, you could just see the scratches from their claws! Bliss! I headed home, parked up, took the shopping in, unpacked it, and returned to the garage to put the bags back in the boot just a few minutes later.

Guess what?

No, really. Guess what I saw on my return?

Paw prints. On the roof. How? How was this possible? I thought they were indoors, playing in the bags as I tried to unpack. But no, they had obviously run through some dirt, jumped onto the car roof, danced around for a bit, and then headed in. Or, they'd projected paw prints onto the car using only the power of their evil little minds -- in which case, I for one welcome my new feline overlords.

This is not, of course, the only example of the sheer delight they can bring. Yesterday, Shin helped me plant some seeds in my new seed trays. And when I say help, I really mean get in my way, put her paws in the potting compost, and then try to eat the newly planted seeds.

Then, it was time to fold up the sheet that had been drying in the conservatory. Look how she helped with this -- before curling up and falling asleep on the duvet cover formerly known as washed and clean.

And while I was gardening today, they kept running back and forward past me, coming with a whisker of having their, well, whiskers removed by my fearsome shears. But then Shin curled up on my lap whilst I was having a restorative cup of tea, sitting on the step and listening to the birdsong over the roar of the M3, and how could I stay angry with her? She's off the hook ... for now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back to the home county

Off to Norwich for a weekend of Norfolkness -- we went to Holt to go antiquing on Saturday, followed by a jolly pleasant if somewhat chilly stroll along the river side in Norwich on Sunday morning. It's been more than a year since my last visit to this fine city, and some things have changed for the better. The stretch along The Quayside has been opened up, its trading heritage nicely highlighted in some street sculpture; traffic has been banned between St Andrew's and Colegate, which is always a good thing. The cathedral precincts remain as medievally delicious as ever -- in fact, the whole area around Riverside is packed with quaint alleys and lanes, ancient houses, and stacked skylines, reflecting its impressive history.

For global insurance companies, however, history counts for naught. The decision to "rebrand" Norwich Union -- our most notable employer -- as Aviva is evidence of this; you may have seen the annoying ads trumpeting this lunacy. Why take a respected, well-known name and replace it with a bland, no-meaning word like "Aviva"? It could be air freshener, it could be a travel company, it could be anything -- except an insurance business trading for 300 years and HQ'ed in East Anglia. At a time when consumers are looking for local products (for local people?), this change is expensive, pointless, and fat-headed. Idiots.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I remember why I don't bother watching the news

For the first time in years, we watched the BBC News last night, as I wanted to see amusing pictures of Britain covered in snow -- y'know, people sledging on tea trays, cars stuck at the edge of motorways, the few people with sensible boots in London walking to work. And while the Beeb provided all that, they also proved themselves to be total killjoys. Over fun aerial footage of snow-drenched fields, they pointed out the cost to the economy of everyone taking a snow day. It's hard to figure out why anyone would feel a sense of responsibility toward shoring up the remains of an economy that was largely pissed away by a handful of greedy, stupid (and unpunished) bankers -- taking their hard-earned jobs, pensions, and savings with it. If, for a couple of days, a lot of very stressed people felt more cheerful because they were out building snowmen or playing with their kids in the snow rather than slaving away under the threat of redundancy, surely that's a boost to Britain's Gross National Happiness index and therefore a good thing?

A (snowy) tribute to Tennessee Williams

Cat on an icy plastic roof:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Burning down the house

Well, not quite -- just yet. We have burnt old kitchen units, doors, bits of shed, bits of mantelpiece, decking, old logs, The Guardian, egg boxes, the Sony Bravia manual (very dense), Amazon boxes, and the Christmas tree, and we're always on the lookout for new flammable objects that will fit into our wood-burner. In fact, I was watching an old Poirot the other morning and as David Suchet scuttled through the countryside, he went past a huge pile of chopped wood -- and I (momentarily) was envious. "Oooh, what lovely wood! I wish I had some like that." It's very sad.

What isn't sad is the heat the fire gives off, the comforting glow that keeps us cosy while "credit-crunch Britain" suffers through this "Arctic Blast". While London may have given up the ghost, life in the Shires continues much as usual. The post came today, as did -- eventually, admittedly -- our two pints of semi-skimmed. Buses (of the non-bendy variety) have been running through the village. We even managed to get out for a walk this evening; four inches of snow isn't enough to render us housebound! My new Wellington boots and even newer Wellington boot socks have been put to good use already and proved far superior to PJ's ancient Cat boots with their super-slippery soles. The cats, while far steadier on their feet, approached this newfound white stuff with initial trepidation but have subsequently spent good parts of the day outdoors frolicking, periodically returning to warm their paws on the hot-water pipes upstairs. They're in now and will -- I hope -- perform their secondary function of furry hot-water bottles, sitting on our laps and keeping us toasty as we eat hearty stew and get quietly sozzled.

The snow of course does highlight the one big problem with working from home: No snow days! Everyone in London can just pretend that it's impossible for them to do any work -- no buses, no laptop, no IT support, no clue -- but us homeworkers are expected to struggle womanfully from bedroom to office and put in a full day at the coalface. Boo!