Sunday, 29 August 2010

Princess Doris Dandelion

Fat Doris goes home tomorrow so I thought I'd share a few more pictures here that Ms Peevish can prevent her girls from seeing:

TLH was very taken with her and was dead keen to get her out of her cage for a cuddle and since we were told her favourite food is dandelion leaves, she's been given her own bodyweight of them to eat (and she does!) so we think her name should be changed from Fat Doris to Princess Doris Dandelion:

She's very cute and purrs loudly in her cage whenever we play any music.  Looking this up on Google gives conflicting explanations - one says it means they're happy, another that they're distressed!  So I really don't know but I know that her normal household is nowhere near as quiet as ours; we have us two plus the cats and that's it.  Doris's household has two adults, two teenagers, one preteen (plus all their friends), seven rabbits and at least two tellys on all the time - quiet it is not.  Perhaps the noise of our music reminds her of her home and she's purring contentedly - I hope so.

Her family have been "enjoying" the late August weather on a campsite in darkest (literally!) Dorset for the past few days.  What the hell is going on with our summer weather?  June was fantastic as was the first half of July, then it steadily became more and more pants until we could give Pakistan a run for its money in terms of rainfall.  It's positively schizophrenic.  It goes from this:

(Welcome to a typical English summer. Yes, that's a wall of rain obscuring the hills in the distance between the houses.)

to this in the space of about an hour:

I'm seriously longing for a week of just lying on a beach somewhere hot for a week where I don't have to do anything but just enjoy reclining in the sun with a good book....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

We have a guest....

TLH and I have been quite excited over the last 24 hours or so, ever since we had a phone call yesterday afternoon requesting last minute bed space for an unexpected visitor.

Her current hosts were going away for a few days and didn't think it would be suitable for her to join them.  Everyone else who could've taken her in were either busy or away themselves but TLH and I don't go away much and were only too happy to help.

"She'll be no trouble," we were told, "in fact she'll bring her own food and bedding so you won't have to do anything.  Oh, and don't worry about entertaining her at all, she's used to her own company".

We've told the cats that they have to be on their best behaviour but I don't think they were paying attention.

Anyway, she arrived a couple of hours ago and has been busy settling in, so, everyone, say hello to:


Yes, our friends have gone to brave the frankly appalling weather we're having at the moment in a tent on the Dorset coast and couldn't find anyone else to feed their guinea pig, Fat Doris, so we said we'd look after her.

At the moment she sitting in her cage on our dining table, minding her own business while the cats are being bemused:

They've not clambered up there to investigate properly yet, but they're old and getting a bit rickety so it depends on whether their sense of curiosity can overcome their arthriticky joints.  At the moment Pepper has expressed some interest (see above) while Sylvester has just run away.

When she was dropped off we asked Carol, her keeper, what she liked to eat.  We were told she liked carrots and especially dandelion leaves 'and she's a fat pig and will eat it all'.  'Ooh, we've plenty of dandelions!' we thought - this is a guinea pig that won't starve on our watch. 

So, she's been with us a couple of hours now and TLH has already been outside and picked a handful of leaves for her, washed them carefully and put them between the bars, just so he could watch them disappear into her fat, little, oh-so-serious face.  It will be sad to see her go home next weekend....

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Shut up, M....

I have been pondering many things this week.  Mainly to do with me, but as I am the centre of my own universe this isn't really surprising.  I only have experience of my own thoughts and emotions, but oftentimes I wish I didn't.  Have my own thoughts and emotions, that is.

I'm not known to be a navel-gazer, I generally don't over-analyse stuff because, somehow, it always comes back to 'you', the one who's doing the thinking, when often what you're pondering - events, things said in passing by other people, email received - has nothing to do with you in the first place.  The human ego is weird like that - it makes us think we're far more important in the scheme of things than we actually are.  I suppose it's a form of self-preservation.

But sometimes, despite the words I've just written above, I find myself doing it.  A little self-analysis is fine, but too much can lead to narcissism and I really can't abide self-centred people.  I know that sounds intolerant which, in many ways, I'm very guilty of being.  Sorry about that, although I'm better than I used to be I can still be quite 'stuff and nonsense' about lots of legitimate difficulties other people may be suffering.  I put that down to not being over-indulged as a child - my mother came from a large war-time Northern working-class family which just put on a brave face and got on with it.  You had to make the best of what you'd got and not complain.  On the whole this has stood me in good stead but has, somehow, left me with a little voice of justification piping up in my head throughout my life.

This is the little voice that points out all my faults and sneers at me when I try to do things. It's condescending and spiteful and is always there.  I don't know really where it came from.  Many places and relationships, I suppose.  My father ran his own business and was away a lot of the time.  Even when he was home he was a detached parent, never played with me and/or my brother but preferred to sit behind his newspaper.  Don't get me wrong, he was kind and a good provider and we loved him, but he didn't interact with us much.  My parents divorced when I was 14.  A little later my mum, brother and I moved into a house with another family but that didn't work out.  My brother and I were not made to feel very welcome by the father of the other family and, by that time, our dad had married another woman who absolutely did not like my brother and I.  So, strictly speaking, my brother and I had nowhere to go where we would be welcome.  I was 15, my brother 12. We just kept our heads down and kept out of the way until we could make our escape.

I'm not telling you all this just to pluck at your heart-strings - I don't agree with miserylit, but this is my story and I'm just setting out the facts plainly. And if I can't write about it on my own blog, where can I dump this?

At that time I had my first proper boyfriend who was the same age as me.  He turned out to be an arrogant shit but, at the time, I thought he was wonderful.  I think I must have been an unconscionably clingy girlfriend but he was too immature to know what to do so he turned my constant clamour for approval from him into a cruel game for his entertainment. Sometimes I think it's his voice that I hear in my head, berating me for being "sooooo STUPID", as he used to put it. Nice. I eventually saw the light and dumped him - he claimed to be terribly hurt and wanted to know what he had done to deserve it!  Prick.

So my voice has accompanied me, from time to time, throughout my life.  An integral part of me, it's only been in recent years that I've actively recognised its existence as a 'separate' part of me.  Okay, I know that sounds like I'm schizophrenic suffering from multiple personalities - trust me, it's nowhere near that bad but I can see how it can get out of control.  It's the voice of self-hatred that a lot of women have, I've just acknowledged mine.

I rebel against it as often as I can.  Over the years I've done things because (a) I've wanted to, (b) prove to myself that I CAN do these things and, yes, I admit it, (c) often with the view to gaining approval.  I got up on stage and sang in bands in front of audiences for most of my twenties - an appreciative audience is the best!  I taught myself to play saxophone and have played on a single.  I've been on television a few times - it was fun, the opportunity arose and it became good anecdotal material.

I did two degrees in Archaeology (BA(Hons) and an MA) because I loved the subject and I knew I'd be good at it, despite the little voice telling me otherwise.  I took up horse-riding for a few years because I fancied learning it but in this case I did listen to the little voice when it started telling me that I'd kill myself if I fell off, so I've stopped now.  I started my own business making and selling jewellery which has, actually, proved to be very therapeutic to the ego - there's nothing like the boost you get when a complete stranger decides they like your stuff enough to spend their hard-earned money on it.  I dye my hair outrageous colours because I like the attention (and the colour, obviously!)

The trouble with rebelling against the little voice is that it often goes circular and the voice ends up being right, which makes me angry because I don't want to listen to what it says.  TLH has been on the receiving end of this probably more times than he realises.  For example, perhaps I'll be doing something, cooking, being creative, making a mess, whatever.  I'll leave something lying around, knowing that I'll need it in a bit or that I'll clear it up in a little while, and the voice will go, "tidy that up right now" and I'll reply, "fuck you, little voice, I'll do it when I want to, not when you tell me to" ('cos I'm quite anti-authoritarian like that), and then TLH will come along and (rightly) get grumpy because it's in his way, or the surface is too cluttered for his liking, or he's tripped over it or something, and will make it obvious he's pissed off, and then I'll get snappy with him because, goddamit, now I'll never hear the end of it from the little bastard voice because it was right and I so don't want it to be.  God, I sound mental.

A few years ago, a relative of mine went away to visit their sibling, M.  They'd always had a fraught relationship and the holiday, although enjoyable, could be a little abrasive at times.  When my relative came home, it was reported back to me the things that M had said about other family members, my relative and, indeed, about me.  And swipe me if it didn't sound EXACTLY like the things my little voice has said to me, "I don't know why she [i.e., me] spends so much time blogging - if she had a proper job then she wouldn't have the time", "why did she [i.e., me] waste all that time and money getting two degrees in archaeology if she's not going to use it?  how pointless..." and on and on.  M was voicing my self-hatred out loud.

My little voice now has a name - I've called it M, after my relative.

Has anyone else named their inner tormenting demons? And what do you do about them?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Perseid Meteor Shower 2010

I've just got back indoors from spending a really rather enjoyable hour or so in the dark of the back garden, sitting on deck chairs, sharing a bottle of rosé with TLH, watching for shooting stars.  Quite romantic really.  If you're nerds.  Which I think we probably are.

The annual Perseid Meteor shower peaked tonight (12 August) at about 11pm and we were blessed with a clear sky, for once.  The Perseid Meteors are bits of dust of the comet Swift-Tuttle that hit our atmosphere at 140,000 mph and streak across the sky.  They come from the direction of the Perseus constellation, hence the name.

TLH and I have looked out for these meteorites for many years now but the sky is usually cloudy so this year was good - plus it was a new Moon (i.e, no moon at all) so the sky was extra dark - if you can ignore the street lights.  The best sky we ever saw was a few years ago when we went glamping in a yurt in the middle of Bodmin Moor where there was no light anywhere - no street lights, no house lights, nothing.  You could see the Milky Way as clear as day and it was astonishing - we decided it would have been the best place to view tonight's meteor shower, so perhaps next year.

All in all, tonight's tally included about 20 meteorites, 2 satellites and a bat.  And a stiff neck, but it's so worth it just to contemplate the mind-boggling majesty of the universe.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Ay Caramba, etc....

TLH and I don't really get out much - we're quite entrenched homebodies in fact, but sometimes we start to get a bit stircrazy and so we go and 'do a thing'.  What with the recent funeral, and TLH's frequent trips back to his hometown, we haven't really been getting stircrazy, but when my brother contacted me last Friday to say that he and his brood and his wife's parents and her brother & his girlfriend were all going to the 2010 Chili Fiesta at West Dean and would we like to come?, we decided this was 'a thing' that needed doing!

West Dean is a 6,350 acre estate between Midhurst and Chichester in West Sussex owned originally by Edward James, a poet and art-lover, who set up the estate as an educational institute for arts and crafts after his death.  That painting by Magritte of the back of a man's head reflected in a mirror, 'Not to be reproduced' - you know the one, this one:

That's Edward James, that is.

Anyway, I have wanted to do one of the 700 short courses that they run there every year for quite a while now but have never quite got round to doing it.  Actually, that's not strictly true, I put my name down on a course to learn how to make glass beads last year but it was already full and, sadly, no-one dropped out.

The place is about 45 minutes drive from me and my brother, C, said they'd all be there at about 11am so we set off at 10.30, hoping to rendezvous with them there.

The car park was filling up by the time we got there, which was heartening because the weather was very overcast with extremely threatening black clouds, so it was good to see that people had made the effort to get out even though it might rain.  But, hey, that's every summer in England these days, isn't it?

Basically, the Chili Fiesta is a food festival based around, well, chillies, actually, and all manner of associated hot and spicy foods.  As you might well imagine, this makes for a testosterone-rich environment but, having said that, there were plenty of women and little kids too, and the atmosphere was very family friendly.

There were, as you might guess, a vast number of stalls selling all kinds of chili-related items, including bottles of sauces of varying heat, dried chilis, chili plants, etc., right up to sombreros, Mexican wrestler masks (which I was very taken with), t-shirts and caps emblazoned with appropriate logos and sayings, jewellery, paintings, ceramics, gardening clogs and everything in between.  The stalls just went on and on.  At every turning there would be more, and then you'd see a sign saying there were more stalls just beyond the walled garden, and then even more after that!  There were bands from South America playing, a wandering Mariachi trio and bellydancers.  And thousands of people.  Sometimes it was quite difficult to get to the stands because there were so many people but, overall, the size of the site managed to absorb the vast amount of punters and it didn't really feel too overcrowded.

And there was food.  Boy, was there food....  TLH and I aren't what you'd call 'chili heads' but we don't mind a bit of warmth in our food but the smells, THE SMELLS from these stalls were just the best!  You could get any manner of curries from Singapore, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka; you could eat chorizo, South African biltong, Mexican burritos, Sardinian meats and cheeses, Lebanese food; you could drink Chili Beer and Tequila and finish off with Chili Chocolate or even Vanilla Chili Icecream!  We decided to try some Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas.  It was very yummy although possibly a fraction hotter than I would have liked it.

The rain held off and we managed to hook up with my brother and his companions.  The baby lost her chili balloon and my nephew, Roo, nearly managed to kick me in the face (must try harder!) so all was well.  They were heading off to look at stalls we'd already visited so we decided to head off on our own and look at the walled garden.  As well as arts and crafts courses, West Dean also does horticultural stuff - it's a huge Victorian country house with loads of those fabulous white greenhouses and vegetable beds that I'd give my eye-teeth for.  Well, the walled garden was absolutely stunning.  The vegetables in the beds made me want to cry from sheer jealousy - I have never seen such huge onions or such large and beautiful cabbages in my life, and the flowers were exquisite.

We pottered around for a little while longer and I decided I wanted to buy a couple of chili plants - there were some stunning purple ones that change colour to yellow and then red (variety Masquerade) that I rather fancied, and an upright yellow variety called Medusa also appealed.  We headed back to the car then at about 3pm and were 10 minutes down the road before the heavens opened!

I was very impressed by the fiesta - it all looked very well planned and organised, a 3-day event this year and I imagine it will remain so.  I can recommend it for next year if you fancy a day out.

I've been a bit lazy with this post as I normally stick in the photos next to the relevant bit of text but, for some reason or another, I've decided just to put them all together at the end for this one - hope you don't mind!

The first of the stalls, just inside the entrance, in front of the main building at West Dean.

One of the stalls - this is a Mexican one - with bottles of hot sauces and various dried beans, etc.

More Mexican foodstuffs.

TLH was very amused by this sign on a stall selling hot bhajias and pakoras.

And we both found this hysterical - specialised wet wipes for, um, the next day...

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas - yum!

Which we bought from the stall on the left

My brother, C, together with grandad S holding my youngest niece who REALLY wanted her chili balloon.

The wandering Mariachi band doing a bit of standing still and contemplating

The pergola walkway

Inside the walled garden - check out the monster onions!

And the perfect cabbages.

One of the two Pear Tunnels

A 'hot' flower border

Gorgeous Dahlias (check out the wonderful white Victorian greenhouses at the back - they were full of grapes and tomatoes and other exotica)

Lovely pale colours in contrast to the hot colours above.

Inside one of the buildings there was a chili identification table with labelled examples.

A display of the Masquerade chili plants - I bought one of these.

My fave pic of the day!

Monday, 2 August 2010

A good day, all things considered.

I am just back from the funeral and, I have to say, it was one of the best I've ever been to.  If you overlook the fact that the chapel at the crematorium couldn't look more like a nuclear bunker if it tried, that is, and the vertical rippled concrete strata behind the vicar kept making my eyes go funny; at one point I thought I was coming down with pre-migraine visual disturbances, but it was just the effect of the stripes.

The vicar gave a eulogy that was worthy of a good standup comic - she had great timing and had got some terrific anecdotes from my mother-in-law resulting in peals of laughter from the large congregation on several occasions.

But the thing that made this funeral stand out for me more than any other was the singing.  My father-in-law was quite a important cog in the wheel of the local church for many years, and they'd all come to pay their last respects. And many of them were in the church and/or local choirs.  And this is Wales - we're talking full-blown Welsh Male Voice Choir stuff here.  None of your lily-livered English tuneful warbling here, oh no, they filled their lungs and absolutely raised the roof, with proper harmonies and everything.  I was not expecting it.  I was sitting in the front row with the rest of the family, doing fine and not getting upset, until this unbelievably gorgeous noise hit the back of my head and that was it - in seconds my tissue was soaked with tears.  I cannot describe how fantastically moving it was, especially as the first hymn was in Welsh and I had never heard it before.  I really wish now that I'd had the foresight to try and tape it on my iPhone but you don't think about things like that during a funeral, do you? I found a youtube video of the hymn and have posted it below.  I hope you watch it, it's not long and the welly they give it at about the 2:00 mark is what I heard today - hair-raising stuff.

I'm so, so pleased it was this magnificent - they gave the old boy a rousing good send-off and it was a shame he wasn't there because he'd have loved it.  All funerals should be this good.