Thursday, 30 June 2011

The last day of June

A blackbird on the path eating wild cherries

A turbine on the hilltop, holding its arms out to the wind.

Nazgul cloud-shadows flying across the fields.

Red poppies and yellow cat’s ear. Lollipop colours.

Wafts of heavenly honeysuckle, and of the sea.

Heavy-bellied clouds waiting on the horizon.

A sudden silence.
Then the twittering of a million birds just out of earshot.

The dog’s tail, all I can see of her, a white pennant waving through the long grass.

Happiness arriving for no reason. Yesterday, hanging out the washing. Now, sitting under a tree.
A bubbling in the throat.
An almost-laugh.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I'm a bit shaky today as our cat died yesterday so I thought I’d do a nice easy post. It’s one I’ve been planning for a few days, inspired by Nina’s lovely blog ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ ( ) in which she lets us into the secrets of her wonderfully practical life.

As I say in my profile, I enjoy customising my clothes. This may be partly because of my height (five foot ten) which means I can never get clothes to fit, and it may also be because I'm a perfectionist (unfortunately) and like things to be right.
    Last year, because they actually fitted from bum to knee, I bought a pair of dirt-cheap jeans. Below the knee however they were shapeless so I put a flare in the bottom, as we did in the ’60s and ’70s, to give them a bit of kick. (Dreadfully unfashionable, I know, but who cares about fashion.)
    I then, as I nearly always do with trousers, added an extra waistband at the top, so that the trousers didn’t stop right in the middle of my stomach (uncomfortable and unsightly).
    I wore them like that all last year but then this year I thought I’d dye them. They were pale blue and showed every muddy dog print as well as being fattening. As you can see, I dyed them royal blue.
    As I went to put them on however, the first time after I’d dyed them, I discovered that the zip had broken. Bother. I'd spent more on dye than I had on the trousers themselves so I wasn't going to abandon them but nor was I going to attempt to put a new zip in a pair of jeans. So I cut the zip out and put buttons and buttonholes up the front instead. I'd never done that before but it worked well.

Now, a year and four modifications later, and just as they are beginning to wear out, they are my favourite trousers.

I discussed this post with Frog, as I do most of my writing, and he said he thought the sewing bit sounded of limited interest. What the heck. And, coincidentally or perhaps synchronicitly (is that a word?), I see that Nina’s just done a blog about altering clothes as well. Weird.

Felicity arrived in the garden fifteen years ago, a starving feral kitten covered in lice. She dominated our previous dog, walking over her if she was in the way, but didn't seem to have the strength to stand up to Ellie (I know the feeling) and aged rapidly once Ellie arrived. She had to be escorted through the kitchen (where Ellie lurks) each time she wanted to get to her food in the utility room or to go out.
    Yesterday morning she had a fit. We took her to the vet, who did some tests and said she was reasonably OK, so we took her home again, whereupon she had another fit. Probably a tumour on the brain, said the vet. Best to let her go.
    Frog dug a big hole in the garden and we buried her with some catmint.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Absolutely Animals

One or two days a week Ellie goes to a dogminder. Nikki, who runs her business Absolutely Animals ( from just outside Exeter in Devon, is tiny, looks about sixteen (in a good way) and controls her charges without ever raising her voice (at least, as far as I have heard). What’s more, she has managed to get nine of them to sit quietly all at once and have their photograph taken. We can’t even get one to do that. (Ellie is in the front on the left.)

Roselle Angwin in her thought-provoking blog about ‘poetry, holism, the imaginal life, Zen and the natural world. Ish’ ( talks about the importance of relationships. However much we might long to disappear into wilderness and solitude (big sigh of agreement), it’s through relationships that we learn and change. Relationship may be the biggest challenge of our current age.

Absolutely. And my relationship with Ellie is probably my most challenging relationship at the moment. She is super-intelligent, calculating and determined. In order to stop her creating havoc I have to be so tough with her and toughness does not come naturally to me. As I have said in a previous post, the dogtrainer called her a ‘control freak’. Frog calls her a brat. I call her my karma, my reward for being weak in the past.

Nikki on the other hand always delivers her back at the end of the day saying how good she’s been.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Red-letter day

Here is my Mini back home where it belongs with a new panel to hold the driver’s door on. We fetched it this morning from T & T Coachworks of Feniton, Devon – real craftsmen. (In the background you can probably see a dead white Mini. Frog keeps this for spares. Very useful but it does make the place look like a scrapyard.)

Today is Ellie’s first birthday. We are waiting for her miraculous transformation into a grown-up well-behaved dog.

And do you know what a ‘red-letter day’ is? No, I didn’t either. I had to look it up. It comes from ecclesiastical calendars where saints’ days and church festivals were (are?) printed in red ink. Now isn’t that interesting. And there was me imagining an envelope with red writing on it, like an old-fashioned telegram, or something related to ‘French letters’.

Rosebay willowherb and foxgloves,
seeing who can grow tallest and pinkest

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Because of the good response (thank you Nina) to two poems I posted earlier, I’m inflicting another one on you.
    Thirty-six years ago I ran away to Australia. Six months after I’d arrived I found my way to an island off the Great Barrier Reef. Yes, it was paradise.

A very old, much-yellowed picture of sunrise from my island bedroom window

A few years later, however, back in England, I wrote this poem about something that happened there.
    Toads squatted all along the paths around the hotel where I was working. They were huge and you had to dodge them like un-stepping stones. I think now that they were probably cane toads, native to Hawaii but introduced to Queensland in the 1930s to control pests in the sugar cane fields. They spread rapidly and started to eat their way through the indigenous wildlife. They became – and still are, I believe - an enormous problem.
    Even paradise has its troubles.


One day you wandered into a fishing net
left lying at the back of the beach.
Your crusty fingers and toes
soon wound themselves
into the mesh
and trapped you.

I never thought to free you then,
while there was still a chance
that you might live.
Instead I watched you struggle
day after day
for a week.

I shrank from your ugliness and your pain,
while your dinnerplate body
shrank in the tropical sun
and hung there like a trophy.

‘One of the men will deal with it.’
‘Let nature take its course.’
‘What’s one toad more or less?’

But, while I dithered,
you died.

A young cane toad

Saturday, 18 June 2011

What I'm reading 2

On the floor by the bed at the moment is Dissolution by C J Sansom. This is a whodunnit set in the reign of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the monasteries. Normally I hate historical novels but my mother lent me this and I’ve nothing else to read so I’ve persevered with it by dint of pretending that it’s science fiction, in that the cold, dirt and general primitiveness remind me of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series which I read twenty or so years ago and loved. (Phew, that was a long sentence.) And in fact it’s not too bad at all now I’ve got into it.
    I enjoy crime novels so long as there’s humanity to offset the nastiness. For that reason I’m a big fan of Val McDermid, in particular the series about the police detective Carol Jordan and the psychologist Tony Hill as I find their relationship so poignant. (Do not be put off by the fact that the television series ‘Wire in the Blood’ is based on these books. There is little resemblance.)
   I also like a series no one else seems to have heard about by Jill Paton Walsh set in an Oxford college and featuring a nurse/amateur detective called Isobel Quy (pronounced ‘kie’ to rhyme with ‘why’). The novels are so beautifully crafted you hardly notice you are reading them. You may have heard of the author as a children’s writer.
   I tend to favour books by female writers because I find them less dry and factual but, having said that, I was gripped like everybody else by the Stieg Larsson ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series in spite of the weighty subject matter (such as political journalism, closet Nazis, lengthy court battles). It is shot through with moral fervour, has a wonderful heroine and gives the impression that the author really knows what he’s writing about.
    Unfortunately The Snowman by Joe Nesbo, touted on the front cover as ‘the next Stieg Larsson’, fails both of my criteria. I found it both dry and thoroughly unpleasant. I know a lot of people have enjoyed it however, so don’t let my opinion put you off (as if it would).
      While I’m on the subject of crime novels, I have to mention the glorious Donna Leon, who I think is American but lives in Italy and writes about a Venetian detective. She doesn’t shirk darkness – delving into organized crime, the dumping of toxic waste, people trafficking and political corruption to name but a few of her subjects – but this is counterbalanced by her detailed descriptions of food and drink (and of course Venice). What English policeman (fictional or otherwise) would start his day at a civilized hour with an espresso or two in a cafĂ©, move on with a subordinate to a restaurant for lunch – a salad, some pasta, a bit of fish, a bottle of wine – and then arrive home in time for a delicious dinner cooked by his (superwoman) wife? Ravishing. As is her writing style: sparse, incisive and funny – the exchanges between Brunetti (the detective) and his appalling boss are masterpieces.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Red and dead

Yes, it finally happened. My computer croaked. I now have a new one, or at least a new second-hand one, thanks to Frog who scurried around putting together other people's cast-off bits (as he does). I have decided however that changing computers is like moving house. Your furniture's the same but it's all in different places and nothing in the new house works in quite the same way as it did in the old one. At the moment I'm camping in the hall.
    I've also been car-less for two weeks because the driver's door fell off my aged (red) Mini due to rust.
    And I'm coming to the end of my last assignment (apart from the bits that I've got to do again because they were lost when the computer croaked) for the on-line novel-writing course ( that I've been doing for the last six months.
    Strange times.
    I feel like I haven't written a proper serious blog post (ie one that isn't just about me but that might be of wider interest) for ages. Bear with me. I might get back into doing them.

I said I'd get back to you about the poppies, Well, they've turned out splendidly – but never quite as splendid as the first year we all saw them, which was the first year we'd seen poppies like that other than in Impressionist paintings.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Home is . . .

My writing teacher in her blog ( suggested writing on the theme of home without mentioning where one lives or any of the places in which one has lived. As ever, she stimulated a flurry of thoughts, the first of which - having had a migraine on Saturday – was:

v     Home is what I feel when the pain of a migraine is so bad that I let go.

I could add to that:

v     Home is what I feel at the end of a migraine when my life is clear of all irrelevancies and I understand again what is important.

Some other thoughts:

      Home is . . .
v     writing
v     walking in the countryside
v     getting into bed at the end of the day
v     being away from home and all responsibilities
v     an ecstatic puppy scrabbling all over me when all I want is the wine bottle and the fridge
v     the ‘Welcome to Devon’ sign on the motorway
v     waking to birdsong
v     listening to rain on the conservatory roof
v     watching the sun set behind the hill on a winter’s afternoon by the fire.

And the place where I’ve felt most at home, but is the furthest from my homeland:
v     Australia.

But of course, most importantly, and without wishing to be sentimental, home is:
v     anywhere, with Frog.*

* I asked Frog if he minded me putting this and he said, ‘Daft bat’. I think that’s an OK.

Monday, 6 June 2011


Apologies for my long absence. I was typing up something for the blog on Thursday when my screen went blank and the computer started beeping. I didn’t dare turn it on again till Sunday when Frog was around to help in case of another crisis.
    Here is what I was typing.

Mysteries of life

  • Why is varnish never the same colour on toenails as it is in the bottle?

  • Has anyone ever watched to the end of one of those pop-ups on the computer that promise you a flat stomach?

  • Why did God invent puppies?

  • Will the world really end next year and if it does will we notice?

  • Why do cats hide worming pills in their cheeks and then spit them out when you’re not looking?

  • Is the News a deliberate plot to keep us afraid or just an accidental one?

Silly, I know, but fun to do.

Also on Thursday we went for a pub lunch and a walk by the sea. I saw this dog at an upstairs window of the pub and couldn’t resist taking a photograph of her. Do you think she is waiting for her Romeo?