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Monday, 27 November 2017

mini beasts and stripey cats

I have noticed recently that Pocket (quarter Bengal) has taken to sleeping on stripy things.

 Now this may be because most of our soft furnishings have stripes on them or because he is trying to hide himself. Camouflage is a useful device, he must have padded round the house choosing the best place to sleep undisturbed - I mean if you went into the bedroom you just wouldn't know he was there. I'm wondering if I leave the doors open if a zebra will find his way upstairs and do the same thing. But this is just silly, fanciful thinking. It would never manage to get up the stairs.

My mother who was in charge of soft furnishings at home, once made a pair of regency striped curtains which she hung in the dining room. When my father saw them he shook his head in dismay and asked her to take them down. He never cared how the house was furnished but he told us he couldn't live with them as they reminded him of Belsen where the prisoners had to wear striped pyjamas. Being a doctor with the army he was one of the first through the gates when liberation happened. He hardly ever spoke of his experiences in the war and of course now he has died I wish I'd asked him more.

 This beautiful butterfly has been living in the house for a few days and maybe thinking this card,drawn by my daughter Chloe is a friend or relative, landed on it. Perhaps another form of camouflage or just trying to draw some nectar. At least there were no chemicals sprayed on it.

 At last a group photo of nine of the ducks. (the other four are in the garden.) The beautiful little brown runner came from this year's eggs and has palled up with the big white female magpie.(centre front) They seem joined at the hip - er - wing and go everywhere together. Her mother hatched four  black ones with green feathers here and there, a couple of white ones with silly hats on and the trout coloured one. Quite an assortment - like a box of Green and Black's chocolates. This reminds me that Pixie has enjoyed helping herself to the odd mini bar of Green and Black's and this morning nicked my toast when I wasn't looking.

 Considering all but the magpie ducks were born here and have known me since birth they are still convinced I'm going to eat them. There is a great deal of quacking and  waddling and flying that goes on whenever I appear. I must try camouflage.

 But as Beezle and Goerthe would say "In the beginning is the deed."

 Pixie's very interesting fact this month is that there is a butterfly in Africa with enough poison in its body to kill six cats.  Perhaps that is why Pocket is in hiding.

The tulip bulbs have arrived and I've just potted them up. I don't want to appear to be wishing away the year but can hardly wait until spring when these beauties unfurl their petals and give both pleasure to us and nourishment to those mini beasts. I jut hope they don't attract that particular butterfly from Africa.

Two Butterflies went out at Noon
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
Two Butterflies went out at Noon-
And waltzed above a Farm—  
Then stepped straight through the Firmament
And rested on a Beam—   

  And then—together bore away
 Upon a shining Sea—
  Though never yet, in any Port—
  Their coming mentioned—be—

 If spoken by the distant Bird—
  If met in Ether Sea
By Frigate, or by Merchantman—
 No notice—was—to me—

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

ravens r us and a trip to the Tower

Last week, with enormous thanks to Chris, the RavenMaster at the Tower of London I got to talk raven.

Followers of this blog will know I am an enormous corvid fan and I was thrilled to spend so much time talking about them and getting up close. I will no doubt be writing about a raven after this Cat book I'm working on and the fox book which is waiting in the wings. Chris told me a chilling story of one female raven who led her two young suitors to the top of the Tower. She flew down, and the ravens who would follow her anywhere went after her and fell to their death. They had not yet mastered how to fly. Hence she was known as the Black Widow.(I can't help wondering if she knew they couldn't fly.)
Merlina the star raven - named when it was discovered she was not Merlin after all.

I three times rescued this little chap from the lane and the jaws of a dog. I made him a snug nest of straw somewhere safe but he definitely had his own agenda and eventually after trying to persuade him he might like to be with another of his kind I just let him be. I hope he is curled up somewhere warm.

We've had a pom pom making fest!

I had no idea that making pom poms could be so addictive. And I'm not the only one. I mentioned the pom poms to our blacksmith (I felt rather foolish when everyone else was talking about ploughing and jumping huge fences)- a young, handsome man in his leather apron and strong physique and was enthralled when he turned to me, Harry's large back hoof in his hand and told me he had a really good gadget for making them and that he and his wife and made hundreds of them. (we use the legs of a chair)

We made strings of them as festive garlands for outside but now the winter has come they are, like the hedgehog, nestled down in a box. I suppose they are a bit like coloured hedgehogs. I might have to join Pom Poms Anonymous.

As Beezle and ee.cummings would day " The world is doing its best, night and day to make you everybody else."

Pixie's interesting fact (which she didn't get from the Raven Master) is that all but one of the Tower Ravens died from stress during the Blitz. Is this right Chris?

A last rose showing it's beauty before the frosts

Pixie's usual greeting to anyone who comes to the door. She's scared a few delivery men.

The Raven - Poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
''Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
''Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
'Sir,' said I, 'or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you'- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, 'Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, 'Lenore!'-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
'Surely,' said I, 'surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
'Tis the wind and nothing more.'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
'Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, 'art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as 'Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, 'other friends have flown
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, 'Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
'Doubtless,' said I, 'what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never- nevermore'.'

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking 'Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
'Wretch,' I cried, 'thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,' I shrieked,
'Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore! 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

writing tips, panthers and other nonsense

There are just three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

So said Somerset Maugham who in many ways started me writing.
When I was a child I penned avidly and on the suggestion of someone took up a pen name. On my parents book shelves were a handful of Dennis Wheatley's and a novel by the said Somerset. So I called myself M.M.Maugham. For some reason the M M stood for Maggoty Mouldy. I may still use this name if I get a publisher who wants me to change my name. I may even try and get these books published - including the spelling mistakes. There was a notty wind that made all the people koff. (I hope I didn't start the story with this - see later tip about not starting a book with the weather.) Decipher that if you can. A lot of my writings then where accompanied by crayon drawings of hedgehogs wearing shorts.

Apart from Never use the words "suddenly" or "when all hell broke loose." - 
with the help of some of our house guests I have made a short list of writing tips. When I visit schools to talk about writing I illustrate the five useful tips I selected with their photo opportunities. 

Tip 1.  Read as much as you can.

Tip 2. don't make phone calls and keep off Facebook.
Tip 3.  Listen to the way people speak.

Tip 4. Get a pet to keep your circulation going whilst you wait.
Tip 5. Just Wait.

This is a tip from the great American poet and writer Charles Bukowski who related an idea to a bug. You might swat it dead or make a friend of it. I have a few dead bugs in my bottom drawer.
I trawled through the internet looking for writing tips and there are plenty of good ones.
every character wants something even if it's only a glass of water
never use a long word when a short word will do.
Never open a book with the weather.
This is the opening of my book The Boy with the Tiger's Heart.
The snow falls heavily that night and in the morning lies in deep drifts ......

Oh well. Isn't there a saying that says never say never?

On the writing front I have just finished the first draft of a new story. There is a black panther in it and in doing some research I was lucky enough to go on set with one. I took this picture in a film studio - the green background enables a different backdrop to be substituted. More than likely a jungle which is where this panther should probably be- though this one is tame. I was amazed at how long their tails are - up close they are at least the length of their bodies.
Here is our own black panther - Nancy - who is sitting on her tail (and some socks)which is a good deal shorter.

Panthers are often referred to as the ghost of the forest  -as they are so silent - like they walk on vapours. The panther's trainer told me one could take a man sitting round a camp fire in the jungle and his companions would have no idea he had gone. I imagine he was not in mid conversation.

Writing can be a lonely business but as Beezle and Paulo Coelho would say "Blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do."
   And Pixie's interesting fact is
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read. (she nicked this from Groucho Marx.)

Letter from a Reader

by Adam Zagajewski

Too much  about death,
too many shadows.
Write about life,
an average day,
the yearning for order.

Take the school bell
as your model
of moderation,
even scholarship.

Too much death,
too much
dark radiance.

Take a look,
crowds packed
in cramped stadiums
sing hymns of hatred.

Too much music,
too little harmony,peace

Write about those moments
when friendship's footbridges
seem more enduring
than despair.

Write about love.
long evenings,
the dawn,
the trees,
about the endless patience
of the light.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

glorious corvus and circus maximus

Beezle not particularly enjoying the new version of Ben Hur

We found ourselves watching the latest blockbuster version of Ben Hur the other evening- all hooves and wheels and sandals. It is not my intention to be a film critic on this blog but I have to say it was not nearly as good as the version with Charlton Heston. When we were children our grandfather took my sister and I to see it and we were very excited. We had heard that a stunt man had actually been killed in the chariot race and that it was still on film. Being rather morbid children we were keen to witness it. The moment it happened in the film, and it was true, you could see him caught up under the wheels of a chariot, my sister aged fifteen dramatically turned for comfort from the sailor sitting in the seat next to her. I think he was probably delighted but my grandfather told her off. That version was really spectacular because they didn't have CGI in those days and so they did have hundreds of extras and everything was built on set. In this version there are probably only about twenty extras who are made to look like thousands of Romans. And in this version, when Ben Hur turns to his brother and says "will you talk to your people?"  and "you must come over for dinner" it lost all credibility for me. Surely they didn't talk like that in Roman times. I though they were going to launch into a diatribe about hedge funds.I half expected Jesus - who was a carpenter in the film and seen working on an Ikea look alike table to be turning out a set of dining chairs. Also I think it was Prosecco in those goblets.

Anyway - inspired by the chariot race we thought it time to hitch Harry up to the cart.

When the time came there wasn't anyone to race with and I think he was a little disappointed but I told him I'd speak to my people.
here's Harry talking to one of his people.

Pixie's very interesting fact is that in the original 1925 Ben-Hur film - silent era movie stars signed up as extras to get a better view. Including Gary Cooper and Clark Gable.

As Beezle and Joan Didion would say " We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not."

Have just had a jackdaw guest here on holiday for a week. He was sweet company and whenever I was talking on the phone he decided to join in. He chirruped with a range of different voices. Perhaps he was talking to his people.
Below is one of the jackdaws and a rook from last year. I've looked after so many now I'm not sure which ones these are but they have a big interest in horticulture by the looks of it.


by Adam Zagajewski

A blackbird sat on the TV antenna
and sang a gentle, jazzy tune.
Whom have you lost, I asked,what do you mourn?
I'm taking leave of those who've gone, the blackbird said,
I'm parting with the day (its eyes and lashes),
I mourn a girl who lived in Thrace,
you wouldn't know her.
I'm sorry for the willow, killed by frost.
I weep, since all things pass and alter
and return, but always in a different form.
My narrow throat can barely hold
the grief, despair, delight, and pride
occasioned by such sweeping transformations.
A funeral cortege passes up ahead,
the same each evening, there, on the horizon's thread.
Everyone's there, I see them all and bid farewell.
I see the swords, hats, kerchiefs, and bare feet,
guns, blood and ink. They walk slowly
and vanish in the river mist, on the right bank.
I say goodbye to them and you and the light,
and then I greet the night, since I serve her -

and black silks, black powers.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

who let the ducks out?

This has been a month of all things duck

As previously reported, the mother duck who I wasn't sure could count hatched her nine eggs. As it happens it is me who cannot count. She had ten eggs. When hatched she had seven ducklings. As it happens she had eight. Two sadly met untimely deaths involving getting stuck somewhere but she was a very proud mother of five - er -  six adorable little chaps. Actually she hadn't been the only one to lay eggs and sit on them. Her sister had attempted it as well. But whereas the first duck made a beautiful nest lined with plant labels and the down plucked from her chest, set amongst a pastoral setting of soft planting -  her sister made a paltry nest amongst the flowerpots like she was some sort of trailer trash.
Sadly she laid two eggs, one disappearing and the other she got bored with and it never hatched. I'm not sure she would have been such a good mother as she preferred to hang out with the drakes.

So now we have thirteen ducks in various shapes and sizes. I have swopped three of the Indian Runner ducklings with my friend Mary for three Magpie Ducklings. (see above) I am hoping that once the mating season is over (mid August) they will all get along just fine. At the moment there is a great deal of suspicion.
somewhere in here are eight ducklings -you can see why they were difficult to count. They are one day old.

the three new Magpie ducks
I'm not sure if I'll be naming them. When we first got the Indian Runners - a beautiful smart black pair - they were named Mr and Mrs Walters. We added a white one later called Phyllis. I had to take her to the vet once in a box and sat in the waiting room with other people with boxes containing cats or dogs on leads. We were the only duck and in vets they insist on adding your surname to the chosen name of your pet. So "Phyllis Coggin"was duly summoned. She popped her head up out of the box and the waiting room collapsed in giggles.
the mother duck with her three remaining off spring
Now all the ducks seem to be called Walters. The two boys in the garden are the Mister and Mister Walters. When the babies grow up and prove to be boys (most likely - they usually outnumber the girls when they hatch) I may well put them in the garden too so we'll have the Mister, Mister, Mister and Mister Walters who I daresay will all want to come into the house and admire themselves in the glass of the washing machine.
the two boys in the garden
When I first introduced the new ducks to the old ducks there was a lot of pecking which went on. I now understand the saying "a pecking order" as indeed there is one. The alpha male (Mr Walters) is above the other male (Mr Walters) and the Mrs Walters have no say in the matter. I'm going to introduce feminism into the coop. I  also understand all those useful maxims. "don't count your eggs before they're hatched." "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."
Pixie's very interesting fact is that ducks have no nerves or blood vessels in their feet.

And as Beezle and Kalu Rinpoche would say " We will never again have the chance to be born into a body like this one."

Each summer the house martins return to the stables - here is the latest brood - soon to fledge.


by Frank W. Harvey

From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings
By water cool,
Or finding curious things
To eat in various mucks
Beneath the pool,
Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling
- Left!  Right! - with fanlike feet
Which are for steady oars
When they (white galleys) float
Each bird a boat
Rippling at will the sweet
Wide waterway…
When night is fallen you creep
Upstairs, but drakes and dillies
Nest with pale water-stars.
Moonbeams and shadow bars,
And water-lilies:
Fearful too much to sleep
Since they've no locks
To click against the teeth
Of weasel and fox.
And warm beneath
Are eggs of cloudy green
Whence hungry rats and lean
Would stealthily suck
New life, but for the mien
The hold ferocious mien
Of the mother-duck.


Yes, ducks are valiant things
On nests of twigs and straws,
And ducks are soothy things
And lovely on the lake
When that the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colours cool.
And when beneath the pool
They dabble, and when they swim
And make their rippling rings,
0 ducks are beautiful things!
But ducks are comical things:-
As comical as you.
They waddle round, they do.
They eat all sorts of things,
And then they quack.
By barn and stable and stack
They wander at their will,
But if you go too near
They look at you through black
Small topaz-tinted eyes
And wish you ill.
Triangular and clear
They leave their curious track
In mud at the water's edge,
And there amid the sedge
And slime they gobble and peer
Saying 'Quack! quack!'


When God had finished the stars and whirl of coloured suns
He turned His mind from big things to fashion little ones;
Beautiful tiny things (like daisies) He made, and then
He made the comical ones in case the minds of men
Should stiffen and become
Dull, humourless and glum,
And so forgetful of their Maker be
As to take even themselves - quite seriously.
Caterpillars and cats are lively and excellent puns:
All God's jokes are good - even the practical ones!
And as for the duck, 1 think God must have smiled a bit
Seeing those bright eyes blink on the day He fashioned it.
And he's probably laughing still at the sound that came out of its bill!