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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!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

who let the cats out?

Had a fantastic day at the East Sussex Book Awards.

The presentation for my book The Dog, Ray began with a rocking version of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (thank you Henry). There was dissension in the ranks when I reported back home and the cats (mainly the ring leader Pocket (quarter Bengal) said "What about us cats? You always write about the dogs." " But,"I said, "I am in the middle of writing a book about a Cat."

 After a scuffle I agreed to put some pictures up. We couldn't find any of Nancy so they are all of Pocket {quarter Bengal}

 I don't normally discuss family or politics on the blog but here is Pixie running through a field of wheat. (those aware of  the Maybot will know of her misdemeanours when she was young. those who aren't might just enjoy the beautiful photo taken by Chloe Coggin.)

Whilst we are on the subject of Pixie - her very interesting fact is that cats have thirty two muscles in each ear. A fact I am using in my new book that features a Cat.

On the duck front these two fellas are still in love and in the poly area two of the females are sitting on eggs. One has nine eggs the other two. Trouble is the gestation period is 28 days and we are on day 29. I'm not sure if ducks can count.

 Here is Pixie waiting for the postman. I told her the Postman Always Rings Twice. (clever literary reference.) She tells me that was in 1934 and that things have changed. Postman now only knock once.

 But as Beezle and Chaucer would say "Time and Tide wait for no one."

A Cat
by Edward Thomas
She had a name among the children;
But no one loved though someone owned
Her, locked her out of doors at bedtime
And had her kittens duly drowned.
In Spring, nevertheless, this cat
Ate blackbirds, thrushes, nightingales,
And birds of bright voice and plume and flight,
As well as scraps from neighbours’ pails.
I loathed and hated her for this;
One speckle on a thrush’s breast
Was worth a million such; and yet
She lived long, till God gave her rest.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

owls, towels and more rooks.

The other day I found a young owl sitting in a puddle.

 It was tipping down with rain and he was completely waterlogged. A huge buzzard was watching, ready to scoop him up but he was so wet he couldn't move. I picked him up and took him home. Unlike the rooks his claws viciously wrapped around my hand (I still bear the marks) but he was calm and stared at me with his huge eyes which I knew didn't see me at such close quarters. I don't have a hairdryer so I used a towel and when he was dry I took him back to where we'd found him and put him up in a tree. I went back a few hours later and he had gone. I am hoping the buzzard didn't find him - he was well camouflaged.

Well it is the season for Rook Rescue. This is Stella - one of those young rooks that land on the ground and can't fly and can't feed themselves. The farmer told me that a red kite was picking them up for his supper or to feed its own young. I rescued her from Pixie who wanted to catch her too.
She is making great progress and can now feed herself. She'll be able to join the other rooks any day now I'd think. Meanwhile she's been an engaging writing companion though a little distracting.

 I couldn't resist this picture - not taken by me. Beezle tells me I should credit the photographer but as I don't know who took the picture I've explained it's a little hard to do that. Apologies if whoever took it reads this blog.

Meanwhile - Pixie's very interesting fact is that owls have three eyelids.

Pixie is learning to read.  Her favourite book is Clifford - the small red puppy.

Meanwhile Pocket is waiting for a call from his agent. I have used this photograph in my talk about writing tips. It illustrates the tip that says "Keep off social media and don't make personal phone calls." I might put the other tips up on a later blog post when there is a dearth of news and no rooks to rescue. Interestingly - my Native American Spirit animal is a Raven!

  Beezle says he can already read and he's exhausted having to read all about himself in The Dog, Ray.
The book has won another prize -  the Lancashire Fantastic Book Award and I have just returned from Preston where I went to meet some of the children who voted for it. I went to a wonderful school called St. Oswold's Primary where the children were so sweet and gave Beezle a bone shaped biscuit tin, a ball on a rope and an encouraging card. In hindsight I should have taken him with me on the train.
But as he and Montaigne would say "My Life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened."

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard.

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes - when he lifts their soft lids -
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder -
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only the black-smocked crickets,
and dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear-

it's not size but surge that tells us
when we're in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
down the little aluminum
ladder of his scream -
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as old as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart,
like a wild spring day.

Mary Oliver

Monday, 17 April 2017

pirates and things she ate

I don't normally approve of dressing up animals - I think it challenges their dignity - but this Easter someone popped a pirate's hat on Beezle and he seemed to rather like it.

                                           So for the day he became Capt. Beezle Arr!

This nautical theme is rather apt because I have been persuaded to write a biography about my grandfather Captain(Skipper) Chapman who sailed the seven seas in square rigged sailing ships at the turn of the last century. His tales at sea are wonderful and include being one of only 14 survivors when a hospital ship he was on was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine during the first world war. The submarine tried to destroy all evidence by shooting the nurses,doctors and crew whilst they were still in the water.
Here is my grandfather as a fourteen year old boy (top left) when he first went to sea.

The title of the book at the moment is The King of the Picnickers which we children named him as he adored taking us out on picnics. Here is a picnic extract.

The picnics always involved some sort of activity. Primrose picking in spring, when we made little posies we tied up with green wool that he kept in the dashboard with a packet of Murray mints.  Cricket  matches and building of sandcastles if we were on a beach. Well – sandcastles is an understatement. Whilst every other family built sandcastles – The King of the Picnickers built sand volcanos. They were huge and he scooped out tunnels from the sides and the top leaving a central chamber. When the volcano was ready he would crumple up some newspaper, put it down one of the side tunnels and light it with a match. Smoke billowed out of the top and attracted every child on the beach like he was some sort of Pied Piper. We loved it. We were proud and we felt very important. He belonged to us and he had made something wondrous.
 We had two traditions on the picnics. One was that every time we drove under a bridge he’d shout “Duck” and we had to drop our heads and hold our breath until we came out the other side of the tunnel. The other was to test him on the time. “What’s the time now Grandad?” we’d ask and he would say whatever time he thought it was. Then he’d take out his big silver pocket watch, flip open the cover and show it to us. He was always right. He was not even a minute out. Years of navigating at sea and watching the position of the sun, the ebb and flow of the tides gave him a natural inbuilt instinct for the time.
When he eventually died one night aged 84, he was at my sister’s house which was next to the village church in Pangbourne. As he lay on the landing after a heart attack his last words were “It must be nearly one o’clock” He died and a moment later the church clock struck one.

Pixie has been renamed Piglie or affectionally as Piggles since she took and ate two avocado pears from the fruit bowl (high up) which we had saved for our supper, half a pack of butter which I'd foolishly left on the kitchen work top and a quantity of small eggs hidden in the garden for the easter egg hunt. Avocados are surprisingly, very bad for dogs as well as chocolate - we are all surprised she is still walking around.

Pixie's very interesting fact is that Blackbeard - the most famous of pirates (apart from Capt. Beezle) had a peg leg because he lost his real leg though diabetes.

Well, as Capt. Beezle and Rabindranath Tagore would say "You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water."

Pocket (quarter Bengal) has offered his services as ship's cat. Very useful as hundreds of rats run along the ropes when the boats are in harbour and nibble the sailors' toes when they are asleep.

Meanwhile back at the farm, absolutely miles from the sea, The Rookery is a cacophony of baby rook calls and general rook chit chat.

 and the tulips are in full bloom .............

I found this trawling through my collection of poems for something nautical that I wrote years ago.
The only reason for posting it is that it is titled Pirate's Chest because other wise it's a bit of nonsense.

A pirate’s chest inlaid with filigree
Blue enamel, a sea sand script written
by an ancient hand
a curious shape not a square nor a
rhomboid but something
which is yet to be given a name.
The sort of box Pandora might
have opened.
Perhaps it is filled with winged troubles.
It looks very smug.
Ah – a smuggler’s chest then.

A gold star
not a tarantula
fallen from the cosmos
or grace as it orbited round
It glistens and twinkles
it’s five points
aimed at  the five of us left
Pointing the finger


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

show dogs and not so slow dogs

The other week I went to Crufts. I spent most of my time there hanging out with the Irish Wolfhounds  with a glancing appreciation at the whippets - of which Beezle is half. I don’t know why I went really – I could more easily have stayed at home and hung out with our Irish wolfhound and half whippet.

For those unfamiliar with wolfhounds they are a breed of domestic dog, specifically a very large sighthound from Ireland. A sighthound is a dog that runs too fast for you to catch and chases everything.
The upside of all this running is that they like to sleep a lot. Their preferred sleeping arrangements are:

. On the sofa when you and your guests want to sit down.
. On the sofa when you and your guests are sitting down.
. On the floor in a doorway where you will trip over them.

The most common thing asked about a wolfhound is “Where has my dinner gone?”

Their temperament is loyal, sweet tempered, generous, dignified, thoughtful, patient and full of love and other people’s dinners. They do not make good guard dogs as they are often very friendly towards strangers.

The name is derived from two words
Wolf – to wolf down ones food (or someone else's)
Hound – a dog breed used for hunting, especially one able to track by scent, particularly the scent of other people’s food, the Christmas turkey, the birthday cake etc.

definitely not a wolfhound

The wolf hound has very specific dietary requirements. It consists of four main food groups:

. The nice meal you spent all day preparing.
.  Cushions, shoes and the back of sofas.
.  Anything left out on the table or work top.
 . Things meant for other people

Pixie's very interesting fact for this month's blog post is that there are over 150 different breeds of dog. Most of which were at Crufts in various forms.

 Beezle has pointed out that he is a lurcher not half a whippet. A lurcher is a cross between a dog that runs too fast for you to catch and chases everything (a sighthound) and a dog that runs slightly more slowly but still chases everything (a working dog)

The name is derived from two words
Lurch – as in to leave someone in the lurch i.e. a long way away
Er – as in “er where’s that dog gone to now?”

They have excellent recall. They know perfectly well that you want them to come back and will do so when they’ve finished what they are doing. which is usually running  very fast in the opposite direction after something that is moving just a tiny bit faster than them.

Beezle in his Franciscan robes.
  As Beezle - or Brother Beezle and Frances of Assisi would say "Pax et bonum" (peace and the good)
Mr Walters checking to see if I'm doing my writing quota for the day

The rooks are building their nests again and I hope are using the horses' fur coats to line their nests. I hear that the ravens at the tower of London have lined their nests with rabbit fur.

There, where the rusty iron lies,
The rooks are cawing all the day.
Perhaps no man, until he dies,
will understand them, what they say.

The evening makes the sky look clay.
The slow wind waits for night to rise.
The world is half content. But they

Still trouble all the trees with cries,
That know, and cannot put away,
The yearning to the soul that flies
From day tonight, from night to day.

Charles Sorley.