Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The tail of the dog 

We were just leaving Dart's Farm shop, a poncy farm shop set up for Londoners and tourists. The dog had climbed through to the front of the car while we were in the shop, so we made him jump back in the boot, and I shut the rear door. On the end of his tail.

I thought he'd moved it, but he must have moved it back again in the second before the door shut. (have you noticed how I'm avoiding the use of the word "tailgate"? I hope you appreciate the lengths I go to for you)

Having established that he was fine, if a little trembly, we set off, and I attempted to laugh it off. The girls had been crying since the dog's first yelp, so I tried to cheer them up by explaining how resilient dogs are.

The recriminations began then in earnest. We had our own miniature Greek chorus, right there on the back seat.

"No, they're not!" wailed one child. "You could have killed him, and you don't even care!"

The Boff and I explained about tail-docking, and how many millions of dogs in the world survive without their tails, hence my lack of concern about him.

"I think you're just cruel and mean!" accused Dill. You don't care about the poor doggy!"

"Yes!" agreed Hen. "He's curled up into a tiny little ball in the corner of the boot. You've hurt him! Just because he's not yelping now doesn't mean he's not in pain, you know."

The Boff and I made some more placatory murmurs, but to no avail. The girls were Transposing with a capital 'T'. Every enforced bedtime, every refused sweet, every frayed temper, floated before their eyes. I was clearly callous; accusations flowed.

"Why don't you just set up a competition?" demanded Dill, "to see who can shut the dog's tail in the door the longest without feeling SORRY!"

It was a rhetorical question, and I should have just kept quiet, but instead, I couldn't stop laughing. Guilty as charged.

Disclaimer: No animals were deliberately harmed in the making of this post.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Q: What is the definition of a constitutional monarchy?

A: A system of government that allows its sovereign total freedom of speech on the one afternoon of the year when 80% of the population is too pissed to understand what she's saying.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Today we have the burning of the paper. Yesterday
we had the unwrapping of the presents
And the searching of the batteries
Which in our case we had not got. Do not let me
Catch you stealing my liqueur chocolates
When you have perfectly good ones
Of your own.

Today we have the eating of the leftovers
And the boxing of grumpy ears
For it is Boxing Day, and tempers are
Frayed. Until all the duck is gone
We should not cook anything new
Which in our case we have not got
In the fridge.

All around us, people rush to the sales
To buy more crap, which in their case
They neither want nor need. We shall remain in our
Barren place, fencing in the chickens
To stop them roaming and scratching
The mulch, which in this garden's case
Is dead leaves.

We shall wave bye-bye to our child
Who has chosen to leave home
For two days with his friend Thumb.
We weep, to no avail. He leaves
Regardless, with ne'er a backward glance
Through the darkened car window.
Fare thee well.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Boff is now back from his annual Christmas shopping trip (apart from a slight slip-up yesterday afternoon), so it's time for us to begin our traditional (well, for the last three years, anyway) celebrations: lying around as a nuclear family, doing very little and eating a lot. Panettone and Buck's Fizz for breakfast tomorrow, Ma-in-law and duck for lunch. Queen's speech over my dead body. Walk the dog in the afternoon gloom. Repair new toys in the early evening.

Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Probably not for the first time 

Little Dill -who at eight and a half is almost too old to be "little" any more, even though she is dinky still- has just left home. Fed up with life at home her big brother and sister "being mean" to her (although she really gives as good as she gets, and is hardly the helpless victim she would have us all believe), she packed up her bears and her flowery fleece blanket*, and left.

I know where she is, but have been sworn to secrecy. She says she's coming back in two days, but my money's on "about lunchtime".

Update: Minutes later, she came back for supplies, her stocking, "because Father Christmas will know where to find me, wherever I am, won't he?", an essential supply of small oranges to ward off scurvy, and her brother, who apparently hadn't been as mean as all that. She says they'll be back on Christmas morning in time for breakfast, and has moved into the bothy that Sim built by the gate with branches from the felled Cypress leylandii. It's all go here, I tell you.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

So there I was, faffing around in of my usual ridiculously over-complicated and crowded dreams, when suddenly, without warning, somebody plonked some algebra in front of me and told me to get on with it. And I couldn't do it.

I know it's been twenty years since I last did any algebra, but I really would have expected to be able muster a little more than the same blind panic that always overtook me at school. After all, I'm a grown-up now, aren't I? Cool, calm, collected, etc...

Except I still can't do algebra, and it still bothers me. I remember getting uspet in the dream, willing myself to understand it, and still gazing uncomprehendingly at at the mixed line of numbers and letters. It looked quite hard too, with fractions and everything. I wrote it down on a piece of paper today, but that's as far as I got with it. Even Sim can do harder algebra than me now, and I suspect that Hen might not be far behind.

I have this same problem with card games. It sounds silly, but my children have to re-explain the rules of anything harder than 'Snap' every time I play. I never enjoy card games because I'm always a beginner at them. Ok, I know I'm weird, please don't rub it in.

I reckon that algebra might be just one of those things you have to just do without questioning or understanding it, and that that might explain why I just can't do it without my head swimming.

I so want to be able to do it though. I always rather liked alegbra. I'm thinking of relearning it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

And in other news... 

We at Purple Towers seem to have (somehow) passed our MA. Yay us.

Rat Lady came, Rat Lady went. She pronounced our house ratful, topped up the levels of blood-thinning whole grain in the attic, and made an appointment for her two-weekly cup of tea and complementary box of eggs.

Since three days after her last visit, there's been a lot less scampering overhead, but I'm not sure we've beaten the little blighters yet.

"No smell up there" she cheerfully declared, "but it has been quite cold".

I'm struggling to shift the idea of piles of ratty corpses lying decomposing in the eaves, inches above my head at night.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Colin the Tramp came back last week, looking healthier and less lean than he did in April, and in fine talkative fettle. He had called a couple of times since we last saw him in May, each visit coinciding with one of our trips to France.

The church porch gate has been padlocked shut, not against vagrants seeking shelter, but against greedy developers seeking a fast buck, so he could not stay in his usual place. I offered him our garage. He does not want to go into people's houses, he always tells me, and besides I always have lurking at the back of my mind Alan Bennett's 15-year experience with his homeless lady, and have no desire to acquire a squatter in our spare bedroom.

Almost at once, I regretted it. Not because he was in any way cumbersome, but because sleeping in a garage instead of a church porch instantly seemed to cheapen him. Suddenly, from being a knight of the road, self-sufficient and beholden to no-one, he became a slightly stooped older man sleeping a poor shelter.

Obviously the shelter we'd offered was preferable in really cold weather to an open church porch, and preferable still to the inner-city shelters for the homeless rife with lice and drunken brawls which he avoids at all costs. Nevertheless, the sight of the poor man sleeping in a place esssentially unfit for human habitation brought in sharp relief the fact that he lives out of a rucksack.

Also, we found out a little bit more about him this time. It seems he was abused as a child by his father, which might go some way to explain why an extremely intelligent man has never been able to settle to anything, and why the open road and the miles beneath his feet have been the medication for his latent familial tendency to manic depression.

The man needs to walk. Any less than 20 miles a day, and he is restless, like a caged bird scanning the horizon for the way out. So it was that after three days of helping us in the garden, chatting, and sleeping unobtrusively in the garage, he simply got up yesterday morning and walked off without saying goodbye. He will be back, I know. He never says goodbye but he does go back. Maybe he has the right idea.

Monday, December 19, 2005

We seem to have been invaded by the most ridiculously, extravagantly large Christmas tree ever this year. The children are tickled pink by the fact that it reaches the top of the banister on the landing gallery, making the dwarfed angel on the floppy top nod conspiratorially at you as you climb to the top of the stairs.

The Boff took what he thought was the very top of the overgrown cypress leylandii near the gate, thoughtfully put in 18 years ago by some previous owners (The Boff counted the rings). It needed chopping, we needed a Christmas tree- it was a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, it grew about ten feet between the time he trimmed the trunk to make it fit the stand, and the time we hauled it with great difficulty through the front door and propped it up to standing. It is now held upright -being rather overlarge for the stand and a trifle unstable- by the combination of a few Heath Robinson-style pieces of string, the proximity of banisters, and crossed fingers.

It is at yet undecorated, since I hold with our family tradition of getting out the glittery things only on December 24th, and taking them down again on Epiphany, unlike certain people I could name. (Purple Sister Persephone has had hers out since the beginning of Advent, "for the children"(Ha!))

I would love to post a photo- alas, there is little enough room in the hall as it is, let alone space to stand back and capture the whole thing; I could never do the monster justice.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It is with regret that I have to announce the death of Bulby, the low-energy light-bulb. Bought on impulse in a well-known hardware shop, and named only at his passing, he had served this household tirelessly for eleven years, showing adaptability and flexibiilty beyond his wit when called upon to become used to an entirely new power supply.

Never a dull presence, Bulby filled our lives with light for those eleven years, finally succumbing on Wednesday evening to an as yet undisclosed malady. We had no idea the end was so near, as he'd shown no signs of weakness.

Bulby lived an abstemious life: never a great consumer, he contented himself with a few meagre amounts of electricity every day. Some might say he was understated; his friends and true admirers knew that he took frugality to heart and lived according to his principles.

We are currently investigating the possibility of murder, however. Sim was alone at home when the death occurred, and may have nursed a grudge against the scintillating presence. We know that his behaviour was less than honourable following the birth of Hen, a few months after Bulby's purchase, and can only suppose that he may have been jealous of the electric presence in our midst. We shall continue investigating.

Be that as it may, we are eternally thankful for Bulby's life. We thank Doitall for introducing us to Bulby. He departed this life as he lived it: without a flash or a bang, but simply and quietly extinguishing for the last time.

Thank you Bulby.

And in other news... 

...one is an aunt again. A little boy, born yesterday morning in Bangkok. Welcome, baby.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Did you see the way I managed to make a whole week's posts fit onto the one screen? No, I'm not proud of it. Really.

I say, device with "No Name", why will you not eject
When I ask you to?

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Yaaaargh!!!!!! Aaaaaargh!!!!!!! Gah! Pah!!!!!!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pathetic. I can't come into contact with children* for a couple of days without succumbing. Maybe I'm allergic.

*AKA: nasty filthy bug-carriers

Friday, December 09, 2005


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sim has been beating twice this month.

For those amongst you still blissfully unaware of such country ways, this involves charging noisily through bushes, causing very stupid pheasants to rear up from the ground shouting 'Woah! What was that?" to be met by a swift end in the form of a lead injection.

The mother of his friend Ned, whose father runs these hunts, has one rule: that only things to be eaten be killed. Ned also sets rabbit snares about the countryside. Once he had to conceal the accidental snagging of a badger, because he was seriously concerned that his mother would bake the unfortunate creature in the Aga for his supper.

This beating lark is a job made for the boy, whose ideal level of activity includes around six miles' run before breakfast. The strangest aspect of it is the glee with which my gentle boy has taken to aiding and abetting the killing of these poor birds.

Ned's mother believes that boys and men have a need for controlled violence- ie to kill some creatures provided for the purpose, rather than thump each other. This theory is certainly borne out by Ned, who is the gentlest, most mature eleven-year old I have met in a long time.

I let Sim go beating because I feel that every child needs to experience death in some attenuated form in order to fully understand it. When I was his age, I had seen various fowl, goats, pigs and calves slaughtered, and I believe that I had what you might a healthy respect for death and danger. When my parents decreed an activity dangerous and potentially deadly*, I knew what they meant: that you could be alive one second, and lifeless the next. I had seen it happen; it was not an empty threat.

Some people feel that inflicting death cheapens it. I can only speak for myself, but I feel that the opposite is true. I do not believe that many people enjoy killing things. In fact, most people want to avoid the thought of killing so much that they dissociate the protein in their plates from actual animals; that, however, is another story entirely.

*Not that that stopped me- we were once discovered playing with a paraffin lamp and matches in our den in the straw loft, when I was about 8. Ooh, there was trouble!

I tell you, doing supply teaching at this school is God's own work. Never have I been paid so much for doing so little.

So far this week, I have been paid to enforce silence and private study in a Classics class, two French classes, and an English class, and to watch films in three other lessons. I have had to do some small amount of actual teaching in three further lessons.

I could get used to this, I tell you. Plus it's paying for the Christmas presents. All hail the flu bug!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hello Christmas present money! I shall be doing a few days' cover at the school which had the pleasure of my company for six months this year. Someone up there must like me. (The School, that is. I don't beleive in any invisible deities or angels or what not).

It's amazing how fast the familiar can become the utterly alien. We get so used to things staying the same in this country, unlike countries with violent weather patterns, that we are surprised when things do change.

Take our local river for example, the one that runs through Wideriver. Under normal circumstances it is not wide, and one would certainly struggle to describe it as a river. At around seven feet wide and less that two feet deep, it is more of a sleepy brook, meandering its little around meadows, looping between trees and around fields, gently sliding its way to the sea.

After the 72 hours of continuous rain we've endured this week, it turned into a bit of a monster. By Saturday evening, as I brought Sim and Hen home in the early evening, the roads all around were distinctly damp. If you can call puddles six to ten inches deep, damp. There are the places where the streams, although usually some feet below the road, are designed to flow over the road when the water is high, and one has to ford them. I chickened out of one road on Saturday night, as I was suddenly faced with a raging torrent which I knew could not be any less two feet deep. The little car didn't fancy it either.

Then there is the River. Remember- less than two feet deep, about seven feet wide, meandery, etc...? By Saturday evening it was two fields wide and just below the parapet on one of the roads into our village, meaning that it had to be at least ten feet deep all of a sudden. It is awe-inspiring to lean over a well-known stone parapet and to know that tons of raging water are racing underneath. Further downstream, nearer Exeter, the fields are routinely covered with water for weeks at a time. It is wet in Devon. Seventy-two hours of continuous rain are not uncommon.

They are planning on buiding a new town in the water meadow of this river. I ask you- is this a sensible use of resources? Does the Environment Agency ever learn from past mistakes? How long before Cranbrook the aptly named becomes Little Nasty Venice with boxy architecture? And how often will the new residents be washed into the Exe?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hey, Mr Joiner!
If you're reading this, how's about sending me my quote?
A Potential Customer

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