Friends

30 July 2011

Sunday Scene

An elegant Flamingo makes it to my Sunday Scene collection

29 July 2011

What do you think?

While she listened for the blare of sirens, slamming car doors and hurried footsteps on the path, she allowed herself the luxury of a glass of wine: white wine, an extravagant purchase for a special occasion. Glancing at the clock, she speculated on how much longer she would have to wait.

Daylight was fading. Shadows filled the room as one by one the street lamps came on. She adjusted her position, stretching her legs in front of her, mentally bridging the years. Past scenarios spun chaotically as she reminisced, but her stoical appraisal was soon disrupted by an insistent knocking at the door. It was time to be taken into custody, to be slung without question into filthy, black dungeons, clammy, like the shelters in the field, where her body would rot and her mind would shrivel.

~~~~~

Question: what is it?

Answer: it's the prologue to one of my books

28 July 2011

Well I never!

There I was, sitting at the traffic lights waiting patiently for the lights to change, when this huge vehicle moved up to turn right. Well, you know how much room HE needed for the manoeuvre. It took up the whole of the road and provided a perfect photo opportunity. However, I think the camera missed the end of the message, I'm pretty sure hens lay eggs in other parts of the world.

27 July 2011

Doing Time

The first typewriter I used wasn’t as old as the one in the picture but I did learn to type on a Remington. Once I started work though I faced such a variety of makes and designs that I’m hard pressed to remember which machine was at my disposal at the job I’m going to tell you about.

My years working in the Criminal Investigation Department of the local police force were filled with fun, excitement and intrigue, some sadness and some frustration. I worked there for ten years prior to the birth of my son and can honestly say that as jobs went mine was a fabulous experience.

The office I worked in was as long as your average street, with secretarial staff at one end (three of us) and an enormous amount of desks and filing cabinets in the middle. In addition to a vast number of desk phones there was a row of telephone kiosks at the far end of the room.

All calls to those kiosks were broadcast messages. Notes had to be taken at speed; you couldn’t say ‘hang on a minute’ to a broadcast message, and if you didn’t understand the phonetic alphabet you probably missed half it. In the first week of my employment I was instructed to take a call in one of the kiosks. Being a newly employed secretary it was scary to think I not only had to take the call but had to note everything that was said. Oh boy, did I struggle. It was like listening to double-dutch. I came out of the booth sweating with fear that I’d missed the most important bits and frantically hoping my memory would see me through. How on earth was I going to write it out in common English? I rushed back to my desk and started to write … that’s when I heard the men laughing. At me! I’d undergone an initiation test when a guy in the next kiosk had somehow broadcast a fictitious message (well it sounded like a broadcast) to the phone I was answering. Rotters! I watched the same scenario a few times when new people came to work in the office but of course I never let on.

I worked alongside two other secretaries, Ethel and Joan, in an office full of men. Every girls dream? I don’t think so. However the men, all detectives, provided the fun. We never knew what we would be greeted with when we arrived at work because the night shift always played tricks on us girls. There were no outward signs that the clowns had been up to no good so we had to be wary.

One morning after removing my typewriter cover and hitting the keys I was hit in the face by a wrapped sweet that had been nestling on top of the keys. I must have been heavy handed to hit the key hard enough to expel the sweet so high. An explanatory note found in the desk drawer stated ‘I was eating a bad nut and thought of you!’ … yeah, very nice. Thank you.

Joan copped for the heavy drawer routine. First time it happened she couldn’t get the drawer open. It was a big drawer, firmly stuck. I applied what bit of strength I had but it wouldn’t shift. Eventually she got the odd-job man to have a look. He was stronger than us females and managed to open the drawer and discover the problem. Someone on the night shift, having nothing better to do, had filled Joan’s drawer with house bricks – the ones retained for evidence, probably having been thrown through jewellers’ shop windows.

The day shift was the same. In a sneaked free moment one of the men would go into the cloakroom and sew the sleeves of our coats together, or put sugar in our pockets or coffee in our shoes. You had to have a sense of humour to work there!

We got our own back one day. Coming back from lunch, late as usual, Joan and I ran into the office. We would have made it with minutes to spare except our way was blocked by an open vault door. The room size vault was where we kept the evidence of crime prior to court proceedings. The door was massive, about two foot thick and extremely heavy. It took the two of us to push it back before rushing to our desks to start work before the boss, a very strict chief inspector, put in an appearance and discovered we’d been late. It was a punishable offence in those days.

Half an hour later I stopped typing and listened. I was sure I’d heard a tapping noise. Nudging Joan, I asked her what she thought it was. Then it dawned on us that the faint noise was coming from the vault. As one we dashed to open the door. Not an easy feat for us weaklings, it was easier to push it shut than to open it again. Yes, you guessed right, we’d locked someone in there, one of the sergeants, my favourite one as it happened. He walked out smiling as if nothing had happened although he did look a bit red in the face. It wasn’t until later I learned that shutting the vault door not only cut off the light but it also cut off the air. Oh dear! Well, the incident served us well because after that the jokes on the secretarial staff came to a rapid end.

It wasn’t all fun. There were serious sides to the job: preparing crime figures, circulating lists of retrieved stolen property, keeping track of suspected illegal immigrants, offering crime prevention advice, murder enquiries that demanded overtime, sometimes working in temporary locations near the scene of the crime, working hours longer than normal in our own office. Tasteless humour helped the officers cope with the more sordid scenes, for example when a decapitated body was found in a hostel someone quipped about the ‘mind your head’ sign over the door. A nauseous remark intended only to lighten a sordid situation.

I was completely fooled one day when someone came to the office reception area and confessed to a murder that was under investigation. It wasn’t true. The old gent used to confess to all the murders. Another time a woman came in complaining that her bottled milk was being poisoned by the neighbours. She did it often. Again, it was untrue. The sadness surrounding those incidents never left me.

Before, during and after crime investigations the secretaries were under as much pressure as the officers. Statements had to be typed, evidence and photographs logged, and eventually court documents had to be prepared. There was a certain sick pleasure in being the one that typed the statement that led to an arrest … a morbid and improper claim to victory but necessary to lift the spirit.

Under normal circumstances we worked five and a half days a week and we never moaned once. Working there was so out of the ordinary we’d need to be really ill to take a day off. We were too afraid of missing something.

25 July 2011

My Rough Patch

Attracting insects, bees and butteflies is what my rough patch is all about and here they come
I've watched the progress of a specimen spear thistle from when it was a tiny seedling. Don't know how it got there but once identified I knew the bees would love it when it flowered. This bee worked amazingly fast, covering the entire flower in seconds.
Unfortunately I couldn't get a shot of the butterfly... maybe another day

23 July 2011

Blue Angels

Over here in the UK we have the Red Arrows, in America they have the Blue Angels. Whatever their name and colour these pilots do an amazing job. The pictures were sent to me by a friend in Rochester, NYC, who gave permission for me to put them on the blog.

Here they come
Wow, what a show
I'd get neck ache trying to capture this shot

22 July 2011

The Answer plus a Discovery!

What was it?
Yes, it was the inside of a car wash taken from inside the car. Well what else can you do whilst waiting for the wash to finish?
Congratulations to Denise, Faye, Mona and Ron who all got it right.

~~~~~

THE THINGS WE FIND IN CUPBOARDS

The cupboards in my work room cum office are bulging with stuff I rarely use. Consequently I seldom explore the contents. However today in an attempt to find a particular item I came across several boxes of, well, surprises. Stuff that had gone unseen for goodness knows how long. There were packets of cards I’d made several moons ago and forgotten about and in one box there were:
  • tools that had gone into hiding for fear of being lost by my beloved; you know the sort of thing, screwdrivers and scissors
  • fountain and ballpoint pens (new and unused) that had been presented on various occasions (how many pens does one need to get through daily life?)
  • pencils by the score
  • craft items in the form of knives, paints, brushes, varnish, white spirit, glass paper, and glue
  • copper bracelets and rings
  • magnetic bracelets (these indicate how long ago the arthritis hit me – they obviously didn’t work!)
  • floppy discs with recorded stuff from WI, now useless pieces of computer equipment
  • hatpins on a card, inherited from mother
  • and two penny coins: (1) dated 1831 featuring Gulielmus IIII who was King William IV from 1830 to 1837, and (2) dated 1853 featuring a young Queen Victoria. If Victoria came to the throne in 1836 and King William in 1830 they had both done a year before these coins were issued. How strange that we now have a future king, Prince William who will be known as King William V. I have no idea where the coins came from, inherited from either mother or father.
  • Another coin in this small collection was a ten cent piece from East Africa dated 1831. Another mystery.

I tried taking photographs of the coins but they didn’t turn out very well. However, here they are as proof that I’m not making this up… grins. The hatpins turned out reasonably well, don’t you think?

More boxes will be delved into when I have the energy to keep saying Ooooh and Aaaah.




21 July 2011

Here's the clue to yesterday's 'What is It?'

Today's Moan

I worry about some of our emergency service vehicles and sometimes I worry about my own safety when they bear down on me, forcing me into a situation I find it difficult to get out of, then racing by with inches to spare before taking the paint of my car.

This morning I was in a tight situation, second car in a line-up at red lights. I had the radio on so I was inwardly singing along with one of the latest songs. Suddenly Car.No.1 at the lights shifted as if he’d changed his mind about which direction to go when the lights changed. In other words, he pulled his car sideways in front of me. That’s when I heard the sirens. I had to shift … fast.

Manoeuvring the car up the curb, narrowly missing a pedestrian, I was just in time to escape the onslaught of two emergency vehicles, ambulance and fire engine. At speed they squeezed through the gap that No.1 and I left between us and the traffic light system. Talk about sweating buckets! How my door didn’t get scraped I’ll never know.

At that particular spot I have known fire engines move to the wrong side of the road, crossing the lights in hazardous style. One of these days there’ll be a fatal accident at that section, I just hope it isn’t me.

Further on, travelling down a dual carriageway, I saw the accident. Two cars, badly smashed. I spent the rest of the journey thanking the good Lord for my safe journey.

20 July 2011

What is it?

In answer to Faye's question on yesterday's Wordless post, you can read about Great Orme here

Moving on ... can you identify this picture?

A clue will be given tomorrow

18 July 2011

Searching for new ideas


Sometimes a person needs a break from cooking before it gets to feel more like slave labour. I can’t really complain though, for five years my guy not only did the cooking but the housework as well. Where was I? Otherwise engaged is the answer, 4 years running the country… sorry the county… for the WI and a year of poor health when Arthur Itis attacked all joints, including fingers. As cooks go, whilst exceedingly willing, my guy was not very adventurous and some of our daily bread came in the form of ready cooked meals from the local supermarket. Some were okay but some were distinctly mundane.

So now I’m back on track and struggling to find new ideas for a main meal.

Having sampled ready meals from supermarkets before it was with some trepidation that I went to browse round the newly opened Waitrose express store in the heart of the shopping precinct. The first thing that struck me was the smell of fresh bread as I walked through the door. It was a perfect greeting on a damp morning.

The décor in the store leant itself to a feeling of cleanliness, as it should, and the well stocked shelves revealed the most inviting goods.

To the right of the bakery section was the sandwich bar that sold, yes, delicious looking sandwiches with more unusual fillings, along with salads of all descriptions, and a sushi bar. I gave a silent cheer because there is no other shop in my area that sells sushi.

Further along was the ready-meal section, single meals to suit all nationalities. After that was the butchers department with divine cuts of meat all ready for the oven, and then I hit the ready-to-cook section with boxed food to suit two people. The offerings were unbelievable.

Forgetting my apprehension about buying ready-to-cook dishes, I purchased a box of chicken fillets, covered with whole asparagus and wrapped in wafer thin prosciutto ham, which I later served with roast potatoes, savoy cabbage and chicken gravy.

Not only was it delicious but for £4.99, for two people, I reckoned I couldn’t have cooked it for the same cost.

You can guess that I’ve been back to the shop since then. Here’s a few of those we’ve tried.

  • Lean Aberdeen Angus beef steaks with chimichurri sauce … that’s a vibrant, punchy sauce of shallots, parsley and oregano with a squeeze of lemon

  • Cured pork loin steaks with a crispy cheddar and cream cheese topping

  • Venison and mushroom Wellington. British venison with wild mushroom and juniper stuffing in puff pastry.

  • Pesto chicken linguine with edamame beans, pine nuts, crème fraĭche and pesto dressing.

To name but a few….

So if you haven’t tried Waitrose and there’s a store near you take a tip from me and at least go and have a look.

17 July 2011

Monday Mirth

A man checked into a hotel and the receptionist asked him, 'Would you like a shower or a bath? He asked 'What's the difference?' She replied, 'Well, you sit down in a bath!'
Now have a laugh with Morecombe and Wise.

15 July 2011

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR? (repeat)

Sheila Pickering was rich. She was also my friend. My rich friend. We had been mates since senior school, ever since the weekend her sister got married and I was an invited guest. Sheila was one of those dark-eyed lovelies one sees in Spanish pictures, usually wearing colourful clothes and brandishing an ornate fan. Mum had one in our hall for years until Dad smashed it with a beer bottle during one of his drunken fits.

Throughout the school years Sheila and I were inseparable. It was a strange friendship. She had everything and I, being the daughter of impoverished parents, had nothing. I used to wear her clothes because we were of identical build and the same colouring. My three younger sisters would regard me enviously when I turned up on Sunday nights wearing Sheila's pink mohair twin-set and black pencil skirt. Never once did I wonder what her mother would say about my friend's disappearing apparel. I got other things as well, handbags, flimsy scarves and gloves. On occasions, when we set out to congregate on the street corner with the lads, Sheila would lend me a coat but that always had to be returned lest Mrs Pickering complained to her husband about Sheila's carelessness.

Sheila's ambition when we left school was to be a top-notch buyer. With that in mind she went to work at a big departmental store, while I slogged away in a factory. She even did well for boy friends, always ending up with the pick of the bunch. Not for her the greasy haired, spotty faced youths I mixed with.

When she was twenty she met the actor, suave and handsome Casey Murchison. I was never quite sure if it was his money or his looks that swept her off her feet. Whatever it was, by twenty-one she was married and had a child on the way.

*******

Sheila Murchison was now my rich and famous friend. Casey proved to be a man whose acting abilities were simply phenomenal. He was sought after by film directors and dishy women. After Sheila lost her third baby Casey started to travel, visiting locations all over the world while Sheila played the lady in their London residence … and I still toiled at the factory.

I married, of course. Twice. My first husband was Cedric Messenger. A gambler. He liked to bet on horses, football, the dogs, and the weather. He spent all our money and rarely won. Sheila was great, giving me money and clothes like the old days.

My second attempt at wedded bliss was better. Even Sheila approved. Charlie May was fifteen years older than me and suffered with multiple sclerosis. That's why I worked and he didn't. I sometimes got a bit worried when he had a flutter on the horses - thinking of Cedric, I suppose, who never won.

Whenever I worked overtime Sheila Murchison, my rich, famous and very best friend, took Charlie out. She settled him in her limousine, his wheelchair in the boot, and off they would go to tour the park and call at the shops or maybe visit the theatre. While I slaved long hours at the factory.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't jealous. On the contrary, I was pleased that Charlie had the opportunity to see the sights. Left to me he wouldn't get the chance, you see, not while I was working at the factory.

*******

Sheila Murchison took Charlie to see Evita. Not the big show, the one people rave over. This one was staged by Actors Galore, the local drama group. They got home much later than I expected, which was a shame since for once I wasn't working. I'd come home unexpectedly early, it being Charlie's birthday.

Charlie was flushed with excitement when Sheila wheeled him in. 'Oh, Lottie,' he cried. 'Have I got news for you.'

Panic swirled around my innards. I'm a stranger to excitement and unsolicited news terrifies me. I think it's with working so long at that dreary factory … there's never a happy face to be seen in there. Anyway, I pushed away my apprehension and waited to hear the news. I looked to Sheila for some kind of enlightenment but she just stood behind Charlie's chair gripping the handles and grinning like the proverbial cat.

'Will you tell Lottie or shall I?' asked Charlie of Sheila. She inclined her head in his direction to indicate that he should do it.

Manoeuvring his wheelchair to my seat by the fire, Charlie took my hand. 'I won the raffle at the drama group,' he said. He looked me square in the eyes so I knew he wasn't having me on.

Fingering the frayed edge of my apron pocket, I looked away and breathed deeply to quell the suspense.

Charlie squeezed my hand. 'I had the winning ticket,' he said.

'And I had the third,' announced Sheila.

My voice croaked as I timorously asked what they'd won.

Charlie and Sheila spoke in unison.

'A holiday ...'

'A hamper ...'

Roaring with laughter, they tried again.

'In Florida,' said Charlie.

'For Christmas,' said Sheila.

I looked from one to the other, finding their news difficult to assimilate. It was Sheila who finished the tale. Apparently Casey had provided the holiday as a prize and included with it two thousand pounds spending money. 'And it's yours,' she said, placing in my hands a buff envelope marked FIRST.

'But ...'

'It's yours,' she repeated.

Charlie beamed at me. 'The hamper's yours, too, Lottie.' He looked like a schoolboy the way his hair dangled over one eye. I felt tears sting my eyes and groped in the apron pocket for a hanky. I wasn't sad, you understand. No, sir! I was happy, deliriously and outrageously happy. I began to giggle and pretty soon Charlie joined in, while Sheila sat on our single armchair and chortled her lovely head off.

*******

Two months after our holiday, I totted up the expense sheet to see how much of the two thousand was left. I still felt indebted to Sheila, who had spent a lifetime waving away my gratitude, never once looking for a return. Not that I could give much back on the measly wage I picked up. I sighed with frustration when the total differed a third time and wished Charlie was available to have a go. But he was at a charity do at Sheila's mansion. I would have gone but for the overtime at the factory.

As I moved up the column a fourth time, I heard the front door slam. There was much tittering in the hall as Sheila struggled to get Charlie up the step. Laying down the pencil, I went to help, inching open the living room door in case Charlie was on the other side. I gazed with disbelief at the sight of him with my best friend, seeing their lips separate, noting the speed with which they pulled apart. They smiled at me.

Sheila remarked, 'I thought you were at the factory.'

Clearing his throat, Charlie began, 'Lottie ...'

'Don't tell me,' I countered, sarcastically. 'You were just kissing her goodnight.'

Sheila helped Charlie into the chair. 'We have something to tell you, Lottie.'

Indeed!

'Charlie and I ...'

I closed my eyes, not wanting to know what Charlie and her were about.

'We want to live together.'

Yeah?

Sheila lowered her voice. Very softly, she uttered one word, 'Repayment.'

I stared at her. 'Repayment?'

'In kind. Your husband for all the gifts and loans and favours.'

Charlie said nothing and neither did I. I wasn't exactly dumbstruck, but while Sheila explained how she and my husband had fallen in love and how obliging Casey had been over the divorce, I was envisaging a life without Charlie, leaving the factory and moving on. To Florida possibly, to the house where Casey Murchison, my very best and famous friend's husband, had invited me to stay.

14 July 2011

Early morning surprise

I don't have my wits about me first thing in the morning. Yesterday I rolled out of bed and made my way to the kitchen with nothing else on my mind but brewing a pot of lemon and ginger tea. The blinds were still down so I hoisted them up in time to see a movement in the garden. T'was the dear old fox. Actually there were two but one ran off. Only later did I find out where it went. I imagine that even professional photographers don't have their camera handy whilst still in their nightwear and with me in a still groggy state I couldn't even find mine. I wasted precious snapping time trying to locate it. Consequently the pictures you see below are somewhat inferior.

Well here he is wandering up the path.

He cleverly worked out that to get the best foraging route he needed to start at the top
and work down. Yes, he investigated every inch of the embankment but I chucked a lot of those photographs away. They were useless.
Now to the lawn, sorry piece of grass. It should be a lawn but dry weather has taken it's toll.
This is him before he followed his mate. When I was fully awake I went down the garden to top up the bird feeders and there I made the discovery. In the last pic you can see one of the feeders hanging from a branch (top right) ... well, on the ground beneath that feeder (quite a drop, actually) was the de-feathered carcass of a magpie, nicely stripped of all flesh. It must have been a young bird because the older ones have learned the art of self preservation and self defence. So that's what the second fox was doing while the first one was exploring the shrubbery!

Do I move the feeder? I don't think so. It's the first casualty in 20 years of feeding the wildlife and there have always been foxes in the garden. They live in a copse that lies between the houses, out of sight of human beings and thus far they haven't been a problem. Oh well, I guess that's life ... and death.

13 July 2011

You know it

This has been going the rounds for a while and now it's my turn to post it.
!!

You know it's 2011 when:

1. You accidentally enter your PIN on the microwave.

2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have the first 20, 30, or 60 years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile :-)

12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list

11 July 2011

Book Review

My latest read was a book by Douglas Kennedy called The Moment.

I waited ages for him to publish another novel but I didn’t mind because I knew when it arrived it would have been worth the wait. How wrong can a girl be?

Some authors get books published at a rapid rate and I often wonder how they do it. Writing itself takes time, not to mention the umpteen edits, on top of which there’s a life to live.

I remember being surprised on hearing about the way Barbara Cartland wrote books … well, in truth, it was a secretarial team that did the work. I suppose she set the theme of each book and let them get on with it. It killed the illusion of hard grafting.

You know the old saying ‘when you’ve read one you’ve read them all’ … for sure reading Cartland’s ‘much the same’ novels didn’t have the same appeal as a book someone had spent time on. The image of a struggling author bent over a desk, quill pen in hand, crumpled paper on the floor and not a secretary in sight does more to attract me to purchase the end product.

Barbara Cartland is no longer with us but she was not alone in saturating the market with reading matter. Nora Roberts is one of many more. I love her work but do wonder how on earth she gets so much stuff finished and published in record time.

I wonder if the transition to e-Books will be the same?

Copy and paste has a lot going for it so writing a book on a computer must be quicker than using laborious handwriting and reams of paper but that doesn’t mean the final result will be any better.

Going back to the latest Douglas Kennedy: the disappointment was acute. Tediousness was such that I found myself skimming whole paragraphs to try and get on with the story. Dialogue was undertaken with outrageously long words that would drive a true conversationalist insane. I’m sure nobody speaks that way in the real world. The background was historic, based on life in Berlin in the days when the Wall still existed, but Kennedy included the seamy side and dwelled on it. I’m not averse to a bit of dodgy goings-on provided it’s done without causing offence but there is such a thing as overkill.

The main characters didn’t get together until almost the middle of the book which made me wonder if the story would ever gain pace. Mediocre sex scenes were loosely described, mainly a lot of tumbling in and out of bed which failed to stir the senses, if you know what I mean.

Basically the story is a recap of an American writer’s romance in Berlin. He was essentially there to get material for a forthcoming book. On his arrival lodgings were found in the home of an Irish drug addict cum artist who was totally gay and who used the F word like it was going out of fashion. I had no objection to the guy being gay but I did so dislike the excessive use of bad language. Okay I know it’s used as illustration but the English language is powerful enough to describe such scenarios without insulting the reader.

The man meets woman situation was hasty; she was moving in with him within days. Their conversations, when they weren’t devouring each other in bed, were extensively geared to readers of the Chambers Dictionary. One chapter was devoted to the female character’s past life, conversationally narrated with interminable descriptions and almost page length paragraphs that made me want to skip the lot. I have yet to meet anyone who can relate a life story without interruption. I was taught that a writer should aim for space in order to give the reader breathing space.

One thing in Kennedy’s favour is the amount of research that was done; a history lesson in itself if written as such.

I have studied the reviews. Whilst first time Kennedy readers thought it was good, his regular followers did not. I wish I’d read them before chancing my arm, though I would probably have ignored them on the grounds that I’d always liked the author so wouldn’t be disappointed in his work.

So, Mr Kennedy, I’m afraid it’s goodbye from me. It’s unlikely that I will wait for the next one.

09 July 2011

Solitary Birds

Go on, be a devil....

Strollin', just strollin'
Phew! Perhaps I should have flown up
Waiting for them to open

08 July 2011

Baffling the Squirrel!

Squirrels will be the death of me. If this doesn’t work I’m declaring war ... this being the latest idea for baffling squirrels which is probably why it’s called a Squirrel Baffle.
There are two bird feeders in the garden, both designed to defeat Sammy Squirrel. Admittedly he can’t get inside the cage but he’s a determined little chap so he soon found a way to get at the seed. It’s simple when you think about it. All he has to do is hang down from the branch, grab the frame, and rock. That way he shakes out the seed so he can eat it on the ground, along with the pigeons. Perhaps a little rock music would make the whole thing more interesting.

Pigeons are another of my pet irritations. It’s not so much them pinching all the bird seed I object to, but the mess they make in the garden and walkway. I used to hang the feeders near the house but the stinking mess on the patio and paths got too much. It took a water hose and much scrubbing of brickwork and slabs to remove the muck. I swear pigeons are the dirtiest birds on the planet.

There’s nothing they can’t get into. Pigeons and squirrels are adept at solving all problems when it comes to food. The most amazing is the way they contort their bodies to retrieve bird food from the small bucket that hangs inside an ornamental wishing well and from my lovely stone house where access is limited to four smallish holes.
Pigeons wedge themselves on the surrounding narrow water trough then stick their heads through the holes. They looked so funny I used to laugh but it’s no longer very amusing. As a result of all this we now can no longer put food in them. Okay, so let's see if they can master this one!

06 July 2011

A Propitious Find

The white elephant stall was chock-a-block with lampshades and books, a strange combination of offerings from members of the Brookhampton Branch of Gardener's Forum. Emily Jenkins had expected to be inundated with plants and seeds, but the only offering remotely connected with gardening was a thin publication on houseplants. She grouped the larger items at the side of the trestle table to allow for easier inspection of smaller contributions, giving place of honour to a wooden box of ornate knives that looked as if they'd never been used. Nestling on white satin, the lustrous instruments looked rather superior amongst the cracked teacups, battered handbags, two steel toast-racks, and a souvenir clothes-brush in a plastic clog.

Emily loosened her cuffs and undid the top button of her cream blouse. It was a very warm, but pleasant in the shade of the horse chestnut tree, and peaceful now that a nearby car alarm had stopped its deafening din.

Behind her a voice said, 'Afternoon, Miss Jenkins.'

It was Martin Crisp, village postman and hero of the rugby team. His wife Sandra, impeded by a pencil-slim skirt, was striving to catch him up.

Emily greeted them cordially, pleased that her first customers were people she knew so that if she made a mistake in her reckoning she wouldn't feel so bad. 'Not playing today, Martin?' she enquired.

'Not this weekend.' He grinned at Sandra and gave her ribs a playful dig. 'Thought I'd give Sandra the benefit of my company for a change.

Sandra blushed and gave him a coy glance.

Moving to the front of the stall, Martin began to browse through the hardbacks. 'Might find something suitable for your brother,' he said, flipping the books one by one.

Sandra picked up a pale pink Tiffany lampshade. 'I like this,' she said, wheezing a little, still breathless after her short run. 'The colour's perfect for our spare room and it only needs stitching around the rim. Maybe there's a book here which would help.' She started to search through the craft books which Emily had displayed on a cardboard box.

'Crikey, look at this.'

Sandra's ash-blonde hair swung like a curtain as she spun round to face Martin, who had his sturdy arm outstretched as if wanting to select a book but afraid to do so. Emily put on her spectacles and peered over a heap of paperbacks trying to make out what had attracted him, but it was difficult to read anything upside down.

Forsaking her own search, Sandra drifted to her husband's side and quizzed him on his discovery.

He pointed a stubby finger at a distinctive leather-bound volume, blue in colour with black lettering and a silk marker. 'Black Country Stories,' he said. 'Like Gran used to have, though if I remember rightly hers was thinner. This could be an omnibus edition.'

'What are Black Country stories?'

Though Sandra addressed Martin, she peered at Emily as though she might have the answer pushed up her sleeve, which of course she did not. She had heard of the Black Country, but didn't know there was a book about it.

'Anecdotes about life in the industrial area known as the Black Country,' Martin said as he lifted the book from the stack. 'This must be more than sixty years old. Can't be too many around.' Carefully he opened the cover. 'Nineteen-thirty-four. What a find.' He lowered the book and, according to his later account, was about to ask the price when a slight man in a filthy grey raincoat shoved Emily to one side, stretched over the handbags and plucked the book from Martin's hand.

Sandra watched open-mouthed as the man sprinted towards the exit carrying a bulky brown canvas bag.

Martin quickly regained his composure. 'Blimey, the book wasn't old enough to warrant a snatch.' He leaned across the lampshades. 'You look a bit pale, Miss Jenkins. You all right?'

Emily nodded, but continued to rub her arm. Sure as houses there'd be a bruise by morning. 'I never ...' She stopped to clear her throat which had gone dry with nerves. 'I swear I hadn't seen the book until you picked it up.'

Sandra wailed, 'Ooh, Martin, d'you think the man was a crook?'

'Don't be daft. He probably can't afford to buy it, that's all. Pity, though, I'd have liked it. It'll be worth a bob or two in a few years.' Suddenly, Martin stood on tiptoe, stretching to see over the hawthorn hedge. 'Hey, there he is. Perhaps I can persuade him with a tenner?'

'Who?' asked Sandra.

But Martin wasn't able to reply. He had taken off in pursuit of the man, knocking the knife box askew as he hastily bypassed the counter, but the scoundrel, on hearing Martin's cry and observing his athletic form sprinting in his direction, swiftly took to his heels.

'Ooh!' exclaimed Sandra. 'Isn't Martin brave?'

The following morning

While washing up at the sink, Emily spotted Sandra teetering up the path on her incredibly high heels.

'Coo-ee, Miss Jenkins,' she called, seeing Emily peeping round the net curtain. She waved and pointed to the door as if she was in a hurry to be let in.

Absorbing some of her urgency, Emily dabbed her hands with the tea towel and went to the door.

'Ooh, Miss Jenkins. Wait 'til you hear what happened yesterday.'

Emily took her in the kitchen and invited her to take a glass of squash but Sandra didn’t hear, she was already in full flight with an account of events rushing from her mouth like cascading utterances, each one rolling so close to the next it was impossible to decipher the arrangement. Eventually, after listening for a few minutes in complete bewilderment, Emily shouted, 'For heaven's sake, Sandra, be quiet.'

'Ooh, Miss J. Was I babbling?'

Emily pulled out a chair. 'Sit down, there's a dear.' Regardless of whether her visitor wanted one or not, Emily poured two glasses of lemonade and placed one in front of her. 'Now, Sandra, start again, slowly.'

'Well, it was like this ....'

Apparently, by the time Martin caught up with the loathsome villain (Sandra's description of the thief) he was preparing to leap on a moving bus, but Martin went headlong into one of his famous rugby tackles and frustrated the attempt. Fortunately, the man's holdall burst open and a load of valuables fell out, vases and picture frames and boxes and things. Martin surmised they were stolen and made a citizens arrest.

Sandra hoisted back her shoulders and beamed with delight. 'Not afraid to have a go, isn't Martin.'

When Emily asked if the book had been rescued, Sandra speeded up, stumbling through a garbled version of facts as if she hadn't a minute to live. Emily laid a hand on her arm to calm her excitement and finally received a coherent report.

The book had been stolen from Myers' Mansion on the hill, innocently taken, the police thought, scooped from an onyx table with some costly silverware. But it didn't take the thief long to discover that the book was a facade for a cleverly disguised box containing a diamond necklace. The felon had shrewdly dispersed the gear amid a clutter of people's discards on sundry stands until the heat died down. A risky thing to do considering everything at the fete was for sale.

Emily rubbed her greying widow's peak, a habit of hers when fraught. She wondered what the thief would have done if she had sold the bogus tome. Her heart pounded inside her chest at the thought of what danger she might have faced, imagining that scruffy individual threatening her with a dagger or a gun.

'You O.K. Miss Jenkins?'

'Course I am. Your news knocked me a bit off kilter, that's all.'

Sandra smiled and chattered on about how fortunate Lord Myers was that Martin was around to single-handedly save the day.

'He should be rewarded,' Emily said, feeling like doing a spot of rewarding herself.

'Oh, he was,' Sandra said, amazingly nonchalant all of a sudden. 'Lord Myers wrote a cheque for two thousand pounds.'

Emily was astounded. Such a substantial reward implied that the necklace was of immense value. And to think she had it on her white elephant stall. She had a vision of awarding it pride of place amongst the teacups and toast-racks, adjacent to the silver knives and the clog, debating the price with the Vicar and thwarting bids to steal it with a bag.

Two thousand pounds! No wonder Sandra was in such good spirits with such a sizeable sum on its way to the bank. Emily was pleased for Martin whom she considered deserved a reward, but as far as she was concerned it was the end of her venture into selling. In future she would offer to run something less risky, the tombola, maybe, or welly-whanging.

Sandra drained her glass. 'I wouldn't have been surprised if those fancy knives were part of the haul. Lovely they were. Strikes me the robber didn't have a clue about thieving. Imagine stealing, then disposing of half the loot. Stood to reason he'd lose it. Mind, I'd most likely do the same with alarms ringing loud enough to wake the dead.' She set the glass on the table and wiped her lips with a tissue. 'Shows how much I know about burglarising.'

Emily has a pressing matter to attend to

After Sandra had gone, Emily put the glasses to soak in the sink and stood for a minute or two gazing through the window, watching the squirrels tracking each other through the conifers, then she let lowered the blind to keep the sun out of the kitchen. The cuckoo clock struck the hour. Midday already, and she'd done nothing in the house. But she had a more pressing matter to attend to so the housework would have to wait.

Bustling into the dining room, she opened the sideboard drawer and withdrew the box of beautiful knives, the only item on the white-elephant which had taken her eye. Opening the lid, she selected one and took it to the window for a better view of it. The handle was so smooth it felt velvety and fitted her hand as though it had been specially crafted for her. She studied the tiny monogram. It wasn't easy to see, but she guessed it was the Myers' family crest. Replacing the knife in its slot, she closed the lid and tucked the box under her arm, then scurried into the hall to change her shoes.

Humming a cheerful ditty, she chose her best cardigan from those neatly arranged on the closet shelf. 'One day soon,' she muttered as she checked her appearance in the mirror, smoothing her hair and removing a speck of dirt from her chin, 'when Marmaduke Myers advances my reward, I'll buy some fine knives like those.'

She felt exceptionally happy as she grabbed her bag and keys and stepped out of the front door. Numerous coveted items orbited her brain: bone china to display, silk sheets to lie on, Turkish carpet for the lounge. Pulling the door to with a bang, clutching the knife box to her bosom and singing, 'New coat, new shoes,' to the tune of New York, New York, Emily Jenkins took her first jaunty step towards Myers' Mansion on the hill.