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Chooks Away!

 

agriculture animal baby beak
Photo by Achim Bongard on Pexels.com

Mock me if you will, but this household has recently acquired six chickens as a part of our continued strive to have less impact on the planet, and yes, whip up an omelette when we’ve all had an oeuf of Brexit (gosh I am so funny). Yes, yes, I know. If the French and English fishermen move onto less middle-class catches than scallops to fall out over, Operation Stack becomes Operation Car Park because the ports are blocked and the NHS has finally collapsed the death knell being that drugs that are not manufactured in this country are not able to come into this country, then six chickens are not going to save me or anyone else.

In the short time that we have had them I have noticed how incredibly thick chickens are. They have not a thought in their head. Yesterday they escaped from their capacious living area for doing whatever it is that chickens do, and had made their way up to the lawn, which is at the top of our garden. And when I say the top of our garden, we live on a hill and the lawn is not only the only flat portion of our garden, it is higher up than the roof of our house with steps for humans to reach it. The lawn is a substantial work of engineering, much adored by Man of the House, and lovingly re-seeded two weeks ago.  I made my way up to shoo them back down to their area. Five of the six went with little trouble. One of them decided to break free from the group and run off in completely the opposite direction. I was around thirty feet from her when she decided to launch herself from the top of the lawn. She flapped her wings as she cannoned over the hedge (planted specifically to stop a child doing something similar) and mid-air it became apparent that her flight feathers on one side had been clipped. She banked left and disappeared from view. I heard a thud, which I presumed was her ricocheting off the chicken coop. I rushed back down the garden expecting that my quandary over what to cook for dinner was now solved. I found her having rejoined the group without a care in the world. A perfect demonstration as to why chickens are the descendants of dinosaurs. They are made of stern, uncomplicated stuff and a big bang was nothing to them.

In addition to half a dozen mini velociraptors trashing the lawn, like lots of people who adore Sir David Attenborough and wonder if he is the only person in a position of authority with an ounce of sense, I have also been on a mission to eradicate our house of plastic. This is a much easier task to say than it is to do isn’t it? I have a veg box because they don’t wrap cucumbers and broccoli in plastic (who the hell thought of that cretinous idea? They should join Mr Gove and have their feet roasted on an open fire as suggested by a fellow Twitter user for the fronted adverbial crap), I have switched to beeswax wraps (www.beebeewraps.com are excellent – no I don’t get any money for suggesting them, they have no idea who I am), and bars of shampoo and soap in the bathroom which cause endless amounts of confusion. As of this morning I think that Man of the House is washing his body with hair conditioner, his hair with a body bar and I don’t want to even think about what he’s doing with the bar of shampoo. I also buy eco-friendly washing products that are made in eco-friendly factories, have less impact on aquatic life and are packaged in recycled plastic. I have also been trying not to buy palm oil which is even less easy because the bloody stuff is in everything. And I have started ordering milk from the milkman again.

Except, according to news this week, the single biggest cause of pollution in the world is a kind of fart. And you would be entirely forgiven for thinking it might be President Fart, but it’s not, that would be fake news; it’s cow farts. And by buying milk, in addition to (as one of my vegan friends has previously horrified me) I am not only supporting young male calves being shot at birth and their mothers being permanently pregnant, I am also contributing to cow farts. As I am by eating beef. And I am not a big beef eater. In case you missed it, the upshot of that if we carry on we’ve got about twelve years until we’re all completely buggered. So just enough time for the children of those us of my generation to be reaching adulthood and being left with a bigger mess than the one their grandparents and the current government are intent on leaving them with Brexit. Great.

We are British, so let us not be defeated by this news. We must press on, and press on we shall. This weekend, I am going to avail myself of all of the milk alternatives available to a person at my local supermarket. Such is the wealth and privilege of the country I live in. And me, Man of the House and the Childerbeasts are going to do a blind tasting. I may take photos of some of the more disgusted expressions for my own amusement. Then we are going to see which one we like the best. And we are going to attempt to make the switch.

I am not going to make any rash promises. We are not going to become vegan overnight and start cycling everywhere. However, I am going to attempt to demonstrate to my children that we should all attempt to be what I believe Mahatma Gandhi actually said which was “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change….We need not wait to see what others do.” If we don’t do something, and twelve years really means now, we the Europeans won’t be able to bicker over Brexit, the Americans will not be able to tittle-tattle over Trump and the Russians will not be around to visit Salisbury in the snow or otherwise. Smaller, feathery and not very scary this time, but after sixty six million years, dinosaurs will once again rule the Earth. So much for homo sapiens, sapiens – wise, wise man.

 

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Pack It In

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This time two weeks ago I was frantically trying to pack for five people and a dog to go to Norfolk for a week.  As any of you who have undertaken this task (and it seems that at the moment we are a nation of people undertaking this task), this is not something you come to on the day of departure hoping to chuck a pair of knickers and a toothbrush into a bag and be on your merry way.  I had been washing and getting stuff ready for weeks.

After trying to count out the necessary number of pants and socks, I then started trying to gather the items of clothing that I had been secretly stockpiling.  That would be all of the clothing necessary for every possible type of weather that could be encountered on the east coast of England.  Rainy, obviously.  Windy,  undoubtedly.  Sunny, possibly.  Just the selection of footwear was enough to fill a skip.  Toiletries for cleaning unwilling children were essential.  A bizarre first aid kit was required because when you’re seven and you don’t want to go to bed you simply do not know what previously unknown ailment may strike.  And it could be a different one each and every night for a week.  Then I had the Hound to consider.   Apparently he would want feeding and generally tending to as well.  Damn him!  And let us not forget that I also had a size restriction in that I had to fit it all into a car along with five humans and said Hound.

My thoughts started to run away with me.  What if there was a freak hurricane and we needed special weights in our shoes? Would I have the right type of pants for an unexpected Summer fete? What if we happened upon some morris dancing  – was I prepared with a sufficient number of hankies?  Things were starting to get out of hand.

Did I mention that I was also trying to exchange contracts on the pre-school project before 3pm that day or all bets were off this Summer?  (See Abacus blog if you missed it). And collect and deliver sold raffle tickets and tombola prizes for our village fete to a neighbour at the bottom of the village at a time when she was in because she would need them ready for before we got back? Oh, and I was packing stuff from the lounge into boxes so it could be decorated while we were away.  Apparently it is easier to decorate a room without three kids and a dog in it as well.  Who knew?

Man of the House arrived back from work and announced that he had been rushed off his feet all morning but if he could possibly just have a sandwich, as soon as he had eaten he would be ready to “load the car”.   I see some of you have raised an eyebrow there and have muttered “would he?”  Yes, he would.  If I could just pop and get the kids from school, then by the time I got back he would have finished and we would be ready to go.  I was a donkey on the edge.  He took one look at my face and knew that I was a donkey on the edge. He drove all the way to Norfolk.

In the end I resolved that we were remaining in the UK.  Not venturing into the Amazon rainforest (although I have had a bottle of Coca Cola in the Amazon Rainforest) and not foraying into rural India (where I was still able to buy a banana).  But Norfolk, England.  And if for some reason I had omitted to pack a sufficient number of knotted hankies or emergency cravats, then we would just have to buy it when we were there or go without.

Since my return, it has occurred to me from the white-faced and starey-eyed look I have observed on several people’s faces that I am not alone in experiencing the horror of “packing for holiday”.  One friend told me that he had been ironing the children’s clothes at ten o’clock at night (no, I don’t know what he’s doing ironing the children’s clothes for holiday either, his standards must be infinitely higher than mine) whilst his wife (also a friend) was working.  Wife is a beauty therapist and apparently the minute she announces she’s going on holiday, all of her clients have to book in a treatment.  I have heard of people getting themselves waxed and buffed ready for their own holidays, but I must admit that having to rush in an intimate wax at ten o’clock at night before your therapist goes away had completely passed me by.

Meanwhile, across the county, another friend is also preparing for her annual week of ice-cream testing.  As he keeps on growing (how selfish!) she had purchased her son some shorts and invited him to try them for size.  They were returned to her a few minutes later with a declaration that they were too small.  Son had already removed the labels thus making an exchange questionable in an already tight timescale before the off.  When she raised this with him, my friend was treated to being shouted at and a slammed bedroom door.  I bet he’s looking forward to a beach holiday with his family.  In his pants.

Finally, another friend is also undertaking the clothes gathering exercise prior to cramming it all into a selection of bags and sitting on them to get the zips done up.  She was opining as to the reason why her Man of the House had not yet produced any clothes to pack.  Was it a) he wasn’t intending to join his family on holiday b) he was intending to join them but had already washed everything ready or c) he would hand her the clothes he needed to take the day before departure and mumble something about them needing a bit of a wash?

Oh the joy.  The sheer middle class horror of it all.  The bickering in the car.  The being two miles down the road and someone needing a wee.  The dropped Mr Whippy.  The sand.  The bloody sand.  And let us not forget the enormous pile of washing when you get back.

Have a lovely holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

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Choose Life

 

wham

I want to take you back to the eighties. And if you’re not old enough to remember the eighties, then let me tell you about it, you’ll be horrified. Shoulder pads were in. Power suits with big shoulder pads were definitely in. As was big hair. And when I say big hair, I mean big flicks and lots of hairspray to stop it from moving a millimetre in a force nine gale. Highlights. Blonde ones. Perms. All for men as well as women. Metrosexuality was something that was well underway in the eighties, although I suspect that most men would have balked at the large bows that Princess Diana wore.

There were videos, personal stereos. And a lot of people were desperate to know who shot JR – I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know or can’t remember.

The height of automobile sophistication for the thrusting young gentleman was a Ford Capri. My parents and grandparents drove a Ford Alpine, which wasn’t the height of anything and probably the depths of something, but it was a lot more than lots of people could afford at the time. And infinitely better than waiting for a bus to the city (they didn’t go anywhere else) which took about two hours and came twice a week.

In 1983 it was made law for people to wear seatbelts, following eleven previous attempts. I remember there being the most almighty row about it and people getting very het up about the infringements of civil liberties. Most cars at that time only had seatbelts in the front seats so children remained free to brawl with their siblings on the back seat entirely unrestrained, which I also remember doing. Babies could be held in someone’s arms. It only became compulsory for adults to belt up in the back seat in 1991.

If you wanted to get around on your bicycle, as most little people did then, then what you wanted (but probably didn’t have) was a Chopper. This had an extra large seat which allowed you to give a croggy to your friends with the added bonus of being able to see where you were going as they were behind you rather than perched on your handlebars.

As far as music was concerned in this country; Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Madonna, Tracy Ullman. Wham were big. And I was going to marry George Michael. He was handsome, talented, he could sing, he could dance and he seemed like a thoroughly lovely person. Of course he was gay, but that hadn’t occurred to me (or anyone else it would seem, except I suspect it had probably occurred to George), as I was only little. Besides, as soon as he met me, he would want to marry me, I was sure of it.

Some time in early 1983  a woman was at a hospital, wearing her dress with her large bow on it as was the fashion then for the pregnant woman about town. It seemed that pregnancy was still something a woman felt she had to hide then. As if it was some mystery best left to women to get on with behind closed doors.  Nevertheless she would be frowned upon by society if she didn’t do it and vilified if she didn’t want to do it. This particular woman was perfectly happy to be expecting her baby, and had actually left her job when she had her first child eight year’s previous, because that was what women did then and no one thought that unacceptable.  She had no need of a perm for her hair was as curly as curly could be, and the most beautiful raven colour. She had spent most of the seventies trying to straighten it and dye it blonde. Aged thirty four she was considered rather too old to be having children and something of a high risk. She had had some blood tests (anyone who has had a baby will know that the minute anyone medical sees you they have an uncontrollable urge to stick a needle in your arm and drain some blood from you) and was there for the results.

The woman was ushered into a room to see her doctor. She sat down and waited patiently. The doctor looked up from his notes. He told her that she had leukaemia.

Then he sent her home.

I sincerely hope that the doctor concerned no longer practices, or has at least practised their bedside manner since that day. The woman was something of a mess; was this serious? It sounded serious. Was it going to affect her baby? How long did she have? She had two other children – were they going to be left without a mother? Her partner telephoned the hospital and asked for someone to have a conversation with him and his wife because they had a few questions.

Thankfully the doctor that they saw on this occasion was rather better at his job. He answered all of their questions as best he could. He was clear that it didn’t affect the baby. But the one that everyone must have when receiving this sort of information: “how long have I got?” he didn’t really have an answer to. It was quite unusual for this type of leukaemia to have been found in someone so young and he wasn’t sure how it was going to play out. Other doctors were suggesting that they treat her, but he felt that watching and waiting was the best option at that time. So they watched. And they waited.

I would now like to take you forward to Sunday 8 January 2017 and recount the following telephone conversation:

Woman A  :  I just wanted to let you know that I am going to London for a couple of days – I have never seen The Tower of London – and I want to remind you where my Will is and where all of my papers are.

Woman B  :   Oh right – is this a bucket list type thing? And is it entirely necessary for you to tell me where your Will is every time I speak to you, Mum? It is London. London. Not Afghanistan. Are you planning on popping off?

Woman A  :  No, but they can’t get on top of this thing in my lung, and I just worry about it.

Woman B  :  I know, but try not to worry. We’ve been here so many times before. And there are a lot of steps at the Tower, for it is a tower, and the clue is in the name. There are plenty of benches.

Woman A  :  Oh yes, well I will get [friend] to sit down – you know she has a gammy knee.

Woman B  :  [annoyed now] I wasn’t getting at [friend’s] gammy knee. She can drag it along. I was suggesting that you sit down as you get tired.

Woman A  :  [in the manner of Mrs Bennett] Oh I’ll be fine. I’ll give you a ring when I get back.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that that was a conversation between me and my mother. Annoying the crap out of me as usual. My mother was the woman who was sent away from the hospital in 1983. And the baby was my younger sister, who is now a mother herself. The doctors watched and waited for twenty years. And I have lost count, and I genuinely mean that I have lost count, of the amount and type of treatment that my mother has had in the past fifteen years on the NHS. She has sat through eight courses of chemotherapy alone, I believe. She has met lots of people, some she has sat with chatting whilst having treatment for a few weeks, and then she hasn’t seen them again. She said she always wonders how they are and if she will bump into them again. All the time she has been hooked up to the drip by someone who worries that they have bruised her veins again. Tea has been served to her by a lady who is always polite and smiles. Her bed has been changed by someone who, in broken English, asks how she is and cares about the answer. All the time, her treatment authorised by a doctor who is now down to his last options and is desperately trying to find a way to save her life. So I get quite cross when the NHS is bashed. In my admittedly limited experience, doctors and nurses want to save lives and patients, whatever problems they may have, want to live, or at least, don’t want to die.

In spite of the efforts of medical professionals, many factors must influence someone’s survival. Up until the past few years, my mother has been lucky enough, if you can call it that, to have a disease that is indolent. Some people, lots of people, are not that fortunate and not given that choice, however brave they are and however much they want to live. But I do think that in my mother’s case a pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face has seen her through. She’s British for God’s sake. It’s what we do! Whatever her faults are (and believe me she has many) she always decides to just get on with it. She will take her dog for a walk, and it matters not a jot to her that she will struggle and have to go home because she simply cannot walk anymore – the dog needs a walk dammit. Stuff the steps at the Tower of London – she’s going and she doesn’t care if it takes her all day to get to where Henry VIII’s suit of armour is – she wants to see it. In short, after that awful day in 1983, whatever thoughts went through her head, I like to think that when she came home on the bus, that she was listening to the Wham Rap on her walkman. And whereas some of us would like to think that we would plump for the less refined attitude of “fuck it” on the receipt of the news that she had just been given, she decided to hold her head high.  In a moment of weakness, entirely uncharacteristically and undoubtedly because no one else could hear it, she decided to take some advice, and it was George’s.  No, not to Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.  He got that wrong – no one wants to be woken up before someone go-goes anywhere unless it is to bring them a cup of tea.  No, it was advice that was as good today less than a month after we mourn his loss, as when he bounced around on Top of the Pops as a handsome young thing:  choose life.