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Monday, 27 May 2013

Pixie's Birthday

Today is Pixie's Birthday! She is three years old. She was born on the day that our old wolfhound Jai died so there is something serendipitous about it. As if Jai's soul had re-emerged in this tiny black puppy up in Scotland. Wolfhounds don't live long, their hearts can't cope with their size as well as they can in a smaller dog, so we only had Jai for seven years. She had been a gift to us as a puppy and all I can say is that once you have shared your home with a wolfhound you never want to be without one. 

The birthday girl Pixie when she was smaller

Jai Jemima
There are some downsides to them of course. Because they are so large they can reach most things if they take a fancy to a little snack. Jai in particular adored food and anything related to it. She used to watch Ready Steady Cook, her head resting snugly in the dip on the back of the sofa which she had chewed away, and the first book she ate was a Nigel Slater recipe book. When we first had her my old mother was living with us. She didn't like dogs and thought that Jai was "unnecessary" However Jai saved her from what could have been a nasty fall incorporating weeks in hospital and a hip re-placement. One day when she was trying to get to the telephone - she fell over. Just before she hit the floor, Jai rushed between her legs and carried her off round the table like she were a knight returning from the crusades.

 I remember the day we buried the guinea pig. We had a ceremonious burial and Jai joined us, sitting quietly by the graveside as we sang Cumb-By-Ya - and you knew darn well she was thinking when they've all gone I can dig that guinea pig up.
The baby Pixie

Remembering Jai

So to-day we are celebrating Pixie, who also has an unswerving interest in consumables.
Friend, clown, confident, companion, associate and sous-chef.

I am still undecided as to what to do with the ducks. (see previous post.)Those Sumo wrestling boys seem such good friends and the girls appear to be unfussed not having a male around. Maybe I'm being too traditional or too anthropomorphic. They'd probably be a lot happier not being pestered by a hot blooded male duck. When a friend of mine left her husband, instead of getting another one she got herself a large, flat screened T.V. It sat smartly in the corner, how you might like a husband to be and kept her well informed. She laughed at its jokes and she could turn it off whenever she pleased. Sometimes it would stare blankly at her over the breakfast table but it didn't go out for long drinks with the boys (or other T.V's).
Perhaps I should just get the girls a the duck house.
Happy Birthday Pixie

Thursday, 23 May 2013

R.I.P. Mr Walters

Sadly our original duck, Mr Walters died to-day.
 He was eight years old - a good age for a duck. He had turned almost completely white, his sight was going and I think he had gone deaf because he didn't seem to hear me so well.  But he remained courteous to his harem right to the end, always holding back to let them eat first and making sure they went into the duck house before him. He was very chivalrous and I think he kept a sword tucked under his wing. In spite of the non-fertilisation of this last batch of eggs, he fathered many, many ducks and we still have one of his daughters. His children have gone far and wide - to Devon, Downton and Down the road - and they too have had children so he started a magnificent dynasty. Unfortunately however, three of them were taken by the fox one night from the front garden before they retired to their beds. There was just a feather left. It was as if they had been air lifted out. Perhaps the fox had swung down from the trees or  absailed in, swooping them all up in his jaws and flying off with them.
Originally I got the ducks to eat all the slugs in the poly tunnel area - ducks are great for this and unlike chickens don't scratch plants up with their claws because they have webbed feet. Also because they are Indian runners and not like normal ducks it is not so necessary for them to have a big supply of water. They are happy in a paddling pool or in Mr Walter's and his female companions' case - a long, shallow developing tank I got from a photographic studio. The other bonus is that they are very funny to watch. They look like coloured wine bottles running along behind each other.

Mr Walters with a sword tucked firmly under his wing whilst the other ducks just had plant labels.

So there are going to have to be some changes. I think the girls are going to feel lost without their protector so I think I will split up the Sumo wrestling ducks and let the black male(not unlike Mr Walter's as a younger duck}visit them and give the white male in the back garden his very own white female from the girl's department. I think that will make them all very happy indeed. Of course it does mean I'll never find the eggs in the back garden but someone will. And it might put an end to being chased around the garden with the backs of my legs being pecked.
Mr Walters and his first wife Mrs Walters.

 Apart from the decline in my duck numbers there is a huge decline in British wildlife species too. Changing habitats and agricultural practices have helped in the decline of hedgehogs, butterflies and moths as well as numerous other species. We must do something! They are all disappearing before our eyes.
Here is part of a poem by Paula Meehan called

Death of a Field

The field itself is lost the morning it becomes a site
When the Notice goes up: Fingal County Council - 44 houses

The memory of the field is lost with the loss of its herbs

Though the woodpigeons in the willow
And the finches in what's left of the hawthorn hedge
And the wagtail in the elder
Sing on their hungry summer song

The magpies sound like flying castanets

And the memory of the field disappears with the flora:
Who can know the yearning of yarrow
Or the plight of the scarlet pimpernel
Whose true colour is orange?

And the end of the field is the end of the hidey holes
Where first smokes, first tokes, first gropes
Were had to the scentless mayweed

The end of the field as we know it is the start of the estate
The site to be planted with houses each two or three bedroom
Nest of sorrow and chemical, cargo of joy

Who amongst us is able to number the end of grasses
To number the losses of each seeding head?
I'll walk out once
Barefoot under the moon to know the field
Through the soles of my feet to hear
The myriad leaf lives green and singing
The million million cycles of being in wing

That - before the field becomes solely map memory
In some archive of some architect's screen
I might possess it or it possess me
Through its night dew, its moon white caul
Its slick and shine and prolifigacy
In every wingbeat in every beat of time

Sunday, 19 May 2013


"Chirrup! Chirrup!"  Last night I was awoken by Pocket (quarter Bengal) bringing a dead mouse into my room. It was two o'clock in the morning and my heart sank which is pretty hard when you're already lying down. I could tell he was  pleased with himself but I couldn't bear the thought of listening to him chucking it around the room and running with it all over the place as if he's got the ball. So I got up and dispatched it out of the window.(It was dead after all and I thought an owl might fancy a little canape] and if you don't do that you find them in your shoes later and you have to shake them before putting your feet in them as if you lived in Africa and were checking for snakes or scorpions. No sooner had I clambered back into bed then he popped out of the bedroom door and brought another one in. Also dead. He lay it down by the bed."Chirrup! Chirrup!" Again I dispatched it out of the window and went back under the duvet. Then I kid you not he came back with a third mouse. It was like he had  a whole stash of them laid out on the landing like an advent calendar collection- one for each day of the week only I'd spoilt it so he presented them  to me all at once. 
I learnt from the London Zoo that a group of tigers are called A Streak. He doesn't need to be in a group - he's one big streak all on his own. I pushed him and the mouse out of the door and shut it firmly.

How could he have been so small?
 I had so many flowers on the pelargoniums that in spite of what I said in the previous post I did cut a few to put in a vase. I've taken them out of the greenhouse now and just hope there isn't a late frost. You are supposed to harden them off by taking them out in the day and putting them back at night but I've got so many that by the time I'd have got them all out it would have become dark and I'd have to put them straight back in - like Sisyphus - so I'm just taking a chance.
Pelargonium Surcouf

 To-day the duck eggs should have hatched but as I suspected they hadn't been fertilised and I had to pull the plugs. I felt as if I was switching off a life support machine.  It was awful but as there was nothing in the eggs I suppose I was just killing off a potential omelette.

It's Chelsea Flower show this week. I'm not going this year. Last year as I pushed my way through the crowds I noticed a really beautiful show garden. When I go there it was just a wild patch next to the picnic area. Nature should have won Best in Show it was heavenly, with cow parsley and grasses and looked so serene. Nature's done a great job in the woods too. It is a tapestry now of blue and green and white. It's predominately a beech wood which was planted I've no idea how many years ago in a series of straight lines. The trees have a lower canopy of bright green leaves then a bare stem and then the upper canopy and it looks as if they are all wearing green dancing skirts and are lined up to dance a quadrille.

There are three rams in the field at the bottom of our garden. I think they look like rugby players. They are big and burly and seem to be wearing huge woollen shoulder pads. I'm not particularly interested in rugby but I do like this poem by Mick Imlah about the rugby player Gordon Brown -  not the politician.

The Rams

Gordon Brown
(Rugby Player – “The Ayrshire Bull” – d.2001]

 Their gratitude for your career was such
That when some District prop in his narrow pride
Stamped on your head, and legged it into touch,
The Board banned you (that’s rugby suicide]:
Who blew through London Scottish on the breeze,
When I’d been training with the fourths or thirds
And dreamt you’d said I’d like to meet him please!,
Till someone drew me in, and we had words.
You knew two bits of Burns. Still you pretended
Poems would outlast what the British Lions did,
You, who had beaten Springbok and all Black;
And when you put your spare hand on my back
I felt at first a woman, then a kid,
And then a man, the thing you had intended.

Mick Imlah

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


The woods are looking magnificent with the beech leaves a tight bright green and the bluebells, wild garlic and euphorbias (wood spurge)  out together. Photographs of carpets of bluebells never do them justice - I find it difficult to capture the true brilliance of them so here's a picture of just one.

You can see a myriad of animal tracks going through them - badgers, deer, and all those foxes on a weekend break from Peckham. One year when I'd wandered off piste I came across a fawn- just a few days old I'd imagine. It lay hidden in the bluebells where its mother had left it to go out foraging. It was completely still and I resisted the temptation to give it a stroke. I didn't want the Mum coming back, sniffing it and going "Oh no - Jo Malone or is it Chanel Number 5?" Eventually I left it and couldn't get the image out of my mind of Bambi calling out for his mother when she has been shot. "Motherrrrrrr!"
It was the second film I'd ever seen when I was a child and I wept buckets. Infact I can still say "Motherrrrr" and my eyes fill with tears. And it is a possibility. Some Belgiums come over once a year to cull the deer. don't ask me why they come from Belgium - perhaps there's some sort of package deal.

Pelargonium Australian Mystery
The pelargoniums in my greenhouse are all in flower. I know they're not supposed to be - you're supposed to cut the flowers off when its this early to strengthen the rest of the plant but they look so cheerful. Sidoides(below) is fantastic and one of the few pelargoniums to withstand low temperatures. I brought back a cutting in my sponge bag from California one year (the sponge bag was not from California} I know, I know you're not supposed to transport plants from foreign countries but it was only a tiny cutting and has produced hundreds of plants since thereby bringing pleasure to lots of people who haven't been to California or can't find one in those Rare Plant Fairs. Actually you can find one at This is a wonderful pelargonium nursery with a huge range and well priced.
Pelargonium sidoides

Pelargonium surcouf

Pelargonium Ardens
 Pixie has just eaten what was left of my bar of Green and Blacks chocolate! Chocolate is dangerous for dogs but she seems to have a stomach for it. But what did peeve me was she also stole TWO avocados from the shopping bag and ate them both. Avocados are supposed to be bad for dogs too - though don't know why as they are full of goodness and quite delicious with a bit of balsamic and olive oil. Mmmmm.  My sister's dog ate her bread dough that she'd left to rise. The dogs stomach grew larger and larger as it rose in his stomach.  Fortunately she was able to rush it in for a costly operation.
Pixie after the Green and Black's incident
Those duck eggs we are incubating are due to hatch on Saturday but I've picked them up and held them to a light and quite honestly I don't think they were fertilised. Most of them still seem to have liquid in them(surprised they haven't hardboiled) but I can't bring myself to throw them away until their due date. I think it's Nature's way of saying "YOU'VE GOT ENOUGH DUCKS!"

Here's a photograph of some of the naughty ducks that my friend Anne Clements took. She is a fantastic photographer and I so love this picture. I think they are probably running with those plant labels tucked under their wings.

The naughty ducks

Finally -  it's exams! Both my daughters are doing exams this week poor things. They seem to have spent their whole lives being tested what with all those SATS tests and stuff they give them from nursery school age. This Brian Patten poems brings tears to my eyes along with that wretched image of Bambi.

The Minister of Exams
By Brian Patten

When I was a child I sat an exam,
The test was so simple
There was no way I could fail.

Question 1. Describe the taste of the moon.

It tastes like Creation, I wrote,
It has the flavour of starlight.

Question 2. What colour is Love?

Love is the colour of the water a man
Lost in the desert finds, I wrote.

Question 3. Why do snowflakes melt?

I wrote, they melt because they fall
Onto the warm tongue of God.

There were other questions.
They were as simple.

I described the grief of Adam when he was expelled from Eden.
I wrote down the exact weight of an elephant’s dream.

Yet today, many years later,
For my living I sweep the streets
Or clean out the toilets of the fat hotels.

Why? Because I constantly failed my exams.
Why? Well, let me set a test.

Question 1. How large is a child’s imagination?
Question 2. How shallow is the soul of the Minister of Exams?

Friday, 10 May 2013

the thought fox

As I write this - Pocket (quarter Bengal) is sitting traumatised on my lap. I went to let the ducks out of their house this morning.(It used to be the wendy house and still has curtains in it and a picture on the wall) and heard this dreadful catawauling. I just couldn't see where it was coming from so I went round to the duck house and there, with his head stuck out of a hole in the door that the rats had made was Pocket(quarterBengal). He could not go forward and he could not go back. He was well and truly wedged. It looked like those wooden cut outs you get on the pier when you poke your head through a hole and it looks as if you are dressed in a stripy bathing costume or as a Victorian policeman or have the body of a goat and someone takes your photograph. Only Pocket looked as if he was wearing a shed. Poor boy must have been there all night - I suppose he had snuck in when I put the ducks to bed and I hadn't seen him and shut him in. He eventually prised himself through with a little shoving from behind and has been sitting on my lap ever since.

Pocket (quarter Bengal) recovering
 All good on the tulip front and I managed to plant up the sweet peas the other day. Cupani, Henry Eckford and the two pink ones. I'm trying to grow them up a rickety structure I've created out of hazel on the lines of the Eiffel  tower.
tulips Abu Hussan and Flaming Parrot

sweet pea Heart's Delight

Henry Eckford


I have just spoken to some friends of mine who live in Islington and was really envious to hear that they had ten baby fox cubs playing around their trampoline. I am so jealous. All the foxes seem to be in London. In fact the first foxes my girls ever saw were in Peckham. You just don't really see them in the country apart from dead by the road. They had a hunt up here last year and I stood by the gate and watched them all canter on by. It was the funniest sight because as soon as the last horse had passed my gate the fox strolled out from behind the hedge, crossed the track, popped through the fence and trotted off down the garden. I gave him the thumbs up but he was in rather a hurry. The Hunt were none the wiser. Perhaps I've always wanted to emulate the character in "Gone to Earth" who had a pet fox - but without having to fall down the mine at the end.
Ted Hughes imagined his creative force to be in the shape of a fox


The thought fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest;
Something else is alive
Besides the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf:
Two eyes serve a movement that now
And again now, and now, and now.

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees and warily lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Ted Hughes
Beezle pleading to be removed from Pocket's{quarter Bengal) account of the duck house