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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

who let the cats out?

Had a fantastic day at the East Sussex Book Awards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 21 May 2017

owls, towels and more rooks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard.

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

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

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

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

Mary Oliver

Monday, 17 April 2017

pirates and things she ate

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

                                           So for the day he became Capt. Beezle Arr!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

show dogs and not so slow dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

definitely not a wolfhound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Sorley.

Friday, 17 February 2017

a stranger in a strange land

 When you don’t know what to write it’s always good to go for a long walk. In the heart of the countryside, where we live, amongst  Nature’s beautiful landscapes, and uneaten animals - it struck me how incredibly noisy it is.
 Jai and Harry in the beautiful landscape

. There’s Roger chainsawing his wood to feed his huge baronial fireplace. There's  John strimming the verges. Frank is on the tractor flailing the hedges. In the skies micro lights motor and Roger’s son's drone buzzes like an angry wasp, swooping over the fields. Faintly you can hear the song of the sky larks and the cawing of the rooks who look as if they are building their nests. Then over head there is the breath of a dragon as a hot air balloon belches fire. The pigs in their pig unit squeal. They cannot hear the skylarks sing for a beautiful day.

 Look at how beautiful Mrs Walter's baby turned out.

He is the new companion of old Mr Walters. In the back garden we always had the two male ducks - Mr and Mr Walters. One of the Mr Walter's died last month - I hope from old age. He was finding it a bit difficult to get around. Like old Mr Walters young Mr Walters likes to come into the house and scare Pixie. Beezle is unbothered by finding two ducks in his house. At least they are alive and not like the rabbit I found professionally skinned on the doorstep this morning.

 As Beezle and Moses's wife would say "I have been a stranger in a strange land."

Pixie's interesting - oh sorry -VERY interesting fact is that adult pigs can run a seven minute mile.

Sadly I don't believe any of the pigs in the pig unit will have a chance to do this. A few years back a gang of them escaped and ran (probably at seven miles an hour) towards the woods. They had to be rounded up and I watched them being herded through the mist, their balls swinging and looking like sailors who had left their ship for the night and gone for some craic in the docks.

OK Beezle (see previous black mail post) You didn't give back the pound of sausages that you took so I'm putting up the picture of you in your new coat.

Also a picture of our garden flowers from last summer - a jewel like reminder that warmer weather is on its way.

Meanwhile here is a poem  about the pigs in the pig unit that I wrote a few years back. They come under the title of Freedom food. When I ask what that meant I was told freedom from hunger, freedom from disease and freedom from stress. Ha!

           Fork Lift

 Within the tin shed
little pink chops are fed
and prize pork pies,
bred for their improved size,
carry with pride
the label of animal welfare
on  their side.
Able to eat, as they please,
free from hunger
and free from disease.
No fear of Armageddon for gammon
or green back bacon,
no feeling of panic
in these ordered, organic lives
just pig like Stepford wives
just food
within the tin shed
no host or hostess
no stress, no Prozac in the strawsack
only double oats and men
in off white coats
as freedom food greets Sigmund Freud.

And when they leave to meet the knife,
serenaded by hired hands
playing Strauss on the mandolin,
only one pig sees
the colour s of summer
the ever stretching green fields
and blue skies, hears the fine
song of the sky lark
composed for a beautiful day
and wonders about her life,
these pearls before swine.
Then she joins the line
With her communard in lard

And the trucks roll away.