Friday, 28 October 2011

The Kitten Diaries - Spook Locating


Hebe and Spook

It's been a year since I last wrote a Kitten Diaries blog. Shortly after posting my last one I met a lovely lady GardenLife at Rob's shoppiwop who told me she was such a great fan of my kittens she had adopted a couple herself!  I hope she is still as enamoured of them one year on - mine have quite literally driven me crazy!  More of that later. First I must establish my cat credentials and tell you about our first ones, Binki and Wumpuss, just to show that I haven't always been such a neurotic.


Never, ever get your partner a surprise cat!

The Bedsock knew I was from a cat loving family and eventually wanted one of my own. Shortly after we moved into our house together I arrived home, tired and stressed from work, to find a gangly, black and white kitten with chewed ears, waiting for me.  I felt like one of those poor teenage girls who think they have put on a few pounds and then go to the toilet and give birth! This wasn't just a kitten, this was a new dependant to curtail our freedom! Another mouth to feed and worry over, to take to the vets with their expensive bills, ruin the furniture, fill the house with moulted fur and mean I would never be able to just 'wash and go' on holiday again.  The Bedsock saw a kitten, I saw a lifetime of responsibilities! Worse than that it looked a bit scruffy, a far cry from the plush, pedigree, pampered, puss cat that I had imagined. I told the Bedsock it had to go and stomped off round to a friends house to drown my sorrows.

Despite the Bedsock's promise to take it round to the friend who had said she would have it in the 'unlikely' event I wasn't won over - the cat was still there the next evening having spent the day bonding with the Bedsock in his study. The friend was 'apparently' away so the cat was reprieved but I was adamant it must go as soon as possible.  Next day, whilst I was at work, the kitten and Bedsock hatched a plan.  When I arrived home I found the kitten in the kitchen curled up sweetly in the wok, waking up to cast its eyes beseechingly at me..

We came to love Binki's bitten down ears which may have been snipped off by someone or nibbled by his mother.  They made him look like a teddy bear.  Binki was a 'proper' cat allowed complete freedom to roam around outside and come and go through the cat-flap.  However, he was very sociable and liked to be around people although some of his games were a bit on the rough side.  He was always totally bonded with the Bedsock whom he loved with a fierce loyalty, sitting next to him in his chair with an attitude that declared his ownership - boys together.

Binki was adored by us for sixteen years and I will never forget how when my father died and I was sitting in the garden grieving, he wandered over and laid his head on my knee in a loving gesture of support.


Wumpuss was a different animal altogether.  A soft little pedigree British Blue and Cream Shorthair she was more my idea of a cuddle cat.  Named after one of the earliest computer games 'Hunt the Wumpuss' (a text based program in which you moved through dark tunnels pursuing the hairy monster with the option to shoot bent arrows when the caption 'I smell a Wumpuss' came up) she was a very pretty and affectionate indoor cat.  Wumpuss only braved the garden in the summer warmth and would huddle horrified against the patio doors if she was forced to endure the slightest breeze or rain.  She combined an anxious and nervy personality with being a right little madam intent on always having her own way- which obviously she got. Wumpuss disliked strangers in her house and once when OldMaSock was visiting emerged from her hiding place and stood outside OldmaSock's bedroom  bellowing loudly in protest for the entire night (a sentiment I could easily forgive her for!).

Wumpuss would follow me down the stairs first thing in the morning, holding the hem of my dressing gown between her teeth, a little furry bridesmaid.  Every time I showered she would appear outside of the bathroom ready to jump into my arms, absorb my warmth and re-imprint her soft, musky, smell on me.


After Wumpuss died also at the age of sixteen we adopted Silver 'Spottie' Shorthairs brother and sister Hebe and Luka.   Luka - how I absolutely and completely adored him. All our cats have been much loved but for me Luka was special. I am still not over his tragic death on the road two years ago and it is this which colours much of my life and growing neuroticism.  I think about him every day and how every time I looked at his sweet, gentle, face it filled me with love and happiness.  But life must go on and the gaping void he left was filled with the irrepressible Spook.



Before we get to Spook and his many misdemeanours (even as I write he is in the third disgrace of the last twenty four hours and just now got himself stung by a bee) you must know about sweet HebeBeeble.  More reticent and wary than her brother Luka she is permanently in 'alert mode', ready to spring into the air with alarm at nothing, scrabbling at anything within reach. She practices her panic reactions daily, just so she knows what to do should a real crisis set in. She will suddenly charge in from the garden, hurtling down the hallway her claws scratching along the expensive cherrywood flooring, then bounce off the walls in the living room like something out of The Matrix. If the 'alert button' goes off when you are cuddling her some injury will be incurred - otherwise its just the furniture ruined as her sudden actions usually sets Spook off into the same frenzied panic.

Hebe in the knicker drawer

Hebe likes to hide.  She hides at the back of my wardrobe rubbing her fur over the hems of my hanging winter coats. Most of all she likes to make a nest in my knicker drawer ensuring that if I forget to entirely close the drawer I will be wearing hairy pants for the next week.

Hebe likes to sleep next to me but before she curls up on top of the duvet, against my tummy or the small of my back, she has to perform a few incantations.  First she twists her body around in a circle two times clockwise, then anti-clockwise until she is sure she has fended away the bad spirits. Then she grabs my wrist in her paws and pulls my hand underneath her.. because the best thing in the whole world for Hebe is to sleep on the hand.  This is both incredibly endearing and horribly uncomfortable. I let her have the hand for as long as I can stand it, wait until she is snoring loudly and then gently slide it out from under her only to wake-up later and find that I have not been paralysed in my sleep, it is just Hebebeebie on the hand again.


Spook a picture of innocence  (don't be fooled) in the snow

And so we come to little Spookywookums. In fact he is now slightly bigger then Hebe but still seems like an incredibly naughty child.  All Spook wants out of life is to eat as much as possible, to 'spook' Hebe by jumping out on her from his hiding places and various other forms of slightly violent play activities, or to be outside away from my ever watchful eye.  Whilst Hebe is happy to stay close to home, Spook is off, over the wall and up the gardens... and this is where my problems start.

A normal day in Spook's life starts when I open the bedroom door (which he has been leaning against for the last hour in anticipation) and he topples onto my feet.  Spook is at his sweetest now - although it has to be said the reason he is on the outside of the bedroom door is that he would otherwise spend the night attacking my feet and trying to push Hebe off the bed.  I pick up him up and we have our first (and possibly only) cuddle of the day.  He sits on my lap, totally floppy with his soft, silky back against me, my arm around his tummy and he lifts his head up to nuzzle under my chin which he then gives a nip with his little sharp teeth.  This is Spooklove.

Spook enjoying a stretch on the rockery

Spooklove doesn't last long as the need for breakfast occupies him pestering for the next thirty minutes and jumping up into the fridge when I reach in to get the milk for my first tea of the day. When he has scoffed all his own and half of Hebe's breakfast Spook wants to be outside and this is where my problems start. Every time he is out of sight I imagine that he is wandering down the side passage of the semi-detached terraced houses behind us and onto the road where Luka died. To find out whether he is not straying too far from home Spook wears a little transmitter on his collar. When I turn the base unit on and press "Locate" it starts to beep when it has found the signal and gives an idea of the direction and distance he is from home.  This reassures me that he is close by but it only works for a few hundred yards.

Spook locator

As soon as Spook goes 'off radar' I start to get panicky and obsessively check the locator every few minutes.  Gone for longer than an hour and I will go out and check the next road re-living the moment I found Luka's body there.  I go into a state of extreme anxiety screeching his name up the gardens and clanking his food bowls together in the hope he is tempted back for a treat.  Spook gets lots of treats this way.  Whilst he is gone I am terrified the phone will ring with a message of bad news - I am now phone phobic.   I know this behaviour is ridiculous and I can't go on with it but I don't know how to stop.  The situation isn't fair on either me or Spook.  He is never allowed out at night so is always desperate to go out to play in the daytime, even in the rain.  He will mope endlessly by the patio doors waiting to go out or show his dissatisfaction at being trapped indoors by annoying Hebe, or worse, pissing somewhere inappropriate despite having a clean litter tray. But the only way I can feel relaxed and get on with stuff is if he stays in where I know he is safe.  My neuroticism hasn't been helped this year by the two families of foxes living in close vicinity. Whilst so far they don't seem to bother Spook who could easily outrun one, I worry what might happen if several hungry foxes cornered him.   Then there is the building work on the house behind me where the lovely mature garden, with borders and shrubs providing perfect play cover for the cats, has been entirely ripped out by the new owner and the side-passage gate left permanently ajar, an open enticement for Spook to wander straight out towards the road.  I know I can't control his outdoor environment and his natural cat curiousity but I wish there weren't so many temptations open to him.

Spook about to push Hebe in the pondlet

Three days ago Spook disappeared off radar for the entire afternoon.  I know most of you cat-owners are thinking "so what" but this was unusual behaviour by Spook-standards.  After several hours of anxiety I finally walked up the front of our terraced row with the Spook locator on.  Four houses up it picked up a strong signal appearing to come from inside the house.  I went to ring the doorbell and as I looked through the glassed door there was Spook dancing around in their hallway! As my finger hit the door bell he stared at me with an even more astonished expression than usual then scarpered out the back of their house, rocketing down our back garden a few moments later.   The next day when he went off radar almost immediately after he was let out I went straight around with the locator.  Sure enough, there he was, playing about in their living room happy as Larry until he caught sight of me glaring through the door then he gave a guilty start and shot off out of their cat-flap again!  Exactly the same thing the next day. The owners seem to be away so I can't warn them that Spook is in there no doubt scoffing their timid cats food which goes some way to explain why Spook is getting so porky.  Maybe I should be grateful he is safe enough in there but I feel that if he is not spending his time outside he should be in our house not theirs.

Perhaps Spook needs a cat-whisperer, perhaps I need a Sock-whisperer..  whatever.. this situation can't go on but at the moment I can't see a way out of it that keeps all of us happy.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Photographing Flowers - a class at Wisley


At the end of September I went on a days Garden Photography Masterclass at RHS Wisley tutored by Clive Nichols garden photographer extraordinaire! My self-taught style of photography is the haphazard method I apply to most things in life, take as many photos as possible using various settings hoping some will turn out OK,  then pick out the best and tune it up in Photoshop.  This works reasonably well but I felt it might be good to have a clue what I was doing and put my fairly expensive camera to its best use instead of leaving everything on auto.

The day started with an interesting hour's talk and inspiring slide show of Clive's photos. I immediately realised my first mistake - the one lens I had thought about leaving at home was the one that was most suitable for landscape garden shots - my telephoto.  A lot of my garden pictures would have worked better with a compressed perspective.

The group headed out to the borders where I wanted to practice with my macro lens.  My second mistake is not to use the tripod enough as I am just too impatient to mess around with it preferring to just point and shoot.  I really need to get more practice with the macro - I can never get the focus exactly wear I want it.  I took a load of shots of this rose and although this was the best and I like the blurred green background the focus should have been more on the stamens.

I like the close up detail of the miscanthus (top picture on blog) and this to me is one of the joys of plant photography, you start to really see those tiny exquisite details of plants - but I did crop that out of a bigger picture.

The 'most photographed butterfly at Wisley'  picture is a bit clich├ęd but nevertheless it is still lovely.
But do I prefer butterfly pic no 1. with its interesting pose

or butterfly pic no 2. with its smudged Monet background?

After a lunch of various  nice sandwiches but sadly no Wisley Banana cake we took off for more photo practice at the Wisley trials bed.

Clive Nichols with one of the group

This is a part of Wisley I haven't visited before and it was here I made my big mistake! I was so carried away with excitement by the unexpected glory of the dahlias on trial, I took off on my own to photo them, rather than follow Clive Nichols round more closely and pick up hints and tips from the master.

I love this one of Dahlia 'Karma choc' it shows the metallic colouring and detail on the underside of the inner petals and reminds me of a pair of earrings I once had.

I finally got the tripod up and waited for the bee to come to me rather than vice versa - there were certainly enough of them around.  I preferred this picture to some closer in on the bee as I find the smudgy inky background very pleasing.

The following pictures were really just quick snaps of the dahlias with no artistic merit other than the obvious charms of the dahlias themselves.  I'm not convinced I would want any of these in my present garden although I did once have the Bishop of Llandaff ("Didn't we all dear").

I hadn't realised just how complex, vibrant and varied dahlias could be.

This flower caught my eye because of the out of place pink brush stroke on one petal

This for its intricacy

And these for their sheer exuberance!

Overall a fine day out, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learnt a few new things and felt inspired to be more creative and thoughtful when photographing plants.  I would have liked a session where each member of the class picked a photo they had taken and everyone discussed whether they liked it and how it could have been improved but that might not have fitted in with either the timing or the relaxed ethos of the day.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

When Foraging becomes too Thrifty

Three cliffs bay on the Gower

I am visiting Oldmasock who is a tad demented.  She has been out foraging.. nicking a couple of heads off a neighbour's 'interesting' coloured hydrangea for her dried flower arrangement in the hall.  Later, when I take her out shopping, she spots a poster outside the wine merchant's advertising 'Free tasting'. By the time I realise she is no longer standing next to me she is already sampling her second glass. "And my daughter will have a glass of the red" she announces to the startled young man serving her as I enter the shop. Too late to disown her completely I turn to him with big sad-dog eyes and say "I was adopted" by way of explanation.  I knock back the proffered wine in one.

It makes me smile when people talk about foraging for food as if this was some new, exciting discovery.  A rediscovery perhaps - but  for me  a glorious childhood was filled with frequent trips out onto the beautiful Gower Peninsula, an area burgeoning with free fish and food.  I have previously written of our fishing trips, returning home with a booty of lobsters, crabs, prawns, mackerel, sole, bass, whitebait and more.  No autumn day out complete without stopping to pick blackberries for jam, hazel nuts to nibble, rosehips for syrup, nettles for soup.  My parents knew where the tastiest wild mushrooms grew on Oxwich head, the puffballs in the pinewoods near the sandy stretches of Llanmadoc, the wild damson tree my brother and I climbed to pick the tastiest plums from the top branches.  Samphire, sorrel, sloes, all made their way into our baskets for baking and bottling.

But there was another side to this coin - OldMaSock's obsession with thrift. No new tube of toothpaste could be opened until the last one squeezed, rolled, cut open to scrape the last tiny morsel of paste onto your brush.  No Heinz tomato sauce finished until the last splot tipped out and the bottle flushed with a small amount of milk leaving a thin, pinkish, liquid with floating globules of red clotted sauce to pool under the fish and chips.  OldMaSock's favourite lunch out a Carvery in the days when you could return time and time again to the buffet to slice off pieces of turkey, ham or beef. Until the restaurants realised there were too many OldMaSocks around carving off turkey legs and sneaking them into their handbags for a later meal, the trophy turkey invariably tainted with the taste of the plastic bag it was sneaked out in.

And "Waste not Want Not"! A fine maxim if not carried too far where every single thing on the plate must be eaten.  How many lumps of meat fat did I swallow whole to avoid chewing on the repulsive stuff. How many scraps of unwanted food ended up in the hankie on my lap, to be scrunched up and then flushed down the toilet when no-one was looking.  I once told my astonished 6th form friends at Grammar School that I was still being force fed food... they didn't believe me until I produced from my pocket a tissue wrapped piece of congealed bacon fat not yet disposed of from that days breakfast.

I could write a book of tales of OldmaSock's obsession with saving food - and maybe one day I will. What started as thrifty foraging has gradually become worse over the years and is now a genuine OCD.  Despite being quite well off OldmaSock is a miser refusing to spend money on herself or her needs.  I always take meals on visits as her fridge is full of food scraps of indeterminate age which she refuses to part with.  Luckily OldmaSock is still very active and goes to three different church lunch clubs during the week which ensures she is well fed.  Each church club a different denomination - she changes her beliefs to fit the day - I have to hope she doesn't join the Jehovah's just for the lunches.

Whilst I am there we make a trip to Marks and Spencers so I can stock her freezer up with nice meals she can microwave to death (as she does all her meals, jumping up from the table several times throughout the meal to reheat the food).  "Are there any free tastings here?" she asks an unwary assistant. I try to persuade her to buy some new clothes or let me buy them for her but she is horrified at the idea and won't have it.

Later my brother phones as requested with a list of tasks for me to take care of to ensure things run as smoothly as possible for our mother.  The phone is on the hall and after a short time OldmaSock starts hovering around fretting. "You don't need to worry" I tell her, exasperated "BroSock is paying for the phone call!"  She disappears but a chasm of anxiety is opening up inside me.  I so hate it when she does this, a reminder of all those times she interrupted my chats to friends after two minutes. Or when I left home and she called me, setting an alarm clock next to her phone so that she could cut me off after the allocated five minutes.  In the days before mobile phones I once rang her from a phone box on Hove seafront, the wind and rain howling round the booth as I poured out some sorry tale of boyfriend woe and misery.. just as I reached the climax of my angst the alarm went and she cut me off... my five minutes were up!

Now thirty years on you would think I'd be over it but I'm not and I never will be.  As BroSock is telling me how to turn her heating to its winter setting I know she is hovering behind the lounge door, the doorhandle moving occasionally as she decides between the knowledge she will upset me and the need to stop the dreadful waste of money on the phone call.  Finally she bursts onto the hall jumping up and down like an agitated monkey, jabbing at her watch in a frenzy and motioning me to put the phone down. "For God's sake you're not paying for the call" I snap.  "You've been on for fifteen minutes" she retorts pettishly.  "Yes fifteen minutes of discussing how best we can help you - I don't know how you can be so incredibly rude!" my voice is raised.  "My house - my phone!" she snaps like a spoiled child. The ball of rage explodes in my head and I slam the phone down in mid-sentence. It's all I can do not to jump in my car and drive straight back to Brighton.  I want to throttle her but manage to walk away until I have calmed down. When I do speak to her it is merely to gently say to the spoiled child "That really was very naughty of you - I am quite cross."   The matter is dropped and I say no more - she won't remember the incident anyway as her short-term memory is shot to pieces and she is old and vulnerable now and there is no point being angry with her.  

In some ways OldmaSock was an original Eco-champion, foraging off the land, recycling wherever possible, growing the food for her family. Much to be admired.  But what started as a post-war cost consciousness and need to be thrifty has gradually over the years become an overwhelming necessity to economise.  

Beware you thrifty foragers less you end up with the madness of OldmaSock!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Coveting Coveys


At last! At last the Sock has made it on to the list of  recipients of Simian Suter's quails eggs - an honour given to only a chosen few and one which the Sock has been coveting for some time. Simian's covey of quails are all called Anthony.. not a lot of people know that.

The handover took place at the RHS London Halls Autumn show and was witnessed by Lazy Trollop, Mich Wheeler who was doing her Amateur Gardening job thing, a bloke (pictured below) who looks nothing like either Toby Buckland or Rory Bremner (judge for yourselves)

and a lady who clearly didn't approve of the public passing of eggs.

The London shows in the lovely Lindley and Lawrence Halls are invariably full of people with an average age of 109 which makes the Sock feel quite young in comparison. This makes for a gracious and genteel atmosphere, compared with the rowdies you get at places like the Malvern Show.  A lady joined the Sock and Trollop at their coffee table and soon engaged us in an interesting conversation which included the fact that Wisley used to have a 'Members only' opening day and it was a shame they didn't have that now because the place was always full of 'yummy mummies' meeting for lunch!
We became so effusive in our agreement with this point (well the Sock did, the LazyTrollop more reasonably pointed out that Wisley was big enough for everyone) that we were running late for Alys Fowler's talk on 'The Edible Garden'.

Alys' talk was fascinating and not a moment of the hour wasted with the Sock's usual wandering attention.  It was a full room and possibly a difficult audience, many of whom had been around long enough to have their own well tried and tested ideas on growing.  However, the talk was very well received, a testament to Alys' passion, knowledge and infectious enthusiasm.  Unfortunately the Sock is now suffering from 'worm worry' as they are very few and far between in her garden.

The show itself was a bit strange the poetry reading and singing didn't seem to

exist in the same universe as the  displays of large vegetables

and glorious baskets of produce

It did all have a fabulous autumnal feel to it though.

Don't know who these people are but they certainly seem to turn up everywhere!