Friday, January 26, 2007

Global warming my ARSE!!!!

The weather hates me, although I will concede that in terms of gardening I was possibly taking the mick just a little. For those of you more experienced than me in the green fingered department, please feel free to snort with amusement. For those of you who have no gardening experience, let this be a lesson in what not to do to a garden …

I am a person who tends to get a bee in their bonnet every now and then and when said buzzy, poofy critter pays me a visit, I tend to act on it. So there I was last week, trolley full to bursting, on a mission to buy some creature comforts to make the garden look less like a prison yard. I bought a new door mat, some vegetable seeds, a bracket for the wind chimes, replaced the bluberry bush that Harry ate last summer, a miniature cherry tree, a nice smelly Japanese bush thingy, some herbs in hanging pots and some willow flowerbed edging (for reasons that will become clear later).

Keith was a little surprised when I came home with a car full of shrubbery, but to his credit, he assumed his best “resistance is futile” expression and started carting my new purchases into the garden.

The rest of the day was a pretty mucky one for me, spent mainly on hands and knees in the neighbour’s land stealing soil and planting up the garden. As you can see, it was a job well done, the wind chimes provided a gentle sound track to anyone staring out of the kitchen window at the fragrant oregano and lavender pots, and the trees looked perfect in their new setting.

The point of the willow screening (and indeed the tree/ shrub thingies) was to provide Harry with a much needed toilet area. As you may just be able to see in the photos (david bailey was having a bad day with the light apparently) there is now a section of the flowerbed in which Harry can go and relieve himself.

We were aware that having had months of free reign in the garden, Harry would need some training to grasp the concept of a toilet area so we dutifully put him on his lead and walked him to the area. We waited ….. and waited …. We waved a treat at him … and then waited …… until finally, with a sigh, he cocked his leg.

Better luck next time, eh?

Apparently not.

So far, we have been taking Harry up to his little toilet area for 7 days and have yet to see any serious action. When he had free reign of the garden, you couldn’t have stopped him squatting if you had welded his backside shut, but not now, ooooh nooooo, you give him an area and some privacy and suddenly he gets stage fright!! Well, sleep soundly in the knowledge that we will not be giving up on this little crusade. That dog may be stubborn, but so are we, especially when it means the difference between a nice garden and a “minefield”. There will be no more incidences of taxi drivers making people change shoes as a result of our dog – not on my watch!!!

The real problem is a little harder to control though I’m afraid. You can plan for a lot in this life, but not for my stupidity. As my mother pointed out with a chuckle the other day, who plants their garden in January? Well, yes, the answer is obviously me, isn’t it?

How was I supposed to know that it was going to snow the week after?!? OK so the month was a fair indication, I’ll grant you, but as any avid listening of Radio 5 Live will agree, we have been told for the last 3 months that spring has already sprung, and that the weather is warm enough for small furry critters to start breeding. It’s not warm enough to keep my plants alive though.

Actually I seem to have mitigated the worst of the weather by bringing the hanging pots into the kitchen and glaring menacingly at the other plants to discourage them from dying. It has either worked, or the whole plant is frozen, the jury is still out.

Oh and on the subject of Harry and snow, he showed his boundless intelligence once again by running around like a goon, sticking his schnozz in piles of snow and then sneezing. Repeat for the duration of his walk.

If he didn’t have a leg at each corner he’d fall over, I swear.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Harry Vs the Cromer Crab.

Seeing as we had some time at our disposal over the holiday, we decided to take Harry to the beach for the first time, and seeing as I was hoping to buy some of their most famous export, we decided to make the journey to Cromer. If nothing else, it would be the perfect time to give Harry some much needed exposure to his new car harness. I say much needed because Harry seems to be of the opinion that the car harness is some kind of Chinese puzzle which is best used as a self inflicted torture device. The stereo doesn’t get turned up in the car these days as we now need to listen out for the gentle “gak … gak” of Harry hanging himself.

After a few uneventful hours of driving we reached Cromer on possibly the most cloudy, rainy, horrible day of the Christmas period. First on the agenda was lunch, and what else but fish and chips on the beach, huddled against the wall to keep out of the weather (how very British!!). This was also useful distraction for Harry and meant he chose to stare lovingly at us rather than cause havoc, not something he is known to do unless there is food in the offing.

Once we had all filled our bellies we took a gentle stroll down the beach and let Harry investigate the sea for the first time. I had been warned that dogs tend to try and drink sea water (with spectacular results) and also that I may be catching the next ferry to Holland to retrieve the little fella, but I really needn’t have been concerned because our little Bagle is petrified of the sea *sigh*. Only in Harry’s little mind can a festering pool of muddy, cow dung ridden water be considered bliss and a beautiful clean ocean an instrument of hell. If I’m honest, it wasn’t so much the water that he objected to, more the noise of the waves and the idea that the water was coming to get him. I’m not entirely sure what he thought the sea was going to do to him but for the first time he turned his nose up and walked away (read ran like a girl) away from the chance to get wet. And there was me worrying that we’d forgotten his towel.

Unfortunately for Harry, the evils of the seaside are not restricted to the sea itself, the wildlife was also out to get him too. Well actually it was minding its own business by the waters edge, but who are we to contradict the little man. I will do my best to describe what happened next, although my sight was a little impaired by the tears screaming down my face and the ache in my stomach.

Harry spotted the crab moving and puffed himself up to his biggest, baddest stance and, assuming the sniffing position approached with caution. The crab, obviously unimpressed at having his afternoon nap interrupted assumed his best nose pinching position and got ready to do battle.

Hmmm, thinks Harry, I ought to see if this little fella is as small as he looks, best circle him to make sure.

Hmmm, replies the crab, he thinks he’s going to sneak round behind me, best show him I mean business with these claws.

HA!! Says Harry, I can scare you away with my bark, I can make children cry with this bark!!

Yawn says the crab

Suit yourself says Harry, I’ll bury you then

And so we spent the next five minutes watching Harry dig his best crab burying hole while barking like an idiot. The crab, completely unfazed by this stupid behaviour watched him too, occasionally flexing his claws in case the daft mutt got within range.

Eventually, hole dug and barking exhausted, Harry walked off, chest puffed out and the self satisfied expression of someone who has clearly lost the battle but will argue otherwise on any technicality available.
So there we go, 6 hours in the car for Harry to run away from the sea and dig a hole beside a crab. Bless.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Now that the festive season is behind us and some small level of sanity/ sense of humour has been restored I will try my best to bring to you the latest news of the FTC occupants. I say try because my mind is still a little addled from the last week so and the nervous twitch caused by an endless stream of cooking, baking and festivification hasn’t quite subsided. Incidentally, if anyone would like a pot of FTC Fig Preserve, please let me know, we still have plenty to go around!!!

Christmas Eve – Fanny would be proud.If it were possible for the ghost of a departed TV chef to applaud, then I’m sure the late Mrs Craddock’s hands were raw on Christmas Eve. I started cooking at around 10 in the morning and by the time I had finished all the preparations for Christmas Day, and cooked dinner, I was only left with about enough time for a quick shower and to wave my hairbrush menacingly in the vague direction of my hair. I blame TV chefs myself, and Nigella BL**DY Lawson in particular, for making me believe that I can look utterly divine while peeling a hundredweight of roasted chestnuts, or fishing giblets out of a stock for the next days gravy. I can’t, I look like a scarlet, frazzled banshee who is one sprout away from finding an alternative use for her chefs knife: But I have to admit, there was a bit of me that loved every second of it, most importantly because I was looking forward to having both families round the table and enjoying the fruits of my labour, and also because I knew I was about to spend the evening unwinding in a slightly foolish, but nonetheless enjoyable way.

Keith and I, in our own separate ways, have long had a tradition of enjoying a few ales of a Christmas Eve, and we saw no reason to change that tradition this year. Helen and Paul came over for our usual champagne cocktails and Larry and Kelly joined us to provide Keith with a “safety in numbers” approach to tackling a bottle of Whiskey. It was all going pretty well, until we relocated to the local tavern, at which point I managed to cut myself on a broken wine glass, Keith started on the Guinness and the barman put on “King College Choir Does Christmas” CD. I’m not sure exactly which early hour of the morning I gave up and stumbled home, but I did so with the sure and certain knowledge that the fate of the Christmas meal was now firmly in the hands of the gods.

Christmas Day – “Duckgate”
I have to say, early Christmas morning has become my favourite time of the year. There is something about those hours when you wake up with the day in front of you that would turn the more hardened of stooges into a bed bouncing loon. Unless of course you are Keith and have consumed your own bodyweight in alcohol in which case you wander through the house muttering darkly and clutching your stomach periodically.

With some encouragement we ventured downstairs to where the hound was gently chewing a stray tree branch in a fairly languid approximation of excitement. Cups of tea made and pressies recovered from the safety of the spare ‘oom and Christmas morning was underway. I can’t speak for Keith, but the highlight for me was seeing Harry pick up his pressies, stash them in the corner of the room and then lie down with them and studiously rip the paper from the them one strip at a time. It was a great lesson in appreciating the simple things in life and also of the folly of spending money on the dog when a wrapped box will do just as nicely.

I will move swiftly through the day now, as I’m pretty sure you can all appreciate the events of the next few hours as family arrived, food went into the oven and general mayhem ensued. I will add that Keith did make a valiant attempt to overcome his highly delicate state, but to be honest it was all he could do to sit upright in a chair with arms. For those of you wondering (not many of you I’m sure) the food came out pretty well, the mothers were kept largely out of the kitchen and the day was on track … until Keith regained his stomach and started playing catch-up with the food and I discovered that it is not safe to leave a bloke and a dog alone with the leftovers of the Christmas meal.

Having taken the dog for a walk by the river and stuffed ourselves with every conceivable food and drink, we all settled round the table to play ‘spoons’. For those of you not familiar with the card game it’s pretty simple. Try and collect 4 of a kind and when you go grab a spoon from the middle of the table. When someone else has grabbed a spoon, do likewise. The person left at the end with no spoon loses a life. I’m sure you can imagine that a game like this gets pretty excitable, and (in a famous five voice) a rollicking good time was being had by all when … it happened.

When I say “it” what I mean is a slowly creeping green fog of what was ably described by Jan as an unholy smell. So unholy in fact that the CD practically scratched to a halt and the delicious banquet was in danger of making a second appearance. The source of the smell? Harry the Bagle. It appears as if Keith, in his newly recovered and festive frame of mind had decided to share his belated lunch with the dog and had fed him some duck meat.

Those of you with dog experience will now be chuckling sagely and shaking your head at such foolishness I’m sure, but we were all a little less amused. Not that the poor lummox was amused himself, I’m pretty sure if he could have detached his back half he would have sent it outside himself. As it was, we were left gagging at roughly 2 minute intervals for the rest of the evening until eventually the families admitted defeat and beat a hasty path to the door.

In retrospect it is probably a good thing that they did – I crashed pretty soon after everyone left and there’s nothing more embarrassing than drooling and snoring in the corner of the room while your families are around to see it. Not that I drool or snore – or at least not as much as the men of the house anyway.

Boxing Day – The Blair Witch Walkies
I really think Boxing Day should be renamed to something a little more appropriate to the modern Christmas. I suppose there are committees for these things who have considered the alternatives and I can only imagine that they thought “sitting around regretting eating a farmyard while watching old films day” didn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. In FTC, the day shall forever be known as “Blair Witch Walkies Day”.

It started innocently enough. We were bored, Harry needed to be walked and Keith suggested we go to a local woods which we had planned to visit since moving to the area. Plus, he argued, it would give us a chance to test out Harry’s new car harness. There were only a few drawbacks to this otherwise flawless plan, which I’m sure you’ll be able to spot.

We arrived at the woods at about 3.30 and untangled a very excitable hound from the backseat where he had managed to weave himself into a doggy harness web. We set out, taking big cleansing breaths of woody air and smiled dotingly as the dog bounded around. There were squirrels for the dog to chase, downhill courses for us to marvel over and pretty soon we were deep in the forest without the faintest idea of how to get back to the car park. And it was getting dark. Fast. And we had no torch. Hmmm.

Keeping the dog close beside us we started to retrace our steps. It was great, we managed to find a lot of new areas that way that we would never have found had we just been walking. Unfortunately none of them were the way home. Eventually, quelling a rising tide of mild concern, we decided to head for some lights twinkling through the trees. That MUST be the carpark we thought. No, that would the army base complete with fully functioning sirens.

We did eventually get home in one piece, albeit covered in mud and bl**dy shattered.