Saturday, May 31, 2008

A craft moment

I am grateful to my friend M for the following. While talking to a lady of a certain age and social standing, he used the expression "senior moment". She immediately corrected him. "Such moments should be called craft moments", she said.
When he asked her why "craft", she told him the word was the acronym of "can't remember a fucking thing."
I have the greatest admiration for ladies of a certain age and social standing, regardless of bosom or tractor.

What's in a date?

31 May.
Just another day.
It happens to be my mothtrapping friend Barbara's birthday.
It's one of the few days in the year which is not a Saint's Day.
It's a day when people are born, people get married, people fall of a bus, break a leg, win the lottery.
Just another day.
Once a year, a day arrives which reminds me of things I don't want to be reminded of. That day is 31 May.
Thank god for 1 June. At least it gives me 364 days before the next reminder of things past, things lost.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bank Vole biology

I know that you secretly wanted to know more........

Bank voles are active during both the day and night, although they become increasingly nocturnal during the summer. They do not hibernate in winter, but are active throughout the year. They have a broad diet, which is mainly herbivorous, including fruit, soft seeds, leaves, fungi, roots, grass, buds and moss. They may also occasionally take invertebrate food such as snails, worms and insects, and the odd bird egg may be eaten. Breeding typically takes place between April and October, but when conditions are suitable, births may occur throughout the year. Ovulation by the female is stimulated by the presence of a male, possibly via certain scents that males produce. Gestation takes around 21 days, but may be a short as 17 days in this species if conditions are optimal. Between 4 and 5 litters are produced in a year, each one consisting of 3-5 young. Females are able to conceive again whilst still suckling the previous litter; under these circumstances the gestation period will be longer, up to 24 days. The young voles are born in a nest, which is usually located underground. Males do not assist with rearing the offspring. Females are very protective of the litter; if any young leave the nest the female locates them and carries them back to the nest. The young become sexually mature at around 4.5 weeks of age, however those born later in the year will not start to breed until the next spring. Predators such as owls, kestrels, foxes and weasels take their toll on vole populations; the maximum life span for this species is 18 months. The numbers of bank voles varies greatly throughout the year, being high towards the end of summer and plummeting through the winter to a low in Apri.

Now, that's one helluva life style.

Let's hear it for Clethrionomys glareolus!

What a mouthful of a name for such a tiny creature! The Bank Vole, Clethrionomys glareolus.
All the voles are cuddly, being generally snub-nosed, titchy-eared and short-tailed, but the Bank Vole, with its russet coat, is the most endearing of them all.
And my Bank Vole is back after an absence of two summers. OK, it's probably not the same one, but it behaves in exactly the same way. It scurries between the hebe and the plum tree like some whirring clockwork toy.
I have no idea whether its home is under the hebe or in the roots of the plum tree. Maybe it has two homes, maybe it's a bigamous male with a wife and kids in each place. I don't know.
All I know is my Bank Vole is back and bringing moments of joy to temper the humdrummery of an old scrote's existence. You are very welcome to come and have a look.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Committees

Study the diagram and hear my story. The nine acres of land shown in green are in the south of Haddenham parish, fenland, and up against the Old West River. The farmer who rented the land from the County Council retired and the land came on the market. We - Haddenham Conservation Society - decided to raise funds to buy it so that it could become the first extensive woodland in the parish. And we succeeded. We raised £16,000 to buy the land, and were able to plant nearly five thousand trees. Now, the woodland is a joy, and much used and appreciated by the local community.
Now look at the brown triangle, seven acres being farmed by another farmer. It is an awkward shape for a farmer and he was prepared to let us have it at a reasonable price and on very good terms (delayed payments, etc). There was a proviso: he would let us have it if we agreed not to bid for another 50 acres of farmland coming up elsewhere in the parish.
For us it was a win-win situation. We could extend our wood to 16 acres on favourable terms, and we had no interest whatsoever in acquiring the 50 acres he was after. So, why did we not accept the farmer's offer? The issue was debated by the Conservation Society committee. At first I had two other people who agreed with me that it was a wonderful opportunity. Then the rest - about seven other members - voiced their opposition, and my two allies then switched sides. Their apostasy hurt. We did not get the triangle of land. I immediately resigned as Chairman of the Society after seven years of service, disillusioned and demoralised by the irrational attitudes of my colleagues.

Why were they against accepting the farmer's offer? Because they didn't like him. Simple as that. He ran an agribusiness, the people on my committee were small farmers or scions of small farming familes. The reasons they gave in that meeting were unbelievably specious. One even said that it would be better to have TWO woods, the Nineacre, and another small one somewhere else in the village (not that there were any small parcels of land available elsewhere in the village anyway) rather than a single wood of 16 acres.
The headmaster at my Grammar School once wrote in my school report "He does not suffer fools gladly", which makes me sound arrogant. I am not, but I cannot cope with intellectual dishonesty. Recent events in another parish group to which I have given my all over the last four years is now indulging in the same kind of tortured illogical thinking, so, having failed to persuade anyone of my views, I have just written my resignation letter. I know it's a sort of cowardice, but there is a limit to my tolerance of human foolishness.

Garden in May, north border

This is the north border of my garden in mid-May. Starting from the shed, the first shrubs are an ornamental Hawthorn with pretty red and white blossoms and behind it a Pittosporum, with succulent dark-green leaves. Pittosporum is used in wreaths to provide the greenery. Moving further down the border, there is a Buddleia, globosa, which has intense orange globes when it flowers in May. Next to the bird bath is a Box, which I try to keep trimmed into a spherical shape. Box is a favourite with topiarists. Behind the Box is a Flame Tree, the leaf colour is an intense almost luminous burgundy and outrageously showy. Even more showy is the next shrub, the Ceanothus, or, as I prefer to call it, Californian Lilac. Beyond that again, though scarcely visible, there is a sprawling Hebe, and behind it a Euonymus species which I like to call Spindleberry. The Spindleberry comes into its own in late summer and early autumn when the amazing pink fruits form.
So now you know why I sit on my patio whenever the weather permits and gaze at the north border of my fenland garden.


And it came to pass on the road from Hebron to Jerusalem that a traveller was jumped on by a gang of lager louts coming back from the match, and deprived they him of his wallet and most of the air in his lungs after a good kicking. And the lager louts then sodded off, singing "You should never walk alone", as is their wont. And the traveller lay he still and groaned. And thought: "help me somebody". And then cried he out loud "Help me, somebody."
And a nurse passed by, looked at him and thought: "No way am I going to get involved. If anything went wrong, his family would sue me for a million shekels."
And a gendarme passed by, looked at him and thought: "Don't get involved - all the bloody paperwork it would generate, and no thanks at the end of it."
And a yeshiva student passed by, looked at the hapless traveller and thought: "I'd help him, but I got another ten pages of the Talmud to finish or I'll be in right shtuck."
And the lager louts came back and gave the traveller another kicking. And the traveller passed out, and when he came to, felt he terrible. Life, he thought, is hardly worth the trouble. That was when, in a last desperate throw, took he out his cellphone and called Directory Enquiries to get the number of the Samaritans. And the lady at Directory Enquiries was very nice about it, and said she was very sorry, but the number was ex-directory.

Ooh, I say!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Genesis revisited

And God looked at Adam and saw that he was, well, not bad for a first cockshy, and He pondered as follows:
"What he needs is a helpmeet, someone to keep him company, comfort him when he is low and be a solace in his old age."
And God thought about it a bit more and created a dog, a big friendly fluffy jump-up-and-lick-you dog.
And Adam waxed exceeding unimpressed and spake as follows:
"What's this then? Do I look like I need an animated rug in my life?"
And God was momentarily discombobulated. And then he rallied, as an inspiration entered the Divine Whatsit. And God took a spare rib off the barbecue and breathed He life into it, and created He woman, and her name was called Eve, because it was gone teatime.
And Adam looked at Eve and thought as follows:
"I wonder if this one jumps up and licks you?"
And God sighed again and spake as follows:
"Take my word for it, son, you are on to a good thing there. Play your cards right and you can have nooky from a..... to breakfast."
And Adam scratched his a..... and pondered, wondering if nooky was something good to eat, at which point, his stomach rumbled, and Eve spake for the first time, saying as follows:
"Poor dear, you must be hungry. You need roughage."
And, being a veggie, she ignored the rabbits and the hen's eggs. Instead, Eve picked she an apple from the Tree of Knowledge and gave it to Adam and he spake as follows:
"Thanks, girl. After this, maybe we can get to the jumping up and licking thing."
And Eve giggled, and spake as follows:
"Sorry, hun, I am a lesbian."
And Adam chomped on his apple, and the Lord sighed again, and spake as follows:
"I don't know why I bother, I really don't."

A timely reminder from Mrs T

Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, your current mix of religion and melancholy is most disturbing. I don't want to be personal, but are you sure you're not going through the "change of life" for a second time?
All this about romance and love is MOST unhealthy at your age, forgive me, you should be concentrating on getting the most out of roughage and surgical stockings.
I dont' want to compare you for one moment to Gladys Pugh, god forbid, but if you are not careful, you could end up, like her, as, to quote the expression coined by the Llanfair PG Diggers and Slagshifters Club, "the good time that was had by all.".
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, retired and chaste.

Love is a many-splendoured thing

Love is a many-splendoured thing. Love makes the world go round. Yeah but....
..., love is a dangerous medical condition for old scrotes.
Let me explain. Last night, I caught a moth I had never seen before. Despite its unappetising name - Shears - it is a cracker (pic above). If I were a male moth, this is the kind of girlfriend I would be looking for. Hell, things have come to a pretty pass when I start envying male moths!
Love is a bugger at the best of times. And when you get to old scrotage, I don't recommend it. I mean, who wants to cuddle up to cellulite and varicose veins? But cuddles are what we need if we are not to shrivel and die. Maybe I should get myself a teddy bear and a new hot water bottle before it's too late.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another biblical moment

1. And Jesus came upon a crowd about to stone a woman who had been taken in adultery. And he raised his hand and spake as follows: Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.
2. And yea and verily, there was a hanging of heads in the crowd, for they knew the power of his words, and they cried out as follows: Thou hast spoken.
3. And then, the crowd parted to allow an old woman to pass. She stopped in front of the crowd, picked up a stone and hurled it at the adulteress.
4. And Jesus' heart was heavy, and his sighing, and he spake as follows: Mother, sometimes you really get on my nerves.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ten it is, then

Multitude: How many???
Moses: Ten.
Multitude: Like, how's a person to remember TEN commandments?! Three would be difficult!
Moses: Be grateful. He started out with TWENTY-FIVE.
Multitude: Moishe, you're a genius! You beat Him down.
Moses (modestly): A person does his best for his people...
Multitude: So what's with these ten commandments? Anything tricky, like not eating snails on a Wednesday?
Moses: It's no big deal. Live good, don't be a shnorrer and you get to live on milk and honey.
Multitude: What, no meat? No protein?
Moses: Be grateful. This is a desert. You want to eat jerbils maybe?
Multitude: You are right. We are grateful.
Shnorrer: What happens if we don't keep these commandments?
Moses: He gives the oil to the Arabs.
Multitude: There's always a downside.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An offer of help from North Wales

Mrs Trellis comes to the rescue once again.

Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, you seem to be in a confused state of mind. One minute gloom, the next minute joy. Are you SURE you're not Welsh?
Anyway, I wanted to write to you as one woman to another to share a most disturbing piece of information: Olwen Parry has got married! This in itself you might not find disturbing, but the thing is: she wasn't even pregnant. Pure SWANK I call it.
Now, try to get a grip on yourself, dear, and if you are ever in Llanfair pg, do call in and I will give you a good rubbing: it always worked wonders for the late Mr Trellis whenever he had a mood swing.

Monday, May 12, 2008


You know the feeling when a really bad day ends well? For example, you lose your purse or wallet, and then you get a loving phonecall from someone you totally adore?
You know the feeling when you are inexplicably down in the dumps, and then something happens to cause your heart to "soar like a hawk"? For example, you have spent the whole day grumbling and worrying about tasks not accomplished, and then a dear friend calls to tell you their operation was a success and they are back to normal?
I am sure the Greeks had a word for it, and at this moment, I really would like to know the Greek word for it. The English for it is JOY, and I am feeling joyous!
Wow, I just hope the sun shines again tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


You know the feeling when a really good day ends badly? For example, you enjoyed every moment of it, and then lost your purse or wallet?
You know the feeling when you are inexplicably happy, and then something happens to plunge you into the deepest gloom? For example, you have spent the whole day smiling and laughing, and then a friend calls to tell you they have an incurable illness?
I am sure the Greeks had a word for it, but at this moment, I really don't want to know the Greek for it. The English for it is painful enough.
Damn, I just hope it snows tomorrow.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nature with a capital N

This time last year, I was sitting in Sarah's backyard in San Diego enjoying the arrival of the summer warblers- Townsend's, Yellow, Wilson's, Orange-crowned and Hermit.
This year, I am sitting in my own back garden in Cambridgeshire enjoying the arrival of our summer warblers - Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

But wherever you are, the miracle is the same.
I am stunned and I am delighted and I am humbled by Nature. If ever a word deserved an initial capital, it is that one.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A nice cup of tea

This song was very popular during the war:

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning
To start the day, you see.
And at half past eleven
My idea of heaven

Is a nice cup of tea.

I like a nice cup of tea with my dinner
And a nice cup of tea with my tea.

And before I go to bed

There's a lot to be said
For a
nice cup of tea.

Why I started singing it in my kitchen a few minutes ago, I have no idea. Mind you, I was making my first cup of tea of the day. To start the day, you see.

When people of my generation refer to "the war", we mean the 1939-1945 war, when the two great comforts were:
One, a cup of tea (with milk and sugar, no messing, and plain Indian tea, not those fancy perfumed abominations like Earl Bloody Grey)
Two, a plate of fish and chips (or, as often as not, eaten straight from the newspaper they were wrapped in).
A further bit of social history is contained in the song: ordinary working people used to call the midday meal "dinner" rather than "lunch" (in rural areas, they still do), while the meal called "tea" is not the Bertie Wooster kind of posh afternoon tea served in dainty china, but a substantial meal - fish and chips would be typical.
Time to get back to the kitchen for the second nice cup of tea of the day.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Low Energy

Today, an envelope dropped through my letterbox bearing the message
Information about government energy saving commitment
Ah, methought, they want to help an Old Age Scrote Pensioner like me to cope with the soaring cost of his heating bills (Actually doubled in the last year).
Bless you, Sir, Mr Gordon Brown, Sir, methought.
Then I open it and see the letter heading:
Are you eligible for 4 FREE energy saving light bulbs?
(Their capitals, not mine).
And then I realise where we are.
I once described the East Bloc countries of the Soviet era as "low light-bulb economies", because the whole region was plunged into a 20W light-bulb gloom. Talk about depressing.
And, if you have tried these "energy saving light bulbs", you will know that they have two important characteristics: [1] they emit gloom [2] they are elongated and do not fit most of your lampshades.
Never mind, at least Gordon Brown is true to his basic socialist principles: he wants to plunge me and my fellow OAPs into a Soviet-style penumbra in order to make us feel that we really are doing our bit to fight Global Warming.
And we thought Tony Blair was all style and no substance.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sid Phillips and the Projectionist's Dong

You never knew Sid Phillips, did you? No matter, stout yeoperson, it's what happens when you put off being born until Bill Hayley (or was it the Rolling Beatles? or, heaven forfend, Freddy Mercury) came on stream in time to float your boat.
In my village there was a cinema, the Regal, about which I have already spoken. Three times a week, they changed the film, usually preceded by Pathe News, a cartoon and a commercial for Gilbert Harris Barber, "Hair Cut While You Wait".
But even before the breathless excitement of the news, the cartoon and Gilbert Harris slicing off an unguarded ear, they played music, of which, for me, the most memorable was "Twelfth Street Rag", played by Sid Phillips and his Band. Mr P played clarinet, and was the reason why I took up that instrument at Grammar School.
I had more than my share of that record at the Regal, hearing it not only three times a week sitting in the twopenny stalls, but also - such privilege! - upstairs in the projectionist's sanctum whenever I could get up there of an afternoon via the outside metal staircase.
There was a downside, namely his insistence on showing me his erect penis every time I went up there, but such is the lure of music -especially the divine dixieland strains of Twelfth Street Rag - that I put up with his penile obsession.
To be fair to the guy - he was finally jailed for doing nasty things to a young girl - he never molested me, but I ended up very confused, sharing my time between listening to Sid Phillips and telling the projectionist that, yes, it was a truly magnificent dong that he was waving under my nose.
What can I tell you? The path of the musician has never been an easy one.

Thurday evening update.

What a week!
Talk about busy!
Well, no, YOU talk about busy.
Since I retired, I don't do busy. I do lethargic, with occasional frenzy.
Last Friday, braving the April weather (April showers, my arse, we have April monsoons where I live), Peter and I put up another Barn Owl box (see picture) and surveyed a new piece of fenland to recommend where more boxes could be usefully installed.
The weekend I devoted to various petty activities, of which the most virtuous was creating an invertebrate "beetle bank" from the brashings of the dead elm in my hedge which I had cropped to prevent pigeons from perching in it and pooping on my Land Rover. Poop shmoop, pigeons do bigtime caca, so the tree had to be shorn.
Then, I thought, I am an antisocial bugger: everyone except me has had a cold. It's time I joined the masses. So I started to contract a cold. It hasn't come to much except for a tendency for me to sound like Fenella Fielding when I speak. But it did give me an amazing chicken soup brought meals-on-wheels style by my local Swift Champion D. The soup was so good that I am trying to keep this cold going for at least another week.
In the meantime, back at the ranch as it were, a barrage of emails from our Editor filled with exciting problems and doubts. So, sessions to calm his anxiety and give him a sporting chance of reaching the age of 40 without incurring a myocardial infarct.
Also, in the meantime, etc, I am, finally, trying to revamp the Action for Swifts website by the cunningly-devised plan (Baldric would be proud of me) of throwing money at it, ie, paying someone who knows which way her arse is facing to redesign it and make all the changes.
And today, apart from the croaky throat and a certain leaden feeling, I continued to tweak the Devil's nose by ticking a few more items off my to-do list, that is, my
"To Do (Not-that-you-will-do-them-you-shmendrick) List".
And then, just as I was relaxing. convinced that my knees would keep going for at least another week and my prostate would not need re-coring for at least another two, Aieeeeeee!, my computer crashed with the sexiest error message I have ever seen. It said "This disk is dirty". Really. "Dirty"? Well, I did keep that picture of the buxom Helen - you know, the one who was kicked out of a New Zealand nightclub for showing a provocative cleavage, bless her - but if that constitutes "dirty", I am shocked.
That was a bad moment for me.
I may be a pervert, but I am not dirty, damn you, Microsoft.