Monday, March 24, 2008

Snow business

In our little pocket of coastal Northumberland, the snow rarely lingers. It has a tough battle against the salt air and needs to come fully equipped with reinforcements if it is to win the right to settle. It did - briefly - overnight but the roads are again wet and grass is peeping through the temporary dusting on lawns and fields.

It's a different story inland. Drive along an uncovered Beadnell Straight towards Swinhoe and before you reach the top, there will be snow. A definite line marks the end of the salty dominance. Looking out from my garden, the Cheviots have been white for a few days. And it's supposed to be spring.

I have a love-hate relationship with snow. Currently, I'm happy to be smothered in the stuff: I am off work for a week and the Grey Mare has a stable to be tucked into. But when I have to drive through it, and in previous years when she lived outside all year round, I hated it. Then, I was glad of our special little ecosystem.

Sometimes, though, the snow beats the salty air. At school, I prayed for snow, because it meant we would be sent home. The thickest I have ever seen was in February of 1987. We were all but blocked in for about a week. I loved it. The Grey Mare's predecessor (another grey mare, natch) lived at a dairy farm in the next village. I would trudge through the snow to feed her and be brought home by the tractor that had been called into service to deliver the milk.

The grey mare # 1 is long gone, and so is the dairy: houses occupy the field where the ponies grazed adjacent to black and white cows. I still think of them every time I pass by.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chasing chickens

I don't like running at the best of times. And 6.15 in the morning is certainly not the best of times.

To be honest, I don't think any time is a good time for chasing chickens. It puts me in quite a fowl mood. But as there are only three left, I wouldn't like to be responsible for losing any more. Once, there were four brown chickens, six Black Rocks and a cute white one that looked like a snowball. But over the course of the winter, Mr Fox has been picking them off one by one.

The chickens, which roam freely during the daylight hours, have a perfectly fine hen house to sleep in. But they rarely do: why should they when there is the luxury of the stables to enjoy? The American barn with its sliding doors, electric lights, bales of hay, convenient stalls to roost on and horse feed to plunder must be a chicken's idea of a luxury hotel. And that would be all well and good if they didn't decide to sneak outside when you arrive to muck out in the morning.

The fox massacred one on the lawn the other week; today I thought her sisters would be going the same way after I stupidly forgot to close the main door when I took the Grey Mare the few yards to her field. Suddenly, they were clucking around my feet and I was able to quickly shoo two inside. Chicken number three, however, was made of sterner stuff. She was outside and she was not going back in.

I sprinted round and round after this feathered blur, shocked at her turn of speed. If her legs were longer, I would have sworn she was a decendant of the Road Runner. Finally, I managed to corner her near the hen house and fortunately the door was open. I bolted it smartly behind her, and leaving her in solitary confinement, I almost collapsed in a heap with the exertion.

"Are you all right?" asked my friend, arriving to feed her horse. I explained what had happened. "Oh, you should've just put some grain in a bucket and shaken it for them," she said when she stopped laughing at me.

"No, what I should have done," I gasped between pants, "is left the f***kers for the fox!"

Monday, March 17, 2008


My car is going to get me into serious trouble.

I am hugely grateful for the turning of the year and the ligher evenings - if only because it means I sometimes manage to get out of town without having to switch on my lights. Although my headlights are working, they seem to have a mind of their own. If I indicate, the full beam will come on. Sometimes the full beam comes on if I drive over a bump in the road; sometimes it comes on for utterly no reason.
Sometimes it takes several attempts to turn it off and the person in front will - obviously - think I am flashing at them. I won't be surprised if some burly white van man stops and thumps me.

This itchy trigger is just one of the many ailments my car is suffering from: the engine often has spluttering fits like a 60-a-day smoker (those in the know tell me the 'big end' is going) and the exhaust seems to have emphysema. People ask me when I'm going to get it fixed. I say I'm not; I don't see the point in throwing good money after bad. "Some people pay a lot of money to make their car sound like this," I tell them. My point is proven when I drive past teenage tarts and wannabe boy racers and they turn to see which of their loud-exhaust heroes has just whizzed by.

The windscreen wipers have just started to make a tick-tock noise when I turn them on, for all the world like a clock counting down to the end of the road. If the relationship between my car and I was a book, we would now have reached the final 25 pages.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road toads

Nature can be a cruel mother. Tonight she sent the rain, heavy and prolonged, knowing it would tempt out the toads to walk across the roads as people returned home from work.

Driving into my road - a street so small that calling it a road gives it illusions of grandeur - I stopped twice to rescue two toads (and a piece of crumpled up cellophane) from the tarmac. Three more toads were saved from stepping into the danger zone and were placed in the relative sanctuary of my garden.

I picked up a big frog from the middle of the road beside the stables and popped it on to the verge. Another stood, stupified, further along. I was too late to help him: either clipped by a car or picked up by a dog, he seemed not long for this life. I placed him in a flowerbed to die with some dignity.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The Grey Mare is sulking.

I thought yesterday's "I'm really not pleased with you, mother" attitude was because she had spent the day inside. With the worst storm since 1987 forecast and the gale starting to gather momentum when I fed her in the cold light of dawn, I thought she would appreciate it. She loathes spending the day with her head down, bum to the wind, simply surviving the elements, and I loathe the thought of it. However, the great storm did not hit Northumberland: by the time I arrived home there was an eerie calm of the kind where you find yourself breathing quietly, listening, waiting for something to happen.

I took her out for some grass, I chattered away inanely as is my wont, sorted out her bed, her dinner, her hay and her magnetic boots. I then sorted out the dark prince, who along with my sister's other three is my responsibility while she is off Nessie-spotting for a couple of days. The poor lad is lame and is staying in through necessity rather than non-arriving storms. I gave him some carrots and had a chat with him.

The force of the evil eye assailing me along the line of stables compelled me to turn around. "What are you doing, giving him my carrots!" she seemed to be saying. I had forgotten just how possessive the Grey Mare can be. She gets rather upset if I have anything to do with another horse in her sight as she thinks - quite rightly - that she is the centre of my universe.

She spent today outside, came in when I called and ate her tea while I went down the field to feed more of my sister's horses. But once I returned, I was searched thoroughly for carrots (in case I was hiding any for him) and watched intently while I sorted him out for the night.

I don't know how my sister manages to have four horses and keep them all happy. One spoiled little madam is quite sufficient for me.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Marilyn Monroe is haunting me.

Until the last 10 days, I had barely spared her a thought in years. But now, I switch on a music channel and Sir Elton, complete with outrageous blue periwig, is singing Candle in the Wind, backed by footage of a kiss-blowing Marilyn. A Marilyn ‘expert’ is fooled by a Madonna picture in a wannabe pose and Lindsay Lohan attempts to ape MM in a magazine photoshoot. A columnist praises the pneumatic blonde for her support of Ella Fitzgerald in segregated ‘50s America. An interviewee asks for my opinion on dream dinner party guests. “Monroe and Kennedy,” I say, without missing a beat.

At 18, Monroe and fellow ‘live fast, die young, have a beautiful corpse’ icon James Dean were my retro poster stars of choice. In the late ‘80s, student union poster sales were packed with arty shots of MM to cover crappy student house wallpaper and peeling paint. I devoured biographies, soaked up conspiracy theories and stared hard at grainy black and white images taken after the post-mortem. My homage extended to my bleached platinum bob and a period sporting scarlet lipstick and fingernails.

Like other teenage obsessions, it passed. But, nearly 50 years after her death, it seems the world’s obsession is still strong. That, I suppose, is a mark of true charisma and star quality. I look at the fragile and vulnerable blonde with the big, vibrant smile and consider today’s crop of celebrities. I wonder how many of them will still be making it into the news – or even people’s thoughts – half a century after they’ve gone?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The future's bright...

My mind had been bubbling over with blogtastic ideas – but it seems few will make it into cyberspace. At least not for the moment: I am having Internet issues.

Four calls to my ISP’s techie team in some far-flung call centre (I refused to answer the same questions on the fourth call and instead attempted to find out what was happening by employing Jeremy Paxman tactics) have ascertained – I think – that my broadband is buggered.

My overseas aide told me it could be three to five working days before it is fixed. Having dealt with this particular company’s estimates before, I know that its concept of time is rather fluid.

Was I happy with this? the call centre chappie read from his script. No, I said, I was not. But unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it.

Monday, March 03, 2008


My Beelzebub is a proper witch's black cat. Wide-eyed and lithe, she is my familiar straight from central casting. And she adores her mother: she is a one-woman cat. Strangers come to the door and she hides until they have gone. I come to the door and she purrs. She wakes me in the morning by putting her face close to mine and 'singing' - for all the world as if she is humming and purring at the same time. This morning, I glimpsed her shadow behind the curtain in the spare room as I left for work. "Goodbye," I said, "I'll see you tonight." She came out, yowling her response. She is a very vocal cat.

She refuses to be put in a cat carrier. When we moved house for the first time, I tried to put her into a large cardboard box. She repeatedly punched her way out. Then I nearly lost her up the chimney. Eventually, I was able to get her into a hessian sack and carry her on my knee in the car, talking to her all the time. On arrival at her new abode, she hid for a day and would only eat Yeo Valley yoghurt.

The contrast with her black and white brother Wombat is immense. They have had the same life experiences but they are very different characters. Whereas she is finely-built, he is a chunky man in the Bagpuss mould. Where she is shy, he is confident and gregarious. Where she is vocal, he meows rarely and has a deep, low, reassuring purr.

They both sleep on my bed at night; B at my feet and Wom curled in beside me. I used to wonder how it was possible to have more than one pet and not have a favourite. Now I know: they are very different but I adore them equally.