Thursday, 31 December 2009

Lines


I WILL NOT MAKE ANY NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS!
... unless that is a resolution.
Oh.
Happy New Year!

Monday, 28 December 2009

So that was Christmas...

Weeks of planning, days of anticipation and then suddenly - it's gone! So what was successful this year and what wasn't?

We had a good Christmas. The first success was choosing to spend Christmas Eve at the pantomime at Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan. Puss in Boots, an amateur production, three hours long (with a ten minute interval during which some audience members were able to flee) but a delight from start to finish (if not always for the right reasons). Puss herself was great, a proper actress. Jack was a little self conscious (H7: Mummy why is Jack a girl?) and there were a couple of sulky teenage cast members seemingly dragged off the street against their will. And there was a very good baddie. He was so good at being bad that he often couldn't perform his lines to all the booing and hissing from the audience. At one point they did the Timewarp from Rocky Horror, complete with basques and stockings. We boggled. But it got rid of an afternoon otherwise spent at home with over excited bickering children and we're going to do it again next year.

Food wise this year we did pork cooked overnight for 12 hours following Jamie Oliver's recipe. It was delicious. The meat was meltingly tender and it was so much easier than having to spend hours in the kitchen on Christmas day. Dessert was sticky toffee pudding (M&S) and a Duchy Originals Christmas pudding which we had been given and turned out to be delicious (although I've never seen a pud drink so much brandy. I flamed it, but the pud drank all the brandy before I could get it to the table! No wonder it tasted so nice...)

Best kids' presents? Bath Bomb Factory and Luxury Soap Science, both from Father Christmas, made two children very happy having created a bath bomb and some soap shapes before lunch. Also Cella Sticker and Magnet makers, as recommended by Silverpebble. These were a huge hit, again with both adults and children. Simple, durable and refillable. We now have stickers everywhere! Other well received things for two girls aged seven and six were: Paddington and Water Horse audio books, Paddington and Olga da Polga reading books (a real Michael Bond Christmas this one!), handwriting pens and paper.

They didn't get everything they asked for which led to anxious parental moments, but it didn't matter. I think that sometimes before Christmas children are bombarded with so many advertisements of 'must haves' that they get overwhelmed. Mine had a day of asking for iPods, laptops and mobile phones, but in the end they were happiest with the simplest things (like a pen, piece of paper and their imagination).

Another hit was Rapidough where you have to guess what your team mate is modelling out of dough before the other team guesses theirs. If you don't guess quick enough the other team takes away chunks of your dough, until the loser runs out. Brilliant fun. It's supposed to be for eights and over, but R6 just about managed (with a bit of a sulk every time the other team took our dough!)

What wasn't successful? Firstly Brian working on Christmas Day. It was only half a shift, plus an hour's commute either way, but it meant we couldn't just relax and let our hair down. There was a deadline and Christmas Day shouldn't have deadlines. Then there was the electric kettle which died on Christmas Day (we weren't sad; none of us liked it) and thirdly the flare up of my old war wound necessitating too many pain killers, no running (except for the odd two and a half miler, which isn't nearly enough) and a visit to the doctor on January 5th (exactly the same as last year. Winter doesn't agree with me.)

So that's it for another year. Phew.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow!

It only seems like yesterday that it snowed last winter. In fact it was February, but here we go again. Lovely crisp snow that made for very fast toboganning.

But it was short lived. Overnight it rained, then it froze, then it hailed. This morning conditions underfoot on our concrete yard are best described as 'treacherous'.

Even the ponies found this difficult to walk on.

Today's main task was to bring in the lambs for a month or so of extra feeding.

Who needs a sheepdog? Not us!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mischief

Right. Suddenly you are a parent. It's something you've been expecting for nine months, but it's an enormous shock for at least the first two years.

Then the shock wears off a little and you have (in my case) two perfectly formed little human beings, wide-eyed, innocent in the ways of the world and thirsty for knowledge like a parent is thirsty for wine on a Friday night.

This is where the mischief creeps in.

How is honey made? They innocently ask and you explain about bees and hives and beeswax and the miracle of nectar and pollen and they are fascinated, but they don't believe you because, really, it's totally ridiculous. But then you take them to Newquay Honey Farm and Prove It. Ah ha!

Chutney, of course, is made by earwigs. They absorb this fact. 'Earwigs' is a great word, as is 'chutney' and the juxtaposition of them in a sentance is pure joy (and something we must be thankful to Eddie Izzard for).

From then on every time you find an earwig in the garden it's: "Oooh look! It's going shopping for chutney ingredients."

Wasps, by the way, make jam. This is a logical thing because you often encounter wasps in jam jars or in those wasp catching pots which are baited with jam and are known in our house as "jam factories".

I didn't think I could expand on those two, but tonight I was handed a perfect opportunity by R6.

"Mummy," she said, "how is yoghurt made?"

"Well," I said, thinking quickly. "To get yoghurt the cows do special yoga which makes the milk thick and then you get yoghurt."

Bovine yoga --> yoghurt. Simples.

Again this has logic in the animal kingdom because Mido the dog does yoga before he eats his breakfast. He gets out of his bed, does Up Dog, Down Dog, says 'woof' and then eats. So it's not such a huge leap from the dog doing yoga to cows doing yoga.

I'm going to get into such trouble one day. Oops.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bread

I've put my recipe for oaty bread rolls over on Cooking is a Game You Can Eat.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas (w)rapping...

I like a bit of Christmas shopping. Especially in Narberth, like this morning, which included a yummy sandwich from Spanish deli Ultracomida (boccata with blue cheese, salad and honey). It was raining, but the staff in the shops were polite and friendly and there was a great feeling of good cheer all around.

The thing I like least about Christmas presents is wrapping the bloody things once you have purchased them. Wrapping one birthday present is short and sweet, but the onslaught of Christmas wrapping is enough to drive a woman to drink.

So, on reading The Observer's Ultimate Gift Guide on Sunday (unobtainable presents for ridiculous sums - except Dan Pearson's suggestion of Franchi seeds for gardeners - genius) I discover Lucy Eco Siegle's comment that 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper ends up straight in the bin.

Ah ha! I think. Do away with the stuff. It can't be burned (poisonous inks, plastic tape etc) so what use is it anyway? You just end up with a heap of ripped up paper (and loads of packaging, but that's a whole other blog).

Then there are gift bags. How has it come to pass that a present must be wrapped in lovely paper (and there are some absolutely lovely wrapping papers out there) but then it must be placed in a BAG? It is already concealed by the paper, so why the bag too?

I know I'm guilty of this - falling for a pretty bag - but it's not exactly eco-friendly is it? Presents just used to be wrapped when I was a kid. Now they're all bagged too. I've just confirmed this with a quick look under the tree. All of the presents except one tiny one are in bags. One bag even yells HO HO HO when it is opened. (A nasty bit of booby trapping that nearly killed me when I was having a surreptitious feel of my present... Somebody knows me well... It was 4am and quite the loudest thing on the planet at the time. I nearly had a heart attack.)

But what would happen if presents were not wrapped? Anarchy under the Christmas tree that's what. Absolutely no element of surprise and they'd all get mixed up because how would you attach the label? I can't see my children liking this much either. Part of the fun is the ripping off of the paper to expose the present beneath.

It's a bit like people really. You might fancy the pants off someone, but if they were walking around completely bollock-naked there's not exactly any element of surprise (which might be a good thing. That's a whole other blog too.)

So what is the alternative? I did think of newspaper, but having recently wrapped a pass-the-parcel in the stuff I know it has great rip-off-ability, but also great ink-transferability and it's not exactly the most attractive option.

Santa might consider just stuffing the stockings with unwrapped presents, but I'm not sure that would go down well with the small people. You'd open up the re-usable eco-friendly stocking (or pillowcase) and see straight away what it contained. No delight in unwrapping one package after another, even if it is only a satsuma.

I suppose one could just put the present straight into the gift bag too, but again there's no oooh-factor in that either.

This has me stumped. Any ideas?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

It's a blu-ray Christmas...

Right, so Christmas will soon be upon us and, as you've read my ravings about how totally fabulous blu-ray is you'll have a nice shiny new blu-ray player sitting under the tree ready for the festive season. Won't you? Hmm?

Now you'll want to know what to watch on it, so here's a seasonal round-up of the blu-rays (and DVDs) that you might want to buy for a bit of family viewing.
G-Force. Lovable guinea-pigs trained as an elite squad of half pint-sized agents help to foil the evil plans of corrupt electronics boss Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) who has programmed coffee makers and other consumer durables to malfunction and overtake the planet. It sounds ridiculous but is great fun, particularly for guinea pig lovers. There are some great laughs some fast-paced action and of course the GPs save the day. This is real people (and guinea pigs) with a bit of clever CGI. Plenty of nods to grown-up action movies to keep the adults entertained too. You have to see it, if only for the scene in which a guinea pig fights a fully armed and dangerous coffee maker. Really good family entertainment and my number one choice for a Christmas Day film.

Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. Another in the series of charming animated fairy adventures featuring Disney's fairy Tinkerbell. Cute tales about friendship and bravery, never letting a small thing like being a tiny fairy defeat you and sticking up for what you know is right. In this one Tink goes on a quest to find a treasure and discovers that there is no greater treasure than a true friend. Saccharine perhaps but my girls aged seven and six loved this one. It looks great on screen - the blu-ray really does it justice. We've bought some great Disney Fairies merchandise too: Pretty, sparkly (but sturdy) fairy toys. For presents for little girls you can't go far wrong with Disney Fairies and it makes a nice change from the world-dominating (and sometimes too grown-up) High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

Santa Buddies The Legend of Santa Paws. Ho ho ho. Real talking dogs save the spirit of Christmas when the magical Christmas icicle starts to melt and the world forgets the true meaning of Christmas. The usual gags are here: Man puts the lights on the tree, switches them on, everyone says 'aah!', the lights go out. Don't you just wish that just once in a film the lights would just work? *Sigh*. Anyway. Odd film this. It has a big moral that Christmas is about what you give, not what you get and eating turkey. My children liked it in a lukewarm way. Dogs aren't supposed to talk and these puppies looked oddly bored when they were talking excitedly. Their expressions had been slightly animated, but the dogs looked sad and tired. As did Santa who looked as if he'd been at the brandy. There was a little too much forced jollity there. Very American, very Christmas, but not the worst I've seen. If you like Beverley Hills Chihuahua and the previous Buddies outings (Space Buddies, Snow Buddies and Air Buddies), you'll probably like Santa Buddies, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

Others you might consider:

Bolt and Wall-E. Not seasonal, but two of the best animated films ever. Bolt features Rhino the hamster who is so funny that we once had to turn the film off because R6 was in danger of injuring herself through the medium of laughter. Adults (even those without children) love this one too. Wall-E is very clever indeed. Who'd have thought a rubbish compacting solar-powered robot could be so cute? This is very much an animated An Inconvenient Truth, but it's so beautifully entertaining you won't notice. Funny, heart-warming, poignant and ultimately full of hope.

Cars. Sumptuous on Blu-ray. One of my all-time favourites - I mean one of my CHILDREN'S all time favourites. Terrific petrolhead fun for kids young and old. This is one of the films that was an utter revelation on blu-ray. The shiny cars look lovely, there's great sound and detail and you can Porsche- and Ferrari- spot to your heart's content. Nice cameos too from Clarkson and Schumacher.

Of course there's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs currently out in special edition and the everlasting Sleeping Beauty. We watched these over and over again when my children were very small, but I find my girls are growing out of them now. They like them, but like modern young ladies they aren't totally convinced by the lying-around-on-your-princess-bed-waiting-for-true-love's kiss thing. It was nice to see them scrubbed up on blu-ray, but it's not as spectacular as watching Cars or Tinkerbell.

Then there is High School Musical Three. Awesome. I hate to admit it, but I quite like the High School Musical films. I think Two is the weakest of the bunch (too much golf) and Three (on blu-ray) has the best songs. I haven't met a small female yet who isn't enthralled by these films. I'm told boys like them too.

Apparently, according to my Number One Pester Power Person (H7), there's also something called Hannah Montana. It might even be out on blu-ray, but we have so far avoided it (except H has Hannah Montana on everything.) I know nothing about it beyond an interview with Miley Cyrus on Newsround which was rather terrifying. She's only 17? Ew.

Many of these are available as a blu-ray and DVD combi pack - double bubble. Ideal if you've got a blu-ray in the living room but a DVD upstairs or in the car. The Bolt combi pack is currently on Amazon at £10.98 while the DVD on its own is £7.98. It might be worth getting the combi pack if you've got plans to upgrade to blu-ray in the future. DVD players do break and (according to this woman) you'd be mad not to consider replacing it with a blu-ray if you've got an HD-ready TV.

Finally, why blu-ray? For one thing it's high definition, so if you've got an HD-ready TV you literally won't believe your eyes. The discs are tougher than DVDs and they hold a lot more, so the discs also have a whole pile of extras for added entertainment. The players aren't ridiculously expensive either and will play all your old DVDs too (which instantly look better).

Happy blu-ray Christmas!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Ever got...

...more than you bargained for? Today we were at the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagans, near Cardiff, which is a lovely place full of old houses and shops, with some interesting exhibitions a good restaurant cafe for Sunday lunch and a coffee cafe for - well - coffee.

It also happens to be half way between us and the rest of the world and has the benefit of being free to enter (with £3 car parking fee). So we tend to stop off there on the way back from Devon and meet other relatives there too for a half-way meet up day out thing. Today it was the big swap of birthday and Christmas presents between us (Rosie's six on Wednesday), and Brian's sister Laura (who catches me up in age on Thursday), her chap JB and Bri's Ma.

It rained as usual and we walked around the houses from blazing fireplace to fireplace, stopping off to buy the fabulous bread from the bakery (that alone is worth the £3 parking fee). Then we found ourselves in the school room with me explaining to my mother-in-law that the cane was invented for naughty children like her. The volunteer, meanwhile, headed outside to look at the leaden skies.

"Mae'n bwrw glaw iawn*," I remarked in my best Welsh accent, without thinking.

"Blah blah blah blah blah," he said.

"Erm..." I replied (I only paid attention in Welsh classes to the lessons on the weather, food and shopping). I sidled away grinning like an idiot, pretending that the hood of my raincoat was so thick I couldn't hear him.

He followed me out of the door. "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," he said in a friendly Welsh way.

I grinned helplessly and sidled along the path wondering whether to make a run for it or stay and admit my ignorance and work out how the hell to say: "I'm sorry I don't actually speak much Welsh" in Welsh/English/Wenglish (and risk him thinking I had been taking the Micky).

I'm ashamed to say that I chose the former. I blush. Memo to self: Either brush up on one's Welsh or stick to bloody English. (Or make sure that one's bilingual children are in the vicinity to do the talking).

Meanwhile Brian was having a similar moment chatting up another of the locals. His charm had an immediate effect and she was soon declaring her undying love for him. But, heartbreaker (and married man) that he is, he immediately abandoned her. As he heartlessly walked away her cries of love became more and more desperate.

video

Okay, so she was a pig. Brian speaks pig better than I speak Welsh. Actually he speaks Welsh better than I speak Welsh (and English come to that). The pig, meanwhile, was noisily oinking her love for him across the open spaces of St Fagans.

Sometimes I wonder if we should be allowed out...

* It's raining good. (Pronounced: Mine boo roo glow.)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

NaNoWriMo

50,194

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Normal service will shortly be resumed...

Things are a little busy here at the moment. I'm NaNoWriMoing for a start and that is proving more difficult than in previous years as I'm working three days a week. Actually I'm beginning to resent work because it eats so much into the time I used to spend day dreaming and not doing very much. I miss that time.

This past week, for example. Last Saturday I dragged myself out for a 6.5 mile run, which turned out to be a big paddle through deep floods (18 inches at their deepest) and more of a battle with the elements than flinging along like a gazelle.

Sunday saw me on a long-planned shopping trip to Cardiff with friend Jo and NO CHILDREN. Utter bliss. We wandered relatively aimlessly looking at lots of stuff and the new John Lewis and we had oodles of noodles in Wagamamma for lunch. A perfect non-pressurised shopping day without the usual: Mummeeeee I'm bored can we go to the Disney shop NOW?

On Monday I worked while the girls were at school. At 3pm I pick them up and then somehow there is suddenly such a lot to be done. I wrote my NaNo daily word total whilst watching FlashForward in the evening.

Tuesday saw me off to Newport for a lovely coffee with ChrisH for a chat about running and writing and other such interesting stuff. That left the afternoon for actual writing, rather than talking about it.

Wednesday? Work again and other Stuff and more words for NaNo.

Thursday was Christmas and birthday shopping in Carmarthen. December is riddled with present opportunities. Brian had to go back to the car three times with the various bags of booty.

Friday was working again. How astonishingly fast these weeks fly.

Saturday was a combination of a splashy run along flooded roads again (even deeper than last week) and searching on the internet for reasons to convince Brian that changing the CR-V to an ancient Land Rover Discovery would be an excellent idea. I'm still working on that one!

Last night was NaNo catch-up night. Three hours of writing until the wee small hours while everyone else snored in bed. Now it's Sunday again, I have four loads of washing to deal with, a mountain of ironing and another day's worth of NaNo words. And now I must dash - I can hear my children neighing at the guinea pigs.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Catching up

October was such a busy month - actually the rest of the year is shaping up to pass by in a total blur - and I haven't had time to write all the blogs I've wanted to, so here's a bit of a catch up.

Half term wasn't all films - we were out and about too. One visit was to Anna Ryder Richardson's Manor House Wildlife Park near Tenby. We've been following the development of this place since a celeb moved in and eventually curiosity got the better of us and we went for a look. Star of the show was Lisa the Gibbon swinging effortlessly up into the very tips of the trees. We sort of 'got' what Anna R. R. is about having been - she's into conservation and keeping the animals as 'free' as possible. It's a nice place and well worth a visit.

We spent Halloween at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. I've lost count how many times we've been there this year. This time we found the tardis in the Great Glasshouse. The next Dr Who episode The Waters of Mars was filmed there and I - I mean the kids - can't wait to see it.

H7 and R5 found that their witches costumes blended in nicely with the autumnal colours in the garden.

We were very taken with this greenhouse made out of plastic bottles. It was really warm inside. I don't often drink anything out of a plastic bottle, though, so I can't see us making one.

Back at home H7 and R5 got ready to trick or treat Granny in the Annexe, who was suitably 'scared'.

Bonfire night was a bit of a wash out as H7 was poorly. We did have a firework or two in the garden the following night, but it was raining. Much more fun was a spot of brightdancing - two big glow sticks and a long shutter speed (10 seconds) on the camera.


Happy days!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

When will we ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
 
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
 
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
 
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
 
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?
 
by Pete Seeger

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Half term film festival


We had a half term film festival last week. The weather was iffy and, between Halloween themed dances and other things the occasional space popped up in which we could watch a film in its entirety rather than in bite-sized installments bounded by dinner and bedtime.

First on the menu was Mamma Mia - a riot of ABBA fun which we've watched hundreds of times already. H7 and R5 know it word by word and either watch it sing-a-long or song by song, again with the words on the screen. They dance and sing to it too - but adults are banned.

Next up was Monsters Inc on Blu-ray. We had it on DVD originally and it's always been a huge favourite. I didn't think Blu-ray would make a difference to this one, but again it surprised me. The bit where they are flying through the air on the doors is utterly brilliant. R5 still hides her eyes at the scary beginning too.

I thought Monsters was going to be our Halloween movie this year, but it was trumped by Snow White. I haven't seen it for ages but, again on Blu-ray in a special diamond edition, it proved me wrong. It has the best witch, complete with wart and cackle and a really spooky running-through- the-woods-rather-than-being-killed-by-the-hunter bit.

Snow White is 'the one that started it all' , hand-animated and - by today's standards - very low tech. Blu-ray brings this 1937 film bang up to date with clear sounds and sharp pictures and we all loved it. I bet you can remember all the songs: Whistle While You Work, Some Day My Prince Will Come... Ah, memories.

Blu-ray discs have masses of capacity compared to DVD and this one has the best game I've ever found. It's a jewellery catching game where you use the remote to move Grumpy's truck, catch gems and score points. I began with 160, H7 followed with zero and R5 got 80. Of course there were tears! H7 had another go and improved to 120. I managed a lack-lustre 120 and R5 topped the whole thing off by scoring 1,320. More tears and tantrums (but only from me).

The last film of the week was Up in 3D at Theatr Mwldan. It was Disney-Pixar at its very best. The hero is an old man called Karl who is widowed and ends up in court on an assault charge. It doesn't sound a promising start does it! But Karl attaches balloons to his house and floats it off to Venezuela. A stowaway is adventure scout Russel and when they land they encounter a colourful bird called Kevin and a dog called Doug who can talk via his collar. (Squirrel!) We cried and we laughed and, of course, there's a happy ending.

And the best thing of all? A trailer for Toy Story 3! It was, when buying Toy Story 2, I thought that I really should have children of my own to give me some excuse for this love of Disney and my massive collection of videos, so I did (eventually). I can't wait to see Toy Story 3 (out 2010) with them.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

NaNoWriMo

Well it's started again. Another November, another month of novel-writing. This will be my third, hopefully I'll finish again and maybe, one day, I'll write something good!

So far I've written 1,779 words - you have to write at least 1,667 words every day to get to 50,000 by November 30th. It's a good start considering that until I actually sat down at my lovely new laptop and started typing, I had no idea what I was going to write. One of that characters from last time came to my rescue. (If in doubt, write what you know.)

Where does it go from here? Who knows! How will it end? I dunno that either! It's a bit like running really. A half marathon is one step followed by another and then another and you just keep doing that until you get to the end. When you start you don't know what is going to happen in the middle, at mile 10 or at the end.

NaNoWriMo is just that: One word, followed by another and then another, until the end.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Lewis Hamilton one

Conversation with R5 at the dining table. Chicken pie is on the menu. Before dishing up I'd just been reading a story on the BBC website about Nicolas Sarkozy and a very expensive, but unused, shower. R5 had been looking over my shoulder.

R5: Who were you reading about mamma?

M: About the president of France.

R5: Who's the president of France?

M: President Sarkozy. France doesn't have kings and queens like we do, they have a president. We have a queen and a prime minister.

R5: Who's called Gordon Brown.

M (stunned): Yes.

R5: What's happened to the other one?

M: Which other one?

R5: The Lewis Hamilton one.

M (nonplussed. Pause. Light bulb moment): You mean Barack Obama? The president of the United States of America?

R5: Yes. That one. What's happened to him?

M: He's still the president of the United States of America.

R5: Mamma, is 'Lewis Hamilton' Lewis Hamilton's real name?

M: Yes it is. (Thinks: Why can't my children ask about simple things like the birds and the bees?!)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fame at last!

Back in July I was lucky enough to be treated to a fabulous trip to London where I took part - in my role as one of Disney's Blu-ray ambassadors - in the filming of three Disney adverts promoting the wonders of Blu-ray.

It was enormous fun and quite bonkers. We had hair and make-up done, then sat on a sofa and chatted about Blu-ray while they shone big shiny lights at us, stuffed microphones down our cleavages and pointed cameras in our direction. There were two groups - one in the morning which was three female bloggers (sorry I don't know who they were), and one in the afternoon which was (left to right as you look at the screen) Jo Beaufoix, Dan of All That Comes With It, Linda's lovely twins and me.

I honestly thought I'd end up on the cutting room floor, but there I am waving my hands around and saying: "Are you mad?" in 'Picture and Sound'. I thought I'd hate seeing myself on screen, but I find it absolutely hilarious for some reason. The best laugh I've had in ages. I loved every minute of it and I'd do it again tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, Blu-ray really is fabulous, you know, and Christmas is coming...

So, if you've got a few minutes to spare, here are the adverts:

Picture and Sound:

Ease of Use:

Perfect gift:

Friday, 23 October 2009

Half term already???!!!

How can it possibly be half term? We've only just finished 'summer'. School, as Alice Cooper says, is Out (as of yesterday - today was 'Inset').

Instead it became a cooking day - Halloween cupcakes for Brownies with H7 (see Cooking is a Game You Can Eat) and a long-ago promised batch of 'play dough' (aka bread dough and yes, it is still edible) for R5.

It's also been a thoroughly confusing day which followed an uncomfortable night. Brian decided (abetted by silly me) that last night was a good night for a bottle (each) of Hobgoblin ale. Tasty stuff. Made me very sleepy. Soothed the annoyance of that odious little man on Question Time.

Then, in the middle of the night, I was woken by blood-curdling wails. I dragged myself out of the dark, deep depths of sleepland, got (fell?) out of bed, headed unsteadily for the bedroom door and walked smack into the wardrobe.

WTF is in Hobgoblin ale? Evil stuff. It robbed me of my sense of balance in the middle of the night, right when I was being called upon by R5 to soothe after a vivid nightmare involving monsters (and no, she hadn't had any Hobgoblin ale at all).

I eventually climbed along the wardrobe to the bedroom door and beckoned to child to join me in the comfort of the parental bed which, unlike the floor, was relatively stable underfoot.

A few cuddles later and R5 headed back off to bed (she's never been one to spend all night sleeping with mum and dad - she likes her own bed best) and I accompanied her, sliding carefully along the wardrobe, through the door and along the landing. By the time I made it back to the safety of my own bed my brow was beaded with chilly beads of cold sweat and the bedroom floor was lurching like a ship in the teeth of a perfect storm.

In the morning I had an achy bruise inside my head and still (6pm) feel slightly lopsided. Highly alarming. I shall stick to Sauvignon Blanc from now on; Hobgoblin ale is evil.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cardiff Half Marathon

(That's me in the pink next to the dragon. I nearly tripped the dragon up. Oops.)

I've never run a half marathon before. In fact, before Sunday, I had never run more than nine miles.

Now I have. I ran 13.1 miles in two hours and 25.04 minutes. Not the fastest time in the world, but 20 minutes faster than I anticipated.

My stats were: Time 2.25.04, 7778th (of 8811) and 354th out of 427 in the female 40-44 age category.

And oh how I loved every minute of it! There was a great atmosphere, a real buzz. I didn't get pushed or shoved (I knocked elbows once and exchanged grins and polite apologies, and I nearly tripped up that dragon, which just said "oh!" in a squeaky female voice).

The sun threw its beams down on us all of the time and people came out to clap and cheer and shout things like:"Well done" and "You're more than half way" and "Go fairy go!" (The latter was a little girl as we ran under the Welsh Assembly's flamboyant canopy. We fell about laughing, we really did.)

I ran the first ten miles in just over 100 minutes. That, for me, is flat out. I slowed considerably for the last three miles (I really needed a wee!) then speeded up at the prospect of the finish line (and a toilet).

I learned so much from that experience.
  1. I can comfortably run ten miles on a flat course. I should probably have decided sooner than eight weeks ago that I was going to run a half marathon. Before then I had been training for Swansea 10k, but was busy that weekend, so changed to Cardiff's half marathon instead. Eight weeks of Smartcoach took me from 6.5 miles to ten, but not quite to the full 13.1. The last three miles hurt like a very hurty thing.
  2. Don't get stuck in traffic and end up with the dilemma of going to the toilet or starting the race.
  3. Don't be so bloody nervous. It's fun.
  4. Save up and stay at the Cardiff Hilton next year. It's right by the start. Start saving right now.
  5. Lose that last stone. Fourteen pounds is too much excess lard to lug around a half marathon. (Mind you it's not nearly as heavy as the three and a half stones I've lost over the past five years.)
  6. Watch out for dragons.
  7. Always have a fitter, faster friend in front of you. You probably won't catch her, but it gives you something to chase.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mind your manners

I am teaching my children to be polite, to say please and thank you and generally become nice little citizens. But it's difficult in this big rude old world. Sometimes H7 and R5 must think I'm nuts.

Yesterday I had a bill from HM Revenue and Customs for my National Insurance contributions now that I am self-employed. It asks me nicely to quote my NI number, should I need to contact them, and to please telephone them if I am no longer self-employed.

But nowhere does it ask nicely to be paid.

'This bill is now due for payment' it states.

Well obviously. Why else would you have sent it to me?

'NON PAYMENT CAN AFFECT ENTITLEMENT TO CONTRIBUTORY BENEFITS AND TO A STATE PENSION'

Dear HM Revenue and Customs: Please don't shout.

Why not write: 'Please pay this bill as soon as possible'? Why threaten me? Why immediately get my back up by assuming that I'm not going to pay and that you'll have to shout at me. Why preempt that by shouting at me first?

It's like those surveys which ask you to choose a personality that fits a particular company's persona. Hovis, for example is a small boy from Yorkshire with grubby knees, a 1950s haircut and a flat cap.

HM Customs and Revenue is a portly British man in his fifties, wearing a suit, a too-tight tie and carrying a briefcase. His face is permanently red from shouting at everyone, he is always grumpy and he's about to have a cardiac arrest. His long-suffering wife is having an affair with the milkman and always makes her husband eat his sprouts before he can have any pudding.

(But I am going to pay him. Even if he is rude.)

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pony tales

I had one of those moments on Saturday when your blood freezes in your veins. It was all courtesy of Bullseye (above, showing why we called him that - it's also the horse in Toy Story.)

Bullseye is our shy little 11hh Welsh section A pony. I found him courtesy of a story in Country Living magazine about the RSPCA appealing for homes for a herd of Welsh ponies they'd rescued. How could I say no?

The RSPCA had rescued 56 ponies. There were so many that they ran out of names and when the rescuers stopped for a meal on the way home they catalogued the ponies using the menu as a guide. So Steak and Chips it was - Steaky for short - when he arrived seven years ago.

He's a scaredy cat. He's scared of his own shadow. He doesn't like women much, has respect for Brian, and has adored R5 since she was old enough to toddle in his direction and try to fit her little pink fist up his nostril. (She used to do that to every horse she met. She still has all her fingers.)

On Saturday Bullseye was lying down in the field. That's not unusual, the sun was out and he likes sleeping. H7 and R5 ran off to climb their favourite trees and I strolled along patting the other two ponies as I passed and filling my pockets with hazelnuts.

Then Bullseye hauled himself to his feet and that's when I had my frozen blood moment.

His off side hind leg was dangling in a nasty swollen sort of a way. When I approached him, full of trepidation, he dabbed his hoof to the floor, did a whole body pain spasm and nearly fell over.

I rounded up the girls and we looked at his leg from a distance. It looked horrible. There was no way he was letting me near him or his leg, so I had to leave it to Brian who put a head collar on Bullseye and led him gently to the yard.

Fortunately we had a sachet of the horsey painkiller, Bute, in stock, so he had that, and all the homoeopathic remedies I could think of (arnica, belladonna, apis, bryonia), some cool mix and a carrot or two. After a while the heat subsided in the leg and he let us near enough it to have a careful feel. He a lump the size of a hen's egg on his cannon bone, probably from a kick. There was nothing else to do but give him box rest and more painkillers.

That's when the ridiculous things started happening. Since July 1st 2009 you can't just ring up the vet explain the problem and arrange to collect some Bute. Now the vet has to Come and See (£££'s). First he has to look at the pony's passport. Then, and only then, can he examine the pony, find the lump on his leg, diagnose that he'd kicked himself (we knew that) and prescribe Bute and box rest (we knew that too). Then Brian had to Sign Things to promise that we wouldn't eat the pony, sell it for someone else to eat, or eat the Bute ourselves. Then Bullseye could have three days worth. Honestly it would have been easier to score him a line or two of cocaine.

So Bullseye's in the stable punctuating the peace with regular shrill whinnies at the girls in the field who are not in the least bit bothered that the third member of the herd has disappeared. He's got Baary the Ram for company, a nice net of this year's hay and he's high as a kite on Bute.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

October in my garden...

These are a few of the things I picked today. The courgettes have finally got going after sulking all summer. All I did was defend them from slugs and rain and they sat looking miserable and not growing. Eventually I took pity on them and gave them a snuggly blanket of enviromesh - a small gauge horticultural mesh-fleece. that kept the rain off a bit and warmed them up. They perked up in September and now they're producing delicious courgettes faster than we can eat them. The tomatoes are from a free plant we we given at Barrington Court in the summer. Again because of the low light levels and low temperature this summer, the plant took ages to fruit, but now it's produced three lovely tomatoes.

The sweet peas are still going strong too after not flowering in June or July, making a bit of a feeble effort in August and then, finally, blooming in September.

This is my current experiment. These are three of our lovely organic sheep's fleeces all snuggled around the raspberries as a mulch. At the moment the jury is out on the aesthetics of this. This experiment is the result of Granny in the Annexe deciding that the meagre wool cheque was not worth the cost of getting the wool to the depot. So we decided to keep our fleeces and find a use for them. After a bit of Googling the consensus was to use them in the garden as a mulch. I'll report back on their progress.

Is this my favourite flower? Well, it varies, but I do adore the honey-smell of chamomile and it makes a lovely tea. It seeds from year to year too and, although late like the rest of the garden this year, there's a lovely big bed full of blooms to pick whenever I want a nice soothing cuppa.

Glutton for punishment

Uh oh. I've just signed up for NaNoWriMo again. Am I a glutton for punishment? I'm running Cardiff Half Marathon on Sunday October 18th and now I've signed up for a month of enforced novel writing. Am I mad? Or is there some strange quirk in my psyche which means I actually like doing these things?

The answer to those three questions is of course: Yes, yes and yes.

Anyway, in the spirit of something being much more fun when undertaken in good company, I therefore urge you to join me! It's too late to join me on the half marathon, but you could sign up here to National Novel Writing Month. All you have to do is write the 50,000 first draft of a novel between the beginning of November 1st and the end of November 30th. That's about 1,667 words a day.

It's easy (it must be - I've already done it twice).

Go on - you know you want to!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hoppy days...

Mido Dog always goes straight to his water bowl after his First Thing in the Morning Walk. Today, however, he didn't want to drink...

It was a bit too hoppy...

Our hoppy little friend had hopped in, but couldn't hop out again. He was duly escorted back outside to more appropriate froggy surroundings. The bowl was washed, replenished with fresh water, and Mido Dog was a happy boy again after his hoppy encounter.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Too much too young?

I have just read this article on the Observer website about the Lemacons - a French family who were living their dream, sailing across the oceans in their 30 foot yacht in part to to show their two-year-old son, Colin, how wonderful life can be; that it doesn't have to be materialistic and that happiness can come from the simplest things.

The family were 1,000km off the Somalian coast when they were attacked by pirates. A French rescue mission went disastrously wrong and at the end two of the pirates and Florent Lemacon lay dead.

The couple knew the dangers of entering those waters, infamous for pirates. They had already met one sailor who had been held captive and then released. But they thought their enthusiasm, goodwill, common sense and adherence to the official advice and guidelines would keep them safe.

They were good people, but something bad happened to them. It was a tragedy and I was sorry to read about it.

But what really struck me was Chloe Lemacon's insistence that this was a trip they were undertaking especially for Colin who was two when they set off on their voyage and celebrated his third birthday shortly before his father's death. The article is illustrated with the photograph of Colin being grabbed by a French commando. That, I'm sure, is not the memory his parents envisaged when they set off on their voyage of a lifetime.

Chloe says: "We wanted to show him a different life – what is good in the world, but also the tougher things, like poverty. We wanted to show him different values."

He was two. What can a two-year-old learn of 'different values'? She also speaks of the difficulties of playing with a two-year-old as the boat was thrown around by huge waves.

Call me old fashioned, but is this a case of 'too much too young'? Why take the most important person in your life - your child - into such a potentially dangerous situation? Surely a two-year-old can be taught 'different values' at home when he's two? Why not save the globe trotting for a year or two when he is old enough to remember it and old enough to take a full part in the adventure. What is the hurry?

I also recall the tragedy of a family kayaking the Amazon, I think. The mother drowned trying to save her children who were aged three years and 18 months. Forgive me if I have remembered the details incorrectly, but I do remember thinking at the time, firstly how tragic and secondly: What were they doing kayaking the Amazon with an 18-month-old child?

My daughters - now seven and five - don't remember the holidays we took when they were two and three years old. They had a high old time at Center Parcs as babies and toddlers, they met and played with other children, but they don't remember it at all.

Surely a child's early years should be spent living the simple life. Learning things like walking and eating, playing with Lego and going to space in imaginary rockets made out of big cardboard boxes. Let the little ones play with mud in the back garden and get absolutely filthy. By all means take them sailing, but even just rowing across a lake in a little boat is a huge adventure for a two-year-old; it doesn't have to be sailing through the Suez Canal into recognisably dangerous waters.

The Lemacons had their dream and they had started to live it. The early part of the trip sounded wonderfully idyllic. But they sailed into a dangerous place and the ensuing rescue went badly wrong. It is a profoundly sad tale.

Maybe I am over protective, but I think children should be children. They should live their own dreams, not those of their parents. I don't hold with giving tiny children global 'experiences' just as I don't hold with mad schedules of baby yoga, singing, French, dancing and maths while they are still wearing nappies and on first name terms with the Teletubbies.

Can't we just let children be children? I understand the pressure of appearing to be the perfect parent. I remember too clearly an expedition we had one summer to take ours to a zoo, which they hated. All they wanted to do was run about on the grass and chase butterflies. Eventually we realised that, stopped trying to provide them with an 'experience' and just let them 'be'.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Simple suppers

I've posted a couple of simple suppers over on Cooking is a Game You Can Eat.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Elephants...


In the car on the way home from school. H7 has been learning English (at her Welsh school).

H7: I know a trick for spelling the word 'because'.

Me: Do you sweetie?

H7: Yes. It goes: Big Elephants Can Always Upset Little Elephants.

(Proud pause from H7.)

Me: Um... (Marking letters on fingers... doing it again... B. E. C. A. U. L. E.) Er, Little Elephants?

H7: No! Small ones! Small Elephants mummy!

R5: I know one too!

Me: Go on then.

R5: Big Giraffes Can Always Upset Small Giraffes!

Me: Er... no...

R5: Big Lions Can...

H7 and Me: No...!

R5: Big Tigers...?

H7 and Me: No...!

R5: I had veggie fingers for lunch!

Me: That's nice sweetie.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Busy, busy, busy...

This was last Sunday. A glorious sunny September day. It started with a chill in the air and I went for my six and a half mile run while Brian, H7 and R5 pottered in the garden. Brian's version of 'pottering' is to dig a deep trench down the centre of the garden ready for the installation of a land drain and so control the rain which torrents in a river down the middle.

No torrential rain last Sunday, though, so we went to Newport beach for the afternoon.

Holidaymakers flock to the beach in the morning. Locals know it's better to wait. The best time on Newport is in the afternoon when everything's had the chance to warm up a bit and the sea is that much more benign.

The tide was out too, so there were loads of rock pools filled with anemones, teeny fish, shrimps and lots of little crabs like this one, below, sitting on Brian's hand. The rocks were crammed with mussels too - not big enough to pick, yet - and there were interesting holes in the sand betraying the presence of razor clams. We made a mental note to go back with a bucket of and pot of salt, for a spot of clam 'fishing'.


Back to this week and yesterday saw the the Brownies Centenary launch party for which I was asked to provide cakes. I remembered KittyB's recipe for buttercream on her Eggshell Diary blog and this is my best effort at copying her delicious-looking cupcakes.

Yesterday was Narberth Food Fair too, but having had a quick, horrified, peek at my bank balance, I had to cry off and instead Granny in the Annexe went and collected a basket of apples for me. This saved me from the many temptations of its lovely stalls and the likelihood of throwing caution, diet and overdraft to the wind!

This is two-thirds of the black pack, Mitch in the foreground and Toby in what has now, originally, been named (if only by me), Toby's Pot. It has a cat-bottom shaped dent in it as he spends much of the day gazing adoringly through the glass into the Granny Annexe. Yesterday he was actually inside the GA in a daring fit of bravery during which he stole Calico the GA cat's breakfast. Wild cat? Yeah, right.

Back to this morning and to a Sunday family tradition. Nearly every Sunday I cook pancakes of some sort or another. These are my version of Nigella's banana buttermilk pancakes. See Cooking is A Game You Can Eat for my recipe.

Happy Sunday!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Simple autumnal supper

I've popped the recipe for a simple autumnal supper over on Cooking is a Game You Can Eat.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

In a nutshell...

I haven't blogged for a while because our phone line went up the creek and Talk Talk didn't listen listen. The fault took ten days to fix, resulting in the necessity to get all stampy footed and generally throw toys out of the pram and sulk. To cut a long story short, we've been fixed, placated and compensated.

In a nutshell, this is what happened in the meantime:

A big, yellow shiny thing appeared in the sky. It's still there! Bliss.

We went to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. It was glorious.

We finally made our haylage (well, the contractors did, we just played in between the rows of grass and enjoyed the lovely smell of drying grass.)

The garden filled with butterflies, mostly freshly hatched tortoiseshells, peacocks and a speckled wood or two.

It was too hot for black dogs.


The first tooth fell out. (R5's first anyway. Technically it's the third she's lost, but the other two were under general anaesthetic.)

The garden produced some lovely Romanesco cauliflower/broccoli (can't decide which it is!). I've never grown it before and it's delicious.


Today we've lost another tooth. I hope the tooth fairy's got plenty of shiny one pound coins!

And we: Went back to school (H7 and R5), back to working three days a week (me); ran 41.7 miles (me again, but not all at once!); picked 3.5lbs of sloes; decanted the rhubarb vodka; tasted the rhubarb vodka (blimey); hoovered books (autumn cleaning); cleaned out the kitchen cupboards (no broadband. I was bored.); moved things around in the kitchen (can't find anything now!); made bread (many times, from Dan Stevens' fabulous River Cottage Bread handbook); lazed about in the sun.

I LOVE September!

Monday, 31 August 2009

A dog


I found this note from R5 on the desk next to my computer.

I thingc it not schnawcher. I thingc it wolf hound, perhaps.

But I also thingc it that 'schnawcher' is not a bad effort by a five-year-old to spell scnauzt... er... schnauzc... um...


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The taming of the shrew...


In which this has nothing to do with Shakespeare. But the story goes like this....

"Mouse!" shrieks H7 as we are all dozing in a row on the sofa, adults wondering when to struggle out of torpor and send the children to bed, children wondering how long they can spin out the snuggling on the sofa. Monsters Inc. is playing on the Blu-ray.

H7: "I saw a mouse! I definitely saw a mouse. That's the third time I've seen it, but I wasn't sure. Now I am. It was definitely a mouse."

"Where?" says Brian, rousing himself slightly. I open an eye. I wasn't really asleep on the sofa at 7.30 pm. Really.

"There, in that little hole," says H7 pointing to the bottom of the stairs*.

(*Weird Welsh cottage layout number 1: Here I'll introduce you to our stairs. This is a little Welsh cottage. The stairs run from the living room and they have a door at the bottom. There's about six steps up, a turn on a landing, then another six. The door closes on the bottom step and then there is a weird stone buttress which juts out into the room. This is a convenient table or extra seat, but it has a little hole at the bottom where it meets the stairs. Brian keeps filling this hole - once I was sitting on the stairs with H1.5 and something which later turned out to be a big hairy spider tickled me on the back.)

This hole has history. Now it contains a mouse. We have no reason to doubt H7. After all she'd checked her facts three times before informing us.

"I'll put a trap out for it," says Brian.

"One of those ones where you put some cheese on and it comes down snap onto the mouse?" says H7.

"Yes," says Brian.

My children aren't in the least bit squeamish.

Later they go to bed and Brian sets up two traps. One of the snap sorts and the other a big trap which catches them alive.

"I'll give it a 50:50 chance," he says.

We settle down for the end of University Challenge.

"There it is!" exclaims Brian after a couple of seconds.

Sure enough there is it, a little shrew, not a mouse, frantically running up and down the bottom stair. It whizzes straight past the live trap, tries to climb the walls a few times, negotiates the bookshelf and squeezes under the door into the kitchen.

"We'll never find it in there," we say, giving up and going back to Paxman and forgetting all about the shrew.

Seconds later: "AAAARRRGGGHHHH!" (That was me.)

"What the f*** are you doing?" (That was Brian, slightly pained. I'd landed on him. Feet first, into his lap.)

"The shrew just ran into my toe!"

"It what?"

"IT RAN INTO MY TOE!"

"Good God woman!" says my dear husband, dripping with sympathy.

I look under the armchair and there it is, wiffling its little nose and looking at the door*.

(*Weird Welsh cottage layout number two: The front door is in the living room.)

To cut a long story short, we opened the door and, after a little more frantic to-ing and fro-ing, the shrew apparently left.

Later Brian goes out into the bathroom and comes back with the large lidded see-through yoghurt pot we keep specifically for ONE purpose.

"It could have been worse," he says happily, referring to the shrew plus toe incident, "it could have been this." Here he thrusts pot plus large hairy spider in my direction.

I HATE men.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

It's a pig's life


Summer holidays are hard work. In the past week or so we've been to Cardiff to spend our Disney vouchers and see a real live Darlek at the Doctor Who Exhibition, we've hunted dinosaurs at the Tenby Dinosaur Park, we've crafted, we've played vets and poorly ponies, we've made a holiday jar in the style of Pipany, we've been out for a barbecue, in for lunch and dinner with friends, we've gardened, we've torn our hair out over slug, wind and rain damage, we've eaten courgettes (well, just the one), cabbages and cucumbers galore.

Sometimes the sun has shone and we have poured out of the house onto the new lawn to lie on the cool grass, gaze up at the fluffy white clouds in the blue sky, bask in the warmth and just be.

Even the guinea pigs can't stay awake under those circumstances.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Why oh why?

Why oh why? I ask myself, as I drag my body from the suggly comfort of my bed at 6.15am.
Why oh why? I ask again, as I leave my husband and children slumbering comfortably in their beds, warm and sleepy.
Why oh why? I ask as I tie the laces of my running shoes, open the back door and step out into the chill of the morning.
Why oh why? I think as I drag my sleepy legs up the hills - and it's all hill until I get to the top after three and a half miles.
Ahead of me my shadow runs along, thirty feet tall. My shadow has legs like Barbie.
Then I get to the highest point on this 6.3 mile run. The sun soars in a blue sky, ribbons of clouds around its neck like a scarf. The countryside below, laid out like a patchwork quilt, is still tucked up in bed under a duvet of mist. Ahead of me Carn Arthur and Foel Drygarn are invisible under a cloud as black as ink.
Downhill now I run on. Early commuters pass me. I see Louise on her bike and exchange a hello and smiles.
I get back home just as everyone else is grumbling from their beds.
The first coffee of the day bubbles in the pot on the stove.
Life is good.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Black Pack

Back in June I blogged about our growing rat problem. Rats are a fact of life, I was going to say 'in the countryside', but they are very much urban dwellers too. Anyone who keeps chickens will eventually encounter these horrid pests and we seem to get a plague of them from time to time. Poison is an option we regard as far too risky, so the only alternative is feline.

Enter stage left, three cats courtesy of the local cats rescue group which is currently snowed under with kittens. What we required, however, was something more streetwise, something bigger, stronger and hungrier. Something, in fact, more like this:

This is the Black Pack. They arrived in June hissing and spitting, scared of everyone and quite aggressive with it. But gradually they softened. Gradually they got used to us, the two legged people with the tins of delicious food. Soon they decided they quite like us really and Toby (at the back) has formed a strong devotion to Granny in the Annexe which involves sitting outside her patio doors and gazing in, lovingly. The other two are Winston (lying down) and Mitch (sitting on the right).

This is Winston again, posing by the wool sack.

All are now great friends too and spend a great deal of time together rubbing their cheeks and generally being very affectionate. When I get up in the morning they are invariably sitting in the garden waiting for their breakfast. When I'm cooking there are sometimes three sets of yellow eyes watching me through the kitchen window.

The rest of the time they spend gazing into the Granny Annexe at the things within. These things include the nice lady with the tins of meat, the lady cat who closes her eyes and pretends the Black Pack doesn't exist, a big squishy sofa, some nice comfy chairs and, most intriguingly of all, a lovely warm wood-burning stove.

Those cats will be inside on that sofa next to that wood-burner by Christmas. I think they know a soft touch when they see one.