Life, photos but not the universe

Ho ho. Or possibly Tee hee.

The cat’s* going away and the mouse might play.

That is to say, this weekend, I have a rehearsal for a slightly alarming performance in October (Noyes Fludde, performed by school kids and a pro quartet and us (the Sat pm music group) filling in the easy orchestral bits.  And Barney is away chopping and carrying trees to the dump for his Dad.

As it happens, the two older children are also having birthdays but since Eldest still hasn’t responded to any emails about said birthday since the summer and Mrs Middle will only just be back from an anniversary holiday I don’t expect to hear a lot from them.

I have to say, what with Lapland, India, Skye and the canals, I am almost photographed out this year.  However an absence of puzzled “what are you doing up this early” kind of comments plus promises of sunny weather all weekend is making me wonder if the odd dawn expedition might be in order.  I need to think of the perfect place.  I wonder where it will be.

Ah well.  Didn’t quite make dawn but I did two photo expeditions to bits of landscape that I didn’t even realise were just around the corner.  And there was light!  Especially in the evening (another advantage of the absence of my big pussy cat  – aka barney the bear – I don’t have to be back to make dinner).

On the other hand I missed him but that’s only to be expected.  He’s quite nice to have around really : )  Anyway, he’s back now and we went to the pub when he got back and spent some slightly hilarious hours with canal holiday friends, giggling a lot : )






Looking out of the bathroom window.  Roe deer

deer in the evening

Sometimes no expedition is needed : )

*That’s a metaphorical cat not a small furry one.

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Call the RSPCA

I’ve been starving the cats!

Some time ago, I decided they were being pampered too much by getting 3/4 of a tin of wet food every day in two helpings, and cut them down to half a tin in the evenings and a handful of crunchy stuff in the morning.   In the past, I often had to throw out half the wet stuff and most of the crunchy stuff so it didn’t look as if they needed as much as they were getting.  And until recently, although all the wet stuff vanished instantly, the crunchy stuff mostly got left.

As I may have mentioned, my little tabby has been shrinking and although she still wolfs her dinner down and brings in an occasional mouse she is a shadow of her former self, still a silky, clean and happy cat but very very thin.  Old age I thought sadly.  Until I noticed she wsn’t bringing mice in any more and wondered if she was missing the extra mousy supplement during the day.  Also, whether her teeth maybe aren’t up to much crunchy any more.  And then when we came back from holiday, little skinny cat was following me around with loud, demanding wails which is something she normally does only at meal times.  I looked down at her big serious eyes and started giving them a whole tin, in two helpings, every day.

Oh my goodness!  You’d think it was the end of a famine!  In theory, cats only ever eat as much as they need, unlike dogs who eat as much as you can give them.  If so, they needed a lot more than they were getting.  At this moment, little skinny tabby is licking her paws and lips and showing every sign of having had an urgent emptiness filled up.  I hope they’ll forgive me!  And that she’ll get a bit fatter.

Oh and just for good measure, a good dose of worm treatment is nearly due.

(of course it’s possible that the next development will be two fat cats who need a diet!  Or one fat cat and one thin one and then I’ll be in trouble!)

Finally I’ve given in* and got some stuff to make my eyes wetter.  They get a bit dry and itchy these days and while I blame lack of, and irregular, sleeping hours (and maybe occasional excesses of stuff like alcohol and computer screen viewing) since I don’t seem to be doing anything about the probable cause, I thought maybe I’d do something about the symptoms.  At the moment,  the magical, spray on the eyelid, moistening stuff is making the eyes sting and water.  I read the important notes in the packet and couldn’t find any more information than was already on the outside which is all, clearly, aimed at Mr and Mrs Dumbed-Down Public.  Not Mrs snarky and snippy What-Exactly-D’you -Mean-By-That Public (that’s me)**.   Well we’ll see.  Or I’ll see (or not as the case may be) and then I’ll tell you about it.

Barney, spurred on by lavish leguminous gifts from next door’s vegetable garden, has been cooking this evening.  So far, he’s made  leek*** and potato soup and beef mince kebabs and has prepared a bag of runner beans for freezing.  He’s also made salsa and far from quickly microwaving the left over rice from yesterday, he plans to fry it with exotic or ordinary flavours  depending on what he can find.  As the sous chef, I’m getting a bit harrassed since I’m the person who has to find any elusive ingredient he can’t lay his hands on at any given, crucial moment (that’s nearly all the time). What kind of a chef doesn’t know what’s available in his own kitchen I ask, let alone where it’s kept!****  (He has, however found three skewers bought in Morocco in 1974.  These are not going to be any use since they are both rusty and badly designed but it’s very nostalgic : )  Meanwhile I am confident that at some stage all this industry will result in a truly delicious meal.  For me.  Tonight.  Please.

He has also found an old tape of the Iron Horse playing some rather enjoyably Eastern Mediterranean sounding folk music which I am enjoying, not only because they’re good but also because the quality of the recording reveals a nice amateurishness which is making me feel better about the recordings we made of Sensible Shoes on Sunday.  For some months (perhaps years) we, the band, Sensible Shoes, have been planning to do a recording and after many cancellations and postponements, we finally got together on Sunday and recorded 16 tunes.  Max, our sound engineer and keyboard player (who just happens to have been, once upon a time, a musical child prodigy – I kid you not) will be able to wipe out some of the bad noises we made and substitute good noises we made some other time during what seemed like a very long session – 1.45 to about 9.30 in the evening.  Still, I am very much aware that returning from a party in Bedfordshire at 12.00, preparing dinner for 4 and then launching into a recording session might work for a fifteen year old but is very hard work for someone of my age (let’s say nearly sixty).  Myself, I think the recording will lack fire.  Jan, the concertina player has recently moved to Devon and had to drive up the previous day for the recording, Barney and I were probably a bit hungover and Max is maybe a little more relaxed than he should be since he is a full time musician and does this sort of thing all the time.  We’ll see – hear –  when Max has time to work on the recording.  On the other hand, I wonder if we said anything funny during the recording which can be incorporated to make us seem more human and less like Gods : )  I know at least once I said “What????”

Now I’m wondering about a photo of some sensible shoes for the CD cover.  I wonder how many shoes you could stand on a piano keyboard?

A dull chilly day with plenty of wind.

A bridge into Autumn

Bridge into Autumn

Dark, sheltered cutting leading into the darker mouth of a short tunnel with a bright exit.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel

Hunting between the canal and the railway.  A bigger hawk than the other one and nearer and keeping up with the boat.



Or sparrowhawk?

Or sparrowhawk?

I can never remember

I can never remember

Going on to the next pitch

Going on to the next pitch

I really wish I could tell if it was a Sparrowhawk or a Kestrel!

Right, I’ve had breakfast and coffee and half  The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.  It’s great.

Now I’ve got to get my act together and do useful things in case today’s dull chilliness turns into something else later.

‘Bye : )

*I’ve resisted for years on the basis that once you start using stuff like this you can’t stop and the more you use it the less effective it becomes.

**For instance, how exactly are you supposed to spray your closed eyelids from a distance of 10 centimetres away?  Like, with your eyes closed.  I mean how are you supposed to find your eyelids once they’re closed?  And how does the stuff get into your eyes when they’re closed?

***Yes I know leeks aren’t legumes.  I don’t care.  I just liked leguminous as a word ok?

****The answer is, of course, one with a wife who does know what we’ve got and where it’s kept.  Sometimes.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Embarrassment, Shame and Guilt.

Aha!  You thought I’d done something bad didn’t you : )  (well I probably have but I can’t think right now what they all were and anyway I’m not telling).

No, it’s just that I have a good deal of difficulty working out just exactly what are the differences between them.  Both by  definition and in personal meaning.  Actually, now I’m going to go and look them up.

Ah!  Good old wikipedia expresses my dilemma beautifully.  To whit;

The location of the dividing line between the concepts of shame, guilt, and embarrassment is not fully standardized.

Now I know I’m embarrassed when, f”rinstance, my waist band button pops and my trousers fall down*.  This is undeniably embarrassing.  But should I also feel shame?  Because I’ve failed to monitor the condition of my buttons?  Because I’ve got so fat?

Goodness, should I even, also, feel guilty because I’ve let myself get into an unhealthy condition that may one day cost the NHS and therefore the taxpayers, a lot of money?

In order to prevent any of these feelings from inconveniencing me on the trouser button front, I have safety pins fastening most of my waist bands (most of which popped long ago not, embarrassingly, in company or even, shamefully, because of my fatness but perhaps guilt provokingly because they were cheaply made with exploited labour in far off countries where life is cheap and medicine is expensive).

As long as these safety pins are neatly concealed I need feel no embarrassment about my popped buttons (but just in case my shameful secret should inadvertantly be revealed, I tend to tell everyone who cares to listen that I’m safety pin dependant and don’t do sewing** which leads to a slightly guilty sensation because I have to be badgered into sewing any of Barney’s stuff that requires it and worse, I don’t do ironing so he always looks as though he hasn’t been hung up properly when he goes out.***)

Ok, so perhaps guilt is about moral issues and shame is about social sins and embarrassment is about personal exposure.  (wikipedia puts it much better but takes a lot longer and goes into a lot of very interesting detail – with alternative explanations).

On consideration I reordered my thoughts thus; Shame and embarrassment are mostly feelings that you have about things that make you feel exposed or bad.  Guilt, is something  else again.  If you are guilty then you have done something.   You may or may not feel guilty about it.  Of course, the thing of which you are guilty may not be very bad – being guilty only means you did do it, not that you should necessarily feel shame or even embarrasment about it.  Conversely, if you didn’t do it then you’re not guilty – however much shame and embarrassment you may feel.

Also, feeling guilty is sort of irrelevant.  Either you did it and you are guilty or you didn’t and you’re not.   But you might feel guilty whether you did it or not.  Or you might not feel guilty even if you did do it.  In other words, your guilt feelings or lack of them are not a reliable indicator of whether you’ve done wrong, or indeed, anything.

With me so far?  (I’m lost).  Well, every so often, I get into a mood where there’s a kind of subconscious unease overshadowing everything.  After a while my conscious mind notices it and I have to pull it out and inspect it and usually it seems to stem from something I’ve said or done recently which maybe I wish I hadn’t.   So then I have to decide, was it just embarrassing and therefore only a problem to me,  or have I been guilty of doing something that might have harmed or hurt someone else.  If so, should I be ashamed and can I do anything to put it right.


Trouser button popping – forget it.  no harm done.  I decline to feel shame over fatness or loose buttons and I’ve paid plenty into the NHS coffers over the years and not taken a lot out so I think they still owe me. And most of my clothes are cheap because they come from charity shops so perhaps I needn’t feel too bad on the exploitation front.

Knocked a drink over someone’s skirt – guilty but it was only an accident.  No need for shame, just pay to get the skirt cleaned and apologise, probably in an embarrassingly effusive way.

Said something indiscreet – Ooh, ouch!  Guilty and possibly damaging and completely shameful.  Unless it was said without me realising it was indiscreet as in “did you have a nice time with so and so (who isn’t your husband)  the other day?”  Followed by icy silence from husband.****In this case, guilty but accidentally so no shame but lots of embarrassment.  Unlike carelessly chattering about so and so’s little problem without noticing that so and so is standing right behind me.  In that case there’s no escaping that I deserve the total package of bad feelings.  Not a lot can can be done to put it right either.  I don’t think I’ve done that for quite a while but it’s something I need to watch out for as I get older, more deaf, louder and more garrulous!

I often hear people say “I feel so guilty” about, oh, the ironing, the garden, the lawn, the pruning, the fence, the extravagance, the cheapness  ….

Well if they did it (or don’t do it or bought it or whatever) they’re definitely guilty and entitled to feel that way for what it’s worth.  But what’s causing them discomfort is probably embarrassment because they feel that other people will look down on their untidiness and lack of industry.  Or shame because getting such tasks done was something their parents (or peers or other role models) seemed to think was important and necessary before affection could be shown and that not doing these things was deserving of criticism.  The feeling is not the fact.

I have felt a certain amount of uncomfortable something or other this year on account of the number of wonderful places we’ve been in contrast to most of the people we know who couldn’t afford it.  Also on account of the enormous amount of carbon footprint this has entailed (Foot print?  More like giant Boot Marks).  I’m feeling over-priviledged and I’m guilty of it and it’s shameful and even a bit embarrassing now and then.  But next year I’m assuming we won’t be doing anything extravagant at all unless Barney gets another travel bee in his bonnet in which case ….. Oh I suppose I’ll have to go along with it and just put up with the guilt, shame and embarrassment!

Meanwhile, from our smallest carbon footprint holiday this year

view from the window

view from the window


Tardebigge Flight

Flight of locks

I can’t remember which locks these were – the day before we did a flight of thirty in a row and after that I lost track

under the bridge

under the bridge

under another bridge

under bridge 54

I wonder which bridge 54 though.

Sparrow hawk

Sparrow hawk

Oh wow!  So clever this little hawk – and just too far away for a good shot.  But not too far away to admire her ferocity and determination and concentration.  If you look at the bigger photo you can just about see her fierce little face.  (well it might have been a him – I’m not good on bird gender)

*I don’t think this has ever actually happened to me but you get the idea.

**Actually this is changing, very gradually, as I’m getting to grips, very slowly, with my sewing machine.  It’s turning out to be a quite satisfying experience

***To be fair, Barney’s idea of hanging something up is to throw it on the floor even if he isn’t going to wear it but it’s just in the way of something he does want to wear.

****No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that yet.  I hope not!

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Walking the Julia Bradbury walk.

I read this In any and every moment, your energy level depends on the choices you make. The way you think and act and speak and feel all contribute to the amount of energy you have to work with. today and it made me think of some stuff that’s been floating around in my head for a few years.

I discovered a long time ago that reading certain kinds of books put new thoughts in my head and a kind of osmosis happened where I found myself thinking and even acting like the characters in the book if it was well enough written and if the characters were strongly drawn.  After a while I found that if I was feeling particularly guilty or rebellious, a quick read of an Elizabeth Goudge book would get me thinking accepting, kindly and willing thoughts (even though I was, at the time, lapsing from catholicism as fast as I could).  And if I felt dippy and indecisive there were a couple of kids’ adventure books that would get me moving again.  If people were trying to make me behave too sensibly, there were a million heroines who would help me slip back into a dreamy state where I didn’t have to pay attention to outside demands (It’s one of the things I am most sad about, that powerful, openly positive heroines weren’t readily available in the literature I grew up with – women’s strength was mostly represented as resistant, covert and subtle rather than  in-your-face, bloody minded and confident.  I could say a lot more on this but will digress some other time : )

When I started playing the fiddle I used to listen to violin music all the time – People I knew would say they hated listening to a recording of something they were trying to learn because they’d never be that good.  Usually this was entirely true but it wasn’t the point.   It wasn’t about copying the skill or technique of a virtuoso player, it was about letting their musical character infuse me with a touch of what they were doing and about hearing how they listened to what the composer was telling them.  It was also about letting my body pick up something of the way they handled a bow or a trick of their physical attitude which could change the way I felt when I picked up my own bow.

People get to look like their dogs.  Not because there’s any true physical resemblance (I hope*) but because the trusting, affectionate, playful nature of a good dog is catching. smiley dog

(Also, the mournful, reproachful resignation reproachand the occasional obstinate dimness and refusal to pay attention : )  I’ve seen it happen with my children, the trusting playful and affectionate bit.  (that reminds me I must let the mournful, reproachful dog in so he can give me some affection and etc.  But he’ll probably be obstinately dim and refuse to come in – by the time I’m back, I’ll be just like him – confused).

And, to get to the point, just recently we’ve been watching Julia Bradbury on TV, striding around the Lake District, following in the footsteps of AW Wainright.  I have to say I find her slightly irritating, a bit self important and self congratulatory but I was increasingly fascinated by her walking style.  All long legs and boundless (bounding) confidence, she’d set off up a steep mountainside and it looked really effortless and – good!   She may be a bit of a celebrity overstatement but Boy! (?) can that girl walk!

In contrast, over the years I find myself more and more often, shuffling and hobbling around like an old woman.  So one day (on holiday), when setting off to trudge along the towpath to do some shopping, I caught a glimpse, in my mind, of the bouncy stride of Julia Bradbury and made a conscious effort to emulate it.  I have to say the result amazed me.   I caught up with the others in no time and had to curtail my stride (note, not my hobbble or shuffle – my stride!).  And though I puffed and panted as much as always, I wasn’t any more breathless or achey than usual.

Of course, the negative aspect of all this is also there.  If I pay too much attention to the evil character, the appalling musician, the snappy terrior or my aged, hobbling relatives their characteristics stick and I need a constant supply of positive inspiration from alternative sources.  Also, I recall being unwisely infected by my children’s reckless spending on things I couldn’t afford and didn’t really need, after they left home and started making their own choices about life.  And I remember, just after  Eldest was born, finding that I was turning from a kind, thoughtful, paragon of a young woman (yeah yeah, I was a perfect person, don’t doubt it) into a whinging, wailing, selfish, demanding brat.  Rather like a big baby in fact.

I know that not everyone has this chameleon like habit but it’s probably worth making an effort to choose wisely what you read, watch and listen to and who you spend time with and to bear in mind that the things you find most fascinating about them may rub off on you whether you are aware of it or not**.

Well.  Now I have to hoover and go shopping.  I can’t immediately bring to mind any image or character which will enhance my enjoyment of hoovering but when I go shopping I shall walk the Julia Bradbury walk through town.  Expect me back in seconds!

Meanwhile :-

A reservoir we passed next to the canalReservoir by the canal

and  a heron we followed along the bank for a while

HeronYay! I caught him flying 🙂

I’ll leave you with him looking like a Phoenix rising (though actually, he’s landing)

Heron - Phoenix

See you later 🙂

*I rarely stand around with my tongue hanging out.  If anyone catches me doing that please let me know immediately!

**I have to wonder about Barney’s favourite light reading – true murder stories!  Speaking of which I am currently reading The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld.  Not my normal kind of reading at all but it’s for Mr Middle’s book club.  On the other hand I’ve ust finished The First Circle by Alexander Solzenichtskin which is just amazing.  A huge study of courage and hope and survival in the soviet prisons, under Stalin’s regime, which is extraordinarily illuminating and honest. If you have several days to spare and aren’t daunted by volume, I recommend it.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The boat’s stopped rocking

Ah!  That’s because we’re on dry land.  I suppose, wherever it is, the boat is still rocking someone to sleep : )

last morningIt’s nice to be home, though I’d forgotten how many stairs there are in houses.  On the other hand I’m looking forward to getting into a bed which is designed for two full width people.  The dog is already missing having a selection of  up to six dog walkers and several miles of tow path to be walked along.  On the other hand, I think he’s quite happy to be back in his own bed too.  The first two days on the boat, he was so knackered he didn’t even get up to eat his dinner but just poked his head over the edge of his bed to eat lying down.

On yet another hand (one of ours this time) it’s very nice to have a loo in which you can confidently do your worst and expect it to cope!  And come to think of it,  which doesn’t rock.



The weather was good nearly all the time, the sun shone quite a lot and the rain fell only a bit.  The winds blew quite a lot but that wasn’t too much of a problem.  I took quite a few photos (a mere 7,000 which after all, is only 500 a day) and made quite a few breakfasts and a lot of coffee.  (Oh thats another good thing about being home – it’s so much easier to make coffee).  The canals were beautiful.  Tomorrow I must have a look at Barney’s log and find out which canals we’ve actually been on.  I know we started at the top of the Tardebigge flight which has 31 locks in it and the nearest pub is at the bottom so it had to be done on the first afternoon!  Fortunately our crew all enjoyed working the locks so I was free to trot up and down taking pics.  And occasionally offering refreshment to the workers.

And what a lovely bunch they were.  All apparently happy to work locks and walk dogs and steer and do all the things I find very difficult and inconvenient with a camera in my hand. And we had some memorably wonderful food, notably,  a Thai meal in Wolverhampton and an Indian in Stratford, both of which I felt confident in saying were the best I’d ever had (and that’s going some).  Also sausage and mash and (Look the other way Mel – sorry) roast Chicken, not to mention pork and rosemary with dauphinoise potatoes and lamb and rosemary with something delicious but I can’t remember what.  We got pies and samosas and very assorted cheese for lunch and one day we had a two tins of soup augmented with left over roast juices and a bit of stock and wine – coo : ) And we had some other dinners out which ranged from very big but not very nice to not very big but very nice indeed and all possible permutations in between.

And the canals were beautiful, all of them.  I got Barney to tell me which ones we went on and after about four, I stopped trying to remember them as we were doing a round trip which hops from one canal to another all around the northwestern outskirts of Birmingham plus a very brief excursion into Birmingham itself. And another not so brief excursion into Stratford where there were real shops and lots of pubs and restaurants and hundreds of tourists.  And lovely old buildings.  And the canal basin, full of boats, some of which were converted into a restaurant, an art gallery, a baguette stall and even an ice-cream stall.

It’s probably worth mentioning that Vassey, a nice youngster and totally new to canal travel, managed to do the classic falling in thing where you push the boat away from the bank and forget when to follow up by stepping on board.  Thus stepping, instead and involuntarily, into the water.  After performing an elegant stretch across the water.  Sadly I missed this but apparently he did it really well.  For the next few days the boat was littered with mobile phone parts, drying out.

Nutmeg also fell in, due to incompetence on Barney’s part.  On the return from his morning and evening walks, he had to pass a lot of moored boats and never seemed quite sure which one was his.  So he’d wander hopefully up to each one and needed to be hauled back before trespassing.  On one evening, Barney failed to haul in time and Nut was half on and half off a strange boat when it drifted out from the bank,  just enough to drop the dog in between!  One wet dog was duly walked and dried for another half  hour and seemed none the worse for his experience.  Also none the wiser since next time he went out he still didn’t know which boat was his.

Here he is, looking noble and waiting for this boat to get closer so he can come and have a drink.

noble dog

And here’s a guillotine lock which was very picturesque though it didn’t seem to be doing anything.

DSC_5346-2guillotine lock

Got to get on!  I’ve only sorted the first half day’s worth (and a few at the end : )

Hope you’re all well and happy.  I’m coming for a quick look round now : )


September 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments