The return of Flabby Tabby

Socks Akers is in trouble, big trouble, the kind of trouble that causes injury. Worse still, the kind that hits where it hurts, the pocket.

Seeing as he doesn’t have a pocket or has even the slightest idea of economics, GDP , the rate the £ is falling against the Euro , or the scandal of a Penny Arrow now costing a shilling, he’s not the only one who’s hurting.

HOW MUCH? Noel exclaimed as the vet handed us a huge bill for lancing the biggest, smelliest abscess known to man or feline, along with a powerful antibiotic. That little episode now tops my list of the grossest thing I have ever witnessed, even grosser than the remains of the ancient banana in my climbing rucksack. I mean, just how much STUFF can an abscess hold? Where does it come from? How did it manage to flood the vet’s table? Maybe that’s why it cost us so much. The clean-up bill.

Of course Socks was right as rain after the offending bulge on the side of his face had gone, it meant he could eat. Then go out to fight. Again. We know the Vet well, in fact we’re on first-name terms as Socks has helped finance his holidays to save street cats in the Caribbean, he even sends us postcards, passing on his love to Socks. He said if it was any consolation, Socks’ nemesis would also be needing treatment. It wasn’t.

That nemesis is Flabby Tabby. The biggest, flabbiest tabby you’ve ever seen. He lopes into our garden, with only one thing on his mind, to pick on Socks, who is no small fry, weighing in at just under 6kg. It all came to a head last year when FT took advantage of our insecure catflap and freely-available quality catfood. I was woken up by such a yowling coming from the dining room it drowned our Noel’s snoring . Fur was everywhere, along with bits of cat skin, so it was off to the vet’s with him and the down-payment on the first of many Caribbean trips. Plus the purchase of a chip-reading catflap, which was only slightly cheaper.

FT met his match when he returned, looking for a fight. Heidi, our small, feisty tabby, saw him off while Socks cowered in the delphiniums. But the peace wasn’t to last, Socks headed off to FT’s place, which is a couple of streets away. We know that because our webcam got a shot of him in our house and our cleaners identified him as belonging to one of their customers.

We thought that with all the bad weather and Socks’ advancing years, the fighting would have stopped by now. Plus, he had The Snip years ago, so that should have calmed him down a bit. We were shocked to learn from a friend, though, that their neutered cat had behaved exactly the same way and had been found to have a third testicle, which was pumping him full of thuggish hormones. A third testicle? Could that be Socks’ problem? Looks like we’ll be paying another instalment on the Caribbean trip.

Ant music?

I couldn’t get any photos of the ants, so here I am at the allotment stores, selling compost.

The long, black line that appeared overnight on the bookcase was moving. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and had just downed a caffeine-loaded latte so suspected I may have been hallucinating. Turns out I wasn’t.

Glasses in place, I carried out a closer inspection. Not only was the line moving, so was my anthurium, a leafy, red-flowered houseplant that’s been slowly taking over the conservatory since I was daft enough to re-pot it. It only encourages them, you know.

Yes, the leaves were definitely shaking, what’s more, soil was spilling out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. And the soil was moving too. It’s fair to say there was a whole lot of movement going on in the conservatory, maybe a bit of music too. Apart from the cats, that is, they were curled up and pushing out the zeds. I could even hear snoring, though that was from Noel in the next room, put to sleep by the Brexit arguments on the radio.

So it was me, the moving black line and the plant who were wide awake. I put my phone down on the flat surface, the line moved around it. It was a line of small, black ants, going about their anty business in my conservatory. They had colonised the plant and were making themselves at home, shoving soil out of the way presumably so there would be room for the queen’s throne.

Ants are a fascinating creatures, I didn’t want to harm them, but wasn’t sure what to do. Everyone on the internet wants to murder them with chemicals, good grief, what did ants ever do to them? These little fellas don’t even bite, all they do is get on with their busy little anty lives, so who was I to disturb them? And the Queen can live for up to 30 years, that’s an awful lot of re-potting.

I had read somewhere, though, that by the miracle of metamorphosis, some of the ants grow wings. Bizarrely it seems to happen on the same day, the appropriately-named Flying Ant Day. Now, much as I love ants, I didn’t want them dive-bombing the cats in the conservatory, so outside the plant went.

Of course I was worried they’d not find their way back to the nest as the black line dispersed. Noel, aroused from his slumbers by the commercial break, gently swept them into the dustpan, though they were having none of it and insisted on running up his arm, I told him they were just trying to be friendly, unlike the ants who crawled up his trouser leg when we were climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon, they were not friendly and they did bite. Only one of us laughed on that occasion.

Anyway, they are now outside, still enjoying the plant, though I’m not sure the plant is too keen. I’m still getting the occasional anty visitor, but I think it’s just to say hello and maybe to tell me when to expect Flying Ant Day. Unfortunately, I don’t speak antish, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

First rescue

If the worst happened and our house went up in flames, great plumes of smoke billowing from the windows, cats leaping out clutching their Felix Goody Bags, I’d be battling my way through the smoke to save the one thing I can’t replace. A crosstitch, a blooming crosstitch for goodness sake.

In my defence, I lost count of how many hours it took me, it was quite a while ago. But it was a massive faff and I had needle grooves in my fingers for years afterwards, there’s a lot of me in that crosstitch.

I picked up the pattern while I was in the USA, a windswept godforsakeness of high desert in the middle of Utah. It’s a place no-one goes these days, unless it’s to visit the site of an historic happening there 150 years ago on May 10 1869. This was the exact spot that the transcontinental railroad was completed and the tracks secured with a golden spike, 17 karat gold at that, a spike being one of those big nails that holds the track to the sleeper. Locomotives were brought to face each other symbolically of course, probably so someone could design a crosstitch sampler for some Limey to torture themselves on more than a century later.

It must have been the euphoria of the historic visit, or maybe the Utah altitude, but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to commemorate my visit. What was I thinking? Anyone else, anyone else sensible, would have taken a photo and left it at that.

Anyway, I did it and I was glad, but I have a responsibility to make sure nothing happens to it. That’s why I’ll have to rescue it in case of fire, flood, or act of God.

Bluebell time

Bluebells at Harlow Carr, Harrogate

It’s that time of year when winter hasn’t quite gone and summer is teasing us by pretending to appear, then running off, leaving a trail of frost behind. Days are longer, but not much warmer, insects are stretching their many legs and multiple wings, birds are discussing nest-building, usually at dawn, and nature is waking up.

Spring is my favourite season. Colours are fresh and new, with as many shades of green as there are brands of compost in the bank holiday Monday sales. I like it that it’s not summer, summer can be warm, way too warm for The Whitest Woman in the Beach™ or Mrs Milk Skin as I was once called in Crete. Spring is fine for me, especially as it’s bluebell time.

We’re flush with deciduous and ancient woodland here in Yorkshire, which is heaven for bluebells, their little blue heads push up everywhere. Actually, Britain has more than half the world’s bluebells, so they even have some down south, though obviously they aren’t as good as ours!

One step into the woods and there’s a fine haze of blue and the subtle sweet scent of bluebells, a bit like diluted hyacinth, it’s bigger, blousier brother. They are in woods everywhere and they are beautiful, but they are only beautiful because they are in the woods. Pick them and they wilt, as if they are protesting over being taken away from home, plus you risk being poisoned, or poisoning your pets. Let anyone see you picking them and you could be prosecuted as it’s against the law to pick or destroy them.

Early insects help to pollinate them, though cheeky bees take a bite out of the bottom and nick the nectar without having the decency to pass around the pollen.

About 300 years ago, Spanish bluebells were brought over to brighten up posh people’s gardens, which was fine so long as that was where they stayed. But they were spotted in the woods about 100 years ago, how they got there is debated, either garden waste or pollinator, but it looks like they are in our woods to stay.

The bluebells have been absolutely stunning this year, a real pick-me-up after the dark, dreary winter, I’m definitely enjoying them while they carpet the woods, who knows when summer will come, and they will all disappear until the winter has been and gone.

Speaking to the shelves, listening to the books

Surrounded by books and book lovers, who wouldn’t want to put pen to paper and get writing? The Leeds Library (not to be confused with Leeds Central Library) is the oldest subscription library in the country, dating back to 1768.

Its entrance is like finding 12 Grimmauld Place, the Black family home in Harry Potter, tucked away in the city centre, all stairs and corridors, opening out into a beautiful book-filled treasury, complete with twin spiral staircases with a little self-serve cafe and honesty box.

Where better, then, to spend a few hours in the company of author, playwright, artist and all-round lovely person Emma Adams, and learn more about this writing lark? Just over a dozen of us pulled up a haphazard collection of chairs around wooden tables which had been pushed together in the centre of the rooms. Actually a couple more joined us later in just about the amount of time it takes to get from the Central Library, but we said we would not speak of it.

What a wonderful, inspirational afternoon in delightful company. After a couple of introductory exercises, inspired by the surrounding books, we were encouraged to spend 20 minutes writing. I penned a little post-parkrun episode inspired by that morning’s banter. Here it is, warts (or rather moles) and all, names and events have been changed to protect the innocent and for dramatic effect.

Adrian

The noise in the cafe crescendo-ed, drowning out the 19-year-old barrista’s Spotify playlist which was something shouty, pulsey and utterly tuneless. Thank God, I thought, I couldn’t do with hearing any more of Snott Dogg or whatever he called himself.

The crescendo was caused by laughter from Gillian, Big Gillian as she used to be, but now Medium-Sized Gillian, thanks to cutting out the Yorkshire Mixtures and dandelion and burdock pop and taking up running. She’d lost a lot of weight and looked great. It set me wondering what happened to all that lost weight. Did it find its way to the fatberg in the sewers of London? Or maybe it formed a huge hill somewhere, all wobbly and slippery, probably smelly too.

It was the laughter that brought me back from my fatty fantasy. ‘It’s Adrian, he’s dropped off and disappeared,’ Gillian told us. I know only one Adrian, he’s Philip’s new partner, he’d recently come out, met Adrian and become a very happy man. They’d even stayed in a yurt together and toasted their relationship with Babycham and a packet of fig rolls, which they regretted later.

Anyway, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t lovely Adrian who’d dropped off, it was Gillian’s mole, who she had christened Adrian. She confessed she was a moley person with little lumps and bumps everywhere, none of them sinister, just lumpy and bumpy. Some even joined up to make shapes, a fleshy join the dots.

But Adrian was special. He’s been there all her life, he was a hairy mole and he lived on her bum. She was quite fond of him, but he did chafe a bit when she started running. It’s a well-known fact that moles, particularly hairy moles, don’t like Lycra.

Then it happened, the source of the amusement. She was sweating and panting her way up a hill, arms pumping, legs pushing, when she felt something move. It was Adrian. He was getting a bit fed up with all the friction, his little hairs had bristled with indignation, his lumpy bits decided they’d had enough of this Lycra prison, so he just jumped ship. It’s not easy for anything to escape Lycra, but Adrian found his way down the back of her left leg, bounced off her trainer and landed in the grass, right next to a mole hill. He’d found his new home.

A parkrun romance

A Saturday morning stint as a parkrun Run Director always means a stupid o’clock start, often involves faffing, usually presents me with the opportunity to do lots of shouting, which, by the way, is my best thing, but never involves subterfuge. Or romance. Until now.

It was a few weeks ago that Lucy contacted me, all hush-hush, to say she planned to propose to her boyfriend at the place they first met. That place just happened Woodhouse Moor parkrun, right there in the finish funnel. They’d been introduced by a mutual friend and immediately their romance took off, starting with marathon and ultramarathon training.

The question was, how to pop the question? Lucy planned to volunteer to record the unreadable barcodes. Alan would run, and somehow (snigger snigger) his barcode wouldn’t scan so he’s have to go to her. She’d show him a lovely video with photos of them on their many adventures together, then pop the question. Of course I offered Lucy a slot at the run brief to propose, but that would have been a little overwhelming, plus it would have ruined his chance of a PB.

It all went more or less to plan, with Alan not suspecting anything other than a celebration for his birthday that day, a youthful 37 which he thought was nothing special, though I pointed out that it was a prime number. And they are always worth celebrating.

I sidled up to the couple, hopefully to get a good photo, as Alan watched the video and unromantically dripped sweat from his over 6ft height. It was an unseasonably warm day. The video finished, they kissed, we all held our breath…. Alan looked up and saw the audience. ‘Well?’ we all asked. ‘Oh,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘I said yes’

Being dyed-in-the-wool parkrunners, there was no engagement ring, just a bracelet engraved with their barcode numbers.

They plan to get married as soon as they can confirm the venue, which will be in the Yorkshire Dales. Naturally they will have a celebration parkrun at Woodhouse Moor. One thing’s for certain, they won’t forget their barcodes!

Hottie McHotbin

Heidi, Hottie and me

Something big, black and monolithic has appeared in the garden, just behind the greenhouse. Next door’s dog is spooked, the cats are mildly curious, Noel has that resigned air of someone who knows there’s a few extra tasks coming his way and I’m excited. Very excited.

The 2001 monolith lookalike is more of a space saver than a Space Odyssey, but hopefully it will be a planet saver, as well as saving me a pretty penny on compost for the next few decades.

When the delivery man knocked on the door, all I could see was a massive shadow through the glass, my, he’s a big lad, I thought. When the website said it was the size of a wheelie bin, they meant a giant wheelie bin, not the compact one we have. It was a minor hiccup, a small detail, but there he stood with my new Hotbin, the Rolls Royce of home composters and it was mine, all mine.

After a bit of ‘to me, to you’, ‘left hand down a bit’ and a moderate amount of swearing, Hottie McHotbin as I have named her, was manoeuvred through the house to her new home. Good grief, she’s a big lass, though she’s smaller than Butty McButtface, the water butt, who is her new neighbour.

As a Yorkshire lass I don’t part with my money readily, it’s easy to compost garden waste, scrap paper and make muck from rubbish, and that’s free. But there are some things you can’t compost, like perennial weeds, cooked food waste, mouldy bread and bones, as those black Dalek-like bins don’t get hot enough to break them down. But then came the Hotbin which gets so hot, it melts snow and you can fry an egg on it, OK, so I made the egg-frying bit up, but it does get up to 60C, which is definitely hot enough to see off the nasties and cook up a rather fine mulch in 30 days and compost in 90 days, many many times faster than the Dalek bin. Alys Fowler, the Guardian’s gardening guru swears by it and many other reviews say how it cuts the amount of rubbish going to landfill, which is good enough for me.

Hottie is made from black polypropylene and has a fancy thermometer and venting system, along with a fancy rakey thing and a couple of sturdy straps to stop the whole monolith from taking off into orbit under all that composting pressure. She’s rather sleek and stylish too.

She wasn’t cheap, about £165, so it will take a while to get a return on my investment. But I’ll be throwing less away and travelling fewer miles to buy compost and that for me is priceless.