Monday, 6 March 2017

A Night-time Drive

In the car at night I see,
Stars on the ground where roads should be,
Distant streetlights in far off places,
Orange clouds and bright moon faces.
Pools of light around lamp-lit poles.
Darkness filling all the holes.

Motorway lights racing by.
Did anyone win, or was it a tie?
Juggernauts hauling heavy loads.
Cat's eye diamonds line the roads.
Headlight beam, and red tail-light,
Rushing madly through the night.

Silhouette trees that seem so high.
Stick black fingers caress the sky.
Nocturnal eyes are open wide,
In grassy banks where animals hide.
Rabbit, fox, and even deer,
Vanish quickly when cars are near.

Zoe and Paul Grant
March 2017

Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Year Pixie

For the Leap Year in 2016 the school had a competition for the pupils to write a leap year story. 
I couldn't resist joining in. 
Here is my story.

Today is the 28th of February, which would normally mean that tomorrow is the first day of March. But not this year!
Tomorrow is the 29th; and the 29th of February is always a special day, but this one is even more special. For tomorrow is not only my birthday, it is also my thirteenth birthday! The most tiptop, zing-a-rooney special-est day of a pixies' life!
Now, as I'm sure you all know, pixies just love to play tricks - on friends, enemies, family, well anybody really! But only on a pixies' thirteenth birthday can they play any trick, any joke, any prank, on ANYONE, and no-one is allowed to do anything about it.
For twenty-four hours a pixie can get away with anything that they can dream of without having to worry about being told off, or someone getting their own back. So you can imagine that a pixies thirteenth birthday is a VERY special day indeed!
And I've had to wait FIFTY-TWO years for mine!!!!
For nearly fifty years - ever since I could first write - I have been keeping a notebook. A record of everyone who has ever annoyed me. Their name, what they did to annoy me, and exactly what I have planned for them. Waiting for just this one day.
I have been waiting… and planning… for a very long time!
So let's see who's first in my little black get-my-own-back notebook….

Mr Cap, my maths teacher - for making me learn my seventeen times tables off by heart when I was in Year 4. He is to have a rotten egg smashed on his head and rubbed in his hair.
Trouble is… he retired years ago, and come to think of it, the last time I saw him he didn't have much hair at all! He must be REALLY old by now! … Perhaps I should let him off. So, next?
Bongo Toadman. He pushed me into a muddy puddle when I was six. I was going to push him into the smelliest pond I could find and then throw horse poo at him.
But me and Toady have been best friends for the last forty years. It doesn't feel right to be doing that to him. I'll get him to sit on a whoopee cushion instead. Toady loves whoopee cushions!
I was going to lock my sister in a dark cupboard full of big hairy spiders - for just being an annoying girl!!! But you know, she's not as bad as she used to be. She's a lot nicer now that she's older, and she does get so terribly scared of spiders and the dark. Maybe I'll think of something else!
And then there's my baby brother. For hitting me over the head with his baby rattle, I was going to take his teddy bear and tear it up in front of him!
But he's not a baby anymore….. and he hasn't had a teddy bear in years and years and years!
 And Billy Hillock, and Astrid Poppyhead got married and moved away, so I can't tip a bucket of icy water over their heads for ignoring me in the school playground.  Ahhh!! They did look so happy together on their wedding day. I wonder what they're doing now?
And as for Stella Treetop. Well, I married her! So I'd better forget that one too.
You know. I don't think I want to do anything on my list anymore.
I'll just have to have a party instead, and invite everyone. There will be jelly and cakes of course. And balloons!
And lots and lots of whoopee cushions!!!!!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Sarah's "Masterchef" Challenge

Sarah, aka Her Indoors, She Who Must Be Obeyed, or just The Missus decided to throw caution to the wind, and issued a challenge in the style of Masterchef....

She provided the ingredients, and a list of allowed items from the cupboard, and I would cook dinner this evening. And for her part... she promised to eat it!

So this is what I had...
8 oz beef strips
Sweet potato
Tomatoes, and tomato puree
Beef stock cube
Chinese Five Spice
Garlic granules
Soy sauce
Fresh Basil
and a few staples - flour, butter, seasoning, oil.
I didn't feel that my usual approach (chop it all up, bung it together, and call it casserole) would quite be in the spirit of the challenge. So this is what I did....

Peel and slice the sweet potato. Slices 1/4 inch (5mm) thick.
Shallow fry these for a couple of minutes in medium hot oil, and set aside to keep warm in the top oven. Meanwhile the fan oven was set to 200 degrees C.

Stir fry the beef in the wok for 2 minutes.
Add 1 chopped medium onion, and continue for another 2 minutes. 
Add the chopped mushrooms and tomatoes, and continue for another 2 minutes. 
Add 1/4 pint beef stock, sliced carrot, and 6 small (tiny) chopped, unpeeled potatoes.
Bring to the boil, and add the chopped basil, a good sprinkle of garlic granules, a squirt of tomato puree, a dash of soy sauce, and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Mix some cornflour in cold water, and after ten minutes slowly add it to the mix. Adding just enough to thicken the sauce.

Pour the whole lot into an ovenproof dish, and arrange the slices of sweet potato on top to cover the whole surface. Dot small knobs of butter over the top, and put the dish into the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

Since I had peas on the list, I served it with a portion of peas (and allowed myself a glass of elderberry and blackberry wine - a perfect accompaniment to beef)

The only ingredient from the list I hadn't used was the Five Spice.

Sarah cleared her plate, and I didn't even have to force her... so I think I nailed this one!!!!

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Rainbow Mystery

Amy's second writing homework was to describe a journey to the end of the rainbow.

The Rainbow Mystery
One sunny day, I was out walking my dog Bailey, along Dog Lane. When I let him off the lead, he found a cave that I hadn't seen before. Bailey ran into it and disappeared. I followed the path through the dark cave on and on, until I saw a light coming out of a hole. Looking out of the hole, I saw a magical land.
Bailey saw a pink cat. "Woof" said Bailey, and ran off chasing it, over a glass bridge, along a dark green road, into a large dark green castle.
I ran in after him, but the witch already had him tied up. The witch shouted " I will turn you into a pink cat, hee-hee-hee". She went to get her wand, and I quickly untied him and escaped.
There was a rainbow over the whole land, and in the distance, there was a flower palace, so we ran to it, where the Queen welcomed us.
She gave us some biscuits, and told us she wanted to cast a spell to get rid of the witch, but she needed chocolate chip coins from the pot at the end of the rainbow to make the spell.
The witch had cast a spell to keep the Queen in her palace. "Will you get them for me?" She said.
"Yes" I said, "but will you look after Bailey for me."
I walked through the forest, over a rickety stone bridge, by the jigsaw pond, and under the bubble rocks that float and bounce upon the ground.
At last, I got to the Red Dragon Beach, where the end of the rainbow was. The pot of gold was sitting in the water at the edge of the sea.
I collected all of the chocolate chip coins, and took them back to the Queen.
And then I took Bailey back home.
The End
Amy A. Grant

Matilda the Space Tiger

My 7 year old daughter Amy, loves to read and make up stories. She isn't yet so keen on the laborious task of writing them down.
So when the school set her homework of writing a story about space, she enthusiastically came up with lots of wonderful ideas; but when she realised how much she would have to write, the story ended up considerably abridged.

After much encouragement, this is her first story.....

Matilda the Space Tiger
Deep in the jungle, lived a tiger called Matilda. Her mother found  a  magic egg and gave it to Matilda.
One day Granny told her about space diamonds. Then Matilda said she would go up to space to get some.
So she got two hollow tree trunks, and tied them together with vines and built a hut on top out of leaves and sticks. She filled the tree trunk with dried grass and set it on fire by rubbing two stones together, climbed into the hut and was launched into space.
First, she went to the moon to collect moon-dust. When she added water to the dust it turned into blue moon diamonds. The she got back into her spaceship and set off again.
She arrived at Neptune and landed on the south pole of Triton. Then she collected ten pink ice diamonds.
She then got back into the rocket and launched herself back to earth. When she was home she gave five to Granny and kept five for herself to decorate her den.

The End
Amy A. Grant

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Conversations with DeDe

Shortly after Dede had moved in, I composed this for the village magazine.

It was on a freezing British night in the middle of January that I had my first encounter with DeDe. Not that I knew her name then of course; she was just a black shape, emerging from a black gateway, on a black night.
The soft tinkle of a bell located the approaching shape; a miaow and the feeling of fur around my ankles, identified it as friendly. Now, I’m not one to spurn a friendly overture, so I stopped for a minute or two to stroke what turned out to be a thin and desperately affectionate cat, before continuing on my way.
As I walked off down the street, I had a fleeting glimpse of a passing black shadow, which resolved itself at the next street light into the figure of a cat, tail held high, trotting briskly down the path ahead of me. Reaching the first drive she took a few paces up it, stopped and turned to look at me. Even to a human uneducated in the nuances of feline communications the message was unmistakable.
“Is this the house where you live?”
I walked on by and she immediately back-tracked to the path, and shot ahead once more, the tinkle of the bell at her neck the only sign of her presence in the blackness. At the next gate she again took a few paces up the path, stopped and looked back.
“Well what about this one then? ...No? .... Right, on to the next one!”
And so we proceeded, in and out of pools of street lighting, leapfrogging down three streets, until I turned to walk up my own drive.
And she raced up the drive to be waiting for me as I reached the front door, greeting me with a succession of miaows, and purrs, and frantic gyrations as she rubbed herself against my legs. Round and round in circles.
“Go on! Open the door. Then we can get inside out of the cold. Go on. You might be able to find me something to eat. I’m really very, very hungry. Go on!.... Please.... Please.... Pleeeeease !!!!”
Fool that I am, I did let her in, and fed her, and fussed her. Now, several years later, she’s still here.

Over the intervening period I have had ample opportunity to study the phenomenon of human/feline communication. From the start it was clear that when DeDe wanted to get a message across it was usually by means of a combination of voice and body language. Thus a simple miaow could be given a different meaning dependant on the actions accompanying it. For example:
A miaow while rubbing lightly against your leg, “Hello”
A miaow while standing with tail held erect, “Oy you! Pay attention!”

Soon after DeDe moved in, it became apparent that she had a wide range of vocalisations, which were being used in specific circumstances. The meanings of some were only too obvious. A curious sound like a staccato miaow, translated very clearly into,
“Stop flying around up there, little birdies. Come down here on the ground. I’ll have you. I will. Just fly that little bit closer, and see if I don’t.”
Unfortunately for DeDe, the only response that she gets, from those flying feathery irritants, is the avian version of blowing a raspberry.
That was an easy message to decipher, but what was I to make of the ‘chirrupprrrrr’, or the ‘mew’, or the quiet little ‘ow’, or the whole range of miaows of various intensities. Years of research and observation were needed to find some of the answers. Hundreds of hours spent assiduously watching and waiting for DeDe to say something before I could attempt an interpretation, while DeDe resolutely stayed fast asleep on my lap.
Although my researches are far from complete, I am finally able to reveal to an anxiously waiting world just some of what our feline friends have been saying to us, for all the centuries that they have deigned to let us look after them. I give as an example a typical conversation between myself and DeDe.

DeDe : ’Chirrupprrrrr’, (While strolling by, tail casually brushing against my leg).
“Hello Paul. It’s so good to see you. You really are a wonderful friend to a poor pussy cat. And by the way I am feeling just a little bit peckish you know.”

Paul : (Pretending not to understand) ‘Hello DeDe, have you had a hard day.’

DeDe : ’Mew’, (Strolling by again, but this time rubbing her body against my leg, then turning to look up with big wide open eyes), ‘Mew’, again.
“I really like it when you stroke me Paul. Can you spare a few moments. Have you noticed that my plate is empty?”

Paul : ‘Does DeDe want me to make a fuss of her’. (Paul picks up DeDe and gives her a big hug, and puts her down again)

DeDe : ’Miaooow’, (Rubs against my leg again, in a more determined manner, turns round and goes down the other side as well).
“I would respectfully like to point out that my plate IS empty.“

Paul : (Stubbornly refusing to take the hint), ‘Do you want to go out?.’

DeDe : ’Miaow’, (Standing, all four feet firmly planted on the ground, and tail held high).
DeDe stalks out of the room. Ten minutes later she returns. Quietly walks to sit on the floor behind me, waiting.

DeDe : ’Me-ow’.
“I’m hungry!!“
Paul : ‘Don’t sit there, DeDe, I’ll trip over you.’ (Picks her up, giving her another hug, and places her gently in the armchair.)

DeDe : ’Huff’, (Sitting in chair with indignant look on her face, tail twitching spasmodically).
(No translation necessary. It’s exactly the same as in humans.)

Paul : ‘Why don’t you just sit there. It’ll be dinner time in a couple of hours.’

DeDe : ’Mrrr-ew’.
(Translation is not repeatable)

Another five minutes pass, then DeDe jumps out of the chair, and stomps up to sit on the floor directly in front of me. Looks up with eyes wide and pupils closed to slits.

DeDe : ’Miaow’.
“FEED ME!…. NOW!!!“

Paul : (nearly treading on DeDe), ‘Stupid cat!’
Okay, so I may not use exactly those words, but you get the idea.

DeDe retreats once more, waits for an opportune moment, then-
: ’MIAOOW!!’, (This is the cry to make a politician weep. Really. It is the sound of a creature which has been subjected to the cruellest of unjust deprivations. But here it is used merely to grab attention, for the real message is pure body language. Looking up, I see DeDe sitting on the floor by the settee, calmly inspecting a paw which is now filled with five razor-sharp scimitars).
“Okay, pea-brain. Get the meat on the plate, now, or the sofa gets it!!!“

What can I do? I've never had the courage to take this conversation any further. So I stop what I’m doing, and open a tin of the finest, most exquisite cat-food available, according to the label, and serve an impatiently waiting DeDe a meal fit for a queen. Placing the plate on the floor, I’m greeted by a joyous -
: ’Mrrr-oww’.
“About time too. Thank you, thank you. I take it all back.“
One sniff at the plate, and DeDe returns to the armchair.
“Oh no! Not that again!“


I buried my cat yesterday.
For nearly fifteen years she had been my companion, ever since that winter's evening when she had followed me home and decided to move in. I don't really remember being given much choice in the matter; it was more or less "I'm going to be living here from now on - OK". And that was it, I had a cat.
Where she came from I have no idea. The village grapevine could only report that she had been around for a couple of weeks; begging here and there, because the collar and bell at her neck would stop her hunting. Very slowly she had been starving to death.
Over the following months, she learned to trust again. At first she would only allow herself to be touched gently on the top of the head. Slowly, oh so slowly, she let me stroke her more. On to the neck, the shoulders, the back, and finally right to the end of her thick bushy black tail.
And she learned to play too. Cat toys were never her thing, but a screwed up piece of paper would get her scampering all over the place. Just briefly, until she would stop and look round self consciously, then quickly lick her paws clean, as if to say "No, that wasn't me. I was too busy cleaning myself!"
The collar had come off on Day 1; as a free cat who was merely living with me, a collar was not appropriate. So she started to hunt. Just not very well. Hunting was one of those things she felt she should be doing, but the mechanics of it mostly eluded her, though there were enough little victories to keep her interested. In the summer the swifts built their nest in the eaves at the back of the house. Two storeys up - so should've been safe enough. But they chose the spot where the ridge of a single storey roof met the wall. DeDe worked out that she could jump onto the garden wall, climb the trellis on top, walk along to the end and hop up to the flat roof. An eight-foot jump across space would get her onto the next roof, and then she could sit there on the ridge waiting for a swift to drop into her mouth. And wait she did. On and off all summer, while the swifts swooped around her head screaming at her. And the next summer. And the one after that.
Then one evening in the following year. I heard her come in through the cat flap. Her joyous miaow could only be described as 'muffled'. Without looking I could tell what had happened, and having announced her victory, she left to enjoy her feast. It was the one and only time she ever succeeded in getting one.
As the years progressed, the effort of getting onto the roof became to much for her, and the swifts were safe. DeDe had to satisfy herself with watching from the lawn, while the swifts still swooped and screamed at her overhead.
In her later years, I did the unthinkable, and got married. Not only bringing another person into her house, but another cat too. The relationship with Magic was never better than "I will tolerate you because I have to." Much to Magic's regret.
And then even worse than that I brought into the house something called a Baby - first one, and then a second.
But DeDe put up with the upset, perhaps even better than Magic, but she wasn't keen on the time she was obliged to spend outside or in her shed.
With the passing away of my father at the beginning of the year, DeDe went to stay with my mother. Two old ladies keeping each other company. We thought at the time that it was likely to be DeDe's last summer, and she would have a little more comfort and peace (apart from, of course, when the grandchildren came calling).
Yesterday, too soon, far too soon, I had the call. DeDe needed to take a trip to the vet, and I had to make that final decision. She passed away bright eyed, and with a miaow on her lips.

That evening my tears mingled with the muddy earth as I laid her to rest in the garden.
Home again, now and for always.