Archive for the ‘Pets & Garden’ Category

Moving Moments…

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Pets & Garden, Stuff
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We’re moving home. We presently live in the northern English city of Newcastle upon Tyne. In a few weeks time we’ll be living on the other side of the planet – in Perth, Western Australia.

I’m used to travelling – the job usually throws thirty five thousand or so onto my car each year – to say nothing of boats, ferries, planes, and trains – but this is different, this is the biggie. Of all the miles I’ve travelled as a stand up comic, half of them were always coming home.

These miles – the 9,000 miles we are about to travel – have a definitive direction – an arrow. These miles – the 9,000 miles we are about to travel – are all one way – they’re all leaving miles.

It’s a permanence that – with less than three weeks to go – is only now beginning to sink in.

We meant to move last year but for various reasons that are completely unconnected with war crimes, shallow graves, or indeed any criminal activity whatsoever, it has taken seven months, handfuls of hair, and at least one full gobful of fingernails to get everything sorted.

Still, here we are. We’re moving home. Arrangements are being made. Tickets being booked. Carriers called. Clothes packed.

The white-board in the study, normally plastered with slug-lines, or ideas for new scripts, has been invaded, and thoroughly conquered, by endless lists; lease this, sort them, sell those, store these, dump that.

The long delay, frustrating as it was, has had a positive side;

Jesse & Erik

February saw my youngest daughter, Jesse, give birth to the grandchild I thought I’d miss, and, with the birth of baby Erik, and the (admittedly pitiful) onset of the British spring, everything has a feeling of excitement, of renewal, of rebirth, of new beginnings and starting again – for all of us.

Well… almost all of us.

In that time one of the dogs that was going is now no longer going.

I knew he wouldn’t make it. He’s too old, too frail. His limbs are all swollen and gnarly. He struggles to get up in the morning, and has to be lifted in and out of the car. Even after the daily drugs have alleviated his aches, his eyes remain dim, milky, unseeing. He’s also quite deaf and frankly there’s a smell that, once smelled, can only be attributed to old age, disease, and death.

In many ways he’s like a mirror, as much of the above description could be applied to myself – and though I’m hoping the smell is a while away yet, it is quite hard to tell.

Smell or no smell, he’s an old mongrel, too, just like me. Unlike me, his name is Max.

It really was wishful thinking on my part to imagine Max in Australia. I should have had said goodbye to him a couple of years ago, but I’ve been selfish.

fave spot in the garden

fave spot in the garden

He’s my mate, you see, and I’ve been struggling to bring myself to let him go.

Up till now this selfishness has been easy. I’ve simply closed my eyes to his slow incremental deterioration – just like I’ve done to my own – whilst, every now and again, unconsciously upping both our meds.

Death, for Max, no less than myself, was always a far away place. A distant land.

Even lately the language has still had a distance to it – saying ‘goodbye’, ‘letting him go’ – but no more. That moment is no longer on or over the horizon. Those words are all in the past. Right now the carpet that my feet are resting on is a huge Juggernaut careering forward at the speed of time – and time is getting faster and faster and faster.

Now there’s a date. A specific date. A deadline.

I know what to do, I just need to take a deep breath. Man up, grow a pair, and pick up the phone – after all, he’s only a dog – just a pet.

After all, what does it take to pick up the phone and dial?

Why am I even thinking about this? Writing about this? I should be writing about the new baby? A new life? A new future?

Out with the old and in with the new – isn’t that what they say?

It’s ringing…

Stick it on the white-board, add it to the list –  lease this, sort them, sell those, store these, dump thatkill Max. There, I said it – written it down. It should be easier, now…

It’s just a finger poised above the ‘unsubscribe’ button, just a …

“Hello? … Hello? … (click)

I think I’ll wait till Jane comes home.

Rare Black & White Fox Found…

Posted: March 23, 2013 in Pets & Garden
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This rare black & white fox found at the bottom of our garden along with the faeries

Down on ‘Oligochae Farm’

Posted: March 22, 2013 in Pets & Garden

Two legs good… n
o legs better!

Hi folks, welcome to the first instalment of ‘The Diary of Oligochae Farm’. First of all, let us introduce ourselves; my name is Farmer Anvil and my partner is called Farmer Jane (formerly just Jane, the Farmers wife). Together we live in a city called ‘Newcastle upon Tyne’ which is located in the far north east of England (it’s quite near Europe?).

Like most sentient creatures living through the emergent reality of global warming, we try and keep our carbon footprint to a minimum. We only fly if we need to go anywhere; we have bought a recycling bin for our paper and plastic; another for our metal waste, tin-cans etc’. We turn off unnecessary lights for which we buy low voltage light-bulbs. We buy organic food; we buy organic food with less packaging; we buy numerous books on how to live at one with our immediate environment.

Last week we bought a water butt – the first in our street!

We only fly if we need to go anywhere

In short, we have discovered a way to ‘buy’ our way to a better, more sustainable existence. And, guess what? The more we buy, the better we feel. It’s a sort of Ying and Yang’ thing for the larger western economies: participate in retail therapy whilst at the same time saving the world. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

Of course, coming from the West, we have more than just ‘dry’ waste, we have ‘wet’ waste too. And it was this ‘wet’ waste that was problematic for us. What to do with all that kitchen exuberance, all that excess food?

An element of this ‘wet waste’ was, and still is, recycled through our dogs but the end product – known in polite circles in the U.K. as ‘Dog Shit’ – produces human pathogens which can, I’ve been told, blind young children. That said, I’ve yet to meet a young child blinded by dog shit, or indeed anyone who has ever met or known anyone who has ever met or known a young child that has been blinded by dog shit? In fact, come to think of it, when did you last hear someone say: ‘Aw, look, there goes poor blind Julie with her Seeing-Eye Dog. Blinded by dog shit at a very early age. How ironic she now has to get on all fours to sniff out and pick up the very product that blinded her in the first place or suffer a fine not exceeding 500 pounds sterling?’ Never, I’ll wager.

Mind, there was the kid at the end of our street – a promising Tennis player, and God knows, we need them here in Jolly Old England – she slipped on dog shit and shattered her heart, her future, and her elbow.

Wet waste 

Anyway, Research time! We decided to Google the phrase ‘Wet Waste’ and after managing to close all of the porn-site windows we were left with the Compost Section of our local DIY chain store. I felt great purchasing my very first Compost Bin.

“Look, Jane… Me, Man! Me, Man the Hunter… Me, Man the Hunter bringing home the bacon… Me, Man the Hunter bringing home the bacon and the Compost Bin!”

An unending revolution of compost

I felt less great when I returned it to complain about the lack of a base, only to be told by somebody who doesn’t even have a fucking PhD that they sit directly on top of the soil where the worms and insects rise up like the Russian proletariat to destroy the Monarchical organic waste in an unending Revolution of Compost. In short; they “don’t have a base” and, apparently, “every fucking numskull with half a brain cell knows that!” Jane has a PhD. I have an Audi A3. Together we have a concrete yard. Hmmm.

I punched him. Not hard…

Frankly I was down, forlorn, a beaten man. I mentioned my predicament whilst drowning my sorrows in my local pub. An old weather faced man leaned over from his seat and laid a gentle liver-spotted hand on my shoulder: “See you…” he said. I said “Yeah?” He said “See you…” I said “Yeah?” He said “See you…” I punched him. Not hard. The ambulance driver said “What people like you need isn’t a compost bin. What people like you need is a Worm Farm…” wormfarmHallelujah and finger the sweet baby Jesus! It arrived this morning whilst we where having sex. I wasn’t too perturbed. There has been an air of excitement in the house since we ordered it. And to be honest, I’ve been a little bit sore of late?

To describe it to a worm would be like describing Shangri-La – if indeed Shangri-La was about the size of a large black plastic dustbin comprising four equal layers, one on top of the other. Kitchen waste is put into the top layer, then eaten by worms who produce ‘casts’ known as technically as ‘worm shit’ which end up in the bottom layer as compost. The bottom layer is then removed, the compost used on the garden or in plant pots and the now empty layer filled with more ‘wet waste’ and returned to the top in a never-ending cycle of recyclement. Worm urine, known as ‘worm urine’ is drained off via a tap in the base of the bottom layer and then diluted and fed to plants as plant ’food’. A veritable ‘Compost Factory’.

A never-ending cycle of recyclement 

The Worms, about a thousand of them, come through the post in a bag where they get to know one another. They normally guarantee next-day-delivery but ours took nearly a week to arrive as we ordered them on Friday and the suppliers refused to post them over the weekend. That’s cool. I like my weekends off so why shouldn’t the worms? After a couple of months the worm collective will have doubled their numbers to about six thousand and this optimum number will then munch their way through the weekly kitchen waste of approximately five European adults, one American teenager, or one medium sized Sudanese Refugee Camp. Of course the leaflet says that this will only happen if the worms are happy and fed correctly. There are, it would appear, some ‘Do’s and Don’t’s’ in the art of WormCraft; DO feed them Cooked Food Scraps, Shredded Paper or Cardboard, Tea Bags & Coffee Grounds, Vegetable Peelings, Bread, Rice, Pasta, Wool & Cotton and, last but not least, Dried and Crushed Eggshells.

DO NOT WHATEVER YOU DO feed them; Plant Seeds, (they are alive and worms eat only dead things) Diseased Plant Material (may upset the worms), Citrus Fruits (too acidic), Glossy Printed Paper (too many additives), Grass Clippings and Leaves (they’ll heat up and cook the worms), and, believe me it says this in the leaflet: Glass, Plastic, and Metal – Oops! Always read the label first, yeah?


Oh, I nearly forgot… they hate onions and feeding it to them will stop them breeding. Onion breath has the same effect on me, too.

Assembly was simple; fit the legs and the tap, place the worms on the coconut fibre bedding (feels a little like peat) and wait for an hour for the worms to burrow in and make themselves at home. Place kitchen scraps on top of bedding, cover with natural fibre mat (supplied), close the lid and place in yard… voila! We are now the proud owners of our very own Worm Farm, our wet waste problem is solved and we are at peace with the planet.

We initially called them ‘The Borg’ 

We’ve personalized ours by giving it a name: ‘Oligochae Farm’ – it’s a clever word which means ‘Worm’ and sounds Scottish if said in a Scottish accent.

The worms themselves are too numerous to name individually so we initially called them ‘The Borg’ (not that any of them look like Seven of Nine) but this seemed a little impersonal so eventually after hours of very little thought we settled on the collective name: Sandra. Our neighbours think we are mad but that hasn’t stopped a few creeping into our back yard to have a sly peek at Sandra and, of course, allowing me to bellow; ‘Oi, you! Get orf moy laaand!’

Now, I wonder how much a wind turbine costs?

Anvil Springstien.

5 Worm Facts:

Worms are Hermaphrodites.

Worms can live up to 15 years.

Worms have five hearts.

Worms can make simple decisions.

Worms have sex lasting hours.

Google: Worm Farms. Can-O-Worms.

Wikipedia: Oligochae. Earth Worms.


After the death of one of our dogs through bowel cancer, we decided to get another ‘rescue dog’ from the pound. This, surprisingly, proved more difficult than a gay couple trying to make headway in a Vatican adoption agency.

Forms, money, home visits, credit checks, DNA tests, you name it.

One of the many ‘hoops’ we had to jump through involved writing a report describing our new dog – and how she had settled in. Below is our offering to the pound, rediscovered yesterday in an old folder. Needless to say ‘Molly’ is now the most loved member of our family.

If you’re British you’ll understand that it should be read in a ‘Geordie’ accent.

The Secret Diary of Molly MacCollie, Aged 21 months.

Thursday 4th February.

It’s Day One in the Molly MacCollie House and Anvil and Jane have been given the task of placing the remaining ornaments out of reach. After mistaking the kitchen for a toilet Molly MacCollie, aged twenty one months, is so happy with her new surrounding she simply can’t stop barking. Molly remains happy through the evening and continues to be happy throughout the night. There appears a strange synchronicity between Molly’s happiness and the wailing of the neighbour’s new baby.

Friday 5th February.

Day Two and ‘Max’ (Molly’s new older brother) decides to assess Molly following a heelnipping incident and concludes that a ‘status-re-adjustment’ is necessary. Clearing the blood from Molly’s face reveals a hole in her lip which Anvil & Jane believe will heal nicely. Molly attempts to communicate her displeasure at said status-re-adjustment by evacuating her bowels on Anvil & Jane’s bed. Molly sleeps in hall (Jane points out that perhaps ‘sleep’ is an incorrect choice of word?).

Saturday 6th February.

Day Three see’s Molly introduced to Jane’s Father who is a kind, gentle old man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Molly disagrees vehemently with this description and thinks he may have been a mass-murderer and a possible war-criminal in a previous life. Molly apparently holds this view with regards to any male, children (of both sexes) and, surprisingly, bicycles and buggies. Later, Molly enjoys a trip to the Coast and is awarded a Gold-Star for her behaviour in the car. Molly discovers the sea. Molly discovers she doesn’t like the sea. Molly discovers a man with two dogs. Molly discovers she doesn’t like the man with two dogs. Molly loses Gold-Star for her behaviour towards the man with two dogs.

Sunday 7th February.

Day Four and it’s Molly’s first day at school and, apart from the Attention Deficit Disorder and the repeated attacks on male builders passing the classroom door, Molly finds she is not the worse dog in the class. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, sends a message of support. Molly celebrates by vomiting on the living room carpet. Molly, who has just been FrontLined and can’t be washed for two days, now smells of vomit. Molly sleeps through the night for the first time. So does the neighbours baby.

Molly’s School Report:

Molly is an affectionate dog and, after a few initial problems – fouling & barking – has fitted in quite well. She has boundless energy, learns quickly, and will play endlessly – even after long walks. She will sit, give her paw, and lie down on command and her behaviour on the lead is coming on in leaps and bounds. Whilst the leaping and bounding can be problematic she is nevertheless excellent at the kerb where she will sit patiently until told to cross. Molly is exceptionally well behaved when meeting other dogs. Molly loves soft-toys.

Most of Molly’s problems are those associated with any Rescue Dog and should be easily solved with a bit of patience. However, there are a number of issues of a more serious nature: she is incredibly aggressive with men (and children of both sexes) and will attack/threaten to attack regardless of eye-contact; She is very skittish when surprised by sudden movement or noise (motorbikes, JCB’s, schoolchildren); she is not motivated by food or treats and consequently other learning strategies need to be constantly thought through and employed.

The above issues are exceptionally problematic with Molly as she is a dog that desperately needs to be exercised ‘off the lead’.

She is, though, very keen to please, and if these problems can be overcome will make a great addition to any family.

To this end we are currently trying to introduce her to as many men as we can (obviously keeping her well away from children – and our neighbours’ new baby!) and will persevere with Molly until we are persuaded of the impossibility of change.

To end on a positive note: Molly MacCollie, aged 21 months,  is very cute and, all negative things aside – including the family heirlooms that are now in the bin – we haven’t laughed so much in years.

Anvil & Jane.

Newcastle upon Tyne.

Catch the Pigeon?

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Pets & Garden

Myself and my partner, Jane (and our two wonderful dogs, Molly the Collie and Mongrel Max) have recently moved from a Victorian mid-terraced house – with a yard – situated on the edge of a city centre in the North of England, to a 1930’s semi with a long woodland garden that terraces down to a wooded river-valley or Dene. It is still within walking distance of the city centre, but could easily be a million miles away.

It’s beautiful.

Forged by glacial melt, The Dene, as it’s known locally, was once the private garden of Victorian entrepreneur, industrialist, inventor and arms-dealer, Lord Armstrong.

Fortunately – for the locals at any rate – he gifted the valley to the City in 1883.

We love living here. We have an office in the upstairs rear of the house overlooking the valley and every day brings its own ‘Attenborough Moment’- the best of which have involved wild honey bees swarming, garden clearings supervised by a Tawny Owl, and Molly’s Darwinian discovery of a totally new species of amphibian called Frogs.

However, last autumn’s Attenborough Moment really took the biscuit: I’d watched a 45/60 minute battle in the sky above the garden:

Much earlier that morning I’d glimpsed what I thought was the Tawny Owl at the bottom of the garden: a flash of broad brown tail feathers barred with darker spots. I was soon to learn it was one of a pair of large (female?) Sparrowhawks.

They must have been roosting, waiting for better light maybe, or possibly more activity from the smaller birds? They hunt Songbirds and, apparently, according to the RSPB, have been known to take Collared Doves on the wing.

From the office window, I saw them both take to the air around 11.30am, followed by lots of noise from the Tit population. They circled at about half the height again of our neighbours rather grand Copper Beech (approx’ 35m). Almost instantly the two Hawks were buzzed by a rather fat Wood Pigeon. One of the Hawks peeled off and chased the Wood Pigeon down through the tree canopy at high speed leaving the remaining circling Hawk, would you believe it, to be attacked by the two resident Rooks. All the while, from the Tits, a constant screaming, dancing, cacophony.

The Rooks, amazingly, took it in turn to flail at the circling Hawk, then stall and drop, not allowing it to sustain any meaningful aggression to either. It was then that I noticed the Copper Beech was starting to accumulate some very agitated Magpies. First one, then two, then three… all of them screeching madly.

Looking up as the second Hawk returned, the Rooks dropped off, and then, out of the blue, the Pigeon! Alive! Hurrah! Again it took one of the Hawks into the tree line, and again the Rooks returned to agitate the other!

The noise seemed to get louder, larger, and my attention was drawn back to the Copper Beech where gold, bronze, and green were being replaced at quite an amazing rate with the startling white and iridescent blue/black uniform of these screaming, crazed, Geordie birds. The stronger branches, already taken, forced newcomers to grasp onto far less substantial outlying twigs which, in the autumnal wind, gave the impression that the tree was waving Magpies!

Once their numbers had increased to about twelve, thirteen, fourteen or more, the Magpies, as one, took to the air, and the Rooks and the solitary fat Wood Pigeon immediately left the scene – their job, seemingly, complete.

What followed was simply stunning.

A cloud of Magpies surrounded the Hawks. Harrying them. Battering them with their wings. Every now and again a brave individual would attack a Hawk full on: claws and talons locked, Magpie and Hawk would fall, spinning, through the air, twisting and turning like ice skaters – but without the ice – Air Skaters! Then they’d separate – Magpie, wings held back, screaming vertically towards the earth followed inches away by a Hawk. The battle raged. On and on, through trees and gardens, out into the Dene, and back again. Every time the cloud dove into a garden I presumed a Magpie killed. It was hard to count the casualties, if any, as the action was so fast, but eventually the Hawks, visibly tired, flew off towards the north.

The Magpies returned to the Copper Beech and spent a good ten minutes crowing about their victory.

Atop the Beech a lone, rather fat, Wood Pigeon. I’d swear he looked proud.

We love living here! What a wonderful planet.

Anvil Springstien.

Google: Jesmond Dene. England.

WiKi: Lord Armstrong