Thursday, 28 January 2010

Suggestions please

This is a shameless plea for help from those of you out there who are either Nova Scotian or familiar with the area. The Loth clan will be making their annual pilgrimage to Canada in July this year. We are spending some time in Liverpool (I'll get you this time, Jess!), then a week on PEI. We finish up with a few days in our favourite B&B in the Annapolis Valley. Between PEI and Port Williams, we have a spare night to spend and no particular views on where to spend it.

So. Do any of you have any suggestions for a place to stay or something to do while we are en route? Any hidden gems to point us towards? Sneak up to Shediac for some lobster? Go and watch some birds in Sackville? Get tidal bored in Truro? What do you reckon? All suggestions gratefully received.

PS I know Ottowa isn't between PEI and Port Williams. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cat news - well, what were you expecting?

I have very strict instructions from Isabelle to post about the cats. And, as I have said before, I am very obedient and Isabelle is a teacher and therefore very authoritative, so here you go.

Bellus and Zyra have settled in amazingly well. They don't seem to mind being confined to the kitchen/utility room during the day, they eat like little furry pigs (Zyra still watches Bellus intently as she eats and then, just as he is about to finish his, she shoulders him out of the way and cleans his dish for him. Bellus has now got wise to this and he just walks around behind her and cleans her dish. She is evil, calculating and yet not so bright.) and they greet us with great enthusiasm when we come home or down the stairs in the morning.

They like to sleep in their tartan basket in the kitchen, cuddled up together. Like this

and also in other parts of the house, most notably the big old blanket box in our upstairs hall, which is known as the Humpty Box. Because most of the Humpties live on it. (Except the Humpty royal entourage which has moved and taken up residence on a former telephone table on our landing - you have to maintain a certain station in life, you know. I really must tell you about the Humpty genealogy one day.) They have even been known to join us in the living room of an evening.

What is noticeable in both of those photos is that Bellus is being pinned down by Zyra and is wearing his long-suffering sat-upon cat expression. He wears that quite a lot.

I took the catlets to the vet today to have them micro-chipped. The cat rescue shelter has a deal with a local vet whereby you get 50% off the cost of micro-chipping, and since we intend to let the kitties out into the garden soon, we decided to go ahead and get it done. And anyway, chipping totally means our cats are now cyborgs.

Both cats went reasonably happily into the carrier for the short car trip to the vet. During the journey I made the happy discovery that you can apparently hypnotise cats with windscreen wipers. The pair of them were rivetted by the wipers going back and forward - they looked like very intent spectators at a particularly mechanical tennis match. If I could have, I would have taken a video of them. But I assumed that if talking on a mobile phone while driving is an offence, then turning round and filming your cats staring at the windscreen wipers is probably frowned on too.

Next step is to actually introduce The Furry Ones to the back garden. I will report in due course.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Just checking

Okay, so reassure me, Internet. That Evian advert. It creeps everybody out, right? I'm not the only one who doesn't find it cute am I?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Sweet and Salty Read

You may recall that a wee while ago I had the great good fortune to win a contest on Kate's blog, as a result of which I received a signed copy of Kate's first book, The Dread Crew. (I feel like a bit of a charlatan about winning, as all I had to do was complete a meme about book stuff - you'd have had to use cattle prods to keep me away from that, frankly.)

Anyway, the book duly arrived and I fondled it in awe - it really is a beautiful book. I mean physically beautiful - it is beautifully bound and the illustrations are just fabulous. At the risk of sounding ancient, they really don't illustrate children's books like that anymore, and they should. It sat around in my house over Christmas and various people at various times picked it up, stroked it, flipped through its pages.

I planned to keep it in its pristine condition (I am notoriously poor at keeping books "nice". All my books end up with heavily creased spines as I read them one-handed in various situations, and with scratched and dented covers from being stuffed hurriedly into my handbag as I leave for work - have to have something to read on the bus.) I must confess, however, that I have failed. My pre-publication, author-signed copy is looking a little dented and scruffy. Once I had started reading it, I couldn't leave it behind so into the bag it went, beside the hairbrush and the heirloom collection of old bus tickets and Sainsbury's receipts.

The Dread Crew is a children's book, but like all the best children's books, that just means that adults can ostensibly buy it for someone else and read it themselves on the sly. I knew in advance that I would like at least some aspects of it, for Kate is a Nova Scotian and the story is set in the deep woods of the Maritimes, my favourite part of the world. And indeed, I was not disappointed in that. But the book as a whole was..........I find it hard to pinpoint the precise, correct word. Entrancing, I think is closest. I would not want to even try to describe the plot, involving as it does exceptionally smelly pirates, a fearsome wood ship, peacocks and goats locked in low-key warfare, an adventurous, talented and insightful grandpa and a Gooperator.

It's the kind of book that, as a child, I particularly loved: a clever and resourceful child (that would be me, of course) discovers that behind the facade of normal life, strange and wonderful things not only exist, but thrive, and are there for the discovering.

Whether or not you have already learned to appreciate Kate's wonderfully lyrical writing style from her blog, you will enjoy her book. The subject matter may be different (different from just about anything else you have ever read, probably!) but Kate's unique, startlingly original turns of phrase, her vividly quirky descriptions and most of all her sly, earthy humour are all there. With pirates. Pirates! How can you resist?

Thank you Kate. My now slightly battered and grubby copy will be treasured. Like fine junk!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Useful information

Did you know that the best cat toy in the world is a set of vertical blinds? (Yes, I have vertical blinds. Don't judge me. They came with the house. I kind of like them now. Am thinking of getting brown suede ones.)

Anyway, the cats love them. They get to indulge in one of their favourite hobbies of staring out the window (and, in Bellus' case, chirruping in frustration at his inability to get out there and chase stuff) and at the same time play fight something dangly and rattle-y.

Well done to XUP, by the way, for identifying the source of the catty names. 'Fess up, now: did you Google it?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Things are looking up

We were planning to have a very lazy, non-eventful Sunday. Pot of coffee, reading the papers online, playing a bit of Word Twist for intellectual stimulation. The boys, however, had other ideas. They had decided it was time to consider acquiring a successor to Schieffer, our late lamented cat and wanted to at least go and check out the local cat rescue shelter. Husband and I agreed and started to get ourselves ready to go out (though not nearly quickly enough for the boys' liking.) The two of them hopped from foot to foot, desparate to go and see some furry things. SB suggested we take our cat carrier with us, you know, just in case.....

I pointed out that:
  1. We were only going to get some information, check out the set-up at the shelter and so on. We were not going to get a cat.
  2. Even if we decided to go ahead, there was no guarantee they would have a cat to suit us, and
  3. Even if we decided to go ahead, and there was a cat to suit us, we would not be able to just take it away there and then. There would be procedures and checks and stuff to be gone through. No need for a cat carrier today. Definitely not. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)
We had a nice wander around the shelter, chatting to the volunteer on duty. She asked us a bit about our house, working routine and so on and then showed us some very lovely cats looking for a home. Then she walked us over to the pens containing pairs of cats looking to be re-homed together. Taking two cats might be a good idea, she suggested, as they would be company for each other during the time they were in the house alone. We nodded sagely and followed her into the pens, where we met lots of very nice cats, including Robbie and Fluffy. A quick family conference later and we found ourselves advising the nice lady that we wanted to adopt Robbie and Fluffy.

"Great!" she said. "Do you want to take them home now?" In the background, First Born and Second Born did a little victory jig. And thus it came to pass that we arrived home with two new members of the family. And here they are:

On top, that is the Artist Formerly Known as Fluffy. She is about 4 or 5 months old, boisterous as anything and I although I assume that she sleeps sometimes, I have no eyewitness evidence to back this up. Anything less suited to the name "Fluffy" I can't imagine. What you can't see from that photo is that on the right side of her face, she has a couple of little black splodges which look for all the world like someone has started drawing a Laughing Cavalier-style moustache and beard on her and then given up halfway through. Makes me giggle every time I look at it.

Below her is Robbie-as-was. (And half a bottle of Pimms. Please ignore that.) Male, about 8 months old and much quieter than his pal (which is not difficult). It is great fun having cats around again although, since Schieffer was so old, we had forgotten how curious cats are, how every gap is a challenge and every shelf and surface a vantage point to be conquered. And then used to ambush your co-feline.

We had to come up with names, of course and after some very detailed and lengthy discussions, we were in agreement. Robbie and Fluffy are now Bellus and Zyra. And if anyone out there can identify where we got those names from, well then you are precisely the sort of geeky individual that this family would like to have tea with. Call us.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

This is not funny. Seriously.

The Mechanical Malfunction Fairy continues with her nefarious practices. I don't know what I have done to cause such offence, but if anyone knows where one goes to make a sacrifice to pacify her, please let me know. (What, I wonder would you sacrifice to the Mechanical Malfunction Fairy? Stamp on a perfectly functioning watch, perhaps? Try making a gravel smoothie in your blender?)

Today, I had agreed with my Dad that I would drive down to the Lake District with him. My now ex-pat brother had agreed to sell him his car, the plan being that Little Brother would drive up in said car for their visit just after Christmas and Dad would then drive them all back down again in time for their flight to Oz. The snow put paid to that and the car has been languishing in a kind neighbour's drive just outside Cockermouth for the past couple of weeks. I agreed therefore to drive Dad down to pick it up. We decided to take my car as I felt happier driving on the motorway in my own car with which I was familiar and, more importantly, for which I have fully comprehensive insurance.

Everything went swimmingly until we hit a part of the M74 that was closed due to flooding (all that melting snow has to go somewhere) and we were diverted off. As we pulled off the motorway, we heard a sudden strange noise. Dad and I both immediately reached the same conclusion: we had a flat tyre. Fortunately we were about to pass a service area so we pulled in, both dreading having to go through the operation of remembering how to jack up the car and change the tyre and then actually jacking up the car and changing the tyre.

I pulled into a spot well away from the services building, to ensure we had plenty of space and we climbed out. To discover that all four tyres were fine. Two guys in a white van behind us called over and pointed out that there was something wrong at the front of my car. We looked. A bit had fallen off the front of my car. The panel underneath that protects all the engine gubbins from the elements had simply dropped to the ground and was being dragged along. (Damn you M.M.F!) Dad and I were slightly stunned. Not so our White Van Heroes (who turned out to be Polish). They both came over, crawled around on the muddy ground peering under my car and then one of them nipped back to the van, reappearing with a couple of heavy duty cable ties. He then dropped down and re-attached the panel with the cable ties.

I was gobsmacked, not only by my good fortune in picking that space in those services in which to park (Ha! Take that Mechanical Malfunction Fairy!) but by how unbelievably kind, helpful and well-equipped those guys were. They refused to take anything for their trouble, just saying cheerfully as they left "We are Polish, by the way - remember Polish people are cool!" Too right they are.

I know there is no chance they will read this, but to those two guys, thank you very much. I got safely to Cockermouth and back and with only about 10 minutes added to my journey. You are geniuses. Kind, obliging, mechanically inventive and well-equipped Polish geniuses.

Monday, 11 January 2010

I think I broke a mirror. With a black cat.

Well, what an exciting and fulfilling week or two we have had at Loth Towers. It has been fun and games non-stop, I tell you. It's as if every piece of equipment we own has been hanging on, giggling to itself, waiting until the most expensive time of year and then, at some pre-arranged signal, everything went........pfleh.

The toll so far is:
  • one of my old hi-fi speakers died a little - or at least one woofer did. A little investigation confirmed that it was too awkward to replace so we bought new speakers. No big deal.
  • Our old TV (cathode ray tube job, not flat screen) began giving us clear indications that it was in its death throes. Brightness adjusting itself at random intervals, whole set turning itself off and on for no apparent reason and with no human intervention. We sighed and ordered a new TV. A big, shiny flat screen one (can't have it being shown up by the new speakers now, can we?). It is very nice and we are very happy with it.
  • After New Year I tried to start up one of our cars. It wouldn't start. Flat battery - not surprising since we had allowed it to cower in our driveway, shivering and unused, for over a fortnight. After the purchase of a new toolkit (to get the old battery out after hours of trying) and the loan of a battery charger, the battery is declared dead. New battery duly purchased.
  • During the whole trying-to-recharge-dead-battery process, Husband phoned from work to say that our other car (which he had at work) was beeping loudly at him and claiming to have run out of brake fluid. Also, we discovered when we tried to take the boys to school that of the two back doors, one would not open at all and the other one would open but then not shut again. (I suppose this meant that, on average, our car was operating fine but it was a bit useless as an actual mode of transport.) One visit to the garage and a leak in the braking system was found and fixed and one of the two doors fixed. We are still waiting for the bill for that one.
  • The dishwasher has had a bit of a flaky and is now refusing to run unless we tape the door firmly shut with electrical tape. And the spring that holds the door has broken so you have to lower it carefully down by hand otherwise it bounces off the floor with a thwack. I suspect a new dishwasher is in the offing.
  • The DVD recorder took the huff and refused to release a DVD RAM, regardless of how much we begged. Husband had to dismantle the entire machine to get to the DVD drive and prise the disc from its jaws. This involved covering the living room floor with an array of yogurt pots, each containing different kinds of teeny tiny screws, carefully labelled, so that Husband would have an outside chance of being able to put it all back together again. (He did, for he is a unique mixture of handy and thrawn. Useful to have around.)
  • The bulb in the light in the microwave has died. I can live with this.
I am almost scared to turn anything else on, in case there is a loud bang and more cash disappears in a puff of smoke. Still, the new TV is spectacular.

PS On 3rd January, I noted with horror that Sainsbury's are already selling hot cross buns. Words fail me.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Oh look! It's a new year and stuff!

I don't know why I haven't posted in the last few days - goodness knows I have little excuse, having spent far more time than is healthy recently sitting on the couch, drinking tea and playing on the laptop. I blame Facebook. And all you pushers out there who encouraged me to get on there. My ever-expanding backside and neglected running shoes are looking at you accusingly. You know who you are.

Anyway, we have had lots and lots of snow here in Edinburgh which was kind of fun for a while and is now just tedious. The current batch is about four inches deep where I live, which is a lot to get in one go (stop sniggering Canada and northern USA). It is also no use for making snowmen as it is dry and powdery rather than obligingly clumpy. The boys and I did discover yesterday, however that it is EXCELLENT for throwing at each other in large, explosive shovel-fuls. It is apparently even better for shoving down your mother's neck and in her ears, but I can't confirm this as my mother is still snowed in in Livingston and probably wouldn't play that game with me anyway. FB and SB reckon it's a hoot, though.

After quite a long game of "Gang up on Mum and see if we can get the snow up her nose this time", we decided we had reached maximum saturation point and needed to get into dry clothes that did not go "crunch" when you bent over. The boys petitioned for the preparation of hot chocolate which is apparently the only substance known to man that will revive frozen offspring. We nipped over to the shop to buy more milk. And marshmallows, for I am a bit of a pushover.

The rest of the day was spent on said couch, reading, both online and in a proper book. This morning I was due to do a small errand and then meet Isabelle and K for coffee and erudite, learned discussions about literature and current affairs. This plan was interrupted briefly when I discovered that I had lost my purse.

I hunted everywhere and then recruited Husband to help me search everywhere again. (This even involved moving the big freezer that lives in our garage. You do not want to know what it looks like down the back of the big freezer that lives in our garage. I may not sleep tonight having seen it myself.) I knew I had my purse yesterday afternoon when I bought the marshmallows so it was either in the house or I had dropped it on the road outside. I was pretty sure I hadn't dropped it but concerted and increasingly frantic searching did not meet with any success. At Husband's suggestion, I telephoned our local police station (which is only a few hundred yards up the road from our house) to see if it had been handed in. It hadn't so I left my details.

I was now in that horrible position of having to decide whether to phone all the banks and credit card companies and DVLA etc to report the contents of my purse, otherwise known as "my life", lost presumed stolen. Eurgh. Before finally doing that, I decided to check the contents of the bin outside. I am not in the habit of throwing my purse in the bin, but by this point I was desparate. I donned disposable gloves and went outside. Where I discovered my purse lodged down the side of the recycling box in the garden. I must have dropped it as I came into the house. The sense of relief was almost overwhelming!

At Husband's suggestion, I phoned the police to let them know I had found it. As I dialled, he cackled: "They'll think you are one of those dippy middle aged wifies who keeps losing her stuff!"

I spoke to a nice lady who was very kind about my slight brainstorm. I told her what Husband had said. Her response? "He deserves a slap for that!"

I laughed. "You're the police - are you giving me permission to slap my husband?"

"Oh yeah," she said. "No weapons and not too hard, but definitely deserves a slap."

Husband is now on notice: I have police permission to administer a punitive slap. I am saving it for a rainy day.

Anyway, to cut what is becoming a very long story short, I made it for coffee with Isabelle and K (only 45 minutes late). Our learned discussion was had, Isabelle told me off (quite correctly) for not wearing enough layers, and K hypnotised me by knitting an actual sock in front of me. With 4 needles - I didn't know you could knit with more than 2! I am awestruck. And clearly losing the plot, if I believe the recycling bin is a suitable place to store my credit cards.

Oh, Happy New Year, by the way!