Posted in Personal life

Mineral water meltdown

Feeling a complete victim of supermarket manipulation, I submit to a 2-for-1 offer in Waitrose and pick up two multipacks of a kind of mineral water I’ve never seen on the shelves before. I’ve found some wacky ones there in the past, most memorably the environmentally friendly one that guaranteed the bottle would biodegrade in six weeks. (I meant to keep one for seven weeks, to see if it worked.) They must have to handle their deliveries in a very timely manner.

My latest purchase is quite the opposite in terms of environmental impact. I feel positively guilty sneaking it into my trolley, packing it deep down in a carrier bag at the checkout, so no-one will see. For it claims to be Norwegian glacial meltwater. A handy new byproduct of global warming, I wonder? The producer wins top marks for optimism, with its commendable “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” approach.

I wonder what it will taste like? Whatever the flavour, I’m half-expecting it to remain ice-cool even if I leave it in the car in the current heatwave, given its frozen origins.

Of course, I know that really it will be just the same temperature as a bottle of tropical Fiji water – another shockingly wasteful import. I was tempted to try that one, too, out of curiosity, but rejected it for its carbon footprint. Having read recently that it has become a major export for Fiji, I’m now torn between environmental outrage and the desire to support a developing nation’s industry.

But sadly, there is an even stronger argument for resisting it than environmental impact: it is reputedly the only beverage that Paris Hilton will give her pet dogs. Well, I suppose a bottle of water would fit neatly in her handbag alongside them.

On second thoughts, make mine a tapwater.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Garden Birds: The Perfect Pets

We are not doing well with pets in our household. The sudden death of Ginger the guinea pig halved our pet population two weeks ago.  The day before Christmas Eve, Grace had to be put to sleep.  She was the last of six cats that I’ve had in this house.

Actually I’ve had 7 cats here, if you count Fluffy.  This sweet-natured grey moved in one winter, a tangle of grubby fur with runny eyes.  He lived in the utility room while the resident cats got used to him.  We nursed him through cat flu, clipped and combed his matted coat, and had him neutered.  And then we discovered he belonged to a neighbour.

Needless to say, she wasn’t the ideal pet owner.  She had once given us two tabby and white kittens from her cat’s litter.  Then a few days later she bought  a ginger one.  Apparently she had rejected the others because they were the wrong colour.  I’d never come across apartheid in cats before.

She’d once had a cage of budgies and left them to fend for themselves while she went on holiday to Spain.  Budgies not being renowned for their self-sufficiency, there are no prizes for guessing how many of them were still alive to admire her souvenir straw donkey. (Now, that was an ideal pet for her.)

So, as you can see, my experiences have rather put me off the acquisition of further pets, despite my small daughter’s requests.  (Strange how often “a dog” appears on my shopping list when I’m not looking.) But during the recent  snow, it struck me that the answer was on my doorstep.  Literally.  Outside the back door there would gather every day a little assortment of garden birds.  Not many at first, in these  freezing conditions, but when I began to throw out a few daily scraps, they started to show a bit of loyalty.  They’d pop back to visit every day, bringing a friend or two or three. This started to become a habit.

As time went by, I added a few treats for variety.  A few brazils and walnuts (well, it was Christmas), some scraps of bacon, the fat from the drip tray of what my sister-in-law memorably referred to as a George Formby grill.  (For a split second I was impressed that the great banjo player could also cook.)  Soon I was starting to cut the crusts off my daughter’s toast a little wider, to give my friends the birds a bigger share.

During the Second World War, it was illegal to feed scraps to birds.  Only traitors wasted food – in the days of rations, the threat of starvation seemed far too close to home.  Anyone caught slipping the odd crust to birds would be prosecuted and fined.  But now I could see why they’d have taken the risk.  I’d have ended up hungry and broke.

Three additional great things about feeding garden birds.  Firstly, you get to feel really virtuous in return for practically no effort or expense. Secondly, within their species, for the most part, they all look alike.  So if five sparrows turn up one day, and five the next, you assume they are the same five come back to visit you, as loyal friends.  Really, you’ll never know the difference.  (We probably all look alike to them too.)  All five could have died, and you won’t need to mourn them.  And if they do all die, you are fairly safe that another five – or more – will quickly come along to take their place, free of charge. And third, you won’t find a puppy dog anywhere that will sing you a better song.

What better household pet can there be? Adopt the garden birds as your pets, and you’ll never find yourself in a pet shop trying to match your child’s dead blackbird’s markings with those of a live one.  There’ll be no small grave to dig if one bird bites the dust; no silk scarf to provide for its funeral.  No more cages to clean, no litter trays to empty, no dubious smells, no fur on the sofa.  And there’s more or less an endless supply of them.

Now all I have to do is think of an infinite number of names.
Posted in Writing

Red is the Colour

red colour scale
Image via Wikipedia

What is it about the winter that makes one want to turn out cupboards and tidy shelves?  In a frenzy of rationalization, I’ve spent the day reorganising my study, adding more and more items coloured the bright red of a certain fast-food outlet.

I know that red is an energising colour.  Surrounding yourself with it is meant to speed up all your activities, including the demolition of fast food in their case. I’m hoping it will have the same effect on my writing assignments.  (Or at least give me the energy to change out of my pyjamas on the right side of lunchtime.)

On my most recent trip to said fast-food outlet, made at the insistence of my small daughter, I discovered it now offers free Wi-Fi.  A smart executive type sat discreetly in one corner tapping away at her laptop, apparently undisturbed by the numerous small children noisily enjoying their tea and free toys – and the rather bigger children seeing how much they could swear before the manager would evict them.

This new development must surely increase the average dwell-time of the customer, against all the usual business principles of such places.  I suppose the one thing that can be guaranteed is that it must be a very high-speed broadband connection.   When our rural exchange hits one of its frequent slow patches, maybe I should head out for a burger.  Better slip some wet-wipes in my laptop bag – there’s only so much I want to oil the progress of my writing career.

This post was originally published in the February 2010 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Family, Personal life

A Good Excuse To Eat Maltesers

Every winter, the same discussion:

Me: “When I came home today, there were 6 lights left on around the house.  Why can’t you ever turn off a light? The electricity bill is quite high enough without wasting it.”

Him: “Don’t waste your time worrying about the lights.  Why do you keep leaving heaters on?”

Me: “To stop it getting cold.  To keep the house aired.  To prevent those black spots growing in cold corners.”

Him:  “If you want to keep the electricity bill down, turn off the heaters.  These low energy lights cost next to nothing to run.  It’s keeping the heaters on that costs the money.”

Me:”Yes, but if you leave enough lights on, that will cost a lot too.”

Him:  “Nowhere near as much as the heaters.”

And so on… These discussions in themselves must be energy saving, because we both feel quite heated by the end of them (though I have yet to find a way of making them generate light as well).

But it occurs to me later, (and far too late to count as a witty, argument-winning riposte), that if you follow his logic, you can create a convincing reason for not worrying about eating small chocolates.  Because it’s only the jumbo Toblerones that are going to make me fat.  The odd Malteser is as nothing – as are five, or six, or seven…

A delayed, but a worthwhile, victory.