Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Most of you will know that the garden and the old fella’s allotment are wildlife havens although my Dad has had to install deterrents for the Herons arriving to lunch on his Koi carp. Anyone on either two or four legs is guaranteed a meal at Dyson Abbey, even the birds eat A La Carte on the rare occasions when any of my mother’s homemade baking is left to go stale.

So one unbearably humid evening last week as I was trying unsuccessfully to grab some sleep before my alarm clock woke me at 5am, I heard this rather loud snuffling sound coming from the garden directly below me. I thought it might be one of the cats being ill, as we live in the countryside and it’s not uncommon for cats to fall foul of rat poison that farmers have distributed to eliminate the growing vermin population.

I grabbed my trusty old Star Wars torch (another classic birthday gift from the old fella) I reluctantly left the comfort of my bed to pad downstairs and opening the patio doors I crept into the garden. I quickly scanned the garden with my light sabre to determine where the noise was coming from and whether I would be making a mercy dash to the local veterinary hospital.

I refrained from switching on the industrial security lighting which my Dad had installed mainly because it had enough power to light Wembley Stadium and I didn’t want any low-flying aircraft mistaking our lawn for a runway.

To my amazement there was a mother and baby hedgehog eating the remains of Hobo’s supper. To our intense frustration Hobo insists on dining al fresco during the summer months and I’m guessing with the lack of rain that we’d had the soil was probably rock hard preventing the little folk from foraging. My Dad is always pleased to see a Hedgehog who after all is a gardener’s friend and it may well have been that this adorable duo had been visiting our garden for some time completely undetected.

I was totally enchanted by these fascinating creatures and even more thrilled when I opened another small tin of cat food and the baby, obviously very hungry, boldly ran across the lawn to dine on salmon and vegetables. Mum who was three times the size, was a little more reticent and hung back until I made my way inside the house.

Since then I’ve noticed that they arrive regularly every night to dine at the four star Dyson Bistro and arrive in crocodile formation walking the same route up and down old railway sleepers and eventually onto the patio to partake in the evening’s menu. As our rescue bunch who as strays were accustomed to scavenging bins have developed champagne and caviar taste since coming to live with us, we always have a substantial amount of surplus cat food and can usually accommodate the most discerning palates.

The past few evenings the little folk have out foxed me by arriving at different times but the other night I noticed that there were four of them so clearly our reputation as a four star wildlife catering venue has reached the rest of the local hedgehog community. We’re not complaining though as there’s something very special about hedgehogs and its a privilege to be able to share our time on this earth amid such enchanting creatures.

The earth has music for those who listen – William Shakespeare

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Posted in animals, countryside, Devon, garden, gardener, gardening, hedgehog, nature, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Lest We Forget

My great-grandfather William Frederick Cawley or Freddy as he was known to his friends was born and raised in Ballina workhouse along with his nine siblings in County Mayo, Ireland. Doubtless the family had a tough life and at the grand age of seventeen wanting to escape the grim poverty to which he had become accustomed he stole a horse and rode it to Dublin and when captured was given the choice of joining the Queen’s army or passage to Australia as a settler. As the mortality rate on the ships was fairly high he chose what he thought was the lesser of the two evils by opting for the military life and enlisting in the Connaught Rangers.

William's Birth Certificate

William’s Birth Certificate in Gaelic & English

After basic training my great-grandfather along with the rest of his regiment who were also little more than boys, travelled from Ireland to Devonport where they sailed to Gallipoli, in Turkey to take part in the Battle of Çanakkale which would be a military campaign lasting eight long and fierce months, fighting boys not much older than themselves with huge casualties on both sides. The Turkish suffered an estimated 87,000 casualties, the British army 21,000 and the Anzacs 11421. Most of his comrades had never ventured further than their own villages and embraced this bold adventure singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary” throughout the voyage little knowing the hell that awaited them once they landed on Turkish soil.

Freddy was one of the “lucky” ones and when the young farm boy returned home he was a very different and irrevocably damaged man with a bad case of malaria which dogged him throughout his life and which he eventually succumbed to leaving a wife and eight children behind. In the years after the war he seldom spoke of his war years apart to recount the size of the Turkish bayonets. No doubt he along with many others was probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but it would be several decades before it would be widely diagnosed and treatments made readily available.

So last night when I extinguished the lights, lit a candle and joined the rest of the nation in remembering the fallen on the occasion of the centenary of World War 1 in the #lightsout event, my thoughts wandered to Freddy and the thousands like him who had also made their own sacrifice returning to their homes in some cases altered beyond recognition and leaving them struggling to pick up the broken pieces of their lives.

Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. We will never forget their sacrifices.

William Frederick Cawley -my Great Grandfather

William Frederick Cawley -my Great Grandfather

Posted in Army, Connaught Rangers, Ireland, Irish, Turkey, World War 1 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

It’s All About Me!

I was interviewed the other week by the good folks over at PAYAway. It’s a cracking website packed full of information for anybody thinking of moving or working abroad, in fact I wished I’d discovered it before I took the plunge. Anyhoo, here it is although most you will already know the story behind my move to the beautiful country of Turkey but for those that don’t, here it is in The Working Traveller.

Most of you will also know that my beloved old Dad had a stroke last year so I’m back home in Devon because for now that’s where I need to be but rest assured as soon as the old fella’s back on his feet, I will be dusting off those flip-flops and heading back to the golden sands of Altinkum. And for those of you that haven’t yet dipped your toes in the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Aegean off the glorious Turkish coast, you should go.

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Posted in Altinkum, Devon, Didim, Expat, Travel, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments

It’s Shop O’Clock Somewhere

I have a confession; I’m addicted to internet shopping. Every day is Xmas Day for me when I know that a parcel will be awaiting me on my return from work regardless of the contents. In recent weeks I’ve ordered tent pegs (to keep the Herons away from my Dad’s Koi carp), a stress ball (for the old fella thanks to a recommendation from a fellow blogger) and spot on flea treatment for the Hellfire Gang along with brave pills for me. Funds permitting (i.e. when I sell a lung or kidney), I do occasionally order Dermalogica and Molton Brown products which help to soothe away the stresses of working within a Game of Thrones environment (with only slightly less bloodshed and fewer northern accents).

Whilst most of the above are not truly very exciting the buzz I get when I know that there will be an unwrapped package sitting at home awaiting my attention. The anticipation of ripping off the wrapping to discover the contents of some recent purchase will have me singing and dancing all the way to the bus stop for the homeward journey. Just knowing that a parcel has been delivered by the local postie who without fail says “somebody loves you” before handing it over to the old folks, will automatically make it a sunshine day. An even bigger thrill is being able to surprise a loved one with some unique gift which I know will make them smile or help celebrate a special milestone.

Anyway can’t sit around here all day as a rechargeable facial brush and battery operated foot exfoliator won’t order themselves. So come on then, what small indulgence makes your day?

A Year's Salary!

A Year’s Salary!

Posted in Dermalogica, Game Of Thrones, humour, internet shopping, Molton Brown, parents, shopping | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Happiness Is Having A Scratch For Every Itch

One of the chores I detest most at this time of year is applying flea treatment to the cats. As we live in the heart of Devon’s glorious countryside, a monthly application is required and our cats detest it. Contrary to popular feline belief spot on flea treatments are not barbaric torture rituals although the SAS would envy the avoidance techniques applied by both Chloe & Hobo. Once the tin foil packets are unwrapped our beloved pets are MIA, so it was with a sinking heart and scars barely healed from the last application that I reluctantly agreed to help my Dad with the dreaded task in hand.

Mother at first was a little reticent about the assignment until she’d checked that the premiums had been paid on my Dad’s life assurance policy and that I’d had my tetanus booster jab. Once she’d established that we were both covered we were cleared for take-off and despatched with a cheery wave.

Armed with the tools of our trade, oversize bath towel, First Aid kit, gardening gauntlets, safety goggles (for us not the cats) and a large can of Red Bull (minus the vodka which would come later) to replenish my depleted energy reserves as this would be an epic capture and release mission, one which would require stealth, cunning and the quick fire reflexes of a cheetah. To encourage our elusive four-legged family into the garden where the covert operation was being carried out, we had decided to feed them their breakfast al fresco on the glass table top of my mother’s new and treasured patio set. An irresistible breakfast of lightly cooked fish had been lovingly prepared by Mum and the pungent aroma wafting around the garden would be sure to entice our little cuddle bunnies into the awaiting trap.

I should just mention at this point that in addition to our own two; “One speed Hobo” and “Chloe Hellcat” the menopausal nightmare, the foster “Miss Thumbs”;we also have a new addition of a rather large timid male tabby who’d obviously been living rough for a while and had taken shelter in our garden.

The New Lodger

The New Lodger

At first Dad had insisted that we didn’t feed him, as he’d probably go home when he became hungry, which lasted all of half a day before he inevitably caved in. After asking around we discovered that he had belonged to family renting a house further down the street who had moved out leaving no forwarding address and their family pet. So then there were four!

First up was Hobo who has never been able to resist an al fresco running buffet for cats; at least that’s what he thinks a barbecue is! As he jumped onto the table I had the towel ready and quickly secured him or so I thought. Hobo managed through sheer brute strength (he’s a big boy) and determination to out-manoeuvre me but I was up and running after him. At the privet hedge I headed him off at the pass and took him down WWE Smackdown style sitting astride him whilst waiting for my partner in crime to hand me the required medication. The low howls and growls emitted attracted the attention of many of our neighbours, who I’m sure were contemplating phoning the RSPCA to report us for animal cruelty. Dad who had been distracted by the World Cup commentary on the radio was a little slow off the mark and had forgotten to remove the cap from the little pipette which I had to do with my teeth. Regrettably whilst I was using one hand to restrain the struggling big fella I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of the solution and hoped that there were no adverse effects for humans as I didn’t want to be spending the following week marking my territory. I also made a mental note to gargle with vodka a little later just to be on the safe side.

Hobo shot off like the hounds of hell were in hot pursuit and sulked for a few hours after that before hunger pangs got the better of him and he returned for tea but made sure that we were all aware of his displeasure.

Miss Thumbs was a perfect little lady when it came to apply her flea treatment (although her table manners could use some work) and whilst a little miffed, the latest addition grudgingly allowed us to apply his medication before he slunk off to take refuge in the shrubbery where he spent the afternoon licking his wounds.

As expected Chloe Hellcat was something else altogether! Streaking into the garden like a high-speed train she leaped onto the table to be caught mid jump in my gauntlets; clearly I had a future with the England soccer team as a goalie.

Chloe Hellcat

Chloe Hellcat

As the littlest and lightest of all four cats one would expect her to be able to offer the least resistance but as a former feral cat she clearly wasn’t going down without a fight. With the disposition of a deadly Asian Hornet, she scratched and bit her way through my gauntlets and I wondered not for the first time why we didn’t have Gerbils instead of cats.

As her rear claws sank into my wrist and my blood seeped through the gauntlet I had no choice but to hold on for grim death and as she and I tussled and crashed to the ground I tripped over the leg of the table. As if in slow motion the glass table top shattered into what looked like a million pieces and I knew that the old dear wasn’t going to like that very much. My Dad had a more practical approach and headed off to the shed for a tube of superglue but I secretly thought there was not enough superglue in Devon for this particular job! Looked like he was going to be needing that life cover after all.

When the remnants of the patio table had been swept up and deposited in the dustbin and my war wounds bathed with antiseptic, he turned to me and said in all earnest “So when do you think we should worm them then”?

Final score Cats 1 Humans 3 and to borrow a phrase from the television commentators of the beautiful game “They think it’s all over, well it is now”!

The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire Club

Posted in animals, cats, countryside, Devon, family, foster, fostering, humour, pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

The Quiet Place

Each of us has a quiet place, somewhere where we go to write, reflect, create or just be alone. Of late I seem to have lost the key or forgotten the combination to the door of my secret place. Overlooked or misplaced either way I am struggling to find my way in where previously the door had somehow always been left ajar.

I envy my father in that way, that the second he plucks at a weed or picks up a shovel he becomes blissfully immersed and emotionally invested in his joyful occupation whilst the worries of the world just slip away. I seem to have lost my way to my own happy place and writing no longer beckons me or offers me solace in the way it has before. I envy those that find comfort in much-loved pastimes but I have always struggled to write if my soul is in disquiet.

Maybe all I really need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust but there again it might be that old familiar thief called time has stolen away my happy place when I wasn’t looking. What will help me find my way back? I’m not sure but when I find that magical road map, I’ll let you know.

So wherever you are today, I hope you find your quiet place and spend it doing just what makes you happy.

And then there were four!

And then there were four!

Posted in bloggers, blogging, garden, gardener, gardening, Peter Pan, writer's block, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

A Father Is A Man Who Has Photos In His Wallet Where His Money Used To Be

As most of you know my Dad’s stroke has presented us all with a few challenges over the past few months but despite losing the use of his right arm and subsequently his independence, he has borne this with a shedload of humour and good grace. We’re luckier than most but who knows what’s around the corner and we hope that he will eventually make a full recovery. So today on Father’s Day I want to say a silent prayer of thanks for my Dad and all the millions of great fathers out there who whose love and guidance have provided us all with a solid foundation that has enabled us to take on the world.

Dads, are mostly ordinary men turned into heroes, adventurers, storytellers & singer of songs – Pam Brown

Happy Fathers Day Old Fella

Happy Fathers Day Old Fella

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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Supermarket

Before the ink was dry on my holiday request form my Dad had already planned how I was going to spend my precious five vacation days. One of the most important errands he had lined up for me was finding him a new garden bench and as my Dad is a canny Yorkshireman I knew that this would not be a “one stop shop” event. Obviously I had other more relaxing plans, which involved a deck chair and several glasses of wine, earmarked for my leave other than spending it as a bench test technician.

As the supermarket run was the first item on the agenda, I was despatched by the old fella with strict instructions to fill the tank up with petrol on his old jalopy and to check the tyre pressure and oil en route. Feeling somewhat aggrieved, I called into the village garage and proceeded to get the tyre pressure check out-of-the-way as I finished a car pulled alongside me and a cheery senior citizen got out to enquire whether the machine was easy to use and if the beeping sound that indicated the tyres were filled, loud enough to hear. As the garage was situated on the main road into the city, I offered to assist the gentleman with the task in hand. Once completed he confided in me that he was ninety and had reached that grand old age by avoiding hard liquor and wild women; I felt duty bound to point out that he was currently in the company of one who was becoming wilder by the minute owing to my Dad’s ever increasing demands.

Once at the supermarket, as instructed I purchased the roll on gel weed killer that the old fella had requested in his war against the Snakeshead which grew in abundance within our garden; think he was a bit worried in case my mother was tempted to make some jam with the poisonous berries and put it in one of his sandwiches! As the checkout operator packed it with the rest of my shopping I asked if she would wrap it separately, not wanting to it to contaminate any food purchases, as I was too young to be orphaned and besides after the garden bench debacle and all the complaining I had done I would probably be the main suspect should either of my parents expire prematurely in suspicious circumstances.

On the return journey I called into a new Beauty Salon that I had noticed on the way home from work one night so thought I’d call in for a brochure as I felt that a little pampering would not go amiss. Once inside, the interior reminded me of the Turkish salons I had visited and I soon realised I was the only customer. An immaculate lady with a heavily middle eastern accent introduced herself to me as the owner, Hami. I booked an appointment for the following weekend for a facial. She placed her hand on my shoulder and remarked that I seemed stressed – no kidding! She guided me towards a chair and said as she wasn’t busy she’d give me a free Indian Head Massage which would help me sleep. We chatted as she efficiently massaged my aching head and when I asked how she came to be living in the UK, she confided in me that when she was a small child her family had fled Iran during the conflict in the middle of night when they were lucky to escape with their lives after their home was bombed and she and her siblings received horrendous chemical burns. The medical treatment they received was at best inadequate as is often the case in war-torn situations but her parents were determined to give their children a better life so they all escaped into Turkey where they spent a few weeks living rough. She recalled sleeping shivering on the ground during a thunderstorm when the rain and cold soaked their clothes.

Suddenly my increasing list of grievances seemed petty and trivial. I remembered my Grandma frequently saying to me “stop focusing on how stressed you are and instead remember how blessed you are” when I whined about some minor childhood injustice. Funny how it took a complete stranger to remind me how very lucky I am.

Needless to say I returned home remorseful and determined to be less impatient.

Arum maculatum aka Jack In The Pulpit, Snakeshead, Adder's Root, Devils & Angels

Arum maculatum aka Jack In The Pulpit, Snakeshead, Adder’s Root, Devils & Angels

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Just Relax & Accept The Crazy

Last week I caught the bus home from another weary day at work. I enjoy the ride as the countryside is a leafy green now with most of the trees in blossom and as we do live in a beautiful corner of the world, these are the things you miss as a car driver. I could almost smell the Queen Anne’s lace and wild garlic through the open window of the bus. On a clear day you can see right across the hills to the tors at Dartmoor; Hound of the Baskerville Country. As I sat gazing out of the window minding my own business, a huge giant of a man sat beside me. As the rest of the bus was fairly empty, I was not surprised that he chose to sit next to me, having been handed the Dyson mantle by my father which is an invisible magical cloak attracting all types of mythical creatures like a magnet or as my Grandma would say all “Jesus’ Little Sunbeams”. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had dropped to his knees at my side and in Game of Thrones style whispered “my lady”. Only last week I was serenaded by a homeless gent in the bus stop and waltzed around an allotment by an eccentric pensioner; oh wait, that was my Dad!

As people do, I pretended to carry on gazing out of the window whilst watching this fellow out of the corner of my eye. I would have been blind not to notice that he was holding a full, albeit one-sided, conversation with a rather large monkey hand puppet and at one point even appeared to share a can of soft drink with him. The man clearly enjoyed the attention that the puppet attracted and I’d like to think that there was no more sinister motive. For most of the journey he smiled and chatted away to his monkey and I was disappointed when he alighted before me.

Too often we are too busy or too troubled to appreciate the people who cross our paths if only for a fleeting moment. Make no mistake we live in an unsafe world with our defense mechanisms on high alert but wouldn’t it be a better place if we could occasionally allow ourselves the luxury of sharing an instant of laughter with a complete stranger for no reason other than to accept the smile given.

I do know one thing; our lives would be sadder, duller and a lot less colourful without these moments of mirth. So to all the little sunbeams out there I thank you from the bottom of my heart for adding a little sunshine on so many drab and gloomy days.

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Bon Voyage Jingle Bells

On Bank Holiday weekend Dad and I had made arrangements to spend a few hours tidying up the allotment; Dad as the Director of Operations and me as the general labourer. Now some of you may already know that my Dad’s allotment shed is the luxury hotel version and it has always been a bone of contention with us, that my Dad insists on leaving the shed key under one of the plant pots. Over the past few years a “gentleman of the road” and his Lurcher has had the odd overnight stay there during some of our harsh winters. Many years ago he was one of the migrant seasonal workers that helped out as a farm hand but still continues to roam the county eking out a living doing odd jobs for a meal or a few pounds. Both he and my Dad were born in an age when a handshake was as good as a signed contract and whilst I don’t think they’ve exchanged more than the odd word, they acknowledge each other with a nod of the head which is enough for the old fella. His guest is always long gone before any of the other gardeners arrive and everything is left as tidy as he found it. To be fair Dad has enjoyed playing host ensuring there’s plenty of gas for the stove, batteries in the radio and my mum had grudgingly allowed him to launder a couple of old blankets in her precious new washing machine. He’s left the odd flask of tea and packed lunch there and I also suspect his part-time tenant is one of the few that truly appreciate his homemade wine.

As we pitched up for a spot of weeding, it was apparent that someone was still in residence and my father fearing the worst asked me whether I’d brought my mobile phone with me but we needn’t have worried as it was a different guest altogether. My eccentric uncle Bill, or Jingle Bells as my nieces had called him when they were very young, was holding his own pyjama party. Apparently my long-suffering aunt had had enough and thrown him out. He’d clearly spent a few nights sleeping rough in the shed and as his biting sarcasm rubbed others the wrong way it was unlikely that many would be laying out the welcome mat for him, my mother included.

As is the Dyson way, tea was brewed before a conversation started in earnest and as my Dad poured it out into three mugs my uncle proudly revealed that he had sold his estate car without consultation and invested their savings in a beast of a motorbike which had left my aunt less than impressed. To be fair his children had long ago grown up and moved away so a family size car was no longer an essential but not to include his wife in the decision-making process was a big mistake and one that he was currently paying for.

I couldn’t help but notice as my vest-attired Uncle finished his shave in an old hand-mirror that he appeared to sporting a new and very sore looking tattoo proclaiming “King of the Rode”. When I pointed out the misspelling, my uncle, always quick to save a few quid, explained that he’d had it done cheap by a Romanian tattooist; clearly a wise move! He quickly remarked that he was going to have it amended to say rodeo at which point I enquired whether he would be trading in the motorbike for a mustang. I was also pretty sure that whilst this wasn’t my uncle’s first rodeo I suspected it would be his first and last tattoo.

“Well, she’s got another thing coming if she thinks I’ll go crawling back and now that I‘ll be able to entertain the honeys in my new love shack…”. As we surveyed the “love shack” which currently included a make shift wardrobe and a small television with set-top aerial hooked up to an old car battery, I pondered whether insanity was hereditary. In view of the fact that he had also been married for the past thirty years one wondered if there were many women out there who were equally as mad as a box of frogs and would be happy to be romanced a la allotment style.

“In fact, as I am so contented here” he said surveying his surroundings “that when I go don’t bother burying me, just nail up the door and torch it” as that had been my Dad’s backup plan, I knew that this situation would now be resolved with lightning speed. Before the sun had settled over the yard-arm that day, my Dad acting as a go-between had negotiated a temporary stay of execution and my uncle resumed residence at the family home.

I have since been reliably informed that a compromise has been reached and a customised camper van named Priscilla, has been purchased for a round Europe road trip a deux.

The open road is the school of doubt in which man learns faith in man
Pico Iyer

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