26 February 2009


If anyone's got RN or MN experience, could they tell me what flag to run up the mast to indicate rampant dog sickness? I take a trip to London today only for it to emerge by late morning that I have inadvertently left A holding the vomiting baby in the shape of a very sickly/poopy Monty (who has never, ever been ill). Then within minutes of getting home tonight, Susie decides to get in on the act with a bit of reflux action of her own. I fear a restless night coming on. Ranger, on the other hand, has demolished about three dinners, is fighting fit and delighted that his mummy is home at last after a trip to the smoke. So delighted, in fact, that he decided to brand me by pushing me back on the stove - I guess I'm his property now.

Oh and a word on the trip. All that way for a lunch of bream (and I walked from Euston to Smithfield)...I expended more calories digging the flesh out of the bloody bones and peeing about with the skin than I actually consumed. Steak next time, methinks. And another thing while I'm at it...is it me or do Virgin trains make you queasy? Can't say that was the most pleasant return journey I've ever made. Or maybe I've got the dog bug and will shortly be jostling for position at the sick bucket?

Tune in next time, folks, to see who's still standing.

25 February 2009

Pennine plans

One of the things that I love about my hubby is that he’s a very trusting sort, quite happy to leave holiday planning to me and to only be informed - when it’s too late to change anything – exactly what I’ve got up my sleeve. In return, I try to be accommodating of his likes and dislikes while also catering for my own, of course. So for our first big holiday cruise of the year, penciled in for the beginning of June, I have been mindful of his preference for excellent scenery and the less busy waterways, and a definite predilection for the circular jaunt as opposed to the out and back. I have overlooked his fondness for lie-ins in favour of my desire for adventure and achievement so I’m just going to tell him that we’re doing a modest northern ring. I’ll omit the detail that we’re actually going to go up and over and around the Pennines via the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals and that he’ll have to put his back into about 7000 locks. Once we’re off, it’ll be too late!

23 February 2009

I don't like Monday

How I was feeling at about seven pm last night should give you sufficient indication of how our weekend went. As I sat slumped in the chair, it felt and indeed sounded as if the Royal Philharmonic had taken up residency in my stomach. Heaven, the sounds that were coming from my bloated tum! There was a certain musicality and rhythm to them but I could have done without to be honest. But then again, if I will stuff my face two days on the trot, what can I expect? A’s birthday lunch at the local Chinese did for me on Saturday and before I’d had chance to recover we were round at friends for roast pork, crackling and all the trimmings on Sunday. They were, it goes without saying, absolutely delish but I’m back on the straight and narrow today getting excited about celery. Mind, after the day I’ve had, I could do with a big comforting stew and half a fresh loaf ladled with butter to restore my equanimity.

I had everything planned out, you see. One project to start this morning, conference call at 11am, then a number of miscellaneous items interspersed with liberal coffee breaks to take me through to 5pm. Well, I was just ferreting around for some clean socks, ready to set the world on fire, when I sense that all is not well. I notice that Arthur has had a little accident, tell-tale dribbles on one of the dog blankets informing me that we really should have got up earlier. No problem, I’ll sponge it out and dry it in front of the fire. And then I realise belatedly that while my head was in the wardrobe, Arthur had actually climbed on the bed and done most of his widdly business on our duvet. And on our sheet. And on our mattress topper. There was no time to dwell on how strange this behaviour was (greyhounds very rarely soil their 'kennel' and the boat is merely a glorified floating dog-house) as it was all hands to the pump for a rapid bed-strip and an executive decision that we could do with a new duvet and topper, plus some extra fresh bed-linen. One conference call and emergency dash to Dunelm later, I’m back with a few bits and pieces (well, they just seemed to jump into my trolley) and I’m ready to remake the bed. I go to pick up the remaining, un-weed on dog blanket and discover that it is now a puked up on blanket instead. And in quite a major way too, so it immediately joins the old duvet and topper in the toxic waste bag. There are no further bedroom incidents other than me putting the duvet cover on, which is always a comical interlude

Now I don’t know whether this disruption to the bedroom was to blame or whether there’s just something in the air but the dogs have been a right royal pain in the arse all day. Growling, barking, pestering, snapping, most unusual for them and really, really tedious. Add in incontinence and barfing and they’ve been a real joy! No-one looked out of sorts so it wasn’t until dinner that I realised who the sick puppy was – Miffy was completely disinterested in her dish and she didn’t get a chance for a rethink as Monty decided that Monday night was double dinners night. However, judging from the grumbles and woofing coming from his direction, it’s obviously given him a touch of indigestion. Which is where we came in. Let’s hope a degree of quietude returns in the morn…

20 February 2009

Friday doodlings

Not much to report really as we’ve been hard at it, but we did sneak off on Wednesday night to a pub quiz with friends. We came second after a tie-break but sadly the runners’-up prize was a trio of naughtinesses – Jaffa Cakes, Chocolate Fingers and Orange Matchmakers, so I didn’t get to enjoy the spoils. However, tomorrow it’s the last of A’s extended birthday celebrations – a trip with more friends (yes, we have more than two) to our favourite Chinese in Nantwich, although we appear to have also received an invitation for Sunday lunch as well. Mmm, testing times for the old diet but I’m sure I’ll survive.

We’ll kick off the weekend the same way we always do when we’re static on the boat, and that’s an early decamp to the Nantwich Canal Centre cafĂ©. We used to tuck into the full English but for obvious reasons I, at least, am a little more restrained these days and will content myself with a couple of their excellent coffees – and yes, sanctimony is my middle name! We’ll see what A has. When we leave the car, he’s all ‘I’m not that hungry, maybe just a slice of toast.’ Which is odd because when he’s standing at the counter, it comes out as ‘All day breakfast please with beans and extra bacon’. We’ll then have a bit of a towpath jaunt before returning to unleash the hounds and then abandoning them again for lunch. Poor dogs, stupid mummy forgot to pack any dog food thinking we had plenty on board. Sadly not, so I’ve had to improvise – with disastrous effects! Whatever they put in Bakers, they might want to think again because I have never seen such elephantine stinky do-doos as my lot dropped this morning. Unable to easily put my hands on their usual food, I have instead done a mercy dash to Pets at Home today to get them something a little more wholesome and less likely to give them anal pyrotechnics on the morrow….

18 February 2009

Now there's a thing

Although I can't weigh myself until I get home in 10 days time, I'm fairly confident that I'm now approaching the 4 stone mark in terms of pounds lost (56 lbs in total). Today, because his lordship was doing something terribly important, I had to heft a 25kg bag of coal into the boat (55lbs in total). It was quite a shock to feel just how heavy that was...and to think that my bum's being wearing a sack of nutty slack all this time.

Grass not growing under feet

Right, I've planned my first GU walk for those who may like to come and assist, preferably by administering Costa intravenously or just by keeping me company. I'm going to kick off on Saturday 14th and do the Brentford to Uxbridge section and Susie's drawn the short straw and will accompany me. (Er, I love the way some of you think that all the dogs will be involved in this...well they will but not all at the same time. I mean, come on...I want to finish this walk next year, not when I'm about to collect my pension, and dragging the whole lot around would extend proceedings by about 20 years.)

I'm reliably informed that dogs are allowed on the Underground as I plan to park at Brentford and catch the tube back from Uxbridge to somewhere like Chiswick or Gunnersbury. Heaven knows how this is all going to go but Susie has had big city experience - she took a hoity-toity, look-at-me stroll down Baker Street once - so I'm pretty sure she won't be fazed...exhausted maybe, but fazed, no. I'm going to put all my greyhound rescue badges on my hat, wear my greyhound rescue sweatshirt, plus my greyhound rescue wristband and if anyone asks me what sort of dog Susie is, I'll swear blind that she's an anorexic labrador...

17 February 2009

Toe to tow

So the answer to the plan B poser? Well, Bobcat was pretty much on the money with walking all the canal towpaths – except I’m not quite that ambitious and would happily settle for completing the length of the Grand Union – at least to start with. Yes, there’d appear to be lots in favour of Brentford to Birmingham – two-fifths of it I’ve never boated on and it’s been a while since we did our last jollificating on GU waters. (Most of my memories are from a time when my knickers sported an Age 8-10 label…okay, I was sixteen but times were tough…). It’s practical from an accessibility point of view, with plenty of public transport to get me there and home again. Judging from Google Maps and Canal Planner, it also breaks down nicely into convenient 8-12 mile sections, a sensible pace for someone with a gammy leg and caffeine addiction (I can sniff out a coffee shop from a thousand paces so cue diversions…)

As lots of my weekends are taken up with other stuff, I’m not going to set unrealistic targets either. On the contrary, if I can get the Brentford – Braunston section done this year and then Braunston – Birmingham done next, I’d be pretty happy. And of course it may inspire other adventures – the BCN by bike maybe?

At this precise moment, snuggled down in front of the Squirrel (yep, we did a 3 coffee stop dash for the boat this morning), I’m actually quite content to do nothing whatsoever…although I am ogling the ring doughnut baker’s dozen that was on special at Sainsbugs this afternoon. The dogs are endeavouring to remove temptation though…they’ve thrown up a stockade around the galley and are using a lead to lasso the box…

16 February 2009

Plan B

Now I no sooner mention the words ‘walking’ and ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ and the old left peg starts bleating and moaning – the ache below my knee I’m translating as ‘you’re absolutely stark raving mad if you think you’re going to drag me any further than about 8 miles a day – if you’re lucky’. And having done some research and then slept on it, and then seen the comments from my kind readers, I thought that actually, no, maybe I don’t have to ‘achieve’ something like that – maybe there’s something else, and yes, a plan is already hatching.

The problem with Hadrian’s Wall isn’t that it’s nastily hilly in some places (I am genetically incompatible with inclines), or that it’s not dog-friendly, or even that it’s so crowded you have to take your ticket from a deli counter ticket dispenser to get on in the first place (yes, I made that up but you get my drift), no, the problem is that, deep down, I just don’t think it’s me.

The Greeks had a little phrase – Know thyself – and after four decades I’m finally getting the hang of it. And knowing me as I do, I don’t honestly think I’d enjoy day after day of walking on my own, and I’m really not confident I’d cope physically. Another thing, as wonderful as the landscape is, I’m still not sure it’s enough, as for something that amounts to a personal challenge, I really feel I need another dimension, an extra ingredient that gives me a bit more purpose, that inspires and drives me on, that, in essence, taps into an existing passion – and then it came to me.

This is something that I can do in stages, over months or even years, it’s dog-friendly and A can join me on it when he fancies, it’s something that, critically, takes me way beyond a walk for the sake of it. And it still measures up to ‘achievement’ status…well, in my book in does. So, what is it? Answers on a postcard…

15 February 2009

Walking the talk?

We were going up to the boat today but we've just deferred that until mid-week as A needs to be close to one his servers - he thinks he's fixed it but he can't be sure until everyone has come in on Monday and given it a good hammering. We would have all had the pip if we'd gone up only to have to trail back again...Besides, it's given us some recovery time from A's birthday celebrations. He's got another year on the clock and thankfully is sounding better than his car which has got some sort of death rattle thing going on...so embarrassing when he drops me at the station...We had an enjoyable night at Romford dogs where my bets got more and more outlandish and my capital got more and more diminished. There was compensation in the form of very tasty lamb fillets in red wine with herb mash, followed by a toffee crunch gateau that caused me to put on seven pounds just by looking at it. One mouthful and I could feel my arteries hardening and much as I wanted to demolish the whole lot, the iron-willed dieter in me passed it to A - well, it was his birthday and his syrup sponge wasn't that big...honestly. However, I did steal the piece of Dime bar off the top before transferring ownership...blimey, how good was that? And there I was thinking I'd ditched the sweet tooth...

Yesterday I had the mad idea of walking coast to coast along Hadrian's Wall, taking one dog in turn to keep me company every day while A drives the motorhome cum support vehicle. I did wonder whether I'd taken Arthur's pills by accident - why else this flight of fancy - but thinking about it some more, it would be a great achievement. I look back at my life and worry that I've not actually 'done' anything, well not anything noteworthy, like swimming the channel or climbing a mountain. So does that mean I'm not sufficiently dedicated? Mmm, I think the truth may be something even more unpalatable - I'm too bloody lazy! Well, it's never too late to change so watch this space. If Bruce of Sanity can go for a new boat, I can go for a new lifestyle. Follow my adventures at insanebinthaslosttheplot.blogspot.com

P.S. Apologies to dundustin - you left a comment and my stupid computer that's got a mind of its own rejected it, rather than published it. Thanks for taking the trouble and glad it raised a smile!

11 February 2009

Ramblings of a food-deprived woman

Now this is one of those posts that's going to burble on about nothing in particular so you have been warned...

First of all, I'd like to add my support to the excellent notion that the best form of exercise is that which you can incorporate into your normal everyday life. As one who eschews gyms (except for one sustained period a while back when I was recovering from a broken leg. It was fine for a while but all ended in tears when I kept persisting in lifting heavy weights above my head while listening to Peter Kay and Eddie Izzard on my iPod. Trust me, you can not laugh and lift at the same time...), I've been looking at alternative forms of activity to help me get in shape. Something that doesn't rank as a commitment, but can be worked into a routine...

Our recent embracing of geocaching has reminded me that I do have a pair of functioning legs and now that I'm relieved of half a hundredweight of nutty slack around my midriff, walking is very much more pleasureable that it was. So why not do it wherever possible? Obviously I'm already dog-walking every day and we have some decent cache-based walks at weekends but what about in the week? One idea - How about forgoing the tube/bus and walking everywhere in London whenever I have meetings in town? After my taster last week - Liverpool Street to Islington and back, I upped the stakes a bit yesterday with a round trip of Liverpool Street to Monument, Monument to Oxford Circus, and Oxford Circus back to Liverpool Street, a reasonable 7.5 miles. It was perfectly comfortable, much more pleasant that the underground, all I needed to do was allow a bit more time to get there and remember my trainers - and there was the added bonus of being able to pop into Costa for a pit-stop. At this rate I'll be able to keep up with Caxton Lesley...

Now apparently, if we don't get a grip of ourselves, the whole of the nation will be obese in fifty years time and the island will start to sink...well, no, I added that last bit in, but the rabidity of the anti-fat lobby is such that they'd probably claim anything. Now I don't doubt that there are a lot of chubsters out there (hey, I'm one of them temporarily masqerading as Mrs Average) but to be honest, I'd be more worried by what I saw at the school bus stop this morning. I was struck very forcibly by this group of waiting teens, most in the 13-16 age bracket, for the very simple reason that they all looked chronically undernourished. Mid teens is when you should be starting to develop some shape and stature but the boys were all streaks of piss and the girls, with their bowing matchstick legs and tiny torsos, looked virtually anorexic. That can't be healthy can it? There's got to be a happy medium between worryingly fat and dangerously thin - what is going on in the world? I wanted to rush up and tell them to get a decent meal inside them - I mean, my dogs have got larger waists than most of those on show!

Talking of dogs, some sad news yesterday. We are in touch with the owners of Arthur's brother, William, and they have just been told that William has an inoperable brain tumour. They can't be sure but he's probably got between 6 weeks and 6 months left and Colin, his dad, is understandably devastated. He's ruled out radiotherapy because it's a horrible treatment and is focusing now on giving William the best possible time he can in his final days. It brought home to us that every day is precious with our family, friends and pooches as you're never quite sure what life's going to throw at you. The only thing I find problematic with the 'carpe diem' philosophy is that it tempts me to go and 'carpe half a dozen doughnuts'. Hey ho.

08 February 2009


Well we’re so pleased we braved the slush because that was a top weekend getaway. Obviously as every sane person had stayed at home, we more or less had the campsite to ourselves, which lent a certain tranquility to the whole proceedings. Having been bolstered by my steamed broccoli (with a pork and apple steak on the side, I should add), the next morning I duly roused the kraken and left him getting the van into day mode while I trundled around the adjacent forest with the dogs. Now have you seen a maypole after 20 maidens have done their stuff? That was my legs after two minutes amidst all the woodland smells and snuffles. I was trussed up good and proper and every time I untangled myself from my leather lead bindings, the boys wanted to get frisky in the ferns again…and so it went on, with me more rotating than walking along the paths, with the occasional tottering hiatus for poop picking.

We’d already decided that we would head off with Susie and Monty for a spot of geo-caching, encouraged by the glorious chilled sunshine and excellent conditions underfoot. So I deposited three dogs in the van, collected A, picked up about six different devices and gizmos for the GPS/mapping side of things (don’t ask why so many, we’re not like normal people) and off we marched to find Pingo-it. There are two things that I absolutely love about geocaching – it gives a walk purpose and a sense of anticipation, and it also takes you to parts of the countryside you might never otherwise see. Saturday’s jaunt was a case in point. We ended up walking along the Crab and Winkle Line that once ran from Thetford to Swaffham – long disused but unmistakably an old branch railway that fascinatingly dived across acres of primeval landscape, pockmarked with pingos – small ponds leftover from the depredations of the Ice Age. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen anything like it before and I’m glad it was bright and sunny otherwise it would have been verging on the sinister, with its eerie silence and heavy stillness. If you’ve seen ‘Deliverance’ with Burt Reynolds, you’ll know where I’m coming from… The dogs didn’t seem to mind though, with Monty weeing up the surrounding flora with gay abandon and Susie getting excited at the occasional muntjack bobbing and weaving in the trees, shaking its tush in that ‘come and get me if you’re hard enough’ sort of way. Susie is hard enough which is why I kept her on her lead.

Success was ours at the end of the trek, with A having a good old ferret up a tree for the cache and bringing out his booty triumphantly. We signed the book, swapped geocoins and then turned for home and an urgent date with the coffee machine and a comfy chair. The trip back was notable only for Monty barking at some Highland cattle (rather him than me – did he see the size of their horns?) and the rest of the afternoon was spent tutting at the papers and listening to Five Live.

The Sony Reader came out in the evening and I really am very impressed with it, mainly because I can hold it and turn the page with one hand, leaving my other hand free to drink – very important. Dinner, a stupid film, more reading, made up the rest of the day, so all in all a very relaxing, hassle-free Saturday – and Thetford really is a perfect location for these veg out mini-trips. It’s an attractive, well-laid out site, with friendly managers, modern amenities and loads and loads of forest walks on your doorstep – no need to move the van once you’ve parked up, which is just the way we like it. And in winter it’s a godsend because the ground is always so firm – a refreshing change from all the mud we’ve had to trudge through lately.

Another good thing, judging from this trip, is that the dogs have finally understood that at night, it’s dogs on bed by request only. Now I’m happy for Susie and Ranger to sleep with me and they seem to have sussed that they’re allowed, while the others also seem to have twigged that they’d be better off staying the other side of the curtain - if they don’t want to get short shrift and a slipper up their bum. The only trouble is that while Susie tends to go straight through to her sleeping quarters/my bed, Ranger drags a little and will often come in (barge through curtain) a little, and sometimes a lot, later. Of course, to get to his desired sleeping position (usually stretched out behind me with his paws in my back – nice), he has to leap on the bed first. Now this led to a bit of a contretemps on Friday night, so I’ve explained to him the one rule of the house: even though it’s dark, even though he can’t see over the bed, even though she’s half-hiding under a duvet, he really mustn’t use Susie as a trampoline. Not if he wants to see ten.

06 February 2009

In the forest

Well we weren't going to let a little snow (actually, a lot of wet, if truth be told) stop our fun so we fired up the behemoth this morning and pootled through the slush to Thetford Forest. On arrival we did the usual - hand-brake turned the van onto the pitch, plugged in and got the coffee on. Feeling suitably refreshed, I then took the dogs out for an amble around the woods, finding them beautifully mellow and muted with just the sound of water droplets plopping onto the undergrowth to disturb the calm. On my way back, I met our camping neighbour out with his three Belgian shepherds and despite their friskiness and vocal harmonies, my lot were remarkably restrained. That may have had something to do with the treats I was distracting them with though...I've worked a lot recently on drawing their attention away from other dogs and onto what's coming out of mummy's pockets so that we don't have the usual fusillade of growls and barks from madame Susie and whoever else wants to pitch in. The one downside to this is that there's invariably a needle nose ferreting round my trousers for most of the day...

Because the ground drains so well around here, we should have the opportunity tomorrow to get some good walking/geocaching in - I define' good' as the avoidance of two tons of mud collecting around the bottom of your boots and your dogs' legs remaining the same colour as their bodies. There are two caches within walking distance of the site and I have a geocoin to drop off, so no excuses really - unless it's cold and miserable and wet in which case I may just walk from my bed to the kettle and back.

Before I go, I must share one of those 'differences between men and women' things. Ask a woman the calories in a large pack of Waitrose creamy mash and she'll most likely pull a face before reeling off a figure in the mid-hundreds. Correct. Ask my beloved, as I did just now, and he'll say, 'Fifty'. So wrong but god, how I wish he was right. 

P.S. I think the food situation is getting rather desperate. I'm now counting the minutes till I can tuck into some steamed broccoli...for heaven's sake, the only words that should come after 'steamed' are sponge and pudding. I could be close to breaking....

04 February 2009

Teeny trip

We've been static for a fortnight so cue another gallivant. Just a small one this time, to Thetford Forest in the van for the weekend. Hopefully the weather will allow us to get some walking and geocaching in and if it doesn't, I've got my new toy to play with. Encouraged by 'Sanity' Bruce and Sheila's positive experiences of the Sony eReader, I've treated myself to one as part of my on-going streamlining process (having fewer bits and pieces about me although the greatest streamlining effect is currently on my bank balance). I've been surfing the US ebook malls for cheap potboilers and have loaded up the beast with a right load of old tat - great for a wet Saturday though. I must just be careful not to leave the eReader around like I do my paperbacks, otherwise I might find its silvery gorgeousness colonised by Ranger's bum.

03 February 2009

Eccles flakes

Do you know who I feel sorry for at the moment? Eccles. Who? Corrie initiates will know that little Eccles is in fact Ken Barlow's dog - and from a dog we never once saw walked, she is now being put through her paces every day. And what paces! Ken is using the dog walk as cover for his assignations with Martha, the liveaboard boater whose literary and cultural bent has taken the old lothario's fancy. But Martha moors at what looks suspiciously like Worsley and it must be a fair old trek from there to Weatherfield (maybe Ken is from the Caxton school of walkies?). Surely dreary Deirdre will get suspicious when her pooch is permanently exhausted and two inches shorter than she was six months ago?

But fair play to Corrie. Any soap that manages to get the word 'recondite' into the script has my vote.