Pigeon Post not as by Arthur Ransome

Oh happy days, Pigeon Post days, when I read everything Arthur Ransome had ever written and Titty was still called Titty and hadn’t had her name changed to Tatty or Kitty for the sake of…something or other, I suppose political correctness.220px-Pigeon_Post_cover

And this is the RIGHT cover.

But this blog isn’t about Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome. It’s not about Pigeon Post either, for your information. I can’t even say, ‘Those were the days!’ because, in all honesty, it WAS before my time. Honestly.Junge_Frau_mit_Taubenpost

(But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we still had pigeon post?)

I’ve told you what this blog is NOT so now I’d better tell you what it IS. It’s about my pigeons and doves. I say pigeons and doves as though they’re different beings. They’re not.

“There is no strict division between pigeons and doves, which share certain features, including small, rounded heads, small, slim bills with a small fleshy patch at the base, rounded bodies with dense, soft feathers, tapered wings and short, scaly legs, and cooing or crooning calls,” says the RSPB. Generally, people called those feral birds you see in cities pigeons and the white peace-type birds doves. Then there are wood pigeons and collared doves…

This is me: (ish)

I feed the birds, and I can tell you it costs more than tuppence a bag. At the moment, I’m hand-rearing a pair of doves whose mother was killed by a cat and whose dad gave up on them, quite understandably, on Day 2 of their tiny lives.  They (Fish and Chips) are now about three weeks old and doing well. I kept them warm in my bra when they were very, very small. Really. And, no, they didn’t poo when in residence in my lingerie.

I love my birds. They light up my life. It’s been hard coming to terms with the cruelty of Mother Nature, who gives joy and heartbreak in approximately equal measures.

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Eggs are laid, eggs hatch, little birds grow, oh joy. Then along comes a sparrowhawk or the neighbours’ cat and kills one…or more…with such savagery, and sometimes for no reason apart from the sport.

By Greg Poole

                By Greg Poole

Heartbreak for me, at least, though I have learned stoicism from the pigeons, who regroup and carry on. What else is there to do?

Or, perhaps there’s this…
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I certainly am at the moment. Being mother to pigeon twins.

 

The rest cure

Do you know what? I didn’t realise the rest cure was an actual thing? I imagined it was just a generic term for enforced taking it easy, which is what’s happened to me since early January, thanks to an operation. I say thanks and I really mean thanks. And no, I haven’t got Munchausen’s Syndrome, “a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.”

(Factitious? A new adjective for Donald Trump? No, too kind.)

Here’s me at the moment:

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Why the thanks for a (painful) operation? (Is there any other sort?) Because I am completely hopeless about stepping back and saying no to commitments. It’s harder for me, takes more discipline for me, to take a rest cure than it is to carry on. I’m always telling myself I should do it – but never quite seem to manage it.

I spend money on self-help books like:

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…which I never quite seem to have the time to read…

 

For years, YEARS, I have been schedule-driven in a crazy way, thinking I must adhere to a timetable in order to get everything done. My alarm is set for the following times: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 6.15 am. Friday – 5.15 am. Sunday – the Big Lie In – 7.15 am.

I leap out of bed (or crawl out of bed) and start on a list of tasks too many and too mundane to mention here involving family, dogs, horses, chickens, pigeons and doves, work, domestic duties, networking, writing, university, seminars, activism of various sorts. Just a normal sort of schedule really BUT…

  • I’m tired all the time
  • Joy has gone out of my life
  • Creativity? What creativity?
  • Things I enjoy doing have become a chore
  • I can’t be that pleasant to be around

Here’s something Maya Angelou wrote in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 

Here’s something I wrote:

“One day is not enough.”

So – back to the rest cure. It was devised in the late 1800s by Silas Weir Mitchell, an American neurologist, to treat hysteria, neurasthenia and other nervous illnesses. (Yes, I often descend into hysteria.) Since my operation, until recently I’ve been (mostly) confined to bed; I’m not allowed to do anything at all strenuous, like lifting a kettle (ha!) and I’m not allowed to drive. If following Weir Mitchell’s rest cure regime to the letter, I would be fed “a fatty, milk-based diet, force-fed if necessary – effectively reduced to the dependency of an infant.” Thank goodness husband Peter didn’t read that bit! He’s been absolutely tremendous.

I HAVE RESTED. What’s more, my mind has rested, for the first time in forever. It was actually quite scary at first, not being able to do all those distraction activities that kept me from…thinking too much? There was a massive hole where chaotic mind used to live.

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The Chaotic Mind by MDK-Fractal (Deviant Art)

Hello, zen-like calm. Hello creativity. Thank you, operation. Thank you, rest cure.

My final words:

“Stay alert at all times, alert to any opportunity for rest.” (As miaowed by Ulysses Brave in The Wit and Wisdom of Cats and Kittens)

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Pigeons’ Pride

Hot on the heels of Pride Brighton & Hove, my pigeons are celebrating in their own way in the garden. It’s official – well, has been for some time – Angel and Daemon, females, are in a loving partnership. It’s beautiful.

 

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Pigeons are notoriously difficult to sex. Even experts will admit that. Young pigeons are pretty much impossible to sex, though I’m sure they know quite well themselves! For us mere mortals, we have to rely, largely, on observing their behaviour. Male pigeons tend – note the modifier – TEND – to strut about a lot, with chests puffed out, making what I can only describe as growly coo noises like avian Tarzans.

Hence, the pigeon who started life with me, fondly called Penelope, with pink ring on one leg in pure gender stereotyping, is now Mr. Penelope.

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Except…who knows?

I very much want my pigeons to breed. I’ve always wanted to be a pigeon granny, she says without a hint of anthropomorphism. Imagine my delight when Angel and Daemon indulged in a lot of billing and cooing and then one of them laid two eggs. (Pigeons only ever lay two eggs, about 48 hours apart so when they hatch, after 17 days, the necessarily intense period of care is staggered).

They were devoted parents-to-be, never leaving the eggs unattended, taking it in turns to sit, one taking the day shift, the other taking the night shift. Time passed…much more than 17 days…

One day they were both out together and Daemon, the one I thought was the male, was displaying again. The eggs were abandoned. Infertile. “Ah well,” I thought. “Young birds. Perhaps this was a trial run? Maybe next time.”

Next time happened very quickly. Another two eggs. Then…ANOTHER two eggs as well. FOUR eggs. Whoaaaaaah!

Research revealed that this only happens when two females pair up and both lay.

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It’s very sweet. They are devoted to each other but, sadly (for me?), their eggs will never be fertile.

It happens, apparently, when there is an odd number of pigeons in a group. My pigeons and doves have always been bought in pairs – which is to say, two at a time, not pairs as in a male and a female. Sadly, again, predators or other natural causes have meant that I’ve lost some. Which breaks my heart.

Interestingly, and I’m not sure what I feel about this, at Lancaster University scientists have managed to breed a strain of gay pigeons. This is in order to reduce the pigeon population. Less fertile eggs. Less pigeons.

Well, Angel and Daemon are happy. I have NOT, as pigeon breeders suggest, removed their eggs each time they lay. I just let them do what they do.

My white doves, Una, Paloma and Blanca (Faith disappeared – so three again)… Una and Paloma have paired up. I’m waiting for them to lay.

Then I’ll be waiting to see what happens next.

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Life is so joyful.

 

 

Palm oil perfidy

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

If I thought finding ethical dairy milk substitutes was tricky – well, don’t get me started on dairy-free margarines to replace butter.

Two words. Palm oil.

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Palm oil is in EVERYTHING. One of Caroline’s exaggerations, of course, but it IS in a whole lot of things apart from margarines. It’s in cream cheese, biscuits, oven chips, cakes, chocolate – in fact, about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket. It’s in lipsticks, detergent, soaps, shampoo and let’s not forget biodiesel.

So what?

Here’s an extract from Say No To Palm Oil

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“The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes, species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.”

So – irresponsible cultivation of palm oil has a detrimental impact on the environment, on wildlife and on indigenous people.

When I began my dairy-free life I started off feeling very virtuous, using a product called Pure.

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Pure! Brilliant marketing, eh? I was taken in by it, less conscientious about checking content in the early days of upping my ethical game. Strangely enough, if you look at their very fine website, it doesn’t list the ingredients of the products.

It does on the packaging, though, in teensy-weensy writing:

Water, Sunflower Oil (35%), Vegetable Oils (Palm Oil, Linseed Oil), Salt (0.75%), Flavouring, Vitamin E, Vitamin A & D, Colour (Carotenes), Vitamin B12

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I’ve started making my own spread now. Here’s a link to the recipe: Homemade Artisan Vegan Butter by Miyoko Schinner. (I adapt it slightly, definitely NOT using almond milk, but using a mixture of oat milk and single soya cream). It’s delicious – as long as you don’t mind a slightly coconutty taste.

 

And now there’s Flora Freedom, which claims it uses SUSTAINABLE palm oil. Well, good for Unilever for making an effort. I’d love to believe it. On the website they say they are ‘committed to using sustainable palm oil’. Annoying Caroline contacted them and said that ‘being committed to’ is not the same as ‘actually doing something’…

Their reply:

“Our vision is that in 2020, the whole industry will move to 100% sustainable palm oil. Our commitment to sustainable palm oil is not new. In the mid-1990s, we started developing Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines for palm oil.

And in 2004 we, together with WWF, became a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the objective of which is to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through global standards and stakeholder engagement. By the end of 2012 we reached our target of 100% certified sustainable palm oil, three years ahead of schedule.”

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The slight doubt in my mind, after all my research, is that the supply chains are so very complex that it’s hard to know if they can be absolutely one hundred percent sure that their palm oil is responsibly sourced.

But…at least they are trying.

And so am I.

 

 

 

It’s not easy being green -ish

Not, here, referring to my newly-achieved membership of the Green Party, you’ll be relieved to hear – that’s incredibly easy.

No, I’m referring to living a green lifestyle. Not in a Jolly Green Giant sense…or in a Kermit the Frog sense…

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More a dietary sense.

For for several months now, for reasons of conscience, primarily, but also for the sake of my health, I have chosen not to eat any meat or dairy products.

“The average British carnivore eats more than 11,000 animals in their lifetime, each requiring vast amounts of land, fuel and water to reach the plate.”

“On the ethical side, many dairy cows are never allowed to graze outdoors; they are confined to cramped stalls on factory farms. Although a cow can live twenty years, practically all dairy cows are slaughtered before before they turn five, as the milk production of ageing cows can’t match that of younger animals. Modern dairy cows are impregnated each year in order to maximise their milk yields, and their calves are often sold to the veal industry…”

That.

(While I DO realise that there are plenty of cows who live a long and happy life on grass, it’s somehow easier to be an all or nothing sort of gal).

Actually, the not-eating-meat side of being green-ish is easy. People understand it. It’s the dairy-free that causes me the most difficulty.

Three things.

The first to be covered in this blog.

Hoorah. I shall not use animal milk of any sort. I shall instead be very green and use such products as almond milk.

But wait a minute… each almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce and most almonds are grown in often drought-ravaged parts of California. Water diverted to almond farms threatens salmon in northern California etc. etc. etc… Damn.

I know. Soya milk. Phew.

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“Conversion of High Conservation Value Areas and other critical habitats for soybean cultivation is unacceptable as it threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people. The expansion of soybean plantations into forests is also contributing to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.” (from vegan.com)

I now drink oat milk.  Oatly. (Other brands available but I like the packaging and branding. Go figure).

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Is that okay? I hardly dare investigate.

Caroline has a Good Idea

A Good Idea to turn adversity into triumph…

On Tuesday, the weather was like this:

Only far less artistic. Cold, wet, windy and unpleasant.

On Wednesday, the sun came out. Hoorah! But my car wasn’t celebrating. On the way back from the yard, coming up the hill into Buxted, dear Olive Oil the Freelander started making the most horrendous ear-shattering jet engine noises and struggled to get home.

I am not THAT stupid, dear readers. I managed to work out that it was the exhaust, so I phoned Mr. KwikFit and he said, ‘Bring it straight in!’ – as straight as the road allowed, given all the bends.

Enter Caroline’s Good Idea.

Rufus, the slightly nervous labrador, needed exercise – I don’t take him to the yard with the other two at the moment because he’s anxious around horses. Why not take him with me in to town to KwikFit and walk home the couple of miles over the fields?

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Toby, Bonnie and Rufus by Tim Coxon

WHAT A GOOD IDEA!

It all started so well…a bit on the muddy side, but well…

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Thanks again, Tim Coxon

 

Not for long.

I ventured into the flood plain and ended up wading thigh-deep along what was meant to be a footpath, with Rufus swimming along beside me.

We took a slight detour across a marginally-less flooded field, only to discover that at the end of it was a gate with barbed wire along the top and a notice on the other side.

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There was no bull – or the bull was fully-submerged so I didn’t notice him.

But then I was lost. Lost and wet and very cold.

I was drenched up to the tops of my legs and Rufus was soaked all over and covered in mud. I approached some guys doing some fencing (as in boundaries round fields not as in pointy sword fighting). I asked for directions. One of them said the magic words, ‘I’ll give you a lift home, as long as you don’t mind having the dog on your lap in the front of my van.’

His van was fairly respectable (at the start of the journey).

So – a HUGE thank you to J P B Fencing of Waldron, for a generous act of Good Samaritan proportions.

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I have just now sent an email to convey more thanks.

So Caroline’s Good Idea, which could so nearly have been a catastrophe, turned out to be a demonstration of kindness.

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Slobbing! Yesterday’s plan.

My early Sunday thoughts:

“What’s the plan for the day? Slobbing in the morning, followed by slobbing in the afternoon, then a snooze before the main evening slob?”

(Also a quote from the inimitable Red Dwarf.)

Dave Lister says hi!

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There’s nothing wrong with a bit of slobbing once in a while. Especially not if it’s:

  • Sunday
  • the morning after the night before (a dinner party)
  • raining
  • windy
  • chilly

And I’m a little battered and bruised following a less than spectacular fall off one of my horses (He tripped up over his feet and I went tumbling over his head and landed with a smack on the ground!)

And I’ve been non-stop doing stuff for what seems like months on end…

Well, those are my slobbing excuses and I’m sticking to them. Be kind to yourself every once in a while, Caroline.

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This is a picture of me, except there were two, and sometimes three, labradors slobbing on the coach with me. It was cosy.

We watched a not-that-good-but-perfect-for-a-Sunday-afternoon film called:

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And some other stuff but then, just when I wanted to go off to bed, (slobbing can be quite exhausting) I was drawn into the VERY good first episode of a new drama series:

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Called Remember Me, starring Michael Palin, seriously dark and spooky. An absolute MUST WATCH.

I’d have missed it if I hadn’t been slobbing!

 

Time for important things

“The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life,” said someone called David Jakielo, who is on Goodreads but hasn’t, apparently, written any books.

(Perhaps he doesn’t think writing books is important?) (Unlike me!)

Here’s a confession: I am sometimes guilty of rushing around like a headless chicken.

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(Oooh dear. As a very proud owner of three lovely chickens, I think I’m going to have to change similes…)

There you go…

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What happens is, I think I have too much work to do so, whenever I’m out and about, I’m hurrying to get back to my desk. Outstanding pieces of work (by which I mean  ‘not done yet’ rather than ‘exceptionally good’ !) become Very Important Things which divert my attention from what is REALLY important.

This means that I don’t stop to take in the beauty of the world around me.

I don’t take the time to chat to people that I meet, including friends. I’ve been known to scuttle down supermarket aisles to avoid acquaintances because I ‘haven’t time to talk.’ I sometimes keep my car windows firmly wound up so I can drive past people on the lane without engaging them in conversation. I pretend not to notice people.

Yet, I wouldn’t say for a single second that I’m anti-social or unfriendly. I’ve just got my priorities a bit skewed. Sometimes.

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Yes – the most important things in life aren’t things like pieces of work and deadlines.

The most important things in life are people – and animals – and…

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…spending time with people and animals – REAL time, not time with half an eye on my watch worrying about the seconds ticking by.

I can’t promise it will never happen.

You have my permission to remind me if it does.

Caroline’s complaint-free world

A complaint-free world? Surely that’s not possible?

Tell you what, I’m giving it a good go in mine!

And so, apparently, are another 10, 121, 812 others across the world. (Yeah, we love unverifiable statistics!)

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With thanks to the lovely Leisa Brown, a Brighton friend, who got me interested in creating a complaint-free existence.

I’ve been watching her progress on Facebook, noticing her posts are quite different, more cheerful, COMPLAINT-FREE! (There used to be a lot of moans about spiders…)

So, the idea, which comes from a motivational speaker chappie called Will Bowen, is to wear a bracelet on one wrist and keep it there until you notice you’re complaining.

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…Then swap it to the other wrist until your mind is clear again. The target is to have twenty-one complaint-free days. The difficult bit is, that each time you catch yourself complaining, you have to start again with the 21 days… I fear this is going to take me A Very Long Time.

I don’t think legitimate complaints count – for instance, if you receive a meal alive with maggots at a restaurant. It’s possible to complain without whining, I suppose, to be factual and lose the emotional charge.

So – things were going very well for a couple of days until I had a riding lesson on Alfie.

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Alfie had other ideas. He wouldn’t budge. Or at least, he would budge, but only at the expense of me kicking and slapping and puffing and panting and expending so much effort that by the time he took a few steps forward I was so exhausted I crumpled into a collapsed heap on his neck in desperate need of oxygen.

I caught myself complaining! I swapped my bracelet on to my left wrist.

When I’d recovered my composure, and a right-wristed bracelet, things were going very well UNTIL…today.

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I was telling some girlfriends about the complaint-free thing. At the end of my lively and cheerful description, I said the immortal words: “The only thing is, I wish the bracelet were a bit smaller because it’s driving me INSANE!”

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We all started laughing at the same moment.

Hello, twenty-one days!

AGAIN!

 

 

The first cuckoo of spring

Yes, I heard a cuckoo today, while riding Alfie across Ashdown Forest.

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And here’s a special present for you all. Anne Briggs’ wonderful rendition of The Cuckoo

Cuckoos have a bit of a dodgy reputation as brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers – who are TINY in comparison when the cuckoo hatches and begins to grow. Poor mummy and daddy birds, trying to keep up with their rapacious appetites.

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However, you have to admire the cuckoo. They’re only summer visitors to the UK and, with the use of electronic tags, it’s been discovered that they winter in Angola. ANGOLA!

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Apparently they spend just six to eight weeks in England before making the 5,000 mile return flight to Africa.

Okay, cuckoo, perhaps I can understand why you don’t have the energy to build your own nest and feed your own babies now!