Wednesday, 13 December 2017


After I had posted yesterday's blog entry Mr Fluffy appeared through the cat door.  He did not look like a cat that had been wandering lost all day in the snow and the slush: his feet were too clean, his fur too dry, and his whole demeanour too self-possessed.  He consented to be clasped to my chest, ate some supper, went out of the cat door, came in again, ate some Dreamies in lieu of a fatted calf, and spent the rest of the evening reposing in the bosom of his family, looking gradually more relaxed as he remembered about home.  The Systems Administrator's theory is that he sneaked into a neighbour's garage and got locked in for the day, escaping when they got home.  My mother reminded me of the cat we had when I was a child, that used to go around to be fed by the inhabitants of a nearby bungalow.  They rang up when it snowed and he didn't call on them to check that he was all right.  I am more inclined to the locked-in than the social visiting theory at this stage because Mr Fluffy had never vanished for anything approaching that length of time before, and it seemed unlikely he would choose the coldest day of his short life to start visiting, and stay for so long on his first visit.

We will probably never know where he was yesterday, unless we happen to bump into a neighbour who happens to mention that they saw our cat.  If he starts making a habit of going out for longer we will know not to start worrying so soon, though we can then start worrying in case he is planning to move in somewhere else.

The garden is thawing nicely.  The thermometer sat above freezing all day, and the remaining lumps of snow and patches of ice got steadily smaller, then it rained which helped melt them.  Most of the shrubs that were bowed down by the snow have bounced back without damage, though I was irritated to discover that a piece of the evergreen, hydrangea-like climber Pileostegia viburnoides had been peeled off the front of the house.  It was already on a remedial feeding programme because the leaves had turned so yellow in the poor soil, and I don't want to have to cut a large piece off.  The Systems Administrator will fasten a couple of screws into the mortar for me and I will try tying the loose branches back in, but my provisional assessment of Pileostegia is that once the plant senses a stem is no longer firmly attached to its support it is reluctant to make further growth.  A well grown plant is a joy, but on sand it turns out to need a lot of extra care.  I have been feeding my plant, but clearly not enough.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


We have not seen Mr Fluffy all day.  He was not around when we got up, and didn't come in when called.  As the morning wore on we began to look for him, at first searching around the garden, and then longer trawls up the sides of the wood, down the brook, and along the lanes.  We walked, we stopped, we called, we listened, we found no trace.

If he were accustomed to wandering I wouldn't be so worried, but he is normally very keen about turning up to meals, and comes running when called if within earshot, and it seems odd for him to decide to start travelling further afield on the coldest night of the year.  Who knows where he has gone.  Perhaps he wandered to the edge of his normal territory and lost his bearings in the snow.  Or met a fox that was bolder and more opportunistic than usual because of the cold.  Or found his way on to ice, or fell while climbing.  He could be anywhere, alive or dead, over a large area.  He is cautious of strange people and seems unlikely to have managed to get locked in somewhere between eleven at night and eight in the morning.

I am deeply upset.  I am very fond of Mr Fluffy, and he gets on so well with the others and we like having a gang of cats.  If he never turns up we can't just get another kitten in a year's time.  Perhaps he will find his way home.  He is microchipped, so if he is lost maybe somebody will manage to bribe him with food, catch him, and take him to a vet.  If he has found his way on to a road and been run down someone might stop to investigate.  Perhaps he won't turn up and we will never know what happened.

Monday, 11 December 2017


Today was as if we were in the Russian season of rasputitsa, when the rains turn the ground to mud.  It rained.  It sleeted.  Yesterday's snow melted in patches.  General Winter and Field Marshall Mud triumphed.

Mr Fidget was curled up in his favourite armchair in the distinctly chilly sitting room when I got up, though according to the Systems Administrator he'd had some breakfast and been for a gallop around the garden.  Mr Cool was in agonies of frustration because it was so wet and so cold outside.  If he'd been a human being he'd have been wringing his hands.  As it was he was writhing on the door mat like Uriah Heep, creeping up to the cat door and recoiling in horror at what lay beyond.  When I opened the front door to go and see to the hens Mr Cool dithered transfixed in the open doorway, before giving it all up as a bad job and spending the rest of the day lying on his blanket on the cupboard in the study.  A few times when boredom overcame him he roused himself to conduct a one-sided fight with the hearthrug or partially disembowel the paper recycling box.

Mr Fluffy was bored and wandered about looking for things to chew, before slumping down on the study window sill to watch the bird table.  Every so often he stiffened at the sight of an especially tempting bird, but mostly he dozed.  A couple of times he went to chew the cord of the wooden blind, and I had to retrieve him in case he should forget himself and jump on top of the stove.  I don't think he would generally touch it, but mistakes can happen when creatures are in a bored, fey mood.

I sorted out a few points of admin that I'd been saving for a rainy day, read through a pile of old beekeeping magazines, ripping out the articles with nuggets of good practical advice that I wanted to keep, and caught up with my backlog of art magazines, occasionally reading out the interesting bits to the Systems Administrator, who may not have been listening given his response to the information that entry to the first exhibition at the newly refurbished Hayward Gallery cost £14.50 with a National Art Pass or £7.25 standard was Uh-huh.

Sunday, 10 December 2017


I woke up this morning and lay fretting that I was sleeping so badly, before looking at the alarm clock and seeing that it was in fact half past seven, and the reason why it felt much earlier was that it was still so dark.  It had not snowed in the night, but the Systems Administrator said that the snow wasn't due until later.  At eleven on the dot, exactly as predicted in the Met Office seven day forecast*, it began.

The cats had not seen snow before, apart from Our Ginger, who does not think much of it, and snoozed in front of the Aga before sleeping in turn on my lap, on the hearthrug, curled up on the little stool that has never been the same since the Artists Formerly Known as Kittens were kittens, or shuffling on and off the Aga warming plate.

Mr Cool was not impressed.  The snow made everything look different, and was not good snow, very wet, and Mr Cool hates change and hates getting wet.  He had eaten a substantial breakfast, all of his own and half of Mr Fluffy's and Mr Fidget's, plus most of Our Ginger's because Our Ginger seems to have decided he does not like one of the flavours in the current packs of cat food.  After that he spent the rest of the morning sleeping on the blanket the Systems Administrator put on the cupboard next to his chair as a sop to try and stop Our Ginger from sleeping on his computer keyboard, and the afternoon staring balefully out of the study window.  He went out a couple of times and came straight in again.

Mr Fluffy thought the snow was great fun, and kept bouncing out of the cat door to frisk around in it before coming in damply to warm up.  Mr Fidget found it amazing but faintly suspicious, and dashed around the front garden in between staring out of the windows at the swirling white blobs.  The tracks in the drive showed neither ventured very far from the house.  There were trails of footprints over to the middle of the turning circle and the concrete outside the greenhouse, but beyond that was virgin territory.  Neither of us could work out what had made the long, straight tracks, unless it was the hare passing through again.

I hate snow.  If I were on holiday and it was not lying on my garden, and if it was dry, crisp snow under a brilliant blue sky or at least an atmospheric gleam of sunshine, I might like it, if only it could look like one of Sisley's winter landscapes or my favourite photograph of a park by Andre Kertesz.  When it is weighing down my plants and threatening to break them, or freeze them, or suffocate them, I do not like it at all.  The only consolation about today's snow was that it was so wet that it began to drop off the trees even while it was still falling.  As I looked out over the back garden I saw one rose bush shake itself convulsively as a mass of snow slid off.

It should rain before too long, which will get rid of the lying snow, thank goodness.  In the meantime it is forecast to freeze, and I have warned the Systems Administrator to be very careful if going out to fetch more firewood.  When I went to shut the hens there were puddles lying on the snow on the doorstep, and once that freezes it will be an ice rink.

* As I frequently whinge when their forecast is wrong it is only fair to highlight when it is absolutely spot on. 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

fending off the cold

It is perishingly cold.  I set the heaters in the greenhouse and conservatory last night for the first time this winter, and have set them again this evening.  They are only small electric fan heaters, but enough to keep things ticking along above freezing overnight when the thermometer outside dips below zero.  It's forecast to hit minus two degrees Celsius by midnight, so they will be needed.  In a long cold spell, if the thermometer went well below that and stayed there, the heaters would not be enough, but it's a trade off between the heating costs and how many plants I am prepared to lose.

My big specimen plants under glass could all take a light freezing if it came to it.  The Wollemi pine, which by now is bumping up against the conservatory roof, and the standard Eriobotrya 'Coppertone' that was a birthday present from the Systems Administrator and has been repotted twice since then, would both be impossible to obtain at anywhere near the size they are now, and replacements at the largest size I could get would be expensive.  Besides which, I am sentimentally attached to them.  The ginger lily roots would survive even if their leaves were damaged, as would the evergreen Agapanthus.  I am pretty sure the dwarf pomegranates I raised from seed could take a light frost, given that you see them growing outside in sheltered walled gardens.

I take more risks with the small stuff.  No pelargoniums like to freeze, and some are more tolerant of low temperatures than others.  Generally it seems as though the scented leaf types and Uniques are tougher than some of the zonals.  I would rather not lose any of them, on the other hand I don't grow any that I couldn't replace from a specialist supplier, other than that a few were presents or bought unnamed on garden visits and I don't know what they are.  Replacements would come in at around two to six pounds each, depending on rarity, which makes them worth a few nights of the heater.

The succulents I grow are mostly Aeonium and Echeveria, none rare but some quite old and correspondingly large.  They absolutely will not tolerate freezing, which includes being allowed to touch the greenhouse glass on a freezing night.  I proved this empirically last winter trying to cram an unfortunate Aeonium 'Schwartzkopf' on to the top greenhouse shelf, so you can learn from my error and not make the same mistake.  The rosette turned to mush and fell off, and I kept the stalk hoping it would make new shoots but that died as well.

The African violets are frankly a gamble.  They all started off as rooted plugs from Dibleys, and the conservatory is theoretically much too cold for them, on the other hand I don't have anywhere suitable in the house.  The trouble with regarding them as bedding is that it takes most of the season to get the plugs to a nice flowering size.  Of course, I could not grow Streptocarpus, but I like them.  The Begonia fuchsioides is not supposed to go down below about ten degrees either, according to the nursery woman who sold it to me and who I think was quite reluctant to let me have it in case I killed it.  It spent last winter in my bathroom because I was so worried about it, but it was terribly in the way and this time round it is still in the conservatory.  I have struck three cuttings, though, which are in a heated propagator.

My potted fuchsias are a mixed bunch.  Some would be hardy if grown outdoors, at least at the root, and I only have them in pots for display purposes.  Others are rated as needing frost protection.  I have chopped them all down very low in my campaign to try and eradicate the fuchsia gall mite, before deciding whether I will have to follow the RHS advice and throw them all away, and by now the pots should be pretty dry.  Keeping doubtfully hardy plants dry in winter can help them survive the cold.  Also, when I was packing the greenhouse I put the pots of the most tender things towards the middle, and the relatively hardy things next to the glass.

After tonight I might not need the heaters for the rest of the week.

Friday, 8 December 2017

the devil finds work for idle paws

The cats are finding the onset of winter a shock to their routine.  They went outside after breakfast, except for Our Ginger who settled down for a snooze, but came in rather quickly because outside was so cold and windy.  Then they lounged around looking bored and sulky because they would rather have been out.  Then they fiddled with stuff because they were bored until they managed to knock it over, or badgered Our Ginger until they got a reaction.  Go out, come in, repeat.

Mr Cool hung around the food cupboard and dishes with a meaningful air.  He has grown into an immensely long cat, who must need a lot of food, and the weather has turned colder, but I didn't like to feed him again when he had just had his breakfast, simply because he was bored.  Our Ginger is already shaped like a rugby ball with legs, and I don't want the next generation of cats following suit.  Mr Cool walked all around the kitchen worktops and along the side of the sink, searching for any unattended scraps of food, only there weren't any, and then lay on the worktop scowling and fiddling with the knobs on the cupboard doors.  The climate of boredom even infected Our Ginger, who began to play a variant on how to get round the room without treading on the floor, taking a good half dozen attempts to climb directly from the shelf with the Sky box in it to the SA's desk chair.

There was a loud crash from the sitting room, which was Mr Fluffy upsetting the bowl of wooden fruit on the dining table.  He'd knocked a hand turned, locally made, yew pepper grinder on to the floor as well.  I picked everything up, and a couple of hours later there was another crash, and I found Mr Fluffy at the bottom of the stairs, along with a wooden lemon.  It might have been an accident when he upset the bowl of fruit the first time, but not the second.  I put it away out of reach in the spare bedroom.  Mr Fluffy went back outside to inspect the bird table.

The bird table stands by the steps down to the back garden.  It is a simple, plain design, easy to keep clean, which the Systems Administrator built several years ago, with a roof to keep the worst of the rain off the food.  Earlier in the week the SA fixed wire netting to close off two sides of it that were accessible from the path outside the study, because Mr Fluffy, who has always shown a regrettable interest in birds, had taken to lying directly below it where any birds actually on the table couldn't see him, before leaping four feet vertically straight into the table.  Mr Cool, meanwhile, liked to sit on the table crammed in under the little roof.  I don't think he necessarily expected the birds to come down while he was there, it was just that he liked the view from the table.  Mr Fluffy checked again that the netting was still there, and then climbed on to the roof and managed to knock the fat ball that the SA had left on the table down to the ground.  Cats are not supposed to eat fat balls, and the SA had to go outside and confiscate it.

At various points through the day Mr Fluffy thought he could share my lap with Our Ginger, and there would be some loud purring and mutual washing for all of five minutes, until the washing degenerated into chewing.  Things would end with Our Ginger howling, Mr Fluffy upside down and kicking, and both flouncing off in a huff, only for Our Ginger to return and the sequence to repeat, until Mr Fluffy gained sole possession of the lap by dint of lying on Our Ginger and purring until Our Ginger got tired of being lain on.

If the young cats are this bored after one wintry day then goodness knows that they are going to be like by April, if we get a cold winter.  Today's good conduct prize goes rather unexpectedly to Mr Fidget, who spent all morning lying on a blanket on top of a cupboard and looking cute, and whose only mishap was to get accidentally locked in the laundry for five minutes.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

sinus trouble

I spent today closeted in front of the fire with Mr Cool, who hates rain.  My face hurts, my nose keeps running, and I have a headache.  It was a waste of a wet and windy day, when I could have been getting to grips with the garden club accounts or measuring up for new bedroom curtains or any number of useful things, but I couldn't summon the enthusiasm.  Something is amiss with my sinuses and mucous membranes, but I daresay it will sort itself out given rest, warmth, regular hot drinks, and a dollop of ibuprofen.  Alas.  Looking on the bright side, I made it through the recent rush of social events, and my diary now goes from feast to famine and has nothing in it until the Art Society lecture next Thursday, which could carry on perfectly well without me, so I can go on sitting in front of the fire until I feel better.