Frass

Frass (n) the refuse left by boring insects

In the snug in the Bug in a Rug Inn an insect holds forth about the life he has led.

“I’ve lived in that old church piano all of my life, bug and pupa and it has given me all that I can ever need. People ask me why I’ve never moved, but why should I? Some people might like more exotic climes, like rosewood or walnut, but good old-fashioned ash is fine for me.

All of my family are around me, except that one daughter who moved into the pulpit. I’ve never spoken to her since. What’s good enough for me should be good enough for her…”

Behind the bar the daddy-long-legs sighs to himself, “I hate that boring woodworm.”

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Cake!

Marie Antoinette sits in a ‘simple’ milkmaid’s outfit adorned with diamonds, frills and furbelows. She waits expectantly for the interview to start.

 

Interviewer:       First, Your Highness, I am glad you’ve agreed to be interviewed by us using the latest time travelling technology. You are most gracious.

MA:                       Yes, I am, aren’t I?

I:                             May I ask whether you believe that you were a benign influence in France or whether you feel that you made any mistakes?

MA:                       My influence was entirely positive. Before I arrived, the state of the French bakery industry was appalling. From Vienna I brought croissants, gateaux, and biscuits like they had never seen before.

I:                             I was speaking more of your influence on French society and politics.

MA:                       That was my influence, breads, cakes, patisserie of the very finest sort. Who could not regard me as a benefactress?

I:                             Well as you have brought up the subject of cakes, did you ever say, “Let them eat cake”?

MA:                       Absolutely not. What I said was, “Let me eat cake”. But with my accent it was misunderstood and blown up out of all proportion. They made a complete soufflé of the whole thing. The soufflé, now that is French! Boring, insipid and a let-down in the eating.

I:                             So, what was your attitude to the peasantry, the common members of French society?

MA:                       En masse I didn’t really have one. I liked some of those I met. My pastry cook was a wonderful young woman. So willing to learn new techniques, and to present me with only the finest petit fours, madeleines…

(MA drifts off into something of a reverie.)

I:                             I understand that the King and yourself spent some time in the Black Forest on holiday. What did you think of it?

MA:                       The secret of that is to use only the freshest cherries and dark chocolate from the new world made with the enormous care and reverence the recipe requires.

I:                             That’s most enlightening. If I may change the subject, as you know I am British, and I was wondering how you saw the relationship between France and Britain before and during the Revolution.

MA:                       I never understood the English. Their ideas were all so stodgy and unpalatable.

I:                             Do you mean the rigidity of the social order, or their political dealings?

MA:                       Neither! I meant all those steamed puddings. So heavy on the digestive system, so dull in the mouth. I ate one once and nearly drowned in my yearly bath, six months later.

(The interviewer is becoming visibly uneasy at the hijacking of the interview to talk solely about cakes and desserts.)

I:                             But… er…

MA:                       (Interjects) Oh, yes. Butter is one of the single most important ingredients in really good baking. It must not be skimped on. The worst thing in the world is to be presented with sweet shortcrust which isn’t really short. The Scots were much more like us, as we’re talking about British matters. Their short bread could be wonderful, if a little less dainty than I would have liked.

I:                             I find it interesting that you, who ended her life under the guillotine, should describe bad pastries as the worst thing in the world.

MA:                       By the time of my execution I had been without my pastry cook for several months. No one could bring me treats like she used to make for me. I was glad to go.

I:                             Right! To move on again, do you feel that you supported your husband the King as well as you possibly could have done?

MA:                       Well obviously. I was at his side waving at the poor and the rich alike. Now the question is whether he supported me adequately. He would just wander into the kitchens or my drawing room, even into my cottage and eat my tea. Tarts, tortes… it was all the same to him. He never said thank you to me. What sort of a husband is that? It’s no wonder he got so fat! I used to call him my heavy pudding, my raspberry fool.

(The interviewer gives up at this point.)

I:                             Your Majesty, thank you very much for these valuable insights in to life in 18th century France.

MA:                       I’m sure you’ve benefitted greatly from it. (Pops a piece of brioche into the royal cakehole)

The functioning depressive

I’ve come a long way in the last couple of years. I am no longer scared to leave the house, and I can manage to deal with the tax office or doctors all on my own. I’m not saying this to show off. I mean, who would?  These are things that everyone can do.

Actually, that isn’t true. If I myself had always been able to do these things, being able to do them now wouldn’t feel like such an achievement. People who meet me for the first time are surprised that I have depression. I am articulate and kind and funny at times.

I’ve met so many different responses to my illness:

What have you got to be depressed about?

Isn’t it time you moved on?

We all get a bit down sometimes.

Have you tried ………………. *?                    *insert suggestion here

Guess what? None of these are really that helpful. If you have depression, the feeling is so awful that you will try anything and everything to make it better. It isn’t a state you want to be in for a minute longer than is necessary. It isn’t just feeling down, and there doesn’t have to be a reason.

I’ve found that, even if people do know that I suffer from depression, they are still surprised when I cry. It seems that as a well-behaved depressive, I should spare other people the effects of the illness I live with every day. And as a well-behaved little depressive I generally try to do this.

However, when I have shown how bad I feel some days, the general response is embarrassment. I know that this is because nobody is quite sure what to do. If I’m lucky and my partner is with me, she knows exactly what to do. She somehow scoops me up and gets me home, and then lets me cry until I stop naturally. This may be a matter of minutes, hours or even days. If the person in that state is a stranger, such actions would be somewhat presumptuous at the very least.

If I meet someone in that state, I generally ask if there is anything I can do. Most of the time there isn’t, but from my experience, those are the words that help most. I see people I haven’t met but have got to know online, saying how bad they feel. Perhaps the best thing to do is to send a hug. I tend to go online and ask for hugs, and I find that people who might be embarrassed by me talking about how I feel are willing to offer that. You know what? It makes me feel a tiny bit better, a tiny bit less invisible, and a lot more cared for.

Any spare hugs going? If you don’t want to hug me, hug someone else!

The Heydon Chooks – Two Weeks On

   

  

 Two weeks ago, I introduced you to the ex-cage hens at the Wood Green Heydon Rehoming Centre. They were all looking at least a little battered. Those who were lower in the (literal) pecking order had fewer feathers where they had been pulled out by more dominant birds, and they were all a bit overwhelmed by the amount of space they could now enjoy.

Two weeks on, I think pictures speak louder than words. The girls are enjoying the outdoor area of their enclosure and all of them are showing some signs of regrowth of the plumage they had lost. They are still enthusiastically producing eggs, but I think the biggest change is in their confidence. They strut more proudly and welcome human visitors as if they were celebrities on a morale boosting tour.

These chickens are making wonderful progress and you could complete their rescue by offering them a home. They’ll repay you not just by making you feel good, but with eggs too. Have a look at the website http://www.woodgreen.org.uk. 

A new life for hard-worked chickens

This week, the Wood Green Heydon Centre took possession of a number of ex-cage chickens from the farm where they had been producing eggs. The most productive time for egg-laying in chickens is in the first couple of years of their lives, and most are not commercially ‘viable’ after this time. In the past they would have been destroyed, but now, working with farms, Wood Green is able to offer some of these hens a new lease on life as ‘pets’ who are still able to provide a good few eggs for their new owners.

When the chickens first arrive at the shelter, we can see the effects of the cramped conditions they have been living in. Many have lost feathers from their tails, and also some from other areas as well. This is because in order to keep costs down the cages are small and the feathers are either rubbed off by the cage, or pecked off by more dominant birds.

 
I have decided to start a bi-weekly blog showing how the Heydon chooks are adapting to life out of their former small cages.  At Heydon the chickens have a choice during the daytime between an enclosed area with walls on all sides, a larger covered area and an outside enclosure with a fence around it. At the moment, the larger outdoor area doesn’t seem very popular, but it is a large adjustment for the chickens to make. The doors and gates between these areas are open all day.
One thing that was noticeable was that with no cages and a plentiful food supply the chickens are no longer displaying aggression or dominant pecking towards one another. This means that their plumage should begin to grow back fairly quickly. It will also be interesting to see how many eggs the girls produce while they’re with us. They seem quite keen, at least for now.

  

But to be frank, the first thing I really want to see is the chooks being brave enough to go out into the, for now, pretty much deserted outdoor area where they’ll be able to have even more freedom and to supplement their diet with protein in the form of small insects and worms.

  
In a short while these chickens should be well enough to be rehomed. But I plan to chart their progress for as long as it takes to get them in better shape and into great new homes. If you’d like to know more about the chickens you can make comments on this blog, or send questions on twitter to either me @heydoncats or @Wood_Green

If you’d like to know more about the range of work carried out by Wood Green, please have a look at the website where you can find information about the animals, the people who work with them, the adoption process and how to make donations to support the work of the charity. http://www.woodgreen.org.uk 

Her Excellency Lily

I have, once again been talking to one of the Heydon Centre cats.

I asked Lily to tell me what she thought of the Heydon Centre, what sort of home she would like, and why she thinks she has been with us for so long. Here are her thoughts.

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Thank you for this opportunity to express myself. As you can see I am an absolutely stunning cat. I like to think of myself as Her Excellency because in a former life I was the cat ambassador to the Hapsburg Court.

The Staff at this centre are quite good. I am never hungry or thirsty and my health is checked on regularly, but I don’t have that one special person who caters to all my needs all of the time. My people are very kind to me, but the faces change too often which I find both sad and annoying at times.

I see other cats coming and going every day, and I must say that some of them are nothing like as beautiful as I am, but somehow I’m still here at the end of the day when my staff go home and the evening and the night comes around. I’d like to have a small Hapsburg court of my own where I am deferred to and considered and pampered in every way. I’d like not to be alone for so much of the time.

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Ideally I would like a place to live which has grounds for me to explore. Like many aristocrats I enjoy hunting, and am particularly fond of bringing frogs home as entertainment for those I live with. I also enjoy sunbathing and admiring gardens, especially when I can find a good vantage point.

My other great interest is food. I don’t mean by this that I would be of help to you in the kitchen. I am no good for food preparation, but if you want a cat who appreciates treats and cat cuisine I am very much the girl for you. They way to my heart is definitely through my stomach.

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The thing I most want from a new home is company in the evenings. At the moment I am on my own after the staff leave at the end of the working day, and I don’t have a lap to occupy. Every cat needs a lap from time to time, and especially at the end of a busy day of being groomed, sleeping, a little sport and a satisfying meal. Is this so much to ask?

I must admit that I am not the best cat in the world when it comes to meeting new people. I am independent, and it takes me a while to really warm up to someone new. I think no one has chosen me so far because I am a little stand-offish, and can be less than graceful at first. I wish someone would give me a chance. I am a wonderful companion and will purr you tales of my exciting life. Not everyone can have a cat with a past-life as unusual as mine.

Sox and Miranda

Recently I decided to talk to Sox and Miranda to find out if they could think of any reason why they have been in the Heydon Centre for such a long time.

The three of us sat together for some time, and I was witness to a remarkable conversation between these two very different cats.

SOX:                 You see Miranda, your problem is that you send mixed messages. People walk past your door and you’re sitting out at the front showing people that you want to meet them. Then, when they decide they’d like to meet you, you hang back. Don’t you want them to take you home?

MIRANDA:       I at least have some sense of decorum. I don’t go flaunting myself and throwing myself at all and sundry. The way you greet every new person as if they are a long-lost friend is a bit undignified. I take my time to get to know people, and they should respect that about me.

SOX:                 You take your time? The people who come to meet us in this place will make up their minds pretty quickly! You really aren’t giving yourself a chance. I mean, I know I don’t sit at the front of my unit, but at least when people come to see me, I greet them. They want a companion who’s going to sit on their lap and spend time with them, not a creature who is going to watch them from the other side of the room.

Miranda being her usual quiet self
Miranda being her usual quiet self

MIRANDA:       It’s sad that people are so shallow. I am a sweet girl once I’m comfortable with people, but I get worried when people try to grab hold of me right away or move too fast. All they need is a little patience. Once I trust someone, I’ll be as friendly as anyone could want. Besides, being so friendly hasn’t done you any favours! There you are, up on their lap before anyone can say Cat Robinson.

SOX:                 I like a good cuddle! Who can blame me for that?

MIRANDA:       I don’t blame you for liking a fuss, but what is it with taking a swipe at people when they go to leave? That really isn’t going to endear you to anyone.

SOX:                 I just get a bit carried away. There I am thoroughly enjoying myself and then suddenly they want to leave me all on my own again. It really isn’t fair! Every time I think they are going to take me with them, and then I end up feeling let down again. It’s hard to hide my disappointment.

MIRANDA:       Maybe they were just on their way to ask about adopting you and then you spoiled it all. You are such a sweet cat and you really do have the most exquisite whiskers.

Sox showing off her wonderful whiskers

Sox showing off her wonderful whiskers

SOX:                 They are impressive, aren’t they? You yourself are a very neat little cat, but I think we’ve both been unlucky with our colour. It’s well known that black and black and white cats take longer to rehome. If we were a different colour we’d be out of here by now!

SOX:                 (Sighs) That’s very true. Perhaps we should just keep being ourselves and hope that someone will recognise our true, inner beauty. I long for the day when we can pack our suitcases to leave for our new home like the luckier cats have already done.

Lucky cat on her way home

Lucky cat on her way home

 

Sox and Miranda are two of the longest residents at the Wood Green Centre, Heydon.

If you would like to meet either of them come along to the rehoming centre. More details can be found on the website woodgreen.org.uk

You can also make inquiries via twitter @Wood_Green.

I tweet about the Heydon Centre cats every Friday from my twitter account @heydoncats.

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