Poorly poultry

It’s a bad time to be a chicken in Bexley right now, with both Jewel and Flamingo lost in the last few weeks.

What killed them? Good question. Probably old age more than anything else. Both girls began to slow down, went a bit grey in the comb, slowed down some more and, a few days later, simply sat down and never got up.

Red mite was the first suspect: an unpleasant sort of tick that feeds on chicken blood (it says on the Internet). A thorough check of their coop hasn’t turned up a single mite, however, and surely all the chickens would be suffering at once, not one at a time, wouldn’t they?

Jewel was the first to go – she started to go a bit grey on top, which I’ve never seen happen to a chicken before, then just sort of…stopped.

But Flamingo and Winter both were fine, hungry and inquisitive as ever.

poorly chicken
“I’m fit as a fidd- urgh…”

Then, over the weekend, we noticed Flamingo was looking a bit grey in the comb, and she didn’t come a-running when we put leftovers out, just ambling up the garden, stopping for a rest halfway (rather like my Dad before his heart transplant).

Yesterday she pretty much gave up all movement, sitting quietly in one spot, dozing and only eating if food was placed in reach of her beak – which is a bad sign for a chicken. And this morning she’d gone to that great hen coop in the sky.

So, we’re down to a single chicken, Winter, for now. She seems fine – busy, talkative and permanently hungry – but we’re keeping a close eye on her, just in case.

She probably can’t believe her luck, having all the food to herself now, but I hope she’s not too lonely. 😦

Broadstairs

The British Summer, gawd bless it, is unpredictable. Not for us the stone-cold certainty of the Costa Del Sol or the other baking hellholes of mainland Europe.

Here in the good old U of K we like our weather the way we like our beer: prone to wild variations in strength and quality!

Which is why this weekend we paid a visit to the charming seaside town of Broadstairs. But not on Saturday, when temperatures were a guaranteed match for anything the Continent could offer, but on Sunday, when rainfall was a potential match for anything the Indian monsoon season could offer.

To be fair, it wasn’t a deliberate act of self-sabotage: we went with friends and Sunday was the only day everyone (almost) could make it. The forecast was…dicey. Nice in the morning, followed by an unholy towering spike of rain after lunch.

We arrived just after 11 as the clouds were beginning to gather, and the girls pulled on their swimming costumes and ran fearlessly into the sea, grateful for the sandy beach after last week’s pebbly nonsense.

wpid-20150823_121959.jpgI pulled off my trainers and ran after them, leaving the Lovely Melanie on the beach with Uncle Nick – our chauffeur for the day. 🙂

Damn, that sea was cold. The second time we tried it was a bit easier, but still cold. Seeing the girls swimming a few minutes later I felt a mixture of pride at their fearlessness mixed with relief at my being 43 and sensible enough to steer well clear of it.

Then Auntie Liz arrived with Minnie the dog – her presence pulling Millie from the beach like some kind of Pied Piper. Minnie’s a small, high-pitched and rather needy little  dog, and Millie loves her. She loves Auntie Liz, too, but Liz + Minnie = irresistible.

Not long after a gently refreshing rain began, but the dark clouds were promising a whole lot more than refreshment. Like everyone else on the beach, we began reluctantly to pack up, put our shoes and socks back on and head for the safety of the town.

wpid-20150823_164240.jpgIt was still a bit early for lunch so we drove five minutes down the road to Dumpton (catchphrase: Don’t be put off by the name!), which has nothing but some nice beach and imposing chalk cliffs, to give Millie the chance to walk Minnie. Sadly, the rain had other ideas and were forced to retreat back to Broadstairs where we sheltered and dined in the friendly Prince Albert pub.

It was a classic English pub in every sense of the word, and we had a lovely time there waiting for the rain to stop – and finally meeting with the remainder of our group, Jimmy and Rich.

If Millie had been delighted with Minnie then Jim’s two labradors, Maya and Shai, utterly charmed the pants off her. She was utterly captivated by the charming pair and spent most of the day with them, tongue hanging out as though she were a dog, too!

wpid-img_23082015_183503.jpgAfter being made thoroughly welcome in the Albert we returned to Dumpton and walked a mile or so along the beach, just beating the tide (albeit, with wet feet!).

On the way back we climbed the cliffs and walked along the top – all the soft sandy beach now swallowed by the tide. Jim says he’d checked the tide tables and this was carefully planned but I’m not sure we didn’t just get lucky!

Regardless, it was a lovely afternoon spent by the sea catching up with old friends. I’ve had to promise Millie that we’ll visit Jimmy’s very very soon for her to see the dogs again.

For a girl who used to be so terrified of dogs that I wrote her a book about not being afraid of dogs, this is quite a turnaround!

Time off

It’s summer holidays so the girls are away again (this week they’re in Swindon with my parents) – which means the Lovely Melanie and I get a brief taste of our old lives. This includes:

  • Swearing around the house. Like a trooper. A lot. Loudly. With the doors open.
  • Going to a gig together (Gwilym Gold at St Pancras Old Church – unexpectedly good!)
  • Getting into work nice and early (so I can come home nice and early and enjoy my evening – this week we’ve been able to sit down and watch half a dozen episodes of The Knick).
  • Enjoying a cup of tea without having to defend the biscuit tin from little hands.
  • Not needing to leave lights on at night, so we get to sleep in the dark.
  • Playing music loudly (well, slightly loudly) after 7pm.

On the downside, it’s been too many days since I had an unexpected hug from anyone.

Whitstable

Thanks to Millie’s picture colouring prowess we had a free trip to picturesque Whitstable at the weekend. You may remember she won a competition with Southeastern Trains, giving us a daytrip to anywhere on their network.

So we visited lovely Whitstable.

The weather forecast was cloudy, cool and wrong – we all came home a touch sunburnt – but that was the only downside to a day that saw us in the sea, saw the Red Arrows, saw the last Vulcan bomber fly, saw a lifeboat launch, saw a Punch and Judy show and even saw Amber go on a big wheel (that’s a Ferris Wheel for all my US readers).

Leaving Whitstable station we instantly got a bit lost and somehow ended up at the next place along the coast: Tankerton Slopes. We could have checked a map, yes, but then we’d have missed this lovely lovely spot with its funfair and unrivalled collection of interesting pebbles.

And this is where we saw the Red Arrows do their thing. On the way down, we got chatting with some people who were visiting Herne Bay (the next town along) for an airshow – which is when we heard about the Red Arrows but also, much more excitingly for me, a fly past by the last remaining airworthy Vulcan bomber!

wpid-20150815_112539.jpgSo, while the girls braved the chilly, pebbly sea, I was watching the skies for the huge distinctive shape of the Vulcan, first glimpsed at the RAF Museum back in 2011.

Still a bit early. But we spent a lovely hour watching the sailboats float past, finding interesting rocks and shells and crushing most of those interesting rocks and shells with bigger rocks.

wpid-20150815_120205.jpgThen we walked up the Tankerton Slopes to the funfair, from where the Red Arrows could be seen giving one of their always-impressive displays. I took the girls on the big wheel (well, biggish wheel) and they screamed with delight the whole time. Sure, it took a few revolutions before Amber joined Millie and I waving our hands in the air, but she got there in the end. 🙂

Realising our mistake, we then headed back to Whitstable proper (still no Vulcan…), which had a little artisan market going on – a strange mix of smelly fishing boats and what we call I-saw-you-coming shops. I discovered, now the sun was well and truly blazing, that I’d lost my trusty hat – and my shiny bald head was beginning to get unpleasantly hot.

I also discovered that it’s very hard to buy a practical hat from I-saw-you-coming shops. Ouch.

Fortunately, the Vulcan bomber suddenly appeared away over Herne Bay and I forgot all thoughts of my fiery bonce. Even from a mile or so away it was majestic: a huge triangular monster, mooching about the skies like it owned them. Twice flying our way, only to turn off and disappear behind a stupid hill.

Still, I felt lucky to have caught that glimpse. 🙂

The girls and the Lovely Melanie were waiting for me on a “beach” made of crushed shells, and I was nearly run over by the lifeboat launching across it (not for an actual emergency, just a display). The girls put their swimming costumes and dived into the sea once more, leaping between the endless stream of sailboats now returning to shore.

And that, by and large, was that. We had fresh fish and chips for tea, bought some rock and sugar dummies – Millie even bought one for Amber, who had spent all her pocket money (an act of sisterly generosity which surprised everyone, especially Amber) and then caught the train back home to Bexley: tired, a bit pink and happy.

Good liberal parenting 2

More liberal, Guardian-reading, middle-class parenting over the weekend as I took the girls to their first proper gig – not a “concert”, this was a bona fide “gig” with beer and grown-ups and a band: Haiku Salut at The Lexington, Sunday 9th August 2015.

wpid-20150809_155251.jpg

As a big music fan I’ve been looking forward to introducing them to “proper gigs”, and this Sunday afternoon all-ages affair was just perfect.

Amber made herself at home at the bar downstairs, mesmerised by the spinning bar stools and eating all the cucumber there for (I presume) cocktails.

wpid-20150809_164420.jpg

Millie took her tablet and spent most of the time playing games. but did occasionally look up and deigned to pronounce it all “quite good”.

Here are the two of them sat together on the bar upstairs while the band do their thing.

Without a tablet or ‘phone to play with Amber got bored enough to ask if she could read my copy of New Scientist. The man stood next to us, obviously impressed by such very advanced children, asked if he she always read New Scientist. “Only at gigs,” I laughed.

Thanks to Haiku Salut, who were absolutely spell-binding, swapping instruments, as my friend put it, “like some kind of performance art” and producing a beautifully moving noise.

My first proper gig was to see Five Star at the Swindon Oasis, aged about 13.

Millie and Amber, I’m glad to say, are off to rather a better start. 🙂

Good liberal parenting

Because I’m a good, bourgeois, Guardian-reading parent who wants to use the summer holidays for improving activities the girls and I have been jolly busy the last few days.

Yesterday we visited the Houses of Parliament.

Millie (10) and Amber (7) mostly enjoyed it – the 90 minute tour did go a little above their heads, and I did see Amber yawn a couple of times, but the Palace of Westminster (to give it the proper title) is a fantastically impressive place, so I think I got away with it.

We arranged the trip some months ago with our local MP (thank you, James Brokenshire) – completely free of charge.

Arriving at the Palace at midday in time for our 12.30 tour slot we were thoroughly checked, scanned and cleared by a small army of security staff and police, who took away my tiny pen-knife keyring, just in case.

Westminster Hall, where you enter, is HUGE, and I mean MASSIVE! Millie and I worked out that it was more than twice the height of our house you could probably fit our entire street inside.

Oh, and it’s over 700 years old, too. They really knew how to build ’em back in the 1300s!

Our tour guide was a smiling and very knowledgeable man named Rob who gave just the right mix of information, trivia and humour as we wandered around – and there was a lot to see in a fairly short time.

Although not quite as large-scale as Westminster Hall the rest of the Palace impresses in its own ways – mostly by being opulently decorated or unnervingly familiar as a backdrop to the TV news.

I was overwhelmed to be stood in such a famous room, looking at seats and thinking “That’s where the prime minister sits on the news!”

It seems smaller than on TV – which is what everyone thinks, apparently – but still has a…a power and a grandeur that you can’t explain. Even the girls, who didn’t really know what they were seeing, looked a little awestruck.

wpid-20150810_134210.jpgI was told off for taking this picture of the girls in front of the Speakers Chair in the House of Commons Chamber.

All the awesomeness took it out of us, however. Despite the tour lasting only about 90 minutes we came feeling exhausted and all fell asleep on the train back to Bexley.

At home I had a little nap, only to be awoken by Millie reminding me of a promise to take her to see the new Fantastic Four movie directed by Josh Trank (whose earlier low-budget superhero movie, Chronicle, I was super-impressed with). All the reviews of Fantastic Four, I reminded her, had been terrible, but there was no stopping her, so off we went to Bexleyheath Cineworld.

There were just seven other people in the cinema with us (one of whom left halfway through), but the film itself wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. Sure, it wasn’t great, but the first half, before they get their powers, is actually pretty OK.

Unfortunately, everything goes to hell in a handbasket after that. I was surprised by Millie’s review of the film on the bus home – she pretty much agreed with me, and was particularly annoyed that the end battle was so rushed and uninspiring…

City camping

Think of camping and you’d imagine fields, woods and farms – the great outdoors, right? You’re not thinking suburban London and catching a bus from your house to a campsite.

Well, maybe you should, because that’s exactly what we did this weekend: caught the 229 from the end of our road to somewhere called Abbey Wood. Just half an hour away, we grabbed tents, sleeping bags, disposable barbecue and – inexplicably, given that every campsite ever has taps – four litres of water.

“Abbey Wood” – sounds nice, but it’s never going to be a tourist destination – sorry Abbey Wood residents. However, nestled amongst the estates and building works, like the wardrobe to Narnia, is the green and pleasant Abbey Wood Caravan Club Campsite.

Abbey Wood Caravan Club CampsiteWith no LeeFest to camp at this year we decided to spend a night there.

Arriving early afternoon, we put up our brand-new tent and let the girls do some cart-wheels across the grass.

Then, we grabbed a bag, zipped up the tent, the girls did some more cart-wheels and went out to explore Lesnes Abbey Woods, just across the road.

It’s a lovely spot – really really lovely. The girls did some cart-wheels, scaring all the crows, then we wandered about the remains of Lesnes Abbey, which are pretty big. It takes a while to do cart-wheels all the way around them, believe me.

Being on top of a hill there are some lovely views of London, and of the woods themselves. In the bright afternoon sunshine it was hard not to smile the whole time. 🙂

Back at the leafy campsite we played cards, cooked some sausages for dinner and did some cart-wheels; the girls made some friends while the Lovely Melanie and I caught up on some reading. We also stared in frank amazement at the three-storey German tourbus-cum-mobile dormitory which pulled in and set up camp. Got to admire that German ingenuity!

When the bats came out and it started to get dim there was just time for a couple more cart-wheels before retiring into the new tent. There we told some ghost-stories, most of which Amber managed to turn into stories about butts, and we all laughed until we fell asleep.

And because we were so close to home, next morning we could get up, do some cart-wheels, have breakfast, do some more cart-wheels, pack up the tent, do more cart-wheels and be home by 10.30am, with the rest of the day to relax and do some cart-wheels.

Will we be camping in London again? Yes, definitely 🙂