Now that we’ve had our first hard frost – a real cracker it was too, that’s the end of my dahlias – it’s the right time to pick sloes for sloe gin. They need a good frost to soften them up, before that they’re like little purple bullets. Go on a nice country walk and pick about a pound of them. Take them home and prick each one with a skewer. Pour about half out of a litre gin bottle (funny that, I can do litres, but I can’t be having with those millimetre things, a pound was good enough for my old mum and it’s good enough for me) and put the sloes into the bottle. I use a paper funnel. Then top it up with about half a pound of sugar. Use more if you like it sweet, but then you might need to pour a bit more gin out in the first place. Then screw the top back on and give the whole lot a good shake. Put the bottle somewhere dark, like a cupboard, and give it a shake when you can remember. After a couple of months, or six months at the most, strain it through muslin into a new bottle. Best to sterilise the bottle, just in case. Then you leave it again. I don’t tell Frank where I’ve put it: he’d just have it out and drink it and it’s not ready until next winter. If you do a bottle a year, you’ll always have a nice ripe one on the go. When it’s good and ready I give Frank a glass of it with a slice of my rabbit pie. Nectar he calls it, pure nectar. It warms the cockles lovely.
Harry the Horse is a Cleveland Bay, and his descendants have been around the British Isles for a long time. Stone Age men improved their caves with murals of Harry lookalikes galloping about with bison and long horned oxen. During the millennia, Cleveland Bays have perfected an excellent defence against English weather in the form of an enormously thick winter coat: underneath it is soft and fluffy, Harry’s own personal duvet; on top it is more like roofing felt. Furthermore Harry despises man-made rugs. If I put one on him because of extreme rain or snow, he slopes off to his secret rug-destroying place and when I next see him the rug is in tatters. Harry prefers to go au naturel.
With Slip it is a different matter. Slip is half Arab (the fine drawn horses who romantically gallop about in the desert) and half quarter horse (the cowboy horses who romantically gallop about in a sheriff’s posse). His natural coat has the texture of fine silk, which gleams in the sun but is useless when the sun goes in. This isn’t a problem, because thanks to modern materials he keeps warm and dry all year round in his light weight rug, his middle weight rug, his heavy weight rug (the list continues). He loves being pampered, and I love brushing his fine coat and selecting the perfect rug for current weather conditions. But as I buckle Slip lovingly into his latest deluxe high-tog two-toned soft-feel coat (with winter tail flap and innovative dart system) we could both of us do without Harry. Because Harry, secure in his own natural yak-coat, strolls over to the fence and openly sneers at Slip. We try to ignore him, but Slip (a sensitive flower) and I both know what Harry is saying: “Wimp!”
Scarab has a three stage plan for passing through the kitchen door to access the world of opportunities that lies beyond, and it goes like this:
Stage 1: Positive thinking. He settles down close to the door, folds his paws under him, passes into a higher state of being and thinks ‘this door will open!’ Because he is in tune with the universe, this usually does the job nicely and somebody enters or leaves the house and holds the door wide for him. Occasionally his humans remain densely cave dwelling and the door stays closed. Although he has the patience of a Damascan carpet seller, a cat has needs. It is time to pass on to:
Stage 2: Direct action. This is where he runs very quickly between the legs of any passing human, at the same time utilising his mega-meow (MEOW!!) and gazing meaningfully at the door. Particularly effective if the human is carrying a tray. Once the broken crockery has been cleared away, the door will be opened. This does not fail. Except sometimes there is no human to trip up, and the plan of last resort swings into action:
Stage 3: The Cat Flap. Scarab regards the cat flap in the way most of us regard mains drainage. You know it exists, but you don’t want to dwell on it. However, in both cases, it is extremely useful. If no other option remains, he will approach the cat flap and butt it with his head so that it swings open. Taking a deep breath, he will then cautiously pass his head and shoulders through so that from the front he looks like an exotic hunting trophy and from the rear like a vast stripy barrage balloon. Then, by gentle degrees, he inserts himself carefully through the cat flap. No fuss, no hurry and he invariably pauses when his tail and an unexpected back leg still remain behind him in the kitchen while most of the rest of him is outdoors and making plans. Then with a final flourish he completes the movement, the cat flap swings shut behind him and (ignoring any crude human laughter from the kitchen) he stands complete: international cat of mystery, ready to enter his kingdom.
This is actually the edited highlights. I cut out the bit where he really got going on fireworks.
Aly has asked me to write a few words about Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night as it should properly be called) in a ‘blog’. Blog! Ridiculous word. If you want to write a diary, call it a diary I say!
Where was I? Ah yes, Bonfire Night. In my humble opinion, this is an overrated festival nowadays, just an opportunity for hooligans to hurl dangerous fireworks around. People just seem to lose all sense of proportion. Maurice lit an enormous bonfire on his farm on Saturday night and all the village were wandering around in the dark eating saturated fats and drinking stimulants. I saw the vicar, who is normally a sensible man, waving a sparkler around – could have put somebody’s eye out. I went to find Maurice to ask him, quite politely, if he had carried out a proper risk assessment. Though he assured me he had, I didn’t like the tone of his voice at all. And when he found me doing my own risk assessment, just to make sure, he was quite frankly offensive. Of course parking in his field was a complete shambles, cars all over the place. I offered to officiate but he wasn’t having any of it. You just can’t help some people. Then with everybody trampling about the place, the field became a sea of mud and he had to drag cars out with his tractor. I’d have laughed, except my car was stuck too and that wasn’t funny at all. Bonfire nights should be organised properly according to official guide lines, keeping well-meaning amateurs well away from potential fire hazards. I can tell people this, but they just won’t listen. Hah!