In September a lovely English lady, Sally Christopher approached me via a home-exchange site to enquire if Frank and I would be interested in house-sitting her Eguzki B&B in Durango for 12 days. After establishing that the B&B was shut and that there was just one neutered Tom cat to look after, and that we could use the owners’ car during our stay, we gave a wholehearted yes!
Unfortunately, due to French air-traffic control strikes our original flight was cancelled and because Vueling then had a backlog of passengers to clear we were offered an afternoon flight two days later. Not too bad you would think but that meant we didn’t have a chance to meet our hosts! No worries, Sally had arranged a pick-up at the airport and a whistle-stop tour of the house by her Spanish neighbours. All very well but as we were both rather weary and my Spanish is extremely rusty I forgot to ask which was the car we were meant to use and which garage belonged to Sally. So we went around aiming the keys at various cars and trying garage door locks until we found the right one.
Perhaps because of all the stress of travelling, a few days later I got sick and had to go to the local health centre. My pidgen Spanish must have been good enough because I have never been fast-tracked through to a doctor so quickly! As the cold was extremely severe and I am asthmatic, antibiotics and Prednison were prescribed whereby I was quickly back up on my feet and able to enjoy sightseeing again. Highlights were The Guggenheim at Bilbao, San Sebastian, the coastal drive from Bilbao to San Sebastian and horse-riding in the Urkiola National Park – courtesy of remarkable British woman, Teresa Doyle who rehabilitates and trains neglected horses, and teaches Spanish children both English and riding simultaneously!
The Basque country is stunning, if you ever get a chance to go grab it with both hands!
As well as our house-sit in Holmfirth, Yorkshire we had a dreamlike twelve days of heaven in a house-sit on the English/Welsh border, built alongside Offa’s Dyke Path. Two former quarry-worker’s homes knocked into one formed the country cottage with roses climbing up the wall that I have always dreamed of. We were teleported into our ideal existence looking after Mana, a retired racing Greyhound, and Moley, Bedlington Lurcher x Whippet. Wonderful daily climbs with the dogs up to Llanymynech Rock were invigorating and the golf course right at the top boasted spectacular views. If I am ever tempted to take up golf (pretty unlikely) then Llanymynech Golf Club ,where you can putt in England and drive in Wales, is the one for me!
The dogs quickly accepted us into their ‘pack’ and joined us each evening in the TV room. It was so funny watching Mana negotiate her long legs as she settled into the armchair. Moley was hard of hearing but even so he didn’t like all the screeching caused by Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons during GOTs episodes. Moley is a former Traveller’s dog with a rascally character to match. Every so often on our walks he would disappear on a stealth mission (he was bred for poaching) into the bushes still chasing that elusive prey…Not bad for a fifteen-year-old! Frank and I are missing them still. Many thanks to their gracious owners, who allowed us the privilege of staying in their home and caring for their two beloved dogs, and who also wrote us a brilliant review on Mindmyhouse. (Direct link to our profile)
Name: Ruby Likes: Pouncing on things Dislikes: Dogs
I live in Holmfirth where the world’s longest running sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine was shot. I am far too young and hip to remember it but the middle-aged bipeds love it and come in their bus loads to see all the locations! If I had known Nora Batty I’m sure I would have had great fun sharpening my claws on her wrinkly stockings.
Anyway, recently some new hoomans moved into my house while my permanent hoomans are away on holiday. They are called Ange and Frank and they seem OK. They feed me and stroke me and play with me too because I’m not even a year old so still a bit frolicsome in my ways. When I brought my new hoomans a mouse, they are useless hunters and buy everything from Lidl, they made appreciative noises and praised me! They had read that this was the right response in the book, Catwatching by some chap called Desmond Morris. I think they are taking this whole cat psychology thing a bit far but they mean well. Morris wrote that female cats think their hoomans are useless kittens that need to be fed. Ange and Frank didn’t eat the mouse though, I checked. So it was all a bit of a waste of time, apart from the fact it was oodles and oodles of fun.
My cat-sit hoomans have been having some jolly days out at Yorkshire Sculpture Park,Bronte Parsonage, Hebden Bridge, Digley Reservoir and the Monsal Trail in the Peak District. I saw the photos on the catputer. I love trying to catch that pointy cursor thing with my paw. In the mornings I scramble all over Frank as he tries to read his email, because I haven’t seen a hooman all night! In the evenings I’m a bit less wriggly and sit on his lap sort of quietly. Apparently I dig my claws in a bit too much, but that’s only because I am hardwired to pummel for milk from Mothercat, that Morris chap says so. My permanent hoomans had described me as not a lapcat so they will get a nice surprise when they get home!
Must be going now, as, yawn, there is an empty sofa which has a Ruby-shaped hollow in it…Here’s some photos of the places my temporary hoomans went to, oh and a couple of Moi!
Zak Ove, Black and Blue
Andy Goldsworthy, Outclosure
de Saint Phalle
Bronte Parsonage inside
Sophie Ryder – Hare
Council flat immersed in copper sulphate by artist…
I am happy to announce that my short story, Caged Birds, set in Amsterdam’s Red light District was highly commended in The Seven Deadly Sins Short Story Award which means publication in the anthology, ‘Gift of a Casserole.’ It is available as an e-book (in all e-reader formats) for $3.99 USD on Smashwords. Or pre-order as a hard copy, via Stringybark Stories
The collection includes stories inspired by lust, envy, greed, wrath, sloth, gluttony and pride. What a collection of sins to make the heart beat faster. This is the second anthology of short stories published by SBS that explores these dark human motivations. Presented for your enjoyment the thirty highly commended and three prize-winning stories from the Stringybark Seven Deadly Sins Award 2017
Danny stared through the glass at the young, voluptuous woman, her turquoise bikini luminous in the subdued street lighting. A gaggle of men formed a half-circle outside the window in Amsterdam’s red-light district. Danny’s bestie, Si, egged him on.
“Go on, Dan, she’s the one, dude!”
Danny’s heart sank. Why had he agreed to have his stag do in Amsterdam?
— From “Caged Birds” by Susan Carey
Not fancying a bumper-to-bumper drive towards Zandvoort, husband and I spent a couple of hours in the very pretty Friesian town of Lemmer a few weekends ago. It was a baking hot Sunday afternoon and after recovering from our non-air-conditioned drive we enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere in this picture perfect harbour town. It’s only an hour’s drive from Amsterdam but I felt I was entering a totally different world, even another country. I don’t know Friesland that well but it’s a lot less cramped than the Randstad and the description, big sky country, seems very apt.
The rather inward-looking, parochial atmosphere of the inner town of Lemmer is at odds with the wide horizons offered over the Ijsselmeer. Mainly German tourists visit in the summer months which results in what I experienced as a rather curt tone towards foreign accents of any description. I’ve lived in NL long enough to be used to the Dutch brusqueness but this seemed even stronger than that. Possibly there is some underlying resentment from the older generation towards the tourists that now supply the town with its livelihood. Understandable, perhaps but the families that lived from fishing must have largely died out by now.
Things to do
Lemmer is definitely worth a day trip and if you enjoy water sports and want to visit the Friesian Lakes this is a good place to base yourself. You won’t go short of restaurants and all the major supermarkets have stores there if you prefer to self-cater. They even have a British pub if that is your thing! You can also visit the nearby Woudagemaal which is the pumping station that protects Lemmer from the substantial flood risks which accompany its unique location. Woudagemaal is a Unesco World Heritage site.
The town of Lemmer developed in a strategically vulnerable place on the Zuiderzee. During the centuries Lemmer has been besieged by aggressors many times. In the periods of peace between the military fracases, Lemmer grew into a lively harbour. The village and waterfront changed unrecognisably in 1887 when a new lock was built. ‘The tide is going to turn and it waits for neither Princes nor gentlemen;’ is one of the six proverbs painted onto the neo-classical lock-keepers’ houses.
Alongside seafaring and its related industries, the fishing industry defined Lemmer’s character and contributed to its income. But when the Afsluitdijk was completed in 1932, the salt water Zuiderzee changed into the fresh water Ijsselmeer. An even bigger change was caused by the creation of the Noordoostpolder which began in 1936. This meant that 48,000 hectares was reclaimed from the sea and that sounded the death knell for the local fishing industry and caused a rapid and irrevocable decline of the town’s former lifeblood. Nowadays, picturesque Lemmer with its many canal-side restaurants and bars, draws thousands of tourists each summer because of its unique positioning between the Ijsselmeer and the lure of myriad water-sports in the Friesian Lake area.
We are delighted to publish our sixth issue of Writers Abroad magazine, The Third Space, which includes an interview with renowned author, Peter May.
I have contributed an article about Anne Frank and also a review of psychological thriller, The Breakdown by B A Paris.
You can access it via Joomag to read it on-line or alternatively download a PDF copy which you can read on your PC (including the Kindle app if you have it), tablet, iPad or android device. The best way to read the PDF version is through a PDF reader app which are free to download.
Just a short blog for you today as I’m lucky enough to be spending a few glorious days with fellow Writers Abroad member, Nicola, aka author, Nina Croft. Nicola and her husband Rob live in Southern Spain, in the Alpujarra which is a stunning, mountainous region in Southern Spain with a backdrop onto the Sierra Nevada. Eating paella, meeting another Writers Abroad Member, Chris Nedahl and having a couple of fabulous rides on Nicky’s horses, Fin and Gencie have been on the activity list till so far. I think the pictures tell the story better than words can!
Fun facts about Black Beauty and the novel’s author, Anna Sewell
1. Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty is one of the biggest-selling novels of all time. Published in 1877, Black Beauty was a huge publishing success story from the start. Although Sewell died five months after the book appeared (the cause of her death has been attributed variously to tuberculosis and hepatitis), she lived long enough to learn that she had written a bestseller. The book has sold over 50 million copies in total, making it one of the bestselling books in English. It was Sewell’s only novel. Sewell died in 1878, but had been an invalid for much of her life; she was confined to her family home for much of her life.
One of my local parks is the Westerpark and on my frequent cycle rides through it, I couldn’t help noticing a rather large and imposing sculpture. So last week I got off my trusty iron steed and took a few pictures of the poignantly named, ‘Weeping Elephant.’ It was created by artist, Jantien Mook. Mook’s mission statement;
“The Weeping Elephant’, is a sculpture of an African elephant five meters high. She will travel around the world and appear in cities, she ‘weeps’ to make her presence felt. On her journey she want to join forces during events; conservation, art & culture related, with experts, enthusiasts and artists to bring an ode to the wild. The stage under the sculpture is a meeting point for special guests; speakers, musicians, dancers and children to share their message with the world.
I’m looking for partners who are able and willing to help ‘The Weeping Elephant’ on her journey. Please contact me; here”
Elephants and Sadness Elephants are often portrayed as sad animals. Think of those in literature; Dumbo,who is separated from his mother at an early age; Rosie, the abused circus elephant in Sara Gruen’s fantastic book, Water for Elephants which when made into a film sparked a real-life animal abuse storm about the elephant who played Rosie, Tai. Controversy erupted around concerns that Tai was mistreated prior to filming, Water for Elephants.A video released by the Animal Defenders International (ADI) in 2011 shows footage of Tai allegedly being shocked with handheld stun guns and beaten around the body and legs with bull hooks, while in the care of Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005. The ADI contacted the American Humane Association, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.
Wills Gets Involved Not only do elephants suffer for our entertainment, in the wild they are threatened by ivory poachers. Recently elephants have had Prince William fighting their corner. Although his message isn’t very hopeful, perhaps it will make some groups think more about where their supply of ivory comes from;
“When I was born, there were one million elephants roaming Africa.
And at the current pace of illegal poaching, when Charlotte turns 25 the African elephant will be gone from the wild.”
Thankfully we can console ourselves with the more uplifting story by Michael Morpurgo based on a real-life incident of an elephant rescuing a British child from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. It was dramatised in London by the same puppet theatre that made War Horse. Here pictures of Ning Nong and the little girl he saved, Amber Own who is now in her twenties, and below Ning Nong’s puppet actor in the play, ‘Running Wild.’
So what is it about these pachyderms that invokes this deep-rooted sense of guilt about the way we treat the natural world? Is it their very strong family bonds which we identify with, or perhaps their immense strength and gentleness combined? Why not go to the Westerpark and think about it? Perhaps you will be moved to write a poem, draw a picture or make a donation to the WWF. Don’t wait too long though because at the end of April, Weeping Elephant’s packing her trunk and moving onto pastures new.