Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Feeling the family love

We've just got back from a long weekend visiting my mum up in the West Midlands. I say 'my' mum, but she insists that Julie also calls her that, because she doesn't believe in the tag of 'in-law'. We had a nice time, despite our various ailments, and even managed to get out for the day as a family, with my sister and Toby (the Jack Russell) completing the group.

Another thing we managed was a game of Scrabble. As usual, there were mock-cries of 'cheat!' - along with very real aspersions cast upon the character of various people who dared to make their play in someone else's ideal place. In the meantime, there was plenty of chit-chat; after all, there was no rush, so we took our time taking our turns.

Mum had recently bought the new album by Rod Stewart, "Time". It's actually really rather good, especially as it's his first album of original material for a couple of decades...

The opening track, 'She makes me happy' is one
of the most joyous songs I've heard in ages.

The thing is though, there is the matter of earworms. The human mind is usually open to subtle suggestions, with the result that some item or event (normally an almost insignificantly minor one) will trigger some memory. In the case of earworms, what will happen is that you then have a tune stuck in your head, playing on loop for hours.

Having listened to the latest Rod Stewart album a few times, Mum was most definitely liable to have a Rod-themed earworm start up. During a quiet moment, as we all contemplated the letters on our racks, Mum suddenly began to quietly sing a Rod Stewart classic. One which elicited a particularly apposite response from Julie...

Cue much hilarity.

Mind you, considering how Rod Stewart looked at the time of this famous song, d'ya think he's sexy?

Monday, 29 July 2013

Dr. Do-Bugger-All

As you may have gathered over the last few hundred posts, both Julie and myself enjoy the company of animals. We've visited any number of zoological parks and sat and watched wildlife in woodlands and the like. Mostly though, we will make a fuss of almost any four-legged mammalian creature that passes. Julie specialises in cats, while I prefer the company of dogs - and we both like hedgehogs.

However, not all animals are responsive.

Obviously, you need to approach any unfamiliar animal with caution and allow them time to get used to you. Julie, however, seems to find that many of the animals we tend to meet will ignore her for some reason or another. I'm sure it's just coincidence or a case of being a little too eager, but Julie has another explanation.

Friday, 26 July 2013


These balls, specifically.

tits and balls
Tits and balls, oh my!
They're blue tits, but that doesn't help much, does it?
At least they aren't great tits...

In my mum's garden, there are plenty of places for the local birdlife to get their fill - as long as the bloody pigeons and squirrels don't hog it all/crap all over it. But one of the best things we've found are the seed-packed spheres of suet - more commonly known as fat balls.

Yeah. You can see where we're going with this, can't you...

Obviously, it's going to take a total innocent not to make any kind of mental connection with, and let's not beat around the bush here, testicles. Bollocks, gonads, love spuds, the two veg to the penis's meat. Whatever you want to call the male reproductive organs, if you name a product of ANY kind 'fat balls', all kinds of people are going to be sniggering. To be perfectly honest, the manufacturers don't help either...

Ok, settle down at the back there...

As it happens, I recently had a request for me to buy some fat balls for the feeders in my mum's garden. In fact, the poorly-worded  text message I received from my sister ran, "Oh btw, Mum needs fat balls."
My reply? "No comment."

Today, as chance would have it, me and Julie were in a garden centre (cooing over the pets and discovering they even had a couple of hedgehogs!*), so we took the opportunity to buy some spherical bird treats.
After looking at all the pets, gifts and gardening gear, we left with nothing else but avian snacks. I admit to feeling a little sulky that we couldn't afford a 'hog (£150 - before care etc). Julie tried to put a positive spin on things though.

Honestly, I'm not sure one was worse than the other...


* A little note on purchasing hedgehogs. Only buy/keep African pigmy hedgehogs, as all the other breeds are not suitable for keeping as pets.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The wrong side of the tracks

Julie has a friend, an ex-colleague she has kept in touch with. The thing is, Julie's friend, Sue has a reputation for being a bit absent-minded and prone to changing her mind six or seven times a minute. Put it this way - even Julie labels Sue as being 'a bit dappy'.

Yes, I know. Scary, isn't it?

Quite some time ago, we were giving Sue a lift to visit a friend in Bexhill, the next town along from us. I have already related one part of this journey (click here to read).

The thing is, just before that event, Julie and Sue were deeply engaged in a conversation about the location of the local railway line.
From the outset, I was astounded by the fact this conversation was taking place - and that it was going on for so long. Back and forth, the two women tried to work out where the trains would be going by. After a few minutes of this, I snapped.

Just in case anyone thinks I'm being too harsh on Sue and Julie, may I present this map, courtesy of Google.

See that blue stuff? That's the sea, that is.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Baby, it's HOT outside.

For people who have been living on another planet for the last week or so, Britain is in the middle of a heatwave.

Similarly, those people may not have heard that Prince William (second in line to the throne of Britain) and his wife, Kate Middleton, are expecting a baby. In fact, said baby is a little overdue, as the original due date was for early last week. In fact, I was mildly thrilled to think that I might have shared a birthday with the third in line to the throne... Oh well.

Kate Middleton, pregnant and pretty.

As it stands, though, the baby, whose sex the royal couple are as of yet unaware, is overdue. Enough so that it is theorised (ie, gossipped) that Kate was induced. In any event, it was reported today that the royal mum-to-be is in labour in hospital (link to BBC article).

Meanwhile, in our own household this morning, I was enjoying a cup of tea, and Julie was scrolling through news stories and relating some of the headlines to me. Obviously, Kate Middleton's situation was going to be high up on the list...

...thanks for the image, love...

Friday, 19 July 2013

Touchy about temperatures

A little while ago, we decided to have Chinese food for dinner. In order to save a little money, we bought some ready meals at Tesco, and rounded it off with a pack of spring rolls. When it came to cooking the food, later that day, we found that while the spring rolls needed to be cooked in the oven, the meals and rice had to be done in the microwave.

With a little planning, we worked out the order in which everything needed to be cooked and set it all off.

A short while later, we took the tray of spring rolls out of the oven so that we could follow the instruction to turn them half-way through their cooking. Yes, we have tongs in the kitchen, but we couldn't be bothered to get them, so we just used our fingers instead.

That cartoon's not strictly accurate for the events. Partly because nobody cried tears (let alone what appears to be urine), but mostly because it was not me, but Julie that was wincing as she gingerly flipped the rolls over. Smiling slightly (I know, cocky bastard, or what?), I took over, nonchalantly turning each roll over, taking my time. Yes, I could feel they were hot, but they didn't seem to burn me, nor did I feel any pain.

Julie couldn't believe it, blaming it on some kind of machismo thing.
"Nah," I said, "I've just got asbestos fingers."
"What?" Julie exclaimed.

I explained:

Wait... so you want not hot heat...?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Spike goes all Statler on Skype

Throughout all the posts over the last few years, it may appear that I am slandering my poor wife and perhaps portraying myself as unfillable and perfect. However, while everything that I attribute to Julie is completely accurate, there is no way in hell I am free from an occasional faux-pas. If you look in the labels section (to the right), you will see one by the name of "Spike's Slips". Those are all mine, baby!

Today's Gem also features myself, but I have to confess to having an accomplice this time, via a conversation on Skype.

I've known Pierre a few years now, enough for us to realise we have a certain similarity of mindset. We'll object to the same things, laugh at the same things - and when we get together via one medium or another, we'll mine the same comedic vein of silliness - with an added dash or two of nerd and geek just to flavour the dish that bit more.

Most of the time, it will begin innocuously enough, usually with a throwaway remark or typo...

Actually, I'm quite liking that crossword idea... lol

I'm hoping everyone understand all the acronyms we used there. 'Wotnot', of course, is Julie's own little word of wonder (again, look in the labels on the right...).

As for me and Pierre, it has been said before, by many people - including us - that we are very much like this pair. All I'll say is that the one reminds me very much of one of my grandfathers. It must be the eyebrows...

ps - I'm hoping you realised the typo was blatantly intentional...

Monday, 15 July 2013

HUNGRRRRY! (our 400th post!)

Post number 400? Indeed it is! It's not our 400th Gem, thanks to our prize draws, but we're working on it. It's hard to believe that we started this back in February of 2011 with an odd question from Julie regarding a thin soup.


Talking of food, I have a confession to make; I enjoy food rather too much. It's not a bolt from the blue for people that know me, but it makes a point.

You see, one of the downsides of eating a lot is that you tend to feel hungry more often. Sometimes it's a phantom feeling, but it's more usually a side-effect of your stomach simply getting into the habit of eating a lot. Julie used to have a problem herself, but a stomach bypass operation has changed that. (Ironically, the first thing that Julie had following the operation was consomme - as Gemmed all that time ago!)

For me, I find that I am often feeling at least peckish about an hour or so after a meal - something that astounds my wife. Admittedly, I have larger portions than I should, but salad only tends to go so far, no matter how much you eat. Consequently, on a recent occasion, I was feeling a little more than 'peckish'.

Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors as portrayed
by Gazzycakes on deviantArt.


Anyway, there had been noises issuing from my equator, so I decided to do something about it. Julie couldn't believe it.

No, that's not me.
Well played, love, well played.

Friday, 12 July 2013


Please allow me to introduce ZME science.

I have been following ZME Science for a few years now. While it isn't as big as some other blogs, it is most certainly enthusiastic and cheerfully tackles many topics that stretch the definition of 'science', such as archaeology, which is history with a whole mess of science thrown in for good measure.

A relatively recent addition to ZME is a section for questions and answers. Anyone can ask a question, and anyone can also provide responses to or rate questions. Even more recently, they have also started up a contest on their Q&A page, with a rather wonderfully science-themed prize; the chance to find out your genetic lineage via a DNA test. You could find out that your father's great-great-great grandfather originated in Tibet, while your mother had some seriously Scottish ancestry.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm definitely going to enter. If you want to, visit this particular blog post to find out more...

Mind you, Julie wasn't too keen on the idea.

I'm not sure, but that may have been a very subtle and unconscious play on words, involving 'box' and the fact that 'reincarnated' sounds sort of, possibly maybe, maybe not similar to the word 'carton'. Perhaps.


What - you're still here? Don't be daft - get over to ZME Science and get your entry to this contest in right now! The prize is available globally, according to my contact, and the closing date is July 31st 2013

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

I say thee neigh!

A Thelwell pony, looking alarmed. Why? Read on.

On a recent visit to my mum, she, myself and Julie were sat around the table, enjoying a game of Scrabble. Julie noticed that I hadn't got my notepad with me and was quite pleased when I remarked in a jocular manner that I was giving her the night off.

Silly me.

Honestly, it must have been the most Gem-packed time I have ever known.

One of the hallmarks of our family Scrabble games is a penchent for - accidentally - going in a place that blocks the next player on. Mum is particularly vocal when it happens to her, and this occasion was no exception. I have no idea what I put down, but I was immediately labelled as a 'ratbag' and it was commented, with a very loud 'tut', that you "just can't choose your family, can you?"

Hot on the heels of this well-worn saying, Julie piped up, mixing metaphors and the gods know what else...

Well, you probably could, but that's not to say that you should.


In case you weren't aware of his work, the equine at the top was sketched by a very well-known English cartoonist by the name of Thelwell. He was most famous for his cartoons of rotund ponies and little girls, which, when I say it like that, sounds like he should have been arrested...

Instead, I invite you to go look at the website and perhaps to google him.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Gettin' deep-down with the doggies.

By gods, it was hot today. Julie and me were walking along the promenade and were definitely feeling the need for a drink. Even at six in the evening, it was sweat-inducingly warm. After a little while, we reached a restaurant/bar and ordered ourselves some tea. Because we're English, don't you know.

We sat outside on the veranda, enjoying the shade and the breeze and watched the world go by. There was an excitable dog with glorious golden fur we were both watching as it joyously greeted everyone that passed by. As we did so, though, there was a gruff barking from a couple of tables away. However, try as I might, i just could not find the dog responsible. In fact, all I could see apart from the golden dog was a long-haired dachshund.

A handsome chappie, certainly, but far too small to be responsible for the deep bark we'd heard. How wrong I was. Julie knew already, since it was in her line of sight, but I had to wait for it to bark again before I would believe it. Julie had an explanation for the dog's low vocal tone...

Facepalm time.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Going potty through thick and thin

Having just given the patio and path a much-needed overhaul, Mum decided that now was the perfect time to invest in some patio plants. We already had plenty of pots of varying sizes, so that was something we didn't need to think about.

These aren't the real pots, but they do give you a good idea of the size we're talking about. They're nice pots, good to look at and hold a decent amount of plants. Unfortunately, some of them don't have any drainage holes, which is a problem in England.

On one of my recent trips, I tried to amend this situation. I managed to get a couple of holes in the base of one pot, but another was proving to be something of a problem. Even with a masonry bit in the drill, I was only just making a shallow dent in the bottom of one pot. I mean, look at the picture above - you can see they're fairly robust. Not only that, but this one pot was resisting everything I could throw at it with our resources.

In the end, I had to give up.

A couple of weeks later, I was visiting once more and my mum was telling me that she had also had a go at making a hole in the pot - and failed. I went out to have a look, but couldn't find any sign of further hole-making attempts. Moving the pot off the table, I turned it right side up and noticed a small mark on the bottom, inside the pot.

Odd. Why there? I mean, it was awkward to get at and if you did managed to break through, then the table would also be sporting a new hole. I asked Mum about it - this was our conversation...

Yes, Mum.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Rodents with ratchets

The red squirrel is a lovely looking animal. Pity it's been pretty much comprehensively ousted by the grey squirrel. They're a voracious and clever beastie.

Unfortunately, my mother is more interested in attracting birds to her garden than squirrels. Over the years, both my parents spent a lot of time and money trying to get bird feeders to be squirrel proof.

Seriously. I mean, they have looked out the window a few times and seen a squirrel literally dragging an entire feeder across the lawn. That's when they can't break into them in situ, of course. There have been plastic domes over the feeders, thick wire cages - even grease on the poles supporting the feeders. Nothing has proved to be too much of an obstacle for the furry buggers.

One of the most recent - and effective - ploys has been a plastic tube with metal fixings that are really resistant to rodent teeth.

As you can see, it's a solid piece of kit. There is another fixing on the opposite side, and they're secured by a heavy-duty screw that is housed within the feeder itself. You can just see the Phillips head in the picture above.

I have just returned from a visit to my mum. After a six-hour journey, two hours more than it should have been, I was glad for a cuppa.
Stood in the kitchen, talking to Mum, I looked out of the window and saw that one of the feeders was almost empty. I commented on this and suddenly found myself in the middle of a righteous fury - aimed at the local squirrels.

Somehow - we have no real idea how - the squirrels have managed to dismantle the metal parts of the feeder and all the food poured out. Even worse, after a search, I could only find one of the metal fixtures - and no screw. Damned if I know what the squirrels are going to do with a single piece of bird feeder. Use it for lessons, perhaps?

Mum, in the meantime, was obsessing over how the squirrels had managed to break the feeder apart...

Perhaps, but I doubt we'll ever see a squirrel with a power drill...
In the meantime, here's a funny picture of a squirrel that appears to have been a little too hungry for its own good.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The height of confusion

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I would really, really like to have a dog. Unfortunately, what with one thing and another, it's just not feasible. For now, me and Julie will have to be content with making a fuss (or 'fondling', as Julie has referred to it) of other people's pooches. Living near the sea in a seaside town means having a promenade usually, and the one in Eastbourne is quite a good one.

It certainly is if you are a dog walker, anyhow. At any given time during the day, you will be sure of meeting at least one dog out for a walk. Some days, you can barely move for them. It's just as well that there are dog waste bins placed here and there. I just wished everyone would use them, not just some people.

This is the current campaign to get people to pick up the poo
Regardless of the muck, however, it's nice to see all the different dogs. Apart from the odd specimen, though, we tend to avoid the really small ones. Partly because they're usually the most belligerent, and partly because it's hard to take anything seriously when it looks like what is produced when a rodent has shagged a rainbow-coloured mop.

It's especially odd when the smaller dogs are being walked by larger people...

Like a boss.

As I said, we don't dislike all small dogs, just as we're not too fond of every single larger dog. My mother has a Jack Russell terrier, a breed notorious for being somewhat bolshy, but all Toby wants to do is sleep - preferably next to you on the chair.

On one occasion, while we were walking along the prom (tiddly-om-pom-pom...), one very friendly small dog of indeterminate origin was zig-zagging the path ahead of its owner, trying to say 'hello' to every single person it met. Of course, when it reached us, it found some people who were willing to pay it some attention.

Which is when it went berserk - with joy, of course.

Poor thing - we couldn't help but laugh at it. It was so happy right then that its tail was wagging at physics-bending speeds. Unfortunately, since it was also trying to jump up to us, that wagging just sent it flying off in random directions, like a badly-flown helicopter.

Julie was sympathetic towards the dog (while laughing her head off, naturally), pointing out that its size really didn't help matters.

Er... what?