Ollie Changes The Rules

Last week, for the first time in eight years, Ollie started to refuse to eat his dinner at the usual time of 5 pm. Every day since the spring of 2012, he knew it was dinnertime around five, and would be ready and waiting to gulp it down.

But not anymore.

At first, we were worried that he might be unwell. But he still enjoyed his midday treat, and his late evening Bonio biscuit. After throwing away his dinner on three occasions, I decided to try something.

When we get back from his walk at around 3 pm, he often eats some of the dry pellets left over from the previous evening. The exercise and fresh air obviously gives him an appetite when he gets home.

So I gave him his dinner at 2:45 the next day, and he ate the lot as if he had never seen food before. So now he is fed as soon as we get back from his walk, and he has been eating everything.

By changing his behaviour, Ollie changed the rules to suit himself.

The Homestead: Part Twenty-Three

This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 865 words.

It wasn’t long before daddy found out who the men were. The moustache man was Bill Mathewson. He had made his money from buffalo hunting and skins, and was buying up land along with the German, who was called Grieffenstein. Tha German was a successful merchant and trader who soon had a hand in most things bought and sold in Wichita. But with no railroad yet, all they could do was to keep accumulating property, hoping to cash in later.They left us alone for a while, but pretty soon the building jobs got less, as they made sure never to use us for any construction or repairs. Reckon they also told their friends not to employ us too.

Daddy said he weren’t that bothered. We had a good amount of money behind us, and the steady stream of new settlers meant that there were still jobs to pick up from time to time. One good thing was that Shawn Ryan went to work for the German, and after that he never called on us no more. And when I rode past their place, Maggie didn’t come out waving no more neither.

The next spring, railroad men started to lay the rails heading north to Newton. That would connect with the railroad that had already reached there, so it seemed it wouldn’t be long before trains from up north would soon be arriving in town. But on the homestead, life was still good. The planting got done, and with less work for us in Wichita, we set to improving our own buildings, and doing repairs. Daddy and Henry got some work over in Delano, building a new saloon near the riverbank. We had always avoided that place, but Henry said ‘Work is work, Mister Jessie”. That left me working around the homestead with Walter.

Susan used to bring us something to eat and drink mid-morning. As we stopped work to eat, she would show me her practice at writing in an old notebook daddy had given her. She was doing good, and keen to learn more. Reading the old Bible was hard though, ’cause of all the funny names and old words. I thought to get her a better book, next time I was in town. One day, as she cleared away the plates and cups to take back to the house, she gave me a smile. It was a certain sort of smile, and it made me notice her in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

She was sure pretty, I had to admit.

When I got to the new General Store in Wichita, the man told me there was no call for books, but he could order some for me from Topeka if I knew which ones I wanted, and paid up front. Then he suggested I go see Mrs Parker, the reverend’s wife. She was running a school for little kids from her house behind the church. She was a nice lady, and happy to make some suggestions. I wrote down what she recommended, and went back to the store and paid for them. I ordered a copy of Moby Dick, also Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Mrs Parker said that was about slaves before the war, and Walter might like to hear it read. The books were mighty expensive, and the man in the store said they would take three weeks to arrive.

Daddy picked them up for me on his way home one evening, and that night after dinner, I read some chapters from Moby Dick as everyone sat around the fire. The characters were so well-described, it was like we could see them in our heads, and hearing about fishing for the big whales was something new to us all. As they were leaving, I handed Susan the copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrapped in some white cotton, and told her it was for her. I don’t reckon anyone had ever given her anything before, as her hands were trembling, and I could see tears in her eyes as she took it. Turning in the doorway, she said, “Will you help me with the words I don’t know?” I smiled and nodded.

All through that summer, we carried on working around the house, with daddy and Henry away most days finishing the saloon. They also got more work at the hotel, adding more rooms at the back. The hotel owner said he paid no mind to what the rich cattlemen said, and he was happy because daddy did good work at a fair price. The corn, potatoes, and greens were growing well, and Walter did indeed show his skill at producing a fine crop. Which we later harvested and stored.

Around the time I was coming up eighteen that fall, Susan gave me a package wrapped in some soft hide. Inside were a pair of moccasins she had made me, all sewed real fancy, with small beads and injun designs. She said I could wear them around the house when I took my boots off, to save tearing holes in my socks.

I put them on and walked around some, declaring they were the most comfortable shoes I had ever owned.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: P

Peanut Butter.

It might sound strange that I don’t like peanut butter. I like peanuts, plain or salted. I like Satay sauce on Asian food, and that’s made from peanuts.
But peanut butter gives me the shivers, smooth or crunchy.


The first time I ever saw it as a child, it was always the Sun Pat brand.

That is still sold, but supermarkets also sell their own brands. Then there are the ‘Organic’ or ‘Luxury’ versions sold by various companies.

It’s the texture, as far as I am concerned. It has a cloying feel to it, and a tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth. The crunchy variety has bits that can get between your teeth, and the taste is simply too overwhelmingly ‘Peanutty’. And it smells funny too.

I know millions of people love it, including most of America, which is famous for its peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But I don’t like it.

The Homestead: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.

Daddy invited the men into the house, and told me to fetch Henry from the barn. As they tied their horses to a rail, the one with the long moustache nodded in the direction of Walter, who had come to see who was visiting. “Thet neegra of yours is carrying a shotgun, mister. T’aint a good idea for folks to see him with that”.

His accent was unusual, almost like a whine, and not familiar to my ears at all. Daddy held his hand up to stop Walter coming any closer. “Walter ain’t mine. He works here. He’s his own man, lives in his own house too”. The other man looked older, and was fat. He didn’t say anything, but shook his head.

I came back with Henry, telling him to be careful about what he said to the men, and not to say nothing if he wasn’t sure. Daddy had poured some whiskey, and they were sat around the table. Henry sat down and took out his pipe. Moustache man reached into his inside pocket and removed some folded papers.

“Says here you’re Henry Dench, and you have staked claim to this land. Is that a fact, Mr Dench? Henry glanced at daddy, then nodded. “Well then it’s your lucky day, Henry. If I may call you Henry? ‘Cause I’m about to make you a fine offer for this place. Enough for you to start over anywhere’s that takes yer fancy. See, I bought the Ryan place next to this one, and two more to the east behind you. I’m aiming to build cattle pens for when the railroad starts to attract the big drives to Wichita”.

Henry listened politely, lighting his pipe and filling the room with sweet smoke.

“Ain’t for sale, sir. We are happy here, and want to stay on the homestead. Getting crops ready for next harvest, and got a good business going with building too. No need for us to start again. But I say thank you for your offer, all the same”. The man hadn’t mentioned a price, but I got the feeling Henry wouldn’t sell for a king’s ransom. The older man started talking. He had an accent I did recognise. Dutch, or German.

“Mister Dench, you are too hasty. Listen to our offer, and think about the future. Very soon your homestead will be surrounded by cattle on three sides. There will be a lot of noise, a great deal of dust, and in hot weather, those beasts will drink the creek dry. Why not move on, find somewhere more pleasant? There will be room for your workers to stay on with you, and you can start again someplace else. Once the railroad comes, Wichita will change completely. You won’t recognse it, I promise you”. He slid some papers across the table. You will see our offer is well above market value, and all you have to do is sign. We will arrange to pay you in cash or gold, and you will have six weeks to pack up”.

Blowing out a cloud of smoke that covered both the men, Henry shook his head. He didn’t even bother to inspect the documents, not that they would have meant a great deal to him anyway. “My mind is made up, mister. I ain’t selling, and don’t care about how many cows are living around us. But I say thanks to you again for your consideration, and there’s more whiskey if you care for some”. The men looked at each other, and both downed what was left in their glasses. Then they stood up, and moustache man folded the papers before returning them to his pocket.

As they walked to their horses, the fat man turned back to Henry. “The offer’s good for a month. We are in the hotel if you change you mind”. Once in the saddle, moustache man looked over at daddy. “Take that shotgun off your neegra, mister. That’s free advice”. When they were gone, Walter walked over. “What them fellas want, Boss Jessie?” Daddy had told him not to call him boss, but he couldn’t stop himself. Daddy spit on the ground, and looked over at the dust where they they had reached the trail.

“Trouble, Walter. They want trouble. And don’t call me boss, y’hear?”

My Kind Of Weather

In the UK, the BBC brings us regional news. Following the main news broadcast, there is a regional news programme for each area of Britain. In Norfolk, we have ‘Look East’. The weather report on that mentioned colder weather over the next few days, and that frost and ice was unlikely, with temperatures staying well above freezing.

Then she said, “We have had no significant rainfall in this region for well over a week now”.

That’s my kind of weather report! 🙂

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: O

Oil.

I mean this type of oil, not the cooking variety.

I don’t like our dependence on oil, or the fact that it causes so many wars. I don’t like the fact that it makes so much money for some countries that still leave so many of their people on the poverty line. I have a diesel car, and oil-fired heating. But I don’t enjoy that fact, just tolerate it because that’s the way things are. And I don’t like the way it creates industrial lanscapes like this one. It needs to change, and sooner rather than later.

I don’t like ravaging the sea bed for oil either.

And the way it pollutes both sea and land is aways disastrous.

Most of all, I hate oil for doing things like this.

High time we woke up, and stopped depending on it. It will run out one day.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: N

Navigation Aids.

In the UK, they are known as Satnavs, short for ‘Satellite Navigation’. There are many types, including the removable ones like the one above. These have to be taken away with you when you stop, or someone will soon be smashing the car window to steal it.

Some more expensive cars offer ones built into the car dashboard, often part of the car’s ‘Entertainment System’. Some add-ons include warning of speed cameras, traffic delays due to roadworks, and international maps for driving in Europe. All very nice, when it works.

They require constant updating to stay accurate, and the removable ones have to be connected to a computer to allow this.

My experience with them has not been good. Using one I bought for Julie, it constantly told us to ‘Turn Right’ when we were on a long bridge crossing a river. I have also been instructed to ‘Take the next exit’ where there was no exit. One issue seems to be that they need to receive a strong signal at all times. In some country districts and remote areas, this is just not possible.

Then there is the safety aspect. Almost all involve taking your eyes off the road briefly, to check on your progress. Yes, they talk to you and tell you where to go, but the desire to look at them is overwhelming.

These days, Google Maps on any smartphone offers the option of a free Satvav. Once again, signal strength is crucial, so I wouldn’t want to rely on it. It also uses up your phone battery very quickly as it has to update every few seconds.

I use a map. A big book of maps of Great Britain, buying an up to date one every couple of years. I look at it before I leave, and picture the journey in my head. For example. ‘A47 to A11, then all the way to junction 23’. Put the map away, and just do that, with nobody telling me to deviate. If I encounter any problems, I pull off the road into a lay-by or service area, and check the map again.

I have been driving for fifty-one years, and maps have never let me down once.

The Homestead: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

The new arrivals soon proved their worth. Daddy had not only promised them a free house to live in, but also a fair share of any crops, and cash payment to Walter for any work he took on. And they had some good ideas too. Goats for milk and meat, and a few pigs to fatten up for eating. Mary and Susan were good with a needle and thread, and could make waistcoats from skins to keep us warm, as well as mittens and bedcovers too. They worked hard, and it seemed to me and Henry that daddy had made a right good choice in Walter.

I was given the job of working with Walter to build their cabin. It weren’t to be nothing fancy, just one big room with a curtain across the back to separate the sleeping area. Walter fetched the mud from the creek to make the chimney bricks, and the women helped fashion them as I concentrated on the wood working. Daddy brought planks from town for the floor, and Walter chopped trees for the log walls. Mary was in a fine mood, so happy to be settling down. Susan didn’t say much, but she smiled whenever I showed up to help.

Walter worked like nobody I had ever seen before. Out at first light digging the clearing to make ready for planting next year, and shifting the hard earth like it was flour. Daddy made good shelters for the pigs and goats, and went into town to arrange the purchase of them. He came back with news.

Shawn Ryan had sold his place next to ours, as his pig farm had never took off. Ryan’s negroes were in town looking for work, and one had offered to work for us raising the pigs. But daddy told him we didn’t need him, as we were only getting a few. Rumour was it had been bought up by a cattleman for keeping steers, and that same man was buying any adjacent land he could find. The railroad was heading south from Topeka, and once that arrived, the town was sure to grow real big.

Once their cabin was finished, and the tent put away, Walter and the women settled in well. They still cooked and cleaned for us, as well as washing our clothes. Nobody had ever told them to do that, and they seemed happy to help. Most evenings, we all ate together in our house, and they went to their cabin after dinner. Mary was real nice to Henry too. Seemed she thought a lot of people who were slow in the head, something to do with her background, daddy said. In a strange way, it started to feel like family, although we couldn’t have been more different.

Our homestead was feeling smaller by the time winter came around. With the plots prepared for crops, Walter’s house, and the new pens for goats and pigs, the only spare land was the woodland to the north. That was going to keep us in firewood though, so we had no intention of clearing it. With less work in town now, daddy set to building a barn next to our cabin. It took me and Henry to help of course, and even Walter was needed once the roof went on. We were going to need it to store next year’s crops, and it would come in right handy for storage too.

Daddy sat me down one night and talked about the future. He was real grey now, even his beard, and the sides of his hair were turning silver. “This town’s gonna grow much bigger, Phin. There are a lot more men working now, so we are not gonna get so much work. We have to think more about what we grow, and the animals we keep for food. I reckon there’s still plenty of game further south, so we should think about a hunting trip this winter too. You’re coming up eighteen next year, and I want to be sure you’re happy to stick with your old daddy. If you want to strike out on your own, you know that’s fine with me”.

I told him I was just fine there, and had no notions to move on anywhere.

That winter weren’t too bad at all, though we lost some of the barn roof in the strong winds that came from time to time. Mary asked daddy to get some buffalo hides in town, and she made us all fine heavy coats to wear in the cold. They didn’t smell so good, but boy, were they warm. Susan made me a hat that came down over my ears, and she lined it with some old cotton too. When I walked around trying it on, everyone laughed.

One chilly afternoon, two men rode in. They were smartly dressed, and quite old. One had a big moustache, hanging right off his jaw.

They said they had come to see Henry.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: M

Mice.

Unlike wild field and harvest mice, or the mice kept in cages as pets, feral mice living inside your home is not a good thing at all.

‘While the common house mouse is not as dangerous to your health as a deer mouse, they can still spread disease, such as hantavirus, salmonellosis and listeria through their urine, droppings, saliva and nesting materials’.

As well as stealing your food and leaving disease and droppings around, they also chew electical wires, and damage conduits and plastic piping in their efforts to get around inside your house.

I have been lucky since moving to Norfolk, but when I lived in London, I had a big problem with mice in various places I lived over the years.

I tried going down the poisoning route, but that never seemed to be effective, and I certainly never found any dead mice that might have taken that blue granular bait. So I went ‘old school’, and bought a job lot of retro spring mouse-traps. The shop advised using chocolate to attract them, rather than the old fashioned lure of cheese. So I baited half a dozen traps with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, and put them in the places I had previously know them to frequent.

Less than ten minutes later, I heard the first ‘Snap!’ This was followed by a series of snaps in quick succession as three more traps were sprung. I waited a little longer, then investigated. Sure enough, four dead mice, one in each of the four traps. They had all been killed instantly by the thin metal bar that had dropped across their neck or body. I re-baited with chocolate, and put them back.

During the evening there were more snaps, and I found five more dead mice before bedtime. Within a week, I had no more mouse activity at all.

So if you get mice in the house, use the old-style traps. They really work.

The Homestead: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

I was polite as I could be to Elizabeth Ryan, and wished her a good trip to Europe. She folded her arms, still smirking. “I doubt you will see me again, Phin Fuller. My life is in New York City now”. I nodded to her and her sister. “I’d best get on now. Good to see you both”. As I rode away from the house, I considered that after all was said and done, I had just had a lucky escape. But there was no denying that red hair looked so damn pretty.

Between daddy’s work and that of the other carpenters, the town was taking shape along the riverbank, with houses now appearing even past the old cemetery that had been there since the start of the settlement. Men were working over in Delano, and it was easy to see the tent encampments slowly giving way to wooden structures over there. With Ben long gone, I worked with Henry and daddy, now, leaving the small jobs until the winter.

When I turned seventeen, it was the fall of eighteen-seventy, and five years since we had left Virginia. There was a petition raised in Wichita to have it declared a city. Most men signed it, including daddy and Henry. Someone made the trip to Topeka to submit the request to the Federal authorities there.

After leaving me fixing rails while they went in for supplies one Saturday, daddy got back early. As he passed by, I could see he had people in the back of the wagon. A big negro jumped down, then turned and helped two women onto the ground. Daddy waved to me from the house, as Henry drove off to settle the horses. I wiped my hands on a rag, and walked over.

“Phin, this here’s Walter. He’s gonna come work for us, grow some stuff on the land and watch over the homestead. That’s his woman Mary, and her daughter. Walter extended a hand, and I shook it. It was the first time I had ever touched a negro. The woman was a squaw, plain to see. She was wearing a dress, and her hair was all long and twisted, but there was no mistaking an injun. The younger one looked at her shoes, then up at me. I could tell she was a half-breed, but not Walter’s. I nodded to Mary, and politely said “Ma’am”. The girl smiled. Reckon nobody had ever been so respectful to her ma.

“Let’s get the tent from the store, and get them set up, Phin. Next week, we can start on building them a house before the weather sets in”.

I followed daddy to get the tent, and Walter helped us put it up within sight of the house. Mary and her daughter were in the house fixing dinner for later, and Henry went over to finish the last few rails on the fence. We left Walter unloading their few things from the wagon, and as we walked to the house, daddy told me their story.

“Walter was a slave down in Georgia. He was born here, and soon showed he could raise things real natural like. They put him to work in the market garden, and he stayed working with the vegetables and such. When he heard that Abe Lincoln had freed the slaves, he took off. He tried heading west, where he was fixing to get to the Kansas abolitionist towns. But he had a hard time keeping away from people who would have tried to take him back, and eventually joined the Union Army by hooking up with some of Sherman’s men. After the peace, he took off west again, working where he could and walking most of the way. Then he met Mary and her daughter and decided to protect them. Mary’s an Osage. Ain’t her real name of course, but it’s what she goes by. Her daughter is from a white man who took advantage of her in Missouri fifteen years ago. She’s called Susan”.

We ate a fine dinner that night. Mary and Susan did a great job with making our regular victuals taste great, and they even cleaned up the house while dinner was cooking. They both spoke good English too, and Walter could read and write a little bit, so he was teaching them from an old bible he carried. Daddy offered my help, in between puffs on his pipe. “Phin reads real good. Maybe he could teach the girl”. Susan looked up at me and blushed when he said that.

The next morning when we left for work in Wichita, daddy handed Walter a scattergun and a handful of cartridges. “You been in the army, so I reckon you know how to handle this. Anyone comes on this property giving you trouble, don’t be afeared to use it”.

As we drove out along the creek, Henry shook his head. “Mister Jessie, don’t reckon you should be giving no gun to a negro”.