Horsefly Attack!

Tuesday was a bright and sunny day. It felt genuinely Spring-like, despite the mud still hanging around. Setting off on my walk with Ollie, it was so nice to be out on a day like that. At the far end of Beetley Meadows, there was some real warmth in the sun, making me regret my choice of a fleece-lined jacket for the walk.

At least I had no need to cary an umbrella, so had taken my long dog-walking stick instead. Once Ollie had completed his usual round of sniffs and scent-marking, we set off for the river bend, where some other walkers had stopped to let their dogs into the shallow water there.

As Ollie scampered off to check those dogs out, I stood and chatted to one lady I know, from a reasonable distance of some eight feet away. I was holding the stick in my left hand, and as we talked, she was waving her hand around in front of her face, being annoyed by lots of small flies. Shaking her head, she said “That’s the only thing about the weather brightening up, the flies are appearing again”.

Seconds later, I felt an impact on my left hand, with a sharp pain accompanying it. It was something like being hit by a dart, or the pellet from an air-rifle, and was enough to make me drop my stick. I bent down to retrieve my stick, and noticed a tiny but obvious hole on the middle finger, right in the centre of it. The lady smiled, and said “Looks like one of those annoying flies has bitten you”. I nodded, and carried on walking.

I took Ollie over to Hoe Rough, to make a longer walk for him, though the mud there was still deep enough to make that something of a chore.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, I was roused from a deep sleep to discover that I was scratching my left hand like a man possessed. Too dozy to think more about it, I managed to get back to sleep.

When I woke up yesterday, my left middle finger was still itchy, and quite swollen. The hole was clearly visible, and so large that there could have been only one natural culprit. A Horsefly. Within an hour, the swelling and redness had spead onto the back of my left hand, and was causing that to swell too. I applied a steroid Itch Relief cream, then topped that up with liberal spread of Brulidine cream, which is antiseptic and antibacterial.

But by 6 pm last night, the redness and itchiness had spread across the back of my entire hand, causing it to swell tightly. Ollie didn’t like the look of it at all, and licked it every chance he got. His way of trying to cure me.

As a result, Julie is going to arrange for me to have a telephone appointment with one of our doctors today, in the hope of being prescribed some antibiotics to help with my now badly infected hand.

And all because of a fly the size of my smallest fingernail

A Nostalgic Image

For my birthday on the 16th, my lovely cousin Sue sent me an e-card that contained an old photo of us together.

She suspects it was taken in a very early type of ‘Photo Booth’. I look to be around six years of age, making her almost eight at the time.

That dates it to sometime in 1958. But looking at it now, it looks more like it was taken in 1928. I can only vaguely remember having white-blond, curly hair. Sue and I lived in the same house, her mum was my mum’s older sister, Auntie Edie. We remained very close throughout our lives, and still are today.

I am sometimes criticised for excessive nostalgia, but I freely admit that I adore this old photo.

Photo Prompt Story: Black Widow

This is a short story of 1,110 words. It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.

“More tea, Scott?”
She leaned forward with the teapot, ignoring the shake of my head that indicated I didn’t want any more. Joe had told me to contact her, said it would be a human interest story, and lapped up by our readers. I hadn’t expected her to agree to see me, especially as the news of the body being found had only been on last night’s telly news. But when she answered the phone, her voice went all silly and girly.

“The Herald you say? Oh yes, I would be happy to give you an interview, everybody around here reads our local newspaper. Shall we say two in the afternoon tomorrow? That will give me time to make myself presentable”.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wouldn’t be bringing a photographer, though I did ask if she could find a recent picture of her husband we could use.

She had crossed and recrossed her legs so many times, I was now presented with a ridden-up skirt and an unwanted view of far too much leg, given her age. When I had asked her age for the piece, she had adopted a strangely coquettish expression.

“My, you journalists have to always add someone’s age, don’t you? Well I am happy for you to put down that I am sixty-two, as long as you don’t want to see my birth certificate”.

She smiled so wide when she said that, the wrinkles each side of her mouth formed visible cracks in the powdery make-up covering her face. It reminded me of ice inside the windscreen of my car in the winter. I pushed on with the interview, asking her why she had waited so long to report her husband missing.

“I wasn’t expecting him home at any given time, Scott. He had planned his trip meticulously, Justin was a very meticulous man. He had said that he would walk the whole of the first day, then stop at a bed and breakfast before completing the rest of the forest walk the next day. He might even stay a second night, if it got too late to get a bus home. He didn’t drive you see, he had never learned how to. He said he didn’t have a lot of time for cars, though he seemed happy enough for me to use one to get our shopping from Sainsbury’s. So I went to see my friend Rosemary, and stayed over after we had too much wine. When he didn’t come home the second night, I wasn’t concerned. I didn’t call the police until he didn’t show up for dinner the next evening”.

I asked how long they had been married, ignoring the fact that she had slipped off one of her shoes, and was casually adjusting the nylon covering her toes as she looked across at me as if she would like to eat me for breakfast. Could this woman really be flirting with me so blatantly? She was much older than my own mother.

“Seven years, Scott. It would have been eight in June. We married late, you see. I had been married before, but Justin had never married. I think he wanted company after his mother died. He never showed any interest in me in THAT way, if you get my meaning”.

I got her meaning, and she continued.

“He was my third husband, Scott. My marriages seem to have been blighted by tragedy. Andrew was my first. The brakes failed on his MG sports car one afternoon. I used to tell him he should never have done his own car maintenace. Then Stephen, oh poor Stephen. He insisted on using that old ladder to fix up a new television aerial. I warned him it wasn’t safe, and said we should get someone in to do the job. But he wouldn’t be told”. And now Justin. How was I to know he would fall over a tree root, and fracture his skull? Lying there for almost four days until he died of exposure. So awful”.

She adopted a stylised expression of grief, looking much like a bad actress in an amateur dramatic group performing in a village hall.

“Things were fine until he retired. Then he became obsessed with keeping fit, as if he wanted to live forever. Hiking, power-walking, woodland walks, he was hardly ever here. And he became extravagant too, which was most unlike him. Four hundred pounds for a pair of binoculars that hung around his neck. I don’t think he ever even looked through them. Then two hundred dollars for a small red backpack that came all the way from America. One hundred and seventy for special hiking shoes, then almost three hundred for hiking boots needed for bad weather, or so he said. His last big purchase was his high-visibility walking outfit, bought to replace his old camouflage gear. That cost over five hundred pounds. Can you believe that, Scott?”

I checked my notes, and asked her why he wasn’t wearing the high visibility clothing when they found his body. It occured to me that the search and rescue helicopter might have spotted him earlier, if he hadn’t been wearing camouflage clothing and lying on top of his red backpack.

“Well he had tried it out the day before in Beulah Woods, you know, just up the road from here. But when he got home I noticed mud splashes on the trousers, so of course I threw the whole outfit into the washing machine. He was none too pleased when it wasn’t dry the next morning. So ungrateful”.

She leaned forward and placed a hand on my thigh. This woman had no concept of invading personal space.

“Now how about a slice of cake? I made it myself, a delicious Victoria sponge”.

I declined her offer of cake, but she left her hand on my leg, I could feel the heat coming from it through my trousers. I asked for the recent photo, and she gave me one taken at their wedding. I guessed that seven year old picture would have to do, and stood up, telling her I had everything I needed. I was never so pleased to get out of a house, I can tell you, and by the time I got to my car, I had started to wonder if she had put anything in the tea.

On the drive back to the paper, I wondered what Joe would think if I asked for a front page feature, and a big headline.

I thought ‘The Black Widow’ sounded about right.

Ollie And The Cows

For a while now, we have been unable to venture onto Hoe Rough, as the Wildlife Trust wardens are allowing a small herd of cattle to graze there.

One of them in particular doesn’t seem to like dogs, and gave us the ‘evil eye’ when I fist noticed the cows there.

It was a lot like this one.

Now Ollie pays no attention to cows, but they certainly pay attention to him. That means I have to walk extra circuits of Beetley Meadows instead of going to Hoe Rough. Ollie doesn’t mind that at all, even though I find it boring.

But the cows are still watching…

Earlier today, i spotted the big black and white one staring at us from across the river. It carried on looking at us until we rounded a bend and were out of sight.

I will be pleased when they are back on the farm.

How Much Fur?

Ollie is a short-haired breed of dog, but when it is moulting season, you might be forgiven for thinking this makes no difference. The amount of fur he can shed on a daily basis is nothing short of phenomenal. It is a miracle he is not completely bald, believe me.

Substantial tufts of hair dance across the kitchen tiles like tumbleweed in a wild-west town, and the blanket on his bed looks like the floor of the local hairdresser’s shop. No amount of brushing makes even the slightest impact on the constant shedding, and our clothes bear witness to the fact that he only has to walk past you to completely cover you in a mulitcoloured selection of hairs.

Even as I type this, stray hairs have migrated from my sleeves onto the keyboard.

Of course, we try our hardest to tackle the seasonal fur invasion. Using the vacuum cleaner every day, often twice a day. The only thing in the container when it is emptied is a compressed cylinder of Ollie fur, which does at least show we are not untidy or messy otherwise. But no matter if I spent all day running the device back and forth across the carpets, I would never get to the point where it stopped scooping up yet more fur.

Ollie’s appearance suffers as a result. He is now at least seven different colours, with patches of dark brown in amongst lighter shades, and thin areas of fur on his legs that look like the back of a balding man’s head. This ragged patchwork appearance makes him look neglected and scruffy, which is a shame. Especially when I know the opposite is true.

Next week, he is going for a bath and grooming session on Thursday, the earliest appointment available. The last time, the lady removed a full bin-liner of fur before washing him.

This time, I suspect she might need a second bin liner.

International Dog Day

My friend Julian from The Usual Muttwits has reminded me that today is a special day.

Because you love muttwits, why not do the following:

– Go for a long walk in a new place. Most dogs love exploring
new and interesting places with their best friend. …
– Bake a dog friendly treat. …
– Donate to your local animal shelter. …
– Tell your muttwit you love them.

Every day is dog day with Ollie, but let’s make this one even more special!

Writing Challenge: Opposites

Maggie from is doing a writing challenge based on the above photograph. The idea is to find inspiration for two completely different emotions from the same picture, and write two short stories. I thought I would try it, as I rarely do blog challenges.

1) Grief.


Walking across to the car at the usual time, Scott felt his phone vibrating in his jacket pocket. He had been in a meeting until finishing time, and it was only polite to have turned off the ringer. He smiled as he looked at the screen and saw the picture of his lovely wife come up above her name. No doubt she would be in Mario’s convenience store, and calling him to ask what flavour ice cream he wanted after dinner, or whether they should have some white wine later this evening.

Swiping up the green buton, he smiled as he spoke. “Hi, honey. If you’re asking, I will have chocolate chip, and it’s a yes to wine too”.
There was a pause, and he didn’t recognise the voice that replied.

“Sir, this is Officer Martinez of Metro Division, who am I speaking to please?” Scott felt a chill run up his back.
“Why have you got my wife’s phone? Oh, I am Scott Andersen, and you are using my wife’s phone. Annie’s phone”.

The pause that followed made Scott’s heart beat faster, too fast.
“Sir, I have to tell you that there was an armed robbery at a convenience store. The owner was shot and killed, along with a young woman, presumably a customer. She’s around twenty five years old, five feet-two, short blonde hair, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. They took her purse, so we have no I.D. I found this phone in her back pocket. Your number was first in the list of recent calls. Does that sound like your wife sir?”

Scott tried to reply, but couldn’t speak through the tears. He didn’t think he would ever be able to speak again.

2) Self-pity.


As the concrete started to set around his legs and feet, Kevin was surprised by how hot it felt. Uncomfortably hot in fact. The man sitting across from him was leaning back in the captain’s chair, a smirk on face. “So you thought we weren’t serious? You thought you could take us for fools? Look where that got you, Kevin”.

It had started out the way most of those things do. Too much on credit cards, an expensive car he couldn’t afford, and a luxury apartment too fancy for one guy on his own. Kevin liked to impress people, make them think he was somebody. Hand-made suits, the right watch on his wrist, and the right girl on his arm. But it all cost money, money he didn’t earn as a realtor, especially when the bottom had dropped out of the housing market.

But he knew someone. Someone connected. He had sold him a house, a very expensive house with its own lake frontage and private boat dock. It was obvious the guy wasn’t kosher, but he didn’t care, as he made the sale and got the commission. Mr Anzorov was an American citizen, but only God knew how he managed that. After he signed the house purchase papers, he shook Kevin’s hand. “Come and see me if there’s anything I can do for you, Kevin”.

So Kevin went to see him, and asked for a loan of twenty thousand dollars. Anzorov handed the money over without hesitation, then spoke quietly. “So here you are. You understand that you now owe me forty thousand dollars, Kevin? No paperwork, just a handshake. You have six months to pay me back the forty thousand, or you won’t like what happens. Please take me seriously, Kevin”. Kevin nodded, but already knew he had no intention of taking him seriously.

So what was he going to do? Some old Russian guy with a big house and a clothes-hanger trophy wife. He could hardly go to the authorities, or through the courts. He was bound to have some skeletons in his cupboards. Kevin forgot about Anzorov, and enjoyed spending the money. He even had a nice vacation down in Grand Cayman. The six months passed, then nine months, and Kevin smiled to himself when he heard nothing.

Two men approached him as he left the office on his way to show a house. One opened his coat and showed him a gun in his waistband, and the other grabbed his arm in a friendly gesture and walked him over to a minivan parked nearby. When they sat him down in Mr Anzorov’s home office and placed his lower legs into a large container, he was sure it was a joke. Then he was sure it was just a scare. Then when they started to mix the concrete in the container, he was no longer sure about anything.

As the tears flowed, all he could think about was the lake, and that private boat dock.

My Last Year Of Hedge Clipping

Front of bungalow from across the road

In the photo above, (click to see full size) you can clearly see the larger and smaller beech hedges that are in front of our house. They are taller than they look in this photo, which was taken after they had just been trimmed, in late 2013. From street level, they reach to about eight feet in height, and are considerably higher than that when fully grown before they need cutting. On the plus, side, this height is reduced when cutting the back, as the ground level in the front garden is some twelve inches higher.

I bought some very good clippers when I moved here, as I also had to tackle the huge rows of leylandii hedges at the back. Compared to those, the beech hedges at the front were a breeze, easily finished off in a morning or afternoon. But then I got vertigo a couple of years back. And then I got older of course. I could no longer cope with the ten-feet high leylandii, and had to pay someone to cut them earlier this year. But I was sure I could still deal with the beech hedges.

After deciding that they were unacceptably shabby, I made up my mnd to cut them this morning. It is a hot day, 27 C, so I took Ollie out early, just after nine. On our return, I got straight on with the beech hedges, sweeping up the mess as I went. After managing just one quarter, the first battery gave up. I put it on charge, and went on with the second battery. I was very hot, and finding it difficult to stay steady on top of the step ladder as I tried to get the straggly stems in the middle. After two hours, I swept up, and had a lunch break.

When I went back out, I decided to use a proper ladder to reach the top, and jammed it as hard as I could against the hedge. But is was very wobbly once I got up there, and I was having real difficulty keeping my balance and cutting at the same time. When the second battery went flat, I had at least finished the biggest hedge, and can do the small one easily tomorrow. Sweeping up and tidying the things away, it dawned on me that will be the last time I can safely cut these hedges.

As of next year, I am going to have to pay someone to do it.

The ‘Phantom’ Badger

With Ollie more or less back to his old self after the recent illness, it is good to see him so active again. Unfortunately, it also means he is back to bullying some younger dogs that he wants to dominate. One of those is the lovely Bertie, a Dogue de Bordeaux. (A French Mastiff, identical to the dog in the film ‘Turner and Hooch’)
This is not Bertie in the photo, but he looks just like this one.

At six months old, Bertie is already twice the size of Ollie, and he’s a big softy who loves other dogs and people. But he is not neutered, so Ollie has decided he must submit to him. Even though Bertie is happy to do this, Ollie keeps growling at him until he becomes scared. So when I spotted Bertie in the river with two other dogs, I quickly diverted over to Hoe Rough so that Ollie would not be able to start bullying him.

Now that there were no playmates to romp with, I needed to find something to divert him. As we got to the spot where he chased a badger some time back, he stopped and sniffed at the ground. His ‘smell memory’ is amazing to behold, and he has never forgotten the exact spot here he got the scent of that badger last time. I pretended to see a badger in some far off bracken, and using a low tone of voice, I hissed, “Ollie! Badger! Find it”.

He took off in pursuit of what wasn’t there, and had a good run around for more than ten minutes trying to find the phantom badger.