Monday, 18 January 2016

Elementary my dear muppet

It is no secret that I have some weird-ass dreams. Most mornings start off by me saying, "I had this weird dream last night" and Spiderman interrupting to say, "No you didn't." 

Recently I had a crazy dream about the characters from Sesame Street starring in an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Hemlock
This is clearly not an original idea, but in my dream there was some different casting.
Bert was the obvious choice for Sherlock. He could be be quite moody and intellectual on the show. In the dream he was striding around the room like Benedict Cumberbatch (you were expecting him any moment to give an impassioned speech about refugees).
If Bert was Sherlock then of course Ernie had to be Watson. Ernie always has been the comic element who keeps Bert from getting too serious (much like Martin Freeman does to Bendict Cumberbatch).
Always put-upon Prairie Dawn was the natural choice for their housekeeper/landlord Mrs Hudson. Prairie Dawn was always one of my favourite muppets because she was so sweet and ladylike until she had had too much nonsense and then she blew her top. Much like Mrs Hudson.
Cookie Monster was there as Fat Mycroft (as he is portrayed in the original stories and on the delightful Christmas episode)

Mark Gatiss as Mycroft

 This was a huge surprise as the actor Mark Gatiss is whippet-thin. 

Lastly, Grover as the well meaning but never-gets-it-right Inspector Lestrade. 

The weird thing was it was using the exact same set as the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock programme. The exact same costumes, set, props --everything. Just with muppets. 

I was just waking up as i was trying to work out what story they were filming. 

Too late...the memory faded away. But this helped us to speculate what it might have been.

Have you ever watched Monsterpiece Theatre? it is a parody of Masterpiece Theatre on PBS originally hosted by Alistair Cooke.  The Sesame Street one was hosted by Alistair Cookie who wore a smoking jacket (and smoked a pipe until the mid 80s then the pipe was cut for sending a bad message to kids) 

They show such classics as:
The Old Man and the C
The King and I (about a king and his dance partner the letter i)
Twelve Angry Men (there was a mix up--they showd Three Sad Cows followed by Two Proud Pigs instead) 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (other numbers fly as well)
The 39 Steps (where grover runs up and down a bunch of stairs and wears himself out)

and my personal favourite:
The Taming of the Shoe by William Shoespeare--famous podiatrist) Where a defiant shoe refuses to go on Grover's foot so he can walk to the Padua mall. 

If you are interested, many of these episodes are on You-Tube. Check them out. 

Anyway, with this sort of parody already in the muppet's repertoire how about these for Muppet Sherlock episodes?

A Sandal in Bohemia (perhaps a sequel to the Taming of the Shoe)
The Red-Headed League and A Study in Scarlet (insert other colours)
The Five Orange Pips and The Sign of Four(substitute other numbers) 
The Man With the Twisted Lip and The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb (substitute any other body parts) 
The Adventure of the Dancing Men (Substitute other actions like jumping, hopping, skipping etc)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (substitute other animlas like cat, cow, goat, spider, whale etc) 

And my personal favourite Holmes story: 
The Adventure of the Speckled Band (Substitute in striped, spotted, checked, chevron, flowered--any other type of clothing pattern)

So there you have it. My dream cast and suggestions for episodes. Anyone want to take me up on it? BBC? PBS? Anybody? 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Southern Belles May Be Stronger Than You Think

Oh what a night.

Our lovely southern belle Brazilian white knee spider Blanche DuBois has been through the the wringer and has given us quite a fright.

It all started on Saturday. We had friends over for dinner and Blanche was just strutting her stuff and showing off for company. She was walking up and down (stopping occasionally to scratch her bum in an adorable way) and then she went to her water dish and had a big ole drink. She also was seen to be laying down a web mat and we thought, "Aha, she is preparing for a moult!"

Well yesterday at about 2:00 I observed her doing what we call "spider yoga" where the spider stretches their upper back (much like the cobra pose in yoga) to loosen their carapace. When a spider moults it does lots of stretches to make their carapace (back plate) pop off so they can easily pull out their new body from the old one--like pulling your arm out of a sleeve.

Here is where things went a bit pear shaped. A spider normally moults on its back. It is the best way to be able to loosen their carapace and then roll to the side to pull out of the old skin. At 4:30ish we noticed she had rolled awkwardly on her side no where near the web mat she had made.

We thought maybe she would roll from the awkward side pose to her back but she never did. This was potentially dangerous as legs under the bottom of her cannot flex enough to break the carapace. Normally a spider flips, does stretchy stretchy and then starts to pull out. The whole things can take several hours. But at this rate, in that position, she might struggle to get her carapace off at all and die.

We decided to skip Welsh class as she might need our help and I am so glad we did.

As she lay awkwardly on her side, at first her top legs were straight up in the air but as the hours passed they sank down limply and stayed there. At first we thought, "Great! She is finally moving her legs!" but then it seemed as if she had just let them collapse and curl up. Was it the death curl? By now she should be pumping her legs back and forth like pistons to pop off her carapace and she just wasn't.

Why had she not flipped to her back? Why had she not pumped her legs? Was she ill? Was she just too old and weak to flip all the way over? We inherited her 7 years ago and so she was around 12-13 years old. She had seemed fine on Saturday, unlike Lily Rose who looked frail in her old age, Blanche had looked robust. It was a puzzle.

Maybe she was too dry to split her old skin? So Spiderman added extra water to the tank to build up humidity and we moved the space heater closer to keep her warm. Spiderman dropped water from a pipette (dropper) on all her joints that we could reach  to try to lubricate them. She didn't react at all.

By midnight she had not moved at all and we thought she was dead. She seemed to be stuck in the moult--being greatly weakened and not able to push herself through it. Even if she did manage to get her carapace off if the joints were too dry she could lose multiple legs or tear her abdomen coming out and bleed to death.

She lay there awkwardly on her side half curled up and we thought she was dead. You can't tell. You can't check for breathing or a pulse because they don't function like that. It was agony.

We cried and did not know how to help her.  We talked about how and where we would bury her in the morning. We thought if she is not dead now, she will be soon. We felt helpless.

Exhausted, we climbed into bed and talked about all our favourite memories of her and then slept fitfully. This morning we woke and were both afraid to go and see. What if she had torn herself in half trying to get out? We went in and looked and she had done it. She had moulted. Her new body was still on its back --too weak to flip itself over. Her mouthparts were covered in bloody looking flux. She might have torn her oesophagus. She wasn't moving at all.

This was worse than last night. What if she had finally managed to moult only to die from the exhaustion of it? At first we thought she was missing 2 legs but it turned out she was just laying on them awkwardly.

Was she alive? Was she dead? We could not tell.  My throat felt sore from anxiety.

We waited. An hour later we noticed she had moved just a little bit. Was she alive? Then after another hour or so she had flipped herself back upright. She was alive.

But for how long? It was a very traumatic moult. We have never seen one like this. She might have internal damage. One of her legs looks a bit wonky so she might have some lameness.

All we know is she is a fighter. She is alive for now. We will continue to love her and treasure her no matter what, but this may be coming to the end of her life. Another moult will likely kill her.

I think it was so hard because we were there for it. Every excruciating step of the way. All of our other girls have "died in their sleep." We woke up and they were in the death curl. But to see one suffer and not be able to do anything to ease their suffering is heartbreaking. Her moult lasted over 10 hours. Most likely up to 15 hours. For her to be in pain and distress for that long must have been horrible.

Poor Blanche DuBois.  Do what you need to do, baby. If you need to slip away then we will miss you or gather your strength and live a bit more.

We love you darlin'.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Question: How do you make an elephant float?

Answer: Put him in a glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour root beer over his head.

I go through these phases where I become *obsessed* with a food. I have a craving that will not leave me alone. I think about the food ALL THE TIME. Non-stop. Waking and sleeping.

This  happened once in 1990 (before we were vegan) where i became obsessed with some BBQ pork advertised in the back of a play programme. I spent the whole of Shirley Valentine peeking in the back of the programme and salivating.

Clearly, I got over it but only after going out for Chinese food after the play.

And I *really* got over it when I gave up meat 14 years later.

But i digress.

Recently, *something* triggered me to crave a root beer float. Why? Who knows. I never even liked root beer growing up. It was too....rooty. It had a weird earthy quality that I did not like.

Tiggers did not like root beer.

So what in the world was making me crave it now?

I don't know, but it would not leave my thoughts. Seriously.

So i went shopping. Unfortunately, root beer is a bit thin on the ground here in Wales. I did find a bottle of something posh that cost 1.50 for 330ml but would have only made one serving and I suspected that might not be enough.

Yes, it was a more natural product with real sassafras, but in my defence it cost 1.50.

So instead I just thought obsessively about it day and night and mentioned it to every person I met. As you do.

Thankfully this paid off as our friend Adam from Welsh class recommended I try dandelion and burdock instead. It is a similar drink with earthy, licorice overtones and you could buy it in a two litre for 55p.

No, it is not as natural as the expensive bottle. I know it only has licorice and dandelion and burdock extracts not the real root. But so does A&W Rootbeer. That stuff is artificially flavoured. And if it was good enough for me to dislike as a kid, then it was good enough for me to enjoy now.

Does that even make sense?  How could I be craving something I never liked as a child?

Some of it is because my tastes have matured. I love fennel and aniseed to bits. So i somehow, instinctively knew i would love this.

OK, we had the earthy drink. What about the vanilla ice cream? I mean, you need vanilla ice cream to make an root beer float right? Well i could have bought some Swedish Glace but is is full of artificial stuff and it contains palm oil which we try to avoid. Also it costs 2.20 and our weekly food budget is only 30 pounds so i didn't want to waste any more money on some expensive, artificial stuff owned by Unilever who have a dubious record when it comes to animal  testing.
   In the end I used a frozen banana. I mean, we use over-ripe frozen bananas to make ice cream all the time in summer, right?

I decided to blend it all up and make a root beer frosty instead to make it easier.
terrible picture, delicious drink
It. was. Gorgeous.

I could have even stood for it to be a bit more on the earthy side, personally.

A sort of ersatz root beer float thingee

In a blender blend up:

1/2 cup plant based milk (I used oatly)
1  1/4 cups fizzy, rooty, earthy soda drink
1 over ripe frozen banana
1 tsp vanilla essence
about 1 cup of ice cubes

Blend like heck until all slushy. Mine had a few ice chunks so will blend more next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time.

Spoon into two mason jars and top up with more earthy, rooty beverage.

Enjoy with a long spoon. We don't do straws as they are a waste of plastic, but if I owned a reusable glass straw I would have used it here.

it was bloody lovely. Just like what I was picturing--aniseed-y, creamy, icy and YUM. Or IYM as it spelled in Welsh. Pronounced EE-Um.

So what was the trigger for all this ridiculous mania? Well, as we were walking through town yesterday Spiderman spotted it. There is a new shop opening where Games Workshop used to be. There was a sign in the window saying it will soon be an old fashioned ice cream parlour and this was in the window:
That was it.

The trigger.

Subliminally working away at me until I gave it what it wanted.
I am *so* glad it did.  

Monday, 4 January 2016

Beware the Terrier Men...

On New Year's day the Carmarthenshire hunt rides through town like a parade resplendent in their posh outfits, on their horses, with their hounds and make a show of themselves before going off to slaughter innocent creatures.

Did I mention there is alcohol involved? Yeah....pubs give away free drinks to riders (shouldn't that be illegal? You can't drive a car intoxicated, but apparently you can ride a horse) and they strut about like toffs and every year we are there with signs to register our protest.

I went last year on my own and found the whole experience unsettling. You can read about it here if you need to refresh your memory or if you need more factual information about the laws governing hunting in the UK:

Last year it seemed so frightening. There seemed so few of us compared to the riders and the dogs were running everywhere and it was chaos. Someone serving drinks dropped the tray and broken glass went everywhere and there was lots of tension.

But this year was different.

Now that the Carmarthen Vegans have a page on facebook we gets lots more people turning up to things. Ah....the power of social media. we advertised and lo and behold! 15 vegan came out to the demo (I was the only one last year) from as far away as Pembrokeshire.  Just the vegans this year was nearly the total of protesters last year. There were others there from the League Against Cruel Sports and West Wales Animal Aid.  In total were we nearly 40.

Which may be how the troubles began.

Last year as there were few  of us we stayed on the steps of the courthouse and the riders took up most of the space up front. This year as our numbers were greater we moved into the big space and forced the riders to move to a less prominent position. The terrier men (in charge of the hounds during a hunt--strangely often really looked down on by the riders as lower class, uneducated buffoons only as good as the dogs they work with) were allowed to stand right in front of us between us and the horses.

This was definitely how the troubles began.

There *was* a police presence, but they were weak in handling several (but not all) things.

The terrier men kept jabbing their elbows sharply back as they backed into the protesters standing behind them. It knocked a couple of our people off balance.  They were spoiling for a fight. One punched our friend Peter in the face. Luckily, it was a glancing blow (Peter later said, "my granny could hit harder than that") Unluckily, the police did not see it. They were dealing with other aggressive terrier men at the time.

This is where I feel the police failed. They just said as they didn't see it, there could be nothing done, but gave a half-hearted warning to to the terrier men. Something like, "careful now. Mind how you go." which was not helpful at all.

It may have  actually made things worse as the terrier men were feeling powerful like they could get away with things so they then were pushing the horses backwards and the riders were spurring them to make them kick in our direction.

All the while we were chanting Shame on you! Shame on you!  and Keep the ban! Keep the ban! (currently the worst of blood sports is illegal, but there are hundreds of ways to get round it and still kill for sport.) Our current government has been very vocal about  lifting the ban and allowing full blood sports to resume.

Then one of the bystanders in support of the hunt hit our friend Elizabeth upside the head with her handbag. The blow was quite hard (we suspect her bag was weighted) and Elizabeth had to go to A&E and was diagnosed with concussion. The police *did* deal with this better. Took statements from several people both protester (our friend Arwen) and bystanders. A police and medical report will be filed but i do not know what will happen.

Most likely nothing. Which saddens me and angers Spiderman. He said, "how are the police allowed to get away with that?" You wouldn't say "we didn't see it so we can't do anything about it" about a murder or a burglary. They would investigate it. it is dereliction of duty to not pursue it (or pursue it in a half-ass manner) but as it was back in the good ole boy culture of Louisiana--your law enforcement are often part of the very problem you are fighting against.
can you see the nativity scene over our heads?

Strangely, despite the escalation in violence from last year i felt we were a better voice and presence than last year. Last year, we seemed small and outnumbered by the hunters that I felt our cries were weak and ineffectual. This year, we were powerful. We were strong. We were vocal but focused on the cause not personally insulting each other like last year. We took up their space and made them be scrunched up not the other way round.

I think they felt it too. This may be why the terrier men were so aggressive. They could feel we were powerful.

 The only real deep sadness I felt was that there were so many more young children riders on ponies this year. Many off no doubt to their first hunt where they will be blooded (the animal's blood marked on the forehead as a sign of their first kill) and that is where I feel powerless. How can reach the natural compassion of these children before they are trained to shut their eyes to the violence they do?

Afterwards we all went out of a coffee (it was freezing and raining--which was good. Rain will spoil the hunt) and talked about what has happened. Peter used to be a hunt sab (someone who puts their life in peril laying false trails and protecting animals during the hunt) so he said that a punch in the jaw was nothing compared to how it used to be before the ban where people got their teeth knocked out or legs trampled by horses while police literally turned away saying,, "I didn't see nothing"

We talked about ways to try to get the crowds to see what they were supporting. Did i mention the crowds? Hundreds of people lining the streets with their children to watch the spectacle of horses and fancy dress. But if they really thought about it--where they were going afterwards--how they would laugh and rejoice as their dogs tore terrified animals limb from limb--they might see the parade differently.

I had a very vivid dream about a symbolic drama that was choreographed to seem like a fox torn apart by hounds with red ribbons whipping through the air to represent blood. We are seriously considered doing it as a bit of street theatre next year while the crowds wait impatiently for the riders to arrive.

I was scared, but i felt brave.

I was there, speaking up for the voiceless.

I was there doing my best.

Do not sit and do nothing because you cannot do everything. Do something. Do anything. But do it.

Edited to add: all photos from the Carmarthen Journal.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

24 divided by 2 minus 2

Happy 2016 my dear friends! Somehow in the last month a huge weight has come upon me and I have not just had the energy or inclination to write anything for the blog. I suspect it is the rain. We often joke about the fact that it is always raining in Wales, but for the last few months it really has been. Normally, there are spates of small showers interspersed with some drizzle and outbreaks of sunshine. That's normal. But lately the weather has just been haywire everywhere. Flooding in the north and seemingly nonstop torrential downpours here. I can't imagine why (but am grateful) we haven't flooded here. The river Tywi is bursting it's banks. Who wants to get up and do *anything* when it is cold and grey and pissing down with rain outside when you could laze about in your jim-jams and read on the sofa? Not me, babe.

But here i am in 2016 and I want to express my gratitude for all the good that I have managed to get up and do.
last year's Christmas meal

We had a spectacular, cozy and vegan friendly Christmas. Sadly, I did not take many pictures. With all the rain the natural light was non-existent coming through the windows and every picture i did take was dark, shadowy and unseeable. Is unseeable even a word?  It is now.

We are needing to watch our money carefully so had decided to forgo gifts and just enjoy each others company. We were blessed with gifts from lovely kind hearted friends who send us some pressies through the post. Thanks to The Anders family for the Bananagram game (which has scrabble-like tiles so we have played word games in both Welsh and English. Da iawn! Go us!) and thanks to Lena and family who sent us this beautiful calendar with gorgeous woodcut illustrations of our old town of Hitchin! What a treat! And our friend Loren who sent me this box of all sorts of vegan goodies to pamper myself with like body oil with real lavender flowers in it as well as some bath salts. Yum! At least I will smell nice in 2016.

Spiderman surprised me with fruits and nuts and candy which we munched on over the holiday. Christmas at my Sweetie's house (my grandmother was called Sweetie) always involved being herded into a back bedroom and then a few minutes later my Sweetie would rush in exclaiming, "Santy has came!" and we would rush out for presents and our stockings were always filled with fruits and nuts and candy. Some sort of citrus, pecans from her tree and those crispy peanut butter logs. Spiderman brought us oranges, pistachio nuts, dried mango and Turkish Delight. Which made me think of our friend Lena and her family as we always had it with them at Christmas.
We also treated ourselves to this adorable book which translates as Walter's Wonderful Web. More on this adorable book later.

Over the holiday we began to realise that we were 24 divided by 12 minus 2. What does that even mean? Well I will tell you.

We have celebrated Christmas 24 times as a married couple.
We have celebrated Christmas 12 times in the UK.
2 of those have now been in Wales.
24 divided by 12 minus 2.

That's pretty exciting. Stay tuned for tomorrow's tale of the annual anti fox hunting demo on New Year's day that got a bit out of hand.

Happy new year to you all!