Friday, 29 July 2011

Is there any good in the world?

I have a cold, and I'm at that early stage in the cold where the world seems overwhelmingly doomed by every kind of stupidity and nastiness. This morning I decided that all politicians, journalists, charming young men, and estate agents should for their own good be cryogenically frozen until such time as we come up with a cure for being a massive wanker. And I also cried about the US deficit. It's a typical cold mood. So I have been looking for proof that there are good things. I list some of them below:

1) Even though she gave me this cold, I have a truly excellent god-daughter, who is bright and funny, and loves books. Plus great friends from school with whom I am still in touch. This makes me very lucky.

2) Neal Stephenson has written a new book, Reamde. Hurray for Neal Stephenson!
It's out in September.

3) Even though almost every corporation in the world, probably every corporation in fact, is set up in such a way to allow and even encourage them to act evilly regardless of the people who run them, there are occasional fightbacks or fightsback if you prefer. Some people have made a firefox extension called ShareMeNot so that if you visit a webpage with the facebook like button on it, or one of those other social media buttons like the Google+ +1 or the twitter button, those social networking websites don't actually know that you've been to that website unless you choose to click on the button. Which is how it ought to be anyway. The fact that just looking at a page with such a button currently gives information to the button's home-site is creepy.

4) I like this installation of books bursting through a wall. Though it's true that the storage needs of books is an annoying problem.

Anyway a friend has just suggested some emergency Wodehouse, which seems like a good idea. That's a fifth good thing for the list, the existence of Wodehouse, even if his later life was blighted by his stupidity during WW2.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Three mother alpacas with the babies

Here as promised is some video of the new baby alpacas. This afternoon all of them went up to the shade at the far end of the paddock by the pheasant pens. You'll see that my camera copes indifferently well with sudden changes from darkness to sunlight.

When the young ones are a bit older they'll go with their mothers to the main female herd up the road.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Odd thrill

I am writing this while using the operating system Linux, specifically the "distro" (I think that's short for distribution) known as Ubuntu. It's hard to say why this is thrilling me. I've installed it alongside my Windows installation so I can choose which to use at start-up.

In the meantime, here is a bobcat sitting on a 40-foot cactus. He looks very cool, but also a lot like the little annoying cat thing in Thundercats, called Snarf or Snorf or something.

We have three alpaca babies now, and Kinetic has a Kylian and a Kittiwake to play with. Except that Kittiwake is brown with a white hood and white socks, and I idly remarked to my mother that it's a shame that Cappucino doesn't start with a K, so she's probably now called Kappucino. I think that was a '90s brand of Nestle coffee which included a sachet of fizzy white stuff to pour in it. But never mind, she's very sweet whatever her name and I'll try to get some video of them all before long. They enjoy herding chickens.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday, 15 July 2011

A few small things

I do so love xkcd. Today's is just brilliant.

All three winners of the inaugural Google Science Fair were girls.

It's just an Onion headline, alas: Vatican Reverses Stance On Gay Marriage After Meeting Tony And Craig

The other day I got an e-mail with quite a good subject line:
I made a popstars circle and I suppose they both automatically add whoever adds them.

What are the kids up to these days? Goodness knows. But these kids made this song which I quite like:

To be honest, I'm not really that bothered about what the kids are up to. I am sufficiently middle-aged now that not only do I always take slippers with me when I stay away overnight, but I no longer believe that the kids are likely to be up to anything particularly interesting.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Mum named this baby alpaca Kinetic because he doesn't often stop moving. Watch as he bounds up to me insouciantly and stops to smell a flower before wandering off again. Even if you set the bar very high for dorables he is certainly one of them.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Excellent book cheap now

Today on the train I read Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a memoir about the author's return to stay with her family after a traumatic divorce and car accident. I enjoyed it very much -- I had to concentrate not to chuckle like a fool or get too teary and freak out the person sitting opposite me on the train. The author's voice reminds me of some of my friends', and it's really nice to read a family memoir with likeable parents. Anyway, it's only 99p in the current Amazon kindle sale so if you're interested you might want to buy it before the end of the month. A bonus of the Kindle edition is that it automatically turns into a link every time it appears, just in case you'd like to find out more.


Most Cambridge fellows are not at all like the stereotype. One or two are, and they're either quite funny or utterly deplorable, depending on your mood and degree of involvement with them. But estate agents! I am fully prepared to start finding estate agents really really amusing just as soon as I have exchanged contracts. They are amazingly consistent at messing things up and then explaining to you why what they did (didn't do) was perfectly reasonable. It's impossible to tell them off -- my current policy when they do something stupid is to phone up and tell them about it in the manner of a kindly aunt. I'm hoping this really irritates them in their self-esteem. I'm mostly dealing with charming young men, and charming men of any age get on my nerves like a bluebottle buzzing round a light bulb.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Small newses

1. I joined Google+. It's mildly irritating in the same way as Facebook. Does this bode well for its future? I have no idea. I loved Google Wave, and look what happened to that.

2. There's a new Waitrose just down the road from my flat. Delicious microwave meals and patronising semi-assembled recipes in boxes ahoy! It's probably a good thing I don't live here any more. My Granny used to shop in Waitrose but she only ever bought discounted things. She didn't believe in sell-by dates, occasionally with spectacular results.

3. If you're in Cambridge at the weekend, buy a pork pie from the market on Saturday (from the butcher's opposite M&S) and on Sunday, cakes from Tom's cakes.

4. Tomorrow I go back to Devon. I'm looking forward to meeting Kinetic, who spends a lot of time chasing the chickens, apparently. I'll try to post some video to make up for the sad Kenelm news.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

RIP Kenelm

I'm away for a few days, but I've had sad news from Devon: my mother tells me that Kenelm was not improving, and they had him put to sleep yesterday. I was sort of expecting this. Although he was very sweet, and tried hard, watching him struggle was only really justifiable if there was a chance his struggling would get him somewhere eventually. They've put Dorcas back into the main herd, where she can get back into the old routine.

But Chloe has had her baby now. My mother says that he was such a contrast to poor Kenelm, on his feet and suckling within the hour, and then dashing around the field crazily, that they have called him Kinetic. (All the alpacas this year will have K-names.) I'm looking forward to seeing him when I get back.

It's very strange camping out in my Cambridge flat, which is hopefully going to be sold soon. I lived here for thirteen years, almost twice as long as I have lived in any other home. I feel like it would be healthy to be a bit nostalgic, but I can't quite muster the energy. It's a nice flat, but owning somewhere you don't live is a bit of a worry.

The anti-English Defence League march went past here earlier today. I was a bit disappointed with it because it was rather hatey. Admittedly the EDL are pretty hateable, but I think a happy peaceful march would have made a better contrast. They were shouting "EDL, go to hell" as they went down here, and then singing, really badly, an anti-EDL song to the tune of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain. I think there were clashes and a few arrests later at Silver Street.

In other news: a lovely never-released Rachel Stevens/Richard X song; Bill Bailey covers Metallica; and the Parisians have made what they describe as "une curieuse anamorphose végétale" outside L'Hotel de Ville, presumably so they can stand on it and pretend to be Le Petit Prince.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Short video of Kenelm and Dorcas

Kenelm had got out into the rain so I went out to put him back in the shelter, and filmed him for a few moments with Dorcas.  She wasn't quite sure what I was there for.  Watch her check him over after he makes a little squeaky hum noise about 6 seconds in.

He's a sweetheart, I do hope he gets on OK.

Kenelm update

Kenelm is still with us, and I'm beginning to hope that he perhaps might make it after all.  He still can't quite stand up properly, but he does manage to lurch a few steps at a time, and he seems to be getting a little bit better over time.  This morning my parents took him off to the vet for a consultation, rather expecting that they wouldn't bring him back.  But the vet thinks it's worth persevering.  At the moment he gets fed from a bottle every few hours, but we think he's probably also suckling a little by himself.  And he does seem to be getting stronger.  So, cautious optimism here...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Kenelm back with Dorcas

Dorcas has got her baby Kenelm back, and it was very touching to see.  I don't suppose she'd been waiting by the gate all night, but she was there in the morning.  He's still not able to stand up but otherwise he's quite perky.  I don't give much for his chances, really, but at least he's still around now.  The thing that speaks most for him is that my mother has not given up on him yet.  She's really uncannily good at knowing when it's time to prepare yourself for animal death.  She has a harness which we use for hanging baby alpacas from luggage scales to weigh them, and she's got Kenelm to suckle from Dorcas by holding him up in that.  So now the plan is that we take it in turns to go out and hold him up to suckle every three hours.  (This will really be so much easier than bottle-feeding.)  And hope that his legs sort themselves out as he gains strength.  We'll probably need to feed Dorcas too, who is staying with Kenelm instead of grazing.

Monday, 4 July 2011

It's not looking good

Unfortunately little Kenelm has not managed to stand up, let alone suckle.  My mother thinks there's some problem with one of his hind legs.  He's gone off to the vet's with a bottle of plasma (which is spun from alpaca blood, and is a sort of baby alpaca buck-you-uppo), but to be honest, it's not looking likely that he's going to thrive.  It's very sad whenever a baby alpaca dies but the bit I find worst is the behaviour of the mother if we have to take the baby away.  I think I've mentioned before that alpacas are on the whole a little wary of us, but are usually pretty cooperative when there's something wrong.  They seem to get the idea that we are agents of change, and useful to have around in a crisis.  When you take an alpaca baby away to the vet (and probably slightly fewer of these ever come back than don't) the mother makes concerned noises, but essentially doesn't stop you.  And then she waits by the paddock gate, making enquiring sounds, and catching your eyes whenever you look out of the windows.  If you go up to her she peers very intently into your eyes, as if trying to read some message there.  I remember one alpaca whose baby died at the vet's stood for ages by the gate, bleating at us every time we went near.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it; but it's the way that the noises they make at us aren't angry noises, but distressed or asking noises, that I find sad.  I do hope that we'll be able to reunite Kenelm and Dorcas.  She's standing at the gate right now, looking for him.

It's that time of year again

When I lived in Cambridge, the sun on the Cam always gave me a reflex stress reaction.  Beautiful weather meant I should be revising, or marking things, or just that the year was ending sooner than it felt like it should, plus suddenly there would be irritating undergraduates wandering the streets in black tie without shame, and I had to put all that extra effort into not hating them.  Devon has different stresses.  In June my parents start fretting about getting the hay in (hay news: it's nearly all in now, and there isn't too much less than last year) and every day my mother says "I really think XXX is going to have her baby today".  Whichever alpaca XXX might be, she laughs at this prediction for weeks on end, until I am alone in the house and then she goes into labour as quickly and incorrectly as possible.  Here if you want it is video footage of me discovering this morning's problem.  Caution!  I swear in this video.  I don't swear very often but when I do it's justified.

The baby's head and one front leg are out, but one leg isn't, and I know from last time that this means that the head and leg have to go back inside and come out again properly, with the other leg.  Not only am I a little squeamish about greasing up and doing the Herriot thing, I also know that alpaca legs are long and twig-like, there's not much room for manouevre in there, and that if you break its leg you've pretty much killed it. Plus there's the possibility of suffocating the baby if it's already breathing.  Anyway, I didn't even try to do it myself, I just called the vet.  Two of them arrived about thirty minutes later and within seconds they had sorted everything out.  Hurray for vets! The baby is a boy called Kenelm.  As I type I can see him making vague attempts to stand up.  But they both look in reasonably good shape, so as long as he's on his feet and suckling by nightfall hopefully this story will have a happy ending.

And, because nature is both great and disgusting at the same time, I have just seen my first ever Red Kite in Devon, circling above our paddock, presumably lured by the scent of fresh afterbirth.  Buzzards have such a stronghold here that Kites are much more rare in Devon than they are in, say, Swindon.  Exciting stuff.  (Thankfully my mother is back now so it's up to her to go out with a bucket and spade or alternatively just leave the afterbirth out for a sky burial.)