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I am now able to announce that Plumptious the Mugcious has taken delivery of a Rhodesian Ridgeback pup. Ridgebacks were bred for guarding camps and rounding up lions for hunters to shoot. Dogs of this breed vary in size, from slightly taller than an Alsation to about the size of a small mule. The breed they most closely resemble is a boxer, with their smartly flopped ears and satisfyingly large paws. The most distinctive feature of a Ridgeback is its ridge. This is a thin swathe of fur growing the opposite way round to the rest of its fur. It goes along the spine, beginning below the shoulderblades and ending before the tail. There should be two swirls of fur at the beginning of this ridge. This is known as the crown. A well defined crown is a desirable feature. One theory for malformed crowns is that overcrowding in the womb can cause a forming crown to be squished and thus not develop properly. Overcrowding does seem to be a very real threat. My dog was one of a litter of 17. The mother died during the operation, as did two of the pups. The family who owned the mum were left with 15 pups to hand rear. The master of the family was a tree surgeon, and all the pups were named after trees. All except mine. His name is Forest. He is the most catlike dog I have ever met. To begin with, he enjoys sunbathing. Whilst most dogs do enjoy basking in the sunshine, they have nothing on him. He’s a serious sunworshipper. Given half a chance, his ideal way to spend a sunny afternoon is out on the patio with the cats. The breed has a light tan coat, with a white splodge on the chest. The lighter the dog, the more desirable for showing. Unfortunately, these dogs will not tan as easily, and will be prone to cancer. I am relieved to report that Forest is one of the fortunate ones who can get a tan. His fur stays the same colour, but a black background appears. Yes, instead of going brown like a hu
man, his skin goes black. It will revert back to pinkish in the winter. He is the most cold intolerant dog I have ever owned. Being an essentially a desert/hot climate dog, he is designed to stay cool. It is not immediately apparent, as they have a very nice coat, but their fur is very short. Additionally, the lower half of their abdomen is particularly sparsely furred. This may account for why they prefer not to sit on a cold concrete floor, but have a habit of sitting on each other. A pack of Ridgebacks will pile on top of each other when at rest, the way some cats do. This short fur is definitely a plus as far as I am concerned. My Alsation, who had gorgeously fuzzy fur, was a four towel dog. By that I mean that it took four towels to dry him when he was wet. A sometimes onerous task. A Ridgeback, with its lesser water retaining capabilities, is a one towel dog. And to me, that’s a good thing. The local owner of a fully grown Ridgeback seems to have adopted Forest. Consequently, she often arrives in the evening to take me and Forest for a walk when walking her dog. Her dog was rescued from an owner who did not socialise it properly. As a result, it is a bit standoffish, as Ridgebacks can be if left to their own devices. By standoffish, I mean that it is a bit like a cat, and will not necessarily bound joyfully towards you, but will tend to staunter towards you when called. Having said that, it is still a lovely dog. Very gentle with children, who are drawn to it by its size. She will sometimes leap up at me for a bit of affection. But unusually for a dog, she will do it very carefully, without laying a paw on me, and without licking me. All she does is to lay a wet nose gently against my face. By the way, if you ever have to train a large dog, this is a desirable thing to have it do. Leaping up and knocking over people is a very definite no-no, and you’ll save yourself a lot o
f grief if you get this rule established. I am pleased to report that Forest is responding very well to training. Despite the breed’s reputation for being difficult, I have found him more amenable than my Alsation. Obviously, the temperament of individuals will vary, which is why parents and older siblings should be viewed where possible. Rather than playing with dog toys, Forest seems to prefer cat toys. I therefore make an effort to find large toys for him which are essentially scaled up catstyle toys. He does like chewing, but not his toys. He prefers to throw and shake them, the way my cats do with their toys, bounding around in a manner I usually associate with cats. There are lots more little quirks of the breed, but I am beginning to see why they are known as the “lion dogs”. It seems increasingly probable that the nickname may not refer to only what they used to hunt. Despite their tremendous size, they are thus far the most catlike dogs I have ever met.
A Box is a Wondrous Thing. The delivery man’s just been. A brand new parcel is deposited on the table. First to come off are the plastic straps adhering tightly to it. When placed on the ground, they spring about a bit before settling down. They’re fun for chasing for about 10 minutes, but they’re rather unwieldy, and best left for to the dogs, who love chewing them. Sometimes, the box disgorges an interesting and edible cargo. However, this isn’t a certainty. Anyhow, the best bit’s about to happen. Slowly, the box is lowered onto the floor. Someone is then selected to be placed in it. You are then left with the option of either joining the other cats simply watching politely, or clambering into the box yourself. The inside of the box is nice and dark. Its highly defined space hugs you, keeping you safe. You may feel the urge to start purring at this point, if you haven’t already. Should the box have other holes in it, you may stick your hand through the hole. This can be exciting. There’s simply no telling if there will be a mouse on the other side. Boxes are also superbly useful if placed at the side of the bath. Lots of exciting things happen in the bath. The tap may be dripping, or the whole thing may be completely full of water. The human attendant may be in there, and worth a sniff and a lick, as it smells different then. They still talk about Sparky’s first visit to the bathtub. He’d always been so nervous of it, poor thing. Everyone else had been visiting it for months, chasing the drips scurrying out of the tap. One day, he took the plunge. Literally. With one mighty leap, he bounded from the floor into the bath. Unfortunately, it was one of the rare times when it was nearly full of water. There was the most dreadful screech, and he bounded out again. No one knows quit
e how he did it without being totally soaked, and he refuses to discuss it. Anyhow, that’s why a box is especially appreciated at the side of the bath. It makes for a very handy ladder. On a serious note, care should be taken with cats and especially kittens with things such as running baths. Like all mammalian young, they possess a talent for being attracted to all things dangerous whilst lacking the ability to get themselves out of situations. Boxes and box lids are nearly all very attractive to cats. When new ones appear in my house, an investigative team appears. The older cats are not so overtly interested, but within 24 hours, everyone will probably have had a session in the new box. Some boxes are more popular than others. Humans may instinctively opt for pristine boxes, but a tattered box is actually more interesting to a feline. If it has holes in it, then they are a very definite plus point. I am constantly entertained by my younger cats fighting through a tiny rip in a box, one cat on the inside, and one on the outside. This happens with paper bags too. IKEA paper bags are just the right size. A cat sized box full of polystyrene chips or paper balls is great fun. But if you suspect that your cat is one with a tendency to ingest such things, then best avoided. Large paper bins are fun too, but it’s a household rule that no one is allowed to sit in one. Place cat toys and ping pong balls in an old tissue box. Old toys will suddenly prove irresistible then. It’s amazing, but they will get them out eventually. Have you ever noticed the boxes of crisps in newsagents? The ones with a circular hole in front? They’re ideal as boxes which are too big simply don’t have that “hug” factor for a cat. One thing you can do is to paint them in various colours, and then stack them like children’s building blocks. With an old ju
mper or towel in each, they should prove quite popular. But before you do this, do a test run with unpainted boxes before spending all that time painting. Cat fashions, as you probably know, are notoriously difficult to keep up with. I do like using old boxes as they do really seem to appreciate variety. A few favoured boxes are retained, but I am unable to always predict which ones will “take” Some cat playstations consist of boxes stacked atop one another with scratchposts. They can be quite fun, and the scratchposts are a definite plus. However, you may notice a slight drop in interest in these deluxe box towers after a while. Try moving it around, or rearranging it if possible. Add a soft rag in any of the nesting areas. It may rejuvenate interest in your £200 investment in your furry overlords. Oh yes, a box is wondrous thing. This opinion is a birthday present to a fellow DooYooer, to whom I promised an empty box as a present. May I name you? Doo yoo like it? I told Emma Onono that I'd send the scratch squad round if you didn't.
German Shepherds are from Alsa, hence their alternative name of Alsations. They were bred to help shepherds in their work. They are a very intelligent breed and I would probably not recommend them for the first time dog owner. This is a dog that is continually thinking, and will do its level best to get its own way. If they ever get a dog to play chess, there is a very good chance that it will be an alsation. Because of its intellectual capacity, it's a breed that's easily bored. I would advise against owning one unless you have the time to ensure that it's mentally stimulated. Left to itself for long periods of time, the dog will get bored in the same way a human would. I know of a lady who tethered her dog on a long leash when she went out to work for the day. Before long, the dog had chewed through the concrete of the garage, down to the steel reinforcements. This is not unusual. They appreciate being given doggy chews such as rawhide, and in the absence of one, and faced with nothing to do, the obvious solution to their doggy minds is to set to the next best chewable object around. Concrete is nice and solid. It's a dog with a rather serious type of personality. Very businesslike. Its task is to protect its pack. This protection involves constantly patrolling its territory and treating strangers with suspicion. They will instinctively bark at strangers. This is a very desirable trait in a guard dog. On the other hand, it's also very noisy. I would recommend that a new alsation should not be berated for barking, but be taught to cease barking at your command. Extend praise when it is silent. This way, you get a dog who is not cowed into not barking when unwelcome visitors arrive. I would not describe them as the friendliest of breeds. Don't get me wrong, they are make wonderful companions and will extend enthusiastic welcomes when you
return from work. It's just that compared to some other breeds, they will seem more aloof, concentrating instead on constant surveillance. For instance, my dog would nearly always be amongst the first on the scene of anything new happening. The incident would be observed, new objects sniffed. If there was nothing that could be identified as a threat, he would be off again, patrolling the house. Idle curiosity was a waste of time in his book. As a puppy, I would let him accompany me into the kitchen. All objects would be gravely examined. There were floor level shelves holding various things such as packets of cat food, and he soon learnt that they were to be left alone. What was not out of bounds was a shelf full of empty boxes ready for recycling. Sometimes, whilst working in the kitchen, I would be treated to the sight of him trotting in, looking over the various boxes, and then trotting out again, selected box in his mouth. I remember laying out various materials, ready for a spot of painting. Buzz appeared and began the obligatory inspection. Before I knew it, he had the brush in his mouth and was strolling away, ready to examine it at his leisure on his cushion. He was really disgusted when I called him back for the brush. Pictures of Alsations at the turn of the 20th century show fairly thin dogs, possibly smaller than the dogs we see around today. Breeding programmes have produced a larger, more majestic looking dog. The most popular type is the short haired black and tan stereotype. My dog was long haired, predominantly black with a touch of tan. As a puppy, he was just a furry bundle who looked for all the world like a large fuzzy bumble bee. There was nothing for it. He was christened Buzz. The most disconcerting thing about an alsation pup is his ears. They start off floppy. Then one day, they begin to perk up. But not necessarily both ears at the same
time or even at the same rate. Take lots of pictures of your pup at this point. The ear poses can very dramatically from day to day. And they are nearly all funny. Sometimes, they make the pup look as though he has just had a singularly disastrous trip to the hairdresser's. Don't worry about it. Except in very rare cases, the ears will eventually settle, and usually well before the pup is a year old. The main congenital defect associated with alsations are heart problems. I believe that that is what eventually killed Buzz. If you're buying a pure bred alsation, I would suggest that asking to see older siblings would be a very reasonable precaution. If you can meet up with these older dogs, check them for temperament. The breed has had a bit of a bad press. My own experience with them is that they're very stubborn, but not vicious dogs. My grandparents had two tan and black alsations who patrolled the land around their house. The only burglary took place when the dogs were locked up. They barked the place down, but only managed to elicit increasingly annoyed exhortations to shut up from their owners. The burglars got away, and everyone was very embarrassed about their treatment of the dogs when the burglary was discovered the next day. One of the litters produced from this was completely creamy white. They were not albinos, as their eyes weren't pink. One puppy was kept, and soon joined his parents in patrolling the grounds. I was one of nine grandchildren, and we played happily around the dogs for many years. Most of us lived in different towns, and only saw the dogs for big family gatherings twice a year, so they weren't overly familiar with us. Added to that were the children of visitors and hired help, who lived in a couple of houses behind the main house. There were never any problems with aggression from these dogs, altho
ugh there would have been lots of opportunities for them to be so. I have read some really upsetting opinions on this site about alsations, but would like to point to my own experience, and say that they're not all bad. ~~~ Update 4.6.01 ~~~ I was once on the receiving end of an attack by an alsation. Fortunately, my two little mongrels saw it off. I generally blame such behaviour on the owners. This is a breed which has been bred to be territorial and defensive of that territory. As such, care should be taken to show the dog what constitutes its territory and what is acceptable behaviour in public places. The best way to do this is for the owner to establish themselves as "top dog". This way, the alsation will readily take its cue from the owner as to who is friend or foe. There are exceptions to this, as breeders will, according to fashion, breed dogs for agression or as family pets. This results in some extremely agressive dogs whom you will find more difficult to dominate and train. Even so, there is no excuse for an attack in a public space by such a dog. The owner should know of its tendencies well before it is of a size to do any damage, and tether it accordingly when walking it.
I was nine years old, and months of petitioning had finally paid off. My mother had just agreed that I could have a dog. Wahey! Enquiries were made, and we received news of a lady who had two available. A car had been abandoned near her house, and a stray dog had had a litter under it. Passersby had pulled out two of the pups and played with them. Fun over, they'd returned the pups to the shelter of the car and gone away. Unfortnuately, the pups now smelt of these strangers, and the mother would not accept them again. They were only a couple of weeks old, and the lady had handreared them rather than see them starve. The smaller one had difficulty using the bottle's teat, and splattered it everywhere. The plumper one supped enthusiastically, and did his level best to have both his share and his brother's. They were adorable little things, and even my mother found herself unable to choose between them. And this is how we ended up with two dogs. They were true mongrels. Black and white, their genes were of so many diverse sources that we were hard put to guess at half their ancestors. The decision to have both dogs was a good one. They played happily together, and fought well as a team. A badly trained alsation once broke away from its owner and tried to attack us. Even though my dogs were only six months old, and less than half the size of this fully grown agressor, they trounced it soundly and saw it off. There was lots of blood. I was very proud. I would come home from school, have a snack, and do my homework. I always dealt with all paperwork whilst lying on the floor. This habit stemmed from the fact that my mother only subscribed to broadsheet newspapers, which I liked reading, but couldn't hold up properly. My solution was to place the newspaper on the floor, and sit on it to read the top half. Thinking back, my dogs were very good abou
t it, and I never had them trying to extend their wrestling matches to any of my scattered paperwork. My mother made three identical large floor cushions, and would often come home to find that I'd completed my homework and fallen asleep on my cushion. The dogs would doing likewise on their cushions beside me. If she came home late, we would be outside playing. They could discern the sound of her car's engine ages before it was visible, and run to the top of a nearby hill to meet her. She would stop to greet them. They would then scramble into the back seat, through the windows if necessary, and then sit there, enjoying the 30 second trip back to the house. Years later, I find myself in possession of another dog. She's a cross breed, her mother a border collie and her sire a labrador. Cross breed she may be, but the original name for this category could have been made for her, for she really and truly is a real mutt. At first glance, she might pass for being well trained. For instance, she will come when called. Unfortunately, she will also come when anyone or anything else is called. All the positive and negative reinforcement in the world does no good. I have praised, hugged, rewarded, growled, smacked, and ignored her. Nothing works. The concept of her being an entity seperate by herself is not one she has grasped. Hours of iterated reinforcement have come to nowt. She is also an errant coward, and will flee from any dogs approaching us in the park. The only two dogs I can remember her growling at were extremely small and decrepit. One was so old that it was actually wobbling as it walked. I was so ashamed! If there is any display of affection happenning, she'll be there in a flash, edging in, hoping for a share of the action. The only thing stopping her from pushing the other dog/cat/young human out of the way is knowing that I wouldn't stand
for it. Mind you, I do think that she would be an absolute asset if burglars ever visited. She's been trained not to jump at visitors, but knowing her, she would hover complaintly and persistently about their feet, hoping for strokes and hugs. Being a black dog, she would be virtually invisible in the dark, and thus stand a very good chance of tripping them up. And that, in my opinion, is the difference between a mongrel and a mutt.
Well, have you gathered what I think of them yet? - Advantages: It's a monopoly, so it offers a service no one else can. - Disadvantages: It's a monopoly, do they know they can get away with it., Delays. Lots of them. And then the delays use the free time created to breed more baby delays, which grow up to become BIG DELAYS., Overpriced. They use the extra cash to dream up ways of skinning you for more money.
Hanover international hotels are a group of hotels. Their website (www.hanover-international.com) proclaims them to be a chain of luxury four-star hotels with the individuality, friendliness, comfort and personal care found in the best quality independent establishments. A colleague and I had to visit Reading for three days, and required accommodation for two nights. The managing director's secretary very kindly booked the rooms. I am given to understand that this is where the MD stayed on a previous visit to Reading. At the end of our day in Reading, we hailed a black cab from Reading station, which took us to the hotel. The journey lasted took about half an hour, and cost £12. As we drove into the hotel grounds, it all looked very pleasant and luxurious. The hotel boasts of a large lake, where waterskiing competitions are held. The entrance and lobby were equally aesthetically pleasing. We presented ourselves at the reception desk and were given our room keys. I was very surprised to find that we had been allocated rooms in different wings of the hotel. Did they think that placing two computer type people close together would result in too much rowdy behaviour? No matter. I had been awake since four in the morning, and it was now seven in the evening. It had been a hard day, and I was longing for a shower and to divest myself of my now rather crumpled apparel. Lugging my assorted paraphernalia and mysteriously multiplying paperwork, I trudged through several doors, twisting corridors and levels of stairs to my room. The room was disappointingly dim and drab, although the furniture was agreeable enough. I do like having a decent level of lighting in my environment, but it was not to be, not even with every single light turned on. The subdued wallpaper did not help. More annoyingly, it had very definitely been given a through going over with an air freshener. I must admit t
o not being a big fan of such products, and have only found a handful of fragrances which I like. I believe that a thorough airing is a better way to freshen up a room, although more time consuming. Off to the shower. First thing I had to do was leave the bathroom on a hunt for a bath towel. A hand towel had been laid out, but thankfully I noticed the absence of the bath towel before commencing the shower. Two were lurking in the bedroom's wardrobe. The shower fittings looked as though they might have been rather good in their heyday, but the showerhead was gunged up with limescale, and I can only assume that the same applied to the associated pipework, as the water pressure was insipid, to say the least. It was then time to meet my colleague for dinner. We eyed up the set menu, which looked rather inviting to me, but which proved all a bit too elaborate for my companion. I pointed out the discreet little section at the bottom of the menu. The person who had arranged the selection of food had made thoughtful provision for such an eventuality, and the paragraph stated that if any diners found themselves requiring simpler dishes such as bacon and eggs, or plaice and chips, they had merely to ask. Smaller portions for children were also available on request. Phillip, my colleague, perked up at this. When the waitress arrived, I ordered, and Phillip submitted his request for the fish and chips. Her response was surprising. It was as though she was half afraid of the chef, and we had to explain about the problem of overly elaborate meals and convince her that this alternative was actually on the menu. With an "Ooh, I'm going to have to ask about that", she vanished. She reappeared, apologising that plaice and chips were simply not available. It seemed to me that she had just had a bit of a confrontation in the kitchens. Phillip was quite disheartened at this news, and I could see h
im skimming the menu, resigning himself to one of the main options. Looking through the menu myself, I noticed an option offering haddock or some other fish, served with a loving description of some vegetables, and finished off with a "thimble of rice". I asked if the kitchens could simply serve the fish on this option, leave out everything else, and add some chips. Although still doubtful, the waitress wandered off with this request willingly enough. Happy news. The chef was willing to oblige this request, and I had the pleasure of watching my dining companion's unhappy droopy ears perk up. I would definitely fault the service at this point as we had explained what the problem was, and the staff should have been capable of suggesting an alternative. When it all arrived, all three courses of both the set menu and alternative meal were indifferently prepared. All in all, very unsatisfactory service and quality of cuisine. Breakfast was even worse. We resolved to have our dinner in town before returning to the hotel the next night. The catalogue for the hotel shop was a good one, offering various toiletries should the unwary traveller find himself wanting. It being his first business trip, Phillip found himself without one of the classics, i.e. toothpaste. He therefore tried to avail himself of the 99p sachet of toothpaste offered in the catalogue, only to be informed that it was not in stock. The only alternative was a set consisting of a toothbrush with a minute 3cm tube of toothpaste for over £3. He declined to buy this overpriced product as a matter of principle, and we arranged that I should hand over my tube of toothpaste at breakfast time. I could see his point of view, as he would have been hard pushed to get two uses of toothpaste out of the amount contained in that tiny tube. The following night, I accompanied him to his room to regain ownership of
my toothpaste. We went through the set of doors for the other wing of the hotel, and I expected another long trudge. Imagine my surprise when he stopped after a 15 yard trek in front of his room door. To cut a long story short, his room was easily double the size of my room, and BRIGHTER to boot! That was really irksome. Whilst discussing the differences in our rooms, it transpired that his shower was, in his words, "Awesome". Like my room, his room also had a balcony. But whilst mine overlooked an expanse of grey water hedged by skeletal trees in the distance, his opened up onto a view of pretty bridge and a fountain. He admitted to being rather impressed during his first night, but had had the effect ruined for him when daylight arrived, only for it to reveal evidence of ongoing maintenance, with a skip bang in the middle of the view. Again, this is where I would like to have a bit of a moan about the hotel's level of service. We had had our job titles clearly noted in our room bookings. I was a Senior Thingamajig, and he a Trainee Thingamajig. I would have thought that protocol alone would have assured me of the better room. But that aside, I think that I should have been assigned his room. Phillip is 6'2", 21 years old, and bursting with energy. I appeal to you, gentle reader, as the older, tireder, more washed out individual, shouldn't I have been assigned this room, which was so much more easily accessible? On humanitarian grounds, if nothing else. Phillip agrees with me. Probably only because he got a laugh out of it, but the important thing is that he agrees. To summarize, I would say that the hotel was founded with the best of intentions. It felt as though the framework for a truly excellent hotel had been laid down, but had now been undermined by current management practices. It had the feeling of being rather run down. All the staff were operati
ng slightly below par, and I felt as though it was because they weren't being given the time and resources to do their jobs properly, rather than because of a lack of willingness. There might have been a time when it was an establishment well worth visiting, but in its current condition, definitely not worth the long trek out of town where there are more convenient hotels. The only thing which I would commend for it are the rabbits. Being situated in the countryside, the grounds abound with rabbits. I'd noticed them, and during my second day in Reading, I'd accumulated a hoard of food. That night, rather than spending the night in the bar, we went rabbit stalking. They were rather shy, and lopped away from us as we approached the various groups. In the end, we retreated indoors and stood by a likely window, lobbing out various foodstuffs. Slowly, over the course of about two hours, they devoured grapes and bread. Shortbread biscuits were appreciated, but ginger ones received a small frown before being accepted with some reluctance. We left three of them sitting in a triangle around a big juicy apple. I wish I'd had a camera. Maybe this hotel isn't all bad after all.
Dwarf hamsters are essentially furry golf balls with attitude. There. Now you've got a visual image. They have amazingly delicate paws with nails barely thicker than a hair, and very bad eyesight. It is estimated that they can only see up to 9 inches away. What they do rely on is their sense of hearing and smell. As with all rodents, be especially careful when putting your hands in their cage or sticking your fingers through the bars. They're liable to be nipped, especially if your hands smell of any kind of food. Well, how's a hamster to know the difference before tasting it? My ideal way to get hold of a dwarf hamster is to gently cup it between two hands. Grasping them with one hand seems to be tantamount to an insult in dwarf hamster etiquette. This presents a problem as I am unable to get both hands in their cages. What I now do to remove my hamsters from their cages is to place a tube or ladle in the cage. I then advertise the presence of the new object by tapping it with a fingernail. My hamsters are used to it, and scurry onto the receptacle. This avoids startling them, which I would do if they suddenly found a giant hand grabbing them from the snug confines of their little homes. Be aware. They're so small when they're young that they're too small to use a normal hamster wheel. I had four baby dwarf hamsters, and it took at least two of the bigger babies to get the wheel going. This example of hamster cooperation was quite fascinating to watch. It didn't always go well, as they would sometimes run in opposite directions. When there were two evenly matched hamsters, you could hear their little claws really scrabbling while the wheel remained unmoving. This impasse would be breached when one got tired, or when a third baby jumped into the wheel. The smallest baby was Red, and he was simply too small to keep up. The others would ma
ke the wheel go too fast for him, the nett result being him being spun round with the wheel, affording me a wonderful view of the his underside as he went past, clinging on for dear life. The centrifugal force was sufficient to keep his 20 gram body pressed against the wheel, in the way water can remain in an upside down bucket if swung around sufficiently fast enough. It kept me amused. I think must have liked it as he kept on going back for more. There were several wheels in the hamster complex, but he couldn't get them to move by himself. In the wild, a hamster will run up to 8 miles a day, foraging. This is why a good wheel is especially important when playing host to one of these creatures. After all, accommodation a few square feet across, no matter how luxurious, can scarcely compare to these vast open spaces. Take the hint. A creature with a "Go faster stripe" down its back is obviously meant for running. If you haven't examined any dwarf hamster outfits lately, you'll have to trust me when I say that for this season, they are all wearing furry coats with a stripe down the middle of their backs. This includes the completely white ones. It's just that their stripe happens to be white too. So back to wheels. Wheels that go on the outside of the cage tend to result in a little mound of hamster garbage on the ground beneath the wheel. In case you have not encountered hamster garbage before, it consists of empty sunflower seed shells, hamster droppings and soiled bedding. This is because the wheels are not airtight, and have tiny openings in them. And dwarf hamsters, being tiny, produce tiny chunks of garbage. A wheel you might want to avoid is the type which hangs onto the bars of the cage. Think about it. Hamster, conscientiously keeping to his exercise routine, night after night. A wheel, reverberating against the side of the cage. A metal and plas
tic cage, which acts as an amplifier of sorts. Lots of little metal bars, all humming along the rhythm of the hamster wheel. At night. In the early hours of the morning. For hours. As I said, you might want to give some thought to avoiding this type of wheel. My personal preference are the wheels that can be placed in the middle of the cage. I find them to be far quieter. Be warned, though. I have never succeeded in finding a totally silent wheel. Especially with Tabby, who lives in his wheels. He is very much a sportsman, even for a hamster, making use of wheels far more than any of the others. He adores them. So much so that he moves his bedding into them, and camps out there. When he awakes, he'll resume running. The bedding spins around with him. It doesn't bother him. He even eats in the wheel. And this is where the problems begin. Unfinished snacks are left to spin around with the bedding when he starts running again. Imagine the sound generated by a peanut and a hamster chew being rattled around a hard plastic container at high speed. Now think of it happening at various intervals for a total of maybe three hours a night, in the middle of the night. So now you can imagine how you might be kept awake, night after night, by a creature scarcely the size of a golf ball. Hamsters don't have en suite showers in their cages, so I've put down a few containers of Chinchilla dusting powder. These are great. What you do is lie down on your back, and then wiggle a lot. It absorbs oils and keeps your fur coat nice and clean. They're also very handy if you fancy having a bit of a burrowing session, although you never get very far with the stuff. It's fun, though. These bowls of dust are very versatile. Bedding can be carted onto them to create a nest. This makes for a very cosy nest, and can be completed in one night if you're an industrious kind
of hamster. They also make very good loos. Very absorbent. Which is why it would be appreciated if the human attendant would remember to clean and change the sand in them every week. Dwarf hamsters are supposed to be sociable. Unfortunately, there was one very aggressive hamster in the litter, and he had to be separated. Because of possibilities like these, it's very important to keep an eye on them, to prevent unncecessary bullying. They definitely have attitude. I have one who loves receiving scraps of meat, and another who detests them. Vehement rejection of scraps is clearly indicated by a tiny violent punch, which removes the proffered offering from your fingers, sending it flying to the floor of the cage. It's truly fascinating to watch. Such a minute creature, but with very definite individual likes and dislikes, and so capable of communicating them. I wouldn't recommend these little beings to anyone unless they had at least an hour to spare for them every day. It would be best to spend the time together in as clear a room as possible, with all doors and escape routes sealed. They may be very plumptious looking people with luxurious heavy coats, but if their heads can fit through a crack, the rest of the body will too. Mine do like wandering behind bookcases. The best way to tempt them out is with a tasty snack. What I do is to hold an anchovy, and gently blow at it, sending the scrummy anchovy fumes wafting behind the bookcase. The previously indisposed hamster residing there will soon scurry out for the unexpected gift. A word of warning though. They should be kept mainly on a diet of premixed hamster food. Sunflower seeds are popular, and quite permissable. But anchovies, of which mine are inordinately fond, should be very carefully rationed. I only give them a half centimetre pinch of anchovy at a time as the concentrated salt could have a detrimen
tal effect on the little kidneys. Best avoided, but I can't leave them behind the bookcase. All in all, they're gorgeous furry little golf balls, with a go faster stripe down their backs.
I am a software developer. In the course of work, I have attended and arranged training for various users and developers. The training has ranged from basic computer training to using Word through to MCSE/MCSD type qualifications. Learning Tree is one of the biggest training centres around, so the odds of my eventually ending up there to sample their courses were very high. My department had sent its developers there for a couple of years. Then I joined the department, and we soon stopped using them. This is why. Learning Tree is a huge setup with offices all over the world, including America and Japan. Its range of courses is truly impressive, and few can match the variety and quantity. More specific details of the courses are available on their website: www.learningtree.co.uk Its London branch is very handy to get to, barely 100 yards from Euston station, so you scarcely get a chance to get wet. They offer a Passport scheme which costs around £5000 for 10 courses. This is cheap considering that computing courses of a 3 to 5 day duration tend to cost around £750 - £1750 each. Learning Tree classes are huge, tending to vary from 20-30 delegates per class. Compare this to most other training companies, who have a maximum size of 6 delegates, with often only 3 attending. Be warned, classes with Learning Tree get cancelled more often than with other companies. This is because they do not find it cost effective to have less than a certain number of delegates attending, and would rather cancel the class altogether. Other companies tend to flog off course places at a very reduced rate if this happens, and I've never had a course cancelled anywhere else. I have been at courses with only 2 or 3 delegates, but not at Learning Tree. That said, I would like to add that all the trainers I have come across are very good, and very capable of handling such class sizes. Learning Tree insis
t the trainers actually work in the field that they train in, as opposed to simply having academic knowledge of it. Whilst I was at the training centre, I enquired about the suitability of an object orientation course for some of my team. As luck would have it, not only was a trainer doing the course during that week, it was the person who actually formulated the course in question. My trainer arranged for me to have an informal chat with the course author. It was hugely informative and enjoyable. All in all, the trainers at Learning Tree are well rounded professionals. The main problem I come across with trainers generally is that they're simply contracted in by a training company to do a job. Although usually friendly and helpful, they have their own businesses to run and only tout for further consultancy jobs. Learning Tree on the other hand, seems to have some kind of incentive scheme for the trainers to actually want the company to do well. Not only do they get paid for each course they train, they get an authoring fee for every course they create, with royalties every time it is run. I suspect that there are other incentives, but there's only so much you can question a complete stranger about his pay package! It may sound contradictory, saying that the classes are too large, and then following it up with saying that the trainers are well able to cope. What I mean to say is that the trainers are courteous, informative and capable, but there is only so much individual attention they can humanly offer in such a large class. And therein lies the problem with the Learning Tree philosophy. If you compare a Learning Tree course with a similar Microsoft accredited course, you will find that the Learning Tree course will have 40%-60% more topics to be covered. All this makes for impressive reading, but the reality is that a Microsoft accredited course will take you through many facets of the su
bject covered, whereas a Learning Tree course skims through them, relatively speaking. The courses don't seem to be really intended for the delegate to get their hands too dirty. This is borne out by the fact that they have two delegates sharing a computer, even in the "Hands On" courses. It's promoted as a positive thing, encouraging people to work together, etc, but to a cynical old hand like me, it just reeks of cost cutting. This is definitely NOT a good thing. I firmly believe that learning to use a new package is a partially manual process. If you simply watch someone else do it, the chances are that you will miss some of the mouse clicks, and have to learn them the hard way when you eventually come to use the package for real. One thing that is quite nice is that there is a drinks evening every Wednesday. There are free drinks and snacks, and all delegates attending that day are invited. It is an ideal opportunity to collar the trainer you wanted to meet, or simply to meet other people in the industry. ~~~ Conclusion ~~~ The large class sizes were ideal for brainstorming sessions. If you had a question you'd encountered at work, the chances were that there would be 2-3 other delegates who had lived through the problem, and could talk you through it. Bear in mind though, that they would not be able to go into much depth as time is somewhat limited with the official syllabus to cover. The lunches are fairly interesting and varied. I think there was swordfish one day. The sheer number of topics in a single course is impressive. If you already know your stuff, and need a piece of paper to prove to your boss, or boss's boss that you have been trained and tested on specific subjects, then these courses are just the ticket to maximise the number of topics covered in the least amount of time. In fact, there were a few delegates in my class who already knew
the topic inside out, and were simply going through the motions to get their certification. I never encountered this type of delegate in the more expensive and time consuming Microsoft accredited courses. The £5000 ten course passport is amazing value. If you book it at the right time of year, you can even get 10% off it. If you are one of these people who already knows their stuff, then it may be just the ticket. My only problem is that I can't quite envisage any other type of delegate using it, as all ten courses have to be taken within a year of the first course. Imagine that you are starting from scratch. You have a year in which to take 10 courses. That's one every 5 weeks. Three weeks preparing, and then one week attending the course. After the course, you would ideally spend a week going through what was covered. If you really had no prior knowledge of the subject, it would be very heavy going. I don't see how you would get any work done at the office. And that's before annual hols are taken into account... So there you have it. Maybe I'm just a difficult customer. Most of my suppliers would probably agree.
Plumptious Catticus is my youngest kitten. She was named after me, not the other way round. I figured that everyone needs an heir. The Catticus part of her name is purely her own. Her favourite napping position is on my pillow. In fact, she's here now. I'm lying on my tummy, typing this and she's on the pillow that my elbows are resting on, with her back planted firmly against my left elbow. I'm loath to move as it will disturb her. At night, she will curl up into a tight little ball and plonk herself firmly against my face. It's actually amazingly difficult to breathe through a wall of fur. I have no idea how those kittens cuddled up together in baskets do it. It took a while, but I've persuaded her to stop suffocating me at night. I now go to sleep on my side, with soft silver fur jammed firmly against one eye socket. It's surprisingly comforting. In the middle of my describing how she cuddles up to me, she got up, disturbed by all the thudding of the keys and headed for under the bed. So much for closeness. To the rest of the world, she's simply an odd mix of ginger, grey and silver cat. But to me, her discerning attendant, she's wearing a grey pinafore with Nora Batty striped ginger stockings. As usual, I have a theory about that: Picture the Great Assembly line in Heaven. Thousands of souls wandering about, slowly getting the essentials together before making their appearance on earth. Plumpy is amongst them, perusing the cat suit rack. It's important to choose an outfit that you're happy with. The primitive resources on earth don't stretch to spare outfits. She whittles down the likely contenders to two promising outfits. Time's running out. The next batch of souls is called for delivery to earth. There's nothing for it. She whips out her trusty Swiss Army knife, and severs the leggings from the ginger ca
tsuit. Turning to the grey catsuit, she cuts off the sleeves and discards them. And there you have it. Striped ginger stockings and a grey pinafore. An outfit for the truly discerning. Her father was a Norwegian Forest Cat. Not much is known about her mother's ancestry. There's Chinchilla somewhere, but she wasn't paying attention when her mum was talking about it. In keeping with her Norwegian bloodlines, she's a very fastidious being. I always know if any of the other cats or dogs have had an "accident", because Plumpy is always beside the scene of the crime, trying to bury it. I remember the time that the German Shepherd was the culprit. Plumpy was only two months old at the time and could fit more than happily in the palm of my hand. There she was, industriously digging away at the floor, trying to bury a pile of dog waste bigger than her. This fastidiousness has a flipside, however. It also applies to her food. It's very disconcerting to put food down for your new kitten, only to have the tiny scrap try to bury it in disgust before walking away from the smell. What got to me was that she wasn't so much disdainful of the food as concerned about it. It was not so much "This is terrible food. How dare you?", but more "Oh dear, let's clear this up, shall we?". I am pleased to report that she's doing this less as she becomes older and more accustomed to a variety of foods. It's wonderful having her about. I spend a lot of time glued to a book or monitor. Out of the blue, two soft furry little paws will appear on my arm. It will be Plumpy, fresh from her latest game or nap, visiting to rub noses. Greetings over, she might vanish again. At other times, she will settle next to me or on me while I continue to work. If she does settle next to me, I have to stop myself from talking to her. Any noise I make, even a
sneeze, will have her politely getting to her feet, ready for another nosing session. Unfortunately, these nosing sessions can cause me to sneeze even more, and a vicious cycle begins. Cats may not be the greatest conversationalists, but they do have a definite philosophy about life. They may not go around collaring unwilling audiences to preach it, but I know their philosophy because they live it. With every movement and action, they obey their rules in life. Wash regularly, eat to sustain your body, stretch and run to keep it fit. Then stretch again because it's nice. Like responsible landowners, they patrol their territory and investigate any changes to it. Underlings and other cats are kept in check. They have gorgeous little tailored outfits that they wear with pride and wonderful ears that can swivel. How cool is that? When I grow up, I want to be a cat.
This is a tale of newts. They were the Greater British Spotted Newts. On the other hand, they might have been called something else. I forget. Once you've been introduced to more than one type of newt, the names and faces tend to blur into one. What is true is that they lived in a little stretch of water on a bit of wasteland. One of the giants of British industry owned the land and decided to develop it. The conservationists were up in arms. These were an endangered type of newt and making them homeless for mercenary reasons was simply not acceptable. Negotiations began. The industrial giant had another piece of wasteland, complete with a body of water. Would this serve as a satisfactory new home? The conservationists preferred not to have the newts moved at all, but had to be realistic. Their concerns remained, though. What if the newts did not settle in? "Well", said the exasperated pinstriped gentleman from the industrial giant. How did one establish if newts liked their new home? Apparently, all newts are not the same. Newts are individuals. And in proud testament of the fact, their spots are different. The spots on their little damp bellies are as different as our fingerprints. A plan was drawn up. The newts would be moved. Each newt moved would be "fingerprinted", and their details stored on a database. Appropriately qualified naturalists would keep tabs on the newts, using their tummy fingerprints to keep track of individuals. And this is where I got to hear about it through a friend. He heard of the little artificial intelligence project that had been set up. The program, when presented with the tummy print of a newt, would work out and thus "recognise" the newt. And how were the tummy prints of the newts created? Go on, guess. Well, the newts were photocopied. The photocopies made wonderful tummy prints. And no,
it wasn't cruel. In fact, they seem to like the warmth of the photocopier. I have now been left with the image of a Portakabin in the middle of a piece of wasteland. It's a dark, still night. The faint sounds of a party can be heard. Zooming into the Portakabin, we can see four newts lined up on a photocopier, wearing sunshades. A fifth newt jumps on the "COPY" button, and the machine does its thing, exuding welcome warmth.
"Perflect Typping scills" "Great attention to detlais" It's the joy of reading the unexpected faux pas that brightens up a dull day or tedious task. Followers of Dilbert are just the type of people who appreciate this. If you were sifting through a mound of CVs, desperately hoping to find a half decent addition to your team, then reading such entries leaves you with two options. To sweep your desk clear of paperwork and start crying in the face of such an impossible task, or to gather strength from the fact that you are not alone and save today's titbit to share with your fellow Dilbertians. The Dilbert website has a list de jour, and is currently featuring a list of lies to tell on your CV. Visitors may vote for their favourites and even nominate their own suggestions. I work in IT, and the three below are my favourite IT type nominations from the list. - MCSE 2000 Certified, (What's a LAN??) - Programming Languages: Clock, VCR, VCR+ - 25 years of experience in HTML and Java. If you didn't understand the last one, the joke is in the fact that HTML and Java hadn't been invented 25 years ago. Other nominations which reflect the contributor's cynical perception of human nature are : "I used to work for a company that rewaxed floors, including stripping the old wax off. I like to list Professional Stripper on my resume." Submitted by "Got a lot of interviews" "Hyphenate your last name, adding a maiden name that just happens to be the same as the CEO's. Odds are you'll be hired without anyone reading any further." Submitted by "curvybert" There is also the Lazy Entrepreneur section, where you can catch up with all the things that nice people have come up with to make our lives easier. It includes offerings such as the "Auto Clean Ba
throom". The inventor admitted that it does have an inherent flaw. Should insufficient warning is given at the start of the cleaning process, you run the risk of trapping users, thereby accumulating dead bodies. Personally, I think that the dead body removal system could be included with the deluxe model. Visitors are invited to vote for these inventions. As in DooYoo, you have a choice of four options. The options on Dilbert are: - I Would Pay For This - It's Brilliant But Useless - Induhviduals (Idiots) Would Pay For This - Someone Already Did It A less ambitious invention is the "Hand-friendly Pringles Can", where the inventor wistfully muses "Wouldn't it be nice if your hand still fit into a Pringles can, like they did when you were a kid? Just make the can a bigger diameter. That's all I ask. " Once a visitor has reviewed an invention, they have the opportunity to leave comments about them. Two replies to the Pringles Can modification idea read as follows: ~~ Comment One ~~ "It would make for a really big pringles potato chip. Perhaps they could also make a can for Mountain Gorillas. It's a shame they can't enjoy Pringles." ~~ Comment Two ~~ "I can fit my hand in a Pringles tube. Watch... Oh. Er... Could somebody help me please? I appear to have a Pringles tube stuck on the end of my arm. " Nice crowd. I think I like them. My personal favourite is the "Perpetual Blanket - A blanket that wraps down one side of the bed, under the bed and up the other side of the bed, returning to the top. This way people who have spouses that constantly steal the covers can always have a fresh supply being drawn up from underneath. Also eliminates dust bunnies under the bed. Optional feature: alarm when blanket is pulled to PROVE that spouse steals t
he covers. " It has proved to be a most emotive subject. A hundred and twenty comments have been left about it, a lot from willing customers of said product. The site also includes the obligatory cartoon strips and miscellanea, but is worth visiting just for this blanket alone. If you ever wake up in the middle of the night bereft of all body heat, this invention promises to be just the ticket.
Alright, so I’m not a parent. But like all plagues, it’s catching. So there I was, a fortnight ago, reviewing the merits of purchasing one against the fuddy duddiness of not doing so. My conversation partner was a 12 year old. Being a compulsive DooYooer, I naturally turned to DooYoo for additional information, inviting my companion to read the opinions along with me. When that topic of conversation was exhausted, we looked at some other opinions, one of mine on the monarchy, and a couple of JillMurphy’s book reviews. We discussed the contents, and I was satisfied that he understood a good proportion of what he had read. What I am leading up to here is to point out a huge untapped audience for DooYoo. My experience invalidates the initial objection that they are too young and incapable of the a high enough level of understanding. I admit that a sample of one does not constitute a good cross section, but my companion was scarcely Albert Einstein. He cannot be so remarkable as to be the only one of his age group capable of intelligently rating opinions. The second objection I forsee is that DooYoo remains a commercial concern and that there is no money to be made by swaying the opinions of youngsters of limited financial means. This objection can also be nullified by the recognition that youngsters have now been identified as a market force to be reckoned with. The spending power of the under 18s is worth hundreds of millions these days. Pop stars such as Britney Spears are immensely successful. Even those like Lolly, who only appeal to the under 11s, are tapping a huge market. Their fans may not have any actual earning power, but their “parent bugging power” is not to be underestimated. There may be some legal problem with making cash payouts to the under 18s, but I don’t see why they can’t have the option of donating their miles to charity or only gettin
g paid in freebies. An option which should be popular is a Playstation 2 game in lieu of £40 worth of miles. Should the laws of the land be more draconian than I have realised, then there is still nothing to prevent them being members who simply don’t get paid. This would increase the readership of DooYoo dramatically, if such an effect is the one being sought.
I vividly recall the occasion I first knew something that my venerable Physics teacher didn't. The discussion was about the value of a billion. "The American billion is smaller than ours, Sir. It's only a thousand million, not a million million". "But I thought that everything in America was bigger." "Well Sir, that's probably why. Their measures are smaller." It made him laugh, and I still recall it fondly. Anyhow, we're here to talk about recycling and climate change. Those of you familiar with me know that I like to begin at the beginning. So here goes. IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS THE VOID. And so on and so forth, until Earth was created and spinning merrily on its axis. This is some three to five American billion years ago. The surface of the planet was a seething mass of volcanic activity. Lightning strikes smote its surface, cataclysmic storms raged. Gradually, enough of the heat was lost for the planet to cool down, and a decent crust was formed on its surface. Amino acids formed, and the first single celled organisms followed soon after. More time passed. Plants appeared. The atmosphere of the fledgling planet was rich in carbon dioxide, encouraging more plants to gain a foothold. In time, a verdant colonisation was achieved. As a direct result of this, the oxygen levels of the planet rose. Animals benefited from this, and thrived. Three billion years rolled by. A new species is in town. Restless and adaptive, it has colonised the planet successfully. From the icy wastes to the arid deserts and lush forests, it has carved out habitats and multiplied. In their quest for resources, humans have harvested fauna and flora from the planet's surface, trawled its seas and are penetrating ever deeper into the crust for more. Inevitably, where resources are consumed, waste is produced. Becau
se the consumerism is on such a massive scale, the waste is reciprocally so. It begins to pervade more and more areas on a global scale. The air, sea and land are all affected. The contamination becomes a topic of conversation. Campaigns are launched to save the rainforests, lest we suddenly find ourselves without this source of oxygen. Recycling is both a trendy and pious practise. The hole in the ozone layer becomes a cause of concern. My best friend adds a new item to his imaginary catalogue of inventions: "Environmentally Friendly Refills for Hole Punches - made from the Hole in the Ozone Layer". The slogan "Save the Planet" is everywhere. So what if we don't recycle and save the planet? The land, sea and air become contaminated. The rainforests may die off. Humans may not thrive very well then. They may even die off. So, the trees may be gone, but they weren't there to start with anyway. As for the humans, they were simply last minute additions which didn't last that long. The Earth will be left with its crust, spinning in the void, just as it did all those american billion years ago. It will still be there. It certainly doesn't need saving.
I am currently owned by six cats, and so have had ample opportunity to experiment with what suits them and me best. The solution had to be effective for obvious reasons, and efficient if I was not to spend the best part of the day tending to this particular requirement. Cat Pearls are tiny pearls about 4mm in diameter. They turn progressively more brown with use and are meant to last a month. All that is required is that solid wastes are removed. They are also known as Litter Secret and other such name variations. They are the most effective I have come across for locking in smells, but this is very much dependent on the cat having enough of the stuff in the litter box to rake over. Naturally, if any waste is not covered over, the smell will not be prevented. Sad but true, I recently had a discussion with someone in the trade about this substance. Apparently, the pearls were THE latest thing in cat litter at a trade exhibition they attended. They are all made in China and come in various grades, varying in their ability to lock in smell and liquids. I have tried all the brands I have come across, but personally have not noticed any difference between them. They are available from pet shops, Sainsbury, Tesco and cat shows. Regardless of brand, they come in the same 3.8 litre bag, although weight is sometimes used as the measurement. Touted as being able to last “One Cat for One Month”, I can well believe it. Prices range from £3.30 in an exhibition bulk buy, slightly over £4 at Tesco, to £7.99 for the original branded product. I have never seen the grade of pearl mentioned on any of these bags. If you have only one or two cats, and find that the smell is a problem, I recommend this product. Particularly used in conjunction with a closed litter tray equipped with a flap, it should be the optimal solution. No other cat litter achieves the same result with such a small amount of cat litter. I
t is thus particularly well suited to someone who has problems lugging weighty objects around. It is probably not a viable product if you have a lot of cats. With six cats, I found that most of the pearls had gone within a few days by virtue of adhering to the solid waste which was removed daily. The long lasting qualities were thus obviously not to be fully appreciated in my household. Weight for weight, cat litter made of clay is the cheapest. There are two main types, clumping and non clumping. The advantage of the clumping type is that it makes it easier to remove the undesirable bits. The main disadvantage of cheap clay litter is that it’s the heaviest option. Definitely not recommended for someone with back problems or who isn’t up to hoicking weights. Then there are the new super improved litters, some of which are clay or chalk based. Catsan is one of them. It costs from £4.29 for 10 litres – more expensive than normal clay, but ounce for ounce, it does lock more smell than normal clay litter. My personal preference is wood based litter. My local friendly pet supplier sells it for £5.90 for 30 litres. Pets At Home offer the same quantity for £7.99. I like it because it covers the highest volume of space for money. This means that my motley crew get more to rake over. During negotiations, we have agreed that this is important in a high usage loo. Paper based litter is even lighter, but more expensive than wood based. There are a wide variety of cat loos available. Most common are the plain trays. They come in different heights and sizes, in a variety of colours. When selecting one, make sure that your cat can climb into it. This is not as stupid as it sounds, especially if you have a very young kitten. You are then faced with washing out the tray every day or so. A variety of liquids and cleaners are available for this purpose. I recommend
you check out your local pet store for the bewildering array designed to entice. Disposable litter trays might be an option, but as they start at £1.50 each, I regard them as an option for very ocassional use rather than an everyday solution. The travelling feline might find these useful. Litter tray liners are sold in packs of six or more, usually costing 30p per liner. They protect the litter tray, so negating the need for daily washing. One up from the simple litter tray is the tray with a hood, starting at £15. The hood ensures that more of the smell is kept with the tray. Some even come with a flap and it affords cats and humans a few weeks of entertainment whilst the cats learn to negotiate what is essentially a one way system. The flap of course, works both ways, but only the one way when there is a cat blocking the door. It doesn’t open at all if there is a cat jammed up against both the inside and outside. Cats soon learn this. The crème de la crème of litter trays is the Litter Maid. It is a litter tray with a built in motorised rake. Sensors set it in motion, and it automatically rakes clumps out of the litter. It has a posh little ramp leading up to it. The main purpose of the ramp is to catch any bits of litter remaining in the pats paws, so keeping the place tidier. It is available at the equally posh price of £199. Personally, I don’t like it. For two hundred pounds, I don’t expect to have to do any cleaning at all. The Litter Maid, for all its features, has to be emptied out, and I don’t fancy the idea of having to clean all those little tines on the rake. My main criteria for cat litter are that 1 – It works, i.e. the cats are happy to use it and it covers what it needs to cover. 2 – I have minimum contact with it all. My current solution are two large trays covered in black bin bags. The bags only cost 3p each, comp
ared to the official litter tray liners. Both liners and black bags are prone to getting ripped by claws. I prevent this by simply placing old paper or cardboard on the bags. I then put a couple of scoops of wood based litter on the paper. Maintenance consists of whipping off the bags and replacing with the same. Et voila! Minimum contact – you have no idea how happy this makes me. As a final note, I would emphasize that the key is to experiment. One of my cats began to use the floor around the trays. I scrubbed, cleaned and sprayed. All to no avail. Different cat litters were tried, numerous additional trays were placed around the house. The floor remained a firm favourite. Perfumed litters were tried. More cats took to using the floor. Finally, I brought the floor to the tray. A final litter tray was put out. It had a black bin bag over it, and a newspaper at the bottom. In every respect, it was like the other trays. Except one. It was sans cat litter. The floor has now been demoted to being used simply as a floor. The “empty” litter tray is doing a brisk business. The key really is to experiment with what pleases you both. After all, all going well, you’ll be doing this for nearly two decades.
Order, please. The latest session of the Chocomaniac Club is about to convene. I have one word for you. www.mini-eggs.co.uk It is so one word. A URL counts as a single word, doesn't it? Arguments in the commentaries section, please. Now, unfortunately, they're not giving away chocolates. No, no, please don't go - hear me out. What they are giving away are Cadbury's parrots. Simply visit the site, register and enter the competition. All they want you to do is to find out what the barcode of a packet on Cadbury's Mini Eggs is. The site also features other normal attractions such as wallpaper, games, quizzes and activities. The reason why I'm interested in joining is that I'll get put on Cadbury's mailing list. Now, it's not often that I actually want to be put on a mailing list, but how can I expect to be taken seriously as a bone fide chocoholic, if I'm not on the Cadbury's list? I rest my case. I'm off now, to do some very worthwhile research. The barcodes will be posted on this opinion when the research is completed. ~~~ Update 04.04.01 ~~~ Right. I'm lying here with a computer in front of me, a snoozing cat beside me, stuffing myself with mini eggs. I've been hunting hard. Both Makro and Asda only seem to do an Easter Egg package which contains one big normal chocolate egg and a few mini eggs. The barcode for that is 5 (chomp) 000 201 (scoff) 488 282. I haven't been able to locate any little packets or tubes of mini eggs which I used to see about the place. I thought I had another barcode to disclose after purchasing this packet of mini eggs, but on closer examination, it's turned a packet of NESTLE Mini Eggs, not CADBURY. I'm not so sure about them - they don't have little white speckles on them. Mini eggs should be speckled. <
br> Oh well, can't let them go to waste... ~~~ Update 12.04.01 ~~~ I'm back. This time Plumptious Catticus is in front of me, lying on one of my arms. It's actually fairly difficult to type. I've been working hard on the research, and am now surrounded by the fruits of my labour. Down to business: Mini Egg Cardboard Tube 120g - 5 000201 487995. Mini Egg Plastic Dispenser 45g - 5 000201 495976. Mini Egg Packet 115g (15% free) - 5 000301 491428. Mini Egg Plastic Egg 230g - 5 034660 500483. Go forth and chocolatify! ~~~ Update 26.04.01 ~~~ I’ve now finished the mini eggs contained in the plastic egg. And now a complaint. The plastic egg is moulded so that it has a hollow bottom. This gives the overall egg the appearance of containing a greater volume of mini eggs than it actually does. I object to this practice for several reasons, the first being that it’s rather disappointing to reach the end of a chocolate supply sooner than expected because the container has a falsely raised bottom. The second is that it’s a really annoying design. Because the bottom is hollow, the centre of gravity of the plastic egg is raised. This makes it more prone to being tipped over than an “honest egg”, which would be completely filled at the bottom, giving it a heavier base. It’s things like this that manufacturers do to give us the illusion that we’re buying more than we actually are that really annoy me. And seeing as I’d already started describing this particular product on DooYoo, it seemed really appropriate to point out this particular con here. Consumers unite! Avoid the Plastic Mini Egg!