U is for Ubiquitous #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

When we first used a moth trap we were inundated with small, rather drab moths. One task, for we enthusiasts was identification and leading this charge was the Archaeologist. As with most tasks both then and now he read and read and absorbed what the experts over decades had to say.

After one collecting night yet another small unprepossessing moth remained unidentified. It was left to the Archaeologist to try and sort out what it was. Dad asked if he had had any joy.

‘It’s umbiquos,’ reported a confident Archaeologist.

Dad, understandably, looked confused. ‘Umbiquos?’

Not for the first time the Archaeologist had to explain to the less knowledgeable. ‘It means very common.’

It took dad a moment. ‘Do you mean ubiquitous?’

As with a lot of family malapropisms these quickly become family lore, utilised like a secret language to confuse outsiders. I’m sure all families have them.

My father’s mother, nana, fulfilled her fair quota. The new sunglasses that became popular in the 197os for their anti glare were noted with ‘oh I would like some of those paranoid sunglasses’ and when explaining where she lived to a taxi driver it was ‘just after the bollocks in the middle of the road’.

The last I recall when my parents were still alive came courtesy of a piece of high disdain from mum. As always she’d been bullied by dad to get ready for some rather formal trip out and had sneaked off to do some dead heading in the garden while he fussed over the directions or the invite or what wine to take.

Finally he realised where she was and in exasperation called her in. ‘Barbs, for heaven’s sake. Aren’t you ready yet?’

‘Of course,’ protested mum.

‘Well what’s that on your shoulders? Looks like dandruff.’

Mum didn’t even bother to look. As she strode past him, brushing each shoulder swiftly she explained, ‘It’s pollen.’

Dad, for once, was floored. Though he had his revenge by calling her pollen as a term of endearment thereafter, when in company. Mum would smile sweetly but they both understood the joke, one thy kept to themselves.

Which brings me neatly to trying to explain why it was that, aged about 10 I started calling my mother Brian. I did right up to her death. It had some link to the lugubrious but sage snail in the Magic Roundabout but exactly what I’ve forgotten. Maybe it was the taste in hats…

I’m just happy to have called her Brian while she was alive.


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T is for Tighe #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

Tighe? Did he mean tight? Is this another alcohol fuelled post? No, it’s about tight budgets if anything. During the 1960s, and especially after dad was made redundant in 1961/2 – not that we boys knew it – my parents needed to find another source of income. To being with we hosted French students – Francoise and I think Elise – both jolly yet, latterly my mother confessed they didn’t do as much as she had expected for the relatively cheap rent they paid. So it was that my parents took in a lodger. This would have been about 1965 I think. John Tighe – pronounced Tie – who stayed with us for I guess two or three years. He couldn’t have been much more that late  20s – I knew he was younger than my parents but an adult – who was largely indifferent to me and the Archaeologist and, for that, of course, he seemed glamorous and attractive.

Things must have been hard then – redundancy pay wasn’t much of anything and the benefit system nothing like today for all the complaints – so they put up with having a single young man enjoying what the 1960s had to offer. I assume there were some kind of rules, no doubt thoughtfully enforced by mum because dad wouldn’t have enjoyed any sort of confrontation. Indeed dad introduced John to his friends at the rugby club, peopled by a range of ages and including a group similarly young working and single as  John. One was called ‘The Vicar’. I asked mum why he was called that to be told because he wasn’t which made no sense to an 8 year old – at least not then. I would surmise they ‘played’ pretty hard and keeping some of the ‘aftermaths’ of such a lifestyle would have tested my mother’s ingenuity and our ability to stay quiet on those mornings after.

So our family and John rubbed along ok. He occupied a small room on the ground floor next to the lounge – where my gran stayed when she visited. I don’t know how they got round that but they did somehow because gran always came at least twice a year.

Several times when the phone rang – it was by the front door (I even remember the number because we answered it we always did with the number – it was customary back then: Caterham 44839 – and mum always answered in her special voice) – I would knock on John’s door so he could come and take it from me. Often it was a woman. Often John would be wearing nothing but a small tight Y fronts – not the sort of underwear I’d ever seen before and not the sort of behaviour in my somewhat prudish family. He was, um, fascinating, beautiful I suppose to me not used to fit young men close up and I stared. I know he knew and he laughed at me, not nastily. I’ve no idea what he thought and I don’t think he mentioned it to my parents but I recall being embarrassed. Go figure…

Our house, back then: John’s room was the square window on the left of the ground floor – he loved the dog as I recall

For work, he dressed in smart grey suits with a blue shirt – in those days white was still expected so this too stood out. And he always had a car. Well it seemed so because for a time he was a rep who visited businesses and then he acted as a car chauffeur delivering cars. Once he had an American car with these huge fins. All the kids in the street crowded round that and I felt quite proud to be associated with something that caused such a stir.

The best memory, though, is when he worked at Gatwick airport. Gatwick was new back then, the second London airport opened by the Queen in 1958. I don’t know what John did but he had access to the runways and planes because one sunny evening after dad finished work, mum, dad the Archaeologist and I drove the few miles to the airport where John met us and let us in. It seems inconceivable now but we were given access to all the most sensitive areas. We walked out alongside taxiing planes – I’m not sure they took off and landed but they were certainly moving around, these big beasts. Remember my first ever flight was in 1981, many years away. This was so exciting.

He left the best until last; we walked into a hanger where a plane – a VC10 – was being serviced and we climbed up the stairs and wandered around the inside, sat like a  passenger, visited the flight deck and saw all these dials and wondered how such things could fly and marvelled at the skills of the pilots to understand all the equipment and information they were receiving.

If I close my eyes I can see John now – rond face, floppy fringe like a Beatle, in sharply creased grey trousers, blue shirt and bright tie, held by a silver tiepin, smiling up at us from the floor of the hanger. He may be holding a cigarette. Behind him the summer sun is slowly setting – it was probably about 8pm, and he is in a shadow but his expression is clear. And I’m so grateful for this treat, this otherworldly experience. I was living a fantasy I didn’t even know I had.

Today, Gatwick is a passenger factory, sucking us in like raw materials and churning us through the mincer. They sanitise the experience as best they can, wrapping us in retail and rewarding compliance over complaint. But even now, as I queue to be x-rayed I stare at the ceiling and a little piece of me is back looking at John and being exhilarated… and then the alarm goes, some orangutan slaps on a latex glove and reality bites… to end here’s a poem on my thoughts about Gatwick

Flight (1)


It’s a melee,

Complete chaos.


And screens

And codes

And people.

Anxious, fretful

Lost in Transition.

We’re like ancient man

Scouring our limited horizon

For a sign.

Hoping to be guided

By some benign deity

To our goal.

We want to pass

Quickly, painlessly


The pain of incomprehension

Is a psychological torture,

For the uninitiated.

Artificial teethy smiles

Check flimsy permits

Clutched desperately,

Shown in hope

Returned in relief.

Borders crossed

Queues joined



Triple Checked.

We’re all check point charlies,

Queuing 50 paces,

Showing this,

Taking off that,

Raising arms,

Emptying bags,

Handing over innocent contraband

In case it jabs or explodes.

We watch, volunteer spies,

For sinister plotters

Anxious to root them out.

The man with the overlarge hand luggage

The woman with the bedraped buggy

The student with dreadlocks and a hippy bag.

Each as deluded as the next.

Patient in the asylum;

Each as suspicious as any

Inmate in a labour camp.

Our spirits are entrapped in this way,

Courtesy of BAA:

What a way to start a holiday.

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In the Navy, not… #carrotranch #flashfiction

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I learnt camp fire songs in the Scouts, from Ging Gang Goolie Goolie Watcha to Kumbaya.

That was what we were meant to learn, anyway. There were those other songs, hushed songs sniggeringly sung in the tents after lights out.

Like “We’re off to see the Wild West Show, The Elephant and the Kangaroo…’

us? Sing smutty songs? Never!!

Or ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain…’ only with verses such as

‘She’s got a lovely bottom set of teeth,

She’s got a lovely bottom set of teeth,

Oh she’s got a lovely bottom,

She’s got a lovely bottom,

She’s got a lovely botto set of teeth.’

WEven naive me understood that but for the life of me, aged 10 or so, I relaly didnt understand why this caused sniggers…

‘She’s has a lovely navel uniform,

She has a lovely navel uniform,

Oh she has a lovely navel..’

Why, or so my mind had it, did anyone think a belly bottom worthy of such giggling and inclusion in a risque song? Ah me…

And the flash, well, Penny has some embarrassing moments…

Life Gets Complicated


‘Penny come here.’

Penny looked at her form teacher’s stern face, mystified at her tone.

‘Did you call Melanie a freak?’

‘I…’ Penny’s face flushed. ‘I just said her belly button was weird.’ Everyone had laughed, even Melanie. She’d showed them after all. ‘Is she upset?’

‘Melanie doesn’t know we’re talking. Someone else told me.’

Penny felt anger swell inside her chest. Sophie.

Miss Johnstone sighed. ‘She has an umbilical hernia. Just be a little careful what you say. You don’t know who might be upset.’

Penny held her gaze. ‘If Mel doesn’t care, why should anyone else?’


To catch up on Penny and her family, click here

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Beach Fayre #writephoto #flashfiction

The excitement in the venerated halls of the Royal Geographical Society were palpable. Not since Surtsey had burst forth from the Atlantic, propelled by huge volcanic forces, had anything of this scale suddenly appeared out of the oceans and this time the new land mass, the size of Surrey had leapt into existence with dazzling speed some 500 miles south of Hawaii. At the same time, though the reports were confused, a large piece of the coast of Chile seemed to have disappeared. Of course the loss of life was terrible but these geo-planetary discombobulations were what made geographers and geologists salivate. So much to explore, so many new avenues opened. The big question – why – of course, was on everyone’s lips but no doubt there would be a clear scientific explanation.

‘Horace! Come here, right now.’ Athene’s hair glowed ultraviolet as she struggled to control herself. She’d just done her nails and having involuntary thunderbolts exploding from the tips did nothing for the patina. ‘I don’t need this just before your father and I go out. You know it’s Uncle Zeus’ party tonight and your father and I have enough to do to pander to his ego without your latest trick.’

Horace dragged himself indoors, wiping at his mouth furiously with his sleeve.

Athene peered at her son; if he was ever going to make it as a fully functioning inspirer-of-awe he needed to smarten up his act. ‘Your father tells me there’s been uproar on Earth again. When we gave you this planet we expected you to learn how to interrelate with its inhabitants. Yet he says you’ve decimated a continent.’

‘I was peckish, mum. And it looked… tasty.’


‘Just a small bite, mum, to see what it was like but it was like that time we went to the beach. Everything was covered in sand. I kind of spat it out, see and sort of created another island. All I did was move some of it around.’

‘You’ll have to make it up to them.’

‘Mum… must I?’

‘Yes. You go and take some of that money your granny gave you and buy a new species from Mr Gruber. Put it somewhere near that nice David Attenborough. When they see his cheery face, it’ll take their minds off things.’

This is in response to Sue Vincent’s latest #writephoto prompt here

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S is for Steam #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

I spent a large amount of my childhood in steam. Mum’s kitchen was like a cauldron of cooking and boiling. At most times of the year it seemed some industrial catering process was underway – marmalade, chutney, jam, preserving vegetables like beetroot – and when the smells weren’t culinary they involved boiled clothing or some other mechanical process.

This was, you might understand, back when a vegetable was cooked to a pulp, or so it seemed. Cabbage wasn’t eaten crisp, the only thing stir fried was a chip pushed around the pan and had we heard the term Al Dente we would have assumed it was an Italian dentist.

Mum used a pressure cooker a lot of the time, which generated both steam and a series of whizzes and fizzes that made her kitchen appear to be a prototype for a Potions lesson.

Sometimes mum could become a bit reckless. On one occasion she was trying to rush and had the heat turned up too high on the pressure cooker. For those of you who have never experienced these marvels they cooked whatever it was in pressurised steam but as with all things under pressure there needed to be an escape; and in this case there were weights on the top. Were the pressure to get to be too much and the neat little vent to prove insufficient, the weights would pop off the top and roll to one side letting all the steam out and avoid turning the cooker into shrapnel.

Unfortunately in this instance the weights didn’t so much roll as rocket. One minute the kitchen was full of a low level crackle, the next it was filled with an enormous pop. The weights hit the ceiling, as I tried desperately to exit stage right screaming, mum, who was in the process of tieing up an airer of clothes  let go mush to her annoyance, and the dog, all 27 kilos of muscle proved once more that the only thing entirely frictionless in the known universe is a sprinting dog on wet linoleum.

If I escaped steam at one end of the house, I might well find it at the other. The Archaeologist was fascinated by many things and the power of steam was one. He acquired, as a present I expect, a Mamod – a scale model of workings steam engines – which was powered by a small power source that used methylated spirits to heat the water.

for once I’m in charge of the matches…

Looking back you do have to wonder at my parents and their gullibility, allowing an eight year old Frankenstein loose with such inflammable material. They trusted him which in one sense is meritorious. And really something that might be used to conflagrate the house was small beer for him.

This was the boy whose imagination was beyond his years.  Somehow – blue eyes, blond curls, whatever, he persuaded mum – and remember this was well before his tenth birthday to buy him some Salt Peter – potassium nitrate because he wanted to do a small chemical experiment. Back then fertilizer bombs were a thing of the sci-fi imaginings but not beyond the wide reading of the Archaeologist. Souring sulphur and charcoal wasn’t tricky either. And the small ‘accident’ that occurred when he lit a small metal dish with some of these compounds in it ‘to see how it went’ leading to a sooty mark on our bedroom ceiling and some melted sticky-backed plastic on our table wasn’t noticed. Eventually he managed to blow up a small amount of lawn – not telling anyone of course – and there, we must be grateful his experiments in ordnance ended.

‘Psst. I’ve had this great idea to make a moon rocket. Fancy being the pilot?’ ‘Will I come back?’ ‘Sometimes there has to be a needless sacrifice…’

Neither of us thought there was anything wrong with this; even when he built a horn for an old fashioned gramophone player that lacked the same leading to the needle being so deeply embedded in the heel of my foot that I required an operation to remove it, we didn’t want the experiments to stop. A little collateral damage was a small price to pay to satiate for a while an otherwise unquenchable curiosity. Would he be the polymath he is today, had that urge been restrained? Maybe not. Anyway I’m sure he’s forgiven me now for breaking that needle given how long it took him to make that horn…

Plotting, always plotting…

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A Quiet Passion #filmreview

This film is one of those that I go to thinking I’ll wish I hadn’t. Costume dramas and a lot of moody lingering camera shots at sumptuous gowns and stiff backed men. Ideally these trips would pay for themselves in the extra sleep that comes with them but rarely do films I don’t enjoy send me to sleep.

The other side to that slight ennui as I collect the tickets is the knowledge that rarely am I disappointed by such fare, possibly because I come to them with such low expectations.

I did wonder at this one because while I’ve admired Emily Dickinson’s poetry it’s not of the jolly pick-me-up-on-a-wet-Wednesday genre.

You kind of know where this is going, don’t you? The audience was, inevitably, of the thoughtful turns-off-the-phone-and-doesn’t-eat-popcorn sort – those types had plenty to enjoy on the other screens with Fast and Furious 8 and Get Out. As a result there weren’t any distractions and we settled back to see how they could make entertainment out of a poet’s life that was unremarkable in its reasonable longevity (no 20 something early demise here) and stable family (minor scandals apart) and comfortable home life.

There were lingering shots, of snow and cheery blossom, bonnets and parasols galore; there was incidental stress over some infractions with her father and the local reverend. And there was a continuing battle to have her worth as a poet recognised in her lifetime that sadly failed.  Her faltering contempt for organised religion played out nicely against the horrors of the civil war but largely her’s was a life externally untroubled and internally at war with itself. We heard a lot about the concerns for her soul and its earthly nourishment and we had some well-chosen voiced over poetry that complemented the scenes.

The acting was a little mixed: Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle were multi faceted and clever in their portrayals; the male actors less so, in the case of the chap playing her brother the picture on the poster at the entrance was at times more effective in communicating his feelings than his acting.

As she sank into some later life bitterness her waspish tongue came to the fore and those were some of the best scenes. When asked if she wanted to come down as her brother’s lover was departing she mused ‘This life I hope?’ Was she so beautifully and breathtakingly rude? Maybe not but it rounded her off and gave the chance for Nixon to display a range of acting skills in what was otherwise a constrained characterisation.

So, yes, the trip was worthwhile. Perhaps to say I ‘enjoyed’ myself might be stretching things in the same way Dickinson would have though it overstated. If slow moving and thoughtful (but neither glacial nor thought provoking) are your bag and, especially if you like her poetry then this is for you. If you’re not sure it might be too racy for you, maybe try some of the Slow TV the Norwegians like – you know, where you watch a leaf float down a river for two hours or a sultana swell in a  cup of marsala over night – and if that leaves you mellow, pop along. If however you even think seeing Fast and Furious 8 might be worth a shot then avoid this as you would an ‘Evening of Song and Dance with Boris Johnson’. If the HHGTTG contained a section on Earth Films this would probably come in under ‘essentially harmless’.

I must report no ice cream. I know, how can that be. If you take a delayed skype call to No. 1 Son, an early showing and some uncooked fishcakes you end up at the cinema craving salt and buy crisps instead – I had some of those deep fried beetroot and sweet potato johnnies which I usually poo-poo but they did the trick. And no I didn’t eat them in the auditorium. Please, give me credit…

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R is for Rabbits #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

Earlier in the show, at G is for… I recounted my experiences with Gertie my guinea pig. And I’ve told of the family dog, Punch and my parents’ cat Misty whose poem, written by dad, I revealed a while ago, here if you are interested.

But the one pet that I haven’t mentioned was a rabbit whose name escapes me. He wasn’t the only rabbit to whom we gave a home but he was the first.

Thing about… damn, what was his name? Wotsit will have to do. Wotsit was a stray.

One of my mother’s most disliked habits, at least to the Archaeologist and me, was to miss no opportunity to acquire any form of compost for her garden. Preferably for nothing. The route to my first senior school (before the family moved to the New Forest I spent a year at Purley Grammar School) crossed some woodland and common land that was popular with riders. Hence on the few occasions mum drove me to and from school, she would always have a plastic sack and spade in the boot so she could stop and shovel up the horses’ offerings to be composted.

I’m not sure when it was, possibly in the year before I started, now I think about it, we were driving across the common, mum’s eyes scouring the verges for suitable offerings when one of us – probably the Archaeologist as he had front seat visitation rights – spotted a rabbit sitting on the verge. Oddly he didn’t move as we drove slowly up to him, looking up briefly from where he was feeding.

Carefully we all hopped out (ha, sorry about that!) and circled the indifferent beast. ‘He’s tame.’

My mother, I am certain, had the words ‘rabbit pie’ dangling on her lips when the Archaeologist pointed out this obvious fact.

I can now imagine the parental dilemma. On the one hand mum liked nothing more than foraging for food. We spent hours collecting berries, fruits and nuts. On the other to capture and kill a tame rabbit would seem, well, unseemly.

‘Can we keep him?’ This from the Archaeologist.

‘If we can catch him.’ Ever practical mother.

It proved surprisingly easy and soon enough he was in the car, being taken home. The guinea pig cage, now redundant but still available was prayed in aide and that evening we had a new pet.

I must say Wotsit wasn’t universally popular. Dad, for instance, had a sort of hate-hate relationship with him, partly because he had vampiric tendencies towards dad and partly because one time he escaped he ate all dad’s lettuce plants.

He did make a bold bid for freedom, ending up under a neighbour’s shed. Dad, reluctantly was dispatched with the two of we boys to fetch him back. Dad knew it would end in blood. His. But by using a juicy carrot, a necessary transfusion was avoided and Wotsit returned to his life of indolence and eating.

He died, of what I don’t know, before we moved, in 1969, to Hampshire. I know this because Punch was the only pet to come with us on that long and terrifying displacement. And but for Richard Briars we might have left it at one rabbit, over fed, in our pet history.

Self sufficiency, which mum had been dabbling with forever really took hold in the 1970s following the popularity of The Good life (above). In our little corner of Hampshire it began with an increase in vegetables grown by dad. But mum wanted more. They thought about bees – dad went on a course that took weeks only to be told our garden wasn’t suitable due to the proximity of a riding stables – and even mentioned chickens and a goat but eventually settled for rabbits.

I don’t remember being party to this decision but I do remember mum telling both of us that we mustn’t name them ‘They’re not pets, they will be killed and eaten’. That was ok with us – we both liked rabbit pie.

‘Will dad do the killing?’ I’m really not sure why we asked; we both knew the answer.

‘No I will,’ this from mum. Dad was a man’s man who could be as squeamish as a Victorian heroine. Oddly this hardened killer trait seems to have carried down the generations as the Vet, dainty blonde and all that, was the one volunteer to kill and skin a rabbit on an army camp she attended aged circa 15. Now she’s keen to save them. Go figure.

Anyway, we were now the owners of our own meat source and all the peelings and shed lettuce leaves and what-have-yous were given to Rabbit A and Rabbit B pending their eventually demise.

And all would have been well but for a film and 2 cousins.

My cousins, trying to put the terrors behind them…

My two delightful cousins lived a few miles away in the pub their parents ran and would visit from time to time. No one thought to mention the rabbits, and certainly not their fate when these two bounced into our garden, saw the pen and squealed.

‘What are their names?’

‘They don’t have any. You see…’

Louise: ‘This one’s Hyzenthlay.’

Alison: ‘This one’s Fiver’.

Watership Down. A crapulous carbuncle of cinematography. Who’d have thought they would have just seen this?

By the time my parents emerged it was too late to explain. Mum was in a bind. This wasn’t the idea at all.

Over the next few weeks the cousins appeared and made a beeline for the bunnies. Mum explained to their parents who told her not to worry. When the time came she should just tell a little white lie – about how they’d gone to a new home. Mum wasn’t happy, exactly, but it would have to do.

And it would have been fine. But for the Archaeologist. The dread day dawned and the two lapin de dejeuner were re-categorised, and the pen removed.

The cousins arrived and headed for the garden. They looked around for their friends. ‘Where are the rabbits?’

Mum swallowed and prepared to explain about the re-homing but the Archaeologist, undoubtedly having a George Washington moment interjected. ‘They’re in the freezer.’

Mum and dad never kept livestock after that.

And my cousins? I think the counselling is going well…

Alison manages to deal with a dog as long as it doesn’t wrinkle it’s nose in the cute bunny way…

and Louise is ok with dogs as long it doesn’t ever hop…

Posted in A to Z blogging challenge, family, miscellany, pets | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments