Friday, August 29, 2008

Ferretting around

From the November 1992 Harper's:
Mr. Reg Mellor, the "king of the ferret-leggers," paced across his tiny Yorkshire miner's cottage as he explained the rules of the English sport that he has come to dominate rather late in life. "Ay, lad," said the seventy-two-year-old champion, "no jockstraps allowed. No underpants-- nothin` whatsoever. And it's no good with tight trousers, mind ye. Little bah-stards have to be able to move around inside there from ankle to ankle."

Basically, ferret-legging involves the tying of a competitor's trousers at the ankles and the insertion into those trousers of a couple of peculiarly vicious fur-coated, foot-long carnivores called ferrets. The brave contestant's belt is then pulled tight, and he proceeds to stand there in front of the judges as long as he can, while animals with claws like hypodermic needles and teeth like number 16 carpet tacks try their damnedest to get out.

From a dark and obscure past, the sport has made an astonishing comeback in recent years. When I first heard about ferret-legging, in 1972, the world record stood at forty painful seconds of "keepin' 'em down," as they say in ferret-legging circles. A few years later the dreaded one-minute mark was finally surpassed. The current record-- implausible as it may seem--now stands at an awesome five hours and twenty-six minutes, a mark reached last year by the gaudily tattooed little Yorkshireman with the waxed military mustache who now stood two feet away from me explaining the technicalities of this burgeoning sport.

"The ferrets must have a full mouth o' teeth," Reg Mellor said as he fiddled with his belt., "No filing of the teeth; no clipping. No dope for you or the ferrets. You must be sober, and the ferrets must be hungry-- though any ferret'll eat yer eyes out even if he isn't hungry. So then, lad. Any more questions 'fore I poot a few down for ye?"

"Yes, Reg."

"Ay, whoot then?"

"Well, Reg," I said. "I think people in America will want to know. Well -- since you don't wear any protection -- and, well, I've heard a ferret can bite your thumb off. Do they ever -- you know?"

Reg's stiff mustache arched toward the ceiling under a sly grin. "You really want to know what they get up to down there, eh?" Reg said, looking for all the world like some workingman's Long John Silver. "Well, take a good look." Then Reg Mellor let his trousers fall around his ankles.

[ . . .]

Loyal to nothing that lives, the ferret has only one characteristic that might be deemed positive -- a tenacious, single-minded belief in finishing whatever it starts. That usually entails biting off whatever it bites.

[ . . .]

Reg Mellor, a man who has been more intimate with ferrets than many men have been with their wives, calls ferrets "cannibals, things that live only to kill, that'll eat your eyes out to get at your brain" at their worst and "untrustworthy" at their very best.

Reg says he observed with wonder the growing popularity of ferret-legging throughout the '70s. He had been hunting with ferrets in the verdant moors and dales outside of Barnsley for much of a century. Since a cold and wet ferret exterminates with a little less enthusiasm than a dry one, Reg used to keep his ferrets in his pants for hours when he hunted in the rain -- and it always rained where he hunted.

"The world record was sixty seconds. Sixty seconds! I can stick a ferret up me ass for longer than that."

As DH said after reading this: "Ow, ow, ow!" The ferrets' tenacity does explain why Danny wished he'd brought his ferrets on our field trip when we found the rabbit warren. I'm trying to think of any strange American 'sports' that are as weird as this, but can't right now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

The value of the peerage

I suppose a penguin is no weirder as a military mascot than a goat, but I think it says a lot about the value of the peerage when a penguin (albeit one who's a military mascot) can be knighted! What kind of honor would it be to receive a knighthood, when you know that animals have been made peers of the realm too? Admittedly, despite living in Scotland all his life, the penguin is not a British peer but a Norwegian one.
A citation from King Harald the Fifth of Norway was read out, which described Nils as a penguin "in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood".

AP photo by David Cheskin

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Baby bunnies

Of course, where there are rabbits, there are baby rabbits! Just why the mother rabbit thought right next to my children's playstructure would be a safe spot for her babies, I don't know, but there they are in a very shallow hole covered in grass cuttings.

I had wondered about why the rabbits around here don't seem to have a rabbit warren, and the answer is that they are not that kind of rabbit as they are 'cottontails'. Wikipedia says:
Many rabbits dig burrows, but cottontails and hispid hares do not. The European rabbit constructs the most extensive burrow systems, called warrens. Nonburrowing rabbits make surface nests called forms, generally under dense protective cover.

I remember seeing an enormous rabbit warren on a hillside in the Yorkshire Dales. I was chaperoning a school field trip. One of the boys was very excited when he saw the warren and shouted, "Oooh, miss! I wish I'd brought me ferrets - we could'a had rabbit for dinner!"

Friday, August 08, 2008

Quechee (Camping part three)

After last year's successful camping trip, we decided to return to Vermont for another long weekend. This time we stayed at Quechee State Park.

It was, of course, a very different experience. The weather was significantly warmer than last year, which was nice. No one woke in the early hours desperate for a pee because their bladder was so cold. However, it was also significantly wetter. Actually last year, we had no rain at all. This year we had lots.

Although we have recently purchased a family sized tent, (more about that in another post later this month,) we decided not to take it with us because we would once again be staying in a lean-to. The State Park listed the lean-to we booked as a 'prime' lean-to. In my opinion, there were no 'prime' lean-tos at Quechee, but perhaps that's just because my prior experience with lean-tos is limited. The one at Allis was great. This one was adequate. We knew it was not going to have the stunning view the last site had, so that was not a surprise. It had been repainted inside much less recently than the one at Allis, so it looked dirtier.

For some reason, it had far fewer of the handy nails for hanging and or tying things to than last year's lean-to had. The site it was on was certainly not big enough for our tent (had we brought it) even though the description said it would be. It also lacked the privacy we had last year - the road through the campsite was right opposite us. This made lowering the tarp at night a necessity, not simply an option, for privacy reasons.

This made for a dilemma as we wanted to leave the tarp up to keep the picnic table dry overnight. In the end we decided to pull the table in as close to the lean to as we could so it was at least partly under the overhang, and then drop the tarp. That way we kept one bench dry and we put a second tarp on the other one in the morning when we sat down for breakfast.

The campground itself was much busier than Allis - not surprisingly as it is much closer to tourist attractions. One of them - Quechee Gorge was only a short walk from the campground itself.

The Friday and Saturday nights were therefore quite noisy simply because of the number or people there. (We were still much better spaced out on the site than we would have been on a European campsite though!) There was one rowdy group who arrived late and didn't observe quiet hours on Friday night, and after someone else yelled at them to shut up there was a small round of applause from the others camping near them. On Saturday night I was woken by a woman yelling very loudly and angrily at someone about how there was no way he was going to Get Lucky with her that night. (She didn't use quite that phrase!) On Sunday the camp emptied out and it was much quieter.

We brought a different stove this year, one that I felt more comfortable using as it was more like the one we had when we went camping when I was a kid. It doesn't have a grill ('broiler') like the one I remember from childhood camping trips, but for this year DH bought a gadget that allowed us to make toast/grill bread.

We also had lilos (air mattresses) this year instead of thermarest pads to sleep on. Although they wouldn't be any good for cold weather camping, they are very nice in summer temperatures. Both the kids and I preferred them to the thermarests.

Changes to make for the next trip include me remembering to pack fleece sweaters instead of cotton sweatshirts as they will dry much more quickly if they get wet, and having DH drive so I can do the mapreading instead of him! (Is it just me, or does it not make sense to look at the map well before one gets to the crucial intersection?!)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

No ice cream here

No ice cream here

And why would one expect ice cream at a winery? Well, the ice cream store is right next to this door, and the door leads to the winery which is actually upstairs. Obviously, they have had many people head into the winery thinking that they were going into the ice cream store.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Allis without a tent (Camping part two)

Last summer we decided that we would take a family camping vacation. I had been camping with DH before - with a tent, but without access to facilities like toilets. Not a particularly fun experience, mostly because answering the call of nature in the woods inevitably meant mosquito bites in unmentionable areas forum smileys So you can perhaps understand why I was doubtful about taking a family camping vacation, especially when DH said we would rent a 'lean-to', and that we would not need a tent. I had no idea what a 'lean-to' was but it sounded primitive and not particularly fun.

We stayed at Allis State Park in Vermont. Turning off the main road (relative term) to get to it, you get the distinct impression that, despite the signpost, you must have made a wrong turn because you drive through what is very clearly a farmyard. Allis is at the top of a mountain, at the end of a dirt road. The park is almost 500 acres of land and the campsite is a very small portion of it. There are only 26 campsites altogether, so if the camp was full there might be as many as 100 people there. There weren't. I think there were two or three other families there the whole time we were there. One night we were the only guests. Given the size of the bathroom facilities, I was very glad there weren't more people there. In the women's room there were two toilets, two sinks (with a sign above reminding people NOT to wash dishes in them), and one coin-operated shower. No dish-washing or clothes-washing sinks, as at the campsites in France!

As it turned out, I was quite impressed by the lean-to and ended up not needing the tent that I had secretly packed in the car. A lean-to is a far more solid structure than its name implies. It's like a very large, extremely solidly constructed, garden shed that is open on one side. The site we rented also included a large wooden picnic table and benches, and a fire-pit.

There was also a beautiful view, included at no extra charge.


We set up a tarpaulin as a canopy over the picnic table which we had moved right in front of the lean-to. At night we dropped the tarpaulin down to add a slight degree of privacy. The front of our lean-to faced away from the rest of the campsite though, so even if it had been fuller, there was plenty of privacy even without the tarp. (The grassy area in the photo below was all part of 'our' site, and the rocks in the photo above were behind me in this one.) Previous visitors over the years had banged nails into the structure at convenient spots and we used those. We strung a rope across the front of the lean-to and used that to hang towels on so they could dry.


The weather was rather cool, especially being at the top of a mountain, so it was quite chilly at night. It did mean there were no bugs though, hence no need at all for the tent I had packed.

Despite the name of the location - Bear Mountain - we saw no bears, or evidence of them. We were awakened every morning, however, by the squirrels trying to get into our cooler and the kitchen box. Vermin! We had to clean their pee and poop off the picnic table before we could have breakfast! (Never had that problem in France, where the table was always inside the tent all night. Occasionally in France we had the kitchen set up outside, but we didn't leave food out there, so no problems with animals trying to eat it.)

Every evening before we went to bed at Allis, we made a ritual walk to the dumpsters to throw all our trash out. DH taught us that it was a good idea to kick the side of the dumpster before throwing anything into it - he said it was better than surprising a critter like a raccoon who would then not be very friendly!

So despite my reservations about going camping without a tent with the man who likes camping in the snow, I enjoyed it and (more importantly) the kids did too. DH may camp without a tent but it's not the primitive camping I imagined it would be. (You still won't catch me going camping in New England in January though, with or without a tent!)
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