The city which is used as “base camp” for the trip to see the Terracotta Warriors is Xi’an, which means Peace in the West. It was a former Imperial capital, between 1,000 BC and 1,000 AD, including the prolific and culturally rich Tang dynasty. Much of its historical buildings are well preserved, from the impressive 9 mile city walls, to the great goose pagoda and the bell and drum towers.

Although it’s now a manufacturing centre, prone to some heavy pollution and with frightening traffic jams, this city of 5 million people is very pleasant. Being in the north means that it is drier and less humid than the Eastern seaboard cities, and there is more of a contrast in temperatures between day and night than in the southern sub-tropical zone.

It is too dry to grow rice here, and so wheat based dishes are the local specialty, particularly the Big Noodles. An astonishingly exotic range of foods is on display at the street markets, including roasted goats feet. I wasn’t tempted.

Mac is back!

Remember big dog little dog, where I walked my sister-in-law’s  9 month old Jack Russell after she had an operation? Well, the little mutt is back, and he’s here all week, folks!

Now it takes a lot for something to make Max look calm and sensible, but watching Mac race round and round, in and out, jump up on your knee and then jump down again as soon as there’s a noise elsewhere in the house is making the older fella look incredibly dignified and restrained. I swear he rolled his eyes at me this morning as the wee one continued his hyper chasing about. I’m having to type this one handed as Mac likes to sit on my knee while I’m ‘puting.

He’s a smart kid: this morning as Rog and I had coffee in the study, he grabbed Rog’s slipper off his foot and ran away with it. When R and I had finished our sentence, I jokingly looked at cute little one-ear-up, one-ear-down pup who’d returned empty pawed, and commanded “Go fetch Uncle Roger’s slipper!”. To our astonishment and amusement he dashed off, and returned with the slipper in his mouth! He’s also adopted Mittens’ old basket, and there’s an occasional 10 seconds where the pair of them are lying content in their baskets.

Mac and Max in their beds

Mac and Max in their beds

Naturally there’s a bit of competition for attention, and over toys: squeaky ducks and ragged tuggers that have lain ignored in Max’s basket for months are suddenly of immense value to him, simply because little Mac wants to play with them.  And the different temperaments of the breed are fascinating to observe – Mac is a chasing terrier, who sticks his head through the railings where the local lads are playing footie, longing to join in (the boys took pity on him and gave him one of their old and disheveled balls, which Mac ran home with in his mouth, pleased as punch.)

I’m working on getting him to sit and stay, and he seems to be a fast learner.

But I’ll still be glad to hand him back at the end of the week…

We’re going to need a bigger box…

Jem had her first paid work in a theatre yesterday, at the preview of this year’s panto in the Grand Opera House. At first we thought she was just going to be a sort of stand-in dancer for some photo-shoots, but it was actual appearing on stage, with Dame May McFettridge, and included a stint as the back end of a dragon, which is obviously vital training for any budding thesp.

Jem with stars in her eyes

Jem with stars in her eyes

So today her picture was in most of the local papers, as well as this lovely publicity still on the Grand Opera House website. Honestly, if this is going to happen every time she goes to work I’m going to need a much bigger box in which to put all her photos, certificates, publicity, programmes…

Mittens RIP

Well we said our goodbyes today to a family treasure – Mittens the cat. She’d reached the supremely ripe old age of 24 (which is about 150 in human years) and at times seemed to be immortal. Every time we left her at the kennels, the woman there enquired what we’d like done should the inevitable happen while we were away…

…and every time we came back to find her hale and hearty, mewing loudly every time she reckoned it was time to eat (every hour on the hour if she’d had her way!)

Max and Mittens share the sofa

Max and Mittens share the sofa

She and Max worked out how to share living quarters – he was as curious as a puppy can be about this strange smelling and moving creature – she’d just bat him on the nose if he got too close. He’d get jealous if she jumped onto someone’s knee – she just purred triumphantly.

I know Roger will miss her enormously: he’d had her since she was a kitten, and that amounts to almost half his life! She used to snuggle into him when he wasn’t feeling well, and even though I’m not really a cat person, even I enjoyed her purring rubbing around my legs. I know my son Harry will miss her very much too – he always made a point of giving her plenty of attention when he visited.

Max and Mittens share the water

Max and Mittens share the water

I left Rog to say his goodbyes at the vets this morning. She’d gone downhill rapidly over the weekend, not able to eat or drink, and falling over each time she tried to stand up or walk. We couldn’t just sit back and watch as all her internal organs failed, so agreed that a painless end was what this dignified lady deserved.

And I took Max outside for a walk while the deed was done. When I turned back round the corner and saw Rog in tears with the empty cat basket I knew just how deep his loss was. There’s certainly a Mittens-shaped hole in our lives today.

Harry gives Mitts her Christmas present

Harry gives Mitts her Christmas present

Bye bye Mitzi, it was lovely knowing you.

Beijing’s Olympic Village

It was so good in China to be able to see the very very old as well as the brand spanking new.  I’m a huge fan of modern architecture, and one of the highlights of last year’s Olympics had been marveling at the structures that had been erected for the event.  So I was thrilled to be seeing the Birds Nest Stadium and the bubble swimming pool building up close and personal.

The village is a huge draw for lots of school parties, and Roger and I were charmed when a group of young schoolgirls, aged about 8 or 9, chorused “Hello!” in unison to us, and then giggled behind their hands when we replied.

The usual touts and vendors were there, and though a glass model of the birds nest was tempting, we resisted.

Golden Anniversary

Well it’s all over! All the organising and planning finally played out, and we had a rather wonderful family get together. Bit of a last minute hiccup in the DVDs: the so-called pro that I’d given the tapes to ages ago (as well as a large sum of money) produced, with less than a week to go, some poor quality disks that had to be redone (and even then, still weren’t working properly). I had a long cry, a loud scream, and then set about making the disks at least look good. I bought from PC World, for £15, some software that could use existing photos and turn them into labels for the actual disks themselves, as well as inserts for the boxes. And I have to say, when I was finished (last thing on Saturday night before the do…) the result was quite impressive! And anyway, it’s the boxes they’ll be showing to their friends, more than the actual contents.

The song went better than I could have hoped for. Everyone agreed to join in (even teenage boys who rightly pointed out that it was cheesy and stupid). Dr Drama waved her magic theatrical wand and sorted out harmonies and intros, and absolutely vetoed use of tambourine (too Sally Army). We were just getting ready to perform, using the ruse that I was going to recite a pome, when the photographer arrived! We hastily stashed the guitar behind the sofa, posed outside for photos, and then waited for him to leave, while my Dad kept topping up his whisky glass….

Mum, dad, cake and song

Mum, dad, cake and song

Eventually we got to perform, Mum and Dad were suitably gob-smacked and teary-eyed, and we all hugged and laughed.