Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What every woman wants?

Outside mindless un-gardening with dog today - hacking down things, wondering if it is still too dry to risk a bonfire and filling rabbit holes with sand - when this thought crossed my mind: what is it that men and women want in a dog?

The manly cliché is a friend who delivers slippers and newspaper when the master gets home - although in our house he would be lucky if a shredded heap of soggy newsprint got anywhere near his chewed slippers. Most men appear to want an OBEDIENT companion who is seen but never heard, never gets in the way and never  ever interferes with plans, but who is also a companion who massages his master's ego with much tail wagging in the forlorn hope that the master will feed him, take him out, play with him. Noooo! master's far too busy ... but dog will try again tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

To be fair, there are other men who absolutely adore their dogs. Usually, these dogs came into their lives before significant others (humans) came on the scene and remind them fondly of blokish weekends when they were free to sleep in until early afternoon, snuggled up with four legged beast on their bed, then get up together, have breakfast together, go for a run together, sleep some more together, crash in front of the TV together and not speak or be spoken at all day.

Then, there are country men whose dogs are their right arm. I have every respect for the relationship they have, so enough said.

So what of women? What do they want in a dog? A girl might be seeking a doll that she can whisper secrets to, dress up in whatever costume takes her fancy (regardless of whether it takes the poor dog's fancy) and mother. It is the last of these that I think most woman seek when acquiring a dog. Mothering or nurturing another creature is a very basic instinct. When we have done with raising our own, or when we have none of our own, we turn to pets to fill the gap. And what better pet than a dog? A faithful companion; a shadow; a friend and protector. But hang on a minute, what about cats? Aren't they the same in nurturing terms? I might be misquoting someone here, but a dog is faithful because he thinks his owner is God, a cat on the other hand isn't interested because he knows he is God. I sometimes suspect however that I am God in dog's terms only when I am holding food; then he is very faithful.

So what of my dog? Children very much still in the nest; husband fairly typical of the seen and not heard approach to dog ownership (and the seen and not seen approach to picking up poo!) Companionship. Dog un-gardens with me - that is, he tolerates my gardening for about half an hour and then starts to help, getting between me and my bucket, digging holes, pulling up the plants I have just planted and chewing on the satisfyingly crunchy, woody bits of shrubs. Then I give up and play with him - thereby rewarding him (I know!)- and so the whole un-gardening exercise happens several times in one afternoon. He shadows me and rather endearingly barks to protect me when we are out walking ( I think this equals his being frightened and not actually particularly brave: a whole fleet of big black spaceships had landed in our field the other day - very scary and very much resembling the bales of hay, cut and wrapped in black polythene the previous day; this caused much barking and refusal to take his usual path). And he lies at my feet when I sit still for a rare and fleeting few minutes. And he doesn't ask any awkward questions, or argue, or ask me for money, or stay out too late, or have relationship problems, or worry about his future or who his best friend is today, or whether he will be picked for the team, or whether he did enough to pass his exams.

What more could a woman want but a male who without question worships her twenty four hours a day?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Rapture - NOT the event that didn't happen last week. Musing on pleasure.

Dictionary definition of rapture (leaving aside the one relating to ascent into heaven) is "feeling of intense pleasure."

Thought about this while WTD up and down and up and down the garden today - productive clearing of  shrubs killed by winter frosts and over enthusiastic weeds etc. And came to this conclusion in list form: Rapture is ...

  • watching a newborn lamb take its first wobbly steps
  • the first strawberry of the season (the one that the field mice didn't get)
  • taking in the view from the peak of the mountain you have just climbed (particularly if the mountain is in Argyllshire and the heather is in bloom)
  • holding your child for the first time
  • sharing wine and good food with friends (see Recipe for a Happy Sunday, below)
  • hearing the first performance of your son's composition for piano and choir (last night ... beautiful)
  • crying throughout Les Mis (impossible to be unmoved by Bring Him Home)
  • immersion in awesome, life affirming music: the opening section of Zadok the Priest; Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis; Fix You by Cold Play; Greatest Day by Take That; There You'll Be from Pearl Harbor; the whole of Les Mis; the Annie Lennox song from Lord Of the Rings and much, much more. Tingle-factor music all.
  • a "tight squeeze" from youngest child, little arms wrapped around your neck and a hot, breathy whisper in your ear, "I love you, Mummy."
  • escaping into a good book. My favourites: Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly; Random Acts of Heroic Love, Danny Scheinnman; Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Blackberry Wine, Joanne Harris; The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif; Kim, Rudyard Kipling; and The Davinci Seal, Theresa Breslin.
But more than all of these, in my world rapture is hearing children laugh - that delicious, infectious sound of genuine, roiling, burbling joy.

Have a good weekend. I'll be back in the garden tomorrow, with my four legged (un-)helper.

Friday, 27 May 2011

It's raining! Ridiculous 'what if' musing - put a super injunction on the weather.

Whatever the weather, there is one absolute certainty - if you're British, you'll talk about it. At length. Several times a day. You'll discuss it on the phone - "Hi Dad, what's the weather like with you?". You'll greet people you hardly know in the street with a comment about the heat/rain/wind. You'll text about it. Even write about it in your blog.

It unifies us. You could argue that living on an island in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere, our ancestors were a little cut off from the rest of the world and perhaps had little else to talk about, when they weren't battling foreign invaders. But why do we still talk about it so much? In a time when we all know about, but can't discuss the lives of celebrities, perhaps it is all we have left - at least that is until someone puts a super injunction on the MET Office. Imagine that - no forecasts: there'd be a veritable explosion of weather related chatter! How would we know what to wear tomorrow; soft top on or off the car; cricket match on or postponed? All those old sayings, that refer obliquely to the weather without actually specifically mentioning the weather - red sky at night shepherds delight etc - would come back amid a frenzy of amateur weather forecasting. It would be chaos - or it would be all hands together. With the royal wedding and its collective enthusiasm for polite Britishness over, maybe we need a super injunction on something fundamental like the weather to bring the focus back to citizenship, consideration for each other and communication, even if it is just to moan about the rain to our neighbour.

Or I am just being rather silly ... after all, how would I know what to wear to WTD?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Cornucopia of musings: thoughts on a blustery walk

Dog and I nearly blown away.

So windy that couldn't hear what I was thinking, or couldn't focus on one thought for long enough before it was whisked away. One or two held on tenaciously and are here written below ...

  • Note to self - take antihistamine tomorrow! Although can't understand how there is any pollen left outside! In this gale, it should all be heading straight for Northern Europe, or maybe it is hanging around to mix with the volcanic ash  heading our way, so creating a really toxic mix for our eyes and lungs over the next few days.
  • Poor farmers. While the grass in our garden is rapidly turning brown, the fields around here are so cracked, you could lose a child's foot down the holes. The only consolation is seeing the nettles clearly struggling, and hanging limp - heard the other day that the Romans used nettles to 'cure' arthritis, tho' can't see that going down well with ancient relative - "Here Mum, I've brought you your nettle wraps" - think I'd be sued for geriatric cruelty. 
  • Ran a bit today. So WTD is good for me after all, or might be if I keep it up. Actually, have a date with a rather nice dress in twelve days and would really, really like to be in better shape, and then there's our holiday in eight weeks and the annual embarrassment that is pool-side wear. I've said it now (or blogged it) so will have to keep it up - if I never mention it again you can safely assume I'm sad, fat and ashamed.
  • Need to write more fiction ... watch this space. You'd think getting a rejection email this morning would halt me in my tracks but for now it has done the opposite. Don't groan too loudly, please! Need to resubmit - with fingers tightly crossed - but also need to write. 

That's nearly all. Dog dizzy with the wind, ran himself into exhausted heap and is now collapsed on the kitchen floor. Snoring! So comatose that he ignores the builders who have finished tearing our house apart and are now putting it back together again.

Finally, I surprisingly slept quite well last night (no nightmares!): see Exams! blog below.

Exams!! A mini rant, or perhaps more of a parental worry-fest.

Exams! - the only thing (apart from something ghastly happening to one of my children) I regularly get nightmares about: ones that wake me up in a cold sweat just at the point when the paper has been turned over, read from start to finish and I realise that I can't do any of it!

Best part of an exam - the moment when you are told to stop writing. Finished. Over. Complete. Followed rapidly by one of the very worst bits, when you leave the exam hall and everyone starts to gush about what they wrote and you start to subtract marks in your head for all the questions you got wrong. The only way to avoid this bit is to sprint from your seat and don't stop running until you are well and truly on your own. Then it might be necessary to embark on an expedition, or emigrate, at least until all the post exam chatter among your peers has died down. Alternatively, invest in ear plugs.

The next worst thing about exams - results day. You have just about convinced yourself and very probably your parents that maybe things weren't to bad, maybe you did just enough to get the good grades. Then inevitably, results day arrives. Perhaps you could still be abroad, preferably alone, stiff drink at the ready. You especially want to avoid being at the breakfast table and having an anxious audience all biting their lips, distractedly stirring and stirring the tea and watching you open that envelope. One particularly sadistic method of conveying results was used at my university and to this day there is still a part of that city that I struggle to walk past at this time of year, where exam results boards are displayed for all to witness the true folly of your efforts.

Then, just when you are getting on with your life and, apart from nightmares, putting exams firmly behind you, your kids start doing them! And they really matter! And sometimes they don't seem to matter quite as much to your kids, or to their friends. So now in addition to exam fear, you add in an unhealthy dollop of anxious, fretting, but trying-terribly-hard-not-to-fret parent and what happens - the kid gets more and more chilled and the nightmares come back with a vengeance!

All the above is true, but maybe I have been lucky - things have generally turned out right (apart from that History exam when I missed out a whole essay, and a resit (oh dear) I had to do at university). And kids so far have done fine and made me proud. But they have exams tomorrow ... and I'm not sure how well I'm going to sleep.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Story: FWISC Part 7

"Why are you wearing that, darling?"

"'Cos I am protecting you, Mummy."

"That's nice. But could you just move the sword? And the biscuit tin lid. And the ... garden fork! This shouldn't be in the kitchen! I need to put your supper in the oven."

"Is everyone having fish and chips?"

"Yes. Is that okay?"

"Even your friend?"

"No, I don't think she'll be here."

"But I thought you said she was staying 'til tomorrow."

"No, sadly not. I think she's had enough. Hey! Don't just drop all this stuff on the floor. Aren't you protecting me any more?"

"No! I don't need to. If she's going then she's obviously not going to kill you."

"Why do you think she wants to kill me?"

"Because, you know how really bad things happen in nightmares? Well, I heard her saying this weekend was a bloody nightmare and I'm sure it was definitely your blood she was talking about."

Story: FWISC Part 6

Dog leaps across the ditch, imagining he's lighter and fleeter of foot than he really is, ricochets into opposite bank and slides with a stupid, surprised expression into the mud at the bottom.

Or was that his intention?

He splashes around in the water, drinks some, then climbs out and waits until he is at our height on the other side before shaking himself dry.

Snorts and suppressed giggles from me. Screams of shock and anguish from FWISC.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Story: FWISC Part 5

See FWISC 4 ...

All goes well. Initially. The ground is dry, and dog, now off the lead, forgets bullish behaviour and leaves us alone - most probably gone hunting for some unmentionables to eat (See Biggest Rant Ever).

Then, at the top the of field where the footpath veers off into a wood and where there really should be a bridge, we come to a ditch: a normal countryside ditch like thousands of others that criss cross our land fulfilling some ancient irrigation system and providing convenient boundaries between farms and places of shelter for tramps. In fact, just the sort of ditch that anyone with a passing knowledge of the countryside might picture and indeed anticipate encountering at the edge of a field.

But FWISC does not have a passing knowledge of anything rural and looks in horror at the steep sides and brackish steam trickling through the detritus of twigs, leaves and nettles in the base of the ditch.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Story: FWISC Part 4

FWISC, who manages to run business with several hundred employees; attend therapist; take weekend breaks in European cities; attend therapist; travel at six weekly intervals to Paris for a hair cut; attend therapist; keep up with gym membership; attend therapist; eat in every restaurant in London; attend therapist; experience every show in London (several twice); attend therapist; fly first class to New York each season for shopping, somehow manages a wardrobe failure for weekend in British countryside.


FWISC wears "these old things" - with heels (!!) on her feet and a rainbow coloured, heavily embroidered (beautiful, I have to admit) matador-like cloak. Unfortunately, but predictably, dog now behaves like a bull.

And (see FWISC 1) there is mud.

Definitely NOT a rant: Recipe for a happy Sunday

One of the best recipes ever this one:

  • First, exhaust dog with a long walk, then put him in his run with stuffed Kong and water = happy pooch
  • Next, toss together a group of friends
  • Add liberal quantities of wine
  • Stuff new English Spring Lamb with garlic cloves, truss and place in BBQ (note: have cleverly invited friend who is one of the best meat chefs I know)
  • Remove lamb from BBQ when fuel dies
  • Serve more wine
  • Place lamb in roasting oven of Aga 
  • Top up glasses of wine
  • Meanwhile, serve children crisps and lemonade. Wonder at how seven "children" aged from 5 to 19 can play so happily together. Bats, balls, assorted scooters and sunshine help. Pat self on back and return to kitchen/wine. Arrive just ahead of the rain and children
  • Serve more wine
  • Sit around extended kitchen table; chat, laugh, eat (heavenly lamb!) and enjoy the moment
What could possibly be better? 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Story: FWISC Part 3

"Mummy, why don't we have a loo like the ones in London?"

"What? We do! All loos are the same. Loos in London aren't any different."

"But they must be, Mummy. They don't have flushes like ours."

"Yes, they do."

"No, Mummy, they have special buttons on the floor for flushing."

"No, darling, I don't think they do."

"But they must have! And, Mummy, you need special, lovely shoes to make them work."

"Shoes! What do you mean?"

"Loo button shoes! Like your friend's!"

She points at FWISC's puddle splashed Louboutins drying by the Aga.

Story: FWISC Part 2

FWISC hugely popular with kids who now have electronic gadgets of their dreams, less popular with dog who is banished to kennel after FWISC uses eczema as restraining order.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Story: FWISC Part 1

Friend with improbably successful career (FWISC) replies to thirty-seventh invitation and announces that she is coming to stay for the weekend.

Realise too late that I have neglected to mention that since last seeing her, we have acquired a dog. Decide not to send a text as don't want to put her off.

Also, in retrospect, didn't mention but assumed that she was aware that the countryside contains mud - it always has and always will.

Biggest rant ever (probably): About poo!

Dog - poo - bag - bin.

If your social conscience has been deleted by your y chromosome (sorry lads if you are 'nice' and the following doesn't apply to you, but it is my observation that the male of our species are usually guilty in this matter) then you probably don't see any link in those four simple words.

What is it with men and dog poo? Is it a macho thing to leave your dog's waste on the footpath so that my dog can snack on it (which he does with gusto)?

Perhaps its just laziness, like not replacing the loo seat. Or maybe men can't bear the idea of getting their fingers dirty (who changes more nappies - mum or dad?)

If you are male and of a certain age, then it is highly probable that you use one of the following arguments - no-one picked up dog excrement when you were a child, or its biodegradable.

Whatever your (flawed) reasoning might be doesn't get away from the fact that its disgusting chaps - PICK IT UP!