Sunday, 31 March 2013

Dilemmas and night caps

How do you cope with doing something that you really, really don't want to do, because you feel that others expect you to do it, and part of you also feels that you probably should do it?


I don't have the answer and I don't expect anyone else to have it either.

The easy option is just to do it anyway, go with the flow, do what is expected and say nothing. While quietly fuming inside and resolving to behave differently the next time. But knowing that when the next time comes, you will still be too much of a coward to say anything and will continue with the doing-what-you-don't-want-to-do-behaviour. On and on and on. Probably.

The brave thing to do would be to shock everyone, declare that you no longer want any part of it and refuse to join in. This isn't going to happen. For one thing, there are the responsibilities - the keeping up of appearances and the importance of complying, in order not to influence how others close-by behave. Setting a "bad" example can prove contagious. Particularly, if you suspect that others nearby have similar doubts, and are similarly too cowardly to stand alone. No-one wants to be responsible for creating a tidal wave. Or of altering the views of those too young to come to their own conclusions.

What on earth am I talking about? What indeed? Politics? Whether or not Daniel Craig is the best James Bond? Where we stand on hunting/gun laws/private education/castrating our pets? Or things more profound - whether Oscar Pistorius should compete later this year; the right to life; gay marriage? Or is the it something else altogether?

I am not going to say - I'll leave that little bit of musing to you. I am still a coward, obviously. And I will still comply. Probably.

In the meantime, I'll take this particular personal dilemma to bed, washed down with the best hot chocolate on the planet: equal parts of hot milk and hot water (if you like it creamier, opt for all milk); chocolate powder of your choice; and what makes it good (so good - you can probably tell I've had some already) is a decent slug/splash/generous tablespoon (or two) of Cointreau. The alcohol evaporates, but it still tastes strong enough to clear the sinuses and diminish difficult dilemmas.

Happy Hot Chocolate!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The things we promise ourselves

I have promised myself many things. 

Of those many things, I have met with only a few.

Of those few things, I have held on to fewer.

With what is left, I press on and make more promises.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Is it a form of masochism in which we doggedly set ourselves up to fail? Over and over again. Perhaps, it is due to blinkered, naive, over-ambition. Or the vagaries of hope.

Whatever the cause, the reason - the tick that makes us repeat this folly - the solution is clear: we must stop making promises.

What promises have you made to yourself recently? Me? - the usual triad of getting fitter, eating less, losing weight; plus, never again embarrassing myself by screaming and in a distinctly unhinged and undignified fashion leaping around the room, after a spider crawls out of the pyjamas I am wearing. I also promised to write something every day; walk the dogs ... more, further, faster; submit (aargh! - the curse of the procrastinator strikes again); stop eating chocolate; drink no more than (but quite possibly right up to) my weekly recommended amount of alcohol; try to hate my work less; read the books on my bedside table ... some of the books ... okay, one of the books; squeeze in the odd trip to an art gallery, or theatre, or cinema, more regularly than seldom; understand my children's maths; learn Italian; and on the subject of learning, seek out and finally commit to memory the difference between practice and practise, round and around, fewer and less, affect and effect, etc etc. The fulfilment of some of these promises-to-self is impossible. Or if not technically impossible, then highly improbable ... chocolate! Honestly? What was I thinking!

We all make other promises that we hope to keep - the unsaid ones to dear friends moving away, that we will keep in touch; the publicly declared ones to love, honour, cherish; and the whispered ones into a child's pillow, that we will always love them. We hope to keep these. We certainly meant to, at the time they were made. But life sometimes gets in the way of the promises we make.

Do I believe in the solution - to stop making promises? Of course not. It is human nature to strive constantly to better ourselves, or at least to believe that we are capable of better. To this end, we convince ourselves that if we make a promise, we give ourselves the best chance of keeping it. In a sense, we are daring ourselves not to fail.

So, as long as the promises we make could be achieved, then we should keep making them.

We won't fail in them all. And if we fail in some - well ... chocolate is deliciously addictive and spiders are hideous.

When I was a child, I promised myself that when I grew up, I would have my own dogs. That promise was met:

Monday, 25 March 2013

Disdainful anthropomorphism

What do dogs mean when they "smile?"  Do they smile in the way we understand smiling?

Does this picture of Four-legged-friend sniffing the air expectantly make his eyes look happy? Is this the beginning of a smile?

If you are a cartoon loving, pet obsessive who speaks a running commentary of what you think your mutt is saying, then you are probably of the firm opinion that when his/her jowl drops open lazily, at an angle you interpret as being jaunty, with just sufficient tension left at the corners to turn them up slightly, he/she is smiling at you. Yes! (gently deluded pet obsessive nods vigorously) Definitely smiling!

Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins do 'smile,' very convincingly, when lying on their backs having their tummies rubbed. But when did you last examine a dog's lips? Relax the canine body - totally - in a I-love-having-my-tummy-rubbed-and-if-I-lie-very-still-you-might-continue sort of a way, and the lips become flabby and fall away from the teeth, leaving a broad open curve that, topped with the dilated eyes of pure tummy-rubbing pleasure, looks exactly like a wide grin. But in reality, it is just a big, open, relaxed mouth.

I confess to occasional pet obsession. No, I do not think my dogs smile. But Four-legged-friend does express, helpless, you-have-got-to-be-kidding disdain - particularly when you hold the back door open for him and outside there is a near-gale howling and snow on the ground: "Do you seriously expect me to go out there with bare paws; in a coat recently thinned by we-thought-it-was-Spring-so-moulted-and-oops-we-got-that-wrong-because-it's-freezing-again? And after you refused to buy me one of those plug in heated dog beds, so I don't even have anything warm to look forward to coming back in to, which might just have made it worth while going out there in the first place!"

Bertie-Baggins isn't mature enough to be disdainful; everything is far too exciting, in a bouncy sort of way. Instead, he frowns, a lot.

Frowns, however, are fleeting. And impossible to catch on a mobile phone camera that has a built in time delay (...why?). Frowns are associated with the following - see food, sit for food; hope that food is coming my way; worry that it might not be; worry more, deepening the furrowed brow; yes! Yes! The food is mine; no! No! No! It isn't, because there's a camera in the way; sigh as the brow relaxes ..................... and the camera clicks (...eventually!).

Mostly, Bertie Baggins frowns when his humans are eating and he is shoo-ed out of the kitchen and has to sit, drooling, on the step

 ... or if the step is too uncomfortable, on his much softer uncle

Bertie Baggins to FLF - "Well, if I sit on you, that guarantees you don't get to the food first." Which, I suppose, proves my cartoon-loving, pet obsessive, deluded enjoyment of anthropomorphism.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Of music, muddles and man-hood

What a week that was!

What a week this one is going to be!

And for one little friend ... twelve days is all that's left.

Last week was a week filled with music:

Littlest practised her socks off (quite literally - they're still under the piano) and took her first ever music exam. The teacher with the pink socks (Blog entry: Men-should-wear-pink-socks) has clearly instilled in her a laid back, carefree attitude to exams. Which is great: long may it last! -

When asked how the exam went, she replied, big eyed, "I just sat back and relaxed and let my fingers do all the work. I didn't know what my hands were doing! My fingers were crawling up and down the piano like a spider. They were out of control! Good out of control ... I think. Thank you hands." Wow!

Fingers crossed that the spiders knew what they were doing.

She enjoyed her grade one piano exam so much, that she is now starting to work for grade one cello. How will the spiders cope with strings?

Fiddly, tickling, I-don't-want-to-be-stuck-in-the-car-for-one-more-minute fingers travelled to London, on Friday, for the final of the UK universities a cappella competition. They waved at everyone they knew, slapped themselves together in applause, held big brother's hand, and stuffed chocolate and I'm-never-normally-allowed-this-fizzy-drink-because-it-makes-me-wild into Littlest's mouth. But the thrilling music and wild choreography were neither loud enough or sufficiently frenetic to keep Littlest awake -

The muddles of the title are technology induced. I have a suspicion that most adults (or maybe, most adults of a certain age and similar procrastinating disposition) exhibit the same technological inadequacies as I do - I am extremely good, accomplished even, in the art of persuasion: specifically, when it is precipitated by worry over whether an essay has been saved; are the music tour photographs on the camera and nowhere else; what about the work experience project, and the hours and hours of computer design.

There's a theme developing here - it's called being a mother and worrying: not so much about the loss of data (which would be a terrible blow), but more a concern for the anguished fall-out - the head in hands despair, the tears and recriminations. I never want to say "I told you so," so instead I nag. And nag. And purchase memory devices. And hand the memory devices to my children. I don't  do the next step and check that the memory devices have been taken out of their packets (Is that even possible? When did you last try to take a memory stick, or a tooth brush for that matter, out of its sealed plastic packaging? Impossible without industrial strength scissors and leather gardening gloves - the thornproof kind, to prevent lacerations from the sharp plastic edges as the pack finally gives up its contents.)

But ... where is this leading? Oh yes! I am a mother. Therefore, I am a worrier. However, I consistently fail to practice what I preach. Every day, for a fleeting moment, as I pack my laptop (it's small) into my handbag (it's large), I think "It would be so much easier, and kinder on my shoulder, if all I had to carry was a memory stick." Do I ever get round to saving my stories, poems, blogs etc? Not yet. Maybe tomorrow ...? Which is why, when my phone died last weekend and I had to rush away from lunch, missing pudding (Pudding!!!) and the phone shop was unable to transfer my phone book from deceased phone to new off-course-slightly-larger-so-fits-neither--protective-casing-nor-pouch device, I groaned. And thought of the times when I'd considered making a copy of my phone book. And hadn't. And wondered if I even knew what numbers I had lost. 

So I lost my numbers. But faced with a party to attend in the big city; dinner for friends and a one night holiday away from the washing, I haven't had time to worry about it (or to back up my laptop ... yet!) and have muddled through. Friends have helped; they are pretty understanding creatures -  responding well to  "Haven't a clue who you are" texts.

There are however more significant losses on the horizon:

Bertie Baggins, who will do the losing, is utterly oblivious to the planned loss. He will remain oblivious all the way to the vets. Oblivious, as he sleeps through the losing bit. And will only become aware that he has lost something, when he wakes with a pain between his back legs and a bucket round his neck. 

Littlest on the subject of Bertie's fast approaching loss, "It's lucky you just do that to your dogs!"

Monday, 11 March 2013

Tea towels are indigestible; postal mishaps; and a blustery day

Stupid dogs!

You'd think I don't feed them. Outside, it's plastic flower pots - ripped apart; shredded and littered all over the grass. Scattered amongst the chewed plant supports, logs and bits of this-is-big-so-we-can-both-tussle-with-it-and-when-we're-tired-have-an-end-to-chew-each fencing. Plus a couple of no-longer-functional-due-to-severe-mauling brushes and a mis-shapen trowel.

Inside, this week, it's been assorted socks; one cow-shaped-or-rather-was-cow-shaped slipper; a wine bottle ... smashed into that's-a-bit-scary-and-sharp-and-oh-dear-I-think-I'm-in-trouble-again-so-I'll-back-away-from-them-and-put-on-my-best-hang-dog-remorseful-expression bits (thankfully); a bath mat; a pair of wet swimming trunks and a tea towel. But the tea towel is the only thing (as far as I know ... so far) that was actually eaten. I'll leave it to your imagination to work out how I know that it was eaten.

I'm not a bad parent - really! - everything is at above-dog-nose height, including the glass recycling bin, but now it has to be above bouncing-puppy-height, too. The utility room, daily, looks like a battle zone. Paper out of the paper bin; dog-bed filling flung into every corner; odd socks - washed, slobbered on, chewed and returned to the wash basket; and footwear cowering behind a so far dog-impregnable-butchered-play-pen fence.

And from today, in addition to a gardener and a cleaner, the dogs need a new post-man ... no, they haven't eaten him! Specifically, they need a solid, chew-resistant, post-box for big post - the post that won't fit through the letter box: the post that, if left propped against the door, looks exactly like a new toy and, even if an intended birthday present, will be treated like a dog toy i.e. destroyed in less than the time it takes me to notice they have "found something", don wellies and run out of the house.

I have in mind a wooden box and a heavy brick.

Bertie Baggins was terribly pleased with himself. Especially when I chased him. With a brick round his neck he may find it harder to destroy  toys ... just kidding! Checking you are paying attention - brick is for box lid, not dog collar. Which reminds me - ID label has disappeared off Bertie's collar ... gone the way of the tea towel? Think I'll order another one ... rather than wait!

Where has spring gone?

Littlest is reading AA Milne - fantastic laughs this evening when Pooh's 'heaviest stone I can carry' was dropped on a slowly rotating Eeyore making him 'disappear' into the stream (Poohsticks chapter). And Pooh was in my mind earlier, when I took the dogs for a walk on an exceedingly 'blustery day.'

Photographs don't really do wind, but as Piglet said "My nose is froze and my toes are froze" (or was that  also Pooh?)

Dogs not too froze for the water, though

Bertie Baggins not at all sure about it

But once in ... brief moment of panic when I thought I might have to go in to rescue him. Instead, his uncle showed him the way out ... onto the opposite side of the stream.

Enticed back with biscuits, we continued to the scary bridge: actually, very slippery bridge - maybe Four-Legged-Friend was trying to tell me to take care with his spread-legged-hesitant-small-stepping body language

Bertie Baggins - "I'm tired are-we-nearly-there-yet" 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The morning after the night before; a canine-related party-planning tip and a recipe for colcannon

Meant to blog yesterday. But alternating shivers, fever, headache and a dinner party to prepare for eight rather ate up my day.

Now - thanks to the new battery in a smoke detector obviously not being a new battery and it's beeping reveille to canine ears, I am over-endowed with time, a sleepy head, and enjoying the peace and quiet of the morning after the night before i.e. my second cup of coffee. Fittingly for my head (not overindulgence at the wine bottle(s), but thick/ill/achey, remember!) the coffee cup is wrapped in a woolly jumper - a sort of comfort-giving visual vibe.

But care is needed, and it's too early for that, or the 'jumper' ends up soggy and your bottom lip all fluffy.

It's only 6.35 a.m. And my two friends are already bored and want to go back outside to terrorise the rabbits. Actually, that's a fanciful thought - it would be good if they did indulge in a spot of rabbit inspired I'm-the-predator-you're-the-prey role play, but they are more likely to scavenge rabbit droppings than chase any bunnies out of the garden.

Pause to muse ... party planning - there's been a lot of it about recently. I haven't read the book, but I wonder if it contains this tip -

For a dinner party untainted with slobber and the aroma of dog farts, gift Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins a large butchers' marrow bone. One each. And note with satisfaction when a guest asks, "Do you have dogs? They're very good!"

Third cup of coffee beckons.

And the washing up.

P.S. Do try this at home - colcannon: chop some cabbage and a large leek, toss in olive oil, a little butter and some rosemary and quick roast on a baking tray until soft and slightly brown at the edges; add to a large pan of drained and fluffy boiled potatoes; pour in a small amount of single cream; season with salt and pepper; chuck in another knob of butter; mash. Push mash into a circular mould on a tray lined with baking parchment. Make flat "potato sandcastles" - Littlest's description. Place tray of colcannon cakes in a baking oven for 20-30 minutes to brown; turn half way through cooking. Serve on a bed of swede chips with a casserole of your choice. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. And regret not making enough for leftovers.