Thursday, 19 December 2013

Inner sheep-dog

My inner sheep-dog is troubled.

By troubled I mean unsettled, discombobulated and partaking of a personal worry-fest.

Am I the only human to possess an inner sheep-dog? Surely not.

Sheep dog - the keen dog that rounds up its little flock, coaxes it into a safe pen, then guards it fiercely. 'Over protective' possibly springs to mind but wouldn't be strictly accurate - this sheep-dog is happy to let it's lambs stray, but worries if they wander too far, or into activities that the sheep-dog may not consider 100% safe. I suspect most mothers are sheep-dogs.

Or do you need to be both mother and in possession of an over-active imagination?

Currently, this sheep-dog's concern is that snow, plus slopes, plus planks attached to feet, equals potential hazard. Or many, many, many potential hazards. Skiing like sailing has been spoilt for me by having children. Instinct tells me that I have a duty to get to the end of the day without breaking anything or drowning. After all I am 'Mummy' and mummy is needed to wash, feed and read to her flock, before tucking them up in bed and wishing that tomorrow wasn't another day of danger in the snow, or on the water. Pathetic? Possibly. Innate? Definitely.

Wary, my inner sheep-dog struggles to relax into this game of skiing. She sees danger over the edge of every piste. Round each corner. With the fast approaching scrunch of every snowboarder. And on all button drags and chair lifts. After all a lamb might fall off. Or over. Or down. Or be squashed by an out of control adolescent with both feet strapped onto one plank. Lashings of mint sauce may be required.

Part of the problem is the clarity of the sheep-dog's visions of calamity. They wake me with a jolt, just as I am sinking into sleep. But they aren't quite hallucinations ... despite the above, I'm not going mad. Not yet.

So what is the cure? Indeed, is there a cure? Are you shouting "Therapy!" at this blog? Or "More alcohol!" Or are you quietly agreeing, as you too have an inner sheep-dog?

For now - I ski (very slowly ... apparently - as I am told again and again, with that resigned, softly monotonous-verging-on-irritated tone of voice. But better the steady, safe tortoise than the reckless hare, I say ... to myself); I smile; I laugh; I joke about falling over (me ... many times); I admire the scenery; I sup the vin chaud; I keep my worries to myself; and I stroke my inner-sheep-dog, quietly telling her it will be over soon and we'll all be safely back at home.

Will I ski again? - of course, no sheep-dog is ever going to let her flock go on holiday alone!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Ten things to consider when having a bonfire

Autumn - season of Halloween, Guy Fawkes and bonfires.So essentially a couple of months devoted to burning things.

When having a garden bonfire, there are a few rules one should observe -

  • never light one before the farmer has harvested the crop on the other side of the fence
  • avoid days when the wind would blow the smoke into the neighbours gardens or the road
  • never turn your back on it
  • and only burn things that were once growing. Leaves for example ...

Then there are the ten things to consider that if considered and acted upon make having a bonfire easy -

1. Don't embark upon bonfire building without friends. And a bench. Not for burning! For resting on. I can't remember when I last had time to sit in the garden, nor when I last wanted to sit in the garden and the bench wasn't covered in bird droppings.

2. The more friends, the merrier.

3. Wear a polo-neck jumper or a scarf. Because if you do the sparks can't fly into the gaping hood of your hoodie, bypass your open collar and burn your neck.

4. Build a fire break. It's best to do this before lighting the fire. If you do it after lighting the fire, you end up racing against time and smoke and sparks (!) to prevent the fire spreading into the to-burn pile.

As the picture shows - pile-to-burn on right, rapidly cleared fire break through the centre and bonfire on left ... already burning. Hmmm ...

5. When burnt on the neck, pretend that nothing has happened. You don't want anyone to think that you're a complete idiot.

6. And you don't want to frighten the dogs, although they are so busy gorging themselves on the rotting wood from the base of the to-burn pile that they probably wouldn't have noticed any wild flapping and shouting of 'Ouch!'

7. Arrange for the delivery of refreshments - mobile phones are a great way to order coffee. And emollient for burns.

8. Smile at Bertie Baggins who eating a tasty stick and lacking a table opts to use his uncle's head instead.

9. Take all day - it's Autumn; the leaves are damp; the bonfire is slow and smokey. Your lungs need a rest and you need lots of hot water for serial showers (no-one likes to sit next to someone who smells like a kipper). There are plenty of other things to do and fruit to stir and Christmas wishes have to be made. I know, I know - it was stir-up Sunday last weekend, but the Christmas cake is better late than never (last year was a never that I will never live down - the Christmas of 2012: the one without a cake!)

10. (and 11!) Stamping is necessary. A lot of stamping. And careful excavation of the to-burn pile. No-one wants to throw a hedgehog on the fire. Nor murder the mouse that ran into this cave at the base of the bonfire. Funny that - worry about chewed wires and housefires means that we are perfectly happy to trap mice inside the house, but the thought of a little mouse trapped in a bonfire brought my burning activities to an end. (He was still alive when I left ... )

Um .. I never could count. Ten things to consider here becomes eleven. Aside from the negative aspects of your carbon footprint, having a bonfire is a therapeutic activity - it's clearing, getting rid of the garden clutter, burning away the spores of diseased leaves, and a physical workout. And at the end of the day ...

... consider that it was a good one ( ... if a bit hot in places!)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

All those little things

Little things - the things that don't really matter, the things we can and do live without, the things we stumble upon and notice only when we're not too busy, the things that may not exist except in our imagination but that if we could capture and hold them would make our lives better - these are the little things I would wish for

  • intelligent grass (Yes! Getting off to an improbable start.I know. But stick with me, the probability of veering close to reality improves with the other little things below. For now lets get back to this one ...) - grass that senses when it is growing at the edge of a flower bed, aligns itself neatly in the horizontal plane and never creeps vertically down the precisely cut lawn edge and would baulk at the idea of throwing runners out onto the pristine soil between the flowers.( Hmmm ... if only it were pristine.)

  • bottled kisses - I'm not talking about the full mouth kiss of lovers but the familial peck on the cheek between parent and child - the kiss that says I love you utterly; that is unconditional and more precious than any material gift. It is the same kiss that the judgement of their peers forces children to suppress at the school gate but still crave at bedtime. It is the kiss that rewards a mother more than any whispered thank you. It is the kiss that cares

  • glasses that clean themselves; that never smear when touched; that sit obediently on the bridge of your nose without ever sliding either up (too close to your eyes where your eye lashes paint the inside of the lenses with tears) or down (necessitating the finger push and the inevitable smudged finger print)

  • dog biscuits that don't smell foul and that don't crumble into pocket gravel

  • time limited nail varnish - I haven't fully thought this one through, but Littlest likes to paint her nails, my nails, and the nails of any visiting friend (such are her powers of persuasion that many a young man has left our home hoping that his mother, girlfriend, sister, female neighbour has some nail varnish remover). Many too the Monday morning when Littlest has walked into school, hands in tight fists, so that no teacher will notice her nails. A nail varnish with a built in time-to-decay (say ... 24 hours) would also prevent my toes giving the impression that I make a habit of kicking stones around while not wearing any shoes. I know I could just remove the chipped paint with nail varnish remover but first I'd have to remember and second I'd have to find the time.

  • chocolate that is all-that's-good-about-chocolate but without the eat-as-much-as-me-as-you'd-like-and-you'll-get-fat element.

  • dog hair that becomes invisible as soon as it falls off the dog and lands on the floor. Or alternatively, dog hair that when swirling in playful eddies across the wooden kitchen floor is invisible to anyone male.

  • a world without wasps. And warfare. And viruses. (Those are pretty big things actually. And worth wishing for.)

  • an answer to the question - 'Why have you been lying to me for years? You told me lying was bad.' When you-know-who who eats the mince pies and pours the whisky back into the bottle is rumbled and found to be you-know-me.

  • an intelligent music player that would not only automatically match your mood but also sense when to play a song or poem or segment of narrative to make your spirit soar.

  • winter evenings, warm socks, a good glass of wine, a comfy chair, a good book and a sleepy, quiet house

  • more Sherlock. Roll on January 1st. But not before we have enjoyed Christmas.