Monday, 17 February 2014

Laughter as the best medicine and absolutely nothing about dogs.

Rushing ... to deliver Littlest to a play date.

Rushing ... to the station so that Eldest could catch a train. To take her away. Again.

Rushing ... against the traffic and distance and time to get to work. On time. (Or is it in time?)

And the following (slightly embarrassing event) occurred -

We reached the venue for the play date. I said good-bye to Littlest - kissed three times, quick (I'm rushing) squeeze - and jogged (still in rushing mode) back to the car.

I sat down, a little out of breath. Strapped in. Right hand onto steering wheel.

My head was now rushing. Thoughts of arriving late at work. Worry about keeping people with appointments waiting. Feeling just a little stressed as time ticked on (somewhat faster that Google maps had predicted).

I reached down to put the engine into first gear and the hand-break off.

Both my hands now ready on the steering wheel.

Brow furrowed. Eyes fixed on the bend ahead and the navigation hazard of a builder lifting some planks out of a white van. Racing in my mind through the journey ahead against the ever-diminishing time.

I felt a slight muscle-tensing lurch of my upper body, in a bracing-myself-for-forward-momentum-reflex

... but that anticipated forward momentum failed to occur. Completely. Nothing. I flopped back against the seat. We went nowhere.

Hmmm ... one small, insignificant, tiny, little thing was missing amidst all the early morning rushing - the car key; still in my pocket and very much not in the ignition.

Eldest and I laughed.


Laughter is so great at popping the bubble of stress.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Saying 'thank you' and meaning it. And listening to your gut instincts.

How often do you say "Thank you"?

And how often do you really - so sincerely that you could-gather-the-recipient-up-in-your-arms-and-hug-them-but-don't-because-that-would-be-a-bit-weird-really - mean it?

There are lots of ways of saying 'Thank you' from the I've-been-told-to-so-I'm-saying-it-under-my-breath-and-you'd-better-be-listening-because-there-is-no-way-I'm-going-to-say-it-again muttered thank you of the child, who far from understanding why he might have to say sorry sometimes, really can't see why he has to say thank you for something he didn't ask for, doesn't like and will throw in the bin as soon as granny has left the house, to the sarcastic f***-off -"THANK YOU VERY MUCH" when someone drives too fast through a puddle and soaks you and Littlest and her school shoes and her new coat and your lovely leather winter boots.

There's the warm 'thank you' implied in a kiss. And the courteous 'thank you' when in receipt of good service. Sometimes, a 'thank you' is reluctantly given, but expected and written - I can't be the only parent who threatens that Auntie So-and-so will not send a Christmas present next year, if she doesn't receive a thank you letter for the gift this year. A hurtful 'thank you' is one that is said in passing, almost as something to say, in an attempt to be polite perhaps, but which because it is uttered in a monotone and the speaker immediately continues onto the next subject, gets lost and its meaning therefore gets lost too. It's tempting then to think of that 'thank you' as flippant and to interpret its meaning as a slap in the face along the lines of 'I acknowledge that you tried but I think you could have done better.'

These chaps can't say thank you

- except with their eyes, designed to melt the heart, and their bodies lying across your feet, keeping you warm ... and alerting them to your movement. It's the dog's particular form of people monitoring - that watchful wakefulness, the eye that pops open as soon as you move, the muzzle that enquires "Isn't it about time for a Little Something (sorry, still not over Piglet's capitals) ... that growly sound was my tummy rumbling. I haven't eaten anything, not even rabbit droppings, for at least twenty minutes?" - that feeds their obsession with food. They are so enormously grateful when fed, that I am sure that if they could say 'thank you' it would be sincere ... and followed immediately by "Pleeeeease, can we have more?"

Why have I headed this post "Saying thank you and gut instincts?"

... Thank you for tummy rumbles? Grateful dogs who instinctively know who to follow around in their never ending quest for food? Instinctively knowing who will reward you the best if you say 'thank you' ever-so-nicely (never a sincere form of 'thank you, by the way!)?

No, none of these. Instead it is to do with a very special 'thank you.'

A rare 'Thank You,' that deserves its capitals and that I received today. It happened outside our local supermarket and quite took my breath away. So much that I cried all the way home.

Sometimes decision making is not at all clear. We can't follow protocols all the time. The person sitting in front of you does not 'tick all the right boxes.' Yet you know there is something wrong. You just know there is! Call it 'gut instinct' or claim to 'feel it in your bones,' you know you can't ignore it. It's not scientific, it's not backed up by research (actually, that's wrong. It has been researched, albeit in a rather limited fashion. And published in the BMJ, too. But generally, there is not a great body of evidence to support it) and anyway how do you persuade colleagues that your gut is speaking to you and wants you to speak to them.

My 'Thank You' was from a chap who credits me with saving his life. He took my hand in both of his and kissed it and said that his wife would be "so pleased" to hear that he had seen me. I am not the clever surgeon who cut the diseased bits out of him, nor the oncologist who chemically annihilated the parts the surgeon's knife couldn't reach, both of whom properly saved his life. I am just the humble general practitioner who started the ball rolling. But he thinks I gave him back the life, that when I first met him, he didn't know he was losing. I didn't ignore him. I didn't send him away with another cream. Why? Because I felt something in my gut. And my gut was spot on.

I felt truly humbled by his 'Thank You.' Grateful that I had listened to my gut. And if I could, I would say thank you to whatever that instinct was two years ago that enabled me to make a difference

... Thank You.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Twigwams. And the brutality of flailing that makes me Furiouser and FURIOUSER.

Walking the Dog did not venture far yesterday. We reached the other end of the garden, where Littlest built a twigwam and filled it with imaginary woodland creatures - a badger, a hare and a "cute little hedgehog who had lost his mother."

Bertie Baggins wondered if he was imaginary. We seemed to have forgotten about him. Or forgotten to let him through the gate into the Outside World ( I haven't got over Piglet's capitals yet - see previous blog). That the Outside World was fifteen feet or so of woody overgrown verge and dropped steeply onto an Unfriendly Road had escaped his imagination. My imagination, however, stretched to smashed cars and squashed dogs, so Bertie Baggins remained garden-bound. 
And he protested loudly. 

For hours. 

Which did little to settle my temper. 

Why would you do this to a hedgerow? 

What sense is there in ripping into a young tree, shredding its branches and scattering the broken bark and twigs all over the verge? Had any attention been paid to the forecast? Were they aware that the debris of flailing is light-in-weight, floats and excellent at blocking drains?

Or was part of my anger directed at myself? We have spent the past 12 years saying, "We must do something about the verge." We have harvested the wood that falls out of the mature trees. We have pollarded ... a bit. We have half-heartedly cleared a little of the choking bramble. Then the council comes along and with all the brutal subtlety of several tons of shreiking flailing machine, pricks your conscience as effectively as a bramble thorn pushed deep into the tender bit at the end of your thumb. So, I spent the day cutting, raking, stacking, clearing, wheel-barrowing, bonfire building, shouting at Bertie Baggins and stroking* the now un-choked trees.

When I paused to rest - when exhaustion had pushed my anger down deep into my wellies and made my tired feet ache - I breathed the cooling air of early evening and wished that I could catch the imagination of a child. 
To dream of fairies and magical lands. To worry about whether a twigwam should have one door or two. To 'see' friends under every leaf and behind each tree stump. To regard strands of ivy as "useful rope" and not the strangling twine of arboreal nightmares. And to be utterly oblivious to the mental noise of fury at flailing.

*stroking a tree ... Yes! Try it. Feel the rough bark, the knobbles of budding branches and the fissures where bark is split. Consider for a moment that by trimming its broken branches, stripping off the ivy and clearing the ground at its feet, you have rejuvenated it. It feels good! You could hug it too ...

Floodier and floodier. And a dog that can fly.

I do love Winnie-the-Pooh. Even (although, I hate the gopher) the 1968 Disney version of The Blustery Day, in which The Hundred Acre Wood becomes "floodier and floodier" and the Sherman brothers wrote 'The rain rain rain came down down down' to accompany Piglet's predicament, in which, as AA Milne originally wrote, he - Piglet - "is entirely surrounded by water." Piglet endearingly says to himself "It's a little Anxious to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water." Pooh meantime escapes onto a broad branch of his tree with ten pots of honey. And sits, dangling his legs, until all the honey is gone.

Disney or book, the story has an innocent beauty and a happy ending. It lingers in memories of childhood and later, of sitting with a sleepy child curled up on your lap, sharing something that made you both smile.

However, I share Piglet's anxiety and don't love real floods. Particularly, when there are no upturned honey-jar boats on which to reach dry land, or sulky donkeys to conveniently fall in and splash you out of the water.

North, East and West our routes of departure from home were blocked by flooded roads on Friday morning and lakes where never there had been lakes before. We witnessed a stately flotilla of four happy geese sailing past the front door of a pink house that was standing in a vast puddle of rippling water flowing gently in a Southerly direction. Southerly was our only direction of escape, which was fortunate as school is South of us. However, we did have to travel north a couple of times in order to find better drained roads. I clearly caused a certain amount of wrath (judging by the obscene hand signals) from an ungentlemanly chap in an executive car who tail-gated me along an extremely wet and narrowly sinuous country road and in exasperation overtook me, roaring through the deep flood ahead, creating an I'm-bigger-then-you, inconsiderate, speed-boat-on-unspoilt-previously-tranquil-lake like wash and a bow wave that I so very much hoped would flood his engine. His consternation having disappeared round a flooded corner, I reversed my Small and Considerably Cheaper Car (I've taken a liking to Piglet's use of capitals) round several bends until I found a straight section of road wide enough in which to turn (hair raising, hair pin heroics of the I-don't-want-to-drown-my-car kind!) Driving the same drier road later, I was extremely disappointed not to see a large white car among the many others that had evidently failed at entry level of the trying-to-be-an-aquatic-vehicle test.

Dogs, unlike cars, do like water.

On the same floodier and floodier day, Bertie Baggins  paddled

decided not to swim in the gushing brown torrent that had replaced our normally gently trickling stream

tried to fly

and after the walk/paddle (and flight) dreamed happy dreams

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A cauld dreich day/week/month ... (hopefully not) year


I've mentioned it before -dreich-drookit-and-mauchit. But I mention it again now because dreich is such an excellent little word and as it means dull, gloomy and bleak, it is also timely. A YouGov poll in January 2013 (yes, amazing the things governments spend their money on) revealed it to be Scotland's favourite word. You can put all your frustration and disgust into the 'dr' at the beginning and the ending even sounds like the 'yuck' that you are feeling and wish the word to convey. Try it. It can be quite therapeutic. Make your lips work. Hiss out the throaty gurgling "ch" at the end. Splutter a bit. Feel the angst leaving you. This is onomatopoeia at its very best.

Driech however might occasionally meet a situation where it needs to be beefed up - could the weather (if you can call it weather - I thought weather implied some degree of short term climatic change as opposed to the unmitigated rain, rain and more rain of recent weeks) - be described as 'very dreich' ? Or is driech an absolute adjective meaning that a little bit dreich, somewhat dreich and terribly dreich are all nonsense? It's either dreich, or it isn't.

Our recent weather is without question a  beefing-up-requiring situation which is very definitely dreich (can you be definitely dreich? Hmm ... I think you can ... but what about 'very' definitely?!) -

However, when it's dreich outside but inside there is hot water and warm towels and an oven to warm soggy bottoms,

the world suddenly feels better.

Unless you live in Somerset and the hot, warm and oven-y bits of the anti-dreich measures above have been impossible for the past four weeks due to flooding and no power. Life then becomes truly dreich - truly dreich? You know what I mean. The pedant in me wants to cry "No!" You can't quantify an absolute term - not dreich and not any of the others, for example never, infinite and furious: never is never and is never almost never; infinite is infinite and is never nearly infinite; and you are either furious or not, you can't be a little bit furious. But my inner pedant cowers in shame, because it knows that I say these things all the time. And I suspect there's an argument in favour of a language flexible enough to embrace the breaking of grammatical rules, where the context is made richer by the rule breaking. So I'm going to leave truly dreich.

I hope you agree.

It is unfortunate perhaps that dreich can also mean dreary.

I hope this hasn't been.