Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A country mouse lost in the city. And it's the "f***ing news" boys!

Oh dear, let me apologise for the title. Not my usual style. I know. If I shocked you, I'm sorry, but trust me, I was shocked too and not for the reason you might think.

If on the other hand the title made you think "Hmmm ... edgy?!" and brought you here for the first time then apology revoked. Welcome!

Time to explain myself. Perhaps. After a short story of a mouse ...

Remember Aesop's fable about the town mouse who visits his cousin in the country? And finds it all a bit too quiet in a disturbing lack-of-traffic-and-noise-and-bustling-crowds-of-people-sort of a way and backward in an absence-of-theatre-and-cinema-and-24-hour-shops-and-instant-hot-running-water way, well ... whenever I leave my internet and mobile signal vacuum of rural tranquillity and travel to the city, I am reminded of the country mouse whose brief sojourn at the residence of his sophisticated cousin was terminated abruptly when flustered and frightened, he fled back home. Like him, I am happiest when I am leaving the metropolis behind.

But, having said all that and exaggerated a little, I do actually like the city. Just not for long.

Averse to being squeezed into a sardine can and catapulted along a tunnel, I choose to walk. Everywhere. I like to feel the history of the city beneath my feet. To see it with my eyes. Someone (she knows who she is), once said to me, "When visiting a place, always look up."

Look up!

On crowded streets, especially when the country mouse is a bit lost, and anxious about trying not to look too lost, and is a bit intimidated by bus lanes and cyclists and the press of fellow pedestrians and beating the green flashing man to the opposite side of the road, it is easy to take away, as memory of the city visit, a picture of varied shuffling, hesitant, and rushing feet on worn and gum-pocked pavements. Instead, look up! If you don't you'll miss this

and this

(And now, anyone who knows where I was and where I was trying to get to, also knows exactly how lost I was. Sadly.)

Similarly, when on holiday, if you don't look up, you'll risk missing this

And this

So wherever you are, remember to look up.

If you do, you'll collide with the people who spend all day rushing around looking at their feet. And they'll glance at your mismatched outfit and 'best bag' from last century, and you'll see them smile, forgivingly, and step aside to let the "bumpkin" pass. Do they ever in their frenzied existence steal a few minutes to look up? They should. If they can't appreciate the wonders of the architecture around them, they should grieve; for the rat race will have taken their soul. Looking up is about connecting with place. And history. And self. And stepping away from corporate, ego-building competition and bathing in that cleansing, readjusting feeling that is awe. Breathe - if you can - that city air. Look up ... and walk into a few lamp-posts. Trust me, the bruises will be worth it!

Lamp-posts, I avoided. I struggled more with corners of buildings and a bicycle rack ...

In one day, I walked here

and, as already established, here

In the city, I got lost - yes. Sore footed - a little. Tired - slightly. Inclined to swear - not exactly; so why shock with "It's the "f***ing news" boys!" in the title of this post? Unfortunate circumstance and timing were to blame -

The first mistake was boarding a train at 3.30pm. With a swarm of flatulent teenage boys, their voices turned up to max volume and each devoid of a mute button. School was out. Half-term begun.

The second was not having anything of a sound-cancelling nature to plug into my ears. Fingers might have worked. But might have attracted attention and ridicule.

The third was listening. It was hard not to.

The fourth was realising that these boys, who my elderly relatives would probably have labelled 'young hoodlums,' were - albeit hindered in their delivery by the insertion of the superfluous word "f***ing" after every single word that wasn't f***ing - discussing that day's news. They were clearly well informed and were properly debating the issues. My mistake. I had misjudged them. My inner country mouse was baffled and a little ashamed.F***ing this and f***ing that rang in my ears as I disembarked the train. And properly discombobulated, promptly got lost.

Finally ... very finally, after my destination was slowly and surprisingly reached, friends were successfully located, family found, food finished, spectacular a cappella enjoyed

the country mouse fled home.

And not a single "f***ing* was heard all evening.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A story of too many legs. And lots of voices. And idioms.

Hello, Four-legged-friend here, hijacking this blog. It is after all about me and Baggins, so in our opinion, it's only fair if we (that we being me, as the founding dog of Walking The Dog) get to contribute sometimes. One small matter that I need to get off my big, barrelled chest, before I continue, is that we (Baggins and I) are, as a pair of dogs, plural, and I have always considered that it should be called Walking the Dogs - unless one of us is perennially forgotten, which isn't the case, whenever we go for a walk.

Ah ... that feels better. As spokes-dog I feel a responsibility to strive for canine correctness in all things writerly and grammatical. It would upset our sensibilities to give the impression that we are a pair of languid, loll-abouts with no regard to proper English. We do understand what you are saying - yes! Even when you are cooing at us in baby-language. Why do you think we look so cute? It's because our brain has gone elsewhere and our eyes and mouth have stuck rigor-like in a "You've got to be kidding!" expression - it's your tragedy that you don't understand us.

If you did, you'd understand fully our respect and affection for the idiom "It's a dog's life" -

Baggins and I lead "a dog's life". That is one dog's life - strictly adhering to a routine of sleeping and eating and sleeping and eating and sleeping - each. One plus one equals two dogs' lives. And incidentally (as we are frequently told, rather crossly by some), it also equals a lot of dog hair all over the floor. 

Apart from knowing about apostrophes and sometimes hijacking the writing of this blog, there's not a lot of time in our lives dedicated to the exercising of our little grey doggy brain cells - should we worry about Alzheimer's? Probably not, I don't think dogs live long enough to develop Alzheimer's. And if we did, we'd be so incontinent and dribbling and monumentally flatulent that it would be kinder to put us to sleep - permanently. Oh! That is what you do? Really! ... Gulp. Better make the most of this dog's life now. 

Time, then, to repeat my favourite idiom - "It's a dog's life!"

When life is so perfectly summed up by an idiom it's tempting to rush into another - finding one is a piece of cake. And a lot of cake was eaten in my house a couple of weekends ago. None of it by me. Or Bertie Baggins - unless you count the crumbs dropped on the floor, which in my ever-ravenous opinion definitely don't count. Crumbs are far too small to bother with, except in the vain hope that, out of gratitude for our 'hoovering' of the floor, someone might reward us with something more substantial. Like this piano cake maybe ...

I don't think we've ever been baked a cake. A dog's life indeed! We don't get birthday cakes, fruit cakes, chocolate brownies, cinnamon rock buns or Christmas cake. And they try to stop us eating the country pan-cakes kindly left in the fields by the cows. Maybe that's because their proper baked cakes taste better, but how are we to know if they don't share them with us. We'd happily share our country pan-cakes with them but they seem to know that they're not the best - I've never seen one of them bending down to grass level to take a nibble.

A dog's life is one full of contradictions - like the idiom itself. Sometimes you hear "It's a dog's life" meaning how cushy, all that pampering and love (which is great! I'm not complaining), but equally it can refer to the less pleasant, frankly squalid, and hard aspects of life (about which Bertie Baggins and I vigorously protest. Sometimes. Okay, maybe not that vigorously. A bit of refusing to move. Hanging our heads down. Pulling on the lead. Until they trick us with a biscuit and suddenly we find ourselves exactly where we didn't want to be.Maybe we need assertiveness training ... although that would probably result in less treats, so maybe not). Happily for me and Bertie Baggins, it is predominantly the comfortable form of dog's life that makes our lives - except when they're late with our dinner, or expect us to go out in the rain, or stop us from licking the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or tell us "No!" when we want to curl up on the sofa, or take us to visit the vet, or tug on our leads to stop us saying hello to the interesting end of the frisky little lady we met yesterday, or shut us in our run (I don't understand why they call it a run. We don't. Run. It's too small. For running. Running is for going places or chasing rabbits. We jump about a bit in our "Run". But we don't run), or insist on soaking us with freezing water and soap after a walk - we like the smell of fox! 

"It's a dog's life!"

It's also a dog's life when our home gets invaded - more love, more hands to nuzzle, more food to smell (... to smell! Smell!! See! It's not fair!) and more crumbs (never enough) dropped on the floor. But a fuller home also means less unoccupied floor space on which to sprawl, less peace (these visitors sing! And play pianos! And sing! And dance! And sing!), and more disturbed sleep (a dog in a busy home must remain alert at all times on the look out for a broken biscuit and vigilant to beat the vacuum cleaner into the kitchen for the consumption of crumbs). An invasion also means more legs

... lots more legs. Which can lead to canine confusion. A weaving between legs game. And stupor.

Lullaby time? Or ... if I lie between his feet will he stop singing?

All the King's Men - our singing, dancing, not-enough-crumb dropping visitors.