Monday, 23 February 2015

Collective nouns, clever monkeys and other irritating creatures

If there isn't already a collective noun for emoticons then I would like to propose one. Or since I am discussing emoticons why settle on just one - they seldom appear in the singular, so a crop of suggestions would seem vastly, indisputably, unarguably, undeniably, absolutely, unassailably, enormously, incredibly more appropriate (see what I did there ... excessive and ultimately pointless over-use of adverbs where a smiley face, a thumbs-up, a lightbulb and a clever-looking monkey could have created an identical emoticon-fueled mind-numbing effect). So here is my list -

  • blizzard of emoticons which, of course, is ironic as emoticons arrive suddenly en masse creating anything other than a white out. In fact, they are as much a blizzard as the dancing, singing participants in a flash-mob are a blizzard. Or as the friends who leap out from behind the furniture at a surprise party are a blizzard. Or as the wasps who sense there is a sticky platter of barbecued chicken in the garden are a blizzard. So, perhaps, not a blizzard then. Not a blizzard at all.

  • barricade of emoticons making it impossible to pass linguistically from intended message to comprehension due to the wall created when your brain switches off as your eyes become bogged down trying to decipher the partially blocked message bludgeoned beneath the barrier of emoticons.

  • glut of emoticons which reflects their excessive, unwanted, intrusive, unintelligible and entirely overly abundant supply. Too many adverbs again? An adverb glut perhaps.

  • tureen of emoticons, evoking emoticon soup, which is what my brain turns into when faced with crammed lines of silly icons, which are meant to be telling me a story but are instead giving me eye strain as a struggle to determine if that is tears or sweat or a face drenched in rain. Or whether the cat is smiling or grimacing or might it be a frown. And if the angry man is being angry ironically. Or not.

  •  an asylum of emoticons, which is my favourite and where I think they belong. Asylum or zoo?  Or is that too harsh. Am I turning into the curmudgeon that I dread becoming - the cliche of an intolerant older person? An older person somewhat overwhelmed by technology. And irritated that every time I imagine I've caught up, it - the technology - races off into the ether again. And again, I give chase, but each time the race restarts, my pursuit is slower than the time before. Which is why we have children - to fix things when we accidentally delete something, to show us how to cloud share, and to say "silly you" when we say we've forgotten how to do something so basic that we spend half an hour making it sound far more complicated than it is, before finally admitting to ourselves that it was indeed something that we once knew how to do  but that, what with all this trying to keep up, we have now forgotten, and could they just do it for us. And maybe remind us how to organise our files while they're at it.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Plop, Stomp and Belle

When, over morning coffee, your daughters inform you that they have changed their names to Plop, Stomp and Belle - and you know that everyone had breakfast, no-one is hung-over and the throbbing finger that got trapped in the hinge of the garden loppers five minutes earlier confirms that you are awake - you cup your drink in your hands, smile and say "Fine." Then you try to figure out which is which and join the joke, and laugh, and reflect how great it is to have them home, and love the way they tease each other. And wish that it would never end.

The coffee conversation leaps around from funny names, to the funny faces that dogs make before they sneeze - imagine squirting the bitterest most astringent liquid into its mouth and you get the picture. The giggling chatter then tumbles into the subject of fruit and the one calling herself Belle says "It's impossible to eat a banana at school now."
To which Littlest (or Stomp) adds, "I always eat a banana when I have Thursdays."

Perhaps it's the 'having Thursdays' with their associated banana consumption that is making her grow - we did one of our there-isn't-enough-space-in-my-cupboards-because-I-have-too-many-hand-me-down-clothes sorts of her room (mostly the floor) yesterday and some of the too-little-items (which we pass on to the Little family ... yes, really) were a trigger for 'But I like that one' and 'Can't I keep it and turn it into something?' This was followed by "Either my clothes have been shrunking or I've grown 10cm!"

Littlest isn't alone in growing -

In the garden, weeds have taken over the fruit and veg' plot. There are raspberry canes here. Somewhere.

And rather sickly gooseberry bushes cowering beneath the weeds. Pruning out the lichen and broken branches to create a classic goblet-shaped bush may have promoted a healthy recovery.

But perhaps a sudden demise is more likely following the vigorous bark shredding, stem crushing chewing that all the cut branches got while I took a barrow load of weeds and clippings to the bonfire heap.

"Me!" Nooo ...

Spring will no doubt tell if mangled gooseberry bushes are capable of recovery and growth. Spring is  also a time to contemplate the undesired growth that is the consequence of months of hibernation, wrapping-up warm and comfort eating - both Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend have added winter thickness to their girths and are on a diet - slightly smaller cupfuls of dried food per meal and chopped carrot for treats, adding moisture to the hardened, crumbling, bread gravel in my pockets.

I need to switch to carrots and longer walks too.

Which will happen shortly after I give up chocolate.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

E.P.I.C. Failures

An 'Epic failure,' for those not acquainted with anyone under 25, is urban slang for a total failure and is usually abbreviated to epic fail, the opposite of epic win, both being over-used to announce success or otherwise in anything from catching a sweet in your mouth, via exam results and sporting scores, to on-line gaming. All fairly mundane and a long way from the older, traditional definition of 'epic,' which describes a heroic feat, of almost unimaginable bravery, as portrayed in a poem or lengthy piece of prose, such as The Iliad, or The Lord of the Rings.

Not only prone to picking up a word and running with it, so far that the word outclasses any previous definition of cliche, falls - as all favourites must in a competitive, jealous world - and is instantly replaced, thus beginning the cycle again, but the under 25 generation also has a tendency to capitalise EVERYTHING. They think it adds weight to what they are saying. Of course, they aren't actually saying anything - they're sending each other EPIC messages about all the EPIC stuff that's happening in their EPIC lives. In other words, TPS that is all a TWOT. *

Argh! Not fair? I know. I apologise ... I love my under 25s. And their enthusiasm. But sometimes there are ... like just too many words, that ... like get on your nerves, because they're ... like used far too often ... like 'epic,' if you ... like know what I mean.

Anyhow, the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that I too have capitalised 'epic' - not for emphasis but as an acronym:

E is for electricity

which failed half an hour before friends came for dinner.

Candle-light never looked so good

and food tastes good when eaten by relaxed, happy, dimly-lit people.

P is for central heating plumbing

which failed.

In this weather

and has forced us to rediscover hot water bottles, layering of clothes, the luxury of a vest, and the comfort of wooly jumpers, blankets and cuddles.

I is for internet, specifically broadband and download speeds.

Living here is a privilege

but super fast broadband is a dream and I have seen enough of the buffering circle.

Life is put on hold and my caffeine intake is sky-rocketing because I now turn the computer on, click the site I want to open and put the kettle on. And wait. And wash the dishes. And wait. And drink the coffee. And wait. And put the kettle back on.

C is cognition and the decline thereof. Perhaps it's caffeine overload, but I am sure I'm more forgetful - that elusive name (it's not just politicians - Ed Balls! - who struggle with names), where I put the keys, what my new password is for that new memory-testing site.

One theory, about perceived cognitive decline, suggests it might be due to 'interference on the line' that sifts thoughts and lays down memories in our ageing brains. We live in a world of constant noise and interruption. We all multitask, all the time. We work with the radio on, or listening to music. We are interrupted by phone messages and emails. We constantly keep numerous balls in the air - right now I'm writing, but the washing machine beckons with its 'I'm finished beep', I know there's a message on my phone to answer (it beeped too), the dogs are waiting (not very patiently) to be walked, I can just about hear the radio in another room and I can see there's a notification on Facebook. I know I could turn everything off, but I'm used to working surrounded by 'noise.' I think we all are. An alternative theory proposes that the buzz of modern life is good for us and that our brains have adapted to file information more efficiently than ever before; we only perceive a failing memory because we haven't learnt where to look for this information. Hence the memory-testing site (which might be the subject of another blog).
However, back to this one -

E.P.I.C could stand for other things - none of them failures, some precious, some simple favourites:

E for elephants, and Einstein, and education, and enthusiasm, and energy, and Elgar

P for pets, and photos, and paws, and Prokofiev, and puppies, and Pooh and Piglet

I for ice-cream, and icy puddles

C for cuddles, and children, and caramel, and coffee, and chocolate, and Coldplay, and Clannad, and kisses (if you can't spell)

But - and stop reading here if you like your blogs to be light and entertaining (... sometimes) - consider other failures of truly EPIC (no full stops) E.P.I.C. proportions-

How about Emergency, Poverty and Isolation for starters?

I might temporarily have no power but I do have candles and I now have memories of a lovely evening full of flickering magic and laughter. And the power is back on. As I knew it would be.

I might be cold but I can put on more clothes because I have more clothes. And the roof over my head keeps out the rain and the wind. And I can boil a kettle to give my children hot-water bottles that keep them warm in bed. And they have beds.

I might be frustrated that it takes longer than usual to connect with the outside world but if the waiting becomes too much I can drive my car to the nearest internet coffee-house because I have a car and fuel and money for coffee.

I can do all of these things.

I can - even when snowed under by the demands of work, washing, school runs, cooking, cleaning, bills to pay, exercise, dieting, ironing-mountains, blogs to write, book manuscripts to edit, beds to change, dogs to walk and kennels to tidy because Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins have shredded the winter insulation of carpet and underlay scraps.

I can do all of these things.

I can when so many can't. They can't because of Emergencies - big and small; Poverty and Isolation.

So does C, then, stand for can? It does. That's how it's spelt.

But it could also stand for Caring and Compassion and Charity.

Couldn't it?

*TPS = totally pointless stuff and TWOT = total waste of time

Monday, 2 February 2015

Pot-holes, harnesses and fingers

It's January, it's winter and an acne-like rash - of the deep crater-forming, scarring kind - is afflicting the local roads. It begins with a hairline crack in the tarmac, like the fissures that appear on the cooling surface of a baked cheesecake. Water pools in the crack, expanding and scabbing over as the temperature drops. The icy crust then shatters beneath vehicle wheels, throwing lumps of broken tarmac across the road. Repeated freezing, expansion and plucking of grit from its edges digs a deeper and wider fissure that grows into a vehicle-destroying, passenger-tossing hole.

The school run is no longer simply a tootle-along-practicing-tables-and-singing-songs run, but has become an avoiding-the-pot-holes run. And trying-to-remember-where-the-deepest-ones-are run. As if trying to remember anything in the morning wasn't difficult enough already - games kit? Water bottle? Piano music? Cello? Where are the dogs? Have they been fed? Did we lock the front door? And now, having remembered most of that list ... some of it ... any of it ... the children! ... can I recall the exact location of the worst pot-holes ... most ... some ... any of them? ...

... "Mum, you hit that one yesterday!"

Eye strain and headache are the consequence of each evading-the-pot-holes journey. Along with huge irritation that it is always me, in my little car, that has to take avoiding action, on a narrow road, when a 4x4 is coming the other way. Maybe the 4x4 driver is trying to avoid the pot-holes too, maybe she has a teeny, tiny, precious Pomeranian sleeping on a slippery, silk cushion, on her front passenger seat.
4x4s are designed to cope with pot-holes - to take a bit of corrugated ditch in their stride, to flirt with deep puddles, and to cocoon passengers in a jolt-free, luxury, leather-lined cabin where sleeping toy dogs are rocked gently and snore contentedly in their sweet, pot-hole-free dreams. My little car is not. It does none of these things. Of narrow wheel and limited road clearance, it shudders, when forced to plumb the muddy depths of the road's recent winter ulcerations.  Such bangs and crashes that would wake a cat, on its inaugural car ride home, after being collected from the taxidermist.

This tarmac affliction is a disease so virulent that there is a now a 'Fill that Hole' app ( developed by the national cycling charity ( which uses satellite location to pin-point and report new holes. If pot-holes can bend, jolt and smash cars, then pity the poor cyclist who descends into one - lycra and a helmet don't do much to cushion the collision between flesh and tarmac.

Thus it was that at the beginning of last week, "Phew!" and "Hurrah!" and "About time!" greeted the appearance of a  'warning of a road closure for resurfacing' sign. We went to bed dreaming of smooth roads and un-jarred bones.

They road repair men came. They saw. They filled all the cheesecake cracks.

But failed to conquer the pot-hole.

Didn't they notice it? Were they instructed only to do half a job? Maybe, they like pot-holes. Maybe, they saw the mouse guarding the hole - look at the photo again if you didn't see it. Maybe, they have a scrap book of pot-holes that look like other things. And they thought this was a good one - and want to revisit it to see what it evolves into - that nose is going to go first, perhaps it will break off leaving a gaping mouth, perhaps the snout will be blunted and instead, it will look like a pig, perhaps it will suddenly look like a celebrity and get a twitter profile. Maybe, there is a secret pot-hole preservation society. Or a competition between road gangs to find the deepest, widest hole and fill it - maybe, their victory will be to return in a few months, when that hole has notched up a list of punctured tyres, lost  trims, entire cars wrecked by bent wheel arches and smashed bumpers. And they will conquer the beast, by flooding it with a massive volume of fresh tarmac, which they'll measure and record in their on-line 'We Filled the Biggest Hole' trophy book.

Meanwhile, we avoid it.

When we remember.

Well-behaved dogs posing for pictures of roadway 'seaming' (the technical term for all the sticky lines painted on the road, apparently) ... well-behaved because of their newish harnesses.

Walking the dogs has been transformed. Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend no longer pull. I don't have to haul back on their leads. I no longer have chronic arm, shoulder and neck strain, all down my left side. Such a simple solution, but one that they seem pretty happy with, too. Walking is no longer a competition to pull the hardest and be the dog in front. They even wait patiently to be unhitched - perhaps, remembering the time when they raced off before the strap joining them had been removed and ran round different sides of a tree.
Anyhow - though I'm not one who normally does product placement, if your dog walk is more a tug-of-war exercise, I definitely recommend one of these harnesses. These are from Petface, but there are lots of other anti-pull systems.

And finally, if I didn't lose you down a pot-hole, and if you're on the ball and noticed the title, 'fingers' - specifically finger classification. This has no particular link to the above, apart from that this conversation occurred while I was scanning the road ahead for pot-holes, and Littlest was bending silver wire in the back seat (yes ... in-car entertainment in my world requires jewellery pliers, wire cutters and bags of beads and wire - our journeys being measured in time to make a ring or design a new pendant for an earing).

Littlest : "I can't remember what the fourth finger is called."
Me: "Ring. It's the ring finger." (Brief, no time to elaborate ... I'm watching the road. Concentrating harder than usual due to the rain - pot-hole or puddle? Swerve. Pot-hole or puddle? ...)
Littlest: " Oh, yes! So it's Thumb, Pointing, Swearing, Ring and Pinkie-finger."

... "Swearing" !!!!!!!!!