Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Daffodils, dogs and dinners in December

Daffodils in December? - Yes, in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, nodding their heads as if to say 'we know it's December but you're in your shirt sleeves, the trees are in blossom and the ground is so warm and our roots so toasty that we thought we'd pop up to wish you all a Merry Christmas.' I wish I'd taken a photograph but it was too late and too dark and I was chatting so it would have been rude and I had to intercept a travelling child and her bag full of bricks from Paris and drag the bricks to St Pauls to meet several other Christmas-market-visiting, Father-Christmas-hand-shaking members of the family.

But honestly - daffodils - in December. It's like Nanny MacPhee's snow in August.  Weather experts are already forecasting the warmest December in 70 yrs. All part of the latest El Nino effect. Apparently. The Big Red Man must have been hot. But on the plus side he'll have had to deal with fewer lit fires, less smoke and cooler chimneys.

Another side effect of the unseasonal warmth - aside from everyone talking about it - is the daily appearance of a dog-hair carpet. Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins were tricked by a few chilly days in November and grew a thicker coat in anticipation, not unreasonably, of more cold days - what we used to call winter. But winter hasn't arrived and they are too well covered. Thus they moult. Thus the floor is covered in hair. Our socks pick up hairy prickles. There's hair in our beds. And a hair in the butter (best not to tell of this to any of the Christmas house-guests or the man of the house who is the least-enamoured-with-absolutely-everything-doggy-about-the-dogs member of the family). In both shedding hair at the same time (as far as we can tell) the dogs are mimicing each other, in the week that the world receives the momentous news ... drum roll ... that dogs - wait for it - because you will struggle to believe it - dogs em-pa-thi-i-i-ise. Impressed? Or more - 'Well, duh! Of course dogs empathise!' As anyone who has a dog knows. They are frisky and bounding around and knocking things over - which doesn't matter because we're frisky and bouncy too - when we are happy. They can also do quiet, reflective and here's my muzzle on your lap to make you feel better when we're sad. And Four-legged-friend catches my feelings totally when he strains to pull himself to his feet, struggles to raise an eyelid (two eyelids would be beyond impossible) at 2.45 in the morning, when Bertie Baggins bladder announces to him that it's full and please would he wake as many people as possible up in order that one might stagger downstairs and let him out to empty it.

As Tim Minchin says 'empathy is intuitive but it is also something you can work on' - I think if we want to learn how, we need only study our dogs: from puppy-dom to elderly canine companion, they study us, adapting their mood to reflect ours, paying attention to our every gesture, listening for changes in the intonation in our voices, watching and waiting. Their motive is simple - we anthropomorphise them too much if we try to claim otherwise - they study us to learn to empathise in order to survive. A life of reflecting our feelings, which we interpret as love, loyalty and faithfulness  is all about achieving one thing - food. They're brilliant at it! I'm not saying we should learn to empathise in order to get a good dinner. Or indeed any prize. But in showing compassion and understanding, we grow ourselves both in self respect and in the way we are regarded by others. If it occasionally results in a pat on the head and an edible treat (chocolate, glass of pinot ...) those are bonuses.

Discussing dogs who empathise with each other and with us has led me away from the unseasonal weather. And I feel I should return, specifically to muddy, muggy, my-jacket-is-at-home-and-my-gloves-dangling-at-my-wrists-because-it-is-too-warm-for-December (!) walks.

Dog walks -

I wonder if Four-legged-friend's and Bertie Baggins's enthusiasm for walks has anything to do with their observation that their chief two-legged-friend has imbibed a bit too much Christmas cheer and is feeling a bit bloated around the waist and generally distressed and anxious about the prospect of enforced rationing and their skills of empathy lead them to conclude that they should steer this chief two-legged-friend along a path of increased exercise. We walked the we're so tired our feet can barely cope with staggering forward and what with all this mud and wind and having worn too many clothes we'd rather be curled up in front of a roaring fire with a comfy pillow and a book - but oh no, that would be too warm. We also completed the Boxing Day plus birthday celebrating walk when Littlest remains littlest. Whilst at the same time gaining a year

... and almost losing her wellies

Last in this seasonal ramble is turkey- on the big day (with all the trimmings), cold the next (ditto but reheated), then in quiche and a creamy casserole (frozen), in sandwiches, nibbled on passing the fridge and the remains chucked into a roasted root vegetable stew which also used up the end of the turkey gravy. The entire family and friends who visited today are now quite happy to avoid eating turkey for approximately 363 days (apart from the creamy casserole to be served en croute and eaten by Easter).

Happy blogging, empathising and dieting New Year one and all.

Will there be any daffodils left by Spring?