Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Patter of Tiny Feet

There is the patter of tiny feet in the homestead. Not the soft, kissable, minute, knitted-booty kind but polar bear-like, four-legged kind. Sproodle puppy has arrived in the home amidst cries of joy, coos of wonder and gasps of adoration. And our once organised, maybe slightly repetitive, yet very comfortable routine has been turned upside down in a flurry of primary coloured toys, cuddly cushions, paw-print blankets, bowls, huge packets of food and all things puppy.
With her razor sharp baby teeth she has punctured all three of our son’s footballs, chomped her way through her own body weight in rawhide chews, demolished every soft toy designed for your “small dog” and buried various pieces of underwear in a lawn that is fast resembling a ploughed field. What she did to Action Man was not only unholy but bore a strong resemblance to the pig scene from “Hannibal” and come to think of it, the final scene in “The Red Dragon” minus the frying pan and the Chianti.

For weeks now, she has had a strange fascination with a three inch square of my fine, hand-made Icelander rug. The only patterns on the rug are the nine small squares each containing a subtle swirl. Nothing too gaudy or ostentatious, you understand, and yet something utterly irresistible to doggy. She started, surreptitiously one evening, nibbling on the centre of the chosen square. After much scolding she seemed to leave it alone until she became much more cunning. Waiting until we were all busy in the kitchen or distracted by the telly, she worried the rug, moving aside any obstructions like a firmly planted shoe, or a nice comfy doggy cushion until she wore us both down, me and the rug. Then, once she had neatly nibbled round the edges of the square, she stopped as suddenly as she had started. Her work, obviously, complete to her satisfaction, she has never touched it since. We, of course, have been left with a bald patch on the rug as conspicuous as Duncan Goodhew in a mosh pit!
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the things that come up on her fun radar, apart from her ability to grab, with lightning speed and laser precision, anything you would rather she hadn’t spotted. Head held high, tongue lolling and trotting up the garden with the confidence of a dressage pony, taunting us with her latest acquisition. She then reverts to a manic, lolloping gallop round and round the trampoline dragging a tea towel or a shoe. Eye-whites turning red with exertion and a comical gait, Frankie loves the ‘chase me game’ and has perfected not only speed and precision but the ability to change tack in a split second and gallop under the trampoline, reversing the circuit.

She has totally bewitched us all. I have slept on the sofa at 3 o’clock in the morning to quell her pining. I have hand fed her titbits to win her affection. I have run up and down the field in my spotty wellies, chasing a tennis ball with her, oblivious and impervious to other humans and their observations. But, the ultimate challenge presented itself, the other day, on one of our regular forays to the playing field at the back of the house. In fact, it was on the walk back home. Doggie squatted to purge herself. I had to drag her along a bit since she was about to soil someone’s beautiful cobblestone drive. I, dutifully, pooper-scooped and tugged on the lead to set off for the last few hundred yards home. To my dismay she yelped and started to try and lick her nether regions, completely immobilised by whatever was going on down there. I tugged again, but still highly distressed, she was turning like a whirling dervish trying to get to her bits. With crashing embarrassment, I realised there was a bit of poop stuck or caught up in her hind fur. She couldn’t quite reach it and was clearly going nowhere but in a crazy, tail-chasing circle, until the offending article had been dispensed with! Looking around furtively, with the deftness of a highly trained field medic, I donned three nappy sacks on my right hand and knelt down to perform surgery. “Stay with me soldier, we’re gonna get you home!” I am living the dream; Hot Lips from M*A*S*H, assisting Hawkeye: Fearless, brave, benevolent and sexy! Sleeves rolled up, knelt on the on the tarmac, doing great things for my comrade. If anyone so much as raises an eyebrow I will cite ’Chapter IV, Article 25 of the Geneva Convention’ (“Oh, yes sir, I can Google, all night long….”)
Procedure complete, I remove my glove, wipe my brow with my sleeve (on the other hand) and accept the gratitude of my patient. Well actually, I fight off the ingratiating licks because I know exactly where that tongue has been for the last few minutes. Now even more closely bonded by our joint traumatic experience, we solemnly walk the rest of the way home, with an occasional glance at each other and a silent agreement that neither of us shall ever speak of this day again. 

Frankie has taken her place as my third child. I am now known as ‘Frankie’s mummy’ on the playing field and us mummies watch adoringly as our pets play, encouraging gentleness and scolding rough play. We share doggy treats, sleepless night stories, ‘you’ll never guess’ tales and offer up nappy sacks and balls with the camaraderie of a toddler group. I have a whole new set of friends and acquaintances that I have passed on the street many a time and never given more than a cursory glance. People that I now find connect with me on a new and unexplored level of human kindness and understanding, the fellow dog owner.   

Donny had it right “And they called it puppy love, but I guess they’ll never know….” Until you have experienced that utterly unconditional love of a dog when she lies on her back, underbelly presented with complete abandon, for a tummy tickle that gets the back leg going with the fervour of buzz saw, you might only wonder at the bond between man and his best friend! 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Psychic Mechanic

I become emotionally and physically drained by my car's crippling need for constant attention and finances. It's worse than a teenager!
And now it has enlisted outside assistance – Quick Fit (so called because that’s what I suffer whenever I have dealings with them) have taken to emailing and texting me to remind me my MOT is due, again. This is for a car that barely scraped through the last one, coming away with two A4 sheets of “recommendations” that will, knowing my luck with great hunks of metal, have transformed into “repairs”. My moral compass twitching like a four year old in a sponsored silence, I decide I can’t ignore them any longer and will have to book the darn thing in.

With the easy tones of a well-paid consultant, the mechanic suggests I just “pop her in on Monday morning and we’ll take a look at her”. Could he plausibly remember us from last year? I swear I can hear him twisting the ends of his greasy, black, Stromboli moustache and rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He whips his long cloak over his left shoulder and slides into the back office with a, “Mwwwhaaa!”
I hold the back of my wrist to my forehead and sink to my chaise longue with a touch of the vapours.

Monday morning arrives with foreboding in the air and my little car cowering by the kerb, trembling like a dog in the vet’s waiting room. As we pull onto the forecourt a large orange, neon sign boasts ‘MOT only £35’. If only, I scoff to myself, wondering if I should have emptied her of all my personal belongings, in case it is so bad I have to tell them to keep the damn thing?
“Did you want to wait?” the chap enquires, “There’s a coffee machine over there.” Drink coffee? I can barely take a breath, I am so anxious, let alone consume a beverage. And wait? Wait for what? Wait to be utterly humiliated face to face as he reels off a catalogue of mechanical failures of Titanic proportions? No thanks! I am going to pace, fretfully, up and down the High Street, checking my mobile every five minutes and building a ‘worst case scenario’ that would make “Final Destination” look like a documentary.

Because they never phone you, as requested, I take a deep breath and dial the garage's number. Keeping it light and pleasant I explain who I am and which one was my car and ask the fateful question, “How did we do?” The well-heeled, smooth tones of the consultant float through the air as he tries to prepare me for the diagnosis and prognosis. Nervous and impatient, I interrupt him, "So what exactly is the problem and how much will it cost to fix?" There is a pregnant pause and then it comes, the sound of air sucking backwards over the mechanics dentures, a deflating balloon, nay a punctured tyre of a sound. You might imagine he is pulling his finger down a laminated sliding scale of prices but no - that is the sound of him plugging in to the Matrix! He is now psychically connected to the balance available on my current account.  I'll give him his due, he rounds it down to the nearest pound, but, the amount needed to mend my ailing vehicle is within pence of any cash I have left remaining in my account (which is usually already in the brown!)

And so, credit card maxed out again, I pull away from the garage, plastic seat protectors rustling under my weight, my shoes sliding on the paper foot-well covers, grumbling to myself that for that price they might have, at least, tidied up after themselves. And someone has re tuned my radio to some mindless twaddle. I hum along, “Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have Porsches, you must make amends…..”

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Great Unwashed

Trips to 'Diceyland' are often eventful. (You know the one – everything is rounded up to the nearest pound and comes from a huge freezer thus assisting the normalisation of the hard of learning by easy addition at the checkout and shove it in the microwave culinary skills when they get home.) Predominantly frequented by the Great Unwashed, forays into this supermarket get my crazy magnet humming like a Hadron Collider. Eyes down and focus. Bread, milk, eggs and checkout. Don't look up, don't stray from the path. Shimmy round crazy lady and her identical husband. Why does the phrase 'kissing cousins' suddenly spring to mind? Don't get distracted. There's the Addams family, all long hair and no shoes, and that's just the boys. Then I spot the Holy Trinity. Definately born again, but sadly into the House of God rather than the House of Fraser. Sporting matching Hawain shirts, short socks and sandals, mum and dad holding the shopping trolley together as they gaze benevolently at their teenage son in his matching outfit and Australian hat (corks optional).
Nearly done, checkout in sight.
I stood in the queue avoiding all eye contact. The huge chap in front of me taking advantage of the two for one deal on family sized bags of wine gums, suddenly announced, "I can't stand it. I need to wait over here!" He slalommed his way back up the queue and stood in a space where he obviously felt more safe, explaining to our bewildered stares, "Claustrophobia" . Whilst all our attention had been on wine gum guy, the chap behind the lady behind me was announcing his undying love for a small Asian women. His alcohol to blood ratio defying all normal human parameters had utterly inhibited his ability to remember, not only what items he had selected but, how the plastic dividers keep all our shopping seperate. With slight of hand that would have made a member of the Magic Circle weep with envy, he perloined one of my loaves of bread. Before I realised what had happened, I quizzed the checkout girl as to what she had done with my second loaf? We looked around and our gazes alighted simultaneously on drunk bloke's shopping. My loaf was as conspicuous as a nun in a night club, resting on top of his Tennants Extra. Consumed with horror and embarrassment at what was about to unfold I caught her eye and gave the minutest shake of the head, eyes wide, my brain screaming, "just leave it!". To my relief she carried on ringing up my groceries. At which point I braced myself for the dreaded "Do you have a bonus card?" question. Since every visit brings me out in hives and sends my blood pressure into the stratosphere, I just can't bring myself to pledge allegiance with a points card. Mustering every ounce of skill I have learned from 20 years in Am Dram, I looked her straight in the eye, (well one of them, and then the other one, and then back to the first one, as, unfortunately she was afflicted with what my dad calls 'football eyes' – 1 home, 1 away) and I proclaimed firmly, "No, thank you" hoping to convey that I didn't have a card, didn't want a card, and had absolutely no intention of ever applying for one. For indeed, that would indicate a regular use of, and loyalty to their establishment, something of which I am in complete denial.
Just because their 'staples' are half the price of most other supermarkets and they are conveniently situated next to the bank. I can stop going there any time I like. I don't need 'Diceyland'. I can easily get my milk in 'Chavland'.
I have an obsession with paying as little as possible for my milk since we had to let the milkman go. I was perfectly straight with him and explained it was nothing to do with his exemplory service but just that his milk was so darn expensive. (Oh, and he has the face of someone who may have his mother hacked up in the chest freezer!) But now I am on some economically crazed mission to pay no more than 25 pence for every pint, in a lame attempt to alleviate some of the guilt I harbour for doing the dirty on a local, small business man in these times of strife. Every time I manage to purchase a pint for less than he was providing, I feel justified in my decision.
So despite each visit to Diceyland feeling like a reanactment of 'Shaun of the Dead', some sick gluttony for punishment keeps me going back there to mix with the wierd and wonderful of my home town. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Piles and the Sanctity of Motherhood

With a new(ish) baby in the family and a happy announcement from a very dear friend, I find myself reminiscing about previous confinements. Hubby gets all nervous when I start on this one, fingers in ears and la-la ing like a crazy loon! I'm not broody, but like many a lady I love to wax lyrical about pregnancy and childbirth. (Run for the hills, boys, you know what's coming). However, when I start this conversation with any of my fellow mums it often turns into a sketch from Monty Python, for when called upon to recall these experiences we find ourselves vying for the 'worst birth experience possible' like manic teenage pageant princesses! "I was in labour for 36 hours and went through 3 canisters of gas and air"....."I broke my husband's hand/jaw/pelvis"....."I was in labour so long thay called Guiness"..."You had it easy: I was in labour for 56 hours, survived a car crash, had to be induced and then had to have an emergency caesarian and 'got up at 4 o'clock in the mornin' to lick road clean wi' t' tongue'!"
We range from pure martydom; "Oh, maybe just a little gas and air then – to ease my discomfort", to utter hedonism; "GIVE ME THE DRUGS!"

With my first, I had been in labour for a millenium, sucking on gas and air so hard my eyeballs were inflating, when my wonderful midwife murmered in my ear "you might want to think about an epidural, that way you can get some sleep and I think we might go to an emergency section in which case you'll be prepared for surgery".
Oh, to sleep. I'd have been happy with a forty wink catnap on the floor for just a few moments respite.
The anaesthetist arrived and asked me to try and hold still whilst she inserted a 7 inch long needle into my spine. Keep still? I'm sitting on the edge of the bed leaning over a bump like a medicine ball with epilepsy. And then the jobsworth jinxed the whole thing with her spiel, starting with the ubiquitous statement " this might scratch a little" and trailing off into, "Oh and by the way 1 in 3000 women are sometimes left with a pocket of pain.............."
Once again the medical profession astounded me with it's mastery of understatement.
 Pocket of pain? POCKET of pain? What unearthly garment supported a pocket of these proportions? And how come I was voted the One in 3000?
Sleep? I could barely keep a grip on the gas and air mouthpiece, let alone sleep!
I remember glancing over at the spectre that had once been my hubby and thinking, I wonder if he's eaten his cheese and pickle sandwiches yet?

3 years later we decided to go through it all again!

With the wisdom and wordliness of seasoned parents, about a month before my due date, we shipped our first-born off to nanny so that we could enjoy a romantic evening together before the onslaught of sleepless nights and formula. But on the journey home I realised all was not quite as it should be in the, how can I put this delicately?.... haemorroid department. So much so that I took myself along to the GP.
Her audible gasp heralded not only her complete lack of professionlism, but the start of the worst evening of the entire pregnancy. The GP phoned ahead to A&E. I was bustled into a mixed ward full of the sick and dying and left for a couple of hours with my feet raised. Hubby was sent home and I settled into waddling between my bed and the day room, racked with sobs of self pity.
Then I was made the fortunate recipient of the pinnacle of the NHS' s innovation, engineering and technology: a diposable glove filled with water and a knot tied in it, fresh from the freezer. "There you go dear, pop that on them and see if the swelling goes down".
I spent the next couple of hours foetal on the bed with what felt like a dead hand nestling my 'Ronnie Corbetts'.
The following morning the consultant arrived to see me. Sporting the prerequisite yellow paisley waistcoat and matching bow-tie, he came to the head of the bed followed by an entourage of six white-coated, clip-boarded, bespectacled students who formed an orderly horseshoe at the foot of my bed, pens poised. " You don't mind if a couple of the student doctors take a look at your bottom, do you?" he ventured. Well, 18 hours of discomfort, disappointment, displeasure, despair and demeaning glove antics exploded to the surface in volcanic proportions of utter disgust with, "Yes I ****ing do mind!!!!" At which point, wide eyed, they all obediently scuttled out through the curtains to wait in the corridor.
And that is, I am pleased to say, in fact, the one and only time the medical profession has ever been on the receiving end of my expletives, in spite of the numerous times I have been on the receiving end of their endlessly painful and humiliating procedures!

Would I do it all again? Not on your Nelly! I am far too old and wise now. All I have to deal with these days is a genius but bored 9 year old, a hormonal teenage girl and an insomniac of a husband. Go back to all those sleepless nights and difficult, clingy, needy children? You must be joking........

*rhyming slang – sore bits

Friday, 4 February 2011

What happened to January?

What happened to January?

I don't think I'm suffering from amnesia but some sort of Time Distortion. January passed like a motorway journey. Everything whizzed by so quickly with nothing but vague images of trees, houses and other cars. But I can't remember anything memorable and the more I think about it, too many months pass like that. One minute I was raising a glass of cheap bubbly to the New Year and the next minute it's February 4th.
This morning I tried my two new deodorants. In a cost cutting exercise I purchased a well-known brand stick deodorant for a pound from “Chavland”. You know the store - everything costs a Chav! However, I also like to double up with a spray and low and behold another store had half price sprays of another well-known brand, neither of which I had ever used before but ring out the changes. If a girl can't treat herself to a different brand once in a while what has the world come to? I had a quick sniff in the lid and couldn't really smell anything so I figured inocuous was as good as anything when it came to smells. How bad can it be, I thought? I'll tell you how bad. The sporty brand name stick smells like cowslip, damp vegetation and horse saliva and the spray is akin to some industrial substance that removes MRSA, E.Coli and 99.9% of all bacteria. I smell like a wet horse that's just scrubbed for surgery! On the container it says”developed with athletes”, yeah, 25 stone, testosterone enhanced shot putters! I had to use triple amounts of my very expensive perfume in a futile attempt to cover up all unwanted aroma thus completely defeating the cost saving exercise as I will need new perfume within the month!
Will add old faithful expensive brand deodorants to shopping list, donate hardly used others to dustbin and stop with the silly cost saving malarky. What a waste of time.

My husband introduced me to Time Distortion the other day. A chap called Richard Bandler uses NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), hypnosis and a metronome to help one train ones brain to slow down time. So, the ticking metronome slows eventually to a click every 2-4 minutes instead of every second allowing one 'extra' or stretched time. Think what you could learn in 4 minutes which is really only one click of a metronome? Very interesting I thought. Very useful. So why then have I been afflicted with the complete opposite which is Time Contraction? The metronome clicking so damn fast that I lose months at a time and am suddenly 45 years old? And all without the aid of Mr Bandler, his metronome or his NLP! 

Cold Knees

Cold knees!

Not, as you might imagine, an advanced state of the better known analogy of fear, but the first symptom of a less than perfect “hot, deep bath”. There are so many factors at play to ensure the perfect deep bath experience: children's impeccable behaviour or better still children's absence; Stress free environment; Very hot, deep bath; No interruptions, Gorgeous bath products. The likelihood of achieving all these conditions in one sitting is about as likely as a lottery win. I have, in the past, worked it like a military operation, everything precision planned from start to finish, only to be scuppered by Jehovah's groupies at the door just as I am sliding into a paradise of bubbles. An elusive experience at the best of times.

As I lay here surveying the paint peeling off the tiles and the gaping hole over the soil pipe, I realise I have been kidding myself. For indeed, the perfect deep bath experience would in fact involve the complete refurbishment of our decaying bathroom. How were two, fairly well educated, intelligent people so utterly fooled by the splash of white tile paint and the hideous shell stencils? This bathroom is a train wreck. Nothing matches anything else in the house let alone in the bathroom. The suite must have been the original from back in the sixties. I think it had some elegant title like ”champagne”, alluring to opulence and luxury which the previous owner made his life's work to dispel by covering every remaining surface with laminate flooring: the floor, the end of bath shelf, the over the toilet shelf, the under the sink shelves and his piece de resistance the side bath panel; beautifully jigsaw cut to fit over pipes and finished with non-matching brass effect handles and so ill-fitting that if you perch on the edge of the bath you are in danger of receiving a blood blister the size of a bar of soap!

The soil pipe was boxed in but is currently exposed after an aborted attempt to replace the toilet ourselves. We have been talking about 'doing the bathroom' since we moved in 5 years ago. Things came to a head last year when the flush started to go on the loo and we had glued the flush handle back on for the third time. He attacked the soil pipe cover with gusto and rash statements about seeing “what we were dealing with” and “don't worry this way it looks like a work in progress”. We dashed round the DIY store filling our trolley with all things loo. We chose a weekend with a bank holiday for the project. Soil pipe exposed, all new purchases and tools lined up, tank in loft inspected, stop-cock located and DIY book open at relevant page, we were ready for the challenge of fitting a beautiful new toilet and the prospect of gradually working through the bathroom fitting by fitting until we were the proud owners of a crisp, shiny, clean new bathroom without a blue stencil or laminate board in sight.
That reminds me, I must check the bowl under the dripping stop-cock tap. For indeed, that is as far as we got. Apparently, according to any DIY tippers, one should check the mains stop-cock by turning it on and off every 6 months, a habit we have not acquired over the past 5 years. I suspect the laminate -wielding ex-owners were also unaware of this timely necessity, since they had boxed it in behind the whole kitchen unit. My saucepan cupboard now supports two fetching holes in it's side, both which require Houdini contortions in order to reach the stop-cock tap. The aforementioned tap never moved more than the proverbial mosquito's nether regions but now produces a slow and taunting drip into a space one would be hard pushed to fit an egg cup let alone a bucket, which I might add is already hard at work in the loft!

A long, rubber, bug-eyed caterpillar slips into the bath swiftly followed by Daphne from Scooby-Doo, an unlikely alliance but united in a campaign to undermine what set out to be quite a promising bathe. Add 'remove all children's bath toys' to the list.
As if by magic my children's seventh sense (what is/are parent/s up to?) springs to life. Inexplicably they home into the 'silence' from upstairs. That primeval cry that alerts every mother in earshot.......