Wednesday, 31 July 2013

sweetheart, there's no one else in the world

(The Eels - Millicent Don't Blame Yourself)

So it feels like this blog is turning in to one long excuse for not posting. I have a pretty good excuse this time though. A four legged, big brown eyed, floppy eared, gorgeous excuse. Allow me to introduce Millie.

Our family dog died when I was eleven, and I don’t think there has been a day in the intervening 16 years when I haven’t wanted another dog. Having been in our house for three years, and just celebrated our first wedding anniversary, The Husband finally agreed we could get a dog. This was in part to do with the fact that he promised me one for our first anniversary and did so in front of some close friends, so there was no backing down really!

We went to the local shelter and they had two litters of puppies. We looked at the puppies, we looked at the rest of the dogs, we went back to the puppies. There was a litter of Basset Hound cross with Labrador (or a Bassador as they are apparently known). There were two left. Then there were six Tricolour Beagles which the shelter thought may be crossed with another breed, but they couldn’t be sure what. Both litters weren’t available for rehoming until the next day.

We went home. We read about Beagles. We read about Bassadors. I spent the whole next day being incredibly productive to try and pass the time until The Husband got home. We went back the the shelter and there were still both types of puppy. We looked at the girl Bassador, we had a little cuddle. Then we had a little cuddle of the girl Beagle. And she didn’t get put down again until we were home.

Millie has been with us for five days now. Life has changed. We are valiantly trying to toilet train her with fluctuating levels of success. She loves playing fetch, but hasn’t quite grasped the idea of bringing the ball back. Her favourite thing to eat seems to be the plants in the garden. We have a constant monologue of “Good Millie”, “No Millie”, “Drop Millie”, “Out Millie”, “Good Millie”, “Here Millie”. I had the inevitable delight of traipsing dog dirt into the house without realising it, and whilst trying to clean that up she proceeded to wee on the floor. We are constantly trying to take things out of her mouth that she shouldn’t be eating and replace them with things she should.

Goodness knows how we would be with children. We have spent every night since her arrival Googling various things about dog behaviour and training, and the conflicting advice is unending. She likes to chew, and nip, at hands and ankles (and everything else). So far all of the following things have been advised on various websites:

·         If you don’t STOP IT RIGHT NOW she will be a violent adult only with MUCH BIGGER TEETH
·         Squeal like a puppy when she nips
·         Growl like a dog when she nips
·         Say a high-pitched ouch when she nips
·         Make your hand go limp when she nips
·         Say No and move your hand away
·         Sat No and walk away for fifteen seconds
·         Say No and walk away for ten minutes
·         Say No and sit on a high counter where she can’t reach you
·         Spray her with water
·         Put lemon juice/bitter apple in her mouth
·         Hold her mouth closed
·         Whatever you do don't hold her mouth closed
·         Roll her on her back, look into her eyes and say no until she breaks eye contact
·         Absolutely do not roll her on her back
·         It’s normal and she will grow out of it

We are bewildered and bemused. Goodness knows what the neighbours think of my squealing puppy impression. We are keen to be good puppy owners. We are also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to clean ups and air freshener, whirling round like an ultra-hygienic version of batman and robin wiping, drying, spraying and scenting. She has already stolen our hearts, and a few tea towels. The training (both the nipping and the toileting) will take time. In the meantime there is no greater contentment than cuddling a sleeping puppy.

Monday, 22 July 2013

what do i know

(Keane - Bedshaped)

I have a few posts I am itching to write, but some online events yesterday have left me tentative about typing. Without going in to specifics I watched a developing debate on twitter with an increasingly tight knot in my stomach.

I am very non-confrontational, and worry endlessly at the thought I may have caused anyone offence, even inadvertently. Although I love a good debate, it’s more, much as with this blog, the construction of an argument, and bringing together of words and ideas that I enjoy rather than being pitted against any opposition.

Yesterday a blogger published a brief post about a restaurant, with some (in my mind) lovely pictures of the food eaten. The post didn’t really review the food, but was reasonably positive about it, whilst also including a little social commentary about the local area, and why the new development where the restaurant was located meant that, although he enjoyed the other branch of the restaurant in another location, this venue was not one he would revisit.

I only saw this post because the chef responded on twitter incredibly angrily, being affronted by the threat on his livelihood, and with some fairly choice language, soon joined by his followers in denouncing the blogger. It left me cold. It reminded me of all of the things I hate about the internet. It has continued to cloud my thoughts.

There was a suggestion that bloggers are self-absorbed (or words to that effect, I am avoiding going reading it all again). I completely agree. For me blogging is exactly that. That’s why I started it. The chance to devote a little time, regularly, to myself, to writing about things I enjoy, and enjoying the process of writing itself. Anyone who writes a blog, assumes, I think, that someone else might be interested in reading it, that’s why it is public. So that point I concurred with, but I didn’t necessarily see it as the insult it was perhaps intended as.

What has been mulling around my brain was the assertion that the blogger, having not trained as a chef, and not owning a restaurant, had no right to comment negatively. This perturbs me. As with many professions, I have trained for many years to be considered competent to perform my role. Again, as with many professions, my role involves providing a service to the wider public. Many of those people do not have the same depth of knowledge as I have gained through my training (although many do, I must quickly point out), and therefore their perceptions of any experience come from a different context to my own. Does this make them invalid? Does it mean that I am automatically right? Absolutely not.

Criticism (and I am talking generally now, I still can’t see any criticism of the food in the original blog post) is never easy to hear, but I don’t think being the “expert” provides exclusive rights to being critical. I think that sometimes having years of training, having technical, specialist knowledge of a subject, can make it difficult to see the lay perspective. And when a profession involves provision of a service to the general public, surely that lay perspective is of paramount importance.

I want to post about my recent trips to the theatre, and recently visited restaurants. As I said here I don’t under any circumstances consider myself an expert, I just want to reflect on some memorable experiences I have had. Others might possibly find them interesting, possibly not. However I want to do so honestly, I don’t want to censor my opinion for fear of a diatribe, or causing unintended offence. The prospect of a “flame war” (thank you Good Gobble for the education) leaves me terrified. Ultimately, as many have surmised, I think the response did more damage than the original post ever could. I intend to write my posts. Not as an expert, not claiming to be a critic. Just as a member of the public. I won’t criticise unnecessarily, but I don’t intend to lie for fear of retribution. That is a worrying trend, if the only valid opinions belong to the experts. At least, that’s my, inexpert, opinion.

Friday, 19 July 2013

it's all about the go go go

(Paloma Faith - Upside Down)

It has been a wonderfully busy few weeks. It is becoming apparent that having lots of lovely things to blog about also means that there is much less time free to do the blogging. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about blogging, in fact I would go so far as to say I have been missing it. I think in part, my self-imposed minimum word count has been rankling a little. I longed to check in with a few lines, but couldn’t quite fit in a full seven hundred words. However, I am here now and very happy about it.

So what has been keeping me so busy? Many things, the majority of which will feature in their own blog posts in the coming days (or, more realistically, weeks). But let’s do a brief run down, to provide an aide memoire for me, and to tempt you back for future posts. There was a lovely sunny weekend, involving baking, family gatherings, best friends, the Wimbledon final, fish and chips in the garden, late night drinks and trivial pursuit. It seems a world away now. It one of those lovely weekends that happens rarely, busy, but somehow in a relaxed, reinvigorating way.

It was our first wedding anniversary the following weekend, and we rented a cottage in the Cotswolds. It was a lovely trip, and felt like a real holiday. The weather stayed wonderful, and we enjoyed picnics, badminton, and mini golf. We also had some fabulous meals, and a theatre trip. We did a mad dash home on the Sunday night, which was our anniversary. We actually had another night booked in the cottage, but knew we had a lot to do on the Monday, and decided we would have a midnight flit (well, nine thirty) and we got home just in time to toast our 365th day as Mr and Mrs in our own home. It is hard to believe we have been married a year. In some ways the wedding feels like years ago, so much has happened since. In other ways it feels like we spent so long planning the wedding, that its still difficult to realise it is all over. We couldn’t believe how many other people remembered, we are very lucky to have so many thoughtful friends and family.

Since we got back, work has been taking priority. I found out that I had passed all the exams for my degree, which is brilliant news, but also shifts the focus onto completing the dissertation as well as I can. The dissertation is involving some pretty intensive bouts of computer-time, which is possibly another reason the blogging hit a hiatus. I still maintain I am not really a hot weather person, but it feels scandalous to sit staring at a screen all day and all night when the sun is shining, so we have been trying to get out, even for a quick walk, each evening.

We have lots more lovely plans coming up to break up the next few weeks, which otherwise will consist almost entirely of hammering out this dissertation. As soon as it is handed in we have managed to book two weeks off together, and so I’m hoping a last minute break somewhere sunny will present itself.
This feels like a bit of a rambly post, with nothing much to say, but I felt that a little wittering was necessary before I launched straight into a recipe or a restaurant post. Just to practice my writing again, more than anything. So many lovely blogs are out there, it is difficult not to come to write and give up, feeling like an amateur in comparison. There have been a few half-written and subsequently deleted posts in recent weeks, succumbing as I do to self-criticism.

However there have been so many things to be grateful for, so many happy occasions in recent weeks, I want to take time to write about them. Now I have this space to record things, I should overcome my fear of failure, and recognise what pleasure there is in documenting daily joys, however small, and enjoy the creativity blogging brings. So there will definitely be more posts soon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

take a little time out

(Newton Faulkner - Ageing Superhero)

Just after we got married last July I started a new job, which involves, for the first year, completing a master’s degree. The academic in me has been thrilled at the opportunity for further study and I have enjoyed writing assignments and attending lectures. I also wonder if perhaps it is what finally encouraged me to start the blog, realising how much I had relished the writing process. There has been another, substantial, benefit to this period of study, which has been the opportunity to work from home for a number of days a week. Having worked very long hours and done shift work right up until two days before our wedding, this has felt like an incredibly blessed way to start married life.

However, the impending return to being out of the house five days a week is causing some consternation. I’m not altogether happy about it, and this in itself is surprising me. I am quite comfortable with the idea of staying at home full-time. It isn’t an option financially, so it is only daydreams, but it is a daydream I find a little disturbing. I know my fifteen year old self would be astonished. I was a fervent feminist as a teenager. I wasn’t any kind of activist, I didn’t rally or campaign. But I was raised in a family of strong women who instilled in me a sense that women are equal and that the world was my oyster. I believed I could do anything I wanted, and that it was my right as much as any man’s to be educated and employed. It wasn’t a novel concept in the 1990’s but it was one I was very much aware of.

I have a very vivid memory of a conversation with my mum in which I said that I couldn’t imagine ever going to work and doing a job I didn’t enjoy. Perhaps it was idealistic (I was only about seven, my cynicism was not yet well-developed), I certainly wasn’t taking into account the much more practical reasons why people work. I think now and realise I am lucky to enjoy my job and find it interesting. For a couple of years that absolutely wasn’t the case. I studied for years and then found my chosen career was particularly unsuited to me. During that time I think home, and we had just bought this house, our first together, became a refuge. Family and friends became a harbour, repairing the cracks in my casing before encouraging me back out into the storm. Meanwhile there was gradual hope for a new path, which I only discovered and set out upon with their guidance and support.


Perhaps I feel I owe this home, to stay with it and look after it, like it looked after me. Perhaps I realised (even more than before) that the people around you are more important than any job, and so I want to treasure them with my time. I don’t have children, that is a debate for another day. But I know my mum raised me single-handedly, whilst working every day, and I couldn’t have asked for a happier childhood or a better mum. I don’t doubt given the choice she would have preferred to be at home, and she was strongly supported by my grandparents, but I have such a strong female role model in her, I know the value of money, the rewards of hard work, and the best way to be a parent. So again, I find these thoughts of staying at home unnerving.

I wonder what happened to the fifteen year old who wanted to change the world, to make her a woman who is happiest cleaning the kitchen. I read about Wendy Davis in awe. I admired her immensely, and saw my younger self in her approach. Perhaps once studying is over, the opportunity to work on things full time will reawaken that desire to blaze ahead in the world, burn my mark on the pages of history. Perhaps. I enjoy my job, I enjoy my home, I love my family and friends. It isn’t world changing, or history making, but perhaps my greatest achievement is happiness.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

pick and choose

Weeds are speedy little things aren’t they? As thrilled as I am with our glamourized garden, the joy is being dampened slightly in recent days. I am slowly realising that although the plants are blooming, daubing the ground with colour, uninvited foliage is also sprouting at an alarming rate. I had somewhat neglected this part of gardening before, I much prefer a world where things stay as you left them. When we had finished it was perfectly pretty, and whilst I had accepted that the colour was seasonal, I hadn’t factored in that it would soon be covered up by weeds unless I fought them off regularly. I have rather got the bug though, and look forward to venturing out, trowel in hand, to restore order amongst the florae. It won’t be this evening though, as the skies are busy helping me out, kindly doing the watering on my behalf.

Injuries abound. In the last 48 hours I have elbowed a wall, right on the corner (the fact that I am a builder’s granddaughter made me look this up, the proper term is the arris, according to the wonderful world of Wikipedia), I have trapped my finger between two doors, and I have taken a chunk out of my thumb on the corner (arris?) of a door frame. Doors and corners appear to be causing me problems. I am bruised. All of these injuries hurt when I press on them. So I keep pressing on them, so I can say that it hurts, and therefore feel sorry for myself. I nearly caused injury number four a moment ago trying to walk with pins and needles. The Husband told me to hop and I couldn’t work out which way to do it so it didn’t hurt. Co-ordination has never been a strong point. My feet never seem quite able to catch up with my brain, and consequently my arms rebel and do their own thing.

I am acquiring a taste for bananas. They are another of my dislikes, purely textural, I find the flavour quite enjoyable. I froze some. This was a second attempt. The first two I recently popped into the freezer whole. Whole and still in the skin. I didn’t exactly think it through. I realised as I went to peel one that it had not been an entirely successful endeavour. I then tried to defrost them. The final product was thrown away. This time though I peeled and portioned my bananas. I had a few slices last night, it was like incredibly easy ice cream. Even more of a revelation came this morning. I have been a fan of cold oatmeal for a few weeks. I mix a normal portion of oats and milk cold, add fruit and leave in the fridge overnight. It’s a lovely summer breakfast. The other day I had apple and cinnamon. This morning’s banana and honey was delicious.

I’m currently sitting in our spare bedroom. We are waiting to get a quote for some study furniture. I’m hoping if we can get it done fairly soon that the spare bedroom will soon look something like a bedroom. At the moment it resembles a bizarre store room/library. My vantage point in the middle of the floor reveals a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful. An electronic drum kit I bought on ebay, and gave up on as soon as I realised The Husband was better than me. An alarm clock in the shape of R2D2. A plethora of books, CDs and computer games spilling off every shelf. A sleeping bag. A printer. A coin sorting jar that automatically calculates the value of the contents. Monopoly, trivial pursuit and cranium, all in different parts of the room. Two picnic rugs. I do not plan to store these things in our study, just that the process of moving the books will force us to sort through the associated detritus. I am fairly minimalist, The Husband is a hoarder. Although it may not sound it from that list, we tend to strike a happy balance. By which I mean I ask him to throw things out and he asks me to not look in the loft.

Monday, 1 July 2013

it could put creases in the rain

I am not in the habit of disappointing my mother. She has always celebrated every small achievement and let me know how proud she is of me. I was not a child who was starved of affection, constantly seeking acknowledgement. I had plentiful amounts of praise, and still do. It has made me somewhat hooked on getting good feedback, but I also think it has given me self-confidence and security.

However, I have one significant failing. (Not just one, I’m sure there are many if I sat and thought about it, but I fear that may quickly decimate the self-confidence my mum has spent years building up so I shan't). In this regard I know for a fact she is ashamed to call me her daughter. I cannot iron. Honestly, this is not a case of will not masquerading as cannot. It is just one of those things I am unable to do.

I do try. The first time I was let loose, I decided to practice on my school tie, promptly melted it into a scarred, scorched, strip of fabric and had to wear a jumper all summer just to keep the mutilated material tucked in and out of sight. It wasn't that typical teenager trick of doing something badly so you don’t get asked again. Even now I can’t iron. The Husband practically dives past me towards the ironing pile when I announce my laundry based plans, to protect his clothes from my advances. Mum has a startling (to me) ability to iron a shirt with razor sharp creases in the sleeves. By the time I have finished you can concertina the cuffs.

So in our house The Husband does the ironing. I am quite envious. Of the household chores it is quite a good one. You can watch a film whilst you work. It is pleasantly productive. You start with a pile of clothes and by the end it has transformed into a wardrobe of ready to wear outfits. The fruits of your labour are apparent for all to admire.

It is admiration that I would happily receive. Mum is always impressed when I tell her The Husband has done the ironing.  “Wash, Dry, Iron clothes and Put Away” was a constant on her to-do lists when I was growing up. It is a very satisfying task to tick off. Being up-to-date with the ironing is a laudable aim. I understand that. I like to start and finish something. I hate putting all the ironing away (I am allowed to help with that part) and then finding a freshly discarded pair of socks in the laundry basket. The ironing never remains up-to-date for long. There isn't really an answer, apart from not washing clothes, which still isn’t really an answer.

I am not someone who can wear things without them being ironed. And I am definitely not someone who can iron things as they need them. I shudder at the thought of a never-ending ironing pile only being depleted one item at a time. I couldn't fathom it. Completely ignoring the fact that I find getting up and out of the house in some semblance of a reasonable outfit and being at my destination vaguely on time traumatic enough each morning. If I thought I had to lift out the iron and ironing board aswell (because they have to be put away when not in use obviously) I would quite definitely just not get up.

As a way of appeasing my guilt, we bought a steam generator iron recently. The Husband is enthralled. Everyone who visited got a demonstration. By introducing a gadget, suddenly ironing was cool. Added to that our recent subscription to Netflix, and honestly, it became a Friday night favourite. I did several hours of ironing the other day, in an attempt to get in on the action. The new iron was brilliant. I watched a great film. The ironing was up-to-date, it was a huge achievement, and my mum was impressed. Then The Husband came to wear a freshly laundered t-shirt. He tried really hard to hide his abject horror but I know him too well. I am back on putting-away duty.