The Brits are known for their love affair with their pets. There have been documentaries made about it — Nick O’Dwyer’s Most Pampered Pets In Britain, for one. People go a bit mad for their animals, and it can result in them treating their pets as children: they buy them clothes and let them sleep in their beds and then wonder why they end up neurotic and disturbed and in need of assistance from the lovely Victoria Stilwell.
Dogs are dogs as far as I’m concerned. I’m not the sort to be won over by doleful brown eyes trying it on for scraps from the dinner table. I love dogs, and hope that one day our life will allow for us to get one or three —it wouldn’t be fair to the dog to get one before we have the time to commit to ownership— but I don’t believe in treating dogs as if they were human. A dog should certainly be a member of the family, because the family has to be the dog’s pack, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated like the human members of the family, despite current theories suggesting dogs and humans evolved, quite possibly together, to have an instinctive grasp of mutual social language. A bright dog can learn by imitation, and dogs watch their families constantly for instruction and communication the way humans chat to each other. Canines are all about body language.
Given all that, I’m not too sure what to make of JML’s latest range of dog toys, Frood took great delight in pointing out to me:
Crazy Critters are ultra durable and realistic looking plush toys that will provide your best friend with hours of playful fun. What makes them different from other dog toys is that they are stuffing-free, you’ll never have to clean up the mess from a ripped stuffed animal again, plus your pet won’t ever be tempted to eat the stuffing, which could be harmful to its health. Crazy Critters are also machine-washable, so you can use them indoors or outside over and over again.
Admittedly, it’s a damn sight better than buying them tutus covered in Swarovski crystals or a Calvin Klein jacket or even special dog cologne. Dogs are supposed to enjoy worrying dead animals. They are carnivores, after all.
Still. Those Crazy Critters resemble road kill rather more than the usual dog toys I see, and I think I might feel a bit weird offering my dog a squished fox to rip to shreds, even knowing that the dog wouldn’t think it resembled a squished fox in the slightest. I would know.
Maybe they should be renamed “Countryside Alliance Critters”.
I had to be in the city centre today, on business. For various reasons the bike was impractical (it takes a peculiar set of circumstances to render a bike impractical as far as I’m concerned, I can assure you) and so I took the bus to Princes Street and did a lot of walking. I think I’d covered several miles by the end of the day, as the still-controversial tram works have messed up the bus routes and I spent ages wandering around trying to find a bus stop that would allow me to get home again*.
It was brutally hot — at least as far as I am concerned — and I was dressed for work and on a schedule. The streets were furred with the inevitable tourists. At this time of year there are lots of tourists, and it will only get worse as we move further into Festival season. It reminds me of fat-clogged arteries: there is only so much space on the pavement, and when there are lots of people standing there gawping at the architecture, taking pictures of each other next to the Scott Monument, waiting to get on a tour bus, or trying to decipher street signs and the complexities of our public transport system there isn’t enough room for those of us who are trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
I dislike very warm weather unless I’m in the sea, spoffling sea creatures, and my temper was fraying after I’d walked the entire length of Princes Street three times and been up and down Cowgate, Lothian Road and George Street. My feet hurt — that’s the furthest I’ve walked since I injured my plantar fascia — and I was hot and bothered and grumpy. I decided to take a breather before I melted into an angry puddle and went to find some soft grass in Princes Street Gardens.
There’s a children’s playpark at the west end. It has the usual slides and some interesting climbing structures, but what caught my eye was the Victorian Merry-Go-Round.
I find funfairs creepy at the best of times. The scents, sights and sounds of the carnival don’t inspire me to think of excitement and the thrill of wurlitzers. There’s something scarily superficial about funfairs. Perhaps it’s their itinerant, temporary nature, or the way the high gloss, gaudy colours, candyfloss aroma and loud, brassy music never quite cover up the cables and motors, the stale grease and spilled beer and the racing thud-thud-thud of the generators. They are the buzz of a brain fried on sugar and caffeine and adrenaline, hiding behind a painted mask polished to a high sheen.
I’ve never trusted them. They are shiny and they smell bad. The attendants always look bored. They give me the same sense of disquiet as some adverts do: the explicit message is at odds with the implicit.
I took this picture of the Victorian Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t mean to include the only people riding it at the time. They arrived in the middle of the shot as the shutter snapped. I like this image, however. The small child, face blurred beyond recognition as he or she looks towards the camera, expression unreadable but certainly not one of thrilled delight. The way the movement of the horses makes their outlines and painted decorations blur as if at any moment they could disperse, perhaps to reform as something else; perhaps to dematerialise, taking the riders with them. In the centre the hub is still and sharp: here is the only safe place on the Merry-Go-Round, where the attendant sits. What does he know, to sit in there while everyone else rides the glimmering ponies?
The colours are hot and unnatural. The fence looks to have been added later, an afterthought to disguise the ephemeral character of the ride and make it look less like it will fly away at any moment, should the attendant choose to press a particular button.
Come one, come all, come for the ride. Who knows where you will land? Perhaps here, perhaps there, perhaps somewhere no one has ever heard of…
On occasion I’ve thought I’ve caught something in the expressions of funfair attendants that was slightly too sharp, too predatory to be pure boredom and I’ve wondered, as I do so often, how to peel back the superficial layer to see what is really going on underneath.
And then I remember that I live on Planet Sam, where the creepy polar bear isn’t there simply to offer helpful advice on frozen food but is on an infiltration mission, and nicotine patches cause you to hallucinate giant cigarettes. I am the sole inhabitant of Planet Sam (although Frood has a permanent visitor’s pass), which is probably for the best.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christmas this year was spent on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges. Frood and I were both working on Christmas Eve, as well as doing the Christmas dinner, so by the time we got home from work and got everything packed and into the car it was quite late.
It was also incredibly cold. And snowing. We’d had an early start on the back of a month of early starts, which, coupled with my insomnia, meant that I knew that the drive was going to be a tiring one before we started. I did seriously contemplate leaving it until the morning, but I knew Mum and Dad would be disappointed, so I HedTFU and got on with it.
Because the weather had been extremely wintry for several weeks the outer lane on the M90 was restricted width and there was no hard shoulder. The A9 wasn’t much better. There was too much snow. It was also -15°C, which is down around the point where grit stops working. I own a Ford Mondeo Estate, front wheel drive and back-end heavy, and it’s a pain in the ass in slippery conditions, so I was driving very carefully. The other issue we had is that the CD player in my car broke sometime last year, swallowing several of my CDs in the process. There is no MP3 player port so we’re reduced to listening to whatever we can find on the radio.
At the turn-off towards Aberfeldy we hit the roads that hadn’t been gritted adequately and, coincidentally, I became fed up with the interminable club dance tracks Scott Mills was playing on Radio 1. Classic FM was out because it was non-stop little boys singing carols, so I took a gamble on Radio 2 and found a fascinating documentary about Kenny Everett. For the next 45 minutes we minced along the road at about 20mph, discovering that Kenny did all of his special effects using just two tape decks — including the 8 part harmonies in which he was the only one singing. The world turned gradually more and more surreal as Captain Kremen’s Granny turned up and the snow kept falling.
Part of the route coincided with the road I’d ridden during the Aberfeldy Sprint, and I remarked that I’d been faster on the bike. That’s how carefully we had to drive.
At Kenmore we turned onto the narrow, single-track road that winds along the coast of the loch. By the time we got to the other side of Acharn I was really tired, and suffering from continually peering at a frosty road in low visibility with nothing but dark vegetation, the occasional dry stone wall and lots of snow either side of me. The road there was so slippy that I had to concentrate even harder on maintaining momentum over the ice without going so fast that the car slid out of control down the steep bank to the right and, for all I knew, straight into the water.
Frood had been using his GPS to track progress, but kept getting confused between distance to destination and distance to next junction, so I’d been given several conflicting miles to go messages. After what felt like the whole of eternity I asked Frood to call Mum and ask her if this place had a sign or something, because I was sure we’d missed it.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She says there’s a big blue Christmas tree right at the entrance and you can’t miss it.”
At about this moment a deer bounded across the path, eyeing us using that backwards glance they give things they don’t like but have ascertained aren’t really predators and couldn’t catch them anyway.
“Grand,” I replied, trying to get my heartrate back to normal after controlling a slight skid under braking.
Ten minutes later there was a dip in the road followed by a slight rise. As we crested this the deer was back and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It had a blue arse. There was a deer, all delicate legs and waggly ears, looking at us backwards, and there was a bright, electric blue glow where its arse was.
I goggled at this like… Well, like you would imagine anyone goggling at a deer with blue light streaming out of its arse. I wondered what in the hell it had been eating.
After a moment the deer hung a sharp left but the blue light didn’t. There was the Christmas tree and there was my mum, standing at the side of the road waving her arms in the air.
I can’t remember the last time I was that relieved to arrive anywhere mostly intact. And, even knowing that what I saw was the light of the Christmas tree, what I remember and always will remember of our drive up north for Christmas is a deer with bright blue light coming out of its arse.
Now, see, I know I’m not the only person to find the Bird’s Eye Polar Bear adverts creepy. I know this for a fact. Other people find him creepy too. The great divide seems to be whether or not we like him.
Short answer: I don’t.
He tries to tell you what to eat! A polar bear! Who lives in the freezer! And somehow can survive the lack of air and general scarcity of seals in the average British domestic household!
Then I realised. He’s trapped in there, talking to himself, going batshit crazy like Adrian Brody in The Jacket. Playing with the switch that makes the light go on and off until the bulb blows; or fapping into the bags of vegetables while trying to drink himself to death on ice-cold vodka. The only interruption in his interminable life of tedium, imprisoned in the dark with the tupperware boxes filled with solidified leftovers and the peas that escaped from the bag to grow wrinkled and grey in the hoarfrost, is when someone opens the door.
He’s deranged. Anyone would be after being stuck in there. There is no one who could possibly survive that sort of environment mentally intact. But these people, coming to the door, letting in a brief glimpse of daylight and a warmer world of colour and sun… He has to be careful. He can’t scare them off. They might not come back. He has to be nice, friendly, helpful.
There’s nothing quite so creepy as a deranged predator trying to be nice, especially when the mask slips and the simmering rage and hatred sneaks out in the form of sharpened sarcasm:
“Hey, Laura. You know, I love preparing chicken.”
“No, Laura, nobody does.”
“I’m feeling a little neglected… And Clive? Don’t be a stranger.”
I swear the subtext to that reads: “Because if you are, next time you open this door you might just find that I gut you like a pig.”
As anyone who has been
unfortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in my presence will know, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Mostly they involve mugs; or, at least, the mugs are the most obvious indication of mild OCD.
There are a whole bunch of traits that are loosely grouped under the label of obsessive-compulsive (henceforth shortened to OC, because I’m lazy). I count things, like steps, and occasionally find myself avoiding cracks in the pavement. My main one, however, is hypergraphia — handy, you’d think, for a writer. It’s not that simple, sadly.
You see, the problem with hypergraphia is that what comes out is what has to come out. It’s not necessarily marketable, or even good. Often it’s not something I have any particular desire to show anyone. More often than not the hypergraphia gets in the way of writing rather than contributing to it. Hence my failure to complete NaNoWriMo for the past three years. It’s all well and good having a declared project, but when you sit down to write your 1700 – 2000 words for the day and what comes out is 2 – 3000 words of material that has nothing to do with the project, and you haven’t figured out how to change tracks, you’re not going to get very far.
Another way I get OC about writing is in the materials. Everything I do starts as ink on paper. I can’t begin anything on the computer. The paper has to be narrow ruled. I can just about cope without the margin, although I get really grumpy if it’s not feint. Pens, too, are important. I have a desk tidy that is full of nothing but unused Bic Cristal Grip biros. Once the cap comes off and ballpoint touches paper, then the pen has to live in the other desk tidy.
I keep my writing separated into categories. The mandatory words, the ones that I have to put onto paper or else my head will explode, live in black moleskine journals. Hard-backed, large. Moleskine journals are narrow ruled, have great quality paper and are robust enough to stand up to travelling around everywhere with me. I get through about three a year. I also have a red one, which I keep for story ideas and writing down scenes or sequences when I’m away from my desk or am sneaking in something constructive when the hypergraphia isn’t looking.
Recently I became entirely enamoured of the idea of returning to fountain pens. I always used to write with a fountain pen, but as my writing grew smaller and more compact I needed a narrower, more reliable line. Also, fountain pen ink has a tendency to run, which is an important consideration for inclement weather, even though I do wrap my books in plastic bags for transport.
I asked the good folks at CycleChat, which turns out to be a veritable sanctuary for the pen-obsessed, and ended up at CultPens. I will need to visit a shop where I can try the pens before investing in something expensive, but at CultPens I found the Platinum Carbon.
The line is beautifully narrow — narrow enough that my parker mocha ink doesn’t show up very well on the off-white moleskine paper — as well as smooth and reliable. The pen is light and nicely balanced, and while I’ve used pens with smoother nibs, I’ve not used one that produces such a crisp line.
If you have a compulsion, you might as well make it as pleasant as possible.
My first ever photocard driving licence arrived in the post today. I’m chuffed to bits. You may well wonder why. After all, I’ve had a licence since I was seventeen, which is long enough ago to have done my motorcycle training when it was just part 1 and part 2. So it’s not the thrill of finally being able to operate a piece of heavy machinery on the public highway.
No. I am excited because this is the first formal identification document I’ve ever had that has a photo of me with the black eye. This one, if you haven’t seen it before. My passport has the eye that nominally looks like an eye, which means I have to swap them out every time I go through airport security (although last time I flew to Ireland I forgot and neither Edinburgh nor Galway security seemed all that fussed).
OK, for everyone else this might not seem like a big deal, but it is for me. I don’t like the so-called “proper” eye. I’d rather not bother with it at all. Sadly I can’t get away with that because I still have to look professional for the day job and it’s a job involving lots of contact with the public.
Having said that, it’s amazing how many people just don’t notice at all.