A piece of me

Is all writing autobiographical? If it is, then by all accounts, I must lead a very exciting life. For I have written about a pedophile, a murderer, a man with Alzheimer’s, a cheating wife, a cheating husband, a random peccadillo, a hijacker, a space and time traveller and numerous other things that I couldn’t possibly have experienced in one lifetime.

As a writer, of course you put bits of yourself and your impressions and experiences into what you write. But above all else, it is the ability to imagine, and to create an alternate reality, a world of what-if’s and what-could-have-been’s that delineates the real from the imagined.

So, if you see what you think is a slice of my life on paper, or, in this instance, on screen, rest assured it is a very jazzed up version. Like a cheesecake, I am merely the digestive crumble at the bottom. The rest of the cake is layers and layers of fiction dolloped with the cream of fantasy.

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The pet sagas- Part deux- The tail that wagged the dog

So, after Flexxy the hamster’s sad demise and interment, there was a bit of a lull. Then the second born took up the song of a pet. She was fixated on a cat. Her aunt had one. The neighbours had one, and so did some of her friends. As far as she could tell, cats were pretty, and pretty self sufficient too. I had nothing against cats, but husband vetoed the entire scheme before it had even lifted off. Aside of not being a pet person, he particularly didn’t care for felines, and brought up the very logical argument that leather sofas and claws didn’t mix too well.

She tried another tack. How about if she made sure….so very sure….that the cat never clambered on the sofas. He merely raised his eyebrows, and offered to buy her another hamster instead. There were tears, there were tantrums, there were accusations of favouring the eldest. How about a dog? The eldest offered helpfully, adding more woe to the mix. Mummy could help, as mummy had kept dogs through out her childhood. Well, that was true. But seeing as I had, I also knew of the care that went into looking after a canine. The potty training, the teething,the destruction that went along with the teething, the daily walks, the heartbreak of losing a dog to cancer or Parvo or some unpronounceable dog disease. Mummy was definitely not in favour of getting a dog.

At this point a friend stepped in, and offered up a brilliant solution.

His friends were going away for the weekend, and were looking for a dog sitter. If the girls were that keen on getting a dog, why didn’t they try this one out for size? It would be like a little taster session, and the dog could be their responsibility entirely for those two nights.

Come D day, they were bursting with excitement. Lily, the dog, a small Welsh terrier, arrived with her accoutrements which consisted of her dog bowl, dog food and her leash. When we enquired about her bed, her owners airily informed us that she slept with them.Of course.I smiled and nodded, all while I could hear the cogs whirring in the other half’s upper storey, and quickly despatched them, wishing them a pleasant weekend ahead.

“There is NO way that dog is sleeping in our bed!!”, roared the hubster on their departure.

I pacified him by suggesting we could pull out the sofa bed downstairs and the girls could sleep there with the dog. (I struggle with the word bitch, so bear with the gender anomaly). All seemed well.

Lily was a jumpy little number. Within the hour she’d managed to exhaust both the girls with her endless supply of energy, her inexhaustible appetite for ‘fetch’, her obvious curiosity of her surroundings, and her frequent forays into the garden to relieve herself. This was getting interesting.

The next morning, I awoke at 4am to get ready for work. I tiptoed downstairs, in order not to wake the occupants of the front room. Lo and behold! Three pairs of eyes stared at me as one tail welcomed my arrival.

“We haven’t slept a wink mummy”, groaned the younger.

“Why is that?”

“Well, she keeps going round and round in circles. Then she settles down for ten minutes. Then she wakes up at some noise, and does it all over again!”

“And she’s SO smelly”, chimed in the older. “She keeps farting!”

Inwardly amused, I empathised vocally, and let Lily out into the back garden to do her business, while reminding them that they would have to clear her mess tomorrow, as daddy was not picking up any faeces for anyone.

Knowing quite clearly which way this was going, I left for the weekend, leaving one antipathetic man and two exhausted children to deal with a bright eyed pooch.

They fed her, they walked her, they kept her company outside Waitrose, in the cold, while daddy shopped. They tried to hold her down in the car, when she excitedly tried climbing into the driver’s seat, sending the car swerving. They picked up her poop at regular intervals. They played ball till they were on their haunches with fatigue. They put up with her flatulent ways, and they barely slept. Come Sunday, they returned her to the owners with an overwhelming sense of relief.

I returned to an unusually silent house, a bottle of wine (three quarters consumed) that the owners had brought as a thank you, and two shell shocked children. Needless to say, it went very very quiet for a while.

Next up…..

The pet sagas- Part un- The rodent chronicles

As most parents would attest, there comes a time when “Can we please get a dog/cat/parrot/budgie/any kind of living,breathing animal?”, becomes such a torturous refrain that one nearly always succumbs. (Unless, of course, you have nerves of steel, a platinum spine and a heart made out of lead). Our turn came about six years ago. We had tried all the logical arguments, but failed in the face of “But we’ll do the cleaning/feeding/taking for walks etc…..Please! Please!!” Our only compromise was that we would settle on a hamster. Since a few close friends had started with hamsters too, we figured we could glean as much information as we required off them, and wing it thereon. Hamsters were meant to be great starter pets.

Hmmmm.

Our first hamster, monikered Chuckle, a small dwarf hamster, leapt out of my hands, barely two days in. He ran and hid under the dishwasher, never to be domesticated again. Oh, we mounted a campaign to recapture him alright. We barricaded the area, laid out food and water, even sat up half the night for the nocturnal, nimble footed Houdini to reappear. All to no avail. Chuckle made his great escape, chuckling all the way to freedom.

The kids were inconsolable. As the guilty party, I compensated by buying them a Syrian hamster next. This was a rodent of more generous proportions, and we handled him with a lot of care, taking many many precautionary measures. Flexxy turned out to be a sweet soul, regardless of the racket he created at night,or the few chomp downs he inflicted on unsuspecting fingers. True to her word, first born took good care of him. Between them, the girls would share the duties of entertaining Flexxy, by allowing him to run around in the downstairs loo (door closed!) while the other hosed out the cage, replaced the sawdust, and replenished the food and water.Kind hearted neighbours were enlisted in the feeding and caring, while we vacationed.

For all intents and purposes, we were pet owners, with relatively content children. Until, that is, Flexxy started to look decidedly mangy. At eighteen months, his little life was nearing a close. We took him to the vet. He was diagnosed as having a rash, and a cream and oral medication were dispensed. Daughter number one turned Florence Nightingale with a vengeance. Never was a pet cared for as tenderly. Consequently, she managed to prolong his life by six months. No mean feat.

Underneath all that was also the realisation that Flexxy, despite all ministrations, would not last forever. So, in her crafts class, she made him a little wooden coffin. Inside she painted the four of us, so he would never feel alone. On the roof she painted the night sky, so he could look up at the stars, as he lay in eternal rest. On top she wrote, ‘RIP Flexxy’. We buried him in his personalised coffin, in the front garden. Many a tear was shed. Many a speech was read.

And so came an end to the rodent rigmarole. It was time to graduate to a different category. Previous hamster owners were moving on to dogs and cats, with a few guinea pigs thrown in. After a suitable mourning period, the song started up again. This time, the second born was the lead vocalist. As she saw it, her sister had had her jab at pet choosing and keeping. It was her turn now.

To be continued……

Je suis…..

Je pense donc je suis (I think therefore I am)- the philosophical statement by René Descartes which has been a fundamental part of Western philosophy, was never more evident than yesterday, with mass vigils held all over in France. People held up placards in support of the slain Charlie Hebdo editor and cartoonists, placards that said ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie). As indeed we all are. For if we are not allowed our opinions, our own peculiar devices of reasoning, our ability to rationalise, to satirise, to argue, to lampoon, then how far removed are we from amoebae?

The brutal attack brought into focus the freedom that the Press enjoys. Should this freedom be curtailed? Should fundamentalists be allowed to take away the power of reportage? As cartoonists the Charlie Hebdo journalists had a long convention of dissing authority. In fact, to quote BBC news “Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in French journalism going back to the scandal sheets that denounced Marie-Antoinette in the run-up to the French Revolution.” So, all these people were doing was their job. Something that these homegrown fanatics did not find palatable.

Listening to the various debates on the radio and Television, I was struck by the immense courage and resolve shown by the French. This was not just an attack on the Press, it was an attack on their national character. A character that has the tripartite motto- Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. It made them resolute to never give up on these. They were, in effect, cocking a snook at these terrorists, showing them that they stood in support of their fallen brothers, and the principles they died defending.

But what of the rest of the world?

Will there still be cartoonists brave enough to take on the ire of the radicals? Will there still be journalists willing to be unbiased about Islam? Will this (and all other similar attacks) unleash a different kind of monster, vilifying all Muslims, or will better sense prevail, and people see this for what it is? An ugly, horrific off shoot that has no basis in reality or religion?

That remains to be seen. In the meantime, for each of these murdered journalists, may another hundred stand up and take their place. To send the vermin scurrying back to their holes, reaching for cover, scared of exposure, of public ridicule, of the destruction of their jihad against innocents. For, after all, the pen is mightier than the sword.