Category Archives: Family

In Defence of Masculinity

When I was studying for my degree I discovered that gender is a social construct made up by an oppressive society to keep women in the kitchen, men out of high heels and everyone spending all their money on hob covers, fake eyelashes and customised number plates in order to feed the ravenous maw of the Grand Demon Capitalism.

I explored gender politics and learned how Patriarchal it is to assume we can label anyone as masculine or feminine based on their genitalia, and that the sin of ascribing a person any characteristics according to their gender is akin to nailing him/her to a board and hitting him/her in the brain with a Barbie until he/she begs for a boob job / off road vehicle / [insert gender-based consumable].

restroomI’m being a bit facetious really, because I do believe that a lot of our gender ideas are at least partially socially constructed, and that a significant proportion of humanity doesn’t fit neatly into these constructions . I’m not the type of female human, for example, who faints at the sight of a flat tyre or is comfortable with devoting all my life to worrying about nail polish and/or breeding, and most of my male friends don’t demonstrate the visible testosterone overload that currently seems de rigeur for the male population either.

So I’m only too aware what cans of worms – nay, buckets of snakes – I’m opening in the hideous raging world of online gender politics when I say we need to bring back masculinity – or maleness.

I know. I understand what a stupid thing that is to say. I know that in intellectual circles there is no such thing. And in one piece of my brain I agree – it’s too loose and tautologous a term to mean anything real and fixed. But in another strongly embedded piece of my brain – the piece that was once a child with a good dad living around kids with other good (or good enough) dads – maleness is a very real thing. A good thing. A thing that we need to look at again because it’s not that idea of masculinity most often presented in the media – the one that gets itself into fights, is attracted to everything with an orifice for penetrating, or is, on the other hand, too stupid to clean a bathroom. It’s a gentler, quieter and stronger thing. A thing we could all do with learning, regardless of our biological proclivities.

Being a self-identified woman (ha), I hear a lot of the things that women say about men. When I was a traveller, for example, women often used to huddle together discussing their male partners. One had a man who perpetually went out all day with other women leaving her behind to look after their child on her own with no transport, electricity, toilet, running water or firewood to stoke up the range, and then demanded food when he got home. Another had a man who tipped up the bed and threw her on the floor when she didn’t want sex with him – another had one who punched her – another, one who was always drunk – another had a man who wouldn’t let her go on nights out without him. You get the picture. You can understand why women in a community like that could fervently believe that men are shit. They saw no evidence to the contrary.

But the thing is – the travelling world we inhabited was basically a re-enactment of medieval times but with trucks instead of horses. It valued qualities such as: wearing torn up clothes, never washing, drinking all day, taking drugs, burning things and playing with vehicles. That world inevitably attracts a certain type of male, and that type of male is not likely to be the intellectual, contemplative, constructive type.

The same applies to women who hang around with men who aspire to be gangsta or various other macho cliche types. It’s not logical for them to extrapolate data about all men from the samples they are subjected to. Some men are idiots, yes, and they treat women horribly. But what we often fail to remember is that some women are idiots too. Actually, quite an embarrassing number of seemingly perfectly reasonable women hold unexamined idiot opinions about men, and they treat men horribly without even realising they’re doing it. I gave an example of the kind of everyday things women ‘think’ about men here, and I see this all the time. Women at work, for example, drink out of mugs that proclaim:

right

And we are all familiar with the ‘men are stupid’ propaganda that’s being pumped out everywhere in a massive strawmanathon by advertisers trying to appeal to the egos of women by implying we’re all married to giant children.
men are stupidI do think this unreasonable shit is some kind of backlash by women who feel they’ve been represented as useless, brainless breeding machines for generations, and is perpetuated by men who feel some kind of ancestral guilt about this. And in that sense, I think it’s a passing phase that will right itself, but  it’s still negative. What kind of message is this sending to our impressionable trainee humans? My son attended an English A Level class where young girls who had experienced very little sexism compared to their mothers and grandmothers were being politicised through the literature of the past to see sexism under every present-day stone. Son had never had a sexist thought in his life until he hit theoretical Feminism head-on at college, and found it infuriatingly simplistic coming from its fresh-faced teenage proponents. They argued, for example, the 70s Feminism idea that pregnancy was a form of oppression. What was a young man to make of that? Now he is vigorously anti-Feminist, which on some level upsets me.

And these kinds of ideas are creating a generation of women who seem to think men owe them some sort of debt for the sins of Patriarchy. Women who believe they are so very precious for just owning a vagina that they can behave however they like and men have to put up with them. You will all have seen this monstrosity floating around Facebook on the pages of apparently perfectly lovely women who seem to think it’s cute and appealing, rather than what it actually is: slightly psychopathic.

marilynNo, women. NO. How can you complain about men being nothing more than big children and then proclaim crap like this? This is not the opinion of an adult human – it’s the tantrum of a two-year-old with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It isn’t the job of the man in your life to ‘handle’ you, or yours to ‘handle’ him. It’s the job of all adult humans to handle ourselves – to overcome the stroppy toddler within and nurture the latent rational grown-up. Grown ups want to be loved because they are interesting, entertaining and good company, not because they’ll shriek and throw a frying pan if you don’t bring them flowers.

And here’s the thing I think needs to be freshly recognised about maleness – maleness of the kind that isn’t caught up in ‘gangsta’ or macho or other kinds of bullshit – ordinary everyday maleness – it’s an astonishing thing. It unassumingly does put up with those kinds of feminine histrionics (even though it shouldn’t have to), and it quietly deals with all kinds of other things that would probably make me and other lesser mortals rail against the universe.

Maleness at its best can be the unacknowledged backbone of a family. The lucky among us have dads or grandads, brothers or uncles who model this type of maleness. Men who go to work every single day, sometimes in jobs they hate, never showing frustration because they so firmly want to support their families, and are still fully involved in life at home. Men who are radioactively proud of their children but can only show it in their deeds because they’ve been conditioned not to be openly emotional. Men who drop everything to mend the washing machine or laptop or to put up shelves or build furniture they have no personal interest in. Men such as my friend’s grandad who loved his wife so much that he overlooked her affairs and devoted himself to keeping their life stable for when she needed him emotionally. Men who are not always the life and soul of the party but stand back in contentment as their loved ones sparkle and achieve because they have been given the solid foundations they need. Men such as my friend who stayed with a violent alcoholic woman he didn’t love because he wanted to protect her (not his) children and give them a bit of stability they wouldn’t have if he left. When you step outside the world of macho idiots, you find this kind of man quietly and unassumingly getting on with life, and asking for little in return apart from a happy family and a partner who loves him.

Men like these are the ones who teach their daughters to value themselves for what they are and do, not for how they look, and show them what to look for in a life partner. Men like these produce sons like themselves, with the capacity for loyalty and strength, and show their daughters that they don’t have to settle for an idiot who will mistreat them.

‘Masculinity’ may be an outdated/mythological notion, but if I was going to define it anyway, this is how I would do it. As an academic I might mock my intellectual naivety, but as a human I think these men are bloody heroes and should be celebrated.

dad-thanks-always-helping-fathers-day-ecard-someecards

The Shirk Ethic

playworkSon 2’s lovely 18 year old girlfriend just found herself a full-time job. This, of course, is great news when so many young people are genuinely struggling to get themselves onto the employment ladder. So I was evidently all-kinds-of-wrong when I had a bit of an ambivalent response. My first thought was the standard one: That’s great! She will earn an acceptable amount (so long as she doesn’t want to live anywhere) and is taking the first step to independence. But hot on the heels of that response was this: And now she’ll be spending  most of every day doing things that are nothing to do with her for people who are nothing to do with her wearing clothes that are nothing to do with her, and when will she have any time to spend working out what IS to do with her?

See, now I’m in my 40s, I think I’m de-maturing. I’m going back to my childhood values. When I was at school, for example, I would have vigorously coveted this t-shirt because I couldn’t accept that THIS. WAS. IT.
birth work death
I just could NOT come to terms with the idea that I had to get off my bike, put away my drawing stuff and abandon my Lego in order to go to this place where I was obliged to work and play with people selected purely on the basis of them having been born at roughly the same time and in the same place as me. ALMOST EVERY DAY.

welcome-to-kindergartenThat was the thing – the everydayness of it. I actually didn’t mind school in general, but what about when I had better things to do? What about on those days when the sun was shining and someone had built the beginnings of an amazing den down the bottom of the hill and we’d found the materials needed for building a table? What about when I had an excellent idea for an illustrated story that urgently needed attention? What about when my snails had eaten through the cardboard box home I’d made them and were escaping? I completely and totally hated not having control of my own destiny and decisions. And the idea that there would NEVER come a time when I could make my own life decisions because I’d move from doing things that schools wanted me to do, to doing things that employers wanted me to do, just blew me clean away. The work ethic left me cold.

This personality flaw led me into plenty of problems which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, I eventually realised that if I wanted to exist in the world of Having Enough Money to Keep Warm and Buy Shoes/Tampons/Peanut Butter, then I’d probably have to give in and work for someone. And I did, and I learned that there is some satisfaction in knowing that you are a contributor to the machine. Other people treat you differently because there’s some relatively visible evidence that you’re not just useless eater. When you do useful things for others it does make you feel good (I’m not sure how investment bankers get their feel-goods, but I think it’s probably not that way).

So that was fine for some years until my job began expanding out of all proportion. Or rather, I began to notice that my job was out of proportion – that I was working every evening at home and all of Sunday too. And I had stopped doing anything else. If friends or family dropped in, or if a son needed any help with something, I would feel a wave of stress like an acid inoculation because it meant I would probably have to stay up until 2am to do the work I would have been doing in those hours. You know the story. But even if you don’t have one of those jobs that demand all your time, here’s  breakdown of an average working week:

  • There are 168 hours in a week
  • We should spend at least 56 of them sleeping
  • That leaves 112 waking hours in a week
  • An average full-time job involves 40 hours at work a week
  • That leaves 72 hours in a week not at work
  • On average, we probably spend 1-2 hours a day getting ready for work and travelling. That leaves 62 hours a week not involved in work.
  • On average, if we have a full time job, we probably spend an hour a day preparing/cooking/eating food. That leaves 55 hours a week.
  • Perhaps an hour a day is needed to organise/clean/do the chores at home (conservative estimate for some). This leaves 48 hours a week.
  • Other modern-life-sustaining chores (food shopping, getting car mended, doctor/dentist appointments, paperwork, etc.) – perhaps half an hour a day? This leaves 44.5 hours a week.

So, if we have a job that only takes up 8 hours a day and no more, we are left with 26% of our lives to do the things that are – in the grand scheme of things – the only really important ones:  playing with our children, painting, exercising, going to the theatre, thinking, reading, exploring the world, travelling, photographing, volunteering, writing, walking, bird watching, inventing, building things, relaxing, keeping up with loved ones, learning things, etc. The things that we look back from our death beds and wished we had done more of.

just-got-home-from-workI am probably a bad human, but for me that’s not enough. And I’m in a job (now) where I probably can make the occasional small difference to people and therefore achieve some job satisfaction. What about those who spend the majority of their precious lives in some of the mind-grinding jobs that are out there? Bertrand Russell argued that “without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things”, and I agree with him. Since I escaped my skull-crushing previous job, I am painting, making things, exploring my native county, photographing with a vengeance and writing. Ideas have started to appear in my head again, and I feel more sentient than I have in years.

Russell also felt that everyone should have a 4-hour working day, and again, I agree. But our ethic isn’t really a Shirk Ethic – I don’t hate work – I actually love it. I will stay up all night and work if I have an exciting batch of photos to edit or some sort of project that’s sparking my inspiration nodes. Because, as George Halas said, “Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

So, if anyone has a spare shack in the woods (with broadband) that they wouldn’t mind filling with a regressing, workshy artist, do let me know.


My grandmother’s drawings

I’ve been blitzing the house today. My kitchen is so clean I’m scared to go in it and I’ve filled a box big enough to sleep in with recycling from the spare room.

This afternoon I started tackling the bookshelves and piles of paper and crap that surround them and became absorbed in… well…. everything: academic books from perspectives that now irritate me, brochures for holidays we could never even conceive of affording, pretentious poetry books I forgot I had, spouse’s slightly alarming political books, science books I keep not quite getting round to reading… and that sort of thing. I also found some more personal things: a purple flowery book of drawings and stories I wrote when I was small, a collection of significant poems I collected when I was a teenager, and a black hardback book of my grandmother’s drawings.

Looking through them reminded me vividly of her living room. It was painted a light coffee colour and featured paintings that her mother had done; a harbour scene of a jetty surrounded by red wooden houses, and my favourite – a representation of my great-grandmother’s weaving room with a floor-length blue patterned curtain swept aside to reveal shelves of yarn and weaving equipment. There was an old oak settle with a cushion that she had woven the cover for, and a massive extra cushion with a really itchy also-home-woven green cover. Inside the settle were all her Christmas things – wooden stars, hearts and goats, little Father Christmasses made by my Auntie Helen, electric candles, a plain white wooden angel with wispy hair like a little old lady and a candle holder in the shape of a lady with a wooden dress and a round nose.

My grandmother must have learned to weave from her mother and she did try to teach me, but I was far too teenage to take it on board. I regret that now she’s gone, of course. And I felt that very strongly when I visited Golant church this year where her woven cushion covers are still in use on the pews many decades after she made them.

My grandmother's weaving
My grandmother’s weaving

There were two cupboards in my grandmother’s living room on either side of the fireplace. One was next to her chair and contained her braid-weaving equipment and the other contained drawing books and a huge (or it seemed huge to me when I was small) tin of felt tips. I loved that tin of felt tips. It was made by Caran d’ache and what was splendid about it was that it didn’t seem to be made for children. My grandmother was the only grown up I knew who used felt tips, and these ones were in a tin instead of a rubbish plastic folder. Each one had a special niche so you could arrange them neatly by colour, they felt nice when you rolled your hand up and down them and the tin made a satisfying gentle click when you opened or closed it. They were so POSH.

And it was these very felt tips she’s used for her sketches in the book I found today. If you’ve ever coloured in with felt tips you’ll know that they can be quite a blunt instrument, so I find it interesting that she chose to use them instead of pencils or paint, but I suspect some of these drawings are ideas for weaving and the felt tip might be more precise – appropriate for the precision of designs for the loom.

These last two pictures are more meaningful to me than all the rest. When my brother and I were little, we used to find those little flat, green bugs (I now know they’re called Shield Bugs) really cute. My grandmother called them, for reasons I still don’t know (is it Swedish?) ‘Fifs’, and she told us stories about the Fif family and their children, Fif, Fifalina and Fifalotta. In the book there are two drawings that can only be of the Fif family. Here they are.

fifs 2 fifsOne excellent thing about having creative relatives is that you have something left of them when they’re gone. I have prints and drawings by my spouse, one painting by my mother and one by my dad’s cousin, some of my grandmother’s weaving and other paintings by my aunt and my great grandmother, and also this book of sketches. My creativity is largely digital, though, so I wonder if I’ll have anything physical to hand over to my sons when I’ve kicked the bucket.

.

Good Morning Bratwurst

“Mom and Dad were married 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table. That’s how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.”

- Mitt Romney

just a pipeI’ll know when my spouse is dead because I’ll wake up, go downstairs and there won’t be a cardboard man with a sausage penis on my table in the morning.

.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

Being my mother’s daughter, aesthetics has always been a big thing for me in terms of home. My mum never feels completely at home in her dwelling place unless she has made it look and feel the way she wants it to. She lives in a lovely Cornish cottage with wobbly cob walls and beams, but her aesthetic is essentially Scandinavian (which makes sense because she is Swedish), and she had been unhappy with her small, dark kitchen for decades – unhappy to the point of wanting to leave the house. But last year, she and dad had an extension built with a new kitchen that fits her need for light and clean lines and now she is incredibly happy in her home. Here’s a picture of it when it was just finished:

parent kitchenAlthough my aesthetic is a more cluttered one than my mum’s, it has always affected how contented I have felt in my dwellings to the point that, even when I have lived in squats, caravans and benders with almost no money at all, I have tried to find ways to make them please my eye, or at least feel like they belong to me in some way.

In the squatting and travelling world most people had next to no money, and all our furniture and possessions were found in skips or given to us or bought from jumble sales, resulting in what could politely be called an ‘eclectic’ style of home decor. Looking at some of these pictures now it seems funny to think that I loved these rooms in one way or another. Today, I would pay a lot of money not to live in them.

The first is a shot of my first home away from home. It is the top room in a three storey squat in Falmouth in the early eighties.

my room 10 quay hillThe carpet, chair, chair cover and bobbly lamp shade were skip finds, and the pictures were either lifted from gigs or torn out of magazines. I can’t remember where the painting came from. It looks like squalor to me now, but I really liked it then.

The next one is also from the eighties. It’s a squat bedroom I had in Hackney, London. I had a thing about purple in those days, and I spent about a week’s food money on paint. There was no B&Q with shelves and shelves of coloured emulsion then, instead you had to go to a specialist paint shop and pay what seemed a LOT of money to have a pot mixed for you if you wanted a colour other than magnolia or white. The effect in this very old and tatty photograph is – as you can see – pretty garish. I think the red wall hanging was made by my grandmother and is now sadly lost.

london squat roomMy second purple room was in a squatted flat on Stamford Hill Estate.

stamford hill estate roomThe next picture is of the inside of a caravan we lived in on some wasteland when son 1 was small. We had no running water, no electricity (hence the tilly lamp), very little money and no toilet, and we used to visit the local tip regularly because in those days you could buy things for a few pence. We glued some hessian wallpaper up and made curtains from some material we found there. The table came from my parents’ house (I think) and I covered the kitchen cupboards with cut out pictures from magazines and books. Again, I wouldn’t want to live in it now, but it felt very much like home in 1992.

caravan united downs

But this post wasn’t supposed to turn into a bemused peer into my domestically cacophonous past – it’s supposed to be about home and personal aesthetics. It was triggered by a visit to the home of a much loved friend yesterday. This friend, T, has fallen in love with a man, R, whose home is now hers too. Their home is one of the most wondrous places I have ever been, partly because it is incredibly rooted in family and regional history, but also because R has such a strong aesthetic that it saturates every corner of the place. His aesthetic is kind of timeless but in parts surprisingly modern; it’s very traditional but also includes elements of eccentricity that prevents it looking like every other envy-inspiring home in Country Living magazine. Here are some photos.

R and T’s home knocks me for six every time. I find it almost impossibly beautiful, and my friend H and I regard it as a very special treat to visit. Yesterday, however, this wondrous place struck me as even more of a home than ever before. The air had shifted in some way, and it took me a while to realise that of course this was because there has been a new addition to the place – one that brings with it mess and chaos and the need for an occasional plastic object. Here it is:

Seeing how this unutterably lovely little bundle of disruption has affected this place, I realised that although I’ve yearned most of my life for a home I find aesthetically pleasing (and have now finally got one that’s almost there), it’s not the aesthetics after all that actually make the home.

In fact, the times when home feels most homely are when our aesthetics are being disrupted: when we have Christmas in mum’s perfect kitchen and there are people and dogs and mess everywhere; when an otherwise tastefully decorated Christmas tree is hung with odd lumps of paper and glue made by a child’s hands; when there’s a curled up cat and all his cat hairs rumpling up the sofa cushions; when spouse puts a Darth Vader head he found in a skip on the bookshelf next to my tasteful antique map of Cornwall. A home that is TOO visually beautiful can feel a bit intimidating, and I have visited people’s houses in the past that have given me hideous inferiority complexes. Aesthetics will always be important to me because I’m a visual person, but I’m not looking for perfection any more. Perhaps I can put up with the flimsy fake brass door handles I inherited with this house after all.

carlisle_brass_fg27_georgian_shapped_lock_handle

P.s. If you would like to experience the joy of visiting R&T’s house, they offer various types of accomodation at various times of year. Please see their website for further details.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

UNIQUE. That’s a difficult one.

If I’m honest, I’m with Chuck Palahniuk when he has Tyler Durden say,

“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”

I may not have put it quite as grimly as that, but still, my instinct is that ‘unique’ is pretty much impossible when we’re all made up of the same basic ingredients.

So I left the word rattling around in my brainhole for a day or so while I did the hoovering, sorted the socks, cooked spaghetti bolognese, cut my toenails and other notably un-unique activities – and then my mum’s voice appeared in my idea vacuum saying that exact word – ‘unique’. She has used it on more than one occasion, I remembered, to describe my spouse and why we have managed to stay together for so many years. And lo! I thought about it and saw that it was so. If there’s anyone in the world I could describe as unique, it is definitely him.

Which is ironic since he entirely agrees with Tyler Durden’s sentiment on uniqueness, and most certainly would have put it in such a grim way. He has specifically asked to just be chucked on a compost heap when he dies. I think that may be against the law.

.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love (and more words than there should be)

We’re not a family that talks about love much. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel it – not at all – just that declarations of love can seem a bit insincere to our oh-so-British ears. This is particularly so when the word ‘love’ is flung about a lot in a relationship. To us it has impact only when used sparingly; anything else smacks of insecurity to our cynical ears.

So when son 2 was born and turned out to be a little package of enthusiastic and unabashed love it was a bit of a revelation; we were used to our more reserved toddler who really only wanted cuddles when he was sad or ill, and even then accepted them graciously rather than actively engaging with them like son 2 did. It has always been very easy to give love to our second son because he was born with a nature that invited it. It is harder to be sure that son 1 knows he is loved because he has become more and more detached from us as he has grown up.

Son 1 had a more difficult time growing up than son 2. When he was born we lived in a caravan on a traveller’s site with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation and drunk people all around. I was too immature of mind to deal well with my new responsibility and knew little or nothing of the psychology of children. I became post-natally depressed and if it wasn’t for my spouse, things could have been a disaster. He faced responsibility with determination, compassion and even a little joy. He got up and did the night feeds and woke me up for the morning feeds by singing along to cheerful songs on the radio and handing me a cup of tea.

We loved son 1 tremendously, but we weren’t the finest of all parents. We were very poor, we didn’t know what we were doing and we were tired and stressed much of the time. It wasn’t the best start for a sensitive young boy, regardless of how much we adored him. We made a lot of mistakes. When we moved into a house and son 1 went to playgroup and then primary school, he was only too aware of our difference from other parents. We were still big-booted, pierced and grubby and we didn’t have fitted kitchens or smart cars. He felt this acutely, but rarely said anything about it; he instead spent his time with other families who were more securely rooted in the ‘conventional’ lifestyle that he preferred.

Our son is now 21 and at university. He is independent, clever, witty and stylish and we are incredibly proud of him. When I think of him, however, I am always a little sad because he remains quite detached. It’s nothing serious or terrible, but he wouldn’t choose to spend time with us; he doesn’t really know what to talk to us about and he resists engaging with our interests and humour. Having son 2 has shown me what a parent/child relationship can be and at the moment I don’t have this with my firstborn. It saddens me to my stomach that he was the one who had to suffer the brunt of my parenting mistakes and that son 2 received all the benefits of what we learned from them.

But, son 1 does phone us when he has a problem and he did turn to me when he had his heart broken. I take solace from this and have a secret fantasy that one day, when he has children of his own, he might understand. In my fantasy, he is a famous fashion designer or journalist or publicist or something, and he’s on Desert Island Discs. He chooses a record that has something to do with his childhood and he says, ‘I was a very different person from my parents, but I realise now how much they loved me.’

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Doggie dilemmas and canine conundrums

Most sensible humans might be alarmed to hear that their new neighbours with whom they share an internal wall, a bedroom that sits over their hallway and a tiny concrete yard separated only by a thigh-high barrier, have five dogs. But we are made of sterner stuff than that.

I was mildly concerned that the dogs might be the bitey type, or the cat-shreddy type, but mostly I was looking forward to meeting them as I assumed the neighbours wouldn’t have bought a house in such close proximity to civilisation if their dogs were rabid, drooling maniacs.

On the day they arrived, I was stroking our cat David Pouncey (not MY fault) who was perched nosily on the front windowsill when a van pulled up, the doors opened, and two charming humans introduced themselves as the aforementioned neighbours.

There will now be a brief intermission so you can look at David. You may be able to see why I might prefer him not to be crunched by dog jaws.

After some entirely satisfactory introductory conversation came the kerfuffle of decanting five curious canines into their new home without losing them up and down the street. The neighbours opened the front door to the house, arranged themselves in dog herding positions and then pulled open the sliding door to the van.

I know I’m probably vulnerable to ridiculous waves of emotion at the moment what with having to walk about with the brain of a perimenopausal empty-nested middle-aged woman in my skull (where the hell did THAT come from?), but I wasn’t expecting to see a glow of celestial light and hear a choir of angels singing beautiful choral harmonies just because two Scotties and three Springer Spaniels jumped out of a van in front of me. And that’s what happened. My dopamine levels must have been high anyway from stroking the cat, leaving me at a high risk of love at first sight, and I was immediately infected. Smitten. Doomed. The dogs were bloody lovely.

And it’s only got worse. The Scotties are exactly like two pleasingly grumpy old men. When they’re not standing huffily in the yard on their too-short legs peering through their massive face beards, I’m sure they’re inside the house sitting in leather armchairs reading the paper and puffing on pipes.

Here’s a picture of one of the old men poking his beard out of a dog hole.

And here’s one of them responding patiently to being washed with a hose after a particularly sandy walk.

But it’s the Spaniels… oh, the Spaniels! It’s the Spaniels who have really plucked my heart out and buried it in their secret Spaniel hiding place. They are ridiculously endearing creatures – all alert and sparkling eyes, full-body delight in the world and a curious combination of extreme idiocy and gleaming intelligence. If I could write odes, I would write one for the Spaniels. But instead I took some photos.

Here’s the oldest and calmest of the three. He takes a back seat much of the time, but it was he who first leapt the wall to greet us the day after they moved in. LOOK at his intelligent EYES.

The second one spent an afternoon on our side of the yard stealing all his siblings’ tennis balls, chewing them up and trying to bury them under a shredded plastic bag and some leaves. Here he is after being washed.

And the third one. Well. All I can say about him is LOOK.

After we all came home one day to find that the Spaniels had jumped over the wall, trashed all our bins and deposited some piles of stinky all over our yard, their long-suffering humans decided to put up a bit of trellis to prevent further embarrassment. The result  is that every time we go out of our back door now we are greeted by this:

And this

And this

BUT, I hear you all not particularly asking, ‘why does the title of this post include the words ‘dilemma’ and ‘conundrum’? Well, the problem is that not only have I (and spouse, although he pretends he hasn’t) fallen for the Spaniels, but the Spaniels don’t find us intolerable either. In particular, the two above, and in particular, the brown one. Every time we open the back door they are up on their haunches on the gate wagging their entire bodies from the neck down and trying to get in.

And now our lovely neighbours have informed us that they need to rehome some of their smelly babies to make way for a new human one… and would we like to keep the brown one… our favourite one… the one who loves us the most?

So that’s the dilemma. There’s David to consider. He would be put out. There’s the mayhem to consider. Brown Spaniel wags his body with such violent enthusiasm that he wobbles himself sideways and knocks into things. And he has more energy than I’ve ever seen in a living being before. And I’m middle aged and quite like sitting down.

We took brown Spaniel for a walk today to see what it would be like. This is what it was like.

So, yes. It was quite enjoyable. Hence the dilemma.

To adopt a dog or not to adopt a dog. That is the question.

Pros

  • the addition of a creature to our house that will always be enthusiastic even if it’s raining outside
  • he is ridiculously cute
  • he is someone to use up all our surplus nurturing energy on

Cons

  • he will wag the house down
  • he might eat everything
  • we’ll have to put our hand in a bag and pick up his warm poo
  • the cat will be offended
  • we’ll have to go for walks when we’d rather lie down
  • he will have to be left on his own when we are at work
  • nobody will want to look after him if we decide to travel round the world on a tandem
  • we will have to wash him after every walk because he bulldozes the earth
  • there will be vet bills

It would seem there are many more cons than pros. I hate it when logic insists on imposing on emotions.

Goodnight.

.

Number 13 in my occasional series of Empty Nest coping strategies

I started a list of coping strategies here (and continued it here) as a way to deal with the fact that my last son was leaving me for a life of academic and domestic bliss in Cardiff (he’s back now, but that’s another story). 

Here are the two sons. Obviously they don’t look like this any more or son 2 would encounter significant difficulties in reaching the door handle of his flat.

So far my list has consisted of ways to forget that one is no longer needed on a day-to-day basis by one’s spawn. Today I had a breakthrough. I found a way to make a redundant parent pleased to be free of dependents.

The secret is to go to a holiday attraction at half term.

The attraction we chose today was Paradise Park in Hayle, Cornwall. We chose it because there are otters (although it’s mainly birds) and there was a money-off voucher. I tried to persuade my friend H to come, but she said it’s a long and expensive journey on public transport from Bodmin just to look at some birds flapping. She tends to prefer animals that can kill you, so we were forced to go without her.

Once our spawn are old enough to scorch their own pizzas and disappear for days at a time, we forget what a phenomenal amount of hard work it is to look after small children. I think this is an evolutionary adaptation designed to make sure we don’t stop breeding in horror. Attending family holiday attractions is a foolproof way to recharge the memory. We stood in the queue at Paradise Park watching parents juggling chubby hands, bottles, bags, pushchairs, toys, lunchboxes and their sanity while warning, cajoling, jollying, reassuring, enthusing and willing their broods through the process of entering the park. How relaxing it was to just stand there watching. Not one shriek of distress or wail of demand was aimed at me. I was the luckiest person in Paradise Park (apart from the one who gets to feed the otters).

Lunch in the cafe was a further revelation. The entire place was rammed with families sating irritable children with comestibles. I sat with P at a sunny table peacefully supping tea and watching otters cavort outside while all around me was mayhem. Pale and rumpled parents were spooning squishy substances into gaping babyholes, picking up pieces of bashed fruit from the floor, persuading errant children to eat one more bite of sausage, begging toddlers to desist from shrieking, wiping up spills and faces and promising a go on the penny-squashing machine if brother would cease hitting sister while sister finishes her fizzy toxin in a cup. The noise of family life en masse was enough to shatter a vulnerable ear drum and cause involuntary infertility.

And none of it had anything to do with me. I am free. This empty nest thing – it’s not so bad.

Here are a few photos from the park.