Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Urological Graffiti

Urinating in UK caves.It’s possible that my youngest picked up some American slang from some TV show or other, or possibly one of the computer games he plays and made the connection with John and toilet.

I’m theorizing wildly in the hope of justifying my part in an act of gross geological vandalism.

We’d gone to the Peak District at the beginning of our summer holiday and despite the weather being surprisingly good we’d elected to spend part of our trip underground away from the benevolence of the British sun investigating one of the many cave systems that honeycomb the area.

We were spoilt for choice but in the end Treak Cliff Cavern lured us in with reports of it being the last working Blue John mine in the world. It was suitably impressive and we had the usual local-lad-come-good-vacationing-Uni-student tour guide to see to our geological interpretative needs as we were sashayed past stalactites, stalagmites and amorphous rock formations that resembled everything from a witch on a broomstick to a huge melted breast. In fact melted breasts appeared everywhere to my mind but I’m working through that with the help of a counsellor and a colourful set of Rorschach test cards.

About half way round I was assailed by my youngest who, by way of Brian Blessed whispered tones that shattered the sonic receptors of any bats in a 5 mile radius, announced that he needed the toilet. Urgently. Urgently to the point where a sudden deluge was imminent and the chances of reaching either the entrance or the exit were posited as nil. This was further emphasized by the mini River Dance that he then enacted out to the backdrop of a million years of ball-achingly slow rock phantasmagorical formation.

I admit, I thought I’d pulled a flanker. I thought I’d got away with it. I guessed / hoped that the tour guide had not picked up on the urinary distress calls and when he moved the group on to the next interesting lump of ever moistening rock I kept me and my youngest back. Once it was sufficiently dark and quiet I bade him let loose with his little cup that forever runneth over and kept enough distance to avoid splash-back but remained sufficiently close to ensure he didn’t disappear body and anorak down a hidden pot hole.

Shoes shaken adequately dry we then re-joined the tour group further into the cave system whistling a tuneless song of complete innocence.

Nobody was none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

My wife later told me that while we were busy with business elsewhere the tour guide had alluded to our absence in almost dramatic tones along the lines of “oh gosh, we seem to be missing a couple of people, I do wonder if they’ll be along soon… cough, cough…”

I’m just thankful that my boy managed to spread his jet relatively quietly and the group weren’t treated to the sounds of a sudden waterfall thundering out of nowhere in the neighbouring cave. That would have been much harder to deny.

As it is, if you are a visitor to Treak Cliff Cavern in about 2000 years’ time and one of the stalactites has a distinct yellowish cast to it… I hereby apologize profusely for vandalizing in 30 seconds what nature took eons to create.

But jewellers take note: it’ll make somebody a smashing wee pendant.

Monday, August 25, 2014

End Of Holiday Disbelief

The family.The best part of a holiday is the few days right before it all begins. When you feel invincible at work. When you feel shielded from the vagaries of life and the arsedom of other people because, you know, in a few day's time they are not going to matter. Because you will have removed yourself completely from their mundane sphere of influence and you will be in a country far cleaner, freer and greener. And life will be full of possibility again and the business of living. As life should be.

Which isn't to say that the holiday itself isn't magnificent. The gadding about, the sightseeing, the being somewhere new with other people who are also only passing through. All of us unwitting but good natured passengers on each other's journeys. Most of us will only pass this way but once. And that makes it more special.

But all too soon you get to the last day. And work looms. And you wonder how 2 whole weeks can possibly have flown by so quickly. You even made an effort to savour every day. To grab hold and will time to slow. To be conscious of every passing hour. But you only keep that up for the first few days. When the novelty of being outside normal routine impinges itself upon you without any effort required on your part to embrace it. But even being free becomes a habit. And a few days in you let go of the time-brake and the holiday freewheels down the hill of your life and as it picks up speed you just laugh the louder, despite knowing that when it reaches the bottom of the hill you will grieve the fact the ride is over far too soon.

And then you reflect back to those days before the holiday and realise you were right. You were absolutely right. Those few days before the holiday were indeed the best. Because you had all this wonderfulness ahead of you. It was all waiting there. A gift you kind of knew you were going to get but you had no idea how big it was going to be or quite how it would affect you. Good memories are huge and affect you the longest.

The last 2 weeks have been brilliant. We have enjoyed a stay in the Peak District, visited good friends in Weston-Super-Mare and had a fantastic day in Legoland. We have eaten well and indulged a little. We have enjoyed ourselves as a family immensely. Perhaps more so because of the stress of the time leading up to it. Being happy and carefree on holiday seemed a distinct impossibility when the dark hours bit. But in life you take the good times when you can. It's a good survival technique.

I took a break from blogging too. It wasn't a conscious decision. It just happened. So plainly was the right thing to do.

But tomorrow I am back to work. And I am standing in front of that cliff looking up at it knowing that as soon as I start climbing it will be fine. Muscle memory will kick in and it will all seem effortless and right and even, to a degree, OK.

But right now I wish I was still in the middle of the green field at my back with the edges indistinct blurs at the very periphery of my vision.

I can't quite believe that the freewheeling is over for another summer.



Thursday, August 07, 2014

Does It Have To Be Bad?

Scottish vote for independenceI’ve steered away from writing about the forthcoming vote for Scottish independence because (a) I don’t consider myself to be an overtly political animal and (b) despite strong Scottish family blood a-swirling in my veins from my dad’s side of the parental tree I don’t really see how a nurtured Sassenach who’s lived in the heart of England all his life has any right to say yea or nay on the question of whether Scotland should be independent or not.

But it seems everyone has an opinion these days, especially those English politicians who’ve done eff all for Scotland over the years and up to this point haven’t cared a stuff about how it has fared. Geez, even J.K. Rowling has thrown a good wodge of her own money behind support for keeping Scotland forever yoked to the millstone of fake tradition that is British unity.

And I guess that paragraph hints at where my true personal leanings lie though I admit my arguments are purely emotional, possibly romantic, and wilfully have nothing to do with fiscal systems or the complicated bureaucracy of devolved governments.

To me Scotland has always been another country; always been its own country with its own identity and personality. The people, the landscape, the atmosphere are foreign. And I mean that as a massive positive. I like the idea of Scotland being truly independent. If for no other reason than the rather shallow pleasure I will get from the inevitable exoticization that will occur.

But that’s not the real point of this post. For me the central question is this: independent or not, does it have to be bad? All I’ve heard is various bad tempered politicians griping about what Scotland / England will lose if the yays for independence swing the day. And then other infantile politicians spitting their dummies and threatening to take their ball away and not play anymore if Scotland wants to be in charge of supplying their own kit. All blatantly ridiculous. It seems someone has to suffer no matter which way the vote goes and there’s going to be a lot of sulking.

But really? Does it have to be that way? Can’t Scotland have its independence and England and Scotland still work together for the benefit of both? Does it have to be miserable? Why can’t it just be good for everybody? Because at the end of the day life and trade will still need to continue. There will still be movement from across both sides of the border (even if it’s only the Queen digging out her passport before she enters Balmoral). We can all still play and work together.

As in any kind of relationship, a sense of independence is healthy and usually good for both sides. England needs to be less clingy and less possessive. That kind of behaviour always drives a partner away or into the arms of another.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Cat’s Palate

Cat eating shitNow that our cats are approaching 2 years of age and are settled enough to humour us in our attempts to govern their behaviour I feel that I am at last getting to know them on an intimate level. And this knowledge is furnishing me with some incredible facts about what it is like to experience existence as a cat.

I’m not talking about their habit of gagging up fur balls at the bottom of the bed sheets or the way they insist on walking in exactly the same spatial corridor as me. I’m not even talking about the way they will sometimes stop what they’re doing and stare just beyond my shoulders as if to imply there is some kind of spectre unseen by human eyes just behind me just to freak me out.

This kind of cat behaviour is well documented and nothing new.

Instead I am at last beginning to formulate a league table of cat kills based entirely upon the pleasure response of the cat’s palate. In other words, I am beginning to suss out what a cat considers good to eat and what it considers bad. I am developing cat taste. Albeit solely hypothetically at this stage.

The league table is currently thus (with purry-yummy stuff at the top and ca-ca spitting horrible stuff at the bottom):

  • Mice
  • Birds
  • Butterflies
  • Moths
  • Dragonflies
  • Bees and wasps

Of course, were I to include all food stuffs in the list then pole position would be occupied by human food followed swiftly in second place by shop bought cat food. But for the purposes of this research I am confining myself to animals made unalive by the intervention of my cats obeying their natural instincts to assassinate anything that moves in a prey-sexy way… and by how much of the carcass they actually eat.

I need to point out here that cats do not kill to eat. Not anymore. My cats are well fed and their kill ratio has nothing at all to do with the gap between meal times. They are just as likely to down a gazelle after a full bowl of Iams as they are hours after the bowl has become empty.

Out of all cat kills, mice evidently taste the best. Mice get eaten nearly completely. Sometimes they will leave the head, or the tail and hindquarters, or sometimes just the feet. But a good portion of the mouse will be internalized by the cat. Mice are therefore 'cat yummy'.

Birds – when allowed to get away with killing one outright (because usually I stage a lightning rescue) follow the same pattern as mice above - it's just that their frequency on the menu is lessened by my intervention. I have often found a skull, claws and wings but nothing much else when waking in the morning and stumbling onto the latest bit of kitty carnage in the hallway.

Butterflies make them pull horrible faces. They clearly don’t taste too nice but must contain some sort of addictive drug because despite the gurning and tongue wiping the cats always go back for more.

Moths, however, are an eat once and then never again kind of buffet. Now the moths are just killed – pawed to exhaustion I suspect – and then left like furry crisps on the carpet ready to self adhese to the undersides of my feet.

The dragonfly was interesting. There’s only been one confirmed kill in my house so far. All the parts were there but the head was separate from the body. I deduced from this that it tasted foul but put up a fight. In fact it didn’t stop fighting until the cats disabled the central control unit, i.e. the head.

Bees and wasps they attack, sometimes chew but never ever swallow. Never. They probably feel like prickly vibrators with a burning acidic centre. My cats would probably rather eat broccoli.

I’m hoping to experiment with frogs, toads and lizards next but they seem to be in short supply around my area. I’d like to try them on horse too but it might mean taking the cats to Tesco and I don’t think they’d be up for that.

Anyhoo, I just need to pass my findings onto somebody. I’m sure there’s money to be made out of this. I mean, why have Whiskas never produced mouse flavoured cat food? It’s always puzzled me, that has. We offer them lamb and beef flavoured food but, really, the day I see my cats downing an Aberdeen Angus is the day I buy a dog.

To protect me from the cats.


 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Hard Road Still Takes You Somewhere Beautiful

Karen's mum's funeral took place in Amersham on Wednesday - a rather beautiful part of the UK and evidently affluent. It went as well as funeral's go. I think we did her proud. The general feeling from most people was that her death was a blessed relief. Her strength of spirit and ferocious will was acknowledged by all. Funerals are always a paradox. An acknowledgement of loss accompanied often by personal gains. I think Karen's gains are a slow reconnection with other members of her family who, for various reasons (all tied up with Karen's mother) have been distant up till now. We came away with about three invitations to come and stay with people in places that ranged from Shrewsbury to Skye. I hope we'll soon be a position to take advantage of those.

Of course, now the admin of the funeral is done and dusted the grief starts properly. It is a slow process, not always "in your face". Often it works quietly at the back of your mind and heart and rears its head at the smallest, often seemingly inconsequential moments. To say I feel protective of Karen and my boys is an understatement.

The real heart of this post though is this: the last few weeks have been difficult and traumatic. Karen, the boys and I have had to gad about quite a bit, trying to sort things out and jump through all the correct legal hoops that death, without ever meaning to, throws up. Society likes its forms to be filled in and good form to be followed. On the surface it's been stressful. But underneath I cannot deny that I have enjoyed being with Karen and my boys. Maybe it's the sense of adversity, the way a shared grief bonds people but I can almost see myself in years to come looking back on the adventure of the last few weeks with a curious sense of joy. Almost a sense of stolen holiday. Does that sound wrong?

We were together. We doing stuff that was out of the ordinary. And even through all the heart heavy sorrow and stress there were most definitely good times and good moments.

Almost as if in the midst of death life was determined to be loudly affirmed.

It is a strange, almost guilty, comfort.