23 January, 2011 / General
House of shame
Two of my closest friends and I rented a holiday cottage in Yorkshire last October, fancying a mums-and-kids weekend. We have seven children between us, ranging from seven to thirteen years old, so it’s hardly surprising that a few things got broken. The owner was fine, if a little tight-lipped about the cracked screen and smashed lamp. We got off lightly, I thought.
A week or so later he emailed to report that, although we are ‘welcome back any time’, we’ll be expected to pay a £50 final clean charge if we book the house again. ‘We are still finding toy soldiers all over the house,’ he informed me.
You’d think that would be the end of the matter, but today, three months after our visit, I receive another email. ‘I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year,’ he writes. I am nervous already, with my jaw clenched. ‘I’m afraid I come bearing bad news,’ he adds.
Oh dear. Perhaps a lone plastic soldier was left undiscovered and spiked someone’s foot. ‘We have just received our quarterly phone bill for October-December 2010,’ he goes on, ‘and I’m afraid to say that during the three days you stayed at the house, 79 calls to 118118 were made, totaling £167.00!!!’
He uses three exclamation marks. I am sweating at my desk. ‘We provide a phone service free of charge so guests can book activities, restaurants etc whilst they are holidaying here,’ he explains. ‘However, I think you will agree £167 worth of calls over one weekend is a little excessive.’
I email my friends who interrogate their children, as I do mine. Curiously, every child is adamant that it was someone else’s idea to repeatedly call 118118 with jubilant cries of ‘Fat poo stink bum’ etc. Later, once I’ve simmered down, I have a quiet chat with my daughter about who really made the majority of the calls. She says that one of the younger boys was a particularly enthusiastic participant. ‘What did he keep saying to the 118118 lady?’ I ask her.
‘Will you marry me?’ she says.
15 January, 2011 / General
Our new rescue dog, Jack, is settling in well, although I fear that we are overindulging him. He has been bought a bagful of gnarly pigs’ ears, which I hadn’t realised actually are pigs’ ears until I studied one up close. He also has a chewy bone with something dense and smoky inside. The bone lies, half-chewed on our living room rug, eking out its meaty smell.
On the good side, and it’s all good really, I’ve discovered that I am a dog person, having previously dismissed the canine population as little more than crotch-sniffing poop-machines. Jack does poop, of course, but even the picking up part isn’t as gut-churning as I’d anticipated. I honestly thought I’d be hanging over a litter bin, vomiting. It helps that he’s ours, though. Like dealing with babies’ emissions, it only seems to trigger the retching reflex if it’s popped out of a non-family member.
Other great things about owning Jack: his delightful game of bounding around the garden with a frisbee, and that fact that my 13 year-old sons have increased their time spent outdoors by about 300%. Sometimes Jack is walked five times a day. Come evening, the poor fella is knackered.
I’m trying to think of the downsides but actually, there aren’t any. Why did no one tell me that acquiring a dog changes the family dynamics for the better? That it would bring us closer and inject a huge dose of fun into our lives? Okay – my children did. They didn’t put it like that exactly, but I distinctly remember them saying, ‘A dog will be good for our family’ about 500 times. And they were right.
14 January, 2011 / General
My mother’s Hobbs habit
Since acquiring Jack, our dog, my appearance (which was hardly Jules-Oliver-on-school-run-standard anyway) seems to have plummeted to new depths. Jack needs a walk around 7am, so I pull on yesterday’s sweater over my pyjamas – to clarify, they’re stretchy back lounge pant things, and not pastel pink and white stripes – and out I go. I come back all muddy and damp, get through the kids’ breakfast routine, then sit down to work. One of the good things about working from home is the lack of dress code. You can sit there, bashing the keyboard, covered in hair and filth with an unwashed face.
At the same time, my 75 year-old mother’s standard of attire has soared to new heights. Last time I was in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, I paused to glance in through Hobbs’ window, drooled a little, felt a mild longing in the pit of my belly and swiftly moved on. Last time Mum ventured to Glasgow, she returned with fitted trousers, a gorgeous wrap dress and an elegant skirt, all Hobbs. How come Hobbs has disappeared from my life – apart from in a window-salivating sense – at precisely the same time that my mother has embraced it wholeheartedly, like some new-found religion? ‘Do you like it?’ she asked, holding the skirt against herself which I admired from her sofa. Of course I did. It was lovely. I also felt like a ‘before’ picture in a magazine make-over where the caption reads, ‘Fiona desperately needed our help.’
Then I asked Mum if I could possibly use her bathroom scales, as I was still feeling stuffed with turkey and stuffing and Christmas pud, even though it was almost mid-January. ‘Sure!’ she said, scampering upstairs after me. I hopped on, prepared for the worst. Mum was still clutching her fancy new skirt. ‘Oh look!’ she exclaimed. ‘You weigh more than me now.’
Before Mum goes on holiday, she plans to revisit Glasgow for ‘a few extra bits’ and to have her hair cut and blow dried. Top of my must-buy list is some Nitromors Stripper to get some spilt gloss paint off my son’s bedroom floor.
10 January, 2011 / General
Great ball of fur
We are never getting a dog. We are never, EVER getting a dog and I’m sick to the back teeth of everyone nagging and pleading and going on…. and, oops, here we are, at Glasgow Dogs’ Trust, having our pre-adoption meeting with a tall, swarthy Italian-looking man who’s drawing things on his whiteboard.
As we’ve never owned a dog before, I’d expected the talk to be about feeding and training and vet stuff. I’m ready for this: during the past few weeks I’ve been sneakily poring over the Dogs’ Trust website, wondering if a wee mutt might bring something to our family. We’ve chosen ‘our’ dog – a hugely affectionate collie cross – and had the home visit, during which we all stood and watched, sweating with nerves, as the dog lady checked our garden’s boundaries. And now swarthy man is drawing his triangle and saying, ‘This is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.’ He divides the triangle into sections with horizonal lines. ‘This bottom section,’ he explains, ‘represents the most basic of needs – security – and this must be satisfied before all the other needs can be met.’ In the section above he lists other needs: play, sleep, grooming, feeding and toilet. ‘Jack is a very stressed dog,’ he says. ‘All the dogs here are stressed so everyone should be calm with him when they come home from school.’
I nod. ‘You should almost pretend he’s not there,’ the man adds.
It’s an hours’ drive home from the Dogs’ Trust and I’m swilling with nerves. It annoys me intensely when people liken pet ownership owning to having a human baby – but the last time I felt this edgy in our car was when we brought our baby daughter home from hospital. There were no nurses then, in our clapped-out Fiat – no handy button to press for help. And now it’s just me, J and our new dog Jack, plus a pile of dog vomit on the car seat.
We arrive home, and pace around the house nervously, murmuring a commentary on his movements: ‘He’s sitting down.’ ‘He’s sniffing your slipper.’ ‘His ear has gone inside out.’ Jack tries to mate with my favourite cushion with the embroidered bird on it.
We sit at the kitchen table, trying to act normal and pretend he’s not there. ‘Why are we whispering?’ asks J.
09 January, 2011 / General
Hi there – thanks for checking in here. For the past eight years, I’ve written a weekly column for the Sunday Herald. The column no longer exists in the new, revamped Sunday magazine but I’ll be blogging here, later today. There’ll always be a new column on Sunday mornings (see – I’ve missed my first deadline already, that’s what happens when you don’t have an editor) and whenever else I get a spare min in the week. Catch up soon,