Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Ballad of IKEA

Ikea I fear You're going to make me lose my mind I finally find What I'm looking for And without the horror of going to your store But your website It's not right I put stuff in the basket And ask it To let me pay But no way You tell me "This rug is not available online" That's fine It was an impulse buy But why Do you then say "You can't order the wardrobe by the way" For SLĂ„KT's sake! Could you make This any worse? You can, of course The drawers I need You can despatch at speed The price makes me shiver £39 to deliver?! Convenience costs, I guess I get out my Visa and click 'yes' But then.....oh the terror There's an "Asynchronous Processing Error.. ….please contact your bank" Well thank YOU! Could you screw This up any more? I want to roar Instead I try again And then The entire purchase gets blocked "Mrs Kent, your account is locked"

Saturday, 15 December 2018

What to expect once your dog's been neutered

There comes a point in most pet-owners lives when the topic of neutering comes up. If you have a dog, this comes the moment you first set foot out the door on your new puppy's first walk. Passers by will coo at your pup before launching into the following standard questions:

* What breed is it?
* Is it a boy or a girl?
* How old is it?
* When are you going to have it neutered?

This exchange made me query the assertion that "Having a dog is like having a baby" because whilst, yes, the first three questions are often trotted out when you're out with your baby, that final one is definitely not something you should ask a new parent.

Anyhow, we took the decision to have our Vizsla, boy, 18 month old dog 'done' on account of the fact that we didn't plan to breed from him and certainly didn't want the singularly terrifying spectacle of our dog getting stuck inside a lady dog. Especially as we never go on a walk with a bucket of cold water which is what I seem to remember you have to use to separate animals that are locked together.

So we booked the boy in and after a few hours at the vets he was ready to be collected and brought home. We were told that in no uncertain terms was he allowed to get at his stitches and to keep him as quiet as possible which is a big ask of a dog that likes to run several miles a day. Now, the question that most people ask after a dog is castrated is "Has it calmed him down?" but before we even get to that, you ought to know what can happen immediately after the operation:


Your dog will make it his life's work to get at his 'wound'

Never mind trying to lick non-existent balls, what he wants to do is get that dressing off because it is sticky and probably a bit itchy. A Buster Collar or 'Cone of Shame' will work in some instances but you may also find that it makes your dog stand stock still in the middle of the living room panting and whining for hours. Which will make you feel bad and so you will buy an inflatable collar instead.

The only issue with the inflatable collar is that if your dog, like my dog, has a long neck, then he's going to bend it gracefully and give himself a good licking. You will wake up one morning to find that the dressing has disappeared and quite possibly been eaten. You will think he may also have eaten his stitches and made the wound worse which will cause you to photograph your dog's genitals on your phone to send to the vets (and thank your lucky stars that you don't sync your photos to the cloud). The vet's response will be "You need to come in for another dressing." 


Whilst explaining your situation to the vets they may say to you "Hey, why don't you try a dog babygro? They're only £30.00". You will think that this is a small price to pay for getting a night's sleep but when you put it on your dog you may find that the shape of your dog means that whilst the fit is perfect across the chest and makes your dog look like he should be on Muscle Beach, the back will be baggy, leaving his nether regions exposed to fresh air. And his tongue. The way around this issue is to bunch the back up into a kind of 'top knot' which you will then secure with a hairband thus making the fit at chest and hips very nice indeed.

As nice as it looks, your dog may decided that he does not want to wear an inflatable collar and a babygro and will rub himself vigorously along the outside of your house so that he puts holes in every item of protective clothing that you have shoehorned him into. That said there is something satisfying about another species discovering the complexity and discomfort of clothing with poppers.
What happens next is that you will discover there is a reason people say that dogs are intelligent because do you know what your dog can do? Not only can he extend his graceful neck, he can also figure out how to hitch his hind leg into the babygro which will stretch it enough that he can get right in there and make another dressing disappear.


Eventually, after several more dressings your dog will finally, finally, be allowed to resume his normal activities. And then this will happen:


Your dog will injure himself

Because your dog has been on restricted walks for around two weeks he is going to go absolutely batshit the minute you decide that he's ok to go on an off-lead walk. This will involve him catching a dew claw which will bleed quite a lot. But this is not as bad as you initially anticipated and it will fall off, healing up rather nicely on its own meaning that you can resume your walks and runs because frankly you could do with the exercise too given that you've tripled your calories in the run up to Christmas. But it turns out that you've been a little too confident because:


Your dog will injure himself. Again 

This your dog will save for a peaceful Sunday morning when you have enjoyed reading the papers. And when it costs more than you even want to think about to visit the vets. He will come in all happy and waggy from a lovely long walk in the countryside and as he makes his way across the kitchen floor you'll think "Oh, the dog's paw is bleeding." After letting the dog settle because it might be a little cut in his pad, he'll trot up to you and leave some puddles of blood on the floor which he will then proceed to lick up (at least he tried to be tidy about it). Closer inspection will reveal that it's a rather large cut indeed. That will need general anaesthetic and stitches. And no walks for 10 days. And a dressing that he will want to bite off. In fact will bite off.

This removal of the dressing will necessitate a quick fix involving a sanitary towel, some vet bandages and a rubber glove before another visit to the vets for a proper dressing. And a new buster collar which miraculously he will tolerate this time. You will think this is amazing because it means that you can leave the house without fear of him taking off his dressing and re-opening the wound.

So you will go ahead with a lovely lunch you have planned with your husband where you will want to drum your feet on the floor because the food is so delicious and you'll have grown up conversation and some decent wine. And you'll get home all happy and giggly to discover that because of the magical buster collar the dog couldn't see where his water bowl was and instead of putting his face into it to have a nice drink he'll have put his bloody foot in it. Which means you have to go back to the vets for the second dressing in the space of a day. And sleep with your dog overnight because you're petrified that he'll figure out how to get around the buster collar which means that he will lie on your chest and place his cone head directly on yours creating an extremely uncomfortable, sweaty sleeping arrangement.

I don't know what happens next except that we are booked in again on Monday for another review. We'll see if he can keep his dressing on / clean / dry until then. So, to return to the initial question of "Does castration calm your dog down?", I'll have to come back to you on the answer.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Owning up to my mistakes

A conversation with my sister turned to talk of being afraid; she had an upcoming university visit and was worrying about the journey there: what if she missed her bus, got the wrong train, couldn't find the right room, or missed the start of the tour? What if her childcare arrangements fell through and she couldn't go at all?
I'm 18 years older than my sister so, by her estimation, I'm a lot more 'together' than she is. More confident. Less likely to make a mistake. And right now, I guess that's true. I don't fear the fickle nature of public transport or panic about new experiences but I do remember how it feels to be in your early twenties when your skin is altogether a lot thinner and the world feels much bigger. I thought, therefore, the best thing I could do was share with her some of the mistakes I made when I was about her age. At the time, they were embarrassing, stressful and a little bit upsetting. In hindsight, I found them pretty funny and I thought you might do too. So here goes:

The Cup of Tea Incident

I am 20 years old and I have never made a cup of tea. And now I'm being asked to make one for the visiting Regional Sales Director who is Very Important. I am a coffee drinker and coffee is easy: a teaspoon of granules, some hot water and a bit of milk. Oh yes, and a couple of teaspoons of sugar (this is back when everybody had sugar). Tea is an entirely different proposition. Tea for the Regional Sales Director who is Very Important is terrifying.
I know how it starts: bag in cup then pour your boiling water in and leave it for a bit, but for how long? The Regional Sales Director says he'd like it "Builders". What does that even mean? How do builders like their tea? With cement in?
I stand and stare at the kettle before asking the office manager for help who (and I will be forever grateful to him for this - cheers Spencer) doesn't rip into me but instead calmly talks me through the process. Before going off to tell the whole of the front office and then standing in the doorway to watch me make my presentation.
Tea made, I proudly walk from the kitchenette into the back office (which is attached to a warehouse and has no natural daylight and yet is where the management team choose to sit), and as I cross the carpeted floor.... I fail to hold the cups level and spill tea all the way from the door right to the regional sales director's feet. Like Hansel & Gretel and their breadcrumbs, a trail of tea leads me past the laughing office manager and back to the kitchenette where I begin the process again. At least I know how to make it this time.

The Cup of Coffee Incident

I am 23 years old and going to visit a customer. I have driven there in a company car - a real life company car! I have a very nice leatherette Filofax of which I am inordinately proud, I like to think its says I'm "serious".
The meeting with the customer is in his office and he has something much nicer than my Filofax - a real leather, padded 'conference ring binder' with many pen holders, zipped compartments and slots for business cards. If there were a game of Top Trumps based on stationery accessories, he would definitely win. It lies open on his desk, ready for him to make notes based on all the very interesting things that I will have to say about structured cabling (hahaha!).
Before I can wow him with my knowledge of CAT5 however, he asks me if I would like a drink. I am tempted to request builders tea to see if his secretary knows how to make it but instead stick with what I know - coffee, white with two sugars.
The coffee arrives. It gets placed on the desk and as I reach across to take the handle I knock it everywhere. I watch as a tide of hot brown liquid rapidly makes its way across his desk towards the waiting leather ring binder. Mortified? You bet. Thankfully his reactions are lightening fast and his precious executive accoutrement is saved. However, the coffee does meet with a yellow legal pad which begins the process of mopping up before we can even grab a paper towel.
Would you like that in the mug, or all over your desk?
Much as my manager before, the customer did not make fun of me right away, instead he offered tissues and said "It doesn't matter". When I returned to my office, I had to relive the whole damn thing again as my sales manager wanted to know how the visit had gone. My penance was to make him a cup of coffee every day for the next week.

The Passport Incident

We'll rewind a little bit here - this occurs not long after the 'Cup of Tea' incident. I'm 21 years old and it is 4am on a very cold December morning. There is snow on the ground and more on its way but, for now, I'm feeling warm as I am in a minibus with my colleagues from the freight forwarding company I work for. We're all off on a jolly to Calais to buy continental lager from a hypermarket and maybe some French cheeses - the excitement!
Despite the early hour we're in good spirits and there is plenty of banter to be had. Talk of the night before and what the rest of the day might bring when someone pipes up "Alright then, who's forgotten their passport?".
Passport? What do you mean I need my passport? Somewhere in my mixed up mind I seemed to think that I didn't need mine....because we are part of the EU. Ah. It is fair to say that my comment of "I have!" quietened even the birds as they began their dawn chorus. My fellow minibus occupants looked at me as if I'd told them that....well, that I thought I didn't need my passport.
Taking the collective decision that they can't take me all the way to Dover because that would give me a stupidly long journey home, and they can't take me home because they'll miss the ferry, they drop me off in a village. I don't think it was too far from our starting point but it's 5am and there isn't any passing traffic so I'm going to have to walk. Which is what I do until I come across a knight in shining armour - or rather the knight in a battery powered vehicle that is the milkman. He very kindly drops me at the train station and when I finally get back to the house in Reading where I am lodging, I am in tears; a mixture of embarrassment, exhaustion and freezing cold. Fortunately my landlady is also a friend - she holds fire on laughing at me until she's made me a much needed cup of tea.
The next day I discover that my colleagues' minibus broke down on the way home and they were stuck in it for seven hours. They may have had their passports but they didn't have any heating......
Sharing these memories with my sister made her feel a bit less worried and gave us both a good laugh - the conversation was far more useful than me offering her advice. It also served as a reminder that at a time when social media leans towards the celebratory, sometimes it can do us good to own up to our mistakes.

Monday, 27 August 2018

How to be a writer when you've got a dog. And the kids are on holidays.

It is a pleasure and a quirk of fate that I find myself being paid to write about all manner of topics - or that I find myself being paid to write about anything at all. Last week I was writing about data culture and tomorrow I'm going to be all about food tech. I couldn't have predicted it was ever supposed to be thus....I went freelance seven years ago as an Alliance Manager and at the same time started this blog which revealed me to be not an Alliance Manager but in fact a natural born writer. So here I am.

Anyway, this isn't about how I became a writer, it's about how to be a writer when you have a dog and the kids are on holiday. Are you ready? Here we go!

Step One: Make sure the dog has been walked early doors.


It's 6:30am and your husband has already left for his 'proper job' that requires driving 200 miles for a 9am meeting. Allow yourself a small moment of martyrdom as you realise that you will have to walk the dog and make the packed lunches and pack the bags and ferry the children to and from holiday club. Do not get showered (but do brush your teeth - you're not a barbarian). Instead put on 'active wear' which (regardless of whether you do any proper exercise) will excuse the fact that your hair is in a Very Bad Way. Walk the dog - whether he likes it or not - and pray that you don't bump into your neighbours. Your aim is for a sleeping hound that will allow you to write and nobody realising that occasionally you run so close to the wire that you don't shower first thing. Until you share it on LinkedIn.

Step Two: Take your kids and two of their friends to a holiday club.


Make sure that you have three boys in the back of your car who will talk about nothing but frigging Fortnite and Donald Trump, and a girl in the front who cannot believe her bad luck that she has to go to the same holiday club as her "smelly brother and his smelly friends".

Step Two (a): Realise that you need fuel.


Stop for fuel - now is not the time to 'wing it'. Observe the car bouncing as the boys 'floss' in the back.

After re-fuelling, head for a holiday club which you have carefully selected to be expensive enough to make sure you spend the time working, not just waltzing around your house with glee because you are the only one at home and nobody is asking you to do anything for them. Gaze wistfully at the mums and dads in full office clobber dropping their children off as you remember what it felt like to wear a Hobbs dress and have share options. Remember that you nearly lost your mind (but did cash in enough options to pay for a kitchen - swings and roundabouts.....)

Step Three: Get down to it


Return to house to find a sleeping dog (told you that early doors walk would be worth it). Take a moment to savour the silence of your home. Enjoy a solid few hours of writing and marvel at how a week off really can replenish your reserves. Even if your children fought like wildcats for large parts of it.

Step Four: Run the dog


Get some proper use out of your active wear. Leave the house looking unspeakable with the dog tied to a 'canie-x' belt.

Realise that by 'run' what you're actually going to participate in is a steeplechase because you live in the countryside and it has rained solidly for most of the past week.

Also realise that by 'run' you are going to participate in a 'hunt' because you husband insisted on getting a gun dog that loses its mind when it smells rabbits/deer/pheasants.

Return home where you will bump into your neighbour. Rejoice that whilst your face looks like a tomato placed on top of a pile of Lycra she is in her 'gardening clothes' so you are evens.

Step Five: Clean the dog


On the doorstep because your dog is too big to fit in a sink and will actively fight you if you try to put it in the shower. Congratulate yourself on buying a short-haired dog. Marvel at how you get through three towels.

Step Six: Clean yourself


Now is the time for that shower. See - it would have been annoying if you'd have done it first thing...

Step Seven: Get down to it (again)


After staring enviously at the dog who is now contentedly snoozing on *your* sofa, return to your words.

And finally.....


Congratulate yourself as you complete your writing. Before heading off to collect those kids :)