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 :)

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Dog Walkin' Blues

I went on a dog walk
And mis-judged my clothes
I got soaked to my knickers
I got soaked to my toes
My trousers are clinging
Where they ain't s'posed to cling
What part of me is dry?
Not a god damn thing

'Cos I got the
Dog, dog, dog, walkin' blues
If you want cold feet
Take a walk in my shoes

Got back from my dog walk
Stripped off in the hall
I went to wipe the dog down
He wiped himself down the wall
Now I'm stood in my undies
And thinking what the hell
Am I supposed to do about
That wet dog smell?

'Cos I got the
Dog, dog, dog, walkin' blues
If you want cold feet
Take a walk in my shoes

I went to the bathroom
To get myself dry
Took a look in the mirror
And I wanted to cry
At the start of the morning
I was looking alright 
Now I look like Alice Cooper
And it's given me a fright

'Cos I got the
Dog, dog, dog, walkin' blues
If you want cold feet
Take a walk in my shoes

Now I'm sat here all cosy
Dry jeans on my ass
Cup of Joe on the go now
A bit of time to pass
Feel my day has got better
Right up until when
The dog looks at me like
He wants to go out again

'Cos I got the
Dog, dog, dog, walkin' blues
If you want cold feet
Take a walk in my (soakin' wet, son of a gun) shoes.......

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Doggy Style

What do you do when your life has got a bit simpler?  You know, when the kids are able to take care of most things themselves and you feel like you have established some semblance of a routine.  You get a dog, that's what you do. try to get a dog.  We tried to do the right thing and go down the Dog's Trust route only to be met with a sea of cute little doggy faces, each above the legend that read "NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 16".  So we bought a puppy and almost a year on from that fateful day I thought I'd share with you a few observations so far......

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe

You see the woman in that picture?  That's me.  On holiday.  That's what my holiday photos now look like: waterproof coat that packs into its own pocket.  Waterproof trousers that have an elasticated waist and no pockets so you can't actually get at anything.  Walking boots - WALKING BOOTS!  I put this on and thought "oh my christ, is this actually my life?".  Even the dog is staring at me as if to ask "Are you really going out dressed like that?".

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe - part 2

You see the woman in that picture?  That is also me.  In it, I am wearing a coat that I liked very much.  It is from North Face and is extremely warm.  It has now become my "Dog Coat" and sports a stain that I cannot figure out but which makes me look like I have been lactating.  It could be from the last time that the dog had his worming treatment at the vets and then rubbed himself all over my jacket...

You may also notice that I look tired in the picture.  Having a dog makes you tired.  Especially when you get a dog that needs a lot of exercise.  Or one that wakes up early in the morning.  Or one that does both.

Having a dog does terrible things to your house

You know those big plastic tub/bucket things everyone has - useful for transporting garden rubbish / filling with kids toys / filling with ice & beer (hurry up summer!) - well they're also very good for putting in massive holes that your dog has dug in the garden.  He has stopped digging but we are yet to fix his landscaping.  I fear that we've left it too long and it's now become a 'feature'.

Our hallway - when not bearing muddy paw prints - looks like Depeche Mode have dropped round for tea.  It contains a variety of leads, collars and harnesses.  Let me tell you a little bit about them:

  • The classic harness - sports a 'handle' so that you can grab your dog as you vainly try to get him back on the lead.
  • The Halti harness - claims to "stop pulling instantly" - does it f**k.  My dog could use it to pull a car up the road in a World's Strongest Man competition.
  • The 'Gentle Leader' face harness - also claims to "stop pulling instantly".  It actually does.  What it doesn't tell you is that it will cause your dog to every now and then stop and rub its face along the ground in an attempt to get the thing off.  
  • Normal lead - padded grip - nice :) Now held together with gaffer tape because it got caught on the velcro of my Dog Coat and all the stitches started to come out.
  • Halti training lead - longer than a normal lead.  Bloody uncomfortable.  Takes a layer of skin off your hand if your dog pulls.
  • Extendable lead - never, ever allow your dog to say hello to another dog on an extendable lead.  You will end up in some kind of Twister manoeuvre with the other owner.
The stairs is a mixed bag.  We are back to having a stair gate.  I have been very earnestly informed that "it's entirely possible to train your dog not to go upstairs, don't you know" but after spending five weeks trying to combine working from home with instructing a dog that he may not go upstairs, I found the five minute installation of a stair gate the equivalent of a magic wand.  Also, nobody leaves their shit on the stairs anymore because the gate seems to act like a magical force field - double result!

But why am I telling you any of this?  Because if you are going to get a dog you need to know that:

Having a dog does terrible things to your bank balance

I have considered asking my customers to pay me in Pets at Home vouchers.  Toys last two days, food lasts two minutes, leads need replacing and pet insurance is the one insurance that you will without a doubt need to use.  You will need to buy terrible clothes to walk the dog in and a grille to keep your dog safe in the car oh and a crate that your dog will refuse to sleep in past the age of 4 months and a rug to replace the one that he chewed a hole in when he was a tiny pup.  You may also like to spend money on dog training which will be by turns enlightening and maddening - some lessons you will come away from feeling smug and others you will leaving feeling like a twat.

And just when you get to the point when you think "why the bloody hell did we do this?" - this happens and you realise that for all the terrible clothes, terrible marks to the house and the terrible impact to your bank balance, they're completely and utterly worth it :)

Soundtrack: Doggystyle - Snoop Dogg

Like this?  You might also like this poem: Get a Dog

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

I Want Your CeX

If you're stuck for something to do during the Christmas break then I highly recommend paying a visit to your local CeX shop.  Or perhaps you could visit your local
sex shop.  But I'm not taking my kids to one of those.  

The purpose of today's trip was to cash in an ancient Nintendo Wii and a shoebox full of Skylanders made redundant 3 months ago by the arrival of an Xbox.  Now that a respectful mourning period has passed, and with the promise that they could keep the proceeds of the games that they bought for it, the children and I packed a Sainsbo's bag for life and headed towards the promise of cash in exchange for a console.

I'm not sure what your workplace is like, but here is one that smells like piles of laundry dried on a bannister, overflowing ash trays and Monster energy drinks.  Alongside consoles, the shelves are heaving with shiny secondhand laptops and tablets, but the staff have to work from shitty Lenovo pcs with several keys missing - and the grime of a thousand finger prints on the ones that remain.  With dozens of lit up screens playing different demos and videos it's a no-go zone for anyone with sensory issues but the racks of alphabetised games behind the counter are a magnet for those with OCD.

And then there are the customers.......  Our visit was brief but whilst we were there the staff handled questions, objections and insults from every walk of life.  From the red-trousered dad who wanted to know "who I can speak to in Head Office about this" to the bell-end who said "This is shit.  I don't want a fucking refund, I want you to fucking exchange my game and no I won't fucking mind my language."  There was also the very nice lady who felt the need to explain precisely where she would, and wouldn't, be using her iPad and the likes of me who turn up with items for which they have to go through a whole cataloguing process in order to pay you 1p (the going rate for a Skylanders Swap Force Big Bang Trigger Happy in case you're wondering).  There was also the customer who was so suspicious of being ripped off that he went on the offensive with "NO - your're NOT going to offer me less for it" as soon as the cashier started to speak. 
Told you - 1p for a Skylander!

Here is a shop that I found challenging to be in, let alone work in but here is a shop where the staff were able to deal with everything that each customer threw at them without punching them in the face or calling them a twat.  They showed patience, restraint and initiative in the face of inane questions, personal insults and policies that are not entirely customer friendly.   

A trip to CeX is a trip out of your comfortable bubble that puts any petty work-related annoyances you may have into perspective.  It's also one of the few trips you can do with the children where you come out quids in.  Now what else can we sell.......?

Soundtrack: I Want Your Sex - George Michael

Monday, 23 October 2017

Get a Dog

If you like to carry poo bags, get a dog
If you don't care about dog hair, get a dog
If you don't mind dirty paws
Leaving track marks on your floors
Then I think that you are ready for a dog

If you want to lose your slipper, get a dog
If you like socks that are shredded, get a dog
If you're absolutely fine
Being woken with a whine
It's about time that you thought about a dog

If you like your lawn with holes in, get a dog
If you don't care much for lie-ins get a dog
If your idea of a lark
Is to be dragged round a park
Then you better go out shopping for a dog

If you like meals interrupted, get a dog
If you want to share your sofa, get a dog
If you like your skirting chewed
And to have to hide your food
You definitely ought to get a dog

If you want to walk in rain storms, get a dog
If you like a bit of slobber, get a dog
If you'd like your kids to shout
"Look, his willy's hanging out!"
Get a dog, get a dog, GET A DOG!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Goodbye to Gingham

In July 2012 I wrote about how my daughter was just about to finish her second year of primary school (you can read the post here).  This was a new blog back then and I had no idea that the process of publishing my thoughts on parenthood and saying goodbye to corporate life would lead to me becoming a writer full-time.  Turns out that 'doing what you love thing' is true.

Fast forward to today and that same 'little girl' is about to start secondary school.  The badge is sewn on to the blazer, every last item of clothing is labelled and her timetable is pinned to the wall.  We have spent more on uniform and PE kit than I spent on my first car and she is now the proud owner of a phone which she has used to arrange meet ups with friends and take part in chats that consist mostly of emojis.  She's even used it to stay in touch with me and Mr K when we're away - bonus!

I don't feel wistful about primary; this was the first summer my daughter has chosen not to wear a gingham dress and seeing her among a class of Year 6's that towered above the reception class (and in some instances are taller than me...) was a clear signal that it was time to move on.  She could do with having a mix of teachers, a mix of other children, a bit more space to grow.  Maybe it will be different when the boy moves on and I no longer get to stand on the playground chatting with the parents who have become my friends.

Secondary marks a step towards her future and whilst I don't relish the thought of exam stresses (whatever form the system takes by then....) and am pretending to ignore that fact I'll have a teenager two years from now, I'm happy to let her go a little more.  Goodbye gingham, it was nice knowing you :)

M&S's finest

Monday, 21 August 2017

Sensible Shoes

Feet hot and hurting in sensible shoes
City dirt sitting on my skin
Hair lank
Around me suits and sneakers
Vivienne Westwood and vests

A man sniffs his finger
While others stare at screens
Read papers
Look everywhere except at each other
The advert says "The world is your Oyster card"
But I am a novice, marked out by an orange ticket
The small of my back aches

The next station....
The next station....
This train is....
This train is:
Wipe clean floor
Painted metal
Change here but mind the gap
And the doors

Headscarves and rucksacks
Handbags and headphones
Work tools and iPhones

Poems and questions
Maps and instructions
Sliding doors
A pause
To let people off
Turned sideways, shuffling
Baby steps up the stairs
Feet hot and hurting in sensible shoes