A very ‘John Lewis’ Christmas

Oh Lordy! The annual John Lewis Christmas ad just made me cry. 

Pulled it up on YouTube and indulged in a schmaltzy moment visualising our idiot-teenage-hellhound as being just like that cute, weeny, John Lewis dragon  – merely a loveable scamp, always getting himself into SUCH hilarious little scrapes!

Pushed the fantasy to it’s absolute limits by casting myself as John Lewis’s slightly-concerned but ever-so-loving, red-haired moppet, patiently putting up with dragon-aka-hellhound’s nonsense before calmly finding a way to bring out the best in the loveable rogue so that Christmas ends up being just SO joyful and bubbly and peachy-wonderful it just makes you want to burp mistletoe.

Sadly, fuzzy daydream got interrupted by urgent need to wrestle favourite pillow out of the mouth of forementioned hellhound. Did so while employing vocabulary not included in the original John Lewis script. 

Dog wins – pillow doesn’t.  

Hellhound formally executes the pillow by shredding the bastard; barks happily; farts happily; skedaddles joyfully in search of another one we can play with.

I crawl around the room collecting scattered pillow guts and wonder- a tad hopelessly – whether an internet DIY guide to plastic surgery, might resuscitate favourite pillow.

It doesn’t.

Pillow now makes Frankenstein’s monster look under-stitched and decidedly stream-line.

Allocate sleepless hours to a cricked neck and requisite nightmares about impending arrival of Christmas tree.

Have a nice little cry.

Amazing how that John Lewis ad can always dredge up a seasonal sniffle…



Just realised I haven’t really mentioned the idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound much since he was a wee little puppy. The reason is –  I’ve been too stressed. The reason I have been too stressed is the idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound.

The story in short

The Bloke finds a wee little three-week old pup sitting in a puddle out in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (aaaahhh). Pup has probably been abandoned by drug sellers pretending to sell puppies on the Addis streets but who are, in fact, selling drugs (aaawwh). The Bloke rescues it and gives it a home (aaaaaahhh). Little pup thinks The Bloke is the best thing since sliced bread and grows into cutest little pup out, waggling around the Ethiopian house and specialising in being adorable (aaaahhh). Pictorial evidence below.

The Bloke gets the pup inoculated by the local vet, and for a month or so, The Bloke and pup are as happy as pigs in poo. Suddenly, pup gets nasty dog disease that you shouldn’t get if you have been inoculated. Turns out a local vet gave the pup an entrepreneurial version of his jabs which involved taking the money and raising the profit level by not really giving the jabs. By a complete miracle and the sterling efforts of a new vet, the pup survives. Lots of bills for another round of jabs and treatment.

A couple of months later, The Bloke comes on Skype looking a tad stressed. He has come to the decision it really would be best for the pup to come home to England. He has to raise his voice to tell me this because of the enthusiastic barking in the background and occasionally a blur of high velocity movement whistles past behind his chair. I ask how big the pup is now, since we already have a fat Labrador taking up gratuitous amounts of space. The Bloke vaguely waggles his hand around calf level but can’t seem to send me a picture of the pup standing next to him to confirm this. Lots of bills for international transport, rabies tests and customs clearance for a mongrel pup start flying in. Our pedigree Labrador is now looking like a bargain.

Pup arrives and stares down at old Blue the Labrador from above. Seems the Bloke’s calves have spontaneously stretched and and are now located in the middle of his thighs. Pup glares at me in distrust – jury is out – the feeling is mutual.

After he gets served his first bowl of western dog food, the pup decides I might be OK. He eats like a horse and grows like one. Blue, the fat Labrador, starts looking a wee bit teensy and slim-line. Hell pooch decides this move wasn’t such a bad thing at all when he works out there is more delicious food on the kitchen benches and you just need to reach up and help yourself.

Pup meets grass for the first time, quickly followed by joggers, bicycles and squirrels. Decides he really has done well in his choice of owners. He is less keen on the ‘lead’ thing though, so he eats that. There is a new zest for life on the common, and everyone seems to have picked up speed. I discover I have taken up sprinting and shouting as a regular twice daily work out without even knowing it. The postman loses a stone – along with his sense of humour.

Pup decides Blue, the Labrador, is definitely a new toy gifted to him and invests all his spare time trying to switch on Blue’s ‘play’ function by chewing his tail. Blue decides to exercise patience with the stupid mutt since he knows The Bloke will take this idiot away again eventually. The Bloke goes back to Ethiopia. The pup does not. Blue and the guinea pig book into therapy.

I frantically invest in expensive training kit, whistles, collars, toys, treats, harnesses and leads. Idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound misses the Bloke so he eats them to make his point. To cheer himself up, he redesigns our sofa cushions to match the design he did on The Bloke’s sofa in Ethiopia. He is very impressed with his work. Now our place looks nice and homely – scattered foam and ripped fabric is a look that keeps on giving.

The mongrel mutt decides he loves me quite a lot now. In a show of affection, he eats my slippers.

I misbehave. I gratuitously go out of the house to do some shopping and return an hour later. Of course, I had to be punished for this. My reading glasses now have large wads of electrical tape holding them together but I am slowly adjusting to looking at things from a slightly wonky angle.

The Bloke assures me the local vet in Addis gave the idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound the snip before he left. We go for walks on the Common and the idiot attempts to mount every other pedigree pooch that passes. He has a particular fancy for a Jack Russell – he can’t quite work out the angles, but gives it his best effort anyway.  In the evenings, I attempt to watch TV over the bobbing head of the idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound as he practises his technique on Blue. Blue hopes there is a treat in this for him. I begin to wonder about the entrepreneurial nature of that snip operation.

Squirrels are now an obsession. He stands under trees and shouts up at them to inform them that they had better watch out because he is a rufty, tufty streetwise dog, and in the ‘hood he grew up in, furry rats were DINNER. Turns out squirrels are faster and brighter than he is. They remind him loudly that he actually spent all of three weeks in the ‘hood while entertaining themselves by hurling nuts down at his head. Their aim is excellent and dodging missiles seems to be a lesson he skipped in his ‘hood days. A big conker nut bounces off the idiot dog’s skull. I cheer up a bit. 

The Common has got a lot quieter recently.  When we head out, I see people out of the corner of my eyes scurrying to hide behind bushes clutching their pedigree pooches. 

Feel obliged to give the Common walkers a day off and take the idiot-teenage-mongrel-hellhound for a country walk in a local reserve. He disappears for a good ten minutes. I do my best not to be thrilled to bits by this. He pitches up again and I bundle him into the car. When I get in myself, I’m engulfed in a rancid cloud of stink that has embraced the interior. I turn and look at the idiot hell hound and realise he has given himself a cow shit facial. Chunks of poo cling to his nose, whiskers and fur. He seems very pleased about this and attempts to lick my face. I’m too exhausted to be furious. I wonder if he knows something I don’t. Perhaps the turd of a large vegetarian beast has hidden powers of rejuvenation. I catch my knackered eyes in the rear vision mirror and seriously consider popping out and face planting in the cow field. If it works, I could start a business flogging cow pats. You never know – there’s always hope it might pay for the dog…


Sunny day out

The other day, we went a bit mad and decided to have a family excursion. Well – as much family as we could muster together – the Elder One has reached an age where he is permanently AWOL and the guinea pig really couldn’t be arsed.

It wasn’t a special day out – just a regular weekday – but it was one of those gorgeously sunny, autumn days where you feel impelled to do something in a herd, clinging to the belief it really is SO much more jolly to be out and about with all your loved ones in tow.

Luckily, we had somewhere pleasant to go. A while back, we’d decided rowing lessons would be extremely good for The Younger One. We had broken the news to him that there was no Minecraft in rowing and then chipped his fingers off the computer keyboard while he was still in catatonic shock. Now he is forced to do Minecraft in his head once a week while manoeuvring a training skiff along the river with his instructor plus the parent-in-attendance puttering after him in a mini launch, annoyingly interrupting his daydreams about Creepers by shouting random words of encouragement. From a parental point of view, this is an excellent afternoon out, so when Thursday arrived with blindingly gorgeous weather, a rosy image of our family being lovely and family-like overtook us and we decided to approach the exercise as A TEAM.

‘Let’s ALL go to the rowing lesson together,’ we thought. ‘What the hell!- Let’s take the dogs too!’. 

In the back of my brain, I did faintly hear the voices of passengers boarding the Titanic saying ‘Hopefully, we might see an iceberg!’ but decided it was best to just ignore this for the time being.

The plan was I’d have a relaxing stroll along the river bank with the dogs while The Bloke would manfully take on the task of pootling along the river with the instructor while eyeballing his offspring’s haphazard progress. It was all set to be a rather pleasant afternoon. 

Dogs and I ambled happily off in picture-perfect, dog-walking harmony. Minute two of our amble, Dip (the idiot-git-teenage-mongrel-hell-hound) spotted a bunny frolicking on the grass in a very tantalising way. The amble promptly upgraded itself to a 2-armed high velocity drag. We pelted along for the entire length of my planned amble in roughly five minutes until I finally managed to employ the brakes on the Marina bridge with a cunning mix of threats and treats – heavy on the threats and a knackered bit of dog chew I found gathering fluff in the bottom of my bag . I took a minute to restore my ability to breathe and hopefully scanned the marina below to see how far the blokes in boats had got. NOWHERE was the answer. Our large lad was still parked in his vessel at the slipway while the instructor and The Bloke happily discussed interesting boaty things. Unfortunately, by this stage, Blue – my old Labrador – was revolving on the spot like a mini tornado because he could smell that river, and sadly, his brain had exploded. 

If you are not in tune with Labradors, ‘exploding brain’ is a very Labrador thing – and there are two things guaranteed to make their lovely little brains spontaneously riccochet around their big, lumpy heads  – the magic duo are EATING and SWIMMING. If it was feasible to serve Blue his dinner on a surfboard, there’s no doubt the excitement would take him out permanently. On top of that, Dip, (the idiot-git-teenage-mongrel-hell-hound) was entertaining himself by attempting to see if straining at the far end of the lead really would dislocate my shoulder if he kept at it for long enough. An elderly couple approached the bridge. I smiled my big, toothy, friendly smile. Dip smiled his big, toothy, friendly smile; Blue just levitated slightly on the spot with water-crazed eyes. The oldies clocked Dip’s grin and decided to hike energetically the long way round rather than venture any nearer the feral wolf on the bridge. Since my resuscitation skills were a bit rusty, decided we needed to move along.

Concluded the only way to achieve calm was to find somewhere to access the river so the dogs could have a swim. Eventually, fell over a peaceful little park occupied by another lovely family bonding over a lovely picnic who glared at me in a lovely way when two hyped up dogs dragged me past their coronation chicken sandwiches in the direction of the river. I can only assume they missed my big friendly smile due to the speed at which I hurtled past.

Cleverly, Blue had spotted the bit of bank that allowed access to the river and kindly employed his solid Labrador pull power to make sure I reached the bottom of the slope without having to worry too much about involving my feet in the process. I wasn’t feeling quite as playful as usual, so I scrambled back to my feet and elected to unhook his lead instead of bare-foot waterskiing into the centre of the river in his wake. 

Everything was going quite well so far. The river was a gloriously tranquil scene  – little boats dotted the other bank, swans floated serenely down the middle, fat Labrador was now happily doing freestyle and idiot-git-teenage-mongrel-hell-hound had set himself the task of christening anything close to the bank with piddle and become locked in an animated discussion with a duck who didn’t fancy being piddled on. Coronation-chicken-guzzling family seemed quite entranced by our presence. I was pleased to be livening up their day, so I threw them another smile and they glared pleasantly back. It really was a perfect day.

Unhelpfully, the riverbank was so bushy there was no view up the river, so when the end of my son’s training skiff suddenly trundled into view a minute later, I was busily rescuing the hell hound from a pissy, vindictive duck and didn’t quite see him coming. 

At this point, I do need to mention a summer day – many years ago – when we went canoeing and took Blue, the Labrador. He spent that entire day repetitively launching himself out of my canoe, swimming alongside for a minute or two and then hauling himself back in again in order to vigorously share his accumulated water.  My main memory of that day is five hours of being drenched to the skin in wet-dog-flavoured water while shouting a lot as I manically bucketed half the river out of a canoe that was desperately trying to capsize. Sadly, The Younger One had been in the front of my canoe that day. It had taken some intensive Minecraft and an animated conversation with the dog for him to get over the trauma of the dog’s scurrilous attempts to drown him. Turns out Blue remembered that day as the best day EVER!

As soon as Blue spotted the younger one’s canoe-like, boaty thing in the water, he instantly recalled that really fun day of his youth plus all the great attention he got afterward and headed after the rowing skiff with the subtlety of a submarine torpedo. 

Teenage son spotted his less-than-beloved pooch in dawning horror an instant flashback to our canoeing trip annihilated his idyllic mental block building. His lackadaisical progress up river kicked up a zillion notches and he started frantically flying along the water while randomly squawking ’NO NO! BLUE! GO AWAY! I’M GOING TO HAVE A BONE TO PICK WITH YOU LATER!’  The mutt responded by revving up his underwater peddling speed several gears – this game was just getting better and better. As Blue hooned off after the skiff impersonating a demonic seal, The Bloke and instructor putted into view and automatically assumed the glazed expressions of the instantly depressed. 

The Bloke started yelling from the launch, I was shouting from the bank, the idiot-git-teenage-mongrel-hell-hound was barking his head off since the rest of his pack were howling and he didn’t want to be left out. Heads craned in our direction, faces popped out of canal boats, the swans gathered menacingly ready for a good punch up. I worried about the coronation chicken lot behind me because I knew all that glaring is seriously bad for your eyes. I pinged my squawk level up a notch or so because – as we all know – shouting your head off is always the answer.

The outraged Younger One had now clocked up an Olympic qualifying speed but was still failing to outrace the zooming Labrador. In desperation, he successfully ruined the game by planting the canoe in a river bush, and my crazed squeal of ‘TREAT TREEEAAAT!’ finally penetrated Blue’s sodden brain cell.  ‘BLLUUE! I’M GOING TO HAVE A BONE TO PICK WITH YOU LATER!’ echoed hysterically out of the river bush as Blue reluctantly paddled back to me. He planted himself in the mud on the river bank, drenched me in river mud and proceeded to howl his head off because we’d completely ruined his life. The coronation chicken lot behind me seemed to have exhausted their excessive frowning, so they tssked their way to their vehicle. Not sure that they clocked my apologetic smile; they seemed to struggle with eye contact – most likely due to eye-strain from excessive glaring. As I hauled my inconsolable Labrador and hyped up mutt out of the park, they motored off in polite fury – probably in search of an out-of-hours optometrist.

The Younger One has now had some SERIOUS chats with the dog about bad behaviour. Blue is exceedingly happy with all this extra attention coming his way, and next time we go out for a family excursion, he is sure to remember how to get loads of attention when he gets home.

Luckily, since I zoomed past fifty, I’ve discovered my memory recall is conveniently terrible. Give me a week and all I’ll remember is a nice sunny day by the river. It’s such a shame that the rest of the family are so detail obsessed….

Brain function – questionable

Yesterday, was one of THOSE days. You know the type I mean? A day when for some inexplicable reason your brain fails to make the necessary electrical connections to maintain its normal, half-arsed plod and opts to impersonate a lemming sighting its first cliff instead. It was not my finest hour.

I’m pretty sure my brain’s ability to randomly freeze didn’t start till I hit my forties, and since fifty raised its very ugly head, my slightly mad moments now seem to be on a far more reliable schedule than the virus checker on my laptop.

Multi-tasking overload is the trigger, I’m sure of it. Gone are the days when I can fold the laundry, change broadband providers and get dressed, while simultaneously remembering how to do GCSE maths and volunteering this rediscovered knowledge to my uninterested offspring.

Ah, the good old days…

One job at a time seems to be the only answer now. Sadly, my dodgy recall function fails to remind me of this on a regular basis. Rather wish my brain could have downloaded a set of those nice fluorescent post-stick notes when I skidded past forty-nine. 

Back to yesterday.

The day started without a hitch so I happily committed some time to an animated call with my phone line provider about some call charges on the landline. 

‘I DO NOT USE MY LAND LINE TO MAKE PHONE CALLS!’ I explained at a dulcet squawk to the uninterested lass at the other end of the phone.

To smack the point home, I defiantly informed her no one else in my household was to blame either – neither of my teenage sons actually knew what a land-line was (they had evolved beyond anything that required a wire), and my husband only stared nervously at the home phone when it rang and waited for the answering machine that he’d married to pick up the call. 

The customer service lass, overwhelmed by disinterest, felt obliged to get rid of me with the new-fangled ‘I’m messaging a complaint reference to your mobile phone’ response – for the record, this is a reply guaranteed to annoy the pants off anyone over fifty who still understands how to use a pen and paper. 

‘Have you received my text?’ she monotoned. 

That was the moment I realised I couldn’t actually FIND my mobile phone. Proceeded to haul arse around the house – upstairs then downstairs – hunting for the damn thing while keeping up desultory chit chat with the faceless customer service rep who really wanted me to JUST GO AWAY.

After an unsuccessful foray under the bed- accompanied by two commando-crawling dogs who recognised this as a brilliant game – I gave up and returned to my desk. The customer service girl – relieved that the background noises no longer featured feral dogs, muffled grunts and cursing – didn’t even put up a fight when I demanded that she use her WORDS to provide me with the reference. I wrote it down on my nice bit of paper with my excellent pen. 

Having finally escaped the call, decided it was probably a rather good idea to retrieve my phone from the dashboard of my unlocked car where I had most likely abandoned it. Frisked the car like a mad woman – NO PHONE!  Dragged a teenager out of bed so they could share in my trauma; roused him with an excellent rant about how I’d probably been robbed by an enterprising thief who prowled the pavements to prey on poor defenceless women just because they occasionally forgot to lock their cars and left their phone in full view on the dashboard. 

Teenager spent a moment looking sad that he had not been assigned a sane mother like the nice ones all his friends had, then – with requisite exhausted sigh – called my mobile number from the phone he kept permanently welded to his hand.

My phone instantly rang somewhere in the house. To my amazement, grumpy son tracked the noise to my desk and there was my mobile sitting pugnaciously right in the middle of it. If we’d been in a comic strip there would have been a big cartoon arrow jabbing at it. Son added ‘crazy’ to the list of things he’d rather his mother wasn’t. Naturally, I expressed my gobsmacked disbelief by blaming the entire household – including the dogs.

‘Bet you were actually calling from it,’ grunted teen as he wandered off to scull chocolate milk and seek adoption. 

Suddenly had a distant memory of clutching the mobile to my ear when I crawled under the bed; re-wound the conversation with the lass from the phone company and died a little inside.

Okay, I know anyone over half a century is thinking ‘Yeah, yeah – done that.’ BUT just when my brain really should have re-fused out of pure embarrassment – IT DIDN’T.  Instead, I hurtled towards the double whammy…

Decided  – for reasons I CANNOT explain – that the best way to rescue my pride was to get as far away from the bloody mobile as possible, so I launched myself at the shops with reluctant teens in tow. Performed a manic weekly shop up and loaded it into the car with large teen squished in front passenger seat and even larger teen concertinaed into the back. Shopping achieved, began to feel a smidgen better.

‘This car is really dirty,’ grunted front passenger teen with the misplaced superiority of someone who’s bedroom regularly impersonated a bad day at the rubbish dump.

‘Don’t insult the car,’ I hissed nervously and patted the dashboard reassuringly. After all, we all know it is a proven fact that old cars can hear bad words and have a tendency to act on them immediately. 

Sure enough, turned the car key to head home and every indicator on that vindictive wreck of a vehicle started flashing manically like an hysterical spaceship. Lapped the supermarket car park a couple of times in the vain hope it would all just go away. Elder teen punctuated the laps with helpful diagnoses from the web like ‘Complete Electrical Failure’ and ‘Your car has REALLY died’. 

Getting into the spirit for a world class meltdown, I monologued shoutily at the boys that our car was defunct and it was DEFINITELY their fault for egging it on; announced that we would be walking EVERYWHERE now. Did another couple of panic-stricken laps of the car park and entertained a handful of geriatric shoppers with time on their hands to gawk. Younger teen slumped in catatonic shock in the back, as not only was his mother less than normally sane, now she was going to kill him in a death car as well.

Due to our excessive load of melting ice cream and defrosting meat, I decided the only thing to do was to try and crawl home via the back roads. People stared and waved frantically at us from the pavements. A nice gentleman whizzed up behind us, flashing his lights and honking furiously to inform the blind dingbat in the car in front of him that her vehicle was pulsating with light like a neurotic firework display. I sensibly chose to ignore the entire world beyond the windscreen and glared fixedly at the road in front of me; we painfully tootled onwards like dodgy nightclub neon. Hissed at the boys not to make eye contact with anyone but just to stare at their phones like they normally did.

Finally inched home and killed the engine; teens leapt out of the car, stampeding like young buffalo to the safety of their bedrooms. BUT that bloody car just kept flashing.

Summoned my neighbour on the grounds she was a real human being who was happily not a teenager. She came and looked. In the nicest possible way, she wondered why I was driving around with my hazard lights on. 

Tentatively, I poked that funny button in the middle of the dashboard – that odd button I’d never used before. Car instantly stopped flashing; neighbour tried not to smirk – failed.

Have decided to resort to pen and paper again – you can’t go wrong with pen and paper. I’ve attached a couple of fluorescent post-stick notes on the front door. They say ‘HAZARD LIGHTS’ and ‘MOBILE PHONE’. Fairly certain that pad of notes is going to be hammered in next to no time.

There is a definite upside to this pathetic tale of mid-life failure, though. It seems any sense of social embarrassment I once had was erased during my fiftieth birthday re-boot – probably evicted on the grounds it was an underused app.

Also, the boys are now showing a surprising amount of interest in some rather distant universities. As days go, I’ve had worse….