Monday, 24 August 2015

That time I worked as a Chamber Maid

I am a hard worker.

That's what I tell myself at night, when the flashbacks of the things I have seen play over and over in my head...

Ah, the things I have seen.


If you ever need to know the highs and lows of being a casino worker, cleaning turds out of a urinal, chopping up used dildos so that nobody can return them, or fingering tinned sardines - I'm your gal.

*Tips cap*

I was 16 years old when I got the job at my local chain hotel.  The guy-I-kinda-fancied's (read: now my husband )mum got me the job (not because she got me the job), and soon I was placed in a highly skilled team of three cleaners to clean the 24 bed brand-standard hotel.

I say highly skilled, I mean highly chastised and severely punished if we left so much as a smear on a mirror.

We cleaned HARD.

The thing about cleaning is, that it never ends.  Especially in a place where there are strange people walking about at all hours of the day and night.  Here's the thing - people are WEIRD when it comes to staying somewhere foreign to them.  It's like they feel invisible, or like they aren't being watched, or like they have entered some kind of alternate universe where they can do things they have never done before.

Here are 5 kinds of people who use hotel chains:

1: Family folk.  Generally okay and clean enough, but will totally ignore you.  They are never organised enough to leave a room on time (which is a bugger if you are set to clean it, because you will have to come back to it with your trolley later on.  The trolley with all the stuff on is heavy and a pain in the ass and has to be refilled!) They come with children. Mess makers. Toothpaste on the mirror bastards. Grubby hands on your newly Brasso'd door handles. Mud on the floor.
2: Travelling workers.  These guys are smelly. So smelly.  The good news is, in the main, they rarely use towels.  Less to carry and chuck in the washing. However, the ones they do use will invariably have shit stains on them. Great. They leave the room early to get to work and some even haven't slept in the bed (though goodness knows where they sleep). These are the guys who leave porn on the pay-per-view and a ton of beer cans/whiskey bottles in the rubbish pail. A nice stereotype.
3: Kinky couples.  A bit of a cliche, but yes, kinky couples - whether they have been married for eons, or if it's just a cheeky one night affair - do use chain hotels for their dirty, dirty times.  As a chamber maid, this is kind of the ultimate ming-fest.  Not only are you most probably going to walk into a darkened room mid-shag while someone shouts 'clean towels please' in the middle of their lust-fuelled romp, but you will invariably be picking condoms out of the sheets, or even better, the shower plug hole.  Any stains in this room, wherever they are, should only be approached with disinfectant and rubber gloves. Also, you will become highly skilled at picking false eyelashes out of the toilet bowl rim. The room smells like a mixture of sweat, sex and CK one.
4: Groups of children. Obviously chaperoned by adults.  These adults are not related to said children, therefore will be at the bar, drinking their weight in real ale and completely ignoring the carnage wrought by the small boys or horrible, awful pre-teen girls they are supposedly looking after.  One time we had a group of cheerleaders stay.  They laid their mattresses end to end down the corridors in order to practice their cartwheels at 3a.m.  Every other customer complained and got their rooms for free. There was confetti in every nook and cranny and popcorn stuffed in between the bed frame and the mattress.  Hell hath no fury like a chamber maid with a hoover crevice tool.
5: Elderly residents.  This is weird.  Like, really odd. But there are older folk who stay in a hotel because, well, they like staying in a hotel.  For a long time.  They aren't between houses, they aren't on holiday, they just really like staying in the ill-equipped and VERY CLEAN rooms.  They get to know you by your first name, and oh yes, they are the first to let you know (or your manager - sneaky bastards) that your standards are slipping.
Like, WHY!?
Just go home, crazy old people!

The leader of our band of merry troops was a very discerning (and sweaty) mature lady.
Let's call her, Jane.
Jane was unfortunately having a very menopausal time when I happened to be working under her.  Poor Jane.  Jane had the sweats at the thought of changing a bed sheet.

Poor woman.
That is not a job that should be undertaken by someone who suffers in such a way. She must have lost about four stone every shift just from water weight alone.

Jane loved cleaning. Jane loved cleaning so much that she earned that particular hotel the status of cleanest in the UK. No joke - there was a plaque and everything.
Jane taught me how to make the bathrooms SHINE!

Jane loved cleaning so much that she got her husband to lift her carpets on her DAY OFF so that she could HOOVER UNDERNEATH THEM.

Oh Jane.

She was very, very good at her job.  She taught me how to check how clean a toilet REALLY was, by standing back at a huge distance and looking underneath the rim, in natural light to see if there happened to be any scum under it.

Honestly, life is too short. And yes, I am still doing it. Some habits are hard to kick.

She spoiled me for, lets face it, any other hotel, because no hotel will ever be as clean as that one - there was never a pube out of place when she was around.  Which is no mean feat.

Unfortunately, my career as a chamber maid was cut short by the call of the bar - yes, I left a place where the toilets shone and sparkled and went to a place where men regularly missed the toilet altogether and peed all over the floor. Excellent.

Thanks to Jane however, I had learned that a mop and bucket filled with bleach and near-boiling water will scald pretty much everything away, which came in very handy one night when I was trying to hose a shit out of a urinal after a 12 hour shift.

Thanks, Jane.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Learning to Walk Again

Sometimes life hands you melons, and well, you all know the saying - if life hands you melons, you make...melonade?


That's not it.

Today was a bit disappointing.  I had an interview for a job I kind of already do, and for whatever reason (maternity leave?  I'm rubbish at my job?  Someone is much better?) I didn't get it.

It's a bit of a smack in the face not getting hired to do the job you already do, and I'm not shy about saying that it kind of sucks.  But hey - melonade, folks, all the melonade I can drink.

It's a bittersweet moment for me.  Ever since I started my current job, I've been hoping to do it on a full time basis, but as I went to interview I kind of realised that if I got this job on a full time basis, I would have to do it FULL TIME.

I mean, yeah, money and stuff, but what about the kids?  What about school runs and watching T.V in the evening and homework and snatched evenings at the beach walking the dog?
And Owen is so small, and well, if I wasn't here, he's in full-time nursery or something. Poor kid.
I was scared of getting it.  And scared of not getting it.  And I'm a bit of a fate-ist.  I decided to let fate handle the outcome: what's for you won't go by you and all that.

So, while I'm gutted not to be pursuing my career on a full-time basis, there's a realisation too that it is probably for the best, the kids are still young yet and, well, I'm not wonderwoman.  And I cannot in fact 'have it all'.

Oddly, this is kind of refreshing.

And yet again, I find myself at another very interesting crossroads; the exciting and addictive part of being, what my husband affectionately calls, a 'butterfly'.

Not because I'm a total beaut (although I'm sure that's what he but because I am in fact a bit of a fluttery butterfly when it comes to life.  I never am happy with just one flower - oh no, I like to consider my options, take a small sip of the nectar and move on to the next flower.


Now I am free to consider other things: further education, running some children's groups locally, sewing, reading, thinking about other possible career paths and so on.

When we had our third child, after getting through 7 years of raising the other two to school age, we got a lot of questions about why we were indeed having yet another baby: how we could even contemplate starting all over again?

The public reasons varied, depending on which day you caught us on, but the reason we gave each other in private was that it was exciting, it was fun, the possibilities and you know, we had done it twice before. We knew that we had struggled and it had been hard before, but that also, it was amazing and often hilarious and we had learned so much. An act borne out of pure love for each other and our family. We had experience. And with that came the knowledge that we would enjoy it all the more. And we are.  We are very lucky people.

But that crossroads...

It's a gift.  What will happen next?  Where will we end up?

It's amazing, this time last year I had absolutely no idea Owen would ever exist.  We had no idea we would be in a house of our own, let alone a gorgeous house in the countryside with fab neighbours and a red collie dog. 

If you'd told me that this time last year I would have exploded with the idea of it.

But here we are - drinking a shit-load of melonade with beer.  And tequila.  Hell, let's have a melonade party!

Change will come. Learning to walk again is fun.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Wee Blethering Baby Boy: Introducing Owen Henry, and other tales

*Drumroll please!*

It's been very very quiet here as of late, but I have a really good excuse - honest!

These last few months have seen some very major changes in our lives, and it's taken (and is still very much taking) some time for the dust to settle.

Firstly, I would like to introduce our newest addition.

Meet Owen Henry Millar, born 17/6/15 at 12:05p.m weighing 8lb 12oz.

Born at 39 weeks via c-section after some hospital time for me with what can only be described as the longest and most horrible month of my life including full-blown contractions, some water breakage and lots of waiting and blood pressure checks at various locations, it is safe to say we are all very happy he is here.  

He is now 7 weeks old and thriving, having slotted right into our busy wee family.  The boys are very pleased indeed to have a new wee brother and love showing him off to anyone who comes to visit (or indeed, anywhere we go!)

And after 7 weeks of summer holidays, I can firmly say that he is definitely the easiest and more amiable of the three boys at the moment!

I love him to death.  He's a gorgeous wee boy - so bright and happy, and he loves nothing more than a snuggle with mummy, which is so lovely.  And being the last, I am of course savouring every second.  I am all too aware of how quickly it all goes. It's already gutting how he has grown out of his newborn clothes, and although I am really pleased and proud that I am growing a big healthy boy with my boobs (seriously how amazing is that?!  It's my first real proper time of breastfeeding and it is really amazing me a lot that my boobs are not only keeping something alive, but also making him grow!  What wizardry is this?!) I am so aware that before long he'll not be a baby anymore! 


While I had a leisurely (!) week in hospital, 2 weeks before Owen was born, we were also fortunate enough to have closed the deal on our forever home.  Yes, we have now moved into a country cottage and have officially become country bumpkins (although it's not that far from the city really, so it is cheating a bit. But I say anywhere which requires it's own septic tank and calor gas tank supply is off the grid enough to qualify for bumpkin status).
Cottage de Millaro!

Plus, well, our view front and back is fields, so that totally counts, right?

The view from our window

                                                              Of course being 'off the grid' as it were, it has been extremely difficult to get an internet and phone provider.  Nothing ever seems to happen at speed, which has been incredibly frustrating, especially as everything needs to be done online!  Try fitting that in with children, hospital visits and new babies!  It's not easy!

Of course, if you wanted to add to the crazy, you could.  And why not?  Let's get it all done in one go! Kim!

Kim is a 3 year old red merle border collie who we inadvertantly rescued from a bit of a rough gig on a farm.  More on her story later, but after my initial reservations, she is in fact a very well behaved, very very sweet and very very loving little lady.  It appears we have come to each other at the right time.  People keep saying to us that we have landed on our feet with her as she is so good, but really it is us who have landed on our feet with her.  I have never known such a well-behaved and chilled out little lady - especially after all she has been through, and coming into such a manic household!  We are very lucky indeed.

It's been a bit of an uphill struggle lately, to say the least.  Factor in a couple of weddings, celebrations, job interviews (yep, really!), school transitions, cleaning and packing of rented accomodation and attempting to decorate and you have some pretty crazy times!  Luckily we have had a lot of help (and some beer) to get us through.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to getting the boys back into a school routine next week so I can start getting some normality (and some proper cleaning done!)

So, if you have been looking for me - these are my excuses!  And I hope to be more present soon!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy International Women's Day! Today and every day!

Today is International Woman's Day.

Stuff like this matters to me.  I am a feminist - no doubt about it.  I believe as a woman, you really have no choice; after all, feminism is basically just saying you want a slice of what everyone else has in the world and that you deserve it too.  And you know what?  Women definitely do.

We fight from such a young age against a dominant patriarchy, who are determined (whether they are aware of it or not) to keep us pink and weak and submissive.  Which, trust me, we are not.

From babies festooned in sugar-pink clothes, to pink 'girl' Lego, books 'Just for girls'  and the idea that women have no other choice than to raise a family at home while the man goes out to work - negative stereotypes are still very much prevalent in our day to day lives.

Personally, I believe we need a day like this, not only to recognise the progress we have made as a society, but also to flag up the attitudes and practices which still exist to degrade us.

Of course, in the Western world, we are very lucky as far as feminism goes.  A majority of things have at least been under the microscope even for a short amount of time, even if they still aren't good and right yet.  It can seem like such an overwhelming thing to think of all the horrific and barbaric practices which still face women in other parts of the world.  But we can make this better by starting where we stand.  By doing this, we raise the bar and we make it even more difficult for other countries to ignore what goes on in their backyard.  And maybe we can help contribute and highlight their causes too.

We can look at it on a high scale and champion the causes of forgotten women who made amazing contributions in their lifetimes, and were pushed aside simply because they were women.  We can become involved in our communities and engage in Women's Festivals, charity events or even celebrate femininity in it's different forms by attending lectures, educating ourselves further and helping ourselves.

Let's not stop at one day though.

How about we celebrate women every day?

Let's champion the women who do stay at home and raise their families and let's not have in-fighting when it comes to parenting.  We all have different ways of bringing up our kids, whether that be breastfeeding, formula feeding, baby wearing, using a pram, co-sleeping or separate beds.  Please, let's start with the basics and look outward instead of in to each other.  Let's stop damaging each other and let's start attacking the things that really do matter.

Let's fight for more support for new mothers.

Let's challenge childcare policies and get better results for our kids.

Let's ask the toy manufacturers to give our kids equal playing opportunities and to stop engendering toys and books.

Let's give our young girls and ladies opportunities and ideas about work and careers and education which suit them rather than what society thinks they should do.

Let's support women in whatever they want to do in life.

Let's make it easier for women to have a career as well as children.

Let's help our women become equal in academia, education and sciences.

It's a tough gig being a woman.  Let's celebrate today, yes.

But let's also remember our contributions every single day and champion them.  It's so important.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Small Talk

I'm knackered.

My belly feels huge.

The husband is out at work and then out on his brother's stag do.

I've exhausted all of the good programmes on Netflix.

I (finally) ordered a new phone today and await it with anticipation.

We are waiting to hear back on whether the house we like can be ours forever.

The kids are too full of beans.

I have been crap at blogging lately, but I have far too many things to do just now.

I finished the boys' memory quilts today (pics to follow once I get new phone!)

I got myself a book from the library to read this weekend, but it turns out its not so good, so once again, I'm bookless.

I think I'm going to spend tonight making a patchwork quilt instead.

Sometimes I think getting the random stuff out helps.

I miss my friends.

I still can't think of a name for the baby and fear he shall be forever nameless.

Tomorrow will be our first family day for a long time.

I still miss my dog more than anything ever in the whole world.

The kids found what looks like a human bone in the woods today - they are calling it a 'dinosaur bone'. Hmm...

Ethan's favourite nursery teacher is leaving next week and I think he's pretty upset about it and we are getting it back in bad behaviour, which is testing, to say the least.

I have a super-wiggly baby today.  It's lovely.

Sometimes I feel like the only person in the whole wide world, which is scary and exciting at the same time.  I'm getting really used to being alone and I don't know if that's a good thing. I feel it is because it used to really upset me, but now I feel strong because of it.

I hate how uncertain our future is at the moment.  I can't wait until about 6 months time when the dust has settled and I can hopefully see everything clearly.  Just now it all feels like such a muddle. But I know it will work out. I am so impatient.

I'm really glad our neighbour is away - peace and quiet for a change.

I can't wait for summer.

Thomas has lost and broken 2 red noses in the space of 2 days.

I have to craft a glass tissue paper decorated candle holder for craft class on Monday, but I have neither glass, or tissue paper.  Excellent.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

21 weeks 22 weeks 23 weeks...

So! We made it to 21 weeks for the scan (although I'm 23 weeks this week, but hey, I'm a procrastinator).

So, I thought I'd share with you the scan photo:

And also, the wonderful news that I don't have to think of some kind of crazy name change for the blog.

 Yep - it's another boy!

I am going to be a gang mistress for real now, complete with (very probably) nervous twitch, bad hair and lifelong ambition to get the house clean.

In all honesty though, I am extremely pleased to have another wee body to cuddle, regardless of gender, and am really looking forward to June.

The scan did show a wee problem with our boy's heart - a teeny wee hole in the upper Ventricular Septum of about 2mm.

In typical dramatic fashion, the scan took just under 2 hours to complete due to one very wiggly wriggly baby, who wouldn't sit still long enough (just like his dad!) to let everyone see what they thought they had seen.

Sadly, it wasn't just a grainy image - there really was something there.  It took a midwife, a sonographer and a consultant to check it out, but yep, one wee hole.

The initial conclusion is that it's nothing really to worry about and more of something just to keep an eye on.  In the grand scheme of things, it's early days and the hole should close over before birth. But as we all know, doctors must give us the worst case scenario, so we had to discuss things like the possibility of it being a sign that baby could have Down's Syndrome and also that he may need surgery as a newborn.


We were offered the test for chromosomal abnormalities, but declined with gusto - it would only tell us if he did or didn't have anything wrong and it comes with a tenable risk, so we vetoed it instantly.

The way we see it is, everything else on that scan was beautifully perfect.  And he was rolling around like a trooper with huge kicks, punches and headbutts.  Our baby will always be perfect to us.  And we would face any challenge that came our way.  And besides - the strongest possibility of all is that it will all be fine.

It's still not the kind of shock you need at a 20 week scan, but there are definitely worse shocks to get. We were very lucky to be offered a raft of appointments to keep an eye on things; our care now involves cardiologists, paediatricians and lots of extra scans.

One of which we had today in fact.

We had an appointment (or two actually) with the top foetal and paediatric cardiologist in Scotland, no less, who visits our hospital once a month.

We are now on his caseload, which kind of initially makes you go ' whhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?' because, well, you know, big important doctor, but for the same reason makes you go 'phew! Big, important doctor on the case!' And he had to travel from Glagow to see us today, so there was LOTS of hanging around for his arrival, but it was completely worth it!

He didn't seem too concerned - the feeling being that it's still kind of too early to properly assess actual amount of damage, and if there is the damage that they think there is, then it should be easy to treat.  Be that through surgery (eek! newborn surgery!?! Why was he so relaxed about this?!?) or a wait-and-see-what's-going-on, I don't know.

What I do know is that they are very reluctant to book me in for a csection date until they know more, which is kind of worrying me a bit.  There's a real chance we might end up delivering in Glasgow at Yorkhill rather than in our home town, so that's a bit of a head-mess too; right at a time where we are supposed to be moving house *groan* and trying to transition Ethan to primary school.

We never do anything by halves, that's for sure.

I'm ending today feeling a bit like this is all happening to someone else.  It's kind of hard to get my thoughts around all of the mad changes which are happening in my life, but I'm trying so hard to focus on the positives and keep the stress levels to a minimum.  It's tough though. So many alien concepts, especially after two (relatively) very healthy kids with no real complications.

It would be so easy to crumple under all of the pressure, but that's really not an option. I have to continue being a mother.  I have to go to work.  I have to keep house searching  so we have somewhere to live before this all kicks off.  I have to keep to my commitments and do my best; after all, it's all fun and good and awesome, and that's all happening too.

Dave and I like to have a bit of humour as we go, and we jolly each other along. Our humour might seem a bit black to others at times, but when you are faced with crazy crazy situations like these, it really helps to just generally laugh and make it a bit smaller than it is.  I'm so grateful to have a supportive husband like him.

Life's been a bit all-consuming lately.  I'm still very much grieving the loss of my old boy, Sparky, and we are stuck in a constant cycle of work, shifts, appointments, forms, school stuff, financial stuff etc etc.  I'm starting to look forward to the slower pace of summer, where we'll hopefully be settled with a healthy newborn, maybe a new puppy (maybe!) and the kids are playing in our back garden.

I'm holding on to that image in my head, because in six months time, once again, we'll be in an entirely different part of our lives, and all of this will just be yet another blip in the past.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Commercialised Hype, and you're all falling for it

I work in a library, and yes I did notice the popularity of the Fifty Shades series.

As part of the fabulous service that you can expect to receive at our library, you can put your name down to reserve a book when it becomes available, and in some cases even order it in to be reserved.

Needless to say, many folk put their names against this title, the books being hastily passed from one reader to the next, usually not even hitting the shelf before ending up back on the reserved pile.  It was crazy. People were phoning and asking about it, wondering when it would be their turn.

The audience? Well, mainly older ladies who use the service anyway and were curious to see what all the fuss was about.  Many, and I mean many, handed the first book back with a groan, pushing it over the desk and mumbling something about 'what a load of rubbish', or 'too far-fetched'.

'I'll stick to the Mills & Boon,' one lady giggled, 'it's a much better read!  That one was terrible, the grammar was awful!'

Some carried on to read the trilogy, remembering to pick up the second or third book, but very noticeably, there are now a lot of half-thumbed through second and third books of the series on the shelves compared to the few battered and well-read first books that were actually returned and didn't actually just end up under someone's bed, never to come back tot he library again.

I suppose, for those who read, Fifty Shades just didn't really hit the mark. They were much more inclined to pick up a dark classic or some of the other romance fiction (of which there are many, in various shapes and forms) to tickle their tastebuds.  The verdict seemed to be that Fifty Shades was just another well-publicised, over-hyped fad. The various comments about it ranged from "poorly-written", to "fifty shades of crap!

Curiosity did get the better of me, and I had a look at one of the reserved books one day, thumbing through one on my lunch break. I wasn't shocked, or even remotely perturbed - I'd spent time working in a high street sex shop which had worse things on the shelf than this.  Just picking out random bits of text turned me right off anyway. I mean, seriously - I didn't have to look far for some hilarious text to back up my view that no person who truly enjoyed words in their art form could subscribe to this as a serious storyline with serious outcomes.

I wrote it off as yet another book that would have it's time and then leave as suddenly as it came. No pun intended.

It floated away for a while and then the rumours came of a movie. It was no real surprise - after all, it was clearly a commercialised hit already.  People who never usually bother to pick up a book had picked up three. Which is quite profitable for your 'supermarket sellers', the ones you pick up along with your shopping or with your lunchtime sandwich. Cheap and cheerful pick-me-ups, right?

The search was on for a man to play Christian Grey, a character whom every critic was holding up on a pedestal as one who would be difficult to perfectly portray.  Who, if the casting was wrongly done, would ruin the very image of man.  The supposition was that these would be very difficult shoes to fill.

He should be at once sexy, but commanding. 

Lusty and serious.

Hot and unforgiving.

Women were going crazy for this guy, so I decided to do a bit of investigating.  After all, I'm not adverse to a bit of perving over fictional characters in movie format.  I've seen Magic Mike (to my eternal shame. What? Channing Tatum is unbelievably smooth in that film. Those dance moves are UNbelieveable!)

After skulking around various film boards, newspaper articles and feminist boards, I was kind of a bit worried as to the kind of character this Grey man was.  After all, if any of my friends or family started going out with or dating a guy who treated them like that, I'd be staging an intervention, complete with identity papers and a house move to another country.

I'm perplexed - how are normal, seemingly functioning and sensible, modern, women even subscribing to this notion of a man so poisonous and degrading to the very core of femininity?

Talk about one step forward ten steps back.

I get the BDSM thing.  I get the allure of bondage and handcuffs and I can even imagine how sexual contracts like the one Grey gives Ana can be a bit of a turn on to the usual lady lounging at home with her day to day life. It's thrilling. It takes away from the normal wishy-washy will-she-won't-she mundane storylines that crop up time and time again in other 'romance' novels.

It pushes a boundary, a social contract even, and it makes it seem legitimate, because ultimately, by the end of the third book, Ana gets her child and her man and her life with them. So, it's like saying, 'oh yeah, well, sure, they have a weird relationship to start off with, but they work it out, yeah?'

I've had several conversations with my fellow women about Fifty Shades, and I have to say, it's not the books, it's not the characters, nor is it the plotline which shocks me the most; it's the reaction of normal, seemingly forward-thinking women to some of the darker undertones of it.  The really, terrible, awful, abusive stuff that, seriously, there can be no excuse for.

It's also the fact that they are willing to normalise this behaviour to such an extent as to jump behind the commercialism, to invest in 'girly nights out' to see the film all together, to fantasise as to which guy is going to play Mr. Grey so perfectly in the film, to shout down the women who point out that sexual fun and antics is entirely right and good, but that a man who takes advantage of a woman in such a way is a bit of a git.

I've heard all the arguments as to how to legitimise Grey's acts - "it's sexual slavery and that's how that works", "Ana saves Christian from himself, so she's the stronger one", "don't be so vanilla", "it's just a bit of fun".

Come on, who are we kidding here? 

At the same time, I'm torn; I remember such over-reactions to similar things like how evil Freddy Kreuger was, how corrupting video games were to young children, the reaction to awful porn like Deep Throat - all of which make us laugh now and say, 'really? That's nothing!'

But isn't that where the real problems lie?

The problem with things like Fifty Shades of Grey is that it does normalise and legitimise.  It raises a bar that the next person has to hit in order to shock, and trust me, this will come too. There will be a time where we look at Fifty Shades and laugh at how ridiculously sweet it was.

And what about the real people in real abusive relationships?  What do they do with this information? Does a woman caught in an abusive relationship now have a chance to romanticise what is happening to her instead of breaking free, in the hope that she too will find her Mr. Grey?  After all the work that has been done by various groups all over the world to say that such behaviour is not right, is dangerous, is wrong, doesn't Fifty Shades somewhat court responsibility for hat happens here too?

Apparently not as long as the people behind it are making their fifty shades of moolah.

Of course, the commercialization which goes along with such a box office hit is phenomenal.  There's Fifty Shades promos on everything.  Hitting the Valentines day market, you can even but Fifty Shades sex toys. Albeit, very poorly made sex toys. Seriously, don't waste your money. That stuff will snap in two if you even attempt to use it harder than a wee bit.

Christian Grey is like a metaphor for commercialism alone - even if you move to Antarctica, it'll find you, right?  Maybe that's the joke here? 

I'm no prude, I have a wicked imagination and I could tell most folk a thing or two about, you know, 'stuff'.

But there's a reason why it's hitting a lot of people's moral compasses and raising red flags.  Reasons I sincerely believe I don't really need to outline here.

Everyone is entitled to explore their sexuality in whichever way they see fit - that's fun and healthy and good.

I think the definition of healthy is what's at stake here.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Goodbye Sparky

Last week we said goodbye to one of our family members. Our gorgeous dog-boy, Sparky, was 18 years and 10 months old.

I've had this awesome guy since I was about 12 years old.

Dave and I had been on a fun trip to a craft shop in Letham.  It was the first time we had had time together in ages - and even then I was due to be at work in the afternoon. We'd taken the new car for a spin, stretching her legs on the country roads.  It was a really sunny day - the first properly sunny one we've had for ages and our moods were light.

We got what we needed and then headed back for lunch, me eager to sort my hair and so on before having to face the general public.

We pulled into the cul-de-sac and parked the car, Dave going in first while I pulled in one of the wheelie bins from outside.

As I put it in its place, I noted the rubbish that had gotten out of the bag, and went to go inside to moan to Dave about making sure he tied the bags properly, to be met at the top of the stairs with a very panicked husband, with a  very worried look on his face.

'He's hurt himself. It's his legs! Oh no...oh no!'

I ran up the stairs and into the kitchen, to see my boy wobbling about on very wobble pins.  He flopped over, panting as he landed in a patch of sunlight, which on any normal day would be great - he loved nothing more than sitting in the sun.

I lay down on the floor beside him and just gave him the hugest hug - I knew what this meant and it wasn't good.

I don't know if any of you have ever had a dog live as long as 19 years old, but lets just say from about the age of 12 onwards, you are trying to prepare yourself for the worst.

I'd been through it so many times before in my head; I'd left on many a holiday holding him extra close in case he wasn't there when I came back.  I'd poked him so many times when he was sleeping extra-peacefully, convinced that this time this was 'it'.  I'd completely prepared for the fact that my old doggy couldn't last forever - I'd been preparing for years.

I just wasn't prepared for it to happen so suddenly.

The truth is, I'd been regretfully researching things like when is the right time to call an end to an older dog's life.  Although Sparky had been very physically fit and well, his mental state wasn't as good as it had been, and even though he still had mainly decent days, I was so aware of his recent decline mentally.  It was going to be a very tough call to make. And I was preparing to make it.  Just not yet.

As I cradled my boy on the floor, he just lay down.  He cuddled in, while I wept on his soft, white fur and ran my fingers across his big silky ears for which we both knew would be one of the last times.

I urged Dave to phone the vet, and we arranged to go down there and then.  We couldn't wait - we didn't know how much, if any, pain he was in and we couldn't bear making him wait longer than he had to.  Bundling him up, we took him into the car and drove to the surgery, where a kind lady led us to the table.

We placed him down, where he wobbled about, slumping to the side and wobbling back up again.  We put him on the floor and he fell over, wobbled up and tottered a bit before falling over again.

'We can do treatment, or we can do surgery if you like...'

But how could we?  How could we put our lovely elderly and confused dog through arduous treatment for old age?  He was so old. Worst of all - there was no real way of comforting him through any treatment.  We could just in no way put him through that.

That's when we made the decision properly.  The vet shaved his paw (Sparky hated vets and would NEVER in a million years have even sat on the table, let alone let her do that to him!  That's how I knew it was the right thing to do) and gave him a sedative.  She left the room so as not to stress him out and Dave and I sat with him, cuddling him in until he fell asleep.  That's the last he knew before the vet came back to administer the final injection.

It's the oddest sensation, being in control of whether a person stops something's life or not.  Knowing I could have shouted 'stop' at any time and my boy would still have been here.   Knowing that the pink fluid in the syringe was the difference between heart beating and heart stopping.  And that in less than a minute, my boy was gone.  Just like that.

God, I miss him.

I miss him, I hurt for him, I ache in my heart for him.

'Stay as long as you like,' she said.

We stayed about 5 minutes.

There's nothing more to be done with a body whose soul has departed.

I touched his ears one more time, so aware that I would never feel anything like that again.  The ridge of his skull.  I inhaled his fur, touched his smells-like-popcorn feet and ruffled the scruff of his neck.

There was nothing more I could do.  I wished I could feel, smell and touch all of this forever, but I couldn't. And we walked out of the room, collar in hand, paying by card, shocked looks on our faces.

We got outside and held each other in the afternoon sunlight, getting into the car and driving back home, back to our empty house with it's dog bowls and lead and white hair all over the sofa.


I passed the bins outside.  They can wait.

I didn't look in the mirror - no need.

We just got in and started to tidy away the things.  Preparing to tell the kids that the dog who stole their pancakes that morning died today.

Pancakes - when he was a pup we used to go to a coffee shop where the owner, a friend, made him his own special pancake.

The bowl which we'd filled for the longest of times now sits in the dish rack waiting to go, well, away.  I don't know where away is, but I'm going to have to find it.

We threw out his dogfood, well, because Sparky was so old and had seen through so many other dogs whose owners used to give us their old dog food after their dog had passed and it had always felt so wrong feeding him it.  It felt like giving it to someone else was like admitting he'd died, so, in the bin it went.

We told the kids when they got home.  Tom was gutted.  He's fine today, but he's working through it.  Ethan hasn't quite grasped it, or he has and is deflecting really well.  Either way, he'll get through it too.  I'm just so glad they got to know him, even if it was in his docile latter years as opposed to the crazy, fun, manic years, which they would have totally loved. But hey.

I went back to work this morning. Had a wee weep in the car before I got there, processing the scenes from the day before, grateful that I hadn't had any nightmares in the night about it (pregnancy dreams are so vivid). I parked my car in the street where I lived as a student and remembered all the walks we used to take around there, his feud with Dave the cat, the way he used to jump up on the little walls and generally be a pain in the ass on the lead.

Then I got to work and folk kept saying how sorry they were, how they knew how it felt, how great he was, how lucky I'd been to share such a massive part of my life with him.

All true.

19 years is like two lifetimes away for me.

I was a teenager, taking him to the park with my friends for an afternoon of throwing the toy, trying my best to tire him out.  Using the tug rope to twirl him around, trying to exhaust him, which was always impossible.  He'd get fed up and sit on the hill, while you called for him over and over.  He'd sit in the sun, grinning, fluttering his feathery tail at you, cheekily.

He played Toto on the stage in our local amateur theatre company's production of The  Wizard of Oz, making friends with all the kids at rehearsals.

We rode on the bus together - him on my knee, nosily watching out of the window, ears right up, watching absolutely everything.

He'd watch television, barking at dogs and cats he saw on programmes and listened intently to the world outside the windows of our house, jumping up onto the backs of furniture so he could get a glimpse.

I was a young lady, coming home from a late shift, sometimes int he middle of the night after working all day.  He'd greet me, wagging, as I shushed him, slipping on his lead for a midnight donder.  We'd come home and cosy up together in bed, him laying his head in the crook of my knees.

He'd sit beside me in my bedroom, as I sang along to my cds, picking up his toy and nosing it into my lap, so I'd throw it again, and again, and again, abesnt-mindedly, before playfully chucking him on the bed, covering him with the duvet and playing the game where he'd bite through the covers at my hands, furiously wagging his tail.

I was a girlfriend, bringing my boyfriend home for the first time that night overnight.  Sparky initially couldn't get over the fact that Dave slept beside me, but later on would sleep only between his legs at night. Sparky adopted Dave and Dave adopted him.

Sparky dressed up as Superdog for our house halloween party, joining in with balloon popping and pogo-ing antics.

He lived in our student flat, cuddled up with us under our communal living room duvets in the winter, and snuggled up to snooze beside our flatmates.

We moved house together a further once, twice, thrice, four times, five times.

He made friends with local dogs - the small white westie who lived out back, the long-haired retriever at the park, the staffie who marched around the beach.  He made enemies with the other Jack Russell who lived across the hall.  He went to dog training classes 10 years after he had graduated from dog training classes.

He patiently adapted to life with babies - no mean feat for a dog advancing in age, who has been nothing but the centre of everyone's attention. He simply saw it as a way of getting more food at mealtimes! Always the optimist!  Thomas would follow Sparky in his baby walker and Sparky would try it on with Tom, carefully placing his toy on the tray of the walker, hoping Tom would throw it for him.  At night, when I was relaxing in the bath after another long day, he would make sure we never forgot him - jumping up with his two paws on the side of the bath, waiting for me to give him a scratch on his head.  And when I reciprocated (because how could you not with that cheeky wee face?), he'd take it as a sign that it was time to play, and bring his toy to the edge of the bath, rolling it in and dropping it right in the water!

He knew how to make us pay attention.

Every guest had their bag rifled through, as we joked about our 'security dog', as he cheekily pushed his ball into visitors bags in the hope that they would throw it for him.  Sometimes he was just sniffing for snacks.  Once we had to pull him out of a lady's bag in the street, apologising profusely.  He was so damn cute that she opened her bag right up and let him have it.  His award-winning waggy tail won him lots of admirers.

Often people crossed the street just to talk to him.  He had a way of spying someone in the distance, a wee old lady, a child, a tall man, and would actually fold himself in half wagging his tail so hard, trying to get them to speak to him.

He loved the beach.

Man, he loved the beach!

In the summer we'd take him down for whole days, not getting any peace, as when he wasn't running back and forward with his toy, he was furiously digging a hole to bury it, covering everything with sand, including his own huge, pink tongue. toys toys.

The Kong was a massive favourite - the eternal favourite.  He ruined so many squeaky toys, balls and footballs that the Kong was certainly right up there for holding it's own.  Then his red bone that squeaked at the end (but not for long), his Indestructaball (the only ball he couldn't burst and thus dug at ferociously.  So much so, we had to regulate his time with it!) and any soft toy he was allowed to cosy into and lick to death.

He loved the colour yellow.  He would pick up yellow balls he found at the park, steal yellow socks and make a beeline for yellow footballs at the park, which often led to us having to grab him before he ruined yet another game of football!  He favoured his large yellow rubber ball and once brought home the most disgusting old yellow children's toy which he licked lovingly while constantly guarding it.  The time I tried to throw it out, he went back into the bin to retrieve it.

He had the best sniffer I have ever seen on a dog.  We used to play games where we'd shut him out of the room, and hide his toy somewhere crazy, counting how long it took for him to find it.  And he always did!  He always knew when there were doggy treats in the house too - he could never leave them if he knew they were there.  Often, we'd get up in the middle of the night to find him lying in front of the kitchen cupboard, grumbling and moaning and wagging because he couldn't resist whatever he knew we had for him.

Oh, my boy.  My lovely, lovely boy.

We get his ashes back sometime this week.  We'll be taking them to the beach to scatter - there is no better place that I can think of.

He was always his happiest causing chaos at the beach.

Will there be another dog?  This is a question many people have asked me, albeit a bit too soon.  I suppose I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already considered it.

Of course there will be another dog.  There might even be another couple of dogs.

There will never, ever, ever in my whole life be another Sparky.

How lucky was I?

"If there are no dogs in Heaven when I die, then I want to go where they went"