Word on a Whim

What began as a blog about writing and publishing has become a blog of whatever I feel like writing. Jules Lucton.

Watch With Mother

The place where I work has fixed holidays, which is annoying because they are fixed during school holidays and around bank holidays, and I don’t like crowded places or other people’s kids.  Of course I am grateful that I have a job with paid holidays, but I’ve been there long enough now for such niggles to intrude.  Isn’t that just human nature?  This past week of fixed holiday was good though, as it meant I could spend some time with my Mum around her eightieth birthday.

Mum is very easy to be with.  Stick her in front of a telly with a glass of wine and she’s happy, which is particularly useful now that she can’t get around too well.  I rarely watch TV – the internet is my telly – but there’s something comforting about watching it at my parents’ home when I visit.  Some of the adverts though!  My son had come up for his Nan’s birthday and we’re all sat waiting for it to be late enough to go off to the Eightieth Do and the conversation fizzles out so Dad puts the telly on.  Of course it was adverts but the first that came on was, “Do you suffer from vaginal dryness and itching?”  Well, Dad averted his eyes, frowning slightly as if distracted by a sudden thought.  (It reminded me of when I lived there more than thirty years ago and he would pick up the newspaper and study it if any kind of sex scene came on).  My son played it comical, affecting a genteel expression whilst examining the ornaments on the mantelpiece, as if suddenly noticing how very interesting they were, which set Mum off laughing, infectiously!

Why do such products need to be advertised on television? And why are they mostly to do with women’s things?  “Suffering from nob-rot?  Try Penisil!”    Hmm.  Sorry 🙂

Anyway …  Mum came to stay with us for a few days, so I wiped the dust off the TV screen and looked dubiously at the remote control, but she knew instinctively how to change channels. (Didn’t they used to be called ‘stations’?)  It turned out this was an important time in Coronation Street.  Corrie has been going for as long as I can remember.  Mum used to wash me in front of it with a wet flannel poised between me and the washing up bowl, and if there was any action it had sometimes gone a bit cold by the time it made contact with skin.  I have always found the theme tune depressing – back then because it was time for bed – but now because it sounds like an unhappy cat.  Watching it again this week, I was surprised to recognise some of the characters who are still in it but was also amazed how dark and disturbing it has become.  Okay, I’d had some gin, but I recall one guy self-harming whilst another was being sucked down in quicksand.  In Corrie?  FFS!

Then Mum threw into the mix, “She was married to Sean Bean – she was inbred.”  Trying to make sense of this, I said, “You mean they were first cousins or something?”  Mum said, “No, she was in’Bread’!”  Well, that tickled me!

I live some distance away from my parents and have done for many years – but it’s a worry now they are old.  (Mum has said, in the past, “Don’t be worrying about that – we might just drop dead!”)  The big ’80’ is a wake up call though, and it’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t be just a phone call or text away.  I know they can’t go on forever … but I very much fear that Corrie probably will!

Wacky inventions … who buys these things?

I have always found humour in wacky inventions. For me they existed before the internet, when Dad occasionally bought ‘Exchange and Mart’ if he was thinking of replacing his old car.  It was within these flimsy pages that I noticed such things as The Big Slipper that was taken up by Billy Connolly (google it – there’s a video!)  I was also intrigued by a Blackhead Zapper –  with some vague diagram that suggested a syringe without a needle … it appeared to work by planting the open end over the zit and then pulling until the zit popped and the debris landed in the barrel of the syringe!  I also recall a Body Massaging Wand – recommended for sporting injuries but with small print advice that it was for external use only …

These days, well, nothing has really changed, except there are images available for me to download from the internet and take the mickey out of …

Here are some of the funniest I’ve seen lately:

“Create extra storage in busy bathrooms by utilising the wasted space over the toilet.”

toilet-storage

 

Who (apart from a double-jointed acrobat) thinks the space over the toilet is wasted? Surely the space over the toilet during standing use is so that men can see where they’re aiming without having to bend over backwards? And for sitting use, in my experience, the space over the toilet is where my head goes.  I did wonder if you were supposed to move the scaffolding out of the way on each visit – but looking carefully at the picture it appears that the lower horizontal bar has been fitted behind.  See what I mean?  No way of easily shifting it aside!

Here’s the next one:

“Maximise your storage with this fantastic set of four fridge drawers.”

fridge-trays

 

Marvellous!  How ‘fantastic’! How exactly are we maximising storage space by placing the containers we keep in the fridge into a larger container that has a big sticky-out handle?  These are advertised as ‘currently sold out‘, even though they are £19.99 for a set of four … so lots of people must be buying them.   Really?

This one takes the biscuit, maybe … unless it really does only do eggs or beans:

“Choose between fried, poached or boiled eggs using the interchangeable trays, or alternatively use it to heat beans”

toaster-and-egg-cooker

 

If only I had space on my worktop … but what if I wanted to heat up soup instead of doing beans or cooking eggs?  Would that be okay, or maybe this thing can only manage eggs and beans?  Not sure I could be bothered with the washing up that the interchangeable trays might generate.

 

Next we have the Ear Cleaner … well, two Ear Cleaners because if you buy one you get one free , so that “two family members can have their own Ear Cleaner!”

Each Ear Cleaner requires 2 AA batteries (not supplied)

ear-cleaner

 

The dog in the picture below has been zipped into a bag!  He does look rather hot and panicky, and I start to hyperventilate if I look at this for too long.  How the heck is he standing? Maybe someone propped him up and then stepped back and quickly took the photo?  “Good boy!”

Perhaps I should mention that the idea of this … invention is that if your dog goes outside and gets wet and muddy you simply zip him up inside this thing and leave him to dry – so that he doesn’t bring any muck into the house!

I read some funny reviews. One customer was dissatisfied because the bag had left pink fluff on their white dog 🙂

Another was very pleased not to have to clean out the motor-home after the dog had been in it.  Maybe you should get a stuffed dog next time!

dry-dog-bags

Hair

I never have been one to bother much about hair styles, always being a wash and leave girl … yet I do know when it needs cutting.  I have thin dark hair with a white head that tends to shine through, especially when sitting beneath an office light, an effect that is accentuated as the hair grows longer.  It was my son who first pointed it out to me, some years ago (with that invaluable and direct approach our children have) “I can see your head.”  I also have him to thank for alerting me to the fact that my facial hair was getting out of hand, by piping up (in the queue at Argos) “You’re growing a beard.  And a moustache.

Back home (back then) I said to Julz, “Bill says I’m growing a beard and moustache.”  Maybe I expected him to say of course I wasn’t – but he replied, “It’s not too bad, Love.”  So, I got out the hair removal cream – the stuff you’re supposed to test on a small area first – and daubed it generously above my top lip and around my chin, and then waited.  It was tingling nicely so it must be working …  and yes, you’ve guessed – it was working rather too well, burning off a layer of skin along with the hair … and then I had to go into work the next morning and face startled, concerned expressions from my colleagues and explain what had happened!  Anyway, I’m digressing.  This was supposed to be about head hair.  I only wish it grew as healthily up there as it’s growing everywhere else these days …

I do believe the answer to thinning hair is to get it cut regularly, with layers, to maintain a little uplift.  Until this year, I always worked on sites where I could get it cut during my lunch hour.  When asked how I wanted it done I would ask them do whatever they could to make me look less bald on top, confident that people who cut hair for a living know better than I do how it will suit me best.  It only ever took them about five minutes, and then they’d ask if I wanted any more taken off.  Never really liked to ask them to go all round again!  In my new job we only get half an hour and there are no local hair shops.  It’s an early start, so I end up scraping ice off car windows hoping my hair isn’t going to freeze to my head, even in April, in England!  It gets washed in the shower every morning because it sticks out at one side or curls around in whichever direction it’s been slept on.  After trying a couple of Saturdays to get it cut without an appointment I had a go at the front myself – just chopping off the annoying bits that were hanging around my face, and made that do for a while.

Owing to my son’s adorable puppy, I’ve been WhatsApping photos of me and the pup to my Mum.  On one I sent her that was particularly lovely of Alfie, I added the comment “Excuse my bald patch,” to which she replied, bless her, “That’s not a bald patch, it’s a parting.”  Of course she said that because she is my mother and not my daughter!  “Bloody wide parting,” I replied, and experimented with moving the parting to the other side, like a bit of a comb-over 🙂

So, this weekend I was on a mission! I didn’t want my precious Saturday to revolve around a five minute hair cut but surely one of the very many hair shops in the nearest town to this village could spare five minutes to cut my hair without prior arrangement?  But, “Hoe Nyo!  Not without an appointment!”  Defeated, I mooched around the shops, recalling the expression of that one particular lady, so heavily made up that it looked like a disguise, looking at me as if I’d crawled out of a drain whilst her younger assistant (who appeared to be doing nothing) stared at my head with pity as if thinking omigod she really needs a haircut.  I almost bought a pair of ornamental meerkats from a charity shop to cheer myself up – but then remembered there was nowhere to put them and this is precisely the kind of clutter I am trying to get rid of.

When I got home, Julz looked at me with his face prepared to approve my new haircut.  It was clear from his expression that he wasn’t too sure whether I’d had it done or not, but wanted to be approving either way!  He settled for “How did it go?” So I asked him to please cut my hair, and he did.  I’m very pleased with the result – the best it’s looked for ages.  After all these years, he knows my hair better than anyone!  🙂

Goodbye, Dear Starman xxx

The news that my life-long hero had died came not long after the passing of my lovely old friend, Peter.  Early in the morning, listening to the local radio to catch the traffic update, I was listening to opinions about the usual fascinating topics; car parking, fuel prices and dog mess when the presenter casually mentioned that news had just come in that British singer-songwriter …..(road noise and poor reception) had died. The name was said quickly and without much emphasis – so surely he didn’t say ‘David Bowie’!  I turned up the radio in preparation for the next news and was gutted to hear it confirmed.

It was a weird day, blundering through the induction programme at my new job whilst locked in a mind-loop with a snippet from Five Years, “News guy wept and told us Earth was really dying”.  I suppose I felt that this particular news should have been delivered with more importance – not just thrown in the gap between the petty complaints and the traffic jams.  I am so sorry for his family and hate to think he was ill for eighteen months and we (the public)  knew nothing of his suffering.

The radio tributes during the journey home … his voice on my favourite records being played that day were difficult yet compelling to listen to. I was taken back to the first time I saw him on TV.  ‘Top of the Pops’ was on and I must have been about five and not really interested until Space Oddity came on with that video!  Mesmerised, I fell in love with him during those few minutes and have been captivated by him and his work ever since.

During that early phase when he supposedly lived on green peppers and white powder I used to fear that he would die young, but in later years and happily married to Iman, he glowed with health and appeared always at ease … kind and humble with a slightly wacky and contagious sense of humour.  I decided he would live to a grand old age and so the news of his passing came as a shock, and a sense of losing someone who had been with me always.  Of course he still is here as I knew him.  I still have his music and videos, which is all I ever did have.  Thanks for the memories, dear David xxx

Bowie will be here forever on the earth plane owing to the wonderful legacy he has left us, and I expect he has already adapted to the afterlife and is fitting beautifully into His scheme of things.

 

Where are we now?

Life went on.  The weather got warmer and the rats moved out.  We heard of no others pets in the village being affected by rat poison and a breeder I contacted – a lady who I consider to be the font of all deerhound knowledge told me she uses it at their place all the time and has never had a problem, and that sadly eight seems to be a use by date these days for large male hounds.

We went without him to the dog friendly cottage that had been booked earlier in the year and found it wasn’t especially dog friendly after all, with an open staircase despite dogs not being allowed upstairs and too many ornaments at tail wagging height.

I bought my first ever carpet this year, having always been satisfied with whatever was already on the floor wherever I lived.  Gandalf was a pup in 2007 – that was the summer of the floods – when it never stopped raining and the garden became a quagmire.  I recall coming home from work one day and noticing the living room smelt of wet soil infused with dog muck.  Even though the garden was diligently cleared I guess with all that rain some of it must have got washed into the earth.  When everything finally dried out and he stopped going in and out so much I had a go at cleaning it.  I thought a drop of sterilising fluid in the water was a good idea, but it wasn’t!  The result was a blotchy carpet, dark in some areas and bleached almost white in others – so I did the obvious thing and bought a rug to go over the top of it.

It seemed acceptable to have a scruffy house when there was a big dog living in it.  We referred to the downstairs as ‘Gandalf’s flat’ and his beautiful presence was a distraction from the scruffiness – but without him the living room was minging, even by my standards.  I bought new curtains to go with the carpet and was slightly worried I’d become a ‘curtains and carpets’ type … but it was just a passing phase.

People keep asking if we’ll get another dog but no, not yet anyway.  Meanwhile the new carpet has been christened. My son has a puppy who comes to visit, so I now have the pleasure of being a grandma to the gorgeous little fellow pictured below.  Not brilliant photos but he rarely keeps still.

These two were the best of many blurred grey smudges:

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DSC_0025_2

LOST OUR BELOVED DOG TO RAT POISON – PLEASE BEWARE

About five months ago we became aware of rats in our loft.  I was amazed how noisy such a small animal could be, scuttling across the plaster board at night and then scrabbling around, along with a rapid thumping noise that’s probably bonking.   The ‘scuttling’ is a startling noise that jerks you awake each time it happens, however familiar it becomes … after five months.

I am a rat lover.  I have enjoyed them as pets in the past.  Whilst I didn’t want to let them chew through electrical wires and reproduce in the loft, we are animal lovers and there was loads of advice on the internet about getting rid of rats safely and humanely. There was no need for poison.

So, Julz went up ladders to block up any tiny gaps he could find where they might be getting in and soaked cotton wool with peppermint oil and distributed it in the loft.  Next we bought the ultrasonic beeper, a strobe light, and even some product containing fox piss that is supposed to deter rats.  Then Julz tried boiling up his own brew of rat deterrent and sprayed it around up there.  We also had humane traps baited with Nutella, including one that claimed to catch multiple rats as there is a double trap door and they tend to follow each other, and of course humane traps involve regular loft visits in case anything has wandered in.  We heard a litter of rat babies up there but it seemed a shame to disturb them – then a couple of nights where they seemed to be fighting, before it went quiet.  They had used the loft insulation as a cosy winter nest but now they had gone. Julz disposed of the filthy, stinking patch of loft insulation and that seemed to be the end of it … until the familiar rat-a-tat-tat returned and seemed to expand.  Neighbours also had rats, so it seemed we were shooing them out of our loft into theirs, and then they were coming back again.  We had removed the compost bins and bird bath and anything that might attract rats, so our garden was now quite bare; but looking out of an upstairs window across a row of small gardens we sometimes saw a rat eating from beneath a neighbour’s overloaded bird table.

We had tried everything, including prayers and energy work and even advice from a professional dowser – but I ended up calling in Pest Control.  They came and put poison in the loft and left a ticket with a box ticked to indicate there were adults, children or pets at risk.  A phone call to get clarification on this reassured us that a dog would have to eat lots to be affected, and they tended not to because it tastes bitter.  Our dog weighs 45 kilos and doesn’t go upstairs.  I didn’t worry.

That night I listened to the rats scurrying around excitedly, and I felt like a murderer.  But then life went on and I somehow started to think of them differently, so as not to feel bad about calling in Pest Control.  Someone (or a combination of people I had talked to) told me that this type of rat was cannibalistic and that nothing deterred them because they had such short lives anyway.  The same day the Pest Control guy had visited, Julz found what appeared to be a cannibalised rat inside the garden shed, with its guts spilled open.  It made me feel less guilty, if that was the lack of respect the rats had for each other.  After a day or two came a sense of relief that the problem had been handed over to the professionals, so I no longer had to worry about the rats.

About ten days after the Pest Control visit, on Saturday evening, Gandalf was keen as ever to go on his evening walk.  He listened patiently whilst I had the usual phone chat with Mum and Dad, and when I said “Lots of love” for the second time he knew the call was finished, got up and stretched and led me up the road like a man on a mission, following some interesting scent he had picked up.  I wondered if there was a bitch in season somewhere, especially when he seemed unsettled after his walk and wasn’t interested in his evening food.  A wedding party was going on up the road in a marquee in a field, and of course they had to have bloody fireworks.  This was a particularly massive and wasteful display, and of course it freaked him out.  When he gets like this we have found the best policy is to carry on as normal rather than make a fuss which might reinforce his stressy behaviour.

About three o’clock in the morning I heard a bit of a whimper and he was at the door wanting to go out – not unusual.  I shone the torch on the garden and he stood for a while, sniffing the air with his tail sort of lifted up a bit.

Later on Sunday morning he was still restless and panting and hadn’t eaten, and his rear end seemed swollen.  Enlarged prostate, possibly?  I asked the neighbours if their bitch was in season and when she wasn’t I was suddenly worried, thinking maybe he had an infection.  I phoned the vet who asked lots of questions to ensure it wasn’t something that could wait until after the bank holiday, then asked us to come along to the surgery.  I put his collar on and he went to the door and got in the car good as gold, maybe relieved that we were going to get this sorted out.

He’s never really minded going to the vets and sniffed around the surgery, interested in the new smells, whilst I bibbled on about how he gets like this with fireworks etc.  She said his heart was racing far too fast for a dog his size.  “Isn’t that because he’s panting and hyperventilating?” I asked, and she shook her head and showed me the bright red blood vessels showing in his gums.

Then Julz mentioned the poison, and the vet confirmed that these symptoms were classic.  I went into denial – it couldn’t be anything to do with the poison – that was just an inconvenient coincidence that was leading her to misdiagnose the problem.  “But the poison’s in the loft!  There’s no way he could have got it.  And look at the size of him, he’d need loads and he doesn’t eat rubbish – if you give him something new he examines it first…”  I can still hear myself now, denying the possibility that I had poisoned my beautiful Gandalf, but then agreed that she could only treat the symptoms she was seeing.  She was going to keep in him and put him on a vitamin K drip; but warned us that rat poison can take a long time to work and by the time the symptoms are displayed it is normally too late.  She also told us that if a dog ingests a rat that has been poisoned, this it more potent to a dog than if it eats the actual poison.  Why didn’t the Pest Control people tell us that?!  And these were not what I would have imagined to be the symptoms of poisoning.  I would have expected pain, vomiting, diarrhoea – not just panting and restlessness.

We went home stunned, trying to piece together what had happened.  Gandalf wouldn’t eat a rat; we would have found remains in the garden. Then we remembered the dead rat that was in the shed.  But the shed was always closed – how could he have got at that?  The only possibility we can think of is that he found the dead rat in the garden (he wouldn’t catch one) and had a bit of a lick of its poisoned blood before it was dragged into the shed by other rats.

We waited around the house in a dreamlike state, but it was a horrible dream that we could not escape from.  It is hard to remember the timing of events that day, or how long we had been home before the first phone call from the vet.  Heads together on the phone we both listened to her explaining about blood platelets and internal bleeding, but we knew, by the tone of her voice what she was saying.  I asked if it was possible he had a tumour.  It was bad enough trying to accept that we were losing him, but not in this way!  Not by something that could have been avoided.  She agreed to do an ultrasound scan and found there was so much blood in the abdominal cavity that it wasn’t possible to get a very clear image of the liver, but there was no evidence of a tumour, and his system was shutting down.  We went back to the surgery and cuddled him, telling him what a wonderful boy he was and I told him how sorry I was for letting him down. The vet exchanged the vitamin K drip for whatever it is that puts them to sleep.  He seemed calm, the panting had stopped and he was cooler than usual to touch.  The vet explained this was because he was going into shock.

I think we were also slightly in shock.  The speed at which all this had happened made it feel as though he’d been killed in a sudden accident.

Back home, Julz removed and disposed of the rat poison from the loft and warned the neighbours to be vigilant of their pets, and since then we’ve mostly been grieving and analysing it all and replaying the past.  We’ve been told that people in the locality who don’t have pets are buying poison from shops and putting it the garden.  If Gandalf did die from licking the rat that was in the shed then the poison must have come from a source other than our loft, as the dead rat was found on the day the poison was put there, and it takes some time to work. This may sound crazy but I want to believe that it wasn’t the poison in our loft that killed him – although of course it makes no difference whose fucking poison it was – and imagine how angry we would feel with the neighbourhood if we hadn’t ended up resorting to poison.

I know I have rambled on a bit here and gone into too much detail but writing about this is helping in some way. This is day four after it happened, and I no longer feel so permanently choked up. Some people lose children and somehow manage to carry on, and I know this doesn’t compare.  We are gradually disposing of the things that make us cry – brushes with his hair still in them – that kind of thing, but I wonder how long it will be before we stop opening door so carefully in case he’s behind them or turning to pick up his water bowl to fill it.  That reminds me; I’ve learned that poisoned rats tend to go to water as it makes them thirsty.  Poor rats.  So, if you have pets in the garden beware of birdbaths etc.  This also reminds me that when Gandalf went out at three o’clock on Sunday morning I noticed his water bowl was nearly empty and filled it up, but just thought it was all the stressy panting that was making him thirsty.  Poor Gandalf. I take some comfort in knowing he had eight good years, and deerhounds don’t live to such a grand old age so he missed out on the last year or two that would have seen his decline.  Looking at photos taken just a week before his death he is showing his age a little. It is chilling to think that on that lovely day the poison was already taking its insidious course and we had no idea what was about to hit us, and of course I am worried about all the other dogs and cats in the neighbourhood.

I want to spread the word about the danger of using rat poison.  I have written to the Pest Control company, begging them to give their customers more information about the product they are using, the way it works and especially the hazard of dead rodents.  I am amazed how widely available this stuff is in shops – when they will only sell two packets of paracetamol at a time.

I think this post has finally dried up, thank goodness.  I feel strangely disconnected at this moment, as if I’ve been writing about something that happened to someone else, but will end this now with two of my favourite photos:

 

Gandalf Running

 

Gandalf:  7/03/2007 – 24/05/2015     Canerikie Celtic Chief.

Our beautiful darling doggy who will be loved and missed forever  XXX

Bank Holiday weekend

The weekend saw the arrival of my first ever, and possibly last, Ikea purchase. I have never visited the store having only ever heard colleagues complaining about ‘having to go’ there, presumably to please their partners, so I thought the £35 delivery charge might just be fair exchange for not having to go anywhere near the place, even though the sofa I bought was only £95.  At that price, I wasn’t expecting much but was still disappointed when it tuned up damaged.  I guess some people would have sent it back, but the damage was only evident once it was unpacked from the rather large box that we had nowhere to store other than the middle of the living room floor.  I justified not sending it back because it was a replacement for Gandalf’s day bed, which had reached the point of being utterly minging.  At least this smells clean and fresh, and I won’t be too bothered if he damages it since it’s already been thrown around a warehouse.  I’d have preferred something better quality but second hand but anything bigger than this would have blocked the doorway – and there’s an awkwardness with second hand seats that I want to sniff before I buy but can’t politely do that in a charity shop!  Anyway, Gandalf is pleased with it:

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Oh, and here’s the old sofa:

2015-05-03 13.51.57

Not wishing to exaggerate Gandalf’s powers of destruction, I should add that it’s all in bits because Julz sawed it up into manageable chunks because I fancied a trip to the tip on Sunday to get rid of it. The car park and surrounding areas were heaving with with people who had gathered to watch Morris Dancers. I suppose some of those people packed into that small space must have been enjoying themselves, whilst many others might rather have been chucking their old junk into a skip.

I also did my usual weekend run, which is gradually becoming more of a ‘jog’. I’ve been running for thirty-plus years but lately it has become more like hard work than pleasure and I’ve slowed down considerably.  I keep thinking back to when running was effortless, with occasional but memorable highs, such as one evening running the last few miles along a deserted beach when I became a galloping horse and pounded faster and faster with abnormal energy and a feeling that I could run forever …

I guess the decline is just down to ageing, as I’m not doing anything different, but just feel tired and heavy. Never really been into exercise and fitness but I’m aware that if I were to give up running I would do nothing other than sit all day at a desk or in a car.  Dog walking doesn’t count – there’s too much standing around waiting whilst he sniffs and marks everything, and watching out for little dogs that are going to snap at him owing to his height.  Running has always suited me because of the solitude it offers and the escape from conversation other than the persistent rubbish that goes on inside my own head. I feel awkward though, running, and have probably mentioned it before – that straight mile stretch when I recognise a neighbour approaching and find it difficult to decide the correct distance to start smiling at them!

I thought about getting a bike, but would be nervous of the traffic bombing around these narrow lanes, and, as a careful driver, I find bikes a nuisance and frequently drive a few miles behind bikers going at twenty to twenty-five mph before I can safely overtake.  Yet as a runner, (or jogger), I feel like an obstacle when a swarm of bikes from a club rides past bellowing “ON THE LEFT!” straight into my right ear, as they pass me.  Apparently this is standard practice and they are warning the bikers behind that there is some idiot obstructing the road; on the left.

Other than that, I spent some time with my lovely ninety-one year old friend who is as independent as possible and with a very calm, reassuring manner that I love. I met him through doing care work and still visit regularly.  He was an accomplished athlete in his youth – I saw some sepia photos of a young man receiving trophies and got him to talk me through them.  But hasn’t been well just lately. He attempts to laugh things off when it’s clear that he’s struggling – so it was really good to find him so much brighter at the weekend 🙂

Olorin

Is McAfee a virus?

Feeling a bit flush after receiving an offer of a permanent job, I treated us to a new laptop. The old one had reached the point where you switch it on, put the kettle on, go for a wee, come back and type the password in, go off and make the tea then spend another few minutes answering error messages before it becomes usable to those who know its various quirks.

The new one came with Windows 8, which I disliked from the start owing to its Toytown interface and endless pre-installed shite. I expect to be allowed to choose what to install on a new computer, not to find it cluttered with all sorts of rubbish. Anyway, those were minor grumbles compared with the disappointment of trying to use the thing. It was so very slow, particularly when browsing the internet, and kept saying the page was unavailable or not found when it was a page I’d been on just half a minute ago. The internet speed in our area is not the fastest, so I thought it might be that Windows 8 needs a faster connection – or maybe I’d just gone too cheap on the laptop. (It was “on offer” at £200 instead of £300 but since the offer ended it has been priced at £229). My fella suggested it might run quicker without the McAfee antivirus – a pre-installed evaluation version. McAfee appeared to be a channel for other companies to advertise their products in that when you opened a browser, lots of other pages would start opening up until it all ground to a halt. I was in favour of leaving McAfee on until it asked for a subscription – but by then we were so hacked off with it that it ended up in a cupboard and the old Windows 7 laptop came out of retirement.

So, I started the new job (not in care work!) and they gave me a new Windows 8 laptop … with McAfee pre-installed and assurance that more RAM for it was on order. Using it, or trying to use it, was a déjà vu experience; “Have you seen the email I just sent you with the link on it?” “No, Outlook has frozen again … okay, got it now … but the link keeps timing out.”

A few days (and thousands of updates) later, I found I could no longer adjust the brightness of the screen. The slider went up and down but the screen remained dim. Not unusably dim but dim enough that I could see my own reflection all the time, which was disturbing! I googled and found others had this problem after Windows 8 updates, but I didn’t want to mess about with the graphics drivers and hoped maybe a future update might fix it. I consulted our PC/network guru and asked about the antivirus and he kindly removed McAfee and replaced it with AVG, a free download. Not only did the laptop run loads faster, but I was able to adjust the brightness again the minute McAfee had gone.

Back home, the Windows 8 laptop came out of the cupboard. McAfee was uninstalled and AVG downloaded. Result! A functioning laptop that can browse the Net at a reasonable speed; leaving me happy to have problems resolved, although puzzled and a bit miffed to think they were caused by a product I would have been expected to pay for.

Thundershirt

Gandalf is a typical Sighthound; flat-out (running) or flat-out (dozing). He has a gentle and trusting temperament; welcoming visitors to the house but without pestering them once the greeting is done. If anything gets posted through the letterbox and disturbs Gandalf, he gives it a dirty look but does not move unless it actually lands on him.
So, why would a dog like Gandalf need a Thundershirt? Well, he’s a sensitive soul, and over the years has developed a few phobias. Thunder and fireworks are the common ones he shares, and the sound of gunshots – but he also gets worked up if it’s very windy and things are blowing around outside, especially at night. Hot air balloons are a particular phobia, and this was a real problem a couple of years ago when the sky was suddenly full of them. Not sure what happened to the balloons but the epidemic left him scarred so that if anyone in the neighbourhood is doing work with a blow torch or anything that sounds like a hot air balloon burner being fired, his anxiety is triggered.
Gandalf’s anxiety begins with general restlessness, a worried expression, pressing himself against us, and looking out of the windows. The next stage is panting, whining and shaking, which then leads to the worst bit where he attempts to climb up on to the highest surface he can find. Given that most such surfaces (desk, table, mantelpiece, kitchen worktops) are not just slippery but crowded with clutter and appliances, it is important to nip the anxiety in the bud, if at all possible.
My natural reaction is to cuddle and reassure him but from what I have read this is wrong. By making a fuss of him when he is pacing and panting I am supporting and encouraging his behaviour, and yes, I can see how ignoring the thunderstorm, firework display or whatever is happening might be the best policy – but my lack of interest does nothing to convince him that there is no reason to be afraid.
Some episodes are predictable, such as the weekends either side of November 5th, although fireworks seem to go off all the year round now, at birthday parties or whatever. Last November I bought some herbal calming tablets but I couldn’t say whether they helped or not, and didn’t know how soon they would take effect (if at all) and for how long. Without having two Gandalfs and giving the tablets to one but not the other, there is no way of knowing.
Anyway, l found the Thundershirt on the net and it had enough good reviews to make it worth a try. It is made of soft stretchy cotton jersey material and well-designed for the shape of the dog. The idea is that it gives him a reassuring hug around the chest but without being uncomfortable or constricting. I guess it’s a reinvention of the old idea of swaddling babies to keep them soothed.
This is what it looks like:

DSCF2700

The bit I have looped together fastens below the neck and the long flap goes down under the deepest part of the chest, wrapping around and up, and is secured beneath the side flap. It’s all held in place with Velcro, which is noisy to pull apart so it’s a good idea (and recommended on the blurb) to try it out first in none-stressful situations with food treats involved. I had wondered if Gandalf would tolerate wearing it, but he was fine. There’s no way I could wear one – can’t stand any clothing that clings. You can get also get them for cats … maybe you could get it on a very chilled-out cat in preparation for a visit to the vets or something … and hopefully not have to tear the Velcro apart too many times to re-adjust the fitting.
For the Thundershirt to be effective I think it needs to be put on at the first signs of anxiety, to nip it in the bud. I can’t imagine there being much point putting it on if a full-blown clambering up the furniture situation was already underway, and I would not leave a pet wearing one unsupervised – but the last couple of times he began to pace and pant and we put it on him, this is what happened:

Gandalf thundershirt

Not the best view of the Thundershirt as I took this discreetly from an armchair rather than standing over him with a pointy camera. He is still a little wide-eyed and tense, but the panting and pacing has stopped. Happily, we’ve only had cause to try it on a couple of occasions, but it takes the edge off immediately. Early days yet, it’s a recent purchase, but so far so good. Thirty quid well spent, I think.

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