25 April 2016

Riding in cars with boys (on youth, and what I miss so much)

I am thinking now of something that happened last week, when I was leaving a pub after catching up with a friend. It was dusk, the first Spring day when it had felt optimistically warm.  I always feel like the air is slightly electric on days like that - a pang of heat still hanging in the air, the sky lazily moving through the colour spectrum.  Uniform blue, inkwell blue, thundercloud blue, and on and on until the trees are no longer silhouetted against the sky and the darkness pulls its cloak around your corner of the world.  I like being out driving at that time, particularly when the journey meanders through the Dorset countryside; winding roads and the smells of countryside air through the slightly cracked window, the headlights catching the eyes of foxes and farm animals as they stare back through fences and forests.  I had an Orson Welles radio show lined up in my Podcasts app, the heating turned up to match the mild temperatures outside, and I felt a sense of civilised contentment.

As I pulled out of the car park, another car drove in.  A sporty saloon in royal blue, with garish stickers on the side. The low hum of a high performance engine, increasing in pitch as the driver accelerated up the driveway; smooth tarmac giving way to the crunch of gravel.  As I stop to let them through, the driver throws a half-hearted wave in my direction, but doesn't make eye contact.  But she does - his passenger, with her head tipped back and arched in my direction as she dispenses a lingering sideways glance.

There is nothing, and yet also everything, contained within that glance.  Her lips are slightly pursed, as if she is drinking wine (I am reminded of the Peter Sarstedt line - "You sip your Napoleon brandy, but you never get your lips wet").  She is too young to know how to push her lips into that shape, to communicate possibility by pulling back her cupid's bow.  She is, maybe 17 or 18 - something that begins with a one, certainly.  An age that feels like a lifetime ago to me.  My sense of contentment fades into a pang of something different - envy, nostalgia, regret; a blend of emotions that draw you into the distant past.  Oh to be an age that begins with a one again - 16, 17, 18, 19...  In the rear view mirror I watch her slide out of the car; long, slim legs in skinny jeans and boots, a leather jacket draped across her shoulders.  At that age you have not learned yet to be ashamed of who you are.  As I drive away I watch her arch her back and shake her hair loose and I think, there is nothing more powerful than a woman with a sense of reckless abandonment; that blend of confidence and indifference that is undeniably potent.

img credit: khplox.tumblr.com

At that age I was riding in cars with boys too - I think back to that time often.  Here is a memory: sat in the back of a friend's car, windows down and night air billowing in.  The stereo on, loud, and everyone singing at the top of their lungs; shouting out the words because your favourite songs mean so much more at that age (they say everything that, at 18, you cannot articulate yet).  A friend passes you a bottle of something and smiles, and you throw your chin back and laugh, and there isn't a joke but it's just that you realise that nothing could ever be as perfect as this.  The boy in the passenger seat is smoking a cigarette and it hangs lazily from the corner of his mouth as he turns and takes the bottle from you, gently, brushing his hand against yours.  At that age, boys smell like smoke, and dirt, and grit and oil.  As you hand it back you lean against the window, the cold glass against your cheek, streetlights leaving light trails as the driver accelerates.
When I think back to this time, I think that the reason it is such a poignant memory is that, at that age you have those moments where you feel... wild.  You don't have a sense of responsibility, of self-consciousness, of limitation.  You don't care what happens tomorrow, next week, next year.  You don't have a to-do list, a life plan, a savings account, a career path.  I think the reason that so many of us have such fond memories of our teens is because it's perhaps the last time we were truly present and in tune with just being.  That's not to say that my teenage years weren't full of angst, but they were full of feeling the things you're meant to feel - love, heartbreak, jealousy, joy, sadness, love, love, love.  Not anxiety about having said the wrong thing in a meeting, or how many hours on the treadmill it will take to burn off that slice of pizza, or how to achieve the perfect instagram flat lay.  The emotions that are felt by wild things, not things that have been tamed.

And so, I think the reason why that glance is jarring to me is because it represents something I no longer am.  In our 20s and 30s we get the edges rubbed off, the sharp corners smoothed out.  There is a lot that can be said for civilised contentment, for Orson Welles radio shows and knowing that your slippers and blanket are waiting for you at home.  But maybe there is also something to be said for the wildness of youth, for reckless abandonment, and for nights spent riding in cars with boys.

18 April 2016

Bodhi the dog + a FURminator review

"He won't stay white for long!" is a phrase often exclaimed by other dog walkers as Bodhi bounds along a muddy track in the forest, gleefully spraying dirt and leaves as he leaps along.
  Bodhi with a stick

Luckily Bodhi will take the longer route around a puddle or muddy bog, and doesn't generally enjoy getting his feet wet (much to Tom's chagrin, who hoped that Bodhi would turn out to be a cool surfer dog and like swimming in the sea with him!) We haven't had too many occasions where Bodhi has looked like this unlucky pup (although he does really look like Bodhi did as a puppy - maybe it's one of his more adventurous brothers or sisters...)

img credit: dogster.com

Bodhi has developed rather an attraction to sticks recently, and will happily dip his nose into a lake or stream to get a tasty looking stick, that he will then carry around with him for the rest of the walk.

Bodhi in the lake

His search for the best looking stick however can sometimes lead to some rather muddy paws.  I love the way it looks like he's wearing little black socks!

Bodhi in the forest

However, Bodhi's enthusiasm for a fun day out in the forest and a busy day of collecting sticks will soon wane when he hears the sound of the bath being run when we get home.  We don't regularly bath Bodhi as it's important for dogs to retain the natural oils present in their coats, but of course if he ever smells a bit or gets dirty he has to have a dip in the tub.

One aspect of grooming that Bodhi doesn't mind however, is being brushed.  I'd even go as far to say that he likes it - he always seems very relaxed and content when we're brushing him and is happy to roll onto his back so we can do his belly (you can see this in the video below!)  When we took Bodhi for his puppy check up when we first brought him home, the Vet told us that one of the 'must-buy' items was the FURminator de-shedding tool.  This appealed to Tom's obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but far from just being a catchy title, it's a bloody amazing product and one we constantly recommend to other friends and family who are lucky enough to be bringing a doggy home.  The Vet was insistent that we bought a FURminator for Bodhi because, being a poodle cross, his hair can get quite long and curly, and if left un-brushed it can get matted and tangled.  This can be uncomfortable for Bodhi, and so we always make sure we brush him regularly. (I bought Bodhi's FURminator brush from Amazon, where the reviews speak for themselves!) The FURminator reduces shedding of fur on both dogs and cats (and ponies by the sound of some of the Amazon reviews!) by around 90% so it means you don't get fur all over your clothes, carpets and sofas.  It leaves Bodhi's coat feeling sleek and smooth and it's amazing how much fur comes off when we brush him.

FURminator kindly sent me their de-shedding shampoo and conditioner as well as their dual hair brush, which has a pin brush and a bristle brush, which makes Bodhi even shinier! Bodhi's cupboard of treats and products is definitely very well stocked now (though he'll be hiding away when the shampoo next comes out of the cupboard!)

Have you used any FURminator products before? Do your pets mind being groomed?

You can buy FURminator products online, at Amazon, at the Waitrose Pet store and in pet shops.  FURminator sent me products to feature for this post but Bodhi and I were already big fans of their products, so all opinions are our own!

16 April 2016

On excess, and having more than you need

Whenever I'm away from home; be it at a friend's house for the weekend or on the other side of the world, I always feel like I get much greater mental clarity and feel inspired to make positive changes at home and in my life generally.  This morning I woke up in Wales, in the comfiest of beds and a beautiful light bedroom, with one word in my head - excess.  It's not a word I regularly use (or a concept I've ever thought about in any detail), but I pondered it for a little while, especially when I considered that one of my aims for last year was to attempt to find more balance in my life.  To me, excess is what happens once you have tipped the balance in the wrong direction, I wondered if this little seed might have been planted in my subconscious to reflect on how excess might be sneaking into my life in some way.

It would be fair to say that 'excess' - going over what is desirable, having a lack of moderation or being over-sufficient or un-needed... is something that is present in many areas of my life.  I thought about this as I lay in bed this morning; about how there's always a 'sweet spot' for everything, a point where you something is 'enough' and to have more would tip into excess.  I know that I can never just have a handful of crisps, one or two pairs of shoes, one glass of wine at the pub or one slice of pizza.  I eat chocolate until I feel sick, fill up my weeks and weekends with evening plans until I'm exhausted and stressed, say yes to so many blogging projects that I end up having to set early alarms to blog before work, and can't seem to take up a new hobby without buying every book that's ever been written on it.

It's fair to say that I might just have an inclination towards excess.  It's why my house is bursting at the seams.  Take books for example.  I sorted out my books the other day and gave two huge sacks of them to the charity shop.  But I still have an entire bookshelf with books I haven't read yet.  Books I've seen mentioned on Twitter and had to immediately buy.  Books with pretty covers I was tempted by in the bookshop.  Books by authors I heard on a podcast once.  Books I picked up in charity shops, books I bought with Christmas money or books I've borrowed from friends (sorry, friends).  I probably have at least 50 books on that bookshelf.  But most nights I climb into bed, check Twitter for ten minutes and then turn off the light.  I'm definitely not reading enough to justify a 50 book 'to-read pile'.

Perhaps the problem is that I am greedy.  Another crisp, another dress, another book - all in the pursuit of that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you're surrounded by things that you love.  But there is a tipping point.  I think that there is a point when the pleasure you get from those things that you love are devalued by over-production, over-indulgence.  There was a quote in the paper from Tom Hanks today - "Eating everything you want is not that much fun. When you live a life with no boundaries, there's less joy."  I think that's true with everything.  Having, and doing everything you want, unbridled, with no off button, no point at which you say no - is not a good way to live (for me at least).

Whilst wandering around Monmouth today we went into a little bookshop and I saw a book called L'art de Simplicite by Dominique Loreau.  When I opened it up, the first chapter was called 'Material Excess'.  Don't you just love it when you get a little message from the universe like that? (Okay, it's another book to go on the shelf, but still).  I've already done a lot of Marie Kondo-ing at home but I have a feeling that tackling this is going to need more than just a clothes and books clearout, and hopefully this book will have some answers.

I'm going to make a concerted effort from now on to find that sweet spot, to not go beyond that tipping point into excess.  I need to remind myself that I don't have to buy another dress or another pair of shoes to feel satisfied.  I need to stop myself from spending £20 on sweets, chocolate and popcorn when I nip into the shop to get a treat to watch a film with - or from ordering three courses and extra dough balls when I go to Pizza Express.  I need to manage my diary better and remind myself that I really don't need to arrange to do things every night for a month to feel like I'm making the most of my time.  But probably most of all, I need to remember that happiness comes from more than just things - and hopefully that finding that balance and simplicity will be just as fulfilling as adding another pair of shoes to my collection...