All Wrapped Up

I have been Christmas shopping. Or thinking about Christmas shopping. Or worrying about not having done all of the Christmas shopping. And then there is the wrapping to contend with. Except for those annoyingly smug people who like to boast about having finished the shopping last February and having it all wrapped up by July. As I am not one of those people, I have been collecting stuff via the medium of the internet for about a month. This way, I can avoid a last minute dash around the shops, even if I do end up sat on the lounge carpet on Christmas Eve, fuelled by red wine, peanuts and After Eights, looking for the scissors.

One of the items I have been considering for purchase is a shirt for the Man of the House. I have a good idea of the sort of shirt that he would like – nothing too exciting – classic fit, double cuff and preferably blue in colour. Over the years I have encouraged him to branch out with different colours, and have even persuaded him into a lilac one. But there are some things he will not countenance no matter how hard I have tried; a v-neck jumper is one suggestion guaranteed to induce a sharp intake of breath. Braces may cause an outburst of foul language. And if a short-sleeved shirt ever made its way into his wardrobe, he would probably be less upset if he found Daniel Craig in there, cowering in his speedos.

Bearing the above criteria in mind, I spotted a shirt that I thought may come up to his exacting standards. And then I noticed on the photograph that it had a buttoned collar. I read the details of the garment on the website just to double-check and the company concerned felt very strongly that the reason I should plump for a shirt with a buttoned collar is because:

“A button-down collar means these shirts are a wonderfully versatile choice.”

I had never thought of shirts as particularly versatile, more of a specific garment for a specific task. Now you may wish to accuse me of over-thinking the point, but how does a button-down collar make a shirt versatile? More versatile than a shirt bereft of a buttoned collar? Are collars known to be particularly flappy? Is one of the many problems with the environment that we have entirely overlooked is that it is becoming more windy and that there could be a serious sartorial (not to mention health and safety) knock-on effects from this? If in a festive fit of peak, one were to strut into the office one morning wearing the collar of one’s shirt erect, is it easier for colleagues to remedy the issue on a more permanent basis if the collar has buttons? Just what was happening in that marketing meeting when someone said “Yes, Janine, I agree the buttons do make it a wonderfully versatile choice, put that on the website. Now turn on the wind machine and let’s test the theory”?

Bewildered and confused, I threw the question out to the Facebook floor. One of my friends from university was straight onto it.  Apparently a buttoned collar was originally made for when playing polo to stop one’s collar getting in the way. Ah, I see. Well I don’t, but I accept it. Sort of. Just how big are the collars in polo? I haven’t ever been to a polo match but I am quite sure that I have never seen a photograph of Prince William powering along on his steed but also doing battle with his wayward collar. I was still no further forward with the versatility point. And I remain none the wiser.

In order to reassure myself that the problem is not mine, I have been looking for other marketing lines that have been sent to press this festive season in order to entice us to make a purchase. Here is my top five, in reverse order:

5. “You’ve just put the little ones to bed and they’re up again within seconds. Opt for power pieces that make you feel fabulous no matter how tired you are.”


No, no, no. Opt for pyjamas so you can get back into bed and go to sleep.

4. “Truly boosts creative self expression.”


Only if you snort it.  Piffle.

3. “Investment pieces.”


Diamonds are investment pieces, these are shoes.  For your feet.

2. “Add an air of sophistication to your Christmas presents….even the most fashion conscious will approve of your wrapping.”

[Metallic wrapping paper]

Has anyone, ever, dedicated follower of fashion or no, tutted disapprovingly at your gift wrapping?

And my personal favourite, which I am sure you will agree encapsulates the Christmas spirit:

1. “Make them owe you one.”

[Beauty products]

Who on earth thought that was a good idea? Who?  I would have thought that beauty products are in a fairly high risk category (rather like kitchen equipment) and should not be given unless specifically requested. And I don’t want to make you question the motives of someone who may be planning on giving you face cream but if you haven’t asked for it, then it is either a) they think that you need it or b) they want an expensive present back. And with friends like that, you don’t need any enemies. Get them a shirt with a button-down collar and be done with it.


The Battle for Aleppo

I was going to write a light-hearted post, but I can’t.  So we sit and watch a proxy war whilst innocent people continue to die. Two square kilometres, I believe. And the evacuation is delayed. Why? Not enough children dead already? Homes obliterated? Families ripped apart? It’s at times like this that I really, really hope that there is a god, of whatever faith, because I pray that they will have the strength to forgive you.



The Dog’s B*******



Over a year ago the Man of the House and I decided that we had life far too easy. We had not long moved into a new house, and bought some new furniture for it. Each of our children had a bedroom that they could slam the door to. I had a little room in which I could pile up the washing either before it went into or after it came out of the washing machine. Man of the House was (and still is) running a business. All three children were nearly at school. Why keep things simple, why not chuck something into the mix that not only changes the family dynamic, but also chews everything? We decided to get a puppy.

So after about four months of research, we made an enquiry about a litter and went to meet our little prince. He’s a black Labrador. The first time I met him I could hold him in my hand. Today, three weeks shy of his first birthday, he weighs twenty five kilos. He and the rest of his litter are all named after Beatles’ songs, and after I said “well we might as well call him Beatle”, it stuck.

To begin with it was like having a baby. We had to get up in the night to let him out for a wee, then up again at 5am to take him for a little trot. One night, I was so tired after keeping this regime, I was standing outside waiting for him to perform and I fell asleep and stumbled into the garden wall. I remembered a similar level of tiredness from when my son was a baby. I hoped that this time the sleepless nights wouldn’t last quite so long; thankfully they haven’t. However, rather like the first year of having a baby, my experiences can be separated under five main headings: nice people I have found unexpectedly, not so nice people to avoid purposely, unsolicited advice to ignore deliberately, my blossoming relationship with the new addition and poo; we’ll skip the last one.

Nice People

On Easter Sunday, whilst we were still on newborn time, I was struggling up the very hilly public footpath near my house, muttering about it being six o’clock on a Sunday morning, not being very warm weather and trying to persuade myself that the sunrise at the top of the hill would be worth the effort. The new man in my life kept running back down the hill and looking at me, clearly wondering what was taking his human so long.

Just before the brow of the hill, the path passes between two high hedges that border my neighbour’s garden. Evidently waiting for his human was getting rather boring, so Beatle decided to make his own entertainment. This entertainment involved making his way into my neighbour’s garden on the other side of the high hedge and getting stuck in some netting. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. All I could hear was a dog crying. And when I looked under the trees, all I could see were four little trembling legs.

I know my neighbour reasonably well and I also suspected that he is an early riser. However, unless you actually live in the property concerned, knocking on someone’s door at six o’clock on Easter Sunday in order to collect an errant puppy seemed to me to be anti-social in the extreme, however early someone gets up, however well you know them and however nice they may be. I decided that my only option was to commando crawl on my stomach under the hedge, retrieve the dog and with as much dignity as it would be possible to muster in such circumstances, exit stage left.

The picture that you now have in your mind is entirely accurate. I did have to lie flat on the floor to get under the hedge, I did have to use my elbows to drag myself through and I did wonder what in the name of arse I was doing. When I emerged into the garden I was covered in mud, and also had a light sprinkling of twigs and other assorted flora and fauna about my person, particularly in my hair, which, frankly, needs no assistance in looking like it has been dragged through a hedge forwards. I stood up and untangled the dog. And then the mistake that I made (and I still can’t believe that I did this) was to crawl back under without having put him on the lead first. Idiot. Yes, the inevitable did occur. I had to make my way back to get him again.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to me at the time, my neighbour whose garden we were trying not to be in, was rising early as I suspected. He had just got up and had opened his curtains in order to admire the glorious sunrise that I had been telling myself that I was looking forward to. He rubbed his eyes and did a double take as he could have sworn that he had just seen my feet disappearing under his hedge. Luckily for him as he couldn’t believe his eyes the first time, I got to do it twice.

Not So Nice People

In sharp contrast to the above incident, I was walking with my youngest daughter one day and once again, Beatle managed to disgrace himself. This involved a different neighbour and this time Beatle ran around his kitchen; not great, I know. Entirely my fault. I was mortified and very apologetic. I didn’t necessarily expect a thrilled neighbour to appear. But I am not entirely sure that I deserved to be shouted at quite so much, and in front of my daughter.

Later on I went back and dropped a bottle of wine off and a note apologising again, although I admit I was pleased that they weren’t in because I didn’t really want another mouthful.

I got home and told my sister about it. She advised me in no uncertain terms that the gentleman concerned was no gentleman and to go and collect my wine. Man of the House got that look on him; the one that men get when they know that a man has spoken to their partner in a way that they would never dare to speak to another man because if they did, there was a very high risk of what is referred to in my hometown as a “knuckle sandwich.”

I don’t walk that way very often anymore. And certainly not with my children.

Unsolicited advice

I was minding my own business walking the dog when I was happened upon (rather than the other way round as you will see in a minute) by a woman walking her micro pony. Yes, walking a tiny horse. On a lead. I put Beatle on his lead as he is quite lively, and some people are not keen on a large dog bouncing around them, even those with dogs themselves. And frankly the not so nice neighbour has made me nervous ever since. Most people exchange pleasantries on a dog walk, have a bit of a chat, and wish each other a pleasant day before continuing on their way. This was different.

“Why have you put him on his lead, does he bite?”

“Er no. [Natalie has mystified expression as Labradors are only slightly more likely to bite you than a jelly, which is why we chose the breed] It’s just that some people don’t like dogs.”

“Oh. How old is he?”

“Ten months.”

“Well he should be going left, right on command at ten months. Does he retrieve?”

“Sometimes. It’s a learning curve.”

“Does he retrieve straight to your hand?”


“Then don’t retrieve with him then. And get a choke chain.”

You know when you walk away from someone and wonder if you have actually had the conversation that you have just had? It was the canine equivalent of being out with your children at a park and a complete stranger coming up to you and saying “oh you’re doing it all wrong.”

My blossoming relationship with the new addition

Beatle has all of the backbone of an earthworm, and all the road sense of a hedgehog. He steals soft toys, socks, once nicked a bacon sandwich when I turned around to get a mug and has even taken it upon himself to select a pair of my knickers from the washing basket and run around the lounge with them on more than one occasion. He covers me in mud when we’re out, when I’m writing he comes and puts his ball on the keyboard and he barks at the postman. But like most things that drive you mad, I do love him. I chat to him when the children are at school, he lets me tickle his ears and he makes an excellent hot water bottle when the house gets cold in the middle of the day.

Last week all twenty five kilos of Beatle crashed at full pelt into my left knee cap. As I am not a flamingo, my knee cap didn’t take to being bent in the wrong direction. I was chatting with a friend I had bumped into, and she looked quite concerned and asked me if I was all right several times over. Now usually in such circumstances, being British, I would say “oh no I am fine, I hardly felt it” before dragging my leg along to the car and driving myself to A&E, weeping every time I had to change gears. On this occasion I said “No I’m not okay, that really hurt” in a very pathetic and tearful voice. I hobbled back to the car feeling very sorry for myself and cursing the dog, went off to dog training.

We arrived at dog training, which I find incredibly stressful at the best of times. It’s like paying for your child to have a meltdown at another child’s party every week. On this occasion I had a poorly leg as well. We went into the field with all of the other dogs and as soon as we did, Beatle pee-ed up my leg. The trainer noticed it, (probably because I was running around and shouting “I don’t believe it, you’ve just pee-ed up my leg you disgusting animal”) and came over to advise that it was dominant behaviour and followed it up with a question as to whether we were considering having our dog neutered. Now this is something we have been debating ever since we got him; that was the point the matter was decided.

If you read my first blog post, you will already know that when she was born, my youngest daughter pee-ed in my face. So with this as well, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am the sort of person that other animals pee on. And all I can say to you is that when reporting the incident to his colleagues, Man of the House said this: “The incident occurred at 10am on Tuesday, a telephone call was made to the vets when she arrived home at midday, for the next available appointment at 9am on Friday morning. You don’t mess with my wife.”

Maybe I should have gone and got my wine back.