“If I could walk with the animals! Talk to the animals! Grunt, and squeak, and squawk with the animals … And they could talk to me!”
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If somebody had said at the end of June that I’d be caring for a kitten and taking ownership of a puppy two months later, I’m not sure I’d have believed them. There’s a distinct possibility I wouldn’t have actually heard them say it in the first place, for my head was overrun with thoughts at the time: trying to enjoy a first proper holiday in two years, at the same time as dealing with a fraught car buying experience that came with a £300 sting in the tail, and dreading the prospect of a particularly emotional funeral.
I know these things are part of life and we all have to deal with them, but dealing with them – particularly for the first time – is what shapes us. And boy, was I getting shaped. The idea of partaking in animal husbandry wasn’t just not on the radar; the radar itself didn’t even exist.
And it’s not like people ever refer to me as ‘Doolittle’ in day-to-day life. I’ve recounted experiences with animals in a previous online life, most notably dealings with a former neighbour’s feline army. At risk of inviting unsavoury jokes, me and other species are not natural bedfellows.
So this last weekend has been something of an eye-opener. Toto, the polydactyl kitten, has been with us for two weeks, but dealing with both him and Chloe, our seven week-old Springer Spaniel, has proved to be a breathless experience. It is said that being forced out of your comfort zone is something to be embraced, but what I didn’t realise is that it also involves being shifted out of your physical space. Being relegated to the landing to do the ironing – as opposed to setting up in the living room and sticking on the Doctor Who Series 5 Blu-ray – was the icing on the cake.
Of course, they’re both adorable animals (Toto even sits and watches football with me sometimes). But that doesn’t mean much when my authority over Chloe starts to wane after less than 48 hours. Kath, my better half, is training in animal behaviour, so she knows how she wants us to raise Chloe. I’m trying to adapt, but when faced with a creature acting on instinct – and a cute, tiny creature at that – it’s hard not to react in similar terms. And when I do think I’m getting it right, apparently my voice betrays a lack of confidence and she pays me no attention anyway.
“Use a higher pitch when you talk to her,” says Kath. “Come here, Chloe,” I squeak. Not only do I feel stupid, she still doesn’t listen. Pity I can’t ignore her when she starts yapping at four o’clock in the morning… Again, I recognise that worse things happen to people far more undeserving than me, but life is treating my soul like Play-Doh again. I managed fifteen minutes (FIFTEEN MINUTES!) of writing over a three-day weekend. My creative ambitions feel like my car – unexpected warning lights glaring out from the dashboard just as I’m getting comfortable in the driver’s seat. The home I’ve just settled into suddenly feels like an alien planet.
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Can I have my comfort zone back please? It’s little wonder that I see the constant rain of bird shit on my car as a metaphor. Damn animals, even the birds are tormenting me! By eight o’clock on Sunday evening, I’m craving the comfort and reassurance of the weekly pub quiz. It’s the last hope for normality. If I can’t reclaim some self-esteem dredging up pointless trivia from the dark recesses of my brain, it’s time to give up.
And it doesn’t disappoint – I even get to throw in some geeky and wholly unnecessary knowledge of Formula One to make myself feel better. The difficulty level is such that we’re pretty sure we won’t win, but we hope to be in with a shout. To simply sit back, relax, and answer a few questions is to recall the carefree days that adulthood too often casts by the wayside. We enjoy some good conversation, a half-time chip bap, and a score of 46 points out of a possible 65. Teams have won with less in the past. The competitive instinct may be subdued by the release of pressure, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear our name read out somewhere in the top three.
The results are announced. The winners score 61.5.
Oh well, better luck next week. It’s not the taking part that counts; it’s the reassurance to be had from a routine of simply turning up in the first place. I return home, wondering what time Kath and I are going to be woken up.