I seem to be knitting a dog blanket

Yesterday evening, whilst watching TV and trying to decide What Just Happened at Westminster, I happened to look down at my hands and realised I was knitting a dog blanket. The thing is, I have nineteen cats but no dogs, so why am I knitting a dog blanket?

It’s quite a nice blanket consisting of twenty-five multicoloured squares – ten plain, five with small doggie paws on, five with medium doggie paws and five with huge doggie paws – but the fact remains, I do not have a dog.

I have observed this, with my decision-making process. Other people seem to identify a need or a problem, work out a strategy to deal with it, then implement that strategy. So it’s kind of cause and effect. I don’t do that, mostly. I find myself doing things, am mystified as to why I am doing them, and then try to work out why I might have decided to do them.

So, it now occurs to me that I am knitting the dog blanket for Queenie, my almost-Godmother’s almost-dog, for Christmas. Queenie is old, and has been quite ill this year. She doesn’t quite belong to Godmother, who also isn’t technically, officially my godmother. But she ought to be.

Queenie is a small, white nondescript pooch, possibly a Scottie or a Jack Russell or combination of both – I’m not good on dog breeds. She belongs to the overweight, elderly alcoholic woman who lives over the road from Godmother. Godmother regularly responds to slurred phone calls demanding rescue from the foot of the stairs, which the lady is unable to climb due to her day-long wine consumption.

Queenie has to return to the alcoholic lady for one hour a day, but Godmother, who is in her eighties, takes care of Queenie’s daily walks in the park, vastly expensive veterinary care and general need for love and affection.

So Godmother is my guardian angel, Queenie’s owner’s guardian angel, and also of course Queenie’s. I can’t say how much it has comforted me, throughout my life, to know that angels do walk the earth, and that one of them, miraculously, assigned herself to me.

So, the dog blanket is for Queenie. And of course, I knew that all along.

Didn’t I?
NB: Please see my reply to Belladonna’s comment below for further details and a link to the pattern, which was originally connected with an appeal by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

You take the blue pill, the story ends…

How do you make decisions? I make them with the greatest of difficulty. I spent twenty-two years analysing and obsessing over the thorniest of them all and in the end didn’t so much decide as implode in slow motion. But enough about that; my past is strewn with bad decisions, utterly random decisions and the consequences of failure to decide at all.

Ridiculously, I’m good at counselling other people. I listen to them and I get inspired; I see, clearly, what they do not seem to see and when I share my thoughts with them they go Oh, yes… Well, sometimes. Unfortunately it doesn’t work on me. I’m not in the least inspired by my own problems, only beaten down, bleached, leached and generally debilitated.

And deciding gets no whit easier as you get older. That thing about the coming of wisdom with grey hair, twinging knees and shortening telomeres? Sadly, no. What does happen is that you start to recognise your life’s recurring motifs. Having waded through the same disastrous, treacle-like scenarios again and again, eventually the penny drops – oh, that again!

By this time you’re weary. You don’t the same amount of energy to spare for havering and wavering so you look for ways to short-circuit the decision-making process and avoid at least some of the agony.

I’ve made a million For and Against lists. Have you done that? At the end of the process the For list is always, by some miracle, exactly the same length as the Against list – and you still have no idea what to do.

Historically people would decide by means of the casting of lots – by the fall of the dice, the toss of a coin, the drawing of straws. In Roman times a priest would augur to discover the will of the gods, by studying the flight of birds, the types of birds, the noises they made as they flew, whether they flew singly or alone. Augury was complicated. And of course, you have to believe that there are gods, who will unfailingly know best.

I’ve even tried that thing with the Bible, where you let the Book fall open where it will and plump for a random verse. But – as with horoscopes – you can make a random verse mean anything you want it to mean. Perhaps that’s the thing, though – your interpretation will reveal what you wanted it to mean.

The best way I’ve found is to talk on the phone to my Canadian sister; or rather I wait for her to ring because she always does ring, when I’ve got a problem. It’s something to do with that vast, chilly Atlantic Ocean stretching between us. Salt water, sunken ships and a host of little fishes, the conductors of our dilemmas.

So, we rabbit on, going round in circles as ancient sisters do. I have a bit of a rant about the problem. She tells me about her desperately sick husband and I can hear she’s either crying or trying not to cry. I cast around for anything to say that might be of comfort. She tells me her problems and I tell her mine, and at the end of an hour-long call she suddenly says: Supposing I tell you the choice has been made and it’s X rather than Y – are you disappointed or relieved?

Somewhat depressed but – relieved?

So you know, don’t you? she says. You knew all the time.

red blue

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Goodbye, Miss Chips

I originally trained to be a teacher. Three entirely wasted years at training college, using up all the grant students were then entitled to claim from their Local Authorities: bridges now were burnt; boats had been sunk; no second chances.  Why did I do that?

At eighteen, going on fourteen, I had based my decision on a range of factors, which were:

Not knowing what else to do, apart from getting a job, which I sensed (accurately) would be a disaster at this stage of my life. All I wanted was to be a poet, but there didn’t seem to be any openings for poets. A tutor suggested working in a factory while I wrote. I had never been in a factory and at that age was still running on the inverse snobbery of my parents, who were upper-working/lower-middle class. Only lower working-class people worked in factories. I had read Altarwise by Owl-Light from beginning to end. I had read The Wife of Bath’s Tale, albeit the bowdlerised schoolbook version. Duh! How could such a prodigy; a future poet almost if not quite as good as Dylan Thomas; such a towering intellectual be expected to work in a factory?

Later, I was to work in not one but several factories – collating greetings cards – week after week of sickeningly scarlet Valentines cards in the middle of July, I remember, glue and glitter that got everywhere – and a bookbinding factory. I would feel more at ease in such anonymous, uncompetitive, unchallenging environments than in any other. But at eighteen, going on fourteen, you know nothing and you think you know everything.

The shorter-than-me, half-Austrian boyfriend had accepted a place at a teacher training college in London. He was a maths genius, or so he’d been telling me for the past year. I had no way of knowing since I had never scored higher than twelve per cent in any maths test. I had spent the larger part of the previous year being dazzled by his talk of infinity and quadratic equations, while doing nothing very much in the way of studying English and French.  As a result I passed my two A Levels, but with grades so very, very low that to all intents and purposes they were fails; and this in spite of having achieved high-grade O levels in the same subjects.

I was supposed to be doing sociology A Level as well. People would joke that certificates in sociology were printed on toilet paper. I must be the only person from that era who hasn’t got one. I can’t remember a thing about sociology except that the textbook was heavy, and by Stephen Something-or-other. I must have stopped going to lectures early on in order to spend more time in the company of my long-haired pocket genius drinking black coffee and cheap cider, sharing plates of chips and learning about infinity and quadratic equations.

I knew I would never see him again but somehow my going to another, similar college maintained the connection to what had been the best year of my life in the sense of being alive. You don’t realise – the exhilaration of being eighteen and in love for the first time – the sense of possibilities – a whole vast planet yours for the taking. How soon that fades, but at the time you don’t realise, which is a mercy.

students

I needed to get away from Dad, but by some strange Freudian miscalculation managed to get myself accepted at a training college a short bus-ride away – so no actual leaving home and another three years of fierce and occasionally violent rows with Dad. I could have got away. And yet I couldn’t. It would take marriage – the classic short hop to another, similar man – to achieve that.

My mother said I was making a mistake – that I wasn’t temperamentally suited to be a teacher. But hey, I’m a trial-and-error kinda gal: I kinda have to do things, mess them up, realise I messed them up, then do the same thing over and over and over again.

So, for whatever reason I ended doing three separate six-week teaching practices in three separate schools and being dreadful on every occasion. I could hardly eat for terror during these six week torments. I hardly slept at night, knowing I would have to get up, get the bus and walk into that room full of evil, antisocial aliens all over again the following day.

Yes, I was the trainee in tears, who had to be rescued by her tutor from a room full of paper-aeroplane throwing, desk-banging, screeching, cheeking, fighting, mocking, singing, rioting teenagers.

I was the cowering, red-faced idiot in the too-short skirt being leered and sniggered at by boys taller, and only two or three years younger than myself, in black blazers. ‘Get yourself some glasses,’ my tutor suggested. ‘They’d make you look older: plain glass, of course.’

I was the one who had to be taught fractions in the staff room by the maths teacher before assembly, then fight my way in to 4B and teach a double lesson of it before it faded from short-term memory, praying the kids didn’t ask any questions because at that point I would be stuffed.

I was the inspiring young pedagogue who set creative writing tasks and got back forty-two almost identical one-line stories about Frankenstein creating a monster, the film having been on telly the night before.

The Certificate in Education, on crisp, cream paper with fancy scrollwork, which I was awarded at the end of the three years in spite of the above catalogue of disasters, apparently on the basis of an ‘outstanding’ in English (my Main Course) would rapidly become the albatross around my neck. Prospective employers would query, naturally, why, having studied for three years to be a teacher I wasn’t actually, now, teaching. And how could I explain without telling them the whole sad story I have just told you? Then they would have thought – what a dork. And why would anyone employ a dork? Nothing – believe me, nothing – fails like failure.

After a while I had a bit of a brainwave: what was to stop me leaving the Certificate in Education off my CV? And so I did that. It created a secondary problem in that with those three years  blank it looked as if you had been locked up in some sort of young offenders’ institution or living rough on the streets, but I found ways round it. I began to apply the only talent I actually possessed, and that in goodly measure – creativity/lateral thinking – the ability to spin an ever more intricate protective web of tales around myself – to my CV and other areas of my life. I became an invented, acceptable, suitable person. In the process, for many decades I lost sight of whoever was underneath.

But I survived.