A reminder to keep you gate shut…

Man stood next to compost pileThe other day we had a dog wander into the garden. It wasn’t a stray, it looked healthy, was excited to play with me and chase a ball, enjoyed a biscuit or two but had no collar or identity tag. This is pretty normal, having a dog in Spain is not like having a pet in the true sense of the word. It’s rather something for the children to keep them occupied. Owners by law must have their dogs ‘chipped’ but never seem to bother with an id tag giving a phone number, so unless you’re inclined to make the journey to a vet, finding the owner can be difficult. Owners rarely make sure the garden is ‘dog proof’ and in my experience, care little for the animals themselves, usually leaving them in the garden whilst they go to work. So they often manage to find a way just wander off and either get run over or end up in our garden because someone, not me I might add, always seems to leave our gate open.

Anyway, we called security and told them we have got someones dog in our garden, gave a pretty good description and suggested they come round and take it away somewhere safe until the owners can be found. We wait, wait some more, and wait a bit more. By now, it’s getting dark, the dog wont go, we try but instead he just follows us around, if we go out the gate he comes along for the walk but follows us back in and ends up sitting on our front doorstep. My little ones come home from school, fall in love immediately, ask if we can keep him and spend an hour having fun with their new playmate. Later they suggest he needs feeding, the dog must be hungry it’s been here all day after all. Not being dog owners, we obviously have no dog food in the house, so with two excitable little children both wanting to feed the dog, good old dad jumps in the car and pops down to the supermarket to buy a tin of dog food.

I pick up two cans, a packet of dog biscuits and head to the checkout. A bit of a line because there is only one till open, even though they have 5 tills. Still, no big issues for me as the people in front seem to be like me, carrying just a handful of things and the person being checked out has almost been processed. In and out in less than five minutes.

No, a heaving and a grunting from the aisle behind eventually reveals a tired looking bloke pushing a trolley, a trolley so full, it is actually bending and swaying and its shadow is blocking out the special lighting that’s supposed to make crap old vegetables look like freshly picked vegetables. Poor chap. No, poor me, the woman in front of me has been holding their place in the line. A cunning plan for them to avoid wasting their precious time actually waiting in the line itself. Thank you very bloody much. I expect them to suggest I go in front considering I only have three things in my hand. No. This is Spain, I must wait my turn. However, from people standing too close to me at cashpoint machines, I know how to do the ‘stare’. It’s a warning stare, a stare you do not want to mess with, a stare that says, ‘back off’, ‘beware’, ‘don’t mess with the likes of me’. So I do my best ‘you are going to die’ stare.  And although it fails with fat mum and dad and small army of children with  a full years shopping for microwave food and just add water snacks and a small chocolate hillock in their trolley, it worked with the girl at the checkout who quickly tells me to move in front and she’ll have me through the till. I am not sure if it is someone up there looking after me or someone up there is looking after the Grizzly Adams family, as I swear, if the ‘stare’ hadn’t worked, I would have shoved the dog food into his fat ugly face and tipped his trolley onto the floor.

So, back home, I find out the dog has gone. Walked off all on its own apparently. My saddened son desperately wants to feed it so we have to go out looking for it and after the effort it took buying the stuff, I too want the damned thing to eat it! We’re wandering the estate when security drive past, they stop and ask us if we’re the people who called about the dog. Mr. Big Ego with his gun and badly fitting uniform gets out, leans against the car and explains that the owners have been worried sick, looking for it all afternoon and wanted to know why we didn’t call security earlier. I explained to the security guard that we did indeed make the call, six or seven hours ago and that it’s not my job to help people who can’t be bothered to buy an identity tag for their dog and if they leave their gates open or don’t fence in their yard properly, what right have they to moan when they finally discover where it is, they should be thankful it’s alive. In fact, I should charge them for ‘dog sitting’ or at least the cost of the ‘lost dog’ posters they would have ended up having to get photocopied and stuck on lamp-posts in the area. I go on to explain how lucky the owners are the dog gravitated to our garden, where, being a family of dog lovers, we take care of lost looking furry animals like they are our own. He agrees. But then suggested that complaining about people leaving their gate open when we’d left ours open was a bit rich and asks where the dog is. Not exactly sure I reply. It’s run off…

The next stray animal that comes into our garden I will simply shoot it before the children come home from school, bury it in the compost heap and be done with it!

I am an Internet Failure…

internet failure

I see Facebook friends of mine with hundreds of ‘friends’, thousands of likes and countless ‘funny’ posts showing dogs in superhero suits and cats that look like Hitler. On twitter, someone I once had a fight with over a girl we both fancied has 600 people following him and all he does is give his opinion, in Olde Worlde English, on Manchester United football matches. I lost the fight but got the girl. She ‘chucked’ me a few weeks later though. Some celebrities have millions of followers and from what I can see, they all pretty much say the same thing, especially if anyone remotely famous or important drops dead. One celebrity tweeted a photo of the food they were about to eat, then later tweeted the photo of their empty plate… This got something like 2000 re-tweets. I see videos on YouTube with millions, some with hundreds of millions of views, usually they are little less than a pet doing something cute or funny, someone falling over, something exploding using vinegar or pranks made on the unsuspecting. Yet they go viral, get lots of shares, endless comments and make their creators famous enough to end up with a slot presenting some daft cable TV show.

I needed to get myself a slice of this pie. Reading through all the posts and tweets and looking at selfies and photo-bombs and knowing now what ‘planking’ really is, I set about my quest for internet glory, internet fame and the riches that would follow. Soon I too would be mourning the loss of some fellow celebrity as if I knew them personally and I too would be tweeting a photo of my lunch.

For weeks on end I grabbed clip after clip of our children doing their thing. My post production was, I felt, on a par with Hollywood, the titles amazing, the effects I humbly suggest were nothing less than stunning, imovie had liberated my creative juices, Garage Band had given me the musical talent of Eddie Van Halen and now YouTube would give my video an audience of millions and fans a plenty. 4 months after posting my mini-feature, I have had 4 views, 1 like (thanks Dad), no comments and no shares. Facing such humiliation was hard, but I continued my efforts. With the upgraded imovie, my second attempt would harness ‘stop-frame’ technology, high definition and now, Facebook linking to capture those elusive millions. And, having studied in-depth what was trending, I just knew that me falling off my bicycle would be an overnight success. This time I fared better, 2 likes (thanks Dad and thanks Auntie Mimi), 9 views and one offensive comment that I had to delete rather quickly. All this in just a few days. The snowball had started rolling, momentum was growing… The following week YouTube administrators took it down for music copyright infringement. It turns out that copying an Eddie Van Halen track using Garage Band is really not a talent after all.

My burping rabbit clip didn’t rock the world either. It did mark my entry into double digits though. 11 views.

I decided the time and effort of making videos was too much, but as I had finally dipped my toes into the Facebook world it seemed logical to pursue this further. It would even remind people when my birthday was due so they could send me their greetings without any effort or expense. After being happy with just my normal quota of 5 or 6 Birthday cards each year for the past ten years, having my inbox full of Birthday well wishing would boost my self esteem no end. I now have 30 friends, 20 of whom I vaguely remember from school, 4 whom I really don’t know at all, of the remaining 6, I live with 1 of them and speak to the others most weeks anyway. My most popular post (a cat that looked like Hitler) managed to be viewed by a feeble 120. And to put salt on the wound, someone then posted the very same picture to my timeline, and they managed to get over 15,000 views. On my birthday, only 6 people posted well wishes, one just saying I should go away and die, so really then, only 5. Still, being positive, that’s a 100% increase on the previous year.

My Linked-In efforts made a poor showing as well, 60 connections consisting mostly of my Facebook ‘friends’. Deviant Art is no better, 2 followers, 3 comments (by a strange coincidence, one just said ‘go away and die’), Dare I mention Twitter… No. I have just 1 follower who stopped following me after just a few days.

And so it can be said, with a certain conviction, that my overall social standing in the online social world is that of a social outcast. If there were an award for online failure, I would be the winner. “Unfortunately Mr. No-mates can’t be here to collect his award tonight and we couldn’t find any friends to accept it on his behalf, so moving swiftly along…” Billions upon billions surf the web, yet only a handful seem to find me. And statistically, of the handful that have found me and made an effort to comment, 46% of them want me to go away and die.

Knowing how unpopular or unimportant I am online is of no significance though. It doesn’t really reflect anything to do with my real life. I do have friends, not many I admit, but they are real, physically close when I need them and genuine. My family love me and those who know me know there is more to me than a few rubbish videos and photos of cats looking like Hitler. The most important well wishes on my Birthday come from the four most important people in my life and their spoken ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on what I do or say are worth far more than any online ones. The truth is, I don’t really care about my failure to socially network online because I am not really aiming for online success. I thought I was but actually, Facebook, Twitter, Deviant Art, You Tube and all these things are just distractions I wander into as and when the mood takes me and time allows.

Most online ‘likes’ are worthless, most ‘comments’ are baseless and growing ‘followers’ has little true relevance unless you’re a celebrity selling your ghostwritten book. Knowing that you’ve stopped off at Starbucks and looking at the photo of your coffee and bun you’ve kindly posted leaves me in little doubt that the social network is beyond help and I am better off not worrying about being an active part of it.

I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.