Cat doo-doo: Modern warfare

Since moving house last summer, I have been involved in a territorial war. It is a war between good and evil. Between a British homeowner and an unwanted interloper. Between skin and fur. Yes, dear blog readers – I have waged war against a cat. My reason is this: The little sod keeps crapping on my front lawn and – just to mess with me a little more – it sometimes creeps around the back to crap in my back garden as well.

I feel my home has been compromised. Most people do not have this problem and can feel safe in the knowledge that – when they open their front doors in the morning – they are greeted with the smell of fresh morning air and blossoming flowers. Not me. I am greeted with the smell of freshly laid cat shit.

It’s a crafty devil, as I have never actually caught it in the act. This explains why I have yet to buy that giant-sized water pistol, as waiting for the opportunity to spray the furry beast would involve me performing a stake-out in the early hours of the morning.  This is clearly not an option. As my wife would attest, a lack of sleep for me leads to extreme grumpiness and over-reliance on caffeine. It’s not a good combination.

Friends and family have been generous in their advice as to how I can get deter the whiskered fiend. I have used repellant spray on its preferred dumping grounds, as well as lemon juice, black pepper, orange rinds and sharp twigs in the hope that one sting on its furry backside will send it packing for good. Yet none of these seem to be a long-term solution. It still won’t quit, waiting for any smell it despises to disappear before it crawls back and finds new corners to desecrate.

A couple of friends also suggested that my wife and I get a cat ourselves to ward the invader off our patch. This was clearly a no-go from my point of view as I don’t like cats and have never really trusted them. They always seem to me to be plotting something and, in my experience, will turn on you in a second for no apparent reason. I fear that if I were to get a cat, the results would be catastrophic (no pun intended). I have visions of coming back after a hard day at work, only to find the cat has ripped the sofa to shreds, urinated over my shoes, eaten the goldfish and crapped on our bed – just because it could. There it would sit, mocking me by licking its genitals with a look of smug self-satisfaction. A statement of intent that showed it was now taking over the house.

But, I digress. The enemy in this tale is already wreaking havoc and I am determined to stop it. Towards the end of last year, I was almost transforming into Colonel Kurtz from ‘Apocalypse Now’ – a man mentally broken by the trials of war. Yet, just as the harsh winter and my increasingly frazzled state looked set to finish off my campaign, it suddenly appeared that victory might be mine. There were no sightings or smells of anything the clawed villain had left behind. I thought somehow it had grown weary and waved the white flag. But alas, I was wrong. As soon as the weather became warmer in late February, it was back with a stinky vengeance.

The double-whammy is that it had even fooled me with a case of mistaken identity. I had always believed that the culprit was the furry brown cat from across the road, as it used to appear on my doorstep every so often, just sitting there and wailing. I tried to stare it out in a number of psychological battles, but this did no good as it would still return. However, after a chance conversation with my next-door neighbour, I discovered the brown fur-ball was not to blame. “Oh, it’s not that one”, my neighbour said. “It’s that black and white one that lives in one of the houses over the pond. It keeps doing its business on our lawn as well”.

I had been duped. Now I knew how that cop in ‘The Usual Suspects’ had felt. The black and white cat from over the pond was my Keyzer Soze. So, my friends, the war continues. It will wage until the bitter end, and for one of us (probably me if you hadn’t already realized) the psychological effects of this campaign will only get worse. But, whilst I still have control over at least some of my marbles, I’m off to look at water pistols on ebay…

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An apology to Coppertone Sport

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In my previous post, in which I listed 10 American Imports that I wish we had in the UK, I am ashamed to say that I made one glaring omission. So, without further delay, here it is:

11)    Coppertone Sport. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘little tube of genius’. The reason for this is that I’m British and do not tan well, if at all. In fact, my skin’s response when faced with any prolonged exposure to the sun is to go red and then peel. Incredibly attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree. Even the lobsters laugh. That was until I discovered Coppertone Sport in California three years ago. It’s brilliant. Despite it’s size, it seems to have a never-ending supply of sweat-proof, Factor 30 cream that will protect my delicate (but still manly) outer layer from the hottest of elements. It even has ‘replenishing antioxidants’. I have no idea what they are but they sound bloody important and therefore my skin must NEED them. Going back to the US last year, I was so pleased to discover it in Walgreens, I picked up a few tubes and completely forgot what I went in there for in the first place. In fact, I will also give an honourable mention to Walgreens – all your essentials in one handy place – marvellous. But Coppertone Sport saved me on a number of occasions from becoming a member of the sunburnt-Brit club. It’s small, it’s effective and – in my opinion – beats the hell out of anything we have over here. Forget the unpronounceable Piz Buin that doesn’t even go up to Factor 30 for poor saps like me. I’ll stick with the little tube of genius.

10 Things: American imports I wish we had in the UK

Following the news that Britain has successfully *cough* exported the singing embryos of ‘One Direction’ over to the US (you’re welcome, America), I thought I would kick off a semi-regular ‘lists’ feature – starting with a look at some things that our friends across the Atlantic have in their midst that I wish we had over here…

1)     More M&M’s flavours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the chocolate ones. Mrs.D prefers the peanut ones and I think we both agree that the ‘crispy’ ones are vile. Yet in America, they also have peanut butter, almond, coconut, pretzel, wild cherry, orange chocolate, mint chocolate etc. I know you can get them over here in selected shops but that invariably involves having to pay £1.99 for the smallest bag and then needing to re-mortgage your house for the bigger sizes. Ok, ‘wild cherry’ sounds disgusting but the others (peanut butter and pretzel are my favourites) are damn tasty. But why stop at M&M’s? In the newsagent opposite my old office, there was a period of about a month when they stocked ‘peanut butter and cookie’ flavour Twix bars, direct from the US. I am not ashamed to admit that it made my week when I found that out.

2)     Good TV shows with more than 6 episodes a season. I love that, when it comes to the start of a new season of a US TV show, there are at least 13 episodes to look forward to – often even more than 20. In the UK, we get 6. It’s barely even worth it. Why is this, TV executives, why??

3)     Friendly customer service. Ok, so a huge generalisation and I am sure I will polarize opinion on this. But, despite being British, I like it when shop assistants and waiting staff in America ask me how I am and say ‘have a great day’ when our brief interaction has finished. The fact that they seem genuinely baffled when you ask how they are adds to the charm. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy or maybe I’m a bit needy (perhaps both), but I would happily choose this approach over the surly attitude that seems to prevail in the UK, where any question or attempt at conversation on my part is usually met with the same look of withering disdain as if I’d just farted.

4)     Sexy politics. Ok, so ‘sexy’ may be pushing it a bit but it’s arguably a lot more interesting than the stuffiness that runs through British politics. In the US, politicians are called Barack, Mitt and Newt. In the UK, we have David, Ed and Nick. They have rallies, banners and television debates. Hollywood makes movies around American politics.  They have primaries, senates, ‘super tuesday’ and something called a ‘tea party’. Now I have no idea what that is, but it sounds bizarrely fascinating. Even the more extreme personalities are not just eccentric but completely bat-shit crazy (yes, Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you). Even the bad guys are more emphatic. There are a number of British politicians I would quite like to punch, but if I had to choose between any one of them and Rick Santorum, I would land one on Santorum every single time.

5)     HUGE landmarks. Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall are all impressive; I’m not denying that. But compare them to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and there is really no contest. Times Square in New York is brilliantly crazy too. It’s like Piccadilly Circus on steroids.

6)     Augusta National Golf Club. Every year, I get misty-eyed as I watch the best golfers in the world head to Augusta, Georgia for the US Masters tournament.  If I had a ‘bucket list’ then playing Augusta National would be right at the top, but realistically it would be impossible due to the exclusive membership criteria. Even if that weren’t an issue, I would never be allowed anywhere near the gorgeous flower-laden surroundings and beautiful fairways for fear of hacking around and leaving massive divots in my wake like some sort of uncoordinated British tornado. So, it shall remain a dream.

7)     The legacy of Americana/Alt.Country Music. A genre I love, from all the way back to the sixties when there was Gram Parsons and the Byrds, via the Eagles in the seventies, through to the nineties revival lead by the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo – who were then followed by bands such as Whiskeytown and Drive-by Truckers. I know I sound like a music snob but, if these bands were from Blackpool or Milton Keynes, the music would not have been quite the same.

8)     Trail Mix and Diet Mountain Dew. Yes, I’m going down the sugar route again, although I’m pretty sure Diet Mountain Dew doesn’t have much, if any of it. Anyhow, the combination of this drink and a factory-sized packet of Trail Mix (a combination of peanuts, raisins, chocolate, cashew nuts plus whatever else they decide to throw in at the time) got Mrs.D and I through some very long, and occasionally scary, drives through California, Nevada and Arizona. Whether it was through the searing heat of Death Valley, down narrow roads next to some vertigo-inducing drops in Yosemite, or almost driving the wrong way down the Las Vegas strip (don’t ask), these snacks were always close to hand and mouth.

9)     Sirius Satellite Radio. I perhaps should have included this above as this was also a constant companion during our two-week stint in the west of the US.  There were a number of great stations, but my two favourites were ‘E-Street Radio’ – which was devoted entirely to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – and ‘Spectrum Radio’ – which played album tracks from the likes of Whiskeytown, The Wallflowers, The Black Crowes, REM, Counting Crows, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.  Coming back to Absolute Radio was something of a disappointment.

10)  The city vibe. This is another potentially contentious one. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in New York last April and it was magnificent. Such a vibrant, diverse city that had a vibe where anything could happen and anything could be achieved. In comparison, London feels grey and tired, with a sense of disillusionment hanging over it. New Yorkers have great pride in their city whereas Londoners seemingly walk around with apathy. Maybe it’s a generalisation and comes from the fact that New York was new and exciting to me, whilst I commute to London most days, which I guess makes me one of the apathetic.

An open letter to the game of golf

 

Dear Golf,

I came back to you today after a few months away and plenty of time to reflect. I deliberated for some time about this as our relationship has always been dysfunctional at best; sometimes even downright volatile. Yet, you drew me back in, as you always do.

I am almost disgusted with myself. I glimpse the manicured greens and neatly trimmed fairways. I even admire the strategically-placed bunkers and picturesque lakes, despite knowing that they are (figuratively and literally) a graveyard for my balls. Even today, I knew it was wrong. I told myself not to dwell too much about that opening 7 on the 1st hole. After all, it was bound to be awkward meeting again after such a considerable time apart.

Yet here I am again. Despite friends and family telling me about the benefits of fresh air and a good walk, I know that you are sometimes detrimental for my health. You send me off on a roller-coaster of emotions, occasionally in the space of a few minutes. I know from bitter experience that I can spank a perfect tee shot to within 20 yards of the hole, yet end up taking a further 5 shots, by which time I’ve forgotten all about the fresh air and am instead cursing my clubs, myself and above all, you.

I’ve become infuriated trying to escape from a huge patch of heather after a drive only missed the fairway by a matter of inches. I’ve been overwhelmed by incredulity when a seemingly good drive results in a missed ball. More frequently, I’ve experienced total embarrassment when people have been watching and I’ve shanked a shot into whichever trees happen to be nearby at the time.

But I know it’s not just me you stick your claws into. Friends and family have also been baffled by your manipulation and cruelty. 18 years on, my mother still speaks of the time when she nearly caused an international incident after one of her tee shots narrowly missed a cart containing a Japanese couple and their 2 children. Well, by ‘narrowly missed’, I mean ‘went straight under’. In fact if it was a game of ‘crazy golf’, it would have been a very impressive shot. However, for fear of traumatising my mother and dredging up the past too much, I shall move on.

But, when returning to you today I also thought about the good times. There was that eagle 2 on the 7th hole of the Kyles of Bute Golf Club 12 years ago; playing the famous ‘Old course’ at Walton Heath. Even last summer, there was that front 9 at Rusper Golf Club that had promised so much (before the inevitable collapse once people started catching up and watching me tee off). Remember the holiday to that strange little course in the North-West of Scotland, where I tried and failed to chip my ball over that dry-stone wall in front of the green? Oh, how we laughed.

And so, the feeling that you are the one for me in the long-term just won’t go away. If I’m honest, my true love is football and it has always been so, yet I know that will never last. Football has always preferred younger men and I am approaching the veteran stage. There will come a day soon where my achilles tendons will decide they’ve had enough, or my legs will go to the point that I am wheezing just trying to keep up with the ever-younger opponents. By which time, football will kick me to the kerb for good. I’ve dabbled with running, but running just doesn’t do it for me. I can bring music along, but even that doesn’t take away the pounding in my ears and the curious taste of blood in my mouth. Plus, I look REALLY ridiculous in a running vest. Imagine a reject from one of the ’Mr.Muscle’ adverts and you get the picture. It’s not a pretty one.

So golf, it is you I gingerly come back to. You who I feel I have the best chance of a long-term relationship with, albeit a relationship that will be fractious and where I will feel like giving up most of the time. It may be difficult but you got to me a long time ago and I can’t let you go completely. In the most abysmal round, there will always be at least one good shot I remember, and it is that one shot I know you will tease me with until I return again.

So there you have it. You are far from perfect; in fact you are downright irritating. But I’m far from perfect myself. So maybe that means, in a really strange and twisted way, that we are meant for each other in the long run. Just don’t keep losing my balls, ok?

Yours,

Jonny

They’re planets. Honest. No, really…

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Ok, so in terms of photography as an art form, this picture is a bit rubbish. It wasn’t taken on a hugely expensive camera with a zillion shutter speeds by an expert in photography, but instead by an unshaven bloke (me) standing in a field with an iPhone, trying to keep the phone still because it was cold and I wasn’t wearing a coat.

Anyway, tonight was the night that you could apparently see five planets in one night in the sky over my little corner of the UK. I missed Mercury, which disappeared over the horizon before I ventured outside in insufficient clothing (just to clarify, I wasn’t naked – that would be one pale white mass you wouldn’t want to see at night). Mars was a little bit too faint to get a picture of – although it was an impressive red glow nonetheless – and Saturn would not faintly appear until later in the evening. So, what you can actually see in the photo are not just specks on my screen but Venus (the brighter of the two) and Jupiter.

It is pretty amazing to me. I was really interested in astronomy as a child and it is one of those interests that, unfortunately, sometimes fall by the wayside as you get older. So, despite being cold, I was really glad that I stood there trying desperately to work the rudimentary zoom function with my right hand and keep the phone steady with my left (I’m a man and multi-tasking is not a strong point). Enjoy the ‘specks’, maybe next time I should get a proper camera, or a telescope. But definitely a coat…

Does the man fit the clothes?

If I’m honest, I’ve never really been at the cutting edge of fashion. Instead, I’ve tended to be a few steps behind. I wouldn’t call myself unfashionable by any means, and if I were to try and describe my tastes it would probably be ‘classic, timeless casual’, although I realise I sound like a complete knob even typing those words in that order, so maybe I should just try and forget the idea of categorising. I’m a casual guy, happy with jeans and a t-shirt, am relatively slim (although my love-handles are starting to develop handles of their own) and, height-wise am on the short side (I’m 5 foot 7).

But the situation is that I am also now in my early/mid-thirties and don’t really have much of an idea of what I SHOULD wear. I still like to look good and relatively trendy, although this has to be on a budget. Part of the reason I stopped reading men’s magazines was because the ‘style’ sections seemed to assume that everyone can spend £300 on a jumper, £250 on a ‘man bag’ and would be happy to walk around dressed like a sailor or a participant in a Tilda Swinton lookalike competition.

Anyway, going back to the beginning, the reason for me asking what I should wear is thus: Just after Christmas, I was walking around a shopping centre in Sheffield with Mrs.D and briefly caught sight of myself in one of the shop mirrors. That day, I was wearing a Hollister hoodie and suddenly  thought to myself ‘I’m too old for this’ as I had, five minutes earlier, seen a queue outside the Hollister store which mainly consisted of teenagers, students and early twenty-somethings. Most of these youthful-looking creatures were accompanied by harassed parents wondering why it looks so sodding dark inside Hollister stores. Personally, I have a theory that it’s so you are not too easily startled by the sight of a shirtless bloke called Chad standing around with curiously erect nipples. But anyway…

Whilst my wife reckons the Hollister hoodie looks nice on me, I can’t help but feel that I need to let it go. After all, Wikipedia states that the Hollister brand was originally marketed for the 14-18 age-bracket. Now I know it has grown in popularity and that people of ages beyond that bracket wear the brand. However, I think that, being closer to 40 that 20, it perhaps isn’t fitting for ME to wear it. So, the big question is – what do fashionable men in their thirties (and on a budget) wear? And what should they wear? Because, let’s face it, we appear to be in some sort of fashion twilight-zone. That is, too old for Hollister, Jack Wills, Superdry and their ilk, but too young for ‘Blue Harbour’ from M&S, any brand with the word ‘Cotton’ in the title, or anything that you would purchase from a mail order catalogue.

I used to like GAP, but their clothes to me appear very stretchy and lose their shape easily. I do buy formal shirts from Next to wear at work, but I find their casual stuff a little dull if I’m honest. The last time I went into Topman, I walked out after realising my increasing squidginess precluded me from wearing anything that was skinny-fit, so I put that firmly in the ‘too old for…’ bracket as well. Which leaves me in a quandary. Do I buy more overpriced stuff and just wash it more regularly? Try and cling on to my fading youth with younger brands? Or maybe accept the inevitable and start looking in M&S for something other than a chicken sandwich and a £3 packet of sliced mango. If you have any suggestions, answers on a postcard please. Or maybe on the back of a catalogue instead…

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Tattooed Football

Hello! As mentioned in my profile, I do a bit of writing for a brilliant site called tattooedfootball.com, which you can check out via the link above. They have a lot of good and passionate writers so, if you are looking for an intelligent football blog, please pay the site a visit.