Saturday, 1 September 2012


     Hot buttered toast…..

                          .....Three words that conjure up images of peaceful evenings by the fireside…

You’re tucked snugly into your favourite armchair, crackling firewood casting a rosy glow over the room. By your side is a plate with large slices of crusty bread, which you brown leisurely over the flames with a long toasting-fork.

You sink deeper into the cushions, munching serenely on crisp, dark-golden, toasted bread smothered in melting, mellow butter that drips now and then onto your chin…

Toast after hot toast – your steady crunching interspersed with deep sighs of contentment.

Satisfying enough for the hungriest. Royal enough for the richest.

Hot… buttered… toast…


                                             Step into the real world, will you !?

            Whirring machines, stark white tube-lighting, clicking buttons, moronic ringtones, and stuffy central-heating form the backdrop for today’s nervy individuals who sit on their hard chairs, earnestly discussing the speed of light.
  They have just lunched on processed food and synthetic drink. They are also probably dieting. The main item at breakfast was a slice of something resembling hardboard, created coldly and impersonally by a square metal box. It was spread thinly with something pallid from a plastic tub, consumed, and forgotten.


As for contentment – what an idea! These people can’t possibly be content. They are worlds away from those tranquil scenes of the past, where placid folk with unfurrowed brows enjoyed comfort, leisure and good food. These gadget-ridden creatures can’t enjoy anything. They’re modern.

Besides, they have the toaster.

Most people agree on one point. The world is full of maniacs, and half of them are toasters.
The thing is, toasters are devilishly tricky creatures, possessing an ability to make you think you’re the one who’s really mad.

For one thing, toaster-levers never work. After standing there for ages holding the lever down, you peer into the fiery slot and think you have sighted brown. You jerk the lever up and see white. [This is confusing with brown bread.] You shove it back down, blink for a moment and that’s all the diabolical machine needs. Smoky seconds later, as you stare at your burnt toast, you realise that you have been tricked once too often and swear recklessly never to blink again.

The situation is even worse if you have a four-slot toaster, like the family who bought one thinking happily, “Four toasts at once – what a time-saver!” They hadn’t bargained on, “Four burnt toasts at once – what a mess!!”

We once had a toaster that left the print of a panda on each toast, but it had to be dark – almost burnt – before the print showed up clearly. What pande-monium there was when young –and some old – visitors were in the house. And what a chorus in our kitchen of, “Please burn my toast”, and “Why is his panda darker than mine?” Or the less loud, “Would you be so kind as to make me another panda…?”

One child, on being told that he was expected to butter his panda and eat it, sat glowering at us during breakfast, his toast beside him, and a “Don’t Touch My Panda” glint in his eye.

The most devilish is our present toaster. Although not very old, it makes hideous clanking noises and looks as though it has been recently excavated. It would like us to believe that it is a rare antique. It also tries its best to give us shocks, electric and otherwise.

Being choosy, it toasts only one side of the bread leaving us with a “Before and After” on the same slice. Naturally, the lever doesn’t work, so we hold it down with a clothes-peg. After taking the bread to meet its maker and going complacently away, we, as a family, stand united on one thing. We suffer from instant amnesia, and don’t snap out of it until we see black smoke billowing from the kitchen.

We rush to get the toast out, but the lever is stuck. We thump it, curse it, break our hands on it and unplug it, but the toaster will not care and won’t give up until it has had its fun. It then spits out the remains and sits back smugly, satisfied that we have further proof of its antique status…

This could be what our toaster thinks it is

Or maybe more like one of these fancy characters?

Dream on, dear Toaster...

Sometimes when the lever shrugs off the peg and I hear “Ping”, I go back, refix it, turn to leave, and hear “Ping” again. When this happens for the third time [and I’m ready to swear that I can hear evil, metallic laughter], I return, gnashing my teeth and wishing the toaster had a neck so that I could wring it. I am forced to unfurl a finger and use that instead of the peg.

But such is the power of this machine, that even while standing there, my finger supposedly in control, I find myself staring dreamily into space while my toast turns to charcoal.

Lets move on to toaster-styles. Here are some typical ones:

My sister puts her bread in and forgets about it. Minutes later, we hear anguished yells of, “My toast! My toast!” She races to the kitchen, jerks the stubborn lever ten times, then jerks out her favourite four-letter word ten times. She grabs a knife, and regardless of the perils of electrocution [it wouldn’t dare], pokes it into the slot and extracts bits of charred toast.
Finally, she yanks the plug out, holds the demon upside down and shakes it, removes the crumbly black residue, and leaves this strewn over the table and floor.

The toaster hates my sister…

My mother differs somewhat. She goes, singing, to the toaster, giving it little pats as she tries the lever. Then she turns startlingly from Jekyll to Hyde and gives it a series of almighty heaves which leave the bystander with severe tooth-ache.
She gets the toast out – burnt – and grimly starts scraping off the black. She goes on scraping until she reaches the sink, where she finishes the job over the soap-dish.
 [The next person entering the kitchen steps into black crumbs and crunches her way agonizingly to wherever she’s headed. Heaven help her if she’s headed for the soap!]
My mother is very stoic. She eats her toast and, out of spite, puts extra butter on it.
[I leave it to the reader’s imagination to picture my mother with the butter…and even worse…the jam. Needless to say we find it on doorknobs, newspapers, the dogs, me….…]
My father was surprisngly patient with the toaster, considering how many burnt offerings it gave him. He was very good at trying to be organized. He never left the kitchen while the toast was getting done, but, unfortunately there are always open doorways, with enticing things beyond – like the TV and headlines.
Latest headlines:  “The toasts are burning!” ... "No known survivors.”

One sad sight that appears regularly in our kitchen is of two hard black objects that in a past life believed they would one day be toast. If offered to our dog Sherry, she sits for a while in acute embarassment as they stare blackly at her. A look of deep reproach is flung at whoever is nearest and she buries them in the flower-bed, showing us what we should have done in the first place, and expecting us to store this valuable information for future reference. She finds us sadly obtuse.

So much for toasters and toast. Let's talk about "Bread"!
How many times have you bought an unsliced, freshly-baked, crusty loaf, dreaming of thick wedges of hot buttered toast rather than boring, regimented slabs?

Second question. How good are you at cutting the above loaf?

This may come as a surprise, but I am no expert.
When I have sawn off my first bit [for “bit” read “slice”] with the knife acting really stupid, I take an unbiased look at it. It is narrow on top, huge in the middle, and non-existent at the bottom. If I’m lucky, by the time I come to the end of the loaf [and I really mean “The End”] one bit will fit in the toaster.
If I’m really lucky, I manage to achieve “Hot” and “Toast”.
Next, I head for the “Buttered”.

But who said that butter spreads and melts in golden magnificence?

Golden Perfection

Whoever it was, lied.

No force on Earth would make my butter do that, especially when I never remember to take it out of the fridge – or worse – the freezer.
No, I get greasy lumps of frigid yellow, and I spend the next ten minutes breaking the knife on it, ending up with a few butter chips that I press hopefully onto the toast while muttering, “Oh that this too, too solid butter would melt!”

Could this be THAT hard?? Probably!

Needless to say, it doesn’t, and after a last wild attempt, toast and nerves go to pieces together. I hurl the butter dish out of the window and glare at what should have been “Hot Buttered Toast” but is in fact, “Cold Sad Mess”.

Now, why didn't I just get THIS??

Quite apart from that, bakery-bought "fresh crusty" loaves.....not always the most reliable thing these days. Often very disappointing.

 I tried once to bake my own, but for some reason I couldn't get my dough to evolve past "stone". The mysteries of yeast, kneading, and "proving the dough" were unfathomable, and I ran like a coward.....all the way back to the bakery.

Maybe one day I'll give it another try....and tell you all about my oven too....

More on all that another time, as the subject needs more space, the bread needs more room to "prove", and the oven refuses to appear with the toaster on the same page....[Divas!]

  There must be thousands of toast stories that haunt households the world over. In an era of constant wars and disputes, they are the one unifying factor that may yet serve to bring humans together.
But until that happens, I suppose the wisest thing to do is fling your head back and laugh. 
[If you’re lucky you might get whiplash and then your toaster will be really fulfilled.]

As for me, I’m starting to accept the fact that gentle, old-fashioned pleasures are a thing of the past: Thick slices of freshly-baked, crusty bread ... untoasted, and smothered in creamy butter - enjoyed with just about anything, at any time...... 

Days Past...

The joys of the toasting fork, open fireplaces and uneven, rough-hewn wedges of hot buttered toast.......

Gone Forever?

They have been well and truly overtaken by the speed and impatience of the modern era.

Today’s life desires us to jig feverishly around a metal box with gaping jaws.
Progress requires that we call the thing it creates, “Toast”.
Total enlightenment demands that we eat it.

And so, intelligent life, complete with toaster, goes on…..

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


 Starting a new blog wasn’t supposed to be this hard...

I was looking forward to having a space to write on topics from day-to-day life, and some personal and “humorous” stuff. A favourite old piece was ready and waiting to start it off, with a poem to follow soon after.

Then Lennox happened. 
And soon after that - Wicca.

I knew then that I had to write in memory of these two dogs, and others in the same tragic situation. A brief account of their stories, and a little something in honour of “Dog-love”, suddenly seemed to be the most natural starting point.

Besides, this is personal.

A dog in Belfast, seized from his loved ones, and killed due to what can only be described as “racial profiling”.
He was a 7-year old American Bulldog and Lab mix, raised from puppy-hood as a family pet and special friend to a little girl. He was forcibly taken away when the authorities decided that he “looked like a Pit-Bull”

Ireland has the Breed Specific Legislation [BSL] in place, which means that people are not allowed to keep certain breeds, including Pit Bulls, due to their “aggressive and unpredictable” behaviour.

So, just out of the blue, a family’s world was shaken to pieces. Lennox was to be “destroyed" for looking like a Pit Bull.

The case became a two-year long battle between the family and the Belfast City Council, during which time they were not allowed any visits with their dog.
Other strange happenings occurred. Unreliable testimonies were given by wardens and “experts” against Lennox. Proper expert testimony in favour of him was disallowed. The BCC seemed to have dug its heels in and refused to even consider withdrawing the decision to kill him. 
Offers to rehome him in other countries were summarily turned down. Photos appeared, showing Lennox in poor health, and badly cared for. It wasn’t even clear where he was being kept.

And then the final appeal was turned down.

The story had been online from the start, but more recently it seemed as though all the dog-lovers of the world were involved via various Facebook pages, chief among them, the "Save Lennox" page. The last days were hectic, with petitions and emails being sent to anyone with clout who might pay attention. As long as Lennox was still alive, there was hope.

Offers from America were still coming to rehome him there, chiefly from Victoria Stilwell, internationally renowned dog-trainer and TV presenter who was right there on the spot, but ignored by the BCC.
By now, many were getting the uneasy feeling that Lennox had already died somehow while incarcerated, and the BCC was trying to cover it up.

When the deadline approached for his execution [there is no other word for it], we KNEW something was wrong when the family were told there would be no last visit. They would not even get his body back…..just his ashes “in the post”.

The dog-loving world wept collectively that night.

Tears were nothing new by then though - we had all cried our hearts out during these last days. 
But the wait was agony.
There were false alarms, when a radio programme sent messages that Lennox was to be freed. Rumour and speculation, but it made things worse when our fresh hopes were dashed.

As I sat alone, far away, but with thousands of others via my computer, I heard about candle-lit vigils dotting the planet, with tiny sparks of light and life, all for Lennox. 

It’s all coming back again as I write - as new and raw. 
We all felt such a bond with that dog – snatched from loved ones, having no clue why, or what was happening. Not knowing if he would see their faces, or run free in his garden again. 

An innocent, symbolic of all other dogs targeted the same way.

A sweet life cut short by an uncaring system.

On July 11 Lennox’s death was announced by the BCC.
 We mourned as one, and the grief was infinite. 
There was some small relief in knowing that his ordeal was over,  and somehow, somewhere, he was happy and free at last!

There was no other way to console ourselves, apart from being determined to get this whole affair investigated somehow. 
[Efforts are being made by many people, but no luck so far.]
But the feeling of helplessness was infuriating. 
I had barely begun to pull myself together, when Wicca’s story started.

This time, a Pit Bull in Montreal, where there is no BSL in place.

She was seized for having “attacked and bitten” a woman. It was shown later that there was no bite, just a scratch.

Wicca had been lying quietly next to her owner, Chris, when a woman happened to come and stand there too. She suddenly saw Wicca and jumped in fear, and that made Wicca jump up in surprise too.
 At the time, someone called the police but no-one even bothered to listen to the one reliable witness who saw what really happened. 
 All they could see was a “Pit Bull”. And before you knew it, “racial prejudice” was in play. Wicca was taken into custody and no proper investigation or due process was done. 

It was all indecently quick. The verdict was given, and Wicca was to be “destroyed”.

 It was unbelievable, like a recurring nightmare, so soon after Lennox. The online pictures were heart-rending. There are no words suitable enough to describe the feelings.
 If Wicca had not been a Pit Bull, this fuss would never have been made. She would not have been targeted and killed.

The two stories are online, as well as other new ones that keep coming out with petitions attached. Details are available for anyone to examine and come to their own conclusions.

All this has been made possible, sanctified and “NORMALISED” by the “law”. Any dog who “seems” to fit into the category of the breed they have prohibited is at risk.
Even in countries where the BSL is not in place, as with Wicca, that breed can be persecuted by anyone who has a mind to point a finger at it, on any pretext.

No thought is given to the fact that dogs raised in loving homes, often in the company of children, and with no record of aggressive behaviour, cannot be compared to dogs raised and trained by vicious, aggressive humans. The authorities should be rounding up, muzzling and chaining those ghastly people instead of innocent dogs.

Any dog subjected to vicious handling by humans, trained to fight and bite and be mean like them, will become unpredictable when provoked.
They don’t even have to be any particular breed for that to happen. And yet only some breeds are being picked on by the law. It’s ridiculous, and just plain discrimination.

This paranoia is out of control. There’s a cold, clinical, attitude in place. Those in power have forgotten that the dogs and humans involved are living beings with feelings.
[The way they use the word "destroy" for dogs shows us that all too plainly. It's so offensive - as if they are talking about inanimate objects.]

It’s bad enough hearing about all the terrible stories of dogs the world over: So many, caged and deliberately starved to death,  tortured and savagely killed, used and abused in dog-fighting. Still others, taken away from the place they knew as “home”, and abandoned, by those they thought of as “family”, in the middle of nowhere. Left alone, to die of cold, starvation and grief…..

When legal systems don’t prevent all that misery, how can they justify creating new and needless misery for dogs who are already happy and loved?! It makes no sense at all!

George Orwell wasn’t far off the mark with his novel “1984”.
When control takes over from compassion, life is cold, cruel and loveless. More like the story of malignant humans on a benign but dying Earth. Who knows - one day we too could be rounded up, thrown in a cell, and “destroyed” because we don’t fit the required “norms” of the day.

Such "controllers" don't understand the strength of love. Or how the heart can be ripped into pieces, but the love can stay as strong as ever, even though it hurts like hell. 
Such people might be considered lucky, for they will never know real sorrow. But how lucky can they be if they never know real love...?

There are no separate levels of love. There is simply “LOVE” – whether for a special animal, a special human, or for anything else held close to one’s heart.
The love humans have for each other is held to be extra special, but that’s mainly because it's inextricably linked up with our needs, expectations, motives, desires. 
We need our humans, for whatever reason. We learn to love them from the start, depending on that reason. And so it seems that this love is a far greater kind, far more important and on a totally different level - not to be compared with the “unimportant” love for an animal or a “thing”.

But there is perhaps no love as selfless as a human’s love for those animals he keeps close to his heart. Those who love dogs have no real motive or gain. They don’t feel needy. It’s a very pure sort of love that is dependent entirely on the response they get.
One can argue that the dog, in return, is needy like a child. Then ask yourself why a child loves a parent, and you come full circle.

True, the selflessness of a parent for a child, the sacrifices given, the feelings of belonging and the heartbeat that echoes, one within the other - cannot perhaps be compared with any other love.  But maybe, some find that echo in their dogs as well. It’s not for me to say which can be stronger. It’s certainly not for anyone else to say they can never be equal.

Dog-love is special, it’s unique. It doesn’t have to be be put on a lower shelf, apart from “other-love”, just because most people think it’s “different”. It belongs right up there with the rest. To each his own. To some that means only their human loved ones - to others it means their beloved dogs too.
It’s inexplicable to those who don’t love dogs, but it’s completely understandable to those of us who do.

The stories of Lennox and Wicca broke the heart of the dog-loving world. 

Are we destined to hear more and more stories like theirs?
Is that special bond between human and dog to be cut brutally, time and again, on the whim of a few people who think they know everything?
[And as I write I'm hearing that Montreal might introduce some new law where ANY dog can be “destroyed” for harm done, or perceived to be done, however slight, and for whatever reason. More persecution? This is turning into a medieval witch-hunt!!]

“Man’s best friend” has had his heart broken many times already. Let’s not allow a state of affairs where he knows his loyalty is misplaced. The world will be a sadder, darker, lonelier place because of it.

Can a scene change so suddenly?

From this:

A warm, living, breathing dog watching you with adoring eyes, wagging her tail gently as you run your hand gently up and down her suede-like coat. She thrusts her wet nose into your hand, scratching your knee with her paw, or jumping up at you with a hug. Later, she lies next to you with her head in your lap, soft velvety ear brushing against your hand. Sleeping in rapturous abandon, and snoring heavily as you write….

To this:

       A small, wooden box with a picture on it, and cold ashes inside….

This is no way for a dog-lover to live.
And that is no way for a dog to die.

For me, there will never be a greater joy than to hear a lusty bark, and catch the sight and sound of a dog running towards me – thundering along like a little horse. 
To have my arms around that furry body and feel his heart go “pitter-patter”… 
To feel him lean against me during a few quiet moments, putting all his weight on me…
To hear the sound of the “chomp-chomp-slurp” as he eats… 
The gentle “thump-thump” of a tail-wag when he’s too sleepy to get up, but too loving to not acknowledge my presence…
The warmth of a sensitive head beneath my hand, and those eyes reading my mind, melting into my soul.

...To know that he is safe by my side.