Friday, 22 December 2006

Inferno Re-Visited

Dante was wrong. There are ten circles of Hell.

A foretaste of this last, and deepest, darkest circle, is vouchsafed to those who venture out at this time of year… From years of such observation, the full extent of the nightmare can finally be made known.

Beyond Limbo, beyond the city of Dis, at the bottom of the Pit, lies the Door. It glows with a hellish light, and is girt about with glittering sigils and symbols.

Above the door, an archaic sign reads ‘Lucifer, Asmodeus and Beelzebub, licensed purveyors of wines, spirits, beer, tobacco, despair and game. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The Door is guarded by a demon, who does not try to keep out the poor damned souls clustering at the entryway; rather, it forces upon each a torturous device of metal, wheeled and cage-like, and hastens them through the portal. Barriers swing wide of their own account, drawing the damned deeper into that which lies beyond. A hot, burning wind blows over the damned souls as they enter, a foretaste of what is to come. Eyes wide, the souls behold a huge cavern, stretching on for eternity, and find in their hands a piece of parchment, a list of such length as to take almost forever to glean from the serried ranks of razor-edged shelves that line the endless aisles…

And thus they set out upon their futile quest – to gather everything on the list in their trembling hands. For if they succeed, and gain the FinalCheckOut, they will be released from this torment, and will forever rest in peace – or so they believe, for none has ever succeeded in escaping. For many are the trials and tribulations that lie ahead, and loud is the Infernal Muzack playing all around.

The wheeled devices go not where the damned direct them, but follow a path of their own that takes the soul not past the cool Havens of the Frozen Foods but onwards to the Sprouts of Doom. A cry of woe rings the Vegetable Department – for Lo, there are no leeks until Tuesday! The hot breath of the mighty Heaters increases. And the damned are forced to loose their collars, and sweat breaks out on each face. One soul reaches the Infinite Shelf of Baking Products, but alas – there are raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried apple flakes, sunflower seeds, self-raising flour, self-deflating flour, organic flour, inorganic flour, gluten-free flour, flour-free flour – but no chocolate chips. Perhaps they have been relocated?

The damned soul beseeches a passing imp, pallid and be-spotted, which calls to its brood mate, ‘Sharon, where are the chocolate chips?’

The imp Sharon scratches the tips of her horns with her tail, tilting the festive baubles hung thereon, and responds, ‘Aisle 134,237,901, with the biscuits. Been there since the new EU regulations came in.’

The soul sinks its head in its hands and weeps.

In Seasonal Goods, a fight breaks out as one damned soul pounces on the last roll of wrapping paper and bears it off in triumph.

They cannot leave until their list is fulfilled, precisely As It Is Writ, with no substitutions or alternative manufacturers, for Our Dad will only eat a certain brand of beans. Which are currently out of stock. And no item shall be Past Its Sell By Date, for this renders it invalid. Should a persistent soul, after many millennia crawling the aisles, finally see ahead the haven of the FinalCheckOut, it is certain that the queue will stretch to the rear of the Great Cavern, beyond even the Bread Counter. And it will not proceed, for there will be those who try to substitute items, or who have forgotten the frozen peas. Or have cartons of milk that have split. And if by some chance the damned soul finds itself at the end of the eternally halted conveyor belt, the demon at the till will close the checkout as the soul starts to empty the trolley’s contents onto the conveyor. And there will be a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.

And ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ will begin again on the loudspeakers…

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Travels with a Temporary Dog

For reasons that are too complex to go into, Mum has become temporary custodian of a small dog. Consequently, when Mum comes to visit, the dog comes too. Like now.

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Looks cute and innocent, doesn’t she? Hah!

She is a ‘combination terrier’ - Lakeland, Yorkshire and Border, to be precise, but in terms of attitude and personality her breed is now designated ‘Monstrous Baskervillian’. It’s very deceptive; she is small, quite dainty in a fluffy sort of way, and all of 12 years old, so you would think age would have brought some sort of decorum to her.

Not a hope.

For a start, she hates other dogs. She wants to tear them to bits. It is, quite frankly, embarrassing - Mum takes her out, and if they meet another dog, the snarling-like-a-banshee begins. Other owners wave at their dog ‘Oh, it’s OK, they won’t hurt her’ and Mum has to reply - ‘no, it’s her that’s the problem!’ Now, if Mum sees another dog in the distance, she takes evasive action. The streets in my village are linked by a maze of alleyways between the houses, so it’s no problem to simply sideslip off one road on to another - but she feels she’s becoming known as 'the disappearing woman' - one minute she’s there, the next time people look up, she’s gone. I feel a myth coming on…

Then there’s the business with the food bowl. She eats the dried mixed biscuit stuff, and eats when she wants to - which is mostly at night. She likes the big meaty chunks, and eats those first, working her way gradually down to the boring beige and green bits, which get left until last. She doesn’t get a refill until she’s finished the last lot; at this point she lets us know by bringing her bowl into the living room and dropping it in a marked manner in the middle of the floor. She has been known to tip out the last few green bits onto the kitchen floor and pretend the bowl is empty. If we are busy, and ignore her, she is quite likely to whack one of us across the shins with the bowl. (Coming in from a long car trip and wanting a drink, she once threw an empty bucket at Mum) If she finishes her food at night, one is quite likely to find the bowl placed carefully in the middle of the bathroom doorway, where it can be stepped on during a nocturnal foray to the toilet…

She is also very vocal. Not in a ‘woof-woof’ or ‘yap-yap’, or even a ‘whine-whine’ sort of way, though. Nope. This dog makes a strange, throaty noise rather akin to the creaking of the front door of the Addams Family mansion. It’s known, colloquially, as ’mumping and grumping’. Like 'hrmfh.. grmph... urrrrnnn.... mmfphmmfph'. This happens when she thinks something is up - or if something is not happening that she thinks should be - like walks, or attention. In the car it's constant at low speeds, (she's quite settled if we're going fast) and the complaints when we go round corners and roundabouts increase in pitch and volume and can be expressed in Human as something along the lines of 'ohmigodyou'renotgoinginastraightline.. you'regoingroundsomething… your'egoingtokillus…augh'.....

She travels in the passenger foot-well - I tried using a harness in the back but being an escapologist of Houdini standard, this was doomed from the start. Plus, being attached to the seatbelt, she pulled this forward, and I was inclined to get a wet nose in my ear at inopportune moments. So the foot-well it is, ideally with Mum as guardian, and she’s reasonably OK there. One just has to get used to the idea of reaching to change gear and encountering a wet nose instead of the gear-lever. Going from ‘second’ to ‘dog-nose’ is not the most pleasant manoeuvre.

And she’s a drama queen. If we encounter a sudden bump in the road, she is quite likely to take off vertically. (I must point out - she doesn’t do this with her real owner. ) If you stand close to one hair of her tail, you’d think she’d been murdered. She has a range of facial expressions from smug to disdain to utter horror (like when we go out without her).

She loves people. She loves heat. She loves games and walks.

She reminds us why we haven’t had a dog for forty years……