So I’m a dillylaplodochiphobic. And what?

I normally consider myself to be a relatively laid back and placid person, sometimes to my detriment. I’m all for an easy life and if I can do something to stop arguments and disagreements, I’ll do it. Equally, I don’t really get het up or wound about things; I don’t scream hysterically about spiders or earwigs because they just can’t harm me. If I lived in Australia however, I can assure you I would be very different!

There are a few things that do really wind me up and none of them are rational or have any rhyme or reason. I shall endeavour to share some of my most hated things and perhaps you will understand, nod knowingly and not judge me. You are well within your rights to cackle like an imbecile and cast me aside from your address book forever more, such is the insanity of my little niggles. (No, that is not supposed to be a euphemism.) I know a lot of these probably have long and exciting names, but I can’t be bothered with that nonsense. I’m sure it’s just someone with a sense of humour inventing them; afterall hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is a fear of long words. Bastard.

Ok, so we’ll start with a pretty standard one; clowns. Everyone is scared of clowns right? Well, they should be. For a start, their makeup is worse than that of Pat Butcher and less subtle than Katie Price. Anyone that has a thick, white crust of makeup slapped across their face has to be hiding something. There is the old cliché about the tears of a clown, but it has to come from somewhere. They are going out dressed as someone else, picking on small children; they cannot be happy in themselves. If you are in any doubt, don’t forget their past history; John Wayne Gacy, or “Pogo the Clown” as he liked to be known, who abused and murdered 33 teenage boys. I think that all those American horror movies involving clowns ought to make us suspicious enough about them before we even think about the real life psychos.

My next fear is possibly less normal; Weetabix. I’m sure a lot of you dislike Weetabix, but does the mere smell of it make you nauseous? It’s pathetic. I’m twenty three years old and I ought to know better, but I am an irrational, nervous wreck when it comes to this particular brand of breakfast cereal. I think what put me off Mephistopheles’ munch was a year 7 school trip, where I ate the most dry Weetabix without a drink; I was picking that junk out of my braces for weeks. First of all, we’ll start with the taste. I don’t actually remember what Weetabix tastes like it’s been so long since I’ve eaten it, but I do remember that it manages to suck every little bit of liquid from your body, so you are left chewing dry, mulch for what seems like years. It is so unbelievably dense that I cannot believe that it is sold as food. As far as I can tell, the only purpose for Weetabix is as bricks in areas at risk of flooding. All the liquid would be soaked up by the wheaty biscuits and the houses would stay as try as a bone.

I know what you are thinking; if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Unfortunately, I have young nieces and nephews who eat it. It takes a great deal of self-control for me to feed it to them; even the feeling of it getting under your nails as you pull it from the pack is enough to set me on edge. Cooking it gives it one of the worst smells in the world; it smells like a rat died in the microwave and then quicker than a builder’s cement, it has turned into a solid lump of mulch. It seems to climb out of the bowl and glue itself to your fingers so that you will unknowingly get that lukewarm, vomit smelling concrete onto your lips. It is food of the worst order. I would rather go hungry than eat Weetabix. It has got to the point that I feel a bit nauseous just handling it.

The final hatred that I will unleash on you today is of those TWATSS. For everyone who is unaware of what that means (which is everyone bar me) it is Tossers Who Abbreviate Totally Stupid Stuff. None of you knew what I was talking about, which I expect made you feel a little bit of inferiority, loathing and jealousy. I say a bit because you may not know that you felt that way, but you definitely did, even if it was subconsciously. When I was younger, LOL and ROFL were the choice phrases, but realistically we only used it when we had nothing better to say. As a regular twitterer, I have noticed that I’m behind the times and the favoured phrases of today seem to be FTW (for the win) and FML/FMW (fuck my life/week). Firstly, for the win doesn’t make sense! I have never heard anyone utter the complete phrase for the win. As for FML, has life got so damned terrible that you can’t even utter three monosyllabic words? Get a spine.

Within this hatred, I shall include people who use “text language”. I can cope with people sending me text messages in long hand text language, even if I don’t partake in the practice myself. I understand that is what it is there for, even if I would rather spend the extra ten pence and explain myself properly. But where it really gets on my wick, my goat and everything else, is in email and normal writing. Perhaps it is the difference between someone who writes with a love of words and someone who writes to get information across. But words aren’t difficult to use, you can use them to make people laugh, cry, love you and hate you. What’s not to like about that? It allows the shy people to feel big and clever and occasionally superior against the illiterate, mouthy sods.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those fascists who are intent on keeping English from changing; the language has to move and mould itself along with the society and culture it is within, just use it properly. That sounds incredibly hard-line and typical of an English graduate, but I don’t mean to be cruel. I am as likely to misuse words as anyone else (my friends will attest to that); I just wish people would appreciate them more. Don’t just use them to hurriedly pass information across to someone else, slow down and appreciate their magnificence. The world is built on words (and perhaps numbers.)

It is these hatreds and fears that make us the individuals we are, and I’m definitely individual; how many other people do you know that get in a cold sweat if a clown sent them a poorly written text message proffering weetabix?

“It’s a bit like synchronised swimming with more clothes, less water and horses.”

It seems like both a lifetime and just five minutes ago that we were trapped in our homes unable to go out due to all that snow. On the one hand, I’ve never had so many early finishes and late starts at work, but on the other, our horses were given an enforced break and there was very little we could do to exercise them. As February drew near, we started looking at the possibility of training up for the Rural Riders dressage test. I appreciate that this won’t mean anything to about 95% of you, but I shall endeavour to explain it. As I told a friend of mine, it’s a little like synchronised swimming. But with more clothes and less water. Oh yeah, and horses. So perhaps nothing like synchronised swimming afterall. If you imagine that a normal dressage test is a little like a gymnast’s floor routine or a dance routine; you are given a set number of moves for you to complete atop your horse and as well as the marks you receive for the individual movements, you are marked for riding, suppleness, submission, paces and a number of other attributes. Rural riders dressage is exactly the same, but with 6 horse and rider combinations performing it at the same time in the same arena. Piece of cake?

Well, initially it seemed like a great way to get our horses out and exercised without having to worry too much about how they behaved as teamwork was the key. We were also very keen as we know that very few teams take part in this competition, so we were bound to come home with a rosette; afterall, if you can’t win fairly, you have to boost your chances at success. Our early attempts were hilarious as we attempted to ride 6 excited horses next to each other with no more than 6 inches between us. It doesn’t sound difficult, but we spent more  time giggling and all cantering in opposite directions than we did trotting together.

When we began, I took up the last spot in the group and it was quite an experience as tail end Charlie. As the ride were trotting down the long sides, you had to go like the proverbial wind to keep up and then everyone would bunch up in the corners, so you would have to subtly have to apply the handbrake and go at the pace of a drugged snail so the judge would not notice the anticipated crash. However, at the back there was no real worry about having to know where I was going or concentrate on riding the test accurately as we just followed the horse in front.

Unfortunately, I was soon moved from the back to the lead horse. This had its pros and cons; Bea discovered very quickly that if she was naughty or spooked, the repercussions were huge! Six horses all jumping and bucking at once, one laughing and the other five having no idea what was going on was highly entertaining, if perhaps less appropriate for the actual test. Another terrifying part of this role was being the leader; this meant that I had to not only learn the test, but ride it accurately. If I went wrong, there wasn’t a hope in hell for anyone following. I had the definite advantage of not worrying about spacing between the horses, but this was offset by acting as the pacemaker for the group. If I went too slowly, or (more likely) too fast, everyone suffered. It’s this sort of stuff that keeps me awake at night…

Our cynical search for success was amplified as BRC decided that we should go straight to the Championships as we were the only team wanting to take part from our area. Forget long and complex qualifying competitions, this is the competition to do! As the reality of what we were throwing ourselves in to began to dawn on us, we asked to have a practice run at the qualifying competition afterall this was a higher standard of dressage than any of us were used to and we had to do it as a team.

Our team changed fairly frequently in the run up to the qualifier, but none of our horses matched one another that well; we had two black horses, a piebald, a skewbald and a chestnut. The more observent of you will have noticed that we did only have five horses and this was something of an issue. We searched high and low for that elusive sixth horse. In the meantime, we had a variety of horses coming and joining us whilst we practiced.

Upon arrival of the competition, we busied ourselves with the important things in life; making sure we were all dressed the same. Perhaps we should have spent more time warming up and less time tying our stocks identically, but in this, appearance is everything. After rereading the test several times and dressing in the identical clothing, we were ready. We found our horses and a spare (Jess borrowed Orange) and it was time to warm up. Whenever we have practiced before, we have been in an arena and it hadn’t really occurred to us how difficult it would be without a marked out space to practice in. For a start, my spacial awareness is terrible; I couldn’t imagine a 20m x 60m area if it jumped up and smacked me in the face. So practicing our half ten metre circles and inclines in medium trot were absolutely impossible with me leading the gang. The harder I tried, the more mishapen and wonky my lines got.

I haven’t mentioned until now that the test itself is 14 minutes long and we were required to do all 14 minutes in sitting trot. Few of us compete at dressage to a high level, so sitting trot is somewhat alien to us and we had decided not to practice it too much until the day so as not to strain our horses backs. (Or that’s what we said anyway.) So with our bladders as empty as they could possibly be and our stomach muscles warned, we attempted that sacred sitting trot. It’s all very well to be able to do some sitting trot when schooling, but my muscles all seem to work against each other, becoming tenser and tenser as I attempt to breathe and look relaxed.

Finally it was time for the test. By this time, most of the people at the competition had gathered to watch our spectacle, (mostly because we looked so bizarre I think.) The two(!) dressage judges arrived and off we went trotting around the arena. We started off slowly (my muscles wouldn’t allow too much speed until they warmed up a little) and soon we were going down the centre line. There was no point being stressed or worrying about how it was going because I only knew what was happening to my horse. There were some exciting moments; most of us cantered across the first medium trot and down one long side we had a clash with the dressage markers, which each horse took great joy in kicking and jumping on. But on the whole, it was ok. I know I have areas to improve on (going backwards in the reinback for a start!) but there were some promising bits and we’ve had so much fun along the way. Lincoln, here we come!

If you fancy a gander at our attempts, they are all on my youtube account, right from the very first training right through to the qualifier. The qualifier can be seen here –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U58yGiQOgg

Apparently Argentina has got messy…?

A Dummies View of the World Cup

I enjoy a bit of sport as much as the next person; there is nothing better than willing your favourite team to victory. If you were playing yourself, you would feel tired and at times defeated, but from your vantage point at the sofa, you have no weaknesses or fatigue. You are the master and the king of sport. You would have scored where they missed and your defence would have remained strong when theirs slipped. But I am not going to lie to you; I am no expert when it comes to football. Despite all the stereotypes, I do vaguely understand the offside rule (I think we called it goal loitering at school), but I have no idea about the tactics or strategy involved in the game, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the occasion.

As with any kind of national event, our office is running a sweepstake; the Grand National, Wimbledon, who killed Archie Mitchell… you name it and we’ve done a sweepstake for it. However, one particular member of staff *cough* Charlotte *cough* is incredibly lucky and wins every single time, so we tried to make it fairer by picking a couple of teams each and winning money for first, second and most excitingly, the most goals conceded in the group stage.

To be English is a curious thing; across the world, people are taught to be competitive and to make the most of themselves, but the English seem to have a strange pride in our own failure. I’ve mentioned them before and no doubt, I’ll do it again, but the Top Gear boys epitomize this. Unlike our foreign counterparts, like the Aussies and the Germans, we are quite happy to have had fun and winning makes it all the better. I expect some of the best Aussie athletes left Beijing in 2008 gutted that they only won the bronze medal, whereas the Brit went home delighted to have a bit of a suntan and met loads of great people. I’d like to say that we know the value of fair play and as such, we are happy to have taken part. But I think it’s more likely that we protect ourselves a little from the imminent failure by not being seen to be bothered by losing. I’m the same with board games and pool; if I don’t think I can win, I will put all my efforts into making it harder for the other side to win.

There are certain people who we really don’t like to see winning. Sometimes this depends on the sport; in cricket, we detest the Aussies. (I refer you to Jiggery Pokery- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B64PAw7NT3k – for full proof of that.) In eventing, we hate the Germans beating us and in rugby it’s the Scottish. Actually, as a country we are quite hateful. As a small island nation, we are like little Jack Russell Terriers, knowing that we are vulnerable, so jumping in first. There are two nations that we particularly hate seeing win anything and by the luck of the draw, I pulled them out in the sweepstake; France and the USA. My third team was South Korea, which I am not altogether convinced is going to be a winner.

Having drawn my teams, I have busied myself with decorating the sweepstake board in true English spirit; I have covered the USA in a very large oil stain and as for the French, well there are white flags, monkeys and cheese, so I think that all the bases are covered. I daren’t even start on Korea. As for the games, well I will not religiously watch them. I will watch the England matches, but I have to say the most exciting element of them is the fact we can finish work early to catch the matches. Now that is a way that sport really can benefit everyone. We can all finish work early and do what the Brits do best; run down to the pub and get obliterated, which my local is encouraging by offering free drinks for every England goal scored.

My favourite World Cup moment so far happened today when a colleague of mine was foolish enough to leave his car (complete with England flags flying proudly in the breeze) at work to go out for the afternoon. So I did the only thing that was right and fair and just. I snuck outside and pilfered the flags from the car and ran as fast as my legs would carry me back to the office. The menfolk at work tried to convince us that it was mean, cruel and unfair, especially as our first match was tomorrow, but we have done it anyway. As a compromise, we have hung them from our second storey windows so that he knows no one has stolen them. I know that I don’t celebrate the football in the way it is intended, but I struggle to celebrate sportsmen who are paid hundreds of times more than anyone of equal standing in any other sport and I can’t really think why. The World Cup being in South Africa is a little like the Beijing Olympics in that the local community is so impoverished and has probably been destroyed to make way for these millionaires to kick a ball around and so I can’t take it too seriously, but don’t you worry I intend to have plenty of fun along the way. I will watch the matches and get as involved as every sofa expert, but it won’t stop me from poking fun out of my colleagues for taking it all a little too seriously.

Dear John…

Dear Mr Dentist,

Every few months, I would hear the drop of letters on the doormat and rush down to see my name emblazoned upon the envelope, only to discover that it was from your good self. In an instant all those hopes and dreams were shattered as I realised that you are trying to claw me, and my wallet, back into your clutches.

I fell off the radar when I went to uni and then I found another mistress; an NHS dentist advertising their wares just along the road. So I trundled off to your free equivalent only to be told that I had to have my wisdom teeth out. He didn’t have the same soft touch as you; he was less understanding about my fear and there was no soothing whale music to be found anywhere.

After a couple of attempts, all of which were fumbling and nerve-ridden, I was referred to the hospital where I could have my wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic. That was the best experience ever. If only every dentist visit was like this; I have no memory of the experience whatsoever and I was drugged up to the eyeballs so I had no pain afterwards either! Ok, so I didn’t know whether I was coming or going and I definitely shouldn’t have been allowed to drive, but altogether, it was a great experience.

After a bit of dillying and dallying, I decided that it was best to end our relationship before either of us got any deeper. In truth, I wasn’t overly happy with the way you had been treating me and when you filled my mouth with fillings, that was the last straw. We had been through some good times and some bad times and I thought it was better to quit whilst we were ahead. I was young and at uni, I didn’t need to be tied down to the harsh realities of fillings and dentures, so with a flick of tail and a shake of my head, I went off into the sunset, leaving him behind.

Now I was undetectable! I was never going back to the slightly under qualified, NHS dentist and you had no idea where I had gone. I was invincible! I lived like this for a long time, never worrying about my teeth. Ok, they might hurt occasionally, but I would just attack them with my toothbrush and off we would go again. Everything was good.

Until that day. You know the one, when you got one of your minions to ring me up. You knew that I wouldn’t be able to turn down one of your mistresses like I could ignore a letter. So, I had an appointment. I waited a reasonable amount of time and then I rung you up and cancelled it. You saw me coming though, didn’t you? You rang me back up before I’d even got out of the door to rebook the appointment. So, the dreaded day came and with the threat of an £80 charge if I didn’t make it, I came along to see you.

It was ok, you took me back into your fold like an old friend. All those bitter words and harsh events brushed aside as I sat back in your chair and tentatively opened my mouth. The soft sounds of the whales calling and chattering to one another began and I started to relax, slowly unclenching my fists. But then, just like all relationships that are patched up, it started to fall apart when you got a little closer. After a little bit of subtle poking around, you suggested that we see other people. I can’t pretend that it didn’t hurt; I didn’t want to show you what it meant to me, I just smiled and pretended to be relieved that I could escape your clutches.

Going from you to Libby, the hygienist, was a little like jumping from the frying pan and into the fire. I thought that you put me on edge, but that was before I met Libby. I got the same familiar clammy palms and shaking knees that I got around you, but once I sat in her chair I began wishing for you and your whale music.

Libby introduced herself with a short demonstration of flossing, by which I mean that she spent some time trying to implant small pieces of twine from betwixt my tooth and my gums. She was quite forward and didn’t have your reassuring touch; I had barely put on the spit guard before she was getting to work with an electric drill and a Karcher. She tried to soften the blow by talking inanely at me, but I have never felt shame quite like it when she was asking me about my other relationships, whilst I tried desperately to mop the blood and spit from my chin, chest, forehead and neck. This brings another point to mind, how am I meant to answer questions when she is busy winding her wrists around my molars?

I make it sound as though our meeting was all unpleasant; don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of nice moments during our meeting. Small talk covered all manner of topics like periodontitis, which is apparently what I’ll get if I don’t carry on paying Libby for her “services” every six months. She offered me a few drinks and criticised me on some of my favourite tipples. I told her of my love for a little shot of Listerine now and then, which she told me was incredibly dangerous. Apparently my love of Listerine is giving me third degree burns across my gums and throat. So Mr Dentist, I’m not sure that Libby is the woman for me. Although I thought you and I were not a match made in heaven, it only took an afternoon in the company of Libby to make he wish I could come back to you.

I’m so sorry that I thought I could do better than you. All I can ask is that you can trust in me again; I thought the grass was greener on the other side, but I was so wrong. Please Mr Dentist, I may still shake and stammer in your company, but I trust you and I will try and overcome my fear of you.
Yours,

A Silly Dentaphobic.

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