Ejo #59 – Death (aka Farewell Dear Barnaby)

My whole life I’ve heard that you can never dream about your own death. That you always wake up just before you kick the bucket. Who came up with this nonsense? I dreamt that I died just the other night. And no, it wasn’t a nightmare.

I was involved in a gun fight (as you are, in dreams) and had been shot several times. I had rolled away to try and hide from my attackers and figure out how badly I’d been injured. As the gunfight continued around me, I realised that I was pretty badly injured and that in fact, I was probably not going to make it. This was, as you can imagine, quite a sad feeling. I can’t remember being in too much pain, but I was bleeding a lot and some major organs had been hit. As I lay there contemplating what was next, one of the bad guys found my hiding spot and stood over me with a gun pointed right at me. I wasn’t afraid. He shot me right in the heart – a fatal shot – and I instantly realised that I was dying. My life flowed away from my body, and into an unknown abyss. But it wasn’t at all frightening. Firstly, it felt like a relief, like the fear and sadness had given way to something better. It was a lovely feeling, ecstatic almost, to be aware of death taking hold of me and deciding to not fight it. You could say I actually allowed myself to enjoy and savour the sensation of my life slipping away. It was euphoric, and it was beautiful.

I know it was just a dream, but I woke up from it feeling like I’d experienced some kind of an epiphany. Death itself is nothing to be frightened of. I truly believe that now (yes, thanks to a dream which my subconscious completely made up based on no evidence whatsoever, yes, yes, yes).

The pleasant feeling of having experienced, and even enjoyed, my own death stayed with me for several days and led me to start thinking about my own, actual, imminent death. And what I realised is that even though I am no longer afraid of the act of dying, I really don’t want to die quite yet. This might not seem like a revolutionary thought to most people, but for the last eight years, I’ve actually been “cheating” death. You see, since I was a teenager I had a very strong feeling that I wouldn’t live past the age of 35. I was certain of it. And so, in a way, I kind of lived my life as though I expected it to end in 2006. I don’t mean I was reckless or that I endangered myself. I just had no expectations of life beyond that age. I honestly thought I would be dead. But hey, here I am, very much alive and well.

Since turning 35 (and beyond) the question of my mortality hasn’t really been something that I’ve thought about. Until my death dream the other night. So, when I put the question to myself, “Are you still OK with dying?” the answer came back a resounding NO! I’m not ready. And I’ve never felt that way before. I’d only ever felt some kind of fuzzy acceptance towards my own death. Never before had I experienced resistance. So, was it the dream that caused this adjustment, or is it the fact that as I get older, death changes from being just a nebulous concept into something more real to face head on. I don’t know.

I am no stranger to death. My father died of lung cancer 11 years ago. I clearly remember finding out that he was terminally ill, ten months earlier. My parents had spent the summer in Greece and while they were gone, my sister who was house-sitting for them bought an adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy to keep her company. She called him Barnaby and she popped him in her handbag when she went to the shop to buy milk. Now, my parents had made it pretty clear that they didn’t want any more pets after our Doberman, Jessica, had died a year before. So we were sure that they would be furious when they got home. But they returned from overseas, and Barnaby’s existence barely registered. There were a few grumbles about it, but that was it. A few days later they told us about Dad being sick. So I guess they just had bigger things to worry about than a dog in the house. And so Barnaby stayed.

Playing with his Mini-Me.

Playing with his Mini-Me.

My father pretended to not love Barnaby, but it was pretty obvious that he did (how could you not love that face?). And I think he provided my Dad with some comfort during his illness. And isn’t that what dogs do best? Isn’t their unconditional loving what makes us love them back so much? Over the years, Barnaby has firmly sealed his place in our family. We’d had dogs before, but they’d always been outside dogs. Barnaby was well and truly an inside dog which is why I think he assimilated into the family more completely than our other pets. He would lounge around watching TV with us, sleep with us and hang around the kitchen while my Mum prepared dinner. He’s always been one of us, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he is too. Barnaby is my sister’s pup, but we all love him as our own. He is the most sweet-natured, playful, gentle, patient and sociable little guy I’ve ever met. People on the street gush over how cute he is and whilst he enjoys the attention, he always prefers the company of our family members to other people (and dogs). Like I said, he’s one of us.

Even though he's 12 he still looks like a little puppy.

Even though he’s 12 he still looks like a little puppy.

This is his bed.  My sister is allowed to sleep in it.

This is his bed. My sister is allowed to sleep in it.

Barnaby’s Mum, my sister Mari, says, “Barn has been a constant companion and mate for me for over 12 years and he’s always been a fantastic personality. If I want to run and throw the ball, so does he. If I want to sit and watch telly, he wants to too, from my lap! But he’s also good at getting me to play ball when I don’t instigate, he cutely nudges the ball at me with his nose. He plays a mean game of soccer, kicking the ball back to me with his front paws! He loves face time and if he wants a cuddle he sits facing me on my lap and just looking into my eyes. Any time I’ve gone through a rough patch in my life and I am demonstrably down he comes and just sits next to me and will sometimes burrow his head under my arm. He’s a face licker and you’ve got to be mad quick to escape his dog kisses!”

I know everyone thinks that their dog is the cutest dog, the smartest dog, the fastest dog etc. And those people can go and write about their dogs on their own ejo. On this site, Barnaby is, hands down, the best dog in the world. Undisputed.

He loves lounging around and getting hugs

He loves lounging around and getting hugs

Over the years Barnaby’s health has, unfortunately, deteriorated to the point where he needs to take a bunch of medication every single day just to stay alive. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are renowned for being susceptible to a number of genetic health problems, and Barnaby has had mitral valve heart disease for a few years. He’s also recently developed a soft tissue sarcoma which has left a golf ball sized tumour on his right thigh, making it painful for him to walk. But despite his aches and pains, despite his failing body, Barnaby, at the ripe old grandfatherly age of 12 has led a pretty good life. He’s been showered with love and affection, he’s been fed well and he’s played a lot. Mari says, “Even though he is increasingly unwell, he still wants to keep going. He will play ball, even if afterwards it takes him two hours to recover instead of ten minutes. If people come over he puts aside his tiredness and gives them attention”.

Yup, the cone of shame.  He wears it with aplomb.

Yup, the cone of shame. He wears it with aplomb.

Today all of that came to an end. Today, we said goodbye to Barnaby. His illnesses became too severe for us to allow him to continue to suffer. And we all realised that keeping him around has been for our benefit, and not for his. We couldn’t do that to him anymore. My sister made the difficult decision to put her baby down today. Barnaby isn’t suffering any more, but our pain has just started. We’ll suffer because we’ll miss him. Because we love him and we don’t want him to be gone. Because he really was one of us.

With his Mum.

With his Mum.

Was Barnaby ready to die? Could he even have had any concept of life and death? Or did the entirety of his consciousness consist of dinner, naps, belly scratches and that damn ball? I think that his quality of life towards the end was pretty poor. He couldn’t walk or see or hear very well. But damn it, he knew he was loved and he loved us back. As he lost consciousness, and as his life slipped away, did he feel relief? I don’t know if Barney was ready for his death, but he probably sensed in some way that we were. Dogs pick up on human emotions, right?? Or maybe he just thought that yesterday was one of the best days of his whole life.

RIP Barnaby.  Good boy.

RIP Barnaby. Good boy.

Ejo #58 – In Search Of The Perfect Margarita

Hello, my name is Chryss, and I enjoy drinking alcohol. In fact, I really, really enjoy drinking alcohol. And I think that’s OK. I’m not ashamed. I won’t go so far as to claim (as a fabulous friend of mine once did) that “I just don’t trust people who don’t drink”. But c’mon, they’re certainly not as much fun! There is something to be said for the shared experience of enjoying a well-made tipple – whether it be a fine glass of wine, a nicely balanced cocktail or an ice-cold beer on a warm summer’s day.

It’s funny how certain drinks go in and out of style. Chardonnay spent many years in the wilderness, before making a fashionable comeback. Gin too is enjoying a very popular resurrection, while the Cosmopolitan is now considered a little bit daggy and retro (albeit still a classic).

In the spirit world, tequila has drawn what I think is an unfairly short straw. I guess the reason is that so many of us chalked up at least one bad tequila experience during our misspent youths. Usually it involved the kind of tequila that comes with a little red hat on the bottle. Ugh!!! I remember quite well the epic evening that caused me to exile tequila for two long (tumbleweed-strewn) decades. Actually, I don’t remember the evening at all – but I do clearly remember the aftermath. There was pain, there was vomit, there was shame. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there.

Shudder

Shudder

But tequila is not just a drink young people employ to get drunk. Just like the more respected beverages of whiskey and wine, tequila has a spectrum of quality that ranges from paintstripper to fine libations ripe for enjoyment and appreciation. And just like those other forms of alcohol, fine tequila takes on flavours and nuances from its terroir and from the aging process. For instance, Extra Añejo is aged for a minimum of 36 months in oak barrels, and this process tends to mellow it, making it an enjoyable drink to sip. Don’t you even think about lick-sip-sucking Extra Añejo. In fact, don’t “slam” tequila at all. Ever. OK? Show some respect, please.

Dangerous

Dangerous

Now, just because I have come to appreciate tequila for the fine liquor it is, doesn’t make me a tequila snob. Not in the least. Actually, some tequila snobs might look down their noses at me because my favourite way to drink it is mixed in a margarita. It was this humble (though much-abused) cocktail that lured me back to tequila, after so many years apart. And I admit that when I first started drinking margaritas, my long-held disdain for tequila led me to drink some pretty, pretty bad versions. Margaritas sweetened with sugar syrup. Margaritas made with pre-made sour mix. Flavoured margaritas. Even writing these words makes me gag. Blech! I might not be a tequila snob, but I sure as hell am a margarita snob. And I have Las Vegas to thank for that.

David and I first went to Vegas in 2007. We were young and naïve, so we did the silly tourist thing of walking around with giant yard glasses of unnaturally bright green, slushy “margaritas”. The memory makes me cringe. Thank god then, that the next time we went to Las Vegas, in 2011, we met George, the bartender at Mesa, a restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. George’s margaritas were an epiphany, and drinking them opened up the world of tequila in a whole new way to me. He used Partida, a quality silver tequila (this, youngest style of tequila, is also the crispest and cleanest which makes it ideal for mixing in cocktails). He squeezed fresh limes to order. He added a “secret” ingredient* to the shaker before agitating it. He served the drink in a chilled martini glass. Without ice. In short, George blew my fucking mind. What was this drink? It was like nothing I’d ever had before. And just like that, George turned me into a margarita snob. As a memento, he also gave me the silver emblem that wraps with a piece of leather around the neck of the bottle; aka the Partida Spirit Bird. I still have it.

The Partida Spirit Bird emblem.  I proudly wear this as a necklace.

The Partida Spirit Bird emblem. I proudly wear this as a necklace.

Wearing my Partida Spirit Bird.

Wearing my Partida Spirit Bird.

The lure of a quality margarita is so great, that when we went back to Vegas this year, we headed straight to Mesa looking for George. As luck would have it, he’d gone back behind the bar just a few days earlier, after spending the preceding three years working the floor of the restaurant. Perhaps there is a god. He made them for us and they were as good as we remember. The best margaritas. Ever.

The ultimate margarita.  Time and time again.  This one celebrated a poker tournament win.

The ultimate margarita. Time and time again. This one celebrated a poker tournament win.

At the beginning of this year’s USA holiday, David and I decided that we’d make it a Margarita Tour of California/Nevada. We enjoyed margaritas on 24 days of our 25 day holiday. And that ain’t bad (the one, dreadful, day we didn’t indulge was the result of the Curious Case Of The Misplaced Tequila Bottle while camping in the Nevada desert). During our holiday, we had some great margaritas, we had some average margaritas and we had some interesting margaritas. Margaritas, margaritas, margaritas!!!!

Mystery Haight Street Bar - This is what a margarita SHOULDN'T look like.  I mean, a mason jar???  Really????  The taste disappointed too.  We stuck to Mexican joints from then on.  Lesson learned.

Mystery Haight Street Bar – This is what a margarita SHOULDN’T look like. I mean, a mason jar??? Really???? The taste disappointed too. We stuck to Mexican joints from then on. Lesson learned.

Tommy's Mexican - we waited six years for this pitcher of Partida margarita.  And it was gooooooooood.

Tommy’s Mexican – we waited six years for this pitcher of Partida margarita. And it was gooooooooood.

Tacolicious - The bar, Mosto, was closed but the restaurant still served margaritas (thank god, right!!?).

Tacolicious – The bar, Mosto, was closed but the restaurant still served margaritas (thank god, right!!?).

Mosto - We went back the next day when the bar was open and had some margaritas.

Mosto – We went back the next day when the bar was open and had some margaritas.

Mosto - You can't make a margarita without fresh lime.  Not in my book anyway.

Mosto – You can’t make a margarita without fresh lime. Not in my book anyway.

Mosto - We also had some mezcal.  Very popular right now.  It was nice, but it wasn't a margarita.

Mosto – We also had some mezcal. Very popular right now. It was nice, but it wasn’t a margarita.

Lóló - quirky restaurant with quirky (but really good) margaritas.  Loved the chilli salt rim.

Lóló – quirky restaurant with quirky (but really good) margaritas. Loved the chilli salt rim.

La Rondalla - This was a recommendation from a friend.  They made the margaritas fresh (on request) and they made them good.

La Rondalla – This was a recommendation from a friend. They made the margaritas fresh (on request) and they made them good.

As a happy ending to this story, David and I actually bought some (rather elusive) Partida tequila whilst out one day in San Francisco (the fact that we lugged the five bottles, four strenuous miles home, up the vertical streets of San Francisco, just makes them even more special). Ever since learning from George how to make the perfect margarita three and a half years ago, we have enjoyed magnificent margaritas at home, usually made with Patrón or Don Julio (both very good tequilas). But now, people, NOW, we’ll be making them with Partida!!!! In any case, we will always have a toast to George!

 

 

* It’s a dash of water. Yup, a simple dash of water makes a world of difference to the final product. Try it sometime.

Ejo # 57 – To Be (A Mother); Or Not To Be

They told me I’d change my mind about never marrying when I met the right guy. And they were right. But they should have just taken the win and stopped there. Because even though I married an amazing, kind, loving guy (and even after nearly eight years of marriage) I’m still 100% sure that I’ve made the right decision not to have children.

For some reason though, people still ask if we’re going to procreate. I’ve taken to telling strangers who mention it that my uterus is barren and that we just can’t have kids. This tends to shut them up for a bit while I enjoy watching them wriggle in discomfort (because, really, how rude – though that’s a whole other ejo right there).

There was only ever one time I seriously contemplated motherhood and it was right before I shipped off to the USA at the ripe old age of 26 to spend 12 months as an au pair. Yep, that year of looking after someone else’s kids beat the desire to be a parent right out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids and still do. As though they were my own. But I was disavowed of the notion that I could give of myself so completely and selflessly to little people for the rest of my life.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me when I say I don’t want children and interpret that as meaning that I don’t love kids. I actually really do (and would LOVE to be an Aunt – no pressure Mari and Pieta!!). I find children fun, and funny (hilarious, in fact) and truly fascinating and I enjoy spending time with them and being around them – it’s a bit of a novelty for me I guess. So, on the one hand that old cliché of enjoying kids but more enjoying being able to hand them back is quite true for me. On the other hand, I also sometimes find that when a small child I love wants me to hold their hand or give me a hug and a kiss it stirs a deep, almost painful, longing in a place somewhere behind my solar plexus. An ancient desire or need or instinct to be able to experience that connection on a more intense and personal level. But I have had enough experiences with children to know that this feeling of potential regret, while strong, is not as strong as the fear I have of potentially ever regretting having them.

I am currently on a trip with David to the USA and not only have I managed to catch up with both the kids I used to look after way back in the day (shout out to all-grown-up Holly and Daniel – I love you guys), but I am currently staying with one of my most beloved friends, a girl I met right after my year as a nanny and whom I’ve been friends with ever since. And, guess what, she has two little boys aged four and six. Spending time with them has been awesome, especially since the last time we saw them was over three years ago and their little personalities have developed so much since then. But I admire the hell out of their Mum/Mom for having the patience of a saint. They’re pretty damn well-behaved kids but there have been a couple of occasions where I’ve wanted to just run away to my room, leaving the madness behind. My friend doesn’t have that luxury. She has to deal with the demands, the needs and, of course, the occasional tanty. And she does it with such grace and aplomb that all I can do is just sit back and tip my hat to her.

And that’s kind of what scares me a little about parenthood. Let me tell you how my kids would be raised. Pretty well from birth they would wake up when it suited me, go to bed at their scheduled bed time, brush their own teeth, clean up after themselves and respect my personal space. My children (should they be so lucky to be born to me) would be ready on time for school (after making their own lunches), never be sick and they’d stick close to me when we went out in public. They would do well at school, make friends easily and be super-polite to everyone they met. They’d be quiet, calm, obedient, little robots that would clean the house while I was at work and make me a stiff drink when I got home. Now ask me again when I’m going to have kids.

Most of my closest female friends are mothers these days. And they are all truly incredible at doing one of the most difficult, time-consuming, personality-crushing, technically proficient, love-sucking jobs in the world and still being funny, interesting and bloody fabulous human beings.

Better them than me.