Thoughts & Musings

Music. Musings on the power of music

I was abducted by two she-aliens recently. Apparently they’d singled me out because I was driving along with my music so loud I stole their attention. By a bizarre quirk of fate, the combination of Bjork and my unique vocal harmonies had created a sound strikingly similar to the mating-call of one of their alien men-things. I hadn’t seen the spaceship. They were in stealth mode. They were apparently playing a game where they hover invisibly over a car throughout its entire journey and change all the traffic lights to red as it approaches them. It seems the sounds emanating from me car got them all horny. So they’d twiddled the tractor-beam control, and I found meself in a predicament.

Fortunately, my bits didn’t fit their bits. And no harm was done trying. Anyway, after they admitted defeat and calmed down, they questioned me intensely about this strange sound coming from my car.  I explained that we call it music. They don’t have music. This revelation changed my admiration for their greatly superior technology and grasp of the English language into pity, as quickly as water turns that yellow powder into custard.

“How can you live without music?” I asked them.
“But what use is music?” they scoffed. “We’ve studied everything about you earthlings. We’ve observed it makes you emit bizarre sounds, and do strange movements. But we see no other purpose to it.”

“Have you got autopilot on this thing?” I enquired. “Right then, switch it on and turn off me car engine – or we’ll all get carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m gonna explain music to you.”

“Music is far more than something we can dance to, or listen to for pleasure, although its definitely that, I said. Music is something that expresses and invokes our emotions like nothing else can. It can fuse itself forever in our hearts and minds with people, places and events in our lives. Once that’s happened, simply hearing the music again – even decades later – can flood us with powerful recollections or emotions.”

I looked each of them in all 3 of their eyes searching for a spark of understanding. That’s when I noticed the one on the left was quite cute. “Go on,” she instructed, fluttering the flap of skin on the top of her head that covered her blow-hole.

“Well”, I said, “let me put it another way”. At this, they nudged each other and seemed highly amused.
“We tried every conceivable way didn’t we?” said the one on the left – the cute one. I remember thinking how strange it was that they don’t have music and poetry, but they have smutty humour.

“It can relax us or get us very excited”, I continued. “It can make us laugh or cry. It can make us feel happy, sad or even frightened. It connects with us physically, in some inexplicable way. Because of this it’s used in many ways other than just to entertain us. For example, virtually every advert ever made for TV and Cinema uses music. When combined with images it can create a feel, or a mood that cannot be achieved in any other way.

Virtually every film ever made also uses it to create moods and manipulate our emotions. They use it to give us clues about what is to come, or to lull us into a false sense of security. It tell us things about a character or their intentions. It helps make us cry, scared, or jump out of our seats. Even before sound was technically possible in films, music was played live at the cinema to accompany it, and serve similar functions.

I once saw a small clip of a scene on TV, where a man wandered round the outside of a house trying all the doors. He was looking up at the windows and trying to open windows on the ground floor. The first time it was played, it had simple incidental music that made it look like it was the man’s own house, and that he’d simply locked himself out. Then they played exactly the same scene with some sinister music. It immediately looked like he intended to break in and murder someone. The music alone changed the entire feel and message of the scene.”

The non-cute one leaned forward. “So this music can change the perception of a visual experience?” I leaned back tactfully. Her breath smelled of a strange blend of toothpaste and urine. “Oh yes”, I replied, followed by a slight cough splutter. “Without music, it would be very hard to frighten us in a film. If they have a situation in a film where someone is alone in a house at night, and they look out of the window to see a face staring in at them. In reality, if that was us, we’d get a shock. Our hearts would beat faster and adrenaline would pump round our bodies. In the scene, if they just looked up and it cut to the face at the window – that couldn’t really scare us. But if they’ve manipulated us before with the type of music that makes us uneasy, or teases us that something is going to happen, then we can get scared. If music jumps out loud at us as they cut to the face – we will jump and our hearts pound. We will have experienced the same shock as the person in the film. But with no music it just wouldn’t happen.

Sometimes they achieve the same effect by having no music at all in the preceding scenes. They rely instead on the contrast of virtual silence and sudden loud music. We often think it was the face that scared us but it was really the music that achieved it. Of course listening to the music alone wouldn’t have the same effect either. It’s the skilful marriage of them both that makes it happen.”

The cute one fluttered her flap again. The other seemed annoyed at her. “One of the very important things music can do is to carry messages with words that can be sung to it. Messages that may not reach us in quite the same way if the words were just spoken. In fact music is so powerful that it is used to help heal sick people. It is used to motivate, and to manipulate people all over the world in very subtle ways. Some even claim that subliminal messages embedded in the music can influences us.”

“Go on!”, they exclaimed in unison. At last I seemed to have gained their full attention. “Tell us more about this power to manipulate.”

“Ok.” I said. “But I have to get off soon or I’ll be late”. They mumbled something about altering the time continuum for me but I didn’t pay much attention.  I was all fired up about music. “Just as long as I’m back for me tea”, I added, and continued my explanations.

“Music can be so powerful it can threaten whole sections of society. Older generations often worry about the influences it seems to have on their children. Even Governments can become concerned about the influence of certain styles of music, or certain artists and their messages. Rap music, Rock and Roll and Punk have all been particularly controversial at times. Artists like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Sex Pistols etc. have all been banned or accused of having a negative or destructive influence on people. The American CIA watched John Lennon for years as they saw his peace messages and anti-war songs as a threat to their foreign policies. Broadcasters have banned songs, and musicians have been sued by people who claim their music has damaged their son or daughter.”

They looked positively engrossed by now. “This music sounds much more powerful than we realised”, said the cute one. “It is indeed”, I replied and naively carried on..

“In 1990 a British heavy metal band called Judas Priest were sued by the parents of two American boys who had shot themselves in a suicide attempt. They were listening to one of their albums called Stained Class at the time. One of the boys died instantly, but the other survived. The boys parents claimed that the repeated phrase “do it” was subliminally embedded into one of the songs and had triggered a suicide impulse. The allegations centred on the alleged use of a technique where verbal messages were recorded backwards on tracks. This was somehow supposedly planted subliminally in the mind of the listener. The parents lost the case. To be honest the idea that it could really influence us is completely ridiculous. But it shows that the idea at least had enough credence to make it to court. It also shows how powerful music is acknowledged or believed to be.

Another bloke, Michael Waller, shot himself in the head while listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s record Suicide Solution. His parents claimed that subliminal messages may have influenced his actions too. The case was thrown out because they couldn’t show that subliminal messages were even present in the record.

In 1997 Marilyn Manson was also taken to court by a parent who claimed his son had committed suicide after listening to his music. No case has ever been won. However, it just shows that some people give music an awful lot of accredited power.”

For some reason they now appeared disappointed. I carried on regardless. “People claim that music can heal people too”. The one with bad breath stood up. “Tell us more about the power to influence and control people”.
“Yes tell us”, added the cute one.

“Well”, I said sticking to my original point. “It can do good things like bring people back to consciousness sometimes.”

“Can it render them unconscious?” They blurted.

I was now starting to get suspicious and ignored the question. “As a demonstration of its power, I can show you a story of how it helped bring a human out of a coma. It’s done similar wonders many times all over the world for many people. It seems to be able to get through to them and awaken their desires to live again, which is awesome. Hang on, it’s in yesterdays paper on me passenger seat. It’s a good job you beamed me car up too”

“Here it is” I said as I held it up, “I’ll read it out for you.
Music brings youngster out of a coma – A Northumberland mother says her 12-year-old daughter came out of a coma after hearing Eminem through a set of headphones. Dione Armstrong was in a critical condition after suffering head injuries in a car accident. Her mother Karen says she opened her eyes after 11 days on a life support machine when she was played an Eminem tape. Mrs Armstrong, of Cramlington, said Eminem is helping to save her life. The minute I put on that music she was moving her hands. The tape was played through headphones in case other children on the ward were offended by his controversial lyrics. Songs played to Dione include Stan – the tale of an obsessive fan which includes themes of mutilation and murder. Mrs Armstrong told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle she is such a big fan. Every night she puts him on the ghetto blaster at home and goes to sleep to him. The youngster is now off the critical list and recovering on a normal ward at Newcastle General.”

“Interesting – tell us more.”

“Well, the modern use of music for healing began during our first World War. Musicians began visiting injured veterans in American hospitals just to entertain them, many of who were suffering from physical and emotional trauma. But it became apparent that the music was having a physiological and psychological affect on them. It seemed to lessen their complaints of pain. It appeared to calm them, as well as lessening their depression, and encouraging physical activity and recuperation.

Since then there have been many studies and it’s now accepted that music has a positive effect on our health. A bloke called Burke did some research and found that people who have music played to them before having surgery had a 21% drop in tension, used less pain controlling drugs, and left the hospital sooner than patients who didnt listen to music.

There are loads of people called Music therapists who use music to treat ill people. Scientists discovered that muzak piped into a New York City intensive care unit seemed to help lower the mortality rate 8 percent below the national average and other scientists have discovered that levels of stress hormones can drop while listening to it.”

“Did you say music incorrectly then?” the cute one asked.
“No” I replied and flashed a nice smile at her. I said, “muzak; which is used to relax people, to get people to work harder, longer and more efficiently or otherwise influence them in a subtle – some would say manipulative way. Although any background music is often referred to as Musak, Muzak is actually the name of an American corporation that through its sophisticated business programming pioneered the use of instrumental music for a specific purpose other than to listen to.”

“We want to know more about this mu-zac” they said again in unison.
“But I havent finished about the healing yet” I moaned.
“Mu-zac!” came the reply.
“Don’t you want to know that a study published in the journal Adolescence found that music decreased the pattern of brain signals associated with feelings of depression? And a Dr. Meyer said that he has patients that use music therapy and that the changes he’s seen in their behaviour, mood and mentality show that it really works?”

“Tell us about the Muzak. Will it make slaves work harder?”

“OK”, I relented, influenced by their now menacing tone and penetrating gaze. “The Romans used to use the rhythmic beat of a drum on their Galley ships to make the slaves row quicker and for longer. Also, the Shaman use rhythmic drumming music to send people into a hypnotic state. Excellent, came the reply. Trying to steer things to a lighter note I told them about my recent visit to the gym. I went to the gym, to work out on the fitness machines today and they play a specific type of music over the loud speakers in there.”


“No, its ordinary popular music but the principle is similar. All the music has between about 100 and 140 beats per minute. It’s ideal for exercising to, and it makes us work harder to the beat without even really noticing. It’s played not so much for our listening pleasure, although it works on that level also, but as a motivational tool. We work longer and harder than we would without it playing. As I looked around the gym this morning, I noticed every single person was exercising exactly to the timing of the music. Even those that were going at it like a dog after a rabbit were still keeping in time with the beat, just at double the beats per minute. I tried deliberately going out of sinc with the music and it felt very wrong and awkward indeed. Its almost impossible not to go at the pace of the music. They vary the music tempo so that we have little spurts of extra activity followed by a steadier pace.

The people behind Muzak, which is used all over the world in places of work, shops and other public places, believe that their specially designed music can influence productivity in the workplace. They claim that when play fast music, people doing a very simple mundane repetitive job, increase their productivity by up to 20%. It can also influence the speed at which people do things in other areas too; for example, fast music will lead to people eating faster in a restaurant. It can influence the products that people buy. If French music is played in a supermarket, people will tend buy more French wine, or playing German music can influence them toward German wine.

Whereas music is art, Musak is seen as a science, which they claim when used in an office causes the workers to feel better, get more done and generally feel happier. Factory workers suffer less tension and fatigue. The main difference between Musak and other so-called background music is that Musak is carefully created specifically not to be listened to but simply to be heard. If we pay attention to it, then it has failed.

The rhythm of music is a part of us from before we are born. In the womb, our environment is awash with sound and rhythm, like the beating heart of our mother, the sound of blood rushing round and our mothers voice. We can even hear outside music from the womb and when played relaxing classical music, babies kick less and have a steadier heart beat. Tests claim to show that we can remember music we heard in the womb up to a year later.

Most people walk at between 120 -130 Beats per minute (BPM) The most common tempo for popular music is between 120 130 BPM. This is no coincidence. If you had music playing in your spaceship you’d notice that all the people walking around are walking pretty much in time with the beat of most songs played on the radio – even though they arent listening to any music. I watch them all the time as I drive around.

The most amazing thing about it is that Western music, is made up of just seven bloomin’ notes. A B C D E F G. With 5 semi notes (sharp and flat) in between it creates just 12 notes which can be further changed by repeating the same notes in a different octave. But music can have millions of combinations.”

“I want some of this music to take to our leader”, said the foul-breathed one. “We have been looking for ways to control you earthlings, our leader will be pleased.”
The cute one stood up and looked equally as excited.
“Yes, we have learned how to control your traffic lights, and now we can learn how to control you.” She then let out a heinous laugh and all of a sudden she didnt look very cute after all.
“You can go now, but we will take your car to play the music to our leader. Make it play because our fingers cannot operate your machinery, we will be able to study it back at home.”

Thinking quickly on me feet I took the Bjork CD out and replaced it with Black Laces Agadoo And Other Great Party Hits, which someone had left and failed to reclaim ages ago. I turned the sound up to full blast and wound me windows down.

“The CD will keep playing over and over again with the auto play so that when you get back home your leader will be able to hear it”, I shouted as they dumped me at the side of the road. I could faintly hear Agadoo playing as they flew off with me car and watched as they erratically drove round and round in a figure of eight pattern before smashing into a tree and exploding. From the way they were driving it I reckon they didnt like Black Lace much at all.

Thoughts & Musings

Positive thinking: How do we know good is good and bad is bad?

Positive thinking I’ve been practising my own version of a positive thinking philosophy for a few years now. It’s not based on anything I’ve read, it’s just something I developed as I’ve recognised that many of the events I think are bad for me actually turn out to be good. The same thing happens to everyone else too. It took a couple of years for it to become second nature to me, but now that it is I’m even more chilled than I naturally was anyway. I don’t tend to get upset about most of the negative things that happen and realise that time may well uncover something very positive in them.

We tend to spend our lives trying to manipulate circumstances to our perceived benefit. When things happen as we want them to we are happy, but when they don’t, we are usually unhappy. However, we are always hopelessly incapable of knowing whether any event we interpret as good will remain good for us and not ultimately turn out to be a bad thing, and we can never know if the bad that is currently happening to us will not eventually turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened – and something we would never change. This article is not about dismissing seriously bad events though.

So knowing whether events will turn out to be good or bad for us is such an inexact science that it’s totally pointless getting too upset about most negative events. I just try to do the best I can and if things don’t work out I know that many of them will develop or lead onto something so good that I end up being glad it happened that way. This is nothing to do with a belief in fate – it’s not preordained, nor do I believe in “everything happens for a reason”. It’s simply that things work out in random unexpected ways, and they often lead us on paths we never expected. Many good things come only because something bad or unwanted happened in the past. Conversely, many bad things happen because something good happened in the past.

General Examples:

  • Think how many people were gutted not to get a ticket for the maiden voyage of the Titanic. All the people who managed to get tickets had no clue that this great thing that just happened would turn to tragedy
  • Over 200 people applied to be the first civilian in space on the American Space Shuttle Challenger, which blew up on take-off in 1986. Every one of the applicants that missed out was probably seriously disappointed. You ask them now how glad they are they didn’t make it
  • I remember seeing an interview with the American, Wayne Bobbitt. The man who had his penis cut off by his wife. It’s hard to imagine that as being a good thing, but years later he is quoted as saying it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He is now very rich and famous. A porn star in fact, who has women queuing up for him
  • I once read a newspaper story about a man knocked down and hospitalised. Whilst operating on him, the surgeons discovered a malignant tumour and removed it saving his life

That’s just a few examples off the top of my head, but history is littered with such examples, and so are the daily news papers. Some of them may be extreme examples but that’s the point, even some of the most extreme things that can happen sometimes turn out for the best in the end.

It may feel if you fail to get that job you so desperately wanted that a bad thing that has just happened. But how many people make the connection months or even years later, when they are settled into a different job and extremely happy, that they are only in the current situation because they didn’t get that other job? How many people who meet and fall in love with their partner at work make the connection that without the disappointment of the other lost jobs, they would never have met?

It’s possible to sit back and think of almost any good thing in my life and trace it back to something negative that happened.

Personal Examples:

  • The reason I work for myself and run my own business is because I was sacked from my job for having an accident with the firms van one too many times. When I had the last accident I would have done anything to turn the clock back, but now I’m glad it happened because it directly led to me starting to work for myself, which I had never thought of before
  • My son is only, “my son” and the person he is because of a previous miscarriage. At the time of the miscarriage my wife was obviously devastated, but if it hadn’t happened, we would not now have our Martin. We would have another, totally different child instead, and because we love the one we’ve got, we would not now – even if we could – prevent the previous miscarriage. We are happy the way things have worked out
  • I myself am only on this earth because my father’s first wife and son died tragically. As a result, he later remarried and I was his first child. I know bereavement is a dangerous area to venture in with this topic. I don’t wish to undermine anything about this tragic subject or even remotely imply that if bereaved one should treat it lightly at all. It just happens to be an extreme example of positive things that came from something tragic which is an undeniable fact of life

I can even see examples from my friend’s lives –

  • Two of my mates have split up from their wives. One was devastated when she cheated on him. Within a year he was with another partner, buying a house together and very happy. I asked him if he would change what had happened and he said, “no way” – yet he was devastated at the time
  • My other mate’s split was tough as he had two small kids. He is now living in his own flat, has his own business and a girlfriend. He wouldn’t change a thing either and is very happy

These unexpected turnarounds are not anomalies. Admittedly they don’t always happen that way either, but they do occur far more frequently than we usually realise. Examples of this are so ubiquitous that we often don’t even notice them.

Bread always lands butter side down?

It’s the same principle at work here as how we become convinced that whenever we drop buttered bread, it always lands butter side down on the floor, and whenever we choose the smallest queue in the bank or supermarket, we always end up watching the longer queue go down quicker. Research once showed that dropped buttered bread landed about equally either butter-face-down or face-up, and that queues didn’t follow logic and went down randomly, regardless of length. It was pure chance whether the longer or shorter one was the best to join.

What was proposed as an explanation, was that we have a natural tendency to remember each time the negative outcome prevails more than the positive because it has a greater impact on us. I believe the same thing happens with positive and negative events in our lives.

Now, in my life, I try to reserve judgement before deciding something is definitely bad. The logic of this means that I don’t worry half as much because I usually think that, for all I know, this could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. If I go to the cinema and the film is sold out, instead of being upset at the film I’ve just missed, I think that maybe the other film I end up choosing, one I didn’t particularly want to see, will turn out to be fantastic. To be able to brush off many of the bad things with a philosophical, “I wonder if this will turn out to my advantage?” has revolutionised my ability to be positive and frees me from a lot of unnecessary stress.

It does work well for the more trivial ups and downs of life but takes commitment to apply it to more apparently serious events like the ones I have quoted. But by learning to see the connections from past events, and opening our eyes to the ever-present examples of how other people experience good-from-bad (in the papers, books and films) it can be a powerful calming force.

I can see the less serious, day-to-day negatives as possible positives. And even for some of the more serious negatives, I now have a little ray of hope that they may ultimately come to be events I wouldn’t change for anything.

Take any event from your life that you are very happy about, and carefully trace it back through all the other events that were necessary to make it possible. It won’t be long before you see some bad things that were necessary to get you there – how many would you change if you could?

These old Chinese Folk Stories perfectly describe what I’m talking about

Chinese Farmer

There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, it escaped into the hills and his neighbours sympathised to him about how unfortunate it was for him. The farmer simply replied, “Maybe”. A few days later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Maybe”.

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. But the farmer’s only reaction was, “Maybe”.

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there to war. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they left him at home with his father. Many of the other young men in the village were conscripted and died in the war.

Chinese history

A pre-revolution rich man gambles away his fortune and leaves his family homeless, but then the revolution happens and rich people are attacked and persecuted. The man who won his fortune is publicly executed but he and his family are left unharmed.


I am not saying that we should be glad when bad things happen or there’s no point pursuing good things – that would be stupid. Nor am I saying that all bad things are good things in disguise. I’m definitely not saying we should belittle really bad things that happen either, some things are just bad – full stop – and some bad things will always hurt. I’m just saying that a hell of a lot more of the bad things turn out to be good for us than we would naturally believe – particularly things that in the great scheme of things are relatively minor, but which often have a disproportionately negative effect on us. It’s just that most of the time when they do turn out for the better it goes totally unnoticed, so we can easily spend our lives oblivious to the fact that lots of them aren’t worth getting stressed about. Yet when “bad” things stay bad or good things turn out bad we never forget. We need to balance things up more by recognising how many things we don’t want to happen actually make us better off in the end.

Thoughts & Musings

Me and my bitch

We entered the pet shop having decided to buy a cat, and came out with a dog. Don’t ask me what happened it was a long time ago. She was mostly, but not entirely, border collie. She had a beautiful coat which was black, white, brown and grey, a really cute face and a price tag of just £6. We named her Lassie, and to this day, I can’t believe I was so unimaginative as to call her that.

Although it never entered our heads at the time, we were selfish and wrong to have bought a pet because we both worked full time. Lassie was left on her own all day and out of sheer boredom and frustration she gnawed through the table and chair legs. She also managed to chew the corner of the wall through to the brick. Later though, she would have several years where she wasn’t alone as my wife left work to bring up two children.

Bedroom antics

Lassie always slept in the bedroom with us. We started off with good intentions though. We were advised that leaving her downstairs was best, and that at first she’d cry and whimper but if we were firm she’d quickly get used to it. However, on the first night we laid awake in bed for hours listening to her whimpering and barking in a high pitched voice. Eventually I relented and went downstairs to sort her out only to find her jammed behind the fridge.

I brought her upstairs and from then on she slept in our bedroom. As soon as she was big enough to jump on the bed she’d usually end up sleeping in between our legs at the bottom of it. When my wife got up in the morning I’d say, “come on Lass”, and she’d get inside the bed with me and I’d cover her over with the sheets. She was an extremely clean dog and never once even had fleas. I put this down to the fact that she didn’t have many walks and never ever roamed around outside. Often I’d get right under the covers and shout her and she’d jump on the bed and go mental trying to bite me. I’d scream and giggle and she’d dig away threatening to shred the duvet frantically trying to uncover me. It was great fun that – for us both.

As she got much bigger I’d often wake up in the night unable to move my legs because of her weight and had to kick her off the bed. At first she’d simply jump straight back on and I’d kick her off several times before she’d give up. Even then she’d often be back between my feet when I woke up in the morning. It took several months before she finally got the message and started staying in her basket.


I was always reluctant to take her for proper walks and it wasn’t long before Lassie had to get used to just being let out the back for 10 minutes in a morning and evening for much of the time. She never really knew much different and to her, it was normal. Most dogs get excited at the word “walkies”, but my dog got turned on by the word, “out”. I did used to take her on proper walks in the park sometimes and used this word to trick her many times when she wouldn’t come back to me. I’d simply shout to her, “do you want to go out Lassie?” and she’d fall for it every time. She’d come bounding back all excited and I’d put the lead on her. I always thought it was so funny.

Gang raped

I’ll always remember the time when she was on heat and I let her outside one snowy Sunday morning. I forgot all about her until I heard a stifled bark about fifteen minutes later. I looked outside to see her being gang-raped by three dogs. There was blood all over the snow and as I opened the door she looked at me so helplessly. I’ll never forget that look she gave me and how distressed she was.

Night-time farce – Doing the business

The irony about not taking her for proper walks was that the hassle I had by letting her out into the back garden, especially in winter, was much worse. If it was raining or snowing she’d faff about so much instead of just getting on with her business that I’d be seething (and usually freezing). I had to watch her because she’d often come back in without doing anything and get me up in the middle of the night.

Eventually I’d start shouting at her to get on with it and she’d get the face on and come trotting back with her ears down and her tail between her legs. I’d then shout at her some more and send her back where the whole cycle would repeat itself. She’d sniff round and round looking for the perfect spot before squatting momentarily and deciding it didn’t quite feel right. Eventually, when she finally decided to go for it I was sometimes elated to the extent of shouting, “yes” and punching the air. I had to whisper it though because any noise, a rustle of leaves, a car door – anything, would put her off and she’d come trotting back wanting to come inside.

Many times I just gave up and let her back in or couldn’t be sure if she’d done anything. Then I’d get my just deserts and suffer the consequences in the middle of the night. She’d always come over to my side of the bed and sit staring at me. She could wake me up with that stare. I could feel her breath on my face if I was facing that way and would ignore her or shout at her. Then she’d start crying and whimpering and pawing the bed until eventually I’d storm out of bed and had to stand freezing and naked at the back door while she rushed out and did the deed quicker than you could say, “stupid dog”. Ah well – it was me that was stupid not her.

Play fights

I did used to play with her a lot and we used to get very boisterous. We both loved play fighting, and she would tear around the room tucking her bum and tail behind as I chased after her. When I caught her I’d be pretty rough with her but she loved it. I’d get her on her back and trap her between by knees as I knelt over her (yes this is still the dog I’m talking about). Then as she growled and barked and snapped at me I’d play slap her snout with both hands before she’d break free. Then she’d tear round and round the table pulling big threads in the carpet with her claws until she came back close enough for me to grab her again.

We both loved playing this game and it gave her plenty of exercise as she was always totally knackered afterwards. “That’s enough now Lass”, I’d say, and she knew playtime was over. I’d then be gentle with her and cradle her in my arms like a baby sometimes or just rub her head like a father might rough up his son’s hair in a manly, friendly way. Lassie lost out a lot when we had proper children later.

Video of one of our play fights: Andy V Lassie

Dog gymnastics

Lassie was always the type of dog that would never let you have anything back once she got her mouth round it, and when I used to throw sticks for her I would grab the stick that was clamped firmly in her mouth and lift her up with it. Then I’d swing her round my head a few times and release her like an Olympic hammer thrower. She’d land sometimes 15 feet away having turned in mid air almost 360 degrees. Sometimes she’d land on her feet and other times she’d roll over several times but she’d always come bounding back for more. I was pretty good doing it without ever hurting her. We would have done very well if I’d ever come across an appropriate competition to showcase our skills in.

Sheepdog instincts – wouldn’t let me leave home

As a non-pedigree dog she was extremely healthy and didn’t suffer from any genetic health problems. The only negative inheritance she had was the herding instinct of a Border Collie. This meant she drove us mad by going crazy every time someone tried to leave the house. As she got older, this behaviour become so bad that I’d get really angry with her and the whole issue of anyone (but especially me) leaving the house became a nightmare.

As a result of my poor handling of the situation I used to get aggressive with her and it reached the stage where we both become conditioned to expect that whenever I left the house there was going to be a battle. As soon as she heard the door opening or me shouting “bye”, she’d hurtle towards me like a possessed demon barking and snarling. I’d then sword fight her with my foot and I eventually started to just lose my temper and kick her back as she attacked my foot.

Twilight years. The end

By the time she’d reached the age of 16 our relationship had deteriorated and we’d come to see her mostly as a nuisance. She was almost blind and kept walking into things. The mess and smell that often greeted us when we came back was horrendous at times. She had minor fits, which were distressing to see as she’d all of a sudden just drop to the floor as if electrocuted and get straight back up looking totally bewildered. I’d stroke her and she’d sit by my side. After several visits to the vet I had to make that inevitable decision to have her put down, and took her by myself.

In the waiting room she tried to jump up on my knee as she always did, and I helped her up. People commented on what a beautiful dog she was as people often did, which didn’t help. The vet was sympathetic and gave her the injection as I held her. He asked if I wanted to stay with her and then showed us into a side room and left us together. I gently stroked her and talked reassuringly to her occasionally until she drifted effortlessly into sleep. I felt strange, almost detached, refusing to allow myself to take in the finality of the situation.

I got up from the floor and without looking back I let myself out and back into the waiting room. I know it was full of people and pets but I saw no one. I approached the receptionist and was presented with a bill. I then had to write out a cheque to pay for the service I’d just received, which I found bizarre and surreal. It made the experience seem so clinical and business like and I feel that sort of thing you should be billed for later.

I drove home and sat alone in the empty house, which was now free from Lassie’s inconvenient presence and did nothing. Every so often I fought back tears and emotions that insisted on trying to escape but I fought them back and won each time. I used to be good at that. I wasn’t such a good dog owner though, I could have treated her much better.

Thoughts & Musings

Confessions of a firestarter

Me and my brother had a fascination with fire when we were young, and both managed to set a house on fire. Steve did the first one when we were about 6 and 4 respectively. One of my earliest memories is of a fireman patiently questioning us both after our Oak Street house was rendered uninhabitable.

The fireman, inspired by a passing ice cream van’s tune, promised to buy us both an ice cream if Steve told him what had happened. I remember being very angry when he kept silent. It later turned out he’d been bouncing up and down on the bed lighting matches and tossing them away.

The second fire was caused by me in the next house, when I was about 9. I used to love lighting the gas under the chip pan or frying pan, which were usually caked in solidified lard. I especially liked to doodle in it with a knife prior to watching it slowly melt under the flame. On this occasion I was multitasking by making myself some toast under the grill whilst writing my name in the lard as it slowly melted. Later I was sat in the room eating my toast when the chip pan caught fire gutting the kitchen. We were thrust out on the front garden in our pyjamas and the fire engines returned.

Staying with fires, I had another go at burning the kitchen down at the next house (we moved a lot) I was about 10. My brother, a friend and I were into conkers. We’d heard that baking a conker toughened them up and made them into champions. So there we were in the kitchen, with a mind to creating some winners. I decided it would be quicker to fry them and popped half a dozen in the frying pan. The frying pan seemed to always be on call, larded up, on the cooker. After the lard melted I was dissatisfied by the fact the conkers were being toughened up only at the bottom as they were only sitting in it and not completely covered. Totally inexperienced in chemical reactions and boiling point temperatures, I was shocked at the spontaneous combustion caused when I topped up the melted fat with water from the kettle. On this occasion we all ran out and took refuge in the woods. When we returned, dad had contained the blaze and no fire engines had been required – however, a thrashing was apparently necessary.

Some months later, whilst at the same house, Steve and me made a nice fire round the back of a local garage in an oil drum one evening. This was in the days when garages often closed at night. We kept it going for ages with anything we could find. Fire is fascinating – and so warm. One of the objects tossed in for good measure was an aerosol can. When it exploded, it was just as I was peering inside, and fortunately, it only blackened me face.

At the next house we had an outside toilet in the back yard and in winter I would light a rolled up newspaper and run out with the flaming torch when I needed “to go”. I kept warm while sat there by feeding the fire with toilet paper. I never had an incident there but it was quite enjoyable.

One November I was down in the cellar with a friend when we decided to set off some fireworks we’d got our hands on by doing the penny for the guy thing. I placed the first one on the floor, which was one of those fountain-types shaped like a pyramid. When it went off in the confined space we had to leg it when we were engulfed in choking smoke. Mum was washing the pots at the time upstairs and witnessed a massive gulf of thick white smoke bellowing from the cellar grate. I doubt she was even really surprised any more.

Over the years our fascination with “man’s red fire” slowly dwindled like the embers of a right good bonfire. Apart from an incident where my brother was reported to the police for lighting small fires on wasteland I can’t remember any other problems. We have to count ourselves lucky nothing serious happened – apart from burning down a house and a kitchen of course.