Short Story: Three Minutes

“So, I just peed on a plastic stick.” Eric jumped off the sofa anxiously as I hit the bathroom light switch.

“What does it say?” he asked, desperately grabbing at it. (It always amazed me how people in this situation in sitcoms never seemed bothered that they were handling something that had been urinated on. Now I realised it happens in real life too.)

“It doesn’t say anything yet! You have to wait three minutes.” I snatched the white stick back from him and put it on the coffee table, making a mental note to anti-bac later. I went into the kitchen, put the microwave timer on for three minutes, and then went and sat on the sofa with my hands shoved under my legs. I refused to pace, or bite my nails, or anything so undignified. I just sat, and quietly freaked out in my head instead.

Eric wasn’t so insular about it; he began walking in circles around the sofa, looking frequently between the kitchen doorway, where he could just see the glowing green countdown, and the all important test nervously. He wrung his hands and seemed even to be muttering to himself. I tried to ignore him. I leaned back on the sofa, let out a huge breath of air, and attempted to clear my mind.

What did I want it to say? I knew children were something that I wanted someday, but someday and nine months from now were very different lapses of time. And I wanted kids – when I formed that thought in my head they were always school-aged, playing at the park – not babies. I tried to imagine myself with a baby. Something small and helpless. Something that couldn’t communicate except by gurgles and cries – something so fragile that occasionally they just died in their sleep for no reason. Something whose wellbeing and health and safety were solely my responsibility. Oh God, please let it be negative!

“I didn’t know that,” Eric said suddenly.

“Huh?” I grunted, my train of thought derailed. There were still two minutes to go.

“I didn’t know that, about the three minutes to wait. I-I don’t know anything about babies really.”

“We’ll…learn.” I reassured him tensely. “We’ll have to.”

“I don’t know how to change nappies, or-or what they eat or what-what I would do if they had a cough, or how to w-warm up a bottle or-or-or how they’re supposed to-to sleep, or any – or anything like that!” His voice got higher and faster as he indulged his panic.

“Neither do I. Well, I mean, I have a vauge idea, but not, you know… It’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.” I tried to give him an encouraging smile. He came over to join me on the sofa.

“We’ll be fine, Marie” he said shakily, taking my hand. “We can do this.”

“Yes we can.”

A pause. Then he asked: “What do you want it to say?”

Negative. Please, please; I would be a horrible Mother and Eric clearly wasn’t going to win any prizes for being confidant. We’d kill the poor thing! But I couldn’t let him know I was scared, just in case. “I…I don’t know…”

He started to rub my hand with his thumb, too quickly to be comforting. Then he looked at his watch, then at the test, and then he began to fidget. I let go of his hand, left the sofa and began to pace – I couldn’t bear sitting with him fretting like that.

One and a half minutes, glared the microwave. In less than 90 seconds, we would know. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. I mean, Eric was handsome, and had curly blonde hair. I had always wanted little boys with curly blonde hair. If it was a girl I supposed she might look a bit like me, though I hoped she’d get Eric’s big blue eyes. I could dress them up in little outfits, and it would be fun to buy baby shoes for once, instead of just cooing over them in the stores. I could almost see the baby now, reaching up for Mummy from its crib, with chubby arms and baby giggles. It would be nice to be needed and loved. Yes, now that I thought about it, I wanted a baby so badly it hurt.

“Would you want a boy or a girl?” Eric startled me again. I stopped pacing to consider.

“I don’t care, as long as it’s healthy. And I hope it has your hair and eyes.” I joined him on the sofa again, gazing lovingly at him with trust and fondness.

“Funny,” he said, returning my affection, “I was just thinking the same thing. I was picturing a pudgy happy baby, with tiny fingers and your adorable nose.”

“I hate my nose!” I kissed him cutely. I loved this man so much; I wanted to bear his children and raise them, something that was part of me but also part of him. I prayed the test would come out positive. Please, please; it might not be ideal timing, but we would make such a good family.

“What do you want it to be?” he whispered softly, resting his forehead on mine. Not wanting to appear broody, I answered: “I don’t know…”

I squeezed his hand tenderly, then went to check the timer. 30 seconds to go. I resisted the urge to check the test early, and just stood where I could see the clock without having to go into the kitchen. I couldn’t wait to find out I was pregnant.

What if it’s negative? I dreaded to think, now that I had gotten used to the idea. To pass the time, I began mentally re-decorating the study to accommodate the new arrival. I saw yellow and white wallpaper, with matching changing table and crib. Oh God, wait a minute, how much do cribs cost? And pushchairs and nappies and baby food and formula – oh God, should I feed formula or breast milk? Did it matter? Could we afford a baby, I mean really really afford it? And not just a baby, this was something that was going to be a part of the rest of our lives. We weren’t ready for this, not by a long shot. What had I been thinking? Why hadn’t we been more careful?

What if it was positive? Please don’t let it be positive! What if it was? Could I handle pregnancy? What would it do to my figure…how much would it hurt? I knew I could never get an abortion, but could we really deal with a baby…or a child? The late night feedings and the doctor’s appointments and the recitals and the football games and the birthday parties and the sicknesses… On the other hand, little girls in ballet outfits and little boys in shorts and knee high socks are very endearing. And I’m sure we’d pick it up as we went along. Oh, who was I kidding, we’d be terrible at it!

But what if, really, what if? Would it be so bad? Could we at least cope?

I was just beginning to pick out names, you know, just in case, when the microwave went off. I jumped, not outwardly, but deep down in my soul.

Eric picked up the white stick, but didn’t look closely at it. Instead he looked me right in the eyes and said: “This is it. W-what do you want it to be?”

I could only answer honestly. “I don’t know.”

“I love you,” he said, “either way.” I nodded. Then we both leaned in to learn our fate.

What are you doing to us Pixar?

Is it just me or does the new trailer for Cars 3 make anyone else feel really old? It came on prior to Pirates of the Caribbean 5 at the cinema this weekend and perhaps I am overthinking things but it seems to be a story about the inevitability of ageing.

It should be no revelation, of course, that the clever makers of Pixar films are adapting their themes to suit their longtime fans as they grow up. Just consider the Toy Story franchise. The original was an intriguing concept when we were seven and our worlds consisted of very little but our favourite toys, games, and imagination. Toy Story 2 tugged on our heartstrings four years later when, on the cusp of adolescence, we weren’t quite done with our toys but were reluctantly, guiltily, starting to outgrow them. Then came Toy Story 3, with Andy going off to college and leaving the gang behind just as we turned 21 and officially entered the new chapter of adulthood.

If I have understood the trailer for Cars 3 correctly, this timeline continues. Because this film – which arrives as we turn 28 and consider the upcoming junction of entering our thirties – is apparently about the unstoppable march of time and the pain of disappointed ambitions. No, seriously; watch it right now and judge for yourself.

In Cars 3 we will see our old hero, Lightning McQueen, facing off against a faster, stronger, younger opponent. “Get ready for what’s coming,” intones Doc Hudson’s wisened voice at the start; he himself a character already established to be at the stage in his career where he’s done ‘doing’ and started teaching. The beat drops, the incredible CGI animation starts. We’re then introduced to Storm Jackson, the next generation of championship race car, the new rookie.

You may know this car. He’s that cute size-eight kid who just started at your company six months ago. The one who eats whatever she wants at lunch because her metabolism hasn’t given up on her yet; who sprints up two flights of stairs without arriving at her meeting just a little bit out of puff; who still bubbles with enthusiasm as she goes about her day because the corporate world hasn’t worn her down. Yet. Oh yeah, we all know a Storm.

The trailer continues: we see Lightning spin out and crash, echoing the fate of his mentor in the first film. We see him being repaired – “You’ll never be the racer you once were”- and introduced to a host of new technologies and innovations which are just slightly beyond his ken. “The racing world is changing,” the narrator continues, heavily implying that Lightning must either adapt, or exit. (By now, the salty cinema popcorn is starting to give me heartburn and I’ve received yet another Snapchat invitation which will never be accepted.)

We see McQueen training, trying to recover, determined to win despite the insurmountable odds. “You can’t turn back the clock, kid”. That’s Doc Hudson again, triggering an existential crisis and a call to my psychotherapist. All this time I thought I was the bright young thing, but what if I’ve missed my opportunities? What if what I am now is all I’ll ever be? After all, your twenties are all about your potential, but by thirty-something you’re supposed to have it all figured out, right? Damn you Pixar!  (If this thought process depresses you, I should warn you that Pixar’s next film is essentially about death…)

The Cars 3 trailer reaches it’s crescendo. “You’ll never be as fast as Storm, but you can be smarter.” At last, here’s a glimmer of hope for those of us with a spark of ambition left. Indeed, we are both older and wiser. We shouldn’t envy those cute little things in their twenties, because it’s not their fault they were born in the 90s (ugh) and they just haven’t realised how hard real life can be. Yet.

“I decide when I’m done,” whispers McQueen to bring the trailer to an end; a battle cry for older viewers everywhere. It leaves me hopeful that’s what the movie is actually about; continuing to pursue your dreams even when they seem unreachable. About still running, even if we’re not as fast as we once were. Remember, the race isn’t over ‘til the chequered flag waves. Let the Storms of the world be shiny and new, let them be speed and noise and thunder. We can still be Lightning if we want to be. 

English Dog Breeds

36 out of the 63 officially recognized British dog breeds originated in England. They are:

Airedale Terrier
Bedlington Terrier
Bull Terrier
Bull Terrier (Miniature)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
English Setter
English Toy Terrier
Fox Terrier (Smooth)
Fox Terrier (Wire)
Jack Russell Terrier
King Charles Spaniel
Lakeland Terrier
Lancashire Heeler
Manchester Terrier
Norfolk Terrier
Norwich Terrier
Old English Sheepdog
Parson Russell Terrier
Retriever (Curly Coated)
Retriever (Flat Coated)
Spaniel (Clumber)
Spaniel (Cocker)
Spaniel (English Springer)
Spaniel (Field)
Spaniel (Sussex)
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier

Vulnerable Native Breeds List

In June 2003, the British Kennel Club became concerned about the decline of some British dog breeds in the UK. Following research and consultation with the relevant breed clubs, it was decided that action should be taken to promote these endangered native breeds.

The Kennel Club subsequently published a list of Vulnerable Native Breeds, defined as dog breeds of English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish origin which register less than 300 puppies each year. They also produced a second list of British breeds which should be ‘At Watch’, due to annual registrations between 300 and 500.

Since the list was produced, the Kennel Club has undertaken various initiatives to raise the profile of these dogs. For example, at Crufts 2008, they featured in a Vulnerable Breeds Parade in the Main Arena, and they were given a dedicated booth at Discover Dogs for a few years. In 2015, the first ever Vulnerable Breeds Competition was held, culminating in a final won by the Gordon Setter, Sh Ch Lourdace Fulcrum JW, at Crufts 2016. The Kennel Club also put out annual press releases regarding the state of the Vulnerable Native Breeds following the finalisation of the annual registration and import figures (see below). Of course, breed enthusiasts and clubs also play a large part in the promotion of their breeds; for example the recent gathering of Dandie Dinmont Terriers to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the book which gave them their name.

The Vulnerable Native and At Watch breeds represent 37 of the 63 officially recognised native British breeds.  British Breeds currently classed as Vulnerable* are 

Bull Terrier (Miniature)
Collie (Smooth)
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
English Setter
English Toy Terrier
Fox Terrier (Smooth)
Glen of Imaal Terrier
Gordon Setter
Irish Red and White Setter
Irish Terrier
Irish Wolfhound
King Charles Spaniel
Kerry Blue Terrier
Lakeland Terrier
Lancashire Heeler
Manchester Terrier
Norwich Terrier
Retriever (Curly Coated)
Sealyham Terrier
Skye Terrier
Spaniel (Clumber)
Spaniel (Field)
Spaniel (Sussex)
Spaniel (Irish Water)
Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)

British Breeds currently classed as At Watch*:

Bearded Collie
Bedlington Terrier
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
Old English Sheepdog
Parson Russell Terrier
Spaniel (Welsh Springer)
Welsh Terrier
Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)

* Based on their 2015 registration figures
** It is also worth noting that the Foxhound and the Greyhound both have extremely low registration figures (8 and 34 in 2015 respectively), but are not considered to be Vulnerable Breeds. This is due to the fact that many dogs of this breed exist in racing circles and hunt kennels, but are just not formally registered with the Kennel Club. 

KC Press Releases: 

2012 – English Setter Joins List of Vulnerable Native Breeds
2014 – Skye Terrier registrations fall to a record low, making them more rare than Giant Pandas
2015 – Queen’s Corgi Breeds In Danger As Popularity Plummets
2016 – Queen’s Corgi And Old English Sheepdog Bounce Back

Other Links:

Crufts 2015 & 2016 entry figures
Vulnerable Native Breeds feature, Crufts 2014, w Frank Kane