Becoming a Florist

Flowers

A florist is for life.

“I’ve had an idea” is a phrase that causes me to batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst when uttered by my better half.  This is probably more a reflection on me than on any of her ideas. 

Perhaps it is a fear of change or of the unknown.  Maybe it is simply the possibility of my having to do something about the idea myself that I am resistant to.  Certainly I take longer to adapt to upheaval of my routine than I used to when I was younger.

“I want to do flower arranging” was the pronouncement this time.  Despite my having alluded to being older in the last paragraph, I still think of myself as young, and she certainly is.  Thus it came as a surprise to me that she would be wanting to do something that I associate more with my mothers’ generation.  Never the less, it required no more input on my part than being supportive, so with a sigh of relief I settled down to hearing out the rest of the idea.

Idea?  No, my better half is a woman of action.  By the end of the week she had already attended a one day course on wedding flowers.  That very night I found myself making coursages at the kitchen table with her.

I’m not ashamed to say that I actually enjoyed it, although I am enjoying the anonymity of this blog as I write about it.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves captivated by a new interest.  This is certainly the case with my beloved.  I can truly say that this new outlet has made us both happier.  She loves to arrange the flowers and I love to see the pleasure she derives from it.

I love it enough to not mind the flower petals, leaves, stems and wires that have overtaken our kitchen.  While I was aware of the concept of walking on rose petals, I was quite unprepared for the reality of walking on a floor of waste foliage and thorns.

“I want to do weddings” was the next pronouncement.  Not content with merely making arrangements for herself any more, the possibility of turning a hobby into an income source had added a new passion to this new pastime.

I was aghast.  I had been very impressed with what she had produced, but it had never occured to me that a florist doing wedding flowers does not need a four year degree before they are allowed to offer their services.

Having had some experience of the pressure of weddings from a photographic standing, I conveyed this to her gently.  Undeterred, two weeks later she announced that she had found a friends wedding to do the flowers for.

The local supermarkets have been having bumper sales of flowers ever since.  I’m not certain, but I think her fingers are actually turning green and I have not seen the floor of the kitchen for a month now. 

I am no longer surrounded by flowers, but by fragrant works of art.  To say I am impressed would be an understatement.  I am gobsmacked, amazed and somewhat elated, the latter being an infectious condition brought on by her relentless passion and enthusiasm.

She could have tried to maybe start commercial life with corporate flowers or even funerals, but she has reached for wedding flowers, the pinacle of floristry in many ways.  Not only has she reached for it, but in a very short time indeed she has made me realise that she is not just capable, but gifted with flowers.

This time four months ago becoming a florist was not even on the radar.  This time next month we will be attending a wedding where she will have done the flowers.

I happen to know a florist in Bray who would be shocked if I told her, but I am a believer.  I have seen with my own eyes what is possible with passion, dedication and enthusiasm.

If I were an employer I know exactly what qualities I would be seeking in new employees.  Qualifications no longer come at the top of my list.

Hamsters as pets

Some time ago now I was in a pet shop with my daughter.  She is 5.  I am impulsive.  We were looking at the pets and while she was fawning over the rabbits I noticed the dwarf hamsters.

Dwarf Hamster as pet

Irrefutably cute. Dwarf Hamster breeds stay looking this cute all their short lives.

Hamster Breeds

There are actually 5 different types of hamster. Syrian Hamsters are the large ones that people usually think of when they think of hamsters.  There are also several dwarf hamster breeds:   Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster, Roborovksi Hamster and the Chinese Hamster.

The ones we came home with were Dwarf Campbell’s Russian Hamsters.  Yes, I did say the “ones” we came home with.  The Syrian Hamsters do not socialise well and can fight. But Dwarf Campbell’s Russian Hamsters can be kept in groups.

My daughter was highly excited at the prospect of having hamsters as pets.  We chose a three leveled cage with bars smaller than usual because they can get through surprisingly small gaps.  Then we chose the hamsters.

Dwarf hamsters have a short life span only living between a year and a half and two years. It is not likely that new hamsters introduced to an established group will be accepted. For this reason we came back with four hamsters! At least that’s the reason I’m giving.

Hamster basics

Hamsters need food and water and clean bedding.  The water must be changed every day and the wood chip must be scent free (no cedar or pine wood please) because they it would be a bit like asking you or I to live inside an air freshener.  I’m not sure if that would be fatal to us but it can be to them.

I buy commercially available bedding material (that looks like cotton wool) in addition to wood chip that lines the bottom level of their cage.  I place this bedding throughout the cage and love to watch them taking it and creating beds.  They do this in different places every time, with some favorites developing.

I did mention that I bought them for my daughter didn’t I?

Hamsters need regular handling.  This is particularly true of the dwarf breeds.  The dwarf hamster breeds will revert to wildness if not handled regularly, although living in a group does help a bit.  The downside of a return to wildness is that they will nip.

Hamster bites

A dwarf hamster bite comes in two flavours.  The first is more of a taste, to see what you are (they have very bad eyesight and rely on whiskers and taste close up).  The second is a proper bite.  I’m an adult and it is a bit sore, but it would seem that to a five year old it feels a bit like an amputation with no anaesthetic.

Be gentle with the hamsters!

My daughter is used to a dog as a pet.  Hamsters are much smaller and dwarf hamsters are tiny.  They are very delicate.  A small fall could result in a broken limb.  They cannot be hugged.  They squash easily too (we didn’t squash any).  Dogs and cats will eat them and frankly one wonders how they ever survive in the wild at all.

When handling hamsters they will nip if they feel threatened.  Overzealous “cuddling” of a hamster will result in a bite (and tears).  They do not like their heads to be stroked much either.  They are quite happy for their bodies to be gently rubbed though.  Gently really means gently though.  My daughter is capable of being very gentle but it took a bit of supervision to get her to really fully understand just how gentle she needed to be.

Training Hamsters

Hamsters are surprisingly intelligent (I use the term loosely).  They can be trained to use a specific part of their cage as a toilet with several toilet products and hamster litter brands available.  Hamsters are clean animals by nature, spending quite a bit of time preening themselves.

Toilet training a hamster is possible.  Toilet training four hamsters in impossible in my experience.  The amount of poo they produce is epic and they will throw it out of the cage themselves if it is not cleaned often enough.  Hamster poo is relatively innoffensive, hamster wee is not so easy to live with.

Hamster urine (like any urine I suppose) smells.  When you have four hamsters running around peeing the smell quickly builds.  You may forget any ideas you had of only cleaning out the cage once a week.

Hamster group dynamics

Hamsters will develop a pecking order when kept in groups.  They need to have enough space to get out of each others way when disagreements occur.

Our hamsters sleep together for the most part, but occasionally one will chose to sleep elsewhere.  Judging from the timbre of some of their conversations I can imagine that feelings are sometimes hurt and hamsters just like people are capable of going off in a huff.

Hamster noise levels

Hamsters are generally silent.  They only squeak when arguing.  That is just the vocals though.  They will throw food out of their cage, and worst of all they love those hamster wheels.  It was not long before another trip to the pet shop was needed and although silent running hamster wheels are much more expensive than the regular ones, I would have happily paid double.

Silent hamster wheels are one of the worlds finest inventions in my opinion.

Hamster Costs

Hamsters are not expensive to keep.  Even four hamsters do not eat that much food and costs are kept low.  Bedding is inexpensive and once the cage is bought there is very little in the way of noticeable ongoing costs.

Hamster Dark Side (murder and cannibalism)

I am writing this post as a result of discovering the hamster dark side this morning.  Last night as I went to bed I heard noises from the cage that sounded like murder was being committed.  This is not all that unusual.  They are highly vocal when they want to be.

This morning I discovered that murder had indeed been committed.  The hamster named Cloudy is no more.  Cloudy was a nervy little hamster at the bottom of the pecking order.

Do not read further if you have a weak stomach!

Hamsters can be vicious.  I don’t know what the fight was about, but we just went from a generally happy cage of pets with no blood ever spilt at all, to an actual murder.

This is not the worst of it.  Hamsters are gruesome.  When I found the body of cloudy this morning I mean it.  There was no head.  Two of the others were happily eating him and his guts were pulled out.  This may seriously affect my relationship with the other hamsters.

For now hamsters have gone from being cute, curious little animals to being nasty, murderous cannibals that I don’t really want to share my living space with.  My daughter however is blissfully unaware – in fact I have not even told her that one has died yet.

Update – only a few hours later

It would appear that I may have jumped the gun on my murder accusation.  I have been doing some internet searches.  It would seem that it is highly unlikely that the other hamsters murdered Cloudy.  It is more likely that he died without their help.  However, hamsters “get rid of the body” because in the wild a body would attract predators.  I’m feeling a little better about the other hamsters now, but only a little.

Facebook Security and Using the Internet

When it comes to internet security, everything is secure….. until it gets hacked.  The only way to stay truly private online and guarantee that privacy is to never post anything, never create any profiles ever, never connect to anybody and to use aliases always.  Even then your information is not secure because institutions hold electronic records, and as we have seen so many times, they have been hacked too.

Facebook privacy security

Privacy settings choking social media?

I used to have issues about security too until I realised that anything I ever did online could potentially be distributed.  After that I started to agree with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.  He would like to see and end to privacy policies in general.  He is not stupid though.  He knows that if he did not have privacy policies (even if they are much criticised) in place on Facebook there would be no facebook.  So why do I think that privacy policies are a false security?

Privacy is probably (not potentially) temporary online.  Addressing peoples privacy concerns only pacates them.  It does not give the guarantees that people think it gives in the first place.

Military leaks

The military were looking for moles, but they paid little attention to the mice.

Look at what happened in Georgia.  Their whole countrys’ web infrastructure was brought down by prolonged botnet attacks.  There are people in this world for whom the locked doors of security are only an illusion. If one man with asbergers in the UK can access US military infrastructure just by scanning the network for unsecured terminals (not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination) then how secure is anything else really?

For me, the real question is why do I care about my information being shared?  Why is it a problem for people to be able to find me online, find what I have written and be able to contact me easily through social media like Facebook?   The answer I came up with was that I don’t care unless I have written information of a sensitive nature.  If I have written something disparaging about somebody else then I would care about that getting out.  But If I have not written anything that I wouldn’t stand by then I don’t care if the world knows it.

Even if I’ve written a moan about work that’s ok in my book.  Everybody has off days and the odd rant just reflects it.  What is not ok is making snide comments about my boss or workmates.  Funnily enough, that would not be ok in an office environment either.  So basically, the same rules as apply in the real world apply online.  The difference is that suddenly my opinions are global instead of confined to a small local area (or few people).

People fear privacy breaches because they fear that an open facebook profile will allow their bank to be accessed or a future employer to see that they like to dress up at the weekend and call themselves Mandy.

What will actually happen (and remember that we have a whole generation of young people who’s entire lives are recorded on the internet), is that employers will cease to be as blinkered and realise that what really counts is somebody’s ability to do the job and integrate with the rest of the people they will be working with.

Obviously there are exceptions, like illegal activities that would cause problems for an employer should it be known.  There are also some jobs that could be influenced by a facebook picture.  Who would trust a minister of health who was pictured partying with a bottle of beer in one hand and snorting coke with the other?  But the point is that somebody with that in their background should NEVER be a minister of health in the first place.

As lives become more open, then people will become more tolerant and hopefully honest.  Who do you trust more, somebody who says, yes I smoked marijuana in college, or somebody who says I smoked it in college but I never inhaled?

A lack of online privacy would force people into leading better lives; to be accountable for all of their actions; to think before they take those actions. After all, once information has been exposed on the internet it stays there forever… even if it is deleted it remains in caches.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”

“oh, yeah? we saw the pictures on facebook dude!”

The only real reason for promoting internet privacy is to help people cover up things they would not want to be public knowledge.  For the most part that means transgressions.  In some cases it may mean something else like mental health issues.  But frankly if everybody who has ever had some form of mental health issue put their hands up the world would be shocked.  Wouldn’t that information being more public help remove stigmas that exist because people try to hide things in the first place?

From another perspective I have to ask myself… why would anybody be interested in my information anyway? I’m just one of billions of people in the world.  I’m not that interesting!

We live in an age where you can become world famous nearly instantly just by uploading a video to youtube.  This is alien to those of us for whom the internet did not exist when we were growing up.

We have new technologies.  It gives us tremendous and previously unimaginable potential but, as with anything, every benefit has some more dubious side effects.  Does that mean that we should abandon the technology?

Mayonnaise, Ketchup and Discrimination

Burger King costs more for foreigners

Burger King discriminate against Continental Europeans in Ireland.

Discrimination is still alive and well in Dublin.  I am not talking about the sort of blatant racial discrimination that has blighted the city for years.  I am talking about a more subtle form of discrimination that seems to be largely aimed at our european neighbours.  A discrimination that involves condiments rather than snide comments, yet in the frame of mind I was in yesterday, equally detestable.

Yesterday I found myself in Dublin City Center with a few hours to kill.  My eldest daughter and I had arrived at Busaras just in time to see her bus leave the station and had to wait for two hours until the next one.  I did wonder just when Bus Eireann busses started departing dead on time.  It was a new experience for me.

We had not been in the city center in the run up to Christmas so it seemed like a good opportunity to wander down Henry street and take in the lights and the frenzied atmosphere of the Christmas sales.  We admired the lights and shivered in the cold for a while and then decided that food would be a good idea.

Lamenting the lack of stalls selling bratwursts and gluwein (not surprising since it was Dublin and not Dusseldorf, and also post rather than pre Christmas) we turned into the Jervis center and headed for that most elegant of eateries, Burger King.  I should point out that my daughter is 17 and has not yet acquired a palate that recognises fast food as somewhat inferior to other foods.  In fact, she was delighted that we were there.  For me, it was the first time in quite a few years.

We ordered our Chicken Royale’s and milk shakes and the girl serving us put some ketchup sachets on the tray.  Not just one or two ketchup sachets, but a whole handful.  I’m not a fan of ketchup, preferring, like our European neighbours to dip my chips in mayonnaise.  I asked if they had any mayonnaise sachets and was politely told that they did and that …… THEY WERE 25 cents EACH!!

At that rate it would have cost me an extra €1.75 to have the same number of mayonnaise sachets as the ketchup sachets that had been liberally dumped on our tray.

I’m not generally tight, but this seemed unfair and I declined the mayonnaise and the girl behind the till declined to buy back some of our ketchup at 25 cents a pop too, which seemed significant to me at the time.

Is it that 25 cents for a sachet of any sauce is too much to charge?  Or is it perhaps that ketchup is less valuable than mayonnaise?  Are the production costs massively different? I decided to do a little calculation:

A 342g squeezy bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup costs €1.89 in Tescos. A 750ml squeezy bottle of Helmans mayonnaise costs €3.99.  If we assume that a ml weighs a gram then the cost of 342 grams of mayonnaise would be just €1.82.  Even if the weight/volume is a bit out it seems that mayonnaise and ketchup prices are comparable.

In my book that means that Burger King are discriminating against those that prefer mayonnaise to ketchup.  They are discriminating against the French, discriminating against the Belgians, discriminating against most of our european counterparts in fact.  The UK and Irish preference is for tomato ketchup, but that is about it on our continent.

Do Burger King have a reverse policy in place in France?  If I go to a Burger King premises in Paris will I be charged 25 cents for ketchup and get all the mayonnaise I want for nothing?  Would a UK or Irish preference for ketchup have an associated cost there?  Would the staff member in Paris say, “Ah monsieur, you are clearly foreign, you must pay more!”

Seaweed Baths – Spa from a male perspective

Seaweed Bath

Looking for a romantic spa treatment? Try a seaweed bath in the west of Ireland

The last thing I expected to find myself doing last weekend was having a seaweed bath.  I’m male.  I have not embraced my feminine side.  I never dallied with eye liner or wore my sisters clothes.  Never the less, there I was lying in a bath full of seaweed in Co. Sligo.

Men do funny things when in new relationships.  All our normal boundaries get weakened.  Since meeting an absolutely amazing girl I have found myself making mince pies – an ulterior motive being that I love mince pies – on a Saturday night and now, much to my surprise, have had a seaweed bath.

I say I was surprised, but the thing that surprised me most was the realisation that I would be quite happy to do it again.  It was quite an experience and now I “get” it.

Once inside the establishment my girlfriend and I were directed to a room with two baths in it.  Seaweed stinks!  An assault on my nasal passages was not what I would consider conducive to a relaxing experience.  Before entering the room I had visions of scented candles and soft luxurious surroundings.  This is not the case.  A wooden slatted floor and cold tiles greeted us.  Also in the room was one of those steam cupboards.  I am sure they have an actual name but what I mean is a box that you sit into with your head sticking out the hole at the top.

I am a fan of seeing my girlfriend sans clothes, so I liked the idea of us having to take our clothes off to use the steamer.  She went first while I waited.  I now know what she may look like if she gets really angry.  It looked as though the steam was coming out of her ears and only the smile on her face and the pleasant conversation kept me from taking a quick step back.

Then came my turn.  I found it a bit cramped.  I am over six feet tall and so I found myself somewhat contorted in order to fit my neck through the hole and close the door.  I spent quite a bit of my five minutes slowly cooking wondering why nobody had thought to make these boxes adjustable.  Resigning myself to it being just another heightist design like aircraft seats with no leg room I actually enjoyed it.  At the end of my five minutes, with the exception of the crick in my neck I felt very relaxed and got into my bath.

Who thought it was a good idea to put seaweed into a bath?  Apparently whoever was responsible for first dreaming it up was a bit of a genius.  Once you get over the rather odd sensation of fronds of bladder wrack fondling your nether regions it is indeed a nice experience.  The salt water is buoyant and the seaweed is oily.  The thing I liked most initially was that the bath was huge.  It was the first time since my early teens that I have experienced being able to lie down flat in a bath without my legs sticking over the end of it.  What a contrast to the sweat box in the corner.  I filled up my bath with roasting sea water and disappeared into a cloud of steam.

My better half had told me that one of her friends had got engaged in a seaweed bath.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she was sure it was in fact the man that is now her husband who proposed to her that day.  I could barely make out the shape of my beloved’s head through the steam, let alone any distinguishing features.

She suggested I rub the seaweed into my skin and I thought that since I’d come this far I may as well give it a try.  While giving myself a good seaweed scrub I wondered to myself why her friends husband had chosen a place like this to propose.  It was certainly relaxing but not what I would call romantic, in separate baths, where you can’t easily even see each other.  Those thoughts faded as I became steadily more relaxed, the oil from the seaweed making my skin feel incredibly soft.  I had grown used to the aroma and could easily have fallen asleep had I not been joined in my bath by my girlfriend.

Not being the sharpest knife in the block I wondered why she thought my bath would be any better than hers.  Moments later I had a eureka moment.  Aha, I thought, now I understand the proposal.  I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything quite so romantic.  Soft oily skin and being relaxed to the point of wondering if the steam actually contained narcotics added to an almost surreal tryst.  Several days later it still feels as though it may have all been a dream.

I have never in my life before taken over an hour to have a bath.  However, it is highly likely that I will do so again.

As we dressed to leave I noticed that the chair in the steam box was indeed adjustable.

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