Sunday, 21 December 2008

Making a pig's ear of a dog's breakfast

Faced with a mess, the noble thing to do may seem to try to clear it up. Sometimes, however, the best thing is to do nothing at all.

When it comes to describing a complete mess, the expression ‘a dog’s breakfast’ seems to me to say it all. It conjures up graphically the sense of joyless chaos caused by lack of planning or organisation. Like a presentation when nobody has the latest version of the slides and in any case the projector doesn’t work. Or the small Middle Eastern war that turns into an open-ended military occupation.

‘A pig’s ear’ means something similar. I find it less evocative, but I suppose a pig’s ear has little aesthetic appeal and shows no obvious evidence of practical effectiveness. Like a dog’s breakfast, it suggests that whatever effort went into it was wasted by lack of forethought on the part of people with little gift for design.

Danielle, my wife, has begun cooking us porridge from time to time. No dog’s breakfast this, but one of the great contributions of Scotland to international culture, alongside shortbread and haggis. And I say this even though Dr Johnson defined its main constituent as ‘oats: cereal eaten in England by horses and in Scotland by men’. Let’s say in passing that Brad Delong writes ‘Oats: A grain that in England is fed to horses, and in Scotland to people... which is why England has such fine horses, and Scotland has such fine people’:

While we were eating our porridge recently, Danielle pointed out to me in the gentlest possible terms that it would do neither of us any harm if I did the washing up a little more often. Keen to show myself receptive to this kind of suggestion, I turned straight to the sink when I took my empty bowl out to the kitchen. I was greeted by a ghastly sight: the porridge saucepan with the remains of the oats stuck to the bottom, under a few millimetres of murky water; what looked like the sad remnants of the cat’s food had also got mixed into the ugly mess. It looked like a real dog’s breakfast but I set out with determination to clear it up.

Inevitably, as I tipped out the water some bits of meat in clumps of porridge were washed into the sink where they clogged up the plug hole. Removing them was an unpleasant task but it had to be done. Then the saucepan had to be scraped. All the gunk then went into the bin.

It was at this point that Danielle came out to the kitchen. ‘Oh my God,’ she said, ‘what have you done? That was Janka’s porridge.’

It was then that I remembered that Janka, our dog, had also developed a taste for porridge. No wonder, a few minutes earlier, she’d refused to go out: she was waiting for her share which was cooling under a little water in the sink.

‘Didn’t you notice that I’d put bits of meat in it? That was for her!’ continued Danielle.

What I’d cleared up wasn’t a dog’s breakfast. It was the dog’s breakfast.

Not a very successful outcome of my resolution to be more helpful. In fact, I’d made a complete pig’s ear of it.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

hehehe, very amusing. it's nice that my computer is working again - your blog hasn't destroyed my new, faster, bigger hard drive, it seems, and now I can read all the posts (I realised I'd missed some of the earlier ones, so I'm going to give them a read too)