The Milestone Mirage

Teatime: and as I sink into a chair after having supplied my children with their dinner there is a polite paw scratching my calf.

I look down and what I see is as inevitable as nightfall: a dog with all the zeal of Goebbels staring fixedly at my face.

Pardon, he emanates, but now that the children have had their sustenance, I believe it’s my turn?

The dog is technically correct.

Every day, the family is served their meal, and every day, the moment they have theirs, the big silver doggie bowl is taken down and filled with chow.

The family mutt sits back and waits for permission to eat. He sits erect like some preppy schoolboy, bottom slipping relentlessly backwards on the smooth floor, all anticipation.

I say: “Get it! Good Boy!”

He does not move.

I tire of telling him, and go back to sit down with the children. I look back in a few moments and he is usually eating: I have not yet divined what the secret code it is which encourages him to begin.

This teatime, though, is different. In a fit of temporary insanity I fed him an hour before. He has already done his preppy schoolboy act, slippy bottom, the whole shebang. And now here he is, a dog of whom Pavlov would be proud, demanding another dinner because the trigger demands it: the children have started eating.

It is Fierce Voice Time.

“Settle down, Macaulay! Into your basket!”

He slopes off. Three seconds later, a polite paw is scratching my calf and The Face is back.

I feed him again. Never again will I feed the dog early. I would say enough is not in his vocabulary, except that he is a dog and has no vocabulary. This could become a never-ending task, and the dog a rotund creature one could roll down the street when he got tired of walking.

No: we must keep the milestones in his day: breakfast just after the children: tea just after the children. With a milestone, a dog knows where he is.

Milestones are good for giving direction.

They hunch, curmudgeonly, at the side of roads here in the UK; sometimes celebrated by precious villages, sometimes collecting exhaust fumes on the edge of a great highway, surrounded by tufted grass. This way to London, Gov’nor.

It was the British legend of a pauper who became London’s Mayor which, with sleight of hand, links the real and metaphorical meanings of the stooped little stones.

Richard Whittington, was born in the Forest of Dean in 1354. Far from being a pauper, his grandfather was a knight-at-arms, a lower member of the nobility. But it is quite true that he travelled to London, and made a fortune as a fabric trader.

The fairy tale polarises his story, making him a pauper who is ready to give up on his dream when he reaches a milestone on Highgate Hill. Here we are, trumpets the gallumphing English folkloric symbolism: Dick has reached a milestone. Not only is this a hunk of rock depicting the way ahead; it is a turning point in his life, too.

Woven into our very social subconscious is that feeling that life includes satisfying, tidy conclusions: markers  which draw a line under the time before, and light the way ahead.

Or so the fairytales say.

All my life I have assumed this to be so. And all my life, I have felt cheated when even the  most momentous achievement is not an end, a time to party and bask in glory; but a beginning, a whole new set of demands.

Life is a never-ending story, right up until that moment it ends.

Look at any tale where someone is trying to better their fate – Amelia from Vanity Fair, for example, or Lemony Snicket’s Violet, Klaus and Sunny Beaudelaire in A series of Unfotunate Events- and you will find the final milestone, the happy ending, is a mirage which dematerialises when the character gets close.

And it’s not just a plot device. It’s life. If you’re driven by happy endings, you’re chasing a phantom.

And so, like Macaulay’s dinner, it is vital to note the markers in every day. If we are not careful, we ignore the small things: the little actions we achieve daily, which make us who we are.

A meal cooked for a friend; a word which makes someone feel valued; a piece of work which hits the mark.

The big milestones may be a mirage, but these small deeds- though they may seem insignificant pebbles- are concrete illustrations of who we are.

Me? I have begun writing two of my pebbles down each day so I don’t forget.

And one of them, yesterday, was feeding the dog twice.


55 thoughts on “The Milestone Mirage

  1. Great post Kate – the things which we aspire to, often when reached, are a disappointment and we have to strive on yet further. I like the idea of daily pebbles much better.

  2. There is no doubt about it, dogs do have a clock in their bellies! I know that our 4FootedLovely will start to pine and walk in circles if he suspects someone is lingering too long over their cuppa rather than mixing up his supper! 😀

    Happy endings seem to be the carrot that us humans dangle on that bit of string in front of us all the while, just to make sure we keep running. It has its pros and cons. On the plus side it keeps us motivated, but on the downside it can leave one with an awful sense of anticlimax every time something we looked forward to has come and passed. So I think you’re right that we should appreciate all the smaller milestones. That way we enjoy as many things as we can, AND the bigger things end up seeming even more enjoyable. That way we are aspiring not to an ending but just to being happy. Can’t be bad. With that, I wish you a Happy Saturday! 🙂

  3. Cats are no better – except they seem to be in constant ‘feed mode’. If I go into the kitchen – at least one will appear and look dejectedly at the empty bowl, which should contain ‘the wet food’. Needless to say, a bowl of ‘dried yummy’ is there but that is of no interest to the cat who must be fed with the ‘wet yummy’ by the only person in the house who is able to access the foil top! However, it was a three cat effort to eject me from my bed this morning – I managed to stay wrapped in my duvet until 10am ignoring the ‘games’ they were playing to extract me. It was the dead mouse on the bed, which provided the ‘final straw’! It was a ‘Jack Robinson’ moment for all concerned in this ‘panto on the bed’ although the cats headed straight for the food hall thinking that would be my priority. They were disappointed as the only thing I opened, was a new packet of kitchen roll to enshrine the mouse and then have the usual inner debate as to whether this sad package went into the ‘food recycling’ or the ‘general bin’!. The cats’ mission was however accomplished, I was out of bed and they knew I would be unable to ignore their pitiful faces, loving ankle rubs and vocal comments for very long.

    1. Hello Tina! Hilarious story. They are merciless, these creatures. The whole business is depressingly cyclical…dead mouse on the bed. You’ve got to admire their tactics. I wonder where the mouse ended up eventually….?

  4. Indeed, it pays to notice the pebbles:

    A meal cooked for a friend; a word which makes someone feel valued; a piece of work which hits the mark. The big milestones may be a mirage, but these small deeds- though they may seem insignificant pebbles- are concrete illustrations of who we are.

    Of course, Kate, if one of your pebbles is feeding the dog twice . . . the concrete illustration of who you are may be that of a “Pavlov Pushover.” 😆

    Note: Tigger gets fed far too often too. In time, we will be rolling him around like an inflated beach ball.

  5. I like, but I still have a quibble. As the romantic I confess to being, I note the times when a plan comes together in true A-Team fashion, difficulties are resolved and boy gets girl in true Mills and Boone style, or one gets moments of the Mary Poppins or Sound of Music endings. There is enough time during those moments to bask in the enjoyment of them, before the first book of the next trilogy starts in one’s life. Whether a story is happy or sad depends where you stop the narration, doesn’t it?

    1. It does, how clever of you, Col, yes. Freeze frames tend to be the luxury of novelists, if I use my own life as a measuring stick: but other people may be much more adept than I at relishing the good times. I think the pebbles approach might eventually teach me to bask a bit more in each moment of arrival.

    2. Wonderful insight, Col ~ it does indeed depend on where we stop the narration. In our own life, we beneift if we “press pause” and savor the small victories before moving on to the next challenge.

  6. Lovely post, Kate. It reminded me of an email that has periodically made its way to me:

    Although this story looks at stones and pebbles from another perspective, it too speaks to the order and management of our priorities and milestones.

    By the way, I suspect that Macaulay’s vocabulary may be larger than you think; but even if he relies only on daily milestones, however can you possibly resist that appealing stare? 🙂

    1. I love the story, Karen. Large stones first- got it 🙂
      And the truth is, Karen, when that stare is unwavering, short of putting the dog in a box it’s very difficult to break. He’s tough to beat in a battle of wills, like all terriers.

  7. Have you ever said, watching Macaulay carefully, “What about the dog?” and seen his reaction to the last word? All my dogs recognised THAT word in a sentence and it was hilarious to watch the eyes and ears snap to attention!

  8. Wonderful, Kate. I’m just in a few moments of trying to catch up after our holiday and family still here, and loving this post.
    I’ve been picking up pebbles for several days now as our little granddaughter calls out “Yia Yia” and I come running. Yia Yia sit down, and, plop, there a go, a very big pebble to climb like a mountain. We had our big meal and it was sublime, but, nothing, no nothing, is quite like those few moments when all plates are full, the first bites taken, and then there is the soft few moments of quiet when you know you’ve made a good meal. Sigh. The best of pebbles.

  9. Dirty Dick’s became a milestone for me. Leaving for my backpacking trip to Europe back in the 60s, my true love waved me off with, “Make sure you go and have a drink at Dirty Dick’s.” Imagine my astonishment when I arrived, full of romantic fantasies of connectedness as though the pub was a full moon, to find cat skeletons and cobwebs untouched for years.

    Thereafter, when we shared Europe stories, Dirty Dick’s never failed to raise degrees of hilarity.

    I hope that is Macaulay…I’m in love.

  10. My cat does exactly the same thing, every time anyone goes into the kitchen, he thinks it is feeding time and begs accordingly, even if he was fed mere minutes before!

  11. Dogs will just keep eating … Wonderful and true post. It is easy to feel let down when a milestone is achieved (is this it?) but looking back you realise that it was the journey that was the most satisfying.

  12. Dogs will just keep eating. That’s true. I used to leave my dog with my mother when I would take trips, and I would come back to find a pig had replaced her. Every time. Mom always defended her stuffing of the dog by saying she was hungry. Dogs are ALWAYS hungry. 🙂

    A perfect reminder to savor life, to enjoy every little bit of it. Thank you.

  13. What a sweet, whiskery face! I couldn’t resist it, either. Whenever I open the refrigerator door, one or another of the cats is sure to gallop up and stare in with me, as though looking for a snack. And that word – snack- causes both of them to study their dishes with laserbeam attention.

    It is the small everyday things that make us superheroes. Noting the pebbles is a wonderful sort of attentiveness.

  14. Oh Macauley, you are simply gorgeous! I too would have fed him twice, Kate 🙂 Thank you for the reminder to take note of our daily milestones. Just yesterday, I was pondering how swiftly the goalposts move. Time to celebrate some more, I think, just because…

  15. Tell you what, Kate, I believe that when we get to the far end of life, we will discover that what made our lives what they were, are the pebbles, rather than the milestones!


  16. Dear Kate,
    I’ve been preparing my three posts for next week–all about why the convent and I didn’t mesh. As I’ve done so, I remembered a poem by Gertrude von Le Fort that influenced my taking first vows.For me, it fits into what you’re saying in this posting. The last few lines of the poem are as follows:

    I can find no rest in my many chambers,
    the stillest of them is like a single cry.
    The last of them is yet but an antechamber,
    The holiest of them is like an awaiting.
    The darkest of all yet like a song of day!

    The connection I see between these words and your milestones is truly that a marker really does lead us out of something and into something else. We await the marker–the end of a era, of a situation, of a conundrum. We think then that all shall be well. And what we find is that a new day, era, situation, conundrum appears. Life, for me, is endlessly fascinating because of this.

  17. After such a long list of wonderful comments I don’t need to say much, except thank you, Kate. I’ve entertained to the point of exhaustion…two Thanksgiving dinners and a house full of parents, children, grandchildren, dogs–yes, my son’s girlfriend brought her dog–and I have felt depleted and overwhelmed. All I can share with you right now is that your words found a special place into my heart. You have a gift…thank you. Debra

  18. What a face! Z gets fed at very odd times as her owner grazes at very odd times. Pavlov, however, comes into play when nut butter jar appears …starts licking her lips she does…it cannot go ignored! Must start to follow your lead with the pebbles ~

  19. It’s beyond me how anyone could resist that sweet face, those soulful eyes – I’d probably feed him ten times a day if he asked. 🙂

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