A wish and a prayer

It’s been too long since I had a bit of 80s glam metal to start the week off, so here’s Cinderella with Gypsy Road

You’d think that I’d have a bit of quiet in the summer when some of my students are on holiday – but it has not been that way. I’ve still got most of my students diligently working away, although the marking has finished now. With kitties and dogs coming overnight, with dog-sitting and late night dog walks, mini book sales, magazine deliveries, dog adoptions, dog viewings, website building and ambitious attempts to finish a monstrous piece of writing, I don’t think I stopped all week. It looks like it’ll be mid-August before I’ve got time to stop again.

I said last week that I was doing autumn jobs – and yesterday and today have been much cooler. Surely summer can’t be over? August hasn’t even started yet! It didn’t really reach that point where you get tired of how hot it is, or you can’t find anywhere cool. I think we’ll have temperature revivals next week though. We even had rain the last few days. I got thoroughly drenched on Friday walking Diabolo, a handsome dalmatian. Then I just got dry before the heavens opened again when I was walking Balou the boxer. I took out a couple of muddy jumpy dogs in between and I was properly filthy by the time I finished.

Yesterday there was a small book sale for the Hope Association just up the road so I took up all the refuge stuff to do a stand there. I managed to resist buying any books which is quite something; I’ve still not finished Go Set A Watchman and I don’t know if that says something about the book or something about me, or both. It’s kind of nice to catch up on characters you have loved from To Kill a Mockingbird but it definitely feels like a determined agent’s work to make a bit of cash rather than anything else. Not to say that it’s not enjoyable, but to be honest, Atticus and Calpurnia are untouchable paragons of virtue in my eyes and I’m kind of torn over seeing them turn back into mere mortals again.

I got to have a good catch up with a few people which I enjoyed very much – I always wish I had more time to do that. Still not quite long enough – since I only saw one lady at the end of the day and she’d been there all day! Two kittens went to new homes, although I didn’t take mine. They’ve been wormed now but can’t be vaccinated for another two weeks, so I don’t want to risk infection when they’ve not benefited from the whole Mum-milk package. And they are so little bother, you’d hardly notice they were here. The boy is an absolute dreamboat – he’s called Dodger. He is so placid and he just loves being petted. She’s a little more choosy. I’ve decided she’s Lady Jane (she’s grey!) and Lady for short. She was Rose at first, but she’s not a Rose, or a Rosie.


She is smaller than he is and less affectionate, a little more shy and much less sociable. He’s just a sweetheart. They’ll be ready for adoption in a couple of weeks.

dodgerThese photos are from a couple of weeks ago – my camera charger died last week and so I am temporarily without camera. This is a bad thing for the refuge since I’ve got a list of thirty dogs to photograph, but it is a good thing for me because it means I can have a bit of a break.

It’s nice to have the kitties though – my house is not well adapted for cats given the location. The road and the local wildlife are not cat friendly. Ralf wasn’t particularly trustworthy around small things either. Keeping them in foster whilst they are so small means that they can be protected from the diseases they will come into contact with at the refuge – things like typhus and coryza, infectious peritonitis and ringworm. It’s a win-win. Recently, the Charente pound set up a campaign with Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis to pay for wild cats to be trapped, sterilised, identified and released. This is a big change from the current situation, which is not good for feral cats. If they can’t be socialised, they can’t be rehomed. Other schemes exist which don’t involve identification – but an unidentified feral cat, sterilised or not, if trapped, is likely to face euthanasia. The sad fact is that trap-and-release schemes also need support for food and other health checks otherwise the feral populations face infighting, disease and even starvation. At least it stops the over-population and inter-breeding that happens though. Not a fate that awaits Lady and Dodger, luckily.

Anyhow, enjoy the delights of Tom Keifer and co. I have cleaning to do!


September’s coming soon

Today’s Mellow Monday comes with the delightful Nightswimming by R.E.M. because who doesn’t love the gorgeousness of this track?

Automatic for the People is perhaps my favourite album of 1992 – it’s the soundtrack to my first year in Sheffield and it’s one of the only tracks I can listen to on endless repeat. (Another is Badly Drawn Boy’s Silent Sigh – I just love the pianos, obviously!) John Paul Jones did the orchestral arrangements I think – nothing he ever touches is bad. It’s a tough call for best albums of that year though, since I’m pretty sure I spent the year being angry with Rage Against The Machine and Angel Dust. That’s a great album as well. They all remind me of Monty’s – this tiny club we used to go to in Bury – I think we’d got past the shiny hair and make-up of Rockworld and sunk quite happily into the grunge era that Monty’s seems to encapsulate in my mind. Those joyful years of being sixteen and seventeen with Poison and Motley Crue were long gone and R.E.M. just caught me at a time when I needed it. I still can’t listen to Everybody Hurts. 1992 was the year one of my best friends committed suicide and I cry before four notes are out. Nightswimming was the soothing I needed after the frustrated sadness. It still brings me a kind of calm.

And true to the song, it really does feel like September’s coming soon. I’m doing all my September tasks – lots of leaves coming down already and it feels like September in a weird way. It’s been so hot and dry here that a lot of plants are packing up and going home early. It’s still super-hot – we had 39°C last week on a couple of days, and Saturday was stifling, waiting for a storm that never came. This week brings a new wave of heat as well. Lots of early morning walks and stealth gardening.

The kitties are now weaned – though there are only two now. The tiny little one didn’t make it – no miracle for her. I knew she wouldn’t and I tried so hard to keep her going. She was only taking food via a syringe and although she was having 8 feeds a day and pooping and weeing normally, she wasn’t gaining weight. The vet said it’s like that sometimes. I took her on Wednesday and the vet said she wasn’t likely to make it. It makes me so sad that so many animals are destined to a short little life of misery. Caring for an oldie is fine – it’s uplifting to know they have some moments of joy with you in the last days of their life. They’ve lived. They’ve had joy, even if they ended up at the refuge for weeks, if not months or even years. You give them what you can. But the babies who are three weeks old and know nothing but hunger and misery and pain – that’s just not right at all. I suspect she just gave up trying to live. 

Amigo is very much enjoying the kittens, though I can’t tell if it’s in a ‘I’d like to eat them’ kind of way. He’s fascinated but there’s some alarming lip licking going on. Tobby kisses them all. He is such a kissy dog. He will happily lie next to Amigo of an evening and wash his head. Amigo’s not so keen, but Tobby seems happy. He’d like to wash Heston too but Heston’s not into boy-on-boy bonding. Not sure why, but Tobby is not interested in stinky Tilly at all. He’s definitely a man’s dog. He got all gooey when he met Jim last week. He even sat and gave him a paw. I don’t get that from him. Tilly and I just have nothing to offer the old bromance-seeker.

Last week was a sorting-out kind of a week and a catching-up kind of a week. This week I’ve got a few more lessons and work to do – but I’ve managed to squash in a cheeky Udemy course, since they were very kindly offering a $400 course for $10. Seemed rude not to. Never mind night swimming, I miss night school. This week will be a mostly cleaning kind of a week in between work, since I’ve not cleaned the house since before the marking started. In Bolton, that wouldn’t have mattered. Here, with four dogs and two kittens, it matters. Plus, I have about twenty favours people have asked me to do – hopefully will be able to sort those out and not feel so flipping guilty that I haven’t had time to do them. I’ve a stack of photos of dogs to process as well. Better get on with it!

Have a very mellow Monday


When I needed sunshine I got rain

Okay, so it’s a few weeks late, but better late than never… Today’s Much Love Monday comes to you with the delightful sounds of Reeves and Mortimer, with I’m a Believer. 

Nothing like the smell of Reeves and Mortimer to give you a bit of a lift. Ironically, my massive workload is coming to an end and it’s time to start on some bigger projects. That said, I’ve still got students to teach. The exam marking, which has taken up a good six week block of my life, is coming to an end and it’s just into the final tidying up stages. Now it’s time to catch up on all the things I’d put to one side for six weeks.

So what has happened in the last three months?

Mostly work. A lot of that. With two sets of cross-channel students, the brevet, the bacc, GCSEs and A levels put a lot of pressure on students and so I’ve been cramming in lessons here, there and everywhere. There’s been a lot of change as well with five of my students returning to the UK. Some of my former students are going back to go to university in the UK as well and they’ve all had phenomenal results.

Then a lot of gardening. A lot. It’s been great gardening weather on the whole and every spare moment in the garden is a pleasure even if it is work. Everything is yellow right now and it looks kind of autumnal. I pruned back the giant hebe bush that brought back such sad memories – It finished flowering much later last year and I spent a lot of time down at the end of the garden with Ralf. Sad to know that he’s not here to enjoy the garden like he used to. I’m still filling in the holes he dug but he had such a great time doing it, I didn’t have the heart to stop him. Tobby very much loves a potter and has really settled in.

IMG_1676His arthritis is still bad, but it’s manageable. He doesn’t fall and he’s much stronger. He’s gained a couple of kilos and is now at a great weight – no ribs and hips sticking out. I don’t want him to be porky – very bad for arthritis – but he didn’t have much by way of muscle tissue either, at 21kg. He wanders around all day with a toy in his mouth, never wanting anyone to play with him. He puts it down to have a wee or to eat but it’s quite usual to find toys all over the garden where he’s dropped one and picked up another somewhere else. Heston’s taken to copying him and the pair of them wander around with toys in their mouth like weird dog dummies.

I had a couple of guests as well. First there was Chops, a Newfoundland. I’d gone to the refuge to drop off some paperwork on Wednesday and saw Chops there – his proper name is Gothic but he suits Chops better. He was one of the Juillaguet 160 – 160 dogs taken from a breeder 20 miles away from the refuge. He was born three days before arrival at the refuge and once he was weaned, he found a home. Unfortunately, dogs who are part of a court case are in legal limbo and he couldn’t be adopted definitively. When his family were moving to Paris and to smaller premises, they brought Chops back. No gentle attempt to rehome him, no preparation. Just a “here’s your dog back!”

Poor Chops was so stressed that I brought him home with me. It didn’t get better either as he was rehomed with someone who called me after three weeks and asked me to rehome him as he’d chewed a slipper and chased their cats. The cat thing happened before they signed the paperwork so I guess the slipper chewing broke the camel’s back. Luckily, I found him another home with a gorgeous family and he is happy as Larry. He looks it from the photos anyway. He had a great time here and played with Heston. I think it was the first time he’d ever played in his life, but he had great fun. Gorgeous dog. I’m so glad that he’s now in a home where dogs are more important than the things they chew.


We went up to eight dogs overnight as well as it was the Hope booksale and I desperately wanted to find a home for Hoppy and Edona. These two came to the refuge looking and smelling like they’d never been cared for in their short lives. Hoppy had lost his paw, probably because of the impacted hair around his feet which had cut off the circulation to his paw. Nicky and Jocelyn cut off over a kilo of hair from each one. Whether it’s because they had to go as a pair or because Hoppy was three-footed, they didn’t shift. I hoped the booksale would find them a home. It turned out that it was the short-term foster care that made the difference and within a week, a lady came for Hoppy and Edona.

hoppy and edona

I fell completely in love with Edona. She is just the sweetest little dog. Hoppy is a sweetie too and I know everyone was in love with him, but Edona had this quiet love and took a bit of time to warm up to you, but when she did – ah! She was only here a week but I miss her. Fatal, this fostering malarky.

They’re now in the UK enjoying life, renamed Charlie and Daisy. You can always tell when people love their dogs as their dogs have names that really suit them. Hoppy is such a Charlie Dog and Edona makes a lovely Daisy. That’s like Chops. He’s Chops through and through. No wonder they’re sticking to Chops!

The garden is back under control and although I’ve not done much by way of vegetables, it’s good to know that it’s a little tamer than it was.


The big cherry on the right was a victim of last year’s storms – it had come down 25 years ago and regrown, and is putting out leaves, but it’ll need taking out completely. I’ve been putting in a couple of shade beds and next year, I’ll put in a few more. There is a fence down the midline of this photo which is about the limit of the flood water. The area is usually under shade as there are several big trees there, not least the fabulous Indian Bean tree and a huge pine.

No shade for the lovely dahlias.


This is a new bed I put in this year. I thought it got more sun than it does, so I’ll be replanting some things in here. I’ve put in a lot of perennials and some biennials. Foxgloves, rudbeckia, physalis, dianthus, echinacaea and verbena are in there at the moment. There are also a few annuals too like the scabious and the cornflowers. Hopefully there’ll be some blooming this year any how.

IMG_1713Besides work, dogs and garden, there’s been a deal of volunteer work, whether it be for Les Dames de FER, the enterprise group I’m co-president of, or for the refuge. I’m now part of the steering committee for the refuge, which is fun. We’re working on websitey stuff and as always I’m stunned by just how much time people give and how much kindness there is in the world.

And then there are walks. Always walks.


Thinking space, reflection, meditation and exercise all in one. Today, a mixed bag of work and dog-sitting, gardening and a desperate attempt to find a little time to myself to read the much-awaited Harper Lee follow-up. I’ve got 3 three-week-old kittens that are needing hand-feeding – though truth be told, two of them are fat and handsome and ready for solids. One – well, I’m still not sure she’s going to make it. She is not thriving, poor thing. The vet can’t do anything and it’s just a matter of time to see whether she survives or not. Not so ill to need to be given a helping hand to a little peace in her short life, not so well that I can put aside my worries that she won’t make it to cat-hood. I can only cross my fingers and hope for a small miracle.

We will see.




A rock and roll child

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by the Most Fabulous Marc Bolan and T. Rex with Metal Guru. 

This Top of the Pops performance is a mere two weeks after my birth. Noel Edmonds doesn’t look much different in his cheeky Sherwood Green. It’s funny watching this video in seeing just how much Marc Bolan influenced Noel Fielding – whether he acknowledges it or not. They’re both what I love about English guys: quirky, eccentric and a bit of a fruit-loop. Who wouldn’t love a cheeky English chap with his bad teeth, pallid complexion and odd-ball sense of humour?

I had a proper T. Rex morning yesterday when I was clearing out the garden. I’m still tackling brambles, but there are lots of clear patches and a HHUUUUUGGGE heap of garden waste. Nothing makes you feel more Sunday than a bit of gardening. I don’t care if I end up aching when I’ve got a bit of glittery T Rex love in my soul.

I don’t think I sat down at all last week. Everything’s in manic-grow mode. Plus, it’s the last two weeks before the holidays and I’ve got a lot of work as per. On Friday, we’re doing a stand at a ladies’ networking event in Magnac-sur-Touvre, so my usual Friday afternoon of dog photos will have to find another occasion. Plus, I have an association meeting in the morning. Why does everything always happen together?

Tobby has been getting on just fine – the metacam’s taking its toll on his digestive system, so we’ve eased off a bit. He’s finally got enough meat on him so that I can’t see each individual rib any longer, so he gets to level off the food as well. He’s a comical dog – never remembers that his body isn’t up to it any more and goes haring off down the garden, legs going every which way. I couldn’t decide yesterday whether the vet only gave me a small bottle of medicine for him because she doesn’t think he’ll last long enough to finish it, or whether she was being kind on the wallet. I’d like to say I’ve seen some improvement, but apart from being a little more in control of his legs than he was, the best I can say is that he’s not much worse. He has quite bad separation anxiety when I walk the others and we’re all out – I’ve been walking Tilly or Amigo in alternance with Heston – he seems much less distressed when he’s got a friend. If I thought he had longer to go, it would be an issue, but I don’t think that I’ll make much headway before his body finally gives up on him. Honestly, it’s quite heart-breaking because he’s still so young in his ways. He has no concept of the fact he’d be much better to plod a bit and take long naps. That’s probably why Ralf lasted as long as he did. Boy, that dog could sleep.

Until that moment, though, it’s nothing but love and kisses for my gorgeous old dude.

It’s also been a year since Amigo arrived – my sweetest dog. He’s just a cuddly bucket of nibbly kisses. He’s the one dog who never shows me up, God love him. If Amigo were a person, he’d be Richard Briars. He’s all gentle and lovely and twinkly eyed.

Happy 1st Adoption Birthday Meeglou. Meegy also goes by the name of Meego Beego, Meegle and The Meegle Beagle. He’s not a beagle.



Funny how dogs get other names than the one they have. Ralf was often Ralferton. Tilly is more often than not Pippin these days. She’s my Tilly Pip. Heston is mostly Heston. Tobby is often Wobbly Bob or Tobster. He doesn’t know or care. Tobby’s definitely not a name he knows.

Seedlings, dogs, greenery and gardens… A new season of Game of Thrones and a girl is content. It’s that time of year when everything is new and fresh and green; the year is not yet tired and old. It’s still cool enough to work outside in, and warm enough to eat lunch outside too. A few stolen lunchtime moments reading a copy of Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain instead of answering emails… definitely better for the spirit.

Enjoy your week: hopefully you’re not all of a springtime frenzy.

You disturb my natural emotions

Some of Manchester’s finest for you this Monday morning.  Buzzcocks with Ever Fallen In Love.

In fact, not even Manchester’s finest, but Leigh’s finest. Leigh might be within striking distance of Manchester, but it is a world away. None of the cosmopolitan charm of Manchester, it’s still a pit village and a mill village that is accidentally connected to bigger places. I knew kids in Westleigh that hadn’t been to Leigh, let alone Wigan, Bolton or – dare I say it – Manchester. I remember explaining to some Leigh kids that I lived in Bolton, some seven miles away. I might as well have said I came from the moon.

Got to love Pete Shelley, anyway, who can still belt it out when needed.

He’s not the only old dude I’m loving this Monday morning. I’d like to introduce you all to someone.

This is Tobby!


Tobby is a thirteen-year-old Malinois Belgian Shepherd and he found himself in the refuge 14 months ago. He has very severe arthritis – a real Wobbly Bob – and while I have a space and he needs a home, I couldn’t not. Though he gets care in the refuge, and food, he was getting so bad that you had to wonder how long he would have left. He arrived on Friday, was impeccably behaved with Heston and has taken to following Amigo everywhere. Amigo’s having none of it. Tobby’s already on a double dose of metacam, an arthritis medicine for dogs, but I think the rest is doing Tobby the world of good. He’s much less wobbly in the mornings now, even though that’s the longest time from his medication, but he’s progressively wobblier as the day goes on. He really is a magnificent dog and he hasn’t done any of the things I let Ralf get away with. No holes. No grabbing food from the side. No lying in the middle of the floor like a giant obstacle. He doesn’t like being on his own, which he’ll have to get used to, because I can’t take him for walks, and definitely not the kind of walks that Heston needs. I hoped he was okay on his own, but I suspect he’s been doing a lot of barking and is a bit distressed. I don’t even think he would be bothered if he were with the other dogs as company.


It’s not a case of a space for anyone, this home that Ralf has left. No. There are plenty of other dogs who would just fit right in. I don’t need four. This is a space for a dog who doesn’t have much time left and needs to profit from it whilst he can. Watch him go on to make a miracle recovery now! I wouldn’t care if he did. He’s very welcome. I just can’t believe such a magnificent dog, like so many of the others, has found himself at the refuge. If I lost one of my dogs, I’d not rest until I found them or until I’d exhausted all the possibilities of finding them. Despite everything, his coat is still in good condition, though he is very thin – he’s always been so thin you can see his ribs. I just wish I knew a little of his history – he’s such a gorgeous fellow that you can’t but wonder who loved him all his life.


I’m sure Ralf would be very happy to know he paved the way for another oldie.

Tobby is very much enjoying the garden as well – the sun has returned and there is work to be done. You have no idea just how big my garden rubbish pile is now. I’ve done nothing but pull up brambles and thistles, cut down suckers and pick nettles. Nettles are fine – they will make a hellishly stinky nettle tea for other things later in the year. Brambles are a pain. Other stuff is much easier. This week will see temperatures of 27°C and aren’t I glad about that? Soon I’ll be moaning that it’s too hot. Truth be told, I am loving being back in the garden again. Nothing is nicer. I actually managed to spend a sit-down half-hour yesterday outside with a book and my lunch. Walking the dogs afterwards in 22°C, endless blue skies through the yellow fields and it’s days like that when you wish time could stand still forever.

Anyway, have a lovely Monday. Busy day ahead for me. The week is my last really busy one until the holidays start in two weeks’ time. Next week is a little more relaxed and peaceful and then it’s the holidays! Not that I ever have much of a holiday as I have probably 75% of my clients still, but even so, it’s a bit of a break.

Hope your blue skies are as blue as mine.

Drug Store Lovin

Blue skies, bank holidays and a Much Love Tuesday with a little bit of Otis

I don’t think there’s anyone in the whole world who’s impervious to the sound of a trumpet and a bit of Otis.

I confess I got a little carried away yesterday. I spent the morning wrestling brambles in the garden, feeling like She-Ra and looking like Alan Titchmarsh. Luckily, I came away without visible injuries. The same won’t be true when it comes to the yucca bushes. Who even likes that prickly nightmare? I’ve got three as well. They look all nasty and bedraggled. If I don’t cut all the deadness off, they just look even worse. If it were an easy and painless thing, I’d chainsaw the lot of them. I get the feeling they’d fight back.

Afterwards, we had a bit of a romp in the sunshine and cold winds – it’s right what they say. April is definitely cold even though the skies are blue. The plum blossom has come and gone. The peaches are in blossom. The cherries look like they’re about to burst into blossom at any moment. This year, I need to plant a few more fruit trees – I’ve lost a good six or seven to storms in the last couple of years. I lost my big cherry last year and I’m still sad about it. Why can’t the storms take those ugly yuccas and whip them over towards the face of someone unpleasant? That’s how I know there’s no such thing as karma.


In the afternoon, I got to have a lot of Monday Love; I went to a craft market in Mansle that was hosted by a lady who adopted the most lovely Ufo back on my birthday (you don’t forget a thing like that) Ufo had been at the refuge for seven years. As his new owner said, she had no idea why he’d been there that long. He is still as greedy as ever, but he is totally in love with his new owner. I think my happiest moment was when he looked up at Martine for reassurance – he clearly dotes on her. She says he’s afraid of the dark and won’t go outside in the dark. He also has to get in bed for a cuddle before he goes to sleep. Twenty minutes is enough for him and then he’s happy. Sadly, being big, black, male and old are a poor combination and it means these dogs get overlooked time and time again.

Not only did I get to see the handsome Ufo but I had a right good rummage in people’s buttons. It did get a bit ‘League of Gentlemen’ with several of the stallholders eyeing Sarah and I suspiciously as if we were about to rob all of the precious things of the shop.





Then Sarah took me back to hers and let me rummage in her button box. Life doesn’t get better than that.

Except if there’s cake.

Anyway, today I’m off to see the lovely Roni and to plan a campaign of world domination. Roni is one of those people who make you feel all excited the moment that you meet her. She is a mighty force in pink Doc Martens. Afterwards, a bit of a run-around for appointments. Hopefully there will be adoptions today at the refuge as well, though I don’t know if I’ll get down to see the dogs going to their new homes.

Happy Tuesday to you.

Without you

Not much to love about Monday today… Here’s The Carpenters with Can’t Smile Without You.


This week, I only have love in my heart for one special Monsieur, my Monsieur Ralf. Ralf came on a visit last August and although I tried my best to rehome him, I didn’t get very far. A week later and I decided, with a little help from my friends, that Ralf should have a place with me.

my big ralfie

And so it was.

He took five minutes to settle in and had the life of Riley.


In the mornings, he’d wake me with a huge ‘rowwwarrrrfffff’. When he first arrived here, he slept in the living room. I bought him a huge bed. It was the biggest dog bed they had in the shop. He never really slept in it. He liked to sleep in Amigo’s bed, or on the couch, and that was fine with me. Amigo never complained much either. After a couple of weeks, he decided he wanted to sleep in the bedroom with me, though I drew the line at him sleeping on the bed. I’d have had to have slept on the floor. From September to January, he slept in my bedroom and woke me up each morning with a huge and happy Ralfie “Raaaaawwwwwwwfffffffff”. When he realised how nice it was to stay in the living room in front of the fire, he’d sleep on the couch and come and find me in the morning. Ralf was a dog who definitely knew what he wanted to do and heaven help you if you didn’t want to go along with that.


Following his first war with a badger one afternoon in January, Ralf decided that the garden was great and amazing fun to find beasts for wars. Every morning, he’d race out of the door like a greyhound. Then he’d do his best to round up the local wildlife. It got to the point where I had to let Heston out first to go and shout at the wild things so that none of them ended up being caught by Monsieur Ralf. A trip to the vet later and he was patched up. It didn’t stop him though. Almost a month to the day later, he caught another one. Luckily, I had the hose on standby to break them up.


After his early morning romp, he’d come back for his breakfast. That dog loved to eat. Breakfast was the best bit of his day, apart from tea. He’s such a big dog that I’d be forever walking into him as I tried to sort out the bowls. I’d had to move all the dog food into a side room which was kept under lock and key. Though I had always been able to leave it out with the other three, Ralf decided it was perfectly acceptable to stick his nose in it and have a scoff. I came home two or three times to find him with his head in a bag of dog food, fast asleep.


The dog food wasn’t his only target. I had to move all jars and cans up to the top shelves in the kitchen as he was very happy to climb up with his big paws and knock things off to eat them. In October, he’d won Dogs’ Today Magazine’s ‘Golden Oldie of the Month’. He got a prize of vitamin powder for oldies. I went out that night and he knocked it off the shelf, then scoffed the lot of it. He was a fan of cookery books and chewed my copy of Antonio Carlucci. Ralf would happily eat dry pasta, oxo cubes, soup packets, a full kilo of sugar. Tins were also no problem for him and he would sink his teeth into sealed cans of fish or dog meat. A lot of things ended up under lock and key in the spare room, including cartons of milk. Ralf liked his milk. I can’t count the number of things he broke in trying to retrieve something from the kitchen side. He even knocked a jar of coffee into the sink in his bid to retrieve something. Bin bags weren’t safe around Ralf.


Ralf loved his walks, and if, by eleven, I’d not taken the dogs out for a walk, he would get all giddy and give me a big Rowwwwwwwfffff all over again. Once or twice, he even nipped me, he was so excited. In the car, I’d tried and tried to get him to sit in the back with the others, but he wasn’t having it. He liked to sit up at the front with me. He’d give me kisses as I was driving and bark at dogs in gardens. If he’d been in the back when I was driving, he was stuck there and had to wait until I got out and moved the seat forward – he was the only one who couldn’t squeeze out without me moving the chair.


At first, I was pretty sure Ralf was deaf. He wasn’t. He just didn’t know how to come when called, or what being called was all about. The first time he came back when called, he was so excited that he knocked me over. On walks, he stayed on the lead for the first few months, padding along at the side of me. Once, he pulled me through a field so that he could get to another dog he’d seen. I ended up covered in cow pats so that Ralf could say hello to some new friends.


One of the last walks we did, we came across a little posse of wild boar piglets – about three or four months old out eating in a field in the day time. Amigo, to my shame, ran over and caught one, and brought it back dead. He dropped it at my feet. Before I could do anything, Ralf picked it up and trotted off with it. He was so proud. He couldn’t have been any more proud if he’d caught that pig himself. He was incredibly sad when I made him leave it behind at the end of the walk. Only Sunday, he came out the bushes with fur around his mouth. God only knows what he’d found. I suspected a rabbit. Once, he trotted off over the hill and came back with a sheepskin. Getting Ralf to drop anything he’d decided to treasure was always a challenge. He was never far from me though, and even though his recall was terrible, he only was on the lead when we went past cows. He loved cows. Ralf very much wanted to play with the cows. The cows, much to his sadness, never wanted to play with him. In his mind, I think he thought they were alike, him and the cows.


Ralf also liked to spend his time in the garden. He dug me some quite lovely holes. I always let him. If you’re thirteen years old and enjoy digging holes, who am I to stop you? He’d stop in fields as well for a bit of a dig. Digging was his favourite occupation. He’d happily scratch away, flinging mud everywhere. My house was never dirtier than when I owned Ralf.


He was a very social dog too – he loved other dogs and never understood that they might be a little scared of him. Ralf loved people too. He came with me to the HOPE booksale as an ambassador for old dogs and for the refuge, and they were the happiest days of his retirement with me. He loved seeing people and being cuddled, giving his big Ralfie paw to anyone who gave him a euro for a kiss.


On Thursday morning, he ate his breakfast a little more slowly than usual. He was a little slower on his walk too, though the cows got their usual reception. By tea-time, he was only picking at the meat on his tea and he left his biscuits. He wasn’t bothered by the evening walk. I knew it was time for the vet. He hadn’t been sick or had any other problems – my first words to the vet were that he wasn’t his usual self. I’d had to lift him off the couch and half-carry him to the car. At the vet, he lay on the floor and I sat on the floor with him. He wagged when other dogs came in, but he didn’t get up. We had to carry him through to the surgery.

First, she thought he might have picked up a tick-borne disease. He had a seresto collar but even so, he had one or two ticks in the last few months. We struggled to get a urine sample from him, but it was a usual colour and no cause for alarm. His temperature was high and he had a fever. It was only when I pointed out how hard his stomach was that she thought to give him an ultrasound. I guess at that point I was thinking it could be a stomach torsion or even that he’d eaten something he shouldn’t. I half thought his stomach would show a knotted mass of animal heads and plastic things.

The first ultrasound was unusual. They then did an x-ray. Finally, another ultrasound. He had tumours in his spleen that had burst. She could have removed his spleen, she said, and he would have lived happily, but he had tumours in his liver too, and they were inoperable. At best, he would have had a month, maybe two. You make a decision there and then about what is best for your animal, whether those final weeks are worth the suffering and pain they will inevitably cause. Would he even survive the splenectomy? At thirteen and 45kg, he was pushing the equivalent of 120 human years. Surgery would be incredibly stressful and would it give him back his Ralf-ness? I knew then that to keep him alive would be to do so for my benefit, not his.

Funny that in 24 hours, I’d gone from wondering if he might even see seventeen or eighteen to seeing the light fade in his eyes. Sunday, he was digging up creatures. Monday he was frolicking with collies. He was in fine form, right up to the last moment.


In the end, he had seven short months with me. I realised today I’d not shouted ‘Allez!’ to the dogs for a good few days. Ralf had followed me everywhere, including into very small spaces, and would often corner me. His big rump next to me on the sofa was always a comfort, and those early days where he’d rest his head on my lap are moments I’ll always treasure. Seeing him run – really run – always brought a smile to my face. I don’t think running had ever been in Ralf’s sport repertoire. Those first days when he played and played with toys, and dug and dug in my garden – those were the days that cemented my love for him.


I said back in August that there would be no replacement for Ralf. He was an unexpected adoption that happened as a result of fate. Then, it was a practical statement. Three dogs is manageable; four dogs is bordering on not being. Now it’s an emotional statement. There can’t be a replacement for Ralf because he was just such a dog filled with the most amazing character. I’m very glad I had the Ralf experience.

Should another dog ever follow me home, or need me for the last months, well, Ralf taught me that they’ll always be welcome. At the moment, I can’t quite see how even ten dogs could fill the Ralfie-sized hole in my home and my heart. He was enormous in both size and personality, stubborn as a mule, playful as only a young puppy can be. It feels empty here in ways that no other loss has ever felt.

So here’s much love to Ralf. Go gentle, My Ralfie and give all those angels a kiss from me.



You could always count on me

Ah, the clocks are changing, the seasons have officially shifted, and I might be sitting here in two jumpers, too lazy to light a fire, but Diana Ross will surely keep me warm with her cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

A bit of Diana Ross never hurt anyone. This is one of the songs from Mashable’s International Day of Happiness Spotify list (now there’s a mouthful!) to celebrate last Friday’s newly-minted International Day of Happiness. I definitely needed a bit of a boost on Friday to keep me feeling the love. It was made much nicer by seeing my lovely friends at the refuge followed by tea at Sarah’s. It doesn’t take much to bring me a smile even on very sad days.

To tell the truth, it doesn’t feel like spring, though I’ve been savaging the garden. I’m trying to plug badger-y gaps to no avail. Those beasts are winning the battle to create holes along my hedges. I can stuff them with chicken wire, cuttings, plants, no matter what, and those badgers are through. I don’t know why they want to come through my garden except for habit. They keep running into big dogs and it doesn’t stop them. Those badgers are not getting my Much Love Monday. I feel a bit like the farmer in Peter Rabbit. I know Beatrix Potter wanted us to understand Peter is a very naughty rabbit, but she didn’t write about the other marauding hordes that rampage through my garden of an evening. One of those holes is a Ralf-sized hole and I’m not thankful that my dogs could get out through it if they chose to. Ralf’s the only one who’s been through it so far. Luckily, he didn’t go anywhere, but he couldn’t get back in. I’m a bit tired of all the critters around here – there’s not a single stretch I can walk without some patch of rabbits, some sunbathing wild boar piglets, some baby calves in a barely-fenced field. Heston will be as glad as I am to find a stretch where he can do his favourite thing – running. Sometimes I feel like saying ‘Have at it…. see you in a couple of hours!’ and just leave him to chase things to his heart’s content. He generally runs after them and if they don’t run back, he wags his tail and says hi and comes right back; he’s done that a couple of times with foxes.

I’ve got a very busy couple of weeks – not sure how I’m going to fit everything in that I need to! It’s times like this when I could do with an extra me. Luckily, after that, I have a couple of weeks til the holidays and a quieter period after that. Like it’s ever quiet around here. I think it’ll be time to say no to a few people after that. It’s ridiculous. You might laugh but it makes me furious. I’m sure some people – and nobody I know personally! – think I’ve got nothing on my agenda except them. I got a long way through that music before it took the irritation out of my oyster! Mostly, it’s the randomness of requests we animal volunteers get. ‘I want a little dachshund. Got one?’ ‘I’m 97 and I’d like a two-year old dog,’ ‘My dead husband’s dog needs a new home as I’m moving to China in 24 hours.’ ‘Can you test these [insert five random dogs’ names] together?’ or those people who ask you obliquely to do a thing via ten other people, making work for those ten other people as well, and then when you’ve done it, not only are they totally underwhelmed (because they had some random thing they wanted you to do and you aren’t telepathic, so you didn’t know and you didn’t do it) but they also don’t say ‘thank you’. I’d personally round up every single person who can’t say ‘Well done!’ or ‘Thank you!’ and put their pouty faces in a cave under a mountain somewhere. Sour-faced people could do with a long walk off a short pier if you ask me. I need a new approach to dealing with them.

But as the blog post says, you could always count on me.

So what’s turning my irritation to pearls?

Birthday cake. Lots of cake. Lemon drizzle cake and chocolate cake.

Lovely students and their fabby parents who send me messages to say how much they loved their lesson.

Seeing my daffodils and the plum blossom. Spring is not far behind.


People who say, ‘Can I do that for you?’

People who give me kisses and smiles. I’ll do anything for those people.

Music that lifts your soul.

Times change

Ah, this Monday’s Much Love is one of my personal High School Musical tracks from Depeche Mode – See You

I’ve no real recollection of this being played at any of our school discos (we’d definitely moved on to Pepsie and Shirlie and Rick Astley by the mid 80s) but it takes me back to school discos all the same. I’m never quite sure why either of Bury’s 80s-tastic discos, Rebecca’s or Atmosphere, let a bunch of teenagers loose. Surely they must have realised that most of the sixth-formers were only seventeen, and even they didn’t bother coming out to the school disco, leaving it to a bunch of unsupervised thirteen and fourteen year olds.

You couldn’t make a disco like Atmosphere up. It was above Bury’s famous fish market, a colossal sixties monstrosity of concrete at the time. Who thought it would be a good idea to have a disco above a fish market? It’s like the worst Kevin Bacon film set ever. The carpets were sticky, the chairs were sticky, the drinks were expensive and I’m pretty sure all the men dressed like either Crockett or Tubbs from Miami Vice, though that could just be my addled memory. Let’s face it: today’s clean bars, functional toilets and lack of carpeting mean that most of the younger generation never really saw the seedy side of the disco generation. These are the clubs that warrant one or two mentions on the internet and, for the majority, have largely faded from memory.

Funny – I was only discussing the line in To Kill a Mockingbird on Saturday – the one that says: “When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them,” and wondering at what point we can look back with nostalgia – for me, it’s only when times have changed significantly – enough to miss the things you once had, even if they are sticky carpets in seedy nightclubs at the arsehole end of the 20th century.

Apart from the Mode, of course. My love for Dave Gahan has always been unrelenting.

What else am I loving?

The sunshine of last week. We had 21°C one day. It’s unusual and we’re in for a miry March I think, but the respite was nice.

Having finished a couple of things I seriously doubted would get finished last week. Completion is such a happy state of being.

Suits, a series about lawyers in the USA. Louis Litt is God’s gift to my screen at the moment. Not in a hot way. In a way that is weird and embarrassing and cringe-worthy. He’s a modern day Malvolio, everybody’s favourite stooge. I always wonder if real law is like television – seems a lot of it is lawyerly ‘make-work’ designed to fill their pockets. My favourite Louis Litt quote is when someone says “you’re such a dick!” and he says: “I’m Moby Goddamn Dick and you just swam in my waters.”

Anyway, time to go – Monday calls. I have errands to run and business to attend to. Adieu, weekend.