I’m a midnight animal

Lita Ford’s been helping me break the nasty AC/DC habit I’ve had for the last few weeks or so (there just isn’t better DIY music, I promise you) and here’s Lita looking lithe and lovely in Shot of Poison 

And who says the 80s contributed nothing to music??

It’s been a week filled with errands of one sort or another. Lots of comings and goings and droppings-off and pickings-up. Lucky my little visitor Jack Russell fella has been at the vets to have his male appendages off. He took a couple of days to settle in, and true to terrier form is persistent in only the way a terrier can be persistent. I know lots of dog trainers and dog enthusiasts who say you shouldn’t judge a breed by its stereotypical qualities, but of all the dogs I have here, the only ones who persistently keep trying to do something you don’t want them to do are terriers. Tenacious and stubborn should be their middle names. Like the terrier pups I had here during the summer, they think other dogs snarling at them is kind of meaningless. Doggie manners are something you have to teach to them rather than something they know instinctively. I’ll tell you something – it makes training Heston seem like it was the easiest thing in the world. I know he had his moments, and he still loves to bark at things, still goes mental at visitors and still finds it tough not to be distracted on walks, but he is generally very biddable. He learned his name in a day, learned to come in ten minutes and even though he sometimes gives me a bit of “Do I have to?” attitude if he’s outside and doesn’t want to come in, it’s nothing on a terrier. Lucky will happily bumble about the garden and has had seven happy days of clicker training to “come” without much by way of progress. Thing is, it’s just so vital that he does. A dog who runs away when you call them is not just a pain in the arse but a liability too. Thank God all of mine will do anything for a biscuit or I know them well enough to know when they’ll get selective deafness.

Poor Tilly has not been a well girl. She has a stubborn ear infection and we’ll be at the vet’s this week I think. She’s been sick and tummy troubles abound. For eleven, she’s older than many American cockers live to. I can’t imagine the house without her, but she’s definitely showing signs of her age.

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I’ve even stuck to my photograph a day project – and the things I’ve learned about Photoshop! I’m really enjoying doing it and it does feel good to have found a little passion again. The problem with camera passions is that they’re so very expensive! Even second-hand equipment is expensive. Oh well. Keeps me motivated!

So what am I loving?

♥ Indignant Dog. Lucky is by far the most indignant dog I’ve ever met. His face of outrage at being prevented from doing whatever his little head’s telling him to do is properly comical. For a dog who was thrown out of a third-floor window, he’s certainly not bothered by people or at all scared of anything. The way he bobbles about the garden with his cone on is completely comical. God love him.

♥ Butternut squash and the woman who gave me a nasty, nasty squash habit. I will be sad when there are no more. From the sounds of it, that may be some time.

♥ All the lovely volunteers at the refuge. It’s fabulous that a few more people have become regular faces – especially since they are quite delightful. I got a bit snappy with another new-ish volunteer on Friday. She’d deliberately taken out a dog that had already been out and when I said, she said, “well, she’s my chouchou.” Chouchou or not, that cheated some other dogs out of a walk. I saw her right after in the pound petting puppies. And we wonder why dogs are picking up viruses and giardia left, right and centre. What I’m mostly in love with for the delightful volunteers is that they may very well have favourites, but they’d never cheat a dog out of a walk. There are sadly some volunteers who arrive like the big “I am” and think they can do as they please. They don’t last long, having absorbed a lot of energy. I do hate the Lady Bountiful types who grace us with their presence and feel we should be blessed that we have their company. Give me the ‘come in, get on with it, don’t stop till it’s dark’ volunteers. And I love the people who come to walk the big, shouty dogs and who never forget those dogs who are having a hard time.

♥ People who are kind and have big hearts.

Not loving the gale-force winds this morning and the rain we’ve been having. Last week the Tardoire had burst its banks already in several places and with the water table so high, it won’t take much for me to end up with a river in the garden as well.

Have a great Monday and stay dry!

 

 

 

Everything’s gonna be real fine

I’m trying to have a break from the real AC/DC thing I’ve got in my blood at the moment, so I spent yesterday with a huge Ramones playlist. Here’s one of my favourites for you,  Swallow My Pride. 

Last week was a busy one but I’m back to normal levels of occupation this week. I’ve swapped kittie-sitting for doggie-sitting and Mr Shouty Man a.k.a. Lucky is staying with me for a couple of weeks (as long as Tobby doesn’t go all obsessive again!) and as long as he isn’t tempted to be Mr Shouty Man during my skype classes! Otherwise, he might be sleeping in the cabin during class. To be fair in this instance, my dogs are back to their usuals around puppies – i.e. all of them except for Heston are wondering how long til everything is quiet again and Heston is having a whole load of fun. That’s fine but when it’s peeing down with rain, it’s not so easy to kick them out into the garden. I’m on my third mop and bucket today already. Why are terriers just so tenacious? I’m pretty sure I’d be a terrier if I were a dog. I think people who train terriers deserve a special kind of medal.

Mind you, the last little kitty to go was all shouty as well. His siblings went last Tuesday and he was not happy to be left alone, not one bit. It’s times like that when having dogs and kittens is not a good combination. I’m still not sure I could trust two of my dogs around small creatures, even if I’m supervising directly. Tilly and Heston don’t care less. All Tilly cares about is food.

I’m well into my first month of my photography project. I may be a couple of days behind (I got a late start) but I’m catching up. I can’t believe it’s February already. Just where did January go??!

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I’ve been taking a break from my usual Sunday painting… swapped it for a heavy spring clean and dusting session. I’m at that point in the year where I’m tired of lighting fires and missing thermostats and timers.

Usually, at the beginning of each month, I look back over all the years’ blog posts for that month and see what I was up to. Sometimes, there are big changes – certainly no big icicles like 2012, that’s for sure! February’s usually the month when things start to put on a burst of growth, but also the month that everything floods. Given the persistent rain on Saturday night, it wouldn’t surprise me if we were in for flooding.

So what am I mostly loving?

♥ Finding treasures from the past when I’m spring cleaning… they might bring tears as well as smiles, but there are plenty of good memories to discover.

♥ Remembering all the great times I had as a teenager with friends that I’m very happy still to know in 2016. I’m mostly loving that things have worked out so well for so many. Nothing is nicer than knowing that.

♥ Long chats with friends who can always raise a smile no matter what the tragedy.

♥ Breaks in the rain clouds.

♥ Peace.

Have a lovely Monday.

Open up your eyes

A bit of soul to start a Monday… and a bit of Everlasting Love… Don’t we all need a bit of that?

Yes, I’ve had this song as my Much Love Monday song before, but I don’t care. I can listen to it forever. The U2 version is my favourite, if only because of what it means to me, but this one is just as good.

My snowdrops are already starting to appear in patches – which is a little earlier than last year I think. It’s been a mild winter – milder even than last year I think. You just never know which way the year is going to go.

In 2015, it looked like this:

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And 2014

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2013

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2012

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2011

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And I can’t go back any further than that!

This year it’s been easy on the frosts and heavy on the amazing sunrises

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I’ve picked up some onions this week to plant – I think this year will be the year I bring the polytunnel back to life. I was trying so hard to get the convolvulus under control, but it’s a lot better than it was. I love my polytunnel. All-weather gardening. I’ve been pollarding a few of my bigger hazels – one of them is entirely spectacular this year and I can only think that this was because I pollarded it three or four years ago. It’s always been pretty spectacular though. The tomato seeds have already been through the propagator and sprouted. Aubergines in this week, I think.

The week is bound to be a busy one with lots of errands to run. I have three kitties needing vaccinations and hopefully being rehomed by the end of the week. It’s harder having the kittens in the house – they’re in the spare bedroom as it’s too cold for them to be in my usual kitten rooms – but of course, they are either up to mischief or having to be kept in the crate. These are by far the healthiest and happiest kitties I’ve had in a long time. Wednesday is going to be the killer – leave the house at 9.15 and not a break right the way through until 10pm. I’m not relishing walking the dogs at 8am, let me tell you!

Hopefully the weird atmosphere that has been dominating life of late will lift as well. It feels like there’s a universal grump at work. Everybody is crabby.

So what am I loving this week?

♥ frosty mornings

♥ photoshop tutorials (I’ve been spending every spare minute on Coursera, Udemy and Youtube watching photoshop tutorials – it’s a bit obsessive)

♥ propagators

♥ snowdrops

♥ aubergine curries

♥ Good books (and not loving the lame ones I’ve been working through of recent times)

♥ those friends who always, always make you smile and are mad as a box of frogs but cool as ice

♥ hot Vimto. None of your cherry Vimto rubbish. None of your fizzy Vimto nonsense. Hot Vimto, the delight of northerners. Did you know Vimto was invented in Manchester? That’s another of Manchester’s contributions to the world. No need to say thanks. That’s just what we do. Someone once tried to give me Ribena instead. It wasn’t the same and, frankly, I was quite insulted that they thought so.

♥ Full moons. Last night, we even had a moon-rise

Have a very lovely Monday. I’m out early doors four mornings this week. I’ll be glad when the week is over and I can start my days in a more leisurely way again. The dogs will too. Heston’s always itching for a walk first thing.

 

 

 

The Freakiest Show

Things wouldn’t be right in the world if I didn’t pick a Bowie song for this week’s Monday Tune… and this is my favourite of all, though not a joyous choice at all.

When Lou Reed died a couple of years ago, the songs I picked were one of the musical threads that held my life together. Lou Reed wasn’t so much a singer I’d picked myself, but the music that had been a kind of theme track to some of my life. David Bowie was never that. I loved David Bowie, but he was never in the background to my life. Bowie was one of those singers, like Lou Reed was at the beginning, then John Cale and Leonard Cohen, that you pick for yourself even though your friends are kind of ambivalent.

By the time I was a teenager, Bowie was in his kind of stadium rock days… it was all Mick Jagger and Dancing in the Street. I don’t care much for that, although it was for a great cause. Bowie had passed over into that kind of 80s middle ground of grown-up Phil Collins and Queen Dad Rock that just wasn’t particularly cool. Let’s face it, Tonight and Never Let Me Down are never going to make it on to someone’s top 5 Bowie albums are they? I don’t even think I put two and two together when I found a copy of Life On Mars at the flea market in Bury as a 7 inch. I still have it. It was the very first time I really found music that I chose for myself. I asked a friend if she’d tape Hunky Dory on to a cassette for me. She had to borrow it from her parents’ record collection and I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy. That album is one of the central albums of my teen years and it’s one of the only albums that I still play just as regularly. In fact, when I saw a list of people’s favourite Bowie tracks last week, I was amazed that Life on Mars wasn’t on there. I was kind of glad though. It makes it all the more personal. It’s the piano that makes it what it is for me… Rick Wakeman at his best. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to that tape.

I only saw Bowie once in concert – the Sound + Vision tour in 1990. He played at Maine Road in Manchester and I had to drag Henny with me. It was entirely at odds with Metallica and Megadeth.

Funny though that I picked this song – I just did a search and realised that Starman has been my Much Love Monday song twice – there aren’t many songs that I’ve played twice! And it was one of my eight singles that would have made up my Desert Island Discs. I think I’d have to change that now and put Under Pressure on. Freddie Mercury and Bowie together: Dad Rock at its best.

Much Love, Mr Bowie. The stars do look very different today.

I’ve been trying to spend a little time on a 366-photo project (a photo a day, of course!) and spend a little time on Photoshop. I learned Photoshop by way of Fireworks back in the day, and I’m glad I had the foresight to do so. To be honest, some of it is very similar to actual darkroom stuff, like dodging and burning, but way, way easier. I’ve been looking at a lot of ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that professional photographers have taken, including those shots that have been competition winners, and you can see most of it is just a combination of a great camera and some Photoshop magic. I’ve never been anti-photoshop where images are concerned (other than those of ridiculously perfect people that are promoting make-up!) It seems a little hypocritical to be against any kind of artistic adjustment when the moment you pick up this camera or that camera, you are making a difference to what image you get out. I used to only use Fujifilm because I love the brights, their greens and their blues. It’s very contrasty film. As soon as you make a choice like that, you’re impacting on the image. In fact, as soon as you use your viewfinder to frame an image, you are making artistic choices, so I don’t see why a bit of editing offends so many purists. Most of them have polarising filters or the likes, or tripods. Those all affect the image you can take.

Anyway, I’m doing a 10-minute-a-day photoshop enhancement on each image – it can’t be more! – and I’m finding myself re-invigorated.

You can find a perfectly nice image…

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And a give it a bit of a once-over…

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Adjust the hues a little, sharpen the eyes, remove any distractions and re-centre the image a little. It does bring out the inner critic, which is all good.

The aim of the project is not to go overboard on minor tweaks and fiddles – these are not for sale as high-quality reproductions, just mini-projects to bring out your critical eye. I was quite pleased when looking at some people’s original images that my unedited images were much more thoughtful than theirs, but their photoshop skills were far superior to mine! That’s why this year is all about Photoshop!

So what else am I loving this Monday morning?

♥ AC/DC – there simply isn’t any better music to rev up your engines to.  Thunderstruck and Hells Bells are always good to get your motor running.

♥ Having a bit of frost – the cold snap didn’t last long and it’s the first morning all winter that the living room has been 12°C first thing.

♥ All the refuge staff and volunteers. Last week was a shit, shit week. Arnold still isn’t moving and we’re waiting to see if his morphine/anti-inflammatories can get him back on his feet again, but it’s not looking good. The vet said his herniated discs can’t be operated on, so it really is a week of hard, hard decisions. Jerry the pointer was found dead of a stomach torsion as well – he was 4 weeks out of surgery to remove his leg. We had a parvo death, a dog who died as the result of an accident and several dead puppies. There is not much by way of light in a week like that.

♥ How fab my new lens is. Photoshop aside, look at how lovely this little face is!

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♥ The joys of Picmonkey. When I need something quick and dirty, Picmonkey is there for me. Forget Lightroom. Picmonkey is 50000000000000 x more ace.

♥ The Amigo-Beego. I don’t get many good photos of him, but I’ve had loads recently. Love him. He is such a gentle old soul. He must find it very traumatic living with a house-full of maniacs, my little Richard Briers dog.

Right, have a marvellous Monday. I’ve got a list of chores that’s longer than this blog, so I had better get busy!

 

 

 

 

Fighting on the dance floor

A bit of political Mondayness for you. Here’s The Specials with Ghost Town. 

Seems only fair since I had Bananarama a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, it feels a little like France and a lot like La Rochefoucauld, my local town. I walked past the bookshop the other day and it was closed up. I don’t know how I’ll cope if they take the wool shop away.

To be fair, it’s a great little town and the high street shops are fabulous. We have three or four shoe shops (on account of the fact that the town is known for making slippers) as well as a few antique shops (on account of it’s high tourist chic to shop in La Rochefoucauld. There are several estate agents (including one that closed its doors last year) and banks, but the rest are interesting shops that sell the kind of things you really want to buy. I bet there can’t be more than 100 shops in the town, but there is a haberdashery AND a wool shop, and a shop that sells nothing but stuff to kill other stuff. Those kind of shops are hard to find.

Anyway, what am I loving this week?

♥  The Specials. I’m up to A Message To You, Rudy and I don’t think I’m going to get off the Specials vibe this morning.

♥ The fact that March is only weeks away and I have the shoots of snowdrops appearing. That’s wishing my winter away, I know, but I’m wet enough now.

♥ House MD. I’m watching them all from the beginning again and I had forgotten just how good that series is, even if every single one is practically the same. Hugh Laurie is a comedy God.

♥ All the support for a dog called Arnold. This old dude was the subject of a seizure and came to the refuge practically unable to walk after years on a short rope. 48 hours after his trial adoption and he’d lost the ability to walk. A 2000€ estimate later and he’s waiting in Bordeaux Vet Hospital for treatment. To see so many people help out and donate is just wonderful. It hurts more for me because he reminds me so much of Ralf. He makes the same noises. He is, truth be told, a better kisser than Ralf, but he doesn’t say his own name. Ralf always managed a big old RAAAAAWWWWWWFFFF. I guess Arnold is a bit harder to say though.

♥ My new 50mm f1.4 lens. It is simply amazing. There aren’t words for how much I love it.

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♥ The Tobbymory. It was his 9 month anniversary yesterday. He’s been a bit off his food – not sure why. He enjoyed his anniversary sausage buttie yesterday though. I can’t believe he’s been with me a whole nine months. Every day is a gift when you’re his age.

♥ Kittienesses. I picked up three on Friday night. That’s a full six days that I didn’t have any. I missed them. These ones are long legged and scrawny scaredies, but older than the others I’ve had.

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I’ve started a Photo365 project with a photo a day. I’m enjoying it very much so far. I might never take this 50mm lens off my camera though.

Have a lovely week and may your Monday be void of idiocy.

Checking out a new sensation

To go from Simon and Garfunkel to 80s glam metal is a bit of a leap, but hey ho. Here’s 80s cheesy rockers Enuff Z’Nuff with “New Thing” which seemed kind of appropriate for the new year

Last night was the first night in ages that I spent with only five heads under the roof. In truth, I’ve turned into a bit of an obsessive head-counter not unlike Tobby, and I got up four or five times to check on kittens without remembering that I didn’t have to. Most of the day it persisted down, Manchester-style. I hate these weeks, where there is nothing to be done but staying inside clearing up mud. I guess it is a necessary fact of life though. So what am I mostly loving this fine first new Monday of the year?

♥ The peace and quiet after a busy time and the fact that four dogs seems like none at all, especially when they’re all asleep in front of a fire.

♥ Rainy days which force you to go inside and do indoors stuff.

♥ Knowing all the kitties are safe and well and that they’ve found good homes.

♥ New lenses.

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♥ Willing photographic assistants.

♥ Picmonkey – lovely for quick and dirty processing and no mucking about like Photoshop.

♥ Me for having the foresight in 2006 to get funky with Adobe Fireworks.

♥ Mums and Dads and families and stuff.

♥ My new pink hat from my sister for my birthday. It might not be Kangol and pink and fluffy, but to be honest, it looks less like a foreskin, less like Nana Moon and more like an appropriate winter hat.

♥ Friends who turn up with bottles of Vimto and boxes of teabags.

♥ Peaceful Sundays where there is work to be done but nothing so pressing it can’t wait til Monday… hopefully not the last Sunday I’ll have like this until next Christmas!

♥ Looking through my old photo albums and seeing shots that are great photographs, and reading books about analogue photography, remembering how I never thought digital photography could ever do what we did. I miss you XP2 and HP5, Superia and Neopan. I miss you gold toner and lith printing. I miss you darkroom and dryer racks. I don’t miss getting dust on the negs when processing, I don’t miss fastidious cleaning of enlargers. I don’t miss the wait for development. I miss those days where you spent all evening developing one image and getting it just right. Funny to think that when I went to Morocco in 2009, I was still happily shooting film, and the black and whites I got there are some of the best photos I ever took. 72 photos and every single one was epic.

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You didn’t waste film in those days.

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Nobody cared about grain, and my aim was huge, big globules of grainy, grainy super-photographic murk. Grain and contrast and nobody cared. The slide-lovers won in the end, with their ISO50 and 100 and tripods, I guess. Now if you post a grainy image on the internet, everyone thinks you’re an amateur, rather than an artist making a choice.

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I’m glad I got to be in both worlds.

Anyway, have a very lovely Monday and hopefully I won’t have floated away in the rains during the week. You may get lucky and there may very well be another photography project coming up. It seems rude not to. It may or may not involve dogs. If it does, they won’t be purposeful dogs, just accidental ones.

My 2015

It’s been a year that’s been more progress than steps back, and that is something. 2014 was a very crappy year indeed and I was very glad to see the back of it. I might have been treading water in 2015, but I wasn’t drowning, and that’s better than most can say.

So what was my 2015?

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Ralf was the first photo out of my camera in 2015. A bigger, giddier, more chilled out character there was not. He spent most of our January walks chasing herons. I started the year, as I always do, with my best intentions and I kept a lot of them too. You wouldn’t believe how much crap I’ve thrown out, given away or sold on this year. Getting todoist.com was a really good decision and has really helped me maximise my productivity. Nothing feels as good as ticking things off a list. I am just a crazy ticker who loves the moments of pleasure when you get to put a great big tick next to something. I’d started with a French Friday project but didn’t get very far. As per, dogs took over my photographic universe. January was also the month of attacks in Paris at Charlie Hebdo – strange to think that the year ended with the terrorist attacks in Paris as well. I guess my brother is right and Paris is scarier than you might imagine.

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February was mild too, and less wet than January had been. I managed to get through the year with only a smattering of snow. I kind of like snow, as long as it is gone within a few days. Nothing worse than sludge hanging around for weeks. February was mostly very doggy, since so many of the big old boys found homes that month and I started my own Black Dogs project. The Black Dogs were way less successful than the Christmas adverts – which tells you everything you need to know about why I did it. There are still a good number at the refuge. All the division one ‘hard to home’ dogs have now found a home. Ufo, Dalton, Paulo, Wolf, Nichman, Usty, Tino, Edge, Salma and Cachou all found homes. Sadly, Wolf made his way to Germany and then was put in a German refuge when his owners couldn’t find a place to rent that would accept dogs, and he died there some months later. That list was quite something – not one of those dogs seemed like they would find a home. Even a lot of the second division dogs have found a home too. In 2014, there were 33 dogs who’d been at the refuge since 2012 or longer. In 2015, there were 12. Now there are just two. Douggy and Elios are on my hit list for the beginning of the year. I have some from 2013 on my list, including Manix, Cleo, Kayseur, Eloy, Ivan, Elga, Despe and Helboy are my dogs for 2016.

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March was just one thing: Ralf. When he couldn’t move one morning, we went to the vets. What started as peritonitis was quickly revealed to be a burst tumour in his spleen. Whilst the vet could have removed his spleen, he had tumours in his liver that would have taken him within a month.

March brought me the beginnings of a garden, but the last two years have been a vegetable wash-out. They take more commitment than I have. This year, I’m determined to go back to my old gardening ways.

April brought me a Tobbster Rock, my Wobbly Bob. I really thought at the time that he would only be here weeks. Not that he’s recovered – his arthritis is as bad as ever and his groans as he settles down are testament to the pain he’s in. Eight months later and my old Wobbly Bob is doing okay. He and I had a bit of a falling out over a puppy I was fostering, Loupi. He would happily have licked Loupi to death. That sounds cute, and it wasn’t cute. It was weird and obsessive, with Tobby unable to eat or sleep.

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He’s in his eighth month here now, and it’s his birthday on Friday. Well, what passes for a birthday. He was picked up by the pound, so we have no idea how old he really is. He was estimated to be eleven or twelve when he arrived at the pound, and I picked him up 14 months later when he was into his thirteenth year. This year is a bit of a change for him than the last.

As for May and June, I don’t know where they went. I kind of do – a whirl of refuge and book sales and exam marking and planning meetings for markets and dog adoptions. Nichman, the unadoptable, was adopted in May. He’s another one we didn’t think would see the year through. I picked up two foster dogs, Hoppy and Edona, and they soon found a home. Chops, a huge Newfie, also came here for a brief weekend and was quickly rehomed. I’ve lost my rehoming touch recently – or else everyone is now full to bursting. In June, one warm Friday night in the middle of the month, I was also elected to the conseil d’administration for the refuge. Thankfully, this has not involved much work beyond what I was already doing, and I enjoy the meetings as I learn such a lot about the refuge and all the animals. I’ve enjoyed being in an environment that is completely French as well, truth be told. A meeting every so often, open days and food drives – it’s good to be part of a team that are so invested in what they do.

The summer passed in a haze of marking, dogs, kittens and gardening. I don’t even know how many kittens I’ve had through my doors this year, but I have loved them very much. I love dogs, don’t get me wrong. My dogs are so easy. We have a comfortable routine that suits us all very well. But I do so love cats. Petting dogs is not the same as petting cats. I can’t have cats here because I live on a blind bend and cars pass at stupid speeds, plus there is a lot of wildlife out there that seems to have put paid to more cats than you’d expect. Cats are fragile things and where diseases may kill puppies – the dreaded parvovirus is likely to do its worst to a puppy – cats are at risk for so very many more things. The kittens have come here at 10 days old, two weeks, three weeks, six weeks. If they need bottle feeding, I’m a dab hand at that. I’m well used to making the transition from milk to food. Still, it makes me sad to have lost two babies this year – to worms more likely than not – and as my last little man waits for a home, I’m kind of missing him already knowing he’ll be the last for a few months maybe.

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Much of the end of August and the beginning of September involved gearing up the foire for Les Dames de FER. It was all flapping-beneath-the-surface and very little of graceful-swan-on-top, especially since it absolutely heaved it down until two minutes before we opened.

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October was a long descent into the book fair and the refuge open days, alongside planning for Christmas markets!! You finish one and then end up doing another. I am not designed for being on organising committees. Big ideas, yes, minutiae and sorting out who brings the float, who cleans the toilets and who’s responsible for tea bags is beyond me.

autumn collageI did manage to spend a good amount of time in the garden, and to say I’m better prepared than last year for 2016 is progress indeed. Weather-wise, autumn was pretty glorious – it’s been neither cold nor wet – but it doesn’t give the garden much of a break. Happily, Tobby has managed a good few afternoons of pottering around the garden looking for stuff to pick up and carry, or apples to chomp on.

November was the Christmas market and preparing the calendar for the refuge. There’s still a mammoth backlog of photos on my laptop that need processing, but I’ve not really had a sit-down kind of a Christmas, so they’re all yet to be done. In reality, I’ve done a couple of hours of teaching most days, except for Christmas Day, and looking after other people’s pets and trying to squash in as much refuge time as I can has left me a bit brain-dead of an evening. When I’m back down to four dogs and perhaps a kitten on Sunday, I think I will feel a little more prepared for the new year.

Not a year, in all, in which anything different happened – One Mr Tobby came to live with me, and a whole load of kittens stopped over from May through to December, but a year that lacked a gentle pace but made up for it in kindness. I came out of it a lot stronger, if a lot more tired.

It’s ironic that so many people have advised me against involvement in volunteering – usually the very people who want me to do something for them instead. What they mean to say is, “Don’t spend your time doing that, spend it helping me instead.” Each time, it leaves me a little more reluctant to do things for them. The refuge never ask too much of me – there are enough volunteers and we are all conscious of how much we give. It’s amazing how many people think I will happily contact refuge staff of an evening, or on a Sunday, to ask some mundane question about something that could happily wait and are cross when I say I’ll leave it to the morning. I know they might have a burning desire to adopt a dog at 10.30pm on a Saturday night, and need to know if it’s got kennel cough or not,  but it’s like there’s a complete lack of reason when I explain that it’ll have to wait until Monday, as if I am getting in the way of them saving the universe and I’m little more than a complete jobsworth. It’s my resolution to spend less time with those who think their time is worth so much more than those who already give so much. I’m determined too to spend less time on those who ask for the moon, or who think I have an hour or two to listen to them pontificate about the state of animal welfare in France, or that they are the only human being on the planet who is asking me to do something. So for next year, I plan to do more of the things I love and fewer of the things that suck the marrow from my bones!

Hopefully you will all be having a lovely NYE surrounded by those you love. Here’s to 2016!

Deep and Dark December

Another Monday, but one that doesn’t feel like a Monday… all my schedule is out of whack and I’m feeling a little less in-sync today. Here’s the delightful Paul and Art with I Am A Rock

We don’t have a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow though. In fact, if you’re in Lancashire, like many of my friends and family, you’re probably under a foot or so of water. Let’s hope there’s no big freeze to follow, otherwise you’ll be able to skate from Rochdale to Manchester. Kind of weird because we’ve had 14°C yesterday, and 17°C today. It’s blue skies and weird weather. I know it’s often like this in January, before the bitter winds bring us lower temperatures. Last year, we at least had frosts now, but this year, I’m grateful for the gentle night temperatures and the clear skies. I know the ground won’t be thanking me though. I started pruning the vines yesterday and was wondering if it’s really the right weather to do it. Still, if I don’t do it now…

I’m kind of profiting from the milder weather to do a bit in the garden and get out with the dogs. I had a young dog here over Christmas, Loupi, but he sent Tobby into spirals of obsessive licking and it got a bit weird, so sadly Loupi had to go back to the refuge. I could have tolerated it but Tobby wasn’t eating or sleeping, and I’m not sure what’s up with that. I suspect my other dogs are quite good at telling Tobby that enough is enough where the licking is concerned. All obsessive behaviours in dogs bring a kind of comfort, so it’s obviously filling an emotional need, but Loupi was such a sweetheart that he just tolerated it. It got to the point where I couldn’t separate the two without Tobby snarling, and it got a bit much. Even in separate rooms, Tobby was marking territory. He’s fourteen in 2016, so having his nuts off at his age isn’t much of an option, though I did wonder if he’s got a tumour which is causing him to create a lot of testosterone, since he promptly switched his obsessive behaviours from Loupi to Tilly. Tilly is very good at telling him to pack it in though, and he’s had a confrontational shouty blonde telling him that harassment is not to be accepted in her life. Poor Tobby. And mostly, poor Loupi. He’s a great dog – a pointer cross with divine ears and a great manner. It’s sad when there are puppies at the refuge that nobody wants because, hey, they’re boys, and yes, they’re hounds. Could be only worse if they were black. Apart from Edona, Loupi has been my favourite house-guest of the year. She was the little bichon who arrived at the refuge like one of those adverts that say ‘THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE LOOKING AT A PILE OF GARBAGE AND THEN COULDN’T BELIEVE WHEN IT MOVED’ that you see on Facebook. She was a little dreamboat and I was glad she was adopted.

Actually, when I think about it, my dogs are very tolerant of the houseguests. Sometimes it’s my friends’ dogs who come on brief holidays, and more often it’s refuge dogs on a layover to somewhere more exciting, or dogs I’ve been unable to stop myself from taking home if they are too stressed at the refuge. Big dogs, little dogs, boys, girls, old giffers and young pups, they’ve generally tolerated them. Even the bitey, nippy terrier pups were welcome. Tilly is actually the best dog because she’s got very clear and predictable boundaries and is not scared of telling dogs off if they’re leaping about or being too bouncy. Heston just plays with them all and then loses interest unless they are a similar age and size to him. Tobby was most put out by the pups, is generally not bothered by any boys or girls I bring home and is happy to see a new face. Amigo hides under the table and the only dog he’s been at all interested in has been Sarah’s dog Bandit. I thought I might even see Amigo playing. He never plays. He gets upset by playing. He thinks dog wrestling is a death match and can’t distinguish between playing and fighting, le pauvre. 

So as I go into the new year, I’m a bit of an island myself, in a sea of dog hair. I’m trying desperately to catch up on refuge photos, waiting patiently for my new lens – a nifty fifty (that’s a 50mm fixed lens which promises to make me move more than my zoom but offers higher resolution images and the ability to do some very lovely things I hope)

With the brief hiatus from many lessons (yes, I’m still teaching some very keen students!) the peace, the solitude and the very fine weather, I’m feeling a lot more refreshed than I was. Thank God. It’s the first Monday I can remember where I’ve felt like I can breathe a little. Let’s hope 2016 brings me a few more Mondays like this!

Every step of the way

I’m not really in the Christmas mood yet despite all the Christmas music, so I’m having a bit of an 80s-throwback kind of a morning instead. Here’s Bananarama with he was really saying something

I think Bananarama held loads of records for the most chart entries for any female band, which is kind of weird when you think of how many all-girl bands there have been since the 80s. I’m not surprised though. My Monday Love is obviously en retard and I don’t even have a good explanation except for the fact I usually plan it on a Sunday evening and this Sunday I was still in Angoulême at 7.30 finishing a pet food drive at a local garden centre.

I’m looking forward to a few days where I have a bit of a change of direction, and a bit of time to recharge my batteries. That September-December term is a long one. We’ve had amazing weather recently, with warm afternoons and beautiful skies – nothing that feels like winter yet. I know it will come.

skies

I just wrote a paragraph here that has disappeared and I’m taking it as a sign to be sparse with my words and get on with the day instead of pontificating. The essence of the paragraph was ‘no more time-sucky people or people pleasing and more time spent on the lovelies who shared my birthday lunch with me’. That was efficient.

Right, time to take the dogs out for a walk, pick up my shopping for the next couple of weeks and make sure I have everything I need for an end-of-year hibernation.

I’ve lost my light

Here’s a bit of Monday loveliness from Gloria Jones with Tainted Love 

You can’t beat a bit of Monday Motown. It’s not very festive, I know, but I’m not in the festive zone yet. Last week was a bit of a vet blur. By the time I saw my vet for the fourth successive afternoon, she was starting to get suspicious I was stalking her.

Monday was the arrival of two dogs who were on a stopover before their journey to the UK. Heston fell massively in love with Galaxy, a wire-haired pointer. He yelled at her for about two minutes and then they wrestled and played chase for three hours solid. When she finally came in the house to sleep, Heston sat staring at her, his nose about 50cm from hers. He’d have been closer but the attention was too much and Miss Galaxy was growling any time he got closer than that. In return, Heston was growling at anyone who threatened to disturb the sleeping beauty. What was most sad was poor Hista. She was desperate to play with Heston and he was having none of it. He just ignored her frantic attempts to play. That’s a bit out of order if you ask me. They were very easy dogs to have around and I loved Hista’s little happy dance at tea-time. A bath and a brush and I bet she looks amazing.

Tuesday saw their departure, but also one of my little foster kitties died in the night. He’d had a rough couple of weeks and had cried constantly, gaining no weight. We’d wormed him on Friday, and he had an anti-diarrhea medicine as well as something to settle his stomach, but it wasn’t enough. I was convinced he’d pulled through as well. It makes me so sad to think that this poor little soul had nothing but a short life of pain. I guess being left in a plastic bag when your eyes are barely open is acceptable to some excuses for humans.

I did a run up to Poitiers on Friday for the first time, taking our dogs up to meet the transporter who takes them to Germany. Five of the six had homes to go to already. Isko was the only one who was going to a refuge, and he already had interest on Saturday. At Poitiers, they’ve just taken in over twenty Anglo hounds (the huge, elegant, long-legged baying hounds) who’d come from the most distressing of circumstances. Most of them have had to fight for food and bear the scars. Their ‘food’ doesn’t bear thinking about: it’s likely they’d survived by eating the bodies of the dead. Several are still in the infirmary. They seemed in good spirits though – the Anglos are confident as a rule and it’s not often you come across one whose spirit has been broken as you do with other hound breeds. I had a bit of a weep letting Attila go – he’s been at the refuge for a long time and he was one of my favourites.

Saturday was spent at a local charity event hosting a stand to promote the refuge’s work. I was happy to spend the day chatting to friends old and new, including a few people who want to come and help out at the refuge. It can be such hard work keeping volunteers that we’re always glad of more support. Usually, people adopt a dog and their commitments change. Many people come for one day and can’t face coming again, which I kind of understand but makes me sad anyway.

This week, I’ve got my final Japanese lesson to teach at the local primary school. I’ve really enjoyed teaching this little group – there are several of them who greet me with a bow and a konnichiwa. We spend most of our time doing little role-plays and singing songs to learn vocabulary. I really wanted to do a little origami with them, but it’s so hard to teach even one person how to fold paper that I thought it might be a bit much to do it with an impatient class of eight-year-olds.

My mum arrives today and we’ve got three days of trying to squash things in. Tomorrow, we’ll have a good walk in the forest, weather permitting, and then a bit of lunch and cake with some friends. I’ve also got an AGM to lead on Thursday, which means I’ll have to leave her to her own devices. She’s the kind of person that if I leave her alone, she’ll embark on a project. Last time she was here, she planted all my potatoes. Bit early for that in December!

I cannot wait until next Monday when I have got two whole weeks off for Christmas. I can’t wait to spend a little time catching up on all the things I’ve neglected, the messages I’ve not returned and the projects I’d started but not finished! I’m also excited because this time next week, one of my friends will have a new addition for the Christmas holidays: little baby Betty Bump will be joining the world properly and I can’t wait to meet her! Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly for my friend Rachel on Wednesday!