Monthly Archives: March 2015

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.


Everything means nothing if you got no one

It was International Women’s Day yesterday and to bring you a bit of a Lovely Lady lift, here’s Dolly Parton (and Kenny Rogers, because being a lady isn’t always about going solo) with ‘Islands in the Stream’

There’s never a Monday when Dolly doesn’t make you feel a little more lovely. Does that woman have any meanness in her? I doubt it so much. I make no secret of my fangirl feelings for Miss Dolly. She’s got a big heart and isn’t beyond a little self-deprecation – I think this is why I like her so much. God bless Dolly. Plus, she was the star of one of my favourite chick-flicks – “9 to 5”. If you ever wonder why feminism was necessary, this is a great starting place. Hanoi Jane, Lily Tomlin AND Dolly? What’s not to love? She loves reading, she loves music, she loves animals and she makes good movies. All hail Madame Parton.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, as per. I had written to Fred Levy, the photographer who started the Black Dog Project, just because – well, why not? – and he very kindly replied, and accidentally sent me into a panic. Where was my project, he asked. Well, I’m an itinerant internet vagabond, leaving a little trail of myself in many places, without a home of my own. Or, more to the point, several “homes” for different purposes. But my dog photos didn’t really have a home.

Luckily, I’d bought a domain name last summer, thinking I could do something with it. The project ended up too massive for one person to handle and needing CSS coding skills beyond my limited capabilities, so it had sat there waiting for a purpose. I’d set up a little FB page for it, and a Twitter account, and a Google+ page, got a logo, then done nothing. So when Fred Levy sent me a mail asking where the project was, why, I could give it a home. Nothing like the accidental luck of a chancer.

Say hello to Woof Like To Meet which is now home to my growing Dog Photography line of stuff I do. It also has a FB page. Now I don’t have to accidentally annoy all of my sensible friends and family who haven’t got the patience or heart to stomach seeing 500 photos of dogs. Now it gets to have a home and be tidy. Ish. I’ve got to go round and find everything I posted and bring it together. I’m getting there!

On top of that, it’s not been much of a break here these last couple of weeks. I need to get my head around the fact that I gear up for the holidays, thinking I’ll have free time, and I end up with as many clients, if not more, and trying to do all the other things I’d been putting off. I’m actually looking forwards to a couple of quieter weeks, before it all takes off again.

Happily, the weather is now picking up and we’ve had a couple of days of 18°C and sunshine. I can’t tell you how much wildlife there is at the moment. Ralf had another battle with a badger last week, and although I’ve been keeping Heston on the lead most of the time, he’s now up to 100% lead walks because everything that’s anything is happily hopping around my immediate vicinity. I’m not a fan of letting my dogs disturb a nest of wild boar, but this year there is boar damage absolutely everywhere near me. Amigo even surprised a little pack of baby boar on Saturday. I heard squealing and then five or six marcassins running off for shelter. Luckily, Heston was on the lead and Ralf was with me. Between the calves, the rabbits, the boar and the deer, my usual trip through the fields is off-bounds. If it’s bad in open spaces, it’s worse in the forest and the whole place just torments Heston beyond belief.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a bit of gardening in this week. I have shoots of broad beans, and the beginnings of plants emerging. It feels like this dreary winter has lasted a long time.

Anyway, enjoy Dolly and the turn in the weather if you have one.