Monthly Archives: December 2015

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!

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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.

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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!

I’ll be there laughing

Feels like ages since I had a day of the Kings… there’s singing, and there’s Caleb Followill.

The trouble is that I can’t do much else when I’ve got the Kings of Leon on, because I feel kind of manipulated into enjoying it as much as possible. It’s the same with the Killers. I thought, for instance, that I could keep writing this at the same time as listening to a KOL mix, but no. I cannot. Too distracting!

It’s been a vet-kind of a week this week. There are weeks that go like that. None of mine, really, apart from picking up medicines and food. Tobby will have been here eight months tomorrow, which is seven and a half months longer than I thought he would be. He’s still on special muscle-building food, but to be honest, apart from the smell, the only reason I keep him on it is that it’s good quality. Not the smell of the food, by the way, but the smells that emanate from his rear. When I put him on different dog food, it’s a whole stinky story that you don’t need to hear. He still has metacam more days than not, though his wobbles come and go.

I guess it shows what a small town place I live in – when I went to pick up his food, the vet receptionist pointed out the refuge calendars on sale. I thought she’d recognised my coat and the logo on it, and was showing her support. I smiled. “I did the photographs,” I said (I don’t know why I said that, since I did the whole thing except for the wonderful printing!) and she said, “I know!” and smiled. That was quite weird. In what conversation does it come up? I just don’t know. Not to mention I’m on “bisous” terms with the other vet I mainly use – you’d think I spent a lot of money there or something.

Whilst it was Tobby’s check-up on Thursday and then the turn of two of my latest foster kitties on Friday, I popped by to get dog food on Saturday and today I’ve got to take two dogs for a passport check. Tomorrow it’s vaccinations and check-ups for my dad’s dog. That’s a lot of time hanging around in waiting rooms with stressed-out dogs and cats. Hopefully I won’t be back there this week with the two kitties. I woke up yesterday and thought one was a gonner for sure – he wasn’t moving or crying. He sat in a towel on my knee on a hot-water bottle for a couple of hours and managed to get 5ml of milk into his system – from there, a little of his fight came back. They’re both on pills six times a day, and they’re dirty and sad and sweet. I’ve my fingers crossed that they thrive. At four weeks, it shouldn’t be so touch-and-go. Still, they’ve stopped howling all the time and I can only guess the medicines for settling their stomachs is working. It’s a shit start to life when you have been left in a plastic bag like the trash when your eyes are barely open.

All the vet visits are generally productive and I don’t mind doing them. What’s not productive is the number of sagas I’ve been subjected to of late. Serious to God, I’m stopping answering my phone. I pick it up and someone unleashes an almighty ‘he-said-she-said’ tale upon me. In fact, this week, I was trying to help someone out and ended up making a phone call to a woman in Hungary, who gave me a full-on and deeply unnecessary lecture about the whys and wherefores of British Customs regulations and the sorry state of affairs regarding compulsory vaccinations in France. Needless to say, it didn’t end well. Next year is the year of “I don’t have to justify myself to you” and the year I screen all calls through a “Your call will be connected shortly. Please enter your credit card number before proceeding. All calls will be charged at 5 euros a minute.”

That should sort the wheat from the chaff.

Thankfully, my to-do list is back under control a little, and once I’ve sorted out a couple of adoptions on Tuesday (and got through a day full of lessons on Wednesday and Thursday), by 8pm Thursday night, I shall be breathing a little easier. Next Saturday, I’m running a stand at a local charity event and then – heaven help us all – the Mother arrives for a visit next week. It’s quite a lot less crazy than December last year where I knitted 31 baubles, let me tell you.

Freaked out for another day

I’m in a Stooges groove, so here’s No Fun for you.

Iggy rocks.

I’m kind of hoping that now I’ve finished my big workloads that I’ll be able to have a bit of fun myself. Not that I have anything planned other than all the stuff I’ve not done for the last three weeks. It’s just nice to be able to catch up a little.

Believe it or not, I’ve spent the last couple of days on the phone or sorting out things that are really not my responsibility but I kind of felt obliged to do. I’m a slow learner. I won’t be doing them any more, suffice to say. It is true to say that there are some people in life who always take as much from you as they can and don’t give a stuff if you’re lying awake at 4am trying to solve their problem for them.

I wasn’t just awake worrying about other people’s problems, it must be said. The two little kitties I have in foster at the moment are very sickly and sore. For four weeks old, they’re developmentally backward and they’re not well little things, crying constantly. They were kind of healthy when they arrived, and apart from being massively greedy, they cried all the time. Now they just cry. I’ve only lost one out of all the youngsters I’ve bottle-fed this year – and these are older than that kitten was. It’s still sad though. The washing machine has been on constantly to keep up with changes of towels.

Today saw the launch of the new refuge Advent calendar (it’s an online thing to encourage people to share our most vulnerable dogs – the old ones, and the ones who’ve been waiting a long time for a home)

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It does feel good knowing that 30 of the 32 from last year have found a home. They were some serious adoptions with the potential to go very wrong. Most of the dogs had been here for more than five years. Now, there are only three that have that dubious honour: Salma, Douggy and Darius. We’ve managed to keep the oldies very much out of the refuge this year – there are so few oldies now and they do go quickly.

The two who didn’t make it are Drack, who died earlier in the year (and precisely why I promote the oldies) and Noah, who had a very good home and then bit his new owner. It’s a shame. Noah is a great dog. He’s not a smart dog, but he is a great dog. I call him “Gormless” because … well, he’s a bit simple. You’d have to be, to bite your new owners when they were offering you a great home.

Anyhow, I managed to accomplish two or three things today that had been forgotten in the depths of my to-do list pile (endless post-it notes piled on top of each other, generally in reverse chronological order) Tomorrow is back-to-back lessons once more – I’m just hoping I get a better night’s sleep tonight! What is it they say? Sleep is overrated?

I’m hoping by next Monday that normal services will have been completely restored.