Monthly Archives: November 2016

Bring the firestorm

Bit of Motorhead for you this morning. Can’t think of anything more appropriate

If there was ever a kindred spirit for Lemmy, Tobby was probably it. Lemmy died at the tail end of last year, having undertaken a world tour that finished less than a month before he died. I mean if anybody personified that same spirit, it’d be Tobby. He too refused to take it easy and had never taken it easy one single day since being here. I mean, Amigo hops around on three legs when he’s feeling sorry for himself. Heston stops eating. Tilly pees on everybody’s beds. But Tobby? He never let me know he was out of sorts.

Last Monday, I took him for a last-ditch try. The appointment could have gone either way. If the vet said no chance, I wouldn’t have let him go on. She said she didn’t think steroids would work because the damage was neurological, but it might give him a bit of power in his muscles and give him his appetite back. In the end, it was easy to see that it made his muscles more relaxed, but heavier too. I had to help him every single time he got up. He was losing sensation in his legs and tail too. He wouldn’t eat on Tuesday, and nothing would tempt him, not beef, not turkey, not even a sausage. It was time.

The house has been so quiet since then, even with the great galumph that is Effel. Amigo has been more needy than usual. He stood in the rain with me when we buried Tobby in the garden and he wouldn’t come inside. I didn’t think Heston would care so much, but an energy has left the house and he definitely feels that. He’s been so flat and quiet. Tilly is just Tilly, although she did mark the occasion by peeing in one of the beds.

I said when Ralf died that there would always be a space for an old dog. There always will. I think it’s time to leave it until after Christmas, as there will be a few more guests than usual here. Tobby would no doubt have packed his bags and toddled off.

One thing is for sure… I miss those radar ears and those bright eyes, those nudges for attention and the endless company. He was such a typical shepherd – only really happy with a job to do or a bit of companionship. He was loyal and connected to me in ways that my other dogs just weren’t. In the night, all my other dogs move about and pick spots that are warm or comfortable, or cooler. Tobby always, without fail, lay by my bed. That’s the dog he was.


He had 19 months of good food, comfort and companionship. This is my favourite photo of him even though it’s the least posed – that’s maybe why it’s my favourite. He just looks so content. No ribs on show and handsome as he ever was.

As for the other stuff, my two remaining kittens were homed at our Portes Ouvertes this weekend. Last night was the first time since April that I have had only one lodger. Despite everything Effel is proving difficult to rehome. He is welcome to stay as long as he likes, but he has never felt like my dog. It’s a shame, because he’s beautiful, but Tilly avoids going out when he is outside, as his bouncing and racing without care are too much for her. There is a bristly tension between him and Heston. Heston has to tell him three or four times a day that he’s too much. Feff is so great with new dogs and such an arse with ones he knows better. Seeing him bump Amigo last week also makes me very conscious that I’ve still got two old giffers here, and although Tobby is no longer here to barge and bump, Amigo is now all but deaf and he needs a home where he feels safe.

This week, exams have finished and I have about a gazillion tasks to finish off that I started before the exam hibernation. The house couldn’t be dirtier what with the filthy weather we had last week, and it’s time I got out the mop and bucket.


This time next week we’ll be into December… can’t believe the year has gone so very quickly.

I know you won’t believe it’s true

Bit of Pulp for you this wet Monday morning. Something about those grey skies reminds me of Sheffield.

My favourite Pulp moment was when Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage when Michael Jackson was performing. All of us need a bit of that when we believe the hype of ourselves, I think. My favourite moment of all of that was the fact that when he was charged with assault, he was represented by the lovely, lovely Bob Mortimer. Surreal is not quite the word for all of that, including Michael Jackson’s performance itself.

Sometimes I find myself really missing Sheffield. I always wonder what it would have been like to have lived there as a proper grown-up. How you experience a place as a piss-poor student living in places which you can’t afford to heat is always different from how you experience it as a functioning member of society. I suspect that it is a vastly different town these days and that some town council has gone about respecting the heritage and removing the concrete. One day, I’ll come back and see you, I promise, Sheffield.

Mostly the week has been lost in marking and looking after the Tobb. A bit like my house, Tobby seems to be held together with chewing gum and string. Not quite sure what’s keeping him going. Back at the vet’s this week and hoping for something to help him manage the pain. All the twinkle has gone out of his eyes. Here’s hoping this week brings him a bit of relief. Last week not helped much by reading the great “How Dogs Love Us” by neuroscientist Gregory Berns. Actually, his job title seems to be ‘neuroeconomist’ but I don’t even know what that word means. Anyway, the book is a narrative about him training two dogs to go into an MRI scanner conscious for a functional MRI scan to see what’s going on in dogs’ brains. I won’t spoil it but I will say I spent about four hours weeping on Thursday morning in the wee hours. One thing is for sure about the next fifty years: science will reveal that animals are much smarter than we think, and that people are much dumber than we could ever have imagined. It was quite strange to realise that we are the only meat-eating primate (well, large-scale meat anyway) except for the tarsier… we’ve more in common with dogs than we think.

Anyway, onto the last quarter of my marking. Hoping to have it done by next Monday, Tobby aside. It’s another busy week and I think I’ll be spending most of it cleaning: filthy, filthy house!

Enjoy Pulp and may your Monday be as unique as Jarvis.

Thank God it’s not that simple

It’s never going to be an uplifting Monday in the week where the great LC dies, is it?

Here’s a track from one of my favourite Leonard Cohen albums, Ten New Songs, which is In My Secret Life

To be honest, when Leonard Cohen dies in the same week that Donald Trump is named President-elect of the USA, I think that kind of says it all about the universal dischord.

I think I would have to say that I mostly fell in love with Mr Cohen in 1990, with the film Pump Up The Volume. That was a quiet film of angst that appealed to every single part of the teen me. There were some great tracks in that film, from the Pixies to Henry Rollins. Music has always been the thing that spoke most to my soul, and there’s not much to wonder about a film about the role music plays in the lives of teenagers. I bought I’m Your Man off the back of that movie, and everything else followed. Whilst everyone else is singing love songs, or love gone wrong songs, I loved that these were songs that were about a different kind of love. A real love. A love that was sometimes obsessive, and often unrequited, a love that was painful and dirty, lustful and unfaithful, but a real love nonetheless. None of your cheesy ballads for Mr Leonard Cohen. It’s a bit like James – their stuff kind of touched on that weirdness of life and love that most music doesn’t. But after all, that’s the stuff that gets to me the most.

I know some people find him depressing, but I don’t really think they know him very well, except maybe for Hallelujah, which I still can’t stand to be sung by anyone else at all. It’s like they really don’t get what it’s about. There are some great singers out there though who really, really got those songs. Ian McCulloch’s Lover, Lover, Lover is amazing, and Antony Hegarty singing If It Be Your Will. Nick Cave singing Suzanne… there’s a lot of singers out there who really got Cohen. If he’s good enough for a Jarvis Cocker cover, then he’s good enough for me.

What I love most is he just kept doing great and amazing stuff. One of my favourite albums was released in 2001. And another in 1988. Another in 1974. I mean that’s some feat to turn out something that is equally as powerful at intervals like that. Definitely never, ever any filler from him.

There simply was no-one like Leonard Cohen.

I don’t think there’s Much Love to be had in a post-Trump world, is there? It’s fine to suggest that it was an angry vote, a vote against Clinton, an anti-politics vote… but whilst there are no doubt people who voted for Trump because they wanted to make a statement, just as they voted for Brexit, or they will vote for Marine Le Pen, there are a large majority of voters who truly believe in what they are promoting. I just don’t have words for when knobs like Trump come to power. All of this is the American Dream. Rage Against the Machine indeed. I feel, in the wake of Cohen, there’s going to be a lot of punk in this household over the next few months.

A crummy and grotty week we leave behind: pregnant dogs abandoned, old dogs left at the refuge, dogs handed over by shitty owners… some weeks get you more than others.

Tobby is also having a tough time of it. Even in a week, he has gone down a long way – no longer my shepherd, following me everywhere, inspecting everything I do. Most of the time, he lies by my feet at the table if I am working. Sometimes, he gets up and has a totter about, but he is not the Tobby he was even two weeks ago. I’m glad for the exam marking and to be able to spend time on the couch with my oldest of dudes. It’s crap when you’re grieving them before they’ve even gone. Every painful fall, every tottering step makes me hurt too inside. Often, he doesn’t even get up to come to bed any more until he’s absolutely sure that I’m staying up there and not going to come back down again.

So it was nice yesterday to spend a couple of hours with some great people and their wonderful dogs. Effel had an absolute ball. Somewhere in all the crappiness, you have to make a little space for nice stuff. Nice stuff, nice people, and cake. Not often I use an Oxford comma, but I felt it needed one just there.

Great too to have three new students start last week, all super lovely and amazingly keen. I don’t think teaching GCSE or A level will ever get boring for me.

Anyway, let’s hope for a week of loveliness – sometimes you just have to look a bit harder to find it in amid the crap.

It’s Scientific

Well, two in a row… aren’t you lucky? Bit of Talking Heads this morning with Wild Wild Life

Plus, bonus, you get a bit of John Goodman in there as well. In fact, I could happily have just run a few John Goodman clips, because I love him as much as this song. Walter in The Big Lebowski has to be my favourite character of his. I see a lot of myself in that character. One day, I’ll get a gun out of a bowling bag and be yelling if someone breaks the rules, I can see it coming.

If John Goodman was a dog, he’d have been my Ralfie. That dog always put me in a good mood.

It’s been a week of sorting stuff out before the exam marking restarts, trying to make sure the garden is neat enough to withstand the rains and cold weather that’s on its way and make sure the house is tolerably clean enough to ignore for three weeks until the marking period finishes. There were two days – two whole days! – where the garden actually looked tidy. Then we had hammering rain on Friday night and it’s back to looking a bit sad and forlorn again.


The early mornings since the clocks went back last week have been spectacularly autumnal, be it mists and fogs or clear skies and hazy morning glow.

700 701

Yesterday gave in to soggy, foggy autumn bleakness, which is timely. No point having nice weather if you’ve got to stay inside and mark now, is there?

So what’s to love this Monday morning?

Much love to the fabulous family who are adopting Mimire the blind labrador. You just know when you take in a dog like Mim that he’ll be with you for some time. I was quite prepared for it to be a very long time indeed. But there you go. He is a super-sweet dog with a giant heart of love and loveliness, so there’s lots of reasons to fall in love with him.

The Feff is still here.

In fact, I thought it would be easier to rehome him than it’s proving to be. French people want a guard dog, and I don’t want him to live outside in a car lot or a garden all on his own. English people think he’s either a dobie or a rottweiler. As it turns out, the requests to see him are getting more and more ridiculous. I won’t even tell you about the man who turned up here on Saturday afternoon having harassed me all Saturday morning. I was so cross I almost let Heston out to shout at him. I wouldn’t mind but I’d been perfectly reasonable about sorting out a visit for Sunday. I found myself wondering if the man was confused and angry because his memory was going or something. Either he was really, really bad at listening, super-used to getting his own way (he’d called on Friday when I was en route to the refuge to demand I take Effel… and even if I had had the call earlier, it’d have still been a big fat ‘no’) or whether he actually was just confused and angry. Whichever reason he had, not a good home for the Feff. I’d have adopted him myself if I thought he had no other option.

What annoys me are all the people who think that ‘no cats’ is a ‘maybe cats’ or ‘no kids’ is just a kind of exception they can break. Believe me, if I thought he could live with cats or kids, I’d say so. They’re two big impediments in his adoption. I don’t just make random stuff up for kicks. I know people think they are better at training dogs than they are… and it’s always the dog’s fault if something goes wrong.

Not much love for that!

Much love though for the Wobbly Bob, who is finding the autumn impossibly hard and I’m finding it tough to watch him fade. It’s like grieving him before he’s gone. I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t notice the little differences that tell me how hard he’s finding things, how he can barely stand to finish his whole breakfast (and won’t give in and have a relaxing lie-down to eat, like Mimire did!) and he falls sometimes down the step between the bedroom and the kitchen, how he falls sometimes in the garden even with nobody around. Yesterday, he didn’t get up to welcome me back from my walk. I find myself looking at him every so often just to check he’s still breathing. His breathing is so shallow and so slow these days that I can be watching him for half a minute or more before I am happy he’s just sleeping. He finds it hard to lie down, so he stands until he has to give in, and then he finds it hard to get up.

Yet Friday, he still got too close to a visiting dog, enough to elicit a bit of a grumble from the other. He’s still a menace with no social boundaries. Love that dog so much. We’re spending as much time on the couch together as we can, just so I can enjoy those last Tobby cuddles.

I also finished my fifth ISCP project, which was about appropriate dog play & mental stimulation – I was going to do something for Hagrid but in the end decided to do something for poor play-deprived Feff. No wonder he has so many issues. This week, he decided nipping the lawnmower was an appropriate herding thing to do. I’m not sure how much I’ll manage to do of assignment six and seven this month, although one of them will hopefully be finished next Sunday and the other will follow. That will leave me half-way through! I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying it. I really miss stuff that keeps my brain sharp and gives me a bit of focus.

Well, marking starts today, so I’d better look lively. Much more to squash into the week than usual.