A Home for Dash

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This is Dash.

Yes, we have extended our menagerie further and adopted a rescue staffy. And I’m classing this under Doing Good. Do Good. DOGood. DOG. Anyway.

At the beginning of April we were at a friend’s house for lunch. They had invited another couple too who had brought their rather stunning black spaniel. Husband and I had already talked about wanting a dog, but it not really being possible with both of us working and, until recently, living in rented accommodation.

I asked how the spaniel owners managed, both being in full time work, and they revealed that there are ABUNDANT dog care services in London for worker bees who can’t always be at home.

That was pretty much it for me. The dog-shaped lightbulb over my head went on, and that night (while my husband gently, practically and pointlessly argued against the idea) I scoured the internet for a rescue dog.

I found Rescue Remedies and, through them, I found Dash (then named Chilli).

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Rescue Remedies are a wonderful charity who take in dogs on death row (so those about to be put down in other kennels due to no fault of their own). If you can support them, please please do.

Dash had been found wandering stray, was unchipped and unclaimed. He was days away from being put down by his first kennel when RR took him in. He was already very well trained and well behaved, loving the company of other dogs and people. He was small and handsome and I already loved him. I loved him just from a picture and short bio, just like the old internet romances of yore. This was it. He was the one.

I convinced my husband to go and meet him the following weekend. He argued it wasn’t a good time. I argued that it was the perfect time. We had no kids, no holidays booked, owned our own place with a garden and a park a stone’s throw away. I had found a fabulous dog walker, Diane, who could take him on for the three days a week I was at work.

“I’m not getting a dog this weekend, I tell you that now for nothing.” Is my favourite thing I keep quoting back to him, as that Saturday, after a jaunt around the woods in Guildford to get to know Dash, we returned home with a rather skinny new dog.

Kennels had taken their toll. He had lost a lot of weight from the stress, his tail was covered in cuts from him spinning and bashing it on the bars, and he had sores on his hocks. He also moulted. A LOT.

Bringing him home was nerve wracking. No matter how he’d behaved in the kennels, we didn’t know how he’d be in a home environment. Would he stay house trained? Would he tear our furniture to shreds? Would he get aggressive after being through so much?

Dash's first night, snoring away

Dash’s first night, snoring away

That’ll be a no then.

We were very lucky. He slept through the night on his own in the living room, ate what he was given, chewed what he was supposed to and wee’d outside. He was very affectionate, wanting to sit across our laps if he could, wanting to be everywhere we went.

I’m not going to say there haven’t been challenges, it was stressful just opening our home to a very strong animal who’s background we didn’t know, but we’ve had a very smooth ride. He even gets on with our rabbits!

Welcoming his master home

Welcoming his master home

Rescuing a Staffy in particular has been a challenge in itself. Even with him being so sweet and well behaved (and the Staffy being known as the Nanny dog due to their good nature), people just react differently to a Staff than they do to other dogs.

Everyone knows the stigma attached to bull breeds, and even though there has been some amazing campaigning over the last few years (Battersea’s Softer than You Think Campaign, Cesar Milan’s blog and battle to end Pit Bull prejudice, the One Million Pibble March in the US, the change to the Dangerous Dogs Act to shift responsibility away from the dog and towards the owner), people are still nervous of them.

Firstly, several of the professional dog walkers I talked to wouldn’t take on bull breeds. One even had the audacity to tell me I wouldn’t find one who did (Diane not only takes them on, she has two lovely rescue Staffs of her own).

Then, keeping him on the lead while in the park (as he still needs to learn his new name) meant people thought he was dangerous and gave us a wide berth. And when he was running free, some people would put their own dogs back on the lead to move away from him.

Taking down a dog three times his size

Taking down a dog three times his size

Chilling with his Patterdale pal

Chilling with his Patterdale pal

 

Staffys also have a big ol’ bark, even when they’re saying they want to play, so that took some getting used to, and it can be tricky to convince strangers he’s a good dog when he’s making a racket. I get it, they’re strong dogs.

Just to add my opinion to all the noise, of all the dogs I’ve met, Staffys have been the most consistently friendly and soppy. I’ve met grumpy spaniels, noisy greyhounds, shy labradors, lazy terriers. You just can’t stereotype a whole breed.

Anyway. Staffys can definitely add me to their fan base. Dash is such a delight, so funny and so full of love.

I highly recommend rescuing rather than buying (maybe spend more than a week deciding to make the commitment though!). There are so many dogs in need of homes. If you can’t take on a dog long term, then look into fostering for a few weeks. If you can’t do that, then just volunteer your time to walk dogs at the kennels. When we took Dash home he’d only been walked twice a week for months due to lack of volunteers.

So the next time a sunny weekend comes up and you wish you had a dog pal you could take for a jaunt in the woods and fields, you can do just that.

Happy Home

Happy Home

 

The Musician

christmas

Last month, on the 1st of May, my Father would have been 100 years old.

Yes, 100. Yes, Father not Grandfather.

Yes, he nearly made it.

Here’s something from the archives I wrote when he was 96:


In the greenhouse, 1988ish

In the greenhouse, 1988ish

 

My Dad is 96 years old. Most people – after squinting and counting on their fingers, working out how old he was when I was conceived (he was 70 when I was born, FYI) – react by timidly asking how he’s doing. “And is he… you know.”

Short of a few marbles? Bedridden? 

I like to answer with stories, so they can decide for themselves. For example, a few months ago he had a little camera pushed through a hole in his abdomen with local anaesthetic . The next day, because my Mum wouldn’t let him go shopping, he did pull ups on the kitchen door frame to annoy her.

Years ago, in his 80s, he had one of his hips replaced as it couldn’t keep up with him. He was told to rest for at least six weeks. Only one went by and he was off up the road on his crutches to do the weekly shop.

A couple of hours passed and we started to worry. Then, a phone call:

“I’ve had a bit of a fall in Sainsbury’s and they’re all panicking because I’m an old man so they’ve called an ambulance.”

“Oh god!” Mum cried. “We’ll come and get you.”

“No, no I’ll get a cab back – I’m fine.”

“No I think we’d better come and get you.” So off we went to the hospital, and they pulled back the curtain around his bed, and there he was: trousers torn, glasses broken, hair all in disarray.

Turns out he’d been hit by a car outside of the supermarket and broken his other leg.

In answer to the aforementioned questions, yes to one and no to the other.

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Anyway, as well as clearly being a lunatic, he’s quite wonderful. He was hauled in and out of school from the age of 11 to travel the world and sing on stage with his father. He played the drums and piano and sang in bands. He has brilliant stories to tell. He has a fantastic moustache.

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Slappin' the base, 2010

Slappin’ the base, 2010

He lead his own big band from the 1940s until I was born, in 1984. Then, 25 years later, he got up on stage again and conducted to cheers that echoed through Birmingham Town Hall. He was brilliant. I am so, so lucky to have been able to see him perform, despite my rather late entry to his life.
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That’s him, second from the left. With the cumulous white hair.

On the cover of a magazine, top right

On the cover of a magazine, top right


He was 97 when he was finally beaten by cancer in a small room at St Helier Hospital in London. I wrote a sad, but hopeful story about it. His funeral was two weeks later and was a lovely humanist affair with friends and family all getting a chance to stand and speak about him if they wanted, and the wake was filled with happy memories and laughter and his songs playing on the record player.
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At the funeral I stood up and spoke about his strength and read his favourite poem – Invictus by William Earnest Henley.
 
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 
 
It was something he could recite word for word, even when he couldn’t remember where his watch was.
This was 2011, and my mother spent nearly three years agonising over what to do with his ashes. A gravestone didn’t suit him or our family. We thought he’d like to be scattered in the garden but with him gone my mother sadly had to downsize and leave the home they shared for more than 40 years. We came close to putting him in a window box or plant pot so he could still sit outside but go wherever mum went (which is what he always did).
Finally, she had an epiphany. A park bench, instead of a grave. A view of the rose garden, instead of a cemetery. He would have loved it.
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As for the ashes, they’re still sitting in the box in my mum’s new home. I don’t think he’d have minded, he liked to be out of the way. Plus it means I still get to say hello whenever I’m over there.
And anyway. Whenever I picture him he’s still sunbathing in the garden.
Snoozing

Make More. Do Good.

Exactly

I don’t usually make resolutions. They don’t work for me. I tend to be better with deadlines rushing towards me than promises and pacts hurtling into the past.

But this year (and FOREVER) I’ll be trying to stick to the following simple resolutions ambitions: Make more. Do good.

I already mentioned making things in my Christmas post. The plan was to make something new at least once a week, whether a cake or a greeting card. And so far I’ve been sticking to it – I’ll write about my new paper-based habits in more detail soon.

The second ambition – do good – is in full swing too.

Before Christmas I decided to put some gift bags together for the homeless. I just got a bit fed up of spending £5, £10 on secret santa gifts that would probably never be used/looked at again and feeling like the money could be far better spent elsewhere. I haven’t really told anyone about it, as it’s difficult not to sound like you’re crowing. But I wanted to put details out there in the hope that it encourages others to do something similar, or do something.

Turns out you can put a pretty good selection of things together for £10 if you know where to shop.

1. Bag – £1.44

I wanted to make sure I got something relatively strong and weather resistant, but also easy to fold away when not being used. I also needed it to be cheap. These drawstring gym bags were perfect. I bought 10 and they were delivered pretty sharpish too.

2. Clothes – £5

Primark do a great range of thermal accessories in Winter. I was tempted to buy some of their fleeces but in the end opted for gloves (£2), hat (£2) and reinforced socks (5 for £5) so I could buy 10 of everything, rather than just 2 or 3 fleeces.

If I’d known how horrendously damp the weather was going to be, I’d have picked up some of those tourist rain ponchos too.

3. Food and water – £2.31

This was the hardest bit. I wanted to fill bags with tins and sandwiches and biscuits and all sorts but, I needed to choose things that would last more than a few days and also keep it easy to carry.

Water – 30p per 500 ml bottle from multipack

Clementine x 2 – 35p each from Tesco

Cereal bar x 3 – 32p each from Tesco

Dairy Milk – 35p each from multipack

4. Toiletries – £1.44

Again, there were a lot of things I could have bought under this heading, but I tried to keep it simple. A packet of anti-bacterial wipes (85p) and a pocket pack of tissues (59p). I thought about buying travel toothbrushes and toothpaste, or a small shower gel. I might do that next time.

Total – £10.19 per bag

Once I’d put the bags together I just needed to hand them out! This was pretty scary, and I wasn’t sure what to say to people. What if they got angry? What if they just wanted money? What if I totally regretted what I was doing?

I took four bags on my first trip and walked from Waterloo to Farringdon and it didn’t take long to find someone out on the street. I approached a young guy tucking himself under a blanket just outside of Waterloo station. I thrust a bag out at him, feeling absurdly British and awkward, and said “Do you mind if I give you this? It’s just a hat and gloves and stuff.”

He said “Oh yeah, anything would be great.” So I handed the bag over and told him to please take it, at which point he looked at me with such earnestness and said “What? Everything?” and I just about managed to HOLD THE TEARS IN. Jesus.

The second guy was at the North end of Waterloo Bridge. He looked quite suspicious of me when he took it but I wished him Merry Christmas and went on my way and he called out thank you which was nice of him.

The third was sat with his dog at the foot of a tree on Aldwych and I then wished I’d made up some pet friendly bags too with biscuits and a chew toy or something.

But that’s the thing, the more bags I’ve handed out, the more things I’ve thought of that I could have included. There is always something more you can give, something more you can do.

And for Summer there are still plenty of simple things that can be handed out. Sunglasses, sun lotion and water would be well appreciated for a start.

I really urge everyone to do what they can. You can start with just buying the Big Issue, or buy an extra cup of tea when commuting and give it to someone. Or you can give without spending anything extra; take an old coat, blanket or whatever with you on your way to work and just hand it out.

It’s so easy to give, help and do good. So please do.

Smelly Candles – Juliette At Home

Summer Pudding

Summer Pudding

A quick note to tell you I can’t stop sniffing my hallway.

These scented candles by Juliette At Home are incredible. They give off a rich, but not overpowering, aroma whether lit or not (I find some candles don’t seem to smell unless they just been blown out). The options are based around old fashioned English nostalgia; Lemon Drizzle, Butterscotch Sundae, Cucumber Sandwiches!

It was a touch choice between Summer Pudding and Fresh Cut Grass, but this weather has made me long for Spring so Fresh Cut Grass it was. It even came with a recipe for homemade strawberry jam on the label.

They’re £15 online or, while stocks last, on sale for £9 at the South Bank Centre shop. Go, go go!