Tuesday, 30 December 2014

It's a Dog's Life

As we gallop towards the New Year of 2015, I need to have some sort of emotional closure regarding the passing of our beloved pooch, Trudy Beagle.  So, if you are not a dog devotee, you might want to click off this blog right now.  However, if you are a pup person, then I hope you’ll stay and read to the end.
          Trudy Beagle was a rescue hound.  When she came into our lives she was two-and-a-half years old.  She was completely untrained, and as mad as a hatter.  Back then our children were six, eight and ten.  Fortunately they were borderline crazy too, so Trudy instantly merged with her ‘pack’.
          We decided to plunge straight into the deep end with our new family member and, as we waved good-bye to the anxious kennel owner, set off to Greenwich Park.  Upon arrival, my son insisted he was responsible enough to hold the lead.  He was carted along for a couple of minutes by a deliriously happy baying hound whose sole intent was to cover as much of Greenwich Park in the shortest time possible.  You could almost hear our beagle’s mind computing all the possibilities of this adventure: squirrels to chase…other dogs to bark at…picnickers and food.  Oh yeah – FOOD!
          And with that Trudy Beagle lugged my son under a horse chestnut tree.  The ground was littered with conkers, many still in their prickly green cases.  Trudy Beagle’s soft paddy paws encountered a zillion needles.  She shrieked in pain startling my son who promptly dropped the leash.  Within a nano-second all hell broke loose.  Unrestrained, our latest family member shot off, grabbing unguarded sandwiches from picnickers and delighting in her new found freedom.
          ‘Stop that dog!’ my husband shouted as he launched into an Olympic sprint and gave chase.
          But nobody could catch her.  Trudy Beagle was like an unguided missile, zig-zagging through trees, ducking under bushes, and only breaking cover to bat her sandy eyelashes at a handsome spaniel walking obediently to heel with its master.
          ‘Stop…dog…!’ gasped my husband, now totally puce in the face.  Fortunately, while the spaniel and our beagle got acquainted via the art of bottom sniffing and waggy tails, the spaniel’s owner bent down and grabbed our hound’s lead.
          ‘Oh, thank God,’ I cried, finally catching up, three bawling children in tow.  ‘We thought we’d never retrieve her.’
          ‘What a lovely little dog,’ said the spaniel’s owner. ‘Had her long?’
          ‘About an hour,’ my husband replied.
          In 2003 I took delivery of a top of the range Nissan X-Trail with sumptuous cream leather seats.  We were only just back from our annual summer holiday and our pooch needed collecting from the kennel.  As I rolled up, the owner eyed my car incredulously.
          ‘You’re going to allow your beagle in that?’ she asked, goggle-eyed.
          ‘Absolutely,’ I assured, ‘Trudy will go in the boot and be just fine.  Look, there’s a dog guard firmly in place.’
          At this point I would like to give a tip for anybody looking to have a beagle.  Dog guards don’t work.  Instead, invest in a dog crate.  Our beagle had the dog guard down within five minutes.  By this point I was driving along a duel carriageway with no hard shoulder to pull over on, while a black-tan-and-white-blur bounced around the interior and hurled herself at the glass.  I had electric windows going up and down, the seat belt alarm bonging away and my vision obscured as a hyperventilating canine lunatic finally settled on my lap with two paws on the steering wheel.  Not long afterwards, I exchanged my posh car for a not-so-posh dog-proof Citroen Picasso.
          Over the years, many, many excursions took place with Greenwich Park being a firm favourite.  Our children would run down steep hills yelling with delight, a small tri-coloured dog barking joyfully at their heels.  There would be picnics and bike rides and scooter fun and races, and always always always Trudy Beagle would be in the thick of it.  On one occasion we came across an artificial lake with little boats for hire.  Our children, older now, jumped in a boat and began to row while Mr V and I stood on the side hanging on to our pooch.  But Trudy Beagle was having none of it – she wasn’t being left out of her pack!  Seconds later she’d slipped her collar and jumped into the water.  All we could see was a tan head and black nose swimming in a straight line towards our children.  Minutes later she was on board and causing squeals of protest as a million drops of water were sprayed everywhere.
          Trudy Beagle endeared many.  She also managed to annoy a good few too.  One rather brisk and breezy day we went for a proper boat ride on the Thames.  Thoroughly over-excited, our beagle sat ram-rod straight, ears floating out horizontally as the wind whipped about.  She barked non-stop.  As we sailed past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the Tower of London, none of the tourists could hear any of the history coming over the tannoy thanks to incessant yaps and woofs.
          ‘Somebody shurrup that dang dog,’ drawled a pissed off American.
          As our children grew and grew, so did our beagle.  But whereas our children grew upwards, our beagle grew outwards.  Beagles are obsessed with food.  I can always remember my brother-in-law visiting and staring at the dog.
          ‘Has Trudy’s head shrunk?’ he asked.
          It was at that point I knew she had to go on a diet.  Over the years our pooch stole many a breakfast, dinner and tea at any given opportunity.  By the age of seven, she’d finally learnt the words sit, stay and down.  Training a beagle is a lifelong task and there’s no guarantee you will crack it.  But for a beagle, ours was very well behaved.  She had pretty good recall, provided there wasn’t a rabbit about.  She was also incredibly sweet natured and tolerant enduring three young children man-handling her, including having her claws painted by our daughters and being dressed in doll’s clothes and put to bed in a dolly cradle.  When our children turned into teenagers, Trudy Beagle was more than happy to loll around listening to a mash of Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine and Heavy Metal.  Possibly the din contributed to her deafness in later years.
          We didn’t realise how deaf our pooch had become until a couple of years ago.  We were back at our favourite haunt, Greenwich Park, and had permitted Trudy off the lead for a little while.  Our calls completely failed to attract her attention.  I can still remember her standing stock still and looking around as if to say, ‘Where have Mum and Dad gone?’  It was then that we realised her eyesight wasn’t so hot either.
          Indeed, the only hot thing about Trudy Beagle in her later years was her ability to parp and empty a room in seconds.  Just last Christmas my brother-in-law (never a dog lover and in particular not a Trudy Beagle lover) was reduced to pinching his nose with his thumb and forefinger and saying, ‘Somebody do something about that dog’s bottom.’
          My children were secretly delighted as they weren’t particularly fond of their uncle.
          Of course, a dog’s parp is very useful if you happen to parp yourself and need somebody to blame.
          ‘Gosh, that dog’s parping again,’ said Mr V on one occasion, flapping his hand about but looking decidedly guilty.
          ‘Funny that,’ I remarked, ‘because she’s out in the garden.’
          And then, just days before this Christmas, our pooch had what I can only describe as a funny turn.  She was instantly whisked off to the late night animal hospital.  They were a bit baffled but decided she’d had a bad arthritis attack.  Indeed, Trudy Beagle did seem to recover and within forty-eight hours was back to demanding food, scenting out Christmas presents and unwrapping them, and even rootling out her doggy Christmas stocking.  I can still remember inwardly smiling before putting on my stern face and saying, ‘Not until Christmas Day!’
          How I wish I’d let her have that stocking there and then.  Our darling golden oldie never did get to open it.  Two days before Christmas she had another funny turn resulting in some sort of seizure.  Suddenly we were back at the animal hospital, this time with our children.  The vet suspected a brain tumour.  Our girl was thirteen-and-a-half years old.  That’s meant to be ninety-four in human years.  It was time to say good-bye.
          We couldn’t stand the idea of having her put to sleep in the exam room with all its antiseptic smells, although to be honest our beagle looked beyond caring.  As the vet said, the lights were on, but nobody was home.  We went through to a little sitting room where Trudy Beagle was made comfortable on a blanket at our feet.  We patted her head and stroked her faded tri-coloured coat, but she didn’t engage, instead staring vacantly at the wall.  As the vet began to inject pink liquid into our pooch’s paw, we all began to cry.  The pats and strokes became more urgent, tears plopping onto fur.  Within seconds our beagle’s head drooped, her chin finally resting on her front paws as she went to eternal sleep.
          ‘I’ll leave you all together for a little while,’ the vet murmured, and disappeared through a discreet door at the back of the room.
          We spent ten minutes with our lovely girl, who simply looked as though she was resting.  We continued to pat and stroke her, and reminisced about the day we first got her.  Finally we stood up to leave.  It was at that point our dog parped.  And despite our tears, we laughed.  It was as if Trudy Beagle was saying, ‘I might be gone, but I’ll never be forgotten.’
          And she never will be.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Lurgy Lament

Christmas is almost upon us.  Everybody wants the day to be perfect.  In our quest for perfection, we plot, plan, scheme (if necessary) and manipulate (no? You’ve never manipulated? What’s wrong with you!) to get everybody in the right place, at the right time for this perfect moment.
          It is Sod’s Law you will come down with the lurgy twenty-four hours’ beforehand.  If not you, then your kids.  Or your husband.  Or, if none of these, the person who was due to roast the turkey develops a temperature that roasts them instead.  And this lurgy-fest comes about by being sneezed upon by other lurgy-infested souls.  The lurgy is everywhere.  On the bus.  The train.  In the queue at WH Smith.  And especially the supermarket.
          Last week I saw a female shopper –without a word of a lie – lean against the fish freezer as she coughed for England.  She then pulled an overworked tissue out of her pocket, and trumpeted into it until it was a soggy mess.  But the real ewww factor was watching her open the fish cabinet with snotty fingers.  And it didn’t stop there.  She then touched several food boxes as she ummed and ahhed whether to have haddock, cod, plaice or pollock.  So when the next unsuspecting shopper came along and grabbed a box of Captain Birds Eye, it would be pretty much a foregone conclusion that the consumer would be dining on fish fingers, chips and a big fat virus infection.  Some people’s cluelessness at how not to spread germs is mind-boggling.  Either they are very na├»ve, or don’t give a stuff.
          I’ve been very smug about staying virus free.  Indeed, my entire family are currently all wonderfully fit.  However, the Law of Sod was lurking and decided that instead of the family and me getting poorly, it would be the dog instead.
          My poor darling pooch.  One minute she was enjoying walkies, swiping toast and barking at the postman, the next she was lying on the floor with all four paws in the air. She was so bad, we didn’t just think it was the Law of Sod who’d come calling, we also worried it might be the Grim Reaper.  The emergency vet was baffled and decided to treat her for a severe arthritis attack.  My sister – an ace kinesiologist – treated her for a nasty bacterial infection.  Within hours our pooch was responding and seems to have thankfully turned the corner.  It will be a little while before she’s back to swiping toast and hassling the postman, but the main thing is, she will be with us for Christmas.
          So whether you’re gargling with TCP, popping Paracetamol, prostrate on the sofa with lurgy, coughing until your eyeballs stream, or nursing a poorly pet, let’s all agree that it’s not going to stop us having a great Christmas.  And the Law of Sod can chuff off because Christmas is what we make it!  So I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.  Oh, and could you pass me that box of tissues?  I think I have a sniffle.
          Which reminds me. What do you get if you cross a comedian with a germ?  A sick joke…

Saturday, 13 December 2014

It's a Wrap

Last week a friend told me she would be spending the weekend wrapping all her Christmas presents.
          ‘Goodness, you’re organised,’ I said, privately wondering why the rush.
          ‘After all, Christmas is only a couple of weeks away,’ she added.
          And in that moment I froze.  A couple of weeks?  Surely not!  I grabbed my desk diary and peered at the date.  Dear Lord.  She was right.  Who stole December?  In fact, who stole the entire year?
          That evening I was a whirling dervish of activity.  Delving into the drawers under the bed, I pulled out six rolls of assorted gaily-patterned Christmas wrap.  They bounced onto the carpet along with a zillion colourful bows and a jumbo-sized roll of Sellotape.  The next three hours were spent crouching, leaning, stretching, and hunkering back on heels as I wrapped, scissored, taped and stacked gifts for my family.  My concentration was briefly interrupted by the cat playing with curly decorative ribbon and the dog thinking this was a cue to unwrap all my hard work.  By the time I’d finished, my legs were shaking.  I kid you not. My present-wrapping contortions had to be the equivalent of a work-out.  There was even the sweat on my brow to prove it.  Although that could have been induced by the realisation of exactly what I’ve splashed out this year.  No wonder the money tree at the bottom of my garden is always stripped bare.
          But at least I can honestly say I’m now ready for Christmas.  Hurrah!  I just hope everybody likes their presents.  Which reminds me.
          The Father Christmas at the local shopping mall was somewhat surprised when Mary, a young lady, walked up and sat on his lap.  Now we all know Father Christmas doesn’t usually take requests from adults, but she smiled really politely, so he asked her the same question all the children were asked.
          ‘What would you like for Christmas?’
          ‘Something for my mother, please,’ Mary replied.
          ‘Something for your mother, eh?  Well, that’s very thoughtful of you,’ smiled Father Christmas.  ‘What would you like me to bring her?’
          Without missing a beat Mary replied, ‘A son-in-law…’

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Wheelie Good Deal

I have a beautiful car.  Well, it looks beautiful when it’s clean and vacuumed.  However, within twenty-four hours of being valeted you can guarantee the sun will go into hiding, dark clouds will gather, and my car will get caught in a cloud burst of biblical proportions leaving it muddy and generally disgusting.  Thanks to dire weather in recent weeks, I’ve been driving a filthy Mercedes about.
          ‘Mum, isn’t it about time you cleaned your car?’ asked my daughter as she gingerly climbed in, avoiding the grubby sills.
          ‘Yes,’ I agreed as we set off on the college run, ‘but I’m too tight to pay ten quid and then watch the heavens open and make it dirty again.’
          That evening, as I was driving home under a starless sky, a motorist flashed me.  I checked my lights.  Nope.  Not on full beam.  A few minutes later, it happened again.  Once home, I looked at the headlights.  No bulbs out.  I decided to book the car into the garage and get the headlight alignment checked.  The following morning I rang Mercedes.
          ‘Hellair?’ said the posh woman on the other end of the phone.
          ‘Hellair,’ I replied.  (I can be posh too.)  ‘I need my lights sorting.’  (Sometimes my poshness slips.)
          ‘Yarse, okay. I’ll book an appointment for you, Madam. We’ll also do a courtesy vehicle health check followed by a free valet.’
          ‘A free valet?’ I beamed.  Deep joy.  My car was going to be cleaned inside and out at long last, and it wouldn’t cost a penny.  ‘Yer on.  I mean, yarse please.’
          In due course I visited the garage.  Ninety minutes later the mechanic sought me out.  ‘I’ve dun yer lights, luv.’  (He wasn’t posh.)  ‘And I’ve dun yer visual health check.  Three of your tyres are knackered.’
          ‘What do you mean, knackered?’ I gulped in alarm.
          ‘I’m amized the Old Bill ain’t pulled yer over with the front one, and the two at the back are cracked to buggery.’  (Like I said, he wasn’t posh.)
          ‘Cracked to–?  Right.’  I pondered.  On the bright side, at least I was having a free valet.  ‘How much for the new tyres?’
          ‘If yer let me do it now, it’ll only be four ’undred an’ fifty quid.’
          I nearly fell off my chair.  ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll get a second quote.’
          ‘Oh.’  The mechanic looked put out.  ‘Okay. I’ll bring yer vehicle round to the front for yer.’
          Needless to say, when I was reunited with my car, it hadn’t been valeted.  Marvellous.  But you know what?  Every cloud has a silver lining.  The following day, whilst driving through an unlit country lane, I hit a deep pot hole and had an immediate tyre blow out.  Thank the Lord it wasn’t one of the brand new tyres the mechanic had wanted to fit.  I limped home and called a local tyre company who promptly came out and fitted three new Firestones at half the price.  The new tyres look beautiful.  All black and shiny.  Shame about the rest of the car.  Yes, it still needs cleaning.  Which reminds me.  What part of a car is the laziest?  The wheels, because they are always tyred.,,