Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Dog Love.

Ten things I've learnt about dogs in seven days.

Britain is a nation of dog owners. We simply love them. I don't mind them, but I know Jack Russell about them because when I was growing up we had cats, a lizard called Gnasher, a mouse, and too many rabbits (that’s a whole other story) but we never had a dog. Not only have I never owned a dog, I’ve never been in the park with one, or fed one, or picked one up. So when my friend goes to New York for a week, leaving me in charge of her six-month old Miniature Schnauzer called Archie, I’m on a bit of a learning curve. A steep one. 

One: Stuff

There’s loads. Together with the little dog, my friend turns up with dog food, treats, bowls, brushes, toys, leads, a bed, a big cage and most ominously of all, ‘poo bags’. I know dogs poo - I live on a road near a common in south London, for God’s sake - but I’d rather not think about it. Someone once told me that when it's your own dog's poo it’s like dealing with your baby’s, but I’m sceptical, and anyway this isn’t my dog, let alone my baby. I’ll be coming back to the poo.

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" says my lovely friend, heading for the door as I stand with her dog in my arms.

"Yes," I say. "Just try me." 

Two: Clingy

The second thing I learn about puppies is that they're needy. I may have briefly felt that excited at the sight of someone coming back into a room after a ten minute absence, but if I was I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter how many times I leave and return to the kitchen each time the dog’s reaction is the same: orgasmic. At first this pleases me. After a while it wears me down. I have to sit for ten minutes to cuddle him down from his high. I begin to instruct family members to retrieve things for me. “You’ll have to go and make me a cup of coffee, I’m afraid,” I tell Husband in the morning. “And your own. I haven’t the time.”

Three: Nosh

I am instructed to keep Archie on strict rations: three meagre meals each day, consisting of dry balls which have been soaked in boiling water and left to stand for ten minutes. Consequently he is permanently half-starved. He becomes hysterical at the sound of food hitting the bowl. Making him wait a further ten minutes while his balls steep seems particularly cruel. For both of us.

He scoffs these meals down really fast. Aside from these he is allowed treats as rewards, for following instructions and… nothing. That’s it. Nothing else. No wonder he patrols the kitchen, hoovering up every morsel he can find, licking sticks in the garden, the dirty plates in the dishwasher, eating leaves and snails and slugs, with the very same tongue that licks my face. Eugh.

Dog days. 

Four: Walking the dog

"You don't have to walk him every day,” says my lovely friend, “he's only little.” For me, though, dogs and walking go together like sausage (dogs) and mash. If I should ever get one (and I’m thinking about it) the walking bit will be a big part of the attraction. I therefore embark on dog walking with gusto, taking Archie out as soon as I can.

I’m back in ten minutes. The whole thing is incredibly stressful. Neither I nor the dog know what we’re doing. The puppy is excited by everything. He whines the minute we leave the house, straining to get to the common at the end of the road. I daren’t let him off the lead. He wraps it round my legs and I nearly go arse over tit. He sniffs round trees in circles, getting us both tangled up.

On the common he flies at things: a leaf in the wind, a small child, a pram with a small child in it, and worst of all, other dogs. I don’t know where to look. It's dog eat dog out there. They sniff each other’s genitalia. And worse. Or better. Depending how you look at it. As it were. 

There appears to be some sort of sniffing hierarchy, which, since I am walking a puppy, I am at the bottom of. It turns out, having a man in possession of a Great Dane lick your puppy dog’s bum is a tad shaming. I am being vicariously felt up. In public.

Five: Poo

The first ones happen in the garden and I don’t notice for several hours. It's a hot day so the poo dries out, which is a blessing when I come to pick it up. On the common it’s another matter. Hot on the heels of the licking episode, Archie crouches over a rough piece of grass and excrement descends from his tiny arse like Mr Whippy ice cream from a nozzle, only with the colour and consistency of chicken pate, warm chicken pate. This brings me out in a cold sweat. When trying to pick it up using the ‘poo bag’ as a glove, while holding him on a tight leash, he pulls me over and I mistime the lunge, getting shit all over my upper hand. After this I put Archie in the dog house, but only metaphorically.

Six: Conversations

We only have them about the dog. Here’s one...

Me: “Are there only Miniature Schnauzers? Where are the actual ones? You never see full sized ones.

“Maybe there aren’t any,” says son.

“There must be,” I say. “Every dog is descended from a bigger one, in his lineage. That dog’s grandad is a wolf, if you look back far enough.”

“There is no way that dog is related to a wolf,” says son, as Archie crunches down on a snail.

“He is,” I say.

“In that case I am related to amoeba,” says son.

“You are,” I say.

Seven: The rules

We're the boss. We don't allow him upstairs. We make him eat after we do. We tell him off if he nips us, which he does when he’s excited. He goes to bed when we say. He sleeps in a cage. In short, we don't take no mess. His is literally a dog’s life.


Eight: Love

No one will ever love you like a dog does, and yet that love is transferable. All of a sudden this dog is my best friend. Just take a look at them there eyes. His love is intoxicating, addictive, brilliant. I have his undivided attention. He follows me everywhere. He lies on me. He licks me. He looks longingly at me. He rolls over when I command and loves it when I rub his tummy. It’s everything I ever wanted. The only problem is that I can’t leave him even for one sodding minute.

Nine: Lessons

In a nutshell I learn that “on a short leash” and “wolfing it down” have other meanings. Or maybe, I learn what they really mean. 

Love E x


P.S. And Ten: Caring for Archie wasn't so doggone bad but I think I’ll get a kitten. Cats are less hassle, and bright.

Bow wow wow - do you wanna kiss then?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

This Old House.

The house stands empty and unkempt in a row of occupied and tended ones. Its vacant pretty windows gaze down upon us as we pull into its drive. We go next door to fetch the key. “Good luck,” they say. "You'll be needing it."

The front garden is tidy, a gardener sees to that, the shed is full of pristine tools. But as we open the front door a leaf-strewn carpet greets us, deep with flyers and mail. And as our feet creep down the hallway, a creepy feeling steals along my spine.

It’s midweek. Husband has taken a day off to visit his father’s house in the heart of the home counties. The one his father walked out of one summer’s morning three years ago to travel north and see a friend, never to return. It’s not a job to face alone, so here I am as well. 

A strong smell overwhelms us: damp, mould, regret. Or perhaps that’s just me, about the regret, that is, the damp and mould are for sure. I open the windows wide. 

In the kitchen every surface is covered: plates, food, mouse droppings. In the dining room, the table dips under the weight of books and yesterday's papers. In the sitting room, more of the same, plus vinyl, loads of it, stacked high, and warped, and ashes in the grate. Lots and lots of ashes…

“Do we need a bin liner?” says Husband.

“One?" I say. "Don't be crazy. We won’t get through this in a day. We will come back another time, with help.”

Each and every room reveals fresh horrors, or rather, stale ones. In the kitchen it’s the fridge, with mould the like of which I’ve never seen before, and rancid milk that’s years old. In the bathroom: a ceiling stain, where a little rain has lately filtered through.

I’m wheezy with the dust, and guilty with the idea of him here alone. We told him to sell up when his second wife died. “Come to London,” we said. “Get a place. Could be lovely. The tube. Pubs. Us close by."

He shook his head. “And what would I do with my stuff?” he said. 

So here it all is: the stuff that rendered him alone, without the know-how to reach out. He never did get the hang of his mobile phone, or email. No man is an island, so they say, but they’re wrong. The world keeps turning, and he wasn't able to turn with it.

I talk to elderly people every week on the phone, scores of them. They’re unwell, they don’t eat properly, they don’t go outside, and they don’t see anyone. But it's that last that’s the killer.

Fuck the stuff, I think, you should have got away while you still could. Don’t get trapped at home with your pain, that’s the old fashioned song this house is singing me, on warped and knackered vinyl.

“There’s nothing here,” says Husband, “nothing worth saving.” But after a while he finds a few things he likes: books, a load of classical CDs to rip. I find glasses that will come in handy, a couple of straw hats that might prove useful now we finally have some summer, and good kitchen knives, left out of their dirty drawer.

I go upstairs and there are her things on the dresser: lipstick, powder, paint, the moisturiser she was using that fine day, in 2002, when she went to hospital and never came back.

I open the wardrobe: all her clothes, bags, shoes, even her knickers, still here. Her hairbrush too, pale wisps of hair still clinging to ageing bristles.

Back downstairs in the sitting room, I scoop faded picture postcards from the sun-peeled window sills, pop them in recycling, pick my way across the floor, and there on a table is… a shrine. There's no other word for it. The book of remembrance from her memorial service. Some of her writing, poems, and…

“Jesus Christ!” I shout. "She’s still here!” Her ashes in the urn. (I told you there was a lot.)

We load the stuff into the car to take it away. We chat once again to the neighbours. As we reverse down the drive, a whole view of the house fills the windshield. Hold on, old house, I think, and I imagine spiders scuttling from secret nooks, mice reappearing from crannies.

For the time being it sits as we found it: abandoned, but hopefully not for much longer. Folks from London are keen to take on projects such as this, we are told, even though it's on the wrong side of the road, backing onto a motorway, and needs rather more than a new coat of paint. Someone will snap it up - and do it up - before too long. All we have to do in the meantime is make sure that the ‘stuff’ has been removed, piece by piece, and that finally the place is completely empty.

Love E x


P.S. Hoping that I don't have to clear out a sad old house like that one ever again. 

And by the by, while at a party on Saturday I chatted to someone who said he lives near Ravenscourt Park. Oh yeah, I said, so does my brother, and I was at a shoot near there, way back when: Sophie Ellis-Bextor's place. Cool, he said, were you doing the make-up?

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - a while back.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Pot Luck.

Pie (fish).

Fever. Burning up. So heavy limbed that the weight of my own body pins me to the bed. That’s me on Saturday morning. Every, single, thing, hurts, everywhere.

“What shall I get from the farmer’s market?” says Husband, coming into the bedroom in his cycling gear.

“I’m sick,” I say.

"Oh dear," he says, eating my toast. "You haven’t eaten your toast."

“No,” I say, “I’m sick. Thank you for bringing it. I’m not hungry.”

“Okay,” he says, dropping the papers on my toes, where they sit, heavy, on my toes.

“And I can’t read,” I say, “and I can’t get up.”

This is a problem because these are the things I usually do on Saturday mornings, after breakfast in bed.

“Cod?” he says. “Plus a nice piece of beef for your parents coming tomorrow? Eggs and sausage? Duck eggs?”

I'm going to be sick, I think. Duck eggs, schmuck eggs. Always with the food. Breakfast time, Husband likes to talk about lunch. Lunch time, he likes to know about dinner. Dinner time, he likes to chat about what we’re eating tomorrow. Food glorious food. Buying it, putting it away, preparing it, eating it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like food as much as the next woman, and I like cooking up something good, which is fortunate, because we're not a beans on toast kind of family. But sometimes thinking of something for everybody to eat all the time brings me down, especially when I'm struck down with something.

In the last week - I’m counting Monday to Saturday - I have cooked a bolognese, which then turned into a lasagne, with chips, a fish pie, chicken with lentils, salmon with noodles, risotto, and a fry-up. I think that’s it, but honestly, it could have been more. I can’t remember, because I’m sick.

Thighs (chicken).

"Ok, cod and beef and some eggs," I say. "You can hold the sausage, it's bad for us."

I go to sleep again. Sometime later I am woken by the sound of music, guitar music. Husband comes into the bedroom.

“He didn’t go fencing then,” I say.

“He went,” says Husband, “and then he came back.”

“Wow,” I say. I look at the clock: it’s nearly three.

"Shall I start lunch?" says Husband.

Lunch, schmunch, I think. I’m not hungry. I still feel terrible. I will never be well again. I’ll never leave this bed. I’m doomed to lie here forever. Poor me.

"You could warm the grill,” I say, getting up. 

I stumble into the kitchen. "Fried eggs?”

“I’d love a fried egg,” says Husband. “The boys like scrambled. Both?”

Scrambled, schmambled, I think.

I cook fried eggs, and scrambled eggs, and bacon, and mushrooms, with tomatoes, yellow, and red.

"Why do I have to eat meals?" says Youngest, coming into the kitchen.

“Just, because,” I say.

“I don’t like them,” he says.

“What do you like?” I say.

“Sandwiches,” he says.

After lunch I go back to bed. Much later Husband comes into the bedroom. “Shall I start dinner?” he says.

Dinner schmimmer, I think.

I slip back downstairs and cook a fish curry, but not from scratch, I use a packet, which I keep in the pantry, precisely for days like this.

“Why all this food all the time?” says Youngest, at dinner.

"Because," I say, "that’s the way it is."

Sunday, and I’m feeling myself again: completely better. Phew. My parents visit. My father and I spend the whole time in the garden. 

"Did you read about Monty Don?" says my father, as we're re-potting the fig tree, "loathes begonias."

"Mmm," I say. "I'm with Monty."

"Red ones are nice," says my father, "in a pot."

Husband cooks beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and carrots. I come in from the garden and cook greens and gravy.

"Not more food!” says Youngest. “I don’t want all this food all the time.”

My parents leave for their train at six. At eight Husband comes into the sitting room, where I am reading. “Supper?” he says.

“You must be kidding,” I say. “No one wants supper, surely.”

“Well…” says Husband.

I go into the kitchen. I put out leftovers: bread, cold beef, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, salad…

“Come and get it!” I shout, loudly.

“Get what?” shouts Youngest, louder.

“What do you think?" I shout back.

“I don’t want food!” shouts Youngest. “I keep telling you.” He comes into the kitchen. “What is it then?” he says.

"Bits and pieces," I say. “If that isn’t what you want then I don’t know what is."

“This is just what I want,” he says. “I'm going to make a sandwich!”

Sandwiches, schmandwiches, I think.

Love E x


P.S. Now he wants a sandwich every day, just, for, him. Fine, because I could really do with a little less cooking. (And now Youngest has the fever.)

Stir-fried left-overs.