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A dear friend always insisted that there was no point betting on anything that the public have a say in because what you may get, is what you least expect. It will be interesting to see then, tomorrow, how things finally shake down in the voting booths as compared with the incessant polls that have the two ‘main’ parties in a photo finish.

It will be interesting also to see how many of us turn out. I am glad Russell Brand changed his tune on not voting, and I credit Ed Miliband, at least to some extent, with influencing that particular U-turn. If you do not use your voice to make a difference, then a difference will not be made. We all need to make a difference tomorrow, whatever that turns out to be.

These are two disgruntled characters, on the sofa. One can’t vote because he is an immigrant. No matter that he volunteers hours of his time keeping the street crime free. No matter that he single-pawedly keeps the marauding packs of urban foxes and delinquent nature-murdering felines in line. He is from Ireland, he has no vote. He’s been upset, lately, by the anti-immigrant rhetoric he’s heard bandied about. All he wants is a better life for himself, and his family, and he’s prepared to work for it.

His friend is a member of the so-called underclass. She didn’t register to vote because she didn’t think that she could make a difference. I think if she could vote, her vote would be one of the most important of all. We all know the choice available has turned out to be a bit of a dog’s dinner, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.


The Universe may not be indifferent

But this lad sure as hell is…


My dog prejudice (sadly confirmed)

Me and my dog have got a prejudice: we don’t like bull terriers of any variety.  In one way it’s quite fair because I freeze up with any type be they English, Staffordshire, American or any mixed up version with a strong bull terrier genetic inheritance.  In another it’s a bit irrational and makes life tricky.  I’ve tried to unpick where it all started for us, whether it was me, or him, because now it’s definitely both of us.

I’ll be honest, we had an English Bull Terrier at my Dad’s house and it was a cussed sort of beast.  It also attacked the goats.  This ended up with both the dog and goats being rehomed, which seemed a bit unfair on the goats, but there you go.  One day I had to pick up a housebrick and bash the dog on the head with it, to try and release it’s grip on the poor goat’s leg.  You get the picture.  Now, I come to type this, I am starting to see where it all started.  Obvious really.  Anyway, those dogs have a very strong jaw and equally thick skull – the brick put him off his stride not hardly.

Since then we’ve had this proliferation of these dogs in urban settings – I can only speak for urban settings because I don’t know about the countryside – and there has been a marked increase in young people having these dogs and I think, it’s fair to say, choosing the breed for the wrong reasons; whether that be street cred, or as a weapon, to make some money breeding, or in some cases as fighting dogs.  I suppose the combination of my experience and those factors has made me wary.  Enter my own dog, a very timid rescue from Navan, Ireland.  He’s taken against them, I think, partly  because I’m a bit on edge but also because they have a manner of bowling up to us when off the lead, tail up, looking pretty sure of themselves.  It doesn’t mean they are aggressive, but it makes my dog nervous because he likes to check out a new ‘friend’ from a distance – he does not like the other dog going nose-to-nose without the chance for an introduction.  So the upshot is, we steer well clear.  

If I see a bull terrier (and round here it’s usually a Staffie, or two) we go somewhere else.  I don’t let my dog off the lead near them, and if the terrier is off the lead already, we clear the area pronto.  I don’t suppose the stories in the press help – sad to say the dogs that often ‘turn’ and injure or even kill people are of this type.  There are also the Japanese Akitas but they are seen around less and most of those owners keep them on the lead.  Maybe it’s something to do with the cost of the Akita compared to the Staffie, and the size of the breed.  When I type that I realise I am making appalling classist assumptions about the types of people I think own Staffies, but in my defence it’s also my personal observation. 

Anyway, this is all rather a lengthy preamble to explain what happened yesterday.  I walked the dog in the rain, which tends to delight me because there are fewer other dogs out then and that makes the whole thing less stressful.  We had our walk and were nearly home, dog on lead, when a man came round the corner with two black staffies, also on leads.  We were still some distance apart and the two dogs started to growl and strain at the leads.  I made to cross the road, but then the man with the pair did likewise so I stayed put.  Unfortunately, he was moving in slow motion (probably because he was out of his box – another observation not straight assumption).  Staffies pull like a train, which is why so many wear harnesses, and in split second one had pulled the man over in the road and had come after us, snapping and biting my dog who was trying to retaliate as well as run down the street with me.  The dog pursued us into the middle of a T-junction, whereupon I went down like a felled oak, onto my right knee, hip and shoulder.

The aggressor backed off then, looking quite startled and a boy came up on his bike and grabbed the lead and took the dog back to the house down the road where it lives.  The man was still sitting in the road with the other dog, saying nothing as if he was stunned.  I have always had a temper on me – if it comes to flight or fight – I am naturally set to the latter.  I manage myself much better these days, but I roared at the man, the only repeatable bit being that he was lucky I didn’t have the kids with me.

My poor dog has had his feet nipped and was rather sorry for himself in the aftermath, although that may have been more about my angry reaction to the other party.  I have a very sore knee and hip which kept me awake a bit.  I love having a dog; I have had dogs for nearly twenty years now and walked dogs for other people in London and consider myself fairly ok with managing them.  However this incident has reminded me what happens when idiot brains take on the responsibility of a dog, with teeth.  Lately, it just seems like that there are too many of them about here for comfort.  I have a dog, in part, because getting out for a walk every day is part of how I manage my mood and health.  Now, the stress it creates almost offsets the benefit.

Time will pass, my knee will heal, hopefully my own dog will suffer no ill-effects.  In the meantime I am just left with the uneasy feeling that I may be getting too old to be a dog owner in the kind of town we seem to have on our hands lately.


dog ball


There are some research projects that just beggar belief i.e. that money is actually spent on this stuff. The latest case of this is an ‘experiment’ run down at the University of Portsmouth that has reached the stunning conclusion… wait for it… that dogs can understand some of their human’s perspective on things. Now, call me an ignorant non-scientific member of the general herd of sheep known as the dumb public, but you know what, I think you, or I, or even my dog could have told them that.

I know that subjective anecdote is not considered hard evidence in the scientific world but was it really necessary to run the following study. 84 dogs with their owners and a bowl of tempting food (not all in the same room at the same time one assumes); 84 dogs forbidden, in broad daylight, to eat the food. The dogs mainly comply. Then, the lights go off. Left in the dark with the humans that can’t see them: the dogs mainly eat the food. And I bet the dogs wouldn’t have been fooled if the researchers had made them put their paws over their eyes like those silly human babies are… Now you see me, now you don’t… The average poocher ain’t falling for that, no sir.

Any dog owner could have told you the same and the really intelligent ones don’t even wait until it’s dark – merely until your back is turned.

Dogs have a theory of mind? You betcha. Dogs, and other animals, are not the simpletons arrogant humans like to assume they are. Well, who knew? I mean, really.

Science? Have you really nothing better to do?


Rudi and Laddie: Plotting

One look at those faces tells you more about the inner life of dogs than some silly old lights on/off experiment.

A visitor

Our neighbours and friends have been having a terrifying time of it lately. Instead of jetting off the to the Caribbean as a family for 2 weeks to celebrate a 50th birthday, one of them ended up in hospital, seriously ill and in critical care. At one point we thought we might lose them. It’s been al long rocky road, and the poor things are still on it. We keep them in our thoughts and wish them well.

In the meantime we are helping out by looking after the family pets. Here’s Sparky.

She’s pulling a depresso face here after her morning constitutional with Rudi. I can assure you that most of the time she is quite upbeat and, well, sparky.

Chief Biscuit Torturer

The dog can be a bit snotty when it comes to food. His breakfast can lie in the bowl ignored until lunch, or even teatime. My old dog was partial to anything. Kitchen doors had to be kept shut otherwise he was odds on to go *right through the bin and his work surface surfing habits meant food was not safe for even a second out on the side.

This new version of dog I have can even turn his nose up at a morning biscuit. It’s not a dog biscuit either, but a human one. Plain I grant you, but most dogs would be grateful to start their day this way. Wouldn’t they? Not he. Mostly it goes begging and I eat it with my morning cup of tea. Sometimes, just to be extra annoying he goes to take it from my hand, but in the end just licks the edge without enthusiasm and then turns it down, leaving me, mug in one hand, with a useless biscuit in the other.

Then there are the rare occasions that he will lower himself to take it from me, but this is what he does. He gets on the bed, yes mine I am afraid, and tortures the biscuit. He flings it in the air and stares at the Rich Tea where it has landed; the poor biscuit probably wonders what an earth is going on. Then he might jab it with his nose, swiftly followed with prod with his paw. And so it goes on for a minute or so, the prodding and stabbing and jabbing and poking and shoving with his paws and his nose. Sometimes the biscuit has enough and breaks, but mostly it remains intact. After a while he gets bored and eats it.

The dog is very odd – he manages to make it seem when he is given, what is ostensibly a treat, as if he is not only doing me, but the biscuit a favour when he finally deigns to eat it. He certainly makes me feel sorry for the Rich Tea in this house.

Helpfully the manufacturer points out that the biscuit is ’round’
In case you missed that fact.

*This entailed not merely a desultory poke around inside the black rubbish bag, but a comprehensive strewing of every single thing in the bin into rivers of rubbish across the floor with extra special smearing action on the floor with things like tea bags, greasy containers and egg shells and anything else notably rancid and fetid.

Dog Breath



A break in the clouds

My dog-walking career hit rock-bottom last week. I am now down to walking one dog, my own, so I only call it my career as a joke, since the last canine I walked for money was probably about eight years ago. A lot’s gone on in the intervening period, but in terms of dogs, I have recently lost all confidence in my ability to remain calm and centred, as per canine guru Cesar Millan.

All is fine in the house (apart from occasional growling when surprised – he’s a street rescue – what can you expect?), but when we get outdoors, I find I am a nervous wreck. I have started to avoid other dogs and last week, when we were in the park and approached by a pointer with a glint in its eye, I slipped the lead and sort of… ran off.

This is very bad form. What was worse, was that my escape on foot sans chien was severely hampered because, from fright, my legs went all jelly on me. Utterly ridiculous really, but it was an almost reflexive fear response from me. Now, this is odd because I never used to be this way and, you know what, I blame the dog! After 5 years together and many difficult moments in an attempt to form the owner-dog bond, I am now too empatico with him. I have caught his flight response as if it were a common cold.

Let me explain. When I first got this dog (my third dog as it happened) he was highly nervous and if anything frightened him he would flight off, as far as he could go, in the opposite direction. Many things could frighten him, both inside and out: the lead, a car, a noise, a dog, a person, a stick, anything at all really, so walking was something that he had to be coaxed into over a long period of time. Eventually, we got ‘there’ and he turned into a friendly, if still quite nervy sort of dog. Life is ,however, a journey and no sooner have you got ‘there’ than you end up somewhere else. In our case it turned out to be the dog’s getting in touch with his inner hunter. Now games with other dogs became confused. Firstly, he would invite them to be the hunter and him the prey, which worked out ok, to begin with. If they didn’t go for that offer, he would suggest he chase them. If they declined that he would then attempt to goad them into it, whereupon he would have to be removed from the field of play in disgrace. Him taking on the prey role didn’t always end well either. My dog is very fast, but he lacks stamina, so although another dog couldn’t ‘catch’ him, they could keep going when he wanted to stop, which merely made him feel threatened and as he was too tired to run, he would snap.

He has never hurt another dog, but, like me running away from my own dog, it’s not the done thing in dog-walking circles to say, ‘Oh I know he looks like an utter monster with those snarling teeth and jaw agape, but he’s never hurt anyone…’ I started avoiding other dogs completely, so much so that if, when I spied another walker with dog on the far-off horizon, I would curse them for daring to come within a mile of our vicinity. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I have reflected on this, why I have become this way. Me, who has walked all kinds of dogs in the most interesting parts of East London. Me, who walked Bill Sykes very own English Terrier along Bethnal Green Road. Me, who has saved goats’ legs from the locked jaws of another English Bull Terrier – did I say I am not mad about English Bull Terriers? I have therefore come to the rather ragged conclusion that as this not how I have reacted in the past, and apart from being prone to sudden and unexpected neuroses lately, I am currently experiencing the very real effects of the increasing population in the UK. In short, we have no space. I will have to learn to share the green spaces and beaches of the vicinity with many, many other people, and their dogs. Or I will have to stay in. And probably develop agoraphobia…

I read this week that the government plans to legislate to force all puppies to be microchipped. This is not a bad plan, unfortunately it will do nothing to help those of us with fearful dogs and our own anxieties, who are trying to avoid trouble.

Back to the brief break in the clouds today. This morning I made the most of the 2 days that are left to us in Southend, before the dogs are banned from the beach for 6 months. My dog managed to have a pleasant interaction with two dogs and a game with one of them and my legs didn’t sink into the sand underneath me from fright.

The fact is that when it’s blowing a Force 9 and sheeting down with rain you are only going to meet dogs and their owners of two varieties:

1) genuinely dedicated dog owners, prepared to walk their dogs in all kinds of weather
2) people like me trying to avoid the kind of dog and their owner who doesn’t fall into the group above

In which case, let it wind and rain, because my nerves are all the better for it.

Garboesque: him or me?


Or a brace of black dogs, one child and l’Espagnol.

Taken by my sister, Wray Barton, down Devon way. I found the composition irresistible.

I will spend the rest of the day playing ‘Spot the Mitchell Bruvvers’…

A Dog’s Life?

Rudi’s Weekend Walk – one’s enough…

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Came home, the walls closed in and the dog crashed out stinking of salt marsh mud.

It really is a dog’s life.