Looks like we’re minding the fort while a bit of decorating takes place round here … Pop back soon and see what we’ve been up to!
It’s all been a bit serious on here recently, so I’m on a bid to lift things a little before I disappear… well you know.
I haven’t mentioned them for ages, so thought I’d write a bit about my sleek black leggy (ex) racing partners in crime.
I’m starting with Ronnie. Ronnie goes first for everything that doesn’t involve food. Wendy is pack leader, although you’d have a job to tell most of the time as she is so lazy, and shoves Ronnie out of the way at tea time.
But this isn’t about food, so we shall start with Ronnie.
Ronnie is 7 years old. His racing name was, unbelievably, Hit and Run. His racing stats show that he was a decent dog, racing over longer distances once he got older. He never raced in the highest classes (higher A numbers) but won a few times out. I adopted him in December 2011, having made the decision to look for another dog after my much loved old greyhound Bubble finally left in June of that year.
I started looking in October, and went to the local RGT kennels at Clarks Farm near Maldon in Essex, to see who was in need at that particular time. I had a quick chat with the kennel staff to discuss my requirements which were basically two older (5+) dogs, not bothered what colour or sex, not too bouncy, and off they went to bring out a couple of possibles. I met Ronnie and Poppy.
Ronnie came bursting into the shed/office like a whirlwind, and he pretty much ignored me and headed straight for the dog treats. It was love at first sight and my heart leapt out of my chest.
He was lively but not excessively so, and his next move was to go and stand in the corner by the desk as there were more treats in the drawer. He’d obviously done this before, as he got stuck. He stood there quietly for a few moments until the kennel staff came back with Poppy. I asked if everything he was OK.
It turned out that yes he was absolutely fine, he was just waiting for someone to help him out of the corner as there wasn’t space for him to turn round. He looked a little in need of a special person to call his own, although he was very much loved at the kennels, and his coat looked like a saggy worn out old jumper.
After having a bit of a snuffle about, he soon settled down for a bit of a snooze on the dog bed. Poppy meanwhile, was just a bit too bouncy. Sometimes this is just because they are out of their kennel and meeting people, but sadly I didn’t feel she was the dog for me. She was absolutely gorgeous, but she was two years older, more energetic and bigger than Ronnie. Ronnie is not a small dog. We went for a walk to see how we got on, and while I was sad about Poppy, I didn’t feel she was the one for me. Another family were interested in her so I hoped she would soon have a home.
I was home-checked by the RGT volunteers, and all was fine apart from the pond. I was warned to fence it as he was a nosey dog and would go in it. I had no means of fencing the (very large) pond but planned to watch him carefully when he was near it.
He settled into his new house very quickly. He’d never lived inside before, never had a carpet or sofa to lounge around on. He’d never seen a television or heard a hoover or a washing machine. He coped well with all of these. Within minutes of being in the house, he’d hopped up next to me on the sofa and decided that if I was there, that’s where he should be too. He quickly learnt his name and the word no.
Three days after he arrived, it was Christmas Day. We went to visit my parents for lunch. We thought all the dogs had gone to sleep while we were eating, but when we looked we were missing one. You can guess who. I went to look for him, and found him at the top of the stairs, waiting patiently to be rescued. He couldn’t turn around or walk backwards. There was no way I could carry 33 kilos of muscle down a flight of stairs, so my dad was summoned. Ronnie is still frightened of stairs to this day.
A couple of days later, while he was in the garden, I popped inside to put the kettle on. Sure enough, he went in the pond. I had no idea until I saw him, sopping wet, looking very pleased with himself. Strangely, he smelled better than before he went in.
Within a week of arriving, he’d cut his foot in the garden, on a particularly awkward part of his toe. A trip to the emergency vets on a bank holiday, and several dressings and re-dressings were required. He wasn’t bothered at all, and is pulling his best sorry face here.
Ronnie is a real character. He adores people, and approaches everyone as if they are his best friend and their sole purpose in life is to make a fuss of him.
He adores my dad, and particularly used to enjoy supervising him mowing the grass in my old garden. He’s stopped for a rest here, but despite the fact that it took twice as long as normal to untangle the dog regularly, my dad enjoyed himself as well.
He is incredibly gentle with children and babies and stands perfectly still for them to pat him. He is a bit less gentle with adults if they stop stroking him before he’s had enough. I have ended up wearing countless cups of tea as I have not put my drink down before sitting next to him on the sofa. He has a nifty trick of using his nose as a lever under your elbow to flick your hand over his head.
Ronnie has one and a half ears, and two thirds of a tail. Both have happened since he came to live with me. The ear had to go because of a benign lump on the tip, and the tail was a very unfortunate accident where I caught it in the front door. However, Ronnie adores going to the vet. He is treated like royalty, is stuffed with biscuits and fussed over by everyone. Whatever has to be done, however painful, he stands still, takes it bravely and is the perfect patient.
He has several teeth missing, and likes to sleep with his mouth and eyes open.
Ronnie loves food, particularly rawhide bones, bread and biscuits. Recently he has shown himself to be fond of fish too. He loves ear rubs, and groans loudly if you hit the right spot. He loves being stroked on his head and neck. He loves his walks, and pulls enthusiastically, even uphill. We tackled a particularly steep hill together once, he hesitated briefly but with a little shove on his bottom, off he went and didn’t stop. If you relax the lead, he turns round to check you’re still there.
He loves his toys, particularly squeaky ones. He is very playful in short bursts. He adores stretching himself out along the whole length of the sofa, and can touch both ends of a 3-seater sofa with his toes. He loves the vacuum cleaner and doesn’t believe in moving off the sofa when asked. He plays chicken with the hose, seeing how close it can get. Then he will hop off at the very last minute.
He loves to chase. Crisp packets, balls, leaves, birds, cats, rabbits, squirrels. He wasn’t a fantastically successful racer but he has a very strong prey drive and for this reason will never be safe off the lead. He will stare at children playing football because he wants to join in. Another greyhound we see is always carrying a ball with him, and Ronnie stares at him too.
He has no road sense. If you mentioned the Tufty club he’d be straight after the hedgehog. He has learnt the places where we cross the road on our walks. He knows he has to wait a little while, but doesn’t understand why. He looks both ways briefly, as he knows I do this, and then charges out whenever he’s ready. This has almost landed us in trouble a couple of times but I concentrate much more now to keep us both safe.
As well as stairs, Ronnie is frightened of tin foil. He hates the noise it makes when you pull it off the roll. He is also scared of my kitchen floor, which he can’t walk on. It’s a complete mystery as to why, as Wendy is fine on it. He has to be led across it by the collar, or coaxed in and out of the back door with food.
Other than that, he’s a happy dog who loves human contact. Here is he is celebrating the jubilee last year, when he still had the full complement of ears. He tried to eat his garland soon after it was put on.
He could sleep for England, except between the hours of 5.30 and 7am when he is awake almost without fail. I’ve tried countless things to get him to stay asleep, and he’s had a talking to from the vet. Listening to his favourite vet telling him “that he was a grown up dog now and should know how to settle himself down if he heard a noise in the night” was just priceless.
He’s happiest when asleep on the sofa, with a warm body next to him. Ideally, his head is on your hip or your ribs. He twitches in his sleep, and occasionally barks and wakes himself up. He has typical greyhound digestion so this can be an occasionally unpleasant experience, but on a lazy Sunday, or when eating my breakfast in the morning, there are few places I would rather be.
I don’t eat toast on the sofa now, since he learnt he could sneak round behind me like this. He is watching it like a hawk, just in case. A greyhound always has to be ready….
My house sits at the foot of the Campsie Fells and I feel incredibly lucky that I wake up and see these fabulous hills almost at the bottom of my garden each day.
Of course, looking as though they are almost at the bottom of my garden, and being at the bottom of my garden is entirely different.
My road is named after one of the big hills in the area, and twice now I have set off, with a chef and two greyhounds in tow, to explore it. You can just see the top of it by my right ear in this photo.
On both occasions we have got within spitting distance but not quite made it to the top. The first time we took a wrong path (although we had a grand old time doing so and the dogs enjoyed their first drink from a stream) and the second it was just far too hot for two skinny racing machines to be out in such strong sunshine. We had to stop half way for them to recover!
Cort ma Law is a little nearer, and despite my road name, this is the biggest/nearest hill to where I live.
Having been feeling awfully stuck in the mud recently, for a variety of reasons, I decided today was a day of action. I wanted to make the most of the weather before it finally turned, after what feels like weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine. The rain was due on about 12, so just before 10 I set off on a run/stagger/whichever, with the sole mission of seeing how far I got.
Exams are out of the way now (I passed with a good mark so I’m thrilled) and my days are rather empty. I have the luxury of lots of time on my hands, but it’s taking a while to get used to it and my head has been struggling a little.
Usually on a run I start out with a distance to cover and the desire to go faster than last time, but with asthma to contend with, along with the recent heat and the start of the hayfever season, I often end up very frustrated.
So it was important that today’s run was a break from what has become the norm – worrying. If you’re stuck in a rut, a good thing is to do something that scares you a bit.
Setting off into the hills for the first time on my own was just scary enough – I knew where I was going, had a phone and a drink and if the weather got the worst of me, I was happy enough to retrace my steps and head down (NB I wouldn’t do this on a foggy day!).
I had a fabulous time. Since I moved to Scotland, I have discovered a new love of running off road. The best way to push my distances has been to go somewhere new, and pretty much everywhere has been stunning so far. Today was no different. It was wonderful – I was the highest up I’ve been under my own steam in many years.
I didn’t get to the top, but I wasn’t far off. On a clearer day I would have carried on, plus I had a tutorial to get to and while “Sorry I couldn’t come, I was up a hill” would have been an original excuse, it wouldn’t have gone down very well.
I was greeted part of the way up by a beautiful little animal I’d never seen before. I didn’t know what it was – at first I thought it was a stoat, or a weasel, but it then occurred to me it might have been a pine marten. This was very exciting, even more so than the deer I disturbed in the woods a couple of weeks ago.
As I got the top, I encountered the notoriously gnarly hill climbing sheep. In my murky past I have often dragged myself up some soggy crag after a boy I fancied, only to be met by a baa-ing creature that surely could not have got there without assistance or at least a pair of rock boots.
Today I ran where I could run, walked everywhere else and staggered up the really steep bits. I needed the space that was around me, and this brought some quiet to my whirling brain. When I run, I don’t think about much beyond my body and my surroundings. Everything else stops, in the same way it did when I was flinging myself around racetracks on my motorbike.
Last week, I heard a woman on the radio talking about the first time she went sailing. Having recently been through a horrendous divorce and on a mission to try something new, she recalled asking the captain if they could turn and head south. The captain replied that if they did that, they would be sailing further away from the land. She said that’s exactly why she asked. At his suggestion, she ended up taking part in a round-the-world yacht race in her 50s, and saw in the millennium at sea, while her friends were having dinner parties.
I remembered this feeling. Countless times I have set out on my motorbike with no immediate desire to return. A wonderful family and a heap of financial responsibilities have kept me coming home. But I still feel restless. I struggle to understand this, as I also love being at home.
Finances and circumstances are such that my adventures are quite limited at the moment. But really, for now, I have everything I need on my doorstep, and I am truly grateful for this. I have fantastically wild unspoilt countryside very nearby, and there is more than enough to explore with just my own two feet and my eyes.
The little face I saw beneath the rock as I swung myself over a gate was later identified as a stoat. A pine marten would have been an incredibly rare sight, but the stoat was just as wonderful to see.
I look forward to getting to the top of the hills some time soon. But by not doing so, I remind myself that often, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
I found this recently and couldn’t agree more.
I had some bad news today. It was nothing I didn’t already suspect, but somehow seeing it confirmed in black and white made it all the more real. It’s big news and has a big impact on my the immediate future. However I am determined not to let it put me off course.
So I am thinking about good things. Counting my blessings if you will.
I’m currently watching Frontline to Finish Line – the Race2Recovery team’s incredible journey to compete in and complete the Dakar Rally. Simply amazing – the hardest race in the world, completed by injured servicemen.
I have a sleek black greyhound snoozing away either side of me on the sofa. These beautiful gentle creatures (well maybe not if you are a cat or a hedghog) are happy, healthy rescued retired racers who faced an uncertain future before they came to live with me.
I have a good education, plenty to eat, good medical care and access to clean water.
Every day I get to do something amazing when I pull my harp onto my right shoulder and play wonderful music with my friends. I have big plans on this front.
I’ve had some great feedback on my blog recently, including visits from some very important people and a comment (followed up with an email) from someone especially important. I write it mostly for myself, but I’m enjoying blogging so it has been a real boost to know that it is being well received.
Earlier this week I met a new harp buddy for coffee and we had a great mixture of harp and bike racing chat.
Every day I open my curtains and see the Campsie Fells behind my house.
Tonight I’m going to give my much loved jaffa orange KitchenAid a work out and bake some cakes.
I have a hugely supportive family who I love to bits. I don’t see them often enough but we are in touch regularly.
Some of my oldest friends have a new baby girl and I can’t wait to meet her.
Oh and I might just have reversed my run of seemingly endless rubbish luck on the man front…. And he’s a chef 🙂
The photo at the top of this post was taken outside the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh last Saturday – at first I thought it was rather glum, but I thought about it on my way across to perform in the Cathedral and felt differently.
Miracles rarely happen. I truly believe we make our own luck by working hard and putting ourself in the right places where ‘lucky’ things may happen. I thank Jennifer Crook for these words of wisdom some years ago.
Today demonstrates that bad times come, but I hope that by thinking of Good Things, I can keep myself on track and not get dragged down.
Across the road from the sign above, there was this sign
I couldn’t get my own picture as I was too far away (this one is from the BBC News website).
Today, thinking back to it, I am reminded of John Lennon’s words as posted on my blog a few weeks ago.
I like spending time on my own. I run (mostly) on my own, I walk my dogs on my own. Well, obviously my dogs are there but they can’t speak. Not in a language I can understand anyway.
I don’t fear it. I used to, but I don’t now. I love the company of others, I need that, but I also need my own company. Like many things in life, I need it mostly when it’s not there.
I met Jennifer Crook on a harp day at Morley Harps a couple of years ago, and I adore reading her blog. This post reminded me that some people crave solitude and aren’t as lucky as me to have it on tap.
I gave myself many of the gifts she mentions in her post, and I look forward to really enjoying them in 2013.
Wendy is a regular visitor to the sofa now (to the point where there are often snarling exchanges between her and Ronnie when one won’t budge up and allow space for the other. On a large, 3-person sofa) but has continued to bolt should I so much as twitch and catch her unawares.
She has been happy to lie with her feet up and allow a tummy tickle to happen, but again, any sudden movements and she has been off like a shot.
Today, I happened to be sat in the middle of both dogs. Wendy put her head on my lap and kept it there while I stroked her head and tickled her under the chin. I was astonished.
She is so frightened of everything unexpected. We had been doing really well when seeing other dogs (something she has struggled with since I got her), and a couple of days ago, a crazy springer spaniel was walking off lead and came bounding up to us. He was keen to play, and just wanted to sniff and make friends, but for poor old Wendy, this is terrifying. She hid between my legs and somehow, managed not to bark, or shriek, or snap or lunge. The owner was terribly apologetic, he’d tried to call the springer off as I’d said Wendy would probably snap. I was so pleased that she behaved so beautifully, but now it’s undone and all other dogs are back to being a source of terror and the barking is back.
I’ve had my beautiful hounds for just short of a year. Ronnie has settled really well, making up for lost time and enjoying a delayed puppyhood. He is a big soppy boy, excited by the world, loves to play and is ridiculously pleased to meet everyone. In fact, I swear he thinks people were put on the planet to give him cuddles and fuss, such is his enthusiasm to greet anyone new. Wendy has taken her time, and I think I’ve said before, I admire her style. I think we have a long way to go before she is ever comfortable with other dogs (if ever) but fortunately, round here, there are plenty of other dogs who struggle with their manners too and everyone is so friendly and happy to put their dog on a lead when we go past, or wait for us to cross the road to avoid confrontation.
Wendy is simply the most stubborn dog I have ever met. She acts as if she has never heard the word No. If she is somewhere she shouldn’t be, she refuses to budge and goes absolutely rigid making it very difficult to move her. She gives so little of herself, but when she does, it makes it all the more rewarding. It’s very special when she relaxes enough to seek out some fuss. She’s extremely camera shy, so she must have been out for the count when I snapped this picture.
It sounds like a quirky book title, in the same vein as Salmon-Fishing in the Yemen or A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (both of which I own, one of which I have still to read).
But today, 10 legs and 3 creatures set off up a big hill.
My new house (or hoose now I live north of the border) is at the bottom of the Campsie Fells. For a while I thought I lived at the bottom of Meikle Bin, but thanks to my recent purchase of an OS map, I discovered it’s actually Cort-Ma Law.
I’ve wiggled up the Crow Road a few times in the car, trying to establish just how hard it will be to cycle up, but today, having consulted the map, we stopped at the car park and headed up. And up, and up some more.
We’ve (and by we, I mean the three of us) done a little hill walking before (once, near the Carron Valley Reservoir the week we moved in). I hadn’t really considered the practicalities of 8 speedy-but-spindly legs on 2 leads, and navigating through bogs, round sheep poo and across rocks.
Ronnie is the self-appointed Team Leader (so named by one of our previous dog walkers due to his enthusiasm for everything, he is always at the front charging on) and is always first. Today was no exception. He hesitated for a split second when confronted with the first slope, but was then straight off. It’s quite entertaining (and very energy efficient) being pulled up a slope by two greyhounds.
Ronnie led us up, Wendy taking her turn following him and following me. She was a little hesitant on occasion, but realised we weren’t changing our minds. We picked our path around various obstacles, and as we got higher, I started to question the wisdom of this operation. Just on the other side of the slope on the picture, there were sheep.
Walking two recently retired greyhounds with a strong chase instinct/prey drive can be quite entertaining at times. I am constantly unwrapping and stepping over leads, pulling in either dog from lunging after cats/birds/squirrels/crisp packets/cyclists. I have never yet been pulled over, but 65kg of greyhound vs. 55kg of girl, well it wouldn’t end well if the hounds set their minds to it.
I started to understand why many dogs are off the lead on mountains. We managed going up, but gradually I realised that what went up would need to come down at some point, and I was afraid.
There was no need to worry. Ronnie, although keen, was very gentle coming down, and didn’t pull at all. Mostly he pushed on carefully, waiting when necessary. The only difficulty we had was when he spotted some crows (hence Crow Road). Fortunately this was on a relatively flat bit of grass and no damage was done.
He was also, rather curiously, very interested in the cars passing on the road below us (which you can see in the picture below). But then gradually I realised, these were high contrast brightly coloured moving objects, and as a sighthound bred to chase first and ask questions later, he wouldn’t have understood that these were not lures, or rabbits, or Westies, or Jack Russells.
In the end we made it safely down. It was a good day for many reasons.
While we all enjoyed our walk, I will look for something a bit less demanding next time, as the risk of a fall was quite high. When leads and the urge to chase are weighed up, safety has to be the main consideration.
We had our first proper journey into the hills surrounding our new home, one of the main reasons for moving to this particular place.
I saw a plane landing at Glasgow Airport, which is 20 miles away. I saw the hills even further south than this.
I realised how much I love being in this environment, although the rock climbing aspect no longer really appeals.
I realised that my days are now much less structured, and outside of lectures and lessons, I can walk/cycle/run around here to my heart’s content.
I realised my general level of fitness is much better than I thought (despite recent illness), and certainly much better than 15 years ago when I made my first tentative ventures into the mountains. This bodes well and I am now looking forward to some more serious hillwalking/mountaineering and even some fell running.
I realised just how near the hills are, and how lucky I am to live here. Our walk took about an hour, and the whole trip took an hour and a half. This is easily doable as part of an afternoon, or a morning. When the summer comes, well, as Eddie Izzard would say on the advert, the opportunities are endless.
I realised just how easy it can be to leave things behind when you want to.
I wished there was someone to share this with, but realised I am ready to start looking again, and realised that loving being outdoors will be a requirement fairly near the top of the list.
I realised that the lovely Wendy has come a long way on her rescue dog journey, and even when 2 unfamiliar dogs ran right up to her, she did not bark or flinch. She stood patiently as I reassured her, and when the dogs went away we had a huge cuddle and lots of fuss. I am SO proud, as she was obviously scared.
I was also proud of Ronnie, who although very bouncy and boisterous on many occasions, turned out to be super gentle when I needed him to be.
Overall, a good day today.
Apologies to anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram, as today my tweets and photos have been particularly dog-related…
I played at a wonderful wedding yesterday. The bride was a colleague of one of my friends, and works in the same office that I used to work in. I met the bride and groom last year when they came round for a consultation before booking me to play for their wedding. They both love music, in particular the Beatles, and this was therefore a great opportunity to add some fantastic songs to my growing repertoire list.
They walked down the aisle after their ceremony to All You Need is Love by the Beatles. A wonderful song, but tricky on many levels. Firstly the rhythm is not standard 4/4 – it’s either in 7/4 or 4/4 then 3/4 depending on your point of view and the score you are using…. Secondly, the bit that makes the song is incredibly chromatic, which involves a lot of frantic footwork moving the pedals. In the chorus, where you sing “All You Need is Love (dah dah dah dah dahhhh)” the dah dah… bit is the part I mean. It was challenging but sounded great on the day, and I was trying not to be too choked when playing it.
Add to that a lovely venue with very helpful staff, and I was a very happy harpist when I got home yesterday.
Today has been a very slow day as I had a bit of a hangover this morning, having been out with one of my closest friends last night. I didn’t have many plans apart from watching the MotoGP and the tennis, both of which were very entertaining. The tennis in particular was gripping, and very emotional at the end.
Today, my gorgeous greyhound girl Wendy has made bold steps and joined me on the sofa. In fact, she pushed Ronnie (boy hound) off so she could stay on with me.
Six months ago, I adopted two retired racers from my local Retired Greyhound Trust branch http://clarksfarmgreyhounds.org.uk/
It was love at first sight with Ronnie, who bounded into the RGT office and promptly went and hid under the desk. My heart leapt out of my chest. He then couldn’t get out so waited patiently to be rescued, then went on the hunt for treats in the cupboards. I reserved him straight away. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could take him home, so went to visit him a couple of times to make friends properly. The second time, after a nice long walk together, he refused to leave the office to go back to his kennel. I like to think we had bonded.
I didn’t meet Wendy until the third time. I had wanted a second dog to keep Ronnie company. She had been returned to the kennels by another family who had changed their minds. They had given the kennels a load of pithy excuses about her behaviour, none of which stacked up, so the kennel suggested she should be returned to save any toing and froing and to give her the best chance of finding a good home.
She is smaller than Ronnie, and as soft as silk to touch. She has a slightly curly tail, which we think was broken and then didn’t quite heal straight. She had the biggest ears for a little dog, almost like an Alsatian. Wendy is on the left below, Ronnie is snoozing on the right.
Wowee it has been a long time since my last post! (I feel a bit Father Ted now, forgive me, it has been X days since my last confession!)
Lots of exciting news and many changes on the emotional/home/life front.