The weather has been glorious this summer in England; for a while our garden looked like straw after a mini-heatwave, but the rain has arrived and outside the grass is now green and thick again.
Oh, and here’s a bit of interesting chemistry, if you are keen to know why ‘wet dog’ smells the way it does:
Faye has had a super month, staying for a couple of weeks with three other greyhounds and learning new games at home like ‘tug’ and ‘whose chicken carcass is that?’
Apparently Prince Albert brought a Greyhound with him when he married Queen Victoria. Eos even came with them on honeymoon. Eos certainly had a regal look, but looks to be quite nervous here.
Greyhounds do have a habit of looking quite noble, although they are equally good at looking very silly. We took Faye to Audley End in Essex recently, but she was confused by her reflection in a mirror in the stables. Didn’t know where the ‘other dog’ was!
She’s hoping for a walk soon actually, and keeps whining at me. I’ve been hoping she might play with her peanut butter jar a little longer, but perhaps I’ll have to take her out, despite the weather, and see how she does with it. She’s not keen on getting wet and I am not keen on how she’ll smell if she does.
Still, I could always try shampooing her afterwards, if she lets me!
This month has been hot in Cambridgeshire. Hot and dry. Hot and dry and sticky (if you are human) and breathless (if you are canine). Hot and dry and sticky and breathless and relentless.
Hot in the daytime and hot at night. Too hot to walk about in the middle of the day unless you are an Englishman or a dog of dubious sanity. Certainly too hot to walk barefoot on hot pavements, whether you are a Greyhound or an Englishman of dubious sanity.
Thankfully for Faye, we live close to local woods and are happy to forego some of the hotter school runs for an evening walk in the shade instead.
We have also been learning the benefits of old clothes soaked in cool water. You can drape a wet top effectively over Faye and she’ll happily walk about with it on, then shake it off when she’s had enough. We’ve noticed she eats less when she’s really warm and we have to ensure there is always lots of water available for her to drink. When she travels in the car we have the air conditioning on and when we have to leave her for a couple of hours at home we have learned that a kong-type toy with peanut butter and ice in is very well received.
It’s not just us learning though. Faye has been learning more about living in a human house. She has learned that there are some doors you have to point at with real fervour if you want to go through. A human will open it; it’s fantastic. Sometimes when you need to go through doors a lot it isn’t obvious why those humans might be complaining. There are also magic doors which let you through without a human if you manage to find the gap, or put your head low enough and walk forward. Wow. Although if you are feeling a bit pathetic you can pace around outside and hope the humans move the magic curtain for you.
Greyhounds are ridiculously nosey dogs, whatever time of the year. Nosey in both senses, of course! Faye likes to put her nose everywhere and she stops frequently on walks, freezing mid-step and pricking up her ears, with her eyes fixed at some little movement somewhere in the bushes or down the street or up the tree or across the field. Rather than getting annoyed at every single stop, I’ve learned to relax and look around to see if I can also spot the squirrel, rabbit, cat or bird and take a moment to notice and enjoy my surroundings. There are always interesting natural things to look at, listen to and smell when Faye stops, and usually it is only for five to ten seconds. It strikes me that this is also a good way of being mindful and savour the natural world; yet another advantage to owning and walking a dog.
An exciting breakthrough this month has been Faye learning to play games. OK, maybe not jigsaws (she was very good and did not attempt to eat the pieces while I made one), but she’s finally tugging her duck (Ducky) and Fox (Tia). See her bendy rubber nose! She has a strong grip, which makes a game of Tug great fun. She has also relaxed enough to roll over for all of us now, anticipating a belly rub.
Although she’s fairly indifferent to having her teeth brushed, Faye hates having her claws clipped. Anyone would think I was attempting to remove a foot! However, she was very good indeed when she got a couple of grass seeds in one eye last week and let me gently remove them. She’s also been brilliant about going to the vet on numerous occasions for her laser treatment for her joints; I’m recording her running every week or two to see if there is any noticeable difference.
I realised that I could include some video footage of Faye running free on this blog actually. She does different speeds, depending on how far she’s walked, how warm it is and whether there is something to chase, but these three short clips give you an idea of what it is like taking her for a run at the orchard. This is not her at full pelt. She does start and stop very quickly though.
Until next month – stay cool and enjoy the natural world around you!
I bagsied Faye this morning for ‘take your dog to work day’ and so far it has been a complete success. It would not have been simple for Faye to have gone on the bike with Matthew to his work, or to sit in his office passing wind and huffing every so often.
So Faye is with me. As usual, she helped me walk the children to school. She was very keen; she loves her walks. I marched, the children scooted and Faye trotted and kept an eye out for cats. She took an interest back home when I prepared her breakfast and cleaned out the wheely-bin. She observed me doing a bit of housework and admin, then behaved herself while I had my quiet reading time. She watched while I did some editing and research, all the while listening to the radio without complaining. She went outside reluctantly to lie down so I could hang out the washing. And then she came indoors reluctantly so I could get on with more writing. She wanted to come outdoors when I put the recycling outside. Mostly, however, she has been dozing. She doesn’t care about word counts, deadlines or making notes on last night’s great book idea which might have involved looking up blind dogs on youtube. Nobody yapped.
Much of the rest of the day: lunch, more writing, more housework, more admin, an early walk, meeting a teacher, collecting children and feeding everybody, should also involve Faye one way or another, although I will have to leave her for a short time later. Mostly she will be sleeping. Every so often she may pass wind or huff, but I won’t take it personally if I’m in the room. I have a thick skin and a fragrant room spray (fig leaf and elderberry).
Faye has it pretty easy really.
She’s been up to all sorts since I blogged last month, in fact. Here’s a little of what she has been up to:
Joe learned that if you put your bedding downstairs in the hope you’ll be allowed to camp out overnight, the dog will be very grateful and think it is for her. Faye learned that if you wait long enough, eventually you don’t need to wear your muzzle out and about everywhere. Both these things made her very happy.
We all attended the Greyhound Extravaganza near Newmarket at the end of May and Faye won ‘Second Prettiest Bitch’ and ‘Judge’s Choice (1st)’. We were all thrilled, although I was a little concerned about the Hot Dog stand. On such a warm day, and with so many greyhounds around (not muzzled, all behaving and not barking), I hoped they had sourced their hot dogs wisely.
We took Faye on holiday in May half term break to Sherwood Forest. It was wonderful and did us all good. Faye had the whole boot of the car for her things for the journey so we had to pack light in the rest of the space. She met Biscuit, my friend Andrea’s tri-pawed rescue lurcher and enjoyed sniffing around Major Oak, Clumber Park and Rufford Abbey, as well as exploring lots of forest areas. She had fun on and off-lead and seems fine with car journeys of a couple of hours or so.
Faye did another visit to Suffolk one weekend, where she walked to Trimley Shores. It was a beautiful day and she helped Grandad look out for lots of interesting wildlife. Nobody caught any, thankfully.
Faye has been struggling on one of her legs with some arthritis, so she has started a course of K-laser treatment at the vets. She loves going there and gets lots of treats, rubs and attention. She’s still very stiff, so we are evaluating how long to keep her on the treatment.
She has to fit around us a lot of the time of course, but doesn’t always understand how to. When I held a planning meeting for a trip to Albania recently she decided that the map looked the most comfortable place to rest during proceedings. She was very gentle and didn’t damage it.
Right now she’s hoping for a walk, as she’s woken up and is staring at me, making a few whining noises.
Life is never dull with Faye, and no two days are exactly the same. I enjoy having her around to motivate me to work hard. She likes to be around me too and will get up and move rooms with me, even when she may be only half awake.
Perhaps there should be a ‘take your human for a walk and a chill out’ day. Hmm…
I asked Faye what she wanted me to include in this month’s update for the Year of the Dog series. (See January, February, March and April if you haven’t already).
She’s not very good at English yet. She doesn’t say much either, to be fair.
Not to worry. I am learning more and more Dog, specifically Greyhound dialect. I can’t speak it, but I am trying to understand it. Mostly understanding Faye comes down to body language. Thankfully, she is always keen to please, lives in the moment and is grateful for every bit of attention, meal, walk or car journey.
So instead of Faye’s animal version of events, here’s my own round-up of what Faye has been up to and new things she’s encountered with us in the past few weeks.
In order to help reduce her prey drive, we have made a point of low-key and short introductions to small dogs and other animals. She gets lots of praise for a quiet, relaxed reaction. Here Faye is observing guinea pigs, sheep, ducklings and any number of imaginary squirrels, rabbits and birds. Most of the time she is doing amazingly. Sometimes we have to hold her firm; even today a cat ran across the road in front of her and she thought it necessary to pull hard on the lead. She is trained to chase and has a natural drive to go for moving furry things. Very fast.
I am glad she has a muzzle when we’re out – if a small fluffy dog decides to run up to her she will react with a growl and then sometimes snap at them. She won’t do it unprovoked, but in order to see these smaller dogs as friends she’s been doing some short walks with some local Bedlington Terriers. Apparently these two breeds historically used to work together to flush out and chase down vermin. I’m not sure Faye would know what to do next though; most greyhounds have very little retrieving ability.
I had heard that greys are not interested in digging either, although that also appears to depend on the actual dog. Faye observed us preparing a vegetable patch (she was very keen to come out and watch several times) and then managed her own bit of digging on a bit of garden while no one was looking. It didn’t do any damage, and thankfully was before we had planted anything in that patch. Maybe I need to get her observing me doing some more helpful tasks, such as shredding or collecting the post. But not both at the same time.
This month has also been about teaching Faye about where she lives. She was born in Ireland, but that’s no reason not to try and understand the British way of life too. She accompanied me to the voting station in the local elections recently, but was not impressed by the Royal Wedding – she thought the plastic hat was for her and took it into the garden, then slept through most of the ceremony.
We don’t hold it against her though. She’s not the brightest button. Sometimes she isn’t even sure if she’ll fit through an open door.
Um, have you tried coming through the gap?
For all her silliness, we do love her to bits. She came with me to my writing group in Norfolk this week and did brilliantly. She behaved well, and we went on from there to drop off some fish kibble which hadn’t been working for us to the King’s Lynn branch of the Retired Greyhound Trust and had a walk with the beautiful Maud.
Maud is a gorgeous and gentle girl with over a hundred races under her belt. Or should that be collar? Her fur is very soft, and has special ‘snowflake’ white flecks in the black. She got on brilliantly with Faye and would make a super pet for someone – she’s still only four years old. Click on the link here to see more pictures of her:
Faye would have loved to have taken Maud home as a sister, and I would have happily taken her too, but it is too soon for us to be getting another greyhound in the family.
On Sunday afternoon she will be meeting a lot of other greyhounds and their families though, at the Newmarket Greyhound Extravaganza. I will hopefully be able to report back next month about how it all goes.
For the time being, Faye is comfortable just chilling and spending most of the time asleep in whichever position feels most comfortable. I don’t blame her.
I have had a thing about Lego for as long as I can remember. This led to a school project on Denmark, where I announced that I had not been to Denmark ‘but I would like to one day’. I don’t know how old I was, but I do know my writing looked this bad:
Denmark is a country I have a deep affection for. I get Denmark and Denmark gets me. Perhaps I should write a blog post raving about how exciting it is to visit a place with stunning architecture, views, Viking sites, the original Legoland, food, castles, design, pastries, bacon and clever Scandi-solutions everywhere you go, but this is not that post.
Well. You get the idea.
Nope. This post, following on from one I did about Rudyard Kipling’s home in East Sussex, is the second in an occasional series I am writing about places associated with well-known writers. I want to learn about what other authors’ places were like, what inspired them and how their creative spaces looked, if it is still possible to visit them.
I first went to Denmark for a long weekend with Matthew for our tenth wedding anniversary. We took the children last summer on a return visit. As well as Copenhagen, we got to travel on a replica Viking boat and were able to spend time on Jutland so that I could fulfil my ambition to visit Legoland Billund. As a writer, one of the highlights for me was popping in to Odense in order to visit the home of Hans Christian Andersen.
Odense is on the island of Funen, which is connected by bridges to Jutland to the West and Sjælland (Zealand) to the East. A visit to Odense is well worthwhile; it is a pretty town with lots of history and is conveniently between Copenhagen and Billund.
It is also, of course, the home town of the celebrated Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).
Odense is home to the birthplace of Andersen, which has been adapted and extended into a fascinating museum about the man and his work, and also his childhood home, a humbler and much smaller yellow building with lots of timber details and the same tiny, curtained cot-beds and metal box radiators you can find in other historic buildings in Denmark.
Both sites fascinated me. I was intrigued to learn a lot about this famous author, but also surprised at how humble his beginnings really were. His mother was an illiterate washerwoman, who had hopes of her son becoming a tailor. Hans was certainly an odd character himself. He wrote prolifically (over 3000 works, including fairy tales, poetry, novels and travelogues), travelled widely and had a hobby cutting paper shapes. Bizarre, enigmatic paper shapes. He was tall and had a large nose and chose a life of celibacy, perhaps to disguise his various attractions. His stories were as bizarre and creative as his papercutting.
Some of Hans Christian Andersen’s more famous stories are ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Snow Queen’, The Ugly Duckling’, ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and ‘Thumbelina’. Though few people read them in the original Danish, many are very well known through translations, films, plays and ballets.
Andersen clearly had a vivid – and often disturbing – imagination. He had grown up in poverty and been mistreated by a school-master. He had been told not to write and had failed at various career options. However, he appears to have had confidence and a need to write, which led to some of his writing getting published in Denmark and then acclaim in Germany and England too with ‘The Improvisatore’, a novel set in Italy and published in 1835. The same year, his first fairy tales were also published, almost unnoticed. The first ones were re-told folk tales with strong moral messages, and later ones came from his imagination, often drawing on personal memories. Many of the fairy tales have strong characters and memorable dramatic or emotive situations. Andersen had an ear for telling stories like a child and an eye for sentimental detail.
While we were at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum we bought a Danish edition of an English retelling of his Danish work, ‘The Little Tin Soldier’. I’m not sure if you can source it anywhere else. My Danish is not strong, but I’m pretty sure the internet is right in translating the first part as ‘He began to blow as hard as he could.’ The second part is easier to guess.
Danish is a curious language. If you have learned German and are fluent in English, a great deal is guessable. If you know Norwegian or Swedish it is even easier. Danes are quirky and direct. You are likely to see signs like this at the stations, for example. The literal translation is ‘do not have your head under your arm – for your safety’ and the meaning equates to ‘keep your head screwed on’.
I can’t help thinking the national mentality is still not far removed from Andersen’s.
Hans kept his head under his arm however, so to speak. He kept his hands busy too, churning out page after page. This is one of his writing spaces, at the Museum:
Such an elegant space, with many nineteenth century details, dark wood and curves. As a tall person myself I doubt he would have been particularly comfortable at the desk for long, although he was often travelling and writing. If it represents Andersen’s real work space it appears remarkably tidy, not to mention free of tiny paper cuttings.
There are few other books in this space and everything feels dignified and proper. Perhaps he was trying to show his wealth in a good light.
Here are a few more facts about the man himself:
Hans left school at fourteen, started as an apprentice tailor in Copenhagen and tried unsuccessfully to work as a singer, dancer and actor there, having lost his father in 1816.
He often lived as a guest in the country estates of wealthy friends. He loved meeting celebrities of his day.
He overstayed a visit to Charles Dickens and was eventually asked to leave after five weeks; this meant the friendship broke down.
He couldn’t spell or write elegant Danish, as he struggled to work systematically after a poor initial education; his writing is colloquial and easier to read as a result.
He was frequently in love, but apparently always unrequited; the famous singer Jenny Lind turned down a marriage proposal from him.
Today, thousands of people visit his hometown each year to see where he grew up, and millions around the world know his stories. Andersen has been immortalised in many ways and in many places. The latest is this:
Lego Creative Personalities set 40291 has just been announced: a book with reference to the great Dane. It seems Hans Christian Andersen still captures the imagination of young and old alike. Even in Lego.
Before Faye, I honestly felt like I was missing something. There was a broody dog-shaped hole in my life, and I was sincerely hoping Faye would fix that. I had already made peace with the idea that it may never happen, and the equally frightening idea that it may not turn out to be what I had hoped.
Now we have her, Faye is proving to be all I hoped for, and far more. While life itself can often leave us unsatisfied, owning a dog (or being owned by one) turns things around. I have started being grateful for things I wasn’t grateful for previously, such as the beauty of the early mornings, getting out of the house when I would otherwise have been dozing, feeling accomplished at making another heartbeat happy in the world and noticing so many fascinating things on walks around the area.
We have achieved so much in such a short space of time, but I felt it would be good to highlight some of the moments which meant a lot to me in the past few weeks.
Taking Faye out and about is always great fun. She has been around the village a lot now, as well as to Thetford Forest, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds (Joe realised Faye could help carry the picnic blanket for a short while), Felixstowe to see the sea and the hairdressers (for Lily). People often stop and ask questions, mostly about why she is wearing a muzzle, or to ask to stroke her. She takes all this in her stride and loves people. She is still working on reacting well to other dogs, but is making good progress already.
Faye won’t roll over for me, but will do it for Lily when I’m not there, just to have her belly rubbed!
She hasn’t quite worked out how to get treats from a Kong toy, but likes licking peanut butter from it. She also loves tea, and sometimes gets a taste when I’ve finished mine. She behaved very well in her first restaurant, lying on the floor patiently and enjoying the atmosphere.
She makes me laugh – sometimes she won’t eat a treat unless she’s allowed to take it in the ‘right’ room, and this week she was so tired she thought I was sending her to bed in the garden and lay down instead of toileting. She’s also been known to stop and lie down on a walk when exhausted, even if we’re already almost back. She won’t eat pasta or vegetables she can see in her meal. She finds the comfiest place to lie in the garden or house, even if it means flattening plants or using a bag of clothes. She crosses her legs like a diva and when she spots something cat-shaped she is transfixed, no matter how much you call or pull. It doesn’t matter whether the cat is real or not. She also loves spotting rabbits and squirrels.
She is a 26 kg dog but can still curl up into her dog bed and ignore everything – until she hears a sound like another dog, or food.
Here she is following the kids home from school. She has learned to be responsible and carry her own bags. I have to watch her carefully as she gets spooked by the scooters sometimes and moves sideways into the road. Walks are great fun for Faye, and checking her ‘weemails’ takes longer each day now the weather is warming up!
There is a secure orchard a few minutes’ walk from our house, where we can let Faye off lead and call her back. She is ridiculously fast with a very long stretch as she runs; she makes her high-speed bursts look very easy. She doesn’t like to go off on her own thankfully, and will happily chase around with the children or come to us if we call her.
Although most of Faye’s time is spent asleep, she loves to relax even when she’s out and about. The other day we discovered her secretly sitting, which is difficult for greyhounds to do. Usually when she is getting up or down, or perching in the car, she ‘sits’ with her legs to her left. On this occasion she was actually sitting properly. If she does it more I will teach her the ‘sit’ command.
On the beach, she dug a small dip in the sand for her huge ribcage so she could lie down comfortably; I’ve no idea if that is usual behaviour.
Faye now has a super new blue martingale collar for best and red house collar for everyday to match her normal martingale; I’m looking into whether to get her a harness to help keep her close when she wants to pull away at the wrong moments.
She’s taken to raising an eyebrow at times, although we are learning to read her body language. She does try to communicate with us when she wants something. As long as we take the time to listen to her and try and hear what she means to tell us; it could be that she wants to go outside, is finding her muzzle itchy or is waiting for her meal.
Faye’s met her ‘grandparents’ and got on really well with them and other visitors. She has interacted with other dogs and been on a walk with a vizsla successfully. I was also able to take Faye to a group dog walk last week, where she did really well most of the time with the six other breeds, although there were some nervous dogs there and one very small, very furry shih-tzu which took her fancy and had to keep a distance.
I am hoping to help her socialise with more dogs over the coming weeks and begin some command training with a clicker now that she has settled into the family. The local community in the village have been wonderful at welcoming her and showing interest when I posted on the local facebook page that she is still adapting to life in a regular home. Many folk came over to our yard sale at the weekend and met her too, which was thrilling. It has really opened opportunities to meet many more folk in our area. Faye is a talking point and a way to connect to people of all ages and abilities.
Faye is making us more disciplined as a family (e.g. time-keeping, responsibilities, getting up and dressed) and helping each of us feel more loved. She is also getting a lot of love from us: learning new walks, trying new treats, having her teeth brushed, fur groomed and a chance to relax safely.
So the dog-shaped hole is definitely filled. I would love another dog, but Faye has taught me that she is enough and is constantly reminding me that there are so many things to be grateful for in life, big and small.
It is now just over a week since we brought Faye home. What an amazing week it has been. The anticipation in the final days leading up to her arrival was not dissimilar to the final days of pregnancy. Are we ready? Are we going to feel like family? Are we going to break the dog? What if something awful happens? Have we read everything? Why? Is all the chocolate and alcohol where the dog can’t reach it? Is all the chocolate and alcohol where I can reach it? Who can we ask all of our remaining really silly questions? Will this be my last ever lie-in? The usual stuff.
Then came the trip last Tuesday, in snow showers, through black fen fields, under moving skies. We were glad the weather had not prevented us travelling. In the morning we met with the Brecks, Fens & Pens Christian writers’ group in West Norfolk. Then a quick bite to eat and off to meet Faye again, fill in paperwork, chat through logistics and ask all the remaining silly questions. Debbie at the King’s Lynn RGT centre was patient and thorough and made sure we knew what we were doing.
We left with Faye at around 1:30, back under the moving skies, through black fen fields and dodging more snow showers, in time for me to collect the children.
Faye has adapted well to living with us. She has whimpered a little in the first few days, and surprised us by barking a couple of times when there were people playing outside at the front, but is very relaxed and easy-going most of the time. I think she must realise she is part of the family now, and is also tentatively trying to become part of the furniture.
Greyhounds love sofas; we have decided however to provide lots of alternative soft and snuggly spaces for Faye. That way, she can have a quiet spot under the stairs and a duvet which can be moved around to different rooms and we have the sofa to relax on without lots of dog hair or having to push her off. She has taken to lying straight on the floor and once or twice trying to sneak on to the sofa when no one is about. She can jump up there no problem, yet apparently isn’t able to jump up into the car. Perhaps she’s after the princess treatment. We’ll have to use treats and take her to lots of interesting places for walks to get her more excited about car travel I think. For now she enjoys spending most of her day asleep wherever she feels safe. Usually this is not far from me, which is wonderful, unless she has recently eaten tripe and got a bit windy. And no Faye, that is not funny.
When she is not snoozing, the next best thing is Going Outside, which Faye can tell might happen at the first sound of getting a coat on or picking up her lead. She adores walks, stopping to check out all the latest smells and wanting to say hello to all the other dogs (most of which are a little nervous of her, as she is still wearing a muzzle at this stage). Even in the snow she enjoyed getting outdoors as often as possible. I love walking her and getting the chance to introduce her to my own friends and people I’ve never met before. Lots of people ask to stroke her or what breed she is (part tiger?) and why she’s wearing a muzzle. The short answer to that is she has to wear one for a few months, while she learns about smaller dog breeds and birds. She’s been trained to race after small furry toys, so may not realise how to behave until we’ve retrained her. Hopefully in time we can trust her on walks without it.
It has been cold here, with snow on several days last week. On Saturday I forced the children off screens for a time to go outdoors and make memories, because that’s the sort of mean mummy I am. Joe helped make a snow-hound, which was great fun. He’d already picked up how Faye lies with one of her front legs folded and one stretched out in front.
Actually I amazed myself by getting creative making a gate sign. I decided I wanted a ‘dog’ notice on the garden gate, but didn’t want anything aggressive. I realised I could paint the shape of a greyhound using a printed outline, a pencil, a sharpie, a block of wood and some old tins of paint. I even drilled the holes and screwed it to the gate.
I’ll do another post on Faye next month at some point, but if there are any topics about greyhounds you want me to cover, do suggest them and I’ll get to those sooner.