Year of the Dog – October

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October is a full-on month here, including the high school open evening, visits to friends and by others, appointments, meetings, seminars, lectures and a short break at the end of the school half term week to mark our wedding anniversary.

Faye has learned to fit around us and our comings and goings. On many occasions she is involved in the comings and/or goings herself, usually without much fuss or complaint.

Early in the month we all dropped out plans however to fit around Faye and treat her to a walk with 60 other greyhounds, in Brandon. She was clearly very happy and waggy to see some of her friends again (human and canine) and didn’t seem to mind the noisy planes overhead.

 

It really was odd walking for almost an hour with so many greys. A few dog walkers with other breeds passed us in the opposite direction and looked surprised to see so many of us. The walk happens every few months of course, but the pack of greyhounds were remarkably quiet and well-behaved on the whole. We met and chatted with a number of other greyhound owners, and learned more about other dogs.

Faye has discovered some other walks as well in our area. She has been to the Gog Magog hills south of Cambridge, on the recommendation of various friends, although we learned the hard way that the running field is not enclosed (!) and I have found one or two walks I can do from our house to different places, which has been fun.

 

As ever, it doesn’t take much for Faye to spot a squirrel. She seems to have a whole section of brain devoted to it. Maybe it’s the section I would have assigned to common sense. I thought she had worked out about not getting tangled around posts, but some days it is just too difficult…

 

She usually stands still and hopes the problem will go away. You can see I am pulling on her lead here too!

That said, she does seem to spend most of her time asleep, often waiting for me to finish whatever project I’m working on that day. I love giving her empty cardboard packaging with leftover kibble for her to work on, and occasionally she gets the last bits of the peanut butter. At least the peanut butter jar stays intact and doesn’t leave the floor strewn with torn up card and paper.

 

Last weekend we went away, and in the process took her for a little walk before dropping her off. We got to a cattle grid and she wasn’t fazed at all, but took a leap and showed us again how powerful her back legs are. She didn’t quite clear it from a standing jump, but she was happy to jump back again on the return. We dropped her off with some of her greyhound friends for a few nights, and she did brilliantly again, even helping the ‘new kid’ settle in.

 

Last night was the Light Trail in the village, put on by the local churches. Although we didn’t get around all the stops, Faye loved having an extra walk and wore her bright lead light and even got herself a couple of glow-sticks. She wasn’t allowed into the light disco, so she stayed outside and tried to get herself a sausage, but didn’t quite manage it.

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So, we are well into coat weather and nice cosy rests by the fire. I’m not as bendy as Faye when it comes to sleeping, but I also love long walks in the autumn and coming home to relax afterwards.

Don’t get too cold this month!

 

Year of the Dog – September

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ROTFL

When I told my dad that I was going to blog about getting and owning a dog for the first twelve months, he suggested that I might run out of material.

I’m not sure Faye would agree.

She has recently discovered rolling on her back in the grass. It’s very funny to watch; she rubs her neck and spine from side to side and wriggles around carefree, before lifting her head, batting her eyelashes and pretending that it wasn’t her. A polite, graceful lady dog would never behave like that!

When greyhounds roll on to their backs it is called ‘roaching’ as they are a little like cockroaches. Faye hadn’t roached at all for us in the first few months; she has only quite recently added roaching to her body language vocabulary. I believe it indicates she feels settled and safe. In any case, most of the time she sleeps in all kinds of random ‘bed fail’ positions, but it doesn’t seem to be any problem. She loves the soft fabrics on her beds and blankets, but sometimes forgets how to position them (even after ‘digging’ them up a little and rotating herself a few times).

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Bed fail

This month has also been the month that I decided trimming claws was just too stressful for all concerned with the regular clippers, and turned to the dremel instead. I wish I’d done it sooner. When we had guinea pigs I could wrap them in a towel and trim their claws. Occasionally they would bleed a tiny bit if I got the quick, with a sharp squeak in case I hadn’t noticed. Faye is substantially larger, and also needs her claws trimming as she doesn’t wear her claws down enough on walks. She prefers trotting along on grassy verges as much as possible and often we walk in the woods or by fields.

So I looked out my husband’s grandfather’s old dremel. Trimming Faye’s nails with an electric tool meant getting her used to the sound for a few days first (it is rather buzzy) and then preparing lots of high-value treats (cheese), before enticing her into the kitchen, holding her down with a towel (husband assistance needed here) and speaking gently, while taking each paw and rounding off and trimming down the claws.

DREMEL® 300 Series (300-1/55)A dremel is a rotating hand-held tool which has many end pieces – we use one like a little drum with sandpaper on and that seemed to work really well. I did forget to get photos, but once Faye got the idea she complied really well and didn’t fuss at all, which was a big relief.

It’s not just claws that I’ve been keen to care for though. We’ve been adding oats to Faye’s food to help with her bare bum – we think the fur is actually returning but need to keep the oats going longer to be certain.

We also try and remember to clean her teeth to keep them healthy, but to make this work and so that I don’t forget I’ve moved her toothbrush and toothpaste to my office, so that I can catch her while she’s lying down near me. Faye enjoys having her teeth cleaned.

She’s getting a little more assertive with us too at times.

This term the children’s school will be completing an extension. At the moment the kitchen is out of action, so all school dinners are served in pre-packed paper bags. We now have a lot of these. One time I tipped Faye’s breakfast left-overs into a bag and gave it to her to take into a safe space (the living room!), tear it open and snuffle around for all the kibble. It only took one occasion and she’s learned to leave half her food most breakfasts to get a paper bag experience most days. I will have to find a new solution when the school dinners are back to normal.

In any case, last week she must have shaken the bag around or carried it upside down, as the contents were all over the living room, and she came up to me and wanted me to see.

It was not art.

I told her firmly that she had to come over and eat it all up. After a few repeats, she got the message. Her tail dropped and she went around the room systematically crunching each little bit until it was all gone. Tearing up paper bags is stimulating for her, but making a mess is not encouraged, so we clear it up afterwards. She has not made a mess again, thankfully!

With the longer summer evenings Faye and I have enjoyed trying some longer walks. I discovered a new walking route to a nearby village with some paths alongside fields which have gates both ends. Perfect for a little off-lead time, but she doesn’t run away. It’s nice that she doesn’t like to be too far away anyway. This has been useful as we have encountered lots of blackberry pickers this year near the fields.

We also discovered a larger field in the next village designed for running dogs off-lead. Apparently today she made friends there with a whippet. She’s super with other sight-hounds, but I am keen not to let her run with other dogs without a muzzle, in case she suddenly bites. Racing dogs always wear muzzles as they do get highly charged, and she can be silly when she’s running about. Half the time she seems to be on squirrel watch. I have to admit I would never have realised quite how many squirrels live near us if I hadn’t had Faye stopping to watch them so often.

The shadows are longer now as the year progresses, and the air is often cooler when we are out walking, so frequently now we are back to putting Faye’s coat on and remembering not to let her overheat.

Coat or no coat, Faye is still something of a local celebrity; walking into the village invariably involves stopping to chat with people who want to ask questions about her, and if I started charging children at the school gates to stroke her, I’d be making a fortune. Many of the children smile when they see her and love how friendly and approachable she is. Faye probably thinks her real name is “Look-at-that-dog!” now. She takes it all in her stride though.

After all, she can look at me, bat her eyelashes and remind me with her huge doggy eyes that she is a polite graceful lady dog really.

And most of the time, I’d have to agree.

Year of the Dog – August

Happy National Dog Day!

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:

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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.

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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!

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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!

Year of the Dog – July

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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.

img_7675.jpgThankfully 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.

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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!

Year of the Dog – June

Take Your Dog To Work Day | Toluna

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.

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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…

Year of the Dog – May

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).

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‘Woof’

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.

Dogs chasing the lure at Crayford, where Faye used to race

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.

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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.

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‘Can I come in? I’ve been waiting here hoping you’d open the 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.

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‘Is it short for More dogs please?’

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:

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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.

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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.

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Happy dreams, Faybo

 

The Writing Place – Hans Christian Andersen

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:

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I never was much good at drawing Norwegian fjords

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.

Someone obviously moved those islands since I drew them

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).

Hans, sensibly wearing layers in the changeable Danish climate
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Andersen’s childhood home

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.

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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.

 

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I never did trust jack-in-the-boxes. So unpredictable.

 

“Ha’ ikke hovedet under armen – for din sikkerheds skyld”

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:

 

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Andersen’s writing desk (far right)

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:

HCA legoLego 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.