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“Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” A.A. Milne.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

I recently saw the new movie ‘Christopher Robin’.  It was (perhaps predictably) very sweet (although not sickly sweet enough as to cause a sugar coma) and, as an early and adoring reader of A.A Milne (especially the poems . . . ‘I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name . . . ‘) evoked nostalgic memories of happy times I spent along with C.R. and his friends on their many rambling adventures around the Hundred Acre Wood . . .

Now I know that movies are movies and real life is real life and movies (more often than not) take diabolical liberties with the truth (the real Christopher Robin was probably turning in his grave) but the one thing I especially liked about this movie was that all the little critters actually looked like the real toys I had always imagined them to be, rather than the prettied up Disney versions that have so eclipsed E.H. Shepard’s wonderful original drawings.

Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and Eeyore (‘ . . . it’s not much of a tail but I’m sort of attached to it . . . ‘)  were all a little careworn and grubby and frayed around the edges—just as any much-loved childhood toy should be.

Below is (most obviously, I hope) not a sketch of that most beloved and humble Winnie.  It is, however, a sketch of another bear who carries the same telltale scars of being on the receiving end of a lifetime of deep love and devotion . . .

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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‘A bear teaches us that if the heart is true, it doesn’t matter much if an ear drops off.’ Helen Exley.

Last weekend I started my usual annual spring clean and clear out.  I had a plan.  I would start with the easy rooms first, the bedrooms.  They wouldn’t take long.  Just move the furniture, get into the corners that haven’t been got into over the winter, wash the curtains, clean the windows, wipe down the walls, clean the carpets, go through the wardrobes . . .

Okay.  Maybe this was going to take a little bit longer than I originally thought . . .

It doesn’t really help that I can be so easily distracted from the task at hand.  There I was, beavering happily away, when I glanced at the bed (where all three girls were comfortably ensconsed ‘supervising’ the proceedings) when I noticed that as Maudie was watching me she was also happily chewing on one of my teddy’s ears.  ‘No Maudie,’ taking it gently from her.  ‘That’s not your bear, that’s my bear.’   (Maudie looked somewhat crestfallen—he was obviously a very tasty bear.)    But as I moved that little (slightly dusty, slightly dog-chewed) teddy out of harm’s way it occurred to me that I really had no idea where this bear had come fromor even how long I had owned him (for he definitely was a he-bear—he was wearing a bow tie).

It turned out that I had eight (yes, eight) teddies living quietly in that first bedroom.  Two of them were gifts I received many many years ago—my Paddington Bear (red wellies and all) which my mum gave me and my ‘Berliner Bear’ which someone gave me for my 21st birthday—but where the other six came from I have no clue.  I can only assume I must have bought them for myself over the years.  Why I still have them in my bedroom now (i.e. how they have all managed to survive my many decluttering rampages) I am not so sure.

I don’t remember having a beloved teddy as a child—dogs and cats were always my cuddle-buddies when I was a kid—but perhaps by subconsciously collecting them now I am mourning some sort of latent childhood loss?  (I was deprived!  I never had a teddy!)  Er . . .  maybe not . . .

I do admit though there is something innately precious about a teddy bear.  Any teddy bear. There’s something about their little furry bodies and the wise little faces.  I mean—what’s not to love?

My old dog Harry was only 10 weeks old when he adopted ‘Teddy’ and his devotion was soon absolute.  For all his long life Harry would not settle to sleep without his beloved bear.  He would carry Teddy carefully into his bed, tuck him gently up underneath him and drop off to sleep with his head resting gently on Teddy’s cheek.  When Harry passed peacefully at the age of nineteen I buried Teddy with him.  How could I not?

So perhaps that is the connection for me.  Perhaps when I see any teddy now it reminds me of that patched, balding, chewed on (and exceedingly smelly) bear that brought so much joy and comfort to my lovely and still greatly missed boy.

Okay.  Maybe I can see why those teddies are still in my bedroom after all.  I reckon they can all stay a little bit longer . . .

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Did you know that there are over 300 words for love in canine?’ Gabriel Zevin.

When I arrive home after being out of the house all day I am always met at my front door by my small (but extremely loud) pack of fur children (I swear the whole neighbourhood knows when I get home).  Molly will run in circles barking at the top of her lungs.  Mabel will wriggle, grin her lop-sided grin and yip excitedly . . . and then there’s Maudie . . .

Maudie comes at me like a doggie-sunami, sweeping aside anything in her path (including her sisters).  She will shriek with excitement, hopping about on her back legs and waving her front paws wildly in the air, and then, quite suddenly, she will realise something is missing.  She will skid to a halt, do a complete about-face, and hurtle headlong back into the depths of the house in search of that missing something.  She’s forgotten to bring me her ‘Ball’ . . .

Ball is one of Maudie’s 300 words for love.  It is her comfort and joy.  (Think Linus and his blanket.)  She takes her ball to bed with her in the evening, and it is the first thing she looks for in the morning. She takes it outside to sit in the sun with her and it has its own special place beside her on the sofa in the evenings.  The only time I ever see her really upset is if Mabel steals it from her and refuses to give it back.  (This causes such a ruckus that I usually have to intervene on Maudie’s behalf.  Mabel can be a real little *&#% when she wants to be . . . )  

Unfortunately, Ball is now in imminent danger of being loved to death.  Comprised of some sort of dense squishy foam the constant and unyielding onslaught of Maudie-love (along with Mabel nibbling pieces off it occasionally just to stir her sister up) has seen it begin to disintegrate at an alarming rate.  It used to be the size of regular tennis ball, but has now shrunk to the size of a (weirdly shaped) golf ball. What happens when Ball crumbles completely and Maudie is left bereft doesn’t bear thinking about.  So for the last few months I have been quietly searching for some kind of replacement.  It has proved no easy task.

It’s not that Maudie doesn’t love a new toy—quite the opposite.  Every new thing I have brought home for her has been a joy and a delight.  For about five minutes. Then it has been gently discarded and rarely looked at again.  Nothing (so far) has come close to competing for her affections.  I was beginning to despair.  And then a couple of weeks ago I came across a site selling cat balls.  (That doesn’t quite sound right.  Perhaps I should have said ‘ balls for cats’ . . .  )

Anyway, these seemed to be about the same size as Ball is now and made of the same squishy material.  (I couldn’t get a green one but I thought (hoped) that she might be more concerned with the taste and texture than the colour.)  In fact, so convinced was I that these balls were exactly what I was looking for that I bought a bunch of them (6 balls for one dollar.  Woo Hoo!  ‘Hey big spender . . .’ )

When they finally arrived early this week I was so excited to show them to Maudie that I gave them a huge build up.  I worked her up into a frenzy of anticipation as I slowly undid the wrappings.  And she loved it. Her eyes grew wide and she yipped excitedly and pawed at the packet.  I held up one of the new balls and she launched herself at it, grabbed it and took off running.  She ran twice around the house in glee—yay—a new ball!  She threw it in the air and caught it and threw it again.  She took it outside and showed it her favourite sunny spot in the back garden.  She rolled it around in her mouth and chomped on it and even rumbled a warning at Mabel when she wandered too close.

Feeling very pleased with myself and confident I had at least found a contender I took myself off to do a couple of chores and make myself a nice cup of tea.  When I returned I found the living-room littered with shredded wrapping paper (I should have seen that coming) and a scattering of small, brightly coloured balls.

And there was Maudie—fast asleep and snoring happily on the couch . . .

. . . and nestled safely between her two front feet was . . . you guessed it . . . her old, decrepit, smelly, beloved Ball . . .

‘Maudie Maudie Maudie—go find me a ball . . . ‘

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.’ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

loveI am no longer sure what I was actually looking for at the time, but I came across a site the other day which listed the ‘500 most frequently used words in the English language’. Curiosity got the better of me (as it often does where words are concerned) and I had a quick look.  Most of the Top 500 were, as you might have guessed, ordinary, everyday words. (Number One on the list‘the’—in case you were wondering . . . )  

What did surprise me though was the word ‘love’ came in at number 387.  Could that be right?   Surely not. I checked another site (Top 1000).  This time ‘love’ was number 391.  Huh.  Considering I seem to hear the word being bandied about incessantly of late (‘don’t you love that programme’  . . . ‘ I just love spaghetti’ . . .  ‘I would love to be able to do that’ . . . ‘ OMG, I love those shoes’ . . . ) I really thought it would be higher up the list (most definitely before ‘feet’ at number 275, or, at the very very least, right up there next to ‘dog’ at number 317 . . . )

question1Dictionary.com defines love as ‘a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend; sexual passion or desire;  a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart’.  It doesn’t mention shoes, or pasta, or TV shows (or dogs for that matter, but that is obviously an oversight or an editing error . . . )  Although that definition is still relevant, it is also very obvious that we now use the word to cover a much broader spectrum.  Which begs the question—’Can one ever truly love a thing?’

loveshoesThere are certainly people out there in the world who would say ‘yes’ and the internet is littered with people who claim true love with (and have even married) inanimate objects. (Don’t believe me?  See here.)  Personally, although I admit to having developed very strong feelings for certain pairs of shoes over the years, I fear I am too fickle to profess undying love (new season, new shoes) but having been witness to such love myself, I don’t feel I can completely disregard it either.

img113When my first dog Harry was still a tiny boy he fell deeply in love with a small stuffed donkey called ‘Teddy’.  All his life Harry adored Teddy, even long after his constant attentions had reduced the once soft and cute toy to a smelly, patched, restuffed, balding brown blob (with ears). During the day Teddy was never far from Harry’s side and every evening he would ensure that Teddy was tenderly tucked up in bed with him before he fell asleep.

Many times over the years (especially after Teddy got really smelly and gross) I tried to tempt Harry away with lovely new toys, new games, even a new little brother (Frank), but his loyalty to Teddy never waned.  It was love.  Pure and simple.  When Harry passed away at 19 years of age I buried his beloved Teddy with him.  It seemed only right.

img116If I thought this was the last time I would witness such a love I was wrongalthough this time I fear that Maudie’s ‘Ball’ (we are not very inventive with our names, are we?) is unlikely to live as long as Teddy.  Maudie is still only six and Ball is already pitted and pocked, and nibbled and gnawed—and frankly, quite disgusting.  It’s not even actually round any more.  Maudie doesn’t care.  Maudie thinks it is the most beautiful ball in the world . . .

So by now you are probably thinking that I’ve seriously lost the plot.  A dog loving a toy and a human being professing true love for their pillow is not nearly the same thing.

Perhaps not.  But who am I to judge?   It seems to me that if everyone could find some-one . . . or some-thing . . . to love as much as Harry loved his Teddy and Maudie loves her Ball, the whole world might just be all the better off for it . . .

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Posted by on January 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and none of them are wrong.’ W. R. Purche.

best in showI recently re-watched the fabulous ‘mockumentary’ Best in Show.  (If you have never seen this movie you are missing out.  You don’t even have to be a ‘doggie’ person to enjoy it as it is, in reality, much more about the people who own the dogs than the dogs themselves.)  Anyway, watching it again made me realise that, in spite of my love of dogs, I don’t think I have ever been to a real-honest-to-goodness dog show—and I’m talking a ‘proper’ (note the inverted commas) dog show here, where all the dogs of a particular breed look exactly like each other (at least to me) and you have to have a PhD in Rules and Regulations to fill in the entry application.

ChupeeI have, however, attended lots of smaller local events, where showing off your best friend is a much simpler, and much less serious affair.  In my experience these shows often involve someone having to break up a fight (not necessarily between the dogs), or call for volunteers for a cleanup crew because somebody ate too many sausage sangers, or send out a search party for a mischievous pup who’s gone walkabout.  Categories usually include ‘Dog with the Prettiest Eyes’, ‘Dog with the Waggiest Tail’, ‘Dog with the Silliest Smile’, or ‘Dog You Would Most Like to Take Home with You’.  (So, more of a Ruffs than a Crufts.)

dog-biscuit-clip-art-690442‘Proper’ dog shows have been around for over 150 years.  The first bonefide modern dog show, was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (England) in 1859 and was an ‘add on’ attraction to their very successful annual poultry and cattle show.  It was very much a country affair though, and only setters and pointers were shown.  (The prizes were all guns too—although hopefully the actual competitors were rewarded for their efforts as well).

dog show plaqueLater that same year the first show to include non-sporting breeds was held in Birmingham and was such a huge success that the first National Dog Show in 1862 attracted 267 entries, 30 breeds, and was judged in 42 classes. The Victorians loved their dogs so much that the next 14 years saw massive growth in this new and fashionable hobby. The Dog Shows themselves were mostly for the city folk, as they were available to people of all classes and popular both with exhibitors and spectators.  The Field Trials were mostly popular with those living in more country areas.

dogwalkdog(Many years ago I took my first puppy, Harry, to watch some local field and agility trials.  I thought it could be a fun thing we could learn to do together, but he showed very little interest and slept through most of it.  Thank God for that.  Until that day I hadn’t realised just how much running around the handler was expected to do as well.  Phew.  Dodged a bullet there . . . )

I have never been tempted to show any of my dogs, even at the fun local events.  Harry never really considered himself a dog anyway and would have been mortified beyond belief if I had tried to show him off as such.  His younger brother Frankie, on the other hand, was very much a doggie-dog but he would have caused bedlam just through his sheer unadulterated joy at being around so many other four-legged friends.  (He also had the attention span of a gnat so I doubt anyone could have got him to stand still long enough to be judged anyway.  Bless.)

shydogAnd as for my girls—Mabel is so shy that being in the company of more than two people at a time causes her to hide behind my legs or bury her face in my sweater and refuse to come out.  Maudie is far more outgoing and would, I am sure, thoroughly enjoy the whole process.  She is also, however, Frankie reincarnated, and her capacity for joy, and chaos, is unmatched.  (Oh, and if someone touches her tummy when she is not expecting it she will either shriek or pee—possibly both.  I’m not certain, but I imagine she might lose points for that.)

And then there’s Molly . . .  well, you would have to catch her first.  Molly prefers to stay low key and out of sight—while issuing instructions and opinions from under the sofa.best dog award

So no, I can’t really see us participating in a dog show any time soon.  But that’s okay.  I don’t need anyone else to tell me that my dogs are fabulous, I already know that.

And, truth be told, most people who love their dogs already think they have hands-down-no-argument-best-dog-ever, and nobody else’s opinion (even a judge at a fancy dog show) is likely to change that.

Whether your dog is massively huge and slobbery or teeny-tiny small and dainty . . . or beautifully proportioned, or looks like a keg on legs  . . . if her coat is bright and full and shiny or he is going grey around the muzzle and getting bald spots . . . if he’s a picky eater, or she prefers to eat your furniture . . .  if she’s quiet and shy or he’s boisterous and madcap . . . or even if he (or she, let’s be fair) is just really old and grumpy and farts a lot . . . no-one should tell you otherwise.

You really do have the very best dog . . .

Group of twelve dogs

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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