The trouble with Dog

I don’t know if you subscribe to the anniversary reaction theory or even know about it. The theory is that feelings experienced on a certain date – and they are usually traumatic or very frightening feelings – are felt again on the anniversary, usually at a reduced level but still, obviously, disturbing. I am not sure whether Dog subscribes to the theory but he certainly has the reaction. When we took him in, he had been badly treated and, even worse for a dog, dumped. Kicked out of the pack he so desperately wanted to be part of, he was running wild for some time. We don’t know how long but when he was eventually caught and taken to Battersea (the Old Windsor site), he was emaciated, full of fleas and with a secondary infection in a wound on his bony little bottom. It was not a happy picture.

After a month in the doggy hospital, Dog is placed in the kennels where we see him and decide to rescue him. We bring him home at the end of October. There are already fireworks going off but they don’t seem to disturb him. Dog doesn’t know how to climb stairs. He looks at them and then at us and we have to place one paw after another to show him what to do. Dog has never been in a car. He has to be lifted into the car and lifted out. He clearly has a lot of learning to do.

The first year we have Dog is challenging. He eats everything. He eats Mr Mason’s passport. He eats a £20 note allowing me to complete the Bank of England form which asks where the remainder of the note is with the immortal words “In the dog”. He chews furniture, he eats shoes. He eats a book telling us how to train a dog. He becomes extremely anxious about other people coming into the house and shows his anxiety by hurling himself around the room, throwing himself on and off the furniture at speed. In our small sitting room, this is worrying. Dog is a big dog. He now weighs a healthy 26kg but I would not want to be hit by a leaping Dog. Dog does not like us going out. It takes over six months before we can leave him successfully at home without him crying desperately. Dog is always good in the car, though, and travels hundreds of miles without complaint. He can also be left in the car during cooler months while we go shopping, for example.

So, back to the anniversary reaction. The first year we have Dog, he starts to behave strangely around the anniversary. Always clean in the house, he starts to wee inside again, without asking to be taken outside. He gets very clingy and chews things. I believe in the first year we consulted a specialist who was not much help. Gradually, he stops doing the bad things. But each year, the behaviour returns, albeit in a milder way. On our sixth anniversary, he shows no reaction at all. I think he feels he is now part of the pack and that we will not be dumping him any time soon although he still worries when we leave the house. If we do not say “See you in a little while” – those exact words – he will cry and fret. Master Mason once left the house without saying it and we had to phone him so he could say it to Dog via his mobile. Dog was satisfied.

So this year we have no reaction but we find out something else about Dog. The smoke alarm beeps to tell us we need to change the battery. Dog is terrified. I have never seen him so frightened. He shakes visibly and cannot be calmed. The smoke alarm beeps once every half an hour but it is too much for Dog. He cannot handle it. We do not understand why he is so frightened – whether it is the pitch of the alarm or whether he has been in a fire before. He clearly is utterly terrified and is on high alert, together with a full-on trembling we have never witnessed. Taking the battery out allows him to relax but it is several hours before he is totally calm.

Dog has many interesting traits. For such a large dog, he is frightened of a number of things including the Psychotic cat. This morning, I come downstairs to witness a queue forming in the hall. This traffic tailback has not been mentioned on the radio although that is something I would very much like to hear. At the head of the queue is the Psychotic cat who  has decided to go slow. Waiting patiently behind her is Dog who cannot bring himself to step over her nor move round her. I join the queue and try to persuade the Psychotic cat to move which she does, very slowly and very disdainfully. Inside, Dog and I high-five whenever  the Psychotic cat falls off the a chair back due to careless relaxing. Dog likes to jam his head under a carelessly idle arm, blanket or cushion. For a dog with so many cares, he likes to hide his head away, possibly under the impression many toddlers have – if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. His other favourite activity is sleeping, preferably in the totally relaxed don’t-have-a-care-in-the-world pose called roaching. Sight hounds are known for it. When fully relaxed, they sleep on their backs with legs up in the air, possibly dreaming of surprising the Psychotic cat. Who knows? But I suspect he probably has his best dreams when in his pyjamas.

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That’s not an aubergine, Jerry

I find it very difficult to try and sum up the last week. On Tuesday I bravely go to the dentist. Why bravely? I hear you cry. I haven’t been to a dentist since BC (before cancer) as it is strictly forbidden when undergoing treatment. Just before diagnosis, a tooth broke but did not cause any pain. My last dentist was a also a pushy sales person, always asking me if I wanted to have my teeth whitened or new braces. They also do botox treatments in the surgery and I do not feel comfortable there. It is difficult finding a new dentist, though. I plough through details online and eventually find one which is not too far away and which has a consistent history of good reviews. This sounds good! I arrive bang on time and the receptionist is very friendly, giving me the forms I have to fill in to register. The dentist herself is lovely. She treats me as an intelligent human being and sits me down in the chair while her assistant (I’m sure there is a technical term – maybe dental nurse?) puts an oversize pair of glasses over my glasses. I am glad there are no mirrors as I am sure I look demented. The dentist asks me about my health and spots the telltale sleeve and glove and knows exactly what it is about which reassures me. She understands something of what has happened to me and is not going to try and pump me full of botox. She checks my teeth doing what my first dentist used to do – shouting out and numbering each tooth for the record, noting any that are missing and the condition of each. It is very soothing. She then takes a couple of x-rays which I don’t even have to move from the chair for. She puts her hand on my shoulder and tells me to just relax. The x-rays come back and she asks me to come and look for myself while she explains what she would like to do. She does not suggest I have my teeth whitened nor carry out treatment without telling me what she is doing. She also tells me I have very good oral hygiene which I am pleased about. She is going to cover the broken tooth as it is not causing me any pain so I have to go back to have an impression taken. This is probably the worst part of dentistry for me. I always think the tray will get stuck in my mouth and it also makes me feel quite panicky to have this massive thing stuck to my teeth. I am not looking forward to it.

We also had, of course, the hospitalisation of Mr Mason Snr and the venturing out of Mrs Mason Snr. I am happy to report that they are both doing well. We are not sure what the cause of the collapse was but everyone seems to have recovered from their individual ordeals and this has also allowed us to re-open the discussions on moving. We want the Masons Snr to live close to us or in an annexe and will be looking for a suitable house in the spring. We will be moving out of London to a much more rural area and anticipate finding a house with a cottage in the garden or finding the Snrs a bungalow nearby. Mrs Mason Snr has been very much opposed to this in the past but the events of last week have gone some way to convincing her that this would be a good idea as we would be on hand to help if anything happens. The fear generated by this kind of incident is immense. Mrs Mason Snr clearly thought her husband was dying and I can only imagine the terror that induced. No wonder she felt confused and upset. I plan to continue the gentle pressure to encourage them to live near us.

Over the weekend I feel very tired and headachey. It’s the consequence of the couple of days before. Just as we are starting to get some equilibrium back, we hear the most terrible news. One of our very good friends has died. This is totally unexpected and after 40 or so years of friendship, the most dreadful blow. It has a very sobering effect on our Sunday evening as we sit and reflect on times we were together and when we last met. I think the last time we were all together was at the local Thai restaurant. Jerry asks me what I think a particular vegetable on his plate is. I say I think it is a very small aubergine and that he can eat it. He eats it. It is not a very small aubergine. It is a very hot chilli. This I did not know. He goes very red in the face and starts sweating. For about 15 minutes he staggers around the bar, drinking copious amounts of water brought by the Thai staff who laugh uproariously amongst themselves (“He eat chilli!”) and mops his face with lots of napkins. It is actually a good memory and makes us laugh. We still have great difficulty in processing what has happened. My sleep is very poor and I constantly wake, tossing and turning. It is the suddenness which is so shocking. And his young age. And the bitter unfairness of it. And his lovely widow who was an absolute rock throughout my treatment last year. Death is so indiscriminate. And we mourn the loss of our fabulous friend. If there is a Heaven, maybe he will meet Lou Reed there who dies on the same day. RIP Jerry. You will be very much missed.

Plans aborted – situation normal

As we all know, planning is a sure fire way for things to go awry and this week is no exception. We have invitations for dinner with friends on Friday and Saturday. They are offering to come and collect us and then cook us delicious food, give us wine and generally allow us to relax and enjoy their company. Alas, life takes over. We receive a phone call from one of Mr Mason’s parents’ neighbours and he says Mr Mason Snr has been taken to hospital in an ambulance having collapsed in the garden. Mrs Mason Snr confirms this although she rarely talks on the phone. Mrs Mason Snr has not left the house in approximately 3 years since Mr Mason Snr collapsed similarly.

The first thing we do is grab phones, a change of clothing and toiletries, Dog and his comestibles and make ready to leave. It is about 3pm when we depart and the traffic is fairly light. On arrival, the kind neighbour leaves and we try and pick over the detail of what has actually happened. There is not much information. Mrs Mason Snr makes strenuous attempts to find reasons she cannot come to the hospital with us. She cannot find shoes, she cannot find a coat, her socks are too thick and finally she cannot find keys. This is the biggest issue as Mr Mason Snr has keys on him but, if we leave, we may not be able to get back in. Finally, they are found. Mr Mason Jnr brings the car back down the drive and I help his mother shuffle to the car. She is bemused, confused and frightened. She gets into the car and cannot shut the door, do her seatbelt up or think straight. We are on hand to help. Arriving at the hospital, I circumvent the reception at the Emergency Department by asking a Doctor where Emergency Majors is. This is where he is being held treated. We find him in a cubicle and, as luck would have it, the Doctor is with him. She treats him with great dignity and respect as he recounts what happened. He felt a tightness in his chest and difficulty breathing but he felt dizzy, too. The tightness in the chest went but he felt dizzy for a long time and was sick in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The Doctor says she wants to do more tests on his heart ‘just in case’.

Mr Mason Snr is keen to tell us about his ambulance ride. He feels it is one of the worst drives he has ever had and he felt more comfortable in an armoured vehicle. When he was sick, the paramedic asked him if it was her driving that had done it. Clearly they had had a good rapport with their patient. A nurse comes to do another trace of his heart and we take keys from him, including his car keys which, given he hasn’t driven for months, seems an odd thing to keep in the pocket. I suspect it is habit. As we wait for the next stage in his treatment, a patient is brought into the next cubicle and clearly is suffering from some kind of dementia as she repeats over and over “Is it on time? Is it on time?” The staff try to reassure her but she suddenly shouts “I want to go to bed!” before going back to her previous repetitions. On being examined, she shouts out again “He’s hurting me!” and sounds so upset and frightened but there are lots of murmurings and apologies from the staff tending to her.

Mr Mason Snr is quickly moved into another ward where he can have a proper bed and within seconds, a nurse arrives with food (and a choice of 3 desserts!) and asks if he would like a cup of tea. Aside, she asks if he can manage a proper cup. The tea arrives in a mug and the man opposite begins to complain loudly that he wanted a mug but they gave him a small cup and it’s not fair! He spends the rest of the time we are at the hospital glaring at us and making harrumphing noises. As Mr Mason Snr bites into his sandwich, I take a photograph and email it to Miss and Master Mason so they won’t be too alarmed. At 7pm we leave and try to exit the hospital. Easier than it sounds. Apparently, once through the doors it is impossible to exit through the same doors and means we have to circumnavigate the corridors with me supporting Mrs Mason Snr who is clearly having trouble assimilating all that she sees and hears after 3 years indoors. She shuffles along, grasping my arm and, not having thought it through, I have given her my lymphoedema arm which is gripped soundly causing not a little pain. I pass her over to Mr Mason and he strides along with her tripping along in his wake. I keep saying “Hold onto your mother!” as though she may escape our clutches but really to stop her falling headlong and ending up in casualty.

Eventually we find our way out of the hospital and back to the car. They are going to check Mr Mason Snr’s blood in the middle of the night to see if there is any unusual activity so we decide to stay the night as we can’t leave Mrs Mason Jnr alone in the house. All plans aborted for now.

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Saturday paddling

After a challenging week, Saturday arrives which means paddling. Not the roll-up-your-trousers at the seaside kind of paddling but full-on Dragon Boat paddling. Well, maybe full-on is a bit of an exaggeration. The weather is grey and rain threatens but we set off across London with our friend and her daughter. The team is set up for anyone affected by cancer and we are gradually building a good team. We are Wave Walkers and we have ambition! We have 18 people on the boat today and everyone is in good spirits. Mr Mason and I have not been for a while so we do a basic refresher with some new paddlers while everyone else gets warmed up. I am paired with a regular Raging Dragon – the professional arm of our club – and he promises to drag me out of the dock should our boat capsize. This is not something that has happened before but we always have a safety drill beforehand and number off so we each have a buddy should there be an accident.

Our coach takes us through a lot of set-up practice. We wave our paddles about to commands of “One! Two! Stroke!” Part of the problem with our group is that we all like each other a lot and spend a lot of time chatting and ribbing each other. Any comment about how well someone is doing generally meets a chorus of  “Ooooh, aren’t you clever?” type remarks.  It also helps to know your left from your right and some of the team clearly have issues with this. I mention no names but you know who you are. Suzannah. We paddle with the paddles the correct way and then paddle with them upside down so we can practice our kick – the leg movement that adds more power to our paddling. During the stroke, you also have to twist  your upper body so you are not using your arms to power the paddle – it is coming from your core and the kick. Mr Mason and I are rather challenged by the slipping one buttock off the seat whilst twisting. Well padded though I am, I feel my bottom complaining about such rough treatment. We swap sides during our training so both buttocks get the same workout. It would look plain weird to build up muscle on just one side. We are planning to enter the Vogalonga 2014. It’s a 30km paddle through the Grand Canal in Venice and it going to be a huge challenge for us as a team. None of us is very fit and we are all at different stages of recovery together with our friends and family.  We also need new members in the London area so if you like the sound of it, get in touch.

Saturday evening we go out with friends to a local noodle bar. On the way I start to feel my muscles aching but in the way you know you’ve been active rather than pulled a muscle. Having also completed my Mindfulness practice before leaving home, I am positively Zen for the evening. We have a lively and fun evening and that night I sleep like a log.

In the morning, I ache in lots of places, particularly the stomach and thighs which, I think, proves I was paddling effectively. I feel my buttocks are bruised, though, and cannot think of any way to find out other than showing them to Mr Mason. He says, after looking, I think, a tad too long that they are fine and unbruised. Clearly my natural padding worked. Paddling together with Mindfulness has given me a clear head, for once, and I feel quite energetic and enthusiastic. I certainly don’t sit down much on Sunday but that may also have something to do with the pain in my buttocks… Roll on the next training session!

Blow the wind southerly

This blog is not for the faint-hearted. Its contents will never persuade anyone to give me work – certainly not after they read this post.

Mr Mason and I like to live dangerously. Well, just sometimes. Today is week 3 of our Mindfulness course and this week we are doing Mindful stretches. It’s the kind of scene you see in a good old fashioned sit-com. Lots of people lying on blankets on the floor stretching in a variety of poses. Some are lithe and supple, some are less so and therefore the rolling around is less attractive. There is also the problem of bringing the knees up to the chest. There is a palpable ripple of anxiety that goes around the room as the less flexible of us wonder whether there will be a telltale escape of gas. Having consumed just an apple on the way to the class, I wonder if it will be me and rarely have I squeezed the requisite muscles harder so as not to embarrass myself in front of a class full of the wealthy of Fulham together with a smattering of us cancer and ex-cancer lags. Luckily, no-one lets rip which is a huge relief. It could so easily have been Mr Mason. As a teenager I went to a yoga class with a friend. We were the lithe and supple ones then and the rest of the class were – well, probably in their thirties and upwards. During a bending move, one of the older ladies let out an enormous fart and my friend and I, together with the rest of the group, laughed. The difficulty came when the rest of the group stopped their polite giggle and we were still laughing, so much so that movement became impossible and we had tears of laughter running down our faces long after everyone else had gone back to the serious business of yoga. I believe we just left the class in the end and never went back.

Passing wind can be a fraught business. I was once in the ladies toilet at the Natural History Museum with my friend L (she of the plastic bag knickers) and, once in the cubicle, she farted loudly. On emerging, she asked me whether I thought it was rude to fart in a public toilet. I think the answer has to be no. If not in a toilet, then where? On a trip to Newcastle with her once, she also let rip loudly as we were walking along. She says she cannot help it but I can’t help feeling there is a sense of merriment about her flatulence and that she is perhaps more at ease with herself than many of us are. Before we were married, Mr Mason and I were shopping when I was overcome with that terrible urge we are all aware of (apart from my friend, L, obviously) and succumbed to it silently and deadly. It was so overwhelming I moved away, my eyes watering. Mr Mason, still in the days of viewing his bride-to-be as wholesome and attractive, glared menacingly at a young man who was also shopping at the same time. When we emerged, Mr Mason asked if I had smelled the terrible aroma. I admitted I had. He went on to say he had given the perpetrator a suitably disdainful look to let him know he knew he was the source of the terrible stench. It was many years before I could admit the perpetrator was myself and that I put it down to his Mum making me eat Smash (the dehydrated potato product that, reconstituted with water, tasted like I imagine cardboard tastes). The Smash also still had lumps in. I rest my case. Mr Mason’s godfather is extremely deaf and often lets rip, possibly congratulating himself in slipping one out silently. Unfortunately for him, the rest of us are all possessed of good hearing.

That evening, as we retire, I make my way into the bedroom to hear a girl saying “Look at her! Did you ever see a woman as ugly as that?” which quite upset me until I realised Radio 4 was on and it was a programme about The Twits. Mr Mason has not smuggled a small child in with the express purpose of upsetting me. What a relief. As I root through my box of medication to find the requisite pills to take, Mr Mason takes a sudden interest. In many respects, Mr Mason and Dog are as one in that they take interest in the noise of anything vaguely crinkly eg plastic packets, biscuit packets, crisp packets. They see them as a source of treats which, in this case, is not forthcoming for Mr Mason. They also have synchronised their bladders somehow which would surely make the basis for a good study. I turn out the light and lie in the darkness, knowing that sleep will be coming for me shortly, reflecting on what an entertaining thing flatulence is and that, old as I am, I will never cease to find it funny. Happily, I just can’t grow up.

The deceitful carrots

The organic vegetable box arrived today. We order milk, butter and eggs from them, too, and it’s quite exciting to see which vegetables they are giving us every week as they change weekly and with the season. The weather is still quite cold and gloomy so I decide we will have a slow-cooked casserole. Plundering the box for goodies we find, amongst other things, a bunch of purple carrots. They are deeply purple and I think they will go very nicely in the casserole. I peel them carefully and yes, they are still purple.  I have been tricked before by beautiful purple beans which, once in the saucepan, revert to green, but these carrots really and truly ARE purple. It is enough to make the heart sing. Or hum a little, at least. As I cut them into chunks, I find these purple carrots have a layer of purple and beneath that, they are ORANGE. The traitors. They promise so much in terms of colour and then fail to deliver as they are just wearing coats of purple. They go into the casserole just the same and I suspect will taste good but whether they will have shunned their purple coats by the time they are cooked we have yet to see.

It reminded me of other things that promise much but fail to deliver like Werther’s Originals. They are just butterscotch which makes them not even original. Their advertising campaign is one that drives me to distraction. A simpering woman says “I remember when Grandfather took me to my first caramel shop”. OK, Stop there. Caramel shop? What on earth is that? It is clearly something dreamed up in the minds of the advertising agency because I have never in my life seen a caramel shop. Shops that specialise in fudge or high-end chocolate but never a caramel shop. That woman in the advert is lying through her teeth. Shame on Werther’s. Not original and inventing a special kind of shop in order to sell their run-of-the-mill confectionary. It’s a similar story with Wagon Wheels. They used to be enormous, the size of a large man’s hand and now are reduced to teeny tiny things, not fit for the name Wagon Wheels. The whole point is that they were huge so to continue calling such a diminutive biscuit a Wagon Wheel is patently ludicrous. And while we’re on the subject, Jacob’s used to advertise their Club biscuits with the tag line ‘If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our Club’. Well, have you looked at the amount of chocolate on a Jacob’s Club biscuit lately? There is the merest hint of chocolate. Gone is the thick layer of milk chocolate (Orange *****, Raisin – yeuck, Ordinary ***) or plain chocolate (Mint *****) and we are left with a thin layer which is hardly worth it. It’s not a Club I will be joining any time soon.

On a totally separate note, I have just had my flu jab. I go to collect my prescription and there is a notice in the pharmacy saying ‘Flu Jabs! Get yours now!’ or words to that effect. I ask the pharmacist whether they are now giving flu jabs and she tells me they have been doing so for the last 4 years. I ask if I can have a flu jab. She checks my record of prescriptions and we agree it should be on the basis of low immunity. “When do you want it done? We can do it any time” she asks. I ask if she can do it now as I am there and willing. She says she can and I am shown into a small office where she warms the serum and then very efficiently jabs me in the arm. That’s it. All done. If only other things in life were so simple.

 

Listening to raisins

In an effort to bring peace and harmony to my troubled mind, I sign up for an 8 week course of Mindfulness. I am not sure what it will be like except it is akin to meditation and that seems the right direction for me to go in. I have probably mentioned this before in my blog but, with the state of my memory, I cannot be sure and even if I did mention it, I am sure I did not blog about the first session. Mr Mason also enrols and together we trot off to The Haven in Fulham. There are quite a few of us for the first session and I know one of the women who is leading the group so it’s nice to see a familiar face. I don’t go to The Haven very often. I know some people swear by it but I find it less friendly and not as welcoming as Maggie’s where I spent a large part of my cancer treatment just hanging out with other people. Maggie’s has a large kitchen table and kitchen area at its centre with a log burning stove for the really cold weather. This should come in handy if the expected heavy snowfall we are predicted materialises in November. But, as usual, I digress.

We take our shoes off, divest ourselves of coats and bags and sit around in a circle with our feet supported by wonderfully comfortable meditation cushions. I sit separately from Mr Mason and, for solidarity, the only other man in the group comes to sit next to him. We do introductions and a short introductory meditation and then we have a practical exercise to complete. When I see what it is I fear Mr Mason will have great difficulty with it. We are told we are to be given 3 objects which we are to study intently. The objects are raisins and first we look at them. We then choose one (and I already have a favourite) and sniff it. Then we listen to it. Now I have never listened to fruit in my life, nor any other kind of food if I am honest. Of course, there is the popping of corn, I suppose but I can’t think of any other food which makes a noise. So, we listen to our raisins and mine does make a crackling sound when it is rolled between my fingers. I cannot look at Mr Mason because I fear he will be having an apoplectic fit at being asked to listen to a raisin. Once we have listened, we put them in our mouths and roll them around. Again, I fear Mr Mason will just chew and swallow without doing the requisite rolling so I cannot glance in his direction. After rolling, we get to chew and finally swallow the raisin. All this has been done mindfully so that we pay close attention to what is happening in the moment and use all our senses when completing this exercise.

After we have finished this exercise, we discuss how it felt for each of us and I am relieved to find a great deal of humour within the group. I even confess to having a favourite raisin and no-one says this is weird. We practise a mindful body scan which is the exercise we will be practising every day. I find it challenging to keep my mind on the task but this is the same for everyone in the group and we are told that is OK, too, as long as we bring our minds back to the point we are supposed to be focusing attention on.

Once the group is finished, we all huddle into a small area to don shoes and coats en masse and then we are whisked away by the lift and out into the autumn air. I suggest to Mr Mason that we walk back to Hammersmith via North End Road market which is one of my favourites. We buy fruit, vegetables and meat and then stop for a coffee. It is a very contented day and I have the necessary energy to enjoy it. We have done our mindfulness practice, we have had our required exercise and we have bought some great food. Arriving home, Dog is ecstatic to see us, as usual. His welcome is always cheering, even as he gets under our feet and trips us up, it is impossible not to be infected by his pure joy which is perhaps the best ending to a good day.

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