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.


Season of mists and fibro fingers

When I wake up this morning, two things are different. Firstly, there is a lovely autumn mist curling its way around outer London which means Autumn has really arrived. The sun, which breaks through mid-morning is the kind that warms the skin but not the air. The second thing which is different is that I have a fibro finger. What is this? I hear you cry. The little finger on my right hand hurts. A lot. It hurts to the touch, it hurts when I bend it and before you say “Don’t bend it, then” it also hurts without either of these two things happening. Fibromyalgia is such a mystery. I go to bed on Sunday evening without any pain in my finger. I wake a couple of times during the night as the pain makes itself felt and by the time I wake finally, my finger is really hurting. I don’t use my little finger for many things – in fact, I can’t think of anything specific I use it for, but collectively it is quite useful. When I go to the shops today, the little finger makes it plain carrying anything is out of the question. It says it will only be used to hold up whimsically if I drink tea from a bone china cup. As I don’t drink tea, the offer is somewhat redundant. Gradually during the course of the morning my middle finger joins in. But the pain reminds me I have the results of a bone scan due this week. Never have I wished for damage from radiotherapy so much.

Dog and the psychotic cat try to distract me during the afternoon. Dog does a beautiful example of one of his yoga moves. It’s called the Stretch and Fart and he does it long and loud.  He has been known to startle himself with one of his own farts and manages to look shocked and reproachful at the same time. He could also give Captain Stinkypants a run for his money. The psychotic cat sits beside me on the arm of the sofa (I am on the sofa, not the sofa arm. That would be silly). I occasionally forget she is a psychotic cat and absentmindedly stroke her whereupon she bites me. The psychotic cat was rescued from a cavity wall in Putney. Sometimes she is so vile I think I might drive over there and put her back. In the end I turn on the tv and catch up with programmes I missed while we were away. Time is going so slowly this week and I feel we will never get to Wednesday when I hope to hear about my scan. Despite being outwardly calm, it breaks into my dreams and invades my subconscious. All I can think is ‘Roll on Wednesday’.

Barry and Gary

We once had a cat called Malcolm whose specialty was meeting and greeting. Whenever people came to the house, he would always greet them at the door saying “How lovely to see you again. Do come this way” and escort them into the house. He often sat on the pillars next to the garden gate and greeted people in the street. We were never surprised to see total strangers giving him a cuddle. He was a real people-cat. At our hotel in Greece, we have 2 cats to entertain us. Barry is a ginger tom with very large accoutrements and lies on the floor in a position I have never seen another cat adopt before.


Barry is a little aloof but enjoys being fed at meal times. He circulates around the outdoor tables and graciously accepts scraps from us. He is definitely an alpha cat. One morning, he doesn’t appear and instead we are entertained by Gary, another ginger tom but much younger and kittenish. Gary is cheeky and likes to be cuddled. He appears desperate for food and also has a mad five minutes occasionally which see him scooting up the olive trees and then dangling precariously from its branches. He is adept at stealing food. A dropped sausage is like manna to him and he is there, quick as lightning, to pilfer it. He uses his cute looks to climb onto chairs so he will be at food height, always open to the lure of an unattended plate. At night, he can be heard sometimes shouting to be let in but nobody does. Hotel cats in Greece live a different life to house cats in the UK.


On a Friday morning, we catch the bus to Rhodes Town. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and it is another beautiful day. The bus is packed with people who all have similar ideas to our own – to wander around the town and have lunch although we have an additional purpose. My mother died at the beginning of September and we had to decide whether to continue with our long-planned holiday or cancel. It’s a delicate decision but we decide, on balance, that we will continue with our holiday plans and so on this, the day of her funeral, we find somewhere nice to sit and reflect. Near the gate to the port are the ruins of a mediaeval church and at the same time the funeral is happening in England, I sit quietly in the sun. Afterwards, we take a walk through the gate to look at the ships and huge liners in the bay. We get another surprise. There is an elderly gentleman, naked but for a carrier bag belted to his waist, rolling about in the shallows at the edge of the sea. I have not seen such attire since our friend, LK, devised a pair of carrier bag pants for sitting on garden furniture after a shower of rain. But I digress. We sneak forward to investigate further on the pretext of looking at some of the ships. By the sea wall there is a bag with clothes in it and I realise he is probably just having a bath in the sea. Perhaps he is homeless and has no other option. We see a lot of young children begging which we haven’t noticed on previous trips to Greece.


At our hotel, the receptionist tells us there is 30% unemployment in Greece at the present time and that seasonal workers can no longer claim any kind of benefit to help them once the season finishes. It sounds a very tough way to live and makes it more likely that the gentleman taking the alfresco bath was not doing so out of pleasure.

We arrive back at the hotel to see an impromptu juggling exhibition by Barry who has caught a mouse and is busy seeing how high he can throw it and still catch it. About 3 feet, Barry, about 3 feet. Well done.

Unsuitable bottoms

Today is a day for unsuitable bottoms; the kind of clothing you would only wear in the privacy of your own home but not be seen dead in outside. For me, it’s the inevitable tracksuit bottoms as they are comfortable and have a strangely reassuring feel. They mean that, despite their sporty origins, I will not have to stray far from the sofa today which is good, because that’s exactly how I feel.

Yesterday was a good day and I managed to walk 4km without keeling over. With Race For Life looming, I am trying to walk further and further although I know I won’t reach the 10km until the actual day. But today I feel quiet and a little withdrawn so I’m on the sofa wearing unsuitable bottoms and watching a feel-good film about a jockey who has a terrible accident. Or at least, that’s as far as the story has got but I’m sure he must recover or that there will be a life-affirming ending. In the film, someone states that horse riding is the most dangerous sport in the world. I wondered if this was right so I checked online. The list I saw shows cave diving as the most dangerous sport with horse riding coming in at number 9, just ahead of heli skiing. But the thing that surprised me the most was that cheerleading comes in at number 2. Apparently throwing those girls around and waving pom poms is more dangerous than riding a bull or base jumping. Good job I’m staying on the sofa, then.

Something else that ocurred to me the other day was that cats wouldn’t get trodden on so often if they weren’t so competitive and didn’t try to stay in front all the time. Bunty spends a lot of her day trying to predict where I might be going so she can get there ahead of me, as though there is some competition between us. I once saw a film where a man had a cat who would sit on the corner of the road to meet him from work every day. The cat always liked to walk ahead so the man tried walking faster to get ahead. The cat just walked faster and even when the man began running, the cat still wanted to be ahead and ran faster. He had made a film of this contest between man and cat. Cats, of course, are still winning.

Cats beat humans – so what’s new?

Today my body is refusing to play ball. Not literally, obviously, as I could still pick up and throw a ball should I choose to but it is saying a firm “No!” to all activity I tentatively suggest. It is the Young Women’s Group at Maggie’s today and I am part of it, despite my actual age and my feeling about 101 today. Getting out of bed is an intensely painful experience. It all hurts, every nook and cranny of my being aches and twinges. For some reason 2 toes on my left foot hurt when flexed even slightly, my ankles are painful, my left elbow hurts when just brushing the duvet cover and my back is a minefield of painful incendiaries, all waiting to explode individually at moments of their choosing. As for my thumbs, well, don’t even mention my thumbs. It’s a rebellion and I don’t know how to quell it except with liberal ingestion of analgesics and another stint on the sofa with my laptop and tv at the ready.

Yesterday was a better day. I ventured out to Shepherd’s Bush Market in search of fabric to use with my new sewing machine and then had lunch with my friend, Jane. Shepherd’s Bush Market is not somewhere I frequent normally but it is pouring with rain and it seems a good idea. I walk down the covered part of the market, enjoying the colourful displays of fruit and vegetables, wondering at the many varieties of yams on sale and searching out the fabric shops. An elderly Rastafarian man shuffles in front of me and calls out to a man the other side of the market. “Hey, Rasta man!” is the reply. “How you doing?” he calls back. “Yeah, good. You?” He doesn’t pause a beat. “Good. You wearing a condom?” he replies, shuffling off without waiting for a response. I guess this is some long-running joke between the two of them. I find a few shops who sell a multitude of fabrics. Every hue and weight of fabric, glossy, shiny and demure. The assistants are all male, Asian and overwhelmingly cheerful as they show me bolts of cloth. I make my choice and they make a great show of being able to rip the cloth in one piece. It is smiles all round.

I wend my way home on the bus being entertained by occasional shots of the back of my head on the bus security system. I actually like being able to see who is on the top deck (there may be someone I know) and who is sitting behind me as well as checking my hair is behaving itself because, yes, my hair is definitely on the return. It is darker and curlier than before with a lot more white in it. But I don’t care. It’s hair and it’s still soft but has interesting whorls and movement in it. At least, I think so.

Lunch with Jane at the Foresters is lovely. We have not met for a while and it’s good to talk openly and frankly with someone who understands immediately where I am coming from. We discuss our cancer from the outset and agree that for anyone without cancer, it might seem weird, morbid or that we are obsessed with it. Before I had cancer, I thought treatment was intense and unpleasant but that once it was done, that was it. People were cured or terminal but that end of treatment meant end of cancer. I was so wrong. It is all consuming but not in a negative way. It colours so many things I do or don’t do each day. My mind is on it so many minutes of each day because, although it has been removed (or so we hope), it is now a part of me. It’s entwined with who I am and although I’m going to live long and prosper, it’s as integral to me as any other major experience. Clearly, physically I am changed but to expect me not to be emotionally changed too would be crazy. We talk about all kinds of stuff but really it’s cancer all the way.

Later in the afternoon, when the rain lets up, I go into the garden to survey our work of the weekend. New raised beds were installed and my tomato and courgette seedlings were installed. Spring onion and radish seeds were also sown and a sheet of netting put over the top to protect them from Freya who would otherwise use them as a new alfresco toilet. Alas, I am sorry to see she found netting no barrier to her ablutions and has used the beds not once but twice. She has clearly balanced on the netting and left her mark. Sigh. She is some kind of supercat who sneers at my seed bed protection. Cat 1, Human 0. The same old story.

I tried to find a photograph of Freya to put here but can’t find one. She will have to remain a cat of mystery (but not international – that would be crazy talk).

Bunty’s Lament

Last week was the first opportunity we had had to get away for a proper break. Since diagnosis for Inflammatory breast cancer in March 2012, it has been hard if not impossible to find time, energy, money and absence of appointments to organise something, so last week was something of a first. The first break since diagnosis. It’s a big deal and it felt strange. Unable to do the normal things, I felt frustrated and quite emotional at times. This post active treatment phase is also a strange time, dealing with submerged emotions that rise out of the water like icebergs, ready to sink my Titanic.

Coming home is a bittersweet experience. Sweet because home is somewhere I actively enjoy spending time and bitter – well, the end of a holiday is always a little sad, I think. But sadness doesn’t adequately describe the emotions apparently felt by our youngest cat, Bunty. We arrive with bags, Dog and exhaustion and she greets us with shouting and much getting under our feet. She has put on weight. Is this comfort eating, we wonder? She accompanies me everywhere. If I go to the toilet, she sits outside and waits for me before escorting me elsewhere. At night, she is a positive danger as she weaves her way in and out of my legs. She will not be separated from me and sleeps on me at night, claiming me for her own. We have never left her without a human in the house before. She has Freya for company but Bunty has issues with Freya and will not speak to her. She had a human coming in at least once a day to check up on her but I imagine her, wan and listless, looking out of the window, sharpening her claws and wondering exactly when we would be home, shunning the substitute human as inferior. This is the cat who lashes her tail if you stop scratching her head and who bites the hand that feeds her if it strokes her too much. The cat who launches herself at Dog with alarming regularity like a small, furry Kamikaze so one feels sorry for him as he cries and runs away from her. The cat who was found in a cavity wall in Putney and has reduced our wooden bed to resemble something eaten by termites by continual claw-sharpening. It is quite touching to see a heart does beat beneath her furry exterior. She is a little devil and we are clearly here to serve her. Or so she thinks.