Chicken Chats and Killer Cats

We have many names for Charlie and each is situation specific. Charlie or Chazy is also known as Chazbo when he`s done something wrong like licking the middle out of mum`s vanilla slice, Chazrick when we want him to come to command, The Chaz Master when he`s displayed exceptional skill like heading the football or catching a long-distance peanut, along with Chisel – Chazel, Charlie – Chew and Beautiful Boy. These are all firmly lodged in our vocabulary and trip off the tongue frequently and subconsciously, and Charlie responds to all of them.

I originally named Charlie after a character in an Alfred Hitchcock film and not after my nephew who I remember at the time was quite offended by his namesake. He wasn`t a very pleasant character but I was watching the film when Robert walked through the door with Charlie curled up in cupped hands like a freshly kneaded ball of dough, blue eyed and all belly. So, Charlie it was and as in time honoured tradition was also given two middle names. All the males in Robert`s family have two middle names and so too does Charlie: Gilmour after David Gilmour, Pink Floyd fame and Dumas after Alexandre Dumas which we thought was funny, affectionately mistranslated into “dumb ass“ and coined, based on Charlie`s inability to learn from mistakes especially those made with our three cats: Claudia, Basil and Neapolitan. To our three princesses, Charlie was a widdling and unwelcome guest and not to be trusted and it took several claws in the backside and paw thumps to the head for Charlie to learn that these mamas meant business. It wasn`t an easy introduction into our household and the girls soon learnt to toy and enjoy. They would take it in turns to sit half way up the stairs trapping Charlie at either the top or the bottom, whichever would do, or force him to vacate his comfy spot on the bed by sitting too close to him or lie in clusters on the kitchen floor, languidly flicking their tails backwards and forwards watching and waiting whilst a nervous mutt steered himself gingerly around them to get to his bowl. Sadly, we only have Basil now, and the two have grown in tolerance and fondness but I still see Charlie freeze with discomfort and fear when Basil decides to wash his face which she does at least once a week. Incidentally, Basil was named so because a very good friend of ours, Henry, ace barrister and husband to my best friend Diane, lifted an eight-week-old Basil tail and exclaimed quite confidently, that she was a he. By the time we realised that she wasn`t, she had already learnt her name.

Charlie was `given` to us by our neighbours up the road, The Woodies, and was traded for a cooker hood which we had in storage and they needed and so, our fate was sealed thanks to B&Q. We still see Mr Woody on occasion as he provided the scaffolding for our new house and after all this time Charlie remembers him and goes bananas when he sees him.

Robert has been to the house nearly every day this year, unlike me who found it impossible to reignite an enthusiasm for a project symbolic of a future, but without my father in it.  I resented the house and it took me nine months to readjust and face the fact that with or without my dad, there was nowhere to move but forward. So, every weekend I go and do a little bit more, and every weekend I feel more settled than the previous one, so forward it is.

Robert has done marvelously well despite my absence and Charlie`s done his bit too. He`s kept Robert occupied by losing toys under floorboards with impossible access and demanding walkies, usually up to the farm at the top of the road to feed the pigs. Mum and I have been stockpiling vegetable peelings for the three Oxford Sandy Blacks who will apparently eat anything organic. They are boisterous, bristly barrels of muscle who will climb over each other to get to the hand that holds the treat, but they are also demonstrative and welcome an affectionate touch or relieving scratch and slide sideways into the mud if you`re willing to give them an extra scratch behind the ear. This new friendship has curbed my desire for bacon, but I think I’ll have to work on the pork chops!

Charlie`s take on the pigs is mixed. He is brave, hidden behind Robert`s legs but intrigued enough to want to move closer to the porky protrusions squashed through the wire fencing, sniffing and snorting and rivaling for Robert`s attention. Charlie is quick to jump backwards if they make an unexpected move in the same way that he does if he sees an empty discarded bin bag or plastic plant pot rolling towards him in the wind. He is also alarmed that we feed other animals only barely acquainted and is something that he hasn`t before remotely considered as a possibility. His observation of our benevolence has revealed a very peeved and suspicious Charlie and he haggles for a carrot just as the pigs do and will eat it just to deny them the pleasure of it.

Charlie is considerably more tolerant of the other boarders although we think his presence may have offended one of the pygmy goats and judging by his keenness to avoid such goat, tells me that this is true.  Despite this, he walks freely around the farm confidently mingling with the chickens and I find it quite remarkable that Charlie has no intention to stalk or chase, or instinct to kill and he dons the same distant respect that he had for our three cats all those years ago.

Summer has come and gone too quickly and I`m back wearing dull clothes to reflect the feeling that I get when winter is approaching. The clocks go back this weekend which I always forget to do. Dad reminded me every year without fail and yes, I`d forgotten again until someone reminded me. Another first. Mum has slowly cleared the house of dad`s possessions; tools, coats, scarves etcetera, erased subtly over time and bridging the necessary but painful gap between depression and acceptance. Set against the white walls and new neatness of the house lurk old memories found hidden in draws and wardrobes, concealed in corners or buried and forgotten under bed frames. I am winded by the ordinary… badminton rackets, whisky glass, camera case, handwriting in an address book and then find myself smiling at a two-headed light fitting, a wonky shelf or a door handle that turns the wrong way.

The clock is ticking. I measure my time now in three-weekly slots, chemo time which comes around all too quickly. Robert and I have an agreement of good cop, bad cop. Robert takes Charlie to the vet, and I pick him up. That said, Robert isn`t happy with his role but knows that he will be more easily forgiven than I, and Charlie`s memory of me will remain untainted as caregiver, tickler, diner lady and nurse. Unfortunately for us, Charlie`s cancer has spread, worse it has affected his left kidney function. The last visit to see Gerard in Guildford revealed that the embolization process was no longer an option for Charlie so instead we have started his third and final medical protocol to attack the enemy that is advancing into his bladder and invading his kidney. Charlie will be archived as a legend but won`t be the history maker that was to be the first dog in Europe to receive this intervention. Gerard`s face remained loyal to his words of unwavering commitment to Charlie`s palliative care, but I could sense he was as gutted as us to discover that Charlie wasn`t `the one`. On the way back home, Robert and I said very little. I sat in the back of the car with Charlie and I could see the strain in Robert`s face through the rear-view mirror. Charlie had been shaved down his left flank and on his chest and resembled Harvey, the toy dog who he loves to hate, stitched and re stitched and lying very still, and for the first time I questioned our intentions.

Six weeks have since flown and it`s business as usual. Charlie locked us out of the house this morning by hurling himself at the front door whilst we chatted to a neighbour, he`s had baked cod for lunch and two of his favourite chewy sticks, played on the field with his new football, had a shower, dried himself on the carpet and is now asleep on the bed having covered himself in our duvet. The latest scan shows that the inflammation in the kidney has reduced from 15mm to 5mm and it has regained functionality, and his urine is flowing through his ureter as it should. Defecation fluctuates in consistency and frequency and is something to be monitored but all things considered, today has been another good day for Charlie and I need to trust that we are doing the best we can for him. We`ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.




With the neighbours




Unlikely buddies




 At Fitzpatrick Referrals, Guildford. An 8 hour, 450 mile round trip!




Keeping Robert busy at the house, retrieving lost toys





Hot Dog

Well, it`s been nearly two months since my last entry into Charlie`s blog so I’ve got some catching up to do. Charlie is well, although he`s now on an additional medication as he`s `leaking` a little when sleeping. This, I`m told is because the prostate is pushing onto the bladder, so now he must take something which he hates, because it makes him sneeze, but is having some effect.

The recent warm spell has made such a difference in lifting our mood but has created an apathetic and lethargic me; I am in a cognitive waste land, and probably why I`ve had blogger`s block. This is unfamiliar, and quite disturbing considering the need to earn some money this summer, and the effort I have to make, up at the `mansion` (as my father in law, Michael, calls it). I haven`t a stressful bone in my body; I have reached a plateau, an impasse of indifference and emotional fatigue.  I am taking life in my stride.

We have already been camping this year and have enjoyed several day trips including our annual beano to the races at Bangor on Dee, courtesy of my lovely dad in law. We tend not to do anything without Charlie, which frustrates Robert a little because he`s always asking me out to dinner, and I always decline on account that Charlie can`t go into a restaurant. The pub lunch is about the best we can do, but that`s just fine with me, if Charlie`s there too. Although, I’m sure a certain Lancashire born Elvis tribute act would disagree. On a recent short break to Ribby, on the Fylde Coast, our cheeky Charlie found his way on stage at a local bar, howling to Hound Dog, believe it or not. To be fair, he did improve the act and wake the audience up, and it did give us an excuse to leave early, embarrassed but secretly charmed.

Charlie is often off his lead. This is a habit that we`ve formed due to Charlie’s (almost) impeccable behaviour. If Robert says `stay` he will, but only until he`s distracted by smell or an unusual noise. Charlie`s sense of smell is powerful; Charlie can smell toys! On Wednesday, Robert text me to say that whilst in Go Outdoors, Charlie had appeared at the checkout after a conspicuous absence, proudly offering up a string of plastic sausages which he had snaffled and was carrying in his mouth. What can you say??` Sausages….`.

Mum`s garden is exploding with energy. I have a god`s view from dad`s old room and am spellbound by the commotion of movement and colour between the lavender cones of the buddleia `butterfly bush` which is growing wildly passed the first elevation at the back of the house. A hundred tiny wings hanging and hovering, crawling and applauding; cabbage white and admiral red, and varying stripes of black and gold, there is something for everyone it seems.  The heat has scorched the lawns and leaves but somehow the garden remains vibrant and seductive. The vegetable plot is responding well though mum may have over committed to the potato patch, and Robert`s rose (named so by mum because Robert bought it for her) has been stunning this year. The giant oak over looking the cricket pitch has cast a shadow over much of the garden, but this has proved to be a much sought-after defence from the invasive rays of the baking heat, and has attracted wood pigeons, plump and desperate for shelter, and blabbermouth magpies observably irritated by the squirrels and their desire to entertain, even in these temperatures.

The heat makes it unbearable for the four-legged kind. Charlie is white and so deflects the heat, but he is also hirsute, especially around his collar, and the black spot that dominates his hind quarters becomes a hot plate in such conditions. His underbelly is dappled brown and pink, and his nose is dry and he`s off his food. He spends most of his time seeking shade, positioned like a giant staple under the dining table or in the hall. Basil is much the same although she tends to sleep, while Charlie is restless and listless. I am constantly concerned, like a neurotic mother because I`m not sure whether it`s the weather that has affected him, or his illness. Walkies have been limited to the evening, around eight, and is when both Charlie and Basil become slowly animated and reconnected with the day. It has been an ill wind that has seen Basil enter a brave new world of the `back garden`. Snowy dying has meant that she can wonder freely without being stalked. Snowy was a gentile and delightful character, but she was also a terrier and not to be trusted around cats. Harry, my mum`s moggy and grandson of Basil, has for years watched his tail lest it become the focus of a bored Snowy! So now both can lounge and climb and smell without that fear, but a sadness swells at the thought of a much loved and missed Snowy-dog.

I like the sun. Robert and I hope to move closer to it when we`ve sold the house. I can crash on a sun lounger and dream, any day of the week unlike mum who covers herself up emerging at sun set with the animals, having watched horror stories on the TV all day. I miss dad. I miss his silly songs and his smile. He is increasingly in my thoughts, subtly suspended at the back of my mind; I am never without him. I still can`t look at any photographs and I still shout for him when I see a spider, but he`s there, all around me and I talk to him like he`s in the next room, but of course he can`t hear me or answer back.

I knew that the summer would be hard, especially as it`s World Cup season, and England are playing uncharacteristically well. That said, mum has taken dad`s mantle quite convincingly and has transformed from respectable housewife of Cheshire into fearless football aficionado who could teach Gareth Southgate a thing or two. She refuses to watch the football anywhere but at home because she says she`s watching it with dad which sounds bonkers, but I get it. It has given us the excuse to get together as a family once again though, and trial Robert`s new BBQ, and laugh at Charlie who is ecstatic that his pack is under one roof. With each encouraging cheer or disapproving yell, Charlie rejoices. He has no idea why we`re shouting but barks and runs and brings us toys assuming that it must be something to do with him!

This summer has been different for us all. Apart from the aching absence of Dad and Snowy, it has also seen the sale of the family apartment in Spain and the end of a last minute. com love affair with the Riviera and la casa Joyce; of uninterrupted sleep (reference to Charlie) and the heart fluttering feeling of anticipated relaxation and pleasure; of Jamón serrano and tortilla de patatas, San Miguel and vino plenty!! I will miss sitting on the edge of the world with my feet cooling in the Med listening to Antonio welcome yet another visitor into his select beach-side bistro. I will miss this tiny slice of Spain that we have claimed as our own for fourteen years… Basil is snoring loudly, and Charlie is staring at her, head cocked to one side… I`ll pause those blissful reminiscences of Spain, maybe I`ll look at some photos later.

In the absence of the promise of a holiday and to shake off any blues, I have decided to fill my life with comedy, colour and variety. John tells me that Karl Marx theorised that diversity in life makes for an enriched and happy one, so I`m giving it a try. I think that I can just slip in another episode of Only Fools  `mange tout, mange tout` and then I might start to design the name plate for Glenside; later we will go for a walk if Chaz is up to it. Yesterday, I challenged a client who owed us money, started Robert`s tax return, and was interviewed by phone for an article about Charlie in Your Dog Magazine. I am becoming brave again.

It has been seven months since Charlie received his second round of IA chemotherapy, and 15 months since his diagnosis. On Friday, Gerrard from Fitzpatrick`s emailed me about a new procedure which blocks the blood supply to the prostate, eventually starving the tumour. This would be great if Charlie`s cancer was contained but it has already spread to his bladder, so I don`t know whether that`s an option for us. I`ll wait for Gerrard`s reply. Until then, Charlie and I will pack as much into the day as we can and continue with the all too familiar medical routine that we have grown used to. That reminds me, I must find the cumin capsules which I thought had rolled under the bed. Charlie takes one of these each day because Robert once heard a lady on the radio claim that it cured her cancer. I do forget on occasion, a subconscious wish not to administer these pills because they`re huge and Charlie gags, although like his other medications, he has learnt just to accept the inevitable; he trusts us. I love this dog.



Summer fun


A day at the races (Chazy with Michael)


Howling to Hound Dog!


Treasured memories of Spain


Basil`s new found freedom



Robert is spending more and more time at the house these days. After all that we have been through, he has finally found his mojo and seems happy with the progress that he`s making. Today he`s insulating a stud wall in the kitchen and has left Charlie and me at mum`s where I spend a lot of my time upstairs: reading or writing or trawling through Robert`s paperwork. Mum watches quite a lot of TV but I`m not that interested, in fact, I haven`t watched a whole TV programme in approximately a year. I can`t concentrate. I don`t watch or read the news because I find it depressing and so am oblivious to current affairs unless, by chance. I never watch soaps and couldn`t care less about Strictly or Celebrity Big Brother. I am anti TV and proud; my abstinence has become my liberator and I feel better for it. Charlie, of course, has played a lead role in this process and opened my eyes and mind to experiences and sensitivities that would otherwise have passed me by. Ironically, this deadly disease has taken us around the country, introduced us to new friends, educated us and made us appreciate life in a way that only the threat of death can.

It has been over a year now since Charlie first showed symptoms of prostate cancer. My dad used to say that he was having us on, I can hear him now ` that dog`s not ill, look at him, he never stops. ` And he never does.

Today would have been dad`s 82nd birthday so we have been to Macclesfield and placed some flowers on his grave in the rain. I`ve felt sick all day. Charlie came along of course which made the journey more bearable but no less painful. My brother John and I have similar behaviours when it comes to emotional pain; we generally tend to shut down. The subconscious slump of the head and shoulders shows that we are, uniquely, the only two people to feel like this about dad. Mum seems to find it easier to talk, but John and I are guarded, and I see a familiar uneasiness in him when forced to speak about dad at any great length for fear of grief sneaking in unannounced.  Unlike mum, I avoid any discussion about dad unless I am the one to initiate it and am aware that this is selfish, but it gives me control and I`m sure that John feels the same.

I`m glad it`s spring, it is a time to look to the future and make plans. Charlie`s illness has robbed us of that long-term, but I am hopeful that the seasons will pass, and Charlie will still be around. I have taken to saying when asked, that Charlie will be eleven in September. I find it helps to be optimistic otherwise how would I drag myself through the day?

It has been difficult without Snowy, and I think that Charlie is confused as to where she might be. To him, it probably means a double helping of everything, but he still looks to his side as if she were right there next to him and he still barks for back up should a trespassing muzzle poke through the back garden gate. But briefly, this weekend, Charlie has had the company of Emmy, a silky – black `mute` Labrador cross, given to my brother to mind for a few days over Easter.  She, of course, is no substitute for Snowy but after an initial once-over, Charlie seemed to view her as an acceptable contribution to the holidays and of course without the ability to bark, meant that Charlie still got his own way!

This week we have taken advantage of the sunshine and played in the fields with our coats off for the first time this year. The ground is still boggy, but this is of no consequence to Charlie who is focused on one thing only, and it has elevated my mood to see that he has rekindled his affection for the ball. Just recently he`s been in crisis and forsaken his long-term love of all things spherical for a brief flirtation with all things long and bendy so it was good to see that this conduct disorder hadn`t left any permanent damage and that the old Chazy was back, covered in sludge, and loyal to his ball collection and true to himself.

Jack Russell’s are baying terriers used for hunting, and Charlie is no different. Charlie gets irritated by the lack of interest that a ball has in him, and yaps at it to respond. Impatiently he nose – jabs the absconding ball before transcending into a whirligig of energy, circling and herding before the eventual kill, a technique which is not dissimilar to peeling an orange and is a result of losing the tips of his canines on a very insolent basketball! This can be a lengthy and gruesome process lasting several episodes, but Charlie will not concede until it’s been skinned, its butt valve removed, its lungs deflated, and it can move no more, even then it gets a last shake just in case!

Charlie`s first love of the ball came in the shape of a golf ball and one with which he will still dabble from time to time. The football ground behind our old house in Stockport, left idle by local youths created the ideal playground for winging golf balls. A virtuoso in the field of target practice, Robert has a rare talent and exceptional hand-eye coordination: from shooting gallery to target archery, coconut shy to super – soaker, Robert rarely fails. This, combined with the skill and strength of an ex-lacrosse player, Robert could launch a ball from a throwing stick from one goal mouth to another and hit the bar just as he`d predicted. Charlie would wait and watch the cradled ball as Robert rolled it and taunted him but the second it was airborne, he would run like his life depended on it. Charlie was fast, and onlookers would remark on his speed.

I, typically am bobbins at throwing, and thankfully Charlie doesn`t expect me to do this with any level of expertise. My brain fails to inform my hand to let go and the ball takes a 90-degree plunge and ends up right back next to my feet where it began or alternatively, hurled in a very unexpected direction.

The football ground and park have played such a large part in Charlie`s life and it worried me that when we moved, he would miss this acquaintance, but this summer, the rusty goal posts, threadbare grassland and the grumbling sound of the M60 below were soon forgotten and replaced with woodland trails and hill climbs; a fair swap I think, and Charlie has shown no signs of yearning for the past.


Putt your money where your mouth is.

No match for Charlie


Time for a shower, me thinks!


Charlie`s Easter play mate, Emmy


Snowy (…just why?)

Everyone in our house is poorly. It`s half term and I was looking forward to (well almost) doing all those things that I have mentally stacked up over this past few months. But no, as always when I have some free time, I get ill; I`m famous for it. This time though, I`m not on my own, and my chest infection is positioned some way down the priority line.

Charlie and Basil are OK. Of course, what I mean by that is there is nothing unusual about their health.

Charlie has received two rounds of chemotherapy since I last wrote the blog: the second IA procedure from the Supervet in Guildford and a follow-up treatment at our local vets. He`s had a biopsy on a lump on his side which Robert says is the best £100.00 that we have ever spent because it came back negative. Charlie is responding well to his treatment plan with no complications, however, today he`s not his usual self. He is quiet which is rare and has chosen to spend the day in bed with me as a sign of solidarity. I can hear his tummy screaming at him to be filled but this is a normal routine for Charlie and by the third day, post chemo, his tummy always aches, and he won`t be able to eat until later tonight.

Basil`s condition is also stable. She has hypothyroidism and her kidneys are showing some signs of stress but this, I`m informed, is not a cause for concern…yet. She is given one red pill every evening, a steroid which she will have to take for the rest of her life. Pilling a cat, of course, is a skill not to be underestimated, and one that initially requires drastic measures and the use of a thumb, forefinger, armpit and headlock, and one which you soon discover is easy to describe (by your vet) and soooooo much harder to actually accomplish. Once mastered, however, is transferable and handy if you have several pets or play darts. Basil also needs a very expensive prescription cat food and unfortunately for us, has an inexhaustible appetite. She demands her fix of feline renal with beefy chunks, without conscience or care and will persist in her quest, wide-eyed and culpable, until you can bear it no longer, and give in. The medication does seem to agree with her though and she will celebrate her 140th cat year birthday in September. She is showing no signs of giving up or slowing down yet. As my nephew drily stated last week, in a 100 years from now, our descendants will still be passing her on in their last will and testaments!

Mum is also ill and is strangely suffering a condition that closely assimilates Snowy`s current illness in the symptoms that it presents. Both are dizzy and nauseous, but unlike mum`s blocked ear and ample helping of anxiety, Snowy has been diagnosed with a very awful condition called Vestibular disease, a type of vertigo which affects her ability to maintain balance, leading to disorientation and distinct physical anomalies. Snowy`s head permanently lists, she cannot close her left eye, she walks like she is drunk, often falling and she has lost her ability to bark. She has not eaten properly for days now and we have had to feed her and give her water through a syringe. We have been to the vets four times in two weeks, and have been told to prepare for the worse, that being that her condition might not be the aforementioned but could be due to a brain tumour. Vestibular disease is completely curable given time, so I am praying to anyone that can hear me, that she has this and will make a full recovery.

Snowy is dad`s dog, and we can hardly believe that so shortly after his death, she has become seriously ill. Snowy has received round the clock attention, and each day we long to see an improvement in her health. We convince ourselves that every tiny difference is a step in the right direction. I do hope we are right. Today though, she has licked food from my hand and has walked albeit hesitantly, around the garden. I am not a religious person, but I do believe that my dad is around us somewhere, and I`m hoping that he can help.

Charlie is curious but also jealous. He started well by bringing down Harvey from his toy box and placing it next to Snowy but then failed to maintain a standard of behaviour expected of a concerned buddy. After his chemo on Tuesday, I bought him a space hopper, and Snowy a green looking fox in the naive hope that the high pitched shrill of the squeaky would stimulate her back to moderate health. Mum keeps placing it next to her, and the green-eyed Charlie has followed the green fox and is waiting for Snowy to surrender the toy as she has often done in the past. Her frailty dictates that this is now not within her gift to give and Charlie selfishly watches and waits.  I`m afraid, I`m not very proud of his behaviour as he observes the fox from under the coffee table, but he is funny and lifts the mood, if only for a moment.

Snowy sleeps downstairs, happier in her `kennel`, a cardboard box that once held a toner printer, and is positioned next to the radiator in mum`s morning room. Snowy has always had a dog cave, someplace where Charlie nor the cats are welcome or in fact visit. It contains her bed and a Westie print cover, and that essential buried chewy for a rainy day. It is occasionally hoovered and deodorised but is special to Snowy and somewhere she goes if she is tired or poorly.  Of course, this has taken many forms over the years as dad would, on occasion, swap it for a new build, usually from a kitchen appliance large enough to warrant a box of sufficient size that would be suitable for Snowy`s studio apartment. Snowy though, never appeared to notice or care and retired as usual in the new cave as she had done in the old one the night before: warm, safe and protected.

I am drawn back to a time when I was a child. I am sat on a deck chair in the back garden and I am wearing my father`s old sheepskin coat. It is early summer, sunny but cold in the shade, and windy. The coat drowns me, but I pull my knees up and tuck them under my chin and curl my toes around the hem of the coat to keep it from flapping open. The only part of my body exposed is my head, which is completely empty. My eyes are closed but my lids burn in the sun. The wind pulls my hair like the schoolyard bully and whips at my face and round the well-thumbed, dirty bent lollipop stick that I am cherishing in my mouth and which I am reluctant to abandon. Like Snowy, I am warm, safe and protected and it reminds me of dad, and it`s overwhelming.

Tomorrow, Snowy will have a routine check at the vets.

Snowy part 2.

My brother dug a hole in mum`s back garden. It was where Snowy used to sit in the summer; a bed of pink alpine geraniums that made a perfect Snowy nest, and her preferred place to sit mid-afternoon should the sun become too fierce.  I should have known that the worst-case scenario was there waiting to ambush the little hope that we had. A brain tumour. We are all devastated.

Charlie and I walked down to Snowy Corner today, a secret sandbank by the river which the boys named after Snowy when she was a pup. For eleven years we have thrown stones into the river from `the corner`, and Charlie and I have rarely visited this place without her. Another page turned, another absence to deal with. We will really, really miss her.

The very beautiful and lovable Snowy

Charlie with a very poorly Snowy, and lying on her coat in the car, the day after she had passed away.


Flap a Jack ? (never)

Today saw another milestone set and reached. It has been nearly seven weeks since dad died and today the family sat down to Sunday lunch as we have done so before on many occasions but for the first time, dad`s chair at the head of the table, remained empty.

Charlie sat to the right of me under the table, as ever in super scrounge mode because he knows that mum will have prepared him and Snowy something too. His impatience is immediate, and he yawns and whimpers persistently to imply that he is obviously starving, and needs his share of the spoil…now!

Charlie is a member of the family and sees himself as no different than anybody else, the fact that he is a canine is incidental to Charlie who does not understand why he`s not elevated at the dinner table like the rest of us. So, if someone is excused or momentarily abandons their seat, Charlie will jump on to it. He will position himself tightly and flat against the back of the dining chair providing a convincing demonstration that there is room for two bottoms on the pew and not just one and therefore another place needs to be set. He is also very reluctant to get down even if commanded and his doggy logic decrees that if he lingers long enough there is bound to be an `amuse-bouche` in the offing before luncheon commences!

The day outside seemed cold and grim and not at all appealing but set against the mood of the house, a walk along the river bank presented a better option. It gives me space and time to think. Charlie had his chemo on Thursday and results were not great. The tumour has grown so now is the time to make arrangement for the big guns of Guildford to administer his second round of inter – arterial chemotherapy which hopefully will shrink it again.

The medication always sees a drop in Charlie`s white blood cell count, and to ensure that he doesn`t get ill or catch a chill, I wrap him well when we go for a walk. Robert is not keen to see a dog in accessories or clothes but as this is a practical necessity, he accepts the inevitable. Charlie does not have an extensive wardrobe. He has two jumpers: a light grey turtleneck with the word `bark` emblazoned on the back which Joycie, my mum in law bought him for Christmas, and a blue fisherman style cardie with a hood. He also has a coat with a fleece insert. The latter was bought at a pet shop in Derbyshire which catered more for the horse lover. It was found at the bottom of a tatty old cardboard box and was the only one there that would fit him. Robert`s reaction to it wasn`t too great initially but he has grown to accept it even if he thinks lavender and red looks quite ridiculous on a dog.

When out walking, I always carry an oversubscription of poo bags, as Charlie is accustomed to delivering more than once, and has an unusual strategy of reversing into a hedgerow before liberation. This we call `stealth – pooing` which Robert always finds funny but at times is very difficult to locate. Tell me, why do some people bother to scoop the poop and then throw it, bag and all, into a bush?? I have no understanding of this mentality but wish people would wise up…plastic is not biodegradable, and we all have to live on this planet, so stop polluting it!!

The walk itself was refreshing but was spoiled by a man with two large dogs who he obviously found difficult to control, and who we bumped into twice.  Accompanied as I am to the greeting and introductory practices of dogs, the sniffing of Charlie can be a lengthy process and I am alerted to the fact that other dogs can probably smell his chemical treatment, if not his cancer. It fears me that they may find his odour too unfamiliar and bite him, or worse, that Charlie may find this an unwelcome imposition, and retaliate in his defence. Still, nothing has happened yet, but I need to watch for this in the future. Charlie is very protective of me, and I could tell by his lack of wag that he wasn`t so happy about this invasion, and nor was I. Charlie doesn`t often take offence, he is a very sociable and friendly dog but these two, obviously young and lively upstarts had pressed my little `purple – nurple` past the point of irritation. To their surprise, Charlie was chasing them back to their owner, who was now losing his voice and respectful command, and returned a very satisfied if not smug little Jack who`d still `got it`.


Practical not Prada


Evening wear …. a comfy cardie


A photo of dad, Rob and the dogs in dad`s back garden, in happier times , not so long ago….  Just because….





The Saddest of Times

It`s strange how life has a habit of putting you in your place without you asking for it, or expecting it. Before you realise, the tent pegs have been removed, your stability ceases and you`re bending in the wind, fearful that you`ll break beyond repair.

Six weeks ago, my dad died. This was without warning and suddenly, and I still can`t quite believe he`s gone. So, whilst everyone was planning their Christmas, we were planning his funeral. Our lovely, funny dad. The most grounded person I have ever met, and who kept us grounded in return, gone, the end.

Today, like yesterday I`m in my pyjamas not really wanting to do much. My body craves sleep and not much else. I am aware that this is an illusory state of mind but never the less, I can’t prevent it from happening. My body is under siege and my mind has tripped and is denying me access to painful realities that at this moment, I don`t want to face. Grief is corrosive and each day I feel disloyal to the promises and intentions that I had made myself the night before but when I wake up I always feel the same. The fact is my heart isn`t in it, literally…it feels heavy and lower down in my chest as if dad dying has dislodged it somehow and it won`t go back to its normal position.

I felt like writing today for the first time though, so have accepted the challenge, hoping that this may be a turning point.

The `change` has affected us all badly notwithstanding the animals in the household. Charlie has seen variations in his routine which I need to stop, and quickly. Dad believed faithfully in routine and whilst we joked and jibed him about it…..little did we realise how much perspective and ballast that it gave us.

Snowy, being my father`s dog has now had to change her allegiance to my mum, which she seems to have done quite successfully, and mum the same. Mum walks her every day although still finds it difficult to pick up poo, choosing to wear a pair of latex disposable gloves under her woolly ones. She plays with her and treats her but sometimes forgets the 9.00 pm slot. This is when dad indulged both dogs before bed by `cunningly` placing the last treat of the day upon his head (which never ceased to amuse him), and waited. There was always the potential to confound Snowy, but Charlie soon got the gist! Despite this new-found loyalty, when the house is silent, I find Snowy sitting in unfamiliar places or wandering in and out of unused rooms or just sitting in the hall staring at the front door, I guess waiting for dad to come back.

Mum and Dad`s house backs onto a cricket field, and the winter sun across it has presented the most spectacular skies. The ground has frozen and thawed again which is great for reckless abandon and muddy dogs. Each beautiful sunny winter`s day has provided the opportunity to sample the fresh air and walk off the depression, if only transiently.

Snowy has arthritis in her back legs but it is impossible to prevent her from running about. The consequential painkillers and regret of the succeeding days bears no significance when compared to the wet, muddy, cold and exhausted Snowy of the moment. Charlie too is spontaneous and happy without the confines of walls and doors and their fresh enthusiasm for a much trodden and familiar route makes me smile.

For the past ten months, I have been consumed by the upsetting and unanticipated news of Charlie`s illness. My every thought and social interaction has centred around his medication and his progress, his setbacks and adapted lifestyle changes. And of course, I envisaged life without him, I`m a realist, but not once did I think that dad wouldn`t be here for me when it happened. This is big, grown-up stuff and needs to be dealt with, but not here, not now.

The sun is fading and it`s time to get out of bed and walk Charlie. Snowy is limping due to an overabundant burst of energy at the beginning of the week which she still hasn`t recovered from, so will have to stay indoors. For Charlie and me though, it`s time to reinstate the routine, find the football and smell the fresh, clean air of another day. Tomorrow I will promise to get up earlier!

Snowy, not knowing what to do with herself.

Charlie, never taking his eye off the ball!

Muddy dogs and bath time.


IMG_0109 (1)



Doggone it !

The last couple of weeks have presented a mixture of events, some really good…. and some not so.  Charlie`s week started well. A long, overdue get together with my best friend Diane, and her two lovely and very lively younger daughters, filled Charlie`s hours with relentless squeaky wrestling and retrieval, and secretly filled his belly with wedges of their grandmother`s Sunday roast beef. By Wednesday though, the amusement and positivity of the weekend had to be boxed and stored for safe keeping as we faced the news that we prayed would be a long time coming.

Charlie`s tumour has grown by 2 mm which doesn`t seem a lot but is quite significant considering his tumour is only 2cm in length. The neck of his bladder also looks irregular, but we have been told that before only to discover that the scan wasn`t reliable so I`ve convinced myself that is the case. In himself, Charlie is no different…. play and performance are good, his appetite hasn’t waned (although strangely, he has gone off corned beef), he still freezes with resentment when Basil wants to share his air space, and he still independently takes himself off to bed when he gets tired. Nothing has changed but……my anxiety has gone up a gear because I know nothing can stay the same no matter how much you want it to.

It`s November 4th and as usual, Robert is busy making far too much treacle toffee and Charlie is paying little attention to the battle sound outside. Snowy, on the other hand, is feared, not terrified as on previous occasion because Charlie is around this year but effected enough not to want to leave my mum`s side or to be placed on her lead just to have a wee in the back garden. We are fortunate because of Charlie`s disinterest and Basil`s deafness but I appreciate that others aren`t so.

In years gone by, we used to celebrate Bonfire Night with a party at Eric and Barbara`s, our neighbours at No.1. Both were retired journalists and antique fanciers with a fondness for gin and sense of occasion. Barbara collected fancy dress costumes to be donned only at such times, so like Stars in Their Eyes, you walked through the front door in jeans and T shirt, and tipped through the back door, mulled and dressed as a Roman Empress or Elton John or something in between!

Of course, we didn`t have Charlie back then but his dad, Arthur lived only a few houses away. Arthur was a cantankerous sort and prone to taking himself for his own walkies of some distance for which he was regularly impounded. Kevin, his human, had neglected to have him `done`, so when the urge took him, he went, as it were. There are Arthur doubles all over Stockport, he was a very sociable dog! Predominantly white like Charlie but square in shape, Arthur resembled a misshapen shoe box supported by four short legs, almost too stumpy to fit an elbow in. His belly was dappled and freckly and sagged to the ground and his hind legs were covered in cauliflower warts and shook uncontrollably in his later years. His gruff was low and informative; he was not known for his charm and friendly approach. But as crabby as he was, and for as many people as he nipped (including Robert) he always let me tickle his head, not for long but long enough and I would watch people watching me as I dared, wondering if I been hitting Eric`s gin! Arthur was nineteen when he died, a good age for a Jack, which makes Charlie`s condition even less palatable.

Robert is still having difficulty coming to terms with Charlie`s illness, which is far too personal to disclose but the dreaded feeling of loss has already hit hard and he can`t seem to shake it. I, on the other hand, have reacted in a different way and disciplined myself not to think about a time without Charlie. I live in the moment, just like Charlie does and try to make every second count. I really wish Robert could do the same.

Thankfully though, when we are occupied, have a change of scenery or there are others around to dilute the intensity of the situation, we can reclaim some normality. Last week, for example, was spent, in the main, looking for light switches and sockets (boring) for the new house. We need an inordinate amount so had to shop around to prevent unwelcome costs. This lead us to explore places that we have never been to before and which in return gave us back some life perspective. Salvage yards, nature reserves, reservoirs, newly discovered Derbyshire pie shop – as they say (and quite literally for us) if it flicks your switch, then why not?!



Brookfield Pond Nature Reserve.

Putting life into perspective

Antonia and Helena (and Diane`s legs)​ with Charlie, and at Mr and Mrs Clarke`s being fed the Sunday roast!


Horror House of Hammers (and other assorted tools)

I was quite fed up this morning, sat at work. I`m usually the glass half full kind of girl but today I was struggling. This past year has seen many changes for our unusual little family unit, and the life that we knew, seems a long time past. The house we bought twelve months ago is still unfinished although we can boast that we have turned a corner and it`s very close to being labelled home, but not quite. It`s said that home is where the heart is or wherever you lay your hat, but for me, it exists in archive boxes and bubble wrap.

It’s been nearly nine months since Charlie’s diagnosis, at which time he was given twelve months to live, maximum. Due to the aggressive nature of Charlie`s illness, most dogs become seriously ill, very quickly but Charlie is still showing no clinical signs since he started his treatment plan. Time has come around quickly, and we need to make the decision about the second administration of the arterial chemotherapy, and Robert and I have differing opinions on when: do we wait for deterioration or do we literally go for the jugular…….?

Renovating a house has been a journey of discovery for Robert and me and has grappled with previously unexplored emotions and barriers which we face on a regular and ongoing basis. It all looks so easy on DIY SOS, but believe me, it`s not, and as dad frequently states, `if it was easy, anyone could do it`.  I keep this in my head and it gives me strength but I`m beginning to think that perhaps we`re just balm pots and dad is just being kind.

Listening to the radio last week, I heard a famous physicist being interviewed and discussing what it was that makes us human. He said that everything has the same molecular structure so essentially a human being has the same physical makeup as a pen or a mountain, which I already knew (although my fifth-year physics teacher, Mr Bodey, would disagree), and that we are all a part of nature, the world, the universe and beyond, ergo, what makes us human is our unimportance, that is our connection. We are a tincy wincy contribution. Mr Bodey would have been very proud because I got it. The house, Charlie, our experiences are all insignificant in the vast arena that we call life but it makes us want to stand up and be counted. It makes the inconsequential mean something, which makes each day with Charlie, a doozie day.

Charlie has adapted quite well to this eccentric, nomadic life of travelling between houses. The summer months were spent on site, in a tent, and for weeks we ate nothing but barbecued food, so to Charlie this was just like a long camping holiday full of sausages and pork chops and lots of new outdoor throwing toys, and places to explore….and from a toilet perspective, ideal for a dog with prostate cancer.

I have named the house the Bates Motel, which Robert hates. It`s very large and very high. The person that owned it before us had not taken great care of it and what we thought were going to be cosmetic improvements evolved into a more significant building project. Although, as responsible human types we had the full survey, it didn`t prepare us for the hidden horrors.

The colour scheme was orange, green and purple (which I could cope with, transiently), enhanced by a substantial amount of grime which, we discovered, was instrumental in holding the kitchen together. The three-storey staircase was (but now isn`t) wobbly and weary from abuse. The electrics are (still) confusing and there had been a fire in the kitchen and in the living room. The smell of the front bedroom was eye watering and stunk of urine which, incidentally, Charlie contributed to when we first went to view the property, and the bathroom slanted downwards towards the far corner of the house. There were generations of woodworm merrily munching their way through the flooring and the windows were glued together with lead paint and bluebottle bodies.  We had birds nesting in the chimney flues and found a mummified snake in the floorboards. Several floors and walls, and the kitchen roof had to be replaced and the decorative mouldings and cornices that we naively called `quaint`, may have to go because the plaster has the texture of an aged gouda cheese. It is (still) cold and echoes but now doesn`t smell as damp. And why did we buy it…. Potential! But, it has been different, and curiously enjoyable, and except for the lime mortar that has stolen a layer of my skin, I have enjoyed the experience.

This summer should have been unsurpassed by any other summer, given that I haven`t had a summer off work in 16 years but as ever, the universal rule of equilibrium kicks in, dictating that as soon as life gets good, something has to give, and for us it was the devastating news of Charlie`s condition. So, the long country walks, and the cosy evenings sat in front of an open fire, seemed all a little bit pointless knowing that one of the main protagonists wouldn`t be there to enjoy it but hey, stay positive… I keep reminding myself of this because this summer was, on reflection, a magical one, where Charlie was there, mooching and discovering and `helping` Robert. It was where he napped in the glorious sunshine, outstretched and panting, or tranquilly sat, sheltered and cooler under the boughs and branches, and overgrown hedgerows. It was where he learnt to swerve the bristly stalks of the giant hogweed and the spiny crown of the holly leaf, and where he dug up molehills and got bugs up his nose. It was where sheep worried him, and passing the time of day with neighbourly donkeys was normal. And it was where he sat entranced by the clacker of the jackdaws in the trees and eaves above him, and was happy. These were all good days.




When it was too hot to work but Charlie still wanted to play



Robert, having second thoughts!






Lazy summer days


Every dog has its day

The word `hero` is a very small word attached to a very big concept. It literally means, admired for one’s courage; and courage is defined as strength in the face of pain. When I entered Charlie for the ASDA Hero award, it was because he assisted in saving a man`s life, and nothing could be more heroic than that, but when I analyse my intention, I think it was more because of his illness and the way he has behaved and reacted to it.

It is easy to humanise your dog (or cat….), but I don`t know what Charlie feels or thinks. I know what he presents to me, and those are the only clues I have, to the innermost Charlie.  If I`m honest, I think that the relationship between a dog and a person is in large part about the projection of one’s own feelings, and what is expected in return, which is why dogs connect and integrate so well. Simply, their values are really your values.  To illustrate, why do I find myself saying ` `don`t eat that off the floor Charlie, it`s dirty“, or “no – barky Charlie, it will annoy everyone“, or why does my anti – authoritarian self, opt for squeakies that are not blue in colour and stereotypically male. Charlie doesn`t care as long as it squeaks!

Robert was quite disappointed that Charlie didn`t win the competition on Sunday but he tends to think of life events in black and white. To Robert, a hero is someone who pulls a person out of a burning building or dives into the sea and saves someone from drowning. And, of course, he`s right, but equally, to have vitality and life energy that transcends the most adverse circumstances, and the worst pain and suffering, has to be up there with the best of them.

One of my motivations for entering Charlie for this award was for the publicity which we need to help raise funds for his treatment, but the real, heart fluttering reason, only became apparent to me when I met the winner of the award, Harvey. This little man had his legs broken and scolding water poured down his ear and over his right eye by some unimaginably cruel individual, yet there he was, a survivor, wagging his tail and enjoying life. Charlie will never beat cancer, and I dread what is to come, but likewise, there he was barking and annoying and making people smile; a canine metaphor for the joy of life itself.

The day was essentially for dog lovers but for those who are partial to the occasional Galapagos giant tortoise, South American alpaca or Blackpool rescue donkey, then this was, definitely, the gig. There was only one star attraction for me though, and he was securely tethered to Robert.

The day like all days did not go to plan. Charlie shamefully pooed outside the main entrance, then lost his silky bow tie as we hurriedly wound our way through the maze of stalls and exhibits so as not to arrive late, and once registered, barked continuously. The arena was loud and crammed and with no direction. It was time – lapsed canine chaos, and to Charlie, being ten inches high, must have seemed very intimidating.

Have you ever imagined something to be truly awesome, and then when you`re faced with it, it really wasn`t?? I don`t know why but I thought it would be like Crufts. No. The stage was small and obscured by the make shift cafeteria in front of it, and diminished in rank by the Bob the Cat queue that was quickly forming to the right. There was no microphone, and the presenter, Lucy Heath, one half of Britain’s Got Talent finalist doggy double act, Trip Hazard and Lucy, arrived without Trip Hazard and could barely be heard over the din. I was desperate to hear about the heroic deeds of the other canine contenders, but alas this was not to be, and a brief applause later it was all over and Harvey was crowned ASDA Hero. Apart from Chewy and his charity work, (known only because of his very intense and chatty owner) and Harvey, we sadly had no idea why anyone else was there.

We left with a certificate, a new bow tie, a rubber Viking (albeit blue), an assortment of leaflets and a variety of cat food samples …., some more photos and memories to treasure. But on reflection, I don`t think that trophies and rosettes are really for us. You can keep the doggy onesies, sequinned harnesses and nightglow collars, magazine subscription, and Alpaca dog beds, but well done anyway to all the winners, and paws high to the losers because these guys are the forgotten heroes but are just as deserving as anyone else in the room.

Charlie on his way to Event City (not wearing his seatbelt)


Always making new friends



Back in the car and enjoying the quiet life!

Toy Stories

It`s not every day that your dog is featured in the same newspaper as Wayne Rooney, and Princes George and William, but Charlie has made it, he`s in the local rag! I was expecting the article to be lodged somewhere between What`s On and Education Matters, but there we all were on page 14, a half page spread dedicated to, `Hero dog Charlie needs help with cancer fight`. A sinking sensation has just washed over me, and the thrill of seeing him in the paper is quickly darkened by the reason why. I must stay positive, I keep telling myself, because there are lots of things to be positive about and having Charlie here next to me, curled up under my dressing gown, is definitely on top of that list. His medication is working.

It is chemotherapy day today, and Charlie is feeling a little off-peak. He seems uncomfortable, and he`s licking his lips like his mouth is dry even though there`s a large bowl of water in the next room. He`s trying to sleep but he keeps opening one eye to see if I`m still here. Charlie suffers with separation anxiety, and each time he goes to the vets, he reacts in the same way. When Robert comes home he will stick to him like glue until today is in dog time, distant past. At least he`s home now and he`s eaten half a tin of corned beef and chewed his new, bright green, glow in the dark, ball, which I thought might actually last until tonight. Think again Caroline.

Why do dogs like toys? I`ve had three cats and not one of them has devoted much time to toys, the odd catnip filled mouse, but nothing to write home about. Charlie however, has his own toy box, a wicker hamper basket which is so crammed with squeakies, fluffy critters, and balls (of course), that I’ve had to take off the lid just to squeeze them all in. These have been collected over years. The majority of Charlie`s toys have been `ragged` or chewed into little bits and have therefore been ditched, but some have endured the test of time, and teeth, and exist in a mutated form somewhere in the basket. Charlie has a macabre collection of toy animal bits: chicken feet, a crow`s head, a pig snout, and an ear…., the rear end of an elephant, a one-eyed turtle, a once stuffed but now very flat blue and yellow ostrich, mingled with a one horned space hopper, a string of chewed sausages and a spanner which is missing the spanner bit, among a whole host of other treasures.  These dissected and dismembered remains have been chosen by Charlie, and are die-hard favourites, not to be thrown away, ever.

Among these is Harvey, a toy dog that Charlie has a love – hate relationship with. Harvey resembles Charlie in every way. He is a similar size and has his design and colouring right down to the black spot on his back. Charlie is insanely jealous of Harvey. If Robert cuddles him, the dog `gets it`. He is carried by his neck, bitten, shredded and shook until his stuffing has fallen out. I have sewn him up so many times, we affectionately call him Frankenweenie, after the film character. I have tried to throw him away, but strangely, he manages to make his way out of the bin liner and back to the bedroom, not too far away from where Charlie is sitting!

I love watching Charlie with a new toy. There`s no need for an introduction. He is programmed for toy recognition. His nose is in the shopping bag before I`ve placed it on the floor, and he`s in the boot of the car, via the parcel shelf before we`ve shut it, he`s sat on the suitcase as soon as it hits the deck, and there is no hiding place too inaccessible that it can`t be looted.

Charlie has a fantastic motor memory for toys last played with, and location last dropped (or hidden). To Charlie, time stands still. There is no such thing as space/time continuum, and there is no in-between.  Charlie is confused if his squeaky isn`t where it was last left, and is determined to seek the truth! My mum and dad – in- law keep a toy in a rattan box at the back door. They have done this for years. The box contains bags and hats and out – door type things, but somewhere in the mix is Charlie`s yellow, jingley, dumb bell, and no bag for life or winter woolly is going to get in the way of his discovery. Charlie will use all his resources and pull out everything from the box to recover that toy. It is the second thing he does, and it`s hysterical. The first being the manic run around, which announces his arrival.

Charlie loves to play even if you don’t. He is very persuasive and has two strategies. The more blatant approach involves thrusting the ball into your hand or plonking it on your knee or at the base of your feet. This is combined with a cleverly crafted look of boredom and urgency. The second, involves the subtler method of sneakily placing his toys around you unawares, and is designed to surprise you, and give Charlie a much wider choice to play with. Charlie is like a soldier on a covert mission sent to capture your attention.

It`s all too easy to buy your dog a toy. It becomes habit-forming. I can`t go to the supermarket without looking for something that he hasn`t already had. I`ve even bought the same thing in different colours which makes no difference to Charlie because dogs find it difficult to differentiate between certain colours, and anyway a toy is a toy whether you`ve had one before or not. I used to think that his favourite ones were those that had eyes, and therefore imitated prey or predator, but I`m not too sure now. When we go to the pet shop, Charlie is allowed to choose his own toy. I tactically steer him away from the very expensive ones but generally he`s not that fussed about price, and is attracted more to the bottom shelf squeakies which are, dare I say it, ball-shaped. Not an eye in sight (pardon the pun) so maybe it`s the shape or the smell?? If we`re not careful, Charlie can walk straight past us and the checkout, and is already on his way back to the car, without paying. This embarrasses Robert because Charlie is our responsibility, and that is serious stuff but it makes me laugh.


Charlie with his glow in the dark ball  – his post chemo treat.
Charlie choosing his own toy from the vets and making a run for it.
Charlie keeping a tight grip on this in the examination room.
Yet another ball which didn`t withstand the Charlie test.
Charlie trying to capture Roberts attention by surrounding him with gifts!

If you would like to help Charlie, please go to: