Drowning In Dogs………..The Truth About Puppies.


What on earth were we thinking?!!?  A few months ago we decided we would put our name down for a puppy to join our much loved dog, Sam. I was seduced by visions of two dogs frolicking happily in the garden, or snuggled up together in a Cath Kidston dog basket by the aga. So three weeks ago we went to collect our little bundle of fun and the reality so far has not exactly lived up to my apparently delusional expectations. 

Sam spent the first two weeks as far away from Poppy the puppy as possible. Where she was, he quickly wasn’t. But where she wanted to be was in his face………all the time. It made for a rather unrelaxing start to our life with Poppy. What has added to the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that I now have is she is a very, very different animal to Sam. 

Sam in his carefree days as an only dog

I now realise that we lucked out with Sam as a puppy. We had no more than thirty minutes of that first-night -away-from-home, soul destroying, desperate crying. He never, ever messed his crate and had only two accidents in the house. He never chewed anything he wasn’t given. He gave me, what I now realise, was the delusion that I was some sort of latter day Barbara Woodhouse type. Not remotely the case as it turns out. 

 I remember the puppy classes where he enabled me to smugly look down my nose at all those apparently hapless new owners with their out of control puppies. I remember my son winning a red rosette with him in a puppy obedience class. I remember my pride as he walked to heel, sat and lay down to the command of my autistic son, while all the other puppies did well if they didn’t pee in the ring. But pride comes before a fall.  I have met my nemesis in the form of a little black lab puppy no bigger than a rabbit. 

She has never cried in her crate to be fair. No, she barks, angrily, often. She wakes me (the alpha now sleeps in a different room out of earshot) at 3.30 am ish to go outside and then is ready for action at 5.30 am. The 3.30 am wake up call involves cleaning all the pee from her crate, new bedding et al. Fun,  I can assure you, it’s not. It’s like wrestling a bag of (urinating) snakes. If I dare to put her outside on her own while I clean up, she screams blue murder and claws frantically at the back door. 

We’ve decided she’s a bit like a supermodel. She won’t do anything unless she deems the reward (treat) justifies the effort required. She has endless, endless energy. I still have to walk Sam separately so alongside that and all the exercising, entertaining, training (yeah, good luck with that!) and cleaning up that she demands I’m averaging 9 miles a day. “Oooh, you must be losing loads of weight!”,  I hear you say. Not so much. Given the lack of sleep and endless routine, I find myself carb bingeing to keep my energy levels up with hers. Lindt salted caramel dark chocolate seems to be my weapon of choice. 

Poppy enjoying her favourite programme.

She chews. I do what the books tell you to do and give her a dog toy. She chews it for a bit and then gets bored. I’ve bought her more  toys than Imelda Marcos had shoes in a vain attempt to stop her eating my house and garden. Not working. I think I’ll give her the dog training manual to chew instead. 

The Alpha took her out to do her evening ablutions last night and came up to see me afterwards. ” I was out there for fifteen minutes” he said ” but there was just a lot of messing around with sticks, soil and stones.”  I struggled to focus on him in my semi-comatose, exhausted state. “Why are you tidying up the garden at this time of night?” I asked him. He stared at me in disbelief ( even more so than usual). “Not me, the puppy, you muppet!” 

 I’ve been in regular contact with the breeder who was keen to know how things were going between the two dogs. I told her that it wasn’t quite the happy ending yet. She said that she’d received photos from two different owners who had taken puppies to live with their existing dogs. The photos apparently show both old dog and new puppy happily snuggled up next to each other in their shared dog baskets. Knife to the heart. Then the bitchy me surfaced and I decided the photos had to be staged. I felt better immediately. 

That said, a friend recently had Poppy to stay for the night. My friend has a lovely dog, Sam’s best friend in fact. A few hours after we left her I received a photo of Poppy and Sam’s friend cosily snuggled up together, fast asleep, on a rug. I had to concede the other photos may well have been genuine after all.

My friend keeps chickens so she thought she would take Poppy down to meet them. She picked Poppy up and then perched her on her lap so that she could see them properly. One of the chickens did that weird, pecking thing towards her whereupon Poppy promptly wet herself (all over my friend’s lap) and shot back to the house as fast as her little legs would carry her.The words ‘sweet little thing’ were still lauded upon her however, when we arrived to pick her up.

So, all things considered, why is she still here? She is expensive, inexhaustible, demanding, greedy, noisy and messy. Why haven’t I sent her packing, back to the breeder with her little, black tail tucked firmly between her legs? Well, maybe it’s because I adore the piglet-like way she runs. Maybe it’s the lovely, warm, yeasty smell of her head. Perhaps it’s her gorgeous little face and the way she looks at me with nothing but trust and love in her eyes. I adore her, she had me at hello and I still don’t really understand why. But that’s ok, she’s part of the family now. 

Marrakech

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Our quick trip to Marrakech began with a three-hour delay at Gatwick airport. Still, they threw in a gate change to give us something to do with the time. No-one seemed to have a clue what was going on, least of all the air hostesses. Eventually the Captain announced that there were not enough baggage handlers to load our plane, thereby neatly sidestepping any culpability for delay compensation claims. We spent the rest of the time watching the snow gently fall on our luggage as it sat forlornly, abandoned on the tarmac next to the plane. I’m sure every last one of us would have loaded it ourselves if given half a chance.

We have a family rule, we are each allowed one hissy fit on holiday. I had mine before I had even sat down on the plane. I had my laptop with me in a bag, and while I was more than happy for it to go in the overhead locker, I wanted it close to me and not down the other end of the plane. We had three seats and one small piece of luggage. So it should have been no problem right? Wrong. The lockers were jam-packed with what looked like bedding. The air hostess was at the back of the plane (as, unfortunately for her, were we) admiring her nails. After a three-hour delay, I’m not at my most reasonable. Suffice to say, the laptop ended up in our overhead locker but it wasn’t exactly my finest hour.

We finally arrived in Marrakech. We were staying at the Mandarin Oriental and had chosen to use their fast track meet and greet service. They met us straight from the plane and whizzed us seamlessly through border control etc. This service does not come cheap and the reason we used it was not, in this case, because I’m too precious to queue. Our 18-year-old son, who was travelling with us, has autism. Going through immigration has become a bit scary as a result. Although he appears normal, there is something different about him, the sort of different that can easily be picked up on by officials and mistaken for something else. He is extremely vulnerable with limited verbal ability. He struggles with the concept of questions and could potentially become distressed. He is now technically an adult.

I deeply hate those border controls that won’t let you go up as a family. In these situations one of us goes first and explains about my son’s autism but it feels as if we are almost apologising for him. I don’t see why we should be in that position. Wouldn’t it be great if the WHO could introduce an internationally recognised ‘passport’ system whereby we never need to explain to uninitiated  officialdom again.

We were fast-tracked through alongside Salma Hayek. She was suitably Gucci-ed up. Her husband is, after all, Francois-Henri Pinault, owner of Gucci and much, much more. While we were waiting for our luggage I couldn’t help wondering about the pre-nup, whether she gets free Gucci or whether she is contractually obliged to brand promote. She was accompanied by an extremely smiley bodyguard, or maybe he was a very butch hairdresser.

As soon as our luggage appeared we were whisked to our awaiting car and on to our hotel, The Mandarin Oriental Marrakech. We were met by the manager and taken straight to our room. What a sight for sore eyes.

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The hotel is really beautiful. It is situated outside of the Medina, the centre, but we wanted to be away from the hustle and bustle. It is quick and easy to get around Marrakech from the hotel in any case.

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There are two main restaurants for dining in the evening. One is Ling Ling which is part of the Hakkasan franchise. I would say it’s a good restaurant but I found the cooking a little bit butch, it lacks the Hakkasan finesse. The other restaurant was Mes’Lalla which serves Moroccan cuisine. I thought this was by far the better of the two. Both of these restaurants are quite fine dining-y but they were more than happy to cater more simply for my son.

I had one issue with this hotel and that is that their blurb clearly states that the pools (including villa pool) are all heated. The temperature of the outdoor pools may have been suitable for The Polar Bear Club ( a bunch of nutters who swim outdoors in the depths of winter) but rendered them unfit for purpose for me. Even the indoor Spa pool was bracing!

The very best thing about the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech are the truly lovely staff. The service was impeccable and friendly. We were there in low season and sometimes this can have a negative effect on the service but this was most definitely not the case.

We did venture into the Medina. We have been before and I was surprised the Alpha suggested it, it’s a little too visceral for his tastes. We had a guide organised by the hotel. Lets just say that I didn’t take to him. I had done some research and had a list of specific shops that I wanted to go to. He had no idea where they were which I found unlikely given the Medina isn’t that big and he spends his life guiding idiots like me around it. To be fair though, I hadn’t provided specific addresses. So, first stop, on his recommendation, the inevitable tourist trap shop. Our relationship went downhill from there. He also wasn’t impressed when I freaked out because someone was trying to put their monkey on my son. We hadn’t explained that he has autism but quite frankly I don’t see why we should have to. I don’t particularly want people putting their monkeys on me either! I completely understand that monkey man was simply trying to earn a living. I wish him all the best.

Marrakech is a fab place for a quick winter break. It’s three and a half hours (if the flight isn’t delayed) away from the UK. It can be quite warm in Feb and it feels a world away from home. There are many different types of places to stay so you can be as chilled or as full on as you want. We returned feeling rested, as if we had had a proper break minus the gruesome, long distance haul deal.

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

I heard the author, Ali Land, being interviewed on BBC radio 4. She was talking about her background as a child and adolescent mental health nurse and how she has drawn on her experiences to write this book. I was initially attracted to reading Good Me, Bad Me because I thought it would be fascinating to see through the eyes of an experienced mental health professional, but I must admit I wasn’t expecting too much from either the story line or the writing style. I was wrong. On every level this is a brilliant, brilliant book. 

‘New name. New family. Shiny. New. Me.’

The narrator is a 15-year-old girl called Annie, she is also known as Milly. This is the name she is given to protect her identity. Her mother is a serial killer who is awaiting trial. Annie/Milly was the one who went to inform the police about her mother. She has been placed with a foster family while she is undergoing psychiatric treatment and waiting to testify at her mother’s trial.

The story unfolds within the setting of Milly/Annie’s new life. Her previous life with her mother reveals itself slowly with occasional, tantalising but horrific glimpses into the past. Her life within the foster family dynamic is equally fascinating.

The characters in this book are totally convincing. They are all beautifully observed and three-dimensional. I vacillated between feeling desperately sorry for Annie/Milly to feeling positively unnerved by her. She is extremely intelligent and perceptive, and she uses these characteristics  well to her advantage.

What keeps you guessing throughout this book is whether the girl is, like her mother, a psychopath. And if she is, how this will reveal itself. A psychopath has no conscience and a conscience informs our behaviour,  but even without it we still have freedom of choice. What will her choice be?

This book is astonishing. It is superbly crafted, masterfully written. The story line is gripping and unique,  I couldn’t put it down and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Exeter In The Freezing Fog…..And Puppies

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I’ve been down to Exeter to visit Uni son. The pretext was to find a venue for his 21st birthday bash.  I’d booked myself into what used to be known as The Magdalen Chapter hotel. It has been sold to a hotel chain and has now, rather tragically, been renamed the Hotel Du Vin Exeter. I loved the old Magdalen Chapter. It was quirky and, although the service could occasionally run to slightly rural,  it was friendly and always eager to please.

So, what’s changed under the new management?  The physical hotel is still chic, quirky and comfortable. However, gone is the free mini bar and newspaper and also the rather lovely chap behind the reception/concierge desk. The ipads have gone (no bad thing), and the giant walnut thingy of a reception desk has been replaced by, what look like, two decorating tables end to end. I’m told a reception area refurb is on the cards. The service has definitely disintegrated in the dining room.

I was very pleased with my room allocation, it was by far the nicest I’ve been in while staying there. However, I think there may have been a disgruntled guest in there before me, intent on sabotaging the room. The unfathomable central heating control had been turned off, consequently the room was freezing, the tv had been set to subtitle mode and lots of plugs had been taken out of sockets. I figured the plugs out but needed intervention with the rest. The issues were sorted out but definitely not with the ‘nothing is too much trouble’ air of yesterday.

I think what has gone, for the moment at least, is the warmth and friendliness that prevailed here under the old management. This, sadly, makes this hotel just another place to stay when visiting Exeter, and there are cheaper, perfectly acceptable alternatives.

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The Hotel Du Vin Exeter

I’m very fond of Exeter. Wandering through its streets is to experience its history. There are atmospheric alleyways that you can imagine smugglers ducking in and out of.  J.K Rowling went to University here and Diagon Alley is supposedly based on one of Exeter’s alleyways. It’s a beautiful city with Roman walls and medieval and Georgian structures sitting, for the most part, quite happily alongside modern shopping malls.  The brands are mostly all here and the fact that it’s a University town means that there are still a few decent independent shops, cafes and restaurants. I’m a champion of the quality indie retailer so I’m bound to think that there are too many chain stores etc in most Uk cities and towns. If you don’t use it, you lose it people.

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One of my favourite things to do is visit the cathedral. It costs (at time of publishing) £7.50 to visit. There are guided tours included in the price and they are well worth doing. The outside of the cathedral always reminds me of the House of Commons. The interior is stunning. It has an extraordinary vaulted ceiling which is apparently the “longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world” and very beautiful it is too. It also houses the earliest known wooden carving of an elephant in the UK, it is on a misericord (aka a shelf to perch on during long prayer sessions). I’ve only scratched the surface of the cool stuff in the Cathedral, go and discover the rest for yourselves. It’s well worth it.

The Cathedral has its own cafe and all the profits go towards the maintenance of this National treasure. The food is good quality, honest fare. If you fancy a baked potato, slice of Quiche or afternoon tea and scones this is the place for you. It is situated in a pretty, little courtyard on the Cathedral grounds.

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Exeter Cathedral Cafe.
Just next to the Cathedral is another place that I love to go to for lunch. The Plant Cafe is unashamedly healthy but it does what it does very well. It’s tiny so be prepared to sit on a stool or share a table. The food is imaginative, very tasty and terribly good for you. Bonus!img_0488

And now, as promised, on to the puppies. On my return the Alpha and I had to attend an interview to attest to our suitability as potential puppy parents. What does one wear to such an event? I considered my usual mud-spattered, dog walking clothing but deemed it too desperate. I felt it was a bit too “ooh, look at me, I’m a doggy person”. I went with smart casual in the end, sensible shoes etc. Memo to self however, never, ever wear tasselled loafers when visiting puppies. At least I was popular (with the puppies), but I was terrified one of them would bite off a tassel and choke. Not cool.

Anyhow, we passed the test!! I’m going back this week to select our new family member. I do worry about Sam (our dog) though, he’s a rather nervous soul and his world is about to be rocked. I felt so guilty, I’ve bought him a plush, new bed to make up for it.