The Acid House Gynaecologist

Despite trying to write about other topics, I’ve just checked the stats for the Emu, and realised that my readership* is interested in:

  1. Dogs
  2. Running
  3. The joys of family life
  4. Nothing much else

With this in mind, here is a blog about 1 & 2, partly in a desperate bid for attention, and partly because, well, this just happened.

Several years ago, we finally agreed to start having our lives pulled apart by becoming dog owners. About the only stipulation I had in the debate was that I needed to have a dog I could run with, and I spent many happy hours poring over websites telling me which were the best dogs for me, the family, and as running companions. There was a pretty significant flaw in my selection process – I naturally chose the dog breed that was best suited to my running ability at the time, with no consideration that I might conceivably get slower over the next few years. Which is exactly what happened.

Mrs E is nothing if not possessive about the dogs, and allowed me to run with them only after I’d fulfilled all H&S criteria, and critically when the dog in question was at least fourteen months old. Otherwise, apparently, I could cause irreparable damage to fragile knees and paws (the dog’s, not mine). So it was that a couple of years ago, I was able to start running with Luna, first on a lead, then a harness (her not me), and then, when Solomon was deemed fit to do so, I ran with him as well, eventually ending up with a harness around my waist and both dogs pulling me along, often in the same direction.

I can’t describe how much fun this is. Part of the fun element is the very real chance that it could go horribly wrong at any moment, what with traffic, pedestrians and squirrels to contend with, but there is a point on every run, where everything just comes together, and we’re all running together at roughly the same place, where it’s just brilliant. If I had a tail, then three of us would be wagging at the same time.

I run with the dogs at least twice a week, and always when Mrs E is working late. This means I need to pedal home from work at breakneck speed to get changed and out the door by 5:30, which is about the latest their schedule will allow. Any later, and unfortunately at least one of them will start doing laps of the furniture. Now, in this neck of the woods and in winter, 5:30 also means complete darkness. Rather than waiting for the nights to draw out and take my two charges for a relaxing walk around one of a number of excellent well lit and dog friendly parks nearby, I decided it would be much more sensible to buy a head torch and run with them on some of the more enjoyable off-road routes that combine a few muddy hills, some woods, a bit of river footpath, and marginal cellphone signal. I’d light up the path ahead, and the dogs would run along to the light, and we’d all wag our tails. I nipped onto Amazon and bought a bargain headtorch for £7.99. It arrived, I tried it on, I felt like a bit of a knob (particularly after Mrs E called me ‘The Acid House Gynaecologist’ after coming back from my first run, with headtorch shining and too much fluorescent lycra), but no matter, this was to enable fun night-time running with my four-legged chums, with the trail lit up like a spotlight for the three of us:

running n the darkWhat could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you could imagine, quite a bit. But first, a little diversion. In March, 1972, my Dad took me to my first proper football match. We were visiting family on the South coast and Southampton were playing Liverpool, who, under Bill Shankly, were already the stuff of legend. For a wide eyed nine year old boy obsessed with football, it was a pretty good way to break my duck. As far as the game was concerned, I remember very little except for perhaps a 30 second video in my head that I’ve been able to replay precisely ever since. Attacking from my right, one of the Liverpool midfielders stroked the ball onto the far touchline to Steve Heighway, who took off like a train down the right wing. Just before he got to the goal line, he crossed the ball very hard and very low, about a foot off the ground, towards the penalty spot. At this point. the ball met the head of John Toshack, who had started his dive from some distance outside the penalty box, and had travelled, parallel with the ground for a number of yards, like some sort of guided missile, and didn’t actually land until after the ball had whizzed past the helpless Southampton keeper. I’d never witnessed anything so athletic and so powerful in my life, and, looking back, I’m still not sure I have since. I spent quite a bit of the following few months trying to perfect my own technique of flying like a torpedo to meet an imaginary cross, but without any real success – I just seemed to land a bit early – sometimes before my feet had actually left the ground. I think I concluded that there were people in the world who were John Toshack, and there were people who weren’t, and I was definitely in the second group.

Diversion over, on a darkened run, I was being pulled along at a fairly brisk pace, down a muddy hill towards the river, when my right foot met a rabbit hole. What followed was an almost exact replica of the dive that John Toshack made at The Dell in March 1972. I took off, partly fuelled by the momentum of being pulled along by the dogs, and partly by the hill. I travelled parallel to the ground for a number of yards. I landed, painfully, in the mud, and continued my journey for some time, until the dogs realised that pulling a dead weight wasn’t nearly so much fun as one that was trying to keep up with them. I reckon the initial dive was at least the length of Toshack’s, but the subsequent slide would have taken me well past the goalkeeper and crashing into the net.

The dogs were fairly bemused. They actually made a point of coming back and licking my wounds, which was both sweet and disgusting. Having ascertained that I was still breathing, they both sat down and waited for me to get up. They weren’t actually tapping their toes on the ground, but they weren’t far off. So I got up, gingerly broke into a jog, and resolved on the way home to keep this whole mishap a secret between the three of us.

‘How was the run’? said Mrs E as I followed two excited dogs into the house.

‘Fine’, I said, stepping into the kitchen, and realising in the light that I’d managed to bring most of the muddy hill home with me, and that I’d need to fess up.

‘Well, I did fall over quite badly’

‘Oh no! Are the dogs alright?’, she asked, rather predictably.

I tried the next couple of runs around the park, but it wasn’t the same, So, a couple of weeks later,  I decided to run very slowly and very carefully around the off road route. The dogs seemed much keener on this, and we trotted along happily (and safely) together. Past the muddy hill (watching my step), on the river path (making sure they kept to the left), through the grass track (keeping an eye out for the rabbits), into the first little wood (keeping feet away from tree roots), across the path (watching for cyclists), into the second wood (where I forgot the bit about tree roots).

Never forget about tree roots when you’re running through a forest, particularly at night.

What happens is that you hit the root with your leading foot, curse with pain, then catapult forward and down, often onto another tree root. It can be really painful.

‘Can be really’ as in ‘was horribly’; I landed with the force of a WWF wrestler, and managed to hit leg, elbow, shoulder and head all in one ugly movement. Worse; my head torch went flying off my head. Worse than worse, it managed to switch itself off in the process.

So I’m lying face down on the ground (again), with the dogs coming back to have a look (again) but this time we’re all completely disoriented, and in the pitch black. After a bit, the dogs get a bit bored of the ‘pained hound with quizzical look sitting mournfully by their master’ look, and decide to wander off. Unfortunately they’re still attached to my waist, and deciding to go off on separate directions. Luna probably said something like ‘I’ll go down to the river, you see if there’s anything in the woods, and we’ll meet back when he’s found that ridiculous searchlight’, but obviously I can’t be sure.

Anyway, I find a way to release them, and am left to fend for myself. Fending for myself takes the form of crawling around aimlessly, sweeping my palm ahead of me in the vain hope that I’ll find the torch before I find the river. I continue this exercise for about 5 minutes, and it’s no small relief that there’s no one there to witness it.

I give up at this point, and go for plan b, which involves finding my phone, which is handily strapped to my arm, under three layers of clothing. Retrieving my phone therefore means getting undressed in the middle of the forest, and that’s what I do, until I’m down to my tights and bare chest. A sentence I never thought I’d write, and a look I never thought I’d get away with. Fortunately again, I’m the only one able to see this new fashionable low. I thank the genius who decided to integrate a flashlight on my phone, and almost immediately find my head torch, which had landed exactly where I hadn’t been crawling. i put the torch back on my head, switched it on, and to my great relief, lit up my little part of the trail with a reluctant yellow beam.

Incidentally, the reason for all of his nonsense was in buying a £7.99 headtorch in the first place. If you’re ever tempted to buy one, look for something with a strap that is vaguely tight, a battery pack that pulls the torch back rather than forwards, and a switch that you have to get your finger in to work. Mine possessed precisely none of these features, although the replacement one, which, so far has stayed both on and on at all times, does.

Anyway, I called the dogs, and, remarkably, they attended the scene almost immediately. We ran home, very slowly, and with and improved leg lift and, remarkably, without further incident. We got home and in the back door, where, like a 5 year old coming home from the park, I told my wife that I’d fallen over again, and was in some degree of pain.

‘Are the dogs alright?’, she asked, unremarkably.



*You know who you are x



The mutt’s nuts (part two)

In our last exciting instalment, we left Solomon, a sweet adolescent dog (regarded by Mrs E very much as her fifth son, and treated with more devotion than any of the previous four), nervously anticipating a trip to the vets to remove any opportunities to create little Solomons in the future.

As we could easily have predicted, he wasn’t keen on the exercise at all, and started whimpering softly as the car pulled in to the vets, the scene of previous anti-emetics and painful injections. Mournfully he looked up at Mrs E, as if to say “Why Me?”. Mrs E, however, was probably thinking that if the exercise went well, she might investigate a similar exercise on certain of Solomon’s four predecessors.

We picked him up later that day, and he was more pleased to see us than, say, a dog with two tails. There was also a soldierly air about him that said ‘Oh this old scar, don’t worry, it’s not bothering me at all’. He was a bit like my friend M, who is a carrot farmer, and had a vasectomy scheduled one morning during harvest, so made it very clear that he needed to be right back on the tractor in the afternoon. Which he was.

However, Norfolk dogs need to be treated with a certain more care than Norfolk farmers, it would appear, and so Solomon was restricted to lead walks for a week so as to avoid pulling his stitches out, something which he found slightly irritating. And even more irritating when, after a couple of these, Luna found that she could wind him up by running full pelt at him from behind, bumping into him. then sprinting off into the distance. It reminded me very much of David Gower in a biplane at a test match, or, if early 1990’s cricket references aren’t your kind of thing, Dawn French in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Dawn’ (specifically around 4:50 on this clip, but if you’ve not seen this before, do watch the whole thing, at least three times) :

After a week of this, Solomon and Mrs E had had quite enough (although I think Luna could have kept going happily for a couple more months), and he was let off the lead, with no negative issues for either scars or stitches. At which point, on pretty much every walk, Luna spent a lot of time barking at him to calm down.

Some months ago, Mrs E told me that she would definitely need a final celebration of her special birthday year, which I dutifully booked. I opted for a romantic weekend, a mere skip and a jump from the Peak District hotel where we spent our wedding night (an evening, that, for reasons I’ll tell you about another time, was spent with Emlyn Hughes, and which, as a consequence, is marred in my memory by a ridiculously voice calling out “3:1! 3:1 we won that day” at a pitch that Solomon would have heard even more acutely than we did). However, the romance of the birthday break was soon to dissipate, as it became clear that this was primarily a weekend for Solomon to recuperate, and start his genital-free life anew.

Fortunately, the romantic cottage we’d booked was declared ‘dog friendly’ on the web, we quickly ordered a book called something like ‘Suitable Walks for Freshly Neutered Dogs in Derbyshire’, and set off for a gentle adventure.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d spent some time in the company of an estate agent, with a challenging taste in business wear and a generous weekly allowance for hair product, who told me that the estate agent’s best friend was the wide angle lens. I was reminded of this conversation as we walked into the cottage, and soon found the ground floor fully occupied simply by closing the front door. There were quite a few sideways and backwards moves required in order to navigate the process of preparing a meal, not entirely helped by the dogs not having a reverse gear. This picture will give you an idea of the starting position.


Anyway, we were met by the very friendly, and fortunately, quite thin, cottage owner, who wedged her way into the porch to give us some advice, which included the news that the dogs would not be allowed upstairs, despite the stairs being completely open. With a nimbleness afforded only by many years of yoga and aerobics classes, Mrs E manoeuvred her way from position 3 to 12, with very little injury to either dog, and made it clear to our hostess (now resident at position 14), that there was no way that her little darlings were going to be kept downstairs in a strange house, no matter how cosy. Fortunately, a major diplomatic incident was avoided, as our hostess squeezed across to position 15, inspected the dogs, and declared (seriously) that they had short enough hair for this not to be an issue.

Having scored the first moral victory of the day, we all trooped upstairs, to investigate the ‘compact and bijou’ bedroom with some interest, finding just about enough room for two carefully folded dogs on my side of the bed.

Unfortunately, this arrangement was to spell the end of romance and very much the start of pampered recuperation. Solomon’s recent operation had, for some reason, altered his body clock to be wide awake at odd hours of the night. It had also given him a healthy appetite, and interestingly, an enthusiasm for all sorts of excrement littered across the Derbyshire countryside. He had a particular penchant for Sheep shit, but was also partial to a bit of Cow and Horse. As a result, his breath absolutely stank. He is probably oblivious to a combination of halitosis, farm animal excrement and gingivitis, but it’s hard to ignore when it’s delivered at 2 in the morning directly onto your mouth. Telling him to lay down and turning your back doesn’t really work either, unless your idea of a wake-up call is being rimmed by an enthusiastic puppy five minutes later. I mentioned this to Mrs E, who made it clear that her empathies were all with the dog. Anyway, all things considered, I prefer a snooze button.

Anyway, Solomon certainly seemed to have received the message that this holiday was for him, and him alone, and subsequently lorded it over all and sundry. I suspect he’s over compensating, as, if anything, his chest is puffed up even higher than ever, but at least he’s stopped humping animate and inanimate objects without warning. He seems pretty relaxed, if his sleeping position is anything to go by:

And if he winds me up, I just whisper ‘Jaffa’ in his ear. He doesn’t necessarily understand, as, being Hungarian, the finer points of British slang can be lost on him, but it makes me feel much better.




If you’re any sort of a film fan, you’ll be familiar with the work of the Coen Brothers. And if you like the Coen brothers, then hopefully you’ll agree with me that ‘Raising Arizona’ is a two-hour treat that you’ll never, ever, regret. Who knows, you might even have your favourite quote from the film. For me, it’s this bit:

Edwina: “H.I., I’m barren.”

H.I. “At first, I didn’t believe it. That this woman who looked as fertile as the Tennessee Valley could not bear children. But the doctor explained that her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

Of course, if none of the above film buff conditions apply to you then this may all appear to be gibberish. But if you’ve seen the film, and you read or hear the word barren, you may find that you can’t do so without saying, in your head, “H.I., Aaaaaam baaaaren”.

In fact, while we’re here, if you’ve not seen Raising Arizona, here’s a taster…and if you have, here’s a reminder. Watch it when you can.

Anyway, here at Emu Towers, we’ve experienced our own little challenges with Luna the dog, or, to give her her full title, The Hungarian Crown Princess Who Can Do No Wrong In The Eyes Of All The Family (Except Django The Hamster). Truly, the insides of THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH) are a rocky place where seed would find no purchase, but that’s largely because we had her neutered last year. We explained to her at the time that she would never hear the pitter patter of tiny Imperial Hungarian paws, but she took little heed, so Mrs E whisked her down to the vet and had that rocky place created. And that, to a large extent, was that. Game over, on the fertility front. Or possibly game ovary.

But before too long, we noticed a wistful, occasionally doleful look in the eyes of THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH). Which was matched, rather predictably, by the look in the eyes of Mrs E. Sometimes, not even a dead chicken could cheer her up (THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH), not Mrs E) :

“Luna’s never been a mother, and she needs a puppy to play with”, said Mrs E, using the informal form of address.

Apparently Luna was in full agreement, and being unable to produce a puppy herself, had agreed to adopt. Actually, these things being what they are (Q What sort of baby puppy would Luna like?; A One exactly the same size, colour and shape as her), it was more of an expensive surrogate birth at an approved provider than an adoption. It transpired that surrogate births in the canine world are just as challenging as in the human one, but with a bit more scrutiny from the donor.

But such a donor was found, a deal was struck, and an excited Mrs E put several hundred miles on the car by her weekly visits to the breeder. She even got involved in the naming process, which, for all the right reasons, was Bowie-themed. These names had to be submitted to the Kennel Club, and, as a result, our little brown ball of fun was officially called ‘Diamond’, as the Kennel Club rejected the name ‘Diamond Dog’, which apparently had the illegal word ‘Dog’ in it. Peculiar.

Anyway, the prospect of calling a dog ‘Diamond’, without sounding like a Ray Winstone/Leslie Grantham/Grant Mitchell hybrid was pretty unlikely, so we went into a family huddle over Christmas and collectively all agreed on a name. Which me and Mrs E completely overruled in the first week in January, naming the small ball Solomon. Because he looks like he’s full of wisdom, is pretty regal, and can share his name with one of the greatest soul singers of all time. (And there are already two dogs called Otis in the park). Here he is looking full of wisdom:

So, come the great day of bringing Solomon home, and we’d given THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH) a bit of a heads up, what with there being an extra bed in the kitchen (and, for some reason, an extra bed in the living room, and a number of new items that Mrs E had been storing in what used to be called a ‘bottom drawer’).

You know those scenes when a childless mother is presented with her baby after years of upset? Here’s ours:

Apologies for the camera shaking, but the operator was laughing too much to concentrate.

Anyway, the first few hours were as entertaining as you would expect. Solomon snuggled up to Luna and tried unsuccessfully to latch on to her, which she found a little bit annoying. He played with her but after a while she‘d either walk away or bark at him to stop. He wee’d and poo’d on the kitchen floor and she sniffed it, shook her head and walked away. In fact, he behaved just like any other new baby would, and Luna’s behaviour was an uncanny reminder of Mrs E’s parenting skills.

But then they’d settle, and produced the sort of images that Solomon will be showing his own surrogate children in a few years’ time:

“Yes, this is me with THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH) when I was a few weeks old. Gosh, can’t believe I was that little – where does the time go? Luckily I finally grew into my ears…”

Then, a couple of days after the big arrival, Luna got pretty ill. And being the giving sort of mother that she had already become, kindly passed an industrial dose of gastro-enteritis onto her new child. Solomon got ill, and for a few days he was in a really horrible state, and had to go on IV drugs and was kept overnight at the vets, and, again in a history of being parents sort of style, we felt awful and guilty but we didn’t know what we were feeling awful and guilty for, and so we felt even more awful and guilty.

And then he came out, with more enthusiasm then ever, slightly startling THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH), but the main thing was that he was better.

As Mrs E pointed out on the way back from the vets, there’s nothing like your nearest & dearest being ill as a stark reminder of how much you love them, and I guess there’s a message in there for us all.

THCPWCDNWITEOATF(EDTH), remained relatively stoical. It’s probably all that royal breeding that maintains a brave face at all times.  A bit like the stolen quote for Queenie in Blackadder: “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a concrete elephant”.

And now, all is well. Mother and surrogate are fine. The Crown Princess Eyes have gone from doleful to doting. The new world order is restored. Everybody loves a happy ending, right?

Luna’s Ruff guide to living

We resisted having a dog in the family for years, many of which were populated by the kids pleading that only a puppy would make their lives complete. When we finally relented, it was as much as anything to substitute the outgoing child, which was a bit unfair on him, given that he’d led the lobbying committee for many years, but at least has meant that we still get home visits. With the trauma of #2’s departure still leaving something of a gap, Mrs E has already placed her order for dog 2, thereby creating a precedent that will mean four large animals cluttering up the place by the year 2020, and, by my current calculations, a need for me to stay in gainful employment for at least 5 more years than previously planned.

Go on then, ask me if I mind. Because I don’t. Having a dog about the place, even one who spends 20 hours of each 24 in a state of blissful snoozing, is an absolute delight.

One of my failed get-rich-quick schemes was to author a book on life lessons learned from running long distances. See here for a suitable diversion. Anyway, just in case others have cornered the market in the whole run/philosophy/life market (and they have), I’m developing a different idea in this blog, which we’ll ruffly entitle ‘Things That You Learn From Living With A Dog’. It also gives me a contrived opportunity to post a number of pictures of Luna, a dog so impossibly attractive that every photograph will just make you go aaaaahhh:


Always attractive, even before growing into her ears, paws and wrinkles

1. Clearing up is easy

One of the things that put me off any sort of dog ownership was the prospect of following the dog around the park, picking up the output of its bottom. In reality, it’s really straightforward. Luna waits until she’s in the park, squats down slightly awkwardly, and produces something that’s quite easy to bag up and put in a bin. And, she’ll politely wait for you to complete the process before continuing the walk. Sometimes, by making it easy for all parties concerned, the most unpleasant jobs become, well, a walk in the park.

2. Always wag your tail

Every time I see Luna, she wags her tail. And I think this is because she’s genuinely pleased to see me. I might be saying good morning to her at 5am, and she’ll wag her tail while keeping her eyes closed. I might be home from a couple of days away and off the back of a horrible train journey, and she’ll wag her tail while trying to wrestle me on the sofa. I might be back from a run and she’ll wag her tail while trying to lick all the sweat off my legs and neck (this is just as repulsive as it sounds, but also slightly moreish). And when anyone else meets here, the default tail position is wag. I guess the point is that she starts off pretty much every part of her life as happy, and very rarely is she disappointed. Do you know anyone like that in your life? I’ve just been thinking about it, and I reckon there are about two people who I’ve ever met who have been unrelentingly positive, and I really wish I’d managed to spend more time in their company.

photo (5)
You struggle to be anything but happy if a dog is gently kissing you on the ear. Highly recommended.

3. Say good morning

I have a friend who grew up in a small village in Norfolk, , and moved to the bright lights of Norwich when he was 18. He couldn’t understand why, when he walked along the street, no one ever replied to his cheery ‘Good Morning’. Luna’s lucky in this respect, in that her ‘Good Morning’ greetings are normally responded to a bit more enthusiastically. Most dogs say good morning right back, although she does find the French bulldogs and the Jack Russell’s a little, well, over-friendly; it’s never seemed right that the friendly barked hello is followed up by a rush to smell her bum, but you probably shouldn’t be too judgemental of other cultures. Anyway, she’ll never ignore you when she meets you, and that’s almost always a good thing.

Good Morning!

4. Emotions don’t have to be complicated

Luna spends 95% of her life in a happy place. There isn’t much more to her emotion than that. The 5% that isn’t happy might be tired, or cross, or hungry, but not much more than that. There isn’t any deep analysis of this 5% to discover that she has a deep-rooted fear of cars, or a genetic disposition to obesity, or a reluctance to commit to happiness based on previous relationships. She’s just happy or she’s not, and when she’s not, she’s not for long.

photo (3)
A worry-free sleeping position

5. Eat when you’re hungry

Luna has two walks a day, and after each one she comes back and has a meal. There’s a fairly amusing bit between walk and meal when she outlines what she’d like to eat, how she’d like it presented, and exactly the level of hunger that she’s experiencing. At least, that’s what we assume, from the animated rrooorrr rrooorrr noises that come out from her when she gets in the door. Then she eats an unappetising mix of dry biscuits and water in about five seconds flat, has a sniff round the kitchen floor to see if there’s any pudding, and takes herself off to bed to sleep off the walk and the meal. And that’s it. No mid-meal snacks, other than the odd stick on a walk, no begging for food, no hunger pains, no munchies. Just eats the food she needs when she’s hungry, and looks pretty fit on it.

In the brief space of time between finishing a meal and sleeping it off

6. Play !

I read somewhere a while ago that dogs are the only animal that continue to play into their adulthood. Now that Luna is knocking on the door of 2 years old, she’s what’s called a ‘mature dog’, which makes her sound like a middle aged librarian. Unlike most of us middle aged librarian types, however, she’ll play with us, or other dogs, really naturally. And by naturally, I mean without any sense of self-consciousness, she’ll just boing into life, run around a bit with another dog or a puppy or a person, just for the sake of the play itself. Compare that next time you see an adult in your life trying a bit too hard to play with a child.

7. Her never changing moods

One of us might be late home, we might be a bit late with the food, we might ask her to go out for a wee in the garden when it’s raining, and Luna might not be overly impressed with this. Whatever happens, it doesn’t hang around festering for her to bear a grudge. She’s still pleased to see you the next morning. Life goes on, y’know.

8. Run properly

I really, really, want to be a good runner. I’ve realised that ‘good’ has actually started going in the wrong direction, and I wish I’d had Luna to instruct me when I first started out. My normal runs are: get changed, get out the door as quickly as possible, slog round until I’m exhausted, come home, whine a bit about feeling knackered, shower. I started running with Luna a few months ago and her approach is very different. Stretch, walk for a bit, then one mile easy trot, off lead for three miles, at which she’ll walk, run, run fast, sprint, and probably cover 5 to my 3. She’ll run at whatever pace suits her, unless there’s a squirrel involved in which case she’ll go for what us runners call VO2 max. And she’ll really enjoy it. Back onto a lead for a one mile cool down run home, before rroorr rrooorr conversation and food. She just does this naturally, and enjoys it, and for her training partner, it’s definitely the best run of the week.

Always stretch before your run


9. Be mindful

If you hang around psychologists, or cod-psychologists, or life coaches, or new age Chelsea Buddhists, you’ll be familiar with the concept of mindfulness. You can spend a lot of time and effort learning about this concept, and without belittling it too much (oops), it basically revolves around being ‘in the moment’. By understanding your current state, and the senses that allow you to exist in this state, you can appreciate more and be more prepared for the next part of your life. I’m a big fan of this myself, but through the eyes of a dog, it feels even simpler and more relevant. Luna spends almost no time worrying about her pension plan, where the next meal might be coming from, or the appalling state of the world around her. She gives hardly any thought, as far as I know, to the dog that recently dissed her in the park, or the fact that her mother might have kicked her in the head when she was trying to feed. If you watch her outside, with her ears lifted, sniffing the breeze, scanning the field for rabbits and squirrels, with one front leg up, desperately pretending to be a pointer, then she’s the absolute embodiment of being ‘in the moment’. You don’t need six weeks of mindfulness training, you see, you just need to go for a walk with a dog.

Luna being mindful

That’s the book, in a nutshell. Let me know if you want one for Christmas.

Pregnant Paws

Well, it’s been a busy week at Emu towers, and, for once, the focus has been away from the challenges of the unreasonableness of the two-legged population and onto the animal kingdom. The week started with Luna behaving…well, strangely. I mentioned the symptoms to a couple of friends, and without missing a beat, each one said : “Phantom pregnancy” I don’t know about you, but this was very much a new term for me, and it does strike me that I’m learning a whole new vocabulary since the dog came onto our lives. Only last week I found that the ugly yellow circles on our lawn were caused by something called ‘urine burn’. I’d never heard of urine burn before, although it sounds like something where a bit of cranberry juice and yoghurt wouldn’t go amiss, but apparently it’s all the rage where female dogs wee on lawns, and completely untreatable, unless you follow said dog about with a watering can every time they need a pee. Any way, onto the phantom pregnancy, which sounds like it might involve ectoplasm and Doris Stokes (or Dynamo, for our younger readers) but is a proper physical and mental condition experienced by dogs a few weeks after their first season. I found this out, as everyone else does these days, by logging on to the internet, via the pet insurance details to check cover (alas no), and established the following symptoms:

  • Behavioral changes.
  • Mothering activity, nesting, and self-nursing.
  • Restlessness.
  • Abdominal distention.
  • Enlargement of mammary glands.
  • Depression.
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Which was a bit like when you look into a medical dictionary and finding that you have all the symptoms for cholera, or athlete’s foot, or glaucoma (or possibly all three). Because Luna, bless her, seemed to be showing most of these signs in spades. Which was all a bit weird (or wared, as they say in these parts), probably as we’re so used to her behaving in a certain way. So, for example, she’d take a couple of her toys around everywhere with her, making sure they were tucked under her when she was sleeping. She started ‘nesting’, unfortunately choosing to do so in our bed. Then she went off her food, then she started talking to us. Really.  Not barking, you understand, but the sort of talking that dogs do when they want to have an urgent chat. Of course, this led to quite a bit of localised hi-jinks, with lots of ‘What’s that Luna, there’s two small children trapped in an abandoned mine?’ or ‘What’s that Luna, you heard Mummy telling Daddy that #3 was adopted?’ Although the fun to be had from this faded a bit when she decided to have an urgent chat at 4 in the morning. Reading the list above, Mrs E was concerned that there might be a conversation she was missing about depression, anorexia or perhaps self-harming, so elected to sleep downstairs, a level of devotion that had been denied to any of her human children.

Fortunately help was at hand for the abdominal inflammation aspect of the illness, as Luna was booked into be spayed on Friday. Not for her the pitter patter of little Hungarian paws across the kitchen floor in the future, instead she’ll be resigned to a barren life ahead, wondering what might have been. Even 72 hours post-op there’s something of Miss Haversham about the way she looks at us. On the plus side, she was weighed at the vets after the op, and declared to be the perfect weight for a dog her age. #1 helpfully pointed out that her reproductive organs would have pushed her well over the ideal point, thereby yet again showing the sensitivity that the medical profession is expecting from him in the future.

All of which has resulted in a different dog at the end of the week to the one we started with. She’s still enjoying her phantom pregnancy symptoms, but is coming down from an anaesthetic which involved a healthy dose of methadone (yes, methadone). She’s shaved across her tummy and sporting a pretty impressive dressing which she’s trying to lick off, so to prevent this, Mrs E has taken to fitting her out in a pink running T-shirt. So, just to recap, we have a dog dressed up in a pink shirt, coming down from methadone, who thinks she’s pregnant, and possibly suffering from depression and anorexia. She’s restless but not allowed off the lead for a week. Yet again, we have a glimpse into what happens when teenage girls go wrong.

Privates on Parade

Revealing fact of the week – despite what we all learnt at school, dog years are not exactly one seventh of human years. Apparently they start off much less than that, then level off. So after six months, they’re about the equivalent of a ten year old child, and after a year, they’re about 15 years old, then reach full adulthood after a couple of years. So now you know.

And that ‘after a year’ thing, is important to this week’s update of bringing up Luna, because, as of the fifth of January, we were celebrating her first birthday. This in itself was quite a big deal, as Mrs E was anxious to make sure that Christmas was well out of the way before we got to Luna’s big day. Something about it being important that she didn’t get her presents muddled up. Seriously.

So, Luna was given her morning walk, some birthday tripe, and unwrapped a couple of presents from Mrs E. She’s got quite good at this unwrapping game, partly through significant amounts of practice (she had her own slot on the advent calendar) and unwraps her presents using both feet and her mouth. That’s Luna, not Mrs E, in case there’s any confusion there. Anyway, Luna got to unwrap her main present (seriously), and out of the wrapping paper emerged a large green rubber tube.

“Brilliant!” said junior emu #4, excited beyond his twelve years, “It’s a d**do!”.

which was a cue for one of his parents to give him a Very Disapproving Look, and for the other to muffle her laughter into her sleeve. At this point, #2, keen as ever to hone his own parenting skills, helpfully stepped in:

“Yep, he’s right – it looks exactly like a d**do”

At which point, a reasonably grown up family discussion takes place, at which we all agreed that a) we would not be using that word for the rest of the day and that b) henceforth Luna’s new toy would be called ‘The D’. Note that the grown up discussion was taking place separately to my wife, who still appeared to be cackling into her elbow.

So, anyway, Me and Mrs E went to work for the day, leaving Luna in the care of four doting boys. After a couple of hours, the first text arrived from Junior Emu #1, displaying a matter of fact communication approach that will stand him well in his chosen career in the medical profession:

“Luna’s had a bleed”

Which was kind of what we were expecting, as you’ll know if you read the last blog. This update was followed by an update from #3, who sees the whole dog ageing story slightly differently:

“Luna’s been bleeding. Finally a woman!”

Frantic calls made back home to agree that our fifth charge had indeed joined the boys in confirmed adolescence. Fortunately Mrs E, with the kindness of a doting mother, had arranged for old towels and wet wipes to be available at all times, and had drilled in the instructions for Luna’s arrival into womanhood with a military precision. And so it was that, with both of us still at work, Luna was taken out for her second walk of the day with a full escort of all four boys, who I imagine took charge of a paw-point each, a bit like the secret service running alongside a presidential limousine. They all returned home to deliver a further update from #1:

“Luna walk fine. Not jumped by any dogs at the lake.”

Since when, the dog walks have all been taken in ever more remote areas, or under the cover of darkness (not too difficult in Norfolk at this time of the year). And, instead of the cheery ‘good morning’, fellow dog walkers are asked immediately what sex their dog is, and if it’s a boy, whether he’s been ‘done’. And if it’s a ‘whole’ boy, my wife’s eyes narrow as she imagines a future suitor, and, more importantly, what the children will look like. I imagine something similar happened in the McGee household, when young Debbee brought Paul Daniels home for tea for the first time.

Meanwhile, Luna seems to be pretty relaxed about the whole process of ‘putting it about’. Mrs E returned from a walk today to describe Luna’s behaviour as ‘cocquettish’, which has made me both proud and ashamed at the same time. Apart from a slightly wider gait on her back legs, there’s really nothing different about the way that our dog actually looks, from three out of four angles. But when you look at her from the back, she’s not only looking for trouble, but she’s also broadcasting her enthusiasm for it at a level that I’ve not seen since that last embarrassing trip to Amsterdam, when (honestly) I took a wrong turn and found a completely different category of window dressing.

Having spent many years now perhaps overcompensating with other people, so that I always look ‘above the neck’,  and so I could never be accused of objectifying any woman or man, I now end up catching myself when eyeing up my own dog’s genitals. Consequently, I look at any dog who does the same with an air of disdain. Have they no manners? Mrs E takes a more practical approach, and tells me that she spent some time in the park yesterday standing with one leg behind Luna, effectively blocking the view for an enthusiastic black lab. “Nothing to see here”, she no doubt said, a bit like the fireman with the megaphone in front of the blazing firework factory.

Anyway, we have about another week of this to look forward to, at which point apparently our dog becomes as fertile as a rabbit on IVF being coached by Peter Stringfellow. By all accounts, enthusiastic dogs have been known to break down fences in order to get to, ahem, Luna’s back door.

So wish us luck. Or, if you’re in the market for a cute puppy in a few week’s time, wish that we don’t have the canine equivalent of Paul Daniels roaming our streets.

Father of the Bride

For twenty of the last twenty one years, there’s been a pretty strong male dominance at emu towers. When Mrs E first popped out her first son, all thoughts of bringing up a little curly haired angel girl got pushed to one side, and I imagined fatherly conversations, perhaps involving a pipe and a fireplace, as I helped the little tyke on his way to being a regular bloke, and potential drinking partner.

Over the following years, with Mrs E almost constantly ‘in foal’, a series of other small boys arrived into the family, culminating in in a 5:1 advantage for the XY chromosomes. Another time, I’ll tell you about the patience that Mrs E has displayed over the years when responding to people who tell her that she must have been so disappointed not to have had a girl. But while she was busy maintaining her self control with the assorted nomarks that were helpfully talking at her, I was (and continue to be) whooping for joy. Because when I imagine having a daughter, a worrisome chill comes over me. I know full well that I’d be one of those awful fathers who’d be appalling news for any spotty youth that appeared on my door wanting to take her out. And I’m no less certain of that having spent the last few years with a few spotty youths of my own, who have been appearing at similar doorsteps across this postcode region for some years now.

And I’m pretty sure that bringing up boys is easier anyway. A friend of mine has a similar ratio of 5:1 but in favour of girls, and half jokes about having had all his interior doors strengthened for slamming purposes. I’m pretty sure that the idea that menstrual cycles synchronise when women are in close proximity to one another is an urban myth, but my friend does seem to spend an awfully long time working away from home.

But, just as soon as I start thinking about getting settled into manly family things, waxing moustaches, playing billiards and having fatherly conservations while leaning on a convenient mantelpiece, along comes disruption into Emu Towers. First, the arrival of Mrs Gibbs the hamster, taking the ratio to 2:5. Then, the disappearance of #1 to seek his fortune in the grim North, taking us to 2:4. Then, the arrival of the dog, bringing us to 3:4. And with #3’s continued obsession with musical theatre dominating every one of his mincing ways, we’re now generally about evens.

And it’s the dog that has given me most insight into the horrors of having to bring up a girl. I was alerted to this a few months ago, while half listening to my wife. The half-listen bit was a bit unfortunate, as I can normally get away with not really listening, making the right noises at the right time and asking for a summary at the end. I know some people at work who have managed entire careers like this, and I’m sure plenty of marriages thrive on it, but every now and again you get caught out:

Mrs E : ramble ramble ramble, challenging kids, need to get some food in, worried about my mother, need to walk the dog etc etc…

Me : hmm, yes, hmm, probably, yes

Mrs E : …and I think she might be going through some sort of change, because she’s really excitable and her genitals are really engorged…

And unfortunately, that’s the bit I heard. And in a ‘please don’t let me screw about with my own marriage’ style, I had to rapidly track back to what on earth she might be talking about.

Me: sorry, are you talking about your mother?

Unfortunately (or, fortunately) not. Had to recover from that one fairly rapidly, and established that we were actually talking about the dog. And apparently, the dog, being almost a year old, is moving rapidly out of childhood and coming into her fully fledged adolescent years. Which is, apparently called a ‘season’. And, apparently, with the season comes all sorts of teenage behaviour, including spontaneous bleeding, moodiness and disobedience, and a general enthusiasm for ‘it’. Some or all of which may be recognisable to those of you who are dog owners. Or possibly parents to the XX set.

But it’s not familiar territory to me, by any stretch. I’m not used to the idea of waiting up for Luna to come back from a walk. I’m extremely worried that Mrs E might well be looking to invest in some dog nappies. And, most of all, I fear for her going after just any old dog in the park. I keep telling her that I want her first time to be special, but all I get for my troubles is an enthusiastic lick of the face, and I’m not sure that’s the answer I want. Mrs E is putting a bit more faith in the process of keeping Luna on the lead for four weeks, and giving any inquisitive suitor the cold shoulder, but I’m not so sure. After all, attractive young female teenagers who really want to have sex normally manage to get their way, don’t they? As for Mrs E’s fallback plan, words almost fail me. Apparently, for a mere £75, you can buy a canine ‘morning after pill’ which is almost 100% guaranteed successful. I mentioned this to #1 last night, and he said we might have to use it after a one-walk stand. Indeed.

So I’m sorry to all my friends who’ve had to go through this in the past, if I’ve not been entirely sympathetic. If this is the sort of worry we have with Luna, it must be almost as bad with a human daughter.

Having said which, I need to walk the dog. And I need to have a word with her first. She’s asking for trouble, going out looking like that.

Bringing up baby

Some years ago, me and Mrs E came under a certain amount of pressure around the kitchen table, particularly from numbers 1 & 2, to get a pet. After a number of months of resistance, we finally agreed that we could increase the headcount in the family with a hamster, an ideal pet that doesn’t actually do very much, is almost entirely nocturnal, and enjoys biting humans. So we trawled off to the pet shop, and the boys, after being encouraged away from the snakes and spiders, selected their new best friend. (The NBF, by the way, maintained the BF element for about 5 minutes after arrival, which might have been predicted, and ‘Brains’ maintained a hermit like existence for his entire life, doing what hamsters do, which, from my experience, is as little as possible.)

Anyway, we had a fairly memorable exchange with the shop assistant, who gave us a light/medium grilling on the importance of being prepared in the art and science of hamster rearing. Would we, for example, like to read up on the subject, just to make sure that we were completely ready to manage a new pet in the house? Perhaps we could take away a £6.99 book and check the safety features in our home, then return when we were absolutely certain we could cope with the upheaval.

I remember this meeting quite clearly, partly because Mrs E, who doesn’t raise her voice in public terribly often, raised her voice in public.

“Look”, she said, and I remember, all around us, people began to do just that.

“I’ve raised four children without a manual, I think I can manage a hamster”.

And so she could.

I mention the story of Brains (RIP) entering our lives in this way because we’ve just welcomed in a small puppy which has taken over our lives far more forcibly than the hamster, or indeed, any of the children ever did.

Just to give you some context here, I work away most weeks, returning on a Thursday evening to help with the telling off duties, so I end up speaking on the phone to my wife a couple of times a day. And for the last three weeks, almost every phone call between the two of us has focused on bringing up the new baby.

“Whatever did we talk about before we had Luna?”, Mrs E said at the end of a call last week, as I imagined the children looking longingly at their mother, desperately keen to tell me about achievements at school, new girlfriends, enthusiasms for improving readings, exercise routines and what they wanted to do when they grow up. (As if.)

In truth, having children has just about prepared us for the challenges of bringing up Luna, and so here’s a bit of a brain dump on how:

We are, for example, the only people who have ever owned a dog, just as in our own self-centred ways we were the only people to have ever had children, and thereby we reserved the right to bring every conversation around to how beautiful they were, whether they were eating/pooing in the right direction, what they’d learnt to do, and so on. Twenty years on, I can just about face talking about how boring we must have been to those around us, and only really justify it in that I’ve seen every other new parent I’ve met since behave in exactly the same way.

We’re ‘socialising’ the puppy in the same way as we took the kids to the park, and we look at her in that sort of benevolent angst that all the other dog owners do. Isn’t it great, we think, when they’re playing nicely together. But if your puppy starts getting above itself, we’ll take ours away before you can say obsessivemiddleclassttwit.

And, in the same way as we spent hours poring over the early learning centre catalogue to get yet another worthy toy, we’ve filled Luna’s living space (which started off as a bed in the corner of the kitchen and has now spread to pretty much the whole of the house), with dog toys, balls, chews and goodness knows what else. And, just like the children, she dutifully ignores all the toys and contents herself with a cardboard box. Most of the children have grown out of chewing table legs, but #4 still gives it a go now and again, and it’s quite sweet to see them side by side, munching on bits of furniture.

Already, Mrs E has trained her to have a better sense of personal hygiene than #3, although to be fair that’s not too high a hurdle to jump. Luna does catch you out though – when you’re home from a run, for example, she greets you by licking you as a makeshift salt lick – delightful at first, but a bit off putting when you realise she’s just had same tongue inserted in her own bum, and before that it was licking bird crap up off the pavement.

There’s a fundamental difference though, in the whole bringing up puppies and children thing. When our kids were born, obviously we loved them to bits, but their faces all looked like something between Winston Churchill and The Hood from Thunderbirds.

the hood winston





So, looking down into the pram, you might be forgiven for the odd shuddering recoil.

Thankfully they’ve all grown out of this look, although #3 does give a passable ‘Never Surrender’ look in a certain light – God knows what he’d be like with a big cigar and a homburg. In contrast, showing someone a picture of Luna always gets the same reaction. Altogether now…aaaah:



I’ll be your dog

Well, following the Emu’s previous blog on The Big Decision On Becoming Dog-Owners, we’ve finally agreed the way forward. As a result, we made the all important call to the breeder a couple of weeks ago, and had a discussion that I suspect we’d find more familiar had we ever tried to wedge one of our kids into Eton. It appears that when you decide to buy a dog from a respectable  breeder, the interview kind of goes in the opposite direction to the one you’d expect, and it’s really up to you to pass the interview on whether you’re really qualified to own a dog. I’m not sure that we had the equivalent of this qualification when we first contemplated bringing kids into our world, but that may say something about the society we live in. Anyway, we passed the audition about whether we’d be fit to take on a puppy, and, given that there was a national waiting list and two large litters, we were duly allocated ‘bitch number 7’ and given a 90 minute viewing appointment in February, at which we will be paired with the ‘right’ puppy.

At which point, there was a suitable amount of what Hank Williams might have called ‘a’whooping and a’hollering’. I don’t think I’d realised just how much everyone else in the family actually wanted this puppy, and the sight of four people jumping up and down like they were on individual trampolines will stay with me for some time. And might be referred back to when the dog needs walking at six in the morning when it’s teeing it down with rain.

And that’s when the real challenge of naming the dog started coming in. At our allotted time in February, we’ve received instructions that we need to provide a small snap collar that is marked with the puppy’s name. This means that we not only need to have sorted a name by then that won’t sound ridiculous to the breeder, but also will a) mean something and b) be acceptable as something that can be called out in public and at the vet’s. For example, where we live, if we name a dog Elsie or Ruby and call it in the park, there’s a fair chance that we’ll be mobbed by ten year old girls in floral dresses and T-bar sandals.

And the meaning thing is a big deal as well. My absolute favourite ever name that we’ve come up with (thanks to our chums N&N) is Brilleaux, after the wonderful, wonderful Lee Brilleaux, who I mentioned here earlier and who really deserves some sort of recognition in the Emu home. I carefully worked out a hustings and lobbying plan for this name, and canvassed all members of the family to get them to vote in the right direction, but was eventually worn down by the counter-lobby (which I suspect may have been led by my wife, who has been heard in the past to say that ‘All Doctor Feelgood songs sound the same’). The counter-lobby finally won, with a text from #1, stating firmly that Brilleaux was ‘only suitable for a ‘boy dog”.

We also have a slight problem with other ‘meaning’ names, and my not-so-subtle attempts at calling a dog after my heroes have met similar obstacles. And as a result, Tegla (Loroupe), Grete (Weitz), (Alf) Tupper and Tuppy (Glossop) have been received with a certain amount of sniffiness by the committee.

Fortunately, I work in an industry that prides itself on knowing one end of a data based decision from another. And, if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from a career in careful  observation of management actions, setting strategic direction and addressing important opportunities for process improvements (and so on), it’s that by turning very important data into attractive red, amber and green colours, you can make the whole exercise of making decisions far easier. So, taking our shortlist of potential names, and taking all feedback into consideration, we arrived at the following table (pls note #2 might not have been taking the exercise entirely seriously):

number 7

Oh, I forgot to also mention that I’ve also learnt from  observing management actions, setting strategic direction and addressing important opportunities for process improvements (and so on), that this is also an excellent way to hide behind the reality of actually having to do anything. And because it’s unlikely that our breeder is actually going to allow us to call our new member of the family ‘Bitch Number 7’, and because the really valid name (Brilleaux) has been outlawed, we’ll do whatever any responsible business leader will do, and make a decision by completely ignoring the management information and going with our gut instinct.

Which is what we’ve done.