In Memory of Mick: A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas

We said goodbye to our beloved bulldog Mick this week, so here’s a repost of an old blog (from a year ago) in his memory. He managed nearly 14 years in the end and every day was special – and I was wrong: it was old age that got the better of him in the end. As I say below, our family is incomplete without him. I hope there is plenty of chocolate in doggy heaven… 

One of the most important members of our small family is Mick, our 12-year-old British bulldog. Mr G and I chose him at eight weeks old as a companion for our female bulldog, Bianca (who is no longer with us unfortunately) and from the outset he was a character. Named after Mick Jagger, I chose him out of what seemed like hundreds of puppies because he was tiny, noisy and incredibly grumpy. Nowadays, he is still noisy and occasionally grumpy, but he is not tiny.

Shortly after we adopted him, Mr G was transferred to London from South Africa and the dogs ended up enduring six months of quarantine as we relocated. He went into the kennels a puppy, but came out a hulking beast of a dog, with boundless energy (going completely against the grain for a bulldog) and no idea of his own strength. A couple of sessions with a dog behaviourist and with wallets a few pounds lighter, Mick was a reformed character with a laid-back, chilled approach to everything.

And it has been something of an adventure ever since. He is the kind of dog that scares the hell out of you at first sight, but once he has snorted at you and sniffed your legs (he can’t reach most crotches), he is a softy. Unless you are a squirrel, in which case watch your back as one day he will get up enough speed to catch you (in his dreams anyway).

Mick has a number of weaknesses, chocolate being one of them. He relishes the approach of Christmas, because that means presents under the tree, which may or may not contain chocolate. Many times we have returned home from a bout of shopping to find the presents unwrapped – none too gently – as he hunts for whatever has caught his nose. He once ate an entire box of Jaffa Cakes (including the cardboard and plastic inner), then ran around the house like a demon for an hour. On another occasion, I had placed a bag full of goodies, such as Walnut Whips and Minstrels, on the study desk, supposedly out of his reach, only to find him perched on my keyboard, having eaten the lot and with a stomach too full to climb down afterwards. It took him days to get over that tummy ache; he would sit and groan for effect, but since he was in disgrace, he got no sympathy from us. And the “k” on my keyboard has never worked properly since. Yes, I know that chocolate is poisonous for dogs, but try telling him that.

His appetite will be his downfall one day. If he thinks he has not had enough dinner, he will either bark incessantly at us until we give him some more or, if we have not closed the cupboard door properly, he will go and help himself. He also enjoys a good hand cream and has figured out how to unzip a handbag if he thinks there is one hiding inside. We have had many disgruntled babysitters, who have come downstairs after putting the girls to bed to find their handbag open, the contents strewn all over the couch and Mick nibbling on their tube of Nivea. He has lovely, soft paws though.

At the ripe old age of 12, he is still as fit as a fiddle, albeit half blind, deaf (although this could be selective) and not as agile as he once was. No matter what he gets up to – once he ate through the cat flap on our back door and got his head stuck in the hole – our family would be incomplete without him.

Of course, he does have some enemies. Stereotypically, he hates the postman, who returns his sentiments tenfold. And there are some members of our extended family that are not his biggest fans. A few Christmases ago, we had family to stay. One morning, one of our elderly male guests came downstairs in a pair of very loose boxer shorts and a gown, then sat on the couch in front of Mick and I with legs astride and everything on show. I averted my eyes and before I could think of a tactful way of suggesting he rearrange himself, Mick caught a glimpse and shot across the room at full throttle, teeth bared, head-first into his crotch, apparently thinking of meat and two veg. After dragging Mick away with some difficulty, I snorted out my apologies, but then had to remove myself completely before hysterics took over. The boxers never appeared again, thankfully, and Mick got an extra Bonio that day.

Socially unacceptable, often embarrassing and frequently amusing, he is my constant companion. Now if only I could do something about his snoring and farting.

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Mick sitting really still in the hope that I won’t notice he is sitting on the chair.

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Working 9 to 5: What a Way to Make a Living

This week, after working incredibly hard on a project, the general feedback from those in the know was that I had triumphed and it was a success. Music to my ears after the effort I had put in, I have to say. However, since I work from home and have only Mick the geriatric bulldog for company between the hours of 9am and 3pm, I found myself fist-punching the air, whooping in delight and then having no one to share my news with. A balloon-popping moment.

If I were in an office, we could high-five each other then drift off to the pub for a celebratory pint. Of course, where I work, I wouldn’t have received the kudos in the first place as they tend to be a bit stingy with their praise and appreciation.

I have been based at home for nine of the thirteen years I have worked for my company and it has come with distinct pluses and minuses in that time.

The Pros:

  • I never have to worry about appropriate “office wear” and can throw on any old thing as the only people who see me are the mums on the school run.
  • I can wear flip-flops in summer contrary to office policy.
  • Last week, because it was raining, I literally had a duvet day and worked from the comfort of my bed.
  • The commute takes as long as climbing a flight of stairs.
  • The fridge is readily accessible.
  • No idle chit-chat to distract me and no need to be nice to people I find genuinely annoying.
  • I can mute the phone during dull conference calls and catch up on Twitter while they ramble on.
  • I can multi-task the laundry, make dinner, receive deliveries and pop over to school to administer medicine, deliver forgotten lunch boxes and pick up sick children while still completing a day’s work, with the possibility of finishing it off in the evening if need be.
  • No one can hear me scream in frustration or swear at my boss in the face of frustrating office politics. 

The Cons:

  • I spent most of my day conversing with a geriatric bulldog.
  • The call of the Twitter account and Facebook feed is ever present.
  • I essentially never leave the office – and my employees know this and have been known to take advantage.
  • The fridge is readily accessible.
  • It is easy for colleagues to blame a bad day on my home office status.
  • No one is there to share in the successes and triumphs.
  • I miss the days of commuting into London and having an hour on the train just to read my book in relative peace.
  • The longer I am out of an office environment, the harder I find it to return.

As you can see, the pros still outweigh the cons. So I will continue to high-five my successes with the dog, shout obscenities at my computer screen and mute my conference call meetings. Let’s just hope they don’t start insisting on Skype meetings or I will have to start changing out of my pyjamas every day.

The Life and Times of a Mature Student

Last week I went back to school. Not as a harrassed mum dragging tired children into the infant school gates with cornflakes in my hair, but as an actual, bonafide student again. Bearing in mind that I graduated from university in 1995 – *shudder* – this is a big deal for me.

Of course, things have changed somewhat in the last two decades since I was a student, fresh out of high school at the age of 17, eager to take on the world, and with hair that was still blonde without the help of a hairdresser.

One of the biggest changes is that the creative writing course I am currently studying is conducted entirely online. So no more napping at the back of the lecture hall or bleary-eyed tutorials with bespectacled mentors in tiny offices in the bowels of the university campus. These days it is all done via online discussion threads and tutorials on Skype (where I may look respectable from the waist up, but the chances are I am still wearing my pyjama bottoms under the desk). Rather than endlessly searching the library’s shelves, my reading list is downloaded on my Kindle. And while my fellow course attendees are physically strangers to me, I feel that we have done more chatting and sharing in a week through emails than I ever did with the students on my uni courses.

Added to all this is the juggling of running and maintaining a household, holding down a job, parenting (often single-handedly) two small children and cleaning up after a geriatric bulldog, and this is where I really notice the difference. In 1995, I only had myself to worry about – and even then, health and safety were not at the top of the list. It was an endless round of parties; impassioned theological discussions in dingy bars; cramming through the night before a final exam; forgetting to eat, then eating Rice Crispies for a week to save up beer money; thinking I knew the answer to everything and that the world was waiting for me to make an impact; and experimenting with every fashion trend from Goth to Grunge. Don’t tell my old tutors, but some of my best papers were written while drunk or sitting on the steps of the building ten minutes before the submission deadline passed.

Nowadays, I find myself getting up an hour earlier than usual just to get in some study time in the peace and quiet of a sleeping house before the terror of the school run begins. Or elbowing the kids away from gaming time on the computer after I finish work, and having to wipe jam and sticky fingerprints off the mousepad before I can start.

But the biggest change for me has been trying to remind my brain how to think again after years of housework, monotony and motherhood have beaten it into submission. When I stared at the blank screen contemplating my first assignment last week, I had a moment of sheer panic that I wouldn’t have anything valuable to say, and that I was a fool to think I could do this again after nearly 20 years, but a stern talking to myself (and an entire bar of Galaxy) and I ended up surprising myself. Once the gates had very slowly creaked open, I found that I had too much to say and actually got a bit carried away. And I loved it!

To celebrate, I spent the rest of the afternoon nostalgically lounging in tracksuit bottoms, eating Rice Crispies and rereading Thomas Hardy novels (until the school run rolled around again, of course).

(And if my daughters ever read this, university is not all fun and parties; studying is a serious business… cough… cough…)