Dog Days

Murphy – 5 months, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

My diary is a towering mythical giant – filled with aspiration, potential great works and more than a passing nod to the skill of omnipresence. And while the effort of input cannot be questioned, the quality of the output seems to be ever longer ‘todo’ lists with nothing crossed out.

The not-really-a-pup-anymore has far gentler schedule honed by only accepting tasks involving food, chasing balls and evacuation of waste material. Here’s a snapshot

07:30 Wake up
07:31 Assume abandonment (as per ever morning), bounce around cage
07:32 Bark a bit to wake up the rest of the pack
07:33 Whimper as pack not yet turned up and abandonment appears complete
07:35 Hear tread on stair. Go bananas
07:36 Explode out of cage, set tail wag to maximum, chew on pack leaders bare foot
07:40 Adopt expression of hurt as pack leader points to flowerbed in a no nonsense manner
07:42 Return inside, shivering
07:43 Receive further portion of outside with long instructions around poo and wee outside, before dog inside
07:44 Understand nothing, wag tail in encouraging manner
07:45 Wander back inside. Fix “not been fed for days” expression and begin hoovering floor
08:15 See 07:45
08:16 Do a 07:36 on steroids as food bowl is picked up by pack leader. Chew pack leaders other foot.
08:17 Receive breakfast
08:17 and 41 seconds. Complete breakfast
08:18 See 07:45
08:20 Eat bin
08:21 Fix pack leader with “who? me?” expression somewhat undermined by fragments of bin hanging from jaws.
08:22 Slink out of cage. Continue to eat bin.
08:30 See lead being picked up. Abandon Bin, attempt to eat lead.
08:31 Carried* into car.
08:32 Find abandoned welly in boot
08:33 Start on welly. Find it very tasty especially if accompanied by a bit of trim
08:40 Removed from car. Sniff every member of school and staff in areas probably not absolutely appropriate
08:50 Morning Dog Walking group gathers with consequence of many dogs on two legs trying to bite each other
08:55 Get into local field, remove lead, dog disappears
09:00 Pack Leader checks book on point of “over exercising Labrador” as dog is mere spot in the far distance
09:20 Retrieve dog from muddy puddle. All other dogs clean, our dog brown and smelly.
09:25 Return to car
09:30 Sleep
12:00 Wake up. No food apparent. Go back to sleep.
13:00 Hear “Murf, come here boy, come here, COME ON” and see pack leader looking gormless.
13:01 Go back to sleep
15:40 See smaller pack members arrive, go a bit mad, chew any available footwear
15:41 Eat bin for the look of the thing
15:45 Sleep
18:10 Receive Tea. 18 seconds later, drink water, 20 seconds after that, pad into lounge and lie down
18:15 Sleep
20:00 Receive boot up bum to go and shift some of that food and water.
20:01 Wander into kitchen, take hard right into cage, go to sleep
20:02 Receive firmer prod to get outside RIGHT NOW YOU LAZY BUGGER
20:03 Sleep
20:04 Accept doggy treat for managing to get out of cage. Receive second one for going outside.
20:05 Mess about for 10 minutes while pack leader is freezing his cods off.
20:20 Decide it’s been a tough old day and..
20:21 .. Sleep

Where do I sign up for that job? He has got a bit of a limp at the moment though. I couldn’t believe how upset this made me, especially after a bit of dumb research on the Internet. Murf doesn’t care really, and neither do we. Either he’s pulled something during a moment of puppy madness or he’s one of those labs with the wrong size bones.

Quite glad we went for the pet insurance tho 😉

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It’s a dogs life.

A month into dog ownership and our pup is now mostly dog. He is well into adolescence now both in terms of size and attitude. We’ve stopped taking him to Puppy training as he makes all the other trainee canines look too damn good. Since he no longer chases tractors, eats slippers or howls like a homesick banshee during night hours, then that’s a good excuse not to spend an hour a week being shouted at by the trainer.

I’m going to buy a book to home school him. I expect to be using it to fetch him a glancing blow on the snout each time he tries to steal food, or snuffle face down in cow shit. A combination of his fascination for all things poo and the odd boot assisted sojourn into a local lake has ramped up the unpleasant odour to slightly below weapons grade.

SwimmingMurphy 5 months

Which gave us the ideal opportunity to try out the dog shampoo. It’s fair to say Carol and I probably ended up wetter than the dog, but he nudged it in the miserable stakes. Sadly I was unable to capture the spectacle of bedraggled, soapy dog because my camera doesn’t operate well underwater. But imagine – and I know this is a bit of a stretch – a back length straight wig inexpertly styled with an 80’s punk mohican. Murphy has learned something from the kids, since his Olympic grade post-bath sulk was a thing to behold.

Still now visitors can now enter the house without having to be revived by smelling salts. Although if the dog hits them in his frenzied tail wagging barge of welcome, they’ll exit the house – and probably the garden – through the power of enthusiastic momentum. When the puppy padded into our lives, he was four months old and 15 kilos. Now exactly four weeks later, he tips the scales at 26 kilos and we’re barely feeding the bugger. The highlight of his day is the 45 seconds it takes to wolf down 350 grammes of dry dogfood. Plus whatever he can harvest from the stinky output of farm animals.

So what we’re saying here is the dog has nearly doubled his weight in a month. And he won’t stop growing for another seven months. The top weight for a “normal” lab is 36 kilograms. I feel Murphy might be “big boned”. But if Nissan continue to prevaricate on their responsibilities, I’ll be checking out the cost of DHL’ing a hungry dog to their call centre.

Gardening can be fun..

Dig!, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

… if you have a mini digger. While the legions of accountants cum Sunday horticulturists gently prune their herbaceous borders, and guiltily stimulate their organic compost, I spent the best part of an entire afternoon in a doomed attempt to home a single plant. My initial efforts to break the ground resulted in a bent trowel. As this was a clear challenge to my status of a real man, a no tools barred arms race escalated until I was forced to call in the heavy artillery.

Which if I had done so earlier – rather than losing a game of testosterone versus hardpack – I would have saved myself a nasty clout on the thumb whilst inadvisedly mating a hammer and crowbar as a ground breaker. So we called in Ken from the local farm, and spent the first ten minutes trying not to look at his accent. Mere written words cannot do it justice, but if you can imagine one of the lesser wurzels on Valium, having recently recovered from a mild stroke, you’d be about 25% there.

He was also able to run us through the history of the building in the same way Michael Beurk heralds a multi-fatality disaster. “The work started with much enthusiasm, but soon a litany of mistakes was putting the entire project at risk“. We quickly discovered our drainage problem was due to there being no drainage except some lightly dug in guttering pipes. Further careful analysis work carried out by the digger scoop showed 6-8 inches of rocky hardcore and below that, clay with a similar porous membrane as that of a Wellington Boot.

I suggested building tight but flowing singletrack bridged by some cheeky North Shore to clear the front door. Others, with mental ages well into double figures, unleashed a plan of such cunning and complexity, I’m calling it the “Montgomery“. If the planets align and sufficient chickens are bartered* then our capark collateral could be swapped for fresh topsoil from a local cider maker in need of some hardstanding.

This may take some time which leaves the garden sporting a ‘recently bombed’ theme. As I’ve been pulling out inquisitive passers by, I’ve explained the shell craters are, in fact, the diggings of Murphy who can generally be found tail down in one. I’m fervently hoping this is the reason his nose has changed colour to brown. The puppage has also discovered running around the woods which is his third favourite activity after sleeping and eating. However those two do take up 95% of his day.

In the other 5%, I found him successfully re-enacting the Andrex advert where the cute pup runs off with the bog roll. Murf carted a virgin plop stopper twice around the house before I finally caught him. Luckily it only took about 30 minutes to wind it back on, although the paper now occupies a lumpy space about twice the size it did. Except for the last two pieces which judging from his satisfied expression and evidence of paper drooling, I can only assume he has eaten. It’ll provide a perfect accompaniment for the eggbox he finished off last night.

If we get no joy with the digger, then I’m burying a handful of dried liver to a depth of about 2 inches and locking the dog outside. Although with the weather we’ve been having, it’ll probably cost me more to have the digger-dog treated for trench foot. Actually it hasn’t rained for two consecutive days here, and it was this very thought which cheered up an otherwise rubbish Monday. Until I realised I am required in Milton Keynes tomorrow which has somewhat blackened the mood.

I don’t know what is worse, the indisputable fact that this isn’t fair. Or that no one is going to do anything about it.

* I think that is what Ken said. I’m almost sure of it.

Big In Japan

Big In Japan, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

I’m not really a man’s man when it comes to anything automotive. Much as I’d savour the opportunity to homologate a valve flange deep in the bowls of an oily engine, the reality is that the wielding of proper tools must be left to those comfortable with boiler suits, imperial measurements, and the ability to nod sagely at difficult times.

So I’m not much troubled by cars, aeroplanes, boats and the like as long as they work. I feel that most strongly when engines meet wings and spend much of the journey clutching the arm rest in terror. Once, a kindly older gentlemen – seated next to my twitching and blubbing form – explained that a fear of flying is irrational as air travel was safer than crossing the road. My counter argument, delivered through clenched teeth, was that flying really didn’t scare me at all, it was plunging vertically into the ground while encased in a tumbling fireball that put me off my in-flight sandwich.

You way mistake this for cowardice. But you’d be wrong, I am the only sane voice amongst a bunch of lunatics and, when the World Dictatorship Committee finally sits, anyone not afraid of death by extreme squashing shall be sent to the quacks to have their imagination glands checked for blockages.

And so to my car buying strategy. Because of my entirely reasonable aversion to sales people and assorted hangers on apparently interested in wheeled depreciation, my approach has been Internet research* followed by a swift test drive, some rubbish negotiation and the parting of me from a vast wodge of cash.

This time it’s going to be different. The Mighty Honda asks nothing more than black oil to be pumped in at one end, and a quarterly maintenance regime offered by a man owning nothing more than a soapy bucket. Sure, every year I get to witness the Service Centre practice licensed theft, but they do at least clean it properly. This is akin to having your house broken into, and the burglars doing the washing up on he way out.

My plan was to keep it until the built in obsolesce worried away at that valve flange and then again take up the cudgel of car ownership using nothing more than a browser and a crate of decent beer. The pup has changed all that. It seems we can take the dog, the kids and some luggage in Carol’s car. Just not at the same time. This could make future holidays a bit of a bugger.

Unless we don’t take the kids or spend the price of a Honda service on some rat infested chicken run to board the dog. We tried Murphy in my car but he already occupies an entire footwell, and is not best pleased to be sniffing the children’s feet while occasionally taking a errant size five trainer to the snozzle.

And there’s something else. My 41st birthday has brought on a worrying rural Ferrari fetish. After watching all manner of grunty machinery bringing in the harvest, I feel the time has come to scoot around in something with a ride height similar to a proper tractor. And that my faithful friends is essentially the twisted logic to buy the Tonka toy you see up there.

I did try to shelve my hatred of shiny suits and crowded forecourts, but when the man’s derisory offer for the just-3-hour-cleaned Honda fell well short of the sticker price optimistically displayed on the X-Trail we tried, I reverted to type, typing and beer.

Which is how I ended up in a strange conversation with a bloke in a Portacabin who sells cars that he doesn’t own and never sees. This probably tells us something important about the future of the second hand car industry, but I don’t care as it told me that we could bring the boxy truck home for FOUR GRAND LESS than Mr Checked Trousers promised me was the lowest price on the planet.

Okay it’s missing some toys and is six months older but once he’d answered my question re: does it go when you put diesel in it in the affirmative, I was pretty much sold. The Honda of Never Diminishing Mightiness may end up on eBay which sounds like a properly silly way to sell a car. Failing that, another nice man I’ve never met may well sink into it’s comfortable seats and feel the power of the precision elbow patches.

I have to say though that my life currently feels like it’s a small boat in a big river, and I’m really not in control of the rapidly changing options and decisions. That’s probably quite important too, and to make sure I think about it properly, I’d better go and open the cognitive juice.

* because, of course, hardly ANYONE on the misinformation super rantway is biased, bitter, venting or clinically sane.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy (15 of 15), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Dribbling contentedly on my foot is Murphy. After a brief – but forceful – explanation of exactly how democracy works in our family, it was agreed the black hound of lower hell should go by the name of a Guiness wanabee. And there are good reasons for this, the best of which is my refusal to shout “Ziggy, STOP” if and when the toothy pup starts chewing on someone else’s car tyre.

Such an action is clearly contravening the RULES. This document has a series of non negotiable behavioral patterns as laid down by the pack leader. So for the first time in my married life, there is something organic lower down the hierarchical chain than yours truly. Before Murph arrived, that was a rank allocated to a jar of sandwich pickle.

A brief immersion into the four closely written sides of A4 which constitute the rules will demand said dog shall not:

– Wee, Poo or Barf in any location other than within 10 feet of the compost bin
– Eat the Cat Food, the Cat, the furniture, the kids toys or anything chewy, rubbery and previously representing a mountain bike tyre
– Whine, howl, whimper or bark when shut in the cage*
– Fall headlong into the pond while chasing spiders.

This is merely a summary and once the dog has learned to read, I fully expect them to be followed in full. Until then, and based on experiences so far, almost all of these rules are merely guidelines to be ignored in the spirit of puppidom. So far, I’ve fetched the dog out of the pond, removed a tyre from its’ teeth and given it a stern talking to whenever ‘squatting’ and ‘indoors’ are brought together in a single smelly sentence.

This afternoon I have promised to paint a door. This task is made somewhat harder since Murphy – respecting my status as pack leader – follows me everywhere. It is likely I shall be phoning the emergency vet later this evening to enquire on the correct procedure which follows emulsioning a Labrador.

Cute tho isn’t he? And doesn’t the bugger bloody well know it.

* Although ten years being sort of responsible for children has equipped me with the appropriate tool here. It’s like politicans and whinging kids, if you ignore them long enough, the noise falls back to a background hum.

Oh Bugger…

Oh Bugger…, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Scotland has many qualities. The sense of wilderness, the rugged beauty of the mountains, the endlessness of stunning landscapes and some pretty wild riding. Of course, this must be tempered with single digit summer temperatures, moistness from the ground up and the sky down, and a trillion midges hell bent on sucking you dry.

On balance though, a fantastic country to ride bicycles in, as a few chosen photos full of heroism and downright British grit will soon ascertain. However, that’s for later because the photo at the top of this post is clearly lacking anything within chucking distance of mountain bikes, except perhaps for noting that we’ve acquired a singletrack dog.

Large paws, low centre of gravity, short paw-base and excellent additional rear facing steering appendage*. It’s an odd story – today I was still meant to be in Scotland but five days hard riding, dubious ongoing weather and a wrenching missing of the family saw me spend seven hours heading south west last night.

Which led to an apathetic carpet treading furniture buying mission turning into a full on “I tell you what, let’s get a dog” event through a set of coincidences about as likely as finding your sister was also in fact your mother, your aunt and a small bag of aniseed balls.

The rambling antique furniture barn was only gained via a suspension wrecking drive and guarded by a friendly, slobbering Labrador. We quickly discovered that our financial radar was seriously awry because the cheapest thing on offer seemed to cost about the same as a new car. I don’t know what Queen Anne did for the furniture trade, but they’ve repaid her by placing discreet price tags that brought on an involuntary “F*ck ME!”.

I didn’t even dare look at the larger items because I shall never ever be able to part with that much money for something that doesn’t come with about 4 acres of land. Anyway, distraction was adequately provided by a friendly puppy attempting to chew about 15k’s worth of table. He seemed very happy to see us and we discovered he was the last of a litter of 12 and had been returned by a distraught family with a dog allergy.

So with 11 puppies already sold and this one surplus to requirements, it seemed somehow fated that we’d end up spending two hours fetching its’ nose out of – well – everything and trying to find reasons no to add four more legs to the family.

We failed. So meet Murphy. Or Ziggy. Or possibly Max. Although looking at the size of those paws, I’m thinking Beelzebub may be more appropriate

* Those in the know call this a ‘tail‘. To be it looks like a rudder.

Harvest Time

Harvest (7 of 12), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Aside from the abruptly terminated squeals of those too slow movers deep in the food chain, not much disturbs the peace and quiet of plants growing round here. Except at harvest time, when all manner of noisy machinery stalks the landscape pulling, shredding, lifting, slicing and dicing the crop.

We’ve become accustomed to the rhythmic thump of the bonkers potato grabber, and the whining of heavily overloaded tractors. But tonight, the rapeseed was given a proper mowing by a man piloting a frankly terrifying big, green threshing machine.

Harvest (4 of 12) Harvest (2 of 12)

Although he appeared fully in control of the behemoth, I did worry that a slight steering miscalculation would see him harvest the Mighty Honda. In fact, both of them and the kids who’d stationed themselves on the car roof for a better view.

When we finally get a lawn, I might ask him for a mates’ rate haircut of our grass.

I have the key..

Finally.., originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

.. which was the first line of a pop song we sang incessantly during a month long Inter-rail tour of Europe. It was a very long time ago and I cannot remember why, although I’m fairly sure strong drink may have been involved.

As it will be again. It seemed odd – and perilously close to stupid – to electronically hand over suitcases of cash to the very people who have spent six months being rubbish. But with that done, all that was left was to be ignored by the seller’s solicitors.

We turned up – en famille – at his door only for him to basically shut it in our face. We weren’t worthy of his attention, so instead he abandoned us in the hallway until a minion removed a pot plant from an occasional table*, and proffered document after document for us to sign.

I didn’t read them. One because I am past caring, but mainly as my attention was focussed on the humourless, fussy bearded, arrogant prick who’d encased himself back into his office. This dogs’ arse had been serially incompetent for month after month, and yet couldn’t even find it in himself to offer even the slightest welcome.

Brusqueness bordering on rude and self importance bordering on a delusional complex. Carol convinced me it wasn’t worth practicing my own brand of law** to reconcile our differences, so I was left with only one option. I tore up his gravel drive using the might Japanese horses of the Honda. It’s wasn’t much, but all I could realistically manage until the hours of darkness.

Tomorrow at 8am, the movers arrive. Since one of my only tactical tasks is to plug us back into the global websphere, I fully expect hedgy to be back on line sometime before September.

I wonder if it’d be okay to sneak off for a ride Sunday? We’ve waited so long for the house, the DIY hell can wait for a bit. Or a competent man dealing in cash transactions. Whichever comes first.

* Very occasional considering how wobbly it was

** Qualifications not required. Stick with a nail it, mandatory.

All’s well that ends well….

Afan Summer 2008 (2 of 3), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

.. apparently. Tomorrow we are meant to be signing over a huge cash wodge to take ownership of a house we’ve been trying to buy for – what feels like – most my adult life.

A second before that photo was taken, Jason was hammering down the trail with the look of a man knowing exactly what he was doing. Then – and I can only assume solicitors were in some way involved – he plunged into the bushes, only to be rewarded with a headfirst face plant into mucky sheep poo.

That’s a pretty good simile for how the house purchase is going. Here are the options for the latest deadline, expiring tomorrow:

1) We exchange and complete at the solicitors’ office. World peace breaks out, global warming is reversed and the credit crunch actually turns out to be a typo and in fact we’ve all been living in fear of a cereal bar.

2) A solicitors’ office is suspiciously torched in Malvern. A balding middle aged northerner is spotted in the vicinity sporting a box of matches, a can of petrol and a satisfied expression.

All I can say is when the latest missive from our legal team assured us the contract was fireproof, I sincerely hope he was speaking literally. Not that we’ve heard much since refusing to pay a bill that slightly voids the spirit of “fixed price service

Still a day of non signage paved the way with rocks and huge lunches at a top trail spot in Wales. It was so much fun, I almost forgot to be extremely pissed off about the house. Or lack of it.

For the moment, I am sunburned, leg weary, co-located with beer and fairly sanguine. I do not expect that state of affairs to last one second past “Ah Mr and Mrs Leigh, there’s been a bit of a delay”.

Must dash. Flamethrowers to prime.

Fast and Furious

Pace 405 XCAM (3 of 7), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Like Thelma and Louise, Laurel and Hardy, Keith and Orville – there’s a partnership going on here and we’re both bringing different stuff to the party.

The bike is bonkers fast, silly committed in the twisties and barely out of a straight jacket when pointed down steep hills. I am annoyed at myself for lacking a third bravery testicle, irritated that I’m never going to get near the limit, and bloody annoyed that I broke my other bike.

After a couple of Cwmcarn laps, the bike was dusty and I was sweaty and smiling. Downhill it is a devil chuntering on your shoulder “faster, faster, FASTER YOU LESBIAN“. I did my best until a third run at the final descent dispatched me giggling into the shrubbery. Can’t blame the steering for that, because the wheels had somehow left the ground.

Uphill,life is more pedestrian and that’s about the speed I was climbing. Bit fat tyres, biffer on top and the fat frankinfork out front ruins the credentials of this lightweight frame. But it’s comfy, the view was quite lovely, the sun was warm and point that fork down the mountain and it becomes a barely guided missile.

Honestly I think that bike would be faster if I just hooked myself behind on a skateboard. I am going to have so much fun in Scotland although I may die horribly being flung off the side of a Munro-light. Still it’s the way I’d want to go.

Anyway it is apposite that a working bicycle is mine to stroke because the other one reacted extremely badly to a simple change of a gear cable. The chain was so miffed by this act of pointless maintenance it now wraps itself wound a very expensive titanium chainstay whenever I try something radical. Like changing gear.

I have no idea why this happened. I have tried eating the offending tool in a mature 40 year old response to the problem. That didn’t work and there is a tense standoff between the recalcitrant bike in one corner and big ‘ammered Al in the other.

I expect it’ll be fine when Carol has a proper look at it 😉

Moving on Friday. Or declaring martial law, firing up the scorpion pits and exposing any solicitor to the real consequences of handing over their ridiculous bill.

I think we may need an extra order of spiders.