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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Our Big Dog

In addition to the dedication in my book - this is the full story of our Big Dog.

People associate Yorkshiremen with flat caps and whippets.  Not so my grandfather, who might have favoured the headgear, but he was never without a Chow at his side.  He had a succession of them, shipped to him from all over the country during his lifetime. Leonine fluffballs of one-man dogs which were totally devoted to him but still endured my cuddles as a child. My sons were as desperate for a dog as I was as a child, but I knew who would be lumbered with all the daily walks so I bought them a kitten each instead.  Then I thought sod it, and we got a dog as well.

My initial choice was a familiar Chow.  I don’t know how or when I fell upon Eurasiers, a relatively new breed, a mingle of Chow and Spitz, bred for their teddy bear looks and friendly devotion to their whole family, but I was sold.  Teddy came to us just after Christmas 2008.  We had to drive down to Southampton for him one foggy, snowy January night.  He slept the whole way, give or take half an hour when my younger son sang Little Donkey to him to soothe his distress.  He was a huge fox-red pup and we named him Teddy because he looked like a living teddy bear.  He loved everyone and everything, although my cats firmly put him in his place of bottom of the pecking order. Puppy-training classes were fun if embarrassing, because Ted was so terrified of the instructor, he opened his bladder and bowels as soon as he saw him.  But eventually, after the world’s longest apprenticeship, Ted learned to be obedient – albeit when he wanted to be. He grew into an all-mouth-and-trousers lad.  Strangers to the house were terrified of his deep bass bark never knowing that he wouldn’t have harmed a fly.  Little children on the school either ran to him for a cuddle or increased their grip on their mothers’ hands because of the ‘lion’ walking towards them.  And that’s what he looked like, as if God had designed a dog that was half-lion, half-bear and then stuck a huge smile on his face. He was such a magnificent boy we were asked to breed from him.  A bitch in season came to visit, Ted was useless.  He was more interested in sitting beside her in the sunshine and showing off his toys.  When the bitch mounted him as if trying to show him what to do, we shook our heads and realised this was not to be.  But I wanted him to have a line of succession so much, in case the day came when he was no longer with us and maybe we could have one of his own boys, to keep us connected.  It never happened.  Teddy was as rubbish at mating as he was at being a hardman.

He accepted the presence of new pets – rescue cats, a rabbit we found hopping about on the road with grace and resigned sighs.  He was with us constantly.  When we all dressed up to watch England play in the Euros, Ted was there on the sofa in his England shirt too.  He loved to ride in the back of the car because that meant he was with us.  He slept at the side of my bed, he sat at the side of the bath when I was in it.  If the boys went into the garden to have a kick-around, he was there with them.  

When we left him to go to the supermarket, he greeted us as if we’d been away for twenty years.  He sat by my side in my office everyday when I wrote, he sat on my feet when I watched TV at night. We thought we’d have him forever.  When he was seven last year, the thought hit me that he might be halfway through his life and I didn’t even want to think about that. If only he had been.

Just after Christmas, I noticed that when he went out into the garden for a quick wee, his whole body crunched over and locked for too long. An exploratory procedure at the vets revealed that he had a tumour in his bladder.  Inoperable and terminal.  Bladder cancer is sly and wicked, it takes up residence, beds itself in and then announces its presence with a ‘Hi, I’m here, staying and growing and there’s nothing you can do about it.’  Medicine that had a slim chance of sending the cancer into remission made Ted very sick and miserable and we had to make the decision to give him quality of the life he had left.  We cancelled any holidays we had planned, scrubbed the diary clean of anything that wasn’t essential and prepared ourselves.  I couldn’t turn off the tears until my other half told me that I had to stop mourning him before he had gone.  We were lost and we needed to plough our energies somewhere.  As Ted loved being outside in the garden, that’s where we started.

We designed a pergola so he could sit outside sheltered from the rain and let the breezes ruffle his thick fur.  Then we had a summer house built to be a happy place where we could remember him, have friends round and fill with company or I could get away from it all and be alone and write.  As a four we painted it inside and out – whilst Ted sat on the lawn and supervised us.  We had the mad idea of making it look like an American diner.  Of calling it Big Dogs, after Ted, of having his image printed on mugs and serviettes, of it being a place stamped with his big dog personality, and filled with his essence.  Somewhere he would always be part of.

I was also writing The Queen of Wishful Thinking at the time.  Ted slipped onto the pages as he slept in my office because I knew this was the last book I would ever write with him at my side.  All the emotion I felt coursed from my heart, down my arm, through the keyboard, onto the screen. My dog became an integral part of the story, as he had been an integral part of my life.  And I have never had a book that flowed so easily from me.  And that is why he is on the back cover - because he is weaved into the fabric of my story.

Ted loved the local park.  My other half Pete and I made sure he went there every day for a bounce around.  One day I was feeling particularly tender as it was just me and Ted and being alone with my thoughts wasn’t doing me any good. As he took a wee and his whole body crunched over, I felt a woman on a scooter behind me, watching him.  ‘Aren’t you going to pick that up?’ she snapped at me, when we started to move off.  ‘He hasn’t done anything,’ I replied.  She gave me a look of such disgust that I screamed at her that he had bladder cancer and that’s why he took ages.  ‘Oh.  Poor thing,’ she relented as I shook two handfuls of black bags at her, like a loon.  The tears were streaming down my face and they didn’t stop for weeks. I went on anti-depressants and they didn’t even make a hole in my sadness.

The cancer was growing in Teddy’s big beautiful body.  He became more and more incontinent, leaking like a rusty tap and constantly needed towelling dry.  We had a rainbow over the house and the carpets weren’t even fit for the skip.  Every night I put down four double sheets for him to sleep on, every morning I washed them. Sometimes he had good walks, sometimes his bladder refused to tell his brain it had emptied and he was crunched over in discomfort until we found a way to distract him.  Sometimes he looked so tired that we thought we would wake up in the morning to find him gone, only to find him pert and bright and ready for the park. His appetite was decreasing and the vet put him on steroids to make him hungry. But the days of dog food were long gone.  He wasn’t interested in his normal diet at all and our days were defined by trying to get him to eat anything to keep up his strength, which consisted of everything that he shouldn’t eat.  He took a liking to fried fish, then he developed a passion for bacon.  Then tins of Pek chopped pork, then kippers, then chicken goujons but only with a sprinkle of Mexican spices.  Then it was cream doughnuts, then sirloin steak.  For a month he had two griddled sirloins per day but only if he was hand-fed them chunk by chunk.  Then the only way he would eat them was if my partner Pete balanced a piece on his foot and pretended to give it to him but telling him to leave it, then snatched it away at the last minute – at which point Ted would dive on it.  It was exhausting. Often there were five or more choices of food in various plates for him because it was a constant guessing game what his tastebuds demanded on the day.  Then they began to demand nothing at all and we were reduced to mixing up powdered ‘Complan for dogs’ and feeding it to him via a syringe, which he hated.  I only had to pick up the whisk and he’d run up the stairs out of the way, but it was keeping him alive so we had to persist.  He was running on almost empty and getting so thin, but he was like an ox and continued to race around the park, taking a surprising interest in finding conkers like the young boy he was.

Meanwhile Big Dogs was taking shape in the garden.  We took mental respite in searching for things on the internet to decorate it with: metal wall signs, old pictures of 50s film stars eating, a sofa, a chair, chequered flooring, a bubble gum machine.  We wanted to complete it for my son’s 18th birthday celebrations, always hoping that Ted would be there with us to see it.  With Ted trotting at our side from house to summer house, we filled it with balloons, bunting, decorations.  We set the popcorn machine going, filled the giant ice bucket with Bud, switched the retro radiator on full and had an amazing fun-filled, warm, family celebration with Ted in the middle of the festivities, just as he always had been.

Then the next morning we took him to his favourite place – the park – and he bounced around like a pup, chasing a ball that didn’t belong to him – something he rarely did.  Then suddenly he looked exhausted.  He stood on top of the hill and Pete and I watched him just survey the whole vista and I thought ‘he’s saying goodbye to everything he loves here.’  I didn’t say it aloud because it sounded mawkish and dramatically sentimental.  Then we got to the car and Pete, who is grounded and sensible, said ‘did you see the way he looked at everything?  It was as if he was saying goodbye to the park.’  And we knew we were coming to the end.

The next day – dad’s 84th birthday (Ted loved dad as much as he loved Ted)  Ted was very tired.  For the first time, after visiting my parents, we had to lift him into the car when we left.  All we had ever wanted was to know was when the time was right to let him go, and we knew without any doubt that he’d had enough.  He was very sick, very limp and yet when the postman arrived at the door, he still leapt up to bark, to guard the family he loved from a possible intruder.  We slept on the floor with him that night.  We told him that it was okay to leave us before the pain really set in, but he wouldn’t desert us.  His young heart kept pumping, kept him with us. He’d hung around for the grand unveiling of Big Dogs – the place we’d built with him, for him.   The hours of the clock crawled around to the time when we knew we’d have to say goodbye.  It was the worst kind of torture. It is a terrible responsibility to free something you love from suffering, a right thing but so very painful.  But we were all in no doubt that the time had come.  At least we had that comfort.

There was no way that when we let him go that it wouldn’t be in his home.  He was weak in his basket when the vet came (eventually after the silly woman on the reception desk gave him the wrong address miles away, which I can’t forgive, and I just can’t go back there) and it took barely no anaesthetic at all to send him on his way.  He flopped backwards into my arms and there his head grew heavy and yet still his lungs seemed to try to pull in breaths, determined not let us down and go.  He lay in my arms soft and warm and huge like the great big teddy bear he was. 

The man from the pet crematorium took him away when he was still warm because I couldn’t bear to feel him grow cold.  It took both him and Pete to carry Ted to his van in a lovely big basket.  He was kindness itself, gentle, reverent – I’d recommend him to anyone.  His ashes came back to us the next day, they weighed a ton. They are at the side of my bed and there they'll stay.  One day when I'm sprinkled to a breeze, he'll be with me.

Don't do what I did at the beginning and grieve your pets before they've gone or you'll lose them many times - and once is enough.

The more you love something, the deeper the crater they leave and my Big Dog scooped out my innards and left me hollow. We will move on, because we have to, because this is life and it is its nature to end and those of us who are left, grieve and attempt to rebuild. But I miss everything about him.  I miss the ways his ears pricked up when the word ‘Park’ or ‘Ride’ was mentioned.  I miss how he squeezed out of the front door when we opened it to force us not to leave him behind.  I miss how he pressed himself into you when you wanted some love and how his bottom sashayed like Marilyn Monroe’s when he trotted over grass as he searched for things to urinate upon – his favourite hobby. I miss his night patrols when I would sense his nose near mine, sniffing my breath to make sure I was still alive.  I miss how he rushed at us to greet us when we returned home, smiling, happy that we were safely back in his territory.  I miss his bulk on my feet as he lay down with us in the evenings around the TV and the way his big brown eyes looked at me as if I was the most special person that God had ever made. A new pup is on its way, but he will be his own man - not a replacement, because Ted is irreplaceable. But we are rebuilding, around the shape of him that he has left in our lives, because our beautiful daft lad, our big dog is – and will always remain – part of us. His family.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017


Well here we are again, gearing up for yet another launch.  This will be my last one like this though.  Always good to have a change and for all sorts of reasons, we do need a bit of a different format to keep things fresh.  I don't want to be known as the woman with the begging bowl constantly out so it will be a good one, a big one, but the last of its kind like this.

It's also the last of its kind because my lovely friend and the BEST supporter any author could have, Jill Craven, died on 19th April.  Jill was always in charge of cutting up the cake. And doing any organising that needed to be done.  It just won't be the same without her.  We shall ALL miss her terribly.  We shall make sure she is with us in spirit because we shall talk about her on the day and send her a bouquet of applause.  I just wish she would be here to receive it in person.

But I'm so incredibly well supported by people to fund Yorkshire Cat Rescue and The Well and the prizes are starting to come in.  So here is a massive shout out to all the lovely people who have sent things so far.  The list will keep getting updated.  And if you see anything you like, please get in touch with the people and give them a  bit of trade.

Books are available on the night - OF COURSE - and they are supplied this year by JR Nicholls in Denby Dale, which is one of those lovely PROPER bookshops.

In no order at all - here are what people who come to the launch are in for.
From the wonderful Masque Photography - a boudoir make up and photography session (with or without the bump).  Ladies who have had this experience have told me it is amazing and has given them an injection of confidence they didn't think possible.  These experiences make fabulous presents.

And this wonderful bundle from my gorgeous friend CAROLE MATTHEWS.  If you haven't signed up to her newsletter then you really should.  You can win all sorts of goodies.  I've been a fan of Carole's for many years - in and out of book world. 


Our friends at Candleberry Lane (which is the world's most gorgeous shop) down the Victoria Arcade have donate a lovely bathy basket! I can't wait to try out my Himalayan salt lamp that I got from them earlier today!


SUNDAY LUNCH for 4 at our wonderful Holiday Inn up the road.

Tea and Cake for two by Eadie -Q at Shut up and Eat the sweet little cafe half-way along Agnes  .  Eadie Q makes vegan and vegetarian friendly fare and it's absolutely delicious. 

Two fabulous books by the lovely Debbie Viggiano.  She is a wonderful read!

THE SWEET SHACK  - Jenny has so kindly donated this gorgeous box of yesteryear sweets that will whizz you back to childhood.  There are loads of tiny shops outside Strawbridges Garden Centre and a lovely coffee shop which I need to check out! 

There are lip scrubs and balms from the wonderful PURA COSMETICS who have just launched their COCKTAIL RANGE.  Gin and Tonic, Mojito, Strawberry Daiquiri...  These balms and scrubs are suitable for vegans and they haven't been tested on any animals.  Including the Bonita Banana ones (all will become clear if you read the book) 

There's a beautiful stamped necklace from Dormouse and the Teapot - I hope someone from Yorkshire wins it, because I know we have a few Lancs coming ;) x

'Ard as Nails have sent a lovely product hamper - apparently the cuticle nail oil is superb, so fans of their goods tell me! 

This pic doesn't do this wall hanging justice.  It's absolutely exquisite! Thank you Cal Green!

And this is a framed paper cut rainbow from Donna.  It's so fragile and lovely.  A paper cut picture would make a lovely present for someone.  Papercuts by Donna can be found here

We have a voucher for flowers from Andrea Graham.  Treat yourself if you win - we don't think of ourselves enough sometimes.  

This gorgeous agate bracelet arrived from Gina. It's really pretty. She has an interesting Facebook page here

I could do with this one!  A chiropody session - get all those corns off so your feet are beach ready!  Thank you Carmen (who can be reached on 01226 759660. 

This glass bowl is so pretty - my rubbish pics don't do it justice.  But do have a look at Pam's website where she makes the most beautiful things.  And with proper photography to show it off. 

There was a huge bundle of handcrafted cards, brooches and wallhangings from the very talented Ruth Zanoni.  Beautiful mermaids (big fan of mermaids me!) 

 Everyone who comes to my event will be given some MY TRUSTY SKINCARE oil.  I use it everyday and I want the world to know how good it is.  You can buy online or at Tesco and Superdrug now too.  

The TEA has arrived from Yorkshire Tea and the Walkers Shortbread  AND the Bahlsen biscuits so the goody bags will be nice and full.  

We have books by the fabulous DEBBIE JOHNSON .  If you haven't read her, do - and the A -Z of everything is her finest yet.  She will take you through every emotion you have... and some you didn't know you had as well!

 Jewellery by the ever supportive Ruth at Streton - beautiful hand-crafted goods which are just special

Vouchers for an amazing day out at Thirsk Birds of Prey Centre - and I can't tell you how fabulous this prize is because I'd live there if I could.  Amazing.  And these vouchers would be fabulous as presents.
There's a slap up dinner for 2 at Shaw Lane sports club!  

There's a lovely hand-crafted blanket from Rachy Penny!

And LOADS of things from my friends at Hothouse - including some great St Moriz tanning products - which have romped home with the best awards beating those 'more expensive' names!

A gorgeous tea hamper from Maggie at Magnificent Me! The pic doesn't do it justice! Maggie is a hypnotherapist and also works a lot with victims of abuse to get them free of their past experiences. And she has also been my friend for 35 years.

 Themed jewellery (keep your hands off the necklace with the rainbow and the pot of gold on it, because it's mine. Steph always makes my book launch jewellery!) Steph makes the most beautiful jewellery - you should ask her for some white rose jewellery for Yorkshire Day.  Mine always comes out then!  Steph's Crafty Bits Facebook page can be found here. 
On the ENORMOUS box of Walkers Shortbread are some local history DVDs of Barnsley from the delectable Dave Cherry (Facebook page) who is a one man machine.  Musician, historian, raconteur, all round great bloke and master fund raiser.  His films can be found on youtube and for local people especially are of real interest.  Thank goodness we have him doing his bit for posterity! 

We also have a £50 voucher for the lovely lovely Spencer Arms in Cawthorne and we all know what a fantastic place that is to eat at.  And drink in - and just linger in. A real treat for someone!

We have pens!  thank you to Steel City Marketing who have supplied them for me this year - and the lovely goody bags!
There are also vouchers off Jenny-Lou Make up and Beauty.  You can have Gelish nails, manicures, pedicures, make-up application, facials, hair pin-ups.  You can find more info here on Facebook! 

There is also a ZUMBA fitness class with Hannah at  Check out their site for all the other classes too.  I really need to start pilates.  Really!!  

 We have a lovely Yankee Candle gift set from Rob, my friend at Computer Problems of Barnsley.  Once upon a time - book 1 - I lost the lot because I hadn't backed up my computer. Guess who found it for me - and guess who has had my business servicing all the family pcs and macs ever since.  He's a great bloke and doesn't charge daft prices for proper jobs.

My lovely friends at My Trusty skincare have sent this gorgeous raffle prize - as well as oils for everyone at the launch.  I am a convert.  Their stuff is fabulous and very very good for people with sensitive skins.  Read all about them here and what they do - and why they don't make a profit!  Well they do... but how it all gets ploughed back into the NHS!

I received some gorgeous mugs from Direct Print and Promotions. They were so good, I ordered a load more ... and some special gifts for the night which I hope will make you smile!
This beautiful bracelet arrived from Liberty Charms.  It's so pretty.  Do have a look at their website.

The lovely Carnevale Family - our friends and Barnsley Kardashians - have given two big fat hampers.

And as if a chocolate-filled diabetic-coma-inducing hamper wasn't enough from the lovely Amanda Clayton... she'd gone and shoved another couple of boxes in as well!!!
My lovely writer friends Victoria Howard and Lynda Stacey have given me some perfumed drawer liners, some quirky bookmarks and the bonniest umbrella ever.  We are all great mates and they writer romantic suspense... and they do it very well too.
Victoria has written some belters which will have you gnawing your nails and Lynda has her second book out now and is receiving rave reviews.  Give them a read if you like some drama as well as  love in your stories!

We have a lovely relaxing Shiatu from Katie Cadwell, who works at my affiliated Charity - THE WELL.  Katie is a therapist for cancer patients and is a top bird!

And book buyers will be able to benefit from £1 vouchers off Aunt Bessie's stuff... who make everything these days.  And if you haven't tried their apple pies and crumbles - oh boy are you missing a trick!!!

And last but not least... the BIG ROB ROYD FARMHOUSE HAMPER!!!  Some lucky bugger is going to walk away with that!!!