Now freshly showered, I’m ready to attack the second part of my day which, on a non-shopping day, involves desk work. But the animals can’t/won’t be ignored, and there’s plenty to be done. Downstairs the dogs have become animated – they’re ready for breakfast and keen as mustard. As the moment approaches their behaviours change markedly. Max gambols around in circles stuffing as many gifts as he can in his mouth to offer the provider, while Aby flaps about arranging her toys in a nice tidy heap on her bed. Hunter may have lost many of his senses, but timing is not one of them and he gradually forms a canine barricade at the bottom of the stairs. Presumably this is his way of attracting attention to the meal-giver, although I’m uncertain as to whether falling over an ancient dog really does improve progress.
One might think that supplying a basic meal to dogs is a simple one – but not in our case. In our house tinctures and tablets play a vital, if bitter, role in the first repas of the day. And it has to be dealt with by an expert because the calculation of who gets what, and when, is no simple task, especially in Hunter’s case. To explain this I need to remind you of the state we found him in.
One day, on our way to the local auberge, we found Hunter flat out in the middle of a road. He’d been abandoned and was lying, too weak to move, slowly baking in the hot afternoon sun. He was horribly emaciated, covered in cuts, crawling with bugs and I’m afraid to say that his body odour was powerful enough to repel a skunk. Since Jack, my husband, isn’t a skunk, I asked him to carefully carry the poor dog to the side of the road and guard him whilst I drove back to the house to get some food and water. Of course we ended up taking him home.
Hunter lived through the night and we took him to our vet the next day for examination. In addition to the ‘superficials’, it emerged that he was suffering from several diseases, and playing host to a number of interestingly-named parasites which we rather lamely grouped under the global term of ‘worms’. But we all knew what they were. This had three significant outcomes. We parted with, (or “donated” as Jack puts it) a great deal of money. Our vet has always been very happy to see us but, now that Hunter is part of the process, he’s absolutely overjoyed. We have a huge great list of expensive potions and pills (including a rather pleasant smelling antiseptic shampoo) that must variously be administered to our amiable old hunting dog. Jack maintains he’s more expensive to keep going than a 30-year-old BMW 7 series, and he’s thinking about asking the vet to start running an air miles scheme.
Then there’s Max. Our loving little Australian Shepherd dog is still recovering from a serious leg injury, and he needs medication, together with natural products, to eliminate the inflammation in his knee, and help protect his joints from future damage.
Finally Aby, not to be outdone, enjoys a perfectly pink vitamin pill every morning, so much so that she looks decidedly put out when her regular dosage runs out. So with this complex set of prescriptions that would test even the brightest algorithm specialist, a mathematician is required. Jack, being an unsettlingly hyper-intelligent engineer, is just the man for the job. And he manages magnificently – up to a point.
Dog food storage and dining takes place in our utility room. It now resembles a chemist’s dispensary, and has recently benefitted from Jack’s additions of bar charts, spreadsheets, and I’m sure I saw a flowchart in there the other day. These regularly updated masterpieces list the name and purpose of drug, quantity and day of dosage (because different ones are given on different days) for each animal. The levels of precision are meticulous. Absolutely nothing can go wrong. Can it?
Usually I leave him to get on with preparing the canine breakfast. Aby and Max very quickly reach fever pitch and whine frantically, while Hunter stands, legs braced against his two fellow dodgems, swaying slightly and (for some extraordinary reason) his teeth start chattering. The first time I heard this I thought something awful had happened to one of the machines in the kitchen. But no – it was him. It’s quite a tremendous noise, which is emitted with the skill of a ventriloquist, because he retains his perfectly still hangdog expression with absolutely no lip movement whatsoever. The other point to note is that he only has a few teeth left in his mouth so quite how he manages to connect them and drum up such a din is a mystery. But he does. Unfortunately none of these animal antics do anything for my husband’s nerves, and things are apt to go downhill at the point of administration. Just as I’m about to settle down at my desk upstairs, my sense of purpose is often interrupted by a roar from Jack. Evidently there’s been a mixed reaction to the meal and I know exactly what’s just happened.
Hunter is fine, and stoically munches his way through mountains of tablets laced with dog food. Aby is too. She nibbles delicately at her meal, savouring the morsels with appropriate femininity and, upon completion, dabs her mouth elegantly with her imaginary napkin. Max on the other hand isn’t like that at all. Despite reassurances from our vet that his medication tastes like dog treats, Max doesn’t like them. He inhales the dog food, but has developed a unique knack of swirling the pill around his mouth, and surreptitiously spitting it out the ‘side door’ when he thinks Jack isn’t looking. But we’re on to him now, and close post-meal scrutiny of the floor tiles is required to check for incriminating evidence, and is often the cause of Jack losing his patience when he attempts to re-post the tablet in Max’s mouth.
I now know that I can ignore one human shout of rage, but when a second or even a third bellow follows, it’s clear that Max isn’t playing ball. I’ll rush down to the utility room and typically find Jack on his hands and knees wearing two or three pairs of reading glasses, searching for the half-sucked offender which has now cemented itself to a tile somewhere. His incandescent rage doesn’t seem to help his close vision at all, so I’ll take over, find the pill, peel it off the floor, and spend the next five minutes coaxing Max to swallow it. All this with Jack in the background muttering about Max being clearly defective and therefore ought to be sent back under warranty.
Eventually I succeed in re-administering Max’s tablet which, by now, is the size of a pinhead. Meanwhile, the time wasted has created some tension surrounding Hunter. Once he has finished eating and then drunk a vast quantity of water (courtesy of another of his diseases), he needs to go out immediately. And since his top speed is a slow shuffle, there’s a pressing need to avoid an embarrassing leakage from the waterworks department before he reaches the door. Thus far we’ve avoided an accident, but Max’s stubborn attitude towards his medicine is not helping at all.
If it’s Jack’s turn to take the dogs for their early morning walk, I’ll then leave him to it and can often hear him grumbling his way towards the field, moaning to the trees about the trials of living with idiot animals. On the whole, though, I’m fairly certain that this early breath of fresh air does him the world of good.
Retracing my steps to our study I sit down to open my emails. I’ll glance wistfully at my pile of notes for Fat Dogs… Part 3, but I haven’t got time to start writing at the moment. I put them aside and attend to business correspondence. Once complete, I turn to Facebook, and WLM (We Love Memoirs). This is done with a mixture of trepidation and enthusiasm because, being the least technically-minded person I know, things often go terribly wrong from this point on.
I don’t agree with my husband’s opinion that I suffer from “Technoplaegia” (implying massive technical incompetence), but I do accept that my ‘poke and hope’ computer strategy doesn’t always achieve the desired results. His unfair accusations were originally made during my early failed attempts at intricate moves like cutting and pasting documents, and also on occasions when I have managed to prod the button at an inopportune moment and accidentally sent a message to a complete stranger. Filing documents to this day remains a mystery, and I can spend hours ferreting around for a vital piece of information that isn’t where I thought it was.
Imagine my fear and apprehension, then, when it was suggested that I needed to become acquainted with Facebook. Jack was probably even more concerned, but his main anxiety was related to the health of my computer and his nerves in his capacity as local ‘help-desk’ rather than any altruistic thoughts about my plight.
My main reason for using Facebook is to access WLM. My learning curve with this new-fangled system has been desperately long, but, with the help of innumerable kind and forgiving people in this wonderful group, I’m finally getting the hang of the basics. Whilst I’m probably best described as a plodder, this hasn’t prevented me from enjoying the camaraderie of fellow members. To that end I can easily lose track of time as I follow the activities and news from others. But an even greater challenge has now presented itself.
Just a couple of weeks ago it was suggested, by an eternal optimist, that I should also set up a Twitter account. This sadly misguided person was someone who had assumed a level of computer savvy that simply does not exist. However, in a moment of rash confidence I decided that my new-found skills in social networking were entirely up to the task. It turns out they aren’t!
As a friend put it, “When you first start working with Twitter it’s very odd – it’s a bit like a weird parallel universe.” I couldn’t agree with her more. My early forays into this heady world have been nothing short of devastatingly bad. I am that person who thought a # lived exclusively on a music score sheet, and the @ was related to price lists, or email addresses.
As experienced users will know, messages posted on Twitter are not only liberally littered with these symbols, they are also often two-tone, blue and black. I’m certain that this is desperately significant, but to assume that I might have got the hang of it all would be woefully incorrect. If there really is a sentence intended in a Tweet, I frequently struggle to work out what it means, only to be regularly thwarted by techno-speak. As luck would have it yet another group of tremendously patient people have come to my aid. They have taken me by the avatar hand, and are currently guiding me through the basics of this high-tech maze. Their help is priceless. But the fact remains – I am still largely clueless. I have managed to construct a line or two, randomly decorating my messages with the odd symbol here and there, but the decision whether or not to ‘Tweet’, ‘Retweet’, ‘Favourite’ or ‘Follow’ is still largely lost on me. I know I can count on the cyber-experts to help, but do feel that their endless levels of goodwill must eventually come to an end.
Jack’s tolerance of electronic social interactions expired with e-mail. In fact he still glowers with intense hatred at his smart-phone, whenever it makes a noise of any kind. And he absolutely refuses to take any interest in the various social networking innovations. This has left me spending hours making, and attempting to ‘un-make’ mistakes with a learning-curve that shows no sign at all of evening out.
All of this takes time and before I know it – it’s lunchtime. I’m usually alerted to this by the dogs. Their internal clocks are remarkably accurate, and they are hungry. I get up from my desk, glance wistfully at my untouched notes for book three, and go down to prepare our meal.
Progression to the kitchen is different to breakfast, and the pattern is always the same. Aby, dish cloth in paw, bounds enthusiastically up the stairs to meet me. Max is usually dragging my wellie around the house, which he bashes against the walls in his attempts to present it to me in exchange for a snack. And Hunter is standing in the middle of the kitchen waiting patiently for something, although he can’t quite remember what it is. There’s absolutely no point in me doing anything about cooking our lunch until they are dealt with. So off I go to the dispensary and produce their favourite pigs’ ears, which are received with distracted delight.
Cooking on my lovely range is a joy, but can also end up as a crowded affair. After a few minutes I am gradually re-joined by the dogs and sometimes Brutus the cat (on chicken or fish-recipe days), and we jointly produce something that is fit for humans. Happily, so long as meat is involved, Jack is very easy to please – which is just as well because he is more often than not served ‘speed-food’. It may be nutritious, but does lack the finesse of a dedicated home-maker. However, on those days where he has had to deal with acute animal problems, or another of my computer crashes, I’ll pacify him with one of his favourites. After all, what red-blooded Englishman doesn’t enjoy a healthy portion of Toad in the Hole?
With the meal served, I sit down to eat, and reflect on my morning which has resulted in a mixture of abject technical failures and the odd tentative success. Amazingly, half the day has gone already. There’s something I desperately want to do, but will my afternoon activities allow this? I’m really not sure.