How Much Fur?

Ollie is a short-haired breed of dog, but when it is moulting season, you might be forgiven for thinking this makes no difference. The amount of fur he can shed on a daily basis is nothing short of phenomenal. It is a miracle he is not completely bald, believe me.

Substantial tufts of hair dance across the kitchen tiles like tumbleweed in a wild-west town, and the blanket on his bed looks like the floor of the local hairdresser’s shop. No amount of brushing makes even the slightest impact on the constant shedding, and our clothes bear witness to the fact that he only has to walk past you to completely cover you in a mulitcoloured selection of hairs.

Even as I type this, stray hairs have migrated from my sleeves onto the keyboard.

Of course, we try our hardest to tackle the seasonal fur invasion. Using the vacuum cleaner every day, often twice a day. The only thing in the container when it is emptied is a compressed cylinder of Ollie fur, which does at least show we are not untidy or messy otherwise. But no matter if I spent all day running the device back and forth across the carpets, I would never get to the point where it stopped scooping up yet more fur.

Ollie’s appearance suffers as a result. He is now at least seven different colours, with patches of dark brown in amongst lighter shades, and thin areas of fur on his legs that look like the back of a balding man’s head. This ragged patchwork appearance makes him look neglected and scruffy, which is a shame. Especially when I know the opposite is true.

Next week, he is going for a bath and grooming session on Thursday, the earliest appointment available. The last time, the lady removed a full bin-liner of fur before washing him.

This time, I suspect she might need a second bin liner.

International Dog Day

My friend Julian from The Usual Muttwits has reminded me that today is a special day.

Because you love muttwits, why not do the following:

– Go for a long walk in a new place. Most dogs love exploring
new and interesting places with their best friend. …
– Bake a dog friendly treat. …
– Donate to your local animal shelter. …
– Tell your muttwit you love them.

Every day is dog day with Ollie, but let’s make this one even more special!

Writing Challenge: Opposites

Maggie from is doing a writing challenge based on the above photograph. The idea is to find inspiration for two completely different emotions from the same picture, and write two short stories. I thought I would try it, as I rarely do blog challenges.

1) Grief.


Walking across to the car at the usual time, Scott felt his phone vibrating in his jacket pocket. He had been in a meeting until finishing time, and it was only polite to have turned off the ringer. He smiled as he looked at the screen and saw the picture of his lovely wife come up above her name. No doubt she would be in Mario’s convenience store, and calling him to ask what flavour ice cream he wanted after dinner, or whether they should have some white wine later this evening.

Swiping up the green buton, he smiled as he spoke. “Hi, honey. If you’re asking, I will have chocolate chip, and it’s a yes to wine too”.
There was a pause, and he didn’t recognise the voice that replied.

“Sir, this is Officer Martinez of Metro Division, who am I speaking to please?” Scott felt a chill run up his back.
“Why have you got my wife’s phone? Oh, I am Scott Andersen, and you are using my wife’s phone. Annie’s phone”.

The pause that followed made Scott’s heart beat faster, too fast.
“Sir, I have to tell you that there was an armed robbery at a convenience store. The owner was shot and killed, along with a young woman, presumably a customer. She’s around twenty five years old, five feet-two, short blonde hair, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. They took her purse, so we have no I.D. I found this phone in her back pocket. Your number was first in the list of recent calls. Does that sound like your wife sir?”

Scott tried to reply, but couldn’t speak through the tears. He didn’t think he would ever be able to speak again.

2) Self-pity.


As the concrete started to set around his legs and feet, Kevin was surprised by how hot it felt. Uncomfortably hot in fact. The man sitting across from him was leaning back in the captain’s chair, a smirk on face. “So you thought we weren’t serious? You thought you could take us for fools? Look where that got you, Kevin”.

It had started out the way most of those things do. Too much on credit cards, an expensive car he couldn’t afford, and a luxury apartment too fancy for one guy on his own. Kevin liked to impress people, make them think he was somebody. Hand-made suits, the right watch on his wrist, and the right girl on his arm. But it all cost money, money he didn’t earn as a realtor, especially when the bottom had dropped out of the housing market.

But he knew someone. Someone connected. He had sold him a house, a very expensive house with its own lake frontage and private boat dock. It was obvious the guy wasn’t kosher, but he didn’t care, as he made the sale and got the commission. Mr Anzorov was an American citizen, but only God knew how he managed that. After he signed the house purchase papers, he shook Kevin’s hand. “Come and see me if there’s anything I can do for you, Kevin”.

So Kevin went to see him, and asked for a loan of twenty thousand dollars. Anzorov handed the money over without hesitation, then spoke quietly. “So here you are. You understand that you now owe me forty thousand dollars, Kevin? No paperwork, just a handshake. You have six months to pay me back the forty thousand, or you won’t like what happens. Please take me seriously, Kevin”. Kevin nodded, but already knew he had no intention of taking him seriously.

So what was he going to do? Some old Russian guy with a big house and a clothes-hanger trophy wife. He could hardly go to the authorities, or through the courts. He was bound to have some skeletons in his cupboards. Kevin forgot about Anzorov, and enjoyed spending the money. He even had a nice vacation down in Grand Cayman. The six months passed, then nine months, and Kevin smiled to himself when he heard nothing.

Two men approached him as he left the office on his way to show a house. One opened his coat and showed him a gun in his waistband, and the other grabbed his arm in a friendly gesture and walked him over to a minivan parked nearby. When they sat him down in Mr Anzorov’s home office and placed his lower legs into a large container, he was sure it was a joke. Then he was sure it was just a scare. Then when they started to mix the concrete in the container, he was no longer sure about anything.

As the tears flowed, all he could think about was the lake, and that private boat dock.

My Last Year Of Hedge Clipping

Front of bungalow from across the road

In the photo above, (click to see full size) you can clearly see the larger and smaller beech hedges that are in front of our house. They are taller than they look in this photo, which was taken after they had just been trimmed, in late 2013. From street level, they reach to about eight feet in height, and are considerably higher than that when fully grown before they need cutting. On the plus, side, this height is reduced when cutting the back, as the ground level in the front garden is some twelve inches higher.

I bought some very good clippers when I moved here, as I also had to tackle the huge rows of leylandii hedges at the back. Compared to those, the beech hedges at the front were a breeze, easily finished off in a morning or afternoon. But then I got vertigo a couple of years back. And then I got older of course. I could no longer cope with the ten-feet high leylandii, and had to pay someone to cut them earlier this year. But I was sure I could still deal with the beech hedges.

After deciding that they were unacceptably shabby, I made up my mnd to cut them this morning. It is a hot day, 27 C, so I took Ollie out early, just after nine. On our return, I got straight on with the beech hedges, sweeping up the mess as I went. After managing just one quarter, the first battery gave up. I put it on charge, and went on with the second battery. I was very hot, and finding it difficult to stay steady on top of the step ladder as I tried to get the straggly stems in the middle. After two hours, I swept up, and had a lunch break.

When I went back out, I decided to use a proper ladder to reach the top, and jammed it as hard as I could against the hedge. But is was very wobbly once I got up there, and I was having real difficulty keeping my balance and cutting at the same time. When the second battery went flat, I had at least finished the biggest hedge, and can do the small one easily tomorrow. Sweeping up and tidying the things away, it dawned on me that will be the last time I can safely cut these hedges.

As of next year, I am going to have to pay someone to do it.

The ‘Phantom’ Badger

With Ollie more or less back to his old self after the recent illness, it is good to see him so active again. Unfortunately, it also means he is back to bullying some younger dogs that he wants to dominate. One of those is the lovely Bertie, a Dogue de Bordeaux. (A French Mastiff, identical to the dog in the film ‘Turner and Hooch’)
This is not Bertie in the photo, but he looks just like this one.

At six months old, Bertie is already twice the size of Ollie, and he’s a big softy who loves other dogs and people. But he is not neutered, so Ollie has decided he must submit to him. Even though Bertie is happy to do this, Ollie keeps growling at him until he becomes scared. So when I spotted Bertie in the river with two other dogs, I quickly diverted over to Hoe Rough so that Ollie would not be able to start bullying him.

Now that there were no playmates to romp with, I needed to find something to divert him. As we got to the spot where he chased a badger some time back, he stopped and sniffed at the ground. His ‘smell memory’ is amazing to behold, and he has never forgotten the exact spot here he got the scent of that badger last time. I pretended to see a badger in some far off bracken, and using a low tone of voice, I hissed, “Ollie! Badger! Find it”.

He took off in pursuit of what wasn’t there, and had a good run around for more than ten minutes trying to find the phantom badger.

Ollie’s On The Mend

With my usual hesitation of not wanting to speak too soon, it would appear that Ollie is feeling much better, following his recent breathing problems.

Yesterday, he chased a pheasant around on Hoe Rough, and didn’t seem to want to go home after his walk.

He wants me to say a big Thank You to everyone who was so concerned about him, and sends tail wags from his curly tail to you all.

Photo Prompt Story: The Freedom Of Flight

This is a short story, in 620 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Shaily Agrawal.

I remember it still. That feels weird. I never expected to remember, but I do. All of it, right from the start. My mother holding me as a baby and smiling down on me. Her voice, even the smell of her. I can choose any moment from fifty-eight years, and recall it as if it happened one hour ago.

This wasn’t what I had expected at all.

The day of the diagnosis, we knew it was bad news when the surgeon moved his chair close to mine and leaned forward, clasping his hands between his open legs. “I have to be totally honest, Stephen, we didn’t manage to get it all. The scan shows it is back, I’m afraid. And it’s inoperable this time, as it is in a part of your brain that we cannot possiby remove.”

My hair had only just grown back to a decent length, and I had bought new trousers to wear to the appointment, as the weight loss after months of chemo and radiotherapy had reduced me to a shadow of my former self.
I had been stupidly optimistic as I watched Alice driving me to the hospital that morning. I turned up the radio when one of our favourite songs came on, and sang along badly to it. Alice wasn’t so relaxed. I could tell by the way her smile didn’t move for the whole of the fifty-minute journey.

I asked the obvious question. “How long?” And he shrugged in reply, non-commital. “Hard to say. Months, not years. Perhaps even weeks”.

Alice was crying softly as I shook his hand and took the leaflet from him about the hospice and available palliative care. My only option soon.

There was no bucket list to try to complete. No wild last celebration. No trip of a lifetime. No emotional letters sent to friends or family.

Scott flew back from Singapore to see me. What do you say to your son? “Goodbye” hardly seems appropriate. I settled for “Look after your Mum for me”. He cried, and so did I. I knew he had to go back to his job, and I hoped I would die soon enough so he could support Alice at my funeral.

Alice and I didn’t talk about anything much. There was already a will, and insurance was in place. I said something about never having that sixtieth birthday celebration we had often spoken about, and she cried all day. After that, I left it at pleasantries. We walked around each other as if in a minefield. Our steps precise, and our concentration focused on the moment.

When it began, she wanted to look after me at home. She said Scott would help, but I wanted to be away from them as I lost the power to cope. Lost the ability to clean myself, to speak and see properly. To be Stephen.

They were there when I went. Alice hugging me, Scott sitting in a chair next to the bed weeping openly. They thought I couldn’t see them of course. They had been told that I was unresponsive, but that they should continue to talk to me. They didn’t talk, as they had no idea what to say.

This morning, I woke up feeling light, as if my body weighed nothing. My vision was incredibly sharp, and I was looking down at the garden I had worked hard to keep nice for more than twenty years. I could see Alice sitting in the conservatory, sipping a hot drink from her favourite mug.
I knew she would be okay.

Stretching out my strangely familiar wings, I stepped off into the morning air.
Enjoying the freedom of flight.

Photo-Prompt Story: The Red Door

This is a short story in, 690 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.

Ellen thought it was high time the front door was painted. She couldn’t remember when it was that Norman had done it last. Some years before he died, that was for sure. She had never liked the sickly cream colour he had used, but he had half a tin left in the shed, and said it would save money. The door always looked dirty after that, with rain splashes and scuffs standing out clearly on the light colour. But she didn’t have the heart to complain, not even about the brush marks that were so apparent when the light was on it.

As she watered the plants that morning, she decided that now was the time to brighten it up. The walk to the High Street seemed to take much longer than it used to, but she liked to give her business to the local shops. Henderson’s Hardware had been there since before they moved to thr district, and after the old man had died, his son had taken it over. Norman used to say, ‘They have everything in that shop. Anything you need”. The young man behind the counter gave her a friendly smile, as she told him what she needed. “Something bright and colourful. But it must be hard-wearing, as it will be on the front door you see”.

He showed her what they had in stock, and she shook her head at the selection available. Unable to decide, she took some colour charts away, with the young man assuring her they could get anything she needed very quickly. After going through them all at home, Ellen chose her two favourites, and took them outside to look at them against the door in the light. Nodding to confirm her choice, she spoke out loud. “Poppy Red. That’s the one”.

The local free paper arrived the next day, and she looked at the advertisements for painters and decorators. Choosing one with a box around the ad, and a local phone number, she made the call. The young man had a friendly tone to his voice, and told her he could paint her door easily. He said he would pop round tomorrow, and give her a price for the job. He arrived on time, and Ellen showed him the colour chart. “Poppy Red, like this one. You can get it from Henderson’s”. He nodded, and told her he could get a good deal for trade but would need the money first, in case she changed her mind, and he got stuck with the paint. That seemed fair enough to her, so she handed over the cash.

On the Friday, he turned up as arranged. Ellen made him a cup of tea as he got ready. “Two sugars please, and don’t forget not to come out through the door”. She nodded, wondering if she thought being old also made her stupid. Two hours later, he knocked on the door. Ellen opened it to find a strange pinkish colour paint on the door. She pulled a face. “That doesn’t look right to me”. The man smiled. “It’s not finished yet, love. That’s only the first coat. I will come back on Monday when this has dried, rub it down, and get the second coat on. Don’t worry, it will look lovely. But can you give me the money for some more paint, as that one tin won’t be enough? And can you pay me for what I have done today too please?” Ellen set her lip. “Are you sure that’s Poppy Red? Doesn’t look like the one on the chart to me”.

He laughed at her, shaking his head. His reply made her feel silly. “It’s the old colour underneath, ain’t it? It’s not going to look like the one on the chart until the second coat goes on, is it?” Fetching her purse, Ellen handed over the money. Picking up the paint and brushes, he waved as he walked away. “See you Monday”.

As she watered the plants, the dustcart was at the end of the street. That meant it must be Thursday.

And the young man still hadn’t come back to finish the door.

Photo-Prompt Story: The Bench-Table

This is a short story, in 500 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Maggie, from

Diana had always loved that bench-table. Keith had made it himself, using moulds purchased from a builder’s merchant, and mixing the concrete in some old buckets no longer used for any other purpose. It had turned out surprisingly well, and was solid and strong. Just like him.

In the garden, it seemed to suit the mood. They never did go for a cultured, or over-manicured look, and other than a few tubs of annuals, tended to let it slide. That natural, slightly overgrown atmosphere pleased them both, and also meant a lot less unnecessary work. Weekends away from the the city could be enjoyed, rather than endured, as there was little to do but relish the surroundings.

Most mornings, they would have their coffee sitting at the bench. And on fine summer evenings, enjoy a glass of wine before and after dinner. Sitting there, feeling the roughness under their clothes, it seemed to be perfect. It went with the surroundings, and gave that feel of something timeless, that would always endure. When the weather was at its best, it was not unknown for them to have both breakfast and dinner at that sturdy table, ignoring the flies, and the occasional wasp.

And just like that bench, their marriage endured. Two kids, lots of happy memories crowded around the table, squashed on the small seats intended for one, but managing to accommodate two on each side. As time went on, work got busy, and they rarely managed once a month around the bench-table. Cherished moments though, as the concrete weathered, mimicking their own ageing. When the kids got older, they made it out to the place when they could, the eventual grandchildren sitting on their laps around the table. Happy days indeed.

Retirement came, and was welcomed. They could give up the apartment in the city, and spend their days enjoying relaxation and peace in their countryside idyll. Keith seemed to be rejuvenated. Diana was so happy, she had never known a time when they had been so relaxed. This was the life that had always hoped for, and a part of them had anticipated. For more than six months of every year, they took their meals around the bench-table, talking of the times when they had hoped to be doing exactly that.

Now Diana smiled as she saw Keith sitting there, waiting for her to come outside. She took the big mug of coffee, and smiled at her daughter. “I will drink this with your dad, honey”. Melanie watched as her mother walked over to the bench. She didn’t seem to see the too-long grass as she sat down, smiling and chatting.

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Melanie turned to see her brother Patrick, his eyebrows raised. “Who is mum talking to?”

She patted his hand as he looked over at her mum sitting alone at the bench.

“Dad of course. She still thinks she sees him”.

If Ants Were As Big As Poodles

The photo above is of a ‘Murder Hornet’. I read this about them yesterday.
‘Huge ‘murder hornets’ capable of killing humans have invaded the US’.

It’s pretty big, we can all see that. But what if it was as as big as a pigeon? Then imagine hundreds of them swarming around on a hot day. It’s a lucky escape for humans that insects are tiny in comparison to us. If ants were as big as dogs, even small dogs like poodles, they would have wiped out the human race a very long time ago, I’m sure.

Even the smallest insects kill tens of thousands of us every year. Take the mosquito spreading malaria, or locusts wiping out crops, leading to starvation for many. By combining into huge swarms, or living in city-sized colonies, insects prove that there is strength in numbers.

If humble houseflies were as big as oranges, just think how miserable our life would be. Something so easily dealt with by swatting, fly spray, or even a rolled up newspaper would suddenly become a whole different ball game. And think of dragonflies as big as eagles, swooping down on us. Or perhaps don’t think about that, as it’s too terrible to contemplate.

Spiders are not insects, but if they were as big as dustbin lids, we might all be in a lot of trouble. One of those in the bath wouldn’t be easy to flush down the drain by running the hot tap. And getting trapped in their web would be the end of you, undoubtedly. And if wasps were the size of Havana Cigars, the idea of a country picnic woud never have even been invented.

Gardens would probably not exist if aphids were as big as a lemon. Try washing them away with a spray of soapy water. Not going to happen. And if bees were the size of grapefruits, forget getting anyhere near their honey.

So evolution worked out pretty well for us, didn’t it?