I am a natural with dogs. I have the calm, haughty authority of the alpha male. Look at the wolf leader – that’s me. He returns from hunting, saunters into the middle of the pack. The others squeal and squirm for his attention. He strolls past, ignoring them. He finds his place, lies down, and only then can the rest of the pack cautiously approach for an approving sniff.
That’s me. A single glance, a snap of the fingers, a sharp command, and dogs do my bidding.
I was never taught this. I suspect it’s tribal memory, a deeply embedded instinct.
Consequently I don’t go to dog school, which Mrs B enrolled in about a decade ago. She has been diligent in her attendance ever since. In fact I think she’d go even if we didn’t have dogs.
But we do. Mabel, 11, a recidivist dog hater and barker Border Terrier. Tilly, 9 months, beyond mad, incontinent, terrified of the wheel barrow, a Boxer.
Both of them accompany Mrs B to school. Largely, I think, to make sure she behaves in class. To be fair, she has made progress. She has mastered all the commands, can perform a perfect finish, and is extremely good with other dogs.
School is one thing. Putting it into practice entirely another. If I whistle, she continues to ignore me. While she will happily walk with me without a lead, and doesn’t run away, she simply cannot keep quiet. She is very clean around the house, but still thinks it’s perfectly OK to come and re-arrange my things. Obviously at her age I couldn’t insist on her sleeping downstairs. One cardinal rule I picked up from the trainer is to ignore her when I return to the house, but this doesn’t seem to be working because she still wants to have a long chat the moment I’m through the door.
As for the dogs, well, we rub along fine.
Hmmm. Well there is only one leader in this pack but it’s me. The dogs know who is boss. Christopher is resistant. I did mean to find a husband training class that I can take him to in a bid to housetrain him better and elicit a better response to commands but frankly the professional view is that after 11 years he may be untrainable. When choosing, I opted for one of good pedigree but genes don’t count for much it seems. Some say that if you take on a rescue case and don’t know much about their origin then you can just work with what you have, rather than trying to train out the inherent characteristics that husbands who regard themselves as show material can be predisposed to. So the footprints on the kitchen floor, messy eating, lounging about on furniture, lack of recall, and so on are likely to be something I just have to continue dealing with. Patiently and without complaint. Because apparently using an electric shock device (like a taser?) on your husband is actually illegal. Who knew?
But when it comes to the dogs Tuesday nights have become our regular night out. Having discovered the WONDERFUL Brian and his LoveK9 training school I am thrilled to say that Mabel, Tilly and I now are in the advanced class. This is despite the fact that Brian calls us the naughty ones. I don’t think I’m especially naughty. Mabel has her moments, and Tilly is off the scale naughty most weeks, but we’re making progress. Mabel has learned that not all dogs require barking at and plenty are actually quite friendly. Her favourite thing about dog school is the treats. She regards Tuesday nights as a trip to the all-you-can-eat-buffet. As soon as Brian or one of his lovely assistants Jean and Vicky rattles the Tupperware box with treats in it, Mabel performs like she’s on Broadway (the stage I mean, not Tooting). Secretly she’d like to be adopted by Jean, who pays her so much attention she thinks she’s teacher’s pet.
Tilly thinks dog school is youth club or speed dating (I’m not sure which) and just wants to hang out with her pals – she’s utterly without judgement (or sense) in making choices – often singling out the largest, intact male dog 8 times her size to be her new BFF. But she will sit, stay, come, down, paw pretty well for 9 month old Boxer. And as for me, I listen VERY hard to everything Brian teaches us and try hard to be relaxed (ish) and not get anxious when we let the dogs meet – but mainly I only remember to do these things when Brian says “BREATHE SARAH” and I realise I’ve been holding my breath for 4 minutes. It’s the most fun hour of the week, and the dogs are so much calmer and content for having some consistency in their routine and some rules to follow and boundaries to observe. Dog school ROCKS! If only Christopher realized how much easier life could be for him if he just gave in to my training!
I think I am close to becoming a Zen master. Mrs B – scoffs at this, but, poor thing, she’s still trapped in the here and now, a slave to the mundane practicalities of life, while I am definitely on a higher plane.
It was through the practice of yoga that I had my revelation. I have been going to yoga for eight weeks now, which is six weeks longer than I usually stick at a new enthusiasm. Like cycling. I can do the Up Cat, Doggy Position, Fighter Pose, Pyramid or Sphinx, I’m not sure which, Bendy Back, Toe Wiggle, Dead Swan, and many other positions. My teacher – or Swami as I like to call her – Victoria, is very pleased with how well I’m developing, especially my extraordinary ability in the relaxation area.
I should have known, of course, that I was a natural, because relaxation has always come easily to me. What I didn’t realise before was that my capacity for sitting still and doing nothing was actually my innate transcendence. I suspect with a bit of practice I will be able to do astral travel and levitation. I think this is why I can’t always do the crossword unless I’ve had a long period of meditation – for which read staring at the wall – after which I come back to the clues and find that my brain has solved them all while I wasn’t looking.
This leads me to believe that I will soon be able to transport physical objects by the power of my mind alone. Very handy when chopping wood, or pouring a glass of wine. I will work on this. In my head, of course.
Christopher has been practicing yoga for eight weeks. This is close to becoming his longest ever hobby/sport. It’s almost become a habit. He’s getting a bit full of himself. In fact, it’s like he invented yoga.
I’ve been doing yoga for eight years. It ought to be the answer to my issues – stressed, can’t relax, unmindful, in the next moment not the now, in a hurry, too much to do. But in fact I often miss yoga class because I’m stressed, can’t relax…..
The ‘Negative’ committee that meets in my head tells me there’s no time for yoga. Too much to do. Then it meets again when I’ve not been and turns on me for NOT GOING TO YOGA!
Christopher, on the other hand, doesn’t have a ‘Negative’ committee in his head. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything in his head at all, least of all a given command of yoga. At least I know the positions by heart, can actually name them, have a yoga mat and some stretchy yoga pants to wear. (For the avoidance of doubt – I don’t mean I wear special knickers for yoga – they call yoga trousers, yoga PANTS – go figure?!). I’m also considerably more bendy than Christopher. He just puts on a smelly old pair of freebie-airline pyjamas, some Velcro’d (yes, Velcro’d – gimme strength!) trainers, a T shirt with holes in, and slopes off to fall asleep the moment our fab teacher, Victoria, tells him to breathe deeply.
Victoria has noted (for which read – finds it incredibly funny) that Christopher and I are polar opposites in almost everything, including yoga. Her challenge is to get me to relax for five minutes, and to get Christopher to stay awake. She even has to limit his lying down time to avoid complete unconsciousness.
We’ve considered going together to see if we can learn from each other. But I think his snoring would drive me nuts, and my hyper-activity would do the same for him. But maybe that’s the point – we both think our way of doing things is best (it really isn’t) but yoga is good for both of us for different reasons. Somewhere in the middle between comatose (him) and wired (me).
Our favourite dinnertime chat is to frame our own ridiculousness through the eyes of a potential TV format. We’ve decided the two hit shows of the season would be – ‘Extreme Relaxation with Christopher Broadbent’ – slow TV for laid back, bone idle people with minds that meander like the Orinoco. And ‘Extreme To-Do Lists with Sarah Broadbent’ – for all the (much more productive) uptight, completer finishers among us. There’d be yoga at the end of each episode. Now that Bake Off is splitting in two, who knows – maybe this is our big opportunity.
A Georgian sand shaker, a cast iron model 24lb artillery piece, a rather rude statue of Greek men wrestling, a 1980s brick shaped mobile phone, a WW2 officers’ compass, a metal AA badge, a (full) tin of corned beef from 1935….these, and other relics, are my life. On a shelf. To which more than six decades of memories have been relegated by the Curator of the House – Mrs B. She has called it ‘The Museum of Crap.’
Once, my treasured possessions were scattered everywhere. People would come across a curious conical piece of metal and say things like ‘Ooh, this is interesting. What is it?’. ‘Ah-ha’ I would answer. ‘That fits inside the barrel of a 12 bore shotgun and reduces it to a 40 bore, thus taking really small shotgun cartridges for shooting at really small things. Not many of them about.’
Or ‘what is this odd thing like an inverted allen key on a wooden handle?’ ‘That’, I could inform them with confidence, ‘is a tuning key for a zither. Not many of them around either.’
People were often entranced by my collection of stuff, planted seemingly at random in corners, on shelves, tables, in the loo, anywhere in fact where guests might gaze. To them it was like walking into a living tableau of QI. At any moment they might stumble on something for the first time in their lives and wonder what it might be. To me this was the essence of engagement – conversation opener, instruction, satisfying curiosity. As well as being a 3D history of my life.
The Curator took a different view. ‘Everywhere I look there’s crap’ she said sternly. ‘I trip over it at every turn; it gathers dust; it clogs the place up; the whole house is like some mad storage facility for an obsessive hoarder. It won’t be long before I have to tunnel through piles of newspapers to find you. Mind you, when that happens, I won’t bother. I’ll just set light to it.’
I have been unable to explain the joy it gave so many people, and the comfort it brought me as I roamed happily past a wooden horse with a broken leg, a pair of pewter mugs, a small collection of wartime cap badges, a lovely little pile of stones in a wooden bowl, a sign from a German train saying ‘Essen wie Gott in Deutschland’, and more. Like the warehouse for the Victoria and Albert Museum only in miniature.
The Curator is a hard hearted woman. I think objects have no meaning for her. And so my life in objects sits dejected on half a shelf above my desk.
Mr B is quite wrong. I hold many objects dear to me. They have sentimental value, tell a story, evoke a memory, transport me to another place in time, or recall a feeling or a person I hold dear. I have, for example my prized Blue Peter badge, earned as a runner up in a TV competition in 1977, it lives in a small box of pins and badges collected over the years. I also have Penny Panda, my very first teddy now missing one eye, and threadbare – she lives on a shelf with five other small soft toys from my childhood. I have 30 years’ worth of programmes from intoxicating nights at the theatre – my great passion, they are all stored in one fabulous vintage tin box. Do you see a pattern here? My items are curated. They are together in collections. They are ordered. What I don’t do is random. The problem I have with the Museum of Crap is that it is utterly random.
The Museum of Crap currently offers tours at a fiver a pop (see photo). This is extortionate. There isn’t so much as an ice cream included in the price, or even a glass of Prosecco, and frankly I’d need a whole bottle if I were to make it through the guided notes for the 53 items currently on display.
So let’s treat my visit as hypothetical – if I were to fork out for the Museum of Crap, I would want some order to my tour, to undergo an enriching sensory experience by appreciating the objects lovingly hoarded by my husband in a way that is meaningful. But that wouldn’t happen. There is no order to his stuff. There is no order to his stuff, because there is no order to his brain. There, I’ve said it. His brain is very good; exceptional even. It’s just lacking order. And so is the Museum of Crap.
It’s true that people are often ‘entranced’ by Christopher’s collection of stuff but they are usually aged 6 and a random pile of tut is the stuff of wonder. Six year olds generally think Christopher is beyond wonderful. It’s a niche market for a museum though. It’s still quite a lot of a pocket money for a small person of primary school age to save up for, and unless Christopher decides to include a bag of Monster Munch and a carton of Ribena on the tour I’m not sure he’ll meet his sales targets. We don’t have coachloads of tourists queuing in the lane for a chance to take photos of the vintage tin of corned beef alongside the small statuette of naked Greek men wrestling and the painted wooden horse which only has three legs (and the fourth leg is propped up next to it).
What this collection can be described as is a Channel Five documentary waiting to happen – ‘The Men Who Collect Random Tut and The Wives Who Dust It’.
There has been a Boxer shaped hole in our lives for just over a year, when we lost the love of our lives, Dottie. There’ll never be another Dottie, but a couple of weeks ago, Tilly arrived, and we have another Boxer in our lives. And indeed in Mabel’s life, which has taken her by surprise.
Tilly is skinny, wiggly, chewy, and as bonkers as only a Boxer can be, with a face like a gremlin, and paws like a lion. Sarah has been in training for a year now, with the amazing Brian at LoveK9 ). The consequence of this is that her dog owner, Mabel, has been able to instruct Sarah on the best way to accustom herself to a new dog in the house. And the training has paid off brilliantly. Mabel explained patiently to Sarah that it would take a lot of work to get Tilly properly trained up, but she needed to start by not allowing Tilly to become a bedroom dog. This is in Mabel’s best interests of course, because Mabel is a bedroom dog. The second most important thing Mabel instructed Sarah on was the need for plenty of training treats, especially for Mabel, so she could show Tilly what they were for and how to eat them. This has worked extremely well, and Mabel will be going on a diet shortly.
The other important thing, Mabel says, is that Tilly does exactly what she tells her to do. If Tilly doesn’t do what Mabel wants, Mabel gives her a very thorough face wash. Tilly isn’t very good at doing what Mabel wants her to do. So Tilly has a very clean face at all times.
Mabel says that so far as us humans are concerned, our main job is to ensure plenty of the right kind of food, ample cuddles, lots of treats, several walks a day, tummy rubs, and a lot of praise. After that, we can turn our attention to the puppy. But not too much attention.
Tonka is not impressed. But then it’s very hard to impress a tortoise.
I’ve not updated you on Tonka for a while. Tonka, for those of you who don’t know, is the immigrant Greek Marginated tortoise who, we suspect, travelled all the way from his homeland after the devastating tortoise wars of 1965, made it over the channel by hiding in someone’s suitcase, then landed up in our garden. Anyway – he’s been up and about for some time now this year but he had an extra long hibernation over winter.
About four months. This is because had we taken him out of his fridge earlier he would have had to live in the building site that was our kitchen. And we didn’t want to stir old and traumatic memories. So we woke him when the kitchen was completed.
It took him about a week to wake up. Sarah, smart as usual, compared that with me. I was, of course, worried throughout this week, as I always am when he emerges from hibernation. Will he eat/drink/wee/poo/be able to see/recognise me? In the event he did all six eventually although I still suspect that ‘recognise’ is more to do with knowing that my fingers represent food, and my foot represents the enemy. So he bites my finger sufficiently hard to draw blood, and head butts my foot.
It also seemed that his beak had grown considerably while he was asleep. Sarah pointed out that our fingernails and hair grow while we’re asleep so why shouldn’t his? (Nails, not hair. He hasn’t got any hair). I countered – cleverly I thought – that hibernation was not the same as sleep. His entire system shuts down to almost dead. So nothing would grow, surely. Sarah hit back immediately by pointing out that his beak was definitely longer and in any case it needed filing.
This is not a job for the faint hearted. However – and I am loathe to admit this – Sarah invented a brilliant way of doing it without holding him upside down, pulling his neck or anything else distressing for a tortoise. She feeds him using the emery board as a spoon. Tricky, but it works gradually. He pulls food and rounded end of emery board into his mouth, clamps it shut and then gets his beak filed as the board is withdrawn. I think we might put this up on a veterinary on-line advice notice board.
However, I then nearly killed him by trying to feed him with some new mixture purporting to be the perfect tortoise food. Pellets made of flowers and seeds and so on. The label said ‘do not over-water’ and ideally ‘feed dry’. These are quite big pellets. Tonka has been hand fed a slightly mushy mixture along with dandelions, which is all he will eat. Anyway, I put one of these dampened but not dissolved pellets in with the rest and he started to choke! I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen a tortoise choke. It’s very alarming. His mouth opens and shuts wide, his tongue sticks right out, he makes a sort of gagging gesture, and rubs his leg on the side of his head. Sarah said he wasn’t choking as he was still breathing he just had food stuck in his throat which was entirely different – but for dramatic effect can you please go with me on this one – I thought he was CHOKING.
I was completely paralysed with horror. I rubbed water on his mouth. He was still alive and gagging less so I wondered if whatever it was had been swallowed. I tried a tiny bit of soft mushy food. Same result – gag, rub, gasp, tongue. I started to research vets who specialize in tortoises, wondering if it was at all possible to anaesthetize a tortoise, cut open his throat, remove a piece of stuck food, sew him up again, and hope he’d still be alive.
I tried to make him drink, but to no avail. Eventually Sarah gave him a bath and for some reason, which still makes me cross, he stuck his head under water and had a long drink. Which seemed to do the trick.
The long and the short of this is, if you have a tortoise with an overgrown beak, and who then starts to choke to death, don’t ask me. Get Sarah along.