I had the best phone call last week, perched up against the kitchen window as our mobile reception is so bad out here in the Wilds. Harper had her babies. Oh, our little girl, the puppy we socialised for a year has puppies of her own. Six boys and one girl. The CEO of the charity was beside herself, we laughed and called each other granny. I cried when I put the phone down. Pride, missing the sweet little chocolate lab who shared a bond with my eldest son. Because the charity have had to close their waiting list to those in real need of an assistance dog. And now there are seven. Good girl Harper, good girl.
Meet Brian. Brian is a sound engineer. Brian likes Death Metal. Brian is Vegan. Brian is the Vegan Black Metal Chef - musician, YouTube cooking sensation and author.
Brian Manowitz has done more for the street cred of veganism since Ellen came out (to veganism) and Blowfish boots and shoes forever banished the specter of pleather.
He took time out to answer some quick-fire questions for me in celebration of the release of his new cookbook, The Seitanic Spellbook. But first, let's watch him at work in the first ever episode of his cookery show from 2011.
Favourite bit of outboard gear?
Both my axe FX and Kemper.
Does the death growl hurt?
Only the first time.
No such thing. I guess Dimmu Borgir is a huge influence.
Best binding agent when not using egg?
EnerG brand egg replacer.
Vantastic in France. Enjoy Life in the States.
No such thing. That means most of what you eat sucks.
Favourite immersive creative pursuit?
Cats, dogs, both?
What’s up next?
Just moved to L.A. Gonna set up a set here. Book tour, get my music project up and running.
Finally got over my indecision and called the scrapyard rescue kitties Witchy and Boo.
And as we approach Halloween, it occurred to me how few clothes there are for our feline friends out there - or maybe, just maybe, it's because you take your life in your (rather scratched) hands when you try to dress the cat up. Or at all.
The choice is endless for the dogs - this year we're thinking of a puggy Ewok and a Creature-From-The-Deep lab.
(Am not bonkers, pinky promise.)
Twice, in all my years of being the human-slave-of-cats have I managed to dress them up. And so I give you, Santa Bram and the Archangel Monty. You may thank my poor, lacerated paws later.
Autumn has brought us a gift, not just in the guise of the leaves turning colour on the trees and the evenings drawing in, but in the shape of a new arrival. Ike, the oh-so-adorable ten week old lab puppy who will live with us to be socialised for the next year to 18 months.
It will be our third time over four-ish years to take on a puppy for Irish Dogs for the Disabled, and I think we're just about getting the hang of it. Ike is, as they say in these parts, a dote. I spent his first afternoon with him on my lap while on the sofa, cuddling (who wouldn't, do you see that face?) while Christopher Lee the pug looked on somewhat jealously before grumpily accepting a rawhide bone which he took to his crate to gnaw on in peace. Loud puggy sighs issued forth from the hallway as he mourned his status of Only Dog. He'll get used to the new puppy and help us to teach him - sit, stay, wait, take it, no, come, give us a kiss, Christopher Lee should really get a lot of the training praise.
Our house has been turned upside-down again, with the early-waking, yipping youngster. Treading in little presents while en route to get a(nother) morning cup of Earl Grey is the norm, howls from the back of the car taken as read, remote controls and cushions a thing of the past, tv guides and newspapers in shreds, cats and kittens chased into Halloween caricatures. 'Muuuum! Ike ate my Skylander!,' the youngest wails.
But then, then, you see how gentle he is, you see how his coat and eyes gleam, how he trips over his paws (he's going to be huge), how he hasn't quite gotten running down pat yet, zigging across the grass with his ears flopping.
His confusion at meeting new people, quiet at first, and a tentative wag of his tail, a sniff and curling up at the feet to settle down. The delight at being brought for a walk on the beach for the first time, shaking his paw to dislodge the grains of sand stuck between his pads, snuffling at the sea.
Things you thought you'd never hear yourself say and that people would think you were absolutely barking should they hear you, 'we do not eat cat poop out of our garden,' or 'we do not eat the wildflowers, they're for the bees,' and on it goes.
The love is immense and reciprocal.
Ike came on his first charity collection last weekend, and we met again the young girl who at the same time last year sat in her wheelchair. This time, as Ike attracted most of the attention, she stood with her stability/assistance dog, a beautiful salt-and-pepper coated labradoodle, no wheelchair in sight. It's not often you get to experience something like that, and I'll never forget the look on her face or the devotion in her dog's eyes.
All of that is well into Ike's future, for now he's a romping, rolling (in what I won't say), galumphing bundle of joy. We love you little doggie, even though we'll live without soft furnishings, remote controls, papers and enough sleep for the next while.
The lovely Harper has left us this morning to go on and be a mommy to the next generation of assistance and stability dogs for Irish Dogs for the Disabled. We're on the socialiser list again and will welcome another baby Lab - hopefully sooner rather than later. Good girl Harper, good girl.
I long to name our most recent feline arrivals something like Hecate and Endora, or Morticia and Elvira, dark, dark mistresses of the night, all things witchy and boo. But ohmygosh how do you give little kitties that fit into the palm of your hand monikers like that? These teenchy sisters have all the cute.
A new cover for Riders. Eh?
*update - has been announced that since Ms. Cooper disliked it so much, the cover will go back to the bottylicious one of old.
Every summer I re-read Jilly Cooper's novels. I know, I know, but I'll never forget my teenage self discovering the Rutshire Chronicles, read under the covers. Around the same time I was finding out the wonders of the old Hammer Horrors that used to be shown late at night, Sunday I think, on BBC2. I would sneak downstairs while the rest of the family slumbered, and feast my gaze on Christopher Lee and co. There began a life-long love affair with both Cooper and Lee.
It got me thinking about other books from the time of teen - Harold Robbins, Arthur Hailey, Sidney Sheldon and so on. I was delighted to find that they're available on Kindle now, so I gave Harold Robbins another go.
Well. I hadn't misremembered the steamy scenes, but the story held up really well. From the blurb:
Fast paced, wonderfully plotted, I'd recommend giving it a whirl - as long as you can get over all the throbbing this-es and tumescent thats. Highly enjoyable.
And in honour of my celluloid hero's 93rd birthday yesterday:
The problem with getting a shiny new blog is that you come over all like a kid on the first day of term again - at least I do - wanting to put sparkly stickers (or scratch and sniff stickers, remember them?) all over your text books. Which is exactly what I've done here, dang, or d'oh as Homer would say.
So, let's step away from the animals briefly to chat about character description in stories. Or, let's not and pretend we did, cheat, like I do. Eternal rebel, I know. It's just so flipping hard to remember to write about chocolatey brown eyes and burnished copper hair and porcelain skin kissed by a hundred sun-flecked freckles when your fingers are getting all a-tangle so keen are you to get the story down. I find an in inspiring picture helps immensely and keep one (or more) on the wall above my desk while writing.
The Scarlet Ribbon series has its very own Pinterest where you can find all sorts of images, from art to music and medicine to midwifery. And not forgetting the fabulous fashions.
The Lady Astronomer has two animals as main characters, Orion the European Eagle Owl and Leibniz the Lemur.
And for Memento Mori, I found this amazing picture online - not sure who it's by or I'd credit it.
The joy of living by the sea is that the daily walk looks a little something like this.
We also come across lots of wildlife and animals - hares, bees, birds, other buzzy things, cows, Fred the donkey and Dramatic Horse.
But of course, there's always one who isn't keen on meeting such a gorgeous young boy.
I don't make a habit of dressing up our dogs (pinky promise) but after the post on socialising I realised that I had left out how much fun it is (the socialising, though the dressing up is too). So, I present, The Dogs of Halloween - wooooo *cue spooky music*.
When our lovely old boxer gentleman left us, it took us a long time to even think of getting another dog. After all, he'd been with us for thirteen years.
Some time later, we came across the charity Irish Dogs for the Disabled, who place assistance and stability dogs they have bred and trained with disabled children and adults. We applied to become socialisers, and our first dog with the charity, Flynn, came to live with us.
The questions we get most are:
'What does a socialiser do?'
Well, the dog comes as a three month old to live with our family for a year to eighteen months. During that time, we take the dog everywhere - and I mean everywhere, as he has a special coat which allows him into places dogs usually aren't. But most of all, socialising is about love.
'But won't you be heartbroken when you have to give the dog back?'
Oh yes. The dog has been a much-loved member of the family. But he is going on to do his Very Important Work, to be trained to be part of a family where one member, often a child, really needs his help.
Flynn is now living with a little boy and his family, working as both an assistance and stability dog, helping the child to walk for the first time without aids.
Then came the lovely Harper.
Harper has been living with us for the last fourteen months, and has just aced her Hip Test (which means, more or less, that her hips are perfect). She will leave us shortly to become a brood bitch for the charity, mommy to the next generation of stability and assistance dogs.
Will there be tears? Yes, many. But let's not forget the love, and how we ended up on this particular path, the legacy of our old boxer. We are down on the socialiser list again, and will welcome with joy and a spot on the sofa another little lab into our lives.
'Would you recommend socialising?'
Absolutely. If you have a place in your life for a dog like Flynn or Harper, do get in touch with a similar charity near you.
Just before Flynn was to leave us, we finally got another forever dog, Christopher Lee the pug. I'm not sure that if we hadn't gone the socialiser route that he would have come to join our family.