Thursday 16 November 2023

Change of scene - Substack

Hello Reader,

I have moved all of my writing and content over to Substack.

Please find my current writing over here from now on:

ROLO's roots

The original Lakeland Terrier was bred in the Lake District. They were bred to fight the giant Westmoreland Fox, which was the greatest threat to farmers’ chickens and livestock, particularly the lambs. The Lakie should have a narrow chest about the same width as its head, so it can scoot down burrows to grab the fox cubs. Proudly displaying its bottom sticking out of the ground ready for a farmer to pull him out by his tail, ‘Good boy’.

A Lakeland Terrier’s coat must be warm and waterproof, full of curls and strong wiry hair. Imagine a coat that let in the whipping wind and rain off the fells, it would be a death sentence for a working dog in the north of England. The breed also had to have game – that’s spirit to attack even when they’re of a smaller size than their prey treading that fine line between courage and stupidity.

ROLO is part Lakeland Terrier and part Patterdale Terrier. Both breeds originate from the region we went to on a family holiday around the astonishingly beautiful Lake Windermere. I had no idea England had lakes and mountains like these, it made me feel like I could have been in Canada or Switzerland (both places which I have also never visited).

On the first day where there was no rain and low sun ROLO pondered the Lakes. She sniffed the air and rushed through the damp undergrowth of lush ferns, chasing scents and running wild. She had returned to her roots. However, her paw hurt. That night while she was conked out on the dog bed, I removed a tiny stone from her paw leaving a hole.

The next day the forecast looked clear, but we encountered strong winds as we climbed a moor then scrabbled down a fell into woodland. ROLO’s paws were constantly cold and wet from the mud and hard granite. The sheer number of puddles ROLO had to jump over to avoid getting drenched grazed more skin off her paws. At night I cleaned the wound with saline solution while she and her compatriot, Mac the Bedlington Terrier Whippet Cross, snoozed in front of the fire. 

The next day we ventured into Grizedale, which in Old Norse means Wild Boar Valley, where it rained pretty much all day. I had forgotten my canine’s coat, so ROLO progressively became sodden and shivery; unlike her ancestors her fur was not wiry enough. On another walk the loose jagged rocks underfoot had got too much for her and she had to be carried. At one point I looked round and found her sat with eyes half-closed looking very wet and zen sheltering beneath a small bush.

Don’t get me wrong, at times ROLO looked majestic on the moors. Standing tall in the land of her working dog cousins. Remember, the Lakeland Terrier was bred to hunt the legendary Westmoreland Fox, which is now extinct thanks to her bloodline. But, as ROLO found out on the walking holiday, it forever rains in the Lakes and she is a dog that likes to stay dry.

In London she is a pub dog, who sits on people’s laps while they quaff beer and discuss politics. She rides on public transport, gazing out of the top deck window of a bus while it careens around the busy streets of the metropolis. ROLO has a dog bed in every house and workplace she visits, which are all well-insulated establishments that hold the possibility of treats. 

And ROLO realised that the city creature comforts she had grown so accustomed to like the sniffing of the butts on the common; the organic dog chews; her Summer and Winter dog wardrobe had led her life to be removed from that of her ancestors. And she felt pleasantly surprised that she was in fact a different dog to what she had been bred for, and she liked her life just the way it was, which made her tail wag.

Lakeland terrier history sources:

Friday 6 October 2023

I managed to sharpen the knives

My dog and I have been ill like “baton touch” as the Japanese would say, which means, as if we were running a relay race and passing on the baton of illness to one another. 

First it was my dog’s ears, I believe. They became infected after she scratched them to bits, possibly because she had an allergic reaction brought on by the summer’s heat. Ah – the summer. 

Yet even though it’s October the warm sunny days seem to be here to stay. Nothing wrong with that, apart from when I was ill and bed bound, I was forced to watch the beautiful blue sky days pass by through my windows. 

In the garden I felt the warm summer breeze caress my dry skin, my tan already faded to old terracotta. In the bathroom I squirted aloe vera gel onto my arms and legs and wondered when did summer happen, exactly?

When I talk with my Obaachan in Japan the summer has definitely been happening. Too much, too hot – unbearable. 

People ask me how is your grandmother doing? I tell them, well, she’s doing well but she’s almost ninety and we’re going back to Japan to see her for her 90th birthday. Then I follow up with the caveat that because Japan’s summer has been so hot, so humid, she’s housebound. Everyone needs an air-conditioner to survive; she can’t get out to walk to the shops or meet her friends, so she feels weaker. Also, bored. The old people in her area are all locked up in cooled rooms, like during lockdown.

I’m getting married next year. Which is why I’m going to Japan for Obaachan’s birthday and also taking an entourage of English folk with me who are all related to my husband-to-be. There will surely be a lot of culture-shocks form both family clans. I’ll have to be the translator. The lone translator between ten people all of whom want to understand one another – I’ll not think about how difficult or fundamentally impossible this task may be until I’m on the very expensive flight to Haneda, to save my wits.

The reason I got ill is because I was trying to be good at all my jobs and it took its toll. I have my paid job then my charity job then my wedding job then my house job – all the while pulling along my little brown dog ROLO with me wherever’s dog friendly. (I also think I have an aversion to rest, or I’ve taught myself how to tolerate being too busy, whichever it is, my habits aren’t great.) No wonder the two of us get ill together.

Here's how it went: I was thinking about different people and languages, and working to a school calendar at the same time as the standard calendar, and then my dog hurt her paw, so she was a hob-along in bandages wearing dumb paw-boots; I did First Aid Training which made me afraid of everything killing everyone, specifically through catastrophic blood loss, then I gave a speech in front of an audience at a Japanese festival on an unseasonably hot day and cried in front of everyone when I mentioned my dead mother, then a girl wearing a green headscarf and pink kimono (rad combo) handed me a tissue from the crowd; I got thrush and back at home I curled up in a heap under a cheap blue velvet duvet with my dog and slept for 80 hours. 

The torrent of activities made me miss summer, during which I had this strong desire to use my whetstone I had bought a year ago to sharpen the kitchen knives. I was slicing some chilies and realised the knives were blunt – right after my First Aid Training course – and freaked out about the dangers of blunt knives, so became determined to sharpen them. 

But alas, I went to Norfolk to visit friends who have a little girl and live next to the ruin of a Norman castle. Then I went to my fiancée’s family home to help clear the garden because they’re hosting our wedding next year. I also went to Oxford to walk through ancient Wytham woods with a friend. 

The rail strikes finally put an end to my weekends away. Once the plug got pulled on my adrenaline, I got ill and then all my other inane worldly tasks were forgotten too, like updating Instagram or boiling eggs.

It then became October and half-term was being mentioned and it was still unseasonably warm. The charity has finally begun to close down, and I’ve had some rest, and I’ve even stopped drinking alcohol to give my immune system the helping-hand it was crying out for.

I’ve spoken to my Obaachan, and she says it’s finally started to cool down in Japan as well. She tells me she is able to go outside again; she is so grateful for Autumn. 

I have noticed the immense number of spiders living in and around my house. Munching flies and leaving their corpses dangling by threads like mobiles from my ceiling. They’re fattening themselves up and I say go ahead, just please don’t be poisonous. ROLO ate some poisonous red berries from a yew tree, and I had to go to an emergency vet to get her stomach pumped. I wish she had more canine street-smarts, but in good news, I am no longer ill.

Today I have turned a momentous corner in my life. I managed to sharpen the knives. I know that the seasons are turning, and I’m pleased with the way things are going. Even though, when I look at my garden the tulip bulbs I planted three days ago have been unearthed by some squirrel (or my dog), I know I’ll live to fight another day.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Bittersweet end of a festival

It’s sad when it comes to the end of a festival. Snoozing on the bus home feeling tired but relaxed and happy. The worries of the world trickle back into my mushy-pea brain as we re-enter the city. 

‘You love this city, and this is your home’, I tell myself, but I can’t help noticing the haggard stressed people who jostle about in the public transport system like flies trapped in a jar. The festival atmosphere was all carefree and fun-loving, wild. 

A woman I didn’t know with a lovely Welsh accent told me over a beer that the end of a festival is bittersweet because she knows it can’t go on forever. ‘Here, everyone’s got glitter on their face and it’s our own little world. When you get back home you see all these people in suits looking serious and you realise God that’s what the real world’s like. Bit of a shock to the system.’

On my way back I see a woman giving grief to a lone TfL worker about delayed trains. ‘It took me over an hour to get here and it was supposed to take 20 minutes. What’s the use of spending millions on this new line if it doesn’t work?’ The staff shakes his head in an ‘I’m not getting into an argument over this’, sort of way and lopes back into the office leaving the woman fuming on the platform. 

I look up at the sign and it reads Next train in 4 mins. At a festival 4 minutes is nothing. You wouldn’t be able to get to the toilet in 4 mins. You might head over to a big tent where the next band you want to hear is playing in about 20 minutes and kill time waiting for their set drinking a beer with your mates. 

Time is wide-open at a festival. 

It took me about 30 hours to accept this fate and embrace it.

Because in the first 30 hours of a festival you have to deal with relieving yourself over a toilet seat suspended over an eco-compost bog, which uses sawdust to cover everyone’s excrement. It stinks. It’s terrifying in the dark when you’re drunk because you worry about falling in or vomiting. I overheard a child in the cubicle next to mine whining to her designated adult, ‘OK. Don’t look down!’ like she was at the precipice of a rollercoaster. 

You soon get used to decanting alcoholic beverages into small plastic bottles which you carry on your persons at all times so that you can have a tipple whenever you want. By the end I was gladly supping shaken-up red wine from a PET bottle because it saved me queuing and spending money at the bar. Although the selection of ales at Green Man were next to none.

You’ve got to get on board with the fact that there’s no bed at the end of the day – only a roll mat in a tent – the thin sides of which shake you awake under fierce winds or make you sweat when the sun comes out because you’re sleeping inside a large waterproof bag. You fetch your own water to brush your teeth in a damp field. Your food staples are bananas and cheese strings. 

All these experiences help set the bar lower than the standard of living I'm used to and as a result made me care less about everything (!) including a lack of phone signal or having any concrete plans. You simply sway to music in the lush green countryside, then scamper over to another bit of a field to watch more musicians banging out their beats, etc. 

Festivals relax you and make you focus on the fun and funny side of things – like, when I was tired and yawning, I woke myself up by falling flat in the mud. Some strangers came over to help me up and said, 'You still look amazing!' which was nice of them. Anyway, I became wide awake in time for the evening entertainment.

Being in Bannau Brycheiniog listening to live music with friends was the best feeling ever. What more could I really want? There was delicious beer on tap and the food was surprisingly good like shakshuka, triple fried chips, Goan fish curries, and so on. 

I spoke to strangers, or they spoke to me. 

In the morning after the torrential rain, I was on the hunt for wellies because I had only bought trainers with me, so went to the festival store to ask the people at the desk. The store worker flashed a quick grimace and shook her head, ‘No I’m afraid we don’t sell them, and I don’t think anywhere in Green Man does, sorry.’ 

A bare-chested bloke standing behind me with blonde hair flecked with mud said, ‘I’ve been doing the rounds all morning looking for a place that sells wellies. This here was my last stop. If there were somewhere that sold boots today, they’d be making a killing.’ 

We trudged back to our own tents accepting our fate of trench foot, but the weather was so much better than yesterday – also the sun had come out –  and today’s line-up was the best one yet, so I wasn’t going to let it hamper my spirits. 

Friday 4 August 2023

Time is manifold

Do you ever have memories that surface up from the depths? 

I woke up quietly, naturally to sunlight peeking in through the blinds. I went downstairs and could tell that the world hadn’t woken up yet, no noise of traffic filtering in through my front window. In a daze I went and lay down on some cushions, then my scruffy brown dog came padding over to lie beside me. The sky was a perfect pale blue. The temperature was mild like an un-buttoned shirt shrug, though I could sense outside was blustery, as if we were on the shores of a beach.

A memory of Orkney welled up from somewhere within; of when I was a child before anyone had mobile telephones. Isn’t it strange that I would remember the detail of something absent? Nowadays, on a workday, in fact every day, the moment I wake up I check my phone. It’s a source of truth for me now. Who’s been in touch while I’ve been sleeping? What’s the weather going to be like this afternoon? What’s the time right now?

Back in Orkney aged seven I would wake up on my summer holidays with no knowledge of what time it was or what was going to happen that day. I’d go into the kitchen first in case Granny was up listening to Radio Orkney, or Grancha was slicing bananas for his muesli. He always did it above his bowl working a knife in one hand like he was carving wood, no need for a chopping board. I’ve remembered on this particular day I was alone in the kitchen; the first one up. 

The light through the kitchen window was twofold, it was like a luminescent blanket thrown down from the sky which brightly shimmered off the surface of the sea. Light was mixed with water and air and that was how it filtered in through my corneas. 

I looked out and everything was so present.

Every atom of the island was alive with light and although we were in 1996 it felt timeless.

Not saying that I thought these things as a child, I wasn’t aware that the Orcadian light would infiltrate my deepest memories and spill out from my pores one day in my thirties to take me back to Burray, but it did. 

This is why time is creased – not always smooth and straight going headlong in one direction, like a fine line drawn with a metallic ruler. Time like Life is as messy as The Real World. Things can remind you of things, wires can get crossed and make like a diversion on the tracks. Our consciousness can take a wrong turning and we’ll find ourself wide awake in a long-forgotten memory today. Time is manifold. 

Saturday 15 July 2023

Sam the Squid in The Selkie

My first piece of published fiction in The Selkie ( called Sam the Squid can be read here

A surreal, dark story about a woman who is also a squid dealing with depression.

Sunday 18 June 2023

What I do when left to my own devices

I’m woken by a yelp. 

Groggy with the taste of gin and the sound of bass fading back into sleepy memory, I listen in bed hoping that it wasn’t my dog downstairs making that high-pitched whine. Yelps again. Yes, it was. My bones creak and I look at the alarm clock which says something like four in the morning. Admittedly it is dawn outside and she can sense these things. I hear the first birdsong through the crack in my window. I pad downstairs, open her crate door, thump back upstairs and go back to bed. 

My second awakening is more at my own pace but still I wish I had had more sleep. I open the fridge to find the coffee from yesterday, now chilled. I pour it into my blender with ice cubes, oat milk and Oreos and make myself a cup of coffee-Oreo milkshake. I scoop the delicious sludge into my mouth with a spoon and drink the dregs. 

I look through catalogues and newsletters which have been posted through our door. One is the local Borough’s newspaper; we’ve got a new mayor and they’re holding a sheep shearing demonstration next Saturday at the park which has a deer enclosure. I hadn’t known they kept sheep too – saying that I did spot a lone goat behind bars there. I flick through wines you can buy per bottle or in crates, browse seedlings and bulbs which could be planted in our unsuccessful flowerbed, and put tick marks next to natural dogs treats I’d like to buy. All the while listening to BBC World Service with their eclectic range of current affairs programs.

I stretch, I yawn, I scratch. Unload the dishwasher. Decide to take ROLO on a big, long walk as the weather has been too hot for those recently, also I went out last night leaving her alone for ages, so I owe her one. I put on an outfit worthy of a Pokémon trainer (cap, backpack, trainers) and head out towards Crossness. It’s about a 3-hour round walk barely crossing any roads, so it’s safe for ROLO to be let off-leash a lot of the time.

The grass is dry and patchy. The path is dusty and at points dotted with dried desiccated turds. Buddleia are growing up and up, and there are these small faint pink flowers on spiky stems which are buzzing with bees. (Later on, I’ll find out online that these bushes are probably Hawthorn trees). There are new residential buildings being built on brownfield sites and a train station is undergoing major maintenance works. Everything on the outskirts of London is having to be resized and reinforced for more people. We are at the point of perpetual growth.

The sun starts to come out and ROLO is panting. We sit on a bench. I give her a long drink of water and some dog treats while looking out across the Thames River where there’s a huge recycling centre on the other side with cranes and diggers shovelling mounds of rubbish. When we get home I give ROLO dog food and myself some homecooked Japanese curry with pickles. I sit outside in the sun and drink a tall glass of water with ice cubes in, enjoying the garden, which is pleasantly tranquil with all the bamboo swishing around.

I’m getting the fold-up chair at the bottom of the garden ready to have a doze in, when I notice there’s a dead pigeon behind it on the ground covered in flies. The pigeon is lying face down with its clawed feet sticking up in the air, looking like something had attempted to bury it and then gave up. The bird’s greyish blue feathers are open at the chest where I can see into its bloody cavity and discern a dark red heart within a gaping hole. 

I look at ROLO who is nonchalantly lying on the sunny patch of grass. I look back at the pigeon. Something killed it. It’s too bloody and torn up for it to have “passed away”. A fox may have dropped it. My dog still looks nonplussed as I go inside to fetch a plastic bag and some disposable gloves. I can’t be sure what happened but I’m about 60% certain that my pet killed this pigeon. I’m almost sick when I put the surprisingly dense carcass into the bag and drop it into our black bin outside. I immediately regret not double bagging it.

I go back inside and wash my hands thoroughly and go put on a quiet podcast through my Bluetooth headphones. I sit back in the chair at the bottom of the garden and peep out from under my cap. I can see a satisfying slice of blue sky and the yellow-green of the bamboo shoots. The sunshine isn’t strong, and I’ve got sunscreen on and a bottle of water on my lap. Listening to some people speaking about poetry I un-reluctantly drift off into a light sleep. Even though I’m not quite awake, I can still sense the pink sunlight behind my eyelids and I’m content.