Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Order of St Bugs

Val and I had taken the plunge and bought our holiday home in Spain and we looked forward to using it. But there was a problem: what to do with my mother who lived with us? She had no desire to come to Spain with us and to be blunt we could do with the occasional break. Finding a suitable respite home was the answer.

For months we traipsed around endless homes with mother in tow. Either homes resembled Bates Mansion in Psycho or the residents looked cowed or spaced out on drugs. Usually the owner’s high end Mercedes or BMW was parked out the front, flagging up the home’s ethos; profits. Each smelt of money and the faint odour of urine. As we despondently toured each grim establishment we realised that there was no way we could abandon my mother at any of these places and swan off to Spain for a couple of carefree weeks.

One sunny day, just by chance, I drove past the solution to our problem. Out of the side of my eye I saw a large sign reading Catholic Respite Home for the Elderly and Infirm. The home that the sign referred to sat in pleasant grounds surrounded by lush lawns and leafy trees. It looked too good to be true.

St BuggsAs I drove up the winding gravel drive I debated whether or not to conceal that fact that my mother was not a Catholic, was in fact Church of Scotland, the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps if I explained that she had slight dementia then her religious affiliation would not be questioned, but although I might have considered her bonkers from time to time I couldn’t rely on her to keep schtum. I entered the dark panelled hallway and, as instructed by a sign, rang a bell and waited. At least it didn’t smell of piss.


Footsteps approached and the door swung open to reveal a nun. Disconcertingly, she had the most prominent buck teeth I had ever seen. Unkindly, a vision of Thumper passed through my mind. I looked down expecting a pair of rabbit feet to be protruding from under her habit. The nun returned my greeting with a nod of her head.

“Well now, what can I be doing for you, my son?” She enquired in a soft Irish accent.

I felt like James Stewart with Harvey, his imaginary rabbit as I listened attentively to Sister Agnes giving me the run down on the home. “Well now, no, your mother being of the Protestant faith would be no problem at all, at all,” She reassured me when I confessed to my mother’s religious leanings. “She’ll be very welcome, so she will.” Not so welcome, I thought if Sister Agnes knew about my mother’s appetite for steamy novels. That may have been a revelation too far, especially when I had my foot in the door.

As she thumbed through the diary checking dates, her colleagues passed through the reception bearing trays and bedpans. Each was introduced by Sister Agnes; Sister Bernadette, Sister Maria and Sister Matilda. Each sported the buck teeth. For a brief moment I wondered if I had unwittingly stumbled on a Bugs Bunny convention.

I drove home wondering if somewhere in Ireland a village existed where a rogue gene was producing girls with buck teeth and for whom a special religious order had been created.

Midwife to husband. “It’s a grand wee girl you have, so it is.”

Husband. “Tell me, does she have the teeth?”

Midwife. “Aye, she has the teeth, so she does.”

Husband. “I’ll let the sisters know, so I will.”

The nuns, despite their prominent incisors, were wonderful and kind carers. Sadly, like my mother, the home is long gone but she enjoyed her time at the home and looked on her visits as holidays.

How much is that doggie……

After the grief of losing Millie, the trauma of holding her as the vet put her to sleep, we had the discussion through the tears. The sensible, realistic discussion. Getting another dog would be stupid.

Monday afternoon:

“We won’t get another dog,” said Val, “we’re too old for all that hassle, house training a puppy, walking a dog in the rain.”

“I agree,” I said, agreeing. “And there’s the cost, don’t forget the cost! The vet bills, the food.” My Scottish accent becoming more pronounced and parsimonious.

“Also, a dog would tie us down,” added Val, “we’d have to put a dog in kennels when we go to visit Graham in Majorca.”

“No, you’re right wouldn’t be sensible.”

We sit quietly contemplating our dog less lives.

Tuesday morning:

“I want you to look at this.” Val sitting at the laptop.

“What is it?”

“A dog, a puppy.”

“But we agreed, we decided it wouldn’t be sensible….God, what a beautiful dog!”

“It’s a Cockalier”

“A what?”

“It’s half Cocker Spaniel and half Cavalier,” said Val, “It’s cute”

“Hmm, if someone says a dog is cute to me I’ve got the wrong dog on the other end of the leash”

“Grow up!”


“Let’s go and see it.”



Tuesday evening:

We’re waiting in a drab KFC restaurant on the outskirts of a drab West Yorkshire town, the agreed rendezvous with the breeder. The plan is to follow him home and see the puppy and it’s home and parents, just to make sure it’s not a cross between a Pit Bull Terrier and a Cocker Spaniel. A Cockpit not a Cockalier.

Poppy cartoon“Says here, you should see the puppy’s parents,” me, on my iPad looking at an internet page with a list of must do’s and dire don’ts. “It says you must see the mother to get an idea of the size and temperament of the dog you’re buying. We mustn’t accept the first dog shown to you……….” I read on through the list and grim consequences of ignoring the list. As we sip our drab coffees and digest the dog buying guidelines a mud spattered Land Rover lurches into the car park trailing a billowing cloud of exhaust fumes. The breeder had arrived.

He was late, held up on the motorway he said. He had been travelling from Leeds.

“Y’reet, lad.” Lad? I must have thirty years on him.

“I’m fine, thank you. And you?” I feel like Prince Charles on a visit to a drab West Yorkshire town.

“A’m reet grand,m’sen!”

“Shall we follow you home?”

“No need lad, t’dog’s in t’car wi t’kids.”

The children in the back seat dutifully but reluctantly pass the puppy through the window to Val. The deal is done. Irrevocably done. Not only has the puppy gone through the window; so too has the long list of do’s and don’ts. There is no more chance of separating Val from this cute puppy than me swimming the Channel.

I pass the money over and receive in exchange a scrap of paper. I hopefully think it is a receipt but it is only the name of the food the new member of our family has been eating.

The Land Rover coughs into life in a cloud of blue smoke and we weakly wave goodbye to the Breeder and possibly, I thought, our money. As the cloud dispersed our puppy, snug in Val’s arms, gave a very small sneeze, confirming at least, that she was alive.

Wednesday morning

We are at the walk in surgery at the local vet hoping that we have bought a dog and not a turkey. To our immense relief the vet doesn’t ask any embarrassing questions about how we acquired our puppy. He just gives her a thorough check, declares her fit and gives her first injection, which, as it is straight from the fridge makes her squeal. Not as much as she will squeal a week later when she receives a double whammy; the second injection and the identity chip.

This morning (five weeks later)

Poppy windowPoppy who has the teeth of an alligator, wakes me at five o’clock (we go to bed at nine o’clock to compensate) by gently chewing my ear. I have trained her not to bite lumps out of me by gently nipping her ears with my teeth. Before she gets too frisky I take her downstairs and into the garden. Today the sun is shining and this chore doesn’t require a coat and an umbrella. While I stand listening to the birdsong, competing with the holiday jets taking off at the nearby airport, Poppy does her ‘business’, then I give her breakfast. If we are lucky she will go back to sleep but today she is hyper, so I give up on trying to sleep, get myself dressed and after a brawl on the kitchen floor trying to dress her in her new harness we set out for the park.

I am a dog tired but happy dog owner.




The staff of life

Sometimes you just have to laugh at politicians. Their lives are paved with banana skins. With John Major it was his “Back to Basics”, then Gordon Brown spoke of having a “Moral Compass” and now Ed Miliband has slipped on his very own banana skin, his key policy and mantra, the “Cost of living crisis”. Major’s extra-marital dalliance with Edwina Curry took the shine off his Family Values policy. Brown memorably slipped up by calling a Labour voter, Mrs Duffy, a “bigoted woman”, having minutes before shaken her hand, smiled and complemented her by saying “I can tell you’re a good woman”. Funnily enough Mrs Duffy was on her way to buy a loaf of bread when she bumped into Mr Brown.

Coincidently it is a loaf of bread that caused Ed Miliband embarrassment. When asked in a recent interview what he thought the weekly shop for a family of four cost he said it was about £70, then when quizzed about the cost of a loaf of bread he had no idea. Once asked a similar question Boris Johnson once replied something on the lines of “buggered if I know!” which is the sort of thing I’d say. But if your specialist subject is the cost of living crisis you really should know this sort of stuff. Surprise, surprise, the Daily Mail, as they do, then checked out how much the Miliband family actually paid for bread. The answer: £2.25 for a loaf at his local Delicatessen.

Bread pictureI was pondering on all this as I pushed our trolley around the local Aldi store (our solution to the cost of living crisis) and had a great idea for the opening scene for a Labour Party political broadcast. It goes like this: Ed sits at his kitchen table and on his right is the Deli £2.25 loaf and to his left an Aldi 57p loaf and he says “I like this one,” points to the Deli loaf then pointing to the Aldi loaf says “But I also like this one.”

Of course the film crew would have to bring the Aldi loaf with them as I shouldn’t think there is much call for an Aldi store in the Miliband’s neighbourhood.


Relatively embarrassing

I’m sure my family are not alone, not unique, in having an embarrassing moment in a public place involving someone very young or very old. This blog story recounts two such incidents that brought great embarrassment to my family.




My nephew, Mark, aged about 10 years old, embarrassed his parents at a family gathering and silenced the restaurant. Taking advantage of a lull in the adult conversation he announced “The other day I saw mum and dad wrestling”. Then with the timing of a seasoned comic he paused. My mother, unaware that her eldest son, my brother, had an interest in the sport, smiled indulgently. My father, certain his eldest son didn’t know a half nelson from a crotch lift narrowed his eyes. “They were in bed” he added mischievously. Another hiatus, then, sure that he had the full attention of his pink faced parents, his grandparents, other assorted relatives and the diners at nearby tables Mark delivered the coup de grace; “and they were naked!” Many years later my mother, then almost 80, in a second childhood and mildly unhinged, embarrassed me in a restaurant.

Mum with pigeonsSoon after the death of my father we had moved my mother from Scotland to Holmewood a sheltered retirement home near to us in Leeds. One Sunday we took her out for lunch to The Mansion, an extinct country house, at the time a restaurant with pretensions of fine dining.

“Do you remember Doctor Sommerville?” enquired my mother in her loud Scottish accent.

A memory of Doctor Sommerville swam into my mind, sitting on the edge of my bed crying, my father consoling him. I was 9 years old ill with bronchitis and he had called one morning straight from attending a car crash with two fatalities, two local brothers.

“Yes, mum, I remember Doctor Sommerville.” I said, confused, blindsided.

“You know?”

“Know what mum?”

“When you were a child”

“When I was a child, what?”

“What he said about you”

The chit chat and the chink of cutlery was suspended. Everyone within twenty yards wanted to know what Doctor Sommerville had revealed about me.

“He said you had very large bowels”

The lady at the next table quietly choked. Further afield there was a muffled sniggers and suppressed guffaws.

I frantically racked my mind for a change of topic. “How are you settling in at Holmewood mum?” I asked confident that I was skating on thicker ice.

“It’s a grand place” she said, “there’s a nice library. It’s in the conservatory.”

“That’s good.” My mother enjoyed reading. I tentatively skated further out onto the ice.  “Any interesting books?” I asked.

“The book I’m reading is about two women.”


“They’re lesbians.” She smiled, menacingly “And you know?”

My world tilted. The restaurant again stilled. The refined lady at the next table spasmed, choking violently, her face the colour of the wine, slowly spreading on the table cloth as the astonished waiter missed her glass. The maître d was staring across the room, possibly considering asking us to leave but more probably trying to recall the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

“Know what, mum?” I asked recklessly in the silence.

“They were licking each other’s prrrivate parrrrts!” Her clearly enunciated Scottish ‘r’s rolling across the restaurant.

“The bill please!”