3 July 2010

Woman about the house

Off on holidays on Monday, the annual pilgrimage to central France. I don't deny I love the place and France as a whole, but it's been the sort of year where I don't feel like I've either earned or deserved a holiday. But it's not something I'm going to pass up on, obviously.

Usually the dogs go to kennels and a friend or neighbour is on cat duty. This year the dogs are indeed going to their own luxury holiday camp but instead of a daily visitor for feline food, litter and stroking tasks, a friend of the NB is going to house sit.

Someone is going to be in my house for ten days.

Hmmm.

Obviously it's fine. She's a trustworthy sort and everything. But, well, it does feel kind of odd. Would it feel odd to you? For all the security worries anyone has when leaving their home empty while on holiday, the prospect of somebody actually being there still leaves an awkward taste in the mouth.

I haven't got kids, but I imagine that it's a similar feeling when you hire a babysitter or a nanny for the first time so you can go back to work (or head to the pub). It's that first moment of trust, where you look into someone's eyes and, without using the actual words, say: "I am essentially putting the single most important and precious thing in my life into your hands. I hope you understand just how reliant I am on you." Well, in the absence of kids, the house is top of this list for me. But when she comes round on Monday all I'll do is say: "Have fun, there's extra cat food in the garage and the window cleaner will want his money on Wednesday. And don't go through my underpants drawer."*

Back about ten days afterwards then, hopefully with a hodgepodge of photographs akin to the ones that some members of blogland surprisingly really liked last year.

*Of course I won't really say that.

1 July 2010

Alan and Stan

Let me quickly tell you first that Bentley is fine, and thank you to the fair few who have asked. He's a bit gummy and he has to take antibiotics and painkillers, but he's in very good spirits. He barked at a West Highland terrier last night, which in view of the grief these awful little dogs have given him and the other Bassets over the years, is to be applauded, frankly.

Yesterday was Alan's funeral. I knotted up my black tie and headed back to Huddersfield for the service at the town's crematorium. Alan wasn't a religious chap and so his partner and daughters had opted for a humanist service. This was fine, except the man delivering the life story of Alan was very young, very nervous, and didn't seem to have the charisma to do Alan's remarkable 82 years justice. Getting a couple of crucial facts wrong didn't help either, especially in a room full of reporters.

He was good when doing the reflective stuff and delivering appropriate poetry, however, and I smiled when we all trudged past Alan's coffin to the sound of Take It Easy by the Eagles. A man born in 1927 shouldn't necessarily have been in the target audience of even the peak-era Eagles, but Alan was. He went to see them in concert in Huddersfield in the 1990s when I worked for him. The 22 year old me persuaded him to listen to REM as a consequence and lent him Automatic For The People, which he enjoyed, going to their concert at the stadium the following year.

We then headed to Outlane Golf Club for the wake. Anyone who has driven over the Pennines on the westbound M62 in clear conditions will see this place on the huge banks of green and pleasant Yorkshire land as they depart the fragrant side of the north and head towards the border with the other side. Alan was a longtime member and there was money behind the bar for all the mourners, a gesture typical of Alan and those around him, though who was directly responsible I don't know. Alan's sparring partner in business for 42 years and friend for 56, Stan, then delivered a terrific monologue of memories of their time together, during which time he mentioned every young trainee hack who had felt the benefit of their extensive knowledge of the industry. That included me.

What was notable was that Stan was treated by the guests as an equal to Alan's family in that when they offered sympathies or said their farewells, either at the service or the wake, they would go and see Stan as well as Alan's partner and daughters. That is the power of a working relationship that succeeds. Stan wasn't family, but knew Alan for longer than literally anyone else in the room. He was brilliant yesterday, absolutely brilliant, and many told him so. He was, of course, most modest in his response.

When I worked for them they never gave the impression of being absolute bosom buddies, but good partners and exceptional journalists who held immeasurable respect for each other. In many ways, they were very different but their principles and generational closeness made them identical. Alan could drink any individual under any table whereas Stan's limit was half a bitter before he preferred to have a hearty meal. They fought like cat and dog but, as Stan said, rarely about how to write something; usually it was about daft things of little consequence that had me, and no doubt my predecessors as the wide-eyed apprentice in the corner, in fits of laughter. Once the row was done, it was forgotten and they'd both be in the pub by lunchtime, regaling us with life-enhancing anecdotes.

With Alan's passing, a little bit of how a lot of good, gifted people have turned out in life has gone, not least in Stan. But such was their human goodness as a partnership and as individuals, Alan's own qualities live on in Stan, and hopefully in every one of us lucky enough to work for these amazing men.

After the funeral, I got changed and went to work in Stockport, where I'm on drivetime shifts. On the way home I rang Stan to say well done. I just meant for the way he held himself together and played host on the day, but I suppose in reality I meant it for everything he and his late pal have ever done.

The collections after the service were for Kirkwood Hospice in Huddersfield and Yorkshire Kidney Research. I wouldn't dream of asking people who didn't know Alan to make a contribution, but perhaps you could visit their websites. Thanks.

29 June 2010

Dentally Bentley


My eldest boy Basset, Bentley, is under the knife today. He has had a lifetime of dental problems which have directly affected his weight, despite having an appetite that would put Vanessa Feltz to shame.

Hopefully today, those problems will end, but via an extreme course of action - the vet is going to try to remove all of his remaining teeth.

He has had loads out already but the abscesses keep returning. These are infected and every spot of nourishment his diet gives him is fighting the infection, leaving him susceptible to weight loss. Given that he is the longest Basset I've ever seen, it makes him look unfed and bordering on emaciated. And people notice this.

Bentley is as dim and as wussy a dog as I've ever met in my life. It took weeks to teach him to use a dog door when we first got one. He is frightened of the flapping noise it makes to this day. He is frightened of the cats, who are well aware of this and use it to their advantage on the rare occasions the two factions find themselves together. He is often thrown out by the others when it is raining, and he stands outside, getting soaked, woofing his request to return.

And his dimness has led to him the vets a few times, most notably when he decided that eating stones would be a good idea. Bentley's view in his youth was that if it was pickupable and small enough to swallow, then down it would go. He had to be cut open and what seemed like a whole beachful of pebbles were removed. Fortunately, he seems to have got out of that particular habit.

Since Penny's demise, Bentley has come into his own a bit more and, despite his general cowardliness, he is never afraid to fight back when Boris, our youngest and most boisterous Basset, chooses to have a pop at him. Bentley is eight and a half now and, for a dog of his size and breed, an anaesthetic represents slightly more risk. But he needs his teeth sorting once and for all, and this may involve having to break his jaw in order to get at them. Bless him.

Unfortunately, pet insurance doesn't cover dental treatment and therefore we're paying through the nose - or through the mouth, if you prefer - for the removal of Bentley's remaining rotten molars. However, to have my big boy Basset free of infection, even for him to endure a diet of soaked biscuits and rice pudding, will be very much worth it.