Posted on March 10, 2011 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay13 Comments »


We all know that volunteering is a good thing to do, right?  But just what is the cost of volunteering?  Mrs Taleteller of Tales and Tails had a post recently on this very subject.

In her case, it was mostly about time, and it’s true, volunteering does take up time.  It’s not just the hour at the nursing home, there is time spent getting ourselves and our dogs ready, and getting there, and in my case there is a short walk after the visit before returning home, because I like to give my dog a few minutes to wind down before getting back in the car.   By the time I’ve got myself and Sid ready, driven to the appointment, spent the allotted time there, driven home, and changed and put everything away, that’s pretty much an afternoon gone.  If it’s a Meet & Greet or a street collection with the dogs, then it takes more time because we can spend anything up to four hours there, plus the getting prepared and driving time.


The other cost is financial. Believe it or not, volunteering sometimes doesn’t come cheap.  To be a PAT team, I have to subscribe to Pets As Therapy at a yearly fee of £19 which gives us both insurance cover while visiting and provides us both with photo ID, which is essential in some establishments.  They like us to wear the Pets As Therapy livery – a vest for Sid and a tee or polo shirt for me, and these are not covered by the subscription.  In addition, though some places have their own free car park, some do not. At the hospital, car parking costs £2 a time – and don’t forget the cost of petrol.  For Sid and I, it’s a twenty to twenty-five minute journey to both our placements, so that’s forty to fifty minutes of driving each time.

Talking of money, sometimes you can make a big difference without a huge layout, especially if you have skills to offer. OH and I have also donated our time, expertise and server space to provide a website for a local adoption group, Brambleberry Greyhounds, which has saved them a considerable amount of money at little cost to ourselves. It’s amazing what you can do with a little imagination!

Anyway, it’s no problem for me. I’m very happy to give my time, and fortunately, I can afford the costs.  I’m at a stage in my life where I feel it’s time to give something back to the community, and since I can’t work, volunteering is a great way to do it.  It benefits Sid too, because as a tripod, he can’t stay out very long on his walks because he gets tired.  Volunteering is a way for him to get out of the house and let him do something interesting without it being too physically demanding.


But surprising as it may seem, the dogs do get tired on therapy visits and Meet & Greets.  They seem to know that they must be on their very best behaviour, and the amount of concentration it takes to deal with all the new situations and the new often very .. um .. unusual* people they must interact with really takes it out of them.  They are ready to hit the rug when they get home, where I usually offer Sid a de-stressing chew treat for him to work out the kinks before he falls into a recuperative doze.  Renie used to quietly take hers off into another room when we returned from a therapy trip to the Deaf-Blind education unit and after demolishing her chewy thing, she’d sleep for an hour or so before reappearing fresh and ready for dinner.


Volunteering is a very rewarding thing to do, and I’m particularly happy to be able to do it with my beloved dog.  It’s nice to share him with people, some of whom are unable to relate properly to people, but will relax completely in a dog’s non-judgemental company and talk to him … and then perhaps talk to me too.  Sid and I visit a ward for severe mental health issues and a nursing home.  Renie and I used to visit two (and at one time, three) Sense establishments.

Greyhounds are perfect, quiet, peaceful dogs for those with mental health issues, whether people are disturbed through some psychological illness, or something like Alzheimer’s.  They have a soothing influence on agitated people, and the frail and elderly know that they aren’t going to jump up at them or get under their feet.


So.  Maybe there is a financial cost involved with volunteering, and maybe it takes more time out of your day than you might expect, but there is an awful lot to be gained, too.  No matter how tired or achey I feel, no matter how little I want to get out of my chair and go, I am always glad that I made the effort.

Oh – and lest you worry about the dog in all this, Sid is definitely expectant and excited on ‘therapy’ days.  He sees his vest and fancy collar and takes up station by the front door, impatient to go.  And of course it is very important for all therapy dogs that we watch them carefully for signs of stress or discomfort with a situation, no matter how long they’ve been doing the job.  Sid will tell me when he’s ready to go home by pointing his nose to the door – usually that’s after an hour or so – and it’s a signal for me to make our excuses and leave.

Next we’re going to try to get accredited with the Blue Cross as educational speakers for schools.  I’m sure Sid will love it, but he will definitely need his grippy slippers.  I’ve yet to see a school hall without a slippery floor!


* One patient at the hospital today was shouting and swearing at the top of his not inconsiderable lungs today at the staff in the office.  He was halfway down the ward at the time and the office is at one end.  Sid was a little taken aback, but didn’t bother to get up.


Today is International Women’s Day.

I confess that it would have passed me by if it hadn’t been for one of my Italian friends who sent me a poem celebrating it, but now that I know about it, thanks to Maria, I’d like to wish each and every one of my women blog-friends a good day today.

We work hard, us women, and we have the most labour intensive, difficult, dangerous and downright uncomfortable part of the reproductive partnership.  We often balance two jobs, one of which is the most important job in the world: motherhood.

Now, motherhood has a day of its own, of course, but I think we should take a moment to honour those who are raising children right now, especially if they are doing so while working ‘full time’ or even part-time at a job outside the home, and especially if their children are at an awkward age. You mothers out there will know what I mean. It can be when they’re toddlers, pre-teens or teenagers, but most kids have a period when they are at their most difficult during the growing-up process.

In particular I’d like to send out a message of support for those women who are raising children in difficult circumstances (eg poverty, single-parenthood, or in an abusive relationship or war zone), and also those women who are facing other challenges.

It’s not always the case, of course, but it’s so often the daughter who cares for aging parents, or who has the lion’s share of responsibility for a disabled child or relative. Interesting expression, that, by the way, considering that it’s the lionesses who do the hunting and the males who step in after the kill and eat first.

So for all of you women out there reading this today, here is the poem.  This is for you.

Io non ho bisogno di denaro
Ho bisogno di sentimenti.Di parole,
di parole scelte sapientemente,
di fiori detti pensieri,
di rose dette presenze,
di sogni che abitino gli alberi,
di canzoni che facciano danzare le statue,
di stelle che mormorino agli orecchi degli amanti…
Ho bisogno di poesia,
questa magia che brucia la pesantezza delle parole
che risveglia le emozioni di nuovi colori.

Alda Merini

And the translation? Well, my Italian is still not very good, but I’ll have a go.

I don’t need money
I need sentiments. Words,
Words chosen wisely,
Flowers given thoughtfully,
A rose given personally,
Dreams which inhabit the trees,
Songs which make statues dance,
Stars which murmur in the ears of lovers …
I need poetry,
This magic which burns (through?) the weight of the words,
And awakens new shades of emotion.

I have to admit that this is a very loose translation and I’ve taken some liberties one way and another, but I think that’s the gist of it. No doubt the lovely T will turn up at some point and help me with the translation … she says hopefully!

That’s my mother up there in the photo.  One of the hardest-working and most generous people you could ever meet, with a heart full of love for her children, and for humanity in general.  She raised my older brother single-handed during the Second World War, and my next brother during rationing and hard times.  She trained as a nurse in war-time, and worked at anything she could get during our childhoods, including taking in knitting, sewing, and factory ‘out-work’, and returned to nursing when we were old enough.  She has lost two children and two husbands, and yet her spirit is not diminished. She worked on past retirement age at the job she loved, nursing on a cancer unit and then supporting consultants in out-patient clinics.  Fiercely independent, she is now disabled but insists on living alone and supporting herself with help from the family – enormous kudos to my brother and my step-sister-in-law who are geographically the closest and do most of that for her.


Mum is nearly 91 years old and we’re all hoping she’ll make it to the Queen’s Telegram.  If sheer determination and indomitable good humour will get her to 100 years old, she will indeed, one day, be holding that rare and precious message – and will no doubt be surrounded by just as many flowers as she was on her 90th birthday – if not more!

Posted on March 4, 2011 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Oddities by Jay13 Comments »


Honestly.  The things you see while standing around patiently waiting for your dog to conduct his personal business.

I’m sure if you have a dog of your own you know what I mean.  There you are, holding one end of a leash, trying not to watch while your dog does .. what he has to do … and, well, you  have to be looking somewhere, don’t you?  Clearly you can’t catch anyone’s eye, because they’re likely to think you’re watching them and assessing the chances of getting away without picking the product of your dog’s internal machinations.  I always pick up, by the way, and I get damned annoyed at those who don’t, because they give us all a bad name – and I don’t like stepping in it anymore than a dogless person does.

Anyway. On this particular morning, I was looking at the trees.  They’re jolly nice trees, and they’ve been planted around the pitiful remains of our village green, just outside the churchyard wall. I think they’re hornbeams, but whatever they are, their branches grow in a most beautiful way, and their bark is full of interesting features.  Little cracks, fissures, flaky bits, etc.  And I was thinking that some of them look almost intentional, like little pictures.

I saw what I thought looked a bit like a squirrel so I took a picture, but when I got home I discovered that it was far more interesting than that!


I don’t know what you see, but at first sight I see a lady in evening dress, lipstick and full length black gloves, raising a glass of white wine in salute.  Or perhaps, since ‘she’ appears to have extremely short hair and sticky-out ears, a transvestite who has lost his wig.

This picture has had the contrast and brightness enhanced to show the picture more clearly but it hasn’t been altered or enhanced by any devious Photoshoppery at all, and it isn’t the work of some artistically inclined hooligan, either.  If you click on the photo, and again on the same photo on the next screen, you’ll get it full size and you’ll be able to see that the ‘picture’ is entirely natural and the work of the tree itself, in partnership with the weather.

How about this then?  Further up the same trunk, there is …


Well .. you tell me!  Can you see an Elizabethan saint, complete with ruff?  And further round the tree, a lady with a page-boy bob and a dog who may or may not be doing exactly what Sid was doing while I was taking these pictures?

There’s even a cartoony chap (just above the saint’s head) who looks a bit like one of Homer Simpson’s relatives.

Or perhaps it’s just me, and all you can see is some rather patchy bark.