Posted on December 11, 2011 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay17 Comments »


These three sweethearts were returned to the RGT* the week before last when their owner tragically died.  I don’t know the details of that, but my heart goes out to the family.  There’s nothing much else I can do for them, though I do feel for them in their loss.

My more immediate concern is for the dogs, who have been living in a comfortable home with a loving owner for a very long time, and now find themselves back in the kennel block and living on concrete again, at the beginning of what might turn out to be a very harsh winter.

The youngest is six years old, having been born in 2005.   That’s Blackjack, the dog on the left.  Then in the middle we have Texas, born 2003, and the elder statesman Whiskey on the right – he was born in 2001.  He looks a lot like Renie, doesn’t he?  I have no idea if they’re related because I don’t know what his racing name was.

You see, these dogs aren’t local.  They came from somewhere further north, but the local kennels were full to bursting and nobody up there could house them, so they asked around and found Brambleberry Greyhounds, and here they are.

They’ve lost their home, they’ve travelled miles, and they’re very unsettled; subdued, and shellshocked.  Chances are, they’ll be split up, too, because it’s hard enough to place a bonded pair, yet alone a triple, so there are more trials still ahead of them.

However, it’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?  And we must do what we can – which is why I’m writing this post.  I know it’s a long shot, but if there’s anyone out there who could help, please do get in touch.  We need homes for these three boys, and we need them soon.  It would be fantastic to rehome them all together, but realistically, they can be split up.

Better a home, love and comfort, than staying together in a kennel – that’s the thinking.  I don’t know … would they prefer to live in spartan conditions with all the aches and pains of advancing age, or would they prefer to be split and have warmth and soft beds?

What do you think?

Anyway, when I got the details so I could post them up on the Brambleberry website, it came with a note:

‘I really need an angel – or angels … ‘

So, that’s it then. All they want for Christmas … is an angel of their own.


RGT = Retired Greyhound Trust


Posted on December 7, 2011 in Oddities by Jay13 Comments »

So there I was this morning, walking along with a dog lead in my hand and a sore throat taking centre stage and wishing I was back at home, curled up in my comfy chair.  Then I turned a corner and saw this -

And wouldn’t you know it?  I didn’t have my camera with me.  Of course I didn’t.  You only really see the good shots when you’ve left your camera at home, that’s Sod’s Law, so OH’s android took this one.

No, not Data (he would be MY android, anyway, remember?), OH’s android is a phone and I think it’s called a Galaxy, or something.

Anyway, it got me thinking.  You see an awful lot of lost things while walking dogs – well, I do, it seems.  Some of the lost things are merely dropped on the ground having fallen out of someone’s pocket or bag, and while they’re interesting in a kind of ‘I wonder if I should hand that in to the police or if someone will be back for it?’ kind of way, they’re not interesting, if you know what I mean.

However, when you see a lamp-post wearing a pair of glasses, you really have to wonder what the hell happened, don’t you?

A practical joke?  Alien abduction?  The first ever recorded case of ‘man gets transformed into a lampost’? Or perhaps the cycle owner parked them there for some reason and then simply forgot to take them with him.

I suspect we’ll never know.

Posted on December 4, 2011 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Oddities by Jay7 Comments »

This week, my little jaunt into retail therapy features jewellery!

I know, I know – it’s easy enough to find jewellery on the High Street, isn’t it? And quite cheaply too. I know.

However, these are things you won’t find on the High Street. These are quirky, original, hand-made pieces of jewellery, and some of them really are unique! You know by now how much I like to find unusual things.

How about this pretty little custom cat brooch?


He’s only £9.87.  Send a photo, and Kaela will make a brooch in your cat’s likeness – and she aims to post within 72 hours of receiving payment. She’s based in London, so UK people could get this one really quickly – plenty of time for Christmas!

And while we’re on the subject of felt, have you ever seen anything like this?  If you want to stand out in the crowd at the Christmas party, what could be more striking and beautiful than this unusual flower necklace?

Imagine that paired with a little black dress!  Made by Evalinen from Bulgaria, it costs only £7.90, and it’s a real bargain, if you ask me.

If you fancy something more durable, I have found some interesting things for you in a little shop in Macclesfield.  Ruth Robinson makes completely adorable porcelain jewellery items and buttons.  Here is her charming little green frog brooch

Irresistible, huh?  He’s tiny, but perfect.  Can’t afford him? Of course you can – he only costs £8.89!

She does an even more adorable whale -


And these fish buttons make me want to get my sewing machine out just so I’ll have something to put them on!  You get three for £8.89, and really, why would you go to the local haberdasher and buy plastic once you’ve seen these?


Finally, how about something beautiful and unusual made from wood?  This jigsaw piece necklace is a real conversation piece, and looks to be so nicely done – especially considering the price tag of £9.87.

This one is from Stair Lodge Supplies of Scotland – and if you pop along to the shop, you’ll find buttons, beads and more gift items, all made from local wood and surplus materials.

I find it quite comforting to know that there are all these amazingly creative people out there on Etsy, beavering away to make something marvellous out of nothing much during this economic crisis.  And wouldn’t you prefer to support them, rather than the big faceless corporations with their 300% profit margins?  Yup, me too!

Posted on December 1, 2011 in Conversations, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay8 Comments »

It was back in November of 2009 that I decided to learn Italian, and this despite having failed to learn French at school and German as an adult learner in my forties.

I suppose, to be fair, I didn’t do too badly with French, considering that I learned it in one of the most unhelpful of all language learning environments; the classroom.  I did pass my ‘O’ level (with a fairly mediocre grade) but I never had anyone to practice speaking it with, and I had no particular incentive to learn it, either.  It was just another school subject, and one that most kids hated.

German? I have no idea why I tried to learn German.  Again, I had no-one to practice with, and no particular reason to learn, and it was in an evening class. I was attempting to learn a language in a two-hour class once a week, with plenty of time to forget what I’d learned by the time the next lesson rolled around, and only dry educational books to practice with between classes.

But learning Italian is a whole different kettle of fish*.  Firstly, it is indeed ‘una bella lingua’; a beautiful language.  It’s soft and musical, and it can make even the crudest insult sound sexy.  It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue for an English speaker, since there are very few words which end in a consonant and the rhythm, the grammar, and the pronunciation are all very different to English, but I did have a good reason to learn, which is perhaps the best incentive of all.   You see, one of my sons has a partner who hails from Brescia – the lovely T – and though her English is amazingly good, I wanted to be able to talk to her parents, and also be able to converse with waiters when I travelled to Italy. Multiple food allergies will do that to ya.

It also helped that this time around I decided to teach myself, and began by using internet resources.

I started out with a program called Byki. It’s free (unless you choose to subscribe) and aims to teach you as if you were a child; using flash cards, video, and fun tests so that you learn a few useful words and phrases very quickly indeed.  I learned a lot with Byki, but eventually I needed more and I bought a few books and CDs.  One of them was the very useful Linguaphone short course ‘All Talk Italian’, where I followed the adventures of the incredibly stupid Sarah and the oleaginous Lorenzo as I drove around the city and surrounding countryside.  She comes to a sticky end, needless to say, and though we’re kind of left hanging (which annoyed me) I made great progress.

Oh, and I must mention Learn Italian Pod.  It’s a truly excellent resource.   There’s a website featuring a series of podcasts which give fantastic short Italian lessons which are actually interesting as well as useful, and if you subscribe (as I eventually did) they give you time to practice your pronunciation by repeating sentences, and you get transcripts and little quizzes.  I won’t go into the details because you can go and find out for yourselves if you’re interested, but I must just mention that Massimo’s voice is gently soothing and hypnotic and he has a classically seductive Italian accent.

However, it was discovering the language exchange sites which really opened up the fast lane for me.  I began with My Language Exchange where I met my young farmacista friend Pierluigi (who was living in my local city at the time, so we could meet for coffee and talk English and Italian face to face), but the site was very protective of its own services and it was forbidden to exchange personal details. which meant that you couldn’t arrange to talk to anyone off-site.  Then I found Conversation Exchange which is a lot better – just like MLE, you can find language partners all over the world, but here you can give all the personal details you want, so you can meet, exchange contact details, then go on to talk on Skype, with video and everything.

In fact, I met my friend Paola on that Conversation Exchange, and on our last trip to Italy she collected us from the airport with her partner Umberto and we spent a wonderful three days together. They are lovely people, and I’m sure when we go back, we’ll meet again … especially since Umberto is a pretty amazing cook! It was particularly interesting since OH speaks no Italian and Umberto speaks no English, so Paola and I had some very good practice talking to each other’s Other Halves.

Anyway. learning another language with Skype is pretty damned amazing.  I now have more than a dozen Italian contacts in my Skype list, so most days I can talk with a native Italian speaker who is patient and helpful and will speak slowly enough that I can understand most of what they’re saying, and I can tell you for nothing that it is THE best way to improve your language skills. Absolutely nothing beats a real, face to face conversation with a native.

Now, almost exactly two years from my decision to learn, I have got to the point where not only can I enjoy a simple conversation about all kinds of things with my Skype language partners, but I am actually reading intermediate level Italian stories on my Kindle each evening, and following them really quite well! AND I’ve found one or two Italian blogs which I can read for fun!  When we go back to Italy next spring, we hope to visit a few more of my new friends – and I won’t be needing a phrase book, but I will take a dictionary, and maybe the grammar book with the verb tables in the back.  I stun myself.

And it’s really reassuring to know that while most of the time I feel I’m losing my marbles – not being able to remember what I walked into a room for, or where I left my purse, for instance – since I’m making such great progress at learning another language, it’s unlikely I have either Alzheimer’s or Mad Cow Disease.

So. Onward, say I! I am at about an intermediate level now, after two years, so I have hopes that one day I will actually be fluent! Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying the process and constantly surprising myself.

Isn’t that what learning should be like?


* Or ‘Un’altro paio di maniche’. I love how many English expressions can be easily translated into Italian – many of them quite literally, although this one appears to become ‘another pair of sleeves’.