Goodbye Skipper…Thank you for changing my life

You came to us during a dark time. With three young children we had been asked to leave our rented home as the house was being sold. My husband had also just lost his job. We found another house nearby, one that would except me working from home as a childminder but after just a month of living there, we received a letter telling us the house was being demolished within six months to make way for flats. They had taken our deposit and let us move in knowing it was being destroyed. We were gutted.

I felt like everything was dark and hopeless. As a parent, I felt such guilt that my children had to suffer this uncertainty. And then in the middle of that I decided to get a puppy. It was a stupid time to get a puppy but it had been over five years since my last dog had died and the houses we had rented since then had all stipulated no pets. I didn’t want that again. I knew I needed something, you see. Something that was just for me. At that time, I had not written anything in years. I had given up long ago on my childhood dreams of being a writer and working with animals. I loved my children and loved being a childminder, but it was all about giving, it was about time management and organising activities, it was about paperwork and largely, exhaustion, with nothing left of myself at the end of the day.

So I found a litter of lurcher pups on the internet and we went to visit you and in February 2010 you came home with us. Life was instantly brighter. Now we had to find a home that would allow dogs and funnily enough, we did, right away. A lovely house on a country lane only ten minutes drive from the town and schools, but with a semi-rural setting. I couldn’t believe it would be our home but it soon was and has been for the last ten years.

Everything finally fell into place. I was so grateful, for you and for our new home. We could have chickens and ducks, grow vegetables, do whatever we wanted. A river runs past us and we only have to walk down the lane to play in it. My husband got a new job in walking distance to the house and not long after that I started to think about changing jobs, now that we were settled.

And that was because of you Skipper. I remembered what I wanted as a child. How I thought my life would be. I would be a writer, surrounded by animals. Maybe I would work in a rescue centre or as a dog-walker. I would be living my childhood dreams. I knew I had to do it, so I handed in my notice as a childminder and started work as a dog-walker. This meant I could concentrate on you far more. I also started fostering for a local dog rescue at this time. In between walking dogs, I sat at the laptop and wrote. All those years I had wasted not believing in myself, not believing I had the time to write…and now here I was. Doing it. Because of you, Skips.

You changed my life when I most needed to. You pushed me forward by forcing me to look back. I love my life now, having gone on to publish ten novels with many more on the way. I started my Community Interest Company Chasing Driftwood Writing Group in 2015 and it continues to go from strength to strength. And you were there the whole time…

You changed my life, Skipper. You helped me find myself again. You made me fall in love with sighthounds and lurchers and now I will always have them in my life.

Of course, you were not easy. You were a learning curve! When I look back now your naughtiness makes me laugh. I tried for weeks on end to get you to sleep on your own in the kitchen. Don’t give in, everyone said, just let him cry it out. I left you a lovely bed, plenty of toys and a jumper of mine so you would have my scent. I tried ignoring you but you screamed, literally screamed like a tortured child. After moving house, I didn’t bother shutting you in the kitchen anymore. I just couldn’t handle that level of anguish so I put your bed at the foot of ours on the floor and you went straight to sleep and didn’t even make a mess in the night. Problem solved.

But of course we had to go out and leave you alone sometimes. Never for long but oh my, how you hated it! You had a large kitchen with a lovely bed, toys, chews, treats, a kong full of treats, yet more treats hidden in cardboard boxes and tubes for you to find. And what did we come back to every time? A river of poo and wee which you had happily trod in and smeared all over the floor, walls, doors etc, not to mention you soon worked out how to climb onto the sideboard and knock the washing up all over the floor! Again, it just wasn’t worth it, so I stopped shutting you in and if I went out I left you the whole house. And funnily enough, you never did a thing…

That’s not to say you didn’t have a suitably destructuve phase. Of course you did. Chewed a big old hole in the arm of the sofa, chewed a few carpets and rugs and the wooden bannisters. You never touched the kids toys though and the chewing was something you grew out of before it ever became an issue.

Oh but you were naughty…couldn’t control your instincts one bit. When the kids ran about you hunted them down by grabbing their sleeves! If they got in the way whileyou were running, well, they soon learned not to. Once you found your feet and your speed, there was no stopping you. You started actively looking for things to chase. You slaughtered squirrels and rabbits, not to mention a few unlucky chickens and guinea pigs. You would be there one minute on a walk and gone the next, gone so fast I’d hardly even see you go. You’d always come back, usually with an injury or two!

I did my best, playing games with you, jogging with you, looking out for trouble and before long your recall was pretty perfect unless there was a deer to chase of course. In your later years, even that became too much trouble for you.

You were always in the way…Every time I turned around you were there trying to tell me something. You knew the time, your life ran on clockwork. It’s walk time. Dinner time. Walk time again. Time the kids got back from school so you could devour the leftovers in their lunchboxes. Oh what a greedy dog! Nothing was safe! You counter surfed and could reach the unreachable! A whole leg of lamb you ran up the garden with. An entire apple and blackberry crumble you wolfed down when I left it on the side to answer the door. The contents of the fridge on more than one occasion. A whole 1kg tub of Stork which you promptly threw up everywhere. Entire bins, ripped and shredded on the kitchen floor or sometimes for extra fun, carried upstairs and spread out all over my bed! A bag of sugar once, still not sure how you reached that, but I came home to a thick white path all through the house… The gerbils food and treats; you climbed on a chair to get their plastic tub down from a shelf and then broke the lid and ate the lot. Bird food! Grapes! Oh my god how many times did you climb like a monkey to eat the kids Xmas calenders! Even this last Xmas, our last with you, you managed to get into the lounge and eat some presents! And the reason we always shut you out of the lounge at Christmas? You seemed to think it was highly important to piss on the Christmas tree every time you saw it.

Every left over crumb in the bin was yours and you would hang around until we were out or in bed before you would start to root through for it. Clever boy, you never stole in front of us, always biding your time. I always knew if you were sat on the stairs watching the kitchen it was because someone had left a crumb of something somewhere you knew you could reach and you were just waiting.

Oh the times I came home to utter chaos…

But boy, I do miss your greetings. You’d spot us from the upstairs window and the howling/crying would start in earnest. You sounded like the happiest boy alive that your humans were home. Your feet up on the gate, your body wriggling while you howled a high pitch hello, you’re home! And you would turn in circles while I greeted you. Then you’d be in the way of course, no sense of space whatsoever, I was always tripping over you or telling you to get out of the way.

How many times did I call you a bloody dog or a bloody twat?

Every day.

Oh but I loved you, boy. If there is anything I wish it’s that you knew and understood how loved you were. I loved your howling when I came home, your circles and the way you leaned your whole body against my legs for fuss. You were a great leaner! Everyone always said how loving and gentle you were, everyone loved how you leaned on them. And how you’d demand fuss by poking your head into laps and nudging people, sending many a cup of tea flying! No one could resist your gentle charms.

It’s like a hole now, you are gone. I come home and you are not there howling for your mummy. I miss you being in the way. I feel sad when I don’t have to put the rubbish bin behind the kitchen sink taps because that was the only place you couldn’t get it. I feel sad when someone leaves leftovers on a plate on the side and it’s still there in the morning…

I miss you on walks, so slow and steady towards the end. Always looking at me. What was that about, old boy? What were you trying to tell me? Those eyes, melted chocolate and long lashes. You were so beautiful, so graceful and I’ve never seen a faster dog, when you were young, the ground would shake under your feet.

You taught me so much, gave me so much, You gave me back myself, made me realise who I was and what I wanted. You made me brave. You made me calm. Oh how I miss our long walks on the common, our place eh? Ours. I still think you will come back, you know. It’s like maybe you are on holiday. It feels so empty without you and the tears are permanently caught in my throat.

You were such a good boy Skips. You loved me so much You were so loyal to me. You didn’t want to go and I know that. You fought and fought, still wanting walks and food even when your body was totally giving up on you. It was like you were determined to ignore it. That haunts me now. That you didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave us. Loyal until the end.

Skipper, I will always love you. I will always miss you. You were not an easy dog but you were one of us. We all miss you massively. Thank you for being the best dog in the world ever, for being my best friend. I felt like we just got each other. In many ways, we were very similar. You never really understood other dogs the way I’ve never really understood other people. We were both shy and introverted sometimes. We liked our space and our peace and quiet and our time together. I will never forget our time, Skips. I will never forget our journey. It was not long enough but it was significant and I was so lucky to have you. Darling boy, I love you and miss you. Don’t sleep tight or rest in peace boy…just keep running xxx

Character Interview; Aunt Mary from A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers by Susan Russell

Hello and welcome to another character interview! This time we have the pleasure of chatting to Aunt Mary, one of the main characters in the beautiful A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers  by Susan Russell

1 ) Tell us what your positive character traits are

I s’pose I’d best be described as a steady sort of person. I’m reliable and no-nonsense, but I’ve got a soft side once you get to know me. Positive too – I’ve seen tragedy aplenty, but I don’t see any point in letting the bad things rattle around your head for years dragging you down. Better let it all out at the time, I say, and then get on with things

2)What would you say are your negative character traits?

I said I tend to get on with things, but I must admit I do eat a bit more than I should if I’m honest. So I’m a bit plumper than I should be, but where’s the harm? All good home baking, and it keeps me busy. Now I think about it, I s’pose I don’t let myself feel too much. When your heart’s been battered it wants to protect itself, doesn’t it? Mind you, the young’un, Alex, managed to thaw me out good and proper, bless him.

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

Now that the young’un’s gone back up to London, Mallow Cottage feels a bit empty. I reckon I’ll wait a bit, while he settles back in with his dad, and then I’ll get the train up there to see them. I could have him back down for the holidays maybe. That ‘gift’ him and Flora left tucked away between the photos for me to find, that was some shock I can tell you. I came over all faint when I opened it! Don’t tell anyone, but I talk to Flora now. Alex would understand, but I mustn’t let Arthur, Mr Godolphin, catch me or he’ll think I’ve lost my marbles. Kind man, Arthur, he’s been coming round more often lately

4) What are your fears?

Fears? Me? I lost my first husband to the war, then my sister and niece to illness. Once I got over that I don’t reckon I’ve been afraid of anything much – can’t see the point. If something bad’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. No point in worrying about something you can’t change, you have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Mind you, when the young’un first arrived I was fearful for him. I don’t think I showed it, but seeing all that pain locked up inside of him…well, I did worry that we wouldn’t get past it.

5) Do you have any enemies?

Not that I knows of!

6) Tell us about your best friend

Old Hilda. Been friends for years, though she’s quite a bit older than me. Both lost our other halves in the war, both not blessed with children, both ‘get on with it’ types… I first started goin’ up to her place on the moors when she needed help with the farm. ‘Course, that’s all gone now and she’s just got her cottage left. It’s a poky little place, but she’s determined to stay up there ‘til she’s taken out feet first,’ as she says. Bit too much for me to walk up there nowadays, what with being a bit rounder than I used to be, but I get a lift up with the weekly grocery van. We have a right old natter, and all the while she’ll be busy with her crochet. Her place is strewn with crocheted throws of all sorts. I doubt she’d admit to it, but I reckon she does it to stop herself being lonely. No doubt she talks to herself when no-one’s there, seeing as she never stops when someone is!

7) What’s your biggest secret?

When my sister and my niece died, and then all those other little’uns in the village succumbed as well, I went a bit mad for a bit. I was numb at first, and then a couple of weeks after the last burial I got up one night and headed towards Tappers Wood. It were a full moon, good and bright, and I went by the lanes because a day or two earlier I’d seen a big coil of rope left by one of the field gates. It was still there. I remember the feel of it: cold, rough, and heavy, wet with the mists rolling off the fields. Don’t know how long I stood there, holding that rope and looking all the while at the trees up ahead – sussing out the ones with the strong branches, the ones I might be able to climb up to. I’d got one in mind–worked out how to get up there with that rope, where to tie it, how much drop would do the job–when a fox strolled out, bold as you please, and just sat there looking at me. So beautiful in that moonlight… Well I came to my senses, threw that rope back where I’d found it and went home.

8) Do you have any regrets?

Regrets is pointless.

9) Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Five years time I’ll still be here, baking my bread and traipsing down to the village when I needs to. Maybe it won’t be just me in Mallow Cottage though, maybe Arthur’ll be joining me there! Young’un would like that as well, I reckon.

10) How do you hope people remember you?

As someone who could see to ‘the heart’ of things, the calm in the eye of the storm.

Thanks so much to Susan and Aunt Mary for joining us today! If you’d like to find out more about Susan, just click on the links below!

Website: http://www.susanrussell.eu Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Russell-author-745681398937235/

Twitter: Susan Russell @contact_susan Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jar-Full-Angel-Feathers/dp/0995600651/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504115967&sr=1-1&keywords=a+jar+full+of+angel+feathers

Bio: Born in Norwich, many of Susan’s earliest memories are of writing, drawing, and ploughing through piles of books from the library. She began her working life as a nurse, and after two years as Staff Nurse she moved to Sidcup to work in a residential home for handicapped young adults. Meeting her future husband resulted in a move down to West Dorset, where a busy life included opening a kitchenware shop, raising three sons, and qualifying in the natural health care fields of massage, the Bowen Technique, and Medical Herbalism.