I HATE SHOPPING!!

CUSTOMERS IN SALES

I sometimes wonder whether I am female. Most blokes seem to think we girls LOVE to shop. For shoes, handbags, make up, clothes. Some think we just like to shop for shopping’s sake and don’t really care what we buy.

Well, I might be a little off the wall here but I really don’t enjoy shopping at all. I hate shopping for clothes but suspect that is because I am not at all happy with the way I look right now; maybe if I lost a stone/two stone/three stone I would relish trying on lots of clothes, taking them back, trying on loads more, taking them back…but right now, I would rather rifle through my wardrobe and find something suitable to wear to an event than buy anything new.

I just don’t enjoy the process. I’ve heard some women enjoy the buying/paying/taking things home to try on again. I don’t even enjoy shopping for food although, granted, it is much more fun when John and I go together. I only buy food so my sons and dogs won’t starve.

I do understand why, if you really need a new TV, bed, gadget, you would save up and buy it at exactly the right time e.g. January sales but this business of counting down to Black Friday (even its name gives me the shudders) is becoming a little crazy, wouldn’t you agree? People trampling over one another to get that last bargain, people fighting  because they saw someone push into the queue. Oh, the queue. I understand there will be some queuing up overnight, in near freezing temperatures, just to bag something they feel they absolutely MUST have.

So, how ’bout, this Black Friday, going for a walk, going to visit an elderly neighbour, inviting some friends over for coffee, making those phone calls to people you’ve been putting off? How about you look around at what you have and wonder whether you really NEED to spend pots of cash on something you probably wouldn’t have given the time of day had it not been for the endless advertising for Black Friday?

Someone once pointed out to me that a bargain was only a bargain if you really NEEDED it. Buying something just because it’s on a special offer isn’t always as fulfilling as one might hope. I have heard of silly people who go shopping, buy things, never wear them and then, donate them to charity shops. Oh wait, that was me…

What’s important? Well, in my life (and in no particular order although I’ll let you guess) – my husband, my sons, my three rescue greyhounds, my parents, my friends, my health and the blessings I count each and every day. I have a TV, it might not be the most up to date one but it works and I can watch Coronation Street on it with subtitles (my hearing isn’t great). I have a laptop, it’s a few years old but it works and it enables me to keep up with the world and in touch with my friends via social media. My mobile phone is a couple of years old, it works well enough despite the cracked screen (I took a tumble, one day in town and haven’t got around to having the screen fixed so poor John looks a bit wrinkly at the moment, when he smiles out at me from the screen!). I am able to walk my dogs for miles and miles each day because I am relatively fit and healthy.  For someone in a wheelchair or not able to walk long distances, I bet that would be on their wish list.

So, by all means, queue up for hours or overnight, max out your credit cards, spend money you don’t have but once the rush and chaos is over, look around, enjoy what nature has given us for free and have a great weekend!

The Nativity chickum…

ZACHARY PINEWOOD PIC NO. 3

Zachary has high functioning autism. He was diagnosed at the age of 4 years and 3 months and it was the blackest day of my life. We knew he had speech and language problems during the early years i.e. he didn’t say much at all but we thought things might improve. When he was three and a half, I panicked and realised we only had a year to get him ready for school.

Post diagnosis, the prep school Dominic attended simply told us ‘Sorry, we can’t cater for special needs, you’ll be better off in the state system’. We didn’t have a Plan B but a friend said he’d heard Cheam School had had some success with a little girl who had autism. We rang the pre-prep department, left a message and their head teacher called me back. Marion Scott Baker seemed very interested in meeting Zachary and so, Z’s dad and I arranged to take him over. We made sure he had his favourite Transformer and small box of Lego as we knew he wouldn’t say much and needed some sort of entertainment while we chatted to Mrs Scott Baker.

Thankfully, Z was having a good day. When I say a ‘good day’, I mean, he got into the car, didn’t scream a lot, didn’t kick me in the head when I bent down to retrieve toys from the car floor, didn’t lie on the ground refusing to move (hard to imagine now that he’s capable of walking into Pizza Express, asking for a table, ordering the drinks and starters and waiting for us all to arrive). I crossed my fingers and said some prayers.

Z sat on the floor, playing with his Lego and his enormous Transformer. Marion watched with interest and eventually said that, she’d noticed he had very good ‘making’ skills. His speech and language were practically zilch but he did make amazing things with building blocks and Lego. This is very common among autistic boys, they don’t say much but boy they make up for it with their other, non-verbal skills. Zachary was taken over to the pre-prep where he instantly became the most popular boy on the planet and apparently had every boy following him around for the rest of the visit, wanting to play with Optimus Prime. The visit went well and Marion offered Zachary a place in the Reception class, starting in September 2006. I wanted to KISS her!  I was absolutely over the moon, ecstatically happy that she was prepared to take a punt on our rather silent, unpredictable son and give him a chance. The proviso was that we had to provide a 1:1 Learning Support Assistant to be with Zachary, throughout the school day; we agreed and so Marion said she would begin advertising immediately.

Z started school, it was difficult at times. Some people didn’t know much about autism and his silent, black and white take on the world took a little more understanding but, on the whole, things were going swimmingly. If he appeared to be struggling in class, Tracy (his support assistant) would take him out and do something different with him so as not to disrupt the other children. One day, at pick up time, one of the mums asked if I was Zachary’s mum. The first thought, whenever anyone asked that, was ‘Oh no, what’s he done now?’ but in fact, she wanted to tell me that her son and his friends in Year 2 thought Zachary was amazing and used to get out all the Lego and other toys at break, just so they could watch him create something fantastic. He was becoming a pre-prep celebrity! One day, it was announced his teacher was expecting a baby and I think the words were ‘Mrs So-and-So has a baby in her tummy’. He approached her, looking very worried and uttered the now immortal words ‘You ATE a baby?’

Christmas was looming and the staff started organising the Nativity play. They appointed two very accomplished young actors to play Mary and Joseph, a group of boys and girls were given the role of the shepherds, they chose three splendid kings and all was taking shape. What would Zachary be, I wondered and would he cope with the excitement and total change of scene that day?

Zachary was the chicken. No, I didn’t know there was a chicken in the Nativity either (or as we know call it ‘chickum’; Zachary couldn’t pronounce his favourite meal but he could say ‘chickum’ so that’s what we now buy when out shopping).

I sat in the audience, on red alert as ever. Anything could go wrong. He might flip, he might wander off, he might refuse to take part, he might give Joseph (or worse, Mary) a bunch of fives if she annoyed him or took his distraction toy from him. The play began, it was fantastic. Lovely costumes, great acting and then, on came Zachary. Think Big Bird from Sesame Street and you’ll know what I mean. Z has always been quite ‘cuddly’ and he was a real vision. A bright yellow feathered chicken wandering around the stage, oblivious to the content of the play.  His LSA sat in the audience, close to the stage but she had to let him be, they needed to know he could be trusted to take part in things without someone breathing down his neck the whole time.

Well, after he had wandered around the stage, strutting just like a chicken, waved up at his dad and me in the balcony, hidden himself behind Joseph and Mary, peeping across to see if we could see him, he decided he would walk back and stand behind the three kings. Some of the other mums and dads had seen him (trust me, you couldn’t miss him) and it was clear, he was causing quite a bit of merriment but I didn’t want the other children to be upset that he had upstaged them so I pretended not to see him and watched the play intently.

After the play had ended, all the parents met for coffee and mince pies. I could hear the mums and dads saying ‘Did you see the chicken? Wasn’t he hilarious? Especially when he started picking his beak…’

I am going to copy and paste the link to this blog post and send it to Marion Scott Baker. Zachary is now a strapping 5ft 11ns 13 year old lad. He is still in mainstream school, studying French, German, science, maths, English, music, drama and he is a very good drummer. He is regularly complimented on his handwriting (thank you Mrs Moore in Year 3!). Marion and her wonderful pre prep team gave Zachary the best possible start and I will always be indebted to her. Thank you Marion and thank you Cheam School.

Pushing children uphill…

 

“Erm…there’s something I want to tell you…erm…erm, it’s like this…erm, erm…I want to give up the piano”

KABOOOOOOOOM!

That last sound was my father, hitting the roof, not a pretty sight!

It was 1975; I had been having piano lessons since 1966 and I had reached that point of ennui, it just didn’t excite me any more. Learning new pieces didn’t float my boat.  The main reason for this was, I never learned any new pieces, ever.

When I began piano lessons at the tender age of 4, I LOVED them. I loved playing tunes, I loved the little bits of theory my teacher set me each week, I loved the fact she presented me with two chocolates at the end of every lesson (one for me, one for my sister; my sister, mysteriously, never received any) and I just LOVED playing the piano. I took my first exam at the age of 6 and passed with Distinction. Go me!

This all took place in a tiny little village on the Isle of Anglesey, Llanddaniel and not only did I begin learning the piano, it was also the beginning of a life long love affair with the Welsh language. My folks are Irish and I have absolutely no Welsh blood but those early days have stood me in good stead and, despite moving to Berkshire in 1990, I am still fairly fluent and can chat to anyone in Welsh.  Not much use if they are Russian but hey…

So, we moved back to my home town, Cardiff in the early 1970s and once Amanda and I were settled in school, my parents found me a new piano teacher. He was a sweet old soul and we set about learning the Grade 3 Associated Board syllabus. I passed with Distinction. All was calm, all was bright.

I passed Grade 5 with Merit. Not so good. We had studied the same three pieces, scales and arpeggios for a whole year and I was so sick of Beethoven’s sonata in G minor, I wanted to burn it on a bonfire. So, I girded my loins, took a deep breath and broached the subject of NOT playing the piano ever again with my father.  As I said before…’KABOOOOOOM’.

Des (I have called him Des since I was a teenager, everyone calls him Des) was not best pleased, to put it mildly and this was because he knew I was good. He knew I had potential, he knew if he let me give up the piano, I would regret it forever. He was right. So, after the ‘KABOOOOOOM’, we talked a bit. Well, he talked and I listened. Then, one day, at the recording studio where he recorded bands, orchestras, choirs and anyone who wanted to make music, he got chatting to two brothers, one was a trumpet player and one was a pianist.

“Who would you recommend to teach my daughter the piano?” he asked, during the coffee break.

In the blink of an eye, the piano playing brother said “Mary Rees, she teaches at the Castle”. The (now) (Royal) Welsh College of Music and Drama was situated within Cardiff Castle at the time, hence it was known as ‘The Castle’. My dad arranged a meeting/audition with Mary at her beautiful home and I gazed in wonder at her four grand pianos. Four? Gosh, I could only dream of owning one.

“So, what are you going to play for me?” asked Mary. She was so kind to me, I felt nervous but at ease with her.

“Erm, I thought I might play Beethoven’s Sonata in G minor” (fair play, I didn’t know anything else)

“Off you go them” so, off I went. In G minor.

I had my first lesson with Mary in January 1976. Within four years, she took me from Grade 5 (with Merit) to diploma standard. I was awarded my LTCL (Licentiate of Trinity College London) performer’s diploma and I returned to the upper sixth with letters after my name. Chuffed? Just a lot.

Mary changed my life. She was a second mum to me during the tough O level and A level years, she listened, she commiserated if I hadn’t had time to practise much because I’d had too much English homework. Although I dedicated ‘A Country Suite’ to my mum and dad, I gave Mary a very special mention.  She died recently and I was devastated, both for her wonderful husband, Frank and for myself and all her other students, who also loved her dearly.

I eventually moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama but there are times I think my playing might have improved to a greater level had I stayed in Cardiff with Mary. She told me, some years ago, that she had missed me terribly when I left her in 1980 but didn’t tell me because she didn’t want to make me feel bad. What might have happened had I stayed and studied with her full time, we will never know but I do know one thing, she was the right teacher at the right time and she really did change my life.

Thank you Mary xxx

Better To Be Born Lucky Than Rich…

THIS YEAR CHRISTMAS SONG COVER

“It’s better to have been born lucky than rich” said my dad. Many many times during my growing up years. Every time something good happened to me, he would give me the thumbs up, smile and say these very words and I think he may have a point.

What’s the point in being wealthy if you are poorly, in pain, have lost someone special or are unhappy? They do say it’s nicer to be unhappy being driven around in a limo than driving a clapped out old banger but in fact, some of the people in my life have very little but seem extremely happy. I know wealthy people who buy people’s attention and friendship, I do wonder whether, if the money dried up, those so called friends would still stick around.

So, am I lucky? I should say so. I have two fantastic sons and despite the black days of Zachary’s autism diagnosis, we have come on in leaps and bounds, he is in mainstream school, is a great little drummer, wins many commendations for his work and all in all, things couldn’t be better.  Dominic is now 17, growing up so quickly.  He passed his driving test, attained his 1st Dan black belt for karate, has a lovely young lady and some very nice friends. My husband, John, arrived back in my my life in April this year, we hadn’t seen one another since 1982 and were both surprised to find the other was footloose and fancy free so we met up and married within three months. He’s gorgeous, I am very happy. My parents are in good health so all in all, I couldn’t be happier and I feel blessed every day of my life.

What’s missing?  I’ll tell you what’s missing shall I? Just a teensy weensy bit of recognition for my musical abilities. My fantastic army of Facebook friends and supporters voted three of my classical piano tracks into the Classic FM Hall of Fame chart this year (nos. 154, 273 and 299) but sadly, the station says they won’t play them. I can’t hold a gun to their heads so I’m being positive and looking for another avenue.  The other day, I had a minor brainwave and found the recording of ‘This Year’, a Christmas love song I’d co written in 1997. I had a listen and it sounded quite good so I got online and began the process of uploading the song to the internet stores such as iTunes and Amazon downloads.

The song was written because my friend, Ruth Graham, and I subscribed to a monthly magazine called ‘Songlink’ which told of people in the music biz who might be looking for new songs. Allegedly Barbra Streisand wanted a new Christmas song so Ruth and I gathered around the old joanna and within a few hours, had written ‘This Year’. An unusual collaboration for me, I usually write all the music and someone else writes the lyrics but we both pitched in and wrote both music and words together.  We duly sent it off to Babs’s management but I guess it ended up in the circular file on the floor? I registered it with the Performing Right Society and all the other publishing and mechanical societies and we recorded it on my album ‘More Than I Believe’. I performed it on Welsh telly (in Welsh obvs) and it had a few spins on BBC Radio Wales/Cymru but then, it was put away.

I am hoping it will be available online in the next week or so and then, all systems go to promote it. If I never made a penny out of my music, I would just so love for people to hear it. This Year seems to have grabbed the imagination of those who’ve heard it and some of my newer Twitter pals have muttered things like ‘Radio 2/No. 1’ but I can only dream!

So, if it’s better to have been born lucky than rich, I am doing very very well indeed. A Christmas No.1 isn’t much to ask for though, is it? 😉

What’s in a name?

AHMED NAME MEANING PIC

When Zachary was younger, having his feet measured for school shoes was a total nightmare. The children’s shoes were on the top floor of the shop and it took all my wiles and threats to stop him from running around, annoying the other parents, pushing over the displays and/or toppling down the stairs. When I asked the shoe shop people why on earth they didn’t have the kids’ shoes on the ground floor, I was told it would be too dangerous. Too dangerous? Why? Because the children might run out into the pedestrianised road and be killed by none of the cars driving up and down? Anyway, I digress.  I’m good at that.

So, one day, Z was about seven or eight or nine (can’t remember) and I took him to buy the regulation black school shoes. We climbed the stairs and I muttered a prayer under my breath ‘If Zachary is good for me today, I will go to Mass every Sunday until I die’. God knew this was a load of twaddle, I was always making Him promises I probably wouldn’t keep.

We reached the front of the interminable queue with our little numbered ticket and I asked the young man his name. I found it easier to refer to shoe shop fitters by name than to keep saying ‘The lady’ or ‘The man’ and I felt it would help improve Zachary’s social skills. ‘Ahmed’ said the young man and so, throughout the fitting, I kept on referring to him by name. ‘Zachary, this is Ahmed’ ‘Now then, Zachary, put your foot on the measuring thingy for Ahmed, there’s a good boy’ ‘Zachary, sweetie, what do we say when someone helps us and does something nice for us? Yes, it’s ‘thank you’ isn’t it?. Well done sweetie, you’ve been very good today and we need to say A BIG THANK YOU to Ahmed who has been so helpful to us blah blah blah’ (even I get fed up with my own voice at times).

As I paid for the shoes, keeping a watchful eye on Zachary, who seemed determined to chuck himself down the very steep stairs before my credit card had been charged and he got to wear his shiny new shoes, I thanked Ahmed profusely. He handed me my slip of paper and, rather sheepishly said ‘Erm, it’s Ed. My name is Ed. When you asked me my name, I said ‘I’m Ed”

Gulp…

So, am I really Welsh?

WELSH DRAGON FLAGFI AND JOHN PLAYING AT THE GLAM

Wales is doing very well in the opening rounds of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

We have beaten Uruguay, England (yay!) and Fiji to date and I feel sure Wales v Australia will be a real nail biter. I have always supported the Welsh rugby teams, always. My sister, Amanda, played fly half (No. 10) and Vice Captain in the very first women’s side and it is second nature to shout ‘Cymru am byth’ whenever I see those red jerseys emerge from the tunnel just before I sing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ VERY loudly indeed.

But am I really Welsh?

Not according to my mother, who finds it fascinating that I make this claim every time the six nations kicks off. You see, she was born in Manchester (Salford). Her dad, Arthur Nolan, was also born in Salford; her mother, Patricia Hogan, was born in Dublin and BOTH her grandparents were born in Ireland. My dad, Des Bennett, also hails from the Emerald Isle and BOTH his parents were also from Dublin. I have not one single drop of Welsh blood in my veins and yet, I couldn’t feel more Welsh if I’d been born with a carved wooden love spoon in my mouth.

I was born in Cardiff in 1962, the family moved to North Wales in the mid 60s and both Amanda and I attended the local village school. I vividly remember one girl in my class who used to stare at me out in the playground. I used to stare right back at her too. Sounds rather unfriendly doesn’t it? The reason we used to stare at one another was because she didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak any Welsh. Some people find this hard to believe, that in the 1960s, some people living in the farthest northerly part of Wales actually didn’t speak English. They spoke Welsh at home, in school, when they were out shopping, having coffee with neighbours and English simply wasn’t required during their day to day life.

When we moved back to Cardiff in 1970, my parents felt strongly that both Amanda and I should learn the language properly. They thought it would a very useful thing to have under our belts should we decide to work and live our adult lives in Wales. So, they took us along to Ysgol Gynradd Bryntaf in Cardiff where we met the Headmistress for a chat. She then took me down to the Standard 3/4 classroom where I was asked to read in Welsh in front of all the Welsh speaking pupils. I can remember that moment to this very day; I wanted to curl up and die/crawl under a stone/run away, the last thing I wanted to do was to read from a well known Welsh children’s book, in a language which to a greater extent, eluded me completely and worse still, there were dozens of children staring at me, just waiting for me to get it all wrong. I busked to save my life and the words I didn’t understand, I just tried to pronounce as well as I could, in the hope the Headmistress would be fooled into believing I could actually speak The Language of Heaven. It worked and both Amanda and I started there in January 1972. For a very long time, I had to approach Mr Islwyn Jenkins, my form teacher, after every lesson and ask him (in English – aaarrrgghhh!) to explain all the things I had found impossible during the previous lesson. He was kind and patient and in September 1973, I began secondary school with a better understanding of the language than I had ever thought possible.

Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen was a fine school; the teachers were all Welsh speaking and the majority of lessons were taught in Welsh. When I took my O levels in 1978, each and every paper was set in Welsh (English and maths being the exceptions). French, science, music, art, Classical Studies, history – all set in Welsh. When I received an A grade for my Welsh language O level, I thought Mrs Ogwen was going to self combust with pride. I had had very little help with any homework, simply because my folks weren’t able to speak the language and so, didn’t understand any of my homework projects. Duw, it was ‘ard!

I am now in my 50s but if anyone ever asks me ‘Where are you from?’ I very proudly tell them I am Welsh. And I am Welsh, through and through. I was born and bred in Wales, I speak the language, I attended and competed in many of the famous music festivals (Eisteddfodau) and played trumpet in both the South Glamorgan and Mid Glamorgan Youth Orchestras. Hymns were sung in assembly in four part harmony as a matter of course, every day of the week. I studied Welsh literature, performed on stage, reciting and acting in Welsh and other than the odd family holiday, I spent the first 18 years of my life, living, breathing and singing the Welsh language.

Whatever the outcome of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I will always be Welsh and proud of it! Cymru am byth!

Medium Sized Hippo

Since beginning this blog, quite a few people have queried the title ‘Medium Sized Hippo’ so here goes…

I have two sons, Dominic and Zachary. Zachary was diagnosed with high functioning autism when he was just four years old and over the years, his social skills have landed us in hot water more than once. Ask anyone with an autistic child what it’s like to live with autism and I bet you they will have more than one funny story about their child’s ‘black and white’ take on life, not to mention their brutal honesty. As the saying goes ‘Once you’ve met one person with autism – you’ve met one person with autism’ and it’s quite true, everyone with autism is quite different from everyone else with autism BUT there are certain traits which shine through time and time again.

“Mum, you look like a Sumo wrestler” springs to mind. I was getting ready to go out and Zachary happened to walk past the bedroom door just at the wrong moment. My usual response is “Yeah, thanks for that Zachary”, no point in getting stressed about it! In fact, it did prompt me to do something positive and a few years ago, I raised about £800 for the West Berks branch of the NAS by doing my ‘Diet for Autism’ so I had Zachary to thank for the incentive to lose one and a half stone in five months.

So, there we were, sitting in the back row of the cinema in Newbury, waiting for ‘Toy Story 3’ to start. I am such a Scrooge, I buy the sweeties before we get to the grossly overpriced cinema shops but of course, for some people, buying massive cardboard containers of cardboard tasting popcorn is all part of the experience. The adverts had started and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Zachary, open mouthed, studying a hugely overweight couple waddling up the cinema steps.

“Don’t even think about it” I hissed. Too late…

“Mummy, look – HIPPOS!”

I studied my fingernails hard, trying to pretend I didn’t know him but Dominic, was in fits. The rather large lady and gentleman had heard and although they seemed a bit upset, it didn’t stop them from settling down to their picnic of popcorn (large), Coca Cola (large), crisps and two Roman Catholic Family Sized packets of peanut M&Ms during the trailers.  Munch, munch, munch, they couldn’t eat it all fast enough.

That night, I decided it was time to move Zachary’s social skills along a tad. “Sweetie” I said, as he was getting undressed for his shower “you know that lady and man at the cinema, the ones eating all the sweets and popcorn? Well, do you think they would have been happy or sad to hear you calling them ‘Hippos’?” (no point in asking whether they would be hurt/upset/disappointed, Zachary needed black and white descriptions, obvious emotions and happy/sad were words I knew he could understand).

“Well, I expect they were sad” he said, slathering his hair in shampoo “but Mummy, they were like GIANT MARBLES”

“Yes sweetie, they were quite large but still, it might have really upset them to hear you calling them names so let’s try something. I want you to think about someone but I want you to keep your thoughts inside your head, don’t say them out loud. Do you think you could do that for me?”

“Yes Mummy. What’s for dinner?” (food is king in Zachary’s world)

“We’ll talk about that once you’ve done this thing for me. Right, off you go.  Time to think about someone but don’t say anything out loud”

(silence)

“Wow, good boy. Well done. Were you thinking of something or someone?”

“Yes, I was thinking of someone”

“Good, well done and you didn’t say anything at all, that is really brilliant.  See you can do this. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that you look like a medium sized hippo”

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Me and my dawgs!

AMBER LOOKING BEAUTIFULDSCF1244DSCF0292DSCF0135ZACHARY AND THE GIRLS (18 JANUARY 2014)Twitter photo

Hello again!

If you’ve never met a greyhound, you might not ‘get’ why we greyhound lovers are so passionate about our poochies but do bear with me and you might have a better insight by the end of this post.

I am allergic to most fluffy creatures; rabbits make me wheeze, horses make me sneeze, most cats and many breeds of dog just make me feel poorly and so, I had resigned myself to a life without pets. My mum and dad had a variety of rescue poochies during my teens and I spent much of the time puffing antihistamine powder up my nose (not a good look when you’re trying to look cool in school), wiping my nose and putting eye drops into my eyes to counteract the dreadful redness. None of this worked, I looked a right mess…

In January 1997, I made two New Year Resolutions.

1) to get more fresh air (I had been recording an album of my own material and sitting in front of my keyboards and computers all day long was not helping my complexion) and…

2) to do A Good Turn. I thought about it and realised if I want to walk the dogs at the National Canine Defence League shelter in Hampstead Marshall, I could kill two birds with the one resolute stone. I rang them, they said ‘Ooh, yes please’, I took an antihistamine tablet and set off to see whether my allergies had improved at all since my school days.

“Hello, you must be Fiona. Would you like to walk those two?”

I peered through the mesh, into the pen which housed two rather large, hairy German Shepherds. They didn’t look terribly friendly and I decided it might not be the most efficacious start to my dog walking career if they were to bite me so I looked up and down the row of pens and asked “What’s that one there, in the cage next to them? He looks a bit sad.”

“Oh that’s Saracen, he’s a greyhound, he’s been with us a while, he was abandoned after he finished racing. If you walk him, make sure you keep him muzzled, he has attacked a few of the smaller dogs”.

Flippin’ ‘eck, this really wasn’t turning out to be the best idea I had ever had, maybe I should just go home and put down a few more backing vocals.

I had never met a greyhound and to be honest, he wasn’t the best example of the the most beautiful breed on the planet (my words, nobody else’s). Some kind soul had made him a coat from an old grey blanket, with proper blanket stitching and everything. It was a very cold January and he was a bit skinny so I’m sure he was very grateful but sartorially speaking, the look was rather spoiled by the two old school ties, sewn together to make the belt tied under his tum which prevented the whole thing from falling off.

“Hello Saracen” I said, wondering whether I was allergic to greyhounds and that, as they say, was THAT.

I was in love.

Totally, head over heels and quite passionately in love. Those beautiful brown eyes bored into mine, he moved his head closer to the mesh fencing at the front of his pen so I could stroke behind his silky ears and I was instantly besotted.

I took Saracen out for his first walk and he spent the whole time nuzzling me, trying to persuade me to remove his muzzle. “I can’t do that, they’ve told me you’re a menace around titchy dogs, stop nagging.” We reached the open fields and I took off his muzzle, making sure to tell him NOT to tell anyone when we got back.

This was the beginning of my love affair with the world’s fastest breed of dog and I soon put pen to paper on the adoption papers, promising I would never sell him or give him away. If there were any problems, I was to take him straight back to the NCDL (now known as Dogs Trust).

Problems? What on earth did they mean? How could this soppy, affectionate hound possibly cause me any problems?

Well, within the first week, he had attacked a tiny Westie and left it for dead (it limped off and I still don’t know what became of it) and on another long walk, I stupidly removed his muzzle and he picked up a passing rabbit sized dog (a toy poodle) and shook it. I had to bash him to make him let it go and to make things worse, the tiny pooch’s owner told me it was blind. Groan…

“Saracen, you horrible dog, how could you do this to me? I bring you home, give you a lovely comfy bed with a duvet, loads of food, treats, water, walks and cuddles and THIS is how you repay me.”  He was the scourge of Greenham; other dog walkers avoided us, tutted a lot and most crossed the road when they saw us approaching.

Then, to add insult to injury (or injury to insult), he bit ME! The very person who had released him from 15 months of living alone in his pen at the NCDL, the person who, before even adopting him, had bought him his very own water/food bowls, lead, muzzle, coat, grooming kit. The person who fully intended taking care of him for the rest of his life. Why had he bitten me? Simply put, Saracen bit me because he was scared. He had clearly been ill treated (he had only one and a half ears, I suspect someone had tried to cut out his identification tattoos) and was always very nervous if I approached him from behind. He often slept with one eye open so he could gauge where I was in relation to his bed. On this occasion, a piece of paper had wafted from my desk and landed close to his nose so when I bent down to retrieve it, VOOM, he lunged and bit me on the arm. I was in shock and really didn’t know what to do next.

I knew he was a lovely dog, I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me (don’t ask how, I just knew) but when I found out I was expecting a baby, everyone said “You HAVE to get rid of that dog, he might harm the baby’. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t turn my back on him and so, I vowed to keep him and the baby separate at all times. I took full responsibility and thankfully, there never were any incidents of any kind and so, eventually, once he realised we were not out to hurt him and the world wasn’t such a bad place, Saracen settled down and became the very dog I knew he was from the start. He loved everyone (and everyone’s dog). I was eventually able to let him off the lead and he would stand, towering over other titchy dogs, wagging his tail sixteen to the dozen, so happy and relaxed, a changed dog.  When we lost him to bone cancer in 2003, I thought I would never ever stop crying, he was a one off, a sweetheart, my beautiful stripey boy.

I will be writing more about greyhounds; they are wonderful animals, they fascinate me and eventually, I hope some of you might even consider adopting one!

For now, TTFN from me and my current poochies, Amber, Rosie and Cleopatra!  Fiona xx