Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

sdSixteen year old Princess has travelled to France via London on a French exchange visit. She flies back at the end of this week. Following are extractions from emails sent and received between us.

Well as you can see our Internet is finally back on following the lightning strike. After a typical Sydney summers day, balmy hot then a nice refreshing afternoon thunderstorm, the impressive lightning strikes that pounded our region unfortunately, among other things, took down our local communications hub.

school’s been great and it was good to see all my friends again after the christmas break. i found that my language had improved a lot over the holidays and I was able to speak with much more confidence. it was snowing in the marseille area when school began again and apparently too dangerous for the teachers to drive, so we all got sent home. this is what they do here if a teacher doesn’t arrive. they don’t bother find a replacement, they just send us home.

At the other end of the weather spectrum our monotonous 30°C+ days are also proving quite debilitating at times. Grandma had a lovely stay over Christmas and is now safely back on her perch in Tasmania. Muppet dog is missing his little friend who I think he thought had come to stay for good. Personally I was glad to see the back of Grandma’s dog as he had a nasty habit of pooing in unexpected places. I stood on one in the garage with no shoes on getting out of the car then there was the little extra present under the Christmas tree on Boxing day. Mum has once again scraped both the front and back bumpers of my car (both in separate incidents). You will recall both bumpers have only recently been repaired from when she did the same thing last year. Sydney FC lost again and again and now can’t make the play-offs so our season is over. Did you enjoy skiing? You look like you did from the photos on Facebook.

skiing was fantastic and i simply cannot understand why we have never been as a family?

Well… as you know, Mum and I met on the ski slopes of Europe… well, technically we were still back in a dirty corner of London’s Victoria Coach Station that stank of piss. But as we waited to board the bus that would take us to Sauze d’Oulx, through the magic of love at first sight, we were already there, elegantly swishing down the piste together hand-in-hand under the bright blue Italian sky. My point is, that Mum and I love skiing and continued to ski here in Australia after we arrived. But then you and your two brothers came along followed by Mum’s dodgy hip and and my dicky knee and somehow I guess we never really mustered the energy required. Anyway Australia is not the greatest for winter sports (hence the distinct contrast between our performance at the Winter Olympics compared to that of the summer event). To enjoy the equivalent of the European Alps you really have to go to New Zealand and then you are talking major expensive holiday for the five of us. Anyhow, I’m pleased that you, a pretty young thing with your whole life ahead of you, have aspirations to do it again.

actually i have also decided i’m going to live in france.


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‘Come on get up it’s ten to nine. I’m really sorry mate, I forgot all about you. You were just so quiet.’

‘Of course I was quiet, I was asleep you idiot!’ screamed a very annoyed Rodent Boy.

‘Yeh whatever, right here’s your clothes, get them on, I’ll go and make your breakfast… We’ll have to tell your teacher I had an important phone call or something.’

Just then the phone rang. Excellent I thought! I won’t have to lie after all. It was the editor of the magazine I’ve just finished designing. With the phone shoved hard between my ear and shoulder I tried to give the impression of working at my desk. In reality, I was in the kitchen in my underpants picking bits of blood off Rodent’s bagel. As the bakery had only done half the job, I’d cut my finger separating it all the way with the new bread knife.

‘Oh look I’m really sorry…’ still trying to sound professional. ‘… my computer is processing a large file at the moment so I’ll have to get back to you on that…’

The dog had now run off with half the bagel after it had slipped onto the floor while I was flattening it to fit the toaster. Actually, believe it or not, I once won a new video recorder, video camera and large television by flattening a bagel. After flirting with a bit of DIY a few years ago, I proudly installed an IKEA folding table. Next morning, pressing down on the bagel, the table gave way pulling the screws and plugs clean out of the wall. Working Mum said it was really very funny and she wished she’d had a camera. Seeing an opportunity, I pushed the whole assembly back in the wall, added some saucepans for better sound effects and got out the video camera. To my surprise, this hammed-up repeat performance was voted second on Australia’s Funniest Home Video show and a whole heap of technology arrived by courier.

‘It’s burnt!’ said Rodent rejecting his bagel not realising that this was just one of the many faults.

‘Just eat it or you’ll die! We’ve gotta go!’

Using unnecessary exaggeration, I hastily scribbled a note to his teacher about my unavoidable phone conference with three continents. Then the doorbell rang.

‘Oh terrific! Where are the hell are the keys?’ I yelled at myself.

Searching madly for them, while at the same time trying to stop the dog from savaging the courier through the door, I called out that I was just coming. Eventually finding them under a pile of someone else’s stuff, I ran to the front door only to tangle ‘Frank Spencer-like’ with a misplaced skateboard. Stepping heavily on one end, it shot off and hit the door with a thud and I went crashing to the ground. Quite what the courier must have been imagining was going on on my side of the door I can only guess at. Getting up unhurt, I opened the door to find it was not a courier after all, but two ridiculously good-looking and far too smartly dressed male Jehovah Witnesses. Screwing up my face into that obvious fake grin they must see all the time, I told them I was sorry but I never buy anything from the door, including religion and said goodbye.

Pulling into the school driveway fifteen minutes late, who should be waiting at the drop off point looking like he’d been tipped-off by a rejected Jehovah witness, but the headmaster.

‘I was hoping to catch you…’ he said in an unnecessarily pompous voice.

Oh dear, I thought, here we go.

‘I need a few amendments doing to the website. Would you be able to do those for me today?’

Relieved to have escaped a lecture on punctuality and incorrect school uniform, (Rodent was wearing odd socks, neither of which were school issue), I asked him to explain the job in more detail.

After watching Rodent dawdle up the path with the urgency of Spanish builder and finally disappear into his classroom, I felt it was probably now safe to leave.

‘No problem Sir, I can do that. I really don’t have much on at all today.’

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Rodent boy slept on the floor last night, away from his bed and cuddled up closely to Muppet Dog. When I asked him why, he said it was because Muppet wouldn’t get up on to his bed, so he joined him on the floor. As cute as this is, it also highlights why we got the dog in the first place. As our children pass through that invariably tricky adolescent phase, the mutual unconditional friendship animals provide, can be so helpful. So, when one of our kids occasionally ‘hates’ us for some trivial reason, Muppet Dog is still likely to be able to gain access to their bedroom for a cuddle. Ultimately, and without wanting to sound too melodramatic, this interaction could, we believe, potentially cushion them from spiraling into depression or other behavioral problems. Now while I’m not overly worried this will be an issue for us, it can and frequently does become a problem for many families.

We waited until Rodent Boy reached seven years old before we got Muppet. Being the youngest child, and assuming the dog lasts the full term, Rodent will be nineteen or twenty years old (adult anyway), and so better placed to deal with the passing of what has rapidly become a fellow sibling. Having a sensitive teenager dealing with the death of a dog-brother could, we thought, make a difficult time even harder.

“So what dog should we get?”
I said enthusiastically one morning just after Rodent’s seventh birthday.

“Look, I really, really don’t want a dog.” said Working Mum. “They shed hair, they fill the garden with poo, they bark all the time, they need exercising, they chew everything… Do I need to go on?”.

All valid arguments of course from someone like her who’s never had a dog. But what she was failing to appreciate, was that like children, dogs always give back far more than they take. After much research, I finally found a breed that I felt met everyone’s criteria, Working Mum included – well except for the poo bit, they all do that.

“The Australian Labradoodle!” I proudly announced to the family at dinner.

This ‘designer dog’ came about when in the early 1980s Wally Conran the breeding manager of the Australian Guide Dogs Association in Victoria had the idea to cross a Poodle with a Labrador Retriever to produce a hypo-allergenic guide dog. A lot has happened since then, not all of it good. With the rise in popularity of this breed every Tom, Dick and Harry has been crossing Poodles and Labs in their backyard in an effort to cash-in. Unfortunately, 87% of first cross puppies will shed hair and therefore not be hypo-allergenic and some very strange looking dogs have resulted. Thankfully however, a handful of breeders in Australia are working very hard to refine the breed and they believe that it will only be a few years before the required criteria is met for it to become a recognised breed with the Kennel Clubs around the world.

So what’s so special about Labradoodles? Well to start with, they’re great looking dogs. They have no doggy odour, seldom, if ever, need bathing, and of course are a Godsend if, like us, you have any allergy or asthma sufferers in the family. They have a vivacious nature and a joy of living. They have a unique and delightful way of ‘melting’ at the touch of a human hand, even when bouncing around and full of play.

We got Muppet Dog from CloudCatcher Labradoodles about two and a half years ago and he is without doubt maturing into a mighty fine young man. He’s a fifth generation Labradoodle and I have since met both his parents, a couple of his grandparents and an uncle. Several of his siblings were dispatched around the world, a couple to the US, one to Denmark and one to Germany. I’ve now just about got used to cars driving past us slowly with excited young occupants staring longingly out at him. Women too, often just stop me in the street and initiate meaningful conversations. [Sigh…] If only I’d had him a few years ago!

Money will buy you a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.
Henry Wheeler Shaw

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The last few procrastinating swallows finally left Sydney last month where they have spent a playful Winter teasing Muppet Dog every morning in the park. Like miniature aerobatic aircraft they would twist and turn with amazing agility flying tantalisingly close to Muppet’s head. Being a dog, he needed little encouragement in this request to play and would lumber into action on yet another pointless chase he could never win. The migratory flight down to Tasmania is a distance of 1050 kilometers (750 miles) and once there, I presume they then spend the Summer annoying Tasmanian dogs in much the same way.

No hold-ups for once and a smooth flight on a virtually brand new Boeing 737-800 meant Friday’s journey down to Tasmania was a lot quicker, and certainly much less effort, than the swallows would have endured. It wasn’t all wonderful though, for a start I had the reclining women from Hell in front of me and a neurotic elderly American lady on a ‘see everything and nothing’ tour of Australia sitting to my left. After getting up and down about hundred times, she then swallowed a cocktail of 20 assorted prescription drugs. At last she finally settled in her seat and put her black raincoat hood on her head backwards. She looked like some weird urban Ninja bag-lady. Apart from people thinking she was with me, I didn’t mind how mad she looked, as long as she kept still for the rest of the one hour forty minute flight. At one point, so lacking in movement had she become, I remember thinking perhaps she’s overdosed and died. Dismissing the thought quickly I reasoned that even if she was now a corpse, nothing could be done until we touched down, and so went back to my book. As I had booked my flights a while ago, I was able to take advantage of one of those loss-leading advertising fares. Unbelievable value at only $32 plus $44 taxes, so $76 ($53US/£30) in total each way. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did feel a little bit superior knowing that this was certainly a lot less than ‘Sleeping Grasshopper’ next to me would have paid, or indeed most people of the flight for that matter.

I was travelling to Tasmania to catch up with my sister and her family (and to temporarily escape the doom and gloom of the global financial meltdown). Sixteen years ago my sister amazed us all with a rather remarkable event, that of the birth of her third child. What was notable about this particular birth was that this baby also shared the same birthday with both her older siblings, then two and five years old. I may have contributed to my sister’s post-natal depression when I alerted her that in sixteen years time on Saturday 11 October 2008 she would have a 16th, an 18th and a 21st birthday party to organise, all on the same day! That day has now come and gone and the party, though a frightening concept back then, went off without a hitch and I can confirm it was a totally befitting celebration of such a maternally mathematical accomplishment.

This kind of thing seems to run in my family actually. One of my brother’s children has the same birthday as him, and all three of his children are the same ages and gender as ours. The three lots of corresponding cousins were all born within no more than two weeks of each other. I have no idea how this could occur. We certainly didn’t discuss our plans with them nor they with us. In fact, we were trying for three years to have Princess and another two years for Soldier Boy. Despite no medical reason to stop us from conceiving, it simply wouldn’t happen. When, out of the blue it finally did, the pregnancies then progressed quite normally with large healthy babies popping out the conventional way some 42 weeks later.

Tasmania is a very interesting place with a lot of history, for example, the first Australian telephone call was made in Tasmania (1874). It has the oldest pub in Australia (1825) and the oldest bridge which was built by convicts (1823) and is still in use today. Hobart is the second driest capital city in Australia after Adelaide, but unlike all the others, it has an abundance of drinking water. Tasmania produces just 0.2 per cent of the total Australian wine crush but over 10 per cent of the premium and ultra-premium wine market. Atlantic salmon, ocean trout, tuna, crabs, crayfish, abalone, scallops and oysters all thrive in the crystal waters around it’s shores. It has the cleanest air in the world and its rainwater is so pure that it’s considered one of Australia’s sporting secret weapons and is always sent to our athletes at the Olympics. Tasmania has the lowest crime rate in Australia and is closer to the equator than Rome, Chicago or the Azores. The 1930’s Hollywood actor Errol Flynn was born there, as was Crown Princess Mary of Denmark née Mary Elizabeth Donaldson of Hobart.

So why is the population so small, with visitors outnumbering residents every year? Why doesn’t everyone from the mainland want to move there? Well, as idyllic as it sounds on paper, it’s also unbelievably parochial and can, at times, feel like a giant aged care facility. Obesity and Education continue to be a challenge and of course it’s really quite isolated even by Australian standards.

But hey, I love to visit the place and while I could never live there like my sister does, I always enjoy the wonderful hospitality offered in abundance by the majority of Tasmanians each time I’m down there. They are extremely proud of their state and the fantastic wine and sensational fresh produce they produce. While Australia is a huge diverse place to visit, ‘Tassie’ as it’s known locally, should certainly be included on your itinerary when visiting Australia. You will eat and drink like a King and the scenery is stunning. Just make sure you go in Summer and have no desire to rave all night.

The author was not a guest of the Tasmanian Tourist Commission

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Arrggghhh! I hate school holidays! Why do they always coincide with large paid jobs coming in with impossible deadlines. Today I have a 32 page magazine to design, two over-active boys to entertain and it’s going to be 35°C/95°F. Said boys are currently arguing with each other while allegedly watching The Simpsons. It’s an episode I’ve seen myself five times, and I don’t even watch the show. They must know it word for word. No wonder they’re distracted.

Yes, Soldier Boy is safely back from Army Cadet maneuvers and after picking him up from school yesterday I began the task of assimilating him back into civilian life. I can’t begin to tell you how dirty he was, having crawled around the Australian bush in the same clothes for six days. So camouflaged was he, that just walking in through our small garden I lost him twice.

As anticipated, he was on a high to be home, extremely chatty, full of his adventures, even the odd dance step. Lovely in fact. Then just one hour and a long shower later… BANG! He turned into the grumpiest, most lethargic, rudest teenager from hell. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. I knew why of course, he was utterly ratted! Suspecting he had probably only had about 18 hours of sleep all week, I sent him off to bed. I didn’t see him again for another 18 hours.

‘Delicious coffee thanks. Must dash, see you later. Don’t work too hard today.’ said Working Mum planting a tender kiss on my cheek.

She’s right about the coffee. I do make a very good coffee. Only because I take the trouble to understand how the machine works and keep it spotless. It’s not a particularly flash machine, although it does have a full-size group head and twin thermoblock for you home baristas out there.

So here I am… loads of work to do, washing to hang out, two boys to entertain, a hot panting dog masochistically looking at me for a walk and a coffee machine to clean.

What the hell am I doing writing this?

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Oh dear, I seem to be in everybody’s bad books today.

I’m in trouble with Working Mum because I’ve let the pool go green. The early taste of summer is predicted to stay for the weekend and WM was really looking forward to having her first swim of the season.

Princess is unhappy because I haven’t re-formatted the video camera’s hard-drive (something it needed to be able to work). Apparently, I’d been told that she absolutely had to have it fixed to use at school this afternoon and as Home IT manager, ‘technology maintenance’ is allegedly my responsibility.

Soldier Boy isn’t happy because I forgot to collect his contact lenses yesterday, which meant he had to go to school in his glasses looking like a nerd (or so he describes the minor inconvenience).

Rodent Boy is annoyed with me simply because I woke him up and made him go to school.

Even Rodent’s school told me off earlier today, this is the second time in a week they’ve needed to call me to advise he was missing his lunchbox. What’s the matter with these people? In my day if you forgot your lunchbox you just ate worms from the playing field. I got him there on time didn’t I? Okay, he was wearing yesterday’s crumpled trousers, dirty shirt and minus his tie (which I couldn’t find) but at least he wasn’t late.

So I decided I needed to do what every self-respecting househusband does in situations like this… I went shopping.

This decision however caused the one living thing that was still my friend, Muppet Dog, to immediately switch camps and hate me as well. Looking out the lounge window as I drove off, he gave me that ‘confused angry dog’ look. You know, the one that seems to say, ‘Why would he go off to the dog-park and leave me here? It doesn’t make sense. What a bastard!’.

Well all’s well that ends well, as they say. Who ‘they’ are I don’t actually know, but they’re very clever and know a lot stuff about everything. Anyway, after a small amount of retail therapy I felt much better, and I have since bought chlorine for the pool, which should now be hygienically clear by tomorrow. I re-formatted the video camera and dropped it off to Princess just in time. Rodent got his lunch. I picked up the contact lenses so Soldier Boy can be nerd-free again and then took the dog for a run in the park.

Now to enjoy the rest of my birthday!

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