A Family Thing

I wrote this post last week, but then my poor old Jeffie deteriorated further and on Friday was diagnosed with liver cancer, so I’ve been concentrating on spending time with him, enjoying his company and making sure he is as comfortable as possible in his remaining days or weeks. I wanted to add another photo, but for now I’ll publish and if I find the picture I wanted, I’ll add it later.

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Last week, I cashed in a Christmas gift.

When a couple has been married for thirty-eight years1, it becomes a tad harder for them to find suitable gifts for each other, so in recent years, OH and I have tended to try to find something a little different. There have been concert tickets, for instance, and one time I sent him on a cheese-making course which he thoroughly enjoyed. Often we can make these things a surprise, but sometimes we resort to asking for a list, and this last Christmas I asked to be taken to the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ family history fair at the Birmingham NEC.

However, neither of us could have foreseen that this would be the week that poor Jeffie deteriorated to the point where we both felt it would be unfair to send him to Sharon’s for three days while we swanned off enjoying ourselves2 – even though she’s really great with the dogs and Sid used to live with her anyway – because it’s a small house and it has anywhere between eight and twelve greyhounds living in it at any one time. The poor old guy would have got knocked about and he wouldn’t have eaten, and that would have meant he’d have come home thinner and even less well. So we decided that I would go, and OH would stay home and care for the dogs.

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As it turned out it was a good decision, because he had a crisis and we called the vet out today (Sunday) really thinking that it would be a case of euthanasia, which caused not a few tears. But I’m happy to say that he’s still here, and doing a bit better. He is being given medication and we’ll see how he goes over the next few days. (Please forgive the placement of the copyright notice on that one, by the way. It’s to discourage the more extreme anti-racing activists from stealing it for their propaganda. Trust me, I’ve had this happen in the past and it’s really upsetting).

So anyway, on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the hotel3 armed with the tickets, my laptop, a couple of notebooks, many pencils, and some old family photos to take to the experts for dating to give me a clue as to who the hell was in them. And Thursday morning, bright and early, I was in the door and doing the rounds.

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One of my photos caused some excitement since it appeared to have been taken by a somewhat famous photographer, and while I still haven’t identified everyone who is in it, I know which regiment the man in the centre belonged to, and the approximate year range, and I know that one of the young ladies is my grandmother, and the others are great aunts (her sisters) so I can probably narrow it down. And I have some great information which should help me with some of the others, too. I did get my wrist slapped a bit for taking in a reprint of one instead of the original, because he needed to see the back to be able to tell me where and when it was taken, and of course the back of mine was a nice, clean … blank.

Then it was on to the ‘Ask The Experts’ desk to book a couple of sessions, and I’d hardly got to the front of the queue and made my bookings than it was time to find my seat in the first lecture of the day, after which I managed to look around a few stands and have some lunch before the next one began. I attended a lecture called ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ on how to organise my research, and called simply ‘Parish Records’, the first of which was sobering but incredibly useful, and the second both fascinating and a little disappointing because I wanted to make notes of what was written on the slides but they were whipped away so quickly that I missed a lot.

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As you can tell, it was a very, very busy day. I came away with pages of notes, some great ideas on how to proceed on several different fronts, and a huge amount of enthusiasm. The next day was the same except that I never did get to the ‘Ask The Experts’ desk to book more sessions because I had two lectures booked for the morning and early afternoon and I needed to leave by half past two to get home. I’d only booked two nights at the hotel – and, of course, I wanted to get back to my sick dog. Friday’s lectures were ‘Scottish Parish Records’, which was a much better presentation than the English one, and ‘Copyright & Family History’ which was excellent if a little daunting and I’m not sure I understood it all completely.

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All in all, it was a great event and I was really very surprised not to find it more crowded and busy, though I chose to attend on the Thursday and Friday, and I’m going to assume that probably by the weekend you could barely move in there. I’ve never been to one of these things before, but I’ll go next year if I can, and next time I’ll be a whole lot better prepared. For one thing, I’ll beg or borrow an iPad instead of dragging a laptop around, I’ll sort out more (original) photos to take along, and I’ll plan my time better. Oh, and I’ll book the lectures earlier, too, because the popular ones really do fill up quickly. I never got so much as a glimpse of Tony Robinson, and I know he was giving one. That would have been fun!4

I particularly liked these 1930s tea rooms. Incidentally, you could get a lovely cup of tea and a really good Eccles cake in there!

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1 Yes, I am that old. Old as dirt, as my American friends say. I’m practically an antique.

2 Well, one of us would have been enjoying ourselves. The other one would have been utterly miserable and wishing he was anywhere but the NEC. In fact at one point, I sent him a text which read ‘This is FUN! You’d have hated it’.

3 But not, as it happened, the hotel we’d booked. We arrived at the really nice, luxury hotel OH had booked only to be told that they ‘had a problem with the booking’, which roughly translated almost certainly means ‘Ooops, we double-booked and you’re the unlucky ones’. They booked us a room at another hotel which they assured us would be of comparable quality, but was it heck as like. It was the Novotel at Birmingham Airport. Clean, reasonably comfortable but with toilet paper which appeared to have been made from recycled MacDonald’s drinks trays and about ten inches between the bed and the wall to slide along in order to get into the damn thing. Oh, and peculiar things like windows that opened, but with a notice on them which said in capital letters ‘DO NOT OPEN THIS WINDOW’ and three light switches between the toilet and the bathroom which you would think operated the lights for those rooms plus the little entrance area but which in fact did not. One of them worked the bedroom lights, while the bathroom switch was in the bedroom area. It was nearer to the NEC though, so it wasn’t all bad.

4 Although I’d have sat there grinning and thinking ‘I’m watching Baldrick giving a lecture on family history!’

It’s A Greyhound Thing …

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It is, it really is. Greyhound owners are known for it. You think it won’t happen to you, but … yep. We end up talking about poop. Shh! It happens.

You see, greyhounds are a breed which can have delicate digestive systems. To be fair, there are many greyhounds out there who’ve got a cast iron gut (like Sid), but for the rest, we worry over what might loosely be called ‘output’ – or as OH calls it, ‘product’ – and sadly, the word ‘loosely’ is all too apt at times. For example, when you first adopt a greyhound, you may notice that all is not well in the product department because the stress of leaving the kennels and adapting to home life can cause what is known in some circles as ‘pudding poop’. Pudding poop is somewhat less than pick-up-able. But not to worry, because it settles down fairly quickly once your dog has settled in and you’ve found the diet that works for him1 and stopped trying to feed him too many treats.

There are times, however, during any dog’s life, when he finds himself under the weather and the digestive system can give you clues as to what is going on. So the dedicated owner will Pay Attention to the Output of their Sick Pooch. Because when you get to the vet, Questions will be Asked, and you’d better have an answer or there will be the tiniest hint of an un-heaved sigh in the air while the vet silently wonders why nobody pays attention to these things.

So anyway, on this occasion, it was Jeffie whose product was being noted, because Jeffie wasn’t doing too well. He was not eating properly, he wasn’t drinking much, and he seemed more tired than he should, even for a twelve-year old greyhound with degenerative myelopathy and Dogzheimer’s2.

We often get separated a little bit on our walks because one dog will hang back, or want to go on ahead. You know how they are, and I had stopped to pick up after Sid, and when I caught up, OH was just tying his little green bag having done the same for Jeffie.

OH (discreetly jiggling the bag in my direction): ‘This is very odd!’

Me: ‘Is it orange?’

OH: ‘Yes! Well, part of it is … How did you know?’

Me: ‘Because Sid’s is the same. It’s the food they had for breakfast’.

OH: ‘What did they have?’

Me: ‘Wainwrights tray food. It has a lot of veggies in it’.

OH: ‘Wainwrights .. oh, yes. That’s the one in the orange box. Well, there you go, then.’

There was a pause. And then:

OH: ‘We should get the one in the blue box next time, and see what happens!’

It took me a while before I got it and then the old mind kind of boggled a bit.

Although I have heard stories3….

1 Which usually isn’t the one the kennel told you he was being fed with absolutely no problems.

2 Since writing this (I’ve been busy, OK?) Jeffie has been to the vet and had a thorough examination. He is now on a short course of antibiotics and is looking a lot better. He has his mojo back! Yay!

3 They mostly involve stolen sweets swallowed complete with their wrappers, or Christmas tinsel, but sometime other, more unsuitable things. The funniest of which is always pieces of brightly-coloured, chewed up greyhound basket muzzle, placed on the dog to (yes, you guessed it) stop them chewing things.

Walking in the Sunshine

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Walking in the sunshine .. and not forgetting the blustery wind!

It would have been a really spring-like day today if it hadn’t been for that wind. It was really warm in the sun, but when the wind blew, which was most of the time, the temperature dropped like a stone. It was one of those days when it can be hard to know what to wear when setting out for a walk with the dogs.

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Jeffie is old and frail, so he wore his tee shirt which gives some protection against wind without adding too much warmth on a nice day. Sid, though he is now eleven years old himself, has a nice thick fur coat and enough meat on his bones that he doesn’t need a coat unless it’s blowing a gale AND raining AND the temperature dips to near freezing1.

This morning we set out in their favourite direction: north towards the open fields. In the verge by the footpath, we saw the first daisies of the year, looking as fresh as … well, as daisies!

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They can only go this way if they’re both feeling reasonably good, because there are three stiles to negotiate and they’re really made for dogs with a maximum height of about one inch shorter than Sid or Jeff2. With Sid’s tendency to muscle cramps and Jeff’s wobbles, they are not for the ‘less good’ days. But oh, how they love to get into the fields and sniff, and sniff, and sniff, and then pee on the really good smells. So many other dogs pass this way, and there are rabbits and foxes and mice and birds, and probably weasels and hedgehogs and badgers, too. A veritable banquet for the nose.

Because they are neither of them spring chickens, we decided that halfway across the fields, OH would leave us and go back for the car and bring it to meet us on the other side. There is a little country road at the end of this section of the footpath and it has space for one car to park up for a few minutes at the end.

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Crossing the first field, I heard the green woodpeckers and the jackdaws (probably complaining about our unwanted presence) and noticed that the wild arum lilies3 are showing well above the ground now, and the first celandines are out on the banks There is plenty of rabbit activity in the form of holes and shallow scrapes in this, and the second field and for that reason, I am nervous about letting Sid off the lead there. If he broke that single hind leg I have no idea how we’d get him home.

The third field, for us, consists of a bare path between small, scrubby trees, right at the edge by the dyke. It’s quite short, which is good, because it’s pretty much single file through there, which isn’t easy on a winding, muddy track with two greyhounds, one of which is a stubborn old three-legged fool who’d rather fall over than give in when he feels the leash tighten, and the other of which is pretty much only able to see light and dark these days.

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The last section is more open and has a steep drop to a small dyke on one side, and a set-aside field on the other. We saw a white shape by the water in the distance and in a few more steps I realised it was the heron. Sadly, with only my phone camera with me today, I didn’t manage to get a good shot, but it was nice to see him. He took off before we got anywhere near close and flew back alongside the dyke and quite close to us, but all I got was a very blurry picture.

And then the taxi4 came into view and both sets of ears pricked up.

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Jeffie was glad to see it. By this time he was tired and needed just a little run-up to get into the car, whereas usually he manages a standing start. Sid, old fart that he is, was not so glad, and walked slower and slower, and sniffed more and more, the closer we got, and though I gave him his usual run up to get in (which he always needs, being a rear-leg amputee) he baulked at the last minute like a show jumper refusing a fence and had to be walked round and run up again. To give him his due, though, he never tries to jump out again, but settles down quite quickly for the ride home. Unlike his companion who never, ever lays himself down until the engine starts.

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1 I call it discrimination. A Jack Russell is small enough to squeeze through all but the smallest gap, a labrador is hardy enough and well-padded enough not to mind scraping through a narrow space between bits of sticky-out wood, but a greyhound is neither small nor well-padded, nor is he (in this sense) hardy. Last year, Jeffie caught his shoulder on a piece of the stile and got himself a deep graze which healed fairly quickly, but has left a large-ish, triangular, and completely bald scar.

2 And even then he loathes it and it’s a struggle to a) get it on him, and b) get him to actually walk in it.

3 Otherwise known as Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies.

4 Other people might call it a Toyota Yaris Verso. It’s my car, the one I use as a Dogmobile.

Playing With Words

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We really thought we were going to lose Jeffie last night. He’s an old dog, and he’s old in that way that you see with dogs sometimes1, seeming to be physically older than his years. He’s just so skinny all of a sudden, and looks really quite skeletal. Last night he didn’t eat all of his dinner, refused to get up for his bedtime milk, which is pretty much unheard of, and just looked so … dull. But this morning he seems a lot brighter, ate his breakfast (and some of Sid’s) with enthusiasm, enjoyed his foam bath2 and was eager for his walk.

Possibly this contributed to the frivolity which ensued as we approached our house on the way home.

Me: ‘Oh look, there’s the post lady!’

OH: ‘Yes, she’s late today, isn’t she?’

Me: ‘We may have some post, after all.’

OH: ‘It’ll be a bill. Oh, you might get something else. You’re always getting post … but I suppose I don’t really do post like you do.’

Me: ‘Mmm… It might be my new CD!’

OH: ‘What new CD?’

Me: ‘The Great Nef!’3

OH (Sighing): ‘Haven’t you got enough yet?’

Me: ‘I could be facetious and say ‘You can Neffa have enough!”

OH: ‘Ha! That’s a very good pun.’

*Pause*

OH (Muttering disconsolately) ‘And it should have been mine!

And Jeffie? He seems to be back to his usual self, thank goodness!

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1 And with people , too, for that matter. I could name some names … but I won’t.

2 A while ago the vet gave me (Ha! Gave me and charged me for it .. ) a kind of foam shampoo for dogs called Ermidrá. You squirt foam all over them and rub it well into the coat, then a couple of minutes later, brush it out. Their fur comes up so beautifully shiny and clean, and it keeps Jeffie’s dandruff in check. Both Sid and Jeff really love the massage that comes along with it.

3 ‘The Great Nef’ is what OH calls my new favourite Italian singer. His name is really Giovanni Pellino, but he goes by the stage name of ‘Neffa’. Neffa doesn’t seem to have a translation in Italian, but in English a nef is ‘an elaborate table decoration in the shape of a ship for holding such things as table napkins and condiments’ Somehow I don’t think Sr. Pellino meant that.

If you so wish, you can hear one of my favourite Neffa songs here. It’s about the end of a relationship as far as I can tell, and he goes on and on about how he’s not going to miss her. Uh-uh. Not at all. Yah boo sucks to her, and so on.

Jeffie’s Neurologist

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We popped down to the Queen’s Veterinary Hospital at Cambridge University yesterday to see Jeffie’s neurologist, Paul Freeman. We didn’t take Jeffie along because we were only going to view the scans and x-rays which had been taken when he was seen there, but which for some reason we didn’t get to see at the time.

It felt strange walking into reception without a dog, and knowing we weren’t even there to collect one. I almost felt like a fraud. So I buried myself in my Which Digital Camera? magazine, because another thing we were going to do was visit the Campkins photography shop to see if we could get me a new camera.

And the time went by. I read all the latest reviews and discovered that since I last bought a one, something called a Compact System Camera had appeared in large numbers, and that I wanted one.

We were given some tokens by the receptionist for a hot drink from the machine, and passed a minute or two selecting and following instructions after which we drank the strangest cappuccino either of us have ever tasted1.

More time passed. Canon and Nikon were metaphorically ditched, and I learned that Sony cameras were well respected and that Olympus were not only still being made but were strong contenders. I also learned that something mysterious called the Micro Four Thirds systems was raising the game.

And eventually, OH said: ‘Do you know we’ve been here nearly an hour?’

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I went up to the desk and relayed this information to the receptionist in a polite ‘how much longer?’ kind of way and she checked our appointment time and who we were here to see, and looked horrified that we hadn’t been seen yet and rang through to find out what was going on, and a few minutes later the neurologist came through apologetically and ushered us into a consulting room. It seems he was just about to ring us to find out if we were coming or not, because his pager had fallen off somewhere and he’d never got the message that we had arrived.

Ah well. There then followed a most interesting session with him showing us the x-rays and MRI scans and explaining what all the things we could see thereupon actually meant.

My eye was immediately drawn to a bulging disc, but in fact it was an old problem, quite calcified and unlikely to be causing his symptoms because a) he doesn’t appear to be in pain judging by the way he throws himself about and leaps into the car like Zebedee, and b) it isn’t compressing anything. This was in the cauda equina2 area, but most of the bulging is in the safest position, which is downwards, and the nerves are not being pinched. We discussed his demeanour, his playfulness, and lack of any obvious signs of pain, plus the fact that he is in fact on anti-inflammatories as a kind of empirical ‘he’s nearly thirteen years old, he must hurt somewhere‘ solution. Personally, I haven’t seen any sign of any difference in him since he’s been on them, but I’m willing to trust my vet on that one.

There are also a few bone spurs, most noticeable in the thoracic region, but again, not of a type to cause a problem, and not in a place where they might cause a problem. ‘It’s something you see in old dogs’ he said. Fair enough.

I wish I’d thought to ask if I could snap a couple of pictures off the screen to show you, but the sad fact is that I didn’t, so you’ll have to make do with some random pictures.

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Anyway. It was lovely of Mr Freeman to give us an appointment just to go and see the scans and to make time to explain everything thoroughly for us. I have to say that our experiences so far with the Cambridge vet school have been outstanding, and this afternoon gave us a new appreciation for exactly why the cost of an MRI is so high. Not only do the machines themselves cost an absolute fortune3, and animals need to be anaesthetised while inside them, but because the area they cover at any one time is so small, it can take a long time to get the information you need. You have to first determine which area is worth looking at by clinical examination, then take some x-rays to narrow it down, then set up your MRI to make ‘slices’ at predetermined intervals through the tissues. Each slice examines a two-dimensional area, so that, for instance, to examine a short section of spine properly4, you might need about fifteen slices – which all take time, both to produce and to analyse.

For Jeffie, today’s visit will make absolutely no difference at all. For us, it was reassuring to know that we had done, and were doing, all that was reasonable. He is an old dog – thirteen years old in a few months – and there is a limit to what one should do, I think, if the benefit does not outweight the risks and stresses involved. What we hope for Jeffie is that he will continue to enjoy life in his own idiosyncratic way, despite his ‘Dogzheimer’s Syndrome’ and his wobble issues, right up to the day we find that he has peacefully slipped away from us in his sleep. It’s a rare thing, but when it happens to an oldie whose issues are known and are being addressed, it’s a real blessing.

1 It must have been cappuccino because it said so on the pod. Tell me: why do coffee machine manufacturers assume that anyone who wants cappuccino or hot chocolate also wants to compromise their pancreas and rot their teeth? What is wrong with being allowed to add sugar by choice?

2 Cauda Equina literally means ‘horse’s tail’ and refers to a section of spinal cord with nerve roots branching out all over the place.

3 Pet Plan insurance is our friend.

4 In the ‘through the tube’ direction, not with the animal flat on his side.