Delaying the inevitable?

Rodney small res
Stephanie Chapman Photography

A few days ago my little dog had surgery to remove the tumour from his neck.  We went this route because a scan and a couple of biopsies revealed that the cancer was contained; our very skilled vet Tim thought it well worth a shot.  Poor Rodney looks as though a pirate has attacked him with a cutlass – now he’s sore, itchy, sleepy and confused.  And quite possibly cancer-free.

Last night was a sleepless one as I watched him pace, keen, and scratch in great discomfort.  It was hard to bear.

Today, after a steroid shot and a teensy dose of diazepam, he’s comfy and I am relieved.  But at some point, the big hill will rise up to meet us and the buck stops with me.  Please god, let me be strong enough to put Rodney first when the time is right.  Because sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

My boy is sick

As a child-free woman I have invested fourteen years of love and nurturing into my dog, Rodney. It’s a common enough story, for while we love those who care for us, we love even more those we care for. In that regard, dogs are like small children, utterly helpless, needing constant love and attention in order to thrive.

I’ve loved my boy with a slavish devotion since I rescued him from a wonderful dog’s home in 2002; by my reckoning, he’s at least 16 years old now.

We have travelled a long (and often treacherous) road together. Men, friends, jobs and houses come and go, but the stinky little scrap of fur I call my best friend remains constant. We would die for each other, simple as that.

A few weeks ago, I learned that my dog has cancer. There was an inevitability about it – it’s what most of us, humans and canines alike, die of. He has a tumour that may, or may not be operable. Our wonderful and very dedicated vet is currently researching the pros and cons of disturbing the mass.

So now I am bracing myself for the worst – and hoping for the best. At 16 years old, it may be kinder to let nature take its course. Rodney’s comfort and quality of life must come before my own. That is a mark of true love; loving someone enough to let them go.

I’ve tried to think positively about life after Rodney; the freedom – can’t remember the last time we flew to the sun for a week; the spontaneity – being able to do dinner and a movie back to back, without a serious contingency plan; a clean and fragrant home – these days, if I walk into a room that doesn’t smell of dog-guff, I think I am in the wrong house.

But these hygiene factors are no consolation whatsoever – and I make no apology for any sentimentality that may creep into my words on the subject of my beloved Jack Russell Terrier.

Whatever time we have left together is precious and irreplaceable. But as I keep telling myself, I survived the loss of my wonderful parents…and I will survive losing Rodney, too. Here’s hoping it’s not for a while yet.

Love is in the air

Crawling in traffic today on the A20, I watched two collar doves participating in what was obviously a mating ritual. They were spiralling up, up, up – then swooping down, freefalling, not quite touching and flapping madly all the while. I was transfixed; it was a wonderful sight.

But then I started to think; ‘A20, traffic fumes, road works…really? Go on Bud, take her to the woods, light her fire under a canopy of leaves – not under the glare of motorists in first gear and shoppers coming out of the Tesco Express; you’re better than that, Mr Col R Dove’.

Thankfully, it’s one thing that separates us from our animal brethren. Can you imagine if, driven entirely by instinct and the need to breed, human beings started humping each other in the street…or in Sainsbury’s (other food stores are available)? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course the younger you are, the closer to nature, too. Weather permitting I’ve seen some pretty similar displays by adolescents in the park – all that pent up teenage lust; only a few steps (flaps) removed from my courting collar doves.

But by the time you’ve hit middle age, the terms and conditions can run into several pages, that can (and do) include a visit to the waxing parlour the day before, a long scented bath, a glass of wine or champagne, a simple light-bite meal (anymore and one risks dyspepsia or worse), candle-light (the menopausal woman’s best friend) and something sultry on the turntable – need I say more? For full terms and conditions, read the small print.

Home – an inspiration for Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching

As I walked my elderly dog this morning, the soft rain freeing the honeyed scents of early summer, it occurred to me how thin-shelled modern living is.

Like squillions of other people in the Home Counties, I live in a new town. It began life as an estate but twenty five years later, with supermarkets, gyms, dozens of independent shops, several restaurants, doctors, dentists, a plethora of blue chips companies in residence, its own church and community hall, and a population exceeding 8,000, there is no denying it has grown into a town.

In a recent poll by, my community was revealed as a UK dating hotspot, enjoying one of the most active singles scenes in the South East; hardly surprising, given the large number of people rubbing along in such a small area of the Kent countryside.

But I digress. It’s a thin-shelled existence; physically and spiritually, where walls are paper thin, gardens are overlooked, and one meets the same people, sometimes several times in the course of one day…on the school run, in the gym, in the supermarket and in the doctors’ waiting room. Claustrophobic might be another word for it – this is not a place for those who seek solitude and anonymity. Community spirit flows as freely as Prosecco on a Friday night, and family life here is an open book. There are no secrets – especially in the summer as windows are thrown wide and back-to-back gardens become pop-up restaurants and party venues.

My town, a veritable Marmite of communities (people love it or hate it) inspired my debut novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching. It’s the perfect backdrop for a style of living which can feel materially bloated, but spiritually starved; a place where loneliness can thrive in a crowd and lead to desperate and regrettable measures, and where secrets can be swept under the sisal carpet…but not for long.

Without exception, the characters are fictional – but as they reflect real life, don’t be surprised if Lisa reminds you of a woman at the gym, if Kate is the image of someone in your book club, or Ben is a photo-fit of past loves. It’s all eminently recognisable – and it’s all between the pages.

Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching is a completed 80,000 word novel; now seeking representation and publication.