Nerve Endings Mutiny

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December already? Good grief, it’s been a long time since I last blogged. There are many reasons for this, so what better way to explain than with a new blog entry. Sort of a ‘two birds with one stone’ thing…

Before I started writing I read back over some of my old blog entries and as long ago as 2014 I was saying ‘I really must find a different way to work because taking commissions is great but very time consuming” … and so on. I started with good intentions in 2015 but by the end of that year I needed surgery on my back and things haven’t really calmed down much since then.

For those who are just curious to know what’s up with me and want to skip the next few paragraphs, the tl;dr version is ‘I am poorly but there will still be tiny dogs for sale. Keep an eye on my social media for updates’.

Still here? You rock. Welcome to the ‘weasel’s tale of woe, which I will keep as brief as possible. 2016 and 2017 have been very… trying for me, as they have been for many people I think. The surgery I had to fix my back wasn’t entirely successful. It stabilised the bit that was causing me the most severe pain and stopped it deteriorating further but I was left with nerve damage in my right leg. Since then the nerve pain has got worse and my back, not wanting to be left out, has joined in the fun. The situation now is that I can’t walk far, can’t stay in one position for long and can’t drive, which makes working (amongst other things) difficult. I’m staying positive; I’ve just been put on morphine patches and I’m waiting for anaesthetic injections to provide a temporary reprieve and allow me to exercise and get back to doing the things have always done to manage the chronic arthritis in my neck/back. Fingers crossed 2018 will see some improvement.

On top of all this, Luce is having a terrible time at work, we’ve both had other health concerns, I lost my stepfather earlier this year and various other ‘life’ stuff has meant we are STILL trying to get our house on the market and move from Shropshire to Hebden Bridge. Seriously, if you want a beautiful, big old house to ‘do up’ in North Shropshire, talk to me. Buy my house. It’s a really nice house. Make an estate agent cry by doing it before we advertise it.

Also, well… without getting into politics, let’s just say the world has gone a bit mad. I think we can all agree on that.

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Right, enough whinging, what am I going to do about it? Well, the big problem I have work-wise right now is that it is very difficult to give accurate lead times for commissions. I try to be realistic but because I am not used to being a lot slower than usual, I often get it wrong and end up pushing myself and working silly hours to get things done just in the nick of time. I hate working that way and it means it inevitably takes time to recover, which puts me under even more pressure and leaves me prone to making mistakes or being forgetful, which is far from ideal.

It also means that I have no time to make ‘ready-to-buy’ stock for my website so I’m reliant on labour intensive commissions to make me a living wage, which is never going to happen. Commissions take at least a day each. I strongly believe that art should be available to everyone, so I refuse to price them out of most people’s reach. I currently charge £35 each… you can do the maths.

Obviously, I need to get to a point where my ‘basic wage’ is provided by something other than commissions. I’m not sure about the best way to go about this but it may well involve some form of crowdfunding. For those of you who are not familiar with crowdfunding, the idea is basically about a lot of people each paying a small amount to access exclusive content or physical ‘rewards’.

Some platforms, like Kickstarter are set up for one-off projects so, for example, if I wanted to spend a while making a stop frame animation I might offer access to ‘behind the scenes’ updates and first look at the finished short film for maybe a £1 donation but also physical rewards like stills from it printed on a mug or t shirt or exclusive models for higher amounts.

Others, like Patreon offer the chance to subscribe to an artist by paying pay a small fee per month for Patreon-only content or access to exclusive offers. Again, there are usually different levels, starting at around £1 per month. This is an interesting idea as it might allow me to offer commissions to backers on a more manageable scale.

Crowdfunding is often referred to as a ‘virtual tip jar’. This is sometimes true, you can, for instance – *shameless plug alert* – buy me a virtual cup of coffee here but it’s a bit misleading. I am more interested in seeing if it could provide me with a small basic wage and make it possible for me to reinvest more of my profit into new equipment etc., explore new ideas and offer more exciting ‘ready to buy’ items through my website.

If you’re interested in crowdfunding and would like a much better explanation than mine, I recommend watching Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on the subject. One of my favourite musicians and a very inspiring artist. If you’re *really* interested, you should also read her book The Art of Asking.

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I would be VERY interested to hear your thoughts about all this. You can comment here, tweet me, message me on Facebook, or email sam@poochweasel.com, whichever is easiest for you.

As for this Christmas, once I’ve finished the last commissions I have taken on, my plan is to make a few festive models for my website. They will be available for sale but they will also be fun for me to do and hopefully make you smile too.

I may blog again this year but in case I don’t, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that next year brings more than its fair share of peace and happiness to us all. And dogs, obviously. Lots of dogs.

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PS: As is often the case, if the title of this blog means anything to you come and talk music to me! 🙂

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Holiday Dogs

Are you ready for your holidays?
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Everyone hail to the Pumpkin King

WhooOOoooOOOOoooooh… it’s nearly Halloween!

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In case you hadn’t noticed, I absolutely love Halloween. I was an only child but my parents were great sports, letting me and my friends decorate the house, dress up and make the kitchen look like a tractor accident at a pumpkin farm.

Not being American (and growing up in a part of South London where knocking on strangers’ doors demanding sweeties would guarantee you some free ‘life advice’ and a clip round the earhole) I never went in for Trick or Treating. Apart from the odd year when someone threw a party my Halloween was all about staying up late and watching scary films.

Nothing has changed much as I’ve got older, except that it tends to be at least a Halloweekend now. We have a tradition of inviting friends round for a nice meal which sometimes involves costumes and inevitably becomes hilarious but for Luce and I there will always be a few nights of beer, snacks and horror films while the house looks like a poorly constructed 1970s ghost train. Luce is *great* value watching horror films. Jump scares could have been invented with her in mind.

Speaking of which… BOO! It’s a scary Labrador! …*ahem*…

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I also have a tradition of carving pumpkins. A few years ago, I had a go at the kind of pumpkins that people make with intricate stencils and fancy tools. I just sketch the design on freehand with a pen, then use a kitchen knife, a spoon, a scalpel and a couple of old lino cutters. I’m so high tech. Here are a few of my favourites:

Happily, I really like pumpkin soup. I’ve carved so many now that my main problem is thinking up new ideas. All suggestions gratefully received!

Our dogs also love Halloween because it often involves their favourite aunties visiting and bringing them sausages and people dropping food on the floor after one too many glasses of Vino Collapseau. They do *not* do costumes though. Sandie (pictured above) would happily wear anything in anticipation of a sausage. Etty and Boswell will tolerate the occasional hat but only for the few seconds it takes them to consider they have earned a treat. And forget taking photos, because you get these faces…

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If I want to see how adorable they would look dressed up as, say, Dracula and the Bride of Frankenstein, I make a model. Like this.

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All my Halloween models (and lots of others!) are available on my website So what are your Halloween traditions? Got any good recipes? Pumpkin carving ideas? Horror film suggestions? Let me know!

Diamond Dogs Part Deux

Sam5Hurrah… summer is here at last! Which is brilliant, except that my polymer clay pretty much turns to sticky toffee in this kind of heat. Not to worry, if I can’t sculpt at least it gives me the incentive to write a long-overdue blog entry instead. I’ve decided I need to be less ‘precious’ about it and just get on and write/post more frequently. It’s blogging, not the Bayeux Tapestry. There’s an edit button.

So… last time I blogged (way back in 1970 or so) I was telling you about my first dog, Puppy. After I lost her, I lasted all of about two weeks without a dog in the house. Those weeks were awful. I had no one sensible to talk to, I could finish food without feeling guilty and if I dropped a piece of toast it hit the floor. And it struck me that while I was sitting feeling sorry for myself, a dog was sitting in a cage somewhere and Puppy would have hated that.

I headed to Battersea Dogs and Cats home with two instructions, ‘not too big’ from the dog sitter (my mum) and ‘something that’s not too boisterous and won’t get too muddy’ from my partner at the time. I walked around wanting to take home all the dogs, until one in particular caught my eye. Or rather she didn’t.

One of the enclosures I passed appeared to be empty and I peered into the kennel area before I realised my mistake: I had been looking on the floor, where the other dogs were. I didn’t know how she had got there (more on that later) but MY dog was standing on top of the kennel, at face level, looking quite pleased to see me. I checked the label on the door, where most dogs had some notes about behaviour, preferences etc. This one just said ‘Tan mongrel. Food obsessed’.

An aside to illustrate that point and so you can picture what follows: here is a photo of a relatively skinny dog about four weeks after she came home with me, enjoying her first Christmas at my mum’s house…

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…and one of her fat belly enjoying the sofa after her first Christmas dinner.

Anyway, back to Battersea. She hopped off the kennel and came to say hello. She was a Staffie/Labrador cross, quite a bit bigger than my first dog and I felt ‘tan mongrel’ was a bit harsh; she was quite clearly complex shades of ginger, light brown and blonde, whose hair would shed noticeably on every single article of clothing I owned. I decided at once that I wanted to meet her, so I headed off to fill in a rehoming application and register my interest. When I started to leave she howled, grabbed my sleeve and wouldn’t let go. I managed to extricate myself and promised her I would come back, as she let out a series of blood curdling squeals and bounced off the walls. Not too big or boisterous, I kidded myself. Oh, it would be fine. Who wouldn’t love her?

One successful home visit later I went back with… right, we need a shorthand for my ex-partner who wasn’t particularly keen on dogs. Let’s just call her ‘Cruella’. What? It’s my blog and I’m sure she calls me much worse.

The staff took us to a side room and went to get my ‘tan mongrel’. In she came sounding like a steam train, straining on her lead and pulling the kennel worker behind her. They let her off and she proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes jumping all over me, chewing my clothes, licking my face and bouncing off the walls again. Cruella looked on in horror but it was love at first sight for Honey and I. As I had a cat at the time, she also had to be ‘cat tested’. This involved taking her to the cattery (where the cats were all safely in their enclosures) and seeing how she reacted. How she reacted was to completely ignore the cats and make a bee line for a lady who was looking into an open enclosure. This lady promptly met her potential new feline companion at rather closer quarters than either of them was expecting as Honey jumped up at her back and shoved her headfirst into the cage. “Sorry!” I said, for the first of many, many times, even though I wasn’t even holding her lead yet. Cruella glowered and asked if I was sure I wanted *this* dog. Oh come on, hadn’t she been watching? I mean, sure she was 25 kilos of completely untrained ginger muscle but that was hilarious. Even the lady with the cat attached to her face saw the funny side.

I paid the adoption fee and headed off to get her microchip fitted. As they took us into reception and handed over the lead she recognised that she was going outside and started to squeal. I say squeal, it was more of a scream. The sort of noise you may have heard foxes making at 3am. “Sorry!” I said, as I smiled and pretended she wasn’t pulling my arm out of its socket as I tried to hold her still. Suffice it to say that the first microchip needle went into the vet. She was very nice about it and waved us off with a cheery “Good luck! Come back and see us if that… noise becomes a problem” as Honey screamed her way to the door. “Sorry!” I said to everyone in reception and hoped none of them were suffering permanent hearing impairment.

Even I was starting to wonder if I’d been entirely sensible, until we got to the car. Honey took one look, decided she wasn’t sure what this was all about and flatly refused to get in. I did ‘happy voice’, bribed her with treats and attempted to lift her, which was like trying to juggle a sack full of ferrets. Finally, I gave Cruella the car keys, got in the back seat and said ‘come on then!’ In jumped Honey without a second thought, squashed herself as tightly against me as she could and settled in for the ride. Because she was my dog and we both knew it and that was just the way it was.

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More on Honey soon, including ‘When Honey Met Lucy’ and ‘the ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Kitchen’.

Diamond Dogs

Ok, I confess one of my New Year’s resolutions was to blog every month in 2016 and I didn’t quite manage to publish this in January. I was close though.
 
Ah January… the month when everyone gives up alcohol and lives on salad and regret. I have always thought February was a much more sensible time to start the après-Christmas health kick. It’s easier when your house is no longer full of chocolate and random liqueurs and the freezer is free of small things wrapped in puff pastry. So am I going to be blogging about healthy lifestyle changes and sharing my recipe for kale smoothies? Am I heck as like.
 
Instead, I thought I might attempt to answer a few frequently asked questions over the coming months. I share a lot of dog-related stuff on Facebook and Twitter and people often ask what kind of dogs I have myself. No one who knows me will be surprised that I am using this as a flimsy excuse to write about ‘dogs I have loved’ and knowing my audience, no one will be disappointed about it either.
 
My first dog was Puppy, so called because I wasn’t going to get attached. I know how ridiculous that sounds but hear me out.
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I found her wandering about a busy High Street when I was 18 and still living in South London. Or rather she found me and happily sat with me while I fussed her and made sure she didn’t run off into the road. She was a pretty little thing but I had no idea what breed(s) she was and still don’t. She looked young and a bit on the skinny side but she was wearing a collar, so I assumed she had just found her way out of someone’s garden. When no frantic owner showed up, I took her to the local police station but the Plod were not interested. They told me they already had a male dog in their kennel, so I could either sign to say I took responsibility for her or they would send her straight to Battersea Dogs Home. Guess what happened next? Well played, Police Officer who didn’t fancy looking after a dog that afternoon.
 
I was told that if she wasn’t claimed after 28 days, she would be mine. This being ye olden days before the interwebs I slogged around all the local vets, pet shops and such, leaving her photo everywhere. She even got her picture in the local paper but no one called. As time passed, I couldn’t imagine what excuse her owners could have for not finding her sooner. Finally, after 27 days, someone rang. I went to the phone ready to read them the riot act but it was a family who had seen her in the paper, offering to take her in if she hadn’t been claimed. That would have been an ideal solution, as I was a penniless student in rented accommodation with no idea how to look after a dog. I opened my mouth to say so and found myself telling them I couldn’t bear to part with her. Obviously. By that point she flatly refused to answer to anything but Puppy, so Puppy she stayed for the next 16-ish years.
 
I had always wanted a dog and she became my best mate as we learned how to do the ‘dog and owner’ thing together. Some of the stuff we got up to makes my hair curl now but if she knew it was bad for her to eat crisps or drink light ale from her own little bowl in my student local, she never let on. *Please* don’t do this with your dog. She may have lived until she was 16 but it was pure luck; I’m assuming she just happened to have the constitution of a canine Keith Richards. She grew up into a very healthy dog, despite her illicit teenage pub treats. She loved her walks, enjoyed a swim and once had the time of her life riding a sled with me in a snowy Richmond Park. She was ‘mum’ to a cat I also came by accidentally (that’s another story – animals find me).
 
During a brief spell in a dodgy flat in Tottenham, she had a near-death experience that has probably taken years off my life too. One evening I came home from work to find the Fire Service had broken in and taken her to the local PDSA. She’d been spotted on some scaffolding two floors up on the front of the building with a badly cut paw, having apparently jumped through a window. The (dodgy) landlord tried to tell me she had broken it, until I pointed out that there wasn’t a mark on her other than her cut paw and all the glass was on the inside. Someone had obviously tried to break in and my scrap of a dog had seen them off! I collected her as early as I could the next morning. Once I had finished sobbing and stuffing tenners into the donation box as she bounced around and licked me half to death, I carried her all the way home. Cheerful as ever, she played the sympathy card with her bandage and got fed biscuits by all the old folk on the bus…
 
She never really liked to be left alone and after I learned to drive she would come everywhere with me in the car. When I worked in the wine trade she would shamelessly snaffle goodies from catering staff while we were making deliveries. Like most ex-strays, she loved her food. When she stayed with my mum they would often watch a film together and share some snacks. I know this because I would go to collect her and find the pair of them looking guilty and covered in popcorn crumbs.
 
She was not fond of peas and could reject them from a full bowl of food at high velocity, spitting them out like spent machine gun ammo as she ate. She never knowingly refused a treat, she considered it rude. If she was offered something she didn’t like, she would politely take it then look for somewhere to hide it. Some friends of mine who were looking after her overnight discovered that she also did this when she was full. Their niece and nephew had come for Sunday lunch and snuck her many sausages from the table. After a few days my friends were baffled by a noxious smell in their flat and realised that when she couldn’t eat any more, she had started hiding them. Weeks later they were still finding mouldy chipolatas placed carefully behind furniture or in plant pots…
 
I was devastated when I finally lost her and I wasn’t sure I could have another dog any time soon. Then I learned another truth, which is that once you’ve been owned by a dog you will never feel right without one. The house was much too quiet. If I dropped food, it hit the floor. I had to talk to myself or the cat, who was a fabulous cat but didn’t really care about my human nonsense and had no interest in going for companionable road trips. More importantly I realised that all the time I was sat feeling sorry for myself another dog was waiting in a rescue cage somewhere, so before long I found myself at Battersea with strict instructions from the dog-sitter (my mum) to get something ‘not too big, that won’t get too muddy’. Which… didn’t quite work out.
 
This blog is turning out to be longer than I planned. You know what it’s like when you get talking about dogs. Never mind, it can become a short series instead. Next week: Honey the ‘pedigree Stafrador’.

Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts

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So here I am, a little over two weeks post-op and starting to feel much better. For those who want the technical particulars, I had a ‘right-sided L4/L5 decompression and fusion’ but don’t worry, this blog will contain no graphic details and I’m not going to share any pictures of my fancy new scar or the rainbow colour progression of my bruises.

Everything went really well but inevitably, because this is 2015 (see last blog entry), there was a bit of drama too. I had to check in to the hospital at 7.30am on the day of my surgery so, to avoid getting up at silly o clock and rushing around, we arranged to stay at a nearby hotel the night before. We set off on time and had an uneventful journey until we approached the road where we were planning to park and fire engines started screaming past us. “Ooh, hope the hotel isn’t on fire!” we chortled. And yes, you’ve guessed it… the hotel actually was on fire. Which was hilarious an hour or so later once we were sitting in a room at the local Travelodge (which was not on fire) but a bit tense when we were driving circles around a roadblock in the centre of Birmingham trying to find out what was going on.

Anyway, since I’m not allowed back to work yet and have way more time on my hands than I have things I am capable of doing to fill it, I thought I would share my top tips for anyone about to go through similar surgery. Or anyone who just fancies a bit of a laugh at my expense. I’m not proud.

My number one top tip for any hospital trip – be nice to nurses, even if you’re really fed up. Most importantly because they are generally lovely folk doing a really hard job for which they deserve much gratitude and respect but also because they are the ones who are really in charge of everything. Your consultant doesn’t know where the extra blankets are kept and won’t make you a slice of toast or pop into your room for a chat if you can’t sleep. Be nice to the catering and cleaning staff too, because they also deserve respect and you get extra biscuits.

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Don’t be brave, take the painkillers. Related: don’t make any important life decisions at this time because the painkillers may make you drowsy and/or confused. You may hear colours. Or write a blog entry which ends up a bit whimsical banana marigolds bcaus sentences nt quite make. write.

Speaking of painkillers… there is another side effect to general anaesthesia followed by a diet of morphine and codeine which nobody will mention until it is too late. I’m just going to come out and say this – if you ever want to poop again, start taking something a couple of days before you get anywhere near a hospital and do not stop until you can ease down on the pain meds. This is genuinely good advice and you will thank me for it as you smugly listen to the muffled sobs coming from other patients’ bathrooms.

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Once you get home, accept that you are going to need help. Lots and lots of help. Previously, you were a person who could put on their own socks or get food out of the fridge. Those days are gone my friend. If you are going to be left alone for any length of time you will have to plan with military precision or you will end up with cold feet, having some cherry tomatoes and a Snickers bar for lunch because it is all you could reach.

You do not have enough pillows. Seriously, go and buy ALL the pillows. You will need approximately 23 more pillows/cushions than you currently own to get comfortable anywhere for longer than five minutes at a time.

You will be obviously be tired right after the op but while you are recovering, be prepared for random bouts of ‘must sleep here now’. You may not be able to sleep that well at night but ten minutes into the gripping thriller you were enjoying…boom! Nana nap on the sofa. And you will wake up cranky and uncomfortable because you didn’t have enough pillows (see above).

You will be instructed only to carry items which weigh no more than ‘a half full kettle’. This will prompt much interesting debate. How big is your kettle? A full bottle of wine probably weighs more than that. How much do I have to drink before I can refill my own glass? This discussion is particularly pointless at the moment because I will almost inevitably fall asleep after a glass and a half anyway. On the plus side, the same instructions also prohibit ‘activities which involve bending or twisting, eg. housework’. Result.

It’s not all sloth and indolence though. The amount of time you can spend sitting is severely restricted and daily walking is mandatory. This is amusing for the first few days when a ten minute stroll involves you wobbling to the end of the road and back while concentrating on keeping your back straight and both feet pointing in the right direction. Not so amusing for you, more for your neighbours who will think you are legless at 10.30 in the morning.

Buy a ‘grabby stick’ – one of those little claw thingummies with a long handle. I know you feel daft but you will not be able to bend down and you will need it to pick up anything you drop. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, buy two. Because the first thing you will drop will be the grabby stick. Dogs will love the grabby stick until you become adept at taking food out of the fridge without most of it ending up on the kitchen floor. Also, if you are shortarse like me, when you are well again you will be able to access many things you have forgotten you own because they have ended up on the top shelf of cupboards.

Most importantly of all, keeping a sense of humour helps with everything and my friends and customers (and many of you have become both) always help with that! It’s annoying that all this had to happen right before Christmas but hopefully it means that a fully-functioning ‘weasel will be back next year and able to concentrate on making more tiny dogs than ever before. Thanks again to everyone who has supported me over the last few months, I couldn’t have done it without you x