My Blakean Year

Remember my last blog? I ended by saying “…as delightful as March has been, I am ready for April now, pleaseandthankyou. What could possibly go wrong?” Well, let me tell you…

On the 8th April I had more spinal surgery as planned, the first of two procedures to fuse my sacroiliac joints. Everything went really well and I already feel much better. My right SI joint is recovering well and the surgeon also had the foresight to do the necessary diagnostic/painkilling injections in the left side while I was anaesthetised, to spare me that unpleasantness at another appointment. I was lucky enough that the operation took place first thing in the morning and I managed to escape from hospital after only one night, feeling very pleased with myself. Silly me! This is still 2019.

Our good friends Sandra and Sonya helped out with dog-sitting so that Luce could visit me in hospital and collect me. They had visited Ruby and Lola before and they are now their favourite aunties, obvs. As Ruby demonstrates:

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We are used to the whole back surgery thing now and everything was going brilliantly until a couple of days later when Luce started to feel unwell. By the next day, a Sunday of course, she was having severe abdominal pain and we had to call the emergency doctor. Really? Oh yes. Turns out the universe can indeed be that hilarious and she ended up spending six nights in hospital having a nasty appendix diagnosed and removed. She has now joined those of us who are ‘abridged’ (thanks to her friend Maebh for the lovely turn of phrase!) although things have moved on a lot since I had mine out about thirty years ago. This is now keyhole surgery, so she doesn’t have the classic lower right hand scar, more of a bowling ball arrangement of three small puncture wounds, as if she’s lost an argument with a very small triceratops.

Luckily for us, Sandra and Sonya immediately stepped in; between them they took over dog-wrangling, shopping, cooking etc, drove me to the surgery to get my staples out and to the hospital to visit Luce as soon as I was well enough to travel. I honestly don’t know how we would have coped without them, they have been absolute stars.

We are both recovering well now, but we also remain grateful for professional dog walkers, online grocery shopping and everyone involved in the invention of modern painkillers. On the plus side, it has given us a kick start towards a healthier lifestyle. We’ve been so stressed lately that things have slipped a bit. Luce is going to be taking time out from full-time teaching to do a PHD in family law over the next 3-4 years and we’ve been talking about getting into better habits now that we’re able to plan our time more easily. Neither of recommends this particular method, but we’ve both undergone a fairly radical unintentional ‘detox’, so we might as well make the most of it!

Most of all, I’m planning to use this time to get back to just enjoying being creative again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that, because I’ve been so worried about keeping my business going, but I know I will be having surgery to fix my left SI joint fairly soon so there’s no point rushing things. Better to be patient and come back as strong and healthy as possible.

I daren’t look forward to May. Let’s just wait and see. This is Lola, waiting and seeing. I basically have the same expression.

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Bonus arty farty bit:

As ever, if you recognised the lyrical reference in the title of my blog, come and talk music with me! For those who are interested, My Blakean Year is a song by Patti Smith from the album ‘Trampin’:

“From pattismith.net : “[William Blake’s] life was a testament of faith over strife. he suffered poverty humiliation and misunderstanding yet he continued to do his work and maintained a lifelong belief in his vision. he has served as a good example in facing my own difficulties and feeling a certain satisfaction in doing so”.

I first heard ‘Horses’ as a teenager and Patti Smith opened my eyes to what music could be. These lines from the Introduction to the Songs of Experience from William Blake seem apt:

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees
Whose ears have heard,
The Holy Word,
That walk’d among the ancient trees.
(whole poem here)
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Oh Come On!

I know, I know, I haven’t blogged for ages. Again. Where have I been?

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Ok, that’s me on the right but I haven’t  actually been holed up in a top secret bunker waiting for everything to stop being on fire. Although now you mention it, that doesn’t sound like a totally bad idea.

Here’s the thing. 2018 was… challenging, so boo to that. This year so far has been way busy and way beyond stressful. For those who want to know why, read on. If you don’t, just skip to the funny story at the end. I won’t mind, and it pretty much sums up the last three months.

In January we were involved in some nonsense which (and I have always wanted to say this) I cannot talk about for legal reasons. Suffice to say neither of us was a defendant and we have not suddenly become Thelma and Louise. Sorry to disappoint.

Later that month, my mum finally had a knee replacement she’d needed for a long time. I arranged to stay with her for a few days when she came out of hospital. That turned into nearly two weeks, as it became apparent she had been discharged without a ‘care package’, so no nurse visits, physio etc. Happily, she is up and about without crutches now and doing really well.

Shortly after that we lost our gorgeous old Etty dog. Hardly a shock, as she was at least sixteen years old, but heartbreaking just the same. She deserves her own blog which I will be writing very soon.

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In happier news, in February, we adopted these two gorgeous loons, Ruby and Lola, who ended up in rescue after their owner died. They also deserve their own blog, also coming soon.

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Regular listeners know I have been struggling with back problems, particularly over the last three years or so when I have also had referred leg pain (a bit like extreme sciatica). Good news is that I finally seem to have a diagnosis that makes sense! I’m booked for more surgery on 8 April, all being well. If that works I will have another op 8-12 weeks later, so things are looking up, but I have a little way to go yet.

All this has meant that I haven’t been able to work full-time for a while now, and hardly at all this year. I am so very grateful to everyone who has stuck around and supported Poochweasel and I’m determined to get things up and running again as soon as possible. Seriously; if you’re bothering to read this, you rock.

So yes, funny story: Here’s a perfect (and dog-related) illustration of how 2019 is going for us: to set the scene, we’ve been trying to get our house on the market for ages. Luce has some free time at the moment, so the plan was to to get as much as possible done before April. We made a start and the house was in… well, let’s call it ‘organised chaos’ as we sorted through clutter, rearranged storage, boxed up charity donations and so on. Last Tuesday afternoon, Luce took the dogs for a walk and Lola found some lovely, stinky mud to roll in.

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I ran her a bath and we popped her in as soon as they got home. We stuck Ruby in and washed her paws for good measure and congratulated ourselves on having such little angels who sat happily to be dried and barely made a paw-print in the bathroom. Then we heard a weird noise from downstairs… Turns out that the waste pipe under the bath had chosen that moment to give up the ghost.

We can laugh about it now and, on the plus side, the insurance company have been brilliant and dealt with everything very promptly. However, you would not believe the damage a dog-bath’s worth of water can do when it crashes through a ceiling! In addition to the other clutter, our downstairs rooms are now full of furniture from the living room and we are camping upstairs. The ceiling needed to come down and once that had been replaced, the entire room needed redecorating. Thankfully, all the work-people have been lovely, friendly, efficient folk who have made friends with Lola and Ruby, which has helped. When the decorating is finished, we need the electrician to sort the new light fitting, someone to assess the state of the wooden furniture and someone from ‘soft furnishings’ to approve cleaning or replacement of sofas, rugs etc. Such fun!

My work room is directly above this. Yesterday was the first day I was able to venture back in:

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Of course, our story is that Lola, affectionately known as ‘Tank’, broke the bath to avoid future cleaning. The irony being that everything in the house is now covered with a thick layer of plaster dust and the dogs are pretty much the only things that don’t need cleaning.

In conclusion, as delightful as March has been, I am ready for April now, pleaseandthankyou. What could possibly go wrong?

Fin.

Bonus music thing: If you recognised the lyric reference in my blog title, come and talk music with me! 😉  If you didn’t, meet the legendary Kathleen Hanna and the Julie Ruin:

 

If you enjoyed, I urge you to go catch up with everything else Kathleen Hanna. Look up her other bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and/or buy Julie Ruin stuff here: Julie Ruin Store

Shine on my sparkly one

 

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This is not the blog I thought I’d be writing this week. This is not a blog I ever wanted to write but it’s the best way I can think of to share news I never wanted to have to share. This afternoon we lost our gorgeous youngest dog, Boswell, and my heart is broken.

Last week, Luce and I were at a party in Belgium, drinking beer until dawn with Luce’s brother and his family and being ridiculed by 100-odd giddy Belgian football fans. That is the blog I was going to write when we got home. My mum looked after the dogs for us while we were away and they had a great time.

Things happened very suddenly. On Monday morning, Bos was fine. He ate his breakfast enthusiastically and went for his usual romp in the woods that afternoon. That evening he refused his dinner, which is most unlike him. He seemed uncomfortable and his belly was tender, so we made him a vet’s appointment the following morning, thinking he probably had a stomach bug.

They kept him in for tests, which proved worrying. He was anaemic and showing signs of an internal bleed, so we rushed him to Liverpool veterinary hospital for a CT scan. Sadly, this confirmed that he had highly aggressive malignant tumours which had started in his kidney. They had already spread widely and could not be treated.

The surgeon advised that he was very unlikely to last the week but that, as long as we were careful, we could take him home for a couple of days to say goodbye and spoil him rotten, so that is what we did. He also reminded us that Bos had no idea how ill he was and sure enough, he trotted into the room with his trademark smile and our hearts broke for the second time that day.

His last two days have been full of everything he loved. He has been fussed and kissy-faced constantly, slept on our bed all night, had sausages galore and his own portion of fish and chips. By chance, he also saw most of his favourite people over the last couple of weeks; his favourite aunties (our best friends) came to see him just before we went away, he was looked after by his grandma and visited by Lisa the dog sitter/walker and we arranged for his auntie Sarah the vet to visit him at home this afternoon. He passed away peacefully, being loved and adored until his very last moment.

Despite the sad subject, this will be quite a long blog because I also want to tell you about his happy life. He was such a special dog. I know everyone says that about their dogs but even amongst the array of characters we have rehomed, he stood out as unique.

He was born at Dogs Trust Shrewsbury (Roden) in 2008. We went looking for a friend for our terrier girl, Etty, as my old dog Honey was 15 and not in the best of health. Etty could be wary of other dogs so we thought a young male would give her the best chance of bonding easily. We asked if they could put us on the waiting list for a puppy and they said “can you wait 8 weeks? There’s a litter being born right now!” Obviously, it was meant to be. Of course, being us, we also took home a 14-year-old Labrador while we waited (and got a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal) but that is the story of Sandie, which is another blog.

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His mum was a big blonde Labrador and Dogs Trust had been told that dad was a pedigree black Labrador. This is him at four weeks old. I think it’s pretty obvious that dad was actually an opportunistic border collie. We cuddled all the puppies and chose the daft one who fell asleep on me once he got bored of trying to eat my earrings. And my ears.

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We named him Boswell, which sounds very literary or historical but we actually had Charlie’s Angels in mind, as he lived with three female dogs. The character we were thinking of turned out to be called Bosley but (what are the odds?) we already had a friend with a dog called Bosley. In any event, it suited him perfectly. Honey was too old by then to find him of much interest but taught him the value of rules and good manners. Etty taught him how to be a good sidekick, how to play with toys and the importance of ‘pack’ (and how to turn a watering can into a watering can’t).

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Sandie, who looked a lot like his mum, took all the ear-nibbling and puppy snuggles.

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He grew up ridiculously handsome. I mean seriously handsome. Movie star good looks.

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It also became apparent that he was very bright and incredibly sensitive. I’ve never known a dog who could pick up on moods as well as he could and he felt personally responsible for cheering you up if you were upset.

He had such a sunny personality, he woke up every morning dancing and ‘singing’ around the bedroom with the sheer joy of being alive. Most mornings he would shove a slipper into my face before playing his favourite game of hiding one or both of them. He was quite sneaky and there would often be one hidden in plain sight and one that was more fiendishly camouflaged:

 

 

He loved socks too but never chewed them He never once chewed anything he shouldn’t, even as a puppy, but he loved to carry them around. For years to come I will be wearing odd socks and feeling disappointed every morning when my slippers are still where I left them.

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He was very tidy and routinely ‘filed’ his toys in his basket, the communal baskets and bedding and sometimes the sofas. He could put his paw on anything he needed and if I wanted to wash a blanket I was carefully supervised to make sure I put it all back in the same place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of all, he was a ‘people’ dog. He adored everyone and everyone loved Boswell, even if he could be a little overenthusiastic at times.

 

 

 

 

He knew the command ‘whiskery kisses’ but didn’t always wait for it.

 

We will miss him so very much, especially as he was only nine years old and things happened so suddenly, but it’s impossible to remember him without a smile even now. We will always be grateful that he had such a happy life, full of love.

It’s also hard for us because our usual response to losing a dog is to go straight out and rehome another dog but Etty is 16 and quite frail, so unless she is sad and tells us that she doesn’t want to be an only dog we will let her live out her dotage first.

Instead, I will do what I often do if I read something about a dog that makes me sad and make a donation to the Dogs Trust so that another dog will be happy. If you would like to make a small donation in his memory, you can do that here: Dogs Trust Donation Page

In any case, I hope that his story has made you smile because he loved to make people happy. He may have left us too soon but we would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Farewell Boswell, our beautiful boy.

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So you’re super-connected now, all the freaks gather round

New idea… a short blog every week, rather than attempting to rewrite War and Peace every time and not blogging for ages. What do you reckon?

Thing is, especially with all the recent GDPR bobbins, it’s getting more difficult to reach people and (as I am my own PR department and there’s only one of me) I’m going to have to try and direct my efforts more efficiently.

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Allow me a quick moan about Facebook to demonstrate? I promise it has a point which isn’t just ‘woe is me’ but also ‘woe is you, because Facebook says you can’t see what you’ve chosen to see’. And a couple of useful suggestions to put that right. Ta. If you don’t fancy that, just skip to the end to listen to a pretty tune. Oh yes. ALL the new things.

Facebook is still the biggest social media platform there is and it’s free, so hurrah. I don’t just use it for work, I use it to keep in touch with friends and family and follow stuff I’m interested in too. But… I can’t help but notice that every time a useful feature allows me to choose my audience or organise my feed, they remove it.

For example, ‘interest lists’ used to allow me to arrange all the pages I ‘liked’ into different categories, like ‘bands’ or ‘dog charities’ or ‘greetings card makers’ so I could keep up to date with them or shop from them easily. It also allowed me to keep a ‘Poochweasel recommends’ list via my page and share other small businesses I thought my customers would like. This feature was quietly removed and now I have no easy way to organise the 3000-odd pages I follow.

Most recently they also removed the ‘targeted audience’ feature from business pages. This used to allow me to tag my posts with relevant interests, so if I made a little Roman Emperor dog, like this (which I did)…

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… I might use ‘dogs’ ‘history’ and ‘Ancient Rome’ and Facebook would prioritise showing that post to people who liked pages related to these topics. Now it’s just pot luck. Yah boo.

There are ways around these things but they’re clunky. You could choose to ‘see first’ and get notifications every time I post to my page but that’s annoying and intrusive and you’d soon get fed up. I could choose to pay for ads but I resent being bullied into it and, let’s be honest, how much do you enjoy seeing sponsored and ‘suggested’ content on Facebook? Exactly. Me neither.

So how *can* you choose what you see? Well, a lot of pages now have groups you can join (shameless plug: mine is here: Poochweasel Facebook Group). Group posts will show up in your feed and you can turn off notifications to avoid irritation. You can chat with makers, get to know other people who might like the same things as you and often grab special offers. I try not to just duplicate what’s on my business page (because having everything appear twice would not endear me to anyone), so you won’t necessarily see everything I make in my group but it will remind you that I exist and I always try to post interesting or entertaining stuff.

When it comes down to it, Facebook is all about interaction and the single best way to see pages in your feed and keep them in business is to visit them and interact with them. Facebook doesn’t show you everything, it ‘filters’ your newsfeed. If you don’t visit pages you ‘like’, it assumes you’re no longer interested and excludes them from your feed, which means you don’t see them. And if you don’t see them, you don’t visit them and… do you see how this works?! If you ever think “I wonder what happened to that page I liked?”, maybe take a second to look them up? If they pop up in your feed, spare a second to hit ‘like’ or post a quick comment. The same goes for your friends or family’s posts – it’s the only sure way to influence what you see.

Ok, so that turned out to be a bit longer than planned! I was going to talk about some of the other platforms I use, like Twitter and Instagram, but that will have to wait for another blog I think. Otherwise we’ll be back to ‘War and Peace’ and I’ll be posting this in October.

I’ll sign off with another bright idea; sharing a ‘thing’ on my blog that I’m particularly enjoying this week, just like I used to on my Facebook page. Take that, Zuckerberg! 😉 This week, I’m loving the new album by Courtney Barnett, an Australian singer/songwriter who you might not have heard. As it’s a beautiful day here in darkest Shropshire, I’ve chosen a song from an album she made with Kurt Vile which has jangly, ‘summery’ guitars and a sweet, silly video which swaps their vocals and makes me laugh. Enjoy!

You can read more about Courtney Barnett on her website   or  Wikipedia and follow her on  Twitter or Facebook

As ever, if the title of this blog post means anything to you, or you enjoyed the video I posted, come and chat music with me! 🙂

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! 🙂