About becausemilly

Heartbroken doggie mummy (& elite dog-avoiding ninja turned storyteller)

Precious Treasure

On Friday morning I received the phonecall that I have been eagerly waiting for, and was really hoping I would get before this weekend. Ashes into Glass called to let me know that my jewellery was ready. They said it would take 6 weeks, and it has been exactly that since Milly’s birthday and the day we went up to the glass workshop to place the order.

Already committed with a family get-together yesterday, it had to be today that we went back up there. It was important to me that Sophie would be with me so had planned for that from the beginning – and the timing worked perfectly because Rob wasn’t working so was able to come too. We four set off from home just before lunch. We arrived in Billericay in no time, but this time because the M25 was kind not because I was speeding (Matt was behind the wheel today!).

I hope the photos largely speak for themselves and so there is little need for me to whitter on, but I will just give a very brief description.

Ashes into Glass have made me a beautiful white gold pendant. Milly’s ashes are set into a gorgeous handcrafted black gemstone. They are distributed so evenly that the stone looks like an amazing starry night sky. The whole piece is just lovely and completely unique and I am so pleased with it.

To me it is PERFECT, like Milly, and I can treasure it forever.

xx Thank You Ashes into Glass xx


We had planned to make it a bit of a day out by having lunch then continuing up the A13 to Southend-on-Sea for a mooch on the pier and an icecream. Change of plan though when we realised that the Dogs Trust Basildon Annual Family Fun Day was being held in the showground opposite the Barleylands Craft Village! Soph adores dogs (well, all animals really) so there were no objections to cancelling Southend this time. We arrived in time to see the “Best Rescue” category in the show ring, followed by some of the dogs available for re-homing. The Basildon Centre, opened 4 years ago, currently looks after 90 dogs. NINETY. It’s just so sad.

They weren’t all out today, but we did see an adorable pair of inseparable friends. Andreas the Pyrenean Mountain Dog.. and his best friend Pippin the Westie!

Andreas and Pippin need a quiet home together, and we hope they find one soon.

Thankfully the weather was great (unlike yesterday) and there seemed to be a really good turnout at the event. Even though it was fairly late by the time we were admitted, there were still lots of families there. And lots of dogs. It is just so alien to me to see dogs – multiple – just chilling out in the same space. Some interacting with each other, some interacting with people and some just interested in standing quietly beside their human. But they were all there together. I think it will take me a very long time to get used to that.

It was lovely to be there, and I’m glad we went in, but I did find it very hard to be honest. At one point Rob very sweetly asked me if I was sure I was ok to be there… he could obviously see I was biting my lip and struggling not to cry (totally forgot my Jackie O sunglasses that I could’ve hidden behind). It’s so hard to explain the feeling. It’s not like it was a painful memory because it is not a place that we could ever have even considered taking Milly to in a million years.

i guess it’s just a deep deep sadness.


Without going into details, it has been a difficult week for me.

I’m the first to admit that I am finding things quite hard… at times I’m feeling very low and struggling for motivation, struggling to find my purpose and my place in space again. But I’m trying to “carry on normally” and, unlike the first couple of weeks, I don’t think I’ve got a massive sign on my head that says “bereaved”. I’m going to work every day, I’m shopping and cooking, I’m washing and doing laundry (I don’t clean.. lovely Pipi looks after that), I’m caring for people, I’m training… Given how much my heart is aching I’m actually pretty proud of how well I am coping. Maybe I’m not very objective but 99% of the time I would say I’m not “a mess”.

I’m connecting with lots of people on social media, by sharing my daily photos and happy memories (recommended technique for dealing with pet loss). I’m really enjoying my sporadic blogging and slowly building up Milly’s story to hopefully eventually create a lasting legacy.

I’m so touched by the number of really kind people that have reached out to me, either with nice feedback on my blog, or just general kindness. Many that I know, but also many that I don’t know. I’ve got a couple of lovely contacts on Instagram who engage with me every time I post one of my “remember a day every day” photos… they think it’s a lovely idea and a lovely way to celebrate her.  When you are going through a tough time it’s very nice to be surrounded with love and with genuine empathy.


I’m over the denial stage. I’ve accepted that she has gone and is never coming back. But the rest of my grief journey is just that…. MY grief journey. It is personal to me and it will take as long as it takes and I am completely ok with that.

Having said that, I wouldn’t mind accelerating to the stage where I can say “we lost Milly” without completely breaking down. Once I’ve shared the initial news I can have a conversation about it without crying, or if I’m talking to someone who already knows then I’m fine, but when telling a “new” person for the first time.. total mess ha. I’m sure it will get less raw.. won’t it?

In the meantime I’ve had some cute little cards made up with this http://www.becausemilly.com site so that I can “tell” people by choking out “lost Milly, can’t talk, read this” and thrusting a card into their hand before running away (which I did at the gym this morning…. sorry!)

 

I’m hoping that having my pendant now will help settle me a little further. Milly is always with me anyway.. she lives in my heart and my mind… but having my little piece of perfect around my neck will be a very physical reminder.

I also hope that I will now find the strength to stop carrying Milly’s little collar around with me. It has been giving me comfort round my wrist, in my pocket, my handbag, or under my pillow for the past 12 weeks…


But not tonight. Tonight both her collar and my precious treasure will be kept close.

because Milly…

Doors, barricades & tailgates

It looks like WordPress (the blog hosts) continue to be concerned by the number of visitors I am getting. Or, more accurately, the lack of visitors I am getting. Perhaps they are not used to blogs or bloggers who can survive on such little traffic. At the time of starting this I’ve had just the one visitor today. That’s one more than none, but considerably less than most blogs probably. I’m not dissatisfied with just one visitor – my dear musician friend Canada says that if his creations entertain just one person* then he is happy. Likewise for me, if just one person reads one of my blogs and walks away with a picture etched in their head of my little Milly, then I too am happy. If they are mildly amused or momentarily entertained then all the better. But WordPress are not so easily pleased, and have again sent me their best tips to increase my site traffic.
(* “one person” cannot be your mum)

Content. They advise me to publish more content more frequently. Firstly, do that not realise I have a day job? As much as I get incredible flexibility from my employer, I think blogging in the office would be a step too far. Secondly, what could I possibly blog about on a daily basis? The only thing I could write about would be the minutia of my everyday life, and I can assure you all that that would soon get a little tiresome. It could drive my viewing figures from one to none!

That said, today, I am going to write about some everyday life minutia…. but hopefully not in the tedious “sharing my every move on twitter” way that has become a bit of the norm.


To state the complete obvious – I miss Milly every day. Meaning that every single day of my life now I miss her. She isn’t with me, she isn’t here, and I miss her. Not a complicated concept to grasp.

In an earlier post I talked about the “everyday tasks” that now don’t exist.. the ones that were caring for Milly.. walking, feeding, brushing etc etc. Those have also gone. Again, not difficult to see why they leave a gap.

There is, however, a whole other level of “everyday” that I am still struggling to get my head around, even all these weeks on. And these are the simplest of things – gestures and actions – that are an inherent part of my everyday life, and have become so because Milly.

I can’t bore you with all of them, but I can give a couple of examples from the last 12 hours.


By now you should have the picture that Milly was a restricted dog. Because of her dog-phobia and chase instinct, she could not be allowed to roam free. I accept that lots of dogs are “on-lead” dogs, but Milly was next level. As a result, we very quickly adapted to being “checkers” and “shutters”, especially when it came to being outside. Fortunately our garden is now laid out such that we have just one entry point to the wide world – the side gate. Slightly more challenging is the fact that, around the bungalow, we have 3 sets of doors to the garden, plus the front door straight onto the driveway. This is where checking and shutting comes in to play. Checking where Milly is or isn’t, and shutting this one or that one accordingly.

It’s not that Milly spent her entire time plotting to escape, but just that if, at the exact moment she was glancing out of an open access point a fellow canine happened to be walking past in her eyeline, it would be game over.

It would’ve been nice to think that, providing the gate was shut, Milly could have the run of the garden without supervision. In the past she used to, however the arrival of new dog owning neighbours either side put an end to that.

She used to have particular trouble with Tia – the loveable chocolate lab whose side alley runs the entire length of ours. Unsurprisingly Milly’s nose would tell her if Tia was outside, and she would go into a state of high anticipation… ears pricked, nose twitching, the odd squeak or whimper. It usually wasn’t until Tia made a sound – often just a single quick bark – that Milly would react. We have a 6 foot solid fence, so there was no chance of any contact, but Milly would race up and down the alley barking and lunging at the fence in a complete frenzy. If nothing else, I was terrified of her hurting herself , so it had to be prevented. If we were on our way to or from a walk the lead was clipped on/off inside the back door, rather than at the gate which is how it used to be. If we were just “outside” in general then we made a barricade between the back of the house and the shed to stop her from getting to Tia’s fence.

Initially it was a temporary one, fashioned up from whatever materials we could find.

This is it. With Milly looking innocently back from the side she was not supposed to be on…

Barricade FAIL.

 

 

 

 

So out came the big guns – ply wood, a saw and some screws – and Matt made us a more sturdy sliding gate/door.

On the other side and behind (our garden is U-shaped around the bungalow) we had Harry the pup to contend with. Harry just wanted to play, but clearly his innocent racing up and down the fence line completely terrorised poor Milly. It didn’t last too long though because Harry escaped a few times out of his front gate and was then given less opportunity to do so, meaning Milly could have some peace in her little patch of outdoors.


On a day like today – when we were gardening and pottering outside – Matt and I would normally be communicating constantly on where Milly is, and who has shut or opened what. “I’ve opened the gate, keep the dog with you”.. that sort of thing. One of us, usually me, had an eye on Milly at all times. But today there was no need, and I was extremely aware of it as I wandered in and out of the house, and back and forth from the front garden to the back garden. I was habitually pulling the gate shut behind me and doing a quick check that, if the gate was open, both the back door & the barricade were firmly in the shut position. I’m sure I’ll get used to it not mattering, but today it just felt weird.

The importance of shutting doors also applied to the front door, and the door between the living room and the front hallway.

I never ever wanted to be in the position where Milly could “greet” someone coming in the front door. Although it’s totally lovely to be greeted be a smiling face and a wagging tail, if you are wrestling your way in the front door loaded down with bags with barely a free hand to turn the key in the lock, you don’t need to be caught unawares by Milly on the other side of it. Not that she would try and dart out, but if at the very moment you were making your bag-lady entrance, a dog happened to be passing across the end of the driveway it would not end well. Even more of a disaster could unfold if the dog was walking past the end of the drive on the opposite side of the road… So it just was not worth the risk. Ever.

That is The Rule.  Milly doesn’t come in and out of the front door, or have the opportunity to do so, without a human attached. Or rather, Milly didn’t. Keep getting my tenses muddled don’t I.


As well as the gardening and stuff, I did a Tescos shop today… so how on earth I am going to tenuously link this back to Milly? “AS IF Milly used to come to Tesco with you”. Well of course she didn’t, but I often used to think how nice it would be to take her inside and walk around knowing that there was almost 0% chance of meeting another dog. In all the years I’ve lived here I have never once seen an assistance dog in Tesco Hookwood, so a wander down the aisles would have been pretty safe. Illegal I guess, but that isn’t as important as it being dog-free.

So other than the reminder of the now unnecessary “door rules” associated with ferrying supermarket shopping into the house, the other “everyday” is that I no longer have to wedge my shopping into the dog bag or pile it on the back seat.

A dog bag… but isn’t that for picking up poop?! Well yes, that is one type of dog bag, but the other is of the car carry bag variety, to stop your beloved canine traveller from roaming around in the vehicle.


As you saw from my last blog on France, Milly used to travel quite happily (although often noisily) on the back seat of the car. Whilst this could be ok if there were two of you travelling it wasn’t ideal for day to day stuff, or around town. I also think that it might be illegal not to have your dog properly restrained. I feel like I should know that. I’ll look it up.

For a while Milly had one of those plug in seatbelt harnesses, but I think they work best for non-agitated dogs, because Milly used to just get herself tied in knots in it.


When we first got Milly I had my trusty hatchbatch – a black Astra lovingly named “da Copter” – and Matt had a classic Mark II Golf. Deciding we needed a sensible “dog car” we bought an old Passat estate to trial. I was far too attached to Copter so Matt took the Golf off the road and drove around in “the Longun”. We got on well with it, it was super practical for runs with Milly, and did us proud with that trip to France and various other road-trip adventures for a couple of years.

Despite being a 2.5 V6 Diesel though it wasn’t exciting enough for Mr Petrol Head (not to be confused with Mr Potato Head). We swapped it for a slightly newer and more whooshy 2.8 V6 Petrol 4Motion Passat. I say “swapped” in the loosest sense. We didn’t actually swap it – we never do – we always buy the next car and then ponder for ages what we might do with the old one.

The Longun eventually found home with the late Mr Lorusso, our good friend Mikey’s dad. When Mr L Senior passed away the Longun went to our friend Chad, and then eventually after some years of good service, it came right back to Matt, who finally scrapped it. That sort of thing is pretty normal for Matt and his friends. All have multiple cars, and will loan this one to that one, or buy that one from the other one. Was totally alien to me. My car was my all time pride and joy and the only person fully trusted with it was my Dad! I’ve relaxed on that now, and will get involved in the borrowing/lending/sharing to the extent that it can help others out.


The White Passat never got a name, but it had a reputation.

In a former life it was a service vehicle. Tell tale signs were score marks from decals on the exterior, rubber grommets covering aerial holes in the roof, evidence of electronic equipment on the dash and the front headrests being screwed in (?). It also had serious “limo tint” all round, which made it look pretty mean. We guess it was either Police or Paramedic. Either way though, it went bloomin’ quick, and with the lovely feeling that you only get as you wind up a petrol to the red line.

By this point Milly had progressed to the boot, with one of those universal “trombone” dog guards, where you extend the rails to fit the shape of your car…like the sliders on a trombone. Well clearly Milly knew her way around musical instruments. On one particular journey she made it known that she wouldn’t be restrained, and a bit like that playground game “What’s the time Mr Wolf” she snuck her way out of the boot and into the car.

Each time we turned around she was making another move until she was happily in position leaning on the back of the drivers seat.

 


In addition to all the physical gadgetry of a service vehicle, something had also been done with the electrics of the Passat. Specifically the central locking. We should’ve known something was dodgy when, very early on, the car self locked with the key inside. With no spare, Matt set about the door with a crow bar and a length of steel rod and somehow managed to activate the unlock button on the door in order to break back in.

For me, however, I found the boot catch more problematic and it gave rise to one of my most embarrassing stories of all time.


It was late on a Sunday afternoon and we had invited Mikey round for a spot of tea. Matt was busy in the workshop doing something or other so I made a quick dash to Tescos to secure us some pie and mash, and a few essentials. I returned to the car with my shopping, duly loaded it into the boot, returned the trolley to the bay and set off home. It was only when I was turning in the top of the road that I clocked in the rearview mirror that the tailgate was wide open. How long it had been like that I have no idea… I had the stereo so loud playing my tunes I hadn’t notice the buffeting wind noise.

All Matt remembers is me running down the yard drive calling him saying “Matt come quickly, I’ve lost the shopping!!”. I made him drive me back to Tescos, and round the carpark, but my shopping was nowhere to be seen.

Who knows when I lost it.. maybe I pulled out of the space with such gusto that it was immediately ejected, or maybe it was when I careered through the petrol station on two wheels after deciding to abort a refuel because of the queue. Whatever happened anyway I felt like a total idiot (and rightly so). I also had to make an emergency trip to little Tesco to try and get something to feed us and Mikey for dinner. I can’t remember what we had in the end but I do know he was very grateful not to be fed a cheesecake with tyre marks on it! Almost 8 years on and we STILL frequently joke about bringing “a road kill dessert” as a contribution to dinner.

I admit that I was a bit of wally that day, and had I practiced my very best Sunday Driving I would have safely delivered our groceries home, cheesecake and all. However TO THIS DAY I still stand by the fact it was a faulty boot catch. Plus, all normal modern cars have lights and alarms that go off when a door isn’t shut properly… where were those lights when my cheesecake needed them?

To prove my point it happened to me a second time – although thankfully there were no carrier bags in the road and no witnesses this time – but I had been following a horsebox so there is NO WAY it was my acceleration that caused the jettison of cargo.

One plus point of the Passat was the tow bar, which I used to good effect as a fender to prevent me fully reversing into walls. It was a LONG car I tell you.

So given the untrustworthiness of Milly, the boot catch and/or my driving, we invested in a travel crate for Milly in the car. This meant she could be securely stowed and the thing could be covered which would prevent her catching sight of any hounds out of the window and getting stressed out.


On changing cars again, this time me “swapping” Copter for my favourite car of all time – The Rocket – the crate was deemed too likely to get clanged against the body work and do some damage, and we instead got her a Dog Bag. Very similar to a pop-up festival tent, and just as impossible to dismantle, this thing was an instant hit.

Milly was so keen to get in it that she got on it before I had fully lashed it in to the car.

She also used to snuggle into it at every opportunity, I suppose it was like her little Wendy House.

 

After 5 years my beloved Red Rocket was “swapped” for the more sensible and sedate Bluey, a big mistake which was hastily remedied with another swap onto the current beast of an Audi-with-no-name.

Throughout these car changes I’ve managed to avoid Matt’s persuasion to get something small(er) and nippy with the “I need an estate for the Milly” excuse… I’m hoping he doesn’t suggest any fleet changes on my side in the near future because I’ll probably just stamp my feet and say I WANT AUDI. The only thing I could be possibly be tempted to upgrade to would be something with an autoclosing tailgate.

Because it was such a pain in the bum to unclip and dismantle, I used to keep the tent up all the time. Everything – like shopping, gym kit, laptop bag – used to just fit in or around it, and I got used to not being able to see in the rearview mirror.  Like a van, the wing mirrors were perfectly adequate. Although I realise I’ve been driving around with an empty tent for the majority of the time, it was her tent, Milly’s tent. Her little safe space away from home.

Today the dog bag no longer lives in the car… it is sitting in my office room – still popped up, because I’m just not ready to put it away yet, and even if I was I’ve lost the instructions so I don’t know how to fold it up and squeeze it back into it’s child’s napsack-sized case.


But as I went to Tesco and threw my shopping with ease into my fancy Audi, with it’s boot open warning light and all round parking sensors, I felt a pang of sadness at the empty boot.

Similarly when I got home and opened the front door AND the hallway door at the same time, propping them open to bring my shopping through to the kitchen, I was all too aware that there was no Milly there to keep shut in. No little nose checking out my shopping bags and hoping I had ventured down the dog treat aisle as I normally did. Matt was there – obviously – and hoping I had snaffled him an ice-cream from the freezer aisle (which I had), but it wasn’t the same….

So although I miss her every day, Milly is completely intertwined IN my everyday. There are connections and links and thoughts where you would never think to notice them. But to me they are as obvious as the moon in the sky…. they are part of me and although they haven’t always been there, they are now and I really think they always will be.

because Milly… 

Milly goes to France

I flipped a coin on the topic for today’s blog. I was either going to write about anxiety (mine) or Milly abroad. Luckily for you guys, Milly came out on top.

As soon as Milly came home to us we knew we wanted to involve her in every aspect of our life, including holidays. Little did we know how unrealistic that was going to be. At the time however that was our intention and we duly set about obtaining the documentation so she could accompany us abroad. A rabies vaccination, some blood tests and a large chunk of cash later, we were the proud owners of a UK PET PASSPORT.

Despite battling our way through the start of 2010 with Milly, when the opportunity arose at the end of the summer to go and stay in our lovely friend Caro’s delightful cottage “La Grange” in Provence we took it. And took Milly with us! We weren’t going completely blind – Matt had already spent a week down there and sussed out the area. Although nestled in a little village, Matt assessed that the location was quiet enough that we would not have any dog trouble. I was sold.

Other than the usual holiday packing I had to go into full organisational mode with regards to Milly. Back in 2010 the PETS Travel Scheme requirement to cross the border back into the UK was that the documentation had to evidence that the animal had received certain medicines between 24 and 48 hours prior to the date of re-entry. This meant we had to take Milly to the vet. In France. And not just anywhere in France either, in deepest, rural France. Given that vet visits at home were extremely stressful because of the inevitable presence of other canine patients, the thought of going to a local French vet filled me with fear.

Not only was it a vets visit, but it also had to be a vet who could scan the microchip and complete the requirements under the PETS scheme. Cue avid Google search. Primarily using British forums, because everything else I found was in French, I was able to identify a suitable Veterinary Practice in the neighbouring town of Uzes. Next challenge. How do you make a Vets appointment in French? Whilst also explaining that your dog is severely dog phobic and so we must be confident we can ensure no dog-dog interaction? No idea frankly. Drawing on my pre-GCSE level French lessons I could tell you that a chien is a dog, but that is about it. Luckily for me our dear friend Chad (Otto’s daddy.. see earlier post Goodnight Fat Cat) speaks fluent French. Hurrah. Appointment made, instructions given, and assurances received that everything could be done to comply with the PETS scheme.

My biggest worry about taking her over there was that something would go amiss with the paperwork and she wouldn’t be allowed to return home. My parents know of a couple who took their dog on a trip across the channel in their personal boat. They didn’t give it much of a thought but when it came to coming home their docs weren’t in order and some major scrambling had to be done. Little dog had to come home on the Eurostar.

Next on the agenda was ensuring that I had the ability to communicate effectively with the owner of another dog, just in case any situation should arise. Pretty sure “Non” accompanied by some wild hand flapping wasn’t going to cover it. I went to Aurore at work, who hails from Toulouse, and she kindly wrote me out a very easy and succinct sentence that delivered the message I needed. It was along the lines of “My dog is scared. Please keep your dog away. Thank you”. I had it written down in my purse, but I practiced and practiced it just in case. How ever I thought I was going to have the presence of mind to use it in the moment I have no idea – in my native tongue I can only just about manage to yell “NO. NO. AWAY. NO. NO” over the sound of Milly’s barking. Never the less it boosted my confidence knowing that, in theory, I could say what I needed to say.


I don’t remember why now, but for some reason we booked the Dover-Dunkerque ferry crossing. Given that I suffer from motion sickness (and did then!) I don’t know why I would have done that. It would have been much more sensible to book the tunnel, which is the only way I’m prepared to drive on to the continent nowadays. But in 2010 a ferry crossing it was.

I imagine that for normal dog owners, or at least the owners of normal dogs, there is a little bit of uncertainly when it comes to making this trip for the first time. Until you’ve done something once, you don’t really know what is what, or how easy things are going to be. There is only so much internet research you can do from traveller reviews, noting that plenty of those you have to take with a pinch of salt. For us, the owners of a special dog, or at least for me – the worrier – there was a large helping of apprehension.

We had booked a crossing at stupid o-clock in the morning, not only to allow us to cover the miles down to Uzes in a single day, but also to hopefully be on a quiet crossing.

On check-in at port they give out the regular car mirror hanger thing, and on ours we were also proudly displaying a big sticker to show we had a dog on board. Directed to a boarding lane number we thought nothing of it, until we arrived at the lane and realised it was the dog lane. And there were three other cars already in it. Gulp. Milly was not making her maiden voyage as a lone canine.

Once aboard the ferry I was trying not to freak out that our car was surrounded by other cars containing dogs. As those of you who have been on a ferry will know, you have to vacate your car and go up to the passenger deck for the duration of the crossing. Where “you” means the humans. Canines remain locked in your car, on the car deck. I did know this in advance, and must have thought I’d be ok with it. But when it came to it I felt awful leaving her. I was also desperately worried that she would realise she was surrounded by dogs and get herself into a terrible state. For 2 hours. At that point however there was no going back. We were loaded on and the doors were shut – we had to get upstairs. I spent the trip fighting both my seasickness (with extreme mental concentration) and my anxiety over Milly (using much of the same technique).

No joke I was the first person back onto that car deck when the tannoy gave us permission. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, for Milly was curled up fast asleep on the back seat.


The drive down to Uzes was about 1000kms and, given that I insisted on us stopping every hour to let Milly stretch her legs, it took ages! Didn’t matter though – we had successfully made it to France! We were on our holidays!!

 

 

Milly started off alert and scanning the horizon as she usually did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She must’ve realised the scenery wasn’t changing much as we bombed along the toll roads, and soon settled down to a slightly more relaxed position.

 

 

 

 


On arrival at La Grange I was extremely pleased. The garden was gated and surrounded by high walls, a handful of houses in the village, and La Grange itself was cosy and perfect. We were going to have brilliant week!

On closer inspection the following day, we discovered that the courtyard garden probably wasn’t escape-proof enough for a dog as determined as Milly so we fashioned up a long line so she was free to roam, but not disappear.  No worries.


Unfortunately we did have three near-misses whilst we were there.

The first, and the funniest, was when we were taking our evening walk out of the village and on a little circuit down some country roads. Like a lot of dogs, Milly likes to hug the fence line, and was doing this along the perimeter of what appeared to be a very large property. So engrossed in what was going on outside, she initially didn’t notice that INSIDE the fence line the resident dog was doing exactly the same thing and trotting alongside her. Unfortunately neither did we! I think all 4 of us jumped out of our skin when she did finally notice.

The second less funny event was when I was taking Milly out on my own during the day. Following the same circuit which, aside from the perimeter walking dog, we had deduced was super quiet and very low risk. On approaching the village on the way back and being in sight of our gate, around the corner came a dog. On his own. No lead. No owner. Clearly he was just taking himself for a little walk. He spotted Milly and started advancing, tail wagging, ready to greet her with the universally accepted customary bum sniff no doubt. Milly spotted him and reacted as usual. We tracked back a little way, and he stopped, but was stood neatly between us and our gate. We were trapped. Perfect.

Having relaxed my “take mobile phone” rule because I was on holiday, I had no choice but to call for Matt, hoping that he would be able to hear me and come and rescue me. I have no idea how far away I was and even if I had known it wouldn’t have helped because I have no concept of how far you can throw your voice. So all the while keeping one eye on the guardsman blocking our path, I yelled for Matt as loudly as I could possibly manage. Thankfully he could hear me, and came out to lead the loose dog away whilst Milly and I got safely in the gate. Matt said I was loud. The entire village probably heard me. Sorry about that village.

The final incident was not funny in the slightest, and literally makes me shudder with fear when I think about what could have happened. I will therefore gloss over it with minimal detail. Turns out the guardsman dog lived in the neighbouring house to La Grange. He came outside and barked one day, and Milly saw red and took a running jump over the garden wall. With lightening reactions Matt turned round and managed to grab hold of her line. With a superhuman heave on it Milly must have spun around mid air and reappeared face first over the wall, landing safely back on her paws. Can’t even think beyond that. Needless to say I didn’t relax outside very much after that. Milly had proven that she couldn’t roam on her line. For the most part, her and I stayed inside.


On one day mid-week we were feeling adventurous and drove down to the beach at Montpelier. Having located a secluded spot, and sussed out a safe route back to the car for emergencies, armed with my French phrase from Aurore, we spent a bit of time chilling on the beach. Despite the remote location and there being nothing on the horizon between us and Algeria, Milly remained on high alert most of the time. She just couldn’t help it.

 

One of my favourite photos taken on that day Matt had enlarged onto a canvas for me at home. When he placed the order the retailer referred to it as “lady with smiling dog”, and that is what we still fondly call it.

You can’t tell from this shot but she actually has her paw resting really sweetly on my knee.


The end of our holiday was drawing near and so was our pre-booked vets visit. Being ultra-prepared we had already driven through the town and sought out the vets, worked out where we would park etc. We arrived on time – first appointment after lunch – and thankfully were the only clients. With no stressful waiting in reception we were seen straight through to the vets office where she was waiting for us. With her MASSIVE golden retriever napping under her desk. HOLY. COW. Somehow we managed to rapidly reverse a reacting Milly out of the room and down the corridor whilst the poor retriever was relocated to continue his nap in peace somewhere else.

The vet did the necessary treatments and signed the book. Phew.

It wasn’t until we got safely back into the car that I realised she hadn’t actually scanned Milly’s microchip! She could’ve been treating one dog and signing the passport of another for all she knew. Nevermind.


Following another mammoth road trip through central France we arrived back at port in good time for our return ferry. All documents are checked by Border Officers before you board the ferry, leaving you free to disembark and put your foot down on the other side. Still, we had nothing to worry about – all three of our passports were present and correct. Looking at our sun-tanned faces was enough to confirm our identity, but Milly needed a microchip scan.

Which didn’t work.

The Border Officer handed me the scanner through the car window to do the honours on the back of Milly’s neck. One attempt. No chip. No bleep. Second attempt. No chip. No bleep. My pulse was through the roof.. this cannot be happening?? The Officer must have taken one look at my ashen face and realised that I wasn’t faking this panic to try and smuggle a dog across the border. She waved us through without the successful scan.

Less dogs travelling on the way back, so I only had my sickness to concentrate on, and we arrived back at Dover in good time. 90 minutes later our adventure ended when we closed the bungalow door snugly behind us.


Although overall we had a lovely time, the trip wasn’t without it’s little stresses. The guardsman dog, the napping retriever and the microchip fail were all filed away in my memory bank. At the time we didn’t rule out taking her on holiday again, in fact we even renewed her rabies vaccine in 2012. But as her story unfolded it became more and more difficult to find the perfect trip, and to be honest I became less and less brave about doing so. We did look into several trips but each time we considered taking her away we came back to the decision that it just wouldn’t be relaxing for us or for her. Not only abroad, but we researched UK based dog friendly holidays, cottages for rent and that sort of thing. Despite hours of research, and using Google earth view to full effect to determine the locality of cottages to ANY OTHER properties, we never did book anything.

I have always felt sad (and a bit guilty) that we never took her further afield again, but then I remember that trip to in 2010 and her smiling face on the beach. We took her to France! She paddled her paws in the Mediterranean Sea! Not many Surrey dogs can make that claim.

We tried our best. But ultimately settled on what we all deemed was the lowest stress solution all round. That was the story of her life.


Since 2010 Matt and I haven’t been on very many holidays ourselves, but we were lucky enough to give Milly her perfect holiday each time…. a stay with my lovely parents.

 

Somewhere where she felt as safe and as loved as she did in her own home……because she absolutely was.

 

 

because Milly…

Becoming Milly’s proper Mummy

Despite seemingly “settling in” at home very well and very quickly, looking back Matt and I realised that it actually took quite a long time for Milly to come out of her shell. We think it was probably the best part of a year before her little dogonality was fully revealed. This is a largely uneducated guess but we attributed this to her being highly stressed and almost shut down when she was in kennels. I don’t know if there is such a things as Canine PTSD (?) but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that, after months of being in kennels with/near the enemy (all other dogs), Milly might’ve been suffering from it.

When I look back now, I can’t quite put my finger on why we felt that she wasn’t herself for so many months, but we definitely discussed and agreed on this some years back now, so there must’ve been something, or a number of things, that made us feel that way.

Similarly, I guess it took me some months to adjust to my role as a doggy mummy. With hindsight I realise that I actually had no idea what I was doing beyond the essentials.

From day one I was absolutely meeting the most fundamental and basic needs of a dog: Food; Shelter; Exercise. I took those duties very seriously.
I was also dishing out a bucket load of affection and ardently following her around with my camera phone to ensure that I captured those all important “firsts” and cute moments.

First “sore paw” incident – early 2010.

I’ve never seen someone look so unimpressed at a first aid attempt.  I’m sure that special bootie cost me the best part of a tenner.. and lasted on her foot for all of 4 minutes.

 

 

 

First “snow day” – Winter 2009.

There’s something extremely cute about paw prints in the snow.

 

 

 

First “bath time” – Winter 2009

Wasn’t a favourite.  Like a lot of dogs Milly loved a muddy puddle or a slightly stale pond, but give her a warm bubble spa bath and a fluffy tumble dried towel and she was unconvinced.

 

Despite really loving her and caring for her, I didn’t actually have much of a bond or connection with her in those early months. She knew I was the food provider and the boss in the house but that was about it. Something that probably made it considerably more difficult to build that connection was the fact that she was literally unrecognisable and unpredictable out of the house. In truth, I was possibly a little bit fearful. Not of her directly – I never ONCE thought she was going to turn on me. But the fact that we stepped out of the house and she immediately became a different character made me feel uneasy I guess. Just as a loose point of reference I’ll liken it to someone who has been drinking excessively…. people can “turn into” something or someone that you don’t recognise. You aren’t scared of them, but you can be a little scared by the drastic change. When the alcohol wears off, or in Milly’s case when the back door shut behind her, they are again themselves and, probably – through sheer relief – you forget all about it.

I didn’t knowingly feel scared – but now I have all the time in the world to look back and over-analyse I can come up with these things. Hindsight eh.

Despite having a Jekyll and Hyde for a pet, I was largely unperturbed, and just ploughed on doing what I had to do. I never regretted anything but looking back I was out of my depth with “special dog” ownership.

I was, however, in the extremely fortune position of knowing a superstar dog trainer, and I went to her to receive some very basic but crucial guidance.


After completing my GCSEs at 16 I went to college at Brooklands in Weybridge. It felt super grown-up at the time.. it was a campus college and not attached to a school, the tutors were tutors not teachers and known by their first names, you only had to be there when you had actual lessons, and my Economics tutor – the infamous BOB – used to regularly send us home from class early so we (or he?!) could go to the pub. It was at Brooklands, and in Economics, that I met Michelle. Michelle was from Goldsworth Park Woking (I can still remember her home address from 20 years ago!), and despite being only a few months older than me, she seemed much more worldly wise than I did. The unexpected free-time that Bob used to give us was often spent honing our American Pool skills at Planets in Woking with other friends Gemma – my best friend from home – and Paul, who Michelle knew. Blimey weren’t those carefree days.

Michelle and I got on well from the beginning, although we had a momentary glitch when she snogged my ex-boyfriend on a Geography field trip in France. I wasn’t best pleased at the time.

At home Michelle had a lot of dogs – I’m going to punt at usually 5/6 at any one time – because her mum was/is a MASTER trainer. From what I knew or understood then it was mostly agility training, but I think she has done every kind. I confess I was too busying thinking about boys and driving and parties to pay too much attention to the dogs, although we did visit her a number of times when they had puppies because Gemma was a major animal lover.

Michelle is petite, proper cute (still now) and looks like butter wouldn’t melt, but she has the fastest tongue of anyone I know. There is a superb story of her Year 11 Prom (or some other school organised party). I hadn’t heard of it, but Michelle went to one of the more down-to-earth schools in Woking (not dissimilar to my Sunbury Manor experience I think).

So legend has it, at said school party, things got a little heated at the end of the night and security were brought in complete with their ferocious guard dogs.  Tiny Michelle was surely front and centre of the commotion. When faced with the threat of having the “dogs set on them” Michelle took one look at the snarling, barking hounds and delivered some quick-witted & frankly cheeky response to the security guard before proceeding to call one beast over for tummy tickles and a chin rub. Whether it was actually her dog whisperer talents or just her bolshy confidence that told her she wasn’t going to get savaged I’ll never know, but she walked away unscathed.

Anyone who can talk down a guard dog was pretty impressive in my 17 year old mind, and this story still makes me chuckle out loud to this day.

Michelle wasn’t hugely committed to studying at that point in her life, and after just over a year or so at Brooklands she left and started working full time in Mr Cod. Michelle had enough courage and self-belief to try her hand at something different, and she went on to qualify as a Financial Advisor, sit A-Levels, study for a law degree and complete her Masters. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if I saw in the paper that she was running for Prime Minister.  I do actually think she would make a cracking job of it.

Oh, and she is also now an awesome Mummy to two beautiful daughters. Last time I saw them, her eldest girl was certainly showing signs of the same quick wit her mummy has…. good luck Michelle & Tim!!



So, back to 2010, it was Michelle’s mum – who was living just a couple of miles away – that I turned to for advice on Milly.

She was never going to be a flyball queen, but I came away with a much better understanding of some of the basics. I learnt that “assertive” was just that. It wasn’t angry, or mean. It was just assertive and confidently in charge. It is said that it can cause more stress to a dog if they don’t know who their pack leader is. Drawing on her Collie genes, Milly proceeded to master various commands with me, including but not limited to: Wait (obvious), Close (turn 180degree at heel), Touch (my hand with her nose), Down (again, obvious).

 

Milly proudly showing off her “wait” command in 2014.  Took me 5 attempts to get this picture before she was allowed to snaffle the hot dog lettering.  I felt very proud of her.

 

 

Amongst other things I also learnt from Liz that it would be hugely beneficial if I was relaxed and happy, and she had me giving upbeat chitter chatter to little Milly on all of our walks. Milly never chatted back, but I’d give her a run down of my day, my shopping list or anything else that I could deliver in jolly sing-song voice. Despite feeling like a bit of a nutcase at times – some youths in town once mocked me after observing “listen to her, she’s talking to her dog” – there is no question that Milly and I were seriously bonding over the months that followed.

Although I wasn’t able to influence her reactivity towards other dogs at that time, her and I were having a better time of it out of the house and our relationship was progressing nicely. Whether she would’ve admitted it or not, I know I stopped being just that annoying and slow human on the end of her lead… it didn’t take too long before I was Milly’s proper mummy.

because Milly…

 

I also need to mention here that Michelle’s immediate reaction on hearing about my loss of Milly was to drop absolutely everything and head over to my house.  Busy lives and commitments now mean that we don’t see each other or speak from one month to the next, but in one single text message she reminded me why she is, and always will be, such a good friend.  As it happened I had forced myself into the office the very next day in order not to be home alone so Michelle didn’t need to make her emergency visit.  But that fact that she was going to, and I know would’ve exactly done the same had I messaged her at 2am not 9am, meant so much to me.  Thank you x

 

Hurrah for sunshine!

I received quite a lot of feedback that my previous blog, and the story of Milly’s final minutes, brought tears to a lot of eyes. I’m sorry for causing any sadness but I do hope that, through the tears, the love still shined very brightly – because that was the message that I wanted to convey. I also cried whilst writing it and re-living that dreadful day, and as a knock on impact left myself feeling very low on Monday too. Guess that’s just a blogging-hazard. I resolved that my next post would be something a little bit more uplifting, or at the very least, something a little less sad.

As most of you UK folks will know, the back end of this week has brought the spring that we have all been waiting for. Or, to be more accurate, we seem to have bypassed spring and been catapulted straight into summer, with glorious sunshine, soaring temperatures and long, light balmy evenings. It seems to be widely known that the stereotypical Brit will always start a conversation with a comment on the weather, and by the end of January most are sick of winter and longing for some sunshine. Well this year neither February nor March delivered anything to write home about, but here we are now in mid-April with our flip-flops on and our BBQ’s lit. I would guess that 75% of the working population headed for a sunny pub garden on the way home this evening.

Unsurprisingly, as a blonde haired blue eyed June baby, I am not a massive fan of winter either. Described (lovingly) by my friends as a coldy custard, it takes 30degrees+ for me to get my shorts on, so I inevitably spend winter battling to stay warm. Before Milly the daily winter goal was to spend as little time outside as possible, and I achieved this pretty well.

As dog parents up and down the land will know, a bit of “weather” means nothing to a dog, and their walks and routine must be maintained regardless. So Milly put an end to my annual cycle of a 4month long season of hibernation. Instead I developed a love for thermals and finally accepted that a hood really is as much for warmth as it is rain protection.

Although Milly was as happy to soak up some of the inside warmth as I was, she never turned her nose up at a walk. So other than those handful of bitterly cold and icy days, when bare paws on pavements were just a NO, we were out 360+ days a year.

 

The added difficulty for us with winter walks was that the majority of weekday ones would be in the dark. I have described Milly’s general hyper-vigilance already, but for the first few years this was amplified in the dark, and probably worse at dusk. Whether it was something specific like the scent of neighbourhood foxes or just her overall heightening of smell and sound receptors I don’t know, but it made the night time walks more exhausting on the arm muscles. Over the years I also learnt to fine-tune my senses to excel at advance dog-spotting in the dark. I recognise shadows cast by moonlight and can distinguish the jingle of keys from the rattle of a collar and tag with precision accuracy. If you ever need assistance on a late night stakeout I’m your girl.



In addition to my anticipation of being able to swap my ski coat for an ordinary coat (still fleece lined!) I also look forward to spring with a massive sense of positivity. Similar to lots of people I long for the light evenings and the opportunity to top up on Vitamin D, but in addition to that I feel excited on Milly’s behalf too. I feel excited for her that walks will be in the light. I don’t know why really, because I’m not sure she cared all that much. Things smell the same whether it’s dark or light.. don’t they? But walks in the daylight just feel happier somehow. Maybe it’s just because I’m happier in general, and things feel easier in general. I especially love REALLY early summer morning walks – not just because of the daylight but also the almost guaranteed peace. There was always always a chance of meeting another dog, so we were never totally at ease, but the earlier the walk the lower the risk, so the more relaxed we could be. I have some very simple but very happy memories here.

Doubtless there is also an element of spring hope, leftover from the early days when we were still trying to rehabilitate/train her. This was extremely hard work at the best of times, but in the cold and dark even more so. Gloves are an absolute non-starter when you are dishing out slices of hotdog to reward every speck of calm behaviour. The “hope” that attached itself to the changing seasons was the hope of real life-changing progress… maybe this year she’ll crack it…

Or maybe not. As it turned out. But I wasn’t to know that.

So I started out, year after year, spring after spring, with a renewed sense of optimism…

The approach of summer also just made me feel pleased that she could feel some warm rays on her fur. I realise we were not genetically related but there is still no doubt that she got her sun tolerance from me. As soon as it gets warm enough we throw open the patio doors and let the outside in.

Milly is always the first to venture out and normally secures herself a prime spot to capitalise on the midday angle. In the height of summer I have to be extra careful to keep her OFF the patio. The black limestone slabs heat up like a griddle pan… not good for feet or paws.

I too love to bask, so if ever there is an opportunity for a quick ‘lounge, I take it.
Milly became pretty savvy to my ways, which inevitably involved a lot of back and forth in and out of the house getting set up with essentials. Lounger, towel, drink, phone, kindle, sun cream, sunglasses. Waiting until I’d stepped inside to collect a forgotten item, in a nanosecond she’d cash in my absence. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’d scurry back out to be greeted with this,complete with a facial expression that said “what?!?!? well I thought you’d gone inside…”

Good job we have two sun-loungers really.


Yesterday was Matt’s birthday and as one of his company perks is a day off on your birthday, I took the opportunity of a sneaky day off as well. It certainly broke the week up. He couldn’t have picked a better day to have his birthday this year haha. The weather was absolutely glorious. We started out with a mountain bike ride in the Surrey Hills, washed down with customary cake from the lovely Peaslake Village Stores.
Returning after lunch, Matt went off up to the workshop to take bits off a car (totally his choice!) and having no desire to get my hands dirty I thought it best to take advantage of the unexpected but welcome heatwave for a couple of hours.

It was the first time I’ve opened the patio doors and stepped out into the garden just for the sake of it. On unrolling my towel and setting up my lounging station, there was a glaringly huge gap by my side/on my tummy. 

Ordinarily I can while away hours reading, snoozing or randomly googling stuff however yesterday I just couldn’t find the peace in my head to do that. My brain was searching for “something” to fill that gap. I know that I’ve got partial plan for the year, with my commitment to fundraising (and the required training) but at the moment that doesn’t fill the “every day”. There’s such a space in my head that I am trying to distract myself from. Even if I could “run away my worries”, I actually couldn’t possibly run for all of that time. My feet would fall off.

Usually as long as the sun is shining, there isn’t much that can ruin my mood. Despite having had a lovely morning with the birthday boy, and a good rush of endorphins from Body Attack followed by a couple of hours of offroading, my entire aura was a little bit muted yesterday.

At the start of the day I felt that usual surge of spring positivity and hope, but I think it was more out of habit than anything else. Like instinctively saying “ouch” when you bump into something, regardless of whether your brain has registered pain or not. “Hurrah, it’s sunny, life is good!”…. only then my brain acknowledged the lack of a signal and realised that actually, right now, something is amiss.

“Hurrah, it’s sunny” full stop. Doesn’t have quite the same uplifting impact does it.

I’m not meaning to be doom and gloom. I am actually a pretty positive person. I am a great believer that with a positive mindset you can overcome almost all things, and that you can totally change a situation just by changing how you think about it.

I’m not saying life is bad, because it isn’t.

It is just different.

I love coming up with a good analogy, and I think this one articulates my feelings pretty well.

Milly is the most beautiful strand of thread running through the plait that is our life. Her existence gave our plait a whole new dimension. Over 8 incredible years it became more meaningful, stronger, and ultimately all the more beautiful because of her presence.

Milly’s strand has now ended… there’s no getting away from that. She has left behind the most amazing and memorable plait you could ever imagine. But our plait doesn’t end here – it can’t end, and of course we wouldn’t want it to. I’m not suggesting that our plait won’t be beautiful again in the future. There is every chance that it can be, it just will not be “the same” beautiful as it was before. It physically cannot be the same, because Milly’s strand was unique and irreplaceable.

Our plait is absolutely precious, but right now it is delicate and fragile.

Although sunshine isn’t giving me the same boost that is usually does, I can still sit quietly and soak it up. Whilst my head processes and my heart heals, my hands are holding on to the rest of our strands and trying to work out a new pattern. It might be a bit untidy for a while, but I’ve got to dig deep and keep plaiting. I know it will get stronger, and I do believe that eventually it will take shape and become a new shade of beautiful.

because Milly…

x Milly the sun dog x

A day to forget

I’ve been writing this blog for 5 weeks, and have only managed 14 posts so far. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing (because I do) and it’s not that I don’t have a lot to say (because I clearly do!), it’s just that life gets in the way. Or more specifically, I guess work mostly gets in the way! Sacking off work to be a full-time blogger would be pretty cool.

I know that I could probably blog more if I spent less time per post. Perhaps hit a few quick fire posts in my lunchbreak, that sort of thing. I reckon I could do this – I can be deadline driven and work well under pressure – however due to the content and purpose of this whole page, I don’t really think I can do Milly’s story any justice in 30 minute snippets.

You will therefore have to persevere with me whilst I arduously slave over a blog for a least a couple of hours in order to make it “just so” before I hit publish (often burning some genuine midnight oil in the process), and as a result, have a fairly low post frequency. I’m sure there is some guidance to be found that says to have a successful blog you post regularly, or at least consistently…. but, for now at least, I’ll have to reconcile myself with a mediocre one at best.

One of the most time consuming things is finding the photos that I want to include in the posts. I generally know the photos I want to include with a story – 99% of her pictures are etched in my brain – however locating them on the laptop is a different story. I have got folders by year, but with over 2000 photos to scroll through it can take a while.

I’ve realised a couple of other things this week…

Firstly, no matter how much or how factually I write, there really is only so much content I can put out there to share Milly with the world. Despite having all those photos, most of them never made it to social media, and that really feels like a waste.

Secondly, I have vaguely alluded to aspects of “that day”, but still have not had the courage to really share what happened.

Today, 15th April, marks two months since we lost our girl. In one breath I can barely believe it has been that long, but in the next I feel I haven’t seen her for so so long and miss her with such intensity that my heart hurts. There’s definitely a cliché about “what I wouldn’t give to see her one last time”… I know it’s not going to happen, and photos and memories are all I have, but it’s impossible to push that desperate thought out of your head. Just one more walk, one more cuddle, one more anything….

What would I have done differently had I know that her last day was actually to be her “last day”.. probably nothing, because she wanted for nothing as it was.  For her it was definitely better that this whole thing came out of the blue and unfolded so very quickly.  Had we spent a day “knowing” it was her last, we would have been in a complete mess and consequently she would have been very unsettled indeed.

This is the last photo I took of Milly.  Test driving our modified floor level bed on February 13th 2018.

You can’t see it very clearly in the photo but I promise you she is smiling 🙂

 

 


I’ve come up with a solution to the sporadic posting, the wasted content and the glaring gap in the story…

Photo’s from my collection will be posted on Insta & Twitter in a quest to Remember A Day Every Day, and this post will fill in the blanks on the one day that I know I will never ever forget….




*WARNING* This is highly likely to be a sad post *WARNING*

 



The story sort of starts on Wednesday 14th February. I say “sort of” because there is absolutely nothing of relevance to note about that Wednesday. Totally normal day. Totally normal behaviour. Totally normal everything. After dinner, tea, chocolate and an episode of Suits on Netflix we three made our way to bed as we did every night, and promptly fell asleep.

Thursday’s alarm is an early one – 5.35am for me – in order to get up and get to the gym. Matt’s alarm follows soon after so he can take Milly out for her walk before getting ready for work, putting the bins out, and heading off at 7.30am.

When my alarm went off that morning I just wasn’t feeling it. I just felt a bit “meh”. Slightly sore throat and just meh. This is really rare for me but I switched the alarm off, sent a quick WhatsApp to Em to apologise for my absence in class and turned over on the pillow. I dozed for a short while but then woke up to Matt urging Milly to be careful because she looked a little wobbly. This wasn’t totally unusual – she was an old girl – and her first few steps in the morning could be slightly off balance until her joints and muscles warmed up.

I heard that familiar noise of the utility room door catch and realised that Matt was about to head out as normal. Jumping out of bed I rushed in to remind him that I was working from home, and as I wasn’t gymming (I was already too late to go) I would take Milly out once it was light and slightly warmer. Milly and I took ourselves back to bed whilst Matt carried on with his morning routine. Lie-in’s are very rare these days, and absolutely unheard of during the week. I took advantage of extra minutes and Milly and I had a lovely snuggle on the bed, which is something we had not done for quite a while. I am sure that at this point there was still nothing to notice.

It was around 7.15am when things started to go downhill. We were all in the kitchen – Matt making lunch, me drinking an enormous tea (#standard), and Milly seemingly just chilling. It was then that Matt noticed that Milly had had a really big weewees accident. Again – not totally unusual – she had been experiencing some urinary trouble on and off for around 18 months – but this was a really big one, which was surprising considering she had already been outside. I let her out the back door and that is when I realised something was very wrong. Poor Milly was staggering and swaying, unable to fully control her limbs, a little bit like she was drunk. Then, still swaying, she was very sick. I was crouching by the back door just saying “she’s not ok Matt, she’s not ok”. The panic was rising in my chest. We brought her inside and she could barely stand up straight. Matt put her water bowl in front of her and, completely disorientated she knocked it over and tried to go “through” the turbo trainer rather than around it. She seemed to stabilise on her feet though – perhaps she was ok afterall?? – and now nearing 7.30 Matt went to brush his teeth. I was still crouching down, asking her what she was feeling, and it was then I realised that both of her eyes were twitching repetitively from side to side. Cue absolutely blind panic and fear. I started screaming “SHE’S HAVING A STROKE”.

Phone in hand I dialled the emergency vet – she was trying to tell me the prices of the different out of hours timeslots and I cut her off with WE ARE LEAVING RIGHT NOW. Flurry of activity for a few minutes whilst Matt put blankets in the back of the car. I was trying to get dressed without leaving her alone, which was a bit of a challenge. Matt carried her to the car and put her on my lap in the back. She couldn’t hold herself upright and was sick again. Longest 20 minute journey ever and I was trying so hard to keep calm – for her sake – but the panic was wrapped around my throat.

We quickly realised that the wobbly start and the weewees accident were obviously connected to whatever was going on. I was also already battling in my head against the “what if’s”. What if I hadn’t been here? What if I had gone to the gym as normal?


The initial arrival at the vets is a bit of a blur. Matt did the communicating. I was a wreck. I know that we saw the nurse and gave her what little details we had of what had happened. She would need to go with the nurse…. this was exceptionally hard. Out of the house I never ever let Milly out of my sight, so to have her taken away from me when she was acutely ill was really hard. Thankfully I did have the presence of mind to tell the nurse of her “dog” issue and they said she could go into isolation… but was she ok with a kitten they asked?! ABSOLUTELY NOT. The kitten’s cage received a blanket lid.

A few minutes later the vet came back to us and confirmed that her symptoms were neurological. They could run a blood test, looking for a treatable cause in the liver or kidneys, and we of course agreed. She warned us at this point that the neurological damage was likely irreversible, and that the prognosis was not good. Don’t even know what was in my mind at the time. It wasn’t traditional panic. Perhaps “calm panic”, if there is such a thing. Vet said the tests would take 45-60minutes, and was there a number they could call us on. AS IF WE WERE GOING ANYWHERE. I was gobsmacked that she even considered we might go home. But I guess maybe some people do. We went and sat in the car for a few minutes, and I sent an emergency text to my parents putting them on standby. I knew they had planned to go out for the day, but I knew that they would want to know about this. I also needed them. Despite being a fully fledged adult, and having Matt alongside me, I still use my parents for a huge amount of emotional support. They couldn’t be there, but I needed them to know what was unfolding real time, so texting was the next best thing.

After a short while we went back to the waiting room – I didn’t want to risk wasting one minute if they were trying to locate us in the car park. Goodness knows how, but 45 minutes passed and the vet called us back in and gave us the news that I think we both knew was coming. Matt and I must have spoken during the wait – we must have done – but I don’t remember any of the conversation. I think we communicated in single words, looks and hand holding alone – but however we did it we were completely united and of one mind.

The blood tests were 100% clear. Nothing going on in the liver or kidneys, which meant there was something going on in the brain. I didn’t process much of what the vet said after that. I just wanted to see her. Vet realised I was not going to cope with going out the back into the emergency zone, and arranged for the nurses to bring her to us.
She came into that room supported by two nurses, her harness and lead, and with a towel round her middle holding up her back legs. It was just awful. Sitting down on the floor we managed to get her laying up the length of my legs, with her head on my arm. She was largely unaware, and just looked bemused and confused. She could hear us though, and I have to believe she was comforted by our presence, our touch and our words.  Vet said that we could take as long as we needed to make our decision.

The “episode” was still continuing.. so almost two hours of her “feeling dizzy and drunk” (we think) but not knowing why. As someone who suffers from motion sickness I can relate to that. It was approaching the start of surgery, and although she may not have noticed anyway, I didn’t want her last moments to include any distress from the presence of dogs in the waiting room, so we knew we didn’t have long. We probably had 10minutes or so just holding her and talking to her, but when she tried to stand up, faced the corner and threw up again we knew it was time. Matt slipped out to give them the nod.

There’s a saying out there that single most important thing you can do for your beloved pet is to make the right decision, at the right time, and to be there. Whilst we cannot really take credit for the decision – there was just no choice – we controlled the timing and we didn’t leave her side.

Had you asked me merely days before I would have told you that there was absolutely no way that I could have been present for that event, and if I had to be then I would have been wailing and crying, completely hysterical and attempting to wrestle the sedative out of the vet’s hand. Add in that I am of an extremely delicate disposition, and can almost pass out at just the suggestion of someone else’s physical pain. I imagined I would be overpowered by that familiar yet horrendous fainting feeling and end up on the floor myself.

Our darling darling Milly went to sleep in our arms just after 9am on Thursday 15th February 2018, with a single text to my dear mum confirming “she’s gone xxx”.

When push came to shove, none of my expectations played out and I was really surprised at myself.

I just held her warm little body, stroked her furry little face and whispered into her velvet ears until her heart stopped beating and beyond.

Because when it came to it, not only did I have to, but despite everything my body and my brain were telling me, I wanted to. She was everything to me, but more importantly I was everything to her… and this was the very last thing I could do to show her my love.

because Milly…

Every end has a start

It’s hard to think back to 2009. So much has happened since then, and us and almost everything about us is different… it just seems like a lifetime ago, if you know what I mean. I guess in some respects it is a “lifetime” ago. Milly’s “lifetime”, or at least her lifetime with us. That is a very sad thought that I’d probably rather not dwell on.
Instead let me share some memories of how Amelia [no surname] joined our family, and became Milly Smith.

After months of badgering Matt finally relented and agreed we could get a dog. Or rather I could get a dog, and the dog could live with us. Picture small child “please please pleaaassseeeeee can I have a dog. I promise I’ll look after it all by myself and walk it and do everything”. Well I think we can all agree that I upheld my end of that deal.

Matt had dogs before I met him. Rizzy, a yellow lab, was his first and then after she died Chip joined the family. When the family stuff changed, Chip stayed with his Mummy but Matt still used to dog-sit occasionally. This was the set-up when I met Matt and after I moved in to the Bungalow, I saw quite a lot of Chip, along with Sophie’s kitten Tia, who used to travel back and forth when she did.

Other than 2 barely touchable rabbits when I was at middle school I had never had pets before. I am sure I applied the same badgering technique to my parents to get them, so that’s a 100% success rate. Although, being honest, I wasn’t as good at looking after them as I was Milly. I think food and water was ok but my poor mum got the raw end of the deal with the hutch cleaning most of the time. One of my Girl Guide friends had several rabbits and eventually Flopsy and Mopsy went to join them.

So having Chip and Tia around was new ground for me. Chip was all the things Milly was not – easy, take anywhere, dog friendly – although I didn’t fully realise how golden that was at the time! He was completely loveable chocolate-ness.

Tia and I didn’t bond so well to begin with. I’m not a cat person. Or at least I wasn’t then. I always found them unpredictable. My benchmark was Spooky. The cat of my childhood best friend Kathryn (with a K) Bromley. She calls herself Kate now.. has done for years actually but she was always Kathryn to me. Kathryn and I were best pals at primary and middle school. She was the oldest in the year, versus me being almost the youngest. She was normal sized, whereas I was tiny, and she used to stop the other children from picking me up and playing with me like I was a doll. I’d dare anyone to try and lift me now haha. Before we finished middle school Kathryn moved away. To Shepperton. Which on checking Google maps, I now see was a mere 3.5 miles away from my family home in Sunbury. I could cycle that in 20minutes! But when I was 11 it was the end of the earth. Luckily for us Kathryn’s mum was really good friends with my parents, had been for years (and still is!), so meeting up at weekends was easy. We used to have sleepovers a lot. Kathryn was responsible for my first dabble into black eyeliner…. no surprise to hear that it probably didn’t suit me then either. Saturday night at Kathryn’s usually meant a video (showing our age) and a family sized bar of Dairy Milk, bought by my dad from Threshers on the way to drop me off. Normally joining us for said video was Spooky. Stroking Spooky was like playing Buckaroo. It was only a matter of time before she took a COMPLETELY UNPROVOKED swipe at you. That set my expectations for a “cat”.

The Bromley’s also had Jarvis, a lovely rough collie (think Lassie) who we used to take out walking a lot. I don’t ever remember having to hide behind a tree with him. Other than the cat, the dog and the eyeliner, Kathryn and I shared loads of great times and I have some happy happy memories.

So back to Tia. Eventually, after a rather challenging flea incident, her and I finally got along.

In early 2011 Chip moved to Spain with his Mummy, and lived out the rest of his days very happily in the mountains. I know that he was loved and cherished and left a huge, huge gap when he passed away. I only saw him once or twice after he moved, but I will always remember him as the adorable old teddy bear that he was. Tia had gone to live with a feline brother in the home of a friend and although I haven’t seen her for myself I know Sophie has had updates over the years.

It was the presence, although temporary/part-time, of these two in my life that made me realise what I was missing by not having a pet of my own.

And so begun the badgering -> agreeing -> searching-> finding process.

It was agreed from day one that we would rehome and not get a puppy. So trawling the Rescue websites began. I don’t remember how long it took but eventually Amelia’s little profile appeared on the RSPCA website. I wish I still had a copy of it 😦 It def said that she wasn’t good with other dogs, but it said that she knew “sit, paw and her name on command” and that she was “good when groomed” and “ok when left”. We arranged to go and see her.

She was living at the Brighton RSPCA, which is just on the outskirts in Patcham. We learnt from them that she had been rescued from Ireland originally, and since coming into their care she had been rehomed twice and – clearly – returned twice. The first time with a family, who committed to training and rehabilitating her, but they returned her with such a damning account of her behaviour that the vet was booked to come and euthanise her. I can barely type that without my stomach turning. Thankfully the RSPCA had the experience and sense to make their own assessment, and quickly realised that “this dog is not what those people described”. I guess it was easier for them to paint that picture than admit that they couldn’t give her what she needed. Sadly it’s very easy to deflect blame onto something or someone who cannot defend themselves. After that she was rehomed again with a single chap, who progressed her training very well, but after 9 months had a change in circumstances and could only walk her after dark with a muzzle on. So again she was returned, and there she stayed for months and months. Nobody wants an old dog, and certainly not one with issues.

I can’t really begin to imagine what being in kennels must’ve been like for her. They say you shouldn’t “project” human thoughts & emotions on to animals. But I can’t help it, and so imagine that it was pretty traumatic. She was kept out of the main kennels, in the boarding block, because it was quieter apparently. She had just one neighbour – Stan the bulldog – whom she could tolerate.

You see the adverts on TV for the Dogs Trust and stuff, where eyes meet through a wire fence and it is love at first sight. Can’t say Matt and I had that experience. Milly was brought outside to meet us, and frankly she was completely indifferent to us, and totally distracted by what was going on around her…. #hypervigilant

We saw first hand her extreme reaction when Coco came round the corner to go back inside. She had a right go at him, and apparently due to dog walker error had bitten him on the ear only days before. Alas we were not perturbed, despite the massive adrenaline spike (me), and set off around the playing field with her. Nothing particularly eventful happened, which I know now to be a blessing.

After the visit and discussion we came home and pondered. I don’t really know who thought what, but I imagine I was rooting for her because of her history, and also completely naive as to what rehabilitating her might take. We must have both decided we wanted to adopt her, and the home check was arranged. Because we both worked full time I was a bit apprehensive about that visit. Sophie was with us 50% of the time and still at school so home early, Jamie was here too, Matt was working with his brother, I had some work from home flexibility, we had two sets of family living next door and I had scoped out a local pet sitter… I must’ve managed to convince the lady that we had it covered, and she gave us the green light. I know that often rescues don’t like to re-home when people work full time, and for certain dogs I know it would be an absolute NO, but my personal view is that for some dogs being at home alone all day sleeping on your sofa is still a better option than being in kennels. Milly was certainly one of those.

After Brighton got our approved report we spoke to them again. Milly was reserved but they must’ve been apprehensive about letting us have her because we went down again for another viewing (?). This time we saw her in action with Stan. She wasn’t massively happy but she could tolerate him at a short distance. We must’ve made the right noises and it was agreed that they would arrange the standard vet check before we could bring her home.

 

This was her on one of those pre-visits. The photo makes me feel a little bit sad because I can see she has a bit of sleep in her eye, but didn’t have a mummy to wipe it away with a bit of spit on a tissue.  I can assure you I made up for that over the next 8 years, with regular tissue wiping.

 

The collection was arranged for Halloween 2009. I could barely sleep on the Friday. Excitement, anticipation and a good dose of fear probably.

We collected her around lunchtime but they still weren’t convinced about signing her over to us. Apparently the manager had requested that she come out to us on a trial basis. I guess they were expecting we would probably let her down as well. I can completely understand their thinking, but clearly they had underestimated little old me.

I have just dug out an email that I sent to my lovely Stateside friend and amazingly dedicated fellow doggie mummy Georgette that afternoon…

Introducing Amelia….
hey…
we just went to pick up our woofer so thought i’d share her with you!
6 year old Lab x Collie. very calm but really doesn’t like other dogs (eek!)
only been home a couple of hours so may be a while until she settles in.
will let you know how we get on!!!
Hx

 

She proceeded to settle fairly quickly that evening, and with no trick or treaters, or fireworks, we had a quiet night in with Sophie, Jamie and Jamie’s friend Mike.  She was laying as close to Jamie and Mike as she possibly could.

 

Milly had a pink collar and matching lead. Rogz brand. I took it back to the RSPCA to re-use and replaced it with the first of what was to become an impressive collar and lead collection. On washing day you’d be forgiven for thinking we had a dozen dogs..

I did buy a direct replacement for the pink Rogz collar, but it always gave me a funny feeling when I put it on her so she didn’t wear it much.

So a collar, lead and a blanket were all her worldly possessions. The blanket was to give her comfort and help her settle. It breaks my heart to remember that it smelt a little bit of weewees. But, no matter, it went in her bed for a few days.

When I look back at the photos from those very early days I barely recognise her. Not just because she was actually black then, but just that she has this sort of faraway gaze. I didn’t notice at the time but she seems to be looking through me rather than at me. I know now it is because we hadn’t properly bonded. I was just an owner, not her mummy. You can hardly blame her for being not that attached to us, given her history she probably didn’t think she was staying. Again I know I’m “projecting human thoughts”, but whatever.

I had arranged with work to take a week of annual leave split over the fortnight following her arrival, working in the office in the morning but coming home every lunchtime for an afternoon off. I could have adapted to this working pattern permanently. Part time work would suit me very well, although the part time salary might not. From day one Milly settled fine actually. Although she may have wondered if her current domicile was merely temporary like the others, it wasn’t troubling her and she was sleeping through the night in the kitchen with no drama. I, on the other hand, was not. I was having very restless nights because I kept waking up with mild panic thinking about the tremendous responsibility of it all.  Could I really do this?

Despite agreeing with the RSPCA to a “loan” with another discussion in a week or so, after 48 hours I just knew there was no going back. Whether it was borne of determination to succeed, a belief that I would, or just a realisation that I had to give it everything I could no matter what, my mind was made up. I “slept on it” for another couple of days for good measure but at lunchtime on Wednesday 4th November 2009 I marched into the RSPCA and had them draw up the paperwork in exchange for my donation. In a few flicks of the pen Anne Bond did the honours, Amelia was legally and officially mine. With a deep breath I walked out of there and never looked back, and so our real journey began….

because Milly…

Milly the Builder’s Mate

Following on from my last blog I thought I’d expand a little bit on the non-standard DIY and why hanging a picture is almost child’s play. I say “almost” because it’s usually the simplest most straightforward things that we never get finished. Knock down a wall, you say? Move a radiator? Fit a window? Consider it done. Fix the wobbly door handle…. not so much. On reflection, it seems that we always go for the most impactful items on the to-do list. Why solve little annoyances when you can leave them and win big on something else.

Winning big is exactly what we had in mind when in late 2012 we embarked on The Extension.

The Extension, in it’s original form, was to be our kitchen. By the end of the project it had included the kitchen, the front porch, an ensuite, complete new bathroom, redecoration in every room, rainwater harvesting system, full external insulation and render, fencing, patio, garden, driveway and a fabulous Victorian tiled hallway. Barely a brick has been left untouched in this little house.

We had our planning permission and building control engagement, but with precious little else in the way of planning we approached it in true Bray style (although I was still a Smith then) – with an SDS drill, a crowbar and a lot of enthusiasm – and set about destroying the old front porch/hallway a few days before Christmas 2012. This left us without a front door so if you could navigate the muddy pit you could walk from the front garden into the living room.

Before sending you off into a complete panic on my young, naive behalf, I should highlight here that we weren’t completely without experience. Matt had spent a few years working with his brother as a general builder. Although singlehandedly completing nothing on quite this scale before, he was completely unfazed and completely capable of delivering. I was also extremely proficient with the kettle.

I think the porch foundations were poured on Xmas Eve, and on Boxing Day our friend Phil the bricky started with the block work. Early details are a bit hazy now – I wish I’d had the presence of mind to blog then! – but I do know that it rained. A LOT. For several days our entire electricity meter/consumer unit was wrapped in a tarpaulin and hanging outside in the elements. Late afternoon on a Sunday in January, it was zero degrees, and Matt and I put 2 tonnes of frozen ballast through the cement mixer by hand in order to pour the floor. You had to hand it to us, we were committed.

February 2013 saw the creation of the temporary kitchen in our bedroom, whilst we had relocated ourselves to the recently vacated “Jamie’s room”. It’s fairly normal to set up a functional kitchen space for a short period of chaos in order to feed yourself soup & toast or the odd pot noodle. Matt’s optimism was balanced out by my realism, and we agreed that we were likely to need this set-up for a few months at least. In order not to drive ourselves completely crazy, and still be able to provide some sense of family normality for Soph, we assembled a fully functioning kitchen, complete with full size electric double oven, fully plumbed dishwasher and washing machine, and more worksurface and cupboard space than we had in the old one. To be honest, compared to the old one, the temporary one was a massive upgrade. Glad we invested the time and energy into it though. Our “short period” lasted 10months!

It snowed in March 2013. I remember this very clearly because it was snowing when we started laying the blocks for the rear (kitchen) extension. Having already turned the entire back garden into a quagmire with the mini digger, a little bit of snow wasn’t going to put us off. Wearing almost all the clothes I owned, topped off by my bargain £10 Tesco sale ski jacket in cherry red, I got outside and got stuck in until the sun went down.

That pretty much sums up 2013, 2014 and most of 2015. For days and weeks and months on end the two of us grafted. Through our entire project, I think we only had the blocks, the plastering and the rendering done by tradesmen. We took the DIY very literally, and kept everything in house, relying a little on family and friends, but mostly beavering away with our bare hands. I joke that there isn’t an inch of this entire house that I haven’t touched, but if you called in the forensics I don’t think I’m far off.

I remember someone stopping by to talk to us when we were working outside once, and commenting on our progress. In fact a lot of people used to stop and chat, or wave on the way past. I felt like the whole neighbourhood was rooting for us to finish!

I could go through my memory archives and give you chapter and verse on the project, but that probably isn’t what you’ve come here to read about*

(Note*: We have a couple of years worth of fabulous timelapse videos showing all of the work. In case you want to see that, and the proof of my little red jacket clad form scurrying about, drop me a message)

I will summarise by saying that it was the hardest and most exhausting time (we were both employed full time throughout) but that I think it an absolute testament to the awesomeness of our relationship that we properly SMASHED IT. Despite having no real documented plan, and not following a budget :-0, we made well thought out decisions, were totally aligned in almost all of our thinking, didn’t fall out once, and created the most fantastic and perfect home we could imagine. Yay us.  Seriously. 


As well as working full time, I was – somehow – also juggling the care of darling Milly bear, alongside all this frenetic building work. We still walked, we still trained, we still cuddled on the sofa. I was completely exhausted, my hands, arms and legs were scuffed and bruised, I had brick dust in every drawer, pocket, handbag. How on earth I managed to be presentable enough for work I’ll never know. Maybe I wasn’t! But nobody ever said and I’m still there now…

Although very wrapped up in the whole project, because it was impossible not to be, I was still very mindful of the impact on Milly. There was tremendous upheaval – from the relocation of rooms inside, to using the side door as the front door, to having no fence, and a garden that barely offered a blade of grass for a bedtime wee.

 

For a few weeks I had to take her on her lead up to the pub field at the end of the road for the first and last toilet breaks of the day. On a few occasions we had to go out during the night as well. Didn’t seem to matter to her but I must’ve made a rather fetching sight in my PJ’s and rigger boots.

 

Despite all of this chaos, we managed, and most importantly, so did she. I know I’ve said it before but I really think this comes back to the point I’ve made about her just needing to be with me (or with us). I know by most that may not be considered wholly unusual – man’s best friend and all that – but given Milly’s extremely complex character and very sensitive disposition, I think it speaks volumes of the bond that her and I had.



I do have to make a call out here (again) to my incredible parents. During some of our toughest months they came through with literally everything. Hard manual labour, endless lunches and supplies, homecooked meals batched and left in the freezer, cleaning. The lot. What they also stepped in with was some respite care for Boo. They started having Milly overnight for one or two nights a week. I think they realised I was in danger of burning myself out, and if by having Milly they could allow me an extra 90mins in bed in the morning then they were happy to do it. Of course they also loved having her at their house (noting that they had previously made all required modifications to Milly-proof the garden etc). They used to drive the 70mile round trip to collect her, and then the same again to ferry her home a day or so later. Although we really missed her not being here, it just eased the pressure a little, and helped us to motor on at some critical points. Once things got marginally calmer we started sharing the transport a bit. We used to meet at the then newly opened Cobham Services on the M25. It was probably equi-distance and enabled us both to leave and re-join the motorway in our opposite directions. We would meet in the same quiet spot in the carpark, and hand over our precious cargo. Usually at the point of transfer my mum would, in exchange, hand us a bag of food. Either yummy dinners that she had cooked and frozen, or high energy treats to keep us going. We were so very lucky to have their support and we could not have done any of it without them.


There were plenty of times that I felt completely overwhelmed, often to the point of tears. At one time I had a complete meltdown that the Milly basically had NO GARDEN and it wasn’t fair – she might not live all that long – and we absolutely had to do something about it. I think I was ranting, crying, pacing and gesticulating. Matt would’ve been calmly observing whilst I got more and more worked up.

A few days later we had this… so he was clearly listening and planning all along

My panic subsided.  Matt usually has that effect.

 

 


Anyone who has been involved in any sort of project like this will understand and appreciate the stress we were under. Even living through it when you have builders in is hard enough, but being the builders was full on. When I look back now I wonder what on earth we were thinking!! I feel a little sick just thinking about it and can’t believe what we put ourselves through. However hard it was though, we stuck together, all of us. There were hugely challenging times when we thought it would never end, but there were plenty of smiles and laughter as we were building our home and making incredible lasting memories along the way.

We have bounced around the idea of moving – our home is absolutely perfect – there is not a single thing I would change or do differently, but the road is busy, our garden is small and we are very overlooked. If I could pick our bungalow up and set it down in 10 acres that would do just nicely. I know I wouldn’t be happy in another house until we had made it “just so”.. and I’m not sure I could do it all again! On top of that is the Bray family history (Matt’s dad was born in the Bungalow) and the love and energy we have invested here… I think we would find it very hard to let this place go.

For now we stay put and enjoy our home and everything in it. So many happy times have been had here, and although things aren’t so easy right now, the Bungalow, like us, will have to come out of mourning and open it’s doors to the world again. I know we must try to move forward, but when we do look back I am so pleased that we can do so with extreme pride at all we have achieved and how one very special bear took all this so seamlessly in her stride.

because Milly…

 

Blue sky ahead

The first Bank Holiday weekend of the year often means DIY for a lot of families, or perhaps some gardening and prep ready to fire up the BBQ at the first sign of a sunny Saturday. B&Q is always rammed. Normal folk have inspiration to decorate a room, maybe put up some shelves, paint the fence or jet wash the patio. Normal folk. Normal DIY-esque activities.

The regular benchmarking doesn’t really apply with the Brays. Matt has been using this Easter weekend to overhaul the Bungalow plumbing…. picture 200metres of copper pipe, no heating for two days, no mains water for one, four days of hands and knees in the loft with a head torch. This is our “normal”.

Similarly, in a regular house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Ascot, “DIY” doesn’t mean picture hanging. DIY this weekend has meant plastering a front porch.

Tracey Hall is my best friend. And I could just stop there right. Everyone knows what “best friend” means….. but to me, Tracey is SO much more than that. She is top of the tables, a World Class Best Friend. If friendship skills were graded she would be ELITE.

Tracey and I went to secondary school together, during which time we had a small close friendship “group” which saw each of us being closer to each other at different times, and during different phases. Not unusual I imagine. Fast forward 20+ years and we still have our original friendship group, plus the excellent addition of Schwester (Tracey’s younger sister – but known and loved by us all as our sister!) and a couple of her a school friends. As a full group we probably get together only 5/6 times a year… busy lives, busy jobs, family commitments & different priorities… it’s always a challenge to get everyone lined up at the same time.

Despite initially drifting a bit further away from the group when I moved down to Sussex in 2004 a few years later, when that chapter of my life ended and another started, I slotted back in as if I’d always been there, and during the next few years Tracey and I got closer than ever. Thankfully neither of us have finally settled too far from our home town, although in slightly different directions, and so we are only 45-60mins apart (M25 permitting). As a result, we still see each other quite a lot, and chat on Whatsapp probably every day. After Matt, she’s the first person I call/text with anything and everything important.

But Tracey Hall was not plastering her front porch this weekend! That job fell to Jon, Tracey’s husband. Tracey and Jon have been together for years and years and years, marrying on a picture perfect winters day in 2010. Jon is all things AWESOME. He is literally everything I could want in my best friend’s husband, both for her and for me! He is Tracey’s husband, but he is also my friend too, and has been for years. Just to top everything off, Jon and Matt get on famously and are like two peas in a pod… they too have a stand-alone friendship. Like Matt, Jon is an engineer, and they both have limitless topics of conversation, similar interests and share each others’ knowledge and expertise.

Tracey and I would be close anyway, but it just enhances everything that Jon and Matt are friends too and means when we see each other it is usually all together. There have been many evenings, weekends, NYE’s spent with Tracey and Jon. The boys are normally talking about geeky stuff, and looking up technical things online. Us 3 girls usually opt for a boardgame.

So after some extreme DIY on both sides, last night was one of those perfect evenings spent with the Halls. Given the heating/hot water situ here, we went up there for dinner, where Tracey had made us a mouth-watering chicken pie.

There are, however, two very important pieces missing from this mental picture… because Tracey and Jon are Mummy and Daddy to Ollie (6) and Sammy (3). Obviously I have known Ollie and Sammy all of their lives, but I would want to go further and say that I have been a part of their lives, adore them, and feel very privileged that I’ve been alongside them so far.

This is a conversation I was having with Ollie at bedtime last night, which I will come back to.

First, let me try and briefly describe these two little characters. To the untrained eye, two typical boisterous kids with bags of energy. Sometimes noisy, but always attacking everything with 100%. Lego, trains, cars… they love to play.

Whenever they visit us I dig out the bucket of matchbox cars that used to belong to my brother (although technically, I suppose they still do) and it usually keeps them pretty well entertained. Two energetic children racing round the bungalow was initially a bit of a shock to one little system although she very quickly got used to it, and could always be found in the heart of the action!

Having spent such a lot of time with Ollie and Sammy – and I mean actually with them, interacting with them, not just that they have been present when I’ve been there – I’ve got to know their little personalities well.

Sammy always greets us with big hugs and kisses. He says “I love you heather” a lot whilst wrapping his arms around my neck and squeezing like he isn’t going to let go, and last night was no exception. Sammy, nicknamed SamBam, can be very crash, bang, wallop, and looks you right in the eye with a cheeky grin before proceeding to do whatever you may have just told him not to do. Sure Tracey and Jon won’t be expecting me to say anything else (honest blog and all that) but there’s no doubt he can sometimes be a little bit naughty. But in a cute cheeky way, not a spiteful way. He’s a gorgeous little monster.

Ollie is two and a half years older so is naturally further ahead. From what I can see so far Ollie is going to take over the world. He talks of robots and plans and building things. More and more I’ve seen his vivid imagination shining through, and he talks about stuff with such enthusiasm and animation. Last night he was showing me the invisible robot that he built, and explaining how it was controlled by a remote control disc (a medal)… the robot had levers and lights and he was describing it with such detail it was so clear that he had a perfect mental picture of it.

When the apocalypse comes I want these little ones in my bunker. Sammy to tell me everything is going to be ok and Ollie to use his inventions to make it so!

Although we see them often, they are growing and changing and developing all the time, and every time I see them I observe something else. Watching them on their journey through childhood is so great. Watching my best friend be an awesome mum is also so great. Ollie and Sammy couldn’t have better parents than Tracey and Jon, and I am so proud of both of them for that.

Right, now back to bedtime. As we were late arriving and late eating, for the children it was pretty much straight to bed after dinner. Rather than story time it was snuggles with a little chat about the day, then lights out.

Having hoisted myself up into the top bunk next to Ollie, we laid down forehead to forehead on the pillow. After some more talk of robots and master plans, I told Ollie how as a baby we used to stroke his back and snuzzle his hand to try and get him to fall asleep. It didn’t often work mind… Baby Ollie had colic and sleeping was a challenge.

I told him how much I loved him and how lucky I was that he and his brother were in my life. Whilst stroking my hair, Ollie then looked intently into my eyes and said “I know you are really sad about Milly, she was a lovely doggie”…. His sincerity absolutely took my breath away. He asked me how she died, and how I knew she was dead. Holding back tears I managed to tell him that there was something wrong in her brain, probably because she was really old, and that I knew she was dead because she went to sleep in my arms. He seemed satisfied with that fairly loose explanation, and then he went on to talk to be about his Gandad, who is currently fighting cancer, who has had an operation and now sounds like a robot, but how absolutely everyone is hoping the cancer doesn’t come back.

After leaving Ollie with his torch, pencil and paper to draw up some more plans I snuck into the bottom bunk to say goodnight to Sammy. After several rounds of “I love you Heather”, to which I repeatedly replied “and I love you Sammy”, he snuggled down with Puppy, his soft toy, and we didn’t hear a peep out of either of them for the rest of the night (which is unusual).

After several cups of tea, some custard creams and a good game of scrabble, Matt and I left to head home. Despite the constant and now familiar ache of sadness in my heart, I felt happy and hopeful.

The whole point of being with good friends is to lift you up, and you them. I didn’t expect that, last night, it would be the genuine kindness and sensitivity from a 6 year old and his 3 year old brother that made my grey sky look momentarily blue.

because Milly…

Happy Birthday dear Milly

Pleased to report that Mr and Mrs Bray have survived another milestone day.

Today – March 31st 2018 – would have been Milly’s 15th Birthday.

As I said in an earlier post, being a rescue, we never knew her actual date of birth, but 31st March was what we always celebrated. Not that Milly really knew what a birthday meant. She perhaps had a slightly fancier dinner – a Lily’s Kitchen special – got an extra walk or a smart new collar. But in reality none of that mattered to her. All that was ever important was that she had her humans around her, and she felt loved.

This is a fairly difficult thing to put into words, but I would probably describe Milly as emotionally needy. She was certainly very complex, and our connection was on quite a deep emotional level. Perhaps that was created from the concentrated training we did, or perhaps it was just what both her and I needed in order to function well, but our relationship was quite intense.

Although she was our dog, our family dog, and we all loved her hugely, I don’t think Matt would disagree if I said she was really “my dog” in terms of responsibility and commitment. It was mummy and Milly versus the world, and her and I both knew it.

Obviously compounded by her issues, she was not an anyone or anywhere dog. There were very few people who I was prepared to burden with the responsibility of looking after her. I realise that may sound like a glorified way of saying I was over-protective, and maybe in some respects I was. But ultimately she was not an easy dog out of the house, and to someone who hasn’t experienced a “Milly” before, what I used to describe of her behaviour probably sounded completely ridiculous and alien. The risk of someone misunderstanding my “she’s not good with other dogs” as anything other than “if she sees another dog she will go totally crazy and try and pull your arm out of your socket” was just too high. It was therefore much fairer on everyone (including her) that she had only a tiny handful of nominated carers if we were ever away (which didn’t happen often).

For all these years she has featured in every thought and every decision I have made. In the past couple of years I have very purposefully made my world smaller and reduced my commitments in order to just be around her. It’s been apparent for a very long time that she wasn’t ever going to be a “take everywhere with you” dog. We only had a small selection of family and friends that she could visit with and over time I found that if I wasn’t going somewhere that I could take her then I didn’t really want to go. If I knew she would be at home with Soph or with Matt, then I felt better about it, but when offered to do something that meant leaving her in the evenings or weekends I generally avoided commitments. My friends may realise now why I’m always SO happy to host at home.. “why don’t you come to me” must be one of my catchphrases! Although, in fairness to me, that wasn’t the sole reason – we have worked incredibly hard to make a very lovely and comfortable home and I really enjoy welcoming visitors, cooking, entertaining and generally taking good care of my people here.

Don’t get me completely wrong – I’m not saying I refused to leave her – but just that I really adapted my life and my interests such that I was at home as much as possible. I wanted to be with her, and I think she was happiest and most settled when she was with me.

Since her passing, a few people have asked me about burial & cremation etc. Although forward thinking to that time was largely avoided, we knew it would have to be cremation.

For me, burial just doesn’t work because putting it bluntly, if I buried her in the garden here then I would NEVER be able to leave. Matt was agreed with cremation as well. Years ago I know he went through the heartbreak of burying his first dog. Bringing her home from the vets, digging a hole in the front garden and placing her down lovingly in her blanket. He knew there was no way he or I could endure that.

With cremation comes that slightly odd decision of what to do with the ashes. I have zero frame of reference on this, other than perhaps the scene from Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller smashes Grandma’s urn with a champagne cork. I guess I know that sometimes people choose a favourite place of their loved one to scatter their ashes. A favourite spot perhaps, be that under a tree, on a hillside, out to sea… I can see how that would make sense. For me though, and for Milly, it doesn’t. She didn’t have a favourite spot, she didn’t roam the hills or the woodlands, sadly she couldn’t have the freedom to pick one. Fairly simply, she belonged next to me.

On the day we lost her, Matt handled the discussion and the paperwork. I could barely manage a nod between the sheets of tears running down my face. I don’t even remember he and I discussing anything, but we must have said something on the subject. Perhaps when sitting in the car outside waiting for her test results. I would guess I probably said something, even though I was sitting there feeling numb and in complete denial as to what I knew in my heart was likely to unfold.

Matt gave instructions for a private cremation, with ashes returned in a wooden casket, engraved with just her name.

We went together to collect her ashes on Monday 26th February. It was the most bizarre feeling. The vets handed me a little carrier bag. I couldn’t look inside, but I clung to it all the way home and sat frozen with it on my lap for a good half hour when we got here. Again with silent tears streaming down my face the whole time. I’m pretty good at crying.

I had tried to avoid giving it much thought, but I hadn’t expected the little box to be a wooden replica of the sort of stone tombs you see in ye olde graveyards. I also hadn’t contemplated how heavy it would be. I was however very pleased to see that it was a fully sealed box and so there was no way of “accidentally knocking the lid off”.

My dressing table was hastily cleared (one swift swipe of everything into an open drawer) and Milly’s little box took up it’s position, and there it will probably stay forever.

Since walking out of the vets on that awful morning of February 15th I have had Milly’s collar either under my pillow, round my wrist, or in my handbag or pocket. Realise this probably sounds nuts, but it has given me a shred of comfort and something very physical to cling to – literally – when the sadness washes over me.

I do know that this probably isn’t practical, and cannot continue forever.

With a little bit of research, I think we have found the next best alternative. Ashes into Glass are a company who take cremation ashes and, using traditional methods, handmake them into glass crystals that can then be set into pieces of jewellery. I’ve known about this company for a few weeks and have been looking back and forth over their website, but haven’t made the time or frankly had the courage to get in touch. They offer a postal ordering service and will send you out a pack on request. Somehow this doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t like the idea of sending something so precious through the post and am not sure I could cope with unscrewing her little box and removing the teaspoonful they require to set into the gem either.

So, instead, we decided that a visit to the workshop was best. Not only could we see the products offered, but we could hand deliver Milly’s ashes, and have them discreetly and respectfully take what they need.

By now you must realise where this post is going….

Milly’s birthday was obviously the right day to make that trip. My super parents drove down at lunchtime, and the four of us set off to Billericay, Essex. I am aware that I wasn’t a barrel of fun today, and despite trying to put a brave face on it I created a fairly sombre mood in the car there and back.  I also probably drove too fast to get there.  As always I am so thankful for my non-judgemental, non-critical parents, who are always so good at gauging the mood, and knowing just how to “be”.  Not to mention Matt., who is the most consistent and solid rock standing by my side.  With zero words between us he knows exactly what I am feeling, and exactly how to give me comfort and strength.

Ashes into Glass have their workshop in a really sweet craft village at Barleylands. It is a lovely setting, with lots of artisan craft studios and stalls, and a farm next door. On a practical note it is also extremely easy to get to, easy to find, and easy to park in the huge free car park. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t drier and milder because it is the sort of place you can spend a good couple of hours mooching around.

No need for that today though as we were there with one purpose (well maybe two if you count the post-shopping visit to the Tea Room). The Ashes into Glass showroom is a small area right next to the workshop where you can see the glass making process up close. Although it is a “working” workshop, with the background whoosh of the high temperature furnace running, it felt very peaceful and just respectful. Apparently you can arrange to be present when your actual glass gemstone is being made, which is pretty incredible, but a step too far for me.

I already had a good idea of the piece I wanted, but for something so special it was important to see them on display before making a decision. The salesman was a very gentle guy, and not really a salesman at all to be honest. He just stood quietly waiting whilst I looked at the display and then spoke softly and kindly as I choked back tears trying to place my order. My stone and jewellery will be ready in around 6 weeks. They will call when it is finished so I can arrange to go and collect it in person. I am pleased that I will have it before my birthday, and that then Milly will truly never ever leave my side.

I have chosen a beautiful round pendant in white gold, with simple engraving on the reverse. The gemstone will, of course, be black.

because Milly…