Breaking into the Church Hall

I realise it’s been a good couple of weeks since I last posted. Even WordPress have stopped trying to communicate with me so I wouldn’t be surprised if half my readers have given up as well. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post, but there are a whole load of complexities that come with it.

First and foremost, because of the whole purpose of the blog – because Milly – I can’t write impulsively or when rushed. I already know most of the stories I want to share and can see most of the accompanying photos in my mind, but I have to wait until it feels like the right time to write.. Up until now this has mostly been in the evening after dinner, which inevitably leads to me staying up until gone midnight reading, re-reading and tweaking before finally hitting “publish” and sharing the post. Which brings me to the second reason for my delay – bedtimes. Over the last few months I have found myself staying up later and later and so getting more and more tired. I’ve been overcoming that with lots of coffee, and the odd weekend nap, but last weekend I was competing (well, I participated!) in a Sprint Triathlon and having done all the training and been mostly pretty disciplined with my nutrition, I knew it would be foolish to blow all that hard work by not getting enough proper sleep. So at the expense of blogging, I’ve been catching some early nights.

Thirdly, I don’t want to rush my way through the story. Not just in terms of quickly writing posts, but also from a timeframe perspective, I don’t want to charge through Milly’s short life in an even shorter few weeks. Probably fear comes into play here, because blogging is part of my healing.. if I rush through the blog more quickly than I progress on my grief journey then what? I feel I need to keep the two in sync a little bit. I’ll “know” when I don’t need the safety net of my blog to fall back to. At least, I think I will.

Finally, there’s the small matter of confidence. Which has waned over the past month. When I first set out on the blog, although the purpose was to share Milly’s story with “the world”, I really couldn’t have cared what “the world” looked like. I was putting my memories in to print. Publishing them. That made them real and out there for all eternity. That was what I needed. As the weeks went on, I received a few “likes” and a few comments, and built up a few followers either through wordpress or email, and have had some really sweet feedback from friends, either directly or on FB. WordPress helpfully (or unhelpfully, depending how you look at it) gives you a multitude of stats about your site. Number of visitors, number of views, views per post, links clicked on your site, number of referrals through facebook, instagram or twitter, visitor country and so on… If you were running a “business” site I can see how this would be extremely useful. As a lowly fun blogger, who is mostly writing as a form of therapy, it can make or break your day. After publishing a post I find myself regularly viewing the stats dashboard, looking to see if anyone has read it, comparing numbers to the last post, or the best day (currently standing at 95 views on 14th May!). Those stats can either lift you, or trash you. If the numbers are low you feel like a bit of an idiot, and so many negative thoughts creep in; “why would anyone want to read your stories anyway”, “it’s probably getting boring now”, “it was a novelty, and there were a few funnies, but now you should go get on with your life like your readers have”.

I know that is the nature of blogging, and of social media in general, people come in and out of favour, and are popular one day or not so much the next. One instagram post can have 50 likes, the next only 5. It’s part and a parcel of the beast. There is also the mysterious wizardry of Facebook that controls what you see, or how far and wide your posts are shared. I see a lot of posts from pages I follow (often small artists or creators) asking for “shares” or “likes” in order to get them back onto Facebook’s radar. Maybe it’s Facebook who is bored of my posts, and not my friends/readers! Perhaps Facebook hasn’t shown my link on anybody’s timeline which is why nobody has visited today…. but, whatever the reason, I think you have to be pretty hardy not to let the lows rock your confidence, and to just keep doing what you are doing because you want to and you believe in yourself.

“Hardiness” is not one of my strongest attributes, and I’ve had massive moments of self-doubt where I feel like a total loser for dedicating hours of my life to writing stories about my dog. AS IF people care….

So I have to pull back and remember why I am here, and why I started this page.. to write my memories, to help my healing. If someone reads it then that’s nice. But if nobody reads it then it doesn’t actually change the memory or the significance of it… it’s still just as important to me regardless.  That said, at the time of going to print tonight – my page has had exactly 2200 views – I’m no Zoella, but it is nice to see such a respectable number.

I have also learnt how much I value peoples likes & comments – it makes you feel less of an idiot and that someone cares. Many of these have come from my friends, but also I have received comments from total strangers, who have come across my blog somehow, or are now followers on my becauseMilly Instagram account. I am touched by every single comment I receive. To be honest it doesn’t actually really matter what the comment says! They don’t need to think my post is good – I’m not after praise – but just the fact that someone else has taken a moment out of their day to read my post or look at my picture AND follow it up with a comment is really overwhelming.

I read articles all the time, but before now have never worried to like, share or comment… under the misconception that “the author won’t care that I’ve read it”. Now I am an author (?) I’ve realised that they do care, and that it does matter. So, now, if I’ve read something and enjoyed it I take the extra seconds to make a comment, or at the very least leave a “like”. If someone has posted an update, achieved something, feels proud or feels down it’s nice to acknowledge it. If one “like” can make my day then I’d be happy to know that I have had a positive impact on someone else’s day by doing the same thing.

So. All in all, a very longwinded and probably unnecessary explanation of where I’ve been for two weeks. Apologies if you just came here for the story!!!

Here is the next chapter (very late 2010/early 2011)….

As well as the fundamentals I described in harnesses and hotdogs, there were some optional extras in the toolkit that Penel and Laura gave us. Having explained already that we were totally throwing everything at the situation, we took these up these options as well. In for a penny in for a pound and all that.

Natural supplements for anxiety reduction.. we tried both Zylkene and Tranquility Gold (not together of course!). When you are trying a lot of different things and changing a lot of different things altogether it can be really hard to know what is working and what isn’t. Unlike the children’s game of Mastermind with the little coloured pegs, we didn’t really have the time to take a systematic approach, and only change one thing at a time until we found the winning formula. From memory we used the Tranquliity Gold for longer, so at the time must’ve thought this was having more impact.

Mental stimulation… Milly’s anxiety was all in the outside world – in the house she was calm and collected… but it was still important to give her grey matter a bit of a workout. We continued with our treat training for “tricks” that Michelle’s mum had shown us. We also added in puzzle-like games where she had to find snippets of cheese under plastic bones or chew her way into a sealed ice-cream tub to get at the treats inside. She loved her Labyrinth treat ball with biscuit bites or mixer.

Interesting feeding… using traditional Kong or other Kong Toys. We have always fed Milly with wet food, so smoodging it into a Kong for a breakfast challenge was no drama. What we didn’t anticipate was that on receiving it, Milly would happily trot off to the lounge with it in her chops. It didn’t take her long to work out that a very effective way of getting the food out was just to FLING it around with gusto – each time it bounced a chunk of Naturediet would be dislodged and deposited…. on the living room carpet! That carpet wasn’t kept for long but that was fine, absolutely everything was second priority to Milly by this point anyway. After a while I came up with my own genius, and slightly less messy idea for feeding.. an Ikea silicone ice cube tray. It wasn’t as flingy as the Kong, but still gave Milly some fun trying to lick and gnaw her food out of the corners. We actually continued using the silicone trays until not that long ago, basically up until the point that her stability during feeding was more important than the stimulation of doing so.

Chewing… encourage chewing.. it releases happy hormones or something along those lines. In some ways it was good that Milly wasn’t a chewer – slippers and trainers and furniture were all safe – but it meant she needed some coercing to chew the things she was meant to chew! We opted for the Stagbar – all natural cruelty free deer antlers – they don’t splinter, are long lasting, and they contain yummy marrow on the inside. Initially, to get her interested we would smear the antler with something interesting like peanut butter or cream cheese, but she soon got the hang of the chewing. Nothing made me happier than watching Milly having a good old chew!

Bizarrely though, she was a very sporadic chewer! Her antler would be in her box in the living room for days and weeks on end and she would pay it no attention whatsoever, then completely out of the blue, she would go and get it, and start chewing, like it was a brand new find. Eventually I realised that she would often only do this once we (the family) were altogether in the living room. It was almost like she wouldn’t allow herself to settle down and indulge, until she was happy that her pack were around her. Rather sweet really.

These were all fairly easy things that we could add into our every day routine, and were all to happy to do so.

We were also introduced to something called Tellington TTouch, or TTouch for short, and put into contact with a local practitioner. I’ll leave you to read the full description of TTouch on their website, but in very rough summary it is a method of working with animals using techniques, like physical touches, to release tension. Sounded good to me and I got straight on the phone. I instantly clicked with Jacqui and she listened intently and with concern as I described Milly and her issues, and where we were at on our journey. She booked me in for a consultation as soon as she could, but in the meantime gave me a few instructions over the phone of immediate things I could do. One of which was get an old T-shirt and get it on Milly, tying at the waist… I did it, and she went straight off to her travel crate (that we were testing out in the lounge).

I eagerly awaited our appointment, but ploughed on with ALL THE THINGS – outdoors and indoors – in the meantime. It was all very full on.

Finally the date came. I had taken the day off, and Milly and I were ready about 2 hours before we needed to be! We were only going to Coulsden, but as with everything around that time, I had so much hope and so much expectation. Maybe this would be THE THING that really moved the needle. I had the address, had looked it up on the map and planned the journey (even though I knew that route with my eyes shut from numerous Ikea trips). Off we set in the car. Milly in her travel crate strapped in the back of that bloomin’ white Passat. We got there early and managed to park right outside. Right on time I saw another lady turn into the round and pull into a spot. This was it!
A quick hello on the pavement with Milly still in the car, then Jacqui just had to pop over the road to get the keys from the caretaker and then we’d go inside and get underway.

Ah. C’est un problème! The caretaker wasn’t home… and wasn’t contactable on the phone. No caretaker = no keys = no session. Noooooo! We didn’t know what to do. Jacqui knew she had made the arrangements, and I didn’t doubt that she had either, but we were stuck outside. We tried the main doors and looked through the windows – nothing. Nobody inside and no lights on.

I don’t know why but with Milly in tow we went to look round the back, and completely bizarrely, there was an open door. Not just unlocked, but actually open! The three of us scrambled through some undergrowth, over a broken chair, and up the fire escape steps to the door. Gingerly we called through it – genuinely unsure if we were about to interrupt a burglary – but there was not a sound inside. We went in…
Jacqui did a quick sweep around – and there really was nobody there. We must’ve just been lucky I guess, but ultimately we had broken into the Church Hall!!!

After a rather eventful start we secured the room and let Milly off the lead. She immediately spotted a squirrel on the patio outside and went berserk. Great, as if I wasn’t wound up enough already! But it was actually a good thing – similar to Penel & Laura – Jacqui needed to see Milly in all her glory… The squirrel hot-footed it and we drew the curtains, so that was one problem solved.

One of the first things we talked about was the TTouch Body Wrap (again look on their site) but in a nutshell it’s a elastic strip, like a bandage, that you wrap snugly around the dog in a figure of eight. There are a number of benefits, but they include increased physical awareness and decreased anxiety. On putting a wrap on Milly she had an instant and very intense reaction. She started gulping and swallowing repeatedly, like she was going to be sick. It was actually frightening. The wrap was immediately removed. The gulping stopped as suddenly as it had started. If I’d had any scepticism about it’s effect on the body then my mind would’ve been changed right there. More evidence of how highly strung Milly was.. the wrap was just too much too soon.

We moved on to groundwork exercises and the famous “touches”, the most well known of which is probably the “clouded leopard”, where using your fingertips you draw a one and a quarter clockwise circle. I cannot even begin to do justice to the technique, the history behind it, and why it works, but it does.

Our session came to an end, and we clambered back out the way we had got in. Bursting with a load more information, and things to learn and to practice, my little pupil and I headed home to excitedly bombard Matt with an update on the events of the afternoon and tell him all about our new friend.

We had a follow up visit with Jacqui back at the bungalow a few weeks later. She came to see Milly in her home environment and check up on our progress. We did some more groundwork in the garden, and went out for a short walk, but as I recall it was freezing and we soon retreated to the living room to warm up with a cuppa! Although I had been practicing the touches, Jacqui had some years on me. She sat on the sofa, was immediately joined by a leaning Milly, who after barely few minutes of touches, literally flopped and relaxed into the most peaceful sleep before my very eyes.

Watching the tension fade out of Milly’s little body like that showed me that, whilst she was calm in the house, it didn’t always mean she was completely relaxed. What we were trying to achieve with everything we were doing, was helping Milly to “learn” what that relaxed feeling felt like. To reinforce a lot and get her used to it in the house, and then help her to achieve that same state outside.

We didn’t see Jacqui again in an official capacity but her and I were in touch regularly, and still are now. Jacqui has been through her own difficulties and had her own devastating losses over the years. She has been a tremendous support to me with Milly, not just in her professional capacity as a practitioner – giving me guidance and tools – but as caring, emotional, empathetic and lovely human, giving me buckets of kindness and moral support. Anyone who has been through a rehabilitation journey with a highly reactive dog will know how frustrating it can be. How one day you can feel incredibly high after a successful training session, but the next day you can just want to crawl back into your bed because you got caught off guard and on the wrong foot – literally – and so toppled sideways into a pool of mud. You need to learn to laugh at these things, but you also need someone in your camp cheering you on, and reassuring you that you are “doing great”. Jacqui was one of those people to me over the years.

When we lost Milly I was dreading telling her. I just knew how devastated she would be. Not just for the usual reasons – sadness for Milly and sadness for me -but, unavoidably, reminded of the loss of her darling Bonnie. I couldn’t telephone – in fact I literally couldn’t tell anybody verbally – still can’t really (choked up at work a fortnight ago trying to talk to a colleague just back from mat leave) – so I sent her a message. I know that on receiving it Jacqui sobbed and sobbed, feeling the loss and the pain so acutely herself. I’d like to claim it would’ve been because she adores me(!), and a little bit it probably was ;-), but I know that it was mostly for Milly. For dear, sweet, special Milly – who absolutely adored her Auntie Jacqui.

*Again major caveat that I have zero credentials or expertise beyond my personal experience so please don’t use this as a training resource*

During the this time I was absorbing everything that I could and observing everything about Milly that I could.
– I could see when her brow was furrowed or not.
– I could see when her fur was relaxed and laying flat against her body, or stiff as if she had goosebumps.
– I picked up her calming signals, lip licking and yawning
– I noticed when her bum and back legs were stiff and tense.
– I saw when her gait was less or more wonky when she went running down the garden.
– I could feel when her ears were warm or cold.

To be honest, there was so much information and so many things to take on board I was a bit overwhelmed. I can’t say I was always able to interpret and understand all of these signals, but I was becoming more and more aware of these non-verbal and sometimes subtle signs.

Nevertheless, Milly and I were becoming more and more connected. It’s so hard for me to describe it, or find a suitable parallel to draw on, without sounding a little bit bonkers. The best I can do is say that I had one eye on Milly in a way that nobody else did, and in a way that a lot of other doggy mums probably don’t need to most of the time. I wasn’t dramatic and over-protective, jumping in and creating a fuss every time I saw tension sign, but I was passively observing a lot of the time. Basically I was really getting to know her, my little complex and special Millybear.

One final word before I put this one, and myself, to bed. TTouch became second nature to me – I did the touches so often over the years that I had to think about NOT doing it, rather than think about doing it.

I read in the news that Sarah Fisher – the internationally renowned animal behaviour counsellor and leading TTouch instructor (and a friend of Jacqui’s) – had been appointed as an Official Ambassador by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (another charity that Matt and I have financially supported for a number of years).

Immediately when I read the article I knew it was no coincidence that the appointment had been made just the day before.. on that fateful Thursday… the day our lives changed forever… Thursday 15th February 2018.

because Milly…


I should just add that Jacqui did get hold of the caretaker who had completely forgotten that we were coming and so gone out for the afternoon, but was very pleased that we managed to get in anyway, and left shutting the fire escape behind us!  No harm done.

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…