life saving duty

Jake was getting on and anti social when we got him, four years ago. He protected us from swimming pools and violence on TV, from passing strangers, and from Grandad. He guarded me against bookclub buddies, making sure that anyone who movedin their seat got a Very Hard Stare. He made it clear that approaching dogs would be eaten, and that he shouldn’t be let off his lead.

Now he’s properly old, and blind, and he doesn’t care about what’s happening on TV. Visitors can step over him without causing a stir. Bookclub buddies are ignored. Dance mates are warned about being inadvertently friendly. An unthinking pat can cause much aggravation, but Grandad may be permitted an odd pat. When he least expects it. Jake will approach and welcome displays of affection, but only when he feels like it.

And we’ve discovered that doggy health is more complex than we thought. He’s been drinking more and eating less. He’s either in a deep sleep or pacing about, as if there was a sausage somewhere he can’t find. We thought he’d probably need his insulin uptake boosted, so took him to the vet. Hmm, said Peter, bring him back in the morning for a blood test some hours after he’s eaten. Hmm, said Peter, I want a better look at his eyes. Hmm, said Peter, I may do a kidney function test.

We spent the evening reading about doggy renal failure.

We were not prepared.

Yes, we need to top up the insulin again. No, there’d not be a kidney function test just yet.

Instead “It wouldn’t be fair to keep him going like that. With his very bad eyes. They’re very painful. Never mind the diabetes, or the kidneys. The eyes are that bad.”

Whaty what what?

Jake has always had gunk about his eyes, which gets removed when he’s showered. The gunk got worse over the past few months. We noticed, but thought it was old age. We never considered that it could indictate something serious. Dry eye. No tears being produced to clean and lubricate his wee unseeing eyes. Now, scratched and painful eyes. “If I saw that dog out walking, with those eyes, I’d wonder about his vet.” And we, goofy people, had no idea. Our lovely grumpy pet is in so much pain that it would be better to put him to sleep, and we knew nothing about it.

So now, we’re in doggy ER mode. Superduper ointment in his eyes 3 times a day for 10 days to try to kickstart his tear ducts. I wonder if that’s even possible, or if Peter is giving us time to get used to the idea. Giving us something to do, however useless, to assuage our guilt. Giving us time to show our love to the boy by holding his muzzle tight shut, his paws tucked in, while we stick ointment in his sore eyes. (Yes, it’s a 2 person job.)

Giving us a chance to redeem ourselves. Giving us a chance to forgive ourselves.


I was 15 when John Lennon died. I remember the shock, sitting on the bed with my oldies, listening to the morning news with disbelief. No, surely that’s not possible? Dead? That doesn’t make sense.

This morning, Spurs Fan woke me with the news that David Bowie has left us, and I felt just like I had 35 years ago.

I wasn’t a Bowie fan when I was 15- that came later. I met JWN at university and we combined our record collections; my Beatles, Springsteen and Ultravox to her Bowie and Velvet Underground. I learned a lot, and loved it all.

Bowie was there, always, it seemed. Where there was creativity, theatricality and fun, there was a hint of Bowie.

Of course, Bowie’s influence is beyond music- Caitlin Moran calls it…


But where to start today? I’ve spent hours with 6Music listening to much wonderful music by Bowie, influenced by Bowie, and which influenced him. I’m hearing old interviews, and bereft broadcasters and listeners sharing tales of humour and kindness. A man who did things his own way, and enabled others to do the same.

Thanks, Bowie. The stars will look very different today.








all the remembering

the boy soldier, 1934
the boy soldier, 1934

Granda joined the army when he was 14; his mother tried to get him back when she found out, but he had no plans to stay on the farm. Soldiering was a grand job, he’d say, except when there was a war on. Before the war he was in Burma and India. Later he was at Dunkirk, & in North Africa. He saw the world and came back, to the town 10 miles up the road from the farm. He still worked for the army, and spent time at the Legion. He’d have his grandchildren marching round the living room, and saluting properly, but we didn’t hear many tales. I went to primary school with army children. People my age in Belfast or Derry or South Armagh had very different experiences of the army in their childhood.

Remembrance Sunday was for them, the old men. It was a day to acknowledge their service and their friends who didn’t come home. To consider all that was lost.

That all changed in 1987, when Remembrance Sunday became about all of us. The McSpecs lived in Enniskillen, we knew the people. We were all affected. This interview with Gordon Wilson still makes me cry.

pic pinched from twitter
pic pinched from twitter

There are many other veterans now, survivors of recent wars. Many other people have been lost. Young people, like Granda and his mates used to be.

None of it makes any sense. Loss, death, severe injury, homelessness, destroyed families, refugees. We will remember them all.

image from:
image from:



it takes all sorts

I didn’t want to get up. It was cold, I was cosy.

I put the Christmas playlist on shuffle- there are hundreds of songs and you’d never know what could capture the imagination and warm the day.

really georgeOops, wrong Clooney! Can’t imagine how that happened…

Then I got a bad news call. We’ve lost a friend and former colleague. A small girl, younger than mine, has lost her dad. He was late to fatherhood, the proudest of doting dads. He wasn’t a religious man, but this seemed right for him today.

Any other day, this is the song that makes me smile out loud and think of him. Our mate.