Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I know, I never write, I never call. Some blogger I am.

This recent absence can be explained by two major events: honeymoon cruise followed immediately by the arrival of the Browett-Traynor household’s first pet, the very cute but very wilful Alfie.

Alfie, a quite gorgeous cocker spaniel, is six months old and was one of Lead On’s very first clients. But his owner found the combination of a full-time job and an extremely boisterous puppy a little too much to handle. As Debbie and I had always intended that we would re-home a rescue dog, we figured that it was only right to open our doors and our hearts to little orphan Alfie.

Alfie deigns to have a cuddle with me on the couch

Timing is, of course, everything.

A couple of days before we left on the cruise (of which, more later), I’d agreed to board a dog for two weeks. Abbie is a very lively 18-month lab-cross whose owner is relocating from Dublin to the south coast and needs a short-term home for Abbie until their permanent accommodation is in place. So, having stepped off the cruise ship at 7am two weeks ago, we headed for home to prepare for the arrival later that day of not one, but two mutts.

It’s fair to say things have been a little bit of a whirlwind since. Alfie and Abbie get on brilliantly – if getting on brilliantly means chasing each frantically and endlessly from room to room, tearing around the garden like a pair of whirling dervishes, biting each other’s ears like Dracula on crack and bickering like teenagers over chew toys.

The most spoken words round ours right now are  “No!” and “Down!” and “Stop that!”

But it’s all been great fun (the loss of most of the lawn and several pairs of flip-flops aside) and daily long walks on the South Downs with the other Lead On dogs are brilliant both for socialising Alfie and Abbie and for exhausting the pair of them so much that they happily lie zonked on the couch for hours every night. Yes, you read that right – on the couch. Or on the bed.

Oh we know, we’re making every mistake in the book but hey – anything for a little bit of bloody peace!

Alfie and Abbie pause for one second from their perpetual motion to wonder why I'm not shouting at them

Today I also got a terrific boost when I read this positively glowing review from Abbie’s owner, Nicola, on a couple of the listings sites Lead On uses – good word-of-mouth is an excellent way to build any business and this was certainly good. Nicola was also kind enough to offer me some invaluable advice on marketing and improving communication with current and potential customers so it’s fair to say ours has been a very productive relationship!

Right now my thoughts are on an autumn push for more business – after all, I gained a puppy but lost a client when I took in Alfie. And I could stand to be a lot more busy than I am. I’m also going to sign up for a course in dog behaviour because, having blundered in raising the blessed Lubo and letting that sweet but wilful wee dug rule the roost, I’m not about to compound those errors with Alfie.

Fortunately, the general mayhem of the last 10 days or so followed what was a quite wonderful 12 days cruising the Baltic Sea. We had been very lucky that our fabulous friends and family contributed so generously to our honeymoon fund and that paid for our Royal Caribbean cruise. Thank feck they did – the price of booze on the boat ($30 for a bottle of very ordinary Californian red) was enough to have this canny Scot considering walking the plank on day one!

Joking aside (I’m not really joking, the cost of booze was sore! Luckily for us, we made friends with a lovely barman …), the trip was a wonderful way to see a lot of places you wouldn’t normally travel to in a very short space of time – and minus the hassle of airports, juggling luggage and constantly checking into new hotels. Plus our nightly dining companions were a lovely bunch – Chris and Elaine from Bedfordshire, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with best friends Marion and Allan from Devon; and Dubliners Michael and Marian, with whom we shared a night of ‘dad dancing’ shame in the boat’s ‘disco’.

While the boat was the size of a small skyscraper and had everything you could ever want on board, from a casino to two pools, a library and a spa, a gym (seriously, folk were in there working out at midnight – you’re on holiday, FFS!) and a climbing wall, it was our destinations that excited us most. I won’t bore you with a long travelogue but here’s where we went and here’s what we thought of it.

Copenhagen – not called wonderful for nothing. Quite beautiful, remarkably friendly and great food

Stockholm – gorgeous city in a magical setting of islands with fantastic food

Helsinki – another gorgeous city, more great food (Debbie ate Rudolph) and friendly but not over-friendly people

St Petersburg – quite simply gorgeous (the Stalinist housing scheme beside the docks notwithstanding). Two days here was not long enough to soak up or appreciate the sheer scale and beauty of the old city. Vodka and caviar with everything – what’s not to love?

Tallinn – like you’d just stepped on to a Disney set which was interesting for about 10 minutes and then not. Worth seeing but too full of Finnish weekenders getting bladdered on cheap booze to impress me much

Gothenburg – confirmed our new status as total Scandophiles. Like Copenhagen and Stockholm, its waterways are the city’s lifeblood and they’re a terrific way to see the city quickly. We loved it, especially the very low bridge known as the ‘haircutter’ – as our barge approached, the captain ordered us to sit on the floor to avoid decapitation!

Yes, the 'haircutter' bridge really was THAT low

And finally, as they say, for those ganting* for their fill of Scots word of the day, I’ll do a bumper blog of all the missing ones tomorrow.

*Ganting v: in desperate need of satisfaction, usually of the sexual kind