Growing old disgracefully

Landmarks. Every life has them, whether you recognise them as such at the time or not.

2015 brings one of those landmark birthdays my way, one ending in a -0.

The nonsense has started already. We arrived home from our festive sojourn in Scotland to the usual pile of mail with one bearing the local hospital’s postmark and ominously addressed to me.

It was an invitation for breast screening because, apparently, “Women aged 50 to 70 are invited to have breast screening every three years.”


Yelling at a letter is a pretty futile gesture, a pathetic rage against the dying of the light.

And I’m not even that bothered about the birthday anyway – I quite like getting old, achey hips aside, because with age comes experience and, dare I say it, wisdom.

So I’m using 50 as an excuse to do stuff I’ve either always wanted to do or stuff I would never do in a million years. So I’ve come up with my list of “50 things to do when I’m 50”, starting on the day of my actual birthday, April 9.

I’m still in compilation mode (and will post here when it’s ready), but I can categorically state there will be no piercings, no tattoos and nothing that makes me shake with fear, though I have finally agreed to ride pillion on Debbie’s motorbike (mammy, daddy, save me!)

To reassure everyone, nor will I be participating in the World Naked Bike Ride in Brighton which my mate Andy stupidly stuck on his 50 things list last summer.

The start of a new year is always a good time to take stock. Approaching a significant birthday is an even better reason to look back without regrets and forward with hope – where possible, of course.

I’m not sure what I thought I’d be doing when I was 50 (and I’m still not yet 50!) but it definitely didn’t involve being a professional dog walker.

I use the word professional because, well, I get paid to do it. I reverted to my amateur status over Christmas and New Year, occasionally walking Alfie and his cousins Penny and Morag, but pretty much leaving doggy duties to others.

Over Christmas a casual remark was made to me about if I was considering getting a “proper” job. It riled me then. It’s still riling me, even though I know it was said out of a complete lack of imagination or insight.

I much prefer this kind of office
I much prefer this kind of office

Yes, walking dogs is obviously not the “proper” job that a lot of people have long associated with me. But I still do the words thing and get paid for that, too. Is that not a proper job either because I do it from home, often in my PJs (mostly in my PJs) and remotely from a laptop?

In the 10 years since I had a proper job – you know, a staff one with a guaranteed monthly salary dropping into my bank account like clockwork (I do miss that!) – the world of work has changed radically.

Online is obviously a huge part of that, allowing folks to work remotely, along with much less savoury aspects of the new world order of employment, zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships etc.

Lots of us now do more than one job, usually out of necessity, but for the luckier ones (like me), it’s because we like the variety we get from doing different things, experiencing different things and interacting with different people.

I didn’t know when I left the Daily Record in December 2004 that it would be a landmark in my life. I took the plunge because my 40th birthday was approaching like an onrushing train and I knew, before it was too late, that I wanted to do different things, have experiences I’d never had before and enjoy a new sort of challenge.

Well, as my 50th hurtles my way at warp speed, I can safely say I’ve done all that.

So I’m very much looking forward to the next decade and hoping for more of the same, different things.

But not a proper job, please. I like my jammies too much.

Long time no see

I’m a bit rubbish at this blogging lark. Been months since I even thought about posting something, which rather defeats the point of this kind of site. Still, absence and hearts et cetera et cetera.

What I have been doing is being a bit busier in the dog walking department while also supplementing my meagre pooch-related earnings by writing engaging, witty and eye-catching online content for a variety of sites. No, really – genuinely engaging, witty and eye-catching stuff. Well, obviously you lot are not reading my online epics or you’d certainly be able to discern its quality from the mindless quantity swamping t’internet.

Unfortunately, I have also been continuing to maim myself on a weekly basis. I confess I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, effortlessly able to fall upstairs or walk slapbang into the middle of very closed doors. But now I am seriously outdoing even my best childhood effort – the one where I was walking down the street aged about 8, holding on to my wee Auntie Pat’s hand. I had on shoes with slippy soles and was stretching my foot forward on each step as if I was taking giant steps. Cue an unexpected splits at the bottom of Wiltonburn Road. That hurt.

But not as much as actually breaking my middle finger on my left hand did about a month ago.

Even I am struggling to explain exactly how I got my finger caught around a lead that was attached to a very big, very strong Staffie called Chip. What I am clear on is what happened next – Chip leapt from the van, pulling vigorously on the lead and my finger was mashed in between.

Five weeks on, the enormous swelling has gone, leaving me with a horribly bent out of shape tip that is still agony to touch. I should go to the doctor but I fear that the cure may be much more painful than the finger even is now.

Luckily I have still been able to function, to drive, to walk the dogs and even to type – tho, as a touch typist, it’s weird to have to avoid tapping with that finger. I was reminded how lucky I was not to do more damage that would have put me out of commission by my sister-in-law Liz last weekend.

Her accident gave me a shudder and has been a bit of a wake-up call

Liz is a self-employed hairdresser. She’s also a human dynamo and a Billy the Whiz who never sits still, as anyone who was at our civil partnership parties this year will testify. But last Sunday she slipped while ice skating and broke her left wrist in two places. Ouch ouch ouch.

She can’t drive. She can’t work (and therefore can’t earn). She can’t even peel a tattie. She may need an op to put a pin in once the orthopaedic surgeon examines it when the swelling reduces. She is properly insured so could claim to cover her loss of earnings. But her accident gave me a shudder and has been a bit of a wake-up call.

If I fall and, heaven forbid, tear a muscle or break a limb while I’m out dog walking, I will be up the proverbial creek. And with my track record of outlandish clumsiness, who would bet against me surviving the winter unscathed?

I haven’t earned anything proper in a year. I’ve been living off my savings (thanks to the amazing support of Debbie) and putting all my efforts into getting the business off the ground. Other dog walkers warned me it would take a minimum of a year to get enough clients to be making a living. At the moment I’d say I’m halfway there, about halfway through my first year.

The clients I’ve got have been great – they’re regular, they pay on time and their dogs are brilliaImagent fun to walk. I just need a dozen more!

And if not? The economy is in the brown stuff. The newspaper jobs I once could have done standing on my head have all but gone. The policy area that I was keen on during my uni years and my enjoyable year and a bit at GCC is virtually redundant as local government cutbacks bite.

[On a side note, it’s been eye-opening to see the relish with which some English councils are slashing services, using the Coalition rhetoric as an excuse to get rid of all those pesky things that cost money – like libraries. And nurseries.]

So, lots of things to contemplate over the festive break. Will 2012 be the year I finally make a living doing what makes me happy? Or will I have to bite a rather bitter bullet and look for a return to the ranks of the employed (assuming anyone wants to employ me!)?

Happy Christmas, everyone!

*slinks off after spreading doom and gloom to all*

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

From little acorns …

It’s been quite a week for historic occasions.

  • The Queen waltzing into Ireland for the first time and charming the bejesus out of just about everyone.
  • Barack O’bama confirming his Irish ancestry by sinking a pint of Guinness and employing a touch of the Blarney to reduce all who met him into giggling schoolgirls.
  • Super injunctions for the super-rich and super-shagging turning out to be not such a great idea after all – and Scotland’s Sunday Herald (under my old gaffer, editor Richard Walker) creating the UK’s most-talked-about front page in years.
  • Lead On making its dog-walking debut on a run out in Withdean Park, Brighton, with the delightful Dudley the Tibetan terrier our first paying customer – returning home happy and exhausted (and that was just me).
Dudley safe and sound in the Mutt Mobile

Yes, it surely has been a historic seven days …

Fair enough, Lead On Dog Walkers may not resonate down through the pages of history but I’m chuffed to bits to be up and running!

It’s only two weeks since I got a van and embarked on fitting it out with cages, bedding, leads, water bowls and what seems a neverending list of things I need to have to be a dog walker. The dogs themselves have been almost an optional extra.

So it was nice finally to put the whole kit and caboodle into action, load up a dog into the back and – gasp! – go for a walk.

From little acorns etc etc …

The week’s other distraction has been yet another volcanic eruption in Iceland and the inevitable return of the ash cloud and ensuing airport chaos.

I’m a tad concerned about how long it will take to get things back to normal because friends from England are due to fly to Glasgow next weekend for the Scottish leg of our civil partnership celebration.

A typical purvey

Not that it will affect me and Debbie – aint it just typical that her fear of flying would pay off like this?!

So we’ll be Caledonia-bound in the car for the big bash which is promising to be another cracking occasion. I may have gone slightly overboard in the invitation department – the final tot-up for the venue suggests more than 140 on the night!

Now that will be quite a purvey*.

Caledonian craic

Tumble yer wilkies v: to do a forward or backwards roll or somersault. Eg: That wean’s a right wee gymnast, you should see her tumble her wilkies on the living-room floor

NB: this might be Glasgow/West only. suggests it’s derived from Archibald Wilkie, head of the Glasgow Police in the 19th century, who was a renowned gymnast

Midden n: outside bins, rubbish pile, dump, a mess. Used to describe untidy houses and those whose personal habits (either with hygiene or morals) leave a lot to be desired. Eg: That bedroom is a right midden Or:  That dirty wee midden hasn’t changed his shirt all week

NB: Most Scots will be familiar with the phrase ‘Anniker’s midden’. Click here for an explanation

Keek v: to peek or look slyly, to glance quickly. Eg: I saw her next door keeking through the curtains when the big removal van pulled up

NB: not to be confused with keech (definition to follow later)

Haver v: to talk or babble in an incomprehensible manner. Eg: And if I haver, then I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you (© The Proclaimers)

*Purvey n: food, usually at a function. Eg: That was some purvey – they had sausage rolls and everything