Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Would you 'go to heaven' with your child?

Okay, so a while back I told you about a book I read called Simon’s Choice. I met the author, Charlotte Castle, on Authonomy, while I was garnering opinions on my YA novel, Samael.
Simon’s Choice is an unusual and very brave book that deals with one of the great taboos – a child dying. But there’s a twist.... here’s the pitch....

Doctor Simon Bailey’s previously perfect life is shattered when his seven year old daughter is given months to live.  Whilst he can almost come to terms with her impending death, he cannot stand the idea of his child facing death alone.
“But Daddy, who will live with me in heaven?” she asks.

He answers her question in a moment of desperation, testing his marriage, his professional judgement and his sanity to the limit. He offers to go with her.

Despite its subject matter, this actually isn’t a hard, gloomy read. It’s thought-provoking and, while certainly tugs at the heart-strings, it manages to have moments of wonderful humour. I was keen to know more about how Charlotte wrote this book and she kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Hi, Charlotte. First of all, could you tell us a little about you?
I'm 29 (hanging on to my twenties by my fingernails, 30 in a few weeks.) I live in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire with my husband Simon (yes, I really am that unimaginative) my two children, Arabella and Alexander and my cat Deborah-The-Bad-Puss.

What gave you the idea for Simon's Choice?
A friend and I were chatting in his van one day. He was talking about how his world revolves around his daughter and he said that, if she was dying, he might 'offer to go with her'. It sent a shiver down my spine and I thought "There's a book in that." I sat down and started writing it that afternoon.

You say in your author's note that it's not based on personal experience. I think many people will find that incredible as it seems so 'real'. Do you know parents of children with leukaemia?
No, thank God. Nor did I speak to any. I've always had a bit of a knack for empathy. I can get inside people's heads. I probably spend far too much time thinking about how I feel and how others feel. I had a fair idea of how I would behave (Melissa, the mother, is partly me) and I knew how my real Simon would behave. There is a lot of Simon in Simon!

As parents, it's all too easy to flinch from reading about children being ill or dying. Wasn't this a terribly hard book to write, as a mother?
I was pregnant as well! I started the book in my 7th month of pregnancy and finished it when Alexander was a newborn - often with him on my lap. Yes there were many times when I thought "Christ. Should I really be writing this? Am I tempting fate?" Certainly I now have a deep understanding of what it must be like to be losing a child and I can only pray it never happens to me. That said, I was interested in the mundanity that continues in one's life during such times. Your precious child is dying and the washing up still has to be done. I find that very striking.
I was very keen that the book shouldn't be maudlin. I hope that I have managed to temper the more upsetting aspects of the book with a little humour and some more light-hearted vignettes. That also provided light relief for me!

I love the depiction of Madron House, the children's hospice. Presumably you visited places like this? It sounds incredibly upbeat and really rather wonderful - is that the reality or are only a few like that?
I've always been aware of Martin's House Hospice in Wetherby near Harrogate. However Madron House (Madron is the patron saint of pain relief, so I thought it was apt) is entirely fictional - I made a lot of stuff up and it might even be slightly idealized - but generally children's hospices are wonderful, upbeat places. The work they do is stirling. The larger percentage of their funds have to be found through fundraising. If you ever see them fundraising, please do try to find a quid or two. To use a tired old cliche, every penny counts.

How DO you think you should talk to children about death? Other people's and their own?
I live next to a graveyard, which has prompted quite early discussions with my 5 year old daughter. She knows that we all die - normally of old age but we can have accidents or get dreadfully ill - and she knows that our bodies, or overcoats as I explained it, get put in the ground. (I think I'll deal with cremation at a later date!) There is absolutely no point in trying to skirt around the issues of death. Children have wonderfully open and positive minds. I told my daughter that we would all meet up again in heaven and that death was in many ways wonderful as we get to see people and animals we wouldn't be able to see in life. That may be rubbish of course and it is up to her to decide what she believes, but for now, she's happy.

Death is such a taboo - and children's death above all - do you hope books like yours will help us talk more readily about it? I clearly remember my father dying when I was ten and nobody – but nobody – talked about it.
When I was thirteen, a friend's father died of cancer in the school holidays. When she came back to school, none of us spoke to her. We didn't know what to say. I remember rushing out of the common room so as not to be left alone with her. She went from being popular and surrounded by friends to being a bit of a loner for the rest of her school career.
I swore to myself many years ago that I would never, ever do that to someone again. I'm not sure that Simon's Choice will have any effect on the world and the way we deal with death, but I certainly learnt a valuable lesson and perhaps Simon's Choice was part of putting that right.

Simon and Melissa find people avoid them, as they don't know what to say. What SHOULD you say to parents in a situation like that?
Nobody likes an uncomfortable conversation, but shying away from those who are grieving is emotional laziness. If you bang into someone you know, ask how they are feeling. Remind them that you are there if they ever want to talk but also try to bring something into the conversation that isn't all about death. I know that many people who are grieving also find that other people seem to think it is wrong for them to do normal things - or to even be seen laughing. Sometimes people will welcome a break from their sorrow. Offer to go to the cinema. Include the grieving person in a trip to the pub or football match. They may well say no, but it will mean a lot to still be asked.

Simon is comforted by his faith - are you a religious person? How does your faith (or lack) affect your parenting?
I'm on the atheist side of agnostic. Our children are brought up as Christians though - Arabella goes to Sunday School and I keep my skepticism to myself. It is for them to choose their own beliefs when they are older. Even if they do not believe, our entire culture is lain on the foundations of religion and so it is important that they know the stories, hymns and rituals that most of our artwork, politics and music is steeped in.

Porridge, the family's Labrador, is a great character....hmm, is he drawn from real life???
Ah - I thought you'd like Porridge, Jane. No, he's completely made up but I noticed that dogs in books always seem to be incidental characters. In real life they are so much more important - a large Labrador is a big part of family life - hence Porridge gets a starring role.

What are you writing now? Is it going to be very different?
The working title is 'Scared to Death'. It’s about a Theatre Studies teacher in a super-elite school who plays a silly prank on his students. A girl (whom nobody realised was bulimic) has a fatal heart attack. It asks the question, would she have died anyway or was she 'Scared to Death'? We also explore his past and what has shaped him as a person. I like character driven novels. I like to explore personality - people fascinate me.

Huge thanks, Charlotte.  Most important of all - how can we buy your book?
It is out of stock on UK Amazon right now but hopefully will be back soon.  However you can buy it from here
Charlotte also blogs and you can find her on Twitter

If this interview has interested you in the work of children’s hospices then check out these links to learn more

And let me know what you think.  What would you do if you were in Simon's position?  How do you talk to children about death and illness?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I love parcels

Only a few more days and we go on holiday! Am so excited I can barely type. We’re going up to Northumberland and will be staying at THE most magical place. Then we come back, I launch into a flurry of washing and then, ye gods, term starts.

I am feeling rather smug actually as, for once, I am pretty much on top of the uniform thing. James is moving up to senior school (AAAGHHHH) and I was terrified that the uniform list would be crucifying but actually it wasn’t too bad. I think schools are beginning to realise that parents have enough on their plates without having to take out a mortgage for blazers and boaters.

I can clearly remember the look on my poor mother’s face when my uniform list came in. I was only going to the local girls’ grammar but by heck there were three pages of it. Actually (I kid you not) there was even a boater. The skirt was a kilt - rather a nice tartan actually. The shirts were a particular shade of sky blue and came from a particular shop in Twickenham. No wonder she turned white.

Actually I think there is some kind of bias against girls because, as we pitched up at James’ school shop to buy our gear, I noticed that the girls still had to get special skirts and, yup, particular blouses while the boys were let off with any old grey trousers and white shirts. And halleluyah for that. I usually top up our kit at M&S but a few days ago I got an email from Tesco asking if I’d like a big bag of school uniform.

Naturally I said, ‘Nah, that’s okay, mate, I’d rather buy it. Give it to someone more deserving.’

Okay, so how many of you believed that? Even for a moment? Yeah, thought not. Suffice to say, I bit off its arm (if an email can have an arm).

Anyhow, at this point (biting the arm of the email) I had to walk away from my PC (okay, lunge) to extract my bra from the Soul Puppy’s piranha sharp teeth. Naturally this would be the precise moment that the delivery man chose to arrive (trying not to laugh as the SP and I had a tug-of-war with my industrial strength underwear) and handed me THE most enormous parcel, all tied up with a big black bow.

Oh god I LOVE parcels. Even parcels with, ahem, boys school clothes in them. But still – one gets that little frisson that accompanies any parcel (along with the random yet hopeful thought that maybe there might be a bar of chocolate stuck in there somewhere). Alas no (as Dumbledore would have said) but there were pens and pads alongside the clothes and (serious smile) a voucher for me to buy something online at Tesco who (who’d of thought) actually have a whole bunch of designer stuff now. Mind you what’s the betting I end up buying stuff for James? Adrian can’t understand why I no longer buy myself clothes but get armloads for the boy but really it’s simple. I can buy something knowing it will a) fit and b) look good. *sigh*).

Meanwhile, back at the parcel, I’m pretty impressed. The shirts, in particular, are good quality and the jumper is ace. Must add that this is the F&F Signature range. Anyhow, have a butcher’s.....

They’ve also asked if I’d like to nominate another blogger who might like to receive their largesse. Didn’t take me long to think of Milla – partly because her younger son, F11, is also off to big school but also because if anyone can make buying school uniform hilarious, it’s Milla and I rather yearn to read what she’ll make of it. So, Fairy TescoToes – please send a parcel to dear Milla (tip: if you want to make her REALLY happy, sneak in a few bottles of wine – she’s rather partial to Tesco Finest pinot if I recall).

Now all I have to do is sew on a few more labels. A monumental task as the school demands (for some inexplicable reason) that kit be labelled in HUGE type. It’s at this point that I wish I hadn’t married a bloke with a stupidly long double-barrelled name. James’ name tags are about six inches long (honestly, no exaggeration).

As I stab the needle in yet again, I narrow my eyes and feel a flash of unsisterly loathing for the mothers of Tom Hunt and Ann Green.

btw, of course it was only a question of time before this happened......

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Close shaves and near misses

Growing up can be tough. When I think back to my childhood it’s as though there was a big river running through it. The Styx maybe? There was Before Dad Died and After Dad Died - and I was a different child on each river bank.

This has been a tough holiday for James in many ways. Lyme Disease and our sojourn in hospital made him realise that we can’t always take good health for granted and that many children are in real life-threatening situations; that serious pain is not a grazed knee.

Then we had the Riphay Scuffle where we saw our lives flash before our eyes as a car hurtled past, snagging a line of fencing and a heavy stake came flying within a few feet of us. We were okay but someone further down the hill had to be air-lifted to hospital.  Tragically that evening two young lads died on their way home from the Scuffle as they lost control of their car. James hates driving past the spot where they came off the road and I had to explain that sometimes awful things do happen but that we can’t let them control our lives. So we do occasionally drive that way and pass the huge swathe of tributes – and say a silent prayer for the boys and their families.

A few days back, Adrian and a friend of ours took James to the cricket in Taunton. On the way back they got a flat tyre and had to pull over to change it. A car slowed down and the next thing a truck ploughed straight into it. By a miracle nobody was seriously hurt (though we heard later that the lad in the first car has whiplash) but James was horribly shaken.

‘It all happened in slow motion,’ he said as he sobbed into my shoulder. ‘I thought they were dead.’

He has, I think, crossed his own river. Coming close to death and danger changes you. He seems more contemplative, more grown up maybe. It’s strange too that this summer is the one that straddles the divide between junior and senior school. In a few weeks time, he will be at ‘big’ school, boarding for the odd night here and there, doing his own thing. He can’t wait. He’s desperate to move up, to move on. I’m thrilled but also can’t help but feel a little pensive.

So, it hasn’t been a carefree summer so far. But, in the scheme of things, we’re so lucky. We’ve come close but the cup has passed by. I do often wonder how on earth parents handle really serious illness, accidents or, perish the thought, the death of a child? I’ve recently been reading Simon’s Choice by Charlotte Castle, an author I met on Authonomy. The book looks at exactly that question – what happens when you are told that your child’s illness is terminal. I’m going to be posting an interview I did with Charlotte quite soon – so do watch out for that.

Sorry, this is a rather maudlin post. To end on a brighter note, we are so looking forward to our holiday in Northumberland. I think we could all do with a little light relief.

btw, I have recently given an interview myself - to the website Authors on Show.  It's about my career in journalism and writing - and my hopes for my teen fiction.  You can read it here

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Miracle

We are in deep severe shock here at the Bonkers House. In fact, the more we think about it, the less sure we are that it really happened. At the time of The Event we were so stunned that none of us could even think of getting documentary evidence. Were we having a mass hallucination? Was it, in true Dallas style, just a dream?
Let me backtrack.
It was the Dulverton Terrier Show yesterday and James was desperate to take the SP for a second public showing (he had come away from the Hound Racing with a Special rosette which James discounted as ‘prizes for all’). He was, let’s be honest, pot-hunting.

‘Let’s take Asbo,’ said Adrian. James and I furrowed our brows. Asbo can’t even walk down the road without losing the plot. He has been banned from every pub in town and dog walkers will scramble over brambles and through cow pats to avoid him out in the fields.

‘It’s a terrier show,’ said Adrian. ‘It’s his birthright.’
‘Oh well,’ I said. ‘Maybe the overload of dogs will rewire his synapses or something. Kill or cure?’
Adrian visibly brightened. James rolled his eyes. Off we went.

‘Go get ‘em, Asbo,’ called our friend Patsy as he barked and brawled his way over the bridge.

James entered the SP for several classes – best puppy, best condition, best crossbreed – but he left the ring empty-pawed each time. Maybe beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Asbo, meanwhile, was happily eyeing up Labradors from the sidelines.

‘It’s the child handler class next,’ said James gloomily. It had to be said, the SP wasn’t really getting the idea – he thought it was just all one glorious game. Great for his socialisation skills; lousy for James’ pot-hunting enterprise.

Not sure why I said it but the words just popped out of my mouth. ‘Why not enter Asbo?’
‘Why not?’ After all, he was behaving reasonably well and, at the Hound Racing the week before the child handler class simply entailed being able to walk your dog round in a circle without being pulled out of the ring and into the river (farewell Beatrice, you were a lovely child).
So off they went.

Eh what? Lady C, the judge, was calling the first child up. She made him get his dog to sit and then she asked him to take off its lead. Whaaaaatttt?????
‘Oh no,’ said our ex-neighbour E, a veteran terrier-breeder and show judge. ‘That’s a really bad idea.’ She waved furiously at Lady C who merrily ignored her.
The child cheerfully obeyed and the dog cheerfully sped off and out the ring.
And so it continued. Every dog shot off the second its lead was removed. One terrier was seen dancing through the long grass two fields away and one small boy got a round of applause as he rugby-tackled his Staffie to the ground.

Then James stepped up to Lady C. I was furiously waving, making slashing motions across my throat to indicate that Under No Circumstances should Asbo be let off. James blithely ignored me and slipped off, not just the lead but the entire collar. A collective intake of breath around the ring and......nothing. Asbo sat. He stayed. James called him to heel and he walked back beside him. James asked him to sit and he sat.
‘Nooooooo!’ sighed the crowd.
‘YESSS!’ Adrian and I jumped up and down like wild people.
‘He’ll get the red ribbon for that,’ said E. ‘Damn good show.’
As it happened Lady C nearly forgot about him and had to be reminded. Her final five lined up and James had his eye on the coveted red rosette. Asbo however had his eye on the Labrador.

‘Don’t let him get near the....’ I shouted. Too late. An unseemly scuffle ensued and our pair were unceremoniously bumped down to #5.

‘It wasn’t fair,’ said James. ‘He was the only one who didn’t run away. Apart from the Labrador which wouldn’t have run away if you’d poked it with a stick.’
He had a point but we were simply awestruck. Asbo in a show-ring. Asbo in a field full of dogs, doing what he was told. I tell you, it’s not just an Event, it’s a bloody Miracle. I’m thinking of a shrine.

Friday, 13 August 2010

And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down

Thanks to the lovely Sun (gawd bless ‘er and all who sail in ‘er) we got to go to Alton Towers yesterday (let’s be honest, we couldn’t have afforded to go if we hadn’t had free tickets). Sorry, I’ll rant quickly and get it over with - £38 for an adult??? I suppose it’s justified if you get your money’s worth of being scared out of your wits but it seems steep if all you do is act as a glorified golf trolley. Note to theme parks – how about a subsidised ticket for non-riders? We could have neon brands on our foreheads to show we’re party-poopers and are Not To Be Allowed on Rides...

Anyhow, we picked up James’ friend Nathan at sparrow’s fart and hurtled up the motorway for four hours. Adrian argued that someone had to look after the Soul Puppy and that he would nobly pluck the short straw, eschew the joys of Nemesis and Oblivion, and take the SP to visit Thornbridge Brewery instead. Cue gnashing of teeth (why hadn’t I thought of that?). But hey, I figured that, for once, I could nail this pukka parenting lark. I could give the children a relaxed, calm, fun perfect day. Think about it - with a theme park, someone else has done the organising, no? There is endless entertainment and child-friendly food – no risk of boredom, curled sandwiches or nature raw in tooth and claw biting you on the bum. Seriously, what on earth can go wrong?

Umm, let’s try a thunderstorm. An all-afternoon monsoon with flashing lightning, growling thunder and pathways turned into log flumes. There is clearly some minor deity whose only purpose is to watch me and open the heavens every time I set foot in a theme park. I can still remember Legoland in a downpour, watching the children kicking water at one another while I swabbed mascara from my sodden cheeks.

I wouldn’t mind but I’d been a responsible adult for once, had checked the weather forecast (occasional light showers) and had even Taken Sensible Precautions and packed spare clothes, towels, umbrella. All of which became duly soaked.

Despite it all we had fun. The boys even coerced me onto the Rapids water-ride which was fab. And I dragged them into Hex which is absolutely mind-blowing (you think you’re doing a loop-the-loop while actually barely moving). I liked Alton Towers – more than most UK parks actually. It is well-designed around the park’s beautiful natural assets (lakes, trees, gardens, hills, copses). Food was good too – James and I had really good chicken fajitas while Nathan opted for the all-you-can eat pizza/pasta (£4.25 for kids). My only quibble – we had to sit through lunch twice as we wanted different things – why not go for a USA-style plaza with outlets round the edge and central seating so everyone can pick what they like and all eat together?

But in the last flurry to get onto rides we got seriously soaked. By the time Adrian arrived we were literally drenched to the skin. Luckily he’d been given a T-shirt by Thornbridge so I slipped into that while the boys put on swimming trunks and towels (the only dry bits of kit we had). With one pair of flipflops between them (and James’ bum covered in mud) they looked odd, to say the least, as they hopped (literally) into the service station. I could almost hear the thoughts. ‘Will you look at those boys? She’s got them in swimming trunks and won’t even buy them a pair of flipflops each, for pity’s sake.’

Ah well. We tried.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

We are the Weasleys

Why do we live in such perpetual chaos? Sometimes I step back and see our house, our lives, through the eyes of other, normal, people and truly I wince.
It starts with the approach to the house – up slippery, windy stone steps (often with the odd frog or slow-worm lounging) and through the under(over)growth, batting aside brambles and ivy. Then you have to paddle through the, um, ‘water feature’ (overflowing drain) with attendant stench. I have lost track of how many builders we have asked to quote for fixing this – maybe they get lost in the spinney (aka enchanted forest, aka patch of brambles with the odd tree) as they leave?

Dodge, if you can, the crap. Despite Adrian’s best efforts (and he has become somewhat obsessive on this score) one or other of the dogs will have vetoed the ‘potty place’ (not my term, inherited from Puppies for Dummies) and made pretty patterns of poo down the path.

Come prepared (preferably armoured) as Asbo will launch himself (a stout black and white missile with festering teeth) at you with a volley of shrill barking. The SP will then skid into view, probably tugging a trainer twice his size. At this point you will realise that the entire lawn is littered with footwear as, once again, he has breached the barricades and made off with the trainer mountain we have climbing the stairs.
You might hope that calm would prevail inside the house but sadly not.

‘Honestly, what do people think?’ I wailed a few days ago, having deposited James at a friend’s pristine home. ‘And don’t even think about trying that ‘We’re Bohemians’ line. It’s old.’
‘No, I wasn’t going to say that,’ he replied, excavating a space on the kitchen table so he could put down his plate. ‘I was thinking more of the Weasleys’.’
‘The what??’
‘The Weasleys. Harry Potter.’

Actually he’s got a point. We’ve even got the broomsticks. And we’ve certainly got the cobwebs. Oh, if I could only hurl myself into the fireplace and emerge in another house – somewhere clean and ordered.
I just don’t understand. It’s hardly a small house and there are just three of us plus two dogs. So why is it such total mayhem? Partly I think it’s working from home but other people manage that too. Maybe I’m just a slattern when it comes to housework.

Or perhaps aybe the feng shui isn’t right. I’ve been worrying about this for a while now. My great ‘let’s open the house up, get the energy moving’ has clearly worked – but maybe it’s worked just too well. The energy isn’t just moving; it’s having an illegal rave and has invited half the county.
We don’t talk to one another, we yell. Not in a nasty way, just in a trying to make oneself heard over the radio/barking/telephone way. We don’t sit; we sprawl. The sofa is littered with dog toys and books and unsuspecting guests are likely to sit down and yelp as they discover the hoof the SP left under the throw.

In the middle of all this chaos I sit, trying to write. Ye gods, maybe I should turn my hand to farce.

PS - we finally got the last test results back and James did have Lyme's Disease.  No evident bite, no rash - so do be careful. He's on antibiotics so should make a total recovery.

PPS - a very nice man from The National Railway Museum sends me emails (and postcards, and rock - smart chap!) asking me (very politely) if I'd mention the Museum on my blog.  I can't for the life of me think of any smart way of writing a post about this - it's in York so unlikely we'll make our way up there.  But here it is - a mention of the National Railway Museum.  And, because I'm all heart - a link too!
And, because he sent rock (bribery with food always works!) here's a picture too.
Actually, it looks rather good - if you have train-mad children...there's a bit of a Hogwarts thing going on too.

Monday, 9 August 2010

A typical Exmoor weekend

Heck what a weekend. It started off with the Riphay Scuffle. This is a particularly Exmoor affair – totally mystifying to most but a seminal part of the summer. We walked up over the hills (if you park at the Scuffle you run the risk of never seeing your car again – in one piece). It’s peaceful and beautiful – idyllic Somerset countryside.  Then you hear it: the growling and groaning of engines in pain. Next  comes the smell – of burning diesel. Finally you crest the hill and the full madness becomes clear – 4x4s charging around a sort of circuit, plunging through rivers, churning through mud, dodging trees, shunting one another, being towed out by tractors. It’s Mad Max Armageddon – total insanity.

Adrian hates it. I am mesmerised by it and James, of course, loves it. Every year is supposedly the last but every August it lurches back. Every year we roll our eyes and say this will be the year that someone gets seriously hurt or killed. Why? Because several hundred souped-up bangers being driven by bevvied youngsters is kind of a natural recipe for disaster.
I’m torn. Part of me loves the anarchy – that in this world where health and safety strangleholds all fun and freedom, there is a place for total foolhardy recklessness. But as a mother I wince.
And this year we nearly came a cropper. As we were sipping our drinks on the hillside, a 4x4 came careering through, caught the wire and stake fencing and whipped it out behind it. The fencing snaked across the field and slapped a guy sitting on the floor near us right around the throat. He was shocked but okay but someone further down wasn’t so lucky – and was taken to hospital in the air ambulance.

That evening we had kitchen supper with friends up in the hills. The boys played volleyball in the fading light and then slunk off to watch Family Guy while we adults chewed the fat and had a good laugh. I found myself talking to an ex paratrooper turned head hunter (possibly literally) who had walked solo across Iceland. I expressed awe and he shook his head firmly. ‘Anyone could do it with the right training and commonsense.’ The image of me marching with my tent across ice fields made me snort into my curry. Yup, right.
As we left the night sky was just littered with stars while a platoon of dogs wound themselves around us, a silent wolf pack guiding us to the car.

Surprisingly and blissfully I wasn’t too badly hungover the next day which was fortunate as it was Hound Racing. Another uniquely Exmoor occurrence and a particular favourite. There are various hound races – from the big lollopy staghounds to the small sparky beagles. But our focus was the dog show. Unfortunately we missed the puppy class but James entered the SP for the terrier class (well, he is half-terrier) and for the child handler class. They didn’t win either but got a lurid orange rosette anyhow. James wasn’t impressed. ‘It doesn’t count ‘cos everyone got one,’ he said, disgruntled. See, prizes for everyone doesn’t quite cut it after a certain age.

‘Never mind,’ said I, laughing my head off at the sight of a very small little girl being towed across the ring by a very large retriever. ‘Another week, another dog show. It’s the terrier show next week.'

‘Hmm, maybe we should take Asbo,’ said Adrian.  We laughed weakly but know what – I think we just might.

Don't you love this picture - the SP's tail and ears wagging so fast they've turned into a blur....