Friday, 25 May 2012


I had to have my dog put down yesterday. It's not the first time I've faced this. I've loved three dogs in my life before but there was something special about Batty. I fear I'll carry the sadness at his loss for a very long time.

He was born on 19th August 2003 and came to us in January 2004. I wasn't sure about having him at the time. We'd lost our previous family dog Spider, a sassi white staffordshire bull terrier, three months earlier and it just seemed disrespectful to replace her so soon.

 She was very much my husband's dog. I loved her of course but we never got really close. She loved him and I was a poor substitute.

When she died there was an emptiness in the house. The kids missed her. My husband  missed his evening's walk with her and the way she would faithfully wait, untethered, as he popped into the shop; the way she would pine for him whenever he left the house without her.

 The hole she left in our family motivated my other half to want another dog as soon as possible and when he saw a white boxer for sale in the local paper, he was determined to check him out and an hour later a gawky, clumsy, bouncy five month old whirlwind dragged my other half into the house and headed straight for me.

He stood on his hind legs with his front legs hugged around me and then he laid his head on my shoulder. I was suckered.

There were times when that special Batty hug was a comfort like no other living animal could give. My husband never bonded with him quite and in truth, he came too soon after the loss of Spider the Staffy which is why my other half couldn't love him quite the same but I adored him immediately. 

 Batty came to us with the name Bruno. I suppose because he was a boxer but he was more of a lover than a fighter and it didn't really suit him. During a fun mock boxing match with my other half, he remarked how Bruno fought like a Battyboy and the name stuck. He was certainly in touch with his feminine side. We still used Bruno when he was in trouble or when he needed the authoritarian voice. 

 Batty was just a huge mass of energy and he did everything with gusto. My other half had been used to walking Spider who would toddle along at his side off the lead. When Batty was first unleashed, my other half chased him for hours before he could get him back. 

 Batty was also sociable to other dogs but he irritated the life out of some by wanting to play and tease until they'd turn on him and then he'd gallop off like a horse.  There was a pond on the common where he walked. One day he hurtled towards it. We watched in horror as he sank in the middle but suddenly Batty bounced out of the water like he'd landed on a coiled spring and then took off with us chasing him again . I trained him to come back by taking cocktail sausages on the walk and rewarding him each time he returned. 

 His last owners wanted rid of him because he was destructive and had eaten through a settee. He was spoiled rotten there and they couldn't cope with him because he thought he owned the house. My other half has always been great with dogs because he treats them like dogs, not children, with respect, and lets them know who's boss and where the boundaries lie. 

 He chased Batty out of the house in anger one morning when we got up and found he had literally chewed the plaster off the kitchen wall down to the brick. Batty hid behind a bush in the garden and wouldn't come out for anyone but me and then I got one of those cuddles again. Perhaps he needed them too. 

 When we took him to the vet's for his jabs, we were told that as a white boxer he had a very short life span and would probably not live longer than 8 to 10 years. He was three and in his prime when we were approached about breeding him with a friend's female boxer. 

 We'd been told that if he mated he would calm down and it seemed a great idea to have one of his puppies from the litter. He was such a lovely dog that I wanted to be sure that his genes would continue and if we couldn't have him for long, then at least we'd have part of him for a bit longer.

 Toad was born at the end of August 2006 and came to us at six weeks old. Batty took him under his wing immediately and they became very close. Batty didn't have to prove he was top dog, Toad was happy to follow his lead.

They became inseparable. They slept together, walked together, ate together, drank together. When Batty stayed over at another Boxer bitch's house to mate, Toad was inconsolable. I wondered then if anything ever happened to Batty how Toad would cope. That night he paced and panted constantly and sat facing the door - waiting. He went loopy when Batty came home the next day.

The second litter of puppies Batty fathered were like mini clones of him and Toad. If only I could have kept them both too but at least I have their photo if I'll never know how they get on with their new owners and Toad and Batty were quite enough of a handful - except when they slept.

Was Batty ill then? It was only last year. We have no idea when he got prostate cancer. Dogs never complain and he never showed us he had a problem until last week when he suddenly stopped eating.

We wondered what the problem was but at first we didn't take it too seriously. He'd gone off his food before but usually when we changed brand of dog food. He was drinking water but when he still refused food the next day, and turned away from his favourite treats like bacon, sausages and cake, we began to worry a lot.

Our village vet is only open three days a week so Batty had been off his food for four days before we could get him in.  He went downhill rapidly. We had one sleepless night  wondering if he'd make it. The news when it came was the worst. The vet wanted to put him down there and then but my other half wanted to bring him home one last time so we could all say our final goodbye.

The last two days of his life were full of pain. He slept, drank water and puked continually when he didn't sleep. Toad paced the house for two nights whimpering as Batty lay there almost lifeless. It was pitiful. I wished he'd been put out of misery rather than coming home to say goodbye. That was for our benefit and not his and we shouldn't have put through that extra day. My last memory of him is the smile he gave me as I helped my other half lift  him into the car for the last visit to the vet.

 He didn't move as he lay on the back seat but seemed focussed on the scenery as  it flashed past the window as the car moved. He was a bit of a dreamer. There were  many times on holiday and in walks in the countryside when he would just sit and gaze out as if he was taking in the view.

His last breath was a sigh of relief . It was a comfort to hear. His time  had come and he was ready to go. Whether he and Toad had The Big Conversation in their own way during those last two nights can't be known but Toad seems to have accepted that Batty, his dad, is never coming back. He hasn't fretted, paced or whined at all but he is a much quieter and calmer dog now that Batty has gone.

Perhaps he's finally grown up. I'm dreading the thought that his time might be as short as Batty's  and now I know why boxer dogs are so energetic. They have so much life to cram into such a brief time on earth.

 Batty may have been here for just less than nine years but he will live with me and in my heart for lifetime and I am comforted to know that he gave us Toad who has his same gentle soul. He has lived in his dad's shadow since coming to our house and now is his time. I want to make sure that the years he has left will be the best of his life.

Monday, 21 May 2012


I happened upon the Inspector Montalbano series quite by accident and I'm so glad I did because it's the best thing I've seen on TV for ages.

 I confess that the weekly dose of Sicilian sunshine was very uplifting during the grey and dreary Spring English weather with the prospect of yet another summer wash out on the horizon minus the handful of scorching days that are so rare this side of Europe.

 As much as the lush scenery, clear skies, yellow sunshine, golden sands, and Italian architecture was an attraction so too was the melodic Italian language that I love to hear, but struggle to understand, and the likeable characters despite their gentle machismo and sexism.

 Montalbano, played by Luca Zingaretti, is the sort of detective you want to deal with in real life should you fall under suspicion but you wouldn't want him as a boyfriend given the way he treats his girlfriend Livia. He once left her sitting in the car for two hours because he forgot she was there, and he even stole away back home from a weekend trip leaving her alone after failing to tell her they were only there because he was investigating something.

 He is fair, perceptive and just in his dealings. He doesn't always get his man - or woman - and sometimes just walks away, or deals out instant penalties after making a moral judgment about whether something is right or wrong outside of the confines of law.

 His side kick Mimi Augello played by Cesare Bocci always has women troubles and despite his sexism and belief that all women will fall for his charm, I still like him because his weakness for women is his Archilles Heel, his dealings with them often leaves him with egg on his face, and he always ends up going home to his long suffering fiance Bella - the sort of Italian woman you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.

 Most people can't help but be drawn to Caterella, the well meaning, incompetent, comic relief who appears in a fluster all of the time and anxious to impress the Inspector.

 He appears to be mentally challenged but everyone in this series has their strong points and for Caterella - the jester - it is his expertise in computers and his enthusiasm that makes him such a valuable, if somewhat annoying, member of the team.

 I like the fact that Montalbano uses his brain and clues in the old fashioned way to solve the crime rather than the polished and clinical approach of something like CSI where close up shots of science in action as DNA, or some other vital piece of evidence is magnified under a microscope to indicate who dunnit .

 Fazio, the God fearing younger member of the team and moral guide, is loyal, honest and hardworking and trusts his boss's judgement even when he strays over the line of legality.

 I have no idea when or if Inspector Montalbano will return to British screens with BBC Four but until then I do at least have a a whole collection of books to discover.

 Meanwhile, I'll be thinking about my own trip to an Italian seaside town this year when I hope to visit my Italian mother's family in Cecina Mare, Tuscany, where the sea is just as clear as Montalbano's fictional town of Vigata, the sun shines as brightly, and the community including my relatives and ancestors are as old as the town itself.

 Watching the series took me a little closer to my favourite place every week and now it's ended, Saturday nights are not quite the same.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


I sat down to watch this week's Silent Witness crime drama only to find a repeat of Death in Paradise instead.

 I know there had been 500 complaints about a particularly nasty male rape scene in the second two part drama of the long running crime drama and I think the BBC got cold feet in showing the next  instalment, And Then I fell in Love.

 According to Silent Witness News the BBC has pulled it because it needs further editing and that's why they showed an old, but good, repeat last week and replaced it with something else entirely this week.

 I wonder if  that's because the Beeb is worried about possible violent scenes in the last two episodes that may prompt more complaints if shown in their current format that they've decided to tone them down a bit.

 If that involves recalling the actors and film crew then that would explain why it's now been scheduled to appear later in the year and can't be shown now.

 Personally, I found those controversial scenes very disturbing but no more than violent or sexually degrading content in many other series and films.

 I am very sensitive to such drama but I look away, put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and pick up the storyline when I get back to the room after the upsetting scenes have ended and moved on.

It loses nothing as far as plot is concerned and the fact that I know such characters are capable of such atrocities is enough for me. I don't need to see so much of them doing their worst.

  I can't write such scenes because I can't bear to be that close to violence. Sometimes I wonder if they need to be so graphic in telling a story (and sometimes I wonder if I'd have more success if I could write that way).

 I don't think the Silent Witness scenes were that graphic but they were cleverly written and acted so the audience was drawn into feeling the humiliation and pain of the victim  and could "see" what wasn't there.

 Why 500 people have nothing better to do than complain about an episode shown when all good kids should be in bed, and all nutters locked up,  is beyond me.

 The Beeb really should put this into perpespective rather than be forced into censorship. There are some 60  million people in the UK and 5.68 million who watch Silent Witness.

 The complaints, therefore, are miniscule in comparison  and don't reflect what the viewer generally thinks. Should we let the tiny minority decide and dictate to the majority who obviously don't give a damn?

 The BBC would appear to be going over the top in taking the responsible broadcaster position but in doing so it insults its audience's intellectual ability.

 Meanwhile, as a licence payer, I am shown repeats of an old series, which I enjoyed at the time but would now rather watch something new, and that is hardly value for money just because 500 people, who probably look for things to be offended about,  didn't know how to change channel or turn their TV off .

 I think the BBC should grow a pair, frankly.