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AnimalsDog Days

Archer – 9 months

18th February 2019 — 0

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Incoming

We are now 3/4 of the way through Archers first year. He’s still very much a puppy, I’ll grant you he’s a big puppy at 33kg as I discovered to my cost when he and a 20kg Vizsla hit my knee full on at over 10 mph. For the nerds, that’s 625 joules of energy enough to light a 100 watt light bulb for 6 seconds, which is half the time I needed to have a light bulb moment myself; never ever take your eyes of a frolicking pup. My top tip after several such encounters is to try and keep your knees bent (just like a parachute jump) it’ll give you something to do while your life flashes before your eyes.

Vet Visit

Archer had a visit back to the vet, partly for a checkup and partly to restock the various anti-parasite drugs that prevent him from becoming host to a whole range of beastly little friends. He was a little nervous but on the whole, he does associate the vets with fun, thanks to the puppy classes he attended there. It also helped that the vet knew him on sight as we’d bumped into her several times out walking her own pup. After some liberal poking and prodding, he passed his physical with flying colours.

The conversation finally came around to what to do about his love spuds. As I posted previously I’m at a loss on the subject of neutering. It seems to be a hopeless balancing act between various risk factors including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, joint problems and emergent unsocial behavioural traits. The vet essentially confirmed the situation and outlined from her perspective the lowest risk strategies:

  • Plan A – and the ideal outcome would be to try and get him to mental maturity somewhere around 3 years and then get him done. The risk of testicular cancer then begins to outweigh the other concerns by that point. The challenge, of course, is living with an intact maturing dog when his true instincts being to manifest.
  • Plan B – if he becomes too uncontrollable is to try to get him to at least skeletal maturity somewhere around 18 months. Even that may prove difficult with a fully fueled hormone pumped pup.

The vet said she made it to a year with her lab before the quality of life (for her and the dog) had reached a point where there was little recourse but to snip the problem in the bud(s). So we’ll play it by ear and see how far we can get, I’m under no illusions, it’s not going to be easy and I’m already starting to see the early signs of what’s to come. The longer I can keep my patience, the better the outlook for Archer, we shall see.

Nutcracker Emergency

Away with the Furries

If I was in any doubt of what a challenge Archers trip into adulthood will be it has been cemented in the last few weeks as I’ve watched him slip into another world. His growing interest in smells of all kind has become more of an all-consuming addiction. We no longer go for walks together, I might be standing right next to him but I might as well be a universe away. During these times It’s next to impossible to get his attention, he’s so totally lost in this world of smells. It’s even beginning to overtake his once primary passion for play, I’ve seen him seemingly chasing down another dog, only to see him swerve off at the last moment to stand and smell a tuft of grass for 5 minutes utterly transfixed.

He currently spends at least half of any walk lost in this peculiar state, attempts to pull him from its grip rarely work and in the odd case it did, it’ll last a minute at best. I’ve literally put high-quality treats in his mouth and he’s spat them on the floor and shot off to inspect a particularly interesting tree stump.

Of course, there is one smell above all others that he is hunting for and when he finds its source he is capable of turning into an absolute monster. There is nothing more embarrassing than trying to pull him away from a female he’s taken an interest in. He’ll dance around the other dog and its owner keeping me on the other side of them unable to stop him. Needless to say in such moments there are no commands or treats that I can offer to entice him away. For him it’s a game for me it’s a nightmare. Worse still he hasn’t even figured out what he needs to do yet, it’s just the smell he’s interested in.

There will come a day not too long away when he’ll run for miles following that smell and I fear before then he’ll, unfortunately, find himself on a long leash. It seems like a step backwards, but in reality, it’s just another phase of his development. Luckily there are walks we can go on where his chances of coming into contact with other dogs are relatively low. So we’ll probably just mix it up until his recall returns in a few years.

Swimming

He can finally swim, yet another innate instinct he didn’t need to be taught. We found a great spot on a local walk where they launch boats down a nice long ramp and the SS Archer made his first tentative voyage. There is nothing more impressive than a grinning golden retriever creating a bow wave as he chases a stick into the water.

There are however a couple of issues with him swimming:

  1. it’s not a successful swim unless he manages to shake the majority of the water on to me and will make an all-out effort to get to within a few feet before going off like a landmine.
  2. freezing water acts like nitro and he will spend the next 10 minutes hurtling around like a mad thing. Forget “Redbull gives you wings” in Archer’s case it’s a dip in the river.

With each swimming lesson, he gets more confident and visibly stronger. The only concern now is that’ll he’ll swim off across the river or worst still start chasing ducks, which I suspect would be somewhat frowned on by the park wardens.

Back in training

Archer is back into formal training, last week was the introductory class and let’s just say it was a bit of shock to the system for both of us. It was far removed from the casual puppy classes he had previously attended, instead, an hour of fast-paced commands left both of us knackered. Archer didn’t help himself, having half killed himself before the class had even started, he was so excited, so many dogs and he wanted to meet them all, pulling at the leash like a bucking bronco.

All the new pups were taken into a small side room for evaluation, there were six of us in total with a good mixture of pups with age ranges from 6 months out to a year. One owner was told to put their dogs toy away, this was “a place for work, not fun”, one of the trainers said. That was a bit of a rude awakening.

We each gave some background on our four-legged friends and the challenges we were facing. It was at least encouraging to both hear and see that everyone was dealing with the same problems, walking on the leash and the elusive recall. Archer had remembered a good amount of the basics although he does have a tendency to get a bit bored after he’s done the same thing a couple of times, that and the constant distraction of the other pups. Which is actually a good thing, all his commands work perfectly in the quiet of the front room, but they need to be able to work everywhere.

Archer managed to get through his treats within the first 30 minutes of the class (I must remember to bring more next time) luckily the trainers had plenty more and Archer loves a cocktail sausage. We had a break at the halfway mark so the dogs could attend to any calls of nature, needless to say, Archer took the opportunity to dump an almighty poop in the middle of a pitch black carpark. I was just thankful he didn’t deposit it in the room, as one poor owner had to contend with.

By the time we got home, I had an overtired, frustrated, stroppy pup who wanted nothing to do with me. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to just play like normal. Next week we are in the main hall with the majority of the dogs, that’s going to be an interesting experience. Hopefully, Archer will have the good sense to at least pace himself next time.

AnimalsDog Days

Archer – 8 Months

18th January 2019 — 0

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First NOEL

Archer thoroughly enjoyed his first Christmas, between countless presents, extra treats and generally being fussed overnight & day by my nieces. The highlight as far as he was concerned however was being part of a pack. He spent the majority of Christmas playing with the rest of the family’s dogs (see photo above). He had met my sister’s dog (chocolate lab) earlier in the year but had not met my parents (golden lab) before. Needless to say, all being gun dogs they got on like a house on fire, even with all three dogs having very different characters.

It appears dogs are like children when it comes to unwrapping presents in their tendency to be more enamoured with the wrapping paper than the contents. All three dogs had great fun shredding ALL the wrapping paper. Archer is still working through his new toys halfway through January. His current favourite is a soft toy duck (see above) that’s he’s starting to get a little over friendly with.

Even at 8 months, Archer is a good bit taller than the two labs each of whom are approx. 18 months old. To be fair both labs are quite small for the breed but even so it’s a good indication of how big he’s now getting. That said he was definitely still the pup of the pack with the older wiser dogs putting him in his place, lest he forgets.

Boxing day was a fun trip to a mostly deserted local beach where all three pups managed to splash around in the waves. Archer spent the majority of the time eating the seaweed. Thankfully the weather continued to be mild over the festive period.

The only downside to Archer’s fun was the 6-hour car trip there and back. He’s used to travelling in the car for journeys up to an hour. Unfortunately, the longer journey stressed him out quite badly, he refused to settle down for the entire trip and by the time we got to the other end he was utterly exhausted. On meeting his family he managed to rally and shake it off. On the way back, after another 6-hour ordeal (2 x 3 hours) he was done for. When he finally got home he made a beeline for my sofa spot and flatly refused to do anything for the rest of the day. A very unhappy pup, in the future we’ll need to give him a sedative for his own benefit.

Overall though Archer had a fantastic time and he really misses his family pack.

Growing Pains

With each passing week and month, our little puppy is transforming into a full-blooded adult dog. In the last month, he’s started to show some “new” behaviour. On our most regular walk, I noticed he had started urinating in the same spots on the way around and then finally last week he cocked his leg for the first time. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be proud or not, but the implications are definitely not lost on me. He’s also starting to take an immense interest in seemingly random fauna, logs, walls etc. Stopping on occasion for minutes at a time to ensure he’s fully read what are no doubt smelly messages left by other dogs.

I think his awakening began a couple of weeks back having literally run into the back of female in heat. One minute he was a happy go lucky pup minding his own business the next minute:

You could see even he was struggling to understand what was going on, not quite sure what it meant but knowing that it was really really interesting. I had to leash him and take him home as I couldn’t get much sense out of him. So too did the poor lad who was walking the female, I’m not sure he had actually realised she was in heat as it was his Aunt’s dog, that or he didn’t understand what chaos it would unleash in the park that morning.

The other notable behavioural change is he appears to be going through another fear phase. Odd things will scare the bejeezus out of him and it will be totally random things, a bag in the wind or smell on a tree stump will trigger him to cower and run. I’ve let him out in the garden a few times only to have him come running back in tail between legs looking like he’s being chased by the devil himself. I’ll admit on occasion he’s even got me concerned enough to look out the window before going to the back door, such is his conviction. When in reality it was probably a leaf landing on his head.

The best example of this irrational fear response was I ordered a new brush for him, his coat needs some daily attention at this point. Anyway, the brush is delivered, I pull it out the bag and Archer takes one look at it and totally loses his s****. In such times of abject horror, he’ll run to where I sit on the sofa and curl up there. So, of course, I take the brush and try to show him it’s just a brush but he can’t even look at it, I try to use it on him and he runs upstairs and hides under the bed. It’s been a week and every time I pick the new brush up his tail goes between his legs and he’s gone. I honestly don’t understand what happened but it looks like he’ll need therapy to get over it. In the meantime, I have a very good brand new brush gathering dust rather than hair.

To compensate for this lack of confidence he has in the last week on two occasions gone the other way, stood up tall, pushed his chest out and raised his tail and confronted what scared him. There’s a photo above of him confronting a plastic sheet that was proving particularly threatening. The other occasion was a chap standing at a gate who was shouting for his dog that had decided to have some fun in the wood. Archer actually got between me and him and made himself look big and butch and barked at him. Which was unprecedented, he also thankfully had the good sense to back down when the chap matter-of-factly said good morning to him.

I have yet to see any of the other testosterone-fuelled behaviours but it’s only a matter of time and it will force me to make a decision on when to get him neutered. The conventional wisdom for years had been to neuter early before 6 months for males but there is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest neutering before full development can have a significant detrimental impact. Specifically, this paper would indicate up to 500% increase in joint problems in neutered male golden retrievers. So, for now, I’ll gather more information.

Breed Traits

Archer is the product of 150 years of breeding to produce a gun dog that is specifically designed to retrieve shot waterfowl from lakes. Now I don’t shoot and I have no plans to start, our reason for getting a golden retriever was for its legendary temperament. But what I am increasingly discovering is all that breeding is hardcoded into Archer’s very DNA, in addition to his physical adaptions (webbed feet, double coat) his very instincts have also been modified.

This became apparent the last time we were at the dog pond. After months of cajoling him into getting wet, it finally clicked. I’ll grant you it took a surreptitious literal push in the right direction but he finally got it. He’s not swimming quite yet, the pond in question isn’t deep enough (I wouldn’t have pushed him otherwise) but he did discover a number of logs floating in the middle of the pod. What better water and sticks and I can tell you he has never had a happier moment in his entire life than pulling half a tree out of the pond onto the bank where I would obviously push it back in. Something clicked and I truly think he found his raison d’etre in retrieving logs from that pond.

There are other more subtle examples, like the way he’ll pick up a thrown soft toy. Every dog I grew up with would literally rip the toy a new one. Archer picks the toy up with such delicacy that you’d think he was retrieving eggs.

Or the fact he doesn’t care about loud noises. We walk around a country park that has bird scarers that sound like a shotgun going off, an almighty bang. I’ve met fellow dog walkers heading for the exit because their dog is terrified of the noise. Twice now we’ve been very close to these devices, enough to give me a start. Archer, however, is either deaf (I don’t think so he can hear a treat packet being opened 3 rooms away) or simply doesn’t give a damn. We didn’t train him to deal with loud bangs it appears to be instinct again.

What amazes me, is how much of his behaviour is nature as opposed to nurture (background). He’s never been shown these behaviours, I never taught him them and his mother hardly had a chance. The instructions must be encoded in his DNA and made physical in the very specific way his brain developed. He is the direct sum of 150 years of choices, this feature over that feature, minute little changes generation after generation guided by human hand. As a software developer, I can only marvel at the patience required to encode instructions in such a way.

AnimalsDog Days

Archer – 7 Months

15th December 2018 — 0

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Big Boy

At 7 months Archer is a very healthy 28kg of muscle, skin, hair and slobber. He looks better proportioned in the last month as the hindquarters have finally started to catch up with his bulky chest. He continues to be very lean, his considerable bulk being mostly muscle. He still has big folds of spare skin particularly around his neck but I’m starting to suspect that’s more to do with defence than the extra growing room. Other pups love to get a mouthful of his neck (or an ear) and I’ve seen him pulled around by it on more than one occasion, without much of a care.

His coat remains snow white with a hint of gold on his ears. When wet (see photo above) his coat looks majestic especially his mane. His two-layered coat serves him well, a lot of dirt can simply be brushed out when dry.

Where once he would sleep under the coffee table now he can’t even get his head between its legs. Which of course doesn’t stop him having a go. Overall he’s about the same size as most adult Labradors he comes across, which means the latitude given to him as a puppy is starting to wane. Where once his bounding would be greeted by excited “Oh he’s a puppy” now it’s more than often likely to be greeted by screams and rapid attempts to protect loved ones. It’s another lesson Archer is struggling to come to terms with given that from his perspective nothing has changed.

Daily Routine

He still sleeps a LOT, a typical day is broken down into 1.5hr-2hr walkies, 2 hours of general chewing/light play, which means he still spends 18-20 hours a day dozing or sleeping. He typically sleeps from 8-9pm through to 6am in the morning demonstrating far better bladder control than I can.

Archer’s body clock is as accurate as any atomic timekeeping source. 6am every morning he climbs onto the bed, not fully he’s not allowed on the bed, just the front legs and bulk of his 28kg torso applied skilfully to Wen’s legs until she pokes me and tells me he’s awake. I don’t know why he doesn’t wake me up directly, maybe he’s tried and I’ve just ignored him. At this point, it’s a bleary-eyed stagger (for the both of us) to the back door to let him out, feed the cats and give him his breakfast. He’ll then go back to sleep and if I’m lucky I’ll join him.

9am is the next key milestone on the pup’s busy daily schedule. He’ll start to get restless if it gets to 9:30 and I haven’t made a move then he’ll sit in front of me, turn his head to look out the window and then look back at me. To be clear most of Archer’s non-verbal communication involves looking at me and then looking at what he wants and back at me. It’s a work in progress at the moment, basically looking right means walkies that’s easy, however looking left could mean toilet, food, water or the cat’s in my way again.

Midday is dinner (he’s still on 3 meals – possibly not for much longer), this is usually about when we get back from walkies so he’ll woof his food down and then get into his afternoon siesta until about 4-5pm depending on how tough a morning he had. It’s then playtime for an hour, before his tea around 6pm.

Wen and I typically don’t eat until gone 7pm. When we do we’ll give him a Kong or chew stick while we eat as his treat for the day. By 8pm you can probably imagine he’s totally worn out, poor thing.

Mud Glorious Mud

We covered another 100km+ walkies in November and amazingly the weather (on the whole) continues to be mild with only a couple of nights of frost. Unfortunately, the side effect of this has been rain and many of Archers’ favourite walks have been reduced to quagmires of slippery deep mud. Not that it bothers him in the slightest, in fact, the muddier it gets the happier he seems to be.

The final straw was a walk around St Mary island a paved route devoid of mud, 45 minutes in and he’s spotless, bored but spotless. I almost made it off the island but on passing the dog pen for once it was full of dogs playing and I’m not that cruel. It also didn’t look that muddy so I let him off much to his delight, bounding around and playing with the other dogs the way only a 7-month pup can do.

Now I was aware that there was a hole that the dogs liked to dig in, you can probably see where this is going quicker than I did. The last time I saw this hole it was about a foot deep and it was dry, by the end of November it was now about 2ft deep, a foot of which was liquid mud. Worst still one of the other dogs had dropped his ball down it, he kept returning to try and dig it out and Archer is always so very willing to help. You can see the results in one of the photos above, on the long walk of shame back to the car.

It was at that point I gave up fighting it and accepted that trying to keep a white pup clean during Winter is my Kobayashi Maru test. I decided to accept defeat with good grace and a hose.

My first attempt to deal with mud was to bath him, it took 30 minutes of him splashing about and by the end, both myself and the bathroom was soaked and caked in mud. It took another 30 minutes to clean that up, which is clearly not a tenable situation. After the next walk, I decided it was going to have to be the hose in the garden, so holding him by his collar I proceeded to spray icy water on to the worst of the mud. In the blink of an eye, he reared up twisted around and proceeded to simultaneously crush my hand and garrote himself. We mutually agreed that didn’t work.

In the end, I built a pen out of spare metal fencing and dragged him into it, The next 5 minutes were to be fair harrowing, I’m not going to sugar coat it. I might as well have been spraying him with acid from his reaction Keep in mind this is the same pup that will happily wade through water up to his ears just for fun. I was finding it hard to reconcile that with the shaking mess staring up at me. I finally let him out (clean) and he shook the worst and bounded at the towel I was holding. Twenty seconds later he was a happy go lucky pup again.

We’ve been through this process a few times now. Archer’s still not a fan but he at least now accepts it and will now walk into the pen with a “get it over” attitude.

Dirty Dog

The puppy honeymoon period is well and truly over and we are now getting into details that weren’t covered in the handbook. As discussed in previous posts Archer love’s to socialise, he’s never happier than when he finds a playmate. Unfortunately, somewhere in all the close quarters play he appears to have picked up the Canine Oral Papillomas virus or to give it, it’s more common name puppy warts. Yes, it turns out that’s a thing, it’s common in puppies and they appear as warty cauliflower appendages. Luckily he has only a few small polyps on the inside of his cheek at this point, hopefully, it won’t spread so we’ll be keeping an eye on it and keeping him away from too much fun.

The general advice is to let him grow out of it unless they get infected or prevent him from eating (not likely). Evidently, we can look forward to them just dropping off at some undetermined point in the future, lovely.

Nemesis (Part 2)

As covered in a previous post Border collies have proven to be Archer’s nemesis when out in the field. But he has made some good progress in the last month and is starting to understand what’s required to pass a border check (no Brexit pun intended). In fact, he again came across the collie that attacked him on one walk and realising who it was (just in time) he proceeded to give him a good 50ft leeway. It’s the first time I’ve seen him adapt his engagement strategy from the default bound in and hope for the best.

His other nemesis at least if you are to believe the old adage about cats and dogs should be our cats Itchy and Scratchy. But having seen him from a pup they’ve had as much input on his upbringing as myself and Wen and he’s been schooled in good feline etiquette. Although he’ll still push his luck, it usually only involves a paw waved at him these days for him to get the message. You can see in the photo above they are more than happy to share prime seating spots.

PlayTime

Archer definitely favours his own breed when it comes to playing. The style of play between Retrievers (and to a lesser extent all the Gundogs) is boisterously unique and mainly involves wrestling with little running around and it can appear to be very violent. It’s also usually silent, other than the odd growl. I’ve only see Boxers (the breed) engage in similar play.

Other breeds tend to engage in various different styles of play, my generalised observations by class:

  • Pastrol – you can see the instinct instantly. They chase, herd, bark, nip and dominate. Having got Archer on the ground they don’t press the attack. Instead, they’ll let him back up, he’ll wander around a bit and then they’ll chase him back down. The objective of the play always seems very much about control. Archer doesn’t care play is play.
  • Hounds  – needless to say, if it’s a Whippets/Greyhound it’s about speed in fact usually straight out drag racing. It’s not Archers forte and any hound worth its salt can make him look like he’s standing still. It’s funny to watch though. They typically size him up in a few passes and carry on about their business.
  • Toy – practically all of the toy breeds are not interested in playing with Archer even on his best behaviour it’s clear he has little control of flailing limbs and they are far from stupid to engage with such an oaf.
  • Terrier – there’s nothing funnier than a Jack Russell terrier giving him a good run for his money (literally), usually involving a lot of bouncing, barking and running. The funny thing is the sheer energy level of some of these little guys (god help him if it’s a Staffy) is insane and they’ll literally run Archer into the ground, before dancing off to find another play date.
  • Utility / Working – it’s a shame, other than Boxers Archer hasn’t had much opportunity to play with breeds from these categories. He comes across a lot of huskies/malamutes but their owners tend to keep them on a tight leash.

Of course, you’ll always come an exception to the rule usually when a particular breed has been brought up around another breed. It’s always fun to come across the exceptions.

Swimming Lessons

Golden retrievers are known for their love of water, Archer literally has evolutionary mutations for swimming (double coat, webbed feet). So I ensure that a couple of times a week (tides allowing) that he gets an opportunity to get his feet wet. The trick at the moment is to ensure a muddy walk ends with a body of water so he can clean himself off (otherwise it’s the hose).

He still hasn’t quite got to the point of swimming, but he loves to paddle just as long as his feet are still on terra firma. My attempts to push the process along a bit have not gone so well, having got him to fall off the wooden ramp (see pond picture above), he steadfastly clung to the ramp with his front paws like a drowning man. Embarrassing not only because the water was only 2ft deep (if that) but because his whining attracted a number of good samaritan’s who were willing to lend a hand to save him. I had to wave them off pointing out that it was, in fact, a swimming lesson, no matter what Archer’s vocalisations might have been suggesting to the contrary.

In the end, I had to admit defeat, having pried his front claws off the ramp so he was left standing in the water he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that he wasn’t about to drown. So I plucked him out, he shook himself off and then proceeded to give me a proper bollocking, barking and jumping up as if to say you b******. That was a first, it’s usually me telling him off.

 

AnimalsDog Days

Archer – 6 Months

10th November 2018 — 0

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It’s been a while since I’ve found the time to post an update on Archer’s progress but given he’s just coming up for 6 months old I’d thought I’d provide an insight into some of the fun he’s had in the last month. Autumn has finally arrived and we are both loving wading through the multi-coloured sea of leaves. We’ve done quite a few kilometres of walkies in October:

It’s already obvious that mud is going to be a nightmare come the winter especially given Archer’s whiter than white coat. A fact fellow dog walkers love to remind me.

Pup Development

Needless to say, he has doubled in size again in the last month and judging by the size of his paws he’s not done yet. He still looks a little lanky and his front legs and chest look out of proportion to his rear section. It’s most notable when he tries to sprint as it often looks like his rear legs are trying to overtake the heaver front legs.

He thankfully made it through teething in just over a week helped along by some rigorous sessions with his pull toys. It really was quite staggering the speed at which the adult set has grown in. He’s now sporting a full set of shiny white gnashers that he’s always happy to flash in my direction. Best of all his breath has returned to just being doggy rather than smelling of rotting fish.

His coat continues to undulate and weave down his back and for the most part, he still remains white rather than cream. That is of course when he isn’t just mud coloured. The only problem with the waves on his back is at a distance it looks like the vertebrae of his spine, giving the illusion of him being criminally malnourished (see photo above).

Socialisation

As a dog owner, one of the key things you are desperate to ensure is that your pup is socialised, that he/she interacts well with other dogs and humans. It’s drilled into you that it’s critically important in those early months to ensure your puppy gets as many diverse social experiences as possible.

At this point Archer is amazingly social, bordering on being over socialised. Yes it turns out your dog can be over socialised and by that I mean he is not always correctly reading the body language of his victim, sorry, his new friend. His impulse to be friendly overrides good manners, which manifests itself primarily in how he interacts with adult dogs.

Adult dogs run a spectrum from timid to aggressive (just like humans really) with the majority luckily being somewhere in the middle. Dogs in the middle of the spectrum will typically tolerate Archer’s social faux paws. Even when he sneaks up on them and sticks his cold wet nose right where it’s not wanted.

Those at either end of the spectrum are where Archer is currently struggling. Timid dogs (if left to his own devices) he will continuously pester and try to goad them into some kind of play. It obviously never works, but that’s not going to stop him from trying it seems. Not surprisingly smaller dogs tend to be timider and as he grows bigger it is becoming more of a problem – one that will need to be kept in check.

But the real issue is aggressive dogs, there are many reasons why a dog may be aggressive and sadly in many instances, it’s good owners trying to correct the damage previous owners have inflicted. I have a lot of respect for the people who take on such a challenge and a lot of sympathy for the poor dog when a puppy decides to throw itself at them.

The issue isn’t that there are aggressive dogs, it’s the fact that Archer can’t yet read their body language, he’ll blunder into their personal space and having been given a clear warning, usually a snappy growl, he still continues to edge in towards them. Almost as if he’s trying to fix the situation, which he really can’t. Again left to his own devices he will leave a threatened dog no recourse but to snap and I have no doubt ultimately really bite him.

Clearly, neither of these situations are great. Archer is learning but at the extremes of the spectrum, he’s still struggling to realise it’s better just to walk away.

Nemesis

As discussed dog temperaments cover a wide spectrum and where a dog lies on that spectrum seems to be a mixture of nature (their breed) and nurture (their upbringing). That said, there is one breed that appears to universally hate Archer with a passion, Border Collies!

Now I love Border Collies they are beautiful, intelligent and the most obedient of all the breeds and we’d come very close to getting one ourselves. But for some reason, they take an instant dislike to Archer. It’s reached the point now where he’ll shove his tail between his legs, do a 180 and skulk off in the other direction if he sees one.

The old adage about there being no bad dogs just bad owners is very true. I was recalling a particularly aggressive Border Collie attack to a fellow dog walker and she described to a tee the offender and its owner. A sweet frail old lady, her dog had no collar and she had no lead (that’s a clue in of itself) and clearly lacked the strength to pull her dog off of another animal.

It wasn’t just Archer her dog had mauled and the poor thing had quite a reputation evidently. So the words of the old dear saying “She’d never done that before I don’t know what’s got into her” where either senility, denial or a flat out lie.

That incident aside, Border Collies are always very instantly stern with him. I have two theory’s on the subject:

  • their body language on seeing him immediately telegraphs caution. They tend to stop in mid-stride and start moving very slowly, with that piercing focus only a Border Collie can give. With other dogs that is usually an invitation to approach slowly with many Border Collies though it’s more an indication to stop, lay down and prepare to be checked over. Failure to correctly interpret this signal is punishable by a strict telling off. It seems to me given their own natural intelligence they have a low tolerance for puppies who don’t learn this basic lesson quickly.
  • they think he’s a sheep! Bare with me, his white coat and general size at the moment could be mistaken for a sheep on a foggy day by a dog with cataracts. I believe his very visage triggers something instinctual in the oldest of Border Collies and they seem to go on a crusade to unmask this sheep in wolfs clothing.

I’ve no doubt given Archer’s prodigious socialisation skills he’ll figure it out, he is so eager to please everyone dog/human he meets. Growing out of being a puppy will help and if all else fails I could try camouflaging him so he doesn’t look quite as much like a little lamb.

Lunacy

My sister visited in October and brought her 18-month-old chocolate lab, Luna. We’ve been waiting for this get together to see how the two retrievers pups would get on. There seems to be a common theme amongst chocolate labs they are all totally mad, the general consensus from owners I’ve come across is they seem to be wired slightly different to their lighter and darker cousins. Something that I can definitely attest to.

By the end of the week, I was simply referring to her as the land shark and I had taken to feeding her at a distance greater than an arm’s length, having almost lost a finger or two. It seems that Luna has been raised as a lap dog, a job she took deadly seriously and was not up for debate if you chose to sit down. That, of course, was assuming she wasn’t doing her other job of acting like a scarf around your neck. So much energy in comparison to Archer.

The pups got on like a house on fire. We had expected the wrestling but I think we both thought after an initial bout it would all settle down. A week later they were still locked in good-spirited ear, tail and leg chewing at every opportunity with no clear winner. Archers bigger size was nullified by Luna’s greater experience and speed. If we had sold pay to view tickets no one would have complained about not getting their money’s worth that’s for sure.

Being focused on the dogs getting on, none of us had given a thought for how Luna would handle the two cats. Let’s just say it was a good thing that October has been so mild outside, poor things.

Bombproof

Our primary reason for picking a Golden Retriever is we wanted a dog that was “bombproof”. No, that doesn’t mean you can blow him up when he’s being a sod. It means he’s solid, dependable not prone to being startled or scared, sociable and generally laid back. Archer ticks all these boxes even as a 6-month puppy.

His biggest test was our annual Guy Fawkes firework party. The house is packed with kids and adults and the highlight of the evening is 30 minutes of the loudest fireworks that can be commercially bought in the UK. We had considered putting Archer to bed, but in hindsight, it would have been a terrible mistake.

At it’s busiest there were people packed in 2 small rooms and overspilling into the kitchen. Archer loved it he greeted each new arrival, without jumping up, just his broad grin and wagging tail. At one point I spotted him winding his way around making an effort to ensure he had seen everyone. He was gentle with the kids, even when they were jumping on him and pulling his ears. Most amazingly he didn’t snaffle a single cocktail sausage off a child’s plate even though they were tantalisingly at eye level. It really was amazing to watch, and as the evening went on and he got tired (he’s still a pup) he snoozed under the table, with all the chaos going on around him.

As for the fireworks. He had been out in the garden with me for a good half an hour before the guests turned up as all around us other peoples fireworks where going off and he honestly didn’t seem to care. When our fireworks went off he just hung out inside with a couple of the kids and parents who didn’t like the loud bangs.

He made it through his first Guy Fawkes in a spectacular style not putting a single paw wrong. We have been very lucky with pets as both of our cats are hugely sociable as well, they tend to turn up halfway through the evening after the kids have calmed down a bit, But they too love to press the fur, so the sight of both cats and the dog circulating was amazing.

Temperament

The temperament of Golden Retrievers is legendary, having covered what Archer is like both outside and inside when socialising I think it’s worth describing what he’s like behind closed doors. Being only 6 months he still loves to sleep. He WILL sleep for 18 hours minimum a day, in fact, try and stop him getting 18 hours and he will literally just pass out on you.

When he’s out, he’s literally gone the loudest noise won’t stir him or even pushing and prodding him. It’s become a regular past time to re-pose him while he sleeps. But don’t be under any illusion he’s not alert. Say the right trigger word or rustle a treat packet and he’s on his feet heading in the direction before he’s even fully come to. If you think the Alexa keyword is amazing on an Amazon Echo you should see what an aeon of evolution can produce.

Archer is not a lap dog, he’s not a huge fan of cuddles either. He prefers to sleep alone. In the instances I’ve scooched up to him he invariably gets up goes and sleeps on the other side of the room. It might just be I smell having given up showering, what’s the point when you have a puppy? He’s not allowed on the bed, which is totally not a problem as he won’t get on it. He’ll get everything but his back legs on the bed, not to sneak on up but to just get some attention that he needs something.

Wen told him to go to bed the other night, took off his collar and turned the landing light on for him. He took himself upstairs (still a funny sight) alone and went to bed. The gate on the bedroom was open but he just went to sleep, that’s how serious this pup treats his Z’s.

I hate the term “old soul” and the implication, but at 6 months it truly is the best description I can give of Archer. His mannerism’s when not out in the field being a full on puppy is more of those of a 14-year-old dog than a young whelp.

The Cats

I’m still hopeful that this year Christmas cards to friends and family will feature Archer, Itchy and Scratchy all curled up together. As you would expect after so many months they are relaxed to the point they’ll stand right next to each other, although there is still a personal space boundary.

For example Itchy every morning will sit in the kitchen doorway preventing Archer from getting out into the garden to relieve himself. Archer won’t push past him and Itchy knows exactly what he’s doing, the standoff only ends when I push Itchy aside, reminding him it’s his own breakfast he’s delaying. Kitty mind games for sure.

They still don’t play together, Archer still hasn’t figured out that snarling, bouncing up and down with tail wagging is not how cats play. But he can walk up to them (when they allow it) and sniff them. They will even bond together if I’m late putting their food down (or the clocks go back and they are out of whack for a week), I’ll get both cats and the dog now turning up as a united delegation. Mind you cats always get fed first, those are the rules I didn’t make them.

Scratchy keeps a very careful eye on Archer, particularly in the garden. At this point, I don’t need to see Archer to know if he’s up to mischief I just need to see Scratchy. If he sees Archer doing something dubious he basically stares at me and then at the dog and back at me with a “are you seeing this s****” look. He’s a right proper telltale.

Training

We continue to train Archer on the basics. He’s currently between puppy schools having finished a 6-week program at the end of September. He will be enrolled in a new school shortly, one that ideally follows the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Scheme.which will provide a clear progression and set of goals. Going back to the point we want him to be “bombproof” he’s off to a great start but it’s going to require work for us and him.

We have of course continued to re-enforce the skills he’s already learned and Wen continues to take a worrying amount of pleasure in putting treats all over his person and getting him to wait for the “yours” command. The poor pup you should see his little face if dogs could sweat it would be pouring off of him.

Which reminds me of a mistake I made while feeding him. Before we put his food bowl on the floor he is required to sit, we put the food down, he must then wait for the “yours” command before he launches himself at the bowl.

One day I was having a conversation with Wen while putting his food down, he was sat ready and I accidentally said “yours” in the conversation with Wen. I saw him just launch at the bowl, not realising what I had said and stopped and told him off.

Wen pointed out I had just said: “yours” that’s why he was going. Realising my mistake I apologised to Archer and told him “Yours”, he just looked at me, I pointed at the bowl, gestured towards it, repeated “Yours”. Still, no go, “It’s yours, go on”, nope! In the end, it took me a good 3 minutes to convince him that he was allowed the food. I have honestly never known a dog like him.

P25KRunning

P25K – Week 7

8th October 2018 — 0

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Run 1 (2/10/2018)

It’s the first week of October, I’ve no idea what happened to September the weeks are flying by. My last run was a paltry 2k and I’m still not firing on all cylinders.

You know that horrible feeling you get when you know you are going to sneeze but it just won’t come. I’ve had that for the last week with respect to a cold, every night I go to bed drained and sniffling thinking I’ll wake up ill tomorrow and we can get this out the way, and every morning I wake without symptoms feeling fine and thinking great I’m over it. Until about midday when I start to flag and realise something still isn’t 100%. When I was working full-time I was the master of pushing illness down the line, guaranteeing that on those rare holidays I was doubly sick for its entirety. As soon as my arse hit the sofa and the stress was lifted I’d be visited by every plague and malady I’d danced around for months, very much like Dorian Gray finally staring at his portrait.

Not one to take any heed of obvious signs I still decided to set myself the goal of running 5k today, mainly to just get it out of the way early this week, So I headed out in the afternoon sporting my shiny new running jacket. Usual walk around the park and I’ve loaded up a new playlist to keep my mind occupied. After the last few runs my left knee has not been 100% and after the last run my right Achilles tendon has been a bit stiff as well, it’s all adding to my general feeling of low-energy fatigue. Which of course I’m ignoring, of course, that doesn’t stop me going on about it.

Into the first km, targeting 8 min/km but as always end up running the first lap a little quicker at 7 min 38 secs. I make an effort to slow it down on the 2nd km, my feet are killing me which is a bit unusual and then my phone goes. It’s my next door neighbour, I’ve got the pup caged up and so I can’t ignore it, imagining that he’s howling or worst, so I stop running and take the call. Nothing urgent and thankfully nothing to do with the pup. I’m in two minds at this point. Keep running or take this interruption as a sign to give it up, it wasn’t like I was having much fun beforehand. I convince myself to at least put in another km and make the 3km, so I set off again. The 2nd km comes in at 8m 15s in spite of walking for a minute, so the chances are my pacing was too quick again.

On to the 3rd km, my feet are annoying me I don’t usually get this kind of pain when running, but at least my knee and Achilles tendon isn’t playing up. I’m really not getting into this run, even ignoring the phone call I’m just not feeling it, or to be more accurate I’m feeling every nagging pain. By the time I finally hit the 3km in 8m 1s (yay hit the target pace at last) I’d had enough and headed off home, tail between my legs.

Just to stick the knife in the Endomondo app flashes up congratulating me with a new achievement. Fastest 3km in October, I know sarcasm when I see it!

 

Another walk home knowing I could have done better. The only useful info from this run is that the new running jacket worked great. It kept me warm without turning into a mobile sweatbox and it didn’t restrict my arms flailing or otherwise add to my countless woes. So that’s something. Now I’ve got a day to fret about running 5k on Wednesday, lovely, Fingers crossed I finally get this cold on just so I can get it over and done with and start feeling a little more with it.

Run Rating : 


Run 2 (4/10/2018)

I was out early with the pup for another lovely autumnal walk (5k) through the woods, got him back for midday and settled him down in his crate with a peanut butter filled bone before escaping out the door. I’d made up my mind to run a 5k route from the top to the bottom of Gillingham, which had the huge benefit of being mostly downhill,

Pretty much a runners dream run, apart from that annoying bump just before the end. Expect a PB assuming I can make the distance. My left knee is still not 100% but as long as it waggles about a bit for the next 40 minutes there shouldn’t be a problem. It took a km uphill warm-up walk to get to the start.

The first km was mostly flat and uneventful running beside traffic on the A2, bit noisy and I’m thankful I’m not having to breath deep lungfuls of car fumes. A 6 min 50-sec first lap is a little bit overzealous even for this terrain. I try to settle into letting the hill do the work for the 2nd km, keeping a steady pace. It’s even quicker than the first a 6 min 45 sec, not surprising given the elevation chart above. The 3rd km similarly is quick at 7m 8 secs but I’m out of downhill at this point.

The 4th km is on the flat along the river bank with a surprisingly strong headwind and I realise I’m having to actually do some work. There’s another runner just ahead of me who dances out of sight, easily doing sub 6 min/km. I get my head down and push on but I’m losing the battle here my breathing is getting more and more laboured and backing off doesn’t seem to be resolving the problem. I hit the 4th km and facing the muddy path that is the uphill bump (see above) I’m spent just getting here and decide to call it a day not sure why that last km was so difficult.

Then I get the time 7m 28 sec that’s not backing off at all! I know I can’t maintain sub 8 minute pace especially at km 4 of a 5k, so that explains why I’ve blown out. All that easy downhill must have screwed with my idea of good pacing. I walk up the incline, muttering annoyances under my breath, by the time I’ve got to the top I’ve got my breath back and my legs have stopped aching so I think bollocks to it I’ll restart the app and do that last km.

So I set off and run the last km in 7m 49 sec, still too quick. Shame if I’d kept going it would have been a new 5k PB. As it was it was a new 3k PB in 20m 40 sec, but is that any surprise given the terrain.

 

All in all, I made the distance, although pacing let me down again on the flat, if I dropped the pace down to 8m/km pace I’m fairly sure I could have avoided blowing out. The big take away from this run is to not quit if I have to stop to catch my breath and push on so be it. Up until now if I stopped early I invariably headed home defeated. From now on I’m going to do the distance even if I have to stop multiple times, hopefully, my body/mind will get the idea we are out here until it’s done and maybe start favouring just the one take.

Not quite sure why I hadn’t considered doing that before now, it seems bloody obvious now I’m writing it. I think somewhere in the C25K programme I got it into my head that stopping was not an option. In fact, I fear to have it as an option as I think I’ll find an excuse to use it when I don’t need it. i.e. there are many times I’m out of breath I can recover with sensible pacing on the next km. So I’m concerned I won’t push myself.

I think that mindset isn’t helping me at the moment. I live on a pacing knife edge and I’m forever getting it wrong. Rather than just giving up when I blow out, catching my breath and just resuming where I left off is going to give me more kilometres under my belt, which has to be the priority. I’ll see how it goes on the next run, I’ll try for 5k again and see what happens.

Run Rating : 


Well, I didn’t make it back out this week, partly because of just stuff going on and partly because I continue to have issues with my left knee and my right Achilles tendon which is not recovering between runs. This week’s total running was a very measly 8km.

The issues are not enough to actually stop me running, it’s not that painful, but you don’t have to be a genius to spot the overall trend. I’ve been walking a minimum of 5k every day with the pup (last week was in excess of 40km just brisk walking) and I could feel that unlike previous aches and pains these ones are not clearing up within 24 or even 48 hours resting and they are getting progressively worse with every run.

I’ve therefore decided to have a week out from running, it’ll be my first since starting the C25K program back in May. I’m aiming to just stick to walking (the pup) for the week in the hope it might give my legs the recovery time they need, rather than continue to compound the issues.

I must admit I’m also looking forward to a mental break from the thought of running, even maintaining just 3 times a week I seem to yo-yo, between:

  • Pre-run – how am I going to fit this in, I’m not sure I’m really up for this, weather reports, juggling the pups daily routine, when and what I eat. It tends to take over everything.
  • Post-run – euphoria at actually getting out there and doing it (whatever the result), knackered, aches and pains.

So it will be nice just to have a break and return to it a bit more refreshed mentally and physically. I’ve not really seen “real” runners talk about taking a break, I’m not sure if it’s good practice or not. I have a concern I’ll go backwards (if that’s possible given my pace ;-). But for me at this point it’s obvious if I continue to keep going at it, I’m going to end with a more debilitating injury that could impact more than just my running and that’s not really an option I want to entertain.

 

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – Damned Dwelling

5th October 2018 — 0

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This is my entry to Octobers monthly flash fiction challenge on the /r/fantasywriters sub Reddit. This month’s challenge was to write a fantasy story based around a curio shop in only 500 words. You should check out some of the other entries it’s amazing what people can come up with in so few words.


The tinkle of the shop bell resounded around the dusty curiosity shop to the accompaniment of much muttering and yawning.

“Here we go again”, Hobbs sighed stirring from a tatty couch conveniently situated near the only window.

“She’s just sheltering from the rain”, Daphne said “She won’t buy anything”.

The bedraggled woman closed the door and shook the worst of the rain from her coat. The shopkeeper started from his snooze by the commotion dragged himself out of his chair, “Can I help you dear, are you looking for something in particular?”.

A loud tut came from behind the counter as Thomas interjected “Wait for it …”

“I’m only browsing”, the woman replied.

“Every time, every bloody time”, Thomas groaned, “Hell is watching this old fools sales technique”.

The shopkeeper slumped back into his seat as the woman wandered around the shop, picking up items one by one, looking at them and carefully placing them back down. She picked up an old baseball. Hobbs jumped up excitedly.

“She’s not going to buy it”, Daphne said.

“She might, she might have a son”, Hobbs danced up to the woman just as she put the baseball back down.

“Told you”, Daphne said mockingly. Hobbs threw his hand up in the air exasperated, “I hate you, one day you’ll be wrong, one day I’ll get out of here”.

“Not likely”, Daphne hissed, “She’s the first customer this week. No one is going to buy a rotten baseball, none of us are getting out of here, least of all you!”.

Hobbs threw himself back into the couch in a huff and looked out at the rain.  

The woman continued her rummaging, turning over this and that absent mindedly. Thomas looked on, “It’s a shame old boy Jones isn’t still running the show. Junior here is bloody hopeless”.

His voice trailed off as the woman leaned behind an umbrella rack and with a tug pulled out a black umbrella. She brushed off the cobwebs, opened and closed it and turned to Jones, “I’ll take this thank you”.

All three ghosts shot to their feet. “Finally, I’m getting out of here”. Thomas screamed bolting towards the door, “I can’t believe it, I’m getting out, 58 years I’ve been stuck here bound to that bloody thing”.

The woman handed over the umbrella to Jones who slowly rang up the price on the old till before stammering “Would you like it wrapped?”.

A beam of light broke through the clouds, shining brightly through the window, through Thomas and onto the counter. “I’m finally getting out of this dead end shop”, Thomas was in tears, “I hope to never see either of you ever again, it has been an utter hell, you people are the worst and you deserve each other for all eternity”.

The woman felt the warm sun on her hand, she turned and looked back at the sun streaming through the window, through Thomas and said, “Actually don’t worry, it looks like the sun’s coming out”.


Thanks to Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash for the great photo.

AnimalsDog Days

Archer – Week 11-12

1st October 2018 — 0

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Archer continues his inexorable journey to adulthood, now weighing in at a hefty 18kg (39lb) which according to online charts and tables is just a little over the average for the breed at this point of his development. He is well into teething. every day he’s missing another needle-like milk tooth, unfortunately, his breath smells like rotten fish and he is leaving a trail of blood on anything that goes near his mouth. Hopefully, he’ll get through this fairly quickly, it’s typically 4 weeks by all accounts. He’s got some new chew toys to hopefully see him through.

Training Update

Every day is a training day for Archer, practise and repetition is key. He is doing amazingly well considering his age having mastered sit, down, stand, wait, heel and paw all work in the living/class room. The real trick though is to make the commands work in the wild when out in the field, ideally at distance, that is still a work in progress. We are working on stop of late, which should halt him in his tracks, but he’s struggling with the concept of not moving.

The most impressive and fastest training I’ve seen him absorb was actually done by the trainer at the puppy club in 2 minutes and solved a problem we were having with putting his food down. He would typically have his nose in the bowl before it hit the ground. We had trained him using wait but it wasn’t hugely successful, dependent on how hungry he was. The answer was to put the bowl down and as he goes for it lift it back off the ground. If you do that for about a minute you can see the point the penny drops. You then give him a command “yours” in our case to allow him to eat the food. He now will sit and wait until he’s told he can eat, which makes feeding him a significantly less dangerous activity. We are now extending it for all food put down for him which is taking a little longer.

The most important command we’ve been working on is his emergency recall “touch” command after the horse paddock issue a few weeks ago. I make a point on every walk of recalling him when he’s distracted. i.e. far away, out of sight, approaching dogs on leashes, middle of playing. We’ve also been working on general recall so “come” will generally do the job probably 80% of the time to normal treats. So far “touch” has been 98% effective, mainly due to it always giving him the top quality treats.

We’ve also been playing a lot of hiding and seeking, Archer will often walk ahead, so if he gets too far I make a point of calling his name and then hiding. This has turned into a fun game for both of us. More importantly, it forces him to keep an eye on me, because I can (and do) run off at any moment. So he’ll typically now stay within a 10m range and look over his shoulder a couple of times a minute just to make sure I’m still there. Sometimes I just disappear without calling his name, just to shit him up. It’s good to remind him of his dependence on me once in a while.

Our off leash walking is really coming along, he spends about 3/4 of the walk now au naturel. Interestingly he behaves far better off the leash than on it (even the 10m one). What’s nice is we can now walk away from other dogs/owners after a quick hello most of the time. Unless they have also had a pup who wants to play in which case it’s time to get the tea and sandwiches out.

Toilet training is almost there helped by the fact he can now hold his bladder longer than I can. If the back door is open he’ll take himself out. If it’s closed he’ll come and stare at me and dart his eyes to the back door. He doesn’t use the pads in the house anymore and we are slowly phasing them out. The only issue is that he increasingly doesn’t use the latrine in the garden, favouring to ruin my grass, something I’ll need to start correcting. It does seem that standard treats are not enough of a reward to give up urination freedom.

Fight Club

Archer loves to play with other dogs and on the whole, he knows how to change his play style to suit his play mate. Most adult dogs are not interested in puppy nonsense and they’ll generally try to ignore him. The ball obsessed dogs I’m fairly sure operate on a different plane of existence, one where for all practical purposes Archer is invisible. But he is difficult to ignore when he’s stuck to you like glue, bouncing up and down like a demented energiser bunny.

It comes as no surprise that from time to time the adults will have to flatly tell him off, usually with a growly reminder of “look what big teeth I have”. Sometimes Archer will get the message, but more often than not he’ll need a second reminder of “look what big paws I have”, they’ll typically land a paw on his head to hammer (literally) the point home. If that doesn’t work, well there’s no choice, they’ll lean in close to his ear, teeth bared and snap “all the better to eat you pup”. That always does the trick, he goes white as a ghost (probably), message received the bounce drains right out of him.

When he does manage to goad a pup (or adolescent dog) into playing it can take a number of forms:

  • running/chase – the smaller and more agile dogs just run him around in circles playing chase until he collapses in a defeated heap. It doesn’t take long, his gangly frame takes a lot of effort to throw around a field.
  • herding – those breeds that are bred to herd, never miss an opportunity to put him through his paces. Unlike running they’ll chase him forcing him to do what they want. It doesn’t help that his bright white coat makes him look a little like a lamb.
  • wrestling– is rare, unless of course, the other dog is a retriever (pure or cross) and which point they’ll just go straight to ground, usually until one of them yelps out or they run out of energy.

Archer’s favourite type of play is wrestling. He’s had a few bouts now and they look brutal with flashes of teeth and claw and often blood spatters on his beautiful white coat. Try and stop him or throw in the towel to early and he’ll sulk for the rest of the walk.

He’s has a couple of pink scratches on his black nose at this point, battle scars, you should see the other guy, who’s also wagging his tail with his tongue lolling out, eager to continue “playing”. As a retriever owner, you will find yourself inevitably inducted into the dark underworld of puppy fight club and needless to say you can’t talk about it. But I’ll break the silence just this once to recall Archer’s favourite “play” session this week.

Lady’s and gentlemen, in the left-hand corner, hailing from just down the road and weighing in at 15kg, the lawn destroyer, Archer! In the right-hand corner, hailing from just round the corner and weighing in at 11kg (give or take), the dark nemesis! A lovely lab cross (not sure with what a pinscher of some sort judging by the pointy ears), The lab is giving up a clear 2″ inches in height to Archer, so on paper, it’s Archers’s to win.

This will be a 5 round bout, of 60 seconds a round, no holds barred and the scoring of the owners will decide the outcome. My score card:

Round 1 went to the lab, he was quicker out of the starting blocks and he’s caught Archer off guard, pinning him to the ground for the last 20 seconds of the round. Lot’s of growling flashing of teeth and madly wagging tails.

Round 2 also went to the lab after Archer finally managed to get back to his feet, promptly runs sideways into a tree knocking himself back to the ground. The agile lab is back on him in a flash, working the ears. It’s all looking very one-sided, I’m thinking I might have to step in but he’s making it pretty clear he wants to fight on.

Round 3 and Archer slowly starts to turn the tide, using his weight advantage he rolls the lab using his long levers, forcing it to the ground, he follows up with some solid neck work. Like a shark, his eyes roll back into his head as he literally stamps his authority. Tails on both dogs by this point are a blur of frenetic wagging.

Round 4 and the lab knows it’s in a fight, it manages to get to its feet and run 5 yards before Archer slams into him sending him back to the ground. Archer has the panting lab just where he wants him, but it’s obvious they are both starting to feel the pace, their lunges slower laboured and more considered.

Round 5 – into the last round. Archer is flagging badly and the agile lab is starting to drag himself out from his grip. They have both made it back on their feet, it’s gone to paws, like two tired gladiators the pups are leaning against each other panting, their tongues hanging loosely from foaming mouths. I agree with the other owner that they’ve had enough and decide to call it a draw on the round and the match.

It takes another minute to fully pull them apart and calm them down. They would have been happy to keep going until total exhaustion, but then who’s going to carry them home? It’s not the first time he’s played with this particular lab, last time he lost badly having to tap out after some overzealous bites, so it was good to see him stepping up his game and more importantly having a fantastic time.

It does seem vicious at face value, but on closer scrutiny just like real wrestling the bites and swipes are all pulled, the growling excitement not anger. Either pup can stop at any time simply be yelping, so they both push it to the limit, cautious however not to over do their fun and bring the play session to a premature end. Not surprisingly with such roughhousing, there are a few bumps and scrapes, but in spite of these, I can guarantee you Archer is eager for a re-match.

Vet Visit

We ended up taking Archer back to the vet’s this week, the final straw being a mild case of pink eye or conjunctivitis if you want to get technical. It appears to be par for the course with retrievers, my parents and sisters dogs having similar infections from time to time. With all the bacteria breeding in his warm moist bloody gums, it comes as no surprise that he might get an infection.

The vet put some staining eye drops in Archer’s eye so he could eliminate any scratches to the cornea. Unfortunately, it left him looking like a zombie dog, with florescent green eyes and bright green snot coming out of his nose, the picture above really doesn’t do the eyes justice, outside in daylight it was quite unsettling and he got some very odd looks on our walk home.

In addition to picking up some new doses of Advocate to protect him from a scary list of parasitic critters, We asked the vet to give him the quick once over to put our paranoid minds to rest. After a bit of prodding and poking, which he tolerated with good grace the vet gave him the thumbs up and put our minds to rest that he was indeed a perfectly healthy pup.

Archer enjoys his visits to the vets, thanks to the puppy socialisation classes they ran he thinks it’s a fun place, which makes a stressful situation a lot easier for both him and us. It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts especially when he goes in for the chop in a few more weeks.

P25KRunning

P25K – Week 6

30th September 2018 — 1

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Run 1 (24/09/2018)

After the weekend storm Monday started with bright blue skies. I was out walking the pup at 8am in misty fields, the sun evaporating the morning dew, quite spectacular. I managed to get out running just after lunch, the pup going into a post food coma. Walking up to the park in a black t-shirt it was pleasantly warm for the time of year. There were more squirrels than people in the park and with a lack of threats they were all on the ground foraging.

Once around the field field to warm up and inventory where today’s debris is. I’m here to run 3 km, part of me is thinking I should try for 5 after the success of the last run. I finally convince myself to stick to the plan and set off at a slightly quicker pace knowing I’ll get over the idea fairly quickly if I start putting in some sub 8-minute/km laps.

The first lap is 7 min 14 secs, well I know I’m not going to be doing 5 km now, even if I still wanted to. Which lo and behold I don’t, as I start back up the incline, breathing hard already. Amazing what 7 minutes running can do to focus the mind. I perform the reset trick, cool only 2 laps to go, easy.

The second km is slightly slower 7 min 30 secs, I know I’m outside of any PB. Reset. One lap to go and I’ll do the last 100 metres heading home out of the park. This is not a conversational pace and I’m panting all the way round. Finally get to 3 km last lap in 7 min 24 secs, for a total time of 22m 24s, 40 seconds off my PB. Oh well one for another day.

 

I’m sure this running business is meant to get easier, but at times especially on these quicker runs it honestly doesn’t feel like it. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the only thing that is changing is the time and distance the feeling of fatigue and effort required to keep going is the same as that first 60 seconds in C25K W1D1. The last km of my last 5k was easier than the last km of this 3k, what a difference a minute per km quicker pace can make. Wednesday is the next run and the target is 5k.

Run Rating : 


Run 2 (26/09/2018)

It’s another twilight run, in the most ideal running conditions I’ve ever had. No wind, not too warm, not too cold, perfect Goldilock running conditions. I probably won’t see weather like this again this side of Xmas, so best to make the most of it.

Today’s run is 5k and I’m getting my game face on as I take the usual warm up walk around the park. Looks like the keep fit session is kicking off at 7 judging by the number of people congregating on the green.  Other than that a couple of other runners and a bunch of kids on bikes, it’s a fairly standard evening. There’s still quite a bit of debris littering the path but not as bad as last time and strangely not a squirrel in sight.

The first km, I spend the first few hundred metres dialling it back, shorter strides, I’m here for the distance and I always have a tendency to set off to quickly. I realise at the 1 km mark I’ve probably been a little too conservative with a very slow 8 min 41 sec. I should be targeting 8 min.

Onto the 2nd km, I’m still doing my reset mental trick, just got to run 4km. It’s starting to get dark, the fitness club has kicked off, I can see them doing their warm up runs back and forth on the green as I pass at a snails pace. The lap time comes in at 8 min 58 sec, damn that’s really slow. It’s also a first, I usually over compensate in the other direction after a slow lap, I suspect it’s got more to do with the failing light.

3rd km, reset! Cool only 2 laps to go. It really is a silly trick but it seems to work, I think it’s confusing my inner voices and prevents them from building up a head of steam. It’s getting very dark now, my eyes are trying to adapt to the low light conditions. I can’t make out any of the detail on the path anymore, just a vague outline.

That was until I started back down the park and find myself staring into the blinding halogen lights the fitness club have rigged up. It’s blown my tentative night vision, I’m literally running into the light and I can’t see a bloody thing. I just about manage to get around to the 4km mark after a bit of stumbling in a slightly quicker 8 min 33 secs.

Onto the last lap, this is getting insanely difficult, I stumble over something, a branch I think, it could have been a squirrel. I’ll never know. I’ve got Rag’n’Bone Man Human perfectly in sync:

“Maybe I’m foolish
Maybe I’m blind
Thinking I can see through this
And see what’s behind
Got no way to prove it
So maybe I’m blind
But I’m only human after all”

Uncanny, made me laugh and lifted my spirits, once more up the incline, probably, I can only tell by navigating using distant house/street lamps like stars, that and the fact it’s reassuringly harder to run in this direction.

Around the top of the park and it’s back into the closing scene of close encounters again, I honestly cannot see a thing I’m running on pure instinct now. I decide I’m going to have to do this by ear and unhook the headphones in the desperate hope I’ll hear someone before I run flat into them. I finally complete the last km in 8 min 25, ironically the fastest lap and I didn’t even see half of it.

I think it’s my 2nd slowest 5k at 44 min 11 sec, but I don’t care, I’m just amazed I did it in the dark without falling over or punting a fox. I think I’m either going to have to start running earlier in the day or get a headlight. Mind you a headlight wouldn’t have helped with the fitness UFO landing on the green.

I actually lost my bearings completely in the warm down walk, wandered off the path and it took me a good half a minute to relocate it. I honestly expected Richard Dreyfus in a red jump suit to wander past me into the light, all it was missing was a John Williams soundtrack.

 

The only advantage of running in the dark is it occupies the mind, even my negative voices were lost for critical input, like terrified passengers they were along for the ride. My left knee was aching again in the warm down, not major but still a bit of a concern. The next run is 3km, I think I’ll take it a little easier, but maybe not this easy.

I don’t avidly read about running, just doing it is tough enough but a few extraordinary articles popped up on my radar over the last couple of weeks, that are worth sharing:

  • I’ve been following with envy and astonishment the weekly running reports from Chelsea’s DancingRunner blog, She appears to have a constitution somewhat similar to a shark in that she seems to need to keep running just to live. It’s a fascinating insight into the hard work that goes on behind the scenes ahead of some of more insane race events.
  • An ex work colleague posted this article on female trail runners. Madness, 106 miles with an elevation gain of 32’000 ft, that’s practically the cruising height of a commercial jet. Just reading about it gave me a nosebleed.
  • finally Stephen over at FracturedFaith posted about his latest gruelling marathon experience through terrain that’s so epic it’s the backdrop for Game of Thrones.

What is up with these people? I’m under no illusions about my own running, I suspect I’ll never make the start line, let alone the finish line of a marathon and I can guarantee you I won’t be completing a 100+ mile trek up a mountain a few months after child birth. If I do the headline won’t be about the distance.

My own limitations aside, I find these articles hugely inspirational. I admire anyone who knowingly picks the tougher path, even more so when their motivation is just to see where it leads, to see how far they can go. All the time there are people pushing the envelope of what’s possible it gives me faith that in the long run (pun intended) the human race (not intended) will find a way through the many challenges we face.

More practically these and similar articles provide direct support in my own running by giving me pause for thought and the necessary kick up the arse when I’m bitching about doing the next kilometre.

Run Rating : 


Run 3 (30/09/2018)

I should have run last Friday, but it’s been a bit of a mad and busy end to the week. I ran out of hours in the day on Friday. I’d been toying with a cold for the last few days but between copious amounts of fresh air dog walking, pints of orange juice and a mindset of not having time to be ill, I’d seemed to be keeping it at bay. But the exertions of Friday’s long planned ABBA tribute night out with friends, singing myself hoarse in a warm packed room was the last straw. Saturday I was definitely under the weather, not that the pup cared he still wanted his walk.

Sunday after another 5k walk with the pup through glorious sunny autumnal woodland and a touch of breakfast I decided to watch the Russian F1 race. I’m not sure why I bother anymore the outcome was a foregone conclusion, and when it required team orders, it ruined what little enjoyment was left. Crunch time, I can pass out on the couch or get my arse to the park, the park won out, just!

Walking up it was cold, no colder than the previous thew runs but I’m feeling it today. I stupidly decided not to wear my new running jacket thinking it would be warm enough. Normally it would be. My legs feel well recovered after 3 days not running, encouragingly even my left knee is feeling fine. I’m having to clear my chest a few times before kicking off on what should be a quick 3km run.

First km, I’m deliberately running a quicker pace than normal as I’m only out here for 3km. My spirits were raised by the sight of a service dog playing fetch with it’s blind owner. Luckily his helper managed to point his master in the right direction before I got a rubber ring in the face. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face I don’t know what will, nice to see these tireless helpers get some fun time as well. Up the incline and I’m struggling to catch my breath, not surprising the first lap is a silly 6 min 47 secs.

Second lap, I’ve slowed the pace down but I’m not recovering heading to the bottom of the park and by the time I hit the 2km mark at 7 min 11 sec I’m done. I could have done the last km but I would be puffing and panting all the way round, it took me several minutes to recover as it was. It’s another failed run, not because I was under the weather but more about not matching my pace to my capabilities. Not the first time or I suspect last. Ironically enough it’s an Endomondo PB for the “12 minute test” at 1.76 km.

I had to lookup what the 12 minute test or Cooper test was about, turns out it’s used a general measure of fitness (every day’s a school day). I managed to literally scrape into average for my gender/age group, not bad considering there wasn’t a column for how far I would have managed 3 months ago.

 

I seem to be having more success with dog walking (40km) than running (10 km). I’m also struggling to get 4 runs in a week, it just leaves no wiggle room for the inevitable dramas of life. I was reviewing my progress this week when this article from the theblogrunner popped into my inbox, talk about timing. It raised some interesting points and got me thinking about what am I trying to prove and to whom with my own running?

I started C25K with the broad goal of just getting fitter, and finished being able to run for 30 minutes. It took me a few more weeks to secure my first 5k in 45 minutes. At which point I’d achieved what I set out to prove to myself, that I could get fit and I could run a 5k. So what am I still trying to prove?

Right now I’m trying to prove to myself that I can run 5k consistently, every time I want to. My post C25K run blogs are a testament to inconsistency and I’ve documented the many ways I have failed along with the occasional lessons I’ve learned along the way. For right now my goal as Eminem succinctly says is to “make me do what I put my mind to”. Although I hope that some time in the not too distant future I can find peace with my running and just run, not to prove anything to anyone (including myself), but just to do it for fun without the need to bully and blackmail myself.

Run Rating : 

 

 

P25KRunning

P25K – Week 5

23rd September 2018 — 0

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Run 1 (17/09/2018)

New week, new start and another chance to hit my 16k a week target with 2 x 3k and 2 x 5k. I was out with the pup in the morning, we covered a very leisurely 5k through the woods in what is likely to be one of the last great sunny days of the year, a truly enjoyable walk. I managed to fit the run in the early evening and it was still pleasantly warm.

This evenings run would be 3k as I needed to pickup some groceries and be back home to fire up the BBQ ahead of a friend popping around and it was already going to be tight. I took an extended once round the park warm up as it seemed to help last time. There’s an outside gym class on the green on Monday’s and they where setting up what looked like a bunch of interval training obstacles, lots of fit looking people turning up.

So I set off with the sun just dipping down beyond the horizon behind me. The first km is going well at 7 min 28 secs, it’s feeling comfortable. I’ve also put together a new playlist based on various recommendations and most of the lap “The Distance” by Cake was playing. It’s a track/group I’ve never heard before and it’s a stunning running track, I was literally gliding around.

Second km and it’s now getting dark in the park and the temperature has dropped, great. Another new track/group “Runnin'” by Sinkane and I just gotta keep on runnin, runnin. I’m so glad I’ve mixed up my playlist this is actually fun. Just as I pass the gym class a hundred people sprint at me (on their first exercise) which made me laugh and gave me a boost.

The last 3rd km and I’m feeling pretty good, I’m getting out of breath at the top of each incline but easily recovering half way back down. I’ve also got a really nice rhythm going and a stonking new playlist. This lap features “Demons” by Fatboy Slim featuring the fantastic voice of Macy Gray. I finish off the 3rd km in 7 min 21, I’ve checked the time, I’m out of it, I’m going to be late as it is. Annoyingly I actually want to keep on running, I’m well up for another 2k. Sods law! I run to the shop instead.

 

Never underestimate the power of music, especially the right music, it can literally carry you around. I’d been listening to the same stale playlist for the last month and it’s fair to say it had lost some of it’s potency, mixing it up made a huge difference. Fresh new tracks, make the time pass far quicker by occupying the mind. I hope I can recreate the performance for my next run, I’ll ensure I have time to do the extra 2k.

It’s that time of the year when the nights seem to come crashing in, I realised tonight I’m going to spend a lot of time running in the dark. By the time the sun returns I should have 5k mastered.

Run Rating : 


Run 2 (19/09/2018)

Spent a good part of the morning walking the dog around the local and park and then headed back there just after lunch with the intention of running my first 5k of the week. It was stormy conditions, very gusty and intermittent rain showers, luckily it wasn’t that cold. The park was needless to say fairly empty.

Based on my last performance, I’ve done an extra warmup lap around the park, all the time watching the weather deteriorating and thinking I should start my run it’ll be pouring down shortly. I’ve got my new playlist and I’m intent on picking up where I left off on the last run, i.e. to feel fresh at 3k.

The first km it starts to rain, I’m sheltered under the trees for over half the run so it’s all good. Until half way round and I hit the full force of the wind on the climb back up the park. This is my first experience of having to run into a headwind and let’s just say it ironically takes the wind out of your sails. It’s not like I’m evening get the benefit 0f the wind at my back on the other half of the park as it’s sheltered. In spite of the wind I’ve managed to knock the first km out in 7 min 11 secs. Which for me is recklessly quick, but I’m feeling ok so I push on.

The 2nd km is going fine until I hit the wind again, this time it’s even stronger, in fact it’s so strong the sweat of my forehead is being blown into a horizontal bead of water dousing whoever is unlucky to be passing me on the right. It’s taking quite a bit of effort to get back up the incline and I’m feeling fatigued by the time I’ve hit the top of the park. I’m panting wildely and I can feel it’s taken quite a bit out of my legs, my stride has started to shorten to compensate. Worryingly my pace is 7 min 18 secs which is nigh on suicidal, especially in these conditions.

By the time I hit the 3rd km and the windswept incline again, I’m really not enjoying it and I have all the telltale symptoms of an imminent blow out. I’m having to dig way to deep to get back to the top of the park, my stride now down to baby steps and my breathing out of control, I finally crest the top of the hill. My stomach is doing cartwheels and I suddenly realise I’ve got a bad case of flatulence to have to sort out, that’s another first. So I occupy my time on the down hill section trying to let out a few sneaky ones in a force gale wind, who’s going to tell.

Crunch time, do I have the will to pull myself together and push on for the last 2k or am I going to head to the pits. Needless to say it was the latter, I’d had enough. The last 3km amazingly (or maybe because of) my  flatulence and fatigue was 7 min 21 secs. But I was spent that last km was probably one of the hardest I’ve ever ran.

I’m frustrated that yet again I’ve not made the distance, so much for getting to 3km feeling fresh, more like the walking dead. I check the Endomondo app to stop the run and realise it’s a new 3km PB, shaving almost 40 seconds of the last PB in August. Well that’s something especially in these conditions.

 

 

I think I’m going to give myself a pass on this one. I’m still not happy that I failed to manage the pace correctly but on the other hand it was in the face of the first storm of the season, so to come out of it with a PB at least I did some work, even if it was the wrong work.

It of course leaves me with little wiggle room to hit my 16km goal for the week, I’ll need to do 5k on the last 2 runs. The only good news is Friday’s weather is looking better and now I know to run round the park in the other direction if I want the wind against my back.

Run Rating : 


Run 3 (21/09/2018)

I started this run with some trepidation since my last run my left knee had generally ached, the night before it had a worrying stabbing pain when bent beyond a particular point. As a teenager I managed to do some serious damage to my knee while long jumping. I remember it vividly as that evening I watched my first true horror film Alien with my father. The film was made doubly traumatic by the searing pain from my knee at every jump scare. It had taken me several months to recover and a lifetime to get over the movie, even to this day I have an odd bony protrusion on my knee cap. So it’s fair to say I’m a little bit paranoid when it comes to knee pain.

The park was getting dark by the time I started my warm up walk. I’ve come to the conclusion that the extra 10 minutes fast walking really does help, it helps me at least get my mind on the job at hand. At this time of year it is also allowing me to identify and make mental notes of the running hazards, with the recent storm the paths are strewn with debris. It was still pretty windy, but I know from the last run if I go clockwise I’ll have the wind to my back when it matters.

So I set off. I need to average 8 min/km if I’m going to get through this, so I’m dialling back my pace, adjusting my stride to smaller steps. First time round in 8 min 4 secs, spot on pace and feeling pretty good.

I’ve got a new mental trick to try. As I tick off the laps, I’m going to mentally reset, forget everything I’ve run so far and imagine I’m just starting the run, it seems to work – 4 laps is definitely easier to run than 5 laps.

The second km goes well, it’s a good pace as I’m not getting the digging deep feeling in the pit of my stomach on the incline. The second km is 8 min 9 seconds, pacing is going well. Reset. I just need to run 3 laps, that’s my speciality.

By the 3rd km the park is getting pretty dark and it is mostly unlit, I really am having to use my mental map of the route to dance around the branches and other debris. I notice I’m getting very little benefit from the wind at my back on the way back down. The 3rd km is 8 min 20 sec, slow and steady. It’s crunch time the 3km mark is usually my make or break point, my weakest point mentally on these runs. Reset. Cool I just need to run 2km that’s easy.

The 4th km could have been easier, I have to swerve to avoid a Jack Russell that then decides to chase after me nipping at my calf. I try to get my breathing back under control, I’m laughing too much. A little bit further and this time a German Shepherd on a long leash decides it’s going to sniff a post on the other side of the path, the poor owner desperately tries to pull it back, to no avail. I manage to dive out of the way at the last moment. Finally in the near darkness there’s a family walking home, their young daughter on her first bike slams her breaks on to avoid going into my path and then accidentally let’s go and ends up slowly rolling into my new path. Not a problem I’m getting quite good at this obstacle course. All in all an eventful lap, at 8 min 16 seconds. Reset.

Wow all I have to do is run 1km that’s a cake walk, I don’t even feel tired and more importantly my knee is feeling fine. By this point I’m running more from memory than sight with large parts of the park in pitch blackness, I’ll need to start thinking seriously about what winter running is going to mean. The last km is uneventful the only things in the park now are me and snoring squirrels.

5km done the last lap in 8 min 8 secs and it was easy. In fact it’s the easiest 5km I’ve ever done. The time isn’t going to trouble my previous PB at 40 min 58 secs it’s almost 3 minutes slower, but the difference is I feel fresh as opposed to dead. Fresh enough to run home another 0.7km, the only thing that stopped me going further was concerns for pushing my luck with my knee.

 

I’m writing this the morning after the run and amazingly my knee feels fine, better than it had going into the run, which is hugely encouraging. The reset mental trick really helped, I spent most the run (after the first lap) thinking what remained was easy.

I have one more run this week it needs to be another 5k to hit my 16km target. I’ve realised I have a scheduling problem, I want to run every other day, that’s 4 days a week in a 7 day week. If I don’t keep to a mon-sun then my accumulative stats in Endomondo don’t work properly. Basically the maths just don’t work. I either end up running 4 runs and then 3 runs in alternate weeks or stick to 4 days a week and not have a break between them. I’m not hugely happy with either option. My reliability is not helping, running 3k/5k/3k/5k would help by spreading out the distance runs, but when I flake out and leave myself back to back 5k’s it compounds the issue.

Having given it some thought I’m going to stick to 4 days a week, but if I fail the distance it’s a failed run. I’ll add the distance to the week, but I’m not going to push the problem down the line and try and get it back later. That will also force me to commit properly to runs.

I want to see this week out, so I’m still planning for 5k tomorrow. From Monday however I’ll stick to the new plan with a 3km run. I honestly can’t believe how much effort it’s taking just to organise this, surely it should be about the running.

Run Rating : 


Run 4 (23/09/2018)

Just like last week, today’s run didn’t happen. It poured down all morning and by the early afternoon I was fending off a crazed pup desperate for entertainment, So instead I took the pup for a long walk and play in the local dog paddock where he got more than just a little bit muddy. Much to the annoyance of Wen as he was booked in for his next puppy training class an hour after I finally dragged him back home.

This week’s total effort is a little over 11 km’s, pretty much on par with last week. That said at least I managed this week’s distance with a little less messing around than last week (3 runs vs 4) and secured 3 new PB’s, so some progress:

Stat Value Date
12-minute test 1.76km 1/9/2018
Farthest distance 5.72km 21/9/2018
1 km 06 min 38 sec 1/9/2018
1 mile 10 min 56 sec 1/9/2018
3 km 21 min 44 sec 19/9/2018
3 mile 37 min 15 sec 7/9/2018
5 km 38 min 30 sec 7/9/2018
Most calories burned 859 kcal 21/9/2018

I’ll pick this up tomorrow (Monday) with a 3km run.

Writing

Flash Fiction Challenge – Time for an Apple

21st September 2018 — 1

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Again, big thanks to FracturedFaith for his irregular Flash Fiction Challenge, a fun opportunity for writers to test their mettle by writing a short piece around an “inspirational” topic. This week, inspiration takes the form of the attached puzzling till receipt,

I must admit, I struggled to come up with something. I usually have too many ideas (good & bad), given the open-ended nature of the challenge and typically struggle to commit to one story. In this instance, the only story that came to mind was that below, I hope it’s entertaining.


He looked across the room, the mid-morning sun catching motes of dust in its beams, they sparkled and blinked like tiny stars above the heads of the gathering audience. It was his first time visiting this particular retirement home, but if you had seen one you had seen them all. This particular day room was laid out with the usual sturdy uncomfortable looking chairs set out in small groups around several wooden coffee tables decorated with the odd vase of mostly wilting flowers. The beige carpet, beige curtains and whitewashed walls made the room feel bright, airy, sterile and functional.

He pulled his gaze away from one of the dancing glowing specks suspended in a sunbeam, it had held his attention seeming to shine longer and brighter than most. and fumbled for his pocket watch. It was attached to a heavy chain tucked into a pocket in his tatty waistcoat. He loved this watch, it was his connection back to the heyday of magic when magicians captivated music hall audiences with amazing feats, truly a more magical time. Not that he had ever lived through it he was only twenty-two, but he’d read everything from the golden age with an all-consuming passion. The watch gave him a strange sense of melancholy and he felt like a man out of his time. He snapped the watch closed, turned and cleared his throat.

“Lady’s and Gentlemen”; he bellowed theatrically, “let me introduce myself I am the great Meldroit and I am here today to astound you with feats of magic you will not have seen even in all of your long years”, with a flourish, he bowed and smiled his broadest smile to an otherwise uninterested audience. Unperturbed he pushed on into his first magic trick, pulling from his sleeve a wand, that with a flurry of movement turned into a bouquet of plastic flowers that he let fall onto the table. There was a murmur of dissatisfaction from the room, all except for a grey haired old lady seated nearest to him who clapped a little over excitedly.

He smiled at her, he only needed one audience member, one person to see the wonder that he was offering, so he would perform for her, she would be his concert hall. Over the next 20 minutes, he ran through his repertoire, regaling his audience with baffling card tricks, toy rabbits from hats, disappearing balls and coins galore. The old lady laughed and clapped. Her husband who had sat at her side reading the paper for most of the performance tried to stay her enthusiasm when she started cheering, but the old dear was having none of it. When Meldroit was done she struggled to her feet to give him a standing ovation, much to her husband’s consternation.

“I’m sorry”; the husband said, helping his wife carefully back into her chair; “She has dementia, it’s probably all new to her. She always did love magic”, his words trailed off lost in thought. There was sadness in the old man’s eyes even as he smiled across at her and moved an errant grey lock of her hair from her life-worn face.

The magician looked away, and for a moment stared into the middle distance at the glowing mote still hanging in the sunbeam. He pulled out his pocket watch again, he had time, he snapped the watch closed. “Time for one more magic trick”, he announced to a disinterested room. His singular audience, however, looked up at him eagerly. Spying a discarded breakfast bowl he asked the husband to place it on the table directly in front of his wife, he moved aside one of the stale vases of wilting flowers.

Suddenly in an all too practised move, he took off his top hat and spun it around, revealing it to be empty. Just before pulling out a plastic bag of diced melon from the seemingly empty hat. He tipped the tasty cubed contents into the bowl. The old lady leaned forward with anticipation and licked her dry lips as the magician pulled a peeler from his sleeve.  Wielding it like a wand he tapped it twice on the table, garnering some very puzzled looks in the process.

Closing his eyes he started moving the peeler around the cubes of melon and as he did so the cubes begin to slowly move, to coalesce until there was a whole succulent melon sat in the bowl. He continued to move the peeler over the melon’s surface, wherever the peeler touched the melon the skin reformed, unpeeled until at last a pristine untouched melon now sat in the bowl.

He opened his eyes, the entire room was looking on in stunned amazement. He clapped his hands and the illusion melted away leaving the melon cubes back in the bowl. The old lady quick as you like snatched a piece and tentatively put it to her lips, tasting the cool liquid she devoured the cube with gusto, an impish smile on her face.

The room was quiet now, you could hear a pin drop, his audience had swelled and dozens of faces now looked on expectantly. Emboldened, he emptied the bowl and pulled another bag of fruit from the empty hat. This time it was a bag of cubed apples he poured into the bowl, a hush went around the room. He smiled at the old lady and closed his eyes once more.

Behind his closed eyelids he reached out to the bowl and felt for the fabric, the fabric of time, he could feel it flowing and see its path, it was his gift and his ultimate magic trick. Not only could he see it and feel it, but he could also manipulate it, fold it, bunch it up. As he folded the fabric now would become then, he began to push the fabric each fold taking the contents of the bowl further back, seconds then minutes, then hours, then days.

As he pushed at the fabric the apple began to reform in the bowl, cubes morphed from whence they had come and with no pretence of a peeler the red skin blinked back in a single heartbeat. He stretched out beyond the bowl to the table, the wilting flowers lifted themselves up and came back into full bloom. The old man reached out and plucked one of the flowers, he couldn’t believe his eyes but he did believe his nose, the fragrance reminding him of happier days.

The apple skin turned from red to green as the flowers in the vase receded into buds. He pushed the folds tighter and tighter, one, last, stretch. The apple began to shrink, the stems of the flowers disappeared back into the vase, he continued to push, the apple became a seed and finally disappeared. The old man stared down at the perfect flower he was still holding, somehow outside the fold and in normal time it remained in bloom.

The magician continued to push and coil the fabric ever tighter, creating more folds than he’d ever done before, it was getting difficult, taking all of his willpower. He opened his eyes and stared straight into the tired cloudy eyes of the old lady, he pushed one last time and her eyes began to brighten, the purple-veined bags under her eyes faded, the hard wrinkled lines of her face softened and her limp grey hair turned to a silky jet black. He folded the months and years and decades, to his very limits and beyond. He couldn’t go any further and was struggling to hold the moment against the strain of so much compacted coiled time, the effort making him physically shake.

The old man looked up from the flower he’d been scrutinising into the face of his wife, into the face of a woman he fell in love with 50 years ago. Tears welled in her eyes as he reached out a frail shaky hand to brush aside the now dark lock of hair from her forehead, brushing her soft cheek. He placed the flower in her hair just as he had done all those years ago. She laughed, recalling the memory and the tears streamed down her face. She held his frail chin in her now youthful hands and shook her head.

The magician faltered he could feel the natural order pushing back, he was out of time and like a coiled spring the fabric unravelled in a flash sending him sprawling to the floor utterly exhausted. Time came crashing back into the room and in the blink of an eye, the old man was staring into his wife’s questioning dulled eyes, the flower in her hair dry and wilted in her once again grey hair. He reached across and wiped the tears from her cheeks and kissed her gently on the lips, she smiled and he was happy.

The magician was helped back to his feet by the nursing staff who’d rushed into the room to see what all the excitement was about, dusted himself off and packed away his bag of tricks. The old man had set the record straight, his wife had had another funny turn, but she was okay now and no one else in the room was going to argue, most of them were unsure just what they had seen, it had been a strange morning.

On his way out the magician took a moment to shake the hand of the old man and bent down to give his wife the peeler, somewhere in her eyes he could still see a spark of light burning, she silently mouthed thank you. He beamed back; “Your welcome” and with a click of his fingers the dried flower in her hair re-bloomed.