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Hezebelle 2005-2019

Heze died today.

She was 13, and in some ways she was my best friend in the whole world.

In other ways, of course, she was a fairly idiotic creature, who only reluctantly and intermittently submitted to my authority over the course of more than a decade.

Heze

My best friend

Amongst her crimes:

She used to open and raid the kitchen bin every night, and would then refuse to make eye contact when confronted about it.

She would regularly stand on the dining room table and eat butter directly from the dish.

On the day of our wedding, she ran away. Twice.

The first time was an hour before the ceremony. She decided to go paddling in the river behind the church, whilst wearing her red silk waistcoat (of course she was a bridesmaid, she’s my best friend!)

The second time she disappeared on our special day was during the reception, and this time she went missing for nearly 24 hours, returning to the community centre the next day with a ripped waistcoat and a clearly delighted expression at her night of unadulterated adventure. She ran away at least twice more on the honeymoon.

On the day we moved into our house in Boston, she ran so blindly and excitedly into our garden that she broke a cast iron bench with her head.

Once, on the night after eating a large turkey drumstick, she developed an incredible, volumatous diarrhoea that led to, and this is no exaggeration, over 40 individual clumps, heaps and pools of poo on a carpet in my bedroom. Of our rented house.

Eating, with a literally impossible speed, two entire batches of freshly baked still-warm mince pies, in the 1 minute that I left the kitchen. And then releasing, all night, in our bedroom, the richest, fruitiest, grimmest flatulence the world has ever witnessed.

Steadfastly refusing to stay on the grass, but instead running round and round the tarmac outside the basketball court until her footpads wore completely off, and spending a week struggling to walk with bright red feet. Then doing it again on about five occasions.

Accidentally falling in a canal, and then, on exiting, fixing us with the most intelligent grimace I’ve ever seen, one that transparently communicated the following sentence: “Firstly, its basically your fault I just fell in a canal, and secondly, how dare you laugh at me. This is not funny.”

To be fair though…

And yet, despite her patently (and unabashedly) criminal nature, she was a creature of huge affection.

The little furtive licks she would give you, unexpectedly. Not a licky, slathery ridiculousness like Pudding the Labrador gives. Of course not, Heze was above such things, but a quiet dab on the hand? Well that’s just good manners.

The grunts of displeasure she would give when Pudding tried to sit actually directly on top of her, but rarely actually growling: she wanted her personal space but not isolation.

The time she crawled under several chairs in the lecture theatre I was in (of course I took her to medical school lectures in the hospital – she’s my best friend!), and came up between the legs of the girl who was terrified of dogs, just to say “Hello!”

Endless moments of quiet presence. Under the table, in the car, beneath my chair, by the sofa, on-the-sofa-but-pretending-not-to-have-been on-the-sofa, on the bed, in-the-bed-when-Katherine-was-away… She was just there.

The way she rested her head against me today, even whilst breathing so fast, and so hard, just to press her nose against my leg.

Our family has lost a member

Heze

My children are heart-broken, obviously. Neriah reminded me this morning of one night when she was scared, so Heze slept in her bed (thanks for all the hair in the 4 year old’s bed, dog!). Joen, my eldest boy? His first word was “Heeeggggeeee!”. Or my youngest, Isaac, who immediately attached totally and completely to Heze, to the point that he learnt the word “Aggy!” on his first day with us. He still can’t say “Drink”, but he can say “Heze”.

I remember the time I brought our first baby human home. I sat the dogs down and said “This is Joen. He is one of us now. You need to love him and keep him safe”. Pudding, of course, immediately intrusively licked him, and then wondered if there was any food anywhere. But Heze just looked at him, and then back at me. She figuratively rolled her eyes. I knew, in that moment, that Heze was saying “Well of course. Of course I’ll love him, even if he’s undoubtably going to be just as annoying as all the rest of you. I’m Heze, that’s what I do”.

Her life

There are too many stories to tell.

Adding her to Facebook, her rapidly getting over a thousand friends, and meeting a stranger from a different Uni who didn’t know me but was already friends with Heze?

Visiting the Peak District, to experience Heze disappearing far out of our control to a distant peak, chasing exuberantly towards sheep, unable (or unwilling) to hear our yells. Or later trips to the Lake District, her training complete now, walking a metre behind me and not even looking at the woolly idiots nearby.

The first time she was stiff from running, and I realised she couldn’t live forever.

But surely she couldn’t actually get properly old, not really old, not… dying old? Who would love me unconditionally and raid the bin in the kitchen?

Of course she won’t ever not be around any more, I told myself – she can’t! She’s my best friend!

Heze lived a good (good being a relative term, in this case meaning “really quite naughty a lot of the time but loveable enough to more than make up for it”) life, and I’m glad she hasn’t had to suffer too much at the end of it.

I’m totally devastated right now, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever stop crying. Heze would think I’m being quite stupid, I’m sure. It’s not like something important has happened, like unguarded mince pies.

So there we go. Goodbye my good, good dog. Thank you for teaching me what unconditional friendship looks like.

Love, Chris

Postscript:

One thing that happened, early on with Heze, is that she gained a lot of names. Her full name was, in fact:

Hezebelle Steven Raging Pigeon Trollhunter Shazam! Hater-of-Lettuce Queen-of-all-She-Surveys Blue Chicken Roo Krishna-Mohammed-Jesus-Buddha-McClane Lymphocyte Toothless Wonder Lovely Comforting Lowry

I know it sounds like I’m making it up on the spot, but I can rattle off that list in 20 seconds, and have done for years. I’ll finish by listing and explaining them, if that’s alright.

Hezebelle

I had planned to name her after Hezekiah, the King in the Bible who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”. But then I realised, 3 days before getting her, that that was a boy’s name, so made it “Hezebelle”. For 13 years, people have said “Oh, like Jezebel?”. And for 13 years I’ve had to say, “No, I didn’t think about that”.

Steven

My friend Ste was a big part of my life in my first year at Uni. His first name became her second in honour of that – and her honorary birthday 3rd December is his birthday too!

Raging

Young Heze was insane. She had so much energy I’m surprised she didn’t explode. She chewed shoes, clothes, bedding, sofas, tables, chairs, cupboards, bikes. She was raging.

Pigeon

At university I stood to be Sports Officer at the Union. Heze was my mascot (Of course she was – she’s my best friend) and my pledge was to spend the entire Union Sports budget on pigeons. I was actually asked to stop campaigning by the Sports Officer because they were worried I might win! Obviously I didn’t win.

Trollhunter

In 2007 we watched the film Bridge to Terabithia, and their dog is a faithful companion in all their adventures, known as “Prince Terrien, Troll Hunter Extraordinaire”. This seemed like a noble enough name for Heze to adopt.

Shazam!

Heze was basically magic.

Hater-of-Lettuce

You could give Heze a huge, piled, sloppy, saucy plate of food, and she would wolf down the whole thing in seconds flat, somehow perfectly avoiding any hint of lettuce leaves. They might be licked clean, but they would still be there.

Queen-of-all-she-surveys

When Heze entered a room, it was hers. Sure, we might nominally be “in charge”, but only because she deigned to obey us. She was willing to fight for that corner, on occasion. Pudding’s first few days in our family were tense, at least until the Labrador realised her place far far far at the bottom of the pile. Whilst being a hugely non aggressive dog, Heze had one notable moment, when my parent’s dog Gracey tried to claim, quite understandably, ownership of my parents home – but Heze was having none of it. The arterial spray of blood from Gracey’s ear did settle that one…

Blue

My favourite colour. My dog. Of course.

Chicken

think this is when we got chickens, and a chicken pecked her in the eye whilst she was sleeping in the sun, and she got scared of chickens forever.

Roo

No idea! Lost in the mists of time this one.

Krishna-Mohammed-Jesus-Buddha-McClane

Around the time of the Danish Cartoon Mohammed controversy I very sensitively named my dog after deities from five major world religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and, of course, Die Hard.

Lymphocyte

During revision for my medical finals, I decided a bit of microbiology would spruce Heze’s name up a bit.

Toothless Wonder

In around 2017, we visited Cadair Idris. At the lake halfway up, Llyn Cau, we were throwing stones in the water. Unfortunately, Heze got a little too enthusiastic at leaping into the air to intercept them, and managed to do so successfully. As a result, she lost 3 teeth, and we discovered our pet insurance didn’t cover dental work. (We later also found out it didn’t cover her heart failure, you know, the only time she was ever sick in 13 years. Pet insurance sucks!)

Lovely

Yesterday, her penultimate day of life, we decided that Heze had entirely earnt this additional name. She was lovely.

Comforting

Today, after getting home from school, Neriah came to Heze’s bed and spoke to her quietly and honestly. “Heze, thank you for always comforting me”. It’s never too late for a new name, not even an hour before you visit the vet!

Lowry

Of course Lowry. Heze was indisputably a member of our family, and we will always love her.

Cofiwch Dryweryn!

Here’s a snippet from my upcoming book; “To get out of a Headlock”. The section below is still unedited, and I’m sure the Welsh grammar is deeply lacking, but it should give you the gist…

To be honest, you can understand why they harp on about the language.
Before the Rise, you’d have never expected the people of South Wales to choose Welsh as their lingua franca. After all, barely 20% of the population spoke it, and almost none as their first language. However, you can never underestimate the capacity of the British Government to screw things up…

As I recall, things came to a head in March. Not sure exactly when, but I know it was a significant chunk of time before the floodweek. Frankly, after that dramatic week of unbelievably fast flash-flooding in November, everything fell so completely apart that contingency plans and politics became completely meaningless.

You can imagine the thought process. England is sinking under the waves, especially the heavily populated bits. It’s becoming pretty clear that the entire East coast is going under too. Society is becoming scared and restless, starting to come apart at the seams… and then someone looks at a map – “What’s that country there, just over the border? The hilly one. Doesn’t that look like a good place to head for!”.

So it’s spring, and some bright spark is sat in an office, somewhere in the heart of England’s green and pleasant land. They put together a plan to promote wholesale evacuation to “our western neighbours”. A brief, poorly thought-out campaign announces the idea to the world with a simple, bold statement:

WALES: A new England!

I suspect the person in charge of that one was having an off day. Even so, they still deeply, deeply underestimated the amount of lingering anti-English resentment in this ancient Celtic land.

Response to the ill-advised geographical appropriation was swift and defensive. Wales-first groups, alongside members of the devolved Welsh parliament, protested loudly and visibly. Green Plaid Cymru colours became de rigeur, with several MPs from other parties jumping ship to the Welsh independence party. Several violent clashes occurred, especially in towns along the England-Wales border. During one demonstration in Oswestry several protestors died, blame being laid at the brutality of the English police in attendance.

Cofiwch DrywerynThe most definitive reply came from a small hamlet in the foothills of Snowdonia: Capel Celyn. A video went viral, starring a passionate Welshman in front of a lake, unleashing a vicious tirade in fluent Welsh. After a few minutes, during which he pretty accurately described the unfairness of the latest piece of English oppression, he finished with a statement: “Croeso i Gymru: Tryweryn newydd?”. Referencing the desperately unwise government slogan, he’d scathingly parodied it: “Welcome to Wales: a new Tryweryn?”

Capel Celyn is, or used to be, a village in north Wales. Back in 1965, in an act of extraordinary political insensitivity, the entire Welsh-speaking village was destroyed in order to build a reservoir in the Tryweryn valley. The water was to supply the needs of Liverpool, an English city, almost 70 miles away. The residents were not given a voice; in fact the entire project was passed through Parliament in London to avoid needing planning permission from any tedious locals. A classic story of the Big Man stomping on the Little Guy.

Sixty years on from that ruling, a bitter resentment towards the officialdom of English rule remained. It lay submerged, just inches beneath the surface of that reservoir. As a result, with the latest thoughtless assault on Welsh statehood, “Cofiwch Dryweryn!1” became the rallying cry for home-grown opposition.

Welsh print media became dominated by editorials tripping over themselves to prove their loyalty, their dislike of a distant, oppressive, Anglo-Saxon government, and above all, their Welsh-ness. Almost overnight, papers, conversations, football crowds, radio stations; all of them became Welsh. Even people’s names changed; Thomas pointing out that “It’s spelt ‘Tomos’”, Rebecca pretending she’d always been “Beca”.

Apparently, according to Eres, it was almost funny how bad the average person’s Welsh actually was. She once joked to me that the highest selling book that year was “How to learn Welsh almost instantly so that no one mistakes you for a saes2”. Neighbours would greet each other in the street with a cheerful “Shwmae!3”, none of them quite sure of the correct pronunciation, and none of them acknowledging the fact that they’d entirely spoken to one another in English for the past 20 years.

Welsh wasn’t just the language in Cenedl; it was an identity. The defensively fragile identity of a nation who knows they aren’t being completely truthful about their heritage.

I zoned out the radio’s Celtic echo-chamber, and took stock of our surroundings. Our boat was just passing round the headland. Whilst the following wind had made the first leg of our journey a breeze – if you’ll allow the pun – I wasn’t looking forwards to the narrow parts. My plan was to pull into Trecastle and not move on until I was one hundred percent sure of the best time to leave…

Welsh translations:

1. “Remember Tryweryn!”

2. “Saxon”, derogatory term for an English person.

3. An informal Welsh version of “Hello!”

My First Microfiction

This week I heard about microfiction. It’s basically super short fiction. So I thought I would have a go… I have 300 words, and the following prompt:

Jim wakes up in a hotel at gunpoint surrounded by his coworkers. He knows exactly what information they need from him, but he also knows a way to (hopefully) make them turn on the boss and get out. Can this master of deceit sway the crowd?

Subterfuge

“Wow”, I say, winningly. Three growling bandits with guns. At 6am? Everyone involved clearly needs a coffee. “Err, can I get you anything?”. 
 
“Shut it Jim!”, a balaclava-ed attacker snarls. Obviously its Carl, because I recognise that nasal twang. Moron. “What’s the password?!”
 
“Dang it, I knew I’d forgotten something!”, I said, “Have you looked down the back of the sofa?”.
 
Carl hits me with the butt of his gun. It hurts. Lip slightly bleeding, I wince, and carry on, “Not even right between the cushions? Stuff can get really lodged in there…”
 
Before Punchy Carl can smack me again, another man grabs his arm. It’s Williams – he’s wearing a light green tie. The same one he wears in the office. Seriously. These guys need a lesson in subterfuge. Perhaps a whole course. Just tell us the password and we’ll let you go”, says Williams, attempting a friendly smile. Because an armed man with a friendly smile is so much better.
 
“Why do you even want it?”, I say, crossing my arms. A Bond villain. In pyjamas.
 
The third bandit pipes up. I say ‘bandit’, but obviously I mean ‘Angie’. Angie, the only woman that we work with who has red hair. Ridiculous. “All we need is 10 minutes access to the server, and we can divert those funds…”
 
“But our poor managers? Won’t you think of them? If that merger doesn’t go through, they’ll be bereft”. I tried to drip sarcasm, but it’s harder in pyjamas.
 
Still holding Carl, Williams responded, “The fewer of us that know the better. Let’s keep the Boss out of it”.
 
“Ah, dear Williams” – he started at that, when I used his name – “You’ve apparently never used the server. All transfers need an authorisation code from our blessed supervisor”.
 
All three look crestfallen.
 
“Look, here’s a bypass login”, I say, tapping on my laptop, “It’ll work from the Boss’s computer – just don’t forget my cut!”
 
They leave, practically skipping.
 
Humming, I complete a transfer. In their names. To my hidden account. Then I call the Boss. “Yes, some irregularities, best to call security – can’t be too careful… “

One Half

I am now halfway through 2019! Well, actually a bit more than that, but I was slow getting round to penning this post. Today I finally sat down – with a vegan cappuccino in Powered By Plants – and got some thoughts out. Chris Coffee Laptop

At the beginning of the year, I set myself some overly ambitious goals. Of course, its August now, and so, of course, *spoilers* I’ve failed to meet some of them. Maybe even most of them.

However, I’m choosing to feel pretty positive about the process as a whole – as I wrote in my “One Quarter” post, these are things I’d like to do, not stuff I have to…

Let’s take a look at how I’ve been doing…

Writing

My book, Headlock, is going swimmingly – I’m at 99,000 words! I’ve got into a real rhythm of writing, clocking out 2000 words nearly every week. Because life is always better with graphs, here’s a growth of my word count progress.

Possibly more importantly, I’ve got some people reading it too. Some of those people quite like it! I’m in the middle of setting up a proper facebook page for my author identity (Go on, visit it and “like” me), and there will need to be some kind of inevitable revitalisation of this site (so that the older posts function and search actually works…). Plus we have a front cover, and some useful contacts developing on the Welsh front.

In fact, writing has been so successful that its sort of pushed everything else to the side a bit. I’ve only got some much time, between work, looking after kids, church, community work, maintaining a relationship with the lovely Katherine, playing board games, running, cycling…

Life is more than just achieving goals. You have to live a bit in the gaps too.

So I’m busy, shocker. Fitting 2-3 hours a week of writing into a busy life means there isn’t as much spare time to write blog posts. Or file tax returns. Or play board games and cook pizza!

So I’m taking the month off. No writing in August! I’m actually a bit ahead of my target (the red line on the graph above), so I may catch up, but if not, oh well. Life is more than just achieving goals. You have to live a bit in the gaps too.

Music

Commitment 2 for 2019 was 30 minutes of harmonica and 30 minutes of piano each week. I’ve given up on this one, slightly sadly. Haven’t really played the piano since March, and I’ve even considered selling the chromatic harmonica. Just not enough time in the day, and I’ve realised I’d rather improve on guitar than nail a slightly weird outlying instrument.

However, on Sunday, we had a massively stripped down worship team, because everyone was away. Which meant that me, Sophie and Louis were able to mess around a bit. There were instrument swaps between songs. We played some acoustic, some electric guitar, a bit of cahon (the weird sound box I’m sat on in the picture). And, in one of the songs, I cracked out the harmonica.

Now, it was just a C major diatonic, but it still involved working out how to play F, A major and D minor chords, some of which aren’t really present on that harmonica. Involved some memory, co-ordination, isolating a couple of specific holes, even – dare I say it – a little skill. And it went pretty well too!

It wasn’t until after our practice that I realised: I wouldn’t have had the ability to transcribe those chords without the groundwork laid earlier in 2019. So although it’s kind of a fail, there’s hints of success in there too. I’ll take that.

Fitness

This has been the big change in the second quarter of 2019. Well, technically the Eureka moment was exactly at the 6 month mark. I got to June 30th, and looked at my current distance cycled: 1700km. My aim? 5000km for the year. Meaning that instead of halfway there…? I was barely at a third.

So I kicked into a higher gear. Once again, graphs make everything better – I think you can see that I’m definitely back on track! This week I’m already on target to ride nearly double my minimum weekly distance, and I’m hoping to get the whole 5000km thing wrapped up in early October.

Which is good. Because I have a marathon place for London 2020. And I need to start training. And I need to fit in 6 weeks downtime for a hernia operation somewhere too.

Cycling with my older kids has been a massive success too. My initial aim was 30 minutes with them a week, but then something wonderful happened: Neriah learnt to cycle independently, and both gained a love for bikes. They go out round the park regularly alone now, and we all cycled 18km to Wigan at the weekend! Just need to get Isaac on his bike now…

Bible

pile of booksThere’s no doubt to me that starting the day in reflection, quiet and prayer is good for me

Its been a steady slog through the Old Testament, but I’ve found a real peace, especially in working through the Psalms. There’s no doubt to me that starting the day in reflection, quiet and prayer is good for me. As a “doer”, its definitely healthier than just jumping out of bed and tearing into the day.

The next thing I need to do, aside from keep-on-carrying-on, is to start reading through my “to read” list. I have some amazing books about racism, community and faith to work through, including some corkers by Greg Jarrell, John M Perkins and Shane Claiborne. I’ve included a photo of the pile next to my bed in an attempt to shame myself into action.

That’s all folks!

Thanks for reading this little update. You can catch the start of the year here, and three months in here. How about you? What goals are you nailing in 2019…

One Quarter

Under pressure.

I set myself some ambitious challenges at the beginning of 2019. Writing, music, fitness, that sort of thing…

I’m never actually, you know, done.

I’ll admit, one downside to the targets I put down is the potential that I might feel constant pressure. A weight sitting on me. A constant nagging.

But, and its a big but… I already have that.

Things to do

On the right is a screenshot of my Google Tasks todo list. Note that there are loads and loads of things on that list… And then look on the left sidebar, and see there’s 9 other todo lists… The system I use in order to get things done gets every idea written in. Which means that I’m never actually, you know, done.

Things I’d like to do

My new year resolutions, however? Its a list of some things I’d like to do. All of them are amounts: nothing is ever “done”, they are just options.

Be nice to write 2000 words this week, but 1900? That’s still a cool achievement.

Be nice to do some Pilates this week, but none? Well, sometimes that happens!

A friendly hand

So, I’ve found it a reassuring pressure. Like a friendly hand on your shoulder. I need some pressure, or I’ll own a piano for a decade and never learn to play it (true story). But its a friendly hand, and I can say “Sorry dude, not today”, and the hand leaves me alone. I’m good with that.

Its giving me a nice rhythm too: a steady challenge of 200 words a day, 14km a day on the bike, oh look, there’s a harmonica that needs playing.

The First Three Months

So how has the first quarter of a year been? I’m not going to go into every detail, but just give a few highlights. Plus a graph, cos everyone loves graphs!

My book is coming on great, already about 7 more chapters written! My plan is to actually get my website together enough to support a potential Kickstarter. Have to see how that turns out, obviously, but I’ve found an artist to work on a cover for me. Check out some of his art on the right, or visit his portfolio!

In terms of word count on my book, as of today, I’m at 64,000 words. That’s just short of 30K more than on January 1st! See my progress on the exciting (read, “not very exciting”) graph on the right.

I estimate the final word count will need to be around 120,000 words, so at the current rate, I’ll be there in approximately September! Although there is a vast amount of editing that will need to happen at some point.

Music-wise, I’ve been really surprised too, just by how much I’m enjoying piano practice. Just going over and over on the parts from lesson 4 and 5 of PlayBluesPiano has been cathartic, and I’m hearing real improvements. I also know how to nail a diminished 7th now!

After many years of owning harmonicas, it took literally half an hour of practice to learn how to lip purse/tongue block and play single notes. There’s a quaint pleasure in becoming comfortable with a weird little niche instrument! I hope to nail octaves and a few arpeggiated scales over the next few months.

My favourite achievements include Joen getting more confident at cycling, our other son beginning to use his balance bike, and my daughter playing chords on her Loog!

Bible time is going pretty well too, a little up and down, but most mornings I’m getting up early, grabbing a coffee and spending a few minutes of peace before another crazy day begins.

Finally, cycling is cool. I’m definitely missing running a little, but a few decent distances on the bike feel like a real achievement. Its been a good opportunity for bonding with my son on the kiddie seat, and my friend Rob, at least when he’s not far, far behind. (joke).

So all-in-all, pretty happy, although its notable that writing is the only area where I’m actually on target, everything else I’m way, way behind. But happily, there’s no real pressure! C’est la vie.

Episode Two: Hasty Embarcation

Enter Corral was an extremely short lived attempt at a podcast I made in 2016. I enjoyed the fun of putting it together, but lacked the organisation to do it more than… twice.

Enjoyed this? Try the first episode, and a short story based on the first episode

Welcome to the second (and final) episode of Enter Corral!

Join Mac, Drake, Virt and Roberta as they deal with the authorities chasing them for a crime they didn’t commit.

Although they have killed some people now, and they are trying to get onto a monorail without paying, and their papier-mâché skills are frankly criminal…

At one point, they talk about a map for the monorail station – you could view it in all its glory below… but I lost it. There’s a gate, a ticket office, a diner, a train, that’s about it, I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Episode One: Prisoners of Corral

Enter Corral was an extremely short lived attempt at a podcast I made in 2016. I enjoyed the fun of putting it together, but lacked the organisation to do it more than… twice.

Enjoyed this? Try the second episode, and a short story based on this episode

Welcome to the first ever episode of Enter Corral.

Introducing Mac, Drake, Virt and Roberta as they deal with the challenges of being social pariahs, and entirely at the railroading whim of the GM.

Attached below is a rough representation of the prison cell, if you feel that your imagination can’t paint the picture for you…

Like, it’s a room, with bars on the window. There’s no way out. Pretty standard prison cell stuff.