How my dogs drive me nuts, and save my sanity.

I often think when I walk my dogs in the mornings – or when a tradesman comes to my door – that people must think me insane: “How on earth does that poor woman put up with those dogs?”

I say this because, on initial contact, my dogs are unbelievably loud.  A confusing combination of fierce barking and fiercely wagging tails that continues for several minutes.  They travel in a pack and approach everyone and everything as though  (wherever we happen to be) it all exclusively belongs to them.

Visitors to the house get assaulted by love on entry.  The dogs offer every bone going and, since I am an indulgent mother, climb along the backs of sofa cushions while we’re trying to chat to see if anyone is interested in being kissed.

Fortunately they are somewhat disarming to look at. Bobo is the eldest at almost 7 and looks and behaves like a miniature Labrador.  He is in fact a cross between a Pincher and a Chihuahua. In Bobo’s mind, I am exclusively his and being as close to my face as possible at all times is his life goal.

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The smallest, Lucy Bella, looks more like a character out of Beatrix Potter than a real dog.  She could easily be mistaken for a meerkat.  Being tiny, she is the one who barks the loudest and the longest out of sheer determination (I am sure) not to be mistaken for a snack.  We carry her round the house like a baby.  Which she allows.

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And then there’s Owen. Owen is a cross between a Beagle, a Pointer and a large, plush toy from Hamleys.  Almost 3 years old and four times as large as the other two, he considers himself to be the same size.  This can be challenging when it comes to pillows or lying behind your head along the top of a sofa.

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Sure, the dogs can drive me absolutely batty at times: the mud, the shredded shoes, ham off the counter, stepping on a bone with one’s bare feet, the occasional accident, noise.  However, their noisy, boisterous meet and greets account for less than 10% of their daily life.  For the other 90%, they fulfil the function of extra siblings, playmates, cuddlers, blankets, companions, entertainment, and sanity savers. They are just fantastic company. And since one dog day equals 59 human days they also, understandably, spend much of their time asleep.

They are possibly the most expensive dogs in England after I shipped them Canine First (/Only) Class from Los Angeles after we unexpectedly moved here in 2016.  There was never a question in my mind that they should join us. We had lost so much already, I was not prepared to lose them as well. We had all been apart for almost three months when they stumbled bemusedly through customs at Heathrow after their flight and the kids and I fell on them as if they brought a lifesaving elixir in a barrel on their collars.

Which metaphorically they did.  In the midst of so much stress and strain and grief, the dogs are exclusively ours, and provide an unrelenting constant of upbuilding love and comfort. The dogs are our home and, unequivocally, on our side.

As a single mum navigating a houseful of teenagers, Bobes, Lucy B and Benowen by contrast think I’m a superstar and are unfailingly thrilled to see me.  Even if I’ve only been out for five minutes.  This is hugely supportive even when I’m struggling with seven bags of shopping and trying to squeeze in through the front door.  They are my faithful companions.

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Dogs bring balance.  It can never again just be about the kids or about you.  Taking the dogs for a daily walk for the dogs’ sake mystically brings my own life into balance. I am blessed to be outside in nature with a purpose.  And dogs don’t forget.  They hold no truck with whatever else may be going on, a walk’s a walk for goodness sake!

Dogs train you to colour outside the lines simply because they lead you straight over them.  The best laid plans come unstuck with mud, or wet, or a chewed shoe, or – God forbid – a lost dog.  They teach us to dwell in the messiness of life, not try to cover it or recover from it. My house is far from immaculate because of the dogs and yet, because of the dogs, it is so much more a haven of hugs and home.

In my experience, dogs enlarge the place of your tent.  You’re a bigger party, a broader concern. It’s no longer just you guys facing the world on your own, you have by your side huge fans cheering you on everywhere you go and every step you take.  Dogs, without fail, are loyal.

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And dogs keep you humble.  Have you ever had the worst behaved toddler at a birthday party?  That’s my daily dog walk.  “I AM so sorry!!” I cry throughout various parts of Surrey, shovelling charm on with a spade to allay alarm. “They’re completely harmless! Just loud…”  My three bark and wag and bounce back to me with looks of sheer glee at what they’ve accomplished.  They only do it in a pack — out individually I suspect they’d stick close to my heels and barely make a peep.  Little stinkers.

So yes of course, I have my moments of wondering, “How did I end up with three? What in the world was I thinking??” But then I look in those faces and get down on the floor for a cuddle.

And the world seems bearable again.

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jsg/march 18

The Astonishing Juxtapositions of Easter.

Total darkness and absolute light.

Evil and purity.

Doubt and faith.

Despair and expectation.

Disappointment and hope.

Destruction and establishment.

Separation and union.

Death and life.

Grief and joy.

And before the latter, there must be endured (not escaped) the waiting after the former.

The tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Both true.

The cross and the empty tomb.

“Easter Saturday” is the waiting on the knife edge between the two.

The waiting. Not the end.

HOLD ON.

 

 

 

jsg/march 18

Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

The hardy daffodil.

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Daffodil bulbs look like nothing.

And when they start to sprout through the soil, they could be mistaken for any other flower. Indistinctive green shoots.

But they’re faithful to their growth and – in spite of rain and snow and windy weather – they burst forth in March exactly when we need them.

Fierce little flowers, they never give less than their best.  Have you ever seen a half-hearted daffodil?

Brilliant in colour, relentlessly outstretched, reaching for the sun. Especially piercing in beauty against a cornflower blue sky yet still able to brighten up the dreariest of days.

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Undaunted by inhospitable environments, they bloom where they’ve been planted.

Daffodils teach me a lot about patience.  And trust.  And doing what you know to do.  And being who you are.  Just because it looks like nothing is happening doesn’t mean nothing is.  Daffodils grow for a long time beyond the scope of human sight.

Then just when you think Winter will never end, suddenly Spring. It’s not “all over” at all! New life has, actually, only just begun.

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No wonder daffodils are associated with Easter.

Rebirth.

New beginnings.

Resurrection.

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I turn my face to the Son and reach up to stretch out and bloom.

Just like them.

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jsg/march 18

Like Snow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

You’ve gotta love the Lord.  This is one of my favourite verses in the whole bible. It is God letting me know that it’s OK for me to speak up.  To say, on occasion, a respectful but deeply heartfelt WTF.  To make my case, to disagree, to shout and stamp and scream and rage.  To give my opinion (He can take it).

It’s been snowing here again.  Unusual for us in the UK. We’ve had a spectacular 2 inches where we are and, even with that and as snow does, it transforms everything.

The quality of light is different through the curtains when you wake up to it.  It is brighter, whiter, clearer, stronger.

Where the day before was bare branches and mud and stones and life writ drear, SNOW has transformed it all into something extraordinary.  Something beautiful. It has covered everything completely.  Changed the shape of things, softened sound.

Views we know like the back of our hand are suddenly new.  Newly known, newly seen adorned in white. Different. Our daily walk doesn’t feel like an everyday activity.  It’s new, and you gasp at the loveliness of it.  The way the light glances off the snow creating new patterns, new vistas, new angles, new shapes. Everything is the same yet snow has completely transformed it.  I cannot see, feel or hear things in the same way.

And this is what God says He does with my sin.  He takes all that is bloody and bleak and self-serving and wounded and wilful and – when I ask Him – He blankets it with white. He forgives me.

His covering has transformed me and continues to transform me into someone new. Truly me, and newly me.

Unlike natural snow, this supernatural blanketing of purity and newness does not melt away either.  It’s eternal.

Walking through the woods this morning, I was breath taken. Awe-struck at what snow can do.  How it changes everything so utterly.  So masterfully.  So purely.  How it catches us off guard with its power to create beauty out of absolutely everything.

Now if I can just remember that about myself, and about others too. God can do it.

We can all be changed.

And in the twinkling of an eye.

jsg/march 18

Starman: Working with Stephen Hawking.

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We’re shooting a film in Cambridge, they said.

We’ll fly you over, they said.

You’ll be perfect for the part, they said.

And you’ll be working with Stephen Hawking, they said.

It was October 2003.  What the whaaaaat?  It was one of those (for me) rare halcyon moments in the career of a working actor where, honestly, you would have done the work for free.

I had just given birth to my first child and the thought of being flown over to the UK from Los Angeles so the first grandchild could spend a week with her British grandparents was heaven.  Oh wait, and I get to work?  And I get to work with Stephen Hawking?

I was cast to play his assistant for an IMAX film about Stephen’s theory of space.  We would be working together for a week on one of the most iconic, breathtaking campuses in the world.

On my first day, I caught sight of Stephen in the distance.  What would he be like?  Here was the real man!  Well I can tell you. He was an absolute and utter charmer with a twinkle in his eye and a rakish lopsided sly grin.  A ladies’ man.  A shameless rogue in an ironclad suit.  I warmed to him on sight even as I stood in awe of him.

Everything was slow around Stephen.  He commanded enormous respect.  No one rushed him, and no one preempted what he was going to say.  This was an almost overwhelming temptation at times as you watched him slowly choose screen by screen, then line by line, then word by word on his electronic board to tap out a single sentence.   What was completely delicious was that – for such time-consumingly hard work – you might expect that the only phrases he ever spoke were of deep brilliance or far reaching import.  Not a bit of it.  He was extremely funny, with a quick and dry wit and an appreciative sense of humour.

Which he needed to have.  Working alongside him over several days, I got to observe at close quarters just a glimpse of what it required of him every day just to stay alive.  The preparation by others and consumption by him of a snack as simple as minutely cut up kiwi fruit took half an hour.  And then there were tubes and tissues and who knows what behind closed doors.  No one would have blamed him if he’d been foul or grumpy.  I’m sure he had moments like anyone, but I never saw it.  He never got impatient.  He seemed present to the present.

Anyone who has worked in film knows that it is a painstakingly slow process anyway.  All “Hurry up and wait.” During one set up, Stephen and I were waiting on our own together for about an hour.  I remember a quiet passing of the time and much laughter at my ability – or feared non-ability – to smash a Galileo thermometer off his desk without hitting him in the eye.  I was terrified I’d hurt him, while he was hugely amused.  Thankfully it went off – several times – without a hitch. Only then did he admit that I’d done better than he’d expected.

Filmmaking is tiring so heaven knows what it was like for him.  I talked at length with his second wife, Elaine, who was always present on set with us.  How did he do all those lectures? I asked.  How did he manage the volume of daily mail (there were sacks of it)?  However long did it possibly take for him to compose an article, let alone write a book?

I got to see his office where, among other photos of him with famous people he’d met, he had a photoshopped picture of himself hanging out by a sports car with Marilyn Monroe.  I told you.

What I learned most from being around Stephen was the power of patience, passion and sheer bloody minded determination.  It seemed to me that the only reason Stephen survived so many decades beyond his original diagnosis was single-minded perseverance. His life hung so precariously in the balance every single day given how much care, attention and time it took just to keep him functioning, it would have been more than easy simply to give up.

The brilliance of his mind was clearly matched by the passion of his heart.  For life, for love, for science, for human endeavour and discovery.  And over all of this, he still had the capacity for loving life and fun.

My last memory of the shoot was of Stephen at the cast dinner.  It was a small cast and crew, and we had become close.  We were in a tiny restaurant, just us, and it was softly snowing outside.  Everyone was having a great time and everyone, myself included, was feeling quite emotional about what we’d wrapped.  I looked down the table and saw Stephen sitting with Elaine.  He was wolfing down a dozen oysters and knocking back some fabulous claret with a huge smile on his face.

A man of our times.  A man beyond our times.  A man we got to keep way beyond his allotted time because of his determination to do so.

God bless you, Stephen, and thank you.  You were a delight to be around,  and a gift to the world.

We will miss you.

jsg/march 14, 2018