Sunday 18 October 2015

My dog is sad because she is facing her own mortality

My dog is sad because she is facing her own mortality (cue a bunch of @mysadcat parody photos later) which makes me sad as well, I read this in the Guardian the other morning and it made me even sadder. Once again I discovered that my traditional testosterone-fuelled manliness (already pretty low anyway) is disappearing as I get older, and very nearly cried openly at my desk. It was lucky nobody came into my print room as I read it, for it is difficult to explain why you are upset by the news that a dog you had not even previously heard of has died, especially when the act of speaking about it would almost certainly ensure you burst into real tears. Having realised my own sad dog is old, I am already not sure if I want another one afterwards, I have never actually decided to get a dog myself, despite having always had a dog since I was 20 years old (see here for details). She has told me she is sad through the medium of emptying my kitchen bin all over the living room floor and chewing up the contents. At least I assume that's the message.

When my first dog Rambo died 11 years ago, I spent so long dithering about whether or not I wanted to get another dog that when my friends phoned up asking if we wanted one of the puppies they were having, my wife said yes, despite only having met them once, briefly, at a wedding. Even as we stood, looking at the pen full of puppies, and I dithered about which one I might like, she picked up the dopey looking one with poo on her back and said that that was the one for us. We called her Rizla, because she was always rolling in shit.

Of course Rizla might just be sad because I constantly compare her to Rambo, who, I like to tell her, was the best dog ever, and that she cannot possibly live up to the standards that he set. But then, I have been doing that for the last ten and a half years, and she hasn't ever minded before. And she knows that he was a proper tosser really, and that if there is another dog after her, then it will be told the same things about her. And again, she is a dog, her deepest thoughts are generally concerned with whether I am holding chicken, and if she can have some.

Rizla is ten years old now, and her heart problems (she has an enlarged heart, and will be on medication for the rest of her life, this was revealed when her occasionally fluttery heart beat got properly murmury) mean that we can no longer go for endlessly long yomps over the moor. This is why we are sad, because that is our raison d'etre. That is why I have a dog, I like long walks, and I am inherently suspicious of anybody who goes for long walks without a dog, it seems weird. How will I be able to wander all over the moors next to my house without a dog, I'll look like one of those fucking ramblers.

Just like Rambo did, she has rapidly gone from wonderfully healthy, happy brilliant dog to doddery old twat almost overnight once she turned ten years old. The joy being that no insurance company will insure a pet over ten years old, and your existing policy will triple its premiums when your dog turns ten, safe in the knowledge that you can't move it to one of their competitors. Rambo made it to fourteen with a lot of medication, so there's plenty of hope for the bear yet (Rizla has been known as the bear since we got her, as she looked like a teddy bear, and Rizla Bear sounds a bit like Grizzly bear, in fact my niece still thinks she's called Grizzler, which might have been a better name. I am currently calling her Wheezler, because of her breathing problems, which require more medication). Just before we got the heart diagnosis, we managed to confirm that she is also going blind in one eye, so that's her three things all completed. Heart, lungs and eyes, so I should probably call her sausage now.

Of course, when I got Rizla, I was very much a dog person who just happened to have cats that he put up with. Since then however, I have become more and more fond of my cats, and might be becoming a cat person who also has a dog. Although it is perfectly normal to be both a cat and a dog person, so I am probably now bi-petual (which is definitely a word).

But you can't yomp far with a cat can you? Which is yet another reason for Rizla's current melon collie (I thank you). One of my cats, Kahlo (also known as Bitey) insists on coming for walks with us. This means that the one bit of the day that was just for me and her has now been hijacked by the cats that have overrun every other aspect of her life. We can't go any further than round in a circle on the bit of moor right behind the house, as we can't take the cat on the road, and if we lose her any further away than that first field she can't find her way home (we found that out the hard way, and had to go and pick her up the next day, where she was waiting in exactly the same place we had last seen her).

The other cats are normal, they stay at home, and do cat things. But Kahlo thinks I'm her mum, really, I've done the research, it might be a problem. But this doesn't help my dog, who is now stuck with a life where she does the same, mildly disappointing walk every day, with a cat who doesn't know how to walk properly, and is slowly trying to steal her person away from her. All the cats seem to be trying to make her life more and more difficult, I have stopped her stealing their food and they stretch out to make sure that there is no space on the sofa for her either.

None of them are quite as bad as Moses, the big black cat we nearly adopted earlier this year. He was a very affectionate, very large cat, who loved all of us. But not the dog, or the other cats, he would lie in wait on the edge of the sofa by the door and ambush them. Rizla would not walk past him, and the other cats hid, shivering in the garden refusing to come inside. It is not often we admit defeat with a rescue animal, but with a heavy heart we sent him back (he was enormous and huggy and purry and lovely to people). It turns out he might not have been as homeless as we thought anyway, and there is a small chance we very nearly stole somebody's cat, though that's another story, and not relevant, but it was another reason why Rizla was once sad about cats.

She is very different from the tiny, sad, lonely puppy who I found, crying so quietly I couldn't hear her from upstairs, in the opposite corner of the kitchen from where I had put her bed on her first night with us. After cleaning up the ocean of wee she had left on the floor, and rearranging the whole kitchen so she could sleep in the corner that she had chosen, I then stayed up with her for three hours sharing the cold chicken that I had come down for, and playing monkey boxing with her (she inherited a squeaky monkey toy from Rambo that he was scared of, we played boxing with it, she eventually ripped it to pieces as she is much braver than Rambo, which considering she is scared of sheep, mirrors, hoovers, thunder, slightly crackly pieces of paper and cows, among myriad other things, is impressive. You could add squeaky toys, cats, fruit and Joni Mitchell's voice for Rambo's list).

I remember stepping on her almost constantly wherever we went, as she had to be as close to my feet as possible, and was slightly smaller than my boots back then. I remember how she used to tear into the room and run around in circles as fast as she could until she either fell over or ran into something. She has to stay calm now, and not get over excited, which is difficult, as she is excited by so many things. If I am cleaning out the wood burner she is excited to help me, running around in circles, if I am chopping wood she has to bark loudly at me and run around in circles (possibly because she is a dreadful hippy and doesn't like me hurting the wood) if the phone rings, or if anybody is using a phone to talk to somebody else, she must be involved, barking and running around in circles, despite her fear of lawnmowers, she will run after ours (in circles obviously) and bark at it to protect me from it (as well as any other power-tools I own) if there are people visiting, she must give them tennis balls to throw, and bark at them to remind them that that is why they are there, she once destroyed a catflap trying to get into the garden to save me and my friends Sam and James from a chainsaw we were using, if one of the cats is doing something they shouldn't she must be the police dog and intervene, if... oh you get the gist. This is not a calm dog, and yet to keep her alive, I must keep her calm.

We seem to have come full circle, once again I am finding myself sitting up at night, comforting my beloved dog in a kitchen that once again smells faintly of dog wee and bleach (her medication makes it difficult for her to control her bladder) and it is heartbreaking. Me and my dog are sad because we both know how quickly the last ten years have flown by, and that she cannot possibly last another ten, and while she will not have to consider what to do afterwards, I am so overly bloody practical that I am already trying to figure out what to do, rather than enjoying the time the two of us have left together. Of course, being a dog, the only things that genuinely make Rizla sad are not getting any of my toast, my occasional failure to throw balls I have been given, bad weather, or any of the myriad things on that list of things she is scared of (which now includes Freddie Mercury's microphone feedback solo on Queen's Sheer Heart Attack).

Sunday 4 October 2015

Did My Home Taping Actually Kill Music?

When I was a kid, getting hold of interesting new music was hard. Not least because I lived in what I believed to be the middle of nowhere (I have since moved to the actual middle of nowhere through choice, and have reappraised my youthful moaning as innate twattiness) and had no access to proper gigs. We went to see Wishbone Ash in Barnstaple in 1990, it was the first band that anyone had heard of to play there since Dumpys Rusty Nuts some time in the 80s. Admittedly, I had never heard of Wishbone Ash either, but my friend Ian had, so they must be good, right? (Spoiler, they were, but the support band who's name I have forgotten were much better).

Getting hold of any music was hard in fact, I read about bands in magazines like Raw, Kerrang and Metal Hammer (because I was cool, not like those weirdos reading the NME and Melody Maker) but did not have the funds to go and buy records by them. I read about the bands that influenced awesome bands like Skid Row, Motley Crue and Poison, exotic, ancient bands like Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Black Sabbath and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and wondered what they sounded like, there was no radio station playing them, and the old grey whistle test had long gone. You now read about how people are influenced by their parents record collections, but the only worthwhile things in amongst all my parents Gilbert and Sullivan cast recordings were two Beatles records (not even the good later stuff) and a best of the Rolling Stones, and by the time I was thirteen I was sick of them.

None cooler than this - ever

Which brings me back to my friend Ian, the first in a long line of friends who had better record collections than I did (honorable later mentions go to Jim (lofty), Kev, and Top Hat Matt). He knew about Free and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Fleetwood Mac (the early good Peter Green stuff, not Tango in the bloody night) and I kept badgering him to sing their stuff to me on the school bus so I could decide whether or not to part with some of my hard earned pocket money to buy their tapes (or more often than not, to buy some TDK C-90 blank tapes and copy them from Ian). He wisely brought his walkman in and played them to me with one earphone each, rather then singing them, and so I spent all my pocket money on blank tapes.

I have not been good at supporting artists (though this argument didn't used to come up quite so much about taping as it does now about downloading, probably because somebody had to pay for it at least once before anyone could copy it back then) over the years. If I wasn't taping stuff (many a happy hour was spent wearing headphones and sitting in front of my Dad's record player, which even now is more of a plant stand than a device for listening to music, praying that the needle wouldn't skip and make me have to start again) then I was at Bideford Pannier market in the 50p boxes buying records that had pretty covers. This meant that I could get ten albums for the price of one new one, and also that I spent my teenage years listening to Roy Harper, Lindisfarne and Procul Harum rather than New Kids on the Block and Two Unlimited like the cool kids did. It also meant that not one penny of it went to the artist or the record company.

I have not changed one bit, most of my music collection still comes from second hand shops and car boot sales. And the same goes for books, which I buy in massive stacks from charity shops on my rare excursions into places that have actual shops, and then take them back the next time. Authors, song writers and creative types receive not one penny from me usually (unlike the charities which appease my occasionally guilty conscience). As somebody who still strives to try and make money from these kind of pursuits, irony is my constant mocking companion, laughing over my shoulder as I painstakingly craft amusing folk songs and agonise over plot twists that nobody will ever read. If I won't pay for it, why the hell should anybody else right?

All this came to a head recently when I decided I wanted to read some books by Tom Cox (the man behind @mysadcat on twitter) and saw the heady price of six pounds for his first cat-related tome and balked at it, hoping to find it at a boot sale. This is a man verging on middle age, who lives on the edge of dartmoor, has a fondness for eccentric clothes and 70s prog rock and owns more cats than is good for him. We are essentially the same person, and I am begrudging him his means of making a living (possibly out of jealousy, or a strange manifestation of a sub-conscious self loathing I was unaware of) for the sake of less money than I spent on cider yesterday lunchtime when I took Rizla to the pub.

I am sad to say that when he announced it was on special offer at amazon for 1.99 on a kindle edition, I bought it. Despite amazon being the devil, and this meaning I only saved the price of a posh pint of cider on it. I began to re-evaluate my priorities as a consumer of culture and notorious skinflint. While I have always tried to save money by not buying thousands of records (unless they are Grateful Dead albums I do not yet own) or books, I have never not had the price of a pint in my pocket (excuse the double negative, it just sounds nicer). I have walked away from mint condition copies of Eskimo by the Residents for only ten pounds because I wouldn't have had enough money for a drink afterwards (I do still regret that one) which implies that I am some kind of alcoholic. I'm not, true I do enjoy a drink, possibly more than most, but I proved last year that it is not a problem. I just prioritise things badly.

Since I gave up smoking two years ago, technically I have about thirty quid a month going begging. It seems to have been taken up by my Cider/Strange Food/Awesome hat budget, but theoretically it exists. I may be spending it on posh cat food for my elderly and notoriously fussy cat Duchamp, but he will learn to like the cheap stuff. I resolved this week to start buying books properly to support authors, and buy music from bandcamp and other artist owned places. I will then make myself slightly happier by spending a couple of afternoons a month reading and listening to my new-found spoils in my summerhouse, which is probably my favourite thing in the world to do (there I admitted it, I feel better now).

I have begun well, this month I ordered another Tom Cox book from the utterly brilliant Hive (perfect if you like local bookshops, but not going into towns) and something else by somebody I've never heard of that looked good, but then rather than support new artists and emerging talent I bought a wildly over-priced copy of Penguin Eggs by Nic Jones which I've been meaning to buy for years. I regret nothing, it is a great album, and Nic Jones deserves all the help he can get, I am a bit sad that I have been able to listen to it as many times as I like online now, rather than it being a hazy memory from a smoke filled room in the 90s, so it is unlikely to surprise me, but these are the times we live in. It did blow the budget somewhat though, so next month I will hit bandcamp, and probably buy some Gaz Brookfield stuff as I have been enjoying his work since he was on the same bill as Maz Totterdell a few years ago when I was still playing bass in her backing group.

With the amazing availability of music, books, art and whatever your heart desires on the internet these days, it is all too easy to overlook the fact that somebody had to pay for it in the first place. Not to mention the fact that the sheer amount of choice often leaves me just not bothering to buy anything and going back to things I already own (I wrote a thing about modern record collecting here on my old blog). I know from first hand experience that trying to write books and songs and be in bands while holding down a job that pays enough to fund all of this for free is exhausting, and takes its toll on my mental and physical health. While I say, along with many others, that I would continue to do it no matter what, I suspect that at the back of my mind, if I truly felt that there would never be any income derived from it I would give up and just sit in my summerhouse listening to other people's music and reading their books.

Today we are on the verge of going back to throwing some money in the hat of the wandering story-tellers and minstrels. And this is actually no bad thing, as the digital hat provided now is infinitely big, while the group gathered round the metaphorical fire to listen can access any minstrel they like, and throw as much money in as they want without looking like showoffs. Now if I can only get some of them to throw a bit my way.