Things I have learned about dogs

19 Apr

This is my dog, Bounderby.


We got him on New Year’s Day and he has sort of taken over our lives.

I think I probably knew quite a lot more than the average sane person about dogs beforehand, but having this furry person in our family has taught me (and Tom) a lot of new things about dogs. Here are some of them.

1) Puppies are really violent.

Whenever you see puppies on films or in books or on the internet, they are always lying around looking fluffy and adorable, licking people’s faces or being cuddled by small children. Why is it that nobody talks about the main thing puppies do? BITING. Puppies LOVE biting. It’s what they spend almost all their time doing when they are awake. It’s the only game they know. Biting your hands, biting your feet, tearing your clothes, strangling you with your scarf – and don’t even think about trying to cuddle. Cuddling = opportunities for biting your face. I worried that perhaps Bounderby was a small dangerous maniac when he liked to greet us by biting our faces and would leap up and grab hold of our arms in his teeth like a fluffy police dog. Twice he made my leg bleed through my jeans. They seem to believe you will come to love this game if they just bite you enough. No. Nobody loves that game. Eventually they sort of get the hint and give up.

2) Dogs are more polite than 1920s English gentlemen.

Puppies aside, I think dogs might be the most courteous people on earth. They have a strict sense of etiquette and feel bad if it’s not adhered to. A dog has to greet you, even more than a gentleman has to shake your hand. They also dislike anybody getting too boisterous and overbearing, and will do things like lie down, turn away, or quietly step in between two rowdy dogs to calm the situation down. They avoid conflict in a very English way. I think that’s why some dogs don’t really like puppies, in the same way that some adults can’t cope with screaming, running, whooping toddlers.

Another thing I love is that they have a word for “joke!” It’s this:

Play bow

This bum-in-the-air by Bounders (on the right) means “play with me!” But they also do it during play to say, “I just punched you in the face with my paw but it was just jokes!!” This polite system allows them to play like they’re fighting without anybody getting upset. Bounderby does well with this one – he has a very persuasive waggly tail.

3) Dogs are obsessed with Facebook.

Like human children, puppies enjoy being with their parents and biting on stuff. But then they reach their teenage years and suddenly become addicted to social networking. Dogs have to go out and check Facebook (lamp posts, tufts of grass, walls, etc.) in case anybody has posted anything. “Ooh, Milo was here three hours ago after his breakfast”. Then they check in and leave their own status update. “Bounderby was at Greenbank Cemetery – feeling hungry.”

4) Dogs are surprisingly sarcastic.

I always thought dogs were unbearably sincere and enthusiastic about everything, but it turns out they do a good line in withering looks and melodramatic sighs.

5) Dogs are masterful mime artists.

Our dog often comes across as a person who just can’t talk. He will give you an expressive stare, willing you to psychically read his mind and work out what he’s trying to tell you. Most of the time it’s very obvious what he wants because he is also an accomplished mime and not at all subtle. For instance, while we are eating dinner, he likes to go and stand by his food bowl, looking from us to it as if he thinks we are so stupid that we have forgotten to feed him and he needs to show us what to do. He must think we are really thick when we don’t respond. Dogs are experts at body language and live their lives in mime. I think it’s kind of nice that he is trying to bridge the language barrier.

6) Dogs love routine. And sleep.

I didn’t know this before, but dogs really are creatures of habit. Having a routine makes life with a puppy a lot easier because they just learn that it’s nap time after lunch time, allowing you to actually get on with your own life! Bounderby has learnt what things happen in his day in what order, which means it’s easy to fool him about what time it is, e.g. by taking him for a walk an hour earlier so that he will nap an hour earlier when you want to go out. Sucker.

And dogs need to sleep for 16-18 hours a day otherwise their brains overheat. Fact.

7) Dogs are really very intelligent.

Like, more than I’d thought. Bounderby can learn a new trick in 1 or 2 tries, if I’m clear enough with the instructions. He learns things like that much faster than most people I know. It’s kind of scary. On the other hand, he has not yet learned that some doors open inwards. I don’t know why.

8) Dogs know that they are dogs and we are wizards.

Even though he is smart, if I present Bounderby with a new puzzle (maybe a closed box with food in), his first course of action is not to try and work it out, but to sit down and look straight at me as if to say: “I am dog. Cannot do this. Wizard help please.” He comes to get me if his ball has got stuck somewhere he can’t reach, or if he doesn’t understand how to do something. I read that this is the secret of dogs’ success – they know what they can’t do and how to get help. Having a personal wizard as their friend enables them to do way more than any old wolf could do. And I quite like being magical.

In conclusion, I think I’ve learned why dogs and people get on. Dog society is a lot like human society. They just have fewer taboos about eating poo.

“The Gaudy”

28 Mar

Well, it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve written on this blog. Why? Don’t know really – lack of time? Too much dog training? It might be because it’s a kind of external monologue for my anecdotes and now Tom gets to hear all those in real life instead. I think that’s closer to the truth than the “no time” excuse.

But now I am sitting at home, not quite alone, with a sleeping hound at my feet and some minutes between projects. So here’s an anecdote.

Last weekend I went to what is known as a “gaudy”. Read that nonsensical piece of jargon and guess where it might have come from. Correct, the University of Obscure Terminology itself, aka Oxford.

A “gaudy” is just a college reunion. This time, it was a massive nostalgia-fest for my year and the year below. It was great to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen for several years, or in some cases, since we left uni… to remember those mornings huddled in our dressing gowns trying to decipher our stats questions… our methods for breaking in through the “turnstile”… the manky pigeons that nested on our windowsills… that time James went crazy after watching three days of amoeba footage and make a friend out of a toilet roll…

But it was also decidedly odd. I shouldn’t have been surprised about that, should I?

It was like entering into a previous life to be in college, visiting my friends who were staying the the “beehive” (a 1960s concrete accommodation block with  hexagonal rooms – nice idea but where do you put the furniture?). Making it even more like time travel was the fact that the year below were also walking around. They were the people who you didn’t necessarily know, but would always recognise as they passed by in the background. They were, in essence, the extras in my life. And they were all there – the stars and the extras. Like nothing had changed.

But please – could anything possibly change? In Oxford? Not since at least 1010AD – one the colleges is still on “Oxford time”, not having quite caught up with the newfangled GMT, for heaven’s sake.

So, we dressed in black tie, gathered in an art gallery and sipped some champagne, before proceeding into the 16th century dining hall. My psychology tutor had been made the college Vice-President since I left, so the psychology crew got to sit at the High Table. This is much like sitting at the top table at a wedding – you get served first, and when I was a student, the fellows sitting up there got better food, too. I don’t think we did.

The menu looked ridiculously amazing, but before we could get started, we had to be welcomed. And then someone turned up in a gown and mortar board to give a speech.

In Latin.

Now, I know I’ve been away from Oxford for a while now, but even I didn’t see this coming. The lengthy sung Latin grace, sure. But this guy had written a nice speech about how things were going at the college, how the cricket team was getting on, and what scientific advances had been made by the students…. in Latin. Seriously. It lasted about ten minutes. In our programmes, someone had thoughtfully printed a translation.

A couple of ex-Classics students / snobs tittered in delight at the Latin jokes peppering the speech, but the rest of us looked at each other with raised eyebrows and asked, “Why? Just – why?”

My tutor told me sheepishly that it was a tradition. Of course.

Anyway, the dinner was amazing, the bottomless wine was about 15 years old from the dusty cellar, and somebody managed to find me a decaf coffee when I asked for one. I am not complaining. Thanks, St Johns. But I sat there feeling like some of that pomp and circumstance was just a little bit… childish. And that maybe I had grown out of it.

My friend Hannah sat opposite me with a stunned sort of expression on her face for a while. After the scholar finished his lengthy Latin speech and doffed his mortar board, she whispered: “I’ve just come from doing counselling in Hackney… It’s a bit of a culture shock.”

When the food runs out, eat the weak ones

17 Sep

I’m sure I am a million miles from being the only person who has become completely ashamed of my country’s government in the last six months or so. But I just can’t believe the way things have gone; the ugly, shameful press releases that they have sent to the papers, poisoning what we read, what we hear, and eventually, what we believe.


I was all for giving the coalition government a chance at first and even thought that the Tories had a few good common sense policy ideas… but now I cannot believe what they are doing to the country. They’re encouraging society to turn on its weakest members and destroy them, like some pack of wild dogs without enough food to eat. It’s an easy instinct to fan into flame – picking on the weak ones – but it’s not one that we hold up as a virtue of humanity. Our leaders are encouraging it, though, simply to protect themselves.

This country is in economic trouble, and the government either don’t know how to make things better, or can’t be bothered to do the things that would really help, out of fear of losing voters. For instance, we desperately need to build more social housing – MUCH more – but they’re too scared to build anything for fear of upsetting NIMBYs who don’t want their towns to change. An expert in the sector says:

“With more than 1.7 million households currently waiting for social housing, the fourth Housing the Nation report revealed that the Government is again on track to miss its targets, by a worryingly large number. A shortfall of 51,000 new homes has to be the tip of the iceberg – this is like losing a town of a similar size to Eastleigh, Hampshire.”

How do they choose to divert the blame for this failure?

“You hardworking people are paying for scroungers to live in huge, five bed houses that they don’t need! They probably have huge tellies and a pony and never work at all! How dare they?”

So comes the “bedroom tax”, possibly the most shameful policy of recent times, that demands that poor, elderly people leave their lifelong homes, move away from all their friends and neighbours, into one-bedroom flats – that don’t exist. Even if people wanted to move, they cannot, because there simply aren’t any small properties, as explained here. They have to pay to stay put.

So – our government is actually punishing poor people for its own mistakes – for its own failure to address the problem. This is outrageous.

And I cannot fathom how, at the same time, it’s okay for comfortably well-off MPs to use taxpayers’ money to BUY an entire second home in London, so they can be comfy when they come to work. Anyone assess how many bedrooms they need? I’d argue zero, when they can well afford to stay in a hotel, a bed and breakfast, or maybe put a sleeping bag down in their office. Perhaps the country can afford to pay for these MPs’ second homes through the savings we’re now making in housing benefit from the poor people… but I sincerely doubt the amounts are in any way comparible.


I thought I couldn’t get more annoyed until I heard a new story released to the news last week – benefit fraud can now be punishable by up to 10 years in jail! Yeah, great news, get those terrible benefit scroungers who are ruining our country! It’s their fault we’re going down the pan!

When did we stop calling them “the poor” or “the vulnerable” and start calling them “scroungers”?

When did they become the enemy? When did people start to believe this utter tripe that poor people are ruining our country? How could that even be possible? If they were cheating the system well enough to bankrupt the nation, wouldn’t they have stopped being poor by now?

The rhetoric is certainly working, though. A poll earlier this year showed the public thought that 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently. Do you know what the real figures are regarding benefit fraud?

The DWP’s own figures show that it amounts to just 0.7% of the welfare budget and that proportion is not increasing. This amounts to £1.2billion. On the other hand, 10% of housing benefit claimants are accidentally underpaid (reverse fraud, if you will, on the part of the government). Meanwhile, tax evading companies cost the taxpayer £25billion a year – and I don’t see any jail terms at all for them.


Another of the most vulnerable groups in our society also make a nice scapegoat: immigrants! Yeah, they’re leeching off the taxpayer-funded benefit system (actually, foreign nationals are less than half as likely to claim benefits than UK citizens – 6% vs. 15%). They’re coming over here, taking your jobs (no, there just aren’t any new jobs, thanks to the economic situation which is the government’s responsibility to deal with).

After the Home Office whipped out the Racist Van, I don’t know what more I can say on this subject. Construct your own outraged rant. Thankfully, this campaign was SO unsubtle that it seemed to have the reverse effect of opening a lot of people’s eyes to what was going on, and they didn’t want in.


I am always depressed when I hear the government boasting that the number of people claiming jobseekers’ allowance has gone down, too. Do you know why this is? It certainly not because lots of jobs have been generated by a growing economy. It’s another example of punishing the poor and needy for the failings of the government to tackle the actual problem. They are not getting JSA any more. But they are not (in many cases) in jobs. They are just living in poverty.

This is one of the worst things I’ve read in recent times. A number of jobcentre employees have come forward to say that they are expected by managers to achieve a certain number of benefit sanctions per week – ie immediately stopping a person’s JSA under the rationale that they’re not trying hard enough to look for work (even if this is baloney). I think I’d call this benefit fraud, wouldn’t you?

It’s all good for the welfare budget figures though, and that’s the main thing!!

And now they’re off the taxpayers’ books, without housing benefit or JSA, they can just go down the food bank…


This whole campaign of hatred was summed up nicely by the lovely Mr Michael Gove the other day, who said that he’d been to visit a food bank and worked out that people were using it because they weren’t able to manage their money properly. It’s nice that somebody in the cabinet came out and said so clearly what they’ve all been insinuating: “IT’S THE POOR’S FAULT THEY’RE POOR.”

Um… isn’t that what a country’s leadership, its government, is for? If a growing proportion of a country’s population is falling into poverty, isn’t that its government’s responsibility, actually? And in case you weren’t convinced – check out these testimonies, summed up by foodbank staff thus:

“Benefit delay and benefit re-assessment cause people across the UK to go hungry. Almost 40% of foodbank clients last year had experienced benefit delay.”

What’s that Mr Gove? I think you’ll find that it’s the government which is unable to manage its money properly. Looks like IT’S YOUR FAULT THEY’RE POOR.

Now get off your arse and do something about it, instead of this poisonous scapegoating of the most vulnerable people in society, the ones that you should be protecting and looking after and fighting for, not sacrificing to save your own skin.

The thing is, the really terrible thing, is that you are letting people die, just to win votes. You are actually killing people to make yourselves look good. People are dying of poverty, starving and freezing and committing suicide, just so you can score some points in a stupid political game that is nothing to do with them.

For shame. Do your job. Lead.


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