PC 122 Margo

Back in the day, I had a girlfriend who was the daughter of an army veterinary officer and her name was Margo. More recently I had a client who worked for one of the big insurance companies who was also called Margo …. but when my daughter announced she was going to name her new American Labrador puppy Margo too, with a ‘T’ or not I wasn’t sure, I wondered whether she should have been called Mango because she was of that colour.  I thought, incidentally, that Margo was the surrogate child …. until Jade became pregnant and Theo arrived ….. and Margo stayed.

I lost the argument about her name and Margo she stayed. That was 24 months ago and she has grown into a handsome, well behaved dog, so congratulations are due to my daughter for her patient training that has paid off in spades. Mind you Margo lives in a house with three children under 7 and two cats, so she had to be adaptable and not a pain in the arse!

After Easter Margo stayed with us here in Hove for ten days and I was reminded of the two other dogs I’ve had. While I was at university I took the decision to have a dog; after all, a three year residential course represented unusual stability in an ubiquitous Army career and, with parental agreement to look after her if I was posted overseas, I got a Boxer.

Fleur

At the beginning of 1967 the second BBC television channel showed a drama called The Forsyte Saga on Saturday evenings, with a wonderful cast that included Susan Hampshire, Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth More and Margaret Tyzack. At the time there were not many television sets capable of receiving BBC2, which used the latest 625–line broadcasting system (cf 405 lines), so it was repeated on Sunday evenings eighteen months later when coverage had improved significantly. It was the last major British serial made in black & white and was compulsory viewing! Hard to believe, but evening Church services were rescheduled and pubs emptied as everyone sat before their TV sets …. and became hooked on the storylines. Susan Hampshire played Fleur …….. and this is a long-winded explanation as to why I called my boxer Fleur when she came into my life in 1969. Coincidentally my ex-sister-in-law, who lives just north of Seattle, is also called Fleur. The Boxer breed is well known for being highly strung and Fleur, a lightweight, slim dog, was one such. Sadly she died aged 7 but I would like to think she had a fun life; she certainly gave a lot of love.

Wind the clock forward twenty five years and in 2002 I got Tom, my beautiful black Labrador, through Labrador Rescue. The decision to get another dog was prompted by the death of my nephew William at the age of 18 from cancer. That ‘Why put off something you want to do, especially as ‘life’ is full of uncertainties?’ question ……. and the answer was Tom. A gentle giant if ever there was one; what he lacked in brain power he made up for with love and affection in spades. His walks were either around the streets in Battersea or across Wandsworth Common, an area of 70 hectares/170 acres of grass, trees, lakes and wild life which lay at the top of the road some 200m away from home. Walking there daily kept me aware of nature’s death and decay, of new birth and new growth, the changing seasons and all that they bring. Tom of course loved the ‘death’ bit and was good at ferreting out a decaying fox’s carcass!! Yuk.

2004 6 (2)

He moved with us to Hove in 2012. The apartment leasehold building has a ‘no pet’ clause so we had to get permission from the landlord to have him, on the basis that he would not be around too much longer. If you are a pet owner you will recognise that awful moment when you realise that their life has become one of discomfort and it’s their time to go. Unless of course it’s a goldfish! That was six years ago and so when Margo came all these memories came flooding back.

IMG_5883

We are reminded of the routines involved with owning a pet with Margo and it’s amazing how quickly we get into the early morning walk, the lunchtime wee, the afternoon long walk and ball games and the evening last-thing-at-night wander around the streets. Our jacket pockets become full of plastic poo bags, antiseptic gel and treats. We buy a stuffed material duck that lasts about one day before its capok has been ripped out; we go to the charity shop for a cheaper replacement. Tom never got into ripping his toys; funny how dogs can be so different. Margo will not pee on the concrete pavements so the grass of Hove Lawns becomes her first stop. Then it’s onto the pebble beach to poo. Without going into too much description of similar colours etc, could you find a dog deposit on a beach such as this?

Beach Hove

One morning I looked, and looked ….. and then prayed that the rising tide would come soon!! And I have noticed there seems to have been an increase in ‘negative’ council by-law signs: “Dogs on leads!!” “No Cycling!” “No dogs on beach 1st May – 30 September” “No BBQs on this beach” “Respect the ‘shared space’” and all that inclusive politically correct wording. Sometimes I just want to see a sign which simply says “Enjoy Yourself”!!

Funny how walking a dog ensures strangers smile, pass the time of day, acknowledge you in a way that sans chien would never happen. And whilst Wandsworth was inland, here on the coast I’m very conscious of high and low water times and the consequent size of the beach. During Margo’s time with us we had the second blue moon in a month, with the tidal difference over 6 metres.

And then she went home to her owners, the two cats and three young boys, and all she left, apart from her memories, were tufts of ginger hair in odd places and that faint whiff of damp dog. Lovely having another living creature with one.

 

Richard 21st April 2018

PS I am actually not sure whether Margo is a Labrador, American or not! Every Labrador I know will devour their food faster than you can say Jeremy Corbyn; Tom would take about 47 seconds to get through 300g of dried food. Margo, on the other hand, would always leave some in her bowl so she could snack throughout the day. Strange huh!

PC 121 Bananas etc

 

The other weekend I drove west to see my brother in Dorset. It was a cold spring day and snow was forecast but the roads were still dry. I pulled into a motorway service station in search of petrol and personal sustenance. I didn’t need a coffee but was gaging for some sort of fruit; funny how we get like that about some food …… just gaging for it!! The motorway service stations in the UK have recently been accused of hiking the price of petrol by 15% but overall the quality of the food & drink offing has improved immeasurably since the 1980s when they were graded abdominal!

Three shops comprised the retail section, the first two a burger joint and a coffee shop with its attendant biscuits, buns, wraps, doughnuts and sugary snacks; the other was a small supermarket offering newspapers, CDs, ready meals to put into the microwave when you reached your destination, crisps of every size shape and flavour, snack bars and chocolate made by the well-known manufacturers  ….. but the only fruit was an extremely small container of melon balls. Three scoops with the plastic spoon and that would have been it, except you would have been considerably poorer!! No apples, no bananas, no ……..  before my current exercise in eating more healthily I would have bought a Twix bar, a Cadburry’s chocolate whole nut, a tube of  Smarties or Trebor Extra Strong Mints but this time I had only set my sights on some fruit!! I drove away disgruntled and empty handed. Got me thinking about the health geeks’ exhortations to eat more fruit, eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day etc etc.

In my mother’s day our fruit was mainly home grown, except for bananas. In 1956 my parents bought a house in the Sussex village of Balcombe called ‘Orchards’(see PC 58 Going Home). The name suggests more than one and there wasn’t, but the singular name doesn’t sound right does it?

Honeycrisp

Some previous owner had planted dozens of apple trees in the garden with the net result that every autumn we picked hundreds of apples, wrapped them in newspaper and put them in cardboard boxes in the cellar, ready to be enjoyed throughout the winter. Invariably about February one would unwrap one and find the whole box had become mouldy. Or you took a bite and found a maggot in the half-eaten apple …… and wondered whether this was a half or the whole maggot ….. and where might the other half be!! We picked apples from the trees without realising just how many varieties of this fruit there are. In another part of the garden were fruit cages full of raspberries, red currents, black currents, blackberries and strawberries. Strong netting was needed to keep hungry birds out.

In addition to the outside grown fruit there was a grape vine in the conservatory attached to the house. With a little bit of careful pruning and mould management it produced small bunches of white grapes. I ate them as if it was my duty, being home grown and all, but actually my memory is of a rather bitter small grape …… with a pip! In UK apples with names like Bramley, Cox, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious were well known and then along came the New Zealand Braeburn which was developed in 1952. Other varieties continue to be developed. English pears, plums, greengages and gooseberries seem to thrive well in our island climate but all the citrus fruits we tend to leave to those Mediterranean countries that have a more suitable one.

Today we have got used to the availability of most fruits month in, month out, although you need a mortgage to buy half a kilo of cherries imported from Chile or Peru out of season. Sadly imported strawberries bought in January suffer in the long flight in low temperatures; the result is a tasteless berry you bought for a premium! Buying ‘in season’ reminds us of the yearly rhythms.

Blueberries

 

Blueberries were almost unknown in Britain thirty years ago but growing awareness (no pun intended) of their benefits has caused a 500% increase in their production in the UK, rivalling the raspberry in popularity. Experts say that blueberries contain antioxidants that help blood circulation, keep the heart healthy and skin elastic – a classic modern ‘superfood’! In the three years 2005 to 2008 total sales went from £40m to £95m.

And I haven’t mention bananas yet!! Britain became conscious of the banana at the beginning of the C20th due to a marketing campaign by Elders & Fyffes, importers of the fruit from the Caribbean. Sales soared ….. and further increased in 1960 when Mather & Crowther launched a campaign on behalf of the major importers to ‘unzip a banana’. The sexual suggestiveness of the fruit was reinforced when ‘unzip your banana’ became a popular slogan!!

Banana

Today the banana is the favourite UK snack with imports from the Caribbean and Latin American countries reaching 5 billion a year. Sadly due to the fickle nature of the buying public, 160 million of these are thrown away each year, either because they were rejected by the supermarkets as too ripe or by the public who let them over-ripen and become black at home. Apart from unzipping and eating it straight, you can BBQ them, fry them, put them into a Banana Sundae or, and this is great, wrap them, without the skin on, in clingfilm and put them in the freezer. If you fancy a banana ‘ice-lolly’, just take it out, leave it to defrost for a few minutes and suck! Yum.

I couldn’t write a postcard without some nod to the use of fruit in our language and I hope you smile at a few that come to mind:

‘Going Bananas’ is used to describe someone becoming irrational or crazy.

‘Life is just a bowl of cherries’.

‘Don’t upset the applecart.’

‘I couldn’t give a fig’ means not to be worried about something, but why the use of the word ‘fig’ is uncertain.

Otherwise it would be sour grapes! The one that I really like is ‘The Apple of One’s Eye’, referring to someone who is irreplaceable and precious. Curiously over a thousand years ago the centre of one’s eye was called the ‘apple’ in English as the Latin word ‘pupil’ had not been introduced. So the association with something precious and the word apple became common.

And my mother would have been amazed at the lychees, star fruit, Kiwi fruit, mangos and papaya one can now buy in most regular supermarkets.

 

Richard 8th April 2018

PS    Pineapples were grown in the UK by the Victorians but today they are virtually all imported. The name has specific connotations in Brazil where a pineapple, apart from their delicious home-grown ones, is a problem to be grappled with! Funny life inn’t?