Not Just About The Pets

So why overheat for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) this September? Well, apart from sounding like some kind of far left organisation founded by James Herriot, PDSA is one of the major UK charities that helps manage and pay for veterinary treatment for people’s pets when the owner is unable to pay for that treatment – and increasingly common situation as veterinary care is expensive and can spiral in the case of some ailments. Not remotely getting at vets here by the way – one of my best friends is a vet and after all the work that goes into getting qualified the service demands a decent return. But the reality is that while in the UK we are blessed with a system of minimum free health care for humans the same does not extend to pets.

Animals should not suffer unnecessarily so to withhold treatment does not fit well with me. But there are insurance schemes to pay for treatment. Also, if you cannot pay vet fees then perhaps you should not have a pet in the first place.

For me personally it is not quite as simple as that. In the end pets, particularly dogs and cats in some situations can be much more important than simply a luxury affectation, which they clearly are for some. There is now plenty of data available on the benefits for some individuals of having a companion animal in their life. I can attest this from personal experience of the presence of a dog in my father’s life after my mother passed away. His black Labrador Sooty was a huge comfort in terms of company and in getting him up and out of the house to walk her, and in doing so kept him fitter and made sure he was engaging with people – the regular dog walking community can be exactly that, and for the older end of the population where people often live on their own will often notice if they do not see someone for several days and check on people as a result.

In fact I was a little surprise to find the US government Center (sic) for Disease Control website supporting exactly this with a nice little summary of potential benefits of having a pet, namely:

  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Reduction in feelings of loneliness
  • Increase in opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Increase in opportunities for socialization

The reality is that many of the people who will benefit most from these are those who live on their own and may well be older (and/or infirm). In a lot of cases I also suspect that they are also exactly the group that might struggle to pay vet fees and/or fail to make provision for treatment through insurance. The latter I do not level as a criticism as pet insurance certainly did not exist as a major thing when I was growing up with a dog. My father had a policy that paid for Sooty’s treatment in her last years, but then he had worked in insurance services most of his life so the concept came naturally. I do not know if the same thought processes apply for others in his age bracket, and as already stated I would rather see the animal treated than wag fingers.

So partly my interest in raising a little cash here is in the interests of animal welfare; however there is a human dimension here that I do not want to overlook, to be able to help those in need of the company and reassurance that a companion animal can provide retain that relationship a little longer by having timely and effective treatment.


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‘Two little Ducks’, 22

In September of 2015 I completed the Great North Run. Well staggered to the end is probably a fairer approximation. It had been a bit of a struggle that time around and not a particularly good time for me.
To be frank, I have been getting slower every year since my personal best times back in the late 1990s. Looking back at those times in comparison to what I am posting now it seems like someone else was responsible for them as I have trouble believing I ever went that (relatively) quickly.
So anyway, on the back of how hard it was and a few other associated things – travel chaos in Newcastle for the first time in ages seemed to be an omen – I swore that was it, and that next time I would just watch on the TV. Not give up running of course, I need to keep me sane and alive – but half marathons and in particular the Great North Run – which I have ran every year since 1995. I thought that was enough. I even thought I could overcome the fact that I had said the same thing the year before and broken my promise to myself a few months later when I had the automatic entry opportunity shoved under my nose. I should have known I would weaken once more.
The way the GNR works in terms of getting a place is like the London Marathon, i.e. by ballot. However, you can buy membership which then gives you automatically a place for three years (once you have paid the normal entry fee on top – you have to pay a reasonable wodge of cash for the pleasure of exhausting yourself on Tyneside). I have renewed membership a few times in the past, and last year was two of three. You can see where this is going. So I still had the place for 2016. I did not have to take it and pay this year’s fee. I could have had a relaxing weekend in September watching everyone else ‘enjoying’ the day. In fact, I reasoned, I was depriving someone else of a place, who perhaps had never had the opportunity (this is in fact true).
The email came round asking if I was going to take up the place, and I watched the deadline for that decision approach. Why should I want to do something I have done 21 times before, knowing perfectly well it will hurt and that I would most likely be even slower than last year?
Damn it, people started talking about charity and it needled into the brain over a few days. People started to laugh again when I suggest silly fancy dress and started to suggest things, and inevitably my resolve started to slide. So, I reasoned, if I was going to take up the place and was not in all honesty going to be going flat out for a race best time (no one, apart from the elite athletes, should ever try for a PB in the Great North Run – the course is surprisingly mostly uphill and there are far too many people to get in the way) then I would have to bother everyone again for money and do some fundraising.
So I entered. Now I have a bull costume that needs a few alterations from the Lovely Wife (who once more will be taking up her sterling work as personal baggage train) and the inevitable and embarrassing exercise of trying to get friends and family to part with their well-earned cash has begun. I’m running for The Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and will explain why. Be Warned. And please visit

That’s Torn It?

One of the things that I tell myself all the time is that the universe has not really got it in for me and that runs of poor luck are in fact nothing more than an entirely biased over emphasis on a set of coincidences. Or that actually the luck, bad or good, is due to personal choices and/or actions making certain events more likely – the ‘harder I work, the luckier I get’ principle (which is certainly true at times). All very rational you would think, but the problem is I do not really believe it. Because we all have little (and not so little) sections of our lives where things do not go our way – apparently one thing after another and creating a deep unreasoning sense of unfairness.

For me this year it is leg injuries. It is becoming tiresome.

I have made no secret of the fact that while I am no way the fittest person, running to keep the fitness ticking over – and to give me reflection and prayer time, as well as getting to enjoy how lovely outside can be throughout the year – is really important to me. That is true even when you get abuse from idiot van drivers (another issue entirely) or have apples thrown at you. It happens. Anyway, pounding the streets and footpaths is a pleasure, most of the time. I have been blessed over the years to somehow avoid major injury. This year however, maybe because of my age or accumulated bad luck (see above) it has been one thing after another. Since April I have managed to tear muscles in three different places, each time just at the point I felt I was over the previous injury. Worse in a way was the way in which the injury arrived. The first one at least had the legitimacy of occurring during a run with a sudden weakness and then pain at the back of the knee bringing me to a painful halt just before a holiday in Somerset. Annoying but at least, I thought, not too much of a penalty as I could and did compensate with a lot of nice walking with the Lovely Wife. Then it was off to Singapore with work and by then I was starting to feel it was better, and some gentle runs later it seemed I was back.

Then at the airport on a short flight to Malaysia I had to take my boots off in security and tried to lever one off with my other foot. Suddenly I felt the muscle in my upper thigh snap under the strain; and that was that. This was a more severe tear and had the additional benefit of giving me the largest bruise I have ever had, all the way down the muscle at the back of the leg, as the blood filtered down the muscle and gradually faded as the muscle healed. Again, I got used to doing a lot of walking to compensate for again being banned from anything more energetic.

Now I was starting to feel some pressure. You see, as I’ll blog next week, I had entered the Great North Run for one last time and the weeks were now starting to whittle down to be fit for that.

So I was delighted that a few weeks ago, again after some gentle try outs, things seemed to be getting back to normal. Plus, and we do have to learn from these things, I am stretching more than I used to and mixing and matching the running and walking which is also a good thing. But paying more attention to the muscles has made me a bit paranoid, easing up at the slightest twinge.

So it was especially galling when last week I tore a muscle in the other calf. By falling over a log, while going for a walk instead of a run because I was worried I had overdone it and did not want to damage a fragile recovery this close to September’s race. Honestly, I could have cried. It seemed such a stupid way to give myself another setback, and in a year I had committed to collecting for charity too. But realistically it is often the stupid, unforeseen little accidents that get us. We can try and be careful but often it comes down to can we get away with a quick recovery.

Practically I’ve had a few days to get over the frustration and the injury does not seem to be very severe managed to get out today and give it a gentle test, and it seems to be holding for now.

So it is in the balance regarding the Run. I will not be fit enough to go for a proper time, but since I’ll be dressed as a Bull with a full head piece I know that was never going to be the case anyway.

But I owe anyone who actually sponsor’s me the knowledge I’m actually going to give it a good go and show some damn perseverance. So if I have to crawl the 13.1 miles that is exactly what I’ll have to do (but I’d rather jog and wave at the kids) – if I can stay injury free in the next four weeks.

Next time I need to address something that several of you will pull me up on… Didn’t I swear that last year’s Great North Run would be my last?

Um, yes I did. I owe an explanation…


And if you want to support PDSA and I or want me to stop, please visit

In memory of Ron Harris. Who?

In something of a follow on from last week, I want to talk about someone who is no longer on this Earth. However, it is not someone I could say I knew in any way, nor was it someone famous outside his family. His name was Ron Harris, and he lived in a bungalow in Egham in Surrey. He passed away last month at the age of ninety-four, a pretty good innings by anyone’s estimation. According to the notice someone had put outside his front door he was a father, grandfather and great grandfather.

I had spoken to Ron – although I never knew his name when he was alive – many times. The conversation was always limited to one or two words. The word was usually ‘Hello!’ and sometimes it even stretched to ‘Good Morning!’ In reply, a raised hand and a similarly terse but clear ‘Hello!’ in reply. Not the most thrilling conversation perhaps, but it was repeated over the years as I staggered past the front of his house on one of my lunchtime running routes. In decent weather he would stand at his gate, leaning on the posts, apparently lost in reverie. But he would always wake up from whatever part of his past he was thinking about to trade a friendly greeting, after which I would continue my run and he went back to daydreaming.

He was so regularly there that he was almost a landmark. In fact I had already begun to worry about him late last year when I did not see him for weeks and his bungalow had an empty feel about it. I was then heartily glad to see him a month or two later walking unsteadily along the street being supported by a young woman (I assume family, possibly the same person that put up the notice as it was done with considerable affection) and he was back in place for the months afterward and the ritual greetings continued. Until last week when I saw the notice, which I have to say made me both sad and, at the same time left me with just a half smile.

You see, on the notice, as well as giving his name and dates thanked anyone who used to stop and chat. And then: ‘He used to stand at his gate – thank you all that stood and chatted and gave him a smile and a wave – he loved it!’

In the moment I read that, it was clear to me that our little interactions were far more important than I had given them credit for; I thought I was just being polite, but for an elderly man living on his own it was quite clear to me that merely to have someone register your existence in a positive way was something that probably kept him smiling for some considerable time. Sometimes ‘Hello’ accompanied with a smile might be the best thing you can say to someone, and when it is to a stranger you have no idea of what kind of impact you have just had. But I would hazard that very rarely is that impact going to be a negative one. Do I wish I had stopped for a proper chat? Well, it is a nice idea but actually I think for Ron there were clearly others better placed to do that, and so I am quite happy to probably have gone down in his view as polite but obviously mad red faced running man.

Often I find myself at the end of these blogs descending into something akin to the coda that you used to get at the end of ‘He Man and the Masters of the Universe’ cartoons where He Man or Man At Arms breaks the fourth wall to explain how today’s episode means it is dangerous to take drugs, or that if you are feeling depressed you should whistle a happy tune and it will make you feel better (no, really, look this up on the web, some of them are hilarious).

The obvious one here is try and make time to interact positively with your fellow human beings, no matter how simple and short that interaction might be, especially with the old and the lonely. For me, my few words with Ron now have a special meaning. I’ll miss him.


Dub Star

In a terrible year so far for losing so many talented people both within and without the show business world, it is very easy to overlook one or two. In fact that is precisely what I did last week when I failed to register the passing of someone pivotal to the success of some of the most famous film musicals of all time.

Last week Marni Nixon died aged 86. I think a lot of people probably would have gone ‘who?’ Indeed, I would have for many years and I consider myself to be quite a fan of musicals. I actually came across her name first in a slight obtuse way as I was at one point a fan of the late Andrew Gold (whose song ‘Lonely Boy’ is one of the relatively few things that the Lovely Wife and vehemently disagree about – if it came on the radio she would turn it off, while I would turn it up and happily sing along, but hey, as marital disputes go I think our marriage will survive this one). Marni Nixon was Andrew Gold’s mother. So it was in some amazement that I suddenly found out that some of the singing in a few of the most iconic film musicals was – at least in parts – dubbed.

The three most famous musicals that Marni Nixon provided the bulk of the singing vocals were ‘The King and I’, ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘West Side Story’ (the latter allegedly without Nathalie Wood being aware that it would be so). In the case of Deborah Kerr and the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn it was abundantly clear that the actresses were chosen for their acting skills and not their singing (not that it ever harmed Rex Harrison’s career as he happily talks his way through all his numbers). So it was left to Marni to fill in – and superbly. But without the stardom and in some cases even uncredited.

This is Hollywood magic at its best really; I adore ‘My Fair Lady’ in particular and it is something to the credit of Mani Nixon and Audrey Hepburn (who of course has to mime seamlessly) that you would never know that the singing you are hearing is not coming out of the mouth. Over dubbing is done all the time to fix sound problems and there have been many cases over the years where actors have been overdubbed by a different performer because in the editing suite it was clear that their own voice didn’t work or because they were unavailable for the pick-ups needed. While I have a lot of respect for David Prowse but I think it would be fair to say that Darth Vader might not have made such an impact (instant trivia fact – there is a Darth Vader carving on the National Cathedral in Washington DC) if he had sounded like the Green Cross Code Man. Incidentally, that’s a great excuse for a bit of nostalgia

In fact, considering how some people seem to cross the roads these days, we need the Green Cross Man (possibly in partnership with Tufty the Squirrel) to remind people who to do it safely. Actually, they should just get Peter Capaldi to glare at the camera and tell people off. It would not be the first time the Doctor has been involved in road safety campaigning after all

Now remember – ‘SPLINK!’

Got a bit distracted there. Anyway, it is probably fair to say that ‘in the business’ Marni Nixon was well respected and there are some good stories about how much collaboration between her and the actress she was dubbing – at least with Kerr and Hepburn. But it must have been interesting to have not had the level of public recognition that maybe her talents deserved. According to the BBC website she is quoted as comparing her work to that of a stuntman and I can understand that. The job was one of a professional singer in the same way as a body double has the skill to take the fall that actor might not. A reminder that movie making is always an ensemble piece no matter who the star seems to be, and that many of the people whose role is unsung (pun, as always intended) can be vital to making the project a success. In real life, I think that is true too.

So to Marni Nixon I’d like to say simply thank you for the music.