Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Brief History of Greyhounds

Once upon a time, there was a family named Jones who decided to adopt a greyhound. His name was Jimmy, and he was a beautiful light-coloured brindle. He was kind to the other, very old, family pet, a whippet cross named Jasmine whose sister had recently died. 

The youngest Jones, Pip, remembered being picked up from primary school, in 2000, by her mother and new greyhound. He was patient and long-suffering, laying down for hours so Pip could sketch him for her GCSE art coursework in 2006.

When Jimmy was diagnosed with cancer and had to be put down, the Jones’ were bereft. It was an unprecedented shock. But Jimmy had started something beautiful, and had introduced the family to the most superior of all pets, the greyhound (or long-snout as they are sometimes known in that most strange family). 

By this time, Jasmine too had passed and Pip had accrued a girlhound named Lassie (ridiculous name for a greyhound, but one must not judge). Lassie, or SeaBassie as they nicknamed her, was lonely. The family were lost, staring at the empty space on the carpet where Jimmy liked to rest.

Mother Jones researched greyhound centres and came across Hersham Hounds (aka Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare). Looking out at her, with perfect Malteser eyes which shone like the midsummer sun, was Rio, Hound of the Month. 

Romeo and Juliet’s love story could not compare to the love felt between Mother Jones and Rio. Of course he came home with them. The bond between Mother and hound was stronger than Ironman – Rio walked so close behind Mother Jones that his paws often went inside her slippers. He slept on her bed with his chin on her shoulder. He once gazed at her for a full hour while she ironed – as did her children, but that was more with shock than love. Rio helped to heal the gaping emptiness of Jimmy’s passing. He also helped to start Pip’s GCSE’s off with a bang when, on the morning of her first exam (Spanish listening), he tripped over his food bowl, smashed it, fell on it, and opened his perfectly-formed thigh muscle. Mother Jones nursed him on his dramatic return from surgery.

Lassie was diagnosed with cancer and passed away on 31st January 2008. She was Pip’s hound – they snuggled together, listened to music together, pretended to do homework together. She had been there through Pip’s hardest, loneliest moments at school, and now she was gone. Loss is hard to describe because there is a nothingness which swallows everything – her spot on the sofa, her place at Pip’s side, her lead, her special walking boot which Brother Jones had decorated with the Nike symbol. 

The only thing harder than grieving is watching your deceased pet’s partner in crime grieving. Rio looked for her and wouldn’t settle. He slept in the family’s bedrooms but it wasn’t right.
Off the family went to Hersham.

Princess (aka Princess Pickle Baggins) bounded into the Jones’s life with more force than a Carl Froch knockout punch. When she stopped, dropped and rolled every five minutes on their trial walk, the family knew she was the one – she was odd, just like them. But the strangest thing was yet to happen – and that’s not referring to the jar of pickles she stole and safeguarded on her first night at home. Princess captured Father Jones’s affections by stealth – never before had the family seen him gently caress the ears of a dog, claiming what a lovely hound she was. Never before had he laughed when a hound joined him in his study and proceeded to chew his chair leg. Never before had he had a greyhound sign his Father’s Day card – until Princess. 

When Rio passed in early 2011, the Jones children saw their mother cry for the first time in their entire lives. Pip called her brother at work to tell him, then went home and cried, hugging Princess. She had promised her they would bring Rio home, but they couldn’t. This time, they had not said goodbye properly as he was already under anaesthetic. To this day, there is a Boofle toy which hangs in Mother Jones’s car - it is acknowledged as Rio in spirit.

Mother Jones called Hersham in secret. She told them she had lost her soulhound but she hated not having a boyhound in the house. Mother and Father Jones had had two dogs their entire relationship, and while she desperately wished Rio was still here, we sadly cannot bring back those we love when they become SkyHounds. 

Getting a new hound after losing a beloved one is ridden with sadness, happiness, and guilt. Is it too soon? Would they think we’re replacing them? Why are we here again? Why my hound? Pip waited on the bench outside with Princess, crying quietly. So many hounds which need homes, she thought. 

Out came a handsome black greyhound, with fur silkier than the Queen’s own bed sheets. When he turned his head to look at Pip, she almost fell into a swoon he was so heavenly. Mother Jones knew he was the right one, as ‘he licked my hand when I walked past’. It was apparent on bringing him home that he did not suit his name, Chief – they agreed he couldn’t be called ‘Big Wuss’, so Pip decided on Claus (his nickname is Mr Silks). 

That was in 2011. The family have had Princess for 5 years, Claus for 3 ½ years. The Jones family have adopted hounds from Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare since 2006, and will always advocate the hard work and passion Denise and her team put in to re-homing and caring for these loving, affectionate, gentle (and surprisingly lazy) dogs.

Please sponsor Maxx and I. This really is a worthy cause. 
Once you go grey, you never turn away! 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Basingstoke Half Marathon Training Run #1

After entering the Basingstoke Half Marathon on Saturday, I was eager to go for our first training run on Sunday - Maxx and I set off on a 3-mile route, aiming to run for as long as possible but with no pressure, as we have over 3 months to train.

Here’s the breakdown of our run: 

Run: 20 minutes
Walk: 3 minutes (Maxx had a pain in his lower leg and I was a little puffed out)
Run: 7 minutes 

My pacing was quite off during the first mile, so Maxx suggested running behind him – this helped a lot. He’s better than me at keeping a regular pace, so I think I’ll continue running behind him for the time being. It also means I get to watch his lovely bottom, so win-win. 

I pushed myself during the first stint, past where I would normally take a quick break. I thought about stopping there, but realised it would just have been out of habit and not because I actually needed to walk.

The final ¼ mile was tough. Maxx did need to encourage me – he held my hand for a while to help me keep going! However, I did find the energy for a short sprint at the end, so I can’t have been feeling too bad.

Overall, a very positive start to our training.

Please sponsor us:

Saturday, 14 June 2014

We're Running Basingstoke Half Marathon 2014!

Maxx and I have decided to run Basingstoke half marathon 2014. We dropped out last year – I’m embarrassed to say it was due to a serious lack of motivation – so this year I’m determined to get back on the running-trainer-shaped horse.

My time in 2012 was 2 hours 7 minutes – this year, I’d like to beat that. 1 hour 45 minutes would be a real achievement, but anything under 2 hours would be good.

I ran for Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare, the Surrey-based charity where my family have adopted 3 out of 5 of our beautiful long-snouted friends, and I will be running for them again this year. I can’t emphasise enough how dedicated the staff are, not only to re-homing, but also to looking after the hounds who are long-term residents. They genuinely care about what they do, they know each hound individually (no easy feat when there’s over 80 currently at the centre), and they are probably the most vivacious, friendly group of people I’ve met. You definitely hear Denise before you see her!

At this stage, I can’t even run 5K (3 miles) without a couple of breaks (by breaks I mean walking) – but, with over 100 days to train, I feel confident I can get up to standard ready to smash my time. As I’ve told my friends before, a huge part of running is getting the right mentality, so I’ll be training on the hardest parts of the course to mentally prepare myself.

As a former road cycling competitor, Maxx is the perfect person to train with for a long distance event. As a wonderful man, he’s also perfect to train with because, when I’m struggling to keep going, he encourages me in a way that doesn’t make me want to smack him in the mouth with a sweaty fist. That’s love.

Any donations, no matter how small, are appreciated. Here is the link to our Just Giving page:

Thank you!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Book review: The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

The day I moved stables, my lovely adopted sister (as in, I adopted her in my mind. She's not an actual orphan) bought me this book as a leaving present, having remembered that I really enjoyed Morton's The House at Riverton. 

The Secret Keeper

Before we begin, let me tell you that this book has a shocking, and I mean shocking, twist. My mouth actually fell open and I did a sort-of comedy gasp.

The novel is in four parts, told by Laurel Nicholson, Dorothy Smitham (Laurel's mother) and Vivien Jenkins. The plot revolves around a secret Dorothy has held almost all her life, related to the fateful day her eldest daughter witnessed her murder a man. In Dorothy's old age, she begins to reveal fragments of what happened, but  decides to investigate and find out exactly why her loving mother stabbed a man to death.

Set before, during and after WWII, Dorothy's and Vivien's tales takes place largely during the Blitz (1941). Morton's description of the bombs' effects is stark and thankfully not romanticized - the image of civilians picking their way through the rubble-strewn streets, and the strangely exposed nature of houses with walls missing, where people can watch the intimate happenings of people's privates lives from the roadside, shows how people just had to keep calm and carry on, even though their lives were literally falling apart around them.

What I found most thought-provoking, however, was how Dorothy's boyfriend, Jimmy, questions his role as a war photographer, particularly when his own apartment is hit. Jimmy's desperation to find his WWI veteran father, who suffers memory loss, is devastating - but it cleverly reflects how easily people's role could be reversed. Instead of being at a bomb site to photograph it, Jimmy becomes a victim. This in itself raises an ethical argument over the responsibility of photographing tragic events such as war, and how they should be represented, and even who has the right to represent them.

Morton has many strengths, including writing complex and sometimes unlikable characters - Dorothy being one of them. Her childish plan to seek revenge because Vivien shuns her - you later find out why - and her desperation to climb the social ladder made me think of her as a frivolous, selfish girl, particularly when compared to the resolute and brave Vivien.

The novel became a little slow in the middle, but perhaps this was necessary as so many characters were implicated in finding out the truth about Dorothy Smitham. And trust me, it really is worth finding out.

Kate Morton The Secret Keeper review

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

New PT Workout: #6

Yesterday, The Smiling Assassin texted me to tell me she'd ‘tweaked’ my programme an hour before we were due to meet - I took this as a warning. 

Warm-up: run, 10 mins

Circuit 1 - Lower Body (3 sets)
Walking lunges with 15kg barbell - 20 reps
Leg press 50kg - 12 reps (with this leg press machine, you push yourself up as opposed to pushing the weight away from you)
DB crossover lunge 5kg each hand - 20 reps

Superset (this will make you feel like you’ve broken your bottom):
Sumo squats 8kg - 12 reps
Pop squats - 12 reps

Circuit 2 - Upper Body (3 sets)
Cable chest press - 12 reps
T-bar/seated row 15kg - 12 reps
Cable/DB flyes – 12 reps
Lat pulldown 25kg – 12 reps
Tricep pressdown – 12 reps

Circuit 3 - Abs (3 sets)
Sit ups with 6kg med ball – 15 reps
Plank with rear leg extension - 20 reps
Russian twist with 6kg med ball - 20 reps
Hanging leg raises – 10 reps

Cool down, stretch, and collapse on floor.
Programme designed by Michelle Maxwell of

There are no weights listed next to some of the upper body exercises as we focused on legs. I will update this post when I’ve done the full upper body circuit.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

May Round Up

I said April went fast. So did May! I attribute that to finally being in full time employment - time seems to have flown by. I'll have been at my new job for a month on Friday!

Life has definitely been more peachy since getting my new job - I've learnt so much, the people are like a family and the books they publish are really, really interesting as well as important ( I'm still teaching and intend to continue giving private lessons once these students have passed their exams - it helps that my current students are wonderful and funny and hard-working, but teaching international students is incredibly rewarding. I've wanted to work in publishing and teach privately since I had a private tutor - who also had a 9 to 5 as well as his teaching (thanks Mr Stockwell) - so I'm proud I've achieved this goal at only 23.

Still no dye. I had a lot chopped off a couple of weeks ago, which makes growing out the colour a lot easier. You know your hair needs a good cut when your hairdresser gives up combing it, grabs chunks and just hacks the manky bits off.


SJ Competitions
I'm able to ride for 20-25 minutes now, but when the vet came last Friday Ernest was still completely lame in trot. I'm not sure I've explained fully what happened - Ernest damaged the tendon sheath in his back leg by getting it stuck in his rug, presumably while rolling. As he was out at night, he had been stuck with his leg up all night so it was very sore and tender - that was early April, I believe. I've put competing out of my mind while he gets better, and even then we will be building back up slowly. These things always remind me how lucky I am that he's still with me after his big injury in 2012 (fractured leg).

I've not been running since our 'yeah! let's go running again!' weekend, but I'm planning to include a couple of runs a week in the run up (ha ha haaa) to our holiday.

Body Fat
Shut up. See above for attempts to lower it.

New Country
We go away in 20 days! I'm getting soooooo excited. There's a gym at the hotel which I'll be frequenting, but I'd really like to be in shape for when we go away. Body shape and size aside, there is so much about visiting Berlin that I'm hyped for - spending a week just Maxx and I, visiting a historically significant city, exploring a completely new place, trying German cuisine... Roll on 21st June!

How was your May? Which goals did you achieve and what are you still aiming for?