Mar 2016


Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s visitor is one of a kind. He’s called Dougal and he’s decided to write one of those letters to his younger self.

Dear little one,

You hated the thought of leaving the shores of Kent, the land of honey, Sky TV, siblings and mother’s milk for the unknown crime-ridden Metropolis, brim full to bursting with rules, vicious dogs and air pollution.  

Have I loved and protected you, the puppy in me? Kept alive your aspirations, quelled your fears and led you sensibly down the passage of time, helping to curb your excesses, fulfil your dreams and discover your role in life? How to be a man’s best friend: helping him through the trials of life, be it flu, sad times or a self-induced hangover.    

How have you fared? Has keeping a diary helped?

This particular date is forever etched in my memory.
16th May  (A quote from your diary at 5 months old)
Stonkingly good day! Terrified an entire nursery school and left muddy paws on the most elegantly-suited woman in the park. Once home I ate two brown socks, the tacks off the telephone wires, hacked through the skirting board, burst two footballs, was half-way through eating one of them and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

By 5 pm I’d eaten my lead, dug three large holes in the garden, chased next-door’s cat and chewed the leg off a chair. I’d call that, success.

Well, the good news is: you’ve stopped eating socks. A relief to the vet, your boss and dog minder, who had the pleasure of extracting a sock or three from out of your nether region…I need not continue, you get the picture? The details are too foul to go into. Maybe this is the moment to tell you more about you.

When you swapped Sky TV for the radio, you became less informed on Wildlife Programmes, but gained a greater knowledge about politics. And the big question now, is IN or OUT. Which for you, as a French speaker and Francophile, Paris and Brittany (Cité Europe is not on your wish list nor one of the 100 places you want to visit before you die) means you’re in. One of the very few to have actually made up their mind.

You didn’t die under the knife when your testicles were removed (the vet’s fault) nor did you gain the high notes of a counter tenor, but mercifully retained a deep baritone bark.

As you are aware, you survived a cliff-hanging incident (your fault) on the Thames. (Another diary entry, at 9 months of age.)

14th Oct

We were meeting Hannah in Barnes, not for the Boat Race – that we missed months ago. It was a blisteringly hot day and the tow path was heaving with families making the most of the weather. Next month London will be battening down the hatches, jumping into thermals and vegetating for the winter – a human habit caught from squirrels.

We sped along the path, river to one side, trees and back gardens on the other, dodging bikes, pushchairs and runners. They did, I didn’t.

‘Dougal, mind the baby. Oh, sorry, so sorry!  Dougal!’ I was high as a kite, charging through the dried leaves, my tail going like the clappers, as I sniffed dogs, chased cats and greeted every toddler going. Then, from the other side of the wall came the sounds of oars dipping in and out of the water, male voices, cries and laughter. The river was brimming with fun. I had to join in. With one Olympian leap, I was over.

Bonkers Dougal! Never underestimate the consequences of your actions. The water was only twelve metres below. Did I shimmy down the walls? No way. I dropped, one furry bundle of panic in free fall, my life vanishing behind me, the Thames looming ever closer, when a ledge, barely large enough to house a seagull, interrupted my descent. By some miracle I was able to grip. Thank the Lord I’d never had my nails cut.

Here, writing a diary helped you retain your sanity.

DougalInSnowNow, what about me, the older you? I keep in shape and young at heart by chasing non-existent foxes in the garden, jumping higher than a kangaroo when catching balls and treats. And I love, really adore nicking ice-creams out of  babies’ prams. But as for my obsessions with balls and health, I’d prefer to leave them for another time.

So, back to you, young Dougal! What of your dreams of starring in a West End Show, of travelling the world on Virgin Atlantic, or cocking your leg without falling over? Did any of them ever come true? 

Some of them, yes.

Always remember life is fun and you, my puppy, are well, truly alive and living in me.

From the almost grown-up Dougal xxx

The letter was headed:

A letter from my basket.
Written from the older, wised up but never wise or streetwise, Dougal to his younger self.

Dougal is the star of the novel Dougal’s Diary by Sarah Stevenson, published by Crooked Cat.

SarahStephensonAbout Sarah

Joining the Bristol School of Dancing aged seven, Sarah spent most of her childhood dancing in prisons, theatres, old people’s homes and the Grand Palais in Paris. Later she trained as an actress, working with Mike Leigh and other distinguished directors. When the children arrived, she trained as a chef, and when they’d finally flown the nest, catered in Europe, Britain and the States, giving private dinner parties. Sarah still works as a cook and writes.

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 About Dougal

About Dougal’s Diary

DougalHas he chosen his owner well and landed on his paws? Dougal the Labradoodle puppy, a complete hypochondriac and Boris Johnson’s No 1 fan, arrives in Greenwich with great expectations.

He longs to travel the world on Virgin Atlantic, dine at royal banquets and either become a superstar and party the night away or work as a doorman at the Savoy.

Behaviour classes were never on his wish-list, neither were cliff-hanging experiences on the Thames, booze cruises to Calais or obsessions for eating socks.

Can he survive life with a chaotic owner and her eccentric friends? Can he deal with his jealousy when a foster puppy comes to stay? And as for his dreams, will they ever come true?

Dougal’s Diary on Amazon

Letters from ElsewhereI haven’t quite “landed” following the twelve-and-a-half-hour flight back from Hong Kong and I have a visitor. He’s a boy called Luke. He sounds quite sensible really. And brave.

Dear Mum and Dad

Sorry about the incident at school. I was stupid and have no real excuse. Sometimes I do things without thinking.

I know I’ve been a bit strange and distant recently, but I find it hard to tell you exactly what’s going on. In fact, there are some things you just would not believe – I hardly believe them myself.

You wanted me to be friends with Guy didn’t you? At first I kept thinking, why him? He’s so… weird. I know he has ‘special needs’ or whatever they’re called, but everyone else at school laughs at him. He gets bullied, but I promised to look out for him. And I did. I am.

I was right about him being weird. He is. He has this incredible ability to attract animals – wild animals that he handles without them hurting him or being scared. Birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, you name it. He seems to have special powers, like some kind of ‘Nature Boy’.

So we’ve become friends, which is kind of good because it’s what you wanted me to do. But it’s bad too, because now my mates at school think I’m a weirdo as well. They make stupid comments about us being ‘gayboys’. Just jealous I suppose.

Guy has shown me awesome things I never knew existed. He talks about the ancient magic of the natural world. When he talks like this he sounds like an old man, or some kind of wise guru. I told you he was weird. He uses words like ‘Gaia’ and ‘numen’, which I don’t fully understand.

He seems a bit obsessed with environmental issues. I think he’s one of those hippy tree-hugger types. He keeps going on about how we’re killing planet Earth with stuff like pollution, deforestation and over-fishing the oceans. If the planet’s dying then it needs some large-scale changes – and quickly.

The other day Guy said he wanted me to help him look for his mother. I know he lives with foster parents, so it’s normal to want to find your biological parents, but aren’t there agencies that can help you trace family? He said his mum is dying but he doesn’t know where she is. I wasn’t sure how to help him, but maybe you could have a chat with his foster parents.

I just wanted you to know that I’m fine. I really am sorry about the trouble I’ve caused, and that I’m not always the easiest person to be with. But being with Guy has taught me a great deal. I wish I could tell you about the really amazing stuff… about the magpie that was tapping on my window… about being in the middle of a storm… and what really happened to Frisky…

When the time comes, I promise to tell you everything. At the moment I just need you to trust me that I’m fine and that I mean it when I say I’m sorry for all the hassle I’ve caused you.

Thanks for being there.

Lots of love

Luke x

PicaNewRel

About PICA by Jeff Gardiner

PicaFrontCoverPica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.

JeffGardinerAndPicaWhere to find Jeff and Pica

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