Tag Archives: California

Did you know…

…that dogs can die if they eat grapes (or raisins)? Cue minor panic this morning when one piggy mutt scoffed a stray box of Sunmaid. I think he’s OK though.

This is Wilkie the smiling dog. People say he’s fat but he’s just got a really
small head.

I can’t remember if I’ve shared the story of how we came to have Wilkie. We were living in LA and, heavily pregnant and hormonal, I happened to pass a dog-adoption stall at Larchmont Village farmer’s market, where they were looking for volunteers to foster dogs. At that time I was doing a lot of walking – or hiking, as they melodramatically call it over there – up at Runyon Canyon, and everyone else had a dog, so goddamn it I wanted one too.

I’d expected a lot of background checks, suitability questionnaires and stuff like that, but I guess it was a sign of their desperation that the process consisted of me picking the cutest-looking dog, taking him home and christening him Jason.

Jason was pretty cute. And devoted, too. Although he did have some issues, like snarling if my husband came near me, and having random panic attacks in the street. He also had a problem with lifts.

Every Sunday morning I’d have to return him to the farmer’s market and call late afternoon to see if he’d been adopted. This made Sundays something of an emotional ordeal. Jason was so adorable, I knew it was only a matter of time before he’d be adopted, and sure enough one Sunday I called as usual, at around three, and they said he’d gone home with another family. I didn’t even *sob* get to say goodbye. I decided then that dog fostering was far too heartbreaking and I’d never do it again.

Later that week I got a call from the head of the charity saying they had a dog they’d no room for and could I please consider fostering it? ‘Only they kill strays in California,’ she reminded me. So I found myself driving to pick up this dog, having forgotten to ask a single question about it. For all I knew it could have been a 12-stone pitbull.

So I was relieved when it was only a little chihuahua/Jack Russell hybrid, albeit a stinky and revolting one. His legs were covered with open sores, his fur was scabby and missing in parts, and did I mention the smell? I vowed I wasn’t going to get attached to this one, but was simply going to provide basic care. Food, water, walks. That was it. I didn’t even give him a name.

But Californians are quite big on talking, in queues, on escalators, etc, and passers by would regularly exclaim, ‘Oh, he’s so cuuuuuuuuuuuuute! What’s his name?’ (They were lying. He wasn’t cute. He smelt like an abattoir. And looked like I’d been maltreating him for years, which someone obviously had.) Anyway, it turns out you look a right bitch if you say, ‘He hasn’t got one.’ So I had to think quickly. I remembered that one of the many books I’ve never read is No Name by Wilkie Collins. It seemed apt. ‘His name’s Wilkie,’ I said. And it stuck.

Invariably I grew attached, and took to phoning the charity and making up elaborate lies as to why I couldn’t bring him to the farmer’s market that Sunday. ‘We’re out of town and our car’s broken down,’ I’d say, ‘so we can’t possibly get back in time.’ There was also the small matter of what the hell I was going to do with him when the time came for us to return to England, but I dealt with that in the same way I deal with all problems, which is to say I ignored it.

When I went into labour I left him in the care of some friends. That night I had my son, and at 7am the following morning got a phone call from our landlady, who said, ‘Why is your dog sitting outside the house?’ I texted my friend, ‘If you’re worried about Wilkie, don’t be – he’s gone home.’ Somehow he’d walked the three or so miles from our friend’s house to ours, over six-lane freeways and traffic-choked junctions, without ever having done the journey on foot. Our poor friends were up all night, shitting themselves that they’d lost our dog.

I know, it’s like the Incredible Journey. Well, you can’t get rid of a dog like that, can you? Cue an absolute mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy, vaccinations, frantic phone calls to DEFRA and I can’t even admit how much in airline charges, vets’ fees and bullshit charges they add on because they know you’re a sentimental retard, and Wilkie is here with us, shiny furred, scab free and only marginally stinky.

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Coping with Californian friendliness

So I’m in line at a cafe in Studio City and the old guy standing behind says to me, ‘You look cute. I love your outfit – it’s really funky.’ (I’m assuming he means this in the English sense, Modern and stylish in an unconventional or striking way, rather than the American, Having a strong, offensive, unwashed odour.) In any case, my immediate thought is, ‘Ugh, get the fuck away from me, you geriatric, perverted freak.’

And then I remember. This is what Californians do: they are friendly and nice, with a demeanour as sunny as their climate, and I must override my natural inclination to assume that pleasant overtures from strangers must signal a conman, rapist or psychopath. I’ve got to ditch my Londoner’s tendency to treat everyone with squinty-eyed suspicion until I’ve met them 47 times. Because here people just, y’know, chat. To strangers. To anybody.

In queues, lifts, shops – people of every age, race and background will have frank and open conversations with whoever happens to be standing next to them at the time. I admit it’s the aspect of American culture I find hardest to deal with, since I’ve been in London long enough to have it ingrained into my soul that any stranger who talks to you on the Tube is either mad or foreign – probably both – and generally we Londoners like to extend this assessment to all public places.

But I appreciate that this is my shortcoming, and being genial and courteous is obviously A Good Thing. Spread a little happiness, and all that.

So I’ve tried, I really have. And I think these efforts have paid off. After a year of living in Los Angeles, my standard reaction to someone starting a conversation had progressed from a pained grin, accompanied by a huhuhuh-please-leave-me-alone false laugh, to (in response to a request that I have a good day now) a cheery, ‘You too!!’

Which is a definite improvement, no?

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