Remembering my best pal


A few days ago I met a couple of Labradors – one black, the other golden. Being the friendly dogs that they are, they greeted me in time-honoured Labrador fashion by licking my face, which brought back fond memories and was all the incentive I needed to write this post about my dear old friend Blackie.


When I left the New Zealand Navy back in 1967 and became a civilian once again, I worked for two years as a postman before becoming a mail sorter for a while in the mailroom at Hamilton GPO. Eventually I went back to sea as a merchant seaman for several years. But that’s a story for another time.

I can’t exactly remember when it was, but I decided I needed a pal to take with me on my frequent trips into the bush to get away from civilisation. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was suffering from all the early signs of post traumatic stress disorder. A lasting legacy of war for many ex-servicemen, not just my generation…

So I went to the nearest pet store and soon arrived back home with a wriggling bundle in my arms, and my face licked clean. At the time he was four months old. Like all pups sold in pet stores, he was full of worms. Once he had been dosed he was fine. It took another six months for his body to catch up with his paws which were already full size.

Blackie was the jet black boisterous canine version of a dizzy blonde. A bag of nails has more intelligence than he ever did, bless him. He was the only water dog I have ever come across that hated getting wet. I took him to the beach once. When I let him out of the car he began by chasing all the seagulls he could find, until they ganged up on him. He spent the rest of the couple of hours we were there trying to bite wavelets, swallowing foamy seawater in the process.

Back at home, where he spent all of his time while I was at work, he never once left my mum’s side. When he needed to go into the garden to answer the call of nature, mum always had to go with him simply because he had become extremely wary of the neighbourhood cats whenever they turned up mob-handed. Mum said that they knew when he needed to go out, and used to line themselves up on the top of the garden fence, constantly growling and hissing at him. For some reason known only to felines they didn’t appreciate being chased up trees by a four legged jet black juvenile delinquent who just wanted to play…

When mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the larynx, like a lot of dogs, Blackie knew somehow. He used to make a point of sniffing and licking her throat trying to make her better.

Whenever she baked, his eyes followed her every move. On more than one occasion whole trays of hot scones vanished behind her back whenever she put them on a bench to cool. I was home one day when she was in the process of making a fresh batch. I suggested that she place one tray in the middle of the kitchen table and cover it with a tea towel. We then went into the sitting room to wait on either side of the connecting door.

Sure enough within a couple of minutes of us leaving the kitchen Blackie began working his way closer and closer towards the table. We both had to stifle our laughter as we watched him peer over the top of the table. His nose was twitching like mad as he was driven to distraction by the delicious smell. The amount of slobber on the table and floor was growing fast. With one last look in our direction he raised himself up and reached across the table to get a grip on the tea towel with his teeth. Slowly but surely he pulled the entire tray closer to him before pushing his head under the tea towel to extract a scone. At that point both mum and I quietly came back into the kitchen behind him. Have you ever seen a guilty look on a dog’s face? His was absolutely priceless.

When mum finally passed away a couple of months later both Blackie and I were devastated on the day of her funeral. I cried my heart out and Blackie howled incessantly. A week later Dad was told by our landlord that we had to move. All landlords back in New Zealand then were not keen on dogs living inside a house. So Blackie had to go. I couldn’t do it. Could you? Dad got rid of him, something I never forgave him for to his dying day.

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about Blackie, even though it was forty-seven years ago now. What I don’t miss about him are my legs going numb from him lying across them on the bed. Or his silent but deadly farts which he always accused me of in that way all dogs do after they have fluffed, when he turned to look at me in disgust before moving away from the smell.

R.I.P old mate…



For Goodness Sake – Think Before You Act!!!


I’ve said this all before on several occasions. But apparently you decided to keep on doing it anyway…

As writers, whether seasoned or a newcomer, explain to me why it is that you have totally swallowed the marketing ploy created by your publisher(s) that giving away hundreds, sometimes thousands, of copies of your books is somehow financially beneficial to you?

The only ones who benefit from your moment of completely misguided naivety, or should that be madness, is your publisher and one particularly evil, not to say tight, group of readers. I refer to those individuals who know that sooner or later you will become desperate enough (or should that be foolish enough) to decide that it is a good idea to give the product of all your hard work away for nothing! Think trolls, pedants, armchair critics and good old fashioned skinflints. Letting the first three get their hands on a free copy of your book gives them all the ammunition they need to tear apart your reputation as a writer even before you have established one! Just take a look at all of the one star reviews on sites like Amazon if you don’t believe me…

Before you join in with this idiocy, take a moment to think it through. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving away a dozen copies of an eBook online, or a dozen signed paperback copies at a book fair, or in your local book shop just once. It makes total promotional sense. Number one, with the paperback, the cost of getting that many printed is negligable. Number two, despite what eBook publishers may say, the cost of producing an eBook is practically zero. If those who got their copy from you this way like what they read, they will soon spread the word.

The nasties usually don’t attend book fairs and bookshops…

Put your thinking caps on for a moment. If instead of being a writer you were a painter, or a sculpture, would you give your work away to get yourself noticed? No, of course you wouldn’t. So why do you think that you will become popular among readers if you give away hundreds or thousands of copies of your book(s)?

Once again I ask you to think before you act. While your eBook or paperback may be free to the readers for a promotional period between two to five days, your publisher still receives a financial reward simply by delivering the copy to the readers, while you get nothing.

Let’s face it people. You decided to get your book published. You spent many months slaving over it. In a lot of cases, you spent more money than you could afford at the time having it edited as well as getting the cover made. Giving away thousands of copies will not help you recoup your financial outlay. Only real sales do that. While you may believe that it is a good idea, take it from one who knows – it isn’t! Divide the total cost of your outlay by the retail price of the book. That will give you some idea of how many copies have to be sold before you begin to see any profit in the form of royalties.

If the loss of thousands of pounds/dollars etc in the form of royalties doesn’t bother you, I give up. You are a hopeless case. I’ve mentioned all of this in previous posts. So have many other seasoned writers. Yet, each day I come across more and more writers giving away precious copies of their book, hoping to be recognised, even though they know they are playing into the hands of the literary vultures waiting in the wings, hoping to feed on the next writer’s sheer desperation.

You know that it is totally ridiculous and yet you still do it. Why? For your own sakes, not to mention your dwindling bank accounts, cease and desist! You wrote the book. Therefore you are entitled to reap any financial reward derived by its sale.


A reclusive life


Whether we live in a loving family environment, or lead a solitary existance is all down to circumstance. In my own case these days I exist hidden away from society and the world, behind securely locked front and back doors. Why? Because like countless others across the planet, life has dealt me more than one cruel blow during my lifetime.

When I was nineteen I was deliriously happy, married for a brief eighteen months to a beautiful Montagnard girl named Mai, who I met in a bar in Saigon. When we wed in a magical Buddhist ceremony, Mai was seventeen and I was eighteen. We later had a sweet baby boy – John. Without going into gruesome details, suffice it to say that because of a cruel act of war, both Mai and John were killed by friendly fire, while I was on patrol up country. John was just four months old at the time.

From that terrible day until this, I simply could never allow myself to grow emotionally attached to another human being. Call it pathetically stupid, or self-protection if you like. Whatever you want to call it, I have lived the solitary life of a recluse ever since. Some people find someone else and are happy. I’ve never been able to do so again.

The next blow came in 2005 when I was physically beaten up in broad daylight outside my local corner shop in full view of people on the street and in the shop by a bunch of young thugs from the Council Estate close to where I live. Being an older man with a distinctive limp, who at the time exhibited all the signs of someone who was still suffering from a complete mental breakdown, from which I gradually emerged six months earlier, by that I mean I could never look someone in the eye, let alone hold a conversation! If anyone called out to me, either I froze, or I began shaking uncontrollably. Given all of the aforementioned, I made an easy target for them. What really galled me is that at no time did any of the onlookers come to my aid.

These days I am resigned to my solitary, almost monk like existance. I had two friends in this my home town, the Boswell brothers, Jamie and Duncan. I don’t easily trust people as I once did, but they were the exception to my set of rules, designed to keep me safe. Both brothers are fine genuine human beings I am proud to call my friends. Sadly they had to move.

I still wear my wedding ring in memory of what might have been had Mai and John lived. Meanwhile I keep the world at large at arm’s length for the sake of my sanity. Add to all I’ve said a body peppered with outbreaks of skin cancer. Tendonitis in the feet (very painful), worsening eyesight, and apart from that I’m fine…