Watson’s Excellent Exmoor Adventure

From the dog's mouth.  Watson reflects on his first three months in England.
Watson strikes a pose on Exmoor

Any parent will tell you, if the kids are happy, you’re happy. Well, for the most part. If drawing with permanent marker on the walls makes your child happy, you’re not happy. Eating an entire box of dry pancake mix or inviting college friends to play beer pong over the new carpet may indeed make them happy. Certainly doesn’t make you happy. But I mean, in general, if your children are happy, pat on the back, you can rest easy.

This, of course, goes for our four-legged children, too. My faithful (if cheese is involved, mildly interested if no cheese around) dog, Watson, needs to be happy for me to be happy. I’ve put him through a lot during this transition from the US to the UK so felt it only fair to get his side of the story. His responses will determine whether I can truly be happy in my new life. I may regret this interview – but here goes nothing.

Me: Here we are, three months into your new life in England. Tell us how it’s going.

Watson: Well, let’s talk cheese.

Me: But life in England was the question

Watson: Life is the question. Which means cheese is the question. Look, I’m a fussy eater as you well know. Those new kibbles you’re giving me? Not so good. But the cheese… oh, my goodness, the cheese! It’s awesome.

Me: Better than American cheese?

Watson: Heck, yes! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met a cheese I don’t like but some of these Somerset cheddars are outstanding. Apparently, cheddar was invented around here. Did you know that?

Me: I did, actually.

Watson: Good to know you’re aware of Somerset traditions. I honestly think if I’d had access to these authentic cheddars as a puppy, training would have gone more smoothly. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed that extra ‘Overreactive Dog’ class you made me go to when I freaked out at the marching band on Memorial Day. Maybe I’d have learned to roll over and fetch and all the other stupid tricks you tried to make me do. I’m half Great Pyrenees for crying out loud! Rolling over takes great effort when you’re my size. I’m not messing about with tricks for American supermarket brand cheese.

Me: I’d noticed. Apart from cheese, what’s going well?

Watson: Streams. Streams are going well. When you decided I should spend my first seven years living puke-inducing long car rides away from water, you didn’t choose well. This Exmoor place? Streams every three feet, a whole coastline, and the biggest mud puddles ever. Now we’re talking!

Me: You didn’t seem too … what’s the word? … confident during your first interaction with waves on Bossington Beach.

Watson: I’m not used to water coming for me, okay? I’m used to going for it. That water down there starts off shallow, you turn your back for a second to sniff a log and bam! The water chases you up the beach. Not cool. But streams I like, even fast-running streams because you must use strategy to keep the stick in sight. Easy to lose it. Takes skill.

Me: Glad you’re enjoying the water. What about all the animals? You’ve never been around horses, sheep or cows before.

Watson: Sheep look like fields full of, well, me. White blobs. They don’t seem to do much.

Me: A lot like you, then.

Watson: Rude. Anyway, not a sheep fan. Cows and horses? I don’t get it. Huge piles of their poo on all the trails and nobody says a word. I produce something about a millionth the size on the roadside and it’s all huffing and puffing and now we’ve got to get a bag out and now we’ve got to carry it and now we’ve got to find a bin. Discriminatory, if you ask me.

Me: Any other animal thoughts? 

Watson: I don’t miss possums and raccoons. Possums just keel over, and sometimes I don’t even think they’re really dead. Boring, and quite frankly, cowardly. Raccoons? Too creepy. Hunched backs and burglar outfits. Never cared for them. But squirrels! Never saw many in our US neck of the woods. Loads of them over here in jolly old England, Love them! The way they hurtle across the path and up a tree…

Blows. My. Mind!

Every. Single. Time.

Don’t think the novelty of that will ever wear off. Cheese, streams and squirrels. All-time favourite England moments, right there.

Me: Worth the journey, then?

Watson: Let’s talk about that journey shall we, Mummy Dearest? What a nightmare! First you sell my home and give my sofa away. Then, you promise me I’ll be on the plane with you. You’ll tuck me in one end of the non-stop flight and be there to wake me up the other end, you said. Well, that didn’t happen. Don’t know what this COVID thing is but it meant I was sent to live with my sister – your daughter – for five months until pet flights could get rebooked. Do I look like a Milwaukee city hound to you? Small apartment, no garden? Mind you, Sis was great at grooming and massages. I even got scented candles when the fireworks bothered me. And she gave me snacks you wouldn’t give me so that was all good. I even met a cat. Not a fan. But it was okay.

Then, with no warning, a crate the size of a stable arrived and I had to have my dinner every night and, thankfully, lots of cheese in it. For weeks. Then some guy shows up, sticks me and the crate in a van. Next thing I know, I’m walking the tarmac at O’Hare Airport, riding a conveyor belt into the dark insides of something definitely not your old Subaru, and subjected to hours of clunking and swaying and ears popping before bumping down somewhere no one speaks cheese. (I believe their word for it is Gouda but I wasn’t there long enough to get any.) I’m shoved in another van, hurtled through a long dark tunnel, finally popping up like a prairie dog in somewhere referred to as ‘Kent’ by a stern woman with a clipboard. Another van, and finally, after dark and in a barrage of fireworks – which apparently happen in November, not July, in this place – the doors open and you finally appear. Those tears didn’t fool me. Okay, I wagged my tail like I’d seen a huge cheese wheel but only because I needed to pee. I was mad at you and Dad.

Me: I know. That’s why you got me up at 3:30 am to pee again?

Watson: Payback.

Me: I can only apologise so many times. COVID is actually a big deal and it made all our relocation plans a little complicated, to put it mildly. We did the best we could to get you here, at great expense, may I add.

Watson:  A bit touchy for an impartial interviewer, aren’t we?

Me: Some residual guilt, yes.

Watson: *sighs* Okay, I’ll cut you some slack, as long as you guarantee I don’t have to take that journey again.

Me: That I can promise you. It was a one-way ticket. Exmoor is home for the rest of our lives.

Watson: Alrighty, then. Local cheddar cheese, streams and squirrels it is, for life. I can do that.

Me: Me too. For life. Thank you for your time today. I know you’re busy.

Watson: True that. Frisbee’s don’t catch themselves, you know. When’s dinner? And how about a little of that West Country Farmhouse Cheddar tonight before bed?

Me: I’ll place your order with the chef.

So, now we know. Watson’s journey to England? Sucked. Exmoor life after the journey? Not too bad. Not too bad at all. I also agree with him. Journey over sucked. Life after the journey? Not bad. Not bad at all. As Watson’s mum, I can hold my head high in the knowledge he’s happy. Here’s hoping there’s never a cheese shortage, though.

(No squirrels were hurt during the writing of this blog. Or during any Watson versus squirrel interaction. He’s just not that quick on his feet.)

Stay Strong, Bubble Blowers of the World!

Bubbles used to be fun, didn’t they? My dog, Basil, certainly thought so. He’d leap around the garden, snapping at them as they bobbed on the breeze. He’d look through crossed eyes in shock when they popped on his nose, like it had never happened before. He’d stamp on the ones he couldn’t eat, then spin around and laser-focus on the wand in my hand, begging for the next batch. I’m guessing Doggy Heaven has a 24/7 bubble machine at the end of Basil’s bed. (Which is placed right next to a mud bath full of frolicking squirrels who also blow bubbles as they run.)

During my days as a speech-language pathologist, working with young children, I may have used bubbles as much for my benefit as the child’s. The simplicity, rainbow reflections, effortless flight and spontaneous, spectacular pop never got old. The joy in a child’s face, maybe a vocalization from a little one with language delays, well, it just convinced me bubbles were indeed magic. Who among us has not imagined taking flight in one, nose pushed against the transparent porthole on the world?

And just putting this here for anyone who needs it today: Prosecco bubbles. *sigh*

But here we are, 2020. Bubbles have taken on new meaning in COVID World.  They conjure up less free-spirited flight and more prison-like restrictions. Though possibly containing some loved ones, they also lock out other cherished family and friends, forcing uncomforting choices. They clunk along rather than float, changing shape and size on a governmental whim or the flip of a statistical coin. They seal closed rather than burst open.

I managed to make it over the Atlantic back in May to my Exmoor home and a new bubble. But half my family is still locked out of my personal bubble by thousands of transatlantic miles and enough red tape to ground a Zeppelin-sized balloon, I’m not even sure where my bubble begins and ends anymore. Even those family members within the UK are at a loss as to whether we can see each other. A cousin allowed to visit here; a son not allowed to visit there. A discounted restaurant voucher this week, verboten behaviour next week. The flight path of my bubble echoes a cartoon balloon, popped by Wile E. Coyote with a needle, now zipping erratically across the sky. Will it ever land on solid ground?

This bubble-wrangling’s exhausting. But raise that glass of Prosecco! May our bubbles become a symbol of free spiritedness soon. May we see them as protective, fortifying, miniature globes again. May they hold the promise of floating away to unexplored, exotic places. Cherish your bubble. Protect your bubble. Wait for the pop with a sparkle of stars. Be ready to float in happy suspension at a moment’s notice. We’ve got this. Stay strong, Bubble Blowers of the World!

Stay safe. Stay well.

Images: Prosecco, Pixabay, Dog, PickPik