House Column by Liz Willingham

December 2011…

Literally hurtling into Christmas! This year will surely see me in full Christmas Eve stress, running around the shops, picking away at any ropey old gift pack left on the shelf (I apologise now family, the thought is there).

As the weather has been so mild, it feels like we shouldn’t be anywhere near Christmas yet. This time a year ago, we had a serious dump of snow and the kids had the exciting experience of hearing their school closure read out on the radio in the morning. In 2011, their only school closure experience has been from the teachers’ strikes; not quite the same upbeat vibe as a blanket of white lining the streets.

In last month’s column I talked about a new baby introduced to the Willingham household. We eventually decided upon the name ‘Bryher’ for our chocolate Labrador pup. She is now 12 weeks old and starting to sniff her way around the neighbourhood, reading the local ‘newspaper’ of lampposts. I should feel lucky that as yet the piano legs are untouched, although I am not counting my chickens just yet – getting to know little Bryher better is revealing that she has hidden depths of mischief which her innocent face belies.

Why Bryher? Well, we wanted to name her after an area of Cornwall, like our previous dog Zennor, but got stuck with three syllable Demelza’s and Pandora’s – no good for calling out on a busy beach! Bryher is one of the Scilly Isles, just off Cornwall, where I spent many summer holidays as a kid and is Cornish for ‘place of hills’. It’s wild and rugged but serenely beautiful. Bryher is the smallest inhabited island infamous for ‘Hell Bay’ where shipwrecks were aplenty in the 18th century.

Our own Bryher is settling, in nicely although she has put me through my own experiences of Hell Bay at times! I can now look back at one particular evening and smile; at the time I was close to weeping with defeat. In hindsight, I can see that it was a move to work out where I was in the pecking order of the ‘pack’. I think in her head it goes something like this…

“Dad – well he has the deeper voice and feeds and trains me. He’s the boss. I do what he says and I get treats. I really like him.

Kids – they play with me, shriek loudly when my teeth get them, show me off to their friends and try to kiss me constantly.

…….so who’s the other large one with the shriller voice who stares at a screen? She doesn’t like her slippers chased as much and freaks out every time I go near the giant noisy tripod in the lounge.”

“I’ve got a great idea! When Dad is out and I’m left alone with the strange one, I’m going to make sure she is truly put in her place!”

And that is exactly what she did. My first night alone with Bryher just could not be made up. She was already proving to be making headway in the house training stakes yet managed to wee in all the naughtiest places 6 times in half an hour, including the shag-pile rug (how on earth do you clean that up?!). After climbing the curtains, trying to bite my nose off dozens of times and stealing every possible treasured object that had never previously been of any interest whatsoever, I even managed to wake the children in my exasperated state. She ran me ragged for three long, drawn out hours of mopping up and trying to salvage my trouser legs, haring around the house at a million miles an hour like a demented savage. My husband returns and stifles a laugh as he sees my pale features, weakly bleating; “I’m glad you’re back!”

I had to admit she’d won; quiet as a lamb she greets him meekly, big smiling eyes saying; “I don’t know what her problem is, can’t you see I’ve been good as gold!” She promptly lies down on the urine-sodden rug, and falls blissfully asleep. Aaaarrrrggghhhh!

Thankfully, she has decided to be much kinder to me since and her place as one of the ‘girls’ in the Liz Lean PR office has been duly positioned – life with a family dog again feels good. If the Christmas tree survives I’ll eat my hat but I’m sure she’ll make it a fabulous one.

My ‘blatant plug of the month’ is simply for you to have a wonderful Christmas.