Making Stuff Part 1

IMG_0502One of the first projects I undertook in my new workshop was to make use of the pine table that my son had donated to me (this new table had been damaged in transit so the company sent him a replacement and told him to keep the faulty one).

I immediately got to work ripping the wood down using my new table saw, creating a few planks for the task I had planned for it…to build a run for Matt and Chloe’s new tortoise Zoom. 4C31038E-C195-4E76-AD3E-BD4B1A6A6D69I bought some wire mesh and a found some roofing felt and soon knocked up a run fit for their special one. I even managed to add his name to the side using my router.

Pleasingly Matt & Chloe loved the run and throughout the summer Zoom spent many a happy day sunbathing in his new surroundings.

IMG_1204For my next project I got inspiration from a YouTube video, making a pine version of the Adirondack chair. This was more practice piece rather than a useful addition to the garden furniture, and although it is still on the lawn, it’s looking a bit weathered and will need a cleanup if it’s going to be used again this coming summer. I did add the extension later on in the year which makes it a bit more comfortable to sit in, but the seat is very low and Tina does struggle to get out of it. The mark 2 version will be made out of wood that is better suited for outdoors use and easier to get on and off it.

IMG_0436My first commission was something Tina asked me to build for her…a cotton bobbin holder for her sewing room. Again I investigated online to find a suitable version and eventually found some that I could enhance to meet the exacting requirements of the wife 🙂 For this project I also managed to make it out of recycled wood; this time I broke down a wooden bathroom shelf unit we no longer required. The holder came out pretty well and helped me get to grips with accurate drilling.

Having seen how simple it is to re-purpose and recycle wood, I realised that with the right tools and a bit of thought you can recreate lots of things easily.

Next I wanted to have a go at creating something from hardwood so ordered some planks of oak online and also managed to pick up a job lot of timber from eBay for a very good price. The latter was such a bargain, it’s actually kept me going in my return to woodworking. I’ve made quite a few tea-light holders, cutting boards and coasters from reclaimed beech, sapele, oak and maple.

IMG_1737 IMG_1727









My next post will cover some of the finer pieces I’ve built in oak I purchased; this is part of woodworking I’ve really enjoyed, especially as the furniture was designed from scratch.

Half a century plus one…

IMG_1165Last year my company announced everyone was to be given their birthday off, which for me meant I was off today; has it really been a year since the last one?

Tina had already volunteered to work today so I had a free day to sort out the MOT on my car, which was due by the end of the month, so booked it in for an afternoon checkup. I woke early so decided to take Rio out for a walk, which in hindsight turned out to be a mistake. When we returned back I noticed spots of blood on the hall and study carpet and on closer inspection of Rio’s paw noticed he’d gashed one of his pads, probably on some glass. Great, not an idea start to the my or Rio’s day. Tina and I cleaned up the wound as best we could and covered it with one of Tina’s socks then got to work on the carpets with the Vax machine. Frustratingly this was the second time I’d cleaned them in two days after Rio had thrown up over them yesterday!

After lunch I drove to Kettering and left my car with the Halfords Autocentre, confident it would pass its first MOT, especially as it had been serviced by the Hyundai garage only last week.

But of course it failed!

Unbelievably the Hyundai garage had not put the brake fluid cap back on after changing the pads and discs and it meant a trip to Northampton to get a replacement cap. Fortunately the Halfords centre didn’t charge for the retest but it was very inconvenient just the same.

Tonight we are celebrating proper with a family outing to our local Indian restaurant, which has a reputation for good food but comically poor customer service. I’m sure it will turn out OK but woe betide if the waiter is not nice to me on my birthday…


Billy the Ball

With winter now upon us and the subsequent shorter days I’ve had more time to get back into doing some gadgety stuff, both practical and programming.
I’ve just finished an online starter course on JavaScript and I’m revisiting HTML basics and of course still trying to get to grips with Python to aid in writing stuff for my Raspberry Pi. In fact I managed to get the robot arm working with a Nintendo Wii controller via Bluetooth which was a bit cool, albeit I got the instructions and program from the net. Still it worked OK and helped me understand what the different movements of the controller could be made to do.

I also did some electronics building when just before our holiday I made a small circuit board to aid the security of the house whilst we were away. It would be rather daft to say what it did but suffice to say it was still working when we got back a month later and we were not burgled!

And so to Christmas and my main present from Tina.

The festive celebration wouldn’t be the same without getting a gadget and this year was no different, although some would argue the present is actually a toy. Whilst listening to one of my technology podcasts earlier in the month I heard about a robotic device called the ‘Sphero‘ that could be controlled and programmed with your phone and once I looked it up I had to have one.

And this week, when Santa called, I finally got to play with my gadget…sort of.

spheroThe plastic covered ball is really controllable and the technology to get it to move around like it does is pretty amazing. Sphero comes with a couple of ramps, loads of free apps and some challenges to help you get to grips with its flexible maneuverability and to aid steering. As you get better with its control you can level up which enhances the play experience and gives access to more tricks and functions.

Of course what I did forget is that it also would attract some unwanted attention by our four legged friend, namely Rio who now thinks he’s got a flashing, moving toy ball to play with.
Still it is funny seeing him carry it around in his mouth, pleased he’s managed to catch the lively and glowing ball.

My next challenge is to try to control it through the Raspberry Pi, programming it using Python, although I think my skills may need to be improved a bit before I can get it whizzing around the room.

Early Riser

Today, Rio decided that a quarter to six was late enough for the household to lie and started to whine and bark. Now on a normal week day that’s not normally a problem as I get up before that and take him out for his morning jaunt around the streets but on a Saturday morning, with a houseful of family (Abby, Loz, Matt and Chloe stayed over after yesterday’s funeral) it would be nice to get a bit of a lay in. Tina says it’s my own fault for getting him up so early each day, but it would be nice to get a lay in occasionally.

Anyhow, I decided to pamper to his needs, got dressed and we were soon leaving the house. I then found out why he was so alert; three poo’s and a long wee in the space of five minutes, clearly he was a bit desperate.

Once I am out with Rio I really do enjoy the walking; this morning was especially lovely, with the sun just starting to rise, there was not a soul around. We headed for the old railway viaduct which leads to the various dog walking routes I take and I decided to head south parallel to the river walking the Nene Way towards Stanwick Lakes.

This path is a popular trail for walkers, cyclists and joggers but early morning it’s normally clear and safe for me to let Rio off his lead. Along the way are a couple of points where Rio can play in the river, a pastime he does enjoy although he normally only paddles. And so we made our way along the track, passing Woodford Grange and crossing the river a couple of times, by now the sun was visible and the morning was warming up.

The path is lined with trees and hedges so as you walk along looking ahead you can see rabbits which Rio loves to chase; too big and slow to get anywhere near, but he tries anyway. A few weeks ago he did manage to get a rabbit, a baby one I think, but not through Rio’s speed but through chance. He was walking on his long lead when he stopped and put his head in some long grass. Next thing he brings out a rabbit in his mouth! I immediately got him to release it but the shocked bunny froze on the ground and I wasn’t quick enough to pull Rio away from his prize and the rabbit was back in his mouth again. Eventually I got Rio to let go and left a rather stunned bunny on the side of the path. I suspect it was a baby rabbit, not aware of the dangers of hiding so close to the path.

smelly rioToday, though Rio wasn’t getting any joy with chasing rabbits so instead he decided to take up his other favourite past time, namely to roll in fox and horse shit. Given the chance, Rio loves to roll around in anything smelly, with dead things being the worst, but today it was just horse crap. And unfortunately one of the disadvantages of the Nene Way trail, being quite flat, is that it’s popular with horse riders and where there are horse riders there is horse shit. And lots of it!

So in no time at all, Rio was rolling in poo to a point where he was covered. And when he’s not rolling in it he’s eating it, why do dogs do that? We reached a point of the trail at a good place to turn around and headed back home; making a detour to the river to try to get Rio in to wash off some of his newly plastered coat but he wasn’t having any of it and so I had to bring him home looking rather messy.

IMG_2866When I got home I did a bit of as Google to see why dogs roll in poo and one suggestion is that it stems back to when they were pack animals. A dog would return to the pack covered in the scent of animals such as deer so the rest of the group would be able to be led to the place where there is food. Another suggestion is that, like humans do when putting on perfume, dogs like to smell differently and so the roll in the smelly poo to mask their own smell.

Irrespective of the reasons Rio did roll today, I do know that later he will be smelling very much like a wet dog when he comes out of the shower!

Postscript: I had to laugh after seeing this cartoon drawn by Off the Leash artist Rupert Fawcett, which is quite apt really.

See what you think…


Letter to breeder – Spring update

Hi Lexi,

Time for another update.

rio up closeWith the extended winter just about done; today has been a heady twenty degrees hopefully we will able to make use of the longer days and warmer weather and get out and about more. Despite being a large dog, we have noticed that Rio needs lots of walking; I normally take him out twice a day but due to the inclement weather the walks have been shorter, especially during week. This results in having uncontrollable bouts of excitement which has often meant he’s had to be excluded from the living room as his ‘play’ is just too rough for everyone. We have worked out that any sort of play with him indoors normally gets out of hand after ten minutes or so resulting in him being dragged out to calm down. He is also still biting during play, which is unacceptable, especially as when he catches you it tends to lead to bruises and skin breaks. Still, we now know the signs he’s going to start playing up and soon take action.

Anyhow, now that Spring has arrived I have started to take him out for longer walks, even letting off to play with other dogs and go chasing rabbits which he seems to love. Unfortunately, yesterday morning we had our first incident of him running off; I let him off in a place I’ve released him many times but on this occasion he decided to go off chasing bunnies into an area not easily accessible. Three quarters of an hour later and I was starting to get worried when I couldn’t find him, only to locate him back at the spot he’d gone from in the first place. For the rest of the walk he stayed quite close to me, clearly shaken by his experience of ‘being lost’ for a while.

The garden is still out of bounds to him; his small patch of grass is now a mud bath and currently ‘electric fenced’ off. We will soon be creating a terraced area there so he will have a little more space to roam. He still continues to dig when he gets a chance on the main lawn so we have had to restrict his access to short periods only. He is quite difficult to get back off though; with even treats not tempting him away from the freedom of the lawn. He did help me with some gardening last weekend though, pulling up dead shrubs and digging the border where I was about to plant some new ones. We definitely have a dog who’s a digger!

laptopBack in March Tina decided that Rio was getting uncontrollable when visitors called; to a point where he was knocking people over in his eagerness to say hello. We have tried different things such as putting him on a lead when people arrive but it only seems to have a temporary effect and as soon as he’s free he’s jumping and biting feet. Normally he’s then excluded until he calms down or our visitors leave. Anyhow, Tina rang a local dog behaviourist and explained the problems we were having with Rio and she said it sound Rio was a ‘reluctant leader’ and she would visit to offer advice and try to help with walking, something Tina is now unable to do since he bit her arm. A week later and ‘Trish’ arrived and within five minutes he had ripped the sleeve of her top, demonstrating the challenge she faced. She offered some suggestions to counter his bad behaviour; being much firmer with him and making him know that the humans are leaders in the family. Also she suggested we make our visitors ignore Rio which will make him lose interest in him. Unfortunately this advise has been difficult to follow as Rio is difficult to ignore when he’s jumping all over you!

Follow-on sessions were arranged, including Trish saying she would bring along her dogs to help with the training but unsurprisingly Trish has failed to turn up to subsequent sessions. I think that may be her way of saying ‘ Rio is a lost cause!’. I would say that some of the stuff she said has been useful although he is still just as uncontrollable at times. Looks like we’re on our own from now on though!

So all in all, it’s not been a great time with Rio recently. He’s a lovely dog when he wants to be, but he is also still very hard work. Hopefully as the Spring turns to Summer and he moves from puppy to adult he will calm down. yeah right 🙂

Until the next update, best regards Graham (& Tina)


Let sleeping dogs lie

On Saturday Tina and I decided to go shopping in Leicester so I made sure when I got up in the morning I took Rio for a long walk to try to wear him out for the day. I started off intending to walk around the pit, which takes about an hour but it was such a nice morning I changed the route and we walked for about an hour and a half, following the river as it heads east. Rio loves walking down by the water; somehow he manages to find every puddle and stream and it isn’t long before he turns from a Golden Retriever to a Black Labrador. Fortunately on the way back there are a couple of spots in the lake where he can paddle and wash himself down.

When we got back Rio was tired but soon roused when Tina got up and he joined us for his usual breakfast scrounge. Shortly we left Rio an headed off shopping, leaving Matt to let him out for a wee later in the morning.

Just as we arrived in Leicester my mobile went off and it was Matt.

“How many tablets were in the bin in the bathroom?”

“How many tablets?” I questioned.

“Yes, Rio has managed to get into the bathroom and I have found some empty blister packs on the landing” he explained.

“Oh I said, hold on I’ll ask mum.”

Tina confirmed that she had thrown about 30 Kalms sleeping tablets away in the bin earlier in the week as they were past their use by date. Unfortunately one of the traits Rio has never grown out of is ‘bin diving’ and on this occasion it looked like he’d hit the jackpot. Matt went downstairs to find Rio sparko in the hallway.

“Try to wake him and give him some milk to soak them up!” she suggested, “and then Google Kalms to see what’s in them” she added.

We hung up and continued walking towards the shops, with Tina looking a bit worried.

“I know he’s a pain, but there was no need to poison him” I joked.

sleepy rio

Rio in a common sleeping pose

Matt soon text Tina back with the ingredients and it was apparent that the tablets shouldn’t cause any problems other than make him sleep as they contained Valerian, a natural sedative. Happy that Tina hadn’t killed the dog, we continued shopping with Tina texting Matt regularly for updates on his condition. We were soon reassured that he was OK when Matt said he’s started attacking one of his mates who’d arrived at lunchtime.

When we got back home later in the afternoon Rio was his usual self, clearly the tablets had no effect on his energy whatsoever. A walk around the block soon determined that they did have another side-effect though; a laxative effect!

On Sunday Rio did seem a bit more lethargic to the point where I struggled to get him to to go out before we went to bed; but I think it was more to do with being lazy rather than being drugged!

Street walking

glovesOne of the joys of owning a dog is the requirement to take them out for a walk every day. I will admit that one of the reasons that I wanted to get another dog was a selfish one; namely to ensure I got off my backside and did a couple of miles of gentle exercise each day.

At weekends and the summer months, the ability to wander across fields away from the cars and other people and enjoy the fresh air is great but of course during the winter evenings movement is restricted to street walking only, which isn’t so satisfying (hence my listening to podcasts).

The other problem with walking the streets is other people and in particular other people who have dogs; other people who jog; other people walking in the opposite direction and generally anyone using the public highway. Whilst I’m not particularly bothered by pedestrians, our eighteen month puppy is and thinks everyone wants to say hello to him. And at nearly 45kg in weight when Rio wants to go in one direction you have no choice but to follow.

As I walk along, I have to be alert to all around me, anticipating Rio’s keenness to be friendly with others by shortening his lead, crossing the road or slowing right down until he loses interest. Most of the time I can keep him in check but sometimes he suddenly surprises me with a pull across toward the oncoming person or dog. When I do see someone walking a dog I tend to steer clear or at least hold him firmly so that if the other canine owner is happy for Rio to say hello it is in a controlled manner.

Occasionally Rio would decide that he wants a rest and just sits down, with a ‘I’ve had enough for the moment’ look on his face and I have to coax him to get going again. He also enjoys the usual doggy habit of having to smell every lamp post and patch of grass where other dogs have been; those smalls must be heaven for a pooch.

But the favourite pastime by far for Rio is the detection and acquiring of single pairs of gloves. Somehow he manages to locate and recover so many individual, discarded gloves it’s untrue. And once he does find one, it’s normally then in his mouth until we get home. I believe we could open up our own one-armed glove shop judging by the number of gloves Rio has recovered during his walk.

So if you are even in need of a single glove you know where to come!


golden_retrieverOver recent weeks I have started to listen to podcasts whilst walking Rio try to to get through my backlog of downloads that have accumulated on my iPhone. I have a few regulars that automatically get added each week some of which include The Danny Baker Show, Frank Skinner, MacBreak Weekly and FrequencyCast. I usually manage to keep up to these and other podcasts whilst driving to various work sites but recently I’ve been listening to audiobooks instead, especially as I’ve now signed up with Audible for their two books an month deal. Recent books I’ve listened to include The Hunger Games, Rush of Blood and currently All Hell Let Loose, a history of the second world war but told using excerpts from letters, correspondence and first hand experiences of the conflict. Interesting stuff.

Any way back to walking Rio…

This morning I plugged myself in to my iPhone as I normally do and set off on my way, with dog in tow, engrossed in an episode of The Mac Show. Half way around my normal route Rio decided to do his business, so I acted as a responsible dog owner and picked up his daily doings and popped them into a poo bag. We carried on with his walk with the bag and his lead in my left hand.

Five minutes further on and I suddenly realised that Rio wasn’t pulling me, which was a bit strange as he tends to lead not be led most of the time. I glanced down to see that I was holding just the poo bag and not his lead. I turned around to look for Rio and he wasn’t there. Being plugged in I hadn’t realised I had managed to let go of his lead somehow and he was standing about 100 yards back up the road, wagging his tail, wondering why I had left him alone. Fortunately he remained there until I got back to him and I gratefully grabbed his lead and we carried on the walk.

I think I need to be a bit more careful in future, especially if I’m walking him during the day as if there had been any other dogs or people about he would almost certainly would have made a run for them.

Letter to breeder…winter update

Hi Lexi,

RioIt’s been a while since my last update, where does the time go? I thought I’d let you know how Rio is getting on since my last letter as its been a few months now.

In September Rio stayed at the kennels (or pet hotel as they like to call it) when Tina and I went to Turkey for a week. We were a bit apprehensive about taking him as he was still quite young and wasn’t sure how he would get on but once I led him towards his pen he was fine although he was a bit concerned when I walked off leaving him with a pile of toys and an old top to cuddle. Still he would make lots of new friends and we would be only going for a week.

Rio and Tina on a calmer dayOn our return I duly went to collect him and when I enquired on how he had got on I was told that he had managed to get a small cut on the end of his nose. The kennels lady said he had managed to scrape his nose on some wire whilst digging in the grass area. And he had dug quite a few holes! And although she didn’t actually say it I think she wasn’t too impressed. As you can imagine Rio was extremely excited to see me and it didn’t take much to get him back into the car and home.

One thing we can say though is that staying at the kennels did upset him, with him being quite aggressive and difficult to settle back into our routine for the first week or so. We will need to put him back there again in the summer when Abby gets married so hopefully he will be better that time (maybe?).

Rio in the floodsRio’s had a couple of trips to the vets over the months for ear infections; the vet doesn’t believe its triggered by a food allergy but is not ruling it out if he gets another. I think it probably due to the times he has been paddling in the river after the floods. A dose of antibiotic ear drops seems to do the trick and so far its been clear since.

Rio’s not really calmed down when it comes to other people; we’ve had a lot of trouble with him jumping up and biting family members;. All play of course, but he is now quite a big dog and can be a handful at times. I do seem to be able to control him myself but others don’t seem to have the same control. Matt (who is six foot five inches) still cannot seem to stop Rio from attacking his feet. The family have learned to control Rio’s mad moments by getting him out of the room, although unfortunately sometime he has to be dragged! We all believe he’s one highly strung, bi-polar dog.

rio relaxingRio has shown us the sort of dog he can be though, especially later in the evenings, when he’ll sneak onto the sofa for a cuddle, but these are still on his terms and it doesn’t take much to fall back into play-mode. We have noted a pattern in behaviour. Early evening after his dinner he’s very keen to go for his walk and gets quite restless if he doesn’t go out by 7pm. On his walk he’s fine but when he gets home he thinks it’s still play time and won’t settle down then until 9pm at the earliest. And he insists that you have to play with him. Toys are put at your feet, or in your lap or he’ll bark until you have to give in and play with him. The problem is that once you start playing with him he gets quite rough and he ends up being dragged out of the room.

We had a bit of an incident in October when Tina took him to the vets for his annual jabs. On the way back Rio decided that he didn’t want to walk nicely and ended up biting Tina’s arm and drawing blood, resulting in her being put on course of antibiotics. Tina is a bit wary now of taking him out now, especially as he’s now a big, strong, powerful dog.

Rio with a prizeOne weakness we have discovered in Rio and that is with loud bangs, and in particular the fireworks that were prevalent in November and New Years Day. He was absolutely petrified of them, to the point where any bang that startles him now sends him into wild panic especially on walks where he speeds up to running pace, in the opposite direction. Hopefully, he will get used to them over time and they won’t make him freak out.

Christmas was a quiet affair, with many of the family ill so our plans to have a houseful of guests was cancelled. In some ways I wasn’t too disappointed as it would have been a challenging day, Rio wise.  We are starting to see some improvements in his behaviour, but as we keep saying he is still a puppy. How long does the puppy stage go on for again? 🙂

rio and the snowRio’s digging has re-started so I had to wire up the electric fence again; the space in the garden he has to roam around now is quite restricted but he gets plenty of walks to compensate. Rio loved the recent cold snap and found the snow a great source of fun. He particularly liked chasing snow balls and couldn’t work out where they’d gone when they landed. When the snow finally melted he was mystified as to where all the white stuff had gone.

Thats about it for now, I’ll update you again in the summer.

Regards Graham & Tina