TRYWRITES: Without my Dog I don’t think I’d still be alive.


WORDS: Gary Kelly

Without my dog I don’t think I’d still be alive. Seriously. I love my dog, but first some background.

10 years ago my friend Gavin decided to take his own life. We were close, very close, doing the eulogy at his funeral close. Gav dying so suddenly was a shock, any sudden deaths are, but there is something about suicide. If you have been through losing someone close to suicide and come out the other side -a survivor of bereavement by suicide if you will- then you may ‘get it’. You may understand the very specific and individual bereavement a person experiences.

The feelings we feel are desperate, primal, it’s almost as if everything you know about the ‘rules’ of life are wrong. A loved one taking their own life, that is something that happens to other people, and then it happens to you. And then the world goes dark.

In the days and weeks after Gav died I know now I was in shock, at the time I thought I was coping well. In reality I was running around ‘helping’, helping with the funeral, helping with friends, checking in on people. The thing is, I wasn’t checking in on myself. Slowly but surely my insides were turning into stone, little by little I was forgetting how to feel. At least anything other than anger, shame and guilt, as misplaced as those emotions were. The taboo of suicide can do that.

People don’t know how to engage with ‘it’ like they do if someone has died of a heart attack. So the loneliness we feel of the loss of a person of significance in our lives becomes magnified as people move away from the people left behind as if they have the plague.

Tundra Zeb.

Tundra Zeb.

We’re encouraged to talk about how we feel, and people do mean well, but it takes a special person, a person equipped to navigate a discussion on suicide. For many even the mention of the word is like garlic to a vampire. At least that is what I found. I hope you didn’t or never do. I was fortunate later on in my journey to have the support of some great people, including a counsellor. But that came years later. In the 3 years after Gav died I was lucky to survive, I contemplated suicide and was close to carrying it out on one occasion. 

During this time I met Zebedee, Zeb for short, my dog. People overuse and often misuse the term ‘spirit animal’. It has become somewhat of a meme which means many different things. For me Zeb understands me and my needs on an almost cellular level. I know people have different spiritual or religious beliefs or none at all, I respect that, I absolutely believe with all my heart that Zeb was sent to save me. From whom I don’t know. One thing I am certain of is that he has saved me from myself.

Zeb is a rescue dog, a border collie, I think I saw something of myself in him and his situation, It sparked a light of forgotten empathy in me. I couldn’t leave him in that situation. I couldn’t leave myself in my situation. I know that now.

Before Zeb came to me, I could barely function, before Gav died I was a glass half full person, everything would always be alright. My career, a Manager in the Community Sector, was going well. I was delivering national projects, at a relatively young age too. An achiever. Things were on the up. My career and general life came to a halt due to periods of absence/sickness after Gav. My mental health was shot to pieces, my glass was not only half empty, it was smashed to pieces on the ground, and I was stamping on it, grinding it into dust. Watching the remnants of that glass, my life, blow away in the ill winds that had encircled my sad existence. Self harm essentially, I didn’t particularly care whether I lived or died. I didn’t particularly know what I was doing to myself. I am certain of this however: I didn’t care.

Zeb leads the way.

Zeb leads the way.

The thing is with dogs, well with Zeb, I can’t speak for your dog, or any other dog but I can speak for Zeb, Zeb just ‘knows’. Zeb would not allow me to mope, if I wouldn’t get out of bed he would pull the covers off with a joie de vivre and cheeky smile on his face which seemed to say: “I know you are irritated with me but you aren’t staying there. I love you, the universe loves you and we have fields to run in”. I couldn’t be angry with Zeb, he hasn’t got a bad bone in his body.

The thing is I didn’t care whether I lived or died, but I cared about Zeb, he got me up in the morning, literally. Zeb made me care about him and by extension about others, including myself. He rescued me, or did I rescue him? Sometimes I’m not sure. 

One thing I do know is my glass is half full again. I know you will never be able to read this, because you are a dog, but regardless. Thank you Zeb. You saved my life.

TRYWRITES: Stalking is getting smarter- so our response to it needs to be too.

Alice Ruggles

Alice Ruggles

WORDS: Punk Food Bandita

A recent domestic homicide review (DHR) for another young woman killed by a perpetrator with a history of abusive behaviour shows that our responses to domestic abuse and stalking needs to move as quickly as our technology does.

 Alice Ruggles was 24 years old when she was murdered by her ex-partner, Trimaan Dhillon in October 2016 after she ended her 14 month relationship with him. Dhillon was a Lance Corporal in the British Army at the time of the offense and both the police and his superiors were aware of his behaviour in his relationships, both with Alice and another ex-girlfriend.

Alice ended the relationship after his controlling behaviour worsened and she found out that Dhillon had been using dating sites to contact other women. It was at this point when the stalking element of his abuse of Alice began to escalate. She was bombarded with text messages, calls and unannounced visits, often telling her he would leave her alone before he inevitably contacted her again immediately after. He caused problems with her flat mates and friends and contacted her family after she had left him, as well as threatening to publish intimate pictures of her. Alice would also notice that messages that appeared in her inbox would quickly disappear. After he referred to an issue involving one of her friends, she challenged him on this behaviour, saying ”once you realise I have done nothing to break your trust you can stop hacking into my stuff”. Dhillon replied with ”no”.

A month before her death, Alice heard knocks at the door, but every time she got up and looked through the spyhole there was no one there. Suspecting him, she rang him and he told her he was in Princess Gardens in Edinburgh, the city where the barracks he resided in was. The third knock was on her bedroom window, not the door, and when she opened the curtains she saw Dhillon carrying flowers and chocolates which he put on the windowsill before he backed away with his hands in an upright position.

Just weeks later, Dhillon travelled from Edinburgh to Gateshead, Tyne & Wear where Alice lived and stabbed her. She was found by her flatmate. Dhillon has been sentenced to at least 22 years, and still denies murder, claiming she fell on a knife when she lunged at him.

 As someone who works in this field, a few things struck me about the case. How loved Alice was by her friends and family. What a hole her absence has left in their lives that no prison sentence will ever be able to comfort. But also how familiar the events leading up to her death sounded to me. If you are mercifully untouched by domestic abuse, you may read her story and think it sounds shocking. Most of it isn’t. Every day I have people sat in front of me telling me how they have ended a call to the police after being on hold for a long period of time, as she did when trying to use the 101 number to report an incident. How they have been blackmailed with the threat of intimate photographs being published online. How their partner caused conflict with their friends and associates when there had never been any before. How they were subjected to obsessive jealousy around fidelity to find that it was their accuser that was cheating. How they were reluctant to press charges because the perpetrators occupation would mean instant dismissal and they didn’t want to ruin their life- they just wanted to be left alone.

The response she had to the stalking is depressingly familiar in how inconsistent it was. While Alice felt reassured after support given from police the first time she called, this wasn't always the case. Many victims of this crime are not taken seriously, or even believed. Technology that may once have sounded only possible in a James Bond film can now be purchased for pennies on mainstream shopping sites. They can be installed on phones, cars, plugs, children’s toys and more. They can be made to look like almost anything. Too many times have I heard it suggested that someone is stressed or paranoid when they have said they are being followed or tracked, only for their fears to be confirmed at a later date. 

 Technology moves incredibly fast and legislation and support organisations find they cannot keep up. Writing educational courses to educate survivors on how best to protect themselves are difficult to deliver as they will be outdated within months of them being written. Stalking legislation was improved in 2017 and amended last year to provide better protections, but as police numbers, resources and training is stripped, the understanding of these laws by some frontline officers is still woefully short. As with the police, domestic abuse and health services are expected to give more with far less, which is just not sustainable and leaves those experiencing domestic abuse at more risk.

The army too has key lessons to learn on this case. How it responds to domestic abuse by its soldiers and understand that they need to be part of the safety planning process to protect victims. There is also more that needs to be done in their care of veterans and serving personnel. Dhillon was already known by his employers to be abusive and obsessive with partners, and was once involved with Home Office police due to his behaviour towards an ex. It’s been shown in the domestic homicide review that procedures were not followed correctly which lead to information not being properly recorded.

 Improvements need to be made to all frontline services who support those experiencing domestic abuse or stalking, and for that to happen they need to be fully funded, staffed and resourced. Those who are experiencing this type of abuse are experts in body language- they have had to be in order to have survived so far, and if they sense they are a burden to someone’s workload, or feel they are a nuisance, they will pick up on this, feeling they are wasting your time and are much less likely to come forward again. This is not as it should be.

 Among the recommendations for the DHR is that the Home Office considers the legal and social impact of the non-regulation of spyware in relation to domestic abuse and stalking victims, for the Ministry Of Defence to review its domestic abuse policy and the Home Office to consider a national definition of stalking in order to ensure consistent understanding and practice.

The job of a DHR is to look at the facts and what lessons we can learn from these in order that we might prevent such deaths in the future. It is now the job of government and services to listen so the world does not have to be stolen of people like Alice anymore.

TRYWRITES: Brunei to stone people to death for being homosexual.


WORDS: Gary Kelly

Brunei, a small Islamic fiefdom has implemented a law this week whereby people caught engaging in anal sex or homosexual relationships in general can be put to death. And get this: by being stoned to death. You read that right, people will be buried up to their necks and have rocks thrown at them until they die because of who they are.

What do you feel about that?

I worry about this in the current climate, it concerns me after the Christchurch terrorist attack. That it inflames divisions in wider global society more. At the same time it will be interesting to see if there are any sanctions at a government level given there are British and American interests there.

Imagine how terrifying it will be to be gay in Brunei. A gay man in country told the BBC: "You wake up and realise that your neighbours, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn't think you're human, or is okay with stoning,".

How would you personally feel if you lived in these conditions?

Enter the entertainment sector!

In lieu of any action by Western Governments so far. George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres have led a response to boycott hotels which are owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted this image calling for a boycott.

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted this image calling for a boycott.

"I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger," Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in a public address, as per the AFP news agency.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, punishable by 10 years in prison. 

The new, wider and more draconian laws include:

  • Lesbian sex will carry a penalty of 40 strokes of a cane and/or up to 10 years in jail

  • The sentence for theft is amputation 

  • Those who "persuade, tell or encourage" Muslim children under the age of 18 "to accept the teachings of religions other than Islam" are liable to a fine or jail

Children who have not yet reached puberty may be subject to whipping.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that this has any place in a civilised society? Do you think the UK the United States and other countries should cut ties with Brunei?



WORDS: Punk Food Bandita

Nets are appearing on trees and hedgerows across Britain, attracting attention and condemnation from locals and wildlife experts. The practice is mainly used by property developers waiting for planning permission to build on land and wanting to deter any wildlife which may prove to be a hindrance if they make their home there. A branch of Tesco’s also provoked controversy this month when it erected nets to stop nesting swallows from returning there, creating a backlash from customers that forced them to reverse their decision.

It is no coincidence that examples of this are being seen across the UK all at a similar time. Spring is the time when many animals, particularly birds will build their nests to raise their young, and trees and hedgerows provide food and protection for a wide range of animals during this time.  It would be an offence under section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for companies to disturb the nests or young of certain species, but currently there is no legislation to stop them taking measures to prevent nests from appearing, or even a requirement for them to be fitted properly to prevent animals getting harmed. Because the nets aren’t just unsightly. It’s an extraordinarily cruel practice. Birds and other creatures can often find a way through the netting, but not back out again, with birds in particular being prone to getting their tiny legs caught in the fibres, leading to a painful and prolonged death.

There is a petition circulating online, currently at about 140,000 signatures demanding that the practice be made illegal. But some are not waiting around for legislation to be brought in to protect wildlife. The hashtag  #nestingnotnets has appeared on Twitter, encouraging people to report on locations of sites where netting has appeared.  Campaigners recently removed some of the offending items from several trees in Darlington last week after finding a dead dunnock in the material, citing their move as a preventative strategy to prevent more deaths. Housing developers have defended their use of netting, with Andrew Whittaker from the Home Builders Federation stating that developers are also planting a lot more trees, with about 9 million trees being cultivated last year.  But research has shown that bird populations are in decline, with the biggest drop being within the last decade according to the Common Bird Census. Loss of habitat is one of the biggest causes of this, with many species wanting to nest in the same place every year.

Practices like this are not new. In 2017, nets were also put up on the Tyne Bridge to prevent Kittiwakes from returning there. The poor quality netting quickly became damaged, resulting in dead birds being spotted hanging from it.  Even then, Newcastle City Council would not remove the nets immediately, stating they had to wait until wider maintenance on the bridge began. In the same year, there was an outcry when spikes appeared on tree branches that reached out over a private car park for flats in Bristol to stop them from crapping on the cars of residents below.

You have to marvel at the sheer arrogance of developers and consumers who feel they are justified in gentrifying a tree, becoming so entitled that they attempt to dictate who gets to come into their neighbourhood and not content with outpricing poor people or having live music venues that were there before their penthouse apartment closed down, they now turn their attention to those noisy immigrant starlings with loads of kids that are bringing down their house prices. The Tyne Bridge Kittiwakes are a good example of this. The birds are an endangered species that are fast losing habitat and this particular Kittiwake colony is the furthest inland than any other in the world. Kittiwakes sing like that elderly aunt we all have who gets drunk and belts out Danny Boy at every family funeral and owners of the £400,000 apartments complained of their droppings. Now I don’t know if you have ever been on a night out on Newcastle Quayside, but I have, and if you are worried about spine curling screeching and feral species shitting all over the place I can tell you that the birds are not the biggest source of this.

The good news is that nature nets can be costly and time consuming for companies to put up, but are almost completely free and surprisingly quick to take back down again, if anyone happened to be so inclined. When I was last in Darlington, the council had spent some time putting up pigeon nets under its bridges, which said birds were then getting trapped and dying in. This was quickly solved, as one resident told me by a “Tiny, angry woman with a pair of ladders and some scissors” who managed to bring all of them down in a matter of hours.

Modern life is eroding our connection from nature at an alarming rate. Having that calming picture of a waterfall as your iPhone screensaver is no substitute. Protecting that tiny patch of green space isn’t just good for the birds and insects that live in it; it is good for all of us.