Knowing me, knowing you
By AARON BROOKS
I'm walking dogs every day, but here are some things you may or may not know about me.
To kick off the blog, why not start with talking about me. You might find out I’m just far too weird and run a mile.
How did all this start?
Back in 2014, my wife and I felt that there must be more to life than the merry-go-round of getting the kids to school, going to work, rushing home to collect the kids, cook tea, put them to bed, and repeat. We decided to take a change in life and take the kids out of school (yrs 2 & 6) for a year and travel around the world for a year. We both had jobs to quit or get a sabbatical, we had the house to rent out and a dog to re-home for a year. The school was amazing and actually encouraged us to do it, “It’s a better education we could ever provide by seeing the world”. Errr, right ok, I guess we’re doing this then!
We bought our fights to NZ, Australia and Thailand. Having given the kids an easier baptism of travelling by starting in NZ and Australia we arrived in Thailand on 10th January, our next flight (home) was on 15th August and literally had no plans. Here’s our blog from back then.
On the first morning in our dodgy hostel room in Bangkok we got out a map of Asia and said “do you want to go clockwise around Asia or the other way?”.
We spent time and most of the asian countries, but during our 2 months in Vietnam the thought of home what happens next started to loop round and round in my head. We were missing our dog (Domino) and we had already been using a dog walker in Exeter for many years, and were really happy with them. I had a thought; What if I started my own dog walking business? What would I do differently. Well, I’d make sure the dogs were returned clean. I’d make sure they went to different walk locations all the time. Those locations wouldn’t be the same city park day after day. I’d be flexible about when customers would want the walks and I wouldn’t penalise people to cancelling a walk because they would be at home or their kids were ill.
During a week stay in Hanoi, we met another British family travelling with their kids. We went out for dinner and they convinced me to go for it, random!
Fast forward a few years and a pattern was happening again. The job I was in never actually got going into the role it was meant to be and I had zero job satisfaction. When that came to an end, it was now or never. However, 2 months pervious, I’d just changed Domino over to a new dog walk service in Exeter. They were really great, but I had to let them down and cancel. I now see them all the time walking their packs of dogs around Exeter and hopefully one day I’ll be as pro as them.
To get myself set up and do this properly, I went on a Canine First Aid Training Course to make sure I knew what to do if ever one of the pups had an accident. When looking for a dog car, I firstly wanted to start with a car. I wanted to be able to see all the dogs, when travelling, and getting used to this new life. I found a car based on a van with sliding side door and a big boot door (to give cover from rain), plus a low tail gate so the pups can get in and out easily.
I knew a bit about design and websites already, so that side was quite easy to sort out and get online.
Lastly, why Black Dog Walks? Well. After bouncing a million names off my wife for hours and hours, Domino was laid down in the lounge, she black, and needs walks, so I called it Black Dog Walks. I couldn’t think of anything better, plus it kinda does what it says on the tin.
I love driving, just not my car.
I spend a lot of time driving nowadays. I love it. When I was in the last year of secondary school, we had the usual careers advisors come in and talk about “What do you want to do when you grow up?”. So, my reply was, “I want to be a professional motor racer or a pilot”. Aim high n’all that. Her reply was, “Well, you can’t do that around here. What about a mechanic?”. Errr, not sure you heard me there. Needless to say, those careers never got further than meeting a few famous motorbike racing legends in the Donnington Park paddock. If you’re into bike racing, ask me about it one day.
Anyway, back to driving. I’m one of those people who actually enjoys it and sees a roundabout as an opportunity to hit the apex, carry the speed and nail the exit. Technically, I have to do this as the dog car is so damn slow I need to keep the momentum or people start beeping at me.
I love all aspects of motorsport, especially F1. Hate football. It’s just rubbish.
I do have plans in the future to have a much nicer dog-mobil, but for now I’m just blocking out the judder, rattles and squeaks. The pups love it, and that’s what matters most.
I recently took it to my local hand car wash. The very nice chap there came over to have a look and give me a very good price. He opened the driver door, looked inside and said, “What has happened here? Wow. Ooh my god. This I not sure I can fix”. Alright mate, give it to me gently.
Ukulele’s for the win
So, something else you won’t know is I’m learning to play the Ukulele. Basically, I wanted to be in the Foo Fighters, but when I tried to play a guitar it made no sense. So, take away 2 strings, simplify the chords and hey presto, you’re still not really there. But, it sounds nice. Also, I’m teaching my kids too, so that’s a real bonus.
Current songs on the learn list:
- Weak – Skunk Anansie
- Riptide – Van Joy
- Peaceful Easy Feeling – Eagles
10 most played songs on my dog walking Spotify at the moment
Don’t judge me too much, remember the good things above. In no particular order:
- Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
- Any Way You Want It – Journey
- You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
- Dance Monkey – Tones And I
- Too Low For Zero – Elton John
- Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes
- Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
- Charlie Big Potato (Live) – Skunk Anansie
- Sabotage – Beastie Boys
- A Boy Named Sue – Johny Cash
- Best Place for a city walk: Tricky. It’s either got to be down to the quay and out along the allotments to the end of the island and back. Normally see a Craine or two drying their wings at the very top. Or, go the other way and walk up towards St Davids and go all the way to the Mill, then cross over the bridge and walk back. Dogs can safely swim in the flood relief and not be swept away.
- Good walk away from others: The big fields near The Double Locks are great for this. They are big enough that if you do see another person or dog walker you can avoid each other well. You can walk all the way to the Quay from here, or a great loop up to the pub and back. Free to park too, at the small carpark just up from the Swing bridge. HERE
- Good places for free parking: Above is really good or on the other side of the road at the Rowing Club. If you want to walk near the Quay, there is 2hr free parking to the left of the Co-op, HERE, plus, if you drive along past the climbing centre and take a right towards the big carpark, there is 1hr free parking between the industrial units. HERE
- Best for a beach walk: I have found that Dawlish Warren is really great. For a start the parking price isn’t too much and you can pay on card. Also the beach is wide enough to avoid others if you need to. There are toilets and coffee too. I’ve never really found it too busy. Best time to go is the worst possible day with wind and rain. The dogs will get soaked, but NOT muddy ;?)
- Woodbury Common: I love Woodbury and I am licensed to commercially walk dogs there too. The land management team are very proactive about keeping the site preserved but available for everyone. They have The Pebblebed Heaths Dog Code. Its about being a responsible dog owner and please pick up after your dog. The healths are nutrient deficient, meaning dog poo is packed full of nutrients which kills the heaths. Animals living on the heaths, eat the heaths, so are adding no new nutrients. Keep you dogs on the paths to avoid the nesting birds and ponies, plus there are snakes in the long stuff, so take care.
- Where to avoid if it’s been raining a lot: I would say Mincinglake Valley Park. That place is lovely, with some huge grassy fields, but the pinch points around the gates are horrendous and can’t be avoided.
- Hidden Gem: Recently found this by accident. Free parking too. Drive towards the Swans Nest Pub (Exminster). Stay on the lane and drive past the pub and over the bridge. After about 50 yards turn right, back on yourself. There is a small RSPB carpark. At the far end of the carpark is a gate. This is the start of your walk. The entrance of the carpark you drove in is the finish. Just follow the path! Stop at the Turf Locks for a pint (I couldn’t, I was working). Then, follow the road back up. Eventually it takes a left turn away from the canal and back across the fields to the hump back bridge you arrived on. Give yourself 1-2hrs.
Lastly, a few quick fire ones
- Favourite Food: Vietnamese, but I do love a Cannoli.
- Top Film Recommendation: Les Untouchable (French film) or Hunt for the Wilderpeople
- Beer or Cider: Based on what Alma got me for Christmas, Cider, they were amazing.
- Chocolate or Sweets: Sweets – My glove box does have a sweet tin that I’m constantly having to refill with Wine Gums, Sports Mix or Strawberry Pencils, or basically all of them at the same time.
- If I could have dinner with anyone famous: Monty Don, top chap and I’ve got so many gardening questions. Might as well choose somebody convenient.