JOY FITZSIMMONS AND NED & Henry THE DACHSHUNDS
Joy got her first two Dachshunds during her battle with breast cancer 14 years ago, and went on to launch her own gift and greeting card business, London Pooch, after deciding a career change was due. Now she, and her business, are stronger than ever!
Words & pictures: Simon Glazin
When Joy got in touch to tell us about her oh-so-lovely Dachshund-inspired company, London Pooch, I instantly fell in love. Having a little sausage dog myself, I'm a big fan (so expect lots more on here!), and when I saw her extensive range of all-things Daxie, I was intrigued to learn more.
Click on the 'About' section of her site, and you'll learn that in 2002, Joy was diagnosed with breast cancer, and started the long fight to overcome it. That fight was made a little easier when she bought home her first two Daxie puppies, Archie & Doug, who inspired her to start London Pooch. Now, she is stocked all over London and the UK and is always putting her creativity to good use with more and more different designs: on cards, bags and prints, now inspired by Ned and Henry.
Before her diagnosis, Joy was a book designer and illustrator, and actually wrote and illustrated two children's books after her son was born. She loved her work, but was actually thinking about venturing into new territory before the shock of her devastating news.
But she soldiered on nonetheless. "Cancer can be a most enlightening experience if one is to try and make a positive way forward. It was quite an eye opener as I saw myself decide on how to build a survival strategy. My mother and my grandmother had both been treated for breast cancer but neither died of it. I decided I would be in the same situation if I pushed forward." And that she did.
What's evident from meeting Joy is that she is a fighter, and full of life. After talking to her for two hours, it's clear to see that the cancer was never going to win. It was merely a blip in the road. "It does make you realise how transient and fragile life is. But how wonderful too. So many platitudes we have laughed at are so very true. And how amazingly well the treatment in the UK is if you live in a large city like London especially!"
She has always moved with the times too, teaching herself how to use the latest computer programmes to design and create her own artworks, featuring the dogs. She briefly shows me, but it's completely lost on me, I'm merely an observer, mesmerised by how she uses old magazine cuttings and an electronic pen to produce her cards and prints. Not to mention her house. A big pile in South London that she shares with her husband, Andy, and a lodger friend. When we were arranging the meeting, Joy mentioned that Andy loves pub memorabilia, so much so that he created his very own pub set up in their living room. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I arrived I completely got it - the colours, nostalgia, even smell of pub 'stuff' is amazing. And Andy's Pub (not the official name) is quite astounding.
Ned and Henry, like all Dachshunds, have their own strong personalities. Henry, the smaller of the two, is the noisy one, Ned is the observer. They love Joy and Andy, that's clear, and vice versa. It was, without sounding cliche, a joy to meet Joy! Read on below...
"Ned is cunningly needy. I think he is writing a diary somewhere. And it is probably saying rotten things about Henry in it."
On life with Ned & Henry: Ned and Henry like all Dachshunds are adorable busybodies. But needy little men! And so hard to resist that look. I am pretty hopeless as a rule maker. And they are pretty hopeless at obeying rules. But they are as most dogs should be a vital addition to our family and the make up of the household.
We acquired our first two dachshunds Archie and Doug when I was recovering from breast cancer so obliged to be more home based. It was for sheer comfort and indulgence. But as our only son was 10 years old I also considered it to be a pal for him. And a good distraction for me and maybe symbol of life going forward. So we went to chose a Daxie puppy. On arrival found 2 left in the litter. How could we leave one little lone feller. And you know. It was the best thing I ever did.
On London Pooch: I started London Pooch about 10 years ago. I have always loved the fiddle with paper and the format of cards and collage. The first designs were collaged and printed on my own Epson printer but involved a long process of making. I had an agent who sold them in many shops including Liberty but it was always a struggle to supply in larger orders. When my aged lovely mother developed vascular dementia she came to live with us for two hilarious years and the cards evolved into images printed by an outside printer but finished and packed by me. Then the wittier Dachshunds in Art emerged. Which have now evolved into prints, tea towels and bags. So exciting to see the designs appear on a different fabric medium. I sell my own cards into shop outlets. Dulwich Picture Gallery, Roullier White, Holly & Lil and St Pauls Cathedral have been faithful outlets for years. And I am improving the website all the time. Hope to get back into Fortnums and Liberty again one day!
On career life before London Pooch: I worked for many years as a freelance Book Designer and Illustrator for Weidenfeld & Nicolson amongst others. Book publishing was a very different game then. Great fun though. We produced galley paste ups for the printer to use as position guides and used Letraset and very hand traced finish for the cover presentations. Two skills no longer used. I wrote and illustrated two children books which was wonderfully rewarding. Then I worked at Dorling &Kindersley as a visualiser when our son was young and suddenly everyone was working on computers. I was the only pencil wielder and I found the book world was changing and leaving me far behind. So after I left and very reluctantly I bought an enormous alien computer and set about learning Illustrator. The head ache years. That marvellous programme I work in all the time now.
On career plan B: More books and daft poetry. I love word play. And humour. And printmaking. There is still time. If I delegate the cooking maybe….
On her daily routine: I am quite an early riser. Good job as so are the dogs. We breakfast around 7.00am and meet a very good friend in the park at 8.15am with her two Dachshunds Bruno and Nancy. A pack of four Daxies! We terrorise the well-bred pups of Dulwich Park and insult the hard faced soft core dogs of Brockwell Park. During the morning they keep watch in the front room over the innocents at the no. 3 bus stop while I am in my workroom upstairs. They usually join me in the afternoon until they request dinner. Often a late afternoon meal and then back to the sofa for bus stop watch while I finish off upstairs and return to the kitchen for evening dinner preparation. Henry often glues himself to my side. He is the neediest! Ned is cunningly needy. I think he is writing a diary somewhere. And it is probably saying rotten things about Henry in it.
On career advice: The small business and a return to traditional Arts and Craft is an expanding world which is so very heartening. The advent of the internet and online shops has enabled so many to sell from home. But the hard realities are making enough profit from it. I am lucky my husband is still earning a reliable income and now that I have a pension (hollow laughter) I can indulge this fancy. But I do like to see progress on every front. I would advise anyone to do their research into what is a trend. I was lucky Dachshunds are still in vogue. See what there is a need for and find the best suppliers for your materials. The most suitable trade shows for your products and talk to other makers. They are often quite willing to share their stories. You have to love the product you are producing. A bit like having a child they have their off days which you must rise above. And still greet with affection.
On her favourite thing about Ned & Henry: I just love their smell. It is nutty. Well I love their profiles and noble heads. A bit like little racehorses. But their smell is gorgeous.
On what breed of dog she'd be: I guess I'm a typical Dachshund: short legs, long nose, loud bark. Wilful. Adorable. Ha!
On their 'home pub': My husband Andy is a collector of many random things but his favourite is pub memorabilia. We have had two houses and in both we displayed his ever expanding collection in a bar. Our son Freddie’s high chair was by placed the bar in out first house. He probably thought that every boy had a signed copy of Jocky Wilson’s portrait next to his baby bowl. The bar is a warm glittering setting with old advertising signs of a lost era filling the senses. An era when smoking and drinking were a vital mode of life. Bit like now? Except for the smoking. We always light an open fire on a wintery evening which is a great place to sit and reflect on the crazy digital world seeming so very far away. With a glass of Double Diamond and a pickled egg to hand. Well a bottle of Becks and a glass of Bordeaux more like!
One thing people should know about her: I love whistling.