Going, going, gone . . .

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All this week we’d taken it for granted that- – almost overnight – the swallows and martins had left us and had begun their long, perilous journey back to Africa.  We noted the empty skies above our favourite field where each afternoon I retrieve my beloved ball again and again and again; the absence of cheery clacking as the martins twirled and swooped near their nests until the toilet-block eaves. Seemingly, some dreary days had made up their minds to be off. None has been seen in that area, whether over the fields, the dunes or by the sewage plant. That emptiness again! All around, things are changing and the usual seasonal shifts are taking place. Young herons who were born in the little forest behind Bailey’s house still congregate in the early morning light, chatting and checking their individual progress in the survival stakes with which they must learn to contend. But soon they will relinquish the support of their brethren and tackle life alone. Even now each makes a tentative fishing forays along the shore, squawking hello in that delightful way as they pass in front or above our little band as we trundle along the shore.

The curlews have returned to the beach, bringing with them their ethereal cries, so redolent of this coast’s wide open spaces. Only yesterday they were the featured bird on BBC 4’s Tweet of the Day, to which we listened as Kemo Sabe prepared the breakfast bowls before our run.  Within the hour curlews accompanied us as we dodged the high tide along Bamburgh beach, where the going is so tough when the water’s up. Extraordinary, really; how blessed we are to hear daily those voices that will not be drowned and which for so many are a distant dream.

And then this morning, once Kemo Sabe turned the mower off to empty it, suddenly she realised she could hear the unmistakable chatter of house martins – some local ones –  those fighter planes of summer, at least three pairs, still enjoying the feast of flies provided; still, for the moment at least, content to leave departure a while longer. Like the warmth which comes and goes as summer reluctantly gives way to autumn, they are living reminders of time’s passing and, even as we watch their antics, we anticipate their silence. Almost simultaneously, high, high above and way off in the distance, a squadron of geese made themselves heard before coming into focus, returning to the pastures which will sustain them for the coming months.

If you would like to hear the curlew, you will find the recording here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09wvgfw

 

‘A day to remember’

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Image: S Baker

Today we celebrate a recent major achievement in the show career of our old friend, Sebastian, professionally known as Ch Buffrey Incognito By Dalleaf JW. Here he is, pictured in August at the Welsh Kennel Club Championship Show 2018, where he went Best in Show, beating nearly 8000 other dogs of all the different breeds to the title. In order to be in the running for this title, Sebastian had first to compete against all the other entered Dalmatians, both dogs and bitches, emerging as Best of Breed. Then he took on the winners of the other Utility breeds under the experienced and distinguished Sigurd Wilburg, whose response to seeing Sebastian should perhaps be quoted here, as it so vividly expresses his reaction as well as describing the eventual outcome of the Show. In his critique he wrote:

‘When the Dalmatian entered the big ring last Sunday, I could feel my heart starting to beat quicker. He made a huge impact on me and I had to look twice before I realised that he was just as good as I first thought. Here was a Dalmatian which was strong and muscular with a symmetrical outline free from coarseness and lumber. You could see he was capable of great endurance and speed the way he was moving around the ring as a professional athlete. He is probably the best Dalmatian I have ever seen . . . I don’t think I have ever given a group to a Dalmatian before . . . ‘

Then Sebastian beat all the other group winners, the gundogs, the hounds, toy, pastoral, and the rest, before finally going head to head with West Highland White Terrier bitch, Ch Burneze Our Marnie, who was given the Reserve. Big thanks to world-famous BIS judge, Peter Green, and hearty congratulations all round!

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Sebastian as a puppy

Sebastian’s winning ways continue; the week after, he was Reserve Best in Show at the SKC in Edinburgh and this last weekend, at City of Birmingham, he went Best of Breed and Group.  Other Dalmatians may look up to him in awe but, to us, he is simply Sebastian, whom we see regularly when he calls by.  Although we can never hope to emulate his achievements – the way he dominates the show ring and powers his way into the judges’ hearts – he is in all the fundamental doggy ways just like the simple spaniels and Dickens Dogs of this world: loved and looked after and keen to go home after a busy and tiring day, somewhere at the other end of a motorway! See you soon, Sebastian!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A robin redbreast of our own

bloIt’s been a funny year for birds. The appalling weather in March and April played havoc with the incoming migrant communities, particularly our returning colony of sand martins, whose holes among the sandy dunes have remained empty this season. House martins arrived very late, but seem to have done well in raising their families at Bamburgh links, though there are fewer occupied nests than in previous years. Yesterday I watched the swallows darting around and about in a big congregation, as is their wont when thoughts of returning south begin to dominate their thoughts. Tomorrow is the beginning of autumn in meteorological terms, and it can’t be that long until they leave us  – and our garden birds – once more to our own devices.

bPerhaps because the beginning of the breeding season was so disrupted, we have inclined even more acutely to our own homely creatures, taking delight in the sparrow families at front and back of the building, nesting in the martins’ boxes and under the eaves of next door’s roof, successfully rearing at least two broods apiece. We have attended to their family lives at every stage, and been privileged to be introduced to the little ones once they were big enough to fly down and partake of the food on offer, rain or shine. Parent and child; blackbird, blue tit and thrush; and the little robin whose mother brought along so carefully, to show him where he would always be welcome, as his life began. Now fending for himself, and beginning to produce his beautiful red breast, he is emerging from his rather unkempt babyhood into the independent yet companionable creature which makes the robin most loved of British birds.

blBorn in the lovely nest concealed by maple and holly behind our shed,several times a day he checks out the meal worm supply, which is regularly replenished, both in the little metal dish on the boiler cover and scattered widely across the grass. Intelligent individuality arms him with the courage to forage when others are more cautious. Alone of his kind, his real breastplate is a growing sense of self among a garden full of chattering sparrows and shrieking starlings; the confidence to stand his ground, when others flee, and thus to be rewarded with that extra portion which makes all the difference to a day’s provision. Bless you, little soul, and thank you for trusting your parents to our care. We are with you all the way.

 

And still they come!

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The Lizard, Cornwall. WikiCommons

Cornwall’s currently overrun with tourists, or so the county’s official Tourist Board tells us. If you are down there right now, crushed between other curious holiday-makers, we can only thank you for choosing somewhere to go for your holidays which is at the other extreme of the country from us, up here in the far north east.  Folk are apparently flocking in unsustainable numbers to the extreme south west of England drawn by their obsession to see the very spots on the Lizard where Poldark, the country’s favourite screen adaptation, is set but not exclusively filmed. The fourth, most recent, series has just finished on BBC1, but there are five more novels to adapt, so plenty more opportunity awaits for even more to get caught up in the Cornwall craze. Well, locals of the Lizard, you have our sympathies though, to put it bluntly, you are doing us a favour by focusing the nation’s collective imagination for a few years. Recent newspapers have been full of articles lately detailing the strains placed on the infrastructure of Cornwall by the seasonal influx – water shortages, intensely crowded beaches, bulging litter bins, non-existent parking spaces, over-inflated house prices and ironic dismay over the tourist board’s call to bring visitors to the county.  We know what you mean!

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Daily pooh removed by us: one dog’s holiday

Imagine, therefore, our dismay and incredulous amusement when on what was intended as a comic pitch from alternative destinations, on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 lunchtime news programme, World at One, we heard a spokesperson for Visit Northumberland plugging the beauty of Bamburgh and the sea trips to the Farnes. Oh no, we cried! As though we need any more visitors! Northumberland long ago lost the right to be known as the ‘Secret Kingdom’ or ‘England’s Most Tranquil County’, in large measure thanks to Robson Green and the television programmes which bruited the quiet joys of this historic and magnificent coastline, bringing in tourists in unprecedented numbers and obliterating the off-season more or less entirely.

The problems resulting for a tiny resident community with only a handful of litter bins and one daily collection from them,  two small car parks, a narrow main drag along one side of which drivers still park, despite double yellow lines, and too many selfish holiday makers who take what they want without thinking, are obvious. The detritus on the beach, the out-of-control dogs, careering madly about in an environment most of them are entirely unused to, creating stress for local dogs and their owners alike, the sheer weight of numbers making every instance of anti-social behaviour seem that much worse. We know what it is to be outnumbered; to be treated like a theme park, into and out of which people can drop as their fancy takes them. Sure, some locals make easy money from renting out family property but most have to work tirelessly for longer and longer in keen competition with each other just to make a living, putting out more and more as the visitors’ demands and expectations become ever greater.

We are currently waiting for the day soon when the Scots to go back to school, the first lessening of the tourist load; then the British children begin their academic year. But, most families busy elsewhere, September heralds the influx of older walkers and retired visitors, plus more divers and groups of various sorts. It never stops, and neither does the bagging and/or picking up of other people’s dogs’ pooh, plastic rubbish, barbecues, clothes and tents. So if you fancy swelling the crowds on the Lizard’s beaches, please be our guest; you will find the locations usefully listed here:

https://www.visitcornwall.com/poldark/blog/poldark-film-locations

But you can look up Northumberland for yourself!

 

 

 

Dog days?

20180715_092554Jeoffry’s hut, as it is called, has really come into its own lately. During the last few weeks of sweltering heat I have taken myself inside, rearranged the bedding and made myself a nest, much to the consternation of all. I don’t know which was worse: the unremitting intensity of the sun – something to which none of us up here is accustomed – or being forced reluctantly to accept that we simply would have to take notice of what the England team was up to in the 2018 World Cup! For, amazingly, England’s young team astounded us all with their achievements and, as always, the media’s attentions swerved from initial cynicism to unrealistic expectation in double-quick time. No one could ever have predicted we would come fourth, and that one of ours would win the Golden Boot. As a great believer in the power of the ball to bring folk together, I can only applaud. But the summer temperatures have been a trial for us all and, despite the fun provided by young Nico’s apple-shaped paddling pool, we Dickens Dogs are glad that at last things are beginning to cool down. Today we even had some much-needed rain.

DSCF1049But dogs want to keep going, their routines uninterrupted, no matter how hot it gets, so it takes loving owners to intervene and make sensible choices on our behalf; to allow us our fun, but prevent us from hurting ourselves. On a very hot Sunday, when we thought the event might be called off because of the heat wave, Nico’s sister Tiggy still enjoyed winning the Weiner Race during the Dachshund Walk and Fun Day at Musselburgh Racecourse. Astonished to find she was allowed to chase something for once – a fake squirrel  – she blew the opposition out of the park.  Afterwards, though, she was showered with cool water and she and Freddie left soon afterwards, as the heat intensified, her prize left unclaimed. Better safe than sorry. Yet still we hear every day about dogs dying locked in parked, airless cars in soaring temperatures while their wanton owners idle in the shops, ignorant or careless of their fates, whatever is more reprehensible.

IMG_20180715_153315This week we also caught sight of our new friend, Honey, the Shar-Pei pup, who has arrived in the family of our old friend Bailey, who died earlier in the year. Being only three months old, she needs her final inoculation and another week before we get to greet her properly; we only saw her through our car window very early one morning, taking in the cool sea air and the magic of her new environment. She was like a kind of exotic piglet, with tiny, trotty feet.

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Annie and her daughter Molly on her and Barnaby’s 8th birthday

And now to something sad but also something wonderful. We heard this week that Annie, Barnaby’s wonderful mother, had died, having never properly recovered from the removal of a mammary tumour. In her first litter, from which Barnaby came, there were ten puppies, including the inscrutable Scriggins (whatever became of him, destined as he was for an older couple?) and Molly, who was chosen for future breeding and thus remained with her mother and the older girls who now, one by one, have trundled over the rainbow bridge, over the years. All have gone except Rosie, who was only a puppy herself when Barnaby and Molly were born.

 

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Annie and Wren, now Mummy Tilldawn’s shadow

Now these two Tilldawn-bred girls alone remain with their inestimable Mummy, whom we all love and respect so much for the care and intelligence she has brought to her decades of breeding such gloriously well-adjusted Golden Retrievers. Though she must indeed have thought her puppy days were over, Uncle Johnny was looking out for her as, not long before Annie died came Wren, a Goldie-cross with a long story behind her. Annie’s last few months were distinguished by providing little Wren with the loving mother she never had and now she grows apace, happy and well-adjusted in her warm and loving new home, with her adoptive sisters, Rosie and Molly. It just goes to show, as someone famous once said, ‘Thou met’st with things dying, I with things newborn’.

Here’s fine rosemary, sage and thyme

20180601_154129‘The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said’. So wrote Philip Larkin, and it was with those thoughts in mind that we recently pondered the bursting-forth of one green after another, within our little garden, this belated spring. Oak, sweet chestnut, yew and crab-apple took precedence, for once, over the feathered members of our family we fuss over more, and  foreground every day. We shall return to them, and their dramas, soon enough. But, for now, let us record the utterly serendipitous discovery of bee hives and wild flowers beneath the old Roman walls, viewed recently in the City London. History of Roman occupation, urban development and the destruction caused by the Blitz are elegantly brought to life along Noble Street with creative signage along a walk way from 20180601_153923which one can gaze down upon a colourful and verdant meadow just feet below busy offices, where movers and shakers go about their days. The exposed stones placed there by the invaders in the first century, only properly revealed when subsequent building was obliterated by German bombs, provide the aliums and ferns with warmth and cover, making a magical under-croft beneath the City workers’ feet.

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20180601_161350So much about the City, and its immediate environs to the east, is full of wonder. In a courtyard garden, nestling alongside the old graveyard of Hawksmoor’s St George-in-the-East, a stone’s throw from the Thames in Shadwell, was born a male fox who has lived his entire life there, resuming his daily rest on the corrugated roof over the patio every day, once his nightly peregrinations are done. 20180603_155225Fearless, confrontational even, all day he takes his ease, dozing among the plants, looking up on those rare occasions when he senses a stranger has noticed him, but otherwise unfazed by human activity, particularly those who have known him since he was but a cub, presented to them like a prize in his mother’s mouth. He has never come to harm here and, please God, he never will. Come winter, he wanders off now and then and shelters somewhere secret, returning after particularly icy spells to the place that he calls home. In the same way does London draw all Londoners; those who recognise and cherish its enduring and surprising power to inspire. They will cling to it like ivy, along those Roman walls.

 

In and out the garden

20180531_161831As we write this, the sparrows outside the spare bedroom window are shouting away, full of beans, their home in the martins’ nest alive with the sound of babies and their proud parents’ calls. At last, after the most protracted and disconcerting few months of uncertainty, things have settled down and all the creatures are getting on with life. Everything seems to have been compressed into the last few weeks but having said that, even now – ten days into June – our new oak has only recently come into leaf, the last of our trees to feel secure enough about sunlight and warmth to begin to burgeon forth. 20180512_072525After a good fifteen years of development, first in a planter at the other end of the country, latterly facing south in the garden soil not far from Uncle Johnny’s grave, the wonderful wisteria has relaxed and, in a minor way, let rip, several floral cascades complementing its lush foliage.

The two nearby firs have responded with bright green tips all over and, along from them, the Huw the Yew, planted just before the ‘Beast from the East’ hit everything for six, seems optimistic in its new growth. They say that yew trees flourish where good things thrive, so let us pray for this one’s continued health. No sooner was it in the ground when the snow fell and clung to its cold feet for days on end, apparently doing it no harm other than a bit of brown. These are trees that have seen everything, having endured as individuals often for many centuries, reputedly a thousand. It is humbling to plant a mature specimen and hope that it will honour us with its mysterious gaze for many many years. Perhaps most of all, because we ourselves will not be here to see it.

20180512_072636.jpgEven the humble bay, long one of us and also previously for many years in a planter, has never looked anything as glorious as it did when this spring finally arrived. Imperfectly cropped into a vague ball-shape over the years, its thick, dark green leaves generated lovely bunches of creamy, fragrant blossoms in which it was completely covered.  Ours is essentially a green garden, probably with more than forty shades as well. Looking across the range, you notice especially the sharp lime-yellow of the maple, nestling near the Lincoln-green of the hazel – both big trees now, after several years left to their own devices – and, in between them, the motley holly, which breathes better in the winter when the other two are asleep.

20180512_072441Near the oak, Johnny-Crab-Apple produced a promising crop of blossom in this his first season with us, presaging a little harvest for later in the year. The sweet chestnut has also grown well since being planted last autumn. Lots of new trees; lots of new greens: acts of faith, for the long-term pleasure of man and beast alike. The spiders, beetles, mice, frogs, toads and birds of all kinds speak the language of these (to them) leafy labyrinths and find under and about and within them the wherewithal to sustain their lives. In the black elder, our beloved collared dove has at last settled on her spindly nest of twigs to warm her new-laid eggs. She is patient and trusting, never moving when we stand beneath and talk to her. She knows what she does. And what we mean. The noisy sparrow children will soon fledge and, we hope, feeling secure about the plenty surrounding them, their parents will sit tight and start another family. The more, the merrier.