Crufts around the corner

fb_img_1486239315855Sometimes the frustrations of life in a family can be overwhelming, the delicate balance lost between the demands of dogs and the requirements of our owners. Kemo Sabe certainly has a lot to put up with! It’s easy to get annoyed at Newman, what with him eating everything in sight – or trying to, if he possible can – and especially seaweed, of course. It’s all too easy when you’re on the phone to get annoyed with Barnaby, for clinging so close you think you’re going to burst with claustrophobia, or indeed with yours truly when I tumble downstairs and jump over the handset, risking a cut-off, mid-call. It’s really easy to get completely sick of Nico’s barking as he alerts us all to the arrival of our friendly delivery persons or runs yapping straight at the heels of male joggers on the beach. Oh, and I can see that it would be entirely understandable to have had enough of my hyperactivity,  always on tenter-hooks as I am for the next exciting event in our daily routine, whining like mad with anticipation, rushing around from one room to another as the tension mounts, urging everyone else to join in the mayhem. Yes, all of us – apart from Hammy Bumble, whose chubby patience and simple needs humble us all – are really very irritating indeed. Fortunately, however, along comes Crufts and, as if by magic, everyone sees the light, as they gaze at the wonder which is the dog and ponder on the qualities which make us the world’s favourite companion animal. Only a couple of weeks to go now, and it’s well worth the wait for the reflected kudos it brings us all.

20170212_120857For our part, we boys probably take much more from those we love than what we give back.  We are the centre of their lives, running our families ragged with our constant focus on the fun to come. Life is such a hoot, after all ! Why won’t everyone join in? What is the point of holding up the walk in order to comb out the clumps in Barnaby’s coat? Why must I go to Donna-Marie’s for a serious haircut to keep the curls out of my eyes and ears. And all those booster injections, what’s all that about? We have nothing other than fun and frolic to think about; nothing other than dinner once breakfast is over and bedtime snacks once the afternoon walk is done. They, on the other hand, have other of our interests at heart; time-consuming tasks often costing considerable sums, designed to keep us looking and feeling our best. Training to do; discipline to keep; puppies to educate for safe, long and happy lives.

Next Tuesday when we welcome young Frederick – pictured above with Nico’s sister, Tiggy  – we’ll be able to see how he’s getting to grips with the politics of family life.  He will be accompanying her to Crufts, for which she qualified some months ago. More anon, as I always say. Apparently, he has wheedled his way into her affections, which isn’t surprising, and she – apparently – puts up with a lot from him. As everyone in this house would surely chorus: don’t we all?

 

 

 

Strangers and foreign lands

20160928_162254We recently travelled all the way up into Scotland, to Cromarty on the Black Isle, which is two shipping areas above us here in Tyne. This view looks out to sea between the headlands known as the Sutors, where the deep waters of Cromarty Firth open into the vast Moray Firth, and on this beach, blessedly free of the seaweed we are not allowed to gobble, it was a joy to run free and unmuzzled for once.

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Cromarty has one of the deepest anchorages in the whole of Europe which is why, when you look away from the open sea, you will find an amazing array of hardware – massive oil rigs at rest – cradled within the natural harbour: at night it’s like a scene from Apocalypse Now.  The rigs are those currently out of commission – the lower the price of oil, the greater the number – monsters ablaze with light, interlopers from another world entirely and incongruous in every way, save in their centrality to Cromarty’s economy and livelihood.

20160929_125940At Culloden, where the English dead lie vastly outnumbered by the unfortunate Jacobite Scots clans, we found another incongruity: a lone dog pooh bin upon the battlefield, where the car park provides not a single litter receptacle of any kind at all – a first, we have to admit!  Ironically, we were on the sombre moor when the rain finally abated, the sun emerged at last and we were able to mourn the departed clan members whose spirits wander over and around this atmospheric, doleful place.

20160929_150026Cawdor Castle, not far away, afforded an immediate sense of warmth and cosiness, its handy-sized drawbridge and dog-bowl by the front door inviting us in just as warmly as the smell of roasting beef which permeated the dining room within. Lady Cawdor was expected home shortly, we were assured. In the garden next to the castle, a magnificent copper bird-feeder drizzled seed continuously into troughs, as the little creatures fed at will. A place of plenty, this, and with a pleasant seat, as someone famous once said.

Barnaby was beside himself late one night in the garden of the house where we were staying: he found his first hedgehog rootling around the herbaceous border! Both creatures – dog and pig – were alarmed but Kemo Sabe held Barnaby tight and taught him gentle curiosity. In an expansive garden walled in historic stone, we saw the ice house, now used for storage, joined to the main house by a tunnel now blocked against unwarranted intrusion; we saw a note which warned us to beware of stepping on the toads which frolic in the cellarage and we heard that the chickens had been wantonly killed by the local pine martin. We were a long way north of here, and it felt like it!

 

 

 

 

 

Little gems

IMG_2179This week Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, celebrated their second birthday. Joy was unconfined, gifts were opened and then furry dollies of various kinds were exchanged and energetically ratted, with Pupkin and the rest of us trying to get a look-in whenever we could. How extraordinary that so much time has passed since that tiny soul entered our lives and ate his first tiny meal from one of Jeoffry’s china bowls. His little wrinkly forehead and wrinkled legs endeared him immediately to the rest of us – the big boys – whom he took completely in his stride, 20160726_132501dachshunds being fearless and, ounce for ounce, among the most courageous creatures in the animal kingdom. Just the sort to fit well into our family of outdoorsy extroverts.

The chance meeting with Nico’s litter sister when they were six months old, and the fact that she lives only a short way up the coast – a truly remarkable quirk of fate, given that they originate from Lincolnshire – brought further joy and regular get-togethers into our lives. It’s now as though we have two dachshunds (three, including our beloved Pupkin) in our otherwise gundog pack. Tiggy and Nico, perfect young dachshunds, are vigorous, physically strong and outgoing; dachshunds love to be held and give affection, but they also love to sniff and search the outdoor world, pursuing the shrews and voles our human family members can’t see beneath the greenery. They are real all-rounders, hardy and adaptable.

20160415_102215We did a lot of research – about the breed itself and about breeders – and waited for over a year before Nico came into our lives, which is just what happened for Tiggy, too:  after their birth and babyhood  – marked by our travelling a long way south to see them – eventually they were old enough to leave their natural mother and begin the childhood journey to the young adults they’ve now become. Nico’s and Tiggy’s very existence was, therefore, carefully considered by their breeder before their parents were selected and our responsibility to them as owners and family was seriously undertaken when, at eight weeks, they trundled into our lives; little individuals we looked forward to getting to know as they started playing with toys we knew we’d have to share, just as the retrievers had shared theirs with me when I came along.

Now that there are more and more dogs in last-chance saloons of various kinds and, increasingly, folk thinking of getting a dog make a rescue dog their first choice, there is a growing popular notion that choosing a pedigree puppy is some kind of self-indulgence. They overlook the significance of the fact that too often it is indiscriminate, ill-advised and downright pernicious breeding that lies behind the majority of dogs being abandoned, abused or sickly.  It is important to know your breed; to know what you can expect from the breed you go for: that a dachshund will be a better guard dog than a golden retriever, for example, and that that means more noise! We have very close connections with golden retriever rescue, the Dogs Trust and indeed Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, whose work we support, and it always remains a possibility that we would give a home to a dog whose owner has died or can no longer look after him. But, for us, nothing can replace bringing that much-loved puppy home in one’s arms and then seeing what he has in store for us. One of life’s greatest joys – and privileges. Happy Birthday, Tiggy and Nico!

 

Bird in the hand

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Today, with another magnificent sunrise, all are gone; well, apart from one or two very late migrators, that is. As the light gradually emerged, it was the sparrows and ducks we heard overhead  – not the sandmartins: their nesting wall was silent and abandoned, though basking in the autumnal sunshine as we passed beneath it this morning.

Film crews and stars have also packed up and 20160920_065657-2left us, after taking over all the car parks and bringing record crowds and traffic to the area over the weekend. On Sunday morning, the sky hummed with helicopters filming up and down the sands; only the security crew guarding the equipment and our little band were there, looking up into the dull, pre-dawn light at these extraordinary events, these sophisticated arrivals. But where there had been such frenzied activity and pavements-full of autograph-hunters, now there is only a forlorn line of lights, the last bits of kit awaiting collection, with nothing and no-one of note to illuminate any more. Yes, once again, things are very very quiet round here.

20160920_105243Yet, just up the coast, as we approached the causeway to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, there befell a small epiphany: a busy little bird suddenly swooped all amazingly through the open door of the barn-cafe where we we just about to sit with our elevenses and fell in confusion at Kemo Sabe’s feet. Like all truly miraculous moments it happened off-camera, like the reunion of Leontes and Perdita.  Kemo Sabe picked up the dazed little creature and held him to her, something she could never have imagined doing; steadying and encouraging him to overcome this setback and get him about his business, quietly astonished at the paraclete’s descent and the fact that it did indeed eventually revive, regain its equilibrium and fly away.

20160920_115954 On Lindisfarne itself, where seals were playing in the shallows near St Cuthbert’s hermitage, we were greeted by plentiful late swallows and martins feeding up in the ever-darkening sky (for the clouds were forming and the sun crouching as the weather front began to approach from the west). We were visiting as a kind of celebration of my recent fifth birthday, in honour of which Nico and I enjoyed a tiny bit of ice cream and, returning home, sausages with our dinner. But my magic day was made by a magic martin who said hello and goodbye in one fell swoop, an ineffable privilege which blessed us as we could never have hoped. So with Paulina we also say: ‘It is required you do awake you faith.’

 

 

 

 

 

Going for gold

20160814_194327I have not been well these last few days. In fact, I have been as unwell as I can ever remember: unable to eat, unwilling to jump the small distance into my place on the sofa and, when we went out yesterday morning, for a shorter trundle than usual because Kemo Sabe knows me so well she could see I still wasn’t myself, I jogged along several sedate paces behind her – demeanour and pace both entirely alien to me. As I dictate this, I am recovering. Though the vet had initially thought there was nothing much wrong a couple of magic injections couldn’t rectify, yesterday morning when it was clear I still felt really poorly, Kemo Sabe took me back in for an x-ray and, before I knew it, I was recovering from an abdominal operation during which a long, thick piece of seaweed was removed from my small intestine. There are still small bits to be passed naturally, but they are in the colon so it’s only a matter of time now I’m back on the dinners again until they emerge naturally. How I long to be back with the boys, looking up at the wonders on the television, with all the routines in place once again.

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‘Swimming!’

My emergency has overshadowed the production and tone of the piece I was preparing about how much fun we’ve all been having watching and responding to our amazing Olympic team. As we’re coming up to the last few days of competition, I  thought I’d share some pictures of Barnaby with you, enjoying a range of activities and national achievements. Above you see him enjoying the golf, for him an unmissable spectacle as it includes the use of a single ball whose progress across the greensward is punctuated by visitations of capybara and cayman: what a hoot! 20160808_202702As one after another the various disciplines unfolded, and the medals mounted in events as disparate as badminton, diving, dressage, gymnastics, kayaking, swimming, sailing, taekwondo, hepthathlon, not to mention the cycling – with all those races with funny titles – our interest has been held and our knowledge of human determination deepened. Hats off to all those who work so hard to become consistent performers in their field. On Wednesday, before my first abortive visit to the vet, my mind overcame matter as I ran out to retrieve my beloved ball. My return was slow and my deliberation rightly read by she who knows me better than anyone as the best sign yet that something was really, really wrong. I hope that when I am fully fit I will enjoy my running again for, truly, it is my metier and I am a champion in my own right.

 

Come unto these yellow sands

20160506_070626Yesterday was, for us up here in the extreme north east of England, the first really lovely day of early summer. After a few weeks in which winter’s temperatures returned with a vengeance and, whatever else was happening with that light in the sky, it remained cold and windy, yesterday we all felt we had at last crossed the boundary between one climate and another. Today the sun’s warmth fulfilled its promise, rising cheerfully and posing charmingly above the islands and the sea. What wind there had been had dropped overnight, maybe to a 2 or 3 on the Beaufort Scale (there was no shipping forecast on the radio this morning, so Kemo Sabe says we can’t be sure); the beach was deserted, the tide a way off, the rocks revealed and the sands as comforting as the beams which warmed them.

On such a morning, as we all gaze in wonder out towards Holy Island and Cuthbert’s hermitage on Inner Farne, blessed beneath such an expressive sky and such promising light, sparkling with possibility, it’s not hard to see why this place has a magnetic quality and transformative power, too. One’s imagination fills with words from that poignant creature, Ariel, about how the sea brings home its riches, some of greater worth than others, to such a shore as this. The famous words are sung here as they were at Stratford for the RSC in 1978 by the much-missed actor Ian Charleson, with music composed by Guy Woolfenden, who died only recently and whom we will always remember for bringing the songs of our favourite famous poet and dramatist to life in memorable and unique ways.

 

 

Too clever by half

20160418_110158Some scientific half-wit, we hear, has come to the conclusion that hugging dogs makes them feel threatened.  I shall simply pause now to allow those of you who did not hear this latest research when it was reported on the news and in the press last week to consider this possibility, and then have a good laugh.  Unsurprisingly, dog owners have responded with incredulity. On what kind of dogs was this research carried out, they cry? Cayotes, dingos, wolves, African wild dogs? Only a silly soul would try to hug a dog they didn’t know! But that was not how the results of the study were presented.

We Dickens Dogs, and indeed every dog we know, absolutely loves to be loved, and being loved means being held; having your special person wrap you in their arms and bring themselves as close as close can be, so we can smell and feel them properly. We love cuddling each other – little Nico climbing aboard Uncle NuNu every morning after our run and ensuing breakfast for a reassuring snuggle; Barnaby thrusting his head defiantly beneath Kemo Sabe’s arm, sometimes spilling her tea, insisting – yes, insisting – he gets a hug. To substitute for this physical closeness we gum our fake-fur dollies, seeking a second-hand solace in their soft familiarity. But it’s nowhere near the real thing.

In our loved ones arms we feel safe and secure, reminded of the unique bond which brings two utterly different kinds of beings together. To our loved ones I would say, on behalf of all my brothers: we know how busy your lives are; we see events speed past, filling you with surprise and sometimes dread, happiness and horror; we cannot offer words of love or encouragement, reassurance or reflection; to bark would be to bully. All we can do is lean against your side and hope your embrace will pull us into your world, for merely moments if that is all you can spare. We are not in the way. We love you, and we need you; we are waiting; we are here.