Notes from the underground

20160323_181238Since we all returned from Crufts we’ve been under the weather and no mistake. Speaking for my own medical case, I know this is not a good look, but at least I’ve been spared what Barnaby calls ‘the cone of shame’. I like to think of this soft, protective cushion as the doughnut of comfort and so far it’s served me nicely, stopping me from nibbling my wound and giving me something reassuring to rest against. I acquired it on returning home after a day at the vet’s for what  – everyone tells me – is a routine operation. I note with interest, however, that none of the others knows anything about it.  I am sore, though, and feeling more than a bit delicate which is empathetic of me, bearing in mind how ill the humans have been for the last couple of weeks.

Like my own poor Kemo Sabe, however, I can at last feel the life force returning, in recognition of which I’ve now been allowed to exercise with the others in the morning once again. Oh the joy of smelling the salty sea air! The fellowship! The fun! Being a responsible boy, I haven’t pushed myself too far and, as the nurse at the vet’s said during my check-up yesterday, things are healing nicely. The humans have really had to stagger through this winter, with its record grey skies and mild temperatures; it’s no wonder these virulent germs have been so difficult to vanquish and I have had my own down days, too. The sun has all but abandoned the country this winter – a record-breaking year of days without sunshine –  and in particular the post-Crufts weeks have been a kind of twilight zone for us all, overshadowed by Hammy Jo’s empty cage and the lassitude that overwhelms the unwell: sleeping badly, coughing madly and yet – ironically – longing always for bedtime! How sad it makes us to see them brought so low.

20160325_102133(1)Thus, despite returning home after our Crufts adventures dying to tell the big news about what happened to our friend, Sebastian the dalmatian, fate intervened and, one after another, the troops went down and I have laid aside the composition of my paean of praise for a couple more days. As I write this, Hammy Bumble is as active as ever in his demesne. Whatever the time of day, whenever we enter the study, he is always awake, or ready to rise, never fully relaxed, always ready to run around madly, his own particular silliness being to roll over and over, as though doing somersaults. Bit by bit he is learning there is nothing to fear, as must I, in my comfy doughnut. We must hope and move forward, despite the darkness, despite the unknown fear. For despite everything, day after day our fragrant meals have been provided promptly morning and afternoon; our routines honoured; our needs met – Hammy’s initial training included. How blessed we creatures are to be put first, and sometimes at such cost.

Waiting for the whales

Three_Beached_Whales,_1577Today we came across yet another young grey seal corpse, rolling in the surf of high tide. This one was upside down (and, it turned out, headless), so clearly dead already, which is a kind of relief in a way; sometimes getting them back in the water can be such a chore and potentially very distressing to them, and indeed dangerous for us. We are always excited when we come across them, in their various stages of disarray and indeed decay; occasionally we get a chance to cover ourselves in their wonderful scent, bringing ourselves closer to something authentic about animal life – and, it has to be admitted, death. Why is that, I wonder?

Never a month goes by without at least one or two stranded seals, the worst being the fully grown ones, which find it almost impossible to return to the sea from our beaches  without quite a bit of tricky human intervention because the beach slopes so gradually here that it’s really hard for them swim away naturally – even at the highest tide – once they’ve been deposited onshore. When the tide is particularly low, which of course corresponds to the very highest tides – the world being what it is – the body count begins to multiply. It is little comfort to recall that we have nearly two thousand seals on the Farnes this year; that another little death will make no difference. We sorrow terribly over the distress, perhaps even more than the loss of life, and summon the British Divers Marine Life Rescue to help us out.

20160121_082355Over the last few days several sperm whales have been found beached on the east coast of this country. One by one, despite lots of kind folk trying to shoo them back into the North Sea, they have all died, and we are all saddened to see them lying helpless and gasping, uselessly out of their element. Sperm whales are our favourite cetacean and, though it would be terrible and sad, we would be thrilled and honoured to gaze up close at Moby Dick and think about his wondrous life, diving deeper than any other creature, grasping with his neat rows of peg-like teeth the giant squid we know that we will never ever see, travelling miles and miles from one end of an ocean to another. What strange journey brings them literally to our shores, beside this, the shallowest of Britain’s seas? It is as if they seek encounters out, sacrificing everything for the meeting of minds.

Though we saw the sunrise we found no whales, just an empty beautiful beach which every day brings something from its nothingness. You never know; once Uncle Johnny found a little dolphin, so we shall keep our eyes open. As someone famous once said:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. 

You can see and read more about the Lincolnshire whales at these websites:


Barnaby’s new Biscuit

20150918_181234We were back on the beach this morning, after more than a week’s holiday, running ahead of the forecast rain which we did in fact beat back to Seahouses with only some drizzle on our fur. As a spaniel tried and true I love routine, but I also enjoy the opportunity to meet new friends in new places – as dear Barnaby did last week in Somerset. For there he met busy little Biscuit (a spaniel cross) and for the first time in his life he has an admirer, who hero-worships him devotedly and missed him greatly when he returned home. It is a huge responsibility for Barnaby to be adored, especially as Kemo Sabe says that he is spoilt and who – unlike me – has up until now been largely ignored by Nico. But Barnaby will soon be six and a dog to look up to.

20150918_181338Barnaby and Biscuit hit it off from the moment of arrival at the little puppy’s cottage home, deep in the rolling countryside which borders three counties. Biscuit immediately invited Barnaby to enjoy chasing him up the hill, across the lawns towards the fence from where they could stand and stare at the black and white dairy cows in the farmer’s field. Biscuit plunged enthusiastically into the raised flower and vegetable beds, hoping that big Barney would have a still more devastating effect on the carefully tended flora and fauna.  O tempora, o mores! as someone famous once said. Now that I am four I can barely recall what it is to be mischievous!

An aged Uncle Jonny and a very young me
An aged Uncle Jonny and a very young me

Biscuit has fallen on his considerably furry feet (which we have in common). He is wanted and loved, and has loads of space to run around; he responds with delightful enthusiasm, directed by Barnaby’s deliberations over leaf and log as if he was reading the revelations of a seer. Such are the benefits of having a mature dog around a baby one, so long as the older is indeed more sensible and a teacher to treasure. Up Ham Hill they went together, nipping ripe blackberries and sniffing the rabbit holes, playing hide and seek behind the standing stones and, a full twenty eight miles in another direction, gazing up in wonder at triangular Alfred’s Tower and all those bricks. A puppy life so new and so enchanting inspires us all; we who are older must remain patient, and remember the devoted love from older dogs, now gone, in whose wisdom we glowed, and grew, in the special times we shared together.

Run, and become

IMG00169-20120329-1648Strange things have been happening in my tummy lately, which is very odd for me. In all my (nearly four) years, I have only had one fleeting occurrence of what is euphemistically referred to as the squits but, for the last few days, I’ve definitely been struggling to regain my digestive equilibrium. Kemo Sabe has even had to resort to medication, and for the last two mornings gave me a pill, camouflaged – and not that brilliantly either – by the lovely mince we have at breakfast time. Remarkably, feeling under the weather only seems to make me – if anything – more energetic than usual; my determination to retrieve is as keen as ever and my pleasure in repeatedly searching and swimming (if necessary to do the job) remain steadfast, so we went down on the beach again today – just the two of us.

The summer has returned! Late-booking visitors patrolled the shining sands, dogs in tow, many dashing in and out of the sea, their joy in being what they are so much more palpable than their owners’ who, quite frankly, often look to be in a rum mood when on holiday.  For some reason the freedom from normal everyday life seems to place another kind of stress on folk, making them very grumpy. Anyway, the rising temperature meant  we have cleaned out the stove once again, as it was far too hot for a fire today; all the windows and French doors are now open. The grass front and back has been cut for the umpteenth time much to Nicholas’s chagrin (he so loves to bark at machinery), and as we watched we counted the butterflies, huge bumble bees and (someone else’s) house-martins catching flies overhead.  Yet, despite all this, on the bush above the oak bench a robin sang conversationally, reminding us that his is the voice we will have to wait for all too soon when the more seasonable weather resumes, as resume it must, probably tomorrow. Our resident sparrows chattered busily, attending to their routines, chicks reared and populations increased. In no time at all I will be running again with only the curlews’ call as a backdrop as I resume my life’s work of invigorating every day with my lust for life, noisy though it is.

The great British gundog

IMG_3073The World at One, BBC Radio 4’s daily news and current affairs programme, is celebrating its 50th anniversary by asking famous folk for their suggestions of things which make Britain excellent. There have been some terrific responses: Germaine Greer suggested our beautiful native bluebells, Jude Law our country’s theatre, writer Neil Gaiman said that the way we British apologise has become an art form of which nationally we can be proud; someone even nominated British hypocrisy (whatever that is for, as a spaniel, I couldn’t possibly understand).  Our suggestion for The World at One at 50 celebration is ‘The great British gundog’, by which we mean all the wonderful gundog breeds native to these islands, from English Setter to Welsh Springer Spaniel (which is the alphabetical order found in Championship Shows).

IMG_3076Renowned for hard work, dedication, loyalty, determination and love of the countryside, we are also by nature ever-devoted and sweet-tempered, loving and kindly. Beautiful to look at, we come in a range of sizes to suit all kinds of accommodation, in a matchless range of colours and coat-types, typically very easy to care for.  Whether it’s the English Pointer, so elegant and neat, needing little or no grooming, or the Golden Retriever – like the boys seen here with me – with their magnificent heads and swishiest tails, the working Clumber Spaniel, so strong and tireless in the field, or the busy energy of a little Cocker, like yours truly: you simply cannot get away from the fact that we are a group of pedigree breeds without compare.  Not for nothing is Gundog Day the busiest day at Crufts!

Gordon Setter by R. Arkesteyn
Gordon Setter by R. Arkesteyn

It is worth noting that fashion for foreign gundog breeds has led to a sharp decline in numbers of some of our native ones: the beautiful English Setter, which comes in a range of delicate colourways, has dwindled in popularity , with few litters of pups registered at the Kennel Club last year and unfortunately it is rarely seen outside of the show ring these days. If you have never seen one, take a look at this lovely Gordon Setter, a black and tan beauty of such poise and splendour. There is something about our soft and generous mouths, our generous dewlaps, common to our group, which adds to the sense that we are beasts you should trust: you will be safe with us beside you. There is something so tried and true about us all; we have been at the feet of those we love for generations, crowding round their fires and helping them to bring home the dinner, be it rabbit or pheasant, which we are always more than happy to share, of course. Every day Newman and Barnaby make strangers into friends when they greet them, smiling, on the beach; I am always myself, loud and proud to be a little spaniel, but part of a gundog team led by the person we all adore.

If you are interested in The World at One, or in registering your nomination for something British to be proud of, you can find out more on their website: