In praise of Mr Pip: Kemo Sabe writes

20140826_163349So, you are three, my little friend, and I am taking over for a special post, to tell your readers what you mean to me. I know how you would react if you knew we are all looking at and talking about you: your clear brown eyes would widen, your shiny cheeks would puff out, your whiskers would spring forward and, as your neck lengthened, you would begin to bark – let’s move on, you’ld say.

Well, little friend, although I am still unsure how a spaniel found himself in a golden retriever household, every day I give thanks for what you bring. Above all, your signal honesty and straightforwardness; in three years you have never deliberately disobeyed, only pondered a little longer over an all-consuming scent and, once brought back to reality, rushed to do your duty. You so want to be with us, and share your joie de vivre with us. You love us all, it’s obvious. And that makes it possible to feel a little better about the world.

Your cheerfulness is infectious, your interest in everything profound. Your energy is exemplary and, as I watch you rush back to the whistle (as you have done so efficiently since only eight weeks old), I sometimes find myself wondering when time will eventually overtake you and make you slow down. I see you high-five Barnaby and Newman as you seek out trails along the beach, eloquently sharing your happiness at the natural world, no matter what the weather, no matter how much rain is lashing down nor how horizontal the wind.  Your thoughtful profile has directed us to beasts of fur, feather and fin, but you are always respectful, never chasing, never touching, never lurching: the perfect observer.

You have a wonderfully strong constitution, a powerful rib-cage that protects a mighty heart and strength of all kinds, and that strength is never far from me, whatever I am doing. After a tiring and eventful day, nothing is better than taking you in my arms, cradling you as you sleep, trying to imagine what you’re dreaming about, and thanking you for your chunky friendship. The simplicity of your existential goodness will never change, never degrade; a constant joy. Brought among big golden bears as a tiny pup, you are confident, sensible and patient, more mature at three than NuNu will ever be and utterly devoid of jealousy, unlike Mr Rudge. Your knowledge of the past life came only from Uncle Jonny, whom you were privileged to know. He looked at your tiny form and smiled. He knew you would do. Merry, energetic and companionable:  quintessential attributes of the cocker spaniel; to which I would add amusing, thoughtful and devoted. Mr Pip, I salute you. Thank you for opening our eyes to the world you love.


On a beach in summer

IMG00401-20140607-0645In a county of magnificent castles, this is certainly one of the grander ones we’ve found on the beach which extends beneath the glory of the real Bamburgh fortification. Mornings are the time we view and judge the previous day’s sandcastle-making,  varying in complexity and success, it has to be said. We were on Bamburgh beach on our daily run even earlier than usual, just after six, and the early start brought intensified pleasures – a very low tide, nobody about at all, just us and the sea, and – of our little band – me alone off the lead for the entire long run! Though the smallest and youngest of the Dickens Dogs, this little spaniel has proved the most trustworthy, the most obedient, the least greedy for seaweed, and consequently I am free to roam and follow my spanielisms wherever they take me – which in fact is never very far from Kemo Sabe and the boys. There’s been a smelly old dead seal (poor creature) on a far shore for a while now, but I pass it by with but a distasteful glance, and from a distance, quite unlike the boys who always want to get up really close and get covered in its appalling scent. When the magic mood moves me, I run across and high-five Barnaby, sharing my joy and exuberance when I want. Natural things are so wonderful right now: the days are extra long, the birds are thrilling us with their songs all day, the grass keeps growing, Springwatch is on BBC2 and the creatures in our homely menagerie  provide constant comment.

IMG_1633How incomparably lucky we are to enjoy the peace and striking beauty of the miles of Bamburgh beach! As I write, we are constantly and quite rightly reminded by what we hear on the radio and read about the D-Day beaches, and what was happening on and around them seventy years ago. Our hearts and imaginations are filled with gratitude and humility as we stand in a gentle breeze and breath the pure air from the North Sea, remembering the endurance and courage of all those for whom, that day, interminable noise and horror were inescapable.  And the journey to Berlin had only but begun. We will remember them, all of them.

It was broad day-light and a summer day,
a secret. We were taken in:
enigma once again.
A cry in memory – a beautiful day
like a phoenix, we showed them

a different kind of dawn
then; I wonder if we could again.

It’s always been when the sun is out
when you tell the truth –
shame the devil – that it happens all right.

So, today, I think for the first time
of others, waiting in the back room
waiting in vain behind the wrong blockade –
‘This is no time to try to worry us:
The sun is shining. This is no place to land.’

Written in 1969 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of D-Day

Mist on the marshes

IMG00380-20140430-0803On yet another dank and dimpsy morn, I cannot forbear but to begin with a quotation from a novel which follows me round rather more than most spaniels. Day after day recently, as we all began our routines, I felt I was moving within the text provided by my name-sake.  As Pip recalls:

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village – a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there – was invisible to me until I was quite close under it.  The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me. This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind. The gates and dykes and banks came bursting at me through the mist . . . The cattle came upon me with like suddenness, staring out of their eyes, and steaming out of their nostrils, “Holloa, young thief!” One black ox, with a white cravat on – who even had to my awakened conscience something of a clerical air – fixed me so obstinately with his eyes, and moved his blunt head round in such an accusatory manner . . .

Yet I – as we say round here in a particular tone of voice – have done nothing wrong! Nevertheless, the concentrated stare the cattle gave us challenged Newman’s inordinate consumption of seaweed (which had made him boke over the weekend) and Barnaby’s crafty downing of slate (which does nothing for his digestion).

Over the past few days our part of the coast has been coated in this swirling and persistent mist, which has come and gone only in intensity, sometimes moving with exceptional speed and at others creeping slowly up on you, like a phantom out a-haunting. Yesterday afternoon the wind batted it across the mere, creating will-o’-the-wisps of the terns and ducks dangling on it. As I write, it has enveloped us again, not quite a London pea-souper as it’s entirely the wrong colour, but bringing that quiet resolution to the moment in which mystery thrives and dark deeds get done. All in all, we like what it does to our world: there’s a chill in the air but a gentleness too, as though the ordinary things have been wrapped in cotton wool, from which they peer, reminding us how special they are.

This morning, before the mist encroached still further, Kemo Sabe captured a few moments on the beach, as you can see here:


. . . and today I was Tonto 2

IMG_1576Now it’s candle-light, and I’m glad to say that a dragged-out Kemo Sabe is finally resting up beside us all, even the endearing Boy Named Jo who now lives downstairs. My, is she bush-whacked, achey and weak, especially in her poor hands; enough to make me cry.  Kemo Sabe has certainly had an heroic week, and had to hang on in there much longer than she’d planned, as the construction of our beautiful new bunkhouse was real strenuous, that’s for sure. It took much much longer than even a real smart small spaniel like me ever expected, no matter what the boys might say, and a whole lot of nip and tuck was involved to get it all dandy-like. Newman watched from the window; Barnaby blamed the plans but I hung about helpfully, ferrying call-outs for hot drinks and heave-hos from Eats No Vegetables: I was always around. We told the IMG_1578other boys how we were getting on, night after night as we sat around the campfire, warming our mitts: they heard tell how she cut them logs herself, rolled them down the river and then cleaved them in two with that great big saw, then getting the whole darn thing to work as one. Lord, there was cussing and fighting when planks didn’t fit so well, but she’s as great a tailor as she is a faithful scout and one way and another it all looks dandy now, waiting for another coat of paint or two and a bit more studleying-up.  From inside, where it’s warm, dry and insulated, comes the fragrance of coffee waiting for us cold and hungry wranglers; think I’ll take mine on my bunk, after that bowl of bacon and beans. Come on in, Berry; this is a fun place to shelter after a hard day’s graft.

Boy named Jo

IMG_1308 (2)I am writing respectfully, quietly – forming my thoughts with a whisper –  lest I wake the tiny bear upstairs who is covered with a comforting ball of woolly stuff, tucked up warm in his circular nest.  And this is because we have a tiny new friend; a new member of the Dickens clan: a sweet little hamster called Jo. How, we wonder, could this young orphan, with his opulent arrangement of living areas and jungle gyms, labyrinthine tubes, extension pods, alfalfa totem poles and carrot batons, get in touch with his inner crossing sweeper? Arguably Dickens’s most poignant creation – and certainly one to whom we have always wanted to show what home really means – the Jo of Tom All-Alone’s is hard to pin down, and in this respect only is like his little namesake, as this shaky action shot, mid-juice-drink, well shows. But unlike our velvety Jo, with his lustrous white and lavender-brown coat, the Jo Bleak House-Jo-Gwho dies in Allan Woodcourt’s arms has not even a cage which he can call home. How fortunate we beasts are, to be loved and cared for, each according to his special needs: little Jo, left to sleep the day long, visited respectfully by an overjoyed Newman who contains his exuberance with only the greatest difficulty; watched admiringly by Barnaby who has so longed for his presence; visited silently by Jeoffry, who creeps in and out without comment; guarded by a small spaniel who – I think I can truthfully report – has maintained the perfect balance of curiosity and vigilance regarding our new friend.  Last night, at his busiest, little Jo ate half his food supply, his growing appetite an acknowledgement that this is home, where he can relax and enjoy himself at last.  When our humans look back on their lives with us, they hope that we will say of them, ‘He wos wery good to me, he wos!’, as Dickens’s Jo says of Mr  Nemo, the one man in passing thousands who showed him kindness in his brief, disastrous life. All of us must be good to our little Jo and make worthwhile a tiny miraculous life – which too will blaze across our sky quite briefly – however small his world may seem.

If you are interested in Dickens’s original Jo, you will find him peeping through the grime, hunger and illness on the streets of Bleak House. You may also like to read these little articles about him at:


Use me but as your spaniel

IMG_1252No dog appears to us to become so personally attached to his master or mistress as a Spaniel: it cannot endure to be absent; it will come to the room door and scratch and whine to be admitted, and even patiently wait for hours, until entrance be granted. We had a small high-bred female . . . which displayed towards her mistress the strongest affection. This dog was remarkable for beauty, having long glossy hair like silk, and for admirable symmetry; she was besides, as spirited  as elegant . . .

These appreciative words of a nineteenth century spaniel aficionado are quoted in the introduction to Jennifer Lloyd Carey’s splendid work, Cocker Spaniels, first published twenty years ago, a fine work on the history and care of my kind and newly acquired second-hand by Kemo Sabe to add to our growing collections of historic works on my honest little breed. I can tell from all the time she takes looking at such works, pondering on the pictures of my ancient forbears, that she is more and more taken by my sort. When she comes across a thought like the one above she is often moved to draw me closer to hearth and home, knowing that my kind have long proven devoted and constant companions.  I understand and I am quietly proud. Such comments are typical, and pepper the prefaces of instructional works about keeping little spaniels like me.  Only yesterday Kemo Sabe read to us about Rogue, Charles I’s spaniel, who was with him until the end: despite the fellow’s shortcomings of character, I am glad that Rogue remained devoted and gave him friendship when the world was turning upside down.

200px-Hs-lloyd-and-luckstar-of-wareMrs Lloyd Carey, mentioned above, comes from a family which knows more about Cocker Spaniels than most as three generations have bred and loved spaniels. True to form she was with her dog Robin at Crufts last week, though she has been attending since childhood and showed her first Cocker Spaniel in her own right in 1948. When her dear Robin failed to trouble the judges this year, Mrs Carey wasn’t perturbed: the vicissitudes of dog shows are all one to her! Mrs Carey’s grandfather was a pioneer Cocker Spaniel-man, founding a famous line; her father, Herbert Summers Lloyd, won Best in Show at Crufts no less than six times, twice indeed with Luckystar of Ware, the sweetie in the middle of this picture, who looks a lot like me. Peas out of pods, as the boys will no doubt say!

If you would like to see more about this remarkable family of dogs and their loving humans, you will find an interesting little video here:

220px-Canigou_Cambrai_1996Cocker Spaniels have won Best In Show at Crufts more than any other breed, the last one being Albert, professionally known as Champion Canigou Cambrai, in 1996. I wonder if a Cocker will ever win Crufts again, or is that a fond hope? In an age when dog show glamour is increasingly located in the weird and wacky, breeds are no longer fit for their original purpose, and untraditional breeds and those contorted into unhealthy shapes seem to capture the popular imagination, it is good to celebrate the well-roundedness and vigour of the Cocker Spaniel whose only drawback when being shown is the length of his furry skirt! We are a really lovely companion dog: merry, active, modestly-sized, kindly, loyal and deeply, deeply affectionate. We give ourselves wholeheartedly to everything we do and, for most of us, that means being there for you, for as long as you need. By the way, the orange roan in this post is one of my relatives of the Lynwater line: a gorgeous girl and very like my mother.

Chance encounters of the canine kind

IMG_1202This thoughtful chap is Claus, a red, miniature smooth-haired dachshund. He is a gem and I would like him to join me on the sofa! What a splendidly serious chap he is, with his vase-y front legs and inscrutable expression – one which seems to suggest that he has seen more than most of us, and been impressed less, too. We met young Claus on hound and terrier day, the second day of showing at this year’s Crufts; with him were his lovely owners, cheerful and very friendly twin sisters over from their native Sweden both to enjoy a holiday and then tackle Crufts. Communication wasn’t a problem for any of us and what was a chance encounter turned into an ebullient time for IMG_1207all. Apart from this trim small gentleman, so pensive in his pose, the ladies had brought with them his litter sister, Lotte, and even tinier ‘little’ Claus, who is a rabbit-sized dachshund – entered as a separate class on the continent. Each dachshund had its own distinctive character: Lotte, a bit barky like me, but unlike me a bit stand-offish (the ladies apologised); Claus-the-Great, dignified, easy-going and sociable; Claus-the-Less, sleepy, cuddly and cute as a button and still only a pup. Four o’clock had come and gone when we happened on this little family in a quiet corner of their hall so most of the dachshunds had been removed from the benches which had been theirs all through the judging. Boys and girl alike agreed that they did not mind not having won a class; it was wonderful to be here, in England, having a lovely holiday before the big occasion that is Crufts, with all its ups and downs, its stress and feelings. We all smiled and laughed and extended our hands – our paws – across the bridge which links such little souls as us to the most prestigious dog show in the world. Good to be here, they laughed; a privilege to qualify; an experience to treasure. Lovely little fellows!

IMG_1214Next door, in the Hound section of Discover Dogs, we found a small a black and tan, with perfect, shiny black claws resting gently on an elbow – nestled in his loving owner’s arms. In the neighbouring booth we found his standard-sized cousin, whose bulk made him much more of an armful: a real dog, as some may say. To this small spaniel, the gentle, inquiring eyes of the variously-sized dachshunds are very striking and the questions they were IMG_1212asking have stayed with me. To the touch they are lovely things: trim yet tough, with good strong muscles; their silkiness is irresistible; their ears simply demand to be stroked; their paws, as mighty as a mole’s, demand to be taken and tenderly grasped; a good strong back, and capable legs. But best of all, that intelligent and intellectual expression, borne aloft the nose from which spring the scenthound’s special gifts!

Witnessing fancy’s images

IMG_1197Freshly coiffed, here I lie beside the saltire of my father’s country and ponder the fact that, by first thing this beautiful morning, all evidence of the film-makers had gone from the beach, save the scaffold – now charred and worn from the work to which it had been pressed. A lonely relic among the dunes, we hope it will be left until reclaimed by wind and weather over the years to come. An empty stage is always evocative and – no matter how briefly peopled – ghosts persist, as we boys know better than most. Reading the signs of other realms of existence – an excellent tracker – head down, I charge along employing my spaniel-isms; the poetry, the images of time and place, footprint and breath; what once was there and now is there no more.   Shakespeare, who seems to have understood everything, through the character of Macbeth, his own creation, shows us that he understood the difference between dog and dog:  the swift, the slow, the subtle,/The housekeeper, the hunter.  Interesting isn’t it, that at the point of choosing a suitably ruthless murderer to take on the assault on Banquo, his own best friend, Macbeth reaches for his knowledge of mankind’s truest companion? Yes, we have our uses, and our talents; ‘bounteous nature’ throbs in our veins. You may have left us, Michael Fassbender, but I – a small spaniel – can detect you still! Other recent posts have reflected on the sudden transformation wrought here by the arrrival of the Macbeth shoot.  In the village car park, now bereft of all the trainers, vans, equipment, coaches and trucks, only the marquee survives. No doubt by the end of the week, that will have vanished, too. The other sort of magic has all gone. But only in a sense.

If you would like to see some other pictures of the filming, you will find them here:

Giants’ robes and a dwarfish spaniel

photo courtesy of Bamburgh Castle

These beetling black figures, viewed from the castle crow’s nest, are not about to besiege or attack Bamburgh but are in fact, even as I write this, busy about their harmless work, peopling the dunes with suitably clad extras for the new film of Macbeth.  Long inky capes are the order of the day, and there are masses of them: a high five to the firm that landed that order, methinks!  Outside the pavilion on the village side of the castle, these dubious figures are gathering in inky swathes, delivered by incongrous mini-vans from the shoot head headquarters in the car park across the road.

Theatrical transformation is so thrilling; the everyday is briefly touched by a dash of stardust and little creatures like us are caught in its sparkle: a  wondrous world wherein, as in a dream, a bush atop a sand dune is easily supposed a bear. We cannot help but wonder what these busy and numerous newcomers, professionals and amateurs alike – with their boredom-redeeming Sudokus, thermal coffee-mugs and knitting – are making of this place, but we hope they like it here.  Knowing that, by the time we trundle along the sands on our familiar way tomorrow, the Thane of Cawdor has cantered on before us, will lend a special magic to our steps. But the reality of routine is what a dog loves best:  a whiff of crushed crab on a slab of volcanic rock I’ve bounced across a hundred times is the true magic; it wrinkles my nose and sends me onward, ever onward – to seek more joy beneath the castle walls.

The first death


Who’ll be chief mourner?

‘I,’  said the dove,
‘I mourn for my love . . .’

Today the news is justifiably full once again of the catastrophic weather conditions which are currently afflicting this country. Someone or other mentioned in the papers that in fact things are not so bad really, and that what folk have been going through isn’t a major disaster, because as yet no lives had been lost in the waters or wind. Well, here on a sunny rather bracing Thursday –  windy yes, but nothing special for up here; where it’s rained really not that much over the last six weeks and the seas haven’t been that remarkable – you can see a little life that has been lost, our friend the herring gull. His natural beauty, the miracle of his lustrous feathers, even on a sandy plain, moves me to thought and brings me to his side. It makes me ponder the countless birds brought down in these biblical floods; the starving thousands of garden birds, cut off from their food supplies. I can only barely imagine the terrifying confusion of the creatures of the underworld – mice, rats, moles, badgers, voles of all kinds – drowned where they lie before they can even think of trying to run from the homes they thought their havens. What will become of us, the onlookers cry? What does the future hold? Is this the autumn storm, the winter thaw, a spring deluge? The world’s turned upside down. In my warm and snuggly bed, I know that more is coming, that more little souls will die.  Who knows what lies in store, for any of us?