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!

 

 

 

Wilkins Micawber

Willie BWWilkins Micawber, known as Willie, was the second of the Dickens Dogs. Willie was wonderful: big-boned, furry, gentle, sweet-natured and enormous fun. Uncle Johnny told me that when he was just a little puppy on holiday up here in Northumberland with Willie they had such a great time together – running, tumbling, letting go; every day was an adventure. Although Uncle Tommy was nearer in age to young Johnny, it was dear old Willie who was fun and, though Willie wasn’t a very bright crayon, in many ways he shines brightest of all because he was simply so very good. He was a kind of saint – the Prince Myshkin of Dickens Dogs.

He was born in the Black Country, in Tipton, laughingly called ‘the Venice of the Midlands’, one of ten pups, out of which litter one died. I expect he used to think about his lost litter-mate: I would have done.  When he was collected in the spring, and was being lifted gently into the car, Old Noggsy (the original Newman Noggs) gave a look of resignation and generously made room in his world, thereafter allowing the new family member to have whatever he wanted. He was like that. In fact, I have noticed how all golden retrievers share this exceptional open-heartedness. They are very kind dogs.  Very content in their essential dogginess; very centred.

Willie and Newman became a good team, moving around the country as lives changed: as a duo they were a by-word for reliability. Indeed, like all goldens, they were always there! When Willie was two he took a funny turn and the vet said he had had an epileptic fit (I said he was like Prince Myshkin). Though he went on to have more from time to time, he didn’t need medication until he was about six. As it turned out he was really suited to the pills and the rest of his life passed without incident. He lived until he was nearly thirteen and to this day is the only Dickens Dog to have died in his own time: he had a heart attack and dropped down dead in his garden.

Willie’s greatest love was swimming and he was terrific at it.  This was discovered when he was really young, on his first break away at the Devon seaside, one winter’s day when the wind was wild and the waves were rolling in. Because Uncle Noggsy didn’t like getting into water much, and certainly wouldn’t have ventured in under such appalling weather conditions, they were staggered when Willie became incredibly excited as they descended the steep path to the little cove. He gathered pace and began to bark in anticipation as the smell of the sea drew closer, much to everyone’s amazement, and when he finally got on the shingle he ran into the water, into the massive waves, as though fulfilling his destiny.  Astonishment! The size and ferocity of the waves concerned him not a jot: it was love at first sight! After that, though he didn’t live by the sea himself, whenever he got the chance he was straight in there, and was never happier than when joined by one or other of the family.

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Old Uncle Noggsy and Willie

Willie had a lovely temperament, ever gentle and loving, ever happy and positive – his simplicity and goodness are a lesson to us all: in no way could being more intelligent have improved him one little bit. Right to the end of his life, when his back legs had failed miserably and the arthritis made running an impossibility, he still leapt out of the back of the car ready for anything, having forgotten he’d only get about ten yards before his rear end gave way. It didn’t matter to him as he lived every moment to the full. He was a glorious golden boy and we will always remember him with enormous love. Once towards the end of his life, when his hearing and eyesight had deteriorated, a person who didn’t know him well got annoyed that his big frame was in the way in a narrow corridor and they smacked him for being there. There was much dismay and the person concerned eventually left the Dickens Dogs’ lives. Uncle Johnny never forgot that. He said it was a betrayal and one of the most indefensible acts he ever witnessed.

Things dying, things newborn

hammy Jo 3.3.16The house fell silent yesterday after our friend, Busy Biscuit, left for home. What larks we all had when we were together during his stay: what barkings, what humpings, what games of chase and fetch and come and go! The place had rarely seemed livelier, or more full of the joie de vivre dogs cannot help but express.  On the beach at Low Newton with the seaweed; in the Bamburgh dunes with the muddy pools; in the garden, down the lane – it was all new to our young friend and he enjoyed every minute of our time together, discharging himself with honour, sleeping at each day’s end right through the night, warmed by the stove in his own, cosy nest, his head full of dreams, and plans of fun and frolic yet to come.

cage 2Upstairs – in his own cosy but ever dwindling world – another tale has, unfortunately, been unfolding: tiny Hammy Jo’s life is drawing to its end. How can such a small decline evoke such heart-rending sadness?  Our previously chubby fellow, with his wonderful pelt, would patrol and organise his extensive demesne on a continual basis but especially throughout the night; accumulating and grading his supplies, according to size and shape; selecting successive latrine sites for reasons best known to himself; seeking out new treats suspended hither and yon; transferring bedding from one living area to another, again for reasons best known to himself. Gradually, over the last several months, however – his second birthday upon him – his perambulations and his aegis have diminished. First he abandoned his other two-storey cage, restricting his activities to the upper and lower floors of the right-hand one. Connecting tunnels lie dusty and unused, like sad pedestrian underpasses. Then he eschewed the mezzanine, where he came of late with increasing regularity to slate his thirst at the smaller of his water bottles and where his little freestanding house, once a burgeoning  horreum stuffed with tuck, where he would shuffle and snuffle and seek the particular nut or fruit he really wanted, now sits empty and untouched. It might as well be boarded up.

Hammy and the boysToday he seems to have stopped eating much at all, even though Kemo Sabe brings him fresh veg, grated cheese and blueberries night and morning, clearing away (what used to be left-overs) on each occasion. For the last two days there has been no need to clear away the shavings soiled with pee or pooh, as he has ceased to eat or drink and all we do is tuck the lovely soft kapok round his frail form, and watch that brave heart beating beneath the straggly fur, once so lustrous. We gather beside his little bed, watching over his final adventure as families have always done since time before memory. While there’s no further need for those clothes pegs, to stop him escaping through the roof, his tiny hands have such a hold on life.The vacant interstellar spaces await a new, tiny presence. He will fill them when he is good and ready.

 

The fall of a seagull

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Resting place for a tiny life, unlived.

As it happens, last week’s British newspapers and correspondence columns were crammed full of anti-gull stories – a tortoise pecked to death like a crab in Liskeard, Cornwall; in the same county, a beloved little Yorkshire terrier mortally attacked in his garden near Newquay; tales of The Birds-like horror of trying to eat ice cream or chips al fresco, constantly assailed by dive-bombing nasties. One correspondent compared being woken by the gulls’ early morning chatter and clarion calls to being in a canyon full of pterodactyls.  Nobody had a good word to say about them; instead, everyone was complaining about their protected status.

Maybe because our Northumberland gulls aren’t in the slightest bit aggressive, maybe because we are just plain daft, (as readers of my ponderings know) gulls give us enormous pleasure year on year, particularly watching them rear their young, something they do over weeks and weeks of selfless devotion and complete commitment.  And so it was with great joy we all noticed that about seven weeks ago an insignificant life had began to take shape on top of the chimney breast above our home. Within a day or so of three eggs hatching we had the mystery of one chick disappearing, presumed dead and then, perhaps in the same crisis, our Tiny falling from the nest, down the slope of the tiles and on to the flat roof above the upstairs bay. On that eyrie he has withstood everything that Nature has thrown against him: electric storms of an intensity unseen in years up here, lashing rain, wailing winds, constant drizzle some days, and thirst-making sunshine on others. Despite everything, Tiny held firm, developing his survival skills in every eventuality. Gradually our intense worry for his safety subsided, so capable and resilient he proved to be.

Perhaps his legs had never been that strong, after his early fall from the cradle, despite his burgeoning bulk and adolescent plumage. Perhaps the wonder is that he endured as long as he did because he never recovered his strength and ability to get about after his collapse on to next-door’s concrete path.  Had he been born on the Farnes, like the kittiwakes and guillemots, he’d have fallen from the cliff and become opportunistic food for the gannets or other seabirds. Anyway, though we fed and watered him, and summoned the RSPCA to help him as he weakened, he drifted off from this life on his own accord, his wings outstretched in hope – almost a fully-grown herring gull, but one who would never know the joy of flying over us on our daily runs, or seeing the sun rise on a winter morning. He now lies not far from Uncle Jonny, with two lovely violet plants to mark the spot where we carefully and very sadly buried him. Just a tiny, insignificant creature, but loved and cared for: our sadness and disappointment are very real.  High above, looking down on Kemo Sabe as she dug the little grave, the bird’s father stood guard high up on the chimney cowl; beneath him, the female, sitting on the nest. As we write this, Tiny’s sibling is paddling up and down the roof. Let’s hope he can endure with patience until his flight feathers and muscles can carry his weight up into the life awaiting him.

Brother and sister: together again

IMG_2694 - CopyAs I write, we are all enjoying the wonderful warmth of the intense sun on our wet fur; it is just like August up here!  We have just returned from our afternoon romp on the beach, an outing blessed in all kinds of ways.  First, the tide was low-ish so there was plenty of room for the holiday-makers as well as our posse; next, Newman’s pool was still just within reach, so we took it in turns to retrieve the ball from deeper water – terrific fun, always guaranteed to get me over-excited and drive everyone mad with my barking. Also this was the day on which young Nico took to the sea, swimming out and back in Barnaby’s wake, fearless and free. He really is a brave boy, just six months old indeed. I took much longer to take the plunge, but then I had not then – nor have I yet – been emboldened by meeting any of the siblings I so loved.

For over the weekend, Nicholas and his only sister, Tiggy, were unexpectedly reunited. Neither he nor she nor anyone else had any reason to think there would be a serendipitous reunion on the occasion of the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, on that day or any other and, moreover, that she would turn out to be living not so far away.

IMG_2113More wonderful still, though, was the reaction when these siblings were re-introduced to each other: the flurry of kisses, rollings, mouthings, squealings, inexpressible joy. In that instant, months and months of separation, new faces and new experiences evaporated like a mist before the sun, and all at once the glorious rays of infant fun and frolic, warmth and cosiness, the togetherness of the whelping box, and memories of a beloved dam, filled their hearts and minds. All those who witnessed the intensity of their pleasure in seeing each other again were moved and silenced; that two such tiny creatures could sustain emotional memories so deep and indissoluble; that they would never forget each other, no matter what. They paused in their mutual delight for the above picture to be taken, a special family portrait to mark a magical moment. That neither Lokmadi Miss Tiggywinkle (to give her her full title) nor her precious brother troubled the judges that day mattered not a jot. For each took home an inestimable prize: touched by the lasting love that will never die and the knowledge that they will see each other again very soon.

 

Works of wonder

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Effigy of St Nicholas in Bari Photo from WikiCommons

This morning’s dawn was one of the most extraordinarily beautiful we have ever experienced. In terms of thermometers, it was the coldest morning so far this season, but because it had been so dry the last couple of days, the frost lay sugary and free, crisping the sand beneath  my paws in a way which was new for me. To the east, the sun played games beneath the horizon, producing a light-show almost unreal in its range of peach, Titian-blue and grey; where the sea met the sky, far far away, a low range of cloud extended unbroken, like a foreign land newly uncovered overnight; vapour trails from several planes dragged graffiti across the sun’s palette. Unsurprisingly, the moon hovered huge and high, unwilling to depart, staring straight at the sun across from above the castle to the islands, where the warden has now shuttered the windows and cleared off for the winter.

IMG_2220At home, young Nico (he of the velvet underneath) was resting in his crate after a plate-full of fresh mince. This morning was the first I sought him out for companionship and earned a treat for my trouble. Today is the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, so it is our little friend’s name day. The residents of Bari, where the saint is buried, carry his effigy into and out of the sea every year on his feast, reliving the journey Nicholas made from Turkey, his homeland. The gift-giving of Christmas lies within his aegis, though so far removed from the world he knew.

IMG_2196Nico’s world is as yet small but its wonders daily astound him, even so. Uncle Nunu’s furry feathers fascinate him and already tiny tunnels under benches in the garden constitute a draw for the little digger. So vulnerable, as are we all; so in need of protection, like the rest of us. Be amazed by the wonders which lie all around: see them, and feel blessed and reach out for help to those who shield us.

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.