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.


And the winner is . . . ?

IMG_2533In today’s edition of The Times we hear that wolf-like breeds of dog – Huskies and Malamutes – are turning up in rescue centres in increasing numbers, fuelled by the popularity of series like Game of Thrones. Attracted by the idea of embracing life alongside a bear-like beast of such obvious magnificence with more than a hint of the wild wood about it, folk who haven’t thought things through are taking home cuddly pups which very shortly develop into massively strong, intelligent creatures hungry for meat and exercise, increasingly unmanageable and aggressive without enough training and work to occupy them. Even with a major commitment of time, energy and finance, such dogs can rarely be allowed to live the life they need, so our collective hearts sank when an Alaskan Malamute won Best of Working Group, giving the breed another boost, with all that that entails. The whirligig of canine fashion is swift and sickening: in recent years the Staffie has been the most common abandoned breed, along with various pit-bull lookalikes resulting from cross-breeding for strength, size and aggression, but now the modern home is incomplete without the ultimate fashion accessory, the fantasy dog for a fantasy life. Quite by chance this funny, serendipitous photo taken at Crufts last weekend captures the current trend perfectly: the traditional Dalmatian flanked by the dogs of the moment.Perhaps a stuffed toy sitting in the living room would be a better choice for the hundreds of individuals who decide they can’t manage a real one.

IMG_2570As the competition turned out, it was pleasing that the top prizes went to two traditional British breeds, the Scottish Terrier and the Flat-Coated Retriever, but this probable up-turn in popularity will bring its own problems, as celebrity ever draws the fashion-conscious. Designer crossbreeds have proved another fashion, with serious health consequences in many instances, Cavachons for example bringing together two small breeds – the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise –  each independently troubled by heart problems.  Uncle Nunu and Barnaby know well enough from their time on Discover Dogs that far too many people thinking of getting a dog are starting out from places of ignorance: believing, for instance, that a dog can be left alone from day to day for hours on end and that the only real question to ask is whether one breed is better able to endure this isolation than another. In their days on the Golden Retriever stand, they met with only one person planning to buy a retriever as the result of careful and informed consideration, asking genuinely insightful questions about the relationship that dog would have to their family. Theirs will be a lucky dog and he will have a happy, dog-centred life.


What makes a spaniel . . . ?

IMG_2508 . . . asks Nico, my little friend, fixing me with his Feathers McGraw eyes. Well, I answer, let me think . . .

Ball skills obviously. Every day now I practise them furiously on the beach, as I fearlessly drive hither and yon, back and forth in order to retrieve in double-quick time. It is safe to say that I am utterly obsessed, I admit it; feeling more and more as though I am living the spaniel dream as I bring the beloved ball back, again and again and again.  And, if I can swing another go, again. No ball is chucked too far, in too dense scrub or water too deep: I am fearless and relentless in my pursuit of the quarry. Today, I dodged the line of competitors in a long-distance run, as they slogged along from Seahouses to Bamburgh. I hardly noticed them, nor the horses exercising in the surf. My focus and concentration were complete. I am spaniel, watch me fly!

IMG_2516Utter dependability is vital, too. I am never far from Kemo Sabe’s side, no matter what she is doing. Nothing she does seems boring, nowhere dull, no matter how still she sits, how many hours go by. As I curl near her feet, above me on the screen she views I might hear the voices of pirates or detectives, or catch the hooves of a passing horse outside in the street. But throughout and no matter what, I remain her anchor, rounded into a ball as I rest, always near enough to tickle and treasure. Like patience on a monument, as someone famous once said.

Knowing how to raise the roof is important. I know the difference between Kemo Sabe’s footsteps on the gravel and the approach of a stranger and it is my job to let that difference be known with my broad vocabulary of sounds and signals. I am excitable, I admit it: it is –  –  I know, my worst thing, but when I think simply must speak. That’s a spaniel for you.

It is an uncomplicated package, Nico, and I can now recognise that you are quite a bit like me. Your courage in warning strangers is extraordinary, as is your determination to keep up with the big boys as we explore the rock pools; your intelligence in finding ways around them does you credit, little fellow. Your excitement when it’s time to put on your jumper for an outing is inextinguishable until you are safely on your way with the rest of the clan. When as quite a babe the outgoing tide threatened for a moment to carry you with it, as you floated in your sheepskin jacket, you were unperturbed: you were never in danger, a lesson you learnt without being taught, Kemo Sabe’s arms sweeping you up to safety in a trice. Though our days are even busier for your arrival, miraculously time has been made to indulge my greatest joy – a spaniel’s repeated return to its beloved owner:  as I heard someone say on the radio this week, if you want to be loved, get a spaniel.

As the world turns upside down . . .

IMG_2363What a week it has been.

The depths of winter are expressed up here by incredibly varied weather; until recently it’s been peaceful, with splendid dawns, quiet days and starry nights, often when other parts of the country are beset by rain and raucousness.  Over the last ten days or so, however, the wind’s been knocking on our door much more frequently and we have had to be on our toes as things change, sometimes quite violently. Only yesterday, twenty-four hours after we had to abandon the beach because of the gales, stillness, calm and clear skies greeted us. High winds and foul weather were predicted overnight, though, so our hearts sank, our morning run looking unlikely. As it turned out, however, things were what we’d call normal, with a bright sky, a brisk wind but gusts which were quite manageable for us all, even for those of us fairly close to the ground.

As the day has worn on, however, the storm has intensified and outside now it is squally 20150105_080516and wretched, as we found on our afternoon outing. The sea is charging towards the land, white wave after white wave, across a disappearing expanse of sand whose swirling grains blind as you criss-cross the beach. Tomorrow’s run looks very unlikely. But who knows? We take each day as it comes, eyeing the dire BBC national weather forecast with scepticism until we see what the new dawn actually brings, as our part of the coast has its own little micro-climate. It is one aspect of life up here with the Dickens Dogs which helps to comfort and secure us, despite everything going awry elsewhere.

20150115_123216Since Nicholas’s arrival at the end of November, routines have been paramount, and he is learning well what is expected of him. I have received a couple of bonuses: a daily chew for me alone to enjoy after supper and a daily extra outing with Kemo Sabe – my heart will surely burst, so much joy is now mine – in which I charge around chasing and retrieving my beloved ball, faithfully returning it, over-enthusiastically and noisily. This new routine obviously has something to do with the arrival of young Nico (whom I secretly think of as The Long Ranger), who takes up a good deal of everybody’s attention. Uncle Newman, being more mature and bigger-hearted than I, simply doesn’t mind and patiently smiles as the infant chews on his tail. He is settled and secure; gradually Barnaby and I are uniting round him, as our little pup grows in our hearts.




‘It was Christmas Day in the workhouse . . . ‘

IMG_2340I have had little time to post recently: there’s been so much to do, with our new family member’s routines adding to those already in place – four more meals a day, endless trips into the garden to build on the relentless house-training that’s needed and everything else a tiny puppy needs in these first vital months of a new life. And then of course, there is the time of year, with its own demands for food on the table and logs to be gathered. But today, Christmas Day, Kemo Sabe and I can pause and ponder – at last.

IMG_2322In two weeks, young Nico has put on forty-five grams, and his neck has strengthened sufficiently for him to graduate to a proper cat collar, even if it does have little silver crowns, making him look like a Romanov prince. If this picture looks familiar, be assured it is new; compare the two to see how he has grown! Nico has now successfully attended all his puppy parties at the vet’s, where he discharged himself with honour and won the affection of an intelligent little boy whose Westie played gently and won Nico’s trust. Having yesterday had his final vaccination, within a week Nico will be out and about, though carefully guarded by us all no doubt and only an arm’s length from the luxury of being carried down to the sea, where we can show him our best things. What will he make of them, we wonder, what someone famous once called ‘the brilliant smell of water, the brave smell of a stone’?

IMG_2306Today he joined us in tearing apart the wrapping paper we all so enjoy, and shared the Lily’s Kitchen Christmas biscuits with their tangy turkey and cranberries, cinnamon and herbs. I am seeing him more generously now, aware that Kemo Sabe still leans on me for steadfastness and good sense; that she values my comradeship, obedience and fearlessness, not to mention my sense of humour. Above, you see us after the worst of the detritus had been cleared, the little one in his favourite spot at Uncle NuNu’s side, various creatures of the forest and woodland (rabbit, badger, gorilla) scattered around. His fragility and neediness still frighten me, though, and I know I must be more mature, as time will make me.

Photo by Hank Gillette from WiKipedia

On Monday’s Tweet of the Day: World Birds on BBC Radio 4, we learnt about the once highly-endangered Hyacinth Macaw, a parrot of stunning magnificence which can be found in Brazil’s Pantanal Conservation Area. We love parrots  – their intelligence, their wonderful feet and footwork, the daintiness of their demeanour, their beaks – and though we would have loved to home one, we know that it is cruel to keep them unless you have them from childhood and can be with them all their lives and make them emotionally secure. Our little blog has at least one loyal reader in Brazil, so far away from us in Northumberland, and we send a special thank you to you today, this special day of celebration throughout this torn and troubled world. Christmas is a time when, traditionally, it is said the animals speak. We Dickens Dogs raise our voices to our loyal followers, few though you be. Happy Christmas, peace and good health be with you all! And as Mr Dickens himself writes, ‘God bless us, everyone!’

Time to give thanks

20141104_124249As I write, the rain is falling with increasing seriousness and the day is as grey as a mouse’s back. Folk are struggling to remain cheerful and keep the lamp of hope alive. November is the month without dawn or dusk, with ever-lengthening nights and drooping spirits; a time both of reflection and new directions; of taking stock and rolling up one’s sleeves. And tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States.  Kemo Sabe, inspired by long-distant memories of snow-bound Thanksgivings in Michigan, has written this little verse as a reassurance for me. The sentiment sprung forth from her as I nestled against her on the sofa. It is as if Uncle Jonny were with us again and had found the words. I blush to print them here but they fit the spirit of Thanksgiving so well. So, to all our American friends, have a lovely restful time, and to everyone, count those blessings! Personally, I can hardly conceive the changes about to take place in our own little household, though I shall try to rise to the challenge as every Dickens Dog has done for decades before me.

Thank you Mr Pip

I’m glad I found a spaniel
To show me what it means
To love one’s life completely
And live it full of beans.

From first thing in the morning
When I come through the door
You greet me with your twitching
Upside down upon the floor.

Though goldens run for seaweed
And want to walk away
The spaniel trundles at my heels,
Close by is where you stay.

And as the day progresses
Your warmth is always there,
Your tail forever wagging,
Your guarding from the stair.

There’s no such thing as lonely:
If I go upstairs to see
To Hammy Jo or put away
The clothes, you come with me.

I’m glad I found a spaniel,
That together we have tried
To understand each other
And live life side by side.

Your joy is so infectious,
Your loyalty so true,
Words cannot bear the weight of what –
My Pip – I feel for you.

Back in the saddle

20141118_080615This is sunrise over the very spot where Kemo Sabe fell yesterday – an astonishing burst of light, as comforting as egg, blessing our morning routine. While the shot was being taken, we three stood still beside the trail of hidden rock which did for her in the murk and nastiness of a morn from which the sun had apparently fled, and with it our hope. One can hardly credit it, but it was only yesterday.  Yet today the sun is clear, big and bright as August ninepence, the air warm and the wind resting in some cave somewhere, getting its breath back I suppose, until summoned forth again by the whirligig of time. Being a small spaniel whose life and heart are full, I know that good follows bad, light follows darkness: that there were steak pies for us all at dinner time in honour of Barbaby’s feast day and fresh salad leaves for Jo, when last night he eventually climbed out of his nest as we were on the way to ours. We must keep faith and think of the seal babies basking on the islands, and tiny Nicholas growing and growling and greeting his myriad relatives in the joy of such newness of life.

Somewhere – and someone – new

Remember, remember, the 5th of November?/Gunpowder, treason and plot.

IMG_2144It is Guy Fawkes Night, and a soundtrack of exploding shells has put us all on edge. We are pushing together around Kemo Sabe’s chair, alert to the frightening screams which are rocking what is usually such a peaceful time of night. Beyond our homestead, out towards the islands, flames prance ferociously up into the darkness from a truly enormous bonfire which has been burning for well over an hour now. It is all very disturbing, and it is hard to see what pleasure people gain from it all.  It was, after all, originally a celebration of anti-Catholic fervour, long-outdated but still enacted at the culmination of Bonfire Night in the Sussex town of Lewes, where an effigy of the Pope is burned and a crowd of 80,000 cheers at what they take as fun. Yes, it’s a funny old tradition but, among many communities, one which has lost its focus as the very name of Guy Fawkes recedes into oblivion. For most dogs like us, however, explosions of various decibel levels remain an inescapable part of this time of year, the frolics of Hallowe’en now the more usual excuse for fire and brimstone.

IMG_2145Pondering on the flames and the fear flowering in the breasts of wild things has distracted me from reflecting on our extraordinary day out recently. The countryside was flat, fertile and stretched far, far into the distance, the roads prepared by legions long ago and, before retracing our steps into the encroaching darkness from which earlier we had emerged, there was a completely delicious cappuccino ice cream and a manic run on a deserted beach at Cleethorpes. You never know where your life is going to take you; that one day you will gaze into the North Sea – mare nostrum, if you like – from a different angle, beneath endearingly rusty instruments of innocent fun and gaze down the estuary towards the Humber forts at its mouth. The Greenwich meridian passes through the town, linking us as we sat on the prom with the Dickens Dogs’ former home, and a signpost points to the North Pole, a mere two and a half thousand miles away. Thank you for having us, little town, on this special day; you have your history, as do we all.

For sleeping within the coils of his closest relatives, we left a tiny new boy inland, awaiting our return to his rural birthplace when he is ready to join us for a life-changing journey in a few weeks’ time.  Nicholas:  a name at last. He has much to learn, like his namesake.

Blood moon and the ball from the deep

20141008_065339At this time of year, with its turbulent and increasingly changeable weather, astonishingly high tides preventing walkers from proceeding along the beach, winds from the continent whipping up the waves, it is the ever-darkening mornings we resent the most. The fingers of the night clasp our shoulders, delaying our fun by degrees a little more every day and we will soon be at that time of ‘no morn, no noon’ of which someone famous once wrote. Yet this undistinguished picture shows something of what this autumnal shift can surprise us with: an orange moon as big and bright as the dawn, blessing us with its morning glow as, facing it from over the North Sea, the sun itself slides up from the horizon.  Such a phenomenon came as a splendid surprise, a kind of pumpkin to remind me to change my Next Big Day widget in preparation for Hallowe’en.

This is a time of year when things are afoot, and no mistake. Attached to the house has grown of late an opulent kind of bunkhouse, both upstairs and down, giving NuNu and I much more room for our sleeping bags and, for Barnaby, the prospect of a sunny room where his enormous memory-foam bed can fit. Patiently we three have watched and listened as the work has speedily progressed; I have inspected it and found it all good. I have not wandered when the side gate disappeared – what need have I of wandering? Rumours abound that a Dickensian name suitable for an addition to our clan may shortly need to be decided on; a long name, perhaps, for a small pup. Within a few weeks we will undertake a journey to see to which he seems most suited. This is my best thing for a very long time.

Except that this morning, as we clung to the rolling waves on the tide-filled beach, before my feet rolled out of the surf a perfect sea urchin, whole and entire, thrown up into my path with remarkable ordinariness as though such bounty were commonplace. Thank you, Great Spirit, for the kaleidoscope we call our days: on a dark and dingy morning, to find the perfect ball.



Wonders of the deep and life’s whirlygig

Basking sharkOut within the sound between the islands, a basking shark takes his ease, pootling about, mouth open, as the summer calm and warmth persist unseasonably. Andrew took this photo from his boat, incredulous at the sight of such an infrequent visitor to our normally cold coastal waters. Our gentle, gigantic friend has been lurking around for a couple of weeks now, delighted with the tranquility no doubt and the prolific plankton. We are all thrilled to welcome him and enjoy his company; stay as long as you like, we call to him.

20140921_073201Within the horrid pool two crabs are feasting on limpets, the empty shells of their prey cast aside like so much litter. Their antics catch my attention in the dim morning light and I in turn catch Kemo Sabe’s with my focused pondering : anything lurking there is notable, so weird and harrowing an atmosphere pertains. The mutability of the horrid pool fascinates us both.  The residual water is refreshed by most high tides but, despite this, its depths change colour disturbingly:  sometimes an oily blue, mysterious as the night; sometimes a purple; occasionally clear and clean – as today – revealing the little monsters at their meal. An exciting homely diversion and rare sign of life in what is otherwise a deadly, despondent reservoir.  Then, on our afternoon tramp, we see that the whirligig of time has brought in his revenges. Instead of limpet shells, the crabs’ carcases are now detritus, the backs torn from the bodies, the flesh eaten, probably by one of the many herons hunting round the rocks these days. Such is life. Short and sweet. Sad, nevertheless.

A fatally injured cat, white, pale grey and perfect, lies dead in the middle of the road near the dunes as we drive down to begin our morning run. Its expression is peaceful once it is moved, as though sleeping, to the pavement. Nine lives lived. On the beach, not far from the horrid pool, a young puffin, left over from the exodus which has stripped him of his friends, hobbles disconsolately into the safety of the sea, where nature intended him to thrive. He could not leave with the others and he will not survive long, injured as he is. We pass by, without upsetting him, commending his little soul to the Great Spirit. The geese are returning, croaking maniacally, heralding crispness in the air which must perforce arrive some time soon. Life and death, big and small. On and on, round and round we go. Ordinary and extraordinary.