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.


Tom’s big win!

DSC00810On the eve of this years Crufts, it is my great pleasure to celebrate Tomas’s very recent victory. For, at the recent Joint Dalmatian Club Championship Show, held mid-February at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, our distinguished and very handsome friend (appearing under his professional name of Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple) was crowned Best in Show.

Having won another Challenge Certificate when judged Best Dog, after winning his Open class, he went on to take the top prize of the day when he, rather than the Best Bitch, supervened in the last contest of the competition. That Saturday Tomas showed his very finest qualities  and was a deserving winner. Honest and true, strong and fine: well done, Tomas, and good luck at Crufts, where we hope to congratulate you in person on the Sunday you’re due to compete. By the way, old friend, we hear on the doggie grapevine that you are likely to have a little nephew or niece joining your family in the few months’ time: wot larks, Pip old chap!

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.


Magic mornings

20140905_065834A brief post, just to say how magnificent this morning’s dawn came up; out of the mist which clad the vales but miraculously evaporated as its power amplified, the sun greeted us as we ran towards it, full of hope. Peace and beauty, for which we all are grateful and by which we all are most blessed. You never know what is coming, do you? Yesterday we were thrilled to see a Little Egret fishing on the mere, a vision all in white, posted upon the stone wall, inspecting the pool for a snack. Unwilling to be pictured other than at such a distance as to be but a dot on the landscape, he flew away as Kemo Sabe turned the camera off, our 20140903_064838dismay at missing a shot of him passing put down to experience, as disappointments are. Then, near the whelkery, as we trundled along the beach, we recognised his unmistakable form peering into a rock pool. Pictures cannot make up for the glorious reality of such a surprise as seeing this terrific type of heron on our little patch. What is it about birds of a certain height and demeanour, or dogs of a particular pondering nature, with so many thoughts about holding on to see what life has in store for us, just round the corner? It is Jeoffry’s thirteenth birthday next week, and then it will be mine.  Three years of pondering: heigh ho.



Beautiful, beautiful boy

20140728_153109Today we salute our special friend Tomas, whom I have mentioned before when considering the heights to which dogs can soar in the world of top-class competition (a world, I should add, unknown to a small spaniel like me but of which dear old Barnaby has had some experience in his youth). Life in the show ring requires training, patience and the ability to show off one’s best attributes when others want and you may not especially feel like it. Success depends on many imponderables, like the taste and goodwill of the judge on the day and which of your adversaries turns up to be judged alongside you. Eventually, however, quality will out and the Challenge Certificate is yours: you are the best of your breed in the show. For dear Tomas this occurred for the first time a few weeks ago at the North of England Dalmatian Club Championship Show in Stafford, where he took pride of place as Best In Show, thus gaining the first of the three CCs he will need to become a champion. He is a magnificent dalmatian and one day we all hope he will find the right dam with whom he can bring healthy happy pups into the world. In this lovely picture, he is standing so well and amply demonstrating his fine features. Alongside him are what medieval warriors would call his achievements, to which an impressive silver cup will be soon added once his Kennel Club name – Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple – is engraved upon it. Well done, dear boy, we are so proud of you! I suppose this is a kind of Personal Announcement, the second over which I have pondered; the first being the death of Tomas’s grandmother, Abby, some weeks ago. She knew what it was to win and Tomas carries on the tradition of a winning line.

Peter, Paul and Mary: an update

IMG_1684The insistent peepings from above remind us constantly of the triplets’ presence and, looking up, we can easily see how quickly our herring gull offspring are growing. Kemo Sabe has taken several rather poor photos over recent days because it’s proved terribly hard to get the three youngsters together, standing upright and looking at their best.  This picture was taken this morning and at least clearly shows the juvenile plumage emerging from the fluff. One of the parents is also looking charmingly smug, while sitting as ever on its favourite cowl. As we watched the gulls this morning, the swallows were dipping in and out of our vision as they wheeled about the chimney stacks and down around the rooftops. Above our own house the jackdaws squawked and flew about merrily, discussing their immediate plans as they did.  The joy expressed by our much-loved and abundant bird-life was, however, lacking first thing this morning on the occasions we greeted solitary walkers on the beach but without getting any response whatsoever. This kind of thing isn’t uncommon but is baffling, particularly to a special spaniel with a friendly turn of ankle. I wish the dour ones all the best and run on, pondering.  Despite the weather forecast’s prediction, our little coast was this morning bathed in hot sun,  and the waters were calm and high: glorious. When the sand is soft, it’s like wading through treacle! Perhaps today I am Beau Geste!

Another time, another little bear

Andy TwoAnd this, dear Readers, is the other Andy, to whom I alluded, many many moons ago in the (as yet still unwritten) Old Guard section at the top of the screen. In ‘To begin at the beginning’, I took a look at where the love of dogs originates in our household, and it was with what we Dickens Dogs call Andy Number One, as recalled in that piece. But here is the next chapter in the story and though outwardly similar – a terrier of the same breed – the two boys couldn’t have been more different.  In this picture we find Andy Number Two, when he was about two years old, chewing thoughtfully on a real bone (those were the days), in a garden we all knew and loved from the boys’  recollections and Uncle Jonny’s stories about all those who went before us who frolicked there over the decades. I can imagine it all as it was: pink floribunda roses cascading over the pergola, interspersed with giant loganberries which simply kept on coming throughout the summer. Behind them, the summerhouse, perhaps the awning erected to extend the shade further on a glorious afternoon. In the distance, a lawnmower and overhead, as always and as now, the conversation of the gulls.

Andy Two 2Although there are several pictures of this dear little fellow when he was a boy, none is better than this grainy one – taken when he was little more than eight weeks old – when it comes to suggesting what an absolutely magical pup he was: a perfectly formed but tiny Cairn, right from the word go. He was brought from near the beautiful ancient town of Dartmouth in South Devon to fill the void which the death of Andy Number One had left. From the moment he was lifted up, he clung lovingly on, as sweet-natured, gentle and companionable as his predecessor had been feisty, independent-minded and stubborn.

The Andy pup slept on Kemo Sabe’s bed that first night (those obviously were the days) , his tiny form fitting perfectly at the foot of the bed where he was discovered sleeping soundly after she woke up next morning. He was small and patient enough to be carried in a wicker shopping basket on walks to the sweetshop or bakers, which introduced him to the world well before he could be put on the ground and meet it face to face; so right from the start he became the best kind of wordless companion: one that everyone admires and reaches for emotionally.

When times were tough, he hung in there, offering unmeasured affection and loyalty, as well as a swift pair of heels for walks of inordinate length, whether across heath, down or beach. When Uncle Newman Noggs came along, Andy gently picked up the puppy’s lead and walked along with him round the garden teaching him many wonderful and useful things: though getting on in years himself, he liked the novelty of a new friend and they spent many happy hours together, discovering new places to visit and eat their dinners.

The presence of a beloved dog lingers on and when, in the fullness of time, he was laid to rest alongside his Cairn terrier namesake across the lawn from Kemo Sabe’s old bedroom, he lived in everyone’s hearts and in their recollections, which were many and various:  the late-night walk to see the hedgehog on his ramblings up the road, the beautiful expression on his loving face, the sunny personality – never a moment of harshness in his whole life. He was a saint among dogs, and there are few of whom that can be said. The cross Ten Blankets made for his grave is now upstairs, removed from the site when the house was sold last year. His pictures are around the house. And Andy lives in our hearts.

. . . 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.

The sense he was born with

IMG00315-20131211-0838Newman, dear Newman, this is all about you. Nobody knows you like I do; I who spend the night hours snuggled beside you, me on my Boggis-bed, you on the vast green mattress, six inches deep and wide enough for all three of us. When the wind in the cat-flap wakes me, I hear you snore, I watch you lost in upside-down-world dreams, where you can rush about as madly as you wish and no amount of jumping-up could ever be unwanted.  Stretched out upon your back, arms and legs straight as a diver’s, you go headlong into imagination’s pool, your long, slim form as golden and as glorious as Chewbacca. Ever the child and like a child able to see beyond the bounds of reason; a little lad inside a big, strong soul.

Kickass Photography
Kickass Photography

Being the only spaniel in this family flock, I have made my own way, and all the spaniels in the world  are now pretty much measured by the paw-prints I have left. But you, dear NuNu, you took on the mantle of the great Noggs from the very start, wearing a name of legendary status but being a beast, as is said, of very different colour, and that was apparent to me from my early childhood when the simple, straightforward, fun-loving soul opened his strong arms to me, rolling enthusiastically on the floor as I nipped his ears and sides. There was nothing to fear and I knew it.

IMG_1298Even from that time it was obvious to a small spaniel like me that he was not like other dogs. As unselfconscious as a boy with rolled-down knee-socks and scabby knees, string in pocket and fun afoot, Newman is a wonderful big brother. Full of energy, which bursts forth uncontrollably and can so easily get the best of his better judgement – so a huge mouthful of seaweed is as speedily downed as the time it takes Kemo Sabe to shout out ‘No!’ When he sees folk coming towards us on the sands, though as small as ants, he stands to attention as though transfixed or side-winds towards them in his elegant dressage, desperate to offer warmth, friendship and his inner joy. When asked to pose for a portrait for this post, this was the response!

IMG_1300Even as I write, I can hear the snortling and throat-clearing which marks a bundle between him and Barnaby, the still centre of our canine world. Most remarkable of all, and now most firmly proved from repeated experience, is NuNu’s uncanny ability to read the human mind. Without any clue – neither movement nor word – he will instantly know without fail when someone is even just thinking about the briefest of outings, two minutes down the road; he prepares himself like a guardian angel, with whom it would be unthinkable to venture forth.  Get the coal or wood in, by all means, garden at your will, tidy the shed or garage, work upstairs – move about as much as you want, take as long as you like, he’s as relaxed and happy as a sunbeam in his own sunny world, wherever that currently may be. But believe it: our new Prince Myshkin will know your thoughts and understand your plans, even before you have made them. Emotional and often seemingly distracted, by nature passive and fearful of confrontation, he is on another plane; an endless childhood which we are only gradually coming to understand. It is a privilege to try.  Bless you, beautiful boy! My sleeping companion and my special friend.


Precious winners all

IMG_1285In this impromptu shot the gloriously golden Harry, who’d just been judged best of all the Sussex Spaniels at last week’s Crufts, is being lined up for a celebratory snap by a top professional photographer. A father, grandfather and a Good Citizen Dog to boot, Harry is more formally known as Belcam King’s Ransom for Glenbrows and he is both beautiful and bear-like. Straight after this, he was whisked off to the Gundog Group judging where another bonny dog won through, and so she (the only bitch in the final competition) had to IMG_1292hang around for the undeniable honour of taking part in the Best in Show later that evening while dear Harry could return to his latest family of puppies and their mother. Thus it is that the joy of the winning moment goes hand in hand with the even greater pleasures of the everyday to which we all return, as Harry and his proud owner were happy to recognise. In the world of Crufts, where every dog competing is by definition a winning dog, and increasing numbers are superstars from countries far far away, madness lies in thinking anything else.

Here, for example, is one of IMG_1267Newmie’s close relatives, Show Champion Chalksville Autumnal Storm, resting on his bench before competition in the Golden Retriever ring, and to my mind looking an awful lot like Uncle Jonny. Good luck card behind him, his smile reveals a relaxed and patient soul, inured to the waiting which is the lot of all Crufts entrants. But as 599 goldies were entered that day in the competition – yes, 599! – scores of them internationally renowned and decked with titles –  Storm was prepared to be outshone, which was the fate of hundreds of them, in every class.

IMG_1219In another hall we found our family friend, Tomas the Dalmatian – professionally known as Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple – whom we’ve all known since childhood and who has even enjoyed staying here with us. As you can guess from his impedimenta, he’s an outstanding boy who’s won up and down the country, but that Sunday he just missed the top three in his class – that’s the way it goes! And so, at the end of the day, it was home for us all, the pretty and the proud, the decorated and the disregarded. Home, with its comfortable cushions, warm hearth, Boggis-bed, bird-bread at the bottom of the garden, and fun and frolic of the ordinary, everyday kind. Most of all, we returned within the framework of that bottomless love; the love that holds me firm as I fidget in my dreams, trying on for size the stardom which we of the Dickens clan can barely comprehend.