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.

Meet the Mantalinis

IMG_1599‘What a demnition long time you have kept me ringing at this confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bell, every tinkle of which is enough to throw a strong man into blue convulsions, upon my life and soul, oh demmit,’–said Mr Mantalini to Newman Noggs, scraping his boots, as he spoke, on Ralph Nickleby’s scraper.

‘I didn’t hear the bell more than once,’ replied Newman.

Then you are most immensely and outr-i-geously deaf,’ said Mr Mantalini, ‘as deaf as a demnition post.’

There is no way our Newman – or anyone in our house  – could miss the noisy arrival of the Mantalinis, who make their way into the front garden at least twice a day – sometimes flying in but usually waddling up the road and into the drive with real determination, announcing their presence with loud and incessant quacking which is simply demanding dinner of the very finest quality. The noise, demmit, only stops when the seed box comes out, and the washing-up bowl for refreshment and bathing is moved to their liking into the centre of the grass. If the Mantalinis are in the garden when we get back from the beach,  Newman and Barnaby both boom out a bark of recognition and like the chance to bounce over in their direction, if they’re not stopped.  Neither of the boys means any harm, of course; it’s all just noise and nonsense, a kind of throwaway greeting of the golden kind on their way to the next bowl of jellies. And no offence has been taken, either; back the Mantalinis soon come, for another lengthy feed.

IMG_1595The story of our Mantalinis began one early evening last summer, with the wind whistling unseasonably wild and things outside all frightening and uneasy, not a night to be out in, or to stand up in, come to that – especially if you’re a clutch of ten tiny ducklings.  Continuous baby cheeping gave notice of the presence of unusual bird ,life somewhere about; but it took a little while before Kemo Sabe was able to identify the source of the song, right near the front door. After searching in storage Jeoffry’s cat-carrier, Kemo Sabe gathered the little ones up and made a towelling nest where they settled at once on the kitchen worktop and, utterly exhausted, went to sleep immediately.  Later, an upturned dustbin-lid filled with water made an ideal kindergarten pond for the little folk, who neighbours across the road took in and raised (as they had no bouncy dogs like us) until they sought their independence in the village. Now it looks like one or other of them, suitor in tow, has returned, knowing they will always get a welcome up this way.

The miracle which is a mallard is easy to overlook, especially up here where we have so many creatures of wondrous plumage and exceptional song; seeing them on a regular basis, qua-qua-quacking among the dandelions and plaintains, snootling in and out of the leeks and under the hebe, throws their opalescent glory into relief: Mr Mantalini is – true to his namesake –  an obvious and complete dandy, though in truth the original looks more like me, with his black curls and moustache; his lovely buxom wife (she her when her crop is full!), admired by many suitors and untroubled by jealousy, unlike her Dickens original is tastefully pranked up in the glistening colours of the thrush.  As Mr Mantalini would have said, ‘My senses’ idol!’

If you have not come across this extraodinary couple before, you will find them and their dressmaking business in the pages of Nicholas Nickleby. Though an early, episodic Dickens novel, it is touching, heart-breaking and hilarious by turns, and the people it brings to life are still out there today, even impersonated by our friendly mallards.


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.

What’s in a name?

Newman Noggs ILadies and gentlemen, on this first day of the new month (check out the new poem on my Favourite Things page), I present to you the inimitable, the legendary, the most-named, the wisest of all bears: the greatest and first Mr Newman Noggs, the original and most senior of the Dickens Dogs. This picture they tell me was taken when he was about two – very much in his young prime. I shall write more about him as my work proceeds as his shadow is long and his mantle all-embracing; oh to be such a presence in folk’s lives! The possibility of having a dog called Newman emerged a long long way from here, on another continent, while reading Nicholas Nickleby, in which appears a gentleman with that wonderfully alliterative name. Suddenly all was clear: if anything suited a big bouncy golden, looking up from the water bowl with the stream still flowing out the side of his mouth, it was Newman Noggs.

Newman Noggs and Kate Nickleby
Newman Noggs and Kate Nickleby

Dickens’s character, whose integrity has been compromised, is exploited by the villainous Ralph Nickleby, for whom he’s obliged to work. Crusty but benign, an ornery fellow (who on one occasion actually says he wishes he were a parrot), Newman Noggs restores his own dignity when he helps Nicholas unmask his wicked uncle. He’s an iconoclast in every way, and so was Noggsy.  It took a while before the idea of Newman became a reality but eventually he came along and started a tradition that lives on today, naming each puppy after a different character from a Dickens novel. When Newman was four he was joined by Uncle Willie, named after Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield, and then came Tommy Traddles from the same novel. For now, I leave you to look up these fellows for yourselves and to ponder on how I, Mr Pip, resemble the hero of Great Expectations. Today we considered the vague possibility of bringing another dog into the family, a dog whose owner is now ill and cannot look after him. He’s adorable: friendly, sweet-natured, funny and sociable – if a bit fat. But currently he has an archetypal doggy name, the sort you simply don’t get much these days. How could we change it at this stage in his life? Should we? It is a lovely kind of brain teaser. Which Dickens Dog could he be?