Saturday 28 February 2009

The Adventures of Frodo the Faller (4)

Our cats have always been indoor cats. That is to say they are not allowed free access to the big wide world but have an enclosed cat run where they can bask in the sun or enjoy a refreshing rain shower, stalk insects, trap frogs, catch foolish mice and tangle with young rats, all of which are brought indoors to be presented with pride to the humans. Oftentimes has a circle of cats been discovered surrounding an unfortunate frog squealing shrilly to be let go. Frequently we have found desiccated amphibians in dark corners. In order to contain the cats while at the same time circulating fresh air through the house we have shutters at the windows and a wire netting screen at the patio door. The latter is required to be kept attached to the door frame – actually, it slots into the groove in the fixed door that accommodates the sliding glass panel. On the hot summer days which sometimes happen in the contrary weather systems of the British Isles the screen is left in place until we repair to bed.

Letting the dogs out to relieve themselves (or 'go potty' as our American cousins so whimsically term it) is an exercise in observation and fast reflexes. Our current cats, two beautiful Ocicats, who think they would enjoy exploring the garden, are reduced to quivering, shivering bundles of apprehension when they manage occasionally to slip out past a dog or a human. The drill is as follows: first check the whereabouts of the cats, particularly sly Monty. Then, standing on one foot and waving the other in the direction of any passing cat, make loud 'shoom, shoom' noises to deter them at the same time freeing the screen from the groove and sliding the very heavy door to the left. Dog/s are released and cats are still safely indoors. When the dog/s are ready to resume their positions on the sofas and chairs, repeat the process in reverse (no, not 'moosh, moosh') When all are safely gathered in – and it can sometimes take a long time if the dogs decide to go out singly – settle down with a cup of whatever takes the fancy until the next time. On cold, very wet or windy days, when the netting is not required it is usually fastened back by a bungee to a hanging basket.

I say 'usually'. One day when it had not been secured thus Frodo went out to potty (I actually rather like that expression – it beats 'pee' and 'pooh' - or worse.) I was hanging about waiting for him to ask to come back in when I heard a loud clanking, the sort of noise the wire screen makes when the wind blows it against the patio door. However it was not windy. Looking out I saw Frodo staggering and my first thought was that he had run into the netting which had caught him in the throat. As I watched I saw him fall to the ground; his legs started paddling furiously, his head was pulled back by an invisible power, his jaws were stretched painfully wide and he was foaming at the mouth and growling. With horror I realised he was having a fit. My heart was pounding as my beautiful dog, lost to the world, continued to be subjected to forces beyond his control. The episode seemed to continue for minutes. Eventually, he struggled to his feet and promptly fell in the pond. He clambered out, covered in duck weed and looking rather confused, stumbled around and fell in again. Frodo was no longer an ordinary dog – he had become a Faller, one of that special breed which bring to their human companions joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. Many have commented on the closeness that develops with an epileptic dog. The label 'Velcro dog' is apt, of which more anon.

Thursday 26 February 2009

Skywatch: Moonrise in early February

Why not seek out other sky images at the Skywatch Site?

The Adventures of Frodo the Faller (3)

Frodo at 6 months old

Until he was nearly three Frodo had led an uneventful life. The biggest change he had experienced was moving from his Lincolnshire home to Berkshire at the age of five months. The two older Dalmatians grumbled as a matter of form but soon Dominie was playing with him and Buddy was sniffing him surreptitiously – they had accepted him.
We had been wondering how he would react to our cats as the only felines he had seen hitherto had been at a distance in the cattery at his old kennels. Our two elderly blue Burmese were both now rather stiff and Pansy was going blind. Singleton's vision had always been compromised as she was cross-eyed – not uncommon in Oriental cats. They had always lived with dogs in the house and knew they were the superior beings and need not trouble themselves over this callow spotted upstart. We introduced them carefully and Frodo was fascinated by them. He sniffed and licked and they tolerated his attentions. This was our first indication of his enormous capacity for gentleness. When Pansy died, he and Singleton spent a long time sniffing about the house searching for her in her old haunts. Our cats had always been indoor cats, not having any fear of people or dogs, though we feared for them. Air rifles can be just as deadly as cars and we saw no reason to expose them to danger. A year after Pansy's death Singleton passed away and Frodo was miserable.

Our eldest daughter visited with her two dogs, Jake the Wonder Rescue dog and Tia the Labrador. Frodo saw how the long-term residents reacted, greeting the visitors like old friends, and followed suit. He was delighted to have playmates. Walking in the forest with the five dogs was an interesting affair. Jake was a very obedient dog – it had been beaten into him by his previous owners – until he was off the lead and running free. When he saw another dog he would rush forward to meet it like a long-lost friend, deaf to all calls to come back. Most times his exuberance was not rebuffed. Dominie, though big and looking fearsome, ambled up agreeably to other dogs, greeting those she knew with her chirruping, warbling cry of welcome. Buddy was more formal, the sort of dog who if he had been a human would have raised his hat and gruffly remarked on the fineness of the day. Tia, still very young, was always ready to play but Frodo was a different prospect altogether. He mistrusted, distrusted, disliked on sight any other dog that dared to come within twenty yards of him – or us. Suddenly our gentle boy was protecting his tribe. If the strange dog read the signs correctly and retreated Frodo was appeased. We soon learnt to hold him close when unknown canines refused to believe that their friendly overtures were being rejected and insisted on trying to sniff his rear end. Dogs can spin! He made a lot of unpleasant noise but would not have acted on it – 'all mouth and no trousers' as the saying has it. Nonetheless it was sufficient to cause the adrenaline to flow, human and canine.
Back at home he was the perfect gentleman once more apart from food. Like many of his breed he was a practised thief and lost no opportunity to supplement his rations with some of ours. Failing that, bird seed scattered on the grass proved agreeable though, judging by the end results, he didn't derive much sustenance from it.

Then came the day of the first Falling, of which more anon.

Dominie (facing) and Frodo playing, Wildmoor Heath, 2006

The Adventures of Frodo the Faller (2)

Deciding that the dog show world was not for our beautiful naughty boy was a blessing in disguise. Frodo had not started his Falling career at that point so we, or rather I (for my husband is patient with my wild dreams and ambitions but does not commit himself as readily and foolishly as I) was regretting his foreshortened profession as a Top Stud Dog, since to achieve any success or even desirability – in the eyes of breeder/owners, that is; I don't think the brood bitches care one way or the other what their mates look like – he would have to be paraded, sorry, exhibited, at many a Championship Show in order to gain his 'tickets'.

Now tickets to people mean travel but to dogs they mean kudos for the breeder/owner and the chance to get their leg over in the case of male dogs. The bitches stand to be 'served' and it doesn't seem like a very enjoyable experience for them. Unfortunately, they cannot lie back and think of England and have to suffer the indignity of being 'tied' for anything up to an hour, with twenty minutes being the average. This is the time when unfortunate free-mating dogs in public can find themselves doused with cold water as well-meaning, shocked humans who find the whole process disgusting and even more so when displayed by dogs and cats, attempt to separate them. The torrent of water merely panics the dog and bitch who cannot escape from each other even though, soaking wet and cold, that is probably their dearest wish. It's Nature's way of ensuring ejaculation and impregnation. On the one occasion we had a dog and bitch mating I had hoped that observing the 'tie' might have a salutary effect on our eldest daughter, then nine years old. I have no idea if it did – she is now a happily married mother of three.

In my imagination Frodo had achieved and excelled in all the necessary stages of his calling and had become Sovereign Top Dalmatian, indeed, Supreme Super Stud of the Natural World (though there's much that's rather unnatural in the Canine Canon) I had not considered how I was going to manage his active life as a Dog in Demand. Where were the matings to be performed? Should the trysts take place in the kitchen or maybe the conservatory? How was the bitch to be accommodated during her stay? Perhaps the spare bedroom would suffice. Even more, I had not thought about the times – and there must be some – when his services were not required. Did we really want our boy humping everything in sight, including our other dogs, our cats, the furniture, my mother-in-law's legs?

No, Frodo the Stud Dog was really a non-starter, particularly when he began Falling, of which more anon.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

The Adventures of Frodo the Faller

When Frodo was a little chap, before he became a Faller, we would occasionally take him to dog shows. He was always very excited to see all the different breeds of dog and could barely contain himself. Eventually it would be our turn to enter the ring – yes, Frodo is a dog. What did you think? Who would call a child Frodo? J.R.R. Tolkien did, for one, although now I come to think of it Frodo Baggins was a Hobbit, not a human. I digress – something I frequently do. I ascribe it to having had four children and spending my entire working life with young children. It's almost impossible to hold one's train of thought when interruptions are frequent, repetitive and insistent. Many are the profound ponderings, grand philosophies and life-enhancing schemes that have been half-developed and abandoned; rather like a lovely dream from which one is abruptly woken and to which one longs to return but cannot, or like the floaters in your eyes that you can never quite focus on. Maybe the fruition of such deliberations would have proved them to be half-baked so better they were left embryonic.

The first time Frodo and I ventured into the ring – on which occasion, by the way, he qualified for Cruft's, the supreme beauty show of the canine world, though for a puppy to qualify the requirement is a first, second or third place in a class, so it's not very exacting. Why should it be? A puppy is full of promise. To resume, the first time we went into the ring, neither of us had much idea what we were supposed to be doing although we had attended Ringcraft classes – well, only one actually, as Frodo was five months old when he came to live with us and his breeder had already entered him for his first dog show just after his six-month birthday. Not wanting to disappoint and convinced we had a puppy that was going to become an instant star we bravely went along. With hindsight we would have let the breeder down less if we had not fetched up at the show at all. Notwithstanding, we galloped around the ring, Frodo leaping and prancing like a circus horse and biting his lead, me trying to look as though I was in control. Finally, we were called to a halt so that the judge could 'go over' the puppies. I was now an unattractive shade of puce, which clashed with the purple jacket I was wearing, and panting heavily. In fact, I was panting more than the puppies. All the other handlers looked calm and collected. With good grace Frodo allowed himself to be handled. This could be the start of something big!

During subsequent shows, however, it became apparent that Frodo was enjoying the whole shooting match rather less than I was (and I was not happy to be careering round in front of so many people – I'm not a shrinking violet, but I don't like to be on public display) My handling abilities had not developed noticeably and added to the requirement to keep Frodo moving at a steady pace, showing off his superb conformation, gait and spotting (he's a Dalmatian) was the necessity to prevent him taking lumps out of the other exhibits as we charged past. The final indication that the show world was not for Frodo was when the judge was gently examining him and he growled (Frodo that is, not the judge) – a soft, back-of-the-throat, please stop growl, a warning that he was not enjoying the whole experience. So our beautiful boy was to be for our eyes only, never to receive the highest accolade in the show dog world, Cruft's Supreme Champion. As it was, it would never have happened anyway because shortly before his third birthday Frodo became a Faller, of which more anon.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Cling – to hold tightly, be emotionally over-dependent, refuse to let go

I'm a reasonably independent woman, not often prone to temperamental outbursts. I love the members of my family and I think they love me. We embrace affectionately, support each other emotionally and respect each other's privacy. Why then, given these parameters, can I not cope with clingfilm?
Other people efficiently manage to encase widely differing objects; jugs of stock are staunchly refused permission to spill, cakes are neatly parcelled and hermetically sealed, the onions of winter salads resolutely try but fail to send their fumes beyond the plastic. Portions of fruit and slices of vegetables, roast chicken carcasses and too-generous casseroles all consign themselves to the constraints of this thin clear self-adhering plastic material.
They do all this until I try to marshal them. To be more precise it is not the contents that prove problematic but the clingfilm. Does it recognise in me a person who secretly longs to be enfolded in strong arms and held close till, breathless with passion, I beg for release? Well, of course not, but I have to distract myself with idle thoughts as I wrestle with the wretched wrapping that clings to itself and to me as if scared to let go. I mutter and curse as the film tightens and thickens and eventually manage to reduce it to a sulky pellet which I would love to hurl into the rubbish bin but cannot as it still seems loath to leave me.
Thus, the contents of my fridge are left unwrapped, tainted with onion and curry, the chicken carcasses dry out to firewood consistency, the lemon halves shrink to husks, the cabbages wilt and everything that was once fresh and crisp limps into unappetising decrepitude.
Ah me, such is life!

Saturday 21 February 2009

Late February sunset in Berkshire 2009

These photos were taken as it was getting quite dark but I was enchanted by the swirl of colour

Why not visit the Skywatch Site to see skies from all over the world.

Take a look at the Skywatch Site to see skies around the world.

Friday 20 February 2009

Spring has sprung

Today I saw the first frogs of 2009 and just as I was thinking they hadn't started 'singing' yet, so they did. The next few nights will be filled with the melodious, insistent, loud croaking of mating frogs and the surface of the pond will be a mass of heaving bodies. Sometimes in their frenzy the frogs get caught in the pond plants and drown. Sometimes, so many males will be trying to gain access to one female that they all appear to sink under the weight.

Help for Heroes - is Gordon Brown interested?

There has been barely any mention in the news of the terrible life-changing injuries sustained by British Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is very difficult to obtain accurate figures which suggests a degree of duplicity; additionally the figures that are available are incomplete and do not tell the whole tragic story. Last year alone 4200 very seriously wounded personnel were ‘casualty evacuated’ out of theatre to receive outstanding dedicated medical attention at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.
This figure does not include fatalities or indeed other less seriously injured people who were treated in situ initially before being returned to home shores. Neither are the figures for those who die during treatment after repatriation readily available.
Many of the homeless people existing on our streets are there because their lives have been irrevocably altered during active service. No longer able to cope with ‘normal’ life they have been abandoned by the state and reduced to begging. It is understood that General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, bringing to the attention of Gordon Brown the plight of returning injured and damaged men and women, was told that any monetary help would not be provided by him. This smacks of a washing of hands by the Government. There is little or no Government support for the victims and their families who must rely on charities for assistance. Help for Heroes, SSAFA, The Royal British Legion, BLESMA are just a few of the many organisations delivering advice and support. Communities throughout the United Kingdom are forming local charities to help alleviate the suffering of their disabled citizens’ blighted lives.
It is time for the Government to cease its reliance on charities and take responsibility for the ongoing care of the young men and women whose minds and bodies have been shattered in the service of their country.