Tuesday 31 January 2023

A Life Full of Animals - part one


A Life Full of Animals - part one

I have never known a time in my life without animals, apart from the three years I was at college.

My earliest memory is of Bob the Collie, for whom my father laid a place at the table. There followed Sombre the Smooth-coated Collie, Ginger the cat, Punch the Springer and Judy the kitten.

The first dog Barry and I had was a yellow Labrador called Whisky. She was three years old and she was my birthday present from Barry when I was in my final year. I couldn’t keep her at college so Barry kept her in the officers’ mess at RMCS Shrivenham, where she led a very convivial life. She was a patient and very friendly dog, and eventually a great companion to and protector of our young children. 
Whisky with Gareth
We thought her not to be a natural guard dog, barking only at buses and ladders, until one night in Northern Ireland when Barry came home very late, she barked menacingly at him before she realised who he was and was then abjectly apologetic. She was not averse to helping herself to choice morsels from other people’s shopping baskets, when the opportunity presented itself, and enjoyed ‘picking’ blackberries, too.

Biddy with Gillian

As she aged and our children grew, we decided to get another dog, to ease the pain of Whisky’s passing, when the time came. Thus we acquired Biddy, a 7-month-old smooth-coated Jack Russell terrier, (JR) the long-legged variety now known as Parson Jack Russell. She had already been cubbing and never lost her penchant for searching underground, once disappearing for several hours and emerging mostly brown, rather than her usual tan and white. She was enormous fun, always seeking to ingratiate herself by sliding round on one shoulder in front of one of us and submitting. She was very much Barry’s dog, loving to huddle inside his jacket. When he wasn’t around, Biddy’s preferred companion was Gareth, particularly in the forest. She was expert at climbing trees.

Biddy and Gareth

After Whisky died, Biddy was lonely, missing her old companion and so we got Leo, a rough-coated, short-legged Jack Russell. He had been a stud dog and in our innocence we thought we would have no problem keeping him and Biddy apart when she came into season. How wrong we were! Biddy had five adorable puppies, and we kept Daisy and Sam. Daisy was a very pretty broken-coated girl and liked sleeping in the cat beds we suspended from the radiators, for by now, we had a cat, a beautiful brown Burmese.


Susannah, Gillian and Gareth with Biddy and her five puppies

Daisy, Sam and Biddy at the seaside
This came about because Susannah had wanted a rabbit. We had experienced heart-ache with Gillian’s previous rabbits and so persuaded Susannah that a cat would be preferable. We called her Alicat and we were encouraged to breed from her. JRs are reputed to be cat killers but when we brought Alicat home, Daisy jumped on my lap, watched by the other three, and we never had a problem. Of course, each of our then three children had a different favourite kitten and soon our menagerie grew, until by the time Bethan, our fourth child, arrived, we had four JRs and nine Burmese. We also had guinea pigs and pet mice and gerbils, all of which reproduced at will.
Sam with Susannah and Bethan

Bethan with Barry, Sam and Daisy

Sam was also broken-coated and immensely strong for his size. He loved collecting logs, the bigger the better. He really was a big dog in a little dog’s body. He and Leo did not get on once he grew up, so Leo went to live with my parents. Sam’s life was short and sweet. Out running with Barry one day, he ran off and was knocked down by a car. He died unexpectedly after surviving a few days with the vet. He was six years old. Biddy had spent much time licking his ears and little Daisy was somewhat overlooked. Clearly, Sam was his mother’s favourite and she pined for him.  We commenced our search for our next dog. 

I had long wanted a Dalmatian and soon Cariadd joined our family from Wales. She was smaller than the JRs when she first arrived, but soon outstripped them and proved to be a good problem-solver.

Biddy and Cariadd

Cariadd. Bethan, Biddy and Daisy

Barry holding one of Cariadd's longer 'sticks', watched by Bethan

She specialised in carrying long branches, more like young trees, through small gaps and was the perfect running mate for Barry. She also had a terrific smile, which worried people who were not familiar with dog smiles. We were sometimes told, ‘Your dog’s snarling at me.’

Many breeds of dog smile, or snark, some with closed lips, others with varying degrees of tooth display and nose wrinkling. I must admit it can look quite alarming!

I believe that once you have two or more dogs you can never go back to just one. Dogs need dogs and the one that’s left alone becomes depressed. A ‘new’ dog, whether baby puppy or older dog, rejuvenates the survivor and rekindles his or her energy and enthusiasm.

When our last JR, Daisy, died, we had to find a companion for Cariadd, and this came in the form of Dalmatian Dominie, from Devon, four months old and a really big puppy. She was as soft as butter, a little dog in a big dog’s disguise. Cariadd, not noted for her maternal instinct, allowed the youngster to chew her neck and never grumbled at her. Dominie was not well coordinated as a puppy and fell in our pond every day for a week as she thundered over the bridge, but she grew into an athletic dog who could turn on a sixpence, giving any chasing dog a great work out.

Dominie with our eldest grandson, Callum (now 25 and an expectant father)

We were very taken with our Dalmatians, delighting in their elegance and intelligence, and it was good to have not one, but two big dogs to which we could reach down a hand to be nuzzled. As Cariadd aged, and, sadly, dogs age too quickly, we decided to look for a third Dalmatian. Bethan had enjoyed building obstacle courses for Cariadd and was keen to try showing a dog. Dominie, beautiful though she was, was simply too big and Cariadd had never been keen on the show ring.

We thought it would be fun to have a liver Dalmatian, so green-eyed Buddy left his home in Cornwall to live with us. His eyes didn’t remain green. He was a handsome boy, devoted to Bethan. When we brought him home, Dominie’s expression was one of pure joy. We could almost hear her saying, ‘My puppy, oh, my puppy.’

Dominie with baby Buddy

Labradors are renowned for being greedy, but Dalmatians can match, if not outpace them. Ours all learnt very quickly that food was freely available on work tops and we had to find places they could not reach. Naturally, they didn’t attempt to thieve while we watched. We were careful about not allowing them ‘dangerous’ foods, like grapes or macadamia nuts, but even so Buddy demolished a chocolate cake and lived to tell the tale. Our grandchildren still laugh about that.

Buddy does the leg work while Dominie waits

In the meantime, the cats were ruling the roost, and attempting to find a way into the fish tank for a tasty fresh snack. When they had a spat, as cats do, they would find a dog to curl up with. The cats never attacked the dogs, just each other. Sometimes, a dog would stand between two arguing cats, to calm them down.

Cariadd and 6 Burmese

After Buddy came seven-month–old Frodo, from Lincolnshire, a dog bred primarily for looks rather than temperament. He was always gentle and loving with everyone in our household, particularly Buddy, but reactive with unfamiliar dogs, not a good trait in a show dog. He became my Velcro dog and remained so until his death seven years ago.


Frodo the Faller

Thursday 26 January 2023


Squeaky clean

When I was a child I had long plaits.

aged 11
Throughout my life I have alternated between short hair and long hair, but I’m never really satisfied with it when it’s short. Currently, I am growing it again. Occasionally, I have changed the colour, particularly in recent years when I was persuaded that the highlights I fondly imagined were ‘blonde’, or, at least, passed as such, were actually grey and could not be described as ‘blonde’. Now, I have decided to ‘embrace the grey’ or some such silly expression. I remember, in my twenties, returning to college after the summer vacation one year and discovering that at least two of my friends had ‘gone blonde’, as had I. I don’t think it suited any of us but it pleased an inner desire to look different. I matched the Labrador we had then, but the colour suited Whisky more than it did me.  
Whisky taking a biscuit from my  mouth, watched by my niece, Pamela

Whisky, like most Labradors, would do anything for food!

In my teens I dried my hair naturally. To rid the hair of excess moisture, I would rub it with a towel, then shake my head back and forth and side to side, rather like a horse tossing its mane. If I tried that now I would probably fall over. These days, I usually use a hairdryer, simply because I dislike going to bed with wet hair.

I was taught to make sure that my hair was ‘squeaky clean’ by pulling my fingers gently down a strand of hair. That should make a squeaky noise, to indicate that all the shampoo had been washed out. A final rinse with lemon juice or vinegar would enhance/preserve/encourage blonde highlights.

Now, it’s shampoo followed by conditioner but even that is not simple. Is your hair fine, dry, oily, lifeless, damaged, frizzy, dyed? Do you have an itchy scalp and/or dandruff? Should your shampoo be paraben/sulphate/silicone-free? Do you require a guarantee of Beauty Without Cruelty (BWOC) or vegan? Do you want extra shine, firm control, thickening volume, extra hydration, nourishment? (Does hair need to be fed these days?Having established your hair’s requirements, the perfume must be decided. If you want to smell like flowers, there’s a shampoo for you – rosemary, lavender, geranium, rose, mint.

Tropical island longing? Coconut or banana, mango or papaya.

One of your five a day? Cucumber, raspberry, apple, grapefruit, orange, lemon, strawberry, blueberry, melon, cranberry, apricot or blackberry. (There’s even one for dogs called tutti frutti.) 

Nuts? Almond or macadamia. Seaweed, honey, including Manuka honey, tea tree and aloe vera are other alternatives. 

In addition to this the customer must decide between volumising or taming shampoos, and some will add oil while others claim to control it, whether it’s ‘fly-away’ or thick and curly. 

I fell to wondering about the expression ‘squeaky-clean’ last night as I stepped into the shower. One of the definitions I discovered this morning said, ‘beyond reproach, without vice’.

How could my hair be reproached just for growing? ‘You’re growing too fast/slowly. You’re becoming too thin and brittle. Why are you so grey? What happened to the bounce and body you used to have? You must do better.’

What vices might it display? ‘Are you trying to make me look old? Look how you’ve clogged the plughole/drain/outlet. Why must you shed all over the house? What have you done to my hairbrush? It looks like an untidy little cobweb.’

Imagine my hair’s response. ‘Look at the way you’ve treated me – all those nasty, smelly chemicals. How would you like it if someone blasted you with such hot air you could hardly breathe? Be real, woman, you’re (getting) old.’

Is your hair your crowning glory? Mine is just a mess most of the time, much like the rest of me ;-)


Tuesday 24 January 2023


Where does the time go?

Gilbert is nearly twelve weeks old now and enormous – for a puppy. We think he’s going to be a big dog, as tall as Bertie

 and as broad as Gus.

I believe that it’s preferable to have a summer puppy, rather than a winter puppy, but over the years we’ve had a mixture of both. The main differences are in the hours of darkness and the weather. Summer tends to be warmer and the daylight hours are longer, though many days can be quite chilly, and very wet. It’s not unheard of for us to light a fire in June!

We had a couple of rainy days when Gilbert was first with us but now it’s dry and very cold, -7° Celsius yesterday morning with a sparkling hard frost, but taking him out to relieve himself has not been particularly arduous. He quickly does what he has to, then, depending on the time, goes back to bed or has breakfast. This morning he woke us at 6:00, but a few days ago he wanted to go out at 1:00 a.m. and then again at 6:00. Some mornings he has woken us at 3:45. In general, though, he has slept through the night, and starts his day between 5:00 and 6:00!

Roxy plays with him now. 

He’s very respectful of her and easily put in his place and that’s just as it should be. Susannah’s little dog, Arthur, is far too accommodating and doesn’t discipline Gilbert. His long spaniel ears and the plentiful feathers on his tail and legs are just too inviting for a pup to ignore. We are very vigilant and separate them when they get too excited. Playing together when one of the pair is in the pen is much safer!

Frankie is growing up fast. He has started making video clips, using his ‘phone. He adds music and text and uses different voices for the characters. It’s a good and imaginative way to express himself and he’s exploring relationships and feelings, though he doesn’t realise it.

On Friday, he went with his class to ‘The Living Rainforest’. Before he left for school he said that he wanted to hold a tarantula if he was given the opportunity. ‘I’m scared of spiders,’ he said, ‘but I’ve got to get over it.’ With a positive attitude like that he should go far.

Though still cold, the weather has improved. Last night’s temperature was -2° and at 6:00 this morning it was zero.  It feels quite balmy and this afternoon’s predicted temperature of 5° sounds almost tropical. There’s no wind, which makes a huge difference. No matter what the weather, the birds and squirrels are busily preparing to procreate, apart from the wood pigeons, which are active all year round.

A pair of magpies is nesting in a nearby oak. Watching them yesterday, I concluded they were refurbishing their nest, as they pulled out leaves and twigs. They keep a lookout for the red kite which roosts near them and will attempt to steal any chicks, though they will vigorously  defend their offspring and chase it away.

red kite being pursued by crow

Sunday 15 January 2023




Like so many people, we have outdoor cameras to record the comings and goings of visitors. Linked to Alexa, announcements are made – ‘Motion detected at your drive’ - and that is all well and good, except at the dead of night. I’m left hoping that it’s a fox alerting Alexa and not a fly-by-night burglar availing him/herself of our drive. Any self-respecting professional burglar would not remain long within the glare of the security lights, I think.

Foxes and cats set off the lights and the declarations. Birds feasting on pyracantha berries, and even spiders, spinning their webs, will activate the lights, though fortunately not Alexa.

 ‘Motion detected at the doorbell’ and ‘Someone’s at the doorbell’ are two more of Alexa’s pronouncements. I don’t know why it is so, but Alexa uses two accents. The drive announcement is made in British English, the sort of English familiar to listeners to the BBC. The doorbell announcement uses a North American accent that you might hear in California. There is probably a setting to adjust the voices, as there is on TomTom, but we haven’t had time to research that.

Alexa is kept very busy in our house, switching lights on and off, turning on radio and television and reducing or increasing the volume. It is also used as an aide-memoire, for shopping and for reminding us of the many and varied tasks that have to be performed regularly, like cleaning filters or checking the heat pump.

It is very useful for managing pet-related matters. For example, Jellicoe is diabetic and has to be fed every four hours during the day, so Alexa prompts us at 7:30, 11:30, 3:30 and 7:30. As soon as the alarm sounds, Jellicoe starts yelling at me to hurry up and feed him. Herschel understands, too, but is less insistent.  Alexa also reminds us when it’s time to reorder Jellicoe’s insulin.

Because we use Alexa as a timer, the cats are sometimes a little confused to hear it chiming when it’s not their mealtime. However, they’re learning to tell the time and don’t react to it in the same excited way ;-)

Roxy understands the significance of the chimes, too!

When Frankie was very young and practising his Ps and Qs, he would always thank Alexa if one of his questions was answered. We had to make a concerted effort to refer to Alexa as ‘it’ rather than ‘she’ and to explain that it was not human. The first time he heard Alexa’s voice, when he was about four, it frightened him and he ran out and had to be coaxed back into the room. Now, he uses it all the time. Our youngest grandsons, Charlie and Jack, discovered Alexa one day – I can’t remember how – and now they make a beeline for the hub and proceed to ‘play’. They haven’t yet realised how the volume is controlled, so that saves our hearing!

 I must confess that I find it irritating when I give the wrong command and am reproached in a rather patronising voice with, ‘Sorry, I didn’t find that device.’ Alexa also responds to some of our orders with a rising inflection, as if asking if we’re quite sure we know what we want.

One day, machines will rule the world. Woe betide us then.



Friday 13 January 2023

A visit to the vet


A visit to the vet

On Thursday, Gilbert was 10 weeks old and ready for his next vaccinations.

He wasn’t very happy in the car. The last time he was in a car he had a long journey from Shropshire to Berkshire but this time it was a five minute drive to our vet, not long  enough to unsettle his stomach!


Vet Patrycja greeted us at the car and carried Gilbert in to the consulting room. She had seen the sadness of Gus and Bertie’s final days, so was delighted to see a young, healthy puppy.

Gilbert, of course, was excited to meet another new human. He’s very excited about everything and particularly if treats are involved. 

Back home, he settled down for a snooze before Arthur came to play.
Roxy and the cats watched tolerantly as the two youngsters mauled each other, then they went to sleep. 

Jellicoe doesn't stand any nonsense from Gilbert and tells him off with a hiss and a cuff if he becomes too boisterous.

Herschel adores the dogs and understands that Gilbert is young. Therefore, his discipline is firm but less harsh than his brother's. 
Jellicoe takes the meaning of 'dog bed' to a new dimension. Roxy doesn't seem to mind.

Herschel likes to sleep in the Master's chair, cosy on the faux fur cover.

He's quite well camouflaged!

In four weeks' time we will repeat the exercise. By then, Gilbert will be quite big and heavy. At nine weeks he weighed 6.5 kg. This week he was 7.8 kg. 

Will he have put on another 5 kg by then? I suspect it will be more! Carrying him up and down stairs will become more and more of a weight-lifting exercise. Will it improve my core strength, I wonder?


Wednesday’s Words on a Friday

This meme was started by Delores a long time ago. It was great fun and when she had to give up blogging, it was taken over by a number of people, coordinated by Elephant’s Child. The meme supplies prompts as a means to encourage people to write, in whatever format they please. The words for this week have been supplied by Sandi but can be found here.

This week’s words/prompts are:

reflection   mirror   deception   air   heir

seed   planting   harvest  forget   due


The mirror is no master of deception;

The harvest of my life is laid out bare;

The seeds forget their planting – no reflection

Can dissipate the fate to which they’re heir.


If I could go back and plant again those seeds,

Would my life’s harvest be a different hue,

Or would I commit a second time those deeds

For which my punishment now is due?


Forgive my sombre air of introspection -

The mirror shows me all I have to share,

Try as I might I can’t avoid reflection

When seated in the bright hairdresser’s chair.


Sunday 8 January 2023

Play time!




Nine weeks old!

Gilbert is now nine weeks old and has been living with us for almost one week. It feels like a lifetime!

You will have heard of Rhodesian ridgebacks - well, Gilbert is a 'ridgenose Labrador'. 

He has a ridge of contrariwise fur down the middle of his nose. It’s not uncommon and is called a ‘zip’. 

I told my grandson that it occurs after the stuffing has been put in and the fur has been stitched together. He almost believed me.

Gilbert is learning quickly:-

1: Squeaking is one way of getting attention.

2: Munching furniture/clothing/hands/feet will also garner attention.

3: Attempting to play with Herschel and Jellicoe as though they are an unfamiliar breed of puppy is not acceptable and is an insult to self-respecting Ocicats.

4: Chasing cats does not always achieve the desired effect. Often they turn round and follow him. More disconcertingly, they rub round him, ‘scent-marking’ him!

5: Going to the patio door encourages the humans to take him into the garden, where he can sniff at will and – usually – relieve himself. (‘Go potty’ for the North Americans!)

6: Following humans wherever they go and attempting to trip them up is fun.

7: Human feet make the best pillow.

 Roxy is not hugely enamoured of Gilbert at present and gazes at us, asking, ‘Why?’ She has been elevated from Junior dog to Only dog and now Senior dog in the space of three months; it’s been a sudden escalation and adjustment but there is no doubt that she and Gilbert will become the best of friends. 

She is very patient with him and allows him to push his nose into her food bowl, quite an achievement for a dog affectionately known as a dustbin. However, it's not something we encourage in Gilbert - he has to respect her status.

Yesterday, Susannah's dog, Arthur, came to play.

Hitherto, Roxy has been his playmate and suddenly she was not the focus of his attention. She watched, and was on the point of joining in the high jinks with Arthur and Gilbert, when time was called and Arthur had to have an enforced rest, or ‘time out’, because he was becoming over-excited. He is a working Cocker spaniel, full of energy, but is still very young, only sixteen months old.

 Roxy, Gilbert and Arthur, just before 'time out'
Everyone was exhausted last night!