Sunday, 27 May 2012

Glorious, Glorious Summer!

It is glorious, glorious summer!
It is, as they say, splitting the rocks.
Let 'em split, is my answer to that. It's about time!

Our entire lives have moved outdoors - mainly into the courtyard.

It is, therefore only a matter of time before something vital is left out and ruined in the rain which will inevitably come when we least expect it and when something intrinsically valuable has been forgotten.
It happens all the time.

Once it was the visitor's book
Maybe next time it will be the camera or the handbag my son gave me for Christmas.

But for now, it is wonderful, hot, marvellous, glorious summer and the courtyard is heaven.
(And a hen-free zone!)

And even better, Top Dog is back in the building!
He went off with the In-Charge first thing on Friday morning.
We managed to mask the horror of his destination by taking the wwoofers too, thereby letting him believe he was just on an important errand, and it was only after they had been dropped off very close to the Needle Lady's dreaded abode that he smelled a rat.

He arrived home unconscious at 12.30pm and by mid-afternoon, Model Dog and I were sitting very close to him watching anxiously for signs of recovery. I mainly did the watching and Model Dog mainly did the anxiety, while Under Dog just came for regular updates and to relate in gory detail to the wide-eyed Model who, and who alone, could have reduced Top Dog to such a sorry state.

Fortunately at 5.15 he opened his eyes properly and looked at me - rather sheepishly, I thought - but I was so relieved I immediately hand-fed him a saucerful of minced up chicken left-overs.
He thought they were delicious, but did remark on how pitifully small the morsels were.
When I pointed out that small morsels didn't require him to raise his head more than a centimetre from his bed, he looked sheepish again.
Model Dog seemed to feel that anxious nurses deserved chicken left-overs too, but kindly said there was no need for me to go to the trouble of mincing them up, she'd somehow manage quite large chunks.
I told her that chicken left-overs were only for patients, whereupon she heaved a hefty sigh and retired to her couch, no doubt to dream up patient scenarios that involve neither pain nor needles.

Top Dog displaying his terrible wounds, and grinning rather sheepishly

By yesterday Top Dog was well enough to go for a gentle walk, and spend the day moving between the cool kitchen and the baking courtyard. Sadly the chicken morsels were all gone.

Meanwhile, the In-Charge and a friend took the fab French wwoofers out in the boat to go fishing and enjoy the sunshine.

They mooched down the river to the estuary, pausing to admire the seals sunning themselves on the sandbanks

and other fishermen on the far beach.

They climbed aboard the stranded concrete boat in mid-river.

Yes, the concrete boat. Mutually exclusive in my mind, but there you go. And did it run aground?
Yes it did.
I rest my case...

And finally they turned for home in the balmy, translucent dusk

It was nearly midnight when they got in, the sky still pink in the west.

They were, to quote an old family phrase, tired but oh, so happy.
But not too tired to feast on sea trout that still tasted of the ocean.

It was our wedding anniversary, but as - in the words of the In-Charge (romance not being his strongest suit) - we have been married for a hundred and fifty years, I didn't mind being left all day with the animals, the sunshine and my book for company!

Good company, all.

Oh summer, glorious summer!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What a Week!

It has been a bit of a week.
There is nothing like having the devil in the driving seat, is there?
Sixty-something people came to visit our garden yesterday. We have been part of an Open-Garden scheme to raise money for charity - but this year we decided there were too many other things happening, or not happening, for us to open. However - a large group had booked last September, so we wanted to honour that arrangement.

Manic gardening. Weeding at dawn. Planting at dusk. Clearing, pruning, sheep shears to unsightly grass, nail scissors to sightly grass, shoving dead plants out of sight - you name it, it has happened. I did draw the line at hoeing by moonlight.
If we had hit the garden earlier in the year, it wouldn't have been such a job, but first there was the flu and then there was the hail, wind and rain...
Excuses, excuses I hear you cry.

But it was all worth it! The garden shone and the visitors loved it.

Thank heavens for wwoofers, that's all I can say. What wondrous personages they are!

My yummy wwoofers creating the stairway to heaven

I have cast a spell on my fab French guys. They don't know it yet, but they are gradually forgetting that they have ever had a life elsewhere.France is but a distant memory. Family? Girlfriends? Who? What?
They will stay forever!
Eventually we will adopt them and no one will ever question it.
We have always had two tall, gorgeous boys around the place, after all.

As if Garden Open Day wasn't enough on my plate, Top Dog has been keeping me awake during the brief hours when I wasn't digging.
His nasty place is nasty again and the Needle Lady has commanded his attendance in the operating theatre on Friday.
We are all filled with gloom, doom and despondency.
Especially me. (We haven't told Top Dog yet.)
But it has to be done.
I will be much happier when it is over and he is back home, safe and sound.

Mercifully there is Model Dog.

Model Dog in classic lurcher pose

She has put untold hours into the garden this week, too.
But I have grave worries about her.

Will she ever settle with us? Feel at home?
Is it all going to work out?

Will she ever relax?

Or unwind?

Will the day come when she starts enjoying the woods?

Will she ever allow herself to be brushed?

Or start integrating?

The stairway to heaven is open and fully operational, thanks to my enchanted wwoofers...

And when will she stop terrorising the cats?

Or tormenting the hens?

As you can see, I've good reason to be worried.

Model Dog sleeping in the sun

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fanfare for a Model

I am sorry to have abandoned you recently, but it wasn't intentional.
There has been aught on my mind.

You know those bathtub-moments I've mentioned before?
Well I've been having more and more of them in recent months.
Bathtub-moments can be good or they can be bad, but they are usually deep. Like the bath that spawns them.
Mine haven't been good. In fact they have been full of woe and peopled by ghosts in daylight.
They have centred around the divine duo.
And that in turn has caused me to hark back to the divine duo's mother, Juno.
She was my darling and missing her is still like toothache.

The divine duo as divine infants - or possibly enfants terribles?

The ghastly fact of the matter is, the divine duo will be thirteen this year. They were born in the fading weeks of the last century. They are Millennium Dogs. They are Special. They are Beyond Compare.
They are certainly Divine, but sadly they are not immortal.

My darling girl - what a good mother she was!

Alas we had to visit the Needle-Lady recently - she who is unilaterally loathed by all my animals, although she is kind, extremely competent and has known them all since birth or adoption. There are in fact three Needle-Ladies, which, I am reliably informed by those on four legs, only makes matters worse.
'But she makes you better,' I cry as I try to coax them out of the car.
'Huh! Look what happened to the Empress,' they retaliate. 'She was sad and sorry and you took her to the Needle-Lady and she came back dead. We watched while you planted her. We don't want to be planted.'

Therein lies the crux of my anxiety.
I don't want any divine funerals round here either, but time, tide (and trains) wait for no man.
Or dog.

Top Dog likes to be clean but he prefers the personal touch

On our recent, exceedingly unpopular visit to the Needle-Lady, it transpired that - as I feared - Top Dog has a slightly dodgy ticker.
He has been too generous with his heart for too long, and now there might not be enough left to see him through.
Under Dog's problems are more immediately obvious. He had a nasty accident many years ago, which nearly broke his back and although he made a wonderful recovery, it aches and nags him and he isn't as mobile as he was.
'It doesn't hurt in the woods,' he tells me brightly. (He's not very subtle, Under Dog.)
'I noticed,' I reply.
'It doesn't hurt in the river, either,' he assures me.
'That's because the river is so cold, nothing hurts,' I explain.
He looks slightly crestfallen. Obviously he'd hoped to be bumped up to two walks a day.
'Two swims a day might dissolve you,' I say. He doesn't look convinced.
Under Dog goes for a constitutional swim in the river most days - just a dip to rinse out his pyjamas, you understand. He, too, likes to be clean. The term 'swim' might imply something a little more energetic than the gentle immersion which actually takes place.

Under Dog rinsing his pyjamas

Trotting and swimming are fine, it's steps that are Under Dog's problem - jumping into the back of the car is no longer on his agenda.

You can see why my bathtub has not been the quiescent, lulling place of yesteryear.

'It is time,' I said to the In-Charge, 'to get another dog. Before push comes to shove.'
'Don't be ridiculous,' quoth he dismissively.'They're only plippies!'
It is a sad comment on the general senility of this household that both of us still refer to them by this diminutive term (meaning 'puppy') despite their grey whiskers.
'They are old men,' I said, but I could see the In-Charge's head ducking firmly into the sand.

So I took matters into my own hands and started watching Irish Rescue organisations on Facebook.

Over the last few months, there have been many dogs that have twisted my heart, brought tears to my eyes, or fond words to my lips, but none of them have wrenched my guts and shredded my peace of mind.

Until this:

Fordogsake Dog Rescue's picture

Even then I found myself thinking: A new dog? A young dog? A possible - a probable cat-hazard? Someone else to feed, someone to train, more fur to sweep off the kitchen floor...
And now, of all times...

Go and see her, I told myself.
Just don't do anything impulsive, I implored myself.
Just take it a step at a time.

Enter Super Model Dog - tall, leggy, gorgeous and photogenic.

We took the divine duo to meet her, and they all greeted each other like long-lost friends.
We took the three of them for a walk near the Rescue Centre and they behaved as if they had walked together every day for the last ten years.
We put her in the back of the car with them and they all slept the sleep of the just for the three hour journey home.
We stopped en route for a walk in the bluebell woods, and though we didn't let her off the lead, everyone was very happy.
It could all have been a scene from a movie.
In fact, I was quite disappointed not to find the cameras rolling as we got back to the car - they've missed a chance, there, I thought.

Everyone enjoyed the bluebell woods

So here we are.
She has learned to 'Sit'.
She has agreed to re-consider her first impulse to eat all the cats.
She assured me that she wouldn't dream of chasing hens if there were cats around to eradicate first - though later she asked me to wipe that from the record and apologised profusely. What she'd meant to say was she'd try not to chase the hens, and she can't think how 'cats' came into it at all.
She takes food from my hand as gently as whispering.
She believes in starting conversations with lots of kisses.
She thinks her name is 'Good Girl' - and she follows me around like a shadow.

So far the only thing she has taken a large bite out of is my heart.

She has, as the Rescue Centres would say, found her Forever-Home
In movie terms, I think we can call it a wrap.

A blissful sleep after a warm bath

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Life of Reilly

It is a cloudless day here in the west. There is a bit of a cool breeze - not uncommon for us, living within sight of the Atlantic as we do, but in our sheltered courtyard, you could almost feel you were in France.
Particularly as our French wwoofers have arrived, and that lovely, lyrical language is floating on our airwaves once again.

Our lovely wwoofers arrive in true French style

I have just been to let Napoleon and Mrs Smith out.
They spend their mornings in a large pen, while Wellington and his girls have the freedom of the paddock and easy access to the nesting boxes. Then, when Wellington moves on into the orchard, I shut the gate and let the Emperor and his lady out for the rest of the day. Napoleon is usually exhausted by then, and in need of a little rest.

Napoleon and Mrs Smith have the little paddock

This is due to the fact that while in the safety of the pen, Napoleon is the hero of the French through and through.
He hurls Gallic insults at Wellington through the wire netting, and Wellington, lest he let the side down, says extremely unpleasant things back again. They jab at each other and shout defiantly.
The trouble is, I think Napoleon is all crow and no trousers because I have seen him run - and run - when there is no steel curtain to hide behind, whereas Wellington, should he wish to stir his stumps, would be a formidable foe. He closely resembles a tank when he charges across the field, and I would not like to see him with all guns blazing. After all, we have no wish to re-enact Waterloo.
Napoleon might never recover from the indignity of it all, let alone the battle itself.

Wellington thinking up a new insult

But today all is peaceful, and the little paddock was already empty when I went out..
How happy my chickens are! I wish all chickens could lead such pleasant lives.

Napoleon and Mrs Smith have the freedom of the paddock, with a sycamore tree for shade and shelter, and a suite at the George V when they retire at night. And all afternoon there is a feast of green to devour.
I think Mrs Smith, although she came from a happy, free-range home, was not used to being on grass. Lots of free-range hens have open space but no grass. She cannot get enough of it - she eats and eats and eats while Napoleon runs around behind her, searching out greener blades and lush pockets that she  might have overlooked. He is very attentive.

The gaggle of girls come and go between the paddock and the rest of the garden. They can get over the wall or the gate, which mercifully, Wellington can't. Even the boarders, on their very  pleasant holiday with us, learned quickly how to get in and out of the paddock when the gate was shut for the day.

Very free range indeed

Once out of the paddock, they have a detailed and complex schedule to follow.

In ones or twos - or sometimes all together - they parade around the orchard and investigate all their favourite places.
They bathe under the old dead ash stump where the dust is just perfect.
They excavate large holes here and there in which the rest of us risk breaking our ankles.
They scratch up random patches of grass for no apparent reason.
The toddle outside the front gate to look for dietary supplements. Weirdly, they never go in the road or wander off. (How do they know not to venture into the big, bad world? It's a mystery.)
They sunbathe in the yard at the back of the house, and pick interesting insects out of the cobbles.
In short, they lead the life of Reilly.

Frau Schpeckle posing by the bluebells

But it's never enough, is it? An acre of space, but their beady eyes are fixed on halcyon pastures denied them and they contort themselves, and push and squeeze and shove to get under the gate that leads into the vegetable and flower gardens. We have to remember to barricade below the gate with stones.
And to each and every one of them, the Elysian Field of myth, fantasy and desire is the courtyard.

That is where they long to spend the greater part of each day - scratching up the the flowerbed, eating any seedlings I might have hardening off against the wall, sitting on the table or the back of the bench and - in bad weather - rootling happily in the adjoining turf-shed, and laying secret, never-to-be-found eggs it it's dark, straw-strewn nooks and crannies.

Top Dog - who doesn't like to see me put-upon by anyone but himself - will tell you that they are all wicked, bad and spoilt.
He may well have a point.

The In-Charge has finally put his foot down and has constructed a makeshift gate to keep them out, until funds and opportunity coincide to supply a more permanent fixture. The cats are not entirely pleased, as they now have to go round the other side and perform acrobatic feats in order to gain entry. The divine duo, to whom gymnastics are of no avail, are frankly speechless. How are they supposed to run freely to and fro doing important work, like greeting visitors and keeping an eye on things?
But at least none of us have to do the hot-coals-dance to avoid hen droppings, and in the rare moments when we are able to sit down out there, we don't have to fight for occupancy of the bench.
All good so far.

And I am learning to ignore the row of deprived, starving, neglected and abused creatures whose beaks and beady eyes are thrust resentfully against the wire.

They are spoilt, I tell myself.
Completely and utterly spoilt. And I have no one to blame but myself.
And things were only going from bad to worse.
Especially with my lovely French wwoofers here.
Every time I turn round, I find them coddling a feathered brat something rotten.

Spolt rotten

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Picture it in Your Own Words - Together

How delightful!
The lovely Ju has given me a prize to add glamour and pazzazz to my blog.
Thank you, Ju! I shall wear it with pride.

I shall in due course pass it on to blogs that I admire, but I require a little time to think about that adequately, and this week I haven't had a minute to myself, let alone a minute to be intimate with the blogosphere.

The Versatile Blogger Award also requires that I disclose seven facts about myself. Which may be more information than you really want.
However - here goes:

1     I don't drink tea or coffee. My tipples of choice are hot water with fresh ginger or lemon - and alcohol (but not generally together, and which one I choose depends on the time of day or the occasion!)

2     I love snow and am told I behave like a six-year old if we wake up to a white world, or if snowflakes start to fall.

3     I hate, loathe and detest politics and think this sums politics and politicians up pretty well:

4     I feel uncomfortable in landscapes without trees - and by and large, I don't count dense pine forests as trees.

5     I don't like broadbeans.
6     One of my favourite movies is 'You've Got Mail' with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
7     Although the idea of lying abed is always very appealing, I don't like getting up late as I feel I've missed the best part of the day and won't catch up.


Here are my entries for the Weekly Photo Challenge
The subject this week is: Together