Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hare today ....

Up at Blackdown Rings today I was lucky enough to see a hare in the pasture beneath the fort. Although I remained still for a long time, I didn't see its mate, and eventually it lolloped away. I first saw a hare on a smokey autumn day in Warwickshire when I was probably about 12 or 13. The cornfields had been cut and the hare rose up from the stubble only a few yards in front of me. Until then I had believed that hares were simply rabbits with longer ears, but was instantly struck by how powerful and angular this creature was - not cuddly in the slightest, but all muscle and poised for action.

Walking around the Iron Age ditches I noticed the gorse is in full flower and the resident robin seemed almost to be bursting with song. I have hung my special "dog-fur station" in the garden now. It's simply a wire coil stuffed with the fluff I groom out of my two hairy hounds. The birds take it for their nests - I'm sure it will make a lovely soft bed for their newly hatched youngsters.

The garden is so colourful, it's hard to believe it's only February. There are small clumps of crocus, narcissi, hellebores of varied hue and bright pink camellias. The roses are showing new growth too, particularly the far too vigorous pink climber that rambles all over the log store roof and drops its petals on our heads all through June.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting Ready for Spring

A succession of bright, crisp, sunny days has brought everything on in the garden and turned my thoughts to the coming summer (let's hope we get a decent one this year). Down here in Devon our economy relies heavily upon our summer visitors and we know this, even when we mutter rude things as we reverse into a distant passing space and wait for a clumsy camper van to lumber past. Most visitors are very pleasant though, and wave enthusiastically and gratefully as they pass you - though there are a few .......

Anyway, I've been sorting and planning ready for the Craft Fairs I've booked to attend this summer. I've turned out the workroom, put all the cards, aprons and other stock in order and generally had a good spring-clean. The dogs are of course quite disgusted by all this human activity which is taking place in a part of the house to which they are forbidden access. They have taken revenge by bringing maximum quantities of mud, sand and dead leaves into the house, liberally mixed with huge volumes of black fluff and lubricated with the contents of the water bowl slung across the floor yet again. Thank goodness for slate floors I say!

I've also been working on some new pictures, including the one at the top of this blog - which imagines how it might be if my tatty collection of Devon Bears were to somehow gatecrash the swanky Dartmouth Regatta! No comments on the rigging please - some nautical friends came for Sunday lunch and this of course was what they noticed. Oh yes, Sunday lunch ... one of my hero Hugh's recipes - for shoulder of pork with the bone in - rind scored and rubbed with a spice mix, sizzled for 30 mins, then left in the Aga Simmering oven for 24 hours. Didn't need a carving knife - just scooped out the lovely tender meat -yum.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I think I must have the two naughtiest newfies in the whole of Devon. I am seriously considering tying their legs together so they cannot misbehave any more.

We've been having glorious spring weather here and today I decided to take the dogs down to Batson Creek as it's a great place to visit on a falling tide. Loads of shells to collect and mud to wallow in (dogs, not me!) We walked down the old green lane, and saw a Bulfinch there for the first time, high up in a hawthorn tree - my attention was caught by his distinctive song and it took me a while to spot him. Didn't see his mate, though there were a pair of robins busy along the hedge who scolded us vigorously as we passed by.

Down at the creek the tide was falling and there were three swans taking it easy at the water's edge. Then suddenly they spotted two huge bear-like creatures hurtling down the mud slope towards them closely followed by a madly gesticulating human. Luckily the tide was a fair way out and it was about 150 yards to the water's edge which gave the swans plenty of time to evacuate to the centre of the creek. There they sailed serenely considering themselves safely out of reach of the dogs. Ha! Amy and Ben had other ideas - they hurled themselves into the water and began to swim. Of course the swans simply moved out of the way - but the dogs kept going - nearly across the creek and into Salcombe, probably about 400 yds. You could sense the swans' puzzlement - otters? No, too big. Seals? No, too small and not likely in this creek. Bears? Surely there aren't any bears in Devon.

Eventually the dogs gave up and began the long swim back against the tide. I was rather worried as Amy is crippled (she seemed to have forgotten this) and Ben is still very young. Amusingly, the swans then followed them back to shore, seemingly intrigued by the whole affair and showing no signs of fear whatsoever. The dogs finally emerged very wet, smelly and pleased with themselves while the swans cruised away again. As I said at the beginning ... legs tied together should stop their nonsense. But at least they are sleeping now....

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Susie's story

Here, in her own words, is a story from the grand old lady of Coombe Leigh - written for my daughter while Susie was still alive. I hope you enjoy it although it isn't really a blog entry, as it's rather out of date, but tells how Susie came to live with us. She was only a scruffy mutt, and had the classic story, beaten, starved and abandoned. We never knew her real age or origins but we loved her just the same. She was with us for 14 years and until she died would always cower in a corner if an argument started, only gradually learned to tolerate a rolled or folded newspaper, and would never pass in front of your feet (waiting for a kick?).

Dear Rosie,

Our Mum has been helping me write my story for a little while now. She said that now I am an old lady I had time to jolly well sit still and think about things instead of running about like a silly Newfie! I know I'm getting on a bit now, I'm not as fast and bouncy as I used to be and Mum said she'd like to have my story to read to remind her about me when I wasn't around any more. I wasn't too sure about that, I was a bit concerned about where she was going to send me. But Mum said not to worry, I'd be fine when I got there and would have lots of doggy friends to play with. So after some consideration I agreed to co-operate.

I remember the last time we went to Gara Rock, before my legs got a bit wobbly and Mum started to worry about me falling off the edge of the cliff. (you humans do fuss; I knew that bramble patch was there when I tripped last time, and it wasn't my fault Mum got scratched rescuing me, I was quite happy lying there waving my legs in the air, brambles make a very soft landing you know).

When we go for a walk I am usually in front while the humans are trailing behind. This is another example of the benefits of four paws over two legs. Mum, Dad and you are the most untidy herd of humans when we go out on walks. I don't think anyone realises how hard I have to work making sure that you all keep together and nobody gets lost. I was lost once and I know how scary that is. Mind you, I was so glad to have escaped from my first humans I didn't notice where I was going or what I was doing. But when I slowed down a bit I realised that I was feeling hungry and tired so I had to rummage in a few bins to find some scraps to eat. Good thing you humans are such an untidy lot. This was OK to start with, but after a while my claws got worn right down and my paws were so sore. So I decided to give myself up and found a Chichester Dog Rescue person to take me in.

Our walks aren't like that though, there are usually lots of really good smells and, to begin with at least, the going won't be too tough. Sometimes if we're going a long way I do get a little concerned that Mum and Dad might not have put enough water in my bottle. All you humans usually keep saying at this point is "Not far now ..." and "Just round the next corner ..."
All I can say is that there are normally an awful lot of next corners to go round before we reach our destination. I thought when I got to the Chichester Dog Rescue kennels that I had reached my destination. All the people there were very kind, but what I really wanted was a family of my own. I'd never had that you see, not what you'd call a real family who would care for me, ruffle my scruffy fur and let me play games with their young. I so wanted to be loved.

I hadn't been at the kennels very long when I heard voices out in the exercise yard. It seemed to be a Mum human and a very small puppy human - that was you!! They sounded very kind, just the sort I thought I might like to adopt. They were sad, they explained to the helpers, as their dog Lucy had just gone to the big kennel in the sky. They had come to find a new dog to take home. The helpers thought they might like this silly puppy - a pleasant enough little thing I remember, but not really suitable for this family. The Mum and puppy humans weren't too sure what to do. I pushed my nose under a hole in the door - they sounded so kind and nice I really wanted them to notice me. I pushed harder and harder - as hard as I possibly could, but I just couldn't squeeze any more of myself out, and I was so afraid that they might leave without spotting that here was a dog who really desperately wanted a home.

Then something amazing happened! I couldn't make out very much as my face was squashed right up against the kennel door, but the little puppy human called Rosie shouted, "Look Mum, it's Lucy!" and they both turned and looked in my direction. It turned out that Lucy was their old dog who had died - she was a Westie - I guess my face does look a little bit Westie-ish - luckily for me! My heart dropped to my paws when the helper said that I wasn't available for adoption as I hadn't been at the Rescue long enough. She got me out though for them to look at and although I must have been a sorry sight with my ragged fur and thin body, Mum ('cos that's who it was) said that she could see I was a dog who needed love so they would take me home and foster me. If no-one came for me (and I already knew they wouldn't) then they would keep me.

Well, I've never wagged so furiously in my entire life. This was a dream come true! They were so kind and nice I knew I had been right to choose them. They put me in their car and off we went to my new home. But I'm getting off the point again. Mum says it's cos I'm getting old. She says I can't concentrate on anything and sometimes she thinks I've lost the plot. I don't think she's quite right about that, after all I manage to concentrate pretty hard on my food bowl at supper time! So that's the story of how I came to live with you, my family. I hope I stay here for ever - I know you can't manage without me now.

Love Susie


Sadly Susie died in 2006 and her ashes are under a rowan tree at the end of the garden in Coombe Leigh. Lots of good memories about her though. Amy was adopted too - and gave me a very tough time at first, but has settled in well now, is loved to bits and loves me back again - one-woman dog(!). Ben, the puppy, - well, just once I wanted a dog with no shadow behind its eyes, one that had only known love and kindness and he was a gift from my husband. Next time .. may it be a long way off yet ,,, but next time we'll be back to adopting again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Will you still want me?

Susie - rescued 1992, lived with us until 2006.
Previously beaten, starved and abandoned - much loved by us.

I've just read a posting on the Country Living blog about rescue/adopting dogs and cats. I've always had rescue dogs until now - Amy was adopted, unwanted and injured. But this year I bought - yes bought - Ben as a puppy. Just once I wanted a dog who didn't have a shadow behind his eyes, who had never been ill-treated, starved and abused. I had a tough time with Amy who bit me several times - and boy, did that hurt! That hasn't put me off though, and when I'm next looking I will adopt again. I do worry though that some inexperienced owners don't realise how much baggage a rescue animal brings. There's a wonderful poem called "Will you still want me?" that I think all prospective adopters should read:


Now that I’m home, bathed, settled, and fed
All nicely tucked in my warm, new bed
I’d like to open my baggage
Lest I forget
There is so much to carry…
So much to regret.

Hmm…Yes there it is, right on top
Let’s unpack loneliness, heartache and loss
And there by my leash, hides fear and shame
As I look on these things I tried so hard to leave
I still have to unpack my baggage called pain

I loved them, the others, the ones who left me
But I wasn’t good enough – for they didn’t want me.

Will you add to my baggage?
Will you help me unpack?
Or will you just look at my things…
And take me right back?

Do you have the time to help me unpack?
To put away my baggage
To never unpack?
I pray that you do—I’m so tired you see
But I do come with baggage

Makes me cry every time and even more determined to help.

Waiting for a delivery ....

I'm sure that people who run delivery companies all have mothers who love them. But I don't love them at all.

Why, oh why, can't they at least tell you whether they'll be coming in the morning or the afternoon? I was waiting for a fabric delivery today, and all the company would say was "between 8 am and 6 pm." Now I work from home - but I also have two large dogs to exercise. At 9 am they were excitable, at 11 am they were unbearable and by 1 pm hysterical. And 20 stone of hysterical dog is not nice to have in the house. Luckily the delivery arrived at 1.45 and we were free!!

All morning then, I spent secluded in the workroom. This was not entirely through choice, but because every time I emerged I was leapt upon, slobbered on and generally made to feel like a complete rat for seemingly having forgotten to take the them out. Still, at least my time was spent constructively as I was able to make a number of beach bags - lovely powder blue dotty fabric adorned with the picture you see above.

I painted this last summer after a succession of great days out with friends. We'd park the car at East Portlemouth and catch the ferry over to Salcombe for beer and fish and chips at the Ferry Boat Inn, watching the holiday sailors tacking across the estuary - and occasionally getting it wrong much to everyone's amusement. The original painting now hangs on Denise's wall in Warsash, but I scanned it before giving it to her, knowing I'd want to use it one day, and to be honest I didn't really want to part with it ... too many summer memories .....

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Land of Counterpane

Now, if you had to answer this question - what would you say?

"Shall I stay in and iron all these vintage mangle cloths I've pre-washed to turn into aprons .. OR .. shall I take advantage of this lovely sparkling morning and head outside?"

Answers on a postcard .... but really it was a no-brainer this morning.

I was expecting rain, snow or sleet, but instead woke up to one of those lovely sparkling days you sometimes get in winter. So, casting those pesky mangle cloths to one side, I took the leads off the hook, fought my way to the back door past two over-excited dogs and we went up to Blackdown Rings. We had a wonderful walk, it was so clear, you could see for miles.

And it brought to mind a poem I used to love as a child. It's called "The Land of Counterpane" by RL Stevenson and though I'm sure it's very familiar to most people, I'm going to quote it here 'cos it really describes how I felt standing on top of the old Iron Age Rings looking out across the South Hams....

"When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane. "
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