Monday, April 28, 2008

A visit to Dartmouth

Our friends Joe and Jane own the Dartmouth Canvas Factory. We met last year when I was looking for someone to make panniers for Ben. I had often passed the Canvas Factory and thought that it looked the kind of place that might be able to help. So, after a glass of wine to fortify myself I went inside and tentatively enquired whether they might be able to make panniers for a Newfoundland dog. It was fortunate that I am not, as Jane Austen might remark, of a nervous disposition, because at that point a tall man leaped out from behind the counter garbling, "You've got a newfie? You've got a newfie?"

Of course I informed him that indeed that was the case, and in fact I was the proud owner of (or owned by!) two of these black furry bear-like creatures. "Where are they from?" came the next question at the speed of machine gun fire.. "one from the West Midlands and one from north Devon," I answered, backing towards the door a little. "Not Lucy Stevenson?" "Yes" ... and it transpired that Joe (for so he turned out to be) had owned Amy's half-sister, Storm. Of course we were now fated to become friends, for after all, as previous custodian of Amy's half-sister, he was practically family already.

The picture above was painted for them, and is now displayed on a shelf in the shop. But back to my story ... Jane did indeed make panniers for Ben. Panniers Mark One were trialled last month and a few alterations were required - including Ben-proofing the bags to prevent theft of the contents - by either dog!! Then we went back for the final version and Ben posed ....

Like the superstar he wants to be ...

Joe is now suggesting that we fill the panniers with beer and then train Ben to sit in the sea until the beer is chilled. Would this constitute newfie-cruelty do you think? No answers on a postcard please!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One swallow ....

Yesterday I saw the first swallow of spring on our telephone wire. One swallow might not a summer make, but surely now we can hope that summer isn't too far away. I love to watch their aerobatics over and around the house - and last summer in the house - one besotted pair swooped low through the back door then up to the top of the house where they left just as swiftly through an open bedroom window.

I'd rather have swallows indoors than our bats. I'm very pleased that they've decided to call our attic and cellar home, but don't like it when they come into the house proper, it's so difficult to send them outside again. I usually just open the window and close the door of the room they've invaded and hope they find their own way out by morning.

All this rain and then warm weather has brought the garden on - it's so rampantly fertile you can almost see and hear it growing. My runner beans are already 12" tall and the borders have recovered well from the puppy's excavations during the colder months. Trouble is, we now see the rise of the super-slug. Armed with bionic rasping jaws unless checked these creatures munch their way through my wisteria, hollyhocks, beans and anything else they choose to devour. I do try to garden organically, but must admit that I resort to slug pellets at this time of year, though choose the ones that are harmless to other wildlife.

Indoors is just as busy. As well as preparing for craft shows, I have realised that the stronger sunlight is revealing areas that, from the look of them, have not been properly cleaned since last summer! Sand and dog fur are the main problems, together with liberal sprinklings of mud where the dogs shake after coming in from outside. Alas, as fast as I clean, the problem recurs. I'm sure those pesky canines are deliberately trying to recreate some of their favourite outdoor places indoors. Certainly the floor resembled Lannacombe beach this morning. Clearly they enjoyed romping across the sand so much yesterday they decided to bring the beach home with them too. Batson Creek later today I think .... but back to the sewing for now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ben's Birthday Post

Here I am. My name is Ben Dickson and I am an exceptionally good-looking Newfie as I'm sure you will agree.

Mum said that I could write this post for a special treat as next week I will be one whole year old. Yes, one year and 10 1/2 stone. That's 147 lbs or 64.5 kg. Wow!! I'm all grown up. Bigger than Amy (not that she likes to admit she's just a shortie).

Over the last year there have been a lot of firsts for me and I wanted to show you some of them ... but before we begin, if you visit Middle England Newfs

you'll be able to see some photos of me when I was only a few days old. UNBELIEVABLY small!!

One of my first journeys in the back of the newfie-mobile. Here I am only 3 months old. (There's not so much room now!)

First showing Uncle Richard how to undo his shoe laces!

First trip to the beach with Dad

First time getting wet all over and making like an otter

First game of beach football with the BOYS!! (Look at Amy getting in the way. Trust a girl not to understand the RULES)

First time captain of boat

First water training lesson with Joe

first time WINNING at beach frisbee!!

First time Amy ADMITTED I was as big as her. See how fed up she looks!! Ha!!

First visit from Kelly the grooming lady. She NEARLY CUT MY EAR OFF!!
(note from mum, no she didn't he's just being silly)

First Christmas. Don't I look handsome? Amy thinks she looks best, but I know the truth ..

First time galloping so fast I thought I would FLY!! (Amy isn't even watching)

First time cooking Spot's golden cheese dreams. Watch out all you celebrity chefs. "Canine Cookery with Ben Dickson" has a certain ring to it! I want to do some more cooking, but Amy is back on her diet.

First time trying to EAT the bluebells. Mum said "No! they're for looking at silly." Girls stuff is what I say.

This is not a first time although I hoped it would be. This is me (the tall handsome one) trying to get the best bit of doughnut FOR THE FIRST TIME. But our friend Mike always gives tiny little Amy the nicest bit. Life is soooooo unfair .....

Love from Ben xx

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spring is here to stay!

Walking up to the woods yesterday I realised that spring has really arrived - no cold snap or arctic blast can put it back into its box now - it's well and truly here. Although there was a frost on Wednesday night, by 8.30 am it had disappeared from all but the deepest shade, and the sunshine was hot on my shoulders. Amy huffed and puffed along like a black furry steam train. She is not fond of the warmer months as a combination of thick black fur and a round body does not make for comfort when the days grow hotter. Her favourite place to snooze is in the old stone courtyard at the back of the house where the sun barely reaches even in the highest dog days of summer.

Today we walked down to Batson Creek. We haven't been this way for a while and I was struck by the sheets of acid yellow rape with its distinctive smell. I don't mind it, I think it looks like sunshine fallen to the ground on even the gloomiest days, though I know many people think it's too bright and alien in our mellow English landscape. Luckily the swans weren't around today and we spent a long time at the creek. I found some lovely broken pieces of old blue and white china half buried in the mud, while Ben and Amy found some less lovely smelly seaweed and unidentifiable slimy objects by rootling around where the trees overhang the water.

I shall try to paint the china pieces, I love the combination of blue and white, so classic and timeless. I've just finished painting two Bernese Mountain Dog puppies for friends in the village, so the china will be a different challenge, quite different to my usual subjects.

I've been re-reading Vita Sackville-West's epic poems, "The Land" and "The Garden". Although I find some parts very heavy, others really sing to me as she is so in tune with nature and the seasons. As our gardens and hedgerows burst into life, I particularly enjoy these few lines ....

" .... But for this summer's quick delight
Sow marigold, and sow the bright
Frail poppy that with noonday dies
But wakens to a fresh surprise;
Along the pathway stones be set
Sweet Alysson and mignonette,
That when the full midsummer's come
On scented clumps the bees may hum,
Golden Italians, and the wild
Black bumble-bee alike beguiled:
And lovers who have never kissed
May sow the cloudy Love-in-Mist."

Great planting plan, beautiful evocative words .... spring is really here now!
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