Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A gravy bone from Postman Pat!

Bertie in Glen Muick, midday on 18 November 2017
You might be looking at the picture above and thinking, gosh you are a lucky chap Bertie, living in such a beautiful part of the world with a human who loves to go exploring.

I guess you would be right, but sometimes the best part of an outing is not captured on camera.

So there I was last weekend, trotting along the tranquil farm track on the western side of Glen Muick, when a Royal Mail van - the first vehicle we'd seen - came bowling along.

I don't know about you, but generally I like to walk in the middle of a road if given the chance, and believe it is the responsibility of others to avoid running me down. 

So I ignored Gail's shouts and forced the postman to stop. He wound down his window as Gail, having put me on a lead and dragged me to the side, was babbling apologetically: 

"I'm so sorry, thank you for stopping, my dog has absolutely no road sense...."

The postman had a nice round ruddy face and a wide smile. He ignored Gail, looked down at me and said fondly "ach, you're an affa bonny pup, maybe you'd like a treat?"

And lo an behold he dug into his pocket and produced a gravy bone and offered it to me whole! (Gail normally breaks them in two, or on a bad day three).

This agreeable episode has confirmed my belief that is is always best to stick to the middle of a track, although Gail disputes this conclusion...

After the walk we stopped in the nearby town of Ballater, where a rustic nativity scene was being erected on the green by the church. 

Gail was amused to see that the workman setting up the floodlighting had used the praying hands of one of the Three Kings as a coat hook. 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Why don't we do this more often?

As you know, my usual early morning constitutional consists of a walk to Duthie Park and back.

So I was a bit surprised on Saturday when Gail bundled me into the car shortly after seven a.m. and announced:

"Bertie, we're having a change today and going to the beach for a dawn photoshoot".

It's only a ten minute drive to Aberdeen City Beach and we arrived about half an hour before sunrise.

Not all the photos Gail took in the low light with her smartphone turned out as intended...

But amongst the many fails (Gail blames cold hands which I guess is a valid excuse - the air is always, er,  'bracing' besides the North Sea), there were a few photos I have deemed acceptable for my blog.

As it started to get properly light, some other pups showed up on the beach.

Gosh it was all such fun,  I do hope we can do it again some time.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Paw wash imminent...

In truth, these days, following my visit to veterinary dermatologist Peter Forsythe in April, a paw wash is ALWAYS imminent, even when I have been walking across ground that is nowhere near as muddy as that pictured above.  And it's not just a gentle rinse, but a thorough working over, focusing on making sure the deep clefts between my paw pads are clear of mud and grit.

The good news is that I have been free of those horrid interdigital cysts, which made my (and Gail's) life a such misery earlier this year, for over six months now. Cross paws that things stay this way through the winter.

Gail says Dr Forsythe is already her clear choice for Man of the Year.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Shy, undramatic and without a trace of egotism

Gosh it has been proving hard to get Gail out of bed these last few dark and frosty mornings.

In truth, usually she is up and raring to go while I am still curled up snug and sleepy. But the combination of a sinus infection (Gail's Achilles heel, if that is not too medically confusing a metaphor) combined with what she says is a most fascinating book, have meant the roles have been reversed - one suspects temporarily - this week.

So the subject of the book that's been keeping me from my customary early attendance in Duthie Park is former UK Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. Perhaps you have heard of him, perhaps not.

Well it seems that when Attlee was deputy to Winston Churchill during the Second World War, he was considered by some as Churchill's lapdog. Leaving aside the implied slur against lapdogs (a status to which I aspire), this, according to biographer John Bew, was very much not the case, and Mr Attlee was in fact most influential despite (perhaps because of) being "shy, undramatic and without a trace of egotism".

Post-war this supposedly meek and ineffectual man defeated Churchill in the general election and became Prime Minister, and his Labour government introduced the National Health Service and laid the foundations of the modern welfare state.

Oh yes, and I should also mention that as a young man Attlee fought bravely and with distinction in the World War One, and was injured in the Battle of Hanna in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).

Not bad for a 'lapdog', I say!

And what a contrast, in both style and achievement, to certain of today's politicians on either side of the Atlantic..

PS from Gail: do we get a prize today for efforts in making the most unpromising subject matter 'dog relevant'???

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Inappropriate sniffing?

Recent reports on 'sexual harassment' in our Westminster parliament have recently given me paws for thought about my own behaviour in public.

By all accounts (OK, some accounts), conduct that was considered acceptable between humans a couple of decades ago is now likely to give offence.

I am wondering if the same is true for dogs?

Although it is hard to admit it, I am now a middle-aged pup, and I fear I may be losing touch with the latest thinking on these matters.

Is it still OK to greet a bitch in the park?

Indeed, is it still OK to refer to her as a bitch, or should that be 'woman dog'?

And what is the latest thinking around sniffing etiquette?

I so hope the rear end is not going to be declared a 'safe space'...

Gosh and I do enjoy licking my private parts, but maybe I must in future confine this innocent pleasure to the bedroom?

It is all so confusing for the male pup these days. Friends, can you give me some guidance, please?

Monday, 6 November 2017

What goes in Macduff stays in Macduff

So Gail and I spent the weekend in Macduff, staying with her nice friends Molly and Neil.

Neil and Molly, and their lurcher pup Maisie, live in an old house overlooking the harbour, just downhill from the church which forms a distinctive landmark in these parts.

I'll be honest with you, early on Saturday morning I was initially a bit miffed when Gail and Neil disappeared to meet up for a bike ride with the Deveron Cycling Club.

But then I realised that I'd get to spend the morning unsupervised with pretty Maisie!

I hope I shall not be accused of inappropriate language if I mention that both Maisie and I are happily still in possession of our full reproductive organs.

When Gail returned from her chilly bike ride, she asked, slightly nervously I thought, "Now you have been a good boy, haven't you Bertie?"

I tried my best to look inscrutable (not a look which comes naturally to a wire-haired fox terrier)...

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Now that's my idea of an 'enrichment item'

Mexican Gray Wolf. Credit: Clark Jim, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons.

Bertie Boffin here (your go-to guy for all matters pertaining to canine-relevant science)...

Scanning through a range of blogs on the American Geophysical Union website, a post about particular experiment recently caught my eye.


This experiment involves some Mexican gray wolves held in a 'pre-release facility' prior to being let out into the wild as part of a carefully planned re-introduction programme in New Mexico and Arizona.

To mitigate any stress and boredom the wolves might feel while temporarily held in captivity, a variety of 'enrichment items' have been introduced to their cages, and the aim of the study is too see which ones work best. These items include - now wait for it.....

'Road killed elk carcass', 'bones', and 'buried meat with a blood trail leading to it'.

Now it seems to me that this experiment has clear relevance to us dogs (we do share 98.8% of our DNA with our wolf brethren after all) and I would be more than happy to offer my services to Science as follows:

So Gail goes to work three days per week, leaving me shut up at home alone*, potentially stressed and bored. I suggest we could work it like this with testing the enrichment items:

Tuesdays: road killed elk carcass (or if hard to source in Scotland, red deer would be an acceptable substitute, I guess)
Wednesdays: Bones (miscellaneous, although my preference would be lamb)
Thursdays: Buried meat with a blood trail leading to it (really, I am not fussy at all about the type of meat)

Replication is of course all important in science, and I suggest the experiment be run over a period of ten weeks. If necessary, further iterations, with the items on different days, could be tried too.

I would, of course, write a detailed report explaining in very analytical fashion my levels of satisfaction with the various sources of 'enrichment' at the end of the study.

So how about it Gail?

I can't see any objections. Can you?

*Alone, that is, apart from the dog walker who comes midday, and those afternoons, quite frequent, when I go round to entertain our neighbours Yvonne and Neil.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Did I ask the wrong question?

So Gail and I were out walking near Aberdeen on Saturday afternoon when we ran into this fine fellow.

The long silky furs and those most impressive ears told us right away he was one of the UK's most endangered breeds, a Skye terrier.

He seemed a friendly kind of a guy, so I asked him a question.

"Are you by any chance descended from Greyfriars Bobby?"

Gosh, it turns out I had made what Human Granny would describe as a big "faux pas".

Since this is a family blog, I shan't relate word for word his response, but this was the gist of it:

"Oh my goodness, have you any idea what a trial it is to be a Skye terrier here in Scotland? No wonder we are nearly extinct. Barely can you step outside the house and some random mutt asks you about that idiot of a dog in Edinburgh who sat and pined on his master's grave for fourteen years... FOURTEEN YEARS, I ask you! And Edinburgh is almost as cold as here in Aberdeen.. I would be embarrassed to have such a fool for an ancestor, and would like to make it quite clear that Greyfriars Bobby was absolutely no relation of mine. Let me assure you, should my owner here pop her clogs while I am still alive, I shall be knocking on the door of the local rehoming centre demanding a new family with a nice warm home, a well-filled treat jar and a relaxed attitude to the dogs in bedrooms question. No point looking back, that's my philosophy. What was it that Einstein said about life being like a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving...."

You know, by the end of this diatribe, I was feeling quite sorry for the Skye terrier's owner, an innocuous looking lady who told Gail that fox terriers were her second favourite breed of dog.

PS from Gail: I came across this interesting article when googling 'Skye terriers':
Also, here are some statistics on Kennel Club registrations of vulnerable breeds over the past ten years:

Friday, 27 October 2017

Advice for Americans in Scotland?

So Gail, what's this I hear about you organising a bicycle tour in Scotland for your American friends in May next year?

Yes indeed Bertie, that is so. (I see you have been peeking at my emails again.)

Well Gail, as one who was so nearly picked as Ambassadog a couple of years ago, I feel duty bound to try to ensure your guests enjoy our fine country to the full. May I ask a few questions?

Fire away little Bert.

OK, so you are starting in Edinburgh. I am guessing your friends have romanticised ideas about castles and so forth. Perhaps you should suggest they watch 'Trainspotting' or read some of Ian Rankin's crime novels, so they develop a more rounded view of our capital city before they arrive. That way we can avert disappointment, I feel.

Er, yes, well, maybe Bertie. Or maybe not. Anything else?

Oh yes, plenty. I understand that cyclists enjoy their food and have good appetites. Have you considered the breakfast arrangements?

Well of course Bertie, our hotels and B&Bs will inevitably serve generous portions of porridge, I'm sure.

Um, so are you also sure that folk accustomed to breakfasting on tall stacks of blueberry pancakes with butter and maple syrup, and maybe a side order of eggs 'over easy' and bacon, will find oats boiled in salty water a satisfactory way to start the day? I somehow doubt it.

So then Bertie, we can always add in some tattie scones and black pudding to fuel us up the hills if necessary. So what now?

Oh, it's just occurred to me, am I correct in thinking Americans drive on the right? Will they not find our traffic most confusing?

Bertie, rest assured that my friends have travelled all over the world with their Bike Fridays, and they are a capable and resourceful bunch. Why one of them is a retired USAF pilot, so I'm confident his spatial skills will run to figuring our which way the cars are coming from on a roundabout.

Point taken Gail. But another thing - I do hope they will come prepared for our weather. I mean, even Canadians complain here about how the dampness and wind makes everything feel colder than indicated by the thermometer.

Don't worry Bertie, I shall tell them to pack a full set of waterproofs and thermals. And at least we can assume that the bike trip will not have to be cancelled due to forest fires, unlike the last two occasions I have visited the USA.

Well Gail, I think we have covered enough for the time being. Oh, just one final issue - I believe your friends have said they are interested in visiting historical sites along the route. Now readers of this blog will probably already have deduced that history is not your strong suit, at least not unless it involves rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old.  Might I respectfully suggest you spend some time between now and May swotting up on kings and queens and battles as so forth, to avoid being a total embarrassment as a tour guide. Look, I found this on your bookshelves - a good starting point I think...

PS I am delighted to report that, although I shall not be taking part in the bicycle tour, at least one member of the American group has stated her intention also to come to Aberdeen for the express purpose of meeting Yours Truly.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Terriers only on East Coast Trains?

Meet Billy the Parson Jack Russell terrier, sitting pretty in Coach C of the 13:00 hours service from Edinburgh to Newark North Gate last Thursday. 

We have yet to encounter a Scottie on the train though.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

A word about Wojtek

I expect you would all prefer that I steered clear of the dreaded topic of Br*x*t.

Well I do try to keep my mind on higher things, but you know how it is, every now and then, something reminds you of what a pickle my country has got itself into.

So on Thursday, en route to Nottingham by train, Gail and I stopped off for a walk around Edinburgh for an hour or so, and we ran into these fine fellows in Princes Gardens.

Meet Wojtek, the brown bear from Syria, adopted by a company of brave Polish soldiers in World War Two. Wojtek helped carry ammunition in the battle against the Nazis at Monte Cassino and had many other adventures before spending the final years of his long and remarkable life in Edinburgh Zoo.

Many Polish soldiers who contributed so much to defending our country settled in Britain after the War (including the fathers of Gail's school friends Bronia and Halina). More recently, of course, large numbers of enterprising Poles have come to the UK for work, enjoying the fruits of decades of peace in the European Union.

Gail and I think we know what Wojtek and his Polish soldiers would have thought of the knaves and fools in charge of this country's future relationship with the rest of Europe.

We visited Human Granny yesterday, and found her in good spirits, if ever more bent and also worried about what sort of a country her grandchildren (who most certainly did not vote for Brexit) will inherit.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Is it wrong to find this funny...?

How to rake your Malamute
And to think I complain about my grooming routine...

(For video version click here).

Monday, 16 October 2017

Getting spiffed up for Granny!

Perhaps some of my readers are unaware that I am on a regular basis subjected to a quite onerous grooming regime?

You might be thinking, "Oh that Bertie, he sports the natural look; none of your fancy-schmancy poodle parlour business for him".

Well, it is indeed true that the concept of a 'spa day' is alien to both human and canine occupants of this household, and that my fur-do is not the result of the professional attention.

But make no mistake, just as it can take a long time for a certain type of human (usually female) to create the impression she is wearing no make-up, and some human males go to very great pains to cultivate a not-shaved-for-four-days look, it also follows that my 'rough and ready' appearance is underpinned by considerable and ongoing efforts.

Early in my puppyhood, Gail took the decision that she was perfectly capable of teaching herself - with the help of a demo from my breeder and the occasional YouTube video - how to groom a wire-haired fox terrier.

And that has been the pattern of things for the last seven years.

So the furs on my back, neck and haunches are hand-stripped by Gail - a matter which I tolerate if given a tasty enough long-lasting chew to distract me from the mild discomfort involved. Scissors are used for my underside, face and ears, and my legs are pretty much left alone...

Thing is, because Gail generally adopts a 'little and often' approach to the hand stripping business, it tends to go unnoticed - and, we feel, unappreciated - by the world at large.

Well I would like to point out that on Friday morning I was stripped and clipped for as long as my patience and Gail's mildly arthritic thumbs would allow.

The timing might have something to do with the fact that I'm going to visit Human Granny for a few days later this week, and she always complains if she can't see my eyes.

Anyway, I like to think I was looking pretty spiffy for my Saturday afternoon walk in the woods, and I'm optimistic about catching the attention of (treat-bearing) admirers on the train to Nottingham on Thursday.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A matter of aesthetics

Perhaps you can help?

It is a not uncommon occurrence, that Gail and I spend time agonising over which is the best photo to select for my blog.

For example, last Sunday, I had the opportunity to explore the ruins of Strome Castle, near the West Highland village of Lochcarron. Although the weather was far from perfect, it was a scenic spot, and I (most obligingly I would say, given my harsh treatment the night before) posed patiently for some pictures taken from inside the ruins.

We narrowed it down to two possibles for this post.

In the first, I am looking head on at the camera, and you get a peek of the hills on the southern shore of the loch, but unfortunately Gail has cut off the top of the arch in which I am standing, which I feel detracts from the overall effect of the shot.

In the second, the archway is better framed and you can see more of my side (and actually the right is my 'good side') but I am not looking at the camera. Also, because the photo was taken from a very slightly different angle, there is more water and less hill in the background.

So I am wondering, which do you prefer?

(It would, of course, be a legitimate point of view, to believe the only metric we should be using here is the proportion of the picture taken up with my handsome self...)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Torridon: A wet walk and a wedding party

Gosh, it has been far too long since I last visited the Torridon cottage. But here I am this weekend on the wet west coast of Scotland, with Gail and her friend Yvonne for company. 

And look how patient I am posing for photos, even in the rain.

Of course I do expect a reward.

Now it may not come as a surprise to folk who have met Gail and Yvonne, but I can exclusively reveal to the rest of you that for this pair of friends, the main point of exercise is to enable them all the more to enjoy a good nosh-up in the evening.

So I am delighted to report that just a few miles from the cottage in the remote village of Diabaig, we have a most welcoming restaurant.

It turns out that on Saturday evening I was not the only dog to be invited along. 

Meet Patch.

I must say, Patch's people were so much better dressed than mine. Look at that fine kilt.

 And what's this? A wedding frock!

And there were two lovely bridesmaids looking most adorable in blue, with white fluffy capes. Gail says that not all bridesmaids would be so enthusiastic about posing with an ever so slightly muddy dog in their arms.

Patch told me that the couple had been married in something called a 'humanist service' on the old stone pier at Diabaig earlier that day. Gail seemed to approve. I sure hope they had some big umbrellas.

In the interest of accuracy I feel I must report that I spent the final part of the evening in the back of Gail's car.

Yes I know, it is quite unimaginable that Gail could have been so cruel. Ok, so there was the small matter of a noisy altercation with Patch while Gail was chatting with another customer at the restaurant (a nice man from North Carolina).

But I notice that Patch was allowed to stay, which I consider quite unfair.