Archive for the ‘dogs’ Category

Imaginary Dogs – Patch’s Vanishing Act

May 5, 2015

“Say hello to Patch for me,” my brother commented.  So I did.

This morning I had a go at walking Patch, but he didn’t stick around for long.  I expect he was off after seagulls, or else looking for a goat that he could round up.  Patch was a white dog with black patches (doh!) – a kelpie/collie cross, with that wonderful black and brown face typical of the tri-colour border collie.

Patch 1

He lived as a classic Australian dog of the fifties: he wasn’t really ‘walked’ much as such, but just lived around the place, taking himself wherever he wanted to go.  Because we lived at Nelson Bay, those places included the beach, where he would swim out hundreds of yards towards the fishing boats, silently sneaking up on seagulls.  The only time his great ambition was realised and he actually caught one, alas, it escaped by flapping and squawking, and he didn’t quite know how to deal with that.

The view from the beach towards the heads.

The view from the beach towards the heads.

As a puppy, Patch did a real vanishing act.  One day he just wasn’t there any more.  We were devastated.  We searched high and low.  My mother suggested he might have been ‘stolen by gypsies’ – rather an Enid Blyton solution – but we grieved and came through.  Then there came a day on the beach, maybe a year later, when we saw a dog in the distance and Mum said “That’s what Patch would look like if we still had him,” – and, lo and behold, the dog pricked up its ears and looked at us.  So we called and he came running.  And in that way, Patch came back to us, full of the spirit of independence and joi de vivre.   He was his own dog, for all his loyalty, and if he came for a walk it was his own choice.  If he left the walkers for a while to explore the bush or round up a couple of goats (memorably once) and bring them back to us, pink tongue lolling with delight, that was his choice too.  He must have known how to deal with snakes: the bush around there is full of them.

Patch among trees -

Patch among trees –

He lived life to the full, and we loved him passionately, as only kids can.

When the decade closed, so did our childhood life by the sea, and we moved away to Queensland.  In Ipswich, life was much more suburban, but dogs still ran free.  Our eventual house had a little white fence that he could hurdle easily – about a three foot fence, I guess.  With no sheep, goats, or seagulls to herd, Patch turned his attention to cars.  He was pretty good at keeping them from coming and attacking us – for years he kept guard, he growled and ran alongside, nipping at the wheels, but of course it was always going to be the death of him.  In Australia a dog like that is called a ‘car-chaser’ and people wag their heads sadly and wisely. ‘Ah, a car-chaser,’ and no more needs to be said.  When you’re older, you just don’t have the reflexes of a young dog.  I was watching him the day he was hit: I watched him vault the fence with his easy style and grace, and arrive in the house.  He lay down on his side, and was gone.  Not a mark on him.

Patch with my father.

Patch with my father at Nelson Bay, 1959

Imaginary Dogs

April 29, 2015

My dogs are away from home at the moment – they are in France with Andrew and Bella.

triangulated dogs
Le chezeau – newly mown grass and three dogs,

dogs with a plan
where they make their doggy plans,

red oak in spring 2
– and enjoy the spring.

Here in Leamington, meanwhile, I knock on busy people’s doors and interrupt their daily lives to ask them to think about politics.  They are remarkably polite (on the whole) considering we catch them when they’ve just got in tired from work; or they’re trying to cook a meal; or get the kids’ homework done.

I still join my dog-walk in the mornings though: wouldn’t be without the lively conversations and the fresh air on the Eagle.  “Where’s your dogs?” they say.
“Oh, I’m walking imaginary dogs,” – I’m bored with truths.  I have to walk imaginary dogs.  This morning we were talking about a bloke we have all met on the canal path at some time or other.  Big bloke. Tattoos. Scary-looking mastiff-type dog, with a blank white face, always held tight on a short chain lead.  They’re OK though – the bloke is friendly and chatty.  He’s worked in ‘security’ (meaning he’s a bouncer) and he’s a medium, and a ghost-hunter.  He does tours of haunted houses for the public, and he can ask ghosts to leave with a quick prayer.  (Sounds a bit like his day job, only gentler.)  He is utterly, utterly sincere.

I find that I might be walking ghost dogs.
“Yesterday,” I tell my friends, “I was actually walking Morgan.”
“But she ran off, ” says Tim.
Morgan the rescue greyhound, was always in search of a bin-related snack, and had to be chased through the back alleys over and over again.  She could rip open a black bag in no time flat – you’d be amazed how many people throw out chicken carcasses still with loads of meat on them!  She went back to it day after day.  It wasn’t a great thing to do – she had to spread the rubbish fairly widely sometimes, to get to the best bits.  And she knew those little back alleys so well – she could scoot round a corner and be gone in a flash.  She was a younger person’s dog, and excellent exercise – I doubt I could sustain the pace these days.

CNV00020– a slightly skulking manner –

Of course, she too grew old, and didn’t sustain the pace either.


So often when we talk about dogs, the conversation veers towards death.  I am grateful to them for that.

Tomorrow I think I’ll walk Patch.

Dogs on Sunday

November 2, 2013

In Berlin

We stayed for the first few days at a lovely place – the Yogitel on Tschaikowski Strasse – which is really a community of families who teach and practice yoga and various therapies.  Part of alternative Berlin, I guess, and very very cheap.  They don’t do breakfast or meals, so one pops out to the local Bäckerei first thing in the morning – only to discover that it is the weekend and so the place is full of families, dogs, relaxation.

On the way down the street I spotted:

lovely tri-colour border collie seen on Grabbeallee

lovely tri-colour border collie seen on Grabbeallee

This beautiful chap was the first I photographed – just because he looked a lot like Bandit.  Nice leather lead, too.

FB keeps asking me to tag these seedy characters, who watched my entire sequence of photographic exploits.  NO, facebook, I really don't know who they are.

FB keeps asking me to tag these seedy characters, who watched my entire sequence of photographic exploits. NO, facebook, I really don’t know who they are.

The streets are populated by families (many wearing bright green), cyclists, dogs. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed.  Little kids come to the shop by themselves and go out with big bags of croissants or buns.  Two little girls had brought the family dog – but I didn’t take their picture – it doesn’t feel seemly to take kids’ photos, and so I have to deny you many many bright green garments, dog owners and cyclists.  But I did take some photos of dogs waiting willingly outside the Bäckerei, or trotting along with their owners.

Standing patiently outside the Bäckerei without a lead at all.  He was there for some time, solid as a rock.

Standing patiently outside the Bäckerei without a lead at all. He was there for some time, solid as a rock.

Not far away was this little poodle –


When I tried to take Pablo’s picture, his owner gave me a rather formal ‘look’ and asked me what I was doing – the only person who was even slightly suspicious.  I explained (best German, worked out in advance) that I was making a collection called ‘Dogs on Sunday’ and she said ‘OK’.  Then her friend got Pablo to pose like this.



– We found out later that we were in fact staying in a quarter (Schönhausen) that had been in East Berlin.  It had been rather smart, though: the location for the foreign embassies.  Indeed, many houses there looked very fine indeed, especially on the Mayakovsky Ring nearby.

By the time I photographed Ken I was becoming quite confident about asking owners for permission.  Ken’s owner spoke really good English and was more than happy to chat. – Ken is a rescue dog and very friendly – you can see from the tail.  He even accepted a treat from me.  ( I didn’t ask about the name.)  He, too, waited outside the bakery off-lead.

little dog at the Backerei

little dog at the Backerei

OK, I thought, that was fun.  Then I caught a very crowded tram down Grabbeallee

discreet, conscientious: a dog that manages a bus, crowds and a complex lead, and gets everything right.

Discreet, conscientious: a dog that manages a bus, crowds and a complex lead, and gets everything right.  You had to admire his style.

to the Mauer Park  ( a park that contains a short stretch of the Wall).  Here the atmosphere is absolutely hopping on a Sunday.  Hordes of people, singers and buskers and ‘acts’ involving comedy/juggling.

slack-wire walking

slack-wire walking – also note green garment on the little boy drawn from the crowd to assist. (‘Leo’)

A massively tempting flea market; loads of fabulous street food.  And (a German speciality, I later found) – deeply concealed toilet facilities.  This last can be a bit of an issue for me – but a helpful stall holder saved the day.  And, to my great joy, I had at last found someone whose English was worse than my German: we communicated effectively auf Deutsch. She was immensely kind and helpful – made absolutely sure that i knew where I was going.

But I am straying from the point of this post: the people in the park were accompanied by their dogs, in the most natural and unassuming way imaginable.  Your correspondent, photographer and dog-lover, was bowled away by the sheer variety and numbers.  And all – all, I tell you – impeccably behaved and happy. Here are a few:


Sorry about the angle – it hardly looks like a dog at all.


Excellent owner-plus-dog combo. Is that dog even on a lead?


A lot of people use these great harness contraptions: must try them out.


This fine fellow was unusual for being a clear cut breed. (most of the dogs at the park were excellent bitsers). I think he is a Bernese Mountain dog.

Tall thin person with tall thin dogs.

Tall thin person with tall thin dogs.

stalking away - having checked out the other dog.  Owners were picnicking nearby.

stalking away – having checked out the other dog. Owners were picnicking nearby.

belongs to a stall holder - maturely calm in the crowd

belongs to a stall holder – maturely calm in the crowd

There’s more to come about the Mauerpark – but I need to find my camera’s connection lead – somewhere in my packing, before I can upload the photographs.  Another day!

more about the dogs

July 29, 2013

Thank you everyone for your kind advice and thoughts about Shadow’s ‘bowl rage’, especially to Rosey of Rosmarinus, over in Norfolk, the ever-helpful owner of Shadow’s sire.  Rosey uses a diet for her dogs involving bones and raw meat, which I find a little difficult to manage, even though I agree with her about its advantages.  But I had indeed been falling behind on getting bones in for my dogs.

Yum yum - raw meaty bones.  Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

Yum yum – raw meaty bones. Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?


The issue of dominance or hierarchy still seemed relevant, as well.  There is one truly useful website (amongst quite a lot of dross) –  which talks about dominance amongst dogs and how we humans interact with it.  We often inadvertently send our dogs mixed messages about their status, and as a dog ages her status may change – but not necessarily.


Like all of us, Bella was young once.

Like all of us, Bella was young once.


Based on both of these bits of advice, we have started to boost Shadow’s nutrition and we have also decided to pay a little more attention to Bella, to enhance her status in the pack.  We thought we might take care to feed the dogs with our laid-back lad, Bandit, in between the two females, as a kind of buffer zone.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.


Lo and behold, on that very first morning, even before we had put any of this into practice, the dogs seemed strikingly happier and calmer.  And that has continued today, as we have put these changes in place.


Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them.  Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them. Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?


Now, I don’t believe in canine mind-reading or anything like that, but I can’t help wondering what made the difference to them.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Here I am in a quandary – it only looks like a stream.  The dogs understand what is going on, while I am just grinning at the camera.  Heigh ho!


A busy weekend

June 25, 2013
High summer at Burton Dasset

High summer at Burton Dasset

I’ve been dashing around as usual. Friday afternoon was a picnic in the hayfield that is Burton Dasset hills – one of Marion and John’s several farewell celebrations. Followed by a brass concert in the church. I downed an antihistamine and a couple of glasses of pink fizz – survived fine! The dogs had a lot of fun with the kids who were there, and totally ignored the sheep (good dogs!)

Sheep everywhere

Sheep everywhere

John and Marion may need to re-jig their visit to us in France, to fit with their house move. If so, I can linger here a bit longer and maybe do some more boating – actually staying on board for more than just overnight at last , which would be really good.

Then on Saturday I went out to the boat (very reluctantly – feeling tired and a bit scared after all this time) only to find as usual that it was wonderful on the canal path, fabulous on the boat, and terrific going through Bascote locks.

the ladder locks at Bascote

the ladder locks at Bascote

(Another anti-histamine, and a silk scarf to keep the dusty polleny wind out of my hair. Just about an adequate defence.) As I was walking the boat into the first lock (very slowly and carefully) another boat came up behind me, the Tumbleweed, with a friendly couple on board, boating down from Cheshire. So we went through Bascote locks together, and I could stay on board for the ladder lock. The dogs were impeccable again – the Cheshire boat had two beautiful black collie-cross-German Shepherds on board – very calm dogs.  Ours just noticed that they were there and then politely ignored them. Perfect. Then on to moor at the Cuttle Bridge at Bishop’s Itchington, and a celebratory pint (of Eagle, naturally) at the Two Boats.

the Two Boats pub by the canal at Long Itchington

the Two Boats pub by the canal at Long Itchington

that's not me holding it - but it's a nice picture of a pint  Nobody at the Two Boats was dressed like that!

that’s not me holding it – but it’s a nice picture of a pint.  Nobody at the Two Boats was dressed like that!

So boating woke me up – and I charged off to Heydon that evening to stay over with my stepson and his family. Little Jimmy (their new Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy) is very cute and ebullient.

Jimmy the Cavalier

Jimmy the Cavalier

They are all well and OK, but quite clearly not coming to France this year. They have heard of tick-borne diseases which really do sound nasty.  Maybe we should get tick collars for our three.

Sunday morning we went up to ‘the forest’ (Jubilee Wood, near Royston) – a perfect place to walk when it is windy and hay-fevery, as it’s so calm under the trees. The kids were rather disappointed to find that the log swings that used to dangle from high branches have all been cut down. 9Vandalism?  Health and Safety?)  The dogs gradually got used to one another – going for a walk together is definitely the way to do that!!

Drove back to Leam on Sunday through absolute downpours of rain – and arrived feeling pretty spaced-out and tired all over again. Aahhh.

Good news  here at home on Monday – the builders’ surveyor came, and said that they will build the gorgeous (well, cheap and cheerful) lean-to conservatory beginning on the 1st July. Exclamation marks hardly suffice to express my amazement and joy at this time scheme.

Today (Tuesday) I was supposed to be lunching at The Leopard, at Bishops Tachbrook, (yet another pub where one of my kids used to work) and catching up with a  friend who writes poetry and has had recent heart operations. At the last moment, my beloved VW Passat wouldn’t start – no sound from the battery but a click.  I speculate: flat battery? (unlikely); stuck starter motor? (do diesels do that?); immobiliser accidentally switched on ? (quite likely).  So we met nearby – a short walk along the canal to the (dog-friendly) pub, The Moorings.  We had a conversation about health, rather than one about poetry. –  and the food was excellent. Right now, therefore, I need to choose between watching Wimbledon on TV, and phoning the AA. 

tea party with dog

May 22, 2013


Adelaide Art Gallery – really the ‘Art Gallery of South Australia’.  Tired, ratty and querulous, I prowl its incomprehensible galleries, searching for a way out.  No Exit.  Signage is non-existent and the floor-plan misleading.  Bouncing off the dead-ends, recoiling from the Turner exhibition, returning again and again to the truly upsetting flayed horse, I crave outside air, natural light, a loo.    The ‘sculpture courtyard’ has two sculptures – three if you count a low pocked concrete wall about a metre high, that forms a rough triangle around dry grass.  Drier and more beaten than the watered lawn outside it,  it looks neglected.  I’m starting to turn against sculpture courtyards.  But in the end there really is a cafe – and a gift shop: refreshment.

Amongst the slightly tedious assemblage of early Australian art, breathing darkly of a more decorous age, huge Hans Heysens glow with commanding reality.  They are wonderful – the reproductions in books give only the faintest sense of their effect.  I hear Heysen’s name in my mother’s voice: she is a big fan.  How is it that the greats are always astonishing in their greatness, no matter how much we would like to discover that others are just as good?

There are some lovely discoveries, though.  I haven’t heard of Clarice Beckett before: a Melbourne artist of soft light, tenderly captured.  Her works feel remarkably modern – they reach out and illuminate the heavy walls.  This one is called ‘Morning Shadows’.

Morning Shadows

Morning Shadows


The most intriguing moment comes when I see E. Phillips Fox’s ‘Alfresco’ – at first I mistake it for another Beckett – but it is older, and comes out of that altogether more narrative approach of the late nineteenth century.  It is concerned with light, yes, but also (and entertainingly) with composition.

"Tea Party with Dog"

“Tea Party with Dog”

Within a drift of light pastel shades, the central lady in the red dress attracts our attention, so that she and the dark-clad man seem to be the focus of the picture.  His dark suit ebbs away into the dark-and-white dress of the servant, whose back is turned.  At the same time, the intense black splash of colour that is the little spaniel is the more sharply focussed part of the picture.  Invisible to the chatting couple, two people on the edges of the group are engaged in feeding the little dog illicit tit-bits.  This action draws our gaze away from the centre, towards the periphery; away from the male-and-female couple’s interaction towards the animal – from speech to the senses.  One could take this further and think about a contrast between formality and subversion, but perhaps it makes most sense to go along with the witty insertion of distraction as a topic, and to note that the lady in the important hat may not be as important to this picture as she thinks.  Fox even offers us the servant’s detachment as a hint that we too can detach ourselves from the centre and indulge ourselves in a secret little game with the dog .

Animals and Art

May 7, 2013

It’s been a bad week for the wild beasts. Yesterday I went to the Art Gallery in Adelaide – a charming place, with excellent early Australian art, a cute gift shop and a lively café. And an unavoidable ‘sculpture’ of a highly realistic horse, strung up and partly skinned. The furry bits of dark hide asked to be stroked, it looked so real. I’m pretty good with intellectual horrors normally – I can look at that painting of Marsyas being flayed (see below), and I’ve watched ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’. Something about that horse, though, was deeply grotesque and disturbing beyond description. I had to scuttle past, repelled and diminished: it had turned me into a scared little old lady who just wasn’t up to it.

I wonder if that is a function of art: to show us ourselves in unexpected ways?  Perhaps the horse was successful, then.

Back in Canberra now, with the weekend papers still to read.

The Canberra Times for Saturday, May 4th seems determined to publish heartbreaking stories – all the sadder for the callous aura that its strangely upbeat tone supplies.

The main front page photo on Saturday shows a dingo gazing at the camera from the back of a ute, while the story  jauntily tells of how this dingo was domesticated (to an extent) years ago. Mick, who a professional Government dog-trapper (as well as other animals), ‘spared her life’, which seems to be code for saying that he slaughtered the rest of her family.  He named her ‘Jess’. She has spent her life endlessly seeking out feral dogs and dingos, whom Mick then traps and kills. The subtle brutalities of Mick’s matter-of-fact language are scarcely concealable. She howls when she sees wild dog packs and ‘is on a long lead because she won’t come back when she is called.’ How far the journalist (and sub-editor) are colluding when they speak of the ‘crack team’, I leave up to you.

Even Mick seems, by the end of the piece, to have achieved some kind of consciousness of his appalling work. Here’s how it closes:

“- – – the challenge still drives him. ‘I’ve been after a bitch for three years,’ he said, heading into Gudgenby before dawn. ‘I came close near Tharwa. I’ve caught her pups. She’s even stepped on the [trap’s] plate. She’ll slip up one day. But you’ve got to admire her, she’s bloody smart. It’s almost sad, really, when you catch them – it’s like the end of an era.’ ”

Reeling from that essay, we turn to the back page looking for recreation, only to find the headline ‘Sad end as lost lamb gets the chop’. Somewhere on a busy road in Canberra a truck crash killed ‘scores of sheep’ (actually lambs, we find out later) some of whom escaped and fled. (Wouldn’t you?) There’s no tension in this story, as the headline has told it all, but anyway – the lamb managed to cross busy roads and hole up near the café on Regatta Point. (Sorry – don’t know where that is exactly – I’m a stranger here myself – I think it’s a pretty spot by the lake.)

When it was found to have a broken leg – well, naturally, (‘unfortunately’) they put it down. Shame on you, Mr Scott! Lots of animals survive with only three legs! Some nameless member of the public brought the lamb in – well, next time, member of the public, you’ll know better. Don’t phone the authorities, but take the lost lamb to your own vet and spend whatever it takes to get it mended. Keep it in your back yard with water and grazing and household scraps, and in dry weather give it some hay. A creature of courage and sagacity, an escapologist, a lucky chancer – surely it will be worth your trouble.




Titian’s painting of Marsyas:

Titian: Flaying of Marsyas

Titian: Flaying of Marsyas

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