Dog Show

It may have been mainly about antiques, but there were an awful lot of dogs.

Some of them looked none too impressed that their walk had turned out to be a lot of standing around. At one point the heavens opened and we made a run for the tea tent. The camera crew carried on filming; dripping marquees, sheltering people, this dog.

 

The setting couldn't have been better. We were at Stormont. The approach is wonderful, and many of the dogs at the Antiques Roadshow yesterday enjoy their exercise in the grounds of the castle. Quite enough to give a dog a sense of grandeur.

 

Interest was fairly intense with knots of people gathered around experts.

These experts seemed to favour bright colours, whether in socks or trousers.

 

And Fiona Bruce's jacket drew admiring glances and comments. We caught up with her in a pre-recording moment talking to a man who had brought a glass inscribed no surrender, which had belonged to his grandfather.

Although all three of us had agreed we did not want to be filmed, we were standing right behind her as the cameras rolled, so if you see a trio of women when this episode is broadcast looking alternately interested and uneasy, that will be us. We stayed as she prepared to talk to a boy and his mother. The boy, or rather young man as it turned out he was 18, Sam won the Norhern Ireland Young Musician of the Year competition, and we were lucky enough to hear him play his violin.

We quickly became paid up Fiona fans. One way or another I have met a few TV celebs. Most have been lovely, but one TV chef was a prat, quite the opposite of his bonhomous TV persona. Fiona Bruce fell firmly in the first category; professional, patient, natural. Unfortunately the black cloud which had been inching closer arrived above us at that point and everything was quickly covered over, the interview took place somewhere else while we sheltered in the tea tent.

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Flying Into Light

My flight was delayed by longer than I care to think about, ironic as I was in a panic at the railway station when I learned the train I planned to catch had been cancelled. A quick reroute, and I arrived at the airport more or less on time. And then had to kill it in a series of crowded areas amid families heading off for their summer hols. When I booked my flight I hadn't considered that this was the weekend after many schools in England would have broken up for the summer and hence one of the busiest times for travel all year.

We left Luton as the sun was setting. The sun is still setting. The sky looks much as it did thirty minutes ago, but we are flying north where the days are significantly longer at this time of year than in London and the Home Counties.

From which you have worked out that I am off to Cousin's again and flying to Belfast. I have no plans, or rather I had no plans, but in the moments before take off a swift exchange of texts and now I am seeing a friend tomorrow. Earlier texts at the airport with Speccy means that Tuesday afternoon is also pencilled in the diary as a possible time to meet up.

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Walking the Dogs

The nights were pretty cold when I was away and I was glad of a hot water bottle. Two dogs snuggling beside me in the evening, plus the heat from the stove kept me warm in the sitting room.

Two dogs

Westie Boy was probably feeling the cold as his coat has been clipped very short in preparation for Cousin’s upcoming trip to Australia to see daughter Number One in Sydney, while her husband, who’s staying at home, will be promoted to Dog Carer in Charge. The one who looks like a walking hearth rug is Westie Pup, who belongs to Daughter Number Two and with whom I was delighted to be reunited over the weekend. Rather more delighted than Westie Boy was to have her there I’m sorry to say.

The mornings were chilly and bright, frost evident on the fields and verges.

Frosted

Blue skies, green fields

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The Dog Days

I didn't take my camera with me when we went to the cinema yesterday morning, and as it turned out we continued straight on to Melbourne Museum, so for the first day since I arrived here I took no pictures. Well, that's not quite true. When we got back we found Mel had come round accompanied by Wombat, another neighbour's dog and the only dog Billie seems to feel friendship for. Here are both dogs being hopeful as cheese is cut on the counter.

He's her toyboy, being around three years old compared to her sixteen. He's also a lot bigger as he's a bull mastiff. Like other bull mastiffs I've met, he's a gentle giant, fond of leaning against you and soliciting affection.

We broke open the sloe gin Vicki bought in Richmond, and the cocktails were delicious. As lovely as the ones we had in the bar on Sunday. Maybe lovelier. We stopped at two, which was wise.

It's a good thing I'm leaving soon as I could get a taste for these. Although Melbourne's tall buildings are impressive, it's the vernacular architecture I like; the streets of low rise houses with tin roofs; lots of bungalows (strange that in the UK the word bungalow is almost a term of abuse, perhaps if they looked more like these they'd have a better press) with flowers and shrubs in the gardens.

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A Sad and Tragic Mess

I picked up a free paper on the way home from work last night. The headlines screamed that a child in Halstead, Essex had been savaged to death by a dog. The report described how a neighbour had seen a white dog sitting quietly, its face covered in blood moments after a child’s wild and distressed cries had startled the neighbourhood. The report went on to mention the number of attacks by dogs reported in recent weeks. The underlying message, intentional or otherwise, was that dogs were dangerous. There were also hints that it might have been a breed on the banned dogs list. A list that has been shown over and over again to be nonsense.

Later I watched the news on the television. The same story was covered. The attack sounded horrific, the stuff of nightmares. I was wondering how this could have occurred, then the camera panned back to show a windowless shed, the place the dog had been kept.

Now don’t get me wrong. A child attacked by a dog is not something I take lightly, and this child was killed. It couldn’t be worse. But if someone acquires a dog and then keeps it shut in a shed, it is not likely to acquire the skills that will make it a happy socialised animal. Something is likely to go badly wrong. Continue reading

The Cool of the Evening

More by luck than judgement I left London as summer suddenly reached for the high temperatures. “It's too hot, ” said Celia in an email earlier today. Here, in the depths of the Derry countryside it's warm and sunny, and just the right side of comfortable. There's a breeze this evening, and I am sitting at the back of the house, in the shade, planning to make a soup from Cousin's abundant parsley crop. She also has an abundant broccoli crop, and we have been looking at ways to cook the leaves. The three dogs are trotting in and out of the houses. Cousin's son and daughter-in-law are still resident in the granny annexe next door while they build a mansion up the road. If they were to add another storey it would be as big as the whole block of flats where I live in London.

For the first time ever there are no cats. The Big Cat succumbed to old age one day at the edge of winter; Fido, the ginger and white cat, still youthful, died in his sleep in a favourite spot on top of the tumble dryer. His death was a shock and a mystery. Fido dealt with Pip, but Cousin is reluctant to bring a new feline into the household while Pip and his issues are still next door neighbours.

Cousin's friend, with whom I have enjoyed jaunts to the John Hewitt Summer School, swapped books and spent many happy hours, is in hospital in Antrim, so that's where we were last night. She has had treatment for cancer since the start of the year, hopefully this is now the end of it and she'll make a good recovery. We talked about Aunt, the Earl Bishop, and looked at an anthology of Irish poetry she had in her room. Nurses came and went, Cousin's friend had her meds which included a sleeping pill, and gradually her conversation became more slurred until she stopped talking altogether and fell asleep. We tiptoed out and Cousin drove us home under skies that were mauve and cloud streaked, lit by a full and shining moon.

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Duvet Days and Cultural Craic

It's weather that tells you to curl up on a sofa with the papers or a book. Yesterday I *babysat* the puppy while everyone else attended a funeral. There were three funerals locally. Some wanted to show their faces and pay their respects at all of them.

Cousin lit a fire before she left. Yes it was that cold. Pip thought it was a great idea.

The two adult dogs, no doubt correctly reading the attitudes of the humans around them, also decided it was a day for little activity. A duvet day, Cousin called it.

The puppy, aka the Thuglet, was not on the same page. As Pip and Westie Boy snuggled into warm beds, she had just one idea on her mind; to make them play. She really didn't want to take no for an answer. Even when that no was uttered in increasingly impatient and irritated growls.

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Other Places, Other Mores

Above the clouds somewhere between Thessaloniki and London Gatwick. I have eaten; drunk; looked through my photos; gazed down at mountains, houses, seas and pasture; read the magazine from last Saturday’s Guardian; read some more of my book; and am now listening to Abba whilecontrarily resisting an inclination to doze.

By chance I am in the same seat as I was on the way out with the same family around me. I have been reacquainted with Panda, leaned back to allow Beth-Anne a better view out of the window, exchanged smiles with the parents.

Obviously this will not be posted until later.

It has been a good holiday with a good bunch of people. We haven’t circulated a list of emails, but a couple of us have swapped contact details. This seems realistic. To expect acquaintanceships forged while sweating up hills to turn into life long friendships is somewhat optimistic. But one of the joys of a group holiday such as this is that you can have as much or as little company as you want. It’s nice to wander into the bar and see familiar faces. The boredom of check in is relieved by chatter and there is always a group ready to look after bags while an individual or two wander off to investigate shops and facilities.

Whether I ever return to this part of Greece is debatable. But I shall be back in Greece, that’s for sure. I hope by then the situation is more stable, and the waiter I spoke to last night who is looking forward to his first holiday in four years at the end of this month, will feel financially more secure.

Welcome though visitors are, I have an uncomfortable feeling that the Greeks are becoming servants in their own country, catering to the wishes of ever more demanding tourists, and working increasingly long hours. I hope I am wrong about this.

I have been visiting Greece for years. It is one of my favourite countries where as a foreigner I have almost always felt welcomed. Maybe because this is the first time I have stayed in a resort that has grown out of tourism, it is also the first time I have felt uncomfortable about some of the ways I have seen Greek culture marketed, and to my mind, debased.

It seems wrong to see Greek Nights advertised in local tavernas. Surely every night should be a Greek Night in Greece? And if it isn’t, what does that say about the corrosive power of mass tourism?

I don’t regret the old toilets; I only came across one hole in the ground, and mercifully I was in walking boots at the time. Most meals were hot, rather than the tepid ones I remember from previous visits. Stray cats and dogs seem better treated than before, which is wonderful in itself given the economic climate, but two very young cats at the hotel were evidently pregnant and there was a tiny orphaned kitten at yesterday’s taverna. Her siblings have gone to new homes in the Netherlands and Monaco, and the staff were suggesting one of us might like to take her. With the end of the tourist season approaching at the speed of a runaway train, pray to all the gods at once that she and others like her are scooped up by visitors and local families ready to give them a chance.

But now as Greece recedes and England beckons, I am looking forward to being reunited with MasterB who was in his own perilous situation not so far away from my destination airport when the students I got him from rescued him.

In some ways, scavenging strays in Greece’s tourist hotspots are better off than abandoned pets in the UK who do not find armies of visitors willing to slip them tidbits from the groaning tables in high season. Colonies of semi-feral cats in London are quietly caught are destroyed. I do not think I have ever seen them featured on postcards or cuddled by waves of cooing foreigners.

In the meantime, Mark, the younger of the two children of the little family beside me, has decided to paint his face a rainbow of reds, blues and greens. It doesn’t seem to have harmed him; on the contrary, he has caught the eye of a young girl in a pink dress and matching plaster cast.

Perhaps the romance of travel is not quite dead.

Pip

There’s a new dog on the block. Small, black and white, muscular and macho. A typical Jack Russell.

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He belongs to Cousin’s son and his wife. They are living next door while they build a home up the road on a family field.

Pip was whining outside my bedroom door this morning. It was well beyond first light. Cousin might have thought I had done a body swap with Rip Van Winkle. I surfaced briefly to answer a call from Lovely Neighbour who could not locate the cat litter.

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