Thursday, 29 May 2014

Foxgloves that squeak and apple trees that squirt

"Me!!!? A thief! - what a scurrilous suggestion. Don't believe anything you've heard.

None of it's true! It's just eating. Not stealing. If it's dangling there, conveniently at muzzle height, or at muzzle height when I leap off the ground, then having a nibble is just ... just .... well, it's being generous! And kind! And charitable! Yes ... charitable: after all, if I fill my belly with lots ... mmm, lots and lots ... of free apples, and gooseberries, and rhubarb, then I won't need the usual never-vast-enough-quantities of dog food that mum gives me. So I'll save her money. And we'll both be happy.

Except, she isn't. She's very not happy, in fact, in a shouty "Leave it!" sort of a way. Which kind of shocks a sensitive young dog, particularly when he's eyeing up a free strawberry.

But the shock of an irate gardener yelling "Leave it!" at you is nothing compared to the shock of discovering that helping myself to the crab apples makes the foxgloves squeak. Each time I leap into the air to get the muzzle onto a crab-apple-nibbling-elevation, the pesky foxgloves, at the base of the crab apple tree, complain. They squeak at me! - "Squeak! Squeak!" I tried giving one of them a nibble but it wasn't very appley and was a bit bee-ish. Funnily enough though, when I tried to eat the foxglove itself, it didn't squeak. (Mum took this photo from her greenhouse - I think she'd been watching me. I'm not in the picture - my ears and I were tired of all the squeaking and we were chasing Four-legged-friend. Who doesn't squeak but has a most impressive bark.)

My most disturbing discovery of the day, however, was that the apple tree has learnt how to squirt. Yes - really. It squirts! And what is extremely strange is that the squirt, which you would think should be apple-scented, isn't. It smells of lemon! Very, very bitter lemon. Lemon that makes me sneeze.

Now every time I try to nibble an apple, I sneeze!

I think I might not bother tomorrow.

...which mum says is "A result."

I have no idea what she means.

Oh! And another thing - in a dog's life of pleasantly sleepy and satisfactory days, this really hasn't been one! - I've had to wear a new collar all day. It's got a clunky box attached to it. I've caught mum spying on me, checking up that I'm not chewing it, probably. She's got a new thing, too - no, not a clunky collar. Most humans don't bother to wear those. They probably know where they live and don't need a tag to remind them of their phone number and they don't tie themselves to each other with leads, when they go for walks. Her new thing is black, like my box, but buttony and she calls it a  'zapper.' Pity she can't use it to zap the plants and stop them squeaking or squirting at me ..."

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Man's best friend

William Shakespeare - “Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”

Friends - noun; plural - 'people' bound by a bond of mutual affection. Origin: Old English freond and German freund, both derived from a common root meaning 'to love.'

How many friends do you have? - not social media 'friends,' not work colleagues, not the casual acquaintances you bump into at other friends' parties, not the butcher who asks after the dogs and wonders if they would like a bit of marrow bone, not anyone whose name you sometimes forget, nor anyone whose partner you have never met. A real friend is someone who knows you inside out, who allows you to be an ass at times and doesn't care, who argues against you but never stops loving you, and who is there to listen when you need to be heard. Humans can be fickle and they change as they age, and with change and passing time, friends come and go. This is put rather better by Alexander McCall Smith - "You can go through life and make new friends every year - every month practically - but there was never any substitute for those friendships of childhood that survive into adult years. Those are the ones in which we are bound to one another with hoops of steel.”

True friends don't stray. They are the ones that stay. Samuel Coleridge knew this and in 1830 he wrote - "The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog."

Maybe Coleridge had fickle friends and a faithful dog. Or maybe he was referring to something he had read - Voltaire perhaps, who in 1764, had written - "It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defence and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful : it is the best friend man can have."

Which is so very nearly the phrase that everyone knows. The phrase that has become a cliché - succinct, overused but perfect. Voltaire used too many words and the best friend man can have became instantly unmemorable.  Senator Vest of Missouri, on the other hand, strode into linguistic history when in 1870 he passed judgement on a dispute in which a dog had been shot and closed his speech with, "A man’s best friend is his dog.”

Man's best friend? I'd argue for woman's too.

We are fortunate: we that call both man and beast friends.

Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend are my constant shadows. And friends.

They wait for me at the bottom of the stairs. They are standing at the door when I get home. They sit on my feet when I'm reading the paper.

They complain a lot when they think I'm late with their dinner. But they never answer back. And they don't sit at the piano with their head in their hands (or paws) and tell me that they'll play if I make them a hot chocolate.

They listen; are constant in their affection; constant in their faith in me and constant in their protectiveness. A.A. Milne captures this constancy very well - "We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet. 'Even longer,' Pooh answered.” 

And he put these words into Christopher Robin's mouth - “If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.” 

Like Pooh and Piglet, Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend are best friends. With each other.  

Only a very close friend would wake you from a sunny afternoon doze by chewing your ear

And only a very, very good friend would let you chew his ear without snapping back. 

Best friends share experiences - the good times ...  

and the bad.  “When you're in jail," said Groucho Marx, "a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun'.” Fun being the pizza Bertie Baggins had taken a bite out of as it was being placed into the oven - not a good moment for dog-human diplomatic relations!
A friend will let you share his marrow bone

And accompany you on walks. “Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” - Albert Camus.

Warning of another beautiful cliché: Eleanor Roosevelt - “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” Or paw prints in the case of this pair -

I couldn't resist a few more friend related quotes:

Hellaire Belloc - "There's nothing worth ... winning, But laughter and the love of friends."

John Lennon - “Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” 

Mark Twain - “Good friends ... and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Add a full tummy, legs tired from a good walk and a warm Aga to heat your bottom and you have the recipe for an ideal dog's life. 

Walking the dog will continue to muse on friends and to walk with friends and to feast with friends. Definitely with them. Not on them. Although I am quite safe because I don't know him, I wouldn't wish to fall out with Jonny Depp who said, “If someone were to harm my family or a friend or somebody I love, I would eat them. I might end up in jail for 500 years, but I would eat them.”
On reflection, he is not saying that he would eat a friend but instead he is declaring his love for his friends. In a cannibalistic sort of a way.
I'd probably just slap them.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Musings on mice and a walk on the bright side

Sometimes there is satisfaction in discovering research that proves that what we knew all along is in fact correct. Or rather, that what we thought we knew to be correct, and would have argued in favour of, using words such as "Surely, it must be" and "Almost certainly" - neither of which are winners - can now be written in stone. Being proved right vindicates our actions and makes us more evangelical in our pursuit of whatever it is that has been confirmed - suddenly our tenuous opinion is no longer tenuous and we can terminate every argument with the simple, winning statement, "It is!"

I love it! Not that I am an argumentative person nor that I fixate on small victories, more that it just feels good and is a licence to apply confidence to our actions. Whatever and however ridiculous those actions may be.

I love too, that there is funding for this "it's starting you in the face" genre of research. Perhaps, scientists have a sense of humour (... has anyone tested this hypothesis?)

House mice share our homes. Yes they do. Even if you would prefer not to think about it, most of us have several furry lodgers living beneath the floorboards of our homes. We provide a habitat that keeps the mice warm and toasty and well fed. And we have generously supported colonies of mice for centuries. Now using mouse DNA(!!) it is possible to pinpoint where and when man settled in the new colonies during our pioneering years of discovery when our mice hitch-hiked across oceans with us on our ships and patiently hung around as we built them new homes to share with us. I love that people at Cornell University are researching this. It's interesting! And ironic - using a pest to unravel the puzzles of history while what bothers us more in our mundane, sterile, modern lives is how to get rid of them. We crave confirmation that you have to drive a mouse, caught in a humane trap, across several county borders, as many railway tracks as possible, several main roads and ideally release it near somewhere sheltered with a reliable food supply (ideally someone else's house), in order to prevent it returning to enjoy the dinner (bait) and after-dinner entertainment (the journey) again the following night. The optimal distance is apparently 2 miles. Less and the mouse becomes a regular guest. More and "It is!" a fact that the mouse will sup at a different table ... Or the neighbour's cat has noticed the regular trudging of increasingly exhausted mice back to the research base/house and at two miles the average mouse is no longer able to outrun a lazy, overfed cat and becomes cat-snack.

Aside from quite frankly pretty pointless or 'bleeding obvious' areas of research e.g. it isn't really necessary to prove that old-fashioned spring-loaded lethal mouse traps work best in the practice of mouse eradication, researchers sometimes exert considerable effort in proving things that may, prior to the research, have only been obvious to the enlightened few:

Stanford University recently set out to establish if creative thinking is improved by walking. Well, duh! Of course it is. I know it is. I'm fairly certain that I'm not alone in knowing this. Everyone who walks a dog must know that it is.

It is ... isn't it?

Surely it is?

Almost certainly ...

Why else do I stuff a notepad and pencil into my pocket, with poo-pick-up bags and dog biscuits, when I take Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend out for a walk?

And why does a walk that would take 25 minutes at a brisk pace, often last 40 minutes or more? 

Okay, sometimes it is slow because we take Littlest with us and she stops to  select the perfect blade of grass to hold taut between her thumbs and blow past making squeaky noises that cause Four-legged-friend to tilt his head, flick his ears in a futile attempt to bat away the awful sound and wrinkle his face in a pained wince before realising that Bertie Baggins has sensibly run off and joining him.

This grass-blade-picking exercise can last several minutes. As does intermittently stopping to hug a tree. Or admire a flower. Or discovering a tree stump in the shape of a heart. But even when I walk the dogs on my own, our progress is frequently slowed. Why?


Taking a stroll will walk you through a problem

And I have to say that if it was good enough for the likes of Steve Jobs and Nietzsche, then it's good enough for me.

Smug to be proved correct? Never.

Happy to continue walking with pad and pencil? Definitely!

This blog wouldn't exist if I didn't.