Sunday, 30 September 2012

Torridon Forestry Report for Mike

I have been on an important mission these last few days, for which I hope to be handsomely rewarded.

Let me explain the context.

Do you remember my friends border terrier Bonnie and poodle Jack? They live just down the street from me with their humans Mike and Kirsty.

Well Mike is contemplating buying some land on the island of Islay (Kirsty's home territory) and planting a forest there, comprising only native Scottish trees. Apparently you can get government grants for this sort of thing.

As you may be aware, Islay is better known for whisky (Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila etc.) than for forestry, and naturally, having heard of my very important ongoing role as Associate Webguide Volunteer for the VisitWoods project, Mike was keen to enlist my services as advisor to the new venture.

Well it just so happens that in the area around our Loch Torridon cottage, several similar woodland projects have taken root over the past decade. Torridon, like Islay, is on the west coast of Scotland and poses many of the same environmental challenges to the would-be forester - wet weather, low levels of sunlight, frequent gales, nutrient poor soils, biting midges...

So anyway, I decided to go over and inspect the progress of the trees planted on the north shore of Loch Torridon eight years ago, and compile a report for Mike. The results are presented below:

Bertie's report for Mike

First, I would like to point out that these plantations must all be fenced off so that sheep and deer cannot nibble away at the saplings. This is totally brilliant because it means that, within their boundaries I am always allowed off the lead and can run free. (Gail has this 'thing' about me running after sheep and deer). Of course, if all goes well, in a few years the woods will be populated with red squirrels and pine martens which are tremendous fun to chase is good as these are vulnerable species.

Secondly, as is clear from the photos below, even at a young age, the trees add texture and variety to the landscape. Thus humans enjoy going for walks in these new woodlands, which is always a positive from a canine perspective.

Furthermore, when the trees finally mature they form a partial canopy, kind of like an umbrella, and provide protection from stormy weather, thus eliminating at least one common human excuse for not exercising their dog(s). See this example from the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve.

Thirdly, it appears that the new Torridon trees are thriving, in particular the Scots pines. Note that, for formal surveys, it is always useful to take along a wire-haired fox terrier, shoulder heights 43 cm, for scale.

Finally, all forests are of course a 'carbon sink', sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and so reducing the chances that Scotland will ever become too hot for a wire-haired fox terrier to enjoy year round romps over our beautiful countryside.

So, in conclusion, these new areas of native woodland are great for dogs and the more we plant the better.

My recommendation is that the Islay forest project should proceed as soon as it is practicable to arrange for Bonnie, Jack and me to travel over to the island to supervise. Am I right in understanding that dogs go for free on the ferry? Oh and I believe that Gail would like to come to, she mentioned something about a distillery visit....


Well, I think Mike should be pleased with this comprehensive report, don't you? I wonder how much I should charge him?

What's that? Gail is saying that I have neglected the first rule of report writing for clients, which is, apparently, writing about things that are important to them, rather than focussing on one's own priorities. And that I will be fortunate to earn a single dog biscuit for my efforts, much less an expenses paid trip to Islay...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Good behaviour, a storm and bye bye Bubba

A few things today.

First I want to show you what well behaved pups us wire-haired fox terriers can be.

I'm not saying always are, just can be, mind.

So in this wee movie you will see how I come back when called, even when out on a forest walk in Glen Tanar where there are lots of exciting smells. Then I pose patiently in a scenic spot by the Water of Tanar, before, further down river, again demonstrating my obedient recall. Finally I show that I am quite capable of playing nicely in Duthie Park with irritating little dogs, despite it being first thing in the morning (as you might guess from the low light levels and blurry pictures in this bit).

Sit back and enjoy!

Secondly, I want to tell you about a big storm that hit Aberdeen this week.

Some of you will have already seen this video, which was on the BBC, but if not, it's worth watching to the end so see what some poor spaniel had to put up with on his morning walk.

I am relieved to report that our Mini narrowly escaped damage from fallen branches in our neighbourhood.

Finally, Gail and I want to say how sad we are that this week our dog blogging community lost one of its finest and most distinctive characters.  I don't think we ever once saw a post by our friend Mango (the Relentlessly Huge)  that did not make us smile - if not collapse on the floor in hysterics - and brighten our day. Thank you so much Mango and your wonderful Momma for all the fun and memories.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Male grooming - rocking the natural look

One of Gail's favourite Dolly Parton quotes (and yes I too was surprised that Gail knows any Dolly Parton quotes) goes something like this. "People have no idea how much it costs to look this cheap".

A related thought flitted across my mind at some point during my second hour on the grooming table (aka the table in our lean-to sun room) last Saturday morning.

As readers of this blog will have already worked out, I prefer to rock the natural look, in keeping with my rugged, outdoorsy, he-dog image. None of the fluffed up legs and closely stripped body, face and ears, wire haired fox terrier show-dog style for me, thank you very much.

But I'll let you into a wee secret.

I really do think it takes Gail longer to keep my appearance  'natural' than were she preparing me for Crufts.

I have complained before on this blog about being subjected to a DIY grooming regime. Although I cannot pretend to be happy about it, I have reluctantly accepted that this is how it's going to be, for now at least.

It just seems really unfair that I get the blame for the stripping and clipping business taking, like forever, when it's clear that the problem lies with the amateur groomer and not the groomee, and Gail's charge that I do too much "wriggling and mouthing" is about as outrageous as, well, as one of Ms Parton's outfits.

PS for readers in the UK - please DO rush out and buy a copy of the current (i.e. October) issue of Dogs Monthly magazine - it features an article Gail wrote for them ages ago about the joys of dog blogging. I am so thrilled finally to be famous, especially as I have been promised a special treat once she receives the modest fee.

Friday, 21 September 2012

A SPANIEL called Hamish!!??

Yes really!

Today in the park I met this spaniel puppy. I was trying to play with him in my customary boisterous fashion, when Gail and I heard his owners calling "Hamish! HAMISH! HAMISH!"

I can't tell you how shocked we were.

Did they not know that in these parts, the distinguished name of Hamish (pronounced Hay-mish, in case you were wondering) is reserved for certain breeds of terrier? I think there is a law enacted by the Scottish parliament or something.

You will be acquainted with, or at least have heard of, my predecessor Hamish the Westie. You may not be aware that roughly 50% of the Westies in Aberdeen - and there are a lot of Westies in Aberdeen - are called Hamish. A fair few Scotties share the name, and we believe that it is permissible for Jack Russells too.


Oh, Gail has an explanation.

She says she thinks that spaniel Hamish was a 'wannabee Westie', already, in refusing to respond to his name being called, demonstrating mastery of the key breed trait of extreme stubbornness.

I am now wondering if any of my canine readers have names that are stereotypical for their breed? Or indeed inappropriate? Perhaps you can tell me what are the common names in your part of the world, and if they are associated with particular breeds or types of dog?

And while you are thinking about that, I'll show you some random pictures from my recent explorings in Aberdeen and surrounding areas. You will see our weather has been uncommonly nice just lately (but I'm afraid Gail failed to get a photo of spaniel Hamish.)

Admiring the late summer flowers in Seaton Park
Sunny Sunday afternoon on Aberdeen city beach

Aberdeen University - the new library building

Aberdeen University - Old King's College

King of Corgarff Castle near Strathdon

Back on home territory in Duthie Park

Observing the model boats in the Duthie Park pond

And enquiring of the owners whether they are not a bit old for this sort of thing....

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Florrie and Lucy - out of my league?

Oh I am so excited, although also a little apprehensive.

Excited 'cos my Westie girlfriends have sent me a letter to let me know they are back home in Aberdeen. Apprehensive 'cos, as you will see when you read their letter, they are now accustomed to a jet-setting lifestyle and I fear they will find me dull and provincial.

Here is Florrie and Lucy's letter, with photos: 

Dear Bertie,
Just a note from your friends Florrie and Lucy to let you know we are home again, back in Aberdeen. Our human Ian (we think you call him 'Oilman') has finally returned from Yemen and at long last collected us from Jon and Kate (his older son and daughter-in-law) in Guernsey where we have been living since Feb 2011. Rather than putting us in a box and leaving us sitting around for hours in airports, Ian said this time he would get Max (his younger son and now a pilot with Ryanair), to fly us home instead. It was all very exciting when Ian took us to a tiny airport and we sat in a room surrounded by little - but posh - aircraft. 
In the airport lounge

We didn't have to wait long as our aircraft arrived right outside and Max opened the door and let us all in. We were soon airborne and heading north back towards home. 
Lucy airborne

Pilot Max and proud (and not at all nervous) father Ian 

It was rather noisy, and cold (Florrie had both blankets) but before long we were landing in Liverpool and then into a car and home. We caught up on our sleep on the way, it's a good job as we finally arrived back in Aberdeen at 3.00 am. As you can see, we were soon back in our positions on the sofa having a good lookout for the local cat (also confusingly called Max). 
Florrie and Lucy home at last

It's lovely to be home, even though we sometimes miss those splendid beach walks in Guernsey, but we are after all not called West Highland Terriers for nothing! 
Florrie and Lucy back in their natural habitat

Florrie and Lucy.

I had been planning, before this letter arrived, to invite 'the girls' to join me for a walk, but now I am worried that they will have grown too grand for that sort of thing. Maybe if I offered to take them round the Queen's Balmoral estate? (We could always enter at the Ballochbuie Forest end where you don't have to pay.....)

Readers, please, your ideas for how to handle this delicate social situation would be most welcome!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Elizabeth Duthie and Sir Ian Wood

See this lion in my local park?

He lies, along with his three companions at the foot of a most impressive monument.

Let's have a closer look.

Oh I am so grateful to Elizabeth Crombie Duthie.

Just imagine, without her generous and far-sighted gift, I and so many other local dogs would not be enjoying daily walks Duthie Park, a wonderful green space not far from our home in the city.

What do we know about Miss Duthie? (Quickly consults Wikipedia...)

It seems that she was a member of an affluent local shipbuilding family, yes you've guessed it, the Duthies. She purchased the 42 acre site in 1881 and gave it to the Aberdeen City Council, for the enjoyment of the local people.

I expect you are wondering why I am telling you this.

I am aware that not all of my readers closely follow Aberdeen's politics and affairs.

Well I want you to know that I am not at all against the idea of rich folk using their wealth for the public good.

But for sure I am still bouncing for joy at the news that last month our councillors decided to reject an offer of £50 million from Aberdeen oil billionaire Sir Ian Wood. This money was to part fund a huge vanity project in another part of town, to build a so-called 'City Garden' - actually mostly concrete and totally at odds with the character and heritage of our central Aberdeen - which would have left our local government even further mired in debt than it is already.

Yes you're right, well remembered, I've blogged about this long running controversy before (see 'A visit to Union Terrace Gardens').

Well Sir Ian Wood - who is a bit miffed, to say the least, that his apparently generous donation has been rejected - let me set you a challenge.

You are without doubt a smart and determined chappie, and your entrepreneurial energy has helped bring prosperity to Aberdeen. So I'm sure that if you set your mind to it, you could come up with a plan to spend your money in a way that would bring as much pleasure to as many citizens of Aberdeen (and their dogs) as has Elizabeth Duthie's wonderful Victorian park. And then I promise you I'll be barking my support so loud you'll hear me all the way from Union Terrace Gardens to the Wood Group operations in New Plymouth, New Zealand. (I consulted the company website, and that was the furthest office from the UK shown on their map.)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A walk around Andy Murray's hometown

Oh I am bouncing up and down with delight about Andy Murray winning the US Open! Huge congratulations to our Scottish sporting superstar!

Did you know that I passed through his hometown, Dunblane, earlier this summer when returning from Nottingham?

I went looking for Andy, but he wasn't around.
I guess he was off playing tennis somewhere else. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

In Praise of Human Granny

I am worried now that in my last post I left you with the impression that Human Granny is a rather alarming looking person.

Oh I would hate for you to have that idea. It is true that she doesn't too much like being photographed, but I think she won't mind me showing again this picture of her (and Human Grandad), to set the record straight.

Now I've told you quite a lot on this blog about HGD, so today I want to redress the balance and say some things about HGY.

Gail tells me that her mother had an unusual upbringing, being sent to boarding school, on account of her own mother's ill health, from the age of five. Yes, you read that right, five years old. Four years later, at the onset of World War Two, she and her fellow pupils at St Hilda's School, Whitby, boarded a ship at Liverpool docks, and were evacuated across the Atlantic, braving U boats and a hurricane, finally to reach the safe haven of Toronto in Canada. Brave little Maureen was the only person aboard who was not seasick during the hurricane. After four years in Canada, now a teenager, skilled in ice-skating, cross-country skiing and canoeing, and fattened up on the Canadian diet which included a quart of whole milk per day, HGY returned to the UK, was reunited with her parents and became acquainted with the trials of wartime food rationing in England. She was an able, diligent student, and her father had a fervent desire that his only child be well-educated. Following success at school she took a degree in 'Social Studies' at Leeds University and only narrowly missed out on first class honours. Soon after came a job as Personnel Officer at the Boots factory in Nottingham, marriage to a quiet, handsome Boots scientist nine years her senior, then two children, boy + girl, and a family life altogether more conventional than that she experienced in her own childhood, although she clearly found her later part-time job as a social worker in the City Hospital more stimulating than mundane domestic duties.

You know, I have noticed that HGY is a stoical character, not prone to self pity. Just like for us dogs, I guess it is those early experiences that are most important in shaping humans too.

It was fifty-six years ago that Human Granny vowed to look after her husband "in sickness and in health". I don't suppose she ever then envisaged that one day she would have to remind him of the way to the bedroom and to tell him not to put the butter in the dishwasher. But she doesn't complain, compelled by both love and duty to expend her remaining energies in caring for her ailing and increasingly hard to manage life partner, unable to contemplate the notion that anyone else might tend to him while she is still able.

Oh and I have to tell you that she is always most welcoming when I come to stay, despite her claiming not to be a 'dog person', and that I feel more comfortable and relaxed when I visit her than I do anywhere else in the world.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A re-enactment of Hamish's finest hour...

Oh I am so excited 'cos I am shortly to take part in Jazzi's Back to School Bash 'Table Snatching 101' class.

Now Gail is a stickler for doing one's homework, and has been most anxious that I go to school well prepared.

In fact she decided to give me some extra tuition, by staging a re-enactment the famous incident involving my predecessor Hamish the Westie, some scones baked by Human Granny, and HGY's best white Nottingham lace table cloth.

I am a diligent student, as you know, and this is what I learned about the art of table snatching from observing this highly instructive re-enactment.

1. It is important to lull the humans into a false sense of security, having them believe you are fast asleep in your favourite chair. Pretend to be unaware that on a nearby table lies a plateful of scones, generously spread with jam and cream, ready for when the neighbours come round for tea.

2. When you are sure no-one is looking, have a quick recce, to check that the prize is worth the effort.

3. Agility training will come in handy when you need to make the final leap up onto the table.

4. And when you've reached your target, it is important to remember that half measures are pointless.

5. You might as well just make a meal of it.

The only thing missing from this re-enactment is a shot of Human Granny's horrified face when she discovered the fate of her precious scones (and tablecloth). Apparently it looked something like this:

I can't wait for the new school year to start.

Monday, 3 September 2012

All around the bloomin' heather

O the summer time has comeAnd the trees are sweetly bloomin'And the wild mountain thymeGrows around the bloomin' heatherWill ye golassiego?
Chorus:And we'll all go togetherTo pull wild mountain thymeAll around the bloomin' heatherWill ye golassiego?
You know the folk song don't you? Gail was humming it (out of tune) as we walked around Millstone Hill yesterday. You'll be better off with the Corries' version: 

But where is my lassie?

If only Addi were here....(sigh).