Monday, 27 June 2011

'Trainspotting' or 'Pride and Prejudice'?

You can't imagine how pleased I've been this week, at last to see Gail with some worthwhile reading material.

Her new book is called 'Diary of a Dog-Walker'. It's by Edward Stourton - journalist, BBC broadcaster and owner of Kudu, a handsome and endearing Springer spaniel.

Mr Stourton is a literary kind of a chap, as you can tell from the following extract:

".... dog walking becomes like reading a novel, or watching a play ..... The novel the Dog and I enjoy in Battersea Park is at the Jane Austen end of the market ..... Here, at home in his local park [Clapham Common] he has a south London life that is more Trainspotting than Pride and Prejudice ..."

You will understand the Pride and Prejudice reference when you read that:

"... I was once approached in [Battersea] Park with an unsolicited marriage proposal, conditional, of course, on a full inspection of his pedigree (the lady in question, with a home off the King's Road and a weekend shooting habit, could not have been a more suitable bride, but sadly the pedigrees revealed that his father was her grandfather). "

Well all this set me wondering, and I asked Gail which book or film she feels we enter when out for our morning trot around our local park.

She thought about it a bit, and said did I know that Duthie Park is featured on the first page of an Ian Rankin crime novel, 'Black and Blue', and is the scene of a gruesome murder? But then she thought some more and said that in reality everyone we meet in the park is friendly and will stop for a chat, and we see the same cast of characters every morning, and she prefers to think of our time there as an urban version of the gentler Scotland of 'Dr Finlay's Casebook'.

I would love to know whether any of my friends feel they are taking part in a novel or play or movie on their daily outings, and if so, which one would it be?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Experimental results and a confidence crisis

To: Frankie Furter, Mayor of Blogville

Dear Frankie,

Oh dear, oh dear, oh deary deary me.

I felt so honoured to be asked by you, my esteemed friend, to put on a science demonstration at the Blogville Picnic in the Bark.

It seemed such a good idea at the time. A series of water-related scientific experiments, especially designed to be educational, enjoyable and canine-relevant.

Now I am beginning to doubt my scientific vocation.

Perhaps I should go back to doing just mainstream dog stuff. You know. Chewing toys. Sniffing. Enjoying ear scritchies and tummy tickles. Licking my private parts. Bouncing around.

About last Saturday's experiments. I have been poring over the results all week, desperately trying to make sense of the data.

I have failed. Miserably.

The first experiment looked the most promising. I had thirteen willing participants, Dex and Lou, Dexter, Pip, Jazzi, Sarge, Asta, Shawnee, Daisy, Kendra and Bella, Ludo, and Jed. I took into account everyone's useful suggestions and devised a cunning plan to allow for differences in size, coat type, grooming regime, and degree to which the Mums and Dads had past histories of noisy aversion to cold water. I had my stopwatch and my microphone at the ready. There was much shaking of wet coats and squealing of Mums and Dads.

I know. It was foolish of me to stand right by the pond while taking the measurements. The tsunami created when Dexter and Jed leapt in together swept me off my paws, and I fear that my electronic recording instruments did not survive the immersion...

As for the second experiment. It soon became clear from all the comments that my past attempts to educate the dog-blogging community into the nature of the scientific process have been falling on deaf ears (of all shapes and sizes).

I had hoped that my students would by now be able to distinguish between a serious scientific experiment and a race! How could so many of them fail to appreciate that a test of the hypothesis that dogs with longer legs can swim faster is not a swimming competition? And that winning is not the point. Yes I'm looking at you especially, Tessa. Now I don't know which dog it was that decided to 'cheat' by handing out large plates of pilfered tube steaks and bratwurst to some of the participants immediately before the experiment, and slipping collars weighted with lead onto others, all I can say for certain is that I am desperately disappointed in each and every one of those involved. Pip, Frankie, Sarge, Asta, Puddles and Jed, did you really mean for it to be one big fiasco?

Then there was the third experiment Frankie. Or rather there wasn't. WHERE WERE ALL THE VOLUNTEERS? MANGO? I can only conclude that, to a man, the purportedly 'all male' doggies feared looking 'small' after a fifteen minute dip in the 10ºC water.

And you know what? Gail has been no help at all. When I told her that none of my friends had offered to have their testicles photographed, strictly in the cause of science, was she sympathetic? She was not.

"Well Bertie," she said, "I think you should do as Toby suggested, and volunteer yourself. That's what a really dedicated scientist would do. Did you know that when Sir Isaac Newton was conducting experiments into the nature of light, he poked a darning needle into his own eye socket to test the theory that colour perception is caused by pressure on the eyeball?"

As you can imagine, I explained to Gail very patiently that since I was conducting the experiments myself I could not possibly take part, and while I appreciated her offer of help I didn't think it at all appropriate that she should take 'before' and 'after' photographs of me...

But instead of saying "yes Bertie, you're right, of course, as always," Gail just gave me a LOOK.

Well that was the final straw.

I am so downhearted and discouraged.  All that hard work, and for nothing.

Maybe I should hand back my badge of office?

Your most despondent Scientific Advisor,
Bertie Boffin (not feeling very bouncy today).

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What's the big deal? (East Coast Trains ROCK!)

Well we arrived back in Aberdeen last night from the trip to Granny and Grandad, and Gail was acting all strange and euphoric. Anyone would think she was mightily relieved about something. It was all "Oh Bertie you are so wonderful, come here and let me give you another cuddle, I can't believe you were so well-behaved, let's go to the butchers and buy you a special treat - would you prefer liver, lambs kidney, venison, steak or their special Cumberland sausage?"

What was the big deal? Didn't she think I could cope with a train journey of over six hours? (That's two and three quarter hours Aberdeen to Edinburgh, then three and a half hours Edinburgh to Newark North Gate).

Let me tell you again - I had an absolutely splendid time all round. I simply must show you some more photos.

I had a great romp beside the River Trent, near Granny and Grandad's house

Then it was time to head back north on the East Coast train. We sped through the English countryside

I was having such fun as we passed through Durham station

Gail and I both enjoyed the view of Durham Cathedral

Although I was worried that the drinks trolley hadn't appeared..

Ah yes, here it is. Phew.

We had a wee break in Edinburgh, where we changed trains

I had time to inspect the gardens

And observe the street life

Back on the train I just couldn't stop smiling

Sadly we didn't get a photo of the lovely man in the green sweater, who nearly burst into tears when I walked past on my way to the buffet car on yesterday's journey. He said I was the spit of a foxy he had who'd died a few weeks ago. He just wanted to stroke me, ever so tenderly. Gail later said, rather cynically I thought, no foreigner travelling to Edinburgh on that particular train carriage would have disembarked thinking that Englishmen suppress their emotions too much...

Anyway, on another matter. What is happening about the report on my Blogville Picnic water-related science experiments, I hear you asking. Well, I have to admit that the data have presented particular and unique challenges in interpretation and I still have some problems to resolve with the peer review committee. All will be ready for publication in a few days time, I am sure....

PS Gail wants to know if this post will earn us a free travel voucher...  

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Quick update - train, grandparents, science experiments

Wow I had such an incredibly great time on the train on Thursday! I haven't time to tell you all about it just now as I'm busy entertaining human Granny and Granddad. But I thought I'd just show you a couple of photos.

The ticket collector was especially friendly, although Gail says that perhaps the woman in the pink shirt is a teeny bit jealous of all the attention I'm getting...

Oh and about my Blogville Picnic in the Bark water-related science experiments (see previous post). Just to make it clear that I'll be reporting on the results after I get back home to Aberdeen - Tuesday at the earliest. Meanwhile, please do keep all your excellent comments and suggestions coming in!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Bertie Boffin at the Blogville Picnic

Welcome welcome welcome!

I hope you are enjoying the Blogville Picnic and I am so pleased that you have made it over to my Science Corner. As you know, I take my role as Scientific Advisor to Blogville most seriously...

This weekend, here by the pond, and with your help, I am going to conduct a series of water-related science experiments. My aim is to demonstrate to you the scientific process of using experiments to test theories.

We are going to conduct three experiments, each investigating a different hypothesis.

HYPOTHESIS 1: The thicker the dog's coat, the more water it holds.

Method: The dog jumps in the water and straight out again. It then shakes itself all over its human. We record the breed of dog and measure the volume and duration of its owner's squeals, these parameters can be used as an indirect indicator of the amount of water soaked up and then released by the dog.

HYPOTHESIS 2: The longer a dog's legs, the faster it can swim.

Method: We assemble a sample of dogs of widely differing heights, from chihuahua to greyhound, and stand them at one end of the pond, lined up from shortest to tallest. Gail then runs to the other side of the pond with a handful of tasty treats, which she waves invitingly as she calls them across, and records the time each dog takes to swim the 25m distance.

HYPOTHESIS 3: As with human males, certain 'private' parts of the male dog anatomy shrink in size when exposed to cold water.

Method: We find a cohort of 'intact and proud of it' male dogs, preferably ones that are nicely warmed up, perhaps after chasing the lady dogs around the picnic site. We carefully photograph their undersides. We then stand them in the pond for 15 minutes (and remember that this corner of the picnic is taking place in Scotland and the water temperature is at most 50ºF/10ºC).  We take another photo when they step out. We compare the dimensions 'before' and 'after' in a most rigorous, objective and scientific manner.....

Got all that?

Now then, I would like you to comment critically on the possible flaws in the experimental designs (i.e. tell me what might possibly go wrong), maybe suggest ways in which the research could be improved, and predict - giving reasons - what you think the results should be.

I would also like you to tell me which experiment(s) you wish take part in. Feel free to volunteer your friends too!

The experiments will be conducted on Saturday afternoon and I will be compiling a full analysis of the results, to be presented in a separate post shortly after the picnic is over.

Thanks for stopping by!

PS In a parallel universe, Gail and I arrived safe and well at human Granny and Grandad's, and I was awarded a stellar 9 out of 10 for my behaviour on the train yesterday. More on this next week when we are back in Aberdeen ...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Come with me for a walk to Dracula's Castle

Weekday blues? Stuck in at home while the humans are busy working?

Why not join me on a virtual walk along the Scottish coast?

You're coming then? Brilliant! Let's get going!

We start off in a tiny wee fishing village, Whinnyfold, 20 miles north of Aberdeen.

We walk north along the cliffs, admiring the blue seas and the graceful arc of Cruden Bay in the distance.

(You may, like me, have to be on a lead for this stretch, along a narrow and uneven path with steep drops on one side and eminently chase-able sheep on the other.)

Eventually we reach the beach, and can run free, sniff around the rock pools and sip the salty water.

If you biggify this picture you can see the outline of a castle in the top left. That's where we're headed.

But first you may wish to stop a while and reflect, and watch the tide go out.

We are lucky that for once there is almost no wind, so no sand blowing in our eyes.

It seems we might even have the beach to ourselves today.

And also the path up to the spooky ruins of Slains Castle. (Bram Stoker stayed here; they say it's where he found inspiration for the Dracula story.)

We can walk right up to the castle and explore. It's great fun - so many fascinating nooks and crannies to investigate.  (The buildings are actually fenced off for safety reasons, but there's a hole in the fence so we can slip straight through!)  If I had a human who would remember to charge her camera battery once in a while, then I would be able to show you the ruins close up, but I'm afraid you'll just have to imagine it today, or perhaps follow this link.

P.S. I am off on my big train journey to visit human Granny and Granddad on Thursday. But by some miracle  the wonders of modern science and technology, I am also participating in the Blogville picnic next weekend. You will find me by the pond, where I will be conducting a series of fun science experiments with a water-related theme. If you want to participate in these experiments (and I am sure you will!) please stop by my blog next Friday or Saturday.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Keeping things in proportion

So I have been packing for my big train journey down to visit human Granny and Granddad in Nottingham next week. This is what I am planning to take:

And this is what Gail has room for is taking.

Humans don't need much stuff, do they?

Oh no! Wait a minute Gail! You'd better not forget the passport.

What's that? We don't have to have a passport for England? Well what about the return trip? Now are you really really sure Mr Salmond is going to let us back in?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Train trial

There are no photos today because events that I am reporting were deemed 'too stressful' for the camera operator...

It seems that my predecessor Hamish the Westie used to travel quite often by railway, and Gail has decided that it would be useful if I could accompany her on train journeys too.

She has this idea that it is more relaxing than driving, when long distances are involved (like visiting Granny and Granddad, 400 miles away).

I think that now, following a trend that will be familiar to those who take an interest British politics, this supposedly brilliant idea is 'under review'.

Last weekend I was taken for a 'training ride', to Huntly. By Scotrail it's an hour from Aberdeen.

Really I think I was most well-behaved.

I didn't bark - well, scarcely at all. I didn't 'mark' anyone's luggage, either on or off the train. Nobody's crisps were stolen. (OK, I admit I tried. Repeatedly. I mean some passengers are virtually inviting you to sample their lunch, rustling their crinkly food bags and leaving tasty smelling morsels within WFT reach on the table and so forth.) No-one got bitten. (I was just curious about what the ticket collector's trousers would feel like in my mouth, that's all.) I kept Gail entertained by constantly bouncing on and off her lap. (So much more interesting for her than the big fat book she was trying to read. You can tell that 'cos after a while she sighed - fondly, I'm quite sure - and put the book back in her bag.)

In Huntly we visited an ruined castle, historic seat of the Gordon clan, and had an agreeable walk around a wood and along the river Deveron.

I can't imagine why, when Gail's friend Margaret asked how it all went, Gail rated my behaviour a mere five out ten. And then said something about perhaps asking the vet for a sedative before we head down to Nottingham next week...

Monday, 6 June 2011

The natural selection approach to gardening

There is a reason why this blog features pictures of our back garden only rarely.

Gail claims that it is not that she is lazy, oh no, not at all. Rather that, when she has free time and the weather is nice, she prefers to take me out for a nice long walk in the country. And that when the weather is, as is so often the case in these parts, not nice, then who wants to be out in the garden anyway?

Heaven knows I try to encourage her by helping with the digging, but all to no avail. 

Well anyway, this week, by some amazing fluke, the 'survival of the fittest' approach to horticulture resulted in several different flowers, some even quite vibrant, being in bloom at the same time. AND WE HAD TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF BRIGHT WARM SUNSHINE.

And at my insistence, this unique event was recorded on camera. Please do spare a moment to savour this tour of our garden; new plant species will have had time to evolve by the next chance I get to show you round...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Gales and Gails

Yes, I am aware that in this blog I write quite a lot about two things that sound the same but are really rather different. And that some of you (especially those for whom spelling is not a strong point) might be in danger of becoming confused.

Gales and Gails.

Let me attempt to clarify.

Gales: these are very strong winds, and we have a lot of them in Scotland, especially on the tops of hills and by the sea. Gales occur more frequently in Scotland than down south in England. I tend to become extra specially bouncy when a gale is blowing. When I was a wee pup I found them scary, but now I just think of them as a good excuse to pretend I can't hear when I am being recalled. Gales can cause lots of damage, as I showed you last month when a car was crushed by a tree on our street during a gale. The shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 issues 'gale warnings' for the sea areas around the British Isles - see map above. (Many humans who never go near a boat love listening to the soothing repetitive rhythms of the shipping forecast, a gentle reminder of our country's maritime heritage). One thing I like about gales is that they deter Gails from spending too much time on their bicycles.

Gails: these are also, I believe, more common in Scotland than England.  As you know, I live with one. A different Gail lives a few doors up the street from us; she known in this household as 'other Gail'. I tend to be excitable in the presence of Gails as well as gales, especially if I am about to be taken for a walk by one, or offered a treat. Yes, and, come to think about it, you can quite often find a Gail (mine, that is) on top of a hill or by the sea. Gails can also sometimes be scary, like when they have just found that you have chewed up their cashmere sweater. I am reliably informed that when my Gail was a little girl, and got in a bad temper, her brother Max would go round saying "warning, warning, Gail force 10 today!" (Gail certainly never enjoyed listening to this particular forecast....) My Gail can also blow very hard - she tells me she gets way high scores when she does those lung function tests at the doctors. Oh and there are loads of things I like about Gails.

To sum up then, if you live in Scotland, Gails and Gales are something you just have to get used to, and might as well learn to enjoy!

Hope that's all clear now.