Thursday 28 February 2013

Of Sheep and Men: a wee bit of history

Sheep have got a lot to answer for, in my opinion.

You might have noticed in the pictures above that, most unusually, I am wearing the dreaded lead, despite being nowhere near a road.

So it had all started just fine. Gail decided she wanted to take a photo of me "posing nicely please" in front of one of the many ruined houses along the shoreline close by our Loch Torridon cottage.

But "posing nicely please" when one's nose catches the scent of live sheep is never going to be an option, is it pups?

You know I only ran off after those sheep for a bit of fun. And it's not like I didn't let Gail catch up after a minute or two.

That Gail could be so shouty came as a surprise to me. Her mother was similarly surprised when, on her honeymoon in Dublin nearly six decades ago, HGD took her to a rugby international at Lansdowne Road. She says until that day she thought she'd married a quiet man.

Anyway, I digress.

I expect you're wondering about the ruined buildings, and where sheep come into the story.

Well back in the olden days, a couple of centuries ago, far more people lived in the Torridon area than do now. It was never an easy life for the inhabitants of this barren, wet, and inaccessible corner of the British Isles, but in the 1840s their situation became much, much tougher. This was the era when many big landowners in the north and west of Scotland decided it would be more profitable to use the land to graze sheep than to let it to the resident crofters. Around Loch Torridon, the local population were forced on to a narrow strip of land by the shore where they built these meagre dwellings, had barely a patch to grow potatoes, and struggled to survive. Life literally on the edge was not sustainable and most were compelled by poverty and hardship to leave for the cities or indeed to emigrate to North America or Australia, and these ruins are all that is left of a sorry chapter in the history of the area. At least in Torridon there is no record of the notorious forced clearances, people being attacked and burned out of their own homes, as happened elsewhere in the Highlands.

But on reflection, surely I should have been praised for chasing those sheep after all?

PS A fascinating little book called 'Old Torridon: Notes on the History of Torridon' and written by our neighbour Murdoch MacDonald, tells you much more about life in times past in this area of Scotland.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Roughty Toughty Torridon Terrier

So Gail spotted this "cute wee Westie" when we stopped off in Nairn, en route to Torridon last Friday.

"Look at her Bertie, isn't she adorable, oh do come over here so I can take a photo of the both of you".

You can imagine what I thought of that idea.

So much more interesting to contemplate how this line of snow formed on the Nairn beach, right?

But Gail didn't want to help me investigate this fascinating natural phenomenon. It was all "oh look Bertie, there's Molly again, isn't her red and white sweater just perfect. It almost makes me want to dig out my rusty knitting needles...."

Well I'm pleased to say that when we reached Torridon I had ample opportunity to remind Gail that I am a roughty toughty terrier, and not designed to prance around on the beach in some fancy and not even waterproof coat.
Those knitting needles can stay in the boxroom!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Are geologists important? The canine perspective

Many readers in the UK will already be familiar with the row that broke out this week when one of our leading Conservative politicians implied that supermarket shelf stackers have a more important job than geologists.*

Let me declare an interest.

Those of you who have followed my Bertie Boffin lecture series know all about my skills as an Earth Scientist. Gail has degrees in both Geology and Geophysics. The street where we live, in the heart of 'Europe's Oil Capital' has, at a guess, one of the highest densities of geoscientists in the UK. Really, you can't venture out the front door without bumping into another one.

So, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, I am amply qualified to give an opinion, at least from a canine perspective, on what are the good and bad points of this particular breed.

First off, and most importantly, you can rely on a geologist to take you on regular long walks in the hills. Most of them will only have studied the subject at university because they fancied the idea of the field trips, and not because they envisaged a relatively lucrative career sat in front of a computer in the offices of an oil company. So at weekends there is nothing they like better than to head out into the countryside, often to places that are spectacular and seldom visited by shelf stackers or in fact anyone else. This, I would say, is their most useful trait.

Secondly, you rarely get lost when you're with a geologist. Even without Satnav, most of them can find their way around, despite lacking a dog's sensory advantages. They can visualise what a landscape looks like simply by glancing at a map with some squiggly contour lines drawn on. It's true! They might even be able to navigate their way to the pet food aisle at Tesco, or better yet, the meat counter.

Thirdly, I am reminded that it is geologists who explore for the fuel to transport me out of Aberdeen to all those nice walking places, and for the materials to manufacture the computers without which there would be no 'Bouncing Bertie's Blog'. Even a Tory would agree that these are important roles.

Can I think of any downsides? Well it has to be said that a disproportionately high number of male geologists have beards. And as all pups know, it is not so much fun licking a beardy face, although even then, the possibility of finding food caught up in the facial fuzz can be seen as a positive.

So there you have it, Mr Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

I make no judgements about shelf stackers, but geologists are surely a GOOD and USEFUL thing, in my wholly unbiased view.

Gail, do I get my special treat now?
Admiring the Torridonian Sandstone - July 2012.

*Background summary: an unemployed young geology graduate took the government to court for forcing her to work unpaid stacking shelves at Poundland or lose her benefit payments, and she won her case. The government are appealing the verdict.

Monday 18 February 2013

The ungrateful birthday boy

I'm three years old today you know.

When Gail told me yesterday we were going to 'Pet Comforts', our favourite Aberdeen pet shop by far, to buy me a fox for my birthday, I was so excited. Finally, a real live fox to play with! Surely a three year old wire-haired fox terrier is entitled to no less?

Slowly the truth dawned...

It turned out that this was what she had in mind.

Oh well, one can always pretend.

PS from Gail: as some of you know, Bertie was born on exactly the same day that my fourteen year old Westie Hamish died. So many fond memories. I make no apology for re-posting my last ever photo of the dear chap.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Bertie Boffin, James Clerk Maxwell and Toby

As well as meeting Horatio, I went to visit another very special Edinbugh dog last week.

This one is called Toby, and he sits at the foot of the eminent Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell - you can find the statue on George Street in Edinburgh's New Town.


You're not familiar with James Clerk Maxwell?

You certainly should be. What a good thing it is that Blogville has a resident Boffin. Let me explain.

About 150 years ago, James Clerk Maxwell developed the set of equations which unite electricity, magnetism and light into a single theoretical framework. Many scientists - not all of whom are Scottish Nationalists - consider his contributions to physics to be surpassed only by Newton and Einstein.

And what's more, he used his dog Toby as a sounding board for his ideas. (Maxwell was known for his 'social awkwardness' so perhaps no-one else would listen).

I have been imagining how those conversations went:

JCM: Toby, I have been thinking. Surely the force fields associated with electricity, magnetism and light are one and the same?

Toby: Yap.

JCM: Toby, I do believe that the relationship can be accurately expressed by the following set of equations. Are these not rather elegant?

Toby: Woof woof.

JCM: Toby, it strikes me that light must travel through space at a constant speed in the form of electromagnetic waves. Do you understand my point?

Toby: Woof-ly

JCM: Toby, in my down time from formulating classical electromagnetism I have, along with my colleague Boltzmann, been ruminating on the kinetic theory of gases, a productive line of enquiry too, wouldn't you say?

Toby: Zzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday 14 February 2013

A special Valentine poem for Addi


I could compare you to a star, 
But Addi love, that's wrong 'cos you
Are quite unique. The stars are many;
Bonnie pups like Addi few. 

So long to seek, so hard to find,
You look exquisite with no clothes on.
No, not a star, but something rare,
My very special own Higg's boson.

And never fear, my Addi dear
To me your largeness is no curse.
There'll always be some space for you

Such beauty does uplift my soul,
And as I gaze and feast my eyes on 
You, I know I'd brave the blackest hole 
To traverse your event horizon.

As light bends round your extra mass
I ponder my proclivity
For awesome girls. For you I feel

Oh I would wish to ride the skies 
Besides you in our rocket tank
To far off galaxies we'd fly, 
And there create our own BIG BANG

Please do visit Jazzi's Addi's blog to read more about Bertie and Addi's Valentine date.

And many thanks to Addi's Mom for the artwork!

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Brief Encounter

with Horatio (and his new brother Harris)

The anticipation

The meeting at Waverley Station, Edinburgh

A romp around Arthur's Seat


And finally back in Aberdeen

Saturday 9 February 2013

Romantic Bertie Boffin update

Just wanted to say hi to all my friends.

I am down in Nottingham for a few days and whilst Gail is busy helping Human Granny and Grandad, I have been dreaming of my forthcoming Valentine date with my beloved and simply awesome girl Addi. I have also had time to ponder matters scientific and am preparing another exciting post in my esteemed 'Bertie Boffin' lecture series: this one will be both electric and magnetic..... Oh and - this is so exciting too - on my way back to Aberdeen I am going to meet up with my wiry pal Horatio in Edinburgh, hooray!

Watch this space...

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Too embarrassing.....

"Time for Bertie beddy-byes".

That's what Gail says to me, an irritatingly sing-songy voice, before before banging me up in the kitchen for the night.

Like I was a puppy or something, when I am totally grown up. Nearly three in fact.

Tell me your humans don't talk to you in this embarrassing manner.

(And no it is not babyish to insist on sleeping with a hot water bottle. You have no idea how cold our kitchen can be.)

PS My dear friend Asta in Budapest, the sweetest wiry girl you could ever meet, is facing surgery later this week, and I know that all her friends will join me in wishing for the best possible outcome.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Sledding day: awaiting Addi's arrival

 As many of my readers will know, today is Sarge's sledding day. Well I wasn't at all sure that I would get to take part, but right at the last minute I learned from Jazzi's blog that my dear darling partner in crime beloved Addi is coming all the way from Illinois to join me for fun in the snow in Scotland.

Oh I am so excited! I just had to go and check out Addi's favourite tank.

You can go sledding in a tank can't you?

Oh I so adore Addi. You know Addi don't you? Such a beauty (I have been advised before not to use the phrase 'strapping lass' so I won't).
My kind of a girl, totally. 

I really had better make sure that our tank is all spick and span and in good working order.

What's that I see on the horizon?

It's Addi, it really is. Addi, I'm on my way to greet you. We are going to have such fun....

See Jazzi and Addi's blog for the next instalment...