Thursday 30 January 2014

Beware madmen in the park....

So it's around 8 a.m. in Duthie Park and we're being treated to another spectacular sunrise, but you will just have to imagine it 'cos you know who forgot the camera.

Anyway, for the first time this year, we run into our friends George (genial human) and Darcy (lively black dog of mixed provenance). After exchanging New Year hugs, together we walk clockwise round the park. I can't tell you how confusing this is. I mean Gail and I always walk anticlockwise. What is Gail thinking in agreeing to this lunatic suggestion of George's?

Further evidence that George is not the gently spoken, agreeable and sane gentleman I had hitherto taken him for comes when my flappy little ears catch some of the conversation between him and Gail.

Oh yes, George had been visiting his son in Ullapool over the holiday period. Yes they had had a fine time, and, he mentions quite casually, as if this was something that a regular person would do, they had enjoyed the traditional New Year swim in the sea. And no, they were not wearing wet suits.
Ullapool in Winter (photo by Graham 
Did I hear aright? Sea swimming? In Northern Scotland? In the middle of winter? And this George chappie doesn't even have any furs, save the snowy white ones on his head.

Really, you just don't know what sort of a person you're going to meet in the park these days. You might have been happily accepting the odd dog biscuit from them for years, and then suddenly they reveal some deeply disturbing and unsuspected character trait.

Gail thinks I am over-reacting. "It was just a swim, Bertie, some folk enjoy this sort of thing, get over it. We are not all water averse. And it isn't as if there are icebergs in Loch Broom."

My suggestion that we steer well clear of George in the future is, I fear, going to be ignored.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Celebrating five years of comments from Stella!

But Bertie, you are only are only three years, eleven months and eight days old, I hear you say (if you are reading this on the day it was posted). You can't possibly have known Stella for five years.

Well of course it was my predecessor Hamish the Westie  who first encountered the famous Stella from Minniesnowda. This is the comment she left on Hamish's blog on 26th January 2009.

Hi Hamish! This is my first visit to your blog and it looks like its gonna be fun. I'm going to put you on my Favorite Blogs and visit often.

You come see me too. 


Gail says this was a big milestone because shortly afterwards Stella told some of her blogging friends about Hamish and, after six months of being ignored by the world at large, his blog finally gained a following.

You know, in this trip down Memory Lane today I am going to mostly let Stella speak for herself via her comments on Hamish's and later on my blog.

So this is what she said to Hamish when he complained about sore paws hurting in the snow:

9th February 2009: You know, Hamish, the sled dogs of the North require boots to protect their feet over long miles of pulling a heavy sled. So if you want to on-line shop you could find a Sled Dog Supplier for your red boots.
Or you could just do like me, toughen your feet up on the walks and get stronger about it. Bear it, in other words!

Gosh, I certainly recognise that voice! But then a few days later Stella came back with:

12th February 2009: Hamish, I think I owe you an apology because I was harsh about your feets and needing bootz. I know you are an older guy and I want to be more respecting of you.

I am wondering how old I shall have to be before I get this sort of respect from Stella, something I can only dream about just now. See how the relationship developed:

11th June 2009: Ah, Hamish, you are such a dashing fellow and so good to Gail.

29th June 2009 (following a post about String Theory): Happy 100th Post, Hamish! I really wish I could share your interest in this scientific theory, but alas, my brain is just not equipped for such thinking. It doesn't stop me for admiring you, though, for being the deep thinker that you are. I would be thrilled to see a Nobel come your way. I like your new collar too. 

15th October (encouragement when Hamish complained about feeling his age)You are a wonderful 14 year old guy, and if you just keep to what you know, you will have quite a few more years, I think. And I love you just the way you are, too.

17th January 2010 (on Hamish's new red coat - the one I now occasionally wear): Hi dear Hamish, I don't know how I missed this post, but I did! Your new coat is just the BEST, all the features, collar up, collar down, velcro, your name, are simply grand. You could wear it to Minniesnowda and not get a bit cold. Maybe get some slippers for the feets.

17th January (after reading about the famous scone and lace tablecloth incident): Oh, Hamish, what a perfectly wonderful story! No pictures needed, you told it very well. The thought of a cute little white dog with jam and cream and scone crumbs all over his face is just too rare. I'm sure Granny scolded you, but these things are usually forgiven fairly soon.

7th February (when Hamish reported suffering from seizures): Hamish! You are my best pal, I can't have you be sick! Do what the Vet tells you and get better soonest! Oh, I just wish we were not separated by so much ocean and miles. I would visit you everyday there was if I could.Love and hugs, Stella.

19th February (on hearing the saddest news): It was a great shock to me to learn that my best friend and pal, Hamish Westie has passed on. Who will argue with me now, and who will advise me, and who will love me like he did? He was an irreplaceable Pal, and I can't even think of the days without him. My Mom was telling a friend about him and said that she thought he would be passing soon and when he did it would be like losing Otis the Scotty (age 16) all over again. And it is.Our friendship and love will remain with you, Gail, you who took such good care of him.In sympathy, Stella and Jo.

I have to tell you that Gail shed a wee tear when re-reading the 19th February comment. But of course before long I, Bertie, bounced on the scene. This is how Stella greeted me:

20th April 2010: Hello Bertie! Welcome to our world! We are so happy that you have finally arrived and that things are going (somewhat) well for you. If you need anything, just let us know! Has she had you leash walking yet? Not easy, but you will manage it. Kisses and a cuddle, Stella and her Mom.

Stella was always concerned abut my educational progress: 

16th May 2010: Hey Bertie! Now where are all the details of your first puppy school class? I would think you would be bursting to tell us all! You are a very handsome boy and will prove to be an excellent airhead I am sure! Just lets hear how that first class went. 

But when I embarked on series of 'Bertie Boffin' science lectures, the relationship with Stella hit a rocky patch: 

21st September 2010 (after the thermodynamics lecture) :Whoa, Bertie! I came because I heard there was gonna be frosted cake . . .what happened to that? I brought a couple of biscuits from home and I think Mango swiped them. I'll try to come next week but some improvements need doing. . .like the frosted cake for just one thing. I also want to know why didn't Ludo come? He is a special friend of mine, and I was looking forward to seeing him here.

And things went from bad to worse when I organised a geological field trip in Scotland for all my dog blogging friends: 

8th October 2010: It seems that you are busy these days organizing your field trip. Now in an earlier letter from Eric SquareDog he said he didn't care to be rained on and would stay in the van if the weather was inclement. And I repeated those words in my letter. I have no wish to be wet or uncomfortable in anyway and I will come only if I can stay in the van (you providing a warm wooly blanket for me). Now this includes getting my feet wet. I just don't like it. So, Bub, take it or leave it. I believe you also said eats were not important. I have news for you, they are highly important. Now you were concerned in a letter to Ludo that I would not take orders from you, and that is correct. Another take it or leave it.

When I refused to accept Stella on those conditions she opted instead for a holiday by Lake Como with George Clooney (click here for more details) and later sent me this note: 

16th October 2010: So,Bertie, Your trip wasn't quite the smash you had hoped for, eh? Even though you didn't get a lot of studying in, most everyone had fun! Even me, of course I wasn't with you! I am not much for apologizing, Bertie, because its easier to treat people well than to wind up having to offer an apology. So lets just say for this time, Let Bygones be Bygones. One caveat, Bertie, I always mean what I say, always.

Fortunately, over the years, the rift has healed, although Stella still tries to keep  me in line, as you can see from this comment when I blogged about being distracted by girls at agility:

3rd October 2012: Of course its all very clear to all of us: You want to chase the girls (especially that cute little Bijon) and have your usual fun with them. Not gonna work here, Bertie, gonna have to knuckle down and get busy with your agility skills. Go, Bertie, Go!

I've noticed Stella is always envious of my trips by train to see HGD: 

19th November 2013: We are not even allowed to ride the city bus, even if we have the fare! It all seems wrong on so many levels. Give HGD a smooch from all of us!

But she was not at all sympathetic earlier this month when Gail wanted to wash me in a cold Scottish stream...

Oh Bertie, you always have some little something to complain about. . up and give those feeties a quick dunk!

Well, by now I think my readers will have got the measure of my friend Stella (and her Mom Jo). 

Stella dear, Gail and I absolutely adore you, we treasure every single one of your comments, and we hope you will be giving me a piece of your mind for many years to come! 

Friday 24 January 2014

"My next dog…"

It's been a quiet week here in Aberdeen. See what Gail brought down from the bookshelf last night.

Why she would need such a book is a mystery to me. It is, surely, a settled fact that the wire-haired fox terrier is the perfect and only breed for this household.

I noticed this page is well thumbed.
"Just researching my next dog Bertie", says Gail. "Perhaps I'll go for a type that wouldn't try to grasp my ankle in its mouth (gently, but not that gently) every time I put my feet up. You know, I once had a boyfriend whose father always introduced his wife as 'my first wife'. Just, so he said, to keep her on her toes. Same idea here, Bertie…."

I refuse to listen anymore to this rubbish.

I know she's only teasing.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Frankly, I would rather have stayed in

"Come on Bertie, chop chop! Never mind the rain, we have a lovely walk planned. Remember what they say. No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. Look, here's Hamish's old (but scarcely worn) jacket. Cosy, waterproof and a perfect fit."

Thus I was dragged away from the warmth of the study and into the deluge that was our Aberdeen Sunday.

Five miles we walked, along the River Dee. FIVE MILES! Can you credit it?

Frankly, I would rather have stayed in.

Especially given that neither Gail nor the canoeists by the far bank of the river were impressed by my on land demonstration of the Eskimo roll.

Are any of my fellow pups also victims of owners who insist on going the full distance, no matter the conditions?

And they say us terriers are stubborn.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Flattering or an insult?

I have been mulling over this issue for quite a while, and have decided it might be useful to consult my blog friends.

Fellow pups, I suspect I am not the only chappie out there whose owner is tempted to decorate the house with images or ornaments depicting one's own breed of dog.

The question is, should we feel pleased that our humans find our appearance so appealing that the live version is not enough? Or be insulted that, indeed, we are not considered, of ourselves, sufficient?

My predecessor Hamish must have struggled greatly with this topic, given the ubiquity of Westie collectibles for sale in this part of the world. On the whole, since I belong to a more exclusive breed (I refuse to say 'less popular') it has not to date been such a problem for me. Gail, as we know, is not herself an enthusiastic shopper, and only the most dedicated of her friends have managed to track down wire-haired fox terrier related ornaments.

Well a few months ago, this all changed with the arrival of a sizeable oil painting.

I was shocked!

So much so that it is only now that I have summoned the strength to address the subject.

I mean, not one but FOUR wire-haired fox terriers taking up residence in our sitting room. And a pretty lively bunch they look too.

Gail says "Bertie, that is just the point. I saw this old painting for sale, attributed to a well known Victorian animal artist, and the way the terriers are shown is so, well, so real, so like you, so full of action and energy, I thought it just perfect".

Can you see the likeness?

Well perhaps after all I should consider it a compliment.

Although I thought Gail was going a bit far when she told me to "think of them as your new friends Bertie".

Thursday 16 January 2014

Bedroom scene in Torridon

It's OK. Plenty of space for Gail to squeeze in around the edge. Don't worry, she won't disturb me.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Rise and shine!

At this time of year, we only get to see sunrise on our morning walk if we're LATE (i.e. it's not a workday for Gail).

So this was last Friday in Duthie Park, Aberdeen.

And these are from Sunday morning near our cottage on Loch Torridon.

East or West, Scotland's best!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Goodbye satnav, hello dog poo?

What a good thing that Gail’s friend the Oil Man has had his work visa for Yemen revoked. 

Why so, I hear you ask?

Well had he not been kicking his heels in Dubai, I doubt he would have had time to email Gail about the latest exciting breakthrough in canine research*. To my great shame, both she and I had missed reading about this study, which purports to show that when us pups poo we align ourselves with the earth’s magnetic field.

Yes really!  

Gosh I am so impressed that a team of dedicated scientists would collect data from over 7000 individual canine defecation and urination 'events’ to come up with this earth shattering discovery.  I am proud to tell you that fox terriers were amongst the 37 breeds participating in such important work. And my esteemed godmother Tootsie will be interested to know that fully a quarter of the dogs involved were dachshunds – possibly (I am speculating here) due to the ease of measuring the orientation of such an elongate breed.

Now I am not going to bore you with the finer details of the research, but I thought you might like at least to see an image illustrating the measurement principle. 

A paragraph from the paper’s abstract is also worth quoting:

“Magnetic alignment is a suitable paradigm to scan for the occurrence of magnetosensitivity across animal taxa with the heuristic potential to contribute to the understanding of the mechanism of magnetoreception and identify further functions of magnetosensation apart from navigation”.

All clear now? 

Oh and you should definitely know that all the ‘events’ were recorded when the participants were off leash, to ensure unbiased data. 

More good news is that we can look forward to a follow-up paper, given these words - another direct quote from the original publication - about the male dog urination: “Indications of different directional tendencies depending on which leg (left or right) is lifted are currently under study”. 

I am sorry to report that Gail does not agree with me about the significance of this fascinating research and has poo-poo’d my idea that dog owners could soon be throwing away their satnavs. And when I suggested we could contribute new data if she carried a compass and notebook on future walks she just gave me a ‘look’ and said people would rightly question her sanity. 

In fact, Gail went so far as to say she suspects the study’s authors Hart et al. of a blatant attempt to win an award at the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. 

It is tough, sometimes, for even the most bouncy of Boffins to soldier on in the face of such cynicism. But fear not, it will take more than a sceptical owner to deter me from my mission to educate and enlighten my readers about the wonderful world of science! 

*Hart et al., Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80

Wednesday 8 January 2014

A new plan for this winter

Fellow pups, have you ever felt the Call of the Wild?

"It filled him with a great unrest and strange desires. It caused him to feel a vague, sweet gladness, and he was aware of wild yearnings and stirrings for he knew not what".

Jack London summed it up so well, didn't he?

Gosh how I would love to escape from the grey confines of domestic life in Aberdeen and into the Alaskan wilderness to run with the wolves.

Gail, who can be boring about practicalities, keeps reminding me of my fondness for curling up on the sofa in front of the fire and my dislike of icy water, and says she doubts I'd survive an Arctic winter.

Reluctantly, I will concede she has a point.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to read this article in our Sunday paper.
Yes that's right, wolves are on the march, increasing in numbers over much of Europe. And not only in the cold bits. 

I am thinking it would be nice to spend January and February in Spain. Really, this is not such a great time of year in NE Scotland. So Gail could go exploring the cultural riches of Madrid and I could hook up with one of the several wolf packs now roaming in the nearby Guadarrama mountains.

Of course, if the hunting proved disappointing, or my pack mates turned out to be bad sharers, I could catch the train back into the city for dinner and a night in a comfy hotel with Gail.

An excellent plan, don't you agree?

Sunday 5 January 2014

At the end of yet another muddy walk

A tantrum.

"I don't care if you have just cleaned the inside of the Mini.

I am not going to let you wash me in that stream!

It is the middle of winter you know."

Thursday 2 January 2014

Post-Hogmanay Aberdeen

It is after nine a.m. on the 1st January 2014 and Gail finally rouses herself to take me for my morning walk.

Such tardiness is highly unusual in this household.

I heard a lot of loud bangs last night while Gail was out. She had told me not to worry, the noises would just be fireworks, but it turns out she was wrong.

I can exclusively reveal that a neutron bomb has hit my home town.

How else to explain that the buildings are still standing but human life is absent this morning?

As I enter Duthie Park, I finally spot something moving, unsteadily. I suspect a zombie but Gail insists that it is alive and human and tests her theory with a cheery "Happy New Year". The creature covers its ears with its hands and mumbles that it needs to take things quietly this morning…

Then something even more extraordinary occurs.

I am allowed to walk back from the park along the streets without my walking string attached! Gail responds to my quizzical look by pointing out that, with the complete lack of traffic, she thinks it a good time to test my compliance with the 'heel' command. I decide to stick close to Gail's ankle, hoping to lull her into a false sense of security which I can take advantage of on a future occasion.

Later in the day, we go for the traditional New Year sandblast promenade along the city beach, and I have to concede that my neutron bomb theory may need modifying.

I am now thinking that a miasma of some poisonous substance descended on Scotland in the night, from which the citizens took time to recover.

Using my forensic expertise, I have deduced that a chemical weapon, code named C2H5OH, was responsible.

Happy New Year!