Thursday 31 December 2015

Goodbye Cragmoor Road

On Clearing Out Human Granny's House

Us dogs can always sense when something is amiss.

Our noses can detect
Change in the air, the end of things, and sadness.

A lifetime of cupboards, emptied, yield
Pile upon pile of holiday leaflets; medicines galore;
A Nottingham lace tablecloth,
Still faintly stained with raspberry jam;
Notes from every evening class ever attended,
(And there were many).

Did Human Grandad once throw away
An item he could mend?
I doubt it.
No saucepan handle in this house
Escaped his meticulous application of araldite.
Was ever a rusty bolt discarded
When it could be stored in a Gold Block tobacco tin
For future use?

Who uses now
A 'best' china tea set (non-dishwasher proof)?
What to do with table linen - napkins, cloths, mats -
Lace or embroidered, stiffly starched,
Untouched for half a century?


A sudden moment of delight.
A wad of letters, unknown, unsuspected,
Found in an old folder.
Close-typed on tissue thin airmail paper,
Stamped RAF, Egypt, 1945,
From a fond father
To the teenager who became Human Granny.


But why will the charity shop not take
The painted furniture?
Can it really be so dangerous?
Surely some poor soul would be glad of it?
I lick Gail's hand to compensate
For tears shed, as Human Uncle
Builds a funeral pyre of tables, desks, chairs,
Unwanted but for the memories.

Us dogs can always sense when something is amiss.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

A special calendar for Gail?


Gail, please take a break from packing all those boxes, I want to ask you a question.

What is it, dear little Bertie?

Well, I can't help but notice that no-one gave you a calendar for Christmas this year, did they? 

That's true I'm afraid. I'll have to buy one myself. 

No no Gail. please don't do that. I am going to order one for you, although as it comes from Russia it may not be here for a few days yet.  

Russia? Bertie, I am intrigued. 

Yes, it is a Vladimir Putin calendar. I read all about it on the BBC website. Mr Putin is a nice man, and very good looking, don't you agree?

Er, I don't quite know what to say Bertie. What on earth makes you think that Mr Putin is a 'nice man' and that I might want his calendar?

Well look at his picture for November. Isn't it cute? And you know what the caption says? It says - I am translating from the Russian here - "Dogs and I have very warm feelings for each other". 

Well Bertie, frankly, I am rendered speechless... 

Oh and look, Here is President Putin in June, with a flower in his hand. No it is not a weed, don't be silly Gail. And he is saying "I like all Russian women. I think Russian women are the most talented and most beautiful." Really, he does seem a most sensitive chap.

Gail, I see you are still at a loss for words. Well how about the July picture? I suppose it is hot in Russia in July, as he has gone fishing without a shirt. You wouldn't do that in Scotland would you? 
Gail, what is that you are saying about him being "better endowed" than you are?? Isn't that a good thing? Oh. Not in a man? There is no accounting for tastes I guess. 

Well on that, at least, we can agree. Bertie, I just can't wait for the calendar to arrive...

Saturday 26 December 2015

Usurped by Cousin Percy

I always thought I was Human Granny's favourite dog. At least I did until yesterday…
I knew that standard poodle cousin Percy was bossy. As well as being HUGE. But that he was such a suck up...
And no I don't want to pose for a group shot. I just don't feel like it.
Really, these Christmas family visits can be quite tiresome, can't they? Although I must say HGY did seem to be enjoying herself, merrily chatting away to her grandchildren, apparently oblivious to the fact that I was just a tiny bit hurt at being ignored.

Thursday 24 December 2015

An odd sort of Christmas this year

I'll be honest with you, I've had the hardest time of it, getting Gail to take a Christmassy photo for my blog, and this is the best she could manage. 

Let me now show you what the house in Nottingham really looks like at the moment.

I'm told this is the last time I shall be staying in Human Granny's house. As you know, she no longer lives here, and apparently it has been sold and new people are moving in on 8th January. 

To escape the house clearing chaos, I went to spend a quiet moment with Human Grandad in the parish burial ground. I think HGD would have been proud of the way I stood to attention in my best 'alert terrier' pose, and also would have liked the Christmas wreath Gail bought him.

Tomorrow we are taking Human Granny to Derbyshire for Christmas dinner with my poodle cousins Percy and Coco and their family. I am hoping that I shall have some properly festive photos to show you after that visit. I am also hoping that Percy (who is HUGE) will not be too bossy.

A Merry Christmas to my dear readers. I am so fond of you all.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Happy Christmas to Dr Mun Hoe Poon!

Human Granny very nearly didn't make it to the end of January this year. Thanks to the NHS, and especially to Dr Mun Hoe Poon, consultant in Geriatric Medicine at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, she is still very much with us, and is now being well looked after at Westcliffe Care Home where she enjoys reading, keeping up with current affairs, receiving visitors and having the time to correspond with more distant friends and family by letters and email.

I was on my best behaviour when I visited yesterday at tea time, and was rewarded with one half of her custard cream biscuit.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Appleby floods and a trip down Memory Lane

So Gail and I have now arrived in Nottingham for Christmas, after an overnight stay in Appleby-in-Westmorland.

British readers will know that Appleby was in the news earlier this month, having suffered dreadful floods in the wake of storm Desmond.

In truth, I was a bit worried when Gail said we would be staying there. I am a dog who likes his creature comforts and I didn't much fancy having to get my paws wet in order to access my room.

Gail said don't be silly Bertie, we'll be staying at the Royal Oak again and don't you remember it's at the top of the hill? And in truth the accommodation was not only dry but exceeded my expectations in other ways too. Gail had booked a single room but we were shown into an annexe with kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms and the bathroom, all to ourselves, at no extra charge.

Another good thing about the Royal Oak is that dogs are allowed in the bar/restaurant, along with sundry rum characters. 

In the morning, before completing the journey, we had a wee nose around Appleby, and spotted plenty of signs of the recent inundation.

All very sad, seeing so many homes and businesses so dreadfully damaged, and just before Christmas too. But I have to tell you that when we got down to the river Eden, Gail smiled a little smile, as if she wanted to tell me a secret, and said "Bertie, you know, I am quite well acquainted with the water in this river".

I knew right away I was about to be on the receiving end of a lengthy bout of reminiscing…

It turns out that Gail first came to Appleby in  July 1979, on a field course in geological mapping, as part of her undergraduate studies. She and her fellow first year students spent ten sodden days (yes apparently it always rains in this part of the world) tramping across the moors, mapping a feature known as the 'Cross Fell inlier'. On the final night, after sampling the beer in each of the town's then thirteen pubs, the would-be geologists all somehow ended up in the river for a chilly midnight plunge.

Here I am standing in front of what was in the late seventies a cheap guesthouse. This was where the students stayed. Gail remembers the proprietress, a lady perhaps in her late fifties, with long dyed black hair arranged in ringlets with bows, whose everyday wear consisted of a low cut pink satin dress with flounces, fishnet tights, platform shoes and a few shovelfuls of garish makeup. Every night, dinner was served by this exotic creature's mother, clad in a floral housecoat, moth-eaten slippers and crumpled stockings √† la Nora Batty. She would shuffle in, announce "'ere's yer roast", and then plonk in front of each student a plateful of lukewarm grey beef covered with watery gravy, accompanied by boiled-to-death potatoes and veg. Pudding was jelly and vanilla ice-cream. For the last meal, as a special treat, the beef came with Yorkshire pudding and the ice-cream was 'Neapolitan'.

Happy days, according to Gail.

Talking of happy days, I am going to see Human Granny tomorrow. Yippee! It's been too long.

Monday 14 December 2015

Festive Quantum Robins

Bouncing Bertie Boffin, Scientific Advisor to Blogville here!

It has been brought to my attention that this blog has been lacking in intellectual and scientific rigour of late, and so today I aim to redress the balance. In a suitably seasonal and dog relevant fashion, of course.

Maybe, like dear, clever YAM-Aunty, you already knew that today, 14th December, is considered as the 'Birthday of Quantum Physics'. It was on this day in 1900 when the German physicist Max Planck first proposed that energy emitted by a radiating system is not continuous but rather it comes in discrete packages, or 'quanta'.

I wonder also how many of you have received Christmas cards with pictures of robins this year? Perhaps you have had opportunity to bark at a robin, newly arrived in your garden after escaping the harsh Arctic winter?

OK, so I realise some you are now thinking "Bertie Boffin, poor chap, has totally gone off his rocker this time. I'm afraid he has been imbibing too much 'festive spirit'. What on earth do migrating robins have to do with quantum physics?"

Fellow pups, let me explain.

Now, since well before the days of satnav, scientists have been pondering the question of how birds navigate when they migrate long distances, especially across oceans where landmarks are few and far between. You might think this field of study would be the domain of the biologist, but in fact one answer came in recent years from some very clever experiments by physicists. These experiments led to an understanding of how the robin uses certain esoteric quantum effects to detect changes in the angle of the earth's magnetic field and thus to figure out which way is north*.

It all happens when a small package of light (a photon) reaches a special protein (cytochrome) found in the eye of the robin. The photon causes an electron to be expelled from the cytochrome. The hole is then filled with one of a quantum entangled electron pair such that a superposition of singlet/triplet states is created in the pair (yes, in the world of quantum physics, electrons can be 'superposed' in two states at the same time, with no problem at all - think of it like the state your human is in when you have done something bad, but also funny, and they are cross and laughing at the same time). Anyway the point is, that the laughing but also cross electron can easily tipped towards one or the other state, depending on the tilt of the earth's magnetic field, which is of course latitude sensitive. (In the same way that, if your human is still in the angry-but-amused state, and you tilt your head at a certain angle, this might impel your human to smile and forget all about shouting at you).

I am sure it is quite clear now, how robins find their way to your mantlepiece at Christmas, and so we would all like to say 'Happy Birthday' to quantum physics, and to salute the great founding fathers** of this weird and wonderful branch of science.
Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein ponder the mysteries of quantum physics

*Note we are talking about the European robin here, smaller and cuter the American so-called robin, which I believe is actually a thrush!

**Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Erwin Schrödinger, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Paul Dirac.

PS from Gail: this post was inspired the book 'Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology' by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Mcfadden. A recommended Christmas read for those who like their popular science to be a tiny bit challenging!

Thursday 10 December 2015

Neighbours exposed! A tree! A birthday!

A big storm came through Aberdeen the other night, and our neighbour's recycling box blew over.

It seems they had put the wine bottles at the base and covered them with water bottles before putting the box out in the street for collection.

I wonder why they would do that?

Do you know what your neighbours are drinking this festive season?

On to a different topic. I didn't really want to show you this next picture, 'cos I don't much like being outshone. But Gail thinks some of you might to see the Christmas tree we chose so carefully last weekend. She also bought a new set of lights and boy are they bright!

Oh and finally. In my role as Bertie Boffin, Scientific Advisor to Blogville, I am pleased to announce that next Monday (14th December) I shall be celebrating on this blog a very special scientific birthday. I wonder if any of you can guess what my post will be about?

Sunday 6 December 2015

Christmas tree shopping with benefits

So at first light on Saturday morning Gail drove us out to Tyrebagger Forest on the edge of Aberdeen, where the Forestry Commission holds a big annual Christmas tree sale.

It is always super good fun, although selecting the right tree is of course a serious business.

We weighed up the pros and cons of the different tree types.
Gail decided on a Norway spruce this time, because they have a stronger fragrance than the 'non-dropping' Nordmann firs. (As if you could improve on a house smelling of damp dog..…)

I did also notice the spruces were cheaper, and, having spotted that the 'Tomintoul Venison' truck was open for business, I secretly nurtured a hope that there would be change left so we could share something tasty from their breakfast menu.

Well of course we spent ages choosing the right sized and shaped spruce. For some reason, Gail said I was not to engage in any 'tree christening' activities, although I have to tell you there were plenty of other pups present who had apparently not been so instructed. 

But gosh I was disappointed when, tree purchase made, Gail dragged me past the venison vendor, saying; "come on Bertie, let's go for a nice walk in the forest while we're here".

But you know what? It all came good in the end, and after a nice (i.e. muddy) walk, we returned to 'Tomintoul Venison' and Gail ordered a black pudding roll for us to share. OK, I admit, in an ideal world it would have been a venison burger, but Gail came out with one of her bizarre food-related diktats, and declared it "too early in the day" for that. I guess the sun was not over the yardarm or something.

So, best Stornoway black pudding it was. With a dab of ketchup.

And I am not one to look a gift horse (or pig) in the mouth.