Monday 29 January 2018

Hipster envy...

Can you see anything wrong with how I look in this photo Gail took just over a week ago, when we went for a walk in the snow?

No me neither, but according to Gail, the fact that my beard was long enough to have icicles suspended from it was a Bad Thing.

Now if I had been allowed to accompany Gail on her business trip to London a few days ago, I could perhaps have taken the Tube to the hipster Mecca of Shoreditch while she was attending her boring meetings, and my luxuriant beard might have been given a special professional styling (e.g. look carefully at the beard pictured below...)
Shoreditch hipster 'animal beard'

But no, instead I have had to put up with Gail's amateur efforts with the pinking shears, leaving me almost bereft of my signature facial fuzz...

Friday 26 January 2018

FFF: The Missing Tankard

Today Gail has elbowed me aside from my blog, as she wants to enter YAM-Aunty's Final Friday Fiction challenge on her own account. So I apologise for the fact that this post has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. Take it away Gail...

The source text is 'Brooklyn' by Colm Tóibín, and the phrases (from p87) to be used in the story are:

Line 8:  she realised that it could not be him

Line 12: went back to the kitchen and set about checking the...

Line 16: she would tell no-one, that she had imagined

[After last November's 99% non-fictional tale by Bertie, at least one the key element this time, involving a fictional tankard, is a product of my imagination, although regular readers of this blog will still recognise many strongly autobiographical elements. In choosing Colm Tóibín's 'Brooklyn' I found it impossible to escape the echoes of sadness and longing that permeate every sentence of this beautiful book]

The Missing Tankard 

It occurred to her after he died that her father's childhood had been blessed with happiness and love. It is a commonplace how in old age and dementia, the early years are not erased, and she took comfort from the thought that, when so much was lost, those fragments of memory still intact had the power to transport her father to a place of comfort and peace. 

Towards the end, those memories of childhood seemed most often to settle on his beloved older brother Alec. Alec was the steady, practical one. Kind too. At Alec's funeral it was said how he always looked for the good in people. He liked to make things. In a phase of experimenting with pottery, Alec had given her father one of his early efforts, a tankard with a simple picture of the old family home painted on the side. 

Her father treasured this tankard, alongside others he accumulated over the years. The collection sat in an orderly line, left to right, largest to smallest, on a shelf in the kitchen.

When the confusion wrought by the Alzheimers intensified, her father could often be found rummaging unsteadily in the kitchen, searching out Alec's tankard. Having located it, he would repair to his favourite seat (later any seat, when he had forgotten how to find the favourite one) and sit clutching the tankard, silently smiling, his now habitual restlessness momentarily quelled. 

*** *** ***

Her father had been dead a year. Her parents' home would shortly be sold, and she was staying there alone, sorting out the family possessions. One night, in her sleep, she heard a familiar footfall downstairs and abruptly she woke, thinking that's him, father, up in the night again, I must go down and check he's OK. And then she realised that it could not be him, that it was a dream, and she fell uneasily back to sleep.

Early next morning, she went downstairs to make a cup of tea and was startled to see that all the kitchen cupboards had been opened. The front and back doors were still locked and there was no sign of a break-in. In the other rooms she found nothing amiss. She went back to the kitchen and set about checking more thoroughly to see if anything had been taken.

And then she saw the gap in the shelf, and that Alec's tankard was missing.

And she would tell no-one how she had that morning imagined her father, finally resting in peace, clutching forever his memories of his brother and of happiness.


This is a blog hop. Click here to see the other stories.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Sunday 21 January 2018

Winter at Balmoral (no Corgis in sight)

Contrary to the impression given by calendars featuring the Scottish Highlands, it is rare indeed that our winter weather is conducive to the perfect outing in the mountains.

But just every once in a while, the weather gods permit that ideal combination of blue skies, no wind, enough snow to cover the ground but not too much to make walking difficult, and the right temperature so that the snow is in a pristine  powdery state (neither slushy nor icy). Such was the case this Saturday.

In general it is easy, on days when fine conditions prevail, to persuade Gail to seize the moment (especially when the alternative is shopping for a new oven). And so it was that we headed out first thing to Ballochbuie Forest on the Queen's Balmoral Estate, one of our all time favourite places.

Actually, Gail said something about needing to celebrate that civilisation had more or less survived a year of You Know Who as President...

We first stopped for a wee peek at Crathie Kirk,

but the doors were locked,

and so it was onwards for a four mile romp in the sparkling forest.

I thought we might see some corgis but apparently they are all soft southerners and prefer to stay at Windsor or Sandringham in January. I did encounter a bad tempered spaniel who nearly succeeded in taking a chunk out of my flappy little ear. I was so brave about it that Gail only realised when we returned home that I had sustained a very small cut.

On the topic of the Royal Family, I confess I am still holding out hope that I might be adopted by Harry and Meghan. They seem such a lovely couple. A few weeks ago, they even chose Nottingham for their first joint official visit. Such excellent taste! Although I am not aware they have been to Balmoral yet. I hope it is not politically incorrect to point out that my colouring (a mixture of black and white, with reddish furs on my head) would make me the perfect modern Royal Mascot for this particular duo?

PS Thank you for all your suggestions for boots to protect my sometimes sensitive paws. I'm afraid I live with a human who is indecisive about these matters so it will probably be summer before she has placed an order...

Thursday 18 January 2018

Feeling better already - thank you!

I guess it was all the kind messages you sent after my 'feeling very sorry for myself' post on Monday.

Anyway, I am pleased to report that my poorly paw is feeling loads better, so much so that yesterday afternoon I was able to enjoy an energetic romp around the 'Gramps' (a hilltop nature reserve on the nearby southern edge of Aberdeen, the name is a local abbreviation of Grampians and absolutely nothing to do with grandparents, you understand).

As you can see, we have been blessed with some winter sunshine here, although much of Scotland is covered in snow.

Gail says she is not sure what was going on with my paw. Initially the problem seemed to be a small cut on the underside, between the paw pads. This become infected and the vet gave me antibiotics and it all seemed to heal up nicely after a couple of days. But then a few days later, last weekend, the same paw become swollen and I was really uncomfortable and didn't want to walk at all. Gail feared one of the dreaded interdigital cysts was developing. Except perhaps it wasn't as by Tuesday I was feeling right as rain again. Paws crossed it stays that way - I had such a horrid time last winter with those evil cysts.

As a result of this latest podiatric hiccup, Gail and I have been wondering if any of our friends can recommend brands of protective boots which might help keep my precious and sensitive front paws out of trouble for the rest of this winter? As you know, I am an adventurous hiker and like to go out in all weathers, and so the boots would need to be quite rugged. (I do have a pair Trixie 'walker' shoes but they tend to slip down off my paws after I have walked a short distance and I don't really like wearing them). Oh and Gail says any boots would need to be easy to put on, which I think says more about her shortcomings than mine...

Monday 15 January 2018

Oh no not again

There once was a terrier called Bert,
Whose paw sometimes horribly hurt,
For months it was better,
But now I regret to
Announce that it's suddenly worse...
That poor little terrier Bert.

Thursday 11 January 2018

In which we explore the Cairngorm Snow Roads

I'm delighted to report that we had the most wonderful outing on Sunday. Such a good idea of Yam-Aunty’s to go exploring the newly designated ‘Snow Roads’ in the Cairngorms. (Although Gail wishes to point out that the roads are not new, and neither is the fact that they are snow prone. Fans of Jim Naughtie and BBC Radio 4 will already be familiar with hearing that the snow gates are closed on the notorious A939 Cockbridge to Tomintoul route).

I digress. What is sort of new is that art installations have been places at key locations along the roadside, adding extra spice to what are already spectacular viewpoints.

For quality images of these sculptures, and of the surrounding landscape, I refer you to the superior photography on our dear friend Yam’s blog, although we gather you will have to wait a few more days before the Snow Roads are featured there.

Long time readers know that science is my forte. Hitherto I have declined to venture into the precious world of art criticism.  Brian Sewell I am not. I would however like to point out a particular feature of ‘Still’* (a square sculpture with mirrored internal surfaces, located by a quarry just north of Tomintoul) - a feature which I suspect a more conventional art expert would have missed.

You might think nothing could be better than a picture of yours truly, looking adorable against the sparkling Cairngorm whiteness.

But you would be wrong.

Let me explain. Posing inside 'Still' allows you to see my fine jaunty tail and well-toned rear end, and the magnificent scenery in the background, not once but twice over in the same photo. A sort of artistic ‘buy one get one free’ deal!

Quite a result, I’m sure you’ll agree.

*Note we are in whisky country here, just a stone's throw from the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich distilleries, hence 'Still'?

Sunday 7 January 2018

Posing a problem?

Some of my friends will know that we have a very special visitor staying this weekend.

Gail and I took her to the seaside town of Stonehaven yesterday.

Gosh, when you have a distinguished photographer* like YAM-Aunty wielding the camera, but when it is Gail whose pocket contains the treats, it can be so hard to know who to pose for.

Life is full of these dilemmas...

*Among her many talents

Wednesday 3 January 2018

BBB is 'Tamed' by Alice Roberts?

Gail and I read a most fascinating and canine-relevant scientific book during our Christmas stay in Nottingham, so of course I, Bouncing Bertie Boffin (BBB for short) am bursting to tell you all about it!

'Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World' is by Alice Roberts, and it is all about how, when and where different plants and animals were domesticated.

I knew straight away I opened the book that Professor Roberts had her priorities in order when I saw that Chapter One concerned my very own species.

Before I tell you more about the dogs chapter, I want to remind you that nowadays archaeologists can combine and enrich their findings with results from ever more sophisticated techniques of DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating, and what was once a matter for speculation now rests on more solid foundations.

Did you ever hear about Razbo, whose skull was found in 2011 in Razboinichya Cave, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia? It seems that, at c.33,000 years old he might just be the most ancient dog yet discovered.

Now there has been a fair bit of controversy concerning Razbo. The problem is that, when only a skull is available, key indicators of 'dogginess', such as the tendency to tilt one's head endearingly in order to extract another expensively tasty shop-bought treat from one's human, cannot be verified. What we do know is that Razbo had a snout that was short and broad - a feature typical of us domesticated types. However, the structure of Razbo's jaw is rather more wolf-like than anything one might encounter at Crufts. Anyway, it is now the settled view of the experts (at least until someone comes along and does another study - such is science) that Razbo was indeed a dog, who pre-dated the last Ice Age and lived companionably alongside a community of hunter gatherers, well before anyone thought of settling down to farming and all that Neolithic carry-on.

What else does Professor Roberts have to say? Well it seems that in the process of dog domestication, selection has acted in favour of the ASIP gene (Agouti Signalling Protein, since you asked). This gene acts to diminish aggression and it also encodes a protein involved in mediating pigment production. So a gene which modifies behaviour can come with the unexpected side effect of altering appearance. Which helps explain why you get affable, multi-coloured pups like me, all in one simply adorable package!

Oh and one more thing. Do you ever eat cereals, rice or potatoes? I confess I do sometimes. I now know that I can digest these foods because, unlike wolves, I possess multiple copies of the gene for producing amylase, the enzyme for digesting starch. What's even more interesting, I think, is  that modern dog breeds vary in their exact number of copies of the amylase gene, and the breeds who have the most amylase genes tend to be descendants of dogs from parts of the world where a lot of cereal was eaten.

(On the subject of diet, I am thinking it a pity that dog domestication did not originate in a cocoa growing part of the world, where selection pressure would act in favour of genes for chocolate tolerance. Just a festive flight of fancy....)

Anyway, Gail says I have rambled on for long enough.

Prof. Alice Roberts and friend
Gosh I just want to say finally that all the other chapters in 'Tamed' are very interesting too, even though they are not about dogs. Yes, really!