Monday, 29 March 2010

Identity crisis looming.....

Bonnie hit the nail on the head (see comment on my previous post from Scraps of Me).

This sharp-witted little Scottie pointed out that a wire-haired fox terrier is just a bit....ummm.... Sassenach. English that is. Not a Scottish terrier at all.

Well we are wading into deep and murky waters here, truly.

With Hamish there was no question. The breed, the birthplace, the permanent home, the names. Even his official (and wholly appropriate) name, 'Independent Laddie'. No taint of the soft southerner there.

As for his owner. Meaning me. Now I've lived in Scotland for more than eleven years, I work here, all the property I own lies North of the border, I have degrees from the University of Aberdeen. An ancestor who came from St Monans, Fife, bequeathed me my Scottish surname. My complexion is pale and a bit freckly. I look like I fit in.....

Until, that is, I open my mouth. Pure and unmodified BBC English vowel sounds are what you hear. The 'r' in Bertie will not be rolled. The 't' will be sounded crisp and clear.

Need we worry that young Bertie will suffer from an identity crisis? When England play Scotland at football or rugby, which team will the new pup be cheering on? An English terrier born to a Scottish family in NE Scotland. With a Scottish (Gaelic even) names on his official papers, but in everyday life going by the rather English-sounding 'Bertie'. Soon to be living in Aberdeen with an Englishwoman.

Will he bark in Doric? Or will the other dogs in the park laugh at his affected English tones?

All this is for the future. I am reminded of a time eight years ago when Hamish and I met up with some English friends for short break staying in a cottage near Ben Nevis. The football World Cup was in progress. My godson Ben, then eleven years old, had the previous week apparently painted a red cross on his ash blond hair to signal his support for the England team. This was at his home near London. England were scheduled to play again (I think it was Sweden?) during our little holiday. Ben was ready with the red dye, but his mother and father sensibly persuaded him that the St George's cross hairdo would not be considered a good look in the Scottish Highlands...

Undeterred, Ben looked over towards my fluffy white Westie and piped up "I know Gail, we can paint Hamish instead!'

I am sure that you know me well enough by now to guess that I did not permit my dear wee Scottish laddie to be subjected to this gross indignity..

Friday, 26 March 2010

Bertie's 'posh' name

There is a theory occasionally put forward by lovers of the Scottish Highlands (that includes me), that the terrible weather and the midges are our best friends.

Incredible but true.

Europe is a crowded part of the world. The landscapes are diverse, often beautiful. But in many areas that natural splendour has been ruined because too many people want a piece of it. We are so lucky that, here in Scotland, the magnificent, dramatic mountain scenery has largely escaped the over-development which scars so many of the continent's most attractive regions.

[Don't worry dog lovers, we are going to come on to Bertie in a moment...]

If NW Scotland had a climate like the Mediterranean, and someone ever found a means to magic away the swarms of little biting insects who time their activity so perfectly to coincide with the summer holiday season, then who knows how many hotels, holiday apartments, shopping malls, car parks etc. etc. would blemish the near pristine environment.

Yes, we owe those midgies and the plentiful rain a huge debt of gratitude....


If you read my last post, you'll already have seen pictures of Bertie, the darling wire-haired fox terrier puppy who will, from next month onwards, be sharing my life.

'Bertie' will be his everyday name, but he will have a 'posh' Kennel Club name too. The first bit of his official identity will be, as is customary, that of his home kennels (Granddach - Gaelic for the family name Grant). I get to choose two more names. How to decide?

When dear old Hamish was in his pomp he just loved roaming around the vast empty spaces of Northern Scotland and scampering up our rugged hills.

His special favourite was the Munro* situated at the back of my cottage on Loch Torridon. It's called Beinn Alligin, thought to mean the Jewelled Mountain or Mountain of Beauty.

People were always amazed that a short-legged wee chappie like Hamish would make it all the way to the top, but here's the proof:

Bertie will, I hope, be enjoying many trips with me over to Torridon in the coming years. I am so looking forward, when he is fully grown and his legs are strong enough, to wandering around in the hills and glens with him, the two of us together exploring our stunning landscape. One day, for sure, we shall follow in the footsteps of my much missed Westie, and 'Granddach Beinn Alligin' (a.k.a. Bertie) will also have a chance to admire the awesome view from the summit of his eponymous Munro.

Weather permitting of course..........

*All Scottish peaks over 3000 ft high are called Munros - there are 284 in total.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Just bursting to tell you!

This 'between dogs' thing is going to be short lived......

If you read to the end of my previous post, you'll know that I went to see some wire haired fox terrier puppies at the weekend.


At four and a bit weeks old, they were JUST GORGEOUS!

One wee chappie in particular stole my heart:

And from another angle:

I saw the mum and dad too. Here are the pups with mum, who seems very sweet natured.

Home is a family run kennels, and all the puppies are already used to being handled by the owners' five young children. I'm no expert on dog breeding, but everything I saw indicated that this is a 'good home', not just someone out to make a quick buck. If you're interested, click here for their website.

Well I left the kennels with my friend Marie-Therese, pretending I hadn't made up my mind. We then spent the fifty minute drive back to Aberdeen discussing a suitable name. A phone call shortly after I arrived back home sealed the deal.

In one month's time, I shall be driving north again to pick up.........


So. A new challenge, my first ever puppy. (Hamish was nearly four years old when I adopted him).

I'm very excited and a tiny wee bit nervous. Your advice will be most welcome!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Short pup?

Ten years ago, I proudly showed a photograph of Hamish to Doris, my much loved and more than slightly opinionated godmother in Switzerland. I can still hear her reply.

"Well Gail, he seems very nice. A pity that his legs are so short".

To be fair to Doris, she was not the only person to raise an eyebrow or two at my choice of dog.

The general thinking is that dogs and their humans should resemble each other. Hamish, like all Westies, was self-evidently cute, fluffy and cuddly. Three adjectives never, to my knowledge, applied to his owner.

Several friends suggested that, given my love of the outdoors, hill-walking, cycling etc, a collie, a springer spaniel or a retriever might have been a more obvious choice.

Well Hamish, my first ever dog, was of course just perfect, even if I did later come to realise that his legs were a tad shorter than even the average for a Westie. In character, we were in so many ways compatible, both being stubborn, independent minded and reluctant to obey orders to no apparent purpose!

Now I am thinking about a new dog, and leg length will again not be the main criterion, although in Scotland, if you like walking in the hills, an ability to bound through the heather is admittedly an advantage. I tell myself I am open-minded about the breed, but still find myself drawn to the terrier family. Something about that wilful personality. I don't think I will have another Westie, it would be hard to avoid making comparisons to Hamish all the time.

So tomorrow I am off to look at some wire haired fox terrier puppies......

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Would Darwin's Dog Have Blogged?

"I never knew such a methodical dog. She sits on the mat when we go to lunch, to wait for her dinner, and on the rug in the chair by the stove when we go into dinner."

These words struck a chord with me because, gender apart, they could have been written about my dear wee Hamish, who was also much very much a creature of habit. In fact, the description comes from a letter written around 1880 by Emma Darwin, the wife of Charles Darwin, and they refer to Polly, the family terrier.

Charles Darwin died on 18th April 1882. Polly survived her master by only a few days. Darwin is reported* to have been "terribly fond of Polly and taught her to catch biscuits off her nose, and she sat with him patiently while he spent quiet hours working in his study".

Few great scientists come over as such likable human beings as Charles Darwin. Not only was he a devoted and loving father to his ten children, but throughout his life, he owned and adored a series of dogs. Spark, a nine year old black and white mongrel, provided solace to the nine year old Charles after the boy's mother died, and from then onwards Darwin's correspondence was peppered with references to his beloved pets, full of tenderness and amusement at their antics, and news of any accidents they suffered was reported with the same importance as a family wedding or a new baby. Had he been born two centuries later, who knows, might there even have been a Darwin's Dog Blog??

Back to Polly, the final and favourite dog. Here's what Francis Darwin had to say in a memoir about his father:

"He was delightful and tender to Polly, and never showed any impatience at the attentions she required, such as to be let in at the door, or out at the verandah window to bark at "naughty people", a self-imposed duty she much enjoyed".

The loving bond Darwin's evidently enjoyed with 'man's best friend' surely strengthened his belief that there was no shame in the notion of humans and animals sharing a common ancestry.

Dog lovers, we are in good company!

* from the book 'Darwin's Dogs: How Darwin's pets helped form a world-changing theory of evolution', by Emma Townshend.

Friday, 12 March 2010

On owning a dog

Hamish was the first dog I ever 'owned'. (Of course, in the end, he owned me, but that's a story for another day).

He was the fulfillment of a thirty-five year long fantasy. As a child in the 1960s, I wasn't allowed a dog, for all the usual city dweller reasons. Then came university, a move to London, an upstairs flat, all the business of establishing a career, periods working abroad, scarcely time even for a goldfish.

Flash forwards to 1999. I am forty years old, recently moved to Aberdeen, the owner of a house with a pleasant and enclosed back garden, the office less than a mile away, friendly neighbours, a park just down the road.

And still wanting a dog.

So it was that Hamish came into my life, a 3 year old Westie, advertised in the Press and Journal by a farmer from somewhere near Fraserburgh. I never did quite get the story straight about why the old man wanted rid of Hamish. Have you ever succeeded in understanding a farmer from 'The Broch'? Thought not. (If you're not familiar with the local dialect, have a listen to the Doric call centre)....

It's rare in life for the reality to improve on the fanstasy, but that's just how it was with Hamish.

The last year and a half of his life was chronicled in my previous blog Hamish the Westie.

A much loved pet is of course irreplaceable. Before he died last month I had imagined that it would be hard, ever, to even contemplate another dog.

How wrong I was. Because it's not just Hamish I miss. It's those chats with neighbours whilst a lamppost is being marked. The fascination of observing a fellow creature whose thought processes are at once so similar and so different from our own. The comforting routine of the daily walk, come rain or shine. The warm soft back to stroke at times of stress.

Over the past few months, and realising deep down that Hamish would not be with me much longer, I tried to tell myself how much easier things would be without a dog. I could go travelling, guilt free! I could stay out late! I could visit places where you couldn't easily take a dog! I could spend all the extra money that previously went to the vet!

But now those new found 'freedoms' hold little appeal.

Nothing feels like it could be half so much fun as owning another dog.