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The Hidden Gardens Dog Show

3 Jul

This is Tallulah the Irish Wolfhound, who is seven months old and the size of a small horse. I met her while I was staying with my Internet friend Lemongrass, who lives in a converted church in a village that seems too quaint to exist outside of a novel.

The cobbled high street was closed for its annual Hidden Gardens Fayre. It was lined with stalls offering bric-a-brac, fairground games and baked goods for charity. A brass band marched between the puddles. The villagers had opened their gardens to the public, and among their herbaceous borders and goldfish ponds were ballet dancers, jazz musicians, jugglers, and trestles overflowing with strawberries and cream.  Brollies opened and closed  against the vagaries of the English Summer.

This homeopathically-proportioned dachshund is called Darla. It’s that sort of village: all the dogs have posh names.

Tallulah and Darla were on their way to the village dog show. Having never attended a dog show before, I followed them with some excitement. My first impression was of chaos. This couple below spent the whole event untangling their four dogs from everyone else’s, while their Jack Russell barked hysterically at the world at large.

Inside the show-ring, these dogs were the most well-behaved. They won several rosettes, and the collie on the right won Best in Show. The blue marl collie under the man’s legs competed against Tallulah and Darla for Best Pedigree, and won.

I loved that the show’s judging categories allowed for non-pedigrees too. Even the oldest, most fleabitten family mutt had his opportunity to shine. The category for Best Mongrel was called “Best Mixed-Breed”, because we don’t say the M-word, not in this village.

A proud day for the Best-Groomed Dog

Second Best Senior Dog

Contestant for Fastest Sitter

All contenders for Best Trick were told to “sit!”

My favourite competition was for Fastest Biscuit-Eater. Here they are lining up for their biscuit-eating race. The biscuits were laid down in lines leading away from each dog. I thought Tallulah would be a fast worker because of her size; on the other hand, Darla was closer to the ground and thus to the biscuits, which had sunk into the grass and were hard to see.

“Ready – get set – GO!”

There was a surge of total confusion. Most of the dogs did not know what the hell was going on, but got excited anyway. Some noticed the biscuits, though not necessarily their own biscuits, and ate them. Tallulah gallumphed to the far end of her line and ate her last biscuit. She was getting away from all the little yappy dogs, because, as her owner explained to me, a chihuahua had once verbally abused her. Darla wanted to be picked up because there were too many Irish wolfhounds around for her liking, so her human had to patiently pick up each biscuit and place it in Darla’s mouth.

It wasn’t clear who won this contest, but we can rest assured that all the biscuits got eaten by the end.


On the Internet, Everybody Knows You’re a Dog

16 Jun

With my first-year exams over, I am on holiday for the next three months. I’ve decided to use this time to find out if some of my Virtual Friends really exist. One of them is a dog called Shadow. (Another is a spider called Dicey, but he lives in Australia, which is a bit of a hike.)


Shadow lives in England, and I follow him on a site called Plurk. The wide-ranging topics of his one-liners has earned him the nickname “the philosidoggy”. His wisdom brings us gems such as: “It’s been a funny old day in a funny old life in a funny old world. What a lark, eh?” – Or else:  “I just went wild & threw myself at the window”.

He likes to perforate mail and bound around the garden and steal tomatoes and sniff other dogs’ bums. I felt as though I’d got to know him pretty well online, but obviously, being a dog, he couldn’t possibly have known anything about me. Still, he’s a charmer and I wanted to meet him in person. So, on Tuesday, I did.

He greeted me at the door with a polite bounce, as though he had seen me just yesterday. He gave me a moment to introduce myself to his human Raj, then led me through to meet his other human Andavane. His human family were very obliging – they too are Virtual Friends of mine, and it turns out they are perfectly real as well. My hand didn’t go through them when I touched them, or anything.

Once the introductions were out of the way, Shadow presented me with a blue teddy. He tugged at the other end for several minutes, growling in an obliging tone of voice.


The family had already eaten, but Raj fed me a delicious pilaf anyway, and Shadow lay near me, like a true host, until I had finished. Then he led me through to the bedroom and scrambled onto Andavane’s bed. I followed suit, and we spent the afternoon lolling around until it was time for me to go.


First Tick of the Season

13 May

Probably the only tick of the season. The last one I saw in Scotland was about four years ago, under embarrassing circumstances. My new boyfriend Bunty had taken me into the bonny Highlands to meet his mother, who lives in a beautiful wilderness, with numerous animals running freely around her cottage. She is generally in tune with nature. I was keen to impress her.

Her dog Pipkin liked me, which was a good start. I found a tick on Pipkin’s neck, and proudly identified it.

“A tick!” I said.

Bunty’s mother remarked that she has great trouble removing ticks, because it’s so hard to do without leaving the head in, which then gets infected.

“Ah!” I said. “I’m great at removing ticks.”

I told her about the pack of feral dogs I ran around with as a child in Greece, and about the enormous juicy ticks they would pick up from the marsh grass. I said I’d learned a foolproof technique from the locals for removing them, and I was well-practised. You twist it slowly clockwise, then quickly anticlockwise with an upward yank, and presto!

“I’ll remove it for you,” I declared, and before Bunty’s mother could stop me, I had grasped it and twisted its head off.

There was a long, difficult silence. Bunty’s mother was none too pleased. The subject of ticks has not been raised between us since. Unlike me, Pipkin survived her tick ordeal without any trauma at all.

This year’s tick was on the neck of our rabbit Broccles. It attached itself a few days ago, but after the Pipkin incident, I was leery of applying the Foolproof Technique. I googled for alternative Foolproof Techniques, and found an implement called a Tick Twister, which is allegedly the most Foolproof of tick devices out there. It arrived in the post today.

The trick is to slide the prongs under the tick, each side of its head, and then keep twisting till it lets go. This tick had got so fat on Broccles’s blood that I could barely wedge the thing under it, but in the end it was jammed in and I twisted the handle. Out came the tick, head and all – bish, bash, bosh. Tick Twister 1, Foolproof Technique 0. Broccles did a little frolic.

I have an exam in two days. It could be argued that I should be studying instead of writing blog entries about ticks. Then again, it could be argued that this counts as revision,* since my exam is on animal physiology, and I will need to use my knowledge of ticks in it. Here are some things I will need to know.

  • A tick has turquoise blood. Red blood takes its colour from the iron used to transport oxygen, but a tick’s blood uses copper, and so its blood is turquoise.
  • A tick has no veins in its body – instead, the turquoise blood washes freely around its organs. Even so, it possesses a heart.
  • A tick breathes through holes in its sides. The air passes through structures like bound pages, called book lungs. Covering a tick with Vaseline, as some people do, kills it very slowly by suffocation.
  • When a tick dies, the extensor muscles within its exoskeleton relax: it hugs itself.

I didn’t want to feel responsible for the tick’s death. Nor did I want it crawling back over the garden wall to attach itself to our pets again. To resolve this dilemma, I carried it into the field across the main road and released it among the grasses, where it hunkered down among the roots to digest its meal. There’s no way it will cross that road. It’s foolproof.

*Revision – UK term for exam preparation.