This is a story about one of the islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. But more than that it is an opportunity to share with you all a video that my son, Alex, and his partner, Lisa, took on a recent trip to that part of the world.
The Isle of Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute. Mull is the fourth largest Scottish island and has an area of 338 square miles. The coastline of Mull is almost 300 miles long. The population of Mull, Iona and Ulva is around 1,800 people which is probably doubled in the summer because of the many tourists that visit Mull each year. Much of the population lives in Tobermory, the only burgh on Mull until 1973, and its capital. Mull is surrounded by the Sound of Mull in the north, the Firth of Lorn in the south and east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
History of Mull
Mull has been inhabited since around 6000 BC. Bronze Age inhabitants built menhirs, brochs and a stone circle. In the 14th century Mull became part of the Lordship of the Isles. After the collapse of the Lordship in 1493 the island was taken over by the clan MacLean, and in 1681 by the clan Campbell. During the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, the population fell from 10,000 to less than 4000.
Wildlife on Mull
The island is home to over 250 different bird species including the White-tailed Eagle, which was reintroduced in the nearby Island of Rùm and migrated to Mull, where they now have a stronghold. Minke whales, porpoises and dolphins are among the sea life that can be seen on boat tours from Mull.
Now here is the video.
It is a beautiful review of what must be a magical place!
Many years ago I found myself teaching at a unit attached to Exeter University. I was teaching sales and marketing. I can’t remember clearly the events that produced the meeting between myself and Chris Snuggs. But I recall the outcome.
Chris was the director of studies at a French institute named ISUGA. Let me borrow from their website:
The ISUGA Europe-Asia International BBA Bachelor’s degree is a 4-year cursus following the Baccalaureate or High School diploma which combines studying International Business and Marketing with learning an Asian or English language and comprising university exchange stays, as well as internships in French and International businesses.
ISUGA is located in Quimper, Western Brittany relatively close to Devon in England where I was living.
In Chris’ words: “It must have been through them that we got your name when we needed someone to teach Selling. Now I come to think of it, we HAD someone lined up for a whole week and he CANCELLED on us, so you were a last-minute replacement.”
For quite a few years I went across to Quimper to teach for Chris. Mainly by ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff. During the summer months I flew to Quimper from Exeter in our group-owned TB20. (The picture below is of the type only not our aircraft.)
Since that day we have remained in reasonable contact and I regard Chris as good friend.
A few days ago Chris published on his blog his account of his journey from Quimper back to Ramsgate, in east Kent. It was hilarious and I asked Chris if I could publish it and share with everyone.
Chris not only said yes but insisted on improving it (his words) including expanding it to what it is below.
So with no further ado, here is Chris’ post.
“A DOG’s Travel Across Northern France” … as in “Doddering Old Git”
I am officially a “Senior Citizen”, but as such prefer much of what passes for “The Good Old Days” when in this case we were called “Old Age Pensioners” – MUCH less PC and wokeish AND more realistic – but DOGS sounds much better (and more informative) than OAPs.
A simple trip to Blighty to see the family for XMAS was not supposed to be a saga, but it turned out to be one:
Like ET, I was going home, though not quite as far – though it probably seemed like it.
I got about 3 hours sleep max Thursday night/Friday morning; worried about oversleeping even though I had THREE electronic wake-up devices.
I got up at 04:30 to finalize packing and clean up (the worst of) my mess.
I went out into the street in front of the house at 06:45 to await the taxi – it was raining, albeit not heavily.
The taxi was 5 minutes late, but the driver didn’t apologize. (I was going to say “woman driver” but I believe that sex differentiation is no longer allowed.)
I tried to help her (it, hir, shim?) load my heavy suitcase into *** boot (car, not footwear).
I lightly touched the car with the suitcase, and shim said: “Mind my car. Your suitcase is too heavy.”
I nearly said: “So are you, but it’s probably your hormones or your genes.” but decided that discretion was the better part of insult as I had to catch a train ……
We got to the station in plenty of time, only for me then to find that the train was due to go from platform C (usually it’s A as you leave the entrance hall).
I then found out/remembered that there is no lift at Quimper station. “This is not going to be my day,” I thought …
As I approached the stairs down to the access tunnel, I pretended to be a Doddery Old Git on the point of collapse (no comments please) and a nice young man helped me with the case.
Same procedure with a different bloke to go up to platform C. I actually tried this ploy with a pretty young lady first, but just got a funny look ….
Eventually got onto the right and very crowded train; my “This is not a gasmask” COVID mask was very reassuring as the virus probably had a field day circulating the carriage. I got some more funny looks, but two people asked me where I got my mask, so I am thinking of merchandising them ….
Got to Paris 4 hours later – showed a railway worker my little map where the taxi was supposed to be waiting and he pointed me in direction X saying authoritatively: “Tout au bout.” (“right at the end” for those who left school at 14).
Seemed a bit iffy to me (I vaguely remembered having gone somewhere else the last time I had done the journey, but couldn’t remember where. Does that happen to you?), but I followed his directions in the obviously-idiotic belief that someone actually working in a place would know where the taxis would be.
Of course, there was no sign of a taxi area at the distant far end of the HUGE Montparnasse Station, so I asked another railway bod.
He pointed in the 180° opposite direction and said the same as the first bloke, so I had to retrace my steps and go another 200 metres past where I had started to one of the no doubt multiple exits.
On exiting I was surrounded by some Middle Eastern gentlemen (without beards as it happens) who were desperate to take me somewhere.
I told them I had booked a taxi already and they suddenly lost interest.
I then got a call on my posh new mobile, but as with every other mobile I have ever owned it is specifically designed so that one cannot easily answer a call – first there is always some other leftover screen on the thing which by the time you have got rid of the caller has given up, and second you have to SWIPE to even see a green button which you then press – and I don’t know who invented SWIPE but hanging, drawing and quartering while being burned alive in oil over a period of several hours would be a suitable punishment.
This was all way beyond me, so I missed the call.
Miraculously, however, I did manage to call back and it was in fact the driver.
After two or three calls in each direction we managed to find each other physically as well as phonally.
We set off for La Gare du Nord, which should be about 15 minutes max by road – but it took us an hour and a quarter … (This was Paris in the rain on Friday at lunchtime – but I did learn a few new French swearwords from the driver.)
Fortunately, I had plenty of time between trains and so managed to find and embark on my TER to Calais.
This was an uneventful trip except that I was opposite a young mother with an inquisitive baby who kept looking at me for some reason (the baby not the woman ….).
I thought about playing with the baby but did not want to be arrested as a paedophile. I did plonk a small orange on the little table between us thinking she might want to play with it, but I got a funny look from her mother …. so I picked it up (the orange not the baby) and ate it – getting more funny looks. Strange … I get that all the time.
There was no internet on the TER so I tried to doze, but dozing with a high-decibel baby one metre away is a skill I have not yet mastered – and probably never will.
Arrived at Calais station – it took me 10 minutes to find the lift to get to the exit: in fact, one has to be led across an actual line by a railway bod and then take the lift – which is conveniently hidden.
But once outside the station I got a taxi right away. (a rare plus chalked up!)
I was dropped at the port outside a little hut marked “Billets”: (“tickets” for the linguistically-challenged).
This was weird – there used to be a big hall full of foot-passengers, but it has all changed – there IS a big hall, but it is empty except for two WWI biplanes. “Perhaps they want to fly us over?” I thought.
Went into the ticket office to be told my boat was cancelled (no explanation was offered) and they would try to get me on the next one. I never did understand why they would “try” (there was hardly anyone else there), but it seems they had to wait for a phone call.
It was a very small cabin with four guichets (Would you like a French dictionary for XMAS?) and three simple chairs, on one of which – after having my particulars scrutinized and recorded – I was invited to sit – which I did, not sure whether I should show appreciation or keep going with the scowl I could feel coming on ….
Behind the desks several women came and went, but spent all the time yacking to one another about women stuff while three of us sat waiting in stony and in my case exhausted silence (it was by now 18:00 and I had been up since 04:30).
I eventually got up and complained, something that comes naturally to we DOGs. I said I did not understand the delay, that I needed a coffee and a toilet break and that the least they could do was install some beds in their little office for those in my situation (and condition) who had to wait overnight for information about getting on a replacement ferry. I wanted to add a question about whether they had been trained in defibrillation techniques but by then I had run out of breath.
The charming young lady smiled and said they had none of the things that might alleviate my stress (adding the word “understandable” would have been nice) but that the large hall opposite might be open, and if not she could lend me a key to open it and visit the convenience.
I couldn’t be bothered to try to work out why she wouldn’t know whether the hall was open or not and that what I in fact most urgently needed was to get out of there without bothering with keys I would probably lose – which I did.
I then walked round the large hall three or four times admiring the WWI planes and wondering if the Red Baron had ever flown one of them. The fresh air and exercise refill renewed the oxygen supply to my needy brain.
I eventually staggered back to the ticket office and sat down on my hard chair again. I was tempted to feign a loud snore but as with the taxi driver in the morning decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
15 minutes later a phone call came and I was summoned to the guichet and given my ticket.
“Great,” I thought. “At last we can get outta here.”
THEN she told us that in 40 minutes someone would come to drive us to the boat.
I was fast losing the will to live, but thought that another dose of circling the large airplane hall might at least get my blood circulating again.
I told her where I was going and mentioned the hall and the planes (to be fair she did laugh at my joke about flying us across the Channel), but said: “That’s all run by the Chamber of Commerce.”, and of course we all know that no lunacy is beyond THAT organization.
I left after asking if she could send out a rescue party if I did not return – and she smiled again …. Smiles don’t of course achieve anything practical but they do at least make the pain somewhat more tolerable.
I came back half an hour later, having admired the bi-planes once again and wondered whether the Red Baron had ever flown one – and indeed a lady driver soon turned up as predicted to drive us to the boat. (another rare plus chalked up …)
We had to go up and down two or three kerbs (nowhere lowered for people to wheel their too-heavy suitcases) and eventually got onto a bus.
Had to go up a multiply-zig-zagged ramp to get onto the boat, but I played the Doddery Old Git card again and someone helped with my case.
I had thought of taking my walking-stick on this trip to boost the DOG sympathy factor, but could not work out how I could possibly carry it simultaneously with the rest of my baggage.
I asked a boatbod what time we would be leaving and then arrive in Dover, and he said: “in 15 minutes and 20:00.”
40 minutes later we still had not left, so I asked someone else when we would be leaving and was told in 15 minutes.
We actually left 30 minutes later, and I decided that being 100% wrong in a prediction was not actually that bad as these things go.
When I asked yet anOTHER bod WHY there had been another delay he just rolled his eyes and said something about the Captain which I didn’t understand – but was past caring.
Ten minutes later I asked the next available bod what time we would arrive in Dover and was told 20:30.
This was well past the time my taxi was booked, so I called to inform Eddy, the driver.
Fortunately, making calls on mobiles is easier than receiving them, so that was OK.
On the boat I got talking to a foot-passenger couple (there were only EIGHT of us!).
They were very nice and I gave them Taxi Supremo Andy’s phone number as they had nothing arranged for their arrival.
When we eventually got to Dover, there were no more checks (even though they made us walk through a maze of corridors in the totally empty border-control and customs instead of going straight to the taxi area – maybe they were filming us secretly?) and we eventually got to where I hoped to find Eddy the Driver.
However, there are huge roadworks going on just inside the port entrance and all the usual roads are blocked off and/or rerouted.
There was of course no sign of Eddy – OR any other taxis. Foot-passengers have a VERY low priority …..
Grateful for my phone once again, I called Eddy who said he was ALREADY in the port but had got lost.
Taxi-drivers getting lost is a bit ominous, so I assumed he was even more of a DOG than I am. Still, we DOGs have to stick together …..
I told him where we were ….. right near the entrance just past the roundabout at the bottom of the long clifftop descent to the port. For those who know Dover this is the easiest part of the entire port (or indeed of England) to find …..
Three exchanged calls later we finally met up physically as well as phonally – which was a reminder of Paris. In future, I am going to fix a GPS signal to myself and ensure my driver has military-standard tracking equipment. Perhaps Nathalie can arrange that?
Eddy was as suspected a bit of a DOG – but like me, very nice …… I asked if he could drop off my friends from the boat at Dover railway station before taking me back to Ramsgate – which he agreed to.
So we took them up the road to the station, where they unloaded their stuff from the boot.
I did think about getting out to check they didn’t take any of my four bits of luggage, but I was very tired and also thought that it would be impossible to confuse the grotty things I was carrying with any of their posh stuff from Parisian shops.
They gave Eddy an extra £8 for the slight detour. As I said they were very nice even if the lady’s perception and memory banks were highly undeveloped.
We then at last set off for Ramsgate, but Eddy took a wrong turn and we ended up driving towards Canterbury.
It takes a really advanced stage of dodderation to get lost driving from Dover to Ramsgate, so I will be contacting “The Guinness Book of Records”.
I decided against advising Eddy to do a U-turn in the pitch dark, and after driving four miles up a dual-carriageway we eventually got to a roundabout, retraced our wheels and made our way back to Dover.
Miraculously finding the right road to Ramsgate this time, we set off on the last lap. By now I was desperately hanging onto life by a thread.
Halfway to Ramsgate Eddy got a call from Taxiboss Andy’s Missus:
“The couple you dropped off at the station just rang; it seems they have got a package belonging to one of the other passengers.” ME! NO, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP …..
…. but they were nice people and apparently said they would wait at the station for us to come and pick up the bag.
I tried to keep calm, but remembered Einstein’s famous dictum. (SEE BELOW)
We stopped to check the boot and I saw that they had taken a plastic bag with two boxes of wine for my sister Maggie and another box of boiled eggs and fishsticks essential for my diet.
I asked Eddy if he minded going back, and he agreed to instantly – even without being promised any more dosh.
So back we went to the station, picked up the bag and Eddy collected another £10 for his trouble. (As I said, nice people …)
Off we set for Ramsgate again, and this time Eddy did not get lost ……. even we DOGs are capable of learning.
I eventually got to Ramsgate around 22:30 instead of the anticipated 20:00 – and of course I felt obliged to give Eddy a generous tip even though he DID get lost twice. Actually, everything in France had gone pretty smoothly as planned; it only went really tits-up when we got to Dover. I of course blame BREXIT ……
How was your day?
PS No insult to real dogs is intended in this account. As we know, if the world were ruled by dogs we would all be safer and happier, though the absence of tv and the internet would be a shame.
PPS I was fortunate to be able to employ Paul for brief periods over a number of years to teach business students about Selling and Marketing during my time as Director of Studies of a business school in France. His teaching was highly impressive, but even more so his habit of flying his own plane to Quimper. In this and many other ways he was and remains unique. As I told the students: “Listen to Paul’s advice and one day you will fly your own plane.”
With a difference in that the guest author is my son, Alex. Recently Alex and his partner, Lisa, went on a trip to the Isle of Mull. But I will let Alex continue in his own words after I have explained a little more about the island. And where better to start than with the opening paragraphs of an article on the Isle of Mull from Wikipedia.
The island’s 2020 population was estimated at 3,000. In the 2011 census, the usual resident population was 2,800. In 2001, it was 2,667. (In the summer, these numbers are augmented by an influx of many tourists.) Much of the year-round population lives in colourful Tobermory, the island’s capital, and, until 1973, its only burgh.
There are two distilleries on the island: the Tobermory distillery (formerly called Ledaig), which is Mull’s only producer of single malt Scotch whisky; and another one located in the vicinity of Tiroran, which produces Whitetail Gin (having opened in 2019, it was the island’s first new distillery in 220 years). The isle is host to numerous sports competitions, notably the annual Highland Games competition, which is held in July. It also has at least four castles, including the towering keep of Moy Castle. A much older stone circle lies beside Lochbuie, on the south coast.
This is now from Alex:
We decided to go to the Isle of Mull after reading about the amazing wildlife it has to offer. It’s famous for its white tailed eagles, which are the largest eagle in the U.K. and fourth largest in the world, with an average wingspan of 7-8ft and a perched height of 1m. After securing a place on a Mullcharters.com eagle photography boat trip, we waited with excitement as the boat left the small harbour at Ulva ferry in force 5 winds and intermittent rain showers, cruising out of the harbour, we where very lucky to spot an Otter swimming along.
On reaching Loch Na Keal, we where told to keep an eye out for an eagle approaching, they apparently recognise the boat from around 1-2 miles away and know that it offers them an opportunity to get some free fish! It wasn’t long before looming out of the distance, a white tailed eagle appeared and started circling the boat, one of the boats crew told us he was going to throw a fish out and exactly where he was throwing it, so we could aim our cameras in that direction, we where treated to the amazing spectacle of an adult white tailed eagle swooping down to collect its fish, which was about 20-30ft away. This enabled us to get some excellent pictures of the eagle picking up its fish on numerous occasions, we saw at least six different birds on the trip and at one point had two pairs of eagles overhead the boat. Even with the challenging conditions, we all managed to get some excellent photos, it’s just a shame we didn’t get any sun to really show the eagles colours off.
To round off these wonderful photographs, here are two of an otter. They are notoriously difficult to photograph.
What a wonderful journey for Alex and Lisa. The camera was a Panasonic Lumix G85 with Leica 100-400 lens.
Again, Jess and Cheryl sent me this YouTube link. It has the subtitles coming up because I won’t subscribe to whatever service is being promoted. But it doesn’t detract from the pleasure of this video.
I have been trying to tidy up my office these last few days and came across a tribute that I wrote for Pharaoh in 2007. I flew out to California in June, 2007 and stayed with Dan Gomez and, quite by chance, Suzanne, Dan’s sister, called by and invited me to stay with her and her husband, Don, in Mexico. I flew from Los Angeles to Hermosillo on the 14th December, 2007. That was where Jean and I met for the first time!
June 3rd, 2003 – June 19th, 2017
I am your dog and have something I would love to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead very busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise, some have to do this alone. It always seems like you are running here and there, often too fast, never noticing the truly grand things in life.
Look down at me now. While you sit at your computer. See the way my dark, brown eyes look at yours.
You smile at me. I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a single moment of your time? That is all I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me.
So many times you are saddened by others of my kind passing on. Sometimes we die young and, oh, so quickly, so suddenly that it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes we age slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract-clouded eyes. Still the love is always there even when we must take that last long sleep dreaming of running free in a distant, open land.
I may not be here tomorrow. I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes that humans have when grief fills their souls and you will mourn the loss of just one more day with me. Because I love you so, this future sorrow even now touches my spirit and grieves me. I read you in so many ways that you cannot even start to contemplate.
We have now together. So come and sit next to me here on the floor and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? Do you see how if you look deeply at me as we talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come not to me as my owner but as a living soul. Stroke my fur and let us look deep into the other’s eyes and talk with our hearts.
I may tell you something about the fun of working the scents in the woods where you and I go. Or I may tell you something profound about myself or how we dogs see life in general. I know you decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share things with. I know how much you have cared for me and always stood up for me even when others have been against me. I know how hard you have worked to help me be the teacher that I was born to be. That gift from you has been very precious to me. I know too that you have been through troubled times and I have been there to guard you, to protect you, and to always be there for you. I am very different to you but here I am. I am a dog but just as alive as you.
I feel emotion. I feel physical senses. I can revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a dog on two feet; I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.
So come and sit with me. Enter my world and let time slow down if only for a few minutes. Look deep into me eyes and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow but do have now.
(Written on the 14th September, 2007 to reflect the special relationship that I have with me and my 4-year-old German Shepherd.)
I first got Pharaoh as a puppy from a breeder. When he was sufficiently old to start training I learnt that he was a beta dog. Let me explain. In a dog pack there are three dogs with status. The first is always a female and she is the pack leader, or alpha dog. The alpha has first pick of the male dogs as a mate. The second-in-command is the beta dog and is always a male. The beta dog is to keep control and break up fights and squabbles. The third dog, either gender, is the omega dog or the clown dog and its role is to keep the pack happy.
The training was suitably modified and Pharaoh quickly became a perfect friend to me.
So you can see that the above tribute to Pharaoh makes more sense. Especially as on the 20th December, 2006, the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, when I had turned 12 on November 8th 1956, my then wife walked out on me.
Pharaoh was a huge comfort to me at that time. I wasn’t to know then that on the 14th December, nearly a year later, I was to meet the woman of my life. Then in 2008 I flew out to Mexico with Pharaoh to start the most beautiful relationship I have ever had. Pharaoh died in June, 2017.
I still miss him badly. But that, dear folks, is life!
The following photographs were sent to me by Jess Anderson. But first here is the story:
For years, photographer Tanja Brandt has made it her mission to capture magnificent photos of animals and wildlife and has drawn accolades in the German and international photography world with her heart-warming animal portraits.
Recently, the German artist found a new challenge when she photographed the unique bond between two unlikely friends: Ingo, a Belgian Shepherd, and Poldi (Napoleon), a one-year-old owlet.
The owlet and canine have a special protector-protected relationship. Their affection toward each other couldn’t be any more evident. Ingo lovingly guards Poldi, who apparently doesn’t know how to live free.
The owlet hatched two days after his six brothers and sisters, therefore, has always been very vulnerable due to his small size. They respect each other and they can read each other, says the photographer.
These photographs are truly unique. Plus they are astoundingly beautiful.
To be honest this is more about the Spitfire! The Spitfire SX336.
Raymond was working on the design of his dog tags and to nail stuff about the way to make them, the material thickness, how to work with it (2MM thick brass) and how to stop them failing, when he turned to a contact he had who is a Spitfire Engineer. At that point Ian, the contact, was up the road from Hertfordshire at The Shuttleworth Collection, getting AR501 back in the air.
However, mid-2019 he moved across the airfield to Kennet Aviation. That’s the home of Spitfire XVII.
At that point Raymond was still pestering for help with a fair few aspects of the manufacturing, from working with the five-ton fly-press that was recommended (from a closed aircraft factory south of Birmingham) to using high-speed polishing tools, but – above all – the position of the hole in relation to the edge of the tag, which is the same distance rivets are from the edge of the wing in a Spitfire.
In return, Raymond offered to build a few websites, one for Kennet Engineering and one for Kennet Aviation. Both the same company really, the Engineering one to try and get more work for a few huge and expensive CNC machines they’ve recently acquired to make spitfire parts they couldn’t get hold of.
Anyway, it was when researching regarding the Spitfire that he, Raymond, came across my Spitfire content and obviously noticed the title of the website he was looking at: LearningFromDogs.com, saw I had a tremendous-looking book and thought ‘hang on a minute!’ this is all too much of a coincidence, he must say hello AND introduce me (Paul) to the SX336.
So Raymond finally said ‘hello’ and let me know there is indeed another Spitfire still flying somewhere in the world.
At approximately 3pm on Tuesday 25 April 2017 The Shuttleworth Collection’s Spitfire under restoration fired into life for the first time in 12 years.
A first stage engine run took place on the airfield with volunteers who have been working on the project watching with fingers crossed. The Spitfire has recently been fitted with new propeller and spinner, with testing on all systems from hydraulics, electrical, coolant and air being undertaken in the engineer workshop where visitors have been able to follow the project’s progress.
Project engineer Ian Laraman expressed his relief that all had gone to plan, saying, “With any engine being tested for the first time you always hope it will run smoothly, and happily today the Spitfire’s first engine run couldn’t have gone any better. Higher power runs will now follow, which will give us a better indication of how close we are to flight testing, but for now hearing this aircraft powered up again after all the work that’s gone into it has just been fantastic!”
The coolant systems will now be flushed out, and checks carried out on the oil filters in advance of further testing of the Spitfire’s 1,440hp Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine in the next fortnight. To follow the progress of AR501 as it moves toward the end of its restoration come along to see the aircraft in the engineering hangar or follow The Collection’s Facebook and Twitter pages!
As can happen from time to time, I was contacted by Ray Dunthorne in England. He very kindly said that he had been following Learning from Dogs for a while and also was aware of my previous interest in flying.
So I emailed Ray saying that I would love to publish his account as a guest post and lo and behold in came the following story.
The Story of Lulu
Ah hello again, I’ll try ever so hard not to give you my full life story, but just stuff you might find interesting and relevant, but can’t promise to get the balance right!
Willows Activity Farm St Albans
My adult dog journey began with Lulu, 15 years ago, but the seed was sown some 5 years earlier at a city farm. We’d gone with the then middle-born five-year-old for his birthday party. The shepherd who did herding demonstrations was over from New Zealand and had two dogs who’d just had a litter of puppies, which we were shown. We’d never heard of the New Zealand Huntaway, it was described as a combination of German Shepherd, Border Collie and Labrador, with a few other breeds thrown in for good measure.
They’d been consistently bred in, yes, you guessed it, New Zealand for over 100 years, specifically to help move large herds of sheep or cattle over long distances. The agile New Zealand Huntaway became known for its ability to move across packed, penned herds by leaping from the back of one sheep to another. Its loud LOUD bark was also required, as if not busy barking to get cattle or sheep moving, the Huntaway would be sent after a sheep or lamb that had strayed out of sight, hold it down (I don’t know how) and BARK so the shepherd could locate the unruly pair.
Little thought was given to the New Zealand Huntaway for a few years, when – on the other side of divorce – my then ex-wife and I decided to get a dog to raise collaboratively, to keep the disparate family united in some way. Divorce-wise, it wasn’t so amicable initially, as these things usually aren’t, but soon settled down with the three growing boys being the priority.
Lime End Farm, Sussex
Of course we couldn’t agree on the type of dog. I’d always wanted a German Shepherd, madame a Border Collie and a Labrador was a popular choice with Stanley, Arthur and Sidney (the aforementioned three boys). I bet you can tell where this is going. Yes, I remembered the New Zealand Huntaway. In 2006, it was a lot harder to find a litter in the UK than it is now, but I did. Down on a farm in Sussex. Lulu’s mum and dad were also over from New Zealand with a shepherd, this one herding cattle at Lime End Dairy Farm.
Lime End is in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, which is as Olde English countryside as it sounds, with a castle and an annual Medieval festival to complete the picture.
As soon as we arrived in the classic farm yard, all the puppies bumbled out to say hello, emerging three at a time from under an old caravan where they’d been sheltering from the sun. Their dad, Lord Toro was tied to a nearby barn, doing some general barking ‘he’s frightened of the puppies’ the lady told us. The nine puppies all toppled about us for a few minutes, then all rushed off to find dinner. All except one.
Eight week old Lulu came back with me, Sidney and Helen, my new girlfriend at the time, who I’d charmingly had to borrow the £300 needed to secure Lulu from. It was a four or five hour round trip for the three of us, four including Lulu. A bonding opportunity all round.
I always remember that – to add to the idyllic Sussex farm scene, as if it wasn’t enough like a scene from a film Hugh Grant drives a Mini in – just as we were leaving, an old barn door got pushed open from the inside and a litter of Border Collie puppies and their mum and dad ran out, to say hello to the remaining Huntaways and good bye to us.
Best Laid Plans
The wisdom of bringing that hard-working herding dog into two separate St Albans houses didn’t cross my mind. It probably should have, especially as my ‘house’ was a rented Maisonette, no dogs aloud. The theory was Lulu would be at the children’s house in the week, mine along with the children at the weekends. It didn’t turn out like that.
After a few months both me and my ex-wife got short contracts that meant heading off to work in an office for the day. Far from ideal, but no money at that point meant no choice. At least it was only temporary. Lulu would have been about six months old by then and absolutely should not have been left alone FOR A SECOND.
The office was just 15 minutes away (PC World, Maylands, Hemel Hempstead). I did manage to pop back at lunchtime most days and a child would pop round a few hours later after school. New Zealand Huntaways are like any puppy only more so. They need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, or else you will pay.
A novice dog guardian then, I learned everything the hard way. Before her first birthday, Lulu had removed the floor covering in the kitchen and the lounge. She’d moved a large old cathode ray TV across the room, knocked bookshelves over and generally done over £1,000 of damage. I know it was that much because I got a bill from the landlord. I paid.
What dogs do
I will cut to the end here. That was in the first year of Lulu’s life.
The contract I mentioned was my first proper BIG company for the digital stuff I was doing, without it I wouldn’t have been able to have the career I’ve had, which started late as I accidentally tried to be a musician for ten years. Not too successfully. That doesn’t matter though.
The 14 years has gone by and even Sidney, who was about five years old when he came with us to East Sussex to meet Lulu, has gone off to university, the older two long-since moved away, to Nottingham and London respectively, leaving me, Lulu and my Helen, that new girlfriend who’d come to Sussex with us on that early date, who moved in a year or so later and is still here.
What Lulu did was tie us all together. Yes, she was a nightmare initially. Yes, she would run away, out of sight chasing imaginary deer, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. Yes, she’d bark at everything, constantly herding the children when they were small, stopping them from fighting among each other as they got bigger, becoming more and more generally in control and charming with each year. Almost without us noticing. All of a sudden, she was one of us. Not a pet, not a ‘furry friend’, not even a dog really.
She could sense when someone was ill or in distress and would attend accordingly. She loved small children and even when in a fierce mood, if a small child the same size as her approached, she would sit down and raise her head waiting for a pair of tiny arms to be thrown around her. It had all just got normal for us. Pretty much every time when we were out with her, she’d do something that would further add to our respect for her understanding of what’s going on. She WAS one of us.
Now it’s all gone
It’s only when Lulu was finally gone I noticed everything else that’s passed too. All that time, pretty much my entire career, moving from acrimoniously divorced to getting along just fine and concentrating on giving the three boys as good a start as we could manage. The three boys no longer the children they were when Lulu was working out her role in the family, now all long-since scarpered and working harder than I ever have.
My career is pretty much done too. I’m finding it harder to get new contracts or jobs in digital. ‘What are you doing working in digital? I thought that was a young man’s game’ one marketing director interviewing me for a dull digital role I didn’t want tactfully said, almost ten years ago too. I won’t say where, for reasons of professional discretion (David Lloyd Leisure, Hatfield, Monday 4th March 2013)
Lulu’s Legacy is Ten Year Tags
Phew, we’re getting up to date at last. Lulu lost dog name tags like it was something she was born to do. Sometimes in a few months, sometimes in a few days. We got through dozens. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, it took me a while to work out the dog name tags on the market just might not be up to the job.
It took about a year of fact-finding, market assessment and trying to work out how to make a better dog name tag before I was ready to start planning the equipment we needed. Having wasted months liaising with companies in China to get the tags made in volume, I gave up on that idea to both keep our carbon footprint down AND have more control over any supply chain and not have to worry about any one critical supplier.
With over 9 million dogs in the UK alone, there’s a good sized market. Research quickly revealed this ubiquitous, low price point product has largely been ignored, especially digitally. Consequently many competitors are getting away with minimal product quality and poor customer experience (I’ll come back to this). This surprised me, as not many products pretty much anyone can manufacture are actuallyrequired by law in the UK courtesy of a stupidly out of date Dog Tag Law.
I pretty much, at least subliminally, thank Lulu for every tag I press out and when it’s a busy day that started at 6 am and is only drawing to a close with a 6pm trip to the sorting office with a sack of 50 or more orders, I’m ever so grateful to Lulu, as without her showing us the flaws in all those substandard products over the years, patiently waiting until Raymond here got the hint, we probably wouldn’t be coping at all right now. Lulu is still looking after us.
Thank you, Ray.
This is such a delightful story. So much so that I am going to post another story for Saturday. Namely, a short article, broadly written by Ray, and featuring the Spitfire.