Tag: Totnes

The book! Chapter Thirteen.

Just this and two other chapters before the end of November!

Where did the month go!

As I explained yesterday, I shall change chapter publishing from next Monday.

From next Monday I will revert to publishing the range of articles and essays that I have been doing since July 2009.  In other words, a new post every day of the week, just as before.  But, in addition, I will be releasing three of the forthcoming draft Chapters, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

So if you are not into reading the book, just pass those posts by.  If you are, poor soul, then read away to your heart’s content.

Any reactions or comments would be wonderful.

With that, on to the story!

As so today.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Thirteen

It was February 14th, 2007; Valentine’s Day. What would have been his seventh wedding anniversary for him and Maggie. Eight weeks to the day since she had blown his life apart.

Rather than mope on his own, he had decided ahead of time deliberately to arrange something unusual and different for this potentially disturbing day.  A chance remark with friend, Julian, who lived in Exeter, revealed that he was a private pilot and, coincidentally, also a single man; his marriage having failed a few years previously.  So when Julian offered to fly Philip and him to Guernsey for lunch he could hardly believe his luck.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience even when soon after climbing out from Exeter Airport Philip was blown away by the incredible views of the broad reaches of the English Channel and the Atlantic way beyond.  Julian demonstrated the remarkable ease with which two people can travel to a place in a light aircraft, in this case an island no less, enjoy a few hours of food and fresh air, and be back home in not a lot longer than it would have taken a ferry to steam one-way from Poole in Dorset to Guernsey.  Philip had often wondered what becoming a private pilot would be like and Julian’s generous gift had triggered a little thought that maybe, once the crap of the divorce was behind him, he might enrol in flying lessons.

Thus upon their return to Exeter Airport and later when Philip collected Pharaoh from Sandra’s kennels and set off home to Harberton he felt good that he had not succumbed to the regrets of his lost relationship with Maggie, that could so easily have hung over this day.

Back home, with both him and Pharaoh fed and watered, fire burning brightly, he reflected on the past sixty days. It had been an incredible roller-coaster of feelings, moods and emotions.

At the root of Maggie’s unfaithfulness had been her longing for another child.  Her first child, a daughter, had chosen to go and live with her father before Maggie and Philip had met.  He knew that Maggie had been conscious that her child-bearing years were almost over.  He guessed that with him having had that vasectomy so long ago, and being significantly older than her, that Maggie had been drawn elsewhere.

It didn’t lessen his anger towards her, not in the slightest, because he truly believed that trust was fundamental to any relationship and trust was impossible without the openness of one’s concerns and worries.

That day after the terrible day of December 20th, Philip had rung Diana, his elder half-sister; James’ mother. He explained what had happened.  Her reply was immediate and all and much more than Philip had expected.  Diana told him to put some things together and to come straight over to the house, with Pharaoh of course.  Philip replied by asking if it would be alright with John, her husband, to which Diana had simply told him not to worry, she would speak with John and to come across now.

So that’s just what Philip did later that Thursday afternoon.  Leading to him spending eight days of being loved and cared for by Diana and John.  He had known them for more years than he cared to remember.  In fact, Diana and her sister, Rhona, who died a few years previously, were the primary reasons why Philip had settled down in South Devon after returning to England from overseas in the early 1990s.

Luckily, Diana and John’s house and small-holding, just up the lane from Littlehempston, was only six miles from Harberton so it had been easy for Philip to pop back home to pick up clothes and food for Pharaoh over the Christmas period.  Pharaoh thought that every one of those days over with Diana and John was Christmas Day!

He didn’t have that talk with Maggie the day after she went to her parents and, frankly, he wasn’t bothered.  All that mattered was getting his mind around this new phase of his life that had been thrust upon him and, in his own time, moving on to Plan B, as it were, whatever that turned out to be.

Which, in a very real sense, was what Philip was musing over that evening back home after his Valentine’s Day flight and lunch with Julian in Guernsey.

When he had first spoken with Julian back in January and the idea of the flight had been mentioned, Julian had also recommended avoiding person-to-person contact with Maggie.  His argument was that the wounds would more quickly heal by appointing a solicitor to handle the legal separation and eventual divorce, than having to have continued contact with Maggie.  That’s what he had done.

But there was one aspect that did not hang easily over Philip; that of what to do with the house.  He was torn.  It was a lovely converted stone barn in a popular South Devon village. If he stayed there, inevitably there would be some pay-out due to his ex and that galled him, seriously so, as it had been ninety percent of his money that had paid for the house.  He resolved to go and talk to some estate-agents in Totnes over the coming days to see if that made the decision of to sell or not to sell easier.

It turned out to be the next day. He had run into Totnes in the morning to pick up some food from Safeway, then walked the short distance to Fore Street at the bottom of town.  It had been ages since he had looked through the windows of an estate agent, at the many panels advertising properties for sale, and he just couldn’t believe his eyes.  The prices were astronomical.  It was the same in all the agents’ windows: Rendells; Fulfords; Michelmore Hughes; Luscome Maye.  Curiosity overcame him.  On the way back down Fore Street he went into Fulfords and was quickly seen by a eager young, slick-haired sales assistant.  Philip explained where he lived and that he was curious as to the current price.  The young man asked him to remain seated and went across to speak to someone whom Philip presumed was one of the partners.  They both returned to the desk where Philip was sitting.

“Hello, my name is Jeremy Stanton and I’m a partner here at Fulfords. How may I assist you?”

“Jeremy, my name is Philip, Philip Stevens, and I live in Harberton, in Tristford Barn in the cul-de-sac just off Tristford Road.”

“Yes, I know where you are. Isn’t your house that old, converted stone barn that overlooks the other properties around you? That beautiful barn, to my eyes anyway?” replied Jeremy.

“Yes, that’s the place.  I purchased the barn privately from the owner who did the conversion, bought it back in 1999, and just wondered what it might be worth these days.”

Jeremy paused for a moment, “Oh, wasn’t that Barry Williams who did the conversion?”

Philip was impressed.

Jeremy indicated to him that they both go to a small room towards the rear of the open floor area.

“Philip, would you like a coffee or tea?”

“Well a tea would go down very nicely.”

Jeremy stepped outside the room for a couple of minutes and to Philip’s great surprise came back with a couple of mugs that obviously held freshly-made tea, not of either the instant or machine variety.

“I made us a couple of mugs of the proper tea. Can’t abide the instant stuff.”

Philip took a careful sip from his mug.  The tea was hot to his lips yet very welcome.

“So Philip, you purchased the barn in 1999, I guess going on for eight years ago now.  Do you mind telling me what you paid for it?”

“I paid one hundred and sixty thousand pounds, that I’m pretty sure was a little over the odds at the time.  But, as I’m sure you know, properties in Harberton don’t often come on to the market especially a converted stone barn right in the middle of the village.”

“Philip, I couldn’t agree more.  Now, of course, we would need to come over and take a look in order to give you a more accurate estimate but I would say that today’s price, especially in these times of significant demand for village properties, won’t be far off five hundred thousand pounds.”

The look on Philip’s face as he heard that estimate from Jeremy said it all.  He was staggered.

“I had no idea that prices had risen to that level.”

“So, Philip, do you want us to come over to Harberton and give you a detailed analysis and estimate?”

Philip could hardly quieten his mind and stammered out, “Er, er, yes, I suppose so.  No, sorry, of course you should come out. That would be very helpful.”

They settled on a date, the coming Saturday, just the day after tomorrow.

Later that afternoon, when out walking with Pharaoh, he thought more about his future.  It seemed to be pretty clear to him that selling Tristford Barn made a huge amount of sense.  There were strong and persistent rumours that property prices were overdue for a correction, that selling the barn would allow him to settle with Maggie and pocket a tidy amount of cash while he worked out where his life was going. Going on to reflect that if it turned out that it might be a while before he bought another house, then the present savings rates would reduce the pain, big time, of paying for rented accommodation. That last thought of his being immediately tempered by Pharaoh barking at something up in the trees; squirrels most likely. Of course, renting somewhere dog-friendly might be a challenge.  The thought then crossed his mind as to whether the place that he had been renting over at Diptford, before he and Maggie had bought Tristford Barn, might be available and, more importantly, would they accept a dog; after all it had been a farm property with sheep and livestock.  Upper Holsome Farm, that was it.  What was the woman’s name?

As he drove back home her name came to him.   It was Liz Jones, of course.  He recalled how she had explained that her husband had died from a tragic tractor accident back in 1990 and Liz had decided to keep the farm running but to let out a wing of the main house to ensure some steady money coming in.

Liz’s phone rang a few times before it was answered.

“Hi, is that Liz?”

“Yes.  My goodness, is that you Philip? How are you?”

Philip summarised what had happened over the past couple of months.

“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.  Gracious, it only seems like yesterday that I was at your wedding at Harberton Church.”

“Liz, it was seven years ago yesterday.  Anyway, moving on.  I’m kicking around the idea of selling Tristford Barn and perhaps renting somewhere while I take stock of things.  So just wondered if you were still renting out your rooms.  But, Liz, it wouldn’t be just for me.  I now have a beautiful German Shepherd dog: Pharaoh. He’s the love of my life.  He’s four this coming June. So I didn’t know, assuming you are still letting your rooms, whether or not a dog could be included.”

Liz’s reply was direct. “For God’s sake, Philip, this is still a working farm and you’ll will remember the dogs we have here.  Of course your dog would be welcome.”

Philip felt a ray of emotional sunshine lighting him up.  Pharaoh sensed it as well, coming over to where Philip was sitting with the phone and laying his head across Philip’s leg, so typical a gesture for him.  What a sensitive dog he was.

“That’s fantastic.  Let me see how things develop but whatever, I’ll stay in touch, Liz.”

“Yes, please do.  I have a professional woman in the rooms at present.  She’s something to do with Plymouth Hospital.  But, as it happens, it wasn’t that long ago that she was saying to me that she might be facing a job move during the year.  I’ll quietly sound her out.  Oh, and Philip, the best of luck.  You’re a good man and it will all turn out fine, trust me.”

“Thank you, Liz, thank you so much.  Will be in touch.”

And with that Philip rang off, stroked Pharaoh’s soft warm head and felt a whole lot more contented than he had done for quite a while.

Again the evening, after he had made a meal for himself and fed Pharaoh, was a time for more inner reflection.  One of the things that had been troubling him was the incredibly intense emotional reaction that he had had to Maggie’s announcement of her miscarriage back that last December.

When he had been staying with Diana over Christmas, they had had long talks about their father and the consequences of his death all those years ago.  Diana had said to Philip that while she had been aware of the trauma it must have caused him, she had never shared with him her concerns about the long-term possible emotional consequences.  The suddenness of their father’s death, the way he must have felt shut out from everything, even though she had no doubt that everyone was doing their best to protect him.

Philip knew that Diana had been stirring up some deep feelings because of the way he had such trouble even listening to her words.  So, as he sat before the warm wood stove, Pharaoh fast asleep on the rug before him, he thought that now might be a good time to seek some personal counselling.  The last thing he wanted to do was to carry baggage, known or unknown, into the next phase of his life.  He resolved to call Jonathan Atkins in the morning.

2,337 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Eleven.

Ouch, ouch and more ouch!

In yesterday’s chapter I wrote of what, perhaps, was one of the better times in the lives of our hero, Philip, and his wife Maggie.  But as we move to Chapter Eleven the phrase ‘first impressions may be misleading’ does come to mind.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Eleven

Later that evening, after he and Maggie had eaten their evening meal, a rather poor affair that Philip had to admit, Monday being his turn to prepare dinner, he couldn’t shake off something approaching a cloud over him.  Most likely associated with the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of his father’s death, he guessed.

It was the same every year.  Whatever he was involved in, however interesting and engaging his life was during the last few months of the year, Philip knew that the period between his birthday in early November and the date of his father’s death on the twentieth of December had some ill-defined greyness about it.  Then as soon as the twenty-first of December dawned, he was back to his usual brightness. Indeed, he was always embarrassed by the fact that his pre-Christmas mood never arrived until the twenty-first of December, frequently a bit on the late side to engage properly in the annual ritual of present-buying.

Still that’s how it had been for every year of his adult life and, privately, he wondered if that was his way of treasuring a father he never really knew.

Thus so it was this year. In the sense that it was about a week before Christmas Day, probably around the eighteenth of December that, again, he had to pull himself up sharply and start thinking as to what he should give Maggie as her main present.

What really caused him to focus on Maggie and Christmas was a very strange, decidedly untypical, interaction between Maggie and Pharaoh.  Up until then, whenever Maggie had gone out somewhere on her own, Pharaoh would always bark as her car turned into the driveway.  On their upper floor, the main living room area, there was a floor-to-ceiling pair of glass-panelled doors overlooking the front of the house, the garden and their short driveway and their five-bar, wooden gate.  The glass doors would have been wooden shutters back in the days when it was a cow barn.  Today, the doors could be opened during hot summer weather; there was a wooden rail across the opening to prevent any falling accidents.

Pharaoh’s usual routine with arriving cars was to bound up to the windows barking furiously when he heard the latch on the gate being handled and when any car drove up the driveway.  If it was Maggie returning home then as soon as he recognised her he would bound down the short, single flight of wooden stairs from the living-room level to the hallway and stand inside the front door, also glassed from head to foot, wagging his tail furiously until he was let out whereupon he would run joyously to her.

However this day, Philip was pretty sure is was the Monday, Pharaoh did his usual barking act as Maggie drove in.  Then there was the sound of Pharaoh coming down the steps to the front door with a growl in his throat. That’s what made Philip look up from his computer screen; he was certain that he had heard Maggie’s car but then the growling suggested otherwise.

Pharaoh’s growl became quite intense, practically a sound from him that Philip had never heard before.

He quickly pushed his office chair back on its wheels and stood up from his desk.  Within moments, he was beside Pharaoh looking out at Maggie walking back down the driveway to close the front gate.

“Pharaoh, quiet!”, Philip said with a sternness to his voice. Pharaoh reduced the constant growl to a sort of angry muttering in the back of his throat.  Philip had no doubt that Pharaoh was not playing around.  To the point where he practically dragged Pharaoh by his collar back into the small office and firmly closed the door on the two of them.

Pharaoh pushed to the office window, also full length, his eyes, ears and full body stance continuing to signal a great unease.  What on earth was happening?  Philip just couldn’t fathom it out.

He left his office room, closing the door with Pharaoh inside, and went out to meet Maggie who was walking towards the house with a semi-full bag of groceries in a cloth shopping bag.

“Hi, is that all there is to bring in?”, Philip asked.

“Yes, only a few items that I needed from Safeways.”

As Maggie came up to the front door, Philip continued, “You know, there’s something weird about Pharaoh just now.” He went on to explain what had just happened, continuing, “It’s almost as though he didn’t know it was you.”

They climbed the stairs up to the open-plan kitchen area that was at one end of the living room, to the right of the stairs, the main living room area to the left.  Philip then went over to the log-burner in the corner of the living room and fiddled with it for a while.  In fact, his mind was still on Pharaoh wondering if his angst had now subsided.  Only one way to find out.

He returned to his office room and opened the door.  Pharaoh was lying on the rug.  He looked up at Philip and, again, very strangely, only raising himself from the floor and following Philip upstairs to the living-room after a great deal of coaxing.

It was all very peculiar.

Wednesday, the 20th, dawned to reveal a bright pleasant morning with soft, cumulus clouds across a broadly blue sky.  A great morning to be over at the woods for a walk.

After breakfast, Philip called out to Maggie, who had been in the bathroom for a while, actually more than a while when he thought about it, that he and Pharaoh were off to James’ woods.  Philip just heard Maggie call out that she had heard him.

It was a wonderful walk.  Pharaoh was in his prime chasing squirrels, a fairly pointless task Philip always thought, then sticking his nose down the many rabbit holes, sniffing such large lungfulls of air that Philip wondered if Pharaoh thought he could suck the poor rabbits out of their burrows.

The date, fifty years to the day that his father had died, seemed to rest much more easily with him than he had feared.  It was all so, so long ago.  It crossed his mind to buy Maggie a bouquet of flowers on the way home.

A couple of hours later, he and Pharaoh bounced into the house, a fresh bouquet of flowers newly purchased at Safeways in Totnes in Philip’s right hand.

“Hi sweetheart, bought you these.  Just thought you looked a little off-colour earlier this morning and that some flowers might cheer you up.”

As he was offering the flowers to Maggie he realised that whatever it was that had been afflicting her earlier that morning was still troubling her.  Frankly, she looked very pale and drawn.

“Maggie, what’s the problem?  You don’t look at all well.”

“Philip, do you mind if I lie down on the bed for a little while, just not feeling that brilliant.”

“No, of course not,” came his reply.  “Look you go and lie down, I’ll put the flowers in water, make us both a nice cup-of-tea and bring them down to the bedroom.”

With that Philip went upstairs to the living room, dug out a glass vase and put the flowers in water, placing the vase with the flowers on one of the work surfaces in the kitchen.

He also noted that the fire was pretty low and needed rejuvenating.  Thus it was nearer thirty minutes before he returned to their bedroom with the hot teas. Maggie’s body was under the bedspread, her head back against a pair of pillows, still giving the appearance of being significantly out of sorts.

He put Maggie’s cup down on the bedside table next to her and cradling his own mug of tea in his hands sat down on the edge of the bed, just adjacent to where Maggie’s knees were under the cover.

Maggie heaved herself up, leaning back against the headboard and reached for her tea.  “Thank you, Philip, that was very kind of you.”

They both sat without saying a word, Philip conscious of the hot tea reminding him of an empty stomach not yet having had lunch.

Maggie took a breath, put her empty cup down on the bedside table, and looked at Philip.

“Philip, I don’t know how to say this.  The reason for me being unwell this morning was that I have just had a miscarriage.”

Philip’s world came to an instant, shuddering halt. Of course, that’s what Pharaoh had picked up, the impending breakup of his home. Because, after the birth of his second child with his first wife in 1972, Philip had opted for a vasectomy.

1,495 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover


Have to wait until Monday to see where it all leads to.

The book! Chapter Seven.

Half-way through the month.

I have taken a break from book writing to get today’s post ready.  I’m 100 words short of 25,000 words and will stick at it until I’m over the 50% word-count before the end of today, Thursday.

Very conscious that many readers having got very used to my usual style of posts may be finding the change a little uninviting.  Not a lot I can say other than I understand.  NaNoWriMo do encourage all those November novelists who are bloggers to subject, sorry to offer, their readers the writings!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Seven

The year 2003 did not have a great deal left in it and in what seemed like no time at all, New Year’s Day 2004 had been and gone.  By the middle of January of the new year, Philip had settled into the regular trip across to Angela, the country journey not anything other than a pleasant forty-minute drive from home with Angela’s place coincidentally not a million miles from Sandra’s kennels at Hennock, where Pharaoh had been born.

It was certainly a higher elevation than Harberton and, potentially, a place to become snow-bound.  But as January rolled into February, and while there were plenty of days of Devon rain, snow did not arrive.

As Angela had intimated would be the case, Pharaoh was nothing other than a gentleman during his days of obedience consolidation with Philip.  During February, when Pharaoh had become accustomed to wearing a muzzle, Philip started walking with Pharaoh around their favourite spots in Totnes.  Indeed, the walk from the Safeway car park by the river, up along Fore Street, underneath Eastgate arch where the road became Totnes High Street and all the way up to the old Totnes Castle, was settling into a regular event, often on the way back from visiting Angela.

What was interesting to note was that the sight of Pharaoh, this large German Shepherd dog wearing a muzzle, caused much more consternation for onlookers than it did for Pharaoh.

They had been resting one afternoon on a bench by the Castle after a brisk walk up through the centre of Totnes, when Philip distinctly heard a man, father he presumed, speak to the little girl with him and caution her that the dog was a most dangerous animal and not to go near it, because nice dogs don’t wear muzzles!

When they were walking around the Totnes streets, while Pharaoh would occasionally mutter a low growl towards a person, or more often towards another dog, there wasn’t even the hint of an aggressive move.  It was almost as though when Pharaoh was on the leash and wearing a muzzle, he had happily deferred his role as protector to Philip.  No, not deferred but swapped roles as if Philip was both minder and protector of the two of them.

Then on the first Wednesday in March, at the end of their obedience class, Angela turned to Philip and said, “Philip, I can’t teach you two anything more.  Pharaoh has got so used to your personality that he is way beyond rigid command formats.  He can read your whole demeanour, probably better than Maggie.”

Philip mused privately that that didn’t take too much for a dog to know him better than Maggie.

Sandra added, “And there’s no doubt that you, Philip, can read Pharaoh’s demeanour as well.”

There was a pause.

“What I have been thinking is that it’s time to have Pharaoh use his fabulous teaching skills to work with some of the dogs that truly need some help.  Could the two of you come over on Saturday, say at ten o’clock?”

“Angela, Saturday would be so much less of an issue than a week-day.  For reasons I’m not sure about, my mentoring client list is growing at the moment.”

The rest of the week flowed by as the weeks so often do and Saturday was upon them. It wasn’t much after eight-thirty in the morning when he nosed his car down their driveway, closed the gate behind him and set off to Angela’s place; Pharaoh already curled up in the back of the Volvo.

“Oh, good morning Philip,” Angela called out as he parked the car in what was now his usual place.

“Let’s leave Pharaoh in the car for a moment while I talk you through the plan.  Just follow me.”

Angela lead the way between a couple of barns and there, just beyond, was a fenced paddock, possibly a half-acre in size.  There were a couple of bench seats elevated a few feet but some way back from the perimeter fence.

“Philip, this is where we are going to have Pharaoh work with the guest dog.  She’s a female grey-hound that the owner wished to introduce to greyhound racing, at the greyhound stadium in Plymouth.  Her name is Betsy . However, when Betsy’s owner, Gordon, took Betsy to the stadium the first time, she was so aggressive in going for the other runners that, even with a muzzle, a requirement for racing, Betsy was acting up to the point where it was impossible for her to be with any of the other dogs.”

“OK, understood so far,” Philip replied, “but how will Pharaoh engage with Betsy?”

Angela responded, “I suggest we let Pharaoh into the paddock together with your goodself.  Then you slide out when you can, which I suspect will not be long, because Pharaoh will be fascinated by the smells of many other dogs. You can quietly settle back on the upper bench seat and when I sense Pharaoh is ready, I’ll have Gordon bring Betsy just inside the gate of the paddock, let Betsy off her leash, and stay quietly to one side.”

“OK, Angela, all understood.  How do you expect Pharaoh and Betsy to react to each other?”

Angela smiled, “Let me just say that I have an extremely good hunch as to what will happen, but just for now I’m going to hold back on making any predictions!”

“Oh, you can go and bring Pharaoh over now, don’t want him to feel any rush getting to know the smells of the paddock.”

Philip walked back to the Volvo, let Pharaoh down from the car and lead him through to the paddock.  Pharaoh happily followed despite being off-leash stopping only briefly to have a couple of pees.

Once at the paddock, Philip went through the open gate with Pharaoh and waited quietly just inside the gate.  Pharaoh naturally started sniffing around and exploring this new environment. A few moments later Philip gently opened the gate, slipped out, re-closed the gate and lent across the top bar watching his wonderful dog. Angela remained where she had first gone to, leaning on the top rail of the paddock fence just to the right of the gate, looking in on Pharaoh.

She silently pointed to Philip for him to slip back and be seated on the elevated bench seat.

The sound of a car door being closed caused Angela to disappear back out between the two barns.  Pharaoh had raised his head and was looking and listening intently towards the source of the sound.

A few minutes later, Angela and Gordon appeared, Gordon leading Betsy on a leash.  They walked up to the outside of the closed paddock gate.  Betsy started eyeing Pharaoh with a very direct stare.

Pharaoh started to walk towards them.  Betsy gave a deep-throated growl causing Pharaoh to pause in his walk and observe her.

“Gordon, let me have Betsy on her leash.”

Angela took Betsy’s leash and very gently lifted the gate latch and cracked the gate open by six inches or so.

“Pharaoh, there’s a good boy.  Pharaoh stay. Good boy,” came Angela’s softly formed words yet using her words as a cover to open the gate just sufficient for both Betsy and her to enter the paddock, Angela then closing the gate behind them.

There was a pause of perhaps a minute where nothing moved. Angela gently let her fingers run down Betsy’s leash and softly unlatched the lead from Betsy’s collar.

Again, Betsy’s eyes were fixated on Pharaoh and, likewise, he seemed to be assessing just what Betsy represented.

Angela softly slipped open the gate, slipped through and held the gate closed yet unlatched.  She was confident there were not going to be any panics but it never paid to be complacent.

Pharaoh did a quarter-turn with his head to the left and seemed about to sniff the ground near his front paws.

Betsy suddenly growled and started towards Pharaoh but stopped in less than two paces.  For Pharaoh had immediately turned his head back to face Betsy’s face full-on, giving her the most compelling message of perhaps rethinking what she had in mind.  Well that’s the message that Philip saw in Pharaoh’s face.  A facial look that Philip had never seen on Pharaoh before now yet, nonetheless, seemed utterly clear.  So imagine what unspoken words were picked up by Betsy; that old business of dogs speaking dog to each other so much better than humans speaking dog!

There was a pause where nothing changed.  Then Pharaoh, again, turned his head a little to his left. Betsy took a step towards Pharaoh but noticeable without the aggressive overlay of before.

Pharaoh turned his head and looked back at Betsy.  However, now his facial message, as Philip interpreted it, was Pharaoh saying to Betsy that this was getting boring and that he still hadn’t finished sniffing out the new smells around here.

Then Philip saw, hardly believing his eyes, Pharaoh wander over to the far fence line, pee on an upright wooden fence post, and continue following the fence line around to the left, as in left from Philip’s perspective.  Betsy stayed rooted to where she was.  Not even turning an eye as Gordon came up and sat down next to Philip.

Any sense of time passing was beyond grasp.  However, when Pharaoh had walked away from that marked fence post by, say, thirty or forty feet, Betsy almost imperceptibly looked at the fence post, possibly some twenty feet from her, and in what might be described as a casual gait, walked across to the post.  She sniffed the bottom of the post where Pharaoh’s pee had run down to the ground.  She sniffed long and hard and then turned around and walked a few yards in Pharaoh’s direction, he having now paused in his stroll along the fence line, his head turned back to watch Betsy.

The next action by Betsy brought an audible gasp to Gordon’s lips.  For Betsy calmly and quietly settled down on the dusty ground, tummy against the bare earth, paws straight ahead, head lowered, eyes watching Pharaoh.

Pharaoh then turned in towards the prone Betsy, gently walked towards her, sniffed her rear quarters, walked around to the other side of her and just looked at her for a few moments.  Then he eased himself forward, lowering his head a little. Their doggy world seemed to come to a halt for a few moments, then Pharaoh and Betsy came together and simply touched wet nose to wet nose.

Philip and Gordon both came down from their seats and stood next to Angela.  Both of them couldn’t avoid noticing that Angela had silent tears running down both cheeks.  Not a word was spoken, not a word needed to be spoken.

Gently, all three of them, Angela, Gordon and Philip, slipped quietly into the paddock and enjoyed what was happening in front of them.  Almost as though their pleasure at the outcome was fuelling the moods in the two dogs, Pharaoh and Betsy each took up a behaviour that could only be described as a couple of dogs being relaxed and comfortable with each other.

Angela slipped out and returned a few moments later with some dog biscuits in her hands, the large chunky ones shaped roughly to look like a bone.  She walked up to Pharaoh, stroked him on the head and offered him a biscuit.  He took the biscuit and settled down to nibble it.

Angela then went across to Betsy and repeated the biscuit giving. Betsy settled down to eat her biscuit.

Upon coming back to the gents, she said, “OK, it all happened more or less as I anticipated.  Pharaoh has given us a copy-book example of a strong, dominant teaching dog behaving in his natural role as a minder dog.”

Gordon was practically unable to keep his beaming face under control.  He bubbled out the question, “So what happens next, Angela?”

“Well, I would like to repeat what we set up today one more time, just to be sure, although I have not the slightest doubt it will be fine.

Then, we’ll have Betsy and Pharaoh come again but keep Pharaoh to one side while I introduce Betsy to another dog that is dominant but not a teaching dog.  In other words, more likely to trip Betsy into her old ways.  If that happens we will bring Pharaoh in and he will adjudicate.  Then next time round, we will introduce Betsy to an even less disciplined dog, again more or less aiming for the conditions where Betsy will learn a strategy for keeping her own temptations under control.”

Angela added, “There’s no doubt whatsoever that Betsy, sooner than you can imagine, will be a settled dog and ready to go dog racing if that’s what is right for her.”

Angela had a cheeky grin on her face, “Sorry, I meant what’s right for you, Gordon.  OK, I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of dog racing!”

2,185 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Two.

Words after words after words!

The completion of the draft of Chapter Two, very much a draft you’ll find, brings the total words to-date to 4,730.  That’s not counting Chapter Three that is more or less finished at around 3,000 words and Chapter Four, three-quarters finished at 1,650 words.  For a grand total as at the end of the 5th November of 9,380 words!  So a little over 1,000 words ahead of the game until tomorrow, the 6th, comes and I’m then 600 words behind the curve.

So, trust me, the 1,667 words required each day is relentless.

But I’m enjoying it! 🙂

So here is Chapter Two and tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll give you wonderful readers a break from The Book!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Two

Days slipped into weeks with young Pharaoh settling down so perfectly well.  Philip was fortunate that just a little over five miles away his nephew, James, had thirty acres of land near Staverton, of which fifteen were woods.  Even better, the entire property surrounded by a stock-proof fence.

So almost from day one, Philip would put Pharaoh into the back of the Volvo and drive across to those secluded acres for an hour or so of exploring all the smells that Mother Nature could offer.  Indeed, by the end of October it was a routine that each of them looked forward to.  Pharaoh would busy himself in ways that only a dog can do, totally lost in his world of these trees.  Philip would settle himself down on an old stump and just let his wonderful dog have the time of his life.  That dog was becoming such a great companion and his already deep bond with the young Pharaoh and the dog’s clear devotion in return to him fed some very deep emotional needs.

This yearning for a dog, specifically for a German Shepherd dog, had links back to very early times in his life.  Way back to 1956 when he was just eleven-years-old.  That Summer when his father had offered to look after a nearby couple’s German Shepherd because they had to travel to Australia and would be away for six weeks.  That late Summer having the dog so quickly settle in at home, so quickly the dog allowing young Philip to play with it, stroke it, cuddle up to it.  Having Boy, for that was the simple and straightforward name for the dog, sleep in his bedroom.  It was instant love for Boy by Philip.  Those six weeks had been precious beyond description resulting in them becoming a life-long, unforgettable, enchanting memory.  So deeply linked to the event that was to change Philip’s life forever. For just six weeks after he turned twelve his father died suddenly and unexpectedly at night; just five days before Christmas.  The pain of his father’s sudden death in such contrast to the purest love he had felt for Boy, such extremes of joy and sorrow, would haunt Philip for decades.

Philip was conscious that he was leaving it a little late to sign up for dog training classes but in many ways Pharaoh was learning naturally and rapidly from both Philip and Maggie.  He would listen intently to what was being spoken in the house.  He had quickly learned the meaning of ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’, ‘Lie down’ and a host of other more complex communications.  Within just a couple of weeks Pharaoh knew that when Philip said to Maggie, “Guess I better take Pharaoh for a walk!”, the dog would get so over-excited that Philip quickly amended saying the word ‘walk’ to spelling it out ’w-a-l-k’.  But within days of that change Pharaoh had learnt that spelling out the word didn’t change the intention, and the over-excitement returned.  Nevertheless, the time for training was now if Philip was to take Pharaoh anyplace where there would be other people and dogs.  Plus Pharaoh was rapidly losing his puppyhood and growing into a significant male German Shepherd.

Philip rang Sandra and she recommended the South Brent Dog Classes just a few miles away from home. So that first Saturday afternoon in November, grey clouds spilling down from the moors, a hint of drizzle in the air, Philip drove West out of Totnes along the Ashburton Road.  Pharaoh instinctively new something was up despite him so frequently being put in the back of the old Volvo Estate every time he was taken for walks.

The road meandered out of Totnes through green country hills where the sheep population far outnumbered humans.  Totnes itself was surrounded by hills and dales as well as acres of green grasslands, the latter so closely cropped by sheep. Every fold in those hills seemed to hold either an ancient wood or an even older village that still felt so strongly connected with the long-ago settlements that preceded these havens.  Names such as Berry Pomeroy, Stoke Gabriel, Dartington, Asprington, Harberton, Diptford, Rattery, Littlehempston; such echoes of times long gone. Philip mused about the history of Totnes, the ancient legend of Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first coming ashore here.  Presumably, he pondered, because the town is at the head of the estuary of the River Dart and the Dart is one of the first safe anchorages along the Northern coastline of the English Channel, up from the South-West tip of Cornwall. In fact, set into the pavement of Fore Street in Totnes is the ‘Brutus Stone’.  It’s a small granite boulder onto which, according to that legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship, proclaiming, ”Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.”  Philip pondered that the likelihood of the legend being true was pretty low.  But it was a great tourist magnet!

Just six miles later, Pharaoh still sitting erect intently watching the passing cars, Philip drove across the flyover that spanned the main Exeter to Plymouth road, the A38.  Seemingly always busy, whatever the time of day, or day of the week, the speeding cars were throwing up a road spray as the drizzle had now deteriorated into a steady light rain.

Philip turned onto the B3372, that meandering country lane that ran into South Brent.  He had been told to watch out for a five-acre field to the right just before entering South Brent; that was where the classes were held, come all weathers!

The open field gate and half-a-dozen parked cars made the location obvious.  Philip drove carefully in, parked on a gravel parking area, leaving some distance from the smart, white Ford van to his right-hand side, and turned the engine off.

The ignition key had hardly been dropped into his coat pocket when Pharaoh erupted into a frenzy of barking. Thirty yards away a cheerful Cocker Spaniel was being walked across to the gathering group of dogs and respective owners and this clearly had triggered the barking.

Pharaoh’s nose was pressed up against the tailgate glass, his whole body tense, ears erect, tail straight out.  This was a dog in attack posture.  The sound of barking was overwhelming in the confined space of the car.

“Pharaoh! Shut it! Quiet!”, shouted Philip.

Pharaoh stopped barking but was still quivering all over, giving every indication of wanting to jump out of the car and beat up the Cocker Spaniel.

This was not what Philip had anticipated; far from it.

Philip swung his legs out of the car, stood up and closed the door.  He better find the person in charge of the class and get acquainted with the routine.  The rain was typical for Dartmoor!  Fine rain that seemed to have a way of working its way through the most tightly buttoned coats.  He pulled his coat collar up around the back of his neck and walked across to where a group of people were standing together, perhaps half of them with dogs held close to them on leashes.

As Philip approached the group, a woman, perhaps early middle-age, her dark-brown hair spilling out from under a leaf-green felt hat, caught his eye.  She walked over to them, her blue jeans tucked into black Wellington boots.

“Hallo, you look like a first-timer?”

“Yes, that’s correct.  Name’s Philip. Philip Stevens from Harberton together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh.”

“Well welcome to the class.  My name is Deborah Longland and I’m the instructor around here.  Call me Debbie; most do!”

Philip quickly guessed she was an experienced and supportive coach.  Just something about her that way.

“Was that Pharaoh that I heard barking a few moments ago?”, Debbie asked.

“Yes, first time he has behaved like that.”

Debbie was looking across at the Volvo. “Strong, male German Shepherd, I don’t doubt. Not uncommon at all,” she replied, continuing, “Leave him in the car until I have the first class underway.”

Debbie went on to explain, “We have the regulars walk around that grass area over there with all their dogs on leashes.  This gets them settled down.  Then we reinforce the usual commands, as you will see.”

Philip looked to where Debbie was indicating.  The nearest corner of the grassland that must have been three or four acres had an area that showed clear previous signs of dogs and owners walking round in a wide circle.

“After that, in about twenty minutes,” Debbie continued, “then we will bring Pharaoh in with, perhaps, just two or three other dogs, and see how he behaves.”

Then adding, “Once the first class is running, I suggest you give Pharaoh a bit of a walk around the far part of the field.  Get him adjusted to the environment.”

“Oh, I presume Pharaoh is settled on the leash?” Debbie added as an afterthought.

Philip replied, “Yes, he’s fine on his lead.  In fact, he walks well with me despite no formal heeling lessons.”

Debbie came back at him. “Shepherds are incredibly intelligent dogs and I can tell just from the way you speak about him that the two of you are very close.  Catch you later, must dash now.”

Philip went back to the car and reached in to the rear brown, pseudo-leather bench-seat and picked up Pharaoh’s leash.  It was a handsome affair, even if was just a dog lead.  Sandra Chambers from the breeding kennels had recommended the type, a leash that had two length settings.  More importantly, the supple, heavy-duty leather leash had a hand loop just six inches up from the snap catch.  This allowed Philip to hold the leash in his left hand with Pharaoh having no freedom to be anything other than close to Philip’s left leg, the recommended arrangement for walking a dog on a lead. Right from the first moment that Pharaoh had been taken across to James’ woods, Philip had taught Pharaoh to ‘heel’ on the leash as they walked the grassy track down to the woods.  It wasn’t long before Pharaoh would obediently remain close to Philip’s side without any pulling on his lead, even with the leash at full length.  But how would it be today?

Philip leaned over the back of the bench-seat and clipped the lead onto Pharaoh’s collar before slipping back out from the car and closing the side door.  He walked around to the tailgate and inched it open; sufficient to slip his arm inside and grab the leash.  With his other arm, he raised the tailgate to its full extent.  Pharaoh sat on his haunches just staring at everything.

“Pharaoh, down you get, there’s a good boy.”

Pharaoh dropped down on to the grass and looked up at Philip. It was clear that this was all very unfamiliar territory, for the first time in his young Shepherd’s life.

Philip gave him a couple of quick commands. “Pharaoh, stand! Pharaoh, heel!”

With that, Philip stepped, left foot forward, and Pharaoh was right on the mark.

It was a walk of a couple of hundred paces to get them to the far corner of the field.  The ground had risen in their direction and now when Philip had Pharaoh sit and they looked back across the field and beyond to the rolling South Hams countryside so typical of South Devon, the view, even with the light rain, was so comforting; so homely.

Despite a lifetime of living in so many places, both within the UK, and overseas, this part of Devon felt so strongly connected to the person he was, that this was his home, where his roots were.  That Acton, his place of birth in North London, just happened to be a technicality in his life’s journey.

Before they knew it, the first group was leaving the walking area and it was time to experience Pharaoh’s first obedience class!

They waited just to one side.  Debbie came across.

“Philip, do you know what Pharaoh is like with other dogs?”

“No experience whatsoever,” he replied, continuing “We live over at Harberton but I have access to private woods at Staverton.  Pharaoh is walked there most days. So I have never walked him in a public place and have no intention of doing that until he’s been properly trained and assessed; by you, I guess.”

“OK, let’s take it cautiously.  Walk Pharaoh into the centre of the exercise area, have him sit, hold him close to on his leash.”

Debbie was quiet in thought for a few moments, unaware, it seemed, of the rain water that looked as though it were soaking into the crown of her hat.

“We have many dogs here today, although no Shepherds. I will ask a few of the owners to walk their dogs, dogs I know well, one at a time in a circle about you and Pharaoh, coming in closer each time if it all runs to plan.”

Philip walked Pharaoh to that centre spot.

“Pharaoh, sit!” He did so without hesitation.

A black, female Labrador and her owner, a gent wearing a black, full-length raincoat over brown hiking boots, the gent’s right hand carrying a wooden walking-stick, detached themselves from the group of dogs and owners and commenced to walk obliquely around them.

Philip reinforced his instructions to Pharaoh. “Pharaoh, Stay! Sit, there’s a good boy!”

Debbie was thirty feet away watching the proceedings carefully.

“Tom,” Debbie called out to the circling gent, “Come in just a few feet and continue circling Pharaoh.”

So far, so good.

“OK Tom, that’s fine.  Going to move on to Geoff and his dog.”

Tom and the Lab returned to the owner’s group and a younger man, perhaps in his late twenties, came across with a smaller, creamy coloured male dog.  To Philip eye’s the dog looked like a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull mix.

The dog was a far less settled creature than the Lab, and Terry, for the name of the dog immediately became clear, was prompted several times to heel.

Terry and his owner approached the circling zone.  Pharaoh started to bristle, the hairs on the nape of his soft, brown neck lifting in anticipation of something, something only known to Pharaoh.

“Pharaoh, sit,” Philip voiced sternly as he noticed Pharaoh’s rear quarters just lifting up from the wet grass.

As Geoffrey and Terry circled around the rear of Philip and Pharaoh, Pharaoh squirmed his body and head so as to keep an eye on this other dog.

Then it happened!

As the Pit Bull arrived off to Philip’s right side, about eight feet away, Pharaoh sprang at the dog.  It was not entirely unexpected by Philip but even so, even with Pharaoh being held at short rein, the jump practically dragged Philip off his feet.  He had no idea that Pharaoh had such power in his legs now.  He was just a little over four months old!

“Pharaoh, No! Come here! Come back!” Philip combined shouting angry commands with dragging Pharaoh back to his left side.  Pharaoh begrudgingly obeyed but continued barking fiercely, standing erect on all four legs, lips curled back exposing his fangs and teeth; indeed everything about him signalling to the Pit Bull that Pharaoh was a deeply unhappy animal.

Debbie signalled to Geoff to retreat from the area and, as quickly as Pharaoh became upset, he settled down and squatted back on his haunches.

Debbie walked across to Philip.

“I’m terribly sorry to say this,” Debbie said quietly to Philip, “but I think you have a German Shepherd with an aggression issue.”

“Until you get that sorted, I just can’t take the risk of Pharaoh coming to these classes.  Under the circumstances, I’ll waive today’s training fee.”

With that Debbie returned to the other owners.

Philip was gutted.  Utterly shocked to his core.  The dog that meant so much to him had been rejected.  That rejection was as much his rejection as it was Pharaoh’s.

2,692 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter One.

So far, so good!

Yesterday, I offered you, dear reader, my foreword, as it were.  It was a fictional account of the coming together of man and grey wolf that over many thousands of years led to the domesticated dog that so many millions of us know and love.

Yes, it’s fiction but it’s not entirely improbable.  I say that because on the 20th May this year, I wrote about a meeting with a Grey Wolf that had been born in captivity yet not born a tame creature, far from it.  The post was called Musings on Love and included this picture of that Grey Wolf, Tundra.  The picture was taken by me just a few moments before I received a gentle lick on the face.

Wolf meets man.
Wolf meets man.


Moving on.  This is Chapter One set some 30,000 years, give or take, after Omo reached out to those injured wolf cubs.  Bet she had no idea what she started! 😉

Once again, all feedback welcomed.  Your support, as conveyed yesterday, is incredible.  Thank you so much.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter One

Philip stood very still as Sandra approached with the golden-brown puppy in her arms.  The puppy was an exquisite, miniature version of the fully-grown German Shepherd dogs that were on view elsewhere about Sandra’s kennels.

It was unusually warm this September day and Philip had unbuttoned the cuffs of his blue-white checked cotton shirt and folded his shirt sleeves back above both elbows.  Sandra offered the young, male puppy to Philip and he took it tenderly into his arms and cradled the gorgeous creature against his chest.  The pup’s warm body seemed to glow through its gleaming fur and the moment of contact was pure magic.  As Philip’s bare forearms touched the soft, sensuous flanks of this quiet, little creature something registered in Philip’s consciousness in ways that couldn’t be articulated but, nonetheless, something as real as, perhaps, a rainbow across the hills.

This first contact was a strong experience for both man and dog.  For even at the tender age of twelve weeks or so, the tiny dog appeared to sense that the human person holding him so longingly was deep in thought; far away in some remote place, almost trying to bridge a divide of many years.

Philip sat very carefully down on the wooden-slatted bench behind him so he could rest the beautiful animal in his lap.  The puppy was adorable.  Large, over-sized ears flopped across the top of a golden-brown furry head.  That golden-brown fur with countless black hairs intermingled within the tan flowed across the shoulders morphing into the predominantly cream colour of the pup’s soft, gangling front legs.  That creamy fur continuing along the little creature’s underbelly. The puppy Shepherd dog almost purred with contentment, his deep brown eyes gazing so intently into Philip’s deep blue eyes.  Puppy eyes starting to soften, maybe just a hint of eye-lids starting to close.

Philip had never before felt so close to an animal.  In a life time of more than fifty-nine years including cats at home when he was a young boy growing up in North-West London, and a pet cat when his own son and daughter were youngsters, Philip had never, ever sensed the stirrings of such a loving bond as he was sensing now.  As the young puppy seemed to be sensing in return.  This was going to be Philip’s dog, without a doubt.

“So, Sandra, tell me again what I need to know about raising a German Shepherd?”

Sandra Chambers, her grey hair turned up in a bun behind her head, brushed the dog hairs and the biscuit crumbs off her navy-blue overalls and sat down alongside Philip on the bench.  Sandra had seen hundreds of prospective owners over the more than forty years that she had been breeding German Shepherds up here on Devon’s Southern Dartmoor flanks.  But Philip was not typical of those hundreds of others.  First, he came on his own despite admitting that he was married.  Uncommon for a married couple not to chose a dog together. Then Philip, a good-looking, well-dressed, thoughtful man, that Sandra had guessed was in his late 50’s, had mentioned never previously owning a dog yet there was no question in his mind that this, his first dog, had to be a German Shepherd.  Sandra had counselled Philip that Shepherd dogs were wonderful, loyal companions but at the same time were incredibly strong animals; both physically and wilfully.  The commitment to properly and fully training a Shepherd dog was not to be underestimated.  A powerful, male Shepherd dog had the potential to kill a cat or a smaller dog in an instant, even to attack a stranger.  Training a dog such as this German Shepherd was without question.  Even more so in the case of the pup that Philip so fondly held as both the pup’s parents were from the very finest German bloodlines.

But despite Philip being such an unusual first owner, Sandra couldn’t miss the remarkable way that both Philip and the puppy had connected.

Sandra explained, “Well we’ve discussed his feeding needs, so that’s a big step.  At first just care and love him so he quickly registers that your home is his home.  Shepherds are very bright, very instinctive animals.  Just look at the way that he is watching your face just now!”

“Once you have him home, Philip, start into a routine in terms of potty training.  Let him out into your garden in his puppy harness so that he can sniff around.  As soon as he takes a pee or a dump reward him with kind words, a rub between his ears, even a small biscuit.  He will very quickly learn to potty outside.”

“You know I’m only a phone call away if you have any queries.”

Thus it was on a warm, sunny day in the first week of September, 2003 Philip drove the twenty miles from Sandra’s kennels in Bovey Tracey to his Harberton home just a few miles West of Totnes.  The little pup quiet as a mouse curled up on a blanket inside the puppy carrier placed on the passenger front seat; the passenger seat-belt around the front of the carrier; just in case!

Philip and his wife, Maggie, had anticipated that them getting a dog was more or less inevitable and the garden fencing around their village home had been double-checked.  Philip closed the wooden, five-bar gate behind him and drove the short distance up their gravel drive and parked the car.  He opened the passenger door and lifted the puppy carrier out and set it down on the warm grass.

A soft, wet nose lead the rest of a puppy’s body out of the carrier, cautiously sniffing and smelling the blades of grass. He padded across to a small tree, squatted and pee’d his first pee in his new home.

The front door opened and Maggie came down the front steps, slipping a beige jacket over her shoulders, brushing her long, blond hair back across the jacket as she did so and walked up to them.  “So you got him, then!”

She crouched down to be at the puppy’s level.  The dog, his eyes glistening with curiosity, came over to Maggie and sniffed her outstretched fingers.

“Oh, he is rather cute. Did you have difficulty choosing him?”

“No, not at all.  Sandra only had three puppies that were available just now and this little lad seemed to bond with me, and me with him, in a way that just wasn’t echoed with the other two puppies.”

“Plus, you know I always wanted a male Shepherd and the other pups were both females.”

Maggie stroked the young dog along his furry back. “What are we going to call him?”

Philip responded without hesitation. “Pharaoh.”

1140 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

No signs of intelligent life!

Sometimes one just has to scratch one’s head and wonder about life!

I can’t recall when and where I first heard the muse as to why Planet Earth has not been visited by aliens, but I recall the answer: “Because alien passers-by have not found any signs of intelligent life!

The reason that this comes to mind is that the damage that we are doing to our planet, nay to life on our planet, if we don’t embrace the reality of climate change is truly ‘gob-smacking’!

The evidence for this statement is over-powering.  Just last Friday, I republished a recent essay from Tom Engelhardt under the title of ‘The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”  Tom’s essay focused on the lack of any change that came out of the recent Presidential election.  That essay closed, thus:

But stop waiting for change, “big” or otherwise, to come from Washington.  It won’t.  Don’t misunderstand me: as the residents of the Midwestern drought zone and the Jersey shore now know all too well, change is coming, like it or not.  If, however, you want this country to be something other than its instigator and its victim, if you want the U.S. to engage a world of danger (and also of opportunity), you’d better call yourself and your friends and neighbors to the colors.  Don’t wait for a Washington focused on its own well-being in 2014 or 2016.  Mobilize yourself.  It’s time to occupy this country before it’s blown away in a storm.

An inciteful comment from reader Jules was this:

“Don’t count on anyone doing the obvious: launching the sort of Apollo-style R&D program that once got us to the moon and might speed the U.S. and the planet toward an alternative energy economy, or investing real money in the sort of mitigation projects for the new weather paradigm that might prevent a coastal city like New York — or even Washington – from turning into an uninhabitable disaster zone in some not so distant future.”

A pity. Americans can do some things very well, the kind of stuff that merits some of the hyperbole of being the greatest nation, the ability to mobilise a nation and lead the world being one of them. We need heroes maybe it’s time for you lot to don that cape and be one.

Americans have such a potential for positive change – I just can’t imagine why this Nation isn’t leading the world to a more Earth-friendly environment.

This then came into my ‘in-box’ on Friday: Could NDAA be the Death of Biofuels in America?  The article opened thus:

The US military is one of the most important developers of new technologies leading them to a point where they can be released onto the market for public and private use. Currently the Department of Defense, led by the Navy, is attempting to reduce its dependence on oil by as much as 50% by 2020, by producing US-made biofuels.

and the author concluded:

Nicole Lederer, the co-founder of E2, despaired that, “the military often leads major economic transitions in our country. Yet right now in Washington, some shortsighted lawmakers are poised to block a potentially major transformation of our national energy supply – and also hold back the significant economic growth and job gains that would come with it.”

Russ Teal, founder of the biorefinery builder Biodico, warned that, “the military is the biggest driver of the biofuels industry right now. If Congress stops the military from doing what the military knows is best, Congress also could threaten the growth of the Made-in-America biofuels industry.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

Then more or less the same time as I read the piece above, in came the latest from 350.org, an essay by Naomi Klein.

Naomi Klein: Do The Math, The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Destroying Our Future

Naomi Klein was out in the shattered neighbourhood of Rockaway Park Queens last weekend, participating in the Occupy relief efforts there. In this interview she underscores the importance of both increasing local resilience as a response to our changing climate and addressing the fossil fuel industry’s business model directly. As 350.org’s Do The Math campaign makes clear, the fossil fuel industry’s business plan will destroy the planet. Bill McKibben reminded the “Do The Math”audience in Seattle this month that the global warming math is quite simple: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2 degrees of warming. Anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, 5Xs the safe amount. And they are planning to burn it all, unless we rise up & stop them.

So is there any hope?  So easy to think not.  But in terms of hope the answer is “Yes, yes and yes!”  Because the decent peoples of the world are way ahead of their politicians.  Take the transition movement.  I used to live in the village of Harberton, just 3 miles from the town of Totnes, Devon, in the South-West of England.

Totnes High Street

Totnes was the site of the world’s first transition movement: Transition Town Totnes.  But as the Transition US website reveals, there are now:

126 official US initiatives
437 official initiatives worldwide
33 US states
34 countries
13 languages

One of the latest has just been formed in the city where Jean and I were living until just a few weeks ago, namely Payson, Arizona.  Here’s a reflection from John Hurlburt in Payson, one of a group of committed citizens who, like so many millions of others around the world, just can’t wait for governments to ‘lead’ and was one of the founding members of Transition Town Payson.

Keep it Simple

We share a living planet as a living species. Corporate finance fuels political hate and denial. The divisiveness of global and national politics reflects an unprecedented escalating global crisis. We live in a world of constant sorrow.

Our stubborn ignorance is the greatest threat to the objectives of peace and well-being. We have become so entrenched in the ‘ruts’ of our conditioned opinions that any semblance of balanced responsibility is immediately numbed by the deliberate stupidity of well-paid spin-doctors across a global electronic media.

The recovery process is truly simple. Surrender to the scientific facts of our inclusive reality, clean house, and have compassion for each other.  The good news is that a basic natural instinct of all life forms is to survive through adaptation.

John Hurlburt

So, on reflection, I was wrong to open with the degree of irony in my ‘voice’ that I had.  This is now a world of wonderful and amazing communication channels, many of them directly ‘person to person’.  The views of the world’s peoples are now so much louder than in previous times.  I am confident that right, rather than might, will prevail.

The loss of a lovely Uncle

Please indulge me with this purely personal reflection.

My Uncle Peter died in his sleep at 1.30am UK time on Monday, the 21st May, 2012.  He was 91 and had been suffering from declining health for a while.

As my parting gift from across the seas, I just wanted to record the great inspiration that he was to both me and my son, Alex.

Peter was a great gliding fan (sailplane in American speak!).  He must have started gliding not many years after the end of the war in 1945.  Anyway, when I was a young lad, back in the mists of time, my Uncle Peter took me for a glider flight.  That left a memory in me that lay dormant for many years until the late 1970s when a colleague, Roger Davis, introduced me to the Rattlesden Gliding Club and that started a 25-year interest in gliding and later power flying.

My son, Alex, also when he was a young boy was taken up for his first flight in a glider by Uncle Peter and later flew with me many times both in gliders and power aircraft.  Today he is a Senior Captain with a British airline.

So, dear Uncle Peter, what an aviation inspiration you have been for two generations.

Uncle Peter and two generations of pilots.

As it happens, 1.30 am UK time on Monday the 21st was 5.30pm Arizonan time on Sunday the 20th.  At that very moment, well 5.26pm to be precise, Jean and I were watching the solar eclipse and I took the photograph below of what was the partial eclipse here in Payson.

Partial solar eclipse partly hidden by the pine trees.

A tribute to a wonderful family man with a great sense of humour.

Rob Hopkins and ‘engaged optimism’.

A wonderful enlightened approach to the challenges facing our beautiful planet.

Rob Hopkins is a remarkable fellow.  In so many ways he is the most unlikely person to have kicked off almost single-handedly, a gathering world-wide revolution.

Rob Hopkins

There’s a very good description of the man on his Transition Culture website, from which I have republished this segment,

He is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network. This grew out of many years experience in education, teaching permaculture and natural building, and setting up the first 2 year full-time permaculture course in the world, at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, as well as co-ordinating the first eco-village development in Ireland to be granted planning permission.

He is author of ‘The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience’, which has been published in a number of languages, and which was voted the 5th most popular book taken on holiday by MPs during the summer of 2008, and more recently of ‘The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times’, published in October 2011.  He publishes the blog www.transitionculture.org, recently voted ‘the 4th best green blog in the UK’(!).  He tweets as @robintransition, and and recently came 11th in the PeerIndex-driven Sustainability Drivers List.

I am as guilty as the next person in promoting ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to what mankind is doing to this planet.  I devoted a couple of thousand words to that theme in a guest sermon that appeared on Learning from Dogs a week ago.  That’s not to say that unless mankind, in the millions, changes in significant ways then avoiding a catastrophy to our species, and many others, is going to be hugely difficult.

But motivating us all to change is far better undertaken from a position of positive guidance and inspiration, than out of fear!

So when Jean and I listened to a recent BBC radio broadcast by Rob as part of the BBC Radio 4 Four Thought series we were blown away by the guidance and inspiration that Rob presented.

It’s 15 minutes of hope, and you too can listen to it from anywhere in the world by going here or by going here.

This is how the BBC introduces the programme,

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Culture movement, believes that “engaged optimism” is the best way to face the global challenges of the future, be it climate change, oil supplies running out or the economic downturn. He believes initiatives enabling people to produce their own goods and services locally – from solar powered bottled beer to micro currencies like the Brixton pound – are the best way to build community resilience. Four Thought is a series of talks in which speakers give a personal viewpoint recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London.
Producer: Sheila Cook.

So do listen to the programme and then click across to the Transition Culture website where Rob has posted a transcript of his talk.  Please, whatever your plans today find time to listen to the programme and read the transcript.  Here’s how Rob closes his talk,

I often end talks I give with Arundhati Roy’s quote “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.  I think we might adapt her quote, so that, in the context of this bottom-up drive for more resilient communities, communities better prepared for uncertain times, it is not only a case of hearing another world breathing, but being able to see her around us, already setting up local businesses, reviving her local economy, setting up bakeries, breweries, food hubs, mentoring scores of young people with business ideas, attracting inward social investment finance, creating the models whereby people can invest in their communities and see them being strengthened and supported.

That’s why I get out of bed in the morning, because I feel that the potential in our getting this right is so exquisite that it’s all I can do, and because the grim predictability of what will happen if we do nothing is just unthinkable, especially in relation to the challenge of climate change.  If we are able to turn things around on the scale we need to turn them around on, to replace vulnerability, carbon intensity and fragility with resilience, it will be an achievement our children will tell tales about, sing songs about.  I hope I am there to hear them.  Thank you.

Another world is on her way!

Another beautiful world is on her way!

Satish Kumar and compasses

An introduction to this remarkable man.

On the 18th January, I re-published an article written by Satish Kumar that had recently appeared in Resurgence Magazine.  It was called Money and morality and attracted 1,300 readings plus an above-average number of comments.

After the article, I wrote,

Satish Kumar is an extraordinary person as a dip into his biographical details here will underline.  Please do read about Satish; you will be amazed by his background!  It includes this fact,

During this time, he has been the guiding spirit behind a number of now internationally-respected ecological and educational ventures including Schumacher College in South Devon where he is still a Visiting Fellow.

Schumacher College was well-know to me, 2006 and before, as I lived in the small village of Harberton, just outside Totnes in South Devon, England and Schumacher College at Dartington was less than 5 miles away.  The College description includes,

People from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, have been informed, inspired and encouraged to act, by our 20 years of transformative courses for sustainable living.

Then later, this,

It is precisely at this time of global upheaval that we want you to come to the College to share with us the ways in which you are moved to live and act differently.

and concluded that I would be presenting some videos of Satish Kumar in subsequent posts.

So today, I want to start with a video that despite its shortness is not short of wisdom.  There will be more from Satish soon.

Money and morality

Money must be guided by morality. – A powerful essay courtesy of Resurgence Magazine

(Because the essay, by Satish Kumar, is so well-worth reading, let me postpone my background chit-chat until later!)

Here it is.

If we take care of people and Nature, then the economy will take care of itself.

Money was a clever and convenient invention; it was designed as a means of exchange and a measure of wealth. But somehow that has changed; what was once solely a means to an end has become the end itself, and what was a measure of wealth has become wealth itself.

Take for example agriculture, the purpose of which was to produce nutritious food whilst ensuring that the land remained in good heart for all future generations and for the good health of biotic communities. Agriculture was a way of life that gave farmers their dignity, and in turn they cultivated the crops with tender loving care and considered their work intrinsically good.

Then came money, which changed everything: agriculture turned into agribusiness and the paramount purpose of it became the making of money. Food became a commodity and yet another means of making large profits. As a result British farmers – even those with 2,000 acres of land – cannot make a living, and farm labourers are paid £10 an hour whilst bankers are paid £1,000 an hour.

The example of agriculture turned to agribusiness is only one illustration of how our society has lost sight of right and wrong. We can cut down the rainforest to make money, we can pollute the rivers and over-fish the oceans for profit, we can destroy the local economy in search of cheaper goods, no matter how much CO2 is omitted in the process. The bottom line always comes first. We can hire and fire people at will for the sake of boosting the economy; people have become little more than the instruments of making money. GM crops, nuclear energy, cloning and animal experimentation – nothing is forbidden, just as long as it adds to GDP and increases the share value of corporations and companies.

Ethics, morals and human dignity are all secondary and subservient to the profit margin. Bankrupt bankers have to be bailed out even though we can all see that they and other business leaders are utterly incapable of solving the economic crisis. Politicians and policymakers have to obey their desires. No wonder then that our governments are completely incapable of creating conditions for the stability and wellbeing of people – because all social, political, educational and communal values exist solely to serve economic growth, which simply means growth in money supply, in GDP and in consumption.

As long as we are wedded to this financial paradigm and its money model, the strong will exploit the weak, and our social and environmental fabric (and morals) will continue to fall apart.

The current economic crisis gives us an opportunity to look deeper and examine the consequences of confusing the means with the ends. Money has a place, of course, but we must keep it in its place and not allow it to dominate our lives in such a manner that we lose all our bearings and become its slaves. Money was made to serve people, not the other way around. Unfortunately, we have allowed money to become the master and override all other moral, ethical and ecological values. There is more to life than an endless pursuit of money and profit.

Money is not wealth; real wealth is land, forest, rivers, animals and people. Wealth is created by the imagination, creativity and skill. Bankers and business leaders in search of ever-increasing profit are not the wealth creators; at best they are wealth counters and at worst wealth destroyers. So let’s honour the true wealth creators: skilled workers, architects and artists, craftsmen and women, teachers and doctors, builders and farmers; the economy is safe in their hands. Let us respect the generous Earth and wild Nature, the eternal source of wellbeing and prosperity. If we take care of people and Nature, then the economy will take care of itself.

Some people might say that this is too idealistic; but what have the realists done? They have made a complete mess of the world economy. Normally, we need idealism and realism in equal measure, but for the time being a little extra idealism will be helpful. We have had far too much realism.

Money must be guided by morality. And we are delighted to present this ideal in this issue of Resurgence, the first of a brand-new year.

Satish Kumar is Editor-in-Chief at Resurgence magazine.

with written permission from Resurgence magazine – at the heart of earth, art and spirit
published by The Resurgence Trust, Ford House, Hartland, Bideford, Devon EX39 6EE


OK, back to me!

I hope you enjoyed the essay, it certainly jumped off the page, as it were, for me hence my email to Emma Cocker, Picture Researcher & Assistant Editor at Resurgence Magazine which resulted in a very prompt approval for re-publishing on Learning from Dogs.

Satish Kumar

Satish Kumar is an extraordinary person as a dip into his biographical details here will underline.  Please do read about Satish; you will be amazed by his background!  It includes this fact,

During this time, he has been the guiding spirit behind a number of now internationally-respected ecological and educational ventures including Schumacher College in South Devon where he is still a Visiting Fellow.

Schumacher College was well-know to me, 2006 and before, as I lived in the small village of Harberton, just outside Totnes in South Devon, England and Schumacher College at Dartington was less than 5 miles away.  The College description includes,

People from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, have been informed, inspired and encouraged to act, by our 20 years of transformative courses for sustainable living.

Then later, this,

It is precisely at this time of global upheaval that we want you to come to the College to share with us the ways in which you are moved to live and act differently.

No wonder that Bill McKibben of 350.org fame and often quoted on this Blog is quoted on the Schumacher website,

Schumacher is a very special place. As we try and figure out what on earth we’re going to do with this unraveling planet, it’s become a thinktank for hope, a battery for positive vision!

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org

Finally, there are a number of videos presented by Satish that I propose to include in subsequent Posts on Learning from Dogs.