Thursday, 17 January 2019

Dogs, etc

Sadly, in November our aged border terrier Fred died after a short illness. He had been a delightful little character and was much loved. However, he had a long life and remained fit until just a few days before he passed away. Not only did his death come as a surprise to us it was doubly so as we have an aged lurcher which we had completely expected to depart before Fred. Fergus, the lurcher, has been very unsteady on his feet for some time and for a while began losing weight. It does appear that he has found a new lease of life and, although still unsteady, he has put back the weight he lost and is now eating well again. All of this meant we were left with the elderly dog and, of course, our two year old lurcher Bertie, which I have previously written about. As we don’t expect Fergus to go on long into the future we decided that it would be a good idea to get a puppy. Having been used to company all his life we felt it unfair, when the time comes, for him to be left on his own.

We decided we would get a Jack Russell terrier and began to look for one. The first thing that struck me was just how much rubbish there is out there in terms of dogs/puppies. I have never heard of such bizarre crosses. Jugs, Cocker Doodle, Labra Doodles and many more. I can’t think for the life of me why people make such crosses. Most of our existing dog breeds have been bred for a specific purpose and have stood the test of time. Why mend it if it isn’t broke? I even came across several adverts for puppies which included crossing a perfectly good breed with Chihauhuas. What on earth are they trying to create? The truth is these people are creating mongrels with no apparent purpose for the breeding. It, however, quickly becomes clear the price for such abominations is always high. For the most part none of the puppies I discovered were on the market for less than £300. The truth is, if they have a worth at all, these mixes should not command a price any higher than £20. 

I eventually abandoned my internet search and began putting the word out between friends and acquaintances and I was lucky to get a fairly quick response from one mate whom knew of gamekeeper with a litter of terrier puppies and he assured me they were the right type. A visit was made to said keeper and a puppy selected. The litter was beautiful and an absolute credit to the breeder. So it was that we bought Humphrey a superb little tyke. He is everything we had hoped for and all that a terrier should be. He is proud and has a fair bit of attitude. He has taken to Bertie extremely well and they are almost inseparable. In fact we have been amazed just how much Bertie defers to the puppy. If Bertie is given a treat the pup grabs it from him and runs off and, most incredible of all, Bertie will even tolerate the puppy diving into his feed bowl and helping himself to Bertie's food. Dogs don’t get much more good natured than that. 

Humphrey is the sort of terrier I wanted, with beating in mind, for next season. He is of the confirmation of the original Jack Russells which the old parson was famed for. Humphrey will be about twelve or fourteen inches at the shoulder when he is mature, with straight legs and a good rough coat. His ears are not held up but bend over at the tips and he carries himself like a dream. Having said all this, and I am aware that the Jack Russell is now recognised as a breed by The Kennel Club, the dogs bearing the Jack Russell name were always of a type rather than a breed.

As a founder member of The Jack Russell Club of Great Britain many years ago, I do know a bit about them and have done a huge amount of research into the parson and his life. Parson Russell’s terriers were rough coated and high on the leg and were expected to run with hounds during a day’s fox hunting. They were not heavily built but slender enough to go to ground and bolt a fox when needed which is exactly what they were bred for. The parson’s famous terrier, Trump, was just such a dog and the rriers that followed,and carried the Jack Russell name, were all of a similar standard, shape and size. Looking through the adverts for Jack Russell’s today makes it pretty clear that any form of farm terrier, bandy legged, short or rough coated, and mostly short in the leg are given the title and sold for extortionate prices. 

I would be the last to suggest that some of these delightful little tykes do not work well and become quite useful little workers in a number of areas, not least, ratting. But, Jack Russell’s they are not. When I was involved with the breed club we did not seek Kennel Club recognition and most real enthusiasts didn’t want it either. However, it proved that many of the members were as feisty as their terriers which resulted in breakaway groups and a Parson Russel Terrier club being formed. 

I have long held the view that many of those people were only interested in inflating the prices they could command for their puppies and the long term welfare of the terrier was not of much concern to them. One only has to look at the ridiculous prices now being asked for such terriers to feel vindicated in having nothing to do with such clubs and their activities any more. I was not ripped off for my little chap and clearly his breeder was not motivated by large amounts of money for his puppies. He was a genuine working dog enthusiast and his great joy was having produced a litter of superb terriers all of which were going to working homes. Long may people of that calibre remain and prosper. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Old bangers

Anyone who has followed my jottings for any length of time will, no doubt, recall an article I wrote many moons ago relating how I became a Master of Mink Hounds and the formation of The Tandridge Mink Hounds which I ran for a good few years. Any pack of hounds needs a vehicle to be able to operate and the Tandridge was no exception. The country we hunted was huge, taking in half of Surrey and half of Kent. The distances we had to travel to meets were such that we could not have managed without transport. We, actually, had two vehicles one for hound transport and the other for transporting feed.

The other evening I was watching an edition of The Antiques Road Trip on the television and it brought back a flood of memories from my mink hound days. For those not familiar with the program, it basically, involves two antique experts travelling around an area of Britain in some sort of old /vintage car, and buying antiques for auction. The trip takes several stages with an auction at the end of each stage. The winner is the expert who has made the most money at the end of the "trip".

Well, you might ask what on earth has all this got to do with mink hunting in Surrey many years ago ? In the program I watched the other evening the vehicle which the two experts had been given for their trip turned out to be a Bedford Dormobile coloured powder blue. The same model of vehicle which we had used as a hound van and in the same colour. Our vehicle had been found for sale by one of our hunt members and I was assured that it was both a bargain and in good condition. Given that this all happened a long time ago I can't remember the exact price we paid for the old Bedford but the figure of seventy five pounds sticks in the back of my mind. In any event we bought this treasure and having done so the first thing which had to change was the colour. No self respecting mink hunt could possibly be seen driving around the country side in a vehicle painted powder blue, what would people think ! So it was that we bought a large, very large, can of paint of a shade which I would describe as army green. Quite a deep green but not khaki. The paint was applied to the vehicle by a team of enthusiastic painters by hand with brushes. When the task had been completed, all concerned agreed, it was a great improvement. The only trouble was the whole of the exterior of the vehicle was covered in the new improved shade but the interior was not. All surfaces within remained the dreaded powder blue. Open up any of the doors and the awful colour was there for the world to see. It was decided by the proud owners that this would have to be put up with as to strip out all the bits and pieces from within the vehicle in order to paint the interior metal surfaces would be far to complex and time consuming. Having painted our hound van we then had to construct a barrier behind the front seats in order to confine the hounds to the back section and prevent them from having access to the driving area. I found it quite amazing how many talents existed within the group of hunt supports we had attracted. Every time we needed a job doing some good soul would come forward with the skills and, hey presto, job done. We had a strong weld mesh screen in place in no time , fixed securely, which lasted the life of the vehicle. That van did us proud and proved to be very reliable as far as the motoring side of things went. Its major problem, we soon discovered, was the fact that the side, sliding door, slid rather too well. Each time it was operated the damned thing slid right out of it's guides and fell to the floor. We never succeeded in overcoming this problem, the solution being to keep it locked at all times. The door lock being a bit dodgy we bolted,on to the side of the van, a clasp and secured it with a padlock. The hound van went with the rest of the hunt to our neighbouring pack when I was transferred with my job to Dorset.

The second vehicle the hunt used was my Bedford Beagle van which, as it happened,was also painted a dark green but its paint job had been done by its makers Vauxhall. The van was affectionately known by all as the Flying Dustbin. It got this name from the fact that I used it to transport swill which was donated by the officers mess at Wandsworth Prison where I was serving at the time. Each day I would take out a plastic bin of the food waste from the mess and leave a clean bin ready to be filled. I got the idea from an article I had read regarding a military pack of hounds which fed food waste from its mess to hounds . I doubt if it could happen today since we are now swamped with petty regulations. In any event, our hounds thrived on that food and they looked in prime condition, so much so, that we won numerous prizes at the hound shows we entered.The van proved to be a reliable workhorse and did us well for a lot of years.The only negative event occurred when I was driving home one evening loaded up with a full bin of swill. The bin was located behind the drivers seat in the back of the van,being a van, there were no back seats. Just as I was approaching a cross roads at Sutton some lunatic pulled out in front of me from my left. I hit the breaks, the van stopped abruptly, and the bin of swill came forwards at a great force and covered me with its contents.Not nice ! The Flying Dustbin came to an abrupt and sudden end.One winters morning I set of for work at an early hour and a few hundred yards away from home I hit a large patch of black ice, the Flying Dustbin slid sideways, hit the curb and flipped over on to its side drivers side down. After the initial shock, and the overwhelming smell of spilt petrol, I made my exit via the passenger door which was then facing the sky.Incredibly I was unhurt. On the humorous side of the incident, there was an elderly lady walking along the opposite pavement. It was actually dark and I assume she was going to get her newspaper. The poor dear witnessed the whole incident and as I climbed out through the door she went into a series of screams before running away. I don't know, to this day, who she was or why she did a runner, did she think I was sort alien ? Oh well that's life. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Another Year

My years these days are very much built around seasonal activities. Once again I have reached the end of two seasons and begun another. First to end was the butterfly transect walks which ended in September. Having completed two a week since the beginning of April my weekly routine changes quite a lot. No longer do I have to consider the temperature, wind and sunshine each day in order to decide if a walk is going to be possible. There are rules for walking which are designed to provide the best conditions in which to count butterflies. This year was a good one with regard to butterfly walks as, throughout the walking season, I was able to complete a walk on every week. No blanks. 

The season was also good as we had the long dry spell during the summer which meant conditions were, for the most part, good for butterflies. In fact, on my two transect walks, I recorded a number of species not previously seen or not seen on those particular walks for many years. The White Letter Hairstreak, Argos Brown and White Admiral being a few. Also a good increase in Small Coppers. Generally there was a big increase in recorded numbers on the previous year. Although Small Tortoishells were down in numbers. In Dorset the good news is that numbers across the whole county were up just over fifty percent on recorded numbers for 2017. One interesting feature of this year's observations, which I came across during the hot dry spell, was the fact that all normal sources of water had dried up and consequently I observed large numbers of butterflies taking to the bottom of ditches. This was clearly an attempt to get at any moisture which might remain and by no means normal behaviour.

The next season to end for me was the dormouse survey season which runs from March through to the end of October. My involvement in these surveys has been to join teams on three surveys each month, two in Somerset and another just over the border into Wiltshire. One of the Somerset survey areas being right at the north of the county near Cheddar in the wonderfully named Goblin Coombe. Dormouse surveys involve checking nest boxes placed on trees and the number of boxes varies from fifty up to around eighty. Each box is opened and if a dormouse is found to be present it is weighed and its sex recorded and all data is then sent to The People Trust For Endangered Species. This year has been a productive one for dormouse numbers although the long dry summer did appear to keep the dormice out of the boxes for a couple of months. Quite simply, we concluded, it was just too hot and dry for comfort in a small wooden box. Normally, it appears, quite moist conditions within the boxes favours dormouse occupation of the boxes when not breeding. In fact on two occasions I found sleeping dormice in boxes which contained nesting material which was almost soggy. However, when we got into the breeding season in August / October we found good numbers of dormice. In fact on both of those months at Goblin Coombe we recorded dormouse numbers in the twenties. The additional good news was the fact that all mice weighed were sufficiently fat to ensure they would survive their hibernation through the winter months. This tells us that their food supply during the summer had been good enabling body weight to be achieved.

The other good news, well at least as far as I am concerned, is the fact that I have now got my own Dormouse survey licence. This has taken two years to achieve but now means I am able to conduct surveys on my own and to help train other people who want a licence.

So October brought the end of the recording season but it also heralded the beginning of the beating season and I now find myself attending a number of local shoots each week. In fact most weeks I am out beating four times. This year I was invited to beat on a mid-Dorset shoot which has down land with high hills and deep valleys. the views are quite simply stunning and since, so far,the weather has been kind to us it has been a delight. Not only that, it keeps this old man pretty fit.