Friday, December 15, 2023

High maintenance hounds

My daughters on the farm in South Africa
with Cindy 1

Being with and around dogs has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was about three, my mother adopted a golden retriever puppy. Roy, as he was called, lived to the ripe old age of sixteen and was a character with a capital C. He was a terrible thief (he once ate an entire sherry and cream trifle my mother had made), he was not above raiding rubbish bins and eating the contents thereof, and he adored wallowing in the muddiest of puddles. 

Despite being a much-loved family member, Roy tended to be a bit short-fused. He bit my brother quite badly once, because Nick tried to pet him while he was asleep; he also bit me one day when I tried to pull him back from the front door when a delivery was being made. When I look back, I realise Roy was very high maintenance, but oddly enough I never paid attention to how much time and effort he consumed, probably because  he wasn't my responsibility when I was small. 

For instance, I didn't have to wash him off when he appeared black with mud from head to toe after finding a stagnant pond; I didn't have to take him to the vet when he found a chicken carcass in someone's bin and had to have his stomach pumped out to remove the bones that had got stuck –twice (the vet threatened my parents with all sorts of retribution if it happened again); nor did I have to make embarrassed excuses to the guests at their dinner party when he'd scoffed the pudding. My father, or most probably my mother, had to deal with all his sins. For us children, he was our playmate, albeit a somewhat irascible one.

Credit: Arman Werth

The photo above is not mine, but it gives an idea of what Roy looked like after he'd been for a good full-immersion wallow. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd been black, would it? I really have no idea how we managed to get him home and cleaned up after that particular adventure, but I remember he had an amazing ability to 'wear' himself clean. This, of course, meant that he wore the mud off on other things, like the carpets, the furniture, even us.

After Roy, my mother had another golden retriever, Roy 2, but by that time we'd all grown up and moved away, either to university or to jobs elsewhere, so I don't remember how demanding he was in terms of upkeep and general skulduggery. That said, I do recall my mother saying she could knit us all jerseys from the hair she brushed off him, so he was mostly likely pretty high maintenance as well.

Then, when we went to South Africa, we had other dogs during the years we lived there. They were mostly all short haired (see first photo), so less of a nuisance when they got mucky, which was also not as often because of the generally dryer, sunnier weather. The one exception was Polly the Collie, who was high maintenance not just for her long coat but for a number of reasons, the most awkward of which was her obsession with herding. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that gathered in groups of more than two was safe. This included swans and geese. Foolish dog. Even more foolish was yours truly who plunged into a frozen lake to rescue her when she decided skating on thin ice after a pair of swans was fun. It wasn't. For her or for me. 

However, it was when I got my Labrador/Dobermann cross, Sindy, that I really began to experience the meaning of having a high maintenance hound for whom I was 100% responsible.

As those of you who've read Living With My Sin know, Sindy (or Sin as she was aptly known) had issues, one of which was her somewhat bizarre relationship with cars. She totally wrecked the interior of our little Renault 5. I clearly remember the scrapyard dealer looking at the remains of our seats in amused amazement when we realised they, and the car, were completely beyond repair. 

"Your dog did that?" he asked, shaking his head. "Well, you'd better take it back."

"Why?" we spluttered.

"Because there are bits she hasn't finished yet," he said, grinning.

Sindy wallowing happily. Luckily, this time it was clean

Sindy with a mischievous bounce in her step

Naturally, we didn't; even so she also did some severe damage to the crate we made for her in the van we bought to replace the Renault. 

But when she wasn't being a one-dog-car-demolition expert or demonstrating her other anxieties in extreme ways, she could also enjoy normal doggy fun – such as charging through muddy puddles, sending filthy spray all over us. Now Sindy was largely black, so it didn't look too bad on her, but I can't say the same for our coats, jeans, faces and hands.

And now we have Zoe. Would you just look at that bundle of cuteness? High maintenance? Surely not! Well, think again. I don't think I've ever spent so much time brushing, snipping, cutting out knots, washing off mud, cleaning ears and generally keeping my little munchkin from looking a total ragamuffin. You see, she's just as fond of dashing through the mud, and being so close to the ground the mud seems equally fond of attaching itself to her. To make matters worse, she hates water, avoids any enticement to go swimming and resists being bathed with vigour. So once again, I end up wetter, dirtier and in even more of a mess than her when I manage to persuade her into the shower. 

A bundle of cuteness

And cute though she looks, she has some revolting predilictions. Every time she dips her nose into something awful (which is often), so do her ears...just saying it is enough, isn't it? Her eating habits would rival those of a Labrador, which is quite a statement, I know, but I'm often reminded of the website where I read that 'spaniels are always hungry'. What they didn't say was that spaniels will eat absolutely anything to assuage that hunger; there are no limits.

Of course, I always forgive her. How can I not? One pleading look from those limpid dark eyes and I'm lost.

So that's it. The story of my family life with high-maintenance hounds. The years between Sindy and Zoe were the longest I've ever lived without a dog. Reading this, you might wonder why I missed having one in my life so much, but the joy they give is so much more than the trouble they cause. Seeing Zoe scampering along the woodland paths ahead of me and feeling her constant companionship as she snuggles on the chair behind me when I'm teaching makes it all worthwhile. High maintenance our pooches might be, but they're also very high reward.

Enjoy your weekend, allemaal. There's one more week before the holiday, so I'll squeeze in a Christmas post before signing off for 2023. Till then, keep warm or cool, wherever you are!

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

The London Canal Museum

Last week, I mentioned the London Canal Museum in my post but didn't write about it then because it is really worthy of its own post. So, without further ado, here it is.

Just to recap, we were doing a day trip to London courtesy of the Eurostar, something neither Koos nor I had ever done before, so it was something of an experiment. Given that we only had six hours between arriving in London and departing again for home, we didn't want to spend too much time travelling from one place to another. As a result, we confined our wanderings to the areas around St Pancras and King's Cross.

Having feasted our eyes on our usual suspects – the Regent's canal and all the boats thereon (see last post) – as well as the gasometers,  we weren't quite sure what to do next.

"Look, the London Canal Museum is just a short walk from here." I pointed it out to Koos on Google maps. Its position was shown next to the harbour called Battlebridge Basin (also mentioned in my last post).

"Hmm," came the less than enthusiastic response. Koos, like me, doesn't really like museums, preferring to see history in the wild, so to speak. However, a canal museum appealed to me.

"Well, let's just walk to that harbour, anyway. We haven't been there before."

And so we set off, meandering through the back streets in what looked to be the general direction of the canal. I say 'looked to be' deliberately since I have zero sense of direction and it wasn't the same way we'd walked earlier in the day. What I'd forgotten was that in the morning, we'd crossed over the Regent's canal to the north side and turned west. This time, we were staying on the south side and turning a little east. 

However, since I don't know my north from my south, let alone east from west, and imagining we were already on the other side of the Regent's Canal, I was taken by surprise when we walked up a side street and saw the entrance to the museum. Yes. I know. It sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, try living in my brain for a while and see how I feel.

Anyway, after some minor discussion about whether to go or not to go, I clinched the deal by saying to Koos, "Come on. I'll pay. At least it'll be warm in there!" 

And what a treat it was.

The first item on display we noted after paying our dues was a beautifully restored towpath tractor. This one was built in 1960, and did the job horses were previously used for– towing barges along the canals.

I've always loved old tractors, and this one was a delight to see. The details of its background and purpose are just visible on the information board in the last photo (thank you, Koos). I had to wonder if the horses minded being made redundant by modern technology – as it was then. I could imagine them sighing as they hung up their harnesses for the last time, but I couldn't decide if the sigh would have been of relief or regret.

As I also mentioned last week, this museum was on the site of two ice wells, the inspiration for which came from one Carol Gatti, a Swiss Italian immigrant who came to London to make his fortune in the 1850s and did so. He was a café owner, but he realised money could be made by supplying ice to all sorts of different businesses. His story, and that of the ice wells, is detailed on the Canal Museum's website, which you can find here. In short, though, he started importing ice from Norway not only to supply local business and hotels, but also to provide clean, natural ice for Italian ice cream makers. The imported ice was stored in these wells before being distributed. Previously, ice from local ponds and lakes had been used, but I dread to think how unhygienic that natural ice might have doesn't really bear thinking of, does it?

Another aspect the museum focused on was about the children who both lived and worked on the canals. I was shocked to read that children were even employed to dig canals. In fact, I almost didn't believe it, but the photo below of the child navvies who helped dig the Manchester Ship Canal was somewhat chilling evidence of the truth.

But then children had to help the boatmen as well. The pictures below show a very young boy leading a a donkey along the towpath and a tiny girl tied to the roof of the narrowboat to prevent her from falling off. 

Another photo was of a small girl tying two boats together in readiness for loading. I believe Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, made laudable efforts to reduce child labour, but the legislation he inspired clearly didn't reach the canals. These photos are undoubtedly from the 20th century.

There were numerous other fascinating photos and information boards on canal life in the museum, but I found the two below especially interesting. The decline of the commercial canal traffic naturally began with the advent of train travel, and was further exacerbated when road transport grew. What I didn't know was that the winter of 1962/3 was the final death knell for canal boat transport. With the waterways frozen for months, barges were completely ice bound, leaving it to the trucks and trains to wrest the final slice of the commercial cake from the narrowboating community.

Nevertheless, revival was already happening in quite a different area – that of the pleasure craft industry. It's a heartwarming story of volunteering enthusiasm, but without the teams of eager canal lovers, the English network would not be half as extensive as it is today. The photo below tells the story of how the IWA (Inland Waterways Association) was founded in 1946 and how, with the help of thousands of volunteers, many of the cuts have been reopened, used now by happy cruisers across the country.

We must have spent well over an hour reading these posters, after which we stepped through the back door into the serene haven of Battlebridge Basin. It was hard to imagine such a peaceful place could exist in the heart of London's inner suburbs, but a resident we spoke to told us it really was as blissful as it looked.

"I used to gaze at this place from the café in that building on the other side," she told us, gesturing across the harbour. "I used to stop for a coffee on my way home from child care with my daughter, and I was determined that one day I'd live here."

Well, now she does. She said she'd had to wait a year to find the right boat to buy in the harbour, but when it came up, there was no stopping her. Was she happy with her decision? The smile on her cheerful face said it all. I've borrowed the photo below from a website titled Battlebridge Moorings, which gives some background to the basin. It's lovely to think these boats will still have the right to moor here for generations to come. Have a read and see its history for yourself.

Photo thanks to The museum is
on the right-hand side of the photo.

Well, that's it again allemaal. I hope you enjoyed browsing through the museum with me and learnt as much as I did. Next week, I'll catch up with more local doings. Enjoy the rest of this one, wherever you are.