Sunday, 23 March 2008

Up on Horsey Hill

A friend recently asked if Horsey Hill really is the name of one of the areas where Bingley gets walked. Sadly it isn’t, but there’s a good reason for making up these names.

The only opportunity Jane & I have to walk Bingley together is at the weekend. During the week Jane is up very early and is normally out with Bing by 5.30am (like most of us I’m still tucked up in bed at that time!). I then give him a longer lunchtime walk whilst Jane’s out at work.

When we tell each other where we’ve been with Bingley we’ve started using our own names to quickly and easily describe the route: ‘Fisherman’s Corner’ is down by the river (and during the day there’s often someone standing on the corner of the wharf, fishing), ‘Gassy Corner’ is a short stretch of ‘Riverbank Walk’ which always smells…well, gassy for some reason. Then there’s ‘The Big Green Hill (do I really need to explain that one?) and ‘Down by the Mean Pony’ (which I don’t want to talk about!).

‘Horsey Hill’ is another one of those places: it’s actually the bankies that run above Felling and all the way into Gateshead. There are some great views down the Tyne valley, lots of space for Bing to run, and the bird song is beautiful. I also like it because although there are plenty of ponies, none of them feel the need to chase us.

But we do have a problem with Horsey Hill at the moment because where there are horses there’s also usually manure, and where there’s manure is where Bingley likes to be the most. I’ve no idea where this sudden desire to consume horsey by-products has come from, but that desire is overwhelming and the B can sense it’s presence from a remarkable distance.

Until we can get his allergies pinned down we’d like to put a limit on his consumption of this grassy matter, so parts of Horsey Hill are now an on-lead location just like the roads. But that’s ok because some of those streets have names just as romantic as ones we’ve invented:, Saltmeadows Road, Bath Lane, and Nest Road; so Horsey Hill fits right in.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Light my fire

You know by now that we have a coal fire, but you don’t yet know about my evening routine of lighting the fire and how much Bingley enjoys helping me.

The B still sleeps most of the afternoon, but when I start banging around in the kitchen at around 5pm he immediately snaps awake and is ready for action. I keep him out of the way whilst I clean out the hot ashes, but when he sees me heading out into the backyard for the coal he knows it’s time to start chipping in.

When we get out to the bunker he always stands with his muzzle by the coal bucket, counting in each piece as I shovel. If a piece of coal misses the bucket it’s jackpot for Bingley: he picks it up in a flash and he’s off. Either I chase him, or he crunches it up: either way it’s a win win situation for him.

But I’ve got a steady hand and I’ve had lots of practice, so unless I’m feeling generous, no coal gets Binged.

Bingley then follows me inside as I lug the bucket with its squeaky handle to the fire place; he then follows me again as I head for the basket of kindling. Mmmmm, kindling! Ready made chews for Bing. But again, I’m a dab hand at this and know just how many sticks to pick up without dropping any. If I do drop one, ever helpful Bing lets me know immediately by picking it up and doing the mad kindling dance around the lounge.

If all has gone smoothly, I now have coal, kindling and fire lighters spread out on the hearth and it’s time to lay the fire. This is the best bit.

Crouching in front of the fireplace, I begin to place the coal. Bingley always comes and stands just behind me with his chin resting on my shoulder, watching every bit of coal and kindling being carefully placed. Ever helpful, once I’ve put a light to the fire he then decides that he’d better check that my ears are clean of coal dust by giving them a good licking. As I start squirming, he muzzles my hair furiously, then hoping that I’m distracted enough not to notice, he pushes his muzzle under my armpit to check the hearth for any coal or kindling that might have been left behind.

I sometimes leave a bit of kindling there because once he spots it his tail wags so much that I don’t need to use the bellows!

A variation of this happens every evening. Sometimes he gets the coal, sometimes he doesn’t; kindling gets snaffled every now and then. But he’s always a snuggley helper.

Sadly, the next house doesn’t have an open fire and it’s difficult to imagine a gas fire generating the same enchanting routine. But knowing Bing, I’m sure he’ll soon find plenty of other ways in which he can be helpful.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Itchy & scratchy

Bingley, it turns out, might have allergies. For some time now he’s been regularly shaking his head throughout the day and there have been times when we’ve noticed him rubbing the side of his head with his paws, trying to scratch his ears. It really is quite distressing to watch and we’ve often wished that he could talk just so he’d be able to tell us what the problem is.

But of course he can’t talk and finding out what the problem might be is why we have vets.

So last Friday his lunchtime walk included another visit to the vet. I have to schedule appointments close to the end of their opening hours because of his tendency to behave like Tigger whenever he meets new people; or, in the case of last Friday, when he met a delightful 6 month old cocker spaniel called Masie who was also in the waiting room. With careful timing we usually find an almost empty practice, and embarrassment and mayhem are kept to a minimum. Hopefully!

Once in the consulting room the remarkably calm young vet asked me lots of questions, but she quickly suggested that it was likely to be some kind of allergy. Blood & skin tests are the only method to accurately identify the causes, but once I explained that we were in the process of moving house we both agreed that it was probably better to leave that next step until we’d completed our move. It was nice to be reassured that Bingley isn’t in any pain; he’s just suffering the discomfort of itchy ears and, more recently, itchy paws.

The vet then said that she’d like to have a good look in his ears, which Tigger immediately read as a cue for playtime. ‘Would you mind’, asked the vet, ‘if I took him next door and got a couple of the nurses to hold him while I examine his ears?’ Of course I didn’t, though I wasn’t sure of what Bing (or the vet) would make of it.

Well, do you know she just came over, took the lead and said ‘come on Bingley’. He looked up, wagged his tail and happily trotted off with her. The door quietly shut behind them and I was suddenly left alone in the consulting room. It was the strangest feeling. I thought dogs were meant to be loyal? I would at the least have expected him to go into magnetic paws mode and say I don’t wanna go. But no, Bingley just walked off with the first pretty girl who made eyes at him. He didn’t even look back.

Ten minutes later they returned. Bingley glanced at me and then, lead trailing behind him, wandered off to explore the rest of the room. Meanwhile the vet explained that his ears are quite red inside, and we’ve now to start using medicated ear drops and anti-histamines until we can get the blood tests arranged. She also warned me that the house move would likely make things worse because of all the dust that’s going to be generated.

Once outside I sat Bingley down and asked him what he thought he was playing at just going off with a complete stranger. I didn’t get an answer though, because at that point Masie reappeared and Bing suddenly had another attractive girl to single-mindedly focus his attention on.