Thursday, 31 December 2009

Friday, 25 December 2009

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The wooden hill

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that by this stage Bingley can trot up a set of stairs with absolute and unhesitating ease. Several of our daily walks take us up or down flights of long steps which he never balks at; and whilst in York we got caught out by the flooding and, having to change the walk we’d planned, we found ourselves having to negotiate some very steep steps up onto the old city walls. Bing handled that one with absolute, though cautious, equanimity.

You’d think then, that those early days when he shied away at the mere sight of a set of steps would be a distant memory by now; but instead we’re reminded of them every day.

Bingley still can’t climb up our own staircase! Instead he’ll put his front paws on the second tread and forlornly watch as we disappear upstairs. In his favour I should add that these days, after we’ve turned onto the landing and disappeared from his sight, he’s at least stopped trying to follow us by running into the kitchen to see where we’ve gone!

I should also mention that our stairs are especially steep, uncarpeted, and painted a deep lighthouse green. Very nautical and nice to look at (though they need a new coat of paint, especially on the bottom treads where Bingley’s front paws have tap danced away much of the paint) but to Bingley they probably resemble a cliff face.

That bottom-step tap dance is about as close as he gets to climbing upstairs. Instead he’ll patiently wait until one of us makes an appearance, then he’ll leap up and do a version of an enthusiastic Mexican Wave as we come downstairs again.

His reserves of patience aren’t vast, of course. If he thinks we might be getting ready to go out for a walk, he’s happy to wait but not for long. If we look downstairs at that point we’ll just see two big paws and a muzzle peeping around the lounge doorway, as he lies there waiting.

But if we’re taking too long about things, I have to say that we’ll get a reminder that he’s there. He rarely barks these days; instead we’ll hear a barely audible whine as tries to tell us that we’re being too slow. These Bing chimes remind me of those early days when he was practising his khöömei; it’s like having a little wind harp in the hallway.

Being mercenary we haven’t helped him to realise that he could bound up our staircase in a couple of leaps. Though we love being with him, it’s still nice to have part of the house as a Bing-free zone. And anyway, going back down that glassy staircase would be treacherous for somebody who doesn’t have non-slip footwear.

Still, it can only be a matter of time before the penny drops and we hear those paws pounding along the landing. Safety aside, I must admit that I long for that time. A Bing-free zone is all well and good, but I miss him even when he’s just downstairs.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Friday, 27 November 2009

A chocolate cello

Carl Friedrich Abel’s The Drexel Manuscript is one of the jewels in the repertoire of the viola da gamba, and Paolo Pandolfo’s recording of this collection is nothing short of sublime.

Hang on, some of you say. Have I lost my marbles? What am I doing talking about Baroque music on Bingley’s Blog?

Well, I could say that the beautiful, rich, chocolate brown tones of the viola da gamba remind me of the gorgeous brown sheens of Bingley’s coat. But that, though true, would be stretching things a bit.

The real answer though, lies in a painting. The sleeve notes to this CD include an illustration of a painting, by Gainsborough, of CF Abel. There he is in all his Baroque splendour, seated at a desk and composing away. Lying across his lap is the neck of a viola da gamba, a beautiful instrument and progenitor of the modern cello; and lying at his feet, in this very same painting, is a dog!

A lot has been written about Abel’s music, and justifiably so: he was a significant and prolific composer and a close contemporary of JS Bach. But not much is mentioned about his dog, which is a shame; and the iconography of 18th Century art notwithstanding, surely this is his dog

The relationship between dogs and artists is worth exploring, I think. Maybe not everyone is inspired by their dog, though there are certainly times when Bingley inspires some very strong emotions in me. Sadly though they’re not always of the creative variety!

But dogs are our companions and we spend a lot of time interacting with them. I for one allocate a significant part of each day to walking Bingley. Some of the time is spent playing together, some of that time spent in training sessions (no, I haven’t quite thrown in the towel yet!). But there are long spells when Bingley is off by himself on a sniffy ramble, and I have time to look at the views, listen to the bird song, and to think and reflect on all manner of things.

It’s easy to imagine that artists come up with some of their best ideas during these periods of dog-walking reflection. Certainly the atmosphere of the Drexel Manuscript is intensely reflective; and indeed the whole Consort repertoire has a beguiling solemnity and the rich, golden hues of a late autumn dog walk.

But I don’t know how dear old Carl would have got on with Bingley. Though I’m not a composer, I’m sure that I’ve been on the cusp of a Big Idea several times now; only to have my train of thought broken by the realisation that Bingley is eating or doing something he shouldn’t!

Our dogs can inspire great art, I’m sure of it. But perhaps it’s fortunate for all of us that Bingley isn’t the dog in that Gainsborough painting, because otherwise I doubt very much whether we’d be enjoying The Drexel Manuscript today!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The joy of socks

Bingley, without doubt, is a pooch full of mischief! But he’s also reliable and, up to a point, trustworthy. Even when he’s not fast asleep, I can generally leave him alone and know that he isn’t going to create havoc whilst I’m upstairs working at my computer.

Food is safe: he’s not going to raid the fridge or empty the bread bin. Books remain intact even when they’ve been left lying around. He did eat a remote control once, but all the others (and these things seem to breed like rabbits) have been untouched.

Of course, before leaving him alone we still need to do a spot check of all the stuff that might be within his grasp; but the list of items in danger of being Binged, is short.

Nevertheless, there are things which we have to look out for, and there’s absolutely no doubt that the top item on that danger list, the thing which Bings find utterly irresistible and which they will try their utmost to get hold of, are socks. Any kind of sock will do: thick, thin, long, short – it doesn’t matter; if it’s a sock, he wants it!

He doesn’t always wait until they’re off your feet either! If Jane’s sitting there relaxing in her warm woolly socks, she has to keep a constant eye out for a sneak attack. And Bingley being Bing, he can whip off a sock quicker than a magician hides a rabbit: one moment it’s there, in a second it’s gone. The only hint you get that something has happened is a cold foot and the sight of a gleeful dog bum-tucking around the lounge.

When I put on my walking boots for our afternoon ramble, I often end up hopping around the kitchen trying to pull on my socks, whilst the muzzle at the other end tries to pull them off again.

But it’s not just socks; gloves have a similar appeal, and we now have several pairs which have been reduced to fingerless mittens! Tissues and handkerchiefs are also regularly snaffled from unsuspecting pockets; and of course soft slippers have been a long time favourite.

Thankfully, if he does happen to capture one of these items whilst I’m upstairs, he lets me know. Sharing the knowledge is part of the fun, and if I don’t respond to all the noise, he patiently waits until I go back downstairs. Then just as I’m about the rescue the captive lying, strangely enough, just in front of him, he’ll whip it away and dash off: that way, he reckons, I’ll have to chase him!

Soft and chewy wool! I can think of nothing worse to have between my teeth – for me it’s the fingernails down a blackboard syndrome. But Bingley clearly loves it and will do anything to repeat the experience.

Over the past couple of years we’ve spent a small fortune on chew toys. Actually, I should rephrase that and say that we’ve wasted a small fortune on chew toys. Nothing lasts for long; not even those so called ‘indestructible’ toys that cost a lot but which are guaranteed to be chew proof. A few months ago we bought him a Hurley, which came in a lovely shade of green. The makers of the Hurley are so confident in their product that they offer a free replacement if your dog somehow manages to damage the toy. Well, it might have been chew proof but it wasn’t Bing proof, though to be honest it didn’t fare as badly as some: it took Bingley half an hour to destroy that one. Normally it only takes half that time!

But it turns out that once captured by Bingley, socks can survive longer than most of these toys do. Unless he’s in a particular ‘lets rip this to shreds’ mood, he’s content to lie there wearing a happy expression, as he slowly mouths the poor lump of wool to soggy oblivion.

It took us a while to switch over from the idea of buying expensive, indestructible toys which were anything but, to the idea of simply buying cheap sock-like toys which he could happily play with. But once we started buying soft toys there was no going back! It turns out that Bingley absolutely loves woolly toys. Not only that, they last! Occasionally he’ll try to remove that squeaky thing which is nested deep inside; but more often than not he’s content just too gently play with Bertie Bear or Little Pink Pig.

It’s yet another Bingley dichotomy: 38 kilos of high energy dog, strong and tough and ready for action. But deep down inside he’s just a big harmless softy who likes cuddly toys!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Bingley goes to Druridge

Druridge Bay is about an hours drive north of here. An hour’s drive, of course, isn’t really that far, but an hour there and an hour back makes for the longest journey that Bingley has had so far.

Up until now we’ve just been having weekend trips to our favourite bit of coast at Souter; and heading that way, we can be walking away from the car within half an hour of setting off from home.

Bingley absolutely loves going to the coast. But it hasn’t got much to do with the sea, or the views, or the bracing air. He likes it, I think, simply because lots of other dogs like it! Some of these dogs he meets and plays with; but plenty of others have been and gone, leaving behind tantalising markers which Bingley enjoys following with unbridled enthusiasm.

The pleasure he gets from exploring that canine world is closely followed by the joy of digging holes in the sand. And boy, oh boy, does he go for it!

As I’ve already mentioned, the sea itself probably isn’t at the top of his big list of favourites. But he still enjoys playing in it as long as the waves aren’t to big.

We’ve been popping down to Souter all summer, but now that Bingley has become completely comfortable with car travel, we decided that it was time to try some longer trips. Druridge seemed a good place to start: not so far that if things went wrong, it would take us all day to get back; and once we got there we knew we’d find sand, sea and dogs.

Jane and I actually went up by ourselves the first time, partly for driving practice, partly to reconnoitre the place. But though the drive was nice and easy, the weather on that first visit was vile. Druridge Bay has a huge beach that runs alongside land reclaimed from open cast mining. On our first trip the weather was cold, grey and windy; the tide was out and the whole place looked bleak and oppressive. We had a cup of tea and came straight home again!

But the day we took Bingley up there, the weather couldn’t have been more different: blue sky, sunshine and positively balmy temperatures. Thankfully he was fine with both the ride there, and the return home. We’d been concerned that motion sickness might have been an issue we’d have to face, and in fact we took some tablets with us just in case. But as it turned out we didn’t need them. The only problem we had with the outward journey, was a bout of are we there yet whimpering. On the way home he was too exhausted to even move!

In between the two car rides we all had a super day, meeting other people, other people’s dogs, and walking the full length of the beach (and back again!). Bingley (who confirmed his love of kelp!) had a whale of a time, and so did we.

Back at the car, we put down a towel for Bing to lie on; and as we drank our tea, he happily settled down and chewed his Kong. It felt like being at home! The perfect end to a lovely day, and we’re now sure that this is the just the first of many long trips we’ll be having with Bingley.