Saturday, November 30, 2019


Sophie is being kept busy.

This morning she's out on the garden table in the warm sun. She has to look her best for a trip to the rugby ground later today.

Grooming has not been a priority over the last week . It shows.

Brushing completed, the family princess and Angus stop and consider burger of the month at the local fast food outlet. Sophie is of the opinion that every morning should start with a burger . She is less keen on the idea of avocado or grilled peppers. 

We head off to the cafe for a coffee and a shared croissant. The girl behind the counter doesn't know about Bob. She's incredulous when I explain what's happened. Sophie gets told how brave she is. Sophie seems indifferent to this . She'd much prefer to be given surplus choux pastry.

We're coming round to the view that it is quite possible that Sophie will soon adjust to her role as the only family dog . Being the sole recipient of attention and not having to share curly croissant ends has an upside.

And a special thank you to Charlotte and Yamini for finding a way to get this marvellous picture of Bob to us.

This looks like a fun place to stay if you like remote:

Friday, November 29, 2019


Things getting back to normal. Sophie is taken to the vets for a full medical check. Dog owners guilt in action. The vet is absolutely certain that the walnut toxins were to blame for Bobs sudden and rapid demise. There was nothing that could have been done. He shows us the blood results. They are dire.  Sophie's by contrast are great.

Sophie is overweight - she has to lose a kilo or two - but otherwise in fighting form. We'd somehow always assumed that she would be the first to go. A history of toad eating and broken legs meant that she spent nine times as much time at the vets than her brother. The vet thinks it quite probable that in a decades time we shall have a very strong willed and feisty companion on our hands. Humour levels at The Rickety Old Farmhouse are back to 60% of where they should be.

The gas man comes to check on the boiler. He doesn't bring biscuits so Sophie is unimpressed. The window cleaner also arrives. He too is biscuitless. Sophie stands and glares at him. There is a clear inference that we should be choosing our trades folk with greater care. Jaffa Cakes would be perhaps be the best recommendation ?

On Saturday Sophie will accompany Angus to the morning rugby match.  It remains to be seen how she will respond to such a 'male' environment. You can be sure that the rugby players will spoil her. Her reaction may be less positive. I'm betting she gravitates to the hot dog caravan on arrival.

This video says everything about sheepdog energy levels :

Thursday, November 28, 2019


After the turmoil of the last few days The Rickety Old Farmhouse is returning to its usual routine.

The cleaning lady comes. Sophie is told how brave she is. The post lady stops by. Sophie is tickled. Madame Bay shows up. Sophie is smothered in a cloud of Lily of the Valley. Loic the heavily bifocaled gardener arrives to blow leaves. Sophie follows him round but she doesn't like the leaf blower so maintains a prudent distance. Finally, the oven repair man comes to replace a wobbly door hinge. Sophie sits in a corner of the kitchen and monitors him warily.

At the garden centre a variety of soft dog toys. Sophie is greatly taken with a ginger rabbit with a particularly loud and piercing squeaker . This is her new, favourite, plaything.

Thanksgiving music :

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Canine psychologist needed

A now we get a refresher course on canine psychology.

Sophie is clearly distraught about the disappearance of her brother.

Every couple of hours she barks, rushes out into the garden expectantly and looks round for Bob. That impatient ' I'm bored with this game. You can come out now ' sort of look.

We've bought her toys. She's eating just fine. She enjoys ten minutes of hearty catch the furry rabbit but her hearts not in it. She wanders off to check distant bedrooms and rarely visited corners in search of the 'oaf'. Tickles and soothing words help but don't cut it. She cries. She's loaded in the car but doesn't want to go into the bakers.

Any suggestions ?

For our part we're both discovering that one dog creates a tiny portion of the sounds two dogs make.

This seems pertinent :

This insight in to Washington was a surprise but made both of us smile :

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Well practised.

Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts . 

Yesterday morning passed in a blur. This most fastidious of boys hadn't been washed in the hospital.  He's given a gentle sponge bath. The test results bad - really bad. 10 litres of plasma over the weekend left the toxins unrepentant and the kidneys exhausted. There was no doubt as to the outcome. We spend half an hour with our local vet discussing options. What kindness. We head home with the boy.

Bob settles. Within an hour of coming off the drip he's faltering. It's called renal failure for a reason. His sister settles beside him. It's clearly where he wants to be. They lie like that until the senior vet comes. The third time he's been to the house for the same duty. Sophie stands on her hind legs at the gate and greets him.

And so another farewell. You'd think it would get easier but it doesn't. We know the routine. Ears stroked. Paws held. Muzzle scratched. A time to recognize his devotion and say thank you. The first injection. The vet carries him outside into the sunshine. A quick nod.The second injection. A reassuring 'What adventures beckon' from 'The Font'.  A final Au Revoir from me. Six years of shared memories rush by. The vet quietly recites a verse . A small courtesy he undertakes for each of his patients at moments like this. Last time it was Beckett. This time Blake * : 'Alors ils coururent jusqu’au bas de la plaine d’herbe, sautant, riant, Puis se lavèrent dans le fleuve pour briller au soleil'.

(* And by came an angel, who had a bright key, And he opened the coffins, and
set them all free; Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run And
wash in a river, and shine in the sun.)

A second after the injection Sophie lets out a howl from inside the house. 

Bob now lies on the ridge alongside two other Polish Lowland Sheepdogs. Three in a row. A place of limitless views .

In the afternoon Madame Bay came to stand by his grave as did The Old Farmer, the Belgian lady, the builder, the village odd job man, the cleaning lady and the mayor. The role of dogs is understood in a French village. This wouldn't happen in Britain. Champagne is consumed.

At the end of the day what a sky. What a sunset. 

This cheered us up ... somewhat and reminded us of Bob :

Monday, November 25, 2019

Bob. The family fellow. 2013-2019

  • He was the dog from central casting - fluffy, affable and a magnet for mischief.
  • He made us laugh all day, every day.
  • He was as stubborn as a mule. He could - and would - ignore commands by feigning complete and absolute deafness.
  • He viewed the post lady as his nemesis.
  • He would always look you right in the eye.
  • He understood that if you stare at a door long enough it would open.
  • At 5.55 every morning he would place a cold wet nose in his masters ear. A signal that the best day ever was starting and that we shouldn't miss a moment of it - together.
  • He steadfastly refused to stay up a minute later than ten pm.
  • If he wanted something he would come and rest his chin on your knee. 
  • When he was really happy he would snort with delight.
  • He loved Brussel Sprouts.
  • On dry mornings he would sit with his flock on the storm drain and put the world to rights. He was a better listener than communicator but his role was none the less valued.
  • Squirrels were to be chased with 100% head back, ears flying, tail waving enthusiasm.This was not a good hunting technique but he believed stealthiness to be vastly overrated. 
  • We pretended he'd been well trained. He pretended he'd been trained. His independence and doggedness were never in question. 
  • By mutual consent the puppy hood adventure in the shoe cupboard was never referred to again.
  • Somehow he never quite understood that his nose was soft and a hedgehogs spines hard.
  • He had a stump seat by the gate from where he'd view passing travellers. Most would be greeted, some would be ignored and a few would be growled at. It's as if he could judge the kindness in their souls, or lack of it, and respond accordingly. We came to recognize his skill in these judgments.
  • At bath times he would hide under an upstairs bed. The thwack thwack thwack of his tail always gave his place away. 
  • The vacuum cleaner was the devils spawn and had to be avoided at all costs.
  • He always employed a ' Why walk when you can run ? ' philosophy to life.Sometimes he'd get so excited he'd trip over his own feet. We called this his soft shoe shuffle routine.
  • C-A-T-S required constant vigilance.
  • He knew the word for biscuit in 84 languages .
  • He employed an aw-shucks farm boy charm with the girls at the bakery. Sometimes he got choux pastry slivers. He was often told he was handsome. This is a great endorsement for the aw-shucks routine.
  • Horse manure was always to be rolled in.
  • Fishing for minnows in the small stream required intense concentration and a confluence of mind / motor coordination he lacked. This never deterred him.
  • A shared croissant end was the height of sophistication.
  • He was known by name to the local rugby club, the man with the hot dog caravan, all the village pre-schoolers and most of the villagers. Quite an accomplishment for a six year old Polish sheepdog boy.
  • He liked to sit at the front door head out, rump in. In winter this was a position designed to let warm air flow out of the house and cold air to gust in.
  • His single greatest joy in life was a power walk round the lake with 'The Font'. A time of complete fulfilment when he could both guard and herd. A true multi-tasker.
  • The idea that 'it's too wet to go out' was a notion he completely failed to understand. 
  • There wasn't a puddle he wouldn't drink from.
  • He would sit under the large oak and watch the sunrise  and sunset.
  • He loved and was loved and will be missed. 

A big day.

The district nurse is here at seven to change a dressing. She informs Angus that her husband has booked flights to Aberdeen in January. ' The flight and hotel package were very reasonable ' she adds by way of explanation. Angus quietly thinks to himself that they must have been very reasonable to justify a trip to blustery North East Scotland in mid winter. I suggest she take rain wear.

The animal hospital phones at ten on Sunday evening. All is well with Bob. He's had a second pee but is largely 'zoned out'. The vet on duty says that ' we must be prudent in our expectations'. He repeats this a second time just in case we haven't got the message.

Renal tests for the family fellow this morning, then a meeting with our local vets to discuss the results. Then home. In terms of the simple routines of The Rickety Old Farmhouse and its inhabitants this will be a big day.

Sophie is still at sixes and sevens. Sometimes she sits at the door and barks. Sometimes she whimpers. The message simple - Why can't we find Bob ? This is not the reaction we'd anticipated from this fiercely independent lady.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


The hospital on a Sunday a cold, clinical place. Overnight the storm has stripped the last of the leaves from the trees that shade the car park.The skeleton staff close up at lunchtime. Bob has had a walk but is refusing to eat. ' We need to be realistic about things ' says the duty vet.

I suggest the logical next step. ' The Font ' makes it extremely clear that the hospital is not where the next stage of his journey will take place. 

We'd bring him home now but all our vets are away until Monday morning. We discuss the logistics. There is a reason dogs go to hospital. It is finally decided that there is no point in imposing a night of pain. Bob will stay in the hospital on the drip overnight. Tomorrow he'll be collected early and brought home to familiar surroundings and friendly faces. This decision is revisited many times over in the following hours but is the right one. Journeys should always begin from home.


Interesting psychology.

Midnight at The Rickety Old Farmhouse. A real humdinger of a storm blowing outside. The rain cascading down.  Sophie can't settle. She sits and looks at me.  ' Do you know my brothers not here ?' I scrunch her ear. She's not the only one worried about Bob. He's not eaten since Wednesday night and is in the recovery room on a drip. There's  a cat in there with him but he's so out of it he's not bothered. Somehow, miraculously, he's still with us.

We head into the kitchen. Angus has not one but two yogurts. Sophie licks the pots dishwasher clean. Some small recompense for being separated from Bob. She settles down with a sigh by the front door. Who'd ever have thought she'd be so upset ? 

Mid morning we'll all head off to see how the family fellow is getting on.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

He's a fighter.

Thank you for all your best wishes for Bob. Not only do the members of the local rugby team know him by name but so do all the village pre-schoolers and an eclectic mix of bloggers around the world. Not bad going for a six year old Polish Lowland Sheepdog boy.

Bob passed a quiet night. The youngest of the vets was in early to check up on him. His tail wagged when he saw her.  A conference call when all three of them make it into the surgery at eight. They are all absolutely firm in their belief that he should go to the clinic in Toulouse for another two nights.  Not a very pleasant thing for the family fellow to go through but it's good news that our local vets aren't willing to give up hope yet. A change from their outlook yesterday.

It's a weekend staff at the clinic. 'The Font' is allowed to give the family fellow a walk round the car park. Bob has a long pee - his first since yesterday afternoon. As long as he wants to fight and isn't in pain we'll be there. The district nurse says Angus can go over to visit Bob tomorrow . " Just don't pick him up '' she says sternly.

Things are moving quickly.

Everything accelerates. Four vets appointments. Bobs stomach fine but the kidneys failing. Fluid around the heart. 3 kilos of weight lost in as many days. Spasms. Tonight he's in the emergency room on a drip. The prognostication daunting. We'll fight as long as it takes but there's one unassailable rule - No pain. Our duty of care. 

An unchanged cast of characters. Three wonderful local vets and the gentle team of specialists at the clinic in Toulouse. The receptionist who unasked goes to the supermarket and buys 'The Font' a lunchtime sandwich. A promise from the youngest vet that someone will check on Bob through the night - the family fellows first ever time away from home alone. There is something noble in the kindness of strangers but their sense of duty and obligation is equally remarkable. 

Sophie who stays at home with Angus is completely distraught. This is something we hadn't expected from a girl who treated her brother with long suffering impatience. Tonight she has to be carried in from her spot by the gate - the place she always waits for him. She howls.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The oldest adage in the world.

A flood of visitors at the front gate. Somehow,the villagers have heard that Angus has been away. 'The Font' informs everyone that I'm resting. The Belgian lady bakes me a cake. Such are the courtesies of French village life.

The oldest adage in the world : It never rains but it pours. Bob, that most affable of companions, is not well. 

He's not eaten since Tuesday. His stomach is having spasms. His pupils saucer like. Nothing stays down .... or in. Three trips to the vets with 'The Font' in the last 60 hours. Blankets piled up to keep him warm and cosy.  The guess is , although there's no proof, that he's eaten some mouldy walnuts. This autumn the vet has seen two or three dogs a day suffering from this. Something to do with the walnut skins fermenting in the unseasonably wet conditions and creating toxins. Bob's had injections and his stomach cleaned out. Now we wait.

Even Sophie is aware that her brother is unwell.

After his operation Angus finds it helps to get up and walk around the house in the small hours.This strange timekeeping works out well - late night 'twinges' can be ignored. The family fellow now asleep under my desk, chin resting on my feet. There are some benefits of dog ownership, mutual devotion being one of them, that are eternal although not without cost. The good thing is that Bob is at heart as tough as nails. Being able to sleep with your chin on your best friends toes is of course the very best medicine.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Two canine companions.

The cheerful surgeon is there at the break of day to check me out of hospital. He thinks that a glass or two of Burgundy with food is a much more practical pain relief strategy than Codeine. ' I'd have a Romanee-Conti or a Richebourg with  dinner to help things along'.  In this regard both he and Angus are in complete agreement. The surgeon is once again wearing his sleeveless padded waistcoat despite the hospital heating being permanently set at tropical levels. Angus wonders why all hospitals are kept so warm. Does it stop patients catching chills ? All the staff are very deferential to the surgeon . A reminder that medicine and the military are hierarchical professions. The surgeon is referred to as 'Mister' , the less senior medics who wear scrubs are merely 'Doctor'.

The PONs are collected from the kennels by 'The Font'. The reunion is enthusiastic and vocal. Both Bob and Sophie rush into The Rickety Old Farmhouse. The angelic duo sniff Angus and then immediately calm down. They seem to know that a degree of reserve is needed. Bob maintains a solicitous watch on his master. Sophie doesn't. She keeps a weather eye on the kitchen in the hope that the roast chicken will somehow fall on the floor. This is an interesting insight into the psychology of our two canine companions.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


Later today we shall be heading home on the break of day flight. The PONs will be picked up from the kennels in time for a family dinner. 'The Font' has spent much of the last week monitoring Angus from a sofa in a hospital room and returning to a hotel during the day to catch up on sleep. The nursing staff have been unfailingly patient. Although the hospital is in an old building neither of us have ever seen a place with floors polished to such a high sheen. A team of happy floor polishers beaver away all day ... and much of the night. 

The anaesthetist says that her sedative is like the sweetest champagne which ( according to 'The Font' ) proves she is an excellent judge of character. The surgeon, who comes highly recommended, is a man of equally breezy disposition who tells this patient ' A quick rummage round and we'll have you as right as rain in no time '.  Angus can't help but think that this is the sort of thing a mechanic might say to the owner of one of those 90's era Volvo station wagons much loved by retired Berkeley faculty. The surgeon wears a suit and one of those padded sleeveless hunting, shooting and fishing jerkins . He is, I would surmise, a man who only deals in certainties.

There are two televisions in the room. Why this should be so is something of a mystery. All the channels have been pre-selected to be cheerful and mindless. Angus survives on a diet of uplifting light entertainment. Mike and Molly, Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Goldbergs and Third Rock from the Sun. Discharge cannot come too quickly.

A book that is highly recommended. A Dog Anthology. A perfect accompaniment for a patient on synthetic opioids. Read while other weightier tomes have not been touched. An interesting collection of vignettes includes a memorable but disturbing poem by a Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska . An insight into Polands history - and a reminder that in 1945 there were a mere handful of Polish Lowland Sheepdogs left. A vicar writes an uplifting little piece that points out that there's more to life than heaven. At the end of time God remakes all Creation - a time when dogs come into their own as fully loving and loved. This little essay alone a good enough reason for buying the book. For dog owners a charming and kind and thoughtful - and adult - addition to their book shelves.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A brief hiatus.

There must be something in the autumn air that triggers the PONs fur to go into growth mode. It seems as if it's grown a couple of inches in as many weeks. Bobs coat thick and luxuriant and soft.  Sophie's coat merely thick and luxuriant.

The mayor is an early visitor. He's come to take down the flags after yesterdays well attended Armistice ceremony.

There will be a brief halt in the blog. Angus has to go into hospital in London for a few days. This change to the routine is explained to the PONs. They will stay with 'The Font' until tomorrow night and then go into  the K-E-N-N-E-L-S for five or six days. Bob absorbs this information with all the  responsibility of a family fellow. Sophie is not impressed, she fears that the standard of cuisine will fall.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A good turnout ?

One of those joined at the hip mornings as  Sophie follows me round the house. Everywhere I go, she goes. The mayor arrives at the front door to borrow the step ladders so he can put out the flags on the war memorial. There is to be a ceremony of remembrance at 11.00.  An old farmer in a white van comes by as the mayor is clambering up the ladder. ' The driver stops, lowers the window, and shouts out ' Bonjour. What are you doing ? '. " I'm putting out the flags " replies the mayor with literal concision.

It's a national holiday here today. I'm guessing the mayors expecting a healthy turnout of villagers for this, his last, armistice day.

The pizza shop in the little market town has closed. Locals will no longer be able to enjoy its duck, cottage cheese and boudin noir toppings. On the other side of the road a new pizza franchise has opened. A 24/7 automated pizza dispenser.  It claims the pizzas are fresh but in a court of law this would probably mean freshly microwaved. To call it Bella Italia hints at the owner having a healthy sense of humour - or cynicism.

Bizarre British election insight of the day . A vote winning video. Prime Minister with a mop :

Sunday, November 10, 2019

CD's to North Korea.

One of those mornings when the PONs take some time to wake up. I'm guessing from the look on their faces that this is not a day for judging the constitutional merits of impeachment.

Another election e-mail from the British Prime Minister. This time it says the country exports Jason Donovan CD's to North Korea. An unusual factoid for an election campaign. Who remembers Jason Donovan ? Isn't North Korea on some sort of UN sanctions list ? I'm now looking forward to tomorrows e-mail to see what fresh aspects of Britishness it uncovers.

A busy start to a Sunday morning in the little market town. A lady with a Yorkie sees the PONs and immediately sweeps her little darling off its feet and into the safety of her coat. A beagle at the cash machine is ready to wander over  for a chat. I hurry the PONs along. Bob is always ready for a chat but with Sophie impromptu meetings can sometimes become 'noisy'.

Cheesecake day in the bakers. I ask the bakers wife what flavours they are. ' Cheesecake  she replies. Upon further questioning it transpires that they're lemon flavoured, classic with pecan, fruit and classic without pecan.

And an Arts and Crafts house that has been restored and opened as a museum in Cambridge :

How time flies. A tweet from the UK ambassador to France :

Saturday, November 9, 2019


No rain this morning. Just a brisk wind. Ideal PON weather.

Sophie heads off along the lane at a fast clip, nose down.  The owls have been busy overnight.The ground under the plane trees where they roost covered in morsels of discarded shrew and vole. While Sophie rummages Bob and Angus discuss whether Mulvaney, Giuliani and Sondland are willing fall guys. 

The British Prime Minister sends Angus a round robin e-mail. Election time is when a lot of politicians of all parties send Angus e-mails. In between times, when they don't want money, they ignore him. The e-mail says ' We invented the steam train. Gave birth to football. There's nothing as a country we can't do '. The banality of this makes Angus think this is some sort of spoof. Surely there are other national attributes that warrant mentioning ? I'd have liked to see something about decency or honour but these are presumably deemed non-vote winning.

Bob settles under my desk and is soon asleep. The challenge of working out how you measure the statement that 'No country in the world has greater potential than ours ' too taxing for the male PON at this time in the morning. Five more weeks of this before election day.

After Eight mints show up on the supermarket shelves. If there is any sure sign that the festive season is upon us it's the appearance of After Eight mints. These are considered to be the height of sophistication by Madame Bay who munches on them and considers them to be ' tres British'. Somehow she believes that Prince Charles makes them.

There are people in life who make amends for the worlds woes. The folks who run this sanctuary in Vietnam care for bears who have been farmed for their bile duct. Removing the bile a painful, invasive and risky process. Kept in cages for years they develop heart rending illnesses. Simply wonderful to see terrified animals cared for :