The Sheepdog’s Apprentice

Pedro is more of a general-purpose farm-dog and having a little helper is as much of a trial as a boon. But there is nothing like showing another what you do to make you realise what a full and interesting life you lead.

Pedro and the work-experience student

Pedro and the work-experience student

Marley has come to stay for a couple of weeks while Alison and Dan have a little respite in Spain, he is ten months old and curious and learning to be good.

The sheep took one look at Marley, from a distance and on a lead, and withdrew to the uppermost margin of the field where they gathered, in a defensive formation, ready to stamp their feet and advance as one, heads low, armed for butting, should he approach — they understand dogs completely, especially young ones.

Pedro looked askance at their reaction — the sheep have ignored him for years, ever since the day when he had been placed to block their way — he held his ground like a good dog should and each of them, in turn, jumped over him!

I am taking them for a walk to wear out the youngster but something strange has happened to Pedro — he is in mentor-mode.

Pedro and Marley

He shows Marley the ropes — the fences, the hedges, the tracks.  He shows him all the holes in the fences where the foxes and the badgers come in — he doesn’t have to explain, he just shows him how to sniff them and, by golly, he’s got a good nose!

He sees, with his nose, where the badgers get in from the rain forest-

Thi is where the badgers have burrowed under the fence -- can you smell them??

This is where the badgers have burrowed under the fence — can you smell them??

and what they have done to the pasture — this is the time of the year when the badgers scratch off the turf to feed-up on worms and grubs before winter.


Badger damage — the rootling of the earth pig (Welsh name – smells the same)

This is a run --can you smell a fox -- when we find a good bit we'll roll in it.

This is a run –can you smell a fox — when we find a good bit we’ll roll in it.

He shows him where the toadstools grow.


(No Sue, my last blog had nothing to do with mushrooms, magic or otherwise)

And now we’re going home for tea and a nice lie down — Pedro looks tired, it’s a big responsibility.

Pedro and Marley


Sleepy Conversation with Love


Good morning Sweetheart.

I’ve lost an umlaut!

It’ll be under your pillow.

I’m worried, it might have fallen into the Diphthong.

It’ll be back in Lancashire then.

I’ll never find it there – the ground is littered with aitches.

David says he doesn’t understand a word I write – but you do, don’t you?

Go back to sleep – or you’ll never find it – have you looked in the Co-op on Duckworth Street?

How clever of you – I remember now…

Education, Pest-control, Relationships, Sex-education, Things my mother did for me

Rats, Sexual ignorance and what you can do with a Bicycle

Wobbling alarmingly, she rode along the tree lined avenue on her old bicycle, in and out of shadow agitated by the breeze, looking up and seeing me her whole body became animated and moving her hand to give a jolly ring of the bell she was thrown even more off balance and lurched to an oblique halt, one foot resting on the kerb and the front wheel askew under the weight of two huge tomes which protruded from the wicker basket that was fixed to her handle bars.

‘I’ve got them!’ she shouted triumphantly with an excited wave of her bell-free hand.

My mum was forty-three, I was fifteen and she had just cycled the couple of miles from the library carrying two volumes of the Kinsey Report home for me in her bicycle basket.

This was a couple of years before the reform of the law on homosexuality in Britain; it had been discussed obliquely on the radio and I had recently asked my mother what, exactly, was a homosexual.

‘I met some in the war.’ she had said, ‘they were fun and I never minded being on duty with them which is more than I can say for most of the others. One night, I remember, they chased all the rats out of our building; we were over-run; they’d been gnawing at the wires in the telephone exchange; as the buildings around were bombed out, the rats had all moved in with us. The boys opened the gates to the lift shaft and drove them in so they fell down umpteen floors to the basement.

Young Mum2

I asked your father once what they did, the queers I mean, but he wouldn’t tell me… Perhaps we had better get a book.’

My mother wasn’t an educated woman, she could read and write, spell and add-up, subtract, multiply, divide and use a Ready-Reckoner. She had lovely handwriting and knew her tables. She knew the capitals of most of the countries coloured red on the map, in what had been the British Empire, now the Commonwealth and she could spell Mississippi – that was about it.

She had been taught by her mother to cook and how to speak properly (her mother had been lady’s-maid to Lady Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, and had stayed in some of the grandest houses in Britain and after her marriage she had cooked for all those policemen and attendants who worked at the magistrate’s court in Central London, where her husband was Clerk — so she knew how to cook and how the upper classes spoke, although Granny’s own voice retained a trace of the rural Essex of her birth).

My mother also knew the Ten Commandments, which she took seriously, and the importance of a good marriage and a quick smile – in fact, everything a lady needed to know in the middle of the twentieth century.

We went to the bookshop in Portscatho, in Cornwall during our holiday and (I can visualise the actual shelf) we purchased a Pelican, blue covered paperback, entitled ‘Homosexuality’, this I read with great expectation and disappointment – it told me nothing that I wanted to know but… It had a bibliography – the key to education!

When I went to the Public Library I threw the library staff into consternation, the books I requested from the bibliography were on a list – a restricted list – no one had requested such a book before – Welwyn Garden City had until that date been unaware of Dr Kinsey and his colleagues’ exhaustive study of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male or indeed its sequel, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female.

Again I was disappointed – denied the results of serious research on the grounds of age – the book could only be borrowed by someone who had attained the age of twenty-one (it might have been eighteen). I returned two hours later with my mother. There had been no fuss, I had explained to her my dilemma and she had simply picked up her purse and her library card.

She assured the senior librarian that she was over twenty-one ( he was nearing retirement and she was still very pretty with thick black hair that lolloped over one eye), she proffered her library card and her request and the books were duly ordered and collected a few days later, as described, by bicycle.


Knowledge is Power and there is nothing more embarrassing than ignorance.

Nothing shocked me in those dry academic tomes, nor my mother, who looked over my shoulder from time to time and asked me how I was getting on. I was empowered. I became an authority within the fifth form of my girls’ grammar school on all matters sexual and from a position of knowledge, if not experience.

Later, when I went to medical school I was fore-armed; nothing, in those innocent days, caught me unawares (unlike a fellow student, a man, much older than myself, who was overheard in a fertility clinic cross examining an attractive female patient , ‘How can you be having intercourse eight times a week when there are only seven nights in the week?’)

When my school friends expressed disgust at hitherto shady aspects of human sexuality and asked ‘Ugh, How low can they get?’ I knew the answer: A Jack Russell!