adventure, British history, Communication, Cornwall, Entertaining

Running the Helston Branch Line

Film by Bill Carr featuring his dad, my daughter’s partner, Pete. The project is part of Bill’s university course and takes ‘helping with the homework’ to a whole new level!

Seven minutes and well worth watching!

animal psychology, Communication, Doggy, Hill Farming, Humour

Working dog? Superdog

Here he is!


Not working!

Is he a Welsh Sheepdog?


Well, sort of.


He certainly understands sheep.

He knows when they are ill.


A caring-dog for any of our lambs that are poorly.

He’s much more than that.


Intrepid mountain-dog and finder-of-the-way-home-dog.

‘Responsible-adult’-dog.  Always alert, sensor-of-danger-dog.


Night-hound, watcher-of-your-back-dog.

Ratter, humane catter, licker-up-of-mess-dog.

He’s a parson’s nose disposer.

He’s not a ‘blind-dog’ but he’s a seeing-in-the-dark-dog, a hearing-for-the-relatively-deaf-dog and a sniffer-dog for the finding-something-dead-job.

But most important — he is a remembering-dog.  Working with the terminally forgetful.

If the chickens have not been turned out or the cratches not filled with hay he will fix the farmer with his beady eye (see above) and throw glances at the chicken house or the cratch until the farmer says,”Oh yes, we’d better see to the chickens,” or the hay or the 101 other forgettable chores on our little farm.

spring 2012 209 Pedro




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…

Communication, lifestyle

‘I’ve never been to London —

–but I went to Birmingham once and I didn’t like it,’ warned Aled before I left, ‘Too many people!’

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham -- reflection on 1960's 'iconic'.

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham — reflection on 1960’s ‘iconic’.

Birmingham is quiet when I change trains — not quite what it seems.

I am bound to join the World War One remembrance pilgrims to the Tower of London on a suitably wet November day.

People in the rain

People in the rain

The trouble with cities is the constant state of flux where everything is changed each time you visit.

Today, at Euston, they have hidden all the bus ticket machines and amongst all the psychedelic signage the Mayor of London proclaims that contactless debit cards now operate the buses  (they may well do, but they haven’t reached Mid-Wales yet) — and Oyster cards — I have forgotten the one my daughter gave me.

‘Excuse me!’ I say to a passing commuter who spins round, wide eyed.  The young woman with strings falling from her ears has been dragged from a parallel universe into mine and is terrified.  She does not speak, she does not stop.

My daughters have warned me of the danger of my country ways — you have to walk in a bubble, Mum, it’s the only way to survive.  You mustn’t keep invading people’s personal space.

I’m not stupid, I do not ask the two policemen with machine guns and I resist the temptation to point my camera at them — sometimes it flashes automatically.

Okay, I think.  I can do careful.   I approach the next person from the front with my arms close to my body but in full view, I smile but do not show my teeth, ‘Excuse me!  Where can I buy an Oyster card?’

The nice young man directs me to the Underground and down the steps I go — like those on a harbour wall down into a sea of people, swirling about as flows from different directions meet in a turbulent confluence.  I join a current and am carried along.  I am a strong swimmer but I can feel the power and I know that I am not in a bubble.  Crossing the flow, ‘I’m sorry!’ ‘Excuse me!’ ‘So sorry!’ I join an eddy that buffets me back to the steps and up to safety.

Looks like I’ll have to walk — I’m quite good at that.

By the time I get to St Pancras reason has prevailed and it’s quieter.  There are only about two hundred people in the Underground ticket hall and the ways to the exits are clearly visible — I am not phobic — just a normal human being — with instinct.

Here, something strange happens — like an hallucination…   Fireman Sam helps me — really, in his high-vis suit, helmet and visor — he helps me with the machine, the queue behind was getting restive.  I thank him and climb back into the air brandishing my Oyster card and am able to share my local knowledge with several Geordie pensioners who are trying to get on a bus.  They are explaining to the bus driver that they have money — he cannot understand what they are saying and stares nervously from his glass cage.


At the Tower, 800,000 ceramic poppies commemorate our fallen in WW1.  Everywhere I look, their descendants, their grand children, great grandchildren, great nieces and nephews, move slowly and politely, stopping to take photographs and waiting for someone to let them into a place by the railings to get their shot or their selfie — strange.  It’s raining and the poppies seem to miss their mark today but the snake of people, come to see them and be moved,  does not.

In London even the trees are grey, muted by urban substances and the Thames smells, as it did when I was a child, like no other river I know, but at dusk something strange happens.

At night there is magic in the city.

At night there is magic in the city.



Communication, Thoughtful

A Mammalist view of Words

There are two sorts of individual: those who need words and those that do not. If you are a writer you are likely to be one of the former — but not necessarily. Nonsense! Everyone needs words!

We have a friend who is a bit different, actually quite a lot different, he has a genetic abnormality that affects his ability to use language — the language part of his brain is absent or switched off.

A dog knows some nouns – his name, ‘dinner’, ‘walkies’, ‘stick’, and some verbs — ‘fetch’, and he understands ‘No!’ My dog understands some phrases – ‘feed the dog’, ‘feed the sheep’ and ‘go to bed.’ But he can’t articulate very clearly and, okay, his grasp of sophisticated language isn’t great.

Our friend’s articulation is better, he has the right equipment but his grasp of language is similar. This is quite a disability – but not that much of a disability. He looks different but is physically robust, as strong as an ox, has good balance and co-ordination, is hard working and eager to please – he will dig or sweep or wield an axe all day. He will walk home, day or night, mile across the fields and is never out of work and rarely short of money. He also has terrific social skills, notwithstanding his appearance and people’s often negative response to him for all the above reasons.

The thing is: he has a very well developed grasp of the non-verbal, knows exactly what is going on, who likes who, who doesn’t and who would stab you in the back – ‘Bad man!’ And he is right. This is another reason folks are wary of him. I’m not sure about the workings of his sense of humour but he loves to laugh, he rejoices in laughter, is attracted to it, infected by it, bathes in good humour when it surrounds him.

His life is very difficult – he loves to be in a social setting but social settings increasingly fear those who are different and finds excuses to exclude them.

It’s a shame I cannot transpose his perception of the world into words for you because, if I could, it would have the emotional intelligence that would stun you and there would be no bull-shit.

Words are very blunt instruments.

This brings me to the thought that set me off on this tack. People that haven’t always lived with animals find it odd: the concept of personality in other species and that is only because we depend so much on language. It means we miss a lot.

Communication, Disaster, Ecology

Media Miasma

It all started with a sunset –here in the hills it’s the one thing we miss but there it was — harbinger of more weirdness to come.

?????????????????????????????And the media was full of it — southerly winds scooping up all the industrial and vehicular effluent from France and Spain (didn’t think they had much) and funneling it over Eastern England to dump it there with a load of sand from the Sahara and produce the worst air pollution for aeons.

Thank goodness it wasn’t going to affect Wales — so where is the hill?

?????????????????????????????It was there yesterday!

Now you see it

Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

And there is a slight metropolitan smell — yes, definitely diesel fumes.

If it’s this bad in the West it must be cataclysmic in London.

Panic phone call to daughter in central London where the weather-man’s air quality map is scarlet, we are green.  ‘Pollution?’

‘Yes, pollution — the worst for years — a real pea-souper!’

‘What are you on about,Mum.  No, really Mum, I walked home to Wandsworth and it was a bit misty by the river — that’s all.’  Her husband had been in Canary Wharf — up a skyscraper — hadn’t noticed a thing.

‘Not even the people collapsing with asthma and heart disease?’

‘No Mum.’

That’s odd.


Communication, Humour, Neurophysiology, Thoughtful

Changing the Matrix of our Thought

I think that using IT –information technology, laptops, i-phones, satellite boxes and the like – is changing the way we think: changing the actual nuts and bolts of how we think – I think we are enhancing certain neural pathways in our brains and probably neglecting others, the old ways.

Some of us do this with greater ease than others.

For example, when humans detect incongruity in their world  (a soldier knitting or a little old lady pumping iron) we tend to laugh[i], incongruity is the core of humor.  When a train of thought leads us up a dead end, when the system of reasoning we are using doesn’t work, won’t extrapolate – we don’t bash on — we laugh and feel better and then we try another route.  We don’t right click and we don’t get frustrated.  Think of a joke, think why it is funny and you will probably see this.  Laughing protects us and we like to do it so we don’t hang on to trails of logic that don’t hold good — we giggle, abandon that menu and look for a new one — right clicking isn’t so enjoyable.

Sometimes when I’ve been on the computer late at night I dream within the computer’s matrix – it is disturbing – last night I couldn’t get out of Google.  We think in lots of matrices (superimposed restraints) – I’ve only just learned to think in Punctuation – for sixty years I did free thought.

Now, when I go to sleep, I can find myself dreaming in Word, with embedded commands out in the open, kicking my thoughts into shape, but not my shape, they direct the very narrative of my dream – it is weird and it is food for thought.

i] see the work of Marvin Minsky

Communication, Doggy, Humour

Dog Friendly Accomodation

Not just dog friendly — pig friendly — horse friendly — duck friendly — goose friendly — and, yes, human friendly!


We stayed in a place once, recommended by the Cornish Tourist Office as dog-friendly, where Pedro had to sleep in the car and the landlady sniffed at the gap under our bedroom door.  When we surprised her in the act, she accused my husband of smoking which he had not been doing (although he might have smelled of tobacco!)

Thus we are sceptical about such claims of tolerance and frienship.

Not so at the Crooked Inn, Trematon, near Saltash, Cornwall, England (for far-away friends).


Here we were welcomed by the host, a large, elderly, golden Labrador who met us in the car park and led us into the bar, explaining the rules to Pedro on the way under his breath.  Inside was a heaving Friday night bar where unseen wagging tails flagellated our passing legs.

Food was being served and dogs lolled under tables.  One of the locals was tired and emotional and obviously disliked tourists, he growled at Pedro and was bundled away by his friends several of whom then came over and introduced themselves.

In the dinning room, Pedro was calmed by under-floor heating and ate fat from excellent sirloin steak.

No one woofed in the night, not even when someone fell over a goose and set of the alarm.

Breakfast was generous smoked haddock with a perfect poached egg, garnished with lemon and fresh lime.  Outside the huge pig wandered free, unmolested by the running dogs and ignored by the over-coated horse.  The puddle-ducks dabbled and the geese gaggled and Pedro prepared for the serious business of the day


Communication, Humour

Only Puddleducks

Worst floods since 1756

We crossed the Somerset levels this week-end to visit family in Devon and Cornwall, the media warned of an impending apocalyptic storm, the prime minister acknowledged the plight of those whose farms and livelihoods  were already flooded and promised to dredge the rivers of Somerset.  Weather forecasts showed only swirling cloud completely obliterating our corner of western Europe.  We were foolish to set off.

It did rain most of the way to Plymouth.

We saw some swans preening in a vibrantly green field just east of Bridgewater.  We peered into the gloom waiting for the sea of flooded fields to appear.  The sun came out and we scanned the sky for rainbows, and for doves carrying twigs — there were none.

Where were the news men in galoshes standing on bridges about to be washed away and waiting for the record high tide at Burnham on Sea?  We did not expect the motorway to be submerged (we know that the clever civil engineers at least build their motorways higher than the flood plain) but from the high ground we had been led to expect diluvial vistas — silver fields.


As far as the eye could see all was green, actually very green for the time of year and some of the streams looked alarmingly full, I give you that.

When we arrived at our destination I checked to see if the Somerset levels had been moved, perhaps to Norfolk where it is very flat or to Cumbria where it does rain a lot, but no they were still where I thought they were and still in the centre of a media storm.  Yes, that’s about it — a media storm.


I wonder, is there something else going on — are they trying to distract us?

(Apologies if you have been flooded – please send photos! —  on 04.02.2014 the ‘storm ‘continues with a visit from HRH The Prince of Wales – for your information — an area of 25 sq miles is under water, that is equivalent to 5 miles by 5 miles, not a huge area in farming terms or compared with the area of the whole of the Somerset levels, it involves between 20-40 homes but is disrupting a lot more who feel that the problem is due to the government’s Environment Agency’s neglect of the river system. )

My dog can’t read

My dog can’t read – but he can smell where I’ve been.

He can eloquently remind me when I forget something in our shared routine.  He does this by urgently engaging my attention by gazing through my eyes into my mind then shooting a glance in the direction of the task that I have forgotten (usually one that he enjoys).  His body-clock is not, like mine, regulated by an unreliable stomach – it has pin-point accuracy, ‘Gosh, is that the time Pedro (that’s his name) you’re right, we’d better feed the sheep before it gets dark,’ or, more likely, ‘Alright!  Alright!  Don’t nag — I hadn‘t forgotten!’ which I had.


‘What did you say?’ asks my husband.

‘I was talking to the dog!’

His empathy is as finely tuned as his sense of smell (the dog, not my husband).  He knows exactly what I am feeling and he is not alone in this – I read of a dentist who had the greatest difficulty in separating his blind and nervous client from his guide dog — you’ve never heard such a kerfuffle.  Not until the master had removed his fluorescent harness, rendering him off duty, would the dog sit edgily in the waiting room.

The point I’m trying to make is that in pursuit of more and more exacting verbal communication we may be missing something.

My dog can't text  but uses the internet- BT

My dog can’t text
but uses the internet-

Non-verbal conversations can be the most eloquent, exchanged in an instant, are fluent in different languages, understood by other species and are rich in emotional content.

If you ask any parent who has a child on the other side of the world if they’d rather video-call or have a conventional telephone call they’ll tell you the importance of seeing their loved one’s face to know how they really are.

I suspect that, like everything in nature, the ability to talk without words is normally distributed, some of us have a lot of it and some of us have very little and most of us are somewhere in the middle.  I think that where we are on this spectrum is probably, like most things, a bit genetic and a bit learned.  I have had two babies, both normal: one arrived as a blank canvas and learned facial expression gradually by watching and mimicking, the other came out of the womb with, to our surprise, a complete repertoire of facial expressions.  Right from the beginning this child could express, pleasure, disgust, alarm, fear, pain, puzzlement, interest, attraction, satisfaction, surprise and wind.  Children like this are an open book and can engage more easily and earlier with others – we are not all born equal.

For those children born at the opposite end of the spectrum, endowed with little inherent understanding and deprived of opportunities to learn from others all those non-verbal cues that inform us about what other people (and my dog) are thinking, for whom other people’s thoughts are a mystery, life is confusing.  It is as if all their social interaction is by telephone. Worse than that: even the non-verbal elements of speech are removed; the secrets of prosody are hidden, the nuances of intonation and rhythm in speech that can change a statement into a challenge, or a rebuke, or a question, or just a ruminative echo.

The question is: when Nature alters brain structure or function a little further in one direction so that we notice it and call it a syndrome, what is it making room for?  What new possibilities may be opening to us.

I also read (in the Christmas Good Housekeeping, or maybe it was Prima – I went to the dentist this week) of a little boy with Asperger’s syndrome (which includes difficulties in understanding the non-verbal) who was helped by having a cat – this brings us full circle to my dog who has no words but communicates perfectly and could, like the cat in the article, teach others the art of non-verbal communication by repeated reinforcement without any parental pressure or angst.