One of the best things about winter is that the sun comes up sufficiently late for us to catch the sunrise. Molly and I were taking our early morning walk the other day and the sun was just coming up over the hills. The colours were stunning. It was like normal life, but with the colour saturation cranked up to the max.*







* Please excuse the large volume of photos on my blog that are of this part of Somerset and taken with my cameraphone. But I walk along here several times a day and there’s always something new to see. I really do live in a particularly fantastic part of the world. And no, I don’t work for the tourist board. Though perhaps I should.

The many faces of Molly the Labrador

Molly, my Labrador, is particularly expressive. If she’s happy, you’ll know it. And if she’s unhappy, then you’ll know that, too. And there’s a whole range of emotions in between. Here’s a quick guide to some of her most common moods.

Here’s ‘cheerful’…


And here’s ‘alert’…


Here, for the sake of balance (and realism), is ‘slightly nuts’…


Here’s ‘Alert! Unauthorised something going on here! Alert!’

IMG_2886 Here’s ‘tired’…


Here’s ‘dubious’. We get this a lot. Especially when I try to do some DIY around the house.


Here’s ‘playful’… We get this one a lot, too. There’s usually a tennis ball involved.


Here’s ‘What the hell are you doing? I’m trying to sleep here’.


And here’s ‘tired’ again. No, I don’t know why nobody’s using the sofa. It’s probably too covered in dog hair.


In the gloaming

The gloaming is that fleeting, magical time just after sunset but before darkness. We hardly notice it in the summer because it stays light so late. But as the days get shorter, the gloaming’s nearly-night-time arrives ever earlier. Our bodies tell us that it’s time to hunker down for the evening. But our watches, sadly, tell us that it’s only half past four and our to-do lists point out politely that there’s no chance of slumping onto the sofa for at least another couple of hours.

Which is why, at this time of year, Molly and I invariably find ourselves taking our evening walk in this odd half-light, when the daytime is over but the night-time proper hasn’t really kicked in. Now, you might argue that a moonlight stroll is a perfect, even rather romantic, end to the day. But when (a) it is cold, (b) it is muddy, (c) one of you is tired after a day’s work and (d) the other one of you is a nuts Labrador, romantic is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

The views over the valley at this time of day, though, are pretty spectacular. Which is the main reason for this post. Because it has been raining here all day, but as the sun went down the rain stopped and we had a brief moment of calm as the moon rose in the sky and the world prepared itself for bed. As usual, though, I’d forgotten to take a proper camera so was forced to rely on my very rubbish camera phone.

Anyway, here’s the moon over the valley. The three bright points of light in a little row are the floodlights at the football pitch in the next village along. Must be soccer practice tonight. Most of the other lights are street lights along the main road, with some houses mixed in.


Here’s the view looking west, where you can see that the sun has only just gone down. You can see the lights from a couple of remote cottages in the valley below, but there’s not really much here between us and the sea.


OK, so the zoom on my camera phone is fairly awful. But I just loved the colours in the sky; the way it goes from pink to blue so delicately, silhouetting the hills below and the clouds above.


On our way home, we passed the local church and the porch light cast this welcoming glow across the graveyard. I know it’s wonky and blurred (the photo, not the church), but given that I was holding my camera phone and the end of the dog’s lead in the same hand, I’m just glad you can make out anything at all.


And then, as quickly as it had arrived, the twilight of the gloaming was replaced by true darkness. In wintertime, this ephemeral period is most definitely my favourite time of day. Or is it night? Whatever. Here’s to the gloaming.

Five ways my dog tries to hoodwink me – and one reason why she is (almost) never successful

As regular readers will know, I am the proud owner of a rather adorable Labrador called Molly. But like most Labradors she has a rather dubious approach to personal hygiene. She likes nothing better than to charge through the mud, roll in something disgusting (the slimier and stinkier the better) or pick up the thing she’s just rolled in and run around with it in her mouth.

Her preferred time to indulge in such activities is, inevitably, (a) when I’m in a hurry, (b) when I’m wearing a suit or (c) when we’re standing in front of a bunch of prim, disapproving elderly ladies just outside the church. But if I’m on the ball then I can usually see what’s about to happen and take appropriate steps to intervene (i.e. shout, scream, throw things and generally try to be more exciting than a piece of badger poo).


Would this face lie?

This does not go down well with Molly, who is clearly outraged that I could even think that she would do something so heinous as to roll in faeces or hurl herself joyously into a sludge-filled ditch. And to cover up for her attempted misdemeanour, she has a range of strategies at her disposal. Here are my top five.

1. The wee. I was just stopping for a wee. Look, I’m weeing. You never trust me. This is outrageous.

2. The sniff. I was just stopping to sniff this blade of grass. It’s quite a fine blade of grass, wouldn’t you agree. Very green and … er … grassy.

3. The other sniff. I wasn’t going to roll in it. I was just going to sniff it. Honest. Look, I’m only sniffing. Sniff. Oops, I swallowed it. Butterfingers.

4. The fetch. I think I dropped my ball down there. I’m just going to get it back. There it it. I can see it. I can almost reach it. Almost. Just a little bit more. A little stretch. Splash.

5. The you can’t get to me in time. Look, fat boy. I’m standing right here next to this steaming pile of excrement and you’re a good fifty metres away. Even if you were Usain Bolt, which you’re patently not, there’s no way you can get here before I’ve had a good old roll. Sure, I’ll be in trouble and I’ll need a bath, but to be honest it’s sooo worth it. So here goes. Get running, chubbs.

Luckily for me, though, Molly’s plan to get as mucky as possible as frequently as possible suffers from one minor snag, which means that no matter how hard she tries she’s hardly ever able to completely pull the wool over my eyes.

And this snag is that whenever she spies an opportunity to do something disgusting, she approaches her task with such obvious glee – huge grin, eyebrows wiggling with anticipation, tail waving like a giant orange flag – that anyone within half a mile can tell exactly what she’s up to.

Guile, it would appear, is not a word that exists in Molly’s vocabulary. But she certainly does a good line in exuberance, excitement and general enthusiasm. And this, as dog owners across the world are well aware, is what Labradors are all about.

Extreme cuteness alert

I came across some extremely cute pictures of Molly when she was just twelve weeks old. We’d only had her for a day and were still terrified that we’d get it all wrong. But we must have got something right, as Molly’s now three and seems to be doing just fine. We’re exhausted and gibbering wrecks, mind you, but the dog’s peachy.

Our new addition...

Our new addition (left)



Always alert

Always alert

Note the nice, comfy (and empty) pen on the left!

Note the nice, comfy (and empty) pen on the left!

But it's all soooooo tiring!

But it’s all soooooo tiring!

Paparazzi alert: Molly and the boys

I went to see my mother at the weekend. Not a particularly promising topic for a blog post, but bear with me. My mum lives in a very picturesque corner of rural Somerset and, as she has recently hurt her knee and was hopping around like a demented pirate, Natalie and I offered to take her two border collies, Vasco and Hal, for a walk with Molly, our Labrador.

After spending the better part of an hour wandering through the fields, Natalie decided that she wanted to take a look at the plant nursery at Forde Abbey, which lay on our way back to my mum’s house. While dogs are allowed in the nursery, we thought that three might be pushing it. So while Natalie went in, I found a shady patch under a tree next to the river and sat down with two border collies, one Labrador and a big bag of dog biscuits.

It was quite pleasant sitting there and the dogs were behaving unusually well. Vasco and Hal were overjoyed to be out and about and Molly was just happy to be tagging along. And our little picture of perfection didn’t go unnoticed. Several people grinned at us as they walked past and, at one point, a lady with a car-full of kids pulled over and several of her offspring dangled out of the windows to get a better look.

After we’d been there for about twenty minutes or so, I noticed a middle aged couple bustling over in our direction. The man was clearly in a hurry and he left his wife trailing behind him as he charged towards us. When he was about twelve feet away, he pulled out a little camera. “This is just perfect,” he exclaimed. “Do you mind if I take your photo.” I was a little bemused. Vasco and Hal were unperturbed. Molly was delighted.

It turned out that the man and his wife were on holiday in the UK from their home in New Zealand. They are big fans of border collies and regularly play host to their neighbours’ own two dogs on their back porch. And I know this because the couple produced an iPad and backed up their story with photographic evidence. We spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour or so chatting about the various dogs that we have know and loved. And then, as quickly as they had arrived, they were on their way – and I returned to my patch in the sun, with Molly and the boys.

A morning walk

My dog and I have just got back from our morning walk through the fields on the edge of the small town where we live. We have a very pleasant morning walk, in which we meander along the side of a long valley, which leads from Bristol right down to the sea. And when it is sunny like today, our walk is a particular pleasure.

The valley near our house

Valley of the hounds

As we reached the mid-point of our wander, we passed two small terriers playing on the edge of a field. Molly greeted them in her usual enthusiastic manner and, after a brief interlude in which the three dogs took turns to chase each other in a sweeping circle through the freshly-cut grass, we continued on our way.

About five minutes later, we heard one of the terriers let out a colossal woof. Not a ‘look what I’ve found’ woof or a ‘help, a tiger’s got me’ woof, but one that says simply ‘hello world, I’m here’. In the dewy morning air, the woof echoed slowly down the valley, as if all the world’s terriers were joining in. Our new friend was evidently surprised by this response, as he woofed again. And again.

One by one, other dogs in the fields and hamlets down the valley joined in, until the place was alive with a riotous symphony of canine communication, multiplied a hundred-fold by the steep hills on either side. My own dog, needless to say, sat silently, taking this all in with her usual quizzical expression. And then, suddenly, and with the sad inevitably of all things ephemeral, the moment was over and the dogs fell silent. Molly and I looked at each other and continued on our way.

Dog in the house

We went to Germany a couple of weeks ago to visit my in-laws and, while we were there, we spent a morning shopping in the lovely city of Cologne. As usual, we took Molly (our Labrador) along, and I reconciled myself to our usual routine of Natalie going into the shops and Molly and I waiting outside. (An arrangement that works well for all of us, to be fair.) But to my surprise, practically every time we hung around outside a shop that Natalie had disappeared into, a member of staff came out and invited Molly and I to come in, too. The sports shop. The book shop. Even Starbucks!

As anyone with a dog and any form of a social life will know, finding places that are dog-friendly can be a bit frustrating. Whether it’s beaches, pubs, shops or hotels, each place has its own attitude to our canine friends. In thinking back over our experiences with Molly, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are four distinct categories of ‘dog-friendly’ establishment.

1. No dogs. Some places are very clear from the start that no dogs are allowed. They put it on their adverts. They have signs at the entrance. They make no provision whatsoever for anything with fur. While it’s tempting to try to smuggle the dog in (just for fun) or to try to convince them of the error of their ways, the only real solution is to move on and find somewhere more enlightened.

I stopped at a pub in Wales a year or so ago and popped in to ask if it would be OK to bring Molly in while I grabbed some lunch. The lady behind the bar stared at me as if I had asked if I could drop my pants and smear myself with peanut butter.

Messy, moi

Mess? Would this dog make a mess?

“A dog?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“In the pub?”

“Yes.” Clearly, this was not a common request.

“A dog in the pub?”.

“Yes.” I hadn’t appreciated that the situation was so complex.

“Oh, no. Definitely not. No dogs in the pub. We can’t have dogs in here.” Clearly a cat person.

2. Small dogs only. This is my real bugbear. Places that claim to allow dogs but then do everything to stop you actually bringing a dog with you. Self-catering cottages are the main culprit, but some pubs and restaurants are equally guilty.

“Do you allow dogs,” I asked one agent when trying to rent a cottage in St. Ives for a week. The advert had stated quite clearly that, yes, dogs were welcome.

“Yes, we do. Is it a small dog?”

“Well, she’s quite small, yes. And very well behaved.”

“What breed is it?”

“A labrador.” And she’s a ‘she’, not an ‘it’.

“I’m sorry, that’s a large dog. We don’t allow large dogs.”

“So you don’t really welcome dogs, then.” Labradors aren’t large. Great Danes are large. Labradors are medium, at most.

“Yes, we do – but only small ones.” Muppet.

There was also the place that “usually accepts dogs” but couldn’t at the moment as they’d only just refurbished the house and wanted to keep it tidy for a little while. (It’s a labrador, for crying out loud, not godzilla). And the rented house we stayed in for a week that had a notice in the hall requesting that dogs stay downstairs. But how we were to keep Molly downstairs when there was no door and no stair gate would have been beyond me, even if I had bothered trying.

3. Come on in. Quite a few places are, of course, more than happy to welcome our canine buddies. Around here in Somerset, most pubs are extremely dog-friendly and all of the local seaside towns have at least one beach that is open for dogs all year round. Some shops are equally enthusiastic. Pets at Home, of course. Most garden centres. And Molly and I were practically dragged into two separate Fat Face stores because the staff wanted to play with the dog.

4. Nuts about mutts. This is where things can go a bit too far. On occasion, some establishments such as country pubs and remote guest houses go a bit overboard in their professed dog-friendliness. Anywhere that provides dog bowls, beds or leads (who doesn’t take their own dog lead with them, for heaven’s sake?) is showing the early signs. This is often accompanied by things on their websites like ‘we love dogs’, ‘well-behaved humans welcome’ or even, in the worst cases, by text written by the owners’ own (and admittedly rather talented) dogs themselves.

With these varying degrees of dog-friendliness, it can sometimes be a bit hit and miss when going to a new place for the first time. I’m not saying, of course, that canines should be allowed in everywhere. Molly is a dog, after all – not some kind of furry human. She’s quite happy to wait at home, in the car (only when it’s not too warm – no need to write in or call the RSPCA) or outside on the pavement. But, where possible, she does like to tag along. And don’t tell her I said this, but I kind of like to have her tag along, too. Even to Starbucks.

Photo of the week

One Happy Molly

We don’t appear to have had a ‘photo of the week’ for some time, so here’s a shot of Molly enjoying the sunshine during a recent trip to Germany. Note the very manky tennis ball that she is guarding jealously – and which I had been throwing for the previous hour and a half…