“A walk! On a beach? In November? Here in Scotland?” I said.
“Yes. Why not?” Ali said.
“Because it’s bloody freezing.”
“You take the dogs out when it’s freezing.” She countered. She gets like this when she’s eaten too much broccoli.
That’s the trouble with women, especially Ali, they’re very logical when they want to be and the opposite when you want them to be.
“O.K. clever clogs, I’ll go if we can take the dogs.” I didn’t really want to take the dogs but I thought this might put her off going on this pointless walk.
“All right.” She said.
“No, I mean it. I’ll only go if we can take the dogs.”
“I heard you and I said ‘Yes, O.K.’ you never listen.”
Well, listening, unless you’re talking about dogs, is hard work.
Anyway, round one to Ali. I bunged the Teckels and the lurcher in the motor (Ali got in the front under her own steam) and off we went. As the crow flies we’re about three miles from the sea but by road it’s about five. The beaches here are nearly always empty of people so when we parked at the top of the cliffs and looked down we weren’t surprised to see they were deserted. The cliff path is not at all dangerous so the dogs were allowed free-running and investigated these new, odd seaside odours. We reached the beach and Amie ran into the very shallow water. She had never seen waves and ran back to us when the wave broke into white surf. Toby just stood and let the water swirl first round his feet up his legs and reach his chest. He was as unimpressed by beaches as was I.
One early morning a couple of years ago, I was walking along this same stretch of beach with old Archie and his daughter Whinnie – God knows why but I was; something to do with watching peregrines I think. I came around the headland and Archie took off. Whinnie was still in the thick cover at the bottom of the cliffs trying to catch the odd rabbit that inhabited those dense domains at the time. Both dogs were phenomenally good at catching foxes but Archie, now long dead, was the master. He was long-in-the-tooth then but he made a valiant effort and the fox beat him to the rocky cliff face. Archie, still game as a pebble, followed the nimble-footed fox high up the rock face but after a manful leap he fell back and looked wistfully at where the fox had gone. Had Whinnie been with her father there was little doubt that the two of them would have caught that fox in full view of the family of four gathering shells further along. As it was the gatherers didn’t see us from first to last so in a way I was glad Whinnie was otherwise engaged. Both dogs invariably got bitten when they caught a fox whether they were together or on their own and whereas neither would let go they yelled blue murder when the fox’s fangs sunk into their noses and the family couldn’t have failed to hear the commotion.
Whinnie was walking with us and looking as bored as me. The Teckels were up ahead and had disappeared around the headland. I wasn’t worried because the beach was miles long and there was no way they could get up the first ledge of the cliffs. The rock pools, although some were quite deep, had sides that even a short-arsed Teckel could clamber from. Ali was poking about picking up shells that ranged from deep blue in colour to a garish orange. Later they would shine out from the glass jars where they are kept in the kitchen.
Suddenly we heard a Teckel speaking. It wasn’t the same sound as they make when they’re hunting, more a frustrated yap. Sure enough Toby came around the rocks being pursued by a yipping Amie. He had a fish in his mouth and was retrieving it like a Labrador! Three or four years ago I had again been tricked into a beach walk by Ali and Nellie, Whinnie’s mother, brought a similar fish to us. That one was well dead but when Toby deposited this one in front of us and Amie went to sniff it, it flapped and she jumped back in alarm. I picked it up and it squirmed and flapped but although very strong was easy to hold because it had rough, sandpapery skin.
Huss, dog fish, call them what you will, are nice fish to eat with rolls of white flesh either side of their long spine but skinning them is a bind. Much to Toby’s chagrin I took it back to the water and put it back gently but it rolled on its back and floated. I was just going to pick it out and knock it on the head to take it back and cook it as dog food when it righted itself and disappeared below the surface. Toby made a lunge and put his head right under the surf but of course to no avail. The look he gave me was priceless.
* * *
Now for a change of subject and a bit of criticism.
There is a contributor to this magazine who is a bit of a twerp. He has in the past condemned things as being untrue merely because he had little or no knowledge about the subject. In one article, he wrote and I quote “I’ve had two and shot two.” He was referring to Bull/Greyhound crosses. He had by his own admission only had two – TWO! yet he was attempting to denigrate that breed by his statement. He has also debunked claims that a single dog has caught a hundred rabbits in one night. Just because his dog hasn’t done it how does he know others have not. Furthermore, he says that any dog of a size capable of going to ground will never be able to kill a fully grown adult badger. How does he know? He has also written, “I have seen six work and none have impressed me in the least,” and is alluding to the Plummer terrier. He repeatedly disses the late Brian Plummer who is not able to defend himself.
Another claim he de-bunked…. No, I cannot continue… sorry… but that contributor is me. I hang my head in shame.
What right have I got to disparage a certain breed when I’ve only seen six working? None. I must apologise to all owners of the Plummer terrier for that; there may be some crackers out there. However, I won’t apologise for denigrating the man; his practical knowledge of proper working dogs was almost nil and furthermore he was an arrogant prick. Moreover, years ago, Bert Gripton had produced similar types when he used a small Beagle on his terriers. I had a lot of fun with Bert hunting hares, foxes and anything else we chanced upon up and around his house at Lizard Lane. This motley mixture worked well producing a lot of music. Sometimes all would pile into an earth they had marked and cause us all sorts of problems; not ideal but as I say, a lot of fun.
All those previous claims may well be true (except the ones about one hundred rabbits in a single night with one dog Pah!) My best catch in one night was twenty odd with a brainy Collie cross Greyhound that didn’t squander an ounce of energy and none of my friends who also had super lamping animals got near to this elusive ‘ton’. One chap from Southampton claimed he could do it and he got to thirty something then the dog blew up and couldn’t run another step. Still, you never know.
The claim about a terrier-sized dog killing an adult badger underground? Nah! In the 1970s and 1980s I had some of the hardest, meanest terriers that I or my friends have ever seen but none came close to killing a badger underground. One of them, Rosie, not a true ‘underground’ terrier and a result of a mating between Tom Wall’s miniature Stafford-types and Morgan Blair’s apple-headed, small, fighting-dogs, produced an animal of such gameness and ferocity that I fully expected her to kill anything in her path. She was the only dog I knew of, that at twenty-six pounds when fit and thirty-pounds chain-weight, could best any badger on the surface, i.e. at night. The gigantic Mastiff crosses of sixty or seventy or even eighty pounds used by the bully-boys should be capable of marmalising any badger but surely such victories are hollow. They should be regarded in much the same way as if a Gamecock kills a dunghill bantam (a dunghill is any cock that is NOT a gamebird and of little use for fighting). In other words, hardly a victory at all. When I used Rosie to lamp badgers, much to my surprise, she killed them. These were not dropped badgers that may have spent time cooped up in a cage or a bag and then released. These were freshly caught on their nightly prowls. I did this at the request of land-owners who wanted to get rid of them. I dug them, trapped them, wired them and shot them at night. I used whatever other methods proved fruitful. Whilst she bested most of the ones she came across she took far longer to beat big, adult boars. Underground, the only way she could best them was to draw them first and if they were deep in she couldn’t do that. Remember this was completely legal then. I have still yet to hear of a stone-cold, cast-iron case of a terrier killing an adult badger underground (death by suffocation excepted).
Anyway, the sole reason for writing the above, especially the bit about the Bull Greyhound crosses, is because I’m a bit embarrassed. I have a new pup to replace Archie (I know that’s hoping for a lot). I cannot palm this pup off as a Bedlington cross so I will have to come clean.
I have got a bull cross! Yes, the same breed that in the past I have condemned. Well, not entirely the same because there is no greyhound in it. I still don’t want a large lurcher when something smaller should be able to do the job so I’ve got this bull/whippet. I got him from Phil Taylor and he is Bedlington/Whippet twice with bull/whippet further back and all from 100% working stock; including the bull. At ten weeks wherever I go with the adults he follows me and never complains. He pushes through light cover and splashes across belly-deep water without a murmur. I say that but just yesterday he fell in the burn at a rather deep point and let out an ear-piercing scream when he couldn’t get out. I rescued him and he followed for the rest of our rather long trip without complaint.
Most people have high hopes for a new pup as I do for him. However, this little black bugger is exceptional. A large Angus cow leaned over a wall about ten feet from him and bellowed loudly. Most young puppies would have been startled – he stalked it; we came upon a deer carcass, he sat on it; he spotted a Swan on the lochan and waded in chest high to get at it; I had to go welly-deep and haul him out. I won’t claim that at ten weeks he is fearless but he’s not easy to faze.
He also holds his own when playing with Amie, a Teckel of nine months and only tires when she does. He is a well-adjusted pup, fond of mischief, other dogs, people and food. He’s a credit to Phil. All in all, I am delighted with Bobby. Ali is taken with him as well. She allowed, nay encouraged, him on the sofa yesterday! I will report honestly on his progress.
STOP PRESS: Whinnie’s dead. She was tight at her fox when she jumped a taut, barbed-wire fence and suffered horrific injuries that were so severe that I knew she wouldn’t survive. We were a long way from home. She couldn’t walk and I couldn’t carry her. I had to ring Ali to bring a gun and I shot her there and then. Horrible.