Monday, April 07, 2014

Wherein Ferocious Frogging Is Interspersed With Sea Air, And An Ancient Road Is Discovered

It comes to all of us.  That day when you look around and realise with appalled horror that things have got completely out of control.  For some it's the garden (we won't even go there right now, OK?), for others it's the housework (what's that?)  For an obsessive crafter, it's the day you open a cupboard and a hundred projects in various stages of incompleteness fall out, you rummage round on a sofa to find a ball of yarn and seventy-seven previous Brilliant Ideas set up a cheeping and a begging for attention, you try to extricate a perfectly innocent scarf from a corner and it's being dragged back by angry Works in Progress.

Chez Celtic Memory we did try to ignore the growing problem for as long as possible (how long have I been blogging now?  About eight years, I reckon.  We won't bother excavating back beyond that, will we?  Some things are better left in peace.)  If a particular size of knitting needle or hook couldn't be found, oh well, it was time to buy some more.  But when you start a delicious new project and then discover the crumpled remains of that pattern, already marked up in your own hand, and you don't even remember starting it before, then something has to be done.

And so it was that this past weekend consisted of Ferociously Finding and Frogging Friday, followed by Savage Sorting Out (plus Swearing) Saturday, and Serious Stowing Away Sunday.  May feel better soon, but still in the appalled state.  How, how, HOW ON EARTH could I have started and failed to finish so many projects?  Worse still, what was I thinking for most of them?  Wrong colour, wrong style, far too ambitious, far too simple, utterly boring, won't wear it in a million years, don't know anybody who would accept it, even as a gift... ye gods it was depressing!

I had intended to photograph each condemned project, the better to hammer home my depraved habits, and that's the way it went for a little while.

The crochet cowl in brushed suri alpaca, intended as a Christmas gift for a friend (made her a shawl instead). The combined machine and hand knit gansey, the main body done on the machine with the more complex patterning to be completed by hand.  The delicate shawl in two shades of green silk where the silk got tangled and I remembered that green just wasn't my colour in the past, present or future.  And dozens more.  What am I talking about?  MYRIADS more!  The upstairs sitting room began to resemble the glory hole at a jumble sale.  The ball winder was going full tilt and my arms were starting to object.

Oh yes, forgot to mention the arms.  Made a double-sided kimono in Shetland yarn for the Ravellenics this year.  On the knitting machine.  Which involved not just hours but days of bashing that carriage back and forth.  Should have known, should have taken care, but wanted to finish by the closing ceremonies.  Which I did.

Lovely warm and wearable thing, ideal on chilly evenings.  Took it down to one of my favourite places, Brow Head above Crookhaven in West Cork, for a really nice picture.

Let's digress for a moment.  I'm sure you'd like to.  It was only when we'd finished the photo shoot and I had time to look around, that I realised just what a spectacular place this is.  We'd managed to climb down the cliffs through the gorse and bracken quite a bit further than usual - almost to the spot where the local fishermen used to sit and watch for the transatlantic liners in centuries gone by.  The liners would drop a drum of mail and newspapers, the fishermen would row out to retrieve it, and the mail would then be sent up to Cork by donkey cart and train.  In that way, the Cork Examiner often had the latest overseas news before the London Times, which gave them a very comfortable feeling of superiority.

But the scenery, you cry, the scenery.  Well yes.  I got DH to take a special shot because this was an angle you couldn't have seen from the narrow winding road that leads to the top of the hill, nor from anywhere normal really.  You have to clamber down the cliffs to get this one.

But it's worth it.  It's the kind of vision that literally shakes your heart.

Oh the kimono and the over-eager use of the machine.  Well, as soon as that was done, it was time for Sock Madness again, one of my favourite online annual events ever since it began seven years ago.  Our first pattern was Brucie, a lovely design from Amy Rapp.  I wanted to finish these in double-quick time, to qualify for later rounds, so some long knitting sessions were put in.  Towards the end the elbows, already complaining from the machine sessions, started some serious throbbing, but the socks got done.

Aren't they lovely?  Trouble was, by this time I couldn't pick up a needle, let alone knit a stitch.  Suffered in (partial) silence for several days and then went shrieking to my pet therapist, who specialises in pulsed signal therapy.  This is an incredible non-invasive technique which can cure even slipped disc agonies, let alone RSI.  She gave me several treatments and then sent me home with stern warnings Not To Knit And Especially Not To Machine Knit for at least a week.  Which is where we are.

Frogging and winding and the retrieving of long lost treasures aren't really knitting though, are they?  And look at the rewards!

Here is what has been retrieved in the Great Sort Out so far (I don't think we're done yet).  There are approximately two dozen circulars there, of every size from sock to chunky, five or six crochet hooks, a stitch marker or two, a pair of snips I'd given up for lost, and dozens of those handy padlock stitch markers that I'm always trying to find.

And here are just some of the project bags returned to usefulness and public life again.  Up there at the top is my absolute favouritest one of all, with blue cats on it.

No, I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with all the yarn frogged, rewound, returned to storage.  Some to the Ravelry stash for trade or sale, I imagine, others to eBay, others to anyone who loiters near my gate with empty pockets.  And then it will be clean, fresh, air-blowing FREEDOM chez Celtic Memory.  Freedom from guilt, from untidiness, from that awful pressure of too little time, too many projects.  Freedom - oh who am I kidding?  I know perfectly well that as soon as things are reasonably tidy, I'll be back out there with renewed vigour.  Forgiven, cleansed, ready to start all over again.

YES I CAN HEAR YOU THERE AT THE BACK, WINIFRED WAGGY-FINGER!  You are saying in that smug tone of yours that you absolutely never start a second project before you have completely finished, sewn up, washed, blocked, aired and worn the one you're on at the moment.  You never (perish the thought) buy more yarn than is immediately required.  You never, but never, yield to temptation, were it even Wollmeise waltzing past at half price, or Madeline Tosh murmuring gently from a shop window.  I would bet you vacuum your house daily too.

Well let me tell you something, Winifred Waggy-Finger.  You work that way because it suits you.  You actually like having only one thing to work on at a time.  You positively enjoy a daily bout of dusting and cleaning, even if it isn't necessary, and will only have to be done all over again tomorrow.   A place for everything and everything in its place is your mantra.  That's your way of living.  But it isn't Celtic Memory's.  For those of us who multi-task as a matter of course, there is nothing more exciting than suddenly leaping off at the glimpse of something glittering in the distance, swerving from the main road to follow a winding path through the woods to a sunlit glade, and never mind that dinner will be late on the table. The possibilities over the horizon, beyond the hill, in this new yarn shop we've never explored before are boundless, and who knows where the next step will take us?

I am trying, though, to make a few basic rules.  Say just seven or eight projects in active service at one time. Some knitting, some crochet.  You don't always want to do the one when the other beckons.  And some with fine yarn, some with bulky.  Silk and wool, cotton and bamboo.  And then there are new baby friends expected any moment, and a friend who needs a comfort shawl.  Maybe a dozen on the go at one time?  No more.  No, really.

Speaking of winding paths and sunlit glades back there reminds me to tell you of a wonderful find yesterday evening;.  I'd at last tired of winding up frogged yarn (or my wrists had) and DH commanded that we take the dogs out for a run in the countryside.  We headed for the wilds of the Kerry hills, far away from the popular main roads.  Magillicuddy's Reeks 'twixt Glenbeigh and Kenmare, sort of.

It's a wonderfully forgotten region, with just the tiny stone walls and hints of ruined cottages to remind you that large communities lived and worked here before the Famine.  Can you see the green lane going up by the gable end of a tiny stone cottage behind the sheep there?

The primroses were carpeting the woods everywhere

and the wood anemones were nodding their delicate little heads.

And then, pulling in by the side of the narrow lane through some very deep woods, we came across something entirely unexpected. We took the dogs out, and wondered if there was a way through the almost impenetrable growth of bushes, trees and shrubs, not to mention rocky outcrops.  Then we stooped under some trees which were lying across our way, and found ourselves -

- on an old stone road.  A hidden, secret road, that you would never suspect as you drove by on the main highway.  Straight out of Tolkien.

It is a road, certainly.  And an ancient one.  Whoever laid those stones did so many many centuries ago.  It wandered off in front of us, through light and shade, a mossy causeway across bogland.  Rushed back to the car, extricated the relevant map and studied it keenly.  No, no road, lane, track or byway whatsoever was marked.  It wasn't there.  But it was there!

They shut the road through the woods
Hundreds of years ago
Weather and rain have undone it again
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods...

We followed it as far as we could.  At intervals little streams meandered across, and here old stepping stones pointed the way.  How many feet had passed this way before us, in times gone by?  And where were they going?  What were their stories?  The dogs, fortunately, took the stepping stones in their stride.

At last the fallen trees made it impossible to go further.  But we'll come back another time, and make another try.  An old stone road should not be forgotten, and I for one won't rest until I know what purpose it served, and who might have used it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Of Storms and Strudel, Felted Toys and Fallen Trees

And a joyous New Year to everybody!  2014 is being ushered in here in West Cork rather violently, with storm after storm tearing across the countryside, downing power lines, flooding low-lying lands, disrupting travel and generally making us feel like our ancestors, huddling low in our caves and hoping against hope for spring.

Fortunately the storms hadn't started when we took a brief trip to Vienna early in December, to do a feature on the Christkindl or festive markets.  For a change, we decided to stay out by Schonbrunn rather than in the city centre and it really was rather nice out there, away from the crowded revelry around Stefansplatz and Karntnerstrasse.

Personally I think the utterly charming little Christmas market they set up outside the royal palace is cosier and more in the spirit of the original than the jazzier larger ones around the Rathaus in the city.  During the day this more rural one is crammed with excited groups of schoolchildren who have had a healthy walk in the grounds before being allowed to spend their pennies on gingerbread and small toys at the stalls.

As the sun sets, the children have gone home, and the older folk take over, sipping mulled wine and gossiping with friends as they stroll from stall to stall.

What do they sell?  Every kind of Christmas decoration you can imagine, from featherlight hand-blown glass baubles to hand-made wooden creches.  It's the kind of place you need to keep a firm control on your will power, not to mention  your purse.  It would be all too easy to dash from one bright little booth to the next, gathering basketfuls of the prettiest things you could imagine.

Look at these intricately wrought tiny metal ornaments.  Even the tiniest black cat was pretty expensive (as it should be, given the work that went into these very Austrian traditional pieces) but I did covet that wonderful tree with the doves on it!

Most satisfying to the heart of an inveterate crafter was the range of hand-made, hand-felted decorations.  Whole stalls of little mice, elves, angels, deer, snowflakes... clearly Austrian imagination is wide-ranging when it comes to felted miniatures.

Look at these lovely little elves.  One of them came home with me.

As did one of  these really beautifully made wild men of the woods (or so I christened them).  Didn't even realise DH had stealthily purchased one until I unwrapped the little package on Christmas morning!

No, we didn't spend the entire time wandering around the stalls.  (Although it would have been all to easy so to do.)  You can't go to Schonbrunn without clambering up the steep slopes to the Gloriette and getting the spectacular view of the city spread out below.

It was jolly cold up there, with a wind whistling straight from the Ukraine across the Hungarian puszta and losing none of its chill on the way.  Sadly, the cafe tucked right into the heart of the Gloriette was closed, but serious remedial treatment was needed if we were not to suffer from frostbite or worse.

Fortunately, you're never far from serious remedial treatment in Vienna.  Kaffee mit schlag, und apfel strudel.  Gosh, there are times when I wonder why I don't live in Vienna.  Imagine being able to indulge in that whenever you felt like it?  No, on second thoughts, perhaps better not.  Are Viennese weightwatcher clubs always full to overflowing, one asks?

The most wonderful thing about wandering around the vast grounds of Schonbrunn though is the sense of the past you get, of the time when the Hapsburg Empire ruled supreme, the Emperor's word was law, and the fortunate could spend whatever they wished on whatever pleased them.  I'm thinking particularly of the gigantic conservatories, each one a symphony in wrought iron and glass, which must have demanded a positive army of gardeners and handymen just to keep them in the kind of order Franz Josef or Elisabeth would expect as they strolled the gravelled walkways before returning to the palace to dress for some grand gathering.

The past seems closest at sunset.  You can almost hear the whispering of silk gowns along the paths, get the scent of a cigar, the perfume of hothouse flowers gathered for the royal boudoir.  Theirs was a world that was to change utterly in the early 20th century, never to return.  The last Hapsburg heir died on - was it Madeira?  I know I saw his tomb there years back.  Sissi, however, will never be forgotten.  Like Diana, Princess of Wales in England, only more so, she is remembered everywhere and pictured on everything from chocolate bars to books, in paintings and poems, throughout homes and hotels, street signs and subways.

It was a lovely if very brief trip to Vienna, but once home there was Christmas to prepare for and as usual lots to do.  The knitting machine was practically smoking with the speed at which wristwarmers were being cranked out, while Works in Progress were littered everywhere, each in a bag or basket to keep it safe from predatory cats and dogs (ha ha, fat chance!  The two species have now worked out a satisfactory arrangement whereby the cats will knock down the desired receptacle and then make off with one or more balls of yarn, while the dogs fall upon the actual knitting with rapture and proceed to restructure it with the aid of paws and teeth.  Probably very good for their creative skills, but distinctly detrimental to the giftgiving list.

And then the storms started to strike.  We got warnings of strong winds and heavy rain but didn't take much notice.  We're always getting those.  But this time they really meant it.  One morning I was looking out of the study window here  at a particularly tall eucalyptus which should have been topped during the summer but hadn't been.  It was whipping wildly to and fro in the gales.  A few minutes later I looked again, and couldn't quite believe what I was seeing.

You know how it is - your mind can't quite take it in.  'But - but it was standing a moment ago,' you say stupidly, still staring.  That's a fairly large lawn, and a good thirty foot of tree.  Thank the Goddess it fell precisely as and where it did, missing both my study roof and the delicate little magnolia tree to the other side.  You can see the white scar of the broken trunk on the right, where the tree was snapped by the wind.

DH claims his picture is more effective, so I'll put that in too.  Either way, it was a lucky escape.  And yes, it did give a rather dreadful feeling too.  Admittedly we'd intended to top it, but seeing a beautiful tall tree lying snapped like that is - well, it calls to something very basic in us, I think.  We can't help but mourn it.  Maybe the remainder will sprout again.  We'll summer and winter it, and see (always a good gardening maxim to follow when things look done for).

The stormy weather has continued ever since and shows no sign of abating.  The weather forecast hardly varies.  'Heavy rain giving way to widespread showers.  Storm force winds abating slightly but strengthening from the south west later.  Flooding expected.  Structural damage expected.  Don't go out unless you have to.'  Strewth, will the spring never come?

And inevitably there were some leaks, necessitating trips into the roof space to see what could be done to ameliorate the situation (certainly no time for going up on the outside.  Ni he la na gaoithe la na scolb, as we say in Ireland - 'the day of the wind is not the day for the thatching'.)  Polliwog in particular found these activities most engaging and began to spend a great deal of time on the wardrobe, waiting for the trapdoor to be opened again.  To see that cat make the leap from the bed a good eight feet upwards to the top of the cupboard is incredible.  I don't know how they do it.  (DH is still trying to capture it on camera but Polli won't do it if he thinks we're looking.)

And of course, once the trapdoor was opened, The Great Explorer was up in an instant.   To wander and explore for an hour or more, until the rattling of a food bowl reminded him of dinner.

The dogs have been very distressed by the thunder and lightning that has been part of the stormy conditions, all crowding into whatever room we're in to get comfort and closeness.  The cats aren't so bothered (Polliwog in particular is setting up some complex wires and metal rods to experiment with) but have been spending more time than usual in the cosy warmth of the general living space rather than off on their own.

They have even developed an interest in nature documentaries, often sitting up very close, the easier to be able to reach out and gently pat the screen with an inquisitive paw if really fascinated.

May 2014 be good for you and yours.  Make it the year you finally go for that ambition, achieve that result, get whatever it is you've always longed for.  Write out a notice in large letters, 'Have You Really Tried?' and put it where you can see it every morning when you wake up.  (Well of course I'm going to.  Why do you think I'm mentioning it?)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Season of Mists and Making Preparations

Because it does creep up on you, doesn't it?  The festive period, I mean.  One minute you're enjoying the late summer sunshine and gathering apples from the reliable old tree in the back garden, the next you're lighting the woodstove at four in the afternoon and frantically calculating how many pairs of wristwarmers you can get finished in time.

Just cast off this first Estonian-style comfy gauntlet and must now cast on for the second.  I've made these (Nancy Bush's Colorful Cuffs, as I recall) before, but only short little pulse comforters.  These are longer, to give more of the snuggle factor on bleak winter days.

Which it's been here lately. Bleak, I mean.  If there is any cloud or rain going, then West Cork gets it, with a double dose at weekends.  Chilly too.

The cats have quickly realised that dogs make a good hot water bottle and Podge, although he treats canines with amused contempt most of the time, is quick to take advantage of a sleeping Tamzin.  Can you see, he's actually parked right on top of her, to get maximum warmth?

Whenever there is a bright moment, a break in the clouds, though, Taz and Lucy (yes, the Lucy Claire brigade won the day and that's her name from now on) head for the orchard to play games.  Those of you who enquired if the puppy's arrival helped Taz to overcome her nervousness and bad memories, see if this will convince you.

She adores the little monster and will patiently endure having her ears chewed, her tail tugged, all sorts of indignities and discomfort.  Now and again, after a particularly energetic session, you will find her sneaking off to the highest chair she can reach, to get some rest before the next bout.

Yes, I did say 'monster.'  Lucy is one tough little scallywag, afraid of nothing, jolly as the day is long, and always, but always ready to play.  Gosh, aren't puppy teeth sharp?

We did have one scare with her a week or so back when she went for her booster shots.  Within minutes of getting home, her eyes were swelling up, her skin, underneath the fur, had gone bright red, and she was showing signs of extreme distress.  Broke all records getting her back to the vet who provided antidotes to the evident reaction and took her home for the night.  Fretted and worried until next morning when I could at last collect her again (none the worse, brighter and chippier than ever) and bring her home to Taz who had gone into a positive decline at the loss of her precious charge.  Put puppy down on the lawn and let Taz out of the house to discover her.  Taz's hysterical delight as she realised Lucy was back, her dancing and rushing around and licking and barking, was lovely to see.

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  Not only is Tamzin more than qualified to receive her Yarnslayer medal already, but Lucy is showing incredible aptitude in that direction also.  Leave a project or a basket of yarns unattended at your peril.  I thought the cats were bad, but they just run off with a single ball and dab it around underneath the furniture in a sort of cats-cradle game.  The Dastardly Duo attack each skein or ball as they would a good piece of steak - holding it down with both front paws while hauling up succulent mouthfuls.  I never thought any animal could make such a chaotic mess of a neat basket of  yarns in such a short time.  And no, I didn't take pictures.  I was too busy shrieking.

Fortunately they didn't get hold of the new festive range of yarns I dyed up during the last bright spell and hung out to dry in the orchard.

These are the Silver and Gold range, where a fine thread of glimmering luxury runs through the soft merino fingering, making it irresistible for gifts and general festive projects.

Here is Moonsilver,

and Rose Gold.  You may not be able to see the lovely glimmers of silver and gold in these pictures, but believe me, they're there.

Have also been busy making up some more Special Shawl Kits because it appears everyone wants them at this time of  year.

They look cute as anything tucked among the moss-covered rocks in the orchard, with ferns leaning over in admiration, but I had to whisk them back indoors pretty rapidly as Lucy was about to launch herself upon them with gay abandon.

We went out to Lough Ine recently, to see if we could get a really nice shot of the ancient well there, traditionally resorted to for eye troubles.

Our editor thought it might be good as a cover picture for De Next Book and I'm inclined to agree.  It's marvellous to see a place like this in the depths of the woods, clearly well resorted to by all kinds of people all the time, as the little offerings and tokens placed all around or hung on the trees show.  Oh the old ways may not be immediately visible in Ireland today, but they're only just underneath the surface, that's for sure.

On the way back we stopped at Bandon to look at the weir which was well flooded after heavy rain.  DH decided to try a slow exposure of a motionless heron against the rushing water.  I thought you might like to see it.  Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Proliferating Projects, Picking Blackberries, Visiting The Cailleach - oh, and Enlarging the Household...

I've fallen victim to that dreaded virus, Proliferation of Projects.  There are so many on the go that I am starting to forget the ones in the study while picking up a stray one in the dining room, and ignoring the several in the bedroom.

There is the Raven Shawl, for example, being worked from my very own handspun yarn.  Oh I'm hugely proud of making something right from the fleece, there's no denying that.  And it's a lovely pattern, just right for wandering in the autumnal woods and pretending you're a bird woman.  But it went on and on, and then one day, while looking simultaneously at a big pack of Noro Silk Garden yarn in my favourite colourway (08) and at my knitting machine, I conceived the idea of making a jacket in strips - the Panel Jacket if you're on Ravelry.  Handknit or machine, I wondered.  And then, 'Why not both?'  Two separate jackets, two different methods, let's see which is faster and which looks better in the end.

On the left, two strands of Shetland in Persian blue, machine knit, with cables every 10 rows.  On the right, two strips of handknit Noro, because I never can resist seeing if one ball knits up differently to another (it always does).   Machine knit jacket will be lighter, thinner, Noro handknit much thicker.  No, they're neither of them finished.  What a surprise!

More than enough to be going on with.  But then, in a wicked moment, my eye fell on some utterly gorgeous pale silver grey Norwegian silk/alpaca yarn which I'd bought (with a second mortgage of course, you know Norway) some time ago.  And I remembered the beautiful Japanese vest pattern I'd had for ages.

Now this pattern, as tends to be the case with Japanese designs, is so complicated you need three sets of eyes and five sets of hands, plus concentration and will power.  You can't take your eyes off the chart(s) for a moment or you're sunk.  Oh stunningly beautiful, no doubt about that.  But demanding.  Seriously demanding.

See?  No sense.

But last week we had one of those days given from the gods so all projects were dropped (can you imagine working a Japanese pattern in a bumpy car on a twisting road?  No, I couldn't either) and headed down to the Beara Peninsula.  Editor of De Next Book had indicated that a couple more images of still-utilised pagan sites might be handy, and where better to go than the Cailleach Beara, The Wise Woman, the Ancient One, who stands in lonely splendour at the very end of the peninsula that bears her name.

The clouds were just floating over the hills at the other side of Dunmanus Bay, and there was a warm breeze with the scent of heather and damp earth.

Went to pay our respects first to the Ballycrovane Stone, which stands on a hilltop outside Eyries.  This is a really massive old monument, fully 17' high, and there is probably as much buried under the modern landscape as there is showing above.  It's also one of the few stones with ogham inscriptions that has been left where it belongs rather than carried off to a university museum, and for that we must be grateful.

Here is a closeup of the ogham, painstakingly etched along the edge of the stone uncountable aeons ago.  It can be roughly translated as 'Of the son of Deich, descendant of Torainn.'

There were many offerings on the Cailleach, some older and rusting away, some very recently placed.

This caught my attention:  a beautifully assembled little token, sea-smoothed driftwood and a little carved pottery figure, tied with wool.  I wonder what the story was behind that offering?

There was a very nice American lady there who said she'd been attending a retreat locally and they had come as a group to visit the Cailleach several days earlier.  She was due to return to the States at the end of the week, and wanted to come back here by herself for a quiet moment.  So we left her to the peace and power of the place.  Whoever you were, I hope you got back home safely, and that something of the Cailleach will have passed into you.

The ruins of Kilcatherine Church stand a little further on along the coastline, and we thought we'd better pay our respects to the ancient cat too, while we were at it.

I know I've shown pictures of the Kilcatherine Cat before, but not for quite a while, so here's a closeup for you to decide whether you think it does look like a feline or not.  It's certainly ancient, and the tradition has always been that it is the Kilcatherine Cat, so perhaps better not to doubt the tradition.  You'd never know what might happen.  And again, one does wish one knew the story behind the legend.

The dogs were panting by this time, so we had a stroll by the water near Glengarriff.

Gosh, the blackberries were ripening finely.  Simply cannot pass a bush of ripe blackberries without reaching for a bag and gathering as many as possible.

Fingers get soaked in rich purple juice, clothes get torn on the brambles, and it's hot work, but how could you leave them there?  Every one that drops into the bag speaks of winter evenings and glowing pots of jam on high shelves, pies emerging smiling from the oven, crumbles and cordials and all the other comforts that bring peace to the heart with the knowledge of harvest safely gathered in.

Finally we made our way to Dereensaggart stone circle, outside Castletownbere.  There were still flowers starring the grass around the ancient site, even in September, and I noticed a few little bunches tucked here and there in crevices of the individual stones.  Clearly visitors still know that respect should be paid to such places.

And then it was time to head back, weary dogs very glad to climb into the car and collapse for a well-earned sleep while we turned the car for home.

Hang on, wait a cotton-pickin' MINUTE, I hear you cry.  Who's THAT?  The little raccoon-eyed thing there between you and Tamzin? Ah well, yes.  I know, I know, we have quite enough of a zoo here already, with two dogs and two cats, each one a roaring individualist and demanding of special attention.  But Sophy Wackles is getting elderly.  She's stiff in the joints and inclined to be grumpy when Tamzin - only recently starting to discover the joys of playing and having fun,  you will realise - wants to romp and jump and tangle. Sophy snaps, sulks, shuffles off to bed.  And Tamzin wonders what she's done wrong.

No, it couldn't go on like that.  I knew you'd agree.  And so the hunt was on.  It took a bit of time.  You have to know, the second you see them.  You have to fall in love on the spot.  Anything else just won't do.

And finally, it did happen.

Little Shih-tzu puppy, just eight weeks old, was tiny enough to be tucked into my desk drawer here where I work at the computer.

 Taz took to her instantly, and constituted herself Baby's minder-in-chief, ensuring that she got her vitamins and that cats didn't interfere.  ('I just want to know what on earth it is,' said Pollywog in fascination.)  And when Sophy started to glower, Tamzin was instantly there, placing herself between them and clearly letting Sophy know that she wouldn't stand any bullying.

Sophy is now enjoying a little more peace and quiet.  Puppy is getting more rambunctious by the day, tearing here, there and everywhere, chewing everything she can find, developing quite a firm little 'wuff' of her own when she thinks it's mealtime (puppies always think it's mealtime).

But did it work?  Did Tamzin  rediscover the joys she had never had as a baby herself, of tussling and rolling over and chasing with someone who enjoyed it to the full?  Running from one end of the garden to the other with a companion, leaping and dodging and generally having free and happy FUN?

Yes.  She's still very gentle with smallest one, but you can see her gradually strengthening the nibbles, the pushes, as the puppy gains strength.  And she is so, so much happier and playful, it would bring tears to your eyes.  They are going to have many contented years together.

No, you're absolutely right.  I haven't mentioned her name.  That is because we simply can't make up our minds.  Babyboots or Chucklechops are fine for now, but what about when she's a beautiful and elegant fully-grown Shih-Tzu?

  Buttercup?  Sasha Alexandrovna?  Tatiana of Tana Bru?  Saffron?  Lucy Clare? Little Egypt?  Princess Shan Li?  Lady Precious Stream?