August / September Newsletter
Dear Irish Terrier Friends,
How quickly the year has turned, or is it the earth that’s tilted with the sun now in the south? The garden looks tired. Black spot on the rose leaves and the sweet peas a forlorn tangle of dried out stalks. Far too many cooking apples is our only sign of ‘mellow fruitfulness’ and no chance of autumnal melancholy with Miss Marybell keeping us braced up and ready for any eventuality – planned or accidental.
I shall tell you all about her. She has moved into Libby’s and my life with the skill of a conjuror and I can hardly believe that it is only five weeks since we ‘collected’ her. She had the decency to appear at first a little crushed and shy, but that lasted about thirty minutes and then the rioting began.
She was bred by Alan and Lynn Summers, one of a beautiful litter and was marked up for Derek and Richard. Now sadly they are still in the throes of selling one house and moving into another and it was not the right time to introduce a puppy into what is, inevitably, a huge upheaval.
I was asked to ring Alan and explain. As I picked up the telephone, something clicked in my head – Libs and I will have her – why on earth not? Liberty Belle had been planned as my last puppy and she is the perfect dog for me – easy-going, upbeat and loves a joke. Why complicate things? Had I forgotten that puppies take time to settle in and I had two busy summer months ahead.
What I wondered had led to my decision? Was it because when Libbs was missing for two hours in London, the shock waves went deeper than I had thought. Could it be some nonsensical ‘duty of care’ for an abandoned baby – no surely not. Had I forgotten the disruption and chaos of a puppy and Libby, even now, is no saint. But I heard myself saying “Alan, will you let me have her?” and his answer was “I’d love you to have her, I know what a happy dog she will be.” It was as simple as that.
There were tears that night and I wept for all my past beloved dogs, remembering them all, tight back to my brother’s Jockie Boy and our dear Fox Terrier, Mr Chips, I needed to reassure them that they will always be part of my heart and soul. Indeed they have been some of the dearest loves of my life and never a day goes by without a passing salute. I’ve always been very moved when picking up a new puppy; I recognise the commitment, the beginning of a new era, a time span in my life, which they will undoubtedly take over and make their own.
Miss Libbs and I drove along the Dorset coast on a rainy morning with growing excitement. I’ve know the Summers for years and, as was to be expected, the puppies were beautifully presented, squeaky clean and not a hair out of place. What an immense pleasure, but Lynn and Alan are old hands, of course, and it shows.
It’s not easy to take a puppy away from her ‘first’ family, put her into a cage in the back of the car and drive away. There were a few ‘wobbles’ from me, it was so much easier when the children were around and their excitement carried the day. Thank heavens for Libby who loved her from the start and Marybell still follows her around rather like a little foal behind her mother.
She cried on the first few nights and slept on my bed. I break every rule to avoid having a distraught, confused puppy. Besides the sweet puppy snuffles, the yawns and stretches, the funny little jerks are not to be missed and I absolutely love it all. I’ve tried with every puppy to establish some sort of routine; as with a baby they are put to bed for rest during the day. She loved her day bed in the scullery and now takes herself to bed there at night. Irish Terriers like to decide things for themselves. She has completely taken over Libby’s adored Bear bear and curls up with him on one side and her own teddy on the other. Libbs and I slip off upstairs for a puppy-free night and we’re all thrilled to see each other in the morning.
Jamie came for the weekend and, as expected, it was love in an instant. I don’t think that at first we got it quite right for Libby, who has always been especially devoted to him. Our dogs have always chosen their own family favourite. As she is such a generous, cheerful character, it never occurred to us she might be a little miffed by the ‘puppy worship’. We had sad eyes and standing back looking diffident, not right for our bouncing girl. We were rather ashamed of ourselves and had to be far more tactful with her.
We’d scarcely caught our breath at home when we packed up the car and set off for London. My dear friend Brenda, with whom I stay, was delighted to welcome Marybell. “Of course she must come too.” Now the car looks even more like a travelling menagerie – two dogs, two canaries and I include myself as one of the exhibits.
It isn’t the easiest thing to take a not completely house-trained puppy to stay in someone else’s house. Miss Libbs is devoted to Brenda and I wondered if she would mind sharing her. We’d learnt our lesson with Jamie, but Brenda was careful and made a great fuss of them both. I’m not too sure about the three cats, but we managed to avoid any serious encounters.
Both the girls were invited to appear at Brenda’s birthday party. Libbs assumed her usual rôle of co-hostess and Marybell was passed around like a parcel (I made sure she was exhausted) spreading her charm and bestowing little kisses on anyone whose cheek came close enough.
We had tea with Derek and Richard, Libby loves them both dearly and led the charge of delight out into the garden. We talked happily of darling Bella and our great friend Karen and her happy band of Micks who hunted and ran across Hampstead Heath for many joyful years.
There was a long, unfamiliar journey to Cheshire to visit the new twin baby boys – my step great-grandchildren. I’m very fond indeed of my ‘Jackson’ family and it was a happy few days spent with them. Marybell was out of quarantine and Anabel and I took her for her first outing across the fields. She’s no fool and much more feisty than Libby. She quickly sorted out gates, paths and puddles, managing her long lead and trying desperately to keep up.
She was a little too tiny to play with Zulu, their young Vizsla, but I held her on my lap and they played ‘paws and noses’, which really was sweet. Poor Liberty Belle had been stung yet again by a bee. This is the third time that it’s happened and causes her some distress. She always ends up with a painful red patch, which has her fussing, not wanting to play or think of anything else. She wasn’t in very good form and I foolishly had left the magic ointment at home.
The twins are lovely babies and remarkably content. I have twin sons and there was a very odd moment when the little boys were put into my arms, first one and then the other and I had a curious sensation of moving back in time – a door opening behind me. It seemed so immediate and familiar. We came home to a houseful of some of our favourite cousins, we’ll write about this in the next letter.
Marybell is clocking up a few ‘offences’. She has undone the stitching up the old toy lion’s back – more rehab for the poor chap and has dug a large hole in the begonias bed. I’ve donated the spot for serious earthworks as I know when I’m not going to win. She’s almost house-trained, Libby has seen to that with a lot of choruses of ‘good girl’ from me. The weather has been helpful for the most part. Like the twins she seems very familiar.
It is glorious to watch a puppy looking out for the first time on a ‘great, wide, beautiful, wonderful world’ without a single misgiving. Like all our best beloveds, she is born to be happy and will light up the days
Many greetings and my love to the dogs,
Dear Irish Terrier Friends
I am in Chichester at the university holed up in the student halls which is surprisingly comfortable – and yes – it’s the jolly gym again. Unlike Coburg in May, when it was very hot, we seem to be paddling from one gymnasium to another crouched under umbrellas and dodging the puddles and showers.
I can’t imagine why I still enjoy prancing around like this, but I do, and feel I had better just be glad and not ask too many questions. In any case it’s always fun to meet up with friends and share old jokes (a fair number at my expensive, I fear) and I do love the rather care free ‘hop-and-a-skip’ dancing evenings, very reminiscent of school days.
Miss Libby is having fun at home with my cousin Elizabeth, her friend Sandy and their dog Alfie. They are regular visitors and the dogs are very fond of each other. Alfie is a ‘mix’ and no one is quite sure what mix, even after a DNA test. But unlike Libby, who is no wild water swimmer, he is tireless and adventurous and can swim from one end of the sea wall to the other. She of course waits on the shoreline ready to ‘bomb’ him when he emerges at last from the waves.
It has been an extraordinary summer with patches of intense heat and a bone dry garden. There is for the most part always a breeze blowing on the salt marshes but this summer the stillness has seemed quite eerie.
Libby loves to meet her friends but we have often been absolutely alone in the heat. I tuck up my skirt and wade in when the tide is right, but I haven’t yet joined the very elderly swimmers who arrive with towels and gowns, walkers and wheelchairs. They have great fun and are intrepid swimmers, kept afloat by a flotilla of buoyancy aids. Libby and I look on in awe, “My dear, when are you joining us?” they say. I want to reply, ‘when I am old enough!’ but I might well be older than they are, but only by a short head. Besides, Libby would not be pleased to be the only girl left alone on the beach.
She and I do enjoy our summer visitors. This house is so easy to manage compared with the tall narrow London houses. Libbs as we know is a hot shot hostess and once on her guest list, you’ve joined the team.
Derek and Richard came down with Jamie for a weekend – three of her ‘favourite boys’ and Libbs could hardly believe her luck. We had a very happy time with some lovely walks on the marshes and nothing to hurry our time spent sitting in the garden enjoying the scent of the roses.
We went to the Chewton Glenn, a rather pretentious hotel and restaurant of some renown. As we arrived and were getting out of the car, a young man with large glasses and red hair leapt forward and the ‘huggies’ began. I needless to say, failed totally to recognise Chris Evans, who it seems was hosting a fundraising party for Children in Need. I thought he must be some friend of Jamie’s – oh dear!
He whisked us off to a vast marquee packed with people. Derek and Chris exchanged jokes over the tannoy and I suddenly found myself being photographed by a wall of mobile phones with the cries ‘can we have a picture of you Sir with Lady Jacobi?’.
How we laughed, but it did seem a little ‘off-piste’. We ended up dining on pizza’s. It was a very jokey evening but not quite the way I’d planned It.
We had a lunch party at home on the Sunday and Arabella Dorman and her family came for the day. I met the children, Allegra and Orlando for the first time. They are charming and brought of course their wonderful Irish Terrier, Zorba.
We de-camped to the garden after lunch and Richard organised ‘water games’ with the children, splashing them with the hose. I loved listening to them laughing but was too preoccupied to join in. Zorba and Miss Libbs lay stretched out, communing in the shade, no running through the spray for them despite the heat.
Libbs and I were a little cast down when everyone left but the ‘needs’ of the garden called and very quickly good cheer returned.
Granddaughter Imogen came to be photographed by Harvey for her 18thBirthday picture with her beloved Tessie who is now 14. The pictures show how life changes between 4-18 and Tessie has been a big part of her life. Tess is still a pretty old lady and the family laugh and say that part of her energy and high spirits is due to her great enemy, a Patterdale Terrier who lives next door. He must never be allowed to get above himself for one second as she patrols her fences.
The last time we came home after a week in London Libby did her usual dash through the front door to check the house. She’s very much in charge now and likes to make sure things are exactly as we left them. I discovered her glued to the glass door leading into the scullery. She was squealing and trembling and when I looked through the glass there appeared to be a rolled up ‘ball’ of socks on the floor which was causing all the excitement.
Libby is prone to staging mouse hunts wherever she goes. She runs with her nose along the skirting board or freezing like a pointer behind the sofa. It can be embarrassing especially when friends feel honour bound to defend the pristine, pest free state of their houses.
I was unlocking the door saying ‘don’t be silly Libbs’, when the ‘ball’ suddenly fell apart and six tiny mice scattered themselves across the floor. I caught Libby by the tail only just in time and manhandled her out into the hall where she set up a chorus of howls that would have done credit to a pack of wolves.
I in the meantime was lunging around with a brush and pan trying to scoop up the little creatures. It wasn’t easy but I think they were too young to be really afraid or even to get me in focus.
They were the most exquisitely pretty little creatures – minute and so perfect, and their speed and agility for their size was phenomenal. I think they were little brown wood mice, but how and why they were in the scullery is beyond reason – and where was mother?
Please don’t write and tell me that I should have let Libby ‘take them out’. They have a right to life and I am not ashamed to say that I found a quiet spot in the garden where I hope they’re still flourishing. Certainly Libbs is convinced they are still there and hovers round looking deeply suspicious.
I’ve left the really important news till last! I can hardly believe I am writing this. Liberty Belle and I are the besotted guardians of a new baby. I don’t have to mention that she is of course an eight-week old Irish terrier. Because this letter is already rather long I will tell you all about her properly in the next one.
Meantime think of us in some sort of puppy heaven, watching our baby’s every move wondering at her intelligence and beauty every moment she is awake and tip-toeing around the house when she’s asleep. Her name is Marybell which was the name of one of the fairies in ‘Fadden and the Fairies’.
We thought the rhyme that granddaughter Kate and I wrote together when she was a little girl would make you laugh and be sure there will be many a story to follow.
Puppy dear, soft fluffy dear
Cuddly wuddly woo
Puppy dear soft fluffy dear
I’m so in love with you.
You turn my knees to jelly beans
Whatever shall I do.
Snuffle wuffle pinkle pop
I’m so in love with you.
Illustrations for the rhyme
The only downside of course is that I feel constantly dishevelled, never quite ready, mopping up or cuddling an already very knowing, wilful and totally bewitching small person.
I hope the summer holidays seem endless.
With many greetings and my love to the dogs,
Dear Irish Terrier Friends
I am gadding about again and am sitting in the sun writing this from the market square in Coburg (Bavaria – yes Prince Albert’s home patch).
I came to a gymnastics school here in 1952 (the Medau school) – hence the picture of me (on the right) flinging a hoop skywards. The note on the back reminds me that this was in all the Bavarian papers which must have been amusing.
This time spent in Coburg has lead me through a life of teaching movement classes. Visits back to the school almost every year – it seems forever. It is a very lovely old Bavarian town complete with a medieval castle perched on the top of a high burgh overlooking the town.
I loved being a student here and the connection and commitment is only second to our best beloveds in the continuous pleasure and unflagging enthusiasm it has brought to my life. It’s always a strange step back in time for me, prompted by my school German which has never really moved on.
It’s incredibly hot for May and I am gently agitating about my garden turning to cinders. Libbs is with her devoted friends Jeanette and Dave who between them keep my household in working order. Dave keeps telling me that: “Everyone in the Pub thinks she’s my dog – she’s so easy with us!” I say: “Yes! Just spoilt!” I know that I’ll be busy when I get home next week and this is a free moment to write to you.
I am sorry we are late but Harvey, who manages the website, has been in the throes of University finals which are an all-consuming responsibly. We’ve had to put things on hold, but he’s back on track and we will try to put up the letters, pieces and pics you have so kindly sent us.
Harvey and Liberty Belle
Miss Libbs gave us a dreadful fright last month. We were in London doing our usual ‘happy returns’ to dear friends in Springfield Road, starting with lunch and ending with supper. Libby knows everyone and dashes in to inspect house and garden looking, I suspect for minute changes.
She disappeared into the darkness of the last garden but failed to return. Assured that there was no possibly of her having got out we waited another ten minutes, by which time I knew that something was wrong. She hates being out in the dark alone and in any case always comes quickly to a call. We found a torch and walked round the dark garden there was no sign of where she might have got out, but no sign of her either. It turned rapidly into a terrible nightmare.
I tracked back our steps thinking she may have wanted to revisit one of her friends. Everyone came out to look for her. We walked the streets calling and calling, then drove around knocking on doors. After almost two hours, feeling lightheaded and shaken I did feel a terrible despair coming upon me and dreaded the tears about to break. I was just about to insist that everyone should go indoors and I was planning a night sitting in the car waiting and hoping.
Suddenly we heard Libby barking, I called and she barked again. We tracked her down the street to another house and I flew to the front door which was opened by a man in his pyjamas! ‘I am so sorry but I think my dog is in your garden’, he opened the French doors and in stepped Miss Libbs. She was very lit up, panting and excited. She walked straight past me twitching her nose and heading for the remains of the spag-bol tele supper still on the coffee table. Profuse apologies from me and the quickest exit, decency allowed. More delight for Libbs when she saw her friends waiting on the pavement, some of whom where still drying their tears. I am not sure if I was shaking with relief or fury.
Heaven alone knows where she had been, but the most likely explanation was that she put up a fox in the garden, somehow managed to leap the seven foot wall and chased after it. It could have been across two streets and down to the old railway cutting where it seems the foxes are known to have lairs. I was embarrassed, cold, tired and on the verge of hysterics, but needed to get her away from her friends before reading the Riot Act – no I don’t do soft soap psychology, although I did feel that she thought she had done some heroic deed on our behalf banishing an invading fox for us and wondered what on hearth all the fuss was about.
Strangely I didn’t weep until I arrived home the next day and driving through the gate made me suddenly realised the full horror that might have if I had ended up coming home without her.
I am not sure if this is a confession or a cautionary tale but it was an unforgettably awful experience and one I could not have foreseen nor ever imagined. I have always felt so easy about the dogs and this was a fearful warning that nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Fadden and the Fairies
Now something much more cheerful. Derek Jacobi has recorded for us the story of Fadden and the Fairies. It is a fairy-tale which: “explains in part the magic of dogs, remembering of course, that Fadden is an Irish Terrier.” I wrote the story several years ago. It is a piece of blissful escapism and still seems to amuse. Fadden is a dear boy – a real ‘feel good’ factor.
It is miraculous to watch Derek working, he is the ultimate master of his art and such a privilege to hear the story lifted off the page with his consummate skill. He seems to squeeze an extra level of meaning out of every word. The CD will be available soon. I have heard the pilot disc and it is charming.
The Kennel Club
Several friends came to lunch at The Kennel Club last month, including Arabella Dorman, who as we all know, is the brilliant artist who painted the portrait of Liberty Belle. We were thrilled to find the ‘Top of The Morning’ hanging in the passage which leads from the entrance hall to the lift – a place of great prominence. I know that Marianne so admires the picture and surely pressed every button to have it so well placed. It is beautiful and funny and still pulls my heart strings.
The Kennel Club is a very jolly place to have lunch and we are a rowdy lot! Incidentally apropos good cheer, Rose Smart, the Chief Executive of the KC remarked: “Whenever I need to lift my spirits I watch the film of the presentation because it always makes me laugh.”
And now the Black Birds have fledged from the front porch and have left a beautiful outsized nest as clean as a whistle. I keep calling to them to lay another clutch as it is such an ideal spot in spite of Miss Libbs attentions and intentions.
We did have a drama with two pairs of Magpies on the day we knew they were ready to fly. How on earth did they know but they strutted up and down on the roof, terrifying the parents who kept trying to chase them off. In desperation Libbs and I took up arms and waged war on them all day.
Libbs barked and jumped in the air and did her ‘kangaroo levitations’ and I am a dab hand at throwing a ball (shades of endless childhood games of cricket) I pelted them with all Libby’s old tennis balls and was astonished to find how far a state of agitation could lob them right over the roof! I am not a fan of mother nature, she’s a heartless witch and seeing our fledglings murdered was not acceptable. Extraordinarily the Magpies flew off at last and have not been seen since and the little ones were gone by the next morning.
Libby had her annual check-up and shots and was declared in ‘very good nick’ she turned up the charm offensive and managed to squeeze some extra biscuits out of Mr Bentley’s tin.
A wonderful wonderful woman called Margaret Bentley was our first vet in London. She was a brilliant vet and a great character, famous for the monumental put downs and ‘tick offs’ she delivered if she considered there was any neglect or foolishness made over the treatment of her patients.
I was very young at the time, just married and anxious to get things right for our beloved Ceilidh Mavourneen. She was an unruly puppy, very disruptive in the waiting room and we were sent to stand outside several times in all weathers! How I miss these characters, most people so ‘PC’ now – what a bore – I call it ‘faux polite’!
Miss Bentley drove an ambulance all through the blitz accompanied by her beloved Dachshund. She took no nonsense from anyone but had a heart of gold I wrote her into Bob’s Yer Uncle, the story about the Irish Terrier in the Blitz and revere her memory to this day.
Illustrations from Bob’s Yer UncleVisitors We have had some of our best friends to stay and Libbs has been thrilled. Poppy the Labrador and Raffie are favourites and the perfect companions for on-going games. Do have a look at the ‘New Posts’ tab on the website and also the gallery.
Raffie and Liberty Belle
Wonderful to remember it is ‘only’ June, but with our usual gloom we will be saying, we have passed midsummers day – oh well, my roses are spectacular and there is a bowl in every room!
With many greetings and my love to the dogs,
Dear Irish Terrier Friends,
We really have had the most miraculous spring, the skies are blue beyond belief with heaven sent sunshine. Is it because we’re all so used to being washed out by summer rain, that when the sun does shine, England seems to be more beautiful than anywhere else on earth.
Miss Libbs has been spruced up for the summer. I take her to Nutz Mutz in London – very costly, but they do a great job with a ‘bath and strip’ and ears, teeth and claws thrown in. We’ve always laughed at how the dogs show off after their summer makeover, sidling up to each other comparing notes. Libbs, who is, more than most, over everything, pirouettes and prances, drawing attention to her newly revealed contours and ‘singing’, “I’m so pretty that I can hardly believe I’m real.”
I did mention to Anna, who ‘does’ her that it surprised me the way she was always so thrilled to dash into the ‘parlour’. She runs for her life if I as much as put on my Marigolds fearing the bath might be imminent. Anna’s reply was amusing, “Oh, she loves it (not the bath particularly) but seeing everyone. She thinks it’s a party, for her of course, and she does know all the regulars who lodge with us during the day. She’s very sociable you know and always has lots to talk about. We love having her here – she’s so cheerful.” Snapshot of an Irish Terrier!
Crufts seems weeks ago now, but we did have a lot of fun. Libby and I went up to Stratford (upon Avon) to stay for the four days. The weather was particularly balmy, which really does make life so much easier. She was not needed at the stand as there are more than enough lovely dogs around to represent the Breed. It is a relief not to have to keep saying, “Well -yes – she is a big girl.” I’m always tempted to add, “But like the Lady of Shalott, she has a lovely face.”
As always, our best beloveds were a joy to be with and seemed so wonderfully relaxed. It could be something of a challenge for a young dog as the noise level alone is alarming, but even the youngsters seem to enjoy wooing all the visitors. Full marks to the ‘handlers’ too. It was a highly professional job all round and a huge thank you to everyone.
There was a great interest in the Breed and so many compliments. It is heart-warming to hear how much they are understood and loved as pets. There are inevitably some tears – but we all know that one and perhaps there is some comforts in a sorrow shared.
Back to Stratford for the AGM and in the few short weeks since Crufts spring had burst upon us. I love Stratford. It is such a pretty town, especially in April when the willows are out. We walked beside the river all the way to the Race course, drawn there by a noisy commentary on the horses. We got up close to the wire next to one of the jumps and Libby was riveted by the galloping horses and their astonishing leaps over the fences. A leaping horse is such an incredible force of nature.
At the AGM, Ann Bradley (Libby’s ‘birth mother’ and her never to be forgotten all-time fave) took her into the ring for the Knockout competition in the morning. Libby’s tail never stopped wagging, swinging from side to side rather like an upside-down pendulum. They survived several rounds with Libbs stepping out, but I suspect it may have been because the Judge, who has Glen of Imaal Terriers, knows us very well as we are always next to them in alphabetical order. Incidentally, the Imaals are delightful dogs and much in need of support to build up their numbers.
To my great relief, we are off the vulnerable (horrible word) list and there are far more demands for puppies than we can manage. It is such a tricky equation between supply and demand and a constant anxiety about the possibility of their becoming too popular and attracting irresponsible breeders.
Some of you have asked about the Romania puppy. Now, I have been in trouble (again!), for not having the facts quite ‘tidy’ enough. Although reported exactly as it was told to me, it seems that he did have his papers in good order and his breeder in Romania was not entirely unknown. Jill Looker, who keeps a wary eye on all things concerning the Micks (see her letter on the letter page), is anxious not to be part of the ‘miss-information’. I have apologised of course, but have to say that I referred to her by name, only because I so admire her diligence and felt she more than merited a mention.
It seems rather sad that the little chap, who looked like a nice pup in his photograph, was unaccountably not bought by anyone. He had to be sent home – another dreadfully long journey for any dog, let alone a youngster. We can only hope that he is settled now and there must surely be some lessons to be learned – not least by me!
We spent a week in London before Easter and I’m always reminded on Palm Sunday of Zuli looking through the car window with such utter disbelief as I passed in the church procession trying to hide behind my palm leaf. Zuli was very unforgiving of what she undoubtedly considered my ‘foibles’. Even reversing the car had her standing up on the back seat saying, “Now what?” She was the cleverest dog I’ve ever known – nothing escaped her comment and nothing was allowed to happen without her consent. “Why have you taken off your hat? Leant against that tree? Sat down on a bench without warning? Dropped your umbrella or worst of all fallen off your scooter again?” I thought you might be amused by the little piece written for Zu and Beegie about just that.
Liberty Belle is more easy going and although she has her favourites, she’s on the whole delighted with us all.
We had a magical walk round Regent’s Park with Richard Clifford (remember how much he and Derek loved their Bella). The park looked exquisite with all the blossom and chestnut ‘candles’. Libby loves to have a ‘team’ walk, that means not just me and we could see her joy in every prancing step.
Richard said: “You share the same smile!”.
I’m writing this sitting in the conservatory trying to concentrate and not keep looking out at the garden following the continuous little bird-life dramas taking place. Birds have a complete small world of their own, separate, but somehow so much part of our world and so fascinating to watch.
Libbs and I are quarrelling gently at the moment over two pairs of blackbirds, which have decided to nest, one in the jasmine behind the house and one in the porch at the front door. Last year we had to dissuade a very determined pigeon from nesting in the same spot. Libbs enjoyed all the shooing and shouting joining in without mercy. We had eventually to put up a wire guard, which this clever blackbird has used like a basket in which to build a nest big enough to house an owl. But Libbs is on the warpath again and in trouble with me. She makes no excuses for smaller birds, where I see them as honoured guests. I greatly admire pigeons – no, I won’t start that one again – but having them over the front door seems unwise even to me.
In case this letter should seem too much of a spring rhapsody, I’m ending with a touch of sadness. James, whose picture standing in a field of red poppies, has become the iconic Irish Terrier representing the Micks and reminding us of their courage and fortitude in the Great War. He died peacefully as an old man, who will never be forgotten. He was a charming dog and Ram wrote of him:
“James gave us so much happiness and it was a privilege to have owned him. He was a very special, gentle, gallant and lovable dog. The house seems very empty without him.”
We are putting up an obituary for him and send out our heartfelt thanks to Inga and Ram for loving him so dearly.
With many greetings and my love to the dogs,
Dear Irish Terrier Friends,
On Valentine’s day this year we made a lovely card for you all from Liberty Belle. Although it was uploaded to the website (which some of you may have seen) we failed to send it out to you directly as a replacement newsletter for February. So here it is and the message is no less sincere for being a month late!
And now for March and written retrospectively.
Libbs is in her seventh heaven, we are with the ‘Cousins’ in Devon for the winter half term. These six children are probably her very most favourite people. She’s known them since she was a tiny pup and loves the chaos of a house full of children. We had two days in Bath with them all before setting off for Devon so she was ‘well-tuned in’ before we left. Libby is particularly devoted to Millie and of course is also best friends with the two dogs Inzy the cross Springer/Flatcoat who thinks he is a seal and would love to swim all day and Biggles, the Jack Russel.
A Terrier was something of a new departure for Cousin Frank as they have always had large dogs and the beloved Bartie was such a gentleman. I wonder if you remember how Zuli would turn him out of his bed and snuggle down under his blanket with only her nose and eyes showing. Zu and Beegie pursued him mercilessly just for a ‘chat’. Bartie’s face would say it all, “Will no one rid me of these dreadful old women!”. Biggles is another story. He has that Terrier eagerness for life – never down hearted, always up for a rumble and definitely in charge. To see Frank with a small dog asleep on his lap leaves me speechless but they are very devoted to one another. Biggles is smitten with all ‘girls’ at the moment and is intrigued with Libbs, who can act skittish for a bit, just to encourage him, then gets bored and ticks him off.
We went somewhere ‘new’ this year, to Hope Cove on the South Devon coast instead of Combe Martin. It is a beautiful drive down from Bath and stunning to arrive at a picture book cove with sandy beaches, extraordinary cliffs and rock formations. We met up with a gaggle of energetic dogs at once and our lot joined in and increased the uproar. One of the dogs looked and behaved so like an Irish Terrier that I dashed up to ask, but no, she was a Cockapoo but very like a slightly lop eared Mick and just as playful. Incidentally why on earth don’t they call them Cockadoodles, it sounds much more savoury, somehow!
Libby made a perfect nuisance of herself running off again with the children’s footballs and refusing to be caught. She reverts back to her first wild visit to Woolacombe beach when she broke all the beach toys, sky rockets that scream as you throw them up into the air and boomerangs. She wrecked every game of football as I remember with embarrassment popping footballs as quickly as balloons.
We had time for only one ‘yomp’ up-hill and down dale. Interestingly Libbs keeps a wary eye on me now. I suspect not for her sake but for mine. She appears over the top a hill obviously in ‘just checking’ mode then turns tail and dashes off to catch up with the front runners.
She’s very good in the park ignoring the games of football unless it happens to be children playing, which can trigger off the ‘football frenzy’. We had a rather sad little incident in Regents Park recently which made me wonder what on earth we are doing with our children. There was a school’s match in full swing with a lot of small boys playing around the edge of the field. I was keeping a baleful eye on Libby when two boys of about nine who were kicking a ball about shot towards us. The boys doing some fancy footwork, competing for the ball, locked knees and one fell over backwards on top of Libby.
She of course took it all in good part, just a small variation ‘wha-ever’, and extricated herself quickly. But the boy who fell over was screaming and writhing, arching his back and clutching his side. What a pantomime! It was like a performance he had seen on the television. Now I am too old not to be able to spot the difference between cries of pain and cries of fury and very calmly persuaded him to get up. He went off still howling and I thought that was the end of that. But his father came running from the other side of the field, positively shaking with fury. “Was it your dog who knocked my son over?” I was starting on a calm explanation and suddenly a little crowd had gathered round, ready to take up arms on Libby’s behalf. “He fell on top of the dog!”, “No he didn’t, the other boy pushed him over!”, “No he slipped!”.
I was absolutely appalled – all because of a boy taking a tumble on the soft wet grass. What on earth are we thinking about. Libbs and I extricated ourselves, thanked out ‘supporters’ and disappeared fast. I thought rather sadly that nine-year-old boys are as near to Irish Terriers as it is ever possible to translate one species into another. It seems such a pity that some of the fun seems to have gone out of being nine years old and a footballer.
We spent only two days in Devon which was barely enough to justify the long drive back to Lymington. Libby loves the car but we were both stiff and tired when we arrived home.
Whenever I am about to set off on some jaunt to foreign lands I brace myself for a well-established formula of a long lecture from Jamie and a last minute visitation from Boo. I think they’re making sure that I know what I am about.
Now you won’t believe this but I am writing from sunny Sal in the Cape Verde. There was no tearful parting from Libbs but she adores her little breaks with Jeanette and Dave.
This hotel is truly vast rather as I imagine a Butlins would be like with ‘entertainment’ pretty on-going and seven enormous swimming pools. Not really my scene but it is a joy to wear summer clothes and give one’s swimming gear and outing. How the wind blows! Forget the wind on the salt marshes, this is something else. There are, however, ingenious shelters from igloo shaped basket tents to little pavilions with curtains like four poster beds. Well I suppose it is better than crouching behind the breakwater on the English beaches in the height of summer, so I must not complain. The days here are racing by and I know I will be home soon enough.
Libbs will have been in the house for a few days as Cousin Elizabeth and Sandy are going down to stay and give Dave and Jeanette a break. Alfie and Libbs are rather riotous, but I dare say the house will survive.
Libby and Alfie
Liberty Belle with Monkey-Punk
There’s been some concern in the Irish Terrier world about the arrival of the young Irish Terrier which appears to have been illegally imported from Romania it seems that absolutely nothing is known about him and apart from concern for the poor pup’s welfare, the implications of trading Irish Terriers and the sale of ‘cheap puppies’ from abroad could have serious implications for our superb health standards and meticulous breeding programmes. Jill Looker is keeping a very careful check on the case and we will keep you posted.
Do have a look at the short film about the presentation of Liberty Belle’s portrait ‘The Top of the Morning’ to the Kennel Club located on the video page of the website. The whole event was filmed and we are planning to put it up on the website for anyone who may be interested. We did have fun and Libbs enjoyed it so much. So did I at the time, but now horrors, I do look like a rather crumpled version of Mary Berry, without the help of her eye makeup, so don’t expect too much from me!
Writing this has made me feel rather homesick. I am longing for a decent cup of tea made with proper boiling water. I do battle daily with a fiendish contraption with flashing red and green lights which cause it to hiss and shudder, I invariably press the wrong buttons and jinx the whole operation and have to begin again – and then the water is still not hot enough! Oh to be at home with my kettle.
We are lined up for Crufts, do come and see us at Discover Dogs on the 9th to the 12th of March. Thursday the 9this Terrier day but we will be there for all four days ready to talk Irish Terriers for as long as it takes.
With many greetings and my love to the dogs,
Dear Irish Terrier Friends,Liberty Belle was given a splendid Christmas present by her friends, the children next door. He’s a big brown bear (named bear-bear) with a mild wistful expression, a plump cuddly body and soft silky fur. She’s mad about the boy! Although his legs are shorter he’s actually bigger than she is. She lugs him around the house and heaves him up the stairs tucked underneath her like a lioness dragging her prey. It’s no mean feat and requires a lot of growling and tussling which is quite an alarming sight, especially for one as traumatised as I am by David Attenborough’s ‘killing fields’.
The worst thing is that Libs abandons him anywhere she fancies and I, forgetting about the newcomer meet suddenly upon a massive unidentified animal (a marmot or some such) obviously ‘dead on arrival’ at the front door, bathroom or any other place. ‘Take that flipping bear of yours away’ I shriek! And Miss Libs comes running to the rescue. She won’t let me pick him up, I am not sure if she thinks that I might get hurt or whether she is guarding her prey or sees him as a rival for my affection… no no not the last that does not sound like Miss Libs, anyway, bear-bear is now corralled upstairs but will doubtlessly settle in with Mrs Honey (ancient teddy), Claudie (ancient dolly), Monkey Punk and all other battered veterans of the old toy cupboard, and I’ll get over my frights.
We had a happy time around Christmas. Jamie came to stay and then granddaughter Kate. As we know, Libby loves it when there is ‘someone else’ in the house. We had a very jolly party on Boxing Day when ‘everyone’ came including our darling Tessie, she’s still so pretty at 13 and a half and the biggest cuddle-bug of them all. We did manage to persuade Miss Libs to wear her tartan bows-and-bells collar and the ‘girls’ of the family did all the tidying up which was a treat for me with lots of scraps for the ‘you know who’s’!
What has made this Christmas so unforgettable has been the joy of wondrously mild weather. Midnight Mass and Christmas visits were a doddle without struggling to cope with freezing wind, snow or drenching rain.
We’ve had some lovely walks on the marshes, the picturesque mist in the morning then blue skies for the rest of the day. I love it when the geese swing over our heads and Libby jumps about. I am not sure what makes them, for no apparent reason, suddenly up and off across the skies from one end of the marshes to another, but it does lift the heart as they sweep overhead. The gorse bushes are popping out in bright yellow specs and I have to remind myself there’s a long way to go before the Spring is really here.
Now I did say in the last letter that I would tell you about the presentation party (no not debutante’s) but Libby’s portrait to the Kennel Club.
I have written about how the artist, Arabella Dorman came to meet Libby at home and the portrait was hugely admired by the curator, Marianne Walker of the Kennel Club Collection, when she too came to visit. I have always wanted the Kennel Club to have a picture of a contemporary Mick painted by someone who could capture the character of the breed, intelligence, humour, wit, warmth and confidence. Arabella understands them perfectly. She knows the breed well and adores her wonderful Zorba. There are, of course some lovely early 20thcentury paintings of the Irish which are beautiful, but all seem to represent them in ‘rabbit hunting’ mode or simply posing like a show dog.
I had never imagined a ‘gathering’ at the Kennel Club followed by a very merry luncheon party, but that is what we did. Libs was invited too always the ardent hostess. She greeted all her friends with enthusiasm, some like her ‘birthmother’, Ann Bradley with total rapture. She must have wondered why on earth so many of her best people in all the world were gathered together midmorning and midweek in London West 1 – well to see her of course! She loved every minute and was totally unphased by the new surroundings and all the attention. It was incredibly kind of the Kennel Club to be so welcoming. They even allowed Miss Libs into the dining room, a first in the history of the Kennel Club. We felt very privileged and so at home.
I had been asked to make a speech but I did want to keep things ‘light’, after all we were celebrating Irish Terriers not known for their solemnity and besides I’m not too strong on solemnity myself!
I think it was amusing as we did laugh a lot and it was a joy to hear Sir Derek Jacobi, who is one of our Patrons and Richard Clifford reading two funny pieces about our dogs written by me some years ago. I did remark that we were in for a treat as they could make ‘sing a song of sixpence’ sound like Shakespeare. It was so very kind of them both and they did add something very special to the occasion. Arabella spoke too, she is one of those brilliant young women who can just ‘do it all’. I did think she was rather too complimentary about me, but then she is a very charming person!
Simon Luxmoore, the Chairman of the Kennel Club officially and most graciously received the painting and quoted the old manuscript description of an Irish Terrier as being ‘the poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend and the gentleman’s favourite’. I wanted to say very loudly “And the ladies’ darling!” But I managed to restrain myself!
We were all being ‘frightfully nice’ to each other and we trooped, rather nosily into lunch in the beautiful dining room with Liberty Belle leading the way. She did behave absolutely beautifully, probably more by good luck than any proper planning. She’s never been trained to ‘obey’ but is so intuitive and amusing and has of course all the natural charm of the Micks. She had a quick nap under the table (on Derek’s feet) just to ‘refresh’, followed by a round of the tables spotting the family and especially Jane who is known to most of you from the early days of the website. Like all the Irish, she truly loves her friends and never forgets. I began to grow anxious, however, as the compliments flew, especially when I heard Marianne called her ‘the ultimate dream ticket’, I thought we better make a hasty departure before anyone had cause to become disillusioned. It was a memorable occasion in a lovely setting and I was amused to see how many friends who were there mentioned it in their Christmas cards.
Animals in War Memorial
There was a splendid turnout for the Animals in War Memorial in London’s Park Lane. It is a deeply moving occasion and saved only from being almost unbearably sad by the presence of the live representatives of the animals. We had a beautiful matching pair of Household Cavalry horses, groomed to unbelievable perfection and as smart as paint. Little Rosie, the pack mule who has appeared every year has been retired. I was very sad not to see her this year as her handler always referred to her as the ‘real thing’ as she had served in Afghanistan. Her replacement however was a wonderful grey (meaning white) mule who was so friendly and affectionate – obviously dearly loved by her handler. There was also an almost too pretty little brown donkey, I never heard their stories but they were very endearing – and of course a posse of our ‘best beloveds’.
It is such a joy to have them there. Their ages this year ranged from puppy Juno to thirteen-year-old Maisie. We laid our wreathes and, as always there was one from us, for the Airedales and the Collies as they too must be remembered. Sir Derek Jacobi read the prayer for the animals which was such a privilege and made us all catch our breath.
For a task unsought
For the joy they wrought
And the love they broughtWe will remember them
Thank you so much to everyone who came along.Now the year has turned the days must be getting longer even if it doesn’t show yet. Libs is whirling on quite unbothered by the dramas of the world. She loves simply being alive, which is probably the best message our beloved Micks can pass on to us all for 2017.
Best wishes for a happy new year, many greetings and love to the dogs,