Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Florian's First Letter Home

Florian, the 10 week old rough collie baby, had a very big day today.

He recorded it all in a letter sent to his breeder at the wonderful Lynmead Collie kennels.

I carried him to the post box.  He wrote " - sealed with a lick -' on the back of the envelope, and off it went, along with the photographs below.

What an adventure.

3 March 2015

Dear Mummy

I wanted to drop you a line and let you know how well I'm settling in my forever home and what a good boy I am.

It's a bit like being back at Lynmead HQ, but with fewer big collies to tease me about being a mummy's boy. I am getting lots of cuddles and have only had one accident in the kitchen.  My new big brother Hector and I go and pee together at exactly the same time.  It's fun and I'm normally faster. 

I'm eating my fill and check Hector's bowl every time to make sure he has done too.  One day I'm hoping he'll forget something and I'll get seconds.  I can see myself resembling a little furry cloud more and more.  Don't worry, I won't get fat, though.  I'm on a strict regime of ball chasing and wrestling with Hector.

I've been travelling the globe.  Well I think it's a globe - I'm not entirely sure what one is.  But I've been to the tropical rain forests of Yaxley Hall and the grasslands of Brick Kiln Farm.  There was a PEACOCK at Yaxley Hall.  Imagine.  Uncle Ringo would eat it for supper, I'm sure.  I just pretended I was scared and hid.  I wasn't really though, honest.

I've spent my hard earned pocket money on a fancy new collar in red with white polka dots, and a matching lead.  I've also got a new name tag on order, also in red.

Today I had my first day at work.  Mummy, it was hard.  I was given a comfy work station, but had to type things on my iBone for minutes on end, with only a few hours of nap time in between.  Fortunately I got a very good appraisal:

Wet Nosedness
Brightness of Button Eyes

I hope you are very proud of me. I've enclosed some photographs from work today. I promise I will come to visit you with my daddies when it's warm, so you can see what a big collie boy I've become.  Send my best to Horace and all my furry relatives.

With love


Sunday, 1 March 2015


I'm becoming the most massive puppy bore, aren't I?  I'm sorry, but I'm sure someone is interested in these photos and if nothing else it's a record for me for the future!

So, FLORIAN is here.  Mutti and I went to visit his breeder in West Sussex on Monday and had the most extraordinary afternoon meeting 14 stunning show collies, in pairs, in the form of a beauty (aka cuddle) parade.  Hector was of course there and endeared himself greatly to everyone by trying to rape 10 week old Florian, followed by his sister.  Apparently this isn't that unusual, but I was suitably mortified.

Dad: Percy
We met his dad, the esteemed Champion Lynmead Amalie Loves a Lover (pet name, Percy) and his gorgeous mum, Champion To Be Lynmead Amalie Ours to Love (pet name, Pepsi) - photos below.  They look like no other collies I've ever seen: massive, beautiful fur coats, giant manes, teddy bear faces, and amazing postures.  They're also so incredibly friendly and happy: it was just a delight to see.

Mum: Pepsi
Despite Percy being sable and white, and Pepsi being tricolour, all the pups came out sable and white.  The breeder is keeping one boy; one girl has left already; the other will be going to Holland, and I'm unbelievably honoured that after 6 months of emailing and phone calling on and off, she thinks I'm a suitable owner for Florian, the only other boy of the litter of four. 

Dad, again.
We talked for 5 hours in total and I decided that I definitely was up for giving Florian a try.  I know the challenges, I know the time I will have to put into this, but it is my dream.  I have two stunning dogs in my life again.  What's more, both are directly related to Oscar's daddy, Champion Lynmead Lust in the Dust.  If I'm counting the generations correctly,  both Hector and Florian are Oscar's great, great nephews.

So on Saturday Ste and I headed back down to collect young Florian.  You can see him in the photo above in the middle between his brother and sister.  Hector was a lot less boisterous this time round, which was a relief.  The pups obviously remembered him and they got well.  What a difference 4 weeks growth makes!  Hector at 14 weeks is so much bigger than the puppies at 10 weeks.

It was a 2.5 hour drive home and given we didn't set off until 11pm, after a Chinese meal and another multi-hour long chin-wag with Florian's gorgeous breeder, that meant we got home at 1.30am.  Florian settled in immediately and slept snuggled up to Hector.  As there were no squeaks, we can assume no sexual crimes we committed over night either.  Bonus!!

This morning I got up at 6.30am to let them out, feed them, play with them, and cuddle them. Consequently just a bit shattered and that's my excuse for the state of the photo below.  Also, yes, I have no trousers on.  Whatever.  I love that Oscar is on the wall looking down at them both.

Ste is of course a lot prettier and also has a full set of clothes on below.

It's been fascinating watching them adjust to each other.  Hector has been here for 4 weeks and has been brilliant in allowing Florian in to his home.  They play, for the most part, very nicely.  I'm not leaving them together unattended for a moment and whilst friendly rough and tumble puppy play with clicking teeth is absolutely fine and normal, any aggression, jealousy or nastiness isn't going to be tolerated. 

Therefore if they get a bit possessive about toys, greedy over snacks, or jealous over affection etc. the offender (and they've both done it!) gets an immediate 5 minutes in the kitchen, behind the dog barrier, to calm off.  I shout "TIME OUT" so they will hopefully get to learn quite rapidly that's what happens if engage in this type of behaviour and they hear those words.  I'm the Alpha Dog in this pack and my pups won't be unruly spiteful little shits. They can play nicely, from the very outset, rather than having to deal with entrenched behavioural problems later.  I can currently deal with breaking up snappy pups - but I obviously wouldn't want to get involved between biting male adult dogs.  I know I've got to very tough, but fair, with clear, consistent ground rules they understand to make this work.  

Feeding is also carried out with the dog barrier between them to make sure there are no supper time scraps.  I have been playing with them both with different toys to make sure they realise Daddy is there for both of them equally and there's no favouritism going on.  

There's a big risk with two puppies that they end up bonding very strongly with each other, rather than with their human, so I want to avoid that by giving them lots of person contact, cuddles, smoothing etc.  I will also make sure they get individual training and walking time with me too, rather than always being together with me.  That should also help with separation anxiety for when they are split up at any time.  For example today I deliberately left Florian alone in the cottage to sleep while Hector came for a car ride to take Ste to the railway station.  That allowed for Hector 1-on-1-time and hopefully taught young Florian that being left involves our coming back, so he needn't stress out.

My, this is all going to be one full time job!

Florian is a tiny, beautiful little bundle.  He has a very different build to Hector - far lighter, a much larger rib cage, and it feels like he's a big, hollow, caramel puff.  It's genuinely like there's nothing inside him at all.  He's due a growth spurt, and if he follows in his dad's paws, he'll be huge in size, but very agile and light of build.  He's not even quite 6kg right now (Hector is 10kg), which explains Dominic being able to snuggle him so easily below.

I adore them both.  Florian is physically like no other collie baby I've ever seen.  He's going to be the most perfect sable when he's older.  He's more immediately affectionate to people and cuddly than Hector - but Hector wins in the cheeky, friendly, naughty imp stakes.  Hector's dappled blue merle coat also makes him the most striking looking puppy, along with his deep, shiny little button eyes.  They are both beyond beautiful.

Earlier today they had their naps and it nearly melted my heart.  They followed each other round the cottage and snuggled into each other wherever they went.  If this continues I will have a real dream come true in every sense.  Two happy, loving, well-adjusted, confident, friendly, well-trained adult collies is my aim.  That won't happen by magic, but it's been a great start today. 

Now, is it bed time for me yet?  I think the expression to describe myself is "dog-tired"!!  And thank you again Ste.  You've been an absolute star with all your support, intelligent suggestions and help all weekend long.  I love you, but you know that, I think :-)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Puppies Galore

Hector has been here three weeks.  After a start where I had moments of thinking "god, can I really cope with this?!" we have settled in beautifully with each other.  We've got a perfect routine of play, sleep, brushing, training and "leave Daddy while he pretends to do serious things on his computer" time.  The real anxiety I was feeling about whether I was doing things right has been replaced by complete joy at having a little collie in the house again and the excitement of going downstairs at 7am, wishing him good morning, and seeing him throw a little puppy joy fit in response.

He's 13 weeks old on Sunday, has had all his jabs, and is turning into the little world adventurer I'd like him to be.  I'm desperately trying to "socialise" him to as many experiences as possible in the 16 week window before his brain shuts off to new things.  I completely misunderstood in the past what that meant: I thought it was just about meeting other dogs.  It isn't: it's about taking him to town on market day, meeting people, hearing loud bangs, watching ducks at the pond, going inside other people's houses, experiencing noisy motorbikes, not being freaked out by my carrying an umbrella etc.  At his age he's open to it all, especially if it's from the safety of Daddy's arms.  From 16 weeks he won't be, and overcoming frightening new things will be so much harder.

His socialisation practice included a 3 hour drive in the car on Sunday, to visit his Granny in Hampshire.  I kept him up and tired him out beforehand, but he was as good as gold.  He was even better on the way home, when I decided going via London would be a cunning plan.  Oscar used to shake and get panic attacks with all the traffic, sirens, horns etc going off, even from safely inside the car.  Hector just took it all in.  Meh, he's going to be a tough little Lassie boy.  We stopped off for a visit with my best friend in Islington, but in total he spent 5 hours in the car that day.  Just like a baby, the motion seemed to send him to sleep and there wasn't even a squeak out of him.

Oscar used to be the supervisory foreman at our farm spa project, watching all the building works going on with interest.  Hector has stepped into his paws and is now carefully checking budgets from the comfort of his basket in my office.  Or something.  It's so amazing to be able to have him with me all day and know there's a big secure garden outside for when he wants playtime.

Hector is a complete bundle of energy and joy and I just can't get over how different his character is to Oscar.  Oscar, the zen, shy, calm, wise old collie who spent hours in his basket meditating... and Hector, the excitable, bouncy, lunatic puppy who will go rushing up to anyone with his tail going ten to the dozen.  Every day he has a play date with Bertie, his border terrorist friend.  At first Hector just fell over and waddled round as Bertie charged by.  Now he's giving Bertie a hard time of it, trying to knock him over, launching his whole body at him, and playing tug of war.  Watch out Berts, your time as Alpha Dog is coming to an end!

He's growing up fast.  Really fast in fact: his weight has gone from 6.8kg to 9.2kg in 17 days.  That means he's piled on 35% of his own body weight in just over 2 weeks.  I'd have to put on 4 stone to achieve the same!  I'm feeding him solely on Lily's Kitchen: superb, holistic, organic dog food with 60% actual meat content: not derivatives, boiled up skin, carcinogenics and all the other crap that isn't fit for human consumption you find in the mainstream stuff.  You can actually see the vegetables and meat in the food and he can't get enough of it.  It isn't cheap (I've worked out he's already costing £1000 a year on food, plus treats) but the results are so clear.  His coat is amazing, he has bright little button eyes, and genuinely doesn't smell.  Farts, smelly coats and all the rest of those delightful doggie odours are often just down to bad diet.

He has a basket of toys, including his favourite, a "road kill fox" which has a flattened middle complete with a set of tyre tracks across it.  Okay we're venturing into slightly dark humour there, but whatevs.  All the toys go back into their box when playtime is over, so he knows how the day divides up and gets into a nice routine. 

And the training is going well!  He just rolled over the first time I put the lead on him.  30 years ago people would have taken the approach that you just try to drag the puppy and force it to walk.  Now the way you go about it is that you pop the lead on and let the puppy wander around in the garden getting used to the fact it won't hurt him.  You pick it up, tell him to come, bribe him with a biskwit, and he learns good things come from this attachment.  Within 2 days he was walking hesitantly, and yesterday, his 3rd day he was prancing along the street with me, ignoring the traffic, off on his first proper little walk.  I also use a soft harness as there's no pulling on their neck, which can cause a panic attack or a tantrum.

NOW the big news.  Meet Florian.  He's 9 weeks old and I'm meeting him on Monday.  He's the long awaited beautiful, chunky, sable and white puppy from Oscar's dad's breeder.  As such, he's a distant relative of Hector and will become his little adopted brother if the two get on, and all goes well.  And of course they are both related to the one and only, late, great Oscar.  How happy he would have been to have seen two collie babies in his cottage, looking after me, and giving me collie snuggles.

Two puppies in one go... am I crazy?  Possibly, but to be honest I can think of nothing more wonderful than a house full of collies.  The two boys will play with each other, exercise each other, destroy everything, and keep each other company.  Hector has settled in so well, and the timing is therefore far better with the 4 week gap between them.  Ive talked through fully with the breeder the challenges of bringing them both up at the same time, and think I'm up for it.  So watch this space.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Car Crash

To Liam T. [Name and Address Redacted]
Sent 1st class today
6 February 2015

Dear Liam

I'm the driver whose car you ploughed into head-on on the A140 on 5 August 2013, 18 months ago yesterday.  I've waited to write to you until the personal injury aspect of the case settled, which it did today when I accepted a formal offer from your insurers.

I'm writing mainly for my own benefit, because there are a number of things I'd like to say before finally closing this chapter and moving on.

I've never been involved in any kind of road collision before, except a bump once to the back of my car years back.  That sunny afternoon I was coming home in my 3 week old car, which I was enormously proud of and which was to all extents still brand new.  You came out of nowhere on the wrong side of the road, on a bend and on a hill, overtaking.  I was doing exactly 30mph.  I had a second to react before the airbag went off in my face.  In that time I slammed my foot on the brake.  My leg was outstretched rigid when you drove into me head-on.  My right hand was tensed up as I gripped the wheel.

A brand new Mercedes is capable of stopping very rapidly from that speed, in the dry, with brand new tyres.  I've been back and paced out the distance from where I think I'd have first seen you, and where the photos show the cars came to a rest on my side of the road.   I'm absolutely sure that I was stationary when you hit me.  The full force of that impact had to go somewhere.  You were probably doing what, 30, 40 mph in a 30mph limit as you overtook?  One witness behind you said she was hanging back because the nature of your driving had scared her and she was worried you were going to hit someone.

The impact went into the front of my car, up my outstretched leg and straight into my spine.  My hand also took some of it and I was lucky it did not break.  Two of the discs in my back ruptured.  You caused £29,500 of damage to my new car.  It is one of the heaviest, safest cars on the road, yet the force was so powerful that the main front chassis member buckled.   The damage was so extensive that the insurers wrote off the car and a £40,000 replacement had to be ordered.  I had waited 3 months for the car; I had to wait another 3 months to factory order another.

The accident hurt, Liam.  I was in A&E until 10pm that night.  I had cuts, a sprained wrist, and I was in shock.  A few days after, my back started really giving me pain.  18 months on I still get terrible lower back pain, tingling in my right foot from nerve damage, and my right knee aches after walking.  I still go to the osteopath regularly and 4 experts I have seen, including a consultant spinal surgeon, don't think it will ever completely heal.  I never had the slightest back problem before this.  Thanks to your driving that afternoon, I will probably have this for life.  I am only 43, so that is quite some time.

It isn't just physical pain either.  I loved driving.  I'm a safe, competent driver, who has driven in 30 countries from the US to Australia.  Now I suffer hesitancy, anxiety and the enjoyment is gone.  That's all as a result of your being in a rush that afternoon.  The nightmares started shortly afterwards too, and the waking up at 4am religiously form an entire year, until I paid for post-traumatic counselling.  Thankfully that's now stopped finally.

I wasn't the only one in my car.  My collie, Oscar, had been with me 10 years that day.  He was my life.  I'd rescued him and he relied on me to look after him and keep him safe.  I couldn't keep him safe from you that afternoon though.  He was behind his dog-guard, but he was still hurled forward with the braking and the impact.  Oscar died on 5 August 2014, 11 years after I got him, and a year to the day that you hit us.  You made the last year of his life excruciatingly painful.  He started limping because of horrific problems with his back after the crash.  In February he suffered a total collapse and I thought I was going to lose him, Liam.  He ended up being on powerful daily painkillers, had to wear 3 braces on his little paws, and had to go to hydrotherapy sessions to get him walking again at all.  When he eventually died it broke my heart, knowing his last year had been so difficult.  That's all because you decided to overtake on a busy road one afternoon.   I hope whatever you were in a hurry to get to was worth it.

Then there's the stress of your refusing to admit liability after the crash you caused.  I lost my no-claims for the year, had to risk running up an enormous hire car bill, chase my useless insurers endlessly, and hear you saying it wasn't your fault because you were suffering "memory loss".  I'll remind you what happened: you were overtaking on a bend and on a hill in a 30mph zone, gambling nothing else was coming northwards.  I was, and you hit me.  You know that.  There was no reasonable explanation for your actions and you could have owned up to them.  It was only finally in December 2014 that your insurers admitted your negligence caused all of this.

Do you remember what you said to me when you got out of your write-off?  I do, as clear as day: "Sorry, mate, no idea why I was on your side".  Then you sat there on your phone making calls for 30 minutes.  I don't call that an apology.  That's why I want you to know what and I and my dog went through.  The look on his face as he couldn't get up and the pain of his last year.  The pain in my back now, that may never go away.

The case is settled.  I believe you cost your insurers around £102,000 in total (2 new cars, my hire car bill, my expenses, my personal injury sum and legal fees).  It was an expensive decision to overtake.  It could have been much pricier - what if I'd been a young mum in an old Vauxhall Nova?  My 1900kg Mercedes probably saved both our lives, absorbing the impact for us both.  You could so easily have killed.  I don't want an apology from you: I want you to reflect on all of this and to learn from it.  I want to know that you realise arriving 15 or 30 minutes late for a meeting is infinitely better than doing what you did.  Risking actual lives.

You were so lucky not to have been banned, as considered by the magistrates.  You were so lucky not to have killed.  Please, Liam, learn.  Slow down.  Don't be a cock.  Think, next time, and every time you drive.

Now let us both draw a line under this and move on.  I need to, and I bet you wish to as well.

Peter E.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


On Friday, a six month long search came to an end.  A bundle of fluff, mischief and energy came into my life in the form of a nine week, five day old, blue merle rough collie baby.  Meet Hector!  And no, I didn't get muddled up and accidently brought a snow leopard cub home.  More of that later...

Even before I lost Oscar, we had been looking for a puppy.  The plan was to give Oscar the opportunity to bring up the pup and instill some of his calm, wise old dog manner, but his sudden death last August sadly put paid to that.  Since then we had a series of raised expectations about potential litters and puppies that all led to nothing, other than frustration and upset.

Tricks of the Trade

Finally at Christmas, Ste and I went to Lincolnshire and saw a litter of nine collie babies, including young Tiganlea Tricks of the Trade, to give him his pedigree name.  Here's the first photo we have of him, aged 4 weeks.  We met him a couple of days after it was taken, and he was still a snuffly, quiet, little thing with his eyes mainly shut:

4 weeks old: Xmas Eve

Well what a difference five weeks makes in the life of a pup.  He's now turned into the most self-confident, mischievous, plucky little toad imaginable.  I think you can see a little of the devil he has in his eyes in the first photo above. I'll introduce you to him, with some videos, after I've spoken a bit about the breed and his wonderfully unusual colouring and fur.

Rough Collies

Rough Collies, or Lassies, are my breed.  I've spent almost half my life with one by my side.   The incredibly intelligent, obedient breed is from the Highlands of Scotland.  They became popular when Queen Victoria took a liking to them.  Christmas trees, curry and collies: you've got to admit Mrs Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had taste and enriched all our lives.  Rough collies were originally used to herd cows, whereas their even brighter lowland cousin from the English/Scottish border region, the Border Collie, was mainly used to herd sheep.  Roughs therefore have a completely different instinct and don't tend to round up and run round in circles like Borders do.  They can however gently nip if they get carried away, which is what they would do to a cow's back legs.

Erm... can just see him herding cows in a muddy field. Or not.

Borzoi (the magnificent Russian Wolfhound) was bred in to Rough Collies to give the long distinctive snout and aristocratic bearing.  It is their movie star looks that propelled them to Hollywood from the 1940s on with the series of Lassie films that made them a popular household pet in the 60s and 70s.  Now they're much rarer, as our puppy search showed us, and harder to find.

When we were tracing our family history we came across this extraordinary photo of my great-grandfather, Henry Ede (1860-1940).  He had emigrated from the New Forest in England to Tasmania in Australia, of all places, in 1923.  Here he is sitting on his porch in Dorset County, Tasmania, in the late 1930s.. and look what is by his side.  Rough collies and my family are clearly meant to go together!  The coincidence was all the more remarkable as we got Davy before we discovered this.

Henry Ede and his Rough Collie

Rough Collie Colours

Rough collies come in three 'colours' in Europe, as shown in the following photo (incidentally, god, do those collies need a brushing.  Oscar would *never* have been seen out looking like that!):

Sable/White, Tricolour, Blue Merle (L to R in that order)

The most common type is sable/white.  That's what my childhood dog Davy was.  It's also what Lassie was, and what everyone tends to think of with the breed.   The next, more unusual type, is the tricolour, which has a mainly black coat, with sable/white only on the face, mane and paws.  My beautiful Oscar was a tricolour.

The one and only. Oscar.

Finally, the rarest type is the blue merle.  Technically they are not actually a "colour" as such, but a mutation of the tricolour because they carry the merle gene.  Therefore they have the same white and sable on their faces, manes and paws, but the merle gene makes most of the black on their coat come out as blue/silver grey, with random unaffected mottled black patches or spots.  That's what Hector is and explains why he looks a bit like a snow leopard.

Escapee from Banham Zoo (Snow Leopard Dept)

As I'd had the other two types of collie before, this time I set my heart on a blue.  Every blue merle has a completely unique coat, with varying amounts of black on it, and entirely different patterns.  That's what made finding Hector so hard for us: not only are they incredibly rare, but getting one with facial markings we actually liked was quite a job.  It's not difficult for them to look like they're suffering from the Bubonic Plague, quite frankly!  We didn't want one with enormous patches of black either, as you might as well as well go with a tricolour in that case. 

As for the "blue" element, it's perhaps a bit of a push, but yes - in certain light Hector looks somewhat like Mrs Slocombe on one of her blue rinse days.  I absolutely love the patch of black on his face, his little white socks, and the fact his soft, velvety ears are all spotty.  He is literally the dream blue merle puppy for me.

Hello Molly, how's your pussy?
Pedigree Dogs

People love to knock pedigree breeders.  Like as not this comes from a position of ignorance and bias.  Pedigree breeders are not synonymous with puppy farmers, who keep their poor puppies in cages in horrible conditions and are just interested in the money.  Almost everyone I've come across in the collie world literally has the breed and their dogs as the entire focus of their life.  Yes, you get irresponsible kennels (particularly with more popular breeds), but in a world as small as the rough collie one, reputation and pride seems to be everything to the people involved.  The right breeder will have one or two litters a year, maximum, and the puppies will be born and brought up in their home.

Looks are important and it's a large part of what wins competitions.  However, the dogs also aren't simply bred for looking beautiful: for example after the genetic basis of the collie eye anomaly condition was discovered, the percentage of rough collies in the UK affected has plummeted through careful breeding.  Responsible breeders get their stud dogs hip tested, and the quantity of dogs who go on to suffer the crippling pain and lameness of hip dysplasia has been vastly reduced as a result.  Collies are now in position 162 of 173 breeds with only just over 2.2% of dogs affected.  The Kennel Club actually refuses to register puppies from a mum who has had more than 4 litters during her lifetime, meaning that Kennel Club registered puppies cannot not be by definition from over-bred bitches in puppy farms.  That is a huge safeguard for the health of the mums and the pups.

You hear a lot about "inbred pedigree dogs" yet if you look at Oscar or Hector's pedigrees there is not a single dog name who appears twice, and that's going back six generations.  No quality breeder mates a daughter to its father or grandfather, because a broad genetic background is healthy and it would scream out from the certificate.  Precisely because you will find out their ancestry is the reason this is avoided by anyone who isn't a complete idiot.

Similarly with temperaments, rough collies can be very highly strung and nervous.  When I was asking a collie expert friend who judges the breed at shows about which kennels to look at, she was just as concerned about recommendations based on reputation for producing happy, confident dogs as those who are known for their dogs' looks.  She specifically warned me off one champion breeder because her dogs are known to be jumpy and frightened.  That jumpiness has actually lost her competitions too: a dog that is terrified of everything around it doesn't win.

It's eugenics, pure and simple, but it is producing beautiful, healthy dogs with well-rounded, lovely personalities.  It's certainly a side of the story you just don't hear when you read the various scare stories that the press likes to churn out regularly about dogs whose skulls are too small for their brains, for example, that everyone just takes as gospel.


Time to talk about Hector.  He was born on 23 November 2014.  He is a cheeky little monkey.  Whereas Oscar (also born on the 23rd, but of September) was some kind of Zen Buddhist monk in a former life, this one has mischief printed all over his cute little face.  He came charging up to me at the breeder on Friday when I collected him, tail a wagging.  Everyone new he meets, he does so with confidence and affection.  Oscar's affection was so hard-earned: he was utterly and splendidly indifferent to almost every person he met: Hector is a total tart by comparison.

Cuddles with Dominic

His first 9 weeks have obviously been happy because he is the pluckiest little boy imaginable.  The only things to have fazed him so far have been my friend Dominic's honking peacock (who can blame the poor collie) and a chair that slid when he launched himself into his basket.  Even that was interesting, because although he jumped, he instantly went back for a sniff and an investigation of where the noise had come from.

You can watch by clicking here (or below on the embedded video) how quickly he settled in.  This was taken one hour after his arrival at my home.  Remember it was the first time away from his siblings, his mum (a blue merle called Taboo) and everything that was familiar to him.  It also followed a two hour drive in the car.  The poor squeaky coke bottle didn't stand a chance with a natural born killer collie baby hunter after it.  He is such a bundle of fun and naughtiness and runs around chasing imaginary monsters, his tail, his squeaky toys or my trouser legs.


He chews everything.  It's the way a puppy gets to know their world, and it's fine when it's one of the many toys I've supplied him with.  It's less great when it's my Danish cherry wood table legs, but hey.  I'm working from home all for the next six weeks, so I can watch him and correct him when he mistakes his squeaky chicken for my ficus plant.  That's always a bonus.  I've also ordered rabbit proof cable protectors to keep my lamp cables etc safe from his little needle teeth.  As I type this he's demolishing a dried Icelandic catfish skin: a great healthy treat that he seems to love.

The first few days have been exhausting (he woke me at midnight, 2am, 4am and 6am the first two nights) but we are getting into a routine.  He sleeps in a cage, which is the best way of house training them as they don't want to mess the immediate area they sleep in.  He cried to be let out, which is the correct thing for him to do, but it totally wrecked me and has led to my being run down through lack of sleep, and a stinking cold.  We are now down to just having to let him out at midnight and 5am, and I'm hoping he'll soon be sleeping through the night.  It's fine for him of course, most of the day is spent asleep, mainly in his favourite place wrapped around the warmth of one of my lamps.

LOOK at his little face!

Talking about toilets, I was all stressed after about five "accidents" on my rug on the first day.  I knew you had to watch a puppy closely and pop them outside to get them in the habit of using the garden, but Ste came up with the brilliant suggestion of not just doing that, but giving him the command to go, and then a treat when he came back indoors.  If he slipped up, by contrast, he'd get plonked outside, not told off, but there would be no treat.

And the result: is it actually possible to house train a nine week old puppy in one day?  That's what I seem to have done with this method: he now pottles off to the back door and hasn't had a single accident since the first day.  Amazing, and perhaps a sign of quite how clever he's going to be.  He's even using the very far corner of the garden, of his own accord, in a typically OCD clean collie way.  


On the theme of how bright Hector is, he has already learned his name.  That was by day two.  If you don't believe me, watch the video above or click here.  Twice I call his name, and twice he comes.  The maniac racing by is my best friend's border terrier Bertie, who he's allowed to play with because Bertie's all up to date on his jabs.  They are currently having a play date every morning at Yaxley Hall where Bertie lives.  Bertie lost his companion Brunswick in June, and friend Oscar in August, so he's lapping up the puppy company.  In two weeks' time Hector will have had his second set of injections, and will be off venturing further, on all sorts of other walks with me, meeting other doggies.

Nice to have room to stretch your paws on a play date

I've also started teaching Hector the specific commands "come" and "sit" with the aid of treats.  The essential words "biskwits", "Yaxley", "Home" and "dinner" are also being taught.  Cello lessons and beginners' French poetry are pencilled in for March.  We'll leave Chinese until April.

Rollercoaster Ride

It's been a bit of a roller coaster having him, I won't deny it.  It brought back all sorts of emotions at losing Oscar, which were heightened by the lack of sleep.  I like to think of Oscar looking down watching the naughty young pup, shaking his head at how silly he is, but delighted that there is a collie in our home again.

Hector is incidentally actually related to Oscar, which is a wonderful thing.  Oscar's dad was Champion Lynmead Lust in the Dust (aka Yogi).  Hector is also descended from Yogi, in a direct line, on his paternal side.  Hector's dad, Boris, is actually the spitting image of Oscar, and is his great nephew.  I've genuinely never seen a collie anywhere who reminds me as much of Oscar.  I love the family connection and it's one big reason I chose Hector.

Boris: Oscar's great nephew and Hector's father

As wonderful as it is having a new life in the house, it is also incredibly stressful in terms of the responsibility, wanting to be a good dog daddy, and getting everything right.  The first 16 weeks of a dog's life are when its brain increases over 10 times in size.  Everything they experience in this time will set patterns for their entire life, and it is a narrow window which closes at almost exactly 4 months old.  If you're interested in how why that is, read about it here (in particular page 3). 

A big wide world for a tiny puppy to discover

Oscar spent his first 10 months in a kennel and missed out on the most basic things like how to play with toys.  Because of that, I specifically wanted a young puppy this time round, and I want to get it right with Hector: with that responsibility comes a certain amount of feeling really quite daunted.  If he makes mistakes it's because of me: he's come to me a bundle of joy and confidence, and I want to nurture that and produce a dog that is happy for life.

He's also SO little and I'm scared about anything hurting him.   Just look at him in the photo above and also in the car in the picture below.  I could literally fit 12 Hectors in that boot, which Oscar and his friend Brunswick used to fill up on their own.  Big furry lard arses.

Spot the dog

It is however definitely getting easier as we get used to each other, and I'm getting in the swing of having a dog around again.  I'm feeling more relaxed, less like I'm going to do something awfully wrong, and he's starting to come for cuddles of his own accord.  I guess we're starting to fall in love.  It's a bond that will hopefully last all of his life and the next 12-14 years of mine.  He's a lovely, loveable little dumpling and I just want the best for him.

Another arrival?

Now if you've read this all and got a sense of the magic, excitement, but also the apprehension/ sense of responsibility I feel about having Hector, then you may consider me quite mad when I drop in the following.  Oscar was never happier than when he was with his friend Brunswick.  Two dogs play with each other in a way a human never can quite substitute.  They are pack animals, they exercise together, and form doggy-bonds we can't quite understand.  For that reason it's always been my eventual plan to have not one collie, but two.

Enter the possibility of Florian, a sable/white baby who is currently 5 weeks old.  He's from Oscar's dad's kennel, so again a direct relative of Oscar.  The breeder is probably the most love-filled, wonderful source of collies in the country.  I've never come across anyone so utterly devoted to her boys and girls.  It shines through in everything she says.  Her dogs are incredibly sought after and have gone on to be champions across Europe, as well as the fathers of countless healthy collie lines.  They are in high demand as stud dogs because of their success at shows, and the healthy lines are as a result of her decades long responsible attempts to breed out the avoidable genetic problems with rough collies.  She herself breeds very rarely and there are no guarantees yet she will let me have one of the current pups, but Florian just might be coming here to join Hector later this month.

Watch this space :o

Soon to have a little adopted brother?

Right now I'd better get going.  There's a certain fluffy monster on his back at my feet wanting his tummy rubbed.

Love and collie licks, Peter and Hector x

UPDATE - I've been asked to put more photos of him up, so here we go.  All taken today on 5 February.  He's 10.5 weeks old, eating like a horse, growing rapidly, and fortunately now sleeping through the night!  He is going to be just the most stunning looking grown up collie ever.  Well, with the exception of Oscar, obviously :-)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Harry Potter World

Admission time: I only read the first Harry Potter book and thought the movies dire.  I got up and walked out of the first one I was watching in the Barbican, I found it so boring; slept right through another one (no idea which one) in Lindau; and apparently I watched the very final one in the gorgeous Tuschinsky cinema in Amsterdam, though I can't really remember anything that happened in it.  Boom, fire, wands, wizards, things being blown up, baddies, goodies, owls and stuff.  Mmm, that's about all I can say on the subject.

Petey Potter and the Cheesy Grin of Fire

So having got that out of the way, what on earth was I thinking visiting Harry Potter World this week?  Well the boyfriend wanted to go and as I regularly make him do shit he's not interested in, it seemed fair enough.  Off we trundled.  And honestly?  It was amazing.

Practical Stuff

Let's get some practical info out of the way.  It's located at the Warner Brothers studios in Watford, north of London.  It's superbly well organised and part of that means it's never overcrowded, because you have to book your ticket in advance and they only let a certain number of people in for each tour.  In our case we had to wait a month to get a mid-week ticket in term time January, it's clearly so popular.

Teeby Potter outside, all excited

They've clearly spent a fortune on the place, but that's okay because they also clearly make a small fortune out of it.  Don't even think of going if you're on a tight budget.  Tickets were about £32 each; a veggie burger was £7.95.  Bars of chocolate in the shop were £3.95.  Cheap looking plastic wands were £25.  Two USB sticks and 2 photos of us riding broomsticks (more later) were £50.  Harry Potter sweaters were £79.  If you've got some Harry Potter mad kids, you could easily sink £300+ here in a day.

It might be best to go for an early afternoon visit, after you've eaten elsewhere, and also to feign a medical condition that requires hospitalisation just before the shop, which miraculously gets better after you've rushed your kids through and are safely on the other side.

You will need a full 3 hours for the visit by the way, so plan accordingly.   The staff are some of the nicest, best trained people I've come across in a public interface role.  They were absolutely lovely without exception, from the people keeping the (free) parking brilliantly organised, to the people doing the broomstick demos. 

Last thing: don't think it's all kids here.  I'd say the majority of people were actually 20 or 30 somethings.  I guess they're the age range who really grew up with both the books and the movies.  That's my way of saying, therefore if you're a little more mature, you won't feel a prat.

Pure Magic

Given how little I'm interested in Harry Potter, what amazed me was how interested I was in the actual film making details you learn.  There's a general introduction and couple of films, then you're free to wander through everything else at your own pace, which was appreciated.  And you do literally get to walk through several of the actual sets (the Hogwarts dining room is of course the most spectacular).

Inside the Hogwarts Dining Hall

What really struck me above anything else, was getting to appreciate the massive amount of creative work that goes into designing these things.  The sets are pure works of fantasy: taken from the descriptions of the book they've been transformed into "real life" using fibre glass and wood.  Everything is bespoke, everything is a product of a team's artistic creation.

As you visit the sets you also see some of the tricks of the movie trade, like "false perspective" that allows two people to sit in the front of a pub at a regular sized table, but the set behind them is far smaller and tapers off into the distance.  When filmed, it looks huge.

Some street set thing. Dunno what it's called.

There are sections on the various special effects, the creatures and their animation, the costumes, make up, props, the graphic design, and scaled models of various elements.  You realise that a small army of people is involved and literally millions go into these things (the total cost for all 8 films actually came to $1.155 billion.  However they took a total of $7.723 billion at the box office - meaning it wasn't a bad investment by any means).

If the above sounds in any way dry - it isn't.  It's magical (see what I did there!?), fascinating, beautifully presented and I was just captivated by it all.  I guess it doesn't matter what the movie is: if you don't have knowledge of how one is created, any one would do.  The thing with Harry Potter is the sets, costumes etc are all so incredibly beautiful, and the production budgets were so huge, it makes an excellent example to see.

Enormous Scale Model of Hogwarts. I think.


There's a café mid way through the tour, which is a fine idea and ideal opportunity to drop some more dosh of course.  It's one of two places in the world where they serve Butterbeer: Universal Studios in Orlando and here.   Apparently it's something that comes up in the Harry Potter movies, but if you were listening earlier, you'll remember I was either asleep or absent or in a trance so wouldn't remember.

Even Ste almost vommed

Looking on the net, it's basically sweetened condensed milk, whipped butter, ice-cream soda, and a butter scotch topping.  It's simply the most delicious thing you've ever tasted - for the first 5 seconds.  You then want to projectile vomit everywhere. 

Oh and it's £2.95 for a tiny little cup (still enough to make you sick though!), unless you want a souvenir tankard, in which case you have to hand over your mother, your house, and your first born child.  Rather cutely on the recycling bins in the café they put "Butterbeer" on the signs under "Liquids".  Nice touch.

Yup, ours went straight in here

Broom Flying

Everyone gets a chance to fly on a broom.   This is fabulous [-ly embarrassing].  Essentially the entire queue is standing there with nothing to do except watch you and your performance on a screen.  The queues aren't painfully long (remember, timed entries only, not overcrowded etc) but still, there are probably 50 people at a time watching you.

Ste and I of course both decided to go full out with as many little facial expressions and gestures as possible, to make it even more embarrassing still.  You are filmed with a plain green background, but get to see where you are flying on a screen.  A dude tells you things like "wave to your friend" or "shake your fist" and you over-act accordingly.

Here are our efforts - it's a scandal, frankly, that we weren't selected for a major role in the actual movies, all things considered.  If the embedded movies below don't work, click here for Ste; and here for Peter, which will take you to Youtube.



It was FUN - and of course there were no prices displayed anywhere for if you wanted to order a CD or USB stick with your performance on it.  £50 for our two, plus two printed pictures.  *Cough, splutter, collapse etc...* but of course we had to have them.  They may be the best thing you have ever seen in fact.  Come on, admit it.


So here's my recommendation.  Go.  It's that simple.  It's one of the best days out I've ever experienced and I've done a lot of days out in my time!  I absolutely loved it, and so, clearly do the reviewers on TripAdvisor.  As at the time of writing 11,514 of 13,910 people ranked it excellent (five owl eyes) which is a staggering achievement.  Yours truly is one of them.  Many of the reviews are absolutely gushing and quite rightly so. 

Amazing. I even managed to photo No 3, not No 4, Privet Drive.

Just imagine if I actually liked Harry Potter how even more positive this piece would be!  If you're a fan, just do it.  And make sure you post your broomstick video for us all to laugh at, of course :-)