Está en la página 1de 37

Sylvia Ann Baxter was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1940.

She married in 1958, had two daughters, ran her own riding school and bred Arabian horses which she had always adored. After her divorce in 1973 she, her daughters, horses and cats, moved to Shropshire to begin a new life. In later years, she worked in Bavaria with Arabian horses, also at the Spanish Embassy in London and in Madrid, as nanny to the Ambassadors children. Sylvia is passionate about animals, enjoys walking, loves the sea, and still yearns to travel the world. She presently lives near Shrewsbury.

DOG

S LIFE

Sylvia Ann Baxter A DOG

S LIFE

AUSTIN

MACAULEY

Copyright Sylvia Ann Baxter The right of Sylvia Ann Baxter to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-905609-918

www.austinmacauley.com First Published (2010) Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed & Bound in Great Britain

DEDICATION I dedicate this book to my beloved daughters, Josene and Caroline. Thank you for always being there for me, especially during the hard times, and for the love and close friendship we have always shared. It is also in memory of Fan and Kim, faithful friends to the end.

A DOG'S LIFE

By

Sylvia Ann Baxter

Chapter One
I don't suppose there are many of you who have read a story written by a dog before, as, on the whole, we canines do not have the inclination to sit and write our memoirs, physical activities, chasing balls and sticks and little furry things on legs, and giving postmen and door-to-door salesmen a thoroughly rotten time, being decidedly more interesting than intellectual pursuits. But having said that, I knew one particular dog, an eccentric Jack Russell terrier, who did achieve minor literary fame with a factual adventure story which he entitled A Tale From Down Under. Jack wrote that he had been out in the woods one morning when he had spied a rabbit, and had, as any self-respecting dog would do, chased it to the locality of its burrow on a long stretch of earthy bank. On the surface it was just an ordinary burrow, nothing spectacular as burrows go, but looks can be deceiving, as poor Jack discovered to his cost. With his blood up, he dived into the hole and gave chase, where, to his consternation, he became hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of tunnels rather like the London Underground but without any trains and with not so much as a signpost, or a posh voice on a Tannoy, to direct him to the nearest exit. Initially the rabbits were outraged by Jack's unwanted intrusion into their home and let him know it in no uncertain terms. But, under sufferance, they grew to accept him and did their best to make his stay as pleasant as they could. As for Jack, well, he settled down nicely into his new way of life down under anD enjoyed himself tremendously after the initial bad start. Anyway, by the time he was located and dug out of the warren, which I understand took the better part of a week, the terrier was suffering from a severe identity crisis and rumour had it that he was never the same again. Apart from some very strange mannerisms which he had picked up from his new long-eared friends, and which had every dog in the neighbourhood falling over itself with laughter, he astounded his master by becoming a devout vegetarian, when he refused to eat anything but greens.

But enough of Jack. I have my own story to tell. I feel most privileged at being able to write my memoirs, although I must point out that I was not a dog who aspired to great heights of canine achievement, or was a celebrity in any way. Far from it. But I did have a very happy life, with a mistress who absolutely adored me, so I thought it would be nice to record it for posterity. I made my entrance into the world on the 8th of September 1978 at a place called Hodnet in Shropshire, a bonny, snow-white pedigree Labrador bitch born to my mother, Delours Jezabel. Now there's a name for you! I was very proud of my pedigree, shamefaced to say, often boastful, for I was, after all, the granddaughter of the Queen's gun dog, Sandringham Sydney, an aristocratic, highly accomplished fellow, who did Her Majesty proud by becoming a famous field trial champion. Apart from my royal connection, there were twenty-four field trial champions listed in my family tree, so I reckon I'm justified in sticking out my chest and feeling proud. But all that field trial stuff was not for me. No. Although I enjoyed a good chase name me a dog that doesn't I was destined to spend my life as a domestic pet and the guardian of my beloved owner. As the weeks passed by and the golden days of autumn gave way to the encroaching winter, I steadily grew into a strong, sturdy pup, with a mind and a will of my own not to mention a stubborn streak as broad as the Titanic, which led me into all manner of trouble throughout my life. But, oh, I did enjoy those carefree early days which I spent with my family, (there were nine of us in the litter) when we played the daylight hours away, sucking contentedly from our mother's milk bar whenever we were hungry, and at night, when we would all snuggle against the warmth of her side, secure in the knowledge that nothing in the world could harm us. Life was wonderful. I was blissfully happy, and in my naivety was under the impression that things would stay that way forever. Oh, how wrong can a dog be! Indeed, I had no idea that life as I knew it would suddenly and dramatically change; that on one late October evening I would become a victim of the mysterious 's' word sold! (Rumours about puppies being sold were rife at the kennels, although we

youngsters had no inclination as to the meaning of the word yet) when I would be heartlessly plucked from the midst of my family, never to see any of them again. Oh, but it was horrible! Cruel and horrible! There ought to be a law against such things! Oblivious to my fate, I had been out in the enclosure with my brothers and sisters when, bursting with energy and mischief, we were playing together as puppies do, having great fun in a game of roly-poly, chasing and wrestling one another, pulling tails and generally having a good time. Little did we realise that we were not only entertaining each other with our antics, but two pairs of adult human eyes into the bargain, one pair intent on choosing a puppy as a birthday present for her mother, us lot being likely candidates. Eventually my playmates flopped to the ground exhausted, whilst I, a proper little show-off with energy to spare, teased them unmercifully into having another game. Flaunting myself like that became the downfall of me I'm afraid, for suddenly a slim female finger pointed directly at me, and I heard the fateful words, "That one seems a right little character!" The next thing I knew I was being lifted from the pen and handed over to the attractive, dark haired woman, around nineteen years old, who had a friendly face and a gentle voice when she said hello to me. With a big smile, she cuddled me and stroked my head, saying how gorgeous I was, and daft little me, oblivious to the peril I was in, lapped it all up and played straight into her hands. With my tail wagging non-stop, I made a big fuss of her, licking her face and making her giggle, endearing myself further with my best puppy smile. Oh, but that really cooked my goose for me, because the next minute she turned to my owner, Mrs Diana Lewis, and said, with a satisfied smile, "Oh, yes! This one is perfect! Exactly what I'm looking for! I'll take her please!" Take her? My brow puckered in a frown. Take me where, I wondered? Where could she possibly want to take me? Then the truth of my situation dawned. I had become a victim of the 's' word and was now in the process of being oh! I could hardly bring myself to think of it sold! Shocked to my roots, the fur on my back stood on end and I severely reproached myself for having been tricked by this cunning, unscrupulous young woman, who, with her smiling face

and wile charm, was, all the time she was being nice to me, planning to take me away from my family and all that I held dear! Thinking what a rotter she was, I threw back my head and howled my objections, borrowing the well-rehearsed phrase of someone called John McEnroe, who also enjoyed playing with balls "You cannot be serious!" But serious she was, and I was driven off in a metal box on wheels, never to see my family again. Why, I didn't even have time to say goodbye to them. Inside the box, which moved so fast it made my head spin, and feeling as miserable as a dog can get, I was driven to my new home at Longville-in-the-Dale, which was roughly seven miles from the quaint little town of Much Wenlock, with Church Stretton, with its famous Long Mynd hills, lying approximately the same distance to the west. It was dark inside the contraption on wheels and the journey seemed interminable as I sat on the young woman's knee, pining for my mother and the life I had left behind. My tummy felt funny too, unaccustomed to being bounced around in such an undignified manner, when bubbles of foam and long strips of drool began to ooze from the corners of my mouth. I knew that if I didn't get some fresh air soon, then my lunch and a very nice lunch it had been too would shortly be making an unwanted appearance by way of a big pile of vomit. I glanced down at the young woman's skirt, all nice and clean and fresh, and wicked little thoughts, which made me feel a whole lot better, began to creep into my mind. One big heave and that skirt would never be the same again, left stained and smelly and decidedly foul, when even the dry cleaners wouldn't want it. I smirked complacently. Perhaps that would make her sorry for having bought me! But luckily my lunch stayed put, and to take my mind off further belligerent thoughts, I cocked my ear and eavesdropped on the conversation which was taking place between the woman and the driver of the box, a young man named Barry, the lady's fianc, whatever that meant. Hanging on to every word, I learned much about the lady who was destined to become my new owner, Mrs Sylvia Ann Fisher, she was called, or Mum as she was referred. It appeared that this Mum and her two young teenage daughters, Josene (Josie) upon whose knee I sat, and Caroline,

thirteen months younger, had left their home in Wakefield, West Yorkshire in 1975, to reside in the wilds of Shropshire. With them had gone one Arabian stallion, two brood mares, two cats, the chattels of their former home, and a great deal of positive hope. This move to pastures new was Mum's quest to find peace for herself and daughters after a long stormy marriage, and the unpleasant divorce which followed in its wake. Born in Wakefield in 1940 during an air raid, which, she was told on good authority, left her out of sorts for an uncommonly long time afterwards, when she gave her long-suffering parents a thoroughly ghastly time by continuously howling her head off, and which put them off having further screaming children for another twelve years, Mum had lived in many parts of England before finally settling in Wakefield again. (Her father was in the prison service and was regularly transferred to other areas). Perhaps it was due to her upbringing that in later life she developed something called wanderlust, when she longed to travel the world, every single part of it, see everything there was to see, and more. But unfortunately the responsibilities of life prevented her and she never got the chance to live the dream. In October 1958 Mum married Carl Fisher. She thought the world of him but sadly the marriage was doomed from the start, having hoped it would last forever. Apart from their mutual love of horses, which had brought them together in the first place, they had nothing else in common, were as different as chalk and cheese, and came from completely different backgrounds. Mum did her best to make it work but only she was trying, when bit by bit the rot set in, when love and respect became eaten away until there was nothing left. It was solely due to the children that the marriage lasted for an incredible fourteen-and-a-half years. During that time Mum made the best of it by keeping herself busy too busy than was healthy for her sometimes. Coupled with the trauma of an unhappy marriage, she ran herself down to a ragged six-and-a-half stone, when, in her words not mine, she looked like a matchstick on legs. Thin was very fashionable at the time but she thought that more than a little ridiculous. She worked for the civil service as a secretary, then, in the early nineteensixties, she opened a riding school, which became a great success. Later, albeit on a small concern, she went on to breed Arabian

horses, (Arabians had always been her passion) when she and her husband stood two purebred stallions at stud. Besides the horses, Mum took in animal waifs and strays of every description not to mention the odd human as well caring for them all until she found them loving new homes to go to, the humans making their own arrangements. In her role as a busy working mother, with never a dull moment from one day to the next, Mum was as content as a woman could be with her lot. But as a wife she was desperately unhappy. By March 1973 she had had enough and filed for divorce. But her husband objected fervently and gave her no peace at all, which was why she decided to leave Yorkshire for good to make a new start somewhere else. But with no financial means, and unable to buy her own house, (the marital home, stables, etc had all been rented) making a new start wasn't easy, leaving her with no alternative but to find a job which provided accommodation for herself and children, and where her animals she was down to one stallion, two mares, and two cats now would be welcome too. Mum was desperate to keep the horses, not to have to sell them, hoping that at some time in the future she would be able to stand Indian Tempest, her stallion, at stud again. A year passed, during which time Mum scanned the advertisements in Horse and Hound but with no success at all. Then suddenly her luck changed when a middle-aged farmer offered her a housekeeper's job at his farm near Much Wenlock in Shropshire, children and animals welcome. Barely having heard of Shropshire, Mum had to get the map out to find out where it was. Once that was established, she then drove down for the interview, where she immediately fell in love with the beautiful countryside, and accepted the post when it was offered to her that day. Life was about to change for three Yorkshire lasses, and Mum, for one, couldn't wait! The old stone farmhouse, set high on the hillside overlooking magnificent Wenlock Edge, was undergoing some serious renovation at the time, so it was not until July 1975 that Mum and the girls were able to move down to Shropshire permanently. Saying goodbye to family and friends had been hard, especially for Josie and Caroline, who had strongly objected to leaving Wakefield in favour of living in Shropshire, where there was

nothing but grass and trees, and where they would doubtless be bored senseless within a week, they said. But Mum talked them round, saying that a whole new life awaited them in Shropshire, if only they would give it a chance, and that they would soon make new friends, find lots of exciting new things to do, and put Wakefield behind them forever. And as it turned out she was right. In time they did just that. As for Mum, she loved every minute of her new life in the sticks. Shropshire is a haven for riders and walkers and she did plenty of both, exploring the area on Indian Tempest, and trekking up the rugged Long Mynd hills with all the other knobbly-kneed walkers in strange attire, who sought the peace and isolation of the wilds. Life had improved no end, although nothing is perfect as the saying goes, as Mum was soon to discover. She had only been working at the farm for five months or so when she decided to give in her notice, which was a shame considering how long it had taken her to find the job. A free woman now, she was at liberty to make her own choice as to what she did and where she went and whose company she would keep. But unfortunately that didn't go down very well with her employer, who wanted her to be with him instead. He was a lonely man in need of a wife as opposed to just a housekeeper, and Mum wanted nothing of that. She had just escaped one possessive husband and in no way was she ready for another. So she decided it would be better for both parties if she left. They parted on good terms though, and the farmer kindly allowed her to keep her horses in his fields until she found somewhere else for them to go. And so, still lacking the means to buy her own house, but wanting to stay in Shropshire, and on an independent basis this time, Mum was faced with the same old problem of where to go. As a temporary measure, a good friend suggested that she consider a caravan, and took it upon herself to ask a local farmer pal (they were all farmers in that area) if he would allow Mum to put one on his property. After meeting the Yorkshire family over a hospitable cup of tea, when both parties took to each other, and were confident they would get on well together, the chap very kindly agreed.

Mum and her daughters were ecstatic. They would have a home of their own at last, despite its humble means! The twenty-six foot caravan, (a gift from Mum's parents) which had electricity, and oh, what a luxury! a proper flush loo, was quickly installed in an idyllic position at The Woodlands Farm, Longville-in-the-Dale, which boasted spectacular views over nearby Wenlock Edge. The property was owned by Mr Norman Warren, a widower in his early seventies, and his middleaged, bachelor son, Dennis, it lying approximately halfway between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton. Three weeks prior to Christmas 1975 the family and cats moved into their new abode, the horses taking up residence in one of the fields. A new chapter in their lives had begun. Despite the cramped conditions (the caravan became nicknamed The Sardine Tin) and the dampness which crept in surreptitiously, especially during the winter months, the three were extremely happy with their lot, valuing their independence now and a roof over their heads which they could call their own. In January 1976 Mum got a job as a secretary at Select Livestock Producers in Shewsbury, some seventeen miles away, Shrewsbury being an attractive medieval market town encircled by the winding River Severn. Josie found work as a groom at some nearby racing stables, and Caroline, upon leaving school, became employed at a chemist's shop in Church Stretton, where, some thirty years later, firmly established along with all the other fixtures and fittings, she can still be found dishing out pills and potions. As envisaged, they got on famously with Norman and Dennis, Norman saying that Mum had become like a daughter to him, the one he had never had, and that having them around had given his drab old life a boost. Generally making herself useful, Mum would cook and clean for the old man, and often accompanied him to the local watering hole for a bar snack and a mildly intoxicating beverage. Unattached, and in her early thirties, having introduced a little new blood into an area where many of the residents were related to each other, Mum had become prey to several men who repeatedly pestered her for a date. But she wasn't interested, and when she was out with Norman he kept the fellows at bay for her, when they respectfully left her alone. Nave where men were concerned, all Mum sought at that particular time in her

life was friendship. And friendship she found by way of a nice old gentleman. In the summer of 1976, arriving quite out of the blue, Mum was offered a temporary post at an Arabian stud farm in Bavaria, it being brought about by her association with Arab horses. Keen to visit Germany, and eager to work with that particular breed of horse again, the invitation, despite it arriving when she had just got settled, was very enticing indeed. Without success, she had tried to conjure a little business standing Indian Tempest at stud, but more into Thoroughbreds than Arabians, the horse fraternity in the area had shown no interest at all. Keeping the stallion on a secretary's wage had been hard, and when her ex-husband suddenly demanded half the horse's worth, which Mum had been unable to raise, she sadly had to part with Tempest. And so, after a great deal of persuasion by her family, friends, and her employer at Select Livestock, who promised to keep her job open until she returned, Mum accepted the position in Germany but only for a few short months. She refused to leave the girls any longer than that. A good friend had promised to look after them in her absence; Josie was now seventeen, Caroline a year younger, so they were not exactly children anymore. And the cats and the remaining two mares would also be taken care of, so all things considered, there was really no excuse for her not to take time out in Germany for a while. Although Mum was falling over herself with excitement about her trip abroad, on the actual morning of her departure, when Dennis drove her to Shrewsbury station in his rickety old van, she became assailed by last minute doubts, unsure, all of a sudden, that she was doing the right thing. Dennis, as rustic as the countryside he lived in, voiced his opinion on the matter. "Youm 'ad plenty o' time to think abart it, wench. Na youm goin', whether youm wants to or no!" Those few months in Germany transformed Mum into a brand new woman. At the Sittlekofen Vollblutaraber-Gestut in Adlkofen, a tiny rural village a few kilometres from Landshut, which was only an hour or so drive from the Austrian border, she was in her element looking after twenty-three top class Arabian brood mares, foals and stallions, besides an assortment of dogs and cats, which just added to the bliss of it all. Her boss was a man named

Heinrich Garde, a somewhat reserved sixty-something fellow who had been a captain in the Germany Army, and who never (thankfully!) deviated from a strict and professional employer/employee relationship, always referring to Mum as 'Meesis Feesher'. In the absence of a wife, he and Mum dined at the local gasthof every day, where, with an appetite worthy of one of the horses, she made the most of the excellent German cuisine and gained weight for the first time in years. Hence, the matchstick on legs was transformed. On her free days Mum would take a coach trip into Austria, where she systematically visited all the famous places, and the popular ski resorts, thus well and truly acquainting herself with the country. On one occasion, as a guest of a kind German family who had befriended her, she spent a weekend at a ski lodge up in the mountains, where those who didn't have a conventional bed slept alongside each other on mattresses on the floor. Mum drew the short straw and found herself sandwiched between a gregarious Austrian fellow with a bushy red beard, who threw himself around like a rhinoceros all night, and a buxom Germany lady who suffered from flatulence big time, when one stray spark would have ignited the whole place and sent it exploding, with a bang, into space. Mum didn't have much money but she certainly saw life! All told she had a wonderful time in Germany, where she would undoubtedly have stayed, and who knows? perhaps permanently, had it not been for her children and animals back in England. The following year one of the pre-war bungalows on the farm (there were three altogether, all occupied by elderly widowers, Norman, Bill and Albert) became vacant when the latter suddenly died. By that time the caravan had become chronically damp and living in it was a real health hazard. In fact it was so damp that Mum had to take the bedroom carpet up, and was compelled to dry the mattresses out in front of Norman's Rayburn every morning, which was a thorough pain for everyone. And so he kindly offered the bungalow to Mum at a low rent. She was delighted and gratefully accepted his offer, although I heard the girls were none too happy at the prospect. And who indeed could blame them?

Read on. The dilapidated old wooden and asbestos bungalow, which had undoubtedly seen better days, completely hidden from view by the thick jungle which surrounded it, had no running water at all, apart, that is, from the rainwater which leaked in liberally from the roof. The water supply, which came directly from an underground spring, was provided by an old tap at the trough out in the field, and which constituted the residents of the bungalow sharing the supply with all the sheep and cattle, and Mum's horses, which grazed there. No indoor water supply meant no bathroom or toilet either, the latter being a dilapidated shed outside in the wood behind the bungalow. A daunting prospect for anyone who had the misfortune to be taken short in the night! Upon being shown around the property, Mum had stared at it, aghast. The shed looked so fragile and insecure, and a vision of it being blown away to pastures new on a blustery winter night, taking with it some poor unsuspecting occupant not dressed for a flight through the wood, filled her with great trepidation. However and, oh, far removed from Mum's expectations of paraffin lamps and primus stoves, the bungalow did have electricity, the only attribute in the entire place which could remotely be referred to as modern. Besides the luxury of electricity, the little house had two small bedrooms, respectively painted in deep mauve and a rather startling orange, a living room with a unsightly prehistoric cooking range, and a tiny little kitchen which had obviously been designed for a dwarf. In the kitchen, basic to a fault, stood nothing but a lone white sink on a stand. That was it. Not a cupboard nor shelf in sight. So was it any wonder the girls objected about moving into the place. "It'll be like living in the Dark Ages!" they grumbled. However, Mum, with her never-ending optimism, assured them that she would completely transform the old place, (she never shirked a challenge) when they would hardly recognise it anymore and be happy to call it home. Besides, Norman said that Dennis would 'do the place up a bit', install running water hot and cold build on a bathroom and toilet, a small dining room, and extend the kitchen to a more acceptable family size, all of which helped to win them round a bit.

And so, one bright morning, exchanging his occupation from farmer to builder, Dennis, wearing overalls and a determined grin, set to work on the unsuspecting bungalow. The little homestead, quaintness personified in the days before the war, ( which war exactly I wouldn't like to say) was about to make a glorious comeback, never to be the same place again thank the Lord! The modernisation programme on a bungalow with dimensions no more than the average double garage proved very slow indeed. In fact Mum was convinced she would be drawing her old age pension before moving into the place, and would get desperately frustrated with Dennis, who, by no stretch of the imagination, shared her enthusiasm for getting things done. Although he was a likeable character, as laid back as they come, he seriously lacked consistency, and had a motto which had kept him in good stead all his life, 'Never do today what you can do tomorrow, because tomorrow it might not need doing at all'. He would become sidetracked by other fancies, when he avoided the bungalow like the plague, his excuse being that he was unable to work on the place on Mondays, because that was the day he went to Bridgnorth Auction, or Tuesdays, being Shrewsbury market day, or Wednesdays, even, when, having got behind with his jobs on the farm, he was obliged to catch up with himself. Fridays were no good either, because he always tended his beloved potato crop on Fridays, (Dennis' spuds were the love of his life) and evenings were completely out of the question, for that would seriously interfere with his participation in the darts and domino matches at the local pub. And so, all things considered, there wasn't much left of the working week. Mum would nag him like a fishwife but all to no avail. Although he had made a start on various tasks, he never actually finished them. Halfway through a job, for some capricious reason, he would move on to something else, before abandoning that too, with the result that nothing was ever finished. At a loss to understand this strange behaviour, Mum would follow him around with her decorating equipment just waiting for him to finish a room. But he never did. Not once. In the very throws of installing the bathroom suite he suddenly, for some apparent whim, abandoned it in favour of an outdoor job, when, without so much as batting an eyelid, he exchanged his plumbing tools for a hedge cutter. And

then, guess what? he left the hedge half done as well. Mum, frustrated to the hilt, would throw her arms in the air and yell at him like a banshee with her hair on fire "Dennis!" When the time came to install the Rayburn in the kitchen, (another prehistoric monster) she and her landlord became embroiled in fervent disagreement, Mum saying that it was the sorriest, most antiquated excuse for a cooking range she had ever seen in her life. "You're not seriously thinking of putting it in the kitchen are you?" she questioned in disbelief. She was standing in the middle of the drive with her hands upon her hips. A Sherman tank in female form. Dennis stuck out his chin and looked equally determined. "I am! That's why ah've fetched it! Na git outta me way, wench! Bloody thing's 'eavy enough!" The Sherman tank stood its ground. "But it'll never work, Dennis! Anyone can see it's had its day!" "Nonsense! Course it'll work! A good Rayburn u'll last forever!" It took two strong men and a likely youth to painstakingly, and amidst an unsavoury amount of swearing, push, nudge and drag the thing towards its designed position in the kitchen, with all manner of bits and pieces falling off it in the process. At one point it looked in danger of disintegrating altogether, the rust and yards of binder twine being all that held it together. Mum, gripped by mortification, wearing her eyebrows on the top of her head, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth, stood in the wings and watched. After all the fuss and bother of dragging the beast into the house and installing it, she knew it would only be a matter of time before it had to be uninstalled and dragged all the way out again. It was beyond her comprehension as to why Dennis had brought it in the first place, a sneaky suspicion telling her that someone had paid him to take it away from their premises. "There!" exclaimed the farmer, red-faced and breathless after the eyesore had reached its resting place. "It dunna look that bad, wench." "Doesn't look that bad!" echoed Mum. "It's an unsightly piece of junk! Why, it's so old it must have come out of the ark!" Indignant, Dennis sprang to the defence of his precious Rayburn. "It's not that old!" he snorted. "Not that old at all!"

"Of course it's old, Dennis! Look, the instructions are written in Latin!" By March 1978 Mum had had more than enough of it all and told Dennis that she and the girls intended to move into the bungalow 'next week', whether it was ready or not, and that nothing in the world would make her change her mind. She had worked like a trouper on it for months now and was fed up with looking like a navvy on a building site, with broken fingernails and workmens' hands, and wearing scruffy overalls and smelling of wallpaper paste and paint. Her efforts had certainly been worthwhile though, for no way did it resemble the dilapidated old hut of former days, now transformed into a pleasant little home for them all. It was still unfinished of course; a window was missing in the bathroom, there was a unsightly black hole in the living room where the old cooking range had been ripped out, and a dangerous-looking trench still separated the kitchen from the newly-added dining room, when one had to watch ones step en route to the loo, especially in the middle of the night. Besides which surprise surprise the Rayburn didn't work and had to be replaced by another! And so the family and cats moved into the bungalow in March, whereupon Mum, somewhat illogically, named the place April Cottage, saying, would you believe? that April sounded warmer than March! Admittedly the bungalow was no executive home, and the new extension would no doubt have mortified the South Shropshire County Council Planning Department, had they been informed about it. But it certainly didn't lack character, and had a uniqueness about it which set it apart from all the other properties in the area much to the relief of the owners! But regardless of its peculiarities and the list was endless April Cottage became home to Mum and her daughters, who were decidedly glad of it after living in the damp, cramped caravan for so long. And so, back to the present moment, I had heard all about Mum, my new owner to be, and the home where I would live. All that remained now was for me to meet her in person, when I hoped she would like me, and that I would like her, and that she would treat me well and be kind. As I sat pensively on Josie's

knee, mulling over all I had heard that evening, I knew a dog could expect no more than that in life if it was lucky of course.

Chapter Two
As we turned off the dark country road into the narrow lane which led down to April Cottage, and to the farmyard beyond, interesting new scents, which filtered in through the gap in the window, began to titillate my nostrils; the damp, heady fragrance from the small copse of fir trees which flanked the nearside of the house, farm animals, cows, sheep, chickens and horses, and the various forms of wildlife which lived in the wood at the back of the cottage, foxes, badgers, rabbits and pheasants. Rabbits and pheasants! My ears stood up like stalks. Oh, but I knew all about those, yes I did, and by the scent of things there were plenty of them around here for me to chase, given the chance of it. Excited, my heart beat all the faster. Oh, but I could hardly wait! Abandoning my self-pity in favour of a little optimism now, I suddenly began to feel much better, deciding that my prospects might not be as bad as I had thought. Certainly, if first impressions were anything to go by, then matters were definitely looking up for me, and that perhaps being sold was not as bad as I had been led to believe. In fact dare I even think it it might be the best thing that ever happened to me? Might be. The night air was blissfully cold and invigorating as Josie opened the door of the metal box and carried me along the drive which led to the back door of the house, Barry bringing up the rear. The whole area was bathed in darkness, the little wood behind the bungalow, with its tall, overhanging trees, which rustled gently in the late October breeze, lending the property seclusion. As we approached the door my sharp young eyes spied a cheeky mouse scampering with haste into the nearby woodshed, where it sought refuge amongst the comforting pile of logs. I curled my lips in a doggie grin. Oh, yes, I thought. Matters were definitely looking up! Inside April Cottage, softly lit and so homely and welcoming, smelling pleasantly of wood smoke, which permeated into the kitchen from the open log fire in the lounge, my ears were greeted by a strange new sound music; Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto

No 2 which Mum loved so much. I cocked my ear and listened, deciding that I liked the sound of music, which was fortunate for me because Mum would play it all day long, her range extending from Mozart to Michael George Michael, for those o f you in doubt. Mum liked George Michael. As for my preference during the coming years, I became particularly fond of How Much Is That Doggie In the Window played in B Flat Minor by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Ha! Ha! Just my little joke! As Josie quietly opened the living room door, for she wanted to surprise her mother, I stole my first peep at the woman whom I had heard so much about earlier Mum. Lifted up on to some higher plane by Rachmaninov's stirring composition, she lay supine on the settee in a world of her own, two cats by her side, who purred like well tuned engines from contentment; Candy, a beautiful green-eyed tabby, whom Mum had rescued from a pet shop in Wakefield after seeing her lying forlorn and sick in a cage in the window, and Cindy, a miniature black panther with white markings, who appeared a bit snooty to me and who gave me a look which immediately reduced me to the ranks. It conveyed that she was the boss around here, and that I would do well to remember it if I cherished a hope of growing older. I stared back at the cat, reflectively, letting her know that I had received her message loud and clear. I then sent a message of my own 'Make hay whilst the sun shines pussy cat, because I will grow bigger with every day but you will always be small!' Warmed by the scene of domestic bliss, I gazed fascinatedly at Mum, who wore denim jeans and a grey check shirt, her little feet tucked into thick brown socks, her slippers abandoned on the floor. Around five-feet-two, and delicately built, I thought she looked very pleasant, with a youthful face for her thirty-seven years, good skin, benevolent green eyes, and a nose which turned up, annoyingly it seemed, at the end. Apparently she had always hated her nose and vowed that if she ever came into money, then she would have it fixed at one of those posh clinics down in London. I laughed. Daft woman! Her nose looked all right to me. Had she had a nose on her like Pluto, the Great Dane who used to visit the kennels back at Hodnet, then she would have had something to complain about. The very sight of it would send us puppies fleeing to our mother in terror, lest we got sniffed up into

those giant pair of nostrils, never to be seen or heard of again. Oow, but it was frightening! Overall, there was a naturalness about Mum which warmed my heart, when one got exactly what one saw, with no hidden agendas, and, as she lay there in a world of her own, smiling in serene contentment, I decided that I was a very lucky dog indeed. My new owner could certainly have been a lot worse. She could well have been a dolly bird type you know, all heels and lip gloss and fashion accessories, who wouldn't know a Wellington boot from her left elbow; someone who lounged around all day, doing very little, afraid of getting her hands dirty or chipping her manicured nails. But not her. Not this woman. She would get stuck in. As Mum stroked the cats with tangible affection, two things became patently clear. She certainly adored animals. And they adored her in return. Bewitched by the scene, a feeling of belonging swept over me and I knew I had come home. Mum ran a hand through her short, dark, curly hair the hairdo from hell as it was known. On impulse she had had her long locks cut in favour of a perm, but unfortunately it had turned out far too curly and didn't suit her at all. But apart from having the lot sheared off, there was little she could do about it, having to persevere until the wretched thing grew out, when, hopefully, she would look herself again. "What a sight!" she had complained, eyeing herself through the mirror. "I look like a middle-aged version of Shirley Temple!" Dennis had pulled her leg no end and had laughed raucously upon her return from the salon, saying that she reminded him of one of his sheep. And he had been quick to share the joke with his friends at the Royal Oak pub at Cardington, where, farmers together, they were all kept well informed about the Yorkshire woman, with her strange, newfangled ideas, and her two young teenage daughters, who had come, for reasons which they hadn't fathomed out yet, to reside amongst them in rustic South Shropshire. There wasn't much for the men to do after their sheep had gone to bed, and a bit of local gossip, the juicier the better, liberally peppered by lots of supposition, helped to alleviate the boredom at bit.

"Aye! Youm wouldna know 'er from one o' me sheep!" Dennis had joked with them all. "Put 'er in t'field wi' t'rest o' me ewes, an' youm wouldna know one from t'tuther!" "Beast!" said Mum. Suddenly she looked up and saw us standing there, Josie with a puppy in her arms. She smiled hugely with surprise, then jumped off the settee and came over to us. "Oh, I was away with the fairies there and didn't hear you come in," she said, followed by, "What a super puppy! I didn't know you had a dog, Josie?" Her daughter smiled and handed me over. "For you, Mum. Happy birthday! Sorry she doesn't come gift-wrapped with a big pink bow!" "For me?" Mum's eyes lit like stars. "Oh, but what a marvellous surprise!" She held me in her arms and cuddled me, and I sniffed her face and neck, which smelled of ladies toiletries and made me want to sneeze. "Thank you so much, Josie! I never dreamed you would buy me a dog!" "Well, I bought her to replace Flossie. I know how much you miss her," she said. That went above my head. Flossie meant nothing to me. Mum smiled enchantingly and spoke to me in a gentle voice. "Why, hello there. So you're coming to live with me, then." It was more a statement than a question. "Well, I'm very pleased to have you, and hope you'll be happy with us here." For a long moment we gazed at each other reflectively, when Mum seemed in a dream, then, very quietly, in no more than a whisper, she said to me, "I've had several dogs before, some I've taken to more than others, but intuition tells me that you are to become the special one a once in a lifetime dog, who will mean more to me than words can say." She smiled and tickled my ear. "Oh, you and I are going to get along famously together. I feel it in every fibre of my being!" I don't know how Mum knew that but she was absolutely right. We were to share a very special bond during the years to come, when she would give me the best life a dog could possibly have, and I would be her shadow: a faithful companion who was always there for her, and who never hurt her or let her down the way that humans did. I would have laid down my life for her if I'd

had to, and when, at the end of my days, I was to breathe my last breath in her arms. Counting my blessings, for good fortune had surely been with me today, I wagged my tail and licked her cheeks, leaving her in no doubt as to my appreciation. I could not have wished for a more congenial owner if I'd chosen her myself, and was happy fit to burst that she had accepted me and taken me into her heart so. Afterwards I was examined in fine detail, my teeth, sharp as needles, my thick white coat, my ears with their coffee-coloured tips, paws, already quite chunky for my age, and finally my tail, with its ingenious wagging mechanism. Poked and prodded, albeit ever so gently, every inch of me given the once-over by Mum's scrupulous eyes, she then pronounced me fit and healthy. A perfect specimen of doghood! I rolled my eyes heavenwards and tutted good-humouredly. I could have saved her time and energy and told her that beforehand! Caroline, Mum's younger daughter, suddenly appeared from one of the bedrooms. The eighteen-year-old was an attractive, vivacious, long-haired blonde, with a pronounced Yorkshire accent, who went into raptures of delight upon seeing me, oohing and aahing all over the place. There was an unmistakable cheekiness about her, a girl who loved fun and who oozed good humour, and I warmed to her immediately, convinced we would be great pals. As a Shropshire-born dog, unused to the broad Yorkshire tongue, I couldn't understand a word she said to me, when she might well have been speaking Japanese. Bewildered, I simply wagged my tail non-stop, hoping I looked more intelligent than I felt. I couldn't help but wonder if the customers at the chemist shop were able to understand what she said, or if an interpreter had to be sent for! As a new girl of sixteen, I heard tell that Caroline had made one or two beginners blunders whilst serving behind the counter, although would add that it derived more from innocence than regional accent problems. She had only been working there a short time when a customer asked if they had any Black Shadow, (condoms) and, thinking he was referring to eye shadow, Caroline took him over to the cosmetic stand. After a good search around, she said, "I'm sorry, it appears that we're out of black, but we do have one in a dark shade of brown. Will that do?"

It was a job to tell whose face was the reddest when the customer put Caroline right. After endless cups of tea and slices of birthday cake, the latter being a sorry-looking sponge with runny icing and a scattering of pink candles, for Mum hated baking and was undisputedly the worst cake maker in the county, Josie and Barry left us to go home. Josie occupied a groom's cottage at a place called Longnor Hall, which, ironically, Mum was to rent herself some sixteen years later, when new owners took over the estate. Barry lived with his parents on their farm at nearby Cardington. In an effort to make amends for my earlier belligerence, I gave Josie a big sloppy lick before she went. She had done me an enormous favour in buying me, and I wanted her to knew that I was grateful. Later Mum and Caroline went off to bed, having left me to settle down on the comfy blanket beneath the worktop in the kitchen. I had never been on my own before and pined for the company of my family, until loneliness got the better of me and I began to howl at the top of my voice, when no doubt they could hear me in Church Stretton. Mum appeared. The poor woman was half-asleep, and looked somewhat startling in a long maroon dressing gown which had formerly belonged to her dad, the perm from hell looking no better for having been slept on. Stroking my head and yawning, she sat down beside me for a while, saying I must not fret, and that I would soon get used to being on my own at night. I climbed on to her knee and made myself comfy, of the opinion because she loved me so that she intended to spend the night with me in the kitchen. But for some reason beyond my comprehension she didn't appear to want to. Anyway, after rooting through one of the drawers she produced a big fur glove for me, which she placed on the blanket, hoping, somewhat optimistically, that I would accept it as a kind of substitute brother or sister. I rolled my eyes in disbelief. What a hope she had! But Mum was only doing her best for me, and at least the glove was something interesting to sniff at, and did offer some solace when I rested my nose against the fur. Eventually I drifted off to sleep, after which Mum stole quietly back to her own bed. But in no time at all I was awake and restless again, this time from an uncomfortable feeling in my tummy. I got up, yawned

and stretched, then took a wander around the kitchen, sniffing disinterestedly at this and that, wishing it was morning so that I could go out into the garden and play. Whilst sniffing around the refrigerator door, I had a sudden attack of wind or at least I thought it was wind. But oops! It wasn't wind at all, and my face turned a bright shade of red when I saw what I had done on the floor. Ashamed, I stared down at the little pile of poo, knowing it would do little to impress Mum in the morning. A mental image of her stepping into it with those little bare feet of hers flashed through my mind, whereupon my face dropped a mile or so. She wouldn't think much of me then. But then it suddenly struck me I was a puppy, was I not? And that's what puppies did. Left poo and puddles all over the place. We were notorious for it! So hey I shrugged my shoulders what was I worrying about? Besides, Mum was bound to have a shovel and a pair of rubber gloves handy. Bound to! And if she loved me, then she certainly wouldn't mind shovelling up a bit of harmless poo. Wouldn't mind at all. So with my conscience clear, I then went back to bed. Next morning I woke feeling eager and excited, barely able to wait for Mum to take me into the garden for a good sniff around. Not wanting to leave me alone on my first day here, she had taken time off work to keep me company until I had settled down a bit. At present she was a receptionist at a posh hotel in Church Stretton, having left Select Livestock Producers now in favour of working nearer home. After breakfast, when Caroline had gone off to the chemist shop, looking important in a long white smock, Mum took me for my long-awaited walk around the garden. Lawns flanked the bungalow on all three sides, the area fronting the house having little or no garden at all. On the south side was a large vegetable patch where Mum grew veggies and stuff, and a small secluded wood, which I had seen last night, formed a semi-circle around the rear of the property, lending it privacy and seclusion. The wood was all overgrown though, and impossible to negotiate without being torn to ribbons by the cruel brambles which had been allowed to take over there. Between the wood and the garden ran a stream, which meandered gently during the summer months but which became a raging torrent in winter, especially after heavy rain or snow. Three mature oak trees stood in predominant

positions around the bungalow, which, apart from providing shade, was home to several families of grey squirrels, besides many species of birds and insects. One day I actually caught one of the squirrels, although would add that it was more from luck than skill on my part. But I lived to regret it though. Mum liked the squirrels and her wrath was pretty awesome when she saw what I had done. Yes, sir. Pretty awesome indeed! At that particular time the garden was unfenced and open to the gravel lane which ran past April Cottage, down to the other two bungalows, and to the farm buildings beyond. But later Mum was to fence it all in order to keep me safe, to stop other animals coming in, and to prevent me from wandering off. Behind the house, beneath one of the huge oaks, was a grave which had a wooden sign on it. On the sign was the name Flossie. Now that rang a bell, and I sniffed it with curiosity, eager to know who Flossie was. Mum bent down to my level and told me all about her. Apparently Flossie had been the Warrens' black sheepdog whom they had had for several years, a lean, working farm animal who had lived in the outhouse attached to Norman's bungalow. A shy and timid dog by nature, Flossie had been brought up by the two men and had had very little to do with women. But all that changed when Mum and the girls arrived. In no time at all they had befriended each other, the sheepdog responding to the affection which she was shown by the three. Mum used to take her for long walks up the hills, and through the nearby woods and fields, a luxury previously unknown to the dog, who had spent her entire life on the farm. Flossie became Mum's constant companion, when, every Saturday afternoon, come rain, wind or shine, they would walk up the nearby Cear Caradoc hill, where they would survey the spectacular view across the Shropshire countryside. During bad weather the mist would be so dense up there that Mum had difficulty finding her bearings, and would rely on Flossie to show her the way back down. This weekly battle with the elements, when woman and beast would march off on their intrepid journey up into the clouds, aroused the curiosity of some of Mum's friends, who had grave reservations about her sanity. She was already considered a bit of an eccentric by some of the local folk, and those long, lonely treks up that isolated hill in the

throws of deepest winter, only added to the theory that she was obviously raving mad. But Mum didn't care. After working in a busy office all week those walks were like a tonic, and brought her a sense of freedom and enjoyment which perhaps others would not understand. Before long Flossie had moved out of the outhouse to live with Mum and the girls in the caravan, relishing the home comforts which accompanied the move. Norman hadn't minded at all, but I believe the dog's new lifestyle created a few problems for Dennis and his sheep. Often, when Flossie was working the sheep, he would lose patience and shout at her, when the dog would turn tail and run straight back to the sanctuary of the caravan. She would run to Mum with fear in her eyes, then crouch in a corner, hiding from her irate master. Minutes later Dennis would bang on the door demanding that Mum send his dog out, when Flossie would, she knew, have to face retribution for absconding. So she wouldn't have it, and protected the sheepdog fervently. Politely she told Dennis that if only he showed more patience and kindness, then Flossie wouldn't flee from him so readily. Dennis retaliated by saying that Mum was ruining the animal, spoiling her the way she did, and that she would be of neither use nor ornament soon! Mum compromised by telling her landlord that he could have his dog back, but conditionally. That first he was to come inside the caravan and make friends with Flossie again; win her confidence back. Exasperated to the hilt, and desperate to get his sheep rounded up and returned to the field again, Dennis would grudgingly agree. On one occasion, following a typical shouting and fleeing match, our landlord had crawled on all fours across the caravan floor uttering, and in a voice like a choir boy prior to puberty, endearments which had visibly astonished the sheepdog, when no doubt she had thought him barking mad. (Excuse the pun). But he had won her round though, and she had willingly accompanied him back to his widely scattered flock of confused and bleating bah lambs. But unfortunately that wasn't the end of it. Some ten minutes later the dog returned, Dennis, waving his arms in furious despair, in hot pursuit. He washed his hands of Flossie after that and bought himself another dog, a black and white sheepdog called Bronco. The new dog was banned from going anywhere

near the caravan, Dennis threatening him with all manner of gruesome punishment, should he disobey. When the time came for Mum and the girls to move up to April Cottage, Norman and Dennis discussed what they believed the sheepdog would do. Dennis was convinced that Flossie would never move into the bungalow with them, after all, she knew her rightful place was with Norman and himself on the farm. "Na!" he said. "Dog'll niver move up there wi' 'em." Norman, being older and wiser, had his say. "Dunna you believe it," he said. When the family moved into the bungalow Flossie moved in too, never to return to her former home unless accompanied by Mum. Dennis was disgusted with her, but Norman was always pleased to see his old dog and continued to buy her packets of crisps from the pub, which he had done for many a year. Mum and Flossie enjoyed a wonderful summer together, until the dog unfortunately died a few weeks prior to my arrival. Losing her had been a great blow to Mum, which was why Josie had bought me, hoping I would be of consolation to her following her loss. I looked down at Flossie's grave, hoping Mum would love me as much as she had loved the old sheepdog. Mum left me for a moment to go to the house for her coat, for it was chilly in the garden that morning. I made the most of her absence and ran over to the woodshed, where I had seen the mouse last night. I stuck my nose into the gap beneath the door and sniffed hugely, the scent of mice, and other interesting creatures, exciting my nostrils no end. Desperate to get inside the shed, where I could sniff to my heart's content, I tried to squeeze myself under the door. The sound of mewing in the vicinity of my left ear, stopped me in my tracks. I did an about turn and came face to face with Cindy, who, for some reason, didn't look too pleased with me. We sat down and eyed each other up, whereupon, both being intelligent creatures, we read each others minds and had a chat. "What were you doing with your nose stuffed under the woodshed door?" she wanted to know. "Well, as it happens, I was looking for mice. I can smell dozens of them in here and "

"Mice?" Her eyes widened in disbelief. "Are you daft or what? Dogs aren't supposed to chase mice! That's a feline's job! Dogs are supposed to chase ca other things. Anyway, the woodshed is strictly my territory. Got that, puppy dog? So go and sniff somewhere else! And whilst we're at it, I'll thank you to keep your nose out of my dinner dish! I saw you this morning, licking up the last of my Catto! Greedy thing!" And with that she stuck up her tail like a periscope and slinked off like a model on the catwalk, all swaying hips and feline haughtiness. "Humph. And the same to you with knobs on! Fluff ball!" Mum returned, when she scooped me up and took me down the lane to visit Norman, who lived alone in the middle bungalow. Apparently Dennis didn't live with his father, but instead occupied adjacent Yew Tree Farm, which ran alongside The Woodlands, thus combining the two properties. Wondering if Dennis would be present at the bungalow, for Mum said that he took all his meals with Norman, I felt a twinge of apprehension. I hoped he didn't expect me to round up his sheep for him. I wouldn't have known one end from the other if my life depended on it! We found Norman sitting in his old leather armchair by the fireside, reading yesterday's Shropshire Star. The old gentleman, of medium height and build, who had thick, side-parted iron-grey hair, and grey eyes, which had a surprising sparkle for a man of his seventy-four years, smiled cheerfully when Mum and I walked into the room. "Mornin' Ann!" he said. (Mum's friends and acquaintances called her Ann, whilst she was always Sylvia to her family). "So this is the new pup, eh? My, but she looks like a grand little dog." I wagged my tail and looked perky. What a perceptive gentleman, I thought. A person who recognised quality when he saw it. I ran to Norman's side, where he bent to stroke my head, his hands, twisted by painful arthritis, smelling strongly of pipe tobacco, one of the few pleasures left to the old man these days. Wagging my tail vigorously, I looked up at him, perceiving, by his warm smile and friendly manner, that he was a pleasant, goodhumoured chap, who enjoyed a good joke, and who rarely complained about the arthritis which was slowly crippling him. Almost everyone who lived in the Dale suffered from arthritis in

some form or another, (Mum herself would fall victim too) the excessive dampness in the area during the winter months no doubt being to blame. "Little pup's a bit different from old Flossie," he remarked, "but she'll be a nice change for ye, Ann. What have youm decided to call her?" Call her? I pricked my ears with interest, for as yet, I did not have a name. "Well, I thought I would call her Phantom of the Woodlands. I like it. And I think it suits her, too." "Aye. Name suits her reet enough." Phantom of the Woodlands. I rolled the name around in my head. Yes, I liked it as well. It certainly befitted a snow-white Labrador who lived at The Woodlands Farm. Mum said, "Of course, that will be her posh, registered name. But for short, I'll probably call her Fanta or perhaps Fan, even. " Crikey, Mum! Any shorter and I'll just be plain, Fff!" Mum sat down on the settee, me on her knee, listening to Norman, who reminisced about his life in Australia. That always fascinated her. In his youth he and several other young farmers, in search of prosperity and adventure, had gone over to Australia, where they worked at various sheep stations out in the bush. Norman had enjoyed it immensely and, had it not been for a certain Shropshire lass, whom he had met prior to going out there, then no doubt he would have stayed in Oz. But as it was he returned to England to marry her, when they went on to run a farm of their own. Mum laughed when he told her the names people called each other over there, like bastards and bludgers and other rude things, although none of it said with discredit. Being an avid traveller and adventurist herself, many years hence, in 2001, Mum would do a grand tour of Australia, seeing more of the country than most of its residents, and where she picked up the accent in record time. Mum had a knack for imitating accents. Whilst in Melbourne, she went into a shop to buy bottled water, where the young male assistant remarked observedly, "You're a long way from home, Missus Alice Springs, im I right? " Mum had a job to keep her face straight. "Try a bit further west," she said.

Suddenly the sound of a metal box on wheels drawing up outside the house alerted us. Norman rose stiffly to his feet, saying, "That'll be Dennis coming for his morning tea. Ah'd better put the kettle on, Ann." "I'll do it, Norman," she offered, and I followed her into the kitchen, where I stood by the door awaiting our landlord's presence. I could hear Dennis kicking off his boots in the outhouse, and when the door opened a powerful farmyard aroma, which had me all excited, preceded him, the smell clinging to his clothes like a limpet. At first sight I saw Dennis to be a typical farmer of the old school, clad in worn brown trousers caked with mud, an open-necked shirt, an old knitted pullover without any sleeves, and thick socks liberally peppered by bits of fodder from the barn, with holes in the front where his toes peeped through. Worn over the shirt was a check jacket which had seen better days, and which, in the absence of any buttons, was held together by a piece of binder twine fastened around Dennis' waist. On his head was a battered cloth cap, a permanent fixture by all accounts, but which the farmer obligingly removed now in order to scratch the back of his head, revealing a ring of salt and pepper hair, thin on top where he was balding. His hazel eyes were not as bright as his father's, not did they show the same degree of softness. But his jolly, weather-beaten face, with its worn yellow teeth, looked congenial enough to me when he smiled at us, and I knew, warts and all, that I was going to like Dennis. I hastened to sniff those interesting brown trousers, whereupon, to my surprise, out landlord suddenly bent to pick me up. He ran a rough hand over my coat, remarking, with a wry grin, "Smashin' little pup! Course, not as well bred as my Bronco. But reet enough for a Labrador!" "Humph!" snorted Mum. "I'll have you know that Phantom of the Woodlands has relatives at Buckingham Palace. So what do you think to than, then?" "Yes. You tell him, Mum! Let him know that he's entertaining a touch of class here, and not some mangy mutt with a birthright of unknown origin!" "Buckingham Palace!" Dennis mimicked jocularly. "Well, ah'll bear that in mind next time t'Queen calls round fer a cuppa."

When he eventually stopped laughing, Dennis asked if he could take me to meet Bronco, who remained outside in the back of his van. Mum shook her head. "No, better not. Fan hasn't been inoculated yet." "Aye, very wise," chirped the farmer. "It wouldna do for my Bronco to catch a lot o' nasty germs from your little pup!" Mum gave a hoot of laughter. "Hah! More like the other way around!" Despite their many differences, Mum and Dennis shared the same outrageous sense of humour, and enjoyed the boisterous banter which took place between them almost every time they met. They also took pleasure in playing practical jokes on one another, each one bolder (and dafter!) than the last. Now Mum could put a very convincing letter together, and I heard tell that a few months back, whilst working for a local haulage company, who had recently introduced tachometers into their long-distance vehicles, Mum had acquired an obsolete disc and had sent it to Dennis as a joke, together with an official-looking letter supposedly from the Water Board. It said that due to new legislation the discs, which looked something like a modern CD but with lots of numbers written around the perimeter, were being issued to all their customers, who were to fasten them to the inside of their toilet cisterns in order for the Board to calculate just how much water was being used with every flush. It then went on to explain, using technical jargon so complicated that one had to have the brain of a nuclear physicist to understand it, how to read and equate the numbers on the disc, which their customers then had to transfer into cubic decimetres, before finally evaluating the grand total of water used over a period of three calendar months. Confused? You're not the only one. Poor Dennis! You can imagine his bewilderment when he read the letter, duly delivered in an official-looking envelope by the postman. Baffled to the hilt, he had stood for a lengthy time peering into the cistern in the loo, scratching the top of his head, unknowing of just what to make of it all. There hadn't been anything written in the Shropshire Star about the ridiculous newfangled law, and he reckoned that the Water Board ought to

find better things to do with their time than bring chaos and confusion to the minds of British water users! Finally, muttering words which I certainly hadn't heard before, and unsure of just where to fasten the disc inside the cistern, he simply dropped the thing in with a plop, trusting it would find its own way around. It wasn't until that night, when Dennis was on his way to the pub, that it suddenly dawned on him that the farm wasn't on mains water. The Woodlands had its own private supply, via an underground spring, and the Water Board had bugger all to do with his property! It didn't take him long to work out the perpetrator of the deed, which he had swallowed hook, line and sinker. "Ah'll bloody kill 'er!" he threatened. "Ah'll wring that scrawny neck of 'ers, so ah will!" The following morning the tachometer was pushed through Mum's letterbox, together with a rather suggestive note YOUM KNOW WHAT YOUM CAN DO WI' THIS, WENCH! She did laugh. Back to the present, and Dennis sat himself down at the table, where he poured himself a mug of tea. After slurping a few mouthfuls, he looked directly at me, and said, with a meaningful grin, "When ah've 'ad me tea ah'll tek little dog up to t'farm to meet me sheep. Git 'er used to 'em like, so as she'll know 'em when they're abart." Mum ought to have called me Lightening, because I was gone in a flash, hiding behind Norman's big chair, well out of sight of our teasing landlord. Dennis laughed raucously. "Were it summat ah said?" he asked.