Dunking brambles, dunking brambles/Splash! – in the coffee...
Oh no, it's bagles that Slim Gaillard sung about. A much more pleasurable activity, dunking bagles, than wrestling with brambles. Especially the rampant kind of brambles that rip your flesh and render useless even the thickest gloves. With the beautiful weather of the latter part of the week, I resumed my 20-year struggle with brambles. Like ants and cockroaches, they are one of nature's hardiest survivors.
I've been wrestling with them for so long now that I've almost forgotten the reason why. Something to do with the territorial status quo. It's like one of those interminable and impenetrable wars during the Dark Ages. What's it all about, Daphne? At least it gave me a chance to do something useful while surveying the newcomer. She who demands attention.
Getting to grips with nature also affords a close-up on its seasonal process. Trudging in from my labours, I noticed that the climbing rose is covered in budding leaves. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the times they are a-changing. Winter is slowly giving way to spring, always a source of rejoicing.
Apart from the occasional bursts of industry – I was up on the roof in the sunshine, for example, with kitchen roll and blue spray, cleaning the accumulated grime off the solar panels – most of the week has been given to the continuing education of Daphne Sampson. I've been encouraging her to do her business out of doors by watering the growing grass myself. She's learning fast; just the occasional overnight accident now.
Friday evening, however, everything went to pot. First, there was an extended power struggle involving the sofas, whose throws we removed to reveal them in their glory for Daphne's first social event. We're trying to teach her that she can't sit on the sofas unless we happen to be sitting with her. Understandably, it's a hard concept to grasp. But before our friends, the Jacksons, arrived with Hattie, their French bulldog, a long and intransigent battle of wits took place. Every time we removed the pup from a sofa to put her in her basket, we found her sitting on another one as soon as our backs were turned.
Once the Jacksons arrived, pandemonium broke out. Hattie is a squat and plump-ish dog who leads her life on short legs close to the ground. Her squashed face gives her a winning expression, but she suffers from her breed's genetic breathlessness whenever she exerts herself. Daphne was initially intimidated by her huffing, bustling elder, but soon emerged from under a chair to spar with her guest. Such was the excitement that puddles started appearing with alarming regularity. All of her recent learning went straight out of the French windows for the evening.
She also discovered her bark. (Or yap, at this stage.) Trying to conduct a conversation with such a commotion going on is not easy. I felt particularly for Myrtle, our not inconsiderable cat, who was upstairs sitting on my records: her refuge of choice. The Daughter and I took turns to go up and reassure her that everything was really all right, that the disturbance was temporary. It's hard for her at the moment. Her sister hasn't returned since taking off on Evening 1. Then we had to take away her food at night, because Daphne has discovered how to get upstairs to polish it off. And now, to put the old tin lid on it, here was her otherwise peaceful house full of rowdy dogs.
Over dinner, the Jacksons asked us about the origins of our Terrierdor. We've discovered during the week that Daphne has a real aptitude for rooting out snails, which she brings back in via the cat-flap in order to practise her shell control on the terracotta tiled floor. The sound of the ensuing scuttling reverberates around the house. So we've concluded that the mother was a Labrador and the father a Gascon Snail Hound (a very rare breed, once thought to be extinct). Our plan now is to fine-tune this instinctive skill by giving her a taste for truffles.
That way, she can earn her keep. The weekly bill for her board and lodging has gone up exponentially with the discovery that the bog-standard puppy-dawg food just gives her diarrhoea. So we've had to invest in a bag of so-called scientifically formulated croquettes. I am sceptical, but have to say that her little pinky-grey furless tummy is getting more rotund with each increasingly solid no. 2. She bellyful.
Although we were worn out by our Friday evening with the Jacksons, the good thing about having a canine guest was that Daphne was worn out all the next day. If there's anything better than a youngster at play, it's a youngster asleep. You can get your life back, briefly. With no rugby internationals to deflect my motivation, I was able to get back outside in the balmy sunshine and clean out the mile-long stretch of copper-coloured aluminium guttering at the back of the house, which hasn't seen a gloved hand in about a decade. It wasn't too bad, considering, although typically the boggiest stretch was out of reach of my ladder. My clever idea of trying to dislodge the debris with chimney-sweeping baguettes proved remarkably ineffectual.
This weekend, our young learner will receive another house guest. They can play outside in the sunshine. With luck, the meeting will wear Daphne out for at least another 24 hours. The good wife plans to plant the Alfred Lord Sampson memorial rose donated by the Thompsons, his former god-parents. And this particular serf can get back into his suit of armour, so to speak, and go off to war once more against the vicious brambles. In the centuries to come, they will write about the struggle and maybe speculate what it was all about. This life of ours, it's quite an education.