Thursday, November 14, 2013

George - Puppy not Prince

George, just arrived at 8 weeks

After Badger died earlier this year we were a dog short in the household. All the car-greeting and barking duties fell on Indy’s shoulders while Amy took care of keeping the sofa warm and barking from the comfort of her personal chair. It was obviously time to bring in the next generation. My husband kept an eye on Gumtree, torn between wanting another border collie and a slightly bigger dog to be a fierce protector of the family. Every now and then he’d call my attention to an ad and I’d grunt non-commitally. I wasn’t really in a hurry to bring a demanding new creature into our lives and we’d just been through sleep deprived nights with Bracken as a new kitten.

Finally he showed me a picture that softened my reluctance. A fluffy pup, offspring of a chance encounter between a border collie father and the owner’s Dogue de Bordeaux (French mastiff). The owner was vetting all potential new owners and was obviously reluctant to part with the last two puppies of the litter, but her husband insisted. Living on a farm, with kids and other animals in the family, we passed her initial criteria and the whole family including my mother, who was visiting, piled into the car and set off to the other side of the world from us, Noordhoek ( for non-Cape Town readers, it’s a lovely little beachside village over a long pass from the main Cape Town sprawl).

He was a fluffy bundle, quite calm and gentle, but already quite big at 8 weeks and was immediately picked up and cuddled by all the kids. It seemed he was ours.

Bracken and Amy check out the new arrival

On the way home in the car as he wriggled over laps, a long discussion about names ensued. None of the ideas quite fit. My husband suggested George and I poo-pooed it, thinking he was joking, as the latest member of the royal family had just been named George. It turned out he was serious and really liked the name, and it seems the puppy liked it too, now it doesn’t seem like he could be called anything else! And apologies to young Prince George, but our George is slightly older than him, so must take precedence!

George was like a little bear cub when we got him all fluff and roundness, but he soon started growing longer legs, even though he still thought he was a cute lap dog.

Max, my sister-in-law’s dog started off  playing wildly with him and to start off with was top dog, but he lost some of his ebullience when George quickly grew bigger than him and started rolling him over instead. They’ve worked out an equilibrium now.

Max and George at play
The best thing for me was that having George gave me an inescapable motivation to walk round the farm twice a day, rain or shine,work or none. His house-training period... let's just say it took a while, and making sure that he came for a long walk, besides giving him exercise, made that much less to clear up in the house!

George at 13 weeks

"So much interesting stuff," as he wipes out the pretty dew spangled cobweb I was photographing!
A sandy nose from snuffling in mole heaps
The evening dog walk

Bracken, our kitten has an amazingly tolerant relationship with George. The puppy play continues and I think George looks on Bracken as his personal squeaky toy, putting a casual paw over him and chewing him, with hardly a protest or a scratch from Bracken.

My squeaky toy!

At five months George is now a big lolloping youngster, bounding around full of energy then crashing out in between times. He’s very sweet-natured and has a resoundingly gruff bark, which is most often directed at the perplexing mysteries of life such as tortoises and dead mice. He takes a keen interest in Bracken’s duties and my husband was woken several times in the last week by galumphing noises and crashes of chairs falling over in the kitchen. Turns out Bracken was sharing his mouse with George and they were playing with it together... at 3 in the morning!

Almost a model dog on the lead.

 Our first two border collies always hated going in the car, so we determined to get George used to it early on. He started taking the girls to school a couple of times a week, whining all the way. Eventually it got better, but he still wasn’t enthusiastic.

The breakthrough came when we took him to the beach a couple of weeks ago. He loved it: the sand, the sea, people, bounding and chasing waves and running. Now we can’t keep him out of the car. He leaps in any time we’re going anywhere, on the off-chance it might be going to the beach again!
This Atlantic ocean is jolly chilly on the paws

Got to have Table Mountain in the background as George lollops.

At five months George is well established as a travelling member of the family

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


When we built our house I knew I wanted a lavender hedge along the front. There is something about lavender bushes all in a row that feels good. Think how we love those pictures of Provence with fields of lavender stretching in the distance towards ancient abbey buildings. Part of me was after that heart-lifting feeling, the other practical part fixed on lavender’s antibacterial properties as a justification. Because it is a very useful plant in herbal medicine and household remedies.

According to Margaret Roberts, my favourite South African herb guru, lavender helps ward off fleas, flies, fishmoths and cockroaches – there was a reason for our grandmothers using lavender bags tucked into drawers of clothes and linen. I’ve been tucking bunches of fresh lavender behind books on shelves and into drawers for years now, except I’m not patient enough to sew it into bags, so tend to end up with lots of dried lavender flowers sprinkled all over the bottom of drawers months later. But it smells nice, so I don’t mind.

Lavender Tea
One of my favourite ways to use lavender is as a relaxing tea, when I’m stressed or anxious. It has a lovely calming effect and I quite enjoy the rather perfumey taste. Try it for insomnia too. It’s also a good antispasmodic, so eases headaches, muscle aches and stiffness. Plus lavender has antiseptic properties, so a tea is useful for washing out scrapes and scratches, and for cleansing oily skin. And it’s good as a hair rinse for hair bothered by the oily scalp of adolescence!

To make lavender tea, simply pick quarter of a cup of flowers, pour over a cup of boiling water. Leave to steep for five minutes. Then remove the flowers (or leave them in if you prefer) and sip.

Lavender Play
Our lavender hedge, ten years on, is getting very ragged and uneven with bare patches here and there. Youngest found it a perfect place to play with her horses and figures, creating gardens and landscapes in the shady secret gaps. A few months ago, when it was still winter, I announced that it was time to dig out the hedge out and start again with new little bushes. She was horrified, “But that is where I play.”
I let it rest for a week or two before bringing it up again. She then, in a very grown-up way, suggested,
“Can’t you leave it till next year. This is probably the last year I’ll be young enough to want to play in the lavender and if you plant new ones now they won’t be big enough to play in before I’m too old.”

How could I argue with that poignant plea. The lavender hedge remains. The fairy/horse landscapes haven’t been refreshed for a while now, but the space is still there for her last fling with childhood. Sigh.

Wild forests in the making
for these guys to explore and roam free
ancient twisted trees and magic groves
and they make great places for kittens to stage ambushes from
Lavender recipes
Here are two recipes that use lavender flowers for a subtle and elegant flavour, perfect for something different at Christmas, something that’s not spice, chocolate or rich dried fruit, to give your tastebuds a spot of light relief!

Note: There are lots of different varieties of lavender. The best to use for medicinal and cooking purposes are the varieties usually sold as English lavender Lavandula angustifolia or lavandula intermedia.