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Saturday 25 May 2013

"Wonderful Walter"

I am delighted that very soon, as I continue to work on a biography of Princess Alice, we will be bringing out a series of children’s books – ‘Wonderful Walter’.

Beautifully and brilliantly illustrated by photographer and artist, Andre Hilliard, who created the concept of the books (and who, incidentally, has a fascinating new blog: Andre Hilliard Blog) the stories are designed for 7-11-year-olds and follow the exploits of Walter, a boy who always wants to solve problems (his own and other people’s!) but his solutions usually lead to all kinds of catastrophes.
Set in London in 1946, the stories include historical details of life in the immediate post-war era (many of which are relevant to the Year 6 National Curriculum) and are peopled by interesting characters such as grumpy old Mr Grimshaw, of whom Walter is terrified, particularly when his pensive friend, Greville, tells him that ‘Old Grimshaw’s’ dark house is filled with dancing skeletons; and Uncle Hugh, Walter’s mother’s kindly but taciturn uncle, who understands everything and usually clears up Walter’s catastrophes.
The first book in the series will be available soon in Kindle format and in hard copy shortly afterwards...

Sunday 19 May 2013

Step 3 – Socialise Your Dog

“It is important that your dog gets used to people and other dogs while he is still a puppy. Socialise him as much as possible by introducing him to new people and situations.”

Ah ha, here is the easy part! Bertie loves people. If a burglar broke through the door, Bertie would welcome him with a wagging tail and lots of kisses. So! Off we go to meet new people...

Hmm...Bertie loves people a little too much. He thinks everyone is as excited to see him as he is to see them. Someone shows the least bit of interest in him and he leaps for joy, bounding, clambering up their legs, licking any available piece of flesh...which is all very well if the person happens to like dogs and it hasn’t been raining. Unfortunately, even the most devoted animal-lovers are not quite so overjoyed to have little black footprints all over their clothes.

Perhaps we will have more luck with dogs because they are not so fussy about footprints and Bertie is as happy to meet them as he is to meet people...In fact, more so! The slightest whiff of a dog in the vicinity and his tail wags so wildly it is almost like rudder, directing him towards them, and he is literally breathless with excitement. Of course, I am wary...supposing the other dog happens to be a big vicious brute or doesn’t take kindly to the attentions of a puppy? I call to the owners who tell me theirs is an ‘old boy’ or an ‘old girl’ who has seen it all and is as gentle as can be. Bertie hurries over to get acquainted and, not yet having developed the concept of ‘invading people’s space’ he drives in, expecting the old boy/girl to want to wrestle with him and appears a little disappointed when the senior dog just stares at him somewhat disdainfully as though to say, “Oh, the puppies today...we were never like that when we were young...”

Happily, we next meet a puppy who is eager to play...but the puppy happens to be half Bertie’s size and when Bertie begins to wrestle, the tiny little Chihuahuas and Yorkies are not at all impressed and revert to yapping wildly and baring their teeth. On we go...

Ah...a spaniel puppy! The right size, tail wagging, eager to play...and they both happily engage in a jolly wrestling match. Unfortunately, both are still on leads and although it is May, the Maypole dance is not well choreographed because rather than winding both leads into a neat pattern, I and the other dog-person end up having to untie our knotted leads while the puppies roll around in the grass. This is an impossible task unless one of us lets go of the lead at which point either puppy might tear off into the sunset...We eventually untangle ourselves and walk off in opposite directions while both puppies are still panting and tugging us back, trying to renew their game.

One particular spaniel with whom Bertie played had a particularly loud bark. Bertie, surprisingly, hardly ever barks and the sound of loud noise frightened him a little. He came home, climbed into bed, buried his head under the pillow and practised barking...Maybe next time he will be able to
respond with more than a rather timid little squeak...

Wednesday 15 May 2013

The Contradictory Portrayal to Two Like-Minded Kings

It is interesting the way in which propaganda can be used to destroy or to extol a character, and more interesting, perhaps, that in spite of years of being bombarded with slanted stories, so many people go on believing everything they are told by the press. Here is a very small example which struck me as almost amusing. Having seen the very interesting film, ‘The King’s Speech’ and having read more about the background and character of King George VI, it is clear that King George was a courageous man who had to face his own demons – largely those created during his childhood by his terrible bully of a father – to take up the role of King. George (or Albert, to be more precise) never wanted or expected to be saddled with the weight of kingship and his shyness and stammer made the prospect of having to take on such a responsibility all the more daunting. So great was his fear and reluctance to accept the throne that he reportedly sobbed to his mother, Queen Mary, when he realised what the future held for him on the abdication of his feckless brother. The fact that, in spite of his shyness, reserve and fear, he accepted the responsibility, is – quite rightly, in my opinion – generally portrayed as an example of his self-sacrifice, and the story of his weeping to his mother is used to show the extent of his courage in that he overcame his fears and did what he knew must be done.

The amusing part of this story is the fact that Nicholas II was equally reluctant to become Tsar and, in the emotionally-charged atmosphere surrounding the death of his father, he saw the daunting task ahead of him and wept to his cousin that he felt totally unsuited for such a role. His tears at that time are often cited as an example of his weakness, and his admission that he felt unsuited for the role is used to suggest that he was totally inept. Yet Nicholas, like George (Albert) overcame his own demons to do what he believed to be right...and even today he is villified for it.

Two men sharing the same dread of a daunting task but both accepting responsibility and overcoming their fears...one is hailed as courageous, the other as a weakling. Interesting, isn’t it? But then, as the saying goes, ‘history is written by the victors’.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Step Two - Playing with your Puppy

Step 2 – "Spend time playing with your puppy to create a bond of trust."

The book recommends the simple game of ‘Fetch’, which sounds ever so easy. You throw a stick or a ball or some other toy and puppy loves collecting it and bringing it back to you.

Perfectly simple!

I throw the ball, rubber pig, small stick or chewy toy and Bertie looks at it and looks at me as though to say, “You threw it...you get it!” He obviously hasn’t grasped the purpose of the game so I follow the book’s instructions and attempt to teach him. I throw the toy and run after it and bring it back to the original place. Still he looks at me. I do this several times until I feel a little bit stupid running about throwing things to no purpose. I place the item in front of Bertie, put a treat on it and then throw it. He takes the treat and again I retrieve the object until I am too exhausted to play anymore.

Bertie then decides to play a proper game of his own choosing. This involves finding stones and chewing them. I try to prise the stones from his mouth and offer something less harmful and more tasty to replace it. He happily drops the stone, takes the treat and then returns to the stone, sometimes even parading it in front of me as though to say, “Look, I like this game.” Again I attempt to prise it from him but this time he runs away so quickly that I am concerned he will swallow it.

Ah ha! He needs something to get his teeth into that is not as dangerous as a stone. I give him a puppy dental chew. He wanders around the garden and finds an appropriate place to bury it...usually in a plant pot after digging up the plant...and returns to the stones. Eventually, much later in the day, he remembers he buried his chew and wants to go out to find it...He digs it up all covered in soil (as indeed is his mouth)and brings it to me to wash. I wash it and hand it back to him...and off he goes to bury it again in another plant pot (throwing out the plant in the process). He is developing more ingenious hiding places for the chews...they have been found now inside pillow cases, inside shoes and even in my dressing gown pocket (how on earth did he get it into there??) Oh, and speaking of shoes, a really great game is to take a shoe, run off with it and drop it into the pond...

Play ‘Fetch’?? Not a chance when there are chews to bury and shoes to steal...