Wow. I’ve just discovered that August has been designated Happiness Happens Month by the Secret Society of Happy People.  This may be a bit weird, but I just thought I’d mention it.

You probably all know that having dogs brings me a lot of happiness, and for this edition of ‘How to be happy’, I’m going to tell you about one aspect of that.  It started with a dog walk.

Now, some of you may not be aware that Sid, the tripod, is getting older and suffering cramping along his back as a result of the way he walks to accommodate his lack of a fourth leg, and that Jeffie is now officially an older gentleman at eleven years old.

Neither of them tolerate hot weather very well, so our walks recently have been short and we felt a bit sorry for them.  You see, these short walks are mostly on pavement, and are limited to the village.


What we used to do three or four days a week was take them across the fields to meet a back road and then walk through the village and past the church and on home, which took about 45 minutes.  Neither can really cope with that at the moment, and … well, I dunno about the dogs, but we kind of miss it, so yesterday we popped then in the car and drove round to the road end of the field walk and did a short triangle which cuts across a piece of ‘set-aside’ land.

The dogs loved it … and wow, this piece of land has become a real haven for wildlife!

You remember the post I did about the disappearing bees?  I was just so happy yesterday to see and hear literally hundreds of them buzzing about in the wild flowers that grow there.  I still did not see many honey bees; there were one, maybe two, of those.  But solitary bees and wild bumble bees and little black bees I don’t know the name of – they were there in spades!  Some were more than a little drunk on nectar:


Don’t you love the way his rearmost legs are just dangling?

There were also syrphidae, or hoverflies, some of which mimic bees and wasps quite well.  Their sizes and colours vary quite dramatically, from small black, or black and white flies to really large wasp-mimics like this helophilus trittivatus, beautiful little guy that he is:


I love to see new insects – it probably reminds me of my childhood, and of field trips to the country with my entomologist Dad.  He’d be so happy and excited over some unusual beetle he’d found … though of course, for him, it was a much rarer thing not to know the name for something.

And there were butterflies … Large Whites aplenty, and a handful of grassland species like the Meadow Brown and the Gatekeeper.  These two look remarkably similar at first sight, except that the Gatekeeper has two white spots on each forewing and the Meadow Brown has only one.


This Meadow Brown looked a bit worse for wear, so perhaps was an older specimen.  The Gatekeeper looked better and brighter.


Peacocks were flying in large numbers*. I think they must love thistles and ragwort.  These are one of our largest and most spectacular butterflies, and so dramatic: they can look totally black when fluttering quickly past, but when they alight somewhere to sun themselves, the upper surface of the wing is exposed – and that’s where all the colour is.


I saw several Silver Y moths.  I didn’t know they flew during the day, but there they were, unmistakeable because of the bright silver ‘y’ shape on their wings.  It’s partly obscured in the photo, but it’s there.

They were shy, and moved in short, quick bursts, keeping low under the foliage.


There were beetles, too.  Ladybirds, of course, and this orange-red Soldier Beetle strutting his stuff on the Oxford Ragwort.


Here’s the thing about Oxford Ragwort.  It’s a tall fancy-leaved thing with beautiful bright yellow, daisy-like flowers, and it’s horribly poisonous to livestock.  Unfortunately for the livestock, it’s not actually unpalatable to many of them, so they eat it and get liver damage.  Horses eat it, too, so there’s often a loud call for the local council to eradicate it, and indeed it is classed as a ‘pernicious weed’.

So a number of years ago, they sprayed much of the wasteland and ‘set aside’** with herbicide and killed everything in it.  Sadly, this included the spectacularly colourful caterpillars of the equally spectacular Cinnabar Moth, who were feeding on ragwort at the time, and after that, I think I saw one single Cinnabar Moth during the next five years, because ragwort (we have two varieties Oxford Ragwort, and Common Ragwort) is their only sustainable food plant.  And I was delighted to see that not only has the ragwort come back, but so has the moth, and therefore, those wonderful, stripey-pyjama clad caterpillars.


Aren’t they crazy?  They’re enough to make anyone smile!  They’re not at all camouflaged, but then, they don’t need to be because like their food plant, they are toxic and small mammals and birds do not eat them.  You can read more about them here.

Lastly, just see what I found in a supermarket the other day -



I love vegetable crisps.  I love plain, unsalted potato crisps, too, but vegetable crisps are in a different, more up-market league as far as my tastebuds are concerned.  Usually the bags are of mixed vegetables: sweet potato, parsnip, carrot and beetroot is a popular mix.  However, this bag was composed entirely of my favourite – beetroot!  It was a real treat, I can tell you!

have you noticed how my HTBH posts are getting longer?  You see, that’s what happens when you start deliberately noticing small things that make you happy – you begin to notice more and more of them as time goes by!

If you’d like to experience this for yourself, grab this badge and join in.  Post something that made you happy this week, add the badge and link back here. You’ll be glad you did!


*There were probably at least a dozen.  Alright, this isn’t exactly ‘great numbers’ but we’ve hardly seen any butterflies apart from the odd Cabbage White in recent years so it seemed like it!

** ‘Set aside‘ land is land which the farmer is paid a substantial amount of money NOT to plant anything in.  It began as a remedy for the European food mountain situation.  Heaven knows why it still happens … but it is great for wildlife, so perhaps that’s a factor.




Posted on August 5, 2013 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay14 Comments »


So. The other day I picked up a link on Facebook, which led to me reading a blog which linked to an article entitled ‘The one thing no-one tells you before you have kids‘ written for an online magazine called ‘The Slate’ by a certain Allison Benedikt.

Perhaps you should settle yourselves in, here, and get comfortable, because this is going to take some time.

I began reading the article with some interest because it’s clear to all but the densest dog owner or parent that some thought needs to be put into mixing the two while keeping everyone safe and happy and making sure everyone’s needs are met.

This particular journo, however, had put no thought into it at all.


The story begins with her then boyfriend giving her a surprise gift: a Border Collie/American Eskimo mix puppy. This would have rung all kinds of alarm bells in my mind, but hey-ho, she was thrilled to bits and kept both (‘… man, I loved this puppy!‘) and they got married and showered the little guy with affection right up until she became pregnant, and then it all went rapidly downhill.

From being ‘the centre of my universe‘, little Velvel, now not-so-little, became a nuisance.

He became something to ignore and then to complain about when he developed behavioural problems. By the time she had her third child, she was so irritated by him that she implied that he’d better stay away from the bath-tub or she might end up drowning him.


Presumably because he no longer got walked or received any kind of meaningful attention, he began to bark incessantly when the kids were trying to sleep, for which his reward was more anger.  She began tossing him endless treats ‘to keep him quiet‘, and eventually he became seriously ill.

She did at least take him to the vet (he was being inconveniently sick over the carpet) but when the vet explained what was wrong, all she could think was that the baby was spitting up, and before she’d even left the premises she’d forgotten whether he’d said it was the dog’s liver or kidneys that were failing.

She apparently, even then, spared not one ounce of sympathy for his plight or for his illness, choosing instead to write an article on how this proved that prospective parents should avoid all this by not getting a dog until the children were older.


Needless to say, the list of comments on this callous and very un-funny piece of writing was as long as a thirty foot gorilla’s arm, and all but a handful were very, very negative towards her.  They urged her to think of the dog,  to pull herself together and ‘man up’ and do the right thing, even if that meant rehoming the dog so he could get a little bit of love and proper care for the rest of his days.

Some went as far as to say she deserved neither dog nor children and to hope that her kids would be removed from her care as well as the dog, on the basis that she was clearly looking for a scapegoat and would inevitably look for another once this unfortunate dog was dead.

One rather disturbing comment was that it was of no use to urge her to rehome him since ‘nobody ever adopts shelter dogs’ and ‘he’d end up dead’ pretty damn quickly, saying ‘do you think that people are so altruistic that multitudes will just take ‘rehomed’ dogs?  Sorry, but most folks want their own dog.  From a puppy‘.

Wrong, mister. Lots of us take in reject dogs are and happy to do so!

Now, you can read it for yourself here, and make your own mind up whether or not this author was writing tongue-in-cheek, but here’s what I think: even if this was a ‘lighthearted’ exposition on the difficulties which arise when you are a harrassed mother of three with a demanding dog, or whether it was written in all seriousness, there remains the question of ethics and propriety.


I believe it is incumbent on a journalist (or columnist or feature writer) to remember that not everyone is as intelligent as they are, is emotionally stable, or shares the same sense of humour.

She states categorically that it is ‘a near-universal truth‘ that ‘almost everyone … who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog.‘  Clearly, she is seeking validation for her own lack of coping skills, but this validation may well come at the expense of hundreds of dogs out there in a similar situation whose sleep-deprived owners will now be thinking ‘Oh, it’s a universal truth … it’s the dog’s fault.’

I would not be at all surprised if many kicks, shoves or cuffs were aimed at innocent, emotionally-abandoned dogs on the strength of this heartless piece of crap, with many more tossed out into the yard in all weathers to cope as best they can and drive the neighbours nuts with their desolate howling.  It’s possible that some will end up euthanised.

She should also take note that many of the commenters were extremely distressed by Velvel’s situation, with his patent suffering recalling the sufferings of dogs they had owned: much loved dogs, now lost to disease and illness.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch list of comments, some people have discovered that this woman (while complaining that the frantic busy-ness of her life makes it impossible to spare the time to provide the most basic needs for her dog) is spending time on Twitter, playing mindless online games, and was in fact on holiday at the time and not responding (‘.. man, I loved that puppy‘).

This has not gone down well.

You should perhaps also know that Benedikt has been called out in the past on the ‘universal truth’ thing when writing on other serious subjects.

I know it’s a pipe-dream, but I really wish all journalists would just think about the effect their writing will have on the population at large. This one, to my mind, has not so thought, and to me, that is less than ethical.


Everyone knows that dogs require food, clean water and medical attention.  After that, their most important need is approval/acceptance, followed by freedom to express natural behaviours.  If these needs are met, most dogs will accept all kinds of privation.  These are the absolute basics, and don’t take into account the fact that a bored and under-exercised dog may – for example – eat your house.

Whatever type of dog you have, and however you acquired him, if you train him and manage things correctly, it can be a relationship of enormous benefit to everyone.

If you will only take care of their simple needs, there are valuable lessons that dogs can teach children on the value of empathy and love, and later, about responsibility and duty … and finally, how to handle grief.  Instead, what this ‘Slate’ writer needs to learn is the cause and effect of neglect: if you don’t exercise the dog when he needs it, he will bark his fool head off.


What values are the children going to grow up with, if they see their mother neglecting the dog and then complaining about him ‘getting under her feet‘ and cursing at having to clean up vomit because he is seriously ill?

I can tell you.  They will grow up learning to ignore the needs of a dependent animal. They will learn to ignore suffering.  They will learn that responsibility and duty are optional.  They will learn that it is quite permissible to love someone or something with all your heart one day, and then neglect them when they become inconvenient.

So.  I have to wonder.  What will happen when these same parents are old, sick and a damned nuisance?  Will their children drive hundred of miles to see them and bring them love and practical help?  Will they be taken in to the homes of their children to be cared for if necessary?

Or perhaps it will just be: ‘I’ve booked you a place at the cheapest retirement home I could find. It’s about a thousand miles away, but that’s OK, because I won’t have time to visit you anyway‘.


We had cats when Son No. 1 was born.  We had no spare money and a very small house and it simply wasn’t responsible to get a dog.  We remained relatively poor* until well after Son No. 2 was born.  We continued to keep cats (all of them strays) until I became allergic to them, and after that we waited until we had the time and money to manage a dog.  For us it was also important that we had a large enough garden in case of emergencies (leading to lack of leash walking) and to give the dog somewhere to play.  If someone had turned up with a puppy for me during those years I’d have said ‘Yes, very cute.  Now take him back where he came from – I can’t cope with a dog right now!’

I love helping to find home for dogs, but I have been known to persuade people NOT to get one.  It comes down to this:

One has to think things through, and decide wisely, because once you have taken on the responsibility of owning any animal, you have taken on a commitment to do right by them – and not just when they are healthy, young, cute … and easy.

Many people make it work, some do not.  If you have any doubt of the wisdom of getting a particular dog for your family, seek advice from someone who knows what they’re taking about and has the mental wherewithall to give you a balanced view – not someone seeking self-justification.

* Pretty much all poverty is relative in this country

Editorial note: Most of the photos in this blog post are of my own dogs, some now gone and very much missed. The last photo – the ‘Greyhound Myths’- is the front of a card which Brambleberry Greyhounds sells to raise funds to help care for the dogs. The photo was donated by the new owner of the Brambleberry dog pictured with one of their children.


I thought I’d give you a nice easy puzzle for Macro Monday today!

This is something … hmm.  Well, I was going to say that everyone would be familiar with them, but then I wondered if that was actually true.  Certainly in the Western World they are well known.

I don’t know what clues to give you, because so many things I could say would give the game away toot sweet, so let me think a minute.



Yeah … well.  Okay, here we go:

The things that you can do with these things vary a bit, but are quite limited.  And they won’t last you a lifetime, that’s for sure.

Some people like them, some people love them, some people really don’t care for them at all.

They are a little temperature and humidity dependent, and rather fragile, and this can put their price up.  Of course, this doesn’t always matter to those who can .. um .. ‘produce’ their own and don’t have to go and buy them!

For those who do love them, they bring joy, albeit of a short-lived nature.  Still, as with everything else, if the joy weren’t temporary, it would become commonplace and lose its value, would it not?

Now you have all the clues I’m willing to give you.  Take your best shot, and post it in the comments. If you pop back tomorrow evening (that’s Tuesday, UK time), I’ll add the answer, in the form of a picture link, to the end of this post.

Happy guessing!

And there you go! A nice easy one, but not so easy that everyone got it right! Excellent!

So, here is the answer, and you will see that Emma was the first to answer and the first to guess correctly! Well done, Emma – shame you don’t have a blog, really, so I can’t give you a link-back!

Next up came Taffy’s Mum, also without a blog! And then we have Lori, Rob Lenihan and Liz, followed by Babs, Houndstooth, Dew Drops and Birgitta. Very well spotted all of you. Give yourselves a pat on the back!

I hope you enjoyed playing this week. Pop along next Macro Monday and have another go!


I missed HTBH last week, because I was so busy with this and that, but I missed doing it – I really did!  So I’m happy to be back with another edition this week.

Lots of good things have happened since I last wrote.  One thing that made me quite ridiculously happy is the orange and black caterpillar up there.  Funny looking little thing, isn’t he, with his little fluffy ‘ears’ and his forked tail?  It took a lot of searching, and a post on a wildlife forum to confirm it, but I can now tell you that he is a very, very young Puss Moth caterpillar.

I was glad to find out, because he was found on one of our cars and I wanted to make sure to put him on the correct food plant so he wouldn’t die.   The Puss Moth is quite beautiful, so I’m including a link for the non-mottephobes among you.

For the next little dose of happy-dancing delight, I give you …


One beautiful, tight head of radicchio, all ready to cut! Now, it’s nigh-on impossible to buy a whole head of radicchio around here, unless we happen to drive over the other side of town to the Italian supermarket on a Thursday, and when we get there, we find that they have neither failed to buy any or sold out of what they did buy. So I’m really pleased to have some in my own garden to use in our friend Umberto’s famous risotto recipe.

There are other veggies coming along nicely, too. Here are the beans:


There should be a nice handful ready for my next hot dinner. Umberto also does a lovely dish of trofie with potatoes and green beans. Maybe I should cook that next?

I also have some nice little green tomatoes, and also some flowers on the zucchini. Excellent!

There are a few flowers in my garden too. I have ‘Beautiful James’ and ‘Susan’ roses out at the moment, and also these gorgeous little ‘Crystal Palace’ lobelia.


These tiny flowers, clustered together, are an absolutely beautiful colour somewhere between blue and purple. I’m not sure this photo does them justice, but they make me smile every time I look at them.

So there you are: How to be happy!


Oh, I could go on, and include the twins and the dogs and so on, but I know half of you would give up reading if I made the post too long!

Do grab the badge and join in, and tell us what made you happy this week.

It’s the little things, you know!