Ollie The Tracker Dog

Just lately, Ollie’s tracking and hunting instincts seem to have reached a new peak of efficiency. Out walking yesterday, he suddenly picked up the scent of something, and took off, nose to the ground. In torrential rain and slippery mud, I had trouble catching up with him. But when I finally found him almost ten minutes later, he was standing by a thick clump of brambles, one front paw raised. On my arrival, he set off in circles around the brambles, snuffling at every branch. After some circuits had been completed, he stopped and stretched his neck, sniffing the air intently.

Suddenly, two small fallow deer emerged from the brambles, one was close enough for me to touch, had I not been holding an umbrella.They bounced away to the left, with Ollie in hot pursuit. It took me a while to find him again, and he was once again nose-to-the-ground, making zig-zag movements around Hoe Rough. He was so determined in his smell-tracking, he didn’t even notice me appear behind him. But this time, the deer had got themselves close to a fence bordering private land. So when Ollie finally located them and flushed them out, they escaped easily, by jumping the fence in one leap.

The weather was a little kinder today, and we even had some sunshine, despite a strong cold wind. After walking around for some time, Ollie became very interested in a tree, one in a group of six or so, some way from our usual route. He sniffed around the bark with great precision, returning again and again to one small section. Then he got his nose to the ground, and began to trot off ahead. I suspected that the deer may have returned, and anticipated a repeat of the previous day, trying to keep up with him. I kept him in sight, and stayed on the path as he headed north, on the diagonal. He stopped by the gate through to Holt Road, so I caught up with him quickly.

To my surprise, I found him staring at an elderly man by the gate. The man was wearing walking clothes, and carrying a map case and a walking pole. He seemed embarrassed as I approached, perhaps because I noticed that he was fiddling with the front of his trousers. He nodded at me, muttered a “Good afternoon”, and walked through the gate. A few minutes later, it dawned on me what had caused Ollie to track him in that way. He had probably stopped to pee up a tree, the one that Ollie had been so interested in. No doubt he had some on his shoes as he walked away, and Ollie was sharp enough to detect it. His trouser-fiddling was probably because he realised he hadn’t zipped up properly.

Ollie had done well. So the next time someone goes missing around here…

Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

The Mighty Oak

I am reblogging this post from 2016, for the benefit of my many welcome new followers. I apologise in advance to everyone who saw it at the time, but it is one of my personal favourite posts on this blog.


There are lots of oak trees in this area. We even have two on our property, one in the front, and a larger one dominating the back garden. This is one of the biggest I have seen around here though, and it greets you as you enter through the gate onto Hoe Rough. It has been dated at around 350 years old.
The photo can be enlarged by clicking on it.


It started growing in 1666.

As it grew, London was devastated by The Great Fire. Charles II was on the throne of England, and Samuel Pepys was writing his famous diary. When this oak was 110 years old, the far-off colonies in America declared independence, and started a war with England to achieve it.

In 1916, the tree had reached the grand old age of 250. That summer, Britain suffered terrible casualties at the Battle of The Somme, and…

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A Winter Moon

Spotted tonight. Misty, cold, 10:15 pm. The moon illuminating the garden, through the branches of the oak tree behind our house. Hand-held long exposure, (1.3 seconds) zoom range, 200 MM. Settings, F 2.8, Aperture Priority, Sony RX 10. A standard colour shot, rendered in monochrome by the available light conditions.

A Norfolk moon, as seen by the ancient Iceni tribe.

Ollie: A dog getting older

Ollie will be seven years old soon. Given that his breed rarely lives beyond the age of ten, we have to accept that he is now past middle age, and becoming old, relatively speaking.

There are times when he still remembers what it was like to play. He rushes around with a soft toy in his mouth, or gets excited when anyone calls at the house. But he doesn’t play with other dogs anymore when we are out, and his free-spirited joyous solo running has slowed down to a perky trot.

The shorter two-hour walks of winter seem to suit him well enough too. He is usually ready to go home before 4 pm now, and sometimes heads for one of the exits of his own accord, even when I am still happily trudging around.

There are some grey hairs visible around his jowls now, and he seems to want more to eat, having taken to begging when we have something, which he never did before. When he doesn’t get a morsel, he will return to his food bowl and finish up any remaining dry food. And he is always ready to flop onto his bed at night, as soon as either of us shows any intention of getting ready for bed. In the mornings, he is reluctant to stir, and sometimes has to be told to go out into the garden, especially when it is very cold, or raining.

But the biggest change in him is seen by his constant search for affection, and visible jealousy when I am giving that attention to anyone else. He seeks lots of cuddles now, and will push himself against my legs when I am reading, typing on the blog, or watching TV. He has always followed me around slavishly, but now he gets even closer, and can’t seem to tolerate me being out of sight.

Perhaps he is feeling those changes inside, the differences in energy, and that need for reassurance. It could be that he has noticed that I am also seven years older, and have slowed down too. He may just be following my example, who knows?

But he can be sure that he will continue to be looked after, loved and cared for, no matter how old he gets.

Going Wide

Last March, I got a new monitor for my birthday. As the old Dell 15-inch was still working well, I was reluctant to set up the new one. Add to that that I didn’t expect it to work, and techno-fear set in, big time. It has sat in its box ever since, behind my chair in the ‘office’. Julie kept reminding me that it will be out of guarantee in January 2019, and that I ought to set it up. I kept thinking of excuses not to do it, but after being around the house for most of this week feeling ill, I thought this was a good time to bite the bullet, and open the box.

As I feared, it came with an HDMI cable. I don’t have an HDMI input on my PC, which is now almost seven years old. But after looking carefully at the back of the new monitor, I did find a connection for the VGA cable that I was using on the Dell. Naturally, the new one didn’t come with any instructions. Instead, it had a CD, which of course you cannot view if your monitor is disconnected! So I just decided to try the cable anyway. Success!

I am now the proud user of a high-definition, Hewlett-Packard 24-inch widescreen monitor. I viewed some of my photos on it, and they certainly look a lot better than on the old dot-matrix style screen. Then I watched some high-definition video trailers, and they looked amazing, filling the screen.
As you can see from the photo, (which can be enlarged) it rather dominates the large desk. But I don’t mind one bit.

A Secretarial Position: Part One of Two

This is a the first part of a two-part short story. A work of fiction in 1700 words.

It was prompted by this photograph, seen on the blog of Sue Judd.
You can see more here.

Violet needed a job. Since returning to Lower Hedley after after her war service in the W.R.A.C., money had been tight. Although Mother owned the tiny cottage they shared, Father’s small pension was not going to be enough to provide for them both, and with Rationing still in force, some extra money for under the counter food would always help. Mother was as good as useless of course. When she had become a widow in 1938, she had retreated into herself, acting like a lost soul. She reminded Violet of Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations. But without the property or the wealth. She had often talked as if Father would come home any day now, and Violet had been left to fend for herself, in her late teens. At least the war had given her companionship and purpose. Training too, with good secretarial skills at the end of it. And London had been exciting, even with the bombs. By contrast, village life was dull, and lacked opportunity.

The small advertisement in the local newspaper caught her eye immediately.
A Secretarial Position.
Please apply in writing to De Vere Hall, Upper Hedley.
Single ladies only. No married women.
Must be smart, and presentable
State experience and qualifications, enclosing a recent photograph.
This is a live-in position, with salary by arrangement.

That was all it said, but it was enough. Violet took pen and paper from the bureau, and applied immediately. She thought it strange that a photo was required, but included one taken when she finished training, and looked smart in her uniform. It was almost six years old, but she hadn’t changed that much. She put a stamp on the letter, and walked down the lane to the Post Box, in time for the three o’clock collection. Late the following evening, she heard the letter box rattle, and walked into the hallway to see what had made the noise. An envelope was on the mat, and it had a crest on the fine linen paper. She opened the door quickly, to see who had hand-delivered it.
But there was only darkness in the lane outside.

It was from De Vere Hall, she could see that from the name below the crest. That family had owned land in Upper Hedley since the Norman Conquest. But they were reclusive, and little was known about them. They employed servants from Ireland to deal with tradesmen, and to run the house. No locals had ever been employed there, at least as long as Violet could remember. People said his money had come from estates in Ireland, but nobody really knew any facts. Violet went back to sit by the fire, and read the contents.
‘Dear Miss Hardacre,
It seems that you would be most suitable for the position of my secretary. I am happy to offer you the post, starting tomorrow afternoon. Please be aware that much of my correspondence is of a personal and confidential nature, so you should not tell anyone where you are working. You will have a comfortable room, and full board will be provided in addition to your salary, which I assure you will be generous.
Please be at De Vere hall by three in the afternoon tomorrow. If you are not there by four, I will presume you no longer want the position.’

Violet was excited, though a little confused. There was to be no interview, and she had already got the job. She read it again, to make sure. The writing of Lord De Vere was structured and immaculate, obviously written using a pen with an italic nib. But his signature was wild and flourishing, taking up all the rest of the page. The Hall was some five miles away, with no bus service. Violet resolved to use Mother’s old bicycle.It was still working well, and she would pump up the tyres the next morning. She went up to her room, and sorted through some clothes to take. Not too much of course. Even with a live-in position, she would surely be allowed to come back and see to Mother, so she could get more things as she needed them. Over breakfast the next morning, she told Mother about getting a job, constructing a story to satisfy her. “I will be working in London again, Mother. Back at The Ministry, like before. Don’t worry, I will be home at the weekends, and I will write to Mrs Allenby. She will pop in and see to you. The old lady shook her head. “Whatever you say dear, I do hope it goes well”.

Violet arrived a little early. The house was imposing indeed. It looked to originate from the seventeenth century, though a large, more modern wing suggested significant development in the Victorian era. There was nobody in sight. The extensive grounds felt peaceful, and she wandered around to the back of the house to take it all in. Next to some impressive planters, she rested the bicycle against the wall, and untied the small suitcase from where she had secured it across the handlebars. It was a good two-minute walk back to the front door, and when she pulled on the handle, she could hear the bell clang loudly inside.

The man who answered the door was dressed in the formal attire of a butler. He was tall, well over six feet, and his hair was shining, plastered down with brilliantine. Violet took him to be somewhere between forty and fifty. “Miss Hardacre, I presume?” He didn’t smile. She wondered if she should extend her arm for a handshake, but decided against it. He showed her into a small room that led off the huge hallway. “My name is Murray, and I am his lordship’s man. You will call me Murray, and address Lord De Vere as ‘your lordship’. His accent was harsh, obviously from Northern Ireland, possibly Belfast. “Your day will not start until three in the afternoon. His lordship is a late riser, and likes to work late in the day too. Will that be suitable?” Violet nodded, and the man turned and walked to the door. She picked up the suitcase and followed him. He headed for one of the two sweeping staircases, talking as he walked. “I will show you up to your room. Your meals will be brought to you, and you will not associate with any of the other servants. I will answer any questions you have, and advise you of any changes to routine. Is that clear?” Violet smiled and said “Clear as crystal”.

Outside the room, he turned to her, his face more relaxed, his tone softer. “You could do well here. It’s an easy job, and you have a lot of time to yourself. Don’t worry if his lordship seems a little eccentric. The De Veres have always had that trait. I should know, as a Murray has served every lord since the time of Good Queen Bess. Now, settle in, and I will return in thrity minutes to take you to meet his lordship”. Violet liked her room immediately. It was the size of the whole ground floor of their cottage, and boasted a huge double bed, a dressing table and stool, as well as a big armchair in the bay window. Opening what she thought might be a connecting door, she was amazed to find a bathroom, with a wash basin, toilet, and a small hip bath. Luxury indeed. She took off her jacket, and checked her hair and make-up in the long wardrobe mirror.

Murray showed her into what he called ‘His Lordship’s study’. The room was the size of the social club dance hall in her village, and sparsely furnished. Lord De Vere sat behind a huge empty desk, his back to a small crackling fire that seemed lost in the inglenook fireplace. He was younger than Violet had expected; perhaps her own age, or a few years less. He pointed to a comfortable chair opposite his own. “Thank you, Murray. Please sit, Miss Hardacre. Or may I call you Violet?” She nodded. “Of course, your lordship, please do”. He leaned forward, resting on his elbows. “Is everything to you liking? Has Murray explained what is required?” She nodded. His hair was a little untidy, but otherwise, he was as immaculate as Murray, and quite good-looking too. She was surprised at his accent, which sounded South African; perhaps even European, maybe Dutch. He was tanned too, as if he had just returned from somewhere hot.

“Your job will consist of taking dictation, then typing up my correspondence for signature. I will usually begin around three in the afternoon, and finish in time for you to have your dinner, at seven. You will type the letters at that desk there”. She turned to follow his arm, and saw a desk under the window, with an old German typewriter on it. “The machine is old, but hardly used, and very serviceable. Paper and envelopes are in the drawers under it. Do you have any questions? If not, then I will see you here tomorrow afternoon. Your time is free until then”.

Violet did have some questions, but when he turned to face the fire, she guessed that he didn’t want to hear them. She would ask Murray, later.
Just after seven that evening, there was a knock on the door of her room. She put down the book she was reading, and walked over to answer it. Outside her room was a tray, but nobody in sight. The food was delicious, perhaps the best she had ever tasted. And there was a bottle of claret too; already open, with a crystal wine glass to drink it from. When she had finished eating, she placed the tray back outside, presuming it would be collected. Then she finished the wine whilst enjoying a hot bath, before putting on her nightdress, and slipping into the soft bed. As she switched out the light, she smiled to herself, and spoke out loud.

“You’ve done well for yourself, Violet. I think you’re going to like it here”.

To be continued, in Part Two.