Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Their brains might teach us a few tricks

An article by Nathaniel Herzberg in Le Monde says that dogs capt the sense of human words and tones of speech. I've just told my friend Fitzroy that he should take a glance at this article.
« Les travaux récents ont montré que les bases de l’empathie, de la coopération, de la cognition, du maniement des nombres existent bien au-delà de l’espèce humaine. Nous nous inscrivons dans un arbre évolutif qui nous dépasse très largement et qui impose des contraintes. Une sorte de naturalisation de la culture. » Le chien, assistant du philosophe ?
Lionel Naccache, neurologue à l’hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dawkins and his dog

This short video shows Richard Dawkins in the company of his dog Tiger.

"We think we know what it's like to be a dog... and we don't. We delude ourselves. But that's part of what goes on when we love a dog. What am I doing with my dog? I'm empathizing. I'm making an imaginative leap to see the world from a dog's perspective."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Russian dog ready to discover France

The delightful little dog Dobrynya (German Shepherd race), given by Russia to France, to replace the Raid star Diesel killed at Saint-Denis, has recently been delivered to the French embassy in Moscow.

Click to enlarge

I'm convinced that Dobrynya will be happy to settle down in France, where she'll be loved by everybody.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dogs can use mathematical algorithms

I’ve always suspected that Fitzroy might be a mathematician or some kind of a computing wizard… who doesn’t necessarily go out of his way to boast about his talents.

A fascinating article on the theory of so-called shepherding has just appeared in the Interface journal of Britain’s Royal Society.

Click to enlarge

Researchers succeeded in building a model that simulates correctly the way in which a dog herds up sheep. Click here to access the article. To understand the article, which is quite readable, you need to replace the term “shepherd” by “dog”, and the term “agent” by “sheep”.

Most of us (at least in Australia and the UK) have seen demonstrations of smart dogs herding sheep. Here at Gamone, in the past, I’ve tried to herd a dozen or so sheep with the help of my two children, but without a smart dog. It turns out to be difficult, if not impossible, for the simple reason that humans can’t possibly run after stray sheep at the speed of a dog. But what exactly takes place in a dog’s brain when it succeeds in moving a flock of sheep from one place to another?

A basic assumption made by the researchers is that a stray sheep, located beyond the main outside perimeter of the flock, sees the dog as a would-be predator, and it “escapes” from this “predator” by moving back into the midst of the flock. In the model imagined by the researchers, a dog is thought of as engaging, at any particular moment, in one or other of two operations:

— A collecting operation takes place when the dog rushes out beyond the perimeter of the flock to round up the sheep that has strayed the furthest distance from the flock.

— A driving operation takes place whenever there is momentarily no immediate need for collecting, enabling the dog to get behind the flock and drive it towards the destination, which we can call the pen.

The following graph shows the way in which phases of collecting and driving take place, one after the other, until the flock has assembled, as desired by the dog, down in the lowest left-hand corner.

Now, once the theoretical model was created, the researchers were able to validate it by calling upon a genuine sheep dog and a flock of genuine sheep, down in Australia. The dog they chose for the experiment was an Australian Kelpie, which has the extraordinary habit of jumping up onto the backs of the sheep in order to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the global situation, so that it can locate the most distant stray sheep. The following excellent photo (by Martin Pot) illustrates this behavior:

In fact, the algorithm used by the dog to carry out its herding assignment is relatively simple, and it should be an easy matter to create a robot capable of performing this task. I can hear Fitzroy laughing. Like me, he’s trying to imagine a robot capable of racing through the weeds on the slopes of Gamone, jumping over fallen tree trunks, and biting the hind legs of recalcitrant ewes to get them moving in the right direction…

I'm amused by the idea of an Australian Kelpie strutting across the backs of the sheep as if they were a nice soft pathway. I'm wondering whether the dog developed this technique on its own (unlikely in my opinion) or whether the grazier trained the dog to do so. I'm reminded of the experimental situation known as the monkey & bananas problem, which used to be a favorite with artificial-intelligence theorists. If you were to put a hungry monkey in a room where a bunch of bananas was hanging, but just out of reach, would the monkey be smart enough to drag a box-like object beneath the bananas so that he could climb up and attain the bananas? I introduced a variant in which there were two monkeys. Would one of them be smart enough to climb up onto the back of the other monkey in order to be able to reach the bananas? I believe that the answer to these questions is no... unless you train the monkeys to behave like the Kelpie.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fitzroy locomotive

Once or twice a day, as usual, Fitzroy lets off steam by means of a short but intense session of hose running.

I tried to “freeze” him with my Nikon as he dashed alongside me like a locomotive.

Most of my images were total failures. Finally, though, they’re the images I most prefer, because their fuzziness conveys the spectacular motion of my dog.

It’s important to understand that Fitzroy’s hose-running field is studded with various random obstacles, which must be avoided by the dog. On the other hand, no points are lost if the hose grazes such obstacles, or even knocks them over.

Often, Fitzroy has no more than a thousandth of a second to determine the ideal itinerary.

I hope that Christine will enjoy this blog post. She has a beautiful dog named Nushka, of the same elegant Border Collie race as Fitzroy (but no doubt considerably purer).

In the grounds of a Breton castle, a day or so ago, Nushka (on a leash) made an abrupt and energetic movement that caused Christine to fall flat onto the ground, severely injuring her left wrist. She tells me that she has received exemplary treatment from medical professionals in Brittany, whose standards of friendly excellence merit praise. So, she's quietly recovering in her lovely Breton home.

It’s funny to recollect that Christine and I, back in Paris many years ago, were the least “doggy” individuals you could possibly imagine. Today, both of us are the proud owners of magnificent canine locomotives…

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fitzroy's new cousin in Brittany

Christine went on a car excursion with François to an ancient manor-house at the western tip of Brittany to pick up this magnificent little Border Collie called Noushka.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Preparing winter wood

Yesterday afternoon, my supplier of firewood—my neighbor Gérard Magnat—dumped a huge pile of wood alongside the house. Since rain has been forecast during the coming week, I promptly covered the pile of wood with a tarpaulin.

My job now—which will take me a couple of days—is to transfer all this wood into neat stacks under a corner of the roof of the house.

As I explained in a blog post a couple of years ago [display], the wood can be moved more-or-less effortlessly with the help of a hand truck.

As for the wood itself, it's a mixture of oak and European Beech. Many of the pieces of oak are irregularly shaped, and very beautiful.

I'm aware that it's a privilege to be able to burn such nice old wood to keep oneself warm.

Talking about wood, I've got a couple of pine kitchen chairs that I brought back from Western Australian some 25 years ago. Years ago, my dog Sophia discovered that it was a pleasant experience to chew away at the rungs of these chairs. And I now find that Fitzroy, too, likes to gnaw at this Australian wood.

Often, I find a sprinkling of splinters on the floor beneath the chair. Inevitably, Fitzroy is likely to bite right through one of the rungs. I hope it's the pure wood that tastes good, rather than the varnish or a chemical product applied to the wood. But dogs are not accustomed to informing us why they've acquired a taste for such-and-such a thing. Why is it, for example, that Fitzroy likes to lap up traces of wetness in the shower, even when he has access to his bowl of fresh water?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dogs in God's city

Dogs, in the context of conventional religions, have often had a hard time. An antiquated version of Revelations, on the very last page of my ugly King James Bible, states:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
So, in a heavenly context, dogs would be "without" (along with perverts, sorcerers, fornicators, murderers and idolaters)... just like the body of Jesus with respect to his tomb in Jerusalem. [One of my favorite jokes. A pious lady visiting the ornate tomb of the Holy Sepulcher asks her guide, a priest: "Is there anyone inside?" Priest: "Lady, if He's in, then I'm out."]

All this Biblical stuff is most smelly dogshit.

I remain astonished—as I said in my blog post entitled Is the Bible good English literature? [display]—that a great evolutionary zoologist such as Richard Dawkins might seriously appreciate the alleged literary qualities of this kind of antiquated twaddle.

Within Buddhism, of course, the situation for dogs is not much better. If I understand correctly, Buddhists place dogs at the extreme lower end of the spiritual scale (or whatever it might be called). I evoked this horrifying canine disparagement in my blog post entitled Tea for two expats [display].

In God's Own City, Jerusalem, the authorities are fed up with those nice droppings of angels, commonly referred to as dog shit. And they plan to use a genetics database to identify culprits.

Translation: "If you didn't clean it up, then it's you who left the shit."

This means that all dogs in Jerusalem will be required to supply their DNA specifications (a fine idea in the perspective of future yet-undefined biological research). Then a squad of turd inspectors (employment conditions and salaries not yet specified) will spend their working days gathering biological data on the Holy City's latest dog shit. And dog-owners will be fined whenever their animals are found to have defecated on the municipal territory.

I laugh out loud at the image of Israeli turd inspectors sticking their noses inadvertently and unknowingly into UFOs [unidentified fallen objects] such as non-canine excrement (including human shit). Within the category of possible turds, we have no theological right to exclude the possibility of authentic angels' poo (bearing small white wings), or even (God be blessed!) a tiny turd or two from the good old Holy Ghost himself. All these possibilities are based, of course, upon the predictions of high-quality Byzantine science.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dogs and stars

For the last two days, my memories have been dominated by images of Christine's dear dog Gamone. In the stark clarity of the death of a dog, I find a distilled paradigm of the tragic brevity of our human existence. I am shocked by the abrupt flight into nothingness of the simple beauty and nobility of the departed animal. It is a theme of immense melancholy, of celestial emptiness. And yet the cosmic messages of a dog's existence are no less real than those that emanate from us humans. Their existential photons end up hurtling towards the stars, just like ours. We're all on the same wavelength, as it were.

Sophia pursues her calm existence, apparently oblivious of the fact that her daughter Gamone has now been totally metamorphosed into a burst of something heading out towards the confines of the Cosmos. As you can see from this photo, Sophia looks quite slim and alert. In fact, in spite of her advanced age, she's in good shape. As for Fitzroy, he remains relatively earthbound for the moment, in the sense that he is capable of meditating deeply, for long periods of time, on the mysteries of a jet of water emerging from a hose.

But a canine philosopher is capable of interrupting his cogitations, maybe in the twilight zone of a warm spring evening, to go out hunting. The following morning, I admire the catch:

That's the first time I've ever seen a gray rat in the vicinity of the house. It's reassuring to know that Fitzroy can apparently find and destroy such a pest.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mondo cane

Sophia's primary wish, as she grows older, is to lead a peaceful and lazy (non-strenuous) existence... like all of us, you might say.

Whenever I happen to wander up the road on my own, to fetch water for the donkeys, Sophia gets upset and starts to bark. She wants to keep me in sight all the time (except, of course, if I go out in the car, which doesn't seem to bother her).

In the turd domain, Queen Sophia has become a little like the French "Sun King" Louis XIV at Versailles, who apparently had the habit of sitting on the royal chamber pot every morning, and doing his business, in the company of selected members of his court. My dog Sophia expects Fitzroy and me to accompany her to a precise place on the slopes, 50 meters beyond the house, and to wait there until not the least fragment of a turd remains to be ejected from her anal tract. I'm always amused by the way in which Sophia, up until the latter question has received a definitive answer, continues to beat around the bush, coming and going, hesitating, and turning in circles. It's clearly a fundamental matter of making a good decision.

Fitzroy now accepts the principle of being chained up for certain periods during the day (in the middle of the morning or afternoon, for example, after having eaten), to remove the temptation of setting out on exploratory expeditions along the roads, no doubt in pursuit of magic female odors. He doesn't seem to be traumatized by this necessity, as he comes readily when I call him to be attached to the chain.

During the night, he's totally free to do as he pleases. And one of the activities that pleases Fitzroy immensely is the destruction of colored plastic objects.

It goes without saying that I'm not happy to see the nozzle of a hose subjected to this treatment. But how can I possibly explain to my dog that I need those plastic objects for several good reasons? Just imagine if a grass fire broke out, and I suddenly found my hose nozzle in that state. Fitzroy, of course, would never worry about such things as grass fires. On the other hand, he has always been infatuated by water hoses.

We humans see the Large Hadron Collider and its beams of particles, beneath the Franco-Swiss border, as an extraordinary tool capable of maybe providing answers to some of the basic mysteries of our existence. Fitzroy seems to see the jet of water emerging from a hose with a similar degree of awe. Even if it means getting soaked for the nth time, Fitzroy would like to break through this mystery, and get to the bottom (or maybe rather the top) of it all.

My dog performs astonishing jumps of well over a meter into the air. I tried to manipulate the hose and take photos of Fitzroy's spectacular jumps at the same time, but my images cannot possibly hope to convey the intellectual rage of my dear dog.

A jet of water emerging from a hose looks like a tangible thing... and yet it seems to evaporate into thin wet air as soon as you attempt to grasp it. Maybe it's a matter of adjusting one's angle of attack, even in mid-air.

Fitzroy's determination to solve this problem knows no bounds... apart from his own, which are truly superb.

I would never dare attempt to explain to my dog the curious physical nature of liquids, because he has clearly discovered these mysteries all on his own. I prefer to leave Fitzroy with his permanent determination to catch the Snark one of these days. Others might wait for Godot. Meanwhile, Fitzroy jumps.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Biting off a bit of water

Over the last week, when the weather was bitterly cold, I allowed Fitzroy, exceptionally, to sleep in the kitchen with Sophia. Inside the house, however, Fitzroy becomes rapidly bored, because he's a hyperactive dog (that's the adjective used by French journalists to describe Nicolas Sarkozy) who needs to race around and jump in the air, scrambling up and down the slopes of Gamone, snapping at the donkeys' hind legs, racing after birds (who surely can't imagine how an earthbound animal such as a dog could ever hope to catch an aerial creature), or killing field mice. Yes, Fitzroy has a distinctly feline feature: he's a skilled mouse-killer. It's true that I train him in this art as often as possible. You see, inside the house, I use a couple of metallic cages as mousetraps.

When the door of the trap springs shut, the rodent is simply imprisoned, but otherwise unharmed. Then, with the generosity of a Nero, I give the captured mouse a fighting chance of survival in a confrontation with Fitzroy. The other evening, I organized such a combat in the dark, on the snow-covered roadway. I used an electric lamp to see where I was walking, and to open the cage enabling the mouse to dart out with the speed of an arrow (or almost), but Fitzroy relied solely upon his sense of smell to locate the escaping mouse in the dark, pounce upon it, scrape it up out of the snow and break its backbone. In the style of a cat, Fitzroy will then toss the mouse in the air a couple of times, to see how it reacts upon landing. I believe that this is not merely a cruel game, but rather a way of evaluating the physical state of the captured prey. In the case of a field mouse in the snow, in plain daylight, Fitzroy's skills are quite spectacular. He will pounce into a heap of snow—where there's no visible sign of life—and emerge instantly with a mouse clutched between his teeth.

Inside the warm kitchen, Fitzroy usually squats Sophia's big wicker basket. But Sophia is just as happy spread out on the tiled floor, which contains electric heating. The problem, alas, is that Fitzroy's boredom is often transformed into vandalism.

He dissects minutely everything he can find. Let us not forget that, over a year ago, Fitzroy was no more than a pup when he destroyed my thick hessian and rubber doormat by tearing it into smaller and smaller fragments. Fitzroy is fond of applying this fragmentation process to smaller objects such as supermarket cheese trays, yoghurt containers and Kleenexes (preferably used). Since I'm rarely on the spot at the moment when the damage is being done, I can't really adopt a negative attitude that might inform Fitzroy that his vandalism pisses me off. So, I merely chase him out of the house and clean up the mess. If there's one word that Fitzroy does understand perfectly, it's the command "Out!". For him, it's an invitation to return to his normal pleasant outdoors environment.

Incidentally, talking about the dogs' environment, I'm always happy to rediscover that both Sophia and Fitzroy are resolutely winter animals, indeed snow creatures. Whenever they've got something on their mind such as the investigation of an unidentified external presence or odor or noise, they immediately ignore the fact that a Siberian snow blizzard might be sweeping across the slopes of Gamone. Finally, it's only when they've got nothing better to think about that they get around to thinking that life might be more pleasant indoors.

Yesterday afternoon, I was relieved to find that the temperature had become quite mild and the sun was shining. I took a few gardening tools up the road, to break up the thick layer of ice (a driving hazard for my neighbor) that had formed just below my spring.

A steady stream of water continues to emerge from a hose attached to my spring. Since this running water is a few degrees warmer than the frozen surroundings, it can actually be used to melt the ice. Now, Fitzroy has a theory about water streaming from a hose. It's cool and tasty, and Fitzroy reckons that a smart dog should be able to bite off a bit, to grasp between his teeth, as if it were an agonizing field mouse.

He jumps ceaselessly at the nozzle of the hose, with constant determination, trying to get his teeth firmly around the stream of icy water. There again, as in the case of Fitzroy's vandalism, I can't find the right words to communicate effectively with my dear dog. To be perfectly truthful, I don't wish to exclude totally the possibility that Fitzroy might come running towards me proudly, one of these days, with a short fragment of still-running water clenched in his mouth. That would merely make him a quantum-theory dog... which wouldn't amaze me unduly. Anything's possible...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas dogs

For many years, I've been cynically amused by all the talk about the sense of Christmas. Back in the days when I used to celebrate this festive season in one way or another, notably in Brittany in the context of my ex-wife, I was impressed primarily by the immediate family scene. In Christine's ancestral context, this scene—of a theatrical kind on special occasions such as Christmas—was both qualitatively and quantitatively rich in a way that impressed a naive Antipodean such as myself, projected into this new world by my love for Christine Mafart and our decision to marry and have children.

I was conscious of the inevitable backdrop against which our ephemeral celebrations were taking place, and I was often saddened by the idea that it would have been unthinkable for me to ever seek to evoke that backdrop with my wife, who didn't appear to be sensitive (so I thought, rightly or wrongly) to this behind-the-scenes situation. She was always too busy making sure that her parents and siblings were all getting organized for Christmas in an optimal fashion… almost as if it were a military operation that had to be timed and executed ideally. And I might be assigned the unlikely task of opening oysters. (I say "unlikely" in the sense that, during my entire adolescence not far from the Pacific Ocean and the fabulous oyster fields of Wooli, nobody had ever thought it fit to teach me this art.) Needless to say, the Mafart home in Saint-Brieuc at Christmas wasn't exactly the kind of situation in which somebody might suggest romantically: "Hey, why don't we all go down to the beach and light up a barbecue." Things weren't like that.

The absence of three background elements disturbed me constantly. First, there was the harsh outside world, excluded magically from our Christmas celebrations. Second, there was no place in our family festivities for the city of St-Brieuc, the seaside environment and fabulous Brittany. Third, in this merry midst, my personal psychology, with its preoccupations and ambitions, was an empty cocoon.

Today, those events and personal sentiments are far away in my past. And I find myself celebrating Christmas alone with my dogs.

They're warm, well fed and playful. And I believe they're happy. Unfortunately, they know next to nothing about the birth of Jesus. Me neither, for that matter. And the only wise man Sophia and Fitzroy have ever encountered is, of course, me. But they don't appear to be missing out on too much.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


In a blog post of 9 August 2010 entitled Sophia's future companion at Gamone [display], I explained that the elegant name Fitzroy, which I would give to my young Border Collie a year ago, was in fact the surname of one of my ancient ancestors: a bastard son of King John.

The term Fitz means "son of", and roy is Old French for "king". The bastard Fitz who was my ancestor—often specified as Richard Fitzjohn Chilham—is mentioned briefly in this delightful book:

Well, I often get around to imagining my dog as a descendant, not of a king, but of a wolf. So, I often call him either FitzLoup (in French) or simply FitzWolf. These reveries started recently in my imagination when I thought about an amazing story told by Richard Dawkins in The Ancestor's Tale [pages 29-31] and then repeated in The Greatest Show on Earth [pages 73-76].

It's the story of an experiment carried out by the Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev [1917-1985] using a beautiful domestic animal, the Russian Silver Fox, bred for the fur trade.

[First parenthetical remark. What a horrible idea: killing such a glorious animal just to be able to transform its skin and fur into a coat.]

[Second parenthetical remark. The geneticist Belyaev was a man whom we might admire a priori, since he was sacked because he disagreed with the quackery of the Stalinist agronomist Trofim Lysenko.]

Belyaev's experiment was aimed at studying the concept of tameness in successive generations of his foxes. The basic experimental procedure consisted of offering food to fox cubs and trying to fondle them. According to their reactions, the young animals were classed in three categories:

(1) The wildest cubs would either flee or act aggressively, maybe by biting the experimenter's hand.

(2) Certain cubs would accept the food and the experimenter's caresses, but grudgingly, as it were, with no apparent enthusiasm.

(3) The tamest category of cubs would, not only accept the food, but exhibit a positive reaction to the experimenter's caresses, by wagging their tails and crouching down in front of him.

Only fox cubs in this third category would be used for breeding the next generation. And so on…

Not surprisingly, this breeding strategy produced cubs that were tamer and tamer. But the experiments resulted in consequences—we might say side effects—of a totally unexpected kind. The new generations of tame foxes started to look somewhat different to their relatively wilder genetic cousins. In a nutshell, the tame foxes started to look like Border Collies! Truly, it was magic… but simply genetic magic! While the silver foxes were being bred uniquely for tameness, their genes "threw in for free"—as it were—a whole host of genetically-connected features that were apparently linked rigorously with tameness.

Nature speaks to us with her eons of accumulated wisdom: If you want a tame fox, then what we have to offer you is a dog-like fox! Nature might have added: Take it or leave it! Me, I say enthusiastically that I'll take it, because my marvelous tame wolf is Fitzroy… whose fur warms me for a delightful instant when he jumps up onto my knees in front of the fireplace.

Often, I'm overwhelmed when I observe at close range the intense human-like gaze of Fitzroy, which has infinitely more profundity and meaning than the dumb expression of less-introspective animals.

Fitzroy is surely just a few magic chemicals away from being capable of discussing Dawkins with me… but that minor metamorphosis is likely to necessitate a few million years, to say the least, with all the risks of the long road. Frankly, Fitzroy and I tend to agree (not to mention the tacit approval of Sophia) that, for the moment, it's best we stay put.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sophia's pears

Every morning, one of the first things I do is to set off up the road with the dogs for Sophia's morning "business", which always takes place ritually at the same spot, on a track running down from the road. After that, we often continue up along the road for a while, just to stretch our legs. Inevitably, the dogs discover wild pears that have fallen into the grass alongside the road. Sophia likes to bring back such a pear as a kind of trophy, and then she looks for the right spot to start eating it.

Eating, for Sophia, has always been a solemn affair… on a par with cuddles for Fitzroy, or ripping up cushions.

Talking of Fitzroy, who often forgets to eat unless I remind him, his tastes can be curious. When I clean the ashes from the fireplace, Fitzroy hangs around waiting for a chunk of charcoal, which he chews until it crumbles into dust. He's also capable of devouring damp Kleenex tissues. From my earliest days here at Gamone, I instigated the pleasant wilderness practice of peeing out in the open, under the heavens, where there's nobody around (apart from God) who might possibly be offended. I now find myself reluctant to pursue this fine old tradition, for the simple reason that Fitzroy is there in a bound, ready to lap it all up, apparently with relish. I wouldn't want to poison my dear dog.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spaghetti dogs

My daughter Emmanuelle—who seems to imagine (rightly so) that her father is snowed down under tons of surplus stuff—is always delighted to hear that I've had the courage and determination to get rid of some of my junk. In particular, whenever she drops in at Gamone, she makes a point of examining the contents of my refrigerator, deep freezer and larder for products that have gone beyond their use-by date. This morning, I was surprised to discover that Manya had apparently failed to detect the presence, in one of my kitchen cupboards, of a dusty packet of spaghetti dating from so long ago that I'm almost ashamed to indicate the date.

Come on, William. Don't be ashamed. What's a dusty 4-year-old packet of spaghetti between you and your understanding readers?

The stuff was probably still quite good. In any case, I put it in boiling water for ten minutes, with salt and appropriate herbs, and served it up to my dogs… who've never been too concerned about human inventions such as use-by dates.

In fact, the dogs eat precooked canine pasta regularly, and they gulped down the spaghetti with enthusiasm. Sophia, of course, has always functioned with food in the style of a vacuum cleaner. She hoovers up her fodder as if it were stuff to be cleared away and cleaned up as rapidly and completely as possible. On the other hand, I was interested to observe Fitzroy trying to invent efficient ways and means of dealing with all those slippery white worms. Finally, like an imaginative and amused child, I think he mastered the suck approach.

Autumn dogs

The weather at Gamone has been mild, and the dogs have been lounging around lazily in the sun.

They get on wonderfully well together. This afternoon, a local hunter, Daniel Berger, strolled past the house, with one of his hounds on a leash. When I went out to say hello to him, my dogs accompanied me. Suddenly, Fitzroy decided that he didn't like the look of the poor docile hound, so he sprang on him. The surprise attack wasn't particularly vicious, and only lasted for half a second. I was amused in that it was the first time ever that I've seen Fitzroy lose his temper.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Indian summer

Here at Gamone, certain leaves confirm by their color that it's well and truly autumn.

But the recent weather has been splendid. I'm too far away from the sea to go bathing, but I don't suffer unduly from that privation. I've always remained a little wary of the sun, sand and surf ever since my childhood experiences of getting severely sunburned at Yamba. If ever I were to go bathing today at a sunny beach resort, I would be obliged to wear constantly some kind of hat. So I guess my surfing days are over. Meanwhile, the dogs and I are perfectly happy here in the mountains.

As usual, Sophia spends her nights inside the house, in her vast wicker basket (lined with a new hessian mat purchased recently at Ikea), while Fitzroy sleeps outside, in his self-made bed beneath a wisteria and a wild rose bush. In a July blog post [display], I included a photo of Sophia occupying Fitzroy's splendid abode. Meanwhile, during the warm season, Fitzroy uses his luxurious kennel solely as a dining hall, where he can eat calmly, with no danger of having his food stolen.

Of a morning, when I open the kitchen door, Fitzroy leaps with joy to find Sophia and me emerging from the house. For months, he used to jump up at me, in his typical manner (which I've never tried to discourage). These days, I'm thrilled to discover that Fitzroy's morning bounds are aimed exclusively at Sophia. It's the presence of his great-aunt Sophia that provides Fitzroy with the enthusiasm to start off a new day, just as his prancing and gentle biting seem to wake up aging Sophia, who growls with mock anger, while snarling sufficiently to let the young male know that she's still the chief of their two-dog pack.

In this beautiful season, I learned this morning that my great friend Tineke Bot slid on a rocky ledge in her magnificent botanic park just up the road, and broke a bone in her left shoulder. So, I've spent part of the day lending her a hand.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dog days

Over the last few days, our region of south-east France has been beset by a heatwave. By the standards of my native Australia, it's probably not a particularly drastic heatwave. I just walked around to the back of the house, where there's a thermometer attached to a shaded wall, and it reads 36°. The Ancient Romans called this period of the year the "Dog Days", because the bright star Sirius (nicknamed the "Dog Star"), in the constellation of Canis Major, used to rise at the same time as the Sun. In French, a heatwave is referred to by the term canicule ("little dog"). And in English, we have Noel Coward.

My local doctor, Xavier Limouzin, advised me recently to consult a dermatologist in nearby Romans, and the lady told me, in a roundabout way, that I was behaving like an Englishman. Well, she didn't exactly say that. She informed me, most emphatically, that a fair-skinned individual such as me must never ever go out in the sun without a hat, otherwise I'm a likely candidate for skin cancer. So, I promptly bought myself two elegant Italian straw hats, and I've installed metal hat hooks on the kitchen wall alongside the door, so that I'm reminded to put on a hat whenever I step out of the house.

[Click to enlarge]

In fact, these hats are part of a general "survival campaign" that I instigated spontaneously at the time of my recent clash with the trunk of a walnut tree on the slopes of Gamone. Besides hats, a fundamental element of this campaign is optimal footwear, to replace such unsuitable things as thongs, sandals, boat shoes and old boots with lots of holes but no laces.

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Those on the right are solid work boots, sold in the local rural hardware shops, for gardening and other outdoor operations. Those on the left (which I haven't even worn yet, since I bought them through the Internet and they only arrived here a couple of days ago) are specimens of the finest German-manufactured alpine boots that exist, and I plan to use them for hiking only.

By far the most annoying aspect of my new survival campaign is the iPhone, for the simple reason that nobody ever phones me through this device. So, I have to force myself to remember to carry it with me whenever I leave the house. I've hit upon the solution of these belt pouches, since I almost always wear a belt.

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Now, getting back to the heatwave, let me say that my dogs don't seem to be bothered by the high temperatures, since there's a lot of shade under the linden trees, and there's invariably a slight breeze at Gamone.

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Recently, I asked my neighbor René Uzel to use his mini-excavator to cut a wide path down from the house to the lower field of Gamone (in the direction of the Cournouze mountain).

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For the moment, it's simply a dirt ramp, which terminates at the base of an apple tree. Later on, I'll think about whether I should install stone steps.

Naturally, in this heatwave weather, the doors of the house are often open, to let the breeze in. And, silently like a breeze, Fitzroy also likes to step inside and take a look around, even if this means climbing up my old wooden staircase.

Well, yesterday afternoon, whenever Fitzroy dropped in alongside my desk, I was intrigued to discover that he was engulfed in a warm soapy aura of fruity fragrance, as if he had just stepped out of the shower. In a way, that was exactly what had taken place. Down on the lawn, I discovered the chewed remnants of a plastic bottle that had once contained almond milk shampoo. I had let it drop on the floor of my shower, and had forgotten to pick it up and stick it on a ledge.

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I don't know how exactly Fitzroy had dealt with the contents. Did he actually drink the shampoo? Or did he simply spill it on the grass and then roll in it? In any case, he sure smelt nice. His presence alongside my desk, on a hot afternoon, was refreshing.

POSTSCRIPT: On rereading this post, I'm amused to see that I purchased two hats, two pairs of boots, and two phone pouches. There's surely a reason why I've done things doubly...