For the love of dogs.jpg

For the love of dogs

RESCUED DOGS are like closed books that open slowly over the years to reveal not only part of their history, but also for us to write of better times and, hopefully, provide a peaceful ending.

Bess came to us on the end of a piece of baler twine held by a young lad, while in his other hand were two tiny puppies in a sack. She was his pet but he had been told by his parents to get rid of all three because they were buying a new dog. That afternoon we tried to place them in a local sanctuary without success, so we took them in, kept Bess and found new owners for the puppies once they were a couple of months old.

She is now an old lady and going grey, having outlived three other strays, two of which met untimely ends. Slightly deaf, fussy about her food and a little cranky in her habits, Bess occupies one of two sofas in the sitting room and pays scant attention to young Fred. The mistreatment she received in her youth scarred her for life and any sudden noise reduces her to jelly. Recent thunderstorms turned the household upside down. A frightened animal can cause disruption out of all proportion to its size and, at night, to have Bess, who suffers from severe halitosis, sitting on my chest tested my devotion to the limit!

Neighbouring dogs, of which there are at least 20 within a quarter of a kilometre, are equally aggravating in their habits. Having taken delivery of a new wheelbarrow, after years of making do with the battered relic left behind by our builders, I was admiring its bright green paint when, out of the gathering dusk, a black greyhound wandered over, hosed it down and disappeared like a ghost into the bush.

As you can see, country living is never dull. With the onset of winter, at last the spectrum of our bird population is widening, as migrants arrive and set about claiming their territory. For weeks, our area has been the hunting ground of a fine buzzard, which, on occasions, roosts within 30 yards of the house. This handsome falcon of the genus buteo usually arrives at about this time, together with green woodpeckers, robins, wagtails and various passerines. Small animals must be increasing again after the long drought, in order for raptors to survive and, as I view a daily visitation of at least 40 ring doves on our plot, I wonder whether the buzzard might augment its diet with a few of these.

While such trivia loom large in the life of an ageing rustic from the backwoods, time was when I spent many years pulling ropes at the sharp end of a racing dinghy. Even now I get a tingle from watching other sailors suffering or covering themselves in glory. Currently, five of the seven yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 have arrived in Cape Town from Vigo, the first stage on their 32,000 nautical miles circumnavigation of the world ending on June 17 next year.

Points are given for each of the eight stages – the course after New Year being Melbourne, Wellington, Rio de Janeiro, up Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore, New York, Portsmouth, Rotterdam and Göthenburg. At each of the venues there is a race round the cans for which more points are awarded. The overall winner, after eight months of gruelling sailing, will be the team with the highest total. Of the seven starters, two came to grief not long after leaving Vigo, when they met a severe storm with 50mph gusts and mountainous seas. Pirates of the Caribbean suffered severe damage below the waterline and total instrument failure, limping into Cascais for repairs. In order to join the fleet, she has been flown out by cargo plane to Cape Town in time for the next leg to Melbourne.

The other casualty was the 70ft Spanish yacht Movistar, which either crashed off a massive wave or collided with a container or other flotsam – this broke her swinging keel, starboard dagger board and rudder. She managed to reach Portimão for lengthy repairs and is now on her way in a freighter to catch up with the others before the next stage of the race.

The rest of the teams appear to be working and playing hard down south, with a Christmas tree erected in their honour, round which they will be holding a big charity drive in aid of The Smile a Child fund during the festive season. The Boss could do with a little of that wind over the coming weekend when he takes part in the second Campeonato do Algarve hosted by local Portimão sailing club CIMAV.

And now a bouquet for our favourite restaurant. Last Friday, it was full of happy people and next to our table were two young bruisers well into their cups. Noisier and more belligerent by the minute, suddenly an explosion like a 12 Bore came from a short, thick tube held by one of them. Everyone jumped, the waiters gave them their bill and someone must have called the police, because within 10 minutes two tall and muscular heavies from the Polícia de Segurança Pública arrived. A nasty situation was handled quietly and efficiently and, within no time, it was business as usual.