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S y l v i a

A n n

B a x t e r





S y l v i a A n n B a x t e r A


Copyright © Sylvia Ann Baxter

The right of Sylvia Ann Baxter to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-1-905609-918

First Published (2010) Austin & Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed & Bound in Great Britain


I dedicate this book to my beloved daughters, Josene and Caroline. Thank you for always being there for me, especially during the hard times, and for the love and close friendship we have always shared.

It is also in memory of Fan and Kim, faithful friends to the end.

A DOG'S LIFE By Sylvia Ann Baxter

Chapter One

I don't suppose there are many of you who have read a story written by a dog before, as, on the whole, we canines do not have the inclination to sit and write our memoirs, physical activities, chasing balls and sticks and little furry things on legs, and giving postmen and door-to-door salesmen a thoroughly rotten time, being decidedly more interesting than intellectual pursuits. But having said that, I knew one particular dog, an eccentric Jack Russell terrier, who did achieve minor literary fame with a factual adventure story which he entitled A Tale From Down Under. Jack wrote that he had been out in the woods one morning when he had spied a rabbit, and had, as any self-respecting dog would do, chased it to the locality of its burrow on a long stretch of earthy bank. On the surface it was just an ordinary burrow, nothing spectacular as burrows go, but looks can be deceiving, as poor Jack discovered to his cost. With his blood up, he dived into the hole and gave chase, where, to his consternation, he became hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of tunnels rather like the London Underground but without any trains and with not so much as a signpost, or a posh voice on a Tannoy, to direct him to the nearest exit.

Initially the rabbits were outraged by Jack's unwanted intrusion into their home and let him know it in no uncertain terms. But, under sufferance, they grew to accept him and did their best to make his stay as pleasant as they could. As for Jack, well, he settled down nicely into his new way of life down under anD enjoyed himself tremendously after the initial bad start. Anyway, by the time he was located and dug out of the warren, which I understand took the better part of a week, the terrier was suffering from a severe identity crisis and rumour had it that he was never the same again. Apart from some very strange mannerisms which he had picked up from his new long-eared friends, and which had every dog in the neighbourhood falling over itself with laughter, he astounded his master by becoming a devout vegetarian, when he refused to eat anything but greens.

But enough of Jack. I have my own story to tell. I feel most privileged at being able to write my memoirs, although I must point out that I was not a dog who aspired to great heights of canine achievement, or was a celebrity in any way. Far from it. But I did have a very happy life, with a mistress who absolutely adored me, so I thought it would be nice to record it for posterity. I made my entrance into the world on the 8th of September 1978 at a place called Hodnet in Shropshire, a bonny, snow-white pedigree Labrador bitch born to my mother, Delours Jezabel. Now there's a name for you! I was very proud of my pedigree, shamefaced to say, often boastful, for I was, after all, the granddaughter of the Queen's gun dog, Sandringham Sydney, an aristocratic, highly accomplished fellow, who did Her Majesty proud by becoming a famous field trial champion. Apart from my royal connection, there were twenty-four field trial champions listed in my family tree, so I reckon I'm justified in sticking out my chest and feeling proud. But all that field trial stuff was not for me. No. Although I enjoyed a good chase name me a dog that doesn't I was destined to spend my life as a domestic pet and the guardian of my beloved owner. As the weeks passed by and the golden days of autumn gave way to the encroaching winter, I steadily grew into a strong, sturdy pup, with a mind and a will of my own not to mention a stubborn streak as broad as the Titanic, which led me into all manner of trouble throughout my life. But, oh, I did enjoy those carefree early days which I spent with my family, (there were nine of us in the litter) when we played the daylight hours away, sucking contentedly from our mother's milk bar whenever we were hungry, and at night, when we would all snuggle against the warmth of her side, secure in the knowledge that nothing in the world could harm us. Life was wonderful. I was blissfully happy, and in my naivety was under the impression that things would stay that way forever. Oh, how wrong can a dog be! Indeed, I had no idea that life as I knew it would suddenly and dramatically change; that on one late October evening I would become a victim of the mysterious 's' word sold! (Rumours about puppies being sold were rife at the kennels, although we

youngsters had no inclination as to the meaning of the word… yet) when I would be heartlessly plucked from the midst of my family, never to see any of them again. Oh, but it was horrible! Cruel and horrible! There ought to be a law against such things! Oblivious to my fate, I had been out in the enclosure with my brothers and sisters when, bursting with energy and mischief, we were playing together as puppies do, having great fun in a game of roly-poly, chasing and wrestling one another, pulling tails and generally having a good time. Little did we realise that we were not only entertaining each other with our antics, but two pairs of adult human eyes into the bargain, one pair intent on choosing a puppy as a birthday present for her mother, us lot being likely candidates. Eventually my playmates flopped to the ground exhausted, whilst I, a proper little show-off with energy to spare, teased them unmercifully into having another game. Flaunting myself like that became the downfall of me I'm afraid, for suddenly a slim female finger pointed directly at me, and I heard the fateful words, "That one seems a right little character!" The next thing I knew I was being lifted from the pen and handed over to the attractive, dark haired woman, around nineteen years old, who had a friendly face and a gentle voice when she said hello to me. With a big smile, she cuddled me and stroked my head, saying how gorgeous I was, and daft little me, oblivious to the peril I was in, lapped it all up and played straight into her hands. With my tail wagging non-stop, I made a big fuss of her, licking her face and making her giggle, endearing myself further with my best puppy smile. Oh, but that really cooked my goose for me, because the next minute she turned to my owner, Mrs Diana Lewis, and said, with a satisfied smile, "Oh, yes! This one is perfect! Exactly what I'm looking for! I'll take her please!" Take her? My brow puckered in a frown. Take me where, I wondered? Where could she possibly want to take me? Then the truth of my situation dawned. I had become a victim of the 's' word and was now in the process of being oh! I could hardly bring myself to think of it sold! Shocked to my roots, the fur on my back stood on end and I severely reproached myself for having been tricked by this cunning, unscrupulous young woman, who, with her smiling face

and wile charm, was, all the time she was being nice to me, planning to take me away from my family and all that I held dear! Thinking what a rotter she was, I threw back my head and howled my objections, borrowing the well-rehearsed phrase of someone called John McEnroe, who also enjoyed playing with balls "You cannot be serious!" But serious she was, and I was driven off in a metal box on wheels, never to see my family again. Why, I didn't even have time to say goodbye to them. Inside the box, which moved so fast it made my head spin, and feeling as miserable as a dog can get, I was driven to my new home at Longville-in-the-Dale, which was roughly seven miles from the quaint little town of Much Wenlock, with Church Stretton, with its famous Long Mynd hills, lying approximately the same distance to the west. It was dark inside the contraption on wheels and the journey seemed interminable as I sat on the young woman's knee, pining for my mother and the life I had left behind. My tummy felt funny too, unaccustomed to being bounced around in such an undignified manner, when bubbles of foam and long strips of drool began to ooze from the corners of my mouth. I knew that if I didn't get some fresh air soon, then my lunch and a very nice lunch it had been too would shortly be making an unwanted appearance by way of a big pile of vomit. I glanced down at the young woman's skirt, all nice and clean and fresh, and wicked little thoughts, which made me feel a whole lot better, began to creep into my mind. One big heave and that skirt would never be the same again, left stained and smelly and decidedly foul, when even the dry cleaners wouldn't want it. I smirked complacently. Perhaps that would make her sorry for having bought me! But luckily my lunch stayed put, and to take my mind off further belligerent thoughts, I cocked my ear and eavesdropped on the conversation which was taking place between the woman and the driver of the box, a young man named Barry, the lady's fiancé, whatever that meant. Hanging on to every word, I learned much about the lady who was destined to become my new owner, Mrs Sylvia Ann Fisher, she was called, or Mum as she was referred. It appeared that this Mum and her two young teenage daughters, Josene (Josie) upon whose knee I sat, and Caroline,

thirteen months younger, had left their home in Wakefield, West Yorkshire in 1975, to reside in the wilds of Shropshire. With them had gone one Arabian stallion, two brood mares, two cats, the chattels of their former home, and a great deal of positive hope. This move to pastures new was Mum's quest to find peace for herself and daughters after a long stormy marriage, and the unpleasant divorce which followed in its wake. Born in Wakefield in 1940 during an air raid, which, she was told on good authority, left her out of sorts for an uncommonly long time afterwards, when she gave her long-suffering parents a thoroughly ghastly time by continuously howling her head off, and which put them off having further screaming children for another twelve years, Mum had lived in many parts of England before finally settling in Wakefield again. (Her father was in the prison service and was regularly transferred to other areas). Perhaps it was due to her upbringing that in later life she developed something called wanderlust, when she longed to travel the world, every single part of it, see everything there was to see, and more. But unfortunately the responsibilities of life prevented her and she never got the chance to live the dream. In October 1958 Mum married Carl Fisher. She thought the world of him but sadly the marriage was doomed from the start, having hoped it would last forever. Apart from their mutual love of horses, which had brought them together in the first place, they had nothing else in common, were as different as chalk and cheese, and came from completely different backgrounds. Mum did her best to make it work but only she was trying, when bit by bit the rot set in, when love and respect became eaten away until there was nothing left. It was solely due to the children that the marriage lasted for an incredible fourteen-and-a-half years. During that time Mum made the best of it by keeping herself busy… too busy than was healthy for her sometimes. Coupled with the trauma of an unhappy marriage, she ran herself down to a ragged six-and-a-half stone, when, in her words not mine, she looked like a matchstick on legs. Thin was very fashionable at the time but she thought that more than a little ridiculous. She worked for the civil service as a secretary, then, in the early nineteen- sixties, she opened a riding school, which became a great success. Later, albeit on a small concern, she went on to breed Arabian

horses, (Arabians had always been her passion) when she and her husband stood two purebred stallions at stud. Besides the horses, Mum took in animal waifs and strays of every description not to mention the odd human as well caring for them all until she found them loving new homes to go to, the humans making their own arrangements. In her role as a busy working mother, with never a dull moment from one day to the next, Mum was as content as a woman could be with her lot. But as a wife she was desperately unhappy. By March 1973 she had had enough and filed for divorce. But her husband objected fervently and gave her no peace at all, which was why she decided to leave Yorkshire for good to make a new start somewhere else. But with no financial means, and unable to buy her own house, (the marital home, stables, etc had all been rented) making a new start wasn't easy, leaving her with no alternative but to find a job which provided accommodation for herself and children, and where her animals she was down to one stallion, two mares, and two cats now would be welcome too. Mum was desperate to keep the horses, not to have to sell them, hoping that at some time in the future she would be able to stand Indian Tempest, her stallion, at stud again. A year passed, during which time Mum scanned the advertisements in Horse and Hound but with no success at all. Then suddenly her luck changed when a middle-aged farmer offered her a housekeeper's job at his farm near Much Wenlock in Shropshire, children and animals welcome. Barely having heard of Shropshire, Mum had to get the map out to find out where it was. Once that was established, she then drove down for the interview, where she immediately fell in love with the beautiful countryside, and accepted the post when it was offered to her that day. Life was about to change for three Yorkshire lasses, and Mum, for one, couldn't wait! The old stone farmhouse, set high on the hillside overlooking magnificent Wenlock Edge, was undergoing some serious renovation at the time, so it was not until July 1975 that Mum and the girls were able to move down to Shropshire permanently. Saying goodbye to family and friends had been hard, especially for Josie and Caroline, who had strongly objected to leaving Wakefield in favour of living in Shropshire, where there was

nothing but grass and trees, and where they would doubtless be bored senseless within a week, they said. But Mum talked them round, saying that a whole new life awaited them in Shropshire, if only they would give it a chance, and that they would soon make new friends, find lots of exciting new things to do, and put Wakefield behind them forever. And as it turned out she was right. In time they did just that. As for Mum, she loved every minute of her new life in the sticks. Shropshire is a haven for riders and walkers and she did plenty of both, exploring the area on Indian Tempest, and trekking up the rugged Long Mynd hills with all the other knobbly-kneed walkers in strange attire, who sought the peace and isolation of the wilds. Life had improved no end, although nothing is perfect as the saying goes, as Mum was soon to discover. She had only been working at the farm for five months or so when she decided to give in her notice, which was a shame considering how long it had taken her to find the job. A free woman now, she was at liberty to make her own choice as to what she did and where she went and whose company she would keep. But unfortunately that didn't go down very well with her employer, who wanted her to be with him instead. He was a lonely man in need of a wife as opposed to just a housekeeper, and Mum wanted nothing of that. She had just escaped one possessive husband and in no way was she ready for another. So she decided it would be better for both parties if she left. They parted on good terms though, and the farmer kindly allowed her to keep her horses in his fields until she found somewhere else for them to go. And so, still lacking the means to buy her own house, but wanting to stay in Shropshire, and on an independent basis this time, Mum was faced with the same old problem of where to go. As a temporary measure, a good friend suggested that she consider a caravan, and took it upon herself to ask a local farmer pal (they were all farmers in that area) if he would allow Mum to put one on his property. After meeting the Yorkshire family over a hospitable cup of tea, when both parties took to each other, and were confident they would get on well together, the chap very kindly agreed.

Mum and her daughters were ecstatic. They would have a home of their own at last, despite its humble means! The twenty-six foot caravan, (a gift from Mum's parents) which had electricity, and oh, what a luxury! a proper flush loo, was quickly installed in an idyllic position at The Woodlands Farm, Longville-in-the-Dale, which boasted spectacular views over nearby Wenlock Edge. The property was owned by Mr Norman Warren, a widower in his early seventies, and his middle- aged, bachelor son, Dennis, it lying approximately halfway between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton. Three weeks prior to Christmas 1975 the family and cats moved into their new abode, the horses taking up residence in one of the fields. A new chapter in their lives had begun. Despite the cramped conditions (the caravan became nicknamed The Sardine Tin) and the dampness which crept in surreptitiously, especially during the winter months, the three were extremely happy with their lot, valuing their independence now and a roof over their heads which they could call their own. In January 1976 Mum got a job as a secretary at Select Livestock Producers in Shewsbury, some seventeen miles away, Shrewsbury being an attractive medieval market town encircled by the winding River Severn. Josie found work as a groom at some nearby racing stables, and Caroline, upon leaving school, became employed at a chemist's shop in Church Stretton, where, some thirty years later, firmly established along with all the other fixtures and fittings, she can still be found dishing out pills and potions. As envisaged, they got on famously with Norman and Dennis, Norman saying that Mum had become like a daughter to him, the one he had never had, and that having them around had given his drab old life a boost. Generally making herself useful, Mum would cook and clean for the old man, and often accompanied him to the local watering hole for a bar snack and a mildly intoxicating beverage. Unattached, and in her early thirties, having introduced a little new blood into an area where many of the residents were related to each other, Mum had become prey to several men who repeatedly pestered her for a date. But she wasn't interested, and when she was out with Norman he kept the fellows at bay for her, when they respectfully left her alone. Naïve where men were concerned, all Mum sought at that particular time in her

life was friendship. And friendship she found by way of a nice old gentleman. In the summer of 1976, arriving quite out of the blue, Mum was offered a temporary post at an Arabian stud farm in Bavaria, it being brought about by her association with Arab horses. Keen to visit Germany, and eager to work with that particular breed of horse again, the invitation, despite it arriving when she had just got settled, was very enticing indeed. Without success, she had tried to conjure a little business standing Indian Tempest at stud, but more into Thoroughbreds than Arabians, the horse fraternity in the area had shown no interest at all. Keeping the stallion on a secretary's wage had been hard, and when her ex-husband suddenly demanded half the horse's worth, which Mum had been unable to raise, she sadly had to part with Tempest. And so, after a great deal of persuasion by her family, friends, and her employer at Select Livestock, who promised to keep her job open until she returned, Mum accepted the position in Germany but only for a few short months. She refused to leave the girls any longer than that. A good friend had promised to look after them in her absence; Josie was now seventeen, Caroline a year younger, so they were not exactly children anymore. And the cats and the remaining two mares would also be taken care of, so all things considered, there was really no excuse for her not to take time out in Germany for a while. Although Mum was falling over herself with excitement about her trip abroad, on the actual morning of her departure, when Dennis drove her to Shrewsbury station in his rickety old van, she became assailed by last minute doubts, unsure, all of a sudden, that she was doing the right thing. Dennis, as rustic as the countryside he lived in, voiced his opinion on the matter. "Youm 'ad plenty o' time to think abart it, wench. Na youm goin', whether youm wants to or no!" Those few months in Germany transformed Mum into a brand new woman. At the Sittlekofen Vollblutaraber-Gestut in Adlkofen, a tiny rural village a few kilometres from Landshut, which was only an hour or so drive from the Austrian border, she was in her element looking after twenty-three top class Arabian brood mares, foals and stallions, besides an assortment of dogs and cats, which just added to the bliss of it all. Her boss was a man named

Heinrich Garde, a somewhat reserved sixty-something fellow who had been a captain in the Germany Army, and who never (thankfully!) deviated from a strict and professional employer/employee relationship, always referring to Mum as 'Meesis Feesher'. In the absence of a wife, he and Mum dined at the local gasthof every day, where, with an appetite worthy of one of the horses, she made the most of the excellent German cuisine and gained weight for the first time in years. Hence, the matchstick on legs was transformed. On her free days Mum would take a coach trip into Austria, where she systematically visited all the famous places, and the popular ski resorts, thus well and truly acquainting herself with the country. On one occasion, as a guest of a kind German family who had befriended her, she spent a weekend at a ski lodge up in the mountains, where those who didn't have a conventional bed slept alongside each other on mattresses on the floor. Mum drew the short straw and found herself sandwiched between a gregarious Austrian fellow with a bushy red beard, who threw himself around like a rhinoceros all night, and a buxom Germany lady who suffered from flatulence big time, when one stray spark would have ignited the whole place and sent it exploding, with a bang, into space. Mum didn't have much money but she certainly saw life! All told she had a wonderful time in Germany, where she would undoubtedly have stayed, and who knows? perhaps permanently, had it not been for her children and animals back in England. The following year one of the pre-war bungalows on the farm (there were three altogether, all occupied by elderly widowers, Norman, Bill and Albert) became vacant when the latter suddenly died. By that time the caravan had become chronically damp and living in it was a real health hazard. In fact it was so damp that Mum had to take the bedroom carpet up, and was compelled to dry the mattresses out in front of Norman's Rayburn every morning, which was a thorough pain for everyone. And so he kindly offered the bungalow to Mum at a low rent. She was delighted and gratefully accepted his offer, although I heard the girls were none too happy at the prospect. And who indeed could blame them?

Read on. The dilapidated old wooden and asbestos bungalow, which had undoubtedly seen better days, completely hidden from view by the thick jungle which surrounded it, had no running water at all, apart, that is, from the rainwater which leaked in liberally from the roof. The water supply, which came directly from an underground spring, was provided by an old tap at the trough out in the field, and which constituted the residents of the bungalow sharing the supply with all the sheep and cattle, and Mum's horses, which grazed there. No indoor water supply meant no bathroom or toilet either, the latter being a dilapidated shed outside in the wood behind the bungalow. A daunting prospect for anyone who had the misfortune to be taken short in the night! Upon being shown around the property, Mum had stared at it, aghast. The shed looked so fragile and insecure, and a vision of it being blown away to pastures new on a blustery winter night, taking with it some poor unsuspecting occupant not dressed for a flight through the wood, filled her with great trepidation. However and, oh, far removed from Mum's expectations of paraffin lamps and primus stoves, the bungalow did have electricity, the only attribute in the entire place which could remotely be referred to as modern. Besides the luxury of electricity, the little house had two small bedrooms, respectively painted in deep mauve and a rather startling orange, a living room with a unsightly prehistoric cooking range, and a tiny little kitchen which had obviously been designed for a dwarf. In the kitchen, basic to a fault, stood nothing but a lone white sink on a stand. That was it. Not a cupboard nor shelf in sight. So was it any wonder the girls objected about moving into the place. "It'll be like living in the Dark Ages!" they grumbled. However, Mum, with her never-ending optimism, assured them that she would completely transform the old place, (she never shirked a challenge) when they would hardly recognise it anymore and be happy to call it home. Besides, Norman said that Dennis would 'do the place up a bit', install running water hot and cold build on a bathroom and toilet, a small dining room, and extend the kitchen to a more acceptable family size, all of which helped to win them round a bit.

And so, one bright morning, exchanging his occupation from farmer to builder, Dennis, wearing overalls and a determined grin, set to work on the unsuspecting bungalow. The little homestead, quaintness personified in the days before the war, (which war exactly I wouldn't like to say) was about to make a glorious comeback, never to be the same place again thank the Lord! The modernisation programme on a bungalow with dimensions no more than the average double garage proved very slow indeed. In fact Mum was convinced she would be drawing her old age pension before moving into the place, and would get desperately frustrated with Dennis, who, by no stretch of the imagination, shared her enthusiasm for getting things done. Although he was a likeable character, as laid back as they come, he seriously lacked consistency, and had a motto which had kept him in good stead all his life, 'Never do today what you can do tomorrow, because tomorrow it might not need doing at all'. He would become sidetracked by other fancies, when he avoided the bungalow like the plague, his excuse being that he was unable to work on the place on Mondays, because that was the day he went to Bridgnorth Auction, or Tuesdays, being Shrewsbury market day, or Wednesdays, even, when, having got behind with his jobs on the farm, he was obliged to catch up with himself. Fridays were no good either, because he always tended his beloved potato crop on Fridays, (Dennis' spuds were the love of his life) and evenings were completely out of the question, for that would seriously interfere with his participation in the darts and domino matches at the local pub. And so, all things considered, there wasn't much left of the working week. Mum would nag him like a fishwife but all to no avail. Although he had made a start on various tasks, he never actually finished them. Halfway through a job, for some capricious reason, he would move on to something else, before abandoning that too, with the result that nothing was ever finished. At a loss to understand this strange behaviour, Mum would follow him around with her decorating equipment just waiting for him to finish a room. But he never did. Not once. In the very throws of installing the bathroom suite he suddenly, for some apparent whim, abandoned it in favour of an outdoor job, when, without so much as batting an eyelid, he exchanged his plumbing tools for a hedge cutter. And

then, guess what? he left the hedge half done as well. Mum, frustrated to the hilt, would throw her arms in the air and yell at him like a banshee with her hair on fire "Dennis!" When the time came to install the Rayburn in the kitchen, (another prehistoric monster) she and her landlord became embroiled in fervent disagreement, Mum saying that it was the sorriest, most antiquated excuse for a cooking range she had ever seen in her life. "You're not seriously thinking of putting it in the kitchen are you?" she questioned in disbelief. She was standing in the middle of the drive with her hands upon her hips. A Sherman tank in female form. Dennis stuck out his chin and looked equally determined. "I am! That's why ah've fetched it! Na git outta me way, wench! Bloody thing's 'eavy enough!" The Sherman tank stood its ground. "But it'll never work, Dennis! Anyone can see it's had its day!" "Nonsense! Course it'll work! A good Rayburn u'll last forever!" It took two strong men and a likely youth to painstakingly, and amidst an unsavoury amount of swearing, push, nudge and drag the thing towards its designed position in the kitchen, with all manner of bits and pieces falling off it in the process. At one point it looked in danger of disintegrating altogether, the rust and yards of binder twine being all that held it together. Mum, gripped by mortification, wearing her eyebrows on the top of her head, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth, stood in the wings and watched. After all the fuss and bother of dragging the beast into the house and installing it, she knew it would only be a matter of time before it had to be uninstalled and dragged all the way out again. It was beyond her comprehension as to why Dennis had brought it in the first place, a sneaky suspicion telling her that someone had paid him to take it away from their premises. "There!" exclaimed the farmer, red-faced and breathless after the eyesore had reached its resting place. "It dunna look that bad, wench." "Doesn't look that bad!" echoed Mum. "It's an unsightly piece of junk! Why, it's so old it must have come out of the ark!" Indignant, Dennis sprang to the defence of his precious Rayburn. "It's not that old!" he snorted. "Not that old at all!"

"Of course it's old, Dennis! Look, the instructions are written in Latin!" By March 1978 Mum had had more than enough of it all and told Dennis that she and the girls intended to move into the bungalow 'next week', whether it was ready or not, and that nothing in the world would make her change her mind. She had worked like a trouper on it for months now and was fed up with looking like a navvy on a building site, with broken fingernails and workmens' hands, and wearing scruffy overalls and smelling of wallpaper paste and paint. Her efforts had certainly been worthwhile though, for no way did it resemble the dilapidated old hut of former days, now transformed into a pleasant little home for them all. It was still unfinished of course; a window was missing in the bathroom, there was a unsightly black hole in the living room where the old cooking range had been ripped out, and a dangerous-looking trench still separated the kitchen from the newly-added dining room, when one had to watch ones step en route to the loo, especially in the middle of the night. Besides which surprise surprise the Rayburn didn't work and had to be replaced by another! And so the family and cats moved into the bungalow in March, whereupon Mum, somewhat illogically, named the place April Cottage, saying, would you believe? that April sounded warmer than March! Admittedly the bungalow was no executive home, and the new extension would no doubt have mortified the South Shropshire County Council Planning Department, had they been informed about it. But it certainly didn't lack character, and had a uniqueness about it which set it apart from all the other properties in the area much to the relief of the owners! But regardless of its peculiarities and the list was endless April Cottage became home to Mum and her daughters, who were decidedly glad of it after living in the damp, cramped caravan for so long. And so, back to the present moment, I had heard all about Mum, my new owner to be, and the home where I would live. All that remained now was for me to meet her in person, when I hoped she would like me, and that I would like her, and that she would treat me well and be kind. As I sat pensively on Josie's

knee, mulling over all I had heard that evening, I knew a dog

could expect no more than that in life… if it was lucky of course.