Bucks and Pups

The view across Wooburn Green
Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire

Dr Nikil Chopra and his wife Lucy moved into our neighbourhood in December 2013, just one week before Christmas.  Prior to the move, they were both doctors, commuting into London from Ruislip.

Their move was motivated by the desire to own their own home, slightly away from the city rat race.  As most do, they started looking at places like Beaconsfield, close to their new jobs as GPs in Buckinghamshire.  As I interviewed Nik, I knew what was coming next in terms of “shock and awe” at the property prices in this gorgeous  market town.  My husband Bruce and I had sold my rental flat and our house in Dollis Hill before coming out this way.  On first impressions, Beaconsfield shouldn’t be expensive but the combination of good schools and a fast train into Marylebone send it out of the reach of most ordinary folk like us.

Consequently prospective buyers such as Bruce and I, Nik and Lucy tend to “slide” down the hill to the village of Wooburn Green where we all now live.  In this idyllic corner of the South East, we have all found amazing neighbours (I could not have imagined the support and help I would receive when I was housebound for months on end, following ankle surgery) friendly locals, great pubs close by, as well as an embarrassment of excellent eateries, including a fish and chip shop and an award-winning Italian trattoria.

One of Nik’s hobbies is photography, which he really developed on a trip to a friend’s wedding in South Africa.  “The thought of going on a wildlife safari and not coming away with great photos was not an option,” so he set about learning from the internet.

When Amber, our sprocker spaniel had her second litter of puppies in 2015, Nik asked if he could come and photograph them.  “It was so much fun shooting them.  They had such character and the portrait style photography, mixed with some action worked really well with my 50mm f2.8 lens on his basic Canon 650D camera body”.  One of Nik’s photos won a “dog in a box” competition run by my dog food provider.

Dog in a Box
Photo by kind permission of N. Chopra

My favourite pic of that session is a naughty “d’you think anyone can see us biting each other?” pose:

Pups playing
D’you think anyone can see me biting my sister? by kind permission of N. Chopra

Nik and Lucy became parents last year, to a baby daughter.  Learning each new step was tough, according to New Dad, but when their little girl turned 5 months, they noticed a huge difference in how much they enjoyed her company.  She is so interactive now, making each moment more enjoyable than the one before.

I was curious to know if our doctor had any tips for gaining or re-gaining health and vitality as we get older.  He recommends never to stop learning.  “Try something new.  Make sure you think about developing your interests and hobbies before you retire”, rather than being faced with a lot of leisure time and not a clue what to do.

I’ve been trying out cooking from scratch with Hellofresh – I never knew courgettes were so tasty and could be so versatile!

Hearts, Glass and Curved Balls!

Well, I can only apologise for lacking in posts for a while.  I’ve been poorly.  It’s something I’ve had to get used to and doesn’t yet sit well with me.  This weekend, I spent time at Missenden Abbey, being taught how to make this silver necklace, from scratch, by Stephen O’Keeffe.  IMG_4448

I was really looking forward to the crafting weekend, but I’d preceded the first evening session with a little light gardening.  Big mistake.  You see, a friend of mine had kindly come to “sort out me borders” but I cannot sit still and watch someone working, so I had to pile and and weed like a demon.  I was fully aware that, by doing physical exercise so close to embarking on a new activity I was courting disaster.

I’ve been diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome, which is a condition affecting all connective tissue and which means that I suffer from: “severe fatigue that persists, despite rest or a proper nights sleep…. early muscle fatigue may be experienced, caused by the muscles having to work hard to stabilise joints.” (Hyper mobility Syndromes Association booklet entitled ‘Persistent Fatigue and Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue’.)

Now, as a young girl, I was always very bendy.  I loved showing people how my thumb bent right back over my wrist and loved showing off by lying on my stomach and bending my back so that my feet touched the top of my head.  However, the consequences of all my ankle surgery (three times three months in a plaster cast over the past three years) has meant that now my muscles struggle to support and stabilise my joints.  In common parlance: I get knackered really easily.

The gardening followed by the evening workshop meant that I was poleaxed the next day and was over a hour late for the morning class.  I struggled though to six o’clock, but then had to miss the evening session and come home.

I needed two days in bed this week and now, Friday, I’m just able to walk my dogs again and create this blog.

I’m really pleased with what I managed to achieve, having decided to concentrate on just making this necklace and learning how to make hearts in batches.  It ended up looking like this because of my rookie mistake:  I was carried away with my success at soldering small silver circles, so much so that I forgot to interlink the large heart with the small heart.  I came up with the rescue plan of dangling one heart upside down from the large heart.  I was a little reticent, wondering whether people would consider and upside down heart to be representative of something sinister, but Steve reassured me that they were used this way in heraldry.  Having already created an heraldic piece of glass painting for my husband (don’t mind the gory boar, it’s only a generic coat of arms researched by his history teacher for all the students in his class).

Heraldry, glass painting hobby,
My first attempt at glass painting and leading




























So… I made the silver necklace like this and researched the use of the upside down heart.  To my slight disappointment and embarrassment, upside down hearts were used to depict TESTICLES on coats of arms!  Ah well, maybe the two together represent the love of a woman and a man intertwined.  What do you think?

Henley Arts Trail

Here’s the news about the upcoming craft fairs in the South East.  I spent yesterday visiting a couple of venues and artists on the Henley Arts Trail.  If you can find a way around the traffic queues across Henley bridge, then it’s well worth a look this weekend.  I went on a research trip to find out what sort of handmade crafts are out there, plus courses to improve my skills.  In Bix, there are wonderful stoneware plant holders made by Jacqueline Fitzjohn at Black Dog Pots and in Shiplake village, just South of Bix, you’ll find kooky, cute, amazing hats by Fiona Neylan at http://www.fionaneylan.co.uk.  I was sorely tempted but managed to resist the felted bird hat, complete with tweeting sound effects!

Tucked away in a cul-de-sac, just down the road from the singing bird hats lady, is Wendy Penrose http://www.wendypenrose.co.uk whose gold plated, and solid silver jewellery takes its inspiration from natural forms.  I was tempted by her courses in silver clay and may well join one of her beginners groups.  Silver clay seems to provide an alternative to costly casting of metals to make textured bracelets and necklaces.

Caversham Arts kicks off next weekend and for more details of craft fairs in the South East, click on the link below.

Mosaic in the sunshine by kind permission of Dave England
Mosaic in the sunshine by kind permission of Dave England


Friends for a Reason, a Season or a Lifetime

Newport beach,
Dave and Dinah in Pembrokeshire

I first met Dave England on the Stage Management and Technical Theatre Course run by the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1986.  We studied Stage Management with 20 or so fellow students, graduating as ‘Class of ‘1988’  before we all went our separate ways.  Dave became Master Carpenter, notably at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, before moving into corporate and live event production carpentry.  I became a touring stage manager with the result that we fell out of touch for 15 years.  I heard, through mutual friend that he had met and married a talented theatre designer called Dinah.  Occasional LAMDA reunions and the transient nature of theatre and the arts, meant that we would occasionally cross professional paths or keep in touch as a year group via the alumni grapevine.

In 2013, after my husband, Bruce and I had moved out of London to a village near High Wycombe, I bred a litter of Sprocker puppies.  Our dog Amber, gave birth to a large litter of twelve puppies.  As you can see, she was a devoted Mum.  I found new homes for nine quite quickly, but seven weeks after the birth, I still had three female puppies to home.

Sprockers, Friends, Pembrokeshire, Theatre Royal, Dinah England, Dave England, LAMDA
Amber with her first brood of twelve puppies

I put out a general enquiry for prospective owners on Facebook and to my surprise, Dave and Dinah contacted me as prospective owners.  They visited, fell in love with two of the female pups and we became Friends Reunited.

Joule, Sprocker pups,
Three sprocker pups seek active home

Dave and Dinah had bravely created the opportunity to own a dog as they had just made the bold move, out of London back to Dinah’s family roots in Pembrokeshire.

Dave and Dinah gave a fabulous home to Joule, whose action photos appear on another blog, highlighting Dave’s skill with his Nikon D7000 DSLR camera.  Dog Days and the Buddha is also very grateful for the donation of Dave’s photo of Joule at sunset on Newport beach, Pembrokeshire featuring as the website banner.

Joule and ball Air ball Joule

Dave's photos of Joule on a mission!
Dave’s photos of Joule on a mission!

Dave now has a burgeoning computer aided design CAD business.  They live amongst immense and beautiful scenery and now Bruce and I try to Go West whenever we have the chance, to a part of the country we might not have visited had it not been for Dave and Dinah asking us about a puppy.

Click here to find Dave’s webpage if you need production management or CAD design. To see Dinah’s latest designs for CBeebies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream and click through to her website for her many designs for Liverpool Everyman.

I love the function of Facebook which brings old mates together and transforms friends you thought were just for a season, into lifelong friendships instead.  The next blog is all about Dinah and Dave’s move out of London to the edges of  the stunning Pembrokeshire National park.  They made a creative leap of faith which has truly paid off.

Craft Fairs in the South East

I’m going to be checking out popular crafts and gifts ahead of making my own glass and precious metal jewellery. I’ve been working in dichroic glass (shiny!) to make shapes that I can then set in gold and silver.  Watch this space for my progress – another new start for my life.  In the meantime, why not check out other talented crafters in the South East – (sorry but I only subscribe to this regional magazine at the moment, but I will put other links up here soon).

Click here for details of craft fairs

British Truffles in Somerset

Sprocker puppies
Ellie at 12 weeks with Marion and Paul

Amber is one of my two Sprocker Spaniels.  Ellie is a puppy from Amber’s first litter and now a professional truffle dog.

Marion Dean founded the Truffle Hunters Dog School after having to change direction due to a health problem which left her physically unable to continue her chosen profession as a qualified teacher (of children) and qualified riding instructor and listed dressage judge.  Marion takes up the story:

truffles, truffle dogs, UK truffle hunting, Marion Dean, working dogs
Ellie, a professional truffle hunter with her prize.

“I became interested in growing impregnated truffle trees when I was recovering from a severe attack of rheumatism.  My lifelong love of horses had to be abandoned because of a lack of physical ability, but I did have two empty fields.  I had begun growing fruit and veg. on the patio of our house, but I hated looking out at the fields, which were a painful reminder of the horses and career that I had lost.”

When Marion read an article in a glossy magazine about truffle growing and that it might be possible in England, it seems a crazy godsend and she realised that to plant an orchard of imported, impregnated trees, would find a new and positive use for her fields.

Whilst enquiring about buying truffle trees, she happened to mention that she’d just bought a truffle hound puppy (Ellie’s older “sister”, Mufti) and the chap asked if she could train truffle hounds for other people.  “As this all occurred in the space of a couple of day, it seemed like good fortune taking a hand in my life.  It gave me a new reason for living!”  Marion had a diagnosis of leukaemia which, in her own words: “nearly finished me off,” but a new combination of miracle (sic.) drugs have arrested the progress of the disease for the moment.  She tells me that she, “completed ‘mourning’ my own imminent loss of life” and now wants to do something.  Now, if she has the money and the strength she does what she wants, in between doing her exercises and trying to regain her fitness.

Most of Marion’s dreams feature truffles!  Growing her own, is still top of her wish list.  This is not so easy.

Here are some truffle facts:

  1. A man can go to the moon, but no-one has ever seen a truffle grow from start to finish, because it happens underground.
  2. The white truffle, tuber magnate, has never been cultivated.
  3. Despite costing huge amounts of money, the truffle is 70% water.
  4. Truffles have 5 sexes!

I met Marion when my husband, Bruce and I, were looking for ways to entertain Amber, our new Sprocker pup.  One of our friends joked that if he had a spaniel, he’d train her to find truffles and use that extraordinary nose for a win win gain.  So we asked around, and found that Marion is the only woman,  in the UK who runs a professional training programme.  We went for a day’s training, had great fun (we highly recommend it as a unique day out for you and your dog) and became friends.  When Amber had a litter of puppies, Marion was quickly on the phone to bag one for herself.

Marion trains her own truffle hounds, and other people’s, using very structured techniques, increasing the tasks in difficulty, in very small steps, so that the dog is always able to cope and has lots of praise for successfully completing each stage.  Ellie and Mufti demonstrate the techniques first, so that the trainees can immediately see what is required.

Ultimately she’s just asking the dog to be a dog and use it’s nose.

Truffles, British Truffles
Marion Dean, pretending to be a truffle tree with Mufti, one of her truffle hounds
Two of Marion’s British Truffles
Truffle Dogs
Ellie and Mufti playtime

Writers as Carers


I started to write professionally in 2006, as a result of my experiences coping with infertility and fertility treatment (which can truly be a bit grim!).  My book “Making Babies the Hard Way” was published in 2007, making me eligible to become a member of the Society of Authors – a support and resource organisation for professional writers.

As I recovered from my emotional and physical bruising, I began to write articles for national newspapers.  All non-fiction contributions.  Over time, I began to explore fiction writing and took courses run by Faber and Faber Academy who encouraged me to develop my creative writing and still support me in this “pause” in proceedings.  The pause has been caused by my new role as a Carer for my Mum.  Although she doesn’t require any physical help at the moment, she has moved into a totally new environment, away from familiar terrain and sadly, her age has also meant losing quite a few friends over the past few years.

When she moved to be close to us, I expected her to jog along with a new life, making new friends and exploring new activities whilst I carried on with my own solitary explorations.  This is not been possible as she has become increasingly reliant upon my company, my decision-making and my emotional support.  She has younger friends, who help out when they can, but most of the responsibility falls to me and my husband.

In one of my “down” times, I came across a Facebook page called “Writers as Carers”.  As it is a secret group, I applied to join it, through Anna Ganley at Society of Authors and thankfully, was accepted.  This group has become something of a lifeline for me and my fellow members as it provides a confidential forum supported by people in the same professional field.

I asked Anna how it began:

‘The SoA’s Writers as Carers Group was set up at the request of member, James Green. He feels strongly that you don’t have to stop being a writer if you start being a carer. And we agree. This group quickly gained members who also had caring responsibilities, keen to help each other carry on writing. Members support each other online in a private discussion group to share tips and advice about how they try to write in the gaps.’

James also has a lovely blog, which explains how he started to feel a need for this sort of support: http://www.societyofauthors.org/our-blog/july-blog-1

Damien Boyd-Otley, another member, adds that this group, “was designed as a way of [writers as Carers] keeping in touch, comparing notes and also doing some prose writing for our new comrades in arms and comrades in bedpans, to view and pass comment.

Certainly, it’s become a lifeline for me.  I began posting, now blogging and who knows, I may return to my nascent novel very soon.  The important thing for me however, is that knowing that other writers are finding it mega-tough to keep going with their work, is a comfort.  It gives me permission to stop beating myself up.  Once I allowed the literary whip to stop stinging, the ideas began to flow once more.

Chiltern Crafts Survive

Crafts, Wooburn Green, Chiltern Crafts courses, Wood, Jewellery Courses, BucksErnest Riall moved from the USA to the UK in 2002 with the initial idea of coming to England to study and travel for the few years, before moving back.  He originally meant to go back to Los Angeles, spend the next few years working in his old job as a statistician and director of market research in health insurance, then move to a small US town and open an antique shop, instead of retiring.  But Love happened whilst he was making other plans.  He met his partner Charlotte, an artist, who had family on this side of the big pond, specifically in France, and Ernest secured the funding for PhD so they decided to make their home together here instead.

So how did Ernest make the leap from Statistics and market strategy to woodcarving and restoration?  Well, in his old job, he could feel himself burning out and losing enthusiasm.  He’d always loved antiques, couldn’t see himself learning golf or bridge; had no kids and no ties and so just decided to take off on an adventure!

Finding woodcarving came about via a series of accidents that he just followed.  First he took a woodcarving course at Bucks New University, loved it and seemed to be good at it.  He continued his studies with some of the best carvers in England and France – Dick Onions, Colin Mantrap and Patrick Blanchard.  He was commissioned on a number of restoration projects which involved wood carving, then Bucks New Uni asked him to teach their Saturday class.

The arguably short-sighted “powers that be” in High Wycombe have now closed down or reduced the courses on offer at the college and so, Ernest got the chance to strike out on his own.

He really wasn’t seeking anything in particular except CHANGE and he’s certainly found that.  He’s found a solid relationship with Charlotte, a new family a passion for teaching and woodcraft and in the last week, has adopted a rescue Weimaraner dog.

Weimeraner stock image

Ernest’s courses are a big hit with the local craftinistas, which includes my husband, whose first carved leaf in oak is his pride and joy.

Woodcarving classes

For information about classes in

woodcarving, furniture restoration,

jewellery and upholstery click here.

A new term has just begun and Ernest has more classes scheduled for the summer.

Medical Detection Dogs

Alan in his uniformHere’s a couple of updates on Alan, the puppy I donated to Medical Detection Dogs.  Come on Jeremy Hunt, why aren’t you using these dogs to detect cancers as a matter of course.  It’s a no brainer: the current secondary screening service offered by the charity (which gets no government funding) means that no invasive biopsies are carried out, as the dogs smell cancer proteins in urine samples and are up to 98% accurate.  Alan has such a nice temperament that I’m hoping he will go and live with a child or adult as their medical alert dog.  Here’s an explanation of their work:  With their amazing sense of smell our dogs are trained to detect minute changes in blood sugar levels and other hormone related odour changes. When these levels fall or rise outside the normal range they will warn their owner, get help and fetch any vital medical supplies.
We have trained dogs to work with people with very brittle Type 1 diabetes and Addison’s Crisis, a disease of the adrenal gland.
For those with diabetes, the avoidance of dangerously low blood sugar levels (Hypoglycaemia) is an acute daily problem. Low blood sugar levels are very dangerous if left untreated. Symptoms vary from confusion to seizures to comas, and can become life-threatening. An inability to detect a hypo is common in young children and adolescents as a result of their stage of growth and development. Recurring hypos can contribute to memory and concentration problems.
For some people with diabetes deliberately raising their blood sugar levels was the only way to prevent severe hypos. We know that high blood sugars over a period of time are likely to cause disastrous consequences including amputations, sight loss, heart disease, strokes and renal failure.
For those with Addison’s Disease the onset of an Addisonian Crisis, where the adrenal gland has failed to create adequate levels of cortisol, can mean severe pain, convulsions and unconsciousness which lead to collapse and hospitalisation. Our dogs are able to detect minute changes that indicate a potential crisis and alert the client to the need for medication. Client stories Until their dogs are trained to a specific owner in need of their help, they are placed with socialisers.  MDD are always looking for more socialisers so do investigate their site for yourself if you live in the Bucks, Beds area.  Here are a couple of images of their latest funds and awareness raising event at Swanbourne.

Fund Raiser

Fund Raiser tent

Boy George’s Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is available to everyone.

I belong to the same socially engaged Buddhism organisation as Boy George, Lydia (the finalist on The Voice) and Howard Jones, Sandy Shaw and Tina Turner to name a handful of our “celebrity members” .  Of course, most of our many millions of global fighters for peace are just “Ordinary Joes” like you and me.  We are all equal in this teaching.

Our general director, Robert Harrap, has been featured on Radio 2’s Thought for the Day several time last year and managed to fit a few new “thoughts” into this year as well.  Although the philosophy I follow is Mahayana Buddhism, the movement was initiated in post-war Japan, as a deep rooted desire and determination for Peace.  This has been a some might say, slow process as profound change in the hearts of men and women, can only really be achieved through heart to heart dialogue, built on friendship and trust.  Hopefully, by engaging people in a one to one basis and letting them make their own minds up, without pressure or judgment, long term, far-reaching shifts against violence can be achieved.

Each year, our teacher and interpreter of the 12th century monk, Nichiren Daishonin’s letters to his followers are transformed into a cry for Peace, sent in document form, to the United Nations.  There’s a rare opportunity to hear Robert Harrap speak in person, on this year’s peace proposal, at an open, secular meeting on 28th April 2016, in Taplow Court, near Maidenhead, Berkshire.

2016 PP eflyer If anyone is interested in hearing what this is all about, then please add a comment here or contact me via my Facebook page Dog Days and the Buddha.  Add a comment to this post as well.