Author Archives: Chris

The Christmas Season at Crafty Dog Towers

The often strange traditions at our country house in the Welsh countryside.

The Christmas Season at Crafty Dog Gardens

At our traditional old country house we have a number of old seasonal traditions that we follow closely.  Christmas, or Yule as some of the old folk still call it round here, is just full of old doings, such as the Christmas Log, toasting in Christmas morning, and welcoming in the New Year.  We even keep up the ritual of the Mari Lwyd – of which, more later!

Waiting for Grout to bring us the keys of the Summer House

            As the sun rises on the first of December, Mr Grout, the Head Gardener, takes the large 4 wheeled barrow up to the woods where with his erstwhile assistant, Pendle the Gardener’s Lad, they fell a small conifer (about 12 feet or so) and transport it back to the house.  Mrs Grainger the Housekeeper has prepared the entrance hall, and as soon as the tree arrives, Mrs Crafty Dog and I welcome it into the house.  Everyone present has a tot of something warming (Lady Penelope usually had warm milk), then we sing a carol as the tree is placed into its pot in the centre of the entrance hall.  The staff always expect me to say a few words, we have another tot of comfort and are then ushered out of the room as Mrs Grainger and the house staff, under the guidance of Higgins the Butler (who acts in Lady Penelope’s stead this year) they dress the tree.  By now after a couple of warming drinks Mrs Crafty Dog and I retire to the parlour to read the papers and have a morning snooze.   

            We have stopped putting real candles on the tree after the incident a few years ago when the last Gardener’s Lad (who was no improvement on the current one!) fell asleep under the tree and woke up terrified that he had had a stroke as he had lost all movement in his legs and in his kerfuffle he nearly knocked the tree over but also damaged a number of the wrapped presents.  It turned out that as he slept the warm wax had dripped onto his overalls and solidified round his legs, hence he couldn’t stand properly, and thus we now have a tree candle ban. And a new Gardener’s Lad (the former one left for another more stately home – with glowing references, no pun intended).

            The new electrical light bulb contraptions are rather nice, if a little heavy on the electricity (I’ve no idea where Higgins got these light bulbs from).  Being a green estate we just turn on another generator on the water wheel in the meadows which is sufficient to keep them going, and run the staff’s electric blankets in their rooms up  in the eaves (it does get cold up on the fourth floor).  As soon as the tree is properly dressed (and Mrs Crafty Dog and I with it), Grout fires off a maroon from the front door step which is the signal for Pendle to pull the lever that runs water through the wheel and pushes the other lever across that switches the current to the tree.  I know it’s a bit archaic as a means of signalling but there’s no mobile coverage beyond the vegetable garden.  Once lit up, we all gather again around the tree, to sing another couple of carols, have a few more toddy’s then toddle off in all directions to do whatever it is that the staff do.  We’re never that sure, but as long as nothing gets broken, everyone gets fed and the sun comes up the next day then all’s well.  Mrs Crafty Dog and I usually stagger to the parlour to try and find the newspapers we were sleeping under earlier, awaiting a pot of dark, strong coffee to revive us before we’re called to lunch.

            This is pretty much the shape of our days over Christmas (not Christmas Day itself), apart from the arrival of the tree that is (or we’d end up with a hall full of trees – it’d be like Narnia!).  Lunch is normally something filling but not too heavy.  Cook does like to have dumplings with everything (we are sure that post Brexit she has snaffled the entire European suet mountain) but even she can’t serve dumplings with Christmas Cake.  Yes, even the cake is an ancient Crafty Dog Towers one, made to a recipe that dates back to our celebrated eighteenth century Cook, Mrs Beetrum.  Some of the more out-dated ingredients have been changed (where can one get real mincemeat made with Dodo these days?) and we don’t use Old Navy rum (Admiral Fortescue Crafty-Dog was rather partial, if a bit too partial, judging by the way he behaved at the Battle of the Nile.[1]  The Crafty Dog Christmas cake is always made in May and every month Cook soaks (she say’s sozzles) the cake in Beetroot Gin (Grout’s own favourite), which results in rather a strong cake, full of body and beta-carotene, and highly flammable[2].  Indeed, it has to be cut and served outdoors.  Far away from a naked flame.  Lady Penelope wasn’t too keen on Cook making it as she wasn’t allowed dried fruit, the cake made her eyes water, and I think if she had still been with us it’s a tradition she might have ended. 

As for the Christmas Pudding, this too is an ancient Crafty Dog Towers tradition said to date back to the days of Major Lord Humphrey Crafty-Dog.   He was rather an unfortunate chap, having taken the wrong side in the English (and Welsh) Civil War.  He was a great favourite of Charles I, and had the role of Keeper of the Royal Hat Box, which of course seemed a bit pointless after Charles I lost his head.  They were dark days, and it is said that young Prince Charles hid in the water-closet in one of the towers from Cromwell’s soldiers.  We even get the occasional visitor who wants to see this hiding place, and they marvel how he fitted in the cistern. We then have to explain that the toilets were a bit bigger in those days and a standard Twyfords would be far too small for a monarch, if even a tiny one. 

It was Major Humphrey who held Crafty-Dog Towers when it was besieged by a Parliamentarian army led by Cromwell, who was assisted by Colonel Peregrine Crafty-Dog, Humphrey’s younger brother who took the side of Parliament during the war.  It was Peregrine who caught Lord Humphrey trying to escape down a secret passageway from the Chapel out into the lower meadows (under the sundial).  The tunnel is said to still exist though despite Pendle and Grout searching we can find no signs of it.   Humphrey was taken to London and suffered the same fate as Charles I.  He is now one of the ghosts of Crafty Dog Towers, and wanders where the east wing used to stand before being demolished by Cromwell and Sir Peregrine to make the towers less of a military structure.  Peregrine succeeded to the title in place of his brother.  Yes, Sir Humphrey now haunts the visitor’s car park, around the recycling bins, searching for that tunnel to escape down. Or maybe he’s still searching for his head?  Sometimes he’s seen with it, sometimes not. Anyway, less of the spirits, back to the pudding.  

Christmas Pudding used to be a spiced plum and dried fruit pudding affair, which it still is to some extent.  Once again there is a large (some would say inordinately so) amount of alcohol in which the dried fruit is soaked, but instead of the minced meat of the seventeenth century we use a fine fruit mincemeat.  Then there is the florin. Sir Humphrey began the custom of adding a silver florin to the pudding, and whosoever found it would have a week’s leave and transport paid for them to go home and return.  Not an issue when staff came from the next village or so, but it became a problem in the last century when Cuthbert St. John Crafty-Dog liked to hire governess’s for his children from France or Germany.  Rents on the estate’s cottages had to go up just to pay for the tradition, which meant it wasn’t popular.  Cook today substitutes a florin with a £2 coin, and we are very careful when chewing since the accident when Cook swallowed it and it took four of us to wrestle her to the floor and administer the Heimlich manoeuvre.  And even then it shot across the room and nearly killed the Under Footman – it missed his left ear by a few inches.  Hit him straight between the eyes and knocked him clean out.

            After lunch, if we have survived lunch, and it’s dry, we take a tour of the grounds, albeit the ones nearer the house, so we can retreat to the warm if required.  The greenhouses are looking good at the moment as Grout is growing lovely orchids, heated by his spirit stove. It’s a remarkable contraption, all gleaming copper pipes, fed by a large copper tank.  It has a bit of a leak it would appear, so Grout keeps an old gin bottle under it to collect the drips.  I have suggested I get the local plumber to sort it out but he keeps insisting that it’s no bother.  What a considerate chap old Grout is.    He even keeps a supply of empty bottles in case the leak gets too severe.  Considerate, and thoughtful. 

If the weather over Christmas is really good then we may ask Higgins to arrange for one of the staff to drive us out in the charabanc.  But not Cook.  Definitely NOT cook.  NEVER AGAIN!  Mrs Crafty Dog and I still wake at night remembering her taking us around the lanes of West Wales in the Rolls, at break-neck speed, down lanes so narrow the door handles touched the hedges on both sides (and places where the hedges were actually stone walls) and often there was grass growing down the centre of the road too.  She considers the use of the brake pedal a sign of weakness, and I don’t think she used the gear stick much – fourth gear was sufficient.  Admittedly, there was absolutely no damage to the outside of the vehicle, and inside there were only the dents our finger nails had made in the leather of the door handles.  Though there was that tractor that drove through a hedge to avoid us (who knew a Massey Ferguson could go so fast?), and the three hikers who climbed (or rather flew) up a six-foot-bank to get out of her way too.  I am so glad that we have a sliding glass screen between us and the driver as I should imagine her language was somewhat ripe.  I was going to call her in to the parlour for a dressing down but neither Mrs CD nor I were brave enough.  We just drew a line under the whole matter.

As for that Pendle – he was a bit quiet in the weeks leading up to Christmas or rather, he was keeping a low profile.  Old Grout and I were convinced he’s up to something, and Grout suspected its one of his money-making schemes which he has now and again.  Like when he tried knitting socks out of old baling twine.  They looked nice, and he sold some at the local market, but they did tend to chafe a bit and if you ran in them the friction gave the socks somewhat of a tendency to ignite.

Oddments of wood and twigs have disappeared from the woodstore, and someone has been rummaging in the staff Christmas decorations box.  There has been a slight smell of fish-glue from the lower potting shed when Mrs Crafty Dog and I went past yesterday and the sign on the door read, “KEeP OwT – Crafftsmun at WerK” (a craftsman but evidently no word-smith!).  We did try the door but it was firmly locked from the inside and despite us asking what was going on there was no reply, apart from the sound of sawing and hammering and the odd swear word.  I think it sounded like Pendle but Mrs Crafty Dog didn’t concur so we left the swearing carpenter to it.

Then one morning we were wakened by a scream from Cook as she flung open the kitchen shutters.  There on the patio, glaring back at her with sparkly eyes and a bright red bauble nose was a seven foot high wooden reindeer.  We all rushed down to see what had scared her.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  Pendle stood next to his creation, beaming as brightly as the beastie’s red nose.  Grout was astonished, as were we, and even Cook was when we’d calmed her down with a mug of beef tea laced with green-house gin.  Pendle explained that he had got the plans off the intraweb and had originally intended to make them for Christmas, selling them at the local Christmas market.  However, he had totally exhausted his supply of timber and Christmas decorations as he had not realised how big the reindeer was actually going to be.  Grout asked to see the plans that the boy had printed off.  He scoured them, and then held them up beside the gargantuan statue. 

“Aha!” he said, having understood what had caused the problem.  “What scale did you use?”

“1 cm to 1 metre,” he replied.

“Its 1 inch to 1 foot,” Grout confirmed. 

Pendle looked crestfallen when he realised the enormity of his mathematical hiccup – enormity being the operative word.

Still, I suggested we move it to the end of the drive in front of the main door to the house and cover it with Christmas lights.  We did that in the afternoon and it took six sets of lamps.  Grout has set another small generator to run off the water wheel just to keep the Mighty Reindeer lit over the Yuletide period.  Mrs Crafty Dog reckons they can see it from space – like the Great Wall of China.

Later that week with Grout’s assistance he made this more manageable reindeer with some of the wood left over from Goliath.

People ask me how old Crafty Dog Towers actually is.  On the far end of the croquet lawn is a small mound of earth; it is the base of a motte and bailey castle built by one of the local Welsh lords, possibly one of our distant ancestors.  The first Crafty d’Og was Geoffrey who first appears in the 1300’s after the fall of the last Welsh Princes.  It is said that he married one of the Welsh noble families or maybe was one of the Welsh lords who’d reinvented himself.  He built the first stone castle – or a tower house really – which he named after himself Crafty d’Og tower.   His ancestors despite siding with Owain Glyndwr survived and even built a proper fortified manor house with towers at each corner and a moat.  The thick stone walls were punched full of nice big windows in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the family lived a more relaxed lifestyle, and then during the English Civil War the Parliamentary forces knocked it about a bit and we lost most of the battlements and towers.  When Dafydd Jones (Inigo’s cousin) came to see Major Cuthbert Crafty-Dog in the 1690’s to redesign the house he had pretty much of a blank canvas.  He kept parts of the ancient house deep inside the east and west wings.

We laugh when people occasionally ask us whether we live in a castle – of course not!  It can’t be a castle if it hasn’t any battlements!  The gardens were redesigned by Cedric Crafty-Dog in the 1890’s when he tried to apply some of Gertrude Jekyll’s ideas.  We have kept the walled garden with its orangery and greenhouses, and 3 compost heaps (well, Grout has to have somewhere to grow his exotic plants). 

Mrs Crafty Dog and I waiting for the Christmas tree

The croquet lawn was where in the past the local yeomanry used to practice their drill.  They were quite a famous regiment – the 1st Crafty Dog Foot and Lancer.  Why lancer?  This was because General James “Mad-Dog” Crafty-Dog liked the idea of a brigade of lancers but they could only find one in the old armoury in the East wing so it was a Foot and Lance regiment (just as well, as they only had one horse anyway). They were very different times, and the regiment fought in the zulu wars (fought is a bit of an exaggeration as they got lost on their way to Rorke’s Drift and spent six weeks in a large hotel outside Port Elizabeth until they were thrown out for running up a huge drinks bill), then the Boer War, and finally the regiment went to France in 1915.  Under Colonel Mervyn Crafty-Dog, VC, MC, DSO and Order of the Golden Teaspoon, they fought at the Somme, and Paschendaale.  The regiment was wound up after WW I and the banners now hang forlornly in the Great Hall.  Mrs Grainger hates them as once a year we have to get a set of long ladders and a trapeze in order for her to be able to give the banners a shake and a dust. 

The Great Hall – that’s a bit of a misnomer as its not that grand these days.  The hammer-beam roof sags a bit (more of a mallet-beam!), and when there’s a sou’wester the wind blows the rain through some loose stone setts which makes a puddle on the flagstone floor below.  There was a bit of a fuss last year when the tatty old vase we used to collect the drips in turned out to be something Chinese from the twelfth century.  It got broken during the annual Boxing Day staff vs family football game last year when Mrs Crafty Dog sliced her penalty kick and the ball careered of a Carravaggio on the wall and hit the vase clean over.  Smashed it to bits.  It took Higgins, Grainger and six tubes of copydex to stick it back together.  As Lady Penelope said, thank Dog we handn’t smashed a new one!  The game is another old tradition, a mixture of soccer/rugby/lacrosse, shinty and highland wrestling and is usually played on the croquet lawn but in wet weather we play the game in the Great Hall.  The football sticks we use must be over a hundred years old, made of very hard bog oak but  surprisingly light.  The ball is made from the bladder of a small mountain goat (well, not these days but it was in times past).  Outside, the goal is an elm tree on one end of the pitch, and the gate post to the paddock on the other end, and the ball has to touch it, by stick, kick, or touch, scoring 4, 3 or 1 point.  When played indoors, the goal is the newel post to the main stair at one end of the hall, and the left-hand of the door to the downstairs privy on the other.  The hazards are of course different indoors to outdoors; we don’t often get sheep in the hall, and outside we’ve never got the ball stuck in a chandelier.  Back when the estate had loads of staff it was up to 20 per side but due to cutbacks since the 1950’s its usually 4 or 5 per side.  We had Higgins on our team last year, with Pendle and me up front and Mrs Crafty Dog in goal.   Well, we think it was her, under the cricket pads, elbow pads, shoulder pads, face mask and helmet (like some sort of over-cautious Hannibal Lector!).  Last year, like this year, the game was held indoor, with Lady Penelope as referee.  It was a 4 – all draw.  In spite of Pendle being incredibly fast for a gangly bean-pole, and very handy with his stick, the sight of Cook growling away in their goal was somewhat off-putting.  Lady Penelope did ensure that Cook didn’t have her false teeth in as that would have proved a bridge too far (hah – dental joke there!).  Higgins was accused of tripping Grout up when he was nearly at our goal (tripping not allowed) but fortunately he had followed that up with a full body-smash and a half-Nelson (which is within the rules).  That missed goal gave us the draw which we thought was fair (though Cook didn’t speak to us until the end of January).  Kick off is after Boxing Day lunch, with after-match refreshments in the scullery and infirmary as required. (This year’s match  had to be called off after the Great Hall floor was deemed to be unplayable – Mrs Grainger slid in some of Cook’s spilt custard and she nearly took out the Christmas Tree.  To be honest, we were most relieved and all retired to the lounge for drinks, canapés and carols).

In many parts of Wales there was the New Year’s Eve custom of the Mari Lwyd, where a sort of hobby horse (a man covered with a white sheet and holding a horse’s skull decorated with ribbons and bells) would go from door to door, singing little songs or rhymes that had to be answered by the householder behind their closed door, or sometimes they were riddles.  If they won the exchange they were allowed inside with their entourage for drinks and treats.  This custom dates back many centuries and is probably pagan in origin, from the murky mists of our Celtic ancestry.  As you can imagine, when this was revived here at Crafty Dog Towers in the 1960’s there were a few changes; there were no horses in the stables here by the 1960’s, and they couldn’t find a horse’s skull for the Mari Lwyd.  The (then) Butler, who happened to be the present Higgins’ uncle, had a brainwave.  Back in the 1890’s, Major Cuthbert Crafty-Dog had been in the Sudan with Lord Kitchener in the relief of Khartoum, where he had served with a branch of the colonial camel corps.  He got rather attached to his camel, Florence (he said she had such beautiful eyes, and those eyelashes…..) and he brought her back here after the war, and she lived out the rest of her days with the horses and park cattle in the lower meadow.   She passed away at the age of 42, and the now rather elderly Major Cuthbert had her immortalised, so for the next 50 years she stood in the entrance hall terrifying the post man or any unwary visitors.  Mind you, the taxidermist in the village was no great shakes, and because of him poor Florence appeared to be cross-eyed and knock-knee’d.   By 1960 her stuffing was falling out, her hump collapsing and she was generally the worse for wear.  She was retired to the stables when the hallway was redecorated but due to the great snow of 63, when the stable roof collapsed poor Florence’s figure was damaged beyond repair.  The stables were demolished a couple of years later, just at the time the then Lady Crafty Dog was intent on reviving the Mari Lwyd.  When the builders were clearing the rubble, they found a perfectly preserved skull of a very large horse with buck-teeth, which turned out to be Florence!  Since then, every year Florence grins her huge toothy grin as she goes from door to door round the cottages, scaring, singing or riddling the staff on the estate, finishing at the front door of the Towers, the very same hallway where she stood guard for over half a century.  When she arrives at our door, we forego the songs and riddles and instead offer her a bowl of dried dates – which were her favourite food in life!  We are sure that Florence and Major Cuthbert would approve!

We are now clearing away (the staff that is, not us!)  the Yuletide and New Year decorations, all boxed up and off to the attic for another year.  A section of the tree has been kept to burn as next year’s Yule log, and the rest will be shredded and composted as part of the continuous circle of life.  Grout and Pendle have been seen heading towards the potting shed (I could hear the bottles rattling in the wheelbarrow), Cook and her kitchen maid are trying to find another way of serving up goose to make it interesting, and Mrs Grainger is whipping the hoover round the Great Hall as Higgins polishes up his nick-nacks.  Just like the supermarkets, they are already talking about Easter!


[1] He was up on deck waving round his cutlass and despite Nelson warning him he could take someone’s eye out – and that’s why Nelson had an eye patch

[2] During World War 2, in order to divert enemy bombers away from Swansea after the Blitz, one of the cakes was placed in the hills towards Brecon and was lit by a very long taper.  The Luftwaffe reckoned they could see it from the French coast!  It saved many lives though the diverted bombers did upset quite a few angry sheep.  They even sent a stiff memo to German High Command.

New Year’s Eve at Crafty Dog Towers

Florence and the Mari Lwyd

In many parts of Wales there was a New Year’s Eve custom of the Mari Lwyd, where a sort of hobby horse (a man covered with a white sheet and holding a horse’s skull decorated with ribbons and bells) would go from door to door, singing little songs or rhymes that had to be answered by the householder behind their closed door, or sometimes they were riddles.  If they won the exchange they were allowed inside with their entourage for drinks and treats.  This custom dates back many centuries and is probably pagan in origin, from the murky mists of our Celtic ancestry.  As you can imagine, when this was revived here at Crafty Dog Towers in the 1960’s there were a few changes; there were no horses in the stables here by the 1960’s, and they couldn’t find a horse’s skull for the Mari Lwyd.  The (then) Butler, who happened to be the present Higgins’ uncle, had a brainwave.  Back in the 1890’s, Major Cuthbert Crafty-Dog had been in the Sudan with Lord Kitchener in the relief of Khartoum, where he had served with a branch of the colonial camel corps.  He got rather attached to his camel, Florence (he said she had such beautiful eyes, and those eyelashes…..) and he brought her back here after the war, and she lived out the rest of her days with the horses and park cattle in the lower meadow.   She passed away at the age of 42, and the now rather elderly Major Cuthbert had her immortalised, so for the next 50 years she stood in the entrance hall terrifying the post man or any unwary visitors.  Mind you, the taxidermist in the village was no great shakes, and because of him poor Florence appeared to be cross-eyed and knock-knee’d.   By 1960 her stuffing was falling out, her hump collapsing and she was generally the worse for wear.  She was retired to the stables when the hallway was redecorated but due to the great snow of 63, when the stable roof collapsed poor Florence’s figure was damaged beyond repair.  The stables were demolished a couple of years later, just at the time the then Lady Crafty Dog was intent on reviving the Mari Lwyd.  When the builders were clearing the rubble, they found a perfectly preserved skull of a very large horse with buck-teeth, which turned out to be Florence!  Since then, every year Florence grins her huge toothy grin as she goes from door to door round the cottages, scaring, singing or riddling the staff on the estate, finishing at the front door of the Towers, the very same hallway where she stood guard for over half a century.  When she arrives at our door, we forego the songs and riddles and instead offer her a bowl of dried dates – which were her favourite food in life!  We are sure that Florence and Major Cuthbert would approve!

Boxing Day Football

The Traditional Family vs Staff Boxing Day Match at Crafty Dog Towers

The Great Hall – that’s a bit of a misnomer as its not that grand these days.  The hammer-beam roof sags a bit (more of a mallet-beam!), and when there’s a sou’wester the wind blows the rain through some loose stone setts which makes a puddle on the flagstone floor below.  There was a bit of a fuss last year when the tatty old vase we used to collect the drips in turned out to be something Chinese from the twelfth century.  It got broken during the annual Boxing Day staff vs family football game last year when Mrs Crafty Dog sliced her penalty kick and the ball careered of a Carravaggio on the wall and hit the vase clean over.  Smashed it to bits.  It took Higgins, Grainger and six tubes of copydex to stick it back together.  As Lady Penelope said, thank Dog we handn’t smashed a new one!  The game is another old tradition, a mixture of soccer/rugby/lacrosse, shinty and highland wrestling and is usually played on the croquet lawn but in wet weather we play the game in the Great Hall.  The football sticks we use must be over a hundred years old, made of very hard bog oak but  surprisingly light.  The ball is made from the bladder of a small mountain goat (well, not these days but it was in times past).  Outside, the goal is an elm tree on one end of the pitch, and the gate post to the paddock on the other end, and the ball has to touch it, by stick, kick, or touch, scoring 4, 3 or 1 point.  When played indoors, the goal is the newel post to the main stair at one end of the hall, and the left-hand of the door to the downstairs privy on the other.  The hazards are of course different indoors to outdoors; we don’t often get sheep in the hall, and outside we’ve never got the ball stuck in a chandelier.  Back when the estate had loads of staff it was up to 20 per side but due to cutbacks since the 1950’s its usually 4 or 5 per side.  We had Higgins (the Butler) on our team last year, with Pendle (that lazy gardener’s lad) and me up front and Mrs Crafty Dog in goal.   Well, we think it was her, under the cricket pads, elbow pads, shoulder pads, face mask and helmet (like some sort of over-cautious Hannibal Lector!).  Last year, like this year, the game was held indoors, with Lady Penelope as referee.  It was a 4 – all draw.  In spite of Pendle being incredibly fast for a gangly bean-pole, and very handy with his stick, the sight of Cook growling away in their goal was somewhat off-putting.  Lady Penelope did ensure that Cook didn’t have her false teeth in as that would have proved a bridge too far (hah – dental joke there!).  Higgins was accused of tripping Grout up when he was nearly at our goal (tripping not allowed) but fortunately he had followed that up with a full body-smash and a half-Nelson (which is within the rules).  That missed goal gave us the draw which we thought was fair (though Cook didn’t speak to us until the end of January).  Kick off is after Boxing Day lunch, with after-match refreshments in the scullery and infirmary as required.

Sir Humphrey’s Ghost & the Christmas Pudding

Why Sir Humphrey haunts the visitor’s car park, and the dangers of the Crafty Dog Christmas pudding!

It was Major Humphrey who held Crafty-Dog Towers when it was besieged by a Parliamentarian army led by Cromwell, who was assisted by Colonel Peregrine Crafty-Dog, Humphrey’s younger brother who took the side of Parliament during the war.  It was Peregrine who caught Lord Humphrey trying to escape down a secret passageway from the Chapel out into the lower meadows (under the sundial).  The tunnel is said to still exist though despite Pendle and Grout searching we can find no signs of it.   Humphrey was taken to London and suffered the same fate as Charles I.  He is now one of the ghosts of Crafty Dog Towers, and wanders where the east wing used to stand before being demolished by Cromwell and Sir Peregrine to make the towers less of a military structure.  Peregrine succeeded to the title in place of his brother.  Yes, Sir Humphrey now haunts the visitor’s car park, around the recycling bins, searching for that tunnel to escape down. Or maybe he’s still searching for his head?  Sometimes he’s seen with it, sometimes not. Anyway, less of the spirits, back to the pudding.  

Christmas Pudding used to be a spiced plum and dried fruit pudding which it still is to some extent.  Once again there is, a large (some would say inordinately) amount of alcohol in which the dried fruit is soaked, but instead of the minced meat of the seventeenth century we use a fine fruit mincemeat.  Then there is the florin. Sir Humphrey began the custom of adding a silver florin to the pudding, and whosoever found it would have a week’s leave and transport paid for them to go home and return.  Not an issue when staff came from the next village or so, but it became a problem in the last century when Cuthbert St .John Crafty-Dog liked to hire governess’s for his children from France or Germany.  Rents on the estate’s cottages had to go up just to pay for the tradition, which means it wasn’t popular.  Cook today substitutes a florin with a £2 coin, and we are very careful when chewing since the accident when Cook swallowed it and it took four of us to wrestle her to the floor and administer the Heimlich manoeuvre.  And even then it shot across the room and nearly killed the Under Footman – it missed his left ear by a few inches.  Hit him straight between the eyes and knocked him clean out.

            After lunch, if we have survived lunch, and it’s dry, we take a tour of the grounds, albeit the ones nearer the house, so we can retreat to the warm if required.  The greenhouses are looking good at the moment as Grout is growing lovely orchids, heated by his spirit stove. It’s a remarkable contraption, all gleaming copper pipes, fed by a large copper tank.  It has a bit of a leak it would appear, so Grout keeps an old gin bottle under it to collect the drips.  I have suggested I get the local plumber to sort it out but he keeps insisting that it’s no bother.  What a considerate chap old Grout is.    He even keeps a supply of empty bottles in case the leak gets too severe.  Considerate, and thoughtful. 

A Crafty Dog Christmas

The Crafty Dog Christmas Cake, and Christmas Pudding

This is pretty much the shape of our days over Christmas (not Christmas Day itself), apart from the arrival of the tree that is (or we’d end up with a hall full of trees – it’d be like Narnia!).  Lunch is normally something filling but not too heavy.  Cook does like to have dumplings with everything (we are sure that post Brexit she has snaffled the entire European suet mountain) but even she can’t serve dumplings with Christmas Cake.  Yes, even the cake is an ancient Crafty Dog Towers one, made to a recipe that dates back to our celebrated eighteenth century Cook, Mrs Beetrum.  Some of the more out-dated ingredients have been changed (where can one get real mincemeat made with Dodo these days?) and we don’t use Old Navy rum (Admiral Fortescue Crafty-Dog was rather partial to drop, if a bit too partial, judging by the way he behaved at the Battle of the Nile.[1] ) The Crafty Dog Christmas cake is always made in May and every month Cook soaks (she say’s sozzles) the cake in Beetroot Gin (Grout’s own favourite), which results in rather a strong cake, full of body and beta-carotene, and highly flammable[2].  Indeed, it has to be cut and served outdoors.  Far away from a naked flame.  Lady Penelope wasn’t too keen on Cook making it as she wasn’t allowed dried fruit, the cake made her eyes water, and I think if she had still been with us it’s a tradition she might have ended. 

As for the Christmas Pudding, this too is an ancient Crafty Dog Towers tradition said to date back to the days of Major Lord Humphrey Crafty-Dog.   He was rather an unfortunate chap, having taken the wrong side in the English (and Welsh) Civil War.  He was a great favourite of Charles I, and had the role of Keeper of the Royal Hat Box, which of course seemed a bit pointless after Charles I lost his head.  They were dark days, and it is said that young Prince Charles hid in the water-closet in one of the towers from Cromwell’s soldiers.  We even get the occasional visitor who wants to see this hiding place, and they marvel how he fitted in the cistern. We then have to explain that the toilets were a bit bigger in those days and a standard Twyfords would be far too small for a monarch, if even a tiny one. 


[1] He was up on deck waving round his cutlass and despite Nelson warning him he could take someone’s eye out – and that’s why Nelson had an eye patch

[2] During World War 2, in order to divert enemy bombers away from Swansea after the Blitz, one of the cakes was placed in the hills towards Brecon and was lit by a very long taper.  The Luftwaffe reckoned they could see it from the French coast!  It saved many lives though the diverted bombers did upset quite a few angry sheep.  They even sent a stiff memo to German High Command.

The Christmas Tree at Crafty Dog Towers

The tradition of the Christmas Tree and the start of Christmas at Crafty Dog Towers

As the sun rises on the first of December, Mr Grout, the Head Gardener, takes the large 4 wheeled barrow up to the woods where with his erstwhile assistant, Pendle the Gardener’s Lad, they fell a small conifer (about 12 feet or so) and transport it back to the house.  Mrs Grainger the Housekeeper has prepared the entrance hall, and as soon as the tree arrives, Mrs Crafty Dog and I welcome it into the house.  Everyone present has a tot of something warming (Lady Penelope usually had warm milk), then we sing a carol as the tree is placed into its pot in the centre of the entrance hall.  The staff always expect me to say a few words, we have another tot of comfort and are then ushered out of the room as Mrs Grainger and the house staff, under the guidance of Higgins the Butler (who acts in Lady Penelope’s stead this year) they dress the tree.  By now after a couple of warming drinks Mrs Crafty Dog and I retire to the parlour to read the papers and have a morning snooze.   

            We have stopped putting real candles on the tree after the incident a few years ago when the last Gardener’s Lad (who was no improvement on the current one!) fell asleep under the tree and woke up terrified that he had had a stroke as he had lost all movement in his legs and in his kerfuffle he nearly knocked the tree over but also damaged a number of the wrapped presents.  It turned out that as he slept the warm wax had dripped onto his overalls and solidified round his legs, hence he couldn’t stand properly, and thus we now have a tree candle ban. And a new Gardener’s Lad (the former one left for another more stately home – with glowing references, no pun intended).

            The new electrical light bulb contraptions are rather nice, if a little heavy on the electricity (I’ve no idea where Higgins got these light bulbs from).  Being a green estate we just turn on another generator on the water wheel in the meadows which is sufficient to keep them going, and run the staff’s electric blankets in their rooms up  in the eaves (it does get cold up on the fourth floor).  As soon as the tree is properly dressed (and Mrs Crafty Dog and I with it), Grout fires off a maroon from the front door step which is the signal for Pendle to pull the lever that runs water through the wheel and pushes the other lever across that switches the current to the tree.  I know it’s a bit archaic as a means of signalling but there’s no mobile coverage beyond the vegetable garden.  Once lit up, we all gather again around the tree, to sing another couple of carols, have a few more toddy’s then toddle off in all directions to do whatever it is that the staff do.  We’re never that sure, but as long as nothing gets broken, everyone gets fed and the sun comes up the next day then all’s well.  Mrs Crafty Dog and I usually stagger to the parlour to try and find the newspapers we were sleeping under earlier, awaiting a pot of dark, strong coffee to revive us before we’re called to lunch.

(the whole story of “A Crafty Dog Christmas” will be posted nearer the day, and more excerpts in the run up to the day)

A Greyhound Coincidence

When we first rescued Sally back in 1999 we were told that she had raced at the Oxford track, and had been moderately successful.  Then one evening a Greyhound racer in Swansea had taken a phone call to be told that if he “wanted a couple of dogs, come up over the weekend or else they’ll be gone”.  He went up and brought back Sally and her sister who were in a less than perfect state.  He fed them up, got them back in condition and raced them at Swansea track for 18 months or so.  After her racing days they contacted Greyhound Rescue Wales and so Sally found us, and her sister Lynsey went to Pembrokeshire.

            Greyhound Rescue Wales held its Summer Fairs on Bank Holiday Monday at the Swansea track, just after racing had finished.  This gave an opportunity for the trainers/owners to see us and what GRW did, to plant the seed that they could hand their dogs to us after their days and not have to dump them or even worse.  At the first fair we attended we (Armelle, my Mam and I) were standing with Sally and we heard someone call her name.  A teenage girl came over with her mother and it turned out that they were the family that had brought Sal back from Oxford.  Sally was so excited to see them – it was wonderful to see – but the most amazing thing was when she saw the girl’s father, the man who had saved her.  She barked, and jumped up on his shoulders, tail wagging and licking his face.  He was also so pleased to see her, and that she had found a home. 

            We learned that Sal and her sister had been treated well, and that they took it in turns to come into the house, where they loved to watch TV (as she did with us too).  He also told us about how she had come from Oxford to Swansea.  His daughter said that both girls were lovely but Sal had the nicest temperament!  We would occasionally see the girl and her Mum when we did Swansea street collections, where they would make a bee-line to us to see Sally.

            Sal was a wonderful dog, who spent a lot of time with my mother and they bonded so well.  She adored my mother, and the adoration was mutual – I cannot over-emphasise the love they felt for each other – you can see it in the photo of Sally resting her head on my Mam’s foot on one of the Thursday evenings we all spent together (when her Nana came to doggy-sit in the afternoon).  Mam became a rescued-greyhound evangelist, telling anyone who would listen about the tough lives many ex-racers get and what gentle loving pets they made.  Sal crossed the bridge in 2008 and my mother’s health both physical and mental, began to fail not long after.  I am inclined to believe that Sally’s interactions helped to keep her active and without Sally, she lost a bit of her spark.  We had fosters and then Sammy but by then her health was failing, and within a fortnight of Sammy passing Mam had a fall and ended up in hospital, then in nursing care.

            Here is the strange coincidence.  After hospital, then her first nursing home, I got Mam transferred to a home in the next village to us, only a mile away.  There we visited as often as we could, usually every day.  Mam had been there for few years when, on a Friday evening we went to visit.  As we were going to the door, one of the Carers was leaving and she held the door open.  Our Penny was with us, as she loved to go to the home to see her Nana and the other residents, and the lady bent to greet her.  As she fussed her, she asked her name and age, and told us that her father had kept greyhounds, and they’d raced at Swansea track.  In fairness, this was not an unusual thing to be told when we gave our greyhound talks.  She asked who we were visiting and then we all said good night.

            We didn’t see that carer for a few days as she must have been doing evening shifts or been off, but then we bumped into her again on another evening visit.  As she greeted Penny, I asked her whether she was Mr Davies’s daughter. 

            She looked surprised, “Yes, I am.” As she answered we all suddenly had that spark of recognition between us.

            I told her that we had met before, and that we were the ones who had homed Sally.  “I thought so!” she exclaimed.  “I saw the photo in your mother’s room and thought it looked like Sally.”

            She wanted to know about her, so I told her Sal had lived a long life, had many adventures, had loved my Mam especially, and lived to over 12 years old.

            She was so pleased to have seen us, and said that she would tell her father, as he and his wife still talked about her.  After Sally his daughter had told him that he was not to part with his dogs any more and they all now finished their days at home (probably watching TV).

            We only saw her once more, the following week.  She came to find us, and to say that her parents were so pleased to hear that she had seen us, and that we had told them about Sally.  He was so pleased when he had been able to ask her, “Did she have a long and happy life?”  She answered that indeed she had, and that she’d had a lovely home and had lived to over twelve. 

We hear so many stories about the cruelty or just insensitivity of greyhound racing, but here we had an example of how much a trainer loved his dogs and they loved him too.  I am sure that most trainers and dogs have a good relationship, if not many as good as Sally and the Davies’s, but it’s something I try to point out when we give greyhound talks. 

This is the story that I try to end our talks with, and yes, it does bring a lump to my throat, even now.  An amazing story about an amazing greyhound.

The Ghost of Crafty Dog Gardens

A Spooky Family Tale for Hallowe’en

What was lurking in the vegetable patch? An old statue – or something more sinister?

As the evenings are drawing in we all tend to want to shut the curtains tight to keep the warm glow of a roaring fire inside and the gathering dark outside.  The dogs lie curled up in front of the hearth, and maybe, if we are lucky, then Cook will make us up a jug of mulled cider, full of cloves, honey, and slices of apple from the trees in the orchard.  Here we sit with a tapestry blanket over our laps, Mrs Crafty Dog and I looking like Darby and Joan, awaiting the knock on the drawing room door that is the signal that Higgins the Butler has brought in our steaming glasses of comfort.

However, on this particular autumn evening the knock on the door was a frantic one; it was Higgins, to say that there had been a “bit of a to-do” in the kitchen, and would we be so kind as to go down to help sort things out.

He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell us exactly what was going on, all we could make out was that Pendle, that Lazy Gardener’s Lad, was involved.  The Mrs and I just looked at each other and tutted – what the heck had he done this time?  We were still recovering from him and his mentor the Head Gardener trying to “sail” one of the tin baths from the scullery across the fish pond.  This latest adventure hadn’t ended well, and now Grout the Head Gardener was ill with a nasty cold and resting up in his bed, leaving young Pendle in charge (against our better judgement!).

We weren’t prepared for the sight that met us in the kitchen; Cook was leaning over the great Windsor chair beside the range (I say leaning, but as she is more round than tall, balancing precariously would be more descriptive), Alice the kitchen maid had a mug of something soothing (I could smell warm milk and nutmeg) which she was trying to pour into the young lad, collapsed (or more accurately, flopped like a wet rag doll) in the chair.  He was ashen-faced, almost as pale as the milky drink that gathered round his lips and dripped off his narrow chin.

It took a good fifteen minutes of gentle coaxing to get out of him what had put him into such a state.  He just kept saying, “I’ve never seen such a thing…”  As you well know, that left a great deal to the imagination (he, after all, had led such a sheltered life before he came here to the Towers).

It was a little while before he began to warm up and calm down and slowly he started to tell his story.  I’ll be honest, though there were five of us in the kitchen that night, as the young lad spoke, we could all feel the hairs on the backs of our necks rise, and cook even put a few more lumps of coal on the fire. 

“I was coming back from the Potting Shed after making sure that Mr Grout’s contraption was all wrapped up safe for the night [This was his still in which he made his beetroot and ginger gin]….”

Beyond the Potting Shed (or Still Shed as Mrs Crafty Dog and I had rechristened it) is a large vegetable bed, and further on is the great orchard, in which there are some very ancient trees indeed.  Grout has told me that he believes that the oldest apple tree may be as much as five hundred years old, and treats it with great reverence.  We call her the Mother Tree, or Lady Apple, and once a year as spring comes, we pour a bottle of good cider into her roots to feed her for another year, and some of the locals come and hang ribbons from her branches.  She looks such a well-loved tree, despite her gnarly branches and moss and lichen filled bark.  Even now she is starting to bear mistletoe ready for yuletide.  Sorry – I have digressed somewhat – back to Pendle’s story.

By the time Pendle had locked up the shed it was already getting chilly, and then he’d gone round the garden to close the cold frames and put sacking and straw round the roots of the tender plants.  The sun was beginning to slip behind the hills and on the other side there was the bluey-white glow of the moon as it plucked up the courage to lift itself from its slumbers for the night to come.  It was still light enough to find his way around so Pendle was not bothered at all.  On the great vegetable patch were the rows of bright orange pumpkins (“Potiron” the Cook calls them as like Mrs Crafty Dog she, too, is of French descent), all laid out tidily in their own beds of straw and compost.  Pendle as usual was whistling as he worked, unaware that the sun was sinking further down and the moon now coming up at a pace.   With the growing cold, a mist rose gently from the fishponds, not a thick one to begin with, but enough to make it a little more difficult to make out the path edges, and Pendle noticed that as he whistled he could see his breath.  Shivering a little, he pulled his jacket tighter about him.  He closed up the gate to the south parterre, the one that keeps the sheep from the vegetable garden, and turned to make his way back up to the kitchen.  It was now that he realised that it was darker than he had thought, and the mist was folding unerringly around him.  Looking up the garden, the light from the kitchen window was a good two hundred yards away – he’d worked the wrong way, away from the house and not the usual way back towards the house.  There wasn’t the faintest trace of a breeze but even so the mist seemed to be moving round him, not only cold but damp too.  He stopped whistling to blow breath into his cupped hands to warm them up but as he did he froze stock-still; the song he had been whistling continued – there was someone also whistling, close behind him.  He spun round – but he saw noone.  He called out to ask if it was one of us or the household staff but just as suddenly the whistling stopped.  He announced to the dark that it wasn’t funny, and turned to make his way up the path to the house. 

He was now beside the vegetable patch where the pumpkins lay.  As he walked past, a little quicker than when he’d gone the other way earlier, he saw that one pumpkin – the very biggest – was gone.  He halted, annoyed that someone had stolen the greatest one, the one that he was going to take to the Clydach show to try and win a prize for the largest pumpkin.  He glared around, though there was less and less to be seen, as the mist had thickened even more.  He called out to ask who’d stolen his pumpkin, but there was no reply.  He stood there fuming.

Now the whistling began again, the same tune that he had been.  As he glared into the dark he could just make out some movement – something was rising from the ground out of the vapour – it was the missing pumpkin.  Pendle’s feet were stuck to the path like they were stuck in some of Cook’s thickest suet pudding.  The Pumpkin stopped at the same level as Pendle’s head, and he could see that a face had been carved into it, light glowing from its eyes, nose and ragged mouth, and it was not a very happy face either.  The haze seemed to coalesce into the shape of a body below the pumpkin and the foggy legs began to walk out of the veg patch, and turn towards where the poor lad stood, transfixed.

Pendle felt his blood run cold as the pumpkin man strode towards him, whistling from his lipless mouth.  Then the whistling changed to words, as pumpkin sang the song that they had been whistling.  It was a reedy voice at first but by the second verse it was a definite song, sung by a stronger voice.  The figure even swayed, and moved as if dancing, a very old dance, but definitely a dance.  When it reached Pendle it bowed, and in its vegetable voice it said, “Good evening, sir.  And what, pray, is your name?”

“Pendulous Sedge,” Pendle replied.  He was freezing but could feel nervous sweat running down his back.  “Sir.  Who are you?”

The Pumpkin Man looked at him from his empty eyes, “I am the spirit of the gardens.  I am the ghost of all the fruit, flowers and trees that have been and ever will be in this garden.”

Pendle bowed hesitantly.

“I mean you no harm, young gardener,” the Pumpkin ghost said.  “Or rather, I may not.  It all depends, you see.  I must measure you up.  Judge you, so to speak.”

“How’s that?” Pendle asked.  He wished he could flee but his feet were rooted to the brick path.

The Pumpkin raised its foggy arms, and it had fingers, definite fingers, if more than a little claw-like. “You must be judged by all us garden spirits.”  The pumpkin glared (if indeed a pumpkin can glare) at the boy.  “Are you a good gardener?  Or a bad gardener?” As he said that the fingers took the shape of talons, like some sort of eagle or maybe more like a weeding rake.  Pumpkin called into the mists, to the plants and vegetables in the darkness. “Does he care for us?  Or not?”

In the darkness there was rustling, as of leaves and stems, and of green leafy voices whispering amongst themselves.  Pumpkin reached out and grabbed Pendle by the collar, pulling him closer. “Well?” he called to his misty jury.  “Should he live, or should he be pruned?”

The night fell silent, and Pumpkin moved his talons closer toward Pendle’s face.  The boy could smell earth, compost, mud and straw on the pumpkin’s breath, if he indeed breathed.

Suddenly a new voice, much stronger than the rest, a lady’s voice, commanded, “He is a good gardener.  Let him be!”

Still gripping Pendle tightly, Pumpkin swivelled his head and looked into the fog.  Another misty shape was appearing on the path before the Pumpkin, swirling and moulding into a long green dress, of green, gold and yellow leaves, and in the dress there appeared a tall lady with long brown hair, the colour of shiny tree bark.  On her head was a small crown – like the tiara Lady Crafty Dog wore to formal events, but this one had golden shapes on it – small apple blossom flowers and apples themselves, also small and of yellow and red gold.  As much as the Pumpkin was terrifying, the lady was beautiful; her eyes sparkled with light and joy and she smiled as she looked down at the terrified Pendle. “Don’t be afraid, young human.  I’ll not let this winter sprite do you any harm.”

She tapped the ghost on his shoulder and he let Pendle go, turning instead to direct his wrath and darkness at her.  As soon as he freed the boy, the Tree Spirit touched the Pumpkin on the head and whispered something.  The Pumpkin let out a cry, and began to raise its misty arms with their razor claws against her but the cloud quickly dissipated, and the body drifted into nothing.  The Pumpkin looked both annoyed, and surprised, then dropped to the floor and rolled back into the vegetable patch.

“There!  He’s gone,” she smiled at the still terrified Gardener’s Lad.

“Thank you, my lady,” Pendle bowed and touched his forelock.

“That’s alright.  The dark spirit of the gardens can only appear on this night, all Hallow’s Eve.  You’re safe now.  You should be careful to be out after sunset on this day.”

“Blimey – I forgot,” the boy shook his head.  With all the worry about doing his best for the sick Head Gardener he’d entirely forgotten it was Hallowe’en. 

“I’ll leave you now, you are free to go about your business.  Make your way to the house, and don’t be feared about the Pumpkin man or the Garden’s Ghosts.  They have no power the rest of the year, day or night.  Good evening.”

“Lady, who are you?” Pendle asked, bowing again.

“I am the Lady Tree, the spirit of the Old Apple Trees in the orchard.  I watch over you all, you and old Grout.  You are good gardeners who treat us all well, as have most of the gardener’s here – we remember them all, we garden folk, from us great trees to the smallest blade of grass, we remember the gardeners back into time before there were even gardens.  You and Old Grout honour me every year and in turn that respect is felt by all the trees and plants around you.  Now you go – you’re feet are free!”

He turned and, bowing as he went, fled up the garden.  “Here – something for Grout!” the Lady called to him and threw something.  Pendle caught it and put it in his pocket as he ran up the garden path to the house where he banged loudly at the kitchen door, where Cook let him in.

That brings us to where we now stood around the flustered young lad flopped in the Windsor chair.  The milk and nutmeg had made him much better, and he even managed a wink at Alice the Kitchen Maid (Mrs Crafty Dog saw that!). 

“Are you sure that’s what happened?” Cook asked him.  Pendle nodded vigorously.  As he did so, something fell from his pocket.  It was a lovely golden yellow apple, unlike any we had in the orchard.  He held it in his hand, admiring its colour, and shine.  It appeared like any other apple, though Pendle knew that it held a little magic, that could help his master get better.

“That’s for Mr Grout,” the young man told us. “ It’s a present from the Lady.”

(Characters and story Copyright Chris Dignam, 2021, reproduction permitted within reasonable use)

Do Not Disturb?

And who would dare upset Cook?

As you can see, one of our staff has been sent to their sickbed as they are not very well.  It’s old Grout himself.  He has a stinking cold so is being cosseted and possetted (if that’s a verb!) by Cook.  We never knew she had a soft spot but apparently she isn’t all irrational grumpiness (I guess it’s because she is such a creative soul).  Anyway, Grout has been told he has to have 5 days bed rest, lots of hot drinks, hence the possetts (I always thought they were a marsupial but apparently not, they’re a milky eggy drink very popular in times past and still popular in Cook’s household).  He has also been told by Doctor Death (his real name is Doctor Throckmorton but the former is easier to spell) that on no account is he to touch the Beetroot and Ginger Gin. 

And the cause of this cold and ague?  Have a guess who’s behind it?  Yes indeed – Pendulous Sedge, that Gardener’s Lad.  Considering that it should be Pendle following where Grout leads this is most unsatisfactory.  And wait until you hear what they were doing!

Remember the debacle over the wheelbarrow race?  And then there was hiding gin in the watering cans (now I am not convinced that Pendle was behind that one).  This one Pendle admitted was his idea when Mrs Crafty Dog called him up to the Drawing Room to explain the state that Grout and he were found in.  I distinctly remember the scream from Alice the Kitchen Maid and the sound of Cook dropping her petit fours.  When I ran down to the kitchen (only to have Higgins the Butler cough at me to hint that you should not run in the corridors) I will never forget the sight that met my eyes.

Alice and Cook were stood there, petrified, and when I looked where they were staring all I could see was a pair of bare bottoms sticking out of the pantry.  I took charge and sent Cook and Alice to take a good sniff of smelling salts.  Though I had never seen these bare buttocks before I could guess as to who they were.

Higgins had appeared now with two large warmed bath towels so I could call the culprits out.  They were both soaking wet, and they had their clothes bundled up in their arms and they were dripping green water and algae on the kitchen floor (I later discovered that it was this and not the nudity that had made her drop her hors d’ouvres).  Once suitably dried, and whilst we waited for Higgins to run two hot baths, I got these two vagabonds to tell me exactly what they had been up to.

“Well, sir, it’s my fault,” Grout looked rather shamefaced as he took the blame.  I noticed Pendle shuffle and stare at his bare feet.

So where did you get so wet?

It was Grout’s turn to shuffle, “In the fishpond, sir.”

And what were you doing in the fishpond?

I looked at Pendle this time.  His long face looked even longer when he knew how he had disappointed us. 

“Sailing, sir,” he replied.

Sailing?  Sailing what? (We have no boats on the estate at the moment).

“A bath,”

Eh? 

“A tin bath, sir, one of the ones in the scullery outhouse,” Grout said.

So you were sailing a tin bath in the fishpond?

“Yes sir,” they both replied together.

And how did that go?

Pendle’s face brightened, “We did ok at first sir.  We used a couple of old edging boards from the potting shed as oars and we were going well.  We made it across the pond and were on the way back when we were attacked.”

By whom?

“Him,” rumbled Grout, a knowing look on his face.

I was puzzled at first but realised he meant Old George, an enormous pike that was supposed to haunt the lake.  I saw him once, and I thought at first it was a half-submerged surfboard, until it leapt up and swallowed a mallard duck.  Whole.

“Old George rammed the bathtub and tipped us in the lake.  We swam and doggy-paddled to the shore, with that ruddy fish chasing us.  I swear he ate one of my wellies!”

I had to stifle a smile, I must admit.

Grout and Pendle went off to their baths and were much better after Cook had served them some hot food.  However the next day whilst Pendle was fine, old Grout was not himself and appears to have caught a chill.  Hence he was told that he was not sleeping in his lodge but here up at Crafty Dog Towers in one of the spare rooms on the second floor.

            The only concern is that Pendle is in charge of the gardens whilst Grout is off.  Now what could possibly go wrong?

Wheely?

Wheelbarrow racing! Have you ever heard such a thing!

Whilst we were tied up with the park wall being built, it appears that the gardens staff were messing about in the kitchen garden. Pendle (that lazy Lad) persuaded his master (Grout the Head Gardener) that racing wheelbarrows around the walled garden would be an excellent Olympic Sport. In order to make it more equal, Grout would be carrying Alice the Kitchen Maid ( a rather light load), and Pendle carrying Cook (substantially more of a load).

Old Barrows,Barrow racing,wheels,wheely good,racing round,racing,gardens
A Pair of Steaming Wheelbarrows!

The picture was taken when we went out the gardens and found the wheelbarrows resting after the race. The wheels were steaming. The race was won by Grout as on the third lap, on the potting shed straight, young Pendle was accelerating past the radishes and had a blow-out in his left welly. Cook flew off into a compost heap but nothing came to any harm. Grout and Cook will be having a dressing down in the drawing room after supper!