Author Archives: Chris

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!

Bottled Out?

(Back in August, we had an issue with Cook and a large quantity of Bristol Cream Sherry!)

Here at Crafty Dog Towers, Mrs Crafty Dog and I are a bit concerned about Cook; she has been rather more irascible than normal lately. She even growled at the kitchen cat (and we haven’t seen him since!). Today she has been making a trifle down in the kitchens here at the towers. We don’t venture in there very often – it’s certainly her domain and not ours! When I passed earlier this morning (very rapidly I’ll have you know!) I saw these piled up by the scullery door. Well. Either she’s abandoned her usual Beetroot gin for another tipple or it’s going to be one heck of a sherry trifle!
I hardly think that she will be cycling to her sisters on the penny farthing tonight!

sherry trifle,Crafty Dog Towers,Cook,Crafty Dog Gardens,the kitchen,tales,tall tales,cycling cooks
How much sherry can you put in one trifle?

Where there’s a will…(there’s usually a solicitor)…

For those of you still catching up on the Crafty Dog Garden’s blog, this was the first Facebook post on the Crafty Dog Gardens page back on 1st July

There’s something of a party atmosphere here at Crafty Dog Towers today; that Gardener’s Lad and his mentor the Head Gardener now have their own FB page! Well, you all know that because you are reading this(!). Higgins the Butler has asked Cook to bake a small cake by way of celebration but she wouldn’t have any of it. Thursday is steamed pudding and not sponge cake. Instead I have heard that the Head Gardener has a small bottle of his very best Beetroot Gin that they will all have a small nip of. Maybe Mrs Crafty Dog and I will be included in that.
BTW I think I have found where he is hiding his still.

Crafty Dog Gardens, Gardeners Lad,Pendle,Head Gardener,Crafty Dog Towers
What could the Head Gardener be keeping in there?

Tales from Crafty Dog Gardens

Sounds Intriguing?

Here at Crafty Dog Towers we have a fairly large (fictional) cast of staff;

  • Higgins the Butler,
  • Cook
  • Alice, the Kitchen Maid
  • Mrs Chamberlain, Housekeeper
  • Grout, the Head Gardener
  • Pendle the (lazy) Gardener’s Lad

These whimsical tales largely revolve around the antics of Pendle and his mentor, Mr Grout, the Head Gardener. Pendle is a tall thin streak of a lad, not the sharpest shovel in the shed, but loved by everyone for his simple honesty. Grout is that typical earthy old sort who managed the gardens of country houses in the last century, but he has that touch of ingenuity and cunning that means he always has some idea to make him rich, usually without Mrs Crafty Dog and I knowing. These stories began during the dark days of Covid on our Facebook page and are now a Blog in their own right.

I hope that they make you smile!

S.L. Bannatyne

Real Welsh Preserves – Welsh Jams, Marmalades & Chutneys

Here at Crafty Dog Towers, in our own little kitchen, we make a range of amazing flavours, both sweet and savoury. We don’t ask others to make products for us – it’s all home-made, and mostly to our own recipes, or if not ours it’s from a traditional recipe with that Crafty Dog tweak.

Beautiful fresh Conference Pears

Take our stunning Pear & Apple Chutney here; we ripen fresh pears and apples, then hand-peel, and cut them, and cook them with our blend of spices and vinegars to make a beautiful fruity chutney. All our preserves are cooked in a traditional maslin pan in small batches, usually of 24 jars but at a maximum of 34 jars. We take time and care to cook these fruits down to just the point when they are soft and juicy, or rich and tangy and ready for jarring up.

Let the chopping begin!

We even design our own labels, a different colour for each variety, which makes a fantastic display on the shelf. And we are still a 5 Star Food Safety Rating.

All Chopped and Just Starting to Cook

You can’t beat a Crafty Dog Jam, Chutney or Marmalade!

The finished chutney

The Mighty Finn and The Easter Bunny

A short story for Easter – for children and those of us who have never fully grown up!

Finn the deerhound, Lord of the Glen, was scenting the air in the beautiful woodland that lay within a short walk of the walls of his wonderful garden.  He was taking his morning constitutional which he liked to think was a regular thing, though the duties of a celebrity made it more of a weekly than a daily event these days.  It was also nice to have escaped on his own for a change.  Though he loved his household (the Maid and the Butler, Flower the lurcher, Rubbish the young greyhound-come-rabbit hound and of course Jeffery the marmalade cat) it was marvellous to be able to just clear his mind of his responsibilities (and Jeffrey’s ego!).  He could smell something strange in the air.  What was it? Animal?  Maybe.  Vegetable? Possibly.  He walked in the direction of the scent, stopping occasionally to take another snort of air.  Yes, it was this way.

            The woods were a little thicker and the path was getting a touch more overgrown when he thought that he caught a flask of brown between the trees to his right.  He stopped and looked again.  Yes, there was definitely someone moving – someone nearly as tall as himself (and he was considered tall for a deerhound) and he could make out a short tail (what they called a scut) and big ears.  Who could this be?

He moved as quietly as he could towards the figure.  He could see them more clearly now.  It was a very big rabbit, with long brown ears, a brown coat and long legs.  Yes, indeed, it wasn’t a rabbit but a hare.  Finn remembered the Winter Hare, Eira, who he had helped to escape from the clutches of human hunters and their dogs a few years back but this hare was much taller.  They also carried a wicker basket and wore a bright green bow tie.  Finn was much closer now and could hear the hare singing to themselves.  Every now and again they would reach into the basket and take something out and tuck them into the grassy undergrowth, whispering something as they did so.

            Finn took another step towards the hare and made the cardinal sin of stepping on a twig which snapped with a cloud crack!  The hare froze and turned towards Finn.  They looked terrified.  Finn introduced himself, “Good morning.   My name is Finn, please don’t be frightened,” he bowed politely.  The hare relaxed and broke into a broad smile.  “Ah yes, the Lord of the Glen!”  It was a gentleman hare (Finn should have guessed by the bow tie).  “I am Eric.  I am the Easter Bunny.”

            Finn bowed again. 

            “Well, I’m not THE Easter bunny.  I’m a Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny.”  He blushed a little.  “If I earn my bunny points I can graduate to Assistant next year, then Easter Bunny Grade 3 the year after.”

            “I never realised that there was such a well-developed career structure,” Finn replied.  He really was surprised.  Eric smiled and nodded, “Oh yes, from leveret to fully-fledged Easter Bunny Grade 1 is possible with skill and dexterity and great customer care.  The only thing is, we mustn’t be seen by anyone.”  At this both Finn and Eric frowned.  “This could be a major setback.”

            They stood quietly in a small clearing, both feeling a bit awkward for a minute, until Finn spoke again to break the embarrassed silence.  “Are you, er, related to Eira, the Winter Hare?”

            Eric nodded.  “Yes, she’s my fourth cousin on my mother’s side.  My Mam was an arctic hare.” Eric looked upset again.  “She was ever so proud when she found out I was going to be a Trainee Assistant.  She’s going to be really disappointed when she finds I’m going to be downgraded.”

            Finn put his huge hairy paw over the hare’s shoulder to comfort him.  He could see tears slowly sliding down Eric’s face to congregate on his whiskers where they formed pools that dripped off onto his huge feet.  “I’ve got another three of these to distribute.  Now I’ve been seen it’ll never happen.”  The disconsolate hare tilted the wicker basket to show Finn a pile of eggs, all painted in fantastic colours, some with stripes, some with dots, some with stars and moons, and some with coloured bows that sparkled in the dappled morning sunshine.

            As Finn hugged him gently, Eric produced a huge yellow and blue spotted handkerchief from an invisible pocket in his fur and proceeded to wipe his eyes then blow his nose loudly.  This caused four families of local chaffinches to take off from surrounding trees, not too happy to have been woken at this still unearthly hour.

            “Is there anything I can do to help?”  Finn asked.  “I can deliver the eggs with you if that’s ok?”

            Eric shook his head, “I don’t think that’s allowed.  There are strict rules, you know.”  From the same invisible pocket the hare produced a well-thumbed dog-eared book entitled, “Easter Bunny – Rules and Regulations.  Edition 37.  (Cost 3 shillings and 6 pence).”

            “Rules are rules,” Eric’s smile sagged again.

            “Let’s get these eggs delivered, and I’ll sort out the rules afterwards.  I think I can call in a few favours,” the old deerhound chuckled.  Finn sounded so positive that Eric raised his smile, and the Easter Bunny (Trainee Assistant) leaned behind a tree and lifted up another basket of coloured eggs which he gave to Finn.

            Eric ran through the correct procedure for distribution of the eggs; for young and baby animals only (birds were excluded for some obscure reason involving unsubstantiated accusations of cannibalism), one per household/drey/den/sett.  Don’t knock or make a fuss, just deposit the egg upright and slightly out of sight (there had to be some element of surprise for the recipient).  Finn took the forest on the right of the path and Eric the forest on the left.  The hare had two baskets to Finn’s one (Trainee Assistant though he was, he had received more training than Finn and, with two-handed delivery, was much faster).

            For the next hour (though it only felt like ten minutes) Finn sped through his part of the woodland taking out eggs and putting them on the ground outside the homes of various animals.  For the tree-dwellers he did his best to put the eggs on branches but this did cause some confusion when he left one outside what he thought was a squirrel’s drey but turned out to be a woodpecker.  He had some difficulty explaining this to the furious woodpecker who had a serious sense of humour deficiency.

            Finn was shattered by the time he met up with Eric again.  Eric was so pleased that Finn had been able to assist, and that he had delivered his order of Easter eggs within time and before the rest of the animals had woken up (or the nocturnal ones gone home to bed).  As he shook Finn’s hand he asked him, “Will I still get in trouble for being seen?”

            Finn winked. “Don’t worry.  Tell them that you were in Finn, the Lord of the Glen’s woods and that I offered to help.  If they have any issues, let them speak to Eira, or failing that, Father Christmas will vouch for me.”

            Eric bowed again to the Mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, deerhound extraordinaire and all round good egg (no pun intended. Well, only slightly).  With a wave the Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny was gone.

            As he strolled home, Finn contemplated a number of things.  Such as, why is he called the Easter Bunny when in fact he’s a Hare?  He mused on this, and then changed the subject to his favourite one; breakfast.  Was it going to be porridge today?  With or without bacon and some chopped sausages?  What about cooked tomato on the side?

            When he got to the tall green door in the even taller red brick garden wall his stomach was rumbling.  From the other side he heard an ancient moggie voice call out, “I heard that!”  The door opened and Jeffrey was there to welcome him home and accompany him as he sauntered down the garden path to the patio.

            “Been anywhere interesting, old chap?” asked the impeccably well spoken old moggie.

            “Oh, just strolling in the woods.” Finn replied.

            A face peered around the kitchen door. “Breakfast is ready!” the Maid called. On the patio on their dog beds lay Flower the butterscotch-coloured lurcher and Rubbish the brindle greyhound who both smiled and wagged their tails as they saw Finn approaching.  “Morning!” they called, in unison.

            Jeffrey laughed, “They do practically everything together these days!” he said to Finn under his breath.  Finn grinned.

            The Butler brought out three dog bowls and two large dinner plates.  In the bowls were porridge, and on one plate a mix of sardines and cat biscuits, and the other plate chopped sausages and chopped crispy bacon.  He set out the bowls and plate, then asked the gathered dogs (and cat), “And how would you like your breakfast?”

            They all looked to Finn.  “The works, as usual,” came the reply.  The sausages and bacon were added to all the bowls (including Jeffrey’s).

            “Bon appétit!” the Butler said as he left them to it.

            “Quite so!” replied Jeffrey.

            They all tucked in.

As the meal was coming to an end (Jeffrey had finished first, despite having very few teeth) the Maid came out with a box.  “Finn,” she said.  The old dog looked up.  “This is for you.  It was left on the front doorstep.”

            She put the box on the low table at which the animals ate their food.  It had a beautiful yellow ribbon around it, and a tag on which was written, “To Finn, Assistant to the Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny, with thanks.  E.”  When the Maid opened it, inside were four beautifully coloured and wrapped eggs.  Each animal had one, and when they cracked them open each one was the very favourite treat they loved; for Flower, it was pasty flavour, for Rubbish sausage flavour, for Jeffrey, tuna and cheese, and for Finn, venison and gravy.  Amazing!

            Finn stopped munching to announce to everyone, “Happy Easter!”

Chris Dignam, 04/04/21

Copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Books

To be reproduced by permission only

Finn’s Story

During this dark period I am trying to post some short pieces to amuse, inform or generally give people a distraction – read and enjoy!

Finn – Photo copyright and courtesy of K & S Standing

The following short story explains how the Mighty Finn, hero of the “Largest Rabbit” books came to the farmhouse and his “magic” garden, and came to be Lord of the Glen. Finn is based on a real hound, who had a real Maid and Butler, and this isn’t too far from his real story. Please post a comment, like or review on this or the Crafty Dog Books page, especially if you would like another short piece.

The smell of cooking bacon drifted through the kitchen doorway, across the patio and on down the long garden, towards the green door in the wall that led to the woods.  As it floated past it was intercepted by the nostrils of two hungry hounds and an even hungrier ancient marmalade cat.  Lying on the chaise longue were a young brindle greyhound and a fawn lurcher, cuddled up together.   Across from them, Jeffrey, the said ancient cat, lay back, warming his striped (in places) tummy in the sun.  They were all dreaming about bacon sandwiches, or at least that’s what Rubbish the greyhound and Jeffrey were thinking about.  Flower the lurcher, whose coat was almost as golden as the paving slabs the chairs stood on, was pondering on other things.  “Jeffrey?” she asked.

The old cat’s left eye creaked open, “Yes, my dear?”

“What’s Mr Finn’s story?”

Jeffrey sat upright, “Finn’s story?”

“Yes.  Was he born here in the house, and has he always been the Lord of the Glen?”

Finn the noble deerhound, Lord of the Glen, Master of the Hills and Forests, was the hound who looked after everyone in this, his “magic” garden.  He lived here in the old farmhouse with Cath and Sam, whom he called The Maid and The Butler, and they in turn felt that this actually was their role, looking after this wonderful hound.  Tall, regal, with a quick mind and a sparkle in his eye, gentle but with a power and authority that meant that all the animals, and many of the humans around the area, saw him as the Lord of the Glen.  Animals in trouble came to him, and the occasional human, and he ensured that things were carried out fairly and any trouble was soon sorted.  It was he who had helped Rubbish, the abandoned greyhound pup, brought up by rabbits, to find his true identity.  (The pup had called himself Rubbish  as that’s what the humans had said he was.)  It was Finn that had helped Rubbish and Jeffrey thwart the plans of a fox to capture Rubbish’s rabbit family, and who’d declared Rubbish to be a Rabbit hound who would protect the rabbits like a sheepdog protects his sheep.   Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey had helped to save Eira, the Winter Hare, from hunters who were after her skin (literally) and rescued the quiet and gentle Flower from their clutches.  There were many other adventures, involving ghost hounds, witches and even Father Christmas (that particular adventure had resulted in them being given the gift of understanding, and being understood by, humans.  Rubbish had found that most useful, as now he could order his meals from the Maid and she could understand what his exact requirements were)!

“Ah.  Finn wasn’t always the Lord of the Glen.”  Jeffrey pulled himself upright and looked across at the dogs.  Flower’s ears pricked up and the young greyhound’s did too, as they listened to what the old cat had to say.  “As you know, I am quite old now.  I was here before Finn, and I can remember his coming here. 

Cath and Sam were talking in the kitchen and I was sitting up on the window sill,” he pointed to the long sandstone sill below the window next to the yellow back door. “Cath was very upset.  A group of travellers were camping in the fields outside the village.  This was not unusual, as the villagers round here get on well with the travelling folk who often stay on the old fair field during the winter.”

“Why was she upset?” asked Rubbish.

            “I was just coming to that,” the old cat added. “Now, this group were not the usual families and were more than a little troublesome.  The villagers tried to ‘cut them some slack’ as they say, but they went too far.  Some houses were broken into, cars and vehicles damaged but worst of all, livestock were taken.  All in all, they created a lot of very bad feeling.  One of the travelling families was seen hunting rabbits [Rubbish was shocked by this, as they could have been his own rabbit-family].  Cath was in the village when there had been a confrontation between the local policeman and the men of this family.  They had a number of dogs, of various types but mostly greyhound crosses, or as they call them, Lurchers, (no offence young Flower), and amongst them were a few deerhounds.  It was said that they had used them to hunt the deer that roam in the woodland around the village.  Anyway, after this confrontation the travellers started to pack up, and during the evening they all left.  When the sun came up the next morning, they were gone.  They had left a fair bit of mess behind, and Cath and Sam had gone to help the villagers with the clear up.  Behind the camp they found tied to a post, next to a bramble hedge, a very thin and scabby deerhound pup.  He was in a very sorry state, and the local animal rescue people had come to see him.  They didn’t think anyone would give him a home but Cath and Sam had begged to let them take this pup in.

Driving back in the car he was given the name of Finn, after the giant from Irish and Scottish legends.  They knew that with love and care this little pup would grow up to be as large as any giant.

I can see that scrawny little pup now – his coat was dirty and matted, and they had to clip all his fur off.  He wasn’t house-trained, and even though he was now bald he still had fleas!  I’ll be honest, I never thought that pup would ever amount to much!

Still, as he grew – and by heck, he didn’t half grow fast – he began to show his personality.  He was very quick to learn the rules of the house, and even more he came to listen to me and some of the older animals, and he began to understand the rules of the animals too.”

“So then he was Lord of the Glen?” asked Rubbish.

“Bless my soul, not at that stage.  That came later!” Jeffrey chuckled. “Within a couple of years he had grown very large and powerful – no other animal would stand against him.  He began to get a little big-headed, as the humans say, and throw his weight around.  He even growled at Sam once or twice.  Finn could have become difficult to handle.

That winter when Finn must have been 3 years old, he had a terrible illness.  dog flu, I think they called it.  Cath and Sam watched over him day and night, taking it in turns to keep him clean, give him medicine, and food, and watch his temperature.  Even the animals from the woods would come to the garden gate each day to see how he was, and I would keep them updated.  Finn nearly died, but he came through it. 

Over the next few months he gradually got stronger.  He would sit on this settee on the patio, one that Sam had brought out from the house for him to use, where he could feel the warmth of the sun and recover.  Cath would look out the window and there was always some animal or other from the fields or woods sitting with Finn, talking to him and he to them.  I would be there to ensure they didn’t tire him, and to give him the benefit of my vast knowledge too [at this the dogs looked at each other and Rubbish smiled].  By the time he had recovered fully he and I had become firm friends.

Not long after he was better, we had a message from one of the forest animals.  The two badger families were in dispute over an ancient badger sett.  Both claimed it as theirs, and they were on the verge of war between them.  Now you’ve seen how formidable the Bills can be when roused.  It was Brian’s family that called Finn for him to intervene.  Finn stood right between the two armies and put both of the family chiefs in their place, there and then.  Anyone else would have been terrified to have been there, standing between the two battling families, but Finn was calm and collected.  I can see him now, tall, and oozing confidence and, yes, nobility.  Both families were satisfied with his decision and that he had been fair.  It was Brian the Badger Chieftain that had first called him “Lord”, and that has stuck.  Since then, if there has been any quarrel, or if animals have needed help, it’s to Finn that they’ve come.”

            “So…that’s why he helped me.  Because I was an abandoned puppy too?” the greyhound suggested.

Jeffrey nodded, “He would have done so anyway, but he has said to me many times that he felt especially for you, as he had once been that very pup.”

Rubbish didn’t know what to say.  He felt very proud of his friend and mentor, the mighty Finn, and he felt so very sad that he too had had that awful upbringing.

Flower also wiped a tear from her eye.  She could see how the story had affected her dear Rubbish, and she too knew what it was to have been abandoned and rescued.

“Good afternoon all!” a deep deerhound voice called from the kitchen doorway. “I have been told by the Maid that bacon sandwiches are ready.”

The three animals on the patio turned towards the old deerhound and cheered.  Finn thought it had been because of the bacon but that wasn’t the real reason that they’d cheered.  Hail to the Lord of the Glen!

(Story & characters copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Cymru. Finn the Deerhound is courtesy of Kate & Sean Standing. Feel free to share but please credit the author & K&S Standing.)

Finn, Rubbish and the Corned Beef Virus

A short story to raise a smile in these perilous times.

The Mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen and deerhound of great repute, was sitting on his chaise longue on the patio in the late morning sun – wishy-washy though the sunshine was.  He’d been listening to the experts on the radio talking about the virus, which was making him tut-tut and shake his huge and hairy head.  “Grim days indeed,” the old dog said to himself.

            “Mr Finn!” a young voice called.  He turned to see the brindle greyhound called Rubbish running up the garden towards him.  “Have you heard?  There’s something wrong with the tinned food!”

            Finn looked puzzled.  “Tinned food?”

            “Yes.  It’s making people ill – the corned beef’s got a virus!”

In spite of everything, this did make the old hound smile. “My dear Rubbish, you mean the Corona Virus!”

            “Yeah.  That’s what I said.  It’s in the tinned food!” Rubbish insisted.  “And it’s making people go to the loo so much their toilet paper is running out!”

            At this point Finn laughed out loud.  “My boy, I’ve been listening to the radio, reading the papers too and speaking to Cath and Sam about it.”

            “Ooh, I feel ill…” Rubbish said, sitting on his haunches.

            Finn sighed.  “Firstly, it’s not in the food and definitely not the corned beef!  Secondly, young Rubbish, we non-humans can’t catch it.  It’s just a thing for people.”

            “Oh no – are Cath and Sam ok?” Rubbish looked worried.

            “We live in the country so can self-isolate – which means not come face to face with other humans until things calm down,” Finn explained.

            “What Ho!” a plummy voice called from the doorway which opened into the garden next door.  A very round and scruffy marmalade cat sauntered along the red-brick path towards them. 

            “Any news?” asked Finn.

            Jeffrey, that ancient cat, sighed, “Yes, fortunately The Colonel is safe in his hotel and apparently showing no symptoms.”  His owner, The Colonel, was quite elderly and had been on a hiking holiday in Italy when the virus had arrived.  Jeffrey’d been worried, but he seemed much calmer now that he’d spoken to the Colonel and he was safe and well.  “He’ll be home as soon as all this calms down.  It may be a few weeks or even some months.”

            “But he’s safe,” Finn replied.

            “Thank Dog I have you fellows to look after me!” smiled the old cat.  Rubbish could feel the sting of muscle-rub and arthritis gel wafting from the moggie, making his eyes water.  Worse than that was the prevailing aroma of anchovies!

            “So how’s everyone here?  Are the Maid and the Butler coping?” the cat asked.

            Finn nodded.  “They are fine.  I’ve never seen people wash their paws – I mean hands – as much in their lives.  I know they’re getting on a bit but I am sure they will be ok.”  (From the kitchen a female voice announced, “I heard that!).

            “Wonderful!  What’s for luncheon?” the cat asked.  He was also known as The Professor for his vast knowledge (or at least, he had an opinion on any subject under the sun and moon).  He was also well known for his appetite, which usually involved soft foods (as he had so few teeth nowadays due to his advanced age), largely fish.  And cake – he particularly fond of Victoria sponge, with raspberry jam.

            Cath called out of the kitchen door, “Roast chicken with vegetables and in your case, pilchards!”

            Finn raised a hairy eyebrow, “You can always rely on the Maid!”

            “So is everyone going to be really ill?” asked Rubbish.

            Both the old moggie and the deerhound shook their heads. “Apparently it isn’t as bad as first thought; it just bounces off most little humans, and those who are fit and well.  They might have a cough and sneezes and a slight temperature,” Finn told him.

            “Ah, like the awful Man flu that Sam had last year,” Rubbish suggested.  There was a very loud laugh from the Maid in the kitchen.

            “Well, sort of,” Jeffrey chuckled. “But if you’re already ill, with a bad heart, or weak chest, then it is more serious.”

            “Oh.”  The greyhound thought for a second. “So where has all the toilet paper gone then?”

            Finn turned to Jeffrey, “Professor?” he asked.

            At this point Jeffrey put his hand into his furry chest, to that invisible pocket where he kept useful items.  He rummaged round (a sight to behold!) and out came a fountain pen, a small jar of liniment and, finally, a pair of spectacles which he balanced precariously on his nose.  They didn’t help him see, but he felt that they made him look studious, and was a sign that he was doing some serious deep thinking.  “Now that is a great mystery!”

            “Manky corned beef,” muttered Rubbish, still convinced that tinned meat had something to do with it.

            “I think it has more to do with people acting in a very strange way due to stress and buying lots and lots of things they think might be essential,” Finn told him.

            “Like flour,” the Maid shouted from the house.

            “Indeed,” Finn chuckled, “Because everyone out there does so much baking these days!”

            “I blame Mary Berry,” mumbled Jeffrey. “And that Hollywood chap.”

            “Humans are such strange things,” the deerhound said, leaning over the back of the couch to look into the kitchen (to check on the progress of the roast chicken which by now they could smell cooking).

            “I hear that the villages around here are deserted,” Jeffrey told the others.

            “Have they all been beamed up into space ships by little grey aliens?” asked Rubbish, aghast (he had a thing for science fiction programmes on TV).

            Finn laughed again, “No you daft puppy!  Everyone has been told to stay inside their houses unless they have to go and buy food or medicine.”

            “Or 30 rolls of toilet paper and 20 bags of frozen chips,” chuckled Jeffrey.

            “How long for?  Will everyone just stay inside forever?” the young greyhound was wide-eyed.

            Finn shook his head, “Fortunately no.  It’s expected that it will get worse for a month or so then gradually go back to normal.”

            Jeffrey said, “I reckon 6 months or thereabouts and we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.”

            “Yes,” Finn stared down the garden to the old door in the red brick wall that led into the meadow and on to the woods where the rabbits lived.  “We’ll just keep our heads down, eat chicken (and pilchards of course) and wait it out here in our garden.”

            Rubbish smiled and lay on the warm patio, “Yes.  There are a lot worse places to be.”

(All characters copyright Chris Dignam & Crafty Dog Cymru.  Any resemblance by the Maid and the Butler to real characters who live in Letterkenny, Donegal is purely on purpose).

If you liked this, don’t forget that all the children’s books are available as digital download or paperback via the Crafty Dog Cymru Shop.