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,”


“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?


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