Category Archives: Crafty Dog Cymru

The Amman Valley Bubble

(Professor Crafty d’Og’s article on the the scandal of the Amman & Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, with a surprising link to the settlement of Welsh Patagonia)

The Amman Valley Bubble (The Chutney that never was)

Chutneys are always today considered to be an introduction from the great Indian sub-continent – they were indeed being imported from there in large quantities by the early nineteenth century, any gaps in the ships being filled up with leaf tea.  This lack of a local chutney was largely due to the great difficulty in reaching the Welsh chutney seams which, at over 200 feet, were too deep to safely reach with existing technology[1] .  British chutneys had long been extracted from the small bell-pits of the south-east of England but this had been of the Piccalilli variety[2].  Though Kent chutney was popular, it was not universally so.  The demand for chutneys led to their import from the far east (even further east than East Anglia), but because of the long sea journeys that involved[3], there was a desire for a home-grown chutney, so to speak.  There had been some Welsh chutney mining during the late eighteenth century as the beds of mango of the Amman valley had been exploited due to their closeness to the surface.  It’s popularity and scarcity led to its early demise, and the trade was blighted by the Amman Valley Bubble scandal of the 1820’s. 

The scandal (in reality, a tremendous fraud) began when rumours of a great find of an easily accessible hot chutney (supposedly a chilli one) spread like hot butter across Wales.  Almost immediately a company emerged, the Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, who proposed to exploit the outcrop (so near the surface, they said, that it was dripping into a local stream).  They issued shares in this rich chutney seam, the price of which rocketed as everyone wanted a slice of the chutney pie (excuse the mixed metaphors).  The company bought a stretch of the foothills of the Black Mountain (paid for in shares) and had even started clearing trees and scrub for a tramroad that was to take the chutney in wagons to the coast.  The day before the ground was due to be broken to open a tunnel for a drift mine, the samples of chutney that had gone to be assayed in Cardiff were discovered to be merely a jam mixed with peppers[4].  The telegraph lines went berserk as messages flew back from Cardiff about the worthless so-called chutney.  Customs officers sped to the site and arrived in Glanamman only to find the mine buildings abandoned.  The owners had taken all their money from the bank in Ammanford (still then known as Cross Inn) that morning and had fled. 

There followed a desperate chase across Carmarthenshire, horse-borne customs officers racing after two stage coaches of Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise “managers”. They nearly caught up with them at Llandybie but were held up by a drover taking sheep to Llandeilo market.  The ship (called ‘The Golden Duck’) with the fraudsters on board was just leaving Kidwelly docks as the customs men arrived at the waterside, only to watch them sailing into the sunset with the shareholders money.  The shares which so many people had bought were worth absolutely nothing.  As can be imagined, the reputation of the Amman Valley chutney industry was tainted for many years and held up its development, to the great advantage of the Jam and Marmalade magnates who bought up huge parts of the valley for next to nothing[5]

It is alleged that the ship with the fraudsters on board landed in South America, and that it was one of them that sold land rights in the Chubut Valley in Patagonia to fellow Welshmen who arrived later in the century in search of a better life[6].  They had been told by this fraudster that not only was the land rich with honey, but with jam and marmalade too.  Another of these fraudsters (he preferred to be called an entrepreneur) tried to establish a trade taking Welsh emigres to Patagonia, then filling the ship up with lamas to take back to Wales.  It was only partly successful.

It would not be until the 1850’s when new technology and the fading of the scandal into distant memory allowed for the expansion of the Amman Valley chutney industry, with the problems inherent in that.

[1] There had been some attempts to make 200 feet long ladders, notably by David Thomas, known as “Dai the Saw”, but there were problems finding trees tall enough, and then the difficulty in 2 men walking a 200 foot ladder along the turnpike roads without encountering the odd speeding wayward carriage (“Engineering and Carpentry of the South Wales Valleys”, E.V. Jones; Swanseashire University Press, 1986, p 28-35

[2] Notably round Sevenoaks, named after a “Stephen Nokes” who founded the village in the early 1250’s to provide housing and processing space for the 12 bell pits around the area (, “The Kent Jamboree”, Professor H. Higgins, Kent Free Press, 1953, p 15-64

[3] The introduction of the Chutney Cutter (much like their cousin the Tea Cutter) was not for another half a century.  This would have cut the journey time drastically, and was another of the causes of the later slump in Welsh chutney production. “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[4] See “The Cambrian Daily”, 14 July 1828,  Swansea, for a front page article on the discovery, as well as testimony of residents of Glanamman, and of Kidwelly who saw the later flight of the fraudsters.

[5] “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[6] Evan Meredith, an émigré from Merthyr Tydful, wrote in his memoirs of meeting a “very nice man, if a bit swarthy, of our own old country and tongue” at a bar in Buenos Aires who told him about the wonderful lush grass, and flowing streams of Patagonia that reminded him of his native Carmarthenshire.  He had also spoken about being able to put your hands in the soil and pull out handfuls of fresh marmalade, that needed very little processing. Naturally Evan took him at his word and bought the deeds to 20 acres of what turned out to be pampas.  Fine for cattle but not for preserves. “From Porth to Puerto Madryn; My Life in Patagonia”, translated by D.C. Jones, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXXIX, August 1967

The Jam & Marmalade Industry in Swanseashire

An extract from a treatise by Professor CD Crafty-D’Og on the famous mining industry of the Swanseashire Valley and its environs, including the Chutney workings of the Amman Valley.

The story of South Wales is one that revolves around its mineral wealth; naturally everyone thinks of the coal, iron ore and even, to a lesser extent, silver and gold.  The rich seams of coal on which the industrial revolution was built are only matched by the equally thick beds of the pre-cambrian preserves, which outcrop across the area, most notably around Swanseashire.  Everyone has heard about the treacle mines of Lancashire on which the Eccles cake industry was built but just as important are the seams of jam found in the hills around Crafty Dog Towers.  The history of jam, chutney and marmalade extraction in the county of Swanseashire is believed to go back many centuries. 

In the 1870’s the skeleton of what was thought to be a female from the stone age was found in a cave on the Gower peninsula.  This “Red Lady of Paviland” was coloured in what was thought to be red ochre.  This has now been corrected; the skeleton was indeed from the neolithic period, but was a young man and the colouring was a red preserve, believed to be either strawberry or redcurrant jam.  The strawberry jam seam that outcrops west of Swansea (the famous three feet sweet deposit) made many landowners rich in the middle ages; whereas the Cotswolds had sheep and wool, medieval Swansea had strawberry jam and preserves.  In fact, it has been suggested that the main reason that the Romans came to Britain was to tap into the jam and marmalade deposits they had heard legends of.  Professor Theophilus Jones[1] has postulated in his book on Greek and Roman folk tales that the Golden Fleece was not one full of gold dust but of a yellow marmalade, probably lemon and lime. 

Where the jam came to the surface there, inevitably, was a share cropper scrabbling for a living from a preserve mine, digging out small quantities of jam or, if it was the 2ft Bleddyn seam, marmalade.  These small jam-mine owners made money but it wasn’t easy selling their products in small wooden jars which were hand-carved in cottages across Swanseashire.  During the middle ages more enterprising (or possibly gullible) marmalade producers worked with the cottage industries that produced flannel and wool and made small lined bags to put their product in (due to a few obvious design issues these soggy bags never really caught on).  In the 1750’s the Swanseashire potteries started making ceramic pots and at the same time a number of mine owners consolidated their businesses by buying out their smaller competitors.  With this industrial revolution (or “Jamolution” as writers on Industrial South Wales have called it[2]) some of these jam owners became jam magnates.  The Swansea Canal was built not only to move coal down the valley to the docks but also long barges of preserves, which initially went round Britain but later, the world.   Nelson fought the Battle of Trafalgar after a breakfast of Swanseashire Lime Marmalade on toast, and it has been recorded that Napoleon Bonaparte was partial to Swanseashire plum jam on his croissants[3].  It was General Picton who on the Waterloo Campaign introduced Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, to the wonders of Swanseashire preserves[4]

As the price of Swanseashire pottery rocketed due to the popularity of Swansea porcelain it created another crisis in the South Wales preserves business – the pottery jars were just no longer available.   The woollen industry smelled money and dusted out the patterns of the soggy pre-industrial marmalade bags, but another entrepreneur in the English midlands came forward with the first glass jam jar.  The Welsh woollen industry switched back to socks and blankets and the glassworks around Stourbridge boomed.

Chutneys are always considered to be an introduction from the great Indian sub-continent, and they were being imported from there in large quantities by the early nineteenth century.  This lack of a local chutney was largely due to the difficulty in reaching the Welsh chutney seams which were too deep to reach with existing technology.  British chutneys had long been extracted from the small bell-pits of the south-east of England but this had been of the Picallilly variety.  Though it was popular, it was not universally so.  There had been some Welsh chutney during the late eighteenth century as the beds of mango of the Amman valley had been exploited due to their closeness to the surface.  It’s popularity and scarcity led to its early demise, as the trade never really recovered from the Amman Valley Bubble scandal of the 1790’s. 

Amongst rumours of a great find of an easily accessible hot chutney (supposedly a chilli one) a fake company sold shares in this rich chutney seam.  The company bought a stretch of the Black Mountain and had even started clearing trees and scrub for a tramroad to take the chutney in wagons to the coast.  Just as the ground was due to be broken to open up a tunnel for a drift mine, the samples that had gone to be tested were discovered to be a jam mixed with peppers.  Customs officers sped to the site and arrived only to find the mine abandoned.  There followed a desperate chase across Carmarthenshire, horse-borne customs officers racing after two stage coaches of Amman Valley Chutney Company “managers”. The ship with the fraudsters on was just leaving Kidwelly docks as the customs men arrived at the waterside, only to watch them sailing into the sunset with the shareholders money.  The shares which so many people had bought were worth absolutely nothing, a scandal which stunted the Welsh chutney mining industry for many years[5]

Borrowing from technology derived from coal mining in the 1850s a pioneering engineer sank a deep mine into a legendary seam of mixed mango and red onion chutneys.  Far cheaper than importing Chutney from India, it made it available for the first time to the working man.  This was the making of the upper Amman valley; the number of workers from West Wales (3000), South West England (2000), and Ireland (3,000) working in the deep chutney mines that mushroomed across the area meant that the small village of Afonamman that had been a farm of 8 people in 1750, grew to 250 in 1810 and 14,0000 by 1875, nearly all employed in chutney mining.  The town of Afonamman boomed, with over 12 chutney mines along the hill on both sides of the River Amman.  The large number of miners, and their families, had money to spend and so emerged the many public houses and places of ill-repute where lonely miners would exchange money, or a pocketful of rough-uncut chutney for a strong drink or a stronger woman.  The Wild-west of the Amman Valley was a dangerous place until the local police force bravely opened three police stations to try and establish a modicum of law and order.  In the wilder parts of the hills were bands of ne’er do wells, known as Shrub Rangers, some of whom have gone down in history.  Dai Kelly[6], Beefy Casserole, the Sundown Kid, and the “Hole-in-the-Dry-Stone-Wall Gang”.  Just as famous was the argument over two buckets of Spiced Tomato Chutney that led to the shootout that killed 6 of the outlaws and 3 of the police, the Gunfight at the Not-So-Bad Sheep Farm.  They were dangerous times, until the ‘Revival’ of the 1860’s, which brought Methodism and God to the area; there may have been sixty pubs, but by then there were also 60 chapels and 60 Wesleyan, Calvinistic Methodist, Baptist and Welsh-Independent ministers.  As the first preachers spoke fire and brimstone from their pulpits the last of the Shrub Rangers melted into the mists of time.

In Swanseashire the jams and marmalades made many rich, and in the neighbouring Amman Valley the chutney mines also created great wealth[7].  The world cried out for the preserves of South Wales, especially so after the secret was found for exporting Welsh chutneys and preserves to the hotter climates of the world.  There had been a request by the British Government to find a way of producing preserves that could withstand the long boat journey to the far-flung parts of the world still painted pink on the map (which we now know as The Commonwealth).  This is how the first batches of “India Pale Mango Chutney” came about, varieties that South Wales sent to India rather like coals to Newcastle.

The Swanseashire Preserves were so important to the morale of troops in the South African Wars (the 24th Foot, based at Brecon who later became the South Wales Borderers were particularly fond of Peach & Ginger Jam[8]) and pots of Swansea Strawberry and Raspberry Jams with Queen Victoria’s face on were some of the first items smuggled in to break the Siege of Ladysmith. Even in the muddy, wet trenches of the Western Front in World War 1 the Welsh soldiers were consoled by pots of Swanseashire Marmalades and Amman Valley Chutneys, wrapped in thick flannel scarves to keep the soldiers warm. 

The great depression of the 1920’s and 30’s hammered the area economically and socially; it led to the closure of the coal mines and the neighbouring preserves mines, the laying off of countless colliers and preserves diggers.  Numerous of the smaller companies never reopened, and others staggered on, yet in decline only to fizzle out in the 1960’s.  Today if you walk along the hillsides you will see the remains of buildings and mine workings once bustling with life.  Where Orange Marmalade emerged by the tramload, bracken and bramble grows, where raw jam was processed in the washery, sheep now graze (and the occasional lama[9]).  After World War 2, cheap imports, and the availability of even cheaper artificial preserves made from fruit and vegetables virtually killed off Jam and Marmalade mining, and even the once thriving Chutney business shrank to merely a trickle.  Today there are only one or two small mines who literally extract a few buckets of raw product by hand, and process the conserve in cottages, rather like they did in the pre-industrial era.  If you venture into local craft shops and markets you may be lucky enough to buy a jar or two of hand-dug and cooked preserve’s, fresh from the hillsides of Swanseashire.  Beware any pale imitations!

[1] In the earliest tales the fleece is referred to as being Golden and Unctuous, and later translations from the Ancient Greek are wrong in thinking this means Gold and Heavy. T.J. Jones, “Honey & Fruit Spreads in the Ancient World”, Morriston University Press, 1979

[2] Higgins & Smith, “South Wales in the 18th Century; Jam, Marmalade and Revolution”, Thrumble Books, London, 1968.

[3] P. Lafayette, “The Diaries of Napoleon Bonaparte; Volume 2 – Breakfasts that Conquered Europe”, Librarie d’Evreux, 1956.

[4] Picton was offering the Duke a sandwich when he had his leg blown off, leading to the famous exchange; “I seem to have lost my orange marmalade on toast”, to which the Duke replied, “Indeed you did sir.  I suppose I will have to have cheese.”

[5] The boat was one of the first to arrive in Chile, where the fleeing fraudsters became some of the earliest settlers in Patagonia, hiding from the long-arm of the Customs & Excise.  Higgins & Smith, “South Wales in the 18th Century; Jam, Marmalade and Revolution”, Thrumble Books, London, 1968, p 235-7.

[6] Dai Kelly was allegedly a (very) distant relative of the Australian Ned Kelly.  He is known for his holding up the mail coach outside Pontamman, where he wore an enamelled chamber-pot on his head, and a very thick flannel vest which he believed made him bulletproof.  There were two flaws in his plan; the flannel was grade 3 and not thick enough (especially without a woollen under-vest), and he had forgotten to drill holes in the chamber pot so he could not see very well – only his feet.  Challenged by the local police constable (Evan Evans, known as Evans the Law), he turned to flee and fell over a parked sheep.  He only served 18 months hard-labour in Ponty Prison, due to the Judge, Justice Hugh Andcray, saying that he had made him laugh more than he had in years.  Kelly ended his days running a pub in the Orkneys. Crispin O’Dowd, “Wild Wales and the Kelly Gang”, Pembrokeshire Free Press, 1985.

[7] Of all the millionaires in Wales in the 1890’s, 1/3 were from the Amman Valley and had a finger or two in the Chutney and Preserves industry. “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958.

[8] At Rorke’s Drift in 1879, contrary to previous reports, it was wooden jam crates that were used to build the redoubt and firing steps that sheltered the soldiers from the Zulu’s toward the end of the battle. “The Washing of the Jam Spoons”, Thrumble Books, London, 1964. P. 154-170 gives a full account of the battle, including the breakfast order of the leaders of the British soldiers.  JRM Chard, Royal Engineers, preferred a Lime Marmalade, though Bromhead was a traditional Peach & Ginger jam eater.  Both preferred toast to army biscuits.

[9] Llewelyn Proudfoot-Rees sold his Marmalade rights to a London company in 1952 and bought four llamas from a travelling zoo.  He hoped to establish a knitting factory but it never came to fruition.  Now small herds of these South American ungulates can be seen in the local hills wandering across the Welsh pampas.

Greyhounds make the best pets!

Or how we found out the magic of the pointy-faced hound

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Sally with her favourite toy, Bluey

This is Sally.   When we adopted her back in 1999, we didn’t know much greyhounds, apart from they were racing dogs who had retired and wanted a life after the track.  Sally taught us a lot, about how affectionate, clever, and funny they were, how easily they fitted into a home, and in Sal’s case, how much we’d get to know the local vet!  Greyhound rescue was still in its early years, and people would ask us loads of questions about how much exercise they needed, whether they were good with cats, why did they wear muzzles (are they vicious?).  We were able to reassure people and show them how wrong their old ideas were. 

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The cover of A Hound in the House – this was our Sally to a tee!

It was partly for this reason that I was prompted to write “A Hound in the House”, which told about life with our own hounds, and our fosters, and spread the word about greyhound rescue.  We also began to give talks to local groups about life with a greyhound, and people could actually meet a real ex-racer – it was surprising how many people had never come face to pointy face with one! 

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The Largest Rabbit – my first Children’s book

How do you get children to learn about greyhounds, and how caring they are?  This is what brought about “The Largest Rabbit”, a book about an abandoned greyhound who learns who he is, and how important it is to belong and have someone believe in you.  I particularly enjoyed writing about the little hound who thinks his name is “Rubbish”, as that’s what the people called him.  It’s always great when the underdog wins – literally in his case. 

But don’t just take my word for it.  The books are available via your local amazon store, or if you’d like a signed and dedicated copy, they are available from our web shop or PM me.  Or maybe your local group would like to meet a real rescued greyhound and learn about how they’d make your life better?  PM us and we can arrange one of our greyhound talks.  Go on – you know you want to!

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How would you like to meet Gwennie?

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.

Hi Fidelity – The Vinyl Countdown?

Hi Fidelity?


            As those of you that read my occasional Friday night music posting will know, music is very important to me.  Whilst contemplating what I will be listening to this evening I began to think about my music collection generally.  There has been such a revival in Vinyl that I have been re-evaluating the wonders of vinyl versus digital.  I can remember as a teenager going by bus into town and visiting the record stores to see what they had; this divided into a number of categories, so that if it was a new release off to HMV or WH Smiths, or if a general pot-luck search, in which case it would be Derricks.  There was something magical about thumbing through the racks of plastic and cardboard, then pulling out the large square package with its inevitably well-crafted sleeve artwork, whether single or (hopefully) gatefold sleeve, and even better with loads of photos and the lyrics too.  That moment when you pulled the LP out of the outer sleeve and held the crinkly paper sleeve to read the circular label in the centre.  There was even a particular smell to the LP when you took it out for the first time.  When I got home I would rush upstairs, switch on my Sharp turntable, push the buttons on my Sony amplifier and listen to the thump of the Wharfedale speakers kicking in.  I’d lift the turntable lid, put the disc on, close the lid and press the button and as the red strobe wheel glittered, watch the arm lazily glide up and over the (usually) black vinyl to drop into the lead-in groove. 

            However, this was often when the frustration began.  You would listen to the first few tracks and, more often than not, your heart would stop at the sound of the first click, crackle or worse still, skip.  The whole vinyl experience could be ruined by poor production, a poor mix or even worse poor handling at the factory so you would end up with a scratched piece of virgin plastic.  I can feel that bitter disappointment and annoyance even now after all these years.  The quality of the record itself varied too, from nice thick heavy flat vinyl with a great mix (Head On by BTO, a Canadian import) to mass produced UK or European albums that were so thin that they were warped even before they started. 

            I was really pleased when I heard my fist compact disc; cool clear sound – and no scratches!  I was an instant convert, I must admit.  There has been a lot of snobbery about “analogue” vs “digital” and some of the points are true; I do miss the fabulous artwork, the physicality of opening the record.  I don’t miss the tinny sound and scratches.  I can now download music and albums I had only read about before – even the deleted ones long out of print.  Admittedly, the quality of cd’s can vary but this is often due to the bit sample rate and the mix.  Some are crystal clear – Deep Purple’s Made in Japan is so good a mix that you can even hear the hum of the amplifiers.  Others are not so good.  A lot depends on your listening device – I have a new pair of Pioneer headphones which are leaps ahead of my old Akai ones, and I had thought they were amazing in their time.  I could never listen to clicks and hissing LPs through headphones!

            My Record memories? Like getting off the bus in Ynystawe with my copy of Deep Purple’s Fireball clutched under my arm and colliding with a friend on his bike so that the record in its bag leapt nine feet in the air and landed on its corner.  Despite its creased sleeve it still played perfectly!  Lifting up a turntable with Caroline Morris’s copy of Seconds Out on it and wincing as the arm bounced across the record.  Still can’t remember why I did that.  Ooops.  My first real album – Who’s Next by the Who, still one of my favourites.  Or listening to Neil Young for the first time in the Sixth Form area in school. 

            I have been gradually rebuilding my collection in CD format and many of these have now been remastered and remixed to achieve sound definition not previously thought possible – Made in Japan is a case in point.  Anyway, whether you love analogue – warts and all – or digital (soulless though it could be) the important thing is the music and that you enjoy it.  And my choice for tonight? Hmmm, still working on that one.

bto 2

What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

Greyt Expectations – What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

          Have you ever had that feeling when you are alone that you feel there is someone watching you?  Sometimes you may even hear or think you hear something. Zoologists would explain it as those primeval nerves and peripheral senses that once protected early humans when they first came down from the trees. These can in part explain the supernatural and superstitions many of us believe in.  However, sometimes we see things that are not so easy to explain. 

          Our pets are our companions and they invest so much emotion in us as we do in them.   They can be our constant companions, and they miss us when we are gone, and get so excited and happy when we return.  It is not surprising that when they pass on they can leave ripples in the atmosphere, emotional recording so to speak. 

          Sally was our first greyhound and she was a wonderful character, so popular, and was loved by many people.  She was particularly close to my Mum.  Sal had arrived only a month after my Mum’s best friend had passed away and in many ways she filled that need for friendship that had been created.  The routine of dog-sitting on a Tuesday and Thursday became important in helping my Mum through the grieving process and getting her back in the swing.  Sally was so very affectionate and she and I became inseparable; wherever I went, so did Sally.  She would wait patiently for me to come home from work or, on a Thursday, for 2 o’clock when my Mum would arrive with a milky way and let her out the garden.  If I worked upstairs on the pc, Sal would lie at my feet, often so close to the chair that I had to watch that I did not roll over her ears with the castors.  When my appendix burst, I spent 2 months off at home with her and we had some real quality time together.  Then, two years later when I broke my leg whilst walking her, I had three months at home with her.  At this time Armelle still worked 4 days a week so Sally and I were literally on our own from morning to tea-time.  It was great being with her, and on days when I was depressed or worried, she was there to sit and listen to me, not complaining or offering any reproach.  When Sally headed towards 13, Armelle was off work for a while, and I also as I had had the metal plates taken out of my leg, so we again had some quality time together.  Fate had given the three of us a month together, and it was only a few days after we both returned to work that on a Tuesday evening she was taken ill and in the early morning passed away.  I was in the room with her at the time.


Sally Greyhound, Greyhound Rescue, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sally our first hound in the house

It was a year or so before we had Sammy, our next greyhound.  She was very sensitive soul herself, and within a few weeks had also grown very close to my mum.  We had only had her a few months when she started a very strange habit; she would sit or lie down and look into space, about 18 inches up, as if listening intently.  She would not just stare blindly but she was really watching something (or someone).  You could read her facial expressions as she would (usually) lie there looking and listening.  Jokingly I said she was listening to orders from The White Dog – our Sally.  This went on all the time we had Sammy. 

          Sammy grew close to our next door neighbour Betty.   Sammy began to stop by her garden gate to go and see her.  We found out that Betty had become very ill with cancer, and Sammy seemed to realise this and became more and more insistent that Armelle should call.  She would go in and sit at Betty’s feet and watch over her, and she would wait patiently as Betty fussed her.  In the September we were going on holiday and the day before we left, Sam as had become usual, insisted on seeing Betty.  They sat with each other, and as Armelle made to leave, Betty spoke to Sam, telling her that they would probably not meet again.  Sam had to be practically dragged out of the house – she even sat down in the hallway and refused to go.   True enough, Betty passed away when we were on holidays, they never did see each other again.  When we came home, Sam would walk past the gate, but never stopped to call in; she knew Betty had gone.

          We did not have Sammy two years when she was attacked by another dog and, despite an emergency operation, she died at the vets.  It was a horrible death, and she was so young – it was the week of her fifth birthday – and it seemed to me that she had never had a chance to live a full and proper life.  She had been cheated.

          I’ve never believed in ghoulies or ghosties, or things that go bump in the night, nor am I particularly superstitious.  However, I have had to change my opinion over the last few years.  It must have been about six months after Sammy died that I was in the kitchen and as I turned towards the fridge freezer I saw a black shape pass from the kitchen into the utility room; I thought it was a black greyhound.  I went out into the utility room – but there was no-one there.  I put it all down to my imagination.  A few months later I was in the downstairs cloakroom early in the morning as I was getting ready for work.  The door was slightly ajar and as I turned to stand up I saw a small black greyhound trot past the door.  I opened the door wide – again there was no-one there.  I began to believe that for some reason Sam was still about, and keeping an eye on us, as Sally had kept an eye on her.  We had no dog at that time as we were in between hounds, but even since Penny has arrived I have still occasionally seen Sam.  It is usually in the kitchen or utility room, never upstairs, and always just a fleeting glance not a good view, and always unexpected.  It has never felt frightening or spooky, just unusual.  I have sometimes even felt her brush against me.

          Since mentioning this, a number of other pet owners have talked of seeing their pets after they have passed on; they have seen them, heard them and even smelt them.  Why does it happen to some and not to others?  I would suggest that in Sam’s case, she was so young that she still wants to share some time with us and is not ready to go yet.  She has only once seemed to talk to Penny.  Armelle has never seen her (or not admitted it!).  Sal was so very close to me yet I have never seen her – why has she not made an appearance?  I guess we’ll never know. 

          At the end of the day, I find it quite comforting to think that Sam is looking over us, and even that it seems to reaffirm the idea of life after death.  As Hamlet said, there are more things in heaven and earth….

Penny, Greyhound,Bluebells, Crafty Dog, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhounds – Dealing with Bereavement

This week’s piece is about dealing with the loss of a pet, coping, and the question of having a replacement. It’s specifically about losing a dog, but it can be equally true of any pet, be it a cat, horse or goldfish. Anything that you have become very attached to.

You often hear someone say “It’s only a dog” when they hear that people are upset and grieving over the loss of a pet. This is the typical comment of someone who has never had a pet themselves and is unaware of the emotional chasm left by the loss of someone who had become a member of the family. They are not just members of the family; they are members of the pack, the same way that they also see you. Pets are dependent on you, and in that caring and nurturing you invest your time and energy and friendship which they give back in return. Being a dog owner is a two way thing. This is especially so when you have children, as they see the dog as another brother or sister and do not have some of the grown-up’s formal barriers. Every boy (or girl) should have a dog (or cat, or goldfish etc.), as it teaches them responsibility and the importance of the bonds of loyalty and affection.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally at 12

It’s inevitable then that as your pet grows old, or becomes ill, that you think of what will happen when they pass on. You know it will be hard emotionally but you have a degree of time to prepare. When they do die, you will still be upset but you have had time to order your thoughts and your future actions. Well, that’s the theory but it does not always work like that. When Sally, our first rescue greyhound grew old she did so gradually, and was still active so we never noticed. One evening she had gone for a walk and sat down for a rest half way round the cricket pitch, but been eager for her food when she got back. Early that evening she started crying, was a bit spaced and evidently in some distress, so we rang the out of hours vet and took her down. At the surgery she was examined and the vet suggested she might have a stomach upset, gave her some painkiller and sent her home with us. We could see her gums were very pale. When she got home she cried a bit, and sat in her bed. I sat up with her until she went to sleep and then sat in the chair to watch over her. Sally drifted away in her sleep that night some time about six o’clock in the morning. Looking back now, Armelle and I could see the signs that she was getting old – the fawn in her face had so much more white in it and she occasionally would stop for a rest on her walks. Even so, we were devastated – Sally was our first hound, and to all intents our child. I am sure that we got the “It’s only a dog” reaction but to us the pain was very real.

Sammy was a week short of her fifth birthday when she was attacked by another dog out walking on the same cricket pitch. She appeared to have come away unscathed, but the next evening she could not eat, the back of her tongue became swollen and we rushed her to the vets. When she tried to run from the dog, the collar had pulled on her throat and it was 24 hours later that the damage became apparent. They carried out a tracheotomy, which she survived, but the internal bleeding from the damage was so bad she bled out and passed away in the surgery. We were totally devastated. The emotions here were really mixed up – grief for Sammy’s death, anger about the cause of her death, and even guilt that I had taken her for a walk that night when I could have stayed at home.
No matter how your pet dies, it’s always distressing and you will be upset. If it’s an accident or sudden death, you too might feel guilty or regret that you took them out – these are natural emotions as you try to come to terms with the loss. You have to blame someone so you end up blaming yourself. What you have to realise is that it was just that – fate – you could not do anything to prevent it otherwise you surely would have.

In one respect an awful decision was already taken for us; we never had to make the call to have our pet put to sleep. When you have a pet that has a terminal illness, injury or even extreme age which means that you have to decide when their quality of life has reached such a critical point that they should be euthanised you will inevitable feel guilt along with your sorrow. You have to be a very special person if you are so certain that you have made the right decision at the right time. It is inevitable that you will question yourself over whether you left it too long, or whether if you had waited they would have been ok to last longer. Again, this is natural.

The next decision you will need to make is what to do with your pet. The option of burial was not feasible; she was a big dog, we had a small garden. If I’d dug a hole we had a choice of either her head or feet sticking out! We had decided to have Sally cremated so we had to get her to the vets from where the cremation company would collect her. The vets sorted everything for us, but we still had to get her down there. Sally weighed nearly 30 kilos and we had to carry her through the house to the car. Fortunately for us she had passed away in her bed so we could lift her in her duvet, holding two corners each and taking her through the living room. Unfortunately, as we passed the settee Sal’s head flopped out in a most undignified manner. We could imagine her looking down and tut-tutting at us. We carried Sal out to the car and at the vet, they helped me carry her in and so I said goodbye to her. Two weeks later I collected a lovely wooden box with her name on a brass plaque. We buried her in the garden near the spot where she liked to sit in the sun. When Sammy died, we decided that we would scatter her ashes in a wood where she loved to walk and we had some wonderful memories of. So instead of a box we had a lovely scatter tube – which when it came was covered in a picture of bluebells! Fate or what?

Penny, Greyhound,Bluubells

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Being without your pet can lead you to either one of two ways; you hurt so much you could never go through it again, or you really need to love another pet so want to get another one. Never think of a new dog as a replacement – they will never be the same, but will be fabulous and funny in their own ways. We always said Sam was Sally’s “understudy” who was filling in for her. Should you rush out and get another or should you waitt? I would always advise to leave a time to grieve, be it only a few days or maybe months – that would be down to you. It’s whatever feels best. Our greyhounds are rescued dogs, so to us it was always a case of “We gave Sally and Sam a great home, there are other dogs out there that deserve a lucky break too.”

Another option is to foster a dog for a time. When a rescue comes into kennels, especially where their background is not known, they are a blank card. They need to be assessed as to their temperament, how they are in a home setting, are they cat or child friendly, all the normal things they might never have seen in their lives. It’s a great way of having a dog to care for and occupy your mind, but you are also doing an unselfish thing by taking that dog out of kennels and allowing them to see what a real home can be like, and there’s no permanent commitment. We had a foster who hated kennels and needed a home where he would eat properly (the stress of kennels put him off eating).  And don’t forget that if you and the dog click, that the home is the right one for the dog, then the foster will never leave. Sam was a foster, as was our Penny, and neither of them ever went back to kennels.

So never be ashamed or embarrassed to cry or be upset when you lose your animal companion. It’s not you that’s at fault but the person who says “It’s only a dog” who is wrong for not understanding. Never blame yourself for anything untoward that happens, or for any decision on euthanasia where it’s the animal’s dignity that comes first. Finally, take as long as you feel its right before you have another pet.

Last Weeks South Wales Evening Post Blog – Getting It Write – How A Hound in the House Came About

Getting it write – how a Rescued Greyhound escaped into print.

Owning a rescued greyhound and being involved with greyhound rescue has been a wonderful experience over the years. We have had many strange adventures, such as trying to explain to a German couple in Bruges, in French, that Penny was not Spanish but Irish though now lived in Wales, or walking around a golf course in the middle of the night with a greyhound who wants to go to the loo but only in the right place – wherever she decides that is going to be.

I was asked ages ago to write a piece about tips and hints and lessons learned living with our hound – I think it was still our first greyhound, Sally, at that time. So, I wrote a short article in the Greyhound Rescue Wales magazine which went down very well. As time went by, I was asked whether I was going to write another piece and someone else suggested a short story. By now we had fostered some dogs and had gained even more insights into greyhound life, especially of slightly more broken ones. I scribbled a bit but nothing much as life was a bit hectic at that time.

It was Sammy’s accident that really galvanised me into writing, as I wanted people to know all about her and hopefully make people learn the lesson from her accident to prevent it happening to another dog. It was a bit cathartic too, helping the grieving process by running it through my mind and putting it on paper. Within a period of a few months I had a first draft of what was now much bigger than an article, or even a pamphlet; it was a book.

What to do next then? We decided that we needed to get it published but that was going to cost a chunk of money. Casting round for alternatives, someone suggested putting out an e-book – great idea, no print costs, and it was immediate. I did some research and decided on a format (there are so many out there, each having different outlets such as Apple, or Amazon, or Barnes & Noble). Formatting was fairly easy, starting with a word document and then adding in the paragraph settings, auto-numbering, table of contents etc. This took longer than envisaged but you have to remember that first impressions count – who’s going to want to buy a scruffy looking book with awful spelling and out of focus pictures. I even designed the cover. Pitfall number one – when I tried to get it uploaded the platform was decidedly not user friendly. I tried to contact the on-line help but they always e-mailed me back in the middle of the night which was a consequence of picking a host based in the USA. I grew increasingly frustrated and so switched to another host – this time Kindle. It was very easy as I had done the bulk of formatting for the other company, and it was up and running on-line in no time. A Hound in the House was available to buy.

Pitfall number two; how do you market a virtual book that does not exist. Facebook helped but it was very difficult to promote. There are not that many outlets/notice boards, and most are full of other people promoting their own e-books. Undeterred, I waited for the money to roll in. It did, a bit, slowly. The Evening Post came up and interviewed Armelle and I and took some pictures and it appeared in the paper, which generated more interest. I now had requests to give a talk about the book and life with rescued greyhounds.
Penny, Armelle and I went along to a Library where I spoke to the audience about the history of greyhounds, greyhound racing and what happened to them after their racing days. Penny enjoyed all of this as she was always given a fuss and usually some biscuits too. It was really great to speak to people who were interested (otherwise they would not have been there). However, when they asked to see a copy of the book it was a always a bit of an anti-climax to say it was only available as an e-book. There was such an interest in a printed copy that we decided it was time to bite the bullet and publish it.

At one of the libraries we met Chris Thomas, who had been a publisher himself. He came round to the house to give us advice on what we needed to do and, on hearing I had once worked in a print unit for a local authority, said, “You know about design, formatting and layouts, and about dealing with printers – why not publish it yourself? It had never crossed our minds. We reset the book to book size and sent off to printers and got some prices back – some quotes were very expensive, as for a small print run the cost of printing plates was frightening. Academic printers offered incredible quality, with lovely bound finishes but were not really what we wanted for a paperback. Instead we had a price from a digital printing company and, after seeing an example of their work we decided that was the route to go down.

We had met an artist at a craft fair and she agreed to do some illustrations for the front and back pages and I redesigned the cover accordingly. Feeling really pleased, we sent off the artwork and the text and sat back, waiting for the finished books to arrive; when would the Hound make it to the house?

Cover Picture

A Hound in the House

I remember rushing home from work in my lunch hour to rip open a box and see my hard work finally in print. It was a wonderful feeling, to hold that book, open the pages and see the photos. There I sat, surrounded by 500 copies of my very first book. Now what? A friend of mine had told me that writing is hard, printing is easy but the hardest part of all is marketing your book. Armelle and I had to figure out how we could distribute the book and how long it would be before we would make any money back!

Chris Dignam’s Latest Blog – Jammin’ With the Crafty Dog – How Greyhound Rescue led to Sweet (and Savoury) Success!

We have often been asked how we started making jams, chutneys and glassware and it’s something we have also often pondered, here at Crafty Dog Castle.  Like most good stories, it’s a rather convoluted one. 

Our involvement with rescued Greyhounds has led us in some strange directions over the years and we’ve learned lots of things along the way.  When we took Sally our first greyhound home we decided that any support we gave to the rescue charity Greyhound Rescue Wales would be financial and not physical.  The odd donation but that would be all; we were very quiet people and happy to remain in the background.

Dragon 1

Welsh Dragon Pint Glass

However, we somehow (can’t remember exactly how) got involved in helping out at a Greyhound Rescue street collection.  This meant taking Sally into the town centre to meet the public and talk to people about greyhounds and, hopefully, they would put money in the collection pot.  It was very informative both for us and for them.  People back then did not know that much about greyhounds, how gentle they were and how lazy; they did not know then as we do now, that they are 40mph couch potatoes!  People were both interested and generous, we found it enjoyable (though surprisingly hard work) and Sally really enjoyed it.  She was great with adults but especially loved children. She would have kids hanging round her neck, patting her and stroking her coat the wrong way but she just soaked it all up. 

Fundraising then led us to help out at jumble sales where even my Mum got involved making tea and selling Welsh cakes.  It was a real family affair with everyone from Sally to her Nana taking part.  After the jumble sales stopped we missed meeting people so we started attending a local Craft Market in Clydach selling painted glass items and donating some of the profits (when there were any!) to greyhounds rescue. 

Hot Chilli Jam

The Original!

We learned to glass paint and made suncatchers, lanterns and painted drinking glasses.  Looking back we can see how far we have actually come in terms of quality and finish.  One autumn our little greenhouse produced a bumper crop of chillies which Armelle decided we were not going to waste.  Looking round for recipes she found one for a hot chilli jam so that’s what she made; 12 jars which all sold within a week and we never even tasted any ourselves.  The feedback however was that it was fantastic!.  Needing a name for our newly fledged Craft and Jam business which was about Crafts and helping the dogs, the name Crafty Dog sprung to mind.  The logo was a greyhound in an artist’s beret, originally holding a brush but we dropped that.  Crafty Dog Designs Cymru was born!

We trotted the jam around local craft fairs, looked for new recipes – and even made some up. 

Hot Chilli Extra Hot Jam

Extra Hot Chilli Jam – Phew!

Scrumped apples meant we could make Apple Chutney, Damsons from the hedgerow made Plum and Damson jam.  It took a while before we plucked up the courage to go to a shop and ask whether they would be interested in selling Crafty Dog jam but shops were really keen.  Our local butcher was the first to stock our chutneys (thanks Andrew!), then the Tourist Information Centre in Swansea, and a farm shop in Herefordshire (after a chance encounter helping a charity bike ride).  Today we even supply the shop at Aberglasney Gardens. 

It’s amazing the skills you can discover you never knew you had; we both learned to glass paint and our work has grown in complexity over the years.  Where we used to sell glass lanterns at the craft fairs we now make individual bespoke hand painted pieces of glassware and have even exported a set of Welsh Dragon pint glasses to Toronto!  All this was helped by setting up a web-shop which is another thing we have to try and keep updated.  Look out for

Luxury Apple Chutney Calvados

Luxury Apple Chutney with Apple Brandy

If anyone would like us to attend their Craft or Country Fair, or wants to stock any Crafty Dog Jams, Chutneys or Glassware, pop us an e-mail via the website above. 

As someone asked us recently, how do you have time to fit this all in – the answer is, we haven’t a clue, we just do it.  And, on top of that, we have to walk Penny as well.  It’s a busy life being a two person industrial combo….

jams, crafty dog, preserves

Crafty Dog Jams

And then there are the books… but that, as they say, is another story!


New Blog – How Penny became the Crafty Dog!

Here’s Our Latest Posting in the South Wales Evening Post

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

You can teach a greyhound to retrieve!

When the Crafty Dog wagon takes to the road with our jams, chutneys, glassware or books and people come to meet us at Craft Fairs, or at Book Readings they see Penny and see what a well-rounded hound she is, calm, gentle and polite. Some of this is down to our work with her in terms of training, both house-wise and obedience training. However, a large part is down to her breeding and some to her own nature.

Greyhounds are generally easy-going and gentle by nature. They are pack animals, and love being part of a family. They bond well and once you have a connection they will walk over hot coals for you! They are very independent minded, so to train them you really have to make them see the benefit of what you are asking them to do – they are very reward driven. You’ll never train them easily by force but with a bag full of chopped up frankfurters you can get a greyhound to tapdance!

Penny and Sam had neither of them been in a house before, so simple things like stairs were major hurdles. Sammy went up and down within a day or so and could find her way around the house. Penny ran up the stairs on the second day with us but was terrified about getting back down. We had to walk her down, me guiding her front legs and Armelle her back legs. The next day we started to teach her, building her confidence slowly. A piece of sausage on each step and she came down, tenderly, picking her way, treat by treat and step by step. The next time it was a treat every other step, then every third step, fourth step until only one treat on the bottom step. By the end of the week she was going up and down like a natural.

She had to learn a routine, starting with toilet first thing, breakfast, a walk, then me off to work. Penny soon got the hang of all of that, especially the breakfast bit. She had the same cornflakes and yoghurt that Sammy and Sally had. After breakfast it was walkies around the cricket pitch and then back home. I then went off to work leaving Penny in the kitchen until Armelle came downstairs for breakfast.

In the evening, I would come home from work, we would all have tea then afterwards go to visit my

Low flying greyhound!

Low flying greyhound!

Mum in the local nursing home. Within a few weeks Penny got set into the routine so much that at 6.45 in the evening Penny would get excited as she knew it was time to go to the Home and if we weren’t ready in time she would start to bark at us. Once home, Penny began by sleeping in the kitchen but after a few weeks she started to scratch the kitchen door, so she moved to sleeping on her bed in the living room. That was fine but after a few weeks more she wanted to sleep on the settee on her blanket; she was such a well-behaved girl we gave her a fair bit of leeway. She was no bother at all. However, after taking her to Belgium and sharing a double bed in the motorhome she decided that she did not want to sleep on her own anymore so we now share a double bed with a greyhound every night. Fine except for when she breaks wind, or decides to run in her sleep and you end up being pummelled by her feet or wagging tail.

Penny has set up other little routines as the months rolled past; if the weather was wet, she would run straight back to bed after breakfast. Tea time (originally 5p.m. like Sal’s) began to creep forward until it merged with Armelle’s crusts after lunch. Now she gets a small lunch dinner time and her main meal with us teatime.

Penny has her foibles too – many rescue dogs have some demons. When we first had her she would freeze when walking onto the cricket pitch, a result of being abandoned in a field I guessed. Two weeks after she arrived it was Guy Fawkes night and as we walked into the Nursing Home a rocket went off about twenty feet over our heads. Penny was terrified and has been scared of thunder and fireworks ever since (maybe even before). Loud noises send her to her cwtch, an area behind my chair where she feels secure.

Recently she has become frightened of rain on the roof of the motorhome, a result of being caught on a campsite in a terrible thunder storm. She now associates noise on the roof with rain, which to her then means a thunderstorm is coming. She gets herself really wound up, not aggressive at all, just panting and shaking and there’s no room for a “den” in a 20 foot motorhome! It was so bad on our last trip that she even went off her food – unheard of for Penny. So, we are now going to have to go back to basics to break her cycle of fear of the van. We will start by building up positives; short trips to the park with a nice walk at the end, feed her in the van, get her used to the van without any rain noises. Then, gradually, start introducing a recording of rain noise, quietly at first, and slowly increase the volume over time. Again, this is not a quick fix and it will take a while and though there will undoubtedly be some hiccoughs we’ll get there. In the meantime we have calmex, and Valium in case the calmex does not work. And this week its Guy Fawkes Night – oh joy of joys!

It’s like everything in life, if you want anything to be perfect you have to put the time and effort in. Penny can be fixed, like we got Sam used to travelling. Though the Vet has given us some medication as a backup there’s no substitute for work, patience and lots of cwtches along the way! At the end of the day, our little hound is worth every penny!.

PS – By the way, I forgot to mention that this week was Penny’s Second “Gotcha” Day, the second anniversary of us bringing her home.

greyhound, Penny, rescued hound

Penny cross-country