I’d just left art school and I was fortunate to have secured a bijou wooden hen house with rotten walls in which to live, deep in the perimeter hills of the South Lakes. I had to climb up through a farmyard and cross a sheep dip to get home every night – the young farmer (who within a year of us leaving) died falling off a ladder whilst repairing a gutter) used to keep his dog Jen shut up all day in a hut with no windows – even in the height of summer. Despite the fact that that dog loved, respected and would do anything for him, I still winced each time I passed the man, in the knowledge of his such obstinate and ignorant behaviour.

My shack had low windows, flaking black paint and an outside toilet. With winter coming on,one of the most important things I did to the place was install a wood burning stove and so although the wind blew unchecked between the planks, I kept warm in that one room at least.

Night after night with rain lashing at the windows I’d sit in comparative comfort huddled close to the heat listening to the storm outside. One night above the hubbub of the gale and the whipping of spray on the glass I heard a noise – a scratching scrubbing sort of noise on the window behind the sofa on which I sat. Between the gloom and the sharpness of my own reflection, at first I saw nothing. Then I jumped back startled, as a pair of eyes met my own. It began again, and this time I made out a diminutive figure standing on two legs and tapping on the glass with a paw…

I froze. Not only was I not expecting a visitor in that storm, even less was I prepared for the arrival of a stranger banging on the window, demanding to get in. The fact that this figure appeared to be feline did little to settle me. A creature unknown to me possessing such clarity of purpose could surely be no ordinary cat. My whole being chilled as against all rationality, I sensed a violation – that I was being singled out as the subject of a visitation of portent – even malice.

My skin crawled. In retrospect I recognize that there was something profoundly gothic about this – the storm, the lashing of the rain and the arrival at the window of another being intent on attracting my attention. At the time I surprised myself by my own fear and it took several more minutes for me to pluck up the courage to consider inviting my guest in.

But I did and although I continued to be cautious I found that he was indeed a cat, a wet cat at that and that it seemed he wanted nothing more than to be stroked initially, and subsequently, to pace about the premises with great curiosity,even asking to go beyond the closed door into the cold bedroom beyond.

This pushiness continued to disturb me and before long, though it was still blowing a storm outside, I put him back out and went to bed.

Days later he came again and as the month of October unfolded he came with increasing regularity and although his familiarity continued to unnerve, I let him in with less and less argument.

I happened to mention his visits to a colleague of mine who lived further down the fell in the village and within days having aired it with some other locals, he came back to me with the story of how Brandy (for that apparently was his name) came to be such a persistent presence at the old shack.

Prior to my arrival, the building had been unoccupied for three or four years and although there’s no doubt that in that time the place will have gone downhill a bit, it is still hard to believe that the previous occupants, a family of two adults and five children had dwelt there for a period of five years. Towards the end of their stay the mother who had for some time been seriously ill, became bed-ridden and the father took increasingly to drink. One night as was customary, he declared his intention of going to the pub, but on his way out he asked his wife if there was anything she would like him to bring back. She asked him for a small bottle of her favourite tipple and off he went. At the end of a raucous night at the Red Lion, and a mile or so into his three mile walk back home, it occurred to him that he’d overlooked his wife’s request. Ridden with guilt began to despair.

After some further walking in the light of a half moon he became aware of a shadowy figure behind him. Turning to take a better look he recognized it as a cat. He knelt down and coaxed and cooed and stroked and before long, there on the road he befriended the animal who was apparently not at all shy himself. Tucked inside the warm overcoat of the still sozzled gent he was soon on his way to meet his new keeper who upon being woken from sleep and being presented with same cat was assured that this was the very Brandy that she herself had ordered.

None of this made me feel any better about his visits however. When they left, they’d abandoned him and like Argus he must have waited , night after night, month after month, season after season (unlike Argus he would have had to hunt, scavenge and find whatever way he could to survive) until at last, one cold and stormy night in September, three years later… the lights came on again.

the fly locker

This year was the first time my family went back, as grown-ups, to revisit the island where we spent most of our summer vacations, twenty-five years or so ago. My sister and her husband had a baby the previous year, and in order to celebrate the fact that the family growth was now secured, our parents decided to rent a house in the rural part of the island. The north part is famous for its child friendly beaches, its many caravans- and camping places, youth binging and other festivities. Where we stayed though, there were less, or no tourists. There were mostly farmers, summer residents and ornithologists living there. On occasion a German caravan passed by, gone astray on its moose-spotting hunt.

However, renting a house during the hottest week of the summer next to a barn within reach of heaps of manure, was not part of the layout for the trip down memory lane. Everywhere there were flies, flies, flies. My dad put forth the game plan. He struck them one by one, with precision. Then he scratched his back with the swatter. The toddler was eating dead flies off the floor while my dad, my sister and I hunted and smacked flies by the numbers. For every fly we killed, two more entered the kitchen area from some kind of airshaft or hole we could not locate. We had to keep all windows and doors closed at all hours, day and night, in 35 degrees Celsius. I am usually all for giving, and to a certain degree sharing space with non-human animals, but even myself turned into a veritable murder machine in this situation. We all (or at least some of us) laughed and said this is going to be the perfect holiday, in retrospective. In the end, my dad performed his game-plan outside as well, during the evening barbecues. Mysteriously, the only thing the flies did not care for was the Gato Negro bag-in box.
It turned out to be a very liquidious and buoyant week.


the buzz

The Buzz July 26
Outside our house the North Sea slips past; back and forth – the tidal pull of fish and men. The bank – on their side – slips with silt and ships and, further down, fishing boats. Our side is a fertile bed of razor grass and sea beat. When the July sun is high, heat beating into the dried grass and shimmering above the boat house, a symphony is commissioned along the bank that seems to drive the daily turning of events. The Buzz.

The board walk clatters beneath my feet over throngs of electric clock-work hoppers. They oversee the fishermen: three old-timers that crouch at the edge of the rushing tide. One stands to reach for his line – the sun flashes blind on his silver braces buckle, pressed to the centre of his back.

The Buzz is the perpetual state of the sun on the river bank.

The gulls are washing past in ribbons – the tide spinning and twisting them in streams. They cannot hear The Buzz, but it commands them all the same – drawing them in, tempting their curiosity. It expands into new ground: where fruit factories have given way, finally, to tall waving sun bleached grass.

LN57, a sky blue and vanilla cream fishing boat casts past, heading open-sea-ward on the high tide. The day-glow orange jackets of her crew fade into rust as they pass the docks. They are pulled by The Buzz, pulled along the bank, past the church spire topped by the ever watchful cockerel, straining up skyward to overlook it.

Cormorant green in the fishing trawler wake, lamenting gulls above the telegraph hum. Timbre banks itself, washed from the wood yard amongst it. Seals on the outgoing tide. Razor grass blue. Greyling butterflies flick their warning eyes at hoverflies and bees. All, rotary to The Buzz.

I am pulled down the bank. Around my feet they jump and fly, dry grass pricking at my toes – a deformed specimen catches my eye; one leg curled like a withered leaf. He cannot buzz. He is pale, sea bleached, green and brown – almost translucent. Almost.

Two of the fishermen wade their way through to retrieve their stashed bicycles – tucked into the sea beat under the board walk. They leave their friend – white haired, brown skinned, surrounded by The Buzz.

Eventually, as the temperature drops and the breeze lifts off the water, a subduing wash is thrown over the opus. It knocks it back, into the subconscious. The Mary Angela draws another wake – a white butterfly beats frantically against the broken surface relief and plummets headlong into the dormant drones.

In the end it is inevitable – as the foot ferry putters in I join the lifting buzz – the tern twist and dive. White gulls still spin high above – soap suds in a blue whirl pool: clockwork cogs – driving on.

Helen Bullard


Who’s to say who’s allowed? This dog—every dog—loves the beach. She runs to it, gets her claws into it, furiously digging, digging, she wallows, rolls, snorts, rolls, jumps up running for the waves, swims, then hits the sand running again. The routine might be broken by joyful barks, but otherwise it’s always the same.

The time of year doesn’t matter to her. She can be scorching her pads on the sand, or dodging ice floes. It’s the beach! And we’re never alone. People surf-fish around the bathers all summer long. In migration seasons, birds and birdwatchers flock here in droves. Winter brings the seals up the estuary, fishing in the warmer river waters, and deer leave tracks in the sand. But, for this dog, it’s only ever better when other dogs are there with her.

So the signs make no sense. “Dogs not allowed,” they say, during the summer months. That’s when the otherwise empty houses fill up again in this dying—well, no, dead—mill city. That’s when the year-rounders, so many children and grandchildren of Acadians who came to work in the now-defunct mills of The City that Rises Where the River Falls, mothball their Canadian heritage. For one season a year, they suspend that nation’s principle of communal coastal property, otherwise so gloriously extended to us across the Maine shores.

This dog is a Labradoodle. Half poodle, half Labrador retriever, like most of the locals she too could claim French-Canadian roots. Either way, I’d like to see this dog like me as “from away,” as they say here of everyone not born of Mainers. I’d like to think she shares my suspicion of their shifting notions of what’s allowed. Worse, I’ve fast-talked and fast-walked her around the law for too long to stop now. On the beach, we see no fences, no markers, so we just keep going.

We elude the fish police, who issue tickets and use live—well, no, dead—animal tests for toxic algae to determine whether to close the beaches to shell-fishing. Finding high counts of e. coli bacteria, sometimes they also close them to swimmers. But this dog and I are not part of the problem. Steering clear of the beach-house owners, I’m careful to carry poo-bags to demonstrate at a distance that there’s no need to worry about our zoonoses, our shared microbial life, not from this dog. I wonder whether they think about how the city’s wastewater overflows with each heavy rain, then heads directly downstream to mingle with their own septic-system runoff on the beach and out to sea.

Undaunted, today this dog and I cooled our heels by walking the sandbars that the tides are always shifting between river and ocean. I thought about how ten-thousand-year-old burial evidence locates human-dog cohabitation as a constant across so many continents, and what might remain of these shared histories in the six-thousand-year-old firepits unearthed now and then here, where we walk. Heading back up the path later, we met a young fox, skinny and with no brush to speak of yet, who stared back at her, clearly recognizing a sister canid. Who’s to say who’s allowed?

Susan McHugh

choppy urban living

One afternoon I began to hear loud howls of pain from a yard at the back of my house which I cannot see into. On investigation I discovered that my neighbours were housing a rescued, abused dog there awaiting the RSCPA. After a couple of hours of this nerve shattering noise from which there was no escape, I looked out of my front windows to see the abbattoir truck making its delivery to the butchers shop across the road. On the back of the truck were row after row of wheelie bins crammed full with frozen joints of meat. I just couldn’t make any sense of how those two sets of values are reconciled; for me they never could be…



The swallows, not content with occupying three outbuildings, have been testing the eaves around the house in the last few days presumably for a likely spot for a second or third brood. One of them came inside this morning. While we were downstairs having breakfast this one had come through the open window and when I went up to investigate the growing squeaks and trills I found it flying around the bedroom. Against a very stark white pitched-roofed room it appeared quite beautiful in the morning light, as unlike many bird species finding themselves in similar situations this one was poised and in control as it it negotiated its way around the space…

a cat encounter

This story happened some years back
I want to tell you about a cat. His name was Primus. He was black but had 1 white patch of hair on his chest. Like he had chest hair. He belonged to my neighbour. We fought once. We had a birds nest in a tree outside our bedroom window and when the 4 eggs hatched Primus discovered where his next meals would come from. During the light Icelandic summer nights he stalked the nest and one by one picked off the new life in the making there. Night after night I woke up to the cries of the parents when Primus had his paws on their offspring and our war was fought. When there was only one chick left in the nest I caught the cat as he was trying to snatch it and with a large swing I flung it over our greenhouse and into the next garden. He didn´t bother the birds for the remainder of the night. The next morning the bird took the chick and made it fly and my husband took the tree away with a saw. I didn´t see Primus for a very long time after that.

Some time later I met him in my garden. I meowed, he meowed back. I went inside my house and started working in the kitchen. He followed. Carefully he examined my kitchen and living room. I gave him few shrimps that I defrosted under the warm water from the sink. He ate them and left. Since then he came regularly to see me. He waited for me when I got home from work. Sat outside, even in the rain. And when I opened the door to my house he insisted to come in. In good weather in the summer we all sat outside on the veranda, him too. He spent hours with us and I fed him some shrimp. He developed very neat tactics in eating them. I wanted him to earn them. I would take out a tall glass and put the frozen shrimp in them. I´d run the hot water and thaw them in the glass. Then I served the glass to Primus. He usesd his claw to latch onto a shrimp and pull it out of the glass. This he would do until all of them were gone from the glass.

For a couple of years I was away for extended periods and he stopped coming to my house. My husband saws him from time to time outside our house but Primus always refused to come inside. When I came home for vacation once I didn´t see him for the first few days but then one day as I was coming home I met him coming away from the house as I was approaching. He took one look at me and turned around and ran up to the house. He received his rations of shrimp and a chat.

This went on for a few years. One spring day he stopped coming altogether and I didnt even see him in his own yard. I was worried something might have happened, an accident as we live very close to the highway. After 2 weeks my husband met our neighbours and asked them about the cat. They admitted having taken him to the vet to have him put to sleep as they felt he was astranged from them and foul tempered and not really a pet anymore. I am still angry…

a crow too close (pt 2)

Once on the beach in Vancouver as I sat on my blanket reading, a Crow came very close to me. It stood next to me ca. 1 foot away and looked at me sideways like Crows do. I wanted to put my hand out to see if I could touch it but didnt dare.


a crow too close

I have a fascinations with Magpies. I like Ravens too. Now I find myself in Vancouver B.C. were they have neither although a large number of Crows. Now I study Crows to see if there is familiy resemblance. On sunny days I sit by the beach and whatch them get sea shells from the ocean. To get them open they jump up in the air and drop them onto rocks. This usually take a few try´s but they manage. The Seagulls whatch them in awe but to not pick up on the method. Once the Crow is done with a shell the Seagull follows to check for leftovers.



When we were little my sister and I used to go camping to the south of France in a big wood on the edge of a lake. One year we found 2 enormous snails which we decided to keep as pets. My dad told us that french people love to eat snails so we put them in our tent to keep them safe. We used colouring pencils to decorate the shells so that we could tell them apart. One was pink (obviously the girl snail) and one was blue (the boy), imaginatively called ‘pinky’ and ‘bluey’. We took care of them and protected them from the french farmer for 2 whole weeks before we had to leave them behind. (apparently you cant take snails through quarantine ). I wonder how long they lived for?