Friday, 29 January 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Sasha

At first sight, the third in this series on dogs in a North Yorkshire village appears black but when you are closer Sasha's coat is seen to be the shade of grey, known as silver sable. A small white bib shows on her chest; there is the hint of one white toe - a white patch on her tummy is visible only when she is on her back.

The origins of her breed are said to have been in the monasteries of Tibet, where her ancient ancestors accompanied lamas and yak herders in the mountains.

Sasha, a Tibetan terrier one of the most ancient breeds of dog, now four years old, was the first of the litter bred at York and joined her owners at 12 weeks old. In the summer she does not have the long, fine outer coat characteristic of her breed having been trimmed for comfort. However she sports impressive whiskers, of which many a WWII pilot would have been proud, and the flat feet not found in any other breed.

When she was young she soon learned some skills at puppy and socialising courses. A good house dog who barks when visitors arrive at the door she shares the house with a cat - they chase each other around. This does not prevent her chasing off the next door cat and any others that are about.

Her bed is a blanketed basket on her owner's bedroom floor. She is fed half a Natural Menu diet pack each day and is not too keen on conventional dog biscuits.

Sasha prefers to play with soft toys which she likes to pull to pieces; she will play with a ball but only for a short time. Her mouth is very soft and she has been known to carry live baby rabbits and birds brought home by the cat. Despite trying hard she has not succeeded yet in catching any of the grey squirrels which frequent the local woods.

A friendly dog, happy to travel in a touring caravan or car, she is quite content zipped up in her open mesh dog bag secured with seat belts. In the car she is equally at home in a back seat harness. Tibetan Terriers do not shed hair, so this is another plus point both at home and in the car.

Like many dogs, Sasha is wary of cattle and is kept on her lead near sheep since the occasion when she slipped beneath a gate and proceeded to try to round some up. She does not like early morning walks, but after c09.30 will do out for about an hour. On walks she will carry tatty sticks and loves to chew their ends. On the lead she will sit down without being told if her owner stops to talk, waiting patiently to move on. However she can be seen to be watching intently everything going on around her in the vicinity.

Equally at home in the village, the countryside and at the seaside Sasha will adapt to any conditions especially if there is the chance of a tasty treat. On the beach she will paddle in the sea but will not venture in to swim. Perhaps this is because she once mistook green weed for grass on the surface of a garden pond and was submerged before she realised it was hiding water

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Arandora Star

The Arandora Star

The Arandora Star was the one-time flag ship of the Blue Star Line converted as a troop ship in 1939. In July 1940 it left Liverpool on route for Canada with Italian internees and German prisoners of war on board. On 2nd July off Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland it was sunk by U-boat U-47 commanded by Gunther Prien.

U-47 had previous been part of the pack that had attacked the British at Scapa Flow and had sunk the Royal Oak.

Unescorted, the Arandora Star painted battleship grey had no distinguishing marks and seemed an easy target to the U-boat commander. He had only one torpedo left, but used it with deadly effect. 682 lives, mostly Italians, were lost. Bodies came ashore on the coast of Scotland and in Ireland, down as far as County Mayo. A four part Youtube video by Archie Lindsey tells the story of the bodies washed up in Ireland – Germans, Italians and the British Army guards.

In early June 1940 Italian joined the war siding with the Germans. The fear of fifth columnists was high and Churchill gave the order for all Italian nationals in Britain to be rounded up and interned. Camps were set up in the Isle of Man, Huyton and elsewhere.

At midnight on the day the Italians entered the war the Chief Constable of Middlesbrough had a list of Italians in the town who were to be rounded up. Shortly after midnight the cells were full of the males from well known Italian families. Their shops and restaurants were damaged in rioting in the town.

On 2nd July this year at a ceremony in the Town Hall a plaque was unveiled to those who lost their lives on the Arandora Star. Ray Mallon, the Middlesbrough Mayor, apologised to the relatives of the families who lost their menfolk. Although a Sunderland flying boat had heard the mayday from the Arandora Star it was 6.1/2 hours before the first ship, the Canadian St Laurent, reached the scene to pick up survivors.

The lost of the Arandora Star was not reported for several weeks and then only after bodies were being washed ashore. Lost of life was made worst by the fact that prisoners and internees were below decks with hatches surrounded by barbed wire. It was said the ship only had about a dozen life boats. Archie Lindsey’s video shows the remains on one that reached the shore.

The Italians originated from places like Arpino and Cassino. 48 of those lost came from Bardi. Where there is a memorial to all who lost their lives with their place of origin. There are other memorials to the Arandora Star in Scotland, at the Italian Church in Clerkenwell and on Liverpool Pier Head.

The lost of the Arandora Star is described in Alastair Maclean’s ‘The Lonely Sea.’ The book ‘From Oblivion to Memory,’ with alternate pages in English and Italian by Maria Serena Balestracci, was signed by the Italian relatives and presented to the mayor at the unveiling of the Middlesbrough plaque in July.

{Based on a Books and Banter talk at Stockton on 14 October 2009. Photo from Google image of the Arandora Star – most of which are linked to other accounts of its loss}

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

100 Stories for Haiti

Any writers out there should follow this link.

Uploaded to
This is an ebook project to help the people of Haiti. All the profits go to the Red Cross.

Get writing.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hear, Hear!

This Books and Banter session last September was right up my street. You’ve probably gathered that I am fond of dogs.

Daphne Hadfield, who gave the talk, had Pip, a five year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, with her. Daphne spoke about the work of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Pip is Daphne’s hearing dog.

Dr Bruce Fogle’s visited Washington, USA in 1972 where he learnt about dogs trained to alert people to sounds they couldn’t hear. The charity was established in the UK after discussions with Lady Wright and the Institute for the Deaf.

The HQ of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is in Buckinghamshire. There is another training location in Bielby, North Yorkshire. Approximately 50 dogs a year are trained in Bucks and one every two weeks in Yorkshire. 1400 dogs have been placed with deaf people since the start of the organisation.

To qualify for a dog you have to be over 18, and profoundly or severely deaf. Other factors considered are whether the deaf person has to spend a lot of time alone and needs to be independent.

Three-quarters of the dogs come from places like the Dogs’ Trust, usually mongrels; a further twenty percent are donated from breeders who may offer a pup from a litter. The dogs must have the type of temperament to investigate sounds. A dog selected as a possible hearing dog is placed with a family who looks after it for a period during which it is ‘socialised’ and undergoes obedience training. The charity pays for food and vet’s bills. The dog visits the centre each week and as part of the assessment its hearing ability is tested. Dogs deemed unsuitable are re-homed.

A chosen dog undergoes 16 weeks training and is matched to a recipient before training begins. Sounds in the recipient’s home are recorded – door bells, telephones, smoke alarms, etc – and the dog trained to react to those sounds. It will then warn its owner and take them to the source of the sound. It is five weeks before the eventual owner meets the dog. Food treats are the reward for a dog correctly reacting to the sounds.

Later in the training the owner will spend time in a flat at the centre so that the dog’s allegiance can be transferred from the trainer.

Finally, a trainer will spend three days at the home of the owner to verify that the dog has settled in and reacts as taught to the sounds in the home.

It costs between £10000 and £15000 to train a dog. The recipient of the dog is not asked to contribute to this cost.

You can recognise a hearing dog when it’s out with it owner as it will be wearing a maroon jacket bearing the words ‘Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.’

Daphne gives talks in the north – at the moment she is the only speaker in the area. With Pip she visits Women’s Institute, schools, luncheon clubs and Rotary Clubs to explain the work of the charity.

Contact details:

  • Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, The Grange, Wycombe Road, Saunderton, Bucks HP27 9NS

Sunday, 17 January 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Bracken

Born on a moor land farm it seems right that the second in the series on dogs in a North Yorkshire village should have the name of Bracken.

Bracken is a thirteen years old, black and white Jack Russell with touches of tan in his ears and round his posterior, the patch of tan on the top of his nose so light that it looks like pink skin. Obtained as a puppy for a donation to the Yellow Brick Road charity Bracken has lived with his owners ever since.

Following the advice of another dog owner in the village, Bracken has been trained by his owners to walk off his lead on the roadside paths; he will sit on the command of ‘Car, Bracken!' and knows which side to sit when he is told ‘Left' or ‘Right'.

His figure is best described as slightly rotund and this is due to the course of steroids prescribed for him by the vet to alleviate a recurring itchy skin which cannot be completely cured. The steroids have proved expensive over a period of time and Bracken is not covered by pet insurance.

Bracken is a good house dog and will make the presence of visitors known, especially if they are strangers. He is not aggressive like many Jack Russells seem to be, although he can look more ferocious than he really is. At thirteen he will still howl for the lady dog next dog when she is on heat.

Bracken is ball mad and has ways of making you play. When his owners clean their car on the drive at the front of the house, the ball is put down at their feet. Bracken knows that it will roll down the slope and across the road. He also knows that if he waits it will be fetched back and thrown for him, so that one of them at least can finish cleaning the car. Gardening at the front receives the same treatment.

Bracken sleeps on a small duvet in a basket inside the house, usually in the conservatory. However he does not like it there when rain beats down upon the roof; the conservatory is also too hot for him when the weather is warm. He then retreats further into the house.

Apart from one West Highland terrier, Bracken does not like other dogs and there are a number which cause him to be put back on his lead. He is friendly with children and always pleased to see people he knows. Bracken dislikes baths, standing rigidly and looking to his front - it seems an effrontery to him to be subjected to such indignity.

Fed a handful of biscuits in the morning, Bracken has one main meal in the evening usually of biscuits for adult dogs, although recently he has acquired a liking for Pedigree Pouches. Bones are limited since they tend to cause diarrhoea, a condition not recommended for ‘poop-scooping' times.

Each evening Bracken drags the duvet from his basket to sit at his owners' feet to watch TV. At ten o'clock Bracken will stare at his mistress until her husband opens door to let him out for his nightly ablutions. Guess who's in charge.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Kipper Patrol

Louise Wilkinson, author of the book ‘The Kipper Patrol,' explained how 608 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force became known by this name to a Books and Banter audience at Stockton on 5th August 2009.

Julie's book came into being following research she had undertaken for a higher degree. 608 Squadron were based at Thornaby aerodrome in North East England.

The squadrons making up the Auxiliary Air Force before WWII were essentially gentlemen's flying clubs. Membership was by discrete invitation only. 600 and 601 based in the London area were almost aristocratic with 601 being known as the ‘Millionaires Mob.'

At Thornaby membership of 608 was drawn from important families and the sons of prominent business men. Louise's book deals with the history of 608 Squadron, the stories of the pilots and airmen as well as the history of Thornaby aerodrome. Their role as part of Coastal Command was to protect shipping convoys and to look for submarines. They referred to their unglamorous role as "the kipper patrol."

Louise's research brought her into contact with survivors of the veterans and their families. The book includes many photographs from their personal collections. 608 was formed in 1930 and was active once or twice a week and at weekends. If they did not like an instruction then they just went home. This was to change with the start of the war when the members became full time members of the RAF. In 1942 the squadron moved to Scotland and later to North Africa.

Other RAF squadrons based at Thornaby during the war included Polish and Canadian pilots. The Hudson aircraft became the workhorse for Coastal Command work. It was 220 Squadron from Thornaby that found the German ship, the Altmark, off the Norwegian coast near Egersund; this find led to the rescue of the British prisoners aboard in what has become known as "The Altmark Incident"

After the war 608 Squadron was reformed in 1946 but was eventually to be disbanded in 1957. Thornaby aerodrome has been swallowed up by the ‘new' town of Thornaby. Some of its buildings remain in use. A bronze statue of an airman has been erected and a controversial replica spitfire stands on a roundabout at Thornaby ‘gateway.' Although spitfires flew from the base, many still argue that the replica should have been of Thornaby's iconic Hudson.