One of the things that really appealed to me about our house when we first saw what the estate agent called ‘a house needing some renovation’ – ie a complete conversion job – was its setting. The house is down a track in the vines, well off the road so it’s pretty animal safe (neither of our cats is in to running marathons) and the wood in front of the house is securely fenced which meant that we weren’t going to be plagued by visiting hunters believing that they have the right to blast small birds wherever they like. The other priority was being able to walk the dogs, we’ve got Dalmatians and they need a lot of exercise. There’s practically no livestock around here, it’s nearly all vineyards or woodland so the thought of being able to walk straight out of the door on a walk where the dogs don’t have to be on the lead was a huge plus point.
For ten months of the year we have wonderful long walks all around here, the people around here are friendly, like a pretty dog when they see one and unlike when we lived on the other side of the river the hunters don’t shout at me because they think that the dogs may be disturbing some non-existent game. They’re more inclined to ask me if Dalmatians are hunting dogs as I think they really fancy having a striking retriever.
Then the grapes start to ripen. Desi, the younger of the dogs, loves fruit. I’ve had to enclose the tomato patch, otherwise she’s down there every morning sucking off newly ripe cherry tomatoes, she practically lives under the fig tree when it’s in season and we always know when they will start to pick grapes soon because Desi goes down the rows sniffing at the bunches and, if she can get away with it, having a nibble or two. She knows that she’s absolutely not allowed to tear at bunches of grapes, Dalmatian popularity locally would go down rapidly if she did, but once the grapes have been picked she reckons that the bunches and odd grapes left on the vines are hers by right.
So at this time of year our walks become me striding on ahead while two dogs stuff themselves in the vines, only reluctantly moving forwards to another patch of succulent fodder when they can tell that I’m really beginning to get cross. Grapes aren’t good for many dogs but luckily my two seem to be unaffected by them but what is suffering is their figures. Instead of spending forty minutes or so every afternoon charging around, they’re barely moving while ingesting numbers of calories. The results are inevitable. Desi’s now been nicknamed Tubby.