Out of AfricaWritten by James Collins
Out of Africa An Improbable Tail A few weeks ago there was a small stir of excitement in our area, which briefly lit up gloom of our northern Scottish winter like Northern Lights, which are quite visible to us at this latitude. Apparently a man - a Marine, no less - had walked, wearing nothing but a grin and a beard straight out of Lord of Rings, from south of England into Scotland, up past Loch Ness and Highlands where I live, and on to very northernmost point, John O'Groats - in winter. A Scottish winter, at that.
I'm not sure where his starting point was but he must have walked about six hundred miles. Forest Gump would have been impressed. It was either a very brave, or foolhardy course of action, depending on your point of view but it certainly bought him his fifteen minutes of fame. There he was on TV, being carefully filmed from waist up, way they used to film Elvis Presley in early days. "Everyone", he said, "should be free to follow my example if they've a mind to". 'Not even as a joke', thought whole of Scotland, 'and even less in winter' The police didn't see funny side of it either. He was arrested five or six times and spent several nights in prison cells, covered by a blanket (the police's idea, not his). I remember scanning local papers for headline 'Man arrested for palely loitering', but it wasn't to be. I still think they missed one there.
" He was certainly persistant. He finally arrived at his destination and no, he didn't throw himself off a high point into North Sea, which some people thought (I won't say hoped) might be logical end to his journey. As far as I know he got dressed, took a train to his hometown and quietly faded back into obscurity, leaving us with a memory, like Cheshire cat's grin. All this was, I suppose, to make point that he had inalienable right to freeze anytime he had a mind to. Well, point taken, but this little saga set me thinking. Why have we never had our own coat, like other animals? 'But we do', I hear you cry, 'and anyway I'm not an animal'. Oh yes you most certainly are, Madam, and besides, I mean kind of coat you're born with.
"Almost every animal, from a mouse to a moose has a coat. Ok, elephants don't, and maybe hippos, but I suppose they have extra thick skin to compensate. No, beyond dispute, we are only animal that has to keep warm by getting dressed every morning by fire. The reason we are coatless seems fairly obvious. Didn't we start out under hot sun of Africa, and so had no need of a natural coat? Hmm... then how about gorillas, who share 98% of our genes? They're pretty hairy, no question, so why didn't they shed their coat? You don't see them prancing about in their bare skin?
Alright, let's try it from a different angle. Why did we move out of Africa? I have a theory. Suppose other animals started snickering behind their paws as they watched us tottering around on our spindly legs? Or maybe we just thought we detected a sardonic look or two. No, really, I'm serious. Anybody who's ever played tag with a dog in garden knows how clumsy they think we are. Just watch as Bracken feints to left and then effortlessly switches direction in mid-stride as Master sprawls into rosepatch. And they're our friends.
Patch - a Scottish CollieWritten by James Collins
Scottish Pet Portraits Patch
A Scottish Collie It seems as if I've always had dogs around; in my work as a pet portrait artist, under my feet or occupying my favourite chair at home. And also in memories stretching way back into mists of time, by which, for curious and literal, I mean sixties. The first dog I can remember as a toddler was called Bonzo (yes, well, I told you it was a long time ago and I think it was probably quite a fashionable name at time). He was a mutt, no doubt about it; brown, white and orange, and I used to sleep on stairs with him. Then came Jock, named after my father, who didn't live with us at time. He had a rough coat, and I suppose was part terrier (no, not my dad, please concentrate). Later, when I had my own dogs, there was Snooky, who was a collie with a terrier head, then Gub-Gub with beautiful tail, named after Dr. Doolittle's pig because I liked name. She was actually a Welsh Collie, fast and slim, and nothing like a pig. Then there was a Labrador cross, also called Snooky. My wife was for calling her Lib-Lab but I vetoed that. Keep politics out of kennel, I say. And finally there came Snooky's favourite daughter Bugle (loudest in litter) and little scruffy Pebbles, who was really my wife's dog. The last two are still with us. So you can see that I know about dogs, or so I thought before we acquired Patch.
Patch is a Border Collie. He is not aggressive; in fact he is very lovable and quite gentle with our other two dogs, as long as they know who's boss and as long as they do as they're telt, and fast, like. Ken? (Well, he is a Scot!). I have to admit that Patch is a puzzle. If he doesn't want to do a thing, he won't. It's as simple as that. He can't be tricked, flattered or scolded into doing something, because he's not that easily impressed. But there are ways to manage him. If you want him to follow you; walk away. You know, like Horse Whisperer. It's not because he doesn't relate; he really loves us and he is obedient in his own way. He will sit, go down, give either paw and 'talk'. He just doesn't see point of doing something he doesn't want to, all right?