Saturday, December 15, 2012


I've circled some of the bees so you know they are really there.

A couple of months ago a found a bee in the sewing room.  I used a drinking glass and a piece of light cardboard to catch her (I read somewhere that all bees except drones are female) outside on a flower.  Soon after that I began finding bees in increasing numbers in the sewing room.  A little investigation on Graeme's and my part revealed that a hive of bees had moved into the sewing room chimney.  Graeme sealed up any possible exit hole he could find, without much success.  The bees kept appearing in the sewing room, making straight for the window where they buzzed in an annoyed fashion until I rescued the.  I spent my days checking on the bee population of the sewing room, rescuing bees and feeding sugar water to those that had worn themselves out trying to get through glass.

The sewing room used to be our lounge room until Graeme built an extension on the house to make a better one, and at the very end of this old lounge room lives a slow combustion fire set into the old fireplace.  I don't know when it was last used because the previous owners had a gas fire and we've used gas ever since we got here.  Anyway, back to the bees.  Graeme and I discussed options and my preferred option was to not kill them.  We decided that they had moved in because the area was rich in canola flowers at the time and pollen gathering required very little flying to find that pollen.  We thought that once the summer came and there were no flowers anywhere the bees would realise that this hive wasn't in the best of places and move on.  They didn't.

With all the family coming down for Christmas the sewing room is needed to be pressed into service as a spare bedroom for the grandchildren.  Graeme and I had a bee removal strategy meeting and decided to remove the chimney cap that had rusted out and let the bees in and then hose a little water into the chimney at regular intervals, thus making the location of the hive much too soggy for the bees to remain.  Graeme sealed up all a few more holes he could find and we put our devious plan into action.  The water went in the chimney and the bees came out the chimney.  Unfortunately they came out into the sewing room in droves!  We spent ages carting bees out of the room and Graeme plugged up more exit holes.  This went on for a few days until we stopped putting water into the chimney because it just wasn't working.  The bees kept visiting the sewing room regardless.  While catching one to help it outside, Graeme managed to get it caught in his hair.  I rushed to his aide and was promptly stung on my right hand middle finger.  The first sting we'd received after the rescue of countless bees over a month or more.  Two days later I was stung again on the foot. 

A few hours after the first sting I remembered something -  I'm allergic to bee stings.  The pain in my finger didn't lessen over the hours and I went to bed with an ice pack firmly placed on the aching digit.  When I woke up in the morning my hand had ballooned up and the pain was still present.  I spent the next two days rotating ice packs from the freezer and bemoaning the fact that I couldn't do any hand sewing or Christmas cake making (I couldn't stir the mixture because I couldn't hold a spoon).  Yesterday I went to the chemist and was given some antihistamine tablets and told me they'd make me drowsy.  Drowsy!?  I took one just before I lay down for my afternoon rest and ended up sleeping for four hours! I woke up to find that neither my toe or hand itched which was a good thing though.  The itch came back about an hour later, but I knew when I went to bed and took another tablet I'd get some relief.  Wonderful!

So the score at the moment is -  Bees - lots and lots.  Graeme and I - 0 plus two stings each so I think that actually puts us at -4.  We sort advice and everyone recommended pest control.  I've sadly admitted that I've run out of ideas to get the bees to move on peaceably and I definitely don't want my grandchildren stung.  Our pest controller can't come out here until the new year.

I've had to ring Rebecca to ask her to bring the camper van when they visit because we are closing off the sewing room until further notice.  I'm still hoping the queen bee decides that her present location isn't all she thought it was when she first moved in and she up stakes and seeks a better home for her family.  Until that time we are a room down here at Spring Rock.  The worst thing is it's my sewing room!  I have a feeling that I'll be sneaking in and estimating the chance of being stung and weigh that up against how much I want to sew.  I will also be wearing farm work books while I sew. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Goodbye My Darling Billy

Billy (with me) showing just what a great show dog he could have been if he'd wanted to.

I'm so sad.  Billy died on Friday night.  He was 12 years old which I'm told is very old for such a large dog, but 10 years of sharing my life with this beautiful soul just wasn't enough.

Billy came to live with us when he was two years old.  He had been bred and raised to be a Champion St Bernard.  His breeder told me he had everything it took to make an Australian Champion and she thought she'd hit the jackpot when he grew into the beautiful fellow you see above.  Billy had other ideas.  He hated being taken to shows and refused to co-operate.  He wouldn't raise his head, kept his tail firmly down when it should have been up and wagging and refused to smile at the judges.  Consequently Billy never won a ribbon.  I can imagine the frustration of his former owner- here was a dog bred to win ribbons and all he did was mope around.  You see Billy was a people person.  He lived in a dog run along at the back of the yard along with all the other show dogs and didn't see much of people, apart from feeding and show preparation.  When I met him he was a sad dog who I thought lacked personality.  He jumped out of his owner's car and into ours without a backward glance. 

Once he arrived at Spring Rock and took in all the acres and other menagerie members he brightened up in a few days. At first he chewed his way through everything not nailed down, and some things that were.  It seemed that when Billy was upset or worried he chewed.  He didn't care what he chewed he just chewed.  The first morning after his arrival we got up in the morning to find an array of work boots, buckets and assorted unidentifiable paraphernalia chewed into small bits of rubble all over the porch floor.  Once he settled in and felt himself to be part of the family (it took all of a week or so thankfully for our farm  and garden equipment) he was always at the back door ready for a pat and a  bit of drool sharing.  Drool sharing and leaning on people were Billy's two favourite pastimes.  Within days of coming to stay at Spring Rock he had met and got up close and personal with most of its inhabitants.  We woke very early one morning to hear one of our ducks scolding away near our bedroom window.  When we went out to investigate we found Billy with said duck sticking out either side of his mouth.  Billy had a big grin on his face (what wasn't taken up with duck that is) and pranced around ignoring the dreadful language and dire threats coming from the soft, fluffy thing in his mouth.  We rescued the duck and build a safe house for him and his friend, but next morning the silly things had found a way out and Billy took no time in renewing his duck carrying experience.  After that the ducks were happy to stay in their safe house - it might be a lot smaller than the whole back yard, but at least it was St Bernard mouth free.  We found that while Billy was eager to please, he was also a bit of a rogue and would see what he could get away with no matter how much trouble he knew he might be in later.  He lived by the motto that the fun was worth the scolding.

It actually took him a couple of weeks to meet up with the ferrets.  Spring Rock was just so full of things to do and creatures to meet that he'd paid little attention to the big cage under the apricot tree.  When he meandered over there one day just to complete his getting to know his new environment, he was shocked to find that the tiny inhabitants of the cage had absolutely no respect for a big, drooly dog.  They were more than aware of the arrival of Billy and had their game plan ready to put into action.  They lined up at the front of the cage and hurled insults at the new big dog on the farm.  After that a life long war was declared between Billy and whatever ferrets were in residence in the cage at the time.  Each new generation of ferret was happy to take up the cudgels and threaten to take Billy on any time he liked.  Even in his last days Billy made sure he passed by the cage every morning as the ferret were put outside to exchange insults with them for a few minutes before going to find a quiet place to lie down for a good rest.

Despite his war with the ferrets, Billy was an easy going dog, with a live and let live attitude to all Spring Rock inhabitants including all the cats but one (he and Ambrosia never got on well together) and our ancient Marrema Apollo.  Apollo was is the winter of his life when Billy arrived, a young, brash pretender for dog of the yard.  They developed an uneasy truce and as long as Billy knew his place (well and truly down the pecking order from Apollo) all was well.  Shadow, our tiny ancient Silky at the same time just rolled her eyes at the displays of testosterone.  She knew she was the boss of the back yard, and what's more both male dogs knew it too.

Billy doted on Shadow.  Shadow wasn't thrilled about this at all.  Billy's demonstrations of affection usually exhibited themselves by his chewing on some part of Shadow's tiny anatomy.  One time I found Billy with Shadow's entire head in his mouth.  She was growling and cussing for all she was worth - if somewhat muffled in the interior of Billy's mouth, but Billy was just sitting there with the fluffy head in his mouth once again ignoring the bad things being said to him.  I rescued Shadow and she emerged soggy but with steam coming out her ears.  She baled Billy up against the porch wall and loudly told him a few facts of life about large, overgrown, dumb dogs who had no respect for their elders.  Billy promised to try harder to behave but it wasn't long before he was gently chewing on some other part of Shadow.  When Shadow died at a very old age Billy missed her dreadfully.  He spent days looking for her and feeling lost.

Billy loved to help me with the gardening.  I have a back injury and getting up and down to do the weeding or planting is a slow process  for me.  Billy saw the opportunity to channel his rescue ancestors and would lean up close to me so I could use him to get myself up.  This worked well except for the times Billy was a bit too eager in his leaning and would knock me flat on the ground.  He'd then stand over me with strings of drool hanging down asking when he could do to help.  He also took it on himself to stand still next to me as I mounted the back stairs.  He adopted the most angelic look on his face and waited patiently for me to lean on his strong back and get myself up the stairs.

Billy also liked to yodel.  I assume with his Swiss ancestry that that was what he was doing.  Some nights he'd sit on the back porch and make noises that in other dogs might be considered gentle howling or singing.  Billy would keep this up for ten minutes or so, consider he'd entertained us long enough with his yodelling prowess and settle down for a good night's sleep.

He had a mixed relationship with my grandchildren.  He loved every one of them but when they were little  he was such a big dog, and they saw him so rarely that they were inclined to be frightened of him.  This upset Billy and one dreadful day he managed to bale Hannah up on the porch where she felt trapped.  I rescued her and brought the crying child inside for comfort and reassurance that Billy would never hurt her.  Billy was very worried, and when Billy was worried he looked for something to chew.  He found a little pair of gumboots and sat down to chew and think about what went wrong with his attempts to love Hannah.  I convinced Hannah to go out and make friends with Billy.  When she walked out the back to forgive Billy for being so big, Hannah couldn't believe Billy's wickedness. She discovered that not content with monstering her, he had the perfidy to chew holes in her brand new gumboots while she was inside crying.  Billy sent her an abject apology and a new pair of gumboots in the mail, along with a photo of his sorry face.  After that they were firm friends.

Billy's Sorry Face

Unlike most dogs, he loved visiting the vet.  Everyone from the receptionist to the vets and other pet owners made a big fuss of him when he arrived and apart from trying to weigh him which he didn't like, everything else was just love and fussing over.  All of which Billy lapped up with a regal air.  Apart from the time when the vet tried to remove a grass seed with just a local aesthetic and me nowhere around to run interference.  No matter how many times she tried to hold his paw he just removed it from her grasp with a polite but firm look on his face.  In the end she had to put him under full sedation just so she could hold his paw.  Billy didn't like strangers getting fresh with him, even if it was a vet.

I could go on and on with wonderful memories of Billy.  He was a joy to own and a truly devoted friend.  Life without Billy her on Spring Rock will not be the same.  Each day I wake up and open the back door to a feeling of loss.  There is no big, furry face ready to greet me and have his morning pat and chat.  I don't have to worry about getting drool on me when I go out.  The back porch is very empty these days.

Good bye Billy.  I will miss you.  Thank you for sharing your beautiful life with me.