Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Motor memories

March 23rd, 2013

IT’S ENCOURAGING to know there’s at least one reader of Saturday’s Courier who reads the Man with Two Dogs column. Maybe not as enthusiastically as the lady in the fish shop in Montrose who told the Doyenne that my article was the first thing she read every Saturday – “even before the Deaths column”!

In response to comments about mallard duck pairing up and haunting the ditches at this time of year looking for suitable nesting spots, Andrew Simpson from Whitburn in West Lothian got in touch.

He has seen ducks return each year to the same ditches and believes it’s to feed on frog spawn. Unlike natural streams, ditches are dug in straight lines and, without regular maintenance, fill up with brash and rubbish which hinders the flow. The water backs up in pools creating ideal spawning grounds. Herons hunt in the same ditches for the frogs.

I had not been aware of ducks feeding on frog spawn but, like all wild things, they are opportunist feeders and will always go for the easy meal.

Like me, Andrew has watched broods of ducklings on remote burns, newly introduced to their watery element, intrepidly swimming behind a parent bird until they were disturbed by humans and dogs.

The duck’s immediate concern is for her chicks. Most commonly she’ll flap off, quacking loudly, feigning an injured wing and deceiving her aggressors into thinking she can be caught. The chicks scatter in a star-burst of evasion and confusion to take cover in hidey places.

More motoring memories come from Mrs Elizabeth Morris of Broughty Ferry about her father-in-law Robert Spence Morris who was born in Crail. As a historical aside, his family’s business happened to own the hearse that was used in the 1960 TV series, Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

In 1902 Robert was apprenticed to an engineering company making the new-fangled horseless carriages. In due course he opened his own garage, Scott & Morris, at 43 Allison Street, Glasgow who were agents for Belgian Minerva cars and French Darracqs. It was a 12hp 1904 Darracq that had the starring role in the 1953 classic comedy film, Genevieve.

Charles Rolls was a Minerva dealer before he went into partnership with Frederick Royce to found the Rolls-Royce motoring dynasty.

In 1906 Robert accompanied William Douglas Weir, who became 1st Viscount Weir, on a 6000 mile continental motoring holiday, believed to be driving a Darracq; testimony surely to the quality and endurance of the early cars. A motor license cost 5/- (25p) then and there was no driving test to pass – you just took to the roads.

The family still have a Minerva statuette – she was the Roman goddess of wisdom – presented to Robert in 1922 on the 25th anniversary of the Minerva Motor Company.

Robert returned to his east coast roots in 1938 to manage the Angus Garage in Dundee, retiring eventually at the age of 79.

Writing this piece I watched a blackbird rootling about in a pile of last autumn’s leaves which had blown into a corner. The leaves provide a habitat for bugs and creepy crawlies which are part of the blackbird’s diet. The blackie was clearly finding plenty to eat as it left no leaf unturned in its search for food.

It’s a temptation to tidy up every leaf and have the garden pristine but here’s an opportunity to be idle with a clear conscience. In the current winter conditions these leaves provide a natural larder which foraging birds depend on. Your garden song birds will thank you and their spring morning chorus will be as sweet as ever.

To celebrate a milestone event the Doyenne cooked a piece of beef on Saturday. We had it cold on Monday and on Tuesday she made old fashioned stovies from the knuckle of cold meat that was left.

A thrifty, traditional Scottish recipe ensuring that not a scrap of good meat is wasted, the dish gets its name from stoved potatoes when cooking was done on a wood or coal-fired stove or range.

Stovies are like nursery food – a cosy memory whenever you think about them. It’s probably the sweetness of the onions fried in beef dripping that gives the dish its savoury taste that lingers on the breath.

Written on Saturday, March 23rd, 2013 at 11:01 am for Weekly.