Happy New Year, everyone, and love from the Deep North. The Man from Maryport left us at lunchtime, with decent expressions of regret, but with a certain South-oriented gleam in his eye. His sense that he might perhaps have had enough of les delices du Nord to be going on with was perhaps enhanced by Ben the Trailhound, who celebrated the impending departure of his loving surrogate master by disappearing and causing the Man from Maryport to tramp the grey, unprepossessing hills in the freezing rain, shouting his head off for a solid two hours. Following this escapade, the household had a summit meeting on trailhound management, and came to the conclusion that the wayward little blighter was going to be walked on a lead whether he liked it or not. Meantime, as this discussion developed, Miss Kit was dozing on her cushion in the kitchen. We then had rather a complicated afternoon involving 17 miles of masking tape and Kingstown mixing the Platonic shade of grey, and slightly lost track of the dogs — Miss Best Friend was to be seen snoozing in the kitchen among her toys, and we all assumed that Ben was on the sofa in the sittingroom, his preferred spot. It transpired, some time later, when it had come on to rain again, that this was not the case, since he turned up at the back door whingeing pathetically. I instituted an enquiry into how this had come about, and came to the conclusion that Miss Kit had let him out by my study door. Ben, who is as dumb as the proverbial bag of hammers, is doubtless under the impression that he has acquired a new best friend. I don’t think I’m unduly cynical in believing that Miss Kit had absorbed the general worry that if Ben were released unsupervised into the wild he might get lost, but, being a cat, had come to the conclusion that it couldn’t start too soon. She is, when all is said & done, quite a lot cleverer than he is.