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Life Turns on a Sixpence

My Beautiful EricIt’s been two weeks and two days since I lost my beloved Eric. I miss him terribly and my little house seems suddenly too big without him shambling around or barking insanely at the postman or knocking my slippers off my feet as he follows me, too closely, up the stairs.

It isn’t only my grief, of course. As if the tears of my family weren’t enough, I didn’t realise how much he meant to everybody until I discovered that my niece, Medusa, had secreted his collar, lead and muzzle in her school bag. Her consternation when I asked for them back a few days later was so sad to see. We agreed that I could have the lead but she could keep the collar and the muzzle. The muzzle was a recent addition to Eric’s life. I bought it as his condition worsened and his behaviour became more unpredictable. I hated it as much as he did but it was necessary when he was around the kids, lest he snapped at them. I found it strange that Medusa would want to keep it, but she did, and now her teddy bear wears it with the collar. Not sure how Ted feels about that.

Having a dog that was known as a character in the village means I’ve cried publicly several times as I’ve explained to concerned locals where Eric has gone. And so has my sister, St Francis. We are a right bunch of softies in my family.

But every sad ending brings a new beginning.

Loving Homes Dog Rescue, the charity that placed Eric with us, let me know that a female Doberman cross was in urgent need of a new home and I was sorely tempted. She was a truly lovely looking dog but, like many rescue dogs, she had her issues and after coping with Eric’s deterioration, I was exhausted. I needed a gentler housemate. (We are making it up to them by possibly fostering a little six-month-old that was stolen from her owner by muggers who apparently wanted her as a bait dog.) So I browsed various rescue sites on the internet, without any real idea of taking on another dog so soon, until I happened across Great Dane Care and that was that.

I like big dogs. I like all dogs (well, nearly all) but I really like big dogs and I’ve had Danes before so I stopped on the Great Dane Care site and had a look around. As luck would have it, the half-starved and mistreated Alfie was at the top of the page. St F and I made enquiries and exactly one week ago Alfie took up residence in my house. No longer is my home echoing and empty. It’s filled with the snoring, farting and grunting of its newest occupant. I still see Eric everywhere but it is a calm feeling as if some remnant of Eric’s spirit has given his approval – but then that’s the rescue dog prayer, isn’t it? ‘When I go, let another experience the love and care that you gave me …’

Any of you who read my earlier post Int Life Brilliant? will know that I’ve had an Alfie in my life before. We don’t duplicate names, St F and I. It wouldn’t be fair to our Alfie’s memory and it wouldn’t be fair to this chap so St F and I spent that first day watching our new friend to work out what his name could be. A chance remark  from St F about the dog’s very mobile and expressive eyebrows led to me joking about Roger Moore (An actor famous for his being able to raise one or both eyebrows). There was a pause, St F and I looked at each other – ‘Roger,’ she said. ‘I like that.’ And so Alfie the Dane became Roger the Dane. He’s also known as Roger Dodger, Roger the Lodger, Droopy and Slobadan. The last refers to his drooling like a leaky tap, especially at mealtimes.

Starved, beaten, with scars that are quite likely to come from cigarette burns, Roger is a surprisingly trusting soul. Well-mannered, gentle and calm and I am more than a little in love with him already. Thank god for the people who work so hard in rescue centres like Loving Homes Dog Rescue and Great Dane Care, They don’t make any money and they witness the awfulness of man’s inhumanity daily. I am truly glad that people like St F and I are trusted to care for some of their precious creatures.

Roger's first day

Roger’s first day

Look at those ribs!

Look at those ribs!

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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Family Life

 

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Life Without My Dog

He’s gone. My beautiful, big, black best friend has gone. This is going to be a very short post because my heart is in so many pieces and I have cried so much I can hardly see.

Eric was always unpredictable – there was something wrongly wired in his head. Also, he had a problem with his eyesight that must have been frightening for him. I managed him with help from my sister, St F and a brilliant trainer called Brendan but as time went on he became more and more unstable. Finally, after he bit me, we consulted Brendan and the charity he came from and agreed that if he couldn’t cope in the home I’d given him, he couldn’t cope anywhere. In effect, he was too dangerous to re-home so …

In the few hours I had left with him, I fed him peanut butter and cheese and blew bubbles for him to chase and I kissed his nose many times. I told him over and over that I loved him. But you know when St F came to take him to the vets (she refused point blank to let me go along) and I walked him out to the car, it wasn’t enough. I just wanted to hold him forever.

 

His bed is still in my kitchen. His giant muddy paw-prints decorate the floor and the plastic bottle that I filled with treats for him to chew is safely stored in a cupboard. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him.

I don’t regret knowing him. I don’t regret a single second of being with him. I love him and I wish it could have been different but at least he had fun. He had love. He had security. And I had him.

I will have another dog, another rescue dog, because however heartbreaking it may be, there is always need for softies like me but, just for now, I’m going to sleep holding the collar I made for Eric with his I.D disc on it.

I love you, Eric

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Two Dry Days In A Row

Yes people, we have had two days without rain! A weekend of aridity after Friday’s wickedly mischievous wind pushed tiles off St F’s roof and sent them hurtling to a soft landing in the ankle-deep mud where her garden used to be. Neighbour’s fences relocated to parts unknown and satellite dishes that once looked to the sky for input were left dangling and swaying on broken stems. The woods are unsafe to enter as possibly fifty trees have tipped into unstable poses, some leaning against their friends, some prone in the leaf litter. The rain-blasted fields could absorb no more water and shrugged the run-off down to the river which rose up and swallowed the road – again. Electricity came and went but still, St F and I managed to turn out a special Valentine’s meal for Medusa and Semtex and their significant others who had come to stay. They had to stay. The village was cut off from the outside world.

But. But. Saturday dawned bright and dry with blue sky. It was still a little windy but I could go outside and remain upright so that was a bonus. St F and I celebrated by taking the dogs out for a run.

Eric has a girlfriend, a black spaniel called Madge. And he loves her. As they’re both rescue dogs, they’ve both had ‘the snip’ so it’s fairly certain that their’s is a simple and pure relationship. Eric is a very Alpha male so his interaction with other males is all about dominance but with bitches he’s better behaved – sort of. He’s got a strong prey drive. All he wants to do is chase things. Deer, pheasants, bicycles, joggers – and Madge. This is a good thing because Madge lives in a flat in a nearby town where she doesn’t get to run free (because she’s a sod to catch) so, when she comes to stay with us, she has a lot of pent-up energy. And she runs faster than Eric who will tire long before she does. And she’s a feisty little creature who will give Eric what for if he annoys her too much. Perfect.

There is one drawback to this happy image of two furry, black smudges haring around on a hilltop and that’s Eric neglecting to watch where he’s going. So intent is he on catching up with the smaller, speedier Madge, he fails to notice the vulnerable humans in his path i.e St F and me. Twice now he has bundled into me and then trampled my body into the ground. I don’t know if I should blame Eric or Madge or maybe the unseen shade of Alfie the original Doberman cannonball. (Int Life Brilliant?) Is he laughing in the shadows of the hedgerow and whispering to Madge, ‘Go closer to the people. Lead Eric towards his family. At full speed. Snigger, snigger?’ Is it his revenge for the flashing reindeer antlers that Medusa forced him to wear one Christmas?

Meantime, Ernie the collie, oblivious to ghostly dogs and high-speed canine romance stares at St F from a short distance away.

‘Throw the ball,’ his expression says. ‘Throw the ball. Please throw the ball.’

Flat out exhausted

Flat out exhausted

Back home after chewing up the kindling, and ensuring that I have to grub around the carpet for splinters of wood to light the fire, the lovers retire for the evening. Note that Eric is no gentleman. He gets the bed. Madge gets the floor. However, he’s so whacked from his outdoor exertions that he won’t stir – not even if I walked through the room banging cymbals together – and he won’t know when I call little Madge up on the sofa. Ha ha ha, serves him right.

That was the first dry day.

Sunday was warmer, sunnier and almost windless. I went alone to the hill with spaniel and Doby. The grass in the field had sprung back to vertical after the hammering wind and rain had flattened it. Deep, shimmering blue arched over the landscape and reflected itself in the sea encircling the headland. The dogs chased up rise and down dip and I found a boulder to sit on where I could watch a buzzard circling below the quiet clouds. After a while, Eric tired of the chase, leaving Madge to pursue an annoyed and vocal pheasant who had a safe head start, he came to stand by me.

Quiet communion. Woman and hound sharing a small moment of peace. Then it was my turn to chase Madge around the field. Seems she didn’t want to go back on her lead.

Has Madge gone home? Oh. I could have caught her, you know. If I'd reallt wanted t...zzzzz

Has Madge gone home? Oh. I could have caught her, you know. If I’d really wanted t…zzzzz

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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What a Lot of Weather We’re Having

Railway lines tremble unsupported above the English Channel. Beach huts surf a residential road towards a town centre. Boulders tossed by furious seas smash through the windows of a seaside hotel. And Eric stands at the kitchen door gazing out at the quagmire that once was our garden.

Will It EVER Stop RainingThe forlorn droop of his ears betrays his frustration. ‘Will it EVER stop raining?’

Hundreds of years ago this village was a port, then the landed gentry of the time decided to let the river silt up until it was no longer navigable but you’d never know that now. Drive past on the main road and you’d believe you were looking across an estuary. Above and to the left of Eric in the picture, you might spot my tide clock – a fun Christmas present of a couple of years ago that’s become an essential bit of kit. Can we get out of the village and go to the shop? Better check when high water is.

Getting out of the village is one thing, getting back in is more of a worry. Will the river have broken its banks before I return? Will I have to wait until the torrent ebbs away? Will Eric piddle on the kitchen floor in desperation because I’m not there to let him out? Thank goodness I live on a hill. I don’t have to fear flood water seeping into my house, unlike those who live in the village centre – and the beleaguered owners of the ancient, working watermill. I’m more concerned about waking up with a wind-thrown tree across my bed or discovering that a landslip has carried me away to a new location.

I’m lucky though. I have electricity and the gales mean that there’s plenty of fallen branches to burn on my wood stove. Should it ever be safe to go near the woods again, I will collect some. I have to keep my fire going, Eric feels the cold. Especially as when I force him out the door for a walk, he gets drenched, poor lad.

Meanwhile, in my bathroom there’s a flightless magpie called Murgatroyd who’s waiting impatiently for me to build her an outdoor aviary. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha …

 

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Family Life, Nature

 

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Autumn Has Landed

Just like that!

UK weather forecasters predicted rain and flash floods. Our area had amber alerts for adverse conditions but we awoke to blazing sunshine and unbearable heat. We watched news reports of rain-lashed, wind-tossed northern towns and went off sniggering behind our hands to splash around in my sister’s giant inflatable pool. Oh what jolly fun. Then, yesterday morning, I opened the back door and invited Eric to go out for his morning pee. He looked at me. He looked at the rain hammering down on the swamp that was our little patch of lawn and he refused to budge. It takes some doing to lift your foot up to the backside of a 40kg dog and shove him out the door but I managed it – eventually. Four feet have more traction than two but I’m bigger than he is and equally as determined. Out into the downpour he went and, because the wind was cold, I shut the door on him. Oh! Now I can really appreciate the expression ‘hang dog’!

I’m not sorry though. I’d rather mop up giant, muddy footprints from my kitchen floor than a yellow lake, if you get my drift. And anyway, aren’t Dobermanns big, tough, fierce animals? No, sorry, got to stop typing – laughing too much. Oh the tears …

Besides, I’m a nice doggy guardian. I have made a throw especially for the couch that he likes to sleep on. That way I don’t have to endlessly wipe off paw prints before a human can sit on it. I just whip off the throw and ta da! Nice clean seat. I even – wait for this – allowed him up on to said couch when he finally did come in out of the rain. And I cuddled him. And I thought about getting him a blanket if he was cold. He sulked for a bit and huffed and grumbled but he forgave me in the end. He had to. Of the two of us, I’m the one who knows how to light the wood stove.

Yes it’s that time of year. No more long days and short nights. No more keeping all the windows open to let in night breezes (and half the insect population). Heat seeking spiders the size of Volkswagens are appearing in the nooks and crannies of my house (and are being helped out again with glass and paper) and instead of trying to move away from Eric when he takes up residence across my bed, I huddle up to him. For the warmth. Strictly for the warmth.

Oh yeah, and cos I love him.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Family Life, Nature

 

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Reaping the Harvest

The rowan trees are heavy with scarlet berries and the hedgerows are full of foragers gleaning late summer fruits for home-made jams and flavoured gin. The weather and the leaves haven’t turned yet but in the mornings I see mist rising from the river and I feel the coolness in the air. Autumn is rolling towards us faster than Knut’s incoming tide.

In the no-man’s-land between earth and sky, swallows trawl the evening air for the protein that will sustain them when they leave us to follow the warmth and the light further south. Starlings on a neighbour’s roof ignore the swallows and gossip among themselves until their inner timers all strike bed o’ clock and they throw their wings wide and head out over the fields in an exodus that leaves the, suddenly unoccupied, TV aerial twanging.

We’ve had a few autumnal days.

Never mind the rain, woman, gimme the bloody frisbee!

But mostly it’s been fine and warm and even an old, old man has found his way out to enjoy the sunshine.

Anyone seen Rufus?

Anyone seen Rufus?

Note the tongue hanging out in case of passing food

The days are shorter, though, and there’s no longer the joy of looking out of my window at 4a.m to find a world bathed in light and the local badgers caught in the act of trying to break into the food bins. At night, I’m no longer beset with moths and daddy longlegs fluttering in my window and dive-bombing my bedside light. Instead, the cooler night air is a refreshing counterbalance to the huge, black, furry furnace that is Eric. A dog so tactile that he MUST stay in physical contact with me while he sleeps. Before too long, I’ll be reaching out to him in the dark to check the tips of his ears. It’s a sure-fire way of knowing if he’s cold – that and the theatrical shivering he’s learned from Floyd. And yes, if he is cold, I will get up and find him a blanket because I’m daft like that.

St Francis loves the winter and she loves Christmas, especially. If she sings Deck the Halls just once more this side of December, I may need alibi. Any time of year makes her happy. She has lived with a stunning view across the valley for more than ten years, now, and the change of colour that each season brings to that view reminds her how lucky she is not to be living in a high-rise in Brixton. (Other London boroughs are available.) And she’s right. And I’m mellowing. Normally I’d be sinking into a pit of gloom the day after the summer solstice but not this year.

I can see my house from up here (just).

I can see my house from up here (just).

This year I’m relaxed about the creeping darkness and the sudden scent of wood smoke from a neighbour’s chimney. Am I getting old? Or is it because I have spent so much of the summer being towed across the fields by Eric, Ernie and Floyd, with the clover brushing my bare legs and a swirl of butterflies leading the dance, that I feel I’ve wrung every last drop from the light half of the year? Maybe. Probably. I’d still rather live in June forever but, until my time machine turns up, I will take a leaf out of St F’s book, look at the view and watch the year change

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Musing, Nature

 

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Aside

I was a little girl once. I still am, though my external self appears to be a middle-aged woman. Inside, among the jumble of anxieties, responsibilities and disappointments, are still a few shiny memories that not only encapsulate a moment in my long ago but also still affect the woman I am now.

That all came out rather complicated. How can I explain? By giving an example, I guess.

The Gambia, 1973. It’s the dry season which my mother, brought up in Uganda, claims is the chilly time of year. I don’t agree. I spend my days wandering about dressed only in my knickers and I’m plenty warm enough. I’m practically feral at this point – I don’t see much of my parents and my little sister, St Francis of Assisi, is in the care of our home help so I’m left to swim, explore the bush, ride horses and, best of all, hang out with a baboon called BooBoo.

Ah, the days when I knew no better. Looking back, that poor animal must have gone out of his mind tied to a tree and being teased by the tourists in the beach-side hotel I called home. Now I’d want to liberate him, then, I just enjoyed being with him. We loved each other, we were pals and I was the one human he didn’t bite.

When a second baboon appears, tied to the same tree, I absorb her into my life and make room in my affections for her. This baboon, Maxi, is a baby. She is half the size of BooBoo but there are those to whom age is no barrier and I often arrive at the tree in the morning to find Maxi taken from her side of the tree to where BooBoo can reach her. I don’t have the vocabulary to say that BooBoo is sexually frustrated but I know that’s why Maxi’s been moved. There’s always an audience that’s highly amused to see BooBoo trying to hump her. I am not amused. I separate them and take Maxi back to safety. The audience breaks up, perhaps they don’t want to take on the fearsomely prudish little English girl who, despite frustrating his desires, can count on BooBoo to protect her from any threat. And no one wants to piss off a baboon.

One afternoon, when the breeze wafting in from the ocean was barely enough to stir the strands of sun-bleached hair that perpetually hung over my eyes, I sat on a low bough of the baboon’s tree with Maxi in my arms. She’d been moved again and I’ve re-moved her. BooBoo is consoling himself with a plate of fruit that I’ve brought but Maxi isn’t hungry. Maxi is tired. Closing her eyes, she rests her head on my chest, hugs my waist with all four limbs and sleeps. And sleeps. And sleeps. I look down on my tiny companion, not daring to breathe, not wanting to disturb her. Flies fuss and flitter from the remains of the fruit to my bare skin and back again. Sweat forms and runs from my pores, I need to pee but I will not move. I believe that Maxi feels safe in my embrace, that’s why she’s allowed herself to fall so deeply asleep and I feel honoured. This furry baby has given me her trust and I will not break it even if I have to wet myself.

I don’t know how long I sat there that day. Maybe it was ten minutes, maybe it was an hour. Time is different when you’re eight, but it left a lasting legacy. Since then I have had many animals, from monkeys to lambs, fall asleep on my lap. Babies too – human babies, I mean – and I have never, ever lost that sense of being honoured when a skittish, wary creature allows itself to fall into a vulnerable state of deep sleep in my care.

The reason that I’m writing about this now is Eric. He’s two and a bit now and, even by Doberman standards, he’s a bloody big dog but he’s still a puppy. One of his most endearing habits is his need of physical contact with me while he sleeps. I have had to lift his head away from my keyboard so that I can type. He’s grumbled and moved a whole half an inch for me. The heat he’s throwing off is making me unbearably uncomfortable and he’s heavy and I wish he’d move away a bit but guess what? I won’t move him (mainly because he weighs forty kilos). Instead I’ll sit here and think about an afternoon forty years ago when I learned the real meaning of trust.

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Musing

 

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