Another time, another little bear

Andy TwoAnd this, dear Readers, is the other Andy, to whom I alluded, many many moons ago in the (as yet still unwritten) Old Guard section at the top of the screen. In ‘To begin at the beginning’, I took a look at where the love of dogs originates in our household, and it was with what we Dickens Dogs call Andy Number One, as recalled in that piece. But here is the next chapter in the story and though outwardly similar – a terrier of the same breed – the two boys couldn’t have been more different.  In this picture we find Andy Number Two, when he was about two years old, chewing thoughtfully on a real bone (those were the days), in a garden we all knew and loved from the boys’  recollections and Uncle Jonny’s stories about all those who went before us who frolicked there over the decades. I can imagine it all as it was: pink floribunda roses cascading over the pergola, interspersed with giant loganberries which simply kept on coming throughout the summer. Behind them, the summerhouse, perhaps the awning erected to extend the shade further on a glorious afternoon. In the distance, a lawnmower and overhead, as always and as now, the conversation of the gulls.

Andy Two 2Although there are several pictures of this dear little fellow when he was a boy, none is better than this grainy one – taken when he was little more than eight weeks old – when it comes to suggesting what an absolutely magical pup he was: a perfectly formed but tiny Cairn, right from the word go. He was brought from near the beautiful ancient town of Dartmouth in South Devon to fill the void which the death of Andy Number One had left. From the moment he was lifted up, he clung lovingly on, as sweet-natured, gentle and companionable as his predecessor had been feisty, independent-minded and stubborn.

The Andy pup slept on Kemo Sabe’s bed that first night (those obviously were the days) , his tiny form fitting perfectly at the foot of the bed where he was discovered sleeping soundly after she woke up next morning. He was small and patient enough to be carried in a wicker shopping basket on walks to the sweetshop or bakers, which introduced him to the world well before he could be put on the ground and meet it face to face; so right from the start he became the best kind of wordless companion: one that everyone admires and reaches for emotionally.

When times were tough, he hung in there, offering unmeasured affection and loyalty, as well as a swift pair of heels for walks of inordinate length, whether across heath, down or beach. When Uncle Newman Noggs came along, Andy gently picked up the puppy’s lead and walked along with him round the garden teaching him many wonderful and useful things: though getting on in years himself, he liked the novelty of a new friend and they spent many happy hours together, discovering new places to visit and eat their dinners.

The presence of a beloved dog lingers on and when, in the fullness of time, he was laid to rest alongside his Cairn terrier namesake across the lawn from Kemo Sabe’s old bedroom, he lived in everyone’s hearts and in their recollections, which were many and various:  the late-night walk to see the hedgehog on his ramblings up the road, the beautiful expression on his loving face, the sunny personality – never a moment of harshness in his whole life. He was a saint among dogs, and there are few of whom that can be said. The cross Ten Blankets made for his grave is now upstairs, removed from the site when the house was sold last year. His pictures are around the house. And Andy lives in our hearts.

Go find it, faeries

IMG00358-20140218-0758The lighter mornings are upon us and today the sun came bursting up into our lives. On the early news we heard with warm hearts that in the south the flood levels are dropping a bit. As a boy who cannot bear getting my enormously furry legs wet for less than a really decent retrieve, I can barely conceive what it must be like to sustain life under the conditions which are currently so common. But now the real work must begin: the horrible discoveries of loss and destruction; the protracted process of getting some kind of normal life back, and trying to find ways of making ends meet. It is a new beginning, but not a very joyful one. Coming through the dunes to the beach this morning, however, we all detected a definite feeling of renewed hope in the air. As we rounded the little gate, into the scrubby field where the Exmoor ponies greet us every day, we couldn’t help but feel one of those thrills which the smell of spring – be it ever so faint – instils.

Skylark59 When Kemo Sabe was making her tea, we heard the skylark singing its gracious and sustained song on ‘Tweet of the Day’. Suddenly above us hovered the sound of summer months, even earlier outings and the solitude of the dunes. This blessed and inspiring song transported us through time as we crossed its currently empty habitat. We remember Thomas Hardy’s tribute to this ‘tiny piece of priceless dust’, the memory of whom, like a gentle phantom, brushes over us as we pass. You will return, sweet creature, and we will be waiting, on dry, bright mornings like today when still more of the sorrow has evaporated on the gentle breeze.

If you would like to hear this morning’s ‘Tweet of the Day’ about the skylark, you will find it here:

To begin at the beginning . . .

AndyOn this thoughtful and reflective day, when our little Prince George is to be baptised, I shall introduce you to Andy, about whom I have begun to gather memories as the dog that began a lifetime’s love of canine companionship. Perhaps little George’s early years will be similarly brightened by his friendship with Lupo, the family cocker spaniel, and help him to love our species as dear old Andy did for this household and one lonely girl in particular. Andy was a Cairn Terrier, and was born a very long time ago a long way from here – near Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor in Devon. In this picture he is getting on in years, as his eyebrows suggest. He lived only ten years and his death, when it eventually came after a long decline, was the moment when everyone realised that not having a dog in the hole he had left in their hearts would be unthinkable. Rather as in Uncle Noggsy’s case, though in a different kind of way (as I will one day explain) getting him was the most amazing bit of luck – the sort of good fortune upon which the innocent stumble and find themselves blessed. Andy was the first dog the family ever had and no one knew much about which breed to get, let alone where a breeder might be. Actually, the elderly woman who bred him lived a reclusive life, dedicated to her beloved Cairns, in a remote house in the middle of moorland. Recommended by a family friend who had bought a puppy from her, one day there was a spare one, but he was three months old and by then utterly used to life on the land. What a little tike!  What a character! Anyone who knew anything about dogs would have run a mile from this challenge but experience is a great teacher and encountering difficulties has its advantages. Difficult to train, recalcitrant and fiery (the opposite to the golden retriever, but remember, he was a terrier), snappy and noisy at times but, for all that, a loving, cheery pal and engaging companion who loved listening to music on the radio and walks – the longer and wilder the better. His independent spirit shines through in this old picture, I think, even though by the time it was taken his breathing was troublesome and his heart giving out. My word, there were some memorable times with him around: he bit the paperboy, which brought a visit from the police; chased rabbits into brambly undergrowth on the local downs and wouldn’t come out, eventually making his own way home along a main road; took off down the cliff overlooking Redgate Beach – rabbits, of course, once again – and had to be pursued and stopped from falling off into the sea by a visiting uncle. It is said that everyone has a Haile Selassie story and even this little Cairn Terrier had his: Andy had the privilege of wearing out one of the great man’s young relatives on a day of mad running about, covering miles of ground, delighting in each other’s company – neither had ever met such an energetic spirit before! Only on the following day did Andy himself sleep off the exertions, for once unwilling to trot in any direction. During holidays, Andy would return to wuthering heights on Dartmoor where his regained an even more profound freedom to run riot and chase as many rabbits as he liked. When Andy could no longer gasp for breath, no longer clown around by dashing though every room in the house jumping over people’s legs in corridors; when his little tummy was swollen with retained water and he just lay on the bed waiting for some help, the vet came round and with a peaceful passing a pall descended on the home he had previously loved and lit with life. For some the grief was expressed in hours of deliberate digging, making the deep,deep grave ready for his little body. For others there was utter sleeplessness, the kind that dwells on an image which bores like a maggot into the skull – here, of that little body lying under so many feet of earth, as the orphaned Yuri Zhivago imagined his dead mother. Andy’s death brought forth the first cries and tears of inconsolable grief she had heard a grown man utter. Who ever would have thought a mere dog could mean so much? Our dear Andy.