Once by men and angels

20170801_061033Yesterday morning – and a damp and increasingly unpleasant morning it was –  we found a new best thing on the beach. There it lay, on the tide-line, no one about the see it and no one had been there before us, only the ancient castle walls which rose up in the distance behind it. We sniffed its well-proportioned body, noting its arrival, but otherwise respectfully moved on without disturbing it or making a fuss. Not since we found the squid some years ago has there been anything like our octopus, a perfect specimen thoughtfully blended into his sandy surroundings. These are the passings that we mourn whenever they are brought to our attention, through tiny windows into a bigger world of creation of  which we are only dimly aware: the great North Sea, with its chilly secrets and quiet deaths. Why this little fellow died and was cast ashore – so perfect and so peerless – remain a mystery, but we are grateful for the joy of coming upon him first and bearing witness to his life.

20170801_0611061.jpgWhereas zoologists celebrate the octopus’ ingenuity and unique intelligence, unfortunately in poetic terms they are more likely to be fodder for the infant, the matter of limericks about multiple legs and arms, seemingly lacking the gravitas of the giant squid, immortalised so powerfully in  Tennyson’s poem. Octopus  – of which of course there are numerous species, ranging from tiny to terrible – live for only a couple of years at most and as incarceration in an aquarium is stressful and life-shortening they aren’t readily found in them, though Brighton Aquarium once was graced by the presence of a lovely Giant Pacific Octopus of considerable distinction. Kemo Sabe will always recall the moment in the darkness when, eyes adjusting to the light, she became aware of the presence of this eminence grise in what had previously appeared to be empty tank. Like some alien balloon, adhering to the back wall of its glass home, it seemed reluctant to relax in its surroundings, pondering on the loss of the serendipity in the open sea. Lowering, yet endearing, in its kittenish vulnerability, it has stuck with us, as it were. Our Brighton friend’s time is long up by now, of course, as has that of the little one we chanced upon who, like the kraken, once by men and angels to be seen,/ In roaring . . . shall rise and on the surface die. Though there would have been no roaring at his demise, there did come the moment when mutability was insufficient and all else failed. And thus we found him, first along the shore.

Just one of those days

20170710_064337This morning, trundling along the beach (so far, so routine), it felt different. It was just one of those days: magic, despite evidence being to the contrary. Rather grey and utterly still; the sea quiet, and almost indistinguishable from the sky. A tide drawing ever nearer (by the end of the week, we’ll be watching our step), but plenty of sand still stretched ahead of us, and the waters themselves touched the shore tentatively, gently. Looking about, you might expect it to be chilly, were it not 14 degrees and so a good five more than yesterday, when the sun was bright and clear. Obviously, the clouds were on our side. The unexpected nature of perfection can surprise us; it is true that – often – we get what we need.

20170710_064625.jpgIt seems months, and probably is, since we left the dark morning runs and Kemo Sabe’s vital head-torch behind. It will be several months until they resume. Meanwhile we sustain an ever-growing number of holiday-makers for whom a morning such as today’s, and the deterioration in conditions which followed it, is usually a disappointment, deterring all but the weather-hardened from the beach, and crowding the coastal castles, their galleries, gardens, grounds and tea-rooms instead.

20170510_074634On such a morning, there’s a kind of hush, as though a great juggernaut has just past by, as visitors sigh and rest a while longer on their pillows, gathering their thoughts and changing their plans in the face of the weather forecast, while the locals quietly look about them, the veil lifted in the peace.  Above the kitchen window, some resident sparrows  – who’ve already raised one brood (pictured here) in their house-martin box – decide to mate again, committing themselves to each other for more weeks of tireless work, placing their faith in something bigger, and another day. Part of the joy of this area of England is the changeability of the weather, sometimes from hour to hour. Only this Saturday, it was sweltering and the place was full of folk. But this morning was magic and then the rain came, and the birds took to the mere, bringing the bird-watchers joy. ‘The Poet sees!/ He can behold’, as Longfellow writes:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.
From the neighboring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Engulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard’s tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man’s spoken word.
Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.
These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!
He can behold
Aquarius old
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
Scattering everywhere
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.
He can behold
Things manifold
That have not yet been wholly told,–
Have not been wholly sung nor said.
For his thought, that never stops,
Follows the water-drops
Down to the graves of the dead,
Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
To the dreary fountain-head
Of lakes and rivers under ground;
And sees them, when the rain is done,
On the bridge of colors seven
Climbing up once more to heaven,
Opposite the setting sun.
Thus the Seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change
From birth to death, from death to birth,
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
Till glimpses more sublime
Of things, unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
Turning forevermore
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.

‘Out of this wood do not desire to go . . . ‘

20170618_174941.jpgTiny achievements and homely happiness have done their best to counterbalance the awful uncertainty from which this country as a whole has suffered over the past several weeks.  When we learnt that young Frederick had won his class at the Border Union Championship Dog Show (beating his own breeder’s splendid young dachshund to boot); that the very next hannah rccday at the same show our dear Dalmatian friend, Hannah (Buffrey Hanky Panky by Dalleaf) had won her class, having only recently won the reserve Dalmatian Bitch CC and Best Puppy at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show; that our blue tits have, as we suspected from the silence surrounding their now-abandoned box, successfully fledged – a deep feathery mattress being all they’ve left behind; that Kemo Sabe has decorated the 20170401_105338circumference of our pond with fossil-encrusted swirls, and paved under the garden bench and made the composter more approachable as a result; that we are, as of now, all well and free from medication (a daily benison – good health – and we thank God for it); when we catch sight of the soaring martins chasing dreams across the whitewashed walls, gobbits of mud in their beaks, charged by the sun’s intense rays to build something and build it now, now that their tummies are full and the time is ripe; when we welcome friends and laugh with them, and choose 20170618_174857.jpgnew tiling and consider floors; close the new shutters against the beating afternoon sunshine, and cut the fragrant roses, pale and creamy, for beside the bed; feed Hammy spindly pea shoots and fresh basil, which he dips into day long. All these things and many, many more. Well then the strife, the discord, the amazement of recent events begin to diminish in intensity, becoming merely part of what there is, the ‘remote continents of pain’, as someone famous once said. So, you that way, we this way. Remember: I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.

 

‘Mr Dick sets us all right’

20170524_124526Today is the tenth birthday of our dear friend and biggest brother, Newman Noggs, so just this once – instead of speaking about him – I shall let him speak for himself, on this most auspicious day:

I am not sure why I have been asked to talk to camera but I am always happy to meet new friends and reach out in the hope of recognition. I am named, so I’m told, after a Dickensian character; a gentleman who, down on his luck and against his better judgement, makes terrible mistakes and finds himself drawn into dreadful deeds which play appallingly on his conscience. Sounds awfully like me! Ever since I was a boy, and there were only Uncle Johnny and me in the gang, I’ve got it wrong. Chewing the bathroom carpet, chewing the mat in the back of the car, leaping and bounding after any- and everybody – all in the best possible taste, though, you understand; an irrepressible spirit as sunny as that sunny August day I came Newman and Jackhome with Johnny from my Loughborough kennels and began the life I love. Johnny would look serious, indeed worried, in case anyone might think he’d done the wrongs which were down to me, but his worry turned to dismay and, eventually, acceptance and then real understanding. He was a true friend and I loved him so dearly. I miss him, every day, but see him regularly in my own way.   It’s part of the special way my mind works. Everyone knows I see dead people, like the Vikings drawing their long-ship up the beach at Bamburgh, and the weary departed souls in Nunhead cemetery.  We so loved our daily walk with Kemo Sabe around its perimeter, for the demands of a day at school would often upset my tummy, after bringing a teddy to comfort the tearful and those as prone to getting it wrong as me. It was a stressful world but I made my contribution to calming it, so I have done good in my time. One of my friends even painted a portrait of us together: that was something special. I remember you still, Jonathan.  That was all before we came on this long, long holiday to the seaside and stayed, and stayed . . .

 20170525_064546I know I sometimes leave people dazed and confused but, believe me, no-one is as dazed and confused as me. I wonder sometimes why Uncle Johnny left us, but he only did that after Mr Pip had joined Barnaby in our gang. Perhaps he couldn’t stand any more mess, or silliness. I wonder what he would have made of Nicholas. He’s such a sweet affectionate little soul, particularly to me, so I let him chew my fur as he needs me just as I needed Johnny, to love and guide. It reminds me of my school work and the comfort that I gave.  But now I follow Barnaby, as he is a bear of greater brain, and is cleverer at getting his muzzle off, whereas I’m better at eating seaweed through it! Seaweed and swimming are my best things!

20170525_070027Today, for some reason, there were hot steak pies from the Bamburgh butcher with our dinners and then there was a walk over the dunes beyond the castle, under the darting, chuckling birds that share our lives. And there is something new for me to chew on, too. Everything fits together –  just about – and I am happy to go along with the gang, cheerful and straightforward in my own eccentric way. I do think, though, that I am even more like Mr Dick than Mr Noggs. But I’ll leave you to check that out.

 

 

 

Blow the wind southerly

Newman and Barnaby AprilMay is nearly upon us and at last the wind has finally changed. After over a week in which Winter dug its claws firmly into us all again, all springtime activity has resumed in the bustling households of our sparrows, jackdaws and blue tits. However, this change for the better was not before we were attacked, on two consecutive days, by an aggressive Weimaraner unknown to us. He went for Barnaby first, and then me! I suppose we should be relieved that Kemo Sabe’s authoritative shouts of ‘No!’ as he barrelled into us and dug in to Barnaby’s back were insistent enough to weaken his resolve. Discipline and someone who knows what’s what are obviously unknown to him, whatever his problem is. Unfortunately, as has always been the case in such unfortunate circumstances, even after the first incident the owner made no attempt to prevent the second run-in, let alone intervene to stop her dog (and its companion) troubling us by putting it on the lead.

IMG_20170430_075027Our dear friend Bailey, pictured with us only this morning, has herself been seriously attacked on a number of occasions, mostly by the visiting dogs who are under-exercised at home and over-excited about being given free rein on the beach, by owners who care little about the consequences of both.  The family of other good doggy friends of ours put it well this week when they spoke of local dogs being under a lot of pressure from the tourist dogs. This week’s unprovoked attacks have certainly put me on my guard and I know for a fact that Barnaby is always on edge, watching for possible ambush from the dunes. We are, as a result, finding out more about an organisation called FIDO, ‘Fighting Irresponsible Dog Owners’ which gives advice – legal and otherwise – on how to deal with such people and their dogs; people who seem incapable (because obviously so unwilling) of securing their dogs to a lead, or considering the safety of others, let alone their own well being, should they find themselves investigated for having a dog dangerously out of control.

Still, the return of the first two pairs of house-martins greeted us at the end of yesterday afternoon’s walk and additional sand-martins were visible as well. Things are definitely on the up, nature-wise. As for me, I had my teeth professionally cleaned and polished this week – my third veterinary intervention this year. What have I done to deserve this, as someone famous once said? To finish, a silly bit of verse. Each morning, there comes a moment when Kemo Sabe is simply unable to get Newman to move. He is utterly transfixed, whether by a leaf, or a smell (which he so often is), and he digs his considerable heels into whatever surface he’s on with the strength of a steam roller. I imagine these to be his thoughts: ‘O blade of grass so green and bright/ I cannot see you in the night/ But now the sun is in the sky/ I cannot merely pass you by.’

Finally, we’ve been listening at every available opportunity to An Ancient Observer, the new CD from the wonderful Armenian jazz pianist, Tigran Hamasayan. Have a listen, and listen to it all – again and again! It helps to put things in perspective, as does Newman, of course.

A week of sun and sausages

120px-Sand_Martin_(Riparia_riparia)_(14)The sand martins have begun to return to the nesting holes! Joy unconfined! Proof, if proof were needed, that life is gathering speed in our midst and that we – the watchers and the waiters – are worth the candle.  The wind-blown nesting places which have lain forlorn – and indeed unseen – as we passed beneath them on the 20160425_073658darkest mornings, are now alive with the chattering of the creatures which, with miraculous accuracy, have located them as home for yet another breeding season.  As of today there are at least four pairs, but, when the wind turns southerly again, numbers will shoot up and soon the dawn will be full of their gossiping voices.

20170331_125642Around and about our home itself, our friendly neighbourhood bird life is busy, too. Any returning house martins will be terribly disappointed to find that the boxes erected especially to attract them to our eaves have one and all been commandeered by our fat little sparrows, most numerous of ‘the ones who stayed’. Even the two natural clay martin nests are now providing bed and board to chatty couples, late risers though they be; unlike the sand martins they never celebrate the early morning sun or greet us on our return home after the run. But the dawn chorus of blackbird, robin and the rest is intensifying day by day and the dawn obliterates the moon ever earlier. Our jackdaws have kept an eye on their chimney throughout the winter, and now look set to get cracking with a brood. The feeders are kept full, so starlings newly returned to them can have a mouthful, too and, to the box in which they successfully raised their clutch last spring, have returned our blue tits, busy all day, every day, and so conveniently near the nuts and fat balls.

20170401_141432But if the birds know what they are about, that is more than can be said for the sausages. It says it all about the serendipity which characterises our little posse that a family get-together last Saturday at the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, ended with both Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, having qualified for next year’s Crufts. Having achieved second place in their respective classes, the terrible twosome will now be heading Birmingham-wards next March, ‘for the experience’, as they say. This picture captures all the chaos of the aftermath, 20170401_120107both from the confused disposition of the certificates (which, in a way, says it all) to the restlessness of pup Frederick, their tiny nephew, whose intervention displaced the intended line up. We are grateful to the friendly judge who found Tiggy and Nico worthy: it was a lovely surprise. Who knows, once he reaches six months young Fred will probably honour the ring with his presence and may even qualify as well!

The dews of comfort

It has taken a very long time – and it’s been a tedious and painful haul, for everyone involved – but I am now almost completely over my horrible abscess. Lancing the enormous thing left a gaping hole at least two inches in diameter, through which my chest wall was clearly visible. Kemo Sabe winced as she ensured it was completely clean every day, checking for any signs of another infection taking hold. Since returning from my weekend at the vet’s weeks ago I’ve been wearing a veterinary t-shirt, which is tight and buttons right over my haunches, to keep the 20170301_103809dressing over the wound in place, but I’m glad to say that as of yesterday those two layers have now disappeared because the hole has miraculously mended and, moreover, my own furry suit is growing apace over the top.  All that is left is the distinctive doughnut, which provides comfort as well as protection, and I am hopeful that we’ll soon be doing away with that, too. The capacity of the spaniel body to heal itself is truly astonishing; in three weeks, not only has the skin regrown and knitted over the muscle but the lovely pigmentation of my blue roan ancestors is clearly back as well.

20170317_190519Last week I resumed the beach trundle with the others in the morning – such a pleasure to feel part of things again – though I’ve been keeping close to Kemo Sabe lest I pull anything and cause further bother. I’ve also began a love affair with the bed in the spare room, a goose down resource I must confess I have previously overlooked but which I am having troubling appropriating, despite its offering a superbly comforting nest. Disappointing to admit, I often find the door closed now, so I turn instead to the merino wool bed brought back from Crufts especially for me. This was a consolation prize: the abscess prevented my attending Crufts this year, so Nico kept me company back home.  Though I am still fighting infirmity a little, I am deeply struck by the love and care my family has provided throughout all this. I have seen and felt all sorts but couldn’t adequately communicate anything useful about it, when my temperature was so very high that all I could do was lie and lean upon the Lord, and the throbbing of the swelling across my elbow and chest was utterly unbearable. I have been there and back and, I think everyone agrees, it has in some ways changed me. But nothing of this is wasted, as that extraordinary seer, Thomas Hardy, explores in his poem, ‘A Wasted Illness’:

Through vaults of pain,

Enribbed and wrought with groins of ghastliness,

I passed, and garish spectres moved my brain

  To dire distress.

 

  And hammerings,

And quakes, and shoots, and stifling hotness, blent

With webby waxing things and waning things

  As on I went.

 

  “Where lies the end

To this foul way?” I asked with weakening breath.

Thereon ahead I saw a door extend –

  The door to death.

 

  It loomed more clear:

“At last!” I cried. “The all-delivering door!”

And then, I knew not how, it grew less near

  Than theretofore.

 

  And back slid I

Along the galleries by which I came,

And tediously the day returned, and sky,

  And life—the same.

 

  And all was well:

Old circumstance resumed its former show,

And on my head the dews of comfort fell

  As ere my woe.

 

  I roam anew,

Scarce conscious of my late distress . . . And yet

Those backward steps through pain I cannot view

  Without regret.

 

  For that dire train

Of waxing shapes and waning, passed before,

And those grim aisles, must be traversed again

  To reach that door.