A new year and a new boy in town

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The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

                                                                                  from T S Eliot, ‘The Dry Salvages’ Four Quartets

It’s been an event-crammed couple of weeks, since we turned the page over to the new year. A lot has occurred but there’s been less time than ever to ponder on it properly.  No sooner had the festivities ended than I mysteriously pulled something in my right front leg (something I’ve done twice before) dodging about the dunes, as I habitually do each morning. I’m a brave little soul, not given to creating imaginary mountains where only molehills exist so, when I was unable to bear my own weight, no matter how I tried, Kemo Sabe  – at some physical cost  – came to the rescue and carried me to the car and then, when a day’s rest had made no difference, to the vet. It was the same old story, x-rays and painkillers, and indeed the same diagnosis: nothing broken or fractured; nothing that a few more days’ confined to barracks wouldn’t cure. And so it proved. Normal routines were resumed within a week but more drama was soon to come. Last weekend a potentially catastrophic tidal surge threatened the entire east coast of the country, bringing high tides which tore at the dunes, rearranging the sand and dragging rocks  – long since hidden – back up into view. Much further down the coast, in Suffolk and Essex, folk were expecting and preparing for the worst, abandoning low-lying coastal communities and taking shelter against potential flooding in schools and sports centres. Even here, cottages around Seahouses harbour were warned to expect an inundation. The wind we battled on the beach that Saturday was from the north-west but, though strong enough to streamline the ears, we’ve known it far worse. Nevertheless, one outing was enough  – at low tide – on the day of the surge. Despite all this, though, no harm was done, as Prospero well knew.

img_0874The northern blasts did, however, herald another kind of transformation in the person of the young miniature dachshund called Freddie. Lokmadi Frederick is one of Nico’s relatives and also has the look of him; he has gone to Edinburgh to befriend Nico’s sister, Tiggy, who lost her dear Pupkin just before Christmas. The joy of his arrival does so much to banish the sadness of Pupkin’s loss, without ever diminishing the reality of his existence. Like the storm which sweeps through, leaving scars upon the landscape, the presence of the lost endures. Freddie has much to learn and we have much to learn of him, this ‘baby figure of the giant mass /Of things to come at large’. We thank providence divine that the tempest abated in time for him to be brought north in safety. Another miracle: welcome little friend.facebook_1485027703455

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Pupkin passes

20161220_124446Rest in Peace, tiny Pupkin, who died last night after an emergency admission to the vet’s. He was inordinately loved and, as you can see from this picture, taken only yesterday afternoon on his last visit to us, a miniature dachshund of consummate flair and self-possession. Nearly sixteen, he had lived a full and active life in a loving home in Edinburgh, a city suited to his genteel ways. Mentor, protector and best friend to Tiggy, Nico’s little sister, he always enjoyed coming to see us all in the madhouse here, every visit marked by a warning that this might be the 20161220_144228last time we saw him, so frail was he getting. Yesterday, as though transfixed in catatonic fascination, he watched Nico and Tiggy tumbling and chasing like baby otters, all the time guarding their space on the rug provided for his extra comfort. When lunch arrived, he ate it purposefully and with as much pleasure as ever: food was the love of his life. We watched as he meticulously 20161220_144518pursued  a piece of cucumber around his bowl (a bowl designed to slow down gobbling eaters!), identifying it by scent rather than sight – his eyes being weak. At last he found it and, with that, rested once more. It was clear yesterday, however, that he was thinking about moving on; that Uncle Johnny had a special place ready for him and that his family and friends (particularly Uncle NuNu, who adored him) would soon have to say farewell. He gave us all the privilege of sharing his last full day with him and we will never forget his stoicism and loving presence. God bless you dear little friend.

It’s the little things . . .

Jack in Brighton 2005 . . . and not always the good ones, either, which bring us close to someone in our hearts. Monday next will be the fifth anniversary of Uncle Johnny’s death, at the age of nearly fifteen. A splendid beast and friend, only two failings marred an otherwise steadfast and reliable character. The first was his chronic susceptibility to gastric incidents, an affliction common in golden retrievers – known for their intestinal sensitivities. From a relatively young age he would, from time to time, but on a regular basis, be afflicted by an upset stomach and it usually struck in the middle of the night, when he would summon Kemo Sabe to the back door – where she would find him standing ready to go outside – with a single, insistent ‘woof’.  There followed a protracted wait, while he dawdled and dragged himself around the garden waiting for his insides to sort themselves out and he was ready to crouch and produce something. Sometimes the wait went on and on. There was no point insisting he come indoors before  he was ready, as he would only have to repeat the call to action again, often just as (eventually) Kemo Sabe had finally managed to drop off again.

Jack's blanketThe number and nature of those lost and broken sleeps are still vivid, but for a different reason. At the end of his life Uncle Johnny and Kemo Sabe developed a routine: every night she expected his call and, when it came, downstairs she went and let him into the garden. It was no bother; there was no work the next day and, besides, Johnny seemed keen to pop in and out quickly. When he no longer called her and, when he no longer could do so – having left us for a life without incontinence – the aching emptiness was acute.  Similarly his other little quirk: a devilish refusal, from time to time, but on a regular basis, to come and be put on the lead at the end of an outing. The hilarity of this defiance was an obvious and utter joy to him, though it drove everyone mad, with hours spent trying to ‘catch’ or corner him as he ran mockingly just out of reach, evading all comers. These were his ‘faults’, what made our old Uncle Johnny what he was, though it was easy when he was with us to wish him otherwise. But, when we think of him, it is these funny ways we remember first. The curious individualities which cause rows and drive our infuriated friends and family away are the lifeblood of the single soul we know and love. Dear Johnny, we tell young Nico (who knew you only before he came to us from that other world, where you grasp every creature to your furry chest, before birth and after death), all about you and your last day with us – the beef pies, the bowl of tea, the walk on your favourite bit of beach, Lucy’s kind gaze and gentle hands. And when she thinks of us boys with our irritating ways – my excitability and noise, NuNu’s vacancy and obsession with seaweed, Barnaby’s clinginess and tendency to sulk if he can’t have the baby he wants – Kemo Sabe ponders a time when all of these odds are made even, but the world will have gone awry, since nothing will be but what is not.

So, we salute you our dear, dear friend! Let us love each other and our foibles, and be glad.

Much of the hearing of it but little of the marking of it

20161118_071043In yesterday’s eerie pre-dawn light, with a ribbon of cloud running right along the horizon behind it, Inner Farne was transformed: our perspective on it altered, as though we saw it from above, surrounded by the sea, instead of set upon it, against the horizon – the way it actually looks, because that is the way things actually are. It took a goodly while to work out what was awry; why its dimensions and position were so changed. Bishop Berkeley would have been amused; or so Kemo Sabe said. While she pondered, we set about our routine exploration of the scents at the top of the beach, both shrouded and heightened by the extreme darkness the last vestiges of the night permits us before we set off towards Seahouses, and the strengthening rays of the sun. Truly it is indeed easy to imagine a bush a bear by night!

We anticipate the arrival in a month of the shortest day – our favourite day of the year –  while currently things are darker than ever and we leave for our trundle under a starry sky and crescent moon. No wonder we can’t see clearly. Yet, we muse, how many moguls of one kind or another have mistaken and misprized things this year, seemingly despite all the reflection in the world, the considered outpourings of the ablest minds, or most experienced analysts. So much noise, so little sense – or so it seems. All of which media-noise is so unlike dear Uncle NuNu, apparently deaf to Kemo Sabe’s repeated calls each morning; the same calls we all understand and respond to, and always have; he knows exactly what those noises mean; he hears them but does not mark them, as it were. We forgive him on account of the fairies, with whom he is away.

20161123_073348This sorry sight eloquently expresses the arrival of winter on the north east coast, first with Storm Angus and now with persistent zero temperatures. The sands are crisp with frost, the outdoor dog bowl is solidly iced over and Kemo Sabe simply cannot keep up with refilling the bird feeders.  Cold, enduring and profound, has tiptoed in the footsteps of the gale force winds which banked the sand in new dunes and forced a roiling sea to disgorge this mother and child high on the beach, having rung the life-force from them both. When first spotted, the mother seal was still watching her baby wearily through exhausted eyes, but she too gave up the fight lying beside her dead little one. This was our first sad sight of the winter months.

20161118_072949But life has to go on and, while the winds roar round, putting us all on edge, and the sparrows had to brave the terrifying gusts in order to build themselves up for another night huddled together in the hedges, and the cat flap closed against the north wind meant neither I nor Jeoffry could have our freedom, Newman had to make his important visit to the vet: after a whole day without food, and nearly twelve hours without a pill, he underwent his annual blood test to check how he and his liver are coping with the Epiphen he takes for his funny turns. The answer is: very well, as it happens. All except for his disinclination to pay any attention at all to commands the rest of us jump to obey. Like the media, he is in his own little world, where delightful lift-music prevails and ifs and ans are pots and pans.

 

Strangers and foreign lands

20160928_162254We recently travelled all the way up into Scotland, to Cromarty on the Black Isle, which is two shipping areas above us here in Tyne. This view looks out to sea between the headlands known as the Sutors, where the deep waters of Cromarty Firth open into the vast Moray Firth, and on this beach, blessedly free of the seaweed we are not allowed to gobble, it was a joy to run free and unmuzzled for once.

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Cromarty has one of the deepest anchorages in the whole of Europe which is why, when you look away from the open sea, you will find an amazing array of hardware – massive oil rigs at rest – cradled within the natural harbour: at night it’s like a scene from Apocalypse Now.  The rigs are those currently out of commission – the lower the price of oil, the greater the number – monsters ablaze with light, interlopers from another world entirely and incongruous in every way, save in their centrality to Cromarty’s economy and livelihood.

20160929_125940At Culloden, where the English dead lie vastly outnumbered by the unfortunate Jacobite Scots clans, we found another incongruity: a lone dog pooh bin upon the battlefield, where the car park provides not a single litter receptacle of any kind at all – a first, we have to admit!  Ironically, we were on the sombre moor when the rain finally abated, the sun emerged at last and we were able to mourn the departed clan members whose spirits wander over and around this atmospheric, doleful place.

20160929_150026Cawdor Castle, not far away, afforded an immediate sense of warmth and cosiness, its handy-sized drawbridge and dog-bowl by the front door inviting us in just as warmly as the smell of roasting beef which permeated the dining room within. Lady Cawdor was expected home shortly, we were assured. In the garden next to the castle, a magnificent copper bird-feeder drizzled seed continuously into troughs, as the little creatures fed at will. A place of plenty, this, and with a pleasant seat, as someone famous once said.

Barnaby was beside himself late one night in the garden of the house where we were staying: he found his first hedgehog rootling around the herbaceous border! Both creatures – dog and pig – were alarmed but Kemo Sabe held Barnaby tight and taught him gentle curiosity. In an expansive garden walled in historic stone, we saw the ice house, now used for storage, joined to the main house by a tunnel now blocked against unwarranted intrusion; we saw a note which warned us to beware of stepping on the toads which frolic in the cellarage and we heard that the chickens had been wantonly killed by the local pine martin. We were a long way north of here, and it felt like it!

 

 

 

 

 

Little gems

IMG_2179This week Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, celebrated their second birthday. Joy was unconfined, gifts were opened and then furry dollies of various kinds were exchanged and energetically ratted, with Pupkin and the rest of us trying to get a look-in whenever we could. How extraordinary that so much time has passed since that tiny soul entered our lives and ate his first tiny meal from one of Jeoffry’s china bowls. His little wrinkly forehead and wrinkled legs endeared him immediately to the rest of us – the big boys – whom he took completely in his stride, 20160726_132501dachshunds being fearless and, ounce for ounce, among the most courageous creatures in the animal kingdom. Just the sort to fit well into our family of outdoorsy extroverts.

The chance meeting with Nico’s litter sister when they were six months old, and the fact that she lives only a short way up the coast – a truly remarkable quirk of fate, given that they originate from Lincolnshire – brought further joy and regular get-togethers into our lives. It’s now as though we have two dachshunds (three, including our beloved Pupkin) in our otherwise gundog pack. Tiggy and Nico, perfect young dachshunds, are vigorous, physically strong and outgoing; dachshunds love to be held and give affection, but they also love to sniff and search the outdoor world, pursuing the shrews and voles our human family members can’t see beneath the greenery. They are real all-rounders, hardy and adaptable.

20160415_102215We did a lot of research – about the breed itself and about breeders – and waited for over a year before Nico came into our lives, which is just what happened for Tiggy, too:  after their birth and babyhood  – marked by our travelling a long way south to see them – eventually they were old enough to leave their natural mother and begin the childhood journey to the young adults they’ve now become. Nico’s and Tiggy’s very existence was, therefore, carefully considered by their breeder before their parents were selected and our responsibility to them as owners and family was seriously undertaken when, at eight weeks, they trundled into our lives; little individuals we looked forward to getting to know as they started playing with toys we knew we’d have to share, just as the retrievers had shared theirs with me when I came along.

Now that there are more and more dogs in last-chance saloons of various kinds and, increasingly, folk thinking of getting a dog make a rescue dog their first choice, there is a growing popular notion that choosing a pedigree puppy is some kind of self-indulgence. They overlook the significance of the fact that too often it is indiscriminate, ill-advised and downright pernicious breeding that lies behind the majority of dogs being abandoned, abused or sickly.  It is important to know your breed; to know what you can expect from the breed you go for: that a dachshund will be a better guard dog than a golden retriever, for example, and that that means more noise! We have very close connections with golden retriever rescue, the Dogs Trust and indeed Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, whose work we support, and it always remains a possibility that we would give a home to a dog whose owner has died or can no longer look after him. But, for us, nothing can replace bringing that much-loved puppy home in one’s arms and then seeing what he has in store for us. One of life’s greatest joys – and privileges. Happy Birthday, Tiggy and Nico!

 

A Lily lost

lily-close-upLast month I wrote in the post called  Pictures of Lily about Barnaby’s little cousin – then not six months old – who was born with a deformed left leg such that she could not place it flat to the ground. In the earlier post, I made mention of her upcoming appointment with Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, with whom British television audiences are familiar from his Channel 4 series, The Supervet, in which he treats injured animals or those with life-changing deformations, and which would otherwise have to be euthanised. Well, Professor Firzpatrick saw Lily early this month and I thought I should tell you what happened because all of life is reflected in my posts, even the difficult bits.

After all the necessary scans were done, Professor Fitzpatrick could see that Lily’s skeletal problems also extended to her ‘good’ leg; that her right shoulder was also deformed, and that before anything could be attempted to improve her left leg and foot she would have needed interventions on the right one first, but with no guarantee of success. As there was a very good chance that both legs would fail, and of course Lily simply wouldn’t be able to manage without any, Professor Fitzpatrick himself recommended as the first course of action in the circumstances putting Lily to sleep as being in her own best interests – though he would have been willing to try to begin rectifying this complicated state of affairs if that is what her breeder and family wanted more than anything, and they wanted him to put what they wanted before anything else.

lily-and-travis-close-upBut we dogs know that our best interests are what those who love us care about, and so Lily’s future happiness was put first. Indeed, that wonderful, gifted vet stayed with Lily and helped her over the rainbow bridge himself. She has had six months of happiness, managing on her three front legs, but she still had an awful lot of growing to do before she reached her adult size and weight (Uncles Newman and Barnaby weigh in at over 30 kilos). We are glad that the Professor is so strong in his love for us dogs that he refuses short-term financial gain in order to protect Lily from the pain and indignity of endless intrusions, which she could but imperfectly understand, not to mention weeks away from home, and in all likelihood to no good effect in the long run. Now she can dream of her childhood with Travis, and the family who loved her and will remember the joy this little fragrant flower brought them for the time she enjoyed their company. Bless you, little Lily: say hello to Uncle Johnny for us, won’t you?

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-supervet