So, here he is! Home, happy and delightfully hungry, after four days on a drip. Our beloved and very dear Jeoffry, minus a few more teeth and with a bit of a disability in using his tongue, is still able to hunker down over a delicious bowl of his favourite dish of meat and gravy. Animals are really remarkable, aren’t they? None of us knew where this emergency would end; we were without him for three nights, and thought of him in his transparent box, within a room empty of companions but occasionally visited by a caring nurse or vet, and him wondering where we – his family – had all gone to and why, in his hours of pain and fear, he had been abandoned. But Barnaby tells me that, just as when he went away for his knee operation, and spent a night away from Kemo Sabe in terrible pain, he knew with complete and utter certainty that she would soon return, and that she was reaching out for him across the miles, strengthening his understanding that all must be for the best when the love between us is so strong. Jeoffry nuzzled us thoughtfully after he emerged from his cage. He then strolled out into and down the garden, greeting the new Pardiggles which are quadrupling in size in the pond, and saw that everything is thriving and happy he is home. The future none can tell, of course, but he is restored to the life of a cat nearly fifteen years old and we thank all the vets and nurses who rushed to his aid one quiet, unremarkable Sunday afternoon, and set him on the road to recovery right away.
Every day when, first thing in the morning, we check on and clean up after Hammy Jo, we steel ourselves for the possibility that this will be the day when he fails to rustle in his nest. Jo is well past his first birthday, so every day is a bonus, as all past hamsters have shown us. Yet, today just as yesterday, there he was hale and hearty, ready for a few meal-worms before settling down to a day’s sleep, as is his routine.
Normally, Jeoffry’s comings and goings are never a cause for concern, particularly the older he gets. However, yesterday it was his health and well-being which placed him centre stage when he was rushed to the vet out of hours, his mouth bleeding and his demeanour depressed and fragile. Fortunately, the vet is always available and, even though it was a Sunday, Jeoffry was seen and operated on for the effects of a terribly corrosive abscess beneath a rotten remains of a tooth. The outcome, as I write, remains unclear and we are all very worried. He is currently on a drip, having now the difficulty of trying to eat and drink with a tongue which can’t work properly like it used to. Our dear friend, we all miss you, and look forward to hearing better news about your response to treatment tomorrow. Last night, as I slept on Boggis, Jeoffry was absent from his bed on the trunk, and there was no cat-flap noise at unthinkable hours. The place simply isn’t the same. It is awful.
A brief post, just to say how magnificent this morning’s dawn came up; out of the mist which clad the vales but miraculously evaporated as its power amplified, the sun greeted us as we ran towards it, full of hope. Peace and beauty, for which we all are grateful and by which we all are most blessed. You never know what is coming, do you? Yesterday we were thrilled to see a Little Egret fishing on the mere, a vision all in white, posted upon the stone wall, inspecting the pool for a snack. Unwilling to be pictured other than at such a distance as to be but a dot on the landscape, he flew away as Kemo Sabe turned the camera off, our dismay at missing a shot of him passing put down to experience, as disappointments are. Then, near the whelkery, as we trundled along the beach, we recognised his unmistakable form peering into a rock pool. Pictures cannot make up for the glorious reality of such a surprise as seeing this terrific type of heron on our little patch. What is it about birds of a certain height and demeanour, or dogs of a particular pondering nature, with so many thoughts about holding on to see what life has in store for us, just round the corner? It is Jeoffry’s thirteenth birthday next week, and then it will be mine. Three years of pondering: heigh ho.
A new addition to the stumpery is this reclining stone spaniel, probably as heavy as I and now placed not far from Uncle Jonny’s grave where they can keep an eye on each other. It is old and lovely and, from a distance, incredibly life-like. I am thrilled to have been commemorated in my lifetime and shall do my best to be thought worthy by continuing to deliver the daily canine goods to all I meet.
As I write, England is expecting a heatwave, though up here where it never swelters, we should only get to the mid- or high seventies Fahrenheit. This morning, on a very high tide with very little beach left to run along, we all skirted the gentle foam as the fingers of the sea reached to catch our ankles and Newman was allowed a morning swim against the prevailing wind and tide, which helped to tire him out, though in this picture he is gazing up at Peter, Paul and Mary (who are merrily peeping continuously and maturing everyday). Up in their own sunny little world.
My small band of loyal readers includes a person in Brazil, and we all wonder what someone in such an enormous and fascinating country could find of interest in my pitiful ponderings. Lately of course Brazil has been much in our minds, and we have tried to find out more about it; with every change of venue during the World Cup (O good, it’s Costa Rica tonight, we would shout!), we would check the atlas and locate the stadiums of the day in their disparate locations, so far flung, so exotic – the humidity, the sun! Despite the woeful awfulness of our own over-indulged footballing side, we enjoyed others’ efforts in the sun hugely and saw some real heroism on occasion, too. Running for the ball into the sea had never seemed such fun (‘And today I was Klose’, I began to compose in my head).
My little world is currently lush and green, with plenty of grass to chew and bees to watch and listen to, against the aural backdrop of Jussi Bjorling and Victoria de los Angeles at the end of La Boheme. The overwhelming emotions evoked by Puccini’s music throw into relief the fact that our dear Jeoffry is looking thinner these days and that, like the rest of us, he is not getting any younger. But at least he has the sun to sit in, as do we all.
And to our reader in Brazil: a special greeting and thank you for being there!
I am writing respectfully, quietly – forming my thoughts with a whisper – lest I wake the tiny bear upstairs who is covered with a comforting ball of woolly stuff, tucked up warm in his circular nest. And this is because we have a tiny new friend; a new member of the Dickens clan: a sweet little hamster called Jo. How, we wonder, could this young orphan, with his opulent arrangement of living areas and jungle gyms, labyrinthine tubes, extension pods, alfalfa totem poles and carrot batons, get in touch with his inner crossing sweeper? Arguably Dickens’s most poignant creation – and certainly one to whom we have always wanted to show what home really means – the Jo of Tom All-Alone’s is hard to pin down, and in this respect only is like his little namesake, as this shaky action shot, mid-juice-drink, well shows. But unlike our velvety Jo, with his lustrous white and lavender-brown coat, the Jo who dies in Allan Woodcourt’s arms has not even a cage which he can call home. How fortunate we beasts are, to be loved and cared for, each according to his special needs: little Jo, left to sleep the day long, visited respectfully by an overjoyed Newman who contains his exuberance with only the greatest difficulty; watched admiringly by Barnaby who has so longed for his presence; visited silently by Jeoffry, who creeps in and out without comment; guarded by a small spaniel who – I think I can truthfully report – has maintained the perfect balance of curiosity and vigilance regarding our new friend. Last night, at his busiest, little Jo ate half his food supply, his growing appetite an acknowledgement that this is home, where he can relax and enjoy himself at last. When our humans look back on their lives with us, they hope that we will say of them, ‘He wos wery good to me, he wos!’, as Dickens’s Jo says of Mr Nemo, the one man in passing thousands who showed him kindness in his brief, disastrous life. All of us must be good to our little Jo and make worthwhile a tiny miraculous life – which too will blaze across our sky quite briefly – however small his world may seem.
If you are interested in Dickens’s original Jo, you will find him peeping through the grime, hunger and illness on the streets of Bleak House. You may also like to read these little articles about him at:
Here you see the love between two very different creatures: it’s the kind of snuggling that goes on every day in our house where dog and cat share time together, the one patiently absorbing the absolute devotion of the other. Jeoffry adores Barnaby and always has; he took to him immediately when, aged then eight, Barnaby was only seven weeks old himself and a little tiny soul. He wraps himself around Barnaby, paddling away with alternate feet as he once did his mother, drooling with pleasure which turns the end of his nose dark. When Jeoffry came to us as a litle lad, just six weeks old, two cats embraced him: Meryl, the ginger tabby, used to part Jeoffry’s hair and flatten it for him, as he relaxed next to her on the back of the sofa; grey and white Rosie, who generally disliked innovation, accepted him as an addition to the family and looked on proudly as he ranged wider then she ever would have either wanted or indeed dared. Though we’ve lately wondered whether we would like the sweet, chubby labrador I wrote about recently to join our gang, we’ve discounted the idea as he’s not at all good with cats. A widely promulgated stereotype, none of us has any experience of it: obviously a manifestation of contempt for the particular if ever there was one!
All of which makes me ponder on the ways in which families of dogs, cats and humans come and stay together, building a loving bastion which holds and protects us all in mutual joy, without a hint of malice anywhere to be found. As a young, small spaniel I am more likely to be pressed to the ground than my bigger brethren and more than usually aware of how to offer a playful greeting to an as yet unknown friend. Shapes and sizes vary, but we get to recognise them, anticipate their anger and avoid rubbing them up the wrong way, though sometimes it’s impossible, as trouble is simply what some aggressive things want – just like fighters on a Saturday night in the centre of Newcastle! As gundogs, all of us love our humans even more than we love each other; our own kind of humanity and companionship gives us a head start in the family stakes. It doesn’t guarantee an easy ride, though, as is reflected in the story of a rather neglected and irritable golden retriever called Sebastian with whom Uncle Jonny once holidayed and whose unyielding jaws once sank into Uncle Tommy in a terrifying and wholly unprovoked attack. Whenever we hear, as recently happened again, of some brute of a dog savaging someone we know there’s sadness and cruelty in the air, hovering like a miasma over the events, and usually not that far in the past, either. Uncertainties are always a worry. Every Dickens Dog has been true blue, one hundred per cent reliable. Our breeding but more than anything else our puppyhoods and unbringing have been monitored and moulded with care; our humans know us through and through. Until I have known a dog for a very very long time under all kinds of circumstances I would always remain cautious as a little fellow and I’d advise any others thinking of getting a big beast, particularly a guarding type, to be very very careful indeed. When it all goes wrong, it’s ghastly, just ghastly: the wrong dog is brought into the wrong home, with inexperienced and vulnerable people, for all the wrong reasons – if there are reasons at all. I feel so ashamed that dogs and humans can betray both each other and their own kind in such a frightening way.
This has been a day of enormous dread: an unaccountable disappearance. How can cats bear to be alone so long? Hours have gone by since I saw him last, when I was dozing through the night and he disappeared through the catflap I also use. All prayers and ploys having come to nought, in the late afternoon I was summarily sent by no means seriously into the garden to find him, which being an obedient spaniel I promptly did. He walked into the kitchen literally as the first missing cat flyer came out of the printer. I followed him in and there were celebrations of a feasting kind, first for Jeoffry who had lamb and vegetables, then for everyone else – relief all round.
Jeoffry isn’t about this morning. Like us, he always wants his breakfast but today none of us has seen him. It is surprising how quickly one knows as if by some special sense that something is wrong, something not quite right about the cat’s routines – or rather the change in them. Jeoffry was born here on the Northumberland coast the day before the towers came down and now lives here again, after a lifetime in London. He may have passed Jonny, who knows and sees everything, on his way to have fun, or he may have joined Jonny. Alarming for us all.