‘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.




The greatest Noggs of all

Newman Noggs IThis is Newman Noggs, the original Newman Noggs: the first of the Dickens Dogs. Were the age of miracles not passed, he would soon be celebrating his thirty-fourth birthday and, for everyone who knew him, joy would be unconfined as they remembered his long and extraordinary life and what he meant to them.  For Newman – this Newman – was a force of nature, and of immortal memory. To this day, in his section of the family hope-chest, are to be found wonderful reminders of what he meant to so many people: the birthday cards, gift-tags, notes and letters written after his death, commemorating the biggest, softest, greatest Noggs of all.

In this photograph, taken when Newman was only two and in his youthful prime, there was a game afoot between him and his best friend, a young Boxer called Misty, but he had stopped still long enough for her owner to record what a magnificent creature he was. In those days he was yet to be joined by Uncle Willie (of whom you can read more in the Old Guard section of the blog), and he was living in the dog-centred heaven which is Epping Forest. Every day he enjoyed three walks around and about the many and various wooded routes which spiralled from his house – routes he knew like the back of his paw. More times than she cares to recall, while Kemo Sabe pondered on the events and doings of the day’s work, he dived maniacally into the flooded pools, releasing the methane gases which lurked under the rotting vegetation, and then emerged filthy and dripping, a horizontal line of peaty black showing how deep he had gone. One day, dashing at the gallop past some picnickers, he stole a ham sandwich out of a child’s outstretched hand without missing a beat; amazingly, there was mirth everywhere – only Noggsy could have got away with that! Over his thirteen years, he moved from city to countryside to town, adapting with insoucience both to the change of terrain and, in time, the arrival of Uncle Willie from the Black Country, when he was four. The look on his face when, on collecting young Willie, Kemo Sabe put him in the car is still vivid: ‘What have you got him for?’ Apart from expressing that misgiving, he gave way to little Willie on everything and together they flourished and grew old.

Newman came from a very distinguished line of Golden Retrievers, the Nortonwoods of Old Damson Lane, in the then-leafy part of Solihull, south of Birmingham, and getting him was the most amazing stroke of good fortune, the kind that does sometimes in fact happen to the blissfully ignorant. Of impeccable pedigree, and from a long-line of champions including the lustrous Nortonwood Faunus and Camrose Cabus Christopher, he would never have been available had not the family which reserved him at three weeks decided that, once he’d grown up, a big Golden Retriever would be a bit too big for them. So it happened that the gods smiled and, one wet Friday in March, an on-the-off-chance phone call to a breeder whose name meant nothing but was suggested by a vet the other side of Birmingham resulted in the handing over (on payment of what now seems a derisory sum!) of a perfect eight-week-old pup, and the beginning of a long love story.  That first weekend, when she held the dozing, dreaming Noggsy in her arms, Kemo Sabe was overwhelmed by a happiness hitherto unknown.

Newman and Willie (2)
Newman Noggs and Wilkins Micawber

Brave, strong, gentle and with a strong sense of humour as well as the ability to smile and indeed play jokes, Noggsy could also pout and look morose: words were unnecessary to one so physically eloquent and whose emotional intelligence was so great. In his last few weeks of life, when it became obvious that he would soon have to be put to sleep, he made a progress to visit his most devoted fans, who held him to them for the final time. His death, when it came one frozen January day, when earth lay hard as iron about the grave whose digging he had supervised, dealt a real and terrible blow. Only Uncle Johnny has come near to filling his shoes, the Prince among dogs who was the original Newman Noggs.

Sunny sausage and thoughtful bear

20150924_073033This has been the most glorious Autumn day. On the beach this morning, a brilliant sunrise was enhanced further by the garish jerkin my tiny sausage friend was wearing for the first time.  Designed to make his whereabouts unmistakable in the murky mornings to come, today he became a veritable daffodil springing up behind this rock and that on the deserted beach. On morning runs, young Nico follows my lead with unerring dedication: on such exploratory missions, we are collaborators, that’s for sure, and this morning I treated him to a real bun fight, with lots of growling and rolling about. Once we get home, though, it’s another matter, and the sunny sausage cleaves to our biggest brother, Newman, who can do no wrong in the little dachshund’s eyes.

20150924_073025Despite the glory of the weather first thing, Uncle Newman seemed distracted this morning; more than usually self-absorbed and more than usually oblivious to both direction and correction. He had to stay with Kemo Sabe for nearly all of the run, unable to stay off the seaweed for more than a moment whenever released from the lead; what has got into him? NuNu is the sweetest golden bear: a kind of overgrown school-boy, to speak true, but also gentle and patient, especially with ‘the little fellow’.  He wants more than anything to love and be loved. In this he takes after Uncle Wilkins, who was one of the Old Guard, apparently always away with the fairies and, when having an epileptic episode, on an entirely different plane all together. I know that Kemo Sabe wonders whether NuNu also has more than a touch of Prince Myshkin about him; sometimes when we lie down to sleep in the kitchen at night, the moonlight through the window catches him full-length, upside down and out to the world, his innocence almost palpable as he dreams, once again, of the seaweed which makes Kemo Sabe so annoyed. When out for walks he stares into the distance, particularly at people walking quite a way off, as if hoping they will understand the language he alone of us can speak.

IMG_3245This afternoon Kemo Sabe did not understand when I refused to pose on Uncle Jonny’s grave. His spirit of great obedience and trust inspires our daily doings and I, for one, feel unworthy alongside him. Even Barnaby and Nicholas can tell they let him down. When I overcome the schadenfreude of seeing Newman reprimanded fiercely for  – what amounts to – not being able to remember for very long, I think of the faults each of us would do well to eschew: if I were half as compliant as Uncle NuNu (where all but seaweed is involved), I would be a blessed spaniel indeed. As it is, for us there is only the trying (as someone famous once said) . . .