Lights, camera, Johnny

IMG_0168Today is the fourth anniversary of the passing of Uncle Johnny. As if in awe of this terrible day, the winds have been blowing ferociously for the past twelve hours, literally threatening to raise the roof and keeping us all awake with worry, and the skies are as leaden and unpromising as they have been all week. This is the worst weather we have had up here in the north east since our Johnny died. Moreover, we are promised yet another twelve hours of this frightful gale, which has brought the railways to a halt, closed the A1, raised the waters in creeks and rivers alike, depositing it on the fields and golf courses, and kept the lobsters uncollected in their pots at the bottom of the sea.

The picture above shows clearly how different things were the day Uncle Johnny went from us: here he is on the left, wearing his jaunty but ill-fitting Barbour waterproof, and barking in joy at the blinding December sun which greeted him, Newman and Barnaby on the beach that morning. Despite the pain in his tummy, despite the slowness of his gait, he stretched his neck in joy as he always did and, when he returned home to tell me about his walk – I being then a boy of only a few weeks – the sun shone on me too. After all, he said, he had a couple of Alan’s home-made beef pies to look forward to, and a lovely sleep on the sofa before Lucy the Vet was due to come; so cheer up, everyone, it’s a sunny, wonderful day!¬† Uncle Johnny, like Mr Dick, always set us right.¬† Whatever the weather.

IMG_0227Another member of our family died last week, so another funeral will soon be taking place. No matter what death and the wind are doing, though, we hold firm to the fact that tomorrow is the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, when from the one light many more are generated; it is also the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, on the celebration of whose day many cultures give and receive their seasonal presents in recognition of his generous goodness. We all keep in mind, though it is often hard to do, that though illness, misery, loss, division, cruelty and darkness of all kinds stalk our days, goodness and light endure and increase, and that ever nearer comes that miraculous turning point in the calendar when the sun moves closer to us again: when symbolism and faith are rewarded in actuality. And in our hearts we remember our dear Uncle Johnny, of blessed memory, whose love of shortbread fingers and the day he stole them makes us laugh still, and whose love for us burns as deeply as ever.


Works of wonder

Effigy of St Nicholas in Bari Photo from WikiCommons

This morning’s dawn was one of the most extraordinarily beautiful we have ever experienced. In terms of thermometers, it was the coldest morning so far this season, but because it had been so dry the last couple of days, the frost lay sugary and free, crisping the sand beneath¬† my paws in a way which was new for me. To the east, the sun played games beneath the horizon, producing a light-show almost unreal in its range of peach, Titian-blue and grey; where the sea met the sky, far far away, a low range of cloud extended unbroken, like a foreign land newly uncovered overnight; vapour trails from several planes dragged graffiti across the sun’s palette. Unsurprisingly, the moon hovered huge and high, unwilling to depart, staring straight at the sun across from above the castle to the islands, where the warden has now shuttered the windows and cleared off for the winter.

IMG_2220At home, young Nico (he of the velvet underneath) was resting in his crate after a plate-full of fresh mince. This morning was the first I sought him out for companionship and earned a treat for my trouble. Today is the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, so it is our little friend’s name day. The residents of Bari, where the saint is buried, carry his effigy into and out of the sea every year on his feast, reliving the journey Nicholas made from Turkey, his homeland. The gift-giving of Christmas lies within his aegis, though so far removed from the world he knew.

IMG_2196Nico’s world is as yet small but its wonders daily astound him, even so. Uncle Nunu’s furry feathers fascinate him and already tiny tunnels under benches in the garden constitute a draw for the little digger. So vulnerable, as are we all; so in need of protection, like the rest of us. Be amazed by the wonders which lie all around: see them, and feel blessed and reach out for help to those who shield us.