Amazing to relate: our little wren, Christopher, who has sung all summer trying to found a family, seems at last to have one. He built a nest in the tit box above the oil tank, and for weeks now he has filled the air with piercing song. In vain, or so we all thought. But today we saw a faecal sac being removed from the nest site and we are thrilled to watch the comings and goings. There was a someone for him, someone who answered his cry for companionship and urge to provide for the future. This is a good garden, he called; these are good people, who feed us all year, and feed us plentifully too. My nest is warm, dry and well sheltered, camouflaged by rugosa roses. Life will be gorgeous. Yes, the wind will soon be shaking our ears but there is always hope.
Robert Herrick, Upon His Spaniel Tracie
What a lovely poem and what a treat to be Tracie, reading this whenever she wants after all these years without her friend and master. We have lots of books about gundogs and yesterday we came by another one, published in 1932. The frontispiece, actually the only picture in the entire book, is of ‘A cocker spaniel “of Ware”‘ who looks just like me. I know this famous family of cockers by reputation; maybe we are related. There is much of wonder, much that is just right, about the observations in this work. Modern dog manuals don’t ring with the loving warmth for my kind you get in these old tomes, written in far less enlightened times. Phrases such as ‘our little long-eared friend’, a ‘fireside adornment and a chum’, ‘so adaptable and of so merry a nature’ warm my cockles and I shall ponder on them further.
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.
Barnaby swam across a little inlet this evening and insisted on swimming back again, though the tide made it hard for him. It helps his knee, after his operation, but the cold wind from the north made him shiver and we turned tail soon after. Autumn’s on its way and we had fish at home – a treat from who knows where.
Every morning as we run along the beach towards Bamburgh I think about St Oswald, who lived there long ago. He made the humble monk St Aidan his ambassador to the poor. He was greatly loved by the locals, for his goodness and generosity. I imagine them both walking there, looking at whatever the sea is doing out by St Cuthbert’s cell on Inner Farne, as we do. Whatever the weather and despite whatever wind is thrown at us, out we go, blessed to be free along the strand which is both so majestic and magical. This week St Aidan was honoured with a beautiful shrine on the spot in the church where Bede tells us that he died. The church was full for the first time in ages and now that there is a focal point there perhaps others will come to know him better, as he is more clearly visible. In our own way, we have a sort of shrine too, where Jonny lies and where the wild flowers grow. His presence amongst us is wonderfully cheering, as is St Aidan’s. We are so lucky in our little corner of the county: much medicine is to be found.
The sea was bigger tonight, just twenty four hours after we all swam in it with the sun on us. Only Newman braved the waves today, a grimmer day, though the beginning of a holiday. He is undeterred by anything, whether raging seas and gale-force winds, being brave and strong, and all he needs is encouragement to enter the water, as if permission enhances his delight. I myself can swim well, but only when I see a purpose to it: to retrieve, or return to shore when I have been carried out in someone’s arms for fun. To Newman, though, the sea is everything and seasonal distinctions mean nothing; carving his way through the waves, he is a remakable sight, much admired by strangers who wonder at his skills. I have as yet no made my mark in any way but I am still young. Barnaby, who is an enthusiastic retriever of the ball, obsessive in determination to outdo competition, has had his career cruelly cut short by injury. He cannot be allowed to jump on the sand any longer as his legs hurt him afterwards. He is old before his time, like this August evening which looks like winter. We must act while we can.