While embracing life and all it offers means the world to me, every evening I reach a point where I simply long to be allowed to rest. My urgent demand is for the big bed to be put down in the kitchen so that, even if Newman is too asleep to move next door and unready to turn in, I can contemplate the day’s doings as I drift into sleep. Perhaps it is the time of year, but I feel more than usually touched by things just now. Is it any wonder when you think about the week of contrasts I have shared: the gentle tearfulness of Durufle’s Requiem; memories of a Black Country town which, forty years ago, changed a perspective on life forever; Britten’s 2nd String Quartet, which leaves one with so many unanswered questions; the inexpressible excitement of a Michigan home match; the incomprehensibility of yet another little soul abandoned to his fate in an act of cruelty which doesn’t make any sense to someone who has known nothing but love; a cherry cake, wonderfully fragrant, newly taken from the range; the kitchen floor washed carefully, as I moved helpfully about; the warmth exuded by the sun-drenched score of Lawrence of Arabia – I have watched, listened and learned but, most usefully, I have clung close while others sustained these impressions. For this is what I do. I have felt the emotions nestling in my fur. I am very full of words this week. Yet it is pictures that haunt us. There was a scowling man, swathed in ammunition – what could possibly be in his heart? A white lion clutching a meal of chicken-filled pumpkin; the disgraced Rasputin, a tiger who attacked and killed his keeper; the magnificent stallion, cursed by gypsies, a white giant throwing an industrial backdrop into relief, shot by his terrifying master. Yet this morning the sun was warm on our backs, the sea calm and the tide low and so it is natural to revive one’s spirits, find the strength to endure and soon give thanks for the lore we live by.
Yesterday we learned that one of our oldest friends on the beach had died. He was a great pal of Uncle Jonny – two old blokes together they used to be, trundling slowly and breathlessly (in Mac’s case) along with thirty years of life experience between them. His loved ones told us that his breath quietly forsook him as he lay before them one afternoon; the spirit moved him away but he too now has a grave in the garden and an everlasting presence in their hearts. Ours too, indeed. We will always remember his enormously furry feet and smiling, shining face as he shuffled towards us, against all odds it must be said, long after Jonny had gone. As it happens, today I move into another phase of my own life, a little older but a little sadder.
My enthusiasm and determination to get to the dinner bowl just now were not appreciated. But I simply cannot help stamping my feet, like a seagull turning up worms, in ecstatic expectation of the meal placed before me and for which I must wait, even when it is on the ground, staring up at me. I might as well be on the front line. Yesterday we were mightily roused by the number-crunching commentary from the Michigan-Akron game, which the Wolverines won by 4 points but the heavy work they made of that encounter embarrassed them and they took little pleasure from the win. One couldn’t imagine an England player feeling the same. Listening to the drama unfold brought back the old Bob Ufer days, when the perceptible joy of his account of an away game more than made up for lack of a ticket. Participation is so exciting but perhaps even more so at some remove: is that a paradox? Ball games used to feature centrally in our routines, like the Saturday game in an Ann Arbor fall, but all we can do is remember what fun they were, since I too must forgo them on Barnaby’s account. How I would love the opportunity to throw myself at a ball; to challenge myself to outdo my speed and accuracy next Saturday, just like the Wolverines. But, because we are loyal to Barnaby, I will not have the chance to do so. Wolverines are fearsome beasts I hear, in a world where fears have mostly been conquered and legends have been laid to rest and putting two goals past Crystal Palace is treated as a miracle. I shall be hunkering down again tomorrow morning, after early training, desperate to get at ’em. That is my way.
Yesterday I fell into the sea, slipping rather alarmingly between two rocks. For once, I needed help to get out safely but as the tide was coming in there was little to fear. The risk was mine but the joy of bouncing was too great. Though I am the smallest in our family, I am adventurous and hold myself as a king or prince before the Lord. Having heard much about what there is in the world, courage and caution are my watchwords. The closest encounter of an uncomfortable kind I ever had was with an otterhound, who towered over me, gently it is true but with determination. The grille betweeen Mabel and me enboldened this pictured meeting at Crufts with a breed of dog everyone does well to treat with suspicion until friendliness is assured. I learnt that from Uncle Jonny, whose London life taught him a lot. And this was before one of our dearest friends, all innocent and unwitting, was savaged by another such, suffering dreadfully for many weeks. Dangerous reality gives life colour but keeps me on my toes. There are those who would hurt me and I do well to get to grips with how they might go about it, in thought or word or deed: a certain kind of innocence is neither comely nor appropriate.
High tides have shaped our walks recently, pinning us to the dunes and the smelly seaweed line. Choppy grey seas will bring the whelk shells in over the rocks, though, and we will harvest them in the fullness of time. There has been a great change – the wind, the downpours, the cold, the lighting of the fire. In a week exactly I shall begin the third year of my gorgeous life. The beginning of a new era, my new year. The end of the summer brings the new year, and we had a lovely honey cake to mark it. So much better than starting again in the depths of winter, where what you see and smell is actually only the appearance of death. That September day six almost identical spaniels were born; when I concentrate hard I smell them still on Little Brown Dog. A dim memory, replaced by my boys, big Newman and Barnaby, and the world of the ever-heartening stove, (so warm against my back when the wind blows the cat-flap through the night), and the magic jellies and the daily doings which delight me so. Reaching out to remember, my eyes begin to cross and I can only settle gratefully into my present happiness, wherever it comes from and wherever it goes.
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.