I am pleased to be able to report a gradual but definite improvement in our dear Jeoffry. Despite having very few teeth left, and now a major impediment to use of his tongue thanks to the surgery required by his horrid abscess, he seems much more his old (old) self, with more of a spring in his step and more of an appetite overall. His mouth must feel much less sore now, a week after his operation, for he is eating much more overnight (his preferred time for food consumption as NuNu and I well know; he disturbs our dreams with his chinkling as he jumps to the floor after digging in). Also, Jeoffry is now receiving daily infusions of a liquid nutrient called Oralade, which is like a chicken broth, delivered from the small syringe which comes in Barnaby’s arthritis medicine. This does require the services of both Eats No Vegetables and Kemo Sabe, cats being the uncooperative creatures they are, but wrapped in a towel from which there’s no escape at either end, he seems to settle into something like enjoyment of the nutritious broth.
Actually, the syringe we’re using for Jeoffry comes from my bottle of Loxicom, which the vet prescribed for me, after my recent acute orthopedic incident. All in all, the homestead has been a veritable hive of veterinary comings and goings, not to mention expense, about which of course we creatures know nothing. All we know is that no matter what the time or day, a wealth of kindly and well equipped professional men and women are ready and waiting to help us; we are so lucky.
On Monday I awoke with a terrific pain in my right leg, so acute that I could put no weight on it. Since then, no morning trundles along the beach, and on the first day no outings at all. Ghastly! Whether or not I have an elbow problem is to be assessed by a specialist but the X-ray doesn’t appear to show anything. The only thing that matters to me is that after a big pain-killing injection and a couple of hours’ treatment, I could happily walk again. I call it the laying on of hands! I am hopeful of a return to normal activity. The day I was in such pain I missed a wonderful meet-up with our two golden retrievers friends, Ben and Finn, who took the lovely picture up above. Let’s hope I can see them before they drive the long way home!
Today Kemo Sabe began our day by tripping on a small rock concealed beneath the wind-swept sand near the horrid pool and falling onto another hard place, which hit her in the chest. Behind us, the boiling sea roared on in a truly Byronic way; sea-foam blew in all directions, the wind whistling round the headland while Mr Sensitive, aka Newman, continued to tie his lead in knots, unconcerned by the unfolding drama. But Mr Barnaby Sensible and I rushed to give comfort and get her to her feet. It was an inauspicious start to Barnaby’s fifth birthday, particularly as only shortly before she had protected him from the consequences of his own over-enthusiasm by throwing behind her after a couple of half-hearted throws the yellow ball the thrilled birthday boy had just found on the deserted wintry beach.
We Dickens Dogs are all in a sense like children. Cared for, guided, protected – sometimes from ourselves; we are so lucky to have those who love us and how fearful we are when we are reminded of their vulnerability. Older, not necessarily wiser (both Barnaby and dear old Uncle Noggsy have a seaweed obsession), with this landmark birthday Barnaby leaves the foothills of a dog’s life behind. To me, he and Uncle Noggsy are the elders. At three, I have a long way to go, though my recent portrait indicates the mark of experience, I feel. It is an age before Jo the Hamster is one and tiny Nicholas is still so small and so far away that we can hardly believe in him yet: the little toe of our great assembly. After our breakfast Kemo Sabe began dachshund-proofing the garden against young Nickleby’s arrival, sinking paving slabs beside the fence to keep him in and the badgers out. Something new for us all to learn, having survived to live another day.
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:
An exceptional day this, as befits the birthday of our beloved bear, Barnaby Rudge. Routines have given way in the wake of recent turns of event, and we were left alone this morning after breakfast, to consider the journey we have all come on over recent months. Upstairs, much attention is being paid to the room vacated by Ten Blankets, and we could smell the new paint which nosey I alone have seen being applied and is a tranquil shade called Fawn. Wriggling round about the furniture, now clustered together as in Tutankamen’s tomb, I can see the corners previously beyond my reach when diving for biscuit bits or snatching up torn tissues. How disturbing it is when somebody vacates one’s life; how the haunting goes on, even when the distance isn’t great. The perspective has changed such a lot, though: gone is the mark of the armchair against the wall; gone is the fluff behind the bed; gone the great bookcase with shaving impedimenta and ginger creams; gone the dressing table which held the towels. Round the edges, so much has altered and become clear while in the centre so much remains complex. Yet, despite all that, Barnaby is here – four years old today – and since my arrival, of course, no longer the youngest in the family, though I know that in a way he would still like to be; he shows impatience when others are embraced, slightly insecure lest he might be overlooked. Why, I cannot imagine: he is by far the most mature and low maintenance of the Dickens Dogs! Reliable; authoritative when needs must; protective, with a deep, manly bark; yet also soft as butter, pretty as a picture and other such cliches. Loved by all but devoted to only one: that’s our Barnaby. We raised a toast to him with our share of the local butcher’s steak pie – a little party to give thanks for his daily presence in our little lives. Bless you, sweet boy!
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.
Yesterday was a big day for me: I had more visitors to the blog than ever before! Being an innocent in this business, it is always exciting to see if anyone has read – let alone liked or commented on – anything I’ve put out there and I’m very pleased to get any response at all. This little spaniel writes for his own delight, in order to get ideas straight inside his little blue and white head; if other readers find my musings worth a look, that’s just wonderful; especially wondrous to see are the various flags of my readers’ homelands and wondering just what someone in Brazil or Slovenia has made of my life in this isolated corner of England. Whether it’s a shipwrecked squid or a sun fallen from the skies, questions of life and death abound, crossing continents and making some sort of universal sense. Every day is different; expressing every thought a challenge, wondering whether the thread will lead me from the labyrinth or face to face with the Minotaur itself.
Those who know about these things predict a really massive storm later this weekend, though it may not strike our bit of the country too hard. Right now it is calm and bright, but that means nothing as clouds transform themselves in a trice and darkness deepens inexplicably, like the descent of melancholy in the middle of a song. Upstairs there is still an atmosphere of flux, and I cling in comfort to those who need me as a buoy in the sea of mutability; more than sea creatures are life’s flotsam and jetsam, it would seem. There is an extra hour tonight – which thrills me as I love my Boggis Bed – but as yet I cannot understand quite why this should be so. More questions I would ask:
1 Why do some people that we meet find it so hard to smile and say hello?
2 When you see people walking without a dog, where has it gone?
3 Why am I sure that everything will be all right?
Today the weather has been astonishingly lovely. Bear in mind that it is nearly the end of October; that we gain an extra hour by the range on Saturday night; that the evenings will come quicker; most of all that the last couple of days have been miserable, with roaring seas, dangerous tides and windy and wet to the bone. But today? Today summer returned, mild as a milkmaid’s cheek against a cow’s flank. The horizon cleared, the islands shone, Andrew’s boat bore keen folk out to gaze on the newborn seals, and even the whelkery revealed its fruits once again. No need for three layers, even before dawn; no need for gloves, even when running into the north-ish wind. Instead the sights and smells both morn and eve sank gently into our souls and the clarity of the air made our coats glisten. As Barnaby looks out from the wonderful ruins of John O’Gaunt’s castle, he is perched near the edge of winter – on to which we have looked down more than once this week – but a million miles from it; protected within its ramparts.
Around the islands lurks a boat which looks as though it means business: before dawn it glows at anchor with golden light and we fancy we can almost smell the egg and bacon of the crew’s breakfast so close to the shore does it sleep. Over the space of a week each Spring and Autumn, I am informed, it cleans the buoys which mark the dangerous seaways. So many wrecks round here. Looking at this millpond you might be forgiven for thinking: what is the point of that? Why worry about Neptune’s whereabouts, or his anger? But just as we fill the coal hod, and stack the logs, and fix the roof and fill the dog food bin with lovely herby meal I can sniff out from my bed – all done so we can face up to November – so we must remember: this is the odd day out. Better build up those castle walls, Barnaby!
On this thoughtful and reflective day, when our little Prince George is to be baptised, I shall introduce you to Andy, about whom I have begun to gather memories as the dog that began a lifetime’s love of canine companionship. Perhaps little George’s early years will be similarly brightened by his friendship with Lupo, the family cocker spaniel, and help him to love our species as dear old Andy did for this household and one lonely girl in particular. Andy was a Cairn Terrier, and was born a very long time ago a long way from here – near Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor in Devon. In this picture he is getting on in years, as his eyebrows suggest. He lived only ten years and his death, when it eventually came after a long decline, was the moment when everyone realised that not having a dog in the hole he had left in their hearts would be unthinkable. Rather as in Uncle Noggsy’s case, though in a different kind of way (as I will one day explain) getting him was the most amazing bit of luck – the sort of good fortune upon which the innocent stumble and find themselves blessed. Andy was the first dog the family ever had and no one knew much about which breed to get, let alone where a breeder might be. Actually, the elderly woman who bred him lived a reclusive life, dedicated to her beloved Cairns, in a remote house in the middle of moorland. Recommended by a family friend who had bought a puppy from her, one day there was a spare one, but he was three months old and by then utterly used to life on the land. What a little tike! What a character! Anyone who knew anything about dogs would have run a mile from this challenge but experience is a great teacher and encountering difficulties has its advantages. Difficult to train, recalcitrant and fiery (the opposite to the golden retriever, but remember, he was a terrier), snappy and noisy at times but, for all that, a loving, cheery pal and engaging companion who loved listening to music on the radio and walks – the longer and wilder the better. His independent spirit shines through in this old picture, I think, even though by the time it was taken his breathing was troublesome and his heart giving out. My word, there were some memorable times with him around: he bit the paperboy, which brought a visit from the police; chased rabbits into brambly undergrowth on the local downs and wouldn’t come out, eventually making his own way home along a main road; took off down the cliff overlooking Redgate Beach – rabbits, of course, once again – and had to be pursued and stopped from falling off into the sea by a visiting uncle. It is said that everyone has a Haile Selassie story and even this little Cairn Terrier had his: Andy had the privilege of wearing out one of the great man’s young relatives on a day of mad running about, covering miles of ground, delighting in each other’s company – neither had ever met such an energetic spirit before! Only on the following day did Andy himself sleep off the exertions, for once unwilling to trot in any direction. During holidays, Andy would return to wuthering heights on Dartmoor where his regained an even more profound freedom to run riot and chase as many rabbits as he liked. When Andy could no longer gasp for breath, no longer clown around by dashing though every room in the house jumping over people’s legs in corridors; when his little tummy was swollen with retained water and he just lay on the bed waiting for some help, the vet came round and with a peaceful passing a pall descended on the home he had previously loved and lit with life. For some the grief was expressed in hours of deliberate digging, making the deep,deep grave ready for his little body. For others there was utter sleeplessness, the kind that dwells on an image which bores like a maggot into the skull – here, of that little body lying under so many feet of earth, as the orphaned Yuri Zhivago imagined his dead mother. Andy’s death brought forth the first cries and tears of inconsolable grief she had heard a grown man utter. Who ever would have thought a mere dog could mean so much? Our dear Andy.
Yesterday when selecting photos of the boys for the blog, I came across this splendid picture of Uncle Jonny. It was taken many years ago in Brighton on one of his many trips there when he had been persuaded to sit on a mosaic tump by the promenade. What better way to brighten up this dreary Friday morning, when the drizzle makes my long ears frizzle, than to ponder a while on him and his times. Brighton was one of his favourite resorts: coffee and cake at The Meeting Place or more latterly Buckets and Spades, his hopeful cheery face peering up over the table top in expectation – so many photos show him like this. The collective memory in winter months is of drinking coffee in icy winds near the Lanes, sitting outside cafes, huddling near the door for some residual warmth, Jonny at their feet. Summer in Brighton for him meant the annual Pride celebrations, which he always enjoyed as he was continuously petted by participants and tourists alike as he trotted decorously along, providing many a photo opportunity. He was an old hand at all that. Brighton also meant meeting up with Jason, that master of ink, or staying at the late-lamented Hilton West Pier, whose marble foyer particularly suited his trotty feet. The rolling sea on the noisy pebbles, Alice Cooper at the Brighton Centre, the mist over the Marina, the underside of the ruined West pier with pigeons perching and peeping above – not to mention the filming of James Bond on the walkway of the pier itself – Jonny always seemed to be pulling them gently but firmly towards the things he knew would be fun or funny. Plodding along, contentedly, never a moment’s trouble; the most equable of companions. When the time comes, as I suppose I now realise it will one day, will those who lived with and loved me count my days as such a blessing? I pray that it is so. We love you Jonny; we always will.