Monday, 30 January 2012

Four Legs and a Tail are Forever

Bunny with the first of her babies, PipSqueak.

You know how late at night, or lying in the bath – often one and the same thing – you are occasionally drawn into reviewing your achievements in life, or lack thereof?
I sometimes wonder if God, reclining in his celestial tub wielding his back-scratcher, looks back on that epic week at the dawn of time and wishes he could have a second crack at it. 

Or perhaps just at some parts of it – because admittedly, by and large he played a blinder. In the interests of transparency, I’d have to say that personally I think there were one or two – well, hiccups. I reckon, given a bit more time, he might have re-thought the whole arachnid thing, and who knows, given the chance he might have scrapped homosapiens.
You have to agree – as a general concept homosapiens are - breathtaking!
Anatomical design: brilliant.
Psychological infrastructure: well – staggering, anyway.
Overall success: hmmm – decision postponed.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean no disrespect, but maybe he just peaked too soon. It happens all the time, and after all, it had been quite a week.
Do you think he wonders, when he’s scrubbing his toes, whether he should have stopped while he was ahead? Like when he got to dogs.
Surely one sight of that wagging plume, that head kicked just a little sideways – ears up, eyes locked-on – surely that should have been enough to tell him: ‘this is as close to perfect as you can hope for.’
The apogee of creation.
Four legs, a tail and a heart the size of a small country.

Going to the seaside

Dogs are on my mind at the moment.
Actually – that’s a total lie. There’s no ‘moment’ about it – dogs are always on my mind. How could they be anything else, with the divine duo lying at my feet day in, day out? (Metaphorically speaking, of course. They have extremely comfortable, cushion-lined baskets, thank you very much, not to mention the spare-bed for restless moments, so don’t be picturing them stretched on the remorseless floor, now.)

Anyway, it’s not the divine duo who are occupying my thoughts. They aren’t even occupying their own thoughts today. They are momentarily comatose. Despite a cold wind flinging hail, they have checked the hens over, raced around the orchard, their feet have walked in the high places, Under-Dog has rinsed his pyjamas in the river, Top-Dog has pee’d on the farm gate (hard work, but someone's got to do it) and they have both hoovered up bowls of delicious scrumptiousness. The prospect of the Master’s return and a long, lazy basket-afternoon are enough. Their joy is complete.

It is the hounds of yesteryear who prance on gentle, ghostly paws through my mind. My neighbour had to have her dog put to sleep. She was a fabulous black and white collie called Finn, and for 15 years they had been inseparable, so she will be sorely missed. 
Sorely missed.
Oh glory be, what a huge gap they leave behind.

You're only a puppy once

Lord Oaksey was once asked on some radio programme whether, looking back over his life, he had any regrets. (A bathtub moment, if ever there was one.) After a moment’s pause he replied that yes, he had. He regretted all the dogs he had loved and lost over the years.
I have to say I am at one with him on that. They just don’t live long enough – I think their gene motherboard got muddled up with parrots. Or sparrows.
(Either that, or God in his wrath decided that actually, shortening a dog’s lifespan was a better punishment for us than either serpents, childbirth or being cast out of Eden.)

But it’s not just Finn who’s in my thoughts. It was at just this time of year – late January – that one of my own dogs had to be put to sleep many years ago. Her name was Beshlie, but she was more often called Bunny, and known to her nearest and dearest as Djibouti-Botswana-Babbetina-ShishKebab. (I have no idea!) She came from a rescue home when she was 6 months old, and we had her until she was over 13, a fantastic age for a lurcher, but it’s never long enough, is it? 

Her preferred method of sunbathing

I took her for a last, slow walk on our favourite beach when I knew it was the end, and we pottered along the shoreline, stopping and starting, gazing out across the wide blue edge of my world to her world beyond. And early the next morning, before the vet arrived, we went into the garden together one last time, a white butterfly leading the way, and she was happy. She knew, and she was ready to go. There was so much understanding and trust in her eyes that morning, I felt as if she was the grown-up, I was a child on the edge of loss.

I found a flat, heart-shaped stone on the beach, that last day – which I still have. And I still have the poem I wrote for her, but most of all I have an impregnable store of memories, and in all of them she is full of joy, full of life, full of love. 
Her heart was the size of a small country.

For the short time they are with us, they make life inexpressibly better, don’t they – dogs? I just wish they didn’t have to go.
My husband once summed it up perfectly, and his words still break my fall, still catch my sadness and hold it tight:
‘We don’t have them forever, but they have us for their-ever.’

They surely do.

No such thing as an orphan when Bunny was around



                        Talisman for a Hound

I find a keepsake on our last day.
A heart-shaped stone, cold and
grey in the sea. It is the clone of
my heart without her.  But castaway
in the foam, it is her old
and faithful heart given finally
into my keeping.  I hold it fast,
folding my hands around it,
folding the past in on my creeping
grief, seeking some hidden alchemy,
to leech from stone some vast,
last, heart-rending relief.

Her thirteen years dissolve with the foam
on my hands, with the rain, with the
tears.  She is ready to go, fearless,
waiting to roam another shore, and her
silent ghosts are baiting her this
morning, warning me as they lure her on,
that she is already half-gone, gone,
done with her life, skittish on suddenly
sapling legs that prance her to the
edge of the wind.  And I am left,
pinned to this world, watching a
butterfly dance, new wings unfurled.

And the heart that I found in the sand by the edge of the sea,
beats for her still, though it’s years since she gave it to me.



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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Picture It In Your Own Words - Hope

The Weekly Photo Challenge - Hope

I have two pictures for this week's challenge.


Hope makes us dare

Picture No 2

'Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.' From The Burning of the Leaves by Laurence Binyon

Friday, 27 January 2012


I was in hospital this week.
(You don’t even want to know. Let’s just stick with the plain, simple, ubiquitous hospital term: ‘procedure’.)

Actually, I was going to say, I was unlucky enough to be in hospital this week, but – you know what? I wasn’t unlucky. Something got checked out, ticked off and dealt with, instead of hanging in the balance, causing worry or causing problems. And everything was OK – so in fact, I was lucky.

Not having any nice pictures of hospitals, I thought you'd like a stormy, January sea

What wasn’t quite so lucky was having a general anaesthetic.
I don’t know about you, but I must knock out so easy! They could practically save themselves the drugs, spare me the dreaded cannula and use a rubber mallet instead.
I never wake up!
Last year, when I had to go in for an operation (or are they just ‘procedures’ as well?) they had to keep me for an extra day because I couldn’t be trusted on my own two feet for so long afterwards. Sad really. Obviously nothing between the ears to soak up all those chemicals.

Maybe I didn’t smoke enough dope at college to harden the old head up a bit.
That’s probably it. I never took to that slightly dizzy, out-of-control feeling.
I never enjoyed sliding down the passage in my socks when I was a kid, either.
(Someone once told me that’s what water-skiing is like, so I never tried it.)

Still no hospitals, but lots of sea...

Anyway – as always I digress.

So I spent a blurry afternoon on the Day Ward in Sligo Hospital, pondering the really profound issues of life – like why the curtains round my bed had turned pink, when I could have sworn they started out blue.
It’s a great way to focus your mind, anaesthetic.
I wonder if that’s how Edward de Bono started? (Although technically, curtains are more perpendicular than lateral.)

The thing that really struck me, lying there, shivering and helpless, was just how nice nurses are, and how lucky we are to have them, pretty well on tap, all the way through our lives.

Let’s face it, most of us look upon our first nurse within moments of being born, and many of us look upon them as we die, and by and large, they’re taking up the slack on our behalf regularly in between as well.
I know it is a job of work, for which they are paid (if you call shirt-buttons pay, that is) but truly, how many of you would readily deal with someone else’s blood, guts, phlegm, vomit, urine and faeces, not to mention body odours?
Well, OK, every parent – or at least, every mother.
And a good few wives. (Or should that be a few, good wives?)
Fair comment, anyway.
But there is a certain amount of having signed-on-the-bottom-line on that.

How many of us would do it, not just as a one-off ‘here’s my ticket to heaven!’ – but every day.
And smile.
And say encouraging things.

I don’t think I’d last too long.
(And next time some pompous politician is deciding whether or not nurses deserve a pay-rise, maybe they should think of all that blood and guts, that piss and shit, that sick and snot, and debate how much they would need to be paid to deal with it, every day.)
It’s not even as if the average sick person is looking their best or giving anything in return.

Not nightingales, but seagulls

 Dread to think what I was looking like. Puffy-faced and bleary-eyed.

There were four or five nurses on the ward the other day, and they were all bloody marvellous (which is a household expression here, and must be uttered in suitably rallying accents.) They really helped me feel better – by smiling a lot for starters, and by stuffing some weird vacuum cleaner-type-hose-thing under the blankets to pump glorious hot air at me when I couldn’t stop shivering, by soothing, and helping me stagger out of bed, by bringing tea and toast and saying things like 'take your time' - right down to insisting that I be taken to my waiting car in a wheel chair when, eventually, I went home.

I believe only the nurses who are trained at St Thomas’s Hospital in London are entitled to be called Nightingales. The name comes, of course, from Florence Nightingale, who started the first ever secular school of nursing there. I shared a house with two Tommy's girls when I was at uni, and they wore starched white caps and were perfect role-models for all nurses everywhere.
Apart from them, the only other nightingales I know are the small brown birds that you’d never really notice until, under cover of darkness, when no one is looking, they start to sing.
And then they give it everything, and their gift transforms the darkness.

I think all nurses deserve to be called nightingales.

And I think we should all stop now and again, just to appreciate them.

At last, a nightingale.                    Photo borrowed from Chris Thomas, British Bird Photography 

Thank you, dear Readers, for so many lovely comments left recently. And thank you very much for the Candle Lighter Blog Award! I am very touched to receive it.



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