Sunday, April 26, 2009

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

My mother hated April. My sister was born on April 28th 1955, a tiny premature girl with only a few days of life. My mother only saw her for precious moments before she was rushed away to hospital where she died on April 30th. If her prematurity had been survivable, the bizarre and barbaric treatment thought suitable for premature babies was not.

Each year, as we approached the end of March, the April cloud appeared in our family sky and my father and I learned to tread carefully. It never worked and more often than not she would descend into grief and anger. Slammed doors, afternoons spent sobbing behind closed doors and long hurt silences. My father was as excluded from her loss as much as I was and he would take me out of her way to the garden.

Throughout my childhood, a single baby photograph sat on the sideboard. I hated it. As a young teenager, in a whingy teenagerish way, I moaned that I hated it. A sharp angry slap taught me that, although the photograph was of me, the baby looking out was her.

Where I was real, flesh-and-blood imperfect, Rhian was forever the perfect child. In my mother's last weeks, a kind, well-meaning neighbour remarked that it was such a shame that I was an only child with no-one to share responsibility for caring for my mother.

Too bloody right, I thought. Where are you now, sideboard sister?

I grew up with no patience for the tyrant on the sideboard, this child who had never lived. She had never been a playmate, a companion, a sharer of family memories. Toboganning in the snows of 1963, grandpa making little gold wire animals, planting rapberry canes.

The garden was my father's refuge. No matter how hard he hard worked in the day, there was always time to prick out the tomatoes or walk the row of runner beans. He saw no point in flowers but didn't mind if vegetables were decorative. They compromised: lettuces sat underneath rose bushes, courgettes climbed the rockery, peas and sweetpeas alternated. It was a place of peace and beauty for him. When he retired in March 1982, he told everyone that he would live in the garden. And he did. On April 8th, three weeks after he retired, pausing for a rest, he leaned on the garden fork, lit a cigarette and died.

My mother lived another 20 years. Frail and confused in her last days, she asked "What did you do with that other baby?". In clear moments, we talked about how she had met my father. Waiting at the railway station, he had admired her car. She had told him tartly to mind his own business. And they fell in love.

And now I'm the only one left to remember them. My small hurts and humiliation and pain are small in comparison but I can see why she was glad when April was over. I'm glad that anniversaries are out of the way but I can't find it in my heart to hold it against the month itself. The yonge sonne hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne. Friends have remembered and been kind and quietly generous with their time. Sunshine and the garden. Dog walking. The small delights.

Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A small wave

In October 2007, I started writing Mossie's story. At the time, all sorts of stuff was going on in my [un]real world which I could not write about. It was so painful and, even with the privacy afforded by blogging anonymity, I could not set it down.

A little while earlier, our much loved and very old dog had died. Because of all the other rubbish, I felt so completely alone, betrayed and lost. Mossie filled the gap in the way that human contact could not. And so I wrote about the days with him, the small delights. Writing from his perspective gave me another layer to protect myself. A cloak of invisibility.

Writing brought its own joy. And blogging brought friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

North, South, East and West

A couple of weeks ago, while There, I walked to the top of a local hill where there is an iron age hillfort. The views are breathtaking.

At the top, there were three red kite, wheeling and swooping. Ignoring me completely. That's the moment when remembered that I'm still alive. They're carrion eaters, you see. If I wasn't alive, then I'd have been their Sunday lunch. I laughed aloud. Mad woman, laughing to herself at the top of the hill.

At the turn of the year, a couple of days before Mossie died, I looked out at 2009 and thought, "Am I happy?" A great philosopher (alright, Graham Norton) said: Happiness isn't getting what you want, it's wanting what you get. So no, not happy but learning to get there. Content, if not happy yet. Having lived through the misery of losing the most treasured relationship that I have known with another adult, I am not brave enough to risk betrayal and pain again. But looking into the future, I could see a route through to contentment. The companionship that was lost when Mossie died was part of that contentment. Sitting on the rock in the middle of the hillfort, I decided that three months was enough. I would get another dog. And the next time I would climb this hill, I would have a dog to share the views.

So here we are, enjoying the views.

That would be a blind dog then. Like I said, happiness is wanting what you get.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pass the kleenex

Tomorrow is my last day before heading off There. Ten days. Daughter for some of it, Son [possibly], friends, Humbug and Spot. As my son would have it, I have to leave the house tidy for the burglars, so I've spent the evening tidying up, doing a bit of ironing, putting stuff away and filing away some paperwork. Well, you can't bank on the burglars to come in and do that. After all, they're hardly Elves to my Shoemaker, are they?

Spot sits and watches and listens, dozing happily by my feet as if he's lived here forever. Occasionally, he rests his head on my knee for a hug. What an old shmooze.

There's a Jacob fleece over the back of the settee. While I'm tidying up, Spot follows me and brushes past it. Stops, sniffs and then, proving that there's life in the old boy yet, grabs it gleefully and promptly tries to show it a good time. "Gerroff!", I holler. Guilty, he drops it to the floor and I replace it on the back of the settee and return to the kitchen. He doesn't follow. That sixth sense, the one that becomes finely tuned by small children when they're silent, kicks in.

Back to the sitting room. He drops the fleece immediately and tries to claim that it was coming on to him. But there's a small tuft of wool sticking out of the side of his mouth.

I'll be glad when the hormones wear off. No soft furnishings are safe from Don Spotivani till then. And I'm hoping we don't get a cold snap over Easter since I'm not putting my sheepskin coat back on while he's still frisky.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A la recherche du temps perdu

You know how it is with small dogs (emphasis on dog)? They'll shag anything. Legs, cushions, handbags. Big dogs need something a bit more ... Spot has decided that he really can't be bothered to sleep on Mossie's bed but it'll do nicely as a shag toy. Except, it's not quite the same as it was. Every so often, he wanders up to it and hunkers down to give it a good seeing to. But clearly, things ain't quite like they were and he turns round to give me a puzzled stare. Is this the male menopause? Nope. It's permanent. And pretty soon, you'll have forgotten all about it.

He picks up the bed in his mouth and hurls it into the corner in disgust.

Yesterday afternoon, I carried the box of Mossie's ashes to the Pooh-Sticks-Bridge and Spot and I said goodbye to him. Stood on the bridge snivelling while Spot lay on the bridge looking at me with a worried look. He probably thought that the loss of gonads was a small price to pay.

In the US, when you have a dog 'done', they can put little implants in so that they hang right. Evidently, it's the men who mainly choose this. I wonder why?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A post-modern ironic sort of Spot

I passed. I passed. It's as good as getting your "O" levels with an A*++ whatever.

A kindly lady came and interviewed me and looked at the house and garden. Explained about Here and There. That'll be okay as long as you don't move the furniture around. Hmmmm... well not often. And I don't explain about the building projects there. She checks out that I'm relaxed about the mess of having a dog. Well possibly, I have had some experience ...

And we can always look for continuing development on fox poo, chicken poo, badger poo and wonderful red mud from Bruce

Unlike a phone call to another rescue, she didn't feel the need to make a snarky comment and, in fact, seemed to think that I would be just right for him. Thank heavens she didn't want to go upstairs since I'm not sure that she would be convinced that white cotton bed linen goes well with border collies.

A quick phone call to the rescue centre and we're on. Booked. Collect on Friday evening. Worked flat out all day so I didn't have time to think about it and then left the office with palpitations. M25 on a Friday night is not a good place to be. Apparently there was an accident at Junction 18 meaning they had closed it between 17 and 19. And the queue goes from Junction 10 to 17. But that's clockwise and I'm going anti-clockwise. But the queue going clockwise of rubber-neckers is from the M11 through to Junction 17. And so the stop-start queue going anti-clockwise is from Junction 8. It seems that everyone going clockwise is queuing to get past an accident and everyone going anti-clockwise is queueing to look at it. At least I won't get done for speeding. Arrive on time, just.

He's "watching" everything. Listening, sniffing. Not sure about me at all. I'm so shocked when I see his back. He's shaved from just below his shoulders to his tail. A sort of tonsure. Just below his shoulders is a huge puncture mark and across his rump are criss-crosses of gouges and claw marks. It's all healing but it makes me flinch to see it and tears prick my eyes. I can hear my mother's voice telling me not to stare. The women with rickets, the polio boys in calipers, the FLKs. "If you don't stop staring, young lady, there'll be trouble". I reckon that we're in for a lot of staring in the next few weeks. He crouches by a wall, feeling the security of an edge.

Spot has been a much loved pet so he won't have the uncertainty of an abused dog. The injuries are shocking but he has settled well in the rescue here. He has very mature cataracts and can see very little. I reckon that he's going to be a combined Bella / Mossie in terms of care needs.

Dinner, a walk. He falls over the plant pots in the garden and I just keep him out of the just-about-to-bloom-really-rather-expensive tulips. He sits neatly in the kitchen watching me cooking my dinner. By 10, we're both ready for bed. Thankfully he shows no interest in coming up the stairs and I settle him in the kitchen for the night. At 1am I hear him snuffling at the front door so let him out for a quick pee. Then we both settle back down and the next thing I know it's morning. I can't hear him and hurl out of bed to go downstairs to check him out. Except, I don't need to go downstairs since there he is, on the landing, fast asleep.

We spend the day walking and learning going downstairs. In the morning, he finds the Bella step on the turn on the stairs and settles down there to sleep while I'm tidying up.

Thanks, Bella. He's a bit big and paws dangle over the edge.

When I'm in the shower, he pokes his head round the doorway and puts the front two paws in but is not coming any further. When I come out, he's gone downstairs on his own and is sitting by the front door. Thanks, Mossie. I'm not going to work today.

But there are no spots, unless you count the tiny white tip on his tail.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Where's Spot?

As it says on the top... mad again. So here I am waiting to be "home-checked". A nice lady is going to come and check out my house to see if I'm suitable.

We're just shy of 3 months since Mossie died. I've missed him more than I can say. I stopped writing his blog after two weeks because it was, well, his blog. A few weeks later, I took his Christmas presents to a local rescue and signed up to be a walker for them. And then I had to leave in tears. Then I thought about a cat. I went along to a local rescue. There were two suitable mogs. One took one look, bit me and stomped off to her bed. The other one let me stroke him and was lovely. A real big cuddle. Then he looked at me, turned back to his bed letting me know I wasn't going home with him. And then I had to leave in tears.

All too soon. When Bella died, she left such a strong presence. And not just the excess of spaniel fluff everywhere. I could see her out of the corner of my eye and hear the occasional small sigh. After Mossie arrived, she didn't leave but hung around to explain about living indoors to him. Even on his last day, she still seemed to be there. As I drove to meet my Daughter at the station, there was a soft "shrnuffle" from the back seat of the car. But in January, he was so absent. My heart ached for him and there was no comfort in anything.

The house is neat and tidy. You could eat off any surface you like. The vases of flowers are immaculate. The garden looks like a picture. And it is all so empty.

This time last year, my life was full. My two fantastic children come and go as is appropriate to being growed. Life was busy-ish at work. I was in a relationship that I thought would last forever. And there was Mossie to give each day a rhythm. Daughter and Son still come and go. Work is less than satisfying but the bills are paid, and I should be grateful for that. The relationship ... well, it didn't last forever. In fact, it was over by the end of April. The despair of the next few weeks hurt more than I could have ever imagined. Only the rhythm of life with Mossie kept me going.

And writing his blog. Through the blog, he let me vent some of the spleen about the way I had been treated and to find joy in the small things. I remembered how much I enjoyed writing. Story-telling. As the months passed, I had a great deal of fun telling the The Mossiestory. Watching his confidence build and him settling into life with me.

When I'm in Wales (There, as opposed to Here), I have a favourite walk, up the hill past the farm to where the kite nest. Whenever, I can, I make this my just-before-leaving-walk. On the bend, by the farm, we would encounter the sheepdogs. Two little, smooth haired girls who work for a living. They always dash out of the barn shouting abuse at you and sidle up to your ankles just in case you need herding. A swift turn-around and hard stare is all it takes to make them come back to you grovelling for affection. When Mossie first arrived, he was terrified of them and would cower behind my legs to make sure that I was between him and them. Memorably, he lay flat on the floor refusing to move and my son had to carry him. Twenty-five kilos. As the months passed, he would stand, uncertain as they came up to him. As long as I stood next to him he was fine and no longer needed to hide behind me. Gradually, he became confident enough to just walk normally past them. Then one weekend, we walked up past the barn and they weren't there. Being a boy, of course, he liked to pee on every post and he looked around, cocked a leg and then thought better of it. Waited till we walked up the hill and then found another post. A few weeks later, as we walked past and the girls came bundling out, he just ambled past them up to the post, cocked his leg and, giving them a long hard stare, had a good pee. Look at me, I am the dude. Not scared of you lot.

Bella was nearly sixteen when she died and I had hoped to share more years with Mossie than we had. But what a time we had together and I don't regret a single moment. Not even his last day because it was right to let him go then. And I've grown used to the total absence of him.

So I've been looking out for the right rescue. A puppy would be great but my life doesn't allow that at the moment. There are so many abandoned dogs and a rescue is the only thing to do.

And there he was. Exactly what I didn't want - old, unwanted, failing eyesight and beaten up. Oh Lord, another Irish boy. His owner died leaving him to the family. They immediately put him up for rescue and were told he would be best put to sleep since he would be unlikely to find a home given his age and eye-sight. He was taken in by a rescue but was attacked by one of the other dogs and has had to be patched up. From there he came to the UK to a wonderful rescue where they gave him another reason to hope. Maybe not mad, just stupid.

I phoned the rescue and got no answer. Just the answermachine. Cowardly, I hung up. Through the day, I came back to the website. Hovered over the phone several times. Coward.

While putting away the washing, a grumbly voice said "He's got a bald bum". And another softer musical one said "Well, you were no picture either, AND you ponged." I laughed out loud and went downstairs and phoned. This time, no answermachine.

"Hello, I'd like to talk to you about Spot ...."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In praise of the older man

So there you are, one lonely evening with your fingers poised over the search bar. Internet dating. A big step. But you know what you want: a mature guy, good-looking, naturally. Been around the block so he knows how to please. And there are some really dishy ones out there. Dark and handsome. Slim-hipped, broad-shouldered. A devilish glint in the eye. Where to start?

On the other hand, you don’t want an old one, do you? Or one who looks like he’s been in a few brawls. Or one that’s going to trash your rose-scented bedroom and leave hair in the plughole.

Brown eyes, greying temples. But he’s old. With a scar on the nose, he must have a sad tale to tell. Keep flirting with the others. But as the weeks go by, they each meet someone, just right and he’s still there. So you read his story. No longer useful. No longer able to work. No longer wanted. A quick email, just to enquire. Can’t do any harm. Just one phone call. No commitments.

So there you are, a cold October morning, waiting for a van to arrive. When the door opens, you recognise the profile from the internet picture. He gingerly jumps down from the travel crate and looks bewildered. But his over-riding need is a tree and then, you’re on your own. Together.

He rests his head against your leg and gazes up, trusting that you won’t let him down. So how can you? Suddenly, you have become the centre of his world.

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? His world is full of new things which impress him: jacket potatoes, playing with frisbees, a soft cuddly bed, a good brushing, a cup of tea, big hugs, trips to the country, Christmas, a loving family. And some things that bother him and you don’t know why: the hoover, other sheepdogs, going through gates first. But as the months pass, these stop worrying him so much and then suddenly, he’s cool. He’s the dude. People stop you to admire this good-looking boy and he doesn’t hide behind your legs. And you see the magnificent dog and there’s no sad old man. And when you go out to play every evening after work, you see the pup.

So you know that he’s old and maybe you won’t have so many years together. But, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. You fill each day with love and fun. And when it’s over, you remember all the days.