Posted by Tania Kindersley.
My mother calls.
'How is that dog?' she says.
'Better,' I say. 'I have a new thing now. I wake up in the morning, and I listen to her heart.'
There is a pause. I can hear my mother frowning.
'Do you have a special veterinary listening device?' she says.
'No,' I say. 'I use my ear.'
It is true. It is the first thing I do. I roll over and press my ear to her chest, and listen to her poor old ticker going thump thump thump. She watches me with slight surprise. Then, reassured that the muscle is still banging away, I get up and take her for her walk.
Outside, the air is gentle and there is a weak sun. I run into the Older Niece and we walk together, admiring the trees.
'Look,' I say. 'See the snow on the high hills.'
She nods sagely.
'Snow is coming,' she says.
She knows this because the Man in the Hat has a special weather network. He knows men whose livelihoods depend on the weather. They are in touch with the people at the Met Office, who make them privy to special secret weather which the general public do not know. Or something. I like the idea of the MITH having an arcane weather underground. He knows stuff.
I come in, write 912 words of book, try not to panic at the thought of looming deadlines, give the dog her pill, make a spinach frittata for lunch, listen to some Al Green, and ponder what I shall write on the blog. It's Friday, I always like to give you something cheerful for the end of the week, but there is one more dog story that I think I have to tell.
The problem is, it's a really, really sad story. I almost decide against it, because I don't want to make you cry, and I think it will make you cry. Then I think: it's an important story, I think it should be told.
A few weeks ago, on one of the many, many news feeds that I follow, I came upon a small article about an incredible bomb sniffer dog called Theo. He and his young handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were doing sterling work in Afghanistan, and had saved hundreds of lives. It was a lovely piece, but it came from a small news agency, and did not get any play in the national press, which I thought was a pity. I was going to put it up on the blog, and filed it in my Things For the Blog file, but I must have got distracted, and never did. I remember thinking it was a curious coincidence, because the other bomb dog I had been enchanted by was called Treo. Treo and Theo I thought; a perfect pair of heroes.
This is the tragic part. This week, Liam Tasker was shot to death while out on patrol. On the Helmand blog, which I follow religiously, his commanders and comrades and family paid tribute to him. It turns out he was not only an exemplary soldier, cheerful and courageous and dedicated, but a remarkable human being. He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him, one of those people who light up a room. He was twenty-six years old.
To add to the sadness, Theo suffered a seizure and died very soon afterwards. No one really knows why. It might have been the shock of the fighting, or just a horrible coincidence.
I wanted to tell you this story because it made me think of two things. One is that, because of the fact that there is so much other news at the moment, Afghanistan is off the front pages. It is almost possible to forget that we are in a shooting war, with no end in sight. For some reason, I think it very important that we do not forget.
The second is on the dog theme. Because of my dear dog's illness I have been meditating this week on the love and delight and joy that canines bring into our hearts. But they do more than this. In the case of Theo and Treo, they also literally save lives. Out in the dust and heat of Helmand Province, serious working dogs are sniffing out lethal improvised explosive devices, set by callous men bent on death. If one can say that dogs are heroes, then they are.
You can read about Liam Tasker and Theo here. I'm afraid it will break your heart, but it is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable pair. This is what they looked like:
This is why no one can ever, ever say: oh, it's only a dog.
To make you smile again, there is a lovely thing on Treo the dog here. I put the little video of him getting his medal up on the blog months ago, and it is still one of the sweetest things on the entire internet.
Here he is, with his award for bravery:
And now some Friday pictures for you.
The light and the trees and the hills:
You can just see the snow on the hill, fading into the white sky:
My favourite logs, of which you can see I never tire:
The Scottish colours:
One of my favourite young trees, with its astonishing silvery aspect:
There was a new yellow one today. I am not mad for yellow (soon you will get my yearly diatribe on daffodils) but actually I think this is rather charming, like sunshine in flower form:
And then there are the green shoots, pushing up boldly through the earth, which will one day be narcissi and tulips. I became rather obsessed with them this morning, and lay down on my stomach to photograph them, while the dogs watched in bemusement, and the Older Niece sat by my side and talked to me of her amazing 99-year-old relation in Australia, who reads this blog (big special Hello to Aunt Bar):
Now for the outrageous beauty. Someone is doing her Grace Kelly impersonation again:
While the Duchess is back to her duchessy finest:
Look, look, she is giving me the Lady Catherine de Bourgh eyes. I think that if she is back to that, it must be a good sign:
(She may have an ailing heart, but she still has the energy to be appalled by my shocking lack of breeding.)
And the hill, shot from a different angle today, in panorama with drama sky:
Once again, profound thanks for your extraordinary kindness this week. It still amazes me that people I have never met, from all over the world, in distant time zones, should take the time to write such enchanting words on this blog. I put it down not only to your good hearts, but also to the amazing power of The Dog. I hope you are having a lovely Friday, wherever you are.