Posted by Tania Kindersley.
*Warning for length, and slight anthropomorphism.*
I have, unexpectedly, to go away. It’s a family thing. It’s a love thing. It’s one of those things where you don’t just say down the telephone, oh poor you how awful, you get in the car and go. Or, in my case, the train. I am hoping the points are not frozen.
The Pigeon cannot come. She is too old now for sudden journeys and urban living. When she and the Duchess were younger, I did once take them to London, and they raised merry hell in Hyde Park with their lunatic squirrel-chasing. I only discovered later that this is considered very infra dig; at the time, I did not know that I was doing a Bateman cartoon, and encouraged them with shouting and intemperate laughter. I think I may have yelled ‘get the fuckers’ at one stage. I am not fond of grey squirrels.
I have made arrangements with my mother and the Lovely Stepfather for the old girl to stay. She loves going there and is very happy. All the same, two days ago I suddenly had a terrible wrenching sensation at the thought of a week without her. Perhaps I could take her on the train. Dogs are allowed, after all; I had glorious images of the entire carriage falling in love with her. I even did a test to see if she could go for the requisite number of hours without a pee. (I did not fancy the idea of dashing off at Newcastle or York for emergency relief.) Then I returned to sense. She will stay here and be fine.
All the same, I hate leaving her. It is because of the great age. It is because of her sister dying. It is because every damn day with this fine dog is precious to me. I used to be embarrassed to admit this, it sounds so soppy, but now I declare it with pride. There is no point trying to pretend the heart is immune when it is not.
As all this passed through my head this morning, I tried to work out just what it is about this canine that makes me adore her so. I count the ways.
There is the beauty, of course: the lambent eyes that are indigo in some lights, and amber in others; the shining black coat; the satisfying, sturdy build. Because of being a collie cross, she is made like a small, neat Lab. She is big enough to look like a proper outdoor, working dog, but small enough to curl up into a perfect bundle on the sofa. The sturdiness is lovely too: she has a round, barrel-like aspect, so that when I hug her she has a delightful, solid feel. Also, her ears are as soft as velvet.
I like that she is so gentle. She never snarls or nips; she is quiet and curious and questing.
I love that she loves children. She has no interest in other dogs at all, but give her a small human to play with and she will be happy for hours.
I love her enthusiasm. Even at the age of thirteen, she still jumps and dances each morning when it is time to go for a walk. When she sees me pulling on my gloves and putting on my gumboots, her ears go up, and she describes small, neat leaps in the air. As we set off, she canters ahead, her tail swinging round in great, happy circles, first one way, then the other, as if she is embarking on a great adventure.
Obviously, I talk to her. (I am beyond any stage of pretence now.) One of the things that makes me laugh is that as I speak, her face takes on an alert, quizzical aspect; she raises her head, cocks her ears, sometimes puts her face on one side, as if she is really trying to work out what I am on about.
There are certain words she recognises, mostly biscuit, ball, home, breakfast, water, sit, stay, come for love. The last one is particularly touching. When I say 'Come for love' she dashes forward and pushes her entire body up against my chest and lets herself be stroked.
In the madness of the American election of 2008, when I was quite carried away by Barack Obama and Yes We Can, I taught her to kiss me on the nose every time I said: Who is going to win the election? – Barack Obama. (I realise I am now wading through the treacherous waters of over-share.) She is one of the very few who is not disappointed by his term in office; she still looks tremendously excited every time she hears his name.
I love that she is so completely brilliant at retrieving. Watching her chase a stick or leap for a ball is one of my enduring pleasures. She is so athletic and focussed. When she brings the object back and deposits it at my feet, she gives me an excited, almost pleading look, her entire body bunched up with anticipation, she is so thrilled by the prospect of the next throw.
I adore her manners. She will sit, stay, walk to heel, come the moment she is called. I can put the most delightful treat in front of her, tell her to wait, and she will stay stock still, staring intently into my eyes until I give her the signal. That’s a huge amount of self-discipline and just sheer goodness.
There is also the gaze. Sometimes, she sits and gazes at me, eyes on full beam, undilute love streaming out like starlight. It doesn’t matter how often I see the gaze, it never ceases to make my heart flip.
I know there is an argument among animal behaviourists and other experts about whether dogs really love their humans, or just regard them as excellent feeding machines. I fully accept that The Pidge probably appreciates me mostly because I am the source of all biscuits. I don’t really care. On the question of the love, I think: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is a duck. It looks and feels like love to me, and that is the name I shall give it.
And she is funny. Sometimes, it’s a comical expression on her face. Sometimes it is the way she rolls over so I may rub her stomach. Sometimes it is the jumping in the air and wild barking that accompanies my traditional Saturday afternoon yelling of ‘Come on, my son’ at the television, as we watch the races. I reckon she makes me laugh at least once a day. Which is not bad, in these troubled times.
Those are the ways. She is funny and clever and kind and gentle and well-mannered and eager and athletic and beautiful. I love her and I feel immensely lucky to have her.
Talking of love and luck: today is the birthday of my friend The Man of Letters. He, too, is funny and clever and kind and well-mannered. And he gets the dog thing. (I admit that he does not kiss me on the nose when I say the words Barack Obama, but nobody's perfect.) I don’t usually do birthdays on the blog, but since I am going away I find myself in mildly sentimental mood. So I shout out into the ether: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, lovely MoL.
Right. That’s quite enough of all that. There is no blogging where I am going. It’s a matter of logistics. I shall be off air for a week.
I am quite nervous about this. How can I desert the Dear Readers? I can’t remember the last time I did not blog for seven whole days. Shall I return to find the readership fled to other, more fecund pastures, a bleak silence where there was once noise, tumbleweed rolling forlornly through the streets?
I so hope not. Have a look at the archives whilst I am gone; chat amongst yourselves. I shall be so filled with angst when I return that there will be over-compensation a go-go. Who knows? It might be the beginning of a whole new chapter.
Pictures of the day. Despite Twitter being a-tweet with tales of southern snow, we saw none of it in the north-east of Scotland. There was a misty, frosty morning, with the temperature soon rocketing up to a balmy two degrees. After minus nine, that actually feels mild. It was very pretty, anyway:
And now for far too many pictures of The Pigeon, since I am indulging in excessive dog love.
I would love to say that this plaintive look is because she saw me packing this morning and is wondering what she shall do without me. In fact, it is because I have a biscuit in my hand, and she is trying to figure out how to persuade me to give it to her:
Perhaps the Grace Kelly face will work?:
Or the slightly quizzical expression?:
Or the sitting up very straight and looking very, very good?:
And the last hill for a week. I shall miss it. I always do: