Sometimes very sweet and unexpected things happen. This morning, I got it into my head that Stanley the Lurcher must have the softest and most delightful sheepskin rug for his bed. I generally do not like actual dog beds; I find them rather dispiriting. My old girls used to sleep on a combination of sheepskins and precious Welsh blankets and one of those soft paisley eiderdowns that they don’t make any more.
Sheepskins are very easy to get in my neck of the woods; they sell lovely ones in the butcher’s. I assumed that in the west country, famous for great sheep, they might be ten a penny. Not a bit of it. People looked at me in astonishment when I asked. I was resigned to the failure of my Great Plan. Luckily, there were several excellent blankets in the car, but still, it was not quite the same.
As a final throw of the dice, I went into a country market in Frome. I did not have much hope by this stage.
The market was packing up when I arrived. Nearest the door, three ladies of a certain age were clearing trestle tables of some unsold plants. ‘I haven’t taken any money today,’ I heard one of them say.
Then, next to a couple of woody geraniums, I spotted something furry sticking out of a huge black bin bag.
‘Excuse me?’ I said. ‘But those aren’t sheepskins by any chance?’
‘They certainly are,’ said the ladies.
They certainly were: the finest, biggest, deepest, softest sheepskins I’d ever seen. I hate to say this, but they cast our small, tough Scottish ones into the shade. Somerset sheep must be the most luxuriant in the country.
The day was saved. I shelled out wads of cash to the smiling women, expressed my unconfined joy, somewhat to their surprise, and felt that the whole thing was a perfect sign.
The lovely boy is lying by my side, on his new five star bed, as I write this. We have had heroic walks; I have discovered that he knows Wait, Sit, and Paw. He is a little anxious, in the way that rescue dogs are, but is adapting like a Trojan.
‘I am your person,’ I tell him, gravely. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’
He’s a very, very different type from my glorious old lab-collie crosses. He is lean where they were soft, questing where they were calm. I remember them mostly as old ladies; he has the vigour of gentlemanly youth. Also, I’m used to bitches, and a dog is a novel proposition. Even my equine herd is composed of females. Getting used to a fellow is a new thing entirely.
It’s perfect that he is so different. You do not replace a dog, any more than you could replace a human. Even as I watched his lovely amber eyes in the rear view mirror, driving through the west country, the green fields gleaming in the sun, I was washed with a wave of grief for my Pigeon.
Oddly, this new love makes the loss of the old love almost keener. The point, really, is not to mend my heart, but to mend his. I won’t feel any less sad about my Dear Departeds, but I shall have a new creature to love, and to be responsible for, and to offer a new, hopeful life.
As I always say, over and over, I don’t think one fixes sorrow, or gets over it, or even heals it, really. I think that, in time, there is room for joyful things, so the pain can be balanced by the pleasure. The lost are balanced by the found; the dead by the living.
Mostly, I believe in stoicism, and it’s an awful lot easier to be stoical if there is a dog in the house.
And now there is, in actual living fact, STANLEY THE LURCHER. I love him. I love you, too, for already taking him to your hearts. It’s a slightly odd thing to say to strangers, but, bugger it, I’m way past the point of good old British reserve. Today, it’s all about the Love.
It felt like a sign too that today was one of the most beautiful of the year. I woke at five-thirty, mad with excitement, to a vast, humming moon, so bright that I thought for a moment there were army helicopters outside the window. That gave way to a limpid, lavender dawn, which in turn transformed itself to a sunny winter day of such clarity that I could find no words for it.
I managed to snap a very few quick pictures for you, rather late in the day:
Stanley the Lurcher, on his first day. Look, look, he can do Pigeon BLINKY EYES:
(That horrid little yellow thing is just to say he is micro-chipped. It will soon be replaced by a smart engraved tag.)
The Amber Gaze. I suspect there will be quite a lot of that, over the coming weeks:
See how clever and alert he is?:
Two people who shall be waiting to meet him, taken on the day I left, in their frosty blue field:
The Originals, who remain always stitched into my heart:
Oh, those faces.