For those just joining:
Suddenly thought I ought to do a recap. One of the dullest things in the world, in life, is people talking about people you have never met, as if you have met them.
‘Oh, Archibald,’ they say; ‘ran off with a bongo player.’
Or: ‘Dinah’s never really been the same since the incident.’
There is a special sort of face I affect when this happens, and I have absolutely no idea who Archibald and Dinah are, or even if they are human (in certain company, likelihood is they could be dogs or horses). It is a bright, interested face, slightly stretched, faintly quizzical. What that covers, not always terribly well, is a what the buggery bollocks are you talking about face.
So, for the new Dear Readers – I have a most Beloved Cousin in the south. We are quite distant cousins, so we did not grow up together, but we have known each other well since we were eighteen. Her parents were like my second family, and over the years we spent happy holidays and Christmases and Easters together. Her husband is a professional polo player, who used to play high goal, but now mostly makes ponies for the top players.
Those who make their living from polo have to go where the work is, and in the winter months that is South America. So, once in November, and once in March, off the Old Fella goes to the pampas, and I pack up the car and come here for three weeks at a time, to help with the children, whom I have known since the day they were born, and be company for the cousin, and generally keep the home fires burning.
It is a very lovely and touching arrangement, and brings us all a lot of joy. In particular, for me, it is a revealing slice of family life. Since I decided not to have children of my own, the domestic life is a bit of mystery to me. I feel very lucky to have the liberty of a solitary existence, but I also love the fact that, twice a year, I plunge into the rhythms and jokes and business of the small people.
Anyway, for those just tuning in, that is what I am doing now. And every year, I slightly forget the all-consuming nature of it. That is why it is only now, at eight-thirty at night, with the little ones in bed, bath time over, supper made and eaten, that I can sit down at my computer and type the blog. (Or The Blob, as my middle cousin calls it.)
The thing that amazes me is the rushing of time, in a family house. All I did today was run a few errands, arrange some domestic arrangements, and effect the making of a special green soup, and the day was gone. That is why I say, every single time: I don’t know how you parents do it, and, every single time, all my hats must come off.
The girls in particular adore and demand the special green soup, which astonishes me (they are four and ten) and delights me in equal measure.
‘This is the BEST TEA EVER,’ shouts the four-year-old. She looks at me seriously. ‘We must have it every night.’
I know very few four year olds who would willingly choose a soup made from courgettes and spinach and leeks over, say, chicken and chips, but she would. She is a rare creature, but even so.
And it’s not as if she is a perfect, cookie cutter child. She’s not a cute, magazine baby. She is capable of wails and that sudden exhaustion that very small people are prone to and the streaming moment when nothing will do for her at all and she does not know what she wants. She can be furious and cussed and even, on occasion, stamp her foot. (She reminds me of myself at that age.)
But when it comes to eating, what she loves the most is the green stuff, and my green stuff in particular. It makes me feel as if I have won a prize or just published a number one bestseller. The compliments of children are the sweetest, because when humans are that small they do not flatter or flannel or dissemble. They tell you exactly what they think, without prevarication, at the very moment they think it.
The thing I love about these children is that they are very talkative and funny and interesting. Flights of fancy soar about all over the shop. Quite often, for no particular reason, they burst into song.
People are often surprised that I like children, when I don’t want to have my own. This is a small category error. (I don’t not want them because I dislike them; I don’t want them because it is not my talent, and I’m a great believer in playing to one’s strengths.) There is also the error of thinking that because one can get on with certain children, one is a children person. I regard small humans just the same as I regard grown ones; some are fascinating and delightful, and some are wearing and faintly dull. Just because someone is under three feet high, I do not automatically find them adorable.
It’s the same thing with dogs, I suddenly realise. Because I loved my two old ladies so much, because there was the joke of me being stranded on Dog Island without a ferry home, people sometimes think I am a categorical Dog Person. In fact, the utter singularity of my glorious, intelligent, sleek black girls has almost spoilt me for all other canines. I am a perfect bundle of awful dog prejudice. I do not like the small, yappy ones; I do not like over-bred, frankly peculiar-looking ones (I find Crufts absolute torture for this reason); I cannot favour needy, wiggly ones.
This shocking bigotry even goes into the tiny details: I prefer short hair to long, black to tan, cross-breeds to pure bred. What I really love is a mutt, something at which the Kennel Club would turn up its toffee nose. I like working dogs, who, even if they spend half the day dozing on the sofa, at least are designed for an honest day’s graft. The Pigeon and the Duchess, with their half Labrador, half collie heritage, were the crest and peak of this.
Sometimes, when I miss the Pigeon so much that I can hardly function, I think I shall never find her like again. And perhaps I shall not. But I am sneaking off tomorrow to meet a lonely gentleman who has had a hard start in life, and who, as the rescue sites put it, yearns for his Forever Home.
It might not take. I’m not even sure I am ready. But it seems absolutely idiotic to have read all those books on dog psychology (they need a pack leader, etc etc), to live in a place which is the very definition of dog heaven, to have the luxury of time, which so few people really do have, and to close myself off, just because there is a crack in my heart.
Another mistake people make is to think that by getting a new dog, one may heal the crack. I don’t think that is it at all. The crack will remain; there is nothing to be done about that except allow it to exist. It’s not so much that getting another dog will fill the space left by the divine girls; it’s that there is room, around the cracked part of the heart, to give a poor lost mutt another chance. Rude not to, really. The break will heal in its own time, but while it does, there’s no excuse not to give the love to a creature that may really need it.
Does that make any sense at all? I’m at the stage when my eyes are crossing and my neurones are short-circuiting, and my fingers can barely type a decent word, let alone bang out a coherent thought. But you must have the blog, and so tap tap tap I go, in the hope that there may be something there, despite everything.
Too exhausted for proper photographs, so here are a very few not entirely brilliant ones for you:
Smallest Cousin, interpreting life through the medium of creative dance. Otherwise known as Waving Her Hands About:
Middle Cousin, practicing music:
Serious dog training, in very interesting outfit:
The lovely furry girls I left behind in Scotland:
Last time I was here, the Pigeon was with. Here she is, from the archive:
With her friends in the south, looking slightly grand and put-upon, as she always did when pulling rank with what she clearly regarded as younger, sillier dogs:
The astonishing beauty of the dear old Duchess, from the archive. You do see why there is a part of me that thinks there shall never be another:
PS. The hair comments have been making me laugh and laugh. You have to remember that when I say dotty, it is a relative term. My lovely hairdresser is real old school. His salon is mostly filled with those tremendous old dames who get their hair set once a week, with rollers and clouds of Elnett. Thus, the idea of having a barnet chopped short and striped with red and black is considered most eccentric. In fact, in the wider world, it is a perfectly ordinary cut. I have not gone punk. (I did once do peroxide spikes, but that was another lifetime.) There shall be pictures, never fear, once I get my act together. But I don’t want your expectations to be too high.