Saturday, 3 November 2012

Starting again

Oh, bugger. Now I have to learn to do this all over again.

It all comes back to me, after eighteen months. I thought I had remembered it all but it turns out I’ve forgotten quite a lot. First of all, there is the thing of having to keep moving. That’s back. In the fine morning light, I walk and walk round the block, under the old oaks, past the amber beeches, by the young chestnuts. Inadvertent noises come out of my mouth, like the creaking groans of 19th century schooners. (It’s hard to describe, but there is something of timber about the noises.) Sometimes I say, very loudly: oh no; or, FUCK; or, bugger, bugger, bugger. I can’t quite remember if cursing was a thing before. It is now.

Then, the crying. I am very hard line about crying. I think it must be done. Mostly, I try to do it privately, where I won’t frighten the horses. (Actual, and metaphorical.) It has to come out, or it gets all twisted up inside and that is when the good grief turns into mulish depression or stuck fury or a black cloud of unknown mood which will never shift. Just at the moment, it bursts out of its own accord, wherever I happen to be. (I think: oh, no, I forgot this, the fact that I won’t be able to go to the Co-op for three days. I remember that, after my dad. I think: I hope I have enough canned goods for the duration.)

There is a part of me, when the tears come, that says stop. They are too mighty; they shall shake my feeble frame apart. It’s a sort of terror, probably from Britishness, from upbringing, from school even; the fear of making fuss, making a scene, being silly. No, no, I have to tell myself, let them out. Out they come, messy, red, raw, painful. They make an absurd noise. Oh, my dog, I think; my dog.

I heard her this morning. I actually turned my head in the kitchen because I heard the click of her paws on the floor. There is a part of my brain that cannot quite register that she does not exist. I try to rationalise this. We were together for ten years, every day. She lay beside me as I worked, slept with me at night, woke me in the morning. Because I work from home, and rarely travel, there were very few days or hours when we were separated. She even used to come and hang her head over the side of the bath when I was washing my hair. We were inseparable. That’s a lot of companionship; of course there is a section of my cerebellum which cannot compute.

I went up at nine to the horses. Red’s View was pale blue and lucid, the snow white and stately on the top of the mountain, the air still as a church. I stood with the mare and looked out at it, and felt all right. ‘Oh,’ I said, out loud. ‘I see. I feel better here.’ This place, this horse, this would be my magic bullet. For a moment, I was restored. Then the wave of missing hit, and I was swamped again.

If I don’t like to cry in front of people, I really don’t like to cry in front of my mare. This is not her trouble; my job is to be good and strong for her, so she can feel safe and happy. But this morning there was nothing for it; out trooped the childish wails. We were in the field without a halter; I thought she would probably wander off, and I could not blame her. Instead, she went very calm and still. She put her head over my shoulder, and rested it there. I could feel it growing heavy as she went into a little doze. It’s a feeling I can’t quite describe, when she does that. It’s profound and elemental.

Horses are quite steely creatures, compared to dogs. Their survival instincts are much more vivid and recent; their ancestral past lives in them in a way that dogs’ does not. They don’t hurl love around like canines do; I’m not sure that word even means anything when it comes to horses. The Pidge would literally jump for joy when I came through the door; Red is mildly pleased to see me, mostly because I represent getting her needs met, which is her ancient evolutionary priority. So I don’t know what that thing in the field was, but it felt like something. I’m not going to give it a flaky human name. I’m not going to sentimentalise it with anthropomorphism. It touched my heart, is all.

I think I had grown a little cocky; the wings of hubris had begun to flap. I think I thought because I went through all this last year, I should know what to do. I even said to The Sister yesterday: ‘we grieved Dad well.’ We did, actually. But what I remember now is that it was not easy, or seamless, or ordered, or neat. It was all a bit of a mess. Loss is a bit of a mess. I shall have to learn it all again.

Last year, on the night of my father’s funeral, my other dog, my glorious old Duchess, died. I went the next day, blindly, into a bookshop. After a while, I worked out what I was looking for. It was a book called: What to do when your dad and your dog dies. That book does not exist. I remember thinking: I shall have to write the damn thing myself. I even pitched it to the agent, who was cautious but kind. I wish I had written it, so I could take it down and slowly read, so it would tell me what to do.

Instead, it’s starting again. I have to learn it all over again, from scratch. My immediate plan: I’m going to eat chicken soup and watch the racing. One of my favourite old horses, Midnight Chase, is running at Wetherby, and I shall give him a bloody good shout, even though he is probably carrying too much weight to win. But he has an indomitable heart, and that may see him through.

It will be the first time I shall have watched the racing without the Pidge jumping up and down on all fours, like a cartoon dog, barking her head off, which is always what she did when I started yelling ‘Come on, my son.’ On that glorious day when Kauto Star won his second Gold Cup, the two of us were making such a noise that my neighbour actually burst in the door, thinking there was some kind of home invasion.

I think: I am going to need an indomitable heart of my own. Those sinews are going to require a bit of stiffening. I eye my new bottle of iron tonic. I suspect it may take a bit more than iron tonic, but it’s a start.


Today’s pictures:

Morning walk:

3 Nov 1

3 Nov 2

3 Nov 4

3 Nov 5

3 Nov 5-001

3 Nov 6

3 Nov 8

This one is particularly strange with no lovely black silhouette in it:

3 Nov 9

3 Nov 10

Red’s View:

3 Nov 11

Myfanwy the Pony:

3 Nov 12-001

Red the Mare:

3 Nov 12

One of the Dear Readers said she hoped I would go on putting up pictures of The Pigeon, and so I shall. I cannot deprive the blog of this much beauty:

3 Nov 14

3 Nov 15

Two views of the hill:

3 Nov 20

3 Nov 21

The kindness continues. A cousin writes from Long Island; the old friend with the white roses sends me a message of love, which is the first thing I read when I wake up. My Twitterstream is filled with sweetness. I actually have angst because I cannot reply to everyone; too many for me to keep track of. This has never happened before, and is testament to the power of that good dog. I send out general thanks and hope that people see them.

And here, the Dear Readers rise up in a perfect, gleaming regiment of goodness and sense and generosity and understanding. I am touched beyond measure. Thank you.


  1. That hearing the dog when they aren't there... I remember that. But you have such wonderful memories of her it's no wonder you hear her. I love when you describe her jumping in the air while the racing is on, that always makes me smile.

    Gorgeous pictures of the frost.

  2. You have a cousin on Long Island as well? So there are two of us here, sending all the best wishes in the world to you there. I hope she made it through Sandy okay.

    I have to write around 2,000 words before going to work this afternoon, but I couldn't write a single one before checking in to see how you were doing today.

  3. Astonishingly beautiful photos. After days of deeply moving, wonderful wonderful writing. It's odd how grief sharpens our artistic senses.
    I've cried plenty for the loss of your wonderful companion. There are no goods words I can pass on. But do know that these posts have given her the credit she deserves.

  4. Crying is okay. Crying is good. And crying in front of animals is not only okay, they TOTALLY get it. So when it comes, let it come, and when that wave is can let it go...

    And I do so hope that you will ignore your agent and write that book!

  5. Tania, MG has barred me from watching any film that involves animals as I get myself into such a state, the worst one's being Lassie Come Home, Black Beauty and The Belstone Fox, so you can imagine what state I am in now having just caught up with your posts.

    It is a cruel twist of nature that our beloved pets do not share our lifespan.

    I am sending you Bon courage from France and will be checking in over the next few days to see how you are doing.


  6. I lost my 15yr dog companion (and a twin of beautiful pigeon ) in March and still hear her rattley old feet on the wooden floors and mistake a black jumper out of the corner of my eye for her. It breaks my heart every time, it is still in pieces six months later. But it is very important to cry; you miss your dog and it hurts.
    Beautiful pictures today, thank you.

  7. I agree with Razinah - animals do get the crying!

    It's lovely what a comfort Red was to you today. She does sound remarkable, and your bond with her has changed how I think of people of horses together.

    And this 'starting again', oh I'm just so sorry. It's like when people talk about the weeks after the funeral being the hardest: the surge of emotion and support begins to ebb away and you're reminded that what you have had is, just, a loss.

    Please do keep writing, and don't let the British fear of a fuss take hold.

    Thank you for such lovely words and pictures again today.

  8. The very first photo looks absolutely magical, like straddling two worlds, one "here" & the other in the clouds. Even when I enlarged it, it's still mind-blowing & other worldly. Makes me think of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic"...

    XX Pat

  9. Grief tears are not those elegant poetic droplets as far as I know; they are sheets of water that cascade over my cheeks when I least 'want' them. None of it can be helped, but I remember the shock of that storm of loss stinging my face very clearly. That and the feeling as if I had been punched in the solar plexus. Be kind to yourself, watch racing and take lots more of those beautiful Scottish photos. All of it helps, and none of it either. It is all as it should be.

  10. That's the thing about grief, it has a wild energy all of its own. You have to hurl your body all ways in order to release it.

  11. The hearing them...yes...tic tic tic of claws on wood and that creak of the funny floorboard on the landing...I had it after Fig. Ditto the ten years of constant companionship too.
    I got through the first three days of horror-grief with sleep, hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and toast. I know that racing, chicken soup and Red will be there during the horror for you.
    Thinking of you so much. Thank you for writing today. The frost edged leaves are so beautiful.

  12. I went away for a week to escape troubles and by your fourth sentence was scrabbling back and back and back. Heartwrenching. You resurected our dear old Angus and Fiona, the world's best Cairns. I am so sorry. You know it will be better, but my God, how long....

  13. Hey Tania, how are you doing? I think there are probably many dear readers thinking of you today. I have no idea how it happened, it must be your glorious writing that makes it all seem so near and real for all of us. This morning you were the first thing I thought about, then hugged the dogs and walked today for longer than usual. Sending you healing thoughts and positives for all your tomorrows.

  14. It seems so hard that you have to do this all over again so soon... You write about it so beautifully but that is probably more of a joy for your readers than you. It's so good that you are still putting up pictures of the Pigeon. The pony and Red look so sweet, espcially Myfanwy with her winter whiskers. Cuddle them lots - there's no better comfort than a furry coat. Look after yourself, Rachel

  15. Hello Tania. I was feeling particularly gloomy today for a few reasons, and I must admit I nearly didn't dare to visit as I was not sure I wanted to know the inevitable truth. There: I said it. How selfish? But I did and I am glad I did. For one, it's fitting. Two: solidarity. Three: you still have something bright and hopeful about you even in these dark days. That strikes me as so YOU! It makes my heart ache to see the pictures but you should keep them; they are, along with the Beech Ave the very soul of this blog! And of course the mare, pony, family, truth. I recall when the Duchess left, you divulged her real name - will you do the same with the Pigeon? Take care - chicken soup is good. Racing is good as it seems to never fail to make you smile. I do feel rather ache-ridden for you Tania, she will be very missed. Lou x

  16. Thank you all, Dearest of Dear Readers, for your continuing kindness. It really is an amazing and wonderful thing.

  17. Been catching up on your posts from the last few days. Have been thinking about you a lot at such a difficult time. Lovely Pigeon...I shall miss her too. Your writing from the last few days has been so open and wonderful, so brave to share your feelings. You grieve differently everytime, and I suspect this will be different for you too. Just roll with it.

  18. I so felt for you. And like you, I used to be a bit sniffy of 'dog people' and then, for all kinds of reasons but mostly my dislocated lifestyle, mine became my constant, uncomplaining, always exuberant companions. and then one, kanga, died. suddenly. I howled when I heard, for I was not at home, and my then 19 yo son looked on askance at this red, swolleneyed picture of misery. It was not the dog dying and the grief that followed that alarmed him, it was that his mother's weeping was so loud and furious. But it rendered him tender and kind. and in the still aftermath of all those tears, a curious, soothing calm descended. So that is why crying is good for you; as you say it nudges black clouds out as they build for otherwise they might accumulate frighteningly.


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