A very long time ago and very far away, in another life and another world, I was not a Dog Person.
I shall pause, for you all to pick yourselves off the floor, where you have surely fallen, laughing.
I am ashamed to say I rather looked down my nose at the Dog People. I liked to think of myself as marvellously liberal and tolerant in those days, but in fact I was a bundle of horrid prejudices. I associated the Dog People with those kind of leathery, shouty ladies, who wear quilted waistcoats and have voices that can carry over three fields, and have never had a moment of self-doubt in their lives. Either that, or, even worse, the kind of pink fluffy creatures who make feminists want to cut their own heads off, who carry teeny tiny little toy dogs in their absurd handbags.
I was a late-night racketeer. I went on lost weekends to Dublin and flew to Manhattan on a whim. I could never quite decide if I wanted to be a character out of Scott Fitzgerald or something from the Algonquin Round Table, but those were the kind of ridiculously narcissistic ideas I had of myself. (I was young, and idiotic; what can I tell you?)
Then I left the dirty streets of Soho and my beloved tranny bars behind (best lipstick tips ever) and moved five hundred miles north. It still did not occur to me to get a dog. I might be living surrounded by mountains and sheep, but my amour propre insisted that I could create my own little Round Table in the privacy of my own head, and that would not include yelling HEEL at the top of my voice.
Then, very suddenly, my sister moved abroad and I took in her two sleek, black, lab-collie crosses. The family returned after a year, but the dogs stayed with me. I had fallen helplessly in love, with a crash that could be heard as far as Inverness, and The Younger Niece, then only nine, pulled on the wisdom of Solomon and decided the dogs should live with me.
I still remember what she said. ‘You have to get up at seven to take them for their walks,’ she told me, sagely. ‘And I can come round and give them hugs whenever I want.’
That was how I ended up stranded on Dog Island, with no chance of a ferry home.
I did travel a bit at the beginning, but in the end they went everywhere with me, which is when I started taking all my holidays in Blighty, so they could come with. We took the boat to Colonsay, where they ran on the white sands, and gambolled in sea as blue as the Caribbean. We roamed the Lake District and even once went to London, where they chased the squirrels in Hyde Park and took their ease by the Serpentine.
I lost the marvellous Duchess on the night of my father’s funeral, in the bright sunshine of last spring. The Pigeon mourned, but rallied, and stayed with me until that awful morning in November, when we ran out of road.
They were very, very special dogs. They were raving beauties, packed with character and intelligence. They were funny and affectionate and thoughtful. They were loyal and true. The thought of anything matching them was absurd.
There was a moment when I thought I could never get another dog because nothing could come close. My heart ached and cracked and split. The house was silent and filled with ghosts. In the empty evenings, I found myself blindly looking at the internet, where there were puppies for sale and lost canines begging for rescue.
I grew angry. Nothing could meet the gold standard of my glorious ladies. But then I saw the picture of Stanley the Lurcher. He was a dog who needed a new home. Through no fault of his own, it said, rather heartbreakingly.
There was something in his face. I kept coming back to him. The seed of another dog life planted itself. I looked at other pictures, I investigated canines closer to home. Somerset, where he lived, could not be farther from my front door if it tried. But in the end, it was Stanley or bust.
I just happened to be going south, and Stanley’s foster carer turned out to have a family connection to my father, which seemed improbable and curious and faintly portentous, and it was only a few miles and some petrol, so off I drove, on a sunny morning, the fields glittering with floods, to meet him.
After a few moments, he came over and rested his chin on my knee and gazed up at me. The fosterers gasped. I looked at them in enquiry.
‘He never does that,’ they said.
That was it, for Stanley and me. I applied officially; the good people at the excellent Many Tears Rescue organisation gave me a thorough vetting, and decided I would do. So I bundled him in the car and drove him to Scotland, just one step ahead of the snow, and now he is curled up by my side, listening to a nice bit of Mozart.
He has met the horses and met the family and been introduced to the sheep. He and I are slowly getting to know each other. Every day brings a new thing. I discovered this morning that he does special comedy chasing of his own tail, and then hurls himself onto his back with all four legs in the air. I am very glad of this; I would be sad to have a dog that did not make me laugh.
He has boundless lurcher energy outside, but is calm and restful in the house, happy to doze and dream whilst I write a book. He does not vamp for love, but is quite self-contained. There is affection there but it is not needy.
He gives me the amber gaze every so often, as if to check I am there, and then settles himself back to sleep. The rescue people said he was immensely sad when he came to them; he is not sad now. It sounds fanciful to say, but it is as if he knows he has found his home.
‘Ah, Stanley,’ said the Landlord, who met him yesterday. ‘You have landed on your feet. You have no idea.’ (My dog devotion is the source of considerable amusement to the extended family.)
So, that is the story of Dog Island, and how it got another dog.
I am never quite sure exactly why I tell you all the things I do. This blog is, in many ways, a complete mystery to me, a place of odd imperatives and sudden revelations. Today, that was the tale I wanted to tell, and now it is told.
The light was extraordinary this morning. It went from bright blue to dun pink; the sky was clear one moment and obscured with blizzard the next.
This is what I see on the walk down to the horses:
And there is the little herd, waiting for me, knowing I bring love and hay:
Lined up for breakfast time:
The new rug technology really is amazing. They are toasty warm under all that serious kit:
And here are the trees:
The beech avenue:
Meeting the sheep:
Rather a lot of sheep pictures. But I love them so. They always make me think of Jane Austen, for some reason. There is a timelessness to sheep.
Stanley gazes at them with hope in his heart. I impress upon him firmly that he may look but not chase:
The snow starts to fall again:
If you look very closely, you can just see the snowy outline of the hill:
From the archive -
My darling old girls adored the snow. It turned them to puppies again. They ate it and played in it and it became them:
Snowing again as I am about to press publish. Swirling blizzard. Oh, I hope the electricity holds out.