Monday, July 11, 2011


I am sitting in my daughter Rozzie and her boyfriend Atli's henhouse cottage in Shackleford. I've been in the UK for the last three weeks and haven't posted anything here for several weeks.

I want to tell you about Fred the dog- a sixteen year old lurcher who lives on this property with his owner Caroline, two other dogs and a tiny baby. Fred came to visit us a couple of times last week, when we were sitting round the fire pit. Atli had been entertaining us with impersonations. Alex and Elliot had been playing their ukuleles. The fields stretched out before us in the moonlight, the fire was glowing and off to one side a little glistening pond of waterlilies.

The pond, Rozzie told us, was populated with great crested newts. But carp has recently been introduced into the pond by the landlords, and the problem was that they ate the newt eggs. Rozzie was worried; the newts were endangered. "But we won't tell," her landlord had remarked.

"That isn't the point," said Rozzie.

We were winding down our evening round the fire pit, and had drunk a lot of wine. Elliot, in his bowler hat, pajamas and big socks prepared to head across the field to the tent where he'd be sleeping. In the kitchen, I began washing up. It was then that Fred the lurcher wandered in from outside.

"Oh Mum - here's Freddy!" Rozzie cried. "Come and see him. Isn't he gorgeous?" He was an elderly bearded dog bouncing in with his arching greyhound's back, white and grey fur - thin legs and a wonderful nose that led from his face like a mouse. He was beautiful. According to his owner Caroline, Fred is deaf, blind and going senile.

After we stroked and fussed over him for a bit, Fred wandered back to the moonlight. Then we heard a splash. He'd fallen in the pond.

Rozzie dashed outside. She stooped beside the pond to hoist him out. When I ran out Roz was kneeling beside the pond, her skirt soaked in pond water, and Fred the dog was benign on the bank, having been rescued. Then Fred's owner, Caroline, appeared.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "We've spoiled your party!"

"Not at all," said Roz. "We love Freddy!"

Fred shook his coat and bounced away across the moonlit lawn. I wouldn't call him grateful. It was more a matter of course.

Elliot, in his pajama bottoms and big socks appeared, ready to go to his tent. I suggested he put on wellington boots. Rozzie had said there were adders in the field. So Elliot made his way across the field in his boots, to his tent, for the night.

Ben and I slept on the pull out sofa under heavy blankets. We were woken up by the sun, and the song of chaffinch and morning dove.

"Did you see the gooseberry bush, Mum," Rozzie asked when I went outside. The bush was in the walled garden. I headed out to see it, under a cloudless July sky. The garden was full of blossoming flowers round the pond. Of hydrangea, box and mint, poppies, pansies and daylilies.

Elliot was picking gooseberries and gathering them in his bowler hat. Rozzie intended to make jam.

I sat in the walled garden on the mossy steps. Then Caroline appeared with her baby in the Snugli, her three dogs, including Fred, following behind.

"So sorry about last night," she repeated. "Fred used to be such a handful. In his younger days. he was a real terror. A hunting dog. He'd chase things for miles across the fields. How the mighty have fallen, eh Fred?"

Fred the dog stood his ground, with the resignation of extreme old age, between the slatted wooden chairs on the lawn. His owner Caroline was a beautiful girl with brown skin and a tattoo on her upper arm of elephants linked, tail to trunk. She had silver rings on her fingers. Her baby was asleep in the Snugli on her chest. Fred the dog was thinking about something beyond all us. He was much wiser. He'd seen much more of life.

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