Issue 299: 2021 11 04: Oh To Be Alive!

4 November 2021

Oh To Be Alive!

Lucky dogs.

By Lynda Goetz

It has just been one of those weeks. So much happening on the world stage; so many irritating and frustrating examples of ‘wokery’ (from the National Trust to Linacre College); horrific tales from different parts of the globe; ongoing Brexit issues; a climate conference taking place in a ‘nation in waiting’; and on top of all this my youngest is leaving to work as a doctor in New Zealand for a year or two.

So, should I write about Sturgeon’s ceaseless efforts to break up the UK; the hypocrisy of all those world leaders flying to COP26 on private jets; the significance of names, as one Oxford College considers acknowledging the generosity of a Vietnamese benefactor with a name change, whilst other institutions wipe out names in their efforts to ‘decolonise’? Or consider the vulnerability of travellers in a Tokyo train injured by a madman dressed as The Joker; or indeed the vulnerability of those 9 and 10 year-old girls sold by their fathers in Afghanistan to stave off starvation for the rest of the family? Or perhaps that of the young woman in Poland who died as a result of stricter-than-ever abortion laws passed earlier this year, (prohibiting termination of foetuses with congenital defects); or would it more interesting to examine the political motives behind M. Macron’s increasingly furious attacks on the UK? So much happening!

The daughter came ‘home’ for a few days. Her sister and brother came too, although as they are now all ‘adults’ (well, at least as adult as most millennials seem to achieve) with their own homes, commitments and lives to lead, the visits were a tad spread out, with, it transpired, rather minimal overlap. Of course, I love it when they all descend on us, but it can also be wonderfully chaotic and disruptive of what minimal routine I manage to achieve in my life.  

One of the reasons for the visit was to bring back for storage all those items which weren’t going to the other side of the world, but which couldn’t be left in her own house.  In order to store them, however, it was first necessary to do a long-overdue clear-out of other stuff which had been left here (so as not to clutter up her living space), including clothes she no longer wears; books she does not wish to keep and university medical notes which she is rather amazed to realise she studied! The other daughter decided it might be a good opportunity to do a similar exercise.  Many charity shops however no longer take donations without an appointment and a number of recycling centres operate on an alternate day policy for odd and even number plates.  Obviously Covid clear-outs have led to a surplus of unwanted stuff. Is this good for the planet or not?

My son and his fiancée came armed, not with stuff to drop off for storage – it is all here already – but with their beautifully crafted wedding invitation for next September (postponed from this year due to anticipatory lockdown panic) and plans for the restoration of the second-hand Wayfarer purchased some three weeks ago and sitting on our front lawn ever since. Whilst I attempted to plant some of the 400-odd daffodil, iris and tulip bulbs I had purchased for the garden, as well as cyclamen and pansies for the tubs, they spent a couple of days de-rigging, pumping out bilges and sanding off  layers of paint (mainly red). We met up for meals and dog-walking.  My other half provided the tools and the know-how for the restoration work.  I provided the meals.  Annoyingly, he could have done both.  I couldn’t.

It turned out, of course, that the dog-walking was the one thing which kept us all sane. For those who are not dog-owners and have not succumbed to the lure of a lockdown puppy, it is perhaps hard to understand the way in which these ‘companion animals’ can end up both ruling your life and maintaining your sanity; driving you nuts and making the frustrations of life seem not only bearable, but insignificant; irritating you and making you laugh.

This time of year in the country is the beginning of the ‘muddy season’.  This may, of course, be getting worse with climate change as cold, certainly in Devon, seems to have been replaced with increasing rainfall. Farmers and contractors, keen to bring in maize crops and winter vegetables, charge around the lanes in huge-wheeled tractors with trailers spreading mud from the fields far and wide, squishing verges and ditches and smearing them onto tarmac already pouring rivulets of road-destroying run-off. Days of grey skies and endless dreary downpours take turns with ones of wonderful scudding clouds in fairy-tale shapes and then half-days of pure blue heaven with almost-warm sunshine. The duck ponds and trout ponds (far more lucrative than grazing fields) sparkle as the ducks and geese, quacking and honking in alarm, splash off into the air shedding glistening droplets.

The blackberries are long finished and any that are left have rotted and shrivelled on their prickly stems. By contrast, the bright red berries of the honeysuckle glow brightly amongst the odd delicate white and yellow flowers which, in the absence of early frosts, are still gracing the hedgerows. In places the holly berries too are already ripe and the Christmassy combination of dark green and bright red brings a reminder of the festivities to come. The sweet smell of silage wafts across from the black plastic-wrapped bundles piled up behind the hedges.

None of this is of interest to the dogs. Their focus is generally far closer to ground level. The hedgerows and fields present fascinating hunting grounds. Grass clumps may hide the homes of voles and mice.  Hedges give cover to a constant supply of clueless young rabbits and maize fields seem to provide a world of attraction and obsession that blocks out all else – especially any whistles or calls from their humans. Squirrels may cause a distraction and turn a dog’s gaze upwards.  The fact that they cannot follow as the grey streaks scamper effortlessly from branch to branch and tree to tree above their heads in no way diminishes the excitement. After fruitless exertions as they crash around at ground level they strain upwards, paws pushed against a tree trunk, torso stretched out and all senses on alert, waiting in hopeless anticipation for one of the poor creatures above to slip and fall out of the sky into their waiting jaws. It never happens of course, but they remain ever optimistic.

Eventually they will agree to trail home where mud and moisture needs to be towelled off them before they relax for a few short hours on their beds in front of the Aga.  Any cooking needs to be negotiated around their supine forms until it is time for them to retreat to their places in front of the wood burner. Sometimes their excited yelps and squeaks as they dream leave little question about the nature of their sleeping fantasies. Quite honestly a dog’s life seems pretty enviable! At least accompanying them provided some distraction from those pressing issues which were to have occupied this printed space.

Cover page graphic – Francesca Nimmo

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