In celebration of David’s Coronavirus vaccination today, me and B concocted a cocktail to mark the aupicious occasion – using our Christmas left overs – but we are short of a name. What shall we call it? Please post your suggestions below.
Rooted in the orient, and complemented by the sun-kissed hills of Tuscany, this deceptively simple little cocktail excites the senses while warming the spirit; the perfect antidote to a year with Coronavirus.
5 parts ginger wine
2 parts fresh lemon juice
Hot water to taste
A big prize awaits you on 1st March. In the meantime, a few zzzzs for Ben 🙂
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v adventurous challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
Well, who ever would have thought it. Me ‘The Ben’, at the tender age of 6 years old, becoming the canine chronicler of our age, recording a world public health crisis in the annual review of my year. Back at the beginning of 2020, an age of innocence, words that now slip off the tongue so easily, like pandemic and epidemiology, were beyond the scope of my Border Collie imagining. What an education this year has been.
In January, the comforting normality of our annual cycle had announced itself. A lethargic Ben was sprawled in front of a lovely hot fire, recovering from the ravages of an exceedingly merry festive season. Daily walks were still on the cards but enthusiasm, for more than a modicum of chasing ball, was somewhat wanting. Across the airways something in the Far East – a new virus – was reported but didn’t resonate. Of much more concern were references to the way animals were bought and sold. I really thought it was time to form the Border Collie branch of the Animal Rights Movement: ‘Black and White R Us – Zero tolerance for live animal markets’. However, at the time, I was a prisoner to one of those deadly sins, the one called sloth, and my radical career was sedated by golden flames of warmth.
As January flooded into February carefully timed outings avoided the worst of the wind and rain, and my people muttered something about a nasty flu coming our way, as the big cheeses on infectious diseases began to take up more of our radio listening. But still, as in every year past, the white flowers of snowdrops – those fair maids of February – bowed their heads in deference towards the earth.
In March, I was rudely awoken when we resumed our Lake District visits, and long hours of fell walking replaced long hours of dozing. Apparently, me and B were on a programme of Munro preparation. Spring was here and the revolving wheels of my year were so reassuring familiar, even if a little exhausting. However, each morning we were greeted by scientists who hijacked the radio waves, projecting forebodings of gloom onto our day. Meantime, our political masters, or in my case mistress, instructed us to go in for a new fad called social distancing, which – mere dog that I am – sounded like a contradiction in terms.
D’s day finally came on 20th March. Though he left the caravan in rude health at 5.00pm, as was customary, he returned less that 2 hours later as a shadow of his former self. An ashen pallor had replaced the rosy complexion that usually returned from these outings, and the jocular spirit was replaced by a numbed presence devoid of speech… he was in shock. My David’s raison d’etre had been whipped away from under his pint – THE PUBS WERE CLOSED DOWN, by order of the Prime Minister.
From here, it was but a matter of two days before being banged up for the first time ever in our lives. We were instructed to go nowhere and the law kept us tied to home; the fabric of my life was torn to shreds. It seems that this supposedly little bug, working it’s way across the globe, was, in fact, a malicious Coronavirus, specified as COVID-19; it wanted to invade our lungs and stop us breathing. Now there were going to be no more Lake District walks and, not even a short trek in Maibie Forest to meet my best pal Oscar. In this period of readjustment I had to go in for one of those steep curves, making my brain hurt with all the new words to learn. For a start, we had to stay at home to stop the nasty virus thing spreading, before exponential growth took over and caused a crisis in the NHS. It was all quantified in something called the R number, which told us – if we had any inkling of what was going on – how quickly the spiky monster was working it’s way through the population. During this time of national crisis all non-essential business had to shut down and the bloke with the exquisitely tailored outfit, who holds the purse strings (no, this most definitely wasn’t the Prime Minister) said, “You can all stay at home and I’ll pay you”. Actually, it wasn’t his money but it could easily have been because he is v. v. v rich, and also a bit suave for my liking, but that’s another story. Normally, people who stay at home and draw on the governments dosh are called scroungers, who should get on their bike and look for work. Now though, people who sat at home and watched telly all day, while the government paid them, were national heroes, saving the NHS; it was all getting a tad confusing. Anyway, all this gave rise to another term I had never heard of before, furlough, which sounded a bit like those things tractors drill. After the seeds have been popped in they need sustained TLC to grow and prosper; I wonder…
Hardest of everything I learnt in these early days of the Coronavirus epidemic were the acronyms: PPE and ICU. Till now, my blogs have always been a light-hearted take on my life, looking for the humorous and commenting on the small absurdities of our everyday lives. However, the bombardment of news about the COVID imposter got underneath my skin. Because of this Coronavirus lots of people got sick, many of them needing to go to hospital and into special care. Even in these most extreme circumstances we still needed to stop the virus spreading and the arrangements for this were breathtaking. No one could visit you in hospital, to hold your paw and tell you how much they loved you. If you died, and eye-watering numbers of people have, there could be no celebration of your life to which the mourners could come. And, even though you represented every point of the compass to someone, they couldn’t even get a hug of comfort. Coronavirus was eating away at the core of our people’s humanity.
Us three counted our blessings, we were so very, very, very lucky. Not getting my usual walks, or meeting up with Oscar, was such small fry it didn’t signify at all. Our own lives slid effortlessly into a tranquil pace, walking on our lanes at home, while small miracles of nature nourished our souls (yes, Ben has one too!!). Cows, in the field seen from our kitchen window, satisfied an itch by rubbing against a fallen tree, such clever bovine creatures, or spoke sweet nothings to a special pal. Meantime, goldfinches hopped from hedge to fence, before jumping down to feed on our lawn, and virtually every evening for the three months, in that stupendous spring and early summer of 2020, light bleed into a crimson sky as the sun set.
Hurrah, at last, the end of our first lock-in. It seemed that all was under control and we could go about our normal business or, for me, normal pleasures, with only just a few limitations – yipee! Alas, I still had lots more to learn and we still had to cross a threshold into something called ‘The New Normal’. Round about this time shopping trips became quite scary expeditions where my people turned into bank robbers. In fact, everyone turned into bank robbers. Scariest of all was the sign on the bank where they secure all our money; these weren’t normal times at all – new, or otherwise; the world had gone all topsy turvy, asking bank robbers to take off their masks for identify puposes. At this point, I began to get rather worried that, with all these bank robbers knocking about, there might not be any of the readies left to buy my dinner. But then I rationalised that, if the national debt could run to trillions, someone, somewhere, would surely be able to russell up a bite of dinner for Ben. After all, us canines, and quite a few other furries, had been the main source of comfort for millions of households across the land. We had been their numero unos, so to speak. In my case this wasn’t too tricky as I was the only numero.
Our new normal did at least open the door to what me and B had been missing so much, our beloved Munro bagging. So, we set out at the end of July for a weekend in the Southern Highlands. As drove off, the wings – belonging to the butterflies in my tummy (apprised of the banking situation mentioned above) – tickled my nervous bits with concerns about where my dinner was going to come from. They really needn’t have worried because there it was, in my bowl, bang on time, every night. In fact, apart from one transient incident with a temperamental battery – which I won’t go into here – we achieved all our aspirations for that weekend, notching up a further four Munros, the last of which – Cruach Ardrain – embroidered the magical number of 100 onto our bag.
Alas, looking out from the summit cairn nothing was visible. Cloud, our frequent companion, was hobnobbing with the peaks and obscuring the view. Nevertheless, me and B liked to summon up the landscape in our imagination. Ben Lomond presided over the south, of course, her head inclined towards the loch, just as Ben More and Stob Beinn struck their doubled-sided shoulders into the sky line of the north-east. Meantime, directly north the hills of Orchy, & possibly even Glen Coe, would be issuing their own seductive invitations. Closer to our hearts were yesterday’s conquests and mighty Ben Oss – in the north-west – would be opening his arms to the heavens, through which Beinn Dubhchraig might just be visible. It was all a tad overwhelming to be up here now, in this moment of history that amplified the fragility of life – gratitude and humility coexisted; tears were shed.
During this weekend I had climbed high, waded tummy deep in bog, walked above the clouds, paid homage to the Robin Hood of the highlands, and run myself into the ground; dear dog in heaven was I done in. It’s just possible I might have raised my head to say hello to David, once I got home, and for a bite of dinner, but otherwise I slept the sleep of the just for days. Pottering around the lanes at home during lockdown, and relaxing in the garden with bottles of dog beer, didn’t – I found out – tune me up for the task of Munro bagging.
Then, as July reclined and August lifted its face towards a new tomorrow, I could sense the vibrations of something major afoot; it might even include me – oh my golly gosh, how exciting was that. Colour, joy, and I might even suggest pageant, marinated the day, as the sun tracked its golden course around the circumference of our garden. Hooray, there was liquid refreshment and tasty bites (in that order), to trace every part of the rotation. B had been working at home for a few months, always tapping away, ignoring me. Now though, she had gone in for something called retirement and, what’s more, she was never, EVER, going out in the morning to leave us alone again; my world of walks and playing ball would always be hers – FINALLY, she had seen the light.
Alas, it was only a short while later that I had to comprehend the word dilemma, and come to grips with it. Coronavirus wasn’t only the beast that was going to upset the equilibrium of my easy life. Now that I was the only numero at home (after our old girl had finally gone to sleep a couple of years ago), I needed to choose between two – equally important – roles. Either I could be B’s buddy, during Munro bagging expeditions, or I could be the the comfort at home, ensuring the home fires – burning bright – weren’t devoid of canine company; in the end, I stayed with David. Munro bagging was fine for two, three, or even four days but B, getting further north, was going in for longer shifts. In all loyalty I couldn’t desert the family homestead for so long. By the end of September B had been away on three more adventures while, every night, me and David had sent her our very best vibes – telepathically – from the comfort of our king-sized bed , warmed by a late burst of central heating; I might just have made the right decision.
As the nights got shorter another Munro season drew to a close. Despite the spiteful Coronavirus, and it’s encroachment into our civil liberties, me and B had put the 100th Munro in the bag and she had etched up a further 38, on those solo trips. But, for now at least, we were all at home together and, blow me down with a golden ring, there was another celebration on the cards.
It turns that a v. v. v long time ago, long before my biological mummy and daddy got it together, my people had tied a knot. I’m not quite sure what nautical purpose it served but, in so doing, they had to vowed to stay together forever and ever, and not to run off if one of them got ill, or had no money in the bank. Since entwining their bit of string they had opened their home to a menagerie of predecessors, who had warmed up my place on the sofa. Sam was the first Border Collie, and Sheba – his feline friend – gave way to Willow. She liked to cradle the neck, from the front or the back, looking for cuddles. Next came Toby who, like me, was a bit of a handful. There were a couple of wild creatures too, Cocky, the Cockrell (I know, I know, it’s not a very original name), and Fuchsia, the farm yard cat, so-called because they put out food for her under a Fuchsia bush (I suppose that’s a little better). Then, so sadly, there was Angel, a tiny kitten who appeared in a very bad way and, even though my people rushed her to Andy – the best vet in the world – he wasn’t able to save her, but… he could take away her pain, kindly. Last, most importantly of all, there was the old girl – Maisie – who was in situ when I arrived. She just couldn’t put a foot wrong and the number of times I was exiled to the porch is legendary, just because I wouldn’t give her a look in when B got home from work. So, there we have it, 40 years of marital bliss, obviously complete now that I’m on the sofa.
By October, that brief summer interlude – of glorious celebrations and Munro achievements – seemed like a lost Elysium, and Autumn, usually lit by bronze, began to take on darker shades. Just a couple of months earlier we had all been given a bit of dosh, encouraging us to eat out so we could help out and get the economy going again; I just can’t tell you how miffed I am that I never benefited from that particular little scheme. Shortly after though, because such mixing and mingling had got the nasty COVID fellow up and running again, we all had to batten down the hatches once more and get back onto Zoom.
Throughout the pandemic so many generous, inventive bipeds, had made their intriguing endeavours available on line, helping us to keep mind, body and spirit together. After a night time of slumber we could have greeted the new day with a spot of yoga in bed, before indulging in a delicious slow breakfast of coddled eggs, enlivened by a flambé of roasted goats cheese on fingers of burnt toast. Then, after putting the garden to rights while learning Portuguese, we might come in for a bite of braised squid resting on a bed of lightly seasoned Marigold leaves – before getting stuck into a streamed production of the ‘Ring Cycle’ for the next 17 hours, while quaffing shed loads of home made nettle beer. Finally, just in case these contributions weren’t sustaining enough, there just had to be a website somewhere that could teach a Border Collie how to play the penny whistle, something I’ve always aspired to. Sadly, my people aren’t really technical so I missed out on it all. However, of all the free on line offerings Zoom outclassed them all, because it brought people who loved each other together, seeing their faces: laughing; smiling; crying. I could see the attraction but, frankly, it wasn’t for me. My famous friend Honey had it just right, the flaw at the heart of the Zoom phenomenon. “I can’t get a biscuit on a Zoom call” she said, “I can’t do my wee sad face that gets me lots of treats on a Zoom a call.”
What Zoom really sounded like was something we all wanted to do – double quick – get past this horrible year. But, progressing towards winter was an art form – holding it together, shutting down here, there and everywhere – to salvage some semblance of a Happy Christmas from the jaws of the virus. A whole confutation of restrictions tried to contain the beast, as noises demanding to know what we might do – or might not do – over the festive season, got louder. Implicit in all the restrictions was the understanding that, if you do this now and suppress the virus, WE might let you have one or two people around, for a diminutive turkey and a small glass of Smoking Bishop. And, it has to be said that all our hard efforts, avoiding everyone in sight, seemed to reap some reward when, after a meeting of chief Cobras, on 23rd November, we were promised five days of celebration. Oh deary me, what fools we mortals be, when ever we believe a politician – spectacularly, when there is a world pandemic doing the rounds. But… oh, how we wanted to believe it, how we needed too.
Hence, almost predictably, having all the presents wrapped and the larders loaded, our dreams were wrenched from under the Christmas tree and the most dramatic U turn of our age ensued. It turns out that the COVID monster had another string to it’s bow, and Ben had more lingo to get his head around. The ‘new variant‘ I’m told, is a mutant variation on the original ghastly fiend. It seems that this one-time nasty bug had another surprise up it’s sleeve and we were back in the land of R numbers. Apparently, our new visitor could nuzzle in even more cosily, replicating its ill effects at an alarming rate and, before you could say Happy Christmas, thousands and thousands of people might be in hospital and the NHS was overwhelmed. Thus, there was nothing else for it and, on 19th December, Christmas was cancelled. The bitter pill was sweeten by saying you might have just one buddy around to help you soak up the misery, on Christmas day only. Even then, my mistress in Scotland, kept suggesting it would be much better if me and my buddy went for a long walk, instead of snuggling up by the fire after a lovely BIG dinner and lots of dog beer. I’m all in favour of a long walk myself, but I was more than a little concerned about the effect of the sub-zero temperatures, that dominate Scotland’s weather at this time of year, on all those granny’s we were going to be knocking about with.
Anyway, the long and the short of it was that, me and my people cancelled our rented cottage for Christmas, near to where we meet our special Christmas friends. We couldn’t even cross the border to England, though our caravan site was opened throughout the year, for the first time ever. Having planning an extravaganza, at said caravan – as plan B – our decorations were (are still!) in situ. Finally, after the infamous day itself was over, my B couldn’t go and see her other people in Devon – something of a tradition that she loved. From my point of view though… IT WAS TOTALLY BRILLIANT, my best Christmas ever. The butterflies in my tummy didn’t even need to get started, as no packing up commenced. Nor did I have to stay out in the cold car, during pub drinking hours, and B was home… THE WHOLE TIME. We slept in till late, had a lovely walk and game of ball in the snow, before comming home to sit by a warm fire, tucking into Christmas treats. Finally, after a lovely dinner, we all settled down for a Midsomer Murders video fest, as a suitable ending to such perfect days. What dog on earth could ask for more than that?
As the end of 2020 collided with 2021 we were still in the vice like grip of the new variant, but had reason for the biggest of all celebrations. The scientists, saluted at the beginning of my blog, had come to everyone’s rescue by pulling out all the stops out and producing a vaccine. Vaccines, it seems, are like buses. You wait an awfully long time for one to arrive and then two come along at once. We had one produced by Pfitzer in Germany, and another by Astra Zenica, from research in Morse’s own territory, Oxford. Normally, vaccines take a v. v. v. v. v. v… exceptionally long time to develop, measured in years, but it seems that – where there’s a will, and an awful lot of money, there’s a way. Thus, in the wink of a clinical trial, the solution to a world crisis was in sight.
I’m led to believe that, if everything goes to plan, .both my people could ‘be done’ by the end of February and… I’m just beginning to wonder if my annual booster, due in March, might include something a little extra.
Think I’ll sleep on it
Love Ben xx
PS As I write the snowdrops in our garden, known as the flower of hope, are poking their heads through the soil.
(If you have just come across this blog post, and are new to Mucky Boots and Flawless Paws, let me – Ben, a young Border Collie – say a huge welcome. You can find out all about me and my blog through this link https://benonthebeinnsblog.wordpress.com/ )
I am truly v. v. v sorry for my long absence. I haven’t been very well and, to be honest, rather down in the mouth lately. You see I split open one of my carpel pad’s and it’s taking such a long time to heal. The carpel pads are the ones part way up my front legs. I used them often when I am chasing my ball too fast and have to do a sudden brake. I didn’t get to see Andy, to tell him all about it, but the other Mr Vet said stiches and staples would be no good. Apparently, this has something to do with me not being able to sit still and wait for recovery. I would, as sure as eggs are eggs, split it open again. So, the long and the short of it all is that… I’ve been on reduced walking rations for absolutely ages. AND… what a BIG AND, I’m not allowed to play with my ball AT ALL. Now you will understand how my whole world has collapsed. I just mope about all day and I don’t get super excited – with lots of singing – when we go out for our walks.
Anyway, though typing does hurts my paw, I didn’t want you to think I had forgotten you and though Christmas has crept up, without Ben’s Christmas competition going live, I have decided to brighten up your New year by delaying it until then. So here’s the heads up… you’ll need to get your thinking hats on.
Apparently healing needs lots of sleep and I’m not complaining about that.
As I left you at end of my annual review, part one, the old girl was hanging in there, just. I was being all care and understanding, and I even gave her my ‘find your treat’ puzzle game, to help distract her from her demented troubles. It worked wonderfully for a little while and the head work needed sent her, after she found all her treats, into a lovely peaceful sleep.
However, on 2nd September, the balance was disturbed, the see-saw tipped and went with a big bang on the floor. We came home from our caravan and phoned the vet the next morning. I was kept in the bedroom just in case, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to keep my ADHD tendencies under control. I could tell what was going on though, all too well. There was a lot of that sweet talking and I heard the whirr of that machine that blows hot air on your fur, meaning the old girl was getting a shampoo and blow dry. It wouldn’t do me, I’m terrified of the thing, but the old girl seems to love it. Next Andy, our favourite vet, arrived and there was a bit of talking, then some sobbing and everything was calm and quiet. It felt very peaceful, as if a struggling spirit had been set free.
How was I to know that I would miss her soooooooooo much. Getting back on the soft furnishings was no compensation AT ALL. I could smell her everywhere: in the house, in the garden, in the car, in our caravan, in our forest. It was only in wide open spaces, with a fresh wind bringing a myriad of smells, that I got any relief. After my walk and back at home she was all over the place again. Us dogs don’t have big frontal lobes, to rationalise everything and know all about a ripe old age, or a wonderful life; we rely on our senses to understand our world and all I knew was the old girl should have been there but wasn’t. I would just curl up and go into a v. v. v low mood. Apparently, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was still eating my dinner my people would have been consulting Andy.
Eventually, the bi-peds started talking about getting another dog sooner than they had planned, as a companion for Ben to help make me happier. Now, please don’t think I’m ungrateful. I know all about best intentions and things like that but I had mixed feelings on the matter. A new pal and a young one that I could play with would be brilliant but, how could I replace the old girl with a new model? After all, I have grown to love her over nearly four years.
Nothing came of it in the end because my topsy turvy year did a double somersault when David did a big fall down while we were out hill walking. It wasn’t one of those skidding slides they often do, or a quick down and up trip, that are frequent too. This was more of an out of control crash onto more rocks – ouch. I was out in front, of course, so didn’t actually capture the moment, but I knew there was a bit of drama going on by the faces of the three women coming down the hill towards us. We did lots of holding on to each other and trying to walk but it wasn’t any good, something major had gone wonky. I didn’t like the noises that accompanied these efforts at all. In the end we settled for sitting on a rock and getting very cold. It all seemed a bit pointless to me because we were a long way from home and my dinner time was getting a bit pressing but, in all honesty, I didn’t have a better solution to offer. The women who had see the moment of crisis hung around and did lots of talking into those machines that freak me out when put to my ear. I’m not very good with strangers so my anxiety enzymes started out on a swim around my internal tubes. They were very nice and gentle people so it was just a bit of doggy paddle really until eventually, a big tribe of hulking bi-peds – carrying god knows what on their backs – came in waves over the hills ahead of us. My enzymes went into a fierce race of butterfly stroke in my tummy as 34 of them came towards us and I knew I had to defend my pack; it wasn’t a pretty sight.
B seemed ready to desert David while she tried to pacify me but I wasn’t having any of it. In the end she had to remove me from the scene altogether, leaving David’s fate in the hands of the marauding gang. B tried to reassure me, saying they knew what they were doing, but I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t like walking away one little bit. The worst part was when this terrifying bird, all roar and thunder, with scary flapping wings came down and stole my person.
B wouldn’t stop and just seemed intent on going back the way we had come at a rate of knots. I didn’t see David that night, or the night after, or the night after that. His smells were added to the old girl’s and I was beside myself with grief. I did manage a little bit of dinner every night but otherwise I was distraught.
Then, on one of those days when I had been for a long drive with B, followed by much sitting around waiting for her to come back, I spotted two figures coming towards the car. I had to look and look and I didn’t want to get it wrong and be even more disappointed but… I was right. Oh what joy, the best day of my life, EVER. There was David in front but, oh deary me, he was being pushed in an ugly wheelie thing. It wasn’t very becoming. When he eventually got in the car and he turned around to stroke me David smelt a bit like my vets. Perhaps Andy had been to see him and tried to make him better. It seemed to me like it was only a job half done. In fact, whatever had been done, or left undone, necessitated a whole cacophony of equipment, much of it ending up on top of me anytime we went out in the car. I really didn’t like all this alien stuff in my house, it made me scared, all those awful wheels and David spending an age to get anywhere with that awful cage thing he pushed along in front of him, and B never sitting down like she used to do all the time. Life had just become even more awful. Ben doesn’t do change well.
It was a very different type of routine too. B and me went out in the morning and I had a run with my ball in a new forest, instead of with David at our Mabie Forest. Then I went to work with B and had to sit in my soft crate all day long; It was soooo boring. Later, on our way home, I had another game in the forest and then went home to see David but he was like a different person with that cage thing as an appendage, always in front of him blocking me out. I did meet lots of lovely people at B’s work and I had been on my v. v. v best behaviour except for just one day. I got really scared when someone came in our office and I let them know it, in no uncertain terms: barking and lunging and getting a bit of skirt. Then I was in disgrace and not allowed to go back again, so we all just had to make the best of it.
At the end of November I began to think about how my review of the year was going to shape up. It had been a year to test the moral fibre of a young dog and I had done my best. All the time I just had to keep the old girl in my mind because she coped with any changes that were thrown at her and never seem to mind. Even so, I really couldn’t say my life had got better and better, like I had been able to say in the previous three reviews. That is until….
My people had been thinking of me all the time after all. They couldn’t wait till Christmas to give me my big present. I was beside myself with happiness at last. Actually, I didn’t know what the funny thing was but, where there are balls there is light.
Apparently, despite all my poetry writing, I’m not such a smart Border Collie after all. I just could not work out how to make the whirligig thing fire. I knew where the balls came from, right down next to my nose, but I had no idea how you got them there. My people did all this strange hand clapping in the air, to make me lift my nose from the ground but it was no good. As far as I was concerned it was just a magic machine, nothing I could influence, my job was to run after the balls it launched and catch them. I was v. v. v good at it too.
Seemingly, it was meant to be a DIY toy for me, so I could exercise myself because David couldn’t take me to the forest and I couldn’t go to work with B anymore. We managed OK though, because David’s frontal cage had gone and he had progressed to hobbling about with a couple of sticks. He could pick up the ball with my thrower and make the magic happen. It was safer than doing the throwing too, while trying to keep upright on one stick. A big wobble at this stage and we could be back to square one. Mind you, standing up must have been hard work because we were never out for long at one time, just in and out like yo-yos – with a little rest in between times – to make sure my exercise was up to date.
David disappeared overnight shortly after my ball machine came and B was busy all night transforming our living room. Lots of lights went up, holders for candles were dispersed, a tree decorated and other bits and pieces arranged about the room; we were getting ready for Christmas; it all had to be ready for David when he came home the next day, smelling of the vet again.
After this the atmosphere lightened in our house. Two sticks gave way to one stick and then no sticks at all. There were still lots of painful squeaks from David, but they were less frequent and lower in volume. There was also more activity going on about the place, with packing up of some Ben essentials: food and bowl, toys, wrapped Christmas presents and, of course, my balls. David and B put one or two of their things in the car too. We drove away for our Christmas holiday. Me and B were able to get out on the hills every day, and I was beginning to get back to my old self. I learnt that David was doing his best to get fit so that he could take me to Mabie Forest when we got home, and that made me deliriously merry. Life would get back to normal at last. On Christmas Day, I had so many parcels to open and I got so excited tearing the paper off. I had lots of soft toys (some that seemed uncannily familiar) and new balls with squeaks that I hadn’t destroyed yet, as well as loads of yummy treats, lots of dog beer and a special dinner. We were all cuddly happy again. It had been a long year.
After our holiday a funny thing happened. We didn’t go home at all but went away on roads without any smells I knew. We arrived at a house I’d never been to and I met people I had never known before. They were lovely because they smelt of dog and gave me treats. I also made a special friend called Buzz. We are soul mates because of our shared passion – balls, of course.
We went out for evening walks together and went to the park together. I bet you can guess what we played ⊗⊗⊗⊗⊗. Buzz kept pinching my ball but he is just a little boy being mischievous, so I let him away with it. Anyway, I knew I would get brownie points with my people if I didn’t make a fuss and they go along way in the treats department. We also went to the beach and there were five of us playing about, having fun. Merry, Mimi and Kera were there and I have corresponded before. It was so lovely to meet them at last. Their people are helping me raise lots of dosh for clever helping dogs, through my Munro Challenge, and I really should have done more of a really big thank you but someone had a ball in their hand at the time so I was somewhat distracted.
I had never stayed in a house with other people before, so we were all a bit nervous about the whole venture, with my anxiety enzymes ready to jump into action at the first sign of Ben’s imagined threats. I didn’t get much freedom, but it probably saved me from myself and when we came away Ben had done reasonably well; it’s even possible that I might even be invited again. I was allowed to stay up to see in the New Year, when there was lots of that hugging and kissing stuff that bi-peds go in for. They also had glasses of fizzy stuff and, I thought to myself, this sparkle is for all of us, for the coming year. Here’s to 2019 – Cheers.
Then, with that profound thought in my head, I fell fast asleep.
I concluded last year’s review by looking forward to doing more of the self-actualising stuff – through walking on mountains and writing about it all – having established that all my other needs were being met, according to this big cheese called Maslow. So let’s see how it all worked out.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
To make sense of my life in 2018, I have decided to take a tour through the unfolding seasons.
To be quiet honest with you, not much was doing in the New Year and I found myself joining in with that down-in-the-mouth trend that is so catching in January. What, with lots of slouching about, lying in front of the fire and supporting a rather extensive tum, after an over indulgence of Christmas treats, I could hardly muster enough energy – let alone enthusiasm – for even a short walk. I had metamorphosed from self-actualising Munro Buddy into lethargic mass of excess flab, mirroring my people.
Just as I was in danger of succumbing to something called sloth, I was saved from myself by the arrival of two very different events. Firstly, my personal friend, Julia Bradbury (of UK TV fame), sent me a present for allowing her to host my blog on her new website. Spotting the postie with a parcel I made contact – not altogether welcome – with his hand, getting through the packaging in a 1, 1, 2 and, before you could say http://www.theoutdoorguide.co.uk, I was sporting a rather spiffing buff and looking rather dandy, even if I say so myself. Ben’s personality and hiding lights under bushels are two mutually exclusive concepts, if you get my drift.
It’s possible that the bohemian look of this rather rakish neckerchief predisposed me to take advantage of the second happening, in that otherwise uneventful start to the year. While surfing the net on my blog site, as dogs do, I chanced up a weekly poetry challenge. Well I thought, as Border Collies do, why not. With the extra time on my paws and the new debonair look, what was there to lose, aside from a v. v. v temperamental ego. So, in the twinkling of a keyboard’s return button, Munro buddy became budding poet and, oh my dog, with what results. Ping, ping, ping … went the notification alerts on my PC, as readers liked what they saw, necessitating a quick visit to the garden, my tummy getting all excited.
Since that day, most Tuesdays have been a creative frenzy as I put paw to paper turning a two-word prompt into structured poems. Would you believe it, I am the only dog poet among this company of new literary friends. Colleen Cheesebro provides all the rules, the two words and, each week, Colleen selects one author as poet of the week. You could have blown me down with a writer’s quill when I achieved this accolade myself, at only my second attempt, with a little Senryu I wrote.
Folding into warm contours
Dissolving in dreams
This is what Colleen wrote about my poem,
“Other than the fact that I ADORE dogs who write poetry, the simplicity of Ben’s words tells the whole story of this Senryu and the fabulous picture posted with the poem. It just felt like something a dog would write about. Sometimes the simplest things bring the most pleasure.”
Me and Colleen have become great friends over the last year and she has given me such encouragement. You can read all about the challenge here. Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge
By the by, if you need something to help you dissolve into dreams at night you can read all my poems just here All Ben’s poems
Eventually we seemed to be turning from winter into spring, as snow and ice gave way to buds and blossom. By this time and with slightly longer walks, I was beginning to fight the flab, looking towards the Munro year ahead.
Alas, my aspirations became a causality of the Beast from the East, when a late blast of bitterly cold weather swept across the UK from the North Sea, lasting well into April and thwarting my fitness regime.
Then, just like the return of an old friend, the ‘cruellest month’ flipped into May and, with that transition summer asserted itself early, casting spring to the dogs, in a rather questionable manner of speaking.
As the annual cycle of growth accelerated so the old girl began to back peddle faster still. By the time she was 15, Canine Cognitive Dementia had set in and her back legs were, well… let’s just say it – useless. I found out lots about the CCD condition and have written a whole page of advice, in my own inimitable style, to help others Ben’s top tips for doggy dementia
The old girl’s 15th Birthday (not her wine!!)
Suddenly, we all became allied healthcare professionals, our raîson d’etre being two fold:
To keep the old girl going, as long as she was happy.
Not to keep her going a moment after she wasn’t happy anymore.
My main role in this nurturing environment was to help maintain an aura of calm by suppressing my ADHD tendencies (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Doggy), something I have written about before. I did my best but it was v. v. v hard work.
Alas, I had to play second fiddle, which is also quiet hard for a self-confessed egoist who thinks he is conductor material. I kept hearing phrases like ‘his time will come’ and ‘we’ll make it up to him’, but they didn’t mean at lot to me at the time. I did get a lot of long walks during the week away at our caravan and just had to alternate my people, so that one of them could take on carer responsibilities for our old girl. All the walking was getting me match fit for the Munros which were, apparently, just around the corner; something that rather puzzled me as we always seemed to spend hours getting to Munros in my van. I concluded that it was a very long corner.
Just then, nearly half way though my year, our orbit tipped out of kilter, everything went topsy turvy and it is only now, at the beginning of 2019 that we are getting back to normal, if I can ever believe in such a thing again. Firstly, just at the end of that May holiday my female person went away and then she kept coming and going for weeks on end. Being a dog I hadn’t a clue what was going on but boy did I do a good imitation of “I’m your best friend, just try and beat this welcome”, every time she came home. David tried his best too but, to be honest, he just hasn’t got the style or, for that matter, the waggy tail to go with it. Anyway, I just made damn sure I got in first to get all the cuddles.
We did make a Munro trip shortly after and spent three glorious days together, scouring the hills, reaching high peaks with fabulous views and we got to the top of 5 Munros. We even reached the first big landmark, notching up the 50th Munro for our bag. In the evenings we’d soak up the unparalleled beauty of the highlands while listening to our own special song, “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.” As nighttime approached I’d jump in the back of my van and snuggle up for sleep in the little space I had available, falling quickly into zzzs after our energetic day on the mountains.
Summit of Beinn a’Chreachain Looking North
Summit of Beinn Achaladair Looking North across Rannoch Moor
When we are away my person does a lot of talking into those strange things bi-peds are always putting to their ears. I do worry about her… a lot, though it seems to bring her some sort of comfort. Then she puts the horrid thing to my ear and it really freaks me out. I look all over for the voice but I can never find him and it makes me sad. When we went through this ritual on our third night we both ended up sad because the voice machine told us the old girl was going further down the tubes. We vowed we would go home after our next walk, a day early; arriving as a surprise cavalry, bringing reinforcements.
The rest of the summer was sung to the old girls tune, her every wish our command. Ben was never the centre of attention in those tranquil dog days. Not actually neglected you understand but just left to my own devices. I kept tapping away at my device of choice and on 19th August I was award the title ‘Poet of the Week’, for the second time. The dog poet honoured a second time
This brought me such a lot of joy at a sad time for us all. My poetry kept me going because, without the Munros to write about, the soul had gone out of my prose.
There wouldn’t be anymore mountains in our collecting bag until the old girl didn’t need to be looked after anymore. None of us wanted to bring that day forward, not one little bit. Even a self-centred dog poet like me knows intuitively when a bit of the old altruism is required. Thus on those summer evenings, when we came in from the garden, I’d snuggle up to the old girl – forsaking my rightful place on the soft furnishings beside B – and offer a bit of fellow comfort. I think she liked it. Walks were reduced to lots of running after ball – maximum energy from Ben, least effort from my people – but you won’t catch me complaining about that and it was always meant to be just a temporary arrangement.
Feeling a little overwhelmed, must sleep. Part two shortly.
My mate Ani, ‘the small dog’, has v. v. v kindly used one of the days of her advent calendar to post my Christmas poem. Thank you very much Ani.
Ani’s advent calendar is a rich eclectic mixture of stories, poems and fables about the festive season. There are posts about Christmas in the war, a children’s Christmas and even saving abandoned Christmas trees and giving them new life. I know all about that being abandoned once. There are lots of fascinating links to other information too. Did you know mistletoe has a history linked with the Druids. I can’t say for sure if they did some of that kissing stuff under it or not. Anyway, check out my poem here. Then you can navigate to all the older days on the calendar and watch out for the ones to come.
Ani’s person has a lot to say too. She is a writer, poet and photographer and fills her blog with so many interesting articles. She also publishes loads of work by other bi peds you really need to check her out https://scvincent.com/