We have two new pets who are called Velcro and Wriggles. They are only about three months old and were one of D's gifts for Eid ul Adha which we celebrated this month. They are so sweet and huggable, squeaky and chattery. The chickens have and a good nosey and not been too fussed about them, we have to keep them separate though to avoid squabbles.
This reminds me, some of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram may remember my excitement at being short listed for a writing competition this Summer. The topic was 'First Love' and I wrote a piece about my dog who was my first truly meaningful pet. Her name was Jackie and we had her for about eleven years or so, a little Jack Russell cross with cow print fur and ginger eyebrows. Here is my short-listed piece about her...
It was 1992 and I was eight years old, sat on the carpet beside my brother in our grey and peach living room. We were cocooned in our quilts, old dog was curled on my lap with her nose tucked close to her belly. The wind hollered around the house and made the trees shout and the fence tip and I wondered if the weather might just pull our house off the ground and take us off to Oz. The sodden garden was overhung by low cloud and there were rain drops being thrown across the window pane, slapping the glass. Old dog snored as I hummed “Little April Showers” and stared through the patio doors into the chaos outside.
Mum brought us some warm, weak tea and as I held the mug in my two hands I put my face above it and let the steam drift onto my skin. With eyes closed I breathed it in and felt safe, comforted. Old dog opened an eye to see if anything was worth getting up for and then sighed and shimmied back into a ball in the hollow between my crossed legs. I watched the three of us in the reflection on the patio doors as I sipped the tea from the edge of the mug, eyes twinkling, smiling at mum, slurp slurp.
We had lived here for almost a year now, a newly built cul-de-sac opposite a scrubby field with a bordering spinney – great for dogs and childish games and for mum to get some peace and quiet. It had seemed like we had watched many a storm open up over the garden here, those patio doors often our most favoured source of entertainment as we watched the atmosphere express itself for us to witness. Here in the village I had made new friends and we would play together out on the green when the sun shone, rolling around in the fresh grass and singing the latest pop songs, but back inside, with mum, my brother and old dog, is where I always felt just right. If mum was busy in our cramped brown kitchen mashing potatoes or mixing Bisto, then old dog would always make up for her preoccupation.
Old dog was most definitely my soul mate; she would listen to all of my childish worries and nuzzle her short narrow nose into my neck when I felt a little lost in this new home of ours. I didn't even mind her bad breath and smelly waffle blanket covered in loose hairs. I’d wave that blanket around and watch all of the particles of dust fill the hallway and then quickly cover my mouth and nose with two cupped hands so I didn't have to breathe it all in. Old dog would stand and watch me, sniff the air and wag her tail. I loved it when her lips stretched back and her long tongue lolled out curled at the edges and I just knew she had to be smiling at me. We were the best of companions, it was as if our hearts were entwined and we knew when each other were joyful and bouncy or miserable and low. Mum said that we were too soft on her and shouldn't share so much of our chocolate with her either. I used to sneak my dinner to her when mum was engrossed in another one of those chunky paperbacks from the library – how could anyone manage to read so many pages in just one week? Minted lamb burgers or cheap sausages, finger scoops of gravy covered mash or a corner of my tuna sandwich at teatime. Old dog would sit waiting on the swirly grey carpet below me and my brother while I fidgeted at the mahogany dinner table scratching lines into the soft surface with my finger nail, watching mum out of the corner of my eye, awaiting the moment I could covertly deliver food to my ever faithful companion.
We first met old dog when she was just a yapping youngster in a cobbled yard out in the countryside somewhere. We had driven out to a dog rescue centre in mums old cranky Metro and I can still remember pulling up on the honey gravel driveway and noticing the dust rise as we stepped out of the car and walked in the direction of the barking and excitable dog chatter. I cooed over a gang of lively chocolate brown Labrador puppies while mum spoke to the lady about a dog I had barely noticed. Mum said the brown puppies would grow too big and that we needed something smaller and although I wasn't particularly impressed with the one mum had chosen, I was very proud when we left the centre. This little black and white terrier yanking on the chained metal leash and dragging me to our car as if she just knew that we were destined to be her family. My brother and I hugged her on the back seat on the way home and she excitedly tried to lick my face but I made sure that her wet pink tongue flicked at the air instead as I giggled and forced my face back.
We spent almost all of my free time together, I would take her on long walks on the sloped field and watch as she sniffed the clumps of rough grasses as if she was on a detective mission. Some of my most poignant childhood memories involved her, I had never loved anything so purely and I felt that she was mine and I was hers and nobody could ever change that. I look back now and wonder if she was supposed to replace my Dad who had left months before we met her that day at the dog shelter. I think my mum knew that we needed something to love and claim as ours, something to preoccupy us from our family breakdown.
The weather was still dark outside, an overwhelming grey torrent which we were safe from. I held my bulky quilt closer as I listened to our gate slamming against the rock which we used to block the cat thoroughfare; the ironwork was shaken free of the latch. The rain continued to lash down; consistent with the stormy weather the whole country had been wrapped up in that week - cold air had pervaded, bleak winter was here. I put my empty mug down on the low side table and mum quickly scooped it up and placed a coaster beneath it, typical mum. She sat back down beside us and we all watched through the glass and counted the seconds between flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder and took deep intakes of breath as we realised the storm was getting closer. We smiled, we had discovered that this was the best way to spend our afternoons; wrapped in warmth, drinking tea, staring through the windows. These moments were the first time I ever really appreciated the beauty of life, the simplicity of joy and comfort and love. Of course the three of us loved each other, but we had to right? But me and old dog, well, that was different; it was so pure.
The years passed by, I grew upwards and my mind switched from childhood games to the trials of being a teenager. Old dog helped me through heartaches, through fall outs with friends, the frustrations of school work, and the crisis of having nothing to wear. She was my companion less and less but always welcome to snuggle up on my bed with me when mum wasn’t around to shout “Get that dog down here now!”. I’d stroke those silken ears and smooth her short fur all the way from her leathery black nose, over her brown whiskered eyebrows and down her spine to her thin tail. I’d kiss her sweet face and tell her how much I loved her and I would always receive a nuzzle in return; if she could talk I know she would say “I love you too”. She was beginning to show her age now, her fur slightly rougher, her legs much weaker and we had accepted that walks through the browning field were a thing of the past. She had adopted a wobbling slow ramble, back legs unpredictable and shaky. It was difficult to watch her stumble through the door down onto the garden slabs, it seemed like too adventurous a task for her. As the days passed and her independence waned we began to help her navigate the step over the threshold. No longer could I pat my lap and expect her to jump up to me, instead I would slide my hand beneath her hairless belly and scoop her up in my arms as I whispered reassurance into her ears and held her close. I knew that our days were numbered and that the waffle blanket would soon be a keepsake rather than a dusty old heap in a basket.
We nurtured old dog until it no longer seemed fair on her. Walking the steep hill towards the vets surgery with one of us carrying her, all of us quietly sobbed. I wept audibly as she lay on the cold Formica table top with the vet’s needle piercing her rump and she pronounced her last whine. She lay still and I remember pulling back her eyelid to see if she was still with us, my other hand feeling for her heartbeat which I couldn’t find. I continue to remember her forever more. Most definitely, she was my first pure love.