Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Adopting Charlie

Our family has always been a 'doggy' one, I have strong, 'smelly' memories of the dog we had when I was tiny, before my father died - he was a rather portly Spaniel, by the name of Scallywag! I have no pictures of Scally, but one of the few pictures I have of my father is of him in his Merchant navy uniform, with his dog on his lap.  We had a dogless gap after my father died, we were very broke, and my mother struggled to provide for herself, my baby sister and myself, never mind a dog!  I help us acquire a terrier when I was about 10/11, a very intelligent little dog who my mother taught to do many useful things! She would have made a great support dog for a person with disabilities in this more enlightened age.  At about the same time we started doing a bit of fostering for the RSPCA, including a starved Guinea pig collected one Christmas Eve, to be cared for over the holiday, who finally died in our care nearly 8 years later!
I had various other animals as I grew up, but have few pictures of them, the cat in the above picture was Minou, a black cat rescued from the 'care' of some lads in one of my mother's bedsits when I was 23 and passed to my care. She went though many moves and traumas with me and my children, dominating both any dogs that came into the family, and my children! She finally died at the age of 19, with the collie in the picture (Mutt) and a black Labcross (Tara) still firmly under her paw to the last.

Mutt was an Orkney collie, a working dog acquired while I lived there, at the urging of my eldest daughter! She was an amazing dog, intelligent and loving, and, as you can se from this picture, totally devoted to my husband, who was far more enamoured of Mutt than me! At about the same time we had a little terrier, bought from some travellers as a puppy, slim and elegant in her movements, we called her 'Lady", a gross misnomer, as she would more appropriately have been named 'Anybodies'!
Lady & Mutt both passed on in their turn, as did Tara, who had also been an addition via my eldest daughter! When Tara passed on, all our children had left home, and we went dogless for several months, but eventually realised that we felt bereft, and went to the Dogs Trust near Shrewsbury, explaining that we needed a small, adaptable dog, as we lived in a motorhome and travelled alot, because of my husband's work.  There was alot of umming and ahhing, saying that they didn't often get small dogs in, let alone young ones, but to leave our contact details. A young dog came in the very next day! Picked up by the police after moving some travellers on from a site in Manchester, they had named her 'Gypsy' - she seemed fated to be ours, and we picked her up almost immediately. We knew her as 'Sioni', short for Sioned, the Welsh version of 'Janet".  That was in 1999, and she finally left us this summer, having brought us 13 years of companionship and entertainment, comfort and challenge.
This was Sioni just after we got her, sleek and black, bright as a button!
And this was Sioni shortly before she died in June, grizzled and a little portly, but blissed out!  During Sioni's life we also, briefly had a retired racing Greyhound, whom we called Ioan (Welsh version of John) and who was a delight and a challenge!
When Ioan came to us he had only known kennel life, stairs and traffic were a terrifying new challenge! I had never before had a greyhound, and was enchanted by his gentleness and loving nature, I miss him still.
Sadly, in 2007 I destroyed my right elbow completely, leaving me quite unable to manage a large and unpredictable dog like Ioan ( he was scared of his own shadow, bless him, and inclined to suddenly leap off!)  After Sioni died, we thought that, maybe, I could at alst indulge my tearning for a chihuahua, having loved them since 'dog sitting' a delightful pair when I was in my 20s, so we made an appointment to go and see a litter of pups. Fate had other plans, as it so often does! Our landlord's sister in law fosters for the RSPCA, on a rather larger scale than we did! They had a young Schi Tzu/Poodle cross brought in who had already been in more than one whom, and had been passed to the RSPCA as a biter, would I give her a chance, see if we could sort her out? If not, she would be put down. Had to give her a chance, the appointment with puppies was cancelled, and Peta came into our life.

To cut a long story short, Peta was pretty and charming, except that she would turn without any warning and sink very sharp teeth into you!  We tried for 3 months, but she just got more and more determined to embed her teeth into us - and anyone else she felt like, with no warning whatsoever.  reluctantly, with many tears, we returned her to the RSPCA, knowing what her fate was likely to be, but also knowing she could never be safe in a domestic environment.
Rest in peace, little Peta.  After that experience, we were very reluctant to take on another dog in a hurry, if ever, and decided to give ourselves space to enjoy each other's company, and do the kind of things it's hard to do with a dog in tow.  That was until lastSaturday, 3rd November, when we went for a walk on the beach at Burnham on Sea, which is a regular treat for us! The beach was full of dogs, and reminded us of how much more one shares in when walking with a dog!  So, we decided we would open ourselves to the possibility of another dog - let life lead us.  On Monday, as I surfed my Twitter stream, I read a ReTweet from a lady I follow, who rarely RT's other peiple's tweets. It was a picture of a little Yorkshire Terrier, posted by an animal rescue centre in south Wales, simply saying 'I need a home'.  Charlie was calling us.
Poor little Charlie is 12 years old, and has lost his elderly mistress, so he's been 'widowed', and his world has turned upside down.  His mistress obviously struggled to care for him towards the end, and he hasn't had much exercise for awhile - as for his diet, I dread to think what he was eating towards the end of his mistress's life, cos he's quite tubby! However, he has a very sweet nature, and knows what's good for him - none of this processed rubbish, please! His choice is a little lean meat with fresh fruit and vegetables, so he'll soon be a healthier little chap!
Although his legs are weak and a bit wobbly, he's keen to explore a wider world, so walks are 'little and often' and his new territory is being thoroughly marked and investigated - and the resident yellow Lab, belonging to our landlord, has already been told to mind his Ps & Qs! His coat is very thin, so I've knitted him a jumper for chilly days, and the vet has checked him over and cleaned up his nether regions for him, so he's good to go! Onwards and upwards, Charlie!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A 21st century friendship

I started using Facebook in 2006/2007, encouraged by my 2nd daughter.  The whole internet/IT thing was still pretty scary and daunting but, as my children were on it, and they were getting increasingly scattered, it seemed like a good way to keep in touch, so worth facing my fears!  On April 4th 2007 I fell, and completely destroyed my right elbow - not a clever thing to do for someone heavily right handed!  This left me learning to do as much as possible left handed, and surfing the net was easy in comparison to some things, so, to save my sanity, I started to spend alot of time online, learning all I could about all sorts of things!  I discovered, to my delight, a group for over 50s on Facebook, and started chatting with the lovely lady who started it - a certain Peta Bridges.
As we chatted, we discovered we had both grown up in Canterbury, and that I had lived just a couple of houses away from the Police Station where her husband, Bill, had worked.  She coached me in using the net, and encouraged me to have confidence in my explorations. As time went by, the problems with my missing elbow increased (there was no replacement joint available, and I lived with steadily increasing levels of debilitating pain) and Peta was there for me as no one else was, searching the net for all the help she could find for my situation.  There was little practical that could be done at that time, and as my pain inceased, my spirits sank.  At all times, Peta lifted me up, reaching out through the ether to place a metaphorical arm around me, and giving me the courage to lift my head and plough on.

In late 2008, I reached the point where I could stand the pain no longer, and asked my Consultant to amputate my arm above the elbow, as I could no longer even breathe without the shock waves in my arm being excruciating. Still Peta was there for me, understanding, though regretting my decision, and I felt her presence with me as I went into see my consultant.  Astonishingly, he had just found a brand new, suitable joint for me, and it was fitted in May 2009. The joy Peta expressed for me was almost greater than my own! 
Bill & Peta had a talent for speading happiness, confidence and strength, as became evident reading their Facebook streams, I was far from the only one that Peta had supported through hard times.  Tragically, they both started to suffer some bad health themselves, Peta undergoing some fairly agonising treatment on her back, and being unable to drive because of the pain, and Bill generally suffering all round 'not feeling good'. Earlier this year Bill underwent a series of tests, which showed him to have cancer, but they both decided to fight it with all the strength we, their online community, could offer in support, setting up a special page on Facebook where we could gather together to share and pool our resources.
Bill had been given an estimate of 10-12 months, but he deteriorated rapidly, and was sent home to Peta's loving care. Apallingly he died only a few weeks later, on the 15th May, exactly a week before his birthday.
Peta was devastated. Left alone with just her 2 dogs, Paco & JD, her distress was palpable over the net, and Facebook overflowed with loving messages from the enormous, wordwide network of people whose lives she had made so much better by her touch.
It was not enough, and Peta was found dead at her home on Bill's birthday, exactly a week after she had lost her 'beautiful boy'.  This is just my personal perspective on Peta & Bill, many more had the privilege of much closer, longer and physical friendship with them, and many of their Facebook friends made the effort to go to Spain to be with her in the flesh - I desperately wish I had been one of them.
I am heartbroken for the pain that Peta felt without her 'boy', for one who had given strength to so many, it was peculiarly cruel. They are together again and we are bereft - but she helped us be people who could cope with that loss.
Rest in peace, Bill and Peta Bridges, you will take alot of forgetting.  Thank you for being.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Witley Court, Worcestershire

My husband and I (how regal!) met in July 1981, when he was working as an archeologist for the Department of the Environment - shortly to become English Heritage, under Mrs Thatcher's reorganisations.  That summer he started work at Witley Court, a grand mansion in Worcestershire fallen into desperate disintegration.  When he first visited it was crumbling, having had a bad fire shortly before the War, then being stripped of its contents and choice architectural features, before suffering the final indignity of being used as a jam factory! It had stood lonely and unloved for many years by the time English Heritage took it under its wing, and the gardens had returned to wilderness, the grand fountains were full of saplings and debris, and the fabric of the building itself was in danger of collapse, only the magnificent Baroque Church had survived in any kind of reasonable condition, as it had become the parish church.
The first picture of the Perseus & Andromeda fountain, at the top of this essay, was taken yesterday, the second was how my husband found it in 1981.  It has taken many years, and a frightening amount of money, but English Heritage have returned as much as possible of this staggering house & grounds to at least a hint of its former glory.
 This was the house itself when Jeffery first visited, still showing its grand scale, and the bare bones of its glory, but all the fine stone steps, and portable architectural flourishes had been removed and sold - its gates ending up in the US, I understand!
This was the same view yesterday, the masonery much restored and stabilised, many of the 'flourishes' restored and the parterres of the garden replanted. The grand steps have been replaced, and the statue plinths repaired, though the enormous lions that once gazed out across the parterres & fountain have gone forever.
The fire started in this wing, in the ballroom/music room, which overlooked the smaller fountain.  Much was rescued (there are pictures of the gardens heaped with furniture and treasures!) but in the 1930s, there was little money around even for the wealthy, and the family decided to cut their losses, salvage what they could and sell the house.
Today the steps and balustrade are restored, but within, the fire blackened timbers are still visible in the walls.
Jeffery spent 3 years at Witley, 'dissecting' the building, and doing much research in Record Offices and dusty files, to uncover the history of the house and its people.  He did a series of drawings, to show how the house developed from the Stuart mansion built by Thomas Foley, through various incarnations, including work by Nash, to the final splendiferous statement mansion of the Dudley family.  These drawings are still used by English Heritage to illustrate the story for visitors!
The Ballroom looked out on a less grand fountain than the Perseus & Andromeda, which was its misfortune, as the salvagers felt it was worth trying to sell bits of it! In 1981 it was shattered and derelict, the basin full of vegetation and rubbish, a pathetic sight.
Today, it is still sadly truncated, but many details have been restored, and its basin once more holds water. It is surrounded by reinstated parterres and lawns, a pleasant place for adults to stroll, and children to play, as it was 100 years ago.
This quirky face would once have spouted water!
Witley's true glory, though, remains its staggering Perseus and Andromeda fountain, once more gushing water high into the sky, on the hour, every hour, when the house is open!  Witley has been a current through our entire lives together, it has brought us highs and lows, been a source of disputes and mutual delight, but always there.  After 30 years, it is a delight still, and a precious thread in the tapestry of our lives.