Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

In mourning

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 02 May 2012

It turns out, I am mourning for my dog. I did not know that is what I was doing. I only worked it out just now, about twelve minutes ago, when I was walking round the field with my mare and I burst into tears. The mare took it on the chin. The man over the fence, spraying the weeds, looked faintly surprised to see a wailing woman leading a chestnut thoroughbred round in circles.

She will have died, this time last year, on the 5th of May. It was the night of my father’s funeral. Anniversaries, it turns out, are a bitch.

The date of my father’s death came and went. I was tense as a drum, but in the end, it seemed to be all right. Then I started behaving slightly oddly: erratic sleeping patterns, a tendency to get knocked to the ground by the smallest thing. A flat tyre nearly finished me off, two days ago. I stared out at the endless rain and the brown skies and thought perhaps I had spring fever. We have had no spring. The weather smashed the daffodils and stripped all the blossom off the trees with a ruthless hand; the garden looked drowned and demoralised. The tulips are refusing even to open. They just stand there, furiously, closed for business.

Tania's old girl

Then, this sudden storm of sorrow came, for the dear old canine. It was difficult to mourn her at the time, because a human had just gone. Losing a father is an oceanic experience; I had no idea. It did not matter that he was old, that he was ready to go; the going cast me adrift, on a sea of new emotion which I had no idea I had. It was a much, much more profound thing than I ever could have guessed. So it was hard to sorrow too for the dog, because, however much I adored her, she was a dog, and my father was my father. Comparisons should not get in the way, but I think they did. It seems it takes the date to do it. Here, suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, is the proper marking of the loss.

I was never going to be one of the dog people. I didn’t really get the dog people. Then, these two glorious, sleek, black, elegant creatures sloped into my life, quite by chance, and a whole new vista opened up. It helped that they were particularly beautiful and elegant and funny and clever. They made friends wherever they went. I remember a small girl on Colonsay one year saying goodbye to them with tears in her eyes. Until she met them, she had been terrified of dogs. The Duchess, as my lost dog was nicknamed, on account of her regal bearing and her clear belief that she really should be living at Chatsworth, might have had a blue-blooded air of haughtiness, but when faced with a small child she went as soft and yielding as an old teddy bear.

The thing I discovered, about the dog thing, is the untrammelled nature of the love. Humans are tricky; you must sense their moods and read between the lines. They may be distracted or preoccupied. You can’t just hurl yourself on them and cover them with kisses. You can do that with dogs. If there is love in your heart, all dressed up with nowhere to go, you can give all that to the dog. The dog can’t get enough of it. And it gives it to you right back, so that even if you go to the Co-op for ten minutes, when you return, the canine will be dancing about, jumping up and down, with as much joy as if you returned from an Antarctic trek. Humans really don’t do that, even the loveliest of them.

She could not speak English, did not have a job, earnt no money. She could not discuss Shakespeare or American politics. She had no views on the size of the state. But she was the most marvellous, complete, pure creature I ever met. I loved her well, and I miss her fiercely. It may have been only a dog, but in my small universe, it was a great loss, and I mourn it now. I have her sister still, dozing beside me as I write this. There will, in the future, be other dogs, I suppose, new puppies, new loves. But there will never be one quite like my old Duchess.

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