I’m always a bit startled by this sort of thing. I spent most of my life surrounded by metrosexuals and homosexuals and trannies, before I came up here. Admittedly, I did grow up amongst hardy racing people, but all my brothers and most of my male cousins are tremendously camp. The butch male in full cry is mildly surprising to me.
I try to get on. I run errands. I make mushroom soup for my mother, in a blatant attempt to get to the top of the children’s list. I think about work. I do not actually do any work, but I think about it, which is a humming step in the right direction. After my father died last year, I could not work properly for three weeks. All my concentration was shot. I am in awe and wonder of those people who quickly get back to normal after a bereavement. Robert Peston lost his wife not long ago, but there he is, on the BBC, still knowing everything about the economy, his distinctive voice strong and steady, even making jokes with the presenters. That’s real Blitz spirit, I think.
I’m not near normal yet. The world swings on, but mine has a space in it. I really, really miss my dog. I veer between thinking this is perfectly normal and scolding myself for overcooking the whole thing. She was with me every day for ten years, I suppose. That’s a lot of companionship. Because I work from home, and rarely venture far from Scotland, in terms of sheer hours I probably spent more with her than with any other sentient creature. Even in the house, she was my faithful shadow, following me from room to room, patient and questing. I miss odd things, like the sound of her paws on the wooden floor, and the sheer beauty of her. I am suffering an aesthetic lack, so I stare very hard at the hills to get my share of loveliness.
On the other hand, I am aware that this is a most ordinary, small grief. I once looked up the number of human deaths in Britain each year, for a book. It was around six hundred thousand. I remember being astounded by the thought of all that mourning. That’s an awful lot of funerals. That’s a lot of empty rooms. And yet everyone goes on, without making a fuss. I must not make a fuss, I think.
In the flower shop, in the chemist, in the newsagent all the kind village people remark on the weather, which is fine, and ask how I am. ‘Very well, thank you,’ I say, lying. I want to say: MY DOG DIED. But you can’t say that, because it sounds silly, and no one knows what the correct response is. The dog people get it, but everyone else would not really understand.
The horse gets it, oddly. Horses are amazingly telepathic. She follows me about the field, whickers sweetly at me, lays her head over my shoulder, gently pushes her forehead into my chest. She is as soft and dopey as an old dog herself. The furry Welsh pony, on the other hand, has no time for sentiment. She just wants the pony nuts she knows I have in my pocket, and cooks up four different plans to get them. This ruthless streak makes me laugh.
I cast about for a good last line. There must always be a good last line. My old teacher, Mr Woodhouse, taught me that, when he was training me to write history essays. I don’t have a good one, so I’m going to steal a great one. This is what just came into my head, from the end of The Great Gatsby, a book I used to read once a year, when I was in my twenties and quite obsessed with F Scott Fitzgerald. ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ Yes, I think; that will do.