Lucy

Looking out of the window on a damp grey day, I noticed something black and white, curled and hidden, under the bushy overgrown shrub which adorns our front lawn. At first, I thought it was my cat tucked up in her favourite sleeping place but, looking more carefully, I realised this animal was too big for her. Fat spots of rain began to fall, turning the scene outside to blurred watercolours. The black and white bundle snuggled closer into the hedge. A shiny nose cautiously stretched out from the shelter of the untidy branches sniffing the air, and a bright pink tongue tasted the raindrops. Some farm dog, I supposed, settled down for a cheeky rest from work. Still, it wasn’t usual for a dog to use my shrub for a bed.

“There’s a dog asleep on our front garden.” I told my husband.

He came to take a look.

“Poor thing,” he said, “better check it’s all right.”

“I was just about to.” I said.

On opening the front door, the dog jumped up from its resting place, tail wagging and tongue lolling happily in greeting. It seemed pleased to see me. Normally, I’m a bit wary of farm dogs as they can be temperamental and, once or twice, I’ve had a nasty nip. This pretty tri-coloured collie seemed friendly, however. It looked at me with forlorn eyes. I put my hand out slowly. At this encouragement, the dog bounded over, nuzzling and licking my hand. On closer inspection I found she was a female, small and slender; a friendly, sweet-natured animal.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her, “Run along home.”

She eyed me expectantly and sat down on the gravel. She wasn’t going anywhere.

“Are you lost?” I stroked her glossy head. She rolled onto her side revealing her pink tummy, showing she was no threat. I noticed an old faded collar but no tag.

“Well, you must belong to somebody.”

I thought she may be glad of a drink so I went around the back of the house to collect a bowl of water. She followed me to the side gate and waited patiently there until I returned. When she saw me, she gamboled ecstatically around my legs. I put the bowl down and she lapped gratefully.

“You were a thirsty girl,” I said, “but now you’d better make your way home. You can’t stay here, I’m afraid, I’ve got three dogs of my own and that is quite enough for anybody!”

I patted on the head and went inside. I hoped she would head off once alone.

Every half hour or so, my husband or I looked out of the window to check whether the dog had moved on but, each time, there she was, snuggled under the bush trying to keep dry. The rain fell in an unrelenting downpour. After three hours, I decided she definitely wasn’t intending to leave.

“What should we do?” I asked my husband. He agreed the dog would have left for home by now if she was going to.

So, unlike the rain, I gave in and went to the side gate to let her into the back garden. My concern was rewarded as she danced around me, wagging her happy tail, thrilled to see me again.

I towelled off her wet hair and feet and let her into the conservatory, then fed her a bowl of kibble. She ate hungrily and settled in the large dog basket belonging to my labrador.

“You can stay in here while I make some phone calls.” I told her.

My three dogs knew something was up. They weren’t usually shut out of the conservatory and there was a whiff of strange dog in the air. They sniffed with curiosity at my legs, snuffling and whimpering. I lifted the receiver and rang the vet. No one had reported a dog missing but they would keep my details in case somebody came in. I should bring her in to check for a microchip. Then I rang every vet in the area. It was the same story with all of them.

“Any luck?” my husband asked.

“No one’s reported a dog missing anywhere.” I explained, “The vet told me to inform the dog warden.”

We looked at each other sadly. it seemed a shame to put such a lovely dog in a cage while she waited for her owner to find her. It was with some reluctance, therefore, that I picked up the phone. Surprisingly, they seemed unconcerned. The service was overstretched, it would be a while before the warden would be able to collect the dog, would we be happy to keep her until he got in touch? I agreed, of course.

“We have to keep her until the warden has time to come and get her.” I explained to my husband, “He’s out at the moment and will ring us back when he can.”

“If she’s going to be staying with us, she’ll have to meet our boys,” my husband said, “If they don’t get on, she’ll have to live in the barn.”

“I’m sure they’ll get on.” I didn’t like to think of her out there on her own.

We decided it would be best if the dogs got to know each other in the garden where there was plenty of space. Luckily, the rain had finally stopped. A pale sun struggled to smile through the clouds. Rather than terrifying the new dog by sending out the boys in a rowdy pack, we introduced her to one dog at a time. First, Sammy, our aged collie cross, quiet and gentle. Next Iolo, our gangly labrador, barely taking any notice. Finally Monty, our yappy terrier, noisy but playful. The dogs did us proud. Their manners were impeccable. The little female collie liked them immediately and soon all four dogs were playing on the grass. I breathed a sigh of relief. It may take us a while to find the owner but at least she could enjoy living with us while we did.

Then I remembered my cats. Would she be a chaser? My dogs and cats were best buddies; friends since puppy and kitten days. This dog may never have lived with cats before. It wasn’t long until we discovered the answer. Kipper, our ginger boy and keen hunter, came ambling around the corner of the house right into the middle of the action. He confidently walked up the new dog. She sniffed him with caution. Kipper rubbed himself against her legs then sidled off. She didn’t follow or chase him. Phew! Later in the day, the other two cats appeared, feisty Mags and grumpy Maude. The new dog didn’t bat an eyelid and the cats were unphased. All remained peaceful.

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Over the next few days, the female collie settled into our routines and became part of the family. She behaved perfectly in the house and was a clean, tidy creature. We hardly knew she was there. I took her to see the vet and discovered she had no microchip. I drove her around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and calling in at farms. Nobody recognised her or knew anyone looking for a lost dog. Next, I took photographs and made posters to put up on telegraph poles, fence posts, in shops, at the vets, in the library, everywhere I could think of. No luck. I posted photographs and information on local social media sites. No luck. The dog warden didn’t ring. We began to think the new dog may be with us forever. Some of us may even have hoped it. We were growing fond of her calm, sweet nature.

“We can’t call you the new dog all the time,” I told her, “What’s your name?”

Over the next few hours, we experimented calling out different names and watching for a response. She didn’t seem too bothered with any of them until finally I called out, “Lucy!” she stopped in her tracks, pricked up her ears in apparent recognition and came running over. From then on, that’s what we called her.

 

Two weeks later, two weeks of looking after Lucy with no sign of an owner, we started to reconcile ourselves to life with four dogs. She was no trouble. When you had three, an extra one made no difference. Lucy fitted in. She was at home with us; part of the family. We all rubbed along happily together. We played in the garden. We went on walks. At night, she curled up on the floor with her doggy mates while we watched TV.

One day, two and a half weeks after Lucy had tucked herself under the bush on our front lawn, the phone rang.

“Hello,” said a lady, “I think you might have my dog.”

The lady described Lucy perfectly, down to her faded collar. She explained that she had been away, that Lucy was one of four outdoor farm dogs, that her husband had been feeding the dogs and hadn’t noticed one was missing every night. It wasn’t until she got back with her children that they realised the dog was gone. She’d spent the last week searching everywhere, finally getting my number from the vet.

“Can I come and collect her?” she asked.

My heart sank a little, “Of course.”

It was a shock when giving directions to find that Lucy had travelled six miles, crossing a busy main road, to get to our house. The lady thought she had probably been frightened by a bad storm, running in blind panic.

We said a sad farewell to Lucy while we waited for her owner to show up. Half an hour later, a land rover pulled onto the drive. A lady got out and I brought Lucy to her. The dog was very pleased to see her owner. She jumped straight into the car.

“She loves a ride.” the lady said, “Thank you so much for having her all this time.”

We waved away the offer of money for Lucy’s care. We had enjoyed her company and were just glad that she’d been happy while waiting to find her true home.

Before the lady drove off, Lucy jumped out of the car and ran back to us to say a last goodbye. We gave the little collie, who had stayed with us for a short while but touched our hearts forever, a big fuss.

“Oh, by the way,” I asked, remembering just in time, “What’s her name?”

“Lisa.”

And they drove away.

Chick mother

In the garden, the birds are getting busy. They sing beautiful, flirtatious songs. They flutter and spiral in aerial dances designed to impress.  They collect twigs and soft cashmere undercoat from the goats, helpfully deposited along the wire fence as they rub luxuriously along it. Two shiny blackbirds, bright yellow beaks and beady button eyes, face off at the bird feeder whilst a dowdy brown female watches with indifference. All is industry and love making. Soon, nests will be full of hatchlings; oversized beaks gaping and calling for food. Soon, parent birds will be even busier keeping their youngsters satisfied.

All this activity has reminded me of my old dog Sam, a few years back when he was a little more energetic. One spring afternoon, I stepped out of the back door to find him crouched on the pavement, head bowed. As I got closer, I noticed between his paws, two tiny featherless baby birds. On the fence, staring in anticipation, sat my three cats, licking their lips meaningfully. Helpless creatures fallen from the nest above, safe in Sam’s attentive care. He had protected them from becoming a tasty snack.

I’d noticed a pair of blue tits building a home in our rafters over the previous weeks. The babies had obviously tumbled down and landed on the path. Luckily for them, they were unhurt and Sam had found them before his feline friends. My heart was touched by his tenderness but I didn’t hold much hope for the pathetic little things. There was no way their parents could get them back in the nest and they were very young; bald, cold and eyes firmly shut. After Sam’s show of heroism, however, I couldn’t leave them to die so I scooped them up gently and took them indoors.

This was the start of a new role for me: chick mother. I found a little box, lined it with kitchen towel and placed them with care inside. Then I decided it would be more comfortable and warmer for them if they had a nest, so I took an old plastic bowl, put it in the box and filled it with shredded paper and tissue. They seemed happy in their new nest but still cold. I borrowed a small soft toy, a fluffy bear, from one of the children and sat him atop the nest like a surrogate mother bird. Then I searched the internet for any advice on rearing baby birds. Nothing encouraging came from my searching, mostly the information was don’t do it; never move a baby bird if you find one as its parents may return and rescue it. I could see the sense in this but my situation was different. If Sam hadn’t protected those birds, the cats would have had them for dinner. I had to bring them inside and see what I could do. I had to try. Further searching followed and I discovered that parent blue tits feed their young on green caterpillars that are abundant in the trees in springtime. They feed them many, many caterpillars every hour each day and into the night until dark. Never ever feed baby birds worms as these are too sticky.

My next job was a caterpillar hunt. There were plenty of trees; bashing the branches with a stick sent down all kinds of invertebrates onto my big white sheet of paper. There were quite a few caterpillars too. I took them inside and chopped them into pieces. A yucky, mucky job, poor caterpillars, but I knew parent birds regurgitate their offspring’s food and I wasn’t going to chew them! I found some cocktail sticks to use as a feeding implement. By this time, the baby birds were making quite a lot of noise and opening their beaks wide in starvation. I stabbed a piece of caterpillar and gave it to the first bird, which took it gratefully. This was the beginning of many days spent collecting caterpillars and feeding baby birds. Every two hours, to begin with, I fed my babies.

SONY DSCSadly, on the second morning, I came down to find one of the birds was dead. The process continued for the other bird, however, which seemed to be doing fine and ate greedily. After a few days, I bought some live meal worms and chopped them up to feed too. I was struggling to find enough caterpillars; the baby bird ate and ate. The more she ate, the stronger she got and the more food she wanted! I’d also developed a system for giving her a drink of water using a cotton bud. I called her Chickpea.

SONY DSCOver the days and weeks, Chickpea grew bigger and more active. Her eyes opened and she grew feathers, downy at first and then beginning to show her true blue tit colours. As she began to move around more, I realized the box was no longer a safe home so I constructed a makeshift cage from a bigger box and a clear plastic seed tray lid. I put in a small branch as a perch. She began to hop out of the nest and flutter clumsily onto the branch. Soon I realized she would need lessons in feeding herself and flying practice.  I started squashing meal worms onto the branch where she could pick them off. At least the gaps between feeding times were growing longer. Eventually, she had a bowl of meal worms to pick at as she chose. Then I started letting her out of the cage so her wings could grow strong. She would fly up onto my shoulder, then back to the perch, then up to a shelf and back to me. Once she was flying with confidence and feeding herself happily, I realized it was time for her release back into the wild.

One morning, just after dawn, I carried Chickpea, tucked safe in her box, far into the woods. When I got to a tranquil spot, full of the calls of other blue tits, next to a babbling stream, I opened the lid. She didn’t waste a moment, out she flew, up into a tall pine. She sat on an uppermost branch and sang. Then she pecked at the mossy bark and flew away. I’m not sure if I ever saw her again. On my woodland walks, I often hear a familiar trill but there are many, many blue tits living in the woods. I hope she lives there happily with them.

‘Tis better to have loved…

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam A.H.H, spoke from the heart about the loss of his friend and the grief he felt.

On Boxing Day, we had a car accident in a surprise snowfall. My husband lost control, despite driving at a sensible speed for the inclement weather, and the car skidded. As we danced a graceful pirouette, a full 360 degrees across to the opposite side of the country lane, time seemed to elongate. I watched in horror, completely powerless; thoughts of dread that my son or daughter might be injured or killed filled my mind. “It’s all right…Hold on everyone!” I said aimlessly. I braced myself against the seat as the car returned to the correct side of the road and landed with a gentle bump against a fence post. When we stopped, the relief that everyone had escaped without harm was immense. Walking the three miles home through freezing sleet, feet slopping and slipping on the wet snow, I felt protective of my two children and husband. I led the way, torch in hand, fussing about our insufficient coats and footwear. I needed to regain some sense of control. It felt as if I had nearly lost everything that mattered to me, everything that I loved, and that shook me far more than the accident.

When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare. I stood watching as my parents and brother descended an escalator straight into a sheet of plate glass. Every time I had this dream, I would awake crying and shaking, believing that it had happened. I was alone; I had lost everything. Since having my children, I regularly experience anxious dreams. A multitude of horrible images where they have been maimed or killed in all number of horrific incidents. When they were babies, I would imagine falling down the stairs with them in my arms. These nightmares leave me feeling drained and afraid. There is nothing I can do. I have opened myself up to this vulnerability; I have no control over what may (or may not) happen to my children. I love them and this involves the risk of getting hurt.

A few days ago, my lovely old dog had a funny turn. My husband and I returned home from searching for a replacement car and he ran excitedly to greet us, then collapsed trembling and letting out a long stream of urine over the carpet.  As we bent down to help him, he looked up at us with confused, frightened eyes and we both burst into tears. We thought it was the end for him. He is nearly sixteen; his weak heart makes him pant continuously and he stands on shaky legs, often falling over. Miraculously, it was not the end and he recovered, carrying on much the same as before. I realize this cannot continue forever, of course. Every day, week, month spent with him is a bonus.  Soon, we will have to face the heartache of losing him. We made the decision to get a dog; to let him become part of our family. We allowed ourselves to love him and must suffer the pain that is to come.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why choose to have partners and children and bring pets into our homes? Why do we allow ourselves to love when we know it will mean pain and loss at some point? Would it be better to protect ourselves from this pain; to avoid love?

Quite simply, to love is to live. Life is about having relationships with others; to make connections. I have had many moments of fun and laughter with my dog. My children have enriched my life and made it more worthwhile. If we do not allow ourselves to love through the fear of being hurt, then we do not truly live our lives. Having relationships and loving others helps us to grow and learn. It gives us meaning and purpose. There will be times when it brings us pain and loss, but living a life alone and afraid would be unbearable. Life is difficult, we must share it with others – family, friends, neighbours, pets.

I have found somebody who explains it more eloquently than I am able:

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”    Henri J M Nouwen

The Little Dog

Ben stood in the dark hallway of the large, stone house. Outside the air was hot but here it was cool. Removal men bumped and strained around him. He was a forlorn six-year-old lost and forgotten in the chaos. Normally, he bubbled with curiosity and adventure. He liked to explore the natural world. He loved to be in the open air. Now, he stood uncertain. Moving to this new house with its enormous, verdant garden terrified him. He had left everything he had ever known. The security of the home where he was born. His bedroom with its pale, green paintwork and dinosaur border. The safety of his Grandma whom he loved best of all. He would miss her gentle, laughing voice. Her silly stories. Her funny songs. He would miss her cuddling him close and the warm smell of her rose-perfumed cardigan.

A new home meant a new school. His stomach gripped tight when he thought of it. He would have to talk to new children. Make friends. He was happiest in the company of adults. He could find interesting things to tell them; about animals, plants and insects. Grown-ups listened, asked you questions, wanted to know. Children were rough and tumble. They shouted, tugged at you, talked nonsense.

‘Ben darling,’ Mum called him softly, ‘Why don’t we go and look at your new room?’

‘All right,’ he said, reluctantly leaving his corner.

He followed Mum upstairs, along a bright landing and into a large comfortable looking room. His bed was there and boxes full of his things.

‘It will soon be your room – just like the old house,’ Mum smiled, ‘Why don’t you start unpacking? I have to make the workers some tea but I’ll come back in a bit.’

Ben went over to the window. A spider skittered wildly across the glass. His nose wrinkled in concentration. As he watched, he whispered to himself under his breath. He looked out at the garden. On the lawn sat a little white dog gazing up at him. It seemed friendly. Wagging tail, shaggy hair and beady, black eyes. Ben ran out of his bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden. The dog still sat on the grass.

‘Hello little dog,’ he said holding out his hand carefully.

The dog eyed him excitedly, pink tongue lolling to the side of his mouth. Ben thought he was smiling. He knelt down on the springy grass.

‘Come here,’ he said tapping his knees, ‘Come to me little dog!’

The dog ran to Ben and barked invitingly. The two new companions played in the garden all afternoon.

 

When Ben returned to the house, face flushed with exercise and excitement, his parents smiled knowingly at one another.

‘I see you’ve been enjoying the garden,’ Dad said, ruffling his butter-coloured hair.

‘I enjoyed playing with the little dog,’ Ben said, his intelligent brown eyes alight, ‘We found lots of insects and a pond with frogs.’

‘Must be a neighbour’s dog,’ Mum said. ‘Just think, you’ve got the whole holiday to play. But now…it’s tea, bath and bed for you. You’re filthy!’

 

Ben played outside every day, little dog at his heels. One afternoon, they were investigating a different corner of the garden. It was shady and overgrown; weeds reached up to Ben’s waist. Nearing a stone wall, the dog began to whine, pawing at the ground and cowering in the damp undergrowth.

‘What’s wrong little dog?’ Ben asked, screwing up his nose in thought, ‘Nothing to be scared of…we’ll look after each other.’

He picked up a narrow branch and thrashed at the long grass. The dog did not move. Ben pulled away the vegetation, clearing an area next to the wall.

‘This is hard work…just move this…oh…what’s that?’ he muttered to himself as he worked.

Ben knelt on the soft ground. He saw a small headstone, worn and green with age. He could not see any writing on it. He turned to show the little dog but he was gone.

 

At bedtime, Ben told Mum about his discovery.

‘This is an old house,’ she said, ‘…must be someone’s much loved pet, buried in the garden.’ She kissed him goodnight. Ben fell asleep thinking about who might have lived there before.

 

All summer, Ben played with the little dog. They became best friends, sharing fears and worries. He began to love the house and garden. He missed his Grandma but, with the dog by his side, he felt he could cope with anything. Even starting a new school.

 

The holidays were nearing an end. Ben stood at the window, waiting. He was excited. His nose rumpled with anticipation.

‘Soon be here…won’t be long now…,’ he chattered happily to himself.

Dad’s car pulled up the drive.

‘She’s here!’ Ben shouted. He watched his Grandma walk up the path carrying a large box.

Grandma came into the hall. She put the box gently on the floor.

‘Hello my boy,’ she said, eyes sparkling. She bent and kissed Ben’s curly mop.

‘Grandma…’ he hugged her tight, breathing in the smell of flowers.

‘I’ve got a present for you,’ Grandma said. She passed him the box, ‘Open it carefully.’

Ben could hear a snuffling, scratching sound from inside. He lifted the flaps cautiously. A small puppy pushed out its head. Bright eyes, wet nose, black and white fur.

‘Thought you might like one of your own…’ Grandma smiled, ‘He can walk with you to school.’

‘Oh…’ Ben gasped. He delicately picked up the dog and held it close. It smelt warm and safe.

‘Thank you Grandma,’ he said.

Ben loved his puppy. He ran out to find the little dog. It would be fun to explore – all three together.

‘Little dog!’ he called but there was no response.

Ben knotted his forehead. Holding his pup to his chest, he searched for the little dog in every corner of the garden. There was no sign of him.

 

Every day Ben played in the garden with his puppy but he never saw the little dog again.

5 things my goats teach me about writing

Anyone who knows me, knows I love spending time with my goats. Every day, their affectionate and funny antics make me laugh. I am happy and relaxed in their company.  My gingerbread boys help me think about myself as a writer. They provide inspiration and encourage my creativity.

Here are 5 things my goats teach me about writing:

1. Be on the look-out

Goats are always alert. No matter what they are doing, one ear is pricked listening, senses heightened, observant of any action taking place in the vicinity of the house or garden. Any passing vehicle, any person opening a door or gate, any animal or bird, wild or domestic, is noted with interest. Heads pop up, eyes bright and intelligent, to assess the situation.

As a writer, I must be observant. I must be on the look-out in my environment, searching for new ideas and experiences. An idea may come from anywhere. I must be open and ready. My own senses heightened, aware of sounds in my ears, smells in my nose, tastes in my mouth, colours, shapes and images in my eyes, feelings and sensations on my skin. I must use these sensory experiences to inform and improve my writing.

2. Be curious

Goats are intelligent and eager to learn. They constantly explore their environment. Anything new needs closer investigation. At first from a distance, looked over thoroughly with calculating eyes. Then, if considered safe, a close and rigorous sniffing with velvety, wet noses, and tasting with soft, malleable lips.

As a writer, I must be curious and eager to learn. I must go out and explore my environment to find material. Where necessary, I must research new topics to add interest, realism and depth to my writing.

3. Have fun

Goats enjoy life. They love to play; skipping and leaping around the paddock, butting and scuffling with one another, climbing logs and fences. They find pleasure in everything they do. They test out any object discovered, experimenting and turning it into a game.

As a writer, I must have fun. I must be playful; unafraid to experiment with different ideas.  Trying out new techniques, will empower and develop my writing abilities. It will help me find my voice as a writer.

4. Be sensitive

Goats are gentle, empathetic creatures. Just as they are aware of their surroundings, they are aware of other’s emotions. They can sense a person’s mood; giving a reassuring nuzzle or bounding up for a game depending on what is needed.

As a writer, I must be empathetic. I must be aware of the emotions of my characters and deal with them sensitively. I must also be aware of my reader’s emotions and experiences which will influence the way they read my novel. Understanding how other people feel will help me write more effectively, touching upon the realities of other lives.

5. Persevere

Goats never give up. They are determined, stubborn animals; spending time plotting and planning their moves. Once a decision is made, like jumping a fence or breaking into the vegetable plot, they will not stop until they have achieved their goal.

As a writer, I must never give up. I must be stubborn and determined; planning, plotting and writing my novel until it is finished. I must face rejection and still keep going until I have achieved my goal. I will not stop.

 

So, I believe we can learn a lot from the way our animals behave. What do you think? Has an animal inspired or helped you with your writing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Goat Road

I wrote this short story for a recent competition. The theme was ‘Journeys’ – I didn’t get shortlisted but I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Goat Road

Dilwyn knew the neighbours thought he was a silly old goat. He chuckled to himself, it was because of his goat Primrose, he had that reputation. Some even said he let her sleep in his bedroom. He didn’t of course, but he liked to bring her into the kitchen to share his supper now and again. The goat was a lonely creature, much like Dilwyn himself. She’d lost her sister, Bluebell, to a nasty bout of scours the year before and had been glad of Dilwyn’s company and friendship ever since. The two of them spent hours in the meadow staring out at the blue sea beyond, meditating on the beauty of the countryside. While Dilwyn tended his vegetable patch, Primrose stood at the fence bleating the occasional bit of advice, happy to receive the odd carrot or cabbage leaf as thanks.

“Let’s sit here a while, bach,” Dilwyn puffed, “I’m fair tired.” He sat down on a grassy bank where the hedgerow grew thick with tasty titbits for Primrose.

Dilwyn had worried about his retirement from the dairy farm. He’d worked there man and boy as farmhand and milker. He didn’t know any other life or how he would fill his days. It was young Mr Rhys, who took over the farm when old Mr Rhys died, had suggested getting a couple of dairy goats to keep him occupied when the day came for him to leave. He had never regretted following that counsel. Spring primroses and bluebells festooned the lanes the day he brought his two kids home, one tucked under each arm, wriggling and squirming with energy. So that was what he’d decided to call them. When he let them down they had bucked, skipped and jumped all over the paddock. He’d laughed to see them young and full of high spirits. They gave him a fresh interest in life and his own step became sprightly once more.

That had been more than six years ago. The kids had grown into pretty, glossy animals with long coats which Dilwyn enjoyed brushing. They had supplied him with healthy kids he’d sold on for good profit and they were sturdy, excellent milkers providing more than enough for his needs. He was able to sell milk and butter at his gate. More importantly for Dilwyn though, they were friendly, intelligent girls and he loved them. It had broken his heart almost as much as Primrose’s when Bluebell had died. He’d sat up all night in the goat shed, stroking and comforting her in her last moments, tears streaming down his stubbly chin.

Dilwyn took a long swig of nutty, brown ale. He looked across at Primrose contentedly nibbling at the brambles entwining the hedge. The sun shone round and bright sparkling on the fern leaves, precious gems of golden ochre and fiery orange, along the narrow lane.

“We have the weather for it, my girl,” Dilwyn said. From his seat on the bank, he could see a patch of turquoise sea below him, the little village nestled safely in the bay. A surge of love filled his heart, for this place where he’d always lived and had seldom left. He’d been away only twice before – for his cousin’s wedding in the town and when his father was admitted to hospital; poor soul had wanted to die at home but sadly it wasn’t to be.

Dilwyn sighed. He himself had woken that morning with a familiar feeling something was wrong. His chest constricted, like a lead weight pressing him down, and his breath coming in short gasps. Silly fool, Dilwyn had admonished himself, you’re growing old, isn’t it boy? He had lain quietly for a few minutes until the sensation passed, pale light trickling through a gap in his bedroom curtains, Primrose waiting for her morning barley. He’d been getting later these last few days, rising had been effortful. He had gotten out of bed deliberately, carefully sliding his legs into scruffy trousers, pulling on sturdy boots, and hobbling out into the hall. Outside he had found a crisp Autumn morning, clean and damp with dew. He had breathed in slowly, feeling much better for fresh air, ready to see to his beloved goat. Primrose had been lively in her stall, calling for her morning meal. At least these funny turns of his were fleeting.

“You’re a good girl, Primrose,” Dilwyn smiled lovingly at his goat as she snuffled at the juicy black fruits in the hedge, “I’m going to miss you, cariad.” Primrose’s gentle face seemed to smile back at him.

After breakfast, Dilwyn had prepared all he would need for the trip. In a muslin cloth, he’d wrapped two thick slices of bread, a chunk of crumbly cheese, an apple and two carrots for Primrose, then filled a bottle with ale and pushed in the cork stopper. He had put these things in a coarse hessian sack and tied them around his waist, under his coat, with sturdy string. He’d gathered the goat harness and lead from its hook by the door and gone out to collect Primrose. Dilwyn had whistled merrily, determined to enjoy this time with his goat, as they crunched through the fallen leaves up the steep hill leading out of the village. A couple of miles steady climbing later, they had reached the top, ready for a breather.

Primrose nudged and sniffled at his coat.

“Do you want a carrot, my lovely?” Dilwyn scrambled in his rough sack to find her one. Primrose accepted the carrot gratefully, crunching noisily.

“Is she friendly, your goat?”

Dilwyn looked around, startled by the piping voice behind him. There in the gateway stood a small girl, grubbily dressed in a smock and dusty bare feet.

“She is.” Dilwyn replied, “Do you want a cwtch?”

The girl climbed the gate expertly and approached the goat, hands outstretched warily, “She won’t bite me?”

“No.” Dilwyn smiled, “Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Rub her neck, behind her ears, she likes that.”

The little girl stroked Primrose’s neck gently, laughing. “She’s soft…Why you here?”

“Having a rest.”

“Why?” the girl wrinkled her nose.

“We’ve walked up that hill…it’s steep, isn’t it?” Dilwyn pointed back down the lane.

“Why you walking?”

“To take Primrose to her new family.” Dilwyn replied.

“Don’t you want her no more?” the little girl studied Dilwyn curiously.

“Time for me to say goodbye. I’m an old man,” Dilwyn answered sadly. “It’s the best thing for Primrose.”

The girl put her arms around the goat’s neck, “She’ll be happy there, won’t she?”

“Yes,” Dilwyn agreed, “She’ll be happy.” The man and girl locked eyes for a moment.

“What’s your name, cariad bach?” Dilwyn broke the silence.

The girl twiddled her flaxen curls, “Ceinwen.”

“I’m Dilwyn.” He held out his hand and they shook.

“I gotta go!” Ceinwen squealed suddenly, “Mam will be mad at me if I’m late to collect the chook eggs…Ta ra mister, Ta ra Primrose!”

Dilwyn chortled as he watched her retreating back, racing across the field, a bundle of energy. Ceinwen; lovely, fair, white. It suited her. He and Megan had never been blessed with children. He could see his wife, like a bird; full of spirit, not unlike that little lass. They had grown up together in the village and he knew the first moment he saw her she would be his one day. Megan had kept him in order, kept the cottage sparkling like a new pin. He savoured the delicious memory of her bread and cakes baking in the range. It had been many years since he lost her; her tiny body had worn itself out trying to give birth to their stillborn son.

Primrose snorted warm, vinegary breath into his face. Dilwyn lifted her chin to stroke her velvety muzzle. Her clever, inquisitive eyes seemed to stare into his soul as if to say, I know everything you’re thinking, old man.

“I’m a silly sentimental bugger, bach.” Dilwyn patted her belly.  He took another sip of ale, “Better be heading off soon.”

Somewhere further up the lane, Dilwyn could hear buzzing, like a giant housefly. He turned his head to make sense of the sound. He had never heard anything like it before.

“Well, what is that dreadful racket, my girl?” he asked Primrose who raised her head in alarm, “It’s alright, bach, come by ‘ere, I’ll look after you.”

Dilwyn held Primrose’s leash tight as a shiny bottle green, box-shaped carriage on four large wheels came beeping and tooting around the corner. Sitting inside was a smart gentleman in eye goggles. Dilwyn had seen the threshing machine at Mr Rhys’s farm, and he’d listened to the young folk describing the railway engines at Cardigan, monstrous great bulls snorting steam from their nostrils. This was something new, like a cart without the horse. It slowed and came to a halt next to Dilwyn.

“Hope I didn’t scare your goat, my man,” the gentleman called.

Primrose was wide-eyed and breathing heavily. Dilwyn reassured her with a gentle pat.

“She doesn’t like the noise, sir,” Dilwyn said, standing up slowly, tipping his cap.

“No. Well, it does take a bit of getting used to,” the gentleman pulled his goggles down, “But isn’t she a beauty?  This is the future, don’t you know? I’m taking her for her first outing.”

“But sir…whatever is it?” Dilwyn raised his hands in amazement.

“An automobile, my man. The first in West Wales!” the gentleman patted his vehicle proudly, then he was off again trundling away in a noisy cloud of smoke and dust.

“Good heavens…” Dilwyn shook his head in disbelief, sitting gradually down again, “He’ll kill us all, bach.”

Primrose tossed her head in agreement and settled back to eating the hedge.

Dilwyn thought if the future was going to be automobiles, perhaps it was best he wouldn’t be there to see it. All that noise and nasty smelly fumes spoiling the countryside. Everything moved on so quickly these days. Those scientists and inventors with their new-fangled ideas. He’d been told that in some places in England, where rich folks lived, they had lights inside their houses, not candles or even gas mind, but lights you put on by pressing a switch. He’d even heard stories about two men in America who were trying to build a machine that would fly like a bird. He couldn’t believe it could be true though. People enjoyed their fairy tales.

“What is the world coming to, my girl?” Dilwyn asked Primrose, casting a longing look at the sea, “Well, I suppose we should get going. We’ve a long way yet.”

He stroked Primrose forlornly along her flank. She looked up, nuzzling his chin, breath sweet with fermenting leaves. Her benign, friendly face smiled, I understand, old man, you have to do this. Dilwyn planted a kiss, between her horns, on her knobbly forehead.

It had been the hardest decision of his life, but Dilwyn knew it was the right thing to do. Primrose had several more good years in her. Years when he wouldn’t be fit and able to care for her properly; years when he wouldn’t be around. He knew she needed a new place, somewhere with other goats where she could end her days happily. So, he had arranged for Primrose to go and live with his younger cousin Eleri, on her farm near Newcastle Emlyn. She had a small herd of dairy goats and Dilwyn knew she would care for his beauty. It was almost nine miles from his home in Aberporth to Eleri’s farm. Primrose behaved impeccably on a leash and he wanted to take her there himself. A last journey for them together. He felt well enough to do this; he needed to do this. To say goodbye to Primrose.

Dilwyn rose stiffly from his resting place, “Come on, my cariad. Let’s take you home.”

 

Thank you for reading

An unexpected sight

Summer is at an end. September has arrived in watery bluster and the holidays are over. Soon children will make the slow, sad trudge to school, tummies full of butterflies. My son will begin college and my daughter will be off to university; both looking for new, exciting adventures. My heart goes with them; wishing every happiness and success. I will be left alone at home, a little bereft, with plenty of empty time to fill with writing my novel. Well, that is the theory.

Today, in memory of summer, I post a final holiday poem from Ireland about some rather unexpected animals I met there living in the lush hills.

 

Emus in the Irish countryside

Walking cool

damp lanes,

quiet morning in

cleansing rain,

gleaming hedgerows

jewels of amethyst and

emerald, air

crisp with birdsong when,

alien in early

stillness,

booming of African drumming

vibrating, resonating,

deep throated thrumming.

Rhythmic pulsing,

nature’s heart

beating.

Life rising from the

Earth.

Poem for National Dog Day

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We can learn a lot from our dogs  – how to live in the moment, how to relax, how to have fun, how to accept ourselves, how to feel satisfied with what we have, how to be loyal, how to be dependable and how to love unconditionally.

If we were more like dogs, we would be better human beings.

Here is a poem I wrote about a dog I met on holiday in Ireland recently:

 

Ode to a corgi met in Ballyrisode

Sausage roll dog,

fluff ball of caramel pastry,

stumpy squat legs,

stub of tail,

bottom wag,

sat on the pebbly shore

staring from us to sea.

 

Do you want us to

throw a ball in the

still ocean, so

splashing and dripping you

retrieve it?

 

Do you want us to

launch a boat on the

wide water, so

dashing and yipping you

sail away?

 

Eager eyes, patient

panting friend,

sadly, I feel we have

disappointed you.

My goats need me

In the garden, I hear pleading bleats. At the gate, they stand watching with big, woeful eyes. I walk across to greet them. They push velvety muzzles into my belly and blow vinegary breaths into my face. We talk for a while, their intelligent faces turned up to mine, taking in every word. I stroke long, soft ears, bury my face in warm, hairy necks and kiss knobbly brows. My two beautiful, gingerbread boys. Outside world and worries forgotten. These moments matter.