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Our best friends

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This magnificent creature was making the most of the water in the dog’s bowl at my gate. He could have been Captain Scott’s dog Osman, the wonderful husky who saved so many dog’s lives when the team fell into a deep icy crevasse. Gallant Osman hung on at the brink, taking the whole weight of the dogs and the sleds until they were rescued. This hero survived Scott’s disastrous Antarctic expedition, and ended his days here in New Zealand.

If I’m reading history, it isn’t the dates and the battles that stick in my mind but the children and the animals, and I hate to read in the news that a head of state has donated two Russian wolf-hounds, or a splendid race horse on a state visit. The poor creatures are torn away from their homes and given to uninterested strangers speaking a foreign language.

To this day, I sorrow for Mary, Queen of Scots’ little Skye terrier who came with her to the block, hidden in her long skirts. When the Queen’s head had been severed, the faithful creature rushed out and stood howling between the body and the head. Nothing would entice the little dog away from the remains of the person she was devoted to. Finally, when the Queen’s body was removed the little dog was repeatedly washed by her grieving ladies to remove the blood and the smell, but she refused to eat, and died shortly after of a broken heart.

Marie Antoinette’s pet- dog who shared her solitary confinement, was left behind when the white-haired, dignified Queen was hustled out to the guillotine, and was adopted by the prison governor – we don’t know for how long that little dog pined.

And Joy, the Russian Tsarevich’s spaniel, was found in the deserted house in Ekaterinberg, eight days after the massacre of the Russian Royal family, when an army of White Russians took the city and a group of officers rushed to the Ipatiev house where the family had been imprisoned. The little dog was starving and wandering around looking for his master. History does not put my mind at rest as to the fate of this little dog. (It also seems to suggest that being the beloved of royalty is a dangerous destiny.)

But just as bad was the fate of Joseph Banks’ dogs. Banks was the naturalist who sailed with Captain Cook on his first great voyage in 1768. Besides cluttering up the tiny ship with four servants, Banks also brought his two pet greyhounds with him.

After two years voyaging, still at sea, the Endeavour called at Savu Island, and after a drunken night dining with the local Rajah who wanted an English sheep and an English dog, Cook gave him the last sheep on board, and Banks gave him one of his greyhounds. What the sensitive greyhound went through pining and parted from his life-time companion, and the men who he knew and loved, to be abandoned on a tropical island among people who had no idea of what a dog or a sheep was, doesn’t bear thinking of – not by me at any rate.

And at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, ten years later, the captain of another English ship, the Mercury, reported that an English pointer left behind by a previous ship: “singled them out, showing its joy by every action the poor animal was capable of.” Which tells us that the dog was capable of distinguishing between races, and was homesick, and was probably hoping to go back to its old familiar home across the sea when it recognised the sailors. I wish I knew that the sailors had taken it back home, but I fear they didn’t.

Then there was Mackenzie, from New Zealand’s South Canterbury, a cattle rustler. His dog was brought into Lyttleton court as a witness. She slipped her chain and ran over to the dock, scratching and whining, trying to get in and join her master. The red- bearded rustler, who’d refused to speak a word until then, began to weep. He begged to keep the dog and take any punishment the court meted out.

“I ‘ll make your roads, I’ll break your stones… only let me keep her.” They didn’t let him keep her of course, being men of stone themselves, and the little black dog was sold to a farmer who she refused to work for, only knowing commands in Gaelic. We don’t know the end of either her or her master.

But what we do know is that too often it’s only their owners who care about their dogs. Once the person who loved them is no longer there, a dog’s life is an uncertain one. Which is why I love the wonderful people – and many of them are bloggers – who rescue and adopt the dogs who have been left behind. And in my experience there is no dog as devoted as one who has been rescued. I used to have three at a time, and wherever I walked, from kitchen to garden, from bedroom to study, fourteen feet moved

The gratitude of a rescued dog never ends. They know that all their happiness is the gift of love from a stranger who becomes their beloved.Last year, when his mistress died, Lochi, a rescued German shepherd, a beautiful silvery creature, went to mass every day at the church of San Donaci in Italy as soon as he heard the bells ringing. He sat where his owner last lay in her coffin. He died two months after her of a broken heart. (wonderfully, so as not to disturb him, the local priest served mass down in the church instead of at the altar.)

If only people had hearts as big and loving as dogs we wouldn’t have places like Syria and Palestine, Ukraine and Afghanistan and all the other broken hearts in the world. There is a mantra : let only love prevail…

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Still lotus-eating at the end of the long dry summer, I sat in a bower in my dearest friend’s green garden, enjoying a long talk and a simple lunch with her. Just a delicious glass of chilled rose, a slice of salmon on a bed of brown rice with goodies in it, and a salad of green leaves, translucent slices of ripe pear, and parmesan flakes mixed through with the vinaigrette, followed by coffee and a chocolate truffle… what more could one desire… love and lotus –eating !

The brown rice had been cooked and then marinated in soya sauce. Sun flowers seeds, sultanas soaked until plump, chopped apricots,  spring onions, and walnuts then mixed through. Delicious with the salmon, but just as good with warm lamb or chicken I suspect…

 

Food for thought

You might quiet the whole world for a second if you pray.       And if you love, if you really love,      our guns will wilt.

St John of the Cross, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

 

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