March 2015

Dear Irish Terrier Friends,

The past weeks have moved by so quickly that there have been several mornings when I’ve woken and wondered where I am! When the place changes are too quick one’s body moves along but somehow one’s ‘conscious self’ gets stranded somewhere along the way. It’s been one of those months.

Libby and I set off for Combe Martin in Devon to join all the favourite cousins for the annual winter half term break. It’s such a fun idea and Libbs especially loves being with the children and Milly aged 11 is her declared favourite and never leaves her side.

We arrived a day early. It’s a long drive and I’m never sure of the way even after years of trying. The trouble is that in Devon they seem to mend their roads all through the winter and every vaguely familiar track is inevitably blocked with diversion signs, which lead into a muddy field or some poor farmer’s cattle shed!

Libby, however, is the perfect passenger. Her answer is always, ‘No comment,’ when I’m cursing my rather shaky navigational skills (yes, I do know about aids, but they would, I fear, simply confound my confusion). She loves the car and it is a beautiful drive in spite of the detours and we arrived, at last, at the lovely cove. The beach was full of people and banners with ‘seal rescue’ signs. We rushed down to watch with Libbs, who as we know loves a crowd, in full flight after hours in the car. It was very moving to watch the tender care with which four grey seals were released from their crates and were now being coaxed into the sea by their handlers. They had apparently been hospitalised in the rescue centre after being injured in the terrible winter storms. Their faces and round eyes are almost too human for comfort.

Libby was awestruck with twitching nose (they do smell remarkably fishy) and her eyes stretched wide what on earth could they be? They flopped across the sand and slipped so joyfully into the water. The crowd was spell bound would they swim away? We all clapped but some of the children were crying and I, in spite of every effort, wept too.

What is it about animals that so rings one’s heart? We hung around for about an hour watching the little round heads bobbing in the sea. Libby joined the gang of dogs and played some rough games on the beach, digging and whirling she seemed to forget about the seals more quickly than I did. I heard one of the rescue team reassuring some of the children, “Don’t worry” he said, they’re stuffed full of food, they’ll be fine – they’re all tagged and the last ones we released have already been tracked down in Cornwall. They wouldn’t like to be left in the recovery pool forever.

Libby searched for her children when we arrived at Sandy Cove, she went round the car park in the hope of finding them, but no one arrived until the next day. There was a tumultuous welcome from Libby.

Sadly, we had only two days with them as I was off to Florida, but there was time enough for the usual glorious romp on Woolacombe beach. I thought that Libby had grown out of her football hooligan phase as she now seems more keen on chasing squirrels, or phantom squirrels, in the park. But the old fanaticism kicked in and she was a complete menace on the beach, running off with the football and dodging all attempts to retrieve it for the game. They climbed the sand dunes and came tumbling down rolling head over heels and kangaroo jumps. Imsy, their cross bred retriever, ran out into the shallows braving the waves. He’s a great friend of Libbs (and mine) but she’s not a fan of cold water and I’ve squelched around in wet wellies often enough to understand the hazards of winter paddling.

We missed our friend Bordie this year. He’s a lovely Mick, who lives near Sandy Cove, and is as carefree as the wind. We met him on the beach last year, and Bordie, if you’re reading this, do be in touch we’ve missed you!

We hurried home for me to pack a rather complicated suitcase with gear to deal with a week in Florida and several days in Washington a huge difference in temperatures and worlds apart!

Liberty Belle steamed off to stay with Dave and Jeanette without a backward glance and I was left rather forlorn trying to sort out some long forgotten summer clothes.

One of the canaries, nine year old Jasmine, had been looking fragile for a few days, feathers puffed up and sleeping for hours with her head tucked under her wing. I know the signs only too well and really wanted her to slip away before I left for America. She died so peacefully in my hand about half an hour before the taxi arrived to take me to Heathrow. I can’t help wondering if she chose the time. I was anxious that her lifelong companion Mr Bibs Mark 3, who is now 11, would pine away, but he’s still with us bossing the others about. Ah well, Sigh no more ladies.

It was a gruesome journey to a small island called Boca Grande, off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast. There was a long wait changing planes in Philadelphia, a late arrival and a car journey across the causeway. The island is very beautiful with wonderful sub-tropical plants, dolphins and manatees, sharks, tarpon and alligators. I didn’t see them all but the dolphins were heaven, as were the people out walking their dogs. They have their own charity fun show each spring and every dog is entered. There is a large field ringed by palm trees which they call the dog park. Times are carefully scheduled for small dogs to play at 3-4 pm and large dogs 4-5pm. I was assured that there is one Mick, but I never saw him nor gathered to which group he belonged. There are very few cars on the island as people buzz around in their golf carts. These are the snowbirds who come down from the north to winter in Florida. The parties are endless, the gossip ceaseless and the good manners, genuine kindness and generosity reminded me of my childhood in the 1930s. My charming hostess was a dear friend we were young mothers together in Hampstead and there was a fair amount of reminiscing about her darling little daughter and my, not exactly angelic, twin sons, who adored her and still do.

I met Derek and Richard (sadly no Bella) in Washington and had a real laugh out with their most amusing friends. Richard had produced Schiller’s Play, Mary Stuart, which was a triumph. There was an evening of brilliant readings from the Merchant of Venice, combined with medieval and renaissance music played on replica instruments. I felt like an antique relic revealing that, as an undergraduate, I had followed David Monroe, who had started it all, for every lecture, talk or concert in London he ever gave. I’m still fascinated by the music.

Home at last with my bouncing Belle plump as a peach (well, she needed it said Dave) and thoroughly spoiled (well, we didn’t want her to miss you said Jeanette). We’re even home from Crufts now and sitting in the sunshine writing this letter.

I think I’ll write about Crufts in the next letter as there’s such a feeling of sadness about the beautiful Irish Setter, Jagger, who has died from poisoning. It now seems there is a terrible possibility of other dogs having been poisoned as well. It is too appalling and we need to wait and hope, and at least discover the truth of what has happened. One can but feel intense sympathy for everyone touched directly by the tragedy and for the devoted staff at the Kennel Club. I can only too well imagine their distress.

It will, almost inevitably, mean more layers of security and policing and increased general anxiety and exasperation. It is such a pity.

Thank goodness for the spring. The daffodils are popping up everywhere and I love yellow as a colour sunshine and stars even when I try to wear it I look like a rather off peak lemon and turn again to my pinks and blues.

With many greetings, and my love to the dogs,


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