thewritersbarn

Writing because words are the essence of my life.


Leave a comment

The Writer’s Apprentice

It was never a matter of if, and always a case of when, and so this weekend, my husband and I did a 530-mile round trip in 24 hours to collect a little bundle of fluff. We ummed and ahhed quite a lot. Was it too soon? Yes. Was he too far away? Definitely. Was I trying to find Herbie? Maybe. Was he the right dog? Who knows! But there he was, sticking his tongue out at me via the wonders of the Tinterweb, and I just knew he was the one. What if I let him pass and never found the right pup? I’m terrible for worrying about such things, and so insurmountable barriers had to be surmounted, and that’s what we did.

It’s a bizarre thing to be grieving for your BFFF (see previous post) and yet to be cradling this tiny ball of wonder. He is a salve to my crushed heart, Aloe Vera for my burning soul. But that’s not to say the pain of Herbie’s loss has faded, because it really, really hasn’t. This morning I had a puppy on the bed for the first time in years, and although I was knackered and it was far too early, he was funny and he made me laugh … and then my eyes strayed to the bedroom door where Herbie would have stood and issued a cool stare that said, “Are you getting up then, or what? I want my walk.” It’s been the same every morning since that final day (17 days now actually, not that I’m counting). My eyes flick there and he’s not there, and that’s when I weep for the first time every day, without fail.

But I’m going about my business better than I was, trying to catch up on the backlog of work.

Then mid-afternoon, a song came on the radio that I like and I picked the puppy up and cradled him and we had a little dance and I sang gently in his ear, my lips close to his soft cheek, and it was joyous to be in the moment with him … and I cried like a baby for the boy I used to do that with. Even fully grown (and he was quite a big lad, my Herbie) he LOVED to do that. We would pretend he was a puppy all over again.

And just now, I sat in the sunshine with a cup of tea after exploring the garden with the puppy and then I cried, because the sky was so beautifully blue and the sun so warm, and my sweet Herbie is dust in a casket in the living room, his name beautifully engraved on a brass plaque. And I miss him. I bloody miss him.

So, a puppy? What the hell was I thinking of?

Puppies are chaotic, but their development is incredibly swift. So far, in 24 hours, he has learned how to do the steps to outside. He knows where the water bowl is. He can do wee wees and poo poos in the garden, but has the occasional accident in the hall. He comes when I call, ‘puppy’. We haven’t finalised his name quite yet. He’s a marvel.

He has explored all the rooms, but is still a little shy about certain things and follows me around like a tiny fluffy shadow. Our old dog (Satin) is a sweetheart; she’s Grandma – gives him a wash when she can be bothered. Our Bedlington Terrier (Betsy) is having a right mard because: a) we left her in kennels overnight while we raced up country and how very, very dare we! And b) “I’m the puppy!”

Now she knows how Herbie felt when we brought her home. Bless her.

I have remembered how to do ‘the puppy shuffle’. This involves walking around as though wearing a large nappy, so that when he dives between your feet there’s enough space so that you don’t crush him to death, or kill yourself when you trip over him. His teeth and nails are like razors. My legs are covered in scratches because he likes to jump up at me. I like all of this.

I’m constantly confused about what and how much he needs to eat. I have a feeling he could just eat all day, but surely that wouldn’t be good. I need to take advice on this. Betsy was a big eater, Herbie wasn’t. Puppy is going to make 22-25 inches so he’ll be pretty big.

I laughed out loud (and alone) when puppy dashed out of the kitchen with the tea-towel clamped in his jaws. I’d just dropped it and off he flew, superfast. Jesus. This boy is going to be a Usain Bolt. I was less enamoured when he decided he preferred my specs (Gok Wans – bought when I actually had a salary and could afford decent specs!) to his chewie toy however, and rapidly retrieved them, only to find he had them again the next time I looked his way. And he has an obsession with paper … he finds it, he tears it up …

My specs. Paper.

Where is he now? Sound asleep (at last!) on my left hand side as I type at my desk. Let me repeat that. On my left hand side. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? You will if you read my last blog.

He’s amazing and beautiful, I love him already, which is not to dishonour Herbie’s memory in any way. I hope not anyhow. I love Herbie as much as I ever did.

Let me introduce you to The Writer’s Apprentice. I think I’m going to cry again.

Advertisements


2 Comments

A lament for my lost writing partner

The landscape of my life has changed. As I write this, my beloved BFFF (best furry friend forever) has been gone for 8 impossibly long days and nights. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a dog, and it won’t be the last, but this loving and gentle soul, this communicative, intelligent boy … he was a kindred spirit.

Herbie Longfellow, a Bedlington Terrier x Collie Lurcher, was just 8 weeks past his ninth birthday when I decided to have his teeth sorted out. He had a general anaesthetic, and that night he developed a cough. I took him back to the vets and we started treatment that didn’t work. Gradually after a battery of tests we found a deterioration in kidney function, a heart murmur, and then a few weeks ago, the Big C, a massive tumour in his chest blocking his airway and squashing his lungs – that turned out to be the thing that had been causing the rotten cough all along.

The vet admitted later that she considered letting him go as soon as she saw the mass on the scan but she said she always treats the animal, not the disease. That was her gift to us. She said we would need to let him go within 48 hours, but while he was under she decided she would do a chest drain. That actually gave us another three wonderful weeks to love him as much as we could.

Herbie was obviously ecstatic to be home. I became his personal nurse. I changed his food, I altered his exercise pattern, and I spent every available moment with him. I second guessed his needs. What Herbie wanted, Herbie got. For a time I could ‘forget’ (ha! I didn’t!) but the deterioration was persistent. I couldn’t let him suffer. Three weeks after that initial chest drain, my husband and I did a series of ‘lasts’: last dinner, last sleep, last cuddles, last walk, last drive to see our vet.

Instead she offered another chest drain, and again my soul soared to have him with me, but we were marking time. By the end of the week he was off his food, didn’t want to walk and couldn’t get comfortable. It was time. No going back.

My vet, and the two nurses that work with her, are phenomenal, and because of the issue with squashing his windpipe and frightening him, we elected to have him standing, supporting him as the injection went in. I spoke softly to him all the time. He sank into our arms and slipped out of this world, in peace, surrounded by love. I can still feel the weight of him in my arms, and sometimes that’s a comfort, and sometimes it’s a horror, a reminder that he died, and I OK’d that.

Dealing with grief, especially when it’s a pet, is difficult. That’s an understatement, isn’t it? Animals aren’t people. You don’t say you’re bereaved. In fact the limitations of the English language when it comes to pet death are quite stark. You can’t even say you’ve lost someone, you have to say you’ve lost ‘something’. Herbie was not a thing. He wasn’t a possession. He was a vibrant being, with feelings and intellect and humour and a great capacity to learn and love.

Fortunately for me, on the whole my friends ‘get it’. My family certainly do. I’ve been given plenty of space to grieve and to talk about him, and no-one seems to mind that I randomly start to weep. When I’m with my husband I can sob. When I’m alone I can howl.

I had spent the few days before Herbie’s last day writing a short story and concocting a few tweets for #PitchCB on Friday 29th July (pitching contest to attract an invitation to query two of the best UK agencies with my novel). When I arrived home alone from the vets I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I had the worst headache imaginable and I felt like I’d been anaesthetized. I sent my #PitchCB tweet and checking back a few hours later I had a like! Normally I would have run round the block a few times whooping and hollering, but that day, I sat at my laptop and let the tears roll.

My output this week – for clients and for myself – has been negligible. My creativity is down the Swanee, quite frankly, and my ability to write coherently, has largely struggled. This is problematic given I’m freelance and I have a massive vet bill, some of which will be recovered through insurance, but some of which will not. I have a deadline for a short story next week, and I think I’m going to miss it. It’s not great.

I found a Wiccan ritual for a lost pet, and my husband and I performed that on the night after Herbie passed. It was helpful because we could vocalise how much he meant to us, and therefore mark his life, but also for me, it gave me a chance to tell him why I made the decision that he must go in spite of the fact that I loved him and he loved me.

Having the power over another creature’s life does not sit easily with me. I don’t have a God complex. Who am I to choose who lives and who dies? I don’t like the idea of capital punishment, I don’t believe in an eye for an eye. I am much more a live and let live kind of gal. But finding that moment when the suffering of one you love is too great, and being able to gently take that pain away, that kind of feels right. It kind of feels ok.

That’s not to say I don’t have guilt, and worry that I let him down.

It comes in waves, that grief. I let it take me. Small things set me off: a line in a song, the sight of his collar, my husband calling one of our other dogs by his name. This morning I took the Bonio box out of the cupboard and was catapulted back to when Herbie had noisily demanded his treats.

And that’s the thing …. He was my writing companion. He’d learned that if he came to my left hand while I was writing, I would still stroke his head while typing with my right hand. He lay as close to me as he could, often right on or beside my feet under the desk. He would make his presence known at 11 and at 3.30 ish – break time! He woke us in the morning (hated that the alarm doesn’t go off at 6 on a Sunday, he made sure that we never slept past that time so it might as well have been), he sorted us out for walkies and breakfast. In the evening he would sit in front of the TV if he wanted treats or dinner. He could tell us he wanted water by slightly tipping our glasses. He would yip at 10, cue evening wees and time for bed. He’d try and stay on the bed and be shooed off into his basket. Then he’d wait until we were asleep and stealthily creep back up. He was there when I awoke and would give me a knowing look.

We had such a strong connection, Herbs and I. He loved others, of course he did, but he and I were the best of pals, soul friends.

I miss all that. I want him here. I yearn for him. My left hand tingles when I think of him. He was a wonderful, warm, funny, intelligent, loving, bouncy, happy boy – my shadow and writing companion – and he stole my heart.

In loving memory and eternal love: Herbie Longfellow 09.09.2006 – 29.07.2016

 


Leave a comment

Do insects have hearts and other questions.

Blue Whale jumpingI woke up this morning wanting to know whether insects have hearts. I’m a bit of a freak, aren’t I? Do other people wake up wanting to know stuff, or do they just want a cup of tea and a wee? Yes, but not necessarily in that order I guess.

I annoy my husband tremendously because I go from sound asleep to wide awake, itching to get up and engage with knowledge, faster than a Ferrari can drive to our village Tesco. I hate Tesco, but that’s a whole other blog.

Thank heavens for Google then. No sooner had I dried off after my shower, and while my poor husband was still lying in bed with a book and a cup of tea and the dogs for company, I had managed to uncover a wealth of fascinating facts that I never knew before.

My heart's this big!

My heart’s this big!

Insects DO have hearts! Who knew? In fact, they sometimes have more than one. Apparently, some insects have an open circulatory system meaning that their blood is just sloshing around in their little bodies and not contained in blood vessels, which is where we and other vertebrates cunningly keep ours. The heart in an insect can often be a simple and long muscular tube that runs the length of the body. Those insects that do have several hearts locate the extra ones in bits that their major heart cannot reach (Heineken hearts anybody?), so for example, wings and antennae and that sort of critterly thing. Ewww.

So that led me to look at other heart facts. Well, you know how it is, Google, cup of tea, Sunday morning …. I couldn’t resist.

See the pretty girl in that mirror there? Who can that attractive girl be?

See the pretty girl in that mirror there? Who can that attractive girl be?

The animal with the largest heart proportionally is the Humming Bird. Its heart is 2% of the mass of its body. Wow! It needs to have a large heart so that it can beat as fast as it does and to keep the oxygen pumping so that it can flap its wings between 12 and 80 times per second. I can’t do anything 12 times per second. *jealous* It also has the fastest metabolism of any creature. So they are stunningly beautiful, slim and can eat what they want! Little bastards!

Several creatures with more than one heart include *gulps* the octopus, which has three hearts for the same reason that an insect needs more than one heart, so that the blood can reach the tentacles. I have a real aversion to octopi I’m afraid. They make my back go to jelly. Argh! Furry ones are cute, cartoon ones are sweet; the real thing though… *turns green and groans*

Just beautiful!

Just beautiful!

Earthworms seem to either have five hearts or five pairs of hearts. Google wasn’t clear on this and I couldn’t be bothered to delve much deeper than that so I apologise for my poor research! These hearts are spread out through the segments.
The land animal with the largest heart is the giraffe. That has to be the case doesn’t it? Giraffes are just so ridiculously gorgeous. They have really huge soft brown eyes and fabulous eyelashes. They eat leaves and don’t kill things. It makes sense that they have big hearts.

The animal with the slowest heart beat appears to be the crocodile that has a resting bpm of 1 at a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (which, trust me on this, is the coldest a crocodile ever wants to be).

A Whale Tale

A Whale Tale

The animal with the biggest heart is, of course, the Blue Whale. While its heart is only 0.5% of its total mass, it still manages to be the size of a Volkswagen Beetle anyway, and can weigh anything from 600kg to a ton, which is what you would expect from a creature that is 108 ft. in length and weighs around 180 tonnes. The Blue Whale’s heart has a rate of 12-20 bpm, and while in 1911 it is estimated that Blue Whales numbered 250,000 or so, since then they have been hunted virtually to extinction. A 2002 study showed there were only 12,000 Blue Whales maximum but that number seems to have grown again to current estimates of approximately 25,000 or a tenth of their population a century ago. Japan, Norway and Iceland still hunt them and approximately 20 are killed every day.

Whale Tale of Hideous Woe

Whale Tale of Woe

So, it’s easy to figure out which animal has the coldest heart isn’t it? That would be the human.