Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pondering on Philip Larkin ~ Did He Visit France?

The majority of French children I meet never fail to impress me. There is inevitably eye contact and a cheerful ‘bonjour’, ‘s’il vous plait’ and ‘merci. They mingle well in adult company, contribute to conversations and enjoy seeing adults behave like normal people, to whom they can relate and share some of the concerns of their generation.

I am always delighted to see how quickly Brit ex-pat children soon gain this confidence and invariably become rounded personalities very quickly. Maybe it is because the Brit families who move here come for a better quality, although often financially poorer, lifestyle for themselves and their children.

No doubt in large cities things are different, but it led me to wonder why there are so many differences in family values in France, when such a small stretch of water divides England and France.

In France it is common to see children, of all ages, included in restaurant meals, lunchtime and evenings. They enjoy the conversations and their opinions are considered in discussions. Whereas In the UK, child friendly restaurants include separate child play areas and other entertainments to keep the children amused whilst the grown ups can have some respite.

I know so many French families where the traditional Sunday lunch is eaten, over a period of many hours. It is a time for conversation and maybe not always welcome advice, from the elders. The extended family often lives locally, and if not, there are many get togethers for important celebrations.

Many UK families rely on takeaways or convenience meals and do not eat together. Busy lives and second jobs mean precious time is sacrificed to pay the ever increasing bills. It is no wonder so many Brits opt to move to another more relaxed, family friendly country.

Family really appears to have some meaning in France. All Saints Day, On 1st November, sees the French travel great distances, with their pots of Chrysanthemums to visit their family members in cemeteries. It is an amazing sight to see so many flowers, left by so many, to honour and remember their forebears.

Maybe we can learn from the French culture. Inclusion of children at a young age, with wine mixed with water and a respect for alcohol generally may help the current UK crisis with binge drinking amongst children and young adults. British children are not legally allowed to drink, even at home, until they achieve a certain age. Then they can drink, in theory, as much as they like; is it any wonder that so many then suddenly consume such vast amounts of booze, and behave in such an alarming fashion? Unfortunately they call this socialising.

Kids are great, enjoy them, listen to their idealism, we were like that too at the same age, but some of us were often scorned for our liberal thinking, told to be quiet and our opinions laughed at and ignored.

Of course I am not saying all UK families are potentially dysfunctional, I am aware that many families value and encourage the contributions of their children during social occasions, actively encouraging their participation as drink pourers or snack hander outers when people visit the house, thereby showing them the basics of socialising; they find time in their busy lives to include their children.

But too soon, they grow up and have their own lives. Give them freedom, but give them respect, it is a two way street, not a right to be expected by adults. Respect has to be earned by anyone of any age, in any relationship.

I have always told my children to be happy and to do whatever they want with their lives, as long as they do not emotionally or physically harm themselves or anyone else.

I have had the poem “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin (1922~1985) on my kitchen pinboard for about twenty years. This reminds me of my traditional and suppressed childhood, being seen and not heard. My children know it has always been on the wall, to warn them what may happen to them, if they don’t keep me under control!

Needless to say, healthy discussions, tantrums and crisis, have been frequent as we all express valid opinions on any topic any of us choose to raise. So, this do be the verse ..... by Philip Larkin.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra; just for you

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half, at one another’s throats

Man hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf,
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

By not fucking them up, we can hope they do chose to have children, so we can be doting grandparents.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Best Pal Harry... by Charley

Six years ago my brother Harry and I were bundled into the back of a car, squashed in our beds, surrounded by pillows and other stuff that Mum and Dad appear to be unable to live without, and started on the longest drive of our lives.

Being trusting and loving souls, which is a characteristic of a Flat coated Retriever, we soon settled down to sleep and despite at some stage passing through a tunnel without the engine running in the car, we knew we were safe with mum and dad.

The weather had been very hot before we left Southampton and the activity in the house was amazing. So many people carrying 'stuff' outside into a massive lorry called Pickfords. We were very wary of what was happening and kept a close eye on our food bowls, beds and bags of food.

We had soon managed to persuade the men working we were worthy people to share their biscuits and other delightful, yet forbidden treats.

Now here we were, the other side of the tunnel, Mum and Dad stopping for us to water the trees. Harry and i sniffed around; the land smelt strange, looked the same as the Netley Abbey park where we spent our recreational hours, but something was not quite right.

No worries, dad gave us some grub and water and soon we happily re-settled ourselves back in our baskets for the remainder of this strange journey.

Eventually we arrived at a house. Mum and Dad sighed deeply and groaned at the heat. Apparently it was 45 deg. and this is not good for people, or dogs with long sweeping elegant coiffures.

Harry and I found a tree to shade under; as usual I flopped and started to snore, but I sensed Harry was interested by something he could see. I opened an eye and followed his gaze and sure enough, at the bottom of the garden was a River. Nothing like Southampton Water, our daily haunt, more of a gentle trickling flow of the wet stuff with lots of stones. Mmm that would keep Harry out of mischief whilst we stayed here, his two favourite things, after bread, being water and stones.

During the many sleeps we spent at this house we soon realised that maybe this was not a holiday but a new home. We had places for our beds, the grub was ok, and bestest of all mum and dad never went off for hours each day leaving us bored but enjoying the opportunity to kip on the sofas.

The house was in a perpetual state of being knocked about and Harry and I spent most of our time lounging around in the grden enjoying the wide open spaces for a frollick on the lawn. Harry always had one ear ready for the bread bin lid clanging, he was quite delighted and most impressed, that in this new land a loaf of bread was named after him. One of his reasons for being was a slice of bread, especially if it was stolen when no-one was looking.

The bestest doggy treat in the whole wide world, time with dad sploshing around in our own river, I believe it is called the Door-Dog-Knee. Fishermen used to be most annoyed as we sploshed around, but hey it’s our garden, our river and we saw it as saving a fish's life, not being naughty.

Harry liked to lie down in the river with a stone in his mouth, whatever the weather. He used to do this in our last house and would spend hours on cold winter days lying in the surf at the local beach, as i tentatively poked a toe in the water. The stone was always carried home and spat out at the door to the kitchen as he had been told they could crack the floor tiles.

The river business was much better, it did not attack you like the sea and so I also enjoyed a paddle about and often a piddle too.

The chilly days came all too soon. Our little feet were freezing. One day we woke up and when we went outside, wow it was amazing, the world had turned white.(see photo)

About a year or so after we arrived, mum came home one day with a small yappy thing about the size of a cat. She advised us, continuing the Royal theme, he was called William (cos we already had Harry and Charley).

Strange little fella. He tried to curl up with me, I was not having any of that and eventually he found that a snuggle in Harry's tummy space was the best place in the world to sleep.

Life went on as usual, typically a dog's one, for us and mum and dad. They were doing some businessy stuff, but nothing to concern us and our contended lives.

The next arrival in our family was a bit of a shock. Mum came home one day and told Dad that the local rescue organisation had told her there was a Gordon Setter desperately looking for a home. He was at a place called the SPA, which I gather is the equivalent of the RSPCA here in foreign-land and he was due to die the following week. Dad typically replied that he was sure he would find a home. Mum, as she is known to do, started stomping around and very nearly got to the crying stage, which normally works, when Dad decided that as we had three doggy types around already we did not need any more.

It was obvious Mum was not impressed, or accepting of this response and I could see she was plotting a dastardly plot to win the day. Time for us boys to slope off for a kip.

The next day she rang the rescue place and said she was still working on Dad. They apparently told her not to worry as they thought they had found someone for him. Mum was obviously delighted yet rather sorry as she had always wanted a Gordon Setter.

A couple of days later it was Mum and Dad's wedding anniversary, July 14th, Harry and I thought it was so kind of these people to put a special firework display on. Harry is terrified of them tho. It reminded me of a night, at our old house, November 5th I think, when Harry managed to get out of the garden as he was so scared of the flashes in the sky.

I was watching the displays and thoroughly enjoying the wizzes and bangs when Mum and Dad wondered where Harry was. Much panic ensued and Mum eventually telephoned the Police. She was smiling, so I knew all was well. She told Dad the someone had handed him in to the police and that Dad should go to get him very quickly before he was sent off to the RSPCA. Dad immediately drove off. To this day we rarely talk about Harry being arrested by the police.

This particular July 14th, as I wondered how Harry was going to cope with the noise, Mum suddenly became quite excited and fearing all hell would break loose, Harry and I decided to take a snooze.

It transpired she had received a fone text saying "Happy anniversary, I am going to come and live with you. Love Gordon" Crafty old Dad. He had contacted the rescue society saying we would have the dog but not to tell Mum as it was to be an anniversary surprise. How sweet is that we thought? But not for long.

It transpired this new dog had been to the vet for 'the operation' and therefore it was advisable for Harry, Willy-Dog and me to have to same thing done to us.

Disgraceful carrying on. We were away from home for a day and felt quite uncomfortable for a while afterwards (see pic)

The new chap, was a tall dude, more elegant and slender than us and seemed OK. Only problem was he only spoke French. His name was Thor, named after the God of thunder, pronounced Tor. Ridiculous name, so this quickly became Tortillini and finally Totty.

He was a bit of a pain when he arrived as he liked to go for a walk on his own and come back in his own time so a plan to electricate the whole fence was undertaken. Not a problem for the three good dogs, except of course it had to be me who put my nose on it. Ouch that hurt!

Anyway Totty entered the fold, providing another character to our home and quickly learned English, which helped. He is also the world's best mole digger and catcher. Dad gets furious when he has to replace all the earth into the holes before he can mow the lawns, but at least he does not escape as much; only if a daft visitor lets him out of the gate.

We all continued to enjoy our excursions down to the river, sometimes Totty came home at the same time, sometimes not. Everyone noticed Harry was getting slower and found it more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings.

In the summer of 2008 he became very very ill. It was awful, he did not even want any of his beloved bread, let alone normal food; this is not normal behaviour for anyone with a retriever.

Mum and Dad took him to the doggy doc who did a blood test and said he had Lyme Disease, from an infected tick. Only about 20% of ticks carry Lyme Disease and he had been bitten by one. He was seriously ill and had to stay at the doggy doc's house for 2 days on a drip.

Everyone was distressed. The anti-ticky-stuff had been put on our necks every 4 weeks as required, but apparently it is not 100% effective.

Harry had to take lots of medication for his liver and anti-inflammatories as his joints were affected. He appeared to improve, then relapsed and a blood test showed the Disease was still in his blood, little parasites draining the cells. He loved the jam sandwiches, with Harry's bread, which hid the pills.

Eventually he survived this, thank goodness, but his mobility was still poor, as we had noticed for about 6 months.

In October he was unable to stand very well, so fearing the Disease may be back off he went again to the Doggy Doctor.

Although I am the dog who likes the most fuss (a sort of Diva of the dog world, take after Mum I suppose), and I push past the others even when my name is not called, I could see this was not the right sort of attention to be receiving.

The Doggy doc said he had a a progressive muscle wasting disease, Canine Progressive Myelopathy, similar to Multiple Sclerosis in humans and the prognosis was not good. It was not linked, apparently to the Lyme Disease apparently although we have all had our doubts about that. Mum even checked the internet and the rabies vaccines are sometimes to blame for the muscle wasting.

Harry was given steroid injections and prescribed more anti-inflammatories, but over the next few weeks he rapidly got worse and eventually could not even stand up to go outside to spend a centime.

Mum and Dad used to hold his food bowl for him as he lay in his basket and he ocassionally drank some water. They used to hoist him up with a towel to get him outside and sometimes he could take a couple of steps and then fall over. His dignity was being compromised, and as he was the Alpha Male he knew that he was not doing his job properly keeping us doggy types in order.

It was not good to watch my big brother like this and I often looked at Mum and Dad to see what they were going to do for him. On a number of occasions we thought it was time to say goodbye to Harry, but somehow his determination was so strong and each time he rallied round.

We were all distraught. Eventually he would not comply with being lifted outside and at 65kg it was not easy for Mum and Dad to manipulate him into the towel. Back to the doggy doc again. He was quite happy when his basket was placed in a wheelbarrow and pushed up to the car, in fact i am sure i saw him grin on occasion.(see pic)

The doggy doctor told them on a Monday afternoon that it was time for him to go. This was dreadfully distressing as in his mind he was still active, it was solely his back end and bladder and bowel functions which had been paralyzed by the illness.

Mum and Dad pleaded with the vet to give him another steroid injection, although they knew it was hopeless.

He came home for two traumatic days. On his last morning, Mum and Dad carried his basket into the courtyard garden, so he could see us all as we tried to keep busy. Willy-dog ran down the garden barking at nothing in particular, so Totty followed. I watched, so sadly, as Harry cried out and whined with frustration, trying so many times to get out of his basket to see what all the fuss was about. He could not manage and eventually Mum and Dad took his basket back into the house to ease his distress.

On Wednesday December 10th at 3pm Harry took his last ride to the doggy doc. We were aware he was being loaded into his barrow and but did not expect him to come home in it fast asleep, forever. Mum and Dad told us what had happened.

Whilst in the car with him Mum and Dad said George Harrison was singing "Hari Krishna, My sweet lord", it seemed so appropriate and they changed it to Harry Krishna.

Mum went into the doggy doc's house and asked her to come out to the car to minimise Harry's distress. Dad found a bit of chocolate biscuit in his basket (he had been eating them all morning, as they couldn’t harm him any more). He was just finishing it as the fluid from the injection rushed through his veins, stopping his heart, his eyes glazed and he slumped his head back down in his basket. Harry was free from his pain, but ours had only just begun.

Mum and Dad felt, and still feel so guilty that we had to take that route, but we know it was an action that had to be taken to preserve his dignity and minimise his distress.

When Harry came home, they rolled his basket down again in the wheelbarrow and laid him resting peacefully in the laundry room for the night, his dignity restored, lying with a favourite stone between his front paws. Totty, Willy Dog and I popped in a few times for a sniff, but we knew he wasn’t there any longer. Mum was in there continuously fussing with his paw positions, stroking and kissing his head. We all agreed he looked very comfortable and peaceful, at last.

The following day Dad eased his own emotional pain and anger by digging a large grave, some four feet deep for Harry's last resting place. The job was so difficult as there were so many large stones in the earth.

We all attended his funeral. Mum made sure Harry had a big stone between his paws after he was lowered into his grave. It was an odd experience, it was very cold, no birds were singing, but we were all quiet, even Willy dog, which makes a change, as he is a noisy little tyke.(see pic)

We hope Harry is happy where he is, resting in the garden, where he can hear the river and where we all can visit him and have a wee chat when we need to. He has at each corner of the grave a solar lamp and on the first night he had a big candle in a storm lamp watching over him. His grave is beautiful, he has a statute of a retriever, and some wind chimes which tinkle when we sit near him. He also has pots of flowers surrounding his grave.

He loved flowers. Mum remembers when he was a tiny pup how she was planting some petunias on a raised bed. Harry had wobbled along behind, his feet too big for his body. When she turned round he had tossed every one out of the bed, and sat looking at her, dirty tongue lolling out of his mouth and his tail wagging with excitement as he waited for the next part of his gardening lesson.

Mum is sure he is running free somewhere where there are rivers to splash in, and stones to carry home. She tends to listen to Leona Lewis singing "Run" with a tear in her eye, even after 8 months.

Mum and Dad had placed the house on the market with a view to moving somewhere else in foreign-land, but as they decided they could not bear to leave Harry they revised their plans. They have just re-marketed the property as they know they must move on, but Harry's cross, his lights and some of his stones will move with us to a new home.

So that is the tale of my big bro Harry, he died aged 10 years. I miss him very lotsly, he was a great guy. Everybody loved him, especially the cats, whom Harry allowed to sleep with him in his bed.

I am now nine and a half years old, so I guess my days are limited too; and I am a bit doddery somedays. Totty is 6 and Willie dog is 5 years old, both youngsters who enjoy life and do not have as many memories of Harry.

After 8 months we currently have a republic with no alpha male. I can't be bothered to challenge for it, Totty is too aloof and Willy dog may, as the smallest and noisiest of us challenge for Harry's crown. Whatever happens, he will be a hard act to follow.