My Animals, and Other Family

Posting the photos of Miggy Miggy Moo Moo the other day made me think about her more than I have in a long time. A little candle burns forever for her at the back of my mind but as I saw that photo of her at Dunwich suddenly she was there in front of me. The way her toes splayed in the sand. The way she smelled when she came out of the sea, of salt and wet dog. The little snorts she used to make through her nose when she was content. The velvet softness of her ears and the melting-chocolate of her eyes. Her favourite thing was to sit in front of me with her back to me and let me comb her from the ruff of her collar down to the very base of her spine. She’d shiver and twitch her shoulders as I did it. After she died, mum kept finding ginger fur under the cushions of the armchairs. I would have liked to have stuffed a cushion with it but I doubt it will have smelled very nice.

Our two cats, Pickle and Ferdi, were her great chums although she and Ferdi had a love-hate relationship and had spats when they were young (one of my earliest memories, when we lived in Suffolk – we moved when I was 5 – is of her joyfully pursuing the pair of kittens around the back yard). On the day that we had to have Moo put to sleep, mum and dad both freaked out by ‘seeing’ Pickle in different places around the house. Ferdi died 1997 and Pickle died 2 years later in the April, Moo in the December. Anyone who knows my parents will know that they are not the easily-freaked types (dad’s cynical reaction about “setting up a stone-throwing machine” to my ghost hunt experiences says it all!) but mum recalls dad being white behind his beard as he met her in the playroom and said “I’m going mad. I just saw Pickle by the back door.” We all found it comforting to think that she had come to collect her old friend and the three Musketeers were reunited at last.

Animals have always been a vital part of my life. I’ve had stick insects, fish, gerbils (I could still name every one), and Dexter, the most precious little gecko in existence. I was their mummy, but Migs, Pickle and Ferdi were my best friends and I grew up with them. One of my best memories is just after I had an operation which broke all my toes (bear with me!). I was sleeping on the sofabed to recuperate, and had been dozing. When I woke up the fire was burning gently, and Pickle and Ferdi were on either end of my bed, purring quietly and sedately, like furry sentinels. Moo was also on guard, at the foot of the bed. I felt so protected, and so safe, and so content. Another of those Moments, maybe.

I haven’t read a whole load of books about animals which have touched me, if I’m honest. The Plague Dogs, as posted earlier, really disturbed me, but I can’t (at the moment) think of one which made me feel like I’d finished the book and made a new friend. However, I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm was given to me when I was about ten and still resonates with me twenty (or so – ahem) years later. It’s a very simple story, beautifully told, about a boy who has a dog, Effie. As he gets taller, “Effie gets rounder”. When she eventually dies in her sleep, he is comforted by the fact that every night before he went to sleep he said to her “I’ll always love you.” It’s a very straightforward premise, but one I have lived by, and I try to do it to the people in my life as well.

In my last post I talked about authors who didn’t do much description. Judith Kinghorn in The Last Summer is quite the opposite, but she’s an author who can really pull it off. Her story, of doomed love during World War One, is full of lush passages about steaming hot summers, the eroticism of new romance and the horrors of war. It really gripped me and I felt that envious ‘pang’ that I’ve posted about before (in time am I just going to recycle all my words?) when Clarissa and Tom first have feelings for each other. Kingholm paints characters well, and she enjoys taking her time describing the country pile Deyney and the characters who inhabit it. The book is like a slow-boiling saucepan frothing to a shocking conclusion.

Unfortunately I found myself losing patience about 2/3 of the way through, because the story keeps looping around. It won’t be spoiling anything to say that upper-class Clarissa’s romance with the cook’s son Tom is doomed from the start, and both the romance and tragedy in the story is strong and beautifully written. However, it just keeps going on. And on. Every now and then Tom and Clarissa meet each other, have a tortured eye-meet, and then go their separate ways. And this goes on throughout the years, without any real reason. Yes, things were different in those days: divorce was a social stigma, class boundaries were there to be respected – but by the seventh year or so in which the lovers had spent an awkward few moments in each other’s company I found myself getting a bit tired of it and thinking the literary equivalent of “shit or get off the pot”.

I also found Clarissa’s mother’s behaviour pretty unforgiveable, and the pat ending didn’t sit well with me as I felt it had taken rather too long to get there. So I finished it, and felt a bit cross.

I am currently reading Titanic Lives which is also very descriptive, and is about the passengers, crew and creators of/on Titanic. It is in rather poor taste to say the author, Richard Davenport-Hines, brings his characters to life – but this is a full-colour snapshot of society, and a whirlwind period of time, not just the doomed ship. I’m really enjoying it, even though it’s like watching the film when you know it doesn’t have a happy ending.

Share with me, Gentle Reader, books about animals that you have enjoyed.

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