THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear
I came across this warning by Rudyard Kipling before I counted my age in double figures but the pack and follow life of marriage to a man in the Royal Navy can be very lonely. The idea of a pet becoming a friend sounded ridiculous but at the age of eighteen I had a lot to learn. By the time I was nineteen I was sharing my life with a Siamese cat who accompanied me everywhere wrapped around my neck like a scarf. Whether shopping, travelling on buses and trains or attending all the many social events he was there with me. On-board drinks or dinner parties were the only exceptions. Through the long lonely nights when the submarine was at sea Shashlik, his name taken from a then popular recipe book ‘Definitely Different’ was my only companion. Children came on the scene as children do and a series of Siamese joined the team as we moved around the world. After twenty nine I lost count of the number of times we moved house, our life lived up to the common claim among naval families of “pack and follow’. The peripatetic dynamics of our household continues to change until at last we settled down in a home of our own. As the children moved beyond the nursery stage they wanted a bit of independence until there was only one small girl left at home. She needed a companion if she was to go beyond the garden gate without a grown-up escort. Ruby a whippet, collie cross was in need of a home just when our daughter needed her, she was an archetypal sheep dog and treated the entire family as her flock and the youngest member as her personal responsibility.
We didn’t go looking for greyhounds, they just walked into our life. It all began in 1971 when I was travelling from York to St Pancras in an overcrowded train. The guard noticed me trudging wearily backwards and forwards as I searched for a seat but the train was crammed and eventually he invited me to share his van. The other passenger with him was a large and very beautiful greyhound who raised his head to greet me with gentle politeness. For the rest of the journey I listened to a very angry man describing how greyhounds were regularly dumped in his van to travel across country to make money for their owners. At the age of five they were considered to be ‘past their sell by date’ for racing and were disposed of by any convenient means. At the time it was common practice for them to be turned lose on a highway, dumped in a pond with a brick attached to a line around their neck or just simply shot.
That day I promised myself that one day I would make a home for a retired greyhound. Pet is such a patronising word that I have struck it out of my dictionary. The greyhounds that have accompanied me through life for over forty years have become companions, part of the family. Muffin was about a year old when he was found painfully thin and searching for food as a street market was closing and rescued by a dog warden. He has been my shadow for the past fourteen years.
Greyhounds are creatures of speed, grace and agility who for thousands of years have been cherished and bred as hunting dogs in the court of kings. Their portraits are painted on the walls of the pharaohs so we know that they have been part of the lives of humanity for at least four thousand years. Their mummified remains have been found buried in Egyptian tombs so that they could accompany their masters to the hunting grounds of the after-life. In Homer’s epic the Odyssey , only the old greyhound Argus who had been patiently waiting for Odysseus since his departure years before, recognises the hero when he returns home. If you open your home and your heart to a greyhound you will be repaid with love and loyalty overflowing.
I wrote this Epitaph for Freya who, over forty years ago, was the first greyhound to come into my life.
Shall I forget –
Forget your silhouette
In the broken shade beneath the towering beech?
Shall I forget your cold wet nose
Your trusting gaze depending on mankind to set you free
I know not where.
I loved you and I laid you down
Curling you nose to tail the way you used to lie,
Your joyful speed now a cold stillness under two spits of earth.
I must pick up my burdens and walk on
But, maybe as the evening shadows lengthen I shall see
Beside my own upon the wayside grass
Another shadow thin and elegant, no longer old and weary
Following me home.
The Greyhound Trilogy is almost complete and should be published in early summer. Loneliness is a Killer concerns a widow living in Dorset, a widower in Liverpool and a boy neglected by his stepfather who has been kidnapped by a gang of drug dealers. The plot which includes greyhounds who play a vital part, is built around an Internet dating site. This eventually thwarts the inevitable problems and challenging plans of well meaning relations and enables a credible romantic resolution.