People who walk dogs meet dog walkers. Dogs who’ve met before need time to reacquaint themselves and those who haven’t, need to exchange visiting cards. All this is a roundabout way of saying that dog walkers spend a lot of time gossiping with each other. I met Dave today. Dave throws a ball for his two collies, over and over, and Murphy and Badger go fetch, over and over. You’d think they’d get the message that this endless throwing and fetching business is never going to get them anywhere. As soon as they have found, collected and returned the ball, their stupid human throws it away again. Some humans don’t deserve such devoted doggie services.
However, this story is a sad one, about humans who are even more stupid than Dave, although from a human point of view, Dave isn’t really stupid. Dave’s neighbour, a lady called Maud, died recently. She left behind a husband and four children. I say children, because, to Maud and Bernie they always were and always will be, although the eldest of them is in his mid fifties. The youngest, the twins, are well into their forties. Apart from the eldest, who says of himself “I’m the one who got away”, the five of them all lived in a very small terraced house.
Dave and I said how sad it was that Maud had died, seeing as she was such a rock to her family and the village as a whole. The sort of thing one says when someone well respected, bossy, yet charitable, and very determined, dies. We also said that her death wouldn’t free up any space in the house, except in Bernie’s bedroom, and the others would still be as cramped as ever. What one calls ‘close-knit family’, if one has learned the English way of saying things without saying them.
“Did you know that Stan tried to buy the house next door?” Dave asked. Stan is the male half of the twins, a jobbing builder and painter, who does small jobs around the village. He is bright enough to drive a van and organise his customers, although I wouldn’t exactly recommend him for a job that needs expertise. No, I hadn’t heard. “Good idea”, I said, "put a bit of farting distance between them, get a bit of room for air.”
"O no,” Dave said, “ Bernie put his foot down, he was absolutely dead against it, and Stan had to give up the idea.” My mouth fell open. “O yes,” Dave said, “Bernie insisted that they all stay together, that at home with him and their mum was were they all belonged.” Bernie is god-fearing and righteous, and like Maud was, a rock.
I huffed and puffed a bit, but didn’t really want to say very much, Dave and I are relatively new acquaintances and I wanted to avoid getting it wrong. Dave looked at me, threw another ball for Murphy and Badger, with Millie waddling along in their wake, and decided to tell me his father’s story.
“My dad was in the war, unlike his brother, who was declared unfit for service due to severe and debilitating eczema. When the war was over, and my dad came out of the Army, he didn’t go home to his parents, but decided to try and find work in London. He found a job and fell in love with my mother. They married and had us children. My granddad never really approved of us and we saw very little of him and gran. They got old and dad tried to mend fences but it didn’t work. My dad’s brother, whose eczema got worse over the years until he could barely face going out, and my dad’s sister, who looked after them all, stayed with the old people until they died. Neither of them was ever allowed to form a relationship of any kind, they had no friends at all. After both granddad and gran died and the will was read, it turned out that granddad had disinherited my dad and divided his meagre leavings between the two children who had stayed with him. His reason was stated as “because he left home.
My dad’s sister and brother - whose eczema cleared up within weeks - overturned the will and divided everything three ways.”
Dave finished his tale by saying: “ My uncle spent the rest of his life travelling and taking photographs, thousands of them. We have boxes and boxes of them. Sadly, he never made any notes where or of whom he had taken them.”
Dave said his granddad was a rock too, god-fearing and righteous, just like Bernie and Maud.