Life has its own rhythms, its own cadence, its own poetic beat. It could be Larkin, it could be Whitman, we may go Shakespearean or find the Albion of William Blake. We might discover tranquillity or dazzlingly riotous splendour or find life monotonous and an utter bore. We can lose ourselves in its texture, in the quiet familiarity of a blanketed furnished life; the consistent comfort and common ease of the ordinary, or we can hope for something different to appear to sweep us swiftly away.
I used to tell myself when younger not to get too complacent about life if it seemed boring and mundane, and especially if I peered into the future and it all looked as uneventful as the rooftops of the houses on my street. Life changes in an instant and our lives are made up of many seemingly innocuous instants, but these moments can be a rhyming couplet at the end of a metre of uniformed day.
Meeting my dog ten years ago represented one such instant. She lived in the flat below me with a lady who adored Elvis Presley and had a cardboard cut-out of him in her living room. In bad health, reclusive and shy, she went into hospital to have an operation, leaving her dog, one cat and birds at home alone, but never returned.
Dogs and I had a fraught relationship, most notably because I had been chased by one as a kid, a tall narrow Doberman who I believed would devour me in one ecstatic bite. My aunt, who ran a pub, also had two huge, somewhat terrifying German Shepherds who seemed to think when we visited, I needed accompanying to the loo. Needless to say, I had never had a dog and apart from promising my daughter a Pomeranian when I became high, and then changing my mind when the mania sobered up, I never wanted one.
Meeting Lolpop can only be described as an examination in excruciating anxiety. I met the lady’s daughter one afternoon, two weeks after her mother died, dithering about outside the flat. She held a bin bag in one hand, had a handbag holed up on her arm, and wore the facial expression of one who found the tidying away of a life all too inconvenient. So inconvenient in fact, she had decided to shut the front door and leave the pets trapped in the flat indefinitely.
I walked down a long, chilly magnolia hall with Ray Davies from The Kinks smiling at me from posters on the wall, and I honestly did need a friend as no sunset could save me now. I could hear the dog barking. I’d heard her a million times before. She sounded six-feet-tall with huge jaws that would rip my flimsy Velcro soul in two. As I entered the living room, something small and black charged at me. I felt a warm lick on the back of my hand, and the soft floss of her hair tickled my skin, and when I looked down, I glimpsed a black medium sized dog, with a gentle, inquisitive face, a vertical white stripe running between her eyes (and down her long nose), white paws on her thin matchstick legs and a white tip on the end of her tail.
She came home with me that day. Underweight, anxious, her hair matted, sore pots from where she’d lay in her own urine, she ran into my home, inspected every room, and then looked at me as if to say, I’m ready to give it a go. I fell in love with Lolpop and over time, she learned it was safe to love me, too, and she loved in a militant devout sort of way as if she’d taken up a new religion and become quite the evangelical.
For the next few years, we stayed in the city, cementing our relationship one brick at a time. She appreciated a warm bed and being covered by a soft blanket each evening. She had an abundance of toys and loved long walks over the only mildly bucolic area I could find, where she sniffed out rabbits and nose-dived into muddy shimmering puddles, and of an evening lay next to me on the sofa while I read.
My daughter loved her and would come for walks after school and sit talking to Lolpop in her bedroom in the warm glow of the lamp. Lolpop would hang onto her every puzzling word, cocking her head from side to side as my daughter acted out scenes from her day with her collection of soft bodied dolls. My boyfriend at the time loved Lolpop, too, but he loved himself more, so we tended to leave him to it, and get lost in our own canine adventures.
Eventually, my relationship unravelled, and I met someone else. He lived in Scotland, but he came to be with us for two years, until we all moved to a little rural village in the Scottish Borders. Our home had a huge garden and we lived opposite the river, and everyone had dogs, sociable, friendly dogs who wanted to play and bound around.
My partner and I began digging beds for vegetables, erected a poly tunnel, planted apple, pear and a cherry trees, made a rock garden, and grew flowers in all the spaces in between. Lolpop loved it. She would drag soil laden carrots from the beds in summer and devour them on the sun-drenched grass. Play with us with the hosepipe on bright warm days, drowning all of us as she skipped about like an aqueous black steak. Watch the birds flutter in the trees as she walked amongst the thistles, floaty sunflowers, and the poppies we sewed that first spring. If I learned anything from Lolpop, watching her happily soak up the world, it’s if you find joy in the small things, then over time they become wonderful, memorable huge things, they become your compass points, they become your day.
Lolpop grew into herself over the years. Repetition and constancy, a steadfast assurance of loyalty from her humans and a playground of stories to sniff nourished her from within. After all, if self-preservation is our only concern, how can any garden grow?
I realised Lolpop had become old one summer when the sun whispered across her face as she lay in the garden sunning herself. No longer black with a definitive white stripe, her entire face now appeared as white as the dandelion clocks that pillowed the grass, the ones I used to blow at her and she’d chase time across the earth, her back slightly curved as if being loved had changed her shape. With age, she became a different dog. Gone the frenetic excitement and exuberance of youth, the need for attention and outright love, and instead, a sphinx-like interior of calm and reserve. Love in the end healed her and she watched life pass her by, relishing the consistent comfort and common ease, her own security blanker throughout each ordinary day.
Twelve months ago, we began to feel she needed something new in her life, a change from the ordinary lived-out composition, so we decided to look for a pup. Our neighbours dog, somewhat serendipitously, went into labour a few weeks later, and we fell in love with a puppy, just three hours old, who eight weeks later came to join us. Lolpop loved Logan aka Bear, in an aloof, quiet, gentle sort of way from the very beginning, and sometimes he would win her over completely, and she would chase him around the garden with such glee mapped out on her face, before having to take an exhausted nap in a still weave of grass by the garden gate.
At some point, Lolpop hurt her back. No one knew how or even when. She could hardly walk, and she cried in pain. We took her to the vets, and they believed she’d ruptured a disk and it had caused paralysis. They prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, painkillers, told us she had to rest and eat well and be helped about the house. We thought time had run out, but Lolpop rallied in the most stoic of ways. Within two weeks, she bounced back. She pottered by the river on our morning walks, sniffed the stories of spring, lay in the sun in her favourite spot in the garden and even had a run with Bear. He loved having her back. Eating dew heavy grass together first thing in the morning, smelling a flower, lying next to her as she slept, kissing her first thing each morning, and shouting at her because she’d always try pinch his food.
Lolpop died on the 5th of April. We lay on the floor with her and with a quiet dose of sedation, she closed her eyes. She looked at me before she left, confusion littering her small careworn face, but overshadowed with peace and relief because we were all there with her. She leaves pawprints with us now of a decade of a life well lived. Her silvery hair lies next to my chair in my study and her picture hangs on my wall. I see her in Bear and I call her for dinner or expect to see her when I wake up, but she’s no longer here.
Life changes in an instant. Our lives are made up of many seemingly innocuous instants, but these moments will serve as our navigation points like an upbeat rhyming couplet and as Kipling said, “Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware. Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.”
And I will grow joy from my dog-sized tear, as she rests now in the garden becoming energy in a different form. Lolpop living on, elegantly, with joy and natures turn of hand: alive in a blade of grass, in a new born flower, in the first tentative blossom of each new spring.