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Dido’s Lament March 31, 2015

Posted by janehaynes in : Becoming..., dogs, Fancy , add a comment

I have now finished my book about the inner worlds of doctors:

Doctors Dissected available at Amazon and bookshops

Doctors Dissected

and abandoned this blog to start a new one at didoslament.janehaynesblog.com  which is and which is not all about my Hungarian Vizsla Dido. In fact Dido is the 'hook' on which I can hang all my projections and  meandering associations about everything and nothing that tickles my fancy...

Ever let the Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home:
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;
Then let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind's cage-door,
She'll dart forth, and cloudward soar.   John Keats


 Do join Dido and her friends and find out which one of the top dogs is Dido…

top dogs

Strange fits of passion I have known… August 17, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, dogs, Thinking skywards , add a comment


Strange Fits Of Passion I Have Known

For Lucy

I have never walked down a path gloved like this one and I want to cling on while I imagine retracing steps tomorrow, as naïve as to imagine that I will ever see the same white throat swallow chase with the twilight, or the same wave make towards the shore. The pathway will be there and the light will fall, but different as it steals between lichen loved oaks, the scratched beeches, notched alders and hovers beside and beyond guardian banks of purple-speckle foxgloves that stalk me in their hundreds. Poisoned digitalis bells that sound the heart and have impelled a fascination since I was a child and knew them by more sinister names, dead man’s bells and witch’s gloves, which I was told when sucked would change the beat of your heart for better or for worse, or stop it forever, are seeded here.

Tomorrow, I will uncover an undergrowth stumbled on by last night’s storm. Brambles will advance in legions alongside the pathway. I have walked down other paths and sometimes I have seen hollyhocks and at other times, wild iris; often a grouping of gloves, so different from the sweetness of a cowslip bell but I have never seen – and they are no longer there for the seeing – such a sheet of poisoned heart bells. The idea of a poisonous nature fascinates; the golden chains of the laburnum, the yew and that modest berry, the deadly nightshade, seduce me. Ah, I have forgotten hemlock. My heart aches as though of the hemlock I had drunk and was about to sleep forever.

Scrambling for balance, I inhale loamed bark with tears and trample sudden orchids that are gemmed like butterfly into dunged earth and cannot escape the knowing that nature is careless. Involuntary images of the heart - of digitalis poisons and inhalations of loss – are companions as I emerge from the undergrowth into a clearing with nothing other than the memory of Lucy - breathless and with her life forces extinguished - as she changed into a carcass beside me.

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;

But she is in her grave, and oh,

The difference to me!

Lucy, my Hungarian Vizsla and a divine part of myself for almost eleven years is dead. For precision’s sake, and death’s measure is precise, her life was extinguished by a kindly administered injection of Phenobarbitone at 5PM or thereabouts, I did not look at my watch but held her tight in my arms on Friday 27th July 2012.

Each day of Lucy’s life reminded me of the privilege of living close to an instinctual and gentle animal nature about which the human animal knows, or perhaps I mean cares, less and less. Milan Kundera says: “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.” I go further and say that it is only in our, no not in ‘our’ but in my own experience of loving Lucy that I have experienced the joy of an extended and passionate relationship that has not been harrowed by a fretted ambivalence of human nature. Paradise lost is to acknowledge a paradise of desire where love was unconditional and without ambivalence, without envy but desire survives rarely between humans without some obstacle, without some green ey’d monster.

Lucy lived life through her heart and fittingly it was her heart that stole the life force from her. No! Lucy lived life through her heart and her nose, a saucy, beautiful beast, who loved the scent of a small dead thing; who loved to throw herself into a skunked heap of fox dung and then to rub-in against our shins. She was born a hunter and retriever who had to imagine Regent’s Park into heath and highland. On her penultimate day of life in late July she ran the park like Zephyrus and dined on the bone scattered air of an Olympian picnic or two.

To begin with our vet was convinced it was a case of poisoning, what other explanation might answer for a collapse of morning energy into evening inertia, which reminds me that when people ask me how I am, I reply, ‘Well, I think. I hope.’ How do we ever know what agenda our bodies are plotting to hostage us, today or tomorrow?

Lucy was not poisoned and she only had to suffer for a small while until another emergency vet,  still baffled, thought to image her heart, which was found drowning inside of an abominable and irreversible tumour. ‘Rogue cells’ he explained, ‘which are very rare in the heart, can grow from the size of a pea to a pineapple in a week.’

Memories are seeding into my mind. Despite our energetic human ways, our seductive flurries of activity and our lives’ cul de sacs, it is our memory, our attachment to certain memory threads that define us, not for the other but for our selves.

Lucy is dead. With her death my supernal memories have become more static, a memorial series of glorious photographs. Across the table my grandson is also challenged by thoughts of composition as he struggles to navigate his own plot. I see an exceptional head of doused curls, which trigger an energy that trawls through years of exquisite boy-growing self. My involuntary third eye selects and remembers through twenty years of shock headed life. When I think back to Dan’s beginnings I think of a small boy taking his first steps and falling over with an indignant expression of surprise. I remember him hungry, a little gannet who knew the name of more than twenty sea birds before he was twenty months old. I remember him in a small red felt duffle coat looking in awe at a large red letterbox at the end of the road. I remember how quickly he discovered that it is the girls and not the boys who always have the leading role in fairy tales.

When I remember Lucy I think about her innocent heart and her attachments. I remember the first thing that I did on coming home was to call, ‘Lucy, Lucy’, and I waited for her wet greeting.

Thus Nature spake – The work was done –

How soon my Lucy’s race was run!

She died, and left to me

This heath, this calm and quiet scene;

The memory of what has been,

And never more will be.

Willliam Wordsworth, Lucy Poems


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Letter from Russia to my Grand Daughter Portia May 20, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : dogs, Thinking skywards, Uncategorised , add a comment

‘To carry fire in one hand and water in the other’.
В глаза льстит, а за глаза пакостит.

I am back from St Petersburg, although I needed some Valium to get me home – the experience of getting through their customs always feels like there is a risk of being despatched to Siberia: so many computer buttons pressed, sighs and turning of pages before comes that welcome thud of the stamp. Not a smile to be seen. At least I might then get to know Khodorkovsky, who was once the richest man in Russia. Nobody in the Kremlin minded as long as he was rich and corrupt, but once he wanted to start using his money to make humanitarian and democratic political changes, rather than to buy football teams, he was sentenced for life. Imagine, being incarcerated in a Siberian prison for life, without access to justice, although I think the European Court of Human Rights managed to insist that he has access to books. Khodorkovsky, a starkly handsome and wonderfully intelligent man who had an epiphany that he wanted to use his wealth to bring about democratic and political changes. Enter the hero who realised that there were also virtuous things to do with his wealth. He, alone, perhaps would have been charismatic and powerful enough to challenge Putin. Don’t ask me why, but he is one of the few human beings that I have never met, although I wish I had, who is under my skin, or inhabits my heart and some small element of his incarceration is also mine. I grieve for him. ‘What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?’ A prophet of change sentenced to a freezing death.

Portia, I do not now have many good things to share with you about the St. Petersburg where I have returned to after four years absence, nor do I want to bore you with distant politics when I know that neither of us are naturally political animals. The city has changed. It is no longer vibrant with hope, intellectual energy, easy money, the children of oligarchs and affluent tourists. It has become a grave yard of hope and poverty. The rich Russians – for whom the empty Milan style fashion boutiques were stocked – have left for London, Paris, even Spain and Cyprus. The grand hotels are empty, the restaurants display grandiose menus but when you try to order there are few dishes available. Even the huge esplanade outside of The Hermitage was deserted. Where are the tourists? It seems by the conspicuous absence of luxury coaches that the tourist operators have lost confidence in a safe passage.

The Saint Petersburg Times, an English speaking publication reported that last week when Protesters  hired coaches and wanted to depart to Moscow law enforcement officers forbade all but one coach to leave. Something may be rotten in the state of Saint Petersburg…Propaganda surges. Students tell me that the wish of their elderly parents now is for their children to find a way to the US or Europe. Only the institute where I teach seems still to be flourishing under the indefatigable energies of its rector, Mikhail Reshetnikov.

The city’s fabled packs of stray dogs, like many of its citizens have grown despondent. And hungry. Not only do dogs travel by the metro but they have learned to imitate humans and to cross roads at the zebra crossings. When I first went to SPB maybe fifteen years ago, its civilised packs of stray dogs were honoured, even loved. Then, they were benign and still handsomely fed. In a city that has lived through a siege and famine that its elders still remember when they were forced to eat domestic animals and feral ones too, it afterwards became a source of respect and ritual that the stray packs were fed and watered. I am told, that now there are regular television advertisements warning the citizens that the dogs have become an environmental danger and a decision must soon be taken whether or not to cull. In Istanbul they found another way: stray dogs and cats are visibly tagged to indicate that they have been inoculated against rabies and are safe to approach. A city where neither citizen, nor tourist can any longer enjoy the intelligences of its famous and fabulous dog population is not a happy or safe city.

I found it odd that when I woke, rather later in the mornings than I am used to – as you know I am an early riser, often up with the pre-dawn bird twitter, still too early for song – not to speak to anybody. (In SPB I was teaching late and often did not get bed to bed before 1 AM. I was surprised to find I can still do late nights, I might even manage a club with you Portia, before my dotage … I became an instant commentator on the psychology of Francois Hollande and even got some perspective on the Euro crisis as I found myself watching world television into the early hours.) I was going to observe that if you are used to waking up next to your husband and a couple of energetic dogs, it is strange to wake up and for several hours have no reason to use your voice. I think that is one primary distinction between living in company and living alone. I observed that by mid morning when I was ready to order breakfast my voice seemed to have disappeared into my chest and came out hoarse and jarred, which left me wondering what it might be like to wake up and to have lost one’s voice forever.

Beside the breakfast menu there was a pillow menu. Although I was not about to complain about my goose down pillows, it still intrigued me except I needed the assistance of a pillow translator to understand it. There were pillows filled with ‘pinewood flakes’, ‘Igocell’ pillows, what kind of cells are they I wondered, and ‘natural buckwheat pillows, sea-cell active’. I might also request pillows filled with ‘unique cellulose fibre made of eucalyptus and natural buckwheat pods’. Almost nutritious enough to satisfy the dogs.

White Nights are approaching, which traditionally are the busiest time for the city’s tourism, and a time of jubilation for its inhabitants and while I was there darkness only fell at midnight when exuberant children were still cycling around the square. Coming on the shadows of the recent elections the collective mood, if not the light, remained sombre.

The view from my sixth floor windows across St.Isaac’s Square to the cathedral was the highlight – with the exception of the joys of renewing acquaintances with my friends at the Eastern European Institute – of my visit. When I was not teaching, or talking to old friends, everything important that happened to me happened out of the view from my window. It was a small miracle that I could still see the cathedral as so much of the city’s fabled eighteenth century skyline of architectural majesty has been obliterated by the corruption of cement. The glorious onion skinned domes of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood where Tsar Alexander 111 was assassinated alongside the river Neva are now concealed by some corrupt anomaly of Titan, not Titian, commercial redevelopment and bribery.

But this cathedral is too large, too dominant to obliterate. Whole forests were decimated to provide 10,762 tarred pinewood piles which were driven into the marshy ground to a depth of six metres to provide long-term stability beneath the chosen site. This was allowed to settle for a few years before construction above ground eventually commenced in 1818. However, this was not for technical reasons, other than Russia was disrupted by the Napoleonic War. On top of the treated wood went a compacted layer of stone to a depth of seven meters and over the next three decades 300,000 tons of granite and marble were assembled to complete the exterior of the building up to its final height of three hundred and thirty three feet. Most of the external construction was complete by 1842, then another sixteen years were spent decorating the interior before the grand opening in 1858.

The hotel that I am staying in, The Astoria is regarded almost as a museum (cf my previous blog) and it was built in 1912. I do not know what was standing on its site previously but nothing could equal my bedroom view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. To begin with I looked out of the window and thought if I was Proust what might I create out of this aperture of light and architectural mass, of May blossoms and perspective. I squeezed my eyes and tried to compress my sight into linguistic experiences but I felt uninspired and talentless. Clumsy too. Just like when I watched the mercurial fingers of that inspirational genie of SPB, Maurice Janssens conducting Thus Spake Zarathustra last week at The Barbican. I gather Janssens has not abandoned the city, where he has an irreplaceable library  of manuscripts and musical scores, and few of its artists ever do. Not willingly.

‘I do not know how it is elsewhere, but here, in this country, poetry is a healing, life-giving thing, and people have not lost the gift of being able to drink of its inner strength. People can be killed for poetry here— a sign of unparalleled respect— because they are still capable of living by it.’

Osip Mandelstam

I studied the sculpted facade of the Adoration of the Magi and wondered how its sculptor had come to terms with the fact that very few people would be privileged – as I now was – to look across at the work horizontally rather than craning their necks from below, skywards. I saw that the bas relief of the baby Jesus, reclining in the folds of Mary’s lap, was as large as an overgrown man and the Magi were giants. This portico is crowned with mighty bronze pediments weighing approximately eighty tons which were ornately sculptured by Ivan Vitali and Francois Lemaire.

Words failed and for a moment I thought what a pity a lorry ran over my Iphone, which fell off my lap as I got out of the car just before I left London because I could have saved myself the humiliation and have taken you a photograph. Then it struck me that my exercise in looking rather than recording meant that possibly this view would be imprinted on my brain to eternity. No wonder I always find holiday snap shots boring and quite distinct from historical pictures of people’s families, (people I care about that is) which I find addictive viewing. Sometimes, I suggest to my clients that they bring pictures from their family of origin to our sessions. Family of creation pictures tend to fall into the holiday snapshot category. I was still demoralised that – even though I know you don’t care for Proust, Portia – I was unable to produce anything even a little magical. Later on that night something happened.

I came back to my room rather earlier than on the other nights. The day and the light had been unlike the day and the light of any other day that ever existed, as all days must be. I do not know whether what then happened, happens whenever that sensation of light is replicated, or whether it has never happened before, or whether the reason when I asked my friends and colleagues if they had ever had a similar visual experience, which they had not, it was because I was privileged to be looking out from a private window with a view from the sixth floor of a building with an unique position and inaccessible perspective. Or whether it was only my vision.

I was looking out of the open window and debating whether if I slept with it open, having been such a spectacular day, the Petersburg mosquitoes would appear. Can somebody tell me where they were incubating on all the previous cold days, just waiting for one day of sun after the unseasonal May glooms to arrive in my bedroom. To begin with my eye was caught by a strange feature across the roof tops: despite it being eleven PM an exquisite white crane, a mechanical one, was still gliding relentlessly back and forth across the skyline. While the Mayor of Saint Petersburg has all sorts of new prohibitions on his production line, now sliding towards the Kremlin, health and safety is not one of them. Buildings must be built, and most of these look like the unhappiest new buildings on earth. Slave labour still exists in Saint Petersburg where man’s life is cheap as beast’s …

I have never felt the same towards the Hermitage despite its stunning collections since I learned that thousands of slaves dropped from its walls like mosquitoes when Catherine decreed it had to be finished within days and huge chemical ovens were brought in to dry out the damp plaster. Documentation records that Peter the Great built the city with slave labour and at a cost of 200,000 lives; no wonder cranes work on day and night. Life has always been dispensable in Russia and once more I am reminded that suffering rather than happiness produces genius.
(Was Picasso, who lived with powerful psychological and material opulence, and who died a living legend, an exception?)

Mother Russia seems to be progenitor of both dictator and genius mentality. My friend and interpreter pointed out that Oblomov is not only famous in Russia for not getting out of bed, just like your brother, but also for his sado-masochistic relationship with his servant Zarkov which is another facet of both the Russian psyche and its history. Or perhaps I have put that the wrong way round and it is Zarkov’s relation with his master that thrived on sado-masochism.

Oh, Portia I am sorry to have written so much and I hope you wont find it all boring but I still have not told you about the golden experience I had from my room with the privileged view. My eyes were distracted from the gliding cranes towards the fatigued pinks of a dying sun. And then something numinous happened, and don’t worry if you don’t know what the word means because it took me a long time to understand it. A ‘peak experience’ will do almost as well. Yes, I peaked as I looked across at St. Isaacs Cathedral – which is built out of a mixture of grey mottles of granite and darker marble stone, with Corinthian columns carved out of a neolithic red granite – although time’s scythe has blurred them into a muddied brown. The extravagant edifice of the south portico and those sombre grey tiles had transformed into rosary pink, which had nothing at all to do with lasers or human technology. I was looking at a Proustian cathedral of Tiepolo pink magic. I can only imagine, as I know nothing at all about geology that some invisible crystals minerals were embedded inside of each mottle grey marble slab, which might act as a magnet to draw in the refractions of this miracle of rosary pink and marbled light which was now streaking the horizon and caressing a dying day, or do I mean night. Even the drab and weather battered columns had bartered colour and were now stroked into hues of cardinal and burgundian wealth. An indomitable and mottled grey building had turned into vulnerable pink light.

Something happened on a specific day in May, (May 15th 2012) which had been preceded by the dying of the light, months of snow, new prohibitions and darkness. Today, the sun appeared for the first time and citizens spilled out of the darkness and walked bare limbed in the city until a midnight sunset crept beyond a steely jungle of new-mixed cement and a forbidding cathedral was transformed into that most symbolic and versatile of colours. Proust pink.

Proust, Middlemarch and Mash December 19, 2010

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, Becoming..., dogs, Writing a book , add a comment

I’ve now spent two days reclining rather than declining on my bed, watching the snow fall and reading or re-reading ‘Middlemarch’. And worrying.
I worry about the birds, and the fact that I’ve recently learnt that they require fresh water to keep their plumage warm in this big freeze. I worry about my ferruginous dog Lucy and that at nine she is growing old and is troubled by low frequency sounds that are undetectable to me, which means that now she not only has a fly phobia but a DVD watching phobia. Rather, she starts to tremble whenever we turn our plasma on. I worry that I don’t have enough time to write this blog. I worry that the book that I am trying to co-author is not yet a book although I know it could be one. One of the things that I have discovered in researching for this book, which is an autopsy on doctors, or on one exceptionally distinguished one: ‘First Do No Harm: inside of the doctor’s head’ is that doctors are just as frightened of illness as me, and that most of them try to avoid, at almost any price, going to their doctor and all requests for testing, scanning, blood-letting and scoping. I worried, until I started writing this blog that I would never write another word.
I have reluctantly got up for meals and felt obliged – now that my rigorous work time table has stopped until January – to stay on after eating and sort the kitchen out, which is no easy task as my husband, John consults a variety of cookery books before he agrees to mash the potatoes. Not because he doesn’t know how to mash them, but because he still wants to uncover the very best combination. This combining also requires that he use every cooking utensil that we possess. At the moment he seems to move between Nigella’s practical and democratic ‘Kitchen’, where all the dishes work and ‘The Complete Robuchon’. How complete do you have to be to mash potatoes, and how many pots are necessary, and how many Michelin stars do you have to win, I sigh as it takes me much, much longer to clean up the dishes than to eat my delicious meal and mash.
In fact we are soon off to Paris to avoid Christmas…

We were finally to have sampled the mythic Yannick’s table as hitherto our visits have always coincided with his absence, or the legendary restaurant being closed for tile restoration. I could just as easily sit and look at the fabulous tiled floor, or imagine Proust flirting with the waiters, ah, but that was just around the corner, as eat any meal, that is except breakfast when I still watch the waiters, but we have now cancelled our legendary booking because our grand children do not approve of lunch. In fact they are not out of bed, and would be most indignant at breakfasting before noon, even at ‘Angelina’s’ and there is no way we could justify the mythical price of even one a la carte Yannick asparagus in the evening. My comment is not fair to Dan, for if there is one thing likely to make him rise before noon, it is Paris. And, worrying about the result of his Trinity entrance and discussing which restaurant he wants

Grandad, the 80's

‘Grand Dad’ to book for dinner. While I’m happy to stay hotel-home, eat club sandwiches with Portia, and people watch. But she’ll no doubt want to go clubbing with her mum. In fact we’ve all agreed to go clubbing together.

In a way I rather wish I hadn’t started re-reading ‘Middlemarch’ before we are due to go because whenever I am properly committed to reading a novel, which isn’t that often, other than when I’m re-reading Proust’s ‘Recherche’, I become anti-social. I’m finding with ‘Middlemarch’, and I cannot remember when I last read it, that although I do not have any memory of the plot at all, my brain still seems to know what is going to come next, not in advance but only page-by-page. I have no idea what will happen to Causabon, but I rather think he will have to die, and with any luck he wont return from Rome. I don’t know who bores me most: Causabon or those relentless foreign policies of Monsieur Norpois. Only last week I should never have dreamt that Proust’s ‘Recherche’ would drop off my linguist-deaf tongue – or rather my pen in such a languid manner – as I should never dare pronounce it, but since my Proustian partner managed to inveigle me, except he doesn’t inveigle – and would I think detest the word – anybody into doing anything. But, it was through his magic that I ended up, far less reluctantly than I could, to begin with, have imagined, doing a gig on Proust at the Royal Society of Literature, and being privileged to hear Christopher Prendergast and Ian Patterson jousting over whether Proust and Art were, or were not life savers and could, or could not, redeem the Time. And, just for your benefit Christopher, oh heavens I can’t even initial your surname because they both start with ‘P’, so just for your benefit Prof, I don’t believe in Redemption either, well not through Proust, nor Love, not through anything except perhaps Individuation and the Self.

Is enthusiasm the opposite of depression… August 15, 2010

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, Becoming..., dogs, Holistic health, Thinking skywards, Uncategorised, Uncategorized , 2comments

I haven’t felt like sharing my thoughts or logging in for months, but today there is something I want to share.

I have been struggling, wading or fumbling into the pages of Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougement. His thoughts are dense and intense and it's easy to give up the effort to think these sentences through. But twice now he's thrilled me and most recently it was with his elucidation, via Plato, of the original meaning of the word, 'enthusiasm'. It seems that to be enthusiastic is to be possessed by the Gods, I love that thought and get it because at the same time it fires another unthought thought in my head, and my sensory memory confirms it. When I am enthused about something I'm inhabiting my environment, I'm being fed by the universe and the mortal world is enough. I sparkle and my enthusiasm might even be contagious. The other thought is that when one stops being enthusiastic, one is, if not sad, depressed and I have been trying to figure out for a long time what might be the opposite of depression, which I often elucidate to my clients as losing desire for the world, and that explains to me why enthusiasm is so irrepressible and when something is irrepressible, whether it's my dogs enthusiasm for her walk, or my irrational devotion to my dog's feelings, it means that repression is absent. And, repression, whether it is anger, or denial, or love, yes we so often repress our love in the fear that it will not be returned is a broad walk to depression.

My enthusiastic dog, Lucy the Viszla in Regents Park, 2009. Copyright John Haynes

What animal would you most like to be? August 8, 2009

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, dogs , 1 comment so far

‘My mutt Maggie because she gets to spoon my eldest daughter ‘Ripley’ every night.’ Thandie Newton, in My London, last night.

‘Come away, oh human child?/To the waters and the wild/With a faery hand in hand,/For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.’  Yeats

Alex, our son, sometime, in the eighties.


I thought I’d never have anything to blog again but Thandie Newton’s answer in the Evening Standard coalesced my inchoate thoughts. (People keep asking how I have the time to blog; slowly the answer has come. It’s my new hobby. Somehow, writing into the ether and not knowing who might find it, is the incentive.)  It has become addictive. Not the writing but the intriguing processes of inner observation as to what it will be, outside of myself, that provokes me into writing again when I feel empty. 

Newton’s answer inspires more thoughts, which include that two of my ‘luxuries’ have become the foundations of this blog. My first luxury is to read the dreadful Evening Standard Friday Magazine because it evokes such envy in me through its miasma of ‘easy’ success, beauty, money and the good life. I can allow myself to envy youth without doing any harm.  ENVY by Giotto ( Envy emitteth some malign and poisonous spirit which taketh hold of the life of another…For he that cannot possibly mend his own case will do what he can to impair another’s.’ The essays or counsels, civil and moral, of Francis Bacon.)Envy

But, I genuinely love the cosmology of souls and their tastes that are served up onto its regular platter My London

Taking minicabs, and it’s minicab drivers – with their amazing salad bowl ethnicity – rather than black cabs – that delight me, is my second luxury. I don’t care how rickety the cab is (ideally, I should like one of those Charing Cross rickshaws to pick me up from work). I hop in and surrender to what is often appalling driving without a murmur, which is not like me. I’m a dreadful back seat driver, due to some hefty car accidents in which, whoever was driving our car, was not the offender. I never put on the seat belt in a cab, or grit my teeth at some of the narrow red-light escapes, I just let it all be, which is my third luxury.

I almost never take the tube, the thought of being suspended with strangers without oxygen in a tunnel petrifies me; the rare exception is when I’m accompanied by a friend that I am willing to die with, if not for. When I’m avoiding luxury, I’m keen on buses and it’s then, when I’m on the 189 – which goes in a straight line from Baker Street to the Abbey Road – I sometimes witness affecting human interactions.

I identify with Newton’s ‘spooning Mutt’ because Lucy also spoons every night, except she’s as hot as I am on a crowded  tube.

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What ‘gets me’ about Newton’s choice is that it expresses her love for her child, through her nostalgic observation that it’s become more appropriate for Mutt Maggie to spoon than mother. (That is, if you are OK with letting dogs into beds.) Newton tells me what I already know: there are some mothers, though it’s not true of all, whose lives are transformed by their intense love for their children, in unimaginable ways which continue evolving forever. (Some fathers, too.)  

There is a debate to be had, which is as fascinating to me as the medieval courtly debate about which is the more inspiring role: to love or to be loved, and the more commonplace nurture/nature debate, which is: Is it possible to be as devoted a partner as a parent, or does one inevitably dominate? In a cliché, come seven o’clock, is it the canapés or the children?

Back to the 189. It’s become a bus route that as I pass the turning for Bell Street market I expect the odd tethered goat to clamber on, or a basketful of cockerel. Last week an elderly and artisanal-looking couple clambered.  I think they were both close to eighty, which when multiplied is 160 years of life. The man, who had once been tall, must have fallen because his chin was strapped in plaster and if one looked closely, which I do, there was a leaking scintilla of ruby blood. His clothes were as worn as his face but what made him precious was his energy. His wife, as fat as he was lean, was wearing trainers and it was too easy to imagine that walking had become a chore. She was exhausted and I started to imagine her arriving home and sinking into her favourite chair, with a sigh. Perhaps, forever.

There was nothing particular about them except for the man’s energy  and his brow, beaker full of intelligence, which still carried intimations of an inner child. His hair was lank-stranded and his watery eyes, although faded, were blazed with ancestral pride. He was carrying a child. His wife turned to me and started to complain about how hot the buses had become, except I thought that it was she who was hot and very tired. Soon, she found another seat at the front of the bus and left her husband to entertain their grandchild. A divine boy, maybe eighteen months, but he was, for certain, beautiful and with perhaps an oriental slant to his ivory skin and shiny beetle-glee eyes.

He was learning to talk and his long, unintelligible, sentences of cadent sound bedazzled his grandfather. (And me.) Together, along with whoops of dancing joy and recognition, they commented on everything that took their eye. The man held his grandson aloft as if he was a diadem. No, not as if, he was his diadem of joy.

Sometimes, the child’s delight at a passing dog, or the onset of rain was so effervescent that he bellowed down the bus to his grandmother for her confirmation, but she was slumped and still too exhausted to reply.  

I thought, ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress.’ Yeats.

Snapshot of a Daughter – spooned – in 1973

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Lucy the vizsla … and other things. July 29, 2009

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, dogs , add a comment


Lucy, the Vizsla and Piero di Cosimo’s dogs

Lucy is my/our Hungarian Vizsla dog and she provokes a daily despair in me to think that when people see her circling the park they assume she is a puppy. She is almost eight. I celebrate each day of Lucy’s life.

dog 2Our family has always loved Vizslas for their extravagant and rust-beechen colouring; their amber-gem eyes. They have claws and noses to match, and wild, willful and opinionated but sensitive natures. They are living and mortal works of great art.  They remind me of, and rival, Piero di Cosmo’s painting of his nameless red dog. Vasari reported that Piero ‘lived more like a beast than a man.’

Our first vet was Hungarian; she, disparagingly, called them ‘A lady’s dog’, although their athletic frames are lithely fleshed with brisk muscle. They were originally carriage dogs, which back in Hungary, were typically purchased in pairs.

Our vet, Judith, who was an exceptionally glamorous woman, lived in Pimlico with several eastern cats, an amazing collection of antique Hungarian jewelry – which she once put on for us when we took her to the theatre – but which stopped happening as soon as we had children which irritated her, and whose premises are now The London Emergency Veterinary Centre.

Judith had her own emergencies. There was her exotic collection of chinchillas that too often fell off their perches at an unexpectedly loud sound, or intrusion and died of heart attacks, which is not uncommon in caged chinchillas. Then, she decided, mistakenly as it turned out, but tragically too late for any help, that she had a self diagnosed cancer. She didn’t tell anybody but gathered her two favourite cats into her arms, sat down at her desk and took a lethal overdose of morphine. All that happened long before Lucy’s time and when I was still young enough to be mortally shocked. Judith always did amaze me.

Our first Vizsla was called Ali and he travelled down from Scotland in a twined shopping basket with a label tied around his neck warning us that all Vizslas love to eat and roll into dead things which, despite their elegance, they do.  Ali watched our son Alex arrive and grow up, suspiciously at first, but as soon as he learned that the highchair was also a food depository their devotions were complete. Ali’s much later and almost timely death was also Alex’s first experience of meaningful but unexpected loss, from which he has never entirely recovered. (To be honest, Ali was initially called Alexander as we thought he was going to be the nearest we ever got to having a son, so we had to create an alias after Alex managed to join us.)

When Lucy arrived at six weeks old, she was born into a prizewinning litter of ten who were weaned and separated from their mother at four weeks, we were determined that she would be a proper dog, unlike her predecessors, and sleep in the kitchen rather than inside of our bed.  Alex and I both took work breaks and devoted three full time weeks to acclimatize her to kitchen life. To begin with either one of us slept downstairs to be close enough to her pen to reassure her that all would be well. Alex complained he was developing a post-natal depression due to sleeplessness and the high-octane level of her relentless attachment demands.

Our real troubles only began later when we moved on to the next stage of separation and left her alone for the night. Even the current doyenne of militant child regimes, that uncrowned successor to Truby King, Ms Jeanna Ford would have complimented our rigour.

Lucy did not: she didn’t scream for one night, or three. She screamed like a banshee, or an uprooted mandrake, for three weeks. Each morning, I would go down to her pen and find her covered in her own excrement; each morning I would, delirious with both exhaustion and joy, gather her into my arms and bathe her in our bath.  One morning, I couldn’t bare it any longer and Lucy has slept deep in our bed ever since. Unlike any of our other dogs, she has never, ever, been left without the company of a human member of her family pack for more than four hours.

Vizslas have an unique habit which, in different contexts, can express their anxiety, joy or crisp reprimand: without warning, they leap up beside you and seize your wrist, which is then clamped by a soft but determined mouth. Heaven. Their other divine attributes are too numerous to list.

I have always held the idea that one joy of having dogs is that they, unlike us human animals, can, if painfully, be replaced. I am not sentimental about dogs and I envy the way they, unlike humans, are not dependent on parliament ratifying new laws that might, eventually, allow its electorate legally to decide when we have suffered enough.

So long as you have insurance – and your vet stays around –a dog will receive more prompt and concerned care than most humans. Vets, unlike most doctors, still know what whole bodies get up to and look like. Vets are, in emergency, even legally expected to step in and treat us humans: who are, after all, animals! Whereas, it has is recent years, become an offence for a non-specialist paediatric surgeon to operate on a child under sixteen!


We have a brilliant vet, Dr. Frank Seddon, who has one practice situated just off the Abbey Road, and thankfully close to home. (Only last week our gentle giant of a boxer sneaked a bar of Valrhona chocolate off the table and within minutes was at the vet having a hefty dose of emetic. Frank was dismissive of the idea that most dogs are allergic to chocolate but once there he wasn’t taking any risks. Nobody, in their right minds, take risks with boxers’ fragile digestions.)

Frank, at various times over the last sixteen or more, I have stopped counting, years, has operated on the guts, eyes, tumours, and mouths of our dogs. He could do the same for a reptile, or a rat. Veterinary, (what a word that is to spell), provision may be expensive but at least most vets still understand how the whole of their patients’ bodies interconnect. Which is in contrast to the super sciences of the biology of a human breast, where you now require one specialist for a nipple and another for a mamma.

Lucy is not a dog. She is my tutelary spirit and inspiration. After spending over forty years of my life in the company of dogs, I cannot ever, ever, imagine replacing her. Lucy is forever.

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PortiaFairy's&Regents 091 copySnow Feb. 09 040 copyLucy in Regents Park , London which is so beautiful it deserves it owns blog