Posts Tagged ‘Totnes’
Reflections on what makes us who we are.
(Please note that this is a long post that potentially may be upsetting for some readers. Please trust me when I say there is no intention to upset anyone. I should add that the motivation for writing The Pen is from reading Sue Dreamwalker’s recent post Cracking our Inner Shells.)
Yesterday, I wrote about the circumstances of my father’s death on December, 20th 1956. I wrote:
I became twelve-years-old in November, 1956. Just six weeks after my twelfth birthday, on the evening of December 19th, 1956, my mother, as normal, came into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight. However, what transpired was very far from normal.
For she sat down on the edge of the bed and told me that my father was not well and may not live for much longer. To this day, I can still see her sitting on the edge of the bed, adjacent to my knees covered by the sheet and bedcover, a very drawn look on her face.
I had been aware of my father being at home in bed for a while but had no notion whatsoever, prior to this moment, that he was seriously unwell. In hindsight, it was more than I could emotionally embrace for not only did I not go back into my parent’s bedroom and again say goodnight to my father, I went off to sleep without any problem.
During that night, in the early hours of December 20th, my father died, the family doctor attended and my father’s body was removed; I slept through it all and awoke in the morning to find my father gone.
It’s also relevant to reveal that it was deemed potentially too upsetting for my sister, Elizabeth, my junior by four years, and me to attend my father’s cremation.
OK! Fast forward to 2006. I was happily married to Julie, my third wife, and had been since the year 2000. Her daughter from a previous marriage, Amy, was also part of the family. We were living in a three-bedroomed converted stone barn known as Upper Barn in the village of Harberton, a few miles west of Totnes, Devon, South-West England. A lovely tranquil home in a very tranquil village; population 300 persons.
I had my two wonderful sisters, Corinne and Rhona, from my father’s first marriage, living within short distances. My work, home-based, involved offering entrepreneurial mentoring to local business owners, and my wife and I had a wonderful local network of good friends. Indeed, in the last months of 2006 I had been working with a professional psychotherapist, Jon, as he was expanding his client base from individuals to working within companies. And Pharaoh had been in the family since 2003! It seemed about as perfect as it could be for me.
December 20th, 2006 was the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s death. I could never settle into the pre-Christmas mood until after the 20th December each year and this anniversary day seemed more poignant than ever. I had missed my father since the day he had died in 1956.
As it happened, that same day Julie seemed off-colour. She was frequently in the bathroom during the day and, naturally, I was concerned. Towards the end of the day I asked what was troubling her. Julie replied that she had had a miscarriage earlier that afternoon. A year after my son and daughter had been born to my first wife in 1972/1973, I had opted to have a vasectomy! Julie’s miscarriage was not of my making.
I won’t go into the details of how my life exploded but will just say that it was traumatic in every way imaginable.
In desperation, a few weeks into the New Year of 2007, I called my psychotherapist business client, Jon, and begged him to take me on as his client. He was initially uncertain, stating that we already had a relationship, but agreed on the understanding that if he thought the counselling relationship wasn’t properly established then he would ask me not to continue working with him. Of course, I agreed.
I want to offer what has been written elsewhere by me, explaining what happened in my fourth counselling session with Jon back in 2007. Clearly my memory of what was said can’t be word perfect but the essence of the dialogue is accurate.
“Paul, when we had our first session and I asked you to relate the key life events that came to you, the first event you spoke of was the death of your father. Tell me more about that time of your life.”
“I don’t have clear memories of my father much before he died that year. He was a lot older than my mother, some eighteen years, and I had been the product of a liaison between them; my father being married at the time. They met when they were both members of an amateur orchestra in London during the height of the Second World War. My father had had two daughters with his wife and longed for a son. I came along just six months before the end of the war.”
I paused for a few moments, sensing how dipping back to that December in 1956 was making me feel uncomfortable.
“I had turned twelve-years-old in early November 1956. Just finished my first term at Grammar School. To be honest, I can’t recall when my father became ill and how long he had been bed-ridden. But on the evening of December 19th, after I had kissed my father goodnight and jumped into my bed next door, my mother came in, closed my bedroom door, sat on the edge of my bed and told me that my father was very ill and that he may not live for much longer.
It clearly didn’t register with me at any significant emotional level because I went off to sleep without any problem. But when I awoke in the morning, Mum told me that my father had died during the night, the family doctor had attended and my father’s body had been removed from the house.”
Jon looked at me and quietly asked, “What feelings do you have about that night and that morning?”
“To be honest, Jon, I have an almost complete absence of feelings. I’ve often tried to discover what I truly felt at the time or, indeed, what I feel all these years later. But the best I have ever been able to come up with is that I was never able to say goodbye. In fact, because it was decided that it would be too upsetting for me, I wasn’t even present at the funeral and cremation, thus reinforcing my sense of not saying goodbye to my father.”
There was a pause before Jon asked his next question. “So, Paul, you have a son and a daughter. What are their ages?”
“My son, Alex, is now thirty-five and my daughter, Maija, thirty-four.”
Jon put his hands together fingers-to-fingers and lent his chin against them. “So your son would have been twelve in 1984. That was when you were very busy running your own business, if I recall.”
I nodded in reply.
“So Paul, let’s say that during that year of 1984 you had been diagnosed with some terminal illness, say cancer, as with your father. That you were given a life expectancy of six months or so. What thoughts come to mind?”
“Jon, you mean in the sense of what it would have meant for Alex and Maija?”
“Wow, what a truly terrible thing to reflect upon. But what comes to mind without doubt is that I would have walked away from my business immediately. After all, it very soon wasn’t going to be my business. My kids were still living at home, of course. I would have wanted to share every minute of my life with them. Try to let them understand as much about me, who I was, what I believed in, what made Paul Handover the person he was.”
Jon almost breathed the next question into the air of the room. “Translate the circumstances of the death of your father across to your son. What I mean by that is Alex experiencing the same circumstances from your death. What’s your reaction to that situation, admittedly hypothetical situation, thank goodness?”
I reacted with an immediate passion. “To know that I was terminally ill and to keep that from my son and daughter; that’s terrible, no it’s disgusting. Then to compound it by having everything associated with my death and the disposal of my body denied to Alex and Maija …..,” I left the sentence unfinished before adding, “It’s cruel beyond description. My poor children wouldn’t have a clue as to why they were excluded from what is, whether or not one agrees with it, one of life’s most important moments.”
Jon seemed to hold my anger in the room all about us, as he asked, “How would you reword your last sentences in the manner of a headline; in just a few words?”
I hardly hesitated. “The word that comes to mind is rejection. Alex and Maija, aged twelve and eleven, losing their father in a way that suggested they weren’t important. Yes, that’s it. They would see it as a total rejection of them by their father. Not unreasonably, I might add.”
There was a silence in the room that seemed to go on forever. Then Jon said, “Paul, we are not quite up to the hour but I’m going to suggest you just sit here quietly with Pharaoh and let yourself out when you are confident of being OK to drive home.”
He added, almost as an afterthought, “Just let today settle itself into your consciousness just however it wants to. Don’t force your thoughts either way, neither dwelling on today nor preventing thoughts naturally coming to the surface of your mind. As we have discussed before, pay attention to your dreams. Maybe have a notebook by your bedside so you can jot down what you have been dreaming about. I’ll see you next Friday same time, if that’s alright with you.”
When a crossroads is neither a roadway, nor a choice of pathways, when that crossroads is in our minds, we seldom know it’s there or that we’ve made the choice to take one path and not the other until it’s long past. Sometimes, the best you can do is look for the tiniest clues as to which path one has taken in life and where one is really heading.
I had read that in a book quite recently although, typically, could no longer remember the name of the said book. It had spoken to me in a way that I couldn’t fathom, but of sufficient strength and clarity for me to jot it down on a sheet of paper. I had been sorting papers out on my desk on the Sunday following that last session with Jon when I came across the sheet. The words hammered at me again, but in a way that was now so much more full of meaning than the first time around.
Because, to my very great surprise, my nights’ sleeps on Friday and Saturday had not only been dream free but had taken me to a place of such sweet contentment that it was almost as though I had been reborn. Alright, perhaps reborn was a little over the top, but there was no question that I was in an emotional place quite unlike anything I could ever before recall. Almost as if for the first time in my life I truly liked who I was.
On the Sunday morning, after I had taken Pharaoh over to the woods for our regular walk, I called in on Corinne and shared a cup of tea with her. As I was leaving, Corinne asked me if I was alright. In querying why she had asked, Corinne simply said, “Oh, I don’t know. There’s something different about you today that I can’t put my finger on. A happiness about you that I haven’t seen in ages, possibly never seen in you.”
I gave my sister a long and deep hug and gently said, “I miss our father at times, don’t you?”
She answered, “Oh, I miss him too, miss him so much at times. He was such a wonderful, gentle man who lived for his children. Then to die at such a young age.”
As the week rolled by, I found a truth that had been denied me for the whole of my life. I couldn’t wait to share it with Jon. As I drove across to Torquay, I was full of what I wanted to say.
Jon could tell that I was fit to burst. Indeed, I had hardly sat down on the chair when Jon asked me how my week had gone.
“Jon, It’s been an amazing week. I’ve at last understood some fundamental aspects of my life.”
“That sounds wonderful, Paul, do tell me more.”
“Well, it’s this. I have now realised the emotional consequences of the way my father’s death was handled. In other words, what became hidden deep in my subconscious, far from sight, so to speak, was a belief of having been emotionally rejected. That despite that being so far down in my subconscious world, it clearly explained two conscious ways in which I behave.”
Jon’s demeanour, his wonderful listening demeanour, encouraged me to continue. “The first thing that came to me was the reason why I have been so unfortunate in my relationships with women. Well this is how I figured it out. Whenever a woman took a shine to me, I would do anything and everything to come over as a potentially attractive spouse. In other words, I was being driven by a terrible fear of rejection, rather than rationally wondering if this woman had the potential to be a woman I would love as a wife. Ergo, I oversold myself and, inevitably, made poor long-term relationships; Julie being the classic example.”
I paused and took a sip from the glass of water that was on the small table by my side.
“But the positive aspect of my fear of rejection is that throughout the whole of my business and professional life, I have been successful. Because, I have always put the feelings of the other person above my own as a means of avoiding rejection. Jon, I can’t tell you what a release this has been for me.”
“Paul, that’s a fabulous example of how when we really get to know the person we are, how it then gives us a psychological freedom, a freedom to be the person we truly are, to be happy with ourselves.”
He continued, “One thing I should mention is this. It’s likely that what happened to you back in December 1956 is not necessarily ‘hard-wired’ but certainly is a very deep-rooted emotional aspect of who you are. This new-found awareness will be of huge value to you but that sensitivity to rejection is not going to disappear; probably never will. The difference is that you are now aware of it and quite quickly you will spot the situations, as they are happening, that stir up those ancient feelings. The difference is this new self-awareness will deliver a much deeper emotional understanding of who you are and why you behave in the way you do.”
There was a wonderful sense of peace and calm in the room that ran on for some minutes.
Then Jon just voiced what seemed like the perfect closing thought. “Paul, this mindfulness you have so beautifully revealed is wonderful. You do know you are fine, don’t you!”
I was motivated to reveal these details of my past by what Sue wrote in her recent post Cracking our Inner Shells. She included these words:
Sometimes we have to go within to the silent places we all have in order to find out what is really going on with our emotional bodies. Even knowing all the things I do, we are within our Human form to learn and grow..
I needed to ask myself a few questions as to why I was feeling so lost, depressed and sad… More was going on than just bereavement. Yes the fall I had had,both bruised and shook me, but what else was shaking me to the core?
For those who know a little about my Soul Journey, You will also know that my own Mother and I had not spoken for 10 years prior to her passing some eleven years ago now….Despite many attempts I knew I was only wounding myself more by continually trying to bridge the rift, to be continually rejected.. So this rejection and other issues related to overwork and stress, resulted in a Nervous Breakdown in my mid forties..
So when my Mother died, while I was sad, I guess I never really grieved her loss. Because to me.. I had grieved her long before her death as lost to me.. As I had had to shut down my emotions to cope with her rejection.. I had undergone counselling within my breakdown, and my Mother jumped up at every dark corner of why even in my teens I had suffered from deep depression.
We often go through whole chapters of our lives creating a protective shell around ourselves because we need it in order to heal from some early trauma. I know I had built many such Layers of shell around myself from various experiences over the years..
I recommend you read Sue’s post in full.
But more than that, I recommend that if you have any sense of there being hidden parts of your consciousness that would be better brought to the light, then you involve a professional counsellor or psychotherapist. For the reward will be beyond measure.
As mine was.
For on December 14th, 2007 I first met Jean when invited to San Carlos in Mexico for the Christmas period by Suzann and Don Reeves; Suzann being the sister of my very long-term Californian friend Dan Gomez.
Jean and I have now known each other for over seven years and have been married for over four years. I love her beyond imagination. Because I can reveal to Jean the strange, quirky, often fragile person that I am. And I am loved for who I am by Jean.
This is the poem I wrote for Jean for this Valentine’s Day just gone.
What’s in a number?
Numbers spell out so much.
From a year of birth,
To a year of death,
From a chance event,
To a predictable breath.
Numbers spell out so much more.
From the day that we met,
To the year we were joined,
From the day we married,
To this day of love today.
So many days of happiness.
Yet numbers that spill beyond the digits.
For they are reflections of times a past,
And they are beacons of our lives,
Numbers that carry so much meaning,
To places so far beyond their count.
Yet today there is a number,
A number that carries all thoughts of love,
Almost endless thoughts of love from me to you,
Two little figures that say seventy-four.
For seventy-four months ago,
This very day,
I met you,
And you met me.
I loved you so soon,
Loved you so well.
And still do.
If you have read this far then well done! :-) If only one person has been touched by my experiences then that is wonderful.
I shall close by publishing a paragraph towards the end of Sue’s blog post.
Only you can know the how’s and why’s of your life. The answers that you seek can be found when you start answering your own questions, Sometimes we have to get a little lost in order to find oneself again.. But the journey in finding oneself is all part of our Earth Journey.
All of you take very good care of yourself.
A highly pertinent post from Alex Jones.
I have written previously on Learning from Dogs about the future having to be local if we are to stand any chance of coping with what is ahead. So it was a delight to read this post from Alex’s blog The Liberated Way. In my opinion, Alex is spot on the mark.
The rise of localism
Posted on August 6, 2014
Globalism and central control is coming to an end.
The first of a series of debates on Scottish independence from the UK took place yesterday, the vote for independence takes place next month. The campaign for Scottish independence is part of a larger paradigm shift away from globalism to localism around the world. Cornwall, Wales, Mercia, Yorkshire and Wessex are all campaigning for independence in the UK. Even in my town of Colchester we want to take back control of highways from external authorities.
The European elections this year resulted in a surge in anti-EU nationalistic parties doing well. UKIP which wants the UK to leave the EU was the clear winner in the UK in the European elections. The UN is increasingly seen as ineffective in the face of international crisis, often used by a few powerful nations, and ignored by practically everyone. Israel recently expressed the contempt nations now have for the UN by bombing UN schools in Gaza.
The USSR has broken up into small nations, as has Yugoslavia. Sudan split into two and Georgia into three nations. There is talk of California in the USA breaking into six states, and a growing but still small movements for other states breaking away from the Union altogether. The fighting in East Ukraine is as much about local Russians wanting to determine their own future as the international games of chess between the superpowers.
Flanders is seeking to break from Belgium; Catalonia and the Basque Country want to break from Spain; the city of Venice wants to break from Italy; Quebec is looking to break from Canada; Kurdistan and many other Peoples are seeking to form their own nation states out of the chaos of Iraq, Syria and Libya.
New forms of local currency such as the Totnes pound and electronic currencies such as Bitcoin challenge the bankers. Until recently my local council Essex Council was talking about creating its own bank for local people. Corporates such as Starbucks are considering creating their own currencies, in effect becoming their own banks. Multiple non-banking payment systems such as PayPal are now part of internet commerce. In the face of sanctions Russia has created their own version of VISA for citizens to pay their bills.
The internet has helped to break up the power of information monopolies where the citizen blogger is as effective as a journalist in the New York Times. The internet places greater power in the hands of the individual on the local level.
Water, energy, food and debt are the four great forces now driving the world politically, economically and socially. The many chasing a diminishing amount of resources drives people to fight or conserve their resources. Huge growing public and private debt is destroying nation states, driving the momentum to think local rather than global. The Greek economic crisis drove local people back to the land, to become self-sufficient, and create systems of trade outside of the global financial system.
I support localism, and I designed my business with localism in mind. The growing international crisis will force people to become local, sustainable and self-reliant. As the money runs out nations, communities and individuals will quickly learn that it is down to themselves to live or die.
Couldn’t agree more.
Yet another wonderful opportunity to chuckle at the world.
Sent to me by dear Cynthia Gomez.
This wonderful collection of sayings from America’s ‘South’ reminded me of the incredibly rich local accents that one experienced all over Britain. Despite being born a Londoner, I spent many of the years before switching home countries from England to America living in the County of Devon in the South-West of England. Here are two images to show those unfamiliar with England where I was living.
Thus anyone born and bred in this part of Devon frequently had a strong South Devon accent. My brother-in-law, John, used to chat to some old Devon fella’s in the local pubs that had accents impossible to understand by such newcomers as me.
So with no further ado, enjoy the following.
A Florida senior citizen drove his brand new Corvette convertible out of the dealership. Taking off down the road, he pushed it to 80 mph, enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left. “Amazing,” he thought as he flew down I-95, pushing the pedal even more.
Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw a Florida State Trooper, blue lights flashing and siren blaring. He floored it to 100 mph, then 110, then 120. Suddenly he thought, “What am I doing? I’m too old for this!” and pulled over to await the trooper’s arrival.
Pulling in behind him, the trooper got out of his vehicle and walked up to the Corvette. He looked at his watch, then said, “Sir, my shift ends in 30 minutes. Today is Friday. If you can give me a new reason for speeding — a reason I’ve never before heard — I’ll let you go.
“The old gentleman paused then said: “Three years ago, my wife ran off with a Florida State Trooper. I thought you were bringing her back.
“Have a good day, Sir,” replied the trooper.
The owner of a golf course in Georgia was confused about paying an invoice, so he decided to ask his secretary for some mathematical help.
He called her into his office and said, “Y’all graduated from the University of Georgia and I need some help. If I wuz to give yew $20,000, minus 14%, how much would you take off?”
The secretary thought a moment, and then replied, “Everthang but my earrings.”
A senior citizen in Louisiana was overheard saying … “When the end of the world comes, I hope to be in Louisiana .”When asked why, he replied, “I’d rather be in Louisiana ’cause everythang happens in Louisiana 20 years later than in the rest of the world.”
The young man from Mississippi came running into the store and said to his buddy, “Bubba, somebody just stole your pickup truck from the parking lot!”
Bubba replied, “Did y’all see who it was?”
The young man answered, “I couldn’t tell, but I got the license number.”
A man in North Carolina had a flat tire, pulled off on the side of the road, and proceeded to put a bouquet of flowers in front of the car and one behind it. Then he got back in the car to wait.
A passerby studied the scene as he drove by, and was so curious he turned around and went back. He asked the fellow what the problem was.
The man replied, “I got a flat tahr.”
The passerby asked, “But what’s with the flowers?”
The man responded, “When you break down they tell you to put flares in the front and flares in the back. I never did understand it neither.”
A Tennessee State trooper pulled over a pickup on I-65. The trooper asked, “Got any ID?”
The driver replied, “Bout whut?”
The Sheriff pulled up next to the guy unloading garbage out of his pick-up into the ditch. The Sheriff asked, “Why are you dumping garbage in the ditch? Don’t you see that sign right over your head.”
“Yep,” he replied. “That’s why I’m dumpin’ it here, ’cause it says: ‘Fine For Dumping Garbage.’
“Y’all kin say whut y’all want ’bout the South, but y’all never heard o’ nobody retirin’ an’ movin’ North.
Have a great week-end.
Just this and two other chapters before the end of November!
Where did the month go!
As I explained yesterday, I shall change chapter publishing from next Monday.
From next Monday I will revert to publishing the range of articles and essays that I have been doing since July 2009. In other words, a new post every day of the week, just as before. But, in addition, I will be releasing three of the forthcoming draft Chapters, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
So if you are not into reading the book, just pass those posts by. If you are, poor soul, then read away to your heart’s content.
Any reactions or comments would be wonderful.
With that, on to the story!
As so today.
Learning from Dogs
It was February 14th, 2007; Valentine’s Day. What would have been his seventh wedding anniversary for him and Maggie. Eight weeks to the day since she had blown his life apart.
Rather than mope on his own, he had decided ahead of time deliberately to arrange something unusual and different for this potentially disturbing day. A chance remark with friend, Julian, who lived in Exeter, revealed that he was a private pilot and, coincidentally, also a single man; his marriage having failed a few years previously. So when Julian offered to fly Philip and him to Guernsey for lunch he could hardly believe his luck. It turned out to be a wonderful experience even when soon after climbing out from Exeter Airport Philip was blown away by the incredible views of the broad reaches of the English Channel and the Atlantic way beyond. Julian demonstrated the remarkable ease with which two people can travel to a place in a light aircraft, in this case an island no less, enjoy a few hours of food and fresh air, and be back home in not a lot longer than it would have taken a ferry to steam one-way from Poole in Dorset to Guernsey. Philip had often wondered what becoming a private pilot would be like and Julian’s generous gift had triggered a little thought that maybe, once the crap of the divorce was behind him, he might enrol in flying lessons.
Thus upon their return to Exeter Airport and later when Philip collected Pharaoh from Sandra’s kennels and set off home to Harberton he felt good that he had not succumbed to the regrets of his lost relationship with Maggie, that could so easily have hung over this day.
Back home, with both him and Pharaoh fed and watered, fire burning brightly, he reflected on the past sixty days. It had been an incredible roller-coaster of feelings, moods and emotions.
At the root of Maggie’s unfaithfulness had been her longing for another child. Her first child, a daughter, had chosen to go and live with her father before Maggie and Philip had met. He knew that Maggie had been conscious that her child-bearing years were almost over. He guessed that with him having had that vasectomy so long ago, and being significantly older than her, that Maggie had been drawn elsewhere.
It didn’t lessen his anger towards her, not in the slightest, because he truly believed that trust was fundamental to any relationship and trust was impossible without the openness of one’s concerns and worries.
That day after the terrible day of December 20th, Philip had rung Diana, his elder half-sister; James’ mother. He explained what had happened. Her reply was immediate and all and much more than Philip had expected. Diana told him to put some things together and to come straight over to the house, with Pharaoh of course. Philip replied by asking if it would be alright with John, her husband, to which Diana had simply told him not to worry, she would speak with John and to come across now.
So that’s just what Philip did later that Thursday afternoon. Leading to him spending eight days of being loved and cared for by Diana and John. He had known them for more years than he cared to remember. In fact, Diana and her sister, Rhona, who died a few years previously, were the primary reasons why Philip had settled down in South Devon after returning to England from overseas in the early 1990s.
Luckily, Diana and John’s house and small-holding, just up the lane from Littlehempston, was only six miles from Harberton so it had been easy for Philip to pop back home to pick up clothes and food for Pharaoh over the Christmas period. Pharaoh thought that every one of those days over with Diana and John was Christmas Day!
He didn’t have that talk with Maggie the day after she went to her parents and, frankly, he wasn’t bothered. All that mattered was getting his mind around this new phase of his life that had been thrust upon him and, in his own time, moving on to Plan B, as it were, whatever that turned out to be.
Which, in a very real sense, was what Philip was musing over that evening back home after his Valentine’s Day flight and lunch with Julian in Guernsey.
When he had first spoken with Julian back in January and the idea of the flight had been mentioned, Julian had also recommended avoiding person-to-person contact with Maggie. His argument was that the wounds would more quickly heal by appointing a solicitor to handle the legal separation and eventual divorce, than having to have continued contact with Maggie. That’s what he had done.
But there was one aspect that did not hang easily over Philip; that of what to do with the house. He was torn. It was a lovely converted stone barn in a popular South Devon village. If he stayed there, inevitably there would be some pay-out due to his ex and that galled him, seriously so, as it had been ninety percent of his money that had paid for the house. He resolved to go and talk to some estate-agents in Totnes over the coming days to see if that made the decision of to sell or not to sell easier.
It turned out to be the next day. He had run into Totnes in the morning to pick up some food from Safeway, then walked the short distance to Fore Street at the bottom of town. It had been ages since he had looked through the windows of an estate agent, at the many panels advertising properties for sale, and he just couldn’t believe his eyes. The prices were astronomical. It was the same in all the agents’ windows: Rendells; Fulfords; Michelmore Hughes; Luscome Maye. Curiosity overcame him. On the way back down Fore Street he went into Fulfords and was quickly seen by a eager young, slick-haired sales assistant. Philip explained where he lived and that he was curious as to the current price. The young man asked him to remain seated and went across to speak to someone whom Philip presumed was one of the partners. They both returned to the desk where Philip was sitting.
“Hello, my name is Jeremy Stanton and I’m a partner here at Fulfords. How may I assist you?”
“Jeremy, my name is Philip, Philip Stevens, and I live in Harberton, in Tristford Barn in the cul-de-sac just off Tristford Road.”
“Yes, I know where you are. Isn’t your house that old, converted stone barn that overlooks the other properties around you? That beautiful barn, to my eyes anyway?” replied Jeremy.
“Yes, that’s the place. I purchased the barn privately from the owner who did the conversion, bought it back in 1999, and just wondered what it might be worth these days.”
Jeremy paused for a moment, “Oh, wasn’t that Barry Williams who did the conversion?”
Philip was impressed.
Jeremy indicated to him that they both go to a small room towards the rear of the open floor area.
“Philip, would you like a coffee or tea?”
“Well a tea would go down very nicely.”
Jeremy stepped outside the room for a couple of minutes and to Philip’s great surprise came back with a couple of mugs that obviously held freshly-made tea, not of either the instant or machine variety.
“I made us a couple of mugs of the proper tea. Can’t abide the instant stuff.”
Philip took a careful sip from his mug. The tea was hot to his lips yet very welcome.
“So Philip, you purchased the barn in 1999, I guess going on for eight years ago now. Do you mind telling me what you paid for it?”
“I paid one hundred and sixty thousand pounds, that I’m pretty sure was a little over the odds at the time. But, as I’m sure you know, properties in Harberton don’t often come on to the market especially a converted stone barn right in the middle of the village.”
“Philip, I couldn’t agree more. Now, of course, we would need to come over and take a look in order to give you a more accurate estimate but I would say that today’s price, especially in these times of significant demand for village properties, won’t be far off five hundred thousand pounds.”
The look on Philip’s face as he heard that estimate from Jeremy said it all. He was staggered.
“I had no idea that prices had risen to that level.”
“So, Philip, do you want us to come over to Harberton and give you a detailed analysis and estimate?”
Philip could hardly quieten his mind and stammered out, “Er, er, yes, I suppose so. No, sorry, of course you should come out. That would be very helpful.”
They settled on a date, the coming Saturday, just the day after tomorrow.
Later that afternoon, when out walking with Pharaoh, he thought more about his future. It seemed to be pretty clear to him that selling Tristford Barn made a huge amount of sense. There were strong and persistent rumours that property prices were overdue for a correction, that selling the barn would allow him to settle with Maggie and pocket a tidy amount of cash while he worked out where his life was going. Going on to reflect that if it turned out that it might be a while before he bought another house, then the present savings rates would reduce the pain, big time, of paying for rented accommodation. That last thought of his being immediately tempered by Pharaoh barking at something up in the trees; squirrels most likely. Of course, renting somewhere dog-friendly might be a challenge. The thought then crossed his mind as to whether the place that he had been renting over at Diptford, before he and Maggie had bought Tristford Barn, might be available and, more importantly, would they accept a dog; after all it had been a farm property with sheep and livestock. Upper Holsome Farm, that was it. What was the woman’s name?
As he drove back home her name came to him. It was Liz Jones, of course. He recalled how she had explained that her husband had died from a tragic tractor accident back in 1990 and Liz had decided to keep the farm running but to let out a wing of the main house to ensure some steady money coming in.
Liz’s phone rang a few times before it was answered.
“Hi, is that Liz?”
“Yes. My goodness, is that you Philip? How are you?”
Philip summarised what had happened over the past couple of months.
“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. Gracious, it only seems like yesterday that I was at your wedding at Harberton Church.”
“Liz, it was seven years ago yesterday. Anyway, moving on. I’m kicking around the idea of selling Tristford Barn and perhaps renting somewhere while I take stock of things. So just wondered if you were still renting out your rooms. But, Liz, it wouldn’t be just for me. I now have a beautiful German Shepherd dog: Pharaoh. He’s the love of my life. He’s four this coming June. So I didn’t know, assuming you are still letting your rooms, whether or not a dog could be included.”
Liz’s reply was direct. “For God’s sake, Philip, this is still a working farm and you’ll will remember the dogs we have here. Of course your dog would be welcome.”
Philip felt a ray of emotional sunshine lighting him up. Pharaoh sensed it as well, coming over to where Philip was sitting with the phone and laying his head across Philip’s leg, so typical a gesture for him. What a sensitive dog he was.
“That’s fantastic. Let me see how things develop but whatever, I’ll stay in touch, Liz.”
“Yes, please do. I have a professional woman in the rooms at present. She’s something to do with Plymouth Hospital. But, as it happens, it wasn’t that long ago that she was saying to me that she might be facing a job move during the year. I’ll quietly sound her out. Oh, and Philip, the best of luck. You’re a good man and it will all turn out fine, trust me.”
“Thank you, Liz, thank you so much. Will be in touch.”
And with that Philip rang off, stroked Pharaoh’s soft warm head and felt a whole lot more contented than he had done for quite a while.
Again the evening, after he had made a meal for himself and fed Pharaoh, was a time for more inner reflection. One of the things that had been troubling him was the incredibly intense emotional reaction that he had had to Maggie’s announcement of her miscarriage back that last December.
When he had been staying with Diana over Christmas, they had had long talks about their father and the consequences of his death all those years ago. Diana had said to Philip that while she had been aware of the trauma it must have caused him, she had never shared with him her concerns about the long-term possible emotional consequences. The suddenness of their father’s death, the way he must have felt shut out from everything, even though she had no doubt that everyone was doing their best to protect him.
Philip knew that Diana had been stirring up some deep feelings because of the way he had such trouble even listening to her words. So, as he sat before the warm wood stove, Pharaoh fast asleep on the rug before him, he thought that now might be a good time to seek some personal counselling. The last thing he wanted to do was to carry baggage, known or unknown, into the next phase of his life. He resolved to call Jonathan Atkins in the morning.
2,337 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Ouch, ouch and more ouch!
In yesterday’s chapter I wrote of what, perhaps, was one of the better times in the lives of our hero, Philip, and his wife Maggie. But as we move to Chapter Eleven the phrase ‘first impressions may be misleading’ does come to mind.
Learning from Dogs
Later that evening, after he and Maggie had eaten their evening meal, a rather poor affair that Philip had to admit, Monday being his turn to prepare dinner, he couldn’t shake off something approaching a cloud over him. Most likely associated with the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of his father’s death, he guessed.
It was the same every year. Whatever he was involved in, however interesting and engaging his life was during the last few months of the year, Philip knew that the period between his birthday in early November and the date of his father’s death on the twentieth of December had some ill-defined greyness about it. Then as soon as the twenty-first of December dawned, he was back to his usual brightness. Indeed, he was always embarrassed by the fact that his pre-Christmas mood never arrived until the twenty-first of December, frequently a bit on the late side to engage properly in the annual ritual of present-buying.
Still that’s how it had been for every year of his adult life and, privately, he wondered if that was his way of treasuring a father he never really knew.
Thus so it was this year. In the sense that it was about a week before Christmas Day, probably around the eighteenth of December that, again, he had to pull himself up sharply and start thinking as to what he should give Maggie as her main present.
What really caused him to focus on Maggie and Christmas was a very strange, decidedly untypical, interaction between Maggie and Pharaoh. Up until then, whenever Maggie had gone out somewhere on her own, Pharaoh would always bark as her car turned into the driveway. On their upper floor, the main living room area, there was a floor-to-ceiling pair of glass-panelled doors overlooking the front of the house, the garden and their short driveway and their five-bar, wooden gate. The glass doors would have been wooden shutters back in the days when it was a cow barn. Today, the doors could be opened during hot summer weather; there was a wooden rail across the opening to prevent any falling accidents.
Pharaoh’s usual routine with arriving cars was to bound up to the windows barking furiously when he heard the latch on the gate being handled and when any car drove up the driveway. If it was Maggie returning home then as soon as he recognised her he would bound down the short, single flight of wooden stairs from the living-room level to the hallway and stand inside the front door, also glassed from head to foot, wagging his tail furiously until he was let out whereupon he would run joyously to her.
However this day, Philip was pretty sure is was the Monday, Pharaoh did his usual barking act as Maggie drove in. Then there was the sound of Pharaoh coming down the steps to the front door with a growl in his throat. That’s what made Philip look up from his computer screen; he was certain that he had heard Maggie’s car but then the growling suggested otherwise.
Pharaoh’s growl became quite intense, practically a sound from him that Philip had never heard before.
He quickly pushed his office chair back on its wheels and stood up from his desk. Within moments, he was beside Pharaoh looking out at Maggie walking back down the driveway to close the front gate.
“Pharaoh, quiet!”, Philip said with a sternness to his voice. Pharaoh reduced the constant growl to a sort of angry muttering in the back of his throat. Philip had no doubt that Pharaoh was not playing around. To the point where he practically dragged Pharaoh by his collar back into the small office and firmly closed the door on the two of them.
Pharaoh pushed to the office window, also full length, his eyes, ears and full body stance continuing to signal a great unease. What on earth was happening? Philip just couldn’t fathom it out.
He left his office room, closing the door with Pharaoh inside, and went out to meet Maggie who was walking towards the house with a semi-full bag of groceries in a cloth shopping bag.
“Hi, is that all there is to bring in?”, Philip asked.
“Yes, only a few items that I needed from Safeways.”
As Maggie came up to the front door, Philip continued, “You know, there’s something weird about Pharaoh just now.” He went on to explain what had just happened, continuing, “It’s almost as though he didn’t know it was you.”
They climbed the stairs up to the open-plan kitchen area that was at one end of the living room, to the right of the stairs, the main living room area to the left. Philip then went over to the log-burner in the corner of the living room and fiddled with it for a while. In fact, his mind was still on Pharaoh wondering if his angst had now subsided. Only one way to find out.
He returned to his office room and opened the door. Pharaoh was lying on the rug. He looked up at Philip and, again, very strangely, only raising himself from the floor and following Philip upstairs to the living-room after a great deal of coaxing.
It was all very peculiar.
Wednesday, the 20th, dawned to reveal a bright pleasant morning with soft, cumulus clouds across a broadly blue sky. A great morning to be over at the woods for a walk.
After breakfast, Philip called out to Maggie, who had been in the bathroom for a while, actually more than a while when he thought about it, that he and Pharaoh were off to James’ woods. Philip just heard Maggie call out that she had heard him.
It was a wonderful walk. Pharaoh was in his prime chasing squirrels, a fairly pointless task Philip always thought, then sticking his nose down the many rabbit holes, sniffing such large lungfulls of air that Philip wondered if Pharaoh thought he could suck the poor rabbits out of their burrows.
The date, fifty years to the day that his father had died, seemed to rest much more easily with him than he had feared. It was all so, so long ago. It crossed his mind to buy Maggie a bouquet of flowers on the way home.
A couple of hours later, he and Pharaoh bounced into the house, a fresh bouquet of flowers newly purchased at Safeways in Totnes in Philip’s right hand.
“Hi sweetheart, bought you these. Just thought you looked a little off-colour earlier this morning and that some flowers might cheer you up.”
As he was offering the flowers to Maggie he realised that whatever it was that had been afflicting her earlier that morning was still troubling her. Frankly, she looked very pale and drawn.
“Maggie, what’s the problem? You don’t look at all well.”
“Philip, do you mind if I lie down on the bed for a little while, just not feeling that brilliant.”
“No, of course not,” came his reply. “Look you go and lie down, I’ll put the flowers in water, make us both a nice cup-of-tea and bring them down to the bedroom.”
With that Philip went upstairs to the living room, dug out a glass vase and put the flowers in water, placing the vase with the flowers on one of the work surfaces in the kitchen.
He also noted that the fire was pretty low and needed rejuvenating. Thus it was nearer thirty minutes before he returned to their bedroom with the hot teas. Maggie’s body was under the bedspread, her head back against a pair of pillows, still giving the appearance of being significantly out of sorts.
He put Maggie’s cup down on the bedside table next to her and cradling his own mug of tea in his hands sat down on the edge of the bed, just adjacent to where Maggie’s knees were under the cover.
Maggie heaved herself up, leaning back against the headboard and reached for her tea. “Thank you, Philip, that was very kind of you.”
They both sat without saying a word, Philip conscious of the hot tea reminding him of an empty stomach not yet having had lunch.
Maggie took a breath, put her empty cup down on the bedside table, and looked at Philip.
“Philip, I don’t know how to say this. The reason for me being unwell this morning was that I have just had a miscarriage.”
Philip’s world came to an instant, shuddering halt. Of course, that’s what Pharaoh had picked up, the impending breakup of his home. Because, after the birth of his second child with his first wife in 1972, Philip had opted for a vasectomy.
1,495 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Have to wait until Monday to see where it all leads to.
Half-way through the month.
I have taken a break from book writing to get today’s post ready. I’m 100 words short of 25,000 words and will stick at it until I’m over the 50% word-count before the end of today, Thursday.
Very conscious that many readers having got very used to my usual style of posts may be finding the change a little uninviting. Not a lot I can say other than I understand. NaNoWriMo do encourage all those November novelists who are bloggers to subject, sorry to offer, their readers the writings!
Learning from Dogs
The year 2003 did not have a great deal left in it and in what seemed like no time at all, New Year’s Day 2004 had been and gone. By the middle of January of the new year, Philip had settled into the regular trip across to Angela, the country journey not anything other than a pleasant forty-minute drive from home with Angela’s place coincidentally not a million miles from Sandra’s kennels at Hennock, where Pharaoh had been born.
It was certainly a higher elevation than Harberton and, potentially, a place to become snow-bound. But as January rolled into February, and while there were plenty of days of Devon rain, snow did not arrive.
As Angela had intimated would be the case, Pharaoh was nothing other than a gentleman during his days of obedience consolidation with Philip. During February, when Pharaoh had become accustomed to wearing a muzzle, Philip started walking with Pharaoh around their favourite spots in Totnes. Indeed, the walk from the Safeway car park by the river, up along Fore Street, underneath Eastgate arch where the road became Totnes High Street and all the way up to the old Totnes Castle, was settling into a regular event, often on the way back from visiting Angela.
What was interesting to note was that the sight of Pharaoh, this large German Shepherd dog wearing a muzzle, caused much more consternation for onlookers than it did for Pharaoh.
They had been resting one afternoon on a bench by the Castle after a brisk walk up through the centre of Totnes, when Philip distinctly heard a man, father he presumed, speak to the little girl with him and caution her that the dog was a most dangerous animal and not to go near it, because nice dogs don’t wear muzzles!
When they were walking around the Totnes streets, while Pharaoh would occasionally mutter a low growl towards a person, or more often towards another dog, there wasn’t even the hint of an aggressive move. It was almost as though when Pharaoh was on the leash and wearing a muzzle, he had happily deferred his role as protector to Philip. No, not deferred but swapped roles as if Philip was both minder and protector of the two of them.
Then on the first Wednesday in March, at the end of their obedience class, Angela turned to Philip and said, “Philip, I can’t teach you two anything more. Pharaoh has got so used to your personality that he is way beyond rigid command formats. He can read your whole demeanour, probably better than Maggie.”
Philip mused privately that that didn’t take too much for a dog to know him better than Maggie.
Sandra added, “And there’s no doubt that you, Philip, can read Pharaoh’s demeanour as well.”
There was a pause.
“What I have been thinking is that it’s time to have Pharaoh use his fabulous teaching skills to work with some of the dogs that truly need some help. Could the two of you come over on Saturday, say at ten o’clock?”
“Angela, Saturday would be so much less of an issue than a week-day. For reasons I’m not sure about, my mentoring client list is growing at the moment.”
The rest of the week flowed by as the weeks so often do and Saturday was upon them. It wasn’t much after eight-thirty in the morning when he nosed his car down their driveway, closed the gate behind him and set off to Angela’s place; Pharaoh already curled up in the back of the Volvo.
“Oh, good morning Philip,” Angela called out as he parked the car in what was now his usual place.
“Let’s leave Pharaoh in the car for a moment while I talk you through the plan. Just follow me.”
Angela lead the way between a couple of barns and there, just beyond, was a fenced paddock, possibly a half-acre in size. There were a couple of bench seats elevated a few feet but some way back from the perimeter fence.
“Philip, this is where we are going to have Pharaoh work with the guest dog. She’s a female grey-hound that the owner wished to introduce to greyhound racing, at the greyhound stadium in Plymouth. Her name is Betsy . However, when Betsy’s owner, Gordon, took Betsy to the stadium the first time, she was so aggressive in going for the other runners that, even with a muzzle, a requirement for racing, Betsy was acting up to the point where it was impossible for her to be with any of the other dogs.”
“OK, understood so far,” Philip replied, “but how will Pharaoh engage with Betsy?”
Angela responded, “I suggest we let Pharaoh into the paddock together with your goodself. Then you slide out when you can, which I suspect will not be long, because Pharaoh will be fascinated by the smells of many other dogs. You can quietly settle back on the upper bench seat and when I sense Pharaoh is ready, I’ll have Gordon bring Betsy just inside the gate of the paddock, let Betsy off her leash, and stay quietly to one side.”
“OK, Angela, all understood. How do you expect Pharaoh and Betsy to react to each other?”
Angela smiled, “Let me just say that I have an extremely good hunch as to what will happen, but just for now I’m going to hold back on making any predictions!”
“Oh, you can go and bring Pharaoh over now, don’t want him to feel any rush getting to know the smells of the paddock.”
Philip walked back to the Volvo, let Pharaoh down from the car and lead him through to the paddock. Pharaoh happily followed despite being off-leash stopping only briefly to have a couple of pees.
Once at the paddock, Philip went through the open gate with Pharaoh and waited quietly just inside the gate. Pharaoh naturally started sniffing around and exploring this new environment. A few moments later Philip gently opened the gate, slipped out, re-closed the gate and lent across the top bar watching his wonderful dog. Angela remained where she had first gone to, leaning on the top rail of the paddock fence just to the right of the gate, looking in on Pharaoh.
She silently pointed to Philip for him to slip back and be seated on the elevated bench seat.
The sound of a car door being closed caused Angela to disappear back out between the two barns. Pharaoh had raised his head and was looking and listening intently towards the source of the sound.
A few minutes later, Angela and Gordon appeared, Gordon leading Betsy on a leash. They walked up to the outside of the closed paddock gate. Betsy started eyeing Pharaoh with a very direct stare.
Pharaoh started to walk towards them. Betsy gave a deep-throated growl causing Pharaoh to pause in his walk and observe her.
“Gordon, let me have Betsy on her leash.”
Angela took Betsy’s leash and very gently lifted the gate latch and cracked the gate open by six inches or so.
“Pharaoh, there’s a good boy. Pharaoh stay. Good boy,” came Angela’s softly formed words yet using her words as a cover to open the gate just sufficient for both Betsy and her to enter the paddock, Angela then closing the gate behind them.
There was a pause of perhaps a minute where nothing moved. Angela gently let her fingers run down Betsy’s leash and softly unlatched the lead from Betsy’s collar.
Again, Betsy’s eyes were fixated on Pharaoh and, likewise, he seemed to be assessing just what Betsy represented.
Angela softly slipped open the gate, slipped through and held the gate closed yet unlatched. She was confident there were not going to be any panics but it never paid to be complacent.
Pharaoh did a quarter-turn with his head to the left and seemed about to sniff the ground near his front paws.
Betsy suddenly growled and started towards Pharaoh but stopped in less than two paces. For Pharaoh had immediately turned his head back to face Betsy’s face full-on, giving her the most compelling message of perhaps rethinking what she had in mind. Well that’s the message that Philip saw in Pharaoh’s face. A facial look that Philip had never seen on Pharaoh before now yet, nonetheless, seemed utterly clear. So imagine what unspoken words were picked up by Betsy; that old business of dogs speaking dog to each other so much better than humans speaking dog!
There was a pause where nothing changed. Then Pharaoh, again, turned his head a little to his left. Betsy took a step towards Pharaoh but noticeable without the aggressive overlay of before.
Pharaoh turned his head and looked back at Betsy. However, now his facial message, as Philip interpreted it, was Pharaoh saying to Betsy that this was getting boring and that he still hadn’t finished sniffing out the new smells around here.
Then Philip saw, hardly believing his eyes, Pharaoh wander over to the far fence line, pee on an upright wooden fence post, and continue following the fence line around to the left, as in left from Philip’s perspective. Betsy stayed rooted to where she was. Not even turning an eye as Gordon came up and sat down next to Philip.
Any sense of time passing was beyond grasp. However, when Pharaoh had walked away from that marked fence post by, say, thirty or forty feet, Betsy almost imperceptibly looked at the fence post, possibly some twenty feet from her, and in what might be described as a casual gait, walked across to the post. She sniffed the bottom of the post where Pharaoh’s pee had run down to the ground. She sniffed long and hard and then turned around and walked a few yards in Pharaoh’s direction, he having now paused in his stroll along the fence line, his head turned back to watch Betsy.
The next action by Betsy brought an audible gasp to Gordon’s lips. For Betsy calmly and quietly settled down on the dusty ground, tummy against the bare earth, paws straight ahead, head lowered, eyes watching Pharaoh.
Pharaoh then turned in towards the prone Betsy, gently walked towards her, sniffed her rear quarters, walked around to the other side of her and just looked at her for a few moments. Then he eased himself forward, lowering his head a little. Their doggy world seemed to come to a halt for a few moments, then Pharaoh and Betsy came together and simply touched wet nose to wet nose.
Philip and Gordon both came down from their seats and stood next to Angela. Both of them couldn’t avoid noticing that Angela had silent tears running down both cheeks. Not a word was spoken, not a word needed to be spoken.
Gently, all three of them, Angela, Gordon and Philip, slipped quietly into the paddock and enjoyed what was happening in front of them. Almost as though their pleasure at the outcome was fuelling the moods in the two dogs, Pharaoh and Betsy each took up a behaviour that could only be described as a couple of dogs being relaxed and comfortable with each other.
Angela slipped out and returned a few moments later with some dog biscuits in her hands, the large chunky ones shaped roughly to look like a bone. She walked up to Pharaoh, stroked him on the head and offered him a biscuit. He took the biscuit and settled down to nibble it.
Angela then went across to Betsy and repeated the biscuit giving. Betsy settled down to eat her biscuit.
Upon coming back to the gents, she said, “OK, it all happened more or less as I anticipated. Pharaoh has given us a copy-book example of a strong, dominant teaching dog behaving in his natural role as a minder dog.”
Gordon was practically unable to keep his beaming face under control. He bubbled out the question, “So what happens next, Angela?”
“Well, I would like to repeat what we set up today one more time, just to be sure, although I have not the slightest doubt it will be fine.
Then, we’ll have Betsy and Pharaoh come again but keep Pharaoh to one side while I introduce Betsy to another dog that is dominant but not a teaching dog. In other words, more likely to trip Betsy into her old ways. If that happens we will bring Pharaoh in and he will adjudicate. Then next time round, we will introduce Betsy to an even less disciplined dog, again more or less aiming for the conditions where Betsy will learn a strategy for keeping her own temptations under control.”
Angela added, “There’s no doubt whatsoever that Betsy, sooner than you can imagine, will be a settled dog and ready to go dog racing if that’s what is right for her.”
Angela had a cheeky grin on her face, “Sorry, I meant what’s right for you, Gordon. OK, I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of dog racing!”
2,185 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Words after words after words!
The completion of the draft of Chapter Two, very much a draft you’ll find, brings the total words to-date to 4,730. That’s not counting Chapter Three that is more or less finished at around 3,000 words and Chapter Four, three-quarters finished at 1,650 words. For a grand total as at the end of the 5th November of 9,380 words! So a little over 1,000 words ahead of the game until tomorrow, the 6th, comes and I’m then 600 words behind the curve.
So, trust me, the 1,667 words required each day is relentless.
But I’m enjoying it! :-)
So here is Chapter Two and tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll give you wonderful readers a break from The Book!
Learning from Dogs
Days slipped into weeks with young Pharaoh settling down so perfectly well. Philip was fortunate that just a little over five miles away his nephew, James, had thirty acres of land near Staverton, of which fifteen were woods. Even better, the entire property surrounded by a stock-proof fence.
So almost from day one, Philip would put Pharaoh into the back of the Volvo and drive across to those secluded acres for an hour or so of exploring all the smells that Mother Nature could offer. Indeed, by the end of October it was a routine that each of them looked forward to. Pharaoh would busy himself in ways that only a dog can do, totally lost in his world of these trees. Philip would settle himself down on an old stump and just let his wonderful dog have the time of his life. That dog was becoming such a great companion and his already deep bond with the young Pharaoh and the dog’s clear devotion in return to him fed some very deep emotional needs.
This yearning for a dog, specifically for a German Shepherd dog, had links back to very early times in his life. Way back to 1956 when he was just eleven-years-old. That Summer when his father had offered to look after a nearby couple’s German Shepherd because they had to travel to Australia and would be away for six weeks. That late Summer having the dog so quickly settle in at home, so quickly the dog allowing young Philip to play with it, stroke it, cuddle up to it. Having Boy, for that was the simple and straightforward name for the dog, sleep in his bedroom. It was instant love for Boy by Philip. Those six weeks had been precious beyond description resulting in them becoming a life-long, unforgettable, enchanting memory. So deeply linked to the event that was to change Philip’s life forever. For just six weeks after he turned twelve his father died suddenly and unexpectedly at night; just five days before Christmas. The pain of his father’s sudden death in such contrast to the purest love he had felt for Boy, such extremes of joy and sorrow, would haunt Philip for decades.
Philip was conscious that he was leaving it a little late to sign up for dog training classes but in many ways Pharaoh was learning naturally and rapidly from both Philip and Maggie. He would listen intently to what was being spoken in the house. He had quickly learned the meaning of ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’, ‘Lie down’ and a host of other more complex communications. Within just a couple of weeks Pharaoh knew that when Philip said to Maggie, “Guess I better take Pharaoh for a walk!”, the dog would get so over-excited that Philip quickly amended saying the word ‘walk’ to spelling it out ’w-a-l-k’. But within days of that change Pharaoh had learnt that spelling out the word didn’t change the intention, and the over-excitement returned. Nevertheless, the time for training was now if Philip was to take Pharaoh anyplace where there would be other people and dogs. Plus Pharaoh was rapidly losing his puppyhood and growing into a significant male German Shepherd.
Philip rang Sandra and she recommended the South Brent Dog Classes just a few miles away from home. So that first Saturday afternoon in November, grey clouds spilling down from the moors, a hint of drizzle in the air, Philip drove West out of Totnes along the Ashburton Road. Pharaoh instinctively new something was up despite him so frequently being put in the back of the old Volvo Estate every time he was taken for walks.
The road meandered out of Totnes through green country hills where the sheep population far outnumbered humans. Totnes itself was surrounded by hills and dales as well as acres of green grasslands, the latter so closely cropped by sheep. Every fold in those hills seemed to hold either an ancient wood or an even older village that still felt so strongly connected with the long-ago settlements that preceded these havens. Names such as Berry Pomeroy, Stoke Gabriel, Dartington, Asprington, Harberton, Diptford, Rattery, Littlehempston; such echoes of times long gone. Philip mused about the history of Totnes, the ancient legend of Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first coming ashore here. Presumably, he pondered, because the town is at the head of the estuary of the River Dart and the Dart is one of the first safe anchorages along the Northern coastline of the English Channel, up from the South-West tip of Cornwall. In fact, set into the pavement of Fore Street in Totnes is the ‘Brutus Stone’. It’s a small granite boulder onto which, according to that legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship, proclaiming, ”Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.” Philip pondered that the likelihood of the legend being true was pretty low. But it was a great tourist magnet!
Just six miles later, Pharaoh still sitting erect intently watching the passing cars, Philip drove across the flyover that spanned the main Exeter to Plymouth road, the A38. Seemingly always busy, whatever the time of day, or day of the week, the speeding cars were throwing up a road spray as the drizzle had now deteriorated into a steady light rain.
Philip turned onto the B3372, that meandering country lane that ran into South Brent. He had been told to watch out for a five-acre field to the right just before entering South Brent; that was where the classes were held, come all weathers!
The open field gate and half-a-dozen parked cars made the location obvious. Philip drove carefully in, parked on a gravel parking area, leaving some distance from the smart, white Ford van to his right-hand side, and turned the engine off.
The ignition key had hardly been dropped into his coat pocket when Pharaoh erupted into a frenzy of barking. Thirty yards away a cheerful Cocker Spaniel was being walked across to the gathering group of dogs and respective owners and this clearly had triggered the barking.
Pharaoh’s nose was pressed up against the tailgate glass, his whole body tense, ears erect, tail straight out. This was a dog in attack posture. The sound of barking was overwhelming in the confined space of the car.
“Pharaoh! Shut it! Quiet!”, shouted Philip.
Pharaoh stopped barking but was still quivering all over, giving every indication of wanting to jump out of the car and beat up the Cocker Spaniel.
This was not what Philip had anticipated; far from it.
Philip swung his legs out of the car, stood up and closed the door. He better find the person in charge of the class and get acquainted with the routine. The rain was typical for Dartmoor! Fine rain that seemed to have a way of working its way through the most tightly buttoned coats. He pulled his coat collar up around the back of his neck and walked across to where a group of people were standing together, perhaps half of them with dogs held close to them on leashes.
As Philip approached the group, a woman, perhaps early middle-age, her dark-brown hair spilling out from under a leaf-green felt hat, caught his eye. She walked over to them, her blue jeans tucked into black Wellington boots.
“Hallo, you look like a first-timer?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Name’s Philip. Philip Stevens from Harberton together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh.”
“Well welcome to the class. My name is Deborah Longland and I’m the instructor around here. Call me Debbie; most do!”
Philip quickly guessed she was an experienced and supportive coach. Just something about her that way.
“Was that Pharaoh that I heard barking a few moments ago?”, Debbie asked.
“Yes, first time he has behaved like that.”
Debbie was looking across at the Volvo. “Strong, male German Shepherd, I don’t doubt. Not uncommon at all,” she replied, continuing, “Leave him in the car until I have the first class underway.”
Debbie went on to explain, “We have the regulars walk around that grass area over there with all their dogs on leashes. This gets them settled down. Then we reinforce the usual commands, as you will see.”
Philip looked to where Debbie was indicating. The nearest corner of the grassland that must have been three or four acres had an area that showed clear previous signs of dogs and owners walking round in a wide circle.
“After that, in about twenty minutes,” Debbie continued, “then we will bring Pharaoh in with, perhaps, just two or three other dogs, and see how he behaves.”
Then adding, “Once the first class is running, I suggest you give Pharaoh a bit of a walk around the far part of the field. Get him adjusted to the environment.”
“Oh, I presume Pharaoh is settled on the leash?” Debbie added as an afterthought.
Philip replied, “Yes, he’s fine on his lead. In fact, he walks well with me despite no formal heeling lessons.”
Debbie came back at him. “Shepherds are incredibly intelligent dogs and I can tell just from the way you speak about him that the two of you are very close. Catch you later, must dash now.”
Philip went back to the car and reached in to the rear brown, pseudo-leather bench-seat and picked up Pharaoh’s leash. It was a handsome affair, even if was just a dog lead. Sandra Chambers from the breeding kennels had recommended the type, a leash that had two length settings. More importantly, the supple, heavy-duty leather leash had a hand loop just six inches up from the snap catch. This allowed Philip to hold the leash in his left hand with Pharaoh having no freedom to be anything other than close to Philip’s left leg, the recommended arrangement for walking a dog on a lead. Right from the first moment that Pharaoh had been taken across to James’ woods, Philip had taught Pharaoh to ‘heel’ on the leash as they walked the grassy track down to the woods. It wasn’t long before Pharaoh would obediently remain close to Philip’s side without any pulling on his lead, even with the leash at full length. But how would it be today?
Philip leaned over the back of the bench-seat and clipped the lead onto Pharaoh’s collar before slipping back out from the car and closing the side door. He walked around to the tailgate and inched it open; sufficient to slip his arm inside and grab the leash. With his other arm, he raised the tailgate to its full extent. Pharaoh sat on his haunches just staring at everything.
“Pharaoh, down you get, there’s a good boy.”
Pharaoh dropped down on to the grass and looked up at Philip. It was clear that this was all very unfamiliar territory, for the first time in his young Shepherd’s life.
Philip gave him a couple of quick commands. “Pharaoh, stand! Pharaoh, heel!”
With that, Philip stepped, left foot forward, and Pharaoh was right on the mark.
It was a walk of a couple of hundred paces to get them to the far corner of the field. The ground had risen in their direction and now when Philip had Pharaoh sit and they looked back across the field and beyond to the rolling South Hams countryside so typical of South Devon, the view, even with the light rain, was so comforting; so homely.
Despite a lifetime of living in so many places, both within the UK, and overseas, this part of Devon felt so strongly connected to the person he was, that this was his home, where his roots were. That Acton, his place of birth in North London, just happened to be a technicality in his life’s journey.
Before they knew it, the first group was leaving the walking area and it was time to experience Pharaoh’s first obedience class!
They waited just to one side. Debbie came across.
“Philip, do you know what Pharaoh is like with other dogs?”
“No experience whatsoever,” he replied, continuing “We live over at Harberton but I have access to private woods at Staverton. Pharaoh is walked there most days. So I have never walked him in a public place and have no intention of doing that until he’s been properly trained and assessed; by you, I guess.”
“OK, let’s take it cautiously. Walk Pharaoh into the centre of the exercise area, have him sit, hold him close to on his leash.”
Debbie was quiet in thought for a few moments, unaware, it seemed, of the rain water that looked as though it were soaking into the crown of her hat.
“We have many dogs here today, although no Shepherds. I will ask a few of the owners to walk their dogs, dogs I know well, one at a time in a circle about you and Pharaoh, coming in closer each time if it all runs to plan.”
Philip walked Pharaoh to that centre spot.
“Pharaoh, sit!” He did so without hesitation.
A black, female Labrador and her owner, a gent wearing a black, full-length raincoat over brown hiking boots, the gent’s right hand carrying a wooden walking-stick, detached themselves from the group of dogs and owners and commenced to walk obliquely around them.
Philip reinforced his instructions to Pharaoh. “Pharaoh, Stay! Sit, there’s a good boy!”
Debbie was thirty feet away watching the proceedings carefully.
“Tom,” Debbie called out to the circling gent, “Come in just a few feet and continue circling Pharaoh.”
So far, so good.
“OK Tom, that’s fine. Going to move on to Geoff and his dog.”
Tom and the Lab returned to the owner’s group and a younger man, perhaps in his late twenties, came across with a smaller, creamy coloured male dog. To Philip eye’s the dog looked like a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull mix.
The dog was a far less settled creature than the Lab, and Terry, for the name of the dog immediately became clear, was prompted several times to heel.
Terry and his owner approached the circling zone. Pharaoh started to bristle, the hairs on the nape of his soft, brown neck lifting in anticipation of something, something only known to Pharaoh.
“Pharaoh, sit,” Philip voiced sternly as he noticed Pharaoh’s rear quarters just lifting up from the wet grass.
As Geoffrey and Terry circled around the rear of Philip and Pharaoh, Pharaoh squirmed his body and head so as to keep an eye on this other dog.
Then it happened!
As the Pit Bull arrived off to Philip’s right side, about eight feet away, Pharaoh sprang at the dog. It was not entirely unexpected by Philip but even so, even with Pharaoh being held at short rein, the jump practically dragged Philip off his feet. He had no idea that Pharaoh had such power in his legs now. He was just a little over four months old!
“Pharaoh, No! Come here! Come back!” Philip combined shouting angry commands with dragging Pharaoh back to his left side. Pharaoh begrudgingly obeyed but continued barking fiercely, standing erect on all four legs, lips curled back exposing his fangs and teeth; indeed everything about him signalling to the Pit Bull that Pharaoh was a deeply unhappy animal.
Debbie signalled to Geoff to retreat from the area and, as quickly as Pharaoh became upset, he settled down and squatted back on his haunches.
Debbie walked across to Philip.
“I’m terribly sorry to say this,” Debbie said quietly to Philip, “but I think you have a German Shepherd with an aggression issue.”
“Until you get that sorted, I just can’t take the risk of Pharaoh coming to these classes. Under the circumstances, I’ll waive today’s training fee.”
With that Debbie returned to the other owners.
Philip was gutted. Utterly shocked to his core. The dog that meant so much to him had been rejected. That rejection was as much his rejection as it was Pharaoh’s.
2,692 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover