When I was in Sheffield I went walking with Annie (my mother), Jane (one of her oldest friends) and her two labradors Gertie (chocolate brown) and Toby (golden). The dogs are Jane’s immediate family in much the same way that Henrietta was my sister.
Henrietta was a chocolate brown German pointer, one of a litter that my grandfather, Polo, bred. She arrived in 1960 when I was 4 and we said goodbye to her 10 years later when we were posted (funny word when you think about it; the family as envelop!) to Fort Bliss in El Paso Texas. Henrietta went to live with my godmother Eve on Busbridge Copse Farm. I never saw her again; she died of cancer before we returned.
I’ve always thought of her as the sibling I never had. As a young child, I played football with her – she had a neat technique for getting her teeth into the lacing on the football and then tearing off round the garden – talked to her, and often laid down and pillowed my head on her haunches.. Now I come to think of it, I also used to eat her dog biscuits.
When I was home from school, every evening was a ‘walk the dog’ evening; either as a family or just me and my Dad. Having a dog got you out in the world and while you might not mark out your territory in the same way there was something happening at a deeper level; an engagement with the natural world, the seasons, the weather and the time of day.
This weekend I rediscovered the joy of ‘walking the dog’, the damp doggy smell in the car afterwards, and the loveliness of a big sloppy licking where there is no room to escape. So as I head back to London I remember my sister Henrietta and the others who made such a big contribution to my childhood: Wiggins the King Charles, Pericles the Hungarian Vizla, Solo the ‘Collie Tramp’, and the many other dogs that have given me their friendship over the years. They were always looking to go out; not saying but barking.