FOR HAMLET (2000/2001-22/12/2014)
Cherish the memories, they say.
He had a good life.
And it’s true.
Every day he would explore the woodland sniffs,
drink from running streams and rain puddles,
sometimes pausing to mindfully take in an exquisitely scrumptious wild scent
magically embedded in some ordinary-looking clump of grass,
lips quivering in ecstasy.
Or he would interpret with his nose the secrets buried in the depths of a fern
a plant which held endless fascination for him.
And he wouldn’t be hurried, ever
as we waited (sometimes impatiently) for him to ‘come on, Ham, we have work to do!’
as he explored the mouth of a fox hole
checked out another fern
waited for some friends spotted on the horizon
or simply held his nose to the wind, reading the breeze and its messages.
For that was his life’s work and his gift to us
to enjoy life as deeply as any dog could,
and be seen to do so.
He was a true professional.
Slyly checking the scene for spectators
(best of all if fat, slow Labradors, unable to keep up)
he would gleefully take off in one of his wild, circular high speed chases
after nothing in particular, just for the joy of it
Showing off, looking sideways to check you were watching
taking absolute delight in the admiring glances of walkers
who would pause to watch as if at a tennis match
heads bobbing left to right just to keep sight of him
until he would do just one final lap and catch us up
Sometimes, he would disappear after foxes, rabbits or badgers
always returning just before I started to really worry.
And one day, when young, he chased a full herd of deer in Richmond Park,
setting a bad example, all the other dogs in hot pursuit but not quite keeping up
(We found him holding the lead stag at bay, unharmed and just for the fun of it,
as we pelted him with treats to get him back, and were scolded by the Park Warden).
Another time, in March, he took off after a deer that had taken flight
into the cold North Sea
pursuing it fully clad in his existentialist black jumper
realising only after a few moments
that the sea was cold, and he didn’t like being cold
so swam back in a hurry
to my panic-stricken but relieved embrace
and a warm towel.
Everything in life was wonderful and interesting to him…
Staring in disbelief at the seals sunbathing on the rocks at Jura
Howling with his unseen ancestors at the sight of passing herds of deer
from the back of our blue van
Going along with us in each and every adventure, curious and big hearted
Running on Camber Sands, his favourite beach for over a decade
Playing hide and seek with his human Dad around the gorse bushes on the Common,
literally smiling with delight at the sound of our laughter.
Picking up one of those forbidden delicacies, a fat green sheep turd
he would shake it at me mischievously
and as I approached sternly to remove it
he would wait until I was a hair’s breadth away and then take off at high speed
giggling to himself
knowing I could never catch him.
As a young dog, he sat so quiet and still next to his baby human ‘niece’
Gently allowed unknown children to surround and stroke him
Never forgot a face, be it dog or human.
People would greet him: “Hello, Hamlet!”
and I would not have a clue who they were.
Patient, serene, stubborn, and in his later years both wise and grumpy in turns
Muttering to himself in his sleep,
sometimes scolding the two lately arrived young greyhounds, his new siblings
to assert senior privileges on sofa or bed
just so they knew who he was, which they did.
Yet patient and generous also with them, in his gentle, noble way.
Calling to be carried upstairs when he could no longer gallop up them
Prodding you hard with his paw for attention
and head butting your hand insistently
to demand to be stroked.
So many, many, many moments.
Hanging now suspended like dewdrops frozen in my memory
as I revisit them time after time, pulling them back in
and seek to touch you through them
and make you real again, my golden boy
(Isobel Deeley, Christmas Day 2014)