Some kind of peace.

In 1990 we made our ultimate Hampshire house move. Laundry Cottage sits in the little village of Headbourne Worthy just to the north of Winchester - has done so since early in the fifteenth century. It is today a protected building with thatched roof, daub and wattle walls, oaken cross beams, great big chimney nook and a lovely little minstrel's gallery. The cottage itself now serves only as the property's living room. It connects to a modern kitchen area then a Victorian section of three bedrooms, two of them en suite. We were fortunate enough to agree a private rental deal with the owner, London solicitor John Duckworth who over the years became a good friend. That arrangement lasted unchanged for the next twelve years as I commuted back and forth to my various business interests and part time residences in the Middle East.

Laundry Cottage was so named because one of its bedrooms used to be the laundry for a nearby 'Big House', long since gone the way of all things. In our garden, buried deep into a grassy bank, there was a world war two air raid shelter, emplaced there by John's father. I myself would not venture into its dark recesses - arachnophobia yet again! - but some of our many grandchildren visitors most surely did. Whether I was home or away Dee would invite them all at once, with parents, either just for tea and games or for longer stays. I well remember how on arrival all the little girls would gang up in one end of the property and all the boys in the other. Warfare invariably ensued but with zero fatalities or even any injuries other than to some over-excited child's pride! One teatime in particular I remember well. We had shoved several tables together in order to accomodate all, I think, eleven grandchildren. All except the one latecomer were seated when total silence fell as little Josh arrived with his father Rudi. The seven year old came in, stood there stock still surveying the assembly for a moment then burst out with, who wants a fight then? There were no takers. Not immediately anyway. But there was lots of laughing for Josh was one of the smaller ones.

Our pair of hungarian vizslas plus two very old cats had accompanied us all the way from Raynes Road to Headbourne Worthy. Laundry Cottage became their home as much as it became our own. There were familiar walks along the river Itchen and up on St Catherine's Hill with its clever maze created by Winchester College schoolboys, (so it was said), and Stockbridge Down and the great field we called the racetrack because it had once been used for point to point horse racing. Many others, too. Dee walked the dogs twice daily in all and any weather. Me too when I was home. So we got to know and love so much of the Hampshire and New Forest countryside and its wildlife inhabitants.Each day provided us with a fresh adventure, exploration or what have you. So many incidents about which I could continue. Maybe later. But this I wrote sometime in the early nineties ... I wrote it for Ella, our number one grandchild and now our first teenager ...


Just walk with me on Stockbridge Down
I close my eyes and see us there
I hear our foot-fall’s icy crunch,
Out-face the numbing breeze and know
The silence of the world below,
Asleep beneath grey-scurrying quilt;
Come sit with me on frosty stump
And fill the steaming cups, content
With January’s snow-drift smother
And here and now with one another
‘Till Spring can fight her way, contrive
To force the ground with her strong thrust
To make surviving feathered ones
Sing fair to life’s continuum
For to such songs their lovers come:
Soon there’s this miracle once more
Bright petals blaze within the brush
Our hill is tinged then floods with green.
You stop to bend to touch a flower,
So easy, feeling nature’s power
On Stockbridge Down: Such crowns
Of England bear the marks of Man -
Old earthworks, limey pathways cut -
But this we know, that when we go
They’ll not take long to overgrow...
When summer comes let’s climb the hill
And stop to gaze o’er quilted fields
Of crops, breeze-stroked like squally seas;
But why must yellow rape defile
- Man’s greed so violent, so vile?
In far-off strips of trees, with silver
Glint does weedy river lazy flow
With musky scent of rising trout?
This landscape merges with the sky
In hazy distance. By and by
We’ll sit together, stretch out on
The cush’ning burnt brown grass, hard earth
And listen to small living things
That drone and buzz and chirrup, and
Just be content to love this land
Whilst overhead a sun-crazed lark
Step-dances over washed out blue.
Oh yes, lay back and close your eyes
And smell this English summer’s day
And dream of its extended stay 

One day we noticed a kind of lesion on our lovely Seth's head. He was fourteen. On the advice of our vet we took him to the Queen Mother's Veterinary hospital in north London. He stayed there for tests for a few days. When we came back for him and to hear the verdict it was with indescribable sadness that we learned he had a kind of inoperable cancer. Well, actually we knew it already from the way he was and the way he looked and the way he looked at us.We took him home and made him as comfortable as possible, his fur now falling out in tufts. It seemed that old Chloe, mother to his puppies and his lifetime mate knew all about it. Several days later we simply had to put an end to his suffering. Whilst waiting for the vet to arrive, Seth lay unmoving, uncomplaining  in my arms, alternately in Dee's. We talked to our friend. We talked and talked to him about all the good times and all his favourite wild places and the wild creatures he knew so well. I know he heard me but of course cannot tell if he understood. As our vet carried his beautiful body out of the house I felt such an intensity of sadness. I am not ashamed of all my unaccustomed tears that day. This magnificent animal had truly been with me and the ones I loved, for us all, always tail wagging, always loving throughout the trials and tribulations of our past fourteen years. And now he was gone as all must go ....

Only A Dog

Russetmantle Seth, Hungarian Vizsla, died 4th December 1992…
In the gathering of the darkness, the crying of the gulls.

'Only a dog', some might say but not those who knew,
those with the eye, the mind to understand, who,
meeting, seeing the life in him, filled to the brim
with all the magic of those things they saw him do
wondered at such grace even as his light grew dim.

You reached out to touch him when he looked to you
and watched as he ran, leapt, moved soft in undergrowth
and stopped to point a bird or greet a dog he knew:
when called by kindly death you knew he was not loathe
but did you feel, as I, the pull of some old goodness, too?

Our ancient progenitors along the sacred Nile
might better understand than we who have lost touch
with what’s now covered by the petty works of Man
perhaps would know why he was loved and is so much
a part of all that lives and all that is not vile.

He is…

In the night-breeze sigh through moonlit trees
in the gold-red flicker of our Winter fire
in the green-burst rush each Spring o’er the leas
and those to be of which he is grand-sire:
in the light, in the land, in his world now at peace.

So no goodbyes, old boy: your memory does not dull:
you champion of our hearts, you knower of all sorts.
sleep you out the ages ‘though life through time annuls
and thank you for the wonder that each day you brought
to the rising of the sun, to the crying of the gulls.

Bryan Islip
8th December 1991

On Boxing Day we drove the seven hundred miles with Seth's ashes up to his favourite beach in the far northwest of Scotland, returning New Year's Day. Here is what I wrote about that ...  

A Place For Seth    

New Years Eve 1991
This pact he made with nature for himself,
Not Dee nor me, the dog is ours no more.
Now here’s his place, this heathered grey brown shelf,
Strong rocky arm flung round an ochre shore
On which with her he’d run in flying sand
And loved the cream-capped swell of ocean wave.
Seth knew each salty smell of this sea-land
And there is nowhere else he’d rather have;
He looks across to Skye, as from the croft,
And with the calling of the birds his norm
He’ll sleep through rain and shine of summers soft,
In comfort feel each shaking winter storm.
Clean cuts sharp iron spade through root, black peat,
We bend to place named urn and champion’s scroll.
Six rocks we, breathless, bring up from the beach,
This celtic place Seth’s memory shall extol.
In failing light and our sad task achieved
We go in silence, stumbling down the path.
There was no bad in him for whom we grieve
But how we suffer in his aftermath.
We ford the burn then pause, about we turn
And just still see his cairn atop the mound:
Already snow-birds drift o’er him we mourn
‘He’s ours,’ faint comes their melancholy sound.
As midnight nears the piper holds the stage,
In Gaelic swirl brings in another age.
Our glasses touch and then at last our eyes,
Minds now with he who’s gone, we know our prize:
His final gift, last comfort, certain truth;
The good each does alone surviveth death.
Too soon we leave this hard and long-loved place
From rain-swept brae we turn to distant shore
And there a dancing light, such wondrous grace -
Oh Seth, our friend, we shall not miss you more
For you will be the upsprung green of spring,
Each dusty summer’s calm fecundity,
In autumn mists you will be lingering
White winters too shall hold your memory.
Chloe, soon, again shall run fast by your side
And best of all for Dee and me it’s true
You’ll see us from another puppy’s eyes
- And always there shall be this place for you.
Now: New Year’s Day of nineteen ninety two

The first Gulf War was such a strange event in so many ways. Not least it was really not a war. I remember whilst on a stint of report writing at home in Hampshire I recall receiving an e-mail from my friend and Almarai sponsor in Saudi Arabia, Brian Mullally; It's started, he wrote. I'm in Riyadh. Saddam's just sent us over a nice present. Scud missile landed not far from the compound. Kuwaiti royals on the run they say.

My workplace had become a boiling cauldron.

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