We have many names for Charlie and each is situation specific. Charlie or Chazy is also known as Chazbo when he`s done something wrong like licking the middle out of mum`s vanilla slice, Chazrick when we want him to come to command, The Chaz Master when he`s displayed exceptional skill like heading the football or catching a long-distance peanut, along with Chisel – Chazel, Charlie – Chew and Beautiful Boy. These are all firmly lodged in our vocabulary and trip off the tongue frequently and subconsciously, and Charlie responds to all of them.
I originally named Charlie after a character in an Alfred Hitchcock film and not after my nephew who I remember at the time was quite offended by his namesake. He wasn`t a very pleasant character but I was watching the film when Robert walked through the door with Charlie curled up in cupped hands like a freshly kneaded ball of dough, blue eyed and all belly. So, Charlie it was and as in time honoured tradition was also given two middle names. All the males in Robert`s family have two middle names and so too does Charlie: Gilmour after David Gilmour, Pink Floyd fame and Dumas after Alexandre Dumas which we thought was funny, affectionately mistranslated into “dumb ass“ and coined, based on Charlie`s inability to learn from mistakes especially those made with our three cats: Claudia, Basil and Neapolitan. To our three princesses, Charlie was a widdling and unwelcome guest and not to be trusted and it took several claws in the backside and paw thumps to the head for Charlie to learn that these mamas meant business. It wasn`t an easy introduction into our household and the girls soon learnt to toy and enjoy. They would take it in turns to sit half way up the stairs trapping Charlie at either the top or the bottom, whichever would do, or force him to vacate his comfy spot on the bed by sitting too close to him or lie in clusters on the kitchen floor, languidly flicking their tails backwards and forwards watching and waiting whilst a nervous mutt steered himself gingerly around them to get to his bowl. Sadly, we only have Basil now, and the two have grown in tolerance and fondness but I still see Charlie freeze with discomfort and fear when Basil decides to wash his face which she does at least once a week. Incidentally, Basil was named so because a very good friend of ours, Henry, ace barrister and husband to my best friend Diane, lifted an eight-week-old Basil tail and exclaimed quite confidently, that she was a he. By the time we realised that she wasn`t, she had already learnt her name.
Charlie was `given` to us by our neighbours up the road, The Woodies, and was traded for a cooker hood which we had in storage and they needed and so, our fate was sealed thanks to B&Q. We still see Mr Woody on occasion as he provided the scaffolding for our new house and after all this time Charlie remembers him and goes bananas when he sees him.
Robert has been to the house nearly every day this year, unlike me who found it impossible to reignite an enthusiasm for a project symbolic of a future, but without my father in it. I resented the house and it took me nine months to readjust and face the fact that with or without my dad, there was nowhere to move but forward. So, every weekend I go and do a little bit more, and every weekend I feel more settled than the previous one, so forward it is.
Robert has done marvelously well despite my absence and Charlie`s done his bit too. He`s kept Robert occupied by losing toys under floorboards with impossible access and demanding walkies, usually up to the farm at the top of the road to feed the pigs. Mum and I have been stockpiling vegetable peelings for the three Oxford Sandy Blacks who will apparently eat anything organic. They are boisterous, bristly barrels of muscle who will climb over each other to get to the hand that holds the treat, but they are also demonstrative and welcome an affectionate touch or relieving scratch and slide sideways into the mud if you`re willing to give them an extra scratch behind the ear. This new friendship has curbed my desire for bacon, but I think I’ll have to work on the pork chops!
Charlie`s take on the pigs is mixed. He is brave, hidden behind Robert`s legs but intrigued enough to want to move closer to the porky protrusions squashed through the wire fencing, sniffing and snorting and rivaling for Robert`s attention. Charlie is quick to jump backwards if they make an unexpected move in the same way that he does if he sees an empty discarded bin bag or plastic plant pot rolling towards him in the wind. He is also alarmed that we feed other animals only barely acquainted and is something that he hasn`t before remotely considered as a possibility. His observation of our benevolence has revealed a very peeved and suspicious Charlie and he haggles for a carrot just as the pigs do and will eat it just to deny them the pleasure of it.
Charlie is considerably more tolerant of the other boarders although we think his presence may have offended one of the pygmy goats and judging by his keenness to avoid such goat, tells me that this is true. Despite this, he walks freely around the farm confidently mingling with the chickens and I find it quite remarkable that Charlie has no intention to stalk or chase, or instinct to kill and he dons the same distant respect that he had for our three cats all those years ago.
Summer has come and gone too quickly and I`m back wearing dull clothes to reflect the feeling that I get when winter is approaching. The clocks go back this weekend which I always forget to do. Dad reminded me every year without fail and yes, I`d forgotten again until someone reminded me. Another first. Mum has slowly cleared the house of dad`s possessions; tools, coats, scarves etcetera, erased subtly over time and bridging the necessary but painful gap between depression and acceptance. Set against the white walls and new neatness of the house lurk old memories found hidden in draws and wardrobes, concealed in corners or buried and forgotten under bed frames. I am winded by the ordinary… badminton rackets, whisky glass, camera case, handwriting in an address book and then find myself smiling at a two-headed light fitting, a wonky shelf or a door handle that turns the wrong way.
The clock is ticking. I measure my time now in three-weekly slots, chemo time which comes around all too quickly. Robert and I have an agreement of good cop, bad cop. Robert takes Charlie to the vet, and I pick him up. That said, Robert isn`t happy with his role but knows that he will be more easily forgiven than I, and Charlie`s memory of me will remain untainted as caregiver, tickler, diner lady and nurse. Unfortunately for us, Charlie`s cancer has spread, worse it has affected his left kidney function. The last visit to see Gerard in Guildford revealed that the embolization process was no longer an option for Charlie so instead we have started his third and final medical protocol to attack the enemy that is advancing into his bladder and invading his kidney. Charlie will be archived as a legend but won`t be the history maker that was to be the first dog in Europe to receive this intervention. Gerard`s face remained loyal to his words of unwavering commitment to Charlie`s palliative care, but I could sense he was as gutted as us to discover that Charlie wasn`t `the one`. On the way back home, Robert and I said very little. I sat in the back of the car with Charlie and I could see the strain in Robert`s face through the rear-view mirror. Charlie had been shaved down his left flank and on his chest and resembled Harvey, the toy dog who he loves to hate, stitched and re stitched and lying very still, and for the first time I questioned our intentions.
Six weeks have since flown and it`s business as usual. Charlie locked us out of the house this morning by hurling himself at the front door whilst we chatted to a neighbour, he`s had baked cod for lunch and two of his favourite chewy sticks, played on the field with his new football, had a shower, dried himself on the carpet and is now asleep on the bed having covered himself in our duvet. The latest scan shows that the inflammation in the kidney has reduced from 15mm to 5mm and it has regained functionality, and his urine is flowing through his ureter as it should. Defecation fluctuates in consistency and frequency and is something to be monitored but all things considered, today has been another good day for Charlie and I need to trust that we are doing the best we can for him. We`ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.
With the neighbours
At Fitzpatrick Referrals, Guildford. An 8 hour, 450 mile round trip!
Keeping Robert busy at the house, retrieving lost toys