WE lost our best friend this week, and he has left an enormous hole in our lives.
Sometimes the personal life is more important than the big picture – we lose our humanity when we become like Pasternak’s Bolshevik leader Strelnikov. “The personal life is dead,” he tells Dr Zhivago. No, it’s not and it never should be. Without a personal life – by which Strelnikov meant feelings, something Zhivago never lost – you are dead inside, no matter how the physical body works.
So the big outside issues – the floods, poverty, drought in California, war and suffering – have to wait for another week. We have our own personal sorrow and loss this week, and we need time to grieve. And because the friend we have lost was known and loved by many people, we are lucky to share our grief and memories with them.
I have never believed that you “own” a dog or cat. They share your life, they are your friends. I don’t think you “own” your friends, or your partner (or your wife).
Potter had been part of our lives for 14 years. He arrived as a little bundle of black, tan and white fluff, who sat half-way up the stairs, with his little head quizzically on one side, below the level of the next step. When he was fully grown, the handsomest Wire Haired Fox Terrier we have known, he was more than two stairs high.
Potter shared every aspect of our lives, except foreign travel. He went everywhere with us. He went to Scotland, where he loved to run on the beach on the Dumfries and Galloway peninsula. He went to Yorkshire and shared the pulpit with our American friend Kay, when we stayed at a Landmark Trust converted Elizabethan convent. He went often with us to Suffolk, where he ran on the marshes by Snape Maltings. He loved the New Forest, where he found so many interesting smells. He was always happy with trips to London if they included walks in Hyde Park or Southwark Park – he was less happy with the Barbican where the underground carpark and surrounding streets offered little in the way of interesting smells or odd titbits to snaffle. Until the last few months, when his diet was strictly controlled, he loved to find forbidden treats (including the cat’s food) and was always on hand to share picnics or finish the bits in the roasting tin.
Most of all he loved the walks we enjoyed in Dorset and Somerset, along the streams of the Levels, on the Purbeck hills, often with our friend Jo and her Jack Russell terrier, Badger. Potter and Badger were like brothers – often looking at each other with a wry look. You could see them saying to each other: “How odd these two legs are, the way they get in their metal boxes and travel miles, then we get out and there you are!”
From time to time, Potter would nudge me off the keyboard and write articles for my old paper. He was witty and elegant, with a special view of the world from his four-legged position, pondering the peculiarities of two-legs and their constant need to be going somewhere, doing something. He couldn’t understand why a good meal, something to chew, something to chase, plenty of walks with good smelly things to roll in (the greenier and stickier and nastier the better) wasn’t enough for them. But he loved us as much as we loved him, and he knew that wherever we went, his needs were always planned in.
When we went to Bristol, or Bath, or Salisbury, to review plays there were places en route where we would stop to walk him, before the theatre and on the way home. Now it will be so strange and sad to drive past these familiar walks and not stop.
We miss him running upstairs with us, whatever we are going to do, and then down again, flying from the third step up to be ready to bounce a greeting as we reach the ground.
We miss his rushing down the hall when the doorbell goes, to greet his Auntie Margaret, his best friends Jo and Badger, special friends Sue and Angela and Stuart and all the other friends who he took to his warm heart with bounding, barking enthusiasm.
We have been so touched by the kind comments and support from our friends, sharing their memories and confirming our knowledge that Potter was special.
People often commented about Potter that they “had one like him on wheels when I was a child” – and they often asked about the name. It was Potter, as in Harry. A few years back I found one of those push-along terriers in a vintage shop. He dated from the 1950s, was a bit smaller than the real-life model – and he was called Harry!
I can’t end better than to quote from one of the kind letters we have had: “Potter had a special following as his personality stood out from the crowds of four legs. He was famous without knowing it … Love is a funny thing – it makes us feel on top of the world, and it takes us to places that really hurt in the depths of our very souls. But above all it makes us far, far richer. I say thank goodness for Potter, for his adoration of you both, for his wags, kisses, wees on the mat and ability to bring deep happiness in his day to day life to so many of us.
“Potter rest in peaceful slumber, wag often and laugh lots.”
We were so lucky to know him and he will always be part of our lives.