Dogs and Starlings
So I'm not going far at the moment. It's been icy on the roads and although numbers of Covid-19 are much lower round here, I'd rather keep a low profile until the vaccine has been rolled out. I have new art materials to play with and my camera with me on my walks and I have been experimenting with images of starlings. I have some gorgeous multi-prints available. Have a look at my instagram @natburnsy for images and email me if you are interested.
I went out with my camera, here are my thoughts. Strange what memories emerge.
"Serious art is born from serious play"Julia Cameron
With my camera in hand, I go in search of the interesting, the colourful, the unusual. Ice and frost patterns on the back of a car in the shade catch my photographer's eye. Delicate Christmas wreaths and garlands, decorated trees in picture windows of the Georgian and Victorian houses along Hensingham road delight me.
I turn the corner into the cut through and come face to face with a man and his black labrador. We shrink from each other because of the virus not the dog though I don't really like dogs. I'm reminded of Bill Murray's quote, "I'm suspicious of people who don't like dogs. But I trust a dog when it doesn't like a person.
We never had a pet dog, though my brother wanted one. The thought of a hot, wet doggy tongue licking my face makes me shrug my shoulders, shake my head and go urgh.
I'm sitting on a settee, short pinafore dress with little white socks and pumps when a big boxer dog bounds over with sloppy dripping chops. I pull my knees up to my chest, knowing I'm not allowed to put my shoes up on the furniture. Too late, my knee cap is glistening with slather and I cannot bear to wipe it off instead I sit quietly repulsed as my parents chat away to their friends unaware of my discomfort. As I remember this I reach the site of my second childhood dog story.
I'm probably in the same little dress, white socks and pumps on a sunny summer's day off to knock on the door of a wee playmate. We always knocked on the back door, why was that? A small terrier came around the side of the house snarling and yapping. In my terror I scrambled onto the coal bunker scraping my knees in the frantic attempt to escape. I can't remember how I got down but I do remember I was there for ages watching the noisy dog with bared teeth and the single dribble of blood running down my shin.
I've reached my childhood home. Few of the neighbouring houses still have their original owners with some changing hands many times. It is less than two years since I stood in the house I grew up in and then posted the keys through the door for the new owners. It has changed little on the outside though the garage door is now black and not red. It is empty again, as it changes hands. I wonder this time if the people who have bought it will stay and make it a family home rather than a temporary stop to make money renovating and reselling quickly for profit.
There is a man in my old bedroom measuring up and suddenly I think of Helen and I bouncing so hard on my bed that I broke the leg and it stayed that way propped up on old Christmas annuals until I left home.
I walk past Helen's house and see a car outside. I wonder if the family have let it out now that her Dad is in a home. Or maybe one of her sister's is in there sorting through her own memories.
Helen loved dogs. The first dog I remember was a hairy little dachshund with bad breath called Tina. I was able to take her for walks but kept her firmly at arms length. Then there was bouncy Ben. My brother partly satisfied his doggy longing when he was allowed to take Ben for walks.
I have wandered these streets for years, I know them so well from our paper round. We split the papers in the paper shop into two bags so we were able to manage the load. Even so, the straps cut into our shoulders especially on Sundays when the bags swelled with the supplements.
I hated getting up in the dark mornings but it was easier with Helen and I mostly remember laughter with the occasional argument about whose turn it was to deliver to the top house. It was the only way to get decent pocket money. Our first purchases were cowboy boots from the Grattan catalogue and I have a great picture wearing them in Holland on a school hockey trip leaning on a sportscar in a Valkenburg street.
I'm now by the woods, it is too muddy to explore and I'm wearing new pastel coloured sketchers but I did venture in there during the first lockdown when the heady smell of bluebells in the early evening took me right back to our childhood days.
I go past the George V postbox surrounded by green ivy that in the late Spring is overlooked by a huge rhododendron covered in deep red flowers. I turn up the hill and tread tentatively over a patch of frozen water across the pavement.
I nod to a couple in the garden washing the windows as I pass the adventure playground that is now an old people's home. It was always full of the estate children of all ages. The older teens would smoke and play cards. They'd offer their cigarettes to the younger children and sometimes put us on the roundabout or the horse and spin us or push us until we screamed to get off or threw up.
I decide to return one day when it is dry and walk through the wood to see if the old pathways are still there where we played Delivo with the den on the wings of the rocket. Do children still make camps in the wood, I wonder?
On the corner of Cross Lane there is a small patch of ice, but nowhere near the amount that used to build up there. 10 to 20 metres of ice kept us sliding for hours at a time when there were few cars before the road linked up with Thornton Road to make a busier cut through.
I am reminded of more doggy stories as I pass Mrs Barclay's old house. Helen's mother used to visit the old lady to keep her company and we would take out the little cairn terrier for a walk.
Sometimes we would take the dog to the building site where we would build an assault course out of concrete pipes and bricks and piles of sand. Once we took the dog down to the woods and went through the tunnel under the road. When we emerged out of the gloom on the other side the little dog was shaking and whining so we quickly took it back terrified it was going to have a doggy heart attack. I feel ashamed standing outside the house that I can't even remember the dog's name.
Helen always had dogs and in adulthood had two as she believed they needed the company. I feel a tinge of sadness as I recall my last night with Helen curled up on her sofa with her dog Finn nestled on my lap. Helen couldn't believe it. I had finally let a dog in and I admit I enjoyed the warm body and the gentle synchronicity of our breathing. But sadly that has never been repeated.
I'm almost back now, breathing heavily up the last steep bit before home. I pass the same family I had seen earlier, on a similar but anticlockwise loop. Two adults, two children, a pram and a dog. I cross the road to social distance. Strange times.