I try not to think too much in years, but it’s inevitable that you do. People keep telling me 2016 will be better, and while I appreciate the thought, nobody really knows what lies ahead. Hope is all we have really; well, that and despair I suppose. It’s better to give the latter short shrift whenever possible. For anyone who’s been keeping up with my endeavours, you’ll know – broadly speaking – that 2013 was the best year of my life, while 2014 couldn’t have been much worse. Well at least until 2015 came along, which has been unrelentingly bleak if I’m honest, making 2014 seem like a breezy stroll through the parc. From the 7th January onwards (the day terrorists shot up Charlie Hebdo), everything appeared to go wrong.
In fact so much went wrong that I never even had time to pay tribute to my GP, Dr. Tredup, who sadly died of cancer in early November. A fastidious German with a sleek and stylish surgery painted in matt black and shui-ed to buggery, he was an unflappable tower of strength during times of uncertainty, a man who reassured Claire and I with such calm, while unbeknown to us, he had troubles of his own that proved to be insurmountable in the end. When he returned from his holiday in the South of France he called me up to ask how I was doing. It was kind and above the call of duty, though I remember saying to Claire, “if your doctor starts ringing you then you know you’re a bit fucked”. We hoped upon hope that he would return, but he never did. I had to go to the surgery and pick up my medical files a few weeks ago. I was expecting to walk out with several large boxes, but in the end they handed me a piece of paper, which was a relief. My new GP is called Dr. Lips, which my friend Russell pointed out sounds like a band from the 1970s.
“The actual tragedies of life bear no relation to one’s preconceived ideas,” wrote Jean Cocteau in Les Enfants Terribles. “In the event, one is always bewildered by their simplicity, their grandeur of design, and by that element of the bizarre which seems inherent in them.” I was reminded of these words in the early hours of Sunday, when the beloved pet dog of la famille Mason, Scruffy, slipped away. It was the bizarrest night, and then around 7am he ceased breathing and passed on peacefully with Claire and her mum and dad by his side. Naturally they were in shock at the swiftness with which he departed, and devastated too. He’d not been himself for a few days, and we wondered if he’d waited for Claire to come home before he left us. That he might have was small consolation in what has been a tragedy for the family. Claire’s sister Lucy came over in the next hour, and the frequency of their mourning was almost too much to bear. It felt like one final cruel twist in a year that luxuriated in them (at least I hope it was the last, but I’m not taking anything for granted).
Now the family are disconsolate, looking for their dog in places he normally pops up, and only seeing vacant space where he should be. As sad as it was seeing Scruffy lifeless after 16 and a half abundantly happy years, I can honestly say that no dog was ever loved more, and no dog ever loved his owners more. Indeed if the Masons treated each other half as well as they treated Scruffy then they’d be the most sickeningly contented family in all the land. I nicknamed him the Dauphin, such was the royal prestige heaped upon his lovely head.
The outpouring of grief has been as great as you would expect for that of any human family member, and at times I have to admit I have found it difficult to comprehend. I grew up on a farm, and the cruelty I witnessed first hand inspired my early adoption of vegetarianism. What I learned about myself these last few days is that it also taught me not to get too close to animals. The ones I grew attached to could be plucked away at any minute, so it would be best not to invest too much emotion. Indeed, I often tell the story of coming home from school and asking where my favourite pig, Ringo (on account of all the rings in his face), had gone. “He’ll be a tasty pork chop on someone’s plate tonight,” laughed my dad. To get back at him I stopped eating meat, and for the purposes of self preservation I stopped falling in love with the creatures that passed through our farm on the way to somebody’s dinner plate.
This hardness has saddened me, but there’s no hardness where Claire is concerned. I’ve never seen her so devastated, and each time she cries it breaks my heart a little more. Scruffy was tender and funny and thoughtful and sweet, and Claire could always make herself feel better giving him a hug. Mine aren’t as furry or comforting, but there is at least an abundance of them in her immediate future. As little as it might console them now, the Masons will soon be able to look back at the many years they got to spend with the best dog in the world.