One day, not too long after Paddy died, a car came along the road slowly, a man driving and a worried-looking black labrador- type dog in the back, peering out of the window. I knew at once that she would come and live with us. I was on my way out to see a friend (yes, shy and solitary as I was, I did have a few friends) and sure enough, on my return Susie was already settling in.
It was another sad story, she was a loved pet but the mother of the family had cancer and her husband was struggling to cope with their four children as well as look after her, and a young dog was too much. He had contacted the RSPCA and been given our address. I don’t think he’d come by arrangement with us, my mother wouldn’t have kept it as a surprise but just told me.
Just to keep you abreast of the passage of time, Bobby died when I was 5 1/2 and I would have been in my early teens when Susie came to us. It was summertime, probably just before my 14th birthday, and my father had just bought a caravan, rather against the wishes of my mother. He thought it would be jolly and spontaneous to move on day by day but she just saw work and disruption – actually, this holiday makes a post in itself, because it was rather a disaster, if not to me.
My sister was at college and due home for the holidays. Mummy had asked what she would like for a welcome home dinner and she asked for Governor’s Mansion House Pot Roast. This was a particularly delicious dish, of boned beef sirloin and the first thing to do was to brown the meat on all sides in a pan of fat. Turning the joint, the fat splashed up and severely burnt her fingers. She had to go to the doctor’s surgery to get it dressed and, inexplicably, he airily snipped away the blistered skin before bandaging the wound. As you can imagine, she was in agony. Her hand was bandaged, just leaving the fingertips peeping out.
The next day, she was driving to Beccles when a wasp got into the car. Since disturbing a wasps’ nest as a child, she had been terrified of wasps and so she started flapping at the wasp and not concentrating on her driving. We left the road on one of the Barnby Bends and hit a pile of sand that had been left there the previous winter for gritting purposes (it was never moved and has long since been grassed over and become part of the scenery), the wasp stung her on two of the poking-out fingers and flew away. So we didn’t start the holiday in the best of circumstances.
We left the other dogs in the care of our gardener, but it was decided that, as Susie had only been with us a few days, we would take her with us. She was a large dog and it was a 4-berth caravan, it wasn’t that roomy. Also, we left a lot later than intended so only got about 30 miles down the road before deciding to stop for the night. The next day we carried on and reached Yorkshire.
I had a lovely holiday, mainly because I left my parents to it and went out exploring with Susie. The weather was hot, it was peaceful with beautiful scenery and we wandered for hours, building up a loving bond between us. It was so different from Suffolk of course, with the hills and quarries, the drystone walls, the sheep wandering about, the far views. Things were rather different back at the caravan, where my parents mostly rowed. As in quarrelled, it was not a boating holiday.
My mother was in a filthy temper for all that holiday and it would be very easy to blame her for all the disagreements, but at least some of it was understandable. My father wasn’t that practical. He’d been out in the kitchen garden picking a whole lot of produce and brought the pressure cooker so that he could cook large meals. He’d brought a gramophone, lots of board games – poor Daddy thought it was going to be a wonderful, bonding holiday for us all where we would have simple fun. But my mother was no longer into simple fun, she preferred more sophistication. And if Daddy cooked a meal, she got the job of clearing up which was bad enough at home. And she was in pain the whole time, felt quite claustrophobic in the little caravan and found the business of having to unfold beds and tables every day a thorough nuisance, especially with a bad hand. I remember one particularly bad quarrel, when Susie started to shake with fear. I put my arm round her and whispered reassuringly that it was all right – my mother turned on me and shouted that IT WAS NOT ALL RIGHT. It wasn’t surprising that the dog and I turned to each other. I was quite able to disengage, I spent the days out roaming and the evenings reading, the rows were nothing to do with me and I switched off from them.
More about Susie to come. And later, pictures of shoes.