Dog Gone

 

Every sensation in this house has changed in an instant. No longer the click of his nails on floorboards and no longer his blissful morning roll on the bedroom rug as he stretches and yawns and attends to his start-the-day lick-and-brush-up prior to setting out to get me moving because time is passing and still no breakfast.

No sounds of him industriously rearranging and making Jack-nests of the piles of cushions on the various sofas he was master of, or of the friendly though insistent growl that told me he was ready for food, or a walk or for simply a lap-cuddle.

Above: Peter napping while Jack keeps watch.

He announced every telephone call with wince-making wolf-howls – just in case we hadn’t noticed the ringing – and from his lookout post in the sitting-room window-seat he had a friendly bark for anyone he recognised coming up the drive, as opposed to the outraged one he reserved for suspect intruders and marauding rabbits. Jack was always the first out of the door to inspect and greet all legitimate comers, and for the years we’ve lived at Ty Isaf, our directions to travellers have concluded with ‘You’ll know you’re in the right place when Jack runs out to greet you!’

Above: Jack at Ty Isaf.

Above: sitting behind me and gently massaging my back. We never taught him to do this, but I always found it very soothing.

He was practical in matters of his own comfort. He would lead me to the fireplace wood-burner and fasten his eyes on mine to let me know he’d appreciate a blaze to stretch out in front of. Jack was always eloquent when expressing his needs and preferences, and was quite capable of many nuances of exasperation if he found we weren’t satisfactorily co-operating with him.

Above: paying a visit to Pip Koppel at Lletty Caws, where he’d been born.

Throughout Jack’s life he slept in our bed, and in the winter months Peter and I vied for him, each stealthily pulling him closer for warmth. Jack was at his most comfortable and happy with one or the other of us spooned around him. He’d curl up and press so hard into you, the tighter the better, only pulling away when he got too hot and had to rearrange himself, usually on his back so that his belly would cool faster.

He travelled the UK with us by car – his favourite mode of transport – watching the road ahead, preferably from the lap of whoever was in the passenger seat, and when that wasn’t possible, from the gap between driver and passenger.

Above: keeping an eye on things from the navigator’s perch next to our friend Dave.

 

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But he made trips by train and ferry, too, and just last year had his first experience of the top deck of a London bus when he accompanied us to the London Illustrators’ Book Fair, a mode of transport he entirely approved of when he discovered that he could wander off and make new acquaintances. He was a seasoned and polite guest in the homes of friends, in hotels, in rental properties and in B + Bs. He behaved so well that he occasionally gained access to restaurants that didn’t usually allow four-legged visitors.

Above: the first stage-rehearsal of The Mare’s Tale by the composer Mark Bowden – in the blue t-shirt. The librettist was Damian Walford Davies, whose children loved Jack so much they persuaded their hapless parents to get them a Jack Russell of their own!

When in 2014 I directed The Mare’s Tale, he attended every rehearsal. Somewhere I have a picture of him sitting in a stalls seat of the theatre while every musician on stage aimed a phone camera at him. Later he had a reserved seat next to mine for the premiere. Ian Hamilton recalls that when he walked into the auditorium that evening, there were more people crowded around Jack than there were around me.

Throughout his life he loved to play and was very good at it. In his prime his frisbee retrieval was nigh on legendary, and it was wonderful to see him run and leap and perfectly field even the most far-flying throw. He took fences like a steeple-chaser and what couldn’t be got over, he took a route under. I loved to see him chasing in the long summer grass of the paddock, because he’d progress like a Springbok, in high prances.

Jack was an extraordinary presence in our lives: sweet-natured, courteous, attentive, adventure-loving and laughter provoking. From his earliest days he was a pup who got a joke, and that’s a rare thing. Moreover his ease in all company made him in so many ways not quite what most dogs are. Yesterday in a phone conversation, Dan, my friend and collaborator on the Gawain project, explained that he’d realised whenever speaking to others about Peter, me and Jack, he never referred to the latter as being a dog, which I think must occasionally have led to misunderstandings. He said he just didn’t think of Jack that way when talking about him, and I can quite understand why.

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Above: in the audience of a concert given by the Mid-Wales Chamber Orchestra. He behaved impeccably until the applause at the end, when he barked vociferously to show his proper appreciation.

Above: enjoying a cake-fest with my cousin Katy in Dolgellau.

Above: encouraging Susan Trueman to play!

Above: Jack and a visiting Mari Lwyd

Above: in the River Ystwyth just below Ty Isaf.

Above: with Peter just prior to the opening of my ‘Telling Tales’ exhibition at the Tegfryn Gallery, Anglesey.

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Above: his favourite ‘Ducky’, a gift from Alfie and Elsie Bugg.

Above: the best game of all, trying to kill the shining snake that comes out of the hosepipe!

Above: being watered by Rhys Edwards at the 2017 London Artists’ Book Fair.

Above: on holiday on Bryher in the Isles of Scilly.

Gentlemen Jack

2004 – 2018

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20 thoughts on “Dog Gone

  1. Annwyl Clive. Wir ddrwg gen i glywed. Was da, was ffyddlon! Heddwch i’w lwch. I’ve always wanted a dog, but circumstances, work, family, and partner have always got in the way. The big hole Jack leaves is one big celebration of a life well-lived and well-loved. Despite your loss and hiraeth, I envy you! Another light in our firmament has gone out.
    Cofion annwyl,

    • Robin, thank you.

      ‘Heddwch i’w lwch’ indeed. Yes, there is a coruscating grief, and I’d be lying if I said I was finding it easy to negotiate my way through it. I know he had a good life, which is something to celebrate, and of course I do. Nevertheless, right now there are only the changes to everything, and the missing, and the awakening to every morning feeling sick with his absence. He’s outside, in the paddock, and I find that agonising to remember every time I wake in the night, because at a visceral, child’s perspective level, I know it to be so wrong because he should be in here with us, in the warm, under my hand, in our bed where he always slept. His was a presence shaped by familiarity under the hand. He was always there and I was always soothing both him and myself, with touch. His shape and all the textures of him under my fingers was a defining part of our lives together. Staggeringly, not only did he receive touch, as you’d expect from a friendly dog, but he offered it, too, which is a lot more unusual. Jack would wriggle his way behind me, sit bolt upright and then gradually paddle my back and shoulders with his paws. It was something he started doing in the last third of his life with us. We have no idea why he did it, but it’s hard not to conclude that he knew it helped me when I was tense or troubled. I’ve never experienced it from another dog. Jack was unique in so many ways, and this was one of them.

      Many have spoken admiringly of the way Peter, Jack and I appeared to the world. We’ve regularly been called The Three Amigos, The Three Caballeros and The Three Musketeers. It always made me happy to hear how people saw us. A thousand times I’ve listened to the refrain, ‘Oh I’d love a dog if it were one like Jack.’ Once in central Cardiff, when Jack was still a youngster, a well-heeled American family – parents and two children – approached me and asked if they might pet him. In moments he was in the arms of the daughter, and the father, smiling brightly, took me slightly aside, looked me in the eye and asked, cool as a cucumber and with deadly seriousness, ‘So how much do you want for him?’ I didn’t even grace that with an answer, but firmly retrieved Jack and walked away. I suppose I remember it because it was an indicator that almost from the beginning, he had star quality.

      I was made better for having him, and I feel diminished by his going.

  2. I’ve never had a dog, or any pet for that matter. I always thought I wasn’t an animal person. Then I met Jack. But Jack wasn’t just an animal he was different. I only met him for the weekend in Swansea but, that was enough, I wanted a Jack of my own then. He really did listen to you. I remember some treats being brought out to share with the other two dogs at the B & B we all stayed at. Jack took a couple of steps forward to get his treat and you quietly said ‘Jack, manners please’ and he came straight back and sat back down with you until told it was his turn. I was amazed and loved him all the more. It was fabulous to see his obvious pleasure at being outdoors catching a thrown ball and his glance at you followed by a stare at the water then another look at you to come and get the ball out of the pond as he stood guard over where it had entered the water..
    I’ll never forget those very precious moments with your little man.

    • Jax, I’m touched to read your recollection. I remember the occasion well. We had a lovely time, didn’t we? Even in the photographs taken at the time, I can see Jack’s politeness with other dogs. And of course that was when I met Phil Cooper for the first time, and so the study day was the beginning of both a great friendship and a collaboration.

  3. A life well lived xx if only all dogs could experience such a life and times xx condolences, but thanks for sharing X

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Thank you for publishing this touching eulogy to a very fine fellow.
    How lovely that you walked the road together, for a little while.

  5. A lovely tribute to Jack. I don’t know how many years it has been since I first began reading Artlog, but always loved posts that included photos and stories about Jack. I know how much he will be missed. Wonderful photos all, but the last is very special.

  6. What a beautiful rememberance. I have been crying my eyes out with it. And in spite of not having met him in the flesh, I can see how happy, how sure of being loved, and how polite he was.

    Only one thing: Dogs, like horses, or even like children, show in their personalities how they were treated and brough up from the moment of birth. So the fact that he was like he was, reflects greatly on you both. (Nature is important, but Nurture is just as important!)

    Love
    María

    • Dear Maria. Sadness is complex, isn’t it? It’s a part of loving, and to be celebrated, and yet it is so painful to get through. Thank you for your kind words. Perhaps we did shape Jack, because of the attention we paid to rearing him and helping him be the companion that we could rely upon in all circumstances. But he shaped us, too, with his sunny disposition and capacity for making friends, with his joy for life and his sense of the order of importance of things. It was he who would very firmly shooo me from the studio when he thought it time to take a break from work, and he would invite play even when I was preoccupied, and not stop until I gave in and obliged, because he knew it would be fun for both of us. And it always was.

      Sending love from Wales. XXX

  7. The best obituary I’ve ever read! My eyes are streaming with tears and I can hardly see the last few photos for the blur. God I shall miss him when I visit you again. I wish I could magic your pain away……xxxxL

  8. So sorry to hear that Jack has died Clive. He will obviously leave a huge hole in Peter and your lives. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack at the opening of your ‘Telling Tales’ exhibition at the Tegfryn Gallery. I hate to tell you this but I think Jack stole the show! He was so attentive to all, and so very well behaved. Yes, a true gentleman!

    • John, Peter said only the other day that he thinks our popularity will sharply decline now there is no Jack, as we know that for many we were just the ones who accompanied him. It comes as no surprise that Jack was the star turn at my Tegfryn exhibitions. I was always the support act!

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