Heena

Published: 129 articles

Happy Diwali!

HAPPY DIWALIIt is that special time of year when I get to wish you all a very Happy Diwali!

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, the end of the current Hindu year and the eve of the New Year. It is one of the biggest, brightest and most joyous festivals in the Indian calendar. Diwali signifies and celebrates the triumph of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance, of love over hate and of our own inner light overcoming spiritual darkness.

It’s this aspect of Diwali that I was thinking about today. We are all of us, always, either working towards or away from those things – goodness, knowledge, love and finding our inner light. We may not necessarily see it in those terms, and very rarely is it a big, dramatic, all-guns-blazing kind of fight.

Instead, I think it’s the myriad ways in which we live our lives on a daily basis. We all have darkness inside us, just as we all have a beautiful inner light. And throughout our lives, throughout our individual journeys, we are making a choice – we are choosing to allow either the dark or the light to guide us.

We demonstrate those choices in a million different ways, the choice to nourish our souls with laughter, with meditation, with music that makes our souls sing. Or to go the other way and drown in the bad news the media are so keen to push, to become irritated by the annoying habits of those we purport to love, or to deprive ourselves of the things that bring us joy. The choices we make with our food, are we nourishing ourselves or making ourselves ill? The choices we make with our time, are we devoting it to making our lives better, or spending it watching other people living their lives instead?

Each of these tiny, seemingly insignificant choices are in fact part of the path we are walking, and on each occasion, at each decision point, we are either choosing to move forward towards the light, or shrinking back into the dark.

Darkness in itself isn’t a bad thing. If it were daylight all the time, we’d struggle to get our bodies to rest and we’d never be able to appreciate the beauty of the moon. Life is all about contrast, about light and dark.

For me, the last few months have been particularly dark, as the light of one of the most precious souls I ever met has flickered and faded away. But he has left love, and the memory of good times. Having enjoyed that light for so long, the darkness of his death is bearable because it’s the natural effect of the light of his life.

And so, this Diwali, I choose to appreciate the beauty of the dark, whilst turning my head towards the light.

I hope the lights of Diwali illuminate your path, allowing compassion, knowledge and love to flood into your life. I hope the brilliant colours of Diwali colour your days with love, laughter and wonderful memories, and I hope the sparkle of Diwali showers you with joy, health and happiness.

Happy Diwali!

Pinches and Punches

pinchesDo you remember the saying ‘A pinch and a punch for the first of the month’? I thought about it on Wednesday when we hit November, and I’m grateful the 1st of the month doesn’t mean a having a sore arm as it did when I was at school!

Apparently the saying goes back to the time when people thought witches existed. The pinch refers to a pinch of salt, which was thought to make witches become weak. Once the salt had done its job, all you needed to do was give them a good punch to banish them completely.

Anyway, back to the first of this month (with no witches). It was a Sunday, and for me it was a symbolic new beginning as well as an actual new month kicking off. I spent the day travelling to and from Wales, visiting a breeder with someone who is potentially ready to become a pet parent. We weren’t checking out Golden Retrievers, so I thought I’d be ok. And I was, most of the time. I spent two hours playing with, cuddling and walking four gorgeous dogs (two sets of potential parents). It took every last ounce of control not to add my name to the breeder waiting list for the new puppies though. I hadn’t realised how much I missed this particular type of company, and for a little while, the idea of a new puppy felt too exciting to walk away from.

But now is not the right time to make another twelve to sixteen year commitment. Simba is still the only dog I really want. Until my heart has learnt how to remember him without falling apart, and how to live with the joy of his memories rather than the sadness of his loss, it wouldn’t be fair to bring another dog into the equation. It hit me hard on the way home on Sunday evening – the stark physical ache of his loss. I will never hear his paws clattering on my floor, I will never smell his particular doggy stink, and I will never be able to wrap my arms around his furry neck and give him a cuddle again. 

The absolute finality of his loss feels sharper at the moment precisely because of the contrast – because on Sunday I saw someone who was at the beginning of that particular adventure. It made me ache for what I had lost, even whilst I was excited for them and their new incredible journey.

But we can’t live in the past, can we?  And I’m not. I’m moving forward. After a few months of letting myself go, I’m finally taking a few small steps to a healthier lifestyle. I’m eating a little bit better (or rather, I’m not eating quite as much rubbish as I have been), and I’ve started finding ways to add back some of the exercise I’ve been missing out on the last couple of months. The new book is also slowly starting to develop and take shape. There have been days when my house feels more like a hotel, as I enjoy my new unwanted freedom. Ever so slowly, I’m adjusting to this new chapter in my story, and I won’t lie to you – there’s an element of excitement beginning to blossom too (I think Simba would have approved – I choose to take the two actual new buds appearing on ‘his plant’ as a sign that he does).

I don’t know what the future holds, and I’m starting to come to the realisation that I don’t need to know. I’m learning to accept that things change, to acknowledge I can’t control it, to trust that I can handle it and to hope that I will enjoy it. I’m learning to allow myself to go with the flow. Some days will be harder and some will be a breeze. Life moves inexorably forward whether we like it or not. We can never go back. So forward is our only option. Which means it’s not about the actual moving forward. It’s about how we move forward. Can we do it with style and aplomb and our heads held high? Or are we going to throw a tantrum, dig in our heels and fight a battle we’ll lose? I’m learning that fighting the flow is exhausting. I don’t want pinches or punches to get me moving. I’d rather just do it willingly, in my own way, on my own terms and preferably in a sparkly pair of shoes.

Supermoons and super starts

Supermoons and Super StartsTonight we’ll see the last Supermoon of 2015. I’ve mentioned Supermoons, New Moons and Full Moons in previous blogs. I’ll undoubtedly mention them again as they come and go. Why do I keep coming back to them? I think it’s because I’m slightly fascinated by the power of the moon.

If the moon can have an effect on the seas and the tides, then does it have any effect on us, given that we are around 55%-60% water? I don’t know, but I think it might. That’s my belief anyway, and because of that I like to pay attention to the changes in the moon.

What’s this Supermoon all about? We’re experiencing our usual monthly full moon, but the moon is also the closest to the earth that it gets during it’s orbit. So it looks larger than usual.  I noticed it as I was driving home this evening – the moon looked huge, it looked beautiful and it looked full of promise. I’m taking that as a good omen and a great time to think about where I am on my own journey, where I want to be and how I’m going to get there. Maybe this final Supermoon of 2015 can be a super jump start on that journey.

There’s a lovely quote that reminds me of this…

“We may go to the moon, but that’s not very far. The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.”

Charles de Gaulle

So this week, let’s both see if we can embrace the power of the Supermoon and move a little further forward in our own journey.

I Promise…

I PROMISE (1)Last week I wrote my blog post a day early, trying to get ahead of the game a little and prepare for my crazy busy work week.  This week I’m writing it a few hours late, wrapped in a blanket, with paracetamol and tissues to hand.

It hasn’t happened for quite a long time – I think it’s been at least eight or nine months – but I’ve come down with a horrible cold.  It started last week – I was rushing to and from my crazy work week, and I hadn’t quite caught up with the change in weather.  Which meant the change in weather caught up with me.  A summer top combined with a cold windy autumn day, tiredness and stress equalled a runny nose and a sore throat.  I half-heartedly listened – I wrapped up a little warmer and took some cough sweets.  Then I carried on with my week – long hours at work, then a couple of evenings out.

On Saturday morning, my body shouted a little louder and I spent the day shivering in bed, with a full on cold, hacking cough and feeling feverishly phlegmy.   I also lit a candle for my Simba – it was exactly three months since I’d lost him.  I was no better on Sunday but I was determined not to miss out on Discover Dogs – after three months without my boy I was desperate for some furry cuddles.  So I wrapped up warm, dosed myself up with cold medicine and ignored my body’s plea for more rest.  I cried like a baby as I met and cuddled Blaze and some of the other Southern Golden Retriever Display Team pooches who were there for the day.  Their owners were amazingly kind and understanding, not at all fazed by my tears, all of them having lost a beloved pet themselves.  By the time I got home on Sunday evening I was absolutely done in, emotionally and physically and all I wanted to do was sleep for a day or three.

But we still had some final reporting numbers that needed to be in this week, so I ignored the message from my body that I needed to rest and I dragged myself in to work, against my better judgement, and armed with yet more tissues and paracetamol. Yesterday, more than one person at the office told me, in the kindest way possible, that I looked awful.  As well as wanting me to get better, I think there may have been a desire to get the maniacal coughing,  spluttering and general germiness out of the office and away from them.  But still I wasn’t listening. I needed to get through the reporting and I wanted to get back to working on my book too.  I’d already missed a week because of quarter end at the day job.  I was all set to splutter my way through my session yesterday evening with my lovely book coach, Deborah Taylor but as soon as she heard my voice, she kindly but firmly moved the session to another day.

With nothing left to do, I was finally left with silence broken only by the sound of my deep croaky coughs. And that’s when I finally allowed my body to be heard. So today’s blog post is a bit of a confession.  I always promised myself I wasn’t going to be one of those people who carried on working regardless of their health.  And until this week, I haven’t been that person.  I don’t know why it was different this week – maybe there was an element of not wanting to be ill at home, feeling alone without Simba.  Maybe there was an element of not wanting to be seen as being weak at work, seen as giving in to a little cold.  Whatever.  It didn’t work though.  Because I now feel worse than I did last week, and it’s taking me longer to get better.

So I’m reaffirming my original promise to myself, with you as my witness – I promise not to ignore my body when it tells me it needs rest.  I promise to listen to it.  I promise to learn from my mistakes and my experiences.

Be Your Own Best Friend

BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIENDI usually write these blog posts on the day that I publish them.  I like writing in the here and now.  Although I’m a bit of a planner in other ways, with my blog posts and my weekly newsletter (if you want to see what that’s about, use the sign-up box on the right) I never plan.  I like the idea of you reading what I’ve written ‘hot off the press’.

But this blog post was written a day early.  Why?  Because at the time that you’ll be reading it, I’ll still be at my desk at the day job, bashing out numbers for our quarterly reporting requirements.  I will be very lucky to get home before 10pm. But it’s important to me to write this blog post and (I hope) connect with you too.  So I’m writing it today, when I’m home a little bit (but not much) before 10pm.

I’ve known for a little while that this week is going to be pretty awful – long hours, stressed colleagues, impossible deadlines and brand new software do not add up to a happy Heena. There’s nothing I can do about  the first four of those – the hours have to be long, to cope with the glitches in the new software as well as meet those impossible deadlines, and that means stressed colleagues.  But I can do something about keeping Heena as happy as possible under the circumstances.

Normally, even when I’m having a tough time I try to keep it all going, in every area of life.  Not this time.  This time, I’m focusing on getting through the tough time at work without attempting to be Superwoman and keep it all going at home too.

I’ve accepted it’s going to be a tough week so I’ve tinkered at the edges and tweaked everything else – I’ve made everything else as easy as possible. Clothes are ready for the week, lunches have been bought already, I’m giving myself the week off from working on the new book, and I’ve even booked in a couple of treats over the weekend – all of this is designed to make this week as easy as possible, and give me something to look forward to.  I’m writing this blog post a day early, so that I’m still doing a little of what I love, just not when I’m exhausted. I’m accepting the biscuits and chocolates that my boss has been bringing in, the coffee has been upsized, and you know what?  Given we’re about halfway into our horrible week, I’m doing alright.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, I’m guessing you may well have had tough times at work too.  Or tough times at home.  Possibly both, and possibly (although I sincerely hope not too often) both together.  So here’s my tip for those tough times – don’t make them any tougher.  Go easy on yourself.  Be kind to yourself.  Treat yourself to the cupcake if that makes you feel better. I’m not advocating letting go of all responsibility all the time – there’ll be plenty of time to pick up all the other loose ends later.  For now though, give yourself the consideration you would to your best friend. Be your own best friend.

Being Here Now

being here nowI wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today.  I haven’t really had time to think about it until right now, until I opened up my laptop, logged in to my website and hit ‘Add New Post’.

I haven’t thought about it up until now because I’ve been so busy.  For the first time in years, I was out every single evening from last Friday through until yesterday.  My evenings have been filled with friends, family and watching an excellent film adaptation of ‘that Scottish play‘.  My days have been filled with work.  Work that has been getting busier and busier as we make our way through our mammoth quarterly reporting requirements.

Three months ago, being this busy at work made me grumpy.  I resented every single extra minute at the office.  Each shortened lunch hour also shortened my temper.  Six months before that I was nervous and stressed because I had no contract and no money.

This time around I’m busy but I’m happy-ish.  (The ‘ish’ is mostly to do with insomnia – I haven’t quite cracked that one yet, although I’m getting there).  The happy is a bit more complicated.

It’s partly because, even with all the sadness I have within me and have seen around those close to me, I still feel lighter and more hopeful than I have in a long time.  Life has a way of showing you the way – in amongst dealing with my own melancholy and sharing in the heartbreak of close friends, there have been new arrivals. That feels like hope to me.  Tenuous, fragile, unpredictable, exciting hope.

The happy is also partly because I don’t think about the past as much – it’s still too painful to remember what I had, what I’ve lost, what I will never have in quite the same shape again.  But it’s also too soon to look into the future and daydream – that feels like I’m tempting Fate, and I don’t feel strong enough to do that either.  Which really only leaves here and now.  Being here now is about as much as I am prepared to deal with right now.

So when I go into work, I don’t think about the hours I could have spent writing if only I was already a financially free and successful author.  I don’t think about the walks I would have taken Simba on if he was still around.  I just focus on the task in hand, and do the best I can.

I’m grateful to have a great contract that keeps me busy.  I’m grateful that I still write during my lunch hour, and I can start to see my story and my characters taking shape.  I’m grateful that my work is being appreciated.  Being grateful and focusing on the now are keeping me happy-ish.

And that’s enough for now.  Because actually ‘now ‘is all we have, isn’t it?  So if I’m happy now, then I’m happy.  Full stop.

 

Leaky Lunar Eclipses

halfwayWhat a momentous week.

We’ve seen (or slept through) a Supermoon Lunar Eclipse – the last time we saw that was in 1982, the year of Miners strikes, 3 million unemployed and the Falklands war.  The next time we’ll see a Supermoon Lunar Eclipse will be in 2033, and for all we know Kanye West may be President of the United States, we may have started living on Mars and the mullet might have come back into fashion.

But what about this Supermoon Lunar Eclipse, this week – what’s that been about?  Supermoons and Lunar Eclipses can be seen as times of high emotion, times to let go of the old, so we can make space to usher in the new. I’m not sure it’s felt exactly like that for me.  Although, this week has definitely felt a like a turning point of sorts, albeit a very small one.  If you were looking at your SatNav it wouldn’t even be a turn, maybe just a gentle dip or curve.

Nothing has happened to make me feel that way, except maybe the slightly momentous (for me) fixing of my leaky shower and leaky bathroom taps.  The shower has stood unused and unloved for two years, but I suddenly found I couldn’t live with it like that any longer.  And after two years of not working, it’s only taken two days to tear out the old broken fittings, and put in shiny new ones.

Apart from the shiny new shower, nothing has changed. I haven’t suddenly won the lottery, I haven’t been given a three-book deal, and I haven’t met Mr Right (or even Mr Alright for Now).  I’ve been doing what I’ve done for the last two months.  I go to work, I come home, on rare occasions I see friends, I cry when I think about Simba, which is almost all the time and I still miss him, more than I will ever be able to explain.

And the insomnia, which was pretty bad before, has shifted up a gear. If I get more than four hours it’s a reason to celebrate.  Coffee has become my new best friend.  So there have been no visible improvements in my life.

Despite this, and for no reason in particular, I feel lighter, more hopeful, and…well, happier, than I have for a very long time.

So at this Lunar Eclipse I am very glad to be letting go of the leaky old shower, and letting go of some of the heaviness I’ve been living with.  And with a slightly lighter heart, I’m ready to embrace change, whatever form that change comes in. I’m not going to waste any more time looking for the reasons why I feel more optimistic, I’m just going to enjoy that feeling.

 

Sturm und Drang

Sturm und DrangDo you know what Sturm und Drang means?  I only found out today, in the process of writing this blog. It originally comes from the title of a play by F. M. von Klinger(1752–1831), a German dramatist, and it means ‘storm and stress’.  The reason I was thinking about it is because I was looking for the right way and the right words to describe the current state of play.

As I’ve started waking up from the hibernation I’ve been in since Simba passed away, I’ve started catching up with friends and family.  In the last two months I have missed promotions and new jobs, trips away and birthdays, impending wedding celebrations and new babies.  There have also been some heart-breaking losses. New unfillable voids caused as a loved one has passed away. My heart aches with and for those gone and those left behind.  And I inevitably thought about my own recent loss and hibernation.

Hibernation is a cosy sounding word, to me anyway.  It conjures up images of cuddly furry bears burrowing away in a deep yet gentle slumber until the cold and the wind and the rain passes away.  They come out again into sunshine and spring.  The last two months have not felt cosy or gentle.

The first sentence of Wikipedia’s description of hibernation is probably more accurate – “a state of inactivity and metabolic depression.’  Which sounds much more familiar.  But that’s still not quite right.  There’s more to it.  Which is where the ‘Sturm und Drang’ comes into play.  Sturm und Drang – the stress and the storms that rage through your brain relentlessly, every minute of every waking hour of every exhausting day as you relearn the painful art of living with the void.

It’s funny isn’t it – all that activity, all that breaking down, falling apart and cracking up going on, mostly on the inside.  And on the outside, nothing.  Just hibernation and inertia. With the rest of the world continuing to move on and up and around you as if nothing has changed.

It’s odd when you’re the one coping and hibernating and standing still, because you can’t comprehend the movement going on around you.  You wonder how everything keeps flowing and shifting. It’s not that you want the world to stop.  It’s just that you can’t understand why it hasn’t already.

As I slowly rejoin the movers on, someone very dear to me is becoming a hibernator. It highlighted the heartrending quirkiness of life. We each move from one side to the other, from mover to hibernator to mover.  All the while everyone else is simultaneously doing their own side to side shuffle. Our combined planetary efforts probably look like some weird cosmic group dance.

I found this too…

This is where reality lives. In the epicenter of the paradox. Right at the meeting point of love and loss and life and leaving and beginnings and grief and joy. In the sweet sticky spill of that rough slice and in the invisible moments when heart is stitched together again. Anonymous.

I wish you a wonderful week of cosmic shuffling.

Bell curves and blossoms

Bell curves and blossomsTwo days after Simba passed away, a very kind friend left me a beautiful card and a plant with tiny golden coloured blossoms.  The colour reminded her of Simba’s golden fur, which made me cry (everything made me cry). It was a very thoughtful gesture.  The plant became something to look after and nurture in the absence of the furry one.

So I watered my little plant with zeal, making sure the soil was never too dry, never too wet, just slightly damp.  But the flowers starting falling off.  Maybe it needed more water than I was giving it.  So it got more water.  But not only had all the flowers fallen off, so did all the leaves.  Maybe I was watering it too much.  I stopped, and let the soil dry out a little bit.  Now even the branches themselves were decaying, turning from a lush green to a dull dark brown.

I had every sympathy with the plant.  I felt pretty much the same way – dull, dry and forlorn.  Since the furry one had moved on, the only people I saw were my family and my work colleagues.  And at work I could easily go a day or two without really talking to anyone apart from the obligatory ‘good morning’ and ‘see you tomorrow’.  I kept my head down, counting down the hours until I could go home and spend my time crying, looking at old photos, crying, looking at videos, crying, wishing I’d taken more photos and videos, and crying.  There were days when I cried so much I genuinely thought there would just be no more tears left.  My friends were amazing – the texts and messages and cards kept coming, even though I replied to none of them.  Replying somehow meant it was more real.  Ridiculous, right?  But there you go.  My parents and my brothers were and still are exceptional – I don’t know how they’ve managed to deal with their own grief and yet somehow take such good care of me, from the hugs and listening and wiping away tears to spider-proofing the house now that I don’t have a furry accomplice to calm me down when I see the pesky little things.

A few weeks in, and there might be a whole day where I thought I was doing ok.  Where I thought I’d kept it together, had an almost normal day.  Until something happened, something ordinary, that hit me like a gut punch from a heavyweight.  Like the time I was chopping vegetables and went to throw a piece to Simba, but he wasn’t there, or the first time I went to work with a skirt that I didn’t have to brush golden fur from.  But still I didn’t want to see anyone, or do anything or participate in life.  I was stuck.

What I wanted was to rescue my plant.  So on my Mum’s advice, I repotted it.  The new pot, bigger and stronger, and with new compost in it, wouldn’t fit in the living room where the old pot had been sitting.  The only place the new pot fitted was the empty space in the kitchen where Simba’s food and water bowl used to be.  So that’s where it went.  I wasn’t sure at first whether it had made any difference.  It didn’t look any different.  But a couple of weeks ago I noticed a tiny little green leaf in amongst the dark dull branches.  And when I looked closer, not all the branches were dull brown.  There were some green ones there.  Now, two weeks after the repotting and the move, in the place where my greedy boy guzzled his food three times a day, the plant seems to be thriving.  There are green leaves, big and small, all over the shop.

Like a little bell curve, the plant started off thriving and healthy, dropped to near death, and now seems to be making a gentle but steady recovery.

It’s funny how life works in synchronicity when you most need it to.  Just as I feared I was turning into a sad loner and feeling as though I didn’t know how to rejoin the world, I had two invitations that helped me take a few wobbly, wavering steps back into the fray.  An invitation from my fabulously wise coach, Judith Morgan and a text from a lovely friend inviting me to dinner at hers.

I also came across this graph. grief_curve

It helped me validate what I’d been going through, and gave me hope that although I might be mooching around at the bottom of the curve right now, there’s every chance that it’s not a permanent fixture.

So although we’re heading into Autumn, where nature shuts down and leaves start falling, I’m hopeful that when the time is right, my little plant and I will blossom again.

 

Simba Pattni – sweet dreams my beautiful boy

Simba PattniIt’s been six weeks since I wrote a blog. Actually, it’s been six weeks since I wrote anything. It’s been six weeks since I got through twenty-four hours without bursting into tears, and it’s been six weeks since I slept soundly and woke up looking forward to the day ahead.

 

It’s been six weeks since Simba went to sleep for the last time.

 

He padded into my life fourteen years ago, when I went to see a litter of Golden Retriever puppies on a warm breezy day in July 2001. I knew I wanted a male, and there were three in the litter. Two were frolicking in the garden, playing together. The third one took some time to locate – when we eventually found him, he was fast asleep underneath three of his sisters, who were bundled on top of him. That was Simba (or Big Boy as he was called by the breeder). When the breeder asked me which puppy I wanted, I looked down at the one who had been sleeping under his sisters, and who had followed me over to the table, rolled over onto his back and was gently playing tug with the hem of the long skirt I was wearing, trying to get my attention. I’d completely forgotten all the things I was supposed to check before choosing. I looked down at him and knew he’d already made my choice for me.

 

Three weeks later, when he was seven weeks and a day old, I brought him home. I’d never owned a dog. I’d never even been around them much, so when Simba arrived, I had a vague notion of what I thought it would mean – an angelic puppy to play with, who quickly learnt all the house rules I’d decided on and who would generally be the perfect dog.

 

It didn’t really pan out like that. Here’s an example – one of my house rules was that for the first few months he would live in the kitchen. It was a safe, contained space, and seemed ideal. On the second day, once he’d gotten the lay of the land, I decided to start getting him used to being on his own in the kitchen. As soon as I closed the kitchen/living room door he started crying. My mum was with me as we listened from the other side of the door. We agreed we needed to let him cry himself out but stick to the rules. He’d quieten down eventually. We waited. And waited. And waited. He didn’t. He cried so long and piteously that we shed a couple of tears on the other side of the door. It didn’t take us too long after that to cave in and let him have the run of the living room and kitchen. He was ecstatic. When we listened from the other side of the living room/hall door, we heard silence. It was the silence of a little furry victory snooze.

 

That was to be the blueprint of my life with him. He was allowed in the living room and kitchen, but definitely wasn’t going to be allowed on the living room furniture. He’s not even here, but I still find it odd if I sit on his side of the sofa. He was allowed downstairs but definitely not upstairs. That lasted until he learnt to climb the stairs. Alright then, he was allowed upstairs but had to sleep downstairs. I can’t remember when or how that changed, but it did, years ago. Still – he might be allowed to sleep upstairs, but only on the landing – definitely not in my room. Well, ok, so he slept in the room, but he definitely, definitely was not going to share my bed. I’m struggling to fall asleep these days because there isn’t a warm furry body hogging three-quarters of my bed.

 

And when he was younger, in what I think of as his ‘furry destructor’ days, it wasn’t just house rules that he bent, damaged and broke.

 

He ate through the Sky cable three times, until the engineer had the genius idea of pinning the cable up along the wall, around the door, across the wall and out of reach of puppy teeth. It cost me £60 for each visit. During his teething phase he also ate through the legs of the dining table, three of the dining chairs, a few pairs of shoes, CDs, books and my brother’s wallet (including cash and credit cards). During the destructor days he was also an absolute nightmare to walk. He would pull on his lead so hard my wrists were red raw and he was constantly strangling himself – it didn’t seem to slow him down. He would see a leaf in the middle of the road and decide he needed to investigate it instantly, oncoming cars be damned. He once pulled on his lead so hard when he spotted a stray carrier bag on the other side of the road that my Dad, who was walking him at the time, actually took a nasty tumble. Did Simba stop and check up on his pal? Erm, eventually, yes… Once he’d confirmed the carrier bag had no food. Ahem.

 

Which brings me onto his greatest love and pleasure in life – food. Food was the way to his heart. Food was Simba’s overriding lifetime goal – how to get food, how to get more food, how quickly he could gobble up his food, how much of my food he could persuade me to share, how much food he could hoover off the floor, what food he could find on our walks, food, glorious food.

 

An example of his dedication to food from the brief time he slept downstairs…

 

I’d held a birthday party and barbecue at my house. A great time had been had by all, including Simba. He’d enjoyed going from guest to guest claiming treats and cuddles and gobbling up dropped crisps. Eventually the party wound down, the guests left and I went to bed. In the middle of the night I heard a thumping sound downstairs. Thump, thump, THUMP. Silence. Thump, thump, THUMP. Silence. I thought someone was trying to break in through the back door. I was terrified. I couldn’t hear Simba and I was even more terrified. I phoned my brother and he promised to be over within the next five minutes. Knowing back-up was on the way, and with shaking legs and an umbrella as a temporary weapon, I crept downstairs to check on my poor puppy. Complete silence. I listened at the hall door and heard nothing. Taking a deep breath I opened the door and hit the light switch, ready to scream and attack at the same time. Nothing. The living room looked fine. Simba was sitting up in his bed, looking at me with a very odd expression. He didn’t come and greet me, tail wagging like the tails of a helicopter, as he usually did. Odd. I ventured into the kitchen and the only thing that looked out-of-place was a square of grey cardboard in the middle of the kitchen floor. For a moment I couldn’t understand. I picked the cardboard up and as I turned it over I suddenly understood. Earlier that evening I’d put the leftover birthday cake, still on its silver stand, in the far corner of the kitchen, tucked into the corner of the counter. Thump, thump, thump as he jumped and pulled the cake towards him, inch by inch. Silence as he took a break and then as he ate the evidence. I looked at Simba. He looked at me. I called my brother and explained. There may have been expletives from the other end of the phone.

 

I’m so used to giving him a tiny crumb of whatever I’m eating that even now, six weeks later, I still leave a corner of my toast, or a morsel of dinner, and it takes a second before I remember my furry foodie friend isn’t here to gobble it up.

 

But he was so much more than that. He was an absolute sweetheart. He had the gentlest nature, even for a Golden. We once had some relatives over who had a young child with them. She was fascinated with Simba. He was a real life teddy bear. She started off gently enough, stroking him and hugging him. But it quickly took a more exploratory and annoying turn – she started trying to put her fingers up his nose, and in his mouth, wanting to inspect his ear canal and so on. I tried pushing her away and gently hinting to her mother that it wasn’t a good idea. I could see Simba had had enough – he kept trying to walk away and she kept chasing him. In the end, he hid behind my legs. But not once did he growl or snarl or snap. He just came to me for help.

 

Another time, I had a friend over who was going through a tough time. Instead of enthusiastically humping her leg (his favourite game with this particular friend) he quietly put his paw on her knee, and then lay down at her feet.

 

I’m convinced he thought he was human, or at least more human than dog. He was never interested in playing with other dogs. When we took him to puppy classes he used to go and sit behind the chairs – he didn’t want to be around the other dogs. But as soon as there were more humans than dogs he’d be out and jumping up on everyone wanting to be friends. It was the same in the park – he’d ignore the dog and jump all over the owner. He had a huge personality. I’d be walking him and we’d get stopped by someone who knew him already, who had made friends with him on an outing with my Dad or the dog-walker. They’d always stop and play with him and he’d greet them enthusiastically like a long-lost friend – I just happened to be attached to his lead, one of his many minions attending to his needs.

 

That was part of his magic though. Everyone wanted to be around him. And that magic brought our little family even closer together. We all loved him. We all wanted to spend time with him. He was the baby of the family. If I hadn’t taken him over to my Mum’s for a couple of days she’d ring me and ask if everything was okay. My brothers were always involving him in some comical scheme for their amusement, and he was (mostly) a willing participant. My Dad moaned about having to take him for lunchtime walks and yet he was offended if I mentioned getting a dog-walker to help out. Lunchtime walks were his job. Even our family holidays revolved around Simba – CenterParcs became our favourite place, because they were so dog-friendly.

 

That’s what I miss most. I miss his friendship. It might have been a friendship without words, but what we lacked in actual conversation we more than made up for in gestures and routines and the language of looks.

 

We understood each other. He knew when I was feeling down – he would look at me, give me a gentle lick and then come and cuddle up next to me. I knew when he was feeling ignored and needed some TLC (he was an absolute doggy diva when he wanted to be, and would dramatically sit on his side of the sofa and make a point of turning his back to me and then looking over his shoulder to make sure I was watching and feeling appropriately guilty).

 

No matter how much time I did or didn’t spend with him, no matter how bad my mood when I walked through the door, there he was, with those beautiful sparkly brown eyes, looking at me with adoration, his tail thumping, just happy to be with me, doing whatever I was doing. If I was in the kitchen, he’d be there, drooling as he watched me cook. If I was unpacking groceries, he’d be inspecting each item that came out of the bags. If I was upstairs getting ready, he’d be sitting on the bed, watching me put my make-up on or doing my hair. If I was watching TV, he’d be on the sofa next to me, his head in my lap so I could give him a cuddle.

 

Simba taught me what it really means to love unconditionally.

 

He saw me through family traumas, through boy trouble and through two bouts of cancer (on the days I couldn’t get out of bed, he didn’t leave my side – he wouldn’t even budge for my mum when she tried to move him so she could sit next to me. He left my side to go for a wee or to eat and then he was back next to me, guarding over me). He was instrumental in helping me find my writing mojo and change my career – I wanted to write about him (my first attempt at a book was about a little girl and her dog) and I wanted to be at home writing so I could spend more time with him.

 

Nothing fazed him or kept him down for long – not the four bouts of cancer he overcame, not the awful attack by two dogs he survived, not the change in his daily routines depending on whether I was at home or on a contract.

 

He taught me that once you’ve found your life goal (food, in his case), you never give up on that goal – he spent his whole life single-mindedly looking for, eating and enjoying all sorts of food.

 

He was my companion, my housemate, my friend. A gentle, sweet, funny, stubborn, loving soul that I was lucky enough to spend fourteen years living with and learning from.

 

I’ve heard people say that you can have many pets in your lifetime but there will always be that one special one. He was my special one. There will never be another quite like him.

 

When he died, he took a piece of my heart with him. But, just as in life, he gave so much more than he took. He may have taken a piece of my heart with him, but he left a piece of his heart with me.