Monday, October 20, 2008

Ashes To Ashes

We recently collected Benson's ashes from the vet - a very sad day.

We have been agonising over what to do with them, and have decided that Benson should have the opportunity to be laid to rest in all the places he loved best. We thought long and hard, and came up with the following list:

1. The woods just outside Yielden, Beds - this is where we lived when we acquired Benson, and is where he took most of his walks for the first four years of his life. This is where he put up his first pheasant, caught his first pigeon, faced down his first hare (before running away - those things are a damn site bigger close up than they are from the other side of a field!), swam his first stream, disappeared completely in his first snow drift, marked his first territorial boundaries (probably still smells!), and generally got muddier and wetter on a regular basis than you would ever think possible by a single dog.

2. Southwold beach - we have always made a point of having at least one "dog holiday" per year, to assuage the guilt of putting him in kennels when we went on our own holiday.

We took him variously to Hunstanton, Wales, and the Lake District, but Southwold is the English seaside town that I think we still associate most strongly with Benny. We would walk for about 5 miles along the beach before turning back, and he would swim every single step of the way! It was always a battle to get him out of the sea, he loved the water so much.

3. Laroque - when we moved to France we lived alongside the Rioutourd river which, much to Benson's eternal disgust, only had water in it when there was severe flood-inducing rainfall. For a few glorious days there was a real weir effect under the small footbridge and we used to watch him get washed away in the general direction of Ganges as he chased sticks, only to turn round and swim against the current, eventually climbing out over the weir to present us with his stick.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs would make it difficult to scatter his ashes in water there, but the Rioutourd flows into the Herault, and his other favourite place was the weir at Laroque, with the ducks, swans, canoeists and the small rock beaches where he could fetch sticks and stones and, in summer, annoy tourists and locals alike as he shook himself dry as they attempted to sunbathe.

4. Palavas - If Southwold was the beach we associate with Benson in England, Palavas is the equivalent in France. This is where we used to take him in the first years after we moved to France, where we used to play football in the sand and throw stuff for hours into the sea for him to fetch. He would never get tired, even in his later years when the arthritis started to bother him - for a few glorious hours the pain was always forgotten and we would indulge him and then fill him full of anti-inflammatories when we got home.

This is where we got chased off the beach by indignant people with a beach towel and picnic basket full of sand after Benson had passed through on his way to fetching a football. If I could find those people today I would sprinkle some of his ashes on their sandwiches - he would like that!

5. Doucy-Combelouviere woods - If there was one thing that Benson loved as much as - if not more than - water, it was snow. Once we moved to France we had the opportunity of taking him skiing with us at least once a year. Doucy-Combelouviere - in the Savoie near Valmorel - was an extremely dog-friendly environment.

They loved him in the restaurants there, and every day we would walk him through the woods where he could disappear over his head in snow drifts and chase anything that moved. Even in his final years, he would always overcome the discomfort of his arthritis and hip dysplasia and an over-eager Harry to become, once again, a bouncing chaotic bundle of energy, the Benson that we had always known, an idiotic puppy who never really grew up.

6. The garden at Nages - This one is easy. While ever we live at this house I would like to think Benson is out there in the garden with us.

This is where he hurtled round the pool begging to be let in, chased balls, had mock fights with Harry, barked at the neighbours, worked the table at each and every barbeque and - more and more, in recent months - just crashed out on the lawn to alternate between baking in the sun and resting in the shade of the palm trees.

7. The Oppidum de Nages - another easy one. Wherever we end up in France, this will be the place we can always come back to visit with Benson. Despite the tortuous climb that often left Lynne, myself and that waster Harry gasping for breath, Benson would lead the way on this, his favourite walk.

There are not many game birds to be found in this part of France, but Benson would always find the few that there were. Long after we were convinced he had gone completely deaf he would amaze us - and Harry - by disappearing into the undergrowth to flush out small grouse-like birds, one time apparently disappearing over the edge of a cliff, only to reappear a couple of hundred yards further along the track looking extremely satisfied with himself. He loved this walk, and no matter what the weather, would pester us each and every day until we would take him - right up to the very last day when we had to take him to the vet! Even before he let us know it was finally time to go, he made sure he got in one last walk!

He was always a very happy dog, and everyone who knew him loved him. Harry is still missing him. Lynne and I are definitely missing him. When I look back over the list of places that he loved, I can't help thinking that he had a pretty good life. I hope he agrees.

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