Julian Roup – Of dogs and pies and human cruelty and human kindness Ep43

In Episode 43 of his new book, author Julian Roup observes Britain going to the dogs thanks to Covid-19.

In case you missed Episode 42, click here.

Life in a Time of Plague

Sussex, 15th May 2020

By Julian Roup

Have you noticed that people who sleep on the streets often have a dog with them, usually lying up close against the owner’s legs? These are often destitute people, who are close to the edge of starvation; many suffer from mental illness and a variety of physical ills. But this does not stop them looking after their dogs, which are often in a better condition than they are. I can only imagine that they see the dog as a priority, who should eat first before they do. The dog is a friend, a protector, a comforter. They would be bereft and even more vulnerable without their dog.

Yet, here’s a thing: the RSPCA has received more than 1,600 reports of abandoned animals since lockdown started here in the UK. That’s 40 a day on average in England and Wales, with 56 of the reports coming from Kent, just up the road from us, since March 23. The animal charity has released the figures as part of its emergency appeal, which was launched to help keep its rescue teams on the road during the Coronavirus crisis. Animal rescuers have been designated key workers, but the RSPCA is in need of vital funding to help its frontline staff continue their work. Head of the charity’s rescue teams, Dermot Murphy, said: “Although much of the country is on lockdown, sadly, there are still thousands of animals who need our help, including abandoned pets. Many people are finding their pets are a real source of comfort in these anxious times, but it’s heart-breaking that some animals are being dumped during this crisis.”

He adds: “In most cases, we don’t know why pets are abandoned, but it’s really important to remind people that there is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 can be passed from pets to people. There is lots of help and support out there for anyone else struggling to get animal food, with health or behavioural issues, exercising their pets or managing to keep children safe around pets. Please don’t be afraid to ask”

Since the lockdown measures were introduced, the RSPCA has responded to more than 27,000 incidents in total, with 1,663 reports of abandoned animals received. It is urging pet owners to make an emergency pet-care plan should they be admitted to hospital with the virus, including placing a poster in the window informing people that their pet is inside.

Coronavirus is corroding the milk of human kindness, and the human-animal bond is breaking, in some instances. We must not judge, we don’t know what hell anyone, maybe living alone, is going through, sick with the virus. Maybe they think that abandoning their pet will help it secure a new home. There is just no knowing. What is certain is that Covid-19 is eating at our society like a cancer.

I need to get away from all this misery for a bit and walk down the hill to see Callum. There I meet Saffron, a friend from the stables next door, collecting her daughter Alice’s ponies, May and Jack, from the paddock just down from Callum’s. She tells me she has been shopping in local farm stalls and the greedy foodie in me experiences a shiver of food envy. She mentions that they have wonderful organic asparagus, fruit and veg and very good pies.

She uses the word pies a number of times, which is a bit like inviting an alcoholic out for a drink. There is an instant, visceral reaction – hunger, salivation, and I can almost feel myself twitching. She says it a third time: “All kinds of pies; steak, steak & kidney, chicken, vegetarian, they really are wonderful pies. They make them and bake them on the premises.”

Hurriedly, breaking into her flow, I say to her that next time she goes down to the Buxted farm shop, I’d be grateful if she’d pick up some pies for me. She kindly agrees. “Steak ones?” she asks, reading my greedy mind. “Steak ones,” I reply. Saffron is the source of all sorts of goodies for Callum and the other horses standing alongside Alice’s ponies. Over the past year, she has arrived with carrots and swedes and other crunchy vegetables that the horses love. Now I am cashing in on this cornucopia, hoping she won’t forget my pies. The steak pies please Saffron! (And sure enough, two days later there they are with a great birthday card, tucked into the post box in our storm porch. What would life be without friends?)

A great friend from Cape Town, the 80-year-old poet, author and lyricist, Barbara Fairhead Coetzee, a kind of guru to me, and a very wise woman, writes about time, the present, beauty and regrets, in a wonderful email just in, that resonates powerfully with me: She writes, “Most of the time, for almost one hundred years now, we have had those tomorrows –as it happens. So we begin to think we can rely on ‘time’ as an ingredient for our ventures. Now, we know nothing, nothing is certain. No wonder the panic.”

As usual, I agree with her. There is nothing that makes God laugh more than listening to people making plans. And yet plan we must.

Barbara is a force of nature who has lived, truly lived, a tempestuous life. She is the mother of six remarkable daughters. And now is married to a poet, writer and musician 40 years younger than her, Jacques Coetzee, who has a remarkable singing voice and a very fine mind. And she is the daughter of Pascoe Grenfell, my childhood hero, a former pilot, RAF Squadron Leader of 13th Squadron during WWII and my late father’s fishing friend, who taught me how to fish.

In Barbara’s own books, she does something remarkable, capturing landscape and, even more difficult, something of that ‘Other’ just beyond us. This is what speaks loudest to me in her books. It is the fact that the land is so present, a protagonist in its own right, and holy. One is aware of the fact that one is walking on sacred ground, that the earth and the universe, a star among stars, is a huge presence in our life, and we forget to honour it at our peril.

She adds: “We need to be gentle with each other. I am going to enjoy to the fullest this small glimpse of the world: our garden, which is also looking beautiful in its arid way. We have the tiniest birds ever, coming to find whatever, from the various succulents, and even from the euphorbia, which looks a bit like Moses’ Burning Bush. Some Virginia creeper has crept into one of our other creepers—probably some bird dropping—and is now a startling red and scarlet. It is stunning. We need rain. Since Digby’s departure, the hadedah birds have grown very brave. Cracker is getting too old to chase them, and I just love that wild cry they make.”

“What on earth do I think I can do? I suppose the best any of us can do is not to add one extra negative thing to all that is going on. That, in itself, is quite a challenge at the best of times. So I will not surrender hope. I will hold all of what is best in us, with gratitude.”

“To have seen, met, been present at, listened to, some of the greatest things we have brought to the world, and indeed, to the world itself, is a gift. To be able to say: “I have walked there. I have breathed in all that beauty. To know that I, and all of us, are part of this magnificent web, which now must do what it has to do, to find a new balance—that is a blessing I hold to.”

“I think the one thing that might give me fear right now, would be to look back, and feel that I had not lived to the fullest. With all of it, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, I can smile at all the hoo-hah that accompanied it. But I have no regrets about even the darkest of it.”

This is a woman who will not go gentle into that dark night. She has just emerged from hospital to get the gnawing pain in her knee under control. But she battles on, and her going will doubtless be like a meteor across our skies. She is a phenomenon. To receive her emails is like hearing the call of brass battle trumpets. She gives me courage. “Courage, mon brave, courage.”

As I write this, I have just had a sandwich and an apple in the garden for lunch, and Gus is beside me, eyeing the core. He is patient; he knows the core will be coming his way.

Click here for Episode 44.

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