This is Boris, and it's how we will remember him.
He was 15 in this photo, taken last year in May, up in the woods a couple of miles away from home.
Over the last six months or so he began to decline, as we all do when we get older, and since the end of May this year, that decline accelerated. He went up to the woods with us on Tuesday morning, the last day of July, for a final walk, and then we went to the vet with him, to do the kindest, and hardest thing a dog owner has to do.
I say, "dog owner", but in fact, we have been his pack. Over the years the number in that pack has changed on a weekly or monthly basis, as teenagers became adults, and as people travelled away for work or for fun.
It is very strange, living without him. Because of the aforementioned travel for work, it's often been just me and him in the house, sometimes for a week at a time. He was always there in the morning, and his presence shaped my day. Get up, take him down the garden, feed him, let him sleep for an hour, take him out for a walk. And pretty much the same pattern in the evening.
Since he died, I haven't set foot in the back garden at all.
I vacuumed the house on Tuesday evening – a completely normal activity. The Dyson is pretty efficient and there was the usual mixture of black dog hair and dust in the collection cylinder. I did it again last night, and already, there is hardly anything being sucked up and I wondered how long it will take for evidence of him to disappear from the house altogether?
It's been a topsy-turvey couple of months. Observing Boris become slower and stiffer and gradually have less vision and poorer hearing has been difficult for both of us to watch.
I got up on Wednesday morning and I was on my own in the house (because of work/travel etc). It struck me that I haven't had that feeling of being completely alone at home, with no-one else (dogs, chickens or people), since 1987.
Thirty one years of a particular type of start to the day has come to an end.
I've been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of days. The mornings have a different shape now.
It's the third of August.
In one month's time, on the third of September, I will be sixty.
I could sit about moping because I miss Boris, or I can do what he did as a puppy and a younger dog, and I can sniff out new adventures and excitements. Today is sixty minus one month, and although I am feeling very sad, and somewhat reflective, I don't want to waste a single day.
Maybe my new mantra should be "Be Like Boris". Perhaps that is his legacy.
I'm on Week 2 of C25K. I got up on Wednesday morning, and just did it. And I did it again today. No procrastinating or checking the weather forecast to find the right time to take Boris out without (either of us) getting soaked. A new routine because I feel the need of a bit of structure to hold onto at the moment.
1. Run (possibly a bit of a wild claim since even with Michael Johnson's encouragement on the C25k app, nine minutes isn't very long and I'm not sure my pace counts as a run anyway).
3. Coffee (I seem to have gone off tea, no idea why, most odd).
4. Sit down at my desk before nine o'clock.
Three days in, it feels pretty good.
I'm taking a break from social media.
I'll still post links to blog posts, but I'm not going to be chatting, or "liking", or reading my timelines on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook.
I may blog a bit, I'm not sure. Perhaps with no social media, I might have time for that again, who knows?
I've taken all the SM apps off my phone and taken email off it as well. It will be enough to open my inbox twice a day, morning and evening. I don't need to be constantly checking and updating. Boris wouldn't have done it, so I'm not going to either. My family and friends have my phone number.
I have a book to finish. It's plotted (in detail), because that's how I work. I am no good at "writing my way into the narrative", I need to know where I'm going and how I'm getting there before I start.
I'm hoping to have this first draft finished by my birthday. That seems like a reasonable goal. Of course it will then have to be pulled to bits and put together again when I do the second draft, but that's OK.
In 2014, Barack Obama spoke to Vanity Fair magazine about decision making:
You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.
I am terrible for making decisions about what to eat, or rather, waiting for someone else to make the decision for me.
"What do you fancy for tea?" I'll say, peering into the fridge for the twentieth time, unwilling to commit.
And even if (under my new routine), breakfast is coffee, that's still seven lunches and seven dinners and seven (or more) snacks, to decide about.
So last night I made seven meals, ate one for my tea, and put the others in the freezer, ready to lift out.
In a couple of days time, I'll make another batch of something different and then I'll have a lucky dip of lunches for when it's just me in the house. No decisions required.
We used to feed Boris the same food in a measured cup portion, twice a day. He got a dog chew in the evening and a couple of biscuits when he was out for a walk. He lived until he was sixteen and four months old and that's a hundred and twelve in dog years. A bit of "Be Like Boris" as far as lunch is concerned might be a good thing!
I miss Boris, but he never sat around waiting for things to happen, and I'm not going to either. I have the next decade starting in a month's time and I want to make the most of it.
See you next time,