Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Searching for a ray of sunshine

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 04 July 2012
The rain continues to fall. In the village, people gather in the shop to buy strong liquor, clearly planning to drink their way through it. The farmers look harried and fretful; the cows are downright grumpy. There is a flinty north-eastern pride in getting through the tough winters. The lower the mercury falls, the happier we seem to be. A long snow in January is greeted with a sanguine blitz spirit. The thing is, we are braced for hard weather in the dark months. This is the north of Scotland, it is what we expect. Also, there is something clean and honest about minus 16, and it often comes with a dazzling blue sky and beautiful glittering hoar frosts. This weather, on the other hand, is just sullen and soul-sapping. The sky is the colour of old socks and the land looks sodden and defeated. The blue hills are lost in filthy cloud.

People are now heard seriously discussing the jet stream, which apparently is stuck. Meteorological experts spring up everywhere. Escape plans are hatched. One of my relations said today: ‘I think we are going to drive south.’

‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Perhaps at the tip of Cornwall you might find a ray of sun.’

‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘The South of France. The cloud goes all the way to Bordeaux.’

That is how desperate things have become.

I keep telling myself sternly that I must generate internal sunshine, so I look as hard as I can for the small heart-lifters. I found one yesterday in the Co-op.

One of the lovely things about our village is that there are several people who train guide dogs. You see the lovely canines out and about in their special yellow jackets, learning their valuable craft. There, at the checkout, as I bought emergency chocolate, was a glorious black lab, grinning all over his face.

‘What stage is he at?’ I said to his friendly owner.

‘He’s fully trained,’ she said. ‘He’s my brother’s dog. I’m just giving him a morning off.’

‘May I say hello to him?’ I said.

I have a general thing about not petting other people’s animals without permission, but it is especially important with guide dogs, because they are there for working, not being fawned over by strangers.

‘Yes, of course,’ she said.

He was an absolute sweetheart, eager and friendly and polite.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘He’s a heartbreaker.’

There are so many wonderful aspects to the whole guide dog thing. There is the quiet unsung goodness of the volunteers who socialise them as puppies. There is the cleverness of the canines themselves, as they learn their complex work. There is the profound difference the having of such a dog may make to someone’s life. Assistance dogs are not just for the blind. There are hearing dogs for the deaf, and dogs for people with various critical illnesses, who are so brilliant that they may sense the onset of, say, an epileptic attack, and warn their owner. Dogs are also used to help people with autism, especially children.

It’s easy to take assistance dogs for granted, as they are such a common sight, and they go about their business with no fanfare. But they really are a daily miracle. They are so clever and kind and patient and good, and what they do is so important. I got as much of a thrill from meeting that dog in the shop as I might if I had been introduced to a rock star. Right there, unassuming, easily overlooked, was the little ray of sunshine for which I had been searching.

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