Flint was a grey-brindle, rough-haired whiskered lurcher. He died when he was only two years old, after a much too short but happy life. He was killed at the thundering gallop chasing a muntjac, after being pierced straight through his lungs by a long thin spear of a stick which barely left a mark.
He did not die immediately. We found him walking with an odd staggering gait through the woods. Subsequently no human could have had better medical treatment and few as good.
He survived an operation lasting several hours (paid for by our insurance – woe betide not being covered), and then his heart gave out.
I was at the time making a film about memorials to animals. What could have been a more soothing salve or a more than suitable tribute than commissioning a monument to a dog? Who, though, could pay for it? I am in constant touch with Harriet Frazer whose entirely excellent organisation, Memorials by Artists, was founded to put the bereaved in touch with the most suitable local craftsmen for a loved one’s memorial.
Thanks to her advice and tireless slogging through diocesan boards and local councils in pursuit of planning permissions, there are now many hundreds of contemporary memorials beautifying Britain today.
Eureka! She told me of Martin Cook, a local fourth-generation master mason, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were responsible for some of the finest sepulchral artistic works in England, including at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
He had just finished a Falklands War memorial in High Wycombe and had some stone left over. He would be delighted to make it into an obelisk for a mere song, for Flint and for the film.
The letters FLINT were inscribed from the top to the bottom of the stone.
It stands at the bottom of the garden of the 1846 Gothic and diaper-brick Old Rectory at Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire, where I have lived for many years.
We had a small funeral ceremony, reading the lines of Ecclesiastes 3:19: ‘For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts: even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea they have all one breath; so that a man has no pre-eminence above a beast for all is vanity.’
The misery of missing Flint remained raw. Weeks later, I was working in the Caribbean with Auberon Waugh – his last job before he died in 2001, aged only 61. We had been together on his first job, writing about sex in the Midlands, 40 years before. That king of cynics, without a shade of his renowned cynicism, knowing that we were mourning a dog, sympathised in a quiet voice: ‘I know. I am so sorry. Bereavement is sheer hell.’
We were in good company. In 1881, Matthew Arnold wrote a 20-verse poem, Geist’s Grave, on his grief at his dachshund’s death.
A few verses are reproduced here:
Four years! – and didst thou stay above
The ground, which hides thee now, but four?
And all that life, and all that love,
Were crowded, Geist!, into no more?…
We stroke thy broad brown paws again,
We bid thee to thy vacant chair,
We greet thee by the window-pane
We hear thy scuffle on the stair.
We see the flaps of the large ears
Quick rais’d to ask which way we go;
Crossing the frozen lake, appears
Thy small black figure on the snow!…
We lay thee, close within our reach,
Here, where the grass is smooth and warm,
Between the holly and the beech,
Where oft we watch’d thy couchant form,
Asleep yet lending half an ear
To travellers on the Portsmouth road; –
There build we thee, O guardian dear,
Mark’d with a stone, thy last abode!
I have also planned a monument for a grand old dog called Prickle, a beloved creature who died aged 16.
One day, Prickle’s monument will stand at the bottom of the garden here at Hedgerley, where she lived for many years of her life. The memorial will stand nine and a half feet high, four feet wide and two feet deep, made of reconstituted Bath stone. Along with crockets and pinnacles – in sympathy with her name – there will be four gargoyles of canine weepers cast in bronze-finished resin.
Prickle herself, also cast in bronze resin, will sit on a tasselled cushion, prepared to meet her master on Judgement Day. So schemes my friend Alan Dodd, who designed the monument (inspired by the tomb of St Peter Martyr at Sant’Eustorgio in Milan). The drawing of the planned monument is framed and on proud display. This, maybe, is how it will have to remain – after all, many an important architectural scheme has suffered the same fate.
Prickle was bought in Shepherd’s Bush Market for ten shillings, and never was any money better spent. She was only six weeks old.
We had no idea where she had come from. It must have been from circus stock. Every day, many times a day, she would ‘canter’ round in a circus-size circle, stopping to pirouette on her hind legs at four opposite points of the ‘ring’. Who was the ringmaster whose ghost was still cracking his whip over Prickle?
Other departed dogs are honoured in my front hall, on a wooden tablet, surrounded by a ten-foot-high Gothic wooden frame, emblazoned with a palm-bearing, gilded angel.
Under the gilded words,‘JOYFULLY BARKING IN THE HEAVENLY CHORUS’ are all their names: Clover and Thistle, Violet and Florence, Hops of Hereford and Flint.
Prickle and Thistle are also commemorated over the door, with their names on a painted banner, with the words ‘HE WHO SOWS THISTLES SHALL REAP PRICKLES’.
The dachshunds Violet and Florence have their coats of arms painted on the walls – gilded and quartered with rabbits and bones.
All their paw prints are embedded and named, Hollywood-style, in the floor – a feature that gives me huge pleasure to this day.