6th December

A two day 300 mile round trip to participate in a Pets on Campus research project as a non- academic partner with an excellent university sounded a great idea in sunny June. I was honoured to be asked and jumped at the chance. By December with a cold front coming in, getting dark by 4, and two of our dogs having unexpectedly died, the whole thing didn’t sound quite so adventurous. My worry head kicked in. Would the car be ok? It is pretty old, tired (or is that just me?) What if it gets icy?  What if Teya didn’t enjoy it? What if my presentations were rubbish? What if she wee’d in the classroom (not that she ever had before). What if no one came?  Imposter syndrome taking hold!    

Frustration overtook exasperation at my constant worry! This was an adventure! A chance to meet new people, do something different. Goodness knows I often rumbled on about what I did day in and day out. This was new. Exciting. Paid well. With students who were interested, committed. Teya was always entrancing. The car spent a few hours getting checked out. All was well.

I vowed to treat the journey as part of the adventure, easier as the sun was brilliantly shining, it was a glorious day. I had found myself a lovely dog friendly café with walks along the route, like being on holiday. This halfway stop was at Sudbury, where the Childrens’ Country house and museum, stands, a National Trust country hall

“an experience where children are encouraged to be curious and have fun with history. All while protecting the late 17th-century collections.”

It looked to be fun, with interactive teaching, arrangements for those with disabilities, and a way of looking at history, with some modern progressive beneficial influences. Closed, so I could not actually check it out. The National Trust seemed to cast a certain ambience across the village. People were smiling and working outside, 3 people spoke to me in the first 100 yards. Or maybe that was just the sun.

The National Trust was founded in 1895 for “the holding of lands of natural beauty and sites and houses of historic interest to be preserved intact for the nation’s use and enjoyment’.”  They own somewhere in the region of 620,000 acres of land, 780 miles of coast, more than 200 historic houses, 41 castles and chapels, 47 industrial monuments and mills, the sites of factories and mines, 9 lighthouses, 56 villages, 39 public houses, and 25 medieval barns. In 2021 they hit the news while being subjected to a sort of coup /takeover bid, by a group who objected to their seeming change of direction, and a report detailing the links between historic slavery and colonialism in 90 of their properties, as well as their equality and diversity work. The nature of their grand houses meant that they had been historically owned by people who may have benefitted from either colonialism or slavery. These people were historically some of the trust’s biggest benefactors. There was something of a “culture war” as it was penned, the NT described as becoming “woke” and ignoring their key values. This was treading close on the heels of covid lockdown which had seen them loose so many members, revenue and activity. Many staff were sacked, volunteers were left rootless, complaints abounded.The takeover failed, but the controversy continues. On a brighter note after lobbying and voting by members they banned hunting with hounds on their land. Difficult to police and monitor though, but perhaps a reflection of the changes in membership values and attitudes. Hunting is another British institution gradually loosing favour and entitlement here.    

Apart from all that, the Hall was beautiful, there were some lovely dog walks, the sun was still shining, and The Sweet Little Café turned out to be just that. I stayed a while due to the fact they forgot my order ( it was worth waiting for and I did not let it dent my mood!). A range of lovely shops (Christmas presents also sorted) and we continued our journey in good spirits.

Arriving at the Marriott hotel on the university campus was also a delight- having Teya alongside created a lovely warm welcome from staff and guests alike. I bathed in her reflective glory! Luxury accommodation thoroughly checked out by Teya and found acceptable, we headed out for a walk through the beautiful grounds and onto our first workshop of the day.

I was to talk, while Teya hopefully demonstrated how the K9 project works. What we do, why we do it, what difference the dogs make, if any. Lead a conversation about animals in general and how they help our wellbeing. Maybe a conversation about leaving animals at home when you come to uni – let’s see where it all goes. Meanwhile university lecturer’s videoed, observed, took notes. The entire research study was exploring “pets on campus”. Yes or no, what would be the difficulties, what might work, what would be gained/lost? There was an online survey, individual interviews and focus groups, and my workshops. We were just a small part of the overall project, and the only part that involved a dog!

I met Dr Dan, who I already knew, and Mark who was my “minder” for the stay and ensured we did not get lost on campus. The workshop was fine, the students had plenty to say about pets on campus, and loved Teya- who wouldn’t? We went out for an evening meal which proved a little tricky. Finding both dog friendly/ not full of almost end of term lively students letting off steam, and watching the world cup football, was a challenge. I also met the Head of Department. Lively and different discussion, new ideas, sharing of experiences.

Teya and I went back to the hotel, another walk, and then collapsed, exhausted, onto and into the huge bed.  Fell asleep pondering that this was a light in the dark experience. A bright spark, something different, meaningful, and working as part of a team, all with the same objective. A beautiful day with a beautiful dog.

We both slept well, to repeat the process, in reverse order, tomorrow! 


Looking for the Light

1st November

Winter descends with a hurling wind and sideways rain. The sun still just about warms my bones- when I can find it – and the wind whips hair across my face. I am gloomy. Too much grief, too much uncertainty and change. Way too many losses. In a way it does not help that two days ago it was t shirt weather, people sitting outside cafes, dogs relaxing at their feet. Warm in an unreal, heady, not sure what is happening way. Of course, we said, we know it cannot last. Any delay to the onset of winter though is most welcome. So today feels shocking.

The horses are already paddling in mud. The stable yard flooding. I am tired just thinking about what is to come. After a social media prompt, I gladly turn to reread Horatio Clare’s The Light in the Dark- a winter journal. Published in 2018, I now read it most winters. Horatio’s atmospheric prose adds a beauty to the often-painful events he relates and takes us along on his journey to find a solution to the winter blues. Both challenging and enlightening, and most importantly hopeful, it is a beacon in the dark.

And at least you know you are not alone.

In his prologue he highlights the challenge

“It is not fair to blame the winter, but it does set the stage so well, with its clamped down rains, its settled and introverted darkness, its mean ration of light, its repetitions.”  [1]

I find myself almost shouting “yes.” This me, who is often stir crazy by 5.30 pm, restless against the confinement of the darkness and cold. Tired of TV, of damp and wet, of muddy dogs and dirty houses, of changing boots. Constantly changing boots, and coats. Tired also of being tired and not having the energy to change any of that.

He highlights how he will, this time, arm himself against the onslaught of depression.

“Depression kills your power of vision, turning you fatally towards yourself, but I will practice looking, and looking outwards like an exercise, as though I am training for an expedition.”[2]

This year I determine to write my own journal. Not just write, but also practice looking for the joy, practice turning towards the light in the dark. Practice noticing. It will not be as eloquent or literary as Horatio’s, for sure. In writing I hope to also encourage the noticing. Looking. Not sinking. It will also enable me to have a reason to practice my writing, honing my words, finding ways that they may become relevant to others. With my own more mundane voice, the everyday nature of my reality and experiences, my own thoughts.

Horatio’s winter journal will be my reminder, my guide, my assistance to not sink, my prompt to look outwards, to savour, and to seek out experiences that refresh the soul.

Even in winter.

[1] Horatio Clare. The light in the dark

[2] Ditto


winter sunset – source of light.