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Diary: Caroline Chartres

23 November 2018


A dog’s life

OUR dog died in the summer. He had spent most of his life in a flat in the heart of the City, and survived to enjoy the pleasures of a garden, and walks that didn’t have to be on pavements.

A year ago, he had surgery to remove a (well-concealed and, thankfully, benign) tumour: since the tumour weighed 1 kg, which was ten per cent of his total body weight, its removal was life-transforming. It enabled him to spend a joyous six weeks with No. 2 son, on an other­wise uninhabited Hebridean island, where he narrowly avoided becoming lunch for a particularly large sea-eagle.

When he died, I realised the extent to which he’d been the continuity in my life, as the children grew up, and we moved from London to a new life outside the City. Apart from bookending my days (as I let him out first thing in the morning and last thing at night), his needs were at the centre of many of my rituals: I would refill his water-bowl and use what was left in the jug to water the plants. His demise consequently threatened the flourishing of everything green in the house.

Whenever we came home, it was to an unconditional welcome, shared equally between whichever of us arrived together. He had a special but distinctive relationship with each member of the family; and, of course, he gave us all so much more than he received. There is a well-known joke about the dyslexic agnostic agonising over whether or not there is a dog — but dogs, as all their lovers know, are undoubtedly a reflection of the divine.

Puppy love

THEY are also a considerable commitment. Although it’s impossible to imagine replacing a beloved companion, if you are thinking of getting another dog, it’s probably as well to do so soon, before you can decide that life is easier and more streamlined without one.

The hole in my heart is enormous, but the same cannot be said of my waistline: without a dog to drag me regularly from my screen, I could slide into being a permanent couch potato without ever regaining consciousness.

So we visited some puppies — and the hole in my heart began to fill again. It’s 13 years since we last had a puppy; I mentioned to a friend that I seemed to remember that they sleep a lot. She responded with an emoji of someone crying with laughter, and the comforting message “You think that, if it makes you feel better.”

I had forgotten how closely it resembles having a new baby in the house: having to put things (shoes, cushions, loo rolls) out of reach; distract him from his propensity to chew cables; cultivate eyes in the back of my head. But he is already an enthusiastic recycler, and will helpfully process anything before it reaches the green bin — with the consequence that the kitchen floor is now permanently awash with a tide of chewed plastic containers and shredded cardboard.

Identity crisis

CLERICAL titles are a minefield, even for the initiated — the Very Reverend, Not So Reverend, More or Less Reverend — although the Church of England is a model of simplicity compared with the Orthodox.

The Ecumenical Patriarch — who traditionally refers to himself in the third party as “His All Modesty” — famously rebuked another Orthodox prelate who had described himself in the same way, by pointing out that the visitor was not a Modesty at all, but merely a Humility.

The Beloved having been recycled as a working crossbencher has actually resulted in a simplification: “Bishop Richard” or “Lord Chartres” are pretty straightforward for him; less so, alas, for me. I am entirely happy to use my Christian name and surname without benefit of prefix. Most online websites, however (I am one of those people who laments the demise of the high street while simultaneously being an enthusiastic internet shopper), insist on a title, from a restricted list.

The honourable exception — I use the word advisedly — is Boden, who, in a spectacular example of either optimism or humble-brag, offer a dazzling choice ranging from “Field Marshal Lord” to “Princess” via “Colonel Sir”, “The Hon Mrs”, “Monsignor”, “The Marchioness of” — and yes, even “The Revd”.

But I have solved it — or thought I had. I found a drop-down list that offered, as a final option, “Other”. So I ticked it; and in due course the delivery arrived, addressed to “The Other Caroline Chartres”.

Picture this

WE RECENTLY visited a National Trust property where the paintings — presumably to protect other fragile items on display — were hung in a Stygian half-light, many of them at a considerable height. Helpful room stewards advance with torches, but it is hard to believe that the pictures are being shown to their best advantage.

In the kitchen quarters below stairs, in an attempt at interaction, visitors were invited to describe on a card an especially memorable experience, and then sum themselves up in three words. An American child, recalling the day the President visited his school, wrote: “Someone met Obama”. Someone else (aspirational, or deluded?) settled for “Absolute mental lad”. But a third wrote in exasperation “Give us more light!” with the three-word summary “We’re not bats”.

Once upon a time

PART of this house is old, and some of the beams in it were ancient long before the house was built. Thinking it would be interesting to discover just how old, I Googled “carbon dating”. The result wasn’t quite what I was expecting: “Over 50, and looking for a date?”

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