Ten years ago today, I lost my beloved Billie. It is very hard to comprehend that it has been ten years. Ten years since I held her and gave her cuddles, since I kissed the dip in the top of her head, since I stroked her warm tummy and when I stopped she would raise her paw and demand that I continue.
Billie was the sweetest, gentlest, most loving friend it is possible to imagine. She was a true companion, in person and in spirit. She accompanied me everywhere, her calm, gentle nature making her welcome even in places where dogs are not usually allowed. When I studied for an MA, she came with me to classes, sitting beside me for the three-hour workshop, an occasional lap from her water bowl, but otherwise not a peep. She loved going to pubs. At our local, the Lord Palmerston, I would buy her a steak (medium rare) and they would chop it up for her and serve it in her own special porcelain bowl. She came with me to work. I worked at the time, a couple of days a week in a literary agency. Billie came with me on the train, trotting along through the crowds of commuters, we would stop at the deli to buy her some snacks (parma ham, roast beef), then she’d curl up beside my desk as I worked. When she fancied a break, she’d wander off and visit the other offices. She would walk in on meetings. Several times, I was told that in the midst of a tricky negotiation, the appearance of Billie would ease the tension and make everybody smile. She came to launches, unphased by the assembled ranks of literary stardom, Billie took it all in her stride.
Billie handled London with aplomb. She travelled by tube, by bus and train. She loved to take the boat down the Thames to Greenwich, where we’d wander round the markets together, go to a cafe for lunch. But it was in the mountains of North Wales, where we spent several months every year, that we shared some of our the most magical times together. We knew those mountains intimately. We climbed them in every sort of weather, sharing sandwiches behind dry stone walls to shelter from the wind. I loved the way we pooled our skills. Several times, when the mist came down, or when the bracken had grown over the path, it was Billie who guided us home. Once, on Cnicht, she broke a toe and I carried her three miles down to the road, her chin resting patiently on my shoulder, where, thank heavens, a passing farmer, took pity and gave us a lift.
Billie was the sweetest friend. I was not in a good place when I got her, and she saw me through the most difficult years of my life, with her gentle, dependable love. The loss of her, aged ten, from a brain tumour was almost unbearable. The end was horrendous. She reacted badly to the euthanasia drug (an extremely rare occurrence, and almost certainly a result of the brain tumour making her reactions unpredictable. The neurologist, who was senior and highly experienced, was herself badly shaken by it), and this haunted me for a long time. Three weeks and one day after Billie, on 9th August 2007, my father died, also from a brain tumour. It’s extraordinary the pain you can somehow survive.
Billie with my father. This is the last photo I have of them together.
There have been an awful lot of losses in our community recently. Billie is an old timer now at the Bridge, and I like to think of her greeting Colonel Mosby and Kylie and Otis and offering to show them the ropes. She was not a boisterous character, not one for the rough and tumble. She barked maybe five times in her life. But should anyone be feeling in any way uncertain (are such things possible at the Bridge?), Billie will be there to reassure them, with her sweet, gentle presence, her constancy, her quiet, unwavering love.
I miss her so, so much.