My lovely dog Minnow died in the Summer. She was getting old and had been bravely coping with a serious illness for a few months. I'd never imagined that I'd know for myself the truth of the expression 'a man's best friend', but the two of us arriving here in Jura and roughing it together for a year or two certainly proved it to be the very best of friendships.
When Minn first came to Jura it was Spring. The fresh scent of new growth was abundant and her nose was raised enthusiastically in the air from the minute we got on the ferry. Sniffing it all in. Chasing rabbits on the beach. Running up the hills. Making a warm nest in the back of the old Land Rover. There may have been the odd moment when she missed the bustle of a London park, certainly the smells of other dogs, and most definitely the crumbs of a take away pain-au-chocolate intentionally dropped by her master. But Jura provided her with plenty of new distractions.
Here she encountered new animal smells all together. The cows on the old air-strip in the morning – staring her out and forcing her to make a mad dash between them to get to the beach. The scraggy sheep on the hill, providing a permanent test of loyalty to her master; “Minn", deeper, slower voice... "No”. The occasional otter providing fleeting intrigue and Willie's new free range Tamworth piglets confusing her completely.
Once, walking on the beach, Minn and I became aware of a sort of evolving ginger shape at the other end of the beach by the burn. It seemed to be moving towards us, kicking up white sand and making a deep, repetitive sound akin to a galloping herd of wildebeest in a David Attenborough wildlife programme. A galloping herd it soon proved to be, as the ginger blur morphed into a pack of enthusiastic piglets with the support of their enormous and protective mothers - all building up a surprisingly quick pace. Minn, sensing a game, ran towards them with her tail wagging. Now it was fierce pig squealing that was getting louder. She stopped in her tracks, looked back at me for reassurance, then belted as fast as she could in my direction and hid behind my legs.
I was no doubt laughing at the spectacle and cheerily reassuring Minn that she was safe when, to my horror, I realised that the wildlife sound effects hadn't stopped. I looked up. The sows at this point had obviously built up such a head of steam that they thought they might as well finish off the job. I may have yelled towards them in an authoritative way. To no avail. I turned with Minn, starting with a brisk walk in the opposite direction to convey an element of control in our demeanor (not that anyone was looking...). As the galloping swine vibrations started to communicate directly through the soles of my boots, we upped the pace, breaking into a jog, then with a swift fearful glance back towards our predators, we broke into a full blown sprint. We ran. And ran. It was only once we got up to the road that we sensed that the athletic sows had given up the chase.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed it most of the time, by most people's standards the first Winter living in Jura was pretty bleak. I had stripped out the old cottage which was virtually a ruin anyway. It was damp and cold with a leaking roof and draughts coming in all the old broken windows and under the outside doors. The new extension was a building site and certainly not remotely wind and watertight. It had been my intention to be living in this new building by the Winter, but the inevitable delays had put paid to this.
So Minn and I made our little bedsit in the end stone room in the cottage - which is now the studio - while I built the new walls around us. Cooking facilities were provided by a little 'foker' gas burner and loo facilities were of the 'chemical' variety through in a secluded corner of the new building. There was a single pipe of water from the hill and bathing consisted of boiling a kettle and standing in a small blue plastic bowl (as had always been the case on holiday in Jura!). The Winter did seem to be particularly harsh that year, with frosts, endless gales and driving rain enough to question even my enthusiasm on occasion. I was active building the house during the day – learning new skills and developing my addiction to Radio 4. Evenings were harder but by the New Year I had installed a wood burner in the 'studio' which provided much needed comfort and an extension cable ran electricity through enabling a once a week treat of a DVD in front of the stove.
If it were in my personality to see the dark side of life (which I fear it is...) then it would surely have been this experience that could have driven me to some pretty dark places. Minn, however, whilst normally prone to the occasional self piteous shiver herself, remained extra-ordinarily upbeat. Everything became a communal excitement in our little home. Waking, eating, working, walking and welcoming visitors were enthusiastically accomplished. Hardships were accepted and simple pleasures celebrated.
She was always a devoted dog but somehow this came to the fore in the adversity of our situation – perhaps because she sensed that she was needed, or that we needed each other. I do wonder whether, without her, I would have ventured up here on my own at all, let alone get through the tough mental and physical challenges of that Winter and beyond. I'm glad to say that her significant contribution towards this house eventually paid off in her lifetime. A new warm building with underfloor heating no less – what could better that?! In her old age she even, remarkably, grew quite fond of Louis the cat, who had been drafted into the team as Head of Rodent Control.
After Minn was put down, I brought her back home in the Land Rover. She lies buried at the back of the house, in front of a crumbling old stone wall, shaded by a willow tree. The picture above shows her windswept, paddling in the sea on a bright morning of that first Winter. That's how I'll remember her.