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Monday 1 April 2024

Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse - APRIL 2024 -Those Great Gaps and Gaping Holes

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Those Great Gaps and Gaping Holes

We all have them, those gaps in our lives, some which will never be refilled, others which might be filled in a different way. Most, if not all, are devastating, several are unexpected. And when they do hit us it's like being a tenpin knocked over by a bowling ball. It's hard and it hurts.

I'm talking about losing a loved one: mum, dad, husband, wife, son, daughter, gran, grandad... A best friend - human or animal. No matter who or what, that hole left in our lives can be as massive and dark as the largest Black Hole in space.

dear Baz

We recently lost our old dog, Baz. It’s been a few weeks now, but he is still very much missed. It’s those small, everyday instances where those holes emerge:

Coming downstairs of a morning to find him no longer waiting, tail wagging, to say ‘Good Morning’.
No more goodnight cuddles as he settled on his bed (an old leather sofa.)
Never again, Baz appearing every evening at six o’clock (on the dot) to enquire: ‘Is it dinner time yet?’
No more wanders up the lane together on a sunny afternoon.
Never again to put my hand down beside my armchair of an evening as he wandered by, just to let him know I love him.
Never again to hear him snoring beside my desk as I write.

Well, to be honest, I miss his happy doggy smile all day, every day.

Baz and his happy doggy smile

Baz would greet everyone as if they were a long lost love of his life, from established well-known visitors and friends, to the one-off Asda delivery man - he'd be there, tail wagging, tongue lolling: "Hello! Have you come to see me? How lovely!"

During the Covid lockdown he missed other people as much as we did. When the first outdoor visitors came he was ecstatic with joy.


In February 2013, our old dog, Rum, passed away. He’d had a dreadful and cruel life until he was four, then he came to us via a dog rescue centre. Years later, he moved to Devon with us in January 2013, but sadly, did not get to enjoy the new country life. With such a big hole in our lives – and an old farm not being ‘right’ without a dog – we went to the Ilfracombe Dogs Trust looking for a rescue dog to rehome. 

Daughter Kathy went to the centre to view what dogs they had. The viewing part of the kennels resemble a shopping mal, being indoors with glass frontages to each separate kennel. Halfway along the right side was a black labrador/collie cross. He was looking intently at the main doors, his eyes fixed on Kathy as she walked along the row, his bottom shuffling to keep her in sight as she passed by, his attention only on her as she walked back down the left side. Naturally she asked to ‘meet’ the black dog.

Cut the story short, this was Baz. The centre checked the new home out and Baz became ours. The first problem, we discovered, was that he was terrified of the car. Not surprising at all. He had been found wandering in Ilfracombe, they reckoned he’d been out for about three weeks, so probably dumped just after Christmas. He was at least two years old, possibly nearer three, which made him at least thirteen in 2024.

He had a microchip (when traced the ‘owner’ claimed they’d given him away months previously. Don’t believe a word of it. B*stards.) Someone had once loved him as he had the basic commands, sit, come, etc and was fully housetrained. I personally think he had been with someone elderly who had passed away and the rest of the family couldn’t be bothered with him, so abandoned him.

Apart from the car, he settled in with us, loving our thirteen acres to explore – no need for a car to go for a walk! We did eventually get him to the point of not being frightened (needs must – the vet and occasionally the beach at Saunton Sands!) but he was always sick when travelling, not his fault and no big deal. He was always anxious though, even moving furniture around upset him – he couldn’t handle change of any sort. Understandable, those weeks of being abandoned for such a trusting, affectionate, lovely dog must have been absolute hell.

Paddling at Saunton Sands, Devon

Towards the end of February he became unwell. We never quite got to the bottom of what the trouble was, but we suspect he’d had a mild stroke. He seemed to pick up, but on the 22nd February in the evening he became poorly again, disorientated, no idea where he was, his back legs giving way. It was gone 10 pm so we settled him on his bed and left him quiet, (not wanting to distress him even more by putting him in the car for a long drive to the nearest open vet.) 

We lost him the next morning. Quietly and with no fuss, and we’ve buried him in the orchard. It was only later that we realised the 23rd February was the same day that we’d lost Rum back in 2013.

There are gaping holes in the field too, where, last year we lost our Saffie and a few weeks later her four-year-old son, Franc. Losing horses is a big thing – because they are big things – but it’s easier to think of them still up there grazing in the field. We’d had Saffie since September 2013, buying her as a second showjumper for Kathy. She was an utter nutcase, a horse that leapt around, couldn’t see the point of walking when she could trot, not trotting when she could canter. She didn’t mind hacking round the village lanes, but ask Kathy to ride up to the village to post a letter, forget it! Saffie wouldn’t keep still long enough to pop the envelope into the letter box. What? Stand still for a moment? No way!


When Kathy temporarily lost her showjumping confidence on Lexie – which left a huge hole in Kathy’s life – Saffie helped her regain her confidence. (I’m glad to say Kathy’s confidence hole has now been filled in. She’s fully back on track – two double clear rounds recently at Bicton, Exeter, with a 4th and 6th place. (Going for clear not a fast time. Kathy’s aim is to move up the ranks so Lexie becomes a Grade B showjumper. To do this she needs to gain more points. British Showjumping Affiliated horses have a 'Grade', one of three categories depending on how many points they have accumulated. Grade C  0-999 points, Grade B 1,000 - 1,999 points, Grade A (to 2,000 points). So, only something like 70 points needed to come out of Grade C! Hopefully we’ll achieve it by the end of the summer.

One of my favourite photos of Lexie and Kathy
taken as they scoot round a turn during the
against the clock jump-off phase.
The tight turn saved them several seconds and they won the class.

Lexie jumping in the Amateur Derby ring, Hickstead

So, we another hole in our field – a grave this time, for Saffie. She is still with us in spirit; Saffie’s ghost is  there, happily grazing. Franc too, as Kathy has seen his ghost a couple of times looking over the gate, waiting to come in. .


I want to be buried in our top field so that I can continue to supervise haymaking every summer.

I had my own gaping hole many years back in 1977 when I went through the disorientation of a nervous breakdown. I still don’t really know what caused it, but I suspect depression, where you get stuck in the hole of life that is a dark, gaping ditch, and you can't find the way to get out of it. You sit there in that lonely place hoping that someone, anyone, will realise you are there and reach down a friendly hand to haul you out.

Back in the '70s depression was rarely dealt with. The doctor was dismissive and merely told me to pull myself together. I sat in the waiting room for a while, tears streaming, then got up and walked out. I crossed the road, went into the phone box and asked to speak to the Samaritans. They were marvellous

I walked a lot through those awful weeks. Even after I’d somehow got through it, the holes kept re-appearing. You think you are fine, but suddenly you realise you’ve tumbled into another ditch – like those leaf-covered man traps that you often see in old Robin Hood type movies where the unsuspecting hero falls in. And then – yes, just as you’re walking straight and tall in the sunshine, wallop, there’s another ditch that you hadn’t seen.

I was lucky, I eventually learned that the ditches weren’t so deep after all, and that with a bit of determined wriggling I could climb out and continue on my way. Soon, however, I started to realise the warning alert of “Oops! Ditch Ahead!” and not fall in. Taking vitamin D during the winter helps, for ditches seem to appear during the cold, dark months. 

Living here in Devon has made all the difference, there aren’t many gaping hole ditches down here in my life now. The odd hiccup, perhaps, but the depression was caused by a need to escape London and live where the grass really is greener. I also, all those years ago, knew that I wanted to write. Maybe that was the problem: I wasn't doing what I wanted to do. 

'Follow your dreams', they say, my dream was to write a book and get it published. I achieved it one week after my 40th birthday in 1993 when my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy was accepted for publication. The dream was never fully fulfilled because it turned out that the agent who was supposed to be representing me lost interest and did next to nothing for me. (That's an understatement!) Because of her (no I'll never forgive her) I nearly ended up with no books in print and the dream gone up in a puff of smoke. But I'm resilient and refused to give in. I'm still here, still writing, still chasing the ultimate dream of actually selling some books *laugh* (now there's a novelty - write books to actually sell them!)

If ever I write my autobiography, I intend to call it ‘Avoiding Ditches’.

Talking about avoiding ditches... Way, way back, when I was about four, I had my first proper horse ride. I think it was on Billy and Mr Soper from the farm at the bottom of Mansfield Hill in Chingford (it’s a housing estate now) led me along the road all the way to the Fox and Hounds pub. There, we stopped by the shop and he bought me a bar of chocolate because I’d done so well. In hindsight, it was probable that we stopped there so that he could have a quick pint in the pub. When I could ride ‘on my own’ we would ride along Sewardstone Road, then turn round and have a good canter along the edge of the forest (Epping Forest) on the way back. With, each time, Mr Soper yelling out from the front “Mind the ‘Oller!” meaning the big dip or hollow ahead of us.

 It was along here, when we’d stopped to let the horses graze, that I had my first fall. I hadn’t realised that horses put their heads down to eat, so I slithered, somewhat ungracefully, down the pony’s neck, like scooting down a slide. I think I was five.

Saffie, jumping at Hickstead

We are contending with other holes now, though. Pot holes. More like gaping canyons down our lane! That programme on TV, The World’s Most Dangerous Roads? Huh – they’re nothing compared to the pitted quarry that is supposed to be our lane!

Then there is the Hole In The Wall. Not a gaping one, this time, it’s small and dark within, a hole deliberately left in the stonework of our house wall when it was built in 1769.

Behind the hole is a sort of ‘cupboard’ gap between the stones where wild bees used to have a hive. In olden days there would have been a panel that opened on the inside of the house in order to reach the honey. All bricked up from the inside now, sadly. The bees were there the first year, but then the honeysuckle took over and some sparrows found the hole. 

They’ve been nesting in there every year ever since. Not that all the sparrows (and there’s a lot of them) can fit in the hole now, the others have to roost in the honeysuckle itself. Of an evening when they’re all squabbling for the best spot it’s like listening to a heated episode of the TV Soap, Eastenders!

The honeysuckle now covers the wall behind
the dragon with the hole,
 just out of shot above this photo
taken in 2013

And why, I want to know, do you ever only get a hole at the toe of one sock? In my case, always the right sock. Never the left.

There’s one more hole I must tell you about. 

Esthwaite near Hawkeshead, Cumbria

Years ago we were on holiday in the Lake District. A lovely cottage with its own lake frontage, not far from where Beatrix Potter once lived. To get to where we parked the car we had to walk along a strip of grass beside a hedge. 

There, in the middle of the path was a deep hole. “Mind the ‘oller!” I called to those who were behind me. I’d turned round to say it. Didn’t turn back in time and stepped right into the hole – which was deep enough (and fortunately dry) to come right up to my waist. 

I had to be hauled out, laughing.

So, the gaping hole that we presently have at home needs to be filled by another dog. I expect one will find us eventually, a dog as lovely as our old Rum and Baz, and before them Nesta a Lakeland Collie who was an absolute darling (and has a part in Shadow of the King, the third in my Arthurian Trilogy.

In the story she falls over a waterfall. A frightening event, with, fortunately, a happy ending, that really did happen.

Until another dog wanders into our lives, our poor old lads both had a rotten start to life, but you both fell on your paws when you came to live with us. I’m so glad we had those many, many happy days together and that you learned to trust people again.

Rum and Baz, we  miss your smiles and your doggy laughs, but run free and chase those heavenly squirrels together! You were both wonderful friends.

Sweet dreams, boys.

lege feliciter
(read happily)

Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse 
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  1. Fabulous post. Beautifully written. Helen. So sorry you have lost Baz.

  2. Oh, Helen, what a lovely, moving post!
    And I think life is very often about avoiding the ditches, isn't it?
    It is strange, how people (or pets) we have lost yonks ago can suddenly become sudden points of pain. My father died in 1998, and the other day, I saw a man standing just like he use to do, hands clasped behind his back as he studied the people rowing in the canal. For an instant, I thought it was Pappa, almost caleld out to him, because now and then I have this urge to share so much with him, things that have happened during all those years he's been gone...
    Thank you for sharing this. It warmed my heart.

  3. Oh, it hurts to lose the furry members of our family. I still have a big cat-shaped hole in my home. What happiness you gave Baz, Rum, Franc and Saffy though. And Wonky Donkey - I remember reading about him.
    Loretta. x

  4. Such a lovely post, Helen.

  5. Thank you, Helen, for sharing your heartfelt tears of loss; but also of joy for having loved people and pets - albeit, not potholes. Having followed your many stories about your family, horses, donkeys, dogs and the cat Sybil, it feels as if I knew them too. And, surely, another bushy tail will seek you out one day ...

  6. lovely words and memories x

  7. So sorry to read about Baz. I have several dog-shaped holes in my heart, too. This is a lovely article, so full of feeling. Take care xxxx


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