The migration of birds helps me understand my life

Starlings over Marazion Marshes

I promised myself I would write here today and although it is late at night I want to keep to that promise.

Now that I have this brand new beautiful blog I feel shy about writing unless it is worthwhile, interesting, wonderful and perfect.

Impossible expectations of myself only freeze my creativity.

So here I am writing just an ordinary post, hoping at least to capture something of the moment that I am living through right now.

I am back in Cornwall yet again.

I arrived about three weeks ago and tomorrow night I leave Penzance on the sleeper train to London. On Saturday I will fly to Barcelona and then travel on by train to Granollers.

It is the first time in years that I have been back in Cornwall in November and  I have loved it.  The weather has been pretty good and I’ve been able to walk along the deserted coast path and on the empty beaches. The winter birds have arrived and the summer tourists have gone.

The roads are quiet and the streets of Penzance have been returned to the locals.

Starlings going home to roost

But I found myself aware that I am no longer a local.   I am not a tourist but am definitely a visitor. Some people in my village of Lamorna didn’t recognise me.  Others are surprised to see me at this time of year and every day someone is asking,  ” How long are you here this time?”  and  “When do you go off again?”         It is perfectly natural for people to want to know these things.  There is something disturbing about someone who comes and goes, someone who used to live here and be part of the fabric of life but who suddenly upped and went off to live in Spain.  I hear an element of accusation in the questions, a hint of annoyance as if I decided to go because Cornwall wasn’t good enough for me.

Being a migrant means I am expected at certain times of the year and am seen as a strange occurance at others.  As if I have flown off course.

This makes me sad and makes me long to settle down and stay again, to be a year round resident.

And yet…..

I feel the call of the south.   I want to go  where the sun shines with more warmth.  There is something – and  someone who is calling me.  And in the spring I will start to dream of Cornish cliffs and of my country cabin.

I don’t like feeling like a transient visitor when I come to Cornwall but somehow this is now my reality.

I have always felt drawn to birds and known a link between their lives and mine.

It helps me understand my life now when I think about migration


We will remember Excalibur

My dog Bonnie, as many of you know, died in February this year after being diagnosed with a lymphoma in her abdomen. It is still something that hurts me a lot and some days I am knocked backwards by a memory which both makes me smile and cry. I miss her and I feel a large collie sized hole in my heart.

She died peacefully with both me and Pep by her side, in the peaceful gardens of Sant Nicolau. A kindly woman vet administered the injections and with a little sigh Bonnie left this earth.

So, I can’t imagine how the nurse Teresa Romero and her husband Javier Limon will cope with the pain of losing their dog Excalibur who was taken from their home by men in Ebola protection suits and killed by who knows who, in some place who knows where.

I have been following this story ever since we heard that Teresa, a nurse in Madrid had contracted Ebola after helping care for two Spanish priests who had been working in West Africa. They both later died from the disease. Teresa had volunteered for this work and did it with all possible professionalism and with more, she did it with love. She had received the training available and followed procedures but somehow the virus got through the protective layers of her suit and she became ill.

She had been back home and living a normal life before she got sick and so her husband and several other people who had been in contact with her were put into isolation only hours after she herself was taken into hospital.

This couple had no children but they had a much loved dog called Excalibur. Before leaving the flat Javier left food and water for him, not knowing how long he would be away. There were others who could come and take care of Excalibur if necessary and as it all happened in a moment of great crisis and confusion, he did the best he could, leaving the door to the balcony open so Excalibur could go outside.

But Ebola is a serious disease and of course access to the flat was forbidden. Excalibur spent a couple of days there alone while in the outside world there began an argument about what would happen to him. Teresa was fighting for her life and knew nothing of what was going on. Javier was trapped inside an isolated room in the hospital but was able to say he wanted his dog to be cared for in quarantine to see if he was carrying the virus or was not infected at all. The authorities made it clear they intended to go in and get the dog and put it to sleep, euthanise it, kill it…. use whatever description you want…. later Teresa called it an execution.  The health officials had no intention of waiting nor of consulting other experts in the field. The dog, in their opinion, was not important enough to save, nor to monitor under care and they would get rid of it.

A campaign grew on Facebook and other social media and I was able to follow the story on the page, Salvemos a Excalibur. People went to protest on the street outside the apartment. The police went in and broke up the crowds. One day a van arrived, men dressed head to toe in protective suits entered the flat, took Excalibur away and that was that.

I read lots of newspapers at the time, both in English and Spanish. Of course there were many who thought it ridiculous that such a fuss was made about a dog when there are thousands of humans dying from Ebola. People sneered at protestors and accused them of the usual ‘crime’ of caring more about animals than people.

But I felt strongly this was about more than a dog – and I care very much about the actual dog although of course I don’t know Excalibur and my grief for him was nothing like the grief for my own Bonnie. The people involved directly were Teresa and Javier. Their feelings were ignored by the authorities, their rights were not respected. At the same time there were reports in the newspapers that Teresa had somehow caused her own infection by touching her face with her hand when removing the protective suit.  This seemed an incredibly crass attempt to absolve the health officials from responsibility – perhaps for not providing good enough equipment, or doing enough staff training, or failing to have enough staff so someone would help Teresa remove her suit. Surely there would be an inquiry which would take time to analyse what had happened. How could anyone just make public statements in the days after Teresa became ill, naming her as the one who had made a mistake?  When she wasn’t able to respond as she was in isolation and was close to dying.

Excalibur showed up a system where panic and cover-up seemed to be the response to a problem rather than honesty and respect and integrity. 

In the days that followed there was a similar case in the United States which only made the Spanish authorities seem more inept, dishonest and stupid. The American nurse also had a dog but the US authorities took it into quarantine, released photos so we all knew the quarantine was comfortable and there were toys and home comforts. They were also testing the blood and furthering the scientific knowledge of Ebola which some say can be carried by dogs but there is still a lot to learn.  When the nurse (who also thankfully survived) and her dog were reunited there were videos of the happy meeting between them.

I cannot imagine how painful it must be to Teresa Romero and Javier Limon to see these films, to go over and over in their minds the last days of Excalibur and to know that he died without good reason and without the presence of those who loved him. At the time he died no-one knew if he carried the virus so of course he was not patted or stroked or given human love. How can they bear this pain on top of everything else? My heart aches for them.

Yesterday Teresa Romero came out of hospital at last and has gone to Galicia to recover at the family home. She attended a very short press conference and thanked all the staff who had cared for her – the nurses, the cleaning staff, the auxiliaries and the doctors. She was too emotional to speak about Excalibur but her husband read out her statement. She said that her dog was like a child to her and her husband and that killing him was not necessary.

Interestingly many of the news media ignored this part of her statement – all the films showed her smiling and saying ‘thank you’ but I had to search for the statements given by her husband. 

“The worse part of all of this is that our dog was not given a chance”

  • Ambulance staff in Cadiz bought their own Ebola protection suits as the ones provided were not ‘up to the job’
  •  Health workers in Madrid and many others are calling for the resignation of health minister Ana Mato claiming that the equipment and training provided are inadequate.
  •  Madrid regional health chief Javier Rodriguez accused Teresa Romero on public radio of lying about her symptoms and making mistakes which caused her  contract the disease. He later apologised.
  • After being released from isolation Teresa’s husband Javier said ‘they destroyed our life, they killed our dog and they nearly killed my wife’
  •  He will be seeking redress in the courts on behalf of his wife and their dog. 

Walking to happiness in Menorca

We have been thinking of coming to Menorca for several years but the sticking point for me was how to get here with Bonnie. I read that the conditions on some of the ferries were very poor for travelling dogs with dirty cramped cages, times where you were not allowed access to the animals and in one story the cages were in a lower deck that was hot and noisy close to the engines.  I asked the ferry companies, wrote on travel forums and got in touch with people who live in the Balearics but the stories were mixed and in the end I never trusted that it would be comfortable for Bonnie so we didn’t come.

Now of course Bonnie is no longer with us so we decided to come to Menorca for Easter.

First the practicalities:

Balearia and Acciona-Trasmediterranea are the two ferry companies that take you between Barcelona and Menorca. 

We came out on Balearia to Ciutadella and will return from Mao on Trasmediterranea.  One of my tasks is to look for myself at the dog accommodation areas so that in the future I will know what to expect. You never know – one day I may be travelling again with a dog!

There were a lot of dogs on the crossing to Menorca. They were housed in portable cages in two different sizes. The cages were lined up on a small deck with an area for exercise which was protected by a roof but otherwise open to fresh air. The cages were basic and small and the area was not large and could be noisy if there was barking – which there was. But there seemed to be no restrictions on visiting and letting your dog out to sit with you in the exercise area. I was glad that Bonnie wasn’t having to travel there but I could imagine doing it with a younger dog. The journey is 10 hours so it could be stressful but it wasn’t impossible to imagine doing it.

We are staying in Ciutadella in a lovely flat lent to us by a friend of a friend. We were met at the harbour, given a key and a place to stay and a beautiful reminder of the ancient art of hospitality.  Both Greek and Celtic cultures are known for the sacred practice of hospitality to friends and strangers and it is alive and well in Menorca too. 

We are walking the Cami de Cavalls, exploring different parts of the island.
The beaches are sandy and clean

The water is an incredible turquoise

The path – which is for walkers and bicycles and horses – winds around the island and is well marked

There are cliffs

Sand dunes

And many beaches covered in seaweed

which the action of the wind and the water turns into thousands of small hairy balls

What do you do while walking?   Here is what I do…..
Singing, thinking, listening to music, talking, pretending my dog is with me and calling her or throwing one of these little balls for her to chase.  Thinking some more. 
It is strange to be on holiday without Bonnie but it is also much easier of course.  I feel bereft and sometimes the memory of her comes at me like a punch in the belly and tears surprise me running down my cheeks.  But there is also a new freedom that comes with loss.  I am free to come and go as I please.  With no-one dependent on me, I am alone again and this is both sad and liberating. 
I spent day 1 thinking of this and many other things, of people who have gone, of times that are past, of my own family and childhood.  Swimming on one of the golden beaches I suddenly had a strong sense of being alive and living the life that I always wanted to find. Ever since I was young I had a dream of living abroad and learning new languages.  And here I am!  It has not been just a series of accidents although sometimes I see it that way.  I have actually created the life that I dreamt of.  Surely that must be something to feel good about?   My next step – self confidence for real!

Bonnie’s Story – Part Five – A Full Life

Last September when we returned from the UK I was hardly able to walk as the tendinitis in my left ankle was getting worse rather than better. Of course this had an impact on Bonnie as I had to find new ways to make sure she had enough exercise.  We did more town walks normally ending up in a cafe in the sunshine

Or we went along the river path with me on the bike and Bonnie bounding along beside me.  On one of these bike rides I noticed she was slowing down – instead of me racing to catch her it was the other way around. A subtle change but I noticed it and stored it away

In October some of my family came to have their first holiday at Sant Nicolau.   It was a good opportunity to see how much Bonnie had changed over the years.  She used to be famous for barking at strangers – anyone arriving at my house would have to pass a collie test before they could approach her.  Almost before saying ‘Hello’ I would have told them, speaking over loud barks, “Please ignore her, don’t look at her, don’t try to touch her for at least half an hour. DON’T LOOK AT HER”

But living in Granollers helped her to trust life and people more.  We walked so often through the town with children running about or whizzing by on scooters, there were lots of dogs, cars, motorbikes, the constant scream of the ambulance sirens.  Living with the Resident Adolescent got her accustomed to visitors coming and going, large groups of tall gangly boys would walk past where she lay sleeping and she would hardly bother to lift her head. In general they would ignore her – not because I asked them to but they weren’t interested and so perhaps she didn’t feel they were a threat.

My ankle stopped me doing many things which in a way was a gift as I spent more time at home with Bonnie. She was quite happy to potter around the nearby parks, to come with us to the beach and play on the sand

 And to go out in the car at weekends for longer walks with Pep while I sat in the sunshine and read

These stripped trees are cork oaks

In early November we went to explore another part of the Costa Brava near Palafrugells. It was sunny and extremely windy and in the evening we looked for a hotel to stay overnight.  Llafranc is a lovely village by the sea, the sort of place you dream of settling down in for the rest of your life. The first hotel didn’t accept dogs but the second one was very welcoming and gave us a beautiful room overlooking the bay.   I loved that place and it will always remain in my memory as our last holiday together before we found out Bonnie had cancer.

When we returned home I noticed that same night that she had trouble climbing the stairs to the bedroom.  Again thinking I was being over-anxious I took her to the vet the next day. After the Erlichiosis attack I was always quick to pick up signs of possible aenemia as you never completely clear the system of the parasite and it could reappear.  But this time the bad news was different, and worse. After X-rays and ultrasound as well as blood tests they decided to operate as there was a large mass in her abdomen.  We had to wait for biopsy results to be sure but just the look of the tumour convinced them it was a lymphoma and fairly untreatable.

There are two types of lymphoma – one is multicentric and results in lumps which can be felt superficially around the body. This type can be treated with chemotherapy and has high success rates for remission. The other sort is an internal tumour, often attached to the intestines and is less common and extremely aggressive. We had this one.

We were told Bonnie had 4-6 weeks to live

She actually lived for 14 more weeks

Every week was a victory and at the time I felt very proud that she was so well, happy and alive in spite of the poor prognosis.  Never give up hope – or not until they do

We ticked off each week as a gain and at our fortnightly visit the vet was surprised how well she was.

I spent hours researching remedies, diets, supplements, and was in contact with several groups of people on the internet who are using alternative remedies to treat their dogs with cancer.  If I had relied on the vet I would have despaired. They had nothing to offer except regular visits and blood tests and a lot of caring concern

Life for Bonnie continued with walks and games and my full time attention. I was lucky to be able to drop almost everything else and just be with her. The problem with having been told 4-6 weeks is that you can’t forget it and so I was on constant alert for signs that she was in pain or the tumour was about to explode or block her digestive tract. If I had known we had that little bit longer then I could have relaxed in those early weeks. But living on a knife edge is not very relaxing.
At this time we spent a lot of time outside together, walking and then sitting on benches just being quiet and watching the world

We were very close and had some of our happiest times just relaxing into the present moment

A high priority was to stay somewhere in the country and so I rented out one of the apartments at Sant Nicolau.  It was the best decision I made and we drove up and down between there and Granollers just when the mood took us.  We spent weeks up there, just being together, it was lovely

Every time we drove up there my heart would lift at that moment when the fields spread out in front of the car and in the distance you see the mystical peaks of Canigo. And Bonnie would start to squeal as soon as she felt the car turn onto the bumpy lane

I am not going to revisit all the ups and downs of Bonnie’s battle with cancer. It is an incredibly intense experience as anyone will know who has cared for a sick animal.  The hardest part is not being able to ask them if it hurts. Knowing they will hide their suffering as long as possible means that you are constantly alert for signals that the time has come
Through all this we continued to explore Catalunya. Here we are at Sant Aniol in the interior of the Emporda beyond Besalu. It was a long walk but Bonnie continued to surprise us all with her strength

One piece of advice I read was to keep offering new activities and as collies love to learn we decided it was time Bonnie not only brought back the ball but put it in your hand.  Like this
She practised and practised over these months and it was lovely to see her eventually tossing the ball casually into Peps hand as if to say  ‘there you are, what’s next?’

We celebrated New Year at Sant Nicolau and on January 1st a stray kitten arrived in our lives.
We called her Phoenix and she immediately snuggled up to Bonnie even while she remained suspicious of us

Back in Granollers Phoenix gained confidence and Bonnie at last was allowed up onto the sofa – don’t forget that for Catalan people this is quite an honour

On February 17th I decided to take her up to Sant Nicolau again for some country air.  I was caught between wanting her to be in the countryside and yet fearing she would take a turn for the worse when I was alone and more isolated.   She had stopped eating well and continued with terrible diarrhoea.  It was getting harder to give her the remedies as she was so picky about what went into her mouth. I felt we were getting near the end and I wanted her to be somewhere green.
Chosing between fear and love – I suddenly thought I had to go to the place we both loved – my fears might be no more than a spectre.  We would cope.

We had a good day pottering in the garden and taking little walks. The almond blossom was out

Then she had a night where she was in pain.  Neither of us slept and I knew I would call the vet in Figueres in the morning and help her to go.  We went out at dawn to visit Blue’s grave and then to the church that adjoins the property. As I was singing to her in the church Bonnie went outside and when I followed her out she had disappeared.  After half an hour calling her name I found Helen and together we searched the immediate area for over two hours.
The house is surrounded by thick woods and I lost hope but kept calling, growing ever more desperate.  Was this going to be the nightmare end of everything?

I won’t keep you wondering – no it wasn’t.  Mobile phones don’t work there but when I rang home to Granollers I found that someone had called to say Bonnie was at their house.
Thank God for collar tags!  Thanks also to Saint Francis, Saint Anthony and Amma who answered my prayers.   It was like suddenly being rescued from hell.
She had not crept under a bush but kept walking for about an hour till she reached their farm.   I don’t think she was running away from me – only from the disease and perhaps instinct told her to keep going till it all would stop.

We brought her back, very tired but very peaceful.  There seemed to be no more pain.  We slept together for a while with me crying, mostly from relief to have her soft furry body back beside me. How does anyone survive the grief of losing and not being able to find?  It never would get better

So that is how our story ends. Bonnie had her second great walkabout adventure – perhaps remembering the little 12 week old puppy who went missing in the woods in Lamorna and survived. Later that afternoon she left this world surrounded by a circle of friends – Pep came from Granollers, Helen sat with Lucy dog nearby, I held her head cupped in my hands and the same vet who came to help Blue, arrived with her gentle needles and kind smile.  I felt a lightness pass through my heart as she died and I knew she was free

Dear Bonnie Thank you for all the love See you next time   XXXXX

Bonnie’s Story – Part Four – The High Road to Scotland with a Border Collie

At the end of the last post I was describing how well Bonnie took to her new diet. It was slightly harder for me, a longterm vegetarian.  Butchers shops are not comfortable places for me and ordering things in Catalan was difficult.  I felt I had to pretend the meat was for us humans, especially if I was ordering steak. Buying lots of human grade meat for your dog is not a common practice in Catalunya, maybe not anywhere.
But I did get borrowed kudos when I started enthusiastically asking for less popular animal parts.  Livers, kidneys, hearts….heads and necks….I even spent a few weeks searching for raw tripe only to find the EU has banned its sale.

Did you know that dogs like raw fish – whole and straight from the freezer?  Mackeral was popular.

Finding and storing fresh raw meat is harder when you are on the move. In July we set off yet again in the camper van, this time with our noses pointing north to explore the Highlands of Scotland.  Bonnie was in the best of health and so I took a flexible approach to her diet – dried food here, sausage and chips there, a chicken wing, half a rabbit.

The weather was very hot right from day one and as we drove north we looked for cooler days but it seemed never to happen and the sunshine followed us all the way to Inverness and beyond. We were so lucky to always find inviting waters

Rivers in France rarely disappoint

 Punting in Cambridge. Bonnie was the Queen of the Cam – tourists took photos of her

We passed through London and I showed Bonnie my old home in Stoke Newington. We were going to sleep in the van but our neighbours were still in the same house and invited us to stay overnight. Next morning we walked through the Victorian cemetary that stretches along the back

 My Catalan partner finds this interest in old graveyards totally incomprehensible but I like them and loved the view from the back window of my house

 It was like living beside a nature reserve and in Spring the dawn chorus was amazing

 I have a story to tell about this sculpture but will save it for another time

Visiting Family

We met family all along the route – without planning it we visited almost everyone, even those who are no longer with us.  One niece lives near Folkstone where we landed. Then in London we went to my brothers old home, still full of memories both happy and sad after his death the year before. Then to my sister in Cambridge. Up to the borders and another niece and nephew and grand-nephew.  After that we headed north with the sun still blazing and met another of my sisters in Newtonmore in the Cairngorms.  Close by is the river where my fathers ashes were scattered and as we were also visiting many of his hydroelectric dams we felt that we were really on a family odessey
We were heading for Inverness where I was born but first we took a right turn to Findhorn Bay. It was still incredibly hot and we stopped for some more river swimming before we reached the coast

I was born on the east coast of Scotland but we moved to the west when I was 6.  I hadn’t realised it before but my deepest sense of home is in this north eastern corner. So good to take Bonnie there.
The light feels just the right sort of light and the beaches seem like proper beaches

 We stayed at the long established New Age Centre and Ecological Community, Findhorn, famous at one time for its huge vegetables grown in sand and apparently aided by nature spirits

Of course we visited the house where I was born in Inverness and also went to see the Dolphins that live in the Moray Firth. Every day there are groups of visitors and professional photographers waiting at the point for the tide to come in bringing fish, and dolphins close behind.

All the coast line is magical. 

This is Rosemarkie where I first learned to walk.
My mothers ashes were scattered here so the place is thick with memories and feelings

For the first five years of my life we spent the summers in Rosemarkie. 
The Fairy Glen is just as mysterious 50 years on

One day we met a look-alike puppy even more foxy than ours

We headed west through spectacular mountain scenery. Every day was better than the last
Some fellow campers at Fortrose had recommended the free camping at Shieldaig

Heaven on earth – apart from the midges which finally began to attack us at nightfall
Now we were driving southward and stopped to camp on the Silver Sands near Arisaig

Here began the part of the journey requiring Ferries – Caledonian MacBrayne took us from Skye to Mallaig, Mallaig to Rhum, Ardnamurchan to Tobermory on Mull

And finally from Mull to Oban.

Bonnie is used to boats after all her trips to the Scillies and was a natural island hopper

 On Mull we camped wild, spending some nights alone in the car park above spectacular Calgary Bay

There is a nature reserve with sculptures nearby –  Calgary Art in Nature.
Bonnie with recycled sandpipers

 We stayed with my other sister in Port Appin and then slowly made our way out of the mountains down to Glasgow, stopping off to visit the spirits of our aunts  in Tighnabruich.

Clutch Foot

In Glasgow we parked the van and finally had a rest from driving. Too late I realised that over 4000km of driving is hard on the legs and I developed tendinitis in my clutch foot which took more than three months to resolve. We visited my niece who lives in a flat overlooking the River Clyde and I felt amazed that this journey had so cleverly wound its way around all the family as well as many of the special places of my childhood.

In early August we arrived in Cornwall – in spite of my ankle we managed to climb Carn Galver

After a month in our lovely cabaña we set off again for Folkstone and the journey through France. My ankle problem meant abandonning the camper van in Cornwall and we bought a little Spanish car in the UK which carried us home.
No more camping so we stayed in hotels.
One rainy night we went dripping into a family hotel in who-knows-where mid France.
They welcomed us and Bonnie with smiles and I had one of the best meals in my life.
Trout with almond sauce.

 We took a new route south and passed over the Millau Viaduct

When I was passenger  I could have Bonnie with me.

We got home in time for the big Independence demonstration on September 11th.
They took my name! – Via Catalana or The Catalan Way!

 I really expect the next episode with be the final one but please don’t avoid it thinking it will be too sad.  I leave you today in the late sunshine of that September on the coast road near Sant Pol. There were many more lovely adventures to come.  I hope you will accompany us to the gentle peaceful and beautiful end of the story.  Till tomorrow my friends