Lovely Leo

leobug

This week marked a year since Leo walked into my life and took up permanent residence in my heart; I realised I had yet to put his story into words, and wanted to record it to preserve the memory of such a happy event. Here is his story:

It was a sweltering hot day in the middle of July, and I had driven to Argostoli, the main town, with Platon (my beloved roadside rescue dog) to visit the vet and do some shopping. We live for half the year on a Greek island, preferring the quieter area in the north, but inconveniently located almost 2 hours away from the useful amenities in the south (including the vet, the hospital, the telephone company, and the airport). It’s not an easy drive, particularly since the previously used main route has been destroyed in an earthquake, but it is a beautiful journey of winding roads that twist and turn through olive groves and tiny villages, precariously perched on cliffs overlooking the sea, which glimmers glamourously in the sunlight. Simple homes with a commonly reoccurring shape that are easily identifiable as post quake homes, quickly constructed after the big one in the 50’s, are ubiquitous; their only variation being the differently coloured, brightly painted doors and window shutters. These single story boxy buildings are interspersed among what’s left of the elegant, Venetian style, architecture that remained standing, though many are ruins, some house trees growing inside roofless dwellings, with branches escaping through doorways and tendrils of climbing honeysuckle creeping through windows. The road rises higher into the seamless blue skies, becoming littered with the steady, unflustered goats that inhabit the rocky outcrops, and shelter precariously on narrow ledges, high above the greener valley that rolls out below. Some of the goats amble along to the gentle sound of their bells, some chew at the flowers on the roadside, whilst others lie quite contentedly in the middle of the road, causing the traffic to swerve around them as they relax quite unperturbed. The road winds up and down over several mountains, too narrow in places to pass oncoming traffic, and with breathtakingly steep drops that IMO are worth the fantastic views of the neighbouring island and white cliffs of the peninsular of this one in the distance.

Trips to Argostoli always culminate in a supermarket shop, before we hit the road home; the mini markets where we live cater for tourism and are expensive, with limited selection; apart from the fresh fruit and vegetables that gleam appealingly outside them. It makes sense to stock up on dry goods, toilet rolls and laundry liquid in the cheaper supermarkets, and return trips are always heavy with a car full of shopping. On this trip I had been very mindful of not wanting to do this trip again soon, and had bought amongst other things, an extra flea treatment for Platon, and whilst purchasing a collar for a friend’s dog, decided to buy a spare for some unremembered possibility.

Arriving home, Platon watched from the cool tiled floor and shade of the kitchen, as I carried the heavy shopping bags up the external flight of stairs to our apartment. I had left all the balcony doors open, and a merciful breeze welcomed us back. Trips to Argostoli are tiring for several reasons, apart from the journey, and rushing around trying to do a months worth of town visit in one hit, it usually necessitates an early start, to drive in the cooler hours of the morning and to accomplish all of ones chores in the limited hours before everything closes for siesta at 2pm. I wearily sat at the kitchen table, amidst the bags of shopping, and checked my computer whist sipping an ice-cold frappe, for revival. There was a message from Nikki, the real estate agent, with a photo of a timid stray dog that had turned up at her offices, on the hill above the port. We rarely see stray dogs at this end of the island, although there is a regular pack in the main town in the south, which seem well fed by the tavernas and tourists. Here it is quieter, more rural, and stray dogs are a threat to the goats and sheep that graze in the woodlands between the beaches, and amongst the olive groves. I glanced at Platon, by now moved towards the balcony where he watched sailing boats traverse the channel of water between this island and the next, they look like toy boats from our high vantage point, and have a mesmerising tranquility about them. I took another sip of coffee, then deciding, picked up my keys, and knelt to kiss Platon on the head and ask him to refrain from ‘unpacking’ the shopping in my short absence. I got back in my hot car, armed with treats, and not really knowing why, headed over to Nikki’s office. I wasn’t looking for another dog, Platon was still a very lively 18 month old, large puppy (he’s a ridgeback cross, so not exactly hand bag sized), and we had already nursed a sick dog back to health, and a litter of orphaned kittens, so I figured he needed my full attention for a while. Nikki’s daughter Athena was sat in their cool comfortable office, but the stray was long gone; she said it was very nervous, and covered in ticks, a sorry state of a dog, probably quite young. I searched the surrounding area, but finding nothing, returned home to Platon, unpacked the groceries and rested.

I went to bed early, when your puppy gets you up at dawn, demanding love, games, a toilet break and breakfast; it makes sense to get to bed at a reasonable hour. This is very un-Greek; Greek people don’t eat till late 9-10pm, once the sun has set and it’s cooler, and they tend to stay out late with the help of their afternoon siesta. I’m afraid I never manage to sleep in the afternoon, although I have learned to rest in the shade with a book, and a dozing dog for company. We slept with the bedroom balcony doors open, listening to the crickets, and occasional car in the distance. My phone bleeped unexpectedly at almost midnight, with a message from Alexi, a friend in the port, to say there was a dumped dog, a terrified stray, could I help? So I threw on some clothes and drove through the cool darkness to the shimmering lights reflected in the water, and lively nightlife of tavernas and bars of this chic little hub of our end of the island. I met Alexi trying to coax a straggly blonde dog with handfuls of salami, purchased from the nearby deli in the quiet enclave behind the main square. The dog was timidly approaching, but not brave enough to take the food; he skittered about nervously, clearly terrified. He was panting rapidly; possibly anxious, possibly a bit of heat stroke, probably both.

I sat down a few metres away, and observed this timid creature, torn between food and fear. I had the spare collar I had purchased earlier, and a spare lead of Platon’s, and waited for the obvious hunger to win the daring game the dog was playing. I asked Alexi for some salami, and gently coaxed the hungry soul towards me, and when he was close enough, managed to secure the collar on him. He ate the meat greedily, deciding to take a chance me and didn’t seem at all bothered by his new accessory. In fact when I got up, he happily leant into my leg, resting his weight into me, which I took as a sign of trust. I now know it was also because of a painful broken knee, but he was still happy to follow me. He trotted along on the lead, happily glancing up at my face, I suppose hopeful for more salami, and we headed towards the car, stopping to greet some friends outside the bar en route. Once at the car, the nervous dog was surprisingly easy to tempt in to the boot, but he wasn’t happy for me to shut the door, and I was afraid that if I released the lead he would bolt. So I returned to the bar to ask Katia to help, and feeding the lead through the dog guard to back seat, she held him securely whilst I shut the boot door.

I drove back up the hill, reassuring the quiet crying behind me, I promised him I was here to help, not hurt him, and wondered what Platon would think.. “Another one Mum? Seriously!!? When I got home, the scruffy stray jumped out of the car quite cheerfully, and looked expectantly at me for the next thing; which was sadly tying him to the banister at the bottom of the external stairs, whilst Platon who was watching intently from the balcony, could be secured in the bedroom. The little dog cried as I left him, following me up the few steps, as far as the lead would allow, and once I was inside, Platon was not going anywhere except to see the newcomer, without a struggle! He’s 30 Kg of stubborn muscle, but eventually I got him into the bedroom and shut the door so I could show our guest through to the balcony. I will admit, a door did get scratched in this process, but I was more than prepared to pay the landlord handsomely for the repairs.

With Platon safely out the way, I returned to the pitiful puppy on the doorstep, he was adamant I wasn’t leaving him, and shot into our home excitedly, sniffing around after Platon and dancing on the spot. I took him to my quarantine area on the balcony, where I fed him, covered him in cool wet towels for the heat exhaustion and carefully removed the ticks, before taking him inside again for a cool shower, where he was amazingly well behaved, then back on to the balcony for a flea treatment. I made a bed in the baby bath I had once hoped Platon would cool off in (no chance!), and placed a large cardboard box around it to shield him from the morning sun. I kissed him gently, assured him he was safe, and returned inside to try and calm Platon. We eventually got some sleep, until the sun rose steadily over the neighbouring island, to spill her rays into the sea, when Platon was insistent about checking up on our new guest. I kept the two dogs separated, to avoid any transference of fleas and other nasties, but it wasn’t easy. Platon lay at the closed French doors, whining with his wet nose pressed against the glass, whilst the newcomer sniffed timidly around the balcony, and peed against the terracotta pots of lavender. It was a tricky 24 hours, trying to keep both dogs happy, the new boy had attached to me quickly, and cried when I went out of his sight, thankfully my lovely neighbours, the Russian ladies downstairs, were super understanding.

Eventually, the next day, I made a return trip to the vet in Argostoli; this time leaving Platon at home, and placing the little guy into a box in the boot. A few weeks earlier I had taken another dog that had crapped all over the car, and I wasn’t taking any chances with this one. I made him a cosy bed with old towels, and tucked him in. It must have been comfortable, because he quickly settled down and was quiet for the entire journey. On arrival he’d been a bit sick, but luckily our vet has a hose outside, so we rinsed him off and cleaned the car with dettox, a déjà vue of the previous messy trip, and then Amanda took a look at him. She rolled her eyes and her r’s as she gesticulated in her Italian/Greek accent “Another one?? Panagia mou!! What are you doing to do with him Hayley mou? You can’t save them all!! Crazy English dog lady!” She checked Leo over, gave him his injections, pronounced him less than a year old, probably approx 10 months, and figured he’d been on the streets his whole life. She showed me the difference between the old and new scars, and guessed the bruising in his flank was due to multiple kicks of the human variety. She agreed his knee on his rear right leg was broken, and badly set; something we would confirm with x-rays at a later date, and gave me medicine to bathe his wounds. I had already decided to name the scruffy little dog after a warrior, due to his battle-scarred appearance, and initially chose ‘Hector’, after the honourable older brother of Paris, in ‘The Iliad’. But the name seemed harsh, and sounded too hard for the gentle creature I was already in love with, and I think it was on the way home from the vet, that I re-named him Leonidas, after the king of the Spartan army of 300. Like Leonidas, this little guy appeared to have lost in battle and carried the scars, but his face also had a lion like quality, with his coarse, blonde, curly fur and his little beard, so Leonidas which means ‘son of a lion’ suited him better, Leo for short. I did dither between the names for a few days, but Leo felt better than Hector, so that’s who he became.

When we arrived home, in the hot afternoon sun, I went through the rigmarole of putting Platon, complaining loudly, onto the bedroom, and brought Leo in, on his way back out on to the balcony; but Platon is smart as well as strong, and managed to open the door. He came bouncing into the kitchen, and on seeing Leo, presented a deep play bow; Leo hesitated, then jumped around nervously, and the two dogs were soon sniffing and gently wrestling together. Platon was very gentle, despite his size advantage, and Leo transformed into the playful puppy he should have been! I had been worried, Leo’s ‘dumplings’ were still in place, whereas Platon had been neutered, but there was never any suggestion of a struggle for status, Leo deferred to Platon immediately. Platon is loyal, but not jealous, he’s strong but gentle, and they played beautifully. When I tried to feed them, initially putting Leo in the spare room, and Platon in the kitchen, Leo just cried his mournful howling at being separated, and Platon put his chin on the floor and stared at his food, sulking. So I brought them together, and placed the bowls several metres apart; but Leo just headed straight for Platon’s bowl, and Platon waited till Leo had first finished his, then started on his own meal, before getting up to sniff his empty bowl. After that they ate out two bowls, but from the same bowl simultaneously, never a gripe or growl between them. It was only when Leo gained weight healthily, but Platon seemed a tad skinny, that I started insisting they ate from their own bowls.

We went to bed that evening, and I made the dog bed cosy for Leo in the lounge, taking Platon to bed with me, but leaving the door ajar. When I woke in the night to find my faithful companion missing from his usual position snuggled against my legs, I ventured into the lounge to find him asleep on the dog bed, with Leo lying curled up beside him, resting his chin on Platon’s neck. My heart swelled with happiness, and I knew that Platon’s cool, calming presence has helped convert the timid stray into a happy, relaxed, puppy; and that he was undoubtedly part of our family. The two dogs bonded resolutely and immediately, there was never any question of not keeping Leo, it was Platon’s steadfast decision. We had cared for several other dogs previously as house guests and none had elicited this unwavering response of mutual delight in the other. Platon is both joyously playful and fiercely protective of Leo, in fact he started to develop leash reactivity once we found him, as I initially walked them together. The two of them trotted along, side by side, Platon’s strong stance reminding me of John Wayne’s swagger when he got off his horse, and Leo’s knocked knee due to his injury causes him to wiggle a la Monroe, quite a comical pair, but both grinning at each other constantly, as if they are sharing a private joke.

It wasn’t until weeks later, when Leo was strong enough to be neutered that we realised the extent of his injuries. He had a lump on his neck, initially thought to be a tick bite, that didn’t disappear, so when he was neutered, I asked Amanda to remove it, as it was where the collar sits. (I have only ever used a collar for Leo’s ID, he has a harness to protect his neck, as do all my dogs now). I stroked his face as she administered the anaesthetic, kissing him and promising him I was doing my best for him. When Amanda called me later to say he was ready, she said she was shocked at what she had found, and after reassuring me it wasn’t cancer, I quickly drove to the surgery. When I got there, Leo was beside himself to see Platon and I had come to collect him, still weak from the anaesthetic, his tail thumped rapidly, and he ‘sang’ his characteristic little howl. After a hug, and whilst the two boys licked each others faces, Amanda showed me the x-rays of his broken knee, confirming multiple fractures, and badly set, but not warranting the trauma of surgery. Then she showed me a tray with his gonads, as proof of his sterilisation, not pretty!! And then finally, she held out her hand with the surprise, the bullet she had found in the lump in his neck, apparently millimetres away from his carotid artery. Tears filled my eyes, and ran down my cheeks as I realised the terror this poor animal had experienced, no wonder he was so timid when I found him. The sorrow soon morphed into acute anger at whoever could have contemplated such a violent act towards such a gentle, loving creature.

Leo is the most affectionate soul I have ever met, he actively seeks me out, as well as Platon, for cuddles, and likes to snuggle up near my face and kiss me. He never fights for food or toys, and will always concede, even if he cries for me to ensure he gets his share of the treats. He’s a warrior, but a lover, not a fighter. Leo bears the most visible signs of physical abuse, of all my dogs, yet he is the most loving, friendly, trusting, peace seeking of the pack. He’s so enthusiastic about meeting new people, or dogs, or cats, that his squeaky cries of delight can be quite disarming, in comparison Platon is a very cool customer, often aloof with other people, whilst maintaining focus on me. We used to have a stray cat that sunbathed at the bottom of the steps, and whenever we went out, Platon and the cat touched noses. Within a week, Leo was doing the same, once the cat was convinced his excitement was non-threatening. Meanwhile, I still harbour the desire to hold a gun at whoever shot Leo, and tell him to run for his life, and feel the terror he inflicted on my dear, sweet, brave, loving, little dog. In fact I subsequently discovered another bullet, lodged between Leo’s eyes, confirmed by x-ray. An air rifle had been trained on Leo’s face, and we suspect shot at his neck as he fled, probably some sick game of target practice, or culling the stray population. Yet Leo holds no such grudge, his happy little face greets me with such enthusiasm every morning, as he shoves his nose into mine for a kiss, as he play bows, and wags his tail furiously. Each day is a gift that Leo grabs excitedly, and he exudes his sunny delight unfailingly. I’m so grateful that this bundle of love walked into my heart, ands showed me what forgiveness, unwavering trust, and relentless love, really look like. He is more loved and loving than I can put into words, and I feel so very blessed that he chose us as his family.

As I write, Leo is curled up next to me, his chin rests on my lap, and his breathing is calming and rhythmic. He’s been such an enduring loving presence, a great support through a recent difficult period of challenging spinal surgeries, and he has kept me smiling. He is probably the easiest of my dogs in many ways, despite some issues of separation anxiety and a cheeky little streak that can emerge as impatience. He is a gentle soul, a peace-loving little warrior, a funny little character, a cuddle bug, a playful puppy, a brave little soldier, and the loveliest ray of sunshine you could hope to meet! Happy found day Leo xx

Words and photo ~Hayley Darby ©2016

Back again..

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

Photo via Pinterest

It’s a quiet wintry afternoon; I watch the sky bleed as the sun starts to set, with hues of orange and pink flaring beyond the silhouetted stark, bare, tree branches. A few geese ruffle their feathers and squawk half heartedly, and Platon, who’s snuggled against me, raises his head to check whether or not he needs to bark at them; and deciding not to, lowers his chin to rest on my leg again. He searches my face, as his expressive eyebrows bop about inquisitively; and I ruffle his voluptuous jowls, before stroking his velvety ears reassuringly. He sighs and we settle back into companionable silence; apart from the muttering geese, at the end of the garden.

We moved here a week ago, to a tastefully converted barn, on a working farm. It’s a temporary home, a stop gap in-between selling a property in London, our summer home in Greece, and an unknown future. It’s a haven for recuperation, a little time out from the normal stresses of life following an emergency surgery and a shock to the system. It’s my treat to myself as I digest and process a life-changing experience, and a peaceful place to heal and rehabilitate.

At the start of the year, after struggling with niggling back issues, I unexpectedly underwent emergency spinal surgery. I had a herniated disc that was impinging on the nerve root for the whole lower body, called ‘Cauda Equina” as it resembles a horse’s tail. If you google ‘cauda equina syndrome’, you’ll see how dangerous and scary it is; all I knew was that the risks of my condition were immense (loss of lower body feeling & function), and that I had been naively ‘soldiering on’, (since my GP hadn’t been too alarmed at what I now know are classic ‘red flag’ symptoms), walking my dogs and lifting heavy cases. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t do more damage. Eventually, I was fortunate that a well-informed osteopath sent me straight to A&E (Emergency room), and I was soon signing consent forms that acknowledged terrifying risks, before swiftly being whisked to theatre for intricate neurosurgery. It should be noted, that I have always had a fear of hospitals, and have been terrified of General anaesthesia, but the emotional roller coaster I rode in this instance elevated me to a surreal state, a strange mixture of denial and resignation, that fear was neatly sidelined to a manageable degree. An experience almost as if watching myself in this situation, disbelieving it was really happening, a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from; yet coupled with an acceptance that nothing I could do could change the course I was hurtling along. I guess at some point, I mentally handed over responsibility for my future mobility to my medical team and God, the Universe, a higher power; whatever you want to call it, the name is irrelevant, in times like this you find ‘something/someone’ to have internal conversations with.

I am incredibly blessed, my surgeons were skilled and my nurses compassionate, and after several successful operations I am able to walk unaided. I have some numbness and a little nerve damage, but these are small, manageable issues compared to the potential difficulties I could otherwise face. I have found an online community, a support group of CES patients, and am aware of how fortunate I am to be one of the lucky ones. I’m also aware of how brave so many people are, quietly battling such a debilitating, and often invisible condition, that spinal injuries present. I’ve come through the initial trauma, feeling extremely grateful, yet also suffered anxiety associated with the fragility and vulnerability. I think that previously being relatively fit and fiercely independent, I have found the contrasting lack of mobility and reliance on others, particularly frightening, and understanding the risks, worry that every twinge could be dreadfully damaging. However, I am having physiotherapy, and each day is a step forward, and I’m gaining strength and confidence with each one.

My best medicine has been my darling dogs, their caring cuddles and unwavering affection have been comforting and heart-warming. It’s very difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you feel such love and loyalty. They are also very motivating, I can’t wait to walk them, or even be able to drive them to the paddock to watch them run. I have however been very fortunate to have some wonderful help looking after them, and am very grateful for everyone who has taken care of them. It’s in times of crisis we really find out who our friends are, and I have been very blessed with lots of love and support too.

As I write, I hear footsteps on the gravel outside, and Platon’s ears prick up in anticipation, as KG, my friend and current carer, returns from a walk with Leo (my other dog). Once he is sure, Platon launches himself off my daybed, and stands expectantly at the door, his tail wagging forcefully, like a metronome; until he can contain himself no longer and jumps up, bracing himself with his paws on the door as he peeks out the window. This means that the peace
I needed to write is about to cease, since my boys, thrilled to be reunited after a whole heart-breaking hour, will play exuberantly and require my attention.

I just wanted to pop in here, and let you know what’s been happening, by way of introduction to my current situation, as suddenly I find myself with time, and lots of material for writing again. I feel as if I have missed chatting with old friends and have lots to catch up on; the arrival of Leo into our lives will be a chapter, as well as our journeying between London & Greece. There are stories to share about my injury and the beacons of light that shone in the darkest moments, the caring compassionate nurses, the bravery of fellow patients on my ward, and realisations about life’s unexpected twists and turns that may actually have been necessary in guiding us to where we are meant to be. Meanwhile, two young and lively dogs are calling me with their playful antics, so I hope you are all well and I’ll write again soon, I promise! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo ~Via pinterest, sadly uncredited, words ~by me, Hayley Darby ©2016}

Writing again..

Platon smiling
A cool breeze slipped through the shutters, and the tinkle of goat bells crept into my consciousness. The warm, breathing, body beside me sighed and rolled closer into my legs; wagging his tail, before lifting his head to check whether I was awake, finally! As if he’s been waiting for all eternity for the pleasure of my company. Every morning I am greeted with the happy expectant face of Platonas (my puppy), eager for another beautiful day of playful adventure, full of joy and optimism, which must be contagious, because I never feel any different. Once he is satisfied that I am actually awake, he gets up to inspect my face, and pushes his big black, wet nose into it, in response to the kissing noises I make. Then he stretches his bottom high in the air and his chest low, in a classic play bow; waiting for me to stir, giving in to a slightly impatient cuddle if I’m not quite ready to get up. As soon as I push back the covers, he jumps to the edge of the bed, showing off his impressive ‘downward dog’, front paws on the floor, back legs still on the bed (and he’s a tall dog), until he gracefully jumps down, and scampers around, wagging his tail, waiting for me.

Our home on our favourite Greek island is an attic apartment; which sounds very urban, but is actually on a small farm in a cute little village. We have the most amazing view across the sea to the neighbouring island to the east, and across the valley to dense forests of olive and cypress trees to the south and west. Platon impatiently rings the goat bell I have tied to the balcony door handle, even though I am only a few steps behind him, and we step out together to watch the morning sun glisten on the sea, having spilt over the mountains of Ithaki, bathing the early fishing boats and the occasional cruise ship on passing. Platon then pops up onto the sofa to watch patiently as I make coffee, he knows that the day starts with a leisurely cappuccino and sharing of cantuccini (those deliciously crunchy, Italian, almond biscotti). I potter around the kitchen, tidying up the crockery in the drying rack, shaking out the table cloth over the balcony, and watering the herbs (basil, mint, and chives) on our doorstep with the water from the washing up bowl. Our water is delivered by tankers to a big stone ‘sterna’, and we are much more careful than mains usage. Then as the coffee pot starts to gurgle, I froth the warm milk and Platon makes a space for me on the sofa. He sits with his paws on my lap, lowering his chin to look up at me most appealingly, as I dip each biscotti into the froth, and waits for his share (once I’ve nibbled away any almonds in his half, as they’re not good for dogs). My mornings are no longer my own, to check in and reflect on my feelings, but are filled with more love than I could ever imagine; and more than a little slobber as he dribbles in anticipation for each morsel of our shared breakfast. I wouldn’t change them for anything!

I don’t really know why I stopped writing before Platonas and I found each other in a barren wilderness; him literally starving, me (with a car load of food shopping) wondering which direction my life would take. I guess it was a combination of things, moving to California for a summer, finding myself anxious to get up and out in the mornings rather than savouring my thoughts and feelings (hideous, nosey landlady vs. coffee at the beach watching the early surfers, no competition really!). Then there was a feeling of change, lacking a plan, full of uncertainty, and a fatigue from giving, (which I am sure sounds selfish, but was actually a form of self-preservation). After my summer in Cali, and a brief encounter in London, I came to Greece, (my sanctuary), and just let myself ‘be’, as I waited to see where the flow would take me. Floating in turquoise seas and walking ancient paths through olive groves and crumbling ruins; choosing quiet and solitude, and adoring the simplicity. Then I travelled a lot, (Mexico, Florida, Colorado, New Orleans, and more of California), worked with some Olympic athletes, and got caught up in a relationship for a while, none of which was conducive to journaling. Then I returned to Greece for a few weeks holiday, found Platonas and stayed for the summer, briefly moving to Italy in the autumn, before driving home with my best ever travel companion to London (a tale I will write about soon). Winter was stressful, for all sorts of reasons, but my loving ‘little boy’ never failed to warm my heart and induce laughter at his comical character. Every spare moment was spent snuggling on the sofa together, walking around the vast and enchanting cemetery, or chasing each other around until we both collapsed panting and exhausted. Writing was not a priority.

It felt like months of waiting to return ‘home’ to Greece, and now we are here, we are appreciatively soaking up every sunny second. And each day, as we head to the beach after breakfast, wander along shady goat paths in the afternoons, or pop into the port for shopping and coffee, with a cast of delightful characters; I can feel my thoughts forming sentences, committing to memory the feelings as I relish them, and feel pulled to write to share and remember these precious moments. And now, as my attention is drawn to the raised head that angles inquisitively, I am being called to walk up the hill, amidst my landlords garden of tomatoes, onions, (and all sorts of vegetables) as the goats potter around them; to sit under an old olive tree and feed Platon ice cubes in the heat of the day, him crunching noisily, and me telling him why I’ve started writing again. Because I never, ever, even for a nanosecond, want to forget any of this chapter of my life that he’s spending with me. X

Blessings & love, Hxx

Thank you 2014

basilica

Dear 2014, thank you for being a year of my life, for the places you’ve taken me, all that you’ve taught me, the gifts you’ve given me, and the love that you brought me. You have been a special year for me, it wasn’t always easy, there were certainly difficult moments and painful realizations, but you brought me the biggest bundle of love in the most unexpected circumstances, and that made you a wonderful year, despite everything.

You were the year that driving through the Greek countryside, I found the most loveable puppy, and he found someone to love him; fiercely, protectively, affectionately, patiently, playfully, unconditionally. I wasn’t looking for a companion, was irresponsibly, independently, commitment phobic, but one look into his soulful eyes, and I was committed to doing the very best I could for him, and it eventually dawned on me that this meant changing my life to accommodate being ‘home’ to him, wherever on this planet, that happens to be.

It turns out that changing my life wasn’t so hard, I am getting used to early morning walks, and dog hair absolutely everywhere, not to mention paw prints on white sofas and bed linen; and it’s all well worth the bright eyes and wagging tail that greet me with such joy and enthusiasm every morning, and the cheeky playful bows inviting me to ditch whatever I’m doing to throw a ball, tickle a tummy or chase some stolen belonging in the jaws of this bouncing creature throughout the day. In the quiet times we snuggle together on the sofa, I have the most fabulous foot warmer ever, and this bundle of love is such a peaceful presence, he’s made such an enormous impact on my existence.

My little buddy and I have discovered remote beaches, spent afternoons wandering along goat paths, swam in turquoise seas and climbed rocks together in Greece. We’ve driven through Italy, discovering ancient cities on rainy days, and sharing pastries on sunny terraces. We treated ourselves to a romantic hotel in Portofino, somewhere I’ve waited to decades to visit, just waiting for the right ‘boy ‘to accompany me. We stopped in Monaco and met a friend for lunch and a walk round the port in Cannes, stayed in a fabulous country house hotel in rural France, sharing cheese and crackers by the fire, before he sat by me sipping champagne in the Jacuzzi. We visited friends at their French farmhouse, enjoying fresh autumnal walks, delicious dinners and evenings chatting by the fire. We even took a private jet to the Cote d’Azur for a chic Christmas in Monaco, hiking in Nietzsche’s footsteps in Eze, and admiring breathtaking views over morning coffees from the medieval chateau. All in all, he’s been the perfect travel companion, sharing the journey with excited eyes and enthusiastic tail wagging, something I hadn’t realised was missing from my previous trips until I found him. Life is so much sweeter with this cheeky little travel companion, and sharing my experiences with him have enriched every moment.

So thank you 2014, for being the year that I found Platonas, thank you Platonas for finding me at the perfect moment, and thank you to everyone that’s been part of our story. Here’s to 2015 and the adventures awaiting, and the mischief that’s bound to weave its way so charmingly around my heart, and the lessons we’ll share along the way.

Much love and blessing to everyone; may each day greet you with endless possibilities for kindness and compassion, and your hearts overflow with love. ❤ Hxx

Hello Autumn

platon oct 5

Good morning! Today I woke late, as Platonas (my puppy) who had been snuggled into my legs, stood up to peer over at me, angling his head inquisitively, before turning several times to snuggle back into position, possibly a fraction closer than previously. Autumn has arrived on our favourite Greek isle, suddenly switching after lovely late summer days, still swimming in the clear turquoise sea. We lay listening to the rain drumming rapidly on the roof of our attic apartment, a comforting melody when you’re cosy and warm, wrapped in a duvet with a cuddly puppy. We live high on the side of a mountain, with wonderful views over the sea to the next island, accompanied by a beautiful breeze in the summer months, that becomes a raging wind when the weather changes. It whips around the balcony, shaking the olive trees, tinkling the feng shui charm the previous tenant left hanging above the door, and blowing over our fragrant pots of herbs that sit on steps. It rattles the loose shutters, and drives the rain hard against the windows, even managing to push water under the French doors (we have 3 sets), that seeps into sizeable puddles until I remember to dam them with old towels.

All of this, along with the realization that the storm has cut our electricity, kept us happily ensconced in our cuddle fest, as I curled around this bundle of love with the softest ears; until after a while, he sighed and stretched, before leaping off the bed and trotted into the kitchen to ring the goat bell I’ve attached to the door. This means he wants to go out to the toilet, this means I have to get up and get dressed, this means the wind is going to push me as the rain streams down my face and trickles down the back of my neck, this means it’s time to walk in the puddles with my puppy.

I unwrapped my body from the duvet, and finding some cosy slippers and an oversized old jumper by the bed, I wandered into the kitchen, where Platonas waited expectantly. I opened the door to reveal the reality of the weather, and as he stepped back, looking up at me, thought momentarily that perhaps his call of nature wasn’t so urgent. Until I shut the door, and he immediately nosed the brass goat bell attached to the handle, and stood looking up at me with pools of love and trust, questioningly. I threw on some warm clothes, and dug out my duck down jacket for the first time since May, as he sat waiting patiently. Then we set off cautiously down the steps, righting the pots on the way, before trotting off up the country lane to sniff favourite spots and perfume plants with ‘eau de Platonas’.

We have a regular route that takes about 15 minutes; first we pass the field with the sheep, and our landlord’s garden with chickens and rabbits that hop happily around the lemon tree, orange tree, and (my favourite) the fig tree. Platonas looks longingly at the rabbits, it has to be said he wants to play with anyone and everything (other dogs, cats, goats, birds, grasshoppers, butterflies, hedgehogs, geckos, wasps) but the rabbits call his hound instinct undoubtedly, and he strikes a pointers pose. Next we pass the graveyard, and at the church steps, Platonas becomes terribly devout pulling towards the call of frankincense, and I suspect the mice that nestle religiously. It’s a pretty church, painted lemon with white window frames and steps, elegant arches, iron gates and an open bell tower, it must have once been the heart of our small village but in the absence of a regular priest, now only serves to mark the circle of life with funerals, weddings and baptisms.

We are distracted next by Millie, an elderly dog who barks at all that pass her family’s house. She knows us, but it doesn’t make a difference, she’s too well programmed. Platonas would love to play, and after two or three daily walks in this direction since spring, still hopefully advances; but she’s an old lady, not even slightly interested in an enthusiastic puppy. We pass the square, a place to meet and talk as children play safely by fragrant flower beds, on balmy summer evenings; deserted now as the rain runs in rivulets down the stone patio, and lightening briefly brightens the sky. After a few more steps the sky rumbled with thunder (or Zeus rearranging the furniture, as my friend Hilda describes it), and although Platon glances at me for reassurance, he’s unafraid and trots along happily sniffing for lizards in the rocks. I guess his stint living abandoned in the wilderness gave him some courage, as he must have witnessed the spring storms in an exposed environment. The thunder and lightening don’t really bother him, but the heavy rain certainly isn’t his favourite thing, luckily it has eased off for our walk this morning.

We continued on our way through the village, past the garden that smells so magical in the evenings, as stocks perfume the air, mingled with the honeysuckle that’s crept back into the hedgerows to accompany the jasmine. For now, we can just smell the rain, and the damp earth, as drops bounce off the leaves and Platon sniffs gleefully at all the scents this change in weather brings. We pass the ever so elegant, but empty, big house in the overgrown terraced garden, it’s shutters painted a gentle duck egg blue, to compliment the sandy colours of it’s old stone walls, with matching iron gates at the foot of all those steps that lead to the veranda, waiting for someone to grace them. We pass the holiday cottages, almost empty at the end of the season, and we walk along the edge of the road where the valley drops away steeply, full of goats we don’t see but hear as their bells tinkle merrily. We get close to the bins, where the cats usually hang out and tease Platonas with their tails twitching playfully, before we head back up the hill, him pouncing on acorns as if they were big fat beetles, and sniffing the rocks after any of the interesting creatures that climb them (he would too, if he weren’t on the lead).

When we get home, Platonas bounces up the stairs and sits on the doorstep, waiting for his person with the key. Then he patiently let’s me wipe his feet and rub him vigorously with a towel, before leaping onto the sofa, resuming his curled up position, waiting for me to join him for a cuddle with my iPad to write this. We watch the rain, and laugh at the rumbling thunder as wait for our electricity to return, looking forward to a pot of tea. Meanwhile, we agree that we’re going to enjoy autumn, with all it’s rainy walks, changing colours, and sweet smells as well as scented candles and snugly cuddles. Life is sweet 🙂 Hxx

Words & photo of Platonas snuggling this morning, by me ~ Hayley Darby © 2014

Apologies for absence

Hpp

Helloooooooooo!! Apologies for my prolonged absence from this page, I have been travelling, had very limited internet, and my life has changed most unexpectedly, but I am well and happy! Thank you for all your kind messages of concern, I feel awful for not checking in more regularly, forgive me! I have missed you too, and missed blogging, which seems to have been squeezed out of my daily routine somewhere along the way during this past year of travelling. Thank you for still being here, for checking in on me, and contributing to Pure Nourishment. I feel there is so much to catch up on, I almost don’t know where to start.. but I have an inkling that the morning is the best place, so watch this space and I’ll do my best. Blessings & love, Hxx

Swings and simple things

swing sky

It’s a cool cloudy day in London, and I’m sitting at the window table of my favourite bistro, armed with a latte and wondering where the sun has gone. We had a beautiful weekend in London, it was 17 C/63 F yesterday and sunny, so that all of London’s parks and pavement cafes were bustling with carefree happy faces that come out of hiding when the sun graces us in the Northern latitudes. I drove south of the river, contrary to urban myth one does not need a passport for such an expedition, but it is advisable to pack plenty of patience for the heavy traffic and ‘weekend drivers’. The journey of 8 miles from my home to my brother’s can easily take an hour, so it’s also a good opportunity to play some music and sing my heart out in privacy, without inflicting my less than sonorous vocals on the world. Having been away from London for a while, it was a fresh chance to appreciate the city’s majestic beauty, as sun cast elegant shadows on the regency architecture and gleamed off the windows of the modern mirrored structures. The early blossom on the cherry trees shimmered gently in the breeze, and the pavements buzzed with more energy than the collected efforts of the numerous runners that pounded away, plugged into their ipods.

My arrival finally at my brother’s doorstep, was heralded with the cheeky grin of my niece M, who informed me that my Christmas present was still waiting for me to open it.. as she peered expectantly at the bags I was carrying. M is not yet 3 years old, and her sister Z is almost one; so obviously the most important factor of my most recent three-month trip abroad was that I had indeed missed Christmas. She had also been waiting patiently to devour the pretty iced cookies that had been freshly baked for the occasion. So after the important unwrapping with tea and biscuits, my brother and I left his wife in peace and quiet as we took the girls to the common (a rather large park). It’s only a short walk by adult standards, but when your legs are as long as the average three year old, that can be awfully tiring. So we stopped for a makeshift picnic by the bandstand, indulging in some people watching as M found an amateur photographer shooting his girlfriend with his very long lens fascinating; before heading to the playground with heady anticipation.

Both M and Z could spend hours it seems on the swings, in fact most of the children seemed very content to watch the world fly back and forth with demands of ‘higher, higher!’ squealed between giggles to their pushers. I’ll admit I wished there was an empty ‘big girl’s’ swing for me too, to feel the carefree lack of responsibility on a Sunday the sun shone again. Children are smart enough to appreciate the simple things, before they are corrupted with entitlement and expectation, and I wonder when and how we let things get complicated as we advance into adulthood. Maybe there’s a way we can find it again amidst all our grown-up-ness, if we stop worrying about the things we cannot change and focus on appreciating the little things. So as I write this on a Monday, and the clouds part to let the sun shine in, I wonder where the nearest park is, and if I can get there before school finishes ☺

I hope you have a lovely day, and if there’s a moment in between all your busy responsibilities, that you slip momentarily into the carefree child you once were, and let your heart soar skyward again?! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words by Hayley Darby ©2014}

Laguna Beach 1st July 2013

Me pj

Good night everyone, I have had another beautiful day in Laguna, spending the cloudy morning walking on the beach with dear EF catching up on our recent trips (She to Oklahoma, me to Vegas). Apparently the ‘June gloom’ (sea mists) didn’t get the memo that it was July today; but the clouds shifted this afternoon and after green juices at ‘The Stand’ and lunch on the patio, I pottered down to the beach to work hard on my tan. I had planned to read, and maybe even to work on the book I’m writing, but all good intentions went by the wayside when dolphins distracted me, as they leapt gracefully playing not far from the shore. So I spent some time contemplating all I have to be grateful for in this gorgeous corner of California, and then went to yoga, leaving my work waiting.

Suddenly it’s July 1st and I’m sitting here with my tea (chamomile & rose) wondering how the last 4 weeks of my stay here have flown by so quickly. I had decided that June was a month for me, time to relax and reflect; acclimatise, settle in to my new abode and take care of my body. I have enjoyed my morning coffees with the ocean, walks on the beach, yoga, pottering around the shops and art galleries, a trip to the spa and stopping to smell the jasmine. And then last week, for a complete contrast and change in scenery, I went to Vegas, Baby!

My dear friend EF suggested I take a trip on a private jet with a friend of hers who was re-positioning a Gulfstream 3 to Vegas.. and I said ‘yes!’, because seriously, who would say no?. So I hired a car, and possibly the bravest part of the whole adventure was driving myself to Burbank, through LA on the freeway; or ‘fearway’ as it’s affectionately termed. The motorways in the UK generally have 3 lanes in each direction, and they are fairly well adhered to as fast/med/slow lanes for overtaking; unlike the 6 lanes of the I-5 which happens to merge confusingly around the city. After sitting in traffic at a complete standstill a few miles from the airport, my iphone battery quickly died taking my GPS out of the equation, something I am not used to relying on. Thankfully I had remembered the names of the turn offs, and managed to find my way the good old-fashioned way (following the signs and stopping to ask people for directions) to arrive with minutes to spare, and meet my travelling companions, (for the first time too!)

So after my first drive on the freeway, I had my first experience of travelling in a private jet; and I do hope I get the chance to do the latter again, because I could certainly become accustomed to such sublime transport (the former being a given, traffic jams included!). The aircraft (a G3) was spacious and luxuriously furnished, and travels at speeds of up to 576 mph; although it’s almost a shame to cut the journey time short. We had dinner on board (steaks for the boys, and salad for me – deelish!) as we watched the desert roll smoothly beneath us. My companions pointed out several landmarks, energy centres, famous red rocks and crop circles en route, although what they grow in the middle of the desert I’m still not sure. I popped into the cockpit to chat to the pilots, and see their view too, then as we approached Vegas the aircraft circled round to give us a fabulous view of ‘the strip’ before landing smoothly and being whisked away directly off the tarmac to our hotel. If you ever require a chartered jet (various models); or any ground transportation service (limo’s, coaches, sedans or SUV’s) then I can’t recommend AmeriCharter highly enough! (Find more info at http://www.americharter.com, and tell them I sent you!)

My first trip to Las Vegas was a blast, and I have to say a BIG thank you to the company I kept who made it such fun. The evening started with champagne cocktails whilst being serenaded by a giant frog, (whenever I hear Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World, I will remember this rendition). We walked along the strip to admire the fountains at the Bellagio, popped into ‘Paris’ & ‘Venice’ (conveniently right next door to each other) and somehow managed to have the best view of the Hooter’s swimwear pageant from our hotel rooms; which the boys vehemently deny any prior knowledge of.. Hmmmm! We joined the pool party at Rehab, reclining in our cabana between water polo and trips down the waterslide; we got fabulous seats at a show, ate delicious gelato, and of course we had a little flutter on blackjack, celebrating our win with more champagne and smiling all the way home. Then on our departure day after a divine breakfast at Bouchon (at The Venetian) we made our way to the airport, checking in on a regular flight back to LA, not quite so decadent as our outward bound journey, but chilled and happy. If I return to Vegas, it will have a lot to live up to, but isn’t that the point of Vegas, Baby?

So you see, as I sat on the beach today I had a lot to be grateful for; which is possibly why I rushed to yoga and didn’t get much work done; but at least it gives me more to focus on tomorrow I hope that at least once in your lifetime you get a surprise opportunity arrive unexpectedly out of ‘nowhere’, and that you’re brave enough to say ‘yes’ and let life treat you too! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo: me boarding the G3, but seriously, don’t you think it suits me??!! ; )) Spoilt rotten and loved every minute Hxx; words by Hayley Darby ©2013}

Sadness

sad

Good morning everyone!! Today I woke early, before my body was ready, but my mind was busy and insisted, so surrendering to wakefulness I found myself washed up on the pillow feeling exhausted. I lay for a while, just wishing sleep would reclaim me, waiting to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, but today is not one of those days, so I gave in and got up for coffee.

It’s a cool, grey start to the day in London, so I crept back to bed with my latte to sip it slowly and watch the cloudy sky as it threatened to cry. I had a lovely day yesterday; attending a first birthday party of a much prayed for miracle child, before meeting a friend I rarely see since he’s a professional tennis player on tour most of the time. I think perhaps my busy day just didn’t have time for self-indulgent feelings of sadness for a situation I cannot change, or the frustration and anger mixed up in the sense of helplessness as I watch someone I love drowning in shallow water they could easily stand up in. And yet it seems those feelings found me, having bided their time, and caught me defenseless whilst sleeping. The pain seeped through the cracks of the protective layers carefully constructed, winding their way round my heart and squeezing it until the tears rolled down my face as I let go of illusions of bravery and stoic aspirations.

Sometimes it’s too hard to stay strong relentlessly, so I sat with the sadness awhile; unfolding the layers, feeling the textures, seeing the flaws I cannot correct, the worn fibres and stubborn stains. I bunched the anger and grief up in my fists, then smoothed out the wrinkles of frustration and regrets, I poured salt water on historic wounds and wished it had all been different. Time passed and tears ran out, and suddenly I became aware of my breath and the rest of the day waiting patiently. So I sighed deeply and accepted things the way they are, that the changes I cannot make are not my responsibility and that no matter how hard that is to believe, it’s an immovable fact, with no way through, round it or over it. And I saw the day with all it’s potential, the preparation I must make and the progress beckoning. So I carefully folded away those feelings I couldn’t ignore, and having examined and accepted them, put them back in the drawer. Today I will be gentle, I will not expect too much of myself or pretend that I am stronger than I am, but I will be brave and I will not dwell on the pain anymore. If you’re feeling tender too, please be kind to yourself, you can be stronger and productive tomorrow. Blessings & love Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words Hayley Darby ©2013}

Pictures

Me 1974

Happy Monday everyone!! This morning the day greeted London with blue skies and sunshine, that slipped under the blind and pulled me from my reverie. I’m not sure what I was dreaming of, but the feeling of discontent was difficult to shed in wakefulness, and it took some time, and a second cup of coffee to find the motivation required to address the busy ‘to do list’ that’s been waiting all weekend. I sat at my desk, and surveyed the books and papers, searching for inspiration, wondering where the answers to my dilemmas are hiding.

I have a photo in my office, a treasured memento; clients often enquire whether it’s my daughter, or perhaps a niece, but the little girl with her hair brushed in bunches, smiling at the camera, is me circa 1973. It’s one of my earliest memories, taken at playschool (kindergarten) and is a reminder to not let studying/work eclipse play too frequently. Today my younger-self seems to sigh and question why it’s so difficult being a ‘grown up’; making decisions, shouldering responsibility, and I wish for a moment that I could warn her not to embrace it too eagerly, to enjoy the freedom and simplicity a little longer.

I have a lot going on at the moment, and it seems exhausting juggling disappointments and realizations, opportunities and obligations; and I wished for a moment that I could escape it, that choosing which was my favourite picture in the book the photographer had given me, was again the only thing I had to worry about. Then I realized, it is still that easy actually, except the pictures aren’t printed, we have to draw them, not with pencils or crayons, but our choices and actions; and that creating the life we want isn’t about what it’s supposed to look like, but letting our imaginations run wild with the colours available.

Suddenly being the grown up version of the little girl in the photograph isn’t so daunting, life is a much bigger canvas than she could have imagined, and there are seemingly unlimited colourful possibilities. There are still decisions to be made and a myriad of complicated questions, but the answers are where they have always been (in her heart), and she knows where to look for them, when she’s patient enough to remember anyway. I hope you have a beautiful week, and that a snapshot of now will be a motivation in your future : )) Blessings & love

{Photo: Me circa 1973} © 2013