In addition to the grief and the loss and the sadness and the emptiness of home, one of the more obscure things I am finding really hard is that we have fallen off the Hookwood map.
Walking with Milly gave me a connection to the community and to society. Although not your regular dog walker – I could never actually speak to any other dog owners, or interact with more than a wave as we scurried off in the opposite direction – I felt like I knew people, and I’d like to think that some people loosely knew who we were too.
Having walked the same circuit, at roughly the same time, every day for actual YEARS, Milly and I must have been familiar paws on the block… mustn’t we?
In the past 8 months our circuit was generally cut a little shorter, to make it easier for the aging Milly, but the original “Povey P” (aptly named because it is loosely P shaped on a map) is still what I consider to be our route.
Generally I consider myself to be super observant. I notice things and remember things. I can’t help it. With Milly I just walked….being present in a way that I probably am not when I’m on my own. No headphones, no mobile phone in hand. Just me and Milly walking our route. I guess most of this is ingrained in me from the early days of the need to be hyper-vigilant, and to spot a dog and take evasive action in the wag of a tail. Even though we haven’t needed to be quite so extreme for a long time, paying attention just became part of the routine.
It’s amazing what you can passively observe over days and months and years, sometimes without even realising it. Milly and I have seen extensions and DIY, garden makeovers, new driveways. Houses for rent, houses for sale. People moving out, people moving in. Children who used to get the school bus that clearly now get the 6th form coach. Remembrance Poppies on lampposts in November, or adverts for the local school fete in June. Every day there are walkers, joggers, cyclists…. you get the picture. I’ve now understood that all of these things are an important part of me, part of my life, and made me feel connected to society…
In particular I know cars and number plates – both the ones we pass and the ones that pass us. A couple of weeks ago I saw a FB post on the local Horley page, from a girl pleading for people to keep a look out for her dad’s van that had been stolen the night before. She gave the van type – a standard black transit – and the number plate, and without sounding weird, it was someone that I would say I “know”. OK so maybe I’ve never spoken to him…. but I “know” who he is, and where he lives, and I see him driving around locally all the time. On reading her post I felt instantly sad, and wanted to go and knock on his door and say I was really sorry to hear about his van. I didn’t, because that probably would’ve been a bit nuts, even for me. Then the more I thought about it, I considered that actually, he probably “knows” us. And maybe he’s noticed that we aren’t walking anymore. Or, actually maybe he hasn’t….
I know it doesn’t really matter – people come and go all the time – but for some crazy reason it matters to me that Milly isn’t just forgotten. I have this occasional mad thought of knocking on doors or delivering leaflets “Hi, you might not recognise me but I’ve been walking past your house with my dog Milly for 8 years, and I just wanted to say hi and thanks for noticing us, but we won’t be walking anymore”….? Totally bonkers. Hopefully I will manage to keep a lid on that for everyone’s sake.
For three weeks I haven’t walked any of our route, haven’t seen those houses or noticed those people. Those roads have been on the way to somewhere, rather than part of the purpose and destination. I’ve just got into the car on the driveway and driven away. And I feel really peculiar about it.
The last time we completed the full Povey P was on Christmas Day with my mum and my aunt. It is a very fond memory. In her old age Milly was absolutely set in her ways. To the point of walking on the same exact bit of pavement, crossing the roads in the exact same places, completely oblivious of where anyone else was. Little ears flapping and a smile on her face, she was just doing her thing. The number of times people have politely “stood back” at the bus stop to let us pass, only to have Milly dive through the tiny gap behind them, pulling me with her, because that is “where she walks”. She did it once to a guy trimming a hedge – thankfully he wasn’t up a ladder otherwise with between me and her lead we’d have wiped him out! In a person you would call it rude, but in Milly it was just cute and part of her charm. She was exactly the same on Christmas day, getting in front, then stopping to sniff and being overtaken, then charging back through the middle of my mum and my aunt to get back in front and carry on her way. It really made us all smile.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day so most of the family were here and it felt a bit like Christmas Day, but without the Harvey’s Bristol Cream and ill-fitting paper hats. It therefore seemed the right thing to do to go for a walk after lunch, and I finally felt ready to trace those familiar steps. Armed with Milly’s collar (that hasn’t left my person), a handful of tissues, and my lovely mum, I set off to try and put myself back on the map.