Friday, 30 October 2015

Sowing and reaping

Like many people, I was both saddened and disturbed to read of the tragedy in Cults Academy, an Aberdeen secondary school, this week: a 16-year old pupil was stabbed to death by a classmate in what's been described as a "pointless fight which got out of hand".  Incidents such as this are fortunately still relatively rare in UK schools, but this one appears all the more shocking in that it occurred in what is reportedly a 'good' school in a 'nice area'.  In what must be every Head Teacher's worst nightmare, headmistress Anna Muirhead has paid tribute to the "gentle, caring pupil" Bailey Gwynne who lost his life, while presumably asking herself the question "How could something like this happen in my school?"  One young life has been lost, another has been turned upside down, while for two sets of families nothing will ever be the same again.

Rumours have surfaced to the effect that the attacker had been being "teased" about his weight but so far it's not at all clear what form this took. Judging by the outpouring of sympathy and the tributes that have been paid, Bailey doesn't fit the typical profile of a bully and I can't detect any undercurrents of this being an issue - although there is and always has been a fine line between the supposedly harmless tradition of teasing at school (in which the victim sometimes gives back as good as he or she gets) and its more malicious and sinister form properly known as bullying.

Fights themselves at schools are of course nothing new: we had playground fights when I was a schoolboy and I well remember the chant of "Fight... fight... fight..." that would go up as we all flocked round to try and get a better view.  That in turn was invariably the signal for a couple of prefects or a Master to appear out of nowhere and break it up, fortunately before any real harm had come to either of the participants.  I've written about my own experience of being picked on for a fight at school: looking back on it now, although I can still clearly remember who my assailant was, I've no idea what started it nor do I attach any real significance to it other than it being part of the rough-and-tumble of school life at the time.  I guess that's probably true of the ten or dozen other playground fights I witnessed during my schooldays, too.  But we never had fights or violence in corridors, still less in classrooms. Nor were weapons of any sort used.

So the other dimension, I suppose here, is the use of a knife.  We had metal knives rather than plastic for use in the school dining hall, albeit rather blunt ones.  And in those days quite a lot of boys had penknives, especially those who were keen on scouting activities (which didn't incidentally include the stabbing of fellow scouts - at least, not deliberately!).  I didn't own one as far as I recollect, nor did I have one of the other types popular at the time - a flick-knife.  Illegal I believe they were at the time, but brought back in appreciable numbers from the Continent!  I didn't personally know anyone who had one and I can't imagine that anyone who did would've dared bring it to school.         

Back in the present, there are no easy answers to the question of why this happened in the way that it did,  I daresay in the fullness of time questions will be asked, reports written and the proverbial "lessons will be learned".  That's what schools are for, after all.  But it will, sadly, come too late for poor Bailey.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Autumn reflections

The remains of summer have fizzled out unspectacularly, leaving the characteristic chill of autumn nights.  I cranked the heating into action once again, counting myself fortunate that since we had the new boiler fitted the gas bill these days is a mere shadow of its former self.  Doesn't stop spammers phoning regularly (or, more accurately, phoning the answerphone regularly) to remind me about the government boiler grant awaiting me alongside my unclaimed PPI refund.  Do people actually respond to this rubbish, I wonder?

And I've had time too to reflect on, and start coming to terms with, Raggs' passing away.  I got the casket containing her ashes back: one of my fellow students of Italian kindly gave me a lift to the vets' after our class on the Friday that week, and I carried it home on the bus in the little posh carrier bag looking for all the world as if I'd gone to do a bit of upmarket shopping!  I haven't yet decided what to do with them.  Although I'm conscious of the theory that clinging on to the remains acts as an impediment to grieving properly and letting nature take its course, I'm a little undecided.  I didn't want to scatter them in the woods as I had done with Molly, but I rather favour the idea of perhaps burying the casket in the garden amongst some spring bulbs to make something resembling a little shrine,  Maybe that in its own way is just as creepy an idea though.  For the moment I'm not in a hurry.  I find its presence acts as a comforting souvenir of the happy times we had together and I'm happy to accept it as that however ghoulish it may sound.  While I initially found it difficult to accept the proposition that we can't have another dog, the plain reality is that I don't any longer have either the physical ability or the lifestyle to walk as far or as regularly as I'd need to and it really wouldn't be fair or kind.  Even an older dog needs some exercise.  I haven't ruled out the idea of another cat on the other hand: maybe I'll just wait and see how things pan out.

And after a short summer break we start our Italian tutorial sessions again next week.  I did briefly resurrect the idea of going for an A level, but decided to plod on with our informal classes and buld up a bit more of a foundation while waiting to see how the transition from AS and A2 levels back to a proper 2-year course works out.  My practice is still sporadic and I have some "homework" exercises which I should have done and keep putting off but I'm heartened to find when I check out an Italian blog that I follow, I seem to be retaining more of what I've learned than I'd anticipated.  It's certainly encouraging me to keep at it, anyway.

A presto!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Goodbye to my best friend

I seem to have got into the habit of relaying nothing but bad news on here: I was going to add "lately" but I see it's been eight months since I last wrote anything.  But whatever the ins and outs of that, the spur this time is the shock that late yesterday evening, Raggs passed away.  

It came as a surprise.  She'd been showing her age with some quite obvious signs in recent months, noticeably by scrambling a bit to get up, requiring my assistance in the form of a helping push on the bum to get up the stairs, and sitting (or rather dropping) down with a great thump.  Added to which, she'd become noticeably incontinent.  But all things considered, nothing that wasn't commensurate with the advancing years of a 14-year old bearded collie.  I never dreamt that she might be ill, and looking back on the events of yesterday, I'm not sure she had been.

The morning had passed in usual form, jumping up on my bed (she hadn't got to be too particular about whether I wanted to use it myself or not!).  She barked at a few things which were unwise enough to move in the street: although I had my suspicions that her hearing was no longer as keen as it used to be, there was obviously nothing wrong with her eyesight.  But around tea-time, I suddenly noticed to my horror that she appeared to have collapsed in the bedroom doorway, more or less lying adjacent to a puddle and a pile of the other stuff.  In the light of her previous deteriorating mobility, I guessed that she'd got taken short and had overbalanced in the act, but with the benefit of hindsight a more accurate guess I suspect, is that she'd had some sort of stroke.

I helped her to her feet with some difficulty, getting snarled at for my pains, for I think the first time ever since we'd had her.  But she seemed to recover while I cleaned up, pottering about with a wag of the tail here and there.  I took her out to see how she fared: she didn't seem to want to do anything but made it up and down the stairs without help.  Nevertheless I decided it would be a wise move to book her in to see the vet in the morning, and I followed that by booking a taxi to take us there.

But then when I took her out again a little later on, she collapsed again just by the garden gate.  Somehow I managed to get her back indoors (she's far too heavy for me to carry) but this time she lay down in the hall looking sorry for herself.  I got an old duvet and made her as comfortable as I could, hoping the rest would do her good and we'd see what the vet had to say about it all.  She looked up occasionally but then seemed to lose interest.  I knelt down beside her, conscious that I might be saying goodbye.  I saw around 9.00 that she'd been sick and was still dribbling: her breathing was becoming shallow, and a little after 10.00, as I knelt beside her, I heard the characteristic rasp of a death rattle.  She was gone.  With tears in my eyes, I said some prayers for her, noticing already how quiet the house had suddenly become.

This morning, I used the old duvet to concoct a makeshift shroud, wondering how or if I was going to get her to the vet's in the taxi by myself.  As you do on these occasions, I started simultaneously torturing myself with the inevitable "if only"s - if only I'd realised the significance of the warning signs, if only I'd acted sooner.....  In my rational moments, of course, I know full well it wouldn't have made any difference.  The healthiest animal we'd ever owned was already living on borrowed time and had been for quite a while: the life expectancy of a bearded collie is around 12 or 13.

So, a few phone calls later, full of mixed feelings, I sit here typing away to while away the hour or two before the pet cremation company arrive to collect Raggs.  We decided that's what we'd have done with her, as we had with Molly twelve years ago.  The alternative of a burial in the back garden, which I suspect is of dubious legality anyway is a bit of a no-brainer on practical grounds.  

The house seems eerily silent.  Gone is the patter of not-so-little-tiny feet, the head poked round to door to see what I'm doing and the barking every time anyone is rash enough to come up the path to the house to deliver something.  We've already decided not to get another dog: I was very much in two minds about it twelve years ago when faced with the same decision and given how much water has flown under the bridge since then, it just wouldn't be practical or fair.  Another cat, on the other hand however??  Hmmm, I wonder.

Anyway, in the meantime, here's a pic to finish with:

It's my favourite photo of her, taken in January 2004 during her first winter with us.  She always loved the snow and we never really to her way of thinking got enough of it.  A friend of mine made that photo into a mousemat for me, so somehow I'll always have her by my side.