Right now I am pretty much confined to barracks while my knee recovers from the trauma of surgery and it is driving me nuts.
Even on those days that I count myself ‘at home’ all day, I am still out twice a day with the dogs and do not count popping to the shops as going out. So it is not surprising that I am finding my confinement trying. Thank god I have never had to hide from the Nazis, I would have been flushed out for sure. I have box sets and piles of DVDs that all bear repeat viewing, but just can’t seen to settle on anything. Had I some pressing housework to do, you could bet your bottom dollar I would sink comfortably into the sofa for thirteen hours, but now that I have the perfect opportunity, it seems to be the last thing I want to do.
I never begrudge the dogs their twice daily outing and find it difficult to understand dog owners who never take their hounds out and about. Walking for dogs is not just exercise, it is their TV and great for socialising. The socialising is not just for the dogs either, most of the people I know in the local area are dog owners I have met in the mornings and evenings.
One of the first people I met was Dave. I was down at a small local park when he said hello. He did not have a dog, but he loved to come and walk and on this first occasion had persuaded his wife to come out with him. He introduced himself and her as he asked me questions about where I had come from before settling in the area.
Dave was in his late seventies when I first met him. He was a man you would describe a ‘sprightly’. He was of slim build and his fitness would put men and women half his age to shame. An ex-postman from the UK, he had moved with his wife, Jean and young family several decades ago to Australia and although he lived a modest life, he seemed to spend the better part of it wringing every last drop of joy from living.
He always greeted me like a long lost friend, wanting to know all about the dogs. Lucy, the park social secretary was very happy to say hello. Archie, busy on patrol for bikes was less enthusiastic but still received a generous tickle behind the ears.
‘Hallo, there boy!’ He would say, his friendly enthusiasm undamped by Archie’s apparent lack of interest.
He loved to chat and soon learned that I had parents around the same age as him and his wife.
‘How are you Dave?’ I would say.
‘Hello there!’ He would reply, ‘Now, are your parents going to the Have a go Day that there are running down by the river?’
‘I don’t think so, Dave,’I would reply, ‘To be honest, I don’t think that they have heard it is on.’
‘Oh they should go! It is going to be marvellous. Do you know, they have all these activities you can try? I am going to have a go at the archery today!’
Dave had taken early retirement from the post office and although he lived modestly, boy did he make the most of it. He was certainly not going to let his life diminish in ever decreasing circles.
I was in the park at six one morning walking the dogs before the heat kicked in when I spotted the usual spry figure going push ups on the bench.
‘Have you seen the mushrooms?’ He asked, ‘Just up here.’ He led me to the top of a hill where a circle of wild mushrooms had sprung up.
‘I am going to take some of them home for breakfast!’ He declared.
‘Are you sure they are OK to eat?’ I asked
‘Oh yes,’ he assured me, ‘I have had them before from here. I am heading back now for a nice omelette.’
If you had asked me that year, I would have bet good money that Dave would outlive my parents, and possibly even me, such was his lust for life.
But one day I saw him and he wasn’t moving as fast. His arms, usually swinging briskly, were hanging by their sides.
‘Everything alright, Dave?’ I asked.
‘Oh, hallo there,’ he replied, ‘not too good today, I am afraid.’
‘Sorry to hear that,’ I replied, ‘Nothng too serious, I hope.’ Even as I said the words, I feared the reply.
‘Well I haven’t been very well,’ he explained, ‘and they found these cysts on my liver and pancreas, so they are just doing some tests to see what is what.’
‘How is your appetite, Dave?’ I asked, ‘Are you managing to eat much?’
‘Oh no, not really,’ he said, ‘I just don’t fancy much these days.’
‘Well make sure you try and eat,’ I said, ‘Keep your strength up.’ I felt awful hiding behind cliches, but sensed that he wasn’t up for a long chat.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Jean used to be a nurse. She is making sure I eat.’
‘Good,’ I said, ‘And good luck with the results – I will keep my fingers crossed for you.’
I only saw him once after that, moving slowly across the road from where he lived to the local shops in an effort to get out and about – and it was an effort, every step seemed to take a lifetime. The cancer, because of course it was cancer, ripped through his slender body in three months, and in keeping with the disease, showed no mercy or compassion for this gentle and kind man.
The next time I saw his wife, it was to commemorate Dave’s life at his funeral – and there were a few of us there from the park, dog owners who had enjoyed saying good morning to him as he had to them. He was one of the regulars, despite having no dog himself. It didn’t matter because he knew all of ours.
The park seemed so strange for a while after he died – I kept expecting to see him, striding towards me, arms swinging and a head full of the possibilities that the day would bring. New experiences, new friends. I still often think of him when I walk there in the mornings – especially when the mushrooms appear on the hill. One day, I may just try an omelette myself.