The day Sir Didymus came into our life is still very much a part of the family history. The boys have birthdays close to each other so we’d decided to get them a dog as a joint present. We picked Didy up on Michael’s birthday, which came first by four days (and it helped that it was a Saturday). Tim was turning nine years old and Michael six.
We tricked the boys into the trip by saying we had to go out to Kate’s work and needed to visit a house along the way. The lady who owned Didy had put him in a box and wrapped it in a ribbon. The boys were a little unsure why they had to open a box in a strange house but all this dissolved into the most unbridled joy when Didy, this white furball of a puppy, emerged from the box. Didy had entered our lives and they would never be the same again. The boys’ grandparents, Claire and George, still remember how excited the boys were when they took Didy around to show them the wonderful present they had just received.
Didy also made his mark in a different way at Claire and George’s place that morning. He was three months old and had been trained to wee on newspaper that had been placed on the floor. George had a habit of leaving his newspapers on the floor while he was reading them and doing the crosswords. The outcome was inevitable, but it did take George a little while to see the humour in a newspaper with a big wet circle in the middle of it.
It’s not exactly accurate to say we’ve been a one-pet family – we have had at different times a rabbit (Foxy, and a feral piece of work he was too), a rat (Denny, who was a lot more friendly and affectionate than you might imagine) and fish (unnamed and which are, after all, not the most emotionally responsive of creatures) – but Didy has been so much a part of our life for so long that it is hard to imagine how we could ever replace him.
Of course, it would be easy to think that a dog with the name Sir Didymus, hailed from a rather bourgeois background, but this was so far from the truth. Didy was three quarters Maltese terrier and one quarter Sydney Silkie and he looked and behaved quite a lot like a muppet character in one of the favourite family movies, Labyrinth, who went by the name of Sir Didymus. So, that was that. Of course, it got abbreviated to Didy, which sounded a lot less pretentious (though it was only some time later that I found out that Diddy is also another name for a woman’s breast (derived from titty) – which did put a whole new spin on wandering the streets and calling out Diddy whenever he did a runner).
Didy was an absolute ball of energy and did a brilliant imitation of a white ball of fluff on a very bouncy spring. It was quite remarkable how high he could jump. A feature of his jumping was that after he had reached the apex of his jump and had started to descend his floppy white ears were always a second behind the rest of him. That meant that it wasn’t unusual, especially if you were eating at a table, to look up in time to see a disembodied pair of ears hanging there just above the table top.
Didy had not only joined our immediate family, he become part of a much wider extended family. And their dogs. In the early days his closest canine friend was a big black Labrador, called Diva, owned by the boys aunt, Leonie. They were such an odd couple, big black dog, small white furball. And Didy was a real Speedy Gonzales. When they played Didy would run rings around Diva. I can still remember the look of surprise (and what certainly seemed like deep embarrassment) on Diva’s face when Didy turned on a dime when she was chasing him and then shot back between her legs. She’s been nutmegged and I’m pretty sure Diva hoped that absolutely nobody had noticed.
There have certainly been moments when Didy gave us a fright. One New Year’s Eve many years ago we’d gone out with friends to watch the fireworks. At that stage we were staying in a rented house out at Diamond Beach. When we returned Didy was nowhere to be seen. We hunted high and low but he definitely wasn’t on the property. We think the fireworks must have scared him and he’d done a runner. The problem was that he simply didn’t know the area at all, and neither did we. We then headed out around the streets hoping to find him, but in the end we had to give up. The children were inconsolable and it was hard to get them to go to bed. Eventually we did, but neither Kate nor myself felt in the slightest bit tired. We were mopping around the house in the early hours of the morning, finally agreeing that we needed to go to bed when Kate looked out the window and saw Didy trotting up the driveway. Everybody was dragged out of bed and one small corner of Diamond Beach rang to the unexpected sound of an impromptu celebration.
Didy has also danced with death on two occasions. The first when he suffered some sort of infection and lost so much liquid and blood through diarrhoea that he came within an hour of dying from dehydration. It was only that the vet was able to place him on a drip in time that saved him.
And then, much more recently Didy had a sort of stroke, which didn’t do him any favours, but neither did the medication given to him to fix it. It seemed, after a few days to set off some sort of haemorrhaging and it was only another last minute dash to the vets that saved him, by a whisker, from death. This time it was Claire and George to the rescue as they were looking after Didy while we were on a holiday overseas. They may not ever be aware how deeply grateful we are to them for this.
For over 18 years Didy made our life so much more through his presence. This in itself it a remarkable testament to his stubbornness and generally good health. Maltese terriers do live longer than bigger dogs, but 12-15 years is considered a good innings. From what we could find on that most reliable of sources, the Internet, 18 is an age that only the rarest of malteses reach, and for Didy to make 18 years, seven months, one week and four days is nothing short of remarkable (he left us on December 7, 2014). As the vet’s assistant said when I was talking to her not so long ago, “Well, he is a freak of nature.” It made me smile, and still does, to think of this small, old, white dog, as a freak of nature. Go, the Freak.
I suspect part of Didy’s longevity owed itself to living in a two storey house, with further stairs to the back yard. Every day, many times a day, for years, Didy ran up and down those stairs. It was only in the last month or so of his life, after the stroke, that it became too much. And the other important factor, we believe, was talking him for walks. Again, every day, after work, the ritual was to take Didy for a walk. He went absolutely crazy for his walks. Sure, they got shorter in distance (though not in time), over the years, and he devoted much more time to the rigorous sniffing of all things stationary, but still we had to go out for a walk.
Over time old age took its toll on Didy. We knew he was losing his sight, hearing and sense of smell – thought it was remarkable how quickly those came back when anyone ever did anything food related in the kitchen. He also began to become more and more lost in his own world – taking to staring at blank walls. I must stress though, that at no stage did he ever appear in pain, or even really unhappy – just confused at times. The stroke though, took so much of what he had left away. Basically, he seemed often to lose touch with the real world. Despite this he remained undaunted and his resilience was something to be admired. He was still happy to bark at the world, wherever the world happened to be.
The day after Didy passed the heavens put on such as show. It hailed, lightning not only lit up the sky, it was so close you could hear the air itself being torn apart. The thunder was more like an explosion, the rain came down in torrents and it was all strangely lit by the setting sun so that the sky turned a glowing yellow. Now that’s a send off – and a totally fitting one.
The night of his passing we opened a grand red from the cellar – a Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon. Tonight I ordered a dozen more. We will always have a Xanadu on hand.
The important thing, though, is to celebrate what an amazing creature he was for all of us. He was a huge part of our household, and he was part of the lives of everybody who visited us. For most of the large collection of cousins that the boys have none of them had known a world without Didy until he passed away. He is the screensaver for our son, Tim, and my brother’s child, Alex, always wants to know how Didy is. It has been an utter joy and a privilege to have Didy in our lives. He is the Eternal Dog, and will always be so.
Vale Sir Didymus Jones.
I would like to finish on one last note. Sometimes when he was sleeping it was clear that he was deep in some kind of dream. I have taken the liberty to write a short tale of one of these dreams. How close this might have been to reality I leave to the reader’s imagination.
In the far of land of Forster there lived a noble and kind canine, Sir Didymus – the Ruby Knight. Sir Didymus was a great defender of his kingdom and would protect all the small animals within it. For example, more times than can be recounted he would chase magpies from the yard – whether they deserved it or not.
As a result his kingdom flourished and many a small animal, from far and wide, came to visit and then to stay.
Now, in a neigbouring kingdom, there lived a far less likable creature. Sleek and silent as the grave, this cat, who called himself the Black Claw, took great pleasure and hunting down and killing all the small creatures it could find. Not for the need to feed, mind you, but just for the pleasure of doing this. What was worse was that the king and queen of this neighbouring kingdom did nothing to prevent it, and let the Black Claw roam freely.
It was only natural that the Black Claw would be drawn to the kingdom of Sir Didymus as it abounded with the creatures he so longed to hunt, but he was always thwarted by that noble canine. No matter what time of the night or day, Sir Didymus seemed to have a sixth sense about the Claw. He would be there to chase him up a tree, snapping at his heels and barking fit to summon the hounds of hell.
Of course, this only made the Black Claw more determined and Sir Didymus knew that he had to come up with some sort of plan because one day, and it only needed to be for one day, the Claw may succeed.
Some short time later, to the Claw’s guarded surprise that day came. He had been prowling around the fringes of the yard, for hours and there was not even the slightest hint of the damn dog. Worse still he could see a small bird that had clearly fallen out of a nest struggling in the bushes.
It was all too much for him so, with the quietest of leaps, the Claw reached to the top of the fence and within a heartbeat he was in the yard. Immediately he froze, ready to fly should the dog suddenly appear. But his fear slowly began to dissolve with every minute that Sir Didymus remained unsighted.
Growing more cautious, and with the added lure of the chick in the bushes, the Black Claw padded silently across the yard, lowered himself into a crouch and then began the death stalk, that would only end with a sudden leap and the snapping of teeth.
We can only imagine the horror that swept over the Claw when his teeth closed on something far more than a little bird. For hours the night before Sir Didymus has patiently created a model of a small bird using only loose feathers collected from the yard and a curiously sticky mixture of spit and wee. He had then attached this bird to his tail and hidden himself in the bushes. Every wag of his tail had simply drawn the Black Claw deeper into his web.
Many of the small creatures who saw this unfold say that for a moment the Black Claw went so white that it was hard to tell him apart from Sir Didymus. The fight that erupted and the caterwauling flight from the kingdom was rumoured to have scared at least eight lives out of the Black Claw – possibly all nine as he was never seen of or heard from again.
That night the creatures in Sir Didymus’s kingdom held such a celebration as had never been heard from the house before. The neighbours even called the police, but when they arrived all the found was an innocent little dog and lots of rustling and squeaking in the bushes. It’s a good thing that humans can’t understand animal noises, or they might have realised that they were being laughed at. The police gave up and went back to the station, but not before telling the neighbours not to trouble them again.
A short while later the celebrations picked up once more, louder than ever, but not a phone call was made, and the party rolled on until the sun rose, and then beyond that for some time.
They say that somewhere, hidden deep in the garden, there stands a statue, which could only have been made by the smallest of hands, or paws, or claws, to celebrate that greatest defender of the little folk – Sir Didymus, the Ruby Knight.