I don’t know what to write about …

I love the idea that I don’t know what to write about. People will often come into my consulting room and say, ‘I don’t know what to talk about’, or ‘I don’t know why I am here, it feels so indulgent’, well so does writing a blog, but in fact neither are indulgent. If I am any use as a therapist it wont be long before the person sitting in front of me is talking and hopefully not even what they thought they would be talking about. After all the discipline and heart aches of writing and finishing a book that took four years Doctors Dissected http://www.amazon.co.uk/Doctors-Dissected-Jane-Haynes/dp/0704373750 to write and during which I observed my co-author Dr. Martin Scurr become acutely and then chronically ill, and during which I got serious writer’s block and almost lost my writing voice and life – by choking on almost nothing, a grain of quinoa – and there are many things that link voice and breath with writing but that is for another day …what could be nicer than to be ‘fancy free’?

Ever let the Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home:
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;
Then let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind’s cage-door,
She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar. John Keats

I am aware that I have written about our first Viz, Ali, and Dido

noble dido

Dido in more grass

is always on the brink of my tongue, or do I mean mind? But I do not want to leave her cherished predecessor Lucy out. To think about my Russet Mantled Lucy is to think about the processes of love, loss, death and mourning which were also always close to John Keats’ heart despite the intense and immense joy he took in the natural world, writing and living friends. One brother died in infancy, Keats’ father died before he was ten, while only a few years later his mother – who had disappeared – returned for Keats, the student doctor,  to nurse her through her terminal tuberculosis. And, he had to endure the death of his beloved brother, Thomas knowing that they shared the same incriminating and crimson symptoms of the TB that was also to kill Keats at the age of 25.

Whenever I think about the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet and try to decide whether though much less convenient life was better off without its intrusion – and yes I must admit I am addicted to my iPhone with its immediate Internet access – although I always make the excuse that without it I should require a full time PA to help me run my practice. The thought of losing my I phone with its instant connections almost terrifies me.  I often think about the fact that it took Keats’ death in Rome almost three months to reach London…and how every time I turn my phone on I imagine I will find some treasure or message from ‘God’ in whom I have little faith, falling into my ‘In’ box that could change my life, as if I even wanted it to be changed…and how impatient the world has become.

Dog, Grass and Beauty.

dog and grass‘Dog and Grass’, copyright John Haynes 2013.

Below is the first from a series of interviews on the personal meaning of ‘Beauty’, which appeared in the King’s Review, Cambridge. Originally published by Gilded Birds, a website devoted to the aesthetics of beauty and curated by Kerry Shaw. (www.gildedbirds.net).

Jane Haynes, psychotherapist and author on her husband’s photograph, ‘Dog and Grass’.

Gilded Birds: You’ve chosen a photograph of your dog. So is the beauty sentimental? Would you find this picture beautiful without any personal experience of this dog or this grass?

Jane Haynes: I have no interest in the sentimental and regard it as a vice.  The reason I have chosen this image is because it represents a random moment of phenomenon I regard to be beautiful. The grass is not my grass. How could it be, and although the dog is ‘my’ dog, she does not ‘belong’ to me. My husband’s image captures a reflection of an autumnal dog of perfect proportions in declining grass. In this picture the grass matters as much as the dog. It also reminds me of Dürer’s ‘Clod of Earth’. Snakes lurk in grass but so do daisies (which once upon a time I wove into endless chains of love), buttercups, sexy-milked dandelions and minute orchids with beautiful names: green winged orchid, the lesser butterfly orchid, the bee orchid.  I should add that the dog is a Magyar Vizsla and I regard the breed whose eyes and nails are polished autumn amber as ‘living art’.

Dido_Sept_14_0778 copy

Gilded Birds: Do you think your picture is universally beautiful? Does this choice reflect a current state of mind or would it always be an ideal of beauty for you?

Janes Haynes: I do not think there is any such thing as universal beauty. I am not interested in the universal or collective but prefer the subjective. I might allow the moon the privilege of being an universal image of beauty, but then again how to choose between its slither and full? I also privilege the sun, but unlike the moon, which inspires me with awe, my sensation of the sun is accompanied by an intrusive fantasy of foolish human beings sunbathing without realising that the God is flaying them alive.

Gilded Birds: Do you think it reveals other things about you other than simply what you think is beautiful?

Janes Haynes: Not unless I share them with you. I have already indicated that I like the idea of the grass concealing exquisite beauty and deadly snares. It also happens that the dog’s pedigree prefix is ‘Siriusbell’. It must already be evident that I find the natural universe beautiful and I also find it serendipitous that ‘Sirius’ stands for the brightest star in the universe but it is also the feared ‘dog star’. I value all combinations of opposites. I like the fact that Keats’ last poem was, ‘Bright star would I were steadfast as thou’; that Shakespeare immortalised the star to every wandering bark, and that ‘Bell’ is the name of my youngest grand daughter whose beautiful smile was born on the seashores of the world.

Gilded Birds: Do you think we can become more self aware through examining what we find beautiful?

Janes Haynes: Most definitely. I am obsessed with and by Beauty. My family would say I am Beauty-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disordered. I am not proud of that but it is true. To return to your question: beauty whether in nature or the flesh – since childhood when I searched in the grass endlessly to find a four leaf clover – has been a consolation to me for the loneliness and ugliness that I feel in being human and separate. I find it hard to forgive ugliness whether it is in architecture or ignorance.

Gilded Birds: What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

Janes Haynes: Integrity. Symmetry. Soul. Mystery. Myth. Language.

With thanks to Kerry Shaw for permitting the reproduction of this material..

Dido’s Lament – Beginnings

ALI (FIRST VISZLA)001 copy We acquired our first Vizsla, Ali,  in Spring 42 years ago, who I have already declared, arrived unaccompanied from Scotland in a soggy basket. It was only a year or so after – I later discovered – that Gail Gottleib introduced her Russet Mantles into the UK. By coincidence we also had a Hungarian vet at that time called Judith Iffey who had escaped out of Hungary with her jewels and tiaras and who was the original practitioner to own the Elizabeth Street Vets which has since become well-known to many Londoners as the 24/7 Emergency Practice.  I had wanted a Weinermarer but my husband John thought they looked like ghostly addicts and we compromised when I found a picture of the floppy eared Vizsla with amber-accessorised nose, eyes and claws, to which or whom I have become a life time addict. Dido is our third Vizsla.

Judith declared that Vizslas were women’s dogs in Hungary and owned only in pairs. She not only owned tiaras but her living rooms seemed a combination of crystal chandelier and chinchilla. She educated us that chinchilla are delicate creatures who are liable at any sudden infringement of noise to fall off their perches with a fatal heart attack. Even in her ground floor consulting room she always had an ear out for a sudden thump from the ceiling. I am not sure whether this is true or false because Judith always found it difficult to sort out fact from fantasy. She was not there to greet the arrival of Ali because she had secretly convinced herself that she was dying from a fatal cancer. Taking both her favourite cats with her she performed a multiple euthanasia. True.  Although false in the sense that post-mortem revealed that she did not have terminal cancer, or any cancer.  I cannot forget her … nor the fact that phenobaritone the easiest way to exit with dignity, should the time, or rather when the time comes, and yes beginnings and endings always go together in mine and perhaps everyone’s thoughts, is now only available for human consumption – although it is still used as a first line to treat epilepsy in animals and freely available to vets – by making a journey to distant parts of Africa or Mexico where one of my clients acquired the substance but that is another story…but please do support the bill Dignity in Dying going through Parliament for voluntary euthanasia. Oh, if only I could die like our dogs and cats; held tight in the gaze of my family.

And while we are talking about stories I have just had an interlude from scribbling this blog while I watched The Return by the same Russian director Andrey Zvyaginstev who only just failed to get an oscar for his current film Leviathan, whose trailer altogether seemed too raucous, and political for me, with its focus on Putin’s Russian corruption, to watch. Russia has always been as corrupt as human nature…and as violent. Just like the world over. Now, I have no option but to watch it as The Return must for me be one of the most remarkable films ever. As I wrote in my previous blog the desire to return is inevitably if not always linked to nostalgia, although this return must number amongst the most gruelling recorded and like the Ancient Mariner and Moby Dick, so much of it emerges out of the sea, that great maelstrom of unconscious and violent energies. In the way that life is always more astonishing than fiction, the young Russian star of The Return drowned in an accident with haunting echoes of the film itself. ‘After filming finished 15-year-old Vladimir Garin was dared by friends to jump into a lake from the top of the same tower on which the film’s opening sequence was shot. He plunged to his death.’ (The Guardian). The artist, Frances Bacon – who loved animals – could never understand why there was such an uproar about the visceral cruelty of his images because as he never tired of remarking – man’s capacity for gratuitous violence exceeds all other animals, which is what I gather Anish Kapoor is wanting to illuminate and anecdote in his latest exhibit at the Lisson Gallery, which I must visit as soon as I have some Easter-time.

Memory has played tricks but I cannot recall that Ali, unlike adored Lucy his successor, or divine Dido, was in any way a challenge to our routines, and yet he must have been. To own a Vizsla is always to be challenged one way or another until they have learnt – if they ever do – to quote Arkade Bernard, Dido’s Sirius Bell breeder, ‘Thy will is my will’ but I suspect he is much better at implementing it than we are.

Dido takes no notice!  Dido racing

I cannot remember Ali destroying anything, nor shrieking at our departure, not having impossible surges of 6PM shots of mad shark-biting-attacks of excess energy. Lucy’s ‘Russet Mantle’ clinging ways to begin with induced post-natal depressions; while our Boxer who was Lucy’s playmate was so destructive that I thought my husband might become a candidate for the Turner Prize. His recurring nightly occupation was to sew our shredded mattress together. Ali was so perfect in every way that even my friend who had bred Dobermann’s for years took one look at him and sent to Scotland for his sibling, Florence.

Ali was originally named  Alexander, shortened to Alex,  which was my favourite masculine name but having suffered a series of miscarriages after the birth of our daughter by the time Ali came we had abandoned the intention of a second child… By the time Ali was 18 months he was sitting underneath Alexander’s high chair hoovering the crumbs and had to be renamed Ali. Now, I have two abiding memories of him.

The first is the time that we were driving to Suffolk for the weekend – nobody then worried about child seats or crates or anything much to do with safety that I remember. We still felt free of the Nanny State. Our car window was down and Ali was leaning out and snorting into the countryside air when suddenly a hare crossed the horizon … with a vast leap and not without scalding his testicles, Ali disappeared across the landscape. Like all the Vizslas that I know there is nothing in the world that competes with attachment to their owners and before we could despair he too was on the return but unlike the young brothers in the film unscathed by trauma and ready for another adventure. ali in the grass

My other memory is of the end of his life. By the time Alexander was six Ali had migrated from our bed to his and one night, he was ten years old by then, he sank onto Alex’s bed with one mammoth sigh –  the premonition of a massive epileptic fit – later that night he expired  in our arms at the Elizabeth Street Vets. My son has never forgiven us for his midnight disappearance and for years after, whenever Alex was distressed about something he did not want to disclose to anyone, he would respond tearfully to our enquiry,  ‘I am thinking about Ali.’ After his death I contacted the Scottish breeder who told me that one of his siblings had, in another part of the country, lay down and ceased to be that same night.

“When I am laid, am laid in earth,

may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast.
  Purcell

Dear Dido

I was going to start off with the fact that we have shared our house with a Hungarian Vizsla for the last forty years since our first packaged puppy was delivered from Scotland to King’s Cross – by a helpful stranger – in a soggy basket on a train. But I will return to beginnings later. And in fact the beginnings of the Vizsla as illustrated on the top of my blog began not in Hungary but in Medieval Italy. How stunned I was when I first came upon Cosimo’s picture in the National Gallery… But I am going to start with today and then work backwards later on. I have been waiting for a long while to have the time to write this blog,  which will not just be about Dido but about all the free associations that come to me when I am thinking about my dog.  After all my original training, from which I defected, was as a psychoanalyst.   When after a long day’s work I am still too immersed in all the narratives that my clients have shared with me – to be able to enjoy any more narrative in those ‘boxed sets’ which have become compulsory night viewing – I will now relax by playing with the thoughts that Dido inspires in me. I have just finished my book about the inner worlds of doctors if not vets, but Bruce Fogle is just about to publish his own perfectly written memoir, Barefoot at the Lake so now you can know something more about the inner worlds of both vets and doctors. Doctors Dissected Today, we have woken up in the countryside of Rutland with the early rising sun flooding into our bedroom across the beautiful grounds of Hambledon Hall with views of the largest reservoir in Europe beyond the lawn and fields. Vizsla’s, as all owners will know, are not at all the sort of dogs that like being left at home when you travel and they also have all sorts of requirements which must of course be fulfilled.

Dido on Arrival at Hambledon. dido at HH Dido_John_Hambledon

Sitting at breakfast with John and Dido I realise that one of the constants in my life to bring small pleasure are the muted-honey-sounds of wood pigeons cooing in what sounds to me like the epitome of  ‘content’. That sound makes me feel that the mortal world is a good enough place to be, (although feral urban pigeons make me think of vermin, plague and disease).  In equal measure to this small if divine pleasure is the anxiety induced when I am staying on the South coast where nothing,  nothing at all in the world, sounds to me as melancholy as the cries of sea gulls swooping across high Victorian chimney stacks instead of sea. Sometimes, I think of the huge deathly whiteness of  the albatross that I have never seen but never forgotten since I read Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and how if I remember rightly it is ‘whiteness’ that Herman Melville in Moby Dick turns to morbid dust, but here it is to the albatross that he turns his visionary eye.

Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God’s great, unflattering laureate, Nature.* I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime. At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king’s ghost in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God. As Abraham before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns. Long I gazed at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell, can only hint, the things that darted through me then. But at last I awoke; and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this. A goney, he replied. Goney! never had heard that name before; is it conceivable that this glorious thing is utterly unknown to men ashore! never! But some time after, I learned that goney was some seaman’s name for albatross. 

Ah! yes to get back to Dido, well long before the smaller birds were up she was at our bedroom garden doors whinging and whining to go out and find some twilight game. And not only are the small birds awaking but on the shorelines across the lake another great bird – although not as rarely seen as the albatross – the osprey is now winging an endangered return from Africa. Incidentally, Dido is the most vocal dog I have known, and I certainly don’t remember this being a characteristic of our other Vizslas.  From the day we brought her home and optimistically, or most foolishly settled her into her playpen, suitable for any child and filled with puppy toys and blankets, she introduced us to her screeching. Dido still screeches like a mandrake being wrenched out of the darkest earth and perhaps that is why my mind trailed from gulls to albatrosses.  She disgraced me at ‘Puppy class’ with her high-pitched screech of indignation, or was it boredom and when the foolish trainer told me to remove her to the ‘naughty bench’ I knew that was a class neither of us wanted to return to. And yes, Dido, like the albatross – Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king’s ghost in supernatural distress – does exactly the same thing when she thinks she is being oppressed, or when she cannot have her wilful way, (which we happen to adore), she laments. Now I remember that is why we decided on the name of Dido, and of course if she ever had a companion to harness in arms or Hungarian carriage, which she will not, he would be called Aeneas. (But even if she does not have an Aeneas with whom to share her time she does have

Old Danny Dog, our venerable boxer,  Dido and Danny danny dog left at home whom I am afraid does get left at home.)

Dido started her lament to explore at 4AM this morning, some holiday you might say; she is far, far more demanding than any of my clients, and by 5.30AM my husband John was out and away in the fields.  Whilst Dido chivvied unnerved rabbits back into their burrows and chased indignant ducks, he also received the gift of the rising sun. Thank heavens for all small mercy and that since we last visited Hambledon the gardeners seem, in preparation for Spring visitors,  to have excavated all the rotting mounds of stinking badger dung.

The first time we visited Hambledon Hall as apprehensive guests – arrivals make me apprehensive but if all has gone well, which it often does not – then departures can make me sad. Very sad. `One of the best emotions in the world, or do I mean feelings, is the wish to return. That first time a delighted Dido leapt out of the car on our arrival and when we next saw her she was covered in evil-smelling badger dung from head to foot and the unphased and kindly hotel porter had to bring out several buckets of hot soapy water and fluffy towels before we could enter our little pavilion house with its pale grey carpets. We felt shamed to have come so unprepared that we almost turned around and headed back to London.

When we did get home everyone seemed to think that I was rather clever to be able to distinguish between badger dung and fox shit, which I can. You don’t find badgers in Regents Park, nor in our back garden. Personally, I find the much recommended remedy for all dousing or wilful rollings in feral excrement, Heinz Tomato Sauce, even more nausea making than the culprit tar-like adhesions themselves. Now, I remember that when we were still novices and received our first male Viz pup from Kings Cross, not at all unlike Paddington Bear in his basket, his breeder had warned us, ‘Vizslas, you must understand, love to roll in dead things, if you cannot accept this fact then better not to own a Vizsla.’ sunsetSpot Dido in the sunset…