379In this blogposting…
* AGM XXXIV
* Robinson’s German Journey
Kev sent me this story the other day. Consider yourself warned...
'They told me the big black Labrador's name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean and the people really friendly. I'd only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in this small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waved when you passed them on the street.
But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt. It would give me someone to talk to.
I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls afterwards but that the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like 'Labrador people' - whatever that meant. They must've thought I did.
At first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, a bag of toys (almost all of which were brand new tennis balls), his dishes and a sealed letter from his previous owner.
See, Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks, which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home. Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust too. Maybe we were too much alike.
I remembered the sealed envelope which I had completely forgotten about. 'Okay, Reggie', I said out loud, 'let's see if your previous owner has any advice'.
This is what the letter said...
'To Whoever Gets My Dog
Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner. I'm not even happy writing it. He knew something was different.
So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you. First, he loves tennis balls, the more the merrier. Sometimes I think he's part squirrel the way he hoards them. He usually has two in his mouth and tries to get a third in there as well. Hasn't done it yet. Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after them, so be careful. Don't do it by any roads.
Next, commands. Reggie knows the obvious ones - 'sit', 'stay', 'come' and 'heel'. He knows hand signals too. He knows 'ball', 'food', 'bone' and 'treat' like nobody's business.
Feeding schedule ... twice a day, regular store-bought stuff. The shelter has the brand.
He's up on his shots - but be forewarned, Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car. I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he does.
Finally, give him some time. It's only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the back seat and doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially.
And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you.
His name's NOT Reggie. He's a smart dog and will get used to it and will respond in time, of that I have no doubt. But I just couldn't bear to give them his real name. But if someone is reading this, well it means that his new owner should know his real name, and that is 'Tank', because, that's what I drive.
I told the shelter that they couldn't make 'Reggie' available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. You see, my parents are gone, I have no siblings and no one I could've left Tank with. It was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter, in the 'event', to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my CO is a dog-guy too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then he made good on his word.
Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family. And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family too, and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me.
If I have to give up Tank to keep those terrible people from coming to the US, I am glad to have done so. He is my example of service and love. I hope I honoured him by my service to my country and comrades.
All right, that's enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.
Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight, every night, from me.
I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope.
Sure, I had heard of Paul Mallory - everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.
I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.
'Hey, Tank', I said quietly.
The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.
He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months. 'Tank', I whispered. His tail swished.
I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.
'It's me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me'. Tank reached up and licked my cheek.
'So what do you say we play some ball?' His ears perked again.
'Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball!'
Tank tore from my hands and disappeared into the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.
….will take place at 1100 on Thursday 26 July in the cafe at Saltwell Towers, in Saltwell Park (Gateshead). The world and his wife will be there, so book your place on the chara now.
And bring a joke.
ROBINSON’S GERMAN JOURNEY
In trying to sign off this story of my German Journey with a memorable flourish (as it were), I re-read blogposting 351, which I’d written just after I got back home.
Although I’ve edited it very slightly, it remains here much as it was when I wrote it in April. My feelings and thoughts and sentiments about my journey are now as they were then so it will serve me well as my journey’s Epilogue.
I hope I can be forgiven for virtually repeating a posting for the first time in truckshunter history!
So that’s that then. Once again, it’s all over.
No more trundling my suitcase noisily behind me along cobbled, continental streets. No more scanning train timetables or distant, foreign horizons. No more wondering what the next hotel is going to be like as I gaze out of train windows at unfamiliar scenery.
For the moment at least, there are no more friendly strangers anxious to practise their English on me - and defeated because of my anxiety to flex my linguistic muscles on them.
For the time being, there are no more trams, buses and metros heading for strange-sounding destinations and no more streets, avenues and boulevards named after noble statesmen from Our Great National History.
To the many people whose paths I crossed, I am now just a memory - as they are to me.
To them, I am the weird, ageing Englishman who spoke the worst conceivable German and - despite considerable effort from several quarters - never learned any Dutch at all.
To me, they are smiles and broken English learned at school and handshaking and wine-glasses; they are fingers pointing me to the metro, the right street, the train I’m trying to catch. They are the kind laughter of natives hearing their language mangled as never before.
And, over all the infectious bustle of big cities - of the unexpected delights to be found in their exploration - lies the gentle birdsong and quiet Spring sunshine of Munster, the diamond at the heart of this journey.
Two years ago, the depth of my feelings of ‘deflation’, anticlimax and melancholy at the end of my Grand Tour took me by surprise; so I ought to have been much better prepared this time round.
But I wasn’t. Once again, my head teemed with memories of anticipation and excitement that kept my sleep fitful for many nights. Which is, I suppose, exactly the way it should be.
I did make one attempt to pre-empt this strange sadness that lingers at the end of a great adventure. I wrote myself a postcard from Hamburg. This is what it said…
OK - you’re home again and feeling sorry for yourself. BUT just remember the cold, the wind and the SLEET in Hamburg and you’ll be fine.
Here’s to the next time
It arrived the day after i got back, amidst the cold, the wind and the sleet. I’d brought Hamburg home with me.
The hotel I stayed at in Hamburg has fostered close links with that city's 'House of Literature' and each guest is given a rolled, beribboned parchment with a quotation written on it. I have mine in front of me now. This is what it says.
'Is it true that every beginning contains a little magic?
For me, the magic is in the journey and each arrival in a new place relieves me of the burden of permanence. Here, I will not stay forever, or even for very long, and I need not pretend otherwise. Instead I can live in the temporary and the provisional, my true home, in so many ways. And even when the clock overtakes me - the next train, the next taxi, the next plane - I know I am travelling on to another place much like this one - a place with its own magic, its own shifts and slants of being.
Now that the clock is calling, I carry away another memory of home - the home from home....'
Here are some more quotations about travelling and travellers. Somewhere in here are the reasons I love it so much - and why I’ll be starting to plan the next one very soon.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness - Mark Twain
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page - St Augustine
There are no foreign lands. It is only the traveller who is foreign - Robert Louis Stevenson
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow - Lin Yutang
All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it - Samuel Johnson
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move - Robert Louis Stevenson
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things - Henry Miller
A traveller without observation is a bird without wings - Moorish proverb
When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in - DH Lawrence
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world - Dame Freya Stark
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover - Mark Twain
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware - Martin Buber
We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open - Jawarhalal Nehru
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going - Paul Theroux
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted - Bill Bryson
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might as well stay at home - James Michener
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles - Tim Cahill
Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey - Pat Conroy
Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen - Disraeli
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends - Maya Angelou
Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind - Seneca
What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re travelling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road - anon
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries - Aldous Huxley
When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable - anon
Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realise that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white - Mark Jenkins
A ship in harbour is safe, but that's not why ships were built - anon
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