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Cave Canem (beware of the dog)

If your life, family and home were under imminent threat of being extinguished by a dramatic volcanic eruption what would you take away with you as you tried (in vain) to escape? This is a question I asked myself this week.
We took a detour via London on our way home and made a planned visit to the Pompeii and Herculaneum – Life and Death exhibition at the British Museum.
In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed these two seaside towns with a couple of hours. This disaster preserved the towns until 1700 years later when archeologists began to uncover them. Most of the items on display were brought to London especially for this exhibition from Italy, making a journey identical to our own but without the tedium of going through passport control.

One of the first exhibits you see is the cast of a guard dog, still wearing his collar and chain, caught in the throes of what must have been a sudden but painful death, guarding his master’s home until his end.
As you pass by the many amazing exhibits- preserved food, household items, carbonised furniture, a little baby cradle, some spectacular wall frescoes, there is a mosaic from the doorway to a house of a black dog, wearing a red collar studded with stones representing jewels and the legend “cave canem” – beware of the dog. And wouldn’t you know, they tell us the the cast of the guard dog was found outside this very house. He must have been a well loved pet to have had his image produced in such detail by the tiny square tesserae that made up the mosaic, and to have proudly worm a jewelled collar. And also to have given a warning to would-be burglars.
It reminded me a little of the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby I blogged about back in June.
Some of the fleeing townspeople were instantly burned and were left as skeletons, still wearing jewellery, carrying purses, doctor’s tools, swords, keys to their property. Others were covered in heavy layers of volcanic dust which hardened around them, and that is how casts of their postures as they met their death were made. There is a family – mum still holding a small child in her lap, a man crouched against a wall, his hands covering his mouth and nose. The impact of a sudden and violent end to so many people (around 16,000) is still very evident and moving even now in 2013.
Certain things touched me more than others- the cradle, the dog, the freshly baked loaf still bearing the baker’s stamp, and a little gold ring with the image of a mother hen and three chicks engraved on it.
Ordinary lives snuffed out without warning.


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Paws for Thought

There is a sign by my kitchen sink which states “Always try to be the person your dog thinks you are”.
I consider this to be sound advice.
My dog thinks I am the greatest friend, companion, provider, soul mate, he is completely devoted to me, I am the centre of his little canine Universe. Where I go, he wants to go; where I rest, he will be lying snoring beside me within a couple of minutes. Even as I type this blog his paw is hitting my hand looking for a gentle scratch on his ample belly. He is jealous of others who compete for my attention. This is not always a good thing. Should Mr Gillybirds show any sign of affection the dog acts as the most diligent chaperone. A chaperone with a fierce bark and a set of fine sharp teeth which he is not afraid to use.
I didn’t even want a dog. I don’t like dogs. As a child I was terrified of dogs. I was a cat person through and through. Nevertheless when the oldest son, then aged ten, bought a plastic dog bowl and started cutting out puppies for sale ads in the local newspaper I responded to the old saying “Every boy should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one”. After a bit of research we went to pick a Tibetan terrier puppy, one of a litter that had been born on December 25th. In the spirit of Christmas, with Tibet being a bit east of here, we decided to call him Caspar after one of the three Wise Men. Craftily the dog breeder lifted him from a heaving mass of wriggling pups and laid him on my chest as if I had just delivered him myself. One look into those deep brown eyes and I was a goner. Sadly Caspar died after only a week from Parvo virus and it was shocking just how attached we had all become to the little pup. As soon as we could we picked another pup from a different breeder, and so Buttons came into our lives just over seven years ago. The Vet refers to him as “the zen dog”. He is very chilled out, but is quick to find his Inner Canine should there be a bone, a squirrel or a postman. Not being one to boast but I should mention that one of his distant cousins, who answers to the wonderful name of “Fabulous Willie” won Best in Show at Crufts a couple of years ago.
So how can I become the devoted, loving, friend and all round decent person he believes that I am? I have no idea. Just try to be myself, but better. But perhaps I should bear in mind the words of Ann Landers – “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful”.


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