My small puppy Chloe was stung by a bee she tried thoughtlessly to consume and came running into the living room to scrunch up next to me on the sofa, her little jaw red and swollen, her eyes squeezed shut, sneezing from the rush of histamines. I cuddled her and curbed my imagination-of-disaster while Una called the local horse vet because her Afrikaans is better than mine.
The vet was aghast. ‘Chloe? What kind of name for a dog is that?’
Dogs on local farms are called Impi or Zulu or Simba (lion) or Sheba or Spot. Or Jack if the dog is a Jack Russell. This means that you can call any stray dog by one of these names and the dog is likely to bound towards you in glad recognition and eat you alive.
‘Very weird name, Chloe,’ said Una to the vet. ‘And you should see the spelling. But Mary reads poetry all the time, so she comes up with all sorts of names.’
“Poetry is useless in the real world. Poor bloody dog living with a poet! Take some nice pills to keep you happy,’ advised the horse vet. ‘If the dog is still sick tomorrow, call me in the morning.’
That is his favourite joke unless horses are involved. Horses around here are named after heroes and battles in the Anglo-Boer War (after Afrikaner heroes not English cowards), names like De La Rey, or Spionkop, or Swart Jan, or Boet Viljoen.
Anyway, little Chloe-otherwise-known-as-Spot slept for a few hours and then lapped up some water and went out to try and catch another bee. This morning she is fine, and I have been lying in the bath reading the poet Georges Szirtes and trying to decide on a seasoning for roast lamb because Una has invited four neighbours for lunch. One of the neighbours, who is a brillant confectioner, announced she is bringing a dessert based on plums in port with whole vanilla pods.
I called her up instantly and whined about alcohol being death to me and begged her to make her non-alcoholic millefeuille with fresh apricots and whipped cream and laced with a cardamom custard and grated orange peel, ambrosia for the sober. She seemed a trifle put-out because that millefeuille is hell to prepare, but agreed on condition I make my snappy green beans with toasted sesame seeds. Oh, us gourmets and our greed! I am all for not minding others having wine or unsober desserts, but this woman is a genius with pastry and I will not miss out on any of her culinary triumphs through my little problem wth alcoholism.
And this afternoon I shall be having tea with a woman from a distant hamlet who wants to get sober but cannot seem to stop starting again. I wish I could tell her to go to AA, but the nearest city is seven hours drive away and she does not have a car. So we will talk and I will tell her how I stay sober each day and lend her my BB and some Joe & Charlie CDs from Steve, along with a CD player, and because she does not have a telephone we will meet again in three weeks time and I shall write snailmail letters to encourage her. Because if you really don’t want to drink, there is a Higher Power that will help you stay sober.