Holy puppies. There are some long faces around me. It’s as if I was already dead! Having said that – I do feel like death pretty much every day, but it won’t get me down.
How did we get here in the first place? Fortunately I wrote most of this ages ago when I was feeling perky and sarcastic…
Did they ask me?
Did they even tell me?
Did they give me a chance to tell my friends?
Did they ask what I wanted to take?
Have I a clue what’s happening next?
It’s a dog’s life, and I’m just a dog.
One minute I’m at the vet’s getting more needles in the neck.
The next, most of my toys are thrown in the bin, the house gets more empty by the day, and then one day we get in the van for a drive, and now, nearly six months later we haven’t been back.
And they think it’s such a ball!
For a while it was OK. We went to places I knew, met dogs I’d fought, and I got lots of great walks, although some mornings it was so bloody cold I was shaking when I crawled from my pit.
Then one day something happened, something to do with a train, and since then I haven’t understood a woof any dog has barked at me.
And there have been plenty! Angry snarly beasts that are probably saying the most offensive things, but, fortunately, I guess, I don’t understand.
Perhaps I’m in foreign again.
They’ve done that to me before. Strange water, strange smells, and very strange dogs. Fortunately they have the decency to bring my proper food along, you should smell the muck they’re eating!
Although you have to have a moan at any chance, I must admit I quite like life on the road. It’s different in some way every day.
I still get told off loads, but hey, I stopped listening to the “Polly do this” “Polly do that” stuff years ago.
The best bit is that I’m with them most of the time, and better still, I get some decent time on my own most days. Then I can lay back on my four mattresses (oh yea baby!), and dream, dream, dream.
Then things went wrong.
I’ve got the time to write this now as things haven’t been too good.
I was chasing some little runt in (they tell me) Poland when suddenly I collapsed in a heap and had the most awful pain from my back right knee.
It has happened before but never with this degree of pain. I try to hide it usually as I get put on a short walk and no jumping regime for ages if I’m seen limping.
This time I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t use my leg at all.
I panicked a bit.
OK, no heroics needed, I panicked a lot.
I didn’t wet myself, but only because I’d had a wee a couple of minutes before.
But I promise I didn’t let out a whimper of complaint.
That was probably three weeks ago and I’ve been through hell since.
First there’s the humiliation of having to be lifted in and out of the van.
Then there’s my lack of appetite and the need to be tempted and tricked into eating.
That lot is just small fry though.
In yet another foreign place they took me to the vet.
As ever there were some right states in there. Some dogs just don’t look after themselves.
A nice lady said things to me in foreign and had a good rummage around my knee, then I vaguely remember drifting off into a deep sleep.
It took ages to wake. It was like clawing your way up through really thick water after you’ve dived too deep. I could sense the surface but it was so hard to get there. I could hear things going on around me, but perhaps everything was in another room. Even hours later I still didn’t feel right, so I just went with it and slept, for hours upon hours.
Usually waking from a long sleep feels great. But last Wednesday I felt beyond death.
What the hell has happened to my leg?
I can just about cope with the shame of it having been shaved while the rest of my coat is normal, but there are bits of metal in it. Lots of bits. In fact it looks like the bits are holding me together.
There’s a bloody gunk coming out of the middle of what they’re calling “my wound”, and my humans, God they’re stupid sometimes, won’t let me lick it up.
I get to it now and then, but I have to be canny, pretending to be itching my foot, then whipping out my tongue. It tastes metallic, like blood does, and a little like a very old lady’s breath, but even more so.
It hurts all the time.
Just lying still I shiver with pain.
But still I haven’t whimpered. I’m half Poodle, half French, and full to the brim with standards and ethics.
They’re getting worried about the ooze. They watch me all of the time, even through the night. Blimey we’re all knackered, me from trying to recover, them from worry and sleeplessness.
Apparently we’ve been to Hungary, whatever that is. We went to a vet there.
How many countries am I supposed to remember? I think that’s 16 since we left home.
I didn’t like this Hungary vet and he knew it. He was rough when he needled me, but it was good stuff that he shot into my scruff. I didn’t feel a thing for a good while.
Next day another vet in Hungary was even rougher, but I trusted him.
He cut away bits of me, smelly bits around my wound.
He said to take me back to the nice lady and man in Slovakia.
It was them who messed me up good and proper, all in the name of longer term recovery they tell me. And I do believe it. I do like Pavol, and the lady, Zuzana. I wish they’d make me better faster though.
We’re back in a strange house and we go to the vet every day.
She, my girl human, has spread my beds all over the floor and she’s very worried about me. She tells me all the time. I wish she wasn’t, it’s hard enough getting better without having the responsibility of worried humans too.
8 days now and the wound hasn’t healed. That’s not good. I have a neck full of needles every day, and someone cleans the wound, sucking air through their teeth in that way that humans do when they don’t like what they see.
I’m just going to lie down as much as I can.
A couple of toilet trips each day is about all the exercise I get. Even that leaves me exhausted.
But when I’m outside I see the mountains. How I long for the mountains.
It gets worse. Can that be possible?
We’re back in the Poprad vets for the fourth time and at last Zuzana is there.
She crouches down beside me and rattles off a stream of words to her assistant.
I can tell she’s trying to sound calm as she tells my humans that I need another operation.
Holy Dog and Puppy of Heaven! I’m not sure I can take another round of this.
Well, I’m not sure what happened since then.
I now have cat gut (ha!) stitches instead of metal.
My wound is twice as long.
There’s a tap in it.
And there’s another tap in my front leg – now I know there’s nothing wrong with my front leg so what’s that for? One is to let juice out, the other is to push juice in. I’m just a juice machine now.
I think I’m just going to check out today, sleep for as long as I can, and hope tomorrow brings some sanity.
And her humans say…
Well the poor dog has certainly been through the wars.
A big operation to fit a synthetic ligament, but then a serious infection in the joint.
We rushed back from Hungary to the original vets (who we trust and believe in).
We rented a cottage, but truly didn’t like it. Expensive. Stygian. Obscured glass on most windows, fixed venetian blinds on the others. If there are great views then let’s see them, and even if not, then let in as much light as possible.
Thankfully Minty found another, bigger, lighter, and less expensive place for us to move to.
We got there only to be told that Polly needed an overnight stay in the vet’s on a drip.
We’ll go back through Hungary when she’s stronger.
For now – we remembered our trip of 1996 when most signs were in Cyrillic Script, now there’s none.
The city of Eger is grand.
Great buildings, wide boulevards, a cosmopolitan crowd.
But getting there took us through a stretch of normal Hungary that was a far cry from the city’s grandeur.
Awful roads, narrow like those in Poland. Village upon village where everyone walks in the road as there are no pavements. Police. Loads of Police. Pulling people over, watching, camera recording. Cameras – lots of them too. I’m sure we’ll get used to it all when we go back, but the changes are always surprising, and part of what makes the travel interesting.
We camped at a site called Tullipan, 15 minutes walk from Eger town, 10 minutes walk from the wonderfully named Valley of the Beautiful Women.
The Valley of the Beautiful Women would have been a mecca for us in normal times. It’s where at least 30 wine producers have their cellars carved deep into the hill.
With bistros, cafes and restaurants, all for sampling the wines with good food.
You buy direct from the producer, at silly prices. Silly prices that become even lower if you take your own bottles.
On our second visit to the emergency vet we saw a mature vet who simply told us that Polly’s infection was serious and we had to take her back to the place where she had her operation.
We packed up and left.
Back on the road for a five hour hack through the mountains in the wrong direction.
A hack that was so beautiful in the misty morning that we want to try it again.
But take it slowly.
When we’re less stressed.
We’re now in the new house in a village called Dol’Any.
The house is spacious. Light. Comfortable.
And but for the on-going worry about Polly’s progress, we’re happy here.
I might well have said about anyone else telling this story “She’s just a dog.”
And I think that now. Often.
But we don’t have children, that was a conscious decision.
And so all that love.
And a thousand other emotions.
It all has to go somewhere.
Ours goes towards the dog. Polly.
The Walk to The Top of The World.
Polly’s in the animal hospital, and there’s nothing we can do to help. So we might as well go and explore where we live.
We start heading north, intending to walk through the next village, Roskovce, before hacking through the woods to the high village of Uloza.
We’d chosen an interesting route!
As we approached Roscovce a volley of urchins shot past us, descending the hill like young Mad Max apprentices on improvised craft.
There were a few on dandys/go carts that we’d recognise, but others displayed supreme balance and shot by sitting on no more than a roller blade.
While the first house of the village looked a little unfinished, it turned out to be the best finished other than the church.
In a few hundred paces we were deep in a Roma village.
Houses seemed to have been occupied as soon as the roof was on, and then building worked stopped. None were rendered. Only some had windows. Most had exposed cables running here and there, water supplies seemed to stop before they got to the house.
Fires burned at random in the streets.
Happy, in fact wonderfully excited, kids, roamed untethered. Few of them wore a full suit of clothes, many were completely naked, and not just the young ones.
It felt like deep Morocco, or India, rather than a country that has been in the EU for over a decade.
The children were truly joyous, wanting to high five, or hold hands, and as the news of there being strangers spread so more and more emerged to escort us through the rough streets.
It was a little alarming.
And it was certainly exciting.
It would have been great photographic material, but we weren’t that brave!
I might not rush back, but still we enjoyed it.
I hope to find out more about these folk, how they live, how they fit into society.
Since yesterday we’ve noticed two other Roma villages. Better than shanty towns. But only just.
I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not that long since the Pool side of Carn Brea was a series of similar camps, and more recently I’ve encountered others around Stockport, Manchester.
Onwards and upwards.
As suddenly as we’d met the villagers we left them behind.
And headed up, up, up through mushroom studded woodland, and sunny clearings.
It was a 5 mile hike to the village of Uloza, every step up hill, steep hill.
Uloza was another world from the Roma village.
It’s a smart retreat of those who can afford the sort of vehicles that can make it up to around 900m whether or not the roads are deep in snow.
The houses are very nice indeed.
And the view…
This isn’t the highest point of the mountains, in fact it’s a long way from it. But the village looks north west to snow topped the High Tatras, south to the Low Tatras, with the plains of Poprad and the villages of Spis, including the castle, in between.
At the cafe I had sausage with horseradish and mustard, served just as described.
On the day we encountered this expanse the visibility was at least 20 miles.
Wherever there are trees they are in the midst of their riotous autumn colours.
It is spectacular.
We certainly hadn’t planned to be long in Slovakia, but our time here has been filled with beauty.
For now we’re on daily visits to the vets. Polly has a drain into her wound that Zuzanah or Milan will flush, rather like a radiator, each morning. We have no idea what the bill will be, but we’ll be on rice and beans for a good few weeks afterwards!