Dear Dispatches —

Ah, life is tough, yes. Indeed. Three days in Fishponds, Bristol, sleeping on the floor ( the blow-up bed collapsed during the first night) wearing my overcoat and hat and covered with a woollen blanket in a flat colder indoors than it is has been all winter outdoors up in the hills of Slovenia; three days in Neath, a stone’s throw from Port Talbot, polluted steel town, tourist spot for those with a skewered intelligence and little invention but a love of heavy drinking Welsh film stars and friendly charity shop workers bemoaning the fact in singsong voices that I was their first costumer all day appearing from out of the drizzle ( item bought a fine check shirt for half price, £2, which I am proudly wearing this moment); luckily in Venice, pearl of the Adriatic, twice in a week, yes. Well, at least the chance to race through Marco Polo Airport, a glimpse of a tower over the waterway enough to thrill in the dull cloud. On the return trip confronted by chemically besuited and masked individuals solemnly taking temperatures of the few passengers leaving the next to empty plane, before being handed leaflets warning of imminent death and the need to isolate oneself.  Damn, I do know how to live. I really do.

But then these hills. Fair enough. I can’t deny them. Or even attempt to. Or the fact it was good to have a yarn and a half with a couple of my friends again. I did see my pal James do his poetry gig with a fine trumpet player, David Mowat, accompanying him. Which was something to behold. At one moment the trumpet was being blown into a saucepan of water. This in an old school building in a village close to Bristol which had wonderful dark wood ceiling beams and fine acoustics. Also his pal, Steve Day, who ranted and raved backed by a superb bassist/cellist and bass clarinet player. I’d rate it the best performance yet I have seen of poetry with music. (Not that I have seen many, but it was still damn good.)

Just up, late, took Jasna breakfast and drinking tea myself here in the kitchen. (What a fine husband, eh? Or a guilty one redeeming himself – attempting to – for past crimes.)

I still wouldn’t mind your address, lad. Promise I will not divulge it to anyone else, and especially not any one you might have upset over these last many years. It’s just I might have something to send your way. I might not, or I am not sure yet. But surely, sometime in the future I will have. That’s common sense. Even if you send me the address of a neighbour you haven’t pissed off yet, someone who would be willing to collect your mail for you, deliver it at his or her own convenience, undamaged.

There still hasn’t been a winter here. Some say in March. Not that it looks sparklingly warm out the window right now, slow wind blowing Lana’s red plastic swing back and forth on the old pear tree. Not eating pears, but pears for schnapps (žganje in Slovene). Not that we had any crop last year, not a single pear. Mind you, Jasna still has a couple of bottles from the previous year which she made into walnut schnapps (called orehovec) and Jägermeister (you add a selection of wild flowers every month for ten months, or so I believe). The bottles are emptying fast though. Jasna nurses a keen interest in their contents.

Other news before I bugger off? Well, I sometimes see pictures of your friend Michael’s dog on FB. I have often thought it appears to be the only dog in the world that I would consider stealing. I’m not a dog person at all, having immense trouble with their tackle poking and swinging for dear life like the proverbial crown jewels (male dogs obviously), but even the swollen teats and sagging bellies of older female dogs also have an unnerving effect on my somewhat delicate sensibilities. And yet, whenever Mike posts a picture of his dog, a certain soft ah escapes involuntarily from my body: Man and his best friend. Not that I ever want a dog, not that I like dogs. No, I would happily say a dog is one of the last things I desire in my life, along with several choice diseases, certain physical complaints and anybody dressed in official garb or who has their elevated position of employment stamped proudly on their letterhead. Which is why, of course, life being what it is, I now have one. You see, when I left the homestead for a few days on my mercy trip returning Mother Dear ( I first mistyped Mother Death! ) to the land of our birth ( leaving her – at the last moment – with a large suitcase on a freezing cold platform at Bristol Temple Meads after a bitter three hour wait, but in the professional care, I hoped, of a lumbering station porter I had met ten seconds before, who promised he would place her carefully into her train as I ran off to catch my own local one to my cold basement, the trains all being cancelled left, right and centre ( after all, this was England, it was winter, the wind was blowing, there was the threat of rain returning any moment, so naturally the trains were all a-cock and a-hoop, leaving passengers downtrodden with failure, no way to reach where they were going, stranded: the British way of travel.) Yes, it seems Lana and Jasna were driving by a garden centre after changing their minds about going for a swim in a nearby distant spa town, when they pulled in quite innocently to buy some plants and seeds and were greeted by three puppies. Apparently, one chose them. It was, naturally, out of their hands. Who could blame them? Especially as the lady gifted her to Lana there and then, believing the dog would be well loved. She is a cross between a labrador and a harrier (seemingly a hunting dog). We can’t pick her up yet since she isn’t ten weeks old. Though yesterday after school Lana and I tried to find the owners, but she couldn’t quite remember where, which entailed us returning three times to the same dead-end factory parking lot just beyond one of the tallest industrial chimneys in Europe.

Ah, life is tough. Yes.

According to Jasna, the dog is exactly what I need to sort myself out. Especially when you take into account the fact that I am still partially crippled with bad feet and find walking a real trial. So, a dog which needs a couple of hours exercise every day of its life is the ideal addition to our family!

Of course, I am almost glad about it, since Lana is happy as Larry (and he’s dead). Jasna thrilled, too. Visions of the dog gaily running beside her through the woods, warding off wild boar and bear. Oh, her name? (I wrote ‘its name’ first. See, already I am changing, as the above mileage of words prove, into a dog person. Jesus. Life is strange.)

Aya. She’s called Aya.

This could be the last sensible letter you ever receive from me since I imagine from this moment on I will only write about doggie things.

All letters will be henceforth signed:

Love,

Lana, Jasna, John and Aya