The other day my daughter got out the shoebox; our library of analogue photographs. It turned out to be another late night, but some memories were brought into focus which is always welcome.
From 1992 until 1998 I lived on the beach in Thailand; first here on Koh Samet
then here on Koh Chang.
When we arrived on Koh Chang it was a very quiet place with no paved roads, no mains electricity and no girly bars. We arrived from Koh Samet by boat with our sea kayaks, surfboards and sails (wind was our thing) and our dog, Felix. I know what you’re going to say… “Felix? A dog?” and I would have to agree. Felix is, and has always been, a cat, but our Felix had been named by a German tourist, and there is a slight possibility that Germans are oblivious to this fact. Anyway, I digress…
We had come to occupy our newly purchased piece of beach at White Sands complete with two bamboo huts, kitchen/restaurant and, we were soon to discover, resident dog. She was a small red bitch very similar to a fox and I named her Cringe. Despite a couple of warnings from Felix, Cringe decided to stay and within a few weeks presented us with a brand new litter of puppies. We were less than delighted at the prospect of many new mouths to feed as we were barely making ends meet at this stage. But, hey ho, rice and eggs were cheap at that time and we were serving a few meals to travellers which meant leftovers for dogs. The puppies were adorable of course and very popular with our guests, but over time we were left with just one, a strawberry blonde female which I named Hen. It’s a hard life for a beach dog in Thailand; at that time there was no vet and no sterilization programme on the island and the Thai people are not generally known for their fondness of pets.
So let’s fast forward a little – there we were, on the beach with Felix, Cringe and Hen having a lovely time in the sun, giving food and shelter to travellers in return for the means to pay our mortgage, and expecting our first baby. There being no health provision to speak of on the island back in 1994 I had to go to the mainland to give birth.
A couple of weeks later our new family of three returned home to find that Cringe was once again pregnant but also looking very poorly. She had picked up a virus or possibly some poison and was very out of sorts. On our second night home she delivered two boy puppies outside our bedroom door then skulked off into the jungle and was never seen again. So there I was with not only a new baby who woke me up through the night for food, but also two puppies who cried all night for food. I was exhausted and not really sure if the watered down cow’s milk I was feeding the puppies with a syringe was doing them any good. At this time, Hen, their half sister, was about 9 months old and had not had her first season. She wasn’t even slightly interested in the puppies, but in my desperation I made her lie in a cardboard box and put them in with her. Their natural instinct was to suckle, and that’s what they did, and miraculously Hen’s teats swelled and she began to produce milk. I had never heard of this before, but apparently it sometimes happens and boy, was I thankful! Hen did a brilliant job and surprised us all and probably herself too.
The miracle puppies were named Butch and Sundance. Poor old Felix had lived a long life, unusual for a beach dog, but gave up the ghost soon after our daughter was born, and little Butch succumbed to some other forgotten fate before he was fully grown.
Hen was our snake killer and caretaker should we ever be away from home; Sundance was the nursemaid. He took on the job of childminder and was our daughter’s (and later our son’s) constant companion. Wherever she was, Sundance would be close by, watching and listening. Should any stranger approach the baby, Sundance would take a step or two nearer just to make his presence felt.
His greatest feat of heroism took place one hot afternoon when I was feeding baby Nee in the shade of our great tree on the beach. Sitting cross-legged on a mat, quietly sharing that special bond that breast-feeding creates, I saw Sundance suddenly spring to his feet before us and start barking. This was very out of character but he was not to be shushed. His gaze was fixed just beyond my right elbow which was cradling Nee’s head. I looked round to be faced with a snake rearing in defence, it’s head only two feet away from my baby’s. My heart was in my mouth. Something in my subconscious told me not to make any sudden movement, so I turned, rose and sidled out of range as slowly and smoothly as I could, while Sundance created the diversion. He could then finally move in on the snake, knowing that we were safely out of the way. He really earned his dinner that day!