Every morning early I tiptoe down trying not to wake up the rest of the household, but this stealthiness is invariably irrelevant with a short bark from our Golden Retriever.
Awakened from a deep sleep, Nigel gets up and is completely awake when he stands upright. Then he hurries past me to the front door, where he is too close, his tail vertical and wagging.
He follows this with half mixing, half dancing in the opposite direction, while contrary to all expectations, the door pulls quickly and opens inwards, as it has and will do every time. With that he is outside, sets off and moves in deeply.
Nigel reads the morning air like a saloon bar gent scanning his daily newspaper. He flicks his nostrils from left to right and back again, finds everything good, has a detailed inspection of the corner of the cut-off yew tree, where every dog has left its mark in the past 20 years, a ritual leg cock and a brisk march back inside .
Monty Don's late beloved family dog, Nigel, was rescued after severing his spinal cord when one of the intervertebral discs exploded in his back
Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick performed a CAT scan. Noel didn't want to operate, but kept him in the right position, paired with hydrotherapy in the pool several times a day to ensure that Nigel could walk again
Ignoring his own bed, he goes to a wooden box next to the Aga and gently but firmly pushes into it. It is far too small. He can only fit in his body and three legs at a time, but he loves it.
Then he watches me with increasing interest at breakfast (yogurt and steamed fruit, eggs, toast and a pot of tea, as you ask).
In the early days, there was outrage that I was clearly eating something delicious and not sharing it with him. But he quickly learned that sitting on my chair with drooling cords hanging from his mouth would not please me or anyone else.
So he lies in his bed too small and looks under an eyelid, like someone who sees a (rather boring and somewhat messy) nutritional program that he has seen a hundred times, but which he consoles. He knows the script by heart. Put the yogurt down and put the bowl on one side. Written down. Eggs are cooked. Play it cool. Stretch, exhale deeply, show no interest. Eaten eggs, very good. Go forward nicely.
A second cup of tea is a blow that slows everything down. Toast, get the butter; A jam trip to the apricot jam pantry. In the final round now. He watches me meaningfully, catches my eye and risks a tail wag.
All done? Ready to feed the troops now? No hurry, of course. In your own time. It's just that I'm feeling a little hungry. . . What! A third cup of tea ?! Oh come on!
Monty remembers how his four-legged TV co-star had the most ridiculous smile, fur like the finest cashmere and an obsession with tennis balls
At this point he gets up, nudges my elbow, makes an unmanly bleat that falls into a growl, stretches, looks at the door to the back kitchen where his food is kept, and reaches for my tea-drinking hand when whether drag me violently away from my overwritten breakfast to his own.
When I finally start preparing his food, there are a number of noises that are waiting for the food and lead from a hasty growl to a high plea. If he thinks I'm inappropriately slow, an irritated bark is thrown in, followed by an apologetic shuffle of his butt. He's basically a polite dog – although one gets hungry every second.
Finally, I lift his bowl off the counter and, unlike all the other dogs I've fed, he ignores me and the food and dances – no, dances – without looking back into the yard. He knows the shape and is one step ahead.
The bowl is placed in front of him, whereupon he sits and looks at me with a slight despair, while a saliva bubble gently rises from the corner of his mouth – and he orders himself to be inserted.
And so it happens every day, every time exactly the same. But every time is the best time.
Afterwards we walk through the two hectare garden of our house in Herefordshire, sniff the air, let go of the chickens and work out the day. The last thing in the night we repeat the walk in the torchlight – although, followed by a biscuit, the process is a little more excited.
The dog owner said Nigel had a rare ability to draw attention, take the light out of a room, and steal every scene he was in
It never occurred to Nigel (and even in its most ingenious form it is a short, uncomplicated journey) that he is not always the center of attention. This means that when you speak to someone or read the newspaper, a slow rhythmic growl builds up when they try to get your attention.
The sound is softened by the size of the ball in his mouth – a small one adds only a slight edge, while a large tennis ball means that he has to blow harder to produce the sound, making it a strange bass wheeze.
This is repeated and the same sound rises to a crescendo. At this point, the growl becomes unmanned by a triple note of outrage that can turn into a completely squeaky bark.
If you then draw his gaze to yourself or ask him to be calm, the ball is placed on your lap and is now, so to speak, in your place. He has won.
There's a treat in the vegetable garden that Nigel finds irresistible, and that's peas. Between mid-June and late July, it is often almost hidden between two rows of peas, growing sticks, gently biting off the pods, and crushing them with obvious pleasure.
He's pretty picky about who he eats. Too young and they don't have enough bodies. too old and the pods are limp and the peas inside are mealy and hard and they are immediately rejected. So he carefully chooses a discriminatory gourmet, knows exactly what he's looking for, and then enjoys every sip. I suspect Nigel is watching the peas grow as carefully as I am, checking the flower-to-pod shift and watching them swell and fill until the peas become a juicy green dog snack.
September delivers another favorite harvest. When a stormy wind hits the first gusts of wind in the orchard, Nigel will go through the offers of the day and gobble them up, the greener and less mature the better.
He really, really loves the windfall apples. The winds came in his first year when he was three or four months old, and at first we couldn't understand why the garden looked like a herd of incontinent cattle had just wandered around.
Then we found that Nigel ate about a dozen unripe apples every day and understandably his puppy's digestive system rebelled. Not that it seemed to bother him in the slightest, and the effects never stopped him from enjoying this seasonal pleasure.
Instead of picking up a fruit from the ground, he always chews it on site. But to bite the shiny skin, he has to use his molars, so he has to turn his head to the side to get a purchase.
Mont Don posted and wrote this last photo of Nigel on his Twitter account: “I am very sorry to inform you that Nigel has died. He slipped away quietly without pain or suffering and is now buried in the garden with many tennis balls old friend. See you in sweet bye and bye & # 39;
As the apple grows smaller, its head turns more and more until its shoulder is practically on the floor and its body is turned at a right angle. It may not be convenient, but it never changes its method.
For Nigel, an apple is never just a delicious bite of forbidden fruit. It has the great added benefit that it looks in every way like a somewhat strange tennis ball that can be thrown, hunted, carried, and put or carried endlessly in a wheelbarrow, followed by a foot-mixing, impatient bark so that it can be thrown – again.
His devotion to a single apple can take days, although he becomes increasingly chewed, beaten and meaty because he is thrown against trees and hedges and Nigel takes sneaky little bites from it.
A ball you can eat surpasses all other dreams.
When I wrote an article one September, I heard a scream that hurried me outside and thought there had been an accident with one of the two gardeners. Finally I found one of them, Julia, crouched over the body of Nigel, who was trembling and crying violently.
Monty Don posted this picture (left) from Nigel on Instagram and gave it the title "Mr Sunshine". He said, "I don't think the dogs ever figured out what photography is other than an annoying delay in walking."
What had happened was completely unexpected. For the thousandth time, Nigel had carefully placed a muddy yellow ball on the clipped top of the box hedge next to Julia when she cut back used dahlia flowers.
As she had done a thousand times before, she flicked it away so he could chase it, and Nigel leapt into the air to take it, turning sideways and up with astonishing speed and dynamism. As he had done so many times.
We took him to the vet, who kept him overnight and then announced that one leg had it and may need an amputation.
The next day, Nigel seemed to be dangerously close to death, so we drove 150 miles to Godalming in Surrey to see Noel Fitzpatrick, the TV supervet specialized in extreme cases. After a CAT scan, Noel was able to immediately diagnose what had happened. When Nigel jumped in the air, the acceleration had been so strong and he had twisted so smoothly that one of the discs in his back had exploded and partially severed his spinal cord.
Noel didn't want to operate, but kept him in the right position, paired with hydrotherapy in the pool several times a day.
Five days later we went back and Nigel went to the car with his tail raised and wanted to jump in the back. It seemed a miracle: despite a tremor in his affected leg, he soon ran free.
It never occurred to Nigel (and even in its most ingenious form it is a short, uncomplicated journey) that he is not always the center of attention. Monty said, "Everyone has a way of sleeping that feels best."
Nellie arrived on a November evening. My eldest son had suggested that we should get another dog so that Nigel, when he grows old, would be a mature and integrated part of the household.
I don't know what to expect. A female version of Nigel, I think. But from the first minute she was Not-Nigel. Although all Golden Retriever puppies look identical and Nellie has exactly the same body language, everything in their character is different from theirs. Where she is clever, Nigel is wise.
He is self-contained and welcomes every situation with patient acceptance, while Nell quickly gets bored. Nigel has never stolen a piece of food (except peas) in his life, but Nell will jump on the table and eat whatever is there if you leave the room for a minute.
For the first week, he contemptuously ignored her and preferred to leave the room rather than responding to her progress. But gradually she won it.
He didn't answer directly, but let her climb over him. Soon Nigel became her toy like a teddy bear; He was infinitely tolerant, even if she clearly hurt him. She kept attacking and clinging to every part she could reach, with Nigel gently distracting her, usually by rolling his head or butt away.
Monty says Nigel "will always be here, his gentle presence shadows me, real and vital, part of the living essence of the garden"
But Nellie was good for him. She was a teenager who was on his heels and she sharpened him.
Still, Nigel definitely slows down. He spends most of his day snoozing in the sun when it's asleep and in the warmth of the kitchen when it's not.
His ways are set and you can feel a slight irritation when a new regime is imposed on him. I am completely in tune with it. I think we're getting older together.
His muzzle is faded and clearly gray, his nose has lost its black sheen and is a little pink. his eyes are somewhat rheumatic and hollow. In short, he's starting to look old.
He still looks good and still has a prance in his crotch when he goes outside. But when he comes in there is a tiredness in him that has never been shown. He sleeps deeply, moves and groans when he finds a new comfortable position.
Dogs naturally have a much shorter life than humans. In truth, the only certainty when we take in a pet is that it won't end well: one of you – probably the pet – will die relatively soon.
When the time comes, Nigel will be buried in the grove in the shade of a wild cherry I planted in 1993. Until then, the roots will be difficult to chop, the soil will be compacted and dry.
But he will always be here, his gentle presence shadows me, real and vital, part of the living essence of the garden.
- Adapted from Corinna Honan from Nigel: My family and other dogs from Monty Don (Two Roads, £ 8.99). © Monty Don 2017.
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