We have, on occasion, had to leave one of our most important family members at home, while we ventured off to enjoy pleasure a-plenty.
Occasions when the owner of some sea-fresh seaside villa does not want a dank forest-stale terrier roaming its rooms, and who, in truth, can blame them? Macaulay brings an ethos all his own where’er he treads with those stout paws. We shrug and make alternative arrangements.
When we return, the strangest phenomenon occurs.
Because when we see him once more, we expect a much bigger dog. One the size of that personality.
But on our return, it is clear Macaulay is a little dog. He is really quite deceptively diminutive.
Our minds, it seems, have gone a little mediaeval.
You recall, of course, the land before classical perspective entered our art: those strange characterful pictures from that era from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries AD, when size denoted one’s place in the world.
Thus, impossibly huge baby Jesus figures dwarfed the laps of their sedate Marian mothers; merchants were towering and peasants were tiny. It was a different perspective entirely.
And Macaulay the dog is very big, if not in reality, then in our esteem. Our family would feature him like some hulking Great Dane somewhere in the middle of the clan, if we followed our mediaeval instincts.
Many moons ago I fell in love with Winchester Cathedral. I knew every inch of its being: from the ancient library to Jane Austen’s final resting place. And while loves have come and gone, my infatuation for that great tall structure for another era has endured.
It has an odd little Lady Chapel which graces the far end, way past the choir and the chancel and King Canute’s tiny coffin which teeters on a wall along with that of other ancient kings.
By chance I have found the chapel, here. Minds from 1500 painted murals on every section of the wall, showing a perspective -a way of viewing life – so entirely different from our own it could be another planet: these pictures are about the Virgin Mary and the superstitious tales concerning her redemption of those loyal to her.
In one, a young man slips a ring on the finger of the Virgin Mary statue for safekeeping: but when he comes to take it off it is stuck, fast.
There is nothing, for it, he resolves: he is betrothed to her, and must run away and become a monk.
In another, a very naughty monk indeed, loose and lascivious, falls to his death from a bridge.
He should, of course, go straight to hell, the scoundrel: but he was loyal to The Virgin, and so just as demons are about to bear his soul to hell Mary catches hold of it and bears it to heaven.
I know, I know. They’re all like that, these crazy-eyed paintings commissioned by a Prior of long ago.
I used to feel,walking around and looking again and again at these oddities, I was being pulled into a vortex. There is nothing enlightening about them. They belong to minds which were groping to make sense of a puzzling world of light and dark and legend and uncertainty.
A few days ago, temporarily and with very little peril, I lost my sight.
Felix, in a moment of exuberance but with a seven-year old’s spatial awareness, shot a jubilant hand up in the air where, coincidentally, my eye was because I was cuddling him at the time. He removed a large chunk of cornea and this is the first day since Wednesday that I can see properly once more.
I stepped back into my own personal Dark Ages. I could not see. So I could not write, or cook, or clean, or teach, or read. All I could do was listen. And that is a foreign land for me indeed.
One of the most striking things I listened to during my confinement was one of HG Wells’ most well-known works: War Of The Worlds.
Oh, yes, I know it well through Orson Wells and broadcasts and films which bear very little relation to the original creation.
But you see, Wells’s story happened in my neck of the woods.
And I never before realised what utter genius lay in its lines: what messages resound from his nineteenth century script for us today.
We all know the story: capsules land just outside Woking in Surrey, and from these come Martians, as superior to us as we are to ants. We represent a food source and they are meticulous, patient hunters and tidy eaters, leaving just skeletons to show they have been.
Humanity, it seems, is doomed, to exist from now on as a farmed food source; and the professor-narrator is one of the last to survive as the Martians extend across London.
This is a fiction. But Wells uses the story to show mankind under the duress of any disaster.
All civilisation is taken away, everything which was so certain is utterly vanished. These creatures have already reached the Natural History Museum, although not yet the British Library. A new Dark Age has arrived: a perspective from another world entirely.
We watch what happens to religion: a curate goes mad, whispering his desperation just after the attack and graduating, over the next days, to shouting it, so that he attracts the hunters and his doom.
And what becomes of the military? We meet a humble soldier who talks sense: the old order is over, he says, we must go underground and preserve the race: but it’s all words. His actions cannot hope to keep pace with the mantras he speaks to comfort himself.
Of course, it is a common cold which saves the human race. And more quickly than one might imagine, the survivors have shops opening and trains running. The first paper to reach publication once more is the Daily Mail, although it’s full of ranting rubbish. Plus ca change.
We see it as fixed, this perspective of ours. The way we look at the world is a comfortable certainty.
Our mediaeval forebears show us, though, that perspective is transitional. It’s not a fixed target, but a moving one. That’s easy to track when one looks back 500 years; but it takes the work of a man like Wells to remind us that our perspective can change.
It can change in the blink of an eye.