I've just been to see Marley & Me, the best-selling book turned film, and I bawled like a little girl.
I'd seen the book in stores before, and even the cover bought a lump to my throat. You see - animals make me cry. More particularly, the thought of something nasty happening to an animal, be it human mistreatment, or a painful death. Just by looking at the picture of the adorable, big-eared puppy on the cover, I knew the pages contained bittersweet memories by the author - ones that would reduce me to tears eventually and the mortality of my own beautiful dogs.
I did not buy the book at that time.
Then last year, for my birthday, I received a copy of the book from my friend Suki in London. Knowing what a soppy git I am for animals, she'd seen the book and instinctively knew I'd love it. Even then, it sat on my shelf for about 2 months before I picked it up. Not because I didn't have time to read it, but I dreaded the sadness within.
I grew up with a big sooky labrador called Scott. I learned to walk by hanging on to his coat, tottering along at his side. Many of the stories that my mother tells me of my early years are related to Scott. I adored him. I would swap his Boneo's for my biscuits (probably the reason I've never had a broken bone in my life), sleep in his dog bed with him, share my food and chase him round the garden. At night he slept in my room, guarding me from any danger. I have no doubt that when it came to me and my mother he would have given his life to protect us.
Now I have two labs of my own, and they are the light and joy of my life. It's scientifically proven that hanging out with your pets reduces blood pressure and stress levels. They are with us for such a short time, and I go to great lengths to make sure my dogs are protected from harm, eat healthily and get regular vet visits to maintain their health and well-being. The thought of losing them, even to old age, is the cross a dog-owner bears when they go to choose their new puppy. But dogs live life to the fullest - it's their very nature - and no dog does it better than a lab.
So Marley & Me sat on my shelf, something I desperately wanted to read but was too scared to because it would remind me of the vulnerability of my own labradors. Now I know what people mean when they have to give up some of their favourite authors when they become parents. Curiousity eventually won out and I immersed myself in the world of John Grogan. Any dog owner, and for that matter any parent, will be able to relate. The book is really about Grogan and his development from early marital bliss to career choices and raising a family - and the hardships and joy the experience brings. The bond between Jenny, Grogan and Marley during their shared experiences is beautifully touching.
Then Marley gets old, and sick. The lump in my throat rose as I read the pages, tears springing to my eyes as Grogan says goodbye to his faithful friend. The book made me feel exactly the way I thought it would - but well worth the read nevertheless. Grogan captures the moment of losing his devoted friend so poignantly that the reader lives his personal pain. Marley dies nobly, loved by the family who were wholly devoted to him. A few months later I found out a film was in development.
Reading the bloody book was hard enough. Now it was going to be on film! I read about the cast and got excited, and then I saw the trailer - a beautiful puppy running along a beach with Wilson and Aniston in hot pursuit. I'd been in that position that very morning, chasing my dogs across a field, yelling ineffectively at the top of my lungs. This film was my life (obviously, I am exactly like Jennifer Aniston). I knew the painful experience would have to be repeated all over again, this time in front of a roomful of strangers.
I went on my own. Everyone I know had already seen it. They'd come back saying that it was a wonderful film (currently one of the highest grossing movies) but that everyone had left the cinema in floods of tears. I didn't cry at Titanic, but the death of anything cute and furry can reduce me to a blubbing mess. Not the tough girl image I try to cultivate. So I went armed: dark glasses and to a daytime showing on a sunny day when I hoped it would be quiet. Unfortunately it was full of other women with the same idea. I hid some Kleenex in my bag. I got those out the minute Marley was unable to climb the front steps to the Grogan house.
I loved the film as I had loved the book. Director Frankel had stayed true to the story and the spirit of the book is alive and well in the movie (how few movies can say that?). The tears reminded me how much I should appreciate my dogs before they bound off (off-leash) to that big dog beach in the sky, and I will be ever grateful to John Grogan for that.
To paths less trodden...
As I embark on my journey I'd like to thank everyone for their continued support, your excitement for me as I start a new era in my life, and the gift of your friendship. I'm as excited as a kid at Xmas who has just spotted the big bike-shaped present under the tree! Given the past year, I'm sure I may encounter the odd natural disaster. There'll be drinking, dancing, extreme sports, and possibly even a little romance in amongst treading paths both touristic and off-the-beaten track. I plan on patting every mangy critter I encounter between here and Timbuktu, probably at the expense of my travel partner's sanity and my poor mother's health (Caro, you've had your rabies shots!) I want to climb, swim, fly, trek, ride, meander, ski, dive and raft. I'll probably laugh, cry, get sick, get better, wonder, cringe, be baffled, be awed, be repulsed and be bitten by something (no doubt). Temples, mountains, rivers, deserts, beaches, palaces, canyons, meadows, plains and city streets shall all be trampled by my teeny-tiny hiking-boot encased foot.
I hope you enjoy following me around the world. You know it's not going to be boring.