I’ve never been completely sure where I stand with Danni. Sometimes she seems a bit scatty, always rushing here and there, never concentrating on one thing for long before moving onto the next. The OTHERS say she’s very loyal, and I would have to agree; her head is rarely turned by the frequent distractions that seem to tempt the rest of us. I suppose you might call her a homely girl, she always looks contented, but I’ve never really got to know her very well. Except there’s something about her I can’t put a finger on. Maybe it’s because I’ve known what it’s like to be different.
She spends a lot of time with Dune, who seems to be infatuated with her. One minute they can be larking around and it all seems very innocent, but moods can change so quickly and before you know it they are at each other’s throats. Sometimes they can get quite vicious and the others get upset, but the two of them always seem to be able to make up once things have calmed down. The rest of us try not to get drawn in, I suppose we know when things are getting tense between them. Now and again Dune will try it on with me. I get the impression it’s only ever a big game with her, though, because whenever I respond she just holds her head aloft and turns away indifferently as if to say, actually, you’re not really good enough for me.
Although I could never say it, I’ve always felt more comfortable with Deli. We’re closer in age for a start and you might say we share a similar laid-back attitude to life. She rarely makes a fuss about anything. I’ve also known her a lot longer and would like to think I understand her – moods and all! Sometimes she seems pleased to see us and likes to be at the centre of things. The OTHERS fawn over her and she just sits there serenely, lapping it up. But another time, just like a diva, she’ll hold back and sulk as if she’d rather be off doing her own thing.
Like me she can probably remember the times when we were all equal, free spirits every one of us. Unbridled, none of us felt we had to hold back in those days. We’d all be out having a great time and I’d look across to her and notice she’d become subdued for no apparent reason. She’d glance momentarily back at me and my eyes would tell her I understood. Before long she’d slip quietly away into the shadows. Sometimes the OTHERS didn’t even notice until she was out of sight and then THEY’d get agitated and we’d all have to go after her and encourage her to come back and join in. She’d never say why and none of us would ever ask but I think we realised sometimes she’d just had enough and wanted to go home. In the end, the OTHERS got a bit fed up and so nowadays THEY rarely give her the chance to disappear when the mood takes her. Hell, THEY don’t even let me sneak off anymore.
Those were the days, when I would regularly see my old mate Sherbert. I could get away with being a bit more of a lad when he was around and no-one seemed to notice when we sloped off and shot the breeze together or just hid from the OTHERS and watched THEM trying to find us. Now, at least there’s Barry, I guess, so I no longer feel like the odd one out. But he is still very young and naive. He has a lot to learn and I think it will be a while before we’re likely to be buddies. He also seems to be far too interested in the fairer sex to even notice me. Oh, the joys of youth!
Then of course there’s Shrida whom I’ve admired from a distance since she tottered noisily onto the scene a few years ago. She’s a real beauty, with her exotic name - far too young and lively for me but there’s no harm in looking. I love the way she’s so full of fun and always doing whacky things. She’s a real collector, always picking things up and trying to carry so many of them home. She can be quite unpredictable though. Just when we think she’s contented to be around us, given half a chance she’ll head off on a total bender and not be seen for hours. The OTHERS used to fret and worry that something had happened to her but now THEY try to stop her, saying it’s for her own good. We didn’t used to mind too much. We came to realise it was something she just needed to do. She’d come back when she was good and ready. And when she would finally put in an appearance none of us ever had to ask where she’d been. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to go off the rails occasionally myself, but that staunchly independent side of her put Shrida way out of my league. At least the OTHERS seem pleased that as she’s got older she seems happy to tow the line.
Lastly there’s Della. We first met over three years ago and although at first she was coy, our friendship has blossomed over time. We’re just good friends, you’ll understand – there’s never anything more than that between any of us... in any case we couldn't if we wanted to, if you get my drift. But Della’s the only one I’ve ever invited to stay over, separate beds of course. I felt so proud when I showed her around the house and garden. I think she loved what I’d done with the old place. That was such a happy day but I can’t help feeling since then things have changed. I suppose it may be because I’ve been obliged to take in a lodger. I didn’t want to, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Now it just feels like I’m sharing everything with Yugo. He’s become a bit too comfortable in my favourite armchair if you ask me... and he isn't even a beagle! They say we’re like an episode of The Odd Couple, but I think it’s more like Upstairs, Downstairs. One of these days I’ll show him who the boss is around here.
Huh? What’s my name? Oh, THEY call me Baxter but that’s not my real name. What was that? You’ll give me a biscuit if I tell you what it is. Now we’re talking. I’ll have to be quick though. Why don’t you just drop the packet? Sorry, I’m going to have to go now. I might still be able to get into the woods before SHE catches me and puts that damn lead back on my collar.
With thanks to Annie, Moon, Ellie, Herbert, Frida, Harry, Ella, Hugo and, of course, Baxter... at least that's what WE called them!
Thanks also to the OTHERS: Monica, Ruth, Martin, Graham, Jane, Jim, David, Ali and Helen.
In the header photo (left to right): Ella, Annie & Moon