October 5, 2009

Ross Eldridge

—Photo courtesy Ross Eldridge


Forty years ago, I did my first dog-sit at an old home in Bermuda called Waterville. My friend MEM, named for her initials, and her husband Mike lived in an apartment there and were off to the Azores looking at property. They wanted someone to feed and walk their golden retriever.

Brandy was a lovely dog. He'd appeared at MEM's door, a stray, and attempts to locate his owners had not succeeded. Mike and MEM had a cat, Charlie Marmalade, who died not long after they adopted Brandy. Charlie was buried in a pet cemetery on the Waterville grounds.

Built in the 1700s, Waterville backs onto the harbour and was one of the grand homes of the Trimingham Family. The living quarters were upstairs and the ground floor had been warehouse space. The Triminghams had a centuries-old emporium in Bermuda, a famous place selling high-quality goods, but the business went broke a few years ago and their Front Street shop has been pulled down.

In 1969, Miss Elsie Gosling, the retired Head Librarian, lived on the upper floor of Waterville surrounded by family portraits. Her mother had been a Trimingham. The ground floor was divided into the large apartment where MEM and Mike lived (where the American author James Thurber had stayed regularly at one time) and an office of the Bermuda National Trust, which had taken over the property. When Elsie Gosling passed on, the Trust moved into the upper floor, and they are there now.

On the grounds of Waterville, back in the 1800s, a lawn tennis court had been laid out. The court was still there in 1969, though it was no longer used. The turf in Bermuda is locally called crab grass and it is rough and thick. I imagine the court was nowhere near as fast as the grass courts at Wimbledon.

Although I don't play tennis, I decided to buy the equipment to play badminton. With friends I would set up the net on Waterville's old lawn tennis court, and we'd knock a shuttlecock about in the evening and on weekends if I wasn't working overtime. I had sufficient hand-eye coordination 40 years ago to make a bit of a game of it. Frankly, more fun was the challenge of keeping the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible.

I continued my pet-sitting for years. I spent summers and Christmases at Waterville with Brandy and was sometimes joined by friends. James Thurber's ghost never visited. Finally, MEM and Mike retired and left Bermuda, not for the Azores, but for British Columbia. Brandy followed Charlie Marmalade to the Waterville pet cemetery.

Over a decade ago the National Trust turned Waterville's grass tennis court into a rose garden and placed a sculpture in the center. The huge tamarind tree that had shaded one end of the court for a hundred years partially collapsed and was cut down.

I was last at Waterville about five years ago. I ate sandwiches with a friend in the pagoda and told him about Brandy and Charlie Marmalade. As we walked through the overgrown rose garden, my friend was amazed to hear that, once upon a time, I'd lain on a tennis court there, shaded by a very tall and broad tree that is no more.


Ross Eldridge lives in a tiny North Sea town on the coast of England near the Scottish border. He reads a good deal, has a go at photography, and researches family history. Ross has written a weekly newspaper column, but is now content to blog. His blog is called Barking Mad in Amble by the Sea, and it is dedicated primarily to his little dog, Cailean.

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