The Elfin Diary was begun in 1990 by Caroline Heaney; she named it after her beloved Afghan hound, Elfin. Elfin was the third Afghan hound Caroline had owned – she had a lifelong love of the breed.
For over a dozen years, I helped her in putting the Elfin Diary together. Sometimes awkward and cantankerous, she was nevertheless a loyal and generous friend who was full of life and radiated optimism. We had plenty of ups and downs – she demanded perfection and for one two-year period, I ‘downed tools’ in frustration and refused to have anything more to do with the Diary – but we always remained on good terms. I carried on looking after the website; when she asked me in 2010 to come back and do the 2012 Diary for her, I had no hesitation in accepting.
In 2009, she had suddenly developed a severe form of aplastic anaemia – her bone marrow stopped making white blood cells. The only treatment was weekly transfusions of genetically engineered blood cells. Lacking a functioning immune system, she had to put herself in quarantine when at home; her beloved Afghan hound Isis was dispatched to live with a friend, she had to give up her gardening, only a limited number of friends could visit. Her only outings were to hospital. But she managed to carry on with the Diary. However, she knew her time was limited. At least twice she asked me if I wanted to take over the Elfin Diary completely, even offering me starting capital. I refused – I simply could not believe that this strong character, with her love of life could ever give up on life.
In the spring of 2011, she caught pneumonia; the best medical efforts failed to stop it and she eventually declined into a coma. In May she made her last phone call to me; she told me simply and plainly that she was dying and that she wanted me to take over the Elfin Diary. She died peacefully, surrounded by friends, on June 10th.
Read tributes from her friends
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In retrospect, I really should have taken up Caroline’s offer – it would have saved a lot of trouble.
I went to her house before the funeral; armed with memory sticks, recordable DVDs and a vehicle with plenty of space, I was expecting to be able to take away all of Caroline’s Elfin Diary paperwork and copy the relevant files off her computer. Instead, I was hurried through the house, more or less forbidden to touch anything and handed a few bits of paper and three boxes of addressed envelopes. This was Caroline’s customer list – she apparently didn’t keep a computerised list (or so I was told). I was also allowed to take away a small photo of her – the only photo I now have.
I asked about taking files from her computer – no, I was told, that would be done by somebody else and they would be sent to me. Over a month later, when I enquired about the files, I was told that the task had proved too difficult; I later learned that the computer had been given away.
So, all I had to start up a whole new business with was the boxes of addressed envelopes, some 200 email addresses of customers that I had extracted from the website shop database – and of course the 2012 Diary itself, which I had almost finished putting together.
I did what I could to tell all of Caroline’s hundreds of customers about her passing. But I was unable to contact more than a fraction of them. Even now, in late October (2011), I am still getting letters and emails asking after Caroline’s health.
And A Beginning…
But, here I am. I have got the Elfin Diary up and running. I have received dozens and dozens of lovely messages from her customers and friends, heartening me and making me more determined than ever to keep the Elfin Diary going, as she would have wished. She left a lot of good karma behind, which I am now reaping.
The symbol I chose for the cover of the 2012 Diary may not be immediately clear. It’s a phoenix – the only possible symbol now for the new, renewed Elfin Diary.
Here’s to you, Caro – my difficult, demanding, wonderful, sun-bright friend.
— Val Dobson