Hector is one year old and his birthday passed without ceremony. No, I did not bake him a lamb and chicken-liver birthday cake with an oxo-cube frosting and a tripe stick for a ‘candle’. No, I did not take him shopping in Animal House in South Street with my credit card. I didn’t even get him a bone. And for reasons mostly pertaining to the August traffic, we missed the birthday gathering of his litter, hosted by his breeder, Jazz, for a celebratory walkies in the New Forest.
Hector’s Uncle Murphy was there, and his sister Lexy, his brothers Buster and Samuel, and a cousin Tony (or was that the owner?), Jacob, Miriam. Apparently they all ran up to each other without a single stand-off and started licking each others ears – ah! – before the cow-pat rolling that stood in for musical chairs. Oh, how I wished we had been there.
Actually, Hector was suffering from a mysterious bout of fish-breath that day, so I couldn’t have privately celebrated his superiority to his siblings to the extent that I had competitively imagined that I might. We stayed in. I did sing Happy Birthday to him. And I went through all his puppy photos and marveled at how he has grown and how inseparably devoted we have become.
When I was in my twenties I had a vague premonition that my love life would follow the trajectory of Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd, and that after the dashing unfaithful bastard and the stiff-necked father figure and all manner of difficulties, shenanigans and heartbreak, I would end up with Alan Bates, Best Friends Reunited, cosy by the fireside, going, “me fer thee and thee fer me” and all that. Little did I know that my Gabriel Oak would turn out to be a Hector.
I am not alone. Most mornings, on the dog-path, a group of us gather at the crossroads by the bridge; Celia and her dogs Patsy and Floyd (once owned by his namesake the great chef himself), and Ivy with her rescue dog Chance (‘we gave him a chance and took a chance on him’), and Carol with Chewbacca (Chewy) and her new puppy Yoda, Helen, our esteemed professional dog walker with her own dog Freddie, and more, converging from each corner of Askers Meadow like the chorus in a musical or a gaggle of Spanish women meeting to do their laundry at the town fountain. Some are widowed, most are single and we gabble on about the weather and our ailments, united by little but our attachment to the dogs who are milling around patiently by our feet. Man’s best friend? Oh yes, but these days, if we’re anything to go by, they are mostly Women’s.
Hector is indeed the best friend I have ever had. I don’t waste mental space and time on persistent and ungracious speculations about whether he is suffering from an undiagnosed personality disorder. He doesn’t gossip about my disorders with the other dogs. I can tell him to bugger off without hurting or offending him. Or I can tell him he’s “the boofest of boofs” without him feigning gagging noises and saying “pass the sick bag”. In other words, we love each other without any of the tribulations and disappointments of human friendships.
But I am getting a little bored of writing about us now. What’s new? Stop Press! Breaking News! He cocked his leg on a bucket full of flowers in Mum’s utility room. He’s started scavenging from the kitchen rubbish bin. Last week I wacked him on the nose for chasing chickens. When the doorbell rings, or even when I sneeze, he jumps on top of me as if to shield my body with his own – “Don’t worry, Mr. Mannering, I’ve got you covered…”
But apart from that it’s ‘same old same old’; every morning at precisely 7.30 Hector stands beside the bed and stares at me and I stare studiedly into the middle distance until he wins. Every evening at precisely 7.30 Hector stands in front of me with the orange frisbee in his mouth and stares at me until he wins. And in between those brackets of the day…
You see? The time has come, I think, to gracefully bow-wow out. And I don’t like endings so without a ceremony I will say it: this is the end of the log of the first year of the dog orginally named Milo Justice Junior, better known as Hector, sired by Longcopse Bertie, born to Regorlian Galaxy on the 17th of August 2013 and living happily ever after in the town of Bridport with his grateful owner Gill.