You heard it here first: swimming with dogs is the new Swimming With Dolphins. Well, you know what it’s like these days. People go swimming or running or whatever, as they have done for millenia, and suddenly it’s Wild Swimming and Wild Running and there are books and websites and hundreds of people converging on secret beauty spots and ruining everything.
Not that Hector gives a toss. There were twenty dogs sploshing around in Hampstead Ponds last time we went to London and Hector picked up an ear infection that cost me fifty quids in anti-biotic ear drops from the vets but I’m sure he thought it was worth it.
For months, when he was younger, all he dared to do was paddle, but he soon got into his stride and the first time I noticed that he was actually swimming it brought a lump to my throat. I was so proud of him, I was like a parent at a sports day; “Come on, Hector, you can do it”, as he struggled across The Asker with a jumbo-sized log in his mouth.
Doggy-paddle is such an effortfull and inefficient stroke that any man or beast who’s doing it looks as if they are swimming for their lives against a strong tide, whether they are or not. And there is something so touchingly earnest and determined about a swimming dog.
Hector, with his long head and his sleek wet slick-back hair, looks like a seal when he is swimming. Breathing through his nose he makes this soft puff-puffing sound. When his feet find a solid bank again he wags his tail, sweeping it across the surface of the water, slapping at it like a newly landed fish. And when he shakes the water off it’s like a Mexican wave rippling through his body from head to tail, leaving him sprightly with joy. I could watch him doing it all day.
‘Watch’ being the operative word until this week. Due to climate, temperature and time of year, I have been reluctantly confined to the banks and shores in a stick-throwing capacity.
There is quite an art to stick-throwing. A stick that is too short, thin, or light will not go far enough. It will also fail to make enough of an alerting splash so Hector ends up dipping his head under the water cormorant-style or swimming in circles looking for it, frantic and inconsolable, like someone who has failed to save a drowning child. If it is too long or fat or heavy, however, there’s the risk of clonking him on the head with it as he follows its trajectory towards the expected point of entry.
A two stick policy is also essential if you are to avoid your dog dancing tauntingly around you while you shout at him; “for Christ’s sakes, how can I throw the bloody stick for you if you won’t drop it first, you stupid animal?” (It is at times like these that I question my fond assumptions about Hector’s intellectual genius).
I was warned off swimming with him. “No!”, people said, “he will lacerate your bare flesh with his claws”. But for the last week we have been swimming every morning at Eype beach and we have only had one minor Incident. I was swimming with Rose, and as she was basking on her back with the toes of her Crocks pointing skywards, Hector (understandably) mistook her footwear for two of those indestructible rubber dog-toys, Kongs, and I had to emit a loud “Jaws!” cry to save her feet from being Retrieved.
But generally, in the sea, Hector has turned out to be the perfect gentledog. With the extra buoyancy of salt, there is no need for furious paddling and he glides serenely up and down the bay, weaving circles and figures of eight around me, keeping a respectful distance.
This morning there was no-one else around. The sea was very still. The sky a cornflower blue. No sound except the wheeling birds and nothing but dear Hector’s head between me and the far horizon. Puff puff puff, we went…
So. You can forget the toy boys, face-lifts, trekking in Nepal: swimming with dogs is my Rejuve de Jour. I feel like a nine year old again. If the summer continues like this I may get back to three, two, one. And then what? Puff. I will disappear completely, merged, at one with the primordial soup – or ‘The Drink’ as my father used to call it…
Hang on! I think I have hit upon some great new insight into my addictive personality. Crikey! Yes, I remember; as a child I used to want to drink the whole sea. It was like a painfully intense thirst… for Everything. A kind of homesick feeling for the future.
Well, well. This is something to meditate upon as I’m crawling out towards the shores of my second childhood. How glad I am that Hector is doggy-paddling along.