Teen Spirit

When I was on the cusp of adolescence I had a rare row with my Mum. My then dog Conker had dug up the onions or something. I was defending him. The heated ‘words’ that were exchanged included “come here”, and I ran off. I headed for the open fields. She chased me. Oh, the sheer exhilaration of realising that I could outrun her, that she couldn’t catch me.

So, it is with a wistful sense of identification that I stand, these days, blowing impotently on my Acme whistle while Hector bounds off into the distance with a newly defiant fuck-you spring in his step. At nearly seven months old Hector is officially a teenager.

Luckily, since he’s not political or idealistic or full of oestrogen, he will not be flying out of the dining room in tears, shouting, “anyone who owns a house with more than two bedrooms is OBSCENE”, as I did.

Luckily, since he is not a 21st century boy-child, I will not have to watch him in front of the mirror poking at a non-existent midriff, wailing, “Look! I am fat, Mum”. Or hold his friend’s heads while they vomit fruity smelling alco-pops into the flowerpots. Or fight a losing battle over Thank-you letters. Or…

So, what have we got to look forward to? “Adolescence is a selfish time”, the puppy manual says, and “you will feel like a failure”. “It will seem as though he has forgotten everything you have taught him” and “what you want will be much less important to him”.

death dread 002Yup! It has begun. We have had one unaccustomed pissing indoors incident. We have a new but ongoing table-chewing situation. In the evenings he is literally bouncing off the walls, careering round and round the living room like a cage-motorcyclist in a fairground. If I didn’t know better I’d think he had chewed up a months supply of Berocca.table chewing 001

He has developed Attitude too. When I call him, he dawdles in a brazenly ‘I’ll come when I’m ready’ kind of way. I swear, sometime’s he’s laughing at me. (Maybe that is the disconcerting effect of the new mountain range of scary white pointy teeth). And these days, even when I’m proffering two cupped handfuls of FOOD, it’s clear that every leaf, post, stick and bottom is a great deal more interesting than me.

It’s a funny feeling; sort of vaguely wounded but irritated too. I used to feel much the same way when I had cooked a vast vat of pasta and the kids just whistled through one door and out the other like a through-draught, shouting “not hungry” or “eating at Matt’s” and I’d be left standing there, forlornly holding up the serving spoon like a conductor in front of an empty orchestra pit.

How long is it going to last? Six months at least, the books say. But the old ladies on the path just laugh at that and tell me, “wait until he’s eighteen months and he’s got the muscle power as well”. And some say five or even seven years, which, if true, will mean that, like me, he will segue from an extended adolescence straight into retirement.

At least when this stage is over he will remain at my fireside, chewing my pipe and eating my slippers, and not jetting off to countries where they de-capitate people, or The Future, with barely a backward glance.

In the meantime, Spring has sprung – Hooray! Perhaps that’s all that has got into him. I must say, I am feeling ready for a bit of digging up the garden too. And what is that I hear? Ah yes, it’s the song of the other mud-crusted dog-warblers trilling, “Come here, come here now, come here now or else I’ll…” Somehow I think this promises to be an energetic summer…

Our Daily Dread

Hector’s not a free dog: he has a number. Well, I imagine it’s a number, something like MWXv85@2zzzzz. And it has been sewn under his skin, apparently, etched on a grain of rice. Surely they must have meant, ‘something the size of a grain of rice’? Whatever. I may not want this image etched on even the smallest grain of my imagination but I’m very glad that Hector has been micro-chipped because I’m very frightened of losing him.

I did lose Chen. Once he wandered off on Hampstead Heath and found his own way back to Paddington on a freezing snowy winters night. But then one day he didn’t make it home. I rang every police station in London. I put posters up on lamp-posts. I went to look for him in Battersea Dogs’ Home every Sunday for three months. It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. And if you are allergic to black humour, skip the next paragraph.

We think that Chen was made into a coat. There were gangs, we found out, coming down from Manchester with vans to steal good-looking dogs. ‘Korean Wolf-skin’ coats were appearing, coincidentally, on the stalls of Northern street markets. And what made it so darkly ironic was that one of the little step-sons always used to say, “when Chen dies I want him made into a pyjama case so I can have him on my pillow all day long”. It was not to be.

Last Saturday, on our market, I bumped into Simon who also has a puppy called Hector (Grrrh!) and we commiserated about the terrible fears we had for our dogs. Simon reckons he is suffering from some kind of Munchausen-by-Proxy Syndrome, projecting his own hypochondria onto his Hector, rushing off to the vets with the slightest worrying symptom.

We had a real “Ooh, I know” conversation. Alabama Foot Rot! God yes, terrifying! Toxic palm oil on the beach! Electronic cigarette cartridges containing fatal doses of nicotine!

I am so scared something is going to happen to Hector that the only time I risked tying him up outside a shop I had to keep going back to the end of the queue – the only place I could see through the window to check up on him – which rather defeated the object so I put down my basket and left without my shopping.death dread 004

I told Simon that as a child, I liked to make myself cry by thinking about my poor dog’s demise. (“Ooh, I know!” said Simon). I still do it. I imagine myself like a human Greyfriars Bobby, moping about the house disconsolately, bursting into racking sobs when I come across his chewed up Squirelly beneath a chair.

Someone said to me recently, about living alone with a pet, “it’s good to have another heart-beat in the house”. What a beautiful way of putting it. But another beating heart is another heart that could stop beating, in a heart-beat… Oh dear, I am welling up again.

This is Preemptive Grief Syndrome, apparently. (Yes, it’s a Syndrome! I’m not just a self-indulgently morbid freak.) But does it work? It didn’t with Chen. I still grieve 29 years on. And anyway, what if the tables are turned? And I go first?

This is the kind of thing that occupies me during attacks of 6am Nameless Dread Syndrome. It adds a poignant twist to my perennial having-a-stroke fantasy; in the ambulance, with a shaking finger, I spell out ‘H.E.C.T.O.R?’ on the palm of the handsome paramedic’s hand. Or else I croak, pathetically, “my dog… who will take care of my dog?”

I’ve worked it out though. Employing The Daily Mail method of risk assessment, I am guessing that I am 100 times more likely to die of being a human being than Hector is to die of being a dog. Does that make sense? No, of course not. Nothing makes sense. And the only thing that is going to put an end to Fear of Death Syndrome is jolly old Death himself. Whoopee!

But guess what? The other day we missed it by a whisker. I forgot to latch Hector’s crate when I nipped across the road to Bad News for the local paper. Screeching of brakes and horns. Hector, in the middle of the road. Irate woman at the wheel of a car. Mad horrified dash back across the road by Culpable Me. More screeching of brakes.

And now I am feeling preternaturally calm. I may, in fact, be paralysed with fear.

Anyway, we are both grounded. Life is a bitch. Death is a dog. And I have decided: if we are both inevitably going to go, we might as well do it pleasantly, together. “Butcher. Two of your largest finest T-bone steaks, please…”

Ms. Dolittle

As a teenager, before I grew a critical faculty, I was unashamedly seduced by that old ham, Anthony Newley, talking to the animals in Dr. Dolittle. I now know that any Irishman whispering anything in my ear could get the animal in me to do anything at all, at all, at all. But ‘dat’s buoy de buoy, me little darlins’ (Stop it, Gill!), the point is that it’s not what you say it’s the way that you say it.

When we had our old dog Chen we used to amuse ourselves saying “good boy” in a “bad boy” voice and then the reverse, which probably made a knitted dishcloth of his neural pathways, but it proved the point. He’d roll over on his back in ecstasy as we rubbed his tummy, crooning, “you’re a naughty boy, Chen” in a loving and caressing tone.

It’s got to the point with Hector that I hardly use real words at all. For instance, he has this deviant habit of immediately taking over my spot on the sofa whenever I get up to make a cup of tea. I used to make a big Goldilocks type play of it when I got back. “Excuse me! Is someone sitting in my place?” Now, all I have to do is put my hands on my hips and utter one of my expanding repertoire of noises and he shuffles along.

What's she on about now?

What’s she on about now?

on the sofa 004

Body language obviously plays a big part. In fact, the art of dog-speak requires an operatically exaggerated level of vocal and physical performance. At the moment I am teaching Hector to catch things in mid-air. It’s a kind of keep-him-happy-during-Coronation-Street thing. And I behave like a one-woman football crowd. When he catches the ball I jump up out of my seat, I punch the air, I shout yay, whoop, and wave my arms about. And if he drops it I can do that huge collective wail of disappointment too. Words, schmurds, who needs ’em?

There is the universal language of disgust as well. “Uggh!”, “Blearghh!” and “Arrgh!” are particularly useful for either expressing dismay at something he has already done or warning him off doing something in the first place.

Not to mention “Grretonowdavit”, for really extreme situations. This ‘word’ was invented by my father (yours too?) when my sisters and I used to be so bold as to knock on the bathroom door when he was in there. It is a sound that seems to emanate from the very bowels of the earth. And it’s effective meaning – “Scarper. Now. Or else you’re for it” – does no justice to it’s primal power as an utterance.

But Hector is way ahead of me in this game. In the mornings I take a cafetiere and my iPad back to bed to read the papers online. After about half an hour, Hector always does this massive noisy “have you forgotton walkies” yawn. And I like to play along; “Hmm. I wonder what the time is? Could it be… no… is it? Yes, I think it is the time for wa..”

What I had not realised is that prior to this performance I, apparently, draw in a long preparatory oratorical breath. I know it now because, yesterday, I began to inhale and he was off the bed, down the stairs and sitting by the back door before I could even say, “Hmm”. Talk about finishing my sentences for me! We are practically the same being.

And whereas even a month ago I might have used partially intelligible sentences like, “what are you up to now, you silly doggit”, now I find myself just going, “waddawaddawaddawadda”. It’s become a fully-fledged private language, a seamless incantatory riff of endearment and expletive and I hardly draw breath all day long.

I think I should be studied by a feminist linguistic theorist. For 85% of every day, I am alone (except for Hector). This means that I am free; from observation, convention, polite social self-editing and a great deal more inhibitory nonsense. And I really don’t believe that I have regressed into an infantile pre-verbal babbling gaga-dom. I think I have advanced; into a post-verbally expressive state of flowing female purity and bliss.

OK. It’s been a long hard winter. I might be going just a tiny bit stir-crazy. But Hector knows what I am on about. Don’t you, Hector, you snuffleooffleawfuloffalus…

Reverting To Type

On our morning walkies we keep passing a guy who once sold me a dangerously dodgy car. I have been blanking him for so many years that when I first saw him on the doggy path, I thought, with curiously twisted logic, that he wouldn’t recognise me. I probably would have continued to ignore him but for the fact that he also has a black labrador. So now I say “Good morning” and sometimes even, “river’s very swollen, isn’t it”.

Coincidentally, the only other person I have ever blanked in Bridport or anywhere else is also on that doggy path and I have started to say good morning to her too. Dog ownership is making me positively Pollyannarish. But being nicer to people I dislike is not helping in my search for dog-related people I can write about without worrying if it is going to piss them off.

Guess Huw (and no, this isn't Hector, it's his double, Darcy)

Guess Huw? (and no, this isn’t Hector, it’s his double, Darcy)

The reason I am thinking along these lines is that Huw says I could put more characters in my blog. When I started out, my Mum enquired -somewhat disingenuously, I thought – if I asked peoples’ permission before writing about them. I managed to fudge a defensive answer, (“well I hope they’ll be flattered!”) whilst privately thinking, “I am a journalist, Mother. Am I going to go, ‘Oh, Mr. Dictator, would you mind terribly if I wrote about your torture chamber?’ No.”

It is tricky all the same. I could write volumes about the characters in this town – if I was fearless and ruthless and imminently moving to a different country. As it is, applying the six degrees of separation theory, I have, in the space of three paragraphs, potentially offended the loyalties of about 50 people and I haven’t even mentioned any names.

Which is why I have been trying to think in terms of ‘types’ instead. There’s The Outsider, for example. This person (OK. Man) has a rescue cur with a name like Kafka. He is a misfit; wounded, haunted, hard-done-by, probably a frustrated artist with very low self’esteem which is why he has bought a best friend even needier and more woebegone than himself. His dog is thin, grey and shivery, with eyes like a child in an NSPCC advert. He (man) has a van, and seeks out places with a lot of bracken where he can contemplate injustice in the world (and personal slights) while Kafka (Karma, Castro, Cohen) makes up for lost time running in the wild.

And I’ve pretty much made him up, of course, from a combination of one of my many alter egos, elements of the kind of wastrel I am attracted to/repelled by, plus a little bit of objective observation; by which means I hope I have created someone who is both recognisable and unidentifiable at the same time. I am exhausted. (No wonder I never finished that novel!)

So, back to reality. There is one old lady on the doggy path who is both a character and a type. Her dog is very ugly and aggressive. When he snarls at Hector she says, “Ahh! Look! They really like each other don’t they.” When he snatches at my pockets with his yellowing fangs, she says, “Ahh! He knows you’ve got a little treat for him in there”. And I’m not a bit bothered that she will be alerted to this portrait because she is so lost in her dotty, sentimental and deluded adoration of her hound that she would not recognise herself or him.

She could be me, of course, in another few years. (Except for the fact that Hector is beautiful and not in the least aggressive). I have heard that same warmly indulgent ‘what’s a girl to do?’ tone in my voice when Hector has planted his great muddy paws on someone’s newly dry-cleaned trousers. “Sorree, he is just a puppy”.

Oh well. There we have it. There is really only one type of dog owner; the type who cannot credit the fact that nobody likes their dog as much as they do.

Can I go back to writing about myself now, please? Because, you understand, it’s not just narcissistic. It is self-protective too. (And I did ask Huw’s permission for his picture…)

Achilles Heel

I hate, I absolutely hate heel-training Hector. Everything else has been a doddle: Wait, Leave, Sit, Fetch, Drop, Stay, This Is My Breakfast Not Yours So Go And Lie Down In Your Bed. I say it, he does it. (Well, you know, after I have said it three of four times.) But “heel” is my weakness, my downfall as a credible trainer of my dog. Every day is Groundhog Day; back to square one at the start of every walk.

I’ve got to get it sorted. Hector already weighs 20 kilos. He is very, very strong. If he were to take off after something with me on the end of the lead I would not be able to restrain him. Picture the final flourishes of Torvill and Dean’s Bolero performed by Hector and I skating past you on a slick of wet leaf-mould on a pavement through the middle of town and you will see how imperative it is that he learns to submit to this simple (ha!) command. (Especially since I have been boasting about how well we are doing.)

‘Heel’ is a stupid command though. It is impossible to say with any authority. It is, in a word, lame. Why not ‘back’ or something with a nice hard consonant attack? I am sick of saying it, over and over, “heel, HEEL, Hee-Yull”. Sometimes I just growl – “Grrrr”. He knows what that means. And the other day I found myself involuntarily doing this furious little flamenco tantrum stamp (accompanied by a growl) and he backed into position like a terrified courtier.

That’s the worst of it really, the reappearance of this Red Queeny side of my character. I thought I had vanquished her when I banished the last bloke and the children fled into their own lives. But here she is again, alive and kicking up. She has this appalling tone of voice, an unconsciously crafted blend of impatience, frustration, disappointment and sheer menace. And her vocabulary becomes more florid and pompous with every step. “Hector. I categorically will not tolerate this abominable behaviour for one more instant.” That kind of thing. I blame it all on my expensive boarding school education. I was raised by Head-Mistresses. Sometimes I become one.

Hector smells the tension in me too, and consequently will do anything to get away from me. In other words, when I am at the end of my tether, he runs to the end of his. So it’s entirely counterproductive; like screaming “go to sleep!” at the top of your voice to your babies. Stupid. And shameful too.

There is one effective technique I have been using. It feels a bit like being in a car that’s being towed, but, instead, when Hector pulls and the lead goes taut I let it slow me down until I stop completely. When it slackens off again we walk on. This is really very satisfying in a mildly sadistic way. “Ah, you get the message now, eh? You pull, I stop. Simple. Got it? Going NOWHERE if you pull”.

The main drawback of this start/stop approach is that it makes me look as if I’m suffering from some neurological disorder with a symptomatic jerking tic. (The Woman Who Mistook Her Dog For A Husband, perhaps?) I am getting strange looks.

Of course, if I have a handful of food Hector will walk to heel even when he isn’t on the lead. But I’ll have to wean him off food bribery eventually. And, according to Rosemary, the way to do this is to smear your hand with meat paste. Bonkers. Do I really want to be spotted in Bridport behaving like a broken mechanical toy and smelling like a 1950’s picnic lunch? No, I don’t.

So, the upshot is that I’m walking him on the lead less and less. This is much more fun for both of us, but it is, once again, counterproductive in the wider scheme of things.

In the wider scheme, Hector is perfectly trained to behave perfectly in public. I obviously have a profound investment in this because otherwise I would not be getting my knickers in such a twist about it. And, as I have only recently managed to restrain the worst of my own wilder impulses, I am assuming that this is linked to my current need to project an ideal of punishing restraint onto him. Don’t ask me why. My own psychology becomes more puzzling to me the older I get.

At least I now understand something else that has been puzzling me; which is why I never see any of the many dog-owners I know walking in town with their dogs. They’ve got frustrated with the ‘heel’ thing just as I have. I’m guessing this because I do glimpse them flitting through the woods during the ungodly hours when few are around to scrutinise their training achievements. I wish we could join them more often.

Running away from the Red Queen

Running away from the Red Queen

Unfortunately, as I have been perfectly trained (hobbled) myself, I feel duty bound to plod, plod, plod on persevering until we get this right. If you pass me on the street in the next six months you will no doubt hear me hectoring: “One day, when you can demonstrate to me that you have truly understood the meaning of the word ‘heel’, then, and only then, my boy, will we be going for more walkies on the wild side”.

Naturally, I am not letting Hector know how fervently I, too, look forward to that day.

To Do Or Not To Do

That is the question. And the jury is still out. My Dad once said, testily, that I was swayed by the last person I talked to, by the last book I read, and rarely has that been more true than now. I think I have decided. But then again, I haven’t.

When I asked Hector’s breeder if I should have him ‘done’ he winced. “Oh, no, please don’t”, he said. Well, it is his profession to breed beautiful black labradors who might go on to sire more beautiful black labradors. And he is a beautiful young black man so of course he’s going to say that, I thought.

Then I asked Jane. “Oh yes”, she said, “do it. He will love you so much more”. He will, she added, love food more as well. It is hard to imagine how Hector could love me and food more than he does already. But, it swayed me all the same.

So I have been standing outside Good News, my local newsagent and old-fashioned general corner shop to canvass local opinion. Good News was recently ‘done’ and it became a horrible chain ‘convenience store’ which, with routine Bridport genius, is now dubbed Bad News. And opinion has been equally polarised.

I have talked to people who did their dogs and regretted it, and people who didn’t do their dogs and regretted it, and one who gave me a long angry lecture on my social responsibility not to litter the world with any more poor rescue dogs needing homes. (What? Not even progeny with such illustrious ancestry? Go away!)

Google, as usual, was no help. Every opinion under the sun. “They”, for instance, say that dogs who have been done don’t get testicular cancer. This is like saying that you won’t get a brain tumour if we cut your head off. Very helpful.

I asked our venerable trainer, Rosemary. Her advice, unsurprisingly, was the most balanced. Don’t do it, she said, unless they start humping all your visitors, cocking their legs on the furniture, attacking other dogs or otherwise displaying ‘behavioural issues’. OK, I thought, I’ll wait and see.

But my neighbour Erica, whose two dogs, Stig and Tug, are on the lively side if not completely mental, says she did them and it hasn’t made the slightest difference.

It is also beginning to feel like a moral dilemma. The only reasons I can find to do it are selfish. It would be ‘convenient’ not to have him roaming far and wide frothing over les femmes. And it would be heavenly to be loved even more (without being mounted).

But the reasons not to do it are also selfish. And they include not giving any satisfaction and vindication to those ex-lovers who already think I am a selfish and castrating bitch.

To be fair to them, I have already started to say to Hector, even if only in jest, “you’d better be a good boy or it’s going to be the snip for you, miladdio.” Old habits die hard.

So, what’s my gut reaction? What is in my heart? I look at Hector, so big now, so masculine and virile, so beautifully lithe and boyishly lively and I just cannot bear the thought of doing it to him.

But when has my gut or my heart ever led me into anything but trouble?

I have approximately six more months to deliberate. In the meantime, Hector’s balls are hanging in the balance and I shall have to try to grow some. Hamlet, you didn’t know you were born, boy…

The end in question...

The end in question (No, not his tail! ).

Be Here-ish Now

What Is The Meaning Of This?

What Is The Meaning Of This?

When I first got my iPhone I went a bit mad with the apps, as you do, and installed one called Meditation Bells and another one called Insight Timer. The idea was they dinged – or dang – at random intervals throughout the day to remind me to Stop, Look, Listen, Breathe and hang out in The Now. I kept forgetting to set them. Now – hooray, delete, delete – I do not need them. Hector does the trick instead.

I have been meditating for 20 years and recently I graduated myself to the “every moment of my life is a meditation” level which, apart from being irritating to other people (Ho Ho), is obviously a self-serving delusional rationalisation enabling release from the frankly boring business of sitting still for 45 minutes every day. Of course, as a practised meditator, I have learnt to recognise and accept such frailties without judging myself. And then I let them go. Poof! Done. But I still need to be re-minded and Hector leads the way.

Often I will be busying about in my usual speed-of-light way when I will notice Hector suddenly stop whatever he is doing and freeze. He seems to be listening intently; to a footfall in our alleyway, perhaps, a distant bird, or, if I were to be fanciful, to the angelic harmonics of the universe, inaudible to human ears. Anyway, he is, in these moments, Attention personified. So I stop and listen too.

When we go out, his uncomplicated enjoyment of everything he encounters, his absolute ‘hereness’, is infectious. I begin to relax into my stride, my shoulders drop, I take deep breaths, consciously feeling every muscle working. And soon the dull mist of banal mental list-making and bothersome tax returns clears to reveal the morning, the satisfying shape of Bothen Hill, the various shades of the sunrise, (and, this morning, Celia, in mismatched wellies on the wrong feet!) Result!

Dogs, they say, live in the moment all the time. And given the zeitgeisty fashion for Mindfulness these days it may explain why dogs and all things doggy are gathering momentum in the media by the minute. I bet if I started looking on the internet I would unearthe some weird conspiracy theorist type nerd who thinks that aliens are planting more and more dogs in our midst to teach us lessons in compassion, forgiveness, presence and what have you, in preparation for the coming of the Age of Aquarius or something. I will not be a bit surprised if Ekhart Tolle produces ‘A Little Book of Dogs’ by the end of the year.

I have to say, I am not entirely convinced that Hector does live in the present. For a start, he spends at least two hours of every day in an anticipatory fever for the future; that is, half an hour before walkies twice a day when he appears with a lead in his mouth, and half an hour before mealtimes when he sits by the kitchen door wagging his tail hopefully. Not very Zen, if I may say so, Heccy.

Leaving that quibble aside though, The Zeitgeist certainly moves in mysterious ways. I never imagined when I got Hector that I was part of some mass cultural Dogs R Us moment. But it is becoming clear that I am. And it is surprisingly comforting too, now that I am old and alone, to see that I am not, after all, An Individual, as I hoped when I was young, but, happily, swooping about like a starling in formation with a lot of other people of my ilk or generation.

And if people believe that dogs have something to teach us, apart from being loyal footwarmers, I am happy to go along with it. God knows, every guru I ever fancied following has turned out to be clay-footed if not an out-and-out abuser. I might as well follow a muddy dog. Hector has taught me how to put something before myself again. And not before time. Ding! Saved by the bell!

I’m an old dog on the rough road, with a puppy on the path to some kind of enlightenment, I hope.

The Dogs’ Dinner

Not a vegan then...

Not a vegan then…

Lunch actually. With nine humans and three dogs. How civilised. What a joy to be able to take Hector to a regular social occasion. But was it the dogs who lowered the tone or the drink?

Rex – not a dog despite such a doggy name and often called Bryan in any case – has bought an ex-social club in Weymouth complete with crowbarred fag machines, sticky carpets and vile maroon banquettes. It is already half gutted so the dogs had what resembled a huge dark multi-storey car-park to be social in.

Hector, Rhubarb and Colin – a terrier despite his droll human name – had a great time skating on the slimy green algae covered outdoor roof terrace. And, as they played, we did our human thing, talking about iniquitous mini-roundabouts and traffic calming schemes and other pressing matters until Hector was sick (the photo is Before not After), “someone” peed on the floor, the drink kicked in and the tone inevitably descended.

Nico was doing his Sunday Skype with his parents in New York by this point and we hoped they couldn’t hear us. We had got onto The Closet, a new gay club in Weymouth. It was a short step from there to Embarassing Bodies and then, as happens these days, people came rolling out of the closet as secret Daily Mail readers, fattists and lots of other ‘ists’, and by the time the delicious homemade syrup sponge arrived the conversation has turned irreversibly scatalogical.

It was a good thing half the company were dog owners because who else could so enjoy hearing about the time Rhubarb ate so much frozen sheep shit that she sicked up a pile “bigger than her head” all over the gear stick of Rex/Bryan’s van.

Someone said that cow-pats, (Hector’s favourite canapoo), provide ‘good flora’ for a dog’s gut and I owned up to giving Hector Yeo Organic Natural Yoghurt for this purpose. Such hilarity! “How middle class!”. And from there on it was all pooh talk and worse. (How upper class!)

The dogs eventually played themselves out, calmed down and slept. And we all became more and more raucously ‘off the lead’, running out to do our roll-up bonding rituals by the door and wolfing down the cheese and Rex’s homemade apricot pickle.

It was lovely. But I did think, next morning, when I woke up worrying, as usual, ‘did I talk too much? Did anybody notice how greedy I was with the cheese straws and the garlic bread?’, that even with age and confidence, with the relaxed and happy company of friends, there’s always a residue of social anxiety. (Did Colin’s owners, Ross and Radhika, who I had not met before, think Hector was a bully?). And dogs don’t have that.

Dogs are sociable creatures, just like us. But it seems so effortless. Hector will flatten himself, even into a puddle, a hundred yards from some oncoming dogs and, with others, he will stand his ground, instinctively negotiating every subtle position on the sub/dom spectrum. But does he agonise? Does he worry about whether to give one sloppy nibble on the muzzle or the full European two-sider? I am sure he doesn’t. And I don’t suppose he thought twice about whether Colin minded being straddled under a bench.

Mind you, I have been to parties with Rex/Bryan where nobody would have minded being straddled anywhere at all. But that was the drink, yer honour. And that’s the point. We drink to get as levelled and chilled and ‘in the moment’ as dogs. We agonise next morning about whether we behaved like dogs. And the dogs are probably better at socialising than us in the first place, and without a drink!

Thanks to being sick – I think it was excitement and the whole apple I gave him in the car on the way to keep him quiet for a minute and a half – Hector was not sick down Jane’s neck on the journey home, as she graciously pointed out. Saved, mercifully, from another embarassment to fret about.

Sometimes I wish I was a dog. But perhaps some people think I am one. Oh no! Pass the brandy, Bernard…

Stop Press: two poohs found on terrace in the morning. Can’t have been Hector. Can it? I refuse to agonise…

Doing The London Walk

The Metropolis! Ye Olde Stamping Ground. Yes, imagine me in my black Ralph Lauren/Waldemar Hospice coat, my furry black Russian/Mencap hat, my handsomely accessorising black dog. How cool am I? Not! Hector behaved like a complete country bumpkin. I now have rope-lead burns on my left hand. And my black suede boots are ruined because I forgot there was mud in town too and didn’t want to sartorially compromise myself with unsophisticated Wellingtons.

London is like a Disneyland for dogs. I wound down the windows as soon as we hit Hammersmith and Hector’s nose went into overdrive, like Samantha in Bewitched on speed. Imagine: drains, trains, skunk, spunk, fast food, incense, multi-ethnic blood and vomit, a veritable Northern Lights of olfactory explosion.

Not to mention pigeons, en masse, milling about insouciantly and refusing to be chased like the rooks by the River Asker. And drifts of tasty ketchup soaked KFC wrappers in the gutters; and tempting fox shit to roll in all over the garden where we stay.

I lived in London for 24 years and, in a way, nothing much has changed. On Hampstead Heath people are still trying to jog and talk about Freud in the same breath. And good old Kentish Town is still full of people with mental health issues, talking to themselves. But – maybe it’s just me slowing down – London seems to have speeded up. It’s like those films of city nights with whizzing arcs of coloured lights blurring to a frantic jazzy soundtrack. The whole time we were there Hector was like, “Where’s the fire? Where’s the party? Wait for meee…” as zillions of people sped past on all sides. Hence the infuriating failure of all the “Heel” training I have achieved so far and the resulting rope burns from restraining him.

I used to have a dog in London. Some of you may remember Chen The Wonder Dog. He was so street-wise that he used to get all four feet on the road and then, with impressive bum-hovering precision, drop a steaming turd right on the edge of the pavement thus cleverly managing to obey the letter rather than the spirit of the Camden by-laws.

I used to let him out in the morning and he would roam for a couple of hours and then come home, announcing his return with a single “Woof” on the doorstep. I used to cycle all the way to Putney with him galloping along beside me stopping at every red traffic light. When I think of it now it is as shocking as seeing the Michael Gambon character in The Singing Detective smoking in an NHS hospital bed. Chen was practically the only dog on the block and poop bags were unheard of.

And now there are so many dogs! Not just appropriately small box-room-flat sized dogs but Wolfhounds the size of horses and every variation of the fashionable spoodle/cockadoodle/shi’ttypoo/hoodlumdoodle, all dashing around Parliament Hill off the lead. Mayhem!

I got so tense that one time, traversing a zebra crossing with gritted teeth and assuming that Hector was only pulling on the lead behind me because he was gawking like a tourist again, I was alerted by a fellow passer-by with drawling sarcasm saying, “he is trying to have a pee”. The shame! I could just imagine her at a dinner party, “there was this dreadful woman, dragging this poor little puppy along by the neck…”

This time I brought his crate to London so I could have left him and gone off to an art gallery or something. But I just didn’t have the energy for it. And, for once, I am unreservedly glad to be back to the wellies and the straw-chewing and all the other Ooh-Erring business my London friends think I do down here.

Tomorrow, we are going on a Farm Visit to Symondsbury with Hector’s training class. He will learn to ‘Walk-On By’ a lot of horses, cows and sheep. After the London Experience it’s going to be a doddle, even if he does eat the cow-pats.

PS. I couldn’t take a nice pic of him posing on Waterloo Bridge because my iPhone ran out of memory so here is another one of him at home again jiggety jig.after xmas 015

Counting The Ways I Love Thee

Sorry, this seat is taken

Sorry, this seat is taken

The boys call Hector “Mum’s new boyfriend”. Leaving aside the grosser implications of this kind of teasing, and without getting soppy about it, it is true. I love him. And it’s no different from loving a human being, albeit a mute with some disgusting habits to which I am immune.

Firstly, the phase of idealisation is firmly in place. I think Hector is a genius. When Mozart is played on Radio 3. he goes completely still, absorbed, transported. He can also tell the difference between rain water and tap water, (and eschews the chlorinated, fluorided latter). Brilliant! Not to mention totally attuned to topical eco-consciousness. I ring my Mum every day to report his latest achievements. I bore my friends. And although I can see through my rose-tinted varifocals, I still believe he is far more intelligent and beautiful than anyone else’s dog.

I have fallen in love with men because of the way their hair curled behind their ear, with the way their fingers looked on a fretboard, with a single muscle in a nice brown forearm. And the way Hector’s tail has this dear little swirly bit on the tip of it – well, I could moon over it all day.

Then there’s the way, when he runs in front of me, his back legs sort of swerve to the left, like a car in a high wind with unbalanced air pressure in its tyres. Sweet! And when he is trotting along failing to balance a four foot long stick in his mouth, it is as poignant and heart-stopping as watching your six year old stutter his only line in a school play.

I have also slipped into a worrying old love habit of asking, “Are you all right? What do you want? What are you thinking?” a hundred times a day.

Which all begs the question: will I, in time, find that the sight of his swirly tail-end fills me with unaccountable annoyance, not to mention fury? When he performs his latest trick, will I start thinking, “Hmm. You really think you’re something, don’t you”? I cannot believe I will. So. Maybe this time, Lady Happy, maybe this time, tra-la-la.

Unfortunately, the purity of our love is already being compromised by popular training methods. When puppies nip, they say, you should cry out “ouch!” in a wounded tone whilst dramatically rubbing your sore hand and pretending to cry. This does work. Hector is most gratifyingly disconcerted and attentive when I do it. But isn’t it a bit like ‘turning on the waterworks’? A tad manipulative?

They also say that if your dog does something you do not like you should turn your back on them, walk away, refuse to stroke them, withhold treats, and generally, says Rosemary, “use your body language to show them who is boss”. In other words: SULK.

Well, I have been to Relate and Couples Counselling in all but one of my ‘relayshunships’ so I’m not sure if these tactics are quite kosher. Should I try using the “I” word as opposed to the accusatory “You”? Here goes.

“Hector. I feel, if you don’t mind my saying so, that I would be much happier if you…I’ll start again. Please don’t be offended, Hector, but I feel – and I know it is my problem – that although I fully appreciate that it is your peculiar – or should I say distinctive – way of demonstrating your love for me, I would prefer it if you simply licked me rather than sitting on my head”.

Does this work, despite the awkward archness of relate-speak? No. of course it doesn’t. Get real, Gill. “Hector, fuck off with your smelly ass”. Better, no? And surely more like the intimacy I have been told I am afraid of.

At least I talk to him. I chunter on all day long in that affectionate chivvying way you can observe in happily married couples who no longer expect to be listened to. “Honestly, Hector! For Heaven’s sake! What am I going to do with you? …I think perhaps we should have a nice piece of steak for our supper, don’t you? Well, of course you do, you greedy old mutt”. etc

But who else is around to insult without offending. That’s love for you. And love ain’t no walk in the park – even if you are with a dog.