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A Dog’s Life

I’m not a great dog lover. I mean, they’re a bit like horses, I like the idea of them, some are very beautiful and they are fine from a distance but I don’t really want one in the house. I don’t much care for the poop scooping. That applies as much to horses as dogs, although let’s admit it, the horse poop is good for the garden. On that note, nor do I care for those who scoop the dog poop and then leave it dangling in a bag on a nearby tree. I don’t think the faeries are after that kind of offering folks!?

Anyway. Dogs. I like them vicariously. I like to see people and their dogs around town or country. I like to see them jump into water, or run through woodland. There is a lot of free spirit in a dog.

Today, on my way back from town I walked through the park. I say walked, I use the term under caution at the minute due to the looseness of my right knee. I’m basically playing knee jenga and might topple at any moment so I’m there with my sticks. In the recent past these sticks have freaked out a spaniel and a beagle and some big hairy breed I didn’t know the name of so these days I’m always wary. For instance, there was that pit bull that tried to trip me last week in the tunnel. “Tizer! What do you think you’re doing?” asked his owner in outrage and, moments later, apology. I think he was attempting to fetch one of my sticks.

So, this morning, I’d done a bit of a loop and so I’d opted to sit on a bench taking in the breathtakingly bronze January sun. A rather severe looking woman walked by, hunched into her coat, her hair spiked so stiffly it was weaponised. She gave me a disapproving glare and so, instantly, I was interested in what she was about. She appeared to be on her own and not in a good mood. Her clothes were stiff and those kind of clothes where someone thinks they are stylish but they’re not, the scarf just slightly too formal and woolly at the turned up collar of the three quarter length car coat. Yes, car coat. That’s what we called them back in the seventies when you had to wear your coat in the car along with your driving shoes and your driving gloves. Anyway, she is walking with a measured and military pace and my writer’s brain is clicking and whirring to catch at the story. Black Slacks is what the story will be called if it ever gets written so I watch Black Slacks make her way up the main drag. She looks pissed off, sorry for the expletive but the phrase is the most apt of descriptions at this point. Miffed doesn’t quite do it. Peeved is not up to the task. I am wondering what sort of day she’s had. Clearly she has not been able to reprimand anyone at work this morning because, I am guessing, she is retired. It is annoying her that she can no longer bully the young girl on the training course and she can’t sneer at Gemma in admin for being fat. This woman is thin, the kind of thin that takes the celebration out of cake, the type of skinny that has an emphasis on skin; dry and stretched over the joyless bones. Whoa there, Helen, going in much? Harsh. Good grief I don’t like her. My Pagan brain, primeval and wild, is going a bit mental about now due to the vibe that is emanating from her. Somewhere crows are warning me about this person. It is like that. They should test for this anthropological wave field in the large hadron collider at CERN. This woman would probably blow all the circuit boards.

It gets worse. As she wanders further away my attention is distracted by a dog in a fleece coat who trots into view. He is a small Westie, old and hinting at grey rather than white and while he looks spry he does not look cheery. He looks harried and can’t enjoy the buffet of smells that the park is laced with because he’s got one anxious eye on having to catch up to his owner.

Where is his owner? I look behind, expecting to see someone bustle up and indulge in a bit of banter with the little Westie. They might possibly be armed with one of those long ball thrower gadgets so you don’t have to touch the slobbery toy. There is no such person. Who is he with? I scan the park and then make a horrible realisation.

Black Slacks has turned her head, scornful, and the little dog trots towards her.  Only now do I see the wind-up lead in her hand. In my defence her arms are folded, the lead clenched in the hand that is stuffed up under her arm.

I have never seen anyone walk their dog like this. There is no interaction, no chivvying with ‘Come on Hamish you old duffer we need to get the kettle on’ nor is there even  a more draconian whistle or command. Silence. The woman walks on, further, further, only pausing at the war memorial to check that he has not been snatched by the dognappers, she’s disappointed, obviously, that he is still behind her, and carries on. Hamish, (I have by now christened him absolutely and totally) attempts to sniff at the bench leg, at my leg, at a puddle, at a stick, but he can focus his attention on nothing because he knows in his little canine heart, he is being left behind.

I watched them as Hamish cut across the grass to meet his mistress at the corner of the path by the bandstand. She was not eager for his return, there was no greeting exchanged and she did not clip his lead back on. Instead she walked on ahead before he arrived, oblivious and at a pace guaranteed to make the wee chap hurry slightly. They move out of sight by the crane at the new flats development.

I know nothing about this pairing. I have made it all up in my head from my observations, from body language.  For all I know Hamish might be an abusive little git behind closed doors, demanding choice cuts of Cesar and bowls of spring water. He might live in a small tartan dog palace. Somehow, I think not.

At night, Hamish sobs into his Iams Eukanuba, his tears making the small nubbins of nourishment just a little bit tastier. When he dreams, he dreams of thrown sticks and a small boy’s hugs.

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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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