Category Archives: Dogs
A dear friend always insisted that there was no point betting on anything that the public have a say in because what you may get, is what you least expect. It will be interesting to see then, tomorrow, how things finally shake down in the voting booths as compared with the incessant polls that have the two ‘main’ parties in a photo finish.
It will be interesting also to see how many of us turn out. I am glad Russell Brand changed his tune on not voting, and I credit Ed Miliband, at least to some extent, with influencing that particular U-turn. If you do not use your voice to make a difference, then a difference will not be made. We all need to make a difference tomorrow, whatever that turns out to be.
These are two disgruntled characters, on the sofa. One can’t vote because he is an immigrant. No matter that he volunteers hours of his time keeping the street crime free. No matter that he single-pawedly keeps the marauding packs of urban foxes and delinquent nature-murdering felines in line. He is from Ireland, he has no vote. He’s been upset, lately, by the anti-immigrant rhetoric he’s heard bandied about. All he wants is a better life for himself, and his family, and he’s prepared to work for it.
His friend is a member of the so-called underclass. She didn’t register to vote because she didn’t think that she could make a difference. I think if she could vote, her vote would be one of the most important of all. We all know the choice available has turned out to be a bit of a dog’s dinner, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.
Behold: The Dog
His life is pretty basic. My life with him is pretty basic too, until he complicates matters with his hunting instinct as well as his fear-based flight response. It’s a basic life, until he is legging it at twenty-five miles miles per hour after something, or legging it at twenty-five miles mph away from something. Only he and I know the difference.
Fine Irish Wolfhound, and one of Rudi the Lurcher’s tiny handful of friends. He will be much missed – pictured here on the water meadow with one of those doing most of the missing: his owner.
Buried on the good Suffolk land where the willow lies.
It’s Metal’s Shorelines weekend and I am participating tomorrow.
In a rather obvious link, here is the dog leaping up onto a jetty a few weeks ago – the image is sadly flattened out so you can’t appreciate the monumental leap he made onto the green seaweedy slippery wall…
Firstly, the bad and ugly in one hit: the bike was stolen from work whilst I was teaching an evening class on Monday night. I must admit I blinked into the darkness at the gap where the bike should have been when I came out of the building. In point of fact, I may have looked rather like a mole. I am sure I left it there, I thought to myself. Confirmation that I had indeed left it there came on closer inspection, which revealed my cycle helmet lying on the floor alongside the lock that had been cut clean through with bolt cutters or some such.
Honestly? I am surprised a bike has not been nicked from me before now. There is a Recycle Bike shop in the town, supported by the council, so I will be off there as soon as I am able to see if they have got some derelict bone-shaker that needs a home.
The good: yesterday a beautiful book arrived in the post featuring a picture I took about two and half years ago. The theme of the book was the window and, amongst the photography, there are also poems by James Joyce (who knew), Robert Frost and another favourite Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as the window in art. Predictably, there’s rather a lot of those Edward Hopper scenes with a woman and a window, of which I am not fond, preferring his gas stations or bars. But there is also this.
And that image is such a lovely thing in itself that I’ll leave the other until tomorrow.
Just because lovely things come along like buses, doesn’t mean you have to be in a big rush about it…
They are banned, of course, round here – well until October anyway when we rush down with veritable packs of big hairy hounds and have big dog-themed party.
Consequently, I don’t venture down there much in the summer. Daytrippers, sun, sand… I mean, who wants all that, really?
A friend said to me yesterday, ‘What you need is some fun.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t, I don’t like fun.’ At this rate I won’t have any friends to say such things to me as I slip further and further into an anti-social, incapable of having fun, misery-guts pit, of my own excavation. Actually, I raised a smile when I finished the last sentence, so maybe September and a few classes to teach will come along and save me.
I can’t even claim the credit for this find. I was making two smaller and very nondescript stones have fun on the beach. If you must know, I was pretending they were in a blue disco and dancing. My daughter intervened and said my behaviour was age inappropriate. On the other hand, she had this to show me, and it really was quite something.
We liked it anyway. And I’m glad to have a kid who gets me, if only a fraction. We were looking for someone on the beach. My daughter said, ‘What is she wearing?’ I described the outfit, but I said, ‘I can’t remember the colour of her dress, it’s either pink or blue.’
‘Purple, then,’ the daughter said.
She was only right.
Why, on last week’s Saturday walk the dog sprinted to the horizon in a cloud of dust, yet on yesterday’s (and today’s) was biddable. Who knows why, when I unleashed him on the masses of London horizon that is Hackney Marshes, he skirted round the edges near the trees. Who knows why we moved from London in the first place. I do know that, at least: for more space, for the children.
Who knows why I have changed so much in the intervening period – different dog, a cat, two children that are barely recognisable from the babies that they were.
Who knows why I take photos like this, on walks.
Who knows why I like reflections of clouds and church towers, lichen, peeling paint and split wood. Why I like tired curtains in a 1950s flimsy and faded crème de menthe.
Who knows why, cracked glass and terrible yellows. Painted walls under blue skies supervising industrial distress.
Who knows why windows from the outside, when I can never see in.
Who knows why; any of it?
Now that the beach is closed to dogs and their walkers until October, my mission, on at least one of the days at the weekend, is to find a place to walk where there aren’t too many people, or other dogs. It is not that the lurcher of mine is unfriendly as such, rather he can be choosy about the company that he keeps and he generally chooses not to keep the kind of company to be found in an urban park on a spring to summer *bleak laughter* Saturday or Sunday. It seems as if, no sooner have you got rid of the hordes of footballers (teams to give them their technical name) churning up the ground with their studs, than they are replaced with Staffies and toy breeds and pushchairs and children and all kinds of people with picnics and blankets and ball games trying to have a good time *sigh*.
I realise that I sound like a terrible old curmudgeon, but there is nothing that I long for more than to be able to walk over fields without having to worry about disturbing someone else’s equilibrium or mine. So that, on a Saturday, after I have dropped the girls off at their Irish dance class, is my sole purpose. There is no particular problem with finding fields round here, but there is a challenge in finding a place to park and a suitable path that the farmer has not made uninviting (they use various methods, fierce thorny overgrowth, unfriendly signs, confusing the walker by not leaving the path clear and so on). This is why today, in search of a suitable field, I ended up once again walking the sea wall near Barling Creek. The salt water was out, so the mud flats were exposed on one side, to the other there was a rich grassy wide bank down to a ditch, with a field on the other side and a farm in the far off distance.
We set off along the footpath, which is elevated slightly, giving a good view of the surrounding marshes, creeks and farmland. It was only a few minutes into the walk before we came across delinquent dog #1. This is often the case when you seek out solitariness: you come across other dog walkers whose dogs’ behaviour demands it. The first miscreant was a Jack Russell (it was a terrier on a similar walk last week too), but the owners had it on the lead. I caught hold of Rudi and we passed by peacefully, although the Jack Russell woman gave me a fierce sort of glare as if my being there had ruined her walk, although she was clearly on the homeward leg by then. Anyway, no-one owns the sea wall, so, tough. After a few more minutes we came upon dog #2: an insane black labrador, of the working type, also on a lead. The walker was young and friendly, but very silly about dogs in general, so I was rather glad to get clear of them as quickly as possible. I was also very cross with my own dog by now, as in the point between meeting dogs #1 and #2, he had done a poo which I was forced (as a responsible owner) to pick up. Whilst I was doing this, he charged past me and hit the side of my head with some bony part of his canine self; probably his skull, maybe his spine. Anyway, it gave me a shock and it bloody well hurt. What is it about a blow to the head that makes one want to cry? Is it just the shock? Anyway, I didn’t cry, or indeed kick the dog, but for the briefest of moments I could have easily done either.
With me now rubbing the side of my head, we continued on past a small brown and brackish, elongated tear-drop shaped pond. A little egret was fishing from the bank but it soon took off as we approached. I have seen them hunting down on the foreshore before, they have a walk like a tyrannosaurus-rex, all stiff-legged and urgent, but I had never seen one in flight. It turns out that the most elegant thing a little egret can do is stand stock still. In flight, as in their walk, they are a little ungainly. They can’t climb high, but they make heavy weather of the ascent. Their wings look like they are really working hard to make any progress. Flap your wings! In case you don’t know what the hell I am talking about, here is a picture of one.
It flew round in a big circle, coming round over its fishing spot on the bank before landing on the field on the opposite side of the ditch, where it commenced its hunched over, awkward looking walk. I felt quite pleased to see this bird, you don’t see them every day and because I had forgotten my glasses the birds have to be pretty big, or fairly close for me to be able to even notice them. The Latin name for the little egret is marvellous, it is called egretta garzetta which sounds like some kind of fantastic fashion model from Milan.
Once my bird eye was in, so my ears followed. I noticed a pheasant’s distinctive crrrriiuuckk! And a cuckoo’s unmistakable cuckoo. I saw neither. I noticed swallows flitting low over on the muddy side catching the many insects, and a huddle of mallard ducks, looking like they waiting for the tide to come in. Pretty good going for a hard of hearing myopic. I had forgotten about the dog whacking my head so hard earlier, and he had redeemed himself by not going in the mud, although he had fallen headlong into the brackish pond accidentally and dramatically, causing me some amusement, but also now having to carry his now sodden wet, smelly coat. He is worse than a kid at times. Half of me hoped I might hear a lark singing way above. The lark is the bird, along with the lapwing, that symbolises my fenland childhood.
After nearly being concussed, the walk had now taken a turn for the better, but if there is one thing I have learned after nearly six years of owning this dog, it is not to push your luck; rather to leave when the going is good. We turned round and headed back the way we had come. I was mindful of the time, not having any sort of device on me and needing to collect the dancing child. The dunking had not dampened his enthusiasm for thundering up and down the narrow pathway, and he had impressed me when I felt he had gone on too far ahead, by returning to my side after the merest whistle. My goodness, I thought, this dog really has got the hang of it, after all this time.
A pair of them. They flew up from almost under his paws with a squawk, they had probably been nesting in the long grass down the bank. Like little egrets, partridges can’t do great altitude quickly, but they had the natural advantage of an elevated bank to fly up from, as their pursuer had to take the land-based route down the steep bank. Which he did. And then he hurdled the ditch and was off across the farmer’s field in a cloud of dust. I stood watching his backside receding into the distance at over twenty miles an hour. Like the whack on my head, it had all happened so quickly. If I hadn’t had the thought of needing to fetch the dancer and not having a phone on me, I might have enjoyed the sheer magnificence of the dog’s hopeless pursuit at top speed across the field. He must have covered over half a kilometre before he stopped, and only then because the farm was in his path. He was so far onto the horizon that when he stood still I could no longer make him out at all.
I had visions of me having to drive round trying to find the farm, and the stupid dog by road. Or visions of never seeing him again. At times like these, I will be honest and there is a part of me that thinks, well maybe I can live with that… But I shouted as loud as I could and waved my arms a bit and sure enough I see this fawn dot hoving into view, travelling back in my direction, albeit like the egret, a little circuitously. He does not cover the ground as fast as he did in the original pursuit, but it is an impressive job nonetheless. I feel a bit touched that he does want to come back to me after all, even if I am a poor substitute for a brace of partridges. He arrives at the edge of the field. There is now only the ditch and the wide bank to climb back to where I am waiting, my fingers already twitching on the clip of the lead. He hesitates. The ditch is too steep and wide and wet he seems to say to me. I can’t get across. This is the same dog that not five minutes ago cleared the natural obstacle in one wide Irish lep (we can say that because he hails from Navan). I tell him something to that effect. I might add that he is a stupid fecker. It seems to do the trick and he scrambles over, hunts up the bank and then walks up to me very apologetic-like: head, ears and tail down like he is expecting me to give out to him.
To my own surprise, and his too perhaps, I laugh. I have in my mind all those of us who own sighthounds and are brave, or foolhardy, enough to let them off their leads to do what they do best. To those of us, like me, who drive their dogs miles out of town to find a suitable place to stretch their legs at upwards and over of twenty odd miles an hour. To those dog owners who risk having their head knocked off its block every time they bend down to pick up a shit, and to those owners who own dogs that speak to the wildest and most natural part of their hearts, the part that the world has no time or use for. As I laugh, the little egret that had vanished from view, flies up in its laboured way, up over the field. Even higher above that is a cormorant, heading north. I haven’t seen one of those that high in the air before. I only recognise the dark outline of it’s long neck and beak against the light grey clouds. The birds seem to be telling us something. The show, is over.
The quiet dog goes back on the lead and follows me all meek and mild back to the car. Still, I wouldn’t trust him an inch. A Persian cat hunkers down as we pass by its front door. I tell it, it is wise to do so, given what I have just witnessed. Even my wild-at-heart heart has had enough of all that mad freedom and kicked up dust for one day.
I am ridiculously suggestible; I am not sure if I haven’t always been. Not unlike the persistent use of double negatives, it is certainly a character flaw. I have recently been teaching various self-development courses and, on the face of it, things are going well. That is in that the learners return, are able to say what they are applying usefully in their lives and seem to take the time in the classroom in a reasonably engaged manner. Lately we have been looking at the effects of stress on the body – anxiety being a live issue for many of the class. Me being me, I can’t just stand there yapping about it though; no, I must test various theories and strategies myself, if only to save them the bother. In any case, reducing stress can’t hurt, right?
In that spirit of experimenting on self I downloaded a phone app that purports to not simply measure your pulse, but to measure the times between your heart beat when you place your finger tip over the camera lens on your smart phone. I used it for the first time this morning, when I felt a little tense, after rushing to work and fighting to park the car in an awkward space: Honda Civics present an interesting paradox in that they are lovely to look at – but awful to look out of. The app takes about two minutes to do that which it is that it does, whatever that is, so I stood in the car park with my stuff all on the floor and on the roof of the car, looking completely normal…
My results were not good. I was in the red zone of stress. In the over 80% figures. I was labelled ‘Extreme Stress’. My phone told me what to do. Stop whatever it is that you are doing and RELAX. Easier said than done when the class was due to start, but taking the advice on the chin (and because I was secretly worried I might have a cardiac arrest right there in the car park due to the extreme shock about the extreme stress diagnosis) I repaired to the canteen for a brew. Now, even I know that caffeine and extreme stress are bad bedfellows, so I was hoping for a cup of cat’s wee, otherwise known as camomile. They had run out. I settled for a fruit tea instead and quickly took my stress level again. I was now deemed to be at a very low stress level – around 10%
All was good then and the class went ahead as usual. Teaching is demanding, both physically and mentally. To be fair, my class were all fairly unstressed when we tested them during proceedings, but after the class I was doing some admin and became aware of a little niggle headache coming on behind the eyes. I took some paracetamol and whipped out the stress app again (in the name of science you understand, I am in no way obsessed). Unbelievably, I was in Extreme Stress mode once again. Suddenly I felt close to a heart or panic attack and my first thought was that admin is so deleterious to my health I must rush home to preserve myself. Somehow I rode out the storm and by the time I got home and tested myself (again) I was down to 0% stress.
I was still concerned about the effect the extreme levels were having on me (if you’d have asked me I wouldn’t have said it was an especially stressful day prior to the app). so I thought I would be best to get straight down the seafront with the children to meditate on an ice-cream, as ice-cream, I mean meditation, is shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream. All was fine until I realised that
a) I didn’t like the ice-cream and gave it to the dog
b) I didn’t know where the children were
As it turned out, they were the two dots somewhere out there…
Which was also completely fine, until I realised that the tide was coming in, that they could drown and then my stress levels shot through the roof. The truth is when you are REALLY stressed the last thing you are going to do is measure it for two minutes on a bloody smart phone app.
Then when I got home and zoomed in on them in the shot, I could see that they were as far from stressed as could be. It was just me. The class weren’t stressed and neither were the kids or the dog. It was just me and the app busting our chops.
And that, at the end of a funny sort of day, was a good thing to know.