another fine mess


The first thing we did was change his name.

Names are important, after all. They’ve got to sound right, feel right. They’ve got to fit.

I worked in a bar at a holiday camp a few years ago. The bar was a huge, circular, glass and timber wheel with a desolate car park only marginally less inviting than the snug. It had a view over the mud flats that served as a beach, and even the seagulls stayed clear. It was called The Beachcomber, but The Wrecker’s Retreat would’ve given you more of an idea. It was just far enough down the road to give the campers a sense they were going somewhere different, but not so far they couldn’t find their way back pissed. The bar was set up for instant shutters down and till removal for the inevitable fights at the weekend. Even the jukebox was armoured. The bar manager was a pinched and shifty guy whose body didn’t seem to touch his clothes and whose smile was only ever two points shy of a sneer. He was always up to something, some ruse for making money or ripping off the punters. He’d buy condemned stock and sell it on as specials. He used to collect all the drip trays at the end of the evening and put them in the mild. He was generally not the kind of guy you’d want running a pub, or anything else involving money or people, come to that, but he did have two very entertaining dogs, an Alsatian and a Springer spaniel. The Springer was a hyperactive mop that ran mad circuits of the pub at opening and closing time, so chaotically it was like he’d been thrown in a washer on spin cycle. The Springer was called Snifter. The Alsatian was the opposite in size and temperament, a depressive lunk with black eyes who looked at everyone in the same, glittering way I imagine assassins might, doomed never to meet anyone without first gauging the drop. His name was Hawk.

‘Go on, Snifter! Go on, my son!’ said the manager, watching Snifter run, while Hawk stood sadly to attention beside him, and I restocked the bar.

* * *

The thing was, Storm didn’t look like a storm. Unless it was a blizzard, and even then not so much a white-out as a slow accumulation of flakes. It just didn’t suit his temperament. I imagine somewhere there’s a mountain rescue dog called Storm, in a kevlar bodysuit and snow goggles, dragging a sled loaded with medical supplies across a crumbling crevasse. A nine year old lurcher with bad teeth and weak legs? Meh.

He’d had nine years to get used to his name, though. And if we stood any chance of training him, we had to give him a name that sounded roughly the same. ‘Norm’ was the first thing we thought of, but I couldn’t imagine shouting ‘Norm’ over the park, and having anything other than a bank clerk come running back. Stan seemed more like it. It made me think of Stan Laurel, and they did seem to share the same vacant but benign expression. The only thing was, we just had to remember not to use his name when we were training him to sit.

Stan! Sit! might not get us very far.



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