Chapter 27: Where were we?

disclaimer, incl. some irrelevant stuff about young earth creationists & freedivers – core sample as awkward literary device – how to handle a horse – varieties of police dog – please brush his teeth – Brodie – round one – round two – therapy for dogs

I don’t agree that it’s been a long time since the last post. It just depends on the scale you’re using. If you’re talking about the life of the planet – about four and a half billion years (although if you believe in young Earth creationism, and think the bible is a work of documentary fact than a particularly vivid and long lived creation myth, then you’ll probably think the Earth is about six thousand years old, fashioned by God, along with the fossils, which He made during the flood, because there’s nothing God likes to do more than confuse people, cataclysms and acts of pestilential vengeance aside) – then it’s really no time at all. But on the other hand, if you’re talking about how long you can hold your breath, well, then – yes, it’s a very long time indeed. (Even if you ARE a freediver and can STILL be cheerfully waving and giving the thumb-to-finger O sign after twenty minutes, and maybe pointing straight down into the abyss as if to say I’m more than happy to go deeper if you want me to….). So no, I wouldn’t say it’s been a ‘long’ time, and neither would I say it’s been a ‘short’ time. All I WILL say, in a noncommittal but still red-faced kinda way, is that it’s simply been ‘some’ time. (And probably not that much longer than it took to read back this last paragraph). And for both, I can only shake your hand and thank you for your indulgence.

Actually, probably what I should do is test the theory of ‘least said soonest mended’, and maybe at the same time see whether you’ve been paying attention or not. Maybe I should simply carry on with the blog as if nothing happened, and no ball was dropped, and no events glossed over, and nothing of significance missed, in the hope that you won’t notice anything strange at all – or, if you do, you’ll put it down to a recent change in medication, or a tendency these days to nod off after lunch.

So please ignore the disclaimer, and carry on as if nothing happened.


Speaking of geology – and yes, I know you’re sighing, because you came here to read about dogs, and don’t have the time or the inclination to want to read about anything else – and I’m CERTAINLY running the risk that starting off the paragraph that SHOULD have landed you straight back in the Stanley-themed action with the phrase ‘speaking of geology’ – will only make you realise what it is you thought you came here for, and what you’re dangerously short of at the moment, and at severe risk of clicking away to something else, because if you can’t visit a blog called ‘The Lurcher Diaries’ without having to wade through a lot of irrelevant crap about geology or bible studies, or wade through sentences that really are a grammatical and syntactical abomination – with WAY too many dashes – sentences you’d only want to start so long as you could play out a spool of fluorescent nylon rope behind you to can keep an eye on the beginning and not lose the sense – as I just did …. so …. erm … full stop?

Geology. That was it. In geology, I think, they use core samples in glaciers and other places to see what’s been going on over the past few thousand years. So in the spirit of the core sample, I thought I’d drill the cursor back down through the sediment of the last four months (you SEE! I TOLD you it hadn’t been long!), and present it as a selection of paragraphs that you can look over and get a feel for how things have been with Stanley.


One: The Return of the Hole in the Hedge Gang

In the field beyond the allotments the horses come and go. I’ve no idea where or why. For all I know they’ve got a beach house somewhere and take six months off surfing. Whatever the reason, they were back at the beginning of the year, as inquisitive and mischievous as ever. There’s one of them – Butch – who seems to take pleasure in putting himself where he knows it’ll cause the most problem, which is almost always the gate. This particular morning he is so far reversed onto the gate it looks from a distance like he is actually sitting on it. So not only would we have to get past him without Stanley barking, but we’d have to go round the back of the horse, which even an amateur like me knows is the zone most famous for kicking.

I try to remember the advice one of Kath’s friends gave her, a woman who knows a lot about horses, having found herself in the strange position of actually owning one.
‘Don’t show any fear,’ she’d said. ‘Be positive. Let it know where you want it to go by slapping your knee.’
‘So – wouldn’t it just come and sit on your knee?’ I asked.
‘No,’ said Kath. ‘They’re smarter than that.’

I look at Butch. He doesn’t look particularly smart. More intuitively mean.

Stanley is already rising up on the lead, despite the tripe sticks I’m frantically feeding into him. I can’t think what to do. Butch makes no sign that he’s bothered about me or Stanley or any other damned thing in the world, come to that. It starts to rain. There are no other exits without doing a huge detour.

Luckily, two women appear down the path on the other side of the fence. One of them I recognise, a wedding planner with a vigorous, no-nonsense manner that will at least make the wedding finish on time.
‘Help!’ I say.
‘Don’t worry!’ she says, tearing a branch from the hedge. ‘Move orf!’ she shouts to Butch, tapping the fence with the switch. ‘Get along there!’
And he does.
‘That’s amazing!’ I tell her.
‘Not at all!’ she says, tossing the switch and slapping her hands clean. ‘You just can’t afford to show any fear!’


Two: To the Vets

Stanley is due a routine check-up, so we take a trip to the vets.

The lockdown means that you can’t go inside the practice. You have to wait outside for your appointment time, then handover the dog under a gazebo they’ve rigged up outside. When we get there, one of the vet nurses is waiting under the gazebo. She smiled at us but holds her hand up for us to stop where we are. At the same time, a police car pulls up and an officer jumps out.
‘Hi!’ she says. ‘Thanks for seeing us!’
‘No problem!’ smiles the nurse.
The officer opens the back door and shouts: ‘Come on Ace! Good boy! Out you come!’
I’m expecting an Alsatian or something. A big dog anyway, in a kevlar jacket and baseball cap. Instead what jumps out is a spaniel, one of those one hundred percent love & affection dogs who wag their whole body instead of just their tail. I can’t think what they’d use it for, other than for detecting illicit chocolate, or maybe poetry. But then – maybe she’s brought it in for a drugs screen, because corruption happens not just at the highest levels but the very lowest, too.
‘Good boy!’ she says, and they both leap up the stairs two at a time following the nurse.

Later, when we pick Stanley up after his examination, the nurse is pretty severe.
‘His teeth are terrible,’ she says. ‘You really must brush them. Use this rubber thing on your finger.’
She gives it to me.
It looks like a pervy kind of thimble.
I try it on.
Show it to Stanley.
He sneers.


Three: Stanley has a fight.

Out on the walk we recognise a friend of Kath’s walking her dog Brodie with another woman and her black lab. We know that Stanley loves Brodie. Mind you, I don’t think there’s a creature on this earth that doesn’t or wouldn’t love Brodie. He’s the chillest dog I know. A mountain gorilla could charge through the hedge one minute, and the next it’d be sitting down with Brodie, scratching his head whilst Brodie politely asked him what it was like being a gorilla these days, and had he really met David Attenborough, and was he as charming as he seems, &c. The Labrador was more of a risk, of course, but we figured if Brodie was around it couldn’t hurt to let Stanley off.

Everything goes well, for a while. The woman throws a ball for the Labrador. Lola chases after it, followed by Stanley. (Brodie stands next to us shaking his head, tutting and saying ‘dogs, eh?’) And it all looks pretty idyllic – except, Stanley doesn’t know how to play.

We knew he’d been neglected for much of his life. I’m not sure running after a ball has ever been part of his emotional vocabulary. Consequently, he doesn’t seem to be ‘playing ball’ so much as ‘playing at being a dog playing ball’ – a confused and ragged kind of position, that involves a lot of random barking and generally irritating behaviour. It doesn’t make any difference how much encouragement or direction we try to give him, Stanley carries on doing the same thing, which is throwing himself around in an approximate way, chasing after the other dogs, then barking in their face when they bring the ball back. The Labrador takes as much as anyone could be expected to, then snaps, and launches herself at him.

I pull them apart.
Neither seems hurt.
Apologies all round (‘think nothing of it, old boy,’ Brodie says, quietly filling his pipe. ‘These things happen’). We say our goodbyes and head home.
It’s only later we realise Stanley’s ear is bleeding. Not much – just enough to make him look a little forlorn.
‘Oh Stanley!’ I say, dabbing it clean. ‘What are we going to do with you?’
But if he has any idea, he keeps it to himself.


Four: Stanley has another fight

For the next few days we’re more cautious about keeping Stan on the lead, only letting him off if when we’re absolutely certain there are no other dogs around – dogs he doesn’t know, that is. Or any dog with a ball.

I’ve just completed one circuit of the maximum security field – the one with hedges and fences surrounding it – Stanley off the lead and leaping about, when he suddenly freezes and adopts the position anyone can tell you is the precursor to action of one sort or the other (and in Stanley’s case, most definitely the other). Suddenly I can make out on the other side of the hedge a woman, walking a long, low and prodigiously hairy dog that looked something like a cross between a dachshund and a snow boot. And before I can say anything or make any of the distance to clip on his lead, Stanley takes a springing leap and dives through the hedge with his front paws stretched out. My memory of it is a little sketchy, but I think he does a little half-tuck and quarter-pike, before landing on his feet and hurling himself at the other dog. I have to run round to the nearest gate, leap over and then run down to grab him. There’s a great deal of snarling and posturing, but at least they aren’t actually going at each other with their teeth. Meanwhile, the woman is throwing treats at them, which is unorthodox, but seems to work, to some extent. When I’ve separated them, and they’re back on their leads, the woman catches her breath.
‘Is he alright?’ I say.
‘Physically – yes – I think so,’ she says, checking his ears. ‘But emotionally I’m not so sure. I’m terrified he’s going to need therapy.’
‘He’s not the only one.’


And so.
Time passes.
Time the Great Healer (if not the Great Cleaner of Teeth).

And whilst I don’t think Stanley will ever be the world’s greatest ball player – and certainly not the world’s greatest police dog – I’m happy to say he’s absolutely the world’s best Stanley the Rescue Lurcher, and I look forward to telling you how THAT goes in the next installment (due out later this millennium).

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