rescue dog

Out on our morning walk we found
the storm had brought an oak tree down
blocking our usual route
with its branches & roots
‘I think we can climb through’
I said optimistically
Stanley looked up at me uncertainly
‘Just pretend you’re a rescue dog’
The inevitable epilogue?
Stanley got stuck
so I had to go back and pick him up
he’s a big dog; it was a big production
in his case ‘Rescue Dog’ more of an instruction

suddenly stanley

We were way out over the fields for a hike
a fabulous April morning – but also kinda fake
every cloud just a little TOO cloud-like
the kind of cloud a cloud machine would make
the grass glassy and crunchy
Stanley’s hair tufty and bunchy
buffeted in the jesus-christ-this-breeze-is-actually-freezing kinda way
but despite all that it was a lovely day

Suddenly Stanley froze
(but not because of the temperature)
tense from his nose to his hairy toes
like a novelty dog-shaped piece of furniture
with lots of ribby drawers
and cute caster claws
and a whole lot of other things I suppose
but I’m afraid that’s as far as this metaphor goes

‘What is it, Stanley?’ I said
crouching masterfully by his side
so MY head was in line with HIS head
and the dog perspective that supplied
‘Stanley? What’s wrong?’
he was tense like a singer about to launch into song
after one or two bars from the orchestra
or maybe a brilliant scientist working on a formula

but just as suddenly he unfroze
gave his body a vigorous shake
trotted on happily tail thru nose
like all that drama was a big mistake
I followed on behind
turning over in my mind
the subtle differences you might choose to log
between the brain of a human and the brain of a dog

My conclusion?
heightened senses are a wonderful thing
but can lead to confusion
especially around Spring

what’s in a name

we were coming back from the copse
(not CORPSE
of course
a copse is just trees
a corpse is a job for the police
or ‘cops’
but I’m afraid that’s where the matter drops)

anyway

Stanley was lagging
dragging
his paws
why?
I wasn’t sure
we’d had a good long walk
me shooting crows with a camera
Stanley using his nose with stamina
so it wasn’t as if
he was miffed
we were coming back sooner than we shoulda
and he’d have stayed out longer if he coulda
and he didn’t have a thorn in his paw
(I checked all four)
and I was pretty sure
he hadn’t torn
a ligament
he just stood there looking innocent
all in all it was quite a predicament

So – and I can’t believe I’m blushing –
here’s the thing:
Stanley is a dog of many names
some of them normal, some of them strange
it just depends on how the mood takes you
and how the hound currently relates to you
so, standing stuck with him there on the pavement
I said ‘c’mon sweet nuts’ as a means of encouragement
(where it came from I’ve no idea
he hasn’t had nuts for a couple of years )
anyway – all this would’ve been totally fine
if there hadn’t been another guy following behind
‘not you, the dog…’ I said
the guy shook his head
and hurried on
and it was only when I was sure he was gone
that I tugged on the lead and struggled on
(it’s really beyond embarrassing, Stanley
some names are better off kept in the family)

le pissoir du monde

Stanley’s truly a remarkable animal
half scent hound half dromedary camel
with really quite an extraordinary facility
for marking everything in the vicinity

his bladder must be a five gallon keg
the number of times he lifts his leg
or maybe he draws from some other place
defying the laws of time and space
his urethra employing some weird extension
to a reservoir in another dimension

but I digress
I guess
he just tops up
whenever talk of a nice walk pops up

and if you’re sitting there wondering
exactly where he’s wandering
and squandering
the contents
of his urinary tract
I’ll write it all down so you can read it back:

a fine pot of blue hydrangeas
a sign that tells you where the fire hydrant is
a graffitied garage shutter
a heavy duty drain cover
a temporary sign with the number of a plumber
an electricity substation fence
a noticeboard with local events
a lamppost (rapturously)
a waste bin (naturally)
every size and variety of shrub
the wall outside the after school club
a hill made by a mole
an unfilled hole
temporarily filled with trash
all prayerfully sniffed and blessed with a slash

every street name on the usual route
including Stanley Avenue (cute)
every phone booth
(okay – I lied about them
since mobile phones you never see ‘em)
a telegraph pole
whose sole
purpose
seems to be to serve us
both as a means of cable control
but also to hold
signs that advertise more lost cats
scratch Messiahs, stuff like that
(and recently a poster from the anti-vaxxers
which Stanley addressed with some well-aimed splashes)

so all in all
what with every wall
tree trunk big and rose bush small
every junction box
a roadside flowerbed of snapdragons and phlox
and a line of hefty granite rocks
to discourage parking
every chainsaw carving
every charging point for the on-street charging
of bougie electrical vehicles
every traffic stop and crossing signal
every structure man made or natural
vertical, horizontal or diagonal
like I say, he’s phenomenal
his capacity plentiful
his diligence incredible
Stanley is truly exceptional
an absolute master of the art of micturition
like a long-legged, shaggy-haired renal magician
with a never-ending bladder that just keeps filling
or a distillery that mysteriously keeps distilling
even when the water’s turned off
but that’s enough
I won’t go on
he’s a premier league piss artist, and so on

no ifs, no buts

it’s just all the constant stopping drives me nuts

storm force stanley

I decided to take Stanley out in a storm
he looked up at me from the sofa in alarm
like I was a perverse and alien life form

but in retrospect his hesitation was right
it was gale force ten in lurcher bight
winds so strong he flew like a kite

bedraggled fur and chattering teeth
as soaked on top as we were underneath
we raged like two mad Lears on the heath

finally we made it back through the door
Kath said whose idea was the walk
Stan pointed at me with a paw

death of a game dog

I saw Marian over the woods
her young golden-eyed GSP
rapt, en pointe
– Where’s the other one?
Oh – didn’t I tell you?
I had to say goodbye to Helga on Monday
– I’m so sorry
Long story short
She’d gone a little lame
I put her on Metacam and bed rest
It seemed to clear up okay
then I felt a lump on her neck
took her to the vet
lipoma they said
we’ll keep an eye on it
a few days later she stopped eating
I took her back
they did a scan
cancer everywhere
EVERYWHERE
liver, kidneys, lungs
– where DIDN’T they find cancer? –
they talked about chemo
but I didn’t want to put her through that
I’ve always thought
you have to know when to act
better a few days early
than a week too late
– I’m so sorry
that’s okay
she was such a game dog
– I know
80 pheasants last year
did you know
there are badgers over there
their setts last 200 years
I remember once
coming back from a shoot
me and Helga saw
some badger cubs
playing with some fox cubs
right about where you’re standing
Helga looked up at me
as if to say
what do you want me to do about this?
so I said to her
I said Helga – RELAX
let’s just stand a while and watch

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The Song of the Coat I Might Find.

It was early and still dark, the rain smattering dismally against the back door. 

‘What d’you think, Lola? Feeling brave?’

She wasn’t. She was staring at me with a shocked expression, like she didn’t know whether to follow me outside or stay where she was and bark for help.

It certainly did feel like I had an unfair advantage, standing there, zipping my coat up to my chin, pulling on my hat. I mean – all she had was the fur she’d gone to bed in.

So I got out her winter coat and gave it a shake.

It’s a heavy, cozy, well-padded thing, with a strap that passes under her waist, two poppers at the chest, and a furry collar that turns back at the neck and makes her look like a lumberjack. A very sad-eyed lumberjack. A lumberjack who needs a great deal of patient encouragement to even THINK about trees.

We took the usual route. I thought maybe we should vary it more, but then – there’s a value in repetition. You get to key-in to the subtle changes, and it’s surprising how many of those there are in any given moment. It’s a bit like a monk walking round cloisters saying their prayers. I’m sure they get a big kick out of seasonal changes to the brick. 

Anyway, the thing I needed more than variety was speed – not only because the weather was so bad, but because I wanted to get back, warm up and start writing. I hadn’t written much that week, what with work and life and everything. I needed to get down and do something. (I admit it. Writing is now a habit – or worse, an addiction. I’ve passed through the ‘this is amazing’ phase, and moved into the ‘I feel terrible if I don’t write something, anything, even a limerick’. I have to write just to feel well. But there are worse things, I suppose. I could be into triathlon.)

At the edge of the woods Lola stopped. There’s a stile there for humans and a gap under the wire for dogs. Normally Lola dives through it, but she knew her ridiculous lumberjack collar would snag on it, so she waited till I held up the wire for her. She made a fuss of wiggling under, like a tourist just about drunk enough to try the limbo dance. 

But on into the woods, the rain eased and we started to get into the walk a little more. It was still too wet to think about photographs, so instead I tried to focus on the here and now of it, the sound of the rain through the leaves, the suck of the mud at my boots, the snug of my hands in my pockets. Lola was away in the undergrowth somewhere, snuffling around, making the best of it. 

I got distracted thinking up a limerick about Trump. 

There once was a president called Trump
Bent as a bell-ringer’s hump…

We covered quite a bit of ground, me trying to finish the limerick, Lola exploring.

I stopped to take some pictures of raindrops hanging under a gate, but maybe I’d taken too many of that. Maybe I needed to think of some other angle.

Jenny and her pug, Cecil appeared along the path. Jenny had on the full Barbour-armour, prodding for mines with a Norwegian walking stick; Cecil was squashed so tightly into his fleecy coat it made his eyes stick out like black swimming goggles. He was happy to see Lola, though. They circled and sniffed each other politely, two models checking out their outfits.

‘Isn’t this weather completely VILE?’ said Jenny, pushing back her hair to get a better look at me. ‘I can’t take much more. But y’know – saying that – no doubt it’ll snow tomorrow…’

We chat for a while then carry on.

…he raged and he tossed
whenever he lost….

I stopped to look at the group of funnel mushrooms I’d photographed the other day. One of them had a wild apple landed in the cup of it, and I’d put up a picture of it saying ‘serving suggestion’. Now I thought maybe I’d better take the apple out. I mean – sure, it fell in there naturally, so I’d be interfering in the natural run of things. But then, it mightn’t do the mushroom any good to have an apple rotting in the middle of it, and if I was in a position to make it’s short life a little better – why not? Especially as I’d taken the picture. I owed it a payment of sorts. So I picked the apple out of the funnel, and felt a little better for it, even though that group of mushrooms were already looking the worse for wear, what with the slugs and the deer and everything. Still -my conscience was clear. 

We carried on walking. 

I could not get the last line of the limerick. It had to rhyme with Trump, and I was hung up on the idea of ‘rump’, but couldn’t think what. Did he fall on his rump? I liked the idea of him Tweeting out of his rump, because I’d read about him harassing the US Ambassador to Ukraine (or ex-US Ambassador to Ukraine) on Twitter during the impeachment hearing, and it seemed like maybe that was a fruitful line to take. 

We came to the edge of the wood again, the circuit done. I was ready for some coffee.

Lola was through the fence already, waiting for me in the field beyond, the bottom of Broken Tree Hill. 

She managed it that time I thought. 

And it was only then I realised she’d lost the coat. 

‘Where’s your coat, Lola?’ I said, turning round on the spot, expecting – HOPING – it might be lying right there, and we wouldn’t have to retrace our steps. There was no sign of it. 

‘C’mon then!’ I said, heading back into the woods. 

Lola stared at me, with the same incredulous expression she’d used on me in the kitchen. Looked up the hill, as if she was wanted me to understand that her food was in that direction. Then gave up, and – reluctantly – tagged along.

It was a completely different walk. The first time round I’d been drifting along, thinking about this and that, the Trump limerick, the sound of the rain, the shape and colour of the leaves, thoughts and feelings scattering round me as randomly as the rain. Now every fine feeling was subordinated to the mission. I was too busy, scanning the woods for a dark green lurcher-lumberjack coat, marching rather than walking. I remembered a snatch of something from ‘The Pearl’ by Steinbeck, how he talked about the pearl fishermen having the Song of the Pearl that Might Be in their heads as they dived for pearls. 

Maybe I should try that? Maybe I should try singing The Song of the Coat I Might Find. 

Lola was up ahead now. It was like I was seeing two dogs – the real one, rootling around in the undergrowth, and the imprint of her, a lighter, lurcher ghost, trying to show me the precise moment she snagged on a branch and shucked herself free of the coat. 

We followed the same route – to badger corner, the sweet chestnut log pile, monument beech, the shack, owl stump, the meeting place, pet cemetery, funnel copse. I’d just reached the path that descends there when I saw a guy in camo and a whistle round his neck striding towards me, preceded by a hyper-alert gun dog. 

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen a dog’s coat, have you?’ I said.

‘Is that what it is? I thought it was one of those baby carriers. Y’know. A papoose. Yeah – I hung it on a tree a little way down. You can’t miss it.’

I thanked him and carried on. 

I saw it before it before Lola, although that didn’t stop her running up to it and standing there proudly as if it was she who’d found it all along. 

‘Good girl!’ I said. ‘C’mon – let’s get home for breakfast.’

IMG_1367

There once was a president called Trump
Who was bent as a bell-ringer’s hump
He raged and he tossed
whenever he lost
and Tweets flew out of his rump

 

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cobnuts

I’m walking Lola over the woods in the pouring rain, and I’ve stopped to collect some chestnuts, when I hear a sudden, peremptory pheep! – and then I see them, Molly and her GSP, Elliot, watching me from the path. I wave my bag as if to say Hello! and Look what I’ve got! in one go, feeling a little guilty for some reason. Molly raises her stick, Elliot, his nose.
I walk over.
Lola runs in the other direction.

Molly is about sixty. She has the kind of vigorous but off-kilter demeanour of someone who doesn’t know the war’s over. She’s wearing a khaki field cap, green waterproof cape and leggings, green walking boots, and she’s standing to attention with the thumb of her right hand through the V of her hazel walking stick. Elliot is sitting bolt upright next to her, appraising me with his golden eyes. I feel the urge to salute, but instead I say: ‘Hi Molly! Don’t worry. I’m leaving some for the badgers.’
‘Nonsense! There’s plenty for everyone,’ she says. ‘You’re welcome to them.’ Then adds, for the record: ‘Not that it’s any concern of mine, of course.’
Elliot can see Lola nosing around in the undergrowth a little way off. He follows her progress with professional interest, and gives a haughty little sniff.
‘I’ll tell you what I had the other day,’ she says, producing a handkerchief from deep inside the cape and blowing her nose so suddenly and violently it’s as if she’d whipped out a double-barrelled shotgun and fired it over my head. ‘Cobnuts!’ she says at last.
‘Cobnuts? Is that hazelnuts?’
‘Yes, yes!’ she says, stuffing the handkerchief back under the cape. ‘It’s been a good year. They’re not the dried rubbish you get in the shops. They’re a bit fiddly to open – got a splinter under my thumbnail and it hurt like the devil – but goodness me! So delicious!’
‘I’d love to try some.’
‘Well you can’t,’ she says. ‘The leaves have all fallen ‘orf and there’s none to be had.’
‘Oh. Maybe next year.’
She shakes her head.
‘Won’t be the same,’ she says, sadly. ‘This was a vintage year.’
The rain eases a little and we both look around.
‘There’s an awful lot of die-back in the woods,’ she says. ‘Have you noticed?’
‘Yes. Particularly in that far corner.’
‘You see – they’re just not managed as well as they used to be. Ash isn’t good for anything more than firewood, and besides, the volunteers have neither the skills nor the equipment. You can’t just cut it down and hope for the best, you know?’
I nod as if I do.
‘So what do you end up with?’ says Molly. ‘A lot of rotten trees just waiting to fall on top of you. It’s getting increasingly dangerous to walk in these woods. You wouldn’t get much warning. You’d hear a great big crack, then you’d have seconds to decide which way to run. Seconds! And you might not get it right.’
‘I suppose if it’s windy you’ve just got to be mindful of the hazards,’ I say. ‘Not walk under any rotten trees. Or any with big limbs. Like oak. Or beech. I suppose you do what you can to mitigate the risk.’
‘Hmm,’ says Molly. ‘Well – you know – there was a large oak went over a few months ago, and there was no accounting for it. It wasn’t exposed. Good firm ground. Tucked away in a sheltered spot. And yet – over it went! But then – you never know what’s going on under your feet, do you?’
She gives the ground a speculative poke with her stick. I look down at it. Elliot looks down, too, and even leans in to sniff. Molly blows her whistle. Me and Elliot look straight back up again.
‘Enjoy your chestnuts!’ says Molly, and they wheel about, and march off together down the path, side by side, perfectly in step.

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cecil & the badgers

I was out on a dog walk, hanging around that corner of the woods where the badgers live (or some of the badgers, I should say. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one, hurrying home like someone weighed down with shopping bags, late for an appointment). I was impressed by the amount of work the badgers had been putting in, major excavations by the look of it, a great tract of sandy soil kicked out from one of the burrows, along with all the leaves and twigs they’d been using as bedding. It looked pretty deep. I thought if this was anything to go by, we were in for a hard winter.

I’d just rejoined the main path when I saw Jenny striding along, her pug Cecil waddling out in front. I waved, and waited. Cecil reached me first, checking me over in that abrupt, flat-faced way he has, a border guard demanding my papers.

‘Oh for goodness sake!’ says Jenny, waving him away. ‘Leave the poor man alone!’
‘How are you, Jenny?’
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ she says. ‘I only wish I could say the same for Cecil.’
‘Why? What’s wrong?’
‘What isn’t wrong, more to the point. He’s on antibiotics. For his ears. And now he’s completely off his food. He’s just not interested. I’ve tried everything – even his favourite, raw mince.’
‘Raw mince?’
‘Nothing. Not a sniff.’
‘Sorry to hear it.’
I look down at Cecil. I’ve never seen such a healthy-looking dog. Sleek lines, muscular back. I can imagine him in the Olympics, shoving a javelin through the air, or wrestling another pug flat on its back.
‘He’s wasting away,’ says Jenny. ‘Poor thing!’
Cecil is bored by all the attention. He starts eating some grass, with great relish, his slobbery tongue slapping at the leaves.
‘Cecil no!’ yells Jenny, hauling him away. ‘For goodness sake! You’ll kill yourself at this rate!’
He huffs indignantly, then waddles further ahead to eat the grass there, in peace.
‘He slept with me last night,’ says Jenny, dragging her hair back, making a mime of putting it into a non-existent scrunchie, then releasing it to spring forwards into exactly the same position. ‘It’s so unlike him. I didn’t mind, though. It meant I could keep an eye on him. Anyway. How are you?’
‘Yeah. I’m fine. I was just looking at the badgers. They’re digging deep. I wonder if it’s going to be a hard winter.’
‘Badgers’ says Jenny, glancing over her shoulder with a shudder. ‘I don’t think Cecil is all that good with badgers.’

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