Ian Beck

Official site of Ian Beck author / illustrator

An all expenses paid weekend in the country

This Morning it was back to business very much as normal-sunshine- riverside- squirrel chase- paper shop-look sadly for Minnie no sign –home—breakfast, but just a few short days before all was very different…. (cue harp music and a wobbly screen image, yes dear readers here is a period style 1940s flashback sequence) ….come with me now to the deep countryside and a place called… Dorset.

Part One
Alarms and Arrivals and the Key Mystery

As usual I was lured on to the back seat of the evil car (all cars are evil) with a Hansel and Gretel trail of Cathedral City Vintage Mature cut into natty little cubes. I can’t help it I just can’t resist it yum, and I fall for this base trick every time. So after clambering in the back and scoffing off the mini cheddar treats we were off and I dozed on the back seat for what seemed like the length of my entire puppyhood.  All went very well until we actually reached the mythical cottage.

While Pamphlet man struggled to hold on to me and drag the many bags and cases back out of the evil car it turned out that the mistress seemed to have brought the wrong key so we were locked out of the cottage and couldn’t get in which did not please pamphlet man at all.
‘It might be an idea to actually label the cottage key’, he fumed quietly, while holding me back from exploring a patch of what looked like waste ground but was in actuality Barry’s garden. Barry lives one building along from the cottage and had a band saw and bench set up outside his front door in the lovely afternoon sunshine and a very old evil car up on bricks in his front ‘garden’.
He came out holding a plank of wood.
‘We’re locked out’, Pamphlet man said, ‘brought the wrong key’, he added nodding in the ditrection of the mistress.
‘Oh right’, Barry said.
‘I don’t suppose you have a spare’.
‘No’, Barry said looking hard at the edge of his plank of wood.

The mistress thought that the neighbour opposite had been left with a key ‘ages ago’. She went and spoke to her but soon came back out.
‘She’s busy making cakes for a friend’s wedding so can’t look now, her husband’s out till 5 30 and even then she wasn’t certain they would find it’.
Pamphlet man looked at his watch. It was 2. 20 he sighed loudly and was less happy than before if possible.
I admit I was getting nervous too. They kept trying the wrong key this way and that hoping perhaps that the lock would forget and suddenly open if they sneaked up on it.
The mistress eventually lugged all the shopping to the back door and went off to ask another neighbour about possible keys. Pamphlet man sat down on the porch step and I curled up beside him. The sun was shining, it was warm. Although we couldn’t actually get inside there could be worst places to sit on a fine September afternoon with the view of the distant hills across the valley and birds singing and a gentle breeze stirring the leaves.

Then there a massive whining sound which went up and down the scale like a screaming mad banshee. Barry had started up his electric band saw in his front patch. Pamphlet man was a little unhappier now if that was at all possible. I was getting more than a bit worried and nervous myself. The noise was deafening, worse than any of the planes which fly over our house every five minutes back in West London.
I was getting stressed out now by everything, the piles of luggage bags all round me, a cross Pamphlet man and the huge screeching saw noise…. welcome to the country.

The mistress came back and said, ‘no good’.
‘ What’, said Pamphlet man cupping his ear?
‘I said, NO GOOD’, and showed her empty hands.
‘Can’t hear a thing for that’….(the saw stopped its screaming suddenly)… BLOODY SAW’, pamphlet man shouted into the silence.
Barry appeared from behind his B&D workmate just as the cake baking lady also appeared with a key ring.
‘Try these’, she said.
Barry stood quietly his head wobbling oddly and then said
‘You’m have to take me to hospital, seem to have cut the end of my thumb off again’.
He was holding a bunched up and bloodied bit of kitchen roll against his hand.
‘Second time this week’, he added, ‘ought to put the safety on, they’ll tell me off proper this time’.

The Mistress had no choice but took Barry off to the hospital 15 miles away. I didn’t much like seeing her suddenly drive off with the strange and bloodied man and went off on one of my whinings as if it was early morning. Pamphlet man tried all the spare keys on the cake baker’s key ring while holding my lead in the other hand. One of the keys turned the barrel of the lock but nothing else, no door opened.
We were expecting weekend guests to turn up, ‘two veggies and a vegan’, Pamphlet man had quipped at the cake baker earlier. They were old friends and due at any moment. All the shopping including bags of ice and my doggie treats were gradually going off under my dog blanket by the back door of the cottage.
I was properly spooked by something, nothing, whatever it was …the shadows under the trees I don’t know I even barked once which as you know is very unlike me.

Pamphlet Man fed up with waiting for guests and keys took me for a walk around the little village. Many evil cars and pick ups came thundering past much worse than in our ordered suburbia. They were faster too and appeared round bends without warning and belched out fumes. The drivers seemed to favour cowboy hats and confederate flag bumper stickers. Pamphlet man was forced back against the hedgerows and stung his arm on some nettles, which did not help his mood.
When we got back to the cottage a small dog which looked like a bath mat came and barked at me loudly and for no reason which caused me to bark back and frighten the little girl holding the dog’s lead. The mother of the girl with the barking bath mat was the self same wedding cake baking lady and she finally produced a spare key to the cottage just as the mistress drew up having dropped Barry off at the hospital.

Pamphlet man was able to get a drink, ‘at last’ he said sighing and slumping down at the wide kitchen table. The table takes up nearly the whole kitchen floor space and so wherever I stood I was in the way, so that was a good start. Soon the visitors arrived.
‘You missed all the fun’, Pamphlet man said.
Soon everyone was busy loading the fridge and cooking and generally fussing about. Everytime I stood somewhere somebody else needed to be in exactly that same spot so I was moved on or shooed over to the further corner and then back again it was all very confusing to a nervous girl.
The cottage kitchen is too small. but at least we were inside it and Pamphlet man had his desperately needed chilled drink.

We went out later and it was dark. I mean really dark.There was no street lighting of any kind just starlight and owls hooting very close to us. I just couldn’t see anything at all. Lots to smell but not to see. It made me nervous and I certainly couldn’t ‘go’ in any significant way. The pamphlet man needs to buy a torch asap. Pamphlet man took me out on to a patch of neglected garden. This had once been an orchard but it was now just scrub and weeds and nettles and ankle deep in all kinds of interesting smells. I spent a long time as possible snuffling there and fast circling, my usual prelude to dropping a hot bundle but I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. The smells here in the real countryside are in the end confusing and not a little worrying too.
We went further on down a steep slope into the village. I walked past a very large and somehow familiar machine. It was much higher off the ground than any evil car. It had huge rear wheels with thick set tyres. The wheels were all covered over with lumps of  dried mud. Something haunted me about this machine. I had to get very strong indeed on the lead ( a squirrel sighting strength tug), and pull at Pamphlet man very hard in order to get me over the road so that I could have a good look at it and a good sniff at it too.

Some indefinable tug attracted me, something from my deep buried past, there was something almost Proustian about this big ugly yellow and blue machine. Ifinally got Pamphlet man near enough to it so that I could snuffle with my nose twitching fast and breathe it all in and savour it.

‘Why on earth are sniffing at a dirty old tractor’, was all he said?

He seems to forget that the orphanage from where he rescued me was in the middle of a farm. At times he is truly clueless…..

After our late afternoon walk around the village we got back to the cottage to find that the second key had failed to work yet again. We were all of us completely locked out for the second time. Pamphlet man was not happy at all, especially when the mistress reminded him of his reaction to her bringing the so called ‘wrong  key’, it was clearly and plainly the lock that was wrong not the key
The delightful vegan girl, Perdita (very good at head rubs and under chin strokes btw) gamely offered to climb up and in through a narrow upstairs window which had been left open. There was a ladder in two halves at the side run. Perdita’s father (for shorthand purposes known as Erudite Veggie 1) reluctantly fetched the two halves of the ladder. He gamely tried to assemble the messy thing into one complete ladder but finally said,
‘It’s not only bent out of true but they are two different ladders and don’t actually belong together at all’.

Perdita insisted on trying anyway and so one half of the two ladders, the straighter half, was laid up against the cottage wall.
‘You are going to hold it aren’t you Dad’?
‘Yes of course I am darling’, E Veggie 1 said with eyebrows raised.
Perdita got on to the ladder with any number of squeals and laughs. She started to climb only to say when half way up the ladder,
‘I just remembered something’.
And that is’?
‘I suffer from vertigo’.
‘Good time to remember darling’, E Veggie 1 said and sighed.
Down she came and the ladder was replaced.

Barry appeared from behind his work bench with a fresh selection of brightly coloured plasters now covering both hands ( see part one) and said without much enthusiasm.
‘Got dozens of locks layin around in this place ere, barrels an’ all. That is all old proper Yales everything, soon drill that out and fix a new one f’yer want’.
‘Thanks’, Pamphlet man said doubtfully, ‘we may need to do just that’.
I was getting restless again. The wind had got up in the dense trees near the church and I thought there could be anything lurking there who knows what kind of creatures hide in a country churchyard, and it panicked me.

Perdita was reminded of something by her mother, ( known here for shorthand purposes as Sweetheart Veggie 2 )
‘What about the time the lock failed at your flat in Camberwell’?
‘Oh my God’, Perdita said, ‘the landlady had to come trailing over more than once all the way from Sutton, and she was always drunk, and that was just to open the door and she kept muttering on each time about, oh I really must get this seen to, but of course she never did. In the end I learned to fiddle it just to let myself in to my own flat.
‘Why not try that now’, S Veggie 2 sensibly suggested.
Perdita took the offending key and manipulated it in the lock, listening carefully and half turning it like an experienced cat burglar. After a few seconds of discreet fiddling and clicking she flung open the door.
‘You are a dangersous girl to know’, said Pamphlet man admiringly

Once inside the remote Dorset Cottage there are two steps down to the ground floor bedroom where Pamphlet man chooses to sleep ‘nice and close to the bathroom’, as he never tires of telling anyone who will still listen,
‘I once had a nasty experience staying at this place all on my own. I fell down the stairs in the pitch dark during a middle nightime loo visit and it haunts me still’, he told the whole table after supper while waving his wine glass around (yet again) and with an exaggerated shudder . Supper by the way had involved parmesan cheese which caused me to go in for one of my sideways head laid on table while hoovering up crumbs and fragments with eager toungue moments…I admit…. I am not proud

At first try I just couldn’t manage to go down those bedroom steps. They are not very high but for me they were the equivalent of a sheer cliff face or that tower on the mission church in Vertigo when James Stewart looks down and everything seems to zoom forward and pull back at the same time making for a very woozy sensation, well think of that and double it, and I had that in spades. A girl is after all aware of the delicate nature of her fine long legs So on that first night I stood there feeling a little sorry for myself. I stared ahead through the half open bedroom door. I was like a locked out half frozen and starving orphan with its nose to the window of a warm restaurant window watching all the people inside laughing and eating. There was Pamphlet man lolling on his bed after his Buffalo Grass Vodka Tonics and his wine all cosy and I couldn’t join him, we Greyhounds are sensitive souls and we suffer terribly from separation anxiety. I was not unlike my usual early morning self and I went in for a wee bit of shameless whimpering and so forth. I finally gave up and went back to one of the two discarded and shabby sofas in the front room. I will manage the steps at some point and achieve the goal of finally getting on to Pamphlet man’s bed.I managed finally to broach the stairs down to the bedroom this morning. I stood for a while hesitating with one delicate paw (and they are very delicate, and I like to think elegant as well, I assure you), hovering, circling the drop, and then returning the single paw to the top step, trying again, hovering and then returning, this sad dance went on for a while and then I finally let go and went down a step.

This marked a great personal triumph for me sadly unnoticed by any of the others. Pamphlet man was dozing and was only half aware of my final encirclement, encroachment and small leap of surreptitious invasion on to his narrow bed. He blearily, and still half asleep, reached out and stroked my head and neck (always welcome) while I pushed myself down hard between his body (warm) and the wall and stretched out full length.This means that I am now fully able to get up on to pamphlet man’s bed when required, at least in this place. This is surely a first and now his fate is sealed.
However he struggled up shortly after that and pattered across the chilly lino tiles into the bathroom.  I tried to follow him only to find myself trapped on his bed. The same Hitchockian Vertigo woozy sensation that had afflicted me on the stairs happened all over again. I stood wobbly and unsure, teetering on the very edge of the bed. Pamphlet man found me there on his return. I looked up at him as best I could manage with my pitiful ‘lickle orphan eyes’ expression.
‘You are joking’, he said, I thought just a little harshly.
‘Not again, look its not even as high as the stair’, he added, ‘you got up there easily enough’, and pulled at my collar in an attempt to yank me off the bed.
‘Come on’, he said.
I wouldn’t move. I went into immovable solid statue mode.
He sloped off and came back with my dreaded lead and buckled it on. He pulled at me and I did my best to ‘dig in’, that is I braced myself on the bed. I hadn’t reckoned though with the bedcover, a puffy slippery thing which slid against the sheets underneath it so that I was pulled forwards in slow motion and eventually tumbled down in a muddle on to the lino with half the cover wrapped round my feet.
‘Silly dog’, he said, (charming) ‘don’t you want to go to the beach later’?
Well yes actually I did.
So later on that afternoon, (and a perfect afternoon it was) we set off in two cars for the beach.

I was excited to see the sea and there it suddenly was. It was looking especially beautiful. It was flat and calm and a very appealing colour, a kind of light turquoise blue while the the sky faded from a similar blue down to a soft Naples yellow at the horizon. The car park was crowded as was the beach, families and children running about and all enjoying the last of the summer sun. There was also just to be extra tantalising the delicious smell of beach barbecues. I detected sausage bacon and chicken on the air and my oh so tender and sensitive nose roiled and twitched at it, oh the bliss.

We walked towards the seething crowds of happy people all enjoying th sea and the late afternoon light. There was a gap in the wall and beyond the gap I could see the golden sand of the beach itself. I prepared myself, I raised my forepaw and was about to take my first step on to the soft shimmering stuff when pamphlet man noticed a National Trust sign which read, No Dogs Allowed Until After September 30th, this was  accompanied by an insulting graphic symbol of an all purpose dog with a line through it.
So that was that.
Pamphlet man pulled me away at the last minute and we stood together in the car park. It was agreed that The mistress and S Veggie 2 and delightful Vegan Perdita would paddle while pamphlet man and E Veggie 1 would climb the grassy cliff path which was at least awash with a selection of good doggie trail smells.

As we climbed higher the beach and the sea looked even more inviting, the sunlight sparkled on the waves and the beach barbecue smells overlaid everything and drove me mad. A couple were far off near the very edge of the cliff. The woman had a baby in a sling on her front which was crying and the man was on his hands and knees carefully searching the ground where they were standing. He was very carefully patting at the grass with the flat of his hand while the woman jiggled the baby up and down and the baby cried and cried.
‘Dropped the dummy’, said Pamphlet man with the usual spurious air of authority and using his ‘seen it all before’ voice.

We got to the top of the cliff with a view back across the bay laid out below us Pamphlet man was excited by a building left over from the war.
‘Pillbox’, he said pointing.
‘Yes’, said E Veggie 1 as if half agreeing but at the same time in a subtly questioning tone, ‘certainly a commanding view’.
‘Yes they laid mines all along these beaches too’, said Pamphlet man, still in his air of authority mode.

There was a mile post or perhaps it was an ordnance survey marker or somesuch thing at the summit and there while I was enjoying a ‘watery moment’ on the long grass which by the way I was also enjoying eating. E Veggie 1 found a pair of glasses on the ground.
Pamphlet man in a very rare moment of perception said,
‘that man over there at the cliff edge was looking for something as we came up’.
Indeed he still was, the cries of the baby could be heard wafting up from the lower slopes and the man was still there down on his hands and knees patting the ground gently all round with both hands.
‘I doubt they would care so much about a baby’s dummy’, E Veggie 1 said.
He set off, striding downslope across the tussocks with the glasses held high above his head, calling out as he walked.
‘Are you looking for these’, to the crouching figure, who must have been crawling around on his hands and knees on the ground for at least half an hour?
‘Oh yes’, came a heavily accented and even at our distance an obviously very relieved reply.

A happy reunion of glasses and owner followed as E Veggie 1 handed them over.
It turned out that the owner of the glasses was Dutch and there he was on a remote Dorset cliff top having his glasses returned by, if not the only man in England who spoke any Dutch at all, then certainly the only man on that beach or cliff who did.
‘ Admittedly’, said E Veggie 1 on his return ‘I speak it in the slightly specialised accent of a Rotterdam Stevedore which must have puzzled him’.
Plainly E Veggie 1 has had an interesting past. The return of the glasses was a satisfying moment for all, a happy ending to the afternoon and later on even the key worked in the front door. Later still I managed to sleep on pamphlet man’s bed for the first time and all night. I might have been denied the beach but I got to sleep on the beach blanket a real triumph.


Am I the second Mrs De Winter?

If I lay with my head sideways, which I often do rather than lay it down directly along my paws. Then all the things beyond the doorway out in the garden (which by the way it is plainly my job to guard and supervise from the predations of the squirrel and sometimes wood pigeon population) can look a little odd to me. Indeed sometimes my whole life looks just a little odd. Admittedly I personally look much more elegant, more classy, more like an art deco fashion plate, if I rest my adorable chin on my lightly crossed finely wrought paws. But this other way of lying down however abandoned and slovenly it looks, (almost like the pose a mongrel might flop into) gives me the fresh perspective I sometimes need on things.
I like to be near Pamphlet man either in his Dacha when he is working and listening to all that Debussy and old movie music or laying next to him on the sofa while he watches old films. He is mad about old films. He says, ‘certain films have to be watched if they are on. Even if you have them on DVD or Bluray, if they are on you watch them it’s a rule’. He has lots of daft rules like that and he is very strict about them.
To me the old movies are all a bit much of a muchness. However sometimes my attention will be awakened and I actually watch one with him all the way through. Yes from beginning to end and with my ears all sticking up and my best intelligent expression on.
‘Are you actually watching this film you daft dog’ he said when he noticed that I was indeed watching and paying very close attention to Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca with Joan Fontaine and dreamy Laurence Olivier. This is one of the films he has to watch when it is on and he is made aware that it is on. It is in black and white, now people allege that we dogs see only in black and white; such nonsense. We see everything in a heightened and deeply saturated version of 1950s Metrocolor and of course in VistaVision widescreen motion picture high fidelity as well. Our hearing is pretty impressive too. I can hear Pamphlet man pick up the two keys for his Dacha from almost any distance. I can hear that tiny almost non existent jingle as the two keys clash together and chime on their little wire ring from wherever I am in the house and I come running.
Similarly in the early morning I can hear Pamphlet man stump off to the bathroom with all the splashing and I am at once alert and ready to go into whimper mode, just to remind him that I am here and need almost immediate and urgent attention. To be fair to him he does emerge and stroke me hard and strong all down my back to calm me because I can’t help it I get all emotional it is in my nature.
When I first arrived in Pamphlet Man’s house I realise now that I was not unlike the second Mrs De Winter, (played so winningly by the lovely Joan Fontaine) I was trembling and nervous with all the family lining up to see me when I arrived. Pamphlet man was an odd mix of both Max De Winter and Mrs Danvers (without of course the glamour of the first and the spite and oddity of the second …but still…) with his strict adherence to the rules taken from his awful Greyhound care advice pamphlet, and perhaps more so with talk of the dog he used to have. This was Chips the cocker spaniel (not to be confused with Chipp my little ‘Gennulman Caller’ poodle). Pamphlet man would trot Chips’ name out at every opportunity whenever anyone asked him if he had ever owned a dog before, ‘well’, he would say with a gulp, ‘there was old Chips our Spaniel’, and then a silence would descend and he would look lost in thought as at a deep emotion recollected in tranquility, or so I thought at first. I did my best to live up to the memory of this other dog this rival for the affections of Pamphlet man. I did not go as far as to dress up as an old spaniel for a family party (I told you that my resting position led to some very odd thoughts and notions) nor did Pamphlet man try both subtly and cruelly to persuade me to jump out of an open window to my doom. No I was treated if anything too well hence my occupation of the best sofa and my watching Rebecca through more than once, in idle comfort, (yes I paid full attention to it twice; once with Pamphlet man and once with his charming daughter and with my head resting on her feet just as she likes it while we watched).
It was only later that I learned the truth about the first Mrs De Winter or should I say Chips the spaniel. It turned out that Chips was a dog from the very deep past. Pamphlet Man’s Aunt and Uncle had him during World War 2. A new dog was moved into the family home by Pamphlet Man’s aunt’s Father in law, (goodness humans are complicated) this was a fierce Jack Russell called, (as far as I could gather) Toby. It appeared, from the garbled story that Pamphlet man told in the country after a couple of Vodka tonics, that Toby attacked the older dog Chips and that ‘blood spattered the cosy parlour walls in Hangleton’. Pamphlet man’s parents agreed to take the older dog on to save the situation. So it was that Pamphlet man had his own childhood dog, the elderly and admittedly failing spaniel called Chips, named it turned out after another old black and white movie of the 1930s, Goodbye Mr Chips starring Robert Donat. When Pamphlet man later suffered a bout of childhood measles the dog was quietly put down and no one told him until much later when he was better and wondered where his dog had gone.
I didn’t feel so bad after that. I had imagined at first that Chips was a recent dog and the wound of his passing still fresh, but no just an average childhood trauma for Pamphlet man. I think I ought to go and push my oh so strokeable forehead at him while he works or at least lean on him the next time he stands up, that will make him feel much better.

Other Breeds

I have no wish to appear snobbish or stand- offish but up until very recently, (and the blessed advent of the man who believes and acts on all the advice in his barely ‘skim read’ dog trust pamphlet, and who shall with good reason henceforth be known as Pamphlet Man, (not an off-shoot of Cro- Magnon Man but in a way not so very far removed, except I bet Cro-Magnon Man allowed the odd scrap of meat to fall from his rough stone slab to the waiting hound), I have known only the company of other greyhounds in the dog world. Therefore other breeds of dog are a bit of a mystery to me and frankly most of the  time they are a worry too.

   I glimpse them on our walks. The Pamphlet man keeps me away from them to a certain extent having read the advice to do so in his wretched pamphlet., At first he walked me in my racing muzzle, ‘just in case’. In case what, I decided to eat a poodle or something? I felt like a freak. Here was I, epitome of athletic elegance and gentle restraint personified being dragged through the frankly suburban streets like some latter day Hannibal Lecter. I started rubbing the muzzle on the newly painted inner walls of the house before we left and wildly shaking my head while wearing the foul thing and finally, (finally), he got the message. Mind you I still had to wear it on our trip to the pet supermarket because they have floor cages there stuffed to the gills with baby rabbits, rats, hamsters and probably the occasional kitten too, so I couldn’t  be trusted not to try and murder them all and so was trussed and stuffed back into my serial killer mask. Once in there though, as he could plainly see, I was only really interested in sniffing at the various kibble sacks and doggie treat boxes piled in glorious profusion all around.

   The ‘other breeds’ come in various types and sizes as do their owner / walkers (big cliche I know but there we are ‘tis true, ‘tis true), from largest to smallest. Worst of all is a massive thing which I have had occasion to mention before, and which causes me to almost bark every time I see it, or at the very least utter a low warning growl although I am not sure who I am warning certainly not the wolf hound itself. Even Pamphlet Man is wary of it and crosses the road to avoid it whenever we see it. It stands very tall and is at least up to the shoulders of the dumpy little man who is usually being pulled along in its wake and who seems to own it. Although on one even more alarming occasion I did note the same dog (please tell me that there aren’t two the same in the area) being minded by two teenage boys, both of a very flimsy, ‘hey do you get sand kicked in your face,’ type of  physique and both with a giggly and seemingly perilous grasp on proper dog handling. The wolf hound brute is at least silent, I doubt there is much intelligence there, if it did utter  at all it would be in simple bursts of declarative demand I have no doubt such as, ‘where water’, ‘where food’, ‘give’, that sort of thing.

     One step down from him is the, ‘dog behind the wall’. This is a big brute as well, big and black with a thick neck and an angry face. He is presumably employed as a guard dog in the back garden of one of the new and alarmingly expensive houses fresh built on the playing fields and grounds of a once upon a time University campus. This one hustles up to the wall, (mercifully topped by tall and narrow iron railings) and pokes his block shaped head out as far as it can and barks very loudly as we pass on the public footpath close to the river. I can hear his approach as we turn the corner. The brute is so dumb that he probably spends all day standing there, thick as a brick, waiting for dogs and walkers to turn the corner just so he can intimidate them from the safety of his well appointed garden, ‘Clear off you Mong’, he shouts in his vulgar way, ‘Get lorst, go on I can se yer I’m watchin yer’, not really impressive Mr Rottweiller, although I do my squat and water a bit faster if he is watching.

 A few back gardens further on is a worse one if that is possible, This one also comes hustling and bustling up to the wall and pokes its weird snout through the railings but the really disturbing thing about this one is A. It looks like a freak, and B. It is silent, no barking no growling, it just stares, and stares and stares. It looks actually a lot like some sort of mangy old lion gone wrong, gone very very wrong.

   Further on the route there are other regulars too. A man as old as Pamphlet man who waves his walking stick in friendly greeting and who has two smaller dogs, one  is a nippy Jack Russell born with one front leg shorter than the other which trots and dashes about free of any lead, ‘look at me, look at me, Hop-along Cassidy the third, bouncy bouncy, hoppity hop’, followed by a tiny scrap of a dog equally free of the lead with a face that looks like it has been left out in the rain and then scribbled over with a hairy crayon. This one seems a little more nervous, looks over at me and says, ‘just walking along ha ha, no trouble here, not from me at any rate, see my little legs going, ooooh they are fast twinkle twinkle, mean no harm, might just come and stick my distorted little nose up your bottom, only to be friendly like, mean no harm no offence’. None taken I’m sure, I do wish some dogs had warmer noses though, really. They are often followed by a blonde haired pulled, nay, scraped back very upright slender lady, ‘I was actually a dancer once I’ll bet you can tell’, in her velour trackies and carrying a thermos cup of coffee, she has a golden Labrador which gazes vacantly past me and says nothing, mainly I suspect because it is so dim it has nothing to say anyway. Last but by no means least in this weird collection is the evening Staffy. This one is also free of any lead and is very low slung and I suspect no spring chicken. She has very prominent dugs which hang even lower. She also sports a novelty support belt buckled around the area where her waist once was, this in turn is covered in tiny light bulbs red and white which flash alternately off and on. Words for once fail me. Imagine my relief to turn the corner and occasionally meet my twin Greyhound Minnie, she has one elegant and adorable nose just like mine and she can sniff my bottom whenever she wishes.

I Muse on Geezers and Ginsters

Our early walks always include a pit stop at the Paper Shop. We come out from behind the new and gated development on the riverside, walk past the bus stop, (where I sometimes squat just to worry ‘Pamphlet’ reader man aka The Master that I might be about to drop a hot one right in front of the early morning young women queueing there in their business suits and trainers with their office shoes in bags, but not this time, no, rest easy big guy, false alarm, its only a quick drop spurt or pavement christening and we do lots of those) this is the  very same place on the route where a few days ago I watched, in a positive and deranging fit of longing two, yes count them, two squirrels chasing each other like scamps round a tree trunk some 12 feet in the air, and oh how I pulled on the lead, and oh how I jumped up as high as I could, (which is pretty damn high because do not forget I am after all a recently retired professional athlete), only to be pulled back to earth by the Pamphlet reader / believer with both a bump and I felt a rather sharply voiced, ‘NO’.

We then cross the road using the appointed crossing stripes even though at that time of the morning there are few if any evil cars or air escaping, shock sighing buses and we could cross much nearer the paradise squirrel tree and get a really good look, but no I must be pulled the other way towards the paper shop. The paper shop does not sell just papers, it is a small enough shop, narrow and cluttered but also crowded with foodstuffs and well equipped with cold cabinets and hot cabinets where ‘Les Pies De Ginster’ and sausage rolls and other forbidden delicacies might sit giving off their wonderful and enticing smells. For that reason I am held to attention on the outer step of the shop while Pamphlet man persuades the nice lady in the shop to fetch his paper for him. That of course is if we are there when the shop is actually open. Usually we are too early for the shop to be open at all. A metal grill mesh is down over the entrance but outside is a amall trestle trable and on that rests a selection of papers administered by a different lady. She is very kindly but also strongly  reminiscent of the white coated fag on lip geezers who trained us  and walked us out before the baying crowds in the arena. This lady could be almost any age between 18 and 72, very hard to tell. Her hair is very black and pulled back tight across her head she also carries the fag on lip some mornings and in warm weather reveals her arms which have colourful markings and designs on them, very like the girls in the kennels. She calls Pamphlet man either ‘Darlin’,or ‘Luv’, which he seems to enjoy, she reminded him he told the Mistress later of the good hearted ladies who used to supervise tickets on the old London buses to the extent that he practically ‘wept at the thought’.  Others come to collect their papers from her too, always Geezers, and what is more Geezers with an eye for a handsome dog.

‘Racer was he’, one says, nodding his head and appraising me while stroking my back.

‘Yes, a she actually’, says prissy Pamphlet man who despite his own low origins is nervous of Geezers and real men.

‘Where’d she race then Wimbledon’, says the Geezer tucking his copy of The Sun under his arm and stroking me some more to which, of course, against my better judgement I respond?

‘No, down in Sussex’, says Pamphlet man unwilling it seems to say Hove for some reason.

‘Nice dog’, says Geezer who is now joined by an older Geezer number two.

‘I been through a couple a them’, says Geezer two, ruffling my ears, ‘just like little horses ain’t they eh, alright mate’?


‘Nice dogs, ‘fectionate, yes you are a very nice fectionate  dog aintcha’, fondling my ears and talking in baby talk which Pamphlet man secretly reverts to  all the time when he is alone with me.

’Come on then’, Pamphlet man says, ‘better get back’, and pulls me away from the geezers a moment I regret I have the feeling that if they were in charge of me there would be no pamphlet but there would instead be the odd Ginsters or Greggs treat.

We set off down the long stretch of main road to home which is when we usually have to make way for the early athletes. They come at us in waves one after the other, always women. They wear track suits or mis matched running gear and all look as much like professional athletes as possible. Some of them have devices strapped on their arms and all of them have headphones plugged into their ears and all of them, well almost all of them, look very miserable indeed, and sad and very cross too, especially cross if I am pulling to the side on the lead and they can’t run straight past us at once. No cheery good morning from them, no geezerish nod of recognition plus a nice conspiritorial, ‘we’re all in this together what can you do’, geezer wink, nothing like that, no cry of ‘Luv’ or ‘Darlin’, either just… getoutofourway or…. ruuningpersoncomingthrough..and in any case if I was let off the lead just the once (on no account let them off the lead says the Trust Pamphlet), I could take them on in a second and beat them hollow and snaffle the two scamp squirrels at the same time in the same run, and they wouldn’t see me for dust 0-46mph in six seconds that’s me.

It was Pamphlet man’s son’s 31st Birthday a week or so ago and the Pamphlet reader / believer (no scraps from the table) drew him a birthday card with a picture of me on it. Nice enough as it goes but note I am apparently being ridden by his son’s son, to think they actually tried this pose when they came round for tea too and dangled the little one on my back, the nerve, I’ll stick with the Geezers who know their place and how to treat a girl of high standing birth and winning athletic prowess.

Gracie’s Journal

I Muse on Rubbish Morning and Wild Beasts


Very early this morning I went into my piteous noises mode. This is as ever triggered by the mumbling and fumbling sounds, the stump of heavy footfalls which filter down from the upper floor of the house. Some way up the stairs and far beyond the child gate, (which by the way can be played like a set of tubular bells given enough tail wagging excitement close enough to it,  the famous and rigorously obeyed ‘pamphlet’ recommended the child gate and so of course one was instantly bought and fixed, not of course by him oh no he is not very ‘practical’, and so cajoled and forced his poor daughter to build it for him). As if I had or indeed have any intention of ever going ‘upstairs’.

The master makes his bleary way to the bathroom. A cascade of water says that he will respond to my musical whimpers and collar jinglings just as soon as he can stuff himself into some clothes. I go into my ecstasy dance when he does appear for despite his belief in the rules of the Trust ‘pamphlet’ I am fond of the poor old fool and express it as noisily and as excitably as I possibly can. I think its good for him to think that at least someone is pleased to see him.

 ‘All right all right’, he says, ‘come on then let’s get this lead on’. I have described this particular tragi-comedy before. The general bleary collar fixing, lead adjustment etc. I am grateful to him though for that eventual release into the bright morning air. ‘No I want to go this way’, I imply I convey, or try to, whipping my head in the opposite direction to that which he is intending. ‘ I once saw a cat there four mornings ago it might just be there again today how do you know it won’t be’, I manage to convey through a gestural mime worthy of an avant garde Edinburgh Fringe performance. He of course is not to be moved by it and we set off , pull tug, in the preferred direction.

Rubbish collection morning is an especially difficult time. The streets are suddenly awash with exotic smells, lingering perfumes, wafts of delectable scents, they come from outside every house. There are black bags and boxes all of which seep with interest. There are little shallow black plastic rectangles which once held convenient slices and slivers of cooked meats. You would think that I might be allowed to linger and lick near such bounty wouldn’t you? Oh no, with techy mumblinbgs of, ‘ugh, leave that, come on, you don’t want that disgusting’. Of course pamphlet man is competely missing the point again. I may be high born, aristocratic even, ( my mare was a Swift and her mare before her was too) but I am when all is said and done a dog, and a dog has instinct,feeling, a very very sensitive nose and in my case as a sight hound way more than 20 20 vision.

Ofcourse the rubbish attracts the wrong sort as well. All up the street and beyond on the main road black bags have been ripped open and their contents rifled and scattered everywhere. This is the work of the unmentionables, of the untouchables, of those beyond the pale I am of course referring to ….Urban Foxes.

When the master and mistress (by the way she is proving an even weaker link than I could have hoped turning a blind eye and covertly allowing me to lick plates while they are being stacked in the dish washing device before pamphlet man has time to tell her to ‘shut it’) came to collect me from the rescue charity or orphanage, (I am sorry but that is how I see it) I was brought to them in disgrace because apparently, to quote the tatooed lady who looked after us, ‘I had been rolling in Fox poo’. Oh the humiliation, I was never so offended in my life. Even the white coated roll up fag on bottom lip man would never have gone so far. Rolling in Fox Poo, not just accidentally stepped in some, not just brushed past some while snuffling out something else. No I had deliberately ‘rolled in it’ as if I were some sort of mad dog who went around seeking out Fox Poo to roll around in, ‘oh here’s a nice dark stinking dollop, I’ll just lie down and get that all over myself’, I ask you does that seem likely? So I was rubbed over with Lavender oil standing in front of my prospective Master and Mistress, you would think they would reject me at once and go with a cleaner dog, but no they stuck with their decision and took me fair play to them but then I had to get in the evil car but that must be for another day.

So Urban Foxes, on rubbish morning they have left their pioneer trail of destruction, and by the time I am beig led along the crows are making free with all the exposed tid bits, which is very frustrating. Then we turned  a corner on a quiet stretch near the river and there he was a big dog fox. He was standing on the path bold as brass. I stared at him and he stared at me, vulgar presumptive beast.

‘What you starin at darlin’?

‘I’m not staring at anything’.

‘You are you’re staring at me luv, you can’t get enough of me, you fancy me you do, you like a bit of rough admit it darlin, I’m everything you could want just come near and have a sniff of me if you’re hard enough, if you can take it’.

The master pulled me up tight on the lead, ‘clear off’, he shouted.

‘Ooh very frightening;, the Fox said, staring straight ahead at us, ‘I’m trembling with fear, old fat blokes like you really worry me keep your ‘air on grandad’, and he slowly trotted away. I did pull a bit on the lead after that in order to get near and sniff the place where he had been standing just for interests sake you understand but the master was very firm.

No more rolling in Fox Poo for you’, he said, ‘I’m all out of lavender oil. Really there are times, if he’s not careful I’ll save up a nice runny gift and drop it by the busy bus stop just to watch him try to bend and scoop. More when and if, including the perils of car journeys…..

Gracie Hound (2008-2020 AKA Swift Chariot


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