Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Tuesday 4 May 2010

For how long must one reside in a place (other than one's birthplace) before one is considered 'local'?

I don't mean in terms of "League of Gentlemen"-Tubbs-&-Edward-local (two mad inbreds who kill and eat anyone who isn't "local" or who touches the 'precious things' in their shop - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOtpgz4L5d8&feature=related) but, rather, local as in where one feels generally comfortable, settled and accepted by one's community.

My partner has been living in our small town for approximately the last 28 years (being a London lass by birth) and I have resided here with her for some 9½ years.  I feel, therefore, qualified to deem myself a "local dog".

At the end of last week, my partner and I went on our "thrift" walk (one where we do not need to drive to the start/finish point.  The walk in question is pleasant enough, but involves a longish stretch on a country road, where the local well-to-do types speed around blind corners in their high-powered vehicles.  My partner is understandably nervous about exposing my precious self to such risks).  This walk, however, has my personal swimming pool on the last stretch of a safe little road - the same little road that passes my garden.  For, at one point, the river crosses the road by way of a ford - here is a nice picture of it (facing in the direction towards my little house):

© Photo copyright Peter Jordan and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

My partner knows this little road and its ford well - as young pups, she and her brother used to play in the water and now I delight in doing the same.  The depth of the water usually averages 1½ft, a little less in Summer; a little more in Winter - but, essentially, the ford is the same today as it was at least twenty years ago.  Indeed, I imagine it is little changed from how it looked a hundred years ago.

Keep this in mind, therefore, as I ask you what kind of fool drives an ordinary car along this lane, past a prominent fixed sign bearing the legend "Deep Ford" AND a temporary sign saying "Road Closed" (placed after a record number of previous fools (two in as many months, after decades without problems!) failed to heed the first sign)?  The nature of this fool may become clearer if you further consider that then, having passed these clearly-visible warnings, our fool reaches the ford, sees its depth (the longer pole on the left just in front of the fence-line is a depth-gauge, with markings at one-foot intervals), and thinks "Hmmm.  Yes, I WILL try to drive my little car through this picturesque ford."

This is what my partner and I found at the ford towards the end of our walk:

Ignore (if you can) the handsome fellow wading across the far bank of the river (it being too cold to actually swim properly through the water).  On the hubcap affixed to the fence post the following has been written, in black marker pen: "Don't do it!" and "You'll get stuck!" 

And before one even reaches the water's edge, one sees the temporary "Road Closed" sign:
The ubiquitous black marker pen has once again been applied
 and reads: "SatNav Error!" and "Deep hole in ford".

Now, personally, I eschew the SatNav system.  My partner and I prefer not to be distracted by a sanctimonious (and not a little bit sinister) piece of junk whilst driving, relying instead on good, old-fashioned maps.  However, I like to think that EVEN IF my SatNav guided me to the edge of a deep body of water, I would not then be stupid enough to proceed with an obviously futile attempt to drive through said water. 

For goodness' sake.

And to the anonymous driver I say this.  Yes, dear, there IS a "deep hole in ford".  We locals call it "the ford".
It was difficult to explain exactly how I felt on this development (Kipper's adoption) - I raced through a mixture of emotions, although not one of them was jealousy. On the one paw, I felt bereft at the thought of losing my best friend and pack leader whereas, on the other, I was genuinely thrilled and delighted for him. I was also both excited and apprehensive about the fact that I would shortly succeed Kipper as pack leader of the dogs' block.
The family who had selected Kipper were due to come and collect him in some ten days' time - apparently they had not intended on making a definitive choice of dog that Saturday, but once they had met Kipper they were smitten, and eager to "reserve" him. In the meantime, I overheard, they needed to finish decorating their house, as well as needing to obtain all the things necessary for dog-ownership (although the shelter could provide a bed, a collar and lead and a 'starter pack' of food, a lot of people chose to get such things themselves and leave the offered items for the less-fortunate dogs still at the shelter). We were thus in the rare position of being able to have a proper paw-over of leadership from Kipper to me; the transfer of power amongst dogs being almost identical to the almost-brutal swiftness of human rule, the traditional proclamation being:- "The King is dead. Long live the King!". Except that Kipper was going to a happy new home instead of the less-savoury fate.

As for Kipper himself, he could hardly believe his good fortune. Experience had taught him not to expect a better life and here it now was, opening up before him. But it was not all unfettered joy. I could tell that Kipper would be very, very sad to leave behind the shelter where he had lived for so long - even though he was going to a good home. He was also wracked with indecision as to what to tell Pebble. We discussed it on our walk the next morning.

"He's only just begun to settle." sighed Kipper. "Do I tell him now, so that he can prepare himself - or at the last minute, so that he doesn't work himself up into a state?"

"Hmmm..." I replied, thinking hard. "But Pebble is generally popular in the block now, with a number of particular friends. He WILL miss you, more than he would miss any other friend, that's true. But I believe he will be pleased for you. He really does love you, Kipper."

Kipper sighed again. "That barked though, Kip," I continued. "He's had enough to deal with in his life so far. Pay him the compliment of being straight with him. I think he'd like the time to be able to work out what he wants to bark in farewell to you. We'll ALL keep an eye out for Pebble for you. But the best way in these things is always to be honest."

Kipper nodded.

"Cap., you are one smart dog.” he grinned. “I cannot imagine leaving the shelter in any paws better than yours. Thanks, mate.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he added with a wink “D’you suppose I’ll get the song of triumph?”

“Kip.,” I laughed, head-butting my friend affectionately in the ribs, “We’ll sing it so loud for you that we’ll blow the roof off!” And we chuckled together as we trotted back towards our block.

As soon as we returned to our pens, I heard Kipper quietly summon Pebble to the rear of their adjoining pens and tell him clearly and calmly what had happened and what to expect. Pebble was then taken out for his walk, whilst his pen was cleaned, and we heard him crying piteously all the way around the exercise field. Kipper looked fairly torn-up with guilt, and I gave him more than one reassuring smile. However, by the time he came back, Pebble seemed to have sorted everything out in his head and was able to join in the general hearty congratulations which everyone was offering to Kipper.

Rats (the Jack Russell) showed particular empathy and devoted much of his time to keeping Pebble’s mind occupied, teaching him the cheeky songs that amused the little Staffie-cross into helpless giggles.

However, even these events were shortly overshadowed by a crisis in the bitches’ block.

A particularly virulent strain of tummy-bug swept mercilessly through the bitches’ block almost overnight. At least two-thirds of the ladies were affected with uncontrollable, foully noxious, diarrhoea. Dave was up for two nights on the go, without rest, and several of the kennel-maids were summoned to assist him through the nights. At the height of the episode Dave even gave up rinsing out and re-using the buckets filled with the foul slurry – the full buckets were simply thrown away and replaced with new ones. But for the endeavours of the shelter’s vet (a retired veterinary surgeon, who donated his services for free – meaning the shelter paid only for the medicines), at least four of the bitches would have died. And it was only in further thanks to him – and Dave’s valiant endeavours to contain the infection through constant vigilance and the use of copious pints of disinfectant – that the illness was confined to the bitches’ block.

With the infection at its height, Kipper and I (as pack leader-elect) implemented a programme of soothing singing throughout the nights, to distract and ease the ailing bitches. Pebble’s beautiful tenor rose above us all. When the danger had passed, the bitches were careful to communicate their grateful thanks to us through their own song of gratitude and through wee-mails left in the exercise field.

There is not much that now remains to relate of my association with Kipper. But one thing that DOES remain is the relation of an incident to which I briefly alluded in a previous episode:- The night that Kipper REALLY lost his temper…

Good night.
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