I am pleased to report that my partner's geranium propagation experiment has been a TOTAL success. Not a single one of the three prunings she planted has survived. I managed to look sufficiently mournful as the withered shoots were disposed of, concealing a grin of malicious glee behind one of my pillows. At the same time, my partner confided that she is thinking of putting a raised soil-bed into our garden this spring, in which to grow our own vegetables. We both enjoy home-grown tasty veg. Apart from lettuce, of course, which my partner likes but which I simply cannot abide. That naughty leaf is the devil's own toilet paper.
"How exciting!" I beamed, when my partner mentioned her horticultural plans to me. "How naïve..." I chuckled to myself, rubbing my paws together with glee, as soon as my partner had turned her back... I do SO love victims who fail to learn from their experiences - they truly are the gifts that keep on giving...
Barking of gifts, I was in my garden yesterday when I spotted my friend and near-neighbour Eddie the Rottweiler outside his house. His front-door was open and he and his female partner were clearly on the watch for something or someone. Most likely, they were waiting for the arrival of a friend of the partner and her Rottweiler - Eddie's long-term gentleman-'companion', Angus. They generally all went out in a car every day to take their exercise and exchange gossip. Edward had been dressed in a brand-new dark blue coat, which I assumed had been a Christmas gift. He saw me in my garden and ambled over for a chat.
"Happy New Year, young sir." said Eddie as he arrived at my fence.
"Happy New Year Ed," I replied, with a wag of my tail. "That's a very handsome new coat you have on there - was it a Christmas gift?"
Eddie frowned and grunted dismissively, but I gleaned enough to learn from his muttering that it had, indeed, been a present from Angus and that Edward was NOT a grateful recipient. "Well," I persisted, "I think it looks very smart. Don't you like it?"
"It's the one I gave him for his birthday!" replied Eddie, crossly.
"Ah. Whoops - Oh dear."
"Hmmn... do you remember me telling about the ghastly chequered jacket he got from his partners last Christmas?" asked Edward. I thought for a moment.
"Ah yes - the one that made him look like a 'fat old fairy'?" I smiled.
"The very one." said Eddie, dryly. "Well, it was becoming absolutely ridiculous. You know the trouble Angus has with finding something to flatter his hips. When he was wearing that silly little jacket and out walking I never knew whether it was Angus and his fat ar*e or the number 64 bus that was looming down on me."
I laughed. "You're a vicious old s*d sometimes, Edward."
"I bark only the truth, dear boy."
I took a closer look at the big Rottweiler's coat. "Are you sure it's the same jacket as the one you gave him, Ed?" I asked. "I thought Angus's one had leather strap and brass-buckle fastenings?"
"Only the best for my Angus." replied Eddie. "What's your point, old Jazz?"
"Well, your coat IS the same colour - but it has silver popper fastenings. Look at them there. Are you sure that Angus hasn't given you a similar coat so that you can go out dressed almost the same way?"
Eddie looked down and examined the fastenings at the rear-underside of his new coat. He grunted.
"He must have customised it." muttered Eddie.
"Oh, come on, Ed." I sighed.
"Oh, alright," decided Eddie with a grin. "Yet again I defer to your greater wisdom. Did you get any nice gifts yourself?"
"Mine were all edible." I said. "My partner puts them out of reach though, and rations them carefully so that I don't eat them all at once." I didn't necessarily agree with this policy, but am well aware of my partner's views on pilfering, so I generally let it be. Plus, of course, I have long-since learned that stuffing one's belly full of rich treats usually has unfortunate and embarrassing consequences on the following day.
"Oh, don't even get me started on that topic!" exclaimed Eddie, rolling his eyes heaven-wards. "I have to keep a very tight lead on Angus's Christmas treats. But for my constant vigilance, Angus's ar*e would take up an entire Google Streetview page to itself. It's already well on the way to having its own Post Code."
I mused to myself that, between the two of them, I'd always felt that Eddie was the larger dog. This was a thought, however, which I had resolved should go unbarked. I wondered if Angus knew of the sorts of things that Eddie said about him (looking later at earlier blog entries, I find that it was on 5 November 2006 that I first encountered Eddie. Angus was with him then, although not mentioned in the entry. I'm guessing, therefore, that after at least four years Angus is well-aware of the full extent of Eddie's manner and is happy to endure it. He probably even likes it.).
I laughed and shook my head as the Rottweiler turned to see a car pull up outside his house. Angus's head bobbed up and down in the back. Eddie bade me a chirpy farewell and bounded over to the car, just as his partner came out of their house and closed the front door. She got in the front and Eddie leapt into the back beside Angus - who (as I had predicted) was wearing his own blue coat, strap and buckle fastenings and all. I watched them chattering happily away to each other as the car moved off. They were probably discussing how fat my hips had become.
What had I done...? What had I DONE...?
Ruined things for myself - THAT is what I had done. It became clear to me in an instant and I felt ill. Sick to the very pit of my stomach. How could I have been such a thoughtless fool?
But it was now too late - and there was no-one left to blame but myself. I had a fleeting vision of myself when I had first been liberated from my first owner and rushed by the kind Police officer to the veterinary hospital. I saw my prone and shattered little body, whimpering, bleeding - dying - on the surgical table. Somehow, almost by way of a miracle, I had recovered. I had promised my first-ever canine friend, Bobby, a fellow-patient at the hospital, that I would be a good and respectful boy. I had let him down.
I returned to my senses as the young woman came out of her parents' bedroom, drying her eyes. She seemed startled to see me standing there - I tried to give her an apologetic and winning smile, but she would not meet my gaze. She turned and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. On her return, I followed her into her own room and she wordlessly lifted me onto the bed. Another flashback hit me with startling clarity as I watched the lady change into her pyjamas.
I was sitting in my pen at the Stokenchurch dog rescue shelter, laughing with my friends Kipper, Rex, Pebble, Jake and Rats. We had just been fed by the manager, Dave, and I was a welcome and accepted member of the pack. I remembered the burning sense of emptiness on visiting days, when lucky dogs would be chosen by new owners and the rest of us remained behind, unpicked - the aching hunger for affection which would devour you if you let it and the efforts of the pack to ensure that this didn't happen to any member. Our jokes, our songs - our united grief at the fate of poor Kipper. Tears pricked at my eyes as I realised that Dave, Kipper, Rex, Pebble, Miss Smart - and all the others - I had let them all, each and every one of them, down.
I shuffled over on the bed as the young lady extinguished the light and got under the duvet. I tried to snuggle up to her, but she pushed me away and turned her back on me. And with a sense of realisation, which almost squeezed the life from my throat, I knew that I had let her down.
All through the night the voices and images from my short past returned to taunt me. Suffice it to say that I did not sleep well. If only there was something I could do to mend the damage and hurt I had caused.
The following day, the young lady departed to an appointment at a hospital a couple of hours after her parents had gone to work. I made a conscious effort to behave myself. I didn't even look to see what was lying around, in case I was tempted into wickedness. I jumped onto the nice, comfortable settle on one side of the room and looked out of the window. It was a quiet street, so not much to watch. The lady in the house opposite came out to work in her garden, so I watched her for a bit. I didn't really know much about her, apart from the fact that she had an immaculate garden, a husband called Bob, and that she was called Maisie. After watching her for a time, my eyes strayed upwards to the trees beyond the houses. There were hardly any leaves left on them now, and a vast rookery stretched across the tops of several of the largest trees. The antics and bickerings of the crows were highly diverting and I was kept very well entertained in watching them. Before I was fully aware of it, I had drifted off to sleep.
I woke to the sound of the young lady's key in the door. She returned in a state of some distress, and looked around suspiciously for the latest damage I had inflicted upon the house. She seemed almost incredulous to discover that I had behaved myself perfectly. What she DID find, however, was a letter waiting for her on the doormat. On opening and reading it, she began to cry piteously. I didn't understand what the business was all about, but I knew what I must do.
I hopped down from the settle, trotted quickly across the floor, and jumped onto the young lady's chair. I clambered onto her lap and pressed myself up to her, nuzzling at her neck with my snout.
"There, there." I soothed, "It will be alright. Just have a good cry into my fur. I am here, I will stay by you." Although the girl still did not understand my words, she did understand my sentiments - and I pressed myself harder against her as she embraced me and gave way to her sorrow. For the rest of that entire day - and indeed from thenceforward - I stuck to her as a barnacle adheres to the hull of a boat, ensuring that she was not alone, taking particular care to demonstrate that I was there to support her to the best of my doggy abilities. That night, when I snuggled up to the young lady after the light was extinguished, she neither pushed me away nor turned her back on me. In fact, she was happy to find me still clinging steadfastly to her arm when she awoke the next morning.
My behaviour continued to improve. I now found that, instead of bitter resentment, I actually enjoyed being helpful and co-operative. Monday came and went, with no mention of sending me away. The following day, I had another opportunity to demonstrate my usefulness.
The young lady took me to the park for my exercise and, in another milestone moment, once we were in the park she unclipped my lead and allowed me to run free! It was SUCH a pleasurable experience, and one during which I took especial care not to misbehave and to prove that I could be trusted with this limited freedom. My enjoyment was only enhanced when the young woman produced one of my new toys from her pocket and we shared an exciting and hilarious game of chase/fetch/tag. In fact, so engrossed were we in our game that we did not notice the onset of night. It grew dark early in such winter months and the young lady was somewhat alarmed to find that we were still in the lower of the two park fields and it was fully dark. The toy was replaced in the pocket and we hastened our steps towards the upper park-gates. We had only gone halfway at an uncharacteristically brisk pace when I became aware that we were being followed by a large figure, dressed in a black cloak. My hackles instantly rose and I began to growl. I did not like the way that the fellow was moving towards us and I knew that he was intent upon wickedness.
There was a small but sharp intake of breath from the young lady as she witnessed the transformation in my body language. My growls turned to snarls, complete with curled-up lips and exposure of my dripping, razor-sharp fangs - the proof that a dog is NOT messing about. Display of this behaviour is any dog's "final warning" in tense situations and must NEVER be underestimated. Coupled with this measure, I now began to circle the young woman with deliberate slowness. I crept, snarling, hissing and growling, around and around her, taking care that I was constantly facing outwards (with my back to her) - to leave the sinister pursuer in no doubt whatsoever that I was completely willing to fight to defend my lady. The lady herself was excessively nervous, but took a great deal of comfort in my spontaneous actions.
"Show yourself!" I demanded, in my most aggressive bark. "Show yourself, man, or I will rip and tear apart your flesh!"
There was a small sound of recognition from the young lady and she knelt down on the damp grass, patting my shoulders and head (though taking care to stay away from my glittering fangs).
"Jasper, you complete turnip." she said, with quiet firmness. "That's not a person - it's the cricket practice nets."
Squinting into the darkness, I saw that she was right. Our assailant was NOT a tall cloaked man, but the dark nets on metal frames, in which the local cricket team practiced their bowling, swirling and billowing in the wind. My snout un-tensed and my snarls died away as the young woman collapsed into hysterical laughter. "Oh, you're such a funny little muppet!" she said, wiping away tears of amusement. I was too relieved and too pleased to see her laugh to be offended at her mirth. I even had a bit of a chuckle myself.
As we recovered, we continued on or way to the park gates. When we were almost there, the lady knelt down beside me again and, clipping the lead to my collar said, quite seriously - with her hand on my shoulder: "But Jasper, I shouldn't laugh at you. You were prepared to fight to defend me, and I can never thank you enough for that."
"I would die for you." I replied earnestly.
"Thank you so much." I knew she had not understood my words, but I wanted to say it all the same.
My partner and I walked home (once out of the park it was perfectly safe, as the pavement ran alongside the main road into the small town). Once in the house, she explained what had happened to her parents and there was more uproarious laughter, in which I happily joined, whilst my partner held me close and stroked my ears and head. The last time that I remembered laughing so much was back when Kipper was alive - our last recital, with Rex, to the other pack-members of our escapades on The Night of The Isolated Bitches. Conversely, this was the first time that I once again felt that this was where I belonged. No - not just where I belonged. This was where I mattered.
But, a few nights later, something else happened whilst out with the young lady. And this something else was NO laughing matter.
I sincerely hope that 2011 is a wonderful year for you. Thank you for your support of my humble little blog.