Pug miss

They were sitting at the wooden table in the front of the holiday cottage they had rented in Hall-Dunderdale in the Lake District, enjoying breakfast in the sunshine. There were cups of tea and boiled eggs with brown toast on a plastic tray from the little kitchen. 

Despite the cloudless sky the air was fresh. The wagtails sang as they rocketed and plummeted in the wind, ewes called for their lambs in the nearby fields, cows bellowed in the stinking shed across the narrow road. The red-faced fells looked down on the valley from each side. 

The two pugs, Ollie and Delly, in their harnesses but without leads,  were up on their hind legs nosing the edge of the table hoping for scraps. Something caught their ears and they threw themselves into short bursts of body-jerking barking at the road through the gateless entrance to the front garden of the cottage. 

Veering round the bend fifty yards up the road was a black Astra with two young men inside wearing wooly hats. Music thumped through the body work of the car.  Its tyres thudded on the uneven tarmac like a drum roll. 

The pugs twisted, made four foot contact with the gravel by the table, and  kicked it backwards as they reared towards the road. 

As she looked up it seemed to her that the pugs and the Astra were drawn closer together with each bark and each beat. 

The table was the type you see in pub gardens with benches attached on each side. As she struggled to stand up her legs became wedged between the edge of the table top and the edge of the bench. 

Her hands frantically wiped an invisible glass screen through which she watched the imploding scene. ‘No, no!… Come back!’ she shrieked at the dogs. Then, ‘Stop!… Dogs!…. There’s two of them!’ at the the Astra. 

She lifted each leg in turn out of the timber trap of the table, scraping the skin of her shins against the wood.  But she felt nothing. All her attention was on the road. 

The car had slowed to a walking pace and the dogs were jumping up to reach the elbow of the boy in the passenger seat as he leant out of the window, grinning. The car stopped. 

‘Ello luv…are they poogs?’ the passenger laughed. 

Her hands had covered her forehead and eyes as if she were playing hide and seek with the boys. Her hair flopped over them and was straggling between her white fingers. 

She slowly uncovered her eyes and let her hands drop. ‘Oh my God!… Oh my God!’ She panted. This was how she had reacted to the torture scene in Versailles on the TV the night before, but this time she was in the scene herself. 

She looked around her. 

Somehow she was standing in front of the car and slightly to the passenger side of it, over the bonnet. The pugs were straining up to lick the boy’s fingers which by now were dangling down the door of the Astra.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They are pugs… Sorry… I should have had them on leads… I didn’t realise… ‘

‘Maybe it’s you who should be on the lead luv. We nearly ran you orver.’ Said the driver. 

‘It’s just that their uncle Boris was hit by a car and died in London a year ago.’ Her face crumpled and her lips trembled. ‘It was awful.’ she said. 

‘Don’t worry… W’or used to ’em’ ere luv.’ Said the driver. ‘Get oop on the fells wi’ em. Yarl be safer thur… ‘ave a nice day!’

The tyres kicked gravel back along the road as they sped off again, laughing.

She dragged the pugs back into the cottage, sobbing, and sat down on the sofa clinging them to her and kissing their snuffling heads.

Pug walk

At eight o’clock the two pugs, Ollie and Dellie, wake me up licking any exposed parts. I pull on some clothes while they stretch out on the duvet like pigs hanging in a butcher’s window. We file down to the kitchen for harnesses and leads, then they hurtle down the stairs, bottoms working like speed walkers’. They paw at the front door, barking to get out. Half asleep I form up, open the door, and we are out onto the narrow lane in front of Wave Crest. They are off. Straight over the sea wall and on to the shingle beach with its sloping hardwood groynes. They head straight to the nearest bushes cocking legs urgently. 

We walk over two groynes to the favourite poo spot. I delve in my coat pocket for the crinkly black bags. This is the last thing I need at this time in the morning but one becomes inured after a while. This must be how new parents feel all the time I suppose. The bulging bags go into the red bin, weirdly like a post box, reserved for ‘dog waste’.

Then we are into the social phase of the outing. The regulars with their owners turn up most mornings. I only know the names of the dogs – Rudy the chocolate labrador, Pigsy the terrier, Teddy the labradoodle. There is running and jumping amongst the tussocks, tail biting, whoops of joy. I am slowly coming to, but they would carry on walking for hours quite happily. I, having breathed back the first menthol of the day, am ready for a cup of PG Tips.

‘Brekkie… Come on pugs!’

They stop in their tracks and run over, leaving the throng, the promise of food trumping all other distractions. I shuffle back to the front door. The pugs are there already scratching to get in. They bound up the stairs to the kitchen. I trudge behind. Now we are into the vocal phase of the morning. As soon as bowls are spotted the high-pitched yelps and howls begin from Dellie. Ollie waits patiently for his, allowing his brother to do the talking for both. They gulp down the crunchy biscuits and meat pate, changing places two or three times, licking every last morsel until the bowls are spotless. They lick each others faces and whiskers clean.

The day has started. Without them I would still be in bed.

Slipping away

As Tom sat at the gate-legged table things were slipping away. 

His memory was not what it used to be, starting with the names of people he had known for years, and who now scrambled themselves up together so that he thought he was talking to one when actually he was with another altogether. Why the bemused looks? He knew exactly who he was with. 

His children’s childhood had slipped away too. He thought of them more as friends now. He saw one or other of them most days. They made fun of his odd little ways, which he had always had, but which were emerging from their privacy more regularly nowadays. He’d taken to eating out every night because he had never cooked anything and had no interest in learning, and because he hated eating alone in the house. It always felt like being stood up every evening there. 

Restaurants encouraged the odd little ways to come out.  On his arrival at the Indian a pile of poppadoms and a tray of chutneys appeared swiftly at the table with a small bowl, warmed. He liked to eat out of a bowl. He had got this from the only other restaurant he went to, a Chinese. He would linger at this stage, prolonging the time away from the house. Once he’d ordered the main course the waiter would reach to take away the menu. He would snatch it back. He liked to keep it at the side of his plate for the rest of the meal. You never knew when you might want to consult it. He once asked for soy sauce to go with his chicken tikka (starter size). The young waiter had tilted his head to one side. He probably didn’t know what soy sauce was. Whatever the meal or restaurant, Tom always finished with one… yes ONE scoop of vanilla ice cream please. Variety might be the spice of life, but not when you were eighty seven. 

His daughter had a thing about his wardrobe which had taken on an enduring quality. A purple jumper,  which now hung generously about him, could appear every day for a month. Years ago he had sported a pair of towelling swimming trunks on the Thanet beaches for close on a decade.  In the end his wife Mary had spirited them away to a neighbour’s rubbish bin. He had searched high and low for them. He had given up swimming (and beaches) shortly after that. 

Around him in the dining room the dark green wood chip wallpaper was bare, the Welsh dresser’s shelves empty, the occasional tables unladen, the life sucked off them. And he was alone. Mary had died three years before suddenly. This was good for her but not for him he told people in the pub.  She was an angel. Her domain was the home and she ran it really well. He had never before lived on his own. 

At first he couldn’t imagine what he was going to do all day. When it turned out to be not very much he settled into it without self-examination. The afternoons dragged. He would sit in front of the TV with the twenty-four-hour News Channel on (sound off). The highlight of the day was at six in the evening when he went to the pub which he and Mary had frequented together for twenty five years. Now even their friends there had started to slip away. 

After three years of this he was in a rut. He was going through the motions. So he was delighted when his daughter and son-in-law suggested they have his house enlarged, and sell theirs, and move into his place with their three teenage kids. He would move in with them while the works at his were completed. They could take care of him and he wouldn’t be lonely anymore. They would all be together. Light at the end of the tunnel at last. But now the solitary period of his life was slipping away to nothing he had become more anxious about it all. A new bed would never be as comfortable as his own. There was his bad back to think of. He was fine here really. So now his home was slipping away as well. He didn’t know if he was coming or going. People at the pub asked him when he would be moving out for the work. He couldn’t remember. Or he wouldn’t remember. What was going on?  

He lifted his head from his hands and saw a fresh spring gust of wind detach the last dead leaves from the Sycamore trees at the end of the garden. They settled on the bushy grass. 

There was a knock on the front door, a key in the lock, and someone came in. He looked round.  

“Hi Daddy… you ready?”

“Oh… Hello darling… Sorry,  I wasn’t expecting you…Am I ready for what?”

Harbour Street 

Nose down Harbour Street in beating sun, 

See quirky shops and cafes one-by-one

Link arms against the onslaught of the chains,
Who every year set out to stake their claims.

Bars on every corner so it seems,
Though elsewhere publicans give up their dreams.

The trippers trip in traffic as if blind,
I too remember how it was first time,

To smell the chips and touch the oyster shells.
I can’t be mad  –  this magic overwhelms.

And who can blame them all for liking here?
I came one day and stayed for twenty years.

It’s fresh, it’s free, it’s fun, the people smile,
Look healthy, happy, hippy, seaside-style.

 

Photo by Nigel Wallace

To Jim on his birthday

Your cherished Pooh Bear’s dismal friend Eeyore

Said “Birthdays… here today and gone tomorrow.”

So we say feast and party all the more!!

A man so cool celebs just want to know

How to look like him, to look like Jim.

The piercing eyes, the curls of grey, the nose

Just so. M. Roux, Sharif, Houdini sim-

-ply rush to get the latest Jimmy trend,

So baggy trousers, retro Golfs are IN.

At forty-nine he’s nowhere near the end.

Indeed, unlike most other men his age,

He’s on the up, the launch pad, and his friends

Say “Great! There’s more to come from Jim, Hooray!”

More kinks, more piercings, maps and photo shots,

More dungeons, nipple clamps, his life’s not beige.

So here’s to forty-nine more years of not

What you’d expect your average chap to do.

From Essex to the Bubble raise a tot

To Jim, the Happy Birthday Boy, to you!