Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Tuesday 25th November 2008

I know what he's attempting to get at, but Baz's comment sticks out amongst all the superlatives heaped on Steve McQueen's Hunger. Taken literally, his comment may just as well read "A Film", and tells us nothing about the quality of the piece. This is what exercises me on tube platforms - the general increasingly shitty quality of the adverts I'm forced to look at. I'd rather stare blankly at peeling paint on the the other side of the rails, but if I must consider the goods and services offered, why can't I impassively ponder their prospect, instead of being mildly angered? Lazy film reviewing by a hack who doesn't know much about films in any event, and lazy blurb-selection by whichever work-experience kid was charged with leafing through the tabloids in order to cover all demographics, that's why. There's a stunning piece of stupidity on the poster for The Baader-Meinhof Complex poster as well, but that's for another time.

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112 - posted at 09:33:56
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Monday 17th November 2008

Eulogy for a West Highland Terrier

As usual during the spring, it was beautiful back in Sussex. Sprinklings of primroses and carpets of bluebells filled the woods alongside the lane. And as usual, the freshness of the air when I stepped from the car at my parents’ house expelled the memory of London’s fug.

But not everything was as usual. For the past 11 years, whenever I walked into the kitchen, I was met enthusiastically by a small white barrel-chested dog, wagging his tail so hard that his happy trot towards me was affected. Big brown eyes fixed on mine, spluttering with excitement, he would jump up, demanding to have his belly rubbed – and then down again, and if the mood took him, he’d lower his ears, wag his tail harder and rumble an invitation to catch him, before running off under the kitchen table, only to return if not pursued. Other times, he’d simply come and take his place by me, content to have his ears gently tickled.

This time, Archie wasn’t there. An empty basket and a rug covered in white hairs. But no Arch. He was gone.

Just a couple of weeks before, I was back in Sussex for Easter. Archie was notably thinner, and quiet, at least compared with the bounding mania of Minnie, the young border terrier. But he was an old – or at least older – dog, and one with emphysema, which manifested itself mainly when, in attempting to give voice to his thoughts, he had to utter a few sad coughs before being able to bark. But he still leapt to greet me when I turned up, eagerly following me up the stairs to watch the television. In the TV room, he jumped into the neighbouring chair, and soon made himself comfortable, stretching out, his head extending over the chair to rest on my knee. He sighed contentedly while I ruffled his coat and the TV burbled away. This is my last abiding memory of Archie.

Although diminutive – and a dog – Archie was a complex little fellow. He was always happy, playful and mischievous: and all this shot through with a sense of his own importance. Often, when called, he would turn his head to look at you and then trot off in the opposite direction. His confidence was tempered by a neurotic streak – he was eager to please, but this desire conflicted with his self-importance. He wanted to be loved, and despite the unconditional love thrown at him, by me and others, he never quite seemed to take it for granted.

Archie arrived as a peculiar looking puppy – I nicknamed him Piglet – and spent his first couple of years gambolling with a kitten my parents had bought at the same time. I was initially underwhelmed at the prospect of what I saw as an yappy midget-dog, but Archie quickly won me around, without difficulty. He bemused Rags, our springer spaniel, who stoically accepted Archie’s presence, in spite of Archie’s brattish insistence on evicting Rags from whichever basket he was relaxing in. He simply hopped into the basket with the spaniel, who would almost immediately re-locate elsewhere. But Arch needed Rags’s nose, and it was on walks that he showed due respect, following Rags’s leads, to pheasants, rabbits or fox shit. As Rags showed his age, Archie often waited for him on walks, regularly retracing his steps along a path to rejoin the old man.

After Rags died, Archie was on his own, perhaps difficult for a dog who loved company and socialising. A favourite memory of mine occurred one New Year’s Eve, when I had a few friends over to my parents’ house. The night was wearing on, midnight had passed, and people were drinking and chatting in the sitting room. Archie was in his element, showered with affection from all sides, he had spent the evening contently trotting amongst his public. Now he was tired, and should have been snoozing in his basket, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave the party, and was desperately trying to stay awake, his little head nodding for a second in submission to sleep, before his eyes slowly and stubbornly blinked open again.

Despite his rejection of it that New Year’s Eve, sleep was something he loved. I used to plod downstairs early on weekday mornings, in order to drive to law school. Each morning I met Archie in the kitchen. He would sit up in his basket, acknowledge me, perhaps potter around briefly, but then without fail, yawn and curl up again. However, when he eventually rolled out of bed, he was extremely energetic, rocketing through his walks on fast forward. He loved running, and if he could run with someone, so much the better. Once, miserable and rejected from a failed relationship, I headed with Archie up to the nearby fields. Faced with a long straight path alongside a corn field, I attempted to exorcise my pent up unhappiness by running, and started sprinting down the path. Immediately Archie was beside me, speeding along. He could have gone faster, but ran beside me the whole way, his mouth open, the wind blowing back the hair on his face. We sprinted for a couple of minutes before coming to the end of the field. I collapsed on some straw, while Archie, so much fitter, nonchalantly sniffed around before patiently coming to sit beside me. The exercise didn’t make me feel much happier, but he did.

Outside of walks his excessive energy had to find other outlets. He always remembered me as the guy he played the pond game with, and would run to the pond if I was nearby, looking at me expectantly. The pond game consisted merely of me tapping my foot at various places in the pond, upon which Archie would run and snap at the splashed water. He loved trying to guess where I would splash next. He fell in that pond a couple of times – once when playing the game with me, and once absent-mindedly sitting down, having misjudged the water’s edge. It was OK though, he liked a swim, always popping down into the river when he could, paddling out briefly (snapping at any water that splashed up) before running back up the river bank and enthusiastically drying himself on the grass.

Confident, cocky and playful – but also small, and in need of looking after. He loved being petted, and used to happily sit next to me while I gently stroked his head or rubbed his tummy. He didn’t seem to get bored with this – if for a minute I stopped, he’d turn his head slowly, and fix me with those dark brown eyes until I started again. There were afternoons where he’d run up to my bedroom with me, struggle up onto the bed and, while I lay reading and listening to music, stretch alongside me dozing. Sometimes, I’d scoop him up, and he’d enjoy seeing the world from my height, one paw clutching my shoulder.

He adored my parents, especially my mother, who he lovingly followed, even from one side of the kitchen to the other. My parents also doted on him, however much they might deny it. On dark thundery nights, Archie, down in his basket, would get scared, and they would get up from their bed, and go and sit with him until the storm went away.

And then Archie died. Suddenly he was ill, and gone. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. It was spring and I was back in Sussex to help bury him. He’d been dead for a week, kept in cold storage. My father told me he was in the barn, so I went through, apprehensively, into the converted barn, cluttered with old furniture left by my grandparents, and debris from childhood. I looked around. “Where are you boy?” I said, like an idiot.

And then, in front of me, I saw the wicker basket, and the towel in it. I unwrapped the towel, and there he was, lying, as if asleep, his paws tucked under his mouth. I stroked his cold fur and tickled his ears, and cried like a baby.

Later that afternoon, we buried him in a deep hole in the garden. My dad got into the hole, and I handed him Archie, still wrapped in the towel. He placed the little white dog on the earth, and struggled out of the grave. We filled the hole, and put a paving slab on top. I was devastated.

I’m guilty, of course, of flagrant anthropomorphism. I think it’s justified. I wish he was here now, sitting quietly on the sofa beside me. I miss him, the Arch, my good friend.

Arch

111 - posted at 05:08:41
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