Friday, July 01, 2005

The last straw

A light tap on the back door signalled the arrival of Ingrid Smith. I was soon to find that Ingrid would play a very important part in my day. For Ingrid is a dog trainer. And, as Ginny and I were about to find out Ingrid is no ordinary dog trainer.

Ginny tried very hard to follow Clive's decree that: 'no more money should be spent on that blasted dog.' She has made a sterling effort at DIY dog training. Every book on the subject has been borrowed from the library. Unfortunately I don't seem to have got the hang of things as quickly as Ginny would like. Take the command 'come'. Now I know it means I must rush to her feet and gaze lovingly into her eyes as she rummages in her pocket for a Winalot Reward. But let's face it if there's a choice between getting to know the latest bitch in the village or being deftly attached to my lead the moment I go anywhere near Ginny then it's a 'no-brainer' as Clive says.

When Ginny read The Perfect Puppy (by Gwen Bailey) from cover to cover she seemed depressed.

'Perfect puppy! Huh. I bet she'd never had a dog like Arrow,' Ginny harrumphed.

When Ginny read The Dog Listener (by Jan Fennell) from cover to cover she was inspired. She immediately put her reading into action by ignoring me. As she told her family that evening: 'We have to show Arrow that we're the leaders of the pack and not him. So we must completely ignore him every time we come into a room. And we must eat from his bowl before feeding him to show he's the lowest of the low. Dogs are only happy if they know their place in the pack and if we allow Arrow to think he's top dog he'll never do what we say.'

I just love humans. They're so misguided in so many things canine.

Despite Ginny's best intentions her family let her down. The moment Jake came home from school he pinned me to the floor and rubbed his cheek against mine - it's a little ritual we've got into.

'Jake! Ignore Arrow for five minutes. It's what we've agreed.'

'Oh sorry Mum. But he's so cute and I miss him when I'm at school.'

Ben managed a minute but he was caught out as he sat eating his post-school snack. It's a little ritual that I sit under the table and he slips me a biscuit or two. Today we were caught out.

'Ben! You mustn't feed Arrow from the table, he'll come to expect it and then he'll beg.'

'Oh sorry Mum, but he looks hungry.'

Nick had no trouble ignoring me. He's 14 and tends to ignore most things. That soon changed when I started snuffling at the bottom of his school rucksack (slung on the hall floor as usual). A most interesting smell was emanating from within. I managed a quick chew and then spat it out over the floor. Yuck! What a horrible taste, sort of bitter and musty and sick-making. I vomited my biscuit.

'Arrow, get out of my rucksack.' Nick dive-bombed the floor and rapidly scooped a squashed up packet of Marlboro back in his bag. Too late.

'Nicholas! Is that a packet of cigarettes?'


'Nicholas. Do not lie to me. I saw that it was a packet of cigarettes.'

'Well if you saw it why did you ask?'

'Come in here this instant.'

Oh dear. Nick's going to be in the dog-house.

There followed a free-flowing telling-off on the dangers of smoking, the filthiness of the habit, the expense, the fact that Nick is underage . . . and much more.

While the rest of the household quietly got on with the afternoon - Blue Peter, a play in the garden, homework - Nick and Ginny shouted at each other. Eventually Nick stomped to his room. A moment later the first strains of Nick's electric guitar echoed through the house and we were treated to a full volume run-through of his repertoire. This is limited. To one song. Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

After 30 minutes Ginny had had enough. We went for a walk. And then I really blew it. Ginny's day hadn't been going that well, it got a bit worse.

Now Aston Peverell is in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside. It's a mixed farming area - wheat, barley, apples, plums, asparagus, cows and sheep. We set off on our regular walk behind the church, through a gap in the hedge to the fields. As usual Ginny set me off the lead and I scampered through the hedge with Ginny a little way behind. As I cleared the hedge I saw the most exciting thing - the field had been filled with sheep! So I did what any dog in my position would do - I started chasing. Sheep are really good fun to chase. They tend to stick together and if you're clever you can get the whole flock running around en masse from one end of the field to the other. The trick is then to pick one of the sheep off, separate it from the rest of its mates and corner it. Then when your blood is really up you attack - although I hasten to add that I've never actually managed to do that as I'm still a bit of a beginner.

I had just managed to get the flock thoroughly worn out when Ginny entered the field and let out the most blood curdling shriek. It sent my sheep into a frenzy of running and jumping so I ran after them of course. Up and down the field we went. The sheep, then me, then Ginny.

I don't think the command 'f****** come here you f****** little b******' features in any of the dog training manuals.

After a while I tired, a little. I managed to corner a lamb under the hedgerow. It cowered, bleating pathetically in the ditch. I was so excited. I wasn't really sure what to do next. I suppose I should have just ripped its throat out and I may have got around to demolishing it but I was pounced on by Ginny.

'You little f*****!'

I beg your pardon!

'You'll get us both shot you stupid little puppy.' Rivulets of sweat were coursing down Ginny's brow. She put my lead on and yanked me out of the ditch. We sped home, my feet hardly touching the ground. At home Ginny threw me into the back porch.

'You can stay in there you f****** b****** sheep worrier.'


Ben, Jake, and even Nick, alerted by the commotion, looked shocked.

'That b***** dog. Why did I let you lot talk me into getting a dog?'

'Errr Mum, it was your idea,' Nick volunteered.

'I only got him because I thought it would be good for you lot to have one. Why, I don't know! I'm the only one that walks him, or feeds him, or trains him or does anything . . .'

Ginny ranted for quite a while. Nick took charge. Thankful that the Marlboro incident had been put on the back burner he gently took his mother and sat her at the kitchen table. Then he filled the kettle and boiled some water for a nice cup of strong Yorkshire Tea. Then he found the Yellow Pages and looked up 'Dog Training' and handed his mother the phone. And that is how we come to have Ingrid Smith, dog trainer, standing on our doorstep this morning.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pricked bubbles

'Tell me about a time you've pricked someone's bubble.'

'You what . . . '

'Have you ever raised your head above the parapet?'

Ginny is doing her impression of a gawping goldfish. She finds her voice.

'Didn't you just want to get up and leave?'

'Yes, but I did want the job,' said Clive. 'I don't think I've ever pricked someone's bubble have I?'

He's relating the story of his latest job interview. Clive currently works for Very Big Computer Company. VBCC is undergoing some 'restructuring' which means Clive no longer has a job. But, it being too expensive to make Clive redundant, VBCC is trying to 'place' him elsewhere in the company. This is proving difficult as Clive does not have the requisite grasp of management 'lingo' and he is a good 15 to 20 years older than most of his interviewers. He's only just started using phrases like 'plucking the low-hanging fruit' and 'singing from the same hymn sheet.' According to Nick these are 'soooo 1990s.' Nick knows because he's doing business studies GCSE and is up with all the jargon.

Clive is very worried about his career. He has devoted many years to VBCC but he senses that now he's seen the back of his mid-40s his career is on the slide.

'It'll only be a year or so before I'm farmed out to the training department, then it'll be a few quiet years in the backwaters, pretending that what I'm doing is really important to the future of the company and I'll be quietly pensioned off (or not pensioned off depending on the state of VBCC's pension fund).'

Clive can be very gloomy sometimes. Ginny tries her 'stuff and nonsense' routine in a bid to rouse him. It fails.

'I may as well go and be fitted for my orange overall now.'

'What orange overall?'

'B & Q's'

'Clive you've lost me.'

'Isn't that what all of us has-beens end up doing? A little part-time job in B & Q shifting bags of cement until we finally keel over . . .'

Oh dear Clive's bubble has definitely been pricked.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

To train or not to train?

'Haven't you taken Arrow to puppy classes yet?'

The cut-glass tones rang out over the village green.

'Oh, hello Diana. Err no, I'm training Arrow myself,' Ginny replied, rather defensively I thought.

'First dog is it?' Diana's strident tones rang out again. The whole of Aston Peverell would be in no doubt that Diana Perrington was out and about. To say she had a voice like a fog-horn would be understating it. Not only is her voice loud but it is shrill. And it is very, very posh. Posher than posh in fact. And what Diana Perrington doesn't know about Springer Spaniels isn't worth knowing as she tells Ginny, every time we have the misfortune to bump into her on one of our walks.

'Springers need a very firm hand. If you don't show them who's boss when they're young you'll never get them to behave.' Diana is always full of advice.

It's funny that whenever people see Ginny out with me they offer sympathetic comments usually along the lines of: 'It's alright, springers start to calm down when they're about 10' or 'He'll keep you fit, Ginny, they want two hours walk every day.'

Ginny takes it all in her stride although I think I do wear her out a little now and then. I heard her talking to Clive last night. 'It's like before you have your first baby,' she said. 'Every one tells you what it's going to be like. You know, the sleepless nights, the teething, the chewing, the crying. But until you do it you have absolutely no idea what it's really like, and then it's too late. Arrow's like that. I knew it would be hard work but I didn't realise it would be just like having a baby. He howls at night, his teeth are falling out, he chews everything he can find and he wakes us all up at five in the morning raring to go. I'm absolutely shattered.'

Clive was less than sympathetic. 'Well getting a dog was your idea Ginny.' He was busy sussing out the odds for The Derby at the time - only half an ear on the conversation as usual. I wouldn't say Clive has taken well to having a dog around the house. He's still miffed that Festus hardly ever comes home nowadays.

'Diana Perrington says I ought to take him to puppy class.'

'Haven't you spent enough money on him already?'

The issue of money and me is a sore point at the moment. Ginny is quite economical with the truth when it comes to canine spending. But Clive sat down last week and totted up how much expenditure had been incurred on my behalf (totted up the amount he knows about anyway).

First there was the fee to my breeder, then the chicken wire and fence posts to make the garden dog-proof, then my dog-bed, bedding, toys, food, emergency trips to the vet, non-emergency trips to the vet. Clive was counting on his fingers. 'Ginny we're well on our way to spending a thousand pounds on a b****y animal! How much are dog training classes?'

'Oh not much. I don't know a couple of quid a week . . .'

'And how long will he have to go for?'

'I don't know, until he's trained I suppose.'

'No. We can't afford it.'

And that was the end of the matter.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Chinese takeaway again

'Not Chinese again.' Jake is toying with the pile of food on his plate. Fried rice, sweet and sour pork, crispy pancakes.

He's not happy. Jake would rather have fish and chips, or pizza, or spaghetti bolognese. Good traditional English food. Not Chinese takeaway which, according to Jake, slimes all over the plate and all tastes the same. Chinese takeaway has been on the menu twice this week. Nick and Ben Love it. Clive's lukewarm. I think it's delectable. Ginny puts the empty foil containers on the floor after she's served up and I lick them clean enough to refill - if you were so inclined.

I don't know why Ginny's suddenly taken to takeaways. She's always been very particular about the family food. She usually makes sure the boys have a good square home-made meal in the evenings. You know the meat and two veg type of thing. 'Takeaway is a once-in-a-while treat,' she once told the boys.

Clive queried the sudden takeaway frenzy.

'I've got loads of work on at the moment. I can't spend all my days cooking from scratch. I need to earn the money for our summer hols,' Ginny explained, none too convincingly.

I know for a fact that Ginny hasn't got a lot of work on. She may sit down at her computer for several hours a day but I wouldn't call it working. Once she's dashed off a few paragraphs of health news for Mirabelle magazine and answered a couple of queries from the sub-editors she spends much of the day perusing the bargains on e-bay. At about ten to three she flicks a duster over the worst of the mess, runs the Dyson over the hall floor, then dashes over the road to collect Jake from school at 3pm. It's a far from taxing life.

So why Ginny served up Chinese takeaway on Monday evening, and again on Wednesday evening is currently a mystery.

Thursday morning was Ginny's second session of Knit 'n' Bitch. Now I know for a fact that Ginny has hardly touched her needles this week - unless she's been clicking away while I've been having my afternoon nap. So when she pulled the red jumper she'd been knitting for Jake out of the Sainsbury's carrier bag there was a collective gasp around the breakfast table.

'Wow, is that my new jumper?' Jake jumped up and down spluttering Rice Krispies around the room (a tasty snack for me).

Ginny held up the work for all to admire. It was truly impressive. She'd almost finished the back and its intricate network of cable and moss stitch was a knitting wonder.

'How did you get all that done with all the work you've been doing?' Clive asked.

'Oh, it doesn't take long once you've got the hang of it. I just did a few minutes here and there through the week. It's very therapeutic really,' Ginny was waffling, and if there's one thing I've learnt since moving in with The Philpotts it's that when humans waffle, they lie.

After my morning walk Ginny trotted off to Knit 'n' Bitch. She had a sort of self-satisfied smile on her face. Nobody, but nobody, would dare to snigger at her knitting this week.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Knit 0 Bitch 10

You've got to give credit where credit's due. Ginny can knit. On Monday she couldn't. Now she can. Sort of. Very slowly. By Thursday - Knit 'n' Bitch Day - Ginny had knitted a whole 10 rows of double rib. It had taken superwoman effort but she'd done it. She could go to Knit 'n' Bitch with something to prove that she can indeed knit like any other real woman. Ginny trotted off to Bonnie's house with her knitting tucked into the top of her handbag, and a plate of homemade oatmeal biscuits.

Three hours later she was back. 'You'll never guess what!' were her first words to Clive.

She then launched into some of the most scurrilous gossip I'd ever heard. 'And did you know that Tony is shacked up with Lucretia?'

'What Lucretia from the pub?' Clive was incredulous.

'Yes the one with the pierced lip and blonde hair.'

'With Tony? But he's got to be in his 70s?'

'Yes but he owns half of Worcestershire and Lucretia wants to get her hands on it.

'And did you know,' Ginny continued breathlessly. 'That the vicar's wife has run off,' Ginny paused for maximum effect.

'With another woman!'

Clive was stunned. 'But they've got three children.'

'Yes but they're all grown up. Apparently Janet said she'd come to realise her life had been a sham. Della said she doesn't know whether she should keep inviting her for coffee anymore. Do lesbians do coffee mornings?'

And so it went on. Ginny filling Clive in on the comings and goings (mostly comings by the sound of it) of the residents of Aston Peverell and environs. I began to doze off. Then my ears pricked up:

'So that's the Bitch, how did the Knit go?' asked Clive.

'Oh Clive it was so embarrassing. When I got there they all had their knitting out and it was all fantastic. Bonnie's knitting a white christening gown for her grandchildren.'

'But she hasn't got any.'

'No but she wants to be ready when the time comes.'

'But her eldest is only 14, she might be waiting a while.'

'And Della is knitting herself a Rowan Fair Isle cardigan. It's the most complicated pattern I've ever seen and she was whizzing through it.

'Even Liz turned out to be a closet top knit. When I got my little effort out I'm sure I heard Bonnie snigger.'

Ginny looked downcast.

'Never mind love. Even if you can't knit you get top marks for bringing home some good Bitch.'

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Casting on

'B****y knitting.'

Ginny's thrown the yarn and needles down in disgust. This gives me the opportunity to investigate. I soon have a nice pile of wool wrapped around my paws.

'B****y dog. I'll never get this jumper knitted if you keep tangling the wool.'

Ooooh temper, Ginny.

Actually you'll never get this jumper knitted. Full stop. Knitting is not your forte, Ginny. Quit now while you're ahead.

That's my advice anyway. Ginny has spent over an hour trying to 'cast on'. Unfortunately Ginny has never cast on in her life. In the days when Ginny was learning to knit Class One's teacher, Miss Heywood, cast on for all the girls to get them started. Twelve girls arrived at school one morning with all the stitches already on their needles. All they had to do was to knit and purl. It was easy, Ginny told Clive.

Clive can't understand why Ginny is knitting. 'Look at the economics of it Ginny. How much have you spent on the wool?'

'Twelve pounds.'

'You could buy Jake a jumper for 12 pounds and you haven't had to lift a finger.'

'That's not the point Clive. By knitting Jake a jumper I am giving him love. This jumper will be a unique garment, an expression of my creativity and knitted with motherly love. Knitting isn't just about making something to wear. Every little stitch will have come from his mother's fair loving hands.'

Clive knows not to argue with Ginny when she's in full flow. He sighed and turned back to his newspaper.

Ginny had given up trying to remember how to cast on and turned to her 'New Complete Book of Needlecraft.' It's not so new now. In 1959, when it was really new, it was the only book a modern mother would need to make all those essentials for home and family. For 1950s Mum it was the handy reference book for rustling up embroidered place mats, macrame wall hangings, doilies, curtains, crochet dresses and woollen slippers for the man in your life. Even a rather natty gingham dog basket - now I like the look of that, Ginny could run that up in an afternoon. Ginny riffled through the pages for several minutes before finding what she needed. She read it out to Clive: 'How to Knit. Basic Techniques. To cast on means to put the first stitches onto the needle . . . Duurrrr.'

She went quiet. She fiddled with the wool and her needles contorting her fingers and thumbs into all sorts of positions. Now and then she muttered under her breath: 'holding the needle with the slip knot in the right hand, draw up the 2 strands of yarn between ring and little fingers of the left hand. Hold yarn securely.'

Ginny glowed with effort. 'Slip forefinger and thumb of left hand between the strands. The one coming from the ball should be at the back.'

Silence. Intense concentration. 'Bring thumb up and spread the fingers. Put the needle under the front strand of the thumb . . . . pull it through . . . let the loop slip from thumb . . . tighten the stitch. Hurray I've done it. Two stitches. Now where's the pattern. How many more to go . . . Oh . . . 96.'

Ginny looked a bit daunted but you've got to hand it to the girl, she persevered. It took nearly 45 minutes but eventually Ginny had cast 98 stitches onto her needle. Now she only had to remember how to knit.

Knit 'n' Bitch here she comes!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Knit 'n' Bitch

Ginny went shopping today for a pair of knitting needles and some wool. She hasn't knitted a stitch since primary school when all the girls knitted a tea cosy for their mothers while all the boys learnt to whittle a spoon out of a piece of wood. Clive was quite surprised to learn that Ginny could knit.

'I can do plain and I can do purl if I concentrate very hard,' says Ginny sniffily. 'I've got to stick at it or I won't be able to go to Knit 'n' Bitch.'

'What's Knit 'n' Bitch when it's at home,' asks Clive, peering over the top of the Racing Post.

'It's the new craze, everyone's at it - all the celebrities. You go to someone's house with your needles and your wool and you knit while you talk. There's a Knit 'n' Bitch at Bonnie's house this week. I can catch up on the gossip and knit Jake a jumper while I'm at it.'

Clive looked sceptical: 'Wouldn't it be easier just to have the Bitch?'

Ginny pulled a face.

'What colour will my jumper be?' asked Jake.


Jake smiled. Jake only wears red now that Liverpool are the champs. He's been wearing his Liverpool kit all week, it's beginning to smell. When I say he's been wearing it all week I mean it. The kit stays on night and day. I think Ginny hopes to prise it off him by knitting an alternative red garment.

'Look I've got the pattern and the wool, here.'

Ginny proudly held up several balls of red acrylic 4-ply and a knitting pattern the like of which Clive and Jake had obviously never encountered. On the front were two boys. One was sitting on a log gazing at a distant vista, the other boy was standing at his side pointing at same distant vista. Boys like these have not been seen in the UK since around 1952. They were immaculate, with short-back-and-sides neatly combed with a slicked down side parting, grey school shorts, grey school knee-high socks and hand-knits - one V-neck, one crew - which displayed every knitting technique known to women. There was rib (K2P2) there was moss stitch (K1P1K1 then reverse on next row) there was cable (err . . . I give up).

'It looks quite intricate,' Clive sounded doubtful.

'Oh, it'll be quite easy once I get down to it,' said Ginny, also sounding doubtful. 'I'll make a start on it tonight. I don't want to turn up without anything on my needles.'

I'm looking forward to this knitting lark - those balls look fun to chase.