Over a year ago the Man of the House and I decided that we had life far too easy. We had not long moved into a new house, and bought some new furniture for it. Each of our children had a bedroom that they could slam the door to. I had a little room in which I could pile up the washing either before it went into or after it came out of the washing machine. Man of the House was (and still is) running a business. All three children were nearly at school. Why keep things simple, why not chuck something into the mix that not only changes the family dynamic, but also chews everything? We decided to get a puppy.
So after about four months of research, we made an enquiry about a litter and went to meet our little prince. He’s a black Labrador. The first time I met him I could hold him in my hand. Today, three weeks shy of his first birthday, he weighs twenty five kilos. He and the rest of his litter are all named after Beatles’ songs, and after I said “well we might as well call him Beatle”, it stuck.
To begin with it was like having a baby. We had to get up in the night to let him out for a wee, then up again at 5am to take him for a little trot. One night, I was so tired after keeping this regime, I was standing outside waiting for him to perform and I fell asleep and stumbled into the garden wall. I remembered a similar level of tiredness from when my son was a baby. I hoped that this time the sleepless nights wouldn’t last quite so long; thankfully they haven’t. However, rather like the first year of having a baby, my experiences can be separated under five main headings: nice people I have found unexpectedly, not so nice people to avoid purposely, unsolicited advice to ignore deliberately, my blossoming relationship with the new addition and poo; we’ll skip the last one.
On Easter Sunday, whilst we were still on newborn time, I was struggling up the very hilly public footpath near my house, muttering about it being six o’clock on a Sunday morning, not being very warm weather and trying to persuade myself that the sunrise at the top of the hill would be worth the effort. The new man in my life kept running back down the hill and looking at me, clearly wondering what was taking his human so long.
Just before the brow of the hill, the path passes between two high hedges that border my neighbour’s garden. Evidently waiting for his human was getting rather boring, so Beatle decided to make his own entertainment. This entertainment involved making his way into my neighbour’s garden on the other side of the high hedge and getting stuck in some netting. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. All I could hear was a dog crying. And when I looked under the trees, all I could see were four little trembling legs.
I know my neighbour reasonably well and I also suspected that he is an early riser. However, unless you actually live in the property concerned, knocking on someone’s door at six o’clock on Easter Sunday in order to collect an errant puppy seemed to me to be anti-social in the extreme, however early someone gets up, however well you know them and however nice they may be. I decided that my only option was to commando crawl on my stomach under the hedge, retrieve the dog and with as much dignity as it would be possible to muster in such circumstances, exit stage left.
The picture that you now have in your mind is entirely accurate. I did have to lie flat on the floor to get under the hedge, I did have to use my elbows to drag myself through and I did wonder what in the name of arse I was doing. When I emerged into the garden I was covered in mud, and also had a light sprinkling of twigs and other assorted flora and fauna about my person, particularly in my hair, which, frankly, needs no assistance in looking like it has been dragged through a hedge forwards. I stood up and untangled the dog. And then the mistake that I made (and I still can’t believe that I did this) was to crawl back under without having put him on the lead first. Idiot. Yes, the inevitable did occur. I had to make my way back to get him again.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to me at the time, my neighbour whose garden we were trying not to be in, was rising early as I suspected. He had just got up and had opened his curtains in order to admire the glorious sunrise that I had been telling myself that I was looking forward to. He rubbed his eyes and did a double take as he could have sworn that he had just seen my feet disappearing under his hedge. Luckily for him as he couldn’t believe his eyes the first time, I got to do it twice.
Not So Nice People
In sharp contrast to the above incident, I was walking with my youngest daughter one day and once again, Beatle managed to disgrace himself. This involved a different neighbour and this time Beatle ran around his kitchen; not great, I know. Entirely my fault. I was mortified and very apologetic. I didn’t necessarily expect a thrilled neighbour to appear. But I am not entirely sure that I deserved to be shouted at quite so much, and in front of my daughter.
Later on I went back and dropped a bottle of wine off and a note apologising again, although I admit I was pleased that they weren’t in because I didn’t really want another mouthful.
I got home and told my sister about it. She advised me in no uncertain terms that the gentleman concerned was no gentleman and to go and collect my wine. Man of the House got that look on him; the one that men get when they know that a man has spoken to their partner in a way that they would never dare to speak to another man because if they did, there was a very high risk of what is referred to in my hometown as a “knuckle sandwich.”
I don’t walk that way very often anymore. And certainly not with my children.
I was minding my own business walking the dog when I was happened upon (rather than the other way round as you will see in a minute) by a woman walking her micro pony. Yes, walking a tiny horse. On a lead. I put Beatle on his lead as he is quite lively, and some people are not keen on a large dog bouncing around them, even those with dogs themselves. And frankly the not so nice neighbour has made me nervous ever since. Most people exchange pleasantries on a dog walk, have a bit of a chat, and wish each other a pleasant day before continuing on their way. This was different.
“Why have you put him on his lead, does he bite?”
“Er no. [Natalie has mystified expression as Labradors are only slightly more likely to bite you than a jelly, which is why we chose the breed] It’s just that some people don’t like dogs.”
“Oh. How old is he?”
“Well he should be going left, right on command at ten months. Does he retrieve?”
“Sometimes. It’s a learning curve.”
“Does he retrieve straight to your hand?”
“Then don’t retrieve with him then. And get a choke chain.”
You know when you walk away from someone and wonder if you have actually had the conversation that you have just had? It was the canine equivalent of being out with your children at a park and a complete stranger coming up to you and saying “oh you’re doing it all wrong.”
My blossoming relationship with the new addition
Beatle has all of the backbone of an earthworm, and all the road sense of a hedgehog. He steals soft toys, socks, once nicked a bacon sandwich when I turned around to get a mug and has even taken it upon himself to select a pair of my knickers from the washing basket and run around the lounge with them on more than one occasion. He covers me in mud when we’re out, when I’m writing he comes and puts his ball on the keyboard and he barks at the postman. But like most things that drive you mad, I do love him. I chat to him when the children are at school, he lets me tickle his ears and he makes an excellent hot water bottle when the house gets cold in the middle of the day.
Last week all twenty five kilos of Beatle crashed at full pelt into my left knee cap. As I am not a flamingo, my knee cap didn’t take to being bent in the wrong direction. I was chatting with a friend I had bumped into, and she looked quite concerned and asked me if I was all right several times over. Now usually in such circumstances, being British, I would say “oh no I am fine, I hardly felt it” before dragging my leg along to the car and driving myself to A&E, weeping every time I had to change gears. On this occasion I said “No I’m not okay, that really hurt” in a very pathetic and tearful voice. I hobbled back to the car feeling very sorry for myself and cursing the dog, went off to dog training.
We arrived at dog training, which I find incredibly stressful at the best of times. It’s like paying for your child to have a meltdown at another child’s party every week. On this occasion I had a poorly leg as well. We went into the field with all of the other dogs and as soon as we did, Beatle pee-ed up my leg. The trainer noticed it, (probably because I was running around and shouting “I don’t believe it, you’ve just pee-ed up my leg you disgusting animal”) and came over to advise that it was dominant behaviour and followed it up with a question as to whether we were considering having our dog neutered. Now this is something we have been debating ever since we got him; that was the point the matter was decided.
If you read my first blog post, you will already know that when she was born, my youngest daughter pee-ed in my face. So with this as well, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am the sort of person that other animals pee on. And all I can say to you is that when reporting the incident to his colleagues, Man of the House said this: “The incident occurred at 10am on Tuesday, a telephone call was made to the vets when she arrived home at midday, for the next available appointment at 9am on Friday morning. You don’t mess with my wife.”
Maybe I should have gone and got my wine back.