Himself got his first Covid vaccination recently. I thought he’d be leaping up and down with joy but apparently the effort of acquiring antibodies is so exhausting that it calls for an afternoon nap. I suppose I should be grateful that he got out of his pyjamas long enough this morning to take me out for a brief constitutional before climbing the wooden hill back up to Bedfordshire.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m partial to a nap myself. In fact I’m pretty much a world expert in dropping off during the day. Let’s face it, there’s not much else for a dog to do during lockdown when his human spends all his time sitting in front of a computer screen bashing away at the keyboard.
At least if Himself takes a daytime nap I can use him as a pillow. He’s certainly plumped up a bit in the past few months (ha ha). The other advantage, I’ve discovered, is that if Himself sleeps during the day, he wakes up during the night and goes downstairs to make Hot Chocolate, which means he can let me out into the garden to bark at the moon and generally disturb the neighbourhood.
If things go on like this for much longer, we’ll either become completely nocturnal or go into hibernation. Himself says that he quite likes that idea and is making a sign to put on the front door:
Captain Midnight here reporting from snowy Kingscote.
I’ll be frank with you, it wasn’t my idea to go for a walk in the snow. Himself said that it was too good an opportunity to miss and that we didn’t get snow that often and that we’d be alright if we dressed up warmly in our padded jackets. He conveniently forgot to mention that, while he’d also be wearing two pairs of socks and insulated wellies, I would be slogging bare-pawed through the white powdery stuff. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, I am not the tallest dog in the world. Borzois, Great Danes and Wolfhounds might be able to keep their undercarriages clear of the drifts, but I would definitely get icicles where icicles have no business to be.
Himself was dead set on hitching me to a sled. ‘If that dog Buck can do it with Harrison Ford in Call of the Wild,’ he said, with a wild glint in his eye, ‘I don’t see why you can’t give it a go.’
‘Buck was a 140 pound St Bernard-Collie cross,’ I pointed out. ‘That’s 7 times bigger than me. What’s more he wasn’t real.’
‘What do you mean, not real?’
‘Call of the Wild is a movie. Buck was a CGI dog.’
‘Come on, Ted. I’m sure you could do it.’
‘No chance. I’m not a CGI dog and you’re not Harrison Ford.’
Much to my relief, Himself looked embarrassed by my straight-talking and agreed to drop the sled idea. However, it soon became clear that he couldn’t completely let go of the idea of us playing at being polar explorers.
‘Who do you want to be, Scott or Amundsen?’ he asked
‘Scott froze to death out on the Ross Ice Shelf and Amundsen ate his dogs. I don’t fancy pretending to be either of them; couldn’t we stay inside by the fire instead?’
‘Like it or not chum, we’re going for a walk.’
I fully intended to stay put on the sofa, but not to be outmanoeuvred, Himself rattled the housekeys in the lock, waved the lead at me, and yelled ‘Walkies!’ Undone by his irresistible arsenal of hypnotic suggestions, I couldn’t muster the willpower to stop him clipping the lead to my collar.
I would have got away with it, if Himself hadn’t caught me in the act of demolishing this little item. He’d hidden it in his Wellington boot for a month, which added considerably to its piquancy. Pretty hard core, I can tell you: the sock equivalent of about a quart of navy strength rum.
Personally, I don’t see the problem with my little ‘habit’. Himself disagrees; he says it’s the sockaholic’s family and loved ones who suffer most. It’s true that his sock hoard has taken quite a battering over the years. I’ve done my best to refrain, and it’s quite a while since I last fell off the wagon. Himself says it’s not a disaster, provided I climb back on pretty damn quick and leave his bloody socks alone (his words, not mine).
A while ago he insisted that I attend weekly meetings of Sock Anon in the Village Hall. You’d be surprised what a high proportion of local dogs turn up. There are Poodles addicted to ladies’ tights, Chihuahuas who can hardly stand up after nibbling a pair of knitted booties, and Great Danes who would demolish a laundry basket full of rugby socks, given half a chance. The best thing is that we all understand the immense attraction of malodorous hosiery and none of us would ever judge another hound for succumbing to temptation. Which is more than can be said for our humans!
It is important to remember that there are some poor mutts even worse off than we are. Rumour has it that there are canines who are addicted to chewing old pairs of pants – the crack cocaine of underwear. Poor bastards, they are so far gone that there’s little hope for them. For the record, I’d like to make it clear that I only do socks.
I did sniff a pair of Y-Fronts once, but I didn’t inhale.
Captain Midnight here, reporting from Stalag Luft III.
There’s a lot to be learned from P.O.W. films, in our present circumstances. If you haven’t seen The Great Escape, then a) what I’m about to tell you might not make much sense, and b) you should… especially the bits featuring my personal hero Steve McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts.
Anyway, back to Stalag Luft III (otherwise known as Folly Cottage) where Himself and I are currently incarcerated, pending the cessation of hostilities. It’s a pretty comfortable billet but that’s not the point; there’s a war on and we’re living in lockdown.
True to form, while Himself sits around planning concert parties, making models out of old bully beef tins, and waiting for Waitrose to deliver the next Red Cross parcel, I’ve been thinking of ways to get out of here. After much planning and abortive digging of tunnels in the garden (which Himself complained damaged the blackcurrant canes and had to stop) I decided that I would bide my time until I could make a break for it.
For several weeks, I lulled the guards into a false sense of security, by romping around and returning to heel on command when we took our daily exercise in the surrounding fields. ‘You can trust me,’ my behaviour said. ‘I’m a bit of a joker, but I know my place.’ It worked so well that they started unclipping the lead as soon as we got off-road.
Two days ago, crossing a strip of woodland between two open fields, I saw my chance. A bunch of pheasants started up and I chased after them in my usual jolly, inept fashion. But this time, I just kept on going and going, running alongside the fence until I got up enough speed to jump over it and disappear among the trees. I thought I could trust Himself to create a diversion or at least keep his mouth shut while I got away, but he panicked and started shouting.
‘Come back, here!’
‘Come back, you stupid mutt!’
He ran after me, shouting and waving his arms like a demented windmill. I thought the whole thing was quite funny, but Himself was clearly having a major sense of humour failure.
‘Ted. Ted, where the hell are you?’
‘Wait until I get you home, you little bastard.’
I ignored his frantic demands to give myself up and kept on running. Soon, we were both miles off the footpath, crashing through the pheasant hatchery. Unfortunately, this attracted the attention of the local landowner, who charged up the track in his armoured Personnel Carrier, screeched to a halt, leapt out and demanded to know what was going on. Himself, by this time dripping with sweat, and very red in the face, apologised profusely. He explained that his dog had run away, and that he was trying to get it back.
That’s right, he actually called me ‘it’.
They had me in a pincer movement, so I amused myself by chasing the pheasants towards them. Himself jumped on me as I ran past (I had no idea he was so athletic) and reattached the lead to my collar.
Captured. Game over.
Himself had to promise the landowner that he’d keep me on the lead in future. He marched me back to Stalag Luft III and used the hosepipe in the garden to clean the mud off my paws. No warm bath and sitting in front of the fire to get dry. The atmosphere was distinctly frosty. I was like Steve McQueen at the end of the movie: back in the slammer, plotting my next bid to escape.
For the past 15 years, I have told people that I live in the countryside
But the truth is that for most of that time, I stayed in hotel rooms or business school accommodation and spent my days in windowless workshop rooms, or else I was on the move in cars and trains and planes. I didn’t really live anywhere, certainly not in the countryside.
This year it’s been different.
Like many people, I have been living in ‘lockdown’ since March, to shield myself from the risk of Covid-19 infection. First, I should say that I am fortunate to have stayed healthy, to have had enough savings to see me through, and good neighbours to do the shopping and keep an eye on me. Second, solitude has sometimes given way to loneliness and that hasn’t always been easy.
Third, I’m a writer who has been saying for years that I would be so much more productive if I had more time to write. I didn’t realise that it would take a global pandemic decimating my work portfolio to call my bluff, but it has and I’m happy to report that my writing life has flourished.
All that said, for the past six months I have truly lived in the countryside, with daily walks across open fields next to the house. My dog Ted, well known to readers of this blog as Captain Midnight, has been living his best life and, in return, his canine sense and sensibilities have kept me moderately sane,
The tiny garden has thronged with life throughout the year. Great Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Robins, Sparrows, Blackbirds, even a Spotted Woodpecker have jostled at the bird feeders. I have watched bees pollinating the plants and butterflies crowd the buddleia. I have seen the berries come into season in turn – blackcurrants, blackberries, and now raspberries – and been here to pick and eat them. The rowan tree is laden with clouds of pink berries that will ripen and feed the birds when winter approaches.
I feel more connected to myself and to the more-than-human world than I have done for many years. The physical restrictions necessitated by the pandemic have paradoxically liberated my spirit and nourished my soul. Of course, I hope for all our sakes that the threat of infection recedes and that the restrictions can be eased. I also hope we can remember what really matters and not close our hearts as we reopen our schools and factories and offices.
When I open my doors again, I want them to open onto a world in which we remember and reward those on whom we depend for the necessities of our lives and those who take care of us when we cannot take care of ourselves; a world whose resources we steward rather than exploit; and one in which knowledge of our common humanity, which has been laid so bare in the face of disease, diminishes our fear of strangers.
I want to remember the birds, the bees, the berries, and the butterflies.
Captain Midnight here reporting from the lunacy that is Folly Cottage.
It all began so well back in March, isolating ourselves from the dreaded Covid-19 in our little house in the Cotswolds. I quite liked the routine of our daily walk in the fields, plus regular meals and knowing Himself wasn’t going off somewhere interesting and leaving me behind.
At first, he got up early and did lots of staring at the screen pretending to write, while I lay on the sofa offering moral support. My own literary enveavours had to take a backseat for a while and my usual outpouring of deathless prose dried to a trickle, while he hacked away at one ill-fated project after another. I tried to explain to him that, as my distant relative Virginia Woolf used to say, ‘a dog must have money and a room of his own if he is to write fiction’, but he would have none of it and carried on hogging the keyboard.
After a while, the strain of working out what to ask the neighburs to get at the shops, began to take its toll. Sadly, after 150 days in lockdown, I have to report that Himself has gone barking mad.
He told me the other day that he had become a God.
When I asked him on what grounds he had come to that conclusion, he pointed out that Folly Cottage had become a sort of roadside shrine at which unknown passers-by left offerings.
‘Flowers, vegetables, pots of jam. What’s it all for?’ he asked.
‘Does it matter? Can’t you just enjoy them?’ I responded.
‘But my worshippers might want something in return,’ he replied, ‘like a miracle or some other display of divine power.’
‘They’ll be out of luck then, won’t they?’ I pointed out.
‘What should I do?’ he asked plaintively.
‘Sniff the flowers, scoff the food, and stop complaining,’ I advised.
‘Is that what you would do?’ he asked.
‘I’d probably pee on the flowers and leave the jam and vegetables alone,’ I said. ‘But, unless I’m a latterday manifestation of Anubis, cynocephalic Egyptian deity of the Underworld, which I doubt, I’m just a dog, so what do I know?’
‘Cynocephalic?’ he queried.
‘Dog-headed,’ I replied. ‘Call yourself a writer? Pshaw!’
Foaming at the mouth and muttering dementedly, Himself scrabbled through the dictionary in a vain effort to re-establish linguistic equality.
He might never be ready to leave the asylum, I thought.
Captain Midnight here dreaming of days gone by and better days to come.
This is where I used to go before lockdown, when Himself was still traipsing around the country ‘working’. You can imagine that it took some effort to drag myself away from the lovely Jan when he turned up at the door to take me home again.
Of course, I went through the motions of being pleased to see him: frenzied racing up and down; wagging my tail until it nearly dropped off; and sitting on his head. Don’t ask me about the last one because no-one, including me, has ever worked out how I managed to climb up his legs and torso, but I knew by the way he shouted ‘Get off, you daft mutt!’ that he liked it.
In the past few weeks, Jan has delivered Red Cross parcels to the garden gate of what has come to be known as Stalag Luft IX (formerly Folly Cottage). We have to pretend that she’s bringing meals for Himself, who is not allowed out, but we all know that’s only a pretext for bringing me a chicken dinner.
Decent food, delivered to the door, plus daily walks. Lockdown isn’t too bad for a small hound. But I do miss watching TV with Jan. Lady and the Tramp is my favourite movie, closely followed by 101 Dalmations and Call of the Wild. And I do love that One Man and His Dog programme where six sheep and a dog run around in circles trying to make a man whistle.
Himself says that I will be able to stay with Jan again, one day.
Captain Midnight here reporting from Folly Cottage, where I am currently holed up for the duration with Himself, who has taken to moping around singing the Folsom Prison blues.
I hear the train a comin’ It’s rollin’ ’round the bend And I ain’t seen the sunshine Since, I don’t know when I’m stuck in Folsom Prison And time keeps draggin’ on But that train keeps a-rollin’ On down to San Antone
Actually, the weather has been beautiful, I don’t think he’s got any idea where San Antone is, and we’re miles from the train station. But he’s not one to let cultural appropriation and musical ineptitude prevent him from murdering a perfectly good song.
My fellow inmate delights in telling me that he is a melancholic introvert, so you’d think he would be happy to be in solitary confinement, wouldn’t you? I don’t mind the lock down at all because Himself is always around and I haven’t seen the inside of a kennel for weeks. Surprisingly, he still finds much to complain about.
Captain Midnight here, reporting from the virtual world.
And very strange it is too!
Himself is spending even more time than usual in front of a computer screen, not just ‘being a writer’ (which was bad enough) but talking at it almost non-stop. Apparently, it’s called Zoom and it’s a new way of meeting people.
I thought ‘zooming around’ involved chucking sticks and running after them, but there seems to be very little movement involved. On the other hand, I can sit beside him on the sofa and rest my head on his lap while he is working, which is much better than going into kennels for the day.
He has a nice cup of tea and a biscuit whenever he wants and seems to enjoy talking to his friends on screen. I don’t get any biscuits because apparently I might ‘put on weight.’ Has he looked in the mirror recently, I wonder?
I have noticed that all his friends are very small and flat and I can’t work out how he keeps so many of them in that little machine on his desk. Anyway, you wouldn’t catch me meeting my canine colleagues on-line where you can’t sniff anyone’s bottom. How else can you tell friend from foe?
Himself says he doesn’t go in for that sort of thing and that you can tell your true friends because they listen to your troubles. I reminded him that listening to his troubles is my job!
This hornswaggling landlubber beside me goes by the name of George. Himself told me that he’s the new Cabin Boy and that I should look after him.
It was bad enough when George just sat on the windowsill ‘inspiring’ Himself to write (my job, surely) but when he insinuated his sorry carcass under the bedclothes the other night, I decided to forego my usual place of honour on the counterpane and huffed off to sleep downstairs instead.
I thought Himself would get the hint, but apparently not because the next day he posed us side-by-side on the sofa for a chummy BFF photo. I think my look says it all, don’t you? In fact, I was so deeply unimpressed with the whole business that half an hour later I took my revenge on one of His socks.
This time, I’m glad to say, Himself realised my displeasure at the presence of this fake-fur interloper. George was duly returned to the windowsill and I’m back to sleeping on the bed.
If I find him there again he’ll be shark bait, me hearties.