The photo above shows me and my dog Blueboy, about seven years ago, when we were both in a lot better shape than we are now. I chose Blueboy from a litter at a farm on Salisbury Plain around twelve years ago and since then, the pleasure he’s given me is indescribable, while a part of this has come from seeing the incredible excitement and joy that hundreds of toddlers and other young children have experienced when they’ve met him and played with him during the course of our long walks together.
I’d like to provide just one more example of countless other reasons why I’m indebted to Blueboy, but I’ve been trying to formulate it and articulate it for years, without success, so the best I can do is this. About seven years ago, I entered the strange voids above the tunnels in Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, which was an enlightening, exhilarating and extremely unnerving experience. I don’t believe that I encountered anything malevolent in those cramped, decaying tunnels, but that night when I finally slept and the next day when my mind was still flooded with the sombre images of my temporary confinement in this colossal ‘alien’ mound, some part of my soul murmured to me that I needed the company of a black dog. I don’t know what else to say other than that Blueboy seemed to recognise and be aware of this need, or void inside me, as you can perhaps tell from the photo below, so for this reason alone, I’m grateful beyond measure to him.
It must be obvious that I could easily write a small book about Blueboy, just as millions of others who are blessed with the company of animals in their lives could do, but I’ll apply myself to this another time, perhaps. For now, the puppy dog I collected from a farm lives on only in my memory, because Blueboy’s an old dog and he’s increasingly infirm. His back legs are more and more weak and unstable, which I understand is virtually inevitable for his kind, as he’s a labrador/retriever cross with a bit of collie thrown in somewhere along the way.
I’ve taken him to see the vet several times over the last couple of months and while he’s undoubtedly creaking a bit, his coat is glossy, he eats well and often, he’s alert and he’s loved beyond measure by me and by my family. He gets attention, company, affection, walks, treats and anything else we can think of to keep him a happy dog, while I’m certain that he appreciates the new bed he got for Christmas and all the other manifestations of our unbounded love for him.
However, it’s not just his body that’s going downhill, because for the last six months or so, it’s been apparent that his lift isn’t going all the way to the top floor – somewhere in the depths of his doggy brain, something isn’t firing on all four cylinders. It’s almost impossible to define, but it’s just something we could guess from his expressions and from his vocalisations, although over the last few weeks, it’s got a lot worse.
It would take hours for me to describe all the settings and circumstances, but I don’t feel there’s any point in doing so. For reasons I can’t explain and which I frankly doubt Blueboy could describe even if he could talk to me in a way I understood, he’s taken to randomly emitting piercing puppy ‘yips’ that are impossible to ignore.
He doesn’t seem to be in any pain at all, nor does he seem distressed, because he’ll make these noises when he’s lying in the front room with me alongside him and when this happens, he goes quiet again when we stroke him and seems perfectly happy. However, he’ll also do it in the middle of the night and I’ve come downstairs to find him yipping at nothing more than thin air, from what I can gather.
It doesn’t matter if he’s just been walked or fed, so I can’t see that these noises are made as a result of anything other than some doggy neurons misfiring at random times. However, the noises are so piercing that I’ve chosen to sleep downstairs on the sofa so as to keep the disturbance to my family and neighbours to a minimum. I’m happy to do this, but it means that if I’m not rudely awoken by the canine equivalent of a banshee or air raid siren going off in my ear a few times a night, then I’m woken by a doggy with rancid breath licking my face, which is almost equally disconcerting. It’s driving me quietly demented, but Blueboy’s obviously got there long before me and by yet another one of life’s ironies, one of my favourite Deep Purple tracks is a song called Mad Dog.
My sleep patterns were all over the place before this anyway, but now I’m constantly shattered and exhausted, with no routine to my life that fits the description and it’s nigh-on impossible to apply myself to any serious work or correspondence, although I’ve managed to compose this post with no interruptions – so far. That’s just the way it’s got to be, because Blueboy’s shown me unconditional love throughout all the time I’ve been blessed to know him, while he’s done so through what have been some very trying times for me.
As such, it would be a poor show if I couldn’t try to repay this in some way by being around and immediately to hand in the dead of night when he needs company and consolation, so I hope this will provide some explanation for those of you who are understandably disappointed by my less than stellar literary output in recent times.