Saturday, 24 June 2017

Last of the St Bernards: Rug says goodbye

Sacré bleu and, as they say in this neck of la fôret, I’m tired. Je suis fatigué. Très, très, fatigué, and even the grandiose annoyances of the Attention Deficit Disorder Dog, Le Petit Dexter, have seemed increasingly irrelevant to me, moi and I.

I know it is a long time since we spoke, conversed on the existential nature of the universe, or the universal nature of existence, or the superior quality of caffeinated sheepdog food as compared to tinned, but the truth is, I do little else but sleep these days, and deeply. More and more deeply. I dream of Chinese food (in a previous life, I became addicted to monosodium glutamate, and its presence even now leaves me quivering with an inner ecstasy) mountains, and snow, and buried things. Buried things I dig to find, dig and dig and somehow never quite excavate, although the pleasure is in the digging. Almost as pleasurable as thoughts of Char Siu Pork Chow Mein, or drinking from a just-melted lake of soy sauce.

Sleepily, I noticed, dimly through my now-misty vision, the Large Male Two-Leg doing some digging this morning, after he had half-lifted, half-dragged me outside for my groggy ablutions. My back legs do not work now, or not more than occasionally in the presence of a Red Dragon takeaway, and so I must undergo the terrible embarrassment of being laid on my side on the grass...but enough. Tiens! At least it doesn’t hurt. Or not much, and not often.

I am old. Very, very old for a St Bernard mastiff, doyenne of Alpine rescues and leg-leaning to the consternation of strangers. I have recently given up drinking, or rather drinking - of water, nothing stronger - has given up on me. Failing kidneys, I suspect. I hear the Female Inhabitant, who has some dubious medical qualification, muttering, but my hearing is poor.

What was he digging, the human? Why not leave it to creatures more suited for such a task? He seemed sad. Ah, here is The Annoying Dog, quiet for once, and licking my rheumy eyes. I can still smell, my nose, battered and cracked as it is, capable of detecting any Sweet and Sour Chicken or Crispy Duck in the vicinity. But there is another aroma, too, and it gets stronger every day. I fear it is coming from the direction of...well. Moi-même.

I remember things. My many, temporary owners. The island I was on, teased by sheepdogs, nipped and shouted at, banished to a dark and stinking barn. Another home, where I was caged all day and night, filthy and unbrushed. I still love being brushed, though so much of my hair is left on the floor nowadays, great drifts of it, like snow. Snow. Ah, the snow of my rescuing forefathers, la neige, the snow I need to dig, dig, dig through. But looking for...what?

The kennels, the cold, the damp, the comfort of licking my paws until they bled. The breeder who took me in, the lost puppies, the bewildering harassment of 10 or 20 other dogs. Operations, the vet, trying to be gentle throughout it all. No nipping. Little barking. Dignity is all. And finally, for the past five, six years, this place. A place to sleep. To rest. If it wasn’t for That Very Annoying Dog. Still. I do like the way he licks my eyes clean of salt.

I sleep again. Running, running through a meadow, snow-capped peaks in the distance. Everything is clear. I can see, I smell only the sweetness of flowers, hear the joyous barking of my mother as she races me. Up, up to the snowline, where we begin to dig.

It’s no good. I can’t get up. Brushing. I’m being brushed. A hand is tickling my ears. I smell something, beyond the oily rot I know is, sadly, myself. Something clean and veterinary. Jim. Is that Jim? One hand is scratching my head, and there’s a tiny pain. Then I’m drifting away, falling deep into the kind of snow you only get in spring, deep, deep down. And I’m digging again, great pawfuls of it now, cool and firm and powdery, until at last I find what I was looking for. 

Et voilà. Here it is. Here it is at last.

Here you are.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Poem: The Trampoline Instructor

The Trampoline Instructor

(For Jake and Annie)

Tell me, have you ever been
Bouncing on a trampoline?
Have you flown way up high
Until you’re floating in the sky
Like Superman or an acrobat?
There’s nothing better than that
On a trampoline.

Bounce, bounce, 
Bounce bounce bounce bounce!
You feel like you don’t weigh an ounce
Or a milligramme.
Send a telegram to say
You want to bounce today,
And if telegrams are out of date 
Then text
It’s your turn next!
Bounce, bounce
Bounce, bounce 
Bounce bounce bounce!

Be careful, you might get a shock -
Take off your shoes, bounce in your socks,
And careful you don’t hit the edge.
You must always mind your head
It has so  many thoughts inside
So do not bounce over the side
Stay on the trampoline.

And if your tummy’s full of chips
Do not perform those double flips.
Wait a while after you’ve munched
Maybe an hour after your lunch
For if you’re sick I fear
Your lunch may reappear

On the trampoline.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Ballad of the Camper Van (and the RAC Man)

I’ll tell you a story, I don’t want to trouble you
I bought a camper van, a VW
Got it on eBay, in Auchinleck
A cash-on-collection, no-timewasters-wreck
Resprayed, immaculate
MOTd, fully loaded
I was approaching Perth 
When the engine exploded
In a shower of milky white
Boiling hot water
I’d been screwed. I’d been led
Like a lamb to the slaughter
The man from the RAC simply giggled
showed how the gear linkage wobbled and wiggled
Held together with cable ties, duct tape and hope
The scales fell from my eyes, and I felt like a dope
The silicon sealing the cylinder head
It had been “newly serviced”, the seller had said
The timing belt changed, the water pump too
“But not by someone who knew what to do”
Said the man from the Royal Club of Automobiles
Not seeming to care a jot how I might feel
“But they did just enough to fool someone on eBay
has this happened before, sir?”
I thought, then replied “maybe
Just nine or ten times in the past 20 years…”
I remembered the agony, the blame and the tears
The moss and the fungus in that Talbot Express
From Orkney, my daughter’s awful distress
A Fiat, that broke down in a safari park
And stranded us on the Tay Bridge after dark
The T25 that I picked up in Kent
Got to Carlisle, before I found the chassis was bent
And you had to steer sideways to keep going straight
The several Types Twos that I learned to hate
For their back-breaking steering, their gear changes from hell
The air-cooled motors, the constant burning smell
And the breakdowns in Cumbria, Edinburgh, Wick
My wife always shouting, the kids always sick
“So why, said the man from the RAC, are you here
With another disastrous purchase. I fear?”
I replied “It’s an addiction, a gamble,  a chance
That somehow, just once out of all of those vans
I’ll find something solid and trustworthy and true
And we’ll drive off on adventures, to Katmandhu 
Or to Keswick (that’s in England, but only just)
Instead, I shut doors, and get showered with rust
I carry gallons of water, and Radweld, and oil
I sit on  hard shoulders as radiators boil
And ponder the thousands of pounds that I’ve spent
And wonder if I’d be better off in a tent
Or how many hotel rooms which could have been bought
With all I’ve invested in breakdowns and rot.”

“I’ve nothing to add to that” said the RAC chap

“Except just one thing: Your membership’s lapsed.”

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Leftovers - a post-Christmas poem for Rug and Dexter


Last of the turkey - the 29th of December
Roasted, sandwiched, utterly dismembered
Stock into soup, unknown leftover veg
Boiled and blended. Now I pledge
Henceforth, no fowl will be consumed
No chicken, duck or pheasant will be doomed
To a culinary fate
No bird will grace my plate
Fly, fly away sweet goose and grouse
Go far away from our unfeathered house
Vegetarians we shall become, and stay
At least until the dawn of New Year’s Day
For then we must, unless we die
Partake of butcher’s shop steak pie
Which, while it contains some form of meat
Does not have wings that flap or beat.
As for the dogs, Rug was outdone by Dexter
He stole her turkey skin, which vexed her
And come New Year, he’ll lick the ashets bare
And leave poor Rug to stand and glumly stare
At glistening foil, her slobber all a-dangle
Her jowls a-quiver, her sensitivities mangled
By the presence of this hyperactive beast
This devil dog, this appetite unleashed
Competing with her over every scrap
Disturbing every well-earned 12-hour nap
With pawings, nips and barks and growls galore
Which penetrate the deepest St Bernard snores
Until she’s forced to rise to her full height
And clench her massive jaws with all her might
On Dexter’s tiny head
He would be dead
If she had any teeth - but only gums
Close on his canine cranium
So he’ll survive into another year
He’ll cause no end of trouble too, I fear
In 2015. There is no doubt of that

Especially when he meets our brand-new cat...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas with Rug and Dexter - Last of the First Chronicles

Christmas with Rug and Dexter - Last of the First Chronicles

This the final instalment of the (First) Chronicles of Rug and Dexter. But worry not! New tales of the merry canine pranksters are on the way - and this time, ones suitable for all the family.


Well, it is approaching Nöel, Christmas, the time for St Bernards of heritage and breeding to frolic in the snow, la neige, searching for lost travellers. Or in my case, lolling in a relaxed and casual fashion, repelling the antics of La Peste, Dexter the Devil Dog, while outside, the air moves in a quick and violent fashion, which is largely to be avoided. Even if  any lost travellers happen to be in the vicinity. In which case, they are probably not lost, but only inebriated and disconcerted by circumstances.

This is a time when presents are wrapped and placed beneath one of the artificial trees of Christmastide. Oh, how I long for genuine conifers. Or any sort of fir. Last year, I managed to consume approximately three kilogrammes of various chocolate products, and one of those Italian objects called a panettone, the bourgeois alternative to a box of Black Magic, only spongier. This reduced the custodian family to such a state of panic that they telephoned Victoria the Alternative Vet for advice, dogs being well known for their allergy to both chocolate and fruit cake. 

She advised pendulum swinging and chanting, neither of which the humans in residence did, being cynics, even the children. Especially the children. I could have told them not to worry, as I am a large canine of great robustness with the digestive system of a camel in the prime of life. This I know myself from past consumption of cocoa solids in large quantities. And Panatonne is not a fruit cake, but a jumped-up loaf with the merest sprinkling of currents.

Other, smaller, less hardy dogs are likely to be affected by eating chocolate, I must say, and the classic Christmas Cake will undoubtedly have a bad effect on my fellow four legged friends. Please, fellow dog beasts: restrain yourselves! Not all of you have the constitution of a classical Swiss breed of much largeness and sustainable appetite. 

I did ensure that plenty of both the panettone and the various chocolate substances  was available for Dexter the evil rat -like beast to munch, but he took no notice, being a creature of meaty bias. So he’s still alive. And in point of fact, it being Christmas, I am almost relieved. Almost. 
After all, who else who lick my eyes in an emotional fashion?


Well, it’s Christmas, and what a treat it is for the likes of myself! Brilliant brilliance of very very brilliant kind! 

The ready availability of cooked animal by-products is almost too much for a dog of wiry smallness, but the licking of tins that have been used for cooking everything from large dead birds to oily fish offers almost as many taste experiences as the peculiar range available in the eyes of the Fat Swiss Bitch. Her eyes sometimes have a weird smokiness, like the cigarette ends I used to nibble on Ayr beach. But always a pleasant savoury tang, as if her brain has been cooking, slowly in that enormous skull, and is lowly leaking out, like gravy. Which is a brilliant thought! 

Rug has actually been behaving with extreme poorness, destroying several carefully-wrapped presents and eating their contents, which I know from bitter experience can be dangerous to those of our species. I think of Charlie the Round Mongrel, or CRM, who consumed three advent calendars and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. He was rushed to Algernon the Bluff, farm vet, cow and sheep practitioner, who administered an embarrassing enema and some kind of weird eye drops that made him sick. CRM then had to eat charcoal mixed in with his everyday dinners, which he proceeded to vomit onto  his owner’s fluffy white carpet. To no acclaim whatsoever.

So I avoid chocolate and dried fruit, especially in the form of cakes. I devote myself instead to the occasional delicious cluster of sheepshit (the caviar of the country!) tin-and-eye-licking, and the seasonal bone or sliver of animal fat, sausage, burger or half pound of butter. And so far, no ill effects save an unfortunate inner-doorstep delivery caused by custodian tardiness and indeed overconsumption of alcohol. I tried to to wake them up and make them take me, or even just let me out. But they refused to budge, and so what could I do?

Consider it a Christmas present, I said to myself. A brilliant one!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Chronicles of Rug (and Dexter), Chapter One: The Great Disruption

Time for my close-up...
As first broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland's Morton Through Midnight, and first published in Shetland Life Magazine. Contact Rug and Dexter by emailing them here. Follow them @DexterRug

I would express my general unhappiness,  but oh, what is the point? My sunny disposition and pleasant, uplifting visage easily deceives the casual observer, and I must try to be positive. It would disappoint those who regard my smooth and lissome facial appearance  with pleasure and delight if they only knew my inner turmoil, desolation and depression. And so I must fight the tendency to self-pity, to be maudlin. Mon Dieu and sacre bleu, and other such ejaculations in my native tongue. Oh, to be back in the cantons! If only it were not so snowy there. And high up.

C'est vrai, I am not best pleased. I could cite my rights of residence in this household - fairly long term, a matter of 24 human months or 16 St Bernard years. ‘Ordinary’ dog years are calculated at  rate of seven per single human twelvemonth, while we St Bernards, with our shorter lifespan, greater size and general higher quality of demeanour - have an exchange rate of eight to one. Frankly, I am concerned that my life expectancy may in fact have been shortened still further by the arrival of the diminutive little piece of mongrel pestilence known, apparently, as Dexter. Named after a psychopathic mass murderer from an American Television series, though one with some semblance of twisted moral rectitude. I can see no signs of such extenuating goodness in this nasty little mutt. He is utterly depraved and more to the point, annoyingly active. I believe the term is ‘frisky’. 

He is also sexually insane.

I was not consulted in any way by the humans before he arrived to - it seems, and I have no certainty as yet - remain permanently in the house that I can quietly and confidently say I have made my own over the past two years. I admit that the tragic departure of my elderly relative Lulu after almost 12 human and thus a very impressive 96 St Bernard years left me initially bereft. But I had recovered my general equilibrium, had discovered the advantages of not having to compete for main meals, snacks, my breakfast toast and any waste from human dinners, not to mention my - admittedly unusual - taste for apple cores. Sleeping 20 out of every 24 hours had become a daily habit, and if the lack of canine company of my own class was occasionally dispiriting, at least there was no need to deal with some lower class peasant with out-of-control passions.

I have been, - how to put this - devoid of reproductive possibility now for several years, and by what I can understand from Dexter’s rough attempts at verbal communication, his abilities in that direction have been surgically negated. Yet his behaviour towards me is embarrassingly and sordidly inappropriate. To put it bluntly, he is attempting sexual congress every 20  human minutes or so, and in St Bernardine terms, that is constant harassment, not mention assault. Hence my calm quietude has been inflamed on many occasions into what for me is unaccustomed violence, including the wielding of paws in a clubbing and admonitory fashion. I mean, apart from anything else, mes amis, the little imbecile is too tiny to achieve any genuine, unaided access, had such a thing even been physically possible. 

What’s more , he seems to believe that nipping my ample and luscious jowls displays some kind of affection and attraction. What he should realise, and I believe this may occasionally penetrate to his stunted excuse for a brain, is that I could crush his stupid little head with one bite and swallow the rest of him whole, should I choose to do so, having first tenderised his over-muscled body through sustained treading. Which of course would be a dreadful betrayal of the St Bernardine genetic and moral code. 

We, after all, are aristocrats, born to serve, to dig, discover, rescue,save, and comfort . And sleep.Do we not deserve our rest?

And here’s a thing: Who does he think he is, with his supposed ‘Stollie’  or “Coffie” appellation? Staffordshire-Collie cross would be bad enough - a combination of sly self-righteous cleverness and brutal fighting instincts, not to mention a disgusting lack of hair and tendency to eat through partition walls. I detest this lack of purity in the line of breeding, this ridiculous fashion for combinations of breeds, such as Labradoodle, Chihuahuaboxer or the like. All for the sake  of not shedding hair? When I take pride in the tumbleweeds of glorious St Bernardine fur that gathers in the corners of the kitchen. Swiss Cashmere, I call it.

If he’s just Staffordshire and sheepdog, je suis une  Lhaso Apso. There’s other stuff in there. I can sense greyhound, whippet, lurcher, even - horror of horrors - Jacques Rousseaux terrier. He is an ill-bred little bitsa, unworthy of keeping company with someone of my pure heritage. Yes, I know I am technically, as he is, a ‘rescue’ dog. Indeed, I passed through the hands of several owners whose joy at my presence was not balanced by a willingness to cope with my size, appetites and, I will be honest, distinct aroma. I am an acquired taste in that direction, like a great Emmental or Camembert cheese, or well-matured smoked fish. To both of which I have been compared. But I am a gentlewoman, a dog - bitch if you prefer, though the connotion displeases me - of stature. He is nothing but a charlatan and a cheap little hoodlum at that. Spotted. He is Spotted. And he cannot change them, like the leper.

And why should he get to sleep on my human co-habitees' bed? When I have been denied such facilities since my arrival? And all because of some mild staining, a dislodged spring and a broken rib?

He has been here for a week, so far. I am keeping the situation under review, but whether or not this arrangement is tenable remains to be seen. Tiens, tiens, tiens...

Are you seriously going to try and get past me?

Blimey, she’s a stuck up old bitch and that’s a fact. I mean, I’m saying 'old', but she may just be acting elderly, as she lumbers from basket to back lawn and back again as if she bloody owns the place. Thing is, from what I can gather, she doesn’t actually know what age she is. The humans don’t. They rescued her from the slippery slope to the Big Needle, and they weren’t the first. She’d been in and out of hopeless homes all over the place, according to my mate Fang the Yorkie who I saw at Victoria the Alternative Vet’s the other day, when I was in for some kind of hypnosis, I think. Aimed at getting me to sleep somewhere other than the humans’  bed. Yeah, yeah, you have to go with it, pretend it works. I’ll do the carpet thing for a couple of hours and then quietly hop onto the king size, whining and shaking a wee bit. Easily fooled, those two. Soft hearted. But then, that’s good. Something  to work with. I like a bit of soft heart. Or liver. Or kidney. Though frankly, properly-buttered  granary toast is best.

Anyway, I reckon Big Rug - how she hates that name, invented by one of the humans because she’s so enormously...well, fat to be honest. Yes, FAT, not well-built, not substantial. Fat. Sixteen stone in old money fat. And disgustingly hairy. Like some kind of half-sheep, half Highland Cow. I reckon Rug is around eight in person years, which is only 56 in Dextime or maybe if that stuff about St Bernards pegging it early is true, 64. No reason to act like blooming’ Queen Victoria in a fur coat. A rubbish fur coat. And this genetic purity she keeps going on about? Bloody Borzoi sputum! St Bernards would have died out completely if they hadn’t started interbreeding with Newfoundlands and Mastiffs. There’s some ridiculous story that they’re descended from Hannibals’ war dogs, back in the days of elephants as tank substitutes? War dogs? Don’t make me laugh. Those things couldn’t fight a wet paper bag and win. And she needn’t try and impress me with that basso-profundo bark and swiping me with her over-engineered paws. I could take her down any time, one secure grip of those flappy jowls and she’d be mincemeat. Admittedly, I might suffer some crush injuries in the process, but sting like a butterfly, float like a bee I always say.

Anyway, she just needs to liven up a bit, have a play, respond to my friendly nips on her great flapping drool-soaked chins and then perhaps lose some flab. Me, OK, I’m young, fit, and would have been virile had not my appendages been clipped off in their first throbbing bloom. Which is not to say I can’t enjoy a bit of the old rumply-pumplystiltskin, know what I mean squire, or at least attempt it. But with Rug it’s like attempting congress with a moulting sofa. Which I have done, actually, and at least the sofa doesn’t try and stamp on your head, or drown you in Swiss spittle.

What am I doing here, anyway? Well, I was living with a delightful young lady, having been rescued by her from life with what I can only describe as a fairly rough-and-tumble crowd. This was in Ayrshire, where I lived on the streets, stealing food from bins, causing traffic accidents and chasing people on bicycles. Which is more fun than chasing sheep, I can tell you, though I’m supposed to have sheepdog in me on my dad’s side. Mum was a Staffie. Dad an almost-Collie gone to the bad, I’ve been told, in that he was working as a drug dog at Prestwick airport, catching smugglers. 

Unfortunately he got a taste for the old wacky baccy himself  and next thing he’s wandering the EasyJet queues, looking for a score, and runs off with a kilo of hash just arrived from Morocco. Or that’s the story they told me in the Home.

Me, I’ve never tried that stuff. Never been given the chance. I like the simple things in life. Chasing balls, eating carrots and Brussel Sprouts (I had a brief vegan phase, never quite got over it) and sleeping at the foot of a human bed. Or preferably under the blankets. Which is more than that enormous excuse for a piece of mobile furniture the Rugster can say. I mean, I’ve only been here a week or so, and already, I’ve got my blue blanket on the humans’ duvet. Easy. Eat your heart, you old motheaten  piece of  Swiss soft furnishing. Did I mention that she smells of cheese? That’s been mouldering underground for about a month? 

Hah! She’ll soon realise who’s in charge around here. Meanwhile, must go, it is time eat a wall.