23 February 2019

Teaspoons for Luck

Aggie Partridge paused at the foot of the stairs and surveyed the room, looking across a sea of ceramic floor tiles to the marble pillars and wrought-iron tables. Sergio's Basement Pizza Parlour was a lot bigger than she had been led to believe. Italian and small she might tolerate; Italian and huge, like this place, was formidable. Still, it wasn't every day Pam treated her to lunch so she'd better not grouse too much especially as she wanted to test her daughter's reaction to the situation with Sam.

A swarthy Italian waiter took their raincoats and hung Aggie's umbrella in a special stand, grinning at the yellow duck's head which he said looked like the real thing. Raising her eyes heavenwards, Aggie brushed a strand of silvery hair from the corner of one rheumy eye. She was attired in widow's weeds although her period of mourning had long since elapsed and no member of the family could persuade her to dress otherwise.

Pam was still gathering her belongings when the waiter beckoned them to follow. Aggie nudged her arm. 'Come on,' she urged, 'lets get it over with.' Without waiting she trailed in the man's wake, one liver-spotted hand gripping the chair backs for support, wickedly emulating his lumbering gait.

The smell emanating from the kitchen was tantalizing though Aggie hadn't a clue what it was. Her knowledge of foreign food only went as far as the local Chinese takeaway.

Pam Partridge donned her reading glasses. Opening the menu she asked her mother if she fancied pizza or spaghetti.

Aggie fiddled with her ear. 'Don't know, I'm sure. You'll have to choose for me.'

'You could have fish, if you'd prefer.'

Locating the passage devoted to fish, Aggie ran her finger down the list of strange sounding names, repeatedly muttering 'Gee wiz' and 'Saints preserve us.' She measured the length of one.
'Ara-gos-ta. What's that?'


She tried another. 'Cal-a-mari.'


'Ugh! Forget the fish.' Aggie thumbed the pages to the pasta section and read, 'Cann-ell-oni. Pasta tubes stuffed with meat and covered with savoury white sauce. I'll have that.'

Ignoring the waiter's inability to hide his mirth, Pam ordered cannelloni for two with a dish of mixed salad and a bottle of Orvietto.

Twenty minutes later, time Aggie spent perusing sketches of Pompei and Amalfi, a parade of waiters in crisp open-necked shirts emerged from the kitchen and proceeded to serve their food. One of them impressed Aggie no end when he flourished a large mulberry-coloured napkin into her lap.

'Gee whiz! That's some service,' she remarked as he left, 'but one bloke would have been enough.' Grabbing a fork, she stabbed it into the cannelloni. 'Here goes. My very first taste of Italian grub.' She sampled the pasta. 'Hey! This is good,' she exclaimed, waving her fork like a flag. 'Bet Sam's never tried this.' She tasted the wine, decided she liked it, and drank some more. Perhaps at Christmas she and Sam….

'How is your Mr Wilding?' Pam dabbed her mouth with the napkin.

Aggie's fleecy hair, reflecting her heightened colour, was like melting candy-floss. She felt warm inside. And why not? Sam might be an ordinary window-cleaner but he was respectable. He obviously appreciated her though he hadn't actually said as much. She flushed further remembering last night, the kiss he plonked on the end of her nose and her, afterwards, tossing about in bed. Unable to sleep … at her age.

'Come on, Mother. Tell all.'

Absently swabbing a segment of pasta in the remaining sauce, Aggie mumbled that Mr Wilding was fine. Her daughter smiled knowingly. Just like her Dad, she was. He'd sit there silently grinning, making out he could read her thoughts. And he usually could. Perhaps Pam could too; perhaps she knew exactly how Sam was affecting her. Taking a deep breath, Aggie went straight to the point. 'What do you think of him?'

Pam cupped her wineglass and considered the question. She put the glass down and clasped her hands, leaning her forearms on the table. 'He's ... comfortable. Agreeable. Kind. Sociable. That's my assessment. What's yours?'

'I think I like him.'

'Think?' Pam broke off a morsel of bread roll. 'How much do you think you like him?'

Aggie planted a finger on pursed lips. Not yet. Not until you know for sure. Aloud she said, 'Come off it, girl. Women my age don't go in for romancing. Got enough to do existing without men hindering us.' But her churning stomach and rapidly beating heart told a different tale. If only she could decide if they were symptoms of some debilitating malady or indications of love.

'I think you've got it bad, Mother. Otherwise you wouldn't have agreed to come here today. It's not in you to go places you don't care for unless there's good reason.'

Aggie was astonished. 'Am I so obvious?'

'Yes, Mother. That's how I know what's in the wind with you and Sam.' Burrowing in her raffia bag, Pam withdrew a small box and passed it across the table. 'Teaspoons,' she said. 'To bring you luck.'

As Aggie lifted the cellophane lid, her mind galloped over forty-two years to her courting days, when her sister bought teaspoons for the same reason. She fingered the smooth steel and felt suddenly jubilant. The first ones brought her luck; perhaps these would too.

Pam nodded, as if she could read her thoughts. 'He's a good man, Mother. I like him. Now what would you like for desert? Profiteroles?'

Aggie dumped her napkin on the table. 'No, thanks. I've got better things to do than sit here devouring profiteroles.'

In the process of pushing back her chair, she collided with a hovering waiter. 'Out of my way,' she cried. 'I've got a man to catch.' Leaving Pam red-faced and goggling, she dodged a marble pillar and scooted to the exit where she grabbed her mac and duck's head brolly, and to the amusement of the head waiter scuttled up the stairs singing Arrivederci, Rome at the top of her piping voice.

Once upon a time ... there were two dogs... Chapter Four


The continual scratching was the cause of Missus going off the rails. She swore Ginger was infested with fleas and did a lot of shouting to prove her disgust to anyone within earshot. Several teacups were broken in the process which struck me as being a bit over the top. Fleas are terrible but they’re only bad for the one who has them. Missus didn’t seem to realise what we had to go through in order to reach an itch. Contortions, though, are Ginger’s speciality. With having longer legs he can twist and turn much easier than me. The only trouble is when he finds it he goes at it like a pneumatic drill.

Meanwhile, to Ginger’s dismay, Missus spent hours washing him with special stuff that was supposed to kill off the mites. It reminded me of the old lady in a past life who treated my ears with Lysol. That was enough to put me off humans for life.

 ‘Don’t come near me,’ I barked, when we were put out to sleep in the barn. Well, you couldn’t blame me for wanting to keep myself clean. Chicken Fingers would soon bar me from the den if he thought I was lousy.

Chicken Fingers’ den was a wooden shed at the back of the farmhouse. He used to keep wood logs in there until they got a fancy fire for the kitchen which meant wood was no longer needed. I never did like all the journeys to gather it in. I didn’t mind sitting in Chicken Fingers’ old car, leaning out of the window to catch the breeze, but the old wagon wasn’t the most comfortable of vehicles and there was only room for me in the back when it was loaded with wood. I got splinters in my paws whenever we were on the return journey. Gaffer said it was my own fault for not keeping still. He hasn’t yet learned that a Staff doesn’t like sitting still.

The den was something else. Chicken Fingers did it out with wool rugs and bits of old furniture, a desk and a chair from the attic, an old couch from the front parlour, and a red plastic bed for me that was rescued from a neighbour’s tip. Mind, I was only allowed to use it when Chicken Fingers was in the den, other times it was the barn or the kitchen or the adjoining field, depending on the time of day

Although Ginger was allowed more time in the kitchen, he wasn’t as well off as me. He had Missus to contend with. Being kissed all the time and embraced by those fat arms wasn’t my idea of heaven. I’m a man’s dog through and through. But if Ginger likes that sort of thing then he’s in the right place.

One fine Sunday, Chicken Fingers and I were outside the den enjoying the sun. He sat astride a wooden chair reading a newspaper while I pretended to sleep by his feet. All was calm, the only sounds coming from the cows and a pesky wasp. I tried snapping at it but wasps being wasps it just kept zoning in without fear of landing between my teeth. I made a silent promise to get it… one day. It was too nice to get het up over a stupid insect.

Peace was disturbed by a sudden loud yell and a whoosh of feet. The kitchen door was flung open and Ginger shot out… followed by Missus, her plump legs moving as fast as they were able.

Of course, Ginger had a head start; he was off round the barn, passed the hen run, and into the field.  Chicken Fingers and I watched in quiet amazement.

‘Bet she’s found a flea, Butch,’ Gaffer said, resting his arms on the back of the chair and idly swinging his stout legs as if he was on a horse.

A flea? He needn’t come near me then, not until he was de-loused.

Gaffer said, ‘If he’s got to be treated I’m glad we’ll be out of the way for a couple of days.’

Ears on the alert, I waited, but heard no more.

My luck was in. Sure enough, come Monday I was settled into the front seat of Chicken Fingers’ old Morris and off we went to visit an auction and a market two towns away. I had to stay on lead but that didn’t matter, at least I was seeing something new.

The auction was interesting. Warm and smelly. I’m quite taken with cow smells; it attracts me to them, although they don’t seem to care much for my presence when I go to investigate. Cow pats are a particular attraction, rolling in one gives me a sense of one-upmanship, an ‘I’m better than you’ sort of thing. Chicken Fingers isn’t happy when I go home, as he says, stinking the place out. And Missus won’t have me in the house until I’ve been hosed and scrubbed and hosed again.

Cows at the farm snort when they see me coming, but not the ones in the auction sheds. They’re tame by comparison but I suppose they couldn’t do much with those tethers in place. Even so, I was kept on the lead so I couldn’t test it out. I watched out for cow pats though, just in case Gaffer decided to let me loose.
I never knew cows were sold to other farmers. I suppose I hadn’t lived on a farm long enough to learn the nitty-gritty. There was a lot of shouting and waving of hands and paper but by and large the farmers just stood around watching sellers and buyers at work while us dogs were stuck there on leads.

Afterwards we went for a walk in some woods. It was awesome. All those trees on which to leave the message that Butch was here. Chicken Fingers warned me to go carefully so as not to scare the woodland animals, he said there might be deer wandering about. Didn’t see any but there were plenty of fluffy rabbits and perky squirrels for me to chase. Two very different creatures, one shoots up trees and the other into holes in the ground. I never stood a chance’

The luxury bit of the days out was a stay in a hotel. You never saw such posh furnishings. A huge high bed covered with white sheets and what Gaffer called an eiderdown. Sounded like one of the ducks I’m friendly with on the lake. I was allowed to sleep in Chicken Fingers’ room but was told I couldn’t get on the bed. The green tartan car blanket was brought in for me, which was okay, but it didn’t smell half as nice as the eiderdown.

Back at the farm, Chicken Fingers and I had only been back a couple of minutes when we sensed something was wrong.

‘It’s too quiet.’ Gaffer said.

He was right. There was no barking for a start, and no sign of Ginger.

We got out of the car and ambled towards the kitchen.

‘We’re back,’ Gaffer called as we went through the door.


No sign of Missus or Ginger.

Gaffer walked across the tiled floor to the table, picked up a note, read it aloud. ‘Gone to the vets.’

The vet? Why would Missus want to see the vet? Was she ill? The only time Ginger and I went to the vet was for vaccinations. Did Missus need a vaccination?

Chicken Fingers looked worried. He sat in the chair by the hearth so I went over to lean against him. Leaning was my way of showing I loved him, I thought maybe I should try and cheer him up. His hand came down and rested on my head. ‘You’re a good pal, Butch. I wonder what’s happened to Ginger.’

!Ginger? Why Ginger? NOT Ginger

I twisted to look at Gaffer, trying to make out what he was thinking. I lay down and sat up again, moving to attract his attention. I rubbed my head against his ankle, looked up to see if my ploy was working. Chicken Fingers merely grinned and told me I was a great dog. Well, that was something, I suppose.
Then I heard it, the far away sound of Missus’ car coming down the lane. I yapped and bounced around, darting to the door and back again, urging Chicken Fingers to let me out. By that time the car was in the yard. I heard Missus pull the brake, then silence as the engine died.

She climbed out, walked round the car and opened the hatch. I saw Ginger’s head lift then sink, lift again, then sink. Saints preserve us, what was WRONG with him? I didn’t run, I padded quietly to the Car. Sniffed. Smelled something strange and unpleasant. Gaffer came across and I heard Missus saying something about an operation. I lifted up, put my front paws on the car and gazed at Ginger. His eyes were open, his body still. No jumping in recognition. He just gazed at me, sleepily.

Chicken Fingers moved me out of the way, took me inside the house. I was told to get on the blanket and stay there! Hmm! Under the circumstances I felt it was best to do as I was told. He went back outside and minutes later came back in with Missus and him carrying Ginger between them. I froze. Was he dying? Oh no, I couldn’t bear it if he was, who would I snuggle up to at night, who would I tease or taunt? Was this the end of our little dog, big dog games?

I needn’t have worried, Ginger was fine. I heard Missus telling Chicken Fingers that Ginger’s itching was because of a deep cut. The continual scratching had opened it so wide it needed stitches. It seems the vet gave him something to make him sleep while he did it. No-one knew how Ginger got such a bad cut and I for one don’t care now that I know he’s not going to die.

That night, as we nestled in the hay in the barn, I snuggled close to Ginger, licked his nose several times , and promised that in future I would protect him from all ills, so long as it didn’t involve fleas.

16 February 2019

Once upon a time ... there were two dogs ... Chapter Three


Ginger had snored in his sleep most of the night and with every snort a stick of straw bounced on my nose. I snarled a few times hoping it would stop without me having to move. All the same, I opened my eye, saw a glimmer of light showing through the broken slats in the barn door. The day was dawning, it felt warm yet I smelled rain. Mice scurried in and out of tiny holes, something Ginger and I had to put up with. I didn’t mind sharing the barn with Ginger but the mice really got on my nerves.
We shared the farm with other animals, rabbits., rats, and the occasional fox. Hens were kept in a covered enclosure, only allowed to roam free under supervision so that foxy couldn’t grab one for a meal. I avoided them when they were out. I’d had enough nips from bantams to make me wary. My favourite hiding place was in the stable along with a grey mare called Dolly. It was a daft name for a horse but probably not as silly as calling me Butch. I mean, did you ever see a dog less butch in your life? Ginger I could understand, him having a red coat, but Butch… No!
More pokes from the hay, the last one right in my eye, ended my bit of daydreaming. Feeling irritated I shoved up closer to Ginger and barked in his ear. He leapt up, half alert, half still dreaming, then lay down again. Whoa! Not so fast, young man, you’ve got things to do, this is no time for lazing on your pallet. I dragged a paw over his eyes, the only sure fire way I knew to get his attention and to remind him that today was his big day.
That did it, he was up and pacing before I could get on my feet. I felt a bit sorry, really, knowing how much he disliked dog shows.

Heralded by the crowing cockerel, I padded to the barn door to see if Chicken Fingers had laid on breakfast. I could see the food plates were empty, only the water bowl was full and even that contained a couple of flies trying to swim. It was already feeling muggy; I could feel the pressure of impending heat. Not the right condition for poor Ginger to be marching round a show ring.
Ginger and I shuffled towards the house, woofing occasionally in the hope that waking Chicken Fingers would get us fed sooner rather than later. He was a bit of a late starter at weekends. My stomach rumbled with hunger, my fault for not having had supper! I was sulking ‘cause Ginger was getting all the attention. Missus was a great one for overdoing the ear fondling and her declarations of love for what she called a Silly Setter were quite painful to listen to. Chicken Fingers tried to pacify me, promising me a knuckle bone while Ginger was in the ring. Sometimes it pays to be small and undemanding.
As we cornered the house, we could hear Missus humming a tune so I guessed she was in a good mood. Exceptional smells emanated from the kitchen, inviting me to dart through the door. But I hung back to let Ginger go in first. Sight of him would have her doubling our rations since he was her favourite. She couldn’t do enough for him, and I was glad. It meant I was in for the extra that Ginger couldn’t eat. Our appetites were quite different which Chicken Fingers said was unusual considering our different sizes.

There were a lot of hiccups that morning. Missus and Chicken Fingers fell out over a bit of mud he’d walked into the kitchen. Humans are funny sometimes. The telephone rang repeatedly, mostly when Missus was in the middle of doing something important. One time she was putting on her face when it rang, though for the life of me I couldn’t think why she was so upset. I actually thought she looked better without all that paste and stuff she layered on every day. Ginger nearly went into one of his hurtling sessions but managed to control himself… not easy when you think how much he hates the telephone. It was more than his life was worth to resort to old practices of belting round the kitchen, breaking things, and upsetting Missus into the bargain.
Missus had a lot to do before the event but when she got round to seeing Ginger she calmed down and actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Poor Ginger had to be washed and dried and brushed until he shone. And shone he did. His wavy red hair was a sight to see. I don’t get jealous. I mean, with my short coat there’s not much to shine. And any way I wasn’t being shown and judged. Gaffer once told his mate that ‘Butch belied his breed, he hadn’t got a jealous streak in his body’. I spent a long time wondering how I could belie my breed, whatever that was.
We arrived at the showground early. Ginger hung back at first, I reckoned he was scared in case he got dirty. He’d been warned not to chase after one of the little dogs, the one with short legs that Ginger thought was German. Me, I don’t know a Beagle from a Poodle, they’re all just dogs to me. I couldn’t help grinning at Ginger when he tried to look the other way so as not to be tempted.
Since it was early Missus gave us permission to have a look round. “Mind you don’t get yourself dirty”, she said as she stroked Ginger’s head. He had the graciousness to look pleased… he was good at toadying up to her. He might be a bit dippy but he was no fool, he knew which side his bread was buttered! 

People were shouting things like ‘Roll up, roll up’ and ‘Try your luck with the cards’. Kids giggling behind clouds of pink fluff on a stick stopped to give Ginger a stroke, I looked at them in my most appealing manner, was rewarded with a tickle between the ears which made me go all funny. I longed for more of the same but the girls wandered off, leaving Ginger and me alone.

Wandering round the side stalls we stopped to watch some colourful horses riding in circles, going up and down. According to a young girl who stood nearby it was called a merry-go-round. I’d heard her ask the lady whose hand she held, ‘Can I have a ride on the merry-go-round?

Ginger decided he wanted a go. He ran up the ramp and squatted beside a lovely red and yellow horse with a black mane and spotted body. I barked at Ginger, hoping he’d come down without a fuss, but it was only when a gent wearing a brown apron threatened him with his stick that he decided enough was enough. Ginger ran down the ramp and hit a deep puddle left by the previous night’s rain. Oh boy, trouble was definitely ahead.
Missus was beside herself. ‘I’ll never let you out with that no-good Staff again,’ she wailed. She was, of course, blaming me for Ginger’s idiotic antics. I went and sat by Chicken Fingers, who laughed at the whole thing. Placing his hand on my back he murmured, ‘Take no notice.’ So I followed his advice and settled back to watch Missus heave the bath and shampoo out of the van, along with a container of water. Ginger was to be washed and dried all over again, in public, too. I tried hard not to let him see me grinning.
‘Daft woman,’ muttered Chicken Fingers.’
After another brush down it was time for Missus and Ginger to take their place with the others, right in the middle of the show ring. Chicken Fingers put me on the lead and guided me towards the arena, grabbing a spot right by the ring. I settled between his feet with the promised knuckle bone to watch my best friend make a fool of himself.

Three judges stood by a long table, at the side of which lay a box of red and yellow rosettes. I thought they’d look good on the merry-go-round horses. People in white coats stood behind the table, presumably waiting to be told what to do. It was stiflingly warm which was probably why one of them kept dabbing his face with a blue and white spotted handkerchief.
‘Is everyone in that should be in?’ asked the middle judge, a balding man in crumpled grey trousers and heavy green jacket.
One of the lady judges sniggered as she walked with her colleague towards the dogs and handlers. After they finished their inspection, she gave a signal to the man judge who then proceeded to give instructions for the next part of the proceedings.
Ginger looked as if he wanted to lie down but Missus had him on standing-up rein.
Dogs and handlers ran around the course, dog leads held high so that the animals could not only be seen but couldn’t do anything they shouldn’t. Chicken Fingers nudged me when Ginger and Missus came by. Ginger’s coat glistened but although he held his head up, I could see he wasn’t enjoying it. Let’s face it, it wasn’t what either of us expected when we were rescued from the dogs’ home. Seeing the look of desperation in my friend’s eyes my little heart went out to him. I yapped my encouragement and was rewarded by the flash of a grin.
The dogs had to do a number of things for the judges, sit, stand, walk, run, plus a session on obeying commands. I wouldn’t have swapped places with him if I’d been given a load of knuckle bones. I gave up watching and went back to gnawing the meat off mine.
Just then I heard a fearful noise, a crash and lots of shouting. I raised my head to see what was going on, struggled upright for a better view. You’ll never believe what I saw. It was a right scene. Ginger had broken loose from Missus and was hoofing after the German dog, chased by the fat judge whose legs were more into waddling than running. I reckoned he’d have done better if he’d left his jacket behind. The podium was tipped over, three judges chairs heaped beside it; a lady judge was lying on the floor, one of the men in a white coat jumped about nursing his hand, while Missus just stood there with her hands over her eyes.
Back home with Ginger in disgrace, Missus ranted about unreliability, dangerous behaviour, and disobedience. Chicken Fingers gave him water to drink but no food. That was worrying; it could have meant I’d have to do without as well. But I was taken out later and given a feast of chicken mince with gravy while Ginger was kept indoors. Gaffer sat with me on the outside step. He told me he never thought Ginger had it in him to be disobedient. I licked his cheek, wishing I could tell him a thing or two about my buddy. But I’m nothing if not loyal and anyway having to go through the ordeal of washing as well as being shown in an arena, in front of crowds of people, was enough to split his mind. Poor old Ginger, bet he sometimes wished he was a Staff.

Later that night, out in the barn, Ginger snuggled against me. I licked his face to demonstrate my feelings for him. He might be a daft dog but he was my pal and I was fearful about losing him. Who knows what Missus might do now that he was out of favour? A return to the dogs’ home didn’t bear thinking about. After the luxury of the farm I didn’t think Ginger would survive. I shuffled round until I could rest my head on his body, wondering how I would manage without him. We’d been through a lot, him and me. I felt properly down in the mouth at the idea of us being separated.
We slept close together all night, comforting each other. I’d made up my mind that if he went then so would I. If I wasn’t included in a plan to return to the dogs home I would run away. Life on the farm would be no good without my buddy.

Next morning, with the sun shining, the birds twittering merrily outside the barn and geese honking on the pond, Ginger and I put on a united front. We padded across to the kitchen door, noticing as we went that our dishes were empty. That was a bad sign. I was just about to turn away when the kitchen door opened and Missus raced out. Seeing Ginger she swooped, cupped his face with both hands and smothered his red face with kisses, then hauled him inside by the scruff of his neck. I followed more slowly. Chicken Fingers was sitting at the wooden table, mincing chicken. I sniffed, looked up at him, saw him wink. Slowly he rose, picked up the two dog bowls that were waiting on the drainer, filled them with mince and poured gravy from a blue jug.
Meanwhile, Ginger was being petted by Missus. ‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘you’re my boy and I forgive you for hurting the judge. All that fuss over a silly bruise.’ She threw her arms round Ginger’s neck and plied him with more kisses. He seemed content, even happy. When he grinned at me from within Missus’ embrace I suddenly understood what he was thinking: never again would he be dragged to a showground and made to perform. Hmm, and I thought Ginger was daft.

09 February 2019

Once upon a time... there were two dogs... Chapter Two


If anything was to make me turn tail and run, it was the endless phone calls. Morning, noon, and night, and always at meal times. Ginger's and mine, that is. Blessed instrument was silent when Chicken Fingers and Missus were eating. Missus did her best to get to the phone before Ginger started his howling, though how she could run with all that bulk to carry was beyond me. Like a fattened turkey she was, the way she waddled up the hall at high speed. Too many chicken dinners. Mind, I could talk. I'd got a bit plump since moving in. So had Ginger. His stomach had dropped and it didn't look right. A setter should be lissom and lean. The way he orbited the house when the phone rang should have kept the fat off, which made me wonder how much grub he was taking on the sly. Gaffer at our old lodgings wouldn't like it if he knew. He didn't believe in doling out weighty portions.

Ginger's reaction to the ringing sounds was the only thing I disliked. Other times we got on like a barn on fire. Oops. Shouldn't tempt providence. If that happened, we'd have no place to sleep, because for sure Missus wouldn't have us indoors at night. We were supposed to guard the farm then, while Chicken Fingers slept. I sneaked upstairs one day to take a look at where he and Missus bedded down. The bedstead was as high as heaven but I managed to jump on. The feather pillow was so soft I could have stayed there all day, but Missus didn't think Chicken Fingers would like it if he knew I was napping in his domain. She ejected me pretty quick and told me never to go in there again, shouting a bit, you know, so as to put a bit of urgency in my dismissal. She was probably anxious lest Chicken Fingers walloped me with his belt. He'd actually never done that, so I didn't see why she should be scared.

Chicken Fingers was the kindest master I'd ever had. Even Ginger said that, and he'd had a couple of good ones in his time. My old lady wasn't so bad when she wasn't going on about scouring ears with Lysol, but she wasn't a patch on Chicken Fingers. She couldn't walk me, for a start, her legs being as thin as a whippet's. Me and Ginger got all the exercise we needed on the farm: sniffing out mice, chasing rabbits, and running alongside the tractor. It was a shame when the ploughing finished. It was such an excellent activity for reducing the waistline, I wondered Missus didn't have a go. Still there was the dog show to look forward to. There'd be a lot of galloping to do there. Chicken Fingers said there would be an arena to run around, but Missus said if we didn't lose a few inches we wouldn't be eligible, whatever that meant. Perhaps she was worried we wouldn't get through the gate.

Ginger had to suffer daily grooming, but it was worth it. All the tangles on his belly disappeared and for all his complaining he looked quite attractive. His coat actually shone. I was sure Missus had tinted it. It wasn't such a splendid red when we came. My coat being short, I didn't need such attention. Me being ordinary black and tan didn't entitle me to much fuss. My coat gleamed because Missus gave it a quick rub with a hand glove and a silk cloth, but she didn't spend time on it. I got quite jealous at times but Chicken Fingers made me feel better. He fondled me while we watched Ginger being brushed. I was his favourite, see. After all, it was me he picked first at the kennels. Ginger was an afterthought; he was chosen for Missus.

It was during one of the shampooing sessions that Ginger toppled Missus. The phone had leaped into action and from the first peal he was hurtling round like a dog with rabies. I yapped at Missus to grab the phone before he had a heart attack. She tried but the timing was wrong and Ginger had completed his first revolution by the time she took a step to the table. Inevitably, they collided. Missus went over like a rollicking whale, her skirts rucking round her waist, revealing a spectacle of pink bloomers.

Chicken Fingers clutched his huge gut and rocked from side to side. Terrified he was badly hurt, I raced to him but stopped dead when I caught his first chuckle. His observation that she'd finally slaughtered his passion was lost in loud guffaws. It stopped Ginger's antics though, anything to do with bloodshed got him really worried.

I remembered Gaffer at the kennels and him repeating his famous rule about best behaviour or no food. A joke, he said, when we snarled our disapproval, but we knew he wasn't joking by the scarcity of good grub. With this horror in mind, I decided to make amends.

Trotting up to Missus, I nudged under her arm so she could grab my neck and heave herself upright. I nearly choked in the process, but she made it. She bent to pat my head and I grinned at her for all I was worth, fervently licking her hand. Out the corner of my eye I saw Ginger sneaking towards us, but Chicken fingers, who had regained his composure, stopped him in his tracks.

'Stay, boy,' he said, 'Stay where you're well off.'

Now that her skirts were settled, Missus was all set to obtain justice. Pointing at Ginger, she yelled at Chicken Fingers, 'First light tomorrow, that fiend's off. And don't think you can protect him, 'cause I won't allow it.'

Chicken fingers drew himself up to his full six feet and, although his gut protruded like a balloon, he looked impressively forbidding. He summoned Ginger and me to his side and then he bellowed, 'You'll do no such thing, woman.' Ginger and me folded into a profound cringe and we struggled for shelter behind our master's fleshy legs. My picture of Gaffer grew larger. I could almost hear him asserting that he knew we wouldn't be long returning to kennels.

A strange thing happened then. The phone began to ring. Sensing the worst, expecting Ginger to take off, I pressed closer to master's lower limb. I felt movement. Indeed I heard it, but it wasn't Ginger's howling I heard. It was a sort of rustling, shuffling sound. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to see Ginger frisking like a spring lamb and constructing the fastest return to starvation. Chicken fingers' strident laugh prompted me to peer round his leg in time to see Ginger shambling silently towards Missus, wearing a great stupid grin, and Missus bearing down on him, hands outstretched ready either to embrace or to throttle him.

'Come here, silly boy,' she said, and proceeded to smother him with kisses. Can you credit that? And all the time, the phone rang and rang. No-one went to answer it, and there wasn't a peep out of Ginger. 'You're a good boy, Ginger' Missus said. 'I knew sooner or later you'd learn that the telephone wasn't going to harm us.'

You could've knocked me out with a blade of grass, 'cause I'd never reckoned on Ginger having the capacity to learn things but then he glanced at me, sort of sideways, and I knew I'd been wrong about him all the time.

02 February 2019

Once upon a time... there were two dogs...

                                Inspiration to write Once upon a time... there were two dogs...  came after visiting a dog rescue centre. Although excellent conditions prevailed I worried about the dogs left behind, imagining them quietly crying Hey, it's my turn, or Please, Missus, give me a break.     
The seed was sown and two fictitious characters, Butch and Ginger, were born. One story was all I intended to write but demand for more was so encouraging a few others were penned.                    
Chapter 1

Even dogs can hope for better things

It was the way he stroked my ears through the bars that gave me the idea he fancied me rather than Ginger in the next run, though by the clamour Ginger was making it sounded as if he thought otherwise. I'd never seen him so active, galloping aimlessly round his enclosure, only stopping to issue those attention-seeking howls. The man had given him a cursory glance, then came to scrutinise me, shunning Ginger as if he was the worst captive canine he'd ever seen. And all down to the howls. I had to admit they were greatly off-putting, that's why, now I was the butt of the man's inspection, I was staying cool and not trying to win him over with silly tricks.

Somewhat experimentally I sneaked my tongue out to lick one of his fingers. It tasted kind of interesting, as if he'd been gnawing chicken legs with bare hands. I knew about chicken legs. That's why I was caged up in this unholy place; because I ate the old lady's supper when she was out. Not an adventure I ever had an urge to dwell on with all the caning and outraged bellowing that went on.

The man crouched to get a better view, then stared me straight in the eye. It was a strange thing to do to a dog and I wondered if he was being hostile. If he was, I was in trouble, but he looked genuine enough so I ignored it. If he'd a mind to offer me a home I didn't want to spoil things, especially if there was chicken in the offing. I had a vision of chicken scraps in a huge brown bowl (with mixer and gravy the way the old lady served it in the old days) until the iron gate at the end of the pens crashed open and knocked the thought away. I could hear the Gaffer pounding towards us, his hobnailed boots striking the concrete like a salvo of bullets.

'Fancy him do you, Buddy?' he yelled as he approached the man.

'How much you asking?'

'Fifty, providing you can give him a decent home. And I'll need references.'

I planted the ears back in amazement. Since when did buying a Staff need references?

Ginger's tethering chain began to rattle as he clawed that damned ear of his; he'd been plagued by dreaded mites for a while. Well, he could keep them to himself if he didn't mind, an invasion this side of getting adopted was out of the question. It wasn't every owner who could tolerate infestations, I realised that when the old woman brought me in and stridently advised the Gaffer to scrub my ears with Lysol. The mere sound of the word sent me dithering into a corner but to give the Gaffer his due he simply used drops to cure the irritation. 'So, if you can hear me, Ginger, quit showering me with your bugs.'

Chicken Fingers said, 'I really wanted a bitch.'

A bitch? He had to be joking. What use was a bitch to a bloke like him. Slurping water from the steel dish as if it was a cure-all for shock, I pinned the ears further back so as not to be distracted when I studied his face. A dog's man if ever I saw one, beefy and hard. Suddenly he bounced upright, his thighs quivering with the exertion. I followed the curve of his leg until my eye rested on his corpulent gut, and thought of all the meat it must have taken to make it grow so big.

'The wife wanted a bitch,' he said.

Dejectedly, I lay down and put my muzzle on my paws. The fantasy was over. Chicken Fingers had a wife, which meant I was doomed to stay forever with Irish Ginger and the wretch who looked after us.

Chicken Fingers stooped again and poked his hand through the bars. 'He's a fine looking animal,' he said.

I raised an eyelid.

'I'm sure the Missus will understand when she sees his funny grin.'

Scrambling to all fours, I began to pant with excitement, but I didn't run about. Good behaviour was of paramount importance if I was to be salvaged from this dump and transported to a place where a Missus cooked chicken and fed her man until he could hardly move.

The Gaffer reached up and drew the bolt on the gate. Merciful heaven, the gate swung open and liberty loomed. Producing a leather strap from his trouser pocket, he rapidly slid it over my bonce. 'Come on, Butch. Go walkies with the nice gent.' Turning to the nice gent, he added, 'And don't let him pull you. He'd tug a bus to the ground if he was let.'

Chicken Fingers laughed and scratched the spot between my ears, making me go all gooey inside. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I'm used to dogs.'Then he rubbed the tip of my ear, little knowing it was another of my sensitive spots. 'Things'll be fine when he's found his bed and had his first bite of grub.'

Spinning my tail to show I approved of his plan, I immediately looked up and down the gully trying to remember the way out. Ginger shoved his nose through the railings and gave a subdued bark, and I woofed at him: 'Hey, Ginger. It was my funny grin that got me placed. Now, if you really want to get out of here....

'How much for the Setter, mate?'

I shot my head round to stare at the new man in my life. He was surely not thinking of taking Ginger as well as me. Him and Missus must live in a mansion.

'Same,' Gaffer said. 'Fifty and a good home.'

'They'll have that all right. We live on a farm. Fields to run in and a barn to share.'

'Won't the wife create if you buy two dogs?'

'If she saw the mutt's downcast expression, she'd be cross if I didn't. I ask you, in all conscience how could I leave him behind?'

As if he had the sense to know what was going on, Ginger yapped wildly and started to chase his tail, taking no notice of my warning that if he didn't behave he'd be left behind; however, since he hadn't been incarcerated as long as me, I suppose he hadn't had to learn the hard way.

A similar strip of leather went over Ginger's head, stopping him in his tracks. Gaffer said to him, 'Okay, Ginger. You're off as well.'

And with that the nice gent clipped a lead on my collar and looped it through Ginger's so we couldn't help but walk as one, and we were led away, my short legs racing to match Ginger's stride. I didn't care, I'd have slid on my belly if needs be. So we vacated the squalid billet that had been our home, glad to go yet grateful for the shelter it offered when no-one else would take us in. Perhaps one day we would return but in the meantime we'd have Chicken Fingers for boss and chicken legs, if we were lucky, for our rations.