I hadn’t really wanted to go trekking round the shops until I remembered the tit bits that came our way from the generous greengrocer. He always threw unattractive carrots and unlikely fruit to Ginger and me. Judging by the excited yapping Ginger was already on the lead and ready to go so I bounced into action, leaving the cushion of grass by the stable and promising Dolly we’d be back later. I felt sorry for the old girl, being shut up all the time, felt it my duty to keep her company when I had nothing else on.
A trip to the village shops was treat of the week. Every Thursday afternoon, without fail, Missus wrote out the various orders she wanted delivered: meat, vegetables, groceries, and phoned them through to the village suppliers. Everything else was bought separately the next day. Dog food, for instance. Missus would get the beef knuckles raw and cook them at home. I loved those days. I would sit with Ginger, drooling by the back door, forever hopeful.
This week was different. On Saturday there would be visitors to the farm when by all accounts we would have a little boy to play with. I can’t say we were thrilled by the idea. Great attention was paid to purchases for the occasion. Missus bought a lot more groceries, inspecting and directing every item, which made me think really important people were visiting the farm. She even bought candles to put on a cake. I couldn’t understand who would want to eat a candle. Once I found a white one in the lane and started chewing before Gaffer could stop me. It tasted awful so I didn’t need telling twice.
Ginger and I discussed the forthcoming visit with Dolly, the mare. We often lay by the stable for a bit of peace and quiet. Now it looked as if we might need it as a refuge from what Gaffer described as a wild child. Dolly looked worried when she heard the news. Her lips curled in a hearty neigh. I didn’t tell her that the wild child would want to ride her. Poor old girl, she wasn’t up to dealing with problems. Dolly was very old.
The ground was still wet after the heavy rain in the night, that’s why I slewed along the ground straight into a muddy patch. This of course meant I had to be bathed before the visitors arrived. I endured it much as I endured it when my first old lady made me sit under the shower while she cleaned my ears. I’m not a great lover of water, that’s why I don’t swim. Seems to me by the amount of times Missus washes Ginger that she’s got a fixation about cleanliness. Gaffer was sympathetic, though, he kept telling me what a good boy I was. Well, that goes without saying!
The visitors arrived mid-morning, just as Ginger and I were settling for a kip, this time actually inside the stable. It’s where Gaffer puts us when he wants us out of the way. I was busy inhaling warm horse smells when I heard Dolly’s quiet whinny and the rasp of lips over her teeth. She’d been standing with her head sticking out of the door when the family arrived, that’s how she came to see them first. Very slowly, discreetly I thought, she backed into the stable and strolled over to where we were lying by a pile of hay. Idly nibbling some hay, she lowered her head and then tossed it as if to say ‘they’re here.’
Well, Ginger and I are nothing if not receptive, so we waited patiently to be let out. Gaffer came soon after, calling us as he approached, ‘Ginger, Butch, come and see who’s here.’
We shot out of the stable the second the door opened, belted across to the kitchen door. Normally boisterous, Ginger showed a little caution when he saw the man, woman and child, a throw-back from past experiences, but I sped in, aiming for the man. I could tell he would be the one to make a fuss.
The child was called Jimmy. He was very young. He hadn’t yet learned that a dog’s ears are not for pulling. In the afternoon, wherever Ginger or I went Jimmy followed, trying all the time to hug us or pull our tails. Ginger was more tolerant than me, rolling over to let Jimmy tickle his tummy, but after a warning from Gaffer I kept my distance.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Jimmy but past experience at the old lady’s house had made me very wary. She had a wild child grandson who would pretend to be friendly then stick pins in my belly after he got me in prone position with him kneeling on top. Every time he came, he thought up something new and even more painful to try. You can be sure I struck back, biting with my sharp teeth until he cried out, loud enough to attract the old lady’s attention. She took her grandson’s side. These incidents, coming on top of me scoffing her supper, made her decide that the best place for me was the dog’s home.
I’m a lot older now and definitely wiser. Only the other day I heard Missus telling Gaffer about a child who was attacked by a dog. I wondered at the time what the child had done to make the dog so angry.
Gaffer took Jimmy to see Dolly and immediately the two were friends. It was lovely to watch. Gaffer didn’t bother to saddle the old mare; he simply brought her out of the stable, sat Jimmy on her back and held him there while they ambled towards the field. Wild child squealed with joy and even though he reached for Dolly’s ears a few times Gaffer held him in place on her back. It looked so cool I almost wished I was up there as well.
Seeing how Dolly responded to the situation, lifting his legs in a light-hearted manner instead of the usual clunk and thump, head held high as if trying to reach the sky, it struck me that he was enjoying himself. He probably felt useful for the first time in years.
Jimmy quickly got the hang of bare back riding, his knees automatically gripping Dolly’s back. Gaffer’s hand was never far away though, just in case the boy slipped. I found myself hoping the wild child would pop in again, for Dolly’s sake.
At tea time everyone gathered round the table in the parlour while Ginger and I looked on from our positions by the hearth. It was one of those times when I questioned the mentality of humans. After a main course of salmon and greens, there was trifle with cream (we slobbered as we watched) and then the cake was produced. It bore six candles, all different colours, displayed in a circle on the top.
We couldn’t believe what happened next. While everyone sang a song called Happy Birthday, Gaffer produced a box of matches and began to set fire to the candles. Ginger and I were horrified. It’s true what they say, dogs don’t like fire. I made a run for the door, outdoing Ginger by several seconds, but the door was closed.
Try the front, I barked, already racing through the house. I could hear wild child giggling which didn’t help my frame of mind. Didn’t he realise the danger of fire? Ginger sprinted by which proves that too much thinking slows me down.
Anyway, finding the door closed as well, we scuttled back into the parlour where I was grabbed by Gaffer while Missus threw herself at Ginger. Literally! Of course, they both fell over, which made Jimmy laugh even more. I couldn’t blame him; I had an ear to ear grin on my face too as I watched them trying to disentangle arms and legs. From the confines of Gaffer’s arms I surveyed the room, wondering what happened to the fire. There wasn’t even a flicker of a flame on the cake. Perhaps Gaffer had doused it with water?
When the visit was over, Gaffer walked me to the Rose and Crown. I liked these occasions, just him and me. It was still warm. I could smell that weedy stench that comes from the duck pond but it didn’t spoil the evening air. Gaffer’s step seemed sprightlier and I was really happy when he said 'You and Ginger really made Jimmy’s day.’ With that he patted my head and leaned down to give me a hug. As we walked through the pub door I thought, not for the first time, how lucky I was to have been chosen by this great big man.