Thursday, 16 May 2013

Dogs Delight

Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
For God hath made them so.
Divine Songs for Children (1715) ‘Against Quarrelling’, Isaac Watts

It is lovely to buy a puppy.  Yet the day we bought Bailey I had a foreboding.
It was a sunny June afternoon, blue and yellow.  My husband was determinedly cheerful but the gears of the jeep kept jamming and his new mustard corduroys were chafing and making him hot. 
labrador puppy, litter, choosing a puppy, buying a pupy
The house was up a long shadowy drive and when we parked three labradors ran up to the gate and escorted us to a side door, where Mrs Wellington-Bird was holding a puppy like a sleepy mouse in a teatowel.

‘Sorry about the chaos,’ she boomed.  ‘I’ve had two litters and weeks and weeks of wet-nursing.’  She settled the baby back with its mother, who seemed indifferent, and marched us round to a secure yard where the three advertised puppies were romping.

I sat down on the gravel and after a while they incorporated me in their games, along with the rope and the plastic plant pot, jumping over my knees and chewing the strap of my bag.  Later I discovered that if I had remained standing aloof Mrs Wellington-Bird would not have sold us a puppy at all.  She gave me a sharp look as she poured out three glasses of dilute orange cordial.

‘You don’t realise it, but you’ve been watched,’ she said.  ‘My spies have been reporting back to me on all our new families.  I have to be sure my grandchildren are going to happy homes.’ 

One puppy was pulling hard at the hem of Richard’s cords but still he kept smiling and making conversation.  I sat back and prepared to enjoy the luxury of choosing.
‘Which one shall we have?’ Richard said, managing to transfer the puppy from his trousers to his thumb.  I  could see that it was nipping him sharply.  The puppies were plump and surprisingly big, especially after just seeing the mouse-puppy from the new litter. 
‘Oh, there is no choice, I’m afraid,’ said Mrs Wellington-Bird.  ‘Those two are bitches and all the other dogs have been taken.   Not to worry; he seems to have taken to you.’
On the drive back I held the puppy in my lap and it made a rhythmic nuzzling all the way home.  I closed my eyes and the warmth and little movements felt oddly comforting after weeks of wondering how my husband is planning to murder me.  When I opened them I found it had bitten right through the seat belt.  
black labrador puppy, puppy chewing, puppy in car, new puppy

The story begins with Dogs Delight 1.  Dogs Delight is now available on Kindle at 

cow stuck on fence, dairy cow, village idiot

Monday, 13 May 2013

Dogs Delight 1 Prison garden

His garden is my prison, dense with laurel and rhododendrons and enclosed by high brick walls.  The magenta vine is smothering the pergola at the end of the new path, so sometimes when I am alone I take out the secateurs and tear at the long tendrils which are thrashing in the wind.  I like doing this because I can imagine I am in control, conjuring up a different garden, blowsy with pale roses and wildflowers, where I will be safe.
David Austin Roses
Two children are peering over the wall gazing at our ‘magic island,’ elbows straining to hold them up because the walls are so high.  They are different to our children.  Beautiful, like fairies.  I follow their gaze to the palm trees which are reflected in the ruffled water of the swimming pool, fronds waving wildly in the October gusts.  The water laps and slaps the concrete edge, spilling out floating yellow leaves from the willows.  The sun loungers are still outside, flanked by tubs of vermilion geraniums and as the wind scrapes a lounger along the terrace I decide I will leave the geraniums outside tonight.  Perhaps then a frost will blast them and all that searing colour will drain away.

The boy and girl scramble down, slim and dark and lissom, laughing and shouting something, not realising I can see them from behind this vine.  The secateurs are open in my hand as I examine the garden in its brash luxury.  The stiff roses, fluorescent and shocking pink, thankfully almost over.  The oversized marble angel with the bird tray in its supplicating hands and heavenward gaze.  The explosion of maples.

Richard chose those maples deliberately for their colour and vigour.  The acid yellow leaves make a Hollywood autumn, as he always says; the blood-crimson ones are unforgivable, a rash.  I blot them out and imagine another garden, in green and white and pastel: my country garden with beech and box and foxgloves where the dark-haired children are chasing each other through the trees and down the paths.  Clumps of native daffodils grow instead of those beasts with orange trumpets, stirring even now beneath the soil to blight my Spring.  
Richard’s garden is a room where we entertain, so the design is ambitious and the flowers must make an impression, unlike the anemones and aconites that I plant under the trees.  My small bulbs are lost amid his banks of orange hyacinths, the bold hanging baskets in royal blue and scarlet which make the backdrop to his energetic parties.  The parties are just like Richard, full of a furious energy which overwhelms me so that I am not myself.  Sometimes, at night, I imagine I am lying out here in the cold pool.  I imagine my skin becoming icy white and blue, my arm stretched out like Ophelia’s among the geranium petals and willow leaves, and in the morning Richard will search for me everywhere.  
But he will never find me.  
Ophelia, water feature, famous paintings, pre-Raphaelites 
Dogs Delight is now available on Kindle at 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Dogs Delight 2 Bark and bite

A blunt nose pushes against my knee: Bailey is back, demanding his dinner. 

labrador retriever, country garden, naughty dog, Richard bought him the same week he bought his tattersal shirts and his hiking sticks, the week we moved into the village. 

Bailey has been missing all afternoon, searching for chicken carcasses in the insalubrious lane by the Old Chapel, with its dilapidated hen houses and rank elder smell; or perhaps he was visiting the pig farm, where he has his own place by the boiler in the long outhouse. 
Brunt the pig farmer likes to relate how Bailey lies there warming his flanks alongside the swine.  I can imagine Brunt lying between them on his back in his greasy boiler suit, smoking Embassies with his eyes shut.  I saw him earlier, when I took Bailey for a walk and he pointed across the field: 

‘Cows is lined up along the hedge.  Promises rain coming, Missus.’   

Bailey grins up at me, his muzzle barred with mud and for the hundredth time I wish that he were a spaniel or a lap dog, because then he would be more of a comfort.  He would stay at my side when we go for walks and curl himself around me on the rug in front of the fire. 

But Bailey is self-sufficient.  He takes himself to the Lone Gelding, the depressing village pub, where he stands up on his hind legs at the bar, lapping beer from his own ashtray and befriending anyone who happens to come in.  I know that the regulars buy him packets of pork scratchings which he can open by himself and when there is a darts match he is in his pomp, escorting the home side as they slowly circle the snooker table, throw their arrows and resume their place in line.  He is not a loyal dog.
virginia creeper, pruning ivy, pruning bostonivy, pergolaI am still pulling at the heavy creeper when I hear the tearing of gravel on the drive and heavy braking and the late sun picks out Richard’s jeep parked by the corner of the house.  The children skip down the path and disappear and I hide behind the pergola, heart beating, listening for the banging of doors in the house as Richard searches for me.  He doesn’t come out into the garden. 

Minutes go by, then suddenly I hear the most violent shouting and swearing: someone arguing with him. 

….It sounds like Martin Bent, who fitted the warped windows in our summer house two months ago.  Bent swears again, obscenely, and throws down something metallic like shears and I hear the slamming of the gate: the expensive slam of substantial oak.  I suppose he must have been passing as Richard turned in at the gate and decided to demand payment for a bad job. 
angel statue, garden statue, bird tray, short story
Now there is silence except for the snap of my secataurs and the sunbeds stirring on the York stone.  The kitchen door slams to, the gate opens and the jeep bounds away down Main Street.  I am shivering, still hearing echoes of those deep threatening voices.

I must go indoors soon, to start on the meat.  Tonight we are holding a party for Richard’s business associates and suppliers and Mrs Dilkes says she cannot cope with the meat alone.  But still I keep on pulling and cutting the long red stems as the sun goes down and the garden darkens, the wind gets up and leaves fall fast from the willow. 

Rain is falling on the white seats and the angel stares through it with holy resignation as I hack away at the large leaves like open hands, until I am cold and my coat is damp.  I imagine Brunt grinning at the downpour from his outhouse window, gratified by this prompt fulfilment of his prophecy. 

As I hurry down the path the angel is staring fiercely at the clouds, without hope, and I wonder again whether the salvage firm Richard used really did find it in a cemetery, as he told me.
black labrador, labrador retriever, dog story, blovel

Dogs Delight is now available on Kindle at 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Dogs Delight 3 Ghost and carnivores

Our house was once a hay barn so it is high and wide and should be whitewashed inside and filled with light.  But the exposed brick walls are dark and the heavy rafters bear down on me.

barn conversion, barn kitchen, country kitchen, village house, luxury kitchen, aga saga A village story says a Victorian labourer hung himself from one of the beams; I imagine it was the highest one, the one facing our bedroom.  Sometimes I see him hanging there, his eyes staring sideways into mine then closing for ever.  Our furniture is deep mahogany and the massive sofas and armchairs are upholstered in a burgundy which makes me think of blood.  I turn the teak handle and walk inside,  feeling the familiar depression, something closing down. 

I always try to shut the kitchen door gently but it rebounds against the hinge and slams behind me and the sound echoes in the large empty spaces.  By the stainless steel rotisserie lies Richard’s note in bold black ink. 

   ‘I’ll be lateMake sure you prepare enough this time!  R 
meat supper, vegetarians, butcher's shop, organic meatWearily I survey the bulky bloody packages, which must be unwrapped and cut and hammered and marinated.  Our guests require a prodigious amount of meat.  Bailey jumps up at the nearest package so I drag him out of the kitchen and am slowly pulling off my sodden raincoat when I hear asthmatic breathing and heavy footsteps in the passageway. 

Mrs Dilkes lumbers around the door in her wide apron, complaining.  She nods at the meat, which fills a whole side of the kitchen so that it resembles the butcher’s counter. 

   ‘Have you not started on it yet?  I’ve had the bathrooms and all the stairs today.’

I stammer an apology and begin tugging at the string on the longest shape, a bloody fillet which makes Mrs Dilkes click her tongue because she and Mr Dilkes have lately turned vegetarian.  This conversion doesn’t seem to be improving their health or temper and I know Mr Dilkes hankers after bacon and faggots because I often see him staring sadly into the window of Black’s, the village butcher’s.  

© Copyright Miss Steel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.  This photo is copyrighted but also licensed for further reuse.
  But Mrs Dilkes is a farmer’s daughter who knows the ways of meat and soon the two large processors are whirring and the soft pink blurs of pork and beefsteak give off the cloying smell of Black’s at the end of the morning.

designer butcher, speciality sausages, organic meat  

Dogs Delight is now available on Kindle at