The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
I wrote some time ago about Arthur, scruffy dog with boundless enthusiasm ultimately for being himself, for whom I became a temporary carer. Even my inability to remember his name for several weeks did not hinder his self-assurance. I have never had a reputation for being a dog sitter, but dogs are like buses, it seems, and they come along consecutively and quickly, often in pairs. I was asked to give shelter to a dog called Beetle soon after Arthur. He was to be homeless, his owner away on a conference for a while; in fact I was stampeded, its owner asking unexpectedly one mid-afternoon if I was free, Beetle’s delivery with basket, bowl and bird-feed-lookalike grub following just an hour later.
His delivery brought to my mind the concept of the sequel film. Sequels are usually the commercial and artistic flops to the real deal. Arthur, starring the wonderful Dudley Moore (oh! if only he’d played the piano more) and Liza Minnelli (after Barbara Streisand and Julie Andrews, the best and sexiest singing voice ever), is an example: they just shouldn’t have made its sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Coincidence then that the dog I fell in love with was called Arthur. Suppose it was a coincidence: you can never tell with Hollywood (or real life).
Beetle, like Dudley Moore, was thimble size, but doubt that he can play the piano quite as well, though I can’t swear to it. In profile he resembled a nodding dog housed in the back window of a car, so the stuff of matinee idol status. He was gentle yet roughly hewn; you might imagine Vinnie Jones to look like him if photographed in soft focus and wearing a Pringle jumper. Beetle didn’t look quite naughty enough to be scalded, but he was not well behaved enough to always earn his snack treat.
I am not sure what I expected. It was all arranged in such a rush. I didn’t even know what make he was (and didn’t for a few days until I was told he was a Jack Daniel, or perhaps a Jack Russell, I can’t recall as I’ve long lost my copy of the hip flask sized Observer Book of Dogs). There was for sure a slight tear in my eye on his arrival, as I saw how compact and small he was, so disappointing: it was likely discovering the hotel you’d booked a room in was on the Cowley Road rather than Summertown. I knew that Jack Daniels existed. Scary things, a bit like hoovers, always rampant and out of control, best left for others to handle. Beetle didn’t disappoint, he was, as one of my sons reported when left in charge for ten minutes, “a bit of a bastard,” for all he did at first was yap, snarl and wrap his lead around my ankles (who on earth invented these self retracting leads?): he scattered himself like sand thrown in the air, he was an Exocet with fur. I might or might not have been on the other end of the lead for all he cared; we were like prisoners in a chain gang. Walking him was a bit like my own PlayStation game, a variant of the pod racing from Star Wars, a turbo-charged chariot, his brain always two paces ahead of his body, his lead firm and taut around his throat, and his lead the only thing holding him back. I came to resemble the pebble in David’s sling as I hurtled towards Goliath’s forehead, as I ricocheted from garden wall to lamp post, as he led me through the streets like a canine Moses on speed.
So he started his sojourn with me as a disappointment. Further, I believed that he wasn’t a gentleman, a bit savage and a bit disrespectful. But it was the way he remained completely oblivious to my response to him that won me over. He had made up his mind to charge through life’s china shop like John Wayne drove his cattle in Red River, reckless and cavalier, with scant regard for anyone else. You have to respect a dog like that. Moreover his owner had told me not to take him off the lead and to keep him away from other dogs as he was a savage, a Man Friday in a world of Robinson Crusoes. Yet when I took him to the Meadow and down the canal, and as I tentatively let him off his lead and roam shackle free, he was a delight. He would doff his cap to all, cover puddles with his jacket for the ladies, and, if a hint of whatcha-looking-at in his eyes, exhibited courtesy to fellow gents: the showroom dog in a garage forecourt, the sort you’d take out for a spin to see if the model fitted your Stirling Moss aspirations. And not much adjustment needed. No extra door to be fitted, all trim in good condition, seat belts in full working order, four pistons, four wheels, a polished fender and a fog lamp that worked. A lesson in life there: you might wish to judge a book by its cover, but don’t judge a dog by its reputation. Beetle was a gentleman, of sorts, though one with vaulting ambition.