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.
Arthur, a finalist in last year’s Canine Halitosis World Championship, stumbled through my life again for two weeks this summer. His boundless lackadaisical posture, his turbulent sangfroid nature and his fevered indifference to so much of the world were imposed each upon my life. The time went very quickly, rather like school day holidays at Bournemouth used to race away once the first Sunday had been passed, my descent into his way of being all but complete within a few days. Well he had a good time: sat on his arse, mused very little, went for walks, met other dogs and took a shine to one in particular. Much like me then.
Sad to report his arthritic joints have slowed him down a bit, though such an observation of slowing down makes little sense in the context of what can be known as Arthur Time – the passing of time witlessly and formlessly. One audio aspect of his developing arthritis is his ability to flounce with a careless echo, as after a meander he would crash-land noisily on the floor rather than deposit himself daintily. And the effort he used to get up off the floor, particularly from floorboards, was rather sad to witness, though with Arthur a guffaw as response seemed natural. But on the bright and positive side, his resistance to do what you want (rather than allow what he wants) had grown, so too his ability to convey that resistance. Lengthy walks (ie those that last for longer than ten minutes) were conducted with footnoted caveat of his prescription: viz. to stop at every delicacy along the way, to flare nostrils and to truffle hunt every competitive male dump and every bitch wee, to investigate every discarded sandwich packet, to cordon off all hints of delicatessen delicacy with scene of crime paraphernalia (the brush of his tail the equivalent of police lights and siren), and as much time as required to be allotted to each indulgence. My response of “not likely, mate, move on” was met with catatonic disturbance, a look into the distance and a rigid frame: “I ain’t going nowhere, mate, woof.” So a walk that involved a timetable, a deadline or a rendezvous became a masterclass in the futility of my wannabe Nietzshean Übermensch persona and the desecration of my Freudian ego. It made sense of Adler’s inferiority complex: I became Doberman to his Sergeant Bilko, Officer Dibble to his Top Dog.
My dog supervision is naive, of course: I am like one of those amateur cricketers of the halcyon days of cricket lore. In my dreams I’d open the batting for the Players against the Gentleman, I want to be Jack Hobbs but will always be Douglas Jardine (that snitch of an amateur). To be a dog professional you have to own a garden, broker a mortgage, have plenty of consistent time, not live on a small boat, not be snookered with a bookstore that works late or conduct walking tours by early day to pickpocket tourists. My amateur dog owning ways meant that even to walk on Port Meadow became a learning curve. Cow splat isn’t my preserve of choice and I personally don’t use it to sprinkle in my bath or flavour myself with as deodorant. Arthur does. In for a penny, in for a pound, and it seems he never knew when to stop. As soon as my back was turned he rolled in it, the fresher the better, the thicker the better, and he ended up looking like a lopsided découpage chess board, squares of three dimensional splatted lacquer encrusted. This is the nature of the teenager in him, the sort of teenager yet to learn the need to decanter his personal grooming, to separate confidence and sexual intent from stupidity and the Brutfest that marked my own teenage years, when to smell like a tart’s boudoir was the name of the game. Except Arthur smelt like a sewerage plant and not like a tart’s boudoir. His reluctance to fetch sticks in the river was at this point of concern. A forced dunking was required, me as John the Baptist to remove at least the claggy bits before a shameful walk through the otherwise hygienic streets home to a bath and detergent, the order of the day. Arthur thought it was fun, although I’m not so sure.
His introduction to C—a, an ink black and youthful bitch whose name and modesty will be preserved, released the primeval urge that still resides within. An introductory and aimless canter over Port Meadow ended with a louche plate of chips and a tomato juice at The Perch. Alas my diet awoke his libido. He became rather skittish and even found the idea of chasing a ball appealing, though he remained hopeless at it and his attempt to show off, to display abandon and youthful impetuosity, cascaded into neo-old crock status and wistful lampooning of his no doubt once rutting ways. But within the week he got to spend more time with C—a, a day trip to Dorchester and a spot of river swimming – me with gherkin and walnuts out, no modesty there, any boater welcome to have a butchers – whilst he remained hopeless, just pottering in the reeds with no legs for a randy swim. The subsequent walk up the hill did reveal the beast within and his lust for C—a was revealed. At this point he resembled a Black & Decker pump action tool, well oiled but sad to report with a redundant drill bit: he tried to be at it, but if Arthur had been bought at Halford’s, C—a would have been offered a refund with full apologies, the DIY still to be performed. Morevoer Arthur’s hopeless sense of intimate geography needed correction. I resolved to have a word with him but he was not interested; he still maintains that twenty yards distance is the norm for lovemaking.
The day ended lazily. He collapsed in a fit of indolence in the High Street. Passers-by were concerned. Had he had water? (Yes, he had.) Had he exerted himself? (Only his sexual flat-footedness.) Nobody asked if he was a prima donna (very much so, wig and falsetto, and had there been a castle parapet – “Ecco un artista!” – he’d have thrown himself from it). Nobody asked if he was grandstanding. There is indeed a touch not only of Tosca but of the Donald Wolfit in Arthur: contained melodrama, bashful OTT.
Arthur has returned to his owners now, a guard dog supreme. Of course he will miss me – we had capers and the attention he received whilst sitting in a shop did wonders for the doggie ego. But I am regretful as I shall be forgotten quickly: his rightful owners now possess the tin opener (and the tins of Pedigree). “We’ll always have Paris,” I say to console myself.