Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shaggy Dog Story

def: A lengthy, improbable and ultimately pointless story, often told in an attempt at humour.

After a weekend of wayward boozing, starting in Primrose Hill and sliding downwards to Brixton, I wake up early in deepest south London, at the point where it is so south I consider it to no longer really count as London. I shuffle to the bathroom, on the precipice between still being drunk and the beginnings of a hangover, incapable of preventing myself bumping into things despite my sluggish pace.

As I relieve myself I stand looking out of the window; the fact that the glass is clear in a ground floor bathroom being just one more thing to add to my list of strange things about south London.
“There’s a dog in the garden,” I note to myself, watching a lively young Staffordshire Terrier bound about outside. Hazily, I head back to bed.

“There’s a dog in the garden,” my host observes some hours later as I eat breakfast, causing an almost forgotten memory to stir.
“I know,” I reply eventually, scratching my head. “I saw it when I got up earlier. Thinking about it, that was ages ago. It’s still there?”
“Yes,” she says. “It’s running up and down with an old can of coke in its mouth.”
“Wow, that’s about three hours of excited charging about. How odd.”

We watch the juvenile canine through the window for a while, speculating how it got there. We decide maybe someone has dumped it over the fence to get rid of it, so I go and get dressed so I can go outside and investigate.

A few minutes later I step outside into the sort of morning that fools you into thinking spring is nearly here, forgetting that February is still around the corner to kick slush into your stupid optimistic face, and BAM, I get a wallop of not-so-young-and-actually-very-strong dog full in the chest, covering my top and my jeans in mud. We tango away from the door, so he can’t get inside.

Once out onto the lawn, the dog firmly clamps my wrist in its jaws.
“Don’t do that,” I wearily say. I am fairly confident that I can fight this young dog to the death if needs be – and I start to cast around for a blunt implement whilst things are still relatively calm – but it wouldn’t really be an ideal start to a Sunday morning. Remembering reading somewhere about how soldiers are trained to dispatch guard dogs, I reach around with my free hand and grab a hind leg, tugging and flipping the dog over onto its back, surprising it enough to release my wrist. It seems to enjoy this game, and leaps up, further covering me with mud. I bear-hug this relentless force, and firmly whisper into its ear until it calms down, feeling a bit like Mic Martin from Dog Borstal.
“How’s it going?” comes the call from the bathroom window.
“Great!” I frown through clenched teeth, wondering if I dare release my grip.

“The mud in your garden is really smelly, even for mud,” I say, a little while later, having managed to escape back indoors.
“Yes,” she sniffs.
“I think the puddles out there might be a bit stagnant,” I observe, tugging my damp jumper away from my skin.
“Yes,” she sniffs again. “Look, I actually have to go to work now. Can I leave you here to sort the dog out?”
“Sure, leave it with me. In fact, if I can’t find out where it came from, maybe I’ll keep it. I like a challenge.”
“Huw,” she says. “Your flatmates don’t even like you having guests.”
“Ah, yes,” I agree. “Had overlooked that.”

Soon I am left alone, and I look out of the window at the dog who is up on his haunches and looking back at me through the window, whimpering. I see my Sunday stretching out ahead of me with a trip to Battersea Dogs’ Home, and plenty of more wrestling, hangover and all. Still, I consider, at least he hasn’t showed any interest in humping me.

I decide door to door enquiries might be the best bet. I try nextdoor, and a garbled intercom message asks who it is. I try to explain, but if I sound as garbled as they do it’s quite pointless. I wait at the door and finally it creaks open, the ancient occupier having seemingly raised themselves from a coffin to open up, their paper-thin skin yellowed by a combination of jaundice and a forty-a-day habit.
“I’ve just come from nextdoor because…”
“No you haven’t,” the old woman coughs suspiciously. “You don’t live nextdoor.”
“Well, no, I don’t, but I am…”
“Then why did you say you did?”
We continue this way for sometime, with me being interrupted each time I try and string more than seven words together. It takes a good fifteen minutes to establish whether she owns a dog or not (“Why would I have a dog?”)

I try the other side, and watch the curtains warily twitch. It’s a quirk of big-city life that never happened where I grew up, that people have to check out who is knocking on the door before answering. It’s not a safety thing as far as I can see though: people open the door regardless of what they see. They just want to know first.

A couple decked out in full Manchester United gear tentatively open the door, straightforwardly enquiring what I want in broad south London accents. The archetypal stereotype of their appearance given the location amuses me. Crystal Palace’s stadium is less than two miles away. Well, perhaps that’s explanation enough actually.

I explain about the dog, which interests them greatly, but they know nothing about it. The conversation dries up, but none of us seem able to end it. It is almost as if, once the suspicion of the stranger at the door has lifted, all parties are enjoying the novelty.
“So, getting ready for the game?” I ask.
“Yes, but our telly is playing up a bit.”
“Right, right. Starting soon is it?”
“Mmm. About half an hour I think. Mmm.”
A lull is in danger of setting in.
“I’m covered in mud!” I announce, gesturing to myself.
“Oh yes, yes you are.”
“From the dog. Umm. The dog. It jumped all over me.”
“Oh right, I see. Yes.”

We finally break loose of this awkward conversational whirlpool, and I head back indoors wondering what I can find to fashion a lead with. However, an inspection of the garden reveals the dog has disappeared.

I hear some shouts somewhere in the distance, and feel an SEP field surround the now out of sight hound.


Afe said...

BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG. Can you track it down? I need to know.

P.S. Thanks for the guard dog flipping tip. Please include more survival tips in your column.

Chris Cope said...

I also appreciate the dog-flipping tip. For future reference, a belt makes a good lead. Of course, then your trousers come down. I once found a stray dog in a park, used my belt for a lead but kept having to quickly pull up my trousers. This caused the dog to think I was hiding something cool near my waist and he kept spinning around trying to see what it was.

Shane said...

I think dog-saviourhood could prove to be an incredible, albeit belated, ice-breaker with your housemates. You know, wandering into the kitchen you could proffer jaunty phrases such as 'Oh here, let me put him out for a while - he means no harm, he is but trying to hump your leg', and so on. I think this could work.

The dog-flipping advice is useful - I would have simply stuck a thumb in its eye (a technique certainly lacking in heroism).

anonymouscoworker said...

Count me as a fourth person finding the dog-flipping tip helpful. I hope the hangover wasn't interrupted by the dog.

Huw said...

To follow the survival tip to completion, you are then supposed to grap both the rear legs and swing the dog round and round until you can find a lamp-post / tree to crack its skull against.

That would have seemed a bit excessive though. And the story a lot shorter.

Crystal said...

what if the dog is bigger than you? then what? how shall i go about flipping him?

maybe i will just gouge his eyeball like shane said.

Curly said...

I imagine the dog-flipping trick also works on humans?

Hangovers always produce stories slightly more odd than real-life.