Saturday, 30 August 2014

Whitstable Walkies


A few years ago – well, a few decades ago actually – the family had a Golden Labrador called Sandy.  I know.  Not a terribly original name.  He was a great big bundle of joy who always greeted us with a smile – anybody who didn’t know him thought he was snarling – and he always brought you a gift…a shoe…a slipper…a disgruntled cat…anything to convey welcome home.  Sandy was a family member in every way, and when we packed up the car and headed off to the seaside for a day out, naturally our dog came too.  I will never forget the look on his face when he saw the sea.  Back then dogs were allowed on beaches with no restrictions and ours, unrestrained by a leash, took off to investigate.  Like King Canute desiring to master the waves, Sandy planted his paws wide and fired off a round of deep baritone barks.  As if obeying him, the waves retreated.  Satisfied he was master of all, he wagged his tail.  Seconds later the waves changed direction and rolled onto the shingle.  Sandy gave one terrified yelp and turned and ran back to us.  He couldn’t figure out this seething expanse of water.  But after half an hour or so, he relaxed and delighted in dashing into the foam and splashing about.  It is because of that long-ago dog’s reaction to the sea that I determined, all these years later, that our own pooch should enjoy a day out on the coast.
          ‘Our dog is thirteen-years-old,’ I said to my husband with a sense of time running out, ‘and she still hasn’t seen the sea.  We said we’d take her to the coast last summer, and the summer before that, and the one before that, and we haven’t.   This summer is nearly over.  So shall we go today?’
          ‘What makes you think the dog is going to appreciate the sea?’ asked Mr V.
          ‘I just know she will,’ I smiled, remembering Sandy’s beach exploitations.
          ‘Okay.  Let’s do this,’ said Mr V heaving himself off the sofa and turning the telly off.
          Result!  Inside the boot of the car were a number of towels ready to dry off a wet pooch, also a pouch of dog food and a large canister of drinking water.  Our hound positioned herself on the back seat of the car next to our daughter, and we set off.
          ‘Where exactly are we going?’ asked Eleanor, holding on to the dog’s lead.
          ‘Whitstable,’ I replied, programming the Sat Nav.  ‘It won’t take long.’
          ‘With your mother driving, that’s debatable,’ muttered Mr V.  ‘And I’d just like to say–’ but his words were drowned out by the dog.  Barking shrilly, she stood up on her seat and, wobbling precariously, pushed her nose against the glass to anxiously peer out.  I knew exactly what she was saying.
          Are we going to the vet?  Oh dear Lord, we’re going to the vet.  I just knew it.  I said to myself as I hopped into the car, they’re taking me to the vet.  And they know I hate the vet.  It makes me so nervous.’
          As we headed onto the motorway, the car was filled with the obnoxious smell of dog fart.
          ‘Oh my God,’ Eleanor choked, one hand fluttering up to her nose, ‘someone open the windows.’
          The dog responded to Eleanor’s request and shoved a paw on the electric window button.  As we filtered into the middle lane at seventy-miles-per-hour, the car was filled with the deafening rush of wind that threatened to perforate everybody’s ear drums.  The dog stuck her head out the window, barking hysterically, ears flapping like two flags in a gale force wind.
          ‘SHUT THE WINDOW,’ Eleanor yelled over the din, as I manoeuvred the car back into the inside lane, frantically stabbing at the window controls on the driver’s door.  The dog’s window shot up, nearly garrotting her, just as the other three windows whizzed down.  The dog’s barking went into overdrive.
          Okay, so we’re not going to the vet.  It’s the wrong route.  You’re taking me to the kennel instead, aren’t you?  How dare you!  I spent two weeks in that kennel while you were in Crete, and then you chuffed off to Canada for another two weeks.  You’ve only been back five minutes and you’re putting me in the kennel again.  What sort of dog owner are you?  It’s outrageous.’
          ‘This was a big mistake, Debbie,’ yelled my husband over the racket, and for goodness sake sort out those windows!’  As all four windows finally snapped shut, pooch released another volley of putrid parps.  ‘Big mistake,’ Mr V repeated, tucking his chin into his chest and pulling his t-shirt up over his nose.
          One hour later we arrived in Whitstable with a splitting headache from all the incessant barking, and lungs that were desperate to inhale fresh sea air rather than the whiff of rotten eggs.
          ‘Well, isn’t this nice,’ I said, determined that the day would be salvaged, ‘and just look at that sea!’
          The three of us stared at a swirling mass of grey water under a matching sky.  Eleanor huddled into her hoodie.
          ‘I’m cold.’
          ‘Nonsense!’ I retorted, zipping up my jacket and boggling silently at some holiday makers cowering against windbreakers in their swimming costumes.  ‘Look!’ I said to the dog, ‘it’s the sea!’
          ‘She’s not interested,’ said Mr V.
          ‘Course she is,’ I said, grabbing hold of our beagle’s head and forcing her to look at the waves.  ‘Come on, let’s go and explore the beach.’
          But our dog had other ideas.  Her head swivelled one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees, and her eyes lit up on people eating a picnic.
          Now we’re talking,’ she barked.  ‘Food...food...food.
          ‘I’m hungry,’ said Mr V, inhaling deeply.  The sea air always whets the appetite.  Shall we get some fish and chips?’
          ‘Yum,’ said Eleanor and I together.’
          Yum,’ barked the dog, and hauled us off to the chippie.
          After a spot of bother with Mr V only having a tenner in his wallet and holding up a queue of twenty Hell’s Angels, we emerged from the chippie clutching our parcels of hot fish and chips. In due course we settled ourselves down on a wooden bench with matching trestle table, and tucked in.
          What about me?’ barked the dog.
          ‘What about the dog?’ asked Mr V.
          ‘I fed her just two minutes ago.’
          Pooch then went into the mother of all tantrums barking her disgust at us stuffing our faces with fish and chips, sucking in her cheeks and doing her best to impersonate a starving hound.  Her tactics didn’t go unnoticed.
          ‘Somebody shut that ruddy dog up,’ said a bottled blonde at a nearby table.
          ‘Oh no,’ Eleanor whimpered, ‘that woman over there is giving us filthy looks.  Do something, Mum.’
          Why is it always left to me to do something?  I gave the dog a chip.  That quietened her for, ooh, half a second.
          More outraged looks were being tossed our way.  The bottled blonde was working her way through a bottle of wine and clearly at the ‘punchy’ stage.  Her tattooed partner wore a brow-beaten expression and shrugged helplessly.  As if sensing trouble in the air, our pooch redoubled her barking efforts.
          I want another chip.  Want, want, want, gimme, gimme, gimme.’
          Bottled blonde had slung the last of her wine down her neck and was standing up.  Her gaze was upon us.  If looks could kill, we were shortly to be goners.
          ‘I’m done.’ I leapt up, bundling all the fish and chip paper together.  ‘C’mon, let’s go for a walk.’
          ‘You’d have thought that dog would have lost her voice by now,’ said Mr V hastening after me.
          ‘No chance,’ said Eleanor, tossing her own defiant look back at the bottled blonde.
          And so we walked.  We strolled past beach huts painted in bright colours, walked alongside tourists, dodged around mothers pushing buggies, smiled at children hanging on to pets’ leads (none of which barked – the dogs, not the kids), watched surfers in wet suits, teenagers in sailing boats, breathed deeply of the salty sea air, and did our best to ignore the pooch…who was still barking and not remotely interested in the sea.
          After a couple of wind-blown hours, we clambered back into the car feeling exhilarated.  Pooch flopped down on the seat with a tired groan.  Seconds later she was fast asleep.
          ‘Thank the Lord,’ said Mr V, ‘peace at last.’
          From the back seat a silent parp wafted towards us.
          Which reminds me.  How do you keep a dog from smelling?  You hold your nose…

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