An ancient pirate ship

Just now the dog escaped and ran outside and onto the street a busy one and I had only had  a shower and was still in my dressing gown.

Regardless, I followed the dog around the corner onto Beaconsfield Road until I was parallel with him, and he, preoccupied with sniffing at a clutch of grass, no doubt resplendent with the dog pee of an earlier visitor, I managed to nab him.

I then carried him home and brought in the newspaper, which was the reason for my going outside in the first place and the means by which the dog had slipped out beside me.

The dog escaped earlier in the week while I was looking after grandsons but at least then I was dressed.

It has happened many times before and every time the dog escapes I fear this might be the last time.

Once the dog ran out and sprinted across Riversdale Road. Fortunately there were no cars at the time; otherwise he’d be dead. Mostly he streaks around the corner and we catch up half way up the side street.

It causes me anxiety and resentment. The pleasures of dog owning made worse by the fact that last night as a Good Friday treat, after we had spent a wonderfully indolent day doing not much, writing and getting on with my latest 1000 piece jig saw puzzle, my husband made okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake and as is typical for him and given there were only two of us to eat, he made too much.

I cleared the table, but left my husband’s half eaten serve behind as I stacked the dishes and in that failed moment the dog leapt up and swiped half the remaining remainder and was out the cat door with his stolen goods.

I knew as soon I heard the cat door flap rattle back into place that he was in a hurry and in an instant the news dawned that he had eaten forbidden food.

I told him off, much as one tells off a disobedient child, but I knew it was useless. Given his past two bouts of pancreatitis, I’d hope the dog understood he’s not supposed to eat food other than the non-fat kibble of his restricted diet, which we dole out once in the morning and once at night, but  he doesn’t.

‘You’ll get sick,’ I told him. ‘You’ll cost us thousands more in vet fees and worst of all you’ll suffer.’

But my words were useless.

So this morning his escape has left me feeling frustrated. And when I tell my daughter, his chief custodian, what the dog’s been up to, she’ll chastise me for not walking him enough.

All of which is true and I will once again become the guilty parent.

Speaking of parents, it’s unusual for me the share the outpouring of public grief that comes when a celebrity dies, but John Clarke’s death has left me keening.

John Clarke, a New Zealand born comedian, lived in Australia and was brilliant at taking the mickey out of our politicians. He could see the ridiculous state of our parliamentarians and played it for what it was worth.

He also wrote serious prose and among his pieces, he tells the story of Susie, a friend from his primary school days, who had contacted him by letter. He rang back his thanks and asked her whether there was a particular memory she held of their days together.

He did not want to offer details or prompts he told her, because he wanted to check her memory against his own.

Susie who spent only a year with him at school could not remember anything at first until he told her that it had happened not at school but at a birthday party.

Then she remembered and here I refuse to paraphrase but must give you a taste of John Clarke’s beautiful mind and writing:

‘Oh my God,’ [Susie] said to her own considerable surprise. ‘It was at David’s birthday party.’ She then described a memory she didn’t know she had, and which was almost a complete facsimile of my own.

‘We were seven or eight years old and there were a few of us looking at an old shipwreck on Waiterere Beach. Susie and I and a couple of others were on the seaward side of the vessel when a very large wave came in and swept us out to sea. David’s older brother ran into the sea yelling ‘Who can swim? Who can swim?’ Susie and I both yelled out above the roar of the sea that we could swim and he rescued the other kids first, running into the waves again and again, fishing kids out and getting them to shore.

‘In my mind Susie and I were just off the coast of Peru by the time he got to us but we probably weren’t. I felt no panic or fear and I remember being comforted to see Susie’s head bobbing in the sea. She had big hair and she was to the north of me and we were both bobbing in the enormous sea.

‘By the time we came in there were some very concerned adults on the beach and we were put into dry clothes and we ran back along the beach to the house. For some reason the song ‘Hi-Lily Hi-Lo’ ran all the way back to the house, in my head, in time with my feet on the wet sand. I’ve never heard that song without the feeling that I’m running along that sand in the late afternoon in a big man’s jumper. And I’ve never thought of Susie without the idea that she and I are together, bobbing along, and that we’ll be fine.’ (Meanjin, Commonplace 2017)

This story is all the more poignant because less than a week ago on a hiking trip with his wife and friends in the Grampians National park, as they were climbing Mount Abrupt, John Clarke fell down and died of a heart attack.

His friend and companion comedian, Bruce Dawe, once he had the gained enough composure to speak to the public, told us that Clarke himself would laugh at the idea of his untimely end, on a mountain named abrupt, but Clarke was only 68 years old and he was prolific in his work and was such a decent person it still feels an outrage to me that he has gone.

Thinking about John Clarke in the shower this morning and thinking about my own childhood, I thought once more of the Happy Mariners, the book I remember most clearly from my childhood.

The sensations of the story, its opening four children, two boys and two girls, the older girl with the name Elizabeth, seated around their parents dining room table when the doorbell rings and it’s an old pirate asking to speak to miss Elizabeth.

He has a gift for her, a ship in a bottle and after their meal, the children take the ship in its bottle to the bottom of their garden where there’s a small stream and they put the ship onto the water where it bobs up and down.

The children take turns throwing stones at the bottle in an effort to break the glass and the smaller boy Martin’s stone hits the target and they are in darkness at the top of a cliff looking down on this ancient ship at anchor.

Somehow they manage to scramble down the cliff face and onto the ship, which they think is abandoned. They decide to take her out and as they do they discover the pirate who visited asleep below and he helps them sail their ship on search of treasure.

If only I could do justice to this story and bring it alive for you the way John Clarke brought the story of Susie and the wave alive but memories are like this. We need to go into them and try as I might I can never recover the mind of my little girl self who joined those happy mariners in their journey across the seas, but the feeling stays.

Bowel watch

I took the dog out for a walk this morning. He heard me rattling his harness and bolted up and down the hallway, filled with a childlike excitement that always leaves me ashamed for the number of times I fail to take him out for a walk.

With harness in hand it took me several minutes to get the thing on. The dog hates to have things come at him. Even though I expect he knows I’m about to take him on that most pleasurable of events – a walk up the street.

I try the easy way, face first with harness over his nose but he backs away and then swings from side to side as if we’re into some game of catch-me-if-you-can.

So I go about it from behind, ashamed once more that we have not yet taught this dog obedience. That we have not yet taught this dog how to sit on command, how to take orders and receive the things we offer.

But once I’m standing over him and behind he accepts the harness, to which I attach his lead and once again he’s pulling away up the hallway desperate to get out into the world beyond.

We’re scarcely free of the front door and he offers up his first pee, golden and fruity against the green and red of the kangaroo paws that line our veranda, then out onto the street for the next pee against the jacaranda on our nature strip.

It’s a warm morning and I’m on a mission. A doubling up of jobs. To buy sandwich fillings for lunch: ham, salmon and cheese, but also to appease my conscience by taking the dog out of his solitary, stationary life at home.

He pulls at his lead, ever wanting me to go faster, to run, but I refuse and yank him into a fixed and steady pace in line with my walking.

Already I’m wondering when he’ll take his first shit. When he’ll start that circular movement in the middle of someone else’s nature strip to signify the call of his bowels.

I have become obsessed with the dog’s bowels over these past several weeks ever since things started to come out of him all-wrong.

The vet diagnosed an acute case of pancreatitis or some such infection that caused this otherwise energetic dog to lose interest in life, in food, in walks and companionship.

He took to curling up lack lustre in his bed until something stirred inside and sent him out to the back garden again and again, through the cat door where he strained on his back legs underneath the washing line and out came the most vile red coloured liquid shit.

We panicked then, deciding he would die at any minute but antibiotics in time put him right again.

Today five houses up from Beaconsfield Road over the way from a two storey Queen Anne house, the dog produced a wonderful consistent khaki coloured stool that gave me the same joy I felt when my babies first offered up their insides into their nappies. That wonderful smell of new mown hay that comes out of a baby before the introduction of solids.

I felt the strangest pleasure as I bent down with my plastic dog bag, the one sealed in a red bone shaped container attached to the lead to collect the warm scrapings from my dog, careful to avoid contact with my skin.

And we walked on towards the supermarket past the houses that line this street. Houses I’ve walked past over a period of more than thirty five years. Houses that have changed little with the exception of one no longer visible.

The demolishers have ripped it out and lugged it away, piece by piece, to leave behind an empty patch of dry ground on which presumably some else will rebuild one day.

I felt a pang of sorrow at a remaining sign on the front cyclone fence that read ‘Tank eater in use’. Remembering the white weatherboard house with its full return veranda and carved entrance way that once stood here. Its proud owners, gardeners who aimed to keep their place pristine.

Now gone.

I found a rubbish bin in a nearby garage down the laneway and deposited my dog bag full of poo fearful of being spotted by the owners of the rubbish bin but hopeful they might not mind.

As I would not mind given this rubbish was sealed and ready for disposal.

As usual the dog was oblivious to all of this. Domesticated darling, and I had fulfilled my duty. To humans and animal alike.