A Shaggy Dog Story.

In the 80s and 90s the Butchers went through a series of dodgy haircuts, very many Doc Martens and a couple of Yorkshire Terriers. John, or ‘Butch’,was not fond of the Terriers. They were ‘Pointless’. Butch walked around the house barefoot, and regularly trod in daily doormat ‘deposits’. One of his more coherent responses to this was; “That’s not a real dog. Can you see that thing ever hunting in a pack?”

In my first ten years the Butchers got through four hamsters, an African snail with rude words written on & Lego men glued to his shell, two terrapins, a humanity-hating cat, a kingdom of newts and a colony of stick insects getting jiggy with it.  At 11, I started pleading for a puppy. Butch was not amused. He went to the Malt Shovel in Barston for a well-earned pint, and came back with Jake. Jake was not a puppy.

Everyone has a story about how their dog/cat/rabbit is better than any other dog/cat/rabbit – it’s so intelligent, so human, no, seriously – you would not believe what it does that makes it so much better than normal dogs/cats etc.

Our species loves to build an affinity with something that’s not human, but whose idiosyncrasies give it a personality definable in human terms. A creature that depends on you to be alive and happy, and preferably communicates it. Sometimes, you get a character that inspires Garfield, or Gromit. I’m putting Jake up with the greats. He was a Butcher’s dog, and one worth telling folks about.

Found tied to a stick on a patch of ‘garden’ on the Chelmsley Wood Council Estate, Jake had a rough start. His neck had grown around the rope, and he was speckled with dents where estate residents had thrown things at him. In this time he developed a very rational lifelong hatred towards teenage boys in baseball caps.

An anonymous hero in a neighbouring high-rise  saw the puppy, tied to a post with an empty food bowl and climbed into the garden one night. He drove the puppy to a dog lover called Sue Love. If our hero hadn’t made either the rescue or known Sue, and if Sue’s husband hadn’t been a fan of the same pubs as Butch, we could have missed out on seventeen years with a legendary mutt.

Sue was a Pedigree Chum. Crufts regular, breeder and assault-course lieutenant, she paraded hounds up ladders and seesaws, weaving poles and racing down tunnels. She cleaned up the mongrel from the estate and confiscated his manhood, but the mix-&-match hound wouldn’t cut it for Crufts. Jake was fine with that. He did the entire course himself, immaculately, without escort, strutting his shaggy flairs with pride, a bit like a like a skinny, black, brummy Legolas.

And Sue made a mistake we’ll always be thankful for. Jake didn’t get on with her Greyhound. 17 years of observation gives us a good guess – Jake was not a bum-sniffer or turd-muncher, and didn’t have much time for them. And the eunuch didn’t take kindly to over-affectionate mutts. Never a fighter, any reaction had to be well provoked, and Sue’s amorous turd-eating greyhound had been in the family longer, so Jake was touted in the pub.

He arrived with a pink matted rug, plastic yellow bowl and two despondent looking squeakies. Afraid and unsure, the whites of his eyes were straight out of the ‘Baby of Mine’ scene in Dumbo. That night mum and dad went for a curry, and the two of us sat, tentatively, deciding whether to be friends. After an hour, the big shaggy black dog with the bright orange eyebrows, long nose and white triangle of fur on his chest sat by me, and so it was.

Butchers are a gregarious bunch, but he managed to suit each one of us perfectly. He was calm enough for mum, noble enough for dad, affectionate enough for me, clever enough for Jess, and cool enough for Ben. A week later, when Sue saw her error, mum was having none of it.

In the next 17 years Jake met football managers and politicians, millionaires and musicians, with discerning eyes after rudely announcing their arrivals. He won Best Pet in the Ullswater Country show. He befriended an entire pub of locals in the Lake District while also serving as pub Vacuum cleaner. He was Butch’s mountain pal, who admired the views from over a hundred peaks with a look of genuine pride and satisfaction. Fox chaser, squirrel worrier, burglar alarm, ping-pong ballboy, lover of sardines, hater of postmen, personal trainer, therapist, Eurovision Song Contest Celebrator, ice-breaker, pillow, flatulence champion, doorstop, babysitter, companion. You had a good innings, old chap, and you won’t be beat.


Dubai Learnings so far.

Week 8. Before we get into the more comprehensive analytics, some basics learned so far, or things I wish I’d known before I came. Mum, I’m OK.

  • Following a compliment with “Shame about your face” is not universally hilarious.
  • Do not expect continuous pavements.
  • Do not try to musically analyse the Call to Prayer.
  • There’s no good time to tell new flatmates there is a dead baby bird in the freezer, and “Viking Funeral” will not wash.
  • If your underpants snap, a windy commando border-crossing will land you in jail. Where possible, purchase childrens’ swimwear and keep a straight face.
  • Camels are out of Star Wars and basically dinosaurs with fur.
  • Hip Hop Karaoke is For Winning.
  • Getting ‘papped’ does not mean you’re important.
  • If you’re at a party, and someone has a monkey with a nappy, don’t get too friendly – there’s a reason it’s wearing it.
  • Opportunities are to be had in places where people are open to them.
  • No I do not want the transparent Belly-Dancer beaded-skirt thing.
  • It’s fun to draw smiley faces on the dusty bins in the neighbourhood, and it will not make you famous.
  • The Dubai traffic system was designed by either a jaded childrens’ party entertainer, a pasta-maker undergoing psychiatric treatment, a traffic-cone manufacturer or Loki, god of mischief.
  • There are some very decent graffiti artists willing to give you cans and show you the ropes. Here they are ON THIS LINK, and THIS LINK.
  • It is folly to expect Taxi drivers to know where they’re going, particularly if they say they do.
  • Do not let the person filming the entire gig beside you on their blackberry ruin your enjoyment of it. A subsequent rant about this person will not get published.
  • A trip to the Mall is more than that – it’s a place to see and be seen. Even if you hate shopping, dress up, watch the people.
  • The Dawn patrol – lovely folks sipping G&Ts in the garden at 7.30 am. Until the flies descend and bug the crap out of everybody.
  • Old Dubai = everything older than 12 years.
  • Staying in a hotel alone for four weeks totally justifies ‘The Shining’.
  • If someone asks if you’re “Ruski” it’s not because you look affluent.
  • You can teach a parrot a new trick but you will never be its friend.
  • Learn to love House music because that’s what you’re getting. Do not suggest putting Chas & Dave on.
  • Arabic food is infinitely more varied & flavourful than Kebabs and Falafels.
  • Cheapo Silly-Sunglasses are more fun than stupidly expensive ones.
  • However snide folks elsewhere in the world may be, you can’t fail to be impressed by what Dubai has achieved and created. Ethos: If you can, do.
  • Don’t assume someone giving you HBO episodes on USB means they have a corresponding crush to your impression of a 14 year old.
  • A Lunar exclipse is even more dramatic viewed from the top of a massive dune in the actual desert.
  • Oranamin C = Hangover cure.
  • Sheikh Zayed Road – the city’s aorta: 12 lanes of comedy chaos. Do not expect indication, signage or use of rearview mirrors.
  • If someone offers you a job, don’t assume it’s an actual job they’re offering (lather rinse repeat X5).
  • If you fall asleep in the Karaoke bar, it’s time to go home. If you are saluted on exiting said Karaoke bar, you did a good job.
  • 5 pints of unlimited-refill pepsi puts you right off 7 oz of perfectly decent steak.
  • Your hair is not falling out because of stress, it’s salinated water.
  • Lebanese popstars are a fusion of Kim Kardashian and Sly Stallone’s mum.
  • Handheld-jets in toilet cubicles lead to detailed conversations about how people clean their behinds.
  • A Sandstorm is thick sandy fog. Not an actual storm, so you don’t have to take everything in from the balcony.
  • Expect a consistent humidity-fro until you can get your hands on extensive/expensive hair products.
  • Sand. Damn sand everywhere. Funny, that.
  • If someone excessively flirts with you, don’t take it personally when they do the same to fifteen other individuals in as many minutes. It’s what they do, male and female.
  • The hard-working labourers will pause to think you are a slut and stare accordingly. That’s helped by the above point, and also because ladies at home cover up and don’t go out drinking or hopping in taxis with men they’ve just met.
  • “It’s rude to stare” does not apply in the UAE.
  • Indefinite celibacy makes total sense, but you will still be the same demographic as a slut.
  • Be nice to passport control people at border crossings – even when they laugh at you while waving your passport around and making your tolerant friend do the Hokey Cokey with her car.

This piece got a great response, warranting a second outing with Dubai Learnings Part 2.