My dog has no concept of getting older. Life is waking, going outdoors, checking for affronts to his sense of territory, cocking a leg on a plant pot, taking a crap under the apple tree.
There is food, the possibility of being taken out. There is a nap, more checking of territory. Food. Another nap. Another nap in a different chair. The possibility of going somewhere. More food.
The dog’s day continues in blissful ignorance of more ‘sophisticated’ human pressures.
No-one is trying to sell him things or suggesting he is not being a good dog by not buying what are they selling. Other dogs are not looking at him, barking and whining with expressions that say, ‘Spend. I need you to spend so I can spend. You are denying me the approval of all the other dogs when I walk in the park or they come round for pig’s-ear chews. Buy. You are not a good dog!’
The dog’s equivalent of the economic situation is whether the wood pigeons have attempted to make a nest near his apple tree.
It does not matter that he has grey hairs round his muzzle – he never uses a mirror. Other dogs are more concerned with how he smells.
I look online for new clothes at the stores I’ve liked over the years. The jacket I bought ten years ago is there again, pretty much the same.
It’s a lighter blue, maybe closer fitting, slightly shorter, but the model is ten years younger than he was ten years ago. I imagine that in his ‘real’ and annoyingly youthful life he is probably already running an ethical food company and about to release an album in collaboration with a Parisian art collective, in addition to his probably lucrative career of making not-that-old people feel 97-years-old.
I am confused. The middle-age I thought was waiting for me, and has been ingrained in my consciousness since 1975, doesn’t exist now I have got here. I was expecting Richard Briers of The Good Life to be waiting, passing on chunky knitwear and hair that didn’t need ‘product’ to be acceptable. At his side would be a plentiful supply of home-grown vegetables.
There are plenty of people growing vegetables here today but they are not the same. It reminds me of that saying that the young think they have invented sex: the new middle-aged seem to think they have reinvented gardening, as something with Sid Vicious’s glamorous, nihilistic approval. Some are wearing (in the belief it presents cutting-edge style) those odd outsized spectacles last favoured by Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and buying music on vinyl as redeemable tokens for hipster cred rather than sound quality.
Many of these things make me want to rescue an otter and live in an isolated white-washed cottage like Gavin Maxwell (or more precisely, Bill Travers in Ring of Bright Water). Except when I get there it will be a holiday cottage and there will be lots of those outsized-spectacles barbecuing deer and playing Nick Drake records on a wind-up gramophone.
I turn a little maudlin and consider humans, dogs and getting very old.
My dog might feel a twinge of pain when leaping over a rock but it does not worry him. It is simply an obstacle – if it happens too often or is too painful he will not do it again.
If a thorn sticks in his paw it will hurt. Sitting quietly and looking crestfallen will result in someone who cares about him having it gently removed and he will race away to shout at the wood pigeons. It was nothing.
He will be luckier with his short dog years than humans. Not so many dogs will lose the humans who care about them, so that they must sit for a long time, looking crestfallen until a van comes along and takes them to kennels.
In those places, someone will talk brightly to them once a day, not desiring a response, and replace their water, also once a day.
They will adapt to gazing out of the window (or into the wall). The windmills of their mind will turn faded scenes of rabbits chasing over moorland or pigeons scattering at the flurry of paws and tails in the spring winds.
Yet my dog is having another crap under the apple tree, which is full with blossom and the scene is beautiful, despite the obvious defecation. Some people he knows might not appear one day, or the next, or the one after that. If they come in the front door at some later time he will remember and be happy. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, because no-one is immortal. But he is still checking his territory, smelling for food, sleeping, hoping to be taken to the sea or the moors.
He is still young.