Waiting in the wings…


Sometimes you look up and wonder what the dog is thinking.

Perhaps it was the lamp cables, or the glow from the fire, but I saw a wistful, unassuming little character, waiting in the wings of the theatre… perhaps the props man, a star without a stage waiting his turn…

‘That Weimaraner’s always goin’ to steal my light…’

Le Chien (1962)

Today Whistles in the Wind is pleased to offer a ‘guest editor’ spot. I’m handing over now. Here she is…

Guest editor

Although I’m tempted to Instagram the half loaf of multigrain bread I ‘lifted’ off the breadboard yesterday, and thus brag of my sophisticated lifestyle options, I’ve chosen instead to share a clip from one of my favourite films in the history of French cinema: Le Chien (1962), directed by François Chalais, and starring European superstars Rex, Elke Sommer and Alain Delon.

We join our hero after a long tussle with affairs of the heart. In this stunning denouement he has left Paris behind and sped off in his voiture, racing through the French countryside – will it be too late?

At this moment tails pause mid-wag, heads tilt and time is suspended as we wait for the only right and true outcome. Makes the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s look like some tawdry afternoon made-for-TV schmaltzfest – and that had cats…

Dogs have their days

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.

Richard Briers (left) with the cast of ‘The Good Life’

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.

How to make a Weimaraner laugh

There’s been a month of wind-whistling blogging here, so time for a brief interlude in which to walk dogs, take some photos, and drink more tea. I did set out to do a daily blog which is for me a really intriguing process, in how things link at such speed and lead to other posts and the patterns that emerge…

The other day I replied to a comment and realised I was inspired to do this blog by reading L P Hartley’s The Go-Between, and a book about the making of the film of it (which is where my Pinter quote comes from on the About page) a few weeks ago. (Bear with me on this, it’s all made up as I go along…)

I was fascinated by the idea that experiences in childhood linger for a lifetime. Now, The Go-Between may be said to be about traumatic experiences in childhood (even if they may not seem to be on the surface) leading to a kind of paralysis in the process of living as an adult. But it made me think how all experiences, good or bad or indifferent, inform our creative imaginations, and images or words from them trigger subdued parts of ourselves and reconnect us with past selves. I’ll quote a perfectly apt and thoughtful comment made by BookishNature:

They’re like little time portals, giving us the chance to hold memories in our hands; to relive moments and to wander amongst all the associations they evoke…

Some of it may be nostalgia, but it’s also about the present, and taking those ‘portals’ and using them for new things, or learning from them for new ways of living imaginatively in the present and future.

Of course, this is all the musings of a windbag… but just a thought… back soon…

Hot buttered toast with Dodie Smith

Then he put a slice of bread on a toasting fork. It was no ordinary toasting fork for it was made of iron and nearly four feet long… it was just what Sir Charles needed, and he handled it with great skill, avoiding the flaming logs and toasting the bread where the wood glowed red hot. A slice of toast was ready in no time. Sir Charles buttered it thickly and offered a piece to the spaniel, who ate it while Sir Charles watched…

One of Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone's illustrations for The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith

‘Hot buttered toast’ is a superb chapter from The Hundred and One Dalmations – one of those passages of calm amid the tumult of adventure and uncertainty that remain in the memory from all the best books. Missis pulls some hay over a sleeping Pongo (nursing a wounded leg) and goes off in search of food, and enters into a scene reminiscent of Manderley in Rebecca

She could see no house ahead of her because the drive twisted. It was overgrown with weeds… so wild and neglected that it seemed more like a path through a wood than the approach to a house. And it was so strangely silent… suddenly she was out in the open, with the house in front of her… very old, built of mellowed red brick… with many little diamond-paned windows and one great window that stretched to the roof…

Here Missis meets an old spaniel, and she returns with Pongo to sleep in a four poster bed, rest in front of the fire and feast on toast. The spaniel’s owner, ninety years of age, thinks he is seeing the ghosts of his carriage dogs, and says, wonderfully, ‘What a joy to know that dogs go on too’.