Verbose and other things…

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This coming Monday will be a big day for my family.

I’ll be reading one of my stories during the open mic portion of Verbose at Fallow Cafe, Fallowfield.  Alison Moore, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams and a whole bunch of wonderful writers will also be performing. We’ll be doing so in front of an audience that is as likely to heckle as it is to collectively leap into the sky and kick the moon into the heart of the sun.

Meanwhile, down in London, my mother and sister will be on the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, performing a dance routine live on national TV before a studio audience and roughly 10 million viewers. They will then be judged by four celebrities and, more broadly, the internet.

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While our experiences will be *slightly* different, all three of us will be so possessed by nerves and performance anxiety that we’ll want to vomit until our eyes drop out of ours heads. But we’re all stepping out of our comfort zones anyway because that sort of thing reminds you you’re alive. And vomiting.

So, if you could come along to Verbose that would be lovely. If you can’t, please vote for my mother and sister to get into the final of Britain’s Got Talent (which you can do for free). If you can do both, I’ll kiss your hand and call it ice cream.

 

The Language of Dogs

On our evening walks, my greyhound Betty and I often encounter the same old man and his dog. The man is about 5ft tall while his dog, some kind of mastiff I think, stands almost level with his chest. The dog is male with huge, pendulous balls that swing heavily beneath it like milk-laden udders. Seeing them approach I’m always moved to consider a child walking his cow to market.

But when Betty spots them her reaction is less amused. Her ears scissor in flat against her head and she slows her pace. This is a reaction that I have come to recognise, and empathise with, as “Oh God. Him.”

This happens to everyone from time to time. You lock eyes with a tedious old acquaintance in the street and you feel your heart sink, dreading the awkward conversation that will follow. But while a human has the ability to fake a mobile call and gurn apologetically as they pass, a dog has no such option, knowing that even stopping to defecate won’t prevent them from being hassled.

This dog’s senses don’t seem particularly up to par so it rarely notices us until we’re close by, usually distracted by a patch of another dog’s urine or pausing to issue a turd that a horse would be proud of. But when it eventually spots us, it more than makes up for its lack of awareness with passion.

“WHORE!” it barks, bassy and emphysemic. Like a hollering drunk. “WHORE!”

The first time this happened I did a mental double take. Did that dog just call Betty a whore? Well, he certainly said it. There was no mistaking the word. So clear you could in all good conscience accuse the owner of having taught it. “WHORE! WHORE! WHORE!”

“Come on, now,” the owner admonished, heaving on the lead. Grunting through effort as his dog strained to reach us. “Give over. That’s enough.”

It was like listening to someone trying to calm a troublesome elderly relative. The type who becomes abusive after a few glasses of gin. Who considers themselves to be painfully honest rather than rude.

“Look, I just tell it like it is,” this dog might say. “Some people just don’t like to hear the truth.”

But really, this was no way to treat Betty. Until her retirement she had raced professionally, building up a credible record at Belle Vue dog track before being sold for breeding. When we adopted her we were told “Betty… didn’t take to breeding”, a statement that told a miserable story. Of her darting fearfully around a pen, desperately shifting her rump away from the hopeful, bucking hips of eager males. Eventually her new owners cut their losses and tossed Betty back over her trainer’s wall, leaving her for dead. Or for whatever people think happens to a dog when you dump it over a wall. So anyone with any decency would think twice about shouting slurs at someone who has suffered such a life. But this dog had no moral concerns.

“WHORE!” it continued, its shouts becoming strangulated as the man leaned back and shortened its lead further. “WHO…”

The word was cut off by a mighty heave that forced the dog to rear up on its hind legs like a dancing bear. But a bear whose greater specialism is cursing. Though in fairness it makes a pretty good job of dancing, hopping between its back paws like a chicken on a hot plate. An actor who can dance rather than a dancer who can act.

“I’m sorry.” the owner said as we crossed paths.

I leaned in to Betty, rubbing her behind the ear. “He just wants to make friends.” I said, compelled to comfort her.

“WHORE!” the dog shouted over its shoulder one final time as it moved into the distance.

I was reminded of the kind of men who try to woo female pedestrians by shouting sexually aggressive slogans from the windows of passing vans.

“I’ve got a chew toy for ya!”

“Show us all ten of your nipples!”

That sort of thing.

So as we continued on our way, I didn’t consider a new walking route or taking Betty out at a different time. Instead I headed home, picked a gravy bone out of her treat jar and stood over her, holding it high and tantalising in my hand.

“Okay,” I said, my voice firm and educational. “Repeat after me. Fuck.You. Fuck.You. Fuck.You…”