Is the dog happy? I asked my husband this the other morning. He spluttered over his muesli and suggested I worry about Syria and IS and asylum seekers–which I do worry about all the time because I am probably the world’s best worrier–which is why I was worrying about Barney’s happiness.
‘Think of it,’ I said to my husband. ‘He wakes up, goes for a walk, has breakfast, sleeps until lunchtime, eats his bone, sleeps some more, has dinner and a short walk around the block, goes to bed. What sort of life is that?’
‘A bloody good life!’ he suggested.
‘A boring life,’ I argued.
Outside our gate, workmen were digging up the pavement and when I took Barney for his morning walk, they directed us to cross to the other side of the street. I disobeyed and continued along beside the traffic which was separated from us by a line of witches’ hats.
Barney stopped to empty his bladder on one of them—a hat, not a workman—and because he’s a young dog with a healthy bladder, he’s good for half a litre first thing in the day. The workmen watched with increasing interest and when Barney finished, several hooted and clapped.
After we crossed at the lights, I let Barney off the lead and he ran onto the sand and had his first poo for the day. The man who empties the rubbish bins arrived in his Ute and we had our usual chat about the weather and Barney’s consideration in defecating so close to the bin.
I’ve known the rubbish man for years. Often I see him sitting in his Ute, reading a book. (I wouldn’t want the Council to know about this.) For a long time, I romanticized him a little, deciding he was probably a writer who did a bit of rubbish collecting on the side. Eventually I asked him. He shook his head and laughed and said he thought I was probably a ballet dancer.
I was extremely and excessively flattered by this because as a kid, my most very secret dream was to be a dancer in a tutu and pink satin shoes. Instead, I was carted around to country shows in a green tartan kilt to dance the Irish Jig and Highland Fling, usually on a flimsy stage next to bulls bellowing in the show ring.
Needless to say, the rubbish man and I are now very good friends.
That morning, I ran along the beach for a short distance: I don’t usually do this but I am training to become a life-saver. (Yes, truly, A LIFESAVER, at close to 70! I can’t believe it either. More in another blog.)
Barney kicked up his heels and ran beside me. The wind was fresh, the sea that delicious soapy green, the waves—I noted with my new lifesaving knowledge—were Surging and Spilling Waves. (Yeah! I’ll pass that part of the test.)
After another toilet stop, Barney ran under the wire fence to chase the foxes in the bush. This is his not-so-secret vice. Often he disappears for half an hour or more, rampaging through burrows and disturbing snakes, with me yelling pathetically for him to return. This time he knew I had treats in my pocket so I was able to coax him back.
We then cut through the path behind the bathing boxes to where a water pipe has been leaking for weeks, creating a whole new eco-system complete with lake and reeds and sometimes even a delighted duck.
Today a plumber was fixing the leak. To find the broken pipe, he had dug a huge hole on the side of the slope and while Barney investigated, I talked to the plumber about snakes and how it was a shame to be losing our lake.
That plumber was one of the most handsome young men I’ve ever seen. He had Paul Newman eyes and a Robert Mitchum dimple in his chin and that glorious innocence that only comes with men who have no idea of how good-looking they are.
I walked on thinking of Paul Newman and Robert Redford—who, thank goodness, is ageing naturally—(and please don’t even mention Paul Hogan)—and I remembered seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on a muggy tropical night at an open-air cinema in Darwin, and whatever happened to drive-ins?
Crossing the park on the Point, Barney showed some interest in stealing a Boxer’s ball and then decided against it. On the other side, the wind whipped into my face and fluffed Barney’s ears, but after a series of very hot days, we decided it was bliss.
Further along we came to the groin and while Barney ran around like a larrikin and bounced along the beach, I collected shells. This is my secret vice and no one was offering me treats to make me to stop.
I found more of these frilly blue shells that have been washed ashore since the Council dredged sand from the bay to replenish the beach. I’m collecting them to make a mirror frame—more of that in another blog too.
Eventually, we left the beach and crossed the main road at the lights, skipped through the rail-gate and walked home along the path beside the train track.
By now Barney was a dog on a mission. He knows all the houses where the best cats live and he darted ahead doing his dogly duty. Unfortunately the cats, like their owners, seemed to be on holiday.
Disappointed, we waited at another crossing for the train to pass. As leader of the pack, I again explained the dangers of trains and made him sit and wait—encouraged by a treat or two. When the train passed, he scooted off towards home.
He looked happy enough but I kept thinking about Dog Boy, that fabulous book by Eva Hornung, where a four-year-old boy is raised by a feral dog pack on the outskirts of Moscow.
I often come home with the shopping and tell Barney I’ve been out hunting for his dinner. He sniffs the shopping bags with limited interest and waits expectantly for food to fall into his bowl.
How different—and much more exciting—if he had to forage through mountains of city garbage for sustenance.
How exciting to ride trains on the Moscow Metro—as the dogs do in Dog Boy—instead of sitting and waiting for trains to thunder past in suburban Melbourne.
At the corner house, the new, red fluffy dog poked its nose through the fence and he and Barney had a friendly sniff. Barney piddled his last drop of dominance onto the new dog’s fence, and again I wondered if he was happy.
Happiness is an illusion, I told myself as we arrived home; at least permanent happiness is. But moments of happiness provide the magic that make our everyday lives worth living.
Our walk had been full of that magic. For the moment Barney was happy. Me too.