Family Planning

It’s been a beautiful day here. I was invited for Sunday lunch to Alan and Pauline’s, and it must’ve been terrific because I came back here and slumped into the hammock. Out like a light for two hours, I awoke refreshed and took the washing out to hang it on the line beyond the far end of our house. I know you’re bored already, but stick with it: you’re only on the titles, OK? Like any good director, I’m just lulling you into a false sense of security: the real action starts soon enough.

Our smallest terrier Coco is in season at the moment. If you’re not a doggie person, this doesn’t mean she’s flowering and will then die back in the Autumn: it means she’s emitting Pheremones which, according to the text books, ‘can be detected by male dogs for miles, sending various signals’. In terms of canine behaviouralism, I’ve only ever discerned one signal myself, called ‘Yeeeeee-haarrrr’. Not only will the bitch wander off  territory if she smells a dog, every red-blooded, feckless father in the vicinity will be presenting his calling card.

The way you know your dog is in season involves only minimal awareness. While this would be way beyond the capabilities of, say, a Jeremy Hunt or your average Ed Balls, for real people the task involves noticing spots of blood everywhere on unimportant 200 year-old  family heirloom linen and freshly washed duvets. Once this stops, the by now distraught little puppy’s genitals swell to the sort of size suggesting she may have been pleasuring entire herds of elephant while you weren’t looking.

From here on, if you aren’t watching like a neurotic hawk 24/7, things can get tricky. Our summer retreat here in France is surrounded by working farms with lots of dogs. To make things worse, just across the chemin and over the hill – no more than 300 metres away – is the eclectic farm of my nearest neighbour, Monsieur Morgue. Yes, that really is his name. And yes, he really does breed gun-dogs. Thirty or more of them at any given time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but there is no dog equivalent of books like The Joy of Sex. On the caninternet, there is no porn-spam asking frisky young Jack Russell if his todger might benefit from another inch or two. In Wufferland, the time between erection and ejaculation depends only on the distance between the dog and the bitch – and how fast the male can run. It is rarely longer than three seconds. In fact Ward’s Law states that, in hound terms, ‘The laxity of the chastity is inversely proportional to the proximity of the caninity, where the virginity is constant and the virility abundant’. Or put another way, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but new bitches catch on to old tricks at something close to the speed of light.

So it is that, for most of the last week, my poor ikkle Cocolakolino has been attached for much of the day to a very long length of sisal string, in the hope of keeping her away from a very short length of dog-lipstick thing.

(Intermission: I could try from now until Bill Clinton becomes loyal to explain why we dog-lovers keep on inventing affectionate name variations for our pack members. This – and the unbreakable habit of adopting a silly high-pitched whine when pronouncing such nicknames – is often used by anti-cananites as evidence of our madness…especially as you don’t find it anywhere other than in Anglo-Saxon culture. The reason for the whine is that dogs respond to frequency and tone, not exact content: sound for them covers a different spectrum to ours. As for the nicknames, yes – they are prima facie evidence that we are all as daft as a brush.)

Back at the plot, having tumbled out of the hammock I took pity on the mournful visage on the end of Coco’s makeshift megalead. Released from captivity, she gamboled about with pointless vivacity while I went to deal with the washing.

Anyway, there I am pegging teeshirts, knickers and oven gloves to the washing-line when our middle terrier Tiggy (Tiggywigglewinks) goes bark-ballistic….and is immediately followed by our eldest Foxie (Foxiedoodlepeeps). Still relatively new to this pack wind-up system, Coco starts barking too. The code for that kind of behaviour, by the way, goes like this:

“Others are barking so I’m barking WTF are we barking about I dunno but barking is good”.

To my horror, there at the furthest corner of the land was our other neighbours’ (the Dalteaus) Pyrenean sheepdog, creeping like some foul rapist onto our territory, sniffing determinedly as he did so. Our three plucky Norfolks (and they’re pretty small folks) were by now barking with the kind of spirit that has obviously been inspiring Britain’s Olympic athletes of late. The sheepdog’s sole response was to cock his leg, urinate at some length, and then lope in a languid – nay, insolent – manner to the other side of our boundary hedge.

Instantly notable at this point was Coco’s loss of interest in barking, and bum-jumpingly powerful fascination with Pyrenean dog wee-wee. Very few men of my age have legged it quite so quickly over a hundred metres as I did shortly afterwards. But even in the record-breaking time it took for me to cover the distance, Coco had shot towards the by now obsessively circling sheepdog.

I could of course present myself as the ultimately population-responsible pet owner re this one, but the truth is my 8.77 secs sprint was largely motivated by fear: with Mrs Slog the dog expert absent, the last thing I needed was an unwanted pregnancy on my watch. As every bloke will understand only too well, I would be cast into outer darkness until the end of Time as we know it.

Well, what can I say? I’m sure the sight of me zig-zagging unpredictably across recently-cropped wheat stalks (while waving a hastily acquired stick and screaming like a banshee) would’ve been very funny with a live audience. Suffice to say that my neighbours’ wannabe CSA* fugitive took the hint and ran away. But from this evening, it’s war. Notices will be appearing around our land: they will assert, ‘be alert at all times’, ‘careless talks costs lives’, and ‘put that light out’. Tiggy is our ARP sentinel in the pillbox, watching for the invader. Foxie is our veteran in charge of the Home Guard. We shall fight them in the hedges, and this shall be Our Finest Hour.

Do not mock. Imagine what havoc could be caused by a new breed, the Pyrenean Sheepworrying Norfolk Rogue-Terrier. Imagine poor Coco’s birth pangs. Imagine there’s no lipstick/It’s easy if you try.

* For non-Brit Sloggers, the CSA stood for Child Support Agency. It was a UK State-funded attempt by the John Major Government to undo Cool Britannia’s self-inflicted mess of single-parent misery. Throughout its mercifully brief life, for every £1.85 that got through to the children resulting from applying canine sexual mores to Homo sapiens, the CSA spend £1 on administration. During its truly unwanted childhood, CSA child-contribution arrears rose to just under £3.8bn – a staggering statistic.