THE DOG

If you were to choose a dog to be a bit of company to your 82 year old mother as she struggles to live independently, you might not, if you had any sense, choose this one.

Look up the breed characteristics of a Kerry Blue and you will find that it is an obstinate dog, not very bright, who loves nothing better than to sink it’s teeth into other dogs. It’s other characteristics are that it doesn’t moult, and it doesn’t affect the nasal passages and tear ducts of those who are allergic to dogs. It does affect the eardrums of everyone, and makes all visitors aware and sensitive to its needs. It’s needs are that it …….I should call it he, really, shouldn’t I. His needs are that he shout hello really loudly, over and over again to visitors, and when they go he needs to repeat on ‘don’t leave me’. He needs to claw his way through the obstacle race of small tables, foot rests, and chairs that are placed the wrong way round against the lovely bay window to try to prevent him getting through, so that he can place his feet on the paintwork which he has destroyed on the window cill, and shout “hello, hello , hello,”and then “come back, come back, come back,” to passers by, getting down after a very long time, with a little whimper of “where did they even go?”, and a bemused expression.

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Here’s a picture of the afore mentioned dog. His name is Kerry. I hope I don’t need to explain why. His good points are………..hmmm. He is friendly, and very docile with children, once they get over his bark. Mum, with all her complexities, is ever optimistic, and loves the dog, although sometimes she throws things at him to stop him barking. Many’s the time I’ve pick up tubes of germolene, anusol ointment and lids of Seven Seas cod liver oil capsules, and small inspirational books of the sort that well meaning relatives have bought her from the check out area at Waterstones, from the bay window.

Mum’s fate in her future in the house is bound up with that dog. He is company for her, and he is a great guard dog in the sense that he’d frighten the bejaysus out of an intruder, and might well go for someone in such circumstances, unless they brought their own dog, in which case he would just go for the dog. “GRRRRRRRRR…let me at ‘im.”. I just want to make it clear that at no point has this dog been encouraged to fight other dogs. In fact my dad refused to believe there was much of a problem until one day Kerry escaped from the garden of dad’s house in the country in France. He was brought back by two irate farmers, held upside down by his hocks. Surrounded by fields of cattle, an ostrich farm, and horses, he had savaged not the livestock, but an expensive and well-trained farm dog, He was lucky they didn’t shoot him. I can only think they had run out of ammunition. Dad gave them a few bottles of wine.

My dad chose this dog because my brother in law is slightly sensitive to dogs. My brother in law rarely visits. He and my sister hate the dog, and I had to ask them to desist from telling mum that they were going to re-home him after my father died earlier this year. Ditto my mother. My mother does not want to go in a nursing home. She wants to stay in her own home, with that dog, even if it kills me.

When my husband, youngest son and I were discussing the dog recently, the question arose if Kerry was a cute puppy.

“All puppies are cute!”, I protested. Silence from them. They did the eyebrow thing.
“Kerry is definitely getting better.”, my son said, without, I thought, a trace of irony. I looked up.
“Do you know how many times he barked at me yesterday? “.
“No?”, I replied, hoping, not many, with that sort of opening line. “I didn’t notice…..”
“Sixty. He barked at me sixty times. We were only there for ten minutes. I thought I would just count and let you know.”
“Oh. Thanks.”
“Mum, why don’t you use that citronella collar thing I bought when I was staying round there?”

The collar is activated by the muscles in the throat going into the sort of convulsions that happen during the dog’s shouting its limited vocabulary of “hello”, “who’s that”, “just let me at that other dog, I’ll tear him limb from limb”, “don’t leave me”, and “it’s 12.45 and it’s time for my dentistix” again and again and again. It sprays citronella, a smell that dogs loathe, under the throat and into the nasal passages. It has a Pavlovian effect eventually on even the dimmest of dogs, as they associate their loud vocal communication with a goddamn awful stink. They can get away with an enquiring or doleful whine, but not a bark.

The result of three days training with the citronella collar was that we then had a silent but incontinent dog.

THE BAG

“How dare you call anyone a “bag” mum. That’s just awful. Have some respect for Christ sakes!”
“I’ll call her what I feckin’ like. How dare she come into my house. What are all those little bits of paper on the floor. That’s her. Sprinkling bits of white paper on the floor.”
“That’s from the washing mum. That’s from bits of a tissue you left in your pocket and it got washed, and I shook the washing out, and it got walked into the hall.”.
“Feckin’ Bag. You don’t believe me, do you. Believe me, believe me, BELIEVE ME!”

Well, no.

This particular paranoia has been going on for about 20 years. My poor Dad, who to mine and everyone else’s knowledge, never played away, was accused of having another woman, and sometimes several. This other woman, who was never seen, but was felt as a presence, would go into mum’s wardrobe, and move her clothes around, and remove and then replace, red blouses.

This role as wardrobe rummager blossomed into a much richer one as Dad became ill with oesophageal cancer, and then died on February 14th last year. It was an interesting year. Dad vomitting relentlessly into a double tesco bag lined waste paper basket all night as my mother screamed obscenities upstairs at The Bag who was committing all kinds of obscenities with Dad. Negligees were mentioned. The Bag brought her teenage prostitute daughters in. In negligees. We have a tape. It’s unedifying listening but I will do a transcript one day.

MUM

My mum is disabled, she has to use a Zimmer frame, is 82 and is a paranoid schizophrenic. At present this presents itself in relatively low level paranoia. Any perception that she has of her surroundings being in any way changed from her memory, is only explicable to her in these terms: an ex-lover of my dad’s who has been around so long, that she must be in her seventies, is moving things around. My mother calls her ‘the Bag’.

For instance the other night at around 11.30 she phoned up.
“Come round, you must come round.”
“What s wrong mum? ”
“No, I can’t tell you, really I can’t, please come round, it’s awful, it’s terrible!”
“I’ll be right round mum.”
“Billy!”, I shout to my son, “You have to come round to mum’s with me, she sounds awful, I think the dog must have died!”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.”, I replied. “She sounded really panicked. We can only hope.”
“Jesus.”, he said. Like me, I could tell he was conflicted.

So we got round there. It takes about eight minutes in the middle of the night.

And the dog barked at us as we arrived.

Goddamn.

“What’s wrong Mum?”
“The toilet seat.”
“The toilet seat? ”
“Yes, the fecking toilet seat. It’s up. I am sure, I AM SURE I left it down. I want you to ring the police.”
“You’ve called us out at half eleven, because of the toilet seat?”
“That fecking bag has been in again. Call 999.”
I turned the toilet seat down, we made sure mum was back in bed and we left.

The next day I went round at lunch time.
“Are you ok Mum?”
“Yes, but look in the commode. How did the commode fill up like that?”
“…………” I look in the pot. It’s quite full.
“I never pissed all that. That feckin’ bag has been in again.”

LIFE GOING DOWN………..

“DOORS ARE CLOSING. LIFE GOING DOWN.”, I misheard the Voice of Surbiton Hospital’s lift say to us.
“Well, that’s unduly pessimistic,” I said to mum.
“Yes but my hairs’ a mess,” she frowned at the lift mirror and then smiled up at me from a lop-sided position in her collapsible wheelchair, teeth awry, hair, yes slightly deranged.

When we got back to Mum’s the dog had pissed up against the cooker.