The Northerner and the Pup

Friday, February 12, 2016 • Liverpool Arts Society

The Northerner and the Pup

As a northerner born and bred in the harsh hills of the Yorkshire Dales, my life has been filled with a string of family pets; namely dogs. When I say dogs, I mean worker breeds. Traditional breeds…Proper dogs. These ranged from breeds associated with ratting like border terriers to hunting and racing dogs like Lurchers.

The Lurcher is still in the family. A fine majestic breed used traditionally for hunting and racing due to their slender frame and fast legs. Our family dog Monty fits the bill. He’s tall majestic and very fast.

For anyone that is still unsure of what a Lurcher is, watch Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. See the dogs that Brad Pitt’s gypsy character is using to hunt hares? Those are Lurchers. Tough right? Well yeah Monty is an exception to the breed. He’s lazy and just a bit soft.

He’s still as fast as the proverbial. But now you can understand my history of pets. So when the missus said she wanted us to add a little fuzzy member to our family, I was on board. Chihuahuas were immediately off the list as nobody wants to see a six foot 18 stone man walking around the village with a rat on a string. No I wanted something beastly to protect the home. A Saint Bernard maybe or an Akita, or the king of guard dogs, the Alsatian.

But no! Not my darling girlfriend. No, she finds the Cavapoo. For anyone to whom this breed is not familiar I will try my hardest to explain. In recent years there has, amongst dog owners, become a longing for fashionable cross breeds. Yes gone is the want for pure breed, top of the class pedigrees. No, now owners (usually beautiful people who want a walking teddy bear) are turning to breeders to produce the ubiquitous ‘doodle’. I imagine this name was born out of one of the first ‘fashionable’ mix breeds; the labradoodle (Labrador/Poodle cross). Doodles are by name and nature poodle crosses, but for me there was something too commercial and cosmetic about a glorified mongrel with a poorly amalgamated name. I mean you have the Cockapoo (cocker spaniel and poodle mix), the Cavapoo (cavalier King Charles spaniel and poodle mix) or even the poochon (Bichon Frise and poodle mix).

“Look!” I said forcefully “I am not having a dog with ‘poo’ in its name, it’s just not happening.”

 Needless to say, Darling Dearest did not listen and had already been doing the rounds finding a puppy that was the last of his litter and really needed a home (for a large 3 maybe even 4 figure sum (my lawyer convinced me to keep that bit quiet)). So off we trot to bloody Lancashire of all places to meet this pup. And yeah ok he was cute….

But come on!!! He is not going to guard the house is he, sure he might lick them to death but really? Then my dear lady turned on the charm offensive and she played on my weak spot. Star Wars. She convinced me that once his hair grew we could grease it back and he could be the Chewbacca to my Han Solo. Now you just don’t do this to a guy. Now I had to weigh up all my cons against the fact that a long with Dearest as a rather fantastic Princess Leia we could rock fancy dress parties up and down the country.

Needless to say we bought the dog.

I say dog but it took a long time for it to show any ‘dog characteristics’. He wouldn’t walk in the rain (sorry pal, welcome to Yorkshire), he wouldn’t bark and he certainly wouldn’t fetch a stick. He just lay there looking cute.

 Despite my disdain for this walking, defecating teddy bear, he was determined to win my affections.

He would constantly shower me with love and affection, but even worse he’d taken away all of my girlfriend’s attention. She’d even allowed him to sleep on the bed…

I hate having to fight the age old war of the bed. I have to fight off a biting, licking, scratching beast, then once my girlfriend is dealt with I now have to challenge this life-like teddy for room on the bed. I fought valiantly without shame (yet when I bit him back apparently that was childish?)

Of course I did what any human being would do, I played with it but really I was thinking what a waste of money. No amount of fancy dress awards or Star Wars ‘fan-girling’ could inspire me to keep this dog. But then came the turning point…

In a true dad style, I bought my youngling a spongey football in the hope he would live out my dreams of becoming a professional footballer (I am aware he is a dog) but come on, one day I would like someone of my bloodline to score a winner at the Kop-end at Anfield. My thinking was this dog could be the next Kenny Dogleish, Robbie Howler or (and I am sorry for this) Spani-El Hadji-Diouf. But as a Liverpool fan, I just prayed he wouldn’t like Everton wonder boy Ross Bark-ley.

The fateful night was here. I was watching Liverpool away to Stoke City on the TV. Big game. Capital one cup semi-final. Marvin (as we had christened the teddy bear/dog hybrid after the godfather of soul) was as usual trying to get my attention. As I ignored him, he decided he needed a new way to get to me. He went to his toy box and grabbed his ball and brought it to me. Being the miserable man I am I threw it away, only for him to bring it back. Did my dog just play fetch? I tried again, this time with vocal commands. He did it again. At last my dog was becoming a dog. There was hope. We repeated again and again. Then came the clincher. Jürgen Klopp decided to award Christian Benteke one more chance for Liverpool as a substitute. As he walked on to the pitch with that look of smug self-satisfaction.

Marvin began to yap and bark like crazy. Was it possible? Did little Marvin seriously share my disdain for the Benteke? Did he too think that he was the biggest waste of £32.5 million? Perhaps?

Ok I understand that his bringing of his only football toy during the capital one cup semi-final was probably a coincidence and his disdain for Benteke could have been purely luck but finally we were sharing common ground and our love has grown from there.

But now! Pages of nonsense later, I get onto my main point. This dog has provided unbelievable inspiration for me to kick-start my self-employment. Since graduating and deciding to take the plunge to become a self-employed theatre maker and musician (ambitious I know) I have trundled from audition to gig to audition. This has all been whilst living a slobbish life of phone calls from the sofa interspersed with Xbox battles with myself and needless scrolling on casting websites for suitable auditions.

This can be quite a lonely existence when you either live on your own or, in my case, living with someone who can be out for 12 hours a day. The owning of a pet can be so joyful and they are excellent companions. It also gave this lazy artist extra quality of life.

Owning a pet, especially dog comes with a lot of responsibility. They need feeding walking and playing with up to at least three times a day. For someone who has fallen out of structure since graduation, a pet provided me with the routine that was lacking in my day. I was finally crawling out of my cave at a respectable time in order to walk him and feed him. There was no point going back to my slumber so I simply would get on with my phone-calls and paperwork or script writing/learning.

The walks are another healthy attribute for anyone in the world of creation. Despite the obvious exercise it provides, it gives you the chance to talk to others. Some days pre- dog I wouldn’t talk to anyone face to face, unless I decided to reward myself with a visit to the chippy. However there is code amongst dog-walkers that you talk to each other, it’s only polite. And when you’ve got a dog as cute as the walking teddy-bear, naturally people want to stop and talk to you.

Through these chats, you begin to learn other people’s stories and find out things that you wouldn’t just by walking past this person in a shop or the park. In the month since owning the dog, I have been able to speak to a number of village residents who would normally avoid the big bearded bloke for fear of being extorted like the victim of some Dickensian crime. Communication is the root of theatre ad in my opinion theatre is the best form of communication.

So in conclusion, this has been simply an intro into owning a pet as an artist and there will be more stories to come of The Northerner and The Pup. My advice is that if you’re struggling to find routine in your life then get out there and find a companion, it might change your life more than you’d think.