Saturday, 21 August 2010

What does the dog mean?

Blog 100, then. So how did I decide what to put in it? (Warning, this is a Dinsdale-type blog, i.e. only some of it is true). I walked again up that hill which is just a 20 minute drive away but takes me up and out of streets and into heather and vistas. And as soon as you start climbing away from cars and people, you can let yourself think that mystical stuff is possible. In fact, in an absurd world, it’s not only possible, it’s a more acceptable response to life than the logic, solutions and explanations that seek to make sense of everything.

As usual, there were several pauses on the way up because it’s steep in places and, with only trees around, you’re just open to whatever jumps into your head. This time, one of those whatevers was a bloke called Simon de Montfort. We spent a year in France a while back, in the South West, the Languedoc region, and that’s where Simon indulged his fancies, one of which struck me particularly forcibly. He was leader of crusaders who were laying siege to Béziers, where a sect called the Cathars were holed up with some Catholic sympathisers. (This was back in the 13th century.) One of the charming things he did to try to persuade them to give up was to gouge out the eyes of a hundred prisoners, cut off their lips and noses and send them back into the town. A special little refinement was that he let the one at the front keep one of his eyes so that he could see to lead them back. How people can treat their fellow humans in such ways is beyond my imagining – and the fact that similar things are still happening in the ‘civilised’ as well as the less civilised world makes you wonder whether evolution has somehow stopped.

Why I remembered that on a sunny Scottish hill I have no idea. So I carried on walking, thanking whoever had set the granite blocks in place at some points along the track to make it easier to climb. A little aside then made me start wondering whether I could use these carefully arranged blocks, and even the path itself, as a metaphor. It’s an obvious one but maybe I could distort it, undermine its obviousness. Maybe it wouldn’t be a symbol of our taming of nature or our determination to go somewhere, but a scar which would heal when we’ve gone. Maybe it would disappear behind me as I walked on, just as my past was. More than all that, though, I was wondering why I hadn’t remembered to bring any chocolate with me.

Then came the stump – dead, whitened wood, beside the path. A tree that had stepped aside for a rest and just snapped off and rotted away, except for the twisted bole and useless roots. It was like Sartre’s tree root in La Nausée, grotesque, challenging, excrescent. It was also a bloody good excuse to have another pause and pretend I was thinking deep thoughts rather than taking deep breaths.

And it was just past that stump that the dog appeared. No barking or snuffling, no crackling twigs to announce it. I turned a bend and there it was, sitting on the path. The most mongrel of mongrels. Scruffy, yellowish, bits of fur missing, and a face that would never make it onto a puppy calendar. I put my hand out to it but it backed away. Not fearful, just private somehow. And it followed me to the top. And I know that some of you will lose any vestiges of respect you may have had for me but I started to get fed up with it. I’d come here to be on my own and this cur was interfering with that wish. So I shooed it away.

For a while, it stood some way off, then a final rush and a shout from me and it ran off on its stubby little legs. The trouble is that it had set me thinking of the dog in Byron’s poem Darkness. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. Nasty, scary stuff - the black Romanticism, not troubadours, minstrels and princesses - the sort of stuff I didn't want to be reminded of on a sunny day on a beautiful hill. And it was all the dog's fault.

There were more things, more idle musings, more speculations, but this is getting too long so I’ll just tell you one more of them. It came later that evening, just before I went to bed. I went out to lock the garage door and there was the dog, sitting on the pavement across the road. Remember, the hill where I saw him is maybe 16 miles from where I live. But there he was, squat in the darkness, looking at me.

In fact, I’ve borrowed the dog. But what does it mean?


  1. It means you have a new friend, Bill. Difficult to imagine but true nonetheless.

  2. Animals are perceptive. They see in us, things we don't. I imagine in it's abandonment and neglected shape, trusting doesn't come easy. Yet, it chose to find you.

    Take what you will, but that dog will be there when all else deserts you. It's the hurt ones who know the beauty of a soul. (Hugs)Indigo

  3. My goodness, how existential for the 100th (congratulations!) blog. You were seeking a metaphor, a way to imagine healing with no scars but that never happens though we might wish it so. Memory never completely fades. Acts heinous or not become part of the collective Zeitgeist. The stump was a portal and the dog the herald to another dimension. You have just entered ... The Twilight Zone .

  4. Tempted though I am to side with Michael, Indigo and DragonLady, I have to say I am impressed with your rejection of the dog. I'd go so far as to say you've had a lucky escape. He is clearly riddled with symbolism which, if you stop to decode it, will rob you of the focus you need to complete your journey. Simply acknowledge him and pass by; it is the essential, unfettered you who, Lear-like, must find the way. You must also ignore this advice.

  5. Michael, I’m a guru, remember? I don’t need friends.

    Indigo, that’s a beautiful analysis. I especially liked the last sentence and, if I was writing this as part of a story, it’s a theme I’d develop. I fear, though, that Michael’s assessment of me is nearer the truth. But thanks for the comment.

    DL, why does my existentialism come as a surprise? Pace Indigo, it’s the only explanation for how we are. As for entering the Twilight Zone, I’ve been there for years (and no, it’s not the name of my care home).

    And Ron, the usual wise, sensitive analysis. The dog comment triggered a quick vision of turning up at the vet’s with a Rottweiler, dumping it on his examination table and saying ‘I’m worried about him. He’s riddled with symbolism’.

    Also, we must talk at some stage about the Lear reference. Others may see it as highlighting a search for truth, but I know it’s your gentle way of saying I’m old.

    I will say more about the dog in future but not just yet as others may have their own interpretations. But thank you all for your input.

  6. Beautiful. :) Congrats on the milestone! The dog sounds spooky.

  7. Great 100th, Bill (and no, I don't mean your age - yet).

    In keeping with your other dark musings on Crusaders, Darkness and the dead stump, I reckon the dog was a kind of foreshadowing of your mortality. Not quite a Cerberus but a reminder that, no matter how much you try to push it away (or ignore it), the afterlife patiently awaits you.

    Or... he was a reminder that no matter how many rejections we get, perseverance is the name of the game.

  8. There are a few brilliant sentences in this 100th blog post that made me realise why I read your blog. I'm not even a follower, but I keep coming back.
    The issue you brought up is interesting. The title suggests that the dog has a meaning. Why would it? My title would be something like: 'a creative brain'. There are several explanations for the dog's appearance:
    1)The rabbit-turtle race reading: there are two dogs. Look-a-likes, or maybe your brain just made them look the same. You might like to interpret this as a dog conspiracy, but really, that's very unlikely. Why would dogs be so interested in pulling a trick at human being's leg?
    2)The logical explanation reading: The dog owner lives in your street. He was walking up the hill with his dog, looking for some peace and quiet, enjoying the solitude. He's just about to take a bite of his chocolate bar when he sees you. 'Damn,' he mutters, and holds his steps, not wanting you to see him. His dog walks towards you, your neighbour decides to stay invisible. He follows the two of you at a distance. After a while he realises the absurdity of the situation and is about to reveal his presence when he sees your foot kicking in the direction of the dog....

  9. Thanks for all the comments. I’m glad the dog is getting so much attention – he/she was supposed to. I do, however, detect another unsuspected theme. It started innocently enough with Indigo’s abstract reference to ‘the beauty of [my] soul’ and her hint that ‘all else’ will ‘desert’ me. Then Diane shoved me off into the Twilight Zone, abetted by my brother with his cruel reference to the ancient King Lear and another hint that I’m near the end of my ‘journey’. Scary was discreet enough to limit herself to congratulations and admiration for the dog, but Rosemary (who’s nearly always smiling when I meet her) gently introduces intimations of mortality, afterlife and rejection. Finally (so far anyway), Anneke’s first suggestion throws doubt on my mental state (an inability to distinguish one dog from another, paranoia about a ‘dog conspiracy’).

    Seriously, though, the ‘interpretations’ of the significance of the dog are what I hoped this would provoke. They’re ingenious, creative and all entirely legitimate. I think it’s worth another blog in due course to spell out where the idea came from (the dog, remember, is ‘borrowed’) and why I used it.

  10. I think the dog was a cat in another life; he didn't act like any dog I've ever known.

    I think the symbolism of the dog is a simple opposite sketch: when you want to be alone, someone always messes up your solitude and, when you desperately need to have company, no one is ever around.

    This phenomenon is Murphy's law; since I was married to a guy named Murphy for 16 years, I know all about it.

  11. Ah what demons this unsuspecting dog has unleashed. Welcome back, Linda.

  12. Is this some kind of dog conundrum?

    I simply cannot be harsh or even rude to a dog. Mine's bit me three times since he was 4months old and still, I love him.

    Congratulations on your 100th. How many days did it take to do it? The blog, silly.

  13. Is that a borrowed pathway or real? It's so inviting (except for the imaginary bad dog.)

  14. My earlier Lear reference has little to do with age, Bill (although your sisters have a photograph of you appearing in the play some 55 years ago) but far more to do with the play's potential to address some of the issues hinted at in these posts. When Keats said he must regularly forgo the delights of romantic verse, re-read King Lear, and face

    "....once again the fierce dispute,
    Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay.."

    he was surely foreshadowing you 100th blog.

  15. Yes, Marley, in a way, it’s a conundrum. All will be explained in due course (or maybe not). As for how long it took me to do it (the blog, silly) – the first was way back in March 2009 and I was surprised to see, on checking it, that one of the comments came from someone called Katekirton – aka my daughter, who has been remarkably reticent to intrude since then. Time to compel her to do a guest blog perhaps.

    The pathway is the real one that takes you to the top of Scolty (the hill). The only borrowed element is the dog.

    Ron, How nice to think that you try to reassure me by adding the prospect of damnation to all the other degenerative aspects of my existence revealed in this 100th blog. I blame the dog. I should never have borrowed it.

  16. It sounds as though the dog has adopted you, Bill. There's some unexplained karma going on there that you shouldn't ignore. :)

    It reminds me of the dove that adopted Louis L'Amour, the popular western writer. He told me during an interview that the dove flew into his garage and refused to leave, so he allowed it to stay. It was then that his writing career really took off and he became a bestseller.

  17. Nice idea, Jean - and if the dove analogy works, I'll go and find myself a suitably ugly cur to work the same magic for me. Now if I were to turn the corner of the path and find a millionaire benefactor sitting there, I'd be less inclined to shoo him away. In fact, I'd carry him up the hill.