Bridget and Me
If I blame anyone, I blame Reginald Hill. I was at a talk he gave some years ago, in which he described his writing day. He told us he gets up early, has a cup of tea and takes his dogs for a walk. By the time he’s out walking, he said, he is ‘already writing’.
Accounts of writers’ daily rounds and the spaces they work in are not the most action-packed of narratives, but are no less compulsive for that. You know the kind of thing – on my desk I keep a stone from Delphi and a porcelain cup that belonged to my suffragette grandmother. The weekend arts sections are full of them, and I always read them under the delusion that I’ll find something there – a clue or an echo that might bridge the gap that I’m convinced exists between these early-rising diligents and my own muddled assaults on the day.
I’ve always been a fan of walking – as well as the obvious, it does help you think, and in a different way than you would at your desk. But I didn’t do a whole lot of it – it seemed like a luxury compared to staring at the wall above my laptop or re-writing my ‘to do’ lists. With a dog, there would be no choice. When the walking was done and my brain full of oxygen, the dog would curl up at my feet while I belted out chapters like a ragtime piano player.
In January I was facing into a potentially great year – I had time and space to write in, time and space I had grubbled and scraped for. Reginald Hill popped into my mind, and in the face of my partner’s objections I decided to acquire a puppy. Perhaps it was another case of romantic appeal striking, but I suspect the internal saboteur had a hand in it too.
I never had a dog before, but my friends’ dogs seemed pretty well behaved. I didn’t fully realize that a spaniel puppy is a different kettle of canine. Working-type spaniels are notorious loons, and in puppy form they are complete strangers to reason. For the first six months I swear that when I looked into her eyes, all I could see were brain cells wheeling and colliding like dodgems. The puppy was named Bridget after a dog I once knew with a calm and wise demeanor. I was hoping for some kind of karmic transference, but the reincarnated Bridget is a hysteric and a terrible egotist. It reflects badly on my leadership qualities, apparently.
She likes the walking part of the Reginald Hill regime, but not the writing part. She hates pens but likes the way they shatter in her jaws. Paper is for tearing between meals if shoes are unavailable. Silence is for breaking with an impressive variety of whines and moans articulating her cruel incarceration and boredom. Meanwhile, I have developed a high-pitched way of shouting – Co-ome Co-ome! - No, Bridget! No! – painful even to my own ears, and weirdly posh. Woodhouse if not Wodehouse.
I can’t explain exactly how it happens, but half the day disappears trying to tire her out, train her into a biddable creature or in dealing with things she has swallowed, regurgitated, rolled in or destroyed. Marley and Me it ain’t. Actually, I haven’t read Marley and Me – maybe it does feature scenes in which Marley’s owner weeps with regret. But here we are. Forward not back. In the evenings we go to obedience classes where I follow orders and Bridget pretends she has never met me. I start wearing fleece and wipe-clean fabrics. All my pockets have meat-flavoured crumbs at the bottom.
I no longer read about writers’ days, or any of the rest of the papers either. Bridget has put paid to a lifetime’s procrastination and all leisure activities that don’t include spaniels. But the writing is returning to centre stage, and I get more done in the short hours I grab than I did before, when I was a time millionaire. And the woods are lovely in the early morning. Cheers, Reg.