People think that because I write about Greek cats so much, I am a cat man, and as I said earlier one of my Kythnos nicknames is John The Catman, as opposed to John The Batman. Every day I buy two euros worth of sliced ham and my cat friends here in the port sit waiting for me at various selected points in the village to disburse my English charity. Most of these cats survey me with tense approval, and as a rule restrained anticipation. Others who are anything but polite, anticipate so much, that the buggers leap up scratching at the bag and tear at my agitated hands. I chuck the ham democratically to on average half a dozen charitable cases, but it is always a problem when it lands on a cat’s head or more often its back. Few of them, to adopt an amusing Irish example of litotes (or do I mean zeugma?), are ‘killt with brains’, and cannot see the ham nor work out where the hell it has gone. I have to gingerly knock it off them, and of course the idiots think I am chastising them, and race for the hills. Isn’t life quite pointlessly problematic at times? I mean it is bad enough if uncomprehending human beings mistake your kind and patient intentions, but in the case of a hungry but far too wary Cycladean cat?
Anyway the great revelation is, I am a dog man more than a cat man. I love cats right enough, though I never actually possessed one till I was 40. But I love dogs even more, and have had one since I was 8 years old. My first dog was called Roy, and his dates were 1959-1972, meaning he lived to a respectable 13 years. He was of unusual provenance, for he was born to a family of West Cumbrian gypsies who had settled in the extremely remote quarters of the vast forest above the pit village where I was born and raised. There was an old colliery reservoir up that way and a shambling and insanitary cottage above it where cross-bred Roy was born, and the cottage was called Wattery, the Cumbrian for ‘watery’, an onomatopoeia if ever there was (NB. the supremely alert among you will note at least three Greek-derived words so far, ‘litotes’, ‘zeugma’ and ‘onomatopoeia’. Well done for being so phenomenally alert…and note from your lofty standpoint, how many myopic yet complacent sluggards there are in this world who notice virtually nothing about anything).
Roy was an affectionate brown and white mongrel, with a pink and black nose, and the most beautiful animal in existence as far as I was concerned. I could write ten novels about him without any effort, but instead will restrict myself to a single illustrative anecdote. He suffered from jealousy God bless him, and I don’t mean of the amatory kind. He did like women and all they entailed right enough, and would fuck off up the village if a bitch was in season and do his very best to get his enthusiastic end away. My Dad would go looking for him and batter him all the way home, for making us frightened that he had been run over by a car. But no, his jealousy was simply of our affections. Thus if a bunch of old family friends came to visit, and he saw me, my Mam and Dad and brothers, all animated and delighted, as we caught up after six months or even a year…it caused him some uneasy emotional pain. We had forgotten all about him, in favour of these fly by night chattering, chuckling bastards, is what was going through his perplexed brain. That said, he was so gentle there was no danger of him attacking them, or squatting and shitting on their feet by way of ‘expressing his feelings’ to quote an enduring 1970 Californian therapeutic expression. Instead, and this is indicative of the nuanced emotional subtlety of many an animal, or at least of my first ever pet Roy, he would disappear into the kitchen on a mysterious errand. Invariably it was precisely the same errand, each time his pink and black nose was seriously put out of joint. Roy would return with something very large in his mouth, that was cracking his jaws in effect. In his mouth he held the very biggest potato he could find from the vegetable basket. He would stop centre stage, and hey, look at me ! fling the huge potato up into the air. Bravo! Then, to frantic imagined applause he would pick the tatie up again, and fling it up very dexterously again! Bravo, maestro, Signor Roy! Of course all hectic conversation stopped, and we all clapped him roundly and chuckled our heads off. Then Roy who had finally won our elusive attention was happy once again…
My next dog was the black and tan mongrel Bill, 1976-1993, meaning he lived to be a glorious 16 and a half before dying of a succession of very painful to behold seizures. Three years into his legendary biography his boss met Annie who would become his 23 year-old wife. Daughter Ione didn’t come along till 1989, meaning Annie and I were married a full ten years before we had our only child. Bill was our other only child for those first ten years, and all of those who knew him then would have acknowledged as much, but without any derision or ironical distance. He was not an anthropomorphic child, he was our delinquent and charismatic black and tan son. Again I could write the length of the Waverley Novels about Bill, but will give only one snapshot of his remarkable sense of offering a perfectly timed theatrical performance. Annie and I were living in a rather dull little town in North Yorkshire and had been married only a few months. One day we took a trip to Sheffield, principally because the excellent sax woman Barbara Thompson and Her Paraphernalia were performing there that Saturday night. Bill slept in the car while he were tapping our feet to this beautiful woman’s sumptuous jazz, but before that the three of us had had a pleasant amble around the city. It was my first time there, and also Annie’s first time, and to be sure it was Bill’s debut visit also. He like his owners was only a humble and naive West Cumbrian, but he decided nonetheless to make his entrance to Sheffield in jaunty metropolitan style.
We were walking through a central shopping arcade and a homely looking woman of late middle age was walking towards us with a small child, maybe her grandson in tow. She had a large woven shopping basket that was open at the top, and as we walked past each other, I could see the most beautiful cream cake I had ever seen in my life. It had fresh strawberries basking in some copious and delectable cream, plus a calligraphic scattering of chocolate vermicelli. It must have cost her a regal fortune, and I seriously envied the cherubic little grandson who would soon be sinking his infant gnashers into all that cream and all those luscious straws! Or that at least was my initial sunny Sheffield fantasy…
This is where gifted thespian Bill comes into the picture in unheroic, indeed utterly shameful terms. I bet you think that I am going to say he stuck his head into her basket and despoiled that Saturday afternoon cream cake treat in three Gargantuan gulps. No, I’m not, so try again. He despoiled it right enough, but not by devouring it. What he did needs careful prose and patient delineation. I was holding him on a loose leash, and as we passed the woman and the child, he was perhaps twelve inches from the open basket and the preposterously gorgeous cake. As if he had rehearsed the same athletic circus feat a dozen times, without so much as a polite cough or a cocking or twitch of his ear.. he raised his left leg and pissed a hideous ochre-coloured torrent all over the unfortunate cake…
You should have seen the late middle-aged Sheffield woman’s horror. She aged at least a decade as I studied her expression. You should have seen the angelic grandson’s innocent astonishment. Bill dropped his leg after a quarter of a second, and kept on blithely walking so that his halt-piss-proceed sequence was something like a technically perfect bit of soldierly drill. The only thing missing was me as hairy, beardy army sergeant encouraging the drill with hey-hup, hup-hey! Both Annie and I saw it all happen in slow motion, and of course as two responsible, non anti-social grown adults, we should have stopped, apologised profusely, possibly wept and torn our and Bill’s hair in shame , and paid for a replacement cream cake.
But did we fuck. Try it yourself, and see what you would have done, faced with the tarnished miasma of the splendid cake, and the ocean of horrible yellow piss that was swamping it. Exaggerating Bill’s example, we just kept on walking ever faster and faster, and I realised that the Criminal Cumbrian Cake Despoiler was wondering why the hell we were accelerating though such an exciting place as this shopping mall which he for cone would have preferred to have sauntered through sniffing luxuriously at all the delirious odours the while.
Fast forward fifteen years, and my first ever canine bitch enters the picture in early 1994. She was called Bonny or maybe Bonnie, and I who owned her regularly interchanged the spelling while pointlessly puzzling as to the orthodox version. In fairness to Bonny/Bonnie I only call myself John, not Jhon nor Jon nor Jonne nor Jhonne. Not that Bonny gave a damn about how her name was rendered on the page. What Bonny loved and coveted above everything else, she shared in common with TV celebrity Homer Simpson. I was well into my forties before I assimilated the profound truth, that a dog’s keenest atavistic instinct is to satisfy its hunger. All dog training is based on that principle, meaning rewarding the animal with a tasty snack every time it does something to order. Bonny was the greediest dog I have ever met, and also at times the most repulsively disgusting. We fed her two large meals a day, but I have seen her digest with every sign of enjoyment the truly unspeakable out in a field, just after she had knocked back enough Pedigree Chum to feed an army (by the way she was no lady pedigree but was an ungainly brown and white cross between a greyhound and possibly a donkey. The greyhound legacy explained her sudden inexplicable violence because if you accidentally woke her when she was snoozing on our best couch, she would snarl bloodcurdlingly, while never actually biting you). I know you are dying to know precisely what she once ate, and no it was not rotten carrion, though yes she did enjoy that very often with a most fastidious gourmet relish. It was…no I’m not going to tell you, but suffice to say someone would have to give you and me at least £1 million, to eat even a microscopic speck of it.
Three years after Bonnie arrived, so did Monty. Monty was in many ways a duplicate of Bill, a beautiful black and tan mongrel we acquired from the animal rescue place. He was one of five pups saved from drowning when someone saw a suspicious-looking bag floating on a river with harrowing squealing noises being emitted. Ione aged 8 and I went together to the rescue place, and I advised her to pick the dopiest, most vulnerable-looking looking of the pups, the one that no one else would want. She thought that was a very good idea, picked up squinting, staring Monty, held him up to her face and gave him a big warm kiss. And that was how it all began…
Monty was a virtuoso of high grade farce. Bonny was three and half when Monty became her boon companion, or more often the pest who she would snarl at and worry, if he pushed his lush affections too far. If anyone did not understand the taxing concepts of personal boundaries and personal space, that individual was Monty. By the time he was one year old, in 1998, he was doing his best to impregnate Bonny, but for full effect he would have needed a handy stool, and in any case luckily she had been long ago been spayed. She would stand there four times his size, with her rear end presented to him rather like a newspaper shielding not her face, but her private parts… and let him plug away like a demented suction pump. She looked as bored as Mae West wondering with supreme indifference what the hell Loppylugs Casanova was getting so excited about, as he massaged her hindquarters so incredibly ineptly, and panted and puffed like an exophthalmic maniac.
His second best short comedy feature, was when my mother in law was visiting us in our North Cumbrian farmhouse, in late 1999 when Ione was 10. She and Annie’s Dad came through every Thursday when my daughter was young, and we gave them a sumptuous tea, and they spent hours playing devoutly and joyously with their first and only grandchild. To give you an indication of how much they doted on her, Annie’s Mum once said emotionally she could without any problem eat Ione’s excrement when, aged three months and without meaning anything personal, she shot some ballistically over her Nana’s upper chest. Likewise Annie’s Dad once at infant Ione’s request, read the same very long Rupert Bear story about a decorated Chinese kite being mistaken for a genuine monster…no less than twenty three times in succession. I counted and it was twenty three, I promise you.
My father in law was a dog man too, and he really liked Bonny, but for some reason was indifferent though never harsh to Monty. Monty would regularly take flying leaps of adoration at his maternal grandpa, then put his tongue deep inside the ex-policeman’s ear, and lick him furiously unto madness, but the 70 year-old recipient of this doting homage would firmly put him back on the ground and urge him to vamoose. One day however, Monty surpassed himself on every score. Annie’s Mum happened to wear false teeth , and had the habit, as today, of putting them now and again into her handbag if they were giving her discomfort. The only place she ever put them aside from her mouth was in her bag, so it was a safe enough strategy all considered. That afternoon she sought and rummaged high and low in her leather handbag, but of mislaid full set upper and lower dentures there were none.
“Christ,” she said, for without any disrespect she often blasphemed. “Where the bloody hell are my bloody dentures?”
She was not at her unqualifiedly prettiest minus her dentures, so the anxiety evident on her face was intelligible enough. Ione and I and her head-shaking, tutting husband, helped her in the search and watched as she emptied everything out on the floor. But no, there were her purse, sweets, fags, matches, the lot, but nothing remotely akin to a pair of false teeth. Bonny sat staring hopefully at the bag of sweets as she was partial to lemonade rock, even if the sharp edges bloodily abraded her tongue. Not that she ever noticed that piffling and inconsequential injury, and indeed had swallowed the delicious blood with everything else. Meanwhile, where the hell, we all wondered aloud, where was that for once reclusive and ungregarious gentleman called Monty?
I spotted his thumping tail round the back of the armchair, where was seated his and Ione’s dentureless Nana. I shouted of him, and sure enough he stood up, turned round, and approached his extended three generations family circle, and gave us all one of his most winning smiles. That said, it would be true to say he did not even remotely look himself, but looked altogether worryingly bizarre.
“Me bloody teeth!” howled my mother in law. “That damn Monty’s wearing me bloody teeth!”
True enough. Monty had her elusive dentures wonderfully sited firm between his small jaws, so that he could neither spit them out nor swallow them. As a result he looked rather like an old music hall buffoon with brilliantly goofy teeth and a strange pair of elongated very hairy and anomalously flopping ears…
Annie’s Mum swiftly got off her chair and yanked free the dentures. She was crippled with laughter of course, so much so she was just about to ram the wandering teeth safely back into her gob, before in unison we all, Ione included, cried…No, no, go and wash the bloody things first!
Monty’s sex drive, as I have indicated, was colossal rather than substantial. We ought to have had him spayed, but somehow perhaps in irresponsible identificatory sympathy, I decided I did not want him = pseudo-me, to be sterilised. Bonny his permanent and sanguine soulmate, took it in her easy stride, and looked as if she was doing boring but necessary sums inside her head while he was endeavouring to drive her wild with his squint-eyed ardour. Ironically the preferred victims of his lusty if inconsequential shagging, were young attractive women in their twenties and thirties, meaning next door’s lodgers in the main. Nurses, teachers, social workers, they all loved Monty and found his romantic attachment highly amusing, and laughingly rebuffed his far from ingenious legwork. He aimed for their handsome legs, as being small that was the only practical target. He rarely if ever went for older women, and never at all for men, perhaps because they were not so rich and ripe in exhalations of heavenly pheromones.
In the spring of 2002, we had an unusual woman guest who fitted connoisseur Monty’s ideal erotic specifications. Magda was 34, good-looking, rather sleepy and serene in manner, and was a cousin of one of Annie’s friends. She had to attend a job interview about ten miles away, and was staying with us for two evenings, as the friend felt her cousin would prefer to stay with a nice friendly Cumbrian family than in an anonymous B and B. Monty liked serene Magda very much indeed, and he liked her right and left legs especially. Magda like everyone else just laughed at his comical obsessions, and in any case a glimmer of something appropriate to her amateur interests was evidently growing in her mind. Magda’s job was as a bank manager, but she had a part time passion in the direction of alternative medicine, and was indeed a practitioner. She lived in Manchester and in brief she had dabbled in reiki, acupuncture, massage, reflexology and aural healing. That partly explained her dreamy-eyed serenity, and it also explained why as those 48 hours of hospitality progressed, both Annie and I began to tire of our Mancunian guest just a little. The problem was that like Monty she was thoroughly obsessed, and simply would not let go of in her case, a metaphorical leg. At present her favourite therapy was aural healing, and she was clearly busting to practice it on anyone who would let her, more or less regardless of their state of health. To start with at the breakfast table, she asked if she could try it on Ione, aged 12. Annie and I exchanged glances and pointed out that there was emphatically nothing at all wrong with our daughter, and even if there had been we could not have wanted her to accept alternative medicine for a cure. Far from being chastened by such brisk candour, Magda nodded sweetly and asked in that case could she have a go with Annie. She knew, she said, that Annie had had breast cancer…at which point Annie interrupted, yes, primary breast cancer as of four years ago, and thankfully nil treatment for the last three, beyond regular check-ups and mammograms. And, she added kindly, she was as fit as a fish, and as happy as a lark, and on that basis, she too would like to decline Magda’s very kind offer of aural healing. Again Magda smiled and nodded with a honeyed acquiescence. She coughed and finally turned very bravely to me as potential willing client, but even she the yoga-adept Magda, blanched and flinched when she beheld my bleak and adamantine stare.
“There-is-nothing-wrong-with-me,” I shot her at her like an unrepentant machine gun.”And even if there was…”
“Yes….yes…yes” and for once the vocal sweetness seemed to falter a little, at perhaps far too strong a saccharine backlash to her suddenly hiccupping throat.
A silence ensued which for me at any rate was not embarrassing, as it was all too unprecedented not to have Magda talking about auras, reiki, magnetic fields, energy centres and all the rest for a good three minutes. Her Mancunian brain meanwhile was going like clockwork, and of course it was inevitably Monty’s panting legwork upon her, that gave her the final possibly desperate resolution to heal someone or bust.
“Can I heal Monty?” she asked.
There were about three pregnant seconds where Annie and I were about to thunder NO! when instead in considered synchrony we asked:
“What’s medically wrong with Monty, in your professional opinion, Magda?”
Magda sighed and retrieved her pacific calm and her dulcet smile. She pointed at the crazed electric generator that was Monty, who was clinging to her slim right leg as if trying to hold on to the oh so volatile meaning of life itself.
“That,” she sighed. “That obsessive and insane sex drive of his! It’s his chakras that are all shot to pot!”
I said, “Ah.” And after hesitation added, “Ah,” again. Then, I explained as to an innocent small child, “But he hasn’t been spayed, is the simple explanation. And he’s only five years old, just a young and vigorous dog. It’s his natural and healthy libido, Magda.”
She smiled archly but prettily, as one who knows the hidden secrets of the universe and especially those with tantalising Hindu names.
“It’s his upset chakras, I’m telling you! They’re the equivalent of plexuses in western medicine, but they’re called by the Sanskrit word chakras in yogic texts. They’re his vital seats of energy. Unfortunately Monty’s chakras are all to cock.” She tailed off and briefly blushed. “No, no, I mean his chakras are simply all gone to pot.”
Annie was studiously poker-faced “Really? So what would you suggest?”
“Aural healing! It’s so obvious in his case! I will stroke Monty’s chakral aura. I will remove the bad aura and I will blow it all away, every last bit. Then poor little Monty will stop being tormented by his terrible sex drive.”
Before we could stop her, and we didn’t try too hard, she had Monty seated firmly and hence chastely on the ground, and she was facing him with slim and outspread fingers. She took those thin and elegant fingers, and like a stage magician with a mesmerising abracadabra type motion, she slowly drew out the invisible bad aura from Monty’s chakras. Monty stared at her in astonishment and remarkably he immediately stopped all attempts at clamorous copulation. Given that he had been shagging her non-stop for about three hours the night before, this was quite some sea change. Meanwhile Magda was weaving and wefting his mysterious auric substance, and as soon as she had it where she wanted it, she pouted her expressive if dreamy little lips and went, puff puff puff, and blew it all away!
Stroke stroke stroke, puff puff puff!
Stroke stroke stroke , puff puff puff!
This went on for I would say about ten long minutes, and throughout that protracted period, Monty remained calmly seated and obediently inert, and you might say completely and serenely hypnotised by Magda’s powerful and other-worldly magic.
After all those long minutes, where Monty seriously looked as if he was about to fall sexlessly asleep, Magda ceased her stroking and puffing, and turned to us victoriously.
“You see. I’ve sorted Monty’s chakras! It was his chakras, and I was right.”
Annie and I were about to generously concur, and even politely add, ah perhaps there is something in this esoteric and difficult subject after all. But suddenly there was the worrying sound of an approaching but invisible express train. It was as if a bolt from hell was about to enter and electrify the room. Had Mancunian Magda with her extraordinary aural manipulations, unleashed some terrifying unseen forces that were currently echoing round and round our innocent North Cumbrian living room? What the hell could it be, Annie and I asked ourselves anxiously, though not of course Magda, who for various mystico-occult reasons could not hear the encroaching infernal hurricane.
We looked and behold! there was Don Juan Monty back again, feverishly pumping dulcet Magda at least twice as fast as his normal libidinal velocity. And believe me if he had shagged her any harder, he would surely take the pair of them aloft as in another mystical feat of sex-induced Dual Levitation that even a Tantric adept would have envied.
“It’s his chakras, “Magda snorted with ever such a tiny yet far from tranquil scream. “It’s his chakras, but of course he needs more than a single therapeutic session. I mean with someone like Monty it might be a matter of years and years and years…”