The Boy Dog has many excellent qualities. He is loyal, house-trained, easy to please and doesn’t (usually) wake me up when he crawls under the duvet at three o’clock in the morning. If pressed however, I would have to admit that he does have one tiny fault – and it’s one that’s endemic to Jack Russells.
He barks at blowflies, passing crisp packets, dripping taps, the Old Lady Dog breaking wind in the next room, a butterfly landing on the window, a sheep sneezing three fields away – absolutely anything, and nothing, will trigger him. No extraneous sound is considered unworthy of his attention. The inevitable result of this, of course, is that whenever he starts barking, I just invite him to put a sock in it.
A couple of nights ago, when I was deeply immersed a rather lovely dream involving Daniel Day Lewis and a waterfall, the Boy Dog suddenly shot out of his basket, hurtled across my stomach and started barking dementedly at the window. Cross-eyed and startled, I threw a pillow at him and scored a pleasingly direct hit. However, apart from making him grunt, it had no discernible effect on him. He just carried right on barking. I made an uncoordinated grab for the alarm clock and tried to bring the wobbling, fuzzy numbers into focus. It was 4.15am.
‘It’s four fifteen in the morning,’ I bleated pathetically. ‘Do you HAVE to?’
The Old Girl raised her head to see what all the commotion was about, then went straight back to sleep. The Boy Dog barked some more.
‘Will you please, PLEASE be quiet!’
He paused for a moment, cocking his head to one side, in that distinctive way terriers have, as he considered my request. Then, to my relief, he nosed his way under the duvet and wrapped himself around my feet. As peace descended once more I settled back down under the covers to see if Daniel was by any chance still hanging around anywhere … but I never found out, because 10 minutes later, the Boy Dog started up again, this time from under the duvet. It gave the barking a sort of muffled, ghostly quality.
‘Do you want to go outside, boy?’ I asked him wearily, resigned to a broken night. ‘Is that what you’re trying to tell your stupid mum?’
At the sound of the magic words ‘go outside’, he shot from under the covers and stood quivering at the bedroom door, ready to rip things limb from limb. Boy Dog contra mundi, – or at least Boy Dog contra anything that happened to be in the garden, outside the gate or anywhere within earshot.
With an effort, I got up, pulled on my dressing gown and slippers and stumbled downstairs, with him dancing around my feet like a dog who’s just been told that sausages are on the menu. My plan was to let him run around the garden several times at great speed – as is his wont – then haul him back indoors and go back upstairs to bed to sleep for a couple more hours. It was an excellent plan as far as it went, but didn’t take into account the cow outside the patio windows, eating my gazanias.
As it stood there on the crazing paving, chewing contentedly on the half-hardy annuals , I stared at it blankly, trying to cajole my still half-asleep brain into accepting what my eyes were seeing. Boy Dog, who was directly behind me, was MUCH faster off the mark. Screaming like a banshee, he hurled himself at the plate glass, wild-eyed and slavering, and a few seconds later he was joined by the Old Girl who’d woken up to find herself alone and come down to see what she was missing. When it became obvious to them that even acting in unison they couldn’t smash their way through the window, they decided that burrowing under it was the way forward – and that was when I decided they needed to be shut up out of harm’s way, and earshot, in an upstairs room.
With the barking reduced to a level that permitted coherent thought, I opened the back door and examined the problem in the garden more closely. A second cow was ripping up mouthfuls of crocosmias, a third was in my wildflower patch, a fourth had found my sunflowers … and after that I couldn’t bear to look, but a rough head count told me that there were approximately eight cows and calves in the back garden, all laying waste to the greenery. Then, as I watched, a hawthorn bush over on the field boundary began thrashing around in exactly the way that hawthorn bushes don’t, and the next moment, another cow ambled into the garden, dragging a mass of brambles and goosegrass with it.
I bolted for the sitting room and rang the farm. It rang and rang and rang and no-one answered. I checked the clock. It was almost 5.00am. So much, I thought, for the old canard about farmers being early risers. I dialled again. Same result.
Wandering around the house with the handset, redialling over and over again, I opened the front door out of curiosity and was startled to find a large black cow directly outside, gazing back at me in mild surprise. I looked around. She was not alone. There were another six cows in the front garden.
I dialled the farm’s number again and this time just let it ring, determined to irritate Maggie into picking up. My garden was disappearing down her cows’ throats and she could bloody well wake up was my attitude.
Forty minutes after I first started trying, it was Alec’s voice that finally answered. I didn’t mess around with courtesies.
‘My garden is full of cows.’
There was silence for a moment, then he said: ‘Your garden is full of cows?’
‘Yes. They’re coming through the back fence.’
‘Oh. Right. I’ll be right there.’
Nothing appeared to happen for a long time after that, and I cynically wondered if they were having a spot of breakfast before them came along … but then I spotted a yellow bucket being waved around in the hole in the hedge. It was being brandished by Alec, who was trying to entice the animals back out the way they came in, by means of a bucket full of calf nuts. My jaw dropped. The nearest cow edged closer, nose out … but then skittered off, crashing through my lavender bed as she went off in search of something better. I threw open the back door again in order to remonstrate with him, only to meet Maggie appearing around the corner of the house brandishing a broom. At the same time, the remaining stock in the field had got wind of the fact that there was a Man with Calf Nuts in their midst, and had started to gravitate towards him – slowly at first, but picking up speed as it became a race to see who could get there first.
‘Alec!’, she bellowed. ‘There are another half dozen of the buggers around the front … go and get Jimmy out of bed, we’ll have to herd them out ….’
She looked at me sheepishly.
‘Sorry. They should have been moved to another field by now, but we’re behind with the silaging because of the weather …’
‘Can’t be helped.’ It seemed churlish to complain about a few mangled and munched plants, a massacred rockery, a lawn like a ploughed field, a wrecked back fence, and several yards of splintered path edging. ‘No serious damage done.’
‘We’ll round them up and fix the fence.’
‘That’s fine Maggie. No worries. These things happen.’
A quarter of an hour later, the front gate closed on the last retreating cow backside and normality was restored.
It was six forty-five am. Upstairs, the dogs were still barking hysterically. I surveyed the mangled remains of my garden and decided that there was really only one thing that would make it all better again.
A nice, hot, cup of tea.