We must be bark­ing

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

Don’t you hate it,’ my friend Kate emailed last week, ‘when peo­ple talk to and about their dog dur­ing din­ner?’ Gosh. that’s us. I think (and hope), how­ever, that we only do it when we don’t have guests.

our dog talk would be em­bar­rass­ing and mys­ti­fy­ing for any­one else to hear; not only do we speak to our dog in a spe­cial dog voice, we’ve also in­vested her with her own dog lan­guage, in which we speak to her. the vo­cab­u­lary has been de­vel­oped over 50 years by my hus­band’s dog-lov­ing fam­ily, honed through suc­ces­sive beloved dogs’ lives. I’ve in­her­ited the vo­cab­u­lary and now speak the lan­guage flu­ently.

Speak­ing to a dog in a spe­cial voice is not as mad as it sounds. Surely a dog needs to know when you’re talk­ing to him or her? Ev­ery now and then, à pro­pos of noth­ing, we might ut­ter to our snooz­ing nor­folk ter­rier, Sam­phire, the words ‘You’re very, very good’, speak­ing de­lib­er­ately and at a low reg­is­ter that makes her ears prick up be­cause she knows she’s be­ing ad­dressed.

If I were telling a son he was very, very good, it would be at a higher and more nor­mal, clipped pitch. that makes to­tal sense for the smooth run­ning of a fam­ily.

How­ever, we wouldn’t say ‘you’re very, very good’; we’d say ‘you’re vay, vay good’. nor would we say ‘You’re com­ing with us to visit some other peo­ple at their house to­mor­row’. It would be: ‘You shaff to visit some other hoomans at their premises diss-mor­row.’

It looks ridicu­lous, writ­ten down like that, but we feel there’s logic in our as­ser­tion that dogs can only con­tem­plate to­day (‘diss-day’) and to­mor­row (‘diss­mor­row’); any fur­ther into the fu­ture, they can­not and would not want to see. teeth are ‘toofs’ and mouth is ‘moof’. Surely that’s about the right level of word-com­pli­ca­tion for a dog?

Do all fam­i­lies do this, I won­der? I hope so. If there are enough of us, we should per­haps com­pose a dog dic­tio­nary to sit on the shelf along­side Dogs’ Din­ners (Pav­il­ion), Deb­ora Robert­son’s ex­cel­lent cook­book for dogs (Coun­try Life, Au­gust 9, 2017).

Other peo­ple watch tele­vi­sion on in­creas­ingly large screens, but my fam­ily seems to be do­ing the ex­act op­po­site. our new way of watch­ing tv is hud­dled around some­one’s lap­top that’s ei­ther on a chair in front of the sofa, on the kitchen or gar­den ta­ble or on the bed on an old wicker break­fast tray.

this is the cy­cle of events that led to this sit­u­a­tion. tele­vi­sion num­ber one mys­te­ri­ously stops work­ing: no pic­ture, no sound. there’s no one to turn to and we’re way past the guar­an­tee date. In the olden days, we’d have got the lo­cal elec­tri­cian to come round and mend it, but they’ve all closed down. You have to ring Sky and the only per­son who can do that is the per­son in whose name the ac­count is, which is my hus­band, and he can’t face do­ing it af­ter a hard day at the of­fice nor dur­ing his well-earned week­end.

tele­vi­sion num­ber two fol­lows suit: ‘no sig­nal.’ Some­one gets so cross with the re­mote con­trol not work­ing that they fling it across the floor, cre­at­ing a foun­tain of plas­tic shrap­nel.

there­fore, to avoid hav­ing to face the un­face­able, we watch ev­ery­thing on lap­tops, which are pleas­ingly mov­able, en­abling a new kind of fluid watch­ing. the de­funct tvs stand there as black grave­stones to their own demise.

The other day, I had the weird ex­pe­ri­ence of typ­ing the word ‘peo­ple’ and it sud­denly looked to­tally odd and wrong. For the life of me, I couldn’t re­mem­ber how to spell it. Could that re­ally be right? Pe–op–le?

For some­one who deals in words, this sud­den not know­ing how to spell a fa­mil­iar word is a dis­con­cert­ing sen­sa­tion. It gave me a glimpse of what it must be like to be dyslexic: dis­jointed let­ters float­ing around in front of one’s gaze. I’ve thought of a name for this phe­nom­e­non: ‘ja­mais-vu’. Like déja-vu, it can come upon us at un­ex­pected mo­ments and is an eerie of outof-body ex­pe­ri­ence.

Faux pas of the week: fil­ing into West­min­ster Abbey for Even­song, we branched off from the crowds to ask a stew­ard, smartly dressed in a black-vel­vet uni­form, whether we could sit in the choir stalls rather than in the north transept, which is too far away from the ac­tion.

As I ap­proached the smil­ing stew­ard, I said: ‘Please could we have a ta­ble for two?’

that slip shows how, in my sub­con­scious, I must equate go­ing to Even­song with go­ing to a re­ally good restau­rant in terms of an­tic­i­pated plea­sure. the stew­ard didn’t blink, but gra­ciously showed us to our pew, while I blushed.

I now worry that the next time I go to a restau­rant, I’ll ac­ci­den­tally say: ‘Please could I have a seat in the Quire?’

If I were telling a son he was very, very good, it would be at a higher, clipped pitch

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