We must be barking
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