We were walking the dog around the Loch by torchlight the other night, up on the moor, when he started barking to let us know he’d ‘found’ something. We followed the noise, caught up with him, and there the torchlight picked out a Cow up to its shoulders in water, with its back-half stuck in a kind of water-filled trench - brick-built and excavated deep so that water can be drawn off by a nearby distillery, even when the Loch is quite low. The Cow would have been dead by morning – but an hour later the farmer put a halter over it’s head, we tied lengths of rope together, and he dragged the Cow (‘Beast’, as islanders say) out with a tractor – none the worse for its experience.
Dog-barks can be useful, it seems …although I’ve always found them to be a bloody nuisance. If there’s a Sheep fastened into a patch of brambles by its own wool – Scooter barks until we’ve cut it free. If there’s a Snake on the path – he barks until we’ve beaten him away from it with a very long stick; and if the Game-Keeper arrives at our house – he barks until we’ve got him face down on the ground, hands tied behind his back, and we’ve disarmed him.
There are false alarms: he barks at Seal’s on a rock in the belief they’re dogs whose legs have come off. He barks at Hedge-Hog’s because it might be a rat stealing Linda’s hairbrush. And he goes absolutely bonkers when you put a cardboard box on your head in case you’ve got a disfiguring illness.
We find it shocking to get a wet nose against our bare thighs when we’ve been asleep for an hour and he joins us in bed to tell us that the house is dangerously cold. And it’s a nuisance this constant demand for exercise - I mean what the hell are we doing walking round a loch after dark anyway?
Neither does this early warning system come cheap: Seven hundred quid up front, four hundred for programming (which never really works), followed by five-hundred quid a year to power it up with Lamb-flavoured kibbles. Then there’s the Vet’s bills every time he leaps over a barbed-wire fence and leaves his reproductive equipment swinging from the top-wire.
He’s barking now because Michael fish says there’s a storm coming.
Linda’s worried about our boat in the storm now that it’s in Cornwall, 700 miles away. Only yesterday, in the sequel to Phoenix (which I have just finished writing – Hurray! – and which I hope will carry the title Linda’s boat is Painted Green, now that Linda catches Crabs has been scornfully dismissed) I was telling the story of what happened last time we tried to get back on board our boat in a storm …even if we could get there, I’m not sure I would risk my life again.
Oh god, there’s another cow in trouble… this one’s got a tree stuck on its head.