I’m a fan of Now Appearing, the online scratching post of my friend Brian Clegg, from whom I’ve gleaned a lot of useful advice recently, such as the possibility that one can get Skype as an iPhone application, as well as all sorts of technical tips.
Brian is a full-time writer in the blessed state of being able to work from home. One of my favourite posts on Now Appearing is the one in which Brian suggests that the number-one, most important tool for any stay-at-home writer is not a computer, not a quiet place one can dignify with the term ‘office’, not even any original ideas – but a dog. Of course, Brian, being the technically minded person that he is, sees a dog (quite rightly) as a product of human technology, a point he makes amply in his excellent book Upgrade Me. In fact, the domestication of the dog happened perhaps 100,000 years ago, which means that the symbiotic system of Man and Dog has gone much further than Man and MS Vista, for example.
Brian sees distinct benefits in dog ownership for the full-time writer. Writing, especially at home, is a solitary activity – a dog provides the necessary feeling of companionship without being intrusive. Second, dogs force the sedentary home-worker to get up from that computer and take some necessary exercise, during which the writer can turn over ideas in his or her mind and get inspiration.
A while ago Mrs Cromercrox – who edits an online magazine for a charity, almost entirely at home, persuaded me, using the same reasoning as Brian’s, that we really should get a dog. A short time later Heidi the Golden Retriever arrived in our lives. This is what she looked like then:
and this is her more recently, doing her Ursula Andress impression.
She’s now a year and a half old (Heidi, not Ursula Andress) and, predictably, I’m completely dotty about her.
Yesterday me and Cromercrox Minor (aged 11) went to the Cromer Enormoplex to see a film called Marley and Me, which is all about a writer and his dog. It’s based on a true story, of a writer, John Grogan, and how his developing family life was moulded by the presence of his large and unruly Labrador. Grogan made is name as a columnist, firstly on a paper in south Florida and later on the Philadelphia Inquirer. Many of his popular columns were about his dog, and it was the public reaction to his column about his dog’s death that spurred him to write Marley and Me (the book). When I saw that the film would star Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, I dismissed it as a piece of romcom fluff. It isn’t – it is, unexpectedly, a rather good film, and Wilson and Aniston can do Subtle and Serious.
One thing Brian doesn’t say is how good dogs are at letting in some much-needed perspective on our over-complicated lives. No matter how miserable you are, or how knotty is that problem you can’t solve, or how deep is the shit in which you find yourself, the dog will always be there to love you, no matter what. (And if the shit is smelly enough, the dog will want to share it with you.)
Ogden Nash perhaps put it best in his poem An Introduction To Dogs
They cheer up people who are frowning.
And rescue people who are drowning.
They also track mud on beds.
And chew people’s clothes to shreds.
At the end of Marley and Me Grogan writes (and this is quoted in the film):
A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine.
Perhaps Ogden Nash should have the last word:
Dogs are upright as a steeple
And much more loyal than people.