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This blog publishing of chapters may not be that smart!
Publishing the chapters of my NaNo novel since the start of the month has had both positive and negative results. On the positive side, there’s no question that readers who have clicked the ‘Like’ button have really boosted my morale. On the other hand, it’s been impossible not to notice how on days when a Chapter has been published on the blog, readership levels have fallen, at times dramatically so.
So today is the start of the last six days of NaNoWriMo. There’s no question that I shall finish the draft of the book. I’m already on the edge of 45,000 words.
However, if I publish four chapters on Learning from Dogs this week, that will bring the total up to 15. The completed draft of the book will be around 25 chapters, possible one or two more. To subject you dear readers to another three weeks of four chapters a week seems wrong.
So this is what I propose.
From next Monday I will revert to publishing the range of articles and essays that I have been doing since July 2009. In other words, a new post every day of the week, just as before. But, in addition, I will be releasing three of the forthcoming draft Chapters, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
So if you are not into reading the book, just pass those posts by. If you are, poor soul, then read away to your heart’s content.
Any reactions or comments would be wonderful.
With that, on to the story!
Learning from Dogs
Philip was lost for words. No, far more than that. He was lost for words, feelings, reactions, responses. He was totally and utterly numbed.
Maggie had turned away from him, pulled the bedcover over her head, signalling who knows what.
Philip stood up slowly, practically in a trance, left the bedroom and climbed the stairs up to the living room one slow, deliberate step at a time. He put his empty tea mug in the cream-coloured plastic washing-up bowl sitting empty in the kitchen sink. He slowly crossed the living-room and stepped across to the full-length window just to the left of their wood-stove that sat in the corner of the room, the window that looked out over the grass slope that comprised much of their garden area. Philip looked out over the grass, the birds collecting seeds or whatever they feed on with a Winter’s night rapidly approaching. He looked beyond the grass, beyond to Jimmy Fletcher’s fields, then looked over to his left to where trees ran alongside a small stream that occasional filled with water during periods of rain. The Western sky was still largely cloud free. It would be dark within an hour or so. He was incapable of grasping anything, he was emotionally dead. In fact he was so disconnected from the world around him that he was barely aware of Pharaoh slipping down from the settee, where he shouldn’t have been in any case, and quietly coming up to his left side. Pharaoh had sat back on his haunches and touched his wet nose against Philip’s left wrist. Philip crumbled, his chest heaving and tears flowing from his eyes. He collapsed down to floor level, put his arms around the only creature in the world, human or canine, that cared for him, and cried his heart out. Pharaoh gently licked the tears from his cheeks. It was the release that Philip needed. Slowly over the next ten or fifteen minutes Pharaoh’s clear and obvious concern for Philip brought him back in touch with the world. And he realised just how angry he was; just how incredibly angry
He was still holding his arms around Pharaoh when he heard the sound of Maggie coming up the stairs. He turned his head and watched her go across to the kitchen and start putting Pharaoh’s evening meal together.
“Just you stop what you are doing!”, he shouted at her. “Nothing is ever going to be the same now and you don’t need to ask me why! I’ll be feeding Pharaoh from now on. He is not your dog, not in the slightest now.”
Maggie turned and went downstairs without a word, indeed without a look towards Philip.
Philip went across to the kitchen area and completed putting Pharaoh’s food together in his stainless-steel bowl. It was placed on the floor in its usual spot. He also refreshed Pharaoh’s water bowl.
Pharaoh came over to his food and, in an almost reluctant manner, started to eat. Philip was of no doubt that the dog was affected by what was going on. Any dog would have been and Pharaoh was no ordinary dog. Like most big dogs and especially like other German Shepherds, Pharaoh was incredibly sensitive to the feelings and emotions of those humans in his life.
Philip’s mind was now churning over and over, raising question after question. How long had Maggie been seeing whoever this bastard was? When did she become pregnant? Was she pregnant when they had gone on holiday to Turkey? That last thought made him sick to his stomach. The dirty, rotten, two-timing cow! To think that he had been making love to his wife, rediscovering what he believed was their genuinely loving relationship and all the time she had had …… he couldn’t even finish the thought!
He opened the ‘fridge door and took out a beer. Not even bothering to find a glass, he carried the can across to the settee, pulled the ring-top, took a long mouthful and tried to marshal his thoughts, the one most dominating his mind was the sleeping arrangements for the coming night-time. The answer came almost immediately for he heard Maggie down in the hallway. She came up the stairs to the point where she could face him.
“I’ve rung my parents and I’m going across to their place now. Can’t imagine you want me staying here!”
“Probably best under the circumstances,” came Philip’s gruff response. “Call me in the morning because, believe me, you have got some questions to answer.”
There was no reply from Maggie as she let herself out of the front door. Philip noticed Pharaoh looking out of the front window, looking intently at her as she started her car and drove down the driveway, pausing only to open the gate, manoeuvre the car to the cul-de-sac, come back and close the gate, and disappear from sight.
He sipped at his beer, deep in thought, trying to re-adjust his whole life. He looked at the clock, their grand old long-case clock that Philip had spent hundreds of hours bringing back to working order. In what already seemed like a previous life, he recalled shouting out a ludicrously silly price at a morning auction at the sale rooms in Totnes, back some three or four years ago now. The item in question had been the oak case of this English clock utterly bereft of any working parts, not even a dial face. Upon querying if there were parts, an auction assistant had simply pointed to a large cardboard box placed by the clock case. Philip had looked inside the box and seen an incredible jumble of clock bits and pieces, almost as if someone had taken the clock mechanism completely apart and gone on to something else in their life. Frankly, he hadn’t a clue as to whether everything was there but, hey, worth a punt.
Indeed, it had been very much worth the punt because the auctioneer had opened the bidding with, “So who will give me a hundred pounds for this long-case clock, believed to be early eighteenth century?” No interest from the fifty or so people clustered around. “What about fifty? Who will start me there?” Again, no interest.
Philip had raised his arm, attracted the eye of the auctioneer, and called out, “I’ll bid twenty-five.”
“I’m bid twenty-five pounds for this genuine oak-case English grandfather clock with an eight-day movement. Anyone raise that to thirty pounds?”
Twenty seconds later the auctioneer’s gavel struck his block, “Sold to the gentleman down to my left for twenty-five pounds!”
It took Philip more than three months to fathom out how to reconstruct the intricate parts of the clock’s movement, aided by many visits to Totnes Museum that was beautifully situated within an authentic Elizabethan Merchant’s House that included a number of working long-case clocks. In fact, Philip had gone there so regularly that, under supervision, he was allowed to open a couple of the clock cases to better understand how the clock movements functioned.
Philip reluctantly dragged himself back from pleasant memories of earlier times to the reality of this evening of December 20th. His eyes focused on the time; it was a little after five P.M. Completely on the spur of the moment he realised that over in California it would be something after nine in the morning. Philip picked up the phone and dialled Danny’s mobile phone number.
Within a couple of rings the call was answered, “Hey, this is Dan.”
Philip quickly established that Danny was out walking in the desert with his dog Wendy.
“So how goes it Philip?”
“Danny, just got an early Christmas present from Maggie.” Philip went on to explain what had happened just a few hours ago.
Danny’s response was clear and direct, “Hey man, ain’t that the works. Hell, I’m so sorry to hear that. Man, life can be such a bitch at times.”
Philip heard Danny calling Wendy back from something it sounded she was chasing. He then continued, “Hey, just been thinking. You get your arse out to California now, you just come on over.”
“Danny, I would so love to do that. But, hey dear friend, just not possible right now as I’m facing a pile of shit a mile high. But, trust me, just as soon as I’m clear I’ll be there. No doubt at all.”
1,420 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Ouch, ouch and more ouch!
In yesterday’s chapter I wrote of what, perhaps, was one of the better times in the lives of our hero, Philip, and his wife Maggie. But as we move to Chapter Eleven the phrase ‘first impressions may be misleading’ does come to mind.
Learning from Dogs
Later that evening, after he and Maggie had eaten their evening meal, a rather poor affair that Philip had to admit, Monday being his turn to prepare dinner, he couldn’t shake off something approaching a cloud over him. Most likely associated with the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of his father’s death, he guessed.
It was the same every year. Whatever he was involved in, however interesting and engaging his life was during the last few months of the year, Philip knew that the period between his birthday in early November and the date of his father’s death on the twentieth of December had some ill-defined greyness about it. Then as soon as the twenty-first of December dawned, he was back to his usual brightness. Indeed, he was always embarrassed by the fact that his pre-Christmas mood never arrived until the twenty-first of December, frequently a bit on the late side to engage properly in the annual ritual of present-buying.
Still that’s how it had been for every year of his adult life and, privately, he wondered if that was his way of treasuring a father he never really knew.
Thus so it was this year. In the sense that it was about a week before Christmas Day, probably around the eighteenth of December that, again, he had to pull himself up sharply and start thinking as to what he should give Maggie as her main present.
What really caused him to focus on Maggie and Christmas was a very strange, decidedly untypical, interaction between Maggie and Pharaoh. Up until then, whenever Maggie had gone out somewhere on her own, Pharaoh would always bark as her car turned into the driveway. On their upper floor, the main living room area, there was a floor-to-ceiling pair of glass-panelled doors overlooking the front of the house, the garden and their short driveway and their five-bar, wooden gate. The glass doors would have been wooden shutters back in the days when it was a cow barn. Today, the doors could be opened during hot summer weather; there was a wooden rail across the opening to prevent any falling accidents.
Pharaoh’s usual routine with arriving cars was to bound up to the windows barking furiously when he heard the latch on the gate being handled and when any car drove up the driveway. If it was Maggie returning home then as soon as he recognised her he would bound down the short, single flight of wooden stairs from the living-room level to the hallway and stand inside the front door, also glassed from head to foot, wagging his tail furiously until he was let out whereupon he would run joyously to her.
However this day, Philip was pretty sure is was the Monday, Pharaoh did his usual barking act as Maggie drove in. Then there was the sound of Pharaoh coming down the steps to the front door with a growl in his throat. That’s what made Philip look up from his computer screen; he was certain that he had heard Maggie’s car but then the growling suggested otherwise.
Pharaoh’s growl became quite intense, practically a sound from him that Philip had never heard before.
He quickly pushed his office chair back on its wheels and stood up from his desk. Within moments, he was beside Pharaoh looking out at Maggie walking back down the driveway to close the front gate.
“Pharaoh, quiet!”, Philip said with a sternness to his voice. Pharaoh reduced the constant growl to a sort of angry muttering in the back of his throat. Philip had no doubt that Pharaoh was not playing around. To the point where he practically dragged Pharaoh by his collar back into the small office and firmly closed the door on the two of them.
Pharaoh pushed to the office window, also full length, his eyes, ears and full body stance continuing to signal a great unease. What on earth was happening? Philip just couldn’t fathom it out.
He left his office room, closing the door with Pharaoh inside, and went out to meet Maggie who was walking towards the house with a semi-full bag of groceries in a cloth shopping bag.
“Hi, is that all there is to bring in?”, Philip asked.
“Yes, only a few items that I needed from Safeways.”
As Maggie came up to the front door, Philip continued, “You know, there’s something weird about Pharaoh just now.” He went on to explain what had just happened, continuing, “It’s almost as though he didn’t know it was you.”
They climbed the stairs up to the open-plan kitchen area that was at one end of the living room, to the right of the stairs, the main living room area to the left. Philip then went over to the log-burner in the corner of the living room and fiddled with it for a while. In fact, his mind was still on Pharaoh wondering if his angst had now subsided. Only one way to find out.
He returned to his office room and opened the door. Pharaoh was lying on the rug. He looked up at Philip and, again, very strangely, only raising himself from the floor and following Philip upstairs to the living-room after a great deal of coaxing.
It was all very peculiar.
Wednesday, the 20th, dawned to reveal a bright pleasant morning with soft, cumulus clouds across a broadly blue sky. A great morning to be over at the woods for a walk.
After breakfast, Philip called out to Maggie, who had been in the bathroom for a while, actually more than a while when he thought about it, that he and Pharaoh were off to James’ woods. Philip just heard Maggie call out that she had heard him.
It was a wonderful walk. Pharaoh was in his prime chasing squirrels, a fairly pointless task Philip always thought, then sticking his nose down the many rabbit holes, sniffing such large lungfulls of air that Philip wondered if Pharaoh thought he could suck the poor rabbits out of their burrows.
The date, fifty years to the day that his father had died, seemed to rest much more easily with him than he had feared. It was all so, so long ago. It crossed his mind to buy Maggie a bouquet of flowers on the way home.
A couple of hours later, he and Pharaoh bounced into the house, a fresh bouquet of flowers newly purchased at Safeways in Totnes in Philip’s right hand.
“Hi sweetheart, bought you these. Just thought you looked a little off-colour earlier this morning and that some flowers might cheer you up.”
As he was offering the flowers to Maggie he realised that whatever it was that had been afflicting her earlier that morning was still troubling her. Frankly, she looked very pale and drawn.
“Maggie, what’s the problem? You don’t look at all well.”
“Philip, do you mind if I lie down on the bed for a little while, just not feeling that brilliant.”
“No, of course not,” came his reply. “Look you go and lie down, I’ll put the flowers in water, make us both a nice cup-of-tea and bring them down to the bedroom.”
With that Philip went upstairs to the living room, dug out a glass vase and put the flowers in water, placing the vase with the flowers on one of the work surfaces in the kitchen.
He also noted that the fire was pretty low and needed rejuvenating. Thus it was nearer thirty minutes before he returned to their bedroom with the hot teas. Maggie’s body was under the bedspread, her head back against a pair of pillows, still giving the appearance of being significantly out of sorts.
He put Maggie’s cup down on the bedside table next to her and cradling his own mug of tea in his hands sat down on the edge of the bed, just adjacent to where Maggie’s knees were under the cover.
Maggie heaved herself up, leaning back against the headboard and reached for her tea. “Thank you, Philip, that was very kind of you.”
They both sat without saying a word, Philip conscious of the hot tea reminding him of an empty stomach not yet having had lunch.
Maggie took a breath, put her empty cup down on the bedside table, and looked at Philip.
“Philip, I don’t know how to say this. The reason for me being unwell this morning was that I have just had a miscarriage.”
Philip’s world came to an instant, shuddering halt. Of course, that’s what Pharaoh had picked up, the impending breakup of his home. Because, after the birth of his second child with his first wife in 1972, Philip had opted for a vasectomy.
1,495 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Have to wait until Monday to see where it all leads to.
Steadily working towards the climax in Philip’s life.
Tomorrow in Chapter Eleven, Philip’s life comes apart, in spades. Thus today’s chapter produces the contrast of a sweet life, running smoothly to create the appropriate backdrop to tomorrow.
Having been very unhappy with my feelings about this ‘write a novel in a month’ as expressed on Tuesday in my introduction to Chapter Nine, today I’m much more contented. The thick end of 34,000 words are now down on ‘paper’ and yet another pep talk from an experienced, published author really spoke to me. In fact, I’m going to repost that talk here:
Okay, here we are: more than halfway through, right in the thick of it. Probably at this point the last thing you want is a big lecture on Writing and How You’re Supposed to Do It. So I’m not even going to talk about writing.
Instead I’m going to talk about a metaphor for writing. Better, right?
Let’s say you’re not a writer hard at work on your first novel. Let’s say you’re a Tribute who’s just been selected for the Hunger Games. You’re freaking out because you’re facing almost certain death in the Arena. And instead of a published author, I’m going to be that drunk guy who’s supposed to be telling you how to survive.
It’s a good fit. Like Woody Harrelson, I am short and bald. And I like a drink. I may be drunk right now, who knows? But more important, I’ve done this before and lived. So I’m here to tell you: it is survivable.
Writing Requires Nerve
Which brings me to my first point. Writing a novel belongs to that category of thing—like surviving the Hunger Games, and eating an entire large pizza by yourself—that appears to be impossible but actually isn’t. I’ve written four of them, with another coming out next year, and every time around halfway through, I get to a point where I say to myself: let’s admit it, this just isn’t going to happen. Given the number of words I have written, and the number of words I have left to write, and the rate at which I am currently producing words, and the crappiness of said words, it is mathematically and physically impossible that I will ever finish this book. It’s like the arrow in Zeno’s paradox: it’ll never get there.
But the thing is, the books do get there. It astounds me every time, but the books get done. How? It’s not about having some triumphant breakthrough moment. Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It’s a war of inches, where the hardest part is keeping your nerve. The number one reason why people who want to write novels don’t is that they lose their nerve and quit.
So heads up: once you get in that Arena, Tributes are going to be biting the dust to the left and right of you, and it’ll be because they’ve lost their nerve. But that won’t happen to you. You’re going to keep your nerve. If talent exists, that is talent.
Writing Comes with Doubt
So, you are a Tribute for the Hunger Games but you don’t feel confident. You feel like crap. Like you have no idea what you’re doing. Sometimes you pick up your bow and arrow or your throwing knives and you’re like, I don’t even remember how these damn things work. Why? Why are you different? What is wrong with you?
So this is point number two: nothing is wrong with you. You’re not different. Everybody feels as bad as you do: this is just what writing a novel feels like. To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people’s published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn’t know.
What you’re feeling is not only normal: it’s a good sign. A writer—someone once said—is a person for whom writing is difficult. That resistance you’re feeling is proof that you’re digging deep. To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and over, and over again.
A lousy draft proves nothing. Rough drafts are rough—everybody’s are. Being a writer isn’t like being a musician. You don’t have to get it right every day. The wonderful thing about being a writer is, you only have to get it right once. That’s all anyone will ever see. The only bad draft is the one that doesn’t get finished.
So get back at it. Let the others lose heart and give up. You stay out there in the woods. The weapons of a writer, James Joyce once wrote, are silence, exile, and cunning, and probably he wasn’t thinking of the Hunger Games when he wrote that—probably—but it fits the metaphor. While Tributes are falling left and right, you will fashion man-traps from ninja stars, steal weapons from the fallen, and bide your time, and when you’re ready you will come out of those woods like an avenging angel of death.
Forget that stuff about the odds being ever in your favor. What does that even mean? Screw the odds. There are no odds. You’re a writer, and writers make their own odds.
I’ll see you in the Victors’ Village.
So to Chapter Ten.
Learning from Dogs
Well, as is the way of things, 2005 came to an end, moved on to 2006 and before Philip could really get his head around it, the end of January was in sight. It was a New Year but in so many other ways nothing really seemed to change, either locally or internationally. Philip was disgusted with the state of the world at so many levels; the tragedy of the conflict in Iraq being just one example of a political system that seemed broken beyond repair. Locally, house prices were still ramping upwards and there was a sense that inflation rates were starting to rise. But, hey ho, most people seemed to be enjoying the party.
Philip was enjoying this period of his life as well; immensely so. There was just the right balance of mentoring to offer both a regular income and a variety of interesting engagements. His relationship with Pharaoh was fulfilling to an extent that he could never have before imagined. Plus the sessions over at Angela’s place were clearly stimulating for Pharaoh, and a joy for Philip because of this unanticipated aspect of owning a teaching dog. He had been undertaking some coaching for a youth opportunities organisation in Plymouth, a real and pragmatic effort to reduce the high levels of youth unemployment that had been a hallmark of the city of Plymouth for some time now. Last, but by no means least, he and Maggie seemed to be much more settled in their relationship.
Thus the weeks became months and Winter gave way to Spring, possibly the most delightful time of the year for South Devon, especially for those who lived in this part of England.
It was on such a beautiful Spring day in May, in fact the Monday of the late Spring Bank Holiday in May, with he and Maggie having an afternoon tea by the raised flower beds directly in front of the house, when he heard his office telephone ringing. Ever the salesman who could never let a phone ring unanswered, Paul stepped the ten paces inside to his office room and picked up the receiver.
“Philip, is that you, it’s Jonathan.”
“Hallo, Jonathan, this is a nice surprise, how are you?”
“Good thanks. In fact very good. Because last Friday was the end of my relationship with Cowdrays.”
Philip could hear the excitement in Jonathan’s voice.
“I know I shouldn’t have called you on a Bank Holiday but didn’t want to wait until tomorrow and find you were away from your desk.”
“Jonathan, it’s not a problem at all. One of the things that all of us find out, those who run their own businesses, and find out pretty quickly, is that the concept of nine-to-five is dead and buried. Are you ready for us to get together?”
“Yes, any time over the next couple of weeks, your place or mine.”
“Great. Just hang on a moment while I look at my diary. What I will say is that while you had indicated preferring that we worked over at your place, the first few sessions will be easier on me over here. That’s because I will have close-to-hand reference materials that almost certainly will be relevant to you.”
There was a pause as Philip looked at his diary.
“How about the morning of the fifth of June, in other words a week from today? Say ten o’clock?”
There was a return pause before Jonathan replied by saying that it was perfect.
Philip asked, “Jonathan, how are you with dogs? Because Pharaoh is usually free to be around the house and just loves being in my office when I am chatting to someone.”
“Not a problem at all, I’m very fond of dogs and especially German Shepherd dogs,” came Jonathan’s reply.
“Fantastic,” and Philip went to add, “In fact he will have just turned three-years-old; his birthday is June 3rd. See you in a week’s time. Take care.”
That first meeting with Jonathan came upon Philip almost before he could breath. He wasn’t sure if it was an age thing but the days, in particular, and time in general just seemed to fly past now.
As Philip had expected, working with Jonathan was quite unlike any of his previous mentoring engagements. Because previously whoever he was working with was involved in a business that was dealing with a tangible product or service. Thus even back to the days when he endeavoured to assist an accountant, rather poorly if he recalled, at least the product, while not something you could hold in your hand, was something that didn’t touch on people’s sensitivities. Philip smiled at that recollection thinking there might be some humour around the idea of whether or not accountants upset people. No, back to his main line of thought.
What Jonathan was presenting to his potential customers, was entirely concerned with the delicate and complex issue of human relationships; nothing more, nothing less.
Slowly over their next four meetings, what became clearer and clearer to Philip was that the route to finding new clients for Jonathan, the way to develop his business on his own account, was to direct a really appropriate open question, and salesmen do so love open questions, to the prospective client, to the professional person, along the lines of, ‘when you reflect on the relationships around you within your business life, what strengths and weaknesses come to mind?’
It all seemed to be in line with Jonathan’s ambitions and Philip’s only regret was that between his and Jonathan’s commitments elsewhere, their meetings frequently were interspaced by a couple of weeks, at times more.
Thus it was at the end of their meeting on the 16th August when sharing diaries, looking for the next mutually convenient date, Philip had to say to Jonathan, “I’m afraid September is going to be a challenge as Maggie and I have decided to take a holiday. Somewhere in the Mediterranean; possibly Turkey.”
Jonathan looked up from scanning the pages of his diary in anticipation of Philip’s next sentence.
“Can’t be sure of the dates just now, because we haven’t booked kennel space for Pharaoh, but within the next week that should all be settled and flight tickets arranged.”
Jonathan replied, “Give me a ring when you know your dates and we’ll pencil in our next session to suit us both.”
That was agreed.
Philip and Maggie’s vacation dates were soon arranged, Pharaoh’s kennel space booked, and before they knew it, they were winging their way to a two-week vacation in the coastal town of Kaş, in Turkey.
It was a beautiful holiday. Philip mused that in ways that were beyond his grasp the holiday was more relaxing, more intimate and more bonding than anything he and Maggie had ever done since they had married back in the year 2000. Philip was conscious that the relationship between him and Maggie had had its ups and downs. For a start there was a big age gap; he was eighteen years Maggie’s elder. Then something about their backgrounds exacerbated that age gap at times. Almost as though Maggie was young for her age and Philip the reverse. Perhaps that was the result of them both having very different backgrounds. He losing his father suddenly when he had just turned twelve-years-old and not long after that trauma his mother remarrying. Whereas Maggie having, indeed still having, a very strong family relationship with her parents who obviously put close family ties above all else. Philip also found it slightly odd that there was a smaller age gap between him and Maggie’s father and mother, David and Gwen, than between him and Maggie.
Maggie and he had first met when he had been speaking at an engagement arranged by the South Devon Business Advisory Council back in 1998. The event was promoting the benefits of running one’s own business and Philip had been talking about sales and marketing for the budding entrepreneur.
During the next session break, Maggie had come up to him, offered some flattering words about how much she had learnt, and then asked if she could meet him later on to get some feedback on her own business ideas.
Philip had arranged to visit her at her small home, where she lived alone, Maggie being divorced from her first husband. Her two-up, two-down terraced home was in the coastal town of Exmouth, not so far South-East of Exeter. One meeting became two meetings became a dinner out and, inevitably, became him staying the night. It all lead to them wanting to live together with, subsequently, them choosing to purchase the converted stone barn in Harberton. Maggie’s financial situation meant that it was Philip who financed the purchase initially with the agreement between them being that later on, when Maggie wanted to buy into the property, her name would be added to the deed.
So their cultural, age and background differences, including financial differences had offered their challenges but Maggie let him more-or-less run his life as he wanted to and she could be very attentive to him especially between the sheets. They had married on the 14th February, Valentine’s Day, in the year 2000 and that had been that.
That’s what made their Turkish holiday so outstanding. Maggie’s attentiveness towards him harked back to those days of flirting and love-making back in 1998 and 1999. By the time they were boarding the coach for the three-hour return to Dalaman Airport and their flight back to Gatwick Airport in England, Philip sensed that his disquiet that Maggie had married him for his money had evaporated and that this was a genuinely loving relationship that just happened to be between two persons with an unusually large age gap.
Back to Devon and life quickly picked up its regular patterns and routines. September closed and led in a very blustery October, well certainly a very blustery start to the month. Jonathan and he resumed their meetings, still over at Harberton, and October ushered in a cold but clear start to November.
They were meeting on November 20th and during their session, there was a pause. Jonathan was looking intently at Philip, who seemed to have slipped away somewhere in his mind, and quietly spoke, “Philip, are you OK? You and I have spent quite a few hours together now and, well, how can I put this, you are not in your usual place today.”
Philip started back with a bit of a shock. “Oh, sorry, don’t know why, but all of a sudden it struck me that exactly one month from today, the 20th December, it will be the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s death, on December 20th, 1956.”
There was a silence between them.
“Sorry, Jonathan, let’s get back to what we were discussing.”
1,817 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Tried hard to avoid a grim reality post, but failed!
As last week, I thought that wall-to-wall book chapters were a bit much and that Wednesdays should be a break. Ideally, a light-hearted break. But failed! Sorry!
For a long time, I have followed George Monbiot’s writings. Like a number of other correspondents that come to mind, Mr. Monbiot writes with a clarity and intellect that takes some beating. Rather tentatively I wrote to him asking if I might republish some of his essays, including those that are published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian. To my great pleasure, George replied that so long as his essays did not appear in print then permission was given.
Before going on, it may do no harm to remind me and so many millions of others, of the opening preamble of the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Whatever the country, the concept of ‘by the people, of the people, for the people’ takes one hell of a lot of beating.
So to the essay. I was struck by a recent essay from George Monbiot that seemed to touch on something that more and more ordinary folk sense; that many so-called democratic political systems are not functioning in the interests of the people. Thus with no further ado, here it is.
Why Politics Fails
November 11, 2013
Nothing will change until we confront the real sources of power.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th November 2013
It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.
The political role of corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main parties.
Most of the scandals that leave people in despair about politics arise from this source. On Monday, for example, the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the company ESB, who has been seconded into the energy department(1). What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations.
On the same day we learnt that a government minister, Nick Boles, has privately assured the gambling company Ladbrokes that it needn’t worry about attempts by local authorities to stop the spread of betting shops(2). His new law will prevent councils from taking action.
Last week we discovered that G4S’s contract to run immigration removal centres will be expanded, even though all further business with the state was supposed to be frozen while allegations of fraud are investigated(3). Every week we learn that systemic failures on the part of government contractors are no barrier to obtaining further work, that the promise of efficiency, improvements and value for money delivered by outsourcing and privatisation have failed to materialise(4,5,6). The monitoring which was meant to keep these companies honest is haphazard(7), the penalties almost non-existent(8), the rewards stupendous, dizzying, corrupting(9,10). Yet none of this deters the government. Since 2008, the outsourcing of public services has doubled, to £20bn. It is due to rise to £100bn by 2015(11).
This policy becomes explicable only when you recognise where power really lies. The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.
It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hogtying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.
Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating(12). Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons(13). Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?
That the words corporate power seldom feature in the corporate press is not altogether surprising. It’s more disturbing to see those parts of the media that are not owned by Rupert Murdoch or Lord Rothermere acting as if they are.
For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.
This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power: those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows that business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%)(14). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.
And where, beyond the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, a few ageing Labour backbenchers, is the political resistance? After the article I wrote last week, about the grave threat the transatlantic trade and investment partnership presents to parliamentary sovereignty and democratic choice(15), several correspondents asked me what response there has been from the Labour party. It’s easy to answer: nothing.
Blair and Brown purged the party of any residue of opposition to corporations and the people who run them. That’s what New Labour was all about. Now opposition MPs stare mutely as their powers are given away to a system of offshore arbitration panels run by corporate lawyers.
Since Blair’s pogroms, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics. This is why the assertion that parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a self-important farce has resonated so widely over the past fortnight.
So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics. I haven’t given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?
Nothing that I can add to Mr. Monbiot’s essay, that’s for sure.
Life is full of surprises and that seems to apply to writing a book as well!
I was chatting to Jeannie yesterday afternoon taking a break from, yes, you guessed it, book writing! Speaking about another aspect of ‘write a book in November’ that had been unexpected; that of the range of emotions associated with the task.
First up was excitement that I had committed to the idea. Next was surprise that I had actually got stuck into it. Then came the feeling of being over the worst, that I really would write a 50,000 word book. But what followed next, to a certain extent reflecting my present mood, is that writing words for words sake is one thing, writing something that would result in a compelling and engaging story is something completely different.
As you can see my emotions are rather at odds with what NaNoWriMo published yesterday:
Wrimos, congratulations. You’ve made it through the strenuous Week Two, and emerged (mostly) unscathed. Not only are you past the halfway point of the month, but you’re far enough into your novel that actual things are (likely) starting to happen.
I’ve always found the shore of Week Three to be the most exciting place to stand, and the trip through it the most exhilarating portion of the month. You’ve gotten to know your characters, the story has a discernible shape and trajectory, and it’s just so thrilling to go play in that world you’ve crafted.
That being said, a brief addendum: if the bogs of Week Two sucked you in a bit, and you’re behind on word count, don’t despair. Week Three’s momentum is fantastic for helping get back on track.
Learning from Dogs
Philip easily found the house, a relatively modern brick-built detached house in a suburban road just off the Torbay Road, the road that connected Torquay with Brixham and then on to Dartmouth. Indeed, as Philip turned into the concrete drive that lead to the garage door, a neat garden on his left, he realised that a much shorter way back home via Totnes would be along the Preston Down Road just a couple of turnings from where the Atkins had their home.
Jonathan opened the front door just as Philip’s hand went to the bell-push.
“Ah, excellent timing. Helen has just left so there’s been no need to ask you to park at the kerbside. Do come on in.”
He led Philip into a front room that seemed to be set up as an office room or study.
“Can I get you a warm drink? Coffee, tea?”
“I would murder for a tea, missed my second cup of the day to be here on time.”
“Oh, apologies, hope this wasn’t too early to meet up?”
“Jonathan, not at all, I was just kidding. Well, maybe partially kidding!”
This levity from Philip came naturally and spontaneously, reflecting a sense of openness that he couldn’t put his finger on. That same feeling that he had had when listening to Jonathan’s presentation back, golly when was that now, he had to think for a moment, back in the Autumn some two months ago now.
Over the hot cup of tea, Earl Grey as Philip noticed, a favourite of his, Jonathan outlined his background. That he was a registered psychotherapist with a Master’s degree in Core Process Psychotherapy, whatever that was Philip mused, and, interestingly, a qualified teacher with a teaching degree from Exeter back in 1989. Going on to add that he was a member of the Institute of Transactional Analysis and a licensed practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming.
At this point Jonathan paused noticing that Philip’s eyes had started to glaze over.
“Sorry, Philip, guess this all is a little mumbo-jumbo for the uninitiated,” going on to suggest that Philip can look up the full details on his website. Philip made a note of the web address.
Philip then paused before saying, “Sorry, Jonathan, I’m sure your background is crucial in terms of your professional way of life. But the challenge for me before even thinking of being your business mentor is that there is nothing in my background that would allow me to understand your experiences, to know your world.” Philip paused, and then added, “Well, I guess I now know who to call if I become even sillier than I already am.”
“Philip, just stay with me for a little longer while I explain what my situation is.”
Philip looked down at his notebook, drew a line under the website address he had just noted, put down the time and date and looked back up at Jonathan.
“I have been working as a psychotherapist for a number of years on the payroll of an Exeter company; Cowdrays. It was something I needed to do in terms of becoming fully accredited as a psychotherapist. It’s a long and drawn out process.”
Just as well Philip thought.
“I am now very close to the point where I want to stand on my own two feet and run my own business. That’s why hearing you speak at that Exeter event was so useful. I appreciate you saying how you don’t understand my background in detail.” Jonathan took a couple of breaths and continued, “But while I’m clear about the services that I can offer and where I would like to operate, when it comes to starting, running, and more critically, marketing my own business, frankly I haven’t a clue.”
Wow, Philip thought, still looking down at the page on his knee.
“So it occurred to me when listening to you speak whether you were still taking on clients and whether you felt you and I could work together?”
Philip let a few moments pass, trying to listen to the quieter, inner parts of his brain.
“Jonathan, In principle, I believe I have the experience and background that you are looking for. But here’s the rub. My knowledge of your market is practically zero. OK, I’ve been on the receiving end of some counselling, some relationship counselling, but many of the terms you used when explaining your background, terms like neuro-linguistic programming, did I hear that correctly?”
“Those were terms I didn’t understand at all. Even the phrase core process psychotherapy didn’t mean much to me. So what bothers me is whether or not I could properly and competently understand your clients, in other words your potential customers’ needs. Because if I can’t within reasonable time understand exactly who your potential customers are, what they have, what they don’t have, what they need, what the payoff is, sorry to use such a clumsy term, and more, I can’t competently mentor you.”
Philip went on to add, “Back in my old days of selling for IBM, we described the process of selling a product to a customer as the business of understanding need, feature and benefit. OK, I was only selling IBM Selectric typewriters, you know the old golfball typewriters, but the principle is still the same. That for every aspect of a service that you wish to sell to a customer, you need to understand fully what the customer’s need is for that service, how it can be described in terms that the customer understands and, finally, why the Jonathan Atkins’ service is better than your competitors. Sorry if that sounded too much like a lecture.”
Philip realised that he had become quite agitated in those last few minutes and consciously breathed in and out a few times to settle himself down. Jonathan had noticed but instinctively knew that Philip had a few more thoughts to offer.
Philip smiled, “Sorry, I got a little passionate just there,” and went on to say, “I think what I was responding to was the potential appeal of working with you but, at the same time, realising that I just didn’t have the appropriate experience of your likely market segments; to use some more jargon.”
Jonathan looked Philip in the face and said, “How well do you understand business people?”
“Er, that sounds like a trick question,” Philip replied with a smile across his face.
“No, it’s not. For the area that I wish to be in is the area of the relationships that professional persons have in their workplace. Let me explain.”
Philip sensed something significant was about to happen.
“Professional people, managers, directors, even lawyers, those that are more likely than not to be driven people, they are much more likely to have some interesting childhood experiences, various levels of parental issues of one form or another, than people in general. In a very real sense, those backgrounds give them the edge, the fuel, for want of a better term, to succeed.”
Again, Philip felt a breath of something blow across his consciousness.
“However, the very drivers of success are also the root causes of the many issues that these people have in managing their teams and, frequently, in getting the best from their suppliers and other key business relationships including, of course, their relationships with their customers.”
Jonathan added, with a wry smile on his face, “You see I can dish the jargon just as well as you.”
Philip smiled back and could sense where this was leading.
“So, it’s my guess that first as a salesman for IBM, then when running your own company selling software around the world, and now mentoring those already running their own businesses, you have a much better idea of this group of people, the personalities, the frequent lack of mindfulness, what may be expressed as their emotional ignorance, than you first thought.”
Philip got it.
“Well, yes, of course. I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms. As a salesman both for IBM and then for my own company, I must have met on a personal one-to-one basis, thousands of business people. In fact, it got to the stage where I could make a private guess as to whether or not I was going to sell to that person within the first couple of minutes of meeting them.
Philip reflected for a moment, then went on to say, “In fact, my very good Californian friend, Danny Mitchell, who was my US West Coast distributor and with as many years of selling experience as me, used to say exactly the same thing. That he knew whether or not he was going to close the deal within the first five minutes.”
This was starting to be very interesting.
“Philip, you don’t need to worry yourself about all the strange terms and descriptions that are wall-to-wall in my line of work, you need to understand that what I seek to offer are reliable, people-centred, sorry another term, ways of allowing professional people to realise that a better understanding of self, of who they are, can offer huge dividends in understanding others. That, of course, if we are talking about a business, has a direct and hugely positive effect on the performance of that business.”
“OK, I’m sold,” Philip said, as he threw his arms up in mock surrender, going on to add in a light-hearted almost frivolous mood, “Of course, you do know that the easiest persons to sell to are salesmen!” He noted how comfortable this new relationship with Jonathan seemed to feel.
They then talked through the mentoring aims, agreed on the financial terms, and the usual other bits and pieces that such a new relationship often entailed.
“So, Jonathan, in terms of a schedule, when you do want to get started?”
“Frankly, Philip, there’s going to be a slight delay. I’ll tell you why. Namely, that it’s not going to be possible for you and I to work together until not only have I resigned from Cowdrays but then worked out my notice.”
Philip showed with a nod that he understood this.
Jonathan continued, “What I am thinking is once the New Year is here and the coaching programme for the early part of 2006 is settled, then I will know what my obligations are to Cowdrays and when would be the appropriate time to give notice.”
Adding, almost as an afterthought, “And my inclination is that I should offer three months notice but appeal to Cowdrays that if it makes no difference to them, could I be released earlier. So it could well be heading towards the middle of 2006 before I can come to you unencumbered, as it were.”
“Jonathan, that’s not an issue at all. In fact, it will give me plenty of time to think things through. Because, what’s clear to me is that building your own business will require much more sensitivity than a classical start-up. It’s not as though you can shout across the roof-tops, ‘are you a professional person who screws up relationships, because, hey, here’s someone who can really help’, much as it would be nice to do so.” There was a hint of a giggle in Philip’s voice.
Philip made a few notes, closed his notebook, and started to rise from his chair.
“Once again, Jonathan, thank you so much. I’m going to enjoy working together; hugely enjoy. You and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Going to be quite a year, me thinks.”
“Philip, you too. Be in touch just as soon as I can.”
With that Philip bade farewell to Jonathan, unlocked his car door, started up the engine and reversed carefully out on to the street.
Yes, 2006 looked like being quite a year.
1,980 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Half-way mark passed.
I’m preparing this post the afternoon of Sunday; yesterday in other words.
In terms of progress, I’m over 29,000 words. Thus well and truly beyond the half-way mark. However, more and more as the days pass and the words flow on to the screen, I having severe doubts about the literary quality of my writing. My view is that it is far too reportorial in style. Those who follow comments will have seen my comment last Friday in reply to Sue Dreamwalker.
This is what Sue wrote:
Loved your description here Paul of the interaction between Pharaoh and Betsy, I could almost see them in the paddock, hind leg lifted Lol Pee and all…
How are you enjoying your writing challenge? You seem to be well on track so far…
I hope you are enjoying your weekend
This was my reply:
Yes, past the half-way point. 25,690 words when I stopped yesterday. In terms of enjoying it, immensely so. Mind you, it’s so auto-biographical to be less of a novel than more a personal ‘dump’!
The weakness that is becoming apparent is that without me outlining a clear plot line before I started writing then two things are happening.
The first is that I haven’t yet really fleshed out the main characters: Philip; Maggie; (Pharaoh!); and, to come, Susannah Middleton.
The second is that I get side-tracked into detailed explanations of people and incidents along the way that don’t really support the ‘story’.
But I have faith that the NaNoWriMo organisation will offer a lead to all the tyro writers who, having finished a very rough draft of their novel, now don’t have a clue as to what to do next!
Anyway, as they say in the old country, it’s keeping me off the streets.
Big hugs from Oregon.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. Here’s Chapter Eight, warts and all!
Learning from Dogs
Over the next two Saturdays Philip returned with Pharaoh and, just as Angela had predicted, Betsy behaved as a normal and self-confident dog.
Thus by the end of March there were two wonderful outcomes. Pharaoh was clearly the teaching dog that Angela had seen in him and Pharaoh’s first customer, so to speak, Betsy, had overcome her fears, the cause of her antagonistic attitude towards strange dogs. There was a bonus as well. Gordon and Angela had a bit of a private chit-chat along the way and Gordon very happily changed his mind about Betsy becoming a participant at Plymouth’s grey-hound racing track.
The weeks settled into a gentle pattern and before Maggie and Philip had really taken it onboard, Pharaoh celebrated his first birthday on June 3rd, 2004. He seemed such a permanent part of their lives. In many ways it felt as though Pharaoh had become a member of a new family. That this strong, intelligent and sensitive dog had expanded the relationship of two persons, husband and wife, into a family of three with more love and affection than ever before.
The Saturdays over with Angela clearly provided Pharaoh with what in human terms would be described as purpose. It didn’t take Philip many trips with Pharaoh for him to see something appearing in his dog that just couldn’t be defined in human words. Angela grew more and more delighted with the way that Pharaoh resolved some quite tricky teaching demands with dogs that had arrived with significant social weaknesses. Frequently in a single session but just sometimes over a couple of meetings between Pharaoh and the ‘client’.
Before Philip could believe it his sixtieth birthday arrived, was celebrated with enthusiasm in The Church House Inn, passed by and less than eight weeks later 2004 slid into 2005.
Life was a very settled affair. There was sufficient income from his business mentoring to keep things ticking along, he was much fitter from the exercise of walking Pharaoh, and Maggie and he seemed to be in a very good space together. She was a fair few years younger than Philip, eighteen to be exact. At times, Philip had longed for a deeper connection between them but gradually came to the conclusion that their difference in ages and backgrounds was the underlying reason for what Philip felt was missing, and that he should move on and just be thankful for what was a good and harmonious relationship.
Autumn of 2005 brought along a lovely event. Philip had been asked to present at a conference being held at Exeter University. It was an all-day affair with a number of outside speakers, the purpose of which was to give graduates, on the verge of heading off to the big outside world, an awareness of some of the skills and tools their professional lives might require. Philip’s chosen subject was marketing for the entrepreneur, a topic he was very comfortable with, and the forty-minute session, the second one in the afternoon, had seemed to have gone well. That is, if the bundle of intelligent questions coming from the audience was any measure. The UK economy was enjoying strong growth along with many other Western countries. In fact, there were many who felt that this period of economic growth, especially in regard to ever-higher house prices, had an over-heated feel to it. But the good news was that the economy seemed to be motivating many young people to have a go at starting their own business.
As Philip returned to the table where the speakers were sitting he passed the next speaker walking out towards the podium. He reflected on the speed at which we form impressions of another person. For in the two or three seconds it took for each to pass the other, he found the smile offered to him coming from an open and engaging face.
His name was Jonathan Atkins and the title of his talk was ‘Being the best you can.’ A simple but riveting theme, Philip noted.
Jonathan introduced himself and went on to say,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you stand on the threshold of your life’s journey. Neither you nor anyone else has the slightest chance of predicting that when you get to my age or more, heaven forbid, and look back over your forty or more years, what vista of your life you will see. But one thing is sure beyond anything.”
There was a slight pause and then Jonathan illuminated his first slide. It read plainly and clearly: Be The Best You Can Be.
Philip hung on to Jonathan’s words and underlying messages for every single minute of the forty-minute presentation. The critical importance of the relationships that all working people, but especially professional people, make and maintain with all those within their workplaces, and beyond the workplace. Why, so often, professional people struggle with their relationships in the workplace. The importance of mindfulness, rapport, holding boundaries, and more. All of it within a framework of integrity. Philip more than hung on to Jonathan’s every word. There was something else, something that was beyond his consciousness, something that was stirring him so deeply that it was beyond his reach.
At the end of Jonathan’s presentation, there was a huge plethora of questions from what had obviously been an engaged audience. By the time he stepped down and returned to the speakers’ table it was time for the afternoon tea-break. Speakers and audience alike flowed into the adjoining large room where a number of tables, covered in white cotton tablecloths, revealed cups of hot tea and plates of biscuits.
Philip picked a steaming cup, anticipating the pleasure of the hot tea, and moved away from the table area to a broad window looking out over the university buildings and beyond them Exeter’s commercial skyline. He became aware of another person standing close, turned his head and saw that it was Jonathan Atkins.
“Jonathan, I have to say that I found your talk fascinating.” Philip continued, almost without pause, “In fact, using the word fascinating is me opening mouth before engaging brain.”
Philip paused before continuing, noticing a slight smile on Jonathan’s face.
“What I should have said is that your talk opened doors to places in my mind that I sort of knew were there but could never properly access, let alone describe. As you can see for someone who should really have the gift of the gab, I’m not immune to grabbing a verbal idea a tad too quickly.”
“Philip, thank you for that generous compliment.” Jonathan seemed to be thinking a little before continuing, “Your presentation was valuable to me as well. In fact, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with you sometime over the next couple of weeks; wondering if you could offer me some advice relevant to my own business situation, something that I have to decide upon over the coming months?”
“Jonathan, of course, that would be wonderful. Would love to meet up on any basis. Hang on a moment while I pull out a card.”
Philip took his black leather wallet that he kept in his rear trouser pocket, unfolded it and drew out a white business card. He passed it across to Jonathan’s outstretched hand.
“Ah, I see you are not that far from me,” said Jonathan. “We are over at Torquay; can’t be more than ten miles from Harberton. Let me give you a call sometime over the next week.”
“Look forward to hearing from you. Oh, it looks as though we are all being called back into the room for the last sessions. As I said, give me a call whenever you want, it’s a home-office set-up and I’m frequently there. We can arrange a time to meet.”
With that, the pair of them returned their empty cups to a nearby table and made their way back to the main auditorium and thence to the speakers’ table.
It was a late afternoon in October, well on into the month, as Philip and Pharaoh were settling themselves back home after a blustery afternoon’s walk over at the woods, when he heard his office phone ringing. He grabbed it just before it went across to voicemail.
“Hi, Philip, it’s Jonathan, how are you?”
“Jonathan, fine thanks, and how are you?” Philip had almost forgotten leaving his card with him.
“Good, and please accept my apologies for not calling you sooner. Do you remember when we met up at that Exeter Uni event, I wondered about seeing you and you gave me your card?”
“Of course,” came Philip’s reply.
“Well, is that offer still open?”
“Yes, of course,” Philip then adding, “When would you like to meet up, want me to come to your place or meet somewhere neutral, as it were?”
“Well if that was OK with you, you coming over to the house in Torquay would be very helpful.”
They kicked around a few dates and settled on the 15th November, a Tuesday Philip saw as he looked at his wall calendar.
“What time would suit you, Jonathan?”
“Well if 9:30 wasn’t too early for you, that would be perfect. I know that Helen, my wife, has to go out around then for most of the morning, so it would let me explain what’s in my mind without feeling I should be giving Helen a hand. I’m so rarely at home during the day just now.”
Jonathan then read his address out to Philip over the phone, that he in turn read back as a double-check, then declined Jonathan’s instructions as to how to get there. Philip knew pretty well where the house was in Torquay, and that was that.
He said to Jonathan, “See you in a little under four weeks,” and they closed the call.
So, as they inevitably do, the days and weeks soon passed and on that Tuesday morning in November, with the tail end of an Atlantic weather low chasing low clouds away from tops of Devon hills, Philip drove across to Jonathan and Helen’s house near Preston, just a short distance along the coast road out of Torquay.
In a million years, he couldn’t have predicted, not even dreamt, what consequences would flow from the meeting.
1,725 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Still they keep on coming.
A week ago, the last set of the gorgeous pictures from John Hurlburt was published. They had been highly enjoyed by you.
To be honest, I had been wondering how on earth I was going to follow them.
Then Chris Snuggs partially came to my aid in sending me the following two pictures. (Chris has his own blogsite here.)
Now that’s what I call the correct priorities in life!
Then John H. sent me another great set of pictures. Here’s the first five.
Thank you Chris, thank you John.
More coming in a week’s time.
You all take care out there.
But on this Saturday in November it really is a fish story, or so I thought.
Earlier in the month, I received an e-mail from Dan Gomez. It told of this tale from Grand Lake St. Marys:
A guy who lives at Lake Saint Mary’s (60 miles north of Dayton, OH ) saw a ball bouncing around kind of strange in the lake and went to investigate.
It turned out to be a flathead catfish that had apparently tried to swallow a basketball which became stuck in its mouth!!
The fish was totally exhausted from trying to dive, but unable to, because the ball would always bring him back up to the surface.
The guy tried numerous times to get the ball out, but was unsuccessful. He finally had his wife cut the ball in order to deflate it and release the hungry catfish.
You probably wouldn’t have believed this, if you hadn’t seen the following pictures:
Be kinder than necessary because everyone bites off more than they can chew sometime in life…
I loved the story but then wanted to know: was it true?
The true story originated in the Whichita (Kansas) Eagle on May 30, 2004. The man in the photo turns out to be Bill Driver, a fisherman at Sandalwood Lake who discovered the catfish with a taste for hardwood glory.
Two wonderful lessons to be learned from both the story and the story behind the story!
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and there’s always something fishy about a fisherman’s tale.
Have a great week-end.
Half-way through the month.
I have taken a break from book writing to get today’s post ready. I’m 100 words short of 25,000 words and will stick at it until I’m over the 50% word-count before the end of today, Thursday.
Very conscious that many readers having got very used to my usual style of posts may be finding the change a little uninviting. Not a lot I can say other than I understand. NaNoWriMo do encourage all those November novelists who are bloggers to subject, sorry to offer, their readers the writings!
Learning from Dogs
The year 2003 did not have a great deal left in it and in what seemed like no time at all, New Year’s Day 2004 had been and gone. By the middle of January of the new year, Philip had settled into the regular trip across to Angela, the country journey not anything other than a pleasant forty-minute drive from home with Angela’s place coincidentally not a million miles from Sandra’s kennels at Hennock, where Pharaoh had been born.
It was certainly a higher elevation than Harberton and, potentially, a place to become snow-bound. But as January rolled into February, and while there were plenty of days of Devon rain, snow did not arrive.
As Angela had intimated would be the case, Pharaoh was nothing other than a gentleman during his days of obedience consolidation with Philip. During February, when Pharaoh had become accustomed to wearing a muzzle, Philip started walking with Pharaoh around their favourite spots in Totnes. Indeed, the walk from the Safeway car park by the river, up along Fore Street, underneath Eastgate arch where the road became Totnes High Street and all the way up to the old Totnes Castle, was settling into a regular event, often on the way back from visiting Angela.
What was interesting to note was that the sight of Pharaoh, this large German Shepherd dog wearing a muzzle, caused much more consternation for onlookers than it did for Pharaoh.
They had been resting one afternoon on a bench by the Castle after a brisk walk up through the centre of Totnes, when Philip distinctly heard a man, father he presumed, speak to the little girl with him and caution her that the dog was a most dangerous animal and not to go near it, because nice dogs don’t wear muzzles!
When they were walking around the Totnes streets, while Pharaoh would occasionally mutter a low growl towards a person, or more often towards another dog, there wasn’t even the hint of an aggressive move. It was almost as though when Pharaoh was on the leash and wearing a muzzle, he had happily deferred his role as protector to Philip. No, not deferred but swapped roles as if Philip was both minder and protector of the two of them.
Then on the first Wednesday in March, at the end of their obedience class, Angela turned to Philip and said, “Philip, I can’t teach you two anything more. Pharaoh has got so used to your personality that he is way beyond rigid command formats. He can read your whole demeanour, probably better than Maggie.”
Philip mused privately that that didn’t take too much for a dog to know him better than Maggie.
Sandra added, “And there’s no doubt that you, Philip, can read Pharaoh’s demeanour as well.”
There was a pause.
“What I have been thinking is that it’s time to have Pharaoh use his fabulous teaching skills to work with some of the dogs that truly need some help. Could the two of you come over on Saturday, say at ten o’clock?”
“Angela, Saturday would be so much less of an issue than a week-day. For reasons I’m not sure about, my mentoring client list is growing at the moment.”
The rest of the week flowed by as the weeks so often do and Saturday was upon them. It wasn’t much after eight-thirty in the morning when he nosed his car down their driveway, closed the gate behind him and set off to Angela’s place; Pharaoh already curled up in the back of the Volvo.
“Oh, good morning Philip,” Angela called out as he parked the car in what was now his usual place.
“Let’s leave Pharaoh in the car for a moment while I talk you through the plan. Just follow me.”
Angela lead the way between a couple of barns and there, just beyond, was a fenced paddock, possibly a half-acre in size. There were a couple of bench seats elevated a few feet but some way back from the perimeter fence.
“Philip, this is where we are going to have Pharaoh work with the guest dog. She’s a female grey-hound that the owner wished to introduce to greyhound racing, at the greyhound stadium in Plymouth. Her name is Betsy . However, when Betsy’s owner, Gordon, took Betsy to the stadium the first time, she was so aggressive in going for the other runners that, even with a muzzle, a requirement for racing, Betsy was acting up to the point where it was impossible for her to be with any of the other dogs.”
“OK, understood so far,” Philip replied, “but how will Pharaoh engage with Betsy?”
Angela responded, “I suggest we let Pharaoh into the paddock together with your goodself. Then you slide out when you can, which I suspect will not be long, because Pharaoh will be fascinated by the smells of many other dogs. You can quietly settle back on the upper bench seat and when I sense Pharaoh is ready, I’ll have Gordon bring Betsy just inside the gate of the paddock, let Betsy off her leash, and stay quietly to one side.”
“OK, Angela, all understood. How do you expect Pharaoh and Betsy to react to each other?”
Angela smiled, “Let me just say that I have an extremely good hunch as to what will happen, but just for now I’m going to hold back on making any predictions!”
“Oh, you can go and bring Pharaoh over now, don’t want him to feel any rush getting to know the smells of the paddock.”
Philip walked back to the Volvo, let Pharaoh down from the car and lead him through to the paddock. Pharaoh happily followed despite being off-leash stopping only briefly to have a couple of pees.
Once at the paddock, Philip went through the open gate with Pharaoh and waited quietly just inside the gate. Pharaoh naturally started sniffing around and exploring this new environment. A few moments later Philip gently opened the gate, slipped out, re-closed the gate and lent across the top bar watching his wonderful dog. Angela remained where she had first gone to, leaning on the top rail of the paddock fence just to the right of the gate, looking in on Pharaoh.
She silently pointed to Philip for him to slip back and be seated on the elevated bench seat.
The sound of a car door being closed caused Angela to disappear back out between the two barns. Pharaoh had raised his head and was looking and listening intently towards the source of the sound.
A few minutes later, Angela and Gordon appeared, Gordon leading Betsy on a leash. They walked up to the outside of the closed paddock gate. Betsy started eyeing Pharaoh with a very direct stare.
Pharaoh started to walk towards them. Betsy gave a deep-throated growl causing Pharaoh to pause in his walk and observe her.
“Gordon, let me have Betsy on her leash.”
Angela took Betsy’s leash and very gently lifted the gate latch and cracked the gate open by six inches or so.
“Pharaoh, there’s a good boy. Pharaoh stay. Good boy,” came Angela’s softly formed words yet using her words as a cover to open the gate just sufficient for both Betsy and her to enter the paddock, Angela then closing the gate behind them.
There was a pause of perhaps a minute where nothing moved. Angela gently let her fingers run down Betsy’s leash and softly unlatched the lead from Betsy’s collar.
Again, Betsy’s eyes were fixated on Pharaoh and, likewise, he seemed to be assessing just what Betsy represented.
Angela softly slipped open the gate, slipped through and held the gate closed yet unlatched. She was confident there were not going to be any panics but it never paid to be complacent.
Pharaoh did a quarter-turn with his head to the left and seemed about to sniff the ground near his front paws.
Betsy suddenly growled and started towards Pharaoh but stopped in less than two paces. For Pharaoh had immediately turned his head back to face Betsy’s face full-on, giving her the most compelling message of perhaps rethinking what she had in mind. Well that’s the message that Philip saw in Pharaoh’s face. A facial look that Philip had never seen on Pharaoh before now yet, nonetheless, seemed utterly clear. So imagine what unspoken words were picked up by Betsy; that old business of dogs speaking dog to each other so much better than humans speaking dog!
There was a pause where nothing changed. Then Pharaoh, again, turned his head a little to his left. Betsy took a step towards Pharaoh but noticeable without the aggressive overlay of before.
Pharaoh turned his head and looked back at Betsy. However, now his facial message, as Philip interpreted it, was Pharaoh saying to Betsy that this was getting boring and that he still hadn’t finished sniffing out the new smells around here.
Then Philip saw, hardly believing his eyes, Pharaoh wander over to the far fence line, pee on an upright wooden fence post, and continue following the fence line around to the left, as in left from Philip’s perspective. Betsy stayed rooted to where she was. Not even turning an eye as Gordon came up and sat down next to Philip.
Any sense of time passing was beyond grasp. However, when Pharaoh had walked away from that marked fence post by, say, thirty or forty feet, Betsy almost imperceptibly looked at the fence post, possibly some twenty feet from her, and in what might be described as a casual gait, walked across to the post. She sniffed the bottom of the post where Pharaoh’s pee had run down to the ground. She sniffed long and hard and then turned around and walked a few yards in Pharaoh’s direction, he having now paused in his stroll along the fence line, his head turned back to watch Betsy.
The next action by Betsy brought an audible gasp to Gordon’s lips. For Betsy calmly and quietly settled down on the dusty ground, tummy against the bare earth, paws straight ahead, head lowered, eyes watching Pharaoh.
Pharaoh then turned in towards the prone Betsy, gently walked towards her, sniffed her rear quarters, walked around to the other side of her and just looked at her for a few moments. Then he eased himself forward, lowering his head a little. Their doggy world seemed to come to a halt for a few moments, then Pharaoh and Betsy came together and simply touched wet nose to wet nose.
Philip and Gordon both came down from their seats and stood next to Angela. Both of them couldn’t avoid noticing that Angela had silent tears running down both cheeks. Not a word was spoken, not a word needed to be spoken.
Gently, all three of them, Angela, Gordon and Philip, slipped quietly into the paddock and enjoyed what was happening in front of them. Almost as though their pleasure at the outcome was fuelling the moods in the two dogs, Pharaoh and Betsy each took up a behaviour that could only be described as a couple of dogs being relaxed and comfortable with each other.
Angela slipped out and returned a few moments later with some dog biscuits in her hands, the large chunky ones shaped roughly to look like a bone. She walked up to Pharaoh, stroked him on the head and offered him a biscuit. He took the biscuit and settled down to nibble it.
Angela then went across to Betsy and repeated the biscuit giving. Betsy settled down to eat her biscuit.
Upon coming back to the gents, she said, “OK, it all happened more or less as I anticipated. Pharaoh has given us a copy-book example of a strong, dominant teaching dog behaving in his natural role as a minder dog.”
Gordon was practically unable to keep his beaming face under control. He bubbled out the question, “So what happens next, Angela?”
“Well, I would like to repeat what we set up today one more time, just to be sure, although I have not the slightest doubt it will be fine.
Then, we’ll have Betsy and Pharaoh come again but keep Pharaoh to one side while I introduce Betsy to another dog that is dominant but not a teaching dog. In other words, more likely to trip Betsy into her old ways. If that happens we will bring Pharaoh in and he will adjudicate. Then next time round, we will introduce Betsy to an even less disciplined dog, again more or less aiming for the conditions where Betsy will learn a strategy for keeping her own temptations under control.”
Angela added, “There’s no doubt whatsoever that Betsy, sooner than you can imagine, will be a settled dog and ready to go dog racing if that’s what is right for her.”
Angela had a cheeky grin on her face, “Sorry, I meant what’s right for you, Gordon. OK, I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of dog racing!”
2,185 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Where Philip truly embraces the history, the very long history of man and dog.
I left Chapter Five with the lead character, Philip, having been given a detailed introduction into the social order of dogs, especially the roles and attributes of the three teaching dogs: Mentor, Minder and Nannie and realising that his German Shepherd dog, Pharaoh, was a Minder teaching dog (as he is in real life!).
One of our friends from our Payson days, dear MaryA, has been reading the chapters as they have been published in this place. Her comment in a subsequent telephone conversation was that she found it a bit too intricate, a bit too drawn-out. That accorded with Jeannie’s view.
It’s clear that much of the so-called fictional writing is highly auto-biographical. I have no idea whether or not the ‘novel’ gets rejected because of that, or even if rejection is even part of what follows when the 50,000 words are achieved.
But anyone who knows my real life story will not have too much trouble reading between the lines of the fictional account of Philip’s life.
The consequence of this is that, at times, the words flow very easily because it’s very real in my own mind. Thus too much detail, too much minutia, is a valid criticism. Then again, the pressure of writing an average of 1,667 words a day, day in and day out, makes ‘dumping’ lots of detail feel rewarding because one is keeping up. Just as an aside, at the time of writing this post, 3:30pm yesterday, Pacific Time, the NaNoWriMo counter shows that 21,720 words have been written against a requirement by the end of today, Day 13, for 21,677! I have written for about three hours today. I’m 43 words ahead!
OK, enough of that. Here’s Chapter Six.
Learning from Dogs
Yet again his return to Harberton had him describing to Maggie outcomes so very different to what he had been expecting when he had left the house. It was starting to be an expectation. That, try as hard as he could to predict what he and Pharaoh were off to do, within a few hours of leaving home he would be returning with a report of events totally unanticipated.
However, these serendipitous and surprising events shared one common journey. That journey of Philip better understanding the reality of his relationship with dogs in general, and with Pharaoh in particular. The visit to Angela earlier in the morning being outstanding in this regard; he would forever look at Pharaoh with different eyes.
He spent the afternoon pottering about the house and after supper settled down in front of the fire and picked up the article that Angela had given him as he and Pharaoh left her place.
Twenty minutes later, having read the article, he looked across to Maggie, who had settled down in an easy chair just opposite him, the fire creating a mood of comfort and contentment all around, and said, “Wow, Maggie, I had absolutely no idea that the relationship of humans with dogs went so far back in time. This article is mind-blowing. It’s by a Dr. George Johnson who, according to his bio, is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis.”
Philip went on to say, a smile across his face, in a more-or-less throwaway manner, “You know some day I must really understand what an emeritus professor means. Ah well!”
“Why don’t you read the article to me,” came Maggie’s reply.
“Alright, that would be nice. Let me skip the opening paragraph and go straight to the heart of what Johnson writes.”
He ran his eye down the page.
“Apparently, the author had a dog called Boswell who died from choking on a chicken bone, which sort of raises some questions, but anyway then Johnson writes in his second paragraph.
This week I found myself wondering about Boswell’s origins. From what creature did the domestic dog arise? Darwin suggested that wolves, coyotes, and jackals — all of which can interbreed and produce fertile offspring — may all have played a role, producing a complex dog ancestry that would be impossible to unravel. In the 1950s, Nobel Prize-winning behaviourist Konrad Lorenz suggested some dog breeds derive from jackals, others from wolves.
Based on anatomy, most biologists have put their money on the wolf, but until recently there was little hard evidence, and, as you might expect if you know scientists, lots of opinions.”
Philip looked up. “Is this OK for you? Am I reading clearly?”
“Yes, of course,” Maggie replied.
Philip again looked down at the paper, continuing, “The issue was finally settled in 1997 by an international team of scientists led by Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. To sort out the evolutionary origin of the family dog, Wayne and his colleagues used the techniques of molecular biology to compare the genes of dogs with those of wolves, coyotes and jackals.
Wayne’s team collected blood, tissue, or hair from 140 dogs of sixty-seven breeds, and 162 wolves from North America, Europe, Asia, and Arabia. From each sample they extracted DNA from the tiny organelles within cells called mitochondria.”
Philip paused, took a couple of breaths, and carried on.
“While the chromosome DNA of an animal cell derives from both parents, the mitochondrial DNA comes entirely from the mother. Biologists love to study mitochondrial DNA because of this simple line of descent, female-to-female-to-female. As changes called mutations occur due to copying mistakes or DNA damage, the mitochondrial DNA of two diverging lines becomes more and more different. Ancestors can be clearly identified when you are studying mitochondrial DNA, because clusters of mutations are not shuffled into new combinations like the genes on chromosomes are. They remain together as a particular sequence, a signature of that line of descent.”
Philip again paused, looked up at Maggie. “Have to say I’m not completely clear just what the author is explaining here but, as you will hear, the crux of the findings is unmistakable.”
Turning back to the article, he continued, “When Wayne looked at his canine mitochondrial DNA samples, he found that wolves and coyotes differ by about 6% in their mitochondrial DNA, while wolves and dogs differ by only 1%. Already it smelled like the wolf was the ancestor.
Wayne’s team then focused their attention on one small portion of the mitochondrial DNA called the control region, because it was known to vary a lot among mammals. Among the sixty seven breeds of dogs, Wayne’s team found a total of 26 different sequences in the control region, each differing from the others at one or a few sites. No one breed had a characteristic sequence — rather, the breeds of dogs share a common pool of genetic diversity.”
Philip again looked up at Maggie.
“This is where it gets fascinating,” and looking back down, went on to read, “Wolves had 27 different sequences in the control region, none of them exactly the same as any dog sequence, but all very similar to the dog sequences, differing from them at most at 12 sites along the DNA, and usually fewer.
Coyote and jackal were a lot more different from dogs than wolves were. Every coyote and jackal sequence differed from any dog sequence by at least 20 sites, and many by far more.
That settled it. Dogs are domesticated wolves.”
The dog’s origin is the wolf. Philip paused, wanting the significance of this to settle over the two of them. Or, perhaps, better said, settle over the three of them, for Pharaoh was laying prone on his tummy with his head resting between both outstretched front paws. He was far from sleeping. One could almost imagine that he was as engrossed in the findings of Dr. George Johnson as Maggie appeared to be.
Philip continued, “Using statistical methods to compare the relative similarity of the sequences, Wayne found that all the dog sequences fell into four distinct groups. The largest, containing 19 of the 26 sequences and representing 3/4 of modern dogs, resulted from a single female wolf lineage. The three smaller groups seem to represent later events when other wolves mated with the now-domesticated dogs. Domestication, it seems, didn’t happen very often, and perhaps only once.”
Again, Philip looked up, “Maggie, just listen to this last paragraph.
The large number of different dog sequences, and the fact that no wolf sequences are found among them, suggests that dogs must have been separated from wolves for a long time. The oldest clear fossil evidence for dogs is 12,000 – 14,000 years ago, about when farming arose. But that’s not enough time to accumulate such a large amount of mitochondrial DNA difference. Perhaps dogs before then just didn’t look much different from wolves, and so didn’t leave dog-like fossils. Our species first developed speech and left Africa about 50,000 years ago. I bet that’s when dogs came aboard, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors first encountered them. They would have been great hunting companions.”
Philip put the article down on the low wooden table in front of the settee. Pharaoh rolled over on to his side and closed his eyes.
“Just think, Maggie, humans have had a relationship with dogs for fifty thousand years. It really does feel that we humans were only able to evolve from the life-style of hunter-gatherer to that of farmer because of dogs. By that I mean that dogs helped us to be such successful hunters; that we became so well nourished that we weren’t living hand-to-mouth, as it were. Plus that dogs could protect us as we cleared the lands and became farmers of nature’s bounty.”
There was a silence in the living room. A silence that flowed from both Maggie and Philip letting the enormity of these findings work their way into their consciousnesses. Fifty thousand years. It was almost beyond grasp. Surely no other animal has been so bound to the fortunes of humans as the dog. Philip had no intellectual or educational background, no objective means, to embrace this finding in anything other than a deeply subjective, emotional way. He couldn’t articulate what it surely had to mean for the animal species, dog, to have been living, and dying, in such close association to the human species, man, for fifty thousand years. “Phew!” was the only sound to escape his lips.
“Just going to step outside, Maggie.”
“OK,” she replied. “Oh, looks as though Pharaoh’s coming out with you.”
Philip and Pharaoh stood on that gravelly front level just down from the front door. It was a crystal clear night. In the cul-de-sac where they lived, the glow of room-lights from many other homes was shining out through drawn curtains in numerous windows.
Overhead, the scale of the night sky spoke to him. Those twinkling stars seemed to offer the same feelings of time and distance as those years of the relationship between man and dog. That distant starlight that had been journeying for inconceivable amounts of time arriving here, at this very moment, this very instance, shining down on man and dog that, likewise, had been on an incredible journey; shining down on Philip and Pharaoh.
1,580 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover