It seems to be taking over my life!
Here’s Chapter Three. But, in total, I’m close to having written 12,400 words, just a small margin ahead of the need for 11,670 words by Day 7 (I appreciate you will be reading this on November 8th).
So, yes, it’s relentless but while the story line is strong in my head, then it’s not off-putting.
Mind you, it is coming out rather auto-biographically!
Crossed my mind that I will need a page just inside the front cover to the effect, “Any similarity between these fictional characters and real persons is entirely coincidental”! 😉
Learning from Dogs.
Philip’s drive home back to Harberton was altogether a different emotional experience than when he and Pharaoh had earlier headed off to the obedience class at South Brent. He just couldn’t get his head around what had happened. Why that one incident had branded Pharaoh as a dog with an aggression problem, why the trainer hadn’t been better prepared, and on and on. But as much as the thoughts kept running around his mind it didn’t in any way alter the fact that he hadn’t a clue as to why Pharaoh had behaved in that fashion, and where next this was going!
Accepting that this was the first time he had ever owned a dog, so he had no experience of being a dog owner, nonetheless his close bond with Pharaoh convinced him that there was no dark behavioural issue that needed dealing with.
Philip turned right off the Totnes to Harbertonford road, into the small lane high-sided with tall hedgerows that dropped down into the village into the village of Harberton. Less than a mile later he was pulling into the short driveway up to their house and parking in his usual place, next to Maggie’s red Ford Estate. Leaving Pharaoh in the car, he walked back down the driveway and closed the five-bar wooden gate at their driveway entrance.
Pharaoh jumped down from the Volvo as soon as the tailgate was raised. The one, small, positive thing was that it wasn’t raining. Pharaoh sniffed around, cocked his leg against the stone wall that fronted a raised flower bed and skipped up the four stone steps, across the gravel in front of the house and waited for Philip to open the front door.
“Is that you guys?” Maggie called down. “How did it go?” She added, “I wasn’t expecting you for another hour or so.”
Philip took off his raincoat and hung it up on the hooks at the rear of the hallway. He walked up the wooden stairs that led from the level of their front door to the living room on the first floor. Pharaoh had already settled himself in front of the black iron wood-stove in the corner of the room, hogging the warm glow that flooded out.
“So how did Pharaoh get on?” Maggie was keen to know.
“It was a disaster, Maggie.” Philip took a deep breath and continued, “Pharaoh lunged at another dog and the trainer concluded he was an anti-social dog with a problem with aggression. We are not welcome to return to her class.”
He sighed. “Still can’t get my mind around it but it’s fair to say I’m gutted!”
“What are you going to do?” Maggie enquired.
Philip eased himself down on to the settee. “Haven’t a clue just now to be honest. Want to sleep on it, give it a couple of coatings of thought, and just see what tomorrow brings.”
“I’m sure it will be alright, Philip.”
He mused on that last remark of hers. As much as he was so fond of his dear wife, Maggie did seem most times not to engage emotionally with him. Over his years of being a mentor specialising in helping those running their own businesses, and being on the receiving end of counselling from time to time, there was no doubt that people rarely opened up to their deeper feelings without a little bit of an empathetic nudge. He reflected on how simple yet how powerful was the question, ‘Tell me how you are feeling just now?’
Maggie had left the living area and climbed up the steep, wooden stairway that lead to their third-level mezzanine floor. This was where she worked for many hours of the day painting her miniature paintings that, Philip willingly admitted, were much in demand.
However, he would have so longed to sit close to Maggie on their settee as the Winter afternoon headed for twilight. He would even have settled for the offer of a cup of tea!
He must have been radiating some form of sadness, some form of angst, for Pharaoh softly raised himself from the fireside carpet and came across to Philip and gently rested his jaw across Philip’s right upper leg. No other way to describe that other than unconditional affection. A simple, yet powerful, gesture by a dog for a human. The contrast between Pharaoh recognising that Philip needed a hug, doggie fashion, and Maggie missing Philip’s need was stark. Oh well!
Philip awoke on the Sunday, a little before eight in the morning, and despite the weather still being poor with low grey clouds scudding overhead and the threat of rain ever present, he shaved, dressed, made himself a quick breakfast, grabbed Pharaoh’s leash, the keys to the Volvo and headed down to the front door. He had left Maggie asleep in their bed, presuming that she would know where he and Pharaoh had gone when she awoke.
Pharaoh, of course, immediately guessed it was walking time, despite it being earlier than usual. He bounded out of the front door down the few steps to the driveway and waited expectantly for the Volvo’s tailgate to be opened.
Twenty minutes later, Philip was walking Pharaoh down the grassy edge-line of the large twelve-acre field to his left, dark hedgerow to his right, the woods less than a couple-of-hundred yards ahead of them.
This tiny paradise deep in the heart of South Devon meant so much to Philip. Cut off from people, phones, the internet and all the consumerism of modern life, this was the place where he could restore some form of mental balance. He often wondered about what these lands could tell if only the ancient pastures and woodlands could voice their histories. The woods were known to be very old and when James was bidding for them, he only managed to win them by a nose from the Woodlands Trust who were going to preserve the woods for evermore.
But James and his Dad had done the job just as well. The woods were still unchanged from long, long ago. All that James had done was to convert three acres of the top grassland into a large bed for the planting and harvesting of Eucalyptus trees. There was a ready market for the trees in the floristry trade.
In the Springtime, the woods were glorious. The mix of larch, ash and old oak tree species that can only come from years and years of being left untouched were full of Bluebells. The dainty blue flowers practically covered the ground beneath the acres of trees. Goodness knows how many years that had taken.
Pharaoh, released from his leash, bounded off to check out once more whatever it was that he checked out each time they came here.
Philip, meanwhile, slowly worked his way into the depths of the woods. The sound of a long, steamy, locomotive whistle suddenly echoed through the trees. That was not uncommon as the line of the Dartmouth Steam Railway at this point ran alongside the quiet waters of the River Dart, sandwiched between the edge of James’ woods and the river.
The line, running between Paignton and Dartmouth, had been a victim of Government cuts, the so-called Beeching cuts, back in the late sixties but had been rescued by the newly formed Dart Valley Railway company and operated successfully ever since. The chuffing sound of the black steam engine, the rising of smoke and steam into the damp, valley air, a train consisting of three cream and brown passenger coaches, so perfectly matched the sense of earlier times, for the railway had been completed, if Philip recalled correctly, way back in the mid-eighteenth century.
The rear of the last coach, sporting a pair of the red-lensed oil lamps, disappeared from sight around the bend of the river bank. Philip returned to his thoughts.
When he had woken this morning, he was pretty certain that the judgment of Pharaoh was utterly wrong. Then shaving, as he looked at the reflection of his face in the mirror, always a good time of the day to make sense of stuff, the ‘pretty’ part of his notion ‘pretty certain’ washed away as simply as the shaving foam washed from his face. Philip would stake his life on the fact that Pharaoh was not an aggressive dog!
Nevertheless, as he stood under the trees, he had to admit that Pharaoh had acted in a way towards that Pit Bull that, at the very least, appeared to be anti-social.
What to do?
Then it came to him. Pharaoh needed to be observed with other dogs in a less stressful situation than that of yesterday’s obedience class. How about walking him on Dartmoor. It was a Sunday morning, not unreasonable weather for the time of the year, and there would be plenty of walkers out with their dogs on the Moor.
He called Pharaoh back to him, snapped the leash to his collar and walked back to the car. As he hoped his mobile phone was in the glove compartment. He stood outside the car for better reception and called home.
“Maggie, it’s me. Hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Hi Philip, no, was just making myself a coffee. Where are you?”
“Over at James’ woods. Couldn’t sleep. Kept thinking about this business with Pharaoh. So ended getting up earlier than usual and taking Pharaoh for a walk.”
Philip added, “Maggie, I’m going to take Pharaoh on to Dartmoor and see how he is with other dogs. Bound to be plenty up there. Will be back in an hour, two at most.”
“OK Philip. Give me a ring if anything changes.”
As he rang off, an idea came to him. An idea prompted by that view of the River Dart a few minutes ago. He had always meant to find the source of the River Dart. He knew it was somewhere up on Dartmoor but in all his years of living in South Devon he had never taken time to find the spot.
He would first go to Dartmeet, the place where the two branches of the young river meet, hence the name. It was a favourite place for walkers as there were lovely pathways along the river banks. When he and Maggie were getting to know each other, they had enjoyed Summer walks and picnics in the Dartmeet area.
In fact, this was turning out to be a brilliant idea as the back road from Staverton, across the A38 and on up to the Moor more or less followed the course of the River Dart.
He started the engine and reversed carefully out of the field entranceway into Sandy Lane. He loved driving along these narrow Devon lanes, always no wider than a tractor and trailer. What fascinated him was that when two cars or other vehicles came face-to-face, each driver seemed to know instinctively who had the closest grassy lay-by or field entrance behind them. There was never any argy-bargy about the issue. Except, that is, during the Summer months when some visitor to this part of the world tried out one of the lanes, or got lost. Then it was a case of stepping out of the car and saying to the other driver that you think the passing place is closer to them than it is to you. As often as not, simpler just to reverse back rather than suffer the ire of a tourist who wasn’t so hot at reversing in a narrow country lane. Philip early on in his Devon days had learnt to reverse using his wing mirrors.
He smiled in recollection of the day when he came bumper-to-bumper with a woman driver who simply couldn’t reverse her car. Almost immediately that time, another couple of vehicles had pulled up behind him so there was no choice other than the woman’s car had to be reversed. She was adamant that she couldn’t do it. But agreed to Philip sliding into the driver’s seat and reversing the car for her. Luckily only about three-hundred yards back. The other drivers had been very patient, indeed seeing the funny side of the situation.
Sandy Lane became Cabbage Hill leading them to the bridge over the A38, still busy as usual. Practically every square inch of the land either side of them was cultivated or cropped grassland. Yes, it was very rural. Yes, it was a very ancient part of South-West England. But all about them, the intensity of the agriculture, a very modern phenomenon, was unmistakable.
Once over the A38, the lane ran around the left-hand flanks of the village of Ashburton, just off to their right, and then at the top of Bowden Hill, the narrow road headed more or less directly, or as directly as any Devon country road ever did, towards the South-Eastern flanks of Dartmoor. A few miles later, at the start of Newbridge Hill, just a quarter-of-a-mile from the tiny hamlet of Poundsgate, the road forked. Philip started the turn to the left and noticed out of the corner of his eye a sign hanging from a tree at the start of the right-hand fork. It read: ‘GSD Club of Devon Meet – This Way.’
He braked to a halt and reversed carefully back the few yards to the start of the junction. He had never heard of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Devon. This had to be investigated.
He took the right-hand fork and within moments the lane was running through heavily wooded land. They must be within the edge of Dartmoor, he speculated, because it was well known that the lower flanks were heavily forested; all protected woodlands, thank goodness.
Five minutes later, there was a further sign pointing the way to a private lane. He slowly and carefully drove up the lane and, almost immediately, saw a professional sign: Angela Stokenham – Felsental German Shepherds. Dog Aggression Specialist.
Philip just didn’t know what to think, what to feel, just what on earth was going on. He was not a believer in the traditional religious sense but also didn’t label himself as an atheist. Tended to use the term agnostic when relevant to so describe himself. He had experienced much in his approaching sixty years to know that having some form of spiritual attitude seemed to make sense to him.
Thus, was it just serendipity that had brought him here or what! He drove slowly into a yard surrounded by many pens and buildings, stopped the car, and stepped out. He was aware of the sounds of barking coming from a number of directions. All Shepherd barks would be his guess.
The click-clack of a metal pen gate being closed caught his attention. He looked to see a woman turning to check that the gate latch was closed and then turning his way.
“Hallo, can I help you?” the woman called. “If you are here for the Club meeting you are about three hours too early.”
She walked towards him. Despite the grubby blue overalls that she wore, bottoms poked into a pair of red rubber boots, she exuded an attractive warmth. Her thick, auburn hair bracketed a pleasant face with little makeup. Philip noticed a blue and black necklace, close around her neck. He surmised that this was a working lady who was still in touch with her femininity.
“Hallo, sorry to arrive unexpectedly like this. I was on my way to Dartmoor to walk my dog, chose to come the back roads from Staverton and happened to see the sign for the GSD meeting.”
Philip continued, “By an amazing coincidence, I have my German Shepherd in the back of the car and just yesterday at the South Brent obedience class, he was accused of being an aggressive dog and we were told not to return.”
“My name’s Angela and perhaps I shouldn’t say this but Debbie Longland, I assume that’s the class you went to?” Philip nodded, “Well just let me say that you could do a great deal better.”
“I’m Philip, Philip Stevens and the dog in the back is Pharaoh, born last June. We live at Harberton, just to the South-West of Totnes.”
Philip was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Look I was on my way to the Moor to see how Pharaoh behaved with other walkers and their dogs.” Continuing, “Almost exclusively, I have been walking Pharaoh over at my nephew’s woods at Staverton. So I haven’t been getting him accustomed to other dogs as I should have been. Would there be any chance of you assessing him and offering me some proper guidance? I’m a first-time dog owner.”
“Yes, of course.” Angela replied. “That’s what I do here. However not even going to suggest you letting Pharaoh out now, too much going on, and just not the best circumstances for him.”
Angela took a small spiral-bound notebook from her overall pocket, opened it and looked through a couple of pages. “Can you and Pharaoh come here, say eleven in the morning, next Wednesday?”
“Yes, without any difficulty. Is there anything that I should bring with me?”
Angela responded, “No, just Pharaoh’s usual leash. Oh, and you might want to give him a good walk before you get here.”
She added, “That’s fabulous, I will see you both in just three days time.”
“Angela, thank you. I can’t wait for you to meet Pharaoh. Oh, and good luck with your meeting this afternoon.”
With that Philip turned and got back into the car, started the engine, swung the car in a tight circle and drove carefully out of Angela’s yard.
Glancing in the rear-view mirror, he saw that Pharaoh was looking at Angela and realised that there hadn’t been a peep from him while he had been speaking with her. Philip wondered if Pharaoh had been picking up the vibes of their change in fortunes.
Wednesday would reveal all.
3,020 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover