Tag: Philip

The book! Chapter Twenty-Three.

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Twenty-Three

It was October 25th, 2013. Exactly a year since the day that they had moved in to their Merlin home.  Yet in some very strange way if felt neither as long as a full year nor as short.

Molly and Philip were sitting on the decked verandah looking out over the acres of grass. A group of five dogs were cavorting and chasing around in what looked like for them a dog heaven.

He came back to his strange thought of it not feeling like a year; in either direction.  The beauty of their land, the joy the dogs experienced every time they ran freely about the place was beyond measure.  All their neighbours, without exception, were people that he and Molly liked. More than that, they were also helpful and sharing persons.  Rationally, he admitted, this was probably a key aspect of country folk right across the United States of America.  But it didn’t diminish what it felt like.  Plus his Englishness was welcomed and enjoyed and that created an additional layer of acceptance. Thus in those ways it felt that they had been here for much longer than twelve short months.

On the other hand, his difficulty at learning names and faces of people, even neighbours; his struggle to still find his way to certain stores and shops in Grants Pass had a feel as though they had only just moved in; had been here much less than a full year.  That slowness in learning his way about the area worried him at times. It was disquieting and more than once he turned inwards and quietly worried that dementia was stealing up on him as it had for his elder sister, Diana, who had died of it earlier in 2013.

More generally, two dogs had died of old age over the past months so they were down to a total of nine.  Those nine were divided into groups of five and four.

The group of five were Pharaoh, Sweeny, Dhalia, Hazel and Cleo. Cleo was the younger German Shepherd that they had purchased as a companion to Pharaoh, who had passed ten-years-old last June. This group was affectionately called the bedroom group because they slept overnight in the main bedroom with Molly and Philip.  The other four dogs were Lilly, Ruby, Casey and Paloma.  Known as the kitchen group because they lived in the large kitchen and dining area. It worked very well. All nine dogs found their home property endlessly interesting simply because each day there were so many new smells for them to follow.

There was another aspect of their year here that figured very strongly in Philip’s mind.  That was the tension between anger and peace, his anger and his peace, and the role of dogs in his life.

He had observed strongly how the level of disquiet, to put it mildly, in the minds of everyday folk all around them was increasing.  A throw-away comment in front of a store check-out woman about how we were living in interesting times would trigger a facial expression, a shrug of the shoulders that spoke volumes.  Often added to by a comment from the next person in line.  Many other tiny windows into how so many people were feeling uncomfortable about the world we were all now living in.

He fully expected to see growing levels of social anger and unrest over the next few years.  He could feel the force of anger playing with his mind.

What was it that Jonathan used to speak about?  Yes, the difference between power and force.  How force could never produce lasting change. Yet how power came from within and could change mountains, metaphorically speaking.  Or, as Jonathan pointed out, literally in the case of the power of water and sand.

Philip knew that to bury his face into the furry warmth of a dog’s coat, to wrap his arms around one of their animals and feel the dog relax in to that hug, offered him something priceless.  It offered the lesson, time and time again, that anger is only cured from within. That the power of that dog’s unconditional love for him effortlessly took him within himself and bathed him in love, peace and contentment.

One evening during early September, Dhalia did not return to the house after the usual after-supper dog run.  He said to Molly that he would go out and look for her.  He walked down to the forest just by the creek and stood calling out her name. As the sun set behind the tall peaks and the darkness drew in around him, he started imagining what it would be like to leave their property and plunge into the deep forest searching for one of their dogs that had become lost.  He shivered with the thought of how fragile was the boundary between being secure at home and being utterly lost in a vast wilderness.

Thank goodness, he wasn’t put to the test because at that moment the sound of little paws heralded Dhalia’s return.  She came immediately to his side, her tail wagging with such furious affection, as it so often did.  Philip kneeled down and hugged her.  Dhalia lowered her head and pushed herself under his left arm. Tears flowed from his eyes revealing his joy and love that this precious dog was not lost or harmed.

When he and Dhalia had returned to the house, he couldn’t shake off that image of being out alone in the forest. To the extent that the same evening, quite untypically, after their meal he had excused himself to Molly and sat down and written a short story on the theme.

Sitting there with Molly on the verandah more than a month later he  reflected that what he could remember of those words was a little hazy. He rose from the chair to go and find where he had put the completed story. He found it almost immediately and came back out to the verandah.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Molly asked.

“It’s that story I wrote of being lost out in the forest; you know the one I wrote back in early September.”

“Oh yes, I loved that story. Do read it to me again.”

He took out his reading glasses, looked down and started reading.


“Molly, where’s Dhalia?”

“I don’t know. She was here moments ago.”

“Molly, You take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”

“Philip, don’t worry. Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”

Nonetheless, Philip started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, forested cliffs about them. This high rocky, forest plateau, in an area known as the Siskiyou Forest, not those many miles from their home in Southern Oregon. It made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss a week-end afternoon out here. However, this particular Saturday afternoon, for reasons Philip was unclear, they had left home much later than usual.

There was no sign of Dhalia ahead on this remote forest road so he struck off left, hoping that she was somewhere up amongst the higher trees and the boulders. Soon he reached the first crest; panting hard. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause, him admiring the perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. He bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.

The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting a creature. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Molly. Molly had named her Dhalia.

He set off down through the dense forest to what he thought was the valley floor. Some thirty minutes later, thirty minutes of hard climbing, had him reach those high boulders.

Philip whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank God for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.

He listened; no sounds, no more barking. Now where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the next steep ravine beyond him, the one even more densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia, and find her very soon.

He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. Philip cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message for him: the madness of continuing this search in the near dark. The terrain made very rough going even in good daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue as to where he now was, let alone finding his way back to the road where he had left Molly.

The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face. He would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.

He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. Philip looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby fir tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a stack sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank  goodness that when he and Molly had decided to give the five dogs this late afternoon walk, he had put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. It didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!

The air temperature sank as if connected with the last rays of the sun. Philip’s confidence sank at the same rate as the temperature.

He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. No matter the position, he couldn’t silence his mind. Couldn’t silence the screaming in his head, his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, his imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a short while?

A moment later the absurdity of that last thought hit him. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid sod. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed off unseen cliffs in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.

He was very frightened. Why? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem, a thousand miles from shore. Then, of course, he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. But being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. Suddenly, he started shivering.

The slightest movement he made caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He tried not to think about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early September not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold. But it wasn’t long before the fear rather than the temperature started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under  the pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.

He looked around and vaguely saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. He carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his hand down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face and pulled his knees up to his chest. He felt so much less vulnerable than he had laying on the forest floor. He let out a long sigh, then burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from somewhere very far within him.

Gradually the tears washed away his fear, restored a calmer part of his brain. That calmer brain brought the realisation that he hadn’t considered, well not up until now, what Molly must be going through. At least he knew he was alive. Molly, not knowing, would be in despair. He bet she would remember that time when out walking in the Dells down in Arizona they had lost little Poppy, an adorable 10 lb poodle mix, never to be found again despite ages spent combing the area, calling out her name. A year later and Molly still said from time to time, “I so miss Poppy!” First Poppy and now him! No question, he had to get through this in one piece, mentally as much as physically.

Presumably, Molly would have called 911 and been connected to the local search and rescue unit. Would they search for him in the dark? He thought it unlikely.

Thinking about her further eased his state of mind and his shivering stopped. Thank goodness for that! Philip fought to retain this new perspective. He would make it through, even treasure this night under the sky, this wonderful, awesome, night sky. Even the many crowns of the tall trees that soared way up above him couldn’t mask a sky that just glittered with starlight.

It was that heavenly clock that resided in the night sky and tonight offered a magical example of the immensity and grandeur of the universe.

Often during his life the night skies had spoken to him, presented a reminder of the continuum of the universe. On this night, however, he felt more humbled by the hundred, million stars surrounding him than ever before.

Time slipped by, him being unable to read his watch in the darkness. However, above his head there was that vast stellar clock. He scanned the heavens, seeking out familiar pinpoints of light, companions over so much of his lifetime. Ah, there! The Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and, yes, there the North Pole star, Polaris. Great! Now the rotation of the planet became his watch, The Big Dipper sliding around Polaris, fifteen degrees for each hour.

What a situation he had got himself into. As with other challenging times in his life, lost in the Australian bush, at sea hunkering down through a severe storm, never a choice other than to work it out. He felt a gush of emotion from the release this changed perspective gave him.

Far away, a group of coyotes started up a howl. What a timeless sound. How long had coyotes been on the planet? He sank into those inner places of his mind noting how the intense darkness raised correspondingly deep thoughts. What if this night heralded the end of his life, the last few hours of the life of Philip Stevens? What parting message would he give to those that he loved?

Molly would know beyond any doubt how much he had adored her, how her love had created an emotional paradise for him beyond measure. But his son and daughter, dear William and Elizabeth? Oh, the complexities he had created in their lives by leaving their mother so many years ago. He knew that they still harboured raw edges, and quite reasonably so. He still possessed raw edges from his father’s death, way back in 1956. That sudden death, five days before Christmas, so soon after he had turned twelve, that had fed a life-long feeling of emotional rejection. That feeling that lasted for fifty-one years until, coincidentally, also just a few days before Christmas, he had met Molly in 2007.

His thoughts returned to William and Elizabeth. Did they know, without a scintilla of doubt, that he loved them? Maybe his thoughts would find them. Romantic nonsense? Who knows? Dogs had the ability to read the minds of humans, often from far out of visual range. He knew Pharaoh, his devoted German Shepherd, skilfully read his mind.

Philip struggled to remember that saying from James Thurber. What was it now? Something about men striving to understand themselves before they die. Would that be his parting message for William and Elizabeth? Blast, he wished he could remember stuff more clearly these days and let go of worrying about the quote. Perhaps his subconscious might carry the memory back to him.

He looked back up into the heavens. The Big Dipper indicated at least an hour had slipped by. Gracious, what a sky in which to lose one’s mind. Lost in that great cathedral of stars. Then, as if through some stirring of consciousness, that Thurber saying did come back to him: All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

He reflected on those who, incarcerated in solitary confinement, had their minds play many tricks, especially when it came to gauging time. What a bizarre oddment of information; where had that come from? Possibly because he hadn’t a clue about his present time. It felt later than 11pm and earlier than 4am, but any closer guess seemed impossible. Nevertheless, from out of the terrible, heart-wrenching hours of being alone he had found calm, had found something within him. He slept.

Suddenly, he was slammed fully awake. Something out there in the dark had made a sound. Something that caused his whole body to become totally alert, every nerve straining to recognise what it might be. It sounded like animal feet moving through the autumn fall of dead leaves. He prayed that it wasn’t a mountain lion. Surely, such a wild cat preparing to attack him would be silent. Now the unknown creature had definitely paused, no sound, just Philip knowing that somewhere out there, something was watching him, waiting. Now what! The creature was making a sniffing sound. He hoped it was not a puma. Pumas could make trouble; they had no qualms at attacking a decent-sized dog.

Poised to run, he considered rising but chose to stay still.  Very quietly and gently he moved his fingers around the ground near to him on either side.  A few moments later he closed his right-hand around a small rock. The sniffing stopped. Nothing now, save the sound of his rapidly beating heart. He sensed, sensed strongly, the creature looking at him. It seemed very close, ten or twenty feet away. The adrenalin hammered through his veins.

He tried to focus on the spot where he sensed the animal was waiting; waiting for what? He pushed that idea out of his head. His ears then picked up a weird, bizarre sound. Surely not! Had he lost his senses? It sounded like a dog wagging its tail; flap, flap, flapping against a tree-trunk.

A dog? If a dog, it had to be Dhalia!

Then came that small, shy bark! A bark he knew so well. It was Dhalia. He softly called her, “Come here girl, there’s a good girl.”

With a quick rustle of feet Dhalia leapt upon him, tail wagging furiously, her head quickly burrowing into his body warmth. He hugged her and, once more, the tears ran down his face. Despite the darkness, he could see her perfectly in his mind. Her tight, short-haired coat of light-brown hair, her aquiline face, her bright inquisitive eyes and those wonderful head-dominating ears. Lovely large ears that seemed to listen to the world. A shy, loving dog when Molly had rescued her in 2005 and all these years later still a shy, loving dog.

Dhalia raised her head towards his face and licked his tears, her gentle tongue soft and sweet on his skin. He shuffled more on to his back and that allowed her to curl up on his chest, still enveloped by his arms. His mind drifted off to an era a long time ago, back to an earlier ancient man, likewise arms wrapped around his dog under a dome of stars. This bond between man and dog.  So different to each other yet so closely bonded. Bonded in a thousand mysterious ways.

The morning sun arrived as imperceptibly as an angel’s sigh. Dhalia sensed the dawn before Philip, brought him out of his dreams by the slight gentle stirring of her warm body.

Yes, there it came, the end of this night. The sun galloping towards them across ancient lands, another beat of the planet’s heart. Dhalia slid off his chest, stretched herself from nose to tail, yawned and looked at him, as much to say time to go home! He could just make out the face of his watch: 5.55am. He, too, raised himself, slapped his arms around his body to get some circulation going. The cold air stung his face, yet it couldn’t even scratch the inner warmth of his body, the glow from the bond between him and Dhalia.

They set off.  As they crested the first ridge there ahead, about a mile away, was a forest road busy with arriving search and rescue trucks. Philip could just see Molly’s white Dodge parked ahead of the trucks and he instinctively knew that she and Pharaoh had already disappeared into the forest, knew Pharaoh was leading her to them.

They set off down the slope, Dhalia’s tail wagging with unbounded excitement, Philip ready to start shouting for attention from the next ridge. They were about to wade through a small stream when Pharaoh raced out of the trees from the other side. He tore through the water, barking at the top of his voice in clear dog speak, ‘I’ve found them, they’re here, they’re safe’.  Philip crouched down to receive his second huge face lick in less than six hours.

Later, when safely home, something struck him. When earlier they had set off to find their way back, not long after sunrise, Dhalia had stayed pinned to him. That was so unusual for her not to run off. Let’s face it, that’s what got them into the mess in the first place. Dhalia had stayed with him as if she had known that during that long, dark night, it had been he who had been the lost soul.

Thus came the message from that night, a message as clear as the rays of this new day’s sun, the message to pass to all those he loved. We can only find ourselves from the places where we are lost.


Philip put down the story.  There were tears to his eyes.  Molly had just blown her nose with a paper tissue so he guessed he wasn’t the only one with wet eyes.

She looked at him.

“You know, that story about Dhalia reminds me of the way that Lilly stayed with Ben.”

“Sorry sweetheart, remind me of that again.”

“When Ben was dying, Lilly stayed by his side on the bed every minute of every hour except for a dash outside for a pee from time to time, and to eat her meals. I knew that Ben had died even before going into his bedroom because Lilly had come out from the room and was resting besides me.  Lilly knew that I needed her now more than Ben did.”

There is so much for people to learn from dogs. So many of the ways that dogs behave that show us of what is so desperately missing from these times; from these so-called modern, twenty-first-century times. A time when many believe that our way-of-life is as good as broken.  Broken by the levels of greed, by the lies and abuses of those wielding power and control, riven by the deep inequalities between those with comfortable, material lives and those who struggle to live more than one cruel day at a time.

Dogs live so beautifully in the present. They make the best of each moment uncluttered by the complex fears and feelings that we humans so often chose to have about us. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.  Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable length of time. Man’s longest animal companion, by far!

There is no archeological evidence of dogs being part of man’s life earlier than thirty-thousand years ago.  However, there is serious consideration by scientists that the grey wolf, from which the dog evolved, was in some way connected to Neanderthal man.  That the earliest dogs became man’s companion, protector and helper and that the relationship between dog and man was critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Allowing our species to evolve to farming the land and, thence, the long journey to present times.

However at some point in the last, say one to two-hundred years, that farming and husbandry spirit became corrupted by selfishness and greed to the point where the planet’s plant, energy and mineral resources were, and still are, seen as an infinitely deep pot.  That corruption producing a blindness to the most important truth in all our lives.  That Planet Earth is man’s only source of life.  Unless and until we return to living in balance and harmony with our planet then we are close to the edge of extinction.  Both a literal and spiritual extinction.

Dogs know better, so much better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

4,463 words.

The book! Chapter Thirteen.

Just this and two other chapters before the end of November!

Where did the month go!

As I explained yesterday, I shall change chapter publishing from next Monday.

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!

As so today.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Thirteen

It was February 14th, 2007; Valentine’s Day. What would have been his seventh wedding anniversary for him and Maggie. Eight weeks to the day since she had blown his life apart.

Rather than mope on his own, he had decided ahead of time deliberately to arrange something unusual and different for this potentially disturbing day.  A chance remark with friend, Julian, who lived in Exeter, revealed that he was a private pilot and, coincidentally, also a single man; his marriage having failed a few years previously.  So when Julian offered to fly Philip and him to Guernsey for lunch he could hardly believe his luck.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience even when soon after climbing out from Exeter Airport Philip was blown away by the incredible views of the broad reaches of the English Channel and the Atlantic way beyond.  Julian demonstrated the remarkable ease with which two people can travel to a place in a light aircraft, in this case an island no less, enjoy a few hours of food and fresh air, and be back home in not a lot longer than it would have taken a ferry to steam one-way from Poole in Dorset to Guernsey.  Philip had often wondered what becoming a private pilot would be like and Julian’s generous gift had triggered a little thought that maybe, once the crap of the divorce was behind him, he might enrol in flying lessons.

Thus upon their return to Exeter Airport and later when Philip collected Pharaoh from Sandra’s kennels and set off home to Harberton he felt good that he had not succumbed to the regrets of his lost relationship with Maggie, that could so easily have hung over this day.

Back home, with both him and Pharaoh fed and watered, fire burning brightly, he reflected on the past sixty days. It had been an incredible roller-coaster of feelings, moods and emotions.

At the root of Maggie’s unfaithfulness had been her longing for another child.  Her first child, a daughter, had chosen to go and live with her father before Maggie and Philip had met.  He knew that Maggie had been conscious that her child-bearing years were almost over.  He guessed that with him having had that vasectomy so long ago, and being significantly older than her, that Maggie had been drawn elsewhere.

It didn’t lessen his anger towards her, not in the slightest, because he truly believed that trust was fundamental to any relationship and trust was impossible without the openness of one’s concerns and worries.

That day after the terrible day of December 20th, Philip had rung Diana, his elder half-sister; James’ mother. He explained what had happened.  Her reply was immediate and all and much more than Philip had expected.  Diana told him to put some things together and to come straight over to the house, with Pharaoh of course.  Philip replied by asking if it would be alright with John, her husband, to which Diana had simply told him not to worry, she would speak with John and to come across now.

So that’s just what Philip did later that Thursday afternoon.  Leading to him spending eight days of being loved and cared for by Diana and John.  He had known them for more years than he cared to remember.  In fact, Diana and her sister, Rhona, who died a few years previously, were the primary reasons why Philip had settled down in South Devon after returning to England from overseas in the early 1990s.

Luckily, Diana and John’s house and small-holding, just up the lane from Littlehempston, was only six miles from Harberton so it had been easy for Philip to pop back home to pick up clothes and food for Pharaoh over the Christmas period.  Pharaoh thought that every one of those days over with Diana and John was Christmas Day!

He didn’t have that talk with Maggie the day after she went to her parents and, frankly, he wasn’t bothered.  All that mattered was getting his mind around this new phase of his life that had been thrust upon him and, in his own time, moving on to Plan B, as it were, whatever that turned out to be.

Which, in a very real sense, was what Philip was musing over that evening back home after his Valentine’s Day flight and lunch with Julian in Guernsey.

When he had first spoken with Julian back in January and the idea of the flight had been mentioned, Julian had also recommended avoiding person-to-person contact with Maggie.  His argument was that the wounds would more quickly heal by appointing a solicitor to handle the legal separation and eventual divorce, than having to have continued contact with Maggie.  That’s what he had done.

But there was one aspect that did not hang easily over Philip; that of what to do with the house.  He was torn.  It was a lovely converted stone barn in a popular South Devon village. If he stayed there, inevitably there would be some pay-out due to his ex and that galled him, seriously so, as it had been ninety percent of his money that had paid for the house.  He resolved to go and talk to some estate-agents in Totnes over the coming days to see if that made the decision of to sell or not to sell easier.

It turned out to be the next day. He had run into Totnes in the morning to pick up some food from Safeway, then walked the short distance to Fore Street at the bottom of town.  It had been ages since he had looked through the windows of an estate agent, at the many panels advertising properties for sale, and he just couldn’t believe his eyes.  The prices were astronomical.  It was the same in all the agents’ windows: Rendells; Fulfords; Michelmore Hughes; Luscome Maye.  Curiosity overcame him.  On the way back down Fore Street he went into Fulfords and was quickly seen by a eager young, slick-haired sales assistant.  Philip explained where he lived and that he was curious as to the current price.  The young man asked him to remain seated and went across to speak to someone whom Philip presumed was one of the partners.  They both returned to the desk where Philip was sitting.

“Hello, my name is Jeremy Stanton and I’m a partner here at Fulfords. How may I assist you?”

“Jeremy, my name is Philip, Philip Stevens, and I live in Harberton, in Tristford Barn in the cul-de-sac just off Tristford Road.”

“Yes, I know where you are. Isn’t your house that old, converted stone barn that overlooks the other properties around you? That beautiful barn, to my eyes anyway?” replied Jeremy.

“Yes, that’s the place.  I purchased the barn privately from the owner who did the conversion, bought it back in 1999, and just wondered what it might be worth these days.”

Jeremy paused for a moment, “Oh, wasn’t that Barry Williams who did the conversion?”

Philip was impressed.

Jeremy indicated to him that they both go to a small room towards the rear of the open floor area.

“Philip, would you like a coffee or tea?”

“Well a tea would go down very nicely.”

Jeremy stepped outside the room for a couple of minutes and to Philip’s great surprise came back with a couple of mugs that obviously held freshly-made tea, not of either the instant or machine variety.

“I made us a couple of mugs of the proper tea. Can’t abide the instant stuff.”

Philip took a careful sip from his mug.  The tea was hot to his lips yet very welcome.

“So Philip, you purchased the barn in 1999, I guess going on for eight years ago now.  Do you mind telling me what you paid for it?”

“I paid one hundred and sixty thousand pounds, that I’m pretty sure was a little over the odds at the time.  But, as I’m sure you know, properties in Harberton don’t often come on to the market especially a converted stone barn right in the middle of the village.”

“Philip, I couldn’t agree more.  Now, of course, we would need to come over and take a look in order to give you a more accurate estimate but I would say that today’s price, especially in these times of significant demand for village properties, won’t be far off five hundred thousand pounds.”

The look on Philip’s face as he heard that estimate from Jeremy said it all.  He was staggered.

“I had no idea that prices had risen to that level.”

“So, Philip, do you want us to come over to Harberton and give you a detailed analysis and estimate?”

Philip could hardly quieten his mind and stammered out, “Er, er, yes, I suppose so.  No, sorry, of course you should come out. That would be very helpful.”

They settled on a date, the coming Saturday, just the day after tomorrow.

Later that afternoon, when out walking with Pharaoh, he thought more about his future.  It seemed to be pretty clear to him that selling Tristford Barn made a huge amount of sense.  There were strong and persistent rumours that property prices were overdue for a correction, that selling the barn would allow him to settle with Maggie and pocket a tidy amount of cash while he worked out where his life was going. Going on to reflect that if it turned out that it might be a while before he bought another house, then the present savings rates would reduce the pain, big time, of paying for rented accommodation. That last thought of his being immediately tempered by Pharaoh barking at something up in the trees; squirrels most likely. Of course, renting somewhere dog-friendly might be a challenge.  The thought then crossed his mind as to whether the place that he had been renting over at Diptford, before he and Maggie had bought Tristford Barn, might be available and, more importantly, would they accept a dog; after all it had been a farm property with sheep and livestock.  Upper Holsome Farm, that was it.  What was the woman’s name?

As he drove back home her name came to him.   It was Liz Jones, of course.  He recalled how she had explained that her husband had died from a tragic tractor accident back in 1990 and Liz had decided to keep the farm running but to let out a wing of the main house to ensure some steady money coming in.

Liz’s phone rang a few times before it was answered.

“Hi, is that Liz?”

“Yes.  My goodness, is that you Philip? How are you?”

Philip summarised what had happened over the past couple of months.

“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.  Gracious, it only seems like yesterday that I was at your wedding at Harberton Church.”

“Liz, it was seven years ago yesterday.  Anyway, moving on.  I’m kicking around the idea of selling Tristford Barn and perhaps renting somewhere while I take stock of things.  So just wondered if you were still renting out your rooms.  But, Liz, it wouldn’t be just for me.  I now have a beautiful German Shepherd dog: Pharaoh. He’s the love of my life.  He’s four this coming June. So I didn’t know, assuming you are still letting your rooms, whether or not a dog could be included.”

Liz’s reply was direct. “For God’s sake, Philip, this is still a working farm and you’ll will remember the dogs we have here.  Of course your dog would be welcome.”

Philip felt a ray of emotional sunshine lighting him up.  Pharaoh sensed it as well, coming over to where Philip was sitting with the phone and laying his head across Philip’s leg, so typical a gesture for him.  What a sensitive dog he was.

“That’s fantastic.  Let me see how things develop but whatever, I’ll stay in touch, Liz.”

“Yes, please do.  I have a professional woman in the rooms at present.  She’s something to do with Plymouth Hospital.  But, as it happens, it wasn’t that long ago that she was saying to me that she might be facing a job move during the year.  I’ll quietly sound her out.  Oh, and Philip, the best of luck.  You’re a good man and it will all turn out fine, trust me.”

“Thank you, Liz, thank you so much.  Will be in touch.”

And with that Philip rang off, stroked Pharaoh’s soft warm head and felt a whole lot more contented than he had done for quite a while.

Again the evening, after he had made a meal for himself and fed Pharaoh, was a time for more inner reflection.  One of the things that had been troubling him was the incredibly intense emotional reaction that he had had to Maggie’s announcement of her miscarriage back that last December.

When he had been staying with Diana over Christmas, they had had long talks about their father and the consequences of his death all those years ago.  Diana had said to Philip that while she had been aware of the trauma it must have caused him, she had never shared with him her concerns about the long-term possible emotional consequences.  The suddenness of their father’s death, the way he must have felt shut out from everything, even though she had no doubt that everyone was doing their best to protect him.

Philip knew that Diana had been stirring up some deep feelings because of the way he had such trouble even listening to her words.  So, as he sat before the warm wood stove, Pharaoh fast asleep on the rug before him, he thought that now might be a good time to seek some personal counselling.  The last thing he wanted to do was to carry baggage, known or unknown, into the next phase of his life.  He resolved to call Jonathan Atkins in the morning.

2,337 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Twelve.

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

Chapter Twelve

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

The book! Chapter Eleven.

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

Chapter Eleven

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.

The book! Chapter Six.

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

Chapter Six

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

The book! Chapter Five

Was there ever a time when I wasn’t writing a book? 😉

Woke this morning worrying that pushing on with the book was not going to be easy (Chapter Eight) but then surprised myself by getting into some sort of groove and in a couple of hours had 1,300 words under my belt by 2pm.

Thus trying to find any connection between mood, fears and creativity doesn’t seem possible – thank goodness!

One other aspect that is coming through is seeing that some of the earlier completed chapters need some adjusting to better link the story to later chapters.  So, I have to admit to a little editing going on, amendments that haven’t been applied to the drafts that have been published on Learning from Dogs.

Thus I’m showing my weakness to want to go back and fiddle with earlier passages against the advice of the professionals in focusing on only one thing: writing!

Ah well, only another 18 days to go!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Five

Angela took a deep breath. “I guess we need to go back a very long way to get to the start of the story of dogs. Dogs are part of the Canidae species, the species that includes wolves, coyotes and foxes. It’s a species that scientists believe evolved millions of years ago.  The evidence of when dogs and man came together is unclear, as you might expect from something so long ago. But the evidence is pretty clear that when the forerunners of modern man left Africa and started to expand out across Northern Europe and elsewhere, somewhere along that journey we see the first signs of the dog.”

Philip listened, utterly enthralled by Angela’s opening remarks.  As much because Angela’s cosy, easy-on-the-soul personality belied her obvious depth of knowledge of dogs.

She continued, “My understanding, and I’m no scientist, is that our forerunners out of Africa were smarter than the Neanderthals, used language, developed tools and benefitted as hunters enormously because of their relationship with dogs.”

“In fact, I have a fascinating article from a real scientist, an American, George Johnson, who has done a lot of research into the evolution of the domestic dog.  I’ll give you a copy before you leave.”

Philip took a long drink of the tea.  Gracious it went down well.

“Angela, this is utterly fascinating and, yes, would love to read that research article by that American scientist.  But, surely, that can’t have any bearing on today’s dogs?”

“Well, yes and no,” was her reply, going on to say, “Despite dogs these days having no awareness of the natural pack size and dynamics of their doggie ancestors they still carry the genetic imprint, for want of a better description, of the structure, the hierarchies, as it were, of those ancient times.”

Philip had a question come to mind. “What about feral dogs? Surely in some countries the number of feral dogs is huge, don’t they adopt pack behaviours of the early days?”

“That’s a good point, Philip, but even if feral dogs pack together, and they do for hunting and food-seeking purposes, feral dogs are such a mixture of breeds and temperaments that there isn’t a chance of a cohesive group coming together in the way that dogs did way back in earlier times when all those dogs would have been one doggie community.”

“Guess that makes sense,” Philip reflected.

Angela continued, “We are pretty sure that in the early days of dogs evolving from the grey wolf, they maintained a similar social order. George Johnson covers that well in his article. That is in a pack size of around fifty animals the group was guided by just three social differentiations.”

She finished her tea and went on to explain, “There were just three dogs who had a social role, a social status, in the pack. The first role was that of alpha dog, almost predominantly a female dog.  Then there was the beta dog, this time usually a male.  Finally, the omega dog that could be of either gender. That’s what was believed for years.”

Philip reflected how in common parlance the term alpha tended to be associated to the phrase alpha male.

Angela continued. “Recently, however, it’s become clear that these alpha, beta, omega terms and descriptions are a long way from being accurate.  The more appropriate description is to see those roles under the general heading of teaching dogs with the additional sub-division of mentor, nannie and minder.”

“Are you following this?”

Philip immediately replied, “Oh yes, this is absolutely fascinating.  I had no idea at all.”

Angela’s responded, “Well, I’ll finish off for this morning by briefly describing those differences within teaching dogs.

Let’s start with the mentor.  This is a dog that is normally assertive by nature; quietly so. Not dogs that play much, unless flirting with the opposite sex. However, they do build the strongest bonds with other high ranking dogs of the same sex.  In their position as a teaching dog they are dominant but in a way that trainers would describe as passively dominant. So they would always meet a dog with assertiveness but never with hostility. Mentor dogs relax other dogs less with the use of body language as such but more often because their presence just has a calming effect on most other dogs.”

Angela paused, “Philip, can I make you another tea?”

“No, I’m fine.  Far too engrossed with what you are saying to want your flow interrupted by another brew-up!” Angela smiled.

“So, let me finish off describing mentor dogs. Often the mentor dog, when working in a group of dogs, will watch from the sidelines and only become involved if absolutely necessary. And, of course, that necessity is the mentor’s evaluation; almost impossible for us humans to interpret.  As I like to say, dogs speak dog so much better than us humans speak dog!”

Almost as though he were listening and approved Angela’s last observation, at that moment there was a quiet moan of contentment from Pharaoh curled up, as he still was, on the cushion.  Philip, with a bit of a shock, realised that he had forgotten that Pharaoh was even in the caravan with them. Not only in the caravan but sleeping on the cushion just four feet away.  Angela’s words were captivating him.

She had paused on the sound of Pharaoh’s little moan and now continued.

“Mentors can be quite lazy! They have a very interesting and, to a great degree, a rather complex view of other dogs that they come in contact with.  It’s a certain bet that we don’t know the half of it when it comes to understanding the mentor teaching dog.  For example, they will support other teaching dogs where needed, showing, for instance, what to do in difficult situations if that other teaching dog is not coping.  But the mental analysis and language used by the mentor dog in these circumstances is way beyond the comprehension of us humans, even those who have spent a lifetime studying dogs.

The last aspect of mentors, I should say, is that there is a varied reaction from other dogs to a mentor dog. Some dogs take great confidence in a mentor and whilst not necessarily submissive towards them, they are very respectful. But others find a mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them.”

Angela paused.

Philip was blown away, to use the modern vernacular term.  Once again, he was dumbfounded that there was so much more to the dog world than he could have ever imagined.

“Want me to carry on with the other teaching dog roles?”

Philip didn’t hesitate for a moment with his reply. “I could listen to this all day.  It’s stupendously interesting.”

“OK, then we have to look at the two other teaching dog roles that we know  exist in today’s dogs.”

Angela kept going, “The minder is totally different to the mentor dog. In the sense of being different in the way they interact with the dogs they are teaching. When a minder meets another dog, they approach with the active intention of interacting with them. The minder dog is naturally assertive, often strongly assertive as your Pharaoh is, but ultimately not as strong as the mentor dog. When the minder dog meets another dog, in a teaching situation, they assess the new dog as it approaches and use appropriate body language in accordance to the other dog’s reaction to them. That makes them frequently more demonstrative than a mentor, and the minder dog will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. That interaction does not necessarily mean an invitation to play, far from it. If the minder feels the other dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them, dog to dog, in a more subtle manner.”

Angela paused.  “When I think about of all the teaching roles, the minder dog is the one role that is incredibly interesting, with so many different levels of communication going on.”

She continued, “For example, if the other dog is worried but shows signs of being ready to rush at the minder, the minder will stand firmly with their head side on to the dog. Eye contact is made intermittently as the minder determines whether the new dog is calming down or intending to rush at the minder.

The minder can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to. Once the situation is under control, from the minder’s perspective, the minder will generally initiate status type activities from the other dog. Such as by marking then walking away allowing the other dog to investigate the minder’s scent. Or the minder may invite the other dog into a status game, often instigating a chase.”

Angela paused to sweep some grey hairs to behind her left ear.

“Then again, if the other dog shows signs at trying to drive the minder away, the minder will turn their head towards them and eye contact becomes stronger. They do not reposition any other part of their body. If the other dog shows signs of moving away, the minder will totally drop their body language and move away. The minder will then reassess the other dog from a distance, before approaching again.

Finally, and this is what makes the minder such a fabulous teaching dog, the minder will monitor other dogs closely and interrupt any unsociable or unruly behaviour. Unacceptable behaviour is stopped by the minder dog physically placing themselves between the dogs in question and remaining there until the tension has reduced. Once calm has returned the minder will usually walk away and monitor the dogs from a distance. In effect, the minder is policing a group of dogs, for the greater benefit of the whole group. Most dogs recognise a minder as a strong dog and usually respect them. Sometimes polite status games may be played when they first meet. Yet what is fascinating is that the minder dog, while a strong dog, does not naturally command respect in the way a mentor dog does. So you can have a situation where some dogs who have limited canine communication skills or are adolescent can challenge the minder.”

“Bingo!” Philip exclaimed. “Now I know what happened at that class at South Brent. I sensed that the Pit Bull had an unruly personality and Pharaoh’s reaction, I presume, was to signal to the Pit Bull that he was not welcome.”

“That would have been my guess,” Angela confirmed, then continuing, “So let’s look at the last of the three teaching roles, that of the nanny dog.

In many ways, the nanny is the most amazing of all the teaching dogs. Uniquely amongst the three teaching roles, a strong nanny can temporarily take on the role of a minder or even a mentor if needed. They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy, including other teaching dogs. What is amazing, considering that they can be of the same breed, within the same pack, yet they function so very differently to the mentor and minder teaching dogs.”

Angela scratched an itch on the side of her head, continuing, “The nanny dog not only relaxes a dog who is uncomfortable or anti-social but also extends to helping relax a mentor or minder belonging to the group. Mentors rarely get overly stressed in teaching situations but minders often take their role quite seriously and consequently can become tense when working.  If a nanny dog sees another teaching dog, most often a minder, showing stress the nanny will consciously use their body language to reduce the tension of fellow teaching dogs as well.  That’s why the nanny dog has been called by some as the clown dog.  Not in the sense of clowning around but offering happiness to their fellow group members. It’s fair to say that of all the teaching dogs the nanny dog is more likely to be happy in most situations.”

Philip was in one of those rare emotional places, that of fully and comprehensively embracing the meaning of an aspect of his life.  For evermore, a dog would not be some cute, cuddly pet but the modern, living embodiment of a species that not only has been with man for, literally, thousands of years, but has been instrumental in man’s development for the last ten or fifteen thousand years, most probably many more years before that.

“Angela, I’m practically speechless and, trust me, that doesn’t happen too often.” There was a wry smile on Philip’s face that connected with Angela.

With the corners of Angela’s mouth turned up in harmony with Philip’s mood, she said, “I’m so pleased.  Despite having seen hundreds of dog owners over my years, I was always puzzled by how few were motivated to understand, thoroughly, what makes the dog the animal that it is.”

Pharaoh sensed some ending coming along and shuffled up from his prone position on the settee cushion to sitting on his haunches.  He was looking alertly towards Angela.

She continued, “So let’s call it a day at this point.  I’ll tell you what I think your plan should be.”

Angela stood up, stretched her arms and stifled a yawn with her right hand.

“Whoops, apologies, don’t know where that came from!  Been talking too much, I suspect.”

Going on to say, “For a few weeks, why don’t you bring Pharaoh up here once a week, twice a week if you can make it, and we’ll reinforce the owner-dog relationship between the two of you.  It will also give me a chance to get to know Pharaoh better, see how he reacts to some of the poor souls that I see here.”

She added, more as an afterthought, “But have to say that there is very little doubt in my mind that Pharaoh is a beautiful example of a teaching dog; a minder.  I have no doubt that he would be fantastic in that role.”

Philip turned that over for a few moments. “Angela, you need to tell me what the cost of his training would be?”

“Well, normally,” she replied, “I charge fifteen pounds for a training lesson.  But in this instance, let’s just run an open account for a while.  Because, if you are happy for Pharaoh to be a teaching dog in helping sort out the dysfunctional dogs that come to me, then I would be paying you.  Won’t be a lot, I’m here to tell you, but it’s all grist to the mill isn’t it.”

There was a pause before Philip went on to ask. “Angela, what’s your view about walking Pharaoh in public places, such as Totnes High Street, for example?” Going on to add, “I just want to avoid any conflict between Pharaoh and another dog, or, more importantly another person.”

“Good point, Philip.  Of all the teaching dogs, the minder is the one dog that can make instant intuitive judgments of other dogs and other people.  Totally beyond us humans to be in mental harmony with both the speed of a minder dog’s judgmental process and what that dog has instinctively cottoned on to.  So rather than be less than perfectly relaxed when you are out and about with Pharaoh, get Pharaoh comfortable in wearing a full muzzle. They don’t bother them once they associate wearing a muzzle with being out in interesting places.  Don’t leave it on Pharaoh at home or in the car, just put it on when you are going to be amongst people and dogs where there might be the slightest chance of aggravation.”

Angela added, “Mole Valley Farmers over at their store near Newton Abbot have a good selection.”

Philip was, indeed, a very happy man now.

“Oh, hang on a moment, let me get you a copy of that article about the history of the family dog, the article by Dr. George Johnson.”

A few minutes later Philip was swinging the car out of Angela’s yard and starting the return journey to Harberton.

Finding the source of the River Dart would have to wait once again.

2,700 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Four

A bit of a slog just now!

My sub-heading is further forward in time, as it were, than Chapter Four represents.

Because at the time of preparing this post for today. i.e. yesterday afternoon, while I am releasing Chapter Four to you very forgiving readers, in terms of my current position, I have just started Chapter Eight. So on the NaNoWriMo website, my word count is, or will be within the next hour, around the 16,500 mark, as opposed to the word count at the end of Chapter Four which was 10,100 words.

On one hand that feels like some achievement but the reality is that it is very close to where I have to be today, to achieve the 50,000 words by the end of November and, guess what, another 1,660 words has to be created tomorrow, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and ….. I’m sure you get the message.

Anyway, enough of this waffling, I have words to write! 😉

Here’s Chapter Four that continued from Chapter three here.


Learning from Dogs.

Chapter Four

Upon his return to Harberton, Philip’s change of mood was unmistakable from that when he and Pharaoh had left the house a little over three hours ago. He opened the front door, allowing Pharaoh to push past him, as he always did, and stepped into the house.

Maggie was downstairs in their bedroom sorting through laundry. Philip, led by Pharaoh, went in to the room. He sat on the edge of the made-up bed.

“Guess what, Maggie!” he exclaimed. “We had the most amazing stroke of luck.”

“Come on,” Maggie replied, “Let’s go upstairs and I’ll make us some coffee and you can tell me all about it.”

As they sat drinking their coffees, Philip explaining the chance meeting with Angela and next Wednesday’s appointment, the grey cloud was breaking up and letting a fitful November’s Winter sun through the pair of full length windows that looked Southwards out over the tiny cul-de-sac where their house was situated.  Maggie and Philip had lived here for some eight years, coming together to live here about a year after they had first met. Luckily, at that time Philip had been in rented accommodation in a farmhouse just a couple of miles away.  So when Philip suggested that he and Maggie buy a house together, it was an uncomplicated move.

They had struck lucky in finding the property soon after this house had come on to the market.  It was actually a converted stone cow-shed that had originally been built over two hundred years ago.  The stone barn, to give it a more accurate description, was the typical Devon stone barn in that the cattle were accommodated, stable fashion, at ground level and the hay was stored on the level above.  At that time, the barn would have been on the edge, and connected to, the open grassland to their West.  But when the barn was taken out of agricultural use and sold, it had only a fraction of that pre-existing grassland attached.

The local guy who had done the conversion some twenty years ago had done it as an ‘upside-down’ house with the living rooms above the two bedrooms and family bathroom on the ground level.  But despite it being a smallish house, it was full of character and Philip had been lucky to find out about it.  In fact, from a casual remark over a pint of Devon ale in the Church House Inn, the local village pub.  Philip had idly asked David, the publican, if he knew of any houses for sale in the village.  David had put a hand up to halt Philip in mid-sentence and called across the bar, “Barry, someone wants to buy your barn!”  And that had been that.

Before Philip knew it, Wednesday morning had arrived. Monday and Tuesday had been busy days for him.  Since he had returned in 1993 from a few years living overseas, he had found himself being asked to provide mentoring support to a number of other entrepreneurs.  Philip had been fortunate to start his own business back in 1978 after leaving IBM in the UK, and even more fortunate to have someone contact him in 1986 enquiring if Philip might be interested in selling out.  Ever the salesman, Philip was delighted to close the deal and take a few years off bumming around the Mediterranean.

This part of South-West England had many who either wanted to start their own business or needed support in developing an already established operation.  It wasn’t a great money-spinner for Philip but the connections and the variety of different businesses out there, plus so many fascinating entrepreneurs, made it very enjoyable.  Plus he, himself, was constantly learning new ideas.

Of course, any reminiscences of the past had Philip lingering in the memories of those years from 1978 through to 1986, the years that he ran his own business. Way back to the early days of business computing. Back to a chance meeting with the sales manager of Commodore Computers UK at their Chiswick headquarters to the west of London.  How he had become the sixth Commodore Computer dealer in the UK based in Colchester in early 1979 and been offered the opportunity of distributing a word-processing program for the Commodore ‘PET’.  While he hadn’t a clue about computers, Philip had left IBM as an experienced word processing salesman.  In a dramatic turn of fortune, Philip went from having trouble spelling the word computer to being able to offer the Commodore Computer with word-processing software for businesses for around a tenth of the cost of then ‘stand-alone’ word-processing machines.  It really was a licence to print money.

He must have become lost in thought to the point where Pharaoh had to remind him with a nudge from a warm snout that they were going out and to, please, open that front door! A very excited Pharaoh bounced down the steps, he sensed something very different about this day.

Again, South Devon was offering typical November weather with low grey clouds and the promise of rain. Philip had Pharaoh’s regular leash plus he had grabbed the body harness that was such a gentle alternative to tugging on a dog’s collar.

As he drove across to Staverton to walk some of Pharaoh’s excitement away, before going on to Angela, his mind drifted back to those days of running his own business, reflecting on how quickly demand for his software had him setting up country distributors right across the world.  In America, he had set up a distributor for the eastern part of the USA in Philadelphia in New Jersey, and in Southern California had likewise appointed a distributor, Danny Mitchell, for the western half of the US.

Dear old Danny Mitchell, what a character he had been.  No, that’s wrong, it should be what a character he still is!  Danny and Philip had formed a fantastic relationship that was still going strong today after more than twenty-four years.

It was a little after nine-thirty when he parked nose-in to James’ field gate.  He let Pharaoh out of the car, locked the car doors and opened the gate to the upper field.  Just for a change and just as much for the experiment, once the gate was closed behind them, he commanded Pharaoh to sit.

“Pharaoh, stay!”  Philip quietly unclipped the leash.  “Pharaoh heel!” Philip slapped his left thigh with his left hand, and set off down the grassy path.  As he hoped, Pharaoh trotted beautifully to heel, even up to within a few yards of the edge of the woods.

“Pharaoh, sit!”  Philip rubbed Pharaoh’s forehead, just where the blackness of his snout filtered into the black-brown hair across his wide, brown eyes.  “There’s a good boy.  Go on then, off you go.”

Pharaoh was away into the trees.

Philip found one of the stumps he used for such mornings, swept the back of his coat underneath his backside and sat down on the old oak stump.

The hour passed as gently as one could ever wish for and, as if on cue, Pharaoh trotted up to where Philip was still sitting just about when it was time to be off to Angela’s place.

Soon they were back in the car and Philip reversed out into the lane and repeated the car journey of just last Sunday.  He couldn’t square the circle of the events since that Deborah Longland had marched them off, figuratively speaking, from her class just last Saturday afternoon.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  That old chestnut came to mind; one of many that he was apt to use.  The one about never underestimating the power of unintended consequences!

As they nosed again into Angela’s yard area, about ten minutes before eleven, she was there expecting them.  This time the muddy overalls and red plastic boots had been cast aside for a pair of freshly laundered blue jeans, fitting snugly around her hips, over a pair of soft, walking shoes, topped with a cotton blue-and-white blouse showing from under a woollen pullover.  Angela’s face declared more make-up than last Sunday.

“Morning Philip,” Angela called out in a bright and breezy manner as Philip closed his driver’s door behind him.

“Good morning to you, Angela.  What’s the plan then?”

“It’s quite simple, Philip.  Just walk him on his leash over towards that fenced off pasture, just where I’m pointing.  Stop before reaching the gate when you are five or ten feet away.”

Philip opened the tail-gate quietly surprised that Pharaoh was in a very contented mood.  Despite the lure of so many new sights and smells, Pharaoh sat on his haunches as Philip clipped on his leash.

“Down Pharaoh. Pharaoh sit. Pharaoh heel.” Bless him, Philip thought, he’s behaving immaculately.

As they came to a halt, Angela standing a little before the gate, Philip noticed that in the far left-hand corner of the pasture were two dogs. Philip was totally thrown by Angela’s next instruction.

“Philip, I’m going to open the gate a little and stand back.  Just slip inside the field, let Pharaoh off his leash and then leave him to do just what he wants to do.”

“But Angela, I can’t guarantee that he won’t go across and be aggressive to those dogs over there.”

“Don’t worry, Philip.  This is not as random and unplanned as you may think.”

Angela then unlatched the gate and opened it towards her by quite an amount.  She then stood back.

Pharaoh looked at the open gate and the two dogs a good hundred yards from him in that corner of the field.  Philip released the leash and stepped out. Pharaoh walked confidently in beyond the open gate and further on for about twenty-five yards.  Pharaoh hesitated.

Then came the call from Angela that would be destined to be in Philip’s consciousness for the rest of his days.

“There’s nothing wrong with Pharaoh!”

Philip practically choked on getting his next words out. “Sorry? Not sure I heard you correctly? Did you say there’s nothing wrong?  But don’t understand.  How on earth can you tell so quickly when Pharaoh’s hardly even entered the field?”

“Philip, it’s very easy.  Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice of him.  He’ll be fine.  Let’s just lean on the fence and watch the three of them and I’ll explain what’s going on.”

Philip came up and lent his arms over the top horizontal rail of the fence, its height comfortably allowing the rail to run across his chest and under each armpit.  Angela, being a little shorter than Philip, stood next to him with her hands on the rail.

“Those two dogs of mine in the field are Sam and Meda. They are both teaching dogs.  Sam is a teaching dog, a male, that we would describe as a Nannie and Meda is a female teaching dog more closely described as a Mentor.  Don’t worry just now, I’ll explain all later. Let’s just watch Pharaoh’s interaction with them for a while.”

Philip was silent, utterly overcome with emotion.  He loved that dog of his so much and had been so worried these past few days that to have Angela’s endorsement of him in this manner was joy beyond joy.

He watched as Pharaoh came up to Angela’s two dogs, head slightly lowered, tail down, seemingly offering himself to Sam and Meda as a submissive youngster ready to learn.

Sam took no notice at all of Pharaoh as Meda partially encircled Pharaoh, sniffed his bum and then, miracle of miracles, softly touched wet nose to wet nose.  Pharaoh noticeably perked up and as Sam came across to greet this new companion, Pharaoh’s tail gently wagged a return greeting. Sam then hung back as Meda appeared to take Pharaoh on a bit of tour around the field, sharing this smell and that smell.

“Do you know what, Philip,” Angela remarked, “I’m pretty sure that Pharaoh is another Mentor.”

She continued, “I can see no difference in their hierarchies.  In other words Pharaoh is not dominating Meda, neither Meda dominating Pharaoh. I think you have a wonderful German Shepherd.  Wouldn’t be at all surprised if I can’t use him teaching some of the poor dogs that come this way.”

Angela added, “Let’s call them in and I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and open your eyes to the magical world of dogs.”

With that Angela called out to her dogs and over they came, Pharaoh happily in tow.  Philip was able to call him over to the car and Pharaoh jumped up just as happy as a dog could be.

Sam and Meda had parked themselves somewhere else and Angela pointed Philip towards a static caravan that seemed to be the customer’s lounge.  Inside, there was a small gas burner and within minutes the kettle was singing out in the unique way that full kettles sound when they are warming up.

“Sit yourself down in the corner, Philip.  Won’t be long.  How do you take your tea? White with sugar, or …”

“Just white with no sugar, please Angela.  Must say that I could murder a fresh cup of tea.”

“Tell you what, why don’t you go and bring Pharaoh to be with us in the caravan.  This story about dogs could take a while!” Angela winked at him.

Moments later, Pharaoh was curled up contentedly on the opposite corner cushion.  Shepherds, like most other breeds of dogs, but ten times more so, loved being in the company of humans chatting comfortably together.

Five minutes later, fingers around the warm, white china mug, steam rising from the freshly brewed tea, Philip was all ears to learn more about dogs in general and teaching dogs in particular.

Philip knew that he was on the verge of embracing dogs, in every single meaning of the word.  It was a magical morning.

2,330 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Three.

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.

Chapter Three

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