Words after words after words!
The completion of the draft of Chapter Two, very much a draft you’ll find, brings the total words to-date to 4,730. That’s not counting Chapter Three that is more or less finished at around 3,000 words and Chapter Four, three-quarters finished at 1,650 words. For a grand total as at the end of the 5th November of 9,380 words! So a little over 1,000 words ahead of the game until tomorrow, the 6th, comes and I’m then 600 words behind the curve.
So, trust me, the 1,667 words required each day is relentless.
But I’m enjoying it!
So here is Chapter Two and tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll give you wonderful readers a break from The Book!
Learning from Dogs
Days slipped into weeks with young Pharaoh settling down so perfectly well. Philip was fortunate that just a little over five miles away his nephew, James, had thirty acres of land near Staverton, of which fifteen were woods. Even better, the entire property surrounded by a stock-proof fence.
So almost from day one, Philip would put Pharaoh into the back of the Volvo and drive across to those secluded acres for an hour or so of exploring all the smells that Mother Nature could offer. Indeed, by the end of October it was a routine that each of them looked forward to. Pharaoh would busy himself in ways that only a dog can do, totally lost in his world of these trees. Philip would settle himself down on an old stump and just let his wonderful dog have the time of his life. That dog was becoming such a great companion and his already deep bond with the young Pharaoh and the dog’s clear devotion in return to him fed some very deep emotional needs.
This yearning for a dog, specifically for a German Shepherd dog, had links back to very early times in his life. Way back to 1956 when he was just eleven-years-old. That Summer when his father had offered to look after a nearby couple’s German Shepherd because they had to travel to Australia and would be away for six weeks. That late Summer having the dog so quickly settle in at home, so quickly the dog allowing young Philip to play with it, stroke it, cuddle up to it. Having Boy, for that was the simple and straightforward name for the dog, sleep in his bedroom. It was instant love for Boy by Philip. Those six weeks had been precious beyond description resulting in them becoming a life-long, unforgettable, enchanting memory. So deeply linked to the event that was to change Philip’s life forever. For just six weeks after he turned twelve his father died suddenly and unexpectedly at night; just five days before Christmas. The pain of his father’s sudden death in such contrast to the purest love he had felt for Boy, such extremes of joy and sorrow, would haunt Philip for decades.
Philip was conscious that he was leaving it a little late to sign up for dog training classes but in many ways Pharaoh was learning naturally and rapidly from both Philip and Maggie. He would listen intently to what was being spoken in the house. He had quickly learned the meaning of ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’, ‘Lie down’ and a host of other more complex communications. Within just a couple of weeks Pharaoh knew that when Philip said to Maggie, “Guess I better take Pharaoh for a walk!”, the dog would get so over-excited that Philip quickly amended saying the word ‘walk’ to spelling it out ’w-a-l-k’. But within days of that change Pharaoh had learnt that spelling out the word didn’t change the intention, and the over-excitement returned. Nevertheless, the time for training was now if Philip was to take Pharaoh anyplace where there would be other people and dogs. Plus Pharaoh was rapidly losing his puppyhood and growing into a significant male German Shepherd.
Philip rang Sandra and she recommended the South Brent Dog Classes just a few miles away from home. So that first Saturday afternoon in November, grey clouds spilling down from the moors, a hint of drizzle in the air, Philip drove West out of Totnes along the Ashburton Road. Pharaoh instinctively new something was up despite him so frequently being put in the back of the old Volvo Estate every time he was taken for walks.
The road meandered out of Totnes through green country hills where the sheep population far outnumbered humans. Totnes itself was surrounded by hills and dales as well as acres of green grasslands, the latter so closely cropped by sheep. Every fold in those hills seemed to hold either an ancient wood or an even older village that still felt so strongly connected with the long-ago settlements that preceded these havens. Names such as Berry Pomeroy, Stoke Gabriel, Dartington, Asprington, Harberton, Diptford, Rattery, Littlehempston; such echoes of times long gone. Philip mused about the history of Totnes, the ancient legend of Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first coming ashore here. Presumably, he pondered, because the town is at the head of the estuary of the River Dart and the Dart is one of the first safe anchorages along the Northern coastline of the English Channel, up from the South-West tip of Cornwall. In fact, set into the pavement of Fore Street in Totnes is the ‘Brutus Stone’. It’s a small granite boulder onto which, according to that legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship, proclaiming, ”Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.” Philip pondered that the likelihood of the legend being true was pretty low. But it was a great tourist magnet!
Just six miles later, Pharaoh still sitting erect intently watching the passing cars, Philip drove across the flyover that spanned the main Exeter to Plymouth road, the A38. Seemingly always busy, whatever the time of day, or day of the week, the speeding cars were throwing up a road spray as the drizzle had now deteriorated into a steady light rain.
Philip turned onto the B3372, that meandering country lane that ran into South Brent. He had been told to watch out for a five-acre field to the right just before entering South Brent; that was where the classes were held, come all weathers!
The open field gate and half-a-dozen parked cars made the location obvious. Philip drove carefully in, parked on a gravel parking area, leaving some distance from the smart, white Ford van to his right-hand side, and turned the engine off.
The ignition key had hardly been dropped into his coat pocket when Pharaoh erupted into a frenzy of barking. Thirty yards away a cheerful Cocker Spaniel was being walked across to the gathering group of dogs and respective owners and this clearly had triggered the barking.
Pharaoh’s nose was pressed up against the tailgate glass, his whole body tense, ears erect, tail straight out. This was a dog in attack posture. The sound of barking was overwhelming in the confined space of the car.
“Pharaoh! Shut it! Quiet!”, shouted Philip.
Pharaoh stopped barking but was still quivering all over, giving every indication of wanting to jump out of the car and beat up the Cocker Spaniel.
This was not what Philip had anticipated; far from it.
Philip swung his legs out of the car, stood up and closed the door. He better find the person in charge of the class and get acquainted with the routine. The rain was typical for Dartmoor! Fine rain that seemed to have a way of working its way through the most tightly buttoned coats. He pulled his coat collar up around the back of his neck and walked across to where a group of people were standing together, perhaps half of them with dogs held close to them on leashes.
As Philip approached the group, a woman, perhaps early middle-age, her dark-brown hair spilling out from under a leaf-green felt hat, caught his eye. She walked over to them, her blue jeans tucked into black Wellington boots.
“Hallo, you look like a first-timer?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Name’s Philip. Philip Stevens from Harberton together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh.”
“Well welcome to the class. My name is Deborah Longland and I’m the instructor around here. Call me Debbie; most do!”
Philip quickly guessed she was an experienced and supportive coach. Just something about her that way.
“Was that Pharaoh that I heard barking a few moments ago?”, Debbie asked.
“Yes, first time he has behaved like that.”
Debbie was looking across at the Volvo. “Strong, male German Shepherd, I don’t doubt. Not uncommon at all,” she replied, continuing, “Leave him in the car until I have the first class underway.”
Debbie went on to explain, “We have the regulars walk around that grass area over there with all their dogs on leashes. This gets them settled down. Then we reinforce the usual commands, as you will see.”
Philip looked to where Debbie was indicating. The nearest corner of the grassland that must have been three or four acres had an area that showed clear previous signs of dogs and owners walking round in a wide circle.
“After that, in about twenty minutes,” Debbie continued, “then we will bring Pharaoh in with, perhaps, just two or three other dogs, and see how he behaves.”
Then adding, “Once the first class is running, I suggest you give Pharaoh a bit of a walk around the far part of the field. Get him adjusted to the environment.”
“Oh, I presume Pharaoh is settled on the leash?” Debbie added as an afterthought.
Philip replied, “Yes, he’s fine on his lead. In fact, he walks well with me despite no formal heeling lessons.”
Debbie came back at him. “Shepherds are incredibly intelligent dogs and I can tell just from the way you speak about him that the two of you are very close. Catch you later, must dash now.”
Philip went back to the car and reached in to the rear brown, pseudo-leather bench-seat and picked up Pharaoh’s leash. It was a handsome affair, even if was just a dog lead. Sandra Chambers from the breeding kennels had recommended the type, a leash that had two length settings. More importantly, the supple, heavy-duty leather leash had a hand loop just six inches up from the snap catch. This allowed Philip to hold the leash in his left hand with Pharaoh having no freedom to be anything other than close to Philip’s left leg, the recommended arrangement for walking a dog on a lead. Right from the first moment that Pharaoh had been taken across to James’ woods, Philip had taught Pharaoh to ‘heel’ on the leash as they walked the grassy track down to the woods. It wasn’t long before Pharaoh would obediently remain close to Philip’s side without any pulling on his lead, even with the leash at full length. But how would it be today?
Philip leaned over the back of the bench-seat and clipped the lead onto Pharaoh’s collar before slipping back out from the car and closing the side door. He walked around to the tailgate and inched it open; sufficient to slip his arm inside and grab the leash. With his other arm, he raised the tailgate to its full extent. Pharaoh sat on his haunches just staring at everything.
“Pharaoh, down you get, there’s a good boy.”
Pharaoh dropped down on to the grass and looked up at Philip. It was clear that this was all very unfamiliar territory, for the first time in his young Shepherd’s life.
Philip gave him a couple of quick commands. “Pharaoh, stand! Pharaoh, heel!”
With that, Philip stepped, left foot forward, and Pharaoh was right on the mark.
It was a walk of a couple of hundred paces to get them to the far corner of the field. The ground had risen in their direction and now when Philip had Pharaoh sit and they looked back across the field and beyond to the rolling South Hams countryside so typical of South Devon, the view, even with the light rain, was so comforting; so homely.
Despite a lifetime of living in so many places, both within the UK, and overseas, this part of Devon felt so strongly connected to the person he was, that this was his home, where his roots were. That Acton, his place of birth in North London, just happened to be a technicality in his life’s journey.
Before they knew it, the first group was leaving the walking area and it was time to experience Pharaoh’s first obedience class!
They waited just to one side. Debbie came across.
“Philip, do you know what Pharaoh is like with other dogs?”
“No experience whatsoever,” he replied, continuing “We live over at Harberton but I have access to private woods at Staverton. Pharaoh is walked there most days. So I have never walked him in a public place and have no intention of doing that until he’s been properly trained and assessed; by you, I guess.”
“OK, let’s take it cautiously. Walk Pharaoh into the centre of the exercise area, have him sit, hold him close to on his leash.”
Debbie was quiet in thought for a few moments, unaware, it seemed, of the rain water that looked as though it were soaking into the crown of her hat.
“We have many dogs here today, although no Shepherds. I will ask a few of the owners to walk their dogs, dogs I know well, one at a time in a circle about you and Pharaoh, coming in closer each time if it all runs to plan.”
Philip walked Pharaoh to that centre spot.
“Pharaoh, sit!” He did so without hesitation.
A black, female Labrador and her owner, a gent wearing a black, full-length raincoat over brown hiking boots, the gent’s right hand carrying a wooden walking-stick, detached themselves from the group of dogs and owners and commenced to walk obliquely around them.
Philip reinforced his instructions to Pharaoh. “Pharaoh, Stay! Sit, there’s a good boy!”
Debbie was thirty feet away watching the proceedings carefully.
“Tom,” Debbie called out to the circling gent, “Come in just a few feet and continue circling Pharaoh.”
So far, so good.
“OK Tom, that’s fine. Going to move on to Geoff and his dog.”
Tom and the Lab returned to the owner’s group and a younger man, perhaps in his late twenties, came across with a smaller, creamy coloured male dog. To Philip eye’s the dog looked like a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull mix.
The dog was a far less settled creature than the Lab, and Terry, for the name of the dog immediately became clear, was prompted several times to heel.
Terry and his owner approached the circling zone. Pharaoh started to bristle, the hairs on the nape of his soft, brown neck lifting in anticipation of something, something only known to Pharaoh.
“Pharaoh, sit,” Philip voiced sternly as he noticed Pharaoh’s rear quarters just lifting up from the wet grass.
As Geoffrey and Terry circled around the rear of Philip and Pharaoh, Pharaoh squirmed his body and head so as to keep an eye on this other dog.
Then it happened!
As the Pit Bull arrived off to Philip’s right side, about eight feet away, Pharaoh sprang at the dog. It was not entirely unexpected by Philip but even so, even with Pharaoh being held at short rein, the jump practically dragged Philip off his feet. He had no idea that Pharaoh had such power in his legs now. He was just a little over four months old!
“Pharaoh, No! Come here! Come back!” Philip combined shouting angry commands with dragging Pharaoh back to his left side. Pharaoh begrudgingly obeyed but continued barking fiercely, standing erect on all four legs, lips curled back exposing his fangs and teeth; indeed everything about him signalling to the Pit Bull that Pharaoh was a deeply unhappy animal.
Debbie signalled to Geoff to retreat from the area and, as quickly as Pharaoh became upset, he settled down and squatted back on his haunches.
Debbie walked across to Philip.
“I’m terribly sorry to say this,” Debbie said quietly to Philip, “but I think you have a German Shepherd with an aggression issue.”
“Until you get that sorted, I just can’t take the risk of Pharaoh coming to these classes. Under the circumstances, I’ll waive today’s training fee.”
With that Debbie returned to the other owners.
Philip was gutted. Utterly shocked to his core. The dog that meant so much to him had been rejected. That rejection was as much his rejection as it was Pharaoh’s.
2,692 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover