The Song of Ruskin: The Beginning 3

Back to Part 2

Small silver grey spheres speckled his head and back, held complete and separate by an invisible force. Changing into larger drops and globs of a more transparent nature down his sides. Chest and legs were just simply wet from the early morning damp grass. I looked around and saw the tea towel. Scrunching it up in my hand I gently and very quickly flicked it over the spheres and drops before the surface tension could break and wet him more.

“Rub a dub dub, rub a dub dub” I sang drying his chest, legs and belly. He sat dispassionate looking around, small tongue appearing from his mouth. One leg lifted, then the other.

“You’re done”. Throwing the tea cloth back on the top of the fridge. Making a mental note I needed to get him a towel. Not quite stomping or marching he moved in a jerky half agitated way. Turning strangely. Small steps to the side at the front pivoting from an axis at the back, then small steps to the side at the back, pivoting from the front.

“Want some food?”. I had had to start shopping for him as well as me. I found in the supermarket tins of dog food which were for puppies. Then to go with them small bite mixer. I was impressed that there was food especially for a puppy. It was an aisle I had never ventured down before. I wasn’t sure what he had been eating, whether he still ate milky things. So for other meals he had cereal. Mine. A weetabix in the main. I didn’t eat sugary breakfast stuff so thought that wouldn’t hurt him if he still wanted milky stuff. I wanted to make certain he had all the things he needed food wise. I didn’t want to trust just what it said on the can. So other meals were made up of what I ate. Fish or whatever protein I was on. Plus some of the vegetables. We had only had one full day, but if I gave him what I thought was good stuff, he could decide to eat it or not, and that was all I could do to make sure he had a good diet. I gave him the option, he made his choice

“Scrambled eggs?” He looked but was none committal. I took a bowl from the sink and swilled it under the tap. Living alone I hadn’t really bothered with breakfast, just a bowl of something with milk. I didn’t really bother with washing up either. I dried the bowl and broke 3 eggs into it. Two for me, one for him. Splash of milk, he liked chilli, so a hint of pepper. Looked to the cloth and realised what I had done. Another mental note to get him a towel. Still it was only essence of puppy and wet grass. Grill on, 3 slices of wholemeal bread. Whisk the eggs and into a buttered pan. It was nice cooking for someone in the morning. His toast was buttered and cut up into puppy sized squares.

Clatterty clat, clatterty clat went his dish, as I ate mine. He seemed to enjoy keeping a rhythm as he ate. Then out again for a run in the yard.

“Two hours”, holding two fingers up. He looked as I closed the door and left him to do what he did. Hopefully sleep.
“Come on were going somewhere” I picked the puppy up on my return and closed the front door, “Outside”.

Turning left down the side of the pub at the corner and onto the grass behind the the row we lived in. A quick run round. Then up again.

To the small side road. “Kerb, Stop.”

“Cross.” Over the side road and along the main road. Even carrying him I needed to start teaching him the instructions for a future life on the street.

Along the road to the zebra crossing outside the student house we stopped on our first night. “Kerb,Stop.”

The cars halted. “Cross.” Then further down the street for another 50 yards to a small pet shop.

Opposite, at the other side of the road now, was a tool hire place. It looked like the original building may have been a car show room or garage. The building was set back with a concreted forecourt between it and the pavement. A low tubular steel barrier between the pavement and the hire centre forecourt. The building was 5-6 of the small terraced houses, which made up the rest of that part of the street, wide.

It had started years before as a small shop at the other side of town, on Nantwich Road. It had Makita power tools in the window, sanders, hand drills; all of them cost far more than we could ever earn in a week or even two or more. Anyone who has been to Crewe railway station, out the main enterance, that’s Nantwich rd. Turn left go quarter of a mile, between the two sets of traffic lights on the left was where the shop used to be.

Now it was here. Power Electrical Tools. A hire centre. PET Hire. Straight across the front of the building in big letters. PET HIRE. I knew it had cement mixers, lawn mowers, mini diggers, scaffolding and access equipment, all sorts of toys outside. Inside was everything a, a tool fetish paradise. Everything and all the stuff to go with them. Rigger boots, drill bits, grinding discs, fasteners. Even though I had bought things from there. Even though I had hired tools from there. Taken tools in for repair. I still had this unresolved doubt, a secret desire, just to make sure.

I wanted to go in and ask if they had a rate for a parrot for the weekend. Just go in get a parrot and take it home. Just to see if we got on. Find out about it. I wondered if you could train a parrot to do a window cleaning round. It could fly about following you. When you were lonely doing another upstairs window, it could land on the roof just above the gutter, and you could say hello.

If you had a parrot for the weekend, and you got on well, perhaps you could then see if they would sell you it. I never did go in and ask if they did parrots or any other sort of animal. So I went into the small pet shop.

The bell brough the lady owner from the back room and to behind the counter.

“What have you got there”. The usual hands went out and he was handed over.

“He’s beautiful.”

Again he was on another counter being looked at, while I told the story of him following me. Then we had a discuusion of his age, she thought about 10 weeks as well.

“Do you know what his is?” she inquired thoughtfully, in reality asking herself the question.
“He’s definately furry, looks like a long haired dog”.
“I thought he looked a bit fluffy”.
“Border collie”.
“I don’t know, my dad’s got one, she didn’t look quite the same at 10 weeks”. The border collie thing had crossed my mind but it didn’t last.
“He has very distinctive eyebrows”. One of his features was his eyebrows, they were lighter then the dark of the rest of the top of his face.
“Like a Rottweiler”.
I thought about her suggestion. I liked the little puppy, we just seemed exist together, without drama, but I didn’t think I would have any affinity with a Rotty, they just didn’t seem my kind of dog.
“He’s got fawny beige legs”. She added, saying what I was already figuring. “And a strange tail”.
His tail though it took many positions was, in the main perfectly upright and vertical, but also nearly always in movement.

I’d never seen a Rotty puppy, but he did slightly look like a furry Rotty puppy could look like. In my imagination. My intuition though, based on nothing couldn’t accept it. I was in a difficult area.

If some Disney artist wanted to make an impish teddy bear look like a puppy, this was the result. But that was as far as it went, Just visual. He had a willful, I don’t care about you independent streak. If someone had got him for their children, there would be tears and ructions. Yes you could stroke him, hold him, cuddle him. But there was always a detachment to him, only on his terms. There would be upsets in the house as he declared he did not want to be a rag doll.

“It’s a possibility”.
It was a possibility, there were so many unknowns. How accurate had we got his age to make a judgement on size?
“Perhaps he is just a mix, whatever he is he’s lovely”. The lady finished her inspection.
“Whatever he is I’ll soon find out”.
It didn’t really matter what he was, he was just he. And we were friends.

“I’d like a collar and lead for him”.
Examination and discussion over he did a little dance on the counter.

I wanted a very soft leather collar. Soft and light. but nice-and plain. We found a small black leather collar with a cream lining/ thin padding for next to his skin. A sort of velvety flock. It had a small siver chrome buckle. All so small my fingers didn’t want anything less.

The lead had to be similar. Long because he was small and I was tall. It had to be light in weight, gossamar light, so light that he wouldn’t even notice it. I didn’t even really know why I was getting him one. We had done fine so far, but getting him used to one now would be useful. But in the future whatever we did he wouldn’t be able to have or even need a lead.

We found a thin nylon corded lead not much thicker than the draw used in an anorak. Again it was black, so difficult to see, to further give the illusion nothing was there.

His shopping done, but his enigma still unresolved, we left. “Outside”.
Carrying the puppy now wearing his new collar, the routine continued. “Kerb, Stop, Stay, Cross”.

Sitting on the living room floor he scratched with his back leg.

“Just give it a minute or two and I’ll take it off”.
After he ignored it for a couple of minutes, I took it off, I didn’t like a shirt and tie round my neck, so didn’t expect the puppy to suffer the same. He fell asleep on the settee.

With darkness falling it was time for food. Time to put his collar on, the lady had done it the first time. Now the puppy waited while I did it. The lead clipped on we left through the front door.
Down the street, turn left by the pub and on to the backs. The little factories and units were all empty as others had gone home for tea, quiet and deserted. I placed the puppy down on the unused pavement which ran round the grassy area where homes once stood.

“Come on”. I started off at a trot calling him. He ran after me as he had done across carparks and up and down the grass in the mornings and afternoons. This time he had a collar and lead. I held the lead with my arm outstretched above his head, taking what little weight it had, He trotted alongside. Job done. He had learnt to walk on a lead and he hadn’t even noticed.

Picked up. “Kerb, Stop, Stay, Cross”. We headed for the Chip Shop. “Inside”.
In luck.
“What have you got there?” John walked from the back preparation room to behind the counter, smiling, drying his hands on a cloth on the way.

This was the puppy’s first time in a Chip Shop. The light, the sounds of extractor fans, food cooking and the smells. So he did his attentive interested act. Not lying in my arms but sitting head turning and taking in another new experience.

Again I told his story. John still smiling as the puppy took him in as well.

“What can I do you for?”
“Have you got any liver?”
“Just done it”.
Yes in luck. John did fantastic liver and gravy. Sometimes it had all gone. But I had got the timing right. He had just cooked a batch for the weekend. It would be put in trays, frozen and microwaved as and when. Good as it was, it always seemed proper to get it fresh from the pan.

The puppy again took his position on the settee, me on the chair. Chips, liver and mushy peas tipped out on my plate. He waited, but somehow apprehensive, for another life defining talk. Hey dog, puppy or a clicking of fingers would no longer do. If he was staying with me he needed a name.

The puppy sat attentive but again never looked directly at me prefering to watch from the corner of his eyes. So how do you choose a name for a dog you never intended to have. It was a Tuesday when he followed me, but he didn’t look like a Tuesday, he was a little boy and Tuesday seemed a girls name. Tuesday Weld, the actress, had made that her own. It was on Ruskin Road he followed me down. It was on Ruskin Road we first met.

“Ruskin”. As a proper commanding noun.

He wiggled to attention, looked directly at me, head to one side, ears up. The first time he had ever met my eyes full on, with a deep and fixed stare, not a glance, not a sideways look, not a quick and a turn away. I had his attention, for the first time, eye to eye and it stayed. It was a sudden shock.

That was that decided then. Simple.

“Here you are Ruskin”. Placing my plate on the floor, I lifted him off the settee so he could finish what I had left for him.

“Come on”. It was time for the visit to the corner shop. The routine. Pick him up, open door.


Carried there and back, we got to the Chip Shop and our own stretch, our own community, between the two railway bridges. Most of the houses here I cleaned, talked to people passing, chatted in the shops. Knew most who passed.

“Have a walk”. I put the puppy on the pavement for the last 50 yards. This was a busy main road during the day, now the traffic was quietening down but still cars passed. Ruskin could walk on a lead on a empty pavement with no distractions, now to do it on a main road. The street was so busy I had never seen a stray dog here. The only dogs were always on leads, I think I knew most. No one had ever said anything about ill dogs, someone would have told me.

Ruskin trotted along perfectly, this time on my right side away from the road. He gave me little sideways glances just to check if he was doing OK. I just watched him, proud in his efforts to do things perfectly.

He stopped sudden, half running behind me, half me overshooting from the sudden jolt, spinning round to my right as I followed his rush, trying to control without janking the lead, Ruskin was standing on his back legs, front paws on the front passenger door of a large dark estate car, it’s true colour and identity disguised by the the orange streetlamps. Ruskin gave out one short excited yelp.

The passenger door cracked open about an inch. I touched the lead with the middle finger of my left hand, just enough tension to tell Ruskin to get down. He walked to the edge of the door waiting for it to open. A young lady got out, Ruskin was again on his back legs, pawing her leg frantically. As she picked him up I let go of his lead. Ruskin had never shown me any affection, he’d never been pleased to see me.

“Ah great you found him” a man my age emerged from the drivers side, “we’ve just put a note through your door”.

“Oh” guilt washed through me, I was waiting to be asked why I was walking their puppy down a main road.

“We’ve just got your address from the police, they must have misplaced it yesterday and the receipt to say you found him.”

Ruskin was squirming in her arms licking her face.

“Tell you what, I’ll park the car up and call we’ll call round it’s a bit busy here”. He broke my gaze.

“Yes, yes, you will bring him to see me”.

“Oh yes, only be a couple of minutes”.

I returned to an empty house for the first time in two days. I had done as much as I could. I had knocked on doors and called in shops with him, reported him as found at the police station. Wednesday I had made some posters and put them up in the shops near where he followed me. That evening before we went to see the band I had phoned the police again to see if anyone had reported him lost.

The truth was he was a happy little soul. Clean, well fed and confident. He was someones dog.

I had left the door on the latch and sat in my chair. My legs no longer had the will or desire to hold me. I hadn’t wanted him to be worried about anything. I wanted him to know he was secure and no problem and that I would look after him. For two days he had been the sole purpose and focus of my life. I had had to keep things simple because he was a puppy. I couldn’t go into abstarct about someone turning up, I just had to promise him I would look after him whatever happened. Simple and uncomplicated.

I had had to reassure him with a promise. For life. Just so he could get on with being an untroubled puppy. When no one came Tuesday, then no one Wednesday, despite all I had done, I had just accepted slowly and unconsciously we were together. I had had to give him the best start I could. balance risks and benefits. Most of all I had to start teaching him how things would have to be if we were to stay together and he was to be happy. It wasn’t the two days we had had, it was the rest of our lives we were to lead that had gone. The future had ended.

Tears ran down my face.


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  1. #1 by earwicga on June 16, 2009 - 11:58 pm

    Is there more?

  2. #2 by celticlion on June 17, 2009 - 12:54 am

    Yes about 17 years worth. I just find it hard to write. Perhaps I should get the next set of notes turned into another first draft post . It does start getting deeper though.

    it twists and turns. Now he has gone, 2 weeks ago it is looking likely he came from North Wales/ Snowdonia originally.

  3. #3 by earwicga on June 19, 2009 - 11:35 am

    I look forward to it – or just do it for yourself.

    Lovely place, Snowdonia.

  4. #4 by Ruth on September 14, 2010 - 11:32 pm

    I hope you’ll write more, but I know how hard it is. We lost our beloved beardie, Madeline, to pancreatic cancer a year ago at just ten years old. Your descriptions of Ruskin’s movements and side ward glances from the corners of his eyes trigger fond memories. Also, the smell of chili never failed to draw Maddie to the kitchen, nose in the air. – I’m smiling through the tears.

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