A dog reading Tolstoy

The dog has just looked up from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and given me a baleful brown-eyed reproach.

He has nothing whatsoever to reproach me for. He has been well fed, run helter-skelter round Crown lands, and been given a maths lesson by seven-year-old Felix who has just found and abducted the Big Family Calculator for dog tutoring purposes.

Last night he was on the top of the iron age fort next to our home, along with the rest of the family, watching the supermoon rise, and failing doggily to marvel. He grinned enduringly throughout the whole astral experience (which, I gather, will not happen again until 2016); although he did look very interested at a squirrel which had no business being out at dusk.

I am unsure why he has chosen as his bedfellow one of the greatest writers Russia has ever bequeathed the world. I had him down for more of an Agatha Christie kind of canine. But preconceptions can be misleading, it seems.

As I found to my cost when I did my usual stint as Big Al’s lunch monitor on Friday.

It works like this: Big Al, my three-year old nephew, does not go swimming. But the rest of his nursery does.

So, while his mother slaves away teaching little children to read, this little child must be picked up and brought home half an hour early, for dinner.

We take it in turns. My mother collects him every other week: and once a fortnight, it’s my shift.

Reader, it is never dull.

First, my ‘late’ genes kick in.I tear myself reluctantly away from what I have been doing about three minutes too late to get to the nursery on time. Β Then I cannon through the Berkshire streets, hollering unwarranted abuse at anything which gets in my way, albeit an inanimate traffic light which is sporting the wrong colour.

I went through a red light on Friday.

I invariably arrive with my hair standing on end and a slightly crazed expression in my eye. It is not an auspicious visage with which to i) meet a three-year old, or ii) convince the nursery staff that you are fit to carry him off in your car.

Somehow, I wrest him from their sceptical arms and we set off for home, de-briefing, noting passing lorries and trains, waving to Mummy in her school as we pass, etcetera.

Big Al is a practical soul. We trundle companionably to my house where await the delights of car boxes, Macaulay-moustache-tweaking, Β and red pasta for dinner.

On Friday we arrived and pottered around at our customary routines: Al rooted around to find the softest blanket in the house; I tracked down the car box; the pasta went on to boil.

It occurred to me, presently, that all was rather quiet on this floor of the house.

And it had been for a while.Β I flew around, trying to track the boy who will try anything once. And when I found him, another of my well-founded preconceptions flew out of the window like a ferret down the proverbial trousers.

My preconception was this: I know how one should pick up a cat.

I also have a pretty good idea what cats will put up with and what they won’t. They have claws and teeth and an attitude, and a loud yowl to boot. If things are not going their way, it is my experience that they will let one know, in no uncertain terms, that the situation is not to their liking. A cat will simply summon its staff with all speed to remedy the problem.

How to describe this?

When I walked into the room Al was, quite literally, brandishing Kit Kat, our long-suffering family feline, high in the air.

He had a fist full of tortoiseshell shoulder in each hand, and was excitedly telling me about Kit Kat in considerable detail, reaching as high as he could and swinging her to and fro in companionable rugby-scrum camaraderie.

Swing high, sweet chariot-cat.

As I remember back to that horrified freeze-frame moment, though, I must own that – against all the odds – Kit Kat did not seem to mind.

Her eyes were not staring and she was not uttering a squeak of protest. She had not lashed out at Al in any defensive gesture. She was just swinging to and fro, seemingly complicit in the whole surreal Gilliam-esque experience.

I broke it up, naturally.

Ever since, she and the toddler from cat-hell seem to have been the best of chums. There is no hint of hysteria in Kit Kat’s demeanour as they saunter together down the hall past the dog and his Tolstoy.

And so I sip a cup of tea, this Sunday afternoon, and wonder idly who will confound my expectations next. It is as well, at times like these, to eye one’s spouse beadily. He has never been a conventional soul.

I wonder, will he be next?

33 thoughts on “A dog reading Tolstoy

  1. She realised it was suffer through the Russian convolution of names in W&P or pretend she can fly. If she is like me, then that is a bargain. I can’t bear people with so many different names I can’t tell if it’s them of someone else half the time.

    I gave up on Colleen McCulloughs Roman series for the same reason.

    1. I actually started keeping a mind map to keep track of them! It doesn’t help that the Russian aristocracy have that habit of calling themselves by their whole long name every single time one hears of them. Never thought of that angle, Sidey…poor Mac…

  2. Fabulous story! I am reminded of two things – first of all the great quote by Mark Twain: “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” (I guess this does not apply to cat-shoulder- hoisting toddlers!) The other is this: Our cat (my beloved Popoki) was always extraordinarily patient with people (long-suffering might be a more apt description), but especially with babies, toddlers, and young children. At approximately the same age in our boys’ lives, I ceased worrying about whether whatever they put in their mouths was sterilized clean, because at that time I walked in to find them with Popoki’s tail in their mouths – they were quite happily enjoying their furry snack! Why bother washing a bit of floor-dirt off a toy? I’d pick up whatever they dropped on the floor, quickly dust it off on my pants’ leg or skirt and hand it back over!

    Aren’t toddlers and cats grand? A source of infinite amusement, consternation, and wonder! I suppose you could add husbands to that list as well!

    Thanks so much for this morning’s laugh! I want to say again: Thank you so very much for sloggging on with your blog – and all apologies to your family – but they simply have no idea what we would have missed if you had followed through on your ill-advised, but well-intentioned plan. Thank you for relenting. Don’t know what I would have done without you each day in my in-box. Your are a treasure beyond measure, and if some publisher doesn;t wake up and realize this, they are missing out on an international best-seller! Your writing is very reminiscent to me of Jean Kerr (“Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”), albeit with its own unique British twist! So, I suggest that you start working on queries, young lady!

    Have a great week, Kate – and – I’ll “see” you tomorrow! πŸ˜€

    1. I failed to add to the Popoki story: She was content to have her tail sampled and waited quite stoically for the boys to finish tasting. As soon as they tired of it, she would find a remote spot to in which to carry out the task of cleaning herself thoroughly, paying particular attention to her tail. Quite clearly on her face you could see her thinking, “Children can carry such nasty germs – one never knows what may have been in their mouths before they settled on my tail.” πŸ˜€

    2. What a lovely comment, Paula, thanks πŸ™‚ If it hadn’t been for your reposting idea I wouldn’t have started again. There are still days when I just need to be with everyone, and the I repost as per our plan.
      Popoki sounds like a gem amongst cats. Fancy sharing one’s tail on a regular basis…

  3. methinks that Mac has been fooling us and he’s uber brainy.
    he also looks so innocent in his photos

  4. And about Kit Kat . . . cats do summon the staff quickly when they are being mistreated, but I’ve noticed that my cats allow young children far more latitude than one would expect given that:

    They have claws and teeth and an attitude, and a loud yowl to boot. If things are not going their way, it is my experience that they will let one know, in no uncertain terms, that the situation is not to their liking. A cat will simply summon its staff with all speed to remedy the problem.

    It may be a case of mistaken identity too ~ falling back in time to the ministrations of mother cat. Or maybe it felt like a ride at an amusement park.

    And I echo Paula’s sentiments. I love seeing “Kate” in my in-box. πŸ˜€

    1. Tolerance is not usually a trait I associate with my tortoiseshell but, what the heck….I’m going with the amusement park option. As I write she is attempting to bite Phil’s toes. Merciless.

      1. Our huge cat Justin (otherwise known a Justinius Maximus) doesn’t go after toes, but he waits for you to either lie or sit down and then jumps up on you (and with a cat that big, it can be startlingly painful!), and proceeds to KNEAD YOUR THROAT AND NECK mercilessly! He is incorrigible, and when tossed off, he amiably jumps back up again, and again and again. . .and we’ve got the sore necks and throats to prove it! πŸ˜€

      2. Aimable is the key word there, Paula πŸ™‚ I suppose we must always keep our cat’s near relations in mind: they are little lions at heart…

    1. Yes, Tolstoy belongs in those sumptuous days of Winter really, Sunshine. I do wonder at the dog’s choice of a bedfellow. And as for Kit Kat, while the two of them seem to be best buddies we are keeping an eagle eye on the burgeoning friendship!
      Hope the job continues to delight πŸ™‚

  5. I’d just like to know one thing: Once Felix has finished teaching your dog to calculate, will you send him my way? I’ll pay him to do my taxes. I’m sure he’ll have better results than I will…

  6. My dog could be as tortured a soul as Tolstoy, but only when he gets kicked out of the house before his bedtime.
    He prefers a lighter read such as “Archie” or “The hitchhiker’s guide…”

    (smiles@’Swing high, sweet chariot-cat.’)

    1. Two excellent reads which I believe Macaulay has on his reading list, Thysleroux. I don’t think he’s serious about the Tolstoy anyway. It was only open at page 32.

  7. According to Goldsmith, “girls like to be played with, and rumpled a little too, sometimes.” Maybe it’s the same for cats.

    As for Tolstoy–all Russian characters seem to have at least three names, plus a diminutive, plus a title or two. The effort of keeping them straight is enough to exhaust even the most dedicated reader. Perhaps Mac chose the book for its soporific effect.

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