For a short spell, I appear to have swapped dogs.
It is not something everyone would notice. Just as always, this morning I hitched the dog to the extendable lead and headed out to give him happy fuel, which will power his little tail to wag twice as fast all day long.
The dog I have been touting today has a moustache, just like my regular dog. If anything, he has more of Neville Chamberlain about him than Macaulay. He has shaggy ears and a doggy aura, and the same salt-and-pepper black and tan coat.
But look closer, and you will see that this is not just a Macaulay by any other name.
He is portly, for one thing, and carries his 13 years with assertiveness. He is slower,his legs are shorter, and he smells considerably less of all the wrong fresh forest experiences.
But the overriding difference is his piercing stare.
Macaulay is staying with my parents until our return home in the middle of the week.
But this is Ricky, and he can freeze you at fifty paces with a Cornish glare of such overriding eeriness it might, on a dark night, in a howling gale such as the one outside on Bodmin Moor this very moment, make your very blood run cold.
It is, simply, a knowing stare.
This morning he and I were in the garden.
The strangest of warm gales was blowing. These temperatures are unusual for the time of year, and added to the dark skies and the greenest of rolling hills, it felt like Prospero’s Tempest. Surreal.An enchanted wind.
Ricky was issuing officious woofs in the direction of the gate beyond which he could not see. The wind was carrying them away.
He is outraged by such a barrier to his officialdom. Passers by must be suitably admonished, even if they are invisible.
I opened the kitchen door and I beckoned him in. “Come on, boy,” I urged.
He stood there. And with this strange wind, the warmth and the green Cornish half-light, that dog stared into the very depths of my soul.
This is a dog who has lived out his life as his mistress’s sole companion.
For 13 years, he has been trying to decipher the sounds that come out of the mouths of these human creatures. He sees that those who wield words seem to hold sway.
Thus, he has worked diligently to translate.
There are two possible outcomes to all this canine industriousness.
The first is that he has never quite succeeded; but that the canine talent for reading the non-verbal language of humans means he gets by. If he stares long enough, he feels, then surely he will understand.
The second, and more unsettling option, is that he has made some headway in decipering these aural hieroglyphics. And that he can understand a goodly part of what we are saying.
And I cannot shake the impression that what he hears, on occasion, displeases him.
Ricky’s evening walk is daunting in the gale-swept dark. We turn out of the garden of the little 19th century cottage and walk up the hill to the main village crossroads.
Towering over the crossroads is an imposing church : a great grey granite monolith which distinguishes itself by being even blacker than the Cornish black night.
It has a graveyard, sure: the dead of centuries rest there with inscribed gravestones to chronicle their presence in stern slate.
But that warm wind, it blunts reticence. This is just like a mediterranean evening, it boisters; you could walk for miles and miles and miles….
I think to myself: I could walk right up the lane, past the comforting orange of the village windows, under the only village lamplight and onwards, out into the black open country.
On a night like this, what could I have to fear?
Ricky and I proceeded past the church and the stones and the yew, past the flame windows offering solace and normality. He was in his element. He sniffed and marked and administered and sniffed some more.
And I became keenly aware that we were approaching the place where the windows ceased, and a great dark chasm opened up, flanked by a pair of 60 mph speed limit signs.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
It was the village edge.A choice lay before me. Light, camraderie and familiarity, or dark adventure?
And the dog turned, and he stared at me.
‘Nuff not said.
Mercury’s winged feet could not have brought us more fleetly, back to the cottage doorstep and a beckoning cup of tea.
Same woman, same lead, four legs, moustache.
But one crucial difference.
A stare that could turn a man on his heels.