Teatime: and as I sink into a chair after having supplied my children with their dinner there is a polite paw scratching my calf.
I look down and what I see is as inevitable as nightfall: a dog with all the zeal of Goebbels staring fixedly at my face.
Pardon, he emanates, but now that the children have had their sustenance, I believe it’s my turn?
The dog is technically correct.
Every day, the family is served their meal, and every day, the moment they have theirs, the big silver doggie bowl is taken down and filled with chow.
The family mutt sits back and waits for permission to eat. He sits erect like some preppy schoolboy, bottom slipping relentlessly backwards on the smooth floor, all anticipation.
I say: “Get it! Good Boy!”
He does not move.
I tire of telling him, and go back to sit down with the children. I look back in a few moments and he is usually eating: I have not yet divined what the secret code it is which encourages him to begin.
This teatime, though, is different. In a fit of temporary insanity I fed him an hour before. He has already done his preppy schoolboy act, slippy bottom, the whole shebang. And now here he is, a dog of whom Pavlov would be proud, demanding another dinner because the trigger demands it: the children have started eating.
It is Fierce Voice Time.
“Settle down, Macaulay! Into your basket!”
He slopes off. Three seconds later, a polite paw is scratching my calf and The Face is back.
I feed him again. Never again will I feed the dog early. I would say enough is not in his vocabulary, except that he is a dog and has no vocabulary. This could become a never-ending task, and the dog a rotund creature one could roll down the street when he got tired of walking.
No: we must keep the milestones in his day: breakfast just after the children: tea just after the children. With a milestone, a dog knows where he is.
Milestones are good for giving direction.
They hunch, curmudgeonly, at the side of roads here in the UK; sometimes celebrated by precious villages, sometimes collecting exhaust fumes on the edge of a great highway, surrounded by tufted grass. This way to London, Gov’nor.
It was the British legend of a pauper who became London’s Mayor which, with sleight of hand, links the real and metaphorical meanings of the stooped little stones.
Richard Whittington, was born in the Forest of Dean in 1354. Far from being a pauper, his grandfather was a knight-at-arms, a lower member of the nobility. But it is quite true that he travelled to London, and made a fortune as a fabric trader.
The fairy tale polarises his story, making him a pauper who is ready to give up on his dream when he reaches a milestone on Highgate Hill. Here we are, trumpets the gallumphing English folkloric symbolism: Dick has reached a milestone. Not only is this a hunk of rock depicting the way ahead; it is a turning point in his life, too.
Woven into our very social subconscious is that feeling that life includes satisfying, tidy conclusions: markers which draw a line under the time before, and light the way ahead.
Or so the fairytales say.
All my life I have assumed this to be so. And all my life, I have felt cheated when even the most momentous achievement is not an end, a time to party and bask in glory; but a beginning, a whole new set of demands.
Life is a never-ending story, right up until that moment it ends.
Look at any tale where someone is trying to better their fate – Amelia from Vanity Fair, for example, or Lemony Snicket’s Violet, Klaus and Sunny Beaudelaire in A series of Unfotunate Events- and you will find the final milestone, the happy ending, is a mirage which dematerialises when the character gets close.
And it’s not just a plot device. It’s life. If you’re driven by happy endings, you’re chasing a phantom.
And so, like Macaulay’s dinner, it is vital to note the markers in every day. If we are not careful, we ignore the small things: the little actions we achieve daily, which make us who we are.
A meal cooked for a friend; a word which makes someone feel valued; a piece of work which hits the mark.
The big milestones may be a mirage, but these small deeds- though they may seem insignificant pebbles- are concrete illustrations of who we are.
Me? I have begun writing two of my pebbles down each day so I don’t forget.
And one of them, yesterday, was feeding the dog twice.