A Dog's Life
“Hi. First things first. I’m a dog. My name is Luke. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a common name for a dog. But you have to understand I’m a rather exceptional dog. Of course, I’ve always been remarkable but, after the Fourth Beginning, my powers really began to take off. I expect you’d like to know about the Fourth Beginning but that’s a little difficult to explain. Indeed it’s probably best if I don’t tell you. After all, if you don’t know, you can’t tell, whatever the Breakers do to you.
“Anyway, physically I’m ordinary enough – a standard golden retriever. No, I do myself an injustice. I’m extremely handsome but mainly because golden retrievers are a handsome breed of dog. I mean, be honest, have you ever seen an ugly GT? Bit dishevelled, may be. But always pretty damn fine.
“By the way, when I say I can tell what you’re thinking, that is not a figure of speech. But more about that later. In the meantime, I’d better hand over to the Storyteller. We’re here to tell a story and that is, after all, what he does.”
Introducing John and Sally Truman
In a house in the New Forest, a man and a woman were having an earnest discussion.
“We’ll be fine,” said Sally Truman. “You’re one of the best programmers around. You’ll walk into any one of a dozen jobs.”
“That’s what I love about you,” said her husband John, sitting down beside Sally on the settee and putting his arm round her. “You’re a natural born optimist.”
"I'm not being optimistic; I'm being realistic. Good programmers are hard to come by, and you're one of the best."
"So why is Ingold Software letting me go? I know we just missed out on a big government contract, but they could have kept me on a bit longer. ‘We need to cut costs now’. That’s what they said. And it’s true. It's a tough world out there. There's really strong competition in the market and there are so many youngsters coming through as programmers who are a lot cheaper than me. They're saying you're dead in this industry at 30, unless you own the company; and I'm 34, and I don't."
"Come on, John. We can handle this."
"Yes, we will," said John. "Of course we will. I'll sound out a few of my contacts. In the meantime, we'd better do a bit of belt-tightening."
"My parents will help with the mortgage," said Sally.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. They're already having a hard time. They've lost half their income because of low interest rates."
"Don't worry," said Sally. "We'll get by. We always do." And she kissed her husband.
"Isn't that a song from Evita?" enquired her husband when the kiss ended. They both laughed.
Introducing Carter and Jadie
The Truman's house in Burley enjoyed access to the New Forest. In the garden. Carter, a boxer of some five years, powerfully built, in his prime, was keeping company with Jade, his house companion, a boxer bitch three years his junior.
Carter was a mature dog, loyal and eager to please like all of his breed but also a very sensible sort of animal, thoughtful, polite, reliable and responsible.
On the other hand, Jade (or Jadie as her owners called her) a rather less fine example of the boxer bread, was a hooligan. She didn’t mean to be totally scatty but she couldn’t help it. When she was with her master or mistress, she would charge in, rub against their legs and, given half a chance, leap up on her hind legs in a clumsy and sometimes painful attempt to embrace them. When out with Carter in the garden, she would always be on the lookout for some excitement and when at the age of one year, she had learned how to climb fences, she had taken to leaving the security of the back garden from time to time to explore the forest.
This adventurous spirit gave Carter cause for concern. His relationship with Jade was complex. At one level, she drove him mad. For a start, she was far too pushy. If a door was opened, she had to go through first. When the master or mistress entered a room, she had to grab their attention immediately. If there was a stick both dogs had a mind to play with, she had to grab it for herself. So, to be honest, she really was quite irritating and open to some criticism in terms of her general character. On the other hand, Carter felt he had to protect her. He was older, bigger and stronger. And he was a dog; she was a bitch. More than that, Jade was, truth to tell, all mouth and trousers. She might be the first to explore an unexplained noise or the appearance of a stranger but she sallied forth only when she knew Carter was there to support her. She might be the one to issue the warning; but Carter was the enforcer.
As for Jade’s feelings toward Carter, they can only be described as unalloyed admiration. Of course, she was quicker than him, certainly pushier than him and possibly even smarter than him but he had been there all her life, a source of strength, a rock in her undeniably scatty world and she loved him unconditionally.
Introducing Mr Crook and Mr Hook
As you live your life, you will certainly find that there are good people and bad people. If you are lucky you will find some very good people and, sadly, if you are unlucky you may come across some very bad ones. Messrs Crook and Hook were not in the extreme category of evil but they were certainly some way along the spectrum in that direction.
Alvin Crook (Al to his friend) was a thin wiry fellow, with a prominent nose, sunken cheeks and a generally lugubrious expression. It is of course out of fashion to be judgemental but it is still fair to say that, in moral terms, he was a pretty despicable person. He had few redeeming qualities unless a degree of low cunning can be counted as a positive attribute. Throughout his 40 years of life, he had pursued a career of crime. It started at school with petty theft from other children, followed by years of shoplifting, mainly from supermarkets. Indeed, on leaving school at 15 (he was rather pointlessly excluded because of persistent absenteeism), for some years, he had fed himself most days by eating food from the shelves of various supermarkets before leaving the stores without paying a penny, empty-handed but replete.
For a brief period, he had experimented with pick pocketing but found he lacked both the dexterity of hand required as a dipper and the fleetness of foot to escape the consequences of his clumsiness.
At the age of 20, Alvin Crook felt the time had come to take stock. “You’ve been doing that for years,” remarked his new found friend Bruce Hook, alluding to Crook’s supermarket feeding habits. But that was not what Al meant, not at all. He meant a review of his entire life, the path he was following and where it would lead. He asked himself what were his goals. The answer was none, except to avoid work at all costs. He then asked himself what were his strengths. Cunning was the answer. He was sure he was just a little bit smarter than the average Joe. From that time on, Al Crook had made a reasonable living out of fraud and confidence trickery.
Don’t misunderstand me. Al was not capable of any grandiose deceptions. His frauds comprised false insurance claims. His confidence tricks were predominantly borrowing money from kind-hearted but gullible acquaintances and failing to repay them. It was a hand to mouth existence - but Al got by. He might not enjoy an affluent life-style but at least he could fulfil his primary goal, the avoidance of work.
Bruce Hook (or ‘Righty’ as he liked to be called) was an ugly amalgam of muscle and bone. He had a low but prominent forehead, small mean eyes and generally heavy, ponderous features. In short he looked, and as it happens was, a bit of a thug. He began his bullying at school. Fairly quickly, he had discovered be was not very bright. At about the same time, he also observed that he was quite large, taller and heavier than most of his classmates. When a boy called Peter had made fun of him for failing to grasp the usefulness of multiplication as an alternative to endless addition of identical numbers, Bruce had thumped him. To his surprise, the thumping of Peter engendered more respect from his peers than any grasp of mathematical processes.
That was the day that Bruce Hook realised there were alternatives to scholarship as a preparation for life. Following the Peter thumping incident, many of his classmates tried to ingratiate themselves with him. They gave him their sweets, their cigarettes and their pocket money. Bruce found that the more he intimidated them, the more they subordinated themselves to him. When one particularly sycophantic class mate had addressed him as Brucie, which Bruce took to be an impertinent over-familiarity, he administered so forceful a slap that two of the offending party’s teeth were knocked from their sockets. This demonstration of brute force had three consequences. First, it enhanced Bruce’s standing amongst his cowed peers; secondly, it led indirectly to the soubriquet ‘Righty’; thirdly it led to his expulsion from school and his first brush with the criminal law.
The second consequence of the teeth removing slap calls for some explanation. While Bruce didn’t like the designation Brucie (it sounded twee and almost cuddly), in common with all boys of that age, he felt the need for a nickname. He considered various possibilities until he hit on the idea of ‘Righty’. An admirer of any sport involving violence against the person, Bruce knew many south paw boxers were called Leftie. He was right-handed. Indeed, it was his right hand that was the main instrument of his power. So what could be better as a nickname than ‘Righty’.
Of course proper nicknames are generally given to individuals by their classmates and are derived from the boy’s name or evolve out of the character of the boy and any events of special significance involving him. But this was not to be the case with Bruce. “From now on,” he had announced, “you will call me ‘Righty’. Got it?” They got it all right. No one dared to say that ‘Righty’ sounded a bit odd. Peter mused that Lefty might have found a place in the pantheon of nicknames because being left-handed was a bit unusual, and that being right-handed was so common, it didn’t make sense to distinguish someone from everyone else by reference to a characteristic most other people shared – but Peter wisely kept his thoughts to himself.
Peter did not have to hold his tongue for long. As soon as the face slapping/ tooth removal incident had been investigated, Bruce was expelled. He was also interviewed and cautioned by the police.
So it was that Bruce ‘Righty’ Hook left school at the same age and in the same year as Alvin Crook and embarked on his own criminal career. For Bruce, surprisingly, adult life proved to be more or less an extension of school. Indeed, unlike many adults, he realised that what he had learnt at school had been a perfect preparation for his career in adult life. He found that, however smart other people were, cleverness had no satisfactory answer to a smack in the face, that the mere threat of a broken arm or a knee-capping persuaded even the most gifted to do what you wanted. If he hadn’t enjoyed hurting people so much, there would have been few occasions when the exercise of violence, as distinct from the threat, could have been justified.
So, while Al was using his trickery to maintain himself, Bruce or Righty as he preferred to be called tended to favour intimidation and extortion.