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Can you help keep Patriotrealm on line?

Nearly 30 years has flowed under the bridge since I last owned a dog.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve had nothing to do with dogs.

It means that I’ve had relationships with other people’s dogs as a by-product of the relationship with their owners - some of an intimate nature and some not. But that’s what this series of posts is all about - the behaviour of people and dogs.

 

The day I met Eddie I had driven about 50 kilometres to Alan’s house on the outskirts of Nowra, a town some two hours drive south of Sydney. I’d been modifying some paint shaking machines for my brother who owns several paint shops. However, I needed  a special machine cutting tool and it was the sort of tool I’d probably never use again and couldn’t really justify its heady price tag. Borrowing was the best option.

Alan was another of those middle-aged men who was trying to get on with life after the trauma of a failed marriage. It’s funny how people wake up one morning in a 25-year marriage to discover they hate each other. Men never know why, women always tell you that the split comes from a lifetime of hell at the hands of an uncaring and self-absorbed man.

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It has always been a mystery to me how women have the amazing capacity  to remember every unhappy moment in a 25-year relationship with such graphic detail. Times, places, exactly what you did, and precisely what you said verbatim. With such a littany of beastly incidents even the most brilliant of men succumb to mind disturbing guilt. The marriage has been rotten, a journey of unhappiness since “you”, not “we”, said “I do” at the altar, they tell you.

When you ask, as all men foolishly do seeking some justification for more than half their life, if there has been even one good thing in a quarter of a century of being together, the answer is always an emphatic, “NO!” This, of course, is the trigger, the shot to the head which melts man’s brain, coddling his reason and sending him on path of self destruction.

This is pretty much the way it goes for most battlers in a marriage failure. It’s the time when men in particular busy themselves setting up an apartment. Yeah, things are great and you can put the furniture anywhere you want. That bloody awful painting she relegated to the garage can now take its rightful place dead centre above the television. Things are going to be different from now on. And, that becomes an understatement.

 

Alan was no different to most, if not all of us. His first months of abject pity and shock of losing one’s “chattel” was limited to explaining in minute detail how much he did for the world’s most ungrateful bitch. In such cases the woman is always the bitch and men are always mongrel bastards.

Regardless of who’s right or wrong the familiar tales of woe are poured upon any poor devil who stands in the same spot for more than five seconds, including total strangers in the supermarket.

Perhaps this new found openness, something which might have served well in the marriage, is the way men try to heal themselves. We blab our deepest woes to the world, women confine theirs to a close friend. And then they both confer a modified, horrific version of events to their respective lawyers. That’s when a psychotic hatred penetrates every emotional nerve centre in the body. A steep learning curve is set in motion for both parties. The results cause changes in the lives of all concerned, forever. Life takes a different course.

 In his working life Alan was a machinist for the telephone company. His garage was always a handyman’s paradise. It contained more tools and gadgets than would be found in most commercial machine shops. You could spend days discovering things both known and unknown.

Huge chests of drawers of the solid wooden type, no doubt long ago wrenched from the walls of old chemist shops, were vaults full of treasure. Drills, lathe tools, reamers and countless other bits.

Nevertheless, the gadget I needed was not to be found. If didn’t want a 3/4 inch adjustable reamer they’d be all over the damned bench.

Before leaving Alan and I were chatting by the car when a bunch of dogs came through the fence from next door. Quite content to chew ears and tails it seemed to be a mother with her litter of three or four puppies. The inquisitive one with huge ears on a tiny head dared to break ranks and sallied forth for a pat. He got his pat and  I got my hand mauled by the razor teeth of an excitable puppy and then off he pranced to further tug at his brothers and sisters.

 

I don’t know why I did, but I dropped the subject in play to ask Alan who owned those dogs and did he think the cheeky, black one was for sale.

“Oh geez, I dunno,” he said, “I know some of em were, but they might be gunna keep those ones.”

I told him it didn’t matter as I wasn’t really interested in a dog, anyway. As much as it might be fun to have a dog, my lifestyle didn’t provide the time needed to properly tend anything more demanding than a pantry mouse.

“Let’s go next door and ask em,” Alan offered.

“Al,” I said, “I spend most of my time behind the wheel. I can’t look after a dog. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”

Meanwhile, big ears had abandoned his fun and was now neatly sitting and staring intently at me, as if waiting for a command, or food. “Looks like he was crossed with a fruit bat with those ears,” I laughed and at that he barked at me, seemingly with indignation, and then took off through the fence and disappeared in the bush.

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“Do you think they might want to get rid of that one?” I asked Al as “big ears” vanished into the scrub.

Why did I bother with that question? I certainly did not drive all that way looking for a dog. I wanted a 3/4 inch adjustable reamer, an object of beautiful steel precision. Besides, I had absolutely nothing for a dog. And, the cost of keeping a dog was...well…expensive! My dear Mother reckoned my Father spent more on his dog’s vet fees than both of them did on doctors—and they were both in their eighties.

Getting through that barbed wire fence separating the properties reminded me of how much I needed to exercise to lose some gut. Maybe if I did have a dog I’d have to walk the animal and that would be good for me, if not the dog.

So I mused.

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Ha! I recalled in a fit of health consciousness I once bought a rowing machine and used it once—all of ten minutes. Sitting on the bedroom floor between two beds rowing in the same spot was boring and stupid. I’d rather expire from a fat gut than the boredom of rowing like hell to nowhere.

A rowing machine is an ungainly contraption that did not fit under the bed like the instructions said—unless you get your toolbox and take it apart. After near breaking a toe several times I took it to the op-shop where some bargain hunter might get better use of it.

“Stick it in the back corner,” snarled a crotchety old dolly. Mine was the fifth rowing machine to find that back corner—no wonder I got no thanks for my expensive donation to the community.

Anyway, the dog owner’s house was about 70 metres through the brush and trees. Our encroachment was met with considerable noise as all beasts did their protective duty, which quickly rallied their owner. Alan passed minor civilities and something further about the weather with his neighbour’s wife before asking if any of the dogs were for sale.

“No, not really,” she said. “We decided to keep all but one.”

Of course, I thought, it wouldn’t be the best looking one, the cheeky black one to which I’d taken a fancy. If I couldn’t have the little black one I didn’t want any. I didn’t really want a dog anyway and this was how I’d avoid the problem—what the hell was I doing there? What was I thinking?

“You can have that little black one if you want, his name’s Eddie.”

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What! They want to give away, free, for nothing, the only dog in the litter that I would consider. Hang on a second! I wondered why the liveliest, the best looking and the friendliest little dog was being offered as a give-away prize? What was wrong with Eddie, my suspicious and cynical mind worked overtime?

Before I could even think, before I could come to my senses and get to hell away to my business, I was made privy to the virtues of Eddie.

“His mother is that mini-foxy over there and his father is a kelpie, I dunno where he is right this minute, but he won’t grow much more than he is now. He was born in March, you know.”

“Born in March,” I croaked, “I was born in March.” As if that meant the two of us were related.

“Yes, he was born on the seventh of March. What date are you?” She asked.

“The fifth, the fifth of March,” I said, with anticipation reserved only for those who have just happened upon their long-lost soul mate.

“Look,” I said regaining some sense, “I don’t even have a collar or a lead, I wasn’t  thinking about acquiring a dog, I’m not really set up for a dog.”

“Oh, don’t worry about little things like that,” said Eddie’s master reassuringly, for in her hand was both collar and lead—they looked brand new—the $7.50 price-tag was still on the lead.

“Eddie’s first owner left these with him when she brought him back.”

Brought him back! What did she mean by, brought him back? Eddie was just three months old and he’d been brought back? Someone had rejected him—why? I’d heard about kids being returned to the orphanage by defeated foster parents who couldn’t control them. But—a little puppy?

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What was it that I didn’t know about?

“Is there something wrong with him?” I asked, hoping to hear that he was a house-wrecker, or worse and that would put end to my ill thought whim.

“No, it’s nothing like that; the lady loved him but had to bring him back because she was moving into a flat where they didn’t allow pets—not even cats,” she was quick to add. “Fancy you two being only two days apart in birthdays. This is amazing fate—you were made to be together. Look how he’s looking at you. He knows you're taking him.”

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Struth! I wanted to cancel the whole thing. A dog was no good for me. I don’t have time to look after myself properly. Besides, the house is in a filthy mess and I definitely didn’t need to be running about trying to soak up piddle from my rugs. I’d have to keep him outside, even if it is cold.

Try as I might, it was all happening too fast. But there did seem to be some sort of magnetic attraction. As if sensing my confusion, Eddie sat at my feet and stared through my eyes right into my brain. That was the moment I became a dog owner. I was now Eddies father.

“What does he eat? Probably all the bloody furniture.”

“Oh, he’ll eat anything—but puppy food is best.”

“They need vaccinations and things, don’t they?”

“Yep, he’ll need all those things because the lady didn’t get around to it—she didn’t have him long enough.”

There must be something wrong I thought as we headed for the car, Eddie prancing along beside me in fine style—two peas in a pod. Life would be different from that day on—and how. I could not have imagined!

In those few minutes of negotiation I had been won over, I had assumed the protectiveness of a loving parent who will not hear ill of their child. I did not want to hear why Eddie was sent back to the litter. Fate had been sealed. The Gods had spoken. I had, in a matter of minutes, decided that Eddie and I would be inseparable friends—until death would us part.
Yes, Eddie was going to be my mate; my buddy and his past should be left at that. Some things are better not known. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” And that rather quaint saying, although I did not know at the time, became a valuable lesson in life.
And that takes me to a time when I learned too much about a woman I was fond of and finding difficulty in handling certain information played a large part in ruining a good thing.
During the 1980s I lived on the twenty-sixth floor of a high-rise in Montreal. The usual course after a failed marriage, as described in a previous essay—but this time it was my pain to bear. Often, as I waited for the elevator, pleasant strains of Mozart or Bach would surge from beneath the door of an apartment just opposite the elevators (lifts). Accompanying the orchestra would also waft the heady aromas of sensational food. Whoever lived behind that door had fine, classical appreciation.

While awaiting the elevator, particularly on workdays, it was my practice to pace up and down trying to guess which of the four elevators would arrive first. It made not a bit of difference in the grand scheme of things but it made me feel clever when I got it right. Small things amuse small minds.
One day it happened that while pacing with mind detached I was startled as the door to that apartment opened and out rushed a woman with a bag of garbage destined for the garbage room beside the elevator.
“Hello,” she said, with a perfect English accent. I confessed to being taken by surprise and struggled to say something about the food or the music, but only managed some sort of grunt instead. It was her smug smile which captured my thoughts, I think she knew I was there because, dressed as she was, she would have taken a peek through the peep-hole in the door before springing me.
In a flourishing swirl she had dumped the garbage down the chute and was back standing before me. Tall, young, blonde, beautiful and wearing only a loose housecoat. She thrust out her hand.
“I’m Elizabeth, you must be my neighbour, what’s you name?” At that very moment the awaited elevator doors burst open and I jumped in like a trained seal.
“Chaucer it’s Geoffrey Chaucer and I like your taste in music.” That was all I could manage as the doors closed and dropped the 26 floors to the garage level.
Elizabeth and I became rather good friends and saw much of each other. We liked so many of the same things. She had a wicked sense of humour and loved her music. She was a dedicated student of fine food; she drove a Porsche and simply adored drinking expensive Tattinger Champagne while languishing in the bath—with lots of candles aglow.

Stuffed quail was Elizabeth’s signature dish. Roasted to golden perfection and stuffed with her secret recipe, a seafood melange spiked with Cognac. She was a master of the senses and knew exactly how to employ them for maximum pleasure.
That summer of 80 I spent lots of time with Elizabeth. On perfect days I would finish work mid afternoon and off we would go in her blue Porsche to the picturesque Laurentian Mountains with its many lakes. As one might expect from a woman with such taste Elizabeth had a fair-dinkum picnic hamper—a bought one with all the gadgets neatly arrayed within.
My mobile batterie de cuisine was a few plates and things tossed into a cardboard box or a carry bag, that was my picnic hamper—practical, but not suave.
Elizabeth’s wicker box was the size of a suitcase, the sort you might take to France for a month on the Riviera. Inside the lid was housed a tartan blanket and finely crafted Irish linen napkins with an “E” embroidered in the corners. The main compartment had a compliment of plates and cutlery sufficient for six. All were in their respective piles and secured by supple leather straps with golden buckles.
In shockproof containers were the wine glasses. No flimsy plastic, only hand cut lead crystal was suitable for the fine Chardonnay waiting in the chiller. The cork had always been pulled and a half glass missing from the bottle. I never knew or asked if it was to test the quality of the wine or to set the mood of the cook. It didn’t matter which.
We would pass a couple of hours savouring her culinary preparations. Always, there was a prawn cocktail of eight, not six, jumbo prawns on a bed of shredded lettuce, napped in a creamy sauce, ever redolent of garlic. Elizabeth always added a touch of the wine to the sauce just before serving. It caused a perfect marriage between seafood, sauce, wine and company.
Paté campaigne was standard with delicate slices placed on toasted oatmeal, smeared judiciously with one or more from her collection of fine mustards. Sometimes there were bagel halves with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Or, chilled teriyaki breast of chicken with a mild ginger, cream sauce. Although there was never more than the two of us, rations were generous enough for four.
And so we would lie on that tartan rug listening to the birds and watch the sky, and, depending on the wine sing a duet from some classic—it made us giggle like naughty children.
Such days would close with us flying down the autoroute, top off the Porsche and symphony blaring.
Don’t worry, Eddie is still in the story.
The introduction of Eddie to his new home would have to wait, as I had to get to Sydney on business, three hours behind the wheel. I had everything I needed for the dog, collar, lead, bowl and a half bag of dried puppy food. And so we went, Eddie comfortably settled on the passenger seat, grinning at me—probably thinking—“sucker.”
It was while passing through Berry, a busy little town north of Nowra that something rather odd caught my eye on the passenger seat. Quick glances revealed a most peculiar prism of the rainbow that appeared to cascade from the seat into the foot-well. Blotches of green, yellow, brown and white, the very same kaleidoscope of colours of the puppy kibble. Eddie, the little bastard was carsick!
No one told me about that. 

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That possibility never occurred to me. No wonder he was so quiet. I was more astonished by the enormous amount coming from such a small puppy.
Stopping for lunch two hours up the road I discovered that chips produced the same result, only the colour changed. And so went the puppy’s equilibrium with little surprises that lasted for several weeks, and then some.
I recalled that as a kid I always got carsick and so did my brother and sister—an extra dimension to the family outing.

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And so it was that my mind drifted back to those days with Elizabeth when life was a picnic without the complications so reminiscient of my early days with Eddie. As I sat in the park, and on many ocassions in the coming weeks, I kept thinking about a time when I found out something that was otherwise a rather joyous time.
The winter months in Montreal can be a drag. Days on end without sun can become depressing, a common malady well known to those from the sunny antipodes. Nevertheless, Elizabeth would stage indoor picnics to raise one’s spirits.
The same tartan blanket spread on the bathroom floor with the hamper set on a stool. The edge of the bath at each end was adorned with a variety of coloured candles—“for the sunlight,” she reckoned. The Hi-Fi provided serious music, and, of course, Elizabeth’s favourite Tattinger Champagne at hand. To this day, I can never get into a bath without remembering those times. We would sit in that bath until our skin shrivelled up and threatened to peel from our bodies—two prunes on a Weetbix comes to mind.

Several months after our meeting I was at a motor parts supplier of mine when, completely by coincidence, in walked Elizabeth to buy something for her Porsche. Being the daughter of a diplomatic ambassador, Elizabeth had gone to boarding school in England and then finishing school in Switzerland. She was and knew how to be most diplomatic and proper in public.
“Hello, neighbour,” was her greeting, followed by small talk. No one could have guessed the true nature of our relationship. I was thus ignored as an eager staff begged to serve the beautiful Elizabeth. Never mind the tens of thousands of dollars I spent with that company each year proving that men’s brains are not always in their skulls. Elizabeth soon got what ever it was she wanted, spun on her heel and bid all present, including me, her lover, a musical, “bonjour” as she swept through the door like a departing diva disappointing her adoring fans.
The lads were left standing there, as if hypnotised as the door swung shut. One of the chaps broke the spell by calling me to one side and asked if I knew her. With a steady voice I told him she was a neighbour.
“Do you know what she does?” he asked.
“I think she works for a meat export company,” I said. 
“Have you ever seen her body,” was his next question.
“Well,” I said hesitatingly, ready to bask in his envy should the need arise.
“Do you want to see her body—all of it?” he came back with. I shifted feet and said that would be a real treat, but how could I do that?
“Wednesday nights at the Lido—she’s a stripper. She’s got a dynamite body, you’ve gotta see her move.”

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I didn’t say a word, I couldn’t.
“Are you sure it’s the same person,” I finally asked?
“Oh yeah, I’m sure alright; you don’t forget a woman like that in a hurry. They don’t let her dance down on the floor with the other girls, she’s the Queen, the main attraction; she does her thing in one of those caged platforms high in the air. “The yobbos can’t get to her up there,” he added.
“No kidding?” I managed to say while trying to suppress an incredible disbelief—if not shock!
It took me a while to come to grips with Elizabeth’s “other job” but that was my problem. That’s how she financed her Porsche and she did dance out of reach of the drunken lechers, I reasoned.  
Elizabeth knew what she was about and made good money, and took it all home with her. Tattinger, fine food and wines were her only vice. She was rare among that ilk.

But was it true? 

Elizabeth would have no problems telling me of her stripping, if I wanted to know. But I didn’t. 
You must be wondering why I have told you this story about Elizabeth in a story about Eddie the Dog. 
Life is sometimes like an objet d'art where the beauty remains firmly in the eye of the beholder. A holistic appraisal is often safer for peace of mind than a scrupulous dissection that may reveal the unwanted.
There is much wisdom in the old adage, “ignorance is bliss”.
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Happiness is a prized and often elusive commodity all too easily shattered.
But, on the other hand there is another old saying, “knowledge is power.”
It is one of life's greatest dilemmas. Ultimately, if you don't want the answer, don't ask the question. 
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t want to know why Eddie’s first owner returned him so quickly. I wanted to create a future with him, free of gossip or someone else's explanation of his past. 
Eddie and I would make our own journey and create our own history, just as I did with Elizabeth. But, this time I wouldn’t listen to stories from others. Eddie and I would create our own future together and, in the meantime, I had a sick dog and a business meeting to attend. 
Both needed my urgent attention. 

Eddie grew to be a wonderful little dog except for one annoying trait.

He was a rover, a sticky-beak, and a compulsive investigator that caused me no end of worry.

A pee-stop on the highway, for example, might have him vanishing into the bush and beyond earshot, although I was never sure about that - selective hearing, perhaps. In the three years we were mates I spent much of that wandering the streets whistling and yelling his name.

One exasperating experience was a pee-stop in a semi-rural area during which he had to know what was beyond the roadside rise - he disappeared, yelling and whistling was to no avail. I climbed the mound and there, spread before me was a large housing complex begging to explored by the incorrigible Eddie.

I stood upon that mound much like Moses might have, several lanes of high speed traffic hurling past, wondering where the entrance to the estate was as it seemed to be well isolated from the highway.

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It was one of those projects, too new to be on any map; only the inhabitants knew how to get in and out. As it happened, the entrance was two kilometres down the road presenting the conundrum of which street to begin the search for the little bastard.

It was at least an hour and many streets later before I saw him in a playground playing with little kids. The mothers were throwing a ball for him to fetch and the kids giggled with glee.

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So natural was that scene that I wondered if the dog was really Eddie or a coincidental lookalike. However, my vehicle was a Toyota van, the very favourite of child molesters and abductors and it quickly got attention from the vigilant mums. I whistled Eddie who completely ignored me, stirring the mothers’ protective instincts even further.

“Call the police Glenda, call the police,” went the shrill alert, even louder than an air-raid siren. I got out from the van and tried to tell them that the dog was mine. “Don’t you come near us,” a mother yelled, “the police are on their way.” Imagine, getting all the way to middle age not knowing you fit the profile of a kidnapper and worse?

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There were two patrol cars with lights flashing and coppers with hands on guns yelling at me not to move and to keep my hands in full view. Eddie continued playing with the kids. You see this sort of scenario on TV where the poor innocent bloke gets taken away and interrogated for hours before being told you can go now - and that’s what happened. Even though it was a genuine case of simply finding one’s dog I copped a fine for him being off the leash. Imagine my joy? The little bastard.

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The only thing remaining as I drove away from the police station having not serviced my customers over the 300 kilometre route which would have to be repeated next day was how to murder Eddie and make it look like an accident. That night as I wondered if Chillary Flintbucket would do the job? Only, back then, there was no such thing as Arkancide.

Eddie behaved with much contrition that evening, piddled on command and wandered not. After dinner and a couple of beers he snuggled in my lap and we were mates once more. I didn’t have any hitmen's phone numbers anyway, but thought I should have some on hand for the future. 

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All that met him - my clients in particular loved that dog dearly. They all thought Eddie was incredible and always wanted a repeat of one of his tricks, which I shall explain later. My van had a seat just for the dog installed between the two front seats. It was high enough to for him to see over the dash. If he could speak I sure he would have been the worst of all backseat drivers.

Did you know that dogs, probably most of them, can read the road? Eddie could lean like a motorcycle rider on a curved road. I supposed it was a natural response to physical pressure of weighting to the left or right. This intrigued me enough to make an experiment to understand if the dog actually could read the road or simply responded to centrifugal forces.

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On my route to town was a right-hand bend that passed over an old wooden bridge. There was also an old dirt section that went straight ahead bypassing the bridge. 

Did you know that dogs, probably most of them, can read the road? Eddie could lean like a motorcycle rider on a curved road.d

I supposed it was a natural response to physical pressure of weighting to the left or right. This intrigued me enough to make an experiment to understand if the dog actually could read the road or simply responded to centrifugal forces.

On my route to town was a right-hand bend that passed over an old wooden bridge. There was also an old dirt section that went straight ahead bypassing the bridge.

To this day I carry guilt for that experiment of deception.

As it happens, most dogs can read the road, farmer’s dogs that ride on the fuel tanks of motorbikes are proof of that. As I approached that bend, however, I accelerated toward the bridge, that seemed to agitate Eddie, as though he knew we were going too fast to make the corner.

I was looking for a video of a dog on a motorbike with a farmer but stumbled on this one. Enjoy! Monty

Nevertheless, he adopted a steeper than normal cant to starboard in anticipation. At the very last second I took the dirt section straight ahead and Eddie’s lunge for the high-speed corner that did not happen caused him to fly from his seat and up against the door. If he could only swear!

But Eddie had another peculiar talent and that was to fart on command.

Now, I do agree that to use such words may not invoke rollicking laughter from all. However, Englishman and Hollywood actor David Niven in his interesting autobiography, The Moon is a Balloon did just that in his account of his boarding school days when attending the school chapel for Sunday supplications.

If memory serves, the organist was older than the Renatus Harris organ in St Botolph’s Aldgate which dates back to 1744 and may account for the frequent, off-key and out of place trills and squawks that resonated through the ceremony. Niven’s mischievous young cohorts at the back of the church would try to effect a tonal harmony by matching bursts of flatulence to the organ’s fractured quavers.

A noticeable unrest would ripple through the congregation in a mixture of disparaging sighs and muffled sniggering. That would highlight a perfect echo in the nave, combined with naughty lad’s “toot” the organist’s fumble would invoke raucous laughter whereupon those lads accompanied by a parent or guardian copped a swift clip across the ears. It’s ironic that whoopee cushions are still a favourite party joke.

But Eddie’s warbles and blurts became a must-do trick at all my customer visits. Dogs that shake hands, roll over and play dead are boring compared to the naughty Eddie. “Make him do it, make Eddie fart,” was a customer demand before any business transaction would begin. Never was there a solo audience as secretaries and other staff would mill around my van for the main event.

Eddie sat on his perch between the two front seats, his head swinging back and forth enjoying the crowd’s attention. Like an old pommy spruiker I would begin the show after requesting complete silence. After all, just how loud can a small dog’s fart be?

“Eddie.” I would call to get his attention. “Do you like Pal dog food in the can?” Eddie was on centre-stage and he knew it and loved it. But no response! This time with all hushed I would mix words for effect. “Eddie, tell me what you think about dog food from a can, do you like it, tell our friends what Pal make you do, tell them Eddie?”

Sometimes Eddie’s head would lean to one side quizzically, like dogs do when they are really listening and then for the pleasure of his eager audience, Eddie would let go a rumbling fart that would shame a drunken sot to which the audience would erupt with laughter and dismay—even applause!

“Make him do it again, make him do it again,” was always the way. Not ready to push my, or Eddie’s luck I had a pat answer. “Hey, come on now, how much wind do think a small dog has—he’s empty—deflated?” With that accepted all would return to work mumbling that Eddie should be on television or something.

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To this day I never exposed how and why Eddie could fart on command. The idea probably came from the whoopee cushion that I bought from my weekly allowance as a kid and would hide it under Mother’s sofa seat waiting for one of her friends to fall prey of it. In the end and after all the false indignation and the laughter subsided I would be sent to my room as punishment, even though I knew she was laughing like hell inside.

That naughty “fart” ruse came to me when I was in an electronics shop and saw one of those electronic farting devices, a small speaker and an even smaller sender. That clever device, a big seller that they were, could be switched to cause varying degrees of “tooting.” The speaker, of course, was hidden under Eddies seat cushion and the sender in my pocket. I couldn’t have gotten away with such fraud on television.

 

The idea came from something I saw on television when one of those off-road travellers ambled around Australia with his blue cattle dog instead of his wife who hated camping—and everything else judging by the sour look on her face. What could be greater adventure for an Aussie bloke and his dog than to be fancy free, stopping where you want, camping where you choose and moving on if and when you feel like it? A total freedom  very few experience.
As for the Eddie, I reckon a dog’s greatest joy is in sniffing out new horizons. They don’t care where they are as long as it is different territory with new smells. It all comes from   marking their territory, an ancient instinct thing that one might have expected to diminish because dogs have become so inbred and domesticated over thousands of years.
The Toyota Townace seemed the perfect vehicle to sample the camping life before spending a lot of money to find out like so many do, that roughing it in all weathers is not your cup of tea. The van was my workhorse and for a few dollars, a sleeping platform of plywood and a few cardboard boxes for pots and pans and an esky, plus one of those butane stoves was all one really needed. Travel far and light, so they say.
Friday lunchtime and all was in place. Food, grog, a map and an eager Eddie already sitting in his co-pilot seat in anticipation of a new adventure—we were ready. A cursory glance at the map meant teatime would place us a bit north of Cooma in the NSW snowfields. It was very early spring, so snow should not be a worry, although cold it would be.

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And no, there are no bears in Australia. except for Koala Bears who aren't actually bears

 Eddie and me, tootling down the Monaro Highway, wind in the hair stuff with no obligation to be anywhere at any set time for about seven days.

I began to understand the magnetic lure of the open road and the great outback, even though a plethora of roadside billboards trumpeted the joys of deep snow and blazing log fires in cash-hungry towns only a few kilometres apart and 60K speed limit signs, not to mention heavy traffic, and lots of coppers.
It was coming on dusk when I realised that although Australia is a big, under populated, sprawling country, there seemed no opportunity to pull over and set up camp for the night. Everywhere is fenced off—the whole damned country is privately owned. I wondered who invented the star-picket; those steel posts you see holding the barbed wire fencing every few metres—on nearly every road—everywhere in Australia. If that person made only one lousy cent per picket it would make them a dead-set billionaire many times over. Fair-dinkum!
A layover was five kilometres ahead, “Potter’s Rest.” It was just on dark when we pulled in. It was one of those places with a roof over a few concrete tables and bugger all to stop the cold wind whistling through its unprotected sides. That’s probably why there was no one else around. But never mind, Eddie and I were on an outback adventure—in a dark and freezing truck layover on the Monaro Highway. Nothing at all like the Leyland Brothers showed on TV. Acrobatic cockies, leaping lizards and convenient marsupials were absent—maybe in the morning.

Who cares, Eddie and I were at one, man and his dog enjoying everything that camping made so…well, so sort of Aussie blokey. No question. There in that deserted rest area was an opportunity to embrace what Banjo Patterson experienced, you know, “rivers murmuring on the bars.” There was a river just out of sight, beyond a barbed wire fence, I couldn’t hear it “murmuring” or even babbling but figured it must be there in the dark, so with beer in hand Eddie and I went to investigate.
Invisible in the dark was that bloody barbed wire fence that tore a patch from my new Jarvis Walker camping jacket, the model with 300 pockets. I could barely see an info sign saying that an early traveller, Norman Potter, had frozen to death 80 years ago when he fell into that yonder river while trying to save his dog from a hungry goanna. “Come back here” I yelled at Eddie.
Time to unpack my batterie de cuisine. A small propane stove, a new, non-stick frying pan and sufficient plonk to numb the strengthening wind. I warmed to the thought of a huge T-bone steak that was defrosting, but not much with a temperature of one lousy degree. Eddie was shivering and pawing the van door to escape the cold. I wondered if dogs were affected by wind chill factor?
I never was much of a singer, although in the shower…well? Anyway, I found myself compelled to sing bawdy sea shanties— most of the words I invented. Eddie had come to see what the noise was, probably because there was no indication that I was about to feed him. There was no other living soul in that huge area. Peeling potatoes, scraping pumpkin and opening of a can of peas gave Eddie hope that sustenance for another day might come his way. If he was a good boy! 
 He decided to wait in—in the van. A dumb animal was he?
After a while, a very long while, the steak began to stew, so in went the potatoes, pumpkin and more wine for the cook, and then in went the can of peas. I can’t remember if it was the wind or the plonk but I found things were becoming a bit unsteady so I decided on a stroll to the river to see if it was frozen. Damn it, now my sleeve got ripped on that bloody barbed wire fence! I imagined it was that blasted fence that probably killed Mr Potter, not the frozen river. 
Anyway, hunger pressed. I staggered back to find no steam rising from the old tyre, as it was when I left—the stove was out of gas. There was no fireplace at Potter’s Rest and nothing to burn if there was, except my empty wine carton. Even if I had any matches, which I didn’t, it wouldn’t have cooked a steak and veggies. Perhaps there was more to this camping business.
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I tried to eat that mess in the pan but everything was raw and losing what little heat it had by the second. It was time to forget the whole thing and go to bed but Eddie needed to be fed and told me so. He did enjoy that T-bone but ignored the vegetables while I organised the sleeping arrangements. The veggies would serve as “bubble and squeak” when I could find somewhere to buy a gas canister—tomorrow. For now, that bag of peanuts in the glove box sounded wonderful.
On the plywood platform was a blow-up mattress (yet to be inflated) a double sleeping bag and an extra blanket, which, I never imagined would be necessary. With the large tailgate of the Toyota wide open everything was easy to arrange, except locating the 12-volt mattress inflator that was nowhere to be found. And the cold wind howled and so did Eddie—I think.
How long do you reckon it would take to inflate a double mattress by mouth?
 
Determined not to sleep on the hard plywood I searched for the spout but being already jinxed by Mr Potter, the bloke that drowned in the frozen river, there was no spout to be found—it did not exist! The mattress makers in China decided that nobody would be fool enough to blow the damned thing up by lung-power, rather than use the “provided” 12 volt pump and thus there was a bloody hole in one corner that the pump connection pressed into—clever, but not practical.
 
Anyway, I can tell you it takes more than an hour. And, I can also tell you that “inflator” suffers many bouts of severe hyperventilation in the process. Furthermore, the combination of hunger, hypothermia, plonk and anger produces what I suspect might equal an overdose of cheap heroin to a junky. Of course, Potter’s bloody Rest had zero mobile reception to call an ambulance when I found myself laying on the ground wondering how I got there and why Eddie was licking my face.
 
Was this some sort of test that every novice camper faces? The best thing to do now, before anything else could go wrong was to spread the double sleeping bag on the inflated mattress, double up the blanket and go to bed. Things had to be better in the light of day.
 
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Something that did work well except for a minor miscalculation was the small alarm clock I glued to the van roof right above where my head would be. I didn’t calculate for the mattress and pillow height that placed my eyes too close to focus on the damned thing. It was 3.17am when I broke the silicone bonding and focused on the time. Severe stomach rumbling had stirred me to consciousness—peanuts and plonk, no doubt. Eddie was like small heater snuggled firmly against my right thigh, happy to be warm again.
 
The tummy rumbling worsened with all the discordant squeaks and gurgles one might expect expected from a reform school orchestra—for the tone-deaf. There was no lighting at Potter’s Rest and the night was black, and I knew not if or where there was a toilet. While the freezing wind rocked the van I was warm. Could I hold out until daybreak became the question?
 
It soon became a 50/50 call—toss a coin—was it only wind or…Oh dear! Nature overruled and decided a try for wind and so it was—like no other. Under pressure like an old copper boiler finally blowing the report was indeed thunderous. So frightening as it was sudden, Eddie, still sleeping by my waist, head pointing to the sleeping bag entrance, awoke in shock and bolted forthwith.
 
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Much noise and confusion ensued in that lonely carpark. Eddie’s sudden bolt was, he thought, to save his life, and thus his claws on all fours punctured the sleeping bag and dug deeply into the air mattress. The sound of hissing of air could be heard over his frantic barking and the mattress quickly settled on the hard plywood platform, driving with it the unpleasantness of my handiwork. 
 
All I could do was laugh while Eddie went to the cold front seat until dawn.
 
The morning light revealed a loo some distance along the river. Adorning the dunny door  was a brass plaque which read, “Potter’s porcelain please pause to ponder.” This expensive plaque was provided by the “Potter’s Rest Preservation Society.” The operative word being “preservation.”  It was locked and should therefore last forever.
 
That day was spent reviewing my cavalier approach to camping while tracking down a better camp stove, a new mattress and a large box of matches for lighting campfires. While looking at the expensive matches guaranteed to light even if wet, and in a hurricane, I mused about returning to Potter’s Rest and burning to the ground his bloody dunny and write rude words on the plaque and wondered how I could blame Potter for the 12 volt mattress inflator, the ordinary matches and the damned toilet paper that were still in my garage at home.

 
The truth be known, I was not a happy camper and as the days wore on I became less so and wondered what Banjo Patterson prattled on about.
Poetry seemed to be his forte to magic imagery. 
 
You know the stuff, thundering wild horses leaping cavernous gaps; boiling the billy and the heady aromas from a camp oven sending hearty lads insane with hunger, and let’s not forget dozing under a celestial canopy, a twinkling firmament “that the townsfolk never know.” 
 
Like deadly snakes and spiders, ants and flies that crawl inside your mouth and nose, and sunstroke, dehydration and bloody sandflies that suck your veins dry might well be classified, camping Aussie style.
 
The new stove must have been defective right out of the box. While boiling water in my new billy, the same type Patterson used according to the salesman, the stove took a fit spouting flames three metres into the air making it impossible to approach and stop the gas. When all was done, so was the stove in which the charred billy had become a welded component to the stove.
 
The following days found Eddie and I eating cold, tinned food and an overuse of toilet paper. The kilometres, however, rolled by in large numbers, several hundred each day, because any place other than a truck stop like “Potter’s jinxed Rest” had large, “No Camping.” signs with threats of dreadful fines if one dared. I soon learned why those places were strewn with toilet paper, so did Eddie who seemed intrigued—I was not.
 
There is always a last straw to these things and it came at teatime camped beside a river on the edge of town. The weather was wonderful and I had a nice little fire making embers and a steak waiting for me to finish a few beers and maybe a wine or two. Maybe camping wasn’t so bad after all. Sitting in the camp-chair feeling no pain, fire at the ready and Eddie exploring was a moment to remember. And so it was!
 2edcaim
The steak was cooked to perfection and the potato crisps seemed better than greasy, half-cooked potatoes. A tin of gourmet chicken with vegetables and rice for Eddie, and tea was served. While admiring my feast, from nowhere came a fierce wind burst accompanied by a deluge of rain while the sun still shone. Clutching my plate I ran for the van with dog and me piling into the driver’s seat. The steak wallowed in the rainwater and the chips had blown away but I was determined to have that bloody steak.
 
And there came that last straw. The steak was of course cold, but it was also like leather. Jammed in behind the steering wheel with plate in lap I sawed away with the steak knife that suddenly went through steak, the soggy paper plate, through my new Jarvis Walker trousers and into my leg—the plate went red and the toilet paper made a good field dressing. Eddie sensed danger and leaped into the back. In the mirror I could see the tailgate was open with my sleeping bag left out to air was now drenched.
 
We drove ten hours that night arriving home on Sunday morning. With still a week to go I was more than happy to get back to work. Eddie seemed unusually pleased to see my customers and while I recounted our camping disaster Eddie made his customary smelling rounds.
 
Eddie took longer than usual that day so I went around whistling and calling—something felt wrong. His details were on his collar tag so I called home to see if someone thought he was lost and left a message—there was indeed a message.
 
It was from a Vet saying Eddie had been brought in by a lady—Eddie was dead—killed instantly. 
I cried like a heartbroken child for Eddie and me.
 
Every time I read or hear Banjo Patterson's poem " Clancy of the Overflow " I think of Eddie. Sitting beside me on that camping trip when we gazed up in wonder at the beauty of the starlight nights. I think of him as I type these words and remember the dog that was my best friend. 
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" And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars."
 
 

 

 Chaucer

 
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