Shaggy Dog Stories Part 2 – Deep Throat

In part 1 of our Hurricane Irma shaggy dog stories, I described how our temporary charge Jesse, a large Golden Doodle, and I almost ended up in jail. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse …

There are many reasons why I am not a dog person and one reason is that dogs love to eat garbage and the more rotten the garbage, the more they seem to like it. I have seen dogs eat some revolting stuff and watched as their owners then let them lick their faces. What!

Compared to an island mutt, the famed coconut retrievers, a Golden Doodle appears refined, posh, however, Jesse is an expert at finding and eating rotten garbage, and following hurricane’s Irma and Maria, there was certainly plenty of it to go at.

The rather delicate Jesse might love garbage but garbage certainly doesn’t love Jesse, it makes her vomit and have diarrhea. Lovely, when you have to clean it up while trying not to empty the contents of your own stomach, which Jesse would immediately love to gobble down as dessert.

Of all the garbage she loves to eat, rotten meat, preferably on the bone, is Jesse’s all-time favorite. She can sniff out moldy bones from ten yards away. Over the time we looked after her and walked her on a leash, I studied her body language and recognized the signs when she’d caught scent of a delightful morsel of rancid crap.

In the early days, she would run, nose down, jaws open, and scoop her target off the ground and immediately start crunching.

Now the last thing you need while dealing with the devastation wrought by a 200mph hurricane is a sick dog. For a start, my Jeep had been destroyed and even if I could find a vet, I had no means of getting her there. A Golden Doodle has powerful jaws and forcing them apart to fish out crap isn’t easy. To make things worse, Jesse has been known to snap at you if she’s not getting her own way.

We had several battles over the garbage in her mouth, I won a few but not all.

And then the wily Jesse changed her tactics. Instead of charging at her target, she’d slip into doggy stealth mode, totally ignoring the garbage until it was at her feet and then, like lightning, snapping it up.

Winning food fights meant my hands were covered in slobber, but what’s a bit of slobber between man and man’s best friend.

It was our habit to give Jesse her last walk of the day at around nine o’clock at night. She was happy with this and ambled along sniffing here and there and occasionally stopping to water the plants. The first part of the walk took us across the parking lot, then down a narrow path through the garden to the edge of the lagoon where the path turned a corner and followed the water’s edge.

Perhaps I was gazing at the moon and stars for as we rounded the corner Jesse lunged for the base of a small bush, pulling me off my feet, and came up with half a rotten chicken, which dangled from either side of her mouth.

This was Jesse’s biggest prize ever! The stinking emperor of rotten garbage, the ultimate vomit-inducing, sweetest, biggest, juiciest most rancid chunk of decaying, puss dripping, germ infested, bacteria-ridden, putrefying slop in St. Martin and it was all hers!

Her eyes glowed with pride like hot coals in the dark. She drooled.

I dropped the leash and clamped my hands around the chicken where it hung from the sides of her mouth and gave an upwards heave. The rotten carcass split leaving me with a piece in each hand, which I threw into the lagoon. In the meantime, Jesse began to crunch.

Just then a van, lights ablaze, roared out of the parking lot, down the narrow path, bounced  across the flowerbeds and came to a slewing stop inches from my legs.

The doors of the van flew open and out leapt two armed gendarmes, a man the size of a house, and a woman waving a baton.

What they saw was a crazy man trying to rip the tongue out of the mouth of a big white dog.

They started to shout.

I had managed to wrap my hand around the chicken, which was now halfway down Jesse’s throat. In her excitement, she bit down, hard. With my free hand, I tried to force her jaws open, which only made her more determined. I was shouting, the gendarmes were shouting, my wife was shouting, and if Jesse’s mouth hadn’t been full of decomposed chicken and both my poor hands, she’d have been shouting too. The gendarmes demanded to know what was going on and what I was doing to that poor dog. But every time I turned to explain, Jesse chomped harder.

Another round of shouting. For a brief second Jesse relax her jaws and, with a mighty heave, I pulled out the stinking chicken and shoved it towards the gendarmes who rapidly backed away.

Having lost the game, Jesse nonchalantly squatted and peed on the grass.

The rancid chicken did the explaining for us and, laughing, the gendarmes climbed back into their van and backed over the flowerbeds, leaving deep ruts and doing as much damage as hurricane Irma.

Jesse and I remain the best of friends. I still wrestle rotten food out of her mouth, only now I check for Gendarmes before diving in.

 

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The Somme – A Personal Journey

The attack along the Somme was preceded by an eight-day preliminary bombardment of the German lines, beginning on Saturday 24 June 1916.

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1,738,000 shells were fired at the Germans.

I had been drawn to the battlefields of the Somme by an unseen hand, a longing to return to a place I have never been before.

The sky was eggshell blue and the emerald grass ebbed and flowed in the sunlight. The earth did not tremble, could not, yet deep inside I felt it move. One hundred years of rain has washed the blood deep into the ground where for now it remains.

Why the Somme and what happened there stirs such emotion in me is unclear but even as I write tears wet my cheeks.

July 1 1916, at precisely 0730, on a blue sky day such as mine, the barrage ceased and the men went over the top.

Three million soldiers would fight over a front of 45 kilometers, Sir Douglas Haig decreed it so.

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By the end of the day, the butcher’s bill listed 58000 casualties, including 19240 killed. Thirty-two battalions had lost more than 500 men (out of an average strength of 800).

At Beaumont-Hamel, I stood where the soldiers of the 1st battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment rose from their trenches and advanced into No-Man’s-Land and the waiting German machine guns.

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Down the gently sloping field and to my right, a petrified tree, known as the Danger Tree, stands in solitude. The Newfoundlanders, unable to cut through the wire, sought cover around this tree, where they were scythed down like wheat and stacked in a shuddering mound of dead and dying flesh by German reapers.

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Memorial to the 29th Division of the Newfoundland Regiment  at Beaumont Hamel. The memorial looks towards the German lines.

The Canadians lost 700 men in thirty minutes.

Only one other battalion suffered heavier casualties – the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, at Fricourt.

It was the first time I wept that day. It would not be the last.

Such was the accuracy of the German machine guns that the trench where I stood became clogged with the dead and dying. When the men could no longer walk on the torn remains of their comrades, when the trench was overflowing with corpses, they were forced to seek cover elsewhere, exposing themselves to withering fire.

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I walked the cambered field but my eyes kept returning to the Danger Tree.

At the bottom of the field, I came to the German front line trench. It had taken me twenty minutes to walk there from the British front line. The battle for this sacred, bloody piece of ground, lasted five months, and it was never taken by the allies.

There are 410 military cemeteries on the Somme. Many, like at Beaumont-Hamel, are on the battlefields themselves. The men having been buried where they fell.

Later that day, I visited The Thiepval Memorial. The memorial commemorates 72205 allied soldiers who were declared missing on the Somme between July 1916 and March 1918. Either their bodies were never found or the body was found but could not be identified.

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Their names are carved into the stone.

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While I was at Thiepval, a small memorial service took place. They have been happening regularly since July 1, this being the centenary of the battle.

I wept.

Why I am drawn to Picardy and The Somme seems to go beyond my interest in military history. A friend thinks I fell on the battlefield during a past life. That perhaps my name is chiseled in stone. It’s beyond me to even question that. What I do know is that since my visit a weight has been lifted from my shoulders and, like that July morning in 1916, I am free to go forward in sunlight.

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Monument to 38th Welsh Division, at Mametz Wood

If you are interested in visiting the Battlefields of WW1 then here are a couple of links:

https://www.getyourguide.com/paris-l16/from-paris-wwi-somme-battlefields-full-day-tour-t7573/

Our tour guide ‘Reggie’ was amazing. He has prodigious knowledge of the battles and those who fought in them and I can’t recommend this company enough.

For information about the Somme Battlefields:

http://www.somme-battlefields.com  http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/somme.htm

 

 

 

The Swimming Pool

I have to swim – my doctor says so. I’m told my lungs, which have been punished by industry, need exercise to keep them from rotting and turning to mush.

I am blessed in that we live on a Caribbean island, where the weather is usually nice (although it’s raining while I write this) and our apartment complex boasts a large, beautifully maintained swimming pool. Motivation, however, even when goaded by my doctor, wife, friend and wheezy lungs, is often hard to find, and swimming, when under pressure to do so, can be monotonous. Today during my swim instead of just gasping back and forth absorbing movement like a long swig of nasty medicine, I looked around and got my Zen on.

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The pool is lined with blue tiles so the water is an intense blue under a tropical blue sky. In the summer, the pool is a warm bath, but in winter it holds a chill. People who don’t live in the Caribbean all year round always laugh when I say that.

Winter brings absentee owners back to their apartments and by 11am there can be as many as a dozen people in or around the pool. This makes swimming lengths a problem because there always seems to be someone in front of you. This happens even when the pool has just one other person in it, which always amazes me.

Being a French island, many of the women at the pool swim or sunbathe topless, which is a delight. I love breasts and I’m certainly going to look. Sorry, but I’m a guy and that’s just the way it is. As I’m now older I’m less worried about leaving the water with an obvious bulge in my shorts although a couple of times it’s been a close run thing …

Boobs aside, the pool is much nicer when there is no one around. Calm in the morning, its surface is like burnished glass, an Alpine lake a thousand feet deep. Kicking off from the wall fractures the water like a windshield smashed by a rock.

Backstroking changes everything. Above, palm trees flick shadows across the pool weaving a frame around a sky filled with cotton wool clouds.

During the day, birds swoop and snatch insects from the water. At dusk bats skim and feed.  In spring, bees, their legs heavy with pollen, drown in the pool. If I see a bee on the surface, I cup it in my hands and carry it gently to shore where the sun dries their wings and away they fly. From experience, bees drifting below the surface, even by the thickness of a finger, have left to pollinate another world.

Today, my friend the ginger cat, a regular visitor, skirted the edge of the pool and stopped to drink, head down, front paws spread like a lion at a Serengeti watering hole. I never realized that so much was going on here!

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On the gate leading to the pool is a sign displaying the rules … all 12 of them. They don’t allow you to do much, other than swim.

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One sign is missing! But then you wouldn’t, would you …