Tomorrow is the last day of the Chinese year of the dog; as of Tuesday February 5th, we’ll be in the year of the pig.
Although I tend to always write at least one blog post to mark the Chinese New Year, I don’t really know a lot about the Chinese calendar. Nor do I know much about the zodiac, though a colleague once told me that if I was a Gemini born in the year of the dog it explained why I was a two-faced bitch. Everyone else in the staff room expected me to be very, very cross, but I reckoned it was the first witty thing I’d ever heard the guy say, so I laughed and treasured it up to use myself when it seemed appropriate.
Anyway, I have lots of pictures of pigs and poems about pigs, mostly written while I was living in Spain, and I’ll probably post some of them next weekend. I don’t, however, have many pieces about dogs. So, not having anything very original, I shall see out the old year with this re-telling of a shaggy dog story.
There was once a dog that lived in a pub. It was an old pub, with lots of different spaces and rooms – it had a snug and a lounge, a public bar, a saloon and a family room – and the landlord had installed swing doors so the dog could roam around the premises without anyone needing to interrupt their conversation to open doors for him.
One day, when he wasn’t much more than a puppy, one of the doors swung closed too quickly, and caught the dog’s tail. The vet came and inspected the damage. He looked around the pub at all the swing doors and realised that what had happened once was very likely to happen again. So he recommended that the tail be amputated. The landlord thought for a while and then decided that it was probably a good idea: the dog would be able to continue to wander freely and no one would need to fret about more accidents. So the dog’s tail was amputated and the landlord put it in a glass display case and hung it over the main bar.
The plumy tail stayed on display and the dog continued to roam the pub, making friends with the customers. The years passed and the dog was getting older; he didn’t have the same energy he’d had when he was young, and you were more likely to find him curled up and dozing alongside the fire in the snug than playing with the children in the family room or wandering through the other spaces.
Then, as is the way of the world, one night the dog died. He’d had a good life and he’d been a good and loyal dog, so when he died he found himself at the foot of a great wide, white marble staircase leading to Heaven. With more energy than he’d had in years, he climbed the stairs to the top where St Peter was waiting for him.
But when St Peter saw that the dog didn’t have a tail, he looked grave: “You’d be much happier in Heaven if you had a tail to wag,” he said. So St Peter decided to give the dog 24 hours to go back to Earth and retrieve his tail from the pub, where it was still hanging in the display case.
Off went the dog, down the great wide, white marble staircase and all the way back to the pub. But as he went he began to think. He’d always been a good pub dog and he realised that a ghost suddenly appearing in the pub might not be good for business. So he sneaked round the side of the pub and went to wait in the alleyway where the bins were kept. He knew that when the customers had all gone home he’d be able to see his old master, and St Peter had given him the power of speech, so it should be easy to explain what he needed.
It was a long wait. But at last he heard the landlord call last orders, and he pictured the customers all drinking up, gathering their bits and pieces together, putting on their coats and heading off homewards.
The dog waited a little longer, to be on the safe side.
Then, when he’d decided it must be safe, he crept out from his hiding place and sneaked into the bar through the back entrance. There was his master, the landlord, in the main bar, clearing the tables as he’d done every night that the dog remembered.
The landlord almost dropped the glasses he was holding when he saw the dog. He’d never seen a ghost before and he was startled. He thought he should be frightened. Then he thought about the dog who’d lived in the pub all his life and realised that if this was his ghost it couldn’t mean any harm. So he put down the glasses and sat down. “What is it boy? What are you doing back here? What do you want?”
If he was startled when the ghost appeared, he was even more started when it spoke. But St Peter had given the dog the power of speech and the dog was very conscious that time was ticking away. He only had 24 hours and it had been a long journey back to the pub and he’d waited outside for a long time. So he quickly explained what he’d come for, turning to look up at the display case above the bar.
When he heard the story, the landlord looked disappointed. He shook his head sadly as he looked at the dog.
“I can’t do it, boy. You should have come in earlier. You’ve been a good pub dog your whole life. You know as well as anyone… I can’t retail spirits after hours.”