‘Good morning Marjorie.’
‘Good heavens Sally, what are you doing out on the common?’
Her question was soon answered when a young Springer Spaniel came bounding up.
‘I’m stepping outside my comfort zone, as Harrison would say, puppy sitting for my neighbour; there’s a triumph of contradiction for you, this canine delinquent is going to be the spearhead of counter terrorism.’
Marjorie laughed, their homework for Harrison Tenby’s U3A Philosophy class was an essay entitled ‘The Triumph of Contradiction’; his pupils were even more confused than usual.
‘Greetings Brian, how’s Jack today… oh what happened to your finger?’
‘Just a little bite.’
‘So Jack’s bitten the hand that feeds him’ said Sally.
Brian fostered dogs for Waggy Tails charity, tales of his charges made light relief during the coffee break at their philosophy class. The other dogs had found good homes, but Jack, a bad tempered mix of the worst characteristics of several breeds, had not yet been successfully placed; every few weeks he would say I’ve got Jack back.
Brian ignored her remark. ‘What brings you out in the wilds Sally?’
‘Next door neighbour’s doing jury service, she told them she was puppy walking for the police, but that doesn’t count as an excuse; I hope it won’t turn into one of those cases that goes on for months.’ As she spoke she realised Barney the Springer Spaniel was nowhere to be seen.
‘Don’t panic,’ said Brian getting out his mobile phone ‘we’ll alert Dog Watch.’
‘Seek’ barked Marjorie, sending her well behaved Labrador off into a nearby copse.
At last, when muddy paws landed on Sally’s knees, she was so glad to see her charge back again she didn’t worry about her trousers.
‘Time for a rest,’ said Brian ‘I’ll buy the first round.’
‘Oh, are we off to the pub?’ said Sally.
‘No, hot chocolate, Bob’s van by the education centre and toilets, we always stop there. We can talk about our homework.’
With the dogs safely tied up the three humans relaxed on the splintery wooden seats.
‘Dogs,’ said Marjorie ‘how can an article about dogs be philosophical?’
Sally put her case. ‘Thousands of years ago a few wolves, probably the runts of the litter, not the leaders of the pack, made a lifestyle decision to throw in their lot with humans. A supply of scraps and the warmth of the campfire in exchange for being on 24 hour alert for sabre tooth tigers and woolly rhinoceri. Thus started a uniquely complex and contradictory relationship of trust and betrayal. Now our so called best friend expects us to feed and cosset him, while disdainfully leaving his mess for us to pick up and occasionally eating our children.’ She smiled as her friends rose to the bait.
‘Far more people harm dogs than the other way round’ bristled Marjorie.
‘Yes and we abuse them in a variety of ways, messing around with their breeding to amuse ourselves, so a huge mountain dog picks up a ridiculous ball of fluff, not even knowing it’s a fellow dog. But they bear us no grudge and happily put their lives in danger, like Barney’s going to do, sniffing out explosives.’
‘Or those assistance dogs who put on the washing machine and answer e-mails’ said Marjorie.
‘I think they tell you when the phone or door bell’s ringing if you’re deaf,’ said Brian ‘I don’t think they’re on line yet.’
‘But the principal’s the same,’ said Sally ‘they do it altruistically, no days off, no holidays, no time for their own interests. What stops them leaving, walking out the door?’
‘Guide dogs and sheep dogs,’ added Marjorie ‘so clever, pity Jack hasn’t found a career to keep him out of mischief.’ She bent down to bravely hug the mongrel straining at his lead. ‘Who’s a big useless lump then?’
The dog wagged his tail and Sally shuddered, but she was determined to get in a last word. ‘So if dogs are so intelligent, how come they haven’t learned to use toilets?’
‘Nor have some humans’ said Brian. ‘Anyway, I’m off, see you on Thursday, hope I don’t get told off for not doing my homework.’
But Brian wasn’t at the class on Thursday, Marjorie relayed the news to the rest of the class with relish.
‘He’s okay, just smoke inhalation, he thinks he must have fallen asleep doing his essay late and then his angle poise lamp tipped over on a pile of papers. The smoke alarm wasn’t working, Brian took the battery out, because the noise sent Jack into a frenzy if he burnt the toast, if Brian burnt the toast I mean. Anyway, if it wasn’t for Jack barking who knows what might have happened, he bit the hand of the fireman, but they wear gloves and Jack was only trying to protect Brian.’
After the excitement settled down, it turned out only Sally had done the homework.