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Imagine the pink and blue angels in Heaven.


PERHAPS, in those slow smiling, biscuit-dunking moments of warm sighs, you can imagine the pink and blue angels in Heaven sitting at their desks with wings neatly folded, chortling behind their hands, as God shows them his design for the cocker spaniel.

Of course, many creatures can fill our minds with absurd images - the jellyfish caught by surprise in an earth tremor, the young slug warily examining his first skipping rope, the greying Charters gingerly fingering an iPod as he tricycles to the shop, the tadpole lifting his eyebrows in horror after peering into the crystal ball, and the self important crocodile demanding to see the manager after a waiter had presented him with the vegetarian menu.

And then we come to the cocker spaniel with his/her floor-mopping ears, stocky legs, droopy eyes and hips with more wiggle than Marilyn Monroe. The chap bruised by experience knows that the only sensible method of entering this dog's room is with a sideways shuffle or bottom first, though that might seem rather rude to your host. The only other alternative is to wear a cricketer's protective box.

For every cocker spaniel has been fitted with front paws perfectly angled to bludgeon the genitalia of the human to whom he or she is being introduced.

It doesn't matter whether you are tall or short, the wetnosed spaniel will locate your reproductive organs with the certainty of one of President Bush's smart-bombs, before sniffing the rest of your rear quarters to ensure that you are indeed a friend.

Bent double with pain and clutching your stomach in the corner of the room, you will be cheered by the words of the spaniel's mistress: "Aren't you the lucky one, Horatio has really taken to you, a pal for life," she enthuses.

Such thoughts comforted me a couple of Sundays back, while standing outside Chester's railway station with our 12-year-old son. We were recovering from one of the most chilling utterances in the English language. A flunky, wearing the smile of a dyspeptic bereavement counsellor, had just told us that no trains were running because of "essential engineering work".

We had not been not warned of this change to the arrangements in Birkenhead, where we had bought our tickets for Bangor, North Wales. A few miles from there, high in the heat hered hills, my eldest sister breeds cocker spaniels in an old stone house, near the whistling waters of many streams, over which the sheep call from one to the other in the hushed dark.

But the man was not interested in such details.

This, he said, was not his problem, before adding, with another of those inscrutable smiles, that there would be a replacement bus service to Rhyl, but he knew not when.

By then, exasperated travellers had gathered on the pavement, where they were being entertained by a magnificently British row between a cabbie and a railway official about whether the replacement buses should be allowed to stop at the taxi rank. To add to the gloom, a deep fog was falling. But we could still see the bald man, who explained in a Cockney accent that he had been trying to reach Wolverhampton all day, which could have accounted for his mournful countenance. "It's a bloody shambles," he announced to any stranger prepared to listen.

Eventually a bus came and, from Rhyl, we were able to board a train to Bangor - watching from the windows as the still, silent figures of the fairground loomed like ghosts frozen in the fog. We arrived safely at the house. Here, Angie, the most exuberant of the cocker spaniels, was howling, as though alerted to our coming by some mysterious canine instinct. In the tradition of wily campaigners, we advanced into her room sideways and she bounded towards us with ears flapping and her stumpy tail wagging at 1,000mph.

Morning dawned, blue and crisp. The wild, mountain grass shone white by the tiny streams, which left sheens of ice on the crunching mud.

Paradise was high that day and we stared in awe at the lakes, wide, deep and bittergrey, spreading before us.

After a couple of hours we arrived in Llanberis and ate perfect chips at Pete's Eats, the mountaineers' cafe - just the lightest hint of vinegar drawing out their full flavour.

The sun rose fast, but it never touched the frosted crevices, or the little, slow pools, where trout dream.

We returned on the steep road through the quarry. Once men cut slate on the ledges there to keep the houses of Liverpool dry.

Our legs were tired, but fresh Angie was ready for many more miles. Somewhere up in the sky, I heard an angel chortle, or was it just a trick of the imagination?

Up in the sky, I heard an angel chortle

LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcast at www.liverpool dailypost.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2008
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