The Black Dog
I’m picking up shit vibrations, it’s giving me palpitations...
Yeah, yeah, I know – Good Vibrations was dropped from Pet Sounds but I’ve never let
the truth stand in the way of a clumsy gag before and I’m certainly not gonna start
* * *
We never had any pets in my family when I was growing up. “Oh but please Mum...?
Why can't we...?” The arguments against it are nothing if not familiar: “Who's going
to walk it? Who's going to clean up after it? I'll tell you who: Me – that's who.
You'll soon tire of it and then Muggins here will have to pick up the pieces.” Well
she might have had a point I guess and so my capacity for giving and receiving unconditional
love went largely unexplored and unexploited.
In time I made a little bit of progress: Had part shares in a couple of hamsters
courtesy of a girlfriend or two but still nothing that I could quite call my own.
Though there's no denying (am I showing my soft, sensitive side here?) that they
were pretty damn cool and as I watched them rattling and chewing at the bars I couldn't
help but recognise a greater success at breaking from the cages that held them than
I ever demonstrated.
* * *
But that was a long time ago. I've made up for all that now. Now I have all the pets
I could wish for. The monkey on my back. The monkey that's the black sheep of the
family (!) - still following me? - and he's one hell of a multi-tasker: He sees,
hears and speaks evil with an insouciant, airy ease. Oh and he's a pernicious little
fucker an' all. I glance; turning anxiously this way and that but wherever I look
he reaches over, holding up a distorting, dirty glass before my clouding vision.
He watches the gentle, casual words head towards me, seizing them at the last moment,
deftly turning them around before granting them access to my tautened mind. He covers
my ears, muffling my understanding and as the isolation grows; as he pulls me back
from the truth; he takes advantage of the stillness and separation to whisper his
Meanwhile at my side prowls the Black Dog – my constant companion. Don't be frightened
of him – he can look a bit nasty, even a bit intimidating and menacing. But you shouldn't
be afraid – he's the frightened one. His very being is Fear. Fear motivates and sustains
him. Reach out and pet him – give it a go. He just wants love. To belong, to find
his place in the world. Notice him; gift him a smile. Soothe him; set him at his
ease. He'll soon settle down – after a while you'll barely know he's there.
Don't ignore him, he'll howl, he'll paw at the ground, rally the very hounds of hell
to his cause! That Black Dog must be faced not shied away from. If he senses fear,
he'll pounce – remorseless and unyielding. And so the trial of strength begins. But
brute force alone will not do it. Adamantine chains cannot hold him. Slavering, jaws
snapping. And he's hungry, he'll consume anything given half a chance. Don't leave
any tasty emotional morsels unprotected or he'll swipe them from right under your
nose. Shake them 'til they're torn and tattered. All but unrecognisable... yet enough
remains – glimpsed through the damage – to taunt you with faint memories of better
The Black Dog must be trained, he won't be destroyed. You can't leap to put him down,
muzzle him or break him with brutality. But with patience he can perhaps be tamed.
Care for him, teach him, guide him. Don't let him lead you. He'll learn to walk in
step with you. Oh he's wilful, capricious... he'll catch a sight of something, pick
up an intriguing scent, and he'll be off, bounding uncontrolled; running amok. Then
you must be brave and you must be patient. He may not come to heel, simply if you
call but if you show him no fear he'll run himself out and quieten in time.
So I've got a couple of pets. It's no big deal. We are a nation of animal lovers,
after all. And it could be worse: once upon a time they had me.
* * *