Dear Mum and Dad,
It’s your dog Clancy here, writing from a beach down the coast. Here’s my news: I love it here. I’m thinking of becoming a professional surfer, or at very least a cast member of Bondi Rescue.
My athleticism when in the water is drawing plenty of favourable reviews. Children shout “look at that dog swim”, and “look Mum, that kelpie just caught a wave”. If dogs could blush, I’d be permanently red-faced, and not just from the sunburn. Personally, I don’t think my achievements are that surprising. If a dog can’t dog paddle, who can?
Here’s one explanation for the constant compliments: people may be comparing my water skills to those of Man. As soon as we arrive at the beach, I exit the car like a coiled spring. I burn my way down the path and head straight into the water. Not Man. First, he has to “make camp”.
This involves him laying out his towel, placing his sunscreen and book to one side, and then hiding his car keys in one of his shoes. “The thieves will never think to look there,” he says to Lady, even though every Australian has been using the same supposedly iron-clad security system for the past century.
Lady then suggests a swim, but Man says, “First I have to heat up.” He then positions his body in a way that resembles the Max Dupain photograph Sunbaker, albeit now featuring a 63-year-old man with spindly arms, white hair and a fair amount of childhood sun damage.
All this time, I’m gambolling in the water, prancing though the waves and playing chasey-chasey with other dogs. I leap in and out of the water. If anything, I’ve become an animal that is half dolphin and half gazelle. I can hear the laughter of children and the crashing of the waves. The air smells sweet with the sea breeze. I want this afternoon to last forever.
I run back to Man and try to remind him of the delightful feeling of water on your skin. I do this by standing next to him and vigorously shaking myself. This covers him with a tsunami of water, which has the desired effect of awakening Man from his slumber. He stumbles to his feet, complaining loudly, and announces that, since I left him soaking wet, he may as well join me in the water.
Man entering the water involves one of the most elaborate displays of cowardice ever seen. It is Saddam Hussein in the hole. It is Governor Bligh beneath the bed in Government House. The water here is lovely and warm – virtually a sauna – but the way Man carries on, you’d think he was Mawson on his way to the South Pole.
He takes a few steps into the water, then lets out a screech every time a tiny wave splashes his leg. There’s much yelping and waving of arms. He even stands on tippy-toes when each wave comes in, just to minimise the incredible pain.
“It’s freezing, impossibly cold,” he says to Lady, yelling over a crowd of tiny children, splashing happily about, oblivious to the apparently life-threatening conditions they are enduring.
After 15 minutes of this pathetic display – Man inching forward, screeching in agony, backing off, then momentarily reasserting his courage before falling back once more – even Man is bored with his timidity. He flings himself into a wave, popping up a moment later to shout again to Lady: “Actually, the water is a perfect temperature. Absolutely lovely. I don’t know what people are so scared of. You should come in.”
Lady rolls her eyes, runs into the water, then gracefully dives beneath an incoming wave. “If anything,” she says once she’s surfaced, “it’s a bit warm”.
I take quiet pleasure in having at least one beach companion who doesn’t invite the derision of the crowd.
Lady completes her swim and returns to the shoreline whereupon she chats with strangers, including some who don’t even have dogs, which seems odd since I can’t imagine how two humans can start a conversation without the starting point of a question about each other’s dog.
The afternoon sails on. We swim and, together, we examine rock pools. I dig a hole then chase a dog who is chasing a ball. I try to eat a bluebottle until Man tells me off. Bathed in the sunshine, we meet many other humans and many other dogs.
All too soon, it’s time to go home.
Back at our “camp”, Man retrieves his car keys from his shoe. “See,” he says to Lady, “I told you this would fool the thieves. It’s such a great method I invented.”
A few minutes later, I jump into the back seat of the car, all wet and sandy, drying myself against the upholstery. I give myself one more good shake, the droplets of water filling the car. Man doesn’t seem to mind. I guess he’s still celebrating his victory over the arctic conditions.
I just know that we’re all going to sleep well tonight.
Hope all is well in the country.