Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows me, the thing that’s anchoring me in these dystopian times is my dog. I share Noodle with my ex-partner, who’s well-acquainted with my anxious tendencies and who was more than happy to let me have the dog for a few days straight. Noodle is a young Springer spaniel – madly energetic, wilful, and utterly obsessed with tennis balls, so I suspect generosity wasn’t the whole story; Greg is probably glad of the peace and quiet.
Dogs are an absolute blessing right now, as cafes, bars, restaurants and shops close their doors. I have to go to Preston Park, minutes from my flat in Brighton, several times a day. Having Noodle gives me routines to cling to – wake up, coffee, walk, home, breakfast. Later: walk, lunch. Evening: walk, dinner, or dinner then late walk. Since I stumbled round Fittleworth Common as a sturdy toddler, holding my grandmother’s hand, I have believed in the soothing properties of walks. Something about a walk – unhurried yet still with purpose – corrals my thoughts into a manageable rhythm. A walk can either kick a sleep-fogged brain into gear, or bring frantic, galloping terrors down from where they spiral.
We’re a pair, Noodle and me. I am responsible for him and that feels good. As I said, he’s my anchor. I’m obliged to be in a fit state to make sure he’s fed, watered and exercised, and as a single woman who lives alone and loves her independence, I find taking care of an animal incredibly nourishing. And right now, when I’m not going to an office, or meeting friends in the pub, or popping into town for a browse, or heading up to London at weekends, I have time to notice things about him. If he finds something interesting in a particular spot – an abandoned tennis ball, a dropped morsel of food – he will remember, and every time we pass the spot, he’ll examine it again with a level of care and attention that borders on the forensic. The lifted front paw when he’s concentrating. The forever-swinging tail. The way he gets more affectionate throughout the day, as he gets more tired. He runs on instinct, and that’s fascinating to watch, to really, properly engage with.
He frustrates me too though – I think because of those animal instincts. He’s not an easy dog, and as a control freak and a woman who is an expert in suppressing things I actually want and need, it’s challenging to take care of a creature who could never, ever be described as ‘chilled’ or ‘docile’. He’s led wholly by his desires – what’s this over here? I want that ball. I want to smell this plant, I want to lick this bin (yes, really). I want what you’re eating; what do you mean, I’ve just had my dinner? The leash can never be long enough for him, he will always pull on it. He can have had the longest walk, the biggest run, but if he sees another dog playing on our way home, he wants to stop and play too. What I’m planning – to get home, to give him fresh water, to make myself a cup of tea – is nothing to do with him. He’s interested in everything, is constantly wanting things, and doesn’t know how to rein in those instincts. Of course he doesn’t know how; he’s a dog.
I’m not trying to draw conclusions here, or say anything horribly trite like “we should all be more like dogs!” – because my God, if we were going to try and be more like dogs, the last dog in caninedom we’d want to emulate is Noodle. I love him but I wouldn’t wish him on anyone who wasn’t well-versed in Springer spaniels, who are scientifically the maddest of the spaniels. But if one tiny glimmer of light can be found right now – if there’s one feeble flame of hope we can gather round – it’s that we might finally have time to tune in to our non-negotiable needs. The routines that keep us in one piece when everything else is falling away. The walks, cooking from scratch when food and finances permit, the ritual of putting on make-up even if you’re not going out. Sitting alone on the shingle as the sea roars and foams like it always will. Looking up at trees and feeling the cold spring breeze on your skin. Bellowing at your dog, “No, Noodle, THAT’S NOT YOUR BALL, OH, JESUS CHRIST, DROP IT, YOU IDIOT HOUND!”
Little anchors. Small constancies everywhere.