posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Written today and first published here.
Weekend cottages were a luxury, in those days, and I could hardly afford the cost of the journey from London, let alone the rent on the journey’s actual destination. I always took a different companion with me, people I liked either for their conversation or for their body, but rarely for both.
It is delightful to tell you of one of the occasions when it was both. You’re probably thinking that I am concocting an easy style to convince you of its truth or this is effectively just a diary of wishful thinking! Well, think what you like, but the weekend I spent with Shirty is worth living through again, at least for me.
London is a big, big city, with big, big men
Who sit in offices and count to ten
And one of these men was the one called Shirty. A pure crisp whiteness with ice-diamond cuff-links, starched detachable collar, high-tight tie, chest-pocket where he kept his mobile and a body-shaped neatness. He was a cool merchant banker.
And I took him to my weekend hideaway, because I liked the cut of his jib as well as the gift of his gab. Financial wherewithal was not even a consideration. Two handsome heads being talked with from each plump pillow of a country cottage’s feathered bed with a shiny wit between them as well a shared sleek skin – well, that was what it was all about with Shirty and me. A single moment. A focus of passion.
The place was haunted by a dog. I knew that. I have no excuses for not warning Shirty. This dog was a relic of a previous century and probably far beneath the attention of a modern couple like me and Shirty. A nagging bark that sounded from beyond the skirting-boards. I did not believe in ghosts. But how explain it otherwise? Only my easy style can gloss over the contradictions. I simply wanted to concentrate on this single prize of a weekend with Shirty. Next weekend would be time enough to worry about ghosts when accompanied, no doubt, by a more down-to-earth form of humanity than sharp-eyed Shirty.
He sat bolt upright at the first sound of snuffling beyond the bedroom wall.
“What’s that?” He was not used to being startled in his daily life. He normally had all corners covered. But not tonight.
I smiled. I secretly enjoyed the chink in his armour. I saw him sit bolt upright in the vague moonlight bidden by inefficient curtains. He had quickly slipped the previous day’s shirt over his head, hands struggling through the still linked cuffs. How could he otherwise exist in public view without a shirt? This was his persona. This was the way he kept his guard up in the bank’s boardroom. He even started counting backward from a whole pen of sheep he had just counted towards following our earlier pre-sleep relaxations together.
Then there came the slow relentless barking.
He jumped from the bed and walked over to the wall whence the noise seemed to be coming.
“Don’t worry, it’s only the ghost.” I smiled to myself. I had forgotten how satisfying this was – to watch my ‘guests’ become bewildered by something so outlandish, something so utterly un-London.
Ghosts are traditionally white glimpses of intangibility.
Ghosts are surely not guttural sounds like any old dog that has lost its way in the time tunnel.
Over the years coming here, none of us (my guests and I) get much sleep after the initial disturbance. Tonight was no exception. Shirty was grumpy as he wandered round the kitchen muttering incomprehensibly to himself of this and that. Probably the first time he was at a loss for real words. Not in character at all.
I’ve just remembered why the Shirty weekend was one to remember. This was the first occasion when the ghost dog actually appeared, rather than just bugging us with its barking from behind the wall. A wall dividing what from what? That’s a good question. It was the bedroom wall but it was difficult to know what was on the other side of it because I had never been slim enough to slide between it and another wall that was half built into the hillside and half purely exterior to the open air of the countryside. A dank, dark slot where God knows what might lurk.
The dog turned out to be dressed in a ruffly shirt befitting an earlier century.
I drove back to London next day alone. Shirty somehow no longer seemed to matter, as if I had forgotten he existed at all. Only writing all this out for you has reminded me about him.
They do say a dog now haunts one of the bank’s boardrooms in the City. But that is only hearsay, because nobody has actually seen it for real. The barks however are quite useful as a sort of abacus of sounds that befits financial calculation.
And I have gained a new pair of sparkling cuff-links. I shall probably give them to my next ‘guest’ for a country weekend ... to show how much I care. And with the dog exorcised, we could both relax and enjoy things without any grumpiness.