‘How many times have you been shat on by a bird?’ My friend M is gingerly swiping the top of his head with his hand. Its only water dripping from the overhead pub awning but still he looks across at me, his eyes darkening.
‘Well, how many?’ He is insistent and I note his fist is clenched.
Startled I shake my head. ‘Errr …nefariously onceI think. Splashed in passing. ‘
‘Yes yes,’ M leans forward. ‘That’s the usual response.’
His breath comes out in a hiss. ‘And how many times do you think I have been shat on..? ‘
‘Eighteen!’ He blurts out wildly.
‘Eighteen times! ‘
‘But… surely that’s not possible…. ?’
He slumps back on the bench, his handsome face pale, his terrible secret out. ‘Once it even happened twice…. in the same day.’
I gasp. That’s less the odds on a lightning strike!
We sit silently for a moment sucking on warm beer. I glance, with a phoney casual pretend flicking of my hair, at the sky over his head. Its empty but I still feel we are being watched.
Could it be the same bird every time? I am imagining some serious starling vendetta or a love-sick tern but he tells me that it started way back when he was a child and a bird managed to spatter him through the open roof of a car. (That takes some serious co-ordination and aim.) Ever since then he has been regularly ‘blessed’. Its even been caught on camera, on film.
Birds poo on this man.
‘Its lucky.’ I am trying to be up beat. He sighs. I think he has heard that one before.
‘Good thing pigs can’t fly..’ I think.
M has taken me out to this London pub after a long day’s photographic workshop and he is actually doing a very fine job of distracting me from my current state of emotional stir-fry as I have just made a decision that might completely change my already rather baffling life. I am going with the Guide Dog.
I met her on Tuesday. I went out to the car to greet her expecting the usual gorgeous, dewy-eyed beast and out lolloped a stocky, black and brown grinning mutt acutely resembling a small rottweiller.
I sat on the pavement and we bashed heads in greeting. The trainer, a stern woman with a skin tanned to leather, was all action and within seconds I took up the handle on the dog’s harness. The dog confused, looked around a couple of times for the trainer who insisted, in that ghastly British way, on calling herself the dog’s ‘mum’ as in; ‘ she’ll keep looking for her ‘mum’ so you will have to use your voice to push her forward.’ I do and the dog shrugs and we are off.
We walk the block passing interested neighbours and disinterested cats and the dog happily snuffles and galumphs and tail wags her way ahead of me. Later back at the flat she is splayed out on the floor and my feet. Her ears are soft and cool, dark brown. She snores.
Taking on a working dog is incredibly tough. There will be three weeks immersion training in a crumbling hotel in darkest fenland with visitors restricted and no access to a decent pub to start with. If I survive the training, then there will be six months adjusting to my local routes..except there isn’t time because I start my MA course in October. She will have to commute back and forth to Bath with me and sit under formica tables on nylon carpets bored out of her mind whilst I attend lectures and indulge in endless conversations about composition and structure.
She will need feeding, cleaning, pooper scooping, walking every day.
And she’s not a pet. She’s a working dog. I won’t be able to nip off for a few days. I won’t be able to stay in bed all Sundays. And I will have to think twice about all my plans for the rest of my life.
And my blindness will be ‘official’.
Interestingly several people including M, are confused. ‘Do you really need a guide dog?’ they ask. ‘You seem to get around fine with chutzpah and cane. ‘
Then, ‘ Won’t you stop using your useful vision as you start relying on the dog?’
And I can’t answer either of those questions and I suppose all these things will become apparent during the training.
But I do know I need help and could certainly do with some animal magic and am immensely lucky to have been even given the chance to learn a new skill and find a new route through the world.
So I just say ‘lets do it.’
You will not find your mission by standing still. The way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide new horizons before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is you should really be doing now, at this very moment.
Daisaku Ikeda; President of the Sokka Gakkai International
‘Prayer Flags’ (c) T. Bush
And by the way, the brown dog with the small, smiling, gold eyes, dodgy eyebrows and velvet ears is called Grace and I know I could always do with more of that!
‘Saving Grace’ (c) T. Bush ’09