July 2015 Archives

Berkeley Baskerville Nightshade


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Berkeley in a chair

Before we moved in together, let alone before we were married, Cleodhna said to me that she was thinking about getting a puppy. I said to her: “I love you dearly; I may not love your dog”.

And it’s true that Berkeley, in many ways, was not the perfect dog. He wasn’t what your idle dog-fancier would call beautiful; not in the way Laszlo (Malamute-Alsatian cross) or Taji (Japanese Akita) would attract attention everywhere they went, although he did have his share of admirers. Hell, your idle dog-fancier wouldn’t know what to call him, and neither did we: lurcher cross? bit of bearded collie in there maybe? something else? we had no idea. Cleodhna would occasionally meet someone else with a dog that looked like Berkeley and would ask “what sort is your dog?” and they wouldn’t know either.

He was shaggy enough that when he decided to roll in something - like, for instance, the same dead salmon he’d found the two previous days running - you would smell it until you’d managed to douse him in baby shampoo and hose him off. In those days when we lived next to Byres Road, he would sing along to fire engines when they drove past (we never managed to take him to Edinburgh during the Festival so he could troll pipers).

And he certainly wasn’t smart: Laszlo had to teach him that when Cleodhna went outside (the same way they went outside for walks every goddamn day), she would turn up on the street that they could see out of the window. Berkeley knew that if he dropped his ball on one particular hill in the Botanic Gardens, it would roll downhill; it took him quite a while to systematise gravity, viz. that that happened if he dropped his ball on any hill.

But then, contra Taji, he never displayed any inclination towards eating broken glass and/or Buckfast. Thanks to a freak event when he was out in the Botanic Gardens playing with his squeaky broccoli, he never had Habibi’s fear of thunderstorms, because Cleodhna said “hey, hooray, lightning, isn’t this fun‽” and he played and barked and thought no more of it. And his habit of shoving his head between random new stranger’s knees (because that’s obviously how you get stroked) stood in stark contrast with Laszlo’s absolute fear of anybody he hadn’t been out on a walk with. (If Laszlo had been out on a walk with them, though, they were suddenly Pack, and prone to muscular displays of affection. Jessie claims she still bears the bruises to this day.)

And towards the end of his life, when he was in and out of the Vet School at Glasgow University, he never made a fuss. There were times when we’d be in a consulting room and in would come Dr French, like a mother goose followed by a gaggle of vet students, and the students would take turns prodding him and listening to his heart and doing the sort of uncertain things that first year vet students do. Berkeley quietly let them do whatever they wanted, like an absolute trooper.

And if I have any single thought of Berkeley, it’s as Dog: not the pretty dog, nor the smart dog, not the goofball dog, just the ur-Dog. With his magnificent eyebrows, his fuzzy coat that would be a CGI renderer’s nightmare, and above all that simple but somehow beautiful face, he was the epitome of furry, patient doggy love.

You made me into a dog person, Berkeley. I hope you’re proud of yourself.

Berkeley by the canal

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