Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Tell-Tale Heart - How Scary Is It Really?

Last week in my Short Form Fiction class, my lecturer, the amazing Ania Walwicz, brought us copies of The Telltale Heart, a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1843.
When I saw it, my own heart did a little flip as I remembered being scared out of my wits by this tale when I was very young. How young, I now wonder? I said in class that my mother read this tale to me when I was about ten and it frightened the daylights out of me. Now, after having read it and discussed it with others, I can't believe this to be right. I know that there was at least one well-thumbed copy of Edgar Allan Poe stories in the house, but surely no-one would read such a horrible story to a ten-year old? Yet the written tale itself is not really all that frightening.
To summarise, a young man becomes obsessed with the pale, dead eye of the old man he lives with, to such an extent that he finally kills him, chops him up and hides him under the floorboards. (See? Not scary at all.) He denies his own patently obvious madness and when two policemen arrive, summoned by the old man's screams, the young man's own guilt leads him, quite quickly, to confess.

The impetus for his confession, and what scared me witless as a ten year old, is the sound of the old man's heartbeat, pounding away, unstoppable, even after his death.
Many films have been made of this short story - predictably all short, as there's not much of a plot. One, made by Brian Desmond Hurst in 1934, was quickly withdrawn from the cinema and written up in newspapers at the time as the film that was 'too horrible to show'.

My family were all avid movie-goers so I suspect it was one of these short films I got to see so young. And ever since, the sound of a pounding heart, in any movie, has had the capacity to scare me quite terribly. Now that I've re-read The Telltale Heart, combed YouTube for a dozen versions of the short film and watched them all, I think the scare factor has dissipated.

Pity, really. I think I'll kind of miss it....


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Just A-Walkin' the Dog (s)

I often walk my 3 dogs in an expansive parkland that runs alongside the railway line in outer suburban Melbourne. I’m loath to give its name as it’s an unofficial and much treasured off-leash area though no signs attest to this and some kill-joy is bound to come along one day and complain.  But - so far so good.
Off to the park!
If ever a person felt lonely they’d have only to come here to be uplifted, entertained, puzzled or to laugh out loud. There are funny stories, sad stories and no end of observations to be made, about dogs and humans alike.
Take Rose. Rose is a robust but unremarkable black dog who fancies herself to be part cat. When I first met Rose she was pouncing into the long grass in what her owners told me was a promising pursuit of field mice, an activity at which she excels. When Rose is feeling affectionate towards her owners at home she will back up, lift her tail in the air and do those schmoozing slow twirls around their legs, just like a cat. She grew up with cats and kittens apparently and took on many of their feline behaviours. It made my day, meeting Rose.
There’s Henry the tradie’s dog who fell off the back of a ute one rainy day and whose owner sped along, oblivious. The absence of name tags, registration or the necessary speed to get the number plate resulted in Henry now living in the lap of luxury in Ivanhoe with his own couch and a penchant for watching the footy with his new owner.
But not all encounters are happy ones. There’s the elderly lady who for years walked two beautifully behaved Airdale terriers, one spritely, one starting to dodder. We chatted several times about doggy things  - best food, best parks, vet bills – and then one day she turned up with just the one dog. When this happens, please, never to say ‘I know just how you feel’ because this is not what the bereaved dog owner wants to hear. They know that no-one has ever been through anything as bad as what they’re going through right now. No-one. So don’t compete, don’t even empathise. Just listen and maybe suggest going into over-the-top memorialising mode, collating photos, making booklets, hoping all their friends send cards. (Anyone thinking, ‘it’s just a dog’, leave the room now.)

Other behaviours come as a surprise. Quite a few dog owners get tetchy if you get the gender of their dog wrong.  A well-meaning ‘What’s his name?’ can bring on the pursed lips and clouds of offence if he is in fact a she. Short of doubling over in a true hairpin bend to check the undercarriage for tell-tale signs of gender it’s best not to commit. I’ve modified Catherine Deveney’s Advice for Greeting Ugly Babies in these circumstances. Smile directly at the subject, look deeply indulgent and say ‘Well, look at you! And what’s your name?’ Thanks Catherine. Works every time. Unless it’s called Dusty or Spot. The dog, that is.
Of course some owners don’t deserve to own a dog. There are the two regular, lycra-clad runners, a pair of women with legs surely built from nylon climbing rope, who pound on ahead of a poor little fluff ball in full designer doggy-gear but who can’t keep up and frequently gets lost, needing to be rescued by some other more observant and caring dog owner. I long for a falling branch to bring them down or for that little bridge to collapse and send them plunging into the drain below but so far, no luck. We can but dream.
There are the owners who keep their dogs on a tight leash which they yank viciously if another dog approaches for a friendly sniff. Presumably they believe that decapitating their dog is preferable to letting it socialise with another. A variation on this theme is to swoop down and lift the dog high, clutching it to the breast defensively in an act of fierce protection. Unfortunately this usually leads to the approaching dog leaping high and repeatedly, pogo style, to get at the dog now cowering on its owner’s shoulders. Ah me, if only dogs were left to their own devices.

Swimming in the creek

Me, I often head for this park to walk our three dogs, one black, one brown and one white. Whatever I wear I can be sprinkled liberally with dog hair of a contrasting colour. People often say ‘Oh, you have your hands full!’ - but no. They’re friendly, full of fun and they come when they’re called.  I suspect this is because they’re all rescue dogs and so far I’m the only source of Schmakos they know.

* This article first appeared in The Big Issue No. 506 March 4-17

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Dogs on Twitter?

Here’s something you may not know. Thousands of dogs all over the world have their own Twitter accounts. Can you believe that?
Okay, let me go back. I was one of those people a bit dismissive of Twitter. I chortled disdainfully along with Jon Faine when he relayed the news to radio world that there were rumours of YouTube merging with Twitter and Facebook to form a conglomerate known as YouTwitFace. I applauded the divine Miss Kitty Flanagan when she did an hilarious skit shouting Twitter-type information loudly, from a park bench. 
Who cares, I thought, who in the Twittersphere let another cup of tea get cold, bemoaned their dimpled thighs or caught the cat chewing their toothbrush? (Actually, a good warning in that last one maybe...).
So when a particular course I’m doing decreed that we all must have a ‘presence on the ‘Net’—including on Twitter—I hit upon the amazingly unique idea of hiding behind one of my dogs (thanks Archie) and setting up the account in his name.
And oh, how very unoriginal that turned out to be. A zillion dog owners throughout the world thought of this years ago. Many of them have four and five thousand followers!

And how entertaining it is to join the ranks. (Don't mention the time-wasting...)
There’s the gorgeous golden retriever, Tennyson Tails, who tweeted “Human has left vacuum cleaner in the doorway of lounge (turned off). How can I possibly get round it, I will have to sit in the hallway forever.”
Digger (left) with his exploding bed - honestly!
Or the beautiful Cockerpoo (I think we call them Spoodles), Royston Bradley, with a photo of all his toys pegged on the washing line '........ an old photo, Marvin has no ears now'.
There’s the irresistible West Highland Terrier, Busby Watson, with his message “Me moustache is covered in gravy. Look like Poirot.” 
And countless trails of destruction—dog beds, shoes, videos, tv remotes, fruit from backyard trees—with cute photos offering funny justifications from the doggy perpetrators.
I realise this is a bit like people trying to relate their dreams, isn’t it. Chances are you’re not falling around in helpless laughter as I often am when I waste time in the doggy Twittersphere. You have to be there. And thousands of dog-lovers the world over obviously are. Archie has clocked up 335 followers in his first few months. True! Most are from the UK, some from Canada and the US and a few from Australia and Europe. One devoted Follower is a German Neurophysicist now living in Ohio. Go figure.
So look, I know it’s a time waster. There’s climate change, Donald Trump, Syria, Africa, refugees, shameful governments all over the world, broken promises and self-serving policies that will affect the state of humankind for centuries to come. How calming then, it is, to view a Tweet with accompanying photo of a brown cocker spaniel staring fixedly at a sunny window and the caption – “Looking for a fly.”  It’s a great antidote, I can tell you. Check it out.