Occasionally we have a Big Nicht Oot, especially over the winter, what with the festive season and Burns Suppers. And, of course, Mr. Dog comes along. I once met a woman whose dog never accompanied her at evening functions; she felt he'd be too tired. How downright daft! A great deal of expertise, time and money have been expended on training me in how to go out into society with the assistance of my dog, so that is what I do. Of course, there are exceptions, situations where Mr. Dog would either be unable to work or be uncomfortable, but eating out shouldn't be one of them.
So there I am; posh frock, bling arranged in the best possible taste, several skooshes of scent, layers of lippy. Once we've made our successful passage to our table, bahoochie comfortably settled and Mr. Dog's lead secured to a leg, either that of my chair or my own, I always make a careful reconnoitre of the immediate surroundings. Gleams and flickers have to be assessed and all possible causes of disaster, candle flames, intricately arranged napkins, tumblers of gin and tonic, have to be located and identified. Futile attempts at extricating a bangle, caught in a posy, might result in eruptions of unladylike language. Red wine, untrammelled, always finds the palest fabric and the most expensive outfit.
Then all hell breaks loose. The heavy table cloth billows, everything on it jumping several inches in all directions. Husband gallantly grabs the gins before they're irretrievably lost and Mr. Dog charges out into full view of all diners, straining at the extremity of his lead, his tail frantically lashing in six eight time against me, the furniture or any passing waiter.
“Aah, the wee pet. He's really enjoying that, isn't he?” simpers an unknown voice, “ I just slipped him my last, wee bit of sirloin. Too much for me and it'd be a shame to waste it. You dinnae mind. A dog like him deserves a treat.”
Grabbing shreds of dignity, I frantically try to settle Mr. Dog and myself, whilst Husband reassembles glasses and cutlery before resuming a summary of the menu.
Well, actually, I DO mind. Very much. I am the first to declare that Mr. Dog's intelligence far exceeds that of the average Heidie, but I don't think stuffing him with dubious left overs is just reward. Would you permit a total stranger to regurgitate some half masticated glob and shove it down your wean's throat? If I have the chance, I politely explain that Mr. Dog is kept to a strict diet and anything unusual, therefore, can quickly reappear, via a sudden and dramatic bout of projectile vomiting. At this point, the person, making sudden excuses, scurries off, leaving me on tenterhooks for the rest of my evening and Husband checking out the quickest escape route if the worst threatens. All because of some numptie's misplaced attentions.
But such interruptions don't only spoil a romantic dejeuner a deux. Not even out with the girls, catching up on town gossip is safe. There we'll be, three or four ladies of a certain vintage, Americanos, Earl Greys assigned, scones spread with jam. A particularly interesting, probably salacious, nugget of news is being divulged and. . .
Something, or rather, somebody, is under the table. Prodding knees, shins and God alone knows what else!
“Dinnae worry, it's jist the wean. She's awfie fond o dugs and so she jist had tae clap your yin. Lovely dugs, these. Great natures, so they huv. . .” the voice drones on, deaf to my attempts to interrupt whilst, at floor level, what could be the toddler from hell pulls at Mr. Dog’s tail, my companions' clothes and tips handbags, sending mobiles, purses etc. spilling.
Years ago, because I'd become disabled and, therefore, a drain on society, I would accept the situation, mumble platitudes, reserving my true feelings until later. All part of a desire to permanently fade into the wallpaper. Now, however, I've regained some of my natural bolshieness. Cutting through the inanities, I tactfully explain that my dog might seem to be resting but is actually on standby, also inserting my standard comment on projectile vomiting. Of course, what I really, really want to do is point out this person's rudeness. Interrupting conversation! Allowing someone to crawl about under the table! Down there on hands and knees, inspecting handbags, shoes and anatomy!
It even happens in the midst of the most mundane events. Handing over money in the baker's or wrestling with the puggy machine at the bank. One second, Mr. Dog is lying quite joco at my side, attached by long lead to my arm, the next, he's jumping about as some old joker waves a dog biscuit under his nose. Either I drop my change as I'm caught off balance or, if at the puggy, I lose track of my fingers' position on the keypad, plunging my modest account into the deepest shades of red.
Anyone reading this must now see me as a truly girny old git. Whatever's wrong with such a Noble Beast as Mr. Dog receiving the odd kind acknowledgement for his duties? He performs a skilful and responsible job, surely it's only right he should be rewarded? I quite agree. But this has to be done properly, in the proper place and at the proper time. A distracted dog cannot concentrate. Nor can a worried owner. Don't compromise Mr. Dog's health and my safety just to satisfy your curiosity or a desire to be seen apparently doing good.