Stephen and Copy


This is the soundtrack to this story

My mate Kev says I remind him of that bloke, the one in the books and the radio, Charles somebody, Charles Paris, that’s it.

He’s a sort of useless actor, always out of work, almost divorced, lives in a bed sit, but the thing about him is that he keeps finding murders and solving them. Thats the only difference between him and me really and as Kev says, it’s the murders that make him interesting.

But otherwise , it’s a good match, both got an ex-wife that understands us, both live in jeans and bedsits that are too young for us and both like a drink or three and of course theres’ the whole out of work actor thing too.

The out of work thing is why I’m here, in a cold, damp church hall on a cold damp Thursday morning trying to persuade a director, younger than the son I forgot to have, that there is good chemistry between me and the dog.

The dog is a collie, not the Lassie type, this is a border collie, a working dog, black and white, intelligent, hyper alert. In facts it’s the spit of the dogs my dad used to keep in the shed next to the sheep barn.

But this is not a sheep dog, this is an actor dog, spotless, fluffy, I’ve just seen its handler clean its teeth and unlike me, it’s already cast, got the job, a shoe-in for the front cover of the Radio Times.

I’m up for the other part, the side kick, the sheep farmer and no, the irony’s not lost on me, even my dad, a man with almost a complete lack of ironic appreciation would enjoy this one.

I’m trying to channel him now’ , his silence, his total indifference to weather, his ability to stand leaning on a broken down gate staring into middle distance for what felt like hours to us kids.

I’m really going for method, trying to get deep inside my dad, trying to be sheep farmer cos I need this job and actually its a good one.

Kids TV, weekly series, cute child actors , god give me strength, location shooting ( always good for free food and the slightly dim possibility of impressing some dewy skinned graduate intern) and a 12 week contract which should get the bank and the credit card people off my back for a while.

But the method approach, its working all too well, taking me back to a place I have no desire to visit any time, my dads’ sheep farm.

You drive past a field of lambs on a sunny spring morning and you think how cute, but that’s because you know nothing about sheep, let me tell you something, sheep, any sheep, are just a collection of disgusting illnesses on four overgrown hooves.

Lung rot.

Maggot infestation [ surely the only animal to carry maggots when they are still alive]

Foot fungus.

They are an animal so stupid that if they fall onto their backs, they will die because they cannot right themselves.

And in the 197os, my dad farmed 120 of these charmers on a bleak Cumbrian hillside.

I look at the dog next to me and I remember my dads’ dogs, filthy, flea infested, stinking,did i mention that sheep stink?.

My dad always had 3 dogs, the old dog, getting a bit stiff, a bit deaf, the middle dog, his proper working dog and the young one, learning the ropes. My brother and I would try to make a pet of each  new dog, beg to be allowed to  keep it in the house, take it for walks. My dad would put up with this for a couple of weeks and then one day he would scoop up the puppy, our puppy and toss it into the shed with the others and  we’d lose interest and wait for the inevitable bullet for the old dog and the arrival of another puppy.

I never saw my dad stroke a dog or give it a kind word and they repaid this indifference with total adoration, slinking at his heels, eyes fixed on his face, waiting for an instruction and then one day he decided that it was time that I learnt to work the dogs.

At 12, i was already as apart from him as I was ever going to be and I think that both he and I knew that this was going to be his last attempt to try to bind me to the land, his life.

A part of me actually wanted it to work, wanted to please him, but I had been to London on a school trip and squandered all my spending money on a London A to Z. I knew I was just marking time until I could actually put my blue print of desire to practical use.

And it was just as bad as I thought it would be. The dogs took in my frenzied hand gestures, my whistles and finally my inarticulate shouting and moved as one to be nearer my dad. There was a pause and he moved off, the dogs vying to be closest to him.

I’m left in the field in the rain staring at the bloody sheep.

And now the director is asking me to walk across the hall with the dog at my heel looking up adoringly at me. I am instructed in the clicks i need to make to achieve this. I start walking, I click, the dog looks up at me. I walk and click again, the dog stops and then slowly and deliberately he returns to his handler and lies down with his paws covering his face.

I don’t even bother to go and retrieve my half read Guardian.

Its 10.3o am, a good time as any to hit the pub.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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