A small bronze statue, commemorating a little dog, is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Edinburgh. The statue is of Greyfriars Bobby – a Skye Terrier – and it represents the ultimate tale of devotion. The little dog became known in the 19th century in Edinburgh for supposedly spending 14 years sitting on the grave of its master, pining for him, until the terrier itself died on 14 January 1872. The story continues to be well known in Scotland and beyond, through several books and films. Perched on a plinth at the top of a charming street winding down to the Grassmarket, his little nose has been rubbed to a high shine by the tourists who pat him as they pass by. I’ve no idea why they do this, it’s an action that seems to have turned into a lucky charm: knock on wood, cross your fingers, rub the nose of a tiny bronze statue. I watch people of all ages, speaking languages from all over the world, rubbing the brass nose and then rubbing their own nose, surely a public health nightmare!
T. tells me about her sister’s track record with family dogs over in rural Ireland. This particular family could do with a good luck charm all right. They live well back off a busy main road, but still the various dogs they have had over the years get loose, run out onto the road, and bad things happen. News came to T. that the latest dog, Pippen, had come to a sorry end on the road. It was buried out the back along side Dougal, Duskie, and Rascal. There was even a wake for the dog.
“You’re not serious?” I asked her. “Oh aye, sure they pray for the dogs every night, alongside the long deceased relatives, the canine list gets longer and longer. I landed up for the wake with a bag of Haribo, threw the sweets on the kitchen table and told them: ‘folks, you’ve got to sort this out, youse are wild sore on dogs!’”
I know that losing a dog is not a laughing matter, but a few weeks ago C. told me a story about friends of his who holidayed for a week in the Isle of Man. They took the ferry out of Belfast, as they wanted to take their dog – a wee shih tzu. As the ferry was pulling out of the harbour, they went up on deck to look across to their home: nearby, lough-side, on the Shore Road, somewhere around Greenisland. And in a split second, the wee dog had jumped from its owner’s arms, careened across the deck, cannonballed into the sea, and disappeared in the boat’s wake. C. went on to explain that, understandably, his friends were devastated, they got word to the captain, begging him to turn the ship around and look for their pooch. The captain was duly sympathetic, but told them he had to keep going, it would be a fruitless task, the dog would have perished very quickly, and he invited them to the ship’s bridge for a brandy.
“Well that was a nice touch,” I said to C., “how are they doing now?” He continued by telling me that their week on the Isle of Man wasn’t a great one. They were too sad about the dog, just wanted to get home and see about getting another one. “So a week later they were pulling into their driveway on the Shore Road and what do you think was sitting on their doorstep?” C. asked me. “You’re kidding me! It survived after all and found its way home?” “No, no”, he said “There were seven pints of milk sitting there, they had forgotten to leave a note out for the milkman!” C. has a permanent twinkle in his eye, so he had me duped from the outset. Thankfully nobody will ever burst my bubble about Greyfriars Bobby!