‘She’s a strange one, isn’t she?’ said Long John the spaniel trainer as he put Cydney through her paces. We were in the enclosure in the field behind his house, where he had decided to train Cydney behind ten-foot-high fencing because the last time we went for a lesson we had a bit of a disaster in the pheasant wood.
On that occasion, he asked whether she was alright off the lead and I summed up her current state of obedience by saying, ‘Yes, most of the time, she just goes a bit funny at the end of a walk,’ when really I should have said, ‘No, absolutely not, she’s an unguided missile, totally mental.’ But I had not wanted Long John to think badly of me.
Long John is Cydney’s birth father, by which I mean he bred her. I bought her off him when she was eight weeks old, the last left in a litter of six pups out of two of his best gun dogs. He doesn’t sell to just anyone, and I had to convince him I would harness her innate ability and take her out during the season.
So, on our first lesson when she was four months old, I told Long John she was going really well and he could let her off the lead. For about ten minutes she trotted nice as pie beside us. He kept calling her in by blowing strange combinations of toots on his whistle. Then he would send her out with another whistle sound, then back in, and so on.
But as we neared the pheasant wood, something dreadful happened. She got on a scent. Long John whistled and she didn’t turn back. She kept running. She jumped into a ditch and followed a stream round the edge of the field into the wood, which was strictly off limits.
Long John stopped whistling and started running. Oh dear. If he was worried I was worried. He slipped over in the mud as he chased her along the ditch. He chased her into the wood, through the wood and round the wood several times. When I caught up, all I could see was the flash of a little black dog, mouth open as if laughing, dashing backwards and forwards between the trees, flushing game birds everywhere.
Then, amid a great squawking of pheasants, she sprang into another ditch and out into the main road leading to the A3.
At which point Long John leapt over the ditch, ran into the road and stopped both lanes of traffic.
The cars thankfully halted as Cydney ran up and down the road laughing all the while. Every time I got near her, she veered away.
Finally, Long John, who was standing all six foot six of him in the road with his arms up to keep the traffic back, like an enormous dog lollypop man, shouted, ‘You’re going to have to dive for her!’ ‘What?’ I shouted back. ‘Dive! Next time she comes near you. Now! Dive!’
She was a good ten feet away when I launched myself into the air. I came down on top of her, lying face flat into the road, my bottom in the air, the dog beneath me.
‘Aaaaaagh!’ I groaned in agony and triumph.
Long John took her by the scruff and put her lead on. ‘I need a whisky,’ he gasped.
For her second session, therefore, we went into a fenced-off pen where he practised sending her backwards and forwards and showing her live rabbits and then calling her off.
After 20 minutes, he announced, ‘She’s a strange one, isn’t she?’
He’s right. I do have a kinky spaniel. The other night I was relaxing on the sofa with her lying quietly at my feet when suddenly I heard a crunching sound.
‘What on earth have you found to chew down there?’ I said, reaching into her mouth to investigate. What came out was a huge chunk of glass.
The last time she did this — crunched a jamjar to bits, if you please — I took her to the vets where they scanned her at great expense and couldn’t find a trace of anything. But it was midnight so I rang the emergency number. ‘Is there a lot of blood?’ said the emergency vet. ‘None,’ I said, as I searched her mouth which was wide open anyway as she was laughing her head off at me.
‘Is she choking?’ ‘Not choking so much,’ I said. ‘More chuckling.’