I’d never have written these poems if Claudia hadn’t drawn the drawings first, and neither of us would have been interested if it weren’t for our dogs (hers Toffel, mine Tess) taking us out and showing us this wonderful world of dogs and their humans, writes Matt Harvey.
I hadn’t been keen to get Tess – my early dog experiences weren’t encouraging. When I was four we got a Collie who we called Alfie after Sir Alf Ramsay, which dates me pretty accurately. My Grandfather came over from Lancaster saying he’d train him for us.
After one week of his training regime, Alfie ran away. Grandfather returned to Lancaster and within a few days, Alfie trotted home. A few weeks later Grandfather returned to ‘finish the job’ and in a way he did – because Alfie ran away again, never to return. He was not my favourite grandfather.
The real Tess
I would ask, when’s Alfie coming back? When’s Alfie coming back? I don’t know when it dawned on me that maybe he wasn’t. I do remember the sad, empty feeling of his not being there. And was it my mum or my dad, saying, “There’d never be another Alfie”. Which was true, and fair enough – but maybe there could have been a Murphy, or a Leo, or even a Tess?
Perhaps it’s the subconscious memory of that loss that put me off getting another dog. It wasn’t till my kids were seven that I finally caved in to pressure from my boys Tom and Finn and my wife Heather – who had grown up with Wags, who’d never run away, indeed had hardly run at all – and from my first sign of weakness, a pause, a “Weeeell, maaaaybeee….” Tess’s arrival was inevitable.
Tess is the offspring a Whippet/Bedlington and a Bearded/Border Collie. She’s gorgeous. And very well-behaved. Which isn’t to say she’s well-trained, far from it, just that she makes up for it by being well-meaning.
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She’s no danger to anyone, unless they are allergic to affection, in which case there’s a real chance she’ll induce anaphylaxis. For the first two years, she only knew three commands: 'Stay', 'Sit', and 'Go Like The Wind!'. In the last six years, she’s learnt three more: 'Off', 'Roll Over', and 'Stop Looking At Me Like That'.
'Not My Dog' / Illustration by Claudia Schmid
The picture 'Not My Dog' best sums up Tess’s attitude to strangers. It’s not reflective of theirs in return as they are for the most part gracious, generous and kind in response to her OTT friendly advances, but sometimes, when they don’t want to know, she is maybe, just maybe, a bit too much.
There are some pictures and poems in our book that I feel special attachment to, they speak of my own experience.
In 'Carry Me', a small person sits atop a friendly, shaggy, larger than life hound, which Claudia assures me is based on Tess. This is the most sentimental poem in the book and sums up how I feel about having a dog in my life.
when I wander down strange avenues
dark corridors of mind
when my emptiness is cavernous
and I'm difficult to find
when I've taken a position
I can't possibly defend
and refuse to show contrition
she will still be my friend
'Carry Me Home' / Illustration by Claudia Schmid
when I'm a wretch she'll fetch me
though I've stumbled way off track
when I'm difficult and tetchy
she will always bring me back
when everything is off-key
all rainbows monochrome
she'll sniff me out and lift me
and carry me back home
'Sit!', written by Matt Harvey and illustrated by Claudia Schmid is out now.