Most lunchtimes Jake and I go to the park where he can run off the lead and gallop around to his heart's content, chasing after all the interesting smells, and making a nuisance of himself by stealing frisbees and tennis balls from other dogs. On one of our first trips to the park, when both of us were still getting used to the wide open spaces, we met a chocolate labrador who came running straight over to us, wagging his tail furiously and grinning with a mouthful of long, white dagger-like teeth. Several yards of tongue dangled from his mouth, flapping up and down in time with his bounces as he ran towards us. A waterfall of drool sprayed through the air. When he got close to us, he put on all the brakes and skidded to a stop, thowing up a fountain of mud over my trousers. He stood there panting as Jake walked daintily over to him and took a long careful sniff at his bottom.
"Hello Booki," said Jake.
Booki took a long careful sniff at Jake's bottom.
"Hello Jake," said Booki. "Do you want to play chase?"
"That's my favourite game," said Jake. And they were off! They raced hither and yon, jinking and swerving, turning on a sixpence. Sometimes they miscalculated and bounced off each other, but they didn't seem to care about that.
"Let me teach you a new game," said Booki.
"What's it called?" asked Jake. He is a dog who likes to have things properly categorised.
"It's called I'm going to grab your collar and try to strangle you," said Booki.
"What are the rules?" asked Jake, puzzled. "How does it work?"
"Like this," said Booki, and he grabbed Jake's collar and tried to strangle him with it.
"Oh, I see," said Jake and he grabbed Booki's collar and twisted it firmly.
The two of them spent a few minutes rolling around in the mud choking each other until they both ran out of air. They let go of each others' collars, panted for a while, and then they played chase again.
"I can jump through that fence over there," boasted Booki.
"Bet you can't," said Jake. Jake had approached the fence several times on our walks, but had always retired from it, defeated by the complexity of the problems it posed.
Booki raced over to the fence, leaped up to it, and shot through to the other side between two strands of wire. He stood there proudly staring at Jake aross the fence. "See?" he said.
Jake walked carefully up to the fence and sniffed each strand of wire one by one. He gingerly poked one paw through the gap between the strands. Then he poked the other paw through. Now he was standing awkwardly with his feet on the ground on both sides of the fence. The fence wire pressed hard into his tummy as his weight dragged it down. Making a huge effort, he clumsily dragged his back legs through, one after the other. "Hey!" he shouted. "Look at me! I'm on the other side of the fence!"
"Now do it faster," said Booki and he leaped back through the fence again.
"I'll try," said Jake. He backed away from the fence so as to give himself plenty of room and then he raced up to the fence, closed his eyes, and launched himself at it. He shot through between the wires, landed awkwardly on the other side, lost his footing and rolled over a couple of times. When his momentum died down, he bounded back on to his feet. "That was fun!" he said. "Bet you can't catch me now." And he raced off with Booki in hot pursuit. Just to prove that it hadn't been a fluke, they jumped through the fence a few more times as they chased each other. It didn't slow them down at all. Clearly Jake was now a fence expert.
"Got any more tricks?" Jake asked Booki.
"Watch this!" said Booki. He dashed off to the river that meanders through the park, leaped high into the air from the riverbank and belly-flopped down into the water with an almighty splash. It looked very impressive. Shoals of fish, screaming in terror, scrambled to get out of Booki's way. A lady paddling in the shallows gave a sudden shriek. "An eel has just nibbled my toes!" It was not clear if she was complaining or boasting. Booki paid no attention to her. He swam across the river and climbed up on to the opposite bank. "Hey Jake," he called out, "I bet you can't catch me now!"
Jake was very impressed. "How did you do that?" he asked. He'd investigated the river several times in our visits to the park, but all he had ever done was paddle in the shallows. He had always refused to go out of his depth. But this time, with Booki's example to guide him, he paddled tentatively towards the middle of the river. Suddenly the ground beneath his feet disappeared. For a moment he vanished beneath the surface, but he soon reappeared, spluttering and spitting. His legs thrashed furiously and then, as if by magic, he was at the other side. "Now I can catch you, Booki," he yelled and they were off again, grabbing at each other's collars, rolling and tumbling in the mud. They crossed the river several times in their mad games. Jake soon lost all his fear of the water and turned into an expert swimmer. Clearly Booki was a really good teacher as well as being lots of fun to play with.
Over the next few days Booki and Jake cemented their friendship. If Booki heard Jake barking, he would drop everything and race towards his friend. If Jake spotted Booki in the nether regions of the park he would zoom away from my side as fast as he could go. The two of them were inseparable.
They played tug o'war with sticks and it quickly became a favourite game. Once Booki found a dead duck on the riverbank so they played tug o'war with that for a while until it disintegrated.
"Let's not play tug-a-duck again," suggested Jake. "It doesn't last nearly long enough."
"Mmmfffmmfffmf," agreed Booki through a mouthful of feathers and feet.
One day, as they were playing I'm going to grab your collar and try to strangle you, a rabbit came bounding by. Booki immediately dropped Jake's collar and set off in hot pursuit. Jake, always keen to learn a new game, raced after him. But try as he might, he could not keep up with Booki. Never in the history of the world has a dog sprinted as fast as Booki sprinted that day. But it did him no good. The rabbit was clearly in training for the Olympics, and it seemed highly likely that the beast would fail the mandatory drug test as soon as it entered any of the official events. It easily kept well ahead of its pursuers. Jake soon gave the whole business up as a bad job – he was trailing his friend by several dog-lengths and Booki was pulling further and further away from him. Then the rabbit vanished over the horizon. Booki immediately screeched to a halt and gave up the chase. He went panting back to Jake.
"Why did you stop chasing the rabbit?" asked Jake. "I thought you were getting quite close."
"I stopped because it ran over the horizon," explained Booki.
"I don't understand," said Jake.
"It's obvious, dumbo," said Booki. "No matter how fast you run, the horizon never gets any closer. It's always there ahead of you, just out of reach. Once the rabbit managed to get over the horizon the chase was over. It had gone where I could never follow. Mind you, the race was fun while it lasted. One day I'm going to catch one of those things, you just wait and see."
"What will you do with it when you catch it?" asked Jake, intrigued.
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," said Booki complacently. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
"Very profound," said Jake. "But I don't think rabbits are evil. They might be fun to play tug o'war with though..."
"No," said Booki. "They're too loose and flexible. I think they'd tear to pieces even faster than ducks do."
Booki's mum is a nurse and her shifts do not always allow her and Booki to come to the park at the same time that Jake and I go. So not every day is a Booki day. Jake always seems a little bit sad if Booki can't come out to play. Booki's mum told me that when she works inconvenient shifts she sometimes takes Booki for a walk on Te Mata Peak. That gave me an idea.
"We live quite near Te Mata Peak," I said. "Next time you go there why not bring Booki round and he and Jake can romp in the garden while the grown ups have a sociable cup of coffee in the house."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said. "I'll do that."
So a few days later, her car pulled up in our driveway. Jake saw the strange car appear and he started to bark a warning. As soon as Booki heard Jake's voice, he sat up in the back seat and strained against his harness, eager to get to his best friend.
They dashed madly around the garden playing their normal choking games. Jake showed Booki his rope collection. They played tug o'war with several different ropes for a while, and then they had a wrestling match. Jake pinned Booki down with an inverted stepover leg trap camel clutch, and Booki conceded the contest. They stopped for a little rest and a drink of water.
"There's a nice stainless steel bucket full of clean water over here," said Jake, offering refreshments. "And there's some trays over there with flowerpots on them. Water has leaked through the soil in the pots and accumulated in the trays. Some of it's got slime as well."
"I think I'll take the flowerpot water," said Booki. "The slime sounds attractive."
They both took a long slurping drink.
"Ahhh, lovely!" said Booki. "Full of body."
"Yes," said Jake. "Just the other day I saw one of the cats burying a dead rat in the flowerpot in the middle of the row. So the water does literally have a body in it..."
"Yum," said Booki appreciatively. "You've really got a nice house here. It's got all the amenities. Ropes, tasty water, cats..."
"Thank you," said Jake. "I think it's rather nice as well."
"Have you always lived here?"
"No," said Jake. "I was born on a farm. I had my career all planned out. I was going to be a sheepdog."
"It's an honourable profession," said Booki. "But clearly you failed in your ambition. What happened?"
"It was my own stupid fault," said Jake gloomily. "I made a complete mess of it. I did something really dumb and blotted my copybook so badly that the farmer immediately gave me up for adoption. That's how I ended up here."
"What did you do that was so unforgivable?" asked Booki.
"Well," said Jake, "one day the farmer sent me out to count his sheep. I was quite thrilled to be given such a responsible task and I did the very best I could. I counted them three times just to make sure I got it right."
"How many sheep are there?" asked the farmer when I got back to him.
"Forty!" I said in a firm and confident voice.
"That's odd," said the farmer, scratching his head. "I only bought thirty-eight."
"Yes," I said to him. "I know. I just rounded them up!"
Acknowledgement: I'd like to say a big thank you to my cousin Ian Tindal who told me the dreadful joke that closes this story. Thank you, Ian. You're a star!