Gaston Le Bastard 

I had planned to read this weekend. Three books I ordered online recently arrived and I wanted to get a good run into the fiction one.

A few years ago my fiction reading dropped off dramatically and non-fiction rose to take its place, but as much as I enjoy the non-fiction, and as creative and poetic as it can be, I miss opening a book and losing myself in a world that someone has gone to the trouble of creating for me. I miss meeting new characters, and most of all I miss that half excitement/ half terror that comes when you stumble across a work of fiction that you love so much that you are torn between wanting to finish it, and not wanting it to end.

There are a number of reasons my reading has dropped off. I now need glasses to read and that means I have to think about where and when I want to do it. I used to take a book out when I walked the dogs every day, but now I have one dog on a lead who has to be watched all the time, so I have replaced the books with podcast. My iPad is a source of constant distraction and the Internet a seemingly bottomless pit of content. Having not exercised my fiction reading muscles for a while, I find it more difficult to read for a sustained period without wanting a nap, and finally I spend all day every day on my bum at work, so the last thing I want to do on the weekend is spend all day sitting around reading.

Still, my husband left for work at lunch time and I was determined to make a start. I had managed to cook a disastrous loaf of bread using a new recipe so gave up on cooking and settled with my new book. I had read a couple of chapters but it appears to have fantasy elements so I thought I needed to spend some quality time getting to know its world.

An hour later I woke up. The day was cold but sunny outside in the way that makes the house freezing but exercise in the fresh air excellent. Having put the fire on and been covered with dogs, I succumbed to the comfort and warmth barely two chapters in.

I know when I am beaten, and hobbled around the house throwing various items into a bag. As soon as she saw the water Kong Lucy was on to me and started dancing around my feet. Ten minutes later we were off to the river.

I have to say that despite the fact my book is still unread, it was worth it. Perfect dog walking weather, cold enough to see your breath, but with the sun taking the edge off and the river like a mill pond. I parked the car and we made our way through sand, grass, across the tarmac carpark and through a grove of olive trees to the beach at the end, around a mile and a half away from our starting point. I set the bags down and started throwing the Kong out into the water for Lucy to swim to and retrieve.

Then I heard it.

HRUP, HRUP, HRUP, HRUP. The unmistakeable sound of something not very fit exercising beyond its capabilities.

I turned to see a small barrel-shaped dog, the colour of the sand charging at full speed towards us along the beach.

‘Gaston!’ His owner called, ‘Gaston, Allez.’

So the dog was French. It had the black face of a pug and the body of a butternut pumpkin. As if to reinforce his frenchiness, he skidded to a halt by the bag I had put down on the sand and thrust his face towards the open pouch where I keep the treats. He could not quite get his puggy nose in through the gap and when I approached him, looked at me in disdain as if to say, ‘What, no wayne? Call zees a peeq neeq?’

‘Gaston!’ his owner called again, but Gaston was ‘beezee’. He had spotted something else: Lucy swimming to shore with her Kong.

‘Oh ZAT! I want Zat!’ He declared, by positioning himself in her path out of the water. She swam to the left, and he tapdanced over to adjust to her course.

‘Gaston!’ His owner called again, but Gaston Le Bastard was not to be deterred. Despite her best efforts to ignore him, Gaston wrestled the Kong off Lucy and tore off with it down the beach, its tails flapping wildly out of the corner of his mouth.

‘Excuzez-moi,’ said his owner as he chased after him, ‘I will get it for you.’

‘Good luck!’ I said.

Finally, after an elaborate ritual involving a branch from a tree been waved like a lure as the owner ran past him, Gaston dropped the Kong and it was returned to Lucy.

‘I just ‘ave to make ‘im forget ‘e ‘as eet.’ The owner explained.

We spent another half hour down at the shoreline and Lucy happily fetched her toy again and again, but finally the light began to fade and it was time to head back. We struck out back along the foreshore, through the now deserted picnic areas and towards the lights of the Yacht club, where members were enjoying early evening drinks after a day on the river.

As we went past I heard the now familiar cry, ‘Gaston, Allez!’

I saw his owner running towards the clubhouse. Gaston had breached the entrance and was tearing up and down the buffet, with what looked like a bread roll in his mouth to the squeeling delight of a number of children and the horror of their parents.

Gaston Le Bastard had struck again.

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