Once again we must start by voyaging back through time to the author’s boyhood – still, the temporal transition does provide gainful employ for this country’s hard-pressed harpists. Back in that bygone era, my grandparents kept a dog: a golden labrador called William. He loved most of the things which might be considered typical of his kind: eating, going for a W-A-L-K and sleeping. I find myself in full agreement when it comes to all of these passions – though I have rather different tastes in food: or at least a broader range of opportunities, as I recall William was quite willing to take anything edible he was offered (even when the offering was – at best – implicit). He would also rarely turn down the opportunity to enter a body of water – however filthy it might be – an urge which I have little trouble in resisting (assuming it afflicts me at all).
The subject of this post will be another canine habit – and one perhaps especially strong in a gun-dog like William – the desire to fetch. Back in those primitive times, the items to be violently discarded and then restored by a very willing companion were limited to sticks (usually available “as found”) and balls (normally carried with a game of ‘fetch’ very much in mind). Taking a mild digression, I find the relationship between many (perhaps even most) dogs and the tennis ball a fascinating one. Our best friends™ clearly love tennis balls and will go to significant trouble to obtain or regain one – however, this love seems to be expressed at its purest in the toothy destruction of its object. I cannot help but wonder how our millennia of breeding experiments on the wolf have led to this savage bond twixt their descendants and the humble tennis ball. Is it perhaps our development of the modern tennis ball which has cemented our role as ‘master’ in the collective canine consciousness?
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so this fool returneth to the plot (such as it is). In those halcyon days, I would cast the stick or ball out into the world using just the power of my strong (OK, fairly weedy) right arm. This seemed to generate more than enough separation between myself and the projectile to satisfy William and his desire for the chase. Scroll forward through four decades (or just hit SHIFT-END) and I find very few of today’s dog-owners (or companions) seem willing to launch a projectile, for their dog to fetch, unaided. All now seem to favour a plastic stick some 18 inches in length, which, like a modern-day atlatl, boosts the throwing force which can be brought to bear. These modern atlatls seem to be used only for throwing balls, I’ve not seem one used on a stick – I suppose the lack of standardisation in the world of the brown and sticky has precluded mass production of a similar throwing aid.
Have we, as a species, become so physically degraded that we can no longer hurl a tennis ball far enough to satisfy our pooches’ fetching needs? Is the happiness of our pets now dependant on access to augmenting throwing technology? That the victors of Agincourt have sunk so low. Why is this not a source of national shame? The more reactionary elements of the political class are always bemoaning the loss of ‘British values’ – whatever they may be – so could it be time to restore the longbow to the National Curriculum? A fitter nation with improved upper body strength has to be a positive outcome – and we’ll be able to satisfy our four-legged friends without the need to import plastic tat from China (improving our balance of trade). As a bonus, the link to Agincourt would probably annoy the French: surely this must make for an almost perfect piece of public policy in this land of physically-enfeebled, dog-loving Euro-sceptics?