Belfast Telegraph

Words fail me during a high-seas mutt-iny

By Frances Burscough

Writing a thousand-word column every week isn’t easy at the best of times. But attempting to do it from the deck of a ship on a dark and stormy night, for a nine-hour voyage, while chaperoning three restless dogs, one of whom is blind and another is travel sick, has to take the proverbial biscuit.

These were the circumstances in which I found myself earlier tonight (Wednesday) as I sat on board the Stena Mersey at Belfast Docks, waiting for it to set sail for Liverpool. It’s a journey I’ve done countless times since I moved to Northern Ireland in the late ’80s, especially since my dad fell ill last summer and has required constant care. In fact I’ve travelled back and forth every month now for a year, so I’m quite a seasoned traveller. But although I’ve done it a hundred times, I’ve never tried to write my column simultaneously. However, my deadline was looming and circumstances had left me behind schedule. (Circumstances which involved both NI and ROI playing in the Euros, so I had no choice.)

So there I was, sitting on a bench on the port side as we set sail, balancing my laptop on one knee and one dog on another, trying to type while the other two dogs became entangled in each other’s leads and began to wrestle frantically under my feet. Then Walter (my youngest) jumped onto my keypad, did the ‘QWERTY’ shuffle before stepping on the OFF button and effectively wiping out everything I’d written.

That’s it, I thought. That’s enough! I can’t take it any more! I’d finally reached breaking point. I had two options: throw the dogs overboard, or lock them in the on-board kennel and walk away. So after some deliberation I went with the latter.

They barked their little heads off with indignation for about a minute (to try and make me feel guilty) then promptly fell asleep, leaving me finally free at last.

Now one of the major advantages of being a frequent traveller on the ferry is that you get free access to the first-class Stena Plus lounge. It has all the mod cons including free wi-fi, complimentary wine, fresh coffee, snacks, waitress service, all the newspapers and Sky News streaming on two wide-screen TVs for the duration of the journey. Oh, and comfy seats. Very comfy seats.

So I settled myself down with a large glass of rosé, sank into a comfy seat, opened my laptop and started again. The lovely waitress brought me a bowl of nibbles. Bliss. Everything was so perfect it seemed too good to be true. It was. I glanced out of the port-side window as a white dog ran past. Hang on a minute, I thought, that dog looked just like Walter! Further investigation revealed that it was indeed Walter. Oh bloody hell, he’s escaped! I had a mutiny on my hands. Hysteria ensued. I dropped everything and bolted for the door. Visions of my fluffy companion leaping overboard and bobbing out of sight in the choppy steel-grey seas brought me immediately to my senses, as did the pouring rain on the slippery deck. I skidded and tumbled in front of a group of lorry drivers who laughed at the slapstick comedy scene unfolding before them. “Grab that dog!” I shouted as Walter whizzed past, playing chasies on the high seas with another three dogs he’d befriended during the mass breakout. It was chaos. At last someone managed to entice them with a ham sandwich so they could be corralled in a corner and rounded up with their tails between their legs. It turned out that Molly, a big burly boxer, had been the ringleader of the kennel jailbreak, having first unlocked her own cage before liberating wee Walter. “She’s mustard!” her owner said as she made a makeshift padlock out of her lead. “We call her Houdini, because she’s so good at escaping!”

This was all very amusing but I still had my column to write and three unruly dogs to pacify before I could type a word. But now that Walter had enjoyed a taste of freedom he wouldn’t settle and began to bark incessantly every time I went for the door. Oh for a cattle-prod! Or, better still, a tranquilizer gun!

Eventually I came up with a compromise. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I muttered to myself as I carried a comfy chair into the dog pen and opened out my laptop for the third time.

Now, what to write ...

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