Striding along the beach by the majestic Dornoch Firth (for we are in Scotland) I thought of our new electric tooth brush. Unlike past toothbrushes this includes an attachment that sits on the wall and communicates wirelessly with the brush unit. It measures the time that you spend at your brushing in units of thirty seconds. If you persist for two minutes you are rewarded with a smiley face but otherwise you get a frowny one, which you also get if you press too hard on your teeth. You can fool it but its built-in bias is pessimistic. Sometimes you complete the two minutes but the face fails to light up; never the other way around. It’s sufficiently reliable, however, that you want to take it seriously.
It also tells the time.
I am embarrassed by how much I want to impress it. If I conclude the brushing process in less than two minutes (and after all, why not? I do not have all my teeth) it sits there as a reproach, sourly recording three units only, and it remains like that until either I clean my teeth again or the better half does hers. On at least one occasion, when I was in a hurry, I was tempted to leave it running while I got dressed in order to achieve the smile. Needless to say, the better half is much more ruthless and is prepared to leave the evidence for all to see of a brushing that falls short of the full two minutes. She has a full complement of teeth but some of them are from Hungary.
We were striding together along the majestic Dornoch beach in order to scatter the ashes of our old dog, who died a year ago last December, on the same day as Dave Brubeck. It was his favourite place of all and when Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family painted him in his personal Heaven, at my request she located it on Dornoch Firth. For various reasons we had not been able to get to Scotland to perform this duty until now – mainly because of having to be in London to sell our old house and then to nag the builders who were remodeling the new one – but it was something that we had long been looking forward to. We had come there earlier in the week but it was high tide then and it seemed wrong to cast his remains into the sea or the dunes. Now it was right. The sun shone, little clouds bubbled satisfactorily over the distant hills, two fishing boats lay a mile or so offshore, the voices of the fishermen audible across the flat sea. There was absolutely no one around. Bella was discovering the beach for the first time, with the same breathless excitement with which the old dog had explored it.
I tried to feel elegiac but instead I was thinking about our electric tooth brush. This was because of the better half’s iPhone. She has an ‘app’ which tells her loudly, whenever she goes out, how far she has gone and how fast she has done so. I imagine that this is of more interest when she is running than when she is out for a walk with me. It reveals the speed for the last hour and also the average speed for the outing as a whole. If the phone is within range of a mobile signal it also tells her where she is. We get this last information by Dornoch Firth but not on walks from the cottage up into the mountains, where there is no signal. As she strode along the beach holding the box that contained the dog’s ashes, just as she had made the final journey to the vet holding the dog himself, assessments of our progress, communicated in a tinny female voice, necessarily disjointed and of American origin, could be heard from the general direction of her bottom, against which the iPhone was stowed. Each time a speed was divulged she strode faster. In spite of the solemnity of the occasion she was nagged by her iPhone into aiming for a Personal Best in dogs’ obsequies, just as I am in thrall to my tooth brush.
Incidentally, just as the better half’s iPhone told us exactly where we were, so could I tell you, but I won’t, in case you come and spoil it.
We found the exact place that we had decided on, by the shore. The dog was in a plastic bag inside a formal cardboard box, which was secured with a ribbon. We had brought a knife and opened the box. Then the better half opened the plastic bag with her teeth. The dog was unexpectedly gritty; he was very thin when he died and it must have been nearly all bone. We took turns to pour him out. He hung in the air and settled on the sand and in the water. I put my finger in and put a trace in my mouth. He would be washed away by the next tide and if what they say is true within six months there would be molecules of him in every jam jar notionally dipped into every part of the sea throughout the World.
Meanwhile Bella, on whom pathos is wasted, was becoming restless, so we went on along the beach. When we got to the end the better half struggled on through some unappealing scrubland so as to achieve exactly five kilometres [about three miles] for the outward part of the journey. Then she got lost in some dunes, which probably added a bit more to the total length. Bella tried to find her and got lost herself, possibly diverted by a rabbit. All ended well but, as the better half remarked, cheerful despite the loss of any chance of a Personal Best on this occasion, it would have been a shame to dispose of two dogs on the same walk.