Declan Lynch: The ins and outs of a life with three dogs and a cat
I would have written as usual last week about the state of the world, except I couldn't get it going. Every time I found that I was getting close to that state of absolute concentration which I need in order to start, and to stay started, I had to get up from my desk and go to another room in order to watch a cat eating its food.
Our cat, name of Cinders, who has been with us since we moved to rural Ireland, is about 12 years old and mostly deaf now, and I believe she has also succumbed to some form of cat craziness, because she seems unable to eat any more unless someone is watching her - that someone being me.
She comes in to me and she stands there glaring at me and whining incessantly until I abandon what I am doing and accompany her to her bowl, in order to observe and perhaps to admire her taking her meals.
She does not do this to Caroline or to our younger daughter Katie, she does it only to me.
Of course, she also interrupts me with loud requests for more conventional services, for letting her out and letting her in, and letting her out again, and letting her in again. "Let them in and let them out," I would hear the Belfast bookmaker Sean Graham hollering at the punters at the track, and little did I think that one day this would so accurately describe my way of life - we have three dogs too, you see, and they are usually wanting to be let out, or let in. You could say it is what defines them as individuals, it is what they do.
So I have been engaged in these struggles for a long time now, and today I thought I would share them with you, so that your Christmas may be touched by a deeper understanding of human suffering in its many dimensions .
How in moving towards a definitive line on Brexit, it could take me half the day to get past the first paragraph, because it would come to my attention that Jack has gone missing again.
Jack, or Jack Doran to give him his full name, is a Jack Russell, one of the aforementioned three dogs, the others being Milly, a grand old greyhound/collie or something, and Izzy who is a kind of a Pomeranian or something.
The one sure thing about Izzy, is that he is largely blind, due to an injury which we believe was accidentally inflicted on him by Milly when she kicked a basket into his face in her excitement to get to the door to jump ecstatically on whoever was calling.
So that would be a blind dog and a deaf cat, but I'd ask you to hold that thought as we return to Jack, and that way he has of going missing just around the time that I am formulating my thoughts on the role of government in the area of arts funding, or devising a preliminary strategy for creating a road map towards a new vision of Europe.
Usually we know where Jack has gone, he has a few old friends that he likes to visit, but on these country roads as the evening descends, we find that the easiest way to bring him home is to drive past his usual haunts and to call his name until he comes running out and into the front seat of the car, exactly like a person jumping into a taxi.
This makes me a chauffeur, as well as a doorman and a butler, and whatever you call someone who is obliged to watch a cat eating. And I try to write a few things too, but only when I get the chance, which is increasingly rare these days.
My main duties in life seem to have shifted from the human realm, and are centred around these byzantine animal set-pieces such as organising Izzy's dinner, a process whereby the near-blind dog approaches his bowl with the wariness of a bomb disposal officer walking towards a suspicious-looking vehicle in Belfast circa 1975 - and then just as Izzy is about to eat, he reverses suddenly like a horse refusing to go into the starting stalls.
It may take quite a while, but if I stay with him long enough, making encouraging sounds, and generally pointing him in the right direction, slowly, desperately slowly, he will start approaching the bowl again. My assistance is further required to protect his food from Milly who is constantly ravenous, and who is poised in a state of high agitation, waiting for the one wrong move that will put Izzy out of the game and enable her to eat his lunch.
Sure, what else would you be doing?
And now a fresh challenge has arisen with the frequent visits of Rocky, a great friend of Jack's who is himself a Jack Russell or something, and who needs to be persuaded that he doesn't actually live here.
Which is the only thing I have ever done which makes me feel like one of the architects of apartheid.
Then again, having realised that my life has become unmanageable, would one more dog make any difference? Another cat, another three cats?
But I must be gone now, I must buy them their Christmas treats, it's all about them now.