War Dog

Standard

Tonic walks steadily ahead. Sand and rubble hot beneath his paws. The men in their green and brown cloth and their war poles in and under arm. Tonic’s harness and pouches itch at his fur and the heat makes him want to pant. My boys are scared, he thinks, hearing each soldier’s breath as they watch and watch for signs of the earth being uprooted and eye every scrap of junk on the dirt road. Cans, containers, drink bottles. Things the man pack knows may hide boom strings to blow man, canine and warrior vehicles limb from limb. But Tonic smells nothing suspicious. His right ear twitches at the sound of a louder patter when one war fellow’s foot breaks out of rank, turning to look behind him.

It’s been a quiet month, no run-ins. No boom strings triggered. Just patrols with the man pack.

Corporal Daemon Morris, Tonic’s handler in the veterinary corps is close behind. Tonic feels safer for knowing he’s there and knows Corporal Morris and the rest of the man pack feel safer with Tonic there too. It’s a fact Tonic is proud of and for which he holds his head high.

When Tonic’s not on patrol he mostly stays in or by his kennel. The man pack might want to pet him and Tonic might enjoy a tug at his fur, a scratch under the ear or to play fetch like any other dog, but Tonic is a soldier and doesn’t think on such things. He stays by his kennel, unless called by Corporal Morris for a walk around the camp, or to go out on patrol.
Up ahead the man pack spots something that startles it. ‘A line of stones’ blurts Private Caren Jenkins. Tonic has noticed that when Private Jenkins speaks it sometimes sends an unusual shiver down his spine. Tonic doesn’t know why this happens but somewhere deep in the back of his mind is the memory of a lady just like private Caren Jenkins who used to take him out for walks and scratch him under his ear just the way he likes.

The man pack stops and Tonic stops with them. A row of stones can be a marker left by the enemy for their own man packs, to show that a boom-string is near. But Tonic doesn’t detect anything suspicious. He puts his nose to the ground then lifts it to the air, takes several quick sniffs and one long inhale that makes his nostrils flair. He detects the slightest smell of iron and an extra amount of salt in the air. ‘Tonic’ corporal Morris hisses. He holds Tonic’s face in his hands. ‘What do you smell boy?’ Tonic’s tongue drops out for a brief pant. He looks up into Corporal Morris’s eyes. Sweat roles down his cheek. Tonic is calm. The extra smell of salt in the air is from the increase in sweat of the man pack and the iron from their increased blood pressure. Tonic lets out an affectionate groan. He’s telling Corporal Morris, it’s all right we can go, let me do my job. Morris let’s go, and Tonic bounds on. ‘Go on boy’ says Corporal Morris.

Tonic is a black lab retriever High Assurance Search Dog on his fourth tour in Afghanistan. Soldiers come and go, the man pack changes, the handlers change too but Corporal Morris has remained Tonic’s constant for the whole of his 4th tour. Tonic trusts Corporal Morris and Corporal Morris trusts Tonic.

Morris loosens the lead and Tonic bounds on. Through the rubble and over the line of stones, knocking one with his sniffing nose. Clear of the stones, and a few steps on, Tonic stops and looks back at the man pack. Then as if to say there’s nothing to fear he wags his tail to show it’s clear. The man pack wade through, smiling as they step over the stones and Tonic, faithful Tonic bounds on ahead.

Then suddenly tonic stops, his ear twitches and he drops to the ground. Corporal Morris raises his arm, fist clenched. The man pack stops. Tonic has found something. There, close where Tonic lay impossible to see was something deep below the sand. Not for man or dog but for the wheels of war machines to trigger and to blow apart several men at once.

That was what Tonic found. You couldn’t see it, but it was there. Buried deep in the ground, it was the biggest discovery of an explosive by an animal. Tonic has done his job well today. He’ll take the scratch under the ear, the pat on the back and a good tug at his fur.

Major Tom at Battersea Arts Centre Review

Standard

Told through a journey into the comparable worlds of beauty pageants and dog shows, Victoria Melody’s Major Tom explores how easy it is to become obsessed with personal image and competitiveness.

It’s quite a novelty to walk into Battersea Arts centre and see a bunch of dogs sat on the steps of the old town hall having their pictures taken. The novelty continues when you walk into the space and the Basset Hound, Major Tom, lies by the door looking up at you and letting you pet him as you go in. IT’S A DOG ON STAGE! And he’s a very likeable, very sleepy dog. Victoria Melody warns at the beginning of the show not to get too excited about Major Tom as he’ll mostly be asleep through the whole thing. But that’s not a problem as the audience clearly loves seeing him sleep, wake up, yawn and go back to sleep. It’s clear that Victoria Melody’s Bassett Hound Major Tom is a big draw to the show. After all, he’s got the title.

In Major Tom, Victoria Melody tells the story of how she came to be the owner of such a sleepy hound and how she decided to enter him into dog shows to prove what a unique and special dog he is. After being told a number of times that Major Tom wasn’t good enough to win, Victoria became concerned about the dog’s possible low esteem so she decided to enter herself into a beauty pageant so she could sympathise with the pressure of being best in show.

Major Tom is a relaxed and charming show with smart commentary under its fur. There’s no angry rant about beauty pageantry, just an informed and funny look at some of the things women go through for these pageants. It’s effectively mirrored with Major Tom’s best of show competitions for dogs – One of the show’s highlights is a hilarious side by side comparison of Melody’s and her dog’s preparation for their shows presented like a training montage. It might not be ground-breaking – beauty pageantry is generally considered sexist and objectifying – but one of the strengths of Major Tom, is how Melody demonstrates that the desire to look ‘perfect’ (or fake) and the competitiveness that comes from attaining your ‘perfection’ can be addictive. Particularly when this perfect/fake image is still paramount in mainstream entertainment and effects our general attitudes about self-image.  It’s a very current issue with increasing levels of anorexia and bulimia in the UK and the presence of social media memes such as ‘thinspire’, encouraging people to get unhealthily thin and contributing to a type of eating disorder competiveness. Victoria Melody does a good job of demonstrating how infectious this way of thinking can be whilst still keeping the show funny and enjoyable.

With a clever and current look at the obsession with body image and celebrity, a modest and easy style and a very lovable dog, Major Tom might not win best in show but is well worthwhile for its simple yet honest and poignant qualities.

Major Tom is at Battersea Arts Centre till the 27th of September.

Original article and star rating available at http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/major-tom-/703365