Monday, 28 October 2013

Dog Ball – The Basics

For many months, in dog terms that can be translated as “for time immemorial”, there has been a fixed early evening pattern. The Master of the House (a nominal and honorary title) returns from a long day doing whatever the hell he does. He arrives in that big vehicle whose only real use is to transport dogs for walks. He ambles into the house through the kitchen door closely followed – herded if truth be known - by the dogs who dive through the kitchen corridor and lounge and head for the glazed stoep door. If the stoep door is open Seth completes a couple of circumnavigations of the house; stoep – garden – drive – kitchen yard – kitchen – corridor – lounge – stoep, howling like a banshee.
Dog Transporter - with fee paying passengers.
If the stoep door is closed then Seth will sit upright, taught and quivering with anticipation of the door being opened. Hamlet being of a more practical mind will fling himself at the door pulling at the handle. (Unfortunately the door sticks and requires a hefty human kick at the base for it to open. It is only a matter of time before Hamlet solves this by hitting the door in the upright position and simultaneously belting the bottom with both rear paws – and when that happens I’m leaving home because I am of no further practical use.)

Tyke will weave like a badly articulated bratwurst between the other two, fighting to get out first. She is neither big enough to get anywhere near the door handle, nor is she slim enough to sit upright, and she certainly can’t quiver with anything like the grace of the two Collies. She is however solid enough to un-jam the bottom of the door. If only she and Hamlet could work together . . . . and then I really would leave home.

Once the door is opened the two larger dogs take up their positions on the edge of the stoep, Hamlet statuesque, all muscles tensed. Seth equally still, head down but muzzle up, haunches elevated, sprung for action. And Tyke is still hanging on to the swinging cabin hook at the bottom of the door.
"Fetcher" waiting to fetch.
As an aside we once had a fellow consultant staying with us who on opening the stoep door asked what he should do with the “dog attached to the door”. Fair question really. The same consultant did later manage to encourage the dog to slide ignominiously off the slippery edge of the stoep while in pursuit of a torch beam; but this is another story which may also have something to do with snail racing.

So the stage is set – all players seem to be in position, all we await is the first ball to be thrown; and through this tableau strolls Yorick, equally ready for ball. He will shimmy up to both Collies, nuzzle against their quivering legs, walk round them a couple of times, try to push his head against their heads and on receiving no response will give an offhand “purrrp” and sit down between them, waiting for play to commence.
Waiting to start an evening match; expectant
"bringer", distracted "herder", and supremely
bored crowd.

And here I need to explain in detail the rules of Dog Ball.

Ball games in this household are strictly controlled affairs. They have evolved over time, and the rules have stood the tests of time (some would even go so far as to say the testes of time, and if you think about it there is an alliterative and poetic connection – but perhaps this should not be pursued).

  • The “ball” is thrown by a responsible adult (the “chukka)” from the “stoep”.
  • Hamlet and Tyke (the “fetchers” or “bringers”) chase the ball.
  • Seth circles both at great speed making no attempt whatsoever to pick up the ball. He is the “herder”.
  • One of the two ball “fetchers” (or “bringers”) picks up the ball at the “pick-up point” and returns towards the responsible adult – the “chukka”.

And that completes a round, or more accurately a “Ball”, quite a sensible description of the process really – a lot like cricket.

Simple, you may think - but no, it gets more sophisticated.
  • If the ball is picked up by Hamlet he will invariably drop it between the “pick-up point” and the “stoep”. This is known as the “half-way-line”.
  • At this point Tyke will take possession of the ball and in so doing becomes the “bringer” and will, with much asthmatic wheezing, lollop up the steps (the “steps”) of the “stoep” and place the ball at the feet of the “chukka”.
 (This may all be a little too much to assimilate in one reading so you may wish to re-read the preceding rules before you continue.)

The alternative is that
  • Hamlet will not drop the ball at the half-way-line but will bring it all the way to the foot of the steps and in so doing of course changes from “fetcher” to “bringer” as he passes the “half-way-line”.
Moment of uncertainty at the "half-way-line" as to who is
the "fetcher" and who is the "bringer"
This variant only really occurs when Tyke has retired indoors to have a minor asthma attack, and it does involve the “chukka” having to descend the steps of the “stoep” to retrieve the “ball” thus slowing the game down considerably.

It should be stressed that throughout the entire proceedings Seth has continued to herd whoever or whatever is moving at any one time. This “herding” strategy only stops when the ball is either out of play (ie lodged out of mouth-reach in the hedge, the rubber tree, any other bush, or on the roof) or is in the hands of the “chukka”.
Portrait of a "herder" - doing nothing interesting.
After a round (we call this a “lode”) of 10 throws (or there abouts – opinion is divided on the subject) the “chukka” retires to the fridge for another beer and after a short interval and a couple of gulps the game recommences.

Odd but true - no one has ever been known to have kept the score of one of these games, probably because no one has quite worked how to do it.

As can be seen this has developed over time, is bound by certain strategic conventions and has as a consequence cabalistic undertones – it has a lot in common with the human game of balls called “rug-by” but is far far more sophisticated, especially when the cat gets involved (of which more later).

Groundsman aka the "chukka" preparing the field of play
for another Lode of Balls.
Whichever way you look at it – it's a “lode” of “balls”.

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