What's in a joke?

A small border collie in a bagTudor No 2, or Modeley as he became known in the course of his 12 year career, always had a very uneasy relationship with television sets. This started when he was just a  young pup - in fact the minute he entered our house. We had picked him up as a 10 week old prospective border collie from a farm beyond the armpit of nowhere. The farmer had wrapped him into a rough looking  plastic bag - origin unknown - but it had fertilizer written all over it.

Meg took him out of the bag as soon as we were inside our car - but as Modely was prone to be carsick all his life, he instantly gave plenty of reasons why he should stay inside his bag.

Once at home and back in civilisation we released him into the garden and gave him a bribe of fresh milk - which was eagerly accepted. As soon as he had finished  his first excavation we decided it would be better for him if he entered the house under his own steam rather then be dragged into it. We went into the sitting room and watched his first domestic exploration from behind the door.

The prospect of being a wee pup out all alone in the garden was obviously worse than being inside with those two huge friendly strangers. He bravely decided to follow us. It took him five minutes to navigate the difficult interface between light and dark, also known as the front door - but he overcame this with great courage and shyly made his hesitant way into the sitting room.

A small dog looking through a curtain By this time we had sat down and were in the process of forming a hugely grinning welcoming committee. The pup came in, took a sniff around - liked what he smelled and happily continued his tour of discovery. As luck would have it, he approached the television set just as we turned the thing on to watch some important news. The set was highly modern then,  but in these enlightened days you could only compare it with a rather decrepit steam engine with a faulty boiler and a missing safety valve, because it always came on with a loud  snarl, followed by an impressive  "thump".

We were used to the sound effect, but when the little dog heard

  "th u u u u u m pp pp"

followed by a flash and a strange creaking noise he thought his last seconds had come and he took to his heels in a flash.

How a wee dog, who  has just about learned to stagger, can run so fast is a miracle of evolution - the pup was outside the room and out hiding in the hole in the garden 'ere the tv had finished the final cadence of its opening  bar! It took nearly an hour to persuade wee Tudor to enter the house again.

A border collie pup who has just dug a hole and looks guilty

With time and exposure he eventually got used to the infernal object in the corner of the sitting room , but the switch on noise made him jumpy for the rest of his life.

 Tudor soon developed another trick: he decided that he didn't like us laughing whilst watching television. Every time we watched something that really made us snigger - say Inspector  Cluseau trying to speak English - he would sit down in front of the television set and start barking furiously, all the time observing us closely to study the effect this produced. He only stopped this racket when we stopped laughing. This quickly turned into a positive feedback loop, because looking at the silly creature barking at us laughing at the television made us laugh even more, which in turn would make him bark harder, which of course made us .......

Some of these amusing sessions lasted for hours and only ended when we got tired, hungry, or often both. We experimented with  not laughing whenever there was something funny to look at, so as not to start the dog off. But to no avail. He knew what we should be doing and started to bark anyway.

We ended up having a rating system. If a program was really funny - the likes of 'Black Adder' or a party political broadcast, the dog was banned from the sitting room and had to wait in the hall until the jokes were over.

I can still hear that tiny little voice from the distant hallway barking furiously every time we so much as giggled.  He must have been sitting there with one ear pressed against the door!


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