The Diary: Nicola Barker

I like to think that I pretty much have the sum of my two French bulldogs. Moses is the older one, the handsomer and the easier to control. Sarge is the younger, the uglier and is a cunning, adventurous brute. Moses craves attention. Sarge craves food. Moses is honest. Sarge is a schemer.

Moses knows how to turn the door-handle, but Sarge is the one who will escape through that door and carefully shred the contents of any room he gains access to. Sarge will eat anything. Moses is fastidious. He will refuse treats simply to create “an atmosphere”.

Any walk with Sarge will generally involve several frantic attempts to pull potentially lethal chicken bones from his throat. If you leave him alone in the kitchen, it is necessary to clear the room of anything chewable (clogs, drying cloths, the dustpan and brush). Everything is fair game to him. A couple of months ago, we caught him eating dental floss (sucking it up, like spaghetti) and, after a frantic phone call to the emergency vet, were told to force-feed him bicarbonate of soda until he vomited. We did and it worked a treat.

Given my keen awareness of his flawed character, you’d think that when I noticed him checking out the small aluminium bin in which I store all the bird food, I would have immediately taken heed and removed it from the kitchen. But no. On Saturday I returned home from a short shopping trip to find the bin open and the entire kitchen floor covered in mixed seeds, nuts, shredded plastic and paper bags. Sarge was parading around the kitchen, victorious, while in the dog den – its cushion crayoned white with nut fat – Moses was hunched up, looking appalled, his face contorted with fear.

I was angry. With Sarge. With myself. But the anger turned to horror when I saw that three of the five fat balls in the bin were missing and the dangerous (at least to a dog’s intestines) plastic-mesh wrappers in which they were encased were not to be found among the assorted detritus.

Panic stations. I ran to the cupboard and pulled out the bicarb, got my partner, Ben, to hold Sarge firmly (not easy, he’s powerful, and has developed a powerful aversion to bicarb).I mixed up several spoonfuls with water and poured the resulting slop into Sarge’s throat. He fought like a beast. Ben’s arms were clawed to pieces. Five minutes of close scrutiny followed as Sarge sat in his den, hiccoughing, betrayed, ears papered flat to his skull.


We had to do it again. And we did it again, this time with most of the bicarb ending up on me, Ben (still wearing his Good Trousers) and Sarge’s terrified face, while Moses sat watching from the doorway, head tipped, ears pricked, appalled but strangely fascinated.

Sarge returned to his den. More poignant hiccoughs. Still nothing.

“Should we give him any more?” I asked, tentatively, visions of Sarge’s distended lower intestine tangled up in green nylon flashing through my mind – the operations, the vet’s bills ...

“Nah.” Ben shook his head, “Look how traumatised he is.” Sarge was traumatised. Sans vomit, though, the following 24 hours were critical.

Ben took Sarge and Moses out for their morning walk the next day and reported back. Both had defecated, he confirmed. Sarge’s stool (and apologies at this point to any readers who may be at breakfast) was packed – like a Jordans Crunchy Bar –with undigested nuts and seeds. But no mesh. I continued to worry.

That afternoon we walked again. Moses was running ahead. Sarge was trailing at our heels, still cowed and suspicious. Moses turned a corner and crouched down to answer nature’s call. I reached into my pocket for the requisite bag, and as I drew closer, noticed that he had delicately produced an extraordinary shit-sculpture: a little Eiffel Tower, constructed entirely out of three, perfectly intact, green-mesh fat-ball wrappers.

I live on the Thames, just beyond St Katharine Docks, so am still on a high from the jubilee riverboat procession. It was beautiful but, as I watched the assorted canoes and tugs sail past from my balcony, it dawned on me what a shame it was that there were hardly any fishing boats involved. I love fishing boats and think it would’ve been appropriate to invite representatives of Britain’s major fishing ports along rather than the tawdry assortment of private pleasure cruisers that finished up the display. It felt to me like a decision that had been made based on class distinctions.

I say this as someone who doesn’t eat fish and who is deeply worried about over-fishing. In fact, I say this as someone who has been harassing, via email, the excellently-named German minister of justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger because of Germany’s shocking arrest of Paul Watson – founder of the radical direct action environmental group Sea Shepherd. (Incidentally, Watson, a former member of Greenpeace, now has his own brilliant TV series on the Discovery Channel.)

Watson was released on bail last month but is currently facing extradition to Costa Rica. This is, says Sea Shepherd, because Watson prevented a group of Costa Rican fishermen de-finning sharks in a restricted zone a few years back, and has something of a bounty on his head (over the years he has upset a lot of vested interests). I feel so strongly about the threat of Watson’s extradition that I attended a demonstration outside the German embassy a couple of weeks ago. You might imagine the supporters of Sea Shepherd to be a piratical and lawless bunch, but no. A more sober and civilised group of individuals you would struggle to encounter. So much so that I felt compelled to keep chiding everyone to shout louder (“Come on! Come on! Direct your rage at the open window on the second floor!” etc). The only time things got really heated was when a sushi delivery man happened by on his scooter. Heartfelt chants of “Shame on Germany!” were promptly modified to incensed bellows of “Shame on Sushi!”

The poor blighter was so eager to pull off at the traffic lights, he almost performed an involuntary wheelie.

I don’t dislike Kindles but I’d never own one. I do a lot of reading on public transport and one of my favourite hobbies is evaluating people’s reading matter and then forming arbitrary spot assessments of their characters. You can’t do that with a Kindle. A Kindle just says, “I’m reading. Yes. And I’m into technology.”

Last week I was lucky enough to be reading the latest Martin Amis novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England. I kept pulling it out of my bag on the Tube to read it and seeing Kindle owners quietly appraising the jacket (it has a lovely, provocative, red-and-white England flag cover). It may be adolescent but I was suffused with pride at my early copy. “Yes. I am reading it,” I mimed, swankfully, “and, no, it isn’t in the shops yet.” You can’t get that level of base gratification with a Kindle, can you?

Nicola Barker’s novel ‘The Yips’ (4th Estate) will be published on July 5

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