Dom Joly: (Minor) heroism on the riverbank

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The Independent Online

We've got gorgeous river-paths right behind the house that stretch on for miles and miles should the need arise. My dog Huxley, now his testicles have been removed, has only one desire in life: to repeatedly fetch a stick until he can't stand up any more. He starts getting excited at the prospect of a walk at about 5am when he jumps on the bed and licks my face repeatedly.

All codes are now useless. We used to spell the word W-A-L-K when we were discussing it, but he cracked it. We have now resorted to "promenade" or "caminata", but he's already near to breaking these as well. If, during the Second World War, the Germans had been sending messages using the Enigma machine regarding the walk schedules of Blondi, Hitler's pet Alsatian, Huxley would have deciphered them way before anyone at Bletchley Park.

Both Stacey and I have become a little lazy of late and Huxley has made it very clear that he is dissatisfied with the current schedule. Fortunately, I think I might have discovered a solution - podcasts. My computer now downloads a series of these ranging from the quite brilliant film reviews of Mark Kermode to the ever-reliable From Our Own Correspondent. I can then set off on a long walk, headphones on, and listen to the very best of the radio while Huxley does his thing. I did try to listen to music for a bit but got caught singing very loudly by a couple of slightly nervous-looking pensioners.

So this week I was ambling along the swollen banks of the River Coln, listening to a particularly vicious destruction of the film Babel by Dr Kermode. Huxley was ahead of me, irritating rabbits and trying to find the perfect-sized stick for me to throw for him. I think he must have seen something in the water because he suddenly plunged in and swam off. Huxley loves to swim, and I've never seen him get him into any trouble. Today, however, was different. The river was very swollen and the current seemed particularly strong. I still wasn't that worried as he normally just glides to the bank and gets out downstream. I walked on, insouciant, listening to Kermode reach an angry climax.

I came round a corner to see, to my horror, Huxley trapped under a small footbridge. The water came right up to the structure and Huxley's whole body was pinned underneath with just his nose struggling to stay above water. It was total panic stations. I threw off my coat and iPod, jumped over a stile, and clambered over a large fence as if I was 20 years younger. I was now on the bridge and I leapt straight into the river, gasping for breath as the icy cold hit me like an iron fist. I tried to grab Huxley by the collar but remembered that he had lost it two days before. It was very difficult to get a grip on him but I finally managed to get my arms under his front legs and, with some difficulty, finally lifted him on to the bridge. I clambered out as quickly as I could, still half in shock at the temperature of the water.

I think I sort of expected Huxley to lie next to me for a second, our eyes meeting for one of those elusive man/dog moments when you both get a tiny glimpse through the window into each others' souls, both sides making a deep, deep connection that will bond you even further for the rest of your lives... but not here. Huxley seemed totally oblivious as to what had happened and was more concerned as to the whereabouts of whatever it was he had been pursuing in the water. I think that, despite him being an extremely intelligent dog, he has a very short memory span. It was clear that whatever panic he'd felt was now totally forgotten and what he really needed was to fetch a stick. Oh, to be a dog - life must seem so simple.

I got up, soaking wet, freezing cold and started on the long walk home. I'd almost been heroic, I thought to myself quietly. Sadly, the only witness was my code-cracking, short-term-memoried dog. Ah well, I'm not one to talk about my exploits. It'll be our little secret.

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