It was an early evening in mid-October. You’d have thought Summer had returned and sent Autumn back on holiday. Pink clouds were floating across a sea-blue sky. A warm, gentle breeze was chasing leaves after the lengthening shadows.
Theo was sitting beneath his favourite lamp post. He was waiting for Ernie. He was used to his little friend’s arrivals getting delayed by street corners, lamp posts, sticks, birds, feathers and only Ernie knew what else. However, this evening he was more impatient than usual about waiting. He had important matters on his mind.
Ernie eventually appeared at the top of the street. He was doing his stick dance. This involved simultaneously prancing around whilst chewing a stick. He couldn’t do both things at once so he always ended up dropping the stick. This meant he had to stop, pick the stick up and start again. Theo was muttering something to himself. Whatever was bothering him, he clearly thought this was not the time for fun and games.
“Yeo Theo, sorry I am a bit late,” Ernie said chirpily. “I have been very busy, very busy indeed,” he explained.
“Yes, so I saw,” Theo replied with a little scowl. “Here I am waiting to talk to you about important business matters and you’re doing your silly stick dance.”
Ernie looked a little hurt. “Well, yes I am sorry about the stick stuff but I really have been working very hard. I deserve a bit of fun after the day I’ve had,” he went on.
Theo stared hard at his friend and tilted his head. “What have you been working so hard on then?” he asked not managing to keep the sceptical out of his voice.
“I have been trying out our new ‘Busy Mat’ and modelling for photos of our Christmas bandanas to go on our website,” he replied looking very pleased with himself.
Theo had so much on his mind he’d forgotten Ernie was piloting the newest addition to their range of pet accessories.
“Oh of course,” he said apologetically, “I’ve got so much on my mind I forgot you were piloting the ‘busy mat’. What do you think?”
“I have been far too busy to decide what I think,” Ernie replied. He looked almost as puzzled by his reply as Theo did.
“Well, it’s a good sign if the busy mat kept you busy?” Theo asked.
Ernie had to think about this. He decided to play for time.
“How’s things your end Theo, have you been busy too?” he asked.
“Well, as you know, we’re entering Ernie and Theo’s busiest time of year. We’ve got more than twenty markets between now and Christmas,” Theo replied. “I’ve been thinking about the logistics of ensuring they run smoothly. We’ve got a big problem,” he said in a very serious voice.
Ernie didn’t know what logistics were but they must be important if Theo was worried about them. He asked his wise mate what the problem was.
“Well Ernie, I don’t know how you and I are going to get to all the markets – especially the ones in Manchester,” Theo explained.
“We’ll go in the car like we always do, won’t we?” Ernie asked in a puzzled voice.
“Normally we would, but Christmas isn’t a normal time is it?” Theo explained.
Ernie couldn’t remember Christmas so he didn’t know it wasn’t a normal time.
“Why’s that Theo?” he asked.
“Well, everyone is out partying and shopping. There’ll be lots of cars on the road. Our pet-humans will have to set out very early to get to the venues,” Theo explained. “They are doing two different markets on some days,” he went on, “and they’ll have so much stock to take with them we might not fit in the car anyway! But our names are over the door Ernie! How will we keep an eye on performance if we aren’t at the markets? I am very worried.”
Ernie had got distracted during Theo’s explanation of the problem. A squirrel had scuttled by carrying an acorn. Ernie had to concentrate so hard on not chasing this squirrel. This meant his neural network couldn’t cope with listening to everything his best friend said.
Ernie looked as downhearted as Theo at this news, though for slightly different reasons. He loved the markets because he met lots of friendly people and usually got lots of treats.
“Is there no other way to get to the markets?” he asked forlornly.
“Oh, there’s plenty of other ways to get to them,” Theo explained. “There are buses, the Metrolink trams, trains and taxis.”
“There we go then, problem sorted,” Ernie said cheerily, “we can use them to get around!”
Theo frowned. “It isn’t quite that simple Ernie,” he explained glumly, “we can’t get on buses and trains by ourselves. Worse still we can’t go on the trams at all – even with our pet-humans.”
Ernie now looked glum as his pal.
“What are we going to Theo?” Ernie asked.
“Well, there is a campaign going to let us on the trams,” Theo explained. “Lots of people are signing a petition to send to Transport for Manchester. Dogs in London can go on the tube with their pet humans so folk are asking why they can’t go on Manchester’s trams”.
“There we go then, we will be able to get the tram!” Ernie said cheering up again. He was actually getting a little tired. He wasn’t used to going so often from being happy to sad.
“I doubt it Ernie,” Theo replied. “Even if the campaign succeeds it won’t be sorted out before Christmas,” he explained.
Ernie lay down next to Theo. They both sadly stared into the distance as if they might find the answer to their problem there. A market-less Christmas was too much to contemplate. Theo finally broke the long, solemn silence.
“I think I have the answer, Ernie” he said. “I am not happy about it but we are just going to have to get our humans’ pet-husbands to chauffeur us around in their cars.”
“Is that a good idea Theo?” Ernie asked “I thought you said it was going to be very busy on the roads until Christmas.”
“Well, yes it will be very busy indeed. But do you know why that is Ernie?” Theo asked.
“No, why will it be so busy Theo?” Ernie asked in answer to Theo’s question.
“Well, because by my estimates, about 350,000 dogs live in Greater Manchester,” Theo explained. “Because it is difficult for them to use public transport, most of them travel by car to get to where they are going. They don’t really have much choice if they are on the Metrolink line!” he went on.
Ernie didn’t know how many 350,000 dogs was. From the way Theo was talking it sounded a lot. He wondered how many he’d met but he couldn’t remember.
“So, we are going to the markets after all, Theo?” Ernie asked chirpily.
“I will have a word with the pet-humans but you can assume we will,” Theo replied. “I will not delegate everything to them at this critically important time for us, I must have my finger on the pulse,” he went on.
Ernie’s tail started to wag. He wasn’t going to be treat-less after all. He would meet lots of new people and some of his 350,000 friends.
“Well Theo,” he said, springing to his feet, “I don’t know about you but all this talking has made me hungry. I am going home for tea. Are you coming? We’ve still got some of those free samples left from the ‘Family Pet Show’ to try!”
Theo slowly got up. He had to admit he was beginning to feel a bit peckish himself.
Theo slowly got to his feet. “You know Ernie,” he said “that is a very good idea. And after our tea we’ll go on-line to sign the petition I told you about.”
Ernie was just about to gallop off but stopped in his track. “Yes, we’ll do that Theo. Do you think we’d get treats if we went on the Metrolink tram?” he asked.
“I don’t know Ernie,” Theo chuckled, “it’d be a treat just to go on the tram wouldn’t it?!”
“Yes, let’s tell the humans to treat us like them and let us on the trams,” Ernie cried.
“I’ll make a politician of you yet, Ernie!” Theo replied as Ernie broke into a trot.
Ernie stopped and turned around. “What’s a politician, Theo?” he asked.
“We’ll leave that one for another day”, Theo replied, “come on race you home!”
Ernie didn’t need asking twice and they raced off into the gathering gloom.