Ernie and Theo were lying quietly beneath their favourite lamp post.
Ernie was watching grey clouds tearing across the January sky. He wondered where they were rushing to.
‘Maybe they’re trying to get home before the rain arrives’, he thought to himself, ‘I heard my human say it was forecast later’.
Theo, meanwhile, was watching a chilly, gusty breeze chase what was left of the Autumn’s leaves hither and thither along the pavement.
“Did you have a good Christmas?” Theo asked his little friend.
Ernie dragged his attention away from the clouds and thought back to Christmas. It now seemed such a long time ago.
“It was great fun, but I missed Norman the Gnome,” he replied rather sadly. “I know you said we had to let him go after the Christmas rush, but we’d become great pals” he went on, “and none of our customers turned their noses up at the quality of our sniffle balls after he started inspecting them.”
“I know, I know, Ernie but I told you before Christmas we’re not running a charity for homeless gnomes,” he explained. "You know we all have a bit of a holiday in January and we couldn’t afford to carry the overhead,” he added.
Ernie thought for a moment about Theo’s explanation. “I know, I know you’re right Theo, you always are…” he went on.
“…Well there you go,” Theo said, not realising Ernie hadn’t finished speaking…
“…Norman was certainly too heavy for me to carry,” Ernie went on, “especially after he’d had a plate of his meatballs. Anyway, it all had a happy ending. My human took him to Ikea and he’s got a good job in their café and a bed in the home furnishing department.””
Theo thought it best to change the subject.
“Well, anyway, Ernie it’s time to look ahead,” he said, “we’ve got a lot to think about in 2020. It could be a big year for Ernie and Theo”.
“What have we got to think about?” Ernie asked rather unenthusiastically.
“What haven’t we got to think about!?” Theo replied. “I’ve got lots of ideas for the future and we need a plan to make them happen,” he explained.
Ernie groaned to himself when Theo mentioned “plans” but knew there was no stopping his friend when he was in this mood. Besides he was just a little bit curious about what the plans were. So, he asked what ideas Theo had.
“Well, I’m developing a new lead holder made with cast iron dogs’ bottoms that I found from a new supplier during my Christmas break” Theo explained.
“Wow, that sounds good Theo,” Ernie replied. “When will they go on sale?”
“Well, we need to find the right wood to make the plaque with first,” Theo replied. “I want to make sure it’s made in the most environmentally friendly way,” he went on, “we’ll have it ready for our Spring markets.”
Ernie just managed to said he was impressed before Theo carried on…
“I’ve been reviewing how we did at the markets last year and have begun to plan the ones for 2020,” he explained, “Enjoy your weekends this month Ernie, you’ll soon be on the road again!” he said.
Ernie listened to Theo with mixed feelings. He loved going to the markets and meeting his mates and their humans, but since Christmas he hadn’t missed getting up early on cold, dark mornings at the weekends!
“I’ve also been talking to Di about our partnership with Millie and Ruby,” Theo said.
Ernie loved Millie and Ruby. Whenever he saw Di he got well fed and had some fun with her dog Paddy.
“And?!” Ernie asked impatiently.
“Well, it is very early days,” Theo replied in a cautiously, “let’s just say I think you might be seeing a bit more of Paddy in 2020!”
Ernie tail wagged at the news but he didn’t get chance to speak before Theo started explaining the next part of his plan.
“We’ve also launched out first ‘January Sale’ so folk can buy some of our products at bargain prices,” he said, “we’ve had quite a few orders already!”
Ernie’s ears pricked up at the news about the sale. He had a suggestion of his own.
“I think I could help you with this sale Theo,” he said.
“Oh, that’s good Ernie, how?” Theo asked in a curious tone.
“Well, I was thinking, could we put Henry in the sale?” Ernie asked in reply.
“We don’t make any products called Henry,” Theo said, “who is he?”
“Well, the human brought him home the other night and I don’t like him, don’t like him at all!” Ernie explained.
Theo was getting more puzzled by the minute. He again asked Ernie who Henry was.
“I don’t know,” Ernie answered, “he’s red, round, short and always smiling,” he went on.
“He sounds like good company for you then!” Theo said laughing.
“No, he’s not!!” Ernie said crossly. “He has a pipe sticking out of his nose with a brush on the end of it, and he runs around our house making lots of noise” Ernie explained. “I’ve barked at him to stop but he takes no notice,” he went on, “and my humans think it is all very funny!!”
“Oh, he’s a Henry Hoover!”, Theo cried, laughing.
“I don’t care what he’s called,” Ernie said, “I am fed up of him running around making a din, I’ve tried putting my paw down and he nearly brushed it up! He’s got to go in the sale, Theo.”
“We can’t do that, Ernie” Theo said laughing.
“I thought you’d understand Theo,” Ernie said, “you dislike noise more than I do!”
“But Ernie, we don’t sell hoovers!” Theo tried to explain, chuckling. “Nobody will buy a second hand Henry off us!”
“Well what are we going to do with him Theo?” Ernie demanded to know, “because he can’t stay in our house.”
“Bu Ernie, your new Henry’s very important. He’s going to eat up all the mess your human makes when she creates the bandanas, bowties and other products we sell,” Theo explained. “Who’s going to do that if you show him the door? And, besides, where will Henry go if you send him away?” he asked. “He’s not big enough to be a street sweeper”
Ernie thought about what Theo said. He suddenly felt guilty and a little bit selfish.
“I know you’re right. But the noise frightens me,” Ernie explained, “it’s like bonfire night every time Henry starts eating!”
Theo sat up and began thinking hard…harder than Ernie could ever imagine.
After a couple of minutes, he smiled. He had the solution.
“I’ve got the answer, Ernie!” he said.
Ernie smiled too. He knew Theo wouldn’t let him down.
“What is it Theo, what are we going to do?” he asked brightly.
“We’ll ask your human to make you some dog-friendly ear muffs,” Theo replied. “Every time Henry starts eating, you can put them on to keep out the noise. Who knows, we might even be able to add them to our product range!”
“Theo, you are a genius,” Ernie cried.
Just as he finished speaking the forecast rain had started to fall and it suddenly felt chillier. The two friends looked at each other. Ernie spoke first.
“I’ve still got some of Norman’s meat balls left if you fancy coming for tea,” he said.
“Just the ticket Ernie. Come on then, race you!” Theo replied.
And off the two friends dashed and splashed homeward bound.
A week later, Ernie's new ear muffs were ready. Unlike Henry, he'd found peace in the world...