Every year around this time, my local garden centre gears up for Christmas with beautiful displays and wonderful gift ideas but also, they create scenes, where proud grannies and joyful mothers can take small children for festive photo shoots with giant, furry reindeer, tall, fearsome polar bears and cosy fireside scenes with Father Christmas’s boot just appearing from the bottom of the chimney. Each scene is wonderfully decorated with snow, Christmas packages wrapped in bright, shiny paper, twinkling lights and festive figures dressed in obligatory red, green and gold speaking to us of childhood memories. These carefully posed and crafted photographs will end up sent with love to families abroad, framed on walls that tell the stories of young families down staircases, as part of family albums or as Christmas cards sent from all to family and friends.
I don’t have any small children, but I have two small, red Shiba Inus who are my family and they, too, produce their own eagerly awaited calendars and Christmas cards at this time every year. At this garden centre, dogs have always been made welcome so, like others I put their posh collars and leads and we always go midweek when the children are at school so as not to take anything away from the family experience most weekends. As natural show offs, my two absolutely love the attention. They always put on a performance and usually bring the whole place to a standstill with everyone ‘Oohing and aahhhing’ and pointing. One year they even came to the attention of the owner himself, who entered them in an in-house competition designed for children. By popular vote, they came in second, just missing out to a small boy in a Santa costume (had we known, we might just have dressed up to give us the upper edge), but we were proud to have taken part.
One year though, we almost missed out on this joyful experience as there was an unfortunate incident when some irresponsible owner allowed their dog to leave behind them more than a couple of paw prints right next to a polar bear. Sadly, as this was not an isolated incident, the owner was compelled to put out a sign banning dogs from the inside areas where the photo setups were. Understanding completely, I wrote to the owner, expressing my support for his actions but saying how sad I was from a personal perspective. To my surprise, I received a telephone call from one of his staff informing me that, in spite of the ban, Arthur & Ila would be welcome for their yearly photo shoot as past behaviours had demonstrated that they would never do such a thing indoors and certainly not next to a polar bear! The kind lady said that I had to telephone and inform them when we were coming and we would be admitted. We did go and were treated like Royalty, each dog being given a cooked sausage from the cafe afterwards as a treat.
But I digress, on this particular Christmas visit, I went with my friend Kate (also a Shiba owner), and the store had done themselves proud. There was the warm, poignant smell of winter berries and cinnamon, the sound of Christmas carols and tinkling bells in the background and an array of brightly decorated Christmas trees surrounded by shimmering lights and baskets of stunning decorations, all catching and reflecting the light. The whole place looked beautiful and at its centre, the main event (for us anyway), where the various setups for taking photographs had been prepared.
There was a sparkling snow scene with a bench, lamp post and woodland creatures like something out of Narnia, the majestic (and previously offended) polar bear towering up on an iceberg, her cub beside her, a cosy fireside scene with Santa coming down the chimney. For us, the main event, a beautifully decorated sleigh full of Christmas parcels decked out in its own winter wonderland. We started off at the first scene, getting the pups to pose with Kate and me taking a myriad of shots before moving on to the next scene; public interest growing as we moved around the various set-ups meaning that by the time we got to the sleigh, a crowd had formed with people laughing and pointing, all huddled around us watching our antics as my two Shibas revelled in the attention.
We had both taken photographs from various angles when a couple of women stopped right behind Kate and me. The first woman immediately remarked:” Oh, look at them; aren’t they good?” To which her friend replied: “What are you like, they’re not real you know!” Kate caught my eye and we started to giggle as the conversation continued about whether they were, as one woman protested, ‘real’ whilst the other adamantly insisted that they were stuffed, even assuring her friend that there was a company making these lifelike toys as she’d seen them on television!
Unable to keep silent a moment longer, I stopped taking photo’s and clapping my hands called proudly to my two: “You’re done, we’ve got them!” whereupon they both hopped nimbly out of the sleigh and came up to me their tails wagging for a liver sizzler as the crowd began to clap.
Various people stepped forward to ask questions about them or ask if they could stroke them. Consummate professionals they both greeted their fans warmly with a cheerful demeanour, a Shiba smile and an extremely active curly tail, though interestingly, two of their onlookers were missing!
Once finished, Kate and I went to the cafe for a hot cup of coffee, a cooked sausage for each beastie, and a good giggle. On Friday last week, one of these photo’s popped up on Kate’s phone as a reminder of past events. Immediately she sent it to me with this caption: ‘They’re not real, you know!’ reminding me of past pleasures, and it still made me laugh.
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