One day, as Jake the Dog and I set off for our usual morning walk, something strange and upsetting happened. Just outside the front door, Jake stopped to pee on the fence that separates his house from the next door neighbour's. As his stream of urine hit the fence, it trembled under the fierce liquid pressure and a plank fell out. "Funny," said Jake, quite taken by surprise, "it's never done that before!"
"The wood in this fence is quite rotten," I said. "It's been like that ever since we moved in. I'm not at all surprised at what happened. I've been expecting something like that for quite some time now, though I'm not at all pleased that it has finally come to pass. I suspect that we will need a brand new fence and I'm sure it will cost an arm and several legs. You don't happen to have a spare leg, do you Jake?"
"I've always known that the fence was rotten," said Jake, ignoring my request for a leg. "I've been nibbling at it for ages. Rotten wood is very yummy and it keeps the bowels balanced, don't you know?"
"I really am starting to think that it's time to replace the fence," I said, "before it completely collapses under the stress of your atomic powered pee and your incessant chewing."
"OK," said Jake equably. "You're the leader of the pack. But I'm going to miss it."
Jake and I discussed the problem with Robin and she went looking on the internet for fence people. Eventually she decided on Russell the Builder, and she rang him up. "I need to mend a fence with my neighbour," she said.
"I can recommend a lawyer," said Russell. "They are good at sorting out disputes."
"It's not a dispute," said Robin. "It's a proper fence. It's broken and it needs fixing. Well actually, it probably needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch."
"I can do that," said Russell proudly. "New fences are what I do best."
"Russell is a terrible name," said Jake as he listened to the conversation. "I shall call the man Bob. That's a much better name for a builder, don't you think?"
Bob the Builder, aka Russell, came round to look at our fence and give us a cost estimate. Jake took to him straight away and so did we. He was a thoroughly charming man. Jake watched with a critical eye as Russell poked the fence here and there but he could find no fault with Russell's technique. "I supervised him with an intense soup," Jake reported to me later. "There's really no point in asking anyone else to replace the fence for us. Bob is clearly the man for the job. Let's face it, nobody else would rhyme nearly as well in a sentence, unless you can find someone called Spencer the Fencer."
"The internet has never heard of Spencer the Fencer," said Robin firmly, even though she hadn't bothered to google the name because the thought was simply too terrible to contemplate. "So I think it really will be a job for Bob. Err.. for Russell," she said, skilfully avoiding the nasty rhyme at the last minute.
"Well," said Russell cautiously, having finished his examination of the fence, "it's not all bad news. We can re-use some of the palings and some of the posts seem not to be rotten at all. We can re-use those as well."
"Hear him, hear him!" cheered Jake, wagging his tail at the news.
"What's it going to cost?" I asked. "That's the important point."
Russell thought for a bit, counted on his fingers and toes, and then came up with an eye-watering number of dollars. Even Jake's tail drooped a bit at the magnitude of it. He cocked his leg and had a thoughtful pee. Another plank fell out.
"OK," Robin said. "That was a sign from God. When can you start?"
"Ah," said Russell. "Now about that..."
Three and a half months later Russell and his sidekick Lea turned up to start work. "The first step," said Russell, "is to get rid of the old fence." That proved to be a simple task. Russell and Lea huffed and puffed and they blew the fence down. It quickly collapsed into a rotten heap and they carried it away in a trailer. Once the rubbish had been removed eight problems immediately became clear.
"We can't re-use the eight fence posts like we intended to," explained Russell gloomily. "They've not been set in concrete. They are just sitting in holes in the dirt. Years of moisture have rotted the bottoms away and now they are useless. So you're going to need new ones after all." He held a fence post up for me to look at. "This post is toast," he said.
"Would your middle name happen to be Spencer the Fencer?" I asked
"No," said Russell. "He's my brother. But I've been taking lessons from him."
I could see dollar signs spinning round in Russell's eyes as the need for new posts sent the original cost estimate soared into the stratosphere. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll set the new posts properly in concrete. They'll last forever."
I found that thought strangely comforting, though I knew that concrete would be an extra charge.
Once the fence was down, Jake was confined to quarters. "I want to go out," he said miserably. "I want to make sure that they are doing a good job."
"Trust me," I said, "they are doing a superb job. You can't go out because there is no fence to stop you wandering all over the village by yourself if the mood should take you, or if an absent minded cat should happen to run across the road and distract you."
"Why would I want to wander round the village?" Jake was puzzled. "I just want to watch the new fence being built." I really should have had more faith in him. One day he did indeed manage to sneak outside when we weren't looking, but all he did was sit by the fence and make critical remarks as Russell and Lea did arcane construction things.
"Can you take him back inside, please?" asked Russell at last. "He's putting us off our stroke."
I took Jake into the house.
Once the new post holes had been prepared, a truck full of concrete arrived. Lea and Russell shovelled concrete into a wheelbarrow and pushed the wheelbarrow up to the post holes where they shovelled the concrete out again, down into the ground. Then they seated the new posts carefully.
"We're taking a break now," said Russell. "It's a bit early, but there isn't any more we can do until the concrete sets. We'll be back tomorrow to carry on."
Jake watched them drive off and then he turned a pleading, piteous gaze on me. "Please can I go out now?" he asked. "You can take me on a lead if you want to, but I really, really, really want to walk in the wet concrete and leave my footprints for future archaeologists to wonder at."
"No!" I said firmly. "And where on earth did you learn a big word like archaeologist?"
"My mum had an affair with a rottweiler who lived with a writer," said Jake. "I studied the writer's dictionary while my mum and the rotty played hide the sausage. But the affair didn't last very long. They kept eating the sausage. So I never got past the letter A. I know archaeologist, but I don't know zygodactylous."
"Zygodactylous?" I asked.
"I told you," said Jake. "I don't know zygodactylous. Can I go and walk in the concrete now?"
The next day Russell and Lea nailed horizontal timbers to the posts, and the day after that they nailed the paling planks to the horizontal timbers. The fence was looking more and more like a fence every minute. Lea's nail gun went bang, bang, bang, bang.
"That's a lot faster than hitting the nails with a hammer," I said admiringly.
Lea wielded his nail gun. "It's my favourite tool," he said. "There's something very satisfying about driving a nail deep into something."
"Like a person?" I asked.
"Like a person," agreed Lea and he put his nail gun down and took out his phone. He scrolled through the photographs and then held the phone out to me. "That's my hand," he said as I gazed at a picture of a palm with an enormous nail driven right through it. "The gun slipped a bit one day..."
"That should prove useful when Easter arrives," I said admiringly. "Did it hurt much?"
"Not really," said Lea thoughtfully. "But there was rather a lot of blood. Poor old Russell got quite faint. He's a bit of a wuss, you know." Lea put his phone away and picked his nail gun up again. "Do you want to see what it feels like?" he offered.
"No thank you," I said politely and Lea went back to nailing a paling. Ooops! There goes Spencer the Fencer again, I thought. He's got one more score. Oh damn! Now he's got another one.
Eventually the fence was finished. It looked just like a proper one. Robin, Jake and I were very impressed. Jake peed on it, and so did I, but Robin decided not to. Absolutely nothing happened. "That's definitely a really strong fence," said Jake. "I wonder what it tastes like..."